Comic Picks By The Glick

What I’ve Been Reading 4/14/10

April 15, 2010

The big news this week is that Marvel has ended its partnership with Diamond distribution… for distributing its comics to bookstores. Now they’ll be distributed by the Hachette Book Group, one of the largest book distributors in the country and the group behind Yen Press. I doubt that this is the “beginning of the end” for Diamond as they’ll still distribute Marvel’s comics to bookstores, but the real effect of this announcement probably won’t be seen for another year or so as the changeover won’t be happening until September. Marvel is banking on this move to bolster their bookstore sales, but I’m skeptical that’ll happen since superhero titles (unless they have a movie tie-in, sometimes) generally don’t sell as well as non-superhero titles outside of the direct market.  If nothing else, I'm hoping that it'll at least reduce the delay between the time their collections arrive in stores and when they're available through Amazon.

And in other news, the latest round of solicitations from Dark Horse reveal that vol. 4 of “Ghost Talker’s Daydream” will be out in September. I… am… in… shock! I’d thought this series had been put “on hiatus” after the third volume came out last year, but now it’s back? Had Dark Horse just caught up with the Japanese release, or was there some kind of behind the scenes wrangling that allowed it to make it back to us? This will require some research, and while I’m glad to see it back (it was getting better with each volume) I’d have been happier to see vol. 13 of “Eden” announced instead. Anyway, reviews start after the break:

Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire: Writer Jason Aaron concludes his run on “Ghost Rider” by re-teaming with artist Roland Boschi, the artist he started his run with. The setup is ridiculous even by the standards of the Marvel Universe, but that’s part of its charm as the rogue angel Zadkiel has taken control of Heaven and is consolidating his power in order to rewrite reality to his liking. Meanwhile, Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, Caretaker, Daimon “Son of Satan” Hellstorm, and some girl I’ve never seen before team up to save the Antichrist and find a way into Heaven to stop Zadkiel. The book’s pacing isn’t as tight as it should be for a final arc with the fate of reality at stake, but Aaron manages to bring lots of great comedic touches (wait until you see where the Antichrist is working) to the story while making sure the narrative doesn’t go too far off the rails. Boschi’s rugged and sketchy art may not be to everyone’s liking, but he brings some very welcome energy to the madcap proceedings.

The Killer vol. 2: The first volume of writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon’s journey into the life and mindset of a professional killer gave the impression that we were in for a story about his mental disintegration and presumably lonely death. That first volume was good enough that I picked up the second despite the fact that it would in all likelihood turn out to be one of those great books that I only read once because they’re so depressing. Shock of all shockers, this volume doesn’t go that way at all. I really don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that the book’s supporting cast gets much larger in this volume and the effect they have on the main character is something that I didn’t see coming. Said “effect” is also handled in a way that feels convincing and sneaks up on you as a reader. It’s great stuff and while I was expecting it to end here (the series was originally solicited as a ten-issue miniseries), the final page states that things are “to be continued.” I can’t say that bodes well for the title character’s life, but I’m convinced that whatever comes next will be well worth reading.

Ristorante Paradiso: Mangaka Natsume Ono is the next mangaka Viz is set on making into a household name for readers of mature manga, and after reading “Not Simple” earlier this year, I was ready to believe the hype. After this, well… It’s not bad, but when set against the work of other mangaka Viz has gotten behind (creators like Naoki Urasawa, Takehiko Inoue, and Fumi Yoshinaga) this particular work just feels a bit slight. The story focuses on a young girl named Nicoletta who has traveled to Italy to find her mother, Olga, who abandoned her long ago to marry the owner of a fancy restaurant. In exchange for her daughter’s silence, Olga gives her a place to stay and an apprenticeship at the restaurant. If you think that Nicoletta will find love, mend her relationship with her mother, and learn a few things about life, then you won’t find anything surprising about the story at all. Ono displays a sure craftsman’s hand in the art and in the characterization, but this feels like nothing more than your usual romantic comedy. I’m crossing my fingers that the follow-up series “Gente” has a bit more substance and interesting storytelling than what we get here.

Phonogram vol. 2: The Singles Club: Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie return to their world where music serves as a form of magic, with results that are as good, if not better than the original. Instead of telling one story with one protagonist, the creators have upped their game considerably by telling seven interlinked stories of phonomancers (with vol. 1 protagonist David Kohl popping in and out of all of them) as they party down at a club one night. While each of the stories are interesting character studies in their own right, this is a book that rewards multiple readings as you’ll want to see how they all fit together and interact with each other. It’s an impressive achievement on Gillen’s part (as is his ability to make all of the music references seem enticing rather than elitist), but it’s McKelvie who makes it all work with his amazing work at depicting emotion and movement on the printed page. Sadly, this may be the last volume we’ll see of this series for a very long while (if ever) as it sold well enough for McKelvie to choose between eating and working for Marvel or starving.

Yotsuba&! vol. 8: In this volume, Yotsuba does not punch any farm animals. She does, however, get blown away in a typhoon. If you’re not buying this series, then please let me know why. I’m sure we can still be friends.

Northlanders vol. 3: Blood in the Snow: This is writer Brian Wood’s other series for Vertigo, and unlike most mainstream comics being published today, it has no regular cast. Yes, the character of Sven from the series’ first arc returns for a one-shot story here, but every other story in the series to date has distinguished itself by having a cast of characters specific to it. That hasn’t been a problem so far, and it continues to not be one here as Wood continues to display his gift for conjuring up compelling characters in unique situations. Aside from Sven’s aforementioned return, we’re treated to stories about Vikings sacking a small Christian villiage with a young boy’s help, three women who prove to be the equal of many men as they fight for their lives in a ruined fort, and the rigors of Viking single combat. They’re all good stories and Wood is getting better about keeping the “modernness” that’s present in the dialogue of every other project he’s done in check. What I do wonder about is if he has a larger plan for all of the tales he’s telling here. Yes, you can see some allusions to issues of the modern world in the stories here, but when all is said and done, are we going to be left with a collection of generally very good stories, or one giant epic?

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