April 29, 2019
More than any other, this is the volume I’ve been waiting to re-read once it was announced that the “Silver Spoon” manga had been licensed for U.S. release. That’s because it finally introduces one of the most significant characters to the main story: Hachiken’s Dad, Kazumasa. (Really, it should be Yuugo’s Dad since Hachiken is the family name and I’ve just been messing it up since I started writing these reviews and… ah, let’s get on with it!) He’s only featured in ten pages of the first chapter, but the impression he makes is tremendous. That’s partly down to his intimidating character design, where every feature from his narrow eyes to permanent frown just radiates disapproval. It’s also due to how he systematically dismisses everything that Yuugo has accomplished at Ezo Ag with an efficiency that would be impressive it it weren’t so uncaring.
What makes Yuugo’s encounter with Kazumasa really memorable is what goes unsaid during its duration. The only mystery that “Silver Spoon” has maintained since it began is what caused its protagonist to get as far away from his family in Tokyo as he could. It isn’t spelled out for us here either. Yet watching Yuugo’s interactions with Kazumasa makes the reason for his actions more clear than any extended speech or internal monologue could. Yuugo’s helplessness in rebutting any of the points his dad brings up due to his intimidating presence feels quite relatable as well. It’s also telling that Kazumasa even brings out the serious side in Shingo in their brief encounter in the hospital.
This whole sequence in the opening chapter is a high point for the series and easily the most memorable part of the volume. While it’s nice to see Yuugo get back in time for the Agricultural Fest after-party and have a nice heart-to-heart with Aki about how all his effort allowed it to go off without a hitch, things get back into “wacky hijinks” mode pretty quickly. Which is fine since that’s “Silver Spoon’s” default state and one that it excels at. It’s just that the encounter with Kazumasa was transcendent by this title’s standards and it does leave you hoping the series would feel confident enough to give us drama like that a bit more often. Which it probably will if the final page of the last chapter in this volume is any indication.
April 28, 2019
Criminal: Bad Weekend HC
When I was talking about the two-issue “The Orville” miniseries in the Dark Horse Previews Picks, I mentioned that you could make a collection out of a two-issue miniseries. It’s effectively price-gouging your audience, especially if you put it in a hardcover, but you could do it. Now, guess what Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are doing for this latest “Criminal” graphic novel? That’s right, “Bad Weekend” is a collection of issues 2 & 3 of the title’s current ongoing series in a hardcover edition priced at $17. None of this sounds good on paper, until you hear that the creators are adding extra scenes to the story to flesh it out and up the page count to 72. Which was the same length as their excellent “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.” So there’s precedent here and I’m honestly willing to let it slide because it’s Brubaker and Phillips doing “Criminal.” I do wonder what the first collected edition for the current ongoing is going to look like now that this is coming out.
As for the actual story of “Bad Weekend,” it’s about a man who makes comics. Hal Crane has been in the industry almost since the beginning and he’s currently attending an out-of-town convention to receive a lifetime achievement award. While the solicitation text promises a look at the secret history of an industry “that’s always been haunted by crooks, swindlers, and desperate dreamers” it’s light on actual details of the plot. Which I’ve read elsewhere involve Crane’s assistant trying to manage the old man as he embarks on an ill-advised scheme to recover some old art of his. That’s a good setup, and should ultimately prove to be a great read once this hardcover hits in time for Comic-Con. Regardless of the weird way it took to get here.
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April 27, 2019
The Wild Storm vol. 4
Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s reimagining of the Wildstorm Universe has been light-years away from how it was originally conceptualized and is all the better for it. The WU’s initial success was driven by the hype it had from the Image launch along with the fact that it was Jim Lee’s imprint. Where did good writing figure into this? It didn’t. Not until Alan Moore showed up to write “Wild C.A.T.S.” It wasn’t until Ellis took over “Stormwatch” that the idea of a writer-driven comic at Wildstorm really started to hit its stride. Ellis turned “Stormwatch” into a must-read title and subsequently gave the imprint two of its signature titles: “The Authority” and “Planetary.”
It’s that former title which looks to figure into the finale of “The Wild Storm” most prominently as the cold war between International Operations and Skywatch turns hot and it’s up to Jenny Mei Sparks and her group of oddball superheroes to rein everyone in. I’ve appreciated the slow-burn approach the writer has employed with this series, which has fit well with how the WU was originally set up as our world but with all sorts of crazy government and alien-driven conspiracies behind it. While the fanboy in me is also plenty happy to see Ellis return to “The Authority,” the fact that it’s actually happening now means that I’d really like to see some kind of “post-credits stinger” for the series which involves the “Planetary” team. I doubt that’s going to happen, but I’ll live in hope until this volume arrives.
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April 26, 2019
Empowered vol. 11
Hey, it’s about goddamn ti-- I mean, it’s great to see another volume of Adam Warren’s consistently great superhero parody/actual superhero series. Yes, he’s been putting out spinoff miniseries like “Soldier of Love” and “Sistah Spooky’s High School Hell” with different artists, but there’s no replacing the feeling that you get from reading an actual numbered volume in this series. There may be plenty of times when Warren’s writing makes you want to club him with his thesaurus, but it’s more than worth it to see the expertly balanced blend of comedy, drama, and sentiment that you get with the main series. Vol. 11 promises more of the latter two than the first one after vol. 10 ended on the series’ first-ever cliffhanger. It was a doozy too: After Emp and Thugboy had an emotional heart-to-heart about the latter’s past, he went and pushed her off the roof. But that’s okay because he was being mind-controlled. What’s not okay is that he was being mind-controlled by the psychic brother of the deceased Mindf--- who’s as psycho as they come in comics. Fortunately Emp has Mindf---’s psychic ghost rattling around in her head to give her an edge in a fight where everyone (and I mean a full Gary Oldman-style “EVERYONE”) in the city is out to get her. It’s been something of a wait to see this volume, so I’m QUITE EAGER to see how it’s all going to turn out.
That said, it’s a credit to Warren that he’s been putting out new volumes in the series every other year in addition to the spinoffs. He’s got a long way to go before he dethrones the king of “Taking His Goddamn Time” in my book…
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April 24, 2019
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1: The Final Gauntlet
There were a few things that I was considering for this spot. However, I’d either just mentioned them a few months ago or was planning on issuing a backhanded recommendation, which would defeat the purpose of the whole thing. So I settled on this (latest) first volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Why? Because it comes to us from writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw -- the team supreme who gave us “Thanos Wins.” That final arc of the “Thanos” series may not have lent itself to being easily followed up on, outside of “Cosmic Ghost Rider,” but giving Cates and Shaw the reins of Marvel’s premier cosmic team strikes me as a smart move all around. What’ve they got in store for this first arc? Thanos may be dead, yet his legacy lives on as someone is destined to become the new Thanos! This leads to not just the Black Order becoming involved, but a new group called the Dark Guardians as well. It sounds like a lot to take in, except that I’m sure Cates and Shaw have a plan which involves thriving on all the crazy I’m expecting them to have stuffed into this first volume.
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April 22, 2019
One door closes and another opens…
As the previous volume made explicitly clear, we’re onto a new arc in this series. The “College Arc” to be precise. After settling things with Cartaphilius and managing her curses into a state of equilibrium, things are actually going well for Chise right now. Which means that the invitation for her to attend the local alchemist’s college couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only will she get a chance to learn even more about the world and rules of magic, but she’ll be able to meet all sorts of new and interesting people at the same time. You’re not wrong if you think that this is something that Elias is going to have a problem with. Which is why he’s made the decision to attend the college as a teacher.
There’s all sorts of fun worldbuilding to witness as mangaka Kore Yamazaki establishes the cast and curriculum of this college. From the cats who serve as dorm mothers, to Chise’s status as the rare mage to attend the college, and the predictably awry results of Elias’ first day as a teacher, we get a lot of interesting stuff to take in. We also get over a dozen new characters added to the cast, about a third of which are fleshed out in any meaningful detail here. Then there’s the hints of potential conflict for this new arc: Students who study Chise with gazes that belie simple curiosity, the Seven Shields of the university who are not all of the same mind regarding what to do with Chise, and the church is now VERY upset with Father Cullum and how he’s been handling Elias. Even if the rather large expansion of the cast at this point is mostly underdeveloped, there’s still plenty of new and compelling details that come with the story and the setting to suggest that this “College Arc” is going to be a good one.
April 21, 2019
In the afterword to Howard Chaykin’s roman a clef about the comics industry, he does his best to explain why he didn’t make it more obvious who the characters were based on -- Stan Lee and Jack Kirby excluded. He essentially says that the point of the story wasn’t to have it be a game of “Who’s that over there?” but “Who did that and why?” That’s fair enough, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the majority of the characters in his multi-decade story about the comics industry are barely qualify as one-dimensional ciphers. The three main characters are only distinguishable by the fact that they’re The African American, The Woman, and The White Guy Who Is Also A Protagonist. The stand-ins for Stan and Jack only manage to stand out because the connection between their real and fictional personas is easy to make, with all of the personality that you’d expect from them as well.
None of the other members of this 20-person cast can manage that, and Chaykin does them no favors by splitting up his narrative into snippets set in 1945, 1955, 1965, and 2001 in each issue. It’s hard for the miniseries to build up any kind of narrative momentum when the story keeps shifting time periods every six pages. Then again, the fact that there’s no narrative through line to follow between eras beyond the idea that, “Boy the people who created the comics industry sure were jerks/thieves/conmen/morally bankrupt/’all of the above’” doesn’t exactly make for compelling reading. All we’re left with are a bunch of mostly interchangeable talking heads throughout the years giving soundbites about how awful it is to work in comics.
Chaykin could’ve stood to glean more from “Satellite Sam,” his collaboration with writer Matt Fraction about the early days of TV. It covered similar ground, but did so with a lot more focus and a cast that was both smaller and more interesting. You’d better off reading all three volumes of that series than spending any money on the dull, joyless slog that is this one.
April 20, 2019
Over the course of “The Wicked + The Divine’s” run a series of six specials were released. They were loved. They were hated. They were finally collected into one volume before the series wrapped up. All of them, save for one story in the last were written by series writer Kieron Gillen and featured art from many people who weren’t Jamie McKelvie. Though he did contribute two pages in the last one to canonize the pun-tastic habits of his collaborator, which is the worthiest of all causes.
Gillen has stated that collecting all of the specials in the penultimate volume has been part of the plan since the beginning. So if you’re going into this expecting this to shed some series-altering insights into what has come before then you’re going to come away from this possibly ever so slightly disappointed. The historical specials mainly exist to provide some additional context for Ananke’s actions, to flesh out the rules of godhood a bit, and to allow some really talented artists to take a crack at “TW+TD.” In fact, a better name for this volume would’ve been “Ananke Shapes the Narrative (By Killing Lots and Lots of People).”
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April 19, 2019
There’s a moment early on in this volume that portends the worst for this series. It involves Lucy Weber, who picked up her father’s hammer at the end of the previous volume to become the new Black Hammer, and how she’s finally remembered everything and is going to tell the cast how they can finally get off the farm. Just as she’s about to start, Lucy is zapped away to parts unknown. This is done in as straight a manner as possible, without any hint of self-awareness on the part of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dean Ormston that they’ve engaged in the most obvious and aggravating way of prolonging a mystery. If this was how they were going to kick off this latest volume of “Black Hammer,” then what fresh hell awaited me within?
The answer, at first, is more DC-centric navel-gazing. More specifically, it’s DC/Vertigo-centric navel-gazing as Lucy finds herself in the Anteroom a run-down bar that’s a part of some kind of house of mystery. Or secrets. She encounters a smart-aleck chain-smoking bartender, the Devil himself, a dead man, and “The Storyman” and his family. It’s a constant stream of “Hey, ‘member this?” rather than an actual story as Lucy tries to find her way back to the farm. Things aren’t much better there as everyone is either spinning their wheels trying to make sense of what happened to Lucy, or dealing with the bizarre turns of good fortune they’ve encountered in their love lives.
What saves this volume, and me from chucking it and its spinoffs into my “to sell” pile, is that the creators eventually move past all this before the end. In fact, we actually get some genuine revelations regarding the true nature of the farm and what really happened to the missing heroes of Star City. These revelations imply bad things are in store for the world of “Black Hammer” and a final reckoning as well. It’s enough to get me to come back and see how it all ends in the next, and last, volume of the series.
April 17, 2019
This series about the beginning of Darth Vader's infamy is inextricably linked in my mind to its predecessor. For worse, and for better.