September 30, 2019
Hey, it’s me again. The guy who reads graphic novel adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s works rather than the original stories. I know I’ve said I’ll get around to reading them eventually, but today’s not that day. Instead, I’m here to talk about the latest Lovecraft adaptation from Gou Tanabe. Dark Horse had previously brought over his “The Hound and Other Stories” anthology and received an Eisner nomination for their trouble. Now they’re giving us Tanabe’s adaptation of Lovecraft’s only full-length novel.
In spite of that distinction the plot of “At the Mountains of Madness” is pretty straightforward. A group of explorers, professors, and scientists head out on an expedition to the Antarctic and wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for. The plot so far can basically be boiled down to being an extended take on someone shouting “Don’t go in there!” during a horror movie, with “there” being Antarctica. Having a mostly interchangeable cast so far -- with Prof. Lake making the strongest impression because his character design is basically Benedict Cumberbatch, but more sinister -- definitely works against caring about who’s going to die in this setup. Still, I appreciated the focus we get on the men and their methods, showing us how science and rationality have taken them all this far.
I imagine that’s all going out the window in the second volume because this first volume is a very slow burn. It was a good call on Dark Horse’s part to condense the four-volume Japanese edition into two volumes for release out here. That way we get more of Tanabe’s amazingly detailed and atmospheric art to appreciate in one go. This first volume may be short on plot and character, but the mangaka brings this alien landscape to vivid life in such an assured fashion which wound up holding my interest to the very end. So I’ll be back for the conclusion to find out what awaits these men of science in those foreboding black mountains.
Besides, y’know, unknowable cosmic horror.
September 29, 2019
The Dreaming vol. 2: Empty Shells
Si Spurrier is a writer who never takes the easy, obvious path when writing a story that involves established or corporate-owned characters. No, he’ll always try to find some way to use them that’s still familiar yet takes them in a different direction. That’s what we got with the first volume of “The Dreaming” which found the title realm without its master and its inhabitants going to pieces as something new grows within it. Oh and, the whole thing was an allegory for the current political situation in America which also served to throw in some new characters along the way with some amazing art from Bilquis Evely.
I thought it was REALLY good -- exactly the kind of story I was hoping to read about “The Dreaming” from Spurrier. Now that he’s established a new status quo for its inhabitants, it’s time for him to show us why Daniel took off in the first place. The solicitation text gives away the fact that he’s out in the realm of mortals all because of love. That sounds nice, at first. Then you remember how Every. Single. Romance. Morpheus had ended in either tragedy, despair, or someone being condemned to Hell and you start to wonder if things will be any different for Daniel. I’d like to think he’s above condemning his lovers to Hell, at least.
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September 28, 2019
Outer Darkness vol. 2: Castrophany of Hate
So in case you didn’t get the message from my review of this last week, I REALLY liked the first volume of “Outer Darkness.” To the point where I’m actually kind of concerned that I don’t hear more people talking about it. After that first volume I’d like to see it have a good 60-issue run like “Chew” did and I’m not sure if that’s going to happen. So yeah, you should definitely pick up that first volume and set aside some money for vol. 2 in December. Santa knows that it’ll make for a better gift than the mystery bag of crap that’s being offered in these solicitations.
As for what this second volume is about: The solicitation text promises a look into Capt. Rigg’s past, which should explain A) why he’s such an asshole and B) his real reason for accepting the captain’s seat on the Charon. Oh, and we’re going to get to see what a haunted house looks like in space. I’m all for that -- as well as seeing what kind of (literally devilish) mischief Alastor and Shin will be getting up to here.
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September 27, 2019
Conan: Serpent War #’s 1&2 (of 4)
This doesn’t get the “Above-the-Board” spot for what it is. As a B-list event featuring Conan, fellow Robert E. Howard creations Solomon Kane and Dark Agnes (and also Moon Knight because why not), with Jim Zub writing and Scot Eaton and Stephen Segovia illustrating, I’m sure it’ll be fine. No, I’m putting it here because its very existence has tickled the conspiracy theory section of my brain. Simply because I’m amazed to see how fully Marvel has embraced Conan after re-acquiring him. Not only is he headlining multiple titles, but he’s also on the “Savage Avengers” team and now the focus of this miniseries crossover. So how’d we get to this point and why is Conan Productions cool with this kind of exposure for their title character?
The answer may be more straightforward than you think. You see, with Conan running around the Marvel Universe it kind of makes him a de facto Marvel Character. And wouldn’t you know that Marvel Characters are the foundation of the most popular film franchise going right now. Yeah, I think Conan Properties is trying to re-start the character’s feature film prospects by buddying up with Marvel. Letting the company use the character in their comics is just the first step.
Sure, I could be completely off base here and Conan Properties may just see any exposure as good exposure for the character. However if “Phase 5” teases a mysterious barbarian-type character joining the “Avengers” then I just want you all to know that I called it first.
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September 25, 2019
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Seven Wives Club
I’ll be honest, not much stood out to me in this round of solicitations. Most of the trade paperbacks on offer either had some kind of issue holding them back or just seemed outright mediocre. There were some promising-sounding miniseries coming from unknown (to me) creative teams, so it’s hard to know how excited I should be for them. So I’m going with this latest “Hellboy” one-shot from creator/writer Mike Mignola and artist Adam Hughes. This one has Big Red teaming up with a young girl on a ghost hunt in an abandoned medical school where a grisly murder took place years ago. Otherwise known as “The Usual” for Hellboy.
With the conclusion of “B.P.R.D.” and the overall Hellboy saga, Mignola has gone back to the good old days of publishing random one-shots and miniseries featuring the weird adventures of Hellboy and his buddies in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. This is also his second team-up with Hughes after the Eisner-winning “Krampusnacht” one-shot from a year back. One more and they might have enough for a full Mignola/Hughes “Hellboy” collection!
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September 23, 2019
As far as titles go, this is probably the most straightforward one you’ll see this year. It’s about Honda-san. She’s a bookseller. She’s got a human skull for a face. That’s not as strange as it sounds when you consider that her co-workers have paper bags, gas masks, and knight helmets for faces themselves. It’s a bit of artistic license on the part of mangaka Honda (this is autobiographical, I think) to add some character to this story of what it’s like to work in the manga section of a Japanese bookstore. There, you get to see Honda-san deal with randos asking for recommendations, fangirls looking for Boy’s Love comics, and all kinds of foreigners looking for all kinds of things (but mostly BL).
I’d heard good things about this and the anime adaptation of it which ran earlier this year. Mostly along the lines that Honda-san’s many tribulations will ring true to anyone who has had to work in retail. Reading this first volume, I have no problem believing that everything which happens here actually happened to its protagonist in real life. Most of it is kind of cute and got me to smile on a regular basis.
No laughter, though. That’s because while “Honda-san” may be true-to-life, it has the overall feeling of a friend who begins a conversation with, “*Ooof* Now let me tell you about my day…” It’s basically a bunch of anecdotes about a fairly niche job that are just amusing and nothing more. I guess I was hoping for more of a workplace comedy vibe to this series than what I wound up getting. This first volume is diverting enough, yet it also leaves me feeling that I’ve seen everything this series has to offer already.
September 22, 2019
Going back to yesterday’s first volume of “Miles Morales,” if his latest adventures felt fun yet predictable, this new “Superior Spider-Man” is a more self-aware version of that. Picking up from the “post-credits scene” of “Amazing Spider-Man #800,” Otto Octavius has a new body and identity. That of the newest professor at Horizon University in San Francisco. Yes, he’ll have to balance the social demands of being a university professor with that of being the city’s newest self-appointed protector. It’s one thing to save it from the likes of Stilt-Man, however, it’s quite another when bigger threats like Terrax the Tamer and Master Pandemonium come knocking and the Superior Spider-Man has to face his greatest challenge: Getting over his own ego to ask others for help.
Among other things, writer Christos Gage helped out Dan Slott a lot with co-plotting and scripting lots of issues and arcs of “Amazing Spider-Man” as well as the recent PS4 “Spider-Man” videogame. That includes the original “Superior Spider-Man” storyline and I’m mentioning this because I want to emphasize that he’s a guy who knows his Spider-stories as well as Doctor Octopus as a character. Which is how we get an Otto who is at once supremely arrogant yet still an engaging protagonist. He genuinely wants to be a hero and is fighting as best he can against his natural impulses in order to do so.
Impulses, and Terrax and Pandemonium. These actually turn out to be some pretty good fights because not only is Gage pitting Otto against characters Spider-Man hasn’t tangled with but he also has the character display some genuine cleverness when dealing with them. Particularly with Terrax and I really liked his reasoning about what to do with the power he gained at the end. It’s the kind of smart writing I like seeing in my superhero comics right down to the prickly new status quo between Otto/Elliot and his former girlfriend Anna Maria Marconi. If only Mike Hawthorne’s art was as polished as the writing this series would be the complete package instead of one that veteran Spider-fans will find entertaining in spite of it.
September 21, 2019
This is the first volume of Miles Morales’ solo adventures not to be written by Bendis! Those of you hoping for a dramatic departure from the kind of stories we got with the character before, however, should check their expectations. New writer Saladin Ahmed does a good enough job of putting the title character through the traditional Spider-paces. He’s struggling to balance saving people in the city with trying to get enough sleep to make it through a regular schoolday. Oh, and to try and balance his responsibilities with having an actual social life. There’s no mistaking Miles from being the kind of friendly neighborhood Spider-Man we all know and love, and that’s part of this first volume’s problem.
While I enjoyed the stories Bendis wrote which featured Miles Morales, it never really felt like he was doing anything other than plugging the character into the kind of stories we’d already seen Peter Parker in. Ahmed continues that trend here as the longer stories have Miles breaking up a gang of mind-controlled kids turned supervillains and teaming up with a new vigilante who has it out for Tombstone. They fit the established “Spider-Man” formula of seeing the hero tackle street-level crime in the neighborhood just fine, but without any real surprises.
There are some twists that give me hope, however. I liked seeing how Miles worked things out with the Rhino in the first arc, especially after Peter had to leave him out to dry when they teamed up in “Amazing.” New character Starling has an interesting Black Cat vibe to her even if she’s more ruthless and interested in challenging Miles’ notions regarding his secret identity. Then there’s the issue in the middle which is a fun riff on “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and features the most inventive spread of the volume from the impressive Javier Garron. It’s the volume’s final scene which represents the biggest break with established convention and something I hope Ahmed dives more into for vol. 2. “Straight Out of Brooklyn” works well enough, it’s just that I’m still waiting for the definitive Miles Morales story to be told.
September 20, 2019
My last order of graphic novels was held up for two weeks because I didn’t realize this particular volume was on backorder when I put it into my cart. Cue two weeks of annoyed website checking as I waited for my order to finally ship. This wasn’t doing “Outer Darkness” any favors since as this went on I started to think, “Man, this volume had better be damn good to make up for this!” Which is a terrible thing for any critic to get in their head before they form an opinion about something.
Why am I telling you all this? Once my order finally arrived and I sat down to read “Outer Darkness,” all those issues faded away. It wasn’t just worth the wait, this may be the best new title I’ve read from Image this year.
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September 18, 2019
The best of Jason Aaron's run on "Thor?" Or just another so-so Marvel event?