Remender grinds another of his protagonists down, but in some interesting and beautifully-rendered ways.
The main goal of the characters in this series has been to find the tattooed skin of many convicts that, when combined, will lead to a massive treasure trove of gold. After twenty-two volumes, we’re told that there are only four skins left to find with one of them being a notorious river pirate and another being (yet one more) serial killer. The catch is that Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi may have figured out a way to circumvent the need for these skins, which I’m sure won’t blow up in their faces when they go looking for that pirate. Meanwhile, Lt. Tsurumi and Hijikata’s groups are also hot on the trails of these last few skins, with the lieutenant sending Kikuta and Usami to investigate the killer in Sapporo. This is notable because we finally get the backstory behind this volume’s cover boy and how his insanely jealous nature bound him to Tsurumi for the rest of their lives.
Usami’s backstory is twisted even by this series’ usual standards, and it would be the most disturbing thing in this volume... If it wasn’t for mangaka Satoru Noda’s decision to turn Sugimoto’s chapter-length relationship with a long-tailed tit into a comedy with a pitch-black punchline. There’s also plenty of the title’s signature goofiness in store as Nikaido discovers meth, and Shiraishi has a late-night encounter with an unfortunate swan. Though it appears that this volume might be all over the place in terms of plot and tone, holding it all together is Tanigaki as we find out the hold that Tsurumi has over the grizzled soldier. It’s the kind of hold that’s tight enough to leave Tanigaki determined to squeeze through it with the woman he loves, which leads to a thrilling escape in the volume’s last third. Said chase takes some unexpected turns which reveal that Tsurumi’s hold on his men might not be as absolute as he thinks. This is something that also leaves me anxious for vol. 24’s arrival, if only so I can see if everyone’s all right after its ostensibly uplifting finale.
Sir Edward Grey: Acheron
I imagine that a lot of people are excited for this one-shot as it represents the first full comic that Mike Mignola will be illustrating after he finished “Hellboy in Hell” five years ago. What interests me more than that is that this is the first Mignolaverse comic to take place after the end of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” which effectively ended the saga of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. Sir Edward “Witchfinder” Grey was in Hell at the time of these events and “Acheron” sees him still there, but now working to take on an old and familiar foe who is threatening the transition of worlds.
My guess is that the existence of this issue is to bring an end to Sir Edward’s story more than anything else since he was still in Hell once “The Devil You Know” wrapped up. What I’m hoping is that Mignola will use this story to provide some additional context for the ending to that series, which wrapped up in a straightforward, surprise-free fashion. It’d be nice if we get that, even if this issue is mainly here to snip off a loose continuity threat. The act of which should still make for entertaining reading with Mignola writing and illustrating it.
One-Star Squadron #1 (of 6)
Mark Russell is a writer who has done a lot of work at DC over the years on titles like “The Flintstones,” “The Snagglepuss Chronicles,” and “The Wonder Twins,” where he takes these old characters and uses them to tell modern satire. He’s since branched out to doing creator-owned work at other publishers with titles like “Second Son” and “Not All Robots,” but I’ve never made it around to actually reading anything that he’s done. Mainly because his work seemed easy to shrug off with critical praise for his work failing to translate into breakthrough success. Still, he’s been doing this kind of thing consistently in the industry for years, which suggests he must be doing something right.
So the time has come to find out what that “something” is with this series. “One-Star Squadron” is a series about B, C, and D-List heroes who find themselves working for a superhero-service app that promises “Superman-Level Service at Bizarro Prices.” Be it an alien invasion, cat rescue, or children’s birthday party, you can count on heroes like the Red Tornado, Power Girl, Gangbuster and Minute Man showing up to help you out. It’s a satirical take on the modern gig economy set in the current DCU. This is a solid premise, but what really convinced me to check this out is that Steve Lieber is providing the art. While I’m curious to see what Russell’s comedic chops are like, there’s no question that he has the best artist to realize them after his work on “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” and “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.”
Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton vol. 1
Trigger Keaton’s action stardom was only equaled by his potential to act like a jerk to everyone around him. It’s why no one was surprised when he wound up dead with a pool of potential suspects a mile wide and deep. Taking up the task of solving Trigger’s murder are the titular six sidekicks, former stuntpeople who all had an axe to grind with the man and are maybe doing this so they can finally step into the limelight themselves. Considering that this is coming from a writer whose last projects involved a host of oddball assassins trying to protect another assassin and a former basketball player turned vampire hunter, one has to wonder if Kyle Starks is playing it safe or just holding his cards close to his vest. I’m certain that the latter is the case and that he and artist Chris Schweitzer are saving the really crazy stuff for those curious enough to give this a look. Which is something that I’m very willing to do in the hopes that this will be able to live up to its potential in the way the unjustly ignored “Assassin Nation” was not able to.
Hellions by Zeb Wells vol. 3
While the current line of X-books has generally been entertaining on its own terms, it’s mainly because they’ve been doing familiar superhero stuff quite well with a straightforward dramatic bent. Well, all of them except for “Hellions.” This has been a darkly funny, deeply cynical series that is ostensibly about damaged, antisocial mutants trying to use their gifts in a way that works out best for everyone around them. In actuality, they’re either knowingly or unknowingly doing Mister Sinister’s dirty work for him as mutantdom’s most fabulously evil scientist seeks to work around the restrictions placed on him by the Quiet Council.
I was hoping this series would have a nice, long run in it. That’s not the case, however, as it’s coming to an end with issue #18 in these solicitations. Vol. 3 collects issues 13-18, which will allow us to see what happens when the clone of Sinister that everyone thought was dead after it went to Arakko comes looking to get his cape back. Along with Tarn the Uncaring, and maybe one more villain from a previous arc who Wells has a fondness for. I’ll be sad to see this series go, though I hope it doesn’t mean the end of seeing what the writer does with the mutants of Krakoa…
Oh who am I kidding! I really want this series to continue because Wells writes the best Mister Sinister!
In the year 199X, the world was engulfed in nuclear fire. The remnants of civilization that crawled out of its ashes were greeted with a new world where only might makes right. If you didn’t have the brawn or the bullets to back up your threats, then you simply had to resign yourself to a life of being at the mercy of those who do. Hope would seem to be a cruel myth in this world… if it wasn’t for one man: Kenshiro, the master of the martial assassin art Hokuto Shinken, the Divine Fist of the North Star. He’s not out to bring justice to the entire wasteland, but those who say that he only leaves chaos in his wake are mistaken. Only JUSTICE follows behind him as he cleaves through a bloody swath of villains on his journey.
If you’re wondering why I’m giving you a general gist of the story behind “Fist of the North Star” rather than a proper plot summary of the events of this volume, it’s because any enjoyment you’re going to get from vol. 1 isn’t going to come from its story. The encounters here are very black-and-white struggles of good-versus-evil as Kenshiro comes across increasingly despicable villains and gives them exactly what they deserve. No, if you’re going to get any enjoyment out of this volume, it’ll be down to how much you’re willing to buy into the style that writer Buronson and artist Hara Tetsuo are selling, as well as this title’s status as one of the most iconic Shonen Jump series ever.
For me, that’s pretty easy. The creators execute their “What if ‘The Road Warrior’ but with martial arts that can cause people to explode?” setup with gusto and not a single bit of irony or self-awareness. Normally that would make for a hilarious good time, but Buronson’s straight-and-to-the-point writing and Hara’s viscerally exciting art still drew me in even if I knew how each chapter was going to end not long after they started. If you’re wanting a version of this kind of shonen story with over-the-top violence and a better story and weirder characters, then you’d be better of checking out “Fist’s” distaff Jump descendant, “Chainsaw Man.” Shonen storytelling may have improved a lot over the years, but there’s still excitement to be had in taking in one of the series that blazed a bloody trail that others have followed in to this day.
The title birds only figure into the first few pages of this volume, but their brief presence is enough to let you know that Magpies are serious business. It’s enough to convince Bridgette that she needs to find her daughter Mary before her dalliance with Merlin and Arthur begets more violence and tragedy. Which is why she ropes Duncan and Rose into visiting a biker bar full of white supremacists to get some answers. Things go badly for our ostensible Percival, until another story decides to intervene and Rose finds herself having to step up for this particular conflict. What follows involves a trip to Otherworld, an encounter with the greatest of knights, a couple conversations held at gunpoint, and a big friggin’ dragon as well. Oh, and we get to finally find out what the other Grail Knight’s role in this story is meant to be.
My biggest issue with this volume is that this other Grail Knight doesn’t stick around long enough to see what he’s wrought. (Well, it’s possible that he may stick around in a particular form, but writer Kieron Gillen already tried that trick in “The Wicked + The Divine.”) The rest of the volume is more concerned with subverting expectations. Whether it involves the introduction of another story, the government’s role in Bridgette’s long history of monster hunting, or the appearance of a job well done, nothing really goes to plan in vol. 3. I appreciated Gillen’s efforts in that regard, along with Dan Mora’s always-excellent art as he gets even more fantastical things to draw in this volume.
Still, if you’re worried that “Duncan, Bridgette and Rose Fight Legendary English Monsters” was going to be this series’ sole trick, Gillen has you covered. There’s a substantial change to the status quo over the course of this volume which assures that vol. 4 of “Once and Future” will look considerably different than the previous three. It also means that things will be going from bad to worse for a good portion of the English population, but I have a feeling that their misery will be great fuel for our entertainment.
At the beginning of this volume we get the story of the Phoenix of 1,000,000 B.C., with some impressively burly art from Dale Keown. At the end of this volume we see Blade transition out of the Avengers into a job he was born to do with some less-impressive, but still nice art from Luca Maresca. In between, we get five full issues of superheroes, and a couple super-villains duking it out to see who will become the next host of the Phoenix. The all-powerful cosmic entity has been summoned to Earth by Namor, who fully intends to make the most of her power. Except that the Phoenix isn’t about to hand over her might just because a sea-king came knocking. No, she wants a full-on tournament to decide who’s the most worthy of wielding her power. That’s not the only reason she’s dropped by Earth, however. She also wanted to say “Hi” to her son after all these years as well.
This is a difficult volume to review since I was spoiled for its key revelations prior to reading it. I imagine that the mystery of who will be the next Phoenix will be a lot more interesting to those who don’t already know who the winner is. (Ditto for the stuff about the Phoenix’s scion.) The good news is that there’s still a decent amount of entertainment to be had from watching the fights play out on their own terms. From Captain America’s efforts to try (and fail) to find a way to lose while subverting the Phoenix’s plans, to the Black Panther’s schemes and dirty fighting to make sure that this power doesn’t fall into the right hands, there’s more going on here than just some cosmic-level fisticuffs. The impressively detailed and kinetic art from Javier Garron (with a pitch-in issue from Maresca) also helps sell the drama and action quite well. All this leaves vol. 8 coming off better than its predecessor as its main arc entertains while it and the issues around it move Aaron’s main story forward.
Aphra eventually managed to give ruthless collector Ronen Tagge what was coming to him in the previous volume. Unfortunately this also managed to put her on the radar of Tagge family head, Domina. Worse still is that Aphra’s actions managed to impress Domina, and now she wants the good doctor to do a job for her. De’rruyet Industries is about to unveil what promises to be a revolutionary new hyperdrive that promises to either change the galactic economy or end the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. Both of these outcomes would be bad for the Tagge Corporation, which is why Domina wants Aphra to figure out what the secret is behind this new hyperdrive before it’s unveiled to the public. The thing is that the history behind this hyperdrive is long and treacherous, so the good Doctor is going to have to rely on some capable backup that she hasn’t backstabbed (recently): Sana Staros.
I didn’t think much of writer Alyssa Wong’s debut on “Doctor Aphra” as it felt more like an exercise in ticking all the boxes in regards to the kind of story that you’d expect to see featuring the character. “The Engine Job” makes a much better impression as there’s a lot more going on here and the execution feels sharper as well. There’s also the fact that Aphra and Sana make a good flinty pair as they track down the hyperdrive’s origins, only to find out that it may not be everything it was promised to be. Wong also does a good job fleshing out her new characters, particularly Lucky the sharpshooter, who finds himself being dragged down by family and past obligations.
This is all good, which is why I’m feeling a little let down by the art. Ray-Anthyony Height, Minkyu Jung, and Robert Gill all do serviceable work here, and not much more than that. I’d hoped that the art would match the improved writing, but that’s not the case here. At least the volume ends with a seamless transition into the “War of the Bounty Hunters” event, which gives me hope that this title will continue to improve with vol. 3.