Captain America: Steve Rogers vol. 3 — Empire Building

October 7, 2017

I’m convinced that writer Nick Spencer conceived this volume as a final test to weed out the readers who aren’t completely on board with his “Hydra Cap” storyline.  How else to explain the “Civil War II:  The Oath” one-shot where Cap demonstrates an almost demonic glee as he gloats to a comatose Tony Stark about how everything’s going his, and Hydra’s, way.  If you’ve merely been tolerating Spencer’s take on Cap then the amount of smug arrogance on display is likely going to be hard to take.  Speaking as someone who has been on board with Spencer’s plan, the level of villainy on display from Mr. Rogers reaches almost comical levels.  I can easily see the writer cackling with glee as he wrote some of the dialogue here.


It’s worth noting that “The Oath” does a good job of laying out the road plan for “Secret Empire” with the rest of the volume filling things in further.  We get more of Steve’s Cosmic Cube-altered history that mainly has the aim of separating Hydra from the Nazis.  Some may find this to be too little, too late for them, but it works for me.  Particularly in the way it sets up Cap’s showdown with the Red Skull and we see the Nazi finally get the poetic justice he so richly deserves.


We also get to see Steve work to undermine the new planetary shield set up by Captain Marvel, the establishment of a new Hydra High Command, Maria Hill on the run in Madripoor, Taskmaster and Black Ant goofing their way into a job with Hydra, and more.  In fact, there’s so much going on that Marvel had to get TWELVE different artists to illustrate the issues contained in this volume.  Some of the art is quite good, a good portion is as rushed as you’d expect, and there’s very little stylistic consistency to hold the volume together.  The basic storytelling in the issues themselves is still solid and the final issue works as a great springboard into “Secret Empire.”  I was left wishing that the collected edition of the event was out now, but your mileage may vary depending on how interesting you’ve found the whole “Hydra Cap” storyline so far.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo

October 6, 2017

The Turtles and Usagi have had a long fruitful relationship dating back to the late 80’s when Kevin Eastman asked Stan Sakai if he wanted an Usagi action figure as part of the Turtles’ toy line.  Since then Usagi and the Turtles have met up a few times in comics and Usagi even guest-starred on an episode of the Turtles’ original animated series.  With the most recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comic showing that it can re-incorporate and re-imagine all aspects of the franchise’s history into more sensical and entertaining forms (Hello Rat King!) the announcement of another team-up with Usagi didn’t just feel inevitable but welcome.


Having read this latest crossover, and after shelling out $15 for the fancy hardcover edition, the actual story leaves a little to be desired.  It’s simple, features one of comics’ greatest villains in a token role, doesn’t play up the character interactions as much as it should, but at least features some lovely art from Sakai and interesting extras.

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Comic Picks #247: Batman — The Dark Knight: The Master Race

October 4, 2017

The genuinely awful sequel that everyone says its predecessor was.


I Am A Hero Omnibus vol. 4

October 2, 2017

I was hoping that the security measures taken by the community that Hideo and Hiromi joined in the previous volume were just a result of them being cautious in this post-collapse world.  Unfortunately it becomes clear very early on that this community is one of those awful quasi-fascist groups run by a crazy person that are mandated to exist by zombie story law.  It’s not as bad as seeing how the Governor ran Woodbury in “The Walking Dead” comic, but the way it plays out here is very much along those same lines with its ranting leader, show trials, and thugs with weapons.  The screws only get tighter as Hideo is press-ganged along with a few other survivors to make a raid on the mall’s food court when supplies start running low.  If you think that things are going to go badly for everyone involved then I doubt you’ll be surprised by how it all turns out.


There are some bright spots early on, such as the drunken bonding that occurs between Hideo and the nurse, Yabu.  The way mangaka Kengo Hanazawa milks the actual raid for tension is very well executed.  Yet if you think that I’m setting things up to tell you that the volume utterly collapses in its second half… then you’d be very, very wrong.  Even if the first half is burdened by its embrace of familiar tropes, the second is a glorious triumph of the human will to survive.  As Yabu tries to escape to her car while carrying an injured Hiromi on her back, Hideo musters all of his skill and courage to get out of the food court alive.  While Yabu’s struggle is plenty entertaining to watch by itself, the best and most disturbing part is her showdown with one of the community’s scumbags and its unexpected ending.  As for Hideo, well, if you’ve been wondering just how good he is with that rifle he’s been carrying around since the beginning of the series then you’re going to get a pretty definitive answer here.


Essentially, the back half of this volume is all about delivering some immensely satisfying payoff for what Hanazawa has been setting up for the current stage of this story.  Everything is firing on all cylinders at this point and while I’m expecting things to slow down as the story heads off to a new place -- Taiwan! -- it should still wind up in a satisfying place in the end.

Captain America: Sam Wilson vols. 4 & 5

October 1, 2017

Even as Nick Spencer gleefully trolls fans over in “Steve Rogers” he manages to tap into the current social zeitgeist in “Sam Wilson” to both entertaining and depressing effect.  Vol. 4 is where most of the fun stuff happens as Sam and Steve team up to take on U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M., Sam and Joaquim go to see D-Man wrestle Battlestar, Misty Knight gets a winning solo adventure, and Joaquim and Rage safeguard a conservative pundit from liberal terrorists at a campus rally.  No, really, that last one is more interesting than it sounds and does a good job of recontextualizing familiar arguments about free speech in this day and age.  Overall, this volume was a good example of showing how politics and superhero action can mix to entertaining effect.


Vol. 3 also ends on a major downer as Rage is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit by the Americops.  The media and social firestorm that follows this drives much of vol. 4 as Sam tries his damndest to prove that the system works by working within it to free his friend.  That he ultimately fails, and seeing how things get worse from there, unfortunately feels true to the spirit of the times as well.  Sam faces a lot of hard lessons over the course of the issues collected here leading to a powerful final image that feels earned and would also work as a series finale as well.


Except the story doesn’t end here.  For the real conclusion you’ll have to go read “Secret Empire” and the tie-in issues for this series and “Steve Rogers.”  As depressing as it was to read vol. 5, I still think it manages to provide a solid lead in for the big event.  Because things are going to get better after it’s all over, right?  Or, can we at least get a more consistent art team on this title?  I like all of the artists who contribute to it -- especially purported regular artist Daniel Acuna -- but they’re not really all that good on stylistic consistency.  Something to hope for in the future, along with actual hope for Sam and his struggle.

The Mighty Thor vol. 2: Lords of Midgard (Thor by Jason Aaron vol. 8)

September 30, 2017

This volume kicks off with a flashback two-parter featuring some wonderfully brutal art from Rafa Garres about a viking who drank dragon blood to become the Asgardian equivalent of a Hulk.  All thanks to Loki, of course.  The story hits its familiar notes from the song of Thor/Loki sibling rivalry while the present-day sequences tie it back to the main story.  They also paint a more interesting picture of the God of Lies than I’m used to seeing in this series.  Usually Loki only comes off as sympathetic and vulnerable when he’s thrust into the spotlight for his own titles.  Here, Jason Aaron mines these qualities for the character while he’s in a supporting and ostensibly villainous role and it’s actually kind of refreshing.  It’s also clear that Loki is playing a long, dangerous game and I’m really interested to see where it goes.


As for the main story of this volume, it turns out that Dario Agger’s expansion of Roxxon into the Asgardian realms has not gone unnoticed by his equally villainous businessperson peers.  Taking the initiative to cut him down are the Silver Samurai and Exterminatrix, and they turn out to be surprisingly successful at it.  To the dismay of everyone in Manhattan, however, as Agger has programmed Roxxon’s floating island HQ to level the city in case of a hostile takeover.  Such an action places Thor, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon in the uneasy business of having to save a genuine villain.


Crawling bullets that turn what they touch into gold, Hulked-out security enforcers, Jane Foster performing surgery on… herself(?), Dario Agger being tortured over several issues, and the secret origin of Mjolnir -- this arc has it all.  It’s the kind of ridiculously over-the-top superhero spectacle that Aaron excels at and he hits all the right notes here.  This time around he not only has the good guys earn their victory, but also drops some solid hints that the worst is around the corner.  It’s the kind of balance I like to see in these titles.  Typically excellent art from Russell Dauterman, with Frazer Irving guesting on Mjolnir’s origin issue, round out a most worthy volume.

Dark Horse Previews Picks: December 2017

September 29, 2017

The Art of Metal Gear Solid V hasn’t even hit stores yet, but Dark Horse is apparently convinced that it’s going to do good business for them.  How good?  So good that they’ve announced that The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV will be arriving next May.  If you read that and thought that they’d have trouble cramming all the artwork for those games into one volume, then you’d be right.  This will be a two-volume slipcase set that will be a massive 800 pages in total.  The title is also something of a misnomer because it’ll also include art from the Playstation Portable game “Peace Walker” as well.  Which is fitting since the game was somewhat overlooked as a PSP release (and subsequent downloadable title on the PS3 and 360) but still managed to be a pivotal chapter in the overall “Metal Gear Solid” storyline, deeply informing the events of “MGSV.”  No mention of whether we’ll see art from the first PSP “Metal gear Solid” game “Portable Ops” here.  Which is also kind of appropriate since that game gets no love at all these days.

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Image Previews Picks: December 2017

September 27, 2017

The holiday spirit is strong with Image this year.  They’ll be publishing three very different comics that spotlight the holiday season and its many attractions and horrors come December.  Of the three, I’m looking forward to The Wicked + The Divine Christmas Annual the most as it pairs co-creator/writer Kieron Gillen with an impressive array of artists to display some rather mundane things.  You know, like Inanna and Baal getting it on, Lucifer and Sakhmet getting it on, and (clearly best of all) Dionysus giving Baphomet a lift in a crappy car.  Get it when it comes out in December or just wait for the promised collection of all the “W+D” one-shots that will be coming towards the end of the series.


All the way at the other end of the excitement spectrum for me is Spawn:  A Holiday Krampus Tale.  It’s a tale so epic that it needed three writers -- Todd McFarlane, Ben Timmereck, and the one-shot’s artist Jordan Butler -- to tell it.  Who knows why we’re getting this story now, though it could be that McFarlane was emboldened by the success of the “Spawn Kills Everyone” one-shot and we’ll be seeing even more one-offs like this down the line.  On a happier-ish note is the Curse Words Holiday Special where we get a flashback to see what Christmas was like for Wizord and everyone else back in the Hole World.  It sounds promising in that it’s not just in the spirit of the season, but will likely flesh out some backstory for the cast along the way.  Regular writer/co-creator Charles Soule writes this and is joined by Mike Norton -- someone whose style may not be crazy enough for this series, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt here.  ‘Tis the season and all.

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Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol. 4

September 25, 2017

A quick look through the archives tells me that I skipped reviewing vol. 3 of this series for some reason.  Let me tell you now that it continued the title’s upward trajectory with its focus on the Io Fleming-piloted Gundam versus Darryl Lorenz-piloted Psycho Zaku battle.  It was a thrilling fight that fittingly ended in a pyrrhic victory for Lorenz with Fleming and the rest of his shipmates captured by the Zeon forces.  While Fleming is beaten by his captors, he still manages to unsettle Lorenz by correctly pointing out that they both felt truly alive during their battle and that this rivalry won’t end until one of them has killed the other.


How do you top that?  Well, mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki spends most of the first half of this volume winding down this stage of the story and getting all of the characters in place for the next.  While we get plenty of exciting mecha battles as the Zeon fortress A Baoa Qu is breached, you can also see the gears of the plot grinding away.  Some of this is predictable, with Fleming’s heroic escape, and others are intriguingly quirky.  Witness the rescue of the infamous J.J. Sexton and how it proves crucial to the next stage of the story, along with the return of another character I would’ve thought to be better off dead but am willing to see where Ohtagaki is going with this.


The problem with the transition between arcs here is that it takes a while for the next one to get up to speed.  A lot of time is spent catching up with the main cast on both sides of the One-Year War now that the Federation and Zeon have reached an uneasy peace.  The fact that these two sides are nominally at peace gives the thrust of the next arc some real drama as they each plan their own operations to infiltrate a religious order in Asia in order to secure some top-secret tech.  This does lead to Ohtagaki having to display some impressively ridiculous narrative hoop-jumping in order to get Fleming back on the Federation side of things.  That distraction aside, this next arc looks to be pretty thrilling once the Federation and Zeon’s plans for this infiltration inevitably fall apart and the fighting begins.

Marvel Previews Picks: December 2017

September 24, 2017

This month’s round of solicitations contains a couple of “Classified” advance-solicits for January.  Apparently Marvel thinks that “Avengers” #675 and “Guardians of the Galaxy” #150 are going to be so big that the company not only has to get the word out about their existence a month in advance, but price them at $5 each.  Assumedly for an extra-sized reading experience.  While the anniversary issue of “Guardians” comes to us courtesy of regular writer Gerry Duggan and artist Marcus To, no information has been revealed about the creative team for “Avengers” #675.  Speculation is that it’s going to be the debut of the rumored new creative team of writer Jason Aaron and artist Esad Ribic.  That would be a smart move on Marvel’s part since Aaron is the biggest writer at the company who has yet to be given the keys to its overall direction while Ribic is a phenomenal artist who delivered some awesome “Thor” stories working with Aaron.  As to what this new run is going to be about, no one can really say.  But it may have something to do with the big return Marvel has in store for December…

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