I don’t know how I managed to wake up before 8am on Friday, but I did and it allowed me to attend the JManga panel at 11am. JManga is a portal site where you can buy and download translated manga, legally, from a consortium of Japan’s biggest publishers. I haven’t gotten around to checking it out because I buy plenty of titles in print to keep me occupied, but the variety and breadth of titles featured on the site is impressive by any standard. There’s even a title called “Anesthesiologist Hana” about an anesthesiologist named Hana. Only in Japan, people! The fact that such a title exists intrigues me, as does the fact that it’s apparently one of the better sellers on the site. Still, the best news was the announcement that came towards the end of the panel as the spokesman was sent an e-mail with the news that JManga would be publishing several titles from Tokyopop and Del Rey that have since fallen into limbo. No specifics were given, but I’ll bet money that we’ll finally see vol. 3 of “Moyasimon” appear through this service. They’ll have my money then, if not sooner.
Comic-Con has come and gone and I’ve got a ton of new material for reviews and podcasts. Expect something about “Atomic Robo” in the very near future, assuming I can find a way to tie it in to “Batman: Earth One.” So when I wasn’t on the show floor rifling through the bargain bins, I was attending panels... or going out to eat with friends. What follows is my account of the former, because talking about the latter would be self-indulgent beyond even my tolerances. One note: most of the panels I attended were smaller, more niche-oriented because until Dark Horse can bring Hiroaki Samura to Hall H, braving those long, long, LONG lines won’t be worth it.
“Criminal” was consistently excellent. I can’t wait to see what happens next in “Incognito.” “Sleeper” is one of my all time favorites which I also loan out to friends with an interest in reading comics. With a history like that, my expectations for this latest collaboration from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips were sky high. They were further raised by the good reviews and word-of-mouth that have been circulating about it since the first issue dropped earlier this year. So if you think that I’m about to tell you that this volume didn’t live up to my high expectations, then YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
Long before Dark Horse got the rights to publish “Conan” comics, Marvel had the rights themselves and published hundreds of them from the 70’s through the 90’s. The vast majority of these were written by Roy Thomas, who is at this point a living legend for his contributions to the superhero genre based on his work at the company. After the conclusion of the Truman/Giorello run on “Conan the Cimmerian” Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson approached Thomas to write another story featuring the character, which eventually morphed into the twelve-issue “Road of Kings” series, the first half of which is collected here. The end result is pleasingly familiar, showcasing the work of a man who has a firm grasp on Conan and his genre, but it also lacks the grit of the previous volumes.
Yeah, the ending of the previous volume was a real bummer wasn’t it? Seeing Miria get chopped down after heading off to crush the Organization by herself, you’d think a valiant warrior like herself deserved a more glorious death than that. One where we get to see the body. Anyone familiar with certain genre conventions will have picked up that there was something more going on there, but it also sets up a rousing, game-changing conclusion that’s sure to have any fan chomping at the bit to see what’s going to happen next. Granted, the setup for the twist is pretty half-baked as we’re provided with an explanation for it, but it involves mangaka Norihiro Yagi “telling” us that this is what these characters felt rather than showing how their minds changed with this new information.
New volumes of “The Goon” have essentially become an annual event, so it was particularly disappointing that the previous collection turned out to be the title’s lowest point. The good news is that this volume represents a return to the series’ demented, twisted, depraved, utterly mental and frequently very funny form. Here, the highlights include five pages of the title character taking on “Sparkling Vampires” before addressing the true menace that spawned them: tween girls! I won’t say how the problem is solved, but it does involve 52 shots of Norton’s finest gut rot.
I’ve been keeping up with this series, though I haven’t felt the need to write anything more about it until now. That’s because for the past few volumes, the series has felt like it has been losing its focus. Where the initial conflict early on was defined between Maya’s Jukan group and Mitsuomi’s Executive Council, we’ve since seen the influx of characters from many of the supporting houses in this vast organization of fighters. Collectively known as “F” as in “Feathers of the Phoenix,” they’ve swelled the ranks of the supporting cast to the point where some kind of flow chart showing who’s who and who’s related to who else is sorely needed to make sense of all the new additions. Making matters worse is that the majority of them aren’t as well defined as the main cast and these additions tend to do little more than distract from the struggles of the characters I am interested in. This is especially frustrating to see in a character like Sohaku, Nagi’s father and head of “F,” who remains a frustratingly blank cipher in spite of the fact that his actions drive pretty much everything in this volume.
However, by the end of the volume it starts to feel that Oh! Great has come to the same conclusion and realized that the time has come to refocus on the core conflict of the series. (It even seems like he felt the same way about Sohaku... though that’s just my interpretation.) The volume, like all the others also has some supreme moments of style that continue to make it worth reading in spite of its flaws. Mitsuomi’s “fist-to-face rebuttal” and seeing a man’s arm cut through lengthwise are but two examples, while Maya’s “MY BROTHER SENT ME BACK FROM THE RIVER STYX!” moment is an unmitigated thrill and one of the title’s high points. Right now, the series is too bogged down in ancillary characters and pointless subplots to really shine, but it’s showing signs that things may be turning around so that we may yet witness its return to form.
First things first: Whoever wrote the summary text for the inside cover of this volume deserves a real *slow clap*. I mean really, ending with “...until the enemy’s tentacles threaten to overwhem her,” suggests an entirely different experience than what this series (or pretty much any title released by Viz) is about. Part of me wants to think that it was just someone being clever, because the alternative is that they were just clueless. I’d like to think that the standards for working at Viz are higher than that.
With that out of the way, now I can get around to talking about whether or not this volume actually deliver on the sublime cliffhanger set up previously?