May 20, 2015
Is it a good thing when the end of an arc makes you go, “About damn time!” That’s the conundrum I faced when I got to the end of this volume and Musashi finally set out on his way to Kokura Castle, a confrontation with rival Sasaki Kojiro, and (presumably) the end of the series. The problem is that after the past four volumes, released over the course of two years, the title’s momentum has effectively ground to a halt. That’s mainly due to the fact that this whole arc has been focused around one specific plot point: Musashi’s quest to find his Eye of the Tiger become a less bloodthirsty fighter. As mangaka Takehiko Inoue has developed it, this has led to lots of ponderous musings from his protagonist that retreads a lot of familiar ground regarding his development over the course of the series. This, combined with the length of the arc and lengthy release schedule has made it real difficult to get invested in Musashi’s development for a while now. I’m willing to bet that, much like “Slam Dunk,” this will all read better in one sitting. Right now, this whole storyline has felt more interminable than anything else.
Of course, Inoue is one of the best in the business and I shouldn’t feel as surprised as I do that he manages to get the title’s momentum going again at the end. Musashi’s transition to a man more at peace with himself and those around him is highlighted well here as he pledges to go to Kokura in exchange for the supplies needed to keep the village alive. We also see him interacting with the villagers in a relatively normal way as he starts training some of the women in swordplay. Then there’s his relationship with crotchety farmer Shusaku who has been his main antagonist/source of inspiration for this arc. It reaches a fitting end as Shusaku provides the final bits of wisdom, and an actual impetus, for the swordsman to finally move on after all this time. As a result, we now have a kinder, gentler, but no less formidable Musashi ready to prove his skills against one of the best swordsmen and most demanding officials in the land. It’s a good setup that leaves me feeling optimistic about the title’s direction going forward. You know, whenever we get around to seeing the next volume.
May 19, 2015
Yeah, I’m not as impressed this time around. Most of the sex-themed humor has lost its appeal with a couple deeply misguided attempts to mine rape (implied and attempted) for humor early on. The narrative is also bogged down in countless circular arguments regarding whether or not what Maria is doing is good that come off as repetitive as they fail to shed new light on the situation after a while. As for the new status quo imposed by Michael at the end of the first volume -- that Maria will lose her powers as a witch if she gives up her virginity -- it’s not really explored or tested in any way. She’s still prohibited from using great powers in the sight of humans, but that restriction is consistently trampled upon for comedic effect throughout the volume. The introduction of other witches who make their living off of the war is an interesting idea. However, it’s not given much development beyond its introduction.
What strikes me as a better way to exploit this setup would be to have allowed Maria to use her powers to the fullest extent, while also placing her in an actual relationship. We know she has the hots for Joseph, but there’s no real sense of temptation there. That Maria remains disinclined (or even frightened) of any sexual activity here effectively renders Michael’s declaration a non-issue. Given that this was meant to be one of the core conflicts of the series, it’s mystifying as to why mangaka Masayuki Ishikawa fails to really dig into it here. There was a recent anime adaptation of this series and I have to admit that I’m actually more interested in checking it out after reading this volume. If only to see whether or not the anime’s creators were able to do better justice to this setup. Anyway, I’m mainly buying this to show support for Ishikawa in the (still pretty vain) hope of getting “Moyasimon” license-rescued. In spite of its issues, “Maria” isn’t actively awful enough to get me to stop reading. With only two volumes to go I might as well see things through.
May 18, 2015
Dark Horse announced some new manga licenses at their Anime Central panel over the weekend. They included “Giganto Maxia” by Kentaro Miura of “Berserk” fame, a license rescue of “RG Veda” by Clamp (previously published by Tokyopop), and a “Danganronpa” manga based on the anime which was based on the videogame. So far we’re well within what I’ve come to expect regarding new licenses from the publisher: New works from established creators, license rescues, and anime spinoffs of dubious quality.
Then there’s “I Am a Hero” by Kengo Hanazawa. A new series from a creator who hasn’t had anything published yet in the U.S.
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May 17, 2015
Jason Aaron and Ron Garney have given us a lot of good stories together at Marvel over the years. Most of them involving Wolverine. For a writer and artist who like working together so much, it was only a matter of time before they decided to work on something creator-owned to show what they could do outside the superhero genre. The result of that is “Men of Wrath.” It’s the story of the angriest, meanest, and most downright dastardly hitman alive. No, really. He is one tough character and someone you don’t want to have on your case at all. If I’m seeming somewhat facetious in my praise of this man’s abilities, then that would be because Aaron tries so hard to sell this particular type of character that he winds up missing the mark.
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May 16, 2015
WonderCon? Yeah, it was over a month ago now and I’m still working on the last few volumes of “Appleseed” that I picked up there. This has been going on for about a week now. Long story short: My opinion of Masamune Shirow’s pre-”Ghost in the Shell” cyberpunk series hasn’t improved much over the years. It’s filled with plenty of the mangaka’s trademark technobabble and musings on the nature of humanity, which aren’t articulated as clearly as they should be. The intricately detailed art is still impressive to take in, as are the action scenes. However, I’m really not that impressed with how co-protagonist Deunan Knute is characterized. She’s either a hyper-competent combat specialist, or a simpering, confident-less fool who needs to fall back on her cyborg partner Briareos for the tough decisions. It’s a portrayal that does nothing but remind me of how Samus Aran was made to look in “Metroid: Other M.” I’m only part of the way through three of the four volumes I got, but I keep getting distracted by other better comics.
More like this after the break…
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May 14, 2015
When does Remender’s penchant for breaking his protagonists down work best in a story? That would be when the protagonist in question is getting ready to be replaced. So even though Steve Rogers feels like a tired man out of time who is also one step behind the bad guys in his fight against the title villain and his partner, Dr. Mindbubble, it doesn’t grate as much as it should. (Assuming you know that his partner, Sam “The Falcon” Wilson, will be taking over as the title character in the next volume.) A bigger problem is that a lot of the plot hoops Cap has to run through here have been done before and done better elsewhere. Superpowered villains ranting about the evils of America? Present. S.H.I.E.L.D. developing a superweapon that falls into the wrong hands? That’s here too. Cap having to force his way out of an imaginary paradise by sheer force of will? This story has it. Rick Remender is a skilled enough writer that he makes all of the contrivances go down relatively smoothly and at a fast pace. Still, the most memorable parts for me were the visuals artist Nic Klein wrangled from showing us S.H.I.E.L.D.’s city-sized helicarrier in action after it transforms. It’s tricky to get the kind of scale Klein is playing at to come off effectively on the page, but he manages it.
So it’s not bad overall, but I’m not as excited by these recent volumes as I was for the “Dimension Z” arc. While the passing of the torch from Rogers to Wilson has the potential to reinvigorate the title, Remender doesn’t set it up as well as he should’ve here. Wilson spends most of the volume in the background and only emerges at the end with a killer full-page splash to take out the bad guy and save his friend. It’s certainly an impressive moment. The character could’ve used more of them, or maybe even a full issue to himself like Jet Black gets here. I realize that she’s new and needs to be fleshed out, but it felt like she got more -- and more varied, as not many people use a drill to ask for cooperation -- scenes to show what she’s made of. Anyway, it’s been shown over the years that Wilson has the strength of character to take on the mantle of Cap and there are four more issues to really sell the transition. It just would’ve been nice to have seen more of the groundwork for that event laid here.
May 13, 2015
The Original Writer's long out-of-print classic still holds up really well today. Even with all the extra padding in these new editions.
May 13, 2015
It’s the crossover we never knew we needed! That’s what I’d like to be able to tell everyone about this long-awaited team up between the legendary barbarian and the cheese-dip wanderer. While it’s great to have more Groo comics -- and see his creator, Sergio Aragones, back in action -- after a lengthy hiatus, this is a mixed bag as far as these comics go. I was prepared to enjoy seeing Conan and Groo fight, then team up to vanquish a thinly veiled version of society’s ills in Mark Evanier’s script, while Sergio displays his trademark comic genius with Groo and his supporting cast, and guest artist Thomas Yeates shows us why he belongs on one of Dark Horse’s “Conan” comics. All told through the “Rashomon”-style plot that would allow the title characters to be suitably victorious over each other!
That is… not what we got here. Instead, a good chunk of this miniseries is given over to Mark and Sergio’s comic avatars as they try (but mostly fail) to stop a comic book store from being torn down by a greedy developer. That’s only part of the plot as a medical mishap has an over-medicated Sergio running wild throughout the city, hallucinating the Groo/Conan parts of the story. For what it is, it’s fine. If you’ve been reading “Groo” comics for as long as I have the familiarity of the comedy and storytelling here is more reassuring than annoying. The main problem is that it’s a lot choppier than usual as the transitions between the Groo/Conan and Sergio/Mark parts don’t play off each other well and neither thread is able to build up much storytelling momentum.
Still, it’s always great taking in Sergio’s art, and Yeates’ more detailed style makes for a visually interesting contrast between the title characters. The former artist also does a great job casting Conan as the straight man in his battle with Groo, being utterly perplexed at his opponent’s utter lack of mental acumen. I enjoyed it all well enough, but it’s certainly not the best we’ve seen from Sergio and Mark. I am, however, expecting bigger and better things once the first collection of their new “Groo” series, “Friends & Foes,” arrives later this year.
May 12, 2015
It’s a simple premise: Seki goofs off in elaborate ways in class while the girl who sits next to him, Yokoi, reacts to his actions. One would think that such a setup wouldn’t be enough to sustain an entire volume, but mangaka Takuma Morishige proved in the first volume that it had real legs in his hands. Not only was there a great amount of variety to Seki’s antics, but Yokoi’s interactions ran a wide gamut themselves. There were times when she suffers in class due to the mischief taking place next to her, or her pride was wounded at the end of things. Yet there were as many if not more instances where she either found herself a willing participant in Seki’s schemes, creating a narrative to them in her head, or got one over on him at the end. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the first volume. It got to the point where I kept checking the upcoming manga release list on Anime News Network to find out when this second volume would be arriving.
My copy arrived a while ago, but it was absolutely worth the wait! This second volume shows that the first wasn’t a fluke and Morishige has lots of new ways for Seki to distract his neighbor. From card tricks, flower arranging with his feet, golf on a pockmarked desk, and the mountain-climbing exploits of a brave teddy bear, the new stuff is consistently inventive and entertaining. The mangaka also shows that he knows how to put new spins on things that were employed in the previous volume -- othello, the robot family -- in ways that make them come off as welcome recurring motifs. He even broadens the scope of the series by having one story take place on a school trip, and introducing a third player to the action: Goto, a schoolgirl who occasionally sits behind the two, and consistently mistakes their interactions as being those of a couple who are deeply in love with each other. It’s an amusing idea, and credible up to the point where you start wondering why she never sees what’s actually going on with these two.
Yeah, it’s just a slice-of-life story about how two students interact with each other over some unlikely circumstances. Yet “My Neighbor Seki” has shown more invention and creativity in these two volumes than most series do in their entire runs. Now I’m back to reminding myself about when volume three will arrive (in July).
May 11, 2015
This is the volume that made me miss the talking chainsaw.
It was a minor detail from the initial volume, collecting the self-published issues of “The Goon” before creator Eric Powell brought it to Dark Horse. This was a thing that could be described as crazy, weird, and at odds with everything else in the book. Goon and Frankie also took the time to repudiate it in their introduction as well. I hadn’t thought of it much until I read this latest volume and realized that it could’ve used a talking chainsaw. Maybe if Powell had to account for such a thing in the series, his current narrative wouldn’t be going right off the rails. Because after fourteen volumes “The Goon” has finally reached the point where the drama has finally overwhelmed the comedy, in a way that is much to its detriment.
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