July 16, 2018
Now this is weird. The previous volume put the main plot on hold to focus entirely on a grown-up Yukiko Gosho as she tried to put the vampire-related trauma of her high school years behind her and live an ordinary life. It was an effective character study that ended in a way that promised a return to the core storyline. That’s exactly what we get in this volume and I’m surprised it wasn’t as satisfying a read as I was expecting.
It starts out promising enough with Gosho sneaking into the cult compound where she thinks Okazaki is being held in the dead of night. Things don’t go well for her and she’s caught, but the cult’s leader welcomes her into its fold because they have a history together. You see, the cult leader is Sakurane, the serial killer who cut her throat and left her for dead in a burning apartment. While Gosho knows she’s in trouble, she summons the courage to play along with Sakurane until she can find out if he really does have Okazaki, Yuuki, or both of them down in the basement of the cult compound. Meanwhile, probably-not-a-serial-killer Sudo has tracked Gosho down to the compound and is working on his own way to save her from the danger inside.
The problem with vol. 7 is that it moves too slowly. It’s not a slow burn, mangaka Shuzo Oshimi is just taking his sweet time with how the plot is advancing here. By the end of the volume things haven’t really advanced all that much and there hasn’t been the kind of interesting character work I’ve come to expect to compensate for that. Sadly, what we do get is some really nasty stuff happening to Gosho at the hands of Sakurane. Just about all of it happens off-panel, but the implications are more skin-crawling than anything else. We do find out who’s in the basement, so it’s not like the volume is completely lacking in significant developments. It’s just that vol. 7 leaves me feeling that Oshimi was drawing things out to an unnecessary extent before he gets to the really good stuff.
July 15, 2018
The quality has been going back and forth on the two “X-Men” flagship titles. While I thought the first volume of “Gold” offered some welcome nostalgia to the ho-hum drama of “Blue,” things quickly reversed themselves. “Blue” found its groove in its subsequent two volumes while the nostalgic fun of “Gold” grew more rickety in its second before effectively faceplanting in its fourth. (Vol. 3 was the inter-title crossover “Mojo Worldwide” which was a draw because the story was so very “meh.”) This time around we have another proper volume of “Gold” while “Blue” crosses over with “Venom” for the “Poison-X” storyline.
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July 14, 2018
Now that they’re no longer on the trail of the Hulkverine, what’s a random assemblage of morally flexible and violent mutants to do? How about head south of the border to Santo Marco where the government is violently suppressing mutants through use of a suborned Nuke platoon. Warpath is all for it and takes point on much of the story as he clearly identifies with the natives’ plight, while Old Man Logan sees a more practical purpose in taking out the platoon. As for Domino, Lady Deathstrike, and Sabretooth, they’re all onboard because something about the mission appeals to their personal interests -- like robbing a bank. This results in a fun little action story that has a bit more going on than you’d think as the team wrestles with the optics of the situation and makes some questionable decisions as they try to pull out a win. The art from Yildray Cinar is also pretty nice as he choreographs the carnage with appreciable flair.
Greg Pak wrote that story solo, but he’s joined by his buddy Fred Van Lente for the second as Sabretooth resumes a yearly tradition: Trying to kill (Old Man) Logan on his birthday. This also leads to lots of well-orchestrated violence, this time courtesy of Roland Boschi, as Sabretooth tries to get Old Man Logan to give into the bloodlust he’s suppressed for so long. If you’re going, “Wait a second, isn’t Sabretooth’s personality still inverted from the events of ‘Axis?’” Well, yes, that’s the official line even as there’s been a slow walk back to the character’s traditional mindset. Pak and Van Lente are using the birthday excuse to allow Sabretooth’s old personality to fully reassert itself and the results are surprisingly entertaining. It’s a nice spin on a familiar concept that also has something to say about Sabretooth himself as we find out how Old Man Logan was finally able to put him down in his old timeline. Good stuff overall and welcome proof that this series can deliver the goods when not dealing with the Hulkverine.
July 13, 2018
I’ve mentioned before how this series has felt hamstrung by its inability to really get out there and explore the state of the “Star Wars” universe prior to “The Force Awakens.” Now imagine a comic that has to limit itself further by placing itself within the confines of the “Poe Dameron” series itself. That’s the state the “Poe Dameron Annual” from writer Robbie Thompson and artist Nik Virella finds itself in as Poe and BB-8 find themselves adrift in a First Order minefield and forced to take refuge on one of their ships to escape. The whole thing is fine, yet feels deeply inessential even before you get to the final page reveal which indicates that the annual should’ve been collected in the previous volume. With “Poe Dameron” wrapping up soon we’ll at least be spared from more wastes of space like this one.
That being said, with “Poe Dameron” wrapping up soon writer Charles Soule has decided that it’s time for it to get back to it’s ostensible main plot: Finding the mysterious Lor San Tekka. The good news is that he’s been found. The bad news is that he was caught breaking into a Neimoidian vault and is now in their custody. Now Poe and the rest of Black Squadron, with General Leia Organa masterminding the operation, have to break him out in a fun little heist that’s easily one of the better stories we’ve seen in this series to date. That’s even before Terex shows up again.
While the agent of the First Order was mostly robbed of his agency in the previous volume, he finds a way around that here, making things difficult for people on both sides of the conflict in the process. Terex’s exploits here cement his status as the best thing about “Poe Dameron” as he’s had a really interesting arc to follow from Imperial loyalist to his current disillusionment with the First Order. While his story appears to wrap up here, I don’t doubt that Soule will find a way to fit him into the next volume, which will let us know what Poe and Black Squadron were up to when they weren’t on screen during “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” That said, I can’t say it’s a good sign that I’m more concerned about a supporting character created for this comic than what’s in store for the title character himself.
July 11, 2018
Three different "Avengers" titles wrap up their runs in this perfectly serviceable event series.
July 9, 2018
How can you tell when a creator is firing on all cylinders regarding their current series? When they ditch their main cast and setting to focus on an all-new group of people in a completely different situation. That’s what mangaka Kengo Hanazawa does in this latest omnibus as we continue to focus on former shut-in Takashi Ezaki after he’s rescued by Kurusu and his companions. After he makes it back to their base with capable survivor Kowashi, Ezaki is slowly brought into their tight-knit and tightly-packed fold as he gets to know the many rules they’ve established in order to stay alive and starts to pull his weight in order to show that he belongs there. While the ZQNs provide an ever-present threat, this community also has its own share of issues to deal with. From the schoolgirl who wants to head to her school to see if her parents are still alive, to the other survivor that’s contacted them via CB radio, to the members in a nearby shed that are thinking of making a break for it, to Kurusu’s general craziness, you’re left with the feeling that things here could implode at any minute.
That they do shouldn’t surprise anyone. What makes it interesting here is that it happens in spite of the fact that everyone was following the rules. The idea that sometimes you can do everything right and still be screwed gives the subsequent escape some real drama, and actually inspires some sympathy for the characters you’ve just been introduced to. Hanazawa’s masterfully orchestrated ZQN attacks also keep the excitement level high throughout. Hideo and company may be MIA until the last few pages, but the mangaka does such a great job fleshing out this new community and its characters that the absence of the main players in the series up to this point isn’t that big of an issue here.
Neither is the revelation that “Kurusu” isn’t a specific name but a special type of ZQN. What is an issue is the fact that Kurusu-types all have a specific look to them, which honestly just comes off as a little goofy when we see three of them going at each other. Also, the end of this whole arc does feel more than a little abrupt. As if Hanazawa felt that he had digressed from Hideo and co. for too long and was eager to get back to them. I can understand that feeling, but whatever concern he may have felt was unnecessary. This was another excellent volume of the series, showing Hanazawa fully in control of the narrative almost to the very end.
July 8, 2018
Cates is the new hotness at Marvel thanks to his work on “Thanos,” “Venom,” and to a lesser extent his brief run on this title. I say this because in all likelihood “God of Magic” came about because Marvel wanted to keep “Doctor Strange” going through their “Legacy” initiative but needed someone to kill some time on it before Mark Waid and Jesus Saiz came in for their “Strange in Space” relaunch. So yeah, we’re dealing with a fill-in arc here. A fill-in arc which happens to be pretty good as far as these things go since it sets up and resolves a clever change to the status quo: Loki as the new Sorcerer Supreme.
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July 7, 2018
“Decompressed” is a funny title for this volume. That’s because writer/artist Matt Kindt does nothing but put pressure on his protagonist, Mia, and on the reader as well. Mia is still trying to figure out who killed her father, Hari, in the undersea base he was working at. Keep in mind that said base is slowly crumbling around her and the surviving members of the research team that were inhabiting it. While everyone is trying to find a way off of the base and back to the surface, they’ve also been quarantined by the authorities on the surface because they might’ve been exposed to an unknown pathogen during their time down there. Or it could just be exposure to the electrocommunication between the jellyfish, and the giant squid and sea turtle under the sea with them. All this is going on at the same time Mia is rifling through her own personal history with her father and his work to find some clue, or maybe just some closure, to his murder.
This is one of those volumes where while a lot of stuff happens it still leaves the reader feeling that not much forward progress has been made. I’ll admit that the cast has become better defined after three volumes and Kindt’s dialogue doesn’t grate on me as much, but the overall feeling is that the narrative is spinning its wheels at this point. All this new information we get, mostly about Mia and her father, starts to feel oppressive after a while. Kindt just keeps going over the same points about Mia’s unhappy childhood, her disappointment with Hari’s decision to leave space and explore the ocean, and how Hari’s effortless charisma brought everyone down here together and may have doomed them all. If Kindt was trying to create a story where the readers felt the crushing pressure that its undersea cast was experiencing, then mission accomplished. I just don’t think the results are all that worthwhile at this point.
July 6, 2018
The first volume of this series worked because of the unique angle writer/artist Jeff Lemire found to address the long-standing shared grief the members of the Pike family felt over the death of their youngest member, Tommy. Except for oldest sibling and prodigal son Pat, each family member chose to remember Tommy in an idealized fashion, either from a specific point in his life or as the man they hoped he’d grow into. With this second volume we flash back to the 90’s to see Tommy as he actually was: a quiet, withdrawn boy who’s suffering from severe headaches. We also get to see him make entries into the journal that Pat would later mine for his critically-acclaimed bestseller as he observes his family around him. Tommy takes in everything from Richie’s endearingly brash selfishness, Tara’s uncertainty about her future, Pat’s general apathy, and his parents’ own failings. Yet what does it all matter when we know that he’s not long for this world?
I’m not going to say that flashing back to show us what Tommy was really like wound up being a mistake that robs “Royal City” of what little mystique it had. No, really, I’m not. That’s because the thing that weighs down this second volume is how all of the plot threads here, both major and minor, wind up becoming predictable low-key bummers. Something’s eating at each member of the Pike family, be it cheating on a girlfriend, potential infidelity, trouble at work, or an unwanted pregnancy, and it all contributes to the feeling that life in a one-factory small town really kind of sucks. Taking the edge off of this feeling is how lived-in Lemire makes these characters’ lives feel. Life may suck for them and these characters do make a lot of bad decisions, but the feelings behind them come off as genuine. Lemire’s gift for coming up with interesting page layouts also makes for an experience that will keep your eye rolling effortlessly across the page. This may not be the creator’s strongest work, but it’s still good enough to get me to come back for the next, and final, volume.
July 3, 2018
What feels like the endgame for this series kicks off in this volume as Sato makes his move. What move is that you ask? Why negotiations with the Ministry of Welfare -- the same organization that has been kidnapping and torturing demi-humans to see how they can benefit society. What’s that you say? Negotiating with the enemy doesn’t sound like something that Sato would do? Then congratulate yourself -- you’re smarter than just about everyone else in this volume. The dumb doesn’t end there as Kei and company realize that Sato’s real objective is to raise some hell at a Self-Defense Force base festival that will have lots of military hardware on display and two-hundred thousand people in attendance including the prime minister. Something like this has plenty of armed military types handling security, which means that it’s going to be difficult for the most wanted man in Japan to sneak inside. Unless he just walks right in like he’s meant to be there.
“Ajin” has always been kind of dumb, yet the level of it on display here is kind of special. From Tanaka’s belief that Sato would actually want to negotiate with the government, to the Ministry’s failure to realize that Tanaka coming alone meant the worst, to the military’s handling of Sato’s “infiltration” of the base, just about everyone drops the ball in one form or another here. What’s worse is that most of the key players in this volume are dumb in a way that makes it impossible to sympathize with them. Sato’s betrayal of Tanaka feels like it was meant to come off as moment of high drama, but all it did was leave me thinking “You REALLY should’ve seen this coming.” The action is solid as always, with Sato’s assassination attempt on the Prime Minister easily being the volume’s high point, since the lack of talking during that scene helped keep the dumb at bay. Vol. 11 ends with Kei and company going their separate ways to take care of their own business in a way that further cements “Ajin’s” push towards its endgame. A really dumb one at this point, to be sure, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from the series at this point.