Back in the first volume of this series, we got to meet someone who had a big influence on Aphra’s life: Her father, Korin. Seeing him in action was a real “This explains a lot” moment for her character. Korin was only half of the parenting equation for Aphra, as we haven’t heard a whole lot about her mom (besides the fact that she’s dead). Writer Simon Spurrier, and a whole lot of artists, look to fix that here as we finally get to know Aphra’s mom. Which is only part of a story that includes Imperial Public Relations, an emotionally fraught reunion, ancient Jedi artifacts, “LORD,” and of course an unspeakable Rebel superweapon.
Mangaka Gou Tanabe’s art is once again the major selling point for the second half of his adaptation of Lovecraft’s novel. Whether he’s drawing carvings of the history of the Great Old Ones, or actually showing it to us, or displaying two men of science fleeing for their lives in abject terror, there’s a confidence to it that draws you in. It allows Tanabe to create an air of sustained dread from the start of the volume as Dyer and Danforth fly into the Antarctic ruins and uncover the history of a civilization that’s unknown, and to a certain extent unknowable to them. This is in addition to displaying some amazing sights of the ruins and of wars between inhuman beings that still manage to come across as epic even with the volume’s compact trim size.
As for the story, it doesn’t really sustain the feeling of “Don’t go in there!” from the first volume as well as it does the dread. It’s not for lack of trying as Dyer and Danforth fit snugly into their respective roles as the Guy Who Wants to Keep Going and the Guy Who Wants to Turn Back. All the way until all hell breaks loose the bottom of the ruins. After that, well… I don’t think I can hold how the story ends against Tanabe since he’s working from Lovecraft’s novel. It’s just that it lacks the burst of knife-twist nihilism, the dawning feeling that all hope is lost which drive the best horror endings in my opinion. Things just kind of peter out here on a note of general unease.
Overall, this adaptation wasn’t bad for what it is, and it’s probably worth a look just to appreciate Tanabe’s incredible art. It’s also one more reminder that I’d probably be better served by reading Lovecraft’s original story than by subsisting on these adaptations.
I said that the way things wrapped up in the previous volume was just enough to get me to come back for this one. Now, if you’ve already listened to the latest podcast, then you’ll know that I didn’t think it was worth it. The “Black Hammer” saga (or at least this leg of it) ends by making its point in the most pedestrian way possible: By recycling his own ideas as well as Grant Morrison’s. Specifically, that writer’s idea of a limbo where forgotten comic book characters go and what happens when a character meets their creator from his run on “Animal Man.” The first two issues are essentially an extended riff, or rather rip-off, on that idea with Col. Weird standing in for Buddy Baker. The Colonel doesn’t have the charisma to sustain such an exercise, and neither does Rich Tommaso’s otherwise appealingly straightforward art.
We finally get back to the regular “Black Hammer” crew who have finally made it back to Spiral City. The only thing is that they’ve lost their memories in the process. So we’re essentially back to where we were at the start of the whole series, only this time the monstrous Anti-God is making his way back to this reality to destroy it all. The only way our heroes will be able to stop him now is if they return to the farm and forget about their previous lives even harder this time!
I probably should’ve put a *spoiler warning* before that last sentence, but if one person reads that and goes, “Man, that sounds really dumb. I’m not going to bother with this,” then it’ll have been worth it. While it’s in service of the point that Lemire appears to be making here, that the old superheroes are going to need to go away for the new ones to thrive and to break the endless cycle of event storytelling, he goes about making it in the dumbest way possible. There’s no real invention or surprise to the story being told here, just a lot of references to better stories and characters published by corporate entities. The “Black Hammer” team even teamed up with them in a “Justice League” crossover whose collected edition will be hitting print soon. I won’t be bothering with it. I’m done with this particular brand of comic-book-style navel gazing.
Half of this volume is pretty great. The first two issues are the tie-in with “War of the Realms” and start off with Otto phasing San Franciscans out of reality while he deals with the frost giants stomping around the city. Realizing that a surgical strike could end this war real quick, he teams up with the West Coast Avengers (Yay!) to use America Chavez’s powers to do just that. Otto butting heads and rubbing most of the team the wrong way is a lot of fun, but the the best moments belong to Gwenpool. She allows writer Christos Gage to spell out and have some fun with the rules of crossover tie-in stories, like this one, to excellent comedic effect. These issues are followed up with one where the title character is even grumpier than usual after receiving the key to the city. Is there a reason for that or is he just being extra Otto today? It’s the former, and Spider-Man joins the story in progress to help the title character process the answer in a way that’s surprisingly heartfelt.
This visit also helps set up the final issues of this volume and series as the Norman Osborn Spider-Man and Spiders-Man finally resurface after ducking out in “Spider-Geddon.” The former has a score he wants to settle with Otto, and his first step in doing that is to reveal his new identity as Elliot Tolliver to the world. Then Osborne kidnaps the kid Otto saved back in the first volume and issues him a simple challenge: Kill three innocent people and he’ll let the kid go free. At a loss for what to do here, Otto is prepared to make a deal with the devil who is all too happy to whack the reset button on these past few years of character development.
The reason seeing Otto revert back to his old self isn’t wholly disappointing is because that’s just the nature of superhero comics. Getting worked up about something like that is akin to yelling at the sky to stop the rain. No, what’s disappointing is that Gage couldn’t put together a better in-story justification for why it had to happen. Gage delivers some quality drama from other parts of this arc, but the rationalization for Otto’s reversion honestly feels weak in the sense that everything in his solution could’ve been done if he had thought about it for just a little while longer. Though the last few pages do a good job of selling what’s been lost here, my real regret is that sales on this title weren’t strong enough to, if not make this change in the character stick, allow this entertaining series to run for a little while longer.
As you all know, Bendis unleashed a flurry of creator-owned projects when he arrived at DC. “Pearl,” the story of a young tattoo artist who gets a crash course in her connections to the San Francisco Yakuza, is the only one of them to receive a follow-up at this point. While I liked the first volume well enough, vol. 2 doesn’t really build on its strengths and instead takes a rambling journey through some scenes that Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos thought would be interesting.
To the extent that vol. 2 has a plot, it mostly centers around Pearl heading to Japan to square things with the head family there. This is after she learned that her mother was a legendary Yakuza who formed the clan that is currently being run by the scumbag Mr. Miike. The way in which Pearl seizes her legacy reads like the creators had a lot of individual scenes that they wanted to see on the page: Pearl talking to Miike in Portland about business (and gyros). Pearl getting the score from her uncle in his casino. Pearl and her boyfriend Rick trying and failing to get normal lives. Pearl telling the Endo Twins This is How It’s Going To Be.
Taken individually these are all good scenes, and any which involve hopeless screw-ups the Endo Twins just make me want a spin-off miniseries featuring them even more. The problem is that vol. 2 just feels like an assemblage of scenes without a strong, cohesive plot to hold things together. Interesting characters like FBI Agent Yuuko are introduced then dropped without warning. We’re told about how the Yakuza is rabidly misogynistic, but they’re apparently so in thrall to the memory of Pearl’s mom that they cut her all the slack she wants. Why were Pearl and Rick even trying to live a normal life at one point? It’s all a big mess with some good stuff peeking out around the edges, is what I’m saying. Vol. 2 ends with the impression that may be it for the title character’s story and it’s probably for the best after a volume like this.
Savor this volume.
Not just because it’s good, but because it’s likely the last we’ll see of this series until late 2021. That’s if we’re lucky and mangaka Makoto Yukimura keeps to what has been a slightly-faster-than-annual-release of new volumes in Japan. At least vol. 11 doesn’t have a cliffhanger in store for us as we wait. It concludes the (very) long-running “War in the Baltic” arc as Thorfinn settles all but one account. While I very much enjoyed this wrap-up to the arc, this volume isn’t without its problems and I’ve got some thoughts on a lot of things it touches upon below.
Her family was killed by a crazy family of Neo Nazis. She spent her teenage years grieving before she turned herself into a ruthless bounty hunter as an adult. Now Hope has found out that the family who ruined her life is running for public office while they run a secret cabal of white nationalists from the shadows. The time for revenge has come and a whole lot of Nazis are going to die.
I didn’t originally have this picked for the Above-the-Board recommendation. Mainly because I don’t have a lot of familiarity with creator Victor Santos. That said, a graphic novel about making Nazis suffer sounds like a great place to start. I do hope that family gets what’s coming to them...
The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1
Yes, I know what I said about DC needing an intervention regarding these anniversary issues. This isn’t even the only one arriving this month: Catwoman is also celebrating her 80th anniversary in similar fashion in these solicitations. Still… a Joker-centric anniversary issue feels like more of a license for the creators involved to get darker and weirder than you’d expect for these kinds of things. While I have no doubt that creators like Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Dennis O’Neill, Tom Taylor, James Tynion IV, Mikel Janin, and Simone Bianchi know how to get dark and weird, this issue gets my pick because of two names: Paul Dini and Scott Snyder.
Dini’s take on the Joker as the kind of psycho who could turn on a dime from being funny and silly to frightening and intimidating helped make “Batman: The Animated Series” an instant classic, with that approach translating flawlessly to the “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City” games he helped write. Snyder, on the other hand, is the rare modern writer who finds something new to say about the relationship between the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime in each story he writes about them. The cover price for this issue is $10, and I’d bet that it’ll be worth it just for the stories these two will be writing.
The Ludocrats #1 (of 5)
This will have been in the pipeline for around five years before it finally hits print in April. It’s hard to say that it’s something I’ve been eagerly anticipating beyond the fact that it’s a new miniseries written by Kieron Gillen. Co-written, actually. Gillen’s former games journalist buddy Jim Rossignol is joining him here for what is described as “Dune” meets an “M-Rated take on ‘Asterix and Obelix.’” That’s a terrible description by any standard, so think of it as a fat person and a skinny person bounding around a whacked-out futurescape of the kind that can only be seen in comics. Or rather as one big excuse for Gillen and Rossignol to do whatever they want for five issues. With “The Spire’s” Jeff Stokely illustrating it, that’s actually a setup I wouldn’t mind investing in.