Yeah. I’ve got nothing this week. For this space, anyway. On with the reviews!
The Goon vols. 8-9: Entitled “Those That is Damned” and “Calamity of Conscience,” respectively. These two volumes bring an end to the “Goon Year” of storytelling where writer/artist Eric Powell delivered twelve issues of the series on a monthly schedule. He’s still working on the series, but at a more “relaxed” pace right now. While they continue the decidedly more serious storytelling trend started in “A Place of Heartache and Grief,” there’s still plenty of Powell’s wacked-out humor to keep things from getting too melodramatic or sentimental. Is there a catch? While the story wraps up satisfyingly enough, I was expecting more closure than what I got. For a storyline that was set up to be the mother of all “Goon” stories, to have it come off like the first part of a planned trilogy felt somewhat unsatisfying. Still, it gives Powell room to try and top himself whenever he gets around to following this up.
Ghost Rider: “The Last Stand” and “Trials and Tribulations” – I’d been waiting for the next collections of writer Jason Aaron’s run on “Ghost Rider” for a while now, and while I wasn’t disappointed, they didn’t set my world (or even my skull) on fire. These two volumes continue Johnny Blaze’s struggle against the rogue angel Zadkiel who bound Blaze’s soul to the Spirit of Vengeance and turned him into the title character, and is now set on taking over Heaven. Tossed into the mix here is the revelation that there are many “Spirits of Vengeance” spread out over the world, bringing justice to their particular region, and Blaze’s brother Danny Ketch, who’s “extinguishing” the spirits on Zadkiel’s order. Despite its outlandish nature, the story is too predictable to be compelling in and of itself, but it’s the details that Aaron brings to his stories that make the books worth reading. From a warrior nun turned “Ghost Rider” wrangler, to a big-rig driver who sold his soul to the devil, an anime/manga inspired flesh-shaper, and the Punisher’s reaction to the fall of Heaven, there’s plenty of little things to hold your interest as the plot works towards its inevitable conclusion. Points off for the forgettable filler “annual” in “Trials and Tribulations,” though.
The Umbrella Academy vol. 2: Dallas – Writer/creator Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Ba’s follow-up to their ridiculously inventive first series is a worthy successor. No, it’s not as good as the first one, but that’s mainly due to pacing issues than the fact that the premise has worn out its welcome or that the creators have lost the thread. Anyway, “Dallas” picks up not too long after the events of the first series and finds the cast either succumbing to depression, enjoying their newfound fame, making the most of what was dealt to them, carrying on as usual, or in the case of Number Five, being hunted by an agency dedicated to resolving temporal anomalies -- an agency he used to work for. Now they want him back to fulfill the job he wrecked for them: The assassination of JFK. It’s never less than entertaining to see what crazy ideas Way has come up with and how Ba has decided to render them, but the feeling that things are being padded out starts to set in once the cast makes the leap in time back to the 60’s. They could’ve shaved an entire issue off the six that are collected here and not lost anything essential to the plot, but everything on display here still has me looking forward to the next volume in the series.
Captain Britain and MI-13 vol. 3: Vampire State -- If the idea of Count Dracula waging war on Britain from his secret base on the moon with his vampire army sounds appealing to you, then buy this volume now! It’s a credit to the skills of writer Paul Cornell that he takes a setup that sounds ridiculous even by the standards of the Marvel Universe and manages to not only wring out an effective superhero story from it, but one that can be taken seriously as well. Yes, there are funny bits sprinkled throughout the story (such as the rooting out of MI-13’s vampire infestation), but the overall story is so tightly plotted and well-thought-out that once Dracula begins his trans-lunar assault, you’ll feel that it’s a credible threat. While I wouldn’t quite recommend this to people who don’t read superhero comics, those who do (and especially those with a fondness for Marvel’s British characters, Captain Britain, Black Knight, Spitfire, Pete Wisdom, and Blade [yes, he’s British too]) will find a lot to like here, and it’s a shame we won’t be getting more of this anytime soon.
Battle Angel Alita: Last Order vol. 12 Angel Redux – Alita is back in action in this volume and she wastes no time in letting Aga Mbadi and Desty (Super)Nova know that they’ll be fighting on her terms from now on. While it’s great seeing Alita back in the real world after the events of vol. 10, the majority of this volume is given over to Toji and Zekka’s rebuilding of their “Space Karate” team for their fight against Alita’s “Space Angels.” While I would’ve liked to see more of Alita than that, it’s still a fairly satisfying chunk of action and character-building setup. However, the best moment in the volume comes in a quiet exchange between Mbadi and Nova, as the former agrees to give the latter one of his servants that Alita utterly defeated to remake for his own purposes. Now the last time Nova rebuilt one of Alita’s foes for his experiments, we wound up with “Tears of an Angel,” the best volume in the previous series. The potential here is exciting, and I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing where mangaka Yukito Kishiro goes with this.
Daredevil: Return of the King – Bringing an end to writer Ed Brubaker’s tenure with the character, a time that was mostly spent extricating the title character from the status quo that previous writer Brian Michael Bendis left him with. Granted, Brubaker’s run has been pretty entertaining, but he never really got the title out of the shadow of Bendis’ epic run. To be fair, this volume does pretty definitively extricate Matt Murdock from pretty much all of those loose ends by setting him up with a drastically new status quo… that will subsequently be explored by new writer Andy Diggle. While this means that Brubaker’s run will probably best be remembered as a “transitional” one, this volume at least sends him out on a high note by bringing The Kingpin, Wilson Fisk, back into Daredevil’s life. After having his attempt at a normal life ruined by Lady Bullseye, Fisk returns to New York and proposes an alliance with Daredevil in order to bring her down. While it should be obvious that there’s more to Fisk’s plan than this, the way things play out wind up giving Murdock a victory of sorts over the people who have sought to control his fate, even if it means placing himself in dire personal straits. Good stuff, but here’s hoping incoming writer Diggle doesn’t let his run wind up in the shadows of his predecessors.
Scalped vol. 5: High Lonesome – By all rights this series should be too depressing to read. The series’ ostensible hero, Dash Bad Horse, has let his life descend into a drug-fueled stupor and then lets himself get roped into a con man’s scheme to rob Chief Red Crow’s casino. However, the worse things get for the cast of this series the more entertaining it becomes. The other stories in this volume are similarly happy tales as they depict crucial and compelling backstory from the supporting cast. We get to see how wannabe Indian FBI agent (and current prison inmate) Diesel became the man he is today, what really went on when the two FBI agents were killed on the reservation back in Red Crow, Gina Bad Horse, and Catcher’s younger days, and most satisfyingly the personal history of Nitz, the FBI agent dedicated to bringing Red Crow down. Up until now Nitz has come off like your average evil white guy in a position of authority; but, with this story we finally get to understand what made him that way and why he’s so bent on getting revenge for his FBI friends that were killed. It doesn’t make him likeable by any means, but he’s a far more interesting character to read about now especially since his actions aren’t entirely unjustified. Another superb volume from writer Jason Aaron, and artist R.M. Guera (and co.), and I can’t wait to see how much worse things get for everyone in the next volume.