The descriptive text on the back of this volume says, “Ryoko Kui, the master storyteller behind the beloved manga series Delicious in Dungeon, pens seven brand-new tales that will delight fantasy fans and manga devotees equally.” Half of that sentence is unimpeachable gospel. The other half is a real case of Your Mileage May Vary. While I think that all of the stories featured in this anthology are enjoyable, some are definitely moreso than others.
The last time I reviewed a volume of this title, I mentioned that Andrea Sorrentino’s art was what really made this series. That continues to be true here in vol. 3 as we follow a couple of different plot threads there. The first and longest of them involves one of the posse who went to confront supernatural killer Norton Sinclair in the Black Barn: Father Burke. While his comrades perished, Burke winds up following Norton on a surreal trip through time. Not space, though. Whether it’s a small desert town, a steampunk haven, or a fascist metropolis, he always finds himself in Gideon Falls.
Sorrentino has no problem giving us several distinct versions of the title city. While that’s impressive in itself, it’d be even more so if there were some architectural or stylistic consistency between each version. Still it’s forgivable in the way that the artist keeps ratcheting up the surrealism as Burke chases Norton and shows him one unreal sight after another. It’s honestly surprising that Burke was able to hold onto his sanity through all this. Not quite as surprising as the revelation as to how he actually fits into the series’ mythos which asks us to accept that it happened without providing a real explanation as to how.
I’m putting that flub down to writer Jeff Lemire having too much fun coming up with things for Sorrentino to draw. As for the final two issues, the writer devotes one each to showing us what happened to Father Quinn and the Norton Sinclair who switched places in their Gideon Falls. Both feature more enthusiastically disorienting art, and they even manage to advance the overall plot a bit too. Still, I’m increasingly being left with the feeling that “Gideon Falls” main legacy will be its cementing of Sorrentino as an incredible artistic talent than that it told an interesting story.
In case you were thinking that the appearance of Galactus on Earth, and Doom’s proclamation that he would be the one to save Earth from the Devourer this time, was some kind of cute interruption for the Thing’s wedding that would be quickly handwaved away, you were wrong. “Herald of Doom” indeed has two of the Fantastic Four’s biggest antagonists facing off against each other in Latveria. It’s all by the good Doctor’s design, however, as he has plans for Galactus that will finally turn the tables on him and his world-eating ways. He’s even got a new cosmic-powered sidekick, Victorious, to provide an assist in both dealing with this cosmic threat and when the FF show up to predictably meddle in his plans.
Given that Doom and Galactus are arguably the most famous faces in the FF’s rogues gallery, you’d think a storyline that pits them against each other would be pretty epic. That’s not the case as Slot manages to make the scale of this encounter feel small and mundane as it basically boils down to the Doctor putting everyone opposed to him in boxes. As Reed Richards points out in this story, that’s always a mistake. While there’s some pleasure to be had from seeing the heroes escape and turn the tables on their captor, none of it messes with convention or surprises in the way the volume’s best moment does: Sue Storm using her powers on Doom in a most humiliating way for the man.
Vol. 3 is rounded out by two single issues: One is a “War of the Realms” tie-in that’s really about Franklin adjusting to life on Yancy street and his now finite powers. The other is about Franklin and Valeria getting busted by the Department of Extranormal Motor Vehicles and having to take a superpowered driver’s test. They’re both good fun, with the latter topping the former mainly due to how Franklin uses his new “angsty teenager” powers to save the day. All of this amounts to a decent bit of superhero fluff that still manages to look good even with NINE artists handling the issues in this collection. Still, after all those years of expertly subverting convention on “Amazing Spider-Man,” I’m still waiting for Slott to bring some of that magic to this series.
Some people think that Spider-Man works best as a teen hero and that letting him grow up in the Marvel Universe was a mistake. Writer Chip Zdarsky may or may not be one of them, but he’s the only writer who thought to ask, “What if Spider-Man grew up along with us over the years?” That’s the high concept behind “Life Story” as it tracks the growth of Peter Parker from a teen in the mid-60’s while checking in with him every decade thereafter all the way up to the 2010’s. It’s a different kind of “Spider-Man” story and one that I was hoping to like as it would be my first encounter with Zdarsky as a writer rather than an artist.
We get the finale of the Kanto Tournament in this volume and the winner shouldn’t surprise you. Meguru turned the tide at the end of vol. 10 and he continues to press his advantage as he gets into the zone against Muroi. Yet the fact that he wins isn’t the most interesting thing about the wrap up to this storyline. It’s what he does in the final minutes of the fight against his opponent that really tells you something about his character. He had something to prove to himself while also recognizing what it would do for the aging Muroi. The end result is a finale where both fighters ultimately get what they want. Which was cool.
The series then shifts gears entirely for its next arc, a flashback featuring Takashi. We get to see what it was like for him after his grandfather died and he went to an orphanage. The young fighter is strong enough to fend off the attempts at hazing and eventually finds a cozy niche for himself at the place. At least until things go bad and we find out how he wound up working with the mob. Still, it’s a nice little look at what might’ve been for the character. Even though he’s his usual taciturn self during this arc, it’s still easy to see what’s keeping him here and getting him to change via mangaka Hiroki Endo’s expressive art. It was nice to be able to infer what was going on rather than have it drilled into my head via some needlessly expository dialogue.
Then there’s the volume’s final chapter, a fun little goof where Maki’s dieting cheat day is interrupted by an awful realization. Everyone who has read the series will have no idea guessing what it is, but it’s still entertaining to see how she grapples with it. Both literally and figuratively.
Waid has been writing superhero comics long enough that he knows their fans always need to see something new in their series. So when this story implies with its title that he’s going to start working as the latest Herald of Galactus, I was willing to see where the writer would be going with this. The catch being that Waid isn’t completely in the driver’s seat here. He’s joined by frequent artistic collaborator Barry Kitson who also provides the breakdowns for the art in this volume.
The finished product, however, makes me wish that Waid had kept the writing duties for himself. To its credit, the storyline only teases Strange as a Herald. It’s really about how an alien, whose planet is about to be eaten by Galactus, blindsides the sorcerer to steal the magic he needs to send the Devourer to the Mystic Realms. While it seems like a good way to get Galactus out of this universe’s hair, giving an all-consuming being of science free reign in a dimension of magic is not good for the universe’s health. That leaves it up to Strange to team up with all of the friends and foes he can to save all of existence from itself. Again.
What cleverness this story has (liked seeing how Dormammu was dealt with) is outweighed by its familiarness (we just saw Dormammu in the last volume) and needless ways to spike the drama. The scope of this conflict starts big and then keeps getting bigger until there’s nowhere else for it to go but hit the reset button -- after half of the Marvel Universe has been killed off. All of this looks alright, though I was left wishing that finisher Scott Koblish had done all of the art himself and gone Full Ditko in the process to give this story the craziness it really needed. What we’re left with isn’t a bad volume of “Doctor Strange,” just one that ultimately comes off as a bit of glorified filler.
“Hunted” is done and now it’s back to the fun stuff. Or, relatively fun stuff in any event. There’s plenty of good times to be had in this volume. Your enjoyment of them, however, will depend on how willing you are to put up with overly cryptic teases for this title’s future.
Bendis’ other “Superman” title got off to a strong start with its first volume. Does his first go at “Action Comics” fare the same? Yes. Yes it does. “Invisible Mafia” makes one thing clear almost from the start: This is going to be the street-level “Superman” book. Where we’re more likely to see Clark Kent rubbing shoulders with his co-workers at the Daily Planet as he pursues a story about something newsworthy in Metropolis. Such as the word that Superman is responsible for the rash of fires that hit the city during the events of “The Man of Steel.” It’s while he’s digging into that, other problems start presenting themselves. One is the arrival of a new villain on the scene, the Red Cloud, an intangible enforcer for the city’s organized crime and someone who is looking to prove themselves against Superman. The other is the fact that Lois Lane is back on Earth and hiding out somewhere in the city.
Between this and “Superman,” it feels good to see that Bendis has a great hand on the title character’s compassion and perception by the general populae. Not only was it great to see him extend a hand to this latest villain after fighting them to a standstill, but his re-encounter with Lois had the two of them hitting it right off again. First as lovers, then as adults talking to each other about what’s been happening to them. I truly enjoyed that, as well as how swiftly the mafia’s efforts to discredit Superman were brushed aside since they really were cheap efforts to besmirch his moral character.
That said, Red Cloud and the rest of the mafia are playing the long game here and I’m admittedly curious to see what their plan is for Big Blue. I’d also like to see more insight into this new villain since their main reason for wanting to take him on appears to be out of a general dislike. So there’s work to be done there and if it’s as good-looking as it is here that’ll be great. “Invisible Mafia” has three artists attached to it -- Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette, and Ryan Sook -- and they all turn in stellar work. They can all do the brightness that you’d expect from seeing the title character in action, but they also know how to give the proceedings a shadowy edge when the mafia or Red Cloud come calling. It’s great stuff here and now there’s actually some competition between deciding which is the best “Superman” series on the stands.
Rankin used to be the best assassin in the world. Then he got out of the game by taking over a crime syndicate. Now his Pizda Ryu are the number two gang in the world and someone’s gunning for their leader. So what’s the assassin formerly known as “Chekhov’s Gun” going to do about it? Why hire the twenty best killers in the world to act as bodyguards and figure out who’s trying to kill him. Everyone’s here: From the current number one Fernando, to old-timers like Wistful Stan, newcomers such as Smoke and Dave, and one Fuck Tarkington. Maxwell Bishop, the assassin who succeeded Rankin as number one during his time, is also here too. He was retired, but now he’s back with a mission: To find the assassin who killed his husband by making an impossible shot.
“Assassin Nation” comes to us from writer Kyle Starks and artist Erica Henderson. The former has been writing “Rick and Morty” comics for Oni while the latter had a very well-admired run on “The Amazing Squirrel Girl” They both work great together here as Henderson delivers some slick visuals with memorable-looking characters that look like they belong in the very off-kilter world that Starks has created. That’s a good thing because A LOT of them die over the course of the series. Most in the first issue.
I was still able to get attached to them (well, those that didn’t die in the first issue…) thanks to Starks’ efficient characterization. He may not have created characters with a lot of depth, but they’re all distinctive. Especially Fuck Tarkington -- easily the Sensational Character Discovery of 2019. The only real stumbling block in this first volume is the humor. Not that this series isn’t very funny, it certainly is, it’s just that the pacing of the jokes feels a bit off. That results in the narrative not quite managing to nail the madcap comedy vibe that it’s aiming for. This is still a strong start to this series and even if it’s not the best Image launch I’ve read this year, it’s still good enough for me to want the creators to bring the next volume on as soon as they can.