I’ve been a suscriber for years and Entertainment Weekly’s latest issue is another one of their “Best Ever” extravaganzas. Not only are they picking the best movies, books, music, TV shows, and plays of all time, but they’ve also got assorted “top ten” sidebars strewn throughout these lists in question. They’ve always been a graphic-novel friendly publication so it didn’t surprise me in the least that one of these sidebars was a list of the best graphic novels ever. Their choices are equal parts expected, unexpected, and “Of course ‘Watchmen’ is on there, how could it not be?” If nothing else, the list has three picks that I haven’t read and will now make it my mission to check out in the near future. Expect a podcast on them if the final volume of Hickman’s “Fantastic Four” doesn’t arrive this week.
As predicted, now that my expectations have been adjusted to where I’m not anticipating this series to be instant greatness on the level of “Y: The Last Man” or “Ex Machina,” its charms are a lot more evident. Chief amongst them is the way Brian Vaughan continues to expand the cast of the series with interesting characters while showing us more sides to the ones we already know. The previous volume left off on a cliffhanger that introduced Marko’s parents who are shocked to learn that not only are they grandparents, but that their new daughter-in-law is someone from the opposite side of the conflict which has defined their lives. Circumstances force Marko to jump off to a nearby planet with his mother Klara while his father Barr winds up getting to know Alana and Hazel on the ship. Things don’t go as expected in either thread, but that’s all part of the fun.
Continuing on with Brian Wood’s work-for-hire endeavors we come to his take on Dark Horse’s “Conan” series which I’ve also been anticipating. “Northlanders” was entertaining and even thought provoking at times, but it never really evolved into a must-read series as the stories being told there often felt like on-the-nose metaphors for our current world situation. That’s less of a problem here as we’ve got a clearly defined main character with a (unstated) goal of getting in as much trouble as possible while still living to talk about it. Wood takes a different approach with the Conan that we’ve been getting in these series so far. Though there is plenty of wanton, gruesome violence and disdain towards the “civilized” world of man, “Queen of the Black Coast” is the story of a barbarian... in love!
The title is technically a misnomer as the “first” volume of Brian Wood’s run on this title was his contribution to the “Divided We Fall, United We Stand” crossover a few months back. Though I’ve been hyped for his run ever since it was announced that he’d be taking over this title, that storyline turned out to be more of a deck-clearing exercise than anything else. Wood established Kitty Pryde as the new leader of the mutant population and lead a successful uprising against Stryker’s sentinel army in the southwest. For her troubles, Captain America gave her two options: you can take a mutant “cure” and be normal again, or accept this plot of land as a sovereign mutant nation. Given that there wouldn’t be much of a series if she and everyone else took the cure, this volume follow’s Kitty’s efforts to lead the group of mutants who refused the cure into a new era. I’m a sucker for stories like this that involve people trying to forge their own nation and there’s some good stuff to be found here as Wood taps that vein.
I met up with some friends last weekend. One of them I hadn’t seen in a couple years and we caught up on some of the manga that had come out since we had last gotten together. She was surprised to learn that “Blade of the Immortal” had wrapped up in Japan, and we all shared a good laugh at the fact that we’d be lucky to see “Berserk” end in our lifetimes. (Or that of Ozzy Osbourne’s, to cite a random metal example.) That mangaka Kentaro Miura has let the length of his epic get away from him seems to be a given at this point, particularly if he’s being distracted by crap like “The Idolm@ster” and has become prone to taking long sabbaticals between runs of the manga. Word is that he has since returned to putting the title out on a somewhat regular basis and I can only hope that holds true for the forseeable future. Why am I bringing this up now?...
This represents Greg Rucka’s swan song with the character (and with Marvel for the forseeable future) and I was all set to enjoy it. The third volume ended strongly and with the Avengers being brought in as antagonists, things looked like they were headed to the next level. Unfortunately that turns out to be a huge mistake as the heroes wind up looking like fools and incompetents as they struggle to bring down one normal, albeit very heavily armed and resourceful, individual. You can see where Rucka was going with this and while the first two-thirds or so are good, “Enter the War Zone” ultimately winds up playing like “Confederacy of Dunces” played straight.
While I’m always up for a good science-fiction story, this title also had the benefit of Robert Kirkman’s seal of approval since it comes via the writer’s Skybound imprint at Image. Unfortunately Kirkman’s endorsement was misapplied here as the first volume of “Clone” introduces us to Dr. Luke Taylor and his predicament in terms more generic than anything else. The good doctor is living the good life with his wife and a kid on the way when he wakes up one day to see a blood trail leading into the kitchen to reveal... himself. Turns out that Luke is part of a secret government cloning program that they’re finally cleaning up after all these years in no uncertain terms. Not only do they have one of the clones working for them, but they also kidnap Luke’s pregnant wife not just for leverage, but due to the breakthrough she represents.
That breakthrough is that she’s carrying what could be the first child of a clone which is important because... Well, we’re not told. In fact, I think it’d be more strange if a clone wasn’t able to produce kids normally since they’re clones. Dodgy science aside, this volume is done in by the vanilla characters in writer David Schulner’s script and his painfully boring dialogue style where just about everyone speaks in generic declarations. “Who are you!? What are you?’’ “Get in. Before it’s too late.” “I’m willing to make a trade.” “What do you have that I could possibly want?” -- I could go on, but we’d be here all goddamn night if I had to pick out every phrase of this sort in the volume. Juan Jose Ryp provides his customary level of intense detail and does his best to make the action and talking heads exciting. However, the man has been given precious little to work with and the reality is that no amount of excellent art was going to save something as blandly conceived and executed as this.
Crossover season continues and kicks into even higher gear this month as the “X-Men” get in on the action now. “Battle Of The Atom” begins an event centered around the “All-New X-Men” and has that title’s premise coming full circle. You knew that those X-Men from the past were going to have to go back to their own time at some point, and that time is NOW as X-Men from the future show up to force the issue. I’ve been reading “X-Men” comics long enough that this doesn’t really strike me as being any more or less ridiculous than any of the crossovers I’ve already read. The issue here is that it’s centered around a title that I haven’t even read yet because I’m a tradewaiter. Yeah, I’ll buy this collection when it comes out, but it may be the rare “X-Men” event that I don’t pick up in hardcover because I won’t be up on the events in question when it happens. They’re also doing this crossover “old-school” by having it snake in and out of the X-books as opposed to presenting it as a separate miniseries. That’s going to produce its own brand of issues as I’ll get to in due time.
Picking up where the “Avengers vs. X-men” spinoff fight title left off is this new anthology series teaming up -- wait for it -- an Avenger and an X-man in adventures that are as wacky as they are random. That’s the catch here as most of these stories have very little significance to them outside of the creative teams involved. You’ll be getting twelve stories with the six issues collected here and the hit-to-miss ratio is... well, let’s just say that the volume’s title tends to be more clever and imaginative than what’s inside. Anyway, since there’s so much to cover here, it’s time to welcome back the lightning round: