February 5, 2018
Vol. 2 left off on a pretty great cliffhanger where Sugimoto was being beaten and stabbed by twin soldiers while in the custody of Lt. Tsurumi. The resolution as to how he manages to get out of this situation is the best part of the volume. It involves a greased-up “Escape King” Shiraishi, some quick gutsy thinking, and a horse-driven sled chase through town. Pretty thrilling stuff all told. It follows that up with an I-honestly-can’t-believe-they-did-that moment involving a horse that I should probably cite as a trigger warning for fans of that animal. Things get less objectionable after that as Asirpa reluctantly-but-finally gives miso a chance and Hijikata makes his move against another tattoo-wearer, showing what a ruthless badass this old man is in the process.
So yeah, the first half of this volume is crammed with lots of good stuff once you get past that business with the horse. Things slow down a lot in the back half as Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi are drawn into conflict with one Tetsuzo Nihei, legendary bear hunter and tattoo-wearer. While our protagonists’ interest in him is obvious, Nihei’s agenda is also going to pit him against them. See, he’s out here to hunt a legendary giant white wolf -- Asirpa’s guardian Retar, as we know him -- and through an amazing coincidence he’s managed to partner with someone who has a good reason to hold a grudge against the young Ainu girl and the immortal soldier. What we get here is mostly setup, mixed in with the usual Ainu cultural lessons, and it really doesn’t start catching fire until the very end. A good volume overall, even if it sags a bit in the middle.
February 4, 2018
For the first round of collections from the current flagship titles of the “X-Men” line, the win went to “Gold.” It didn’t exactly do anything new with the characters or its storytelling, but it did serve them up in a pleasingly familiar way which served as a welcome dose of nostalgia. The first volume of “Blue,” on the other hand, came off as a blander take on the “All-New X-Men” roster. I was expecting these trends to continue for their second volumes. What I wound up getting was a much improved version of “Blue” and a “Gold” that was more boring than I had reason to expect.
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February 3, 2018
You know, I thought that Wizord’s arc for this series was going to be a standard redemption one but now I’m not so sure. There’s a lot here in “Explosiontown” which suggests that while he’s come to like our world and enjoy being a part of it, he’s still the same bastard he was back in the Hole World. From his attempts to get Ruby Stitch to be on his side, torments of walking French joke Jacque Zaque, bullying of the president (whose familiarity I finally realized here is not a coincidence), and casual indifference to the fact that the way he regains power in this world involves actually taking people’s beliefs, I’m not seeing a lot in the way of redemption here. Sure, Wizord realizes at one point that he’s acting exactly the same as he would back in the Hole World where he was constantly trying to curry his master Sizzajee’s favor. He immediately changes his approach because he recognizes that Sizzajee is THE BAD GUY and Wizord doesn’t want to be that here. So while our protagonist isn’t actually working towards redemption, writer Charles Soule may be onto something more interesting here. Namely, what happens when an utter bastard with magical powers tries to play nice with his adopted world?
In addition to this, Soule also manages a lot of fun worldbuilding throughout the course of the volume. We get to see a lot more of the group of wizards working under Sizzajee in the Hole World and they’re an enjoyably self-centered group of bastards with their own agendas at play. There’s also a very deranged take on baseball which they use to settle disputes, and in the holiday special we get to see how they curry Sizzajee’s favor and how Wizord and Ruby Stitch became a couple. It was also nice to see some effort being made to turn the above-mentioned French joke into a proper character, with some actual Wizord-fueled tragedy in his background and some setup to turn him into a key player in the story for the next volume. While this isn’t going to match the insanity of Soule or artist Ryan Browne’s -- who again turns in work which is as inspired as it is deranged -- other creator-owned work, it’s working really well on its own terms and is also a clear step up from the first volume too.
February 2, 2018
Does the second volume of this “Fables” spin-off make me sad that we’re not going to see any more of it? Not really. Most of this volume is the same kind of fine approximation of the original series that the first one managed, with a weird but serious detour into examining how hope can emerge from a warped power fantasy. It starts when three bullied nerds get their hands on some magical artifacts and take an entire school hostage. How did they get these artifacts? One of them is the son of Inola Tanner, the operative of the shadowy organization known as Acquisitions seen in the previous chapter, and they came from the secret collection she’s been keeping from her bosses. Not wanting to turn to them because of that, she contacts Feathertop who brings in the Shadow Players to try and set everything right.
The best part about this volume is the prologue chapter which introduces us to budding warlock Robert Speckland and, like the one-off story from the previous chapter, comes the closest to capturing the spirit of the original series. That’s due partly to the outlandishness of the story itself, which at one point has a magically powered car chasing Baba Yaga’s house up a beanstalk, but is mainly the result of being illustrated by regular “Fables” artist Mark Buckingham. His work is a reminder of the good old days and that counts for a lot here.
As for the main arc of “The Unsentimental Education,” it’s perfectly fine when it sticks to what’s going on outside of the school with the hostage situation. There’s lots of madcap action, some clever uses of powers, and an ending that wraps things up about as well as could be expected in this situation. Where it goes wrong is in the issue that spotlights what’s going on inside the school after a magical mistake causes time to pass much faster inside than outside. The kind of civilization that emerges from the kind of power-trip scenario that birthed it is as disturbing as you’d expect. This is the part of the volume that will stick with you the most, which is too bad that writers Dave Justus and Lilah Sturges mostly fail to develop it further after its spotlight issue. So while vol. 2 isn’t completely without merit it solidly marks the whole “Everafter” endeavor as one for the completists.
January 31, 2018
Are you looking forward to Robert Kirkman’s new Image series “Oblivion Song?” I’ve got some good news for you if that’s the case. You can expect the first six issues of the series to ship on time as solicited! How do I know this? Because Kirkman has already sent advance copies of the first volume to select retailers to show that the first six issues are done and they won’t be on the hook for an incomplete series when it goes on sale. It’s a nice way to try and foster some confidence with retailers… and allow them to make a little extra cash on the side. If you’re thinking that some of these retailers have decided to try and flip these advance copies for as much money as they can get, then you’d be very right. They’re well within their right to and I’m sure Kirkman realized this was going to happen when he did this. The “Advance Copy/Not For Resale” bits on the cover do make for a sweet variant edition. At least, they will until the mass-market collected edition comes out in eight or so months and buyer’s remorse sets in for those who paid $250 or so to read it before everyone else.
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January 29, 2018
Mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki cranks up the action in this volume as the Federation and Zeon forces embark on their respective operations to get the secrets of the Reuse P Device from the Nanyang Sect, and take a few potshots at each other in the process. We start off with Darryl Lorenz and his team extracting a source from under heavy fire only to be chased down a river by three very determined pilots in their mobile suits. Darryl has showed that he’s one of the best in zero-g, but now he has to prove that he’s capable of the same greatness on land. As for his rival, Io Fleming has been given another Gundam to pilot and we see that he hasn’t lost a step in the time that he’s been absent from combat. Some of the crew he’s a part of may have their misgivings about the pilot’s cocky nature and his history, but I’m sure they’ll come around. Probably when the underwater Zeon craft that’s been tailing them decides to make its move.
The action here is top-notch, but I’m also happy to report that character development hasn’t been completely discarded here. There’s an interesting bit where one of the pilots who’s supposed to be supporting Darryl decides to watch and see what he’s capable of. It’s arrogant and self-centered, but I’m really interested in seeing what Darryl’s response to this guy’s actions will be after he realizes that this guy watched but didn’t help. I also liked the scenes with the crippled pilots who wind up having to pull off a suicide mission for their uncaring Zeon commanders. Their resentment and determination to live it up before the end feels like it could burn right through the page.
There are also a couple of decent action and drama scenes in the two-chapter story that closes out the volume. “Sean, the Desert Rat” tells the story of a former member of Darryl’s Living Dead Division who has hooked up with some scavengers on Earth who wind up getting more action than they bargained for after they try to salvage a Gundam. It’s fine for what it is, which is basically filler. It may have had a rocky start but “Thunderbolt” is now at the point where I’m disappointed that the volume closes with a diversion like this as opposed to offering up more of the main story.
January 28, 2018
One of the common stories coming out of Marvel’s annus horribilis is how many comic shops experienced sharp drops in sales. Sometimes in the neighborhood of tens of thousands of dollars, but always the result of a cratering of sales regarding their Marvel product. I want to say that Marvel has been trying its best to reassure store owners that they’re going to turn things around in 2018. All I’ve seen so far in the solicitations these year is more or less a regular parade of events. The “Infinity Countdown” started last month and “The Search for Wolverine” begins here. While some of these might actually turn out to be good, what really needs to be done is to shore up the declines in the monthly titles since they’re the actual backbone of Marvel’s publishing business. The industry needs a strong Marvel -- and DC -- because without them then comic shops won’t have enough business to stay open. I’ve mentioned my hope that Image will eventually become strong enough to get past this problem, but that’s still a long way off. If Marvel’s publishing business collapses entirely then that would be a gutshot for the print comics industry.
So, what does Marvel have on offer this month to make sure that doesn’t happen?
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January 27, 2018
DC screwing over Alan Moore is some very old news at this point. Even if they do find new ways to keep doing it, as is currently the case with “Doomsday Clock.” However, screwing with the artists he’s worked with on projects DC has published is new territory for them. Last week it was revealed that Promethea, star of the series of the same name from Moore and artist J.H. Williams III would be appearing in “Justice League of America” in the fight against the Queen of Fables. Only DC didn’t let Williams, who has a creator participation agreement regarding the character, know about this and he’s expressed how upset he is at this on Twitter. Similarly, Tom Strong and the rest of the Strong family are appearing in “The Terrifics” without any prior notice being given to their co-creator Chris Sprouse.
It’s not a good look for DC, but it’s probably less damaging for them than it first appears. Williams’ last project for the company was “Sandman: Overture” and he’s been on vacation from the comics industry ever since. Sprouse, after years of working for the company on a number of projects, has been doing most of his work for Marvel on titles like “Black Panther” in recent years. Given that neither creator is doing any work for DC these days, I imagine the company didn’t give much thought to letting Steve Orlando and Jeff Lemire use the characters they created in “Justice League of America” and “The Terrifics,” respectively. Of course, there’s always the chance that the use of these characters will raise their profile enough to get new readers to check out the original stories Sprouse and Williams did with Moore.
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January 26, 2018
While we’re still waiting to see if the massive Disney/Fox merger is going to go through, and take all of the Fox licenses away from Dark Horse, Marvel started the year off by sniping a completely different license. After more than a decade at Dark Horse, Marvel is now the new publisher of “Conan” comics. Unlike how Disney’s acquisition of Marvel effectively gave them the “Star Wars” license, this appears to be a case of Marvel negotiating for and acquiring the rights to publish more comics based on everyone’s favorite barbarian. Marvel published hundreds of “Conan” comics through the late 70’s to early 90’s which were fondly remembered to the point where Dark Horse had a long-running trade-reprint program going for them. Now, as is the case with “Star Wars,” Marvel will likely be setting up their own reprint program for all of the “Conan” comics published by Dark Horse.
Why did this happen? Some have mentioned that it’s part of Marvel’s plan to bring all of their wayward children (read: licensed characters they produced comics for in the past) back to them. That makes a certain amount of sense given their currently dire publishing straits. I’d imagine their reasoning is that if they can take “Star Wars” and make it into a far bigger multi-title juggernaut than Dark Horse ever did then they can do the same with “Conan.” It’s disappointing that they’re choosing to do this now, after Dark Horse was so close to completing their plan to adapt all of Robert E. Howard’s stories in comic form. Still, it’s hard to argue that Marvel hasn’t done right by “Star Wars” so I’m at least optimistic regarding whatever “Conan” comics they’re going to publish now. Particularly if they decide to let Jason Aaron write one of them as he has so clearly indicated that the wants to.
A whole lot of “Hellboy” reprints, Frank Miller’s… long-awaited follow-up to “300,” and a new manga license that somehow escaped my attention await after the break.
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January 24, 2018
A manga so nice it's been license-rescued twice! Its new shonen manga anthology "Neo Parasyte m" is also pretty good.