Imagine, if you will, a “Star Wars” setting that doesn’t involve rebelling against an Empire, or the final days of a dynastic Republic. Imagine a time when the Jedi were great in number and oversaw a galaxy that wasn’t a raging trashfire. That’s the premise behind the “High Republic'' setting which takes place hundreds of years before the Prequel Trilogy. It’s a time of expansion, signified by the new Starlight Citadel outpost being established on the Outer Rim, and our introduction to Padawan Keeve Trevis who is being trained by her Master Sskeer on one of the rim worlds. Things are going well for this pair, but just because this is a time of peace doesn’t mean that there’s danger to be had. That’s because there’s a dark, alien presence lurking on the Rim and less literal one lurking in the heart of the Jedi stationed out there.
I’m looking at my “To Review” pile and there’s a variety of things in it. There are things that I’m saving for potential podcasts. There are things I think deserve to be written about, but have let sit for whatever reason. There are things that you’ll likely be reading reviews of next week. There’s also one title that I don’t want to write about... Then there are several titles that wound up in this pile simply because I finished reading them and have let sit because I wanted to write about other things more. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, but they are what you’ll get my thoughts on after the break.
Chances are that you’re more familiar with the fictional killers that Ed Gein inspired rather than the man himself. Killers like Norman Bates from “Psycho.” Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs.” This is probably for the best since the things Gein did are best relegated to the annals of history and reserved for those with a curiosity for the most morbid of true crime stories. Such is the case here as co-writers Harold Schechter and Eric Powell take us through Ed’s unhappy childhood which was lorded over by his religiously overbearing and strict mother Augusta well into his adult life. Looked upon by many as the harmless village idiot who was just a bit odd, it wasn’t until November 1957 when evidence of his crimes was uncovered and Gein entered the national consciousness as its latest boogeyman.
Schechter and Powell note in their afterword that they relied mostly on primary source material (newspaper articles, forensic accounts, interviews) with a few additions and reshufflings for narrative clarity. The result is a graphic novel that remains a compelling read from beginning to end, especially for those like me who are only familiar with Gein through the fictional monsters he inspired. It also allows the first half to come off as eerily believable as it does, even though it’s clear that the creators are following their own inspiration. This does leave the back half to become a bit more didactic as it feels like they’re following the official accounts as closely as possible. Still, when you’re dealing with material as sensational as this, the fact-based approach actually works pretty well.
Tying it all together is Powell’s amazing art. His color work has always had plenty of detail to it, but seeing his black and white pencil work here is a sight to behold. Powell’s characters are tremendously emotive and he makes the setting of rural Wisconsin look utterly, believably normal, which sets up a disturbing contrast when Gein’s crimes come to light. All of this, the pencilling, the writing, the research, is further proof that even though I have no desire to follow the further adventures of Powell’s signature creation, following his new works is still a worthwhile endeavor.
Cap gets political again, with disappointing results.
Shino Oshima is about to start high school and will have to introduce herself in front of her other classmates. This is something that most students wouldn’t give a second thought to, but is a terrifying proposition to our protagonist. That’s because Shino has struggled with a case of stuttering up until now. It’s something that has made even the most minor of social interactions extremely difficult for her, and has also left her without friends. That is, until she meets Kayo, whose short temper likely hasn’t done her any favors either. It takes a little while for the two of them to connect, but when they do it leads to them forming a musical group. Surely this means that they’ll be best friends forever and their friendship won’t be tested once a boy comes into the picture?
Not only is the the focus on a protagonist who stutters unique to manga, and comics in general, but “Shino” is also drawn from the life of mangaka Shuzo Oshimi who also experiences this impairment. Oshimi, if you’ll recall, is the author of “The Flowers of Evil,” “Happiness,” “Inside Mari” and “Blood on the Tracks,” all of which draw their strengths from their sharply drawn characters and how they deal with the traumatic experiences that have defined them. Picking up “Shino” was a no-brainer for me with this mangaka’s track record.
Unfortunately, I think this may be the weakest manga I’ve read from Oshimi. While Shino’s initial classroom experiences capture the excruciating social anxiety its main character feels, most everything after that feels simplistic, even formulaic. From the difficulties that her friendship with Kayo faces, to the clueless but ultimately well-meaning boy they encounter, to bit players such as the well-meaning but insensitive teacher, everything here feels straight out of the inspirational story playbook. It’s to the point that when Shino has her big breakthrough moment close to the end, it doesn’t resonate as much as it should, even with the intensity Oshimi is clearly trying to instill in his art. It pains me to say all this about a series with such clearly noble intentions, but the nuance just isn’t there to make them come off as more than that.
Kyle Higgins has written many comics for Marvel and DC, but he’s probably best known for his multi-year run on BOOM!’s “Power Rangers” comics. After the success he had there, it was only natural that he’d transition to creator-owned work, and “Radiant Black” is the result of that. I’ve got only a surface level of familiarity with that licensed sentai series, which is likely the main reason why “Radiant Black” has always looked like a version of “Power Rangers” with the serial numbers filed off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as you’re willing to actually take some risks and do things that the source material never would. This is a roundabout way of me saying that, based on this first volume, “Power Rangers” with the serial numbers filed off is actually pretty cool.
The previous volume ended with the resurrection of Kate Pryde and her determination to make Sebastian Shaw pay for killing her in the first place. She may have had to put that on the back burner for a bit -- what with the interdimensional competition for the fate of Krakoa and Earth that went on between volumes -- but vol. 3 starts off with her, Emma Frost, and one other aggrieved party getting the payback they so richly deserve. Then it’s off to the North Atlantic for a token tie-in to the “King in Black” event, a trip back to Madripoor to settle things with the Hellfire Brats, and then dinner on a galleon as the series sees one of its own off onto bigger and better things.
“Marauders” has always been one of the most enjoyable titles of this current era of “X-Men” and writer Gerry Duggan keeps things ticking over quite well here. Initially, anyway. That opening issue where scores are settled is easily the best one in the volume as it represents the culmination of two volumes worth of setup. It’s also damn satisfying to see Shaw get what’s coming to him after that. What follows could best be described as “business as usual” for this series. The “King in Black” issue is basically filler that tries to distinguish itself by putting positive spin on human/mutant relations at the end. As for the Madripoor-based issues, they offer up some villains who represent an interesting problem with Krakoa’s “Kill no Man” law while staying within the bounds of the series’ established formula.
The final issue does do a good job of paying tribute to the character it’s centered around, which allows vol. 3 to go out on a high note. This third volume also maintains the same standard of quality, art-wise, as Matteo Lolli and Stefano Caselli again illustrated all of the issues. All of this means that there’s still a lot to like about this third volume. It’s just that I didn’t expect “Marauders” to settle into a comfortable formula so quickly. Maybe it’s for the best that vol. 4 represents either the end of the series or the last one written by Duggan.
I didn’t think much of Pak’s first volume about the Dark Lord’s post-”Empire Strikes Back” adventure. Do you know who else didn’t think much of it? Emperor Palpatine, that’s who. Disgusted at his apprentice’s failings, the Emperor uses his mastery of the Force to show him once again who is boss. Then he leaves a broken Vader at the scene of his greatest defeat on Mustafar with a chance at redemption. That redemption will have to come as Vader not only has to survive the environment of Mustafar, and repair himself, but the threat of the Emperor’s assassin Ochi of Bestoon, and the mad riddles of the Sith creature known as the Eye of Webbish Bog.
There’s always hope that a creative team can make things right after a disappointing first volume, and that’s what Pak and artist Raffele Ienco have managed to do here. “Into the Fire” manages to find a way for us to see Vader struggle without diminishing him, as much of the volume hinges upon the character’s creativity as it does his indomitable will. He knows that he’s not going to win most of these encounters in a fair fight, and it’s refreshing to see him employ more strategy than usual in these encounters. It’s also interesting to see Pak introduce new and weird concepts to the “Star Wars” universe like the Eye of Webbish Bog and to take the familiar concept of a master assassin like Ochi and put him on a journey that’s more darkly comic than you’d expect.
What Pak still hasn’t managed to get over is his regular use of scenes from the movies to reinforce the story he’s telling. This practice isn’t as omnipresent as it was in the previous volume, and while that’s an improvement, I’d still like to see him cut things down even further. Ienco’s art is still capable enough, and while his characters can still stand to loosen up a bit, he’s getting better with conveying spectacle via the splash pages that close out certain issues. This volume doesn’t take the series to the heights of the previous “Darth Vader” series, but it leaves me feeling better about its chances. Which is good enough for now.
...was the name given to the 90’s era initiative that saw Marvel hand over some of its most prominent heroes -- the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Iron Man, and the rest of the Avengers -- over to Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and their studios to remake in their image (or Image, if you will). The fact that this happened, and that Liefeld’s contract was cancelled halfway through with everything being handed over to Lee, is the most memorable thing about it. Everyone remembers this event because of the business dealings and talent involved, and not because of the stories that came from it. By that standard, Jason Aaron has a relatively low bar to clear as he repurposes the “Heroes Reborn” name for an event series that’s spinning out of his “Avengers” run.
While I liked the past four volumes that told the story of Baron Muster and his influence on Erica, they still felt like a diversion from why I’m reading this series. Which would be to find out Alita’s backstory from when she was known as Yoko on Mars. Mangaka Yukito Kishiro does take some steps in that direction with this volume as Yoko and Erica try to track down Keun the Kaufmann. Keun was mentioned by Dass as someone who could help them in the last note he gave the girls before he died. Once they arrive at his place of employment, the girls quickly find themselves caught up in a battle between factions over some information that may still be hidden in a spaceship that crashed to Mars nearly fifty years ago.
As for what that information is… you’ll still be wondering when this volume gets to its end. What you’ll find along the way is an engagingly violent adventure that picks up steam as it goes along. Part of that is due to Erica’s enjoyably ruthless nature as she has clearly taken the lessons learned from Muster to heart. This means that she’s now willing to screw over anyone who gets in her way while expressing zero remorse about it. She may not be likeable, but it’s never dull with her around. Nor is it with Yunie, the seemingly absent-minded girl who takes a shine to Erica and Yoko, while also displaying some impressive fighting skills whenever she gets stressed. Keun also has some mad skills, and his even come with a direct link to the series’ past.
The last third of the volume is essentially all-out action and we get a volume-ending double-splash page that promises even more next time. It’s quality work, even if most of the violence is being perpetrated against generic mooks. While the new additions to the cast here are nice, the new antagonists we see here are still pretty generic by “Alita’s” standards. There’s room for things to get better in that department, so long as you’ve still got patience for this series. I can’t say that this volume has turned “Mars Chronicle” into the prequel series I was expecting but it’s getting better in that department and still a solid read, regardless.