Kieron Gillen loves, “Warhammer 40k,” the far-future version of venerated RPG series “Warhammer,” a whole lot. How much does he love it? He loves it so much that when Marvel picked up the license to make comics based on “Warhammer 40k,” Gillen came back to the company to write one and oversee future comics much in the same way that Jonathan Hickman is doing for “X-Men.” Which means that in addition to telling a compelling story on its own terms, “Marneus Calgar” also has to sell us on the idea of reading more comics set in this universe. I’m honestly surprised to say that’s a prospect I’m lukewarm on after reading this volume.
Vol. 1 was a rollicking good time as writers Scott Snyder and Charles Soule established their vision of a world that America cut itself off from. When a specific group found their way back in, we found a vision of the American frontier by way of “Mad Max.” It was as fun as it sounds, and vol. 2, unfortunately doesn’t quite keep up the momentum. That’s because “Unity” in this version of America is its technology-driven utopia, where everything is made right by innovation. Every inch of it is ruled, and controlled, by the benevolent Dr. Naira Jain, who is keen on the travelers picking her land as the most worthwhile one to Aurora. Though everything seems really great on the surface, anyone who has seen “Jurassic Park” or “Soylent Green” knows two things: That any amazing scientific achievement in fiction is either built on something terrible, or destined to go wrong at some point.
I won’t tell you which vision that Snyder and Soule subscribe to, though I will say that they’re a couple of overachievers in that regard. What they don’t do here is find a novel spin on either of these setups. Things go bad. Truths are revealed. Lots of stuff blows up on the way to the volume’s end. It’s kind of disappointing, considering the talent involved, but it’s not a total loss. The writers offer further insight into how their version of America came to be, interesting setup for future stories, and some quality spectacle as things start blowing up. In that regard, layout artist Giuseppe Camuncoli and finisher Leonardo Grassi deliver some pretty epic techno-throw-downs at the end, while balancing for the human drama at the end. Even if this volume does disappoint in terms of the story it’s telling, it at least has the decency to end on an appropriate note. That would be “Possibility” as vol. 3 looks to take us on an adventure. A pirate adventure!
What do you do when you’ve got a hit Netflix series based on a creator-owned comic, but the creators are too busy to deliver more (than one) new volume of the series? Get some talented people to publish spin-off “Tales of” that series, that’s what! That’s how we got “You Look Like Death,” which gives us the story of what Klaus, a.k.a. Seance of the Umbrella Academy, got up to after he was kicked out of the mansion years ago. After bumming around town and robbing a well-heeled drug dealer, he figures that the best place for someone with his appetites, inclinations, and abilities is the City of Lights -- Hollywood! It’s where he can channel the spirits of long-dead stars to impress partygoers, and help out a scheming, faded starlet who has a stocked liquor cabinet and all the drugs our protagonist could want. Except that the only thing Klaus wants at the moment is to figure out why he wound up in an old, art-deco restaurant with a writer after his last overdose. It’s something he should figure out quick since he’s got a monkey vampire, looking to expand his empire and collect on a debt, after him.
I.N.J. Culbard provides the art for this series and it’s effortlessly stylish. He doesn’t have the same loveable eccentricity of regular artist Gabriel Ba, but it’s impressive to see how he makes such a surreal world come together on the page. Culbard’s Hollywood is one that recalls the 70’s with its faded sense of old-school glamour, but filled with young-up-and-comers looking to make their mark. As well as a vampire amusement park that plays a significant role in the main story. Culbard also makes the demons, gods, and hangers-on all look like they belong together which is no small feat in this oddball story.
Said oddball story comes to us courtesy of Shaun Simon, with creator Gerard Way providing the story. While I had previously regarded Simon as the guy who sucked all the fun out of “The True Adventures of the Fabulous Killjoys,” he actually acquits himself better here. There’s an endearing low-key quirkiness to the story as everyone takes the weirdness of the setting in stride, and things get plenty weird. Klaus also makes a surprisingly engaging protagonist for someone who initially comes off as a self-absorbed drug addict. He may still be those things by the end of the story, but it’s actually fun to see him start to care about others while delivering sarcastic put-downs to those who deserve it. It’s things like that which make “You Look Like Death” good fun even if it’s not quite on the same level of the main series. Still, if subsequent spin-offs maintain the level of quality seen here, then maybe the wait for vol. 4 won’t seem as interminable.
When we left off, Minare was preparing to accompany Mizuho and Katsumi on the latter’s research trip for his next novel. Minare is mainly going along for moral/tech support, though she’s rooting for her roommate to make some progress in getting recognized by the novelist. The plan is for the three of them to head out to the remote town of Wassamu, which is known for its pumpkins… and that’s it. They get some assistance from a local girl, Hokakushi, whose knowledge of Katsumi’s novels, the town’s history, and ghost stories is matched only by her impressive rack (I might be exaggerating, though). It’s all enough to leave you feeling that this is going to be another round of “Wave’s” usual brand of character-driven wackiness.
Then things take a turn…
Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the volume is still filled with the kind of character-driven wackiness that this series has made its stock-in-trade. It’s just that the setting and means by which they’re delivered are significantly different than they have been in previous volumes. Which makes for an appealing change of pace, especially as the mystery behind Minare and co.’s new circumstances deepens and the stakes actually wind up being raised a little.
The only real catch here is that this change in setting may be viewed by some to be a little outlandish. If you were the person who rolled their eyes at how the haunting of Minare’s neighbor turned out to be down to her irresponsibility in properly storing meat, then you’re going to have a real problem with how things turn out here. Of course, if you’ve been enjoying yourself so far like I have, then you’re likely going to get a kick out of the twist here. Particularly in regards to how it ties into the meat-spooked neighbor’s circumstances…
The last time I wrote about Nick Spencer’s “Amazing Spider-Man” run, I said that the writer had plowed it into territory that I didn’t find fun or entertaining to read about. Finding out the identity of Kindred, the demonic being who has been tormenting Spidey from the shadows of Spencer’s run, was the only reason I picked up this volume. A good reveal had the possibility of turning my interest around, especially if it showed that the writer had been planning things well since the character’s introduction. I wanted to believe this was possible, especially since Spencer’s run had been so much fun while he was indulging his and the character’s comedic side.
Did I get that with this volume? No. No I did not.
[Full spoilers for this volume after the break.]
Vol. 1 had Doom framed for sabotaging a black hole experiment on the Moon, deposed from his country, being arrested and then escaping before he was able to regain his armor and go after those responsible for his situation. So if you’re thinking that vol. 2 sounds like this is where the series gets to the “good stuff” then you’d be right. After a low-key issue where Doom and Kang hash out their issues in the Southwest, the good Doctor reassembles his inner circle, purges the traitors, gives the pretender to his throne what’s coming to him, and prepares to offer a perfect solution to the black hole that’s currently growing on the Moon. It’s a plan so perfect that Doom has even reserved an hour of television on all the major stations the following night to talk about his inevitable success and his plans for the future. Which include his desire to change and become a better person. He’s seen the visions from this parallel world and knows that he has to change in order to make that world a reality. There’s only one person standing in his way: THAT ACCURSED REED RICHARDS!
...While I thought that writer Christopher Cantwell had a good handle on Doom in the first volume, it’s this second one where he shows us that he really knows the Doctor inside and out. His ruthlessness, his cunning, his arrogance, his insecurity, it’s all on display here. It’s also done in a way that makes Doom come off as more human than he has before. Everything that he does here doesn’t feel like it’s being done to advance a specific story, but rather as an extension of the character himself. Which is why his temper tantrum after his talk with Reed feels more pitiable than eye-rolling. Or why his actions at the end of the volume come off as genuinely monstrous because they’re all the result of his wounded ego. Artist Salvador Larroca sells all of this drama very well, even it’s calmer and weirder low key bits too. This leaves us with a series that I’d say isn’t just a must-read for Doom’s fans, but also for those who feel that they’ve never quite understood him after all these years.
The main story of “ElfQuest” wrapped up in the final volume of “The Final Quest.” As you would expect from a storyline with that title. However, you can’t keep a good franchise down for long and so here we are with the first post-”Final Quest” storyline. Joking aside, “Stargazer’s Hunt” actually has a pretty good setup to explore as the title character realizes that he has some unfinished business regarding his brother “In All but Blood.” While Skywise is living happily in the Starhome with his teleporting daughter Jink and lifemate Timmain, something still gnaws at him. What did Timmain show to Cutter that one night, and caused him to lose his mind as a result?
The drama from “Stargazer’s Hunt” doesn’t come from any deliberation on Timmain’s part regarding this issue. No, the drama comes from her lack of hesitation and decision to lay it all out at once. This turns Stargazer into an emotional wreck as it’s all too much for him to deal with. Which is where Jink comes in as her magic isn’t just limited to teleportation. No, she can mess around with memories as well…
This is actually part of the problem for this series as Jink’s decision has the unintended consequence of splitting the narrative between her and her father. While it’s nice to see how everyone’s doing after “The Final Quest,” and everyone’s looking good thanks to Sonny Strait’s art, the story in the four issues contained doesn’t really do justice to the story’s premise. It leaves me both unsatisfied, and a little annoyed honestly. That’s because “Stargazer’s Hunt” isn’t a complete story and ends with “To Be Continued…” All this makes the story one for the most devoted of “ElfQuest” fans who really can’t bear to let the World of Two Moons go just yet.
Superman & The Authority #1 (of 4)
During their brief heyday at the turn of the millennium, “The Authority” were a team that made you question the relevance of Superman. After all, if this team was able to handle global, interdimensional, and intergalactic threats with a maximum of violence, the murdering of bad guys, and proportionate levels of debauchery, the Man of Steel tended to come off as a relic next to them. Flash forward some 20 years and now Superman is running his own version of the team with professional scumbag (and leader of “Authority” knockoff “The Elite”) Manchester Black in charge. The plan is that Superman will be able to keep an eye on Black while working to reform him as he and his team, which includes former “Authority” mainstays Apollo and the Midnighter, handle threats that the Man of Steel would find daunting on his own.
The solicitation text also describes Superman’s approach as requiring methods that don’t scream “Justice League” and “business that can be taken care of on the sly.” So what we’re getting here is effectively Superman’s “Black Ops” team. If there was ever a superhero who didn’t need a “Black Ops” team, it’s Superman. This would normally be cause for concern… if this miniseries wasn’t being written by Grant Morrison. He’s a writer who knows the character, and his morality, like the back of his hand. So even if this looks like a morally dubious setup, my gut feeling is that’s all part of the Man of Steel’s master plan to reform Black. I’m onboard for this, which will look great regardless of how the story turns out as Mikel Janin is handling the art here.
How do you follow up a volume that ended with the protagonist’s mother trying to strangle him? If you’re mangaka Shuzo Oshimi, then you have things get a little worse before they get better. This involves Seiichi kicking a teacher’s desk during cleaning duty, getting reprimanded for it, and then moping on a bench after school about it, where he meets Fukiishi. In case you’ve forgotten, she’s the classmate of Seiichi who gave him that love letter that was subsequently ripped up by his mom. She talks to him for a while and… you may be surprised by what happens next. Suffice to say that it’s a rare moment of warmth in this series that feels earned, especially when contrasted against the horror movie schtick that Oshimi pulls as Seiichi finds his way home. Even if Fukiishi’s interest in our protagonist does stretch credibility somewhat, since ordinariness is all that he looks to have going for him on the outside, it’s still nice to see him develop a relatively normal social connection in this series.
Which he’s going to need because Seiko is still totally cray-cray. Not to the point of choking out her son again, fortunately. This time she’s all about acting nice and interested in Seiichi while projecting a vibe that she’s liable to snap at any moment. If you’re wondering if that moment is going to happen when she finally finds out about about her son and Fukiishi, then you’re going to get your answer here in some scenes where Oshimi really cranks up the drama with his art. That’s a good thing as the intensity of emotion demanded by this encounter requires something more than your usual round of talking heads. The ending of this volume also portends a major change in the status quo for this title, although it might wind up being a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. All of this is to say that if you’re still into the kind of discomfort that “Blood on the Tracks” has been selling up to this point, then vol. 4 still has you covered.