So the biggest news over the past week has unquestionably been the announcements coming out of the Image Comics Expo. Yes, getting Grant Morrison to do his first non-DC creator-owned series with Darick Robertson is indeed exciting news, but that wasn’t the highlight for me. Finding out that Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie would be doing a third volume of “Phonogram” absolutely made my day when news of its existence came out last Wednesday. Gillen and McKelvie went to work for Marvel after the serialization of the second volume sold so abysmally that the latter wouldn’t be able to afford food if they did a third one. I can only imagine that after seeing Jonathan Hickman return to Image with much better sales for “The Red Wing,” the two decided to give it another go with their increased profiles. As for the rest of the announcements, I’ll be picking up Brian Wood and Ming Doyle’s “Mara” because I’ll buy just about anything the latter is involved with and it has an interesting premise. Everything else sounds alright, but we shall see.
Though writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello wrapped up their run on “Conan the Cimmerian” a while back, they’ve teamed up again for this tale of the character’s years as a king. This time, after being betrayed on the battlefield and having his army slaughtered to the man, Conan finds himself imprisoned in the titular object while his enemies go to claim his kingdom for themselves. As with so many other stories involving the man, this involves him surviving the many horrors of the sorcerous lair so that he may unleash a can of Hyborian whoop-ass on his captors at the end. Truman and Giorello worked very well together during their time on the ongoing series, giving the gritty violence and otherworldly weirdness an epic heft and scope in their best stories. “The Scarlet Citadel” has a much smaller focus, but it still captures a lot of what made their run work.
It isn’t, however, the best “King Conan” story. That honor still goes to Josh Dysart and Will Conrad’s “Conan and the Midnight God” with its portrayal of a restless king trying to bite off more than he can chew by waging a war against Stygia for equal parts revenge and the fact that it allows him to keep doing what he feels he was born to do. There’s a reason I keep referring to this as “Conan’s Midlife Crisis,” but the truth underlying the character’s exploits here almost makes my glibness ring hollow. This story doesn’t have that depth, though the framing sequences which set up the device of having an older King Conan narrate his story give the story a touch of melancholy in a sense that maybe the man’s best days are behind him. Even if that is the case, this won’t be Truman and Giorello’s last story with this version of the character as “The Phoenix on the Sword” is currently being serialized, and should be worth reading based on their work here.
With this volume, Eiji Nizuma becomes the most interesting character in the series. The brilliant young manga creator has always been a striking presence, from his introduction as the poster child for the off-putting quirks that accompany genius to his current role as a potential catalyst for the greatness of protagonists Moritaka and Akito. He could’ve easily wound up in the role of a “boo-hiss” villain with his request to be able to end any series in Shonen Jump if he became its number one creator, but writer Tsugumi Ohba took a much more interesting track with Nizuma by having his relationship with “Muto Ashirogi” be one of mutual respect and encouragement. Granted, it seems that pretty much EVERY character’s role in this series is to facilitate the pair’s eventual creation of a manga masterwork, but the role fits Nizuma better than anyone else.
The “Avengers vs. X-Men” steamroller continues through this month. There has also been some talk about how tie-ins to these events have been producing diminishing returns since the “Civil War” era. So even though not every book is featuring a tie-in to the event, the fact that every “Avengers” and “X-Men” related book is still makes it feel like there’s a lot of ancilliary content for this as well. Of course it’ll be months before I find out if any of it is worth a damn...
It was inevitable that the rematch between arch-rivals Shohoku and Ryonan would be a big deal, but to have it stretch out this long has tested even my patience. After kicking off back in vol. 17, I was fully expecting it to wrap up here, BUT THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN! So by the time this match is over, it will have encompassed three full volumes (and change). That’s over 600 pages of comics, and longer than a good deal of the American and Japanese series I own. I shudder to imagine how it would’ve been like to read this in Shonen Jump while it was originally serialized, because as a weekly serial it means that this match would have lasted for almost a full year!
Despite this overriding feeling of frustration, I have to admit that this volume isn’t a bad read. Where lesser authors would’ve had Ryonan’s comeback in the second half be a foregone conclusion, Takehiko Inoue has them fight for every point they gain on their rivals. Shohoku doesn’t give up without a fight and they display some real ingenuity in the face of this counter-attack, so that when the gap in scores is closed the ensuing drama feels earned and believable. I’m sure that their inevitable victory in the next volume will be worth the wait, but getting to that point has felt more like a test of endurance than anything else.
Knowing that Scott Snyder had a hand in creating the story here and that it’s supposed to tie into his current “Batman” run made picking this up a fairly easy decision. His hand isn’t the only one in the pot here, as this mini-series is co-plotted with Kyle Higgins, with Higgins dialoguing most of it alongside Ryan Parrott in the later chapters. The story itself digs deep into the actual origins of Gotham City as we’re introduced to the brothers with a talent for architecture who are discovered by Alan Wayne in the late 19th Century. Their tale is told parallel to a series of bombings in the modern day that have their roots in these events as the culprit warns that the five major families of the city will fall by the “Gates of Gotham.”
The first thing listed in the solicitations this month is “Earth Two” #1 from writer James Robinson and artist Nicola Scott. Coming off the heels of the “New 52” relaunch which was designed with making (almost) every title a clear jumping-on point for fans, it does seem a bit odd that they’re bringing back the multiverse so soon. Of course, as my friend who loaned me a great chunk of “JSA” exemplifies, the Golden Age heroes have a die-hard following. Having one man who has written some great stories about them re-introduce them here is also a smart move, and I’m sure the target audience will be satisfied even if it comes off as an eccentric bit of continuity to others.
Vol. 2 of this series was just about everything you could ask for in a second volume, and that’s why I picked it as one of the best comics I read last year. It clarified the title’s direction and purpose, introduced compelling new characters and gave depth to the established ones, and set up a slew of interesting plot points to be followed up on later. While I bought the first volume in hardcover mainly to commemorate Stephen King’s first major work in comics, series creators Scott Snyder proved with vol. 2 that he can do just fine when his friend isn’t involved in the storytelling. Regrettably, all of this is what makes it painful to admit that vol. 3 isn’t in the same league. Here, the idea of seeing the rise of America re-interpreted as a clash between vampire races is essentially cast aside for B-movie thrills and killing off interesting characters.