It wasn’t all panels, screenings, and checking out places to eat at the con. ...Actually on second thought, it really was with my phone and 3DS picking up the slack otherwise. But for the plane trips there and back I had to rely on the comics in my backpack. They were generally quite good and one of them even managed to convince me to keep following it after I was prepared to give it up after this volume. So after the break are my thoughts on “This Damned Band,” “Hellboy in Mexico,” “Black Science,” “Yotsuba&!,” and “Paradise Residence.”
Yotsuba&! vol. 13: I don’t know whether the “To Be Continued!” page at the end of this volume is charmingly optimistic or hopelessly deluded on the part of Yen Press. Prior to this volume’s release in Japan last year, mangaka Kiyohiko Azuma’s serialization of this title had become hopelessly erratic with a year passing between the next-most-recent and most recent stories included here. There’s no indication Azuma has done any new installments of “Yotsuba&!” since, so I’m assuming that this is the last we’ll see our our favorite green-haired and pig-tailed five-year-old.
It’s a good volume to end on, at any rate. We get to see the aftermath of Yotsuba’s camping trip from the previous volume, her efforts to start up a (sand) bakery at the park with Fuuka, and how she deals with a darkened house in one of the series’ more visually interesting chapters. Yet the real meat of the story comes with seeing the title character interact with her grandmother. Grandma is a real no-nonsense type who knows exactly how to deal with a grandkid whose first impulse upon seeing her is to try and deliver a headbutt. Even if this winds up being her only appearance, Grandma is a great addition to the cast and her interactions with Yotsuba will ring true for anyone who has had such a character in their lives. Trying to give closure for a series as open-ended as this one would be a fool’s errand, but Azuma manages a little of it here between this broadening of his title character’s world and the father/daughter bonding in the final story.
This Damned Band: This series from writer Paul Cornell and artist Tony Parker centers around Motherfather, the biggest band of the mid-70’s. That’s all thanks to their music and the show they make of worshipping Satan in public and their albums. Problem is that after a mushroom-fueled trip during a tour stop in Japan, Satan shows up in their dressing room to let them know that he’s their biggest fan. This sends the band into a state of personal and creative disarray as they have to figure out what this means for each of them -- save for their guitarist who thinks they’ve been worshipping Santa. Fortunately the documentary crew they’ve hired to record the making of their latest album is on hand to provide an objective account of everything that’s going on. Right?
For a good portion of this series, it looks like Cornell is marginalizing The Dark One’s role in the story in place of doing a riff on what this band’s rock documentary would look like. There are some funny bits here and there, but a lot of it will likely come off as old hat for anyone familiar with the history of the bands (see Black Sabbath, et. al.) Motherfather is supposed to represent. Parker is game for much of what Cornell is doing here as he gives the psychedelic/supernatural scenes an appropriate level of trippiness and has fun with the changes in perspective between the documentary crew and what the characters remember. What saves this story in the end is that Cornell manages to tie all of its many story threads together in the end for a concert that doubles as a public sacrifice and contract renegotiation with the Devil. It’s the kind of ending that elevates what had come before and leaves you feeling good about the finished product, flaws and all. “This Damned Band’s” flaws, however, can be summed up thusly: Needed More Satan.
Hellboy in Mexico: I was on the fence about buying this, since I already own the stories that make up more than half of its page count. In the end I said, “To hell with it,” *rimshot* and bought it anyway. With regards to the stories I already own, “Hellboy in Mexico” and “House of the Living Dead” both hold up quite well after all these years and it’s always nice to be reminded about how well artist Richard Corben handles the title character and his world. In fact, if you skipped out on picking up the latter story in hardcover form, then this softcover collection is a much better value for your money.
As for the “new to me” material, it’s not bad. The art is unimpeachable, coming from the likes of Mignola himself, “Judge Dredd” artist Mick McMahon, and the formidable brother-team of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. Hellboy faces off in these stories against (respectively) an Aztec Mummy, marriage, and a brujo known as The Coffin Man. Lots of demons get punched, and Hellboy takes some hard knocks themselves. They’re fine but not outstanding contributions to the character’s mythos. McMahon’s story of Hellboy’s marriage has potential for future stories, though it’s not clear whether or not it’ll be realized given the end of the character’s story being set for the tenth issue of “Hellboy in Hell.”
Paradise Residence: I picked up the latest series from “Oh! My Goddess’” Kosuke Fujishima at the con. Before reading it, this title was notable to me because of how its publication through Kodansha’s U.S. branch indicated that we wouldn’t necessarily be seeing new works from mangaka traditionally published by Dark Horse through that publisher in the future. That’s probably still the most interesting thing about this volume, now that I’ve finished reading it, but it’s still an amusing piece of fluff for fans of the mangaka.
It centers around a group of high school girls living in a slightly run-down dorm on the top of a mountain with a focus on the most tomboyish of the bunch, Hatsune Takanashi. She’s a girl who is very passionate about her likes and dislikes, but only to the point where they come off as endearing rather than annoying to the other girls around her (and the reader). We follow Takanashi’s adventures as she tries to get the school’s special once-a-month curry, finds ways to beat the summer heat, makes friends with the dorm’s dog mascot, and helps everyone prepare for a typhoon. If you liked the more grounded and character-driven parts of “OMG,” then you’ll know what to expect here -- along with a dose of tasteful fanservice. It’s fine for what it is, and it’s super-sized (this volume combines vols. zero and one of the Japanese release) so you’ll be getting a good value for your money if you pick it up.
Black Science vol. 4: Godworld: After vol. 3 left me ready to give up on this title, writer Rick Remender manages to turn things around. How does he manage this? Well, despite my cynicism to the contrary in my previous review, it would appear that all of the suffering Remender has inflicted on Grant McKay, his family, friends, and co-workers was actually part of his plan. Vol. 4 picks up with Grant stranded on an unknown planet with some kind of pack mule creature that only asks simple questions and tormented by his few remaining memories. Breaking into the Eververse’s greatest pity party is the Goongaloonga, ready to eat our hero for past transgressions. Before Grant can give in, he’s rescued by someone very close to him who we haven’t seen in the story before.
Some might balk at how Remender makes Grant’s journey towards redemption play out literally in the pages of this volume. Yes, seeing a man cast off his doubts as he climbs towards the top of a mountain in search of enlightenment is some of the most on-the-nose imagery I’ve seen in comics this year. It still works because of how the writer and artist, Matteo Scalera, attack the material with their traditional gusto. After three volumes of things getting increasingly worse for “Black Science’s” cast and characters, I’m all for seeing Grant embrace positivity and unleash the power of imagination. It’s not all rainbows, puppy dogs, and sunshine, as there’s still a multi-versal death cult on the loose. What Remender and Scalera have achieved with this volume is getting me back on the bandwagon for this series. For a little while longer at least. I have to see if this trend is sustainable.
And no, I’m not going to go back and see if “Low” has managed a similar turnaround. I can only manage so much hope at any one time.