November 30, 2020
This volume starts out with a two-part story. What’s the story about, I hear you ask? It’s about what the cast of this series does when they have some spare time. Mr. Smith goes for a walk. Amir sings. Karluk goes to look at some horses. Leila and Lily complain to their husbands. It’s 40-plus pages of stuff like this and it sets the tone for the rest of the volume. Which is to say that vol. 12 is full of fluff.
I’m not saying that every volume of this series needs to have a compelling through-line to it. Yet, when we’re only getting one new volume of this series in a given year, I was kind of hoping for something a bit more substantial than what we get here. A good deal of it does revolve around Smith and his camera, as everyone they meet wants to have him take their picture. This includes Sherine and Anis who become friends with his not-quite-wife Talas. We get to see more of what the former two are up to as well, as they’d like to teach their fellow wives to read and write. It’s a noble goal, but one that is barely developed here at all.
At least vol. 12 looks as pretty as the series always has under mangaka Kaoru Mori’s pen. The highlight for me was a brief eight-page chapter where we get to see Pariya’s rambunctious cat do lots of kitty-like things. This chapter made my day as a cat person, and I would’ve loved to have the rest of the volume just be about seeing what this cat gets up to on an average day. Based on what we see the humans get up to here, I’m fairly certain the results would’ve been just a little more entertaining. Because cats.
November 29, 2020
In case anyone was wondering, I didn’t get around to checking out any of the “Critical Role” podcasts before picking up this second volume. So I’m continuing to experience Vox Machina’s world solely through the medium of its spinoff comic. Which continues to be pretty good even as the second volume delivers a more episodic story structure that begins with the team defeating a monstrosity known as a Bog Baby. As they relax in the inn afterwards, Goliath team member Grog starts acting strangely and has disappeared when they wake up the next morning. Their efforts to track him lead the team to an old friend of his, a dwarven cleric named Pike. Having a cleric on hand turns out to be just what the team needs when it’s revealed that Grog has been spirited away by a sorcerer-turned-lich who wants to use the fighter’s body to take his place amongst the living. Defeating the lich is easy. Breaking the curse that he placed on Grog, however, is going to be hard.
Artist Olivia Samson returns from the first miniseries and her art is every bit as good as it was there. It’s sharp, colorful, and full of little touches that feel true to the character’s personalities. Taking over from series creator Matthew Mercer as writer for this volume is Jody Houser. I don’t think the series lost a step in terms of characterization or wittiness from the changeover, as the main cast remains thoroughly likeable, the new additions are fun, and Scanlan once again gets all the best lines. Where this volume loses me a bit is in its structure as the story feels like its changing gears every issue to pursue something else. Still, the stories themselves are entertaining and despite my ongoing unfamiliarity with “Critical Role” I never felt like there was some kind of reference that I wasn’t getting. For all I know, the story could have been made entirely out of references to other stories in this world and I was just missing out on wall-to-wall fanservice. Whatever the case is, vol. 2 of “Origins” is still good enough to make me want to check out the promised vol. 3 when it finally arrives.
November 28, 2020
I liked the first volume of this series well enough. Even though writer Rick Remender’s glorization of a life lived off the grid felt more sanctimonious than enticing, he and artist Bengal served up some impressive action with likeable characters. Going into vol. 2, I was expecting more of the same as the creators wrapped things up. What I didn’t expect to find was actual greatness once you get past the speechifying.
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November 27, 2020
After the bloody events of vol. 1, Essen Breaker has reached the “I’M A MAN OF PEACE! I’M DONE KILLIN’!” phase of his mercenary career. So he decides to look up his old comrade-in-arms Bren, who is currently running a tavern in the free port of Haas Haaden. The thing is that Haas Haaden is such a hive of scum and villainy that anyone looking to begin a new phase in their life that doesn’t involve killing would be advised to stay the hell away from it. Since Breaker decides to stick around, he quickly finds himself embroiled in a kidnapping operation being run by the local criminal element. They’re taking stray kids off the street for purposes unknown and it’s up to Breaker, and a character from the first volume who turned out to not be as dead as they first seemed, to put a stop to this.
The most disappointing thing about Breaker’s “MAN OF PEACE” phase isn’t that it doesn’t last. No, it’s that it follows the exact same arc that all of these phases do. A man renowned for his ability to cause violence decides to stop doing it, only to come up against a situation that requires it again. The best kinds of these stories can make this seem like a genuine tragedy. The worst simply bore you with words while you wait for the man to start killing again. Breaker’s arc in this volume is very much of the latter variety, and writer Justin Jordan offers no interesting twists or characterization to convince me otherwise.
At least artist Niko Henrichon does his best to make the story look appealingly gritty. This isn’t on the level of his best work, since it’s hard to deliver European-album-quality art when you’re on a monthly schedule. Yet he makes Haas Haaden look like a properly filthy place and gives Breaker’s violent ways a bone-crunching shock that suits his character quite well. I don’t know if he’ll be sticking around for the third volume that’s teased at the end of this one. Henrichon deserves better, so if I were him I’d go and find a writer who doesn’t feel the need to desperately adhere to convention to do better work with.
November 25, 2020
Follows on from this. John and I talk a bit about this superior sequel.
November 23, 2020
“Murcielago” may never get back to being its old, gloriously nasty self. Vol. 15 at least marks the closest it has come to being genuinely interesting after divesting itself of its shock tactics. After a chapter is taken to wrap up the events of the previous storyline, we bear witness to the next psycho’s gimmick as dozens of people tied together at their arms and legs are lifted into the sky as a human ladder. The serial entertainer known as the Comedy Writer is back, but before Kuroko and company can get involved, they decide to take the time to visit the circus. While everyone has a good time, tragedy strikes as the circus’ knife thrower throws a knife into the eye of a co-worker at lunch before passing out. When he wakes up, he remembers nothing. This kind of hypnosis was a key part of Comedy Writer’s act, and all signs seem to point to the circus ringmaster. The thing is that Kuroko’s not so sure it’s him. Don’t worry, though, she’s got a plan to flush out the real killer, whoever they may be.
Mangaka Yoshimurakana actually manages to set up a decent mystery regarding the identity of Comedy Writer in this volume. It’s twofold in the sense that the character was never unmasked when he ran his first series of “entertainments.” So we’re left wondering as to why he quit the first time and if he’s really back, or if someone has picked up where the original left off. Oh, and it also looks like the drug being used to hypnotize his “participants” is a different version of Cesare known as Francis. Which means that this story might have ties to the larger plot that’s been ticking along in the background. The series may have fully left behind its attempts to shock and dismay the reader, but Kuroko works well here as a protagonist who thinks she knows what’s really going on and is determined to have fun trolling the good and bad guys in this situation. I’ll admit that the setup here is done well enough to make a successful resolution to the storyline critical to its overall enjoyment. If it can pull it off, however, then “Murcielago” may wind up making the transition from “guilty pleasure” to “genuinely entertaining” after all this time.
November 22, 2020
Chris Roberson is one of Mike Mignola’s better writing partners, but he still has his issues. Chief among them being a willingness to take a more fanboyish approach to the Mignolaverse without fully considering whether the story he’s telling adds anything meaningful to it. Like, say, what if Sir Edward “Witchfinder” Grey found himself in the middle of Jack the Ripper’s mad murder spree? That’s the kind of fanboyishness I’m talking about, and it also happens to be a red herring in spite of what the back cover text would have you believe. While the story starts off with Sir Edward investigating the death of prostitutes in Whitechapel, the murders have the markings of ritual sacrifices about them. The Witchfinder does have a prime suspect, but it quickly becomes clear that he has his own kind of protection from the law. With his usual support from the Crown seemingly nowhere to be found, Sir Edward teams up with feisty American expatriate Sarah Jewell to put an end to the killings and find out who was behind them.
Sarah isn’t the only nod to the wider Mignolaverse that you’ll see in this story. Panya makes a cameo appearance, a vampire left over from vol. 4 will show up, the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra shows up as you’d expect, and the plot even makes time to include Hecate as well. Fanboyishness leads to fanservice, you could say. I think all of these nods would bother me less if the story they served as window dressing to was better. As it is, “The Reign of Darkness” mainly serves to set up a change in Sir Edward’s status quo for future stories. So the tale of “That Time the Witch Queen Who Will Kill Hellboy (Almost) Showed Up” might be the harbinger of better stories, even though it could also serve as the finale of this series-of-minseries. After this volume, I’m feeling pretty indifferent as to whichever way it goes.
November 21, 2020
Garth Ennis hasn’t really been having a banner by my book. This will be the fifth volume of comics I’ve read from him this year and none of the ones I’ve previously read have been on the level I know he can deliver. They haven’t been terrible comics. They’ve just been a mix of the familiar, the depressing, the workmanlike, and the meandering. Which leaves it down to the writer’s latest return to the world of Frank Castle to remind us of what he’s capable of.
That being said: You would think it would run contrary to expectations for a creator to deliver their best work on a corporate-owned character when they’ve had plenty of opportunities to deliver creator-owned work. Yet that is exactly what has happened here. “Punisher: Soviet” is the best Ennis comic I’ve read this year even if it’s not quite on the level of his best work with the character.
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November 20, 2020
Writer John Layman’s plan to jump-start interest in his current series, “Outer Darkness,” by having it crossover with his old series, “Chew,” didn’t pan out. Which frankly sucks because the two volumes of “Outer Darkness” that we did get were pretty great. They also left the main story pretty unresolved, so I was hoping that this crossover would offer some closure in that regard. That absolutely does not happen as the story takes place sometime during the first two-thirds of vol. 2 as Captain Joshua Rigg has to deal with a tricky bit of space diplomacy. He’s been asked to negotiate a trade route through the space of a species that only communicates through food. After their current chef gets himself killed trying to do so, Rigg comes up with a Plan B: Bringing cibopathic detective Tony Chu and his cyborg partner John Colby to the future to do the negotiating for him.
At least, that’s the story Rigg is giving his new arrivals. The actual truth is a bit more complicated and leads to even more crossover shenanigans. Fun shenanigans, I might add. Despite the presence of Tony and Colby in the story, “Fusion Cuisine” fits very much in the mold of the kind of stories we were getting in “Outer Darkness.” Which means that the crossover shenanigans are amped up with some demonic flair. It’s all good and a reminder of what that series did well, complete with expectedly stylish art from Afu Chan, and a few welcome, scene-setting pages from Rob Guillory. Honestly, though, it bothers me to talk about “Outer Darkness” in the past tense as that series deserved better than it got. “Fusion Cuisine” doesn’t make me miss the series any less, but it’s still more of it. Which is better than nothing.
November 18, 2020
A new comic written by Joe Hill? Even though it’s debuting in hardcover, I was sold on picking up “Basketful of Heads” when it was collected after the writer’s comics work on the “Locke & Key” series and “Wraith.” That the writer was also setting this title up as the flagship for his Hill House imprint at DC served as further encouragement to that end. After having read it, I can say that my excitement was maybe a little premature. This isn’t a bad comic by any means, but it feels a bit more indulgent than it should be for its pricey format.
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