December 15, 2018
An ongoing series featuring Domino? “How the hell did this happen?” is what I thought until I remembered that she was featured -- to pretty great effect -- in “Deadpool 2” earlier this year. So here we are with the first volume of her ongoing title and… it’s alright. The idea of a devil-may-care mercenary with luck powers certainly has its appeal, with the character having a lot of the most fun moments over in “Weapon X.” Here she’s paired with super-strong southern belle Outlaw and high-class reformed supervillain Diamondback, and they make for a pretty good team as we’re introduced to them as they work together to bust up a timber smuggling operation before they head over to Domino’s (surprise) birthday party. We get lots of cameos, Domino gets a dog, and some flashbacn flashbacks before she’s greeted by some party crashers in her bedroom. Naturally, these aren’t your average party crashers as one of them has super-strength and the ability to turn off the title character’s powers. Which she does before throwing Domino out of a window.
That’s how writer Gail Simone and artist David Baldeon end their first issue. No spoiler warning: Domino lives and has to find out how to deal with a villain who can mess with her luck power and why she’s being targeted in the first place. The answers aren’t all that surprising and most of this first volume plays like a been there, done that version of superhero mercenary schtick. That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had along the way: Baldeon’s art is both detailed and expressive, the training and fight scenes with Shang-Chi are a hoot, and Simone writes Domino enough presence and style to show that she can carry an ongoing series. If only the series had more moments like the final showdown between Domino and the villain that really broke with superhero convention. Or if it could pick a tone between serious action drama and freewheeling lightweight fun instead of mixing them up here and blunting the title’s overall effectiveness. This first volume left me with the feeling that a Domino ongoing could work, except that this one isn’t quite there yet.
December 14, 2018
I was thinking about reviewing this for a podcast. After reading it, I decided against it. That’s in part due to the fact that this is essentially sixteen issues (two one-shots and four four-issue miniseries) of setup for the main event that is the “Return of Wolverine.” The other part is that this is a deeply mixed bag in terms of quality. Some of the comics here are pretty great -- especially if you were a fan of “All-New Wolverine.” Others are simply passable or actively annoying. Did we need this much setup for Wolverine’s return? Absolutely not. Still, this could’ve been a lot worse than what we got.
Read the rest of this entry »
December 12, 2018
Does Kodansha's second manga-based anthology from international creators fare any better than its first?
December 11, 2018
Yes, you read that right. TWO volumes of “Meguru” have been released since the last one I reviewed. Outside of four months between them too. It’s worth noting that there’s one arc which joins these two with additional stuff making up the first half of vol. 7 and the back half of vol. 8. Most of that stuff includes MORE TRAINING for Meguru following his loss-by-decision in the previous volume. It’s honestly a bit dull since the manga’s grounded approach to actually getting stronger and improving your technique is pretty dry, as this stuff usually is in real life. Where it gets interesting is when mangaka Hiroki Endo mixes it up with some character development, as is the case when Meguru gets to know Muroi, a nearly over-the-hill fighter from another gym that he might fight in an upcoming match, and gets some additional help regarding nutrition from Maki. Who totally doesn’t have a crush on him, NOT ONE BIT! What she does have is a pretty great fight with an MMA fighter in vol. 7’s first half which sees Maki pushed to her limit and resorting to some dirty tricks in an attempt to stave off a loss.
Bringing these volumes together is the arc “Ten Years,” which sees Meguru and somewhat ditzy prodigy Momoko entering a Brazilian ju-jitsu tournament. While the tournament provides the narrative momentum for the storyline, it’s also loosely addresses Yudai’s recovery from his injury and ambivalence about continuing with shooto. His journey has some nice moments, mainly between him and his family as we learn about how his brother got his life back on track after accidentally paralyzing a fellow judo practitioner while sparring. Yet it feels like a sideshow to the real draw of this arc: Momoko. After getting Yudai to promise he’ll do ju-jitsu with her if she wins her branch of the tournament, we get to see what she’s capable of. It leads to some pretty impressive fights, including one between a Canadian woman who dwarfs the petite fighter in height and muscle. There’s an exhilarating moment late in vol. 7 where we get to see the real extent of Momoko’s skill and it’s the highlight of these two volumes. It’s a great example of what you can accomplish with martial arts, and one more reason I’ll continue to read this series. Whenever new volumes arrive.
December 9, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Dark Horse’s manga launch of the year! Not only does it hail from the creator/writer of “One-Punch Man,” but it has also spawned an anime series successful enough to get a second season (the first episode of which will be premiering in American theaters). With that kind of pedigree it’s honestly a little surprising to report that this is a strange, down-to-earth series whose style suggests that it would be destined for nothing more than cult success.
Read the rest of this entry »
December 8, 2018
What does this second volume of “filler-arc ‘Gantz’ spinoff” have to convince us that it’s not just a tired cash-in? How about drama between teenage girls! It’s actually more appealing that I’m making it sound as the dynamics between the five girls who survived the first volume distinguish it a little from its parent series. So rather than have a diverse group of survivors who come together when faced with these unbelievable circumstances, we’ve got a team who is going to let petty drama drive them apart.
That’s the impression I’m getting from this volume as hero protagonist Kei, her bookish manga-loving friend Yoshiko, model and class idol Kimiko, professional idol Morishita, and blonde silent type Kaji fail to bond in the way you’d expect them to. It mainly comes down to the fact that Kei’s initiative in the training sessions that the two (handsome) young male Gantz survivors have set up impresses them. Which annoys Yoshiko and Morishita to no end, leading them to spread ugly rumors about Kei on a message board frequented by their classmates. Kaji doesn’t put too much stock in any of this, though. She’s got her hands full with an abusive father, a person who seems like the perfect subject to test out the power given to her by the Gantz suit.
The characters’ circumstances, personalities, and the drama that results from them aren’t particularly new. However, the definition given to the characters here at least helps them move beyond the one-dimensional ciphers they came off as in the first volume. I’m also intrigued by how Kei’s straightforward heroic persona is proving to be divisive amongst the group rather than the uniting force you’d expect it to be. It’s led us to a Gantz team that isn’t working together and I’m curious to see if it winds up having dire results for everyone in the next and final volume. A filler arc where teamwork fails and everyone dies at the end? That’d be novel if nothing else.
December 7, 2018
Listeners with long memories might recall that I mentioned the first four-issue “The Paybacks” miniseries when I talked about the stuff I was reading on my Kindle that one time. It’s idea of a superhero repo squad that targeted other superheroes who couldn’t afford the payments on their flashy tech was a fun one with the execution providing plenty of jokes along the way. That it ended on a cliffhanger was pretty disappointing, but it turned out to not be the end of the story! “The Paybacks’” creators were able to take the series to Titan Comics for another four-issue miniseries which wrapped up the story. It didn’t sell well enough for them to publish a collected edition for both miniseries, but then a funny thing happened: Its creators blew up. You see, the co-writer of “The Paybacks” is Donny Cates (with Eliot Rahal) and the artist is his “God Country” and “Thanos Wins” buddy Geoff Shaw. It’s probably obvious now why both miniseries have been collected by Dark Horse for our reading enjoyment.
While I’m glad to finally find out how the story ends, I was kinda missing the “workplace comedy” vibe that the earlier issues had. Smartly realizing that the second miniseries was going to be the last we saw of this series, Cates and Rahal decided to go big and opted for a massive clash between the Paybacks and the superheroes who believed that their secret identities had been revealed by these repo people. It’s fine for a series-ending climax, especially when you’ve got someone like Shaw who can deliver this kind of spectacle. My issue with it is that it’s decidedly at odds with the goofball fun of the first half which saw them collecting from (among other people) a very English Batman-wannabe. That the whole thing holds together at all by the end is a testament to the skills of the creators involved. It doesn’t change the fact that “The Paybacks” suffers from the sin of too much ambition as it tries but doesn’t quite succeed at cramming an entire series’ worth of characters, plot twists, and explosions into eight issues.
December 5, 2018
The first volume of this series was hamstrung by the fact that it felt like setup for the stories that Grant Morrison really wanted to tell with the character. With that out of the way, vol. 2 should be a fantastic read. Right? Well it certainly has its charms with the inventive art of Yanick Paquette chief among them. Paquette’s layouts are never less than eye-catching while his design sense -- witness the Wonder Burqa -- is as impeccable as ever. Supporting characters Etta Cady and Steve Trevor bring a welcome sense of fun and a needed outsider perspective, respectively, to the proceedings as well. There’s also no denying that seeing the Amazonians take on a Nazi invasion in the volume’s opening pages is a genuine thrill as well. It doesn’t last for long, but Morrison and Paquette work to make it an exciting action sequence that ultimately ties into the book’s larger themes of love and submission as well.
Yet the most clever thing here is the reinvention of Dr. Leon Zeiko (a.k.a. Dr. Psycho) as a pick-up artist who is hired by the Army to get inside Wonder Woman’s head. It’s a take on the character that makes perfect sense and provides a credible threat to the title character as he represents a psychological rather than physical threat. While his methods are cringingly effective to watch, the actual execution of his plan feels rushed with his takedown feeling like it was dictated by the plot rather than Wonder Woman’s actions. That same rushed feeling is also present in the late-volume re-emergence of a prior threat that rocks Diana’s world and that of Amazonia to their cores. It all leads to an ending that by all means should feel empowering for the character, yet actually rings hollow since it doesn’t feel like she’s earned that position. Maybe this is part of Morrison’s plan and it’ll be addressed in the third (and concluding) volume? Let’s hope so because after two volumes “Wonder Woman: Earth One” is starting to feel like another misfire from this usually reliable writer.
December 3, 2018
Okay, so this title’s momentum kind of stalled out in the previous volume. I’d like to say that “Happiness” gets its groove back here, but that’ll probably depend on how eager you were to learn about Sakurane’s backstory. While we knew that he was a killer before he met Gosho and went away with Yuuki to start a cult, the stomach-turning depths of his depravity are on full display here. These chapters do explain why he became so obsessed with vampirism -- turns out that he wasn’t entirely lying to Gosho about his sister -- but they trade on a pretty familiar kind of sensationalism. Yes, Sakurana was a psycho from the start. Except he also had some genuinely awful parents who dealt with him in the worst way possible. I’ve seen this kind of serial killer characterization before, so I was ready for it to be over by the time his story catches back up to when he first met Gosho.
Fortunately these chapters are bookended by more interesting material in the present day. Sudo does his best to be Gosho’s white knight, except he winds up getting too much red on him for it to work. It’s a good thing that Yuuki finally emerges from his stupor with the intent of finally doing the right thing after all these years. I liked seeing him do this, even though he failed to realize what this audience of cult members has been wanting from him after all these years. That leads to a dramatic climax as things go very, very bad for everyone in this particular plotline. I say “plotline” because on the last few pages Oshimi lets us know that he hasn’t forgotten about this series’ other protagonist. Which means that vol. 9 should be the first volume in a while that delivers some genuinely satisfying forward momentum.
December 2, 2018
Since its inception Dark Horse Comics has been owned by one person: Co-founder Mike Richardson. As of last October that’s no longer the case. Dark Horse received a large investment from Vanguard Visionary Associates, a Hong Kong-based firm. The stated intent behind this investment is to allow Dark Horse to fund the production of films and TV series based on the comics it publishes and to sell its comics and other products on a larger international scale -- especially in China. “Creating new ideas” was also mentioned as one of the things this investment was meant to facilitate, and I can only hope that it means “more original comics” from the company.
What does this mean for Dark Horse itself? Bigger and better things if those TV and film expansion plans pay off. Best case scenario is that the company turns into a one-stop shop for comics publishing that can be spun off to other media all while being creator-owned. Worst case likely involves Vanguard exerting more and more control over Dark Horse to run it the way they want and destroying the company’s spirit before the company itself. Along the same way that Electronic Arts tends to do that for all of the companies it acquires (R.I.P. Origin, Pandemic, Visceral…)
What would I like to see happen from this deal? A “Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service” TV series. Carl Horn mentioned that this was something that Dark Horse was looking at in one of the liner notes for a past volume. These days, selling a TV series based on a comic book series is a much easier prospect and think “Kurosagi’s” quirky supernatural horror-comedy vibe stands a good chance of finding an audience in this geek-friendly landscape. It’s also probably the ONLY way to get the series enough exposure for Dark Horse to start publishing it again, and that’s my main reason for wanting to see it happen. (I would’ve gone with “Eden” here, but I’m trying to keep things realistic since a tech-heavy sci-fi series like that would likely be a more expensive prospect. Of course if “Kurosagi” does well this would be the next title I’d like to see them pursue.)
Read the rest of this entry »