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.
July 4, 2020
Killian is your average twentysomething layabout in Dublin, playing videogames in between doing jobs for the local mob. What kind of jobs you ask? The kind that usually involve disappearing a corpse into the local wetlands. His partner on these jobs is an older, swearier gent named Keano, who has just come by with the latest one. It’s all business as usual until Killian finds himself wounded and on the run through the wetlands, forest, and countryside as he tries to survive the night. He’s not alone for long, however, as he winds up meeting a young woman who is also on the run for different reasons. Two heads are always better than one they say, but when one of them is a screw-up like Killian will he just wind up dragging them both down?
“Bog Bodies” comes to us from Declan Shalvey and Gavin Fullerton. Shalvey is better known around here for his art, and this represents the first time I’ve encountered his writing. It’s not bad, assuming you’re not put off by copious amounts of profanity and Irish slang. The real problem here is that his reach exceeds his grasp as what looks like a small-scale crime caper with black comedy overtones eventually tries to tackle weightier themes about cycles of violence and redemption without much success by the end. There’s also Shalvey’s attempt to work in the supernatural into the plot, and while it doesn’t completely derail things, the story would’ve been better served if the writer hadn’t gone there.
Things fare a bit better in regards to the art from Fullerton. He’s got a style that has a solid foot in the school of caricature, and if you can appreciate that then you’ll find that his characters serve the story well. Better still is how he manages to keep a story set at night in the Irish wetlands visually interesting while keeping the expected scenes of characters standing in front of a black background to a minimum. This ultimately leaves you feeling that while “Bog Bodies” isn’t exactly a bad graphic novel, the time you spent reading it could’ve been better spent elsewhere.
July 3, 2020
I thought that the first volume of Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren’s Texas vampire family drama was alright. The second one was too, though it didn’t do much to push the series off of my, “I’ll buy it at a deep discount,” list. Vol. 3, however, is where this title has finally clicked for me. While it starts off with Bartlett running off with a comatose Perry into the dawn, things quickly improve for the family and the reader as well. Not only does Bartlett have an idea as to where they can seek refuge, but the Bowman clan winds up thriving while they’re confined to the streets of Austin on the Order of the Parliament.
Yes, that’s right. There’s a Vampire Parliament in the world of “Redneck.” That’s just one of many interesting world-building details that Cates throws into this volume. You’ll also get to see a Vampire Wedding, find out just how long Johnson has been around, and his connection to their new overseer Ingrid. Yet it’s the character-building stuff that really shines here. Bits like JV learning to unwind, Greg learning new things about himself, and the funny/heartwarming conversation he has with his dad afterwards are as entertaining as they are insightful. Best of all, though, is seeing Bartlett reconnect with a former love who he did wrong many years ago and finally setting things right.
This is all handled capably, but not spectacularly by Estherren’s art. He has a spare style whose lack of detail keeps me from being fully drawn into the action. However, he’s quite good with the action and can deliver on ambitious scenes like the two 32-panel page spread near the end of the volume. Estherren’s ability to deliver on action is key as the volume ends with some righteous retribution against the Bowman clan. It looks like another terrible day for them, but the difference is that now I’m not going to wait in order to see what happens next for them.
July 1, 2020
It’s a 72-page original graphic novel that’s retailing for $17. How did it manage to get the top spot for this round of solicitations -- even though it’s also advance-solicited for October? Well, it’s coming from writer Alex De Campi, who has shown she can deliver quality pulp with “Grindhouse” and “No Mercy,” and artist Erica Henderson, who knocked it out of the park with “Assassin Nation” last year. Then there’s the solicitation text which promises a story that begins with Dracula being staked to his coffin by his brides, only for an aging starlet to raise those stakes in Los Angeles, 1974. Throw in a forgotten Harker descendant, crime-scene photographer Quincy, who is here to either lay this matter to rest or be used as quality bait by Dracula’s wives, and you’ve got a story that sounds bloody good time even with its page count and price point -- and the advance-solicitation.
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