After taking the time out to focus on USM last time, there’s been a considerable amount of stuff piling up for me to look at. Without further ado…
Chew vol. 1: Taster’s Choice: I can’t tell you what a relief it is to read the words “sold-out surprise hit comic” on the back cover and know that it isn’t utter BS. Tony Chu is a cibopath, someone who can get psychic impressions from what he eats, who is recruited by the FDA to solve food-related crimes in a world where chicken has been outlawed after the bird flu epidemic. In lesser hands this might’ve been an exercise in weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but writer John Layman manages to treat everything with the right amount of seriousness to make the absurdity funny and make you take things seriously as well. Artist Rob Guillory also has an appealingly cartoonish style that’s at home with drawing exaggerated character expressions as it is with ultraviolence. While the actual story told here is great at setting up the world and future plotlines, it’s really not all that interesting in itself and sets up a conflict I really couldn’t bring myself to care for. Still, the storytelling details are great and I’m really intrigued to see where Layman goes from here now that he has set everything up.
Captain America: Road to Reborn: Here we get stories about people remembering the past that prove even when Ed Brubaker is working on autopilot, he’s still better than most other writers. Seriously, the majority of the tales here are just filler and of importance or relevance to the series ongoing storyline, and the stuff that’s actually relevant to “Captain America: Reborn” probably wouldn’t have fit into an entire issue. Yes, it’s still interesting to read about Sharon Carter realize that she was once pregnant, and to hear Bucky talk about fighting vampires with Cap in WWII, but the feeling that everyone involved is just killing time until “Reborn” is unmistakable.
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit vol. 1: In this Japan, random citizens are injected with a capsule that will kill them at an early age. The thinking behind this is that if they’re instilled with the fear that they’re going to die at any minute, the populace will learn to value life. With a premise like this, it would seem that the obvious route to go would be to focus on the last hours of those about to die. That is the case for most of this volume as we see a depressed wage slave take revenge against those who bullied him in high school and a singer try to leave his mark on the world, but mangaka Motoro Mase seems to be more interested in showing us how the people who are part of the system that implements this policy work and live with themselves. That’s a good thing because it’s far more interesting to witness the banality of evil in the people who keep this system going than it is to see its victims. The story about the bullied kid is effective if predictable and familiar, while the musician’s tale is painfully melodramatic and contrived. If Mase can make the system’s victims as interesting as the people who administer to it, then I’d recommend this series to anyone but this first volume doesn’t really get there.
Real vol. 7: After the last few volumes’ focus on Takahashi’s rehabilitation, the focus shifts back to Togawa’s struggles with his wheelchair basketball team, and Nomiya’s struggles to find meaning in his life. The best part about this volume is how it manages to balance Togawa and Nomiya’s storylines and integrate them together to a certain extent. While the wheelchair basketball matches are as exciting as ever, Togawa’s crisis at the end doesn’t quite have the drama that mangaka Takehiko Inoue wants it to have. Frankly, I’d be more surprised if Togawa actually DOES leave the team than if he breaks his word and decides to stay where he is. We’ll see where that goes. Inoue’s successful balancing act between Togawa and Nomiya’s storylines also has me anticipating when he’ll finally bring Takahashi into the mix (because he’s not even in this volume) and start telling stories about the three of them together than splitting his focus between two separate storylines.
The Unwritten vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity: This is writer Mike Carey’s new series for DC/Vertigo and he’s teaming up with his “Lucifer” artist Peter Gross. The high concept for this series is that Tom Taylor is the son of the author of a wildly popular “Harry Potter-esque” series of books and the ostensible basis for its main character. Except that he might actually be the character come to life, and to get answers he has to start digging into his father’s past only to find weirdness. While Carey does seem to have a plan for Tom’s “fictional character in a real world” dilemma, his main goal with the series seems to be more about using it as a jumping off point to dissect how people respond to fiction. Here’s hoping it’ll be as focused as his work on “Lucifer” and “X-Men,” and not degenerate into head-scratching ridiculousness as it did in “Faker.” The last story, about Rudyard Kipling’s dealings with the people that Tom’s father were involved with since it’s a very good story in itself that manages to both serve Carey’s themes and offer up tantalizing glimpses of the larger plot.
No Hero: Writer Warren Ellis’ latest collaboration with artist Juan Jose Ryp after their “superhero kills the president” opus “Black Summer.” This time they’re looking at superheroes through the lens of how they relate to the idea of vigilantism and just how far people are willing to go in order to achieve their dreams. For the most part, it shows that Ellis learned from the flaws of “Black Summer” and does much more showing how messed up his characters are than simply telling us they are. He also sets up his plot twists better here, but that winds up biting him in the ass at the end. While it’s a given that the main character had to have some sort of secret that would be revealed in the end, the revelation of that secret winds up kneecapping the very premise of the book. It recovers somewhat in the end, but it really detracts a lot from the overall enjoyment of the book. On the other hand, Ryp shows that he’s as adept as ever at depicting the twisted environmental and human carnage that Ellis is capable of dreaming up.
The Walking Dead vol. 11: Fear the Hunters: This took far too long to arrive from Amazon, but when it did… it was worth the wait. Writer Robert Kirkman finally gets around to addressing one of the inevitable concerns of any world where human society is in ruins (think cannibalism) and manages to subvert a lot of the expectations that a reader would have with the setup of this story. What’s more interesting is that beneath the story of Rick and co.’s response to being hunted by cannibals is the emotional cost involved with people’s needs to protect themselves, their family and their friends. I have no doubt that Rick and co. did was the right thing, but that doesn’t make it any easier for them to do it and it makes for great drama to see them grapple with the moral implications of their actions. It’s a tribute to Kirkman’s skill as a writer that he also keeps finding ways for his characters’ suffering to be interesting, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them once they reach Washington D.C. and civilization in the next volume.