July 18, 2020
Nearly five years after it was published, I still can’t make up my mind as to whether Benjamin Marra’s “Terror Assaulter: One Man War On Terror” is either the greatest thing I’ve read or the dumbest. “Night Business,” on the other hand, is considerably easier to wrap my head around. It’s the creator’s ode to the sweaty, trashy, bloody glory of 80’s cinema that’s filled to the brim with strippers, drug dealers, serial killers, cults, and street thugs. The title’s protagonist, Johnny Timothy, is one of the latter, working as an enforcer for Glitz Glam, a company that manages dancers. Both artistic and exotic. Unfortunately for them, there’s a masked killer going around and murdering strippers with a knife. Johnny knows that this is bad for business, but it doesn’t become personal until Chase, one of his friends and the company’s best dancer, gets knifed within an inch of her life.
If you think that this is going to lead our hero down a complicated path of vengeance, violence, and violent vengeance, then you’d be absolutely correct. Not that he’s the only one to head down that path, as Chase has her own agenda to follow once she’s out of the hospital. This is a much longer work than “Terror Assaulter” and presented in a more straightforward fashion as well. Which can lead you to feel that Marra is simply going through a checklist of 80’s tropes that he wanted to include here. Yet, there’s still a feeling of self-awareness in the dialogue that lets you know the creator isn’t taking things too seriously. The same is true of the art, which feels like it starts at self-parody and then tries to work its way back towards actual seriousness.
All of this leads me to believe that publisher Fantagraphics will only publish either comics that function as high art, or are dumb enough to make early 90’s Image titles look as such. “Night Business” clearly trends towards the latter, even if it feels like there’s enough craft behind it to keep it from fully crossing over into “so bad it’s good” territory. It’s still a fun read for those who can appreciate the trashiest bits of 80’s culture.
July 17, 2020
If you’re looking for an example of why Joe Kubert was venerated as an artist, then look no further than this collection. The exploits of Abraham Stone, a young farmboy who has come to the city in search of… VENGEANCE, are drawn with an expressiveness and attention to detail that’s still impressive to see nearly three decades removed from their original publication. You really get a sense for the gritty, run-down sections of New York; the fanciful glamour of the many sets of early Hollywood; and the chaos that follows Pancho Villa in the wake of his revolution. The roughness of Kubert’s linework feels perfectly suited to this bygone era and it’s easy to marvel at all the work he put into a single page. Sure, sometimes his characters can come off like they’re overacting, but it actually fits in with the storytelling’s throwback charm
“Throwback charm” is also the most charitable way I can describe the appeal of the storytelling here. The feel of these three stories can best be described as coming off like episodes of an old 70’s action/adventure TV show. Abraham may have the naivete of a young man, but he’s got a strength and resourcefulness beyond his years that will see the places mentioned above. Which leaves him as a likeable lead that’s to be stuck in stories that are predictable and offer few surprises. Speaking of which, don’t go into this expecting a progressive vision of minority or women’s roles. Only the portrayal of Pancho Villa and his men comes off as being borderline racist, however. Which ultimately leaves the stories to get by on the charm of its main character and the art from their creator. Something that will ultimately be decided by the reader’s own personal tastes.
July 15, 2020
The first thing you notice about this volume is its size.
After 33 reduced-size volumes, this is the first volume of the ongoing “Usagi Yojimbo” series to see print at a standard trim size. It’s different. As is the fact that there’s no volume number on the side here. For that you’ll have to look at the copyright information section where it lists this volume as number 34. You’ll also notice when you look inside that this is also the first volume of “Usagi” to be printed in full color. It’s a different but interesting change after reading the entirety of the series in black and white up to this point. What I’m getting at is that there are a lot of cosmetic changes to this first volume of “Usagi” from its new publisher, IDW. Once you’ve taken them all in, you’ll find that this is still the same quality series it was when Dark Horse was publishing it.
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July 13, 2020
The wheel-spinning is over and vol. 8 finds this series returning to its usual standard of quality. This standard usually involved a lot of heartbreak, and that’s exceptionally true here. It starts with Shiva’s disappearance at the end of the previous volume being resolved in short order while also causing Teacher to come to a realization. A realization that tells him how to save Shiva without killing anyone. His actions here have unexpected complications that eventually lead to the girl being captured by the humans from the Inside. While they believe that sacrificing Shiva will bring an end to the curse that has ravaged their land, that particular duty has fallen on their king. He’s a frail and sickly man who was born to power and has never swung a sword with any conviction, or so they say. With the fate of his kingdom resting on his actions, it’s possible that he will finally find a reason to use his sword.
Teacher’s big choice here drives the volume and I will not spoil it here. I will say that mangaka Nagabe fully realizes its heartbreaking potential as we see Shiva slowly recognizes the consequences of what her guardian has done in order to save her. Dwelling upon that for a whole volume would’ve been unnecessarily depressing, so the girl’s capture by the Insiders manages to function as a perversely successful attempt to focus the reader’s attention elsewhere. I’m not sure I’d ever see the day where child sacrifice was used as a narrative diversion, but Nagabe manages it here. I did like that the Insiders weren’t presented as the kind of frothingly evil fanatics that you might have expected. Yes they want to sacrifice this girl. Only it’s because they can’t see any other way to escape their fate. You may not be able to sympathize with them, but you’ll understand them a bit more here. More understanding would be good in the future too, if only to offer further distraction from the awful implications of the volume’s final pages.
July 12, 2020
Like “Batman: Universe,” “Superman: Up in the Sky” was originally serialized in comics that were originally exclusively sold to Walmart. If you were to ask me which of the two was better, I’d say this one. Hands down. That’s because while the “Batman” title felt more like an excuse for Bendis to play around with the stuff from the DCU that he found interesting, and have Nick Derington make it look good, the creators here actually do something interesting with the format. It doesn’t start off looking that way as writer Tom King and artist Andy Kubert’s story feels like they’re putting a simple moral quandary to the Man of Steel: A little girl in Metropolis has been kidnapped by aliens. Does Superman forsake his duty to Earth and go after the girl, or does he stay home to take care of everyone else who might need to be saved? I don’t think I need to tell you what his decision is.
From that humble start, we get a great “Superman” story. Or rather, eleven of them as King and Kubert manage the tricky task of telling a complete story involving the character as he moves through the cosmos. Sometimes they can be a bit ponderous or silly, as King’s work can be. Occasionally there’s some unfortunate stiffness to Kubert’s art. Most of the time, the two click and we get a host of stories that range from Superman enduring a boxing match for information, suffering through a “Brazil”-esque round of alien bureaucracy, experiencing an unexpected team-up with Sgt. Rock, seeing the time he raced the Flash recounted from an unfamiliar perspective, or making a Devil’s bargain with Darkseid. It’s an anthology of stories that all come together to tell one story, and it’s pretty great! Enough to make me want to see the creators team up to work on the character again, or at the very least to see King do more with Luthor after his brief but pitch-perfect work with the character here.
July 11, 2020
Scott Snyder and Jock wrung a decent story about the Batman Who Laughs in the miniseries that bore his name. This was in spite of the fact that, his distinctive look aside, I don’t think he’s really that interesting of a character. He’s meant to be the personification of the idea that Batman always wins, shorn of any agenda or higher purpose. So far, he’s come off like the kind of smug villain who’s always a step ahead of the heroes. Not because he’s been shown to be smarter than them, but because the plot demands it. My opinion of him may be in the minority, as the character has proven to be quite popular. To the point that he’s the focus of “Batman/Superman vol. 1: Who Are the Secret Six” and “Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen” two stories that set the stage for the current “Death Metal” event.
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July 10, 2020
Amazon was running a “Buy Two, Get One Free” sale a couple weeks back, and this was among the titles that I picked up while it was running. I know that means I’ve arrived at this particular party over three years late -- and as the series has undergone its latest relaunch -- but writer Rob Williams’ run gets off to a pretty strong start here. After the “Rebirth” issue reintroduces us to stalwart leader Rick Flag, the series wastes no time in sending the team off to a super-prison to steal some “cosmically powered” object. Said team includes Flag, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Croc, Enchantress, Katana, and Captain Boomerang -- most of the cast from the movie. While the team nearly dies getting into the prison, the Super-trouble they find inside the Black Vault will quickly make them wish they had.
Even if Williams may have had to take his team roster from the movie it’s not a bad thing for this comic. He’s got a good handle on the characters and their roles for this kind of thing, while also giving them plenty of snappy lines to say -- even for their antagonist here. There’s also a logical escalation of chaos over the four issues here, which gives main artist Jim Lee time to properly warm up when the Russian Supervillain Team shows up to make things even crazier by the end. This probably read excruciatingly slow when it was first serialized, but condensed into one go “The Black Vault” reads short sharp shock of superhero action.
The main reason I say that this series read slow while being serialized is because each issue that Lee drew only contained 13 pages of story. They were filled out with short stories written by Williams about other members of the cast -- Deadshot, Boomerang, Katana, and Harley -- illustrated by some of DC’s heaviest hitters: Jason Fabok, Ivan Reis, Phillip Tan, and Gary Frank. So while they all look good, only the Reis-illustrated “Boomerang: Agent of Oz” story rises to greatness thanks to the utter ridiculousness of the character’s self-narrated origin story. So while I’m coming to this series quite late, I’m nevertheless interested into digging further into Williams’ run.
July 8, 2020
Rob and Myron return so we can find out if this is the next big Shonen Jump series, or the worst "Bond" movie never made.
July 6, 2020
You know, I bet there are some readers of this series who are so into it that they reached the end of this volume and felt legitimate suspense at its conclusion and the possibility it represents. Most readers, I would imagine, got to the end of vol. 14 and probably felt their stomach turn a little. That lurching feeling signifying a sinking feeling that all of the efforts of the main cast in this volume were for naught and that Sato was one step ahead of them the whole time.
What did I feel? Amusement, mostly. The kind of narrative delaying tactic that mangaka Gamon Sakurai sets up here would’ve been downright infuriating if I had been invested in the series the way he wants me to. Unfortunately, Sato has been the most interesting and entertaining character in the title up to this point, so it was kind of fun to reach the ending and realize that he had put one over on them again. I do feel a little bad for all the work that Izumi and Tanaka put into this plan, but I guess that’s what you get when you put your faith in a couple of teenagers.
As is the case with just about every volume of “Ajin,” there were some things that managed to be entertaining in spite of the main story. There was the Diet member who sponsored an anti-Demi-Human bill only to be served some delicious irony after Sato’s latest terrorist attack. Then there’s Tosaki, who possibly exits the series with some quiet dignity after doing the right thing. The bits with Manabe shopping for a gun, and Akiyama “opening an umbrella” were also pretty neat. However, even with these things and the quality action scenes, this series really feels like it’s about to overstay its welcome. “Final Arc” energy can only sustain it so long in the absence of genuinely interesting plot developments. So let’s hope that if things don’t wrap up in vol. 15, then vol. 16 is the grand finale.
July 5, 2020
Though it sat on my shelf for a while, but “Bloodborne” wound up being the first “Souls-like” game that I finished. While it can be a very engaging game to play, if you’re willing to commit what it asks of you, “Bloodborne” absolutely isn’t something that you play for its story. What narrative it has is made up of scraps from conversations, item descriptions, and the combat itself -- and there’s a lot of room to impose your own interpretation of things if you so desire. That’s what writer Ales Kot and artist Piotr Kowalski have to work with her, and they actually deliver something quite interesting.
Not for its story, though. The comics I’ve read from Kot tend to not follow a solid narrative and can diverge wildly from your initial expectations depending on what mood the writer finds himself in. That’s less of a problem when you’re writing a “Bloodborne” comic where the story provided by the source material is pretty abstract already. So when I say that “The Death of Sleep” involves a genderless Hunter escorting a child with the Paleblood to safety, this description is mainly a hanger on which the style is hung.
The style in question, however, is pretty astounding! Kot manages to incorporate characters, monsters, and even gameplay mechanics into the story in a way that feels natural to someone familiar with the source material. Yet it’s Piotr Kowalski’s stunning work that really captures the feel of the game. His beasts and characters look faithful to the game, but not in a manner so slavish that you’re distracted by it. The art looks as moody and haunting as the game itself, capturing the spirit of the source material in a way that few licensed titles really do. At least, for anyone who has played the game. The uninitiated are likely to find “The Death of Sleep” to be well-illustrated gibberish, at best. Fans of the game, however, are encouraged to pick this volume up as it ultimately pulls off the tricky task of being a valid realization of “Bloodborne” in another medium.