The first seventy-two pages of this volume have something you don’t normally see a lot of in manga: COLOR. Artist Kenji Tsuruta painted these pages himself and they look pretty great. It’s a lush vision of a rural mountain area which has an inn and a pond nearby. It’s by this pond that Atsushi, who looks to be barely into his teens, encounters Emanon. Naked. He winds up stripped in short order as well, subsequent to falling into the pond after thinking the title character is a kappa. If a woman and a boy hanging out together naked sounds a bit creepy, rest assured that Tsuruta plays this as clean as he can. I can’t quite say that it’s wholesome, but even if we see a lot of Emanon without her clothes in this opening section it never comes off as the kind of skeevy pandering fanservice that series like “Murcielago” and “Prison School” always traffic in. Which is all the better for enjoying the lush mountain and forest vistas the artist conjures up.
What’s the story of this first section, I hear you ask? Emanon has come back to pick up some seeds. She also tells Atsushi about herself and how she’s carrying the memory of millions of years along with her. So yeah, it’s a good thing the art in that section is nice enough to hold your attention because the story won’t be doing that. In fact, the main narrative of this series is only marginally better compared to the first volume. That’s down to what we see in the first part of “Emanon Wanderer ‘67” as the title character comes face-to-face with her brother. She’s wondering why he exists when she’s never had one in all the previous generations. So she winds up being pretty straightforward and frank with him about her circumstances and what happened to their mother. To say that her brother doesn’t take this well would be an understatement. It’s bad news for Emanon, but good news for the reader as her brother’s anger signals a spark of life in this otherwise listless yet good-looking series.
Okay, so it’s been… *goes to check the publication date on vol. 2* TEN YEARS since the last volume of this series was published?! I guess I should be glad that only two volumes were published before now. If more had been released, and then we’d been hit with a ten-year gap between volumes, I’d probably be angry. In this case, I’m honestly surprised that vol. 3 reads as well as it does given the gap between volumes.
It really helps that the concept behind the titular hotel is really easy to grasp: It’s the place where Sir. Reginald Hargreeves, the creator/father figure of the Umbrella Academy sent their defeated adversaries after each battle. The problem is that with Hargreeves now long dead the Hotel and its security measures have fallen into disrepair, leading some of its inhabitants to believe that now is the right time to make an escape. Meanwhile, the adult members/survivors of the Academy are still trying to find some way to give their lives some meaning. For Luther and Diego, that means putting aside old rivalries to head into an unknown part of the universe to look for answers regarding their father. The Boy has taken up freelance industrial espionage, Klaus is doing seances for bikers who give him drugs, and Allison is still dealing with the repercussions of using her powers to secure her one significant non-family relationship. As for Vanya, she’s still going through physical rehabilitation after her stint as the White Violin, but she’s about to get some help from a familiar and and yet unexpected source.
While a re-read of the previous volumes probably would’ve helped, vol. 3 is still entertaining on its own terms. Way’s imaginative quirkiness is still fully intact and capable of leading the reader to places both funny and unnerving -- sometimes at the same time. Gabriel Ba’s art is also effortlessly inventive, creating a surreal world that deserves a group of superhumans as damaged as the members of the Academy are to protect it. I was certainly glad to see the Academy’s return after all this time. That being said, Way and Ba had better not let another decade go by before we get vol. 4 after this volume ends on a cliffhanger. That’d be beyond rude -- the definition of a dick move.
Here it is, folks: The storyline that led to Tom King getting kicked off “Batman.” Don’t worry about him too much. He’ll be finishing his storyline in the “Batman/Catwoman” maxiseries with his “Sheriff of Babylon” and “Mister Miracle” collaborator, Mitch Gerads. It’ll still be short of the 100-issue run that he had planned to have on the series, and that’s a shame. King’s run has been marked by his ambition to try new things and even if not everything has succeeded, the stuff that works has been great and even the failures still have their interesting parts. In that regard, “Knightmares” works as an example of that writ large over seven issues. So you have to wonder: Was that what caused readers to jump ship from the series with this arc?
The first two volumes of this series were good, fun riffs on the kind of sword and sorcery action made famous by “Conan.” This one digs a bit deeper into the title character and his world as we start by finding out that the death of Zhaania in the previous volume really got to him. Head Lopper, or Norgal as he’d prefer you call him, first spent his days fighting against any nearby monster until his rage was spent. That’s when he turned to drink, and it’s during this time he and talking-witch-head Agatha encounter Arlen, Third Sword of Venora, as she and her giant eagle are trying to get First Sword Balan back to the city. Since the city won’t let him and Agatha in due to a magic ban, he agrees to help them out. While he figures that this will allow him to drown his sorrows still further in all the booze Venora has to offer, Head Lopper is about to find himself smack in the middle of a conflict that will sober him up right quick.
Goblins. Scheming religious leaders. A giant egg meant to house an old god. Evil wizards plotting in the background. “Head Lopper & the Knights of Venora” has all this and more to offer the reader who can persevere through its non-linear structure. It jumps between two timeframes, with the one in the past showing us how Agatha met Norgal, how she lost her head, and why her head is still alive after that. Meanwhile, the present day crams in a lot -- maybe too much -- villainous scheming and plotting before the goblin attack hits the city and gives the narrative some needed focus. It also allows creator Andrew MacLean to give us some really eye-popping action sequences as the threat against the city gets bigger and the stakes get higher.
You may want to ask yourself: Do I want to read a story where a man has to cut a giant snake into segments in midair in order to allow the ninja rogue who was inside of it to jump to safety? “Head Lopper vol. 3” has you covered if that’s the kind of action you’d like to see! That there’s a good story that promises to lead somewhere interesting underneath that style almost feels like a bonus.
Big Red’s name may be in the title, but he’s almost an afterthought in this volume. That’s because it’s all about exploring what else was going on with the B.P.R.D. during his ill-fated trip to Mexico. Margaret is busy running the day-to-day operations of the organization while Professor Bruttenholm has secrets kept from him by the U.S. government and keeps secrets from his clairvoyant operative Susan. She’s upset about it because her visions involve apocalyptic disaster by a familiar-looking little girl who was photographed hanging around with the Professor in WWII. Speaking of Varvarra, she’s still at large in Russia’s Special Sciences Service running things according to her whims. Whims which the human members of the SSS and Russia’s government have finally reached their tolerance for.
Given all this, and the fact that this is the last “yearly” “B.P.R.D.” story to come from co-writer Chris Roberson (for now), I was expecting something a bit more climactic than what we got. All “1956” winds up being is a lot of fancy window dressing on a bunch of plot points that weren’t screaming out to be elaborated on. We all knew Varvarra wound up confined in a jar in Russia for decades, and seeing how it happens here doesn’t really add much to that. Neither does seeing Bruttenholm stumble across the future home of the B.P.R.D. or his efforts to keep the truth from Susan. Oh, and as for Hellboy’s time in Mexico? It adds up to a few amusing asides that don’t really go anywhere. If this is the last “yearly” “B.P.R.D.” story then it’s a lazy and indulgent way to wrap things up.
Which is too bad because the three artists who worked on it deserve better. Especially Mike Oeming, who handles the Russia sequences and gives them an appealingly surreal look thanks to his inimitable style. Yishan Li does solid work with the heavy-handed foreshadowing of Susan’s sequences, while Mike Norton continues to impress me with how far he’s come since the early days of “Revival” when it comes to dealing with the supernatural. That’s especially true in the “Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson: The Ring of Death” one-shot included here where he does his best to enliven a story with exactly one joke.
The story goes that one night “The Immortal Dragon” broke up ten rival Yakuza factions in one night. Barehanded. Then he disappeared without explanation the following day. What could cause such a man to walk away from the Yakuza life? Why, to walk the path of the househusband of course! Tatsu found the right girl in Miku, a dedicated career woman who’s a bit of an otaku, and has since devoted himself to managing the household chores while she’s away. So whether it’s fixing meals, cleaning the apartment, racing other housewives for the latest department store bargain, Tatsu is going to devote himself to the task in question. Using all the style and skills he learned during his time as a Yakuza enforcer.
If you can imagine “Goro Majima: The Domestic Years” then you’ll have a pretty good idea what “The Way of the Househusband” is about. Tatsu goes about these mundane household tasks in a way that’s extremely Yakuza. That means wearing a fancy suit under his apron while cooking. Putting his wife’s lunch in a stainless-steel briefcase while he jumps on his bike to chase after her. And setting up a birthday celebration for his wife just like he used to do for his old boss, I’m sure. Most importantly is that Tatsu maintains a really creepy and threatening look while doing ALL of this.
It’s a fun premise and there are definitely laughs to be had while reading this volume. Tatsu’s encounter with a Roomba is some quality slapstick, while Miku’s reaction to the birthday setup her husband has engineered is priceless. The only problem with this is that this is a series with a one-joke setup that doesn’t really have the imagination to take it any further than what you see here. I’m speaking from experience because I’ve been reading the scanlations and bought this first volume out of obligation for that reason. Four volumes in and the style of humor is exactly the same as what you see here. If you like that, cool. As for me, I kind of feel I should stop reading the scanlations so I don’t feel any further obligation to keep buying this series.
(But it’s just so easy to click on the link when a new chapter shows up…)
Warren Ellis and Jason Howard decided to take a break before they dove into the third and final volume of “Trees.” I also believe it was Howard who told Ellis that he wanted to do something with a lot more action. Thank god he did because the end result is likely going to be the best action story I’ve read in comics this year.
*Looks at “to review” pile.*
*Looks at “to read” pile.”
Yeah, there’s a lot in each right now. You know what makes up a lot of the former? Marvel titles! So let me throw out my thoughts on the latest volumes of “X-23,” “Black Panther,” “Immortal Hulk,” “Captain America,” and “Domino.”
First things first: Adam, apology accepted.
Vol. 10 of “Empowered” didn’t just leave off with the series’ first-ever cliffhanger. No, it left off with a downright brutal one by the standards of any title. After a big, dramatic heart-to-heart between Emp and Thugboy about their status, it looked like we were going to get a big mega-happy ending for this volume. Until Thugboy unexpectedly threw Emp off the roof of the building they were on. While her super-suit protected our protagonist, she was greeted post-impact by a psychic projection of deceased hero Mindf--k who let her in on what was going on: Mindf--k’s brother has escaped from his cell and is now loose in the city.