“The Entertainer” arc wraps up in this volume as everyone involved gets what’s coming to them. Kuroko finds out who the Comedy Writer is and clues them in on one of the basic rules of storytelling. Meanwhile, Hinako trails a possible second perpetrator to their lair and winds up getting more than she bargained for. As does said perpetrator when we’re reminded that mangaka Yoshimurakana hasn’t forgotten about the murderous personality lurking underneath that bubbly airhead exterior. Yeah, everything wraps up well. Arguably too well as the dual resolutions felt like they came off in a too-straightforward fashion. Granted, it was interesting to see this arc’s serial killer be positioned as a needy has-been, while the other perpetrator had some heartfelt reasons for doing what they did. These things weren’t quite enough to really make the resolution stand out. So while this is enough to keep me reading “Murcielago” it’s not enough to make me consider the series genuinely entertaining, and stop pining for the days when it traded on shock value.
That being said, this is arguably the lewdest volume of the series we’ve had in a while. Not only does it open with some strapon-facilitated lesbian sex, the two characters involved go at it again later in the volume. The circus performer who lost an eye in the previous volume also gets to make nice with her busty dark-skinned attendant in the hospital, and then things get turned up a notch when Kuroko shows up to get her reward. Not that the performer minds, because she likes to watch. There’s also a “kuri” joke in the final chapter (shortened from “kuri-to-risu” as the translation notes let us know) as Hinako and friends go chestnut hunting, and then come home to the home of a friend whose mom just wants to make a really good impression on them. With her boobs. I’d probably be more impressed by all of this if I didn’t have access to the internet and therefore all the porn I could ever want. So I’ll just have to content myself with the volume’s final pages which let us know that the next arc is going to be Yakuza-centric in nature.
The Nice House on the Lake #1 (of 12)
You know that friend you have who’s just a little bit annoying, but not annoying enough to stop being friends with? Walter is “that friend” in this series and he has just come through for his friends big time. He’s invited all of his friends to his gorgeous lake house for everyone to hang out, reconnect, and recuperate after the hardest of years. It sounds like a can’t-miss opportunity for everyone involved. If only the thought of spending time in an enclosed place with “that friend” didn’t start setting off alarm bells for anyone reading the solicitation text. Or that it’s coming from writer James Tynion IV, whose horror title “Something is Killing the Children” is name-checked here and his “Detective Comics” collaborator Alvaro Martinez.
I’m not recommending this maxiseries because I’m expecting it to be good. Tynion has yet to really wow me with his creator-owned work; though, the 12-issue length suggests that at least the pace will be less glacial here than it is in “Killing.” No, I’m recommending it because it should not exist here at all. “House” is a new creator-owned title published by DC under their Black Label imprint. This is something they haven’t done yet with the label and it’s the first creator-owned work I’ve seen come out of DC since Joe Hill’s short-lived “Hill House” imprint over a year ago. It’s either a massive flex by Tynion in the wake of his success with “Batman” or an experiment on DC’s part to see if selling a new comic by one of their hottest writers is commercially viable.
Whatever the case is, I’d like to see it succeed regardless of how good it actually turns out to be. DC’s future has looked increasingly corporate as of late, and I’m surprised that it’s publishing this series at all. If it does succeed, then it can only mean that more will follow. That’s the logical route, at least.
Seven to Eternity vol. 4: The Springs of Zhal
Garlis Slum may have lost his kingdom, been betrayed by family, beaten within an inch of his life, and be down one eye, but that remaining eye is still on the prize. He’ll be on the road to getting it all back if he can make it to the Springs of Zhal with deluded but capable lackey Adam Osidis in tow. Garlis has promised him a cure for his terminal disease, and if he delivers, then Adam will be on his side forever. Which might be sooner than either of them thinks as Adam’s daughter and the rest of the intelligence-challenged crew that took Garlis down in the first place are hot on their trail and looking to make both of them answer for what they’ve done.
I’d imagine that writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opena would summarize the events of the first three volumes of this series a bit differently. They’d give you the boring version about how Garlis is the bad guy, corrupting the souls of everyone who listens to him, and that restoring him to power means a lifetime of slavery for everyone in it. That may be true, but everyone else in this world is either honorable to the point of dullness or in need of Garlis’ boot on their throats. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been enjoying this series a good deal. Just not in the way its creators have intended. So will it end in tragedy as its real protagonist’s ambitions turn to ash, or will he triumph over his far less interesting opposition? In Remender’s hands, it could go either way -- which I’m betting will make for an exciting finish!
Steeple vol. 2: The Silvery Moon
Well, this is a pleasant surprise! I thoroughly enjoyed John Allison’s miniseries about young curate Billie who came to the English coastal town of Tredregyn only to get involved with its weirder side. The parts that involved sea monsters, windmills calling forth the rapture, and the local Church of Satan. Were I to sum up Billie’s adventures in a single word, then that word would be “delightful” as Allison’s quirky deadpan humor mixed very well with his offbeat plots, and his strong attention to characterization kept things endearing rather than annoying.
Vol. 1 was also graced with an extra four-page epilogue which was disappointing because it felt like Allison was trying to offer closure to a series that we likely wouldn’t see any more of. I was very glad to be proven wrong about that when I saw vol. 2 in these solicitations, though. Even if it’s just the back half of a planned ten-issue run (that is going straight-to-trade because publishing the single issues is unprofitable) I’m glad we’re getting more of “Steeple.” Particularly since one of the advertised plots involves Billie trying to arrange a Saturnalia truce between the Churches of England and Satan, which I’m sure will wind up being delightful for all parties involved.
King in Black/Venom by Donny Cates vol. 6
When I started reading Cates’ run on “Venom” I was just expecting it to be good. What I was not expecting was a retcon of the character’s history that tied it to an Old God of the Marvel Universe, who was now awake and coming for Earth. Oh, and the writer also gave Eddie Brock a son he didn’t know he had while also taking him down some of the darkest real estate around: His memories. This blending of cosmic and human stakes is something that Cates has done extremely well over the course of his career and he’s continued that to mostly great effect with “Venom.” Which I’m expecting to see wrap up in quality fashion as the main event takes place in “King in Black” while the writer fills in the gaps with vol. 6 and delivers the actual finale to his run with artist Ryan Stegman.
Mika and Cujo’s face-off against Sahaquiel makes for an invigorating start to vol. 6. The former even manages to inspire fear in the latter with his reckless dragon-slaying technique. Unfortunately, things fall into an all-too-familiar groove for the rest of the volume as Cujo convinces Mika to help him take out the dragon that took his leg, and is still hanging around the outskirts of this coastal town. It should not surprise anyone that this involves scenes where the two of them evade the local authorities, where Cujo’s daughter comes after him because she’s upset at how reckless he’s being, and where the old draker confesses that he just can’t quit the sky. The execution is as solid as you’d expect from mangaka Taku Kuwabara, as he’s shown in the past that he can at least make familiar stories look good. It’s just that this “old professional comes back for the one that got away” story isn’t any different from the ones that have come before.
Vol. 7 is a much different beast as it starts off by telling us what’s up with some of the background characters, as well as manager/clerk Lee. He turns out to have a history that’s particularly relevant to the story at hand as the Quin Zaza heads to the town of Majuro to pay off the loan acting captain Crocco took out to reconstruct the ship years ago. Mika and Takita also cross paths with a crew of slayers -- drakers who are out to kill dragons rather than harvest them for their bounty. The volume ends as both parties unknowingly wind up on a collision course: The slayers are out to map the mountains to the north to find a pass through them, while the crew of the Quin Zaza is looking to harvest the meat of a legendary dragon for an equally legendary meal. Though I appreciated the glimpses we got into the backstories of the supporting cast, my gut tells me that this next storyline will involve the two crews meeting, fighting, teaming up to achieve their goals, and then parting with a mutual yet grudging respect. I’m sure it will all be fine and even enjoyable. I am, however, not expecting to use the word “surprising” when I get around to writing about vol. 8
How did I wind up with two volumes of this series in my “To Review” pile? Well, vol. 7 spent most of last year either out of stock, or not on sale for a significant discount at my preferred retailers. Then, a little over a month after I finally picked it up, vol. 8 came out and it was on sale for a significant discount at one of my preferred retailers. The end result is that I got to read about the Hulk’s big, glorious moment in the sun, and then see how it all goes to hell in relatively short order. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the Ewing/Bennett run if you’re assuming that they plan to wrap things up by issue #50. The good thing is that even if these volumes work together to show the title character at his lowest point, getting there and past that point is a lot more entertaining than you’d think it would be.
New writer! New artist! New time period! Yes, there’s a lot that’s new about “Doctor Aphra” as her adventures move to the post-”Empire Strikes Back” era. One thing that hasn’t changed is her propensity for getting into trouble. I mean, this volume starts off with her double-crossing some Imperials, and then being double-crossed by one of the bounty hunters she hired. Fortunately she’s got new sniping specialist Just Lucky on her side. He’s not the only new face here, as Aphra soon meets up with undergraduate Detta Yao who has a lead on a couple of legendary artifacts: The Rings of Vale. They’re legendary artifacts said to bring eternal life and boundless wealth to the person who wore them. That they’re also said to be very cursed is just a minor detail that she hopes to address as this new group searches for them.
Throw in another ex that Aphra left on bad terms, the very rich, well-connected, and vengeful Tagge family, a couple sudden-but-inevitable betrayals and you’ve got all the ingredients for a proper story involving the title character. Writer Alyssa Wong does a good job assembling these ingredients while artist Marika Cresta does a credible job illustrating it all. They tick all the boxes and... that’s about it. Aside from the new characters, there’s really not much to set this volume apart from what was done with Aphra in her previous series. I know I dinged Simon Spurrier for being too ambitious when he came onboard as co-writer, but I find that preferable to what we get here.
Which isn’t bad, it’s just a bit too familiar for its own good. Still, it shows that Wong has a good handle on the basics of the character, so it’s entirely possible that this was intentional on her part and that vol. 2 will be where things get interesting. I feel like I can muster the patience to see that through, though I can understand if other people do not.
I don’t know who at DC decided to put the “Green Lantern: Blackstars” miniseries that wraps up the first season of Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s run on the title, but I owe them a drink if I ever meet them. “Blackstars” tells us what happened after Hal Jordan wished for a universe without the Green Lantern Corps and under Controller Mu’s domination. Which is how we get Belzebeth working with “Blackstar Parallax” as they bring order to the universe, regardless of whether its inhabitants want it or not. It results in a pretty fun yet dark story as things go from bad to worse for everyone involved, especially when the war comes to Earth and the Super-family gets involved. Sharp may not have drawn this storyline, but Xermanico proves that he’s more than capable of keeping up with Morrison, who delivers a fitting climax to “Season One.” Maybe it’s because he’s telling a longer story here, but the writer does a better job of giving us reason to care about what’s happening, as opposed to throwing all of his big sci-fi concepts at the wall to see what sticks.
Which is what happens when we get into “Season Two” proper. After a brief celebration, Hal is quickly thrown into his next case: Finding replacements for the Guardians of the Universe. For this he’s teamed up with sentient salt-man Ryk and sent to the planet Malus where the evolverator has run wild and created an army of space-apes for the two to deal with. The stories only get crazier from there as Hal has to deal with an alien race of human-faced vultures living under the city of tomorrow, taking a test flight into a lower-dimension liquid continuum, teaming up with the Flash to take on a giant golden kid who wants to play with them like toys, and recuperating at an interstellar hospital when his antimatter double and his crew come looking for him. It can be hard to keep up with these stories as Morrison is putting his ideas ahead of plot coherence. I can’t fault him for his ambition, however, and not only does he give Sharp plenty of interesting things to draw, the artist positively thrives on getting the chance to draw every crazy thing the writer throws at him. That makes “Season Two” arguably the best-looking DC title I’ve seen recently, even if it’s not the easiest or most enjoyable read.