Star Wars: Darth Vader — Dark Lord of the Sith vol. 2: Legacy’s End

June 9, 2018

For this second volume Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli set about giving the title character some actual power and showing us the subsequent fallout from that.  Things pick up with Vader asserting his dominance over the Inquisitorius and taking a personal interest in their mission to hunt down the remaining Jedi. One such Jedi, a teacher named Jocasta Nu, has been marked for special interest by Emperor Palpatine himself.  Such is her importance that Palpatine doesn’t want Vader to kill her, he wants his apprentice to bring her to him alive. This results in a story that works well enough, but probably would’ve benefitted from being cut down from four issues to three or even two to keep the pacing tight.  It still has some good action scenes and a lightsaber shotgun thanks to Camuncoli and some delicious tension in the interactions between Vader, the Inquisitorius, and the poor Imperial officers who cross his path. That said, I hope this is the only story in the Soule/Camuncoli run that deals with the increasingly tired trope of Palpatine wanting to find a replacement for Vader.


This initial arc also brings up an idea that plays out more fully in the second and offers further proof that Soule was onto something when he picked the post-”Episode III” period to set this story.  While we all know Vader’s deal and why he’s not to be trifled with, the Empire at large has no idea who this strange armored man is that Palpatine has suddenly decided to elevate for no reason. It’s an act that’s going to upset some higher-ups with enough power to take matters into their own hands to see this upstart dealt with.


That’s why the second arc kicks off with Vader, accompanied by the delightfully surly Inquisitor Nith Sister, walking into a trap while searching for more Jedi.  While the evidence he finds suggests that Palpatine may have had a hand in the attack, Vader displays some surprising restraint and presence of mind when he confronts his master.  This leads to his formal introduction to the Imperial rank-and-file, some of whom won’t survive the experience. Still, the thought of a conspiracy within the ranks to destroy Vader does have potential and I’m interested to see where Soule is going with this.  That this series is turning out to be a solid read in spite of the very high bar set by its predecessor is a pleasant surprise indeed.

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc.

June 8, 2018

There’s one great moment in this crossover between “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Venom” where the villain Maniac gets his hands on a symbiote and starts spreading it around to build his own criminal empire.  It comes after Spider-Man is captured by him at one point and winds up getting mind-controlled by a bit of symbiote to go on a crime spree at Maniac’s bidding. This is noted by the Daily Bugle whose publisher, Robbie Robertson, isn’t about to print a story painting the wall-crawler as a menace after the paper has done it so many times before and been burned by it in the past.  Then Spider-Man shows up at the Bugle to brag about his crime spree at the Bugle itself. At which point Robbie notes the “new mask” and remarks that mind-control is the reason Spidey has been acting out of character all night. Robbie’s observation immediately cut off my fear that the title character was going to take the blame for these crimes, further turning the city against him and predictably re-establishing the status quo.  That he’s self-aware enough to recognize what was really going on just about made my day.


As for the rest of the crossover, it’s almost completely lacking in that kind of self-awareness.  It mainly comes across as an excuse for Spider-Man to mix it up with two of Venom’s hosts, Eddie Brock and Flash Thompson, and to see those two get into it as well.  There’s lots of fighting, thanks to Maniac’s symbiote mind-control gimmick but none of it really comes across as interesting. This is in spite of the best efforts from artists Ryan Stegman and Gerardo Sandoval to invest the proceedings with as much energy as they can.  Yet this energy is sapped by the predictable plot and a boring villain who loves to hear himself talk but rarely has anything interesting to say. There are some notable changes by the end of the volume: Flash Thompson is now Anti-Venom, and the Black Cat is no longer a crimelord.  I would’ve issued a “spoiler warning” before letting you know about these things, but I think saving a potential reader from spending $20 on a crossover that’s mostly filler was more important.

Punisher: The Platoon

June 6, 2018

No one writes “Punisher” better than Garth Ennis.  His initial run with Steve Dillon brought the character back to basics and showed that he could work in dark comedy situations just as well as straight up action scenarios.  Then the MAX run followed and the shift to a mature readers format allowed Ennis to take the character in even darker directions and resulted in some of the best comics that I’ve read from Marvel.  Since the conclusion of that run, Ennis has only returned to the character occasionally: A “War Zone” miniseries with Dillon that returned to their comedic interpretation of the character, a guest-starring role in the third arc of the “Fury:  My War Gone By” maxiseries, and now “The Platoon.” While one might think that diminishing returns would be setting in at this point with a character who has been written for so long by one writer, “The Platoon” shows that these days when Ennis dials back his comedic sensibilities and focuses on a telling a grounded story with human stakes he’s still capable of delivering greatness.

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Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle vol. 2

June 4, 2018

Well, that was quick.


The first volume of Alita’s latest series had me expecting that it’d be a while before we caught up to her present-day post-”Last Order” exploits.  Vol. 2 of “Mars Chronicle” starts out by immediately going “nope” to my expectations and starts off with Alita and Erica meeting at the site of the orphanage from the first volume and set about catching up/settling their grievances through the Martian martial art of Panzer Kunst.  From there, the volume sets about reintroducing familiar characters like the vampire Caerula Sanguis, Martian Queen Limeria, her bodyguard Zazie, a certain character from the previous volume, and the latest version of one of Alita’s oldest foes. This is in addition to introducing us to new threats such as the special forces squad known as the Einherjar, which includes Erica as well as her and Alita’s Panzer Kunst teacher, and the mysterious organization known as Dasein which is pulling everyone’s strings.


While it’s good to see a lot of these characters again, this second volume suffers from the fact that the threat posed by Dasein feels like a gimmick at this point.  It’s hard to get invested in them as a threat when most of what we know about the organization is exposition from Caerula. Mangaka Yukito Kishiro would’ve been better served by focusing our attention on the Erica and the other Einherjar before revealing that their strings were being pulled by something bigger.  That’s something easy to grasp and it looks as if Kishiro will be heading in that direction if the last chapter is any indication. In the meantime it’s easy enough to see Alita mix it up with the new and returning cast and appreciate the mangaka’s quick and intense fight scenes as he takes his time getting the story in order.  My patience regarding that hasn’t run out yet.


Vol. 2 also includes a bonus story “Mukai:  World of Mist” an adaptation of a Seiun Award-winning (the Japanese equivalent of the Hugo) story written by Hirotaka Tobi and illustrated by Kishiro.  It’s about a boy living in a world made up of everything that has been sucked into a sea of mist from our world and the girl he encounters there. While there’s some good chemistry between the boy and the girl, and the weirdness of the world itself allows Kishiro to cut loose with some impressively crazy visuals, the haphazard nature of the worldbuilding from Tobi’s script really drags it down.  “Mukai” is ultimately okay, but I’d have rather had another chapter of “Mars Chronicle” to round out the volume instead.

All-Star Batman vol. 3: The First Ally

June 3, 2018

With this, Scott Snyder’s “Batman” victory lap comes to a close.  The first two volumes were pretty enjoyable even if they weren’t swinging for the fences in the way that the writer’s work with Greg Capullo on the main series did.  For this third volume, Snyder teams with his “American Vampire” partner Rafael Albuquerque for a story that looks to add some not-insignificant details to the backstory of Alfred Pennyworth.  Do these details wind up making one of the most pivotal characters of the Bat-mythos more interesting? While his previous work had me hoping that things would work out in the end, Snyder’s efforts wind up amounting to a long walk off of a short plank.

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Uber vol. 6

June 2, 2018

If you’ve been following this series in trade paperback form like I have then there’s no denying that “Uber” has returned to a time where its subject matter does it no favors.  Kieron Gillen and confirmed regular artist Daniel Gete’s story of how the Nazis discovered the technology to make supermen and turned the tide at the end of WWII is going to be a hard sell for those who lament the fact that we’re living in a time when people are whining online about how unfairly Hitler’s followers are being treated.  This is even before we get to the actual content of this volume, which is easily some of the most difficult that the series has offered up so far. Even though this may seem like a really high barrier for entry for this particular volume, all of this is presented in a way that makes vol. 6 the most compelling one in the series to date.

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Fanime 2018: Worth It — Tech Glitches and All

June 1, 2018

There’s always going to be tech problems at any con.  Between mechanical and human errors it’s always a matter of “when” things are going to go wrong rather than “if.”  For the first couple of days at this year’s Fanime it seemed like every panel that involved a laptop was hamstrung by some kind of issue.  The lowest point, for John and a lot of other people, was how Saturday’s Anime Music Video competition was cancelled partway through the drama category (but not before John got to see an awesome AMV of the “Magnetic Rose” segment from “Memories” set to a horror-movie version of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”).  Fortunately from Sunday onward things smoothed out and the AMV contest re-do went off without a hitch, but with an apology from the staff for the problems.


Even with the tech glitches, John and I still had a lot of fun for the time we were at the con.  Most of the panels we attended were entertaining, even with the tech issues, there was lots of cool merch to be found in the Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley, plenty of good food to be had both in the convention center and in the area around it, and plenty of good cosplay to be seen at any moment in the convention center.  Still a win overall, and you can find my thoughts on what panels worked -- and which ones didn’t -- below.

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Comic Picks #264: Hidden Treasures of Manga, Part 3

May 30, 2018

Follows on from this, and this.  I kept digging for more and this is what I found.


Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol. 1

May 28, 2018

Inio Asano has had enough works translated into English that his tics have become readily apparent at this point.  The characters who speak with arch know-it-all sensibilities, his love of magical realism or outright surrealism, and stories that mix everyday whimsy with crushing despair.  It’s to the point where I’d imagine that you’re either onboard with what the mangaka has to offer or have decided that his style is not for you. In that regard I have to say that it’s a little bit disappointing that his latest series feels like “one for the converted.”  As someone who has liked his previous works I enjoyed it well enough even as it shows that his style is starting to coalesce into a formula.

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Image Previews Picks: August 2018

May 27, 2018

I really want to say that this is one more reason that collecting comics in the hope that they’ll become valuable one day is for suckers, but…


The story goes that after “The Walking Dead” launched back in 2004 a “Museum Edition” (read:  oversized hardcover) of the first issue was created as part of a promotion for the Fear Fest Horror Con the same year.  Unfortunately, due to low ticket pre-sales, the con never happened and these Museum Editions were put into storage where they remained for a decade later.  Only one hundred were produced and they’ve since become one of the rarest “The Walking Dead” collectibles around.


Except that they’re really just high grade fakes.  Or, at best, unofficial reproductions of the first issue of the comic.  Robert Kirkman’s production company Skybound and Image weren’t involved in the production of this comic.  Which likely explains why, if you actually look at this Museum Edition, it comes off as impressively half-assed compared to actual hardcover editions of notable comics.


Still, a copy of this comic did sell for upwards $3500 on Ebay after it was graded by PGX.  Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston wrote an article about all this and included how he let PGX know how they were essentially selling a counterfeit comic.  PGX’s response? They thanked him for the heads-up and continued to grade the comic, noting that it was a “counterfeit edition” on the bag. If you did pay for this then consider yourself a superfan of “The Walking Dead” comic, or something.  Whatever helps you sleep at night.

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