January 31, 2019
Usagi Yojimbo vol. 33: The Hidden: Though this is numbered as a proper volume of the series, it was originally released as a seven-issue miniseries. While the official reason for this was never mentioned, my gut feeling is that age is finally catching up with creator Stan Sakai and future “Usagi” releases will follow the series-of-miniseries format to give him the time he needs to complete them. That said, volume-length “Usagi” stories are rare but are among the most satisfying reads of the series. This is a tradition that goes all the way back to “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy” in vol. 4, both “Grasscutter” stories in vol. 12 (which won the Eisner for best serialized story) and vol. 15, “The Mother of Mountains” in vol. 21, and… “Return of the Black Soul” in vol. 24. That last one stands as the exception which proves the rule, even though it had a killer two-part story to preface the title one.
So I’m expecting a little more from this volume of “Usagi” than the ones which have preceded it in recent years. Adding to my interest is that “The Hidden” is essentially a mystery which features Usagi teaming up once again with Inspector Ishida. The solicitations don’t give much away, save for the fact that it involves a foreign book. It’s still enough to get me excited about picking up this volume from Stan himself at Comic-Con later this year.
Read the rest of this entry »
January 28, 2019
Much of the focus of this volume’s first half is on Karluk as he goes off to live with Amir’s brother Azel and his friends on the plains for a while. Why’s he doing this? Well, any twelve-year-old boy with a twenty-year-old wife is bound to feel some insecurity about his masculinity. Now he’s learning the ropes of how to be a decent hunter with a bow and his own hawk. This is all interesting in the way much of the series’ depiction of late-19th-century life around the Silk Road has been with mangaka Kaoru Mori’s art contributing detail that’s both intricate and subtle in regards to both the drawing and characterization. Karluk makes for a good point-of-view character in this section as we get to see his struggles with this new lifestyle firsthand and get some more insight into the current life situation of Azel and his friends. Amir shows up too, both to liven things up and remind us that the dynamic between her and Karluk isn’t going to change anytime soon. No matter how much the latter may want it to.
The volume’s second half is a bit more interesting since it sets up an interesting new status quo for one of its regular characters. That would be Mr. Smith, the English anthropologist who has occasionally been the focus of this series but has spent the majority of it hanging out on its fringes along with his indispensably savvy guide Ali. Here, the two of them find themselves part of a caravan heading to Ankara amidst bad weather and the specter of nearby Russian forces. Along the way we learn a thing or two about how vengeance is handled in these parts and how to deal with boredom while waiting for the weather to clear. Camel shearing is involved in that last bit. It’s all interesting in the same way the first half of this volume was, but Smith’s exploits get an added kick when a character we haven’t seen in a VERY long time (like, not since vol. 3) shows up in the last chapter. This character’s reappearance promises some happy complications for the man, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’re addressed in the next volume.
January 27, 2019
War of the Realms #’s 1&2 (of 6): I’d say that Marvel’s big event series of the year has arrived, but the way they’re running things these days you can bet it’s just the first of them. The odds are even that they’ll launch the next one before this wraps up. Cynicism aside, there’s good reason to be excited for this one. Mainly because it’s the first event series since “Secret Wars” to emerge organically from one of Marvel’s ongoing titles. Or rather “runs” in this case since Jason Aaron has been building to this ever since he brought back Malekith in the pages of “Thor: God of Thunder” during his first run on a monthly “Thor” title. (He’s currently on his fourth.) The crafty dark elf has been racking up win after win in Aaron’s “Thor” books to the point where nine of the ten realms are already under his control. There’s only one left for him to conquer: Midgard, home of nearly all of the superheroes in the Marvel Universe. Expect Malekith to steamroll over the competition at first before their superhero resourcefulness turns the tide along with some timely last-minute intervention by Thor himself. I’m not complaining, that’s been the general structure of pretty much every superhero event ever. All I really want from this event is to see Malekith’s gnashing and wailing as his plans are ruined by Thor. Hell, I’ll settle for seeing the dark elf escape at the end only for Loki to stab him in the back afterwards. I just want to see Malekith LOSE after enduring his smug winning streak for so long!
Read the rest of this entry »
January 26, 2019
Sex vol. 6: World Hunger: Hey everyone, more “Sex!” There’s been a lack of new “Sex” in the marketplace for a while so getting some new “Sex” is great news! Best of all is that “Sex’s” return is going to be bigger and thicker than before! Better catch up on all the old “Sex” that’s out there because you’ll want to be ready for this new “Sex” that’s coming your way in April.
Did I recommend this latest volume of “Sex” just to write that paragraph? Yes. Yes I did. Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski’s series about a retired superhero (who was totally not Batman) who tries to find fulfillment in living a normal life has always been one that I’ve appreciated more in what it’s trying to be than what it actually is. Whatever appreciation I had for it diminished after it looked like we were going to be left hanging after vol. 5, but it’s good to see Casey and Kowalski making an effort here to finish things off. I don’t think this is going to be the last volume of the series, but I’ll be picking it up anyway to complete the “Sex” in my life.
Read the rest of this entry »
January 25, 2019
Cover vol. 1 & Pearl vol. 1: The former is about a comic book creator who is recruited to be an undercover operative by the CIA. The latter is about a tattoo artist who is also a Yakuza assassin. Linking the both together is the fact that they’re both written by Brian Michael Bendis. The writer has shown, much to my surprise, that he’s actually committed to putting out his creator-owned work on a regular basis with his move to DC. While it’s nice to have continuations of long-dormant series like “Scarlet” and “The United States of Murder Inc.,” “Cover” and “Pearl” are notable for being all-new titles making their debut through DC. They’ve also got a strong artistic pedigree with David Mack illustrating “Cover” and Bendis’ “Jessica Jones” collaborator Michael Gaydos handling “Pearl.” I’ve gone on about the writer’s uneven output during his latter years at Marvel, but the move to DC appears to have reinvigorated him and I want to see if that carries over to the quality of his creator-owned work in addition to its quantity.
Read the rest of this entry »
January 23, 2019
Featuring criminals, lovers, madmen, graphic violence, clever plans, and laugh-out-loud moments throughout the list, and all together in the year's best read.
January 21, 2019
When we left off with the main characters of this series, things had become really weird even by its standards. Having Hideo partially swallowed by a mutant ZDQ creature and not be digested was strange. Finding out that his current situation not only allowed him to exert some mental control over the creature, but to link with the other Kurusu-type characters we’ve seen so far sounds just plain crazy. It’s not, because the series has long hinted at the fact that all of the ZDQs are connected in some way and Hideo’s interactions with the other Kurusus is just one way of visualizing it. We see this done another way late in the volume as a little girl in Italy winds up finding shelter with a group of people who have managed to avoid becoming infected in the midst of an outbreak. One of the group even has some very interesting ideas about how this situation came about as there might actually be more direction to it than it seems. Oh, and that the Kurusu-types may not be part of the plan but their own special kind of chaos.
All of this is good since it shows that there’s a method to the madness that mangaka Kengo Hanazawa has been serving up to this point. There might even be some satisfying payoff to it by the end of the series, meaning that “I Am A Hero” won’t have to just get by on our investment in the plight of Hideo, Hiromi, and Oda. It’s an investment which is severely tested here as things take a bad turn in the middle portion of the volume. After Hiromi and Oda go out on a scavenging run and reveal certain issues they have with each other, the former nurse gets some bad news that threatens to split her off from the group. What news could be so bad that it would cause Oda to strike out on her own in the middle of the apocalypse? Something pretty understandable, to be honest, and the rest of the volume deals with Hideo and Hiromi coming to grips with the fallout of her actions. It’s something which is realized pretty convincingly and balances nicely against the insanity bookending this volume.
January 20, 2019
Brian Wood has turned out some good work on licensed titles, including “Star Wars,” “Conan,” and “Aliens,” over at Dark Horse, so checking out his take on “Robocop” from BOOM! was a no-brainer for me. “Citizen’s Arrest” takes place thirty years after the events of the first movie with a resurgent Omni Consumer Products that has taken over all public services in Detroit. Chief among these is the new R/Cop app which allows citizens to report crimes and get rewarded for it. The app is enforced by OCP’s automated police force one which the original Robocop, Alex Murphy, is not a part of. They overwrote his programming to send him into forced retirement leaving him to haunt the run-down suburb where he lives like a mechanical ghost. That changes when former cop Leo Reza tries to look him up and enlist his help against the ruthless gentrification efforts of OCP.
There are parts of this story that work just fine. The opening issue does a good job establishing the current state of affairs, with the application of the R/Cop app coming off more believable than it should, and makes Leo a sympathetic co-protagonist. Then things slowly start to spiral off the rails. OCP’s logic for leaving Robocop active comes off as laughably foolish even by standards of corporate arrogance. The late-game effort to give the title character a partner of sorts and it comes off as far too rushed for it to have the emotional impact it should. Most annoying are the constant in-story cutaways to the media’s talking heads who offer blithely ignorant commentary on the events of the plot. This is a direct callback to the biting satire of the first film, but it only distracts from the story here due to the frequency of said cutaways. Not helping any of this is the fairly bland art from Jorge Coelho. “Citizen’s Arrest” had promise at the start and some bits that occasionally work, yet it just winds up being kind of a mess in the end.
January 19, 2019
While this series hasn’t been on the level of writer Brian K. Vaughan’s best work, this penultimate volume actually puts it in a good place ahead of its finale. The girls, along with along with the Future Tiffany they picked up in the previous volume, have landed in the far future of 2171 and are on the hunt for some answers as to how to get home. So naturally they head to the local library to get some, and maybe find out if this future has a cure for the cancer that’s going to kill Mackenzie. The problem is that, as a result of the events of the previous volume, they’ve landed on the radar of one Jahpo Thapa who runs the organization which polices the streets and the timestream known as the Watch. He’s been waiting a long time to get these girls to answer for what they’ve done. It just so happens that if he doesn’t it might mean the end of the world for everyone involved.
“Paper Girls” has always felt like Vaughan’s attempt to engineer his own kind of “puzzle box” story. Where all sorts of questions are set up from the start and you’ve just got to have some kind of faith in the writer that all this is going to make sense in the end. The good news is that it looks like that might actually happen after what we learn in this volume. Through the magic and convolutions of time-travel we actually learn what Jahpo was up to in the first volume, and the stakes are clearly identified going forward from here. Sustaining patience in Vaughan’s vision would’ve been easier if the four main leads had been more distinctive characters. I mention this because what should’ve been a revelatory moment between MacKenzie and KJ doesn’t come off that way. It feels more like they’re just succumbing to fate. Still, the fact that everything looks to be coming together, and Cliff Chiang’s appealingly gonzo vision of the future, make this volume of the series the strongest one since its first.
January 18, 2019
The solicitations for this latest “Black Hammer” spinoff miniseries made it seem like it was borrowing a lot from James Robinson et. al.’s classic series “Starman.” Not only was this set to feature a character with “Star” in his name, but it was also set up to revolve around the kind of fractured father/son relationship which drove that series as well. “Black Hammer’s” take on the history of comics can tread towards self-congratulatory navel-gazing at times and “Doctor Star” looked like it was going to cross right over that line. At least until I found out that the title character’s real name was James Robinson in the “Sherlock Frankenstein” series and I was hoping that creator/writer Jeff Lemire was aiming to inject some kind of metafictional take here.
That’s not the case as Lemire notes in the backmatter that Doctor Star’s real name is really just a nod to real “Starman” writer Robinson. Paradoxically, this miniseries winds up being more disappointing for not being a riff on the relationship which drove “Starman.” No, “Lost Tomorrows” is a bog-standard story about a scientist who discovers a new source of power, uses it to become a superhero, and neglects his family life in the process. Don’t expect any twists or surprises here, the story of Doctor Star’s life plays out with the same familiar beats of sadness and regret all these stories have.
Even if the miniseries is effectively hobbled by its strict adherence to storytelling convention, it’s at least supported by some noteworthy craft. Lemire does manage to give the story an appropriately melancholy tone with a finale whose uplift feels appropriate and earned. I was also impressed by artist Max Fiumara’s work, as he’s come a long way from his work on “B.P.R.D.” and “Abe Sapien.” He channels the superhero weirdness of the “Black Hammer” universe quite well and gets it to mix seamlessly with the more grounded human concerns at the heart of the story. Dave Stewart’s colors help here as well, giving the flashbacks a brighter look compared to the grays of the present day. All the creators involved with this story are doing good work here, it’s just too bad that they’re not doing it in the service of a more interesting story.