April 16, 2018
Yes, I really should’ve reviewed this back when it came out around the beginning of March. Mainly because this series is almost as sales-challenged as mangaka Hiroki Endo’s other series published out here, “Eden: It’s an Endless World!” The fact that it was a solid six months between the publication of volumes five and six gives me hope that the series is on a (very slow) schedule now. Which is a good thing because vol. 6 features what is probably the best match in “All-Rounder Meguru” yet.
After a short scene to show us the fallout from Yamabuki’s game-ending high-kick on Yudai -- if he’s lucky, the latter will just come away from the match with fractured ribs and an arm -- we dive into the meat of the volume: Meguru vs. Kagaya. The latter is a burly up-and-comer with a bad rep after he broke a girl’s arm in a practice match a while back. He sees Meguru as little more than a speed bump on the way to the finals match against Yamabuki, and with the title character running on fumes at the start of the match it seems like this match is over even before it starts.
That’s obviously not the case and Endo gets a great volume-length match out of the two going at it. While Kagaya has strength and skill, Meguru has the on-the-spot adaptability that’s become his stock in trade to make the match far more interesting than you’d expect. As with any great fight, MMA or otherwise, there’s lots of well-choreographed back-and-forth between the two combatants as neither is able to fully gain the upper hand on the other. Right up until the end where we don’t get the “Rocky” ending, but it all winds up being a big learning experience for Meguru. The fight’s momentum is sapped a bit in the end when we get some flashbacks to flesh out Kagaya’s character. They really should’ve come at the beginning of the match, yet they’re still well-done in and of themselves and are only a minor distraction in this otherwise great volume.
April 15, 2018
Meanwhile, at the other end of the “Star Wars” comic quality spectrum we have the latest adventure of Doctor Aphra. After finding a way to safely reactivate the technopathic presence of ancient Jedi “Immortal” Rur in the wake of the “Screaming Citadel” crossover, Aphra does what comes naturally to her. She invites a host of the galaxy’s scum, villains, and academics to participate in an auction for the crystal housing Rur. Though Aphra may be savvy enough to keep all of the bidders in line, she’s failed to consider the possibility of betrayal from within. While Triple-Zero and BT have been enjoying their time with the good Doctor, the lack of murder in their current assignments has left them bored of late. So they figure the best way to fix that is to put in a call to a certain dark and sinister figure from Aphra’s past to let him know about the auction as well.
The fact that Aphra’s plan to auction off Rur goes horribly wrong shouldn’t surprise anyone. What’s great about both halves of the story is that writer Kieron Gillen doesn’t waste your time with either of them. The first half is spent properly introducing us to all the dubious characters who have come to bid on the crystal, setting up the betrayal, and foreshadowing all of the little things that are going to go wrong when Rur gets loose. With the second half, it’s all expertly choreographed chaos as things go completely to hell and Aphra not only has to figure out a way to escape with her life, but figure out some way to profit from this mess too.
Kev Walker returns to provide the art for this arc and it’s fantastic to have him back. The level of detail in his environments and characters in this series continues to be well above what he’s delivered in the past, and he’s also great with giving us an emotive cast that makes even the scumbags with the bit parts just a little sympathetic. All of this is preceded by a story detailing how Black Krssantan came to be known and feared with some impressive art from Marc Laming. Though it has some funny bits and an interesting twist on the Wookie “life debt” it’s a little disappointing in how straightforward it is. Still, even if Aphra herself doesn’t come away from this story with an “Enormous Profit” anyone who reads this certainly will as far as entertainment value goes.
April 14, 2018
It’s a credit to how Marvel has handled the “Star Wars” license that they have yet to release a genuinely bad comic book featuring it. Some could be called boring and inessential, but this “Mace Windu” miniseries is notable for how it combines these two things. Don’t expect to learn anything about the title character here as he and three Jedi are assigned to investigate the Separatist presence on the remote planet of Hissrich. Once there, it isn’t long before they find out that the Separatist operation is being overseen by greedy mercenary droid AD-W4 who’s looking to collect a few lightsabers for a bonus to his fee. He’s got all the droids he needs to make it happen; at least, he thinks he does.
That’s pretty much all there is to the main story. Well, there’s also a subplot about how one of the Jedi Windu has brought along starts to freak out about their role in the Clone Wars after coming across a lot of dead natives. That could’ve been an interesting storyline to pursue, but he’s quickly dealt with so everyone can get back to fighting droids only to be brought up again at the end to add what passes for moral ambiguity in this story. Aside from that, the story and characterization suffer from terminal blandness. Every beat plays out in the way you’d expect with nothing being done to make the characters more interesting compared to how they’ve been portrayed elsewhere.
“Mace Windu” comes to us courtesy of writer Matt Owens. I’m not familiar with him and while the end result is polished enough to not seem like a first attempt at writing comics, it’s not something that makes me want to actively check out more work from him in the future. The above-mentioned blandness of the story also carries over to the art from Denys Cowan. Cowan has demonstrated a memorable scratchiness to his art in previous works, something which has been smoothed out into a more conventional look here. As I said at the beginning, this isn’t a bad comic because it’s too competent to be called that. Yet it feels all the more annoying for its mediocrity and failure to do anything interesting with the title character.
April 13, 2018
We’re technically on the third volume of this series, as I’m counting the “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” crossover, and pretty much all of it has been focused on the new Weapon X/Weapon H storylines. That’s a lot of time to devote to one subject in this day and age, but that’s not a bad thing as writer Greg Pak, now working with his “Incredible Hercules” co-writer Fred Van Lente, has been delivering a consistently enjoyable team book with this title. That trend continues here as our team of mutants -- now adopting the Weapon X name from Reverend Stryker’s rebooted program -- is on the hunt for Weapon H. Or, the Hulkverine if you will. Working against them is Stryker and the remnants of his organization, including Weapon H’s creator Doctor Alba. Alba’s got her own agenda as the creator of what she sees as the perfect killing machine and the doctor wants nothing more than to see it live up to its potential.
Pak and Van Lente have a good handle on the core cast and, more importantly, give them all some time in the spotlight for this story. They even chose an appropriate guest-star for this arc and she gets to put in a substantial contribution as well. The writers also get the cast to deliver some quality banter amongst each other and that enlivens things as well. As for Weapon H himself, he’s your standard “good guy in a bad situation” who fits the role well enough. He’s kind of personality-free at this point into his shelf-life which is more of an issue for the upcoming Pak-written “Weapon H” series than this current hunt for him.
Weighing this arc down a bit is the art from Marc Borstel. Though it’s largely competent and filled with good detail there’s a plasticine sheen to it which isn’t that appealing. It gives the characters a somewhat unnatural look to them, something that’s amplified during certain action scenes where they look “posed” into a panel. Ibrahim Roberson is also credited as an artist here as well, but he was apparently drafted to provide stylistic consistency with Borstel than display his own style. All this being said, vol. 3 of “Weapon X” is still another surprisingly enjoyable entry into this series which has me looking forward to seeing what the creators can do now that they no longer have to focus on the Hulkverine.
April 11, 2018
Cave Carson’s cybernetic eye may be part of this series’ title, but the last time we saw the explorer that titular eye was making a break for it. That leaves Cave in a very bad place as the first issue in this second volume begins with a flashback to the time that he met Superman. Or is it really a flashback at all? Parts of this issue are a huge head trip as the title character has to come to grips with whether he wants to continue the fight against the Whisperer and his minions. While it holds together well enough to make sense, it’s a stark shift from the feel of the first volume which was a fun adventure brimming with irreverence. It’s also a good indication of what the reader is in for with the rest of vol. 2 as things just get crazier from there with Cave and company barrelling through multiple universes to stop the bad guys.
So if you thought that the first volume was too weird for you, then you’re REALLY not going to like this volume. Those of you hoping to see writer Jon Rivera, with Gerard Way still onboard as co-plotter, really let his freak flag fly are going to be in for a treat because as crazy as things get he’s still able to keep the characters and their goals involving and relatable. The real star of this volume is Mike Oeming’s art as the narrative’s descent into alien psychedelia really gives him a chance to go nuts. Virtually every page is a visual onslaught on the senses as Oeming draws mental freakouts, malformed aliens, and familiar DC heroes with a mad energy that keeps you reading even if things don’t make a lot of sense. So yeah, this second volume of “Cave Carson” is definitely not for everyone. Those that it is for, however, are going to love it to death (and should wait in rapt anticipation of the next series: “Cave Carson Has an Interstellar Eye.”)
April 9, 2018
It turns out that the previous volume was just a fluke and “Murcielago” isn’t done pushing buttons or the envelope just yet. In fact, I can see the subject matter in this volume causing even more people to give up on this series altogether. That’s because the mass murderer of choice here is one who targets little girls and discards them by choking and snapping their necks after he determines that they’re not the one he’s looking for. The girl we saw at the end of vol. 4 is one victim of his handiwork, one more dies over the course of the volume, and we eventually find out that there have been many, many more victims in addition to them. It’s disturbing stuff, all the more so because it’s being delivered at a point where I though the title was done trying to shock me.
The thing is, if you can get past all the dead little girls, that this awfulness makes the actual story more involving that “Murcielago” usually is. When Kuroko’s police handlers get involved in finding out what happened to another missing little girl, she winds up investigating things as well. Though this should be a sign that things will work out all right in the end, I still couldn’t shake the fact that -- given what has come before -- that the kidnap victim could meet the same fate as those who had come before her. “Murcielago” does love to push its buttons after all, regardless of how disturbing the results might be.
That tension had me reading through the volume faster than usual, while the ending… Let’s just say that I’m still onboard the series for now even as it tries to find new and terrible ways to push me away. On that note, the preview for vol. 6 promises the most “taboo” content yet as elementary-school-aged serial killer Rinko starts attending a new school with Kuroko overseeing things.
Then again, maybe I should take the hint…
April 8, 2018
An otherwise great vol. 2 of this series was hamstrung by an ending that made me question how much progress the story had actually made. Vol. 3 doesn’t make that mistake because by the end of it we’ve finally caught up to and gone past the scene Dylan has been flashing back to since the beginning of the series. Things start off on an innocuous note as our protagonist has broken up with his old girlfriend, reconnected with Kira, and given up on the whole vigilante business. Naturally, his retirement from that stuff doesn’t last once the Russian mob starts sniffing around Kira in their efforts to find a lead on this masked man who’s been killing their guys. The ease with which Dylan enacts his plan to get the Russians off of his case is striking in comparison to his reluctant beginnings. It also allows creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to set up some really tense questioning, stalking, and action scenes along the way while believably selling the idea that their protagonist has come around on his “retirement.”
Then we get to the end of the volume and are thrown another curve on the whole business of Dylan’s demon. I, like a lot of other readers, thought from the start that the demon that’s been plaguing our main character all this time has been a mental hallucination. Brubaker and Phillips, however, have been committed to playing up the uncertainty that this apparition may be more real than we think. Their efforts to continue this in vol. 3 are their most successful yet. While I’m still not convinced that the demon is real, the creators have actually made its presence more interesting than the “Dylan’s just crazy” explanation I’d been expecting all along. It all ties in to our protagonist’s memory and how he’s accidentally reminded by his mother that his father used to have a son from a previous marriage. A son that Dylan briefly grew up with and somehow completely forgot about. It’s when he starts to dig into the mystery of this missing son/stepbrother that the underlying mystery of the demon becomes genuinely compelling. While also leading to an astonishingly creepy final page. Great job on that one Sean -- it’s some Grade-A nightmare fuel right there.
April 7, 2018
It’s the first crossover of the latest relaunch and the results are… decidedly meh. Wheeling out Mojo as the bad guy for this event certainly had potential as his evil-TV-producer-from-another-dimension schtick does give the creators a chance to cut loose and come up with some crazy scenarios. The problem here is that co-writers Marc Guggenheim and Cullen Bunn never really go that far. We get members of the Gold and Blue teams thrust into approximations of familiar scenarios like “Inferno” and “X-Tinction Agenda” as well as settings like Asgard. The creators start mixing things up with these setups towards the end, but it all boils down to having the X-Men fight a whole bunch of bad guys in ways that we’ve seen many times before. There’s also an attempt at satire in the acknowledgements that revisiting these famous scenes is all part of giving the fans what they want, and part of Marvel’s whole “Legacy” initiative as well, except that it’s as toothless as you’d expect.
Is there anything of value to be had from this crossover? Well, it offers further proof that Bunn is the better of the two current flagship “X-Men” writers as his dialogue lacks the canned, expository feeling that Guggenheim’s has in his issues. Jorge Molina delivers some good art in the “Blue” issues that would’ve been better served by brighter coloring, while the artists working on “Gold” get better with each issue from the robotic-looking Mike Mayhew, the more sprightly Marc Laming, and the actually quite good work of Diego Bernard. As for major plot developments, it’s revealed to the members of the “Gold” team that Magneto is still alive. So that counts, I guess?
Really, all “Mojo Worldwide” did was remind me how good the last Mojo story I read in the pages of “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine” was. Jason Aaron pushed the story as crazy as he could go and Adam Kubert backed him up by delivering some truly astounding visuals. This crossover was complete weaksauce in comparison and the fact that Mojo will be sticking around in the Marvel Universe at the end of it does not strike me as a promising development.
April 6, 2018
The next age of “Avengers” starts in a couple months with Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’ new series. In the meantime, the “No Surrender” weekly event is winding down and we’ve got the trade collections for the last couple of “Avengers” titles that I still read. Those would be vanilla “Avengers” and “U.S.Avengers,” written by Mark Waid and Al Ewing, respectively. Both creators are currently working on “No Surrender” along with “Uncanny Avengers” writer Jim Zub, so it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll see some plot threads from these series carried over into that event. Yet for all intents and purposes the “Avengers & Champions” crossover and the second volume of “U.S.Avengers” represent the writers’ final solo works on these titles. The good news is that they at least manage to go out on some high notes.
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April 4, 2018
My friend Steve joins us to talk about this sequel series that applies great characterization to a fundamentally unworkable premise.