After eight (really sixteen) volumes you’d think that “Prison School’s” schtick would be firmly established by now. The boys act like knuckleheads -- maybe one gets caught with his dick out, the girls embarrass themselves in dealing with the boys -- maybe one gets caught hanging from a doorknob by her panties, and everything is dealt with in a straight-faced fashion that only highlights the absurdity of it all. Mangaka Akira Hiramoto has done a better than expected job of topping himself when it comes to putting his characters in progressively more ridiculous situations up to this point. For volume nine, however, he takes a jump to the left into a different genre entirely for the first third of its length. That’s right people, get ready for “Prison School: The Psychosexual Thriller!”
From the realm of “How the hell did this happen?!” comes the announcement that Dark Horse has licensed the “Mob Psycho 100” manga. It’s from ONE, the co-creator of “One-Punch Man,” and focuses on a con man who exploits a kid with psychic powers to run a ghostbusting operation but also has to act as a mentor/counselor to said kid to keep his emotions in check lest they explode into an “Akira”-level crisis. The series was adapted into an anime last year and it was successful enough that a second season has already been greenlit. So I’m not surprised that it’s been licensed, just that Dark Horse is publishing it. As it’s published by Shogakukan in Japan, Viz should’ve had first rights to this and publishing a new series from the co-creator of “One-Punch Man” should’ve been a no-brainer.
Yet in the same way that Yen Press is publishing “Silver Spoon” (published by Shueisha in Japan -- Shueisha and Shogakukan merged over a decade back but continue to publish under their respective names) they’ve decided to let Dark Horse have “Mob Psycho 100.” I’d love to know how the negotiations for this title went, particularly if the company negotiated with ONE directly to get this license. It’s also worth noting that while people are happy to see this title picked up, the comments on Anime News Network’s article regarding the license are (quite understandably) a little skeptical that Dark Horse will be able to publish all sixteen volumes and a little bitter over other titles the company has put on hiatus. For the record, I do think the company will be able to publish all sixteen volumes since the hard work of making people aware that it exists has been done by the anime. There’s even a chance that the first volume will receive a boost if the second season arrives in time for the manga’s debut this October.
The good news is that Marvel currently has two titles that are generating lots of buzz and burning through reprints of multiple issues at the same time. “Amazing Spider-Man” has been generating interest due to the mystery of who the Red Goblin is as Dan Slott builds to the finale of his run in issue #800. As for “Thanos,” its success appears to be down to creators Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw telling a really interesting and unexpected story. Unfortunately neither of these things are going to be sustainable for the titles in question because “Amazing Spider-Man” is getting a relaunch with a new creative team and “Thanos” is ending with issue #18. I’m sure some of the buzz for “Amazing” will translate to its relaunch in this round of solicitations while Cates’ success on “Thanos” bodes well for his upcoming stint on “Venom” and the “Cosmic Ghost Rider” miniseries which debuts here. Will any of these titles prove as successful as what came before? History tells me the answer to that is likely to be a firm “No” but I’ll likely be picking up everything mentioned here at some point so I’ll be able to see for myself in time.
Image recently cancelled a large batch of comics that had been previously solicited. The good news is that most of these titles were not on my radar, so no big deal. Unfortunately fans of titles like “Mirror” and “Southern Cross” are now going to have to deal with not finding out what happens in these series after their upcoming issues have been cancelled mid-arc. “Sun Bakery” doesn’t have that problem because the first three issues of its second arc have been given the axe. The cancellation of the most recently solicited issues of “Rockstars” and “They’re Not Like Us” probably hurts their creators more because their second and third collections (respectively) were cancelled as well. It’s also worth noting that Image publisher Eric Stephenson writes “They’re Not Like Us” so he’s not getting any special treatment here.
The most disappointing news in this batch of cancellations for me was that issue #13 of “The Fix” was among them as well. I’ve enjoyed this crime comedy from Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber and vol. 3 is currently set to come out in August according to Amazon. What this tells me is that I shouldn’t get my hopes up for a vol. 4 anytime soon. Though it’s safe to say that poor sales contributed to the cancellation of all the issues mentioned here, “The Fix” was also a likely victim of Spencer’s busy Marvel schedule. All of the issues I’ve talked about could be resolicited at some point, but given that “Morning Glories” -- the title that put Spencer on the comics map -- is still MIA I wouldn’t get your hopes up about “The Fix” coming back anytime soon.
Is DC headed for a “Fresh Start” later this year? In the neverending quest for better buzz and sales, the company is rumored to be planning a refresh of their line around Fall of this year. Said refresh will consist of the kind of new first issue relaunches that we’ve come to expect in this era with a number of high-profile creators taking them over. At this point the rumors consist of Kelly Sue DeConnick taking over “Aquaman” (sure), Brian Azzarello on “Suicide Squad” (promising, but with HUGE potential to misfire), and David Walker on a “Flash” title (which sounds like a waste because when has “The Flash” been popular enough to support two titles at the same time). It’s kind of a mixed bag, but there’s one more rumor which I hope really pans out: Grant Morrison on “Green Lantern.” This seems like a perfect fit for the writer as it would allow him to embrace his sci-fi and psychedelic tendencies to the hilt. He’s also demonstrated a keen desire to respect and build on what has come before in a series, so it’d be really interesting to see what he would add to the “Green Lantern” mythos. Liam Sharp is also said to be the artist for this run and that’s fantastic news too. Even though Morrison/Sharp on “Green Lantern” only exists as a rumor, I can’t wait to read it. Let’s hope I’m not setting myself up for disappointment regarding its existence.
It’s (red) dragon slaying time! After the opening chapter catches us up with Namari and her party, adding some to the title’s mythos and doing a bit of foreshadowing along the way, the rest of the volume is focused on taking down the dragon that wiped the party back at the beginning of the story. Working against our heroes is that they’re down two members compared to the last time they took on the dragon. The good news is that, thanks to Senshi, they’re able to have a delicious meal of fried frog thigh meat cutlets before the fight and aren’t going to be defeated by hunger this time. Even so, the red dragon is the biggest and most dangerous monster the party has faced yet. How are they going to manage to take it down in a way that doesn’t involve anyone else dying (this time around)?
If you guessed that they manage to pull it off through proper planning and preparation, then go back and re-read the first three volumes. (It’s okay, I’ll wait.) Once you’ve realized that this party’s plans tend to fall apart even with proper preparation, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that everything comes down to the fact that adamantine woks can contain explosions really well and Laios getting in the right position to put his leg into the dragon’s mouth. It’s equal parts heroic and crazy, perfectly keeping with the tone of the series so far.
Do they manage to resurrect Falin after the battle? Let’s just say that there are some complications that have to be worked through, and will have lasting consequences for the party, before everyone can enjoy the mega-happy ending and post-battle banquet. Mangaka Ryoko Kui also delivers some nice character moments in the last couple of chapters that warm the heart in a way that really feels earned by the narrative. Of course, the ending comes brandishing a knife that you can fully expect to be stuck in your guts and then given a twist once vol. 5 comes around. I know that sounds painful, but it’s something I’m willing to suffer through for a series this good.
Vol. 1 made for a pretty great showcase regarding family matriarch Grace Briggs as she took a hardline stance to asserting control over the title land and detoxing her husband’s influence over it. I was expecting great things from the follow-up, but the problem with vol. 2 is that the focus shifts from Grace to the rest of her family as they deal with new threats to Briggs Land. The biggest of which takes up the first half of the volume when Isaac Briggs comes across some hikers trespassing on their land and through some circumstances of bad timing winds up taking them hostage. While the family is able to keep this quiet, federal and local searches for the missing hikers eventually lead them to Briggs Land, a bit of a media circus, and both sides exchanging fire.
While this is the longest storyline in vol. 2, the business with the hitchhikers still feels like it wasn’t given enough space to fully play out. Writer Brian Wood isn’t able to really dive into the various family members’ feelings regarding this situation and the feds mostly come off as antagonistic bullies. Though there are a handful of really well-done scenes, like the one involving the Briggs Land member who takes some potshots at a helicopter, most of them feel weirdly abbreviated. There’s also a weirdness to the timeframe of the story as we’re told that four weeks have passed between the hikers’ capture and the standoff with the Feds and it never feels that way at all.
This arc is followed up with a one-off about Abbie Briggs, wife of wild child Noah, smuggling one of the Land’s residents out for a potential abortion and to reconnect with some old friends herself. It doesn’t go well and while I get that the story is trying to make some point about how her life on Briggs Land is meant to be an improvement over the one she was living it comes across as something that’s being told and not shown. Things improve for the final arc, a two-parter that has one of Jim Briggs’ old friends making his move to retake the Land. It actually works the best as an ensemble piece among the Briggs family, even if the conflict feels like it wraps up before it can really get going. It’s not a bad volume overall, but future volumes (if there are any -- the series is currently MIA from Dark Horse’s solicitations) would do well to put the spotlight back where it belongs on Grace.
Longtime readers should know that I’m a big fan of James Stokoe’s work. So when Dark Horse announced that he’d be working on an “Aliens” miniseries for them, I was really excited. After all, Stokoe had shown that he can do excellent work when it comes to licensed material in his “Godzilla: The Half-Century War.” “Dead Orbit” isn’t in the same league as it attempts to use raw style to compensate for the fact that it’s telling a very familiar story. How familiar? As we find out through flashbacks, the six-person crew of the Weyland-Yutani space station Sphacteria were minding their own business one day when an unmarked spacecraft came into range. The ship didn’t respond to their hails, the crew went over to investigate and found three people in cryosleep. An accident during their revival leaves these people partially cooked and unable to talk about where they came from or what kind of thing managed to burn through the ship’s bulkhead.
If you’ve got any familiarity with the “Alien” franchise, you can probably guess where things go from here. Stokoe tries to add a layer of mystery to the proceedings by flashing back between the past and the present, occupied by the engineer Wascylewski and two Aliens. It works to a certain extent, but also leads to some odd gaps in the narrative. At least the series has Stokoe’s phenomenal art to fall back on. He’s always been a stickler for detail and the gritty, run-down future aesthetic of the Sphacteria offers him plenty of chances to show off. While it’s easy to be impressed by the intricacy of his art, Stokoe also manages to deliver suspense and thrills in the anticipation of and actual Alien attacks. There’s also a selection of art, including Stokoe’s original “Aliens” pitch, with commentary to round out the volume and show you that the creator’s black-and-white art is pretty damn impressive too. So while “Dead Orbit” certainly has style going for it, the quality of the story still leaves it as something best appreciated by existing fans of Stokoe or the “Aliens” franchise.
This is an odd volume in the series in that it’s as upbeat as this title ever gets. With the Whisperer War and Savior threat behind them, the residents of Alexandrea and Hilltop set their sights on rebuilding. There are signs of discontent, Dwight is still angry at Rick for killing his ex in self-defense while Maggie is not happy with the idea of Negan being set free, but with the bad stuff behind everyone the series is free to focus on hope for a change. Which is good because, as the series has demonstrated in the past, nothing good comes from focusing on doom and gloom all the time. Besides, I’m sure Kirkman and Adlard are saving that for the next volume when Michonne and Eugene’s group finally comes face-to-face with the community that the latter has been talking with for the past few volumes.
“Lines we Cross” is also notable for its introduction of a new character, Juanita “Princess” Sanchez. That’s her on the cover, in case it wasn’t obvious. She’s a lively chatterbox who rubs Michonne the wrong way, but in a friendly, amusing manner. So far Princess is memorable for how lively she comes across in comparison to the rest of the cast as opposed to bringing anything interesting to the overall plot. That could very easily change and her oddball nature does contrast well with the group she’s currently interacting with, so that’s a plus.
Then we get to the final issue which is the Negan spotlight that I’ve been waiting to read ever since it was solicited with the admonishment “This is what he deserves.” It very much draws a line under the character’s arc up to this point as he struggles with living in solitude. With only his memories of Lucille to comfort him, Negan prepares to fall back into bad habits… only for Maggie to show up with the intent of settling things once and for all. Even if his trademark braggadocio is still present, the Negan we see here is a humbled, changed man compared to the charismatic psychopath we first met twelve volumes ago. It’s honestly kind of remarkable that the creators have taken the character to this point while making his journey feel utterly credible. Even if this is the last we see of Negan in this series, it’s still a hell of a note for him to go out on.
Steve is back to talk about two new manga that deserve your time and money. We also talk a bit about "Golden Kamuy," "Not-Genshiken" follow-up "Spotted Flower" and "Delicious in Dungeon."