March 30, 2020
I thought Dark Horse was done reprinting old flipped manga titles from their back catalog. I’m glad that they’re not, both for this and other titles that have long since gone out of print. Some history about this one first: “What’s Michael?” was something of an anomaly in the publisher’s seinen (young men’s) heavy output back in the late 90’s. Where they were best known for titles that skewed older and male-friendly like “Blade of the Immortal,” “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Oh! My Goddess,” “What’s Michael?” was an attempt to appeal to the lucrative “everyone” demographic. Or at least the portion of the “everyone” demographic that likes cats.
That’s because most of the humor will be easily understood by anyone who owns or has an affinity for cats. It’s easy to see oneself in the owner who can’t stop playing with his cat (even if it doesn’t want him to), the office lady who can’t bear to say goodbye to her cats each day, the guy who teases his cat by wearing a Godzilla mask, or even the tough yakuza who’s a complete softie for his cat. Mangaka Makoto Kobayashi renders all this with an expert’s eye towards caricature, giving the cats and their owners outlandishly exaggerated expressions that still feel appropriate to the comedic nature of the material.
Surrealist nature of the material as well. Kobayashi isn’t above having his cats dance, do rhythmic gymnastics, torment human-headed flies that are their prey, or just straight-up anthropomorphise them into human situations ranging from a police interrogation, poker game, or even wrestling. Such things help keep the humor in this omnibus from getting too predictable, and Kobayashi even manages a cast of recurring characters -- both human and feline -- to further hold the reader’s attention. Which is good, because while I can appreciate the mangaka’s style, and all the cats he draws, “What’s Michael?” only managed to get some chuckles out of me rather than full-on laughter. I’ll pick up the next omnibus because my love of cats is strong (and because maybe buying this will convince Dark Horse to reprint Kobayashi’s fun “Club 9” series), but this series feels like one that can only be appreciated by cat lovers.
March 29, 2020
Writer John Layman spent a week teasing this spin-off to his and Rob Guillory’s signature series. I say “spin-off” and not “sequel” because this looks to take place concurrently with “Chew,” albeit with a very different main character and focus. Saffron Chu wasn’t talked about a whole lot in the series, but it was hinted at that she was the reason protagonist Tony Chu didn’t get along with most of his family. You see, where Tony is a cop who is a cibopath (someone who gets psychic impressions from the food he eats), Saffron is a criminal who is a cibopars (someone who learns secrets from those she eats with). With the kinds of mindsets and abilities they have, a falling out between the two of them was all but inevitable and this first arc looks to tell that story.
After “Chew” and his follow-up “Outer Darkness,” I’ve got plenty of time for Layman’s creator-owned works. While Guillory won’t be back for this series, I’m optimistic that new artist Dan Boultwood will be able to deliver the goods. He at least makes a good impression with that cover to the first issue.
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March 28, 2020
The Dreaming vol. 3: One Magical Movement
Vol. 1 was basically everything I wanted to see in a return to the world and characters created by Neil Gaiman. Vol. 2 showed us what had been going on with Daniel and gave us an enchanting journey through the realms of fantasy while establishing the stakes at the heart of this story. Vol. 3 looks to bring it all together as the entity known as Wan sits in control of the Dreaming and tries to do what it things is best for the realm. This is in spite of the fact that it is unaware that it is part of a play by some corporate entity to take control of the Dreaming. Oh, and Wan also has a shadow personality that can wipe any concept from existence that it is completely unaware of as well. So it’s up to the likes of Dora, Matthew, Abel, and company to find a way to fix this or at least stall Wan long enough so that whatever Daniel’s planning can come to fruition. After the first two volumes, I’m expecting the very best from this one and I’m sure that writer Simon Spurrier and artist Bilquis Evely (and company) will be able to deliver it.
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March 27, 2020
Resident Alien Omnibus vol. 1
Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel has a secret: He’s not actually Dr. Harry Vanderspeigel. He’s actually an alien who has assumed the retired and reclusive doctor’s identity in an attempt to blend in and bide time before he can be rescued. It seemed like the perfect plan, until the town’s sole doctor was murdered and “Harry” finds himself embroiled in the investigation at both the request of the police and his own curiosity.
That’s the summary for the original miniseries, with two more being collected here. Coming from writer Peter Hogan and artist Steve Parkhouse, “Resident Alien” was a low-key delight. It also hit a very specific nostalgia target for me in that it felt like the kind of high-concept TV series that popped up from time-to-time in the 80’s that would last for a season (maybe two if it was lucky) and attract a small but devoted fanbase because it was quite good. We’re not living in the 80’s anymore, but we’ll see if that turns out to be true when “Resident Alien” debuts on Syfy later this year. In the meantime, this omnibus will be the perfect way for others to get acquainted with this series, and for me to give vols. 2 & 3 a physical, rather than digital, place on my bookshelf.
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March 25, 2020
Star Wars vol. 1: The Destiny Path
After the main “Star Wars” series wrapped up with issue #75 last year, it marked the end of an era for most of the ongoing titles in this line. No longer were they going to be spent exploring the post-”A New Hope” era, the time had come to excavate the post-”Empire Strikes Back” period. Which means that instead of the familiar trio of Luke, Leia, and Han leading the charge, it’s going to be Luke, Leia, and Lando running the show as the Rebellion finds itself under siege from the new Imperial ship Tarkin’s Will and Captain Zahra, who has a personal axe to grind with them.
After writing the “Poe Dameron” and “Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith” ongoings and the “Obi-Wan and Anakin,” and the aforementioned “Lando” miniseries, Charles Soule finally gets his shot at the brass ring of “Star Wars” titles. I don’t doubt that he’s got a plan for his run, but he’ll also have to deal with higher expectations on my end after his work on “Dark Lord of the Sith” which constantly beat my lowered ones. He’ll get plenty of help from artist Jesus Saiz, who always delivers quality work, and -- if these solicitations are to be believed -- will be an ongoing presence in the series after these first six issues.
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March 24, 2020
There are signs that this series might be getting back to its old, nasty self. They’re after the wrap-up of the “Master Swordsman” arc, though. The finish to that storyline serves up some decent action as Kuroko and Kurono’s duel through the ancient castle takes a fiery turn thanks to the former’s shenanigans. While the swordfighting here gets the job done, the most memorable bits of the conflict come from Kuroko’s utter disrespect towards it. Whether it’s simply turning and walking away from Kurono when she’s spotted taking a katana, bringing some friends into the fight, or grabbing the hem of the swordswoman’s dress with a “‘Kay, stop,” while she’s making a dramatic proclamation, Kuroko’s insouciance is a delight to behold.
Then we get to the next arc, and whaddya know we’re revisiting a very old storyline. Do you remember when Kuroko (willingly) became the member of an all-girls cult that killed certain members for its perverse whims? Well it turns out that the corpse of its leader has disappeared from its grave. Oh, and there’s a new string of killings with people having chunks of their neck bitten out and blood trails leading to the nearest sewer opening. You know, they never did catch the sister of that cult leader…
Is it wrong that I’m looking forward to an arc about a serial killer who lives in the sewers, biting out chunks of people’s necks? Possibly. Then again, it’s also a sign of how “Normal “Murcielago” isn’t as entertaining as “Nasty Murcielago.” While the hints of a bigger threat tying everything together are pushed here again, this series has always been at its most engaging when it has tried to push the envelope in terms of appropriate content. I’m not saying that we need another storyline about a serial killer who targets children, but one which is as gruesome and strange as this one looks to be would seem to be just right.
March 23, 2020
I complain a lot about how long Kentaro Miura takes between volumes of “Berserk” on this blog. However, Rei Hiroe’s lack of output on “Black Lagoon” makes Miura look as prolific as a Jump artist with a hit series. Vol. 9 of “Black Lagoon” was published here in July 2010, vol. 10 in April 2015, and this volume hit print back in January. If Viz had released vol. 11 just a month earlier, then we could’ve said that Hiroe managed to produce three volumes in the last decade instead of two (the difference between Japanese/U.S. publication dates notwithstanding).
As for the volume itself, it’s better than the previous one mainly because the story there finally kicks into high gear and isn’t waylaid by any mid-volume philosophizing. It kicks off with an exciting internet cafe shootout between Revy and one of the hitmen “brothers” who have been sent to take out disavowed Chinese PLA hacker Feng as Rock helps her escape with the data she needs to save her skin. After calling in some favors with Eda and the Church of Violence, Rock is able to piece together what’s going on and figure out a way to keep Feng safe. Unfortunately it also winds up leading the burliest hitman brother and his M60 into the police station that Revy found herself locked up in.
It’s all vintage “Black Lagoon” action with the carnage in the police station being a definite high point of the volume. All the stuff involving the money laundering winds up delivering satisfyingly complex plot twists and turns. Meanwhile, Feng and Rock have some tender moments regarding the latter’s ongoing issues with the freedom he’s found himself with in Roanapur. Said tender moments don’t hit as hard as they should because they’re also tied to Rock’s lingering guilt over how the previous storyline wound up. Which was over ten years ago in real time.
Hiroe states in his afterword that he regrets that the publication pace of this series is Olympian and that he hopes it will pick up soon. However, he also mentions that he did an anime series between volumes (the not as good as it should’ve been “Re:Creators”), and that he couldn’t have continued “Black Lagoon” if he hadn’t. That doesn’t really speak to someone who has a great motivation for continuing their signature series. If Hiroe does want to move on to other things, then he should do that if that’s what’s going to make him happy. Better to do that and call it quits on this series now rather than take another four years and nine months to deliver vol. 12.
In short, there are some series that are good enough to convince me that the lengthy wait between new volumes is going to be worth it. “Black Lagoon,” in its current state, is not one of them.
March 22, 2020
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from this world of Families, their Lazarii, the Serfs which support them, and the Waste which are below all. This return is… surprisingly upbeat coming after vol. 6 which had Forever and company suffering a brutal defeat at the hands of the Russian Lazarus, the Zmey, in addition to betrayal by the Morrey Family. It starts off with Forever and acting Family head Johanna Carlyle attending to an incursion on the Family’s northern territory, continues to a smashing 2v1 battle between Lazarii, and wraps up with Forever and Sonja getting their first rematch against the Zmey. These threads are where the main action is, but there’s also plenty of drama bubbling under the surface to intrigue as well. We get to see what kind of physical and mental toll Forever’s successor is undergoing as part of her training, Bethany Carlyle’s imposition of said training and her own issues living up to the Family legacy, and Family head Malcolm Carlyle’s regrets involving his wife who hates him SO MUCH.
That things go well for Family Carlyle is the result of good planning and strategy, along with the assumption of a lot of risk. It also makes for thrilling reading thanks to how writer Greg Rucka establishes and builds on the tension of each scene and expertly choreographs each encounter as a battle of words or bodies. Both types of conflicts are expertly rendered on the page by artist Michael Lark as he makes the physical drama appropriately painful, and the emotional kind -- like the encounter between Malcolm and his wife -- hurt just as much. These things make vol. 6 a more satisfying read than vol. 5, but maybe not as much as “X+66” which served as a reminder that while Family Carlyle may be the best of the Families, they were still running a very fascist regime. So it’s a neat trick then, getting us to root for them here. I’d be concerned if it weren’t for the fact that Rucka has had Johanna talk about reforming the whole system in the past. So vol. 6 is a good return for the series, though I have a feeling its most interesting moments are ahead of it.
March 21, 2020
Gil is a recently widowed space trucker who’s taken his son, Kadyn, on his latest job: Hauling a lot of relics from a recently closed museum across the cosmos. Kadyn’s still sad over the death of his mother and the boredom of this trip isn’t helping. That is, until a giant space eel-shark monster shows up to chomp down on their ship, leaving Gil down its gullet and Kadyn adrift in space. This isn’t the end of their story -- it’s just the beginning. While Gil is just too damn ornery to die, Kadyn comes into contact with one of the artifacts his dad was hauling around and is now imbued with a power that lets him survive and thrive in the vacuum of space. Oh, and this power might make him the living incarnation of the warlike humanoids known as the Zazzteks.
“Sea of Stars” is co-written by Jason Aaron and Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, and reads like it too. What I mean by that is it reads like Aaron wrote Gil’s scenes while Hallum did Kadyn’s. That’s more because the parts involving Gil are full of the hard-bitten, casual over-the-top-ness that marks a lot of Aaron’s work. I mean, not only does the guy get a grizzled interior monologue, but he also winds up fighting a single-minded and eventually sarcastic security droid and a carnivorous plant with oxygen for blood. Hallum, for better and worse, has a less distinct style. Which is to say that Kadyn’s scenes are distinguished more for their oddball plot elements -- his space-monkey and space-dolphin friends, quarksharks, eating deadly space mushrooms without a care -- than the writing itself.
That really sums up “Sea of Stars” in a nutshell. It has a lot of weird sci-fi elements to it, but they’re all in service of a very familiar plot about a father and son that have to reunite/reconnect. Artist Stephen Greene delivers the appropriate amount of grit and whimsy to the protagonist’s respective stories. The only real fault with his style being that some of the design elements have a straightforward “[noun] -- but IN SPACE” aesthetic to them, best seen in the indigenous people look of the Zazzteks. It all adds up to a first volume that’s fine for what it is and not much more than that.
March 18, 2020
One of the best, weirdest, and darkest "Star Wars" titles out there.