It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and the list of titles to review just keeps getting bigger. Let’s see what I can get through tonight…
New Avengers vol. 11: Search for the Sorcerer Supreme – In which we find out that Stephen Strange has relinquished his title as “Sorcerer Supreme” of the Marvel Universe, paving the way for someone else (who everyone hopes is not Dr. Doom) to take the role. Chaos then proceeds to ensue as The Hood, whose body is being taken over by the demon that lives in the cloak that gives him his power, joins the search as well. A noticeable improvement over the last volume as stuff actually happens here, and Bendis’ dialogue produces some entertaining exchanges between the cast. Be it “Ultimate” or regular Marvel Universe, the man knows how to write Spider-Man like no one else.
X-Men: Legacy – Salvage: (Technically vol. 4 for those of you keeping track at home.) While my usual caveat to non-X-Men fans holds true here, those of you who have been following the series so far will find a (mostly) satisfying resolution to Professor X’s story here. After meeting up with his stepbrother Cain Marko (a.k.a. The Juggernaut), Xavier teams up with Gambit to find Rogue out in the Australian outback so he can see about fulfilling his long-ago promise to help her control her powers. Rogue isn’t alone out there either as Danger (the now-sentient incarnation of the X-Men’s “danger room” from Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men”) is looking to use her to enact vengeance on Xavier, and some Shi’Ar salvagers have found Danger’s signal and are looking to salvage her. What follows is a fairly continuity-dense story about the difficulties of taking stock of your past and trying to move on from it, but it doesn’t let the continuity strangle the telling, and the Shi’Ar salvagers provide welcome comic relief at the right times. The volume “concludes” by having Xavier return to where the story began, at Exodus’ compound, so he can destroy the mutant’s mission with words rather than brute force. I say “concludes” because the final panel involves Norman Osborne showing up to recruit Xavier for his X-Men team. As I said in my review of “Utopia,” we never find out how things went from there to Xavier in a cell, and that’s a shame since I’m sure that would’ve made a more interesting story than most of the filler that made up that volume.
The Winter Men: Now this is a series that I never thought I’d see completed. While other series that have had long delays in their publication (see Kevin Smith’s “Spider-Man/Black Cat” miniseries, Damon Lindelof’s “Ultimate Hulk/Wolverine” and Warren Ellis’ “Planetary”) eventually finished their run because of their high-profile nature and large fanbase, this is a series that had neither. After reading it, I’m glad it did. In the world of this story, Russia once had a genuine “superman” and mechanized infantry to wage war against the forces of capitalism, but all that eventually faded away with the country’s subsequent collapse. Kris Kalenov was once a soldier in one of these units known as “The Winter Men” and now he’s just a policeman in Moscow trying to make it through the day. That is, until he winds up in charge of a case involving an infant girl that’s tied to Russia’s old superhuman program and his investigation starts to unravel the life he and everyone around him have built for themselves. This book is a very dense read that requires you pay close attention to everything on the page, but the payoff is that you get a fully realized mirror image of Russia with characters and a story that will stay with you long after you’ve stopped reading. Courtesy of writer Brett Lewis and artist John Paul Leon.
The Boys vol. 5: Herogasm – This is more of the outrageously over-the-top superhero sex and violence that the series has made its stock-in-trade; fortunately, this time it doesn’t manage to cross the line into offensively off-putting as the last volume did. In the world of “The Boys,” the yearly superhero “crossover event” is merely an excuse for every superpowered being in the world to meet up at a small tropical island resort to indulge in every perversion imaginable. Naturally, the title characters use this as an opportunity to take care of some business of their own as not only will Vought-American’s superhero liaison be there, but so will everyone’s favorite vice-president Vic “the Veep” – a man so stupid, he makes Sarah Palin look like Einstein. While I’m sure the main draw of this volume will be all of the superhero sexcapades (which really aren’t all that interesting), writer Garth Ennis (teamed up here with frequent, and frequently excellent, artistic collaborator John McCrea) weaves in lots of interesting details and plot threads that deepen the story and cast in interesting ways. My only real complaint about this volume is Hughie’s frequently ineffective and whiny nature. I know he’s meant to be our sympathetic point-of-view character, but I’m finding myself more interested in Butcher’s “bastard with a plan” characterization. As with “X-Men: Legacy,” if you’ve stuck with the story this far, you’ll be entertained by what you find here.
Grandville: Writer/artist Bryan Talbot’s latest graphic novel is an alternate-reality/history/steampunk tale of a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, and a Britain that only recently gained its independence from France. Grounding this story in something relatable is Inspector LeBrock, a badger who is also an inspector from Scotland Yard and effectively this universe’s Sherlock Holmes and Arnold Schwarzenegger (more on that in a bit). This might seem like a lot to take in, but Talbot’s confidence in his storytelling abilities and the detail he brings to his world through that and his art will draw in anyone who is willing to give it a shot. Where it starts to fall apart is in the endgame when LeBrock engages in some serious “Army of One” action straight out of an 80’s Schwarzenegger flick. While Talbot handles the action quite well, it’s pretty far removed from how the rest of the book has played out until things start blowing up. It’s still good overall, but I hope that if Talbot ever decides to return to this world, he keeps things on a more even keel next time.
The Immortal Iron Fist vol. 5: Escape From the Eighth City -- This is the final volume of the series and writer Duane Swierczynski brings it out on a high note. While the last volume left off with Iron Fist Danny Rand and the rest of the Immortal Weapons finding the gate to the lost “Eighth City of Heaven,” this volume picks up with the cast already inside and fighting for their lives. As it turns out, this city was where all of the undesirable elements of K’un-Lun were cast out to and they include everything from political dissidents to malevolent demons. Though Danny and co. have come there on a mission of mercy to save the wrongly imprisoned from the city, he quickly finds out that they might have bitten off more than they can chew. It’s a fast-paced action story full of the clever twists and witty dialogue that have been the hallmarks of the series. Also included are few one-off stories that offer closure to the series and two unusual tales of other Iron Fists. One of these is a pacifist (which is quite good) and the other is from the far, far future (not as good, but still entertaining). While I still have the “Immortal Weapons” mini-series to look forward to, I’ll miss this series and hope that Marvel re-launches it (with Swierczynski, or another equally capable writer) in the near future so it can get the audience it deserves.
Berserk vol. 32: Only one more volume on Dark Horse’s schedule before we start having to wait. *sigh* This volume wraps up the conflict between our heroes and the Kushan Emperor, with Guts and Zodd having to enter into an uneasy truce so that they can put the fiend’s astral form in its place. Later, Griffith shows up with his army in tow and puts the Emperor in his place and then goes on to begin his consolidation of political, military and religious power across Midland. Easily another solid entry in the series, though I wonder how the story is going to feel now that we’ll be getting it in six-month (at best) installments as opposed to bi-monthly. I also like the final chapter which looks to begin an interesting “catch your breath” arc as the protagonists head to Elfheim and Farnesse begins her magic lessons in earnest.
Bleach vol. 29: Ichigo, Uruyu, and Chad all fight their own Espadas with help from some of the Arrancars that they met in the previous volume. None of this is really “bad,” but it does little to shake my plans to stop reading this the moment it goes south or reaches a convenient “stopping point.” That said, I’m a 30-year-old reading a series intended for boys less than half my age, so take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you’d like.