September 30, 2018
I said in my review of the first volume that, “I’m hard-pressed to see how the second volume improves from here.” Well, I don’t think that vol. 2 is an actual improvement, but the destruction of my expectations after reading vol. 1 at least let me enjoy this one more. Not that it does anything to excuse the poor choice of villain for this storyline as Diamondback still projects all the menace of a wet paper bag. Oh he can talk a good deal, and his recounting of what happened when Wilson Fisk made his play to become the Kingpin is a high point, but his plan to become the new Kingpin still feels like more hot air than anything else. Not helping matters at all is how he gets his ass handed to him twice (AGAIN!), and that’s only because of an awful courtroom sequence that looks nice but is such a transparent device to get the character back on the street that it’s honestly a little painful to read. Not helping matters either is the pivot towards one of Bendis’ pet villains near the end, someone who never felt as threatening as the writer intended him to be.
There are a number of things working in this volume’s favor, at least. Chief among them is David Marquez’s incredible art which gives the conversation scenes plenty of character and the action scenes plenty of crunch. A particular standout is the wordless fight between Iron Fist and Elektra which stands as one of the most intense superhero fights I’ve seen in a Marvel comic in recent memory. Bendis’ dialogue also has plenty of energy to it here and it’s fun to take in even when the characters are just shooting the breeze. Though he doesn’t do as much with the Punisher this time around, the writer gets some surprisingly good mileage out of Deadpool whose fourth-wall-breaking tendencies prove to be a perfect fit for his style.
Between these two volumes I’d say the quality has risen from “kinda disappointing” to “enjoyable if you don’t think too hard about it.” Even with the fantastic art from Marquez, “The Defenders” serves as a reminder that Bendis has done better work with these characters in other titles. You should go read those, “Alias/Jessica Jones,” “New Avengers,” “Daredevil” -- before picking up this series which, after vol. 2, can at least be enjoyed by the writer’s completists.
September 29, 2018
The cliffhanger delivered at the end of vol. 6 was amazing for a few reasons, but mainly because of how it inverted my expectations of the kind of ending I usually expect from Rick Remender’s work. So, do he and artist Wes Craig fully deliver on the promise of the tables being turned on everyone who’s currently chasing Marcus and his friends? Nope! It’s not a complete walkback as Marcus is forced to team up with Viktor and Brandi to fight off the yakuza thugs who have come after them while Maria and Quan, Petra and Helmut, and Zenzelle and Toshawi respectively split up to find their own ways to survive this awful night in Puerto Penasco.
Vol. 7 is the thinnest of the series so far, collecting only four issues. That’s not as much of a problem as Remender and Craig pack this volume with enough action and incident to make it a satisfyingly dense read. While the action sustains pretty well for the first half of the volume, it’s the character stuff that will likely stick with you after the volume is over. Things like Maria’s interrogation of Quan that’s as spontaneous as it is menacing, Marcus’ desperate fight against Viktor that leads the former to a hallucinatory debate with a dead friend, and the revelation of Zenzelle’s backstory that sheds an awful new light on her religious fanatacism.
There are a number of issues, however, that keep this volume from being among the best in the series. First is that the action is so intense and over-the-top that it strains even the suspension of disbelief for this series that only one member of its cast winds up dying along the way. Regardless of whether this character deserved their fate, it’s frustrating when another is mentioned to constantly be on the brink of death throughout the volume only to demonstrate a level of survivability akin to Wolverine’s. Then there’s the fact that Craig’s art, which is on point for the volume’s first half, takes a dive halfway through as it takes on an increasingly rougher look that indicates he was bashing it out against some deadlines. Finally, I think that the change-of-heart demonstrated by one character toward the end of vol. 7 only works because I really wanted to believe it, not because it makes sense for this character. Still an enjoyable volume overall even as I’m left hoping things get fully back on track when we return to King’s Dominion next time.
September 28, 2018
Bartlett Bowman is a man who appreciates the simple things in life. Like sitting on the porch of his family house in the cool of an evening in a small Texas town sipping a blood beer. Blood beer? That’s right, because like the other members of the Bowman clan, Bartlett is a vampire. They’ve been running the local barbecue joint for years living off of the blood of the animals they slaughter which allows them to maintain an uneasy peace with their rivals, the pious Landrys. That all changes one evening when a drunken Bartlett wanders into town to keep an eye on his nephews and wakes up in the morning on his porch with all of the family’s cattle slaughtered and one of the kids burning in the sun while hanging from a tree. Bartlett has no idea how this happened or even if it was really him that has sparked a new conflict between the Bowmans and the Landrys as his family has so much to lose now.
“Redneck” comes to us from writer Donny Cates with newcomer (to me at least) Lisandro Estherren providing the art. It’s the writer’s follow-up to his breakout Image hit “God Country” and feels like the lesser of his creator-owned work at this point if only because it’s clear he’s playing a longer game here. That title clearly benefited from its short length as it forced Cates and artist Geoff Shaw to throw in every crazy idea they had in addition to firmly tying it to relatable human concerns. “Redneck” is very much in the same vein (pun intended) as it’s basically a southern family drama with vampires. That adds a certain amount of spice to the story, as do interesting characters like young psychic Perry, and the traditional as he is mad Grandpa. Still, the story in this volume ticks all the familiar boxes you’d expect it to only with vampires this time around. Estherren’s art is fine as it gives the story a roughness that works but not much more. All this results in a first volume that is a perfectly fine read, yet one that I hope goes in more interesting directions now that the process of setting things up is out of the way.
September 26, 2018
“Batman: Damned” got off to a headline-grabbing start last week. Not because of its status as the debut “Black Label” title for mature readers superhero comics, or the quality of the storytelling from writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo. No, it grabbed all of those headlines because in one scene Bermejo drew Batman disrobing in a way that showed off his penis. That’s right, the Batpenis is now an official part of comics canon. Assuming you picked up a physical copy of the comic -- the Batpenis has been removed from the digital editions. If you didn’t, then you’d better act soon because it’s very unlikely DC will keep the Batpenis in subsequent print editions. Copies of the first issue of “Damned” are already going for $85 on Ebay right now as a result of this.
No more mentions of the Batpenis in this article after the break -- I promise...
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September 24, 2018
For the last several volumes this series has been focused on the martial-arts tournament that Saitama has been competing in so that he can learn more about this particular style of fighting. While this has been going on, a monster invasion in the city has had the many members of the Hero Association playing defense. Both of these storylines fully collide in this volume as Goketsu, a Demon-class threat and a former champion of this particular martial-arts tournament, offers its competitors the chance to become monsters themselves. Some of them accept his offer and proceed to challenge Suiryu, the arrogant champion of the match, to test their newfound strength.
There’s no denying that Suiryu’s has needed some comeuppance due to his attitude for a few volumes now. Is pitting him against these monsters the way to do it? Well, creators ONE and Yusuke Murata show that they’ve got the right idea by having Suiryu break a sweat and even bleed while taking these guys on. Showing him actually struggle in a fight is a good way to get us to sympathize with him (at last). Then he takes on Goketsu and things go bad. Then to worse. And then on to “all hope is lost.” This might seem like overkill on the creators’ efforts, but this is “One-Punch Man.” Here, “overkill” just means that they’ve put in the necessary effort to get you to care about the fight at hand.
Which is a good thing too because there’s nothing new as far as the storytelling goes in this volume. I’ve read plenty of superhero stories where arrogant heroes are humbled against impossible odds and have to learn what constitutes real heroism along the way. It’s very much the same here. What makes this volume, and “One-Punch Man” in general, worth reading is that the execution is absolutely spot-on. ONE and Yusuke Murata know exactly what to put into the story to keep you invested without any distractions and how crazy the action needs to be in order to present a credible threat. Oh, and (most importantly) when to have Saitama show up to do the series’ title justice. It’s the superhero formula done close to perfection and it’s remarkable in the way that the creators have been able to keep pulling it off for as long as they have.
September 23, 2018
While much of “Batman #50” have largely remained unspoiled for me, two details have emerged regarding it. The most relevant one to this volume being that Batman and Catwoman did not wind up getting married. Which is too bad for a couple of reasons. The first being that I was already looking forward to writer Tom King giving us the Bat-divorce in issue #100 if his hundred-issue-run plan is fulfilled. The other is that Batman and Catwoman actually do make for a very likeable couple and this volume represents our last chance to observe this before it disappears amidst all the wedding drama.
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September 22, 2018
“Sherlock Frankenstein” is a great name. It’s an unlikely mash-up of two of the most famous characters in fiction that grabs your attention right away with its promise of weirdness and horror tempered by rationality. He’s also a character who fits perfectly within the superhero pastiche of the “Black Hammer” world, of which this is a spin-off miniseries to. While adding “and the Legion of Evil” to his name only makes this miniseries sound that much more promising, it’s ultimately a misnomer. As was the case with another Dark Horse miniseries I reviewed a couple weeks ago the real star here is someone who isn’t even mentioned in the title.
That would be Lucy Hammer, the daughter of the superhero known as Black Hammer. She was very young when her father disappeared with the rest of the “Black Hammer” cast in the fight against the Anti-God. Yet Lucy never gave up hope that her father was still out there somewhere and she still wants to solve that mystery as an adult. After a former superhero gives Lucy her first major lead, the rookie journalist then works on getting her second by tracking down her father’s rogues gallery. First on the list: Sherlock Frankenstein himself.
Working in this miniseries’ favor is how it fleshes out Lucy’s character as readers of the regular “Black Hammer” series know that she’s become a very important part of it. We also get more fun riffs on established superhero conventions, as is the series stock-in-trade, with Cthu-Lou -- a plumber possessed by a Lovecraftian entity -- being the most memorable of the bunch. Yet while the miniseries expands the world of the series, Sherlock Frankenstein is only a bit player in this story with his name at the top of it. Though writer Jeff Lemire is clearly having fun with all this, and the art from David Rubin is as amazing as you’d expect, I was left wishing I’d got an actual “Sherlock Frankenstein” miniseries. One that details his longtime criminal history with its major shifts and dug into his romance with Golden Gail. These are the kind of things I was expecting to read about in a “Sherlock Frankenstein” miniseries, let alone one that also name-checks his “Legion of Evil,” and it’s immensely disappointing to realize that we’ll likely never find out more about them now.
September 21, 2018
The slow-y burn-y approach of “Outcast” continues unabated in this volume as a major new character makes his debut. Rowland Tusk has just moved to the town of Rome and is dealing with the usual headaches that such a thing entails. A wife who has to deal with the unpacking, kids who are uneasy about going to a new school, and getting acquainted with the rhythms of small-town life. Why has Tusk come to Rome? He’s the replacement for the late and unmourned Sidney, sent to make sure all of the possessed citizens are taken care of and that nothing gets in the way of the upcoming merge. Top of his to-do list is finding the Outcast, Kyle Barnes who has gone to ground with his friends and family in the rural countryside. They’ve also been attracting a rather large congregation of refugees from the goings-on in Rome who they may wind up having to turn into an army sooner rather than later now that Tusk is coming for them.
Tusk makes a pretty great first impression as he’s shown to be a great dad who genuinely cares about his wife and kids. Later in the day, after confronting one of his minions who has let an individual in the early stages of possession escape, he rips out the man’s tongue as punishment. Charming and ruthless in equal measure and the parts of this volume that focus on him are the most engaging ones. It’s too bad that the end of this volume implies he’s about to be one-upped by someone even more sinister, but Kirkman clearly sees the finale of vol. 6 as a major raising of the stakes for the story. In the nick of time too, if I’m being honest. The parts of the story focusing on Kyle and company really feel like they’re marking time waiting for the finale to set up a tense new status quo and some potential allies. So I’m left hoping that everything that this volume sets up results in vol. 7 finally (FINALLY) turns “Outcast” into a must-read series for me instead of one that’s only good enough to keep me reading.
September 19, 2018
My thoughts on Matt Kindt's so-so follow up to "Mind MGMT."
September 18, 2018
What fresh hell awaits us in this volume? Not much, all things considered. Compared to previous volumes where I was expecting “Murcielago” to stop trying to shock me, only to be proven wrong in unsettling and/or skin-crawling ways, this volume is relatively sedate. A kid gets stabbed in the head, a woman gets part of her head chopped off -- these things are pretty much business as usual for this title. The most disturbing thing in this volume is seeing the abusive state of the lesbian high school couple from the previous volume and even that’s only for a couple pages.
If the paragraph above seems like I’m complaining about the lack of shocking content in this latest volume of “Murcielago” then you’re not wrong. I’ve been waiting for the point when this series would settle down and start delivering some storytelling with more substance than it has shown up to this point. Has vol. 7 finally delivered on this expectation? Not quite. After an opening chapter which features possibly the worst thing to happen to Kuroko so far in this series, the latest arc kicks into gear after a member of an extreme right-wing organization from decades ago escapes from prison. He’s been planning this for a while and has managed to not only ring in a few killers to help him, but a chemical agent that can turn ordinary people into crazed psycho killers.
All of this is pretty standard-issue as far as storytelling goes for “Murcielago.” Though the mastermind and his henchmen don’t really stand out compared to the other psychos that have graced its pages, the story itself moves along at a decent clip and without too much dumb to drag it down. In particular, I liked how the chief of police was more on the ball than I expected him to be here and burly AF bartender/brawler Ran Sabiura looks like she’ll make a nice addition to the regular cast. Not a bad volume overall, even if the series still has yet to demonstrate that it has anything truly memorable to offer beyond its most envelope-pressing moments.