Honoka Takamiya was just your average male high school student who had the mixed fortune to sit next to Ayaka Kagari, the class idol. While sitting next to someone as tall, good-looking, and cool as she is was great, he also had to deal with unwanted attention from her massive fan club. So imagine Honoka’s surprise when he finds out that this was done so that Ayaka could keep an eye on him. It turns out that the boy is a source of immense magical power that needs to be safeguarded by someone like her, a Workshop Witch who specializes in fire magic. Say what now? While witches like Ayaka are all about protecting humanity and making sure that magic isn’t abused, there’s another group known as Tower Witches who are all about using magic for the lulz. They’ve got their eyes set on taking Honoka and his power for their own gain and all they need to do is get past Ayaka to make it happen. However, this fire witch isn’t about to let anyone make trouble for her princess.
When we’re talking about the latest incarnations of “Avengers,” that’s when. After “All-New, All-Different Avengers vol. 2: Family Business” I’m starting to think that having Mark Waid split the team into two groups, with the younger members forming the “Champions” and the older ones going on to form their own Avengers team, may not be such a bad idea as far as soft resets go. While the art from Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar (with Alan Davis pitching in on a short featuring the new Wasp) is as slick as you’d expect, the storytelling is still disappointingly conventional. In vol. 2 we get a “Standoff” tie-in as the team heads over to Pleasant Hill and locks horns with the Unity team and a trip out into space as they attempt to find Sam “Nova” Alexander’s dad and wind up in an alien gulag. These stories play out pretty much as you’d expect with no real surprises in the plot. The “Standoff” tie-in is particularly disappointing since the writer doesn’t seem to be on the same page as crossover mastermind Nick Spencer regarding the human Cosmic Cube/plot device Kobik and her personality. Still, there are some nice moments amidst all the familiarity: Vision surprising Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan with a VR Avengers experience, using Deadpool’s memories to save the team, the nega-band-switching frenzy at the climax of the second story, and having the new Wasp team up with the old one was pretty neat. These things help raise the title to the level of “not bad” but you expect better from a title that bills itself as “All-New, All-Different.” And from Waid.
Meanwhile, over in “New Avengers: A.I.M. vol. 2 -- Standoff,” writer Al Ewing has that title’s “Standoff’ tie-in arc feature a gamma-powered giant monster known as American Kaiju -- as strong as it is patriotic -- face off against A.I.M.’s giant robot Avenger Five. Even without considering the tricky plotting that has A.I.M. head Roberto DaCosta declaring war on an untrustworthy S.H.I.E.L.D., Rick Jones trying to see if he can trust an A.I.M.-backed Avengers team, and two former Thunderbolts whose loyalties can be described as “rock-solid” and “shifty,” it’s clearly the better of the two. More importantly, writer Al Ewing also manages the always-impressive trick of using a crossover tie-in arc to further the title’s main story. This arc is preceded by a one-off focusing on the White Tiger and her Hand-resurrected predecessor, with the Maker (A.K.A. Ultimate Reed Richards) pulling the strings. It’s kind of a downer that exists mainly to set up future stories, but the final issue sends things out on a high note as Wiccan, Hulkling, Suirrel Girl, Songbird, and Hawkeye take on the Plunderer while most of them go on to form their own team and one is revealed as a triple agent. All of the fun, quirky action in this issue is grounded in the characters’ actions and it winds up being a very entertaining issue as a result. Though the three artists who contributed to this volume -- Marcus To, Gerardo Sandoval, and J. Cassara -- aren’t on the same level as Kubert or Asrar, the stronger writing and sheer inventiveness displayed by Ewing here makes this the “Avengers” book you should be reading.
“Inhumans vs. X-Men” (“IvX”) hasn’t even shipped its first issue yet and already we know what we’ll be getting after the dust settles on that event. The word is “ResurrXion,” a launch of all-new “X-Men” titles with one eye trained firmly on the past. Why’s that? Well, the titles announced so far are “X-Men: Blue,” “X-Men: Gold,” “Weapon X,” “Generation X,” “Cable,” “Jean Grey,” and “Iceman.” “Blue” and “Gold” hark back specifically to the names of the team circa the launch of “X-Men” #1 back in the 90’s while “Generation X” was the name of the young team book from the era as well. I don’t think I need to mention “Cable’s” relevance to the 90’s, though the “Jean Grey” and “Iceman” solo titles are obviously meant to spotlight two of the franchise’s most well-known and longest-surviving (after a fashion) members. As for “Weapon X,” there was already a series by the same name that had a decent run in the aughts even if it’s not all that well-remembered now. Judging by the promotional image they’re using for it, the title is going to fill the “X-Force”/dark team book niche in the line.
What to make of all this? Well, it’s nice to see Marvel getting behind mutants again after years of hearing about how CEO Ike Perlmutter was trying to diminish their appeal behind the scenes due to his ire at Fox having the film/TV rights to them. As for the whole backward-looking approach to the line, it’s something that seems to have worked out well for DC and their “Rebirth” initiative in both a financial and creative sense. I’ll start feeling more optimistic about the “creative” part once we find out about the teams being assigned to these books. I do wonder if this means all of the current X-titles will be cancelled. If that’s the case, then I guess I’ll just roll my eyes at how they started a new title with a brand new adjective, “Extraordinary,” and it didn’t even last a year and a half.
Oh, and while it’s clear what the “X” in “ResurrXion” is meant to signify, the “O” in the promotional image for the event is actually the insignia for the “Inhumans.” Which means that they’ll have some role to play in this event as well. In only one title if Marvel is smart about it.
This volume introduces us to Ashley Strode, an agent of the B.P.R.D. who specializes in exorcisms. We first meet her as a beginner learning about the practice who then tries to free a child by taking on a demon imprisoned inside a 150-year-old priest. A few years later, Ashley is taking names and kicking demon ass all by herself as she gets caught up in a decades-old mystery involving missing children in a small town. These stories appear to be the brainchild of creator Cameron Stewart who, in addition to providing the art for the first story, co-wrote them both. Ashley’s an appealingly feisty character, particularly in the second story when she goes toe-to-toe with a Marquis of Hell in words and action. Which is good because even with the exorcism angle these stories come off as pretty standard-issue Mignolaverse fare. They’ve got some memorable moments -- such as showing us what a demon-possessed goat looks like -- but nothing to really distinguish themselves from what has come before. Save for the bright and lively art from Stewart in the first arc and Mike Norton in the second.
Even if the story doesn’t really stand out, “The Exorcist” does manage to distinguish itself in a somewhat dubious manner. Specifically: Why the hell are we getting this as the penultimate volume of “B.P.R.D.?” Had this volume arrived earlier in the “Hell on Earth” cycle, I’d be more inclined to give it a pass as I could assume that Ashley and her demonic encounters would play a larger role in the central plot down the line. With one more volume to go that looks increasingly unlikely at this point. So why are we getting it now? Well, only the second arc was published as part of the ongoing “B.P.R.D.” series. As the first was originally just a two-part miniseries they needed another story to go along with it in order to get it collected. Also, the three-issue second arc may have been a necessary tactic to give Mike Mignola and John Arcudi the time they needed to work on the final arc. Whatever the reason is, “The Exorcist” still reads awkwardly after the build-up to the final conflict in the previous volume. I imagine that’ll be less so once we get the final volume and can go straight to the main event after this okay bit of filler.
We’re on to the next major arc in this series. I guess you’d call it the “Grim Reaper” arc as it has the students of Class 3-E taking on the assassin of the same name. Our antagonist for this arc got that title by being kind of assassin you call on when you want someone in his line of work dead. Aside from having great skill at unarmed combat, he’s a master planner with a disarmingly friendly demeanor -- not unlike Class 3-E’s own Nagisa. Things kick off when the Grim Reaper kidnaps Ms. Vitch after she stormed off following a botched attempt by the students to create friendlier relations between her and Mr. Karasuma. Being the master assassin that he is, the students are taken captive in short order and used as bait to lure Koro-sensei into a trap. But hey! Even if he falls into it, they’ve still got Karasuma to come and bail them out. Which is a viable plan only if you assume his military training is on par with one of the greatest living assassins.
I know that I should be more excited for this arc than I am. The problem is that it’s following the established formula for this kind of story so closely that it’s easy to see every beat of the plot coming pages before they actually hit. We see the Grim Reaper’s superior skills demonstrated right from the start when he introduces himself to the class and leaves them dumbfounded. He then proceeds to dismantle the students’ attack efforts -- with special notice given to how he one-ups the killer technique Nagisa used in the prior arc -- with minimal effort. Koro-sensei’s rescue efforts also happen early enough in the plot to leave you with the expectation that they’ll fail. Which they do, thanks to the sudden and inevitable betrayal of Ms. Vitch.
If mangaka Yusei Matsui’s plan was to create drama by playing on my sympathies for the character, then he has failed. That’s because I have NO sympathies for Ms. Vitch. She’s not as annoying as she was at the time of her debut, but I can only hope her traitorous actions here are just cover for a triple cross to be executed at the arc’s climax. Then again, it’s equally probable that she is shallow enough to allow her sympathies to be swayed by Karasuma’s all-business approach to their relationship. This volume isn’t a total loss: Aside from Matsui’s always-inventive art, I liked seeing Itona’s reaction to being outclassed by the Grim Reaper, Ritsu’s “hacked” persona, and the idea of seeing Karasuma finally get a real chance to show off his badass credentials against a worthy adversary has some promise. My disappointment with this volume isn’t nearly enough to get me to stop reading the series, though I am expecting it to get its act together for its resolution in the next volume.
After a summer of waiting to see who gets killed, the season premiere of “The Walking Dead” came off pretty badly by most accounts. From the extreme violence of the deaths in the episode, to the allegedly manipulative way in which they were revealed, and the general “misery porn” approach taken to most of the material there, I can understand why people would have a problem with it.
Not me, though. I was actually amused by how the producers held off on the reveal of the deaths. Their trolling of the fanbase by making them wait just a little longer to find out who died amused me when I thought about all of the people who were losing their minds at this. As for the deaths themselves, all I have to say is this: Well played. I have a friend at work who was convinced that Abraham was going to die, while I stuck to my guns and believed that Glenn was going to meet his maker here just like he did in the comics. It was quite shocking to find out that we were BOTH right, and that the producers had treated Abraham’s death in the comics at an earlier point than this as a savings bond of murder to be cashed in at the appropriate time. Then you had the look of sheer terror and hopelessness on Rick’s face as it looked like he was going to have to chop Carl’s arm off… Well, that was some incredible acting from Andrew Lincoln, who had the difficult job of depicting Rick “breaking” over the course of the episode and sold it in a heartbreaking fashion.
Still, I think the comics did this whole sequence better and it comes down to one thing. The promise of a way out. When Negan made his presence known to Rick’s group and killed off Glenn in the process, it was a devastating moment in the comics. You really felt that things were hopeless for them and this new villain had them over a barrell. Then Eugene comes up to Rick at the end of the volume and reveals that he knows how to make ammo. Which means they’ve got a way to fight back and that hope is not entirely lost. With the TV show, the ammo reveal has already been done, so it looks like we’re in for several episodes of Rick getting used to being Negan’s bitch -- undoubtedly involving some deliciously black humor courtesy of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s pitch-perfect take on the character -- before the fightback begins.
As for the comics, “The Whisperer War” wraps up in these solicitations. I’ve already heard that there’s been one significant casualty in its pages so far. Now I just have to avoid finding out who it is before the collection arrives.
Are we in the middle of a Wild Dog renaissance? The character was originally created by writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty in the 80’s as a Punisher-esque urban vigilante. History doesn’t seem to indicate that the comics he appeared in during the time could actually be described as “good,” but there was apparently a certain over-the-top 80’s action movie appeal to the character and his adventures that endeared him to a certain part of comics fandom. And Gerard Way. And the producers of “Arrow.” So not only has the character made his TV debut in the current season of “Arrow,” Wild Dog returned to comics proper in the first issue of “Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye” this week, which is part of Way’s Young Animal imprint at DC.
I don’t think the comics readership has been crying out for a Wild Dog revival. However, the character’s recent appearances are likely down to two opposing schools of thought. There’s the idea that every character in comics is someone’s favorite, which allows for seeing him show up in “Cave Carson.” It seems unlikely that he’d have appeared if Way, or co-writer Jon Rivera, didn’t have some fondness for the character. As for “Arrow?” I’m betting that they needed a generic vigilante-type character that didn’t have a whole lot of history and Wild Dog fit the bill. Whether or not this leads to a new mini-or-ongoing series featuring Wild Dog, it’s certainly possible if the character continues to make appearances in both mediums. That being said, I certainly hope someone at DC remembers to pay Beatty the proper residuals for co-creating the character.
You just never know when it’s going to happen or to whom. Comics lost a master of the form today in Steve Dillon. The exact cause of his death hasn’t been revealed yet, but he was only 54. While he was best known in the U.S. for collaborating with Garth Ennis on “Hellblazer,” “Preacher,” and “Punisher” starting in the 90’s, he was already a legend in the U.K. for his work on many titles there, particularly “2000 A.D.” the home of “Judge Dredd” and numerous other titles. Currently he was enjoying another victory lap on the Becky Cloonan-written “Punisher” series and providing the covers to Ennis’ latest “Sixpack & Dogwelder: Hard Travelin’ Heroz” miniseries.
This latest volume in the series has a lot of the things that have made it a terrifically entertaining read so far. You’ve got amazing art from Jamie McKelvie in full-blown spectacle mode as two factions of the Pantheon repeatedly face off against each other here. While his character work is as good as you’d expect, here he brings the action with several intense, fast-paced, multiple-viewpoint fight scenes whose high point comes when Persephone uses her green tentacle -- er, tendril powers to take on Woden’s giant neon Valkyrie/Voltron amalgamation monstrosity. We also get lots of clever, funny, and insightful dialogue from Kieron Gillen while the fighting is going on. Even when his characters ramble on about “higher frequency geek” it’s still entertaining to read what they have to say. While the nature of the conflict in this volume does lend itself to lots of pithy one-liners, there’s also a substantial amount of advancements and twists to the plot. Seeing what really went down when Ananke did her head-popping thing with Laura/Persephone was certainly a surprising retcon, while the status quo we get at the end of the volume has a nice air of ominousness to go along with the freedom it promises.
All of this makes “Rising Action” another worthy addition to this particular canon. Which makes its one major narrative failing that much more annoying. I’ll admit that part of this is down to my own set of expectations regarding the writer. Gillen is usually very good about subverting existing cliches and tropes, or at least displaying enough self-awareness to make them come off as less annoying. Which is why it’s so disappointing to have Pantheon ringleader Ananke fall right into the role of the antagonist who does awful things for reasons that she believes are perfectly valid but declines to provide any explanations for. Yes, the fact that there’s this thing known as the Great Darkness that needs to be kept at bay sure sounds important, but aside from providing no explanation as to what it is, we get no explanation regarding why exploding the heads of teenage deities is necessary to stave it off. Aside from Ananke’s declaration that “HELL IS YOU CHILDREN FOREVER!” I mean.
My frustration with this opaque plotting on Gillen’s part will remain until we get some kind of explanation that causes the entire cast to realize their elderly overseer was right and that they need to do something about it. At which time the writer will (Likely? Hopefully?) make a hard left from my expectations in showing us what the cast does. Until then, I think I’ll be able to make do with seeing the cast continue to party as hard as they have been.
Hey, guess what I forgot to post on Monday...
Makoto Okazaki has it rough. Now, I’m not talking about how he has to deal with the bullies who have made him into their gopher, or how he has to deal with all of his pent-up adolescent sexual urges by himself. I’m saying he has it rough because he’s the male protagonist in a new manga from Shuzo Oshimi, who gave us “The Flowers of Evil,” and it looks like her thing is putting these guys through hell at the hands strange women. In Okazaki’s case, at least he’s not at the mercy of a potential psychotic. He just winds up getting bitten by a female vampire on his way to return a rented video one night. Now Okazaki has to deal with the wearying effects of the sun, abnormal strength and a thirst he doesn’t know how to quench just yet.
Oshimi’s looks to be more interested in vampirism’s transformative effect on normal life than as a springboard to supernatural action. Those of you expecting something along the lines of “Twilight” or “30 Days of Night” will likely come away disappointed. A better comparison would be Park Chan-Wook’s “Thirst,” where an ordinary man was infected, then went on to infect his wife and watch his life unravel form there. The same thing happens to Okazaki, as he’s thrown completely off-balance by his new reaction to sunlight and his reaction to the blood he can now sense from his female classmates. Even though he’s able to finally stand up to those bullies, it brings him no satisfaction. All of this just takes him further away from the person he was, and that’s the most unsettling part of this business for him.
It’s because of this approach that I can forgive Oshimi for playing loose with one of the key aspects of vampire myth. Also, we’d have no story if Okazaki was burnt into ash the minute he stepped out the door on his first day back to school. I’m also curious to see how long he’ll be able to go denying his thirst as it has already led to one problematic scene where a girl he near-assaults turns out to be remarkably forgiving of his circumstances. Oshimi also demonstrates some real growth as an artist as we see her build on the nightmarish psychedelic approach she demonstrated in the final chapter of “The Flowers of Evil.” Compared to that title, “Happiness” is off to a much stronger start by making its protagonist’s fears credible and exploring some less-well-trod ground in the vampire story genre along the way.