Vol. 1 was all about establishing writer Nick Spencer’s take on Sam Wilson as the new Captain America. A hero who was more about fighting for the little guy and for social change than simply beating up bad guys. It delivered on that approach, but offered no real surprises. If you were hoping for more of that here, then you’re going to be a little disappointed. Though the title implies there’s a connection to the “Standoff” event that wound its way through the “Avengers” titles earlier this year, that’s not quite the case. You’re getting the spine of this event here as current and former Captain Americas come together to clean up another one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s messes. While the story is fairly predictable as these things go, Spencer’s quirky style helps it to be more fun than I was expecting.
Monster girls are a big thing in anime and manga right now. While the concept of a guy who winds up accumulating a harem of cute girls will never go out of style, some creators have thought to improve on this idea by making some of the girls hybrids of mythological monsters like dragons, lamias, or cyclopses. I fail to see the appeal in such an approach. Since it can’t mean that I have too much taste (as the latest volume of “Prison School” arrived in the mail last week) this likely means I’m just getting old. That being said, I picked up “My Girlfriend is a T-Rex” not to challenge my preconceptions about this sub-genre but because I’d heard that this title functions as more of a parody of it. Or rather, as I lack the awareness of any conventions of this sub-genre that need skewering, that this was something that’s geared more towards comedy than anything else.
This volume marks the end of year two of the Apocalypse, with the concluding year three to follow in due course. Does vol. 6 represent a significant ramping up of stakes and excitement in advance of this? Kinda. I imagine that the second meeting of nations called by the now-empowered Ezra was meant to herald the beginning of the end. The problem is that it doesn’t quite click since the arguments during this scene can basically be boiled down to Ezra yelling, “I am The Message made flesh! You will all follow me!” and everyone else going, “Nuh-uh!” There is some skilled wordplay from the cast at large during these scenes courtesy of writer Jonathan Hickman, while artist Nick Dragotta does his best to energize the proceedings. Dragotta does a good job of it too with his designs for a further mutated Ezra, the chaos as the pilgrims rush in once the meeting falls apart, and (of all things) an homage to Rob Liefeld’s cover to “X-Force” #1. While there are a lot of things to like about the meeting, it doesn’t manage to come together in a satisfying dramatic way.
Better served here are Death and his son Babalon. In an effort to find his missing son, the errant horseman hits up the barkeep/info dealer he terrorized back in the first volume. Much violence ensues, but Death gets a talking, rhyming eyeball out of the encounter so I’m going to consider that a win. Meanwhile, Babalon doesn’t start to rebel against the lessons Balloon has been giving him. The boy starts to subvert them instead, but still makes time to take on some of the most ridiculous characters Hickman has cooked up in any series to date. Well, that’s being unfair to the tragedy of Psalm 69’s devout believer turned robotic killing machine, but Billy Blackgun feels like the writer’s effort to commit the most ridiculous stereotype of a hardened, grizzled gunfighter to the page. This encounter is followed up by some alternately heartwarming and ominous scenes that do a better job of setting up the final year of the Apocalypse as the forces of darkness prepare to finish the job of destroying a family they started several years ago.
I was very much looking forward to seeing what writer Si Spurrier would be doing with this series he inherited from Alan Moore. After all, Spurrier is one of the few writers who has done something interesting with the “Crossed” concept beyond exploit it for purposes of gore-related shock value. So imagine my disappointment when this turned out to be one of the most difficult reads I’ve experienced all year. It took me multiple tries to get into this second volume of the adventures of Future Taylor as she acclimates to her new living situation in Murfreesboro after her home of Chooga was destroyed by the Crossed in the previous volume. It’s not that her adventures in exploring the countryside or trying to wake the community up to the menace facing them were particularly uninteresting. No, it’s because Spurrier fully commits to maintaining the future vernacular Moore cooked up for this series in the first volume and it’s just as much of a chore to get through here as it was there.
Wait, I take that back. It’s actually MORE of a chore in vol. 2 because the first one had worldbuilding, a sense of discovery, and some genuine mystery to drive the narrative and make putting up with the language worth it in the end. Spurrier is digging more into the world Moore created here, which means he’s telling a story with more subtleties and nuance. These things tend to be lost when you can’t parse them through the characters’ dialogue and writings. This makes the majority of the narrative a slog to get through until the very end. That’s when Spurrier takes things in a dramatically different direction with a shake-up in the power structure at Murfreesboro thanks to some decisions Future makes for what she believes to be the greater good. I’m… just about convinced this development may be worth following. We’ll see if my interest there can overcome my antipathy towards reading more of the wretched futuristic dialogue this series takes too much pride in.
The first volume of this series was pretty great. The second was a disappointing mess. If you’ve been following my writing here for an extended period of time, then you’ve probably seen me (repeatedly) mention my hopes that this third volume will help get “Gotham Academy” back on track. Well, “Yearbook” is a lot different than those previous volumes in that it’s an anthology of short stories from many different creators, with some connective material from regular co-writer Brenden Fletcher and artist Adam Archer.
It’s actually pretty good as far as these things go. I imagine the idea behind this approach was to not only give a lot of talented writers and artists a crack at the characters and setting of “Gotham Academy,” but to help flesh out its world as well. So you’ve got Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen showing us why it’s a bad idea to raid Dr. Langstrom’s lab during prank week, Ken Niimura revealing what length Maps will go to in order to bring some mystery and fun into her friends’ lives, and David Petersen recounting the academy legend of four geeks who were never heard from again after they went to play Serpents and Spells in a secret passage. Faith Erin Hicks even shows up for a two-pager about Maps’ driving lessons. That the majority of these stories are pretty entertaining is an achievement in itself for a volume whose main arc is basically an anthology.
Yeah, I said “main arc.” There are regular and extra-sized stories bookending the “Yearbook” arc of varying quality. “Robins vs. Zombies” is a mediocre tie-in to the “Robin War”storyline and it doesn’t do the series any favors by trying to wedge in current “Batman” events into its world. Fortunately “Broken Hearts” fares much better as Colton and Pomeline pursue competing theories -- vampire infestation vs. mad professor -- regarding Olive’s current illness. It’s a fun adventure with ties to the wider Bat-mythos that serve the story well, though you’ll get more out of it if you’re a fan of “Batman Beyond.” This was a nice way to close out the volume after a successful anthology. Consider me back on board with the coming “Second Semester” for this series.
Simon Roy is probably best known for co-writing and illustrating a decent chunk of the “Prophet” revival spearheaded by Brandon Graham. As his short-story collection “Jan’s Atomic Heart and Other Stories” showed, he’s a pretty capable talent when flying solo. “Habitat” offers further proof of this in its story of a spaceship whose crew has become feral and tribal several generations after they severed communications with the outside after an attack on the ship. The plot is put in motion once Cho, a cadet in Habsec, comes across a new card for the 3D printer his tribe has and winds up creating an energy weapon. After finding out just how powerful it is, Cho is forced to flee for his life to the rival Engineers and across the Habitat itself to see if things will remain as they are or if life on the ship can be changed for the better.
Roy respects his audience enough to trust that they’ll be able to follow the story he’s telling without the need to over-explain things. For a world as strange as the one that he has conjured up for this series, that can make parts of the narrative difficult to follow. However, close attention (and a re-read) will make one appreciate the effort Roy put into building this world. This approach also works because the general direction of the story is pretty familiar and doesn’t need special attention.
“Habitat” also has a distinctively lush look about it, perfectly reflecting the setting of a sci-fi world gone to seed. Metal structures sport visible signs of wear and are surrounded on all sides by greenery. Even some of the machines double as walking forests thanks to years of assumed botanical accumulation. The tribal nature of the world is also further emphasized by the locals who go around in either loincloths or ratty old uniforms and wield bows and arrows while using the powered armors still available to them. Roy probably could’ve done more with the ending which does end on an abrupt but hopeful note. Even so, it all adds up to an entertaining one-and-done volume
The fact that I’m writing anything about this volume at all likely means that I’m a bad person. After all, vol. 3 had that scene where ten-year-old protagonist Rudy (who is actually a thirty-something otaku NEET who has been reborn into this fantasy world) grope fellow 10-year-old Eris with the intent of getting it on with her when she shows up in his bedroom the night of his birthday. The scene was as creepy-and skin-crawling as you’d expect and was likely the last straw for anyone reading this series who was putting up with its fanservice tendencies in order to appreciate the redemptive arc for its main character. I should’ve done just that. But the volume ended with an explosive climax that had me thinking the end might be near and I wanted to see if it could turn things around for the finale.
“Mushoku Tensei” doesn’t end with this volume. In fact, it seems to be gearing up for an even longer storyline here as Rudy and Eris are transported to the Demon continent and meet Ruijerd, a member of the widely-maligned Superd race. Rudy also has some encounters with one of the gods of the land who wants to advance his own agenda through the boy, and we find out that the magical explosion which transported the kids to this new land may be a sign that the big, bad demon Laplace is starting to rise again. Which means it’s clearly a sign for our heroes and the narrative to shift gears into an RPG-esque guild-joining, quest-taking state of affairs!
Last week I wrote that perpetual hot-mess series “Ajin” would likely have to become boring in order for me to finally give up on it. That’s effectively what “Mushoku Tensei” has managed here. I don’t have the patience to put up with its skeevy loli-fanservice tendencies (and there’s even more of that in this volume) if the narrative is just going to rehash RPG tropes on the page. Which begs the question that if there was a series with a story interesting enough to justify the disagreeable elements of “Mushoku Tensei,” would it be worth reading? With luck, I’ll never know. After my time with this title, I’ll take the easy way out and just stop reading it when the idea of groping a ten-year-old becomes a plot point.
I’ve read some crap this year, and I’ve also read a lot of very good comics as well. Yet there hasn’t been anything which has surprised me. With most of this year’s comics, they’ve been entertaining along expected and established lines. There haven’t been any out-of-the-box shocks which have come my way. Until now. I was expecting this latest volume of “The Walking Dead” to be good as all of the recent volumes have been. What I didn’t expect it to do was deliver was the most surprising read of the year (so far).
There are merits to this volume. Bendis’ dialogue, now that he’s back to having real people talk to each other, feels more energized and believable than it has in a while. Maleev’s art perfectly captures the grimness of the story while taking periodic stylistic departures to remind you of his range. There’s also a certain appeal in seeing the series tap into current events and letting the rage in them boil over into a full-on riot. None of this matters in my final consideration of this volume. The simple fact is that Bendis and Maleev’s failure to get the issues in this volume out in a timely fashion has left me convinced that they don’t care as much about this series as its incendiary subject matter would indicate.