I found out recently that “Genshiken: Second Season” wrapped up its serialization in Japan. My friend Steve has been keeping up with the scanlations and he let me know that the series has also been fully translated at this point as well. He also dropped the cryptic hint that Saki -- the non-otaku member of the group who was one of the main characters in the first “season” -- was revealed to be the true protagonist in these final chapters. Anticipating only two volumes left in the series to be released over here I was fully prepared to wait until (what would likely be around) this time next year in order to find out how things ended with the release of the final volume in America. Courtesy of its official release from Kodansha Comics.
The title character only makes a brief one-page appearance in this volume as the focus shifts onto the now-fugitive Hiro. He’s currently hiding out with Shion, the girl who confessed to him and was brutally shot down in the previous volume, and it’s not nearly as awkward as I was fearing from the previous volume. Shion, and her grandmother, seem perfectly willing to accept that Hiro has run away from home and needs a place to stay for the immediate future. We know better, however, and find out in short order that the drama surrounding the boy’s outing as a serial killer has a dire effect on the person closest to him. This sends Hiro off on another rampage as he takes out those who he believes to be at fault here before finally confessing to Shion about his situation and the fact that he’s no longer human.
What does an old, grizzled, time-displaced version of Wolverine do when he realizes that the version of history he’s in isn’t going to lead to the awful future he came from? “Bordertown” has him going to check on the little girl that eventually grew up to become his wife and making sure that she’s all right. This turns out to be an extraordinarily bad idea when Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers show up, looking to extract some measure of payback against this version of Wolverine. If you think that setup sounds formulaic as hell, then you’d be right.. Still, writer Jeff Lemire continues to do a good job fleshing out Old Man Logan’s character (and the future he came from) while also doing the necessary work to make sure we care about the people we need to in this small town. Even more effective is Andrea Sorrentino’s striking art which has this predictable story playing out in imaginative ways on the page. While the issue that follows this arc may be overly sentimental, we at least get a decent direction for future adventures involving the character. I’ll still be onboard for them.
A welcome surprise to this volume is the extra issue they included to round out its page count. While reprinting old issues in collections of modern issues has annoyed me in the past, that’s not the case here as the one we get is both relevant to the story in this volume and a really good one at that. They story in question is “Wounded Wolf” from “Uncanny X-Men” #205, featuring the first appearance of Lady Deathstrike after she’s been remade in the Body Shoppe by Spiral. After that introduction, the story picks up with Katie Power (of the Power Pack) running into a severely wounded Wolverine. Logan has been driven into a near feral state by Deathstrike and her mercs, and his only chance of survival hangs on this five-year-old superhero getting him to safety.
For a Marvel comic that’s over three decades old at this point, it has held up remarkably well. Even if you know that all the named characters are going to survive this, it’s still just a little bit unsettling to see an innocent like Katie thrust into such a violent situation. Less so, but still effective is seeing Wolverine beaten up so badly that he can’t even talk. Legendary X-writer Chris Claremont also builds an effective rapport between the two as they help each other out the best they can while keeping the pace relentlessly tense until the end. Barry Windsor-Smith is also on hand to provide some incredibly detailed art that helps sell this tension, while providing Deathstrike with a memorable character design that has endured to this day. If you needed a reminder as to why “Uncanny X-Men” was the superhero comic to read in the 80’s, then this is it.
If you follow my comments about this title over the past several months (or couple of years as it were) in the “Dark Horse Previews Picks” I write, you may have noticed an air of cynicism from me about this title. My main issue with it is how it was marked as an ongoing title and yet new issues came out on a very infrequent basis. You can’t really build up momentum or energy around a title that doesn’t come out. So when Mike Mignola announced that the series would be ending with issue #10, I was of the opinion that it would be ending with a whimper rather than a bang. Particularly when Mignola had said that the series was originally planned to run for longer than that.
Reading “The Death Card” now, I realize that I had things wrong. While being able to read these issues all at once without having to wait months for the next one is great, the thing I had to understand was that this isn’t the climax to the grand “Hellboy” saga. That, as it turns out, was “The Storm and The Fury.” “Hellboy in Hell” is just the epilogue.
Time to get back to work…
How many different versions of Superman’s origin have there been? In my library alone I’ve got copies of John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” reinvention from the 80’s, Mark Waid and Lenil Yu’s maxiseries “Birthright,” and Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s “Secret Origin.” If you’re being generous, you can also count Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ first volume of “Action Comics” from the “New 52” in that bunch as well. My point is that retelling Superman’s origin has effectively become its own sub-genre at this point. It’s this thing that attracts A-list creators who are looking to make a mark on the character. But why not write one of the character’s ongoing titles instead? By going back to his origin they’re freed from the burden of having to deal with current continuity and they can actually tell a story about Superman that gives him a significant character arc as he learns the hard lessons involved in becoming a superhero.
From "Transmetropolitan vol. 4: The New Scum."
The first two-volumes-in-one collection of this series remains one of the high points for my comics reading experience this year. Mangaka Kengo Hanazawa found a unique take on the zombie genre by making its protagonist, Hideo Suzuki, a mentally disturbed individual who happens to be one of Japan’s few gun owners. While the first half of the debut omnibus showed us a series that could’ve easily worked as a character study that chronicles a man’s downward mental spiral, the (fast) zombie outbreak hits and Hideo suddenly has to deliver on his belief that he is a hero.
I’d hoped that this second volume would provide a good setup for more great art from Sean Murphy. As it is, you get the feeling that he gave the first volume his all and was then forced to soldier through this one with the stamina he had left. That’s not to say that there aren’t any great visuals, frenetic chase scenes, or imaginative set pieces in this second volume -- the bit with Genghis, Osama, and Hitler racing go-karts in a virtual wonderland with Davey Trauma is a high point -- but the spark that drove vol. 1 isn’t here. Still, what qualifies as “okay” art from Murphy is still more eye-catching than most other artist’s best efforts in my book.
This is particularly disappointing because Rick Remender’s story goes in the same direction that I was expecting it to. After the Tokyo Garden was destroyed as a result of his techno-relapse, Constable Led Dent is back in L.A. taking out all sorts of deviants and troublemakers for its leader, Mr. Flak. This is in advance of Mr. Flack’s plan to move anyone who can afford it to the newly renovated as-luxurious-as-it-is-garish Tokyo Garden and to dope up the masses so that they don’t realize it’s happening. Throwing a wrench into his plan is the sudden appearance of a sword-wielding, EMP-using vigilante who wants to bring everything down.
If you’ve read the first volume, then you get no points for guessing who this mysterious troublemaker is. While Remender does deserve credit for crafting effective messages about the perils of addiction and co-dependence through his protagonists, and coming up with some of the world’s more gonzo touches, his storytelling takes the predictable, conventional route whenever possible. He and Murphy work hard to sell their message about the perils of a wired world, but if you were expecting more nuance to the first volume’s “Technology=BAD” and “Nature=GOOD” stances then you’re not going to find it here. I was also thoroughly disappointed by the epilogue which lets us know that the conflict we saw here isn’t quite over yet and leaves the door open for a sequel.
Now, you might have heard that Murphy has signed an exclusive contract with DC that will have him drawing “Batman” comics for the next few years. While I hope that he gets back doing creator-owned work after that, I hope he does a new series rather than give us a new volume of this one.
Sometimes a series is too good to keep down. While sales for the issues collected in the previous volume indicated that would be last we saw of the Dan Slott/Mike Allred run on this title, Marvel decided to give it another go in the wake of “Secret Wars.” This is without a doubt a good thing. The only catch is that vol. 4 isn’t quite up to the high standards of vol. 3. Not only did that volume feature a well-done tie-in to “Secret Wars” and an imaginative take on a familiar sci-fi genre trope, it also had a fantastically imaginative “Groundhog Day”-esque time-travel story that utilized the comics form in a masterful way. There’s nothing on that level here as the Surfer and Dawn return to Earth only to be confronted with the legacy of the former’s home planet. Zenn-La’s Keeper of the Great Truth has shown up on our doorstep with the intent of improving it by converting our culture to theirs. Naturally the Surfer is against this, but how can he fight against his own people? Especially once he finds out who the current Keeper of the Great Truth actually is.
The Surfer makes an unexpectedly harsh choice in order to see that Earth’s culture is preserved, but that’s really the only surprise of the main arc in this volume. It’s mostly just a lot of fighting as he takes on the Thing along with a whole bunch of other Marvel heroes (who go on to help him out afterwards after the Zenn-La-vians try to get some payback). That’s not as bad a thing as it sounds since it not only gives Allred a chance to show off his chops for action, but to draw a ton of current and classic Marvel characters in his inimitable style. Slott also manages to invest this volume with some real heart and drama in the last two issues as the Surfer finds a way to have Dawn meet up with the one person she never thought she’d see again. To decidedly complicated but believable results. That this story also has the Surfer teaming up with Spider-Man to take on some shape-shifting creatures (which gives Spidey the chance to punch out Mephisto for… past indiscretions) really sums up the series’ quirky appeal. “Silver Surfer’s” mix of action and sentimentality may not work as well here as it has in previous volumes, yet it still results in an entertaining package that I’m glad to see continue.