Comic Picks By The Glick
Comic Picks #206:  The Tipping Point

Comic Picks #206: The Tipping Point

March 16, 2016

In which an astonishing array of international talent comes together to deliver a predictably uneven anthology.

Handa-kun vol. 1

Handa-kun vol. 1

March 14, 2016

This is a prequel of sorts to “Barakamon” in the sense that it shows what Sei Handa, the straightlaced calligrapher protagonist of that series, was like back in highschool.  As it turns out, he was even more uptight and neurotic when he was younger.  This is because Handa is convinced that everyone in school hates him and plots against him behind his back, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Handa’s lone-wolf, detached yet impulsive persona has actually made him the idol of the entire school while his classmates are simply afraid to approach him because of (what they perceive as) the impenetrable aura of coolness he projects.

That should give you a pretty good idea of the kind of humor that we’re dealing with here.  All of the jokes in this volume revolve around Handa’s misconception of how he’s perceived by the people around him.  A love letter from a fellow classmate is thought to be a challenge.  His nomination for the position of class representative is viewed as a form of bullying.  A bullied student turned tough thug is won over by Handa’s reputation and cool nature.  You get the idea.

It’s all amusing enough, but the one-joke note of this setup feels even more limiting than “Barakamon’s” brand of culture-clash comedy.  While that series isn’t the funniest thing I’ve read, it managed to establish a larger and more interesting cast along with a potential for a rather broad range of comedic situations in exploring the culture of the region.  Also, Handa in that series is at least allowed to grow a little while any kind of growth on his part here will mean that the series is now over.  If nothing else, I still feel like I got my money’s worth with this first volume of “Handa-kun” as I downloaded the digital version for three bucks.  Even though subsequent volumes are still relatively cheap at seven dollars each, I still feel hesitant to pick up the next one to see if there’s more potential to this series than what’s on display here.

Invincible vol. 22:  Reboot?

Invincible vol. 22: Reboot?

March 13, 2016

It bills itself as the best superhero title in the universe.  So why would “Invincible” ever consider doing a reboot?  Mainly to freak out fans at the possibility that Robert Kirkman’s long-running superhero title might be giving in to the compulsion that has gripped the Big Two for the past few years.   Naturally, that’s not what happens here and the end result is that the title arc winds up being just a fun little diversion that sets up the next round of drama in Mark Grayson’s life.

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Conan vol. 18:  The Damned Horde

Conan vol. 18: The Damned Horde

March 12, 2016

Now this is more like it.  Writer Fred Van Lente has yet to truly distinguish his run from previous “Conan” writers, but he turns in a tale with more variety and energy than the one he delivered in the previous volume.  In order to obtain the treasure hoard known by the mute slave girl Diana, Conan has pledged to rescue her sister Natala from the walled city of Nippur.  While his comrades in Amra’s Bastards would normally be enough for the job, circumstances force them to team up with the mercenary forces led by the foolish Prince Almuric to assault the city.  As it turns out, rescuing a slave girl and pillaging a nigh-impenetrable trade city is the easy part of this operation.  The path Conan and his fellow warriors follow takes them deep into Stygia where they face chariot archers, a magic plague, lakes of lava, and the wrath of none other than Thoth-Amon.  All of this is worth the untold riches this hoard is supposed to contain, right?  I mean, it’s not as if the title of this volume is referring to a “Damned Horde” waiting to be awakened from their cursed slumber.

In addition to the above, we also get to see the title character mix it up with cannibal wildmen and their leader Eamon the Flayed, order scalding gruel to be poured on some cowardly noblemen, headbutt a snake and then kill it with its broken fang, and create a miniature eruption of lava by stabbing the ground hard enough with his sword.  Yes, it’s safe to say that Van Lente has Conan’s badass credentials well in hand.  More of the irreverence I was expecting from the writer finds its way into the narrative here, mainly in the way that his Conan simply will not stop trying to take on those who get on his bad side.  Even if it comes down to just spitting at them when he’s infected with the plague.  

This is great because it’s things like that which carry the volume.  Once again, the story is fairly standard issue by “Conan” standards, and the title basically gives away its only twist.  While the reappearance of Thoth-Amon should’ve been a big deal, it kind of falls flat.  Though Van Lente makes a decent effort to show the sorcerer as being out of his depth here, it feels like he was brought in for a bit of villain stunt casting rather than because the story needed an antagonist of his caliber.  Finally, Brian Ching does solid work here even if it’s becoming increasingly evident that we’re not going to see art on the level of his “Star Wars” work in this title.  So it’s not a great read, but “The Damned Horde” is still a good one for anyone who has been following Dark Horse’s “Conan” series for as long as I have.

Manifest Destiny vol. 3:  Chiroptera & Carniformaves

Manifest Destiny vol. 3: Chiroptera & Carniformaves

March 11, 2016

Up until the end, this latest volume of the weird adventures of Lewis and Clark is another successful round of high adventure on the untamed American frontier.  This time around the explorers see one of the mysterious arches in the distance and two weird things for their trouble.  The first is a blue-feathered, smart-assed, Muppet-like tribe of creatures known as the Fezron who have a taste for humans even as they offer up sacrifices to keep the other bit of weirdness in this story at bay.  That would be the “Chiroptera” of the title, and it winds up being a magnificently brutal and creepy thing for our heroes to face off against.  Along the way, we get to see how Lewis deals with a potential mutiny, find out more about Sacagawea’s history, get to know how one of the younger members of the crew found himself in this mess, and start to learn just where all of these strange creatures are coming from.  It’s the usual great storytelling I’ve been led to expect from writer Chris Dingess and artist Matthew Roberts.

Then you get to the ending and HOLY CRAP was that brutal!  Without giving too much away, the ending shines a harsh light on the other reason behind Lewis and Clark’s expedition.  While exploring the frontier is a big part of it, they’ve also been charged with making it clear of danger.  Some may see the actions of the cast as being irredeemably harsh in light of events in the story up to that point, but I actually think they were necessary.  Dingess and Roberts don’t shy away from the grisly details of their characters’ work, which actually makes their point hit that much harder.  I also get the feeling that it’s not entirely dissimilar from the hinted-at days that our protagonists spent killing Native Americans in the name of making the frontier safe.  This may have been the right choice, against creatures who were shown to be a clear threat to humans.  Yet now I’m left wondering if the choices the characters face will always be this easy, or even shown to be the right ones over time.  I look forward to finding out!

The Wicked + The Divine vol. 3:  Commercial Suicide

The Wicked + The Divine vol. 3: Commercial Suicide

March 9, 2016

Interesting title for this volume, no?  One would think that it’d be a particularly apt title since it sees half of the title’s creative team, artist Jamie McKelvie, absent for the majority of it.  He only contributes a few pages of original art here, but the man had a good excuse --  McKelvie was working on the third volume of “Phonogram” (at last!) during the time these issues were being published.  Working in this title’s favor is the fact that it’s still written by Kieron Gillen, and he and McKelvie are well-connected enough to secure a Murderer’s Row of talent to fill in for the artist here:  Kate Brown, Tula Lotay, Stephanie Hans, Leila Del Luca, and Brandon Graham all contribute here and their efforts are nothing less than captivating.  I almost wish McKelvie would take another hiatus (for another volume of “Phonogram,” natch) after seeing the work his peers offer up.

(Oh, and as noted on the back cover, Chip Zdarsky does draw one percent of this volume as well.  All I’ll say is that the “The Lick-ed + The Divine” porn parody from “Sex Criminals” is now canon after a fashion here…)

Yet either by nature of the fact that half of the artistic team is missing here or by Gillen’s design, the story only advances incrementally.  Much of it is spent picking up on the immediate fallout from Innana’s death and the hunt for his assumed killer, Baphomet.  The narrative twists and turns to offer a deeper look at all of the book’s characters, with the information offered about Odin and Ananke coming off as particularly revelatory.  (It also helps that their issue is a stunning work of re-purposing as McKelvie’s art from previous issues is composited in different ways to tell an entirely new story.)  Even if the story does chase its own tail, the closer look at the cast dos prove to be pretty engaging in and of itself.  The fact that Gillen hasn’t lost a step with writing bitingly funny dialogue -- along with a meat-based pun that will cause you physical pain if it catches you unawares -- contributes a lot to making this volume a worthy follow-up to the previous two.  Bonus points for a cliffhanger that promises a game-changing development as one of the gods prepares to make good on their gimmick for emerging from the underworld.

One-Punch Man vols. 4 & 5

One-Punch Man vols. 4 & 5

March 7, 2016

Up until this point Saitama has faced off against some pretty bad villains.  But how will he survive the threat of a meteor which threatens all life on the planet?  Or what about the Deep Sea King who has invaded the surface along with the rest of his fishy clan?  Is this a threat that even the…

No I can’t keep it up.  He takes them out in one punch just like the previous volumes.  Yet while writer ONE and artist Yusuke Murata continue to show that they can wring an impressive amount of suspense and drama from the buildup until Saitama does his thing, they also introduce some new tricks and wrinkles here.  The Deep Sea King is the first as he represents the first truly daunting foe to grace the pages of this title.  On one level he’s a ridiculous parody of every seemingly invincible foe to show up in a fighting manga.  You know, the kind who take a hit and go, “I barely felt that,” and then knock out the hero with a well-timed punch or several.

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All-New X-Men vol. 7:  The Utopians

All-New X-Men vol. 7: The Utopians

March 6, 2016

This latest volume of “All-New X-Men” starts off with a pretty good story involving Emma Frost teaching/tormenting the time-displaced Jean Grey in Madripoor over the latter’s reliance on her telepathic powers over her telekinetic ones.  It plays to Bendis’ strengths in character-driven dialogue (particularly with Emma’s bitchy banter), and features some striking art from Mike Del Mundo that is ill-served by washed-out coloring.  Then there are two issues from the massive “Black Vortex” crossover that feature interesting art from Andrea Sorrentino.  There’s really not much more to say about them than that because these issues read just about as well as you’d expect two random issues pulled from a multi-part crossover to.  Last up is the two-part story that this volume takes its name from as we catch up with a random assortment of mutants who have made a new home for themselves in the ruins of the X-Men’s former island base of Utopia.

That’s the least interesting part of the title story.  In fact, I’m sure the only reason it’ll be remembered years from now is because of a revelation regarding one of the original X-Men.  I’m talking about the outing of Bobby “Iceman” Drake.

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Swamp Thing vol. 7:  Season’s End

Swamp Thing vol. 7: Season’s End

March 5, 2016

Charles Soule wraps up his run with this volume, and it goes out on a pretty strong note.  The introduction of the Metal Kingdom, teased on the last page of vol. 6, continues in full swing here as the emergent kingdom finds out the hard way that Alec Holland is not an avatar to be trifled with.  Sensing the need for an avatar of their own, the Metal Kingdom goes looking for someone with an experience and a grudge against the title character.  Hmmmm… is there anyone in this series who fits the bill?  Possibly someone who had their neck broken in the previous volume?  Meanwhile, we also get to see what happens to Capucine when her one thousand years of life are up and Etrigan comes calling to collect on his end of the deal.  Then we get an epilogue with the “Future’s End” issue as we see how Soule ends the “Swamp Thing” saga five years into an imaginary future.

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Batman by Ed Brubaker vol. 1

Batman by Ed Brubaker vol. 1

March 4, 2016

This is something I’ve been waiting to see collected for quite a while.  Here we have one of the best writers in comics with a substantial run on “Batman” that was never collected outside of a couple crossover issues and a four issue sampler from several years back.  What gives?  I figured that it had to do with Brubaker’s defection to Marvel during his tenure on “Gotham Central,” but while reading this volume I started to think otherwise.  Most of the stories here are pretty ordinary.  You have Batman up against Zeiss, a new villain who can see things faster than normal and record combat moves with the goggles that pipe the images directly to his brain.  That rivalry plays out over the course of this volume as the title character also has to deal with a loyal employee who turned to a life of crime, a childhood sweetheart who is now a budding mafioso, new revelations about his father, and Deadshot.  Because why not?

All of this plays out in a pretty straightforward fashion with Batman being knocked metaphorically off balance by these new threats before dealing with them and going on to kick the bad guys in the head.  Even the weirder stuff -- an alien seeks sanctuary at a Gotham church, a Jokerized Santa runs riot through the city, an issue dedicated to exploring Batman’s status as an urban myth -- plays out in ways that solidly conform to the “Batman” formula.  Was Brubaker just unsuccessful in his attempts to find new angles on the character and his struggles, or is this an example of how a good writer can simply phone it in and turn out something decently readable with little effort?  Thinking about it, that’s probably the most interesting question this book poses.

Making more of an effort is the artist for nearly all of the issues here, Scott McDaniel.  He turns in some big, bold, high-energy work here that eschews a lot of the darkness you typically see in most “Batman” stories.  It’s very distinctive work and I can’t help but think that it must’ve driven the noir-loving Brubaker nuts to work with an artist whose style was antithetical to the stories he likes to tell.  The unpolished work from Stefano Gaudiano in the “Our Worlds at War” issue is more in line with what you’d expect to see in a story from this writer.  It also (coincidentally, I’m sure) results in one of the better stories in this volume.  Even so, this is the kind of collection that you’ll enjoy more the less demanding of a “Batman” fan you are.

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