It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Yet the constant flow of new Image collections into my library continues unabated. Sometimes, however, there’s not much more to say about them than “title is still good,” “title is still average,” or “Rick Remender is back to his old tricks again.” There’s also the rare title where if I were to really sit down and write out a full review of it, I’d be stuck at my computer for the rest of the week as I dug into it. So with these thoughts in mind here’s what I thought about the latest volumes of Monstress, The Wicked + The Divine, Descender, Black Science, and Black Road.
I could only fault the first volume of “Monstress” for its ambition in trying to create a fully-realized fantasy world and not quite getting there. “Monstress vol. 2: The Blood” doesn’t have the same issue as writer Marjorie Liu digs deeper and comes up a world and cast that feel significantly more fleshed-out by its end. This time out Maika Halfwolf, little wolf-girl Kippa, and Master Ren are following the trail of Maika’s mother, Moriko, across the sea in a quest that involves demi-human Arcanic pirates, a skeletal ferryman, a city that lies in the corpse of a dead god, and a powerful fox Arcanic who may have answers for them all. Vol. 2 is a very dense read packed with information that will a lot longer to get through than most comics -- and I mean that in a good way thanks to Liu’s writing. It also remains one of the most gorgeous books being published today thanks to the art of Sana Takeda who brings this world to vivid, fearsome, awe-inspiring life.
Very pretty in its own way, thanks to Jamie McKelvie’s always-energetic and expressive art, is “The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1” which picks up after the gods have killed their manipulative handler Ananke. With her clearly and undoubtedly evil -- she was going to sacrifice the youngest of them for unspecified reasons -- out of the way, everyone’s free to do what they want, right? Well it turns out that Ananke was doing all of this to fight back a powerful destructive force known as The Great Darkness and now our protagonists are without a clue as they try to take it on themselves.
Seeing these tragically flawed characters grope around for a clue, all while drinking, dancing, screwing, and murdering is as much fun as you’d imagine coming from Kieron Gillen. We also get some surprising information regarding Odin in this volume which turns him into a much more complex antagonist than he’s come off as in the previous volumes. Odin’s interview is also the standout of the magazine issue, in terms of character development and foreshadowing, a stunt which never quite comes off as clever as it thinks it is.
After the five stand-alone flashback stories that made up vol. 3 managed to mostly kill what little momentum “Descender” had built up to this point, I was hoping to see vol. 4 get this series back on track. “Descender vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics” does manage that, yet it also shows that “Descender” on the right track is still pretty generic and straightforward science fiction. Even as the series sets up the big “Rise of the Robots” arc for the next volume by killing off a main character (but we’ll see if that sticks…), teasing a long-expected reunion, and promising a huge battle between the Federation and the Hardwire, I find it hard to really get invested in any of it. Maybe it’s because the characters have yet to break out of their familiar archetypes and stop spouting their familiar arguments. Also, after four volumes I feel confident in saying that I honestly prefer artist Dustin Nguyen’s traditional pencil work in “Wildcats 3.0” and “Too Many ‘Batman’ Titles To Count” to the painted style he’s been utilizing here.
There are two sides to “Black Science.” One involves everything going wrong for our characters who wind up making the worst choices along the way (seen in vols. 1-3 and the back half of vol. 5). The other has its characters actually learning from their experiences and making a better world for themselves and those around them (vol. 4 and the front half of vol. 5). I prefer the latter to the former, but writer Rick Remender doubles down on the latter in two separate storylines in “Black Science vol. 6: Forbidden Realms and Hidden Truths.”
The first involves Pia McKay finding out that the dimension-hopping, body-snatching Zirites have infested her world and not even a couple of happy reunions will be able to stop it. As for the other, series protagonist Grant McKay has to take on the Zirites himself minus his most powerful weapon -- his intellect. We effectively wind up with two downer cliffhanger endings in one volume as a result. This isn’t “Black Science’s” finest hour by a long shot, though I’m hoping Remender has taken these storylines as far into “depressing” territory as he can and we’ll actually get some uplift in vol. 7.
Sales for “Black Road” indicate that the two volumes we have now are likely going to be all we’re going to get regarding the adventures of pagan mercenary Magnus the Black. As a ten-issue victory lap following on from writer Brian Wood’s “Northlanders” it proves to be pretty satisfying in the end. “Black Road vol. 2: A Pagan Death” has Magnus and his angry comrade Kitta up against a Christian outpost run by an exiled bishop who claims to have a holy artifact that renders him invincible in battle. I’ll admit that there’s fun in seeing Magnus prove this man of the cloth wrong, but the real interesting bits are the questions this book asks about what it means to be a real Christian. Wood lays out his thinking in this volume and it’s actually pretty reasonable and not the anti-religion screed some may have expected. That was surprising and welcome, which along with the storytelling and evocative art from Garry Brown, makes me a little sad we probably won’t be seeing more of Magnus’ adventures in the future.