August 17, 2019
This volume gets off to an amazing start with a one-off issue that spotlights the Iron Fist of 1,000,000 B.C. Actually, she’s not called that at first because she winds up being the very first… in probably the most ignominious way possible. Sentenced to die for teaching cavemen the city of K’un-Lun’s greatest secrets (read: martial arts), Fan Fei winds up showing the mighty dragon Shou Lao a thing or two and is expelled from the city for it. She’s left to face the terrors of the outside world -- most of them of the gorilla variety -- and conquer them on her own. It’s a story that absolutely builds on what has come before (the Fraction/Brubaker/Aja run of “Immortal Iron Fist” in this case) but does it in a way that feels like it’s adding something new to the character’s mythos. That it also features the utterly stylish and inventive art of Andrea Sorrentino, tweaking his style in a way that compares favorably to Frank Quitely, makes it easy to recognize as the high point of this current “Avengers” series.
If only the title storyline was half as good. It does have some solid art from David Marquez who can effortlessly make a regular superhero fight look exciting, and a superhero vs. vampire fight even moreso. Yet the artist has a hard time elevating this one as it plays out pretty much as you’d expect. New vampire leader the Shadow Colonel is out to assume leadership of all vampires by killing the ones who refuse to follow him until he can get his hands on Dracula himself. Where’s Drac in all this? Running away to Russia with his tail between his legs in the hope that all the secrets he’s accumulated in his life will buy him a little peace before his death.
Unfortunately the Shadow Colonel is about as interesting as his name suggests. He’s got a cool Jin-Roh/Helghast look to him and no personality to go along with it. At least until the end when the one bit of characterization he gets winds up playing into an ending which has the bad guys winning this round. There’s some interesting stuff done with Ghost Rider that’ll pay off in either the next volume or the one after that and it’s never not interesting to see Blade show up to murder some vampires. Yet even with Aaron pumping all the casual craziness he can into this conflict, this “War of the Vampires” never comes off as exciting as it should.
August 16, 2019
I think it’s safe to say that “The Sandman Universe” was meant to save Vertigo. A series of titles spun off from the imprint’s most-loved, -acclaimed, -iconic series -- done with Neil Gaiman’s blessing and input -- that would revitalize the imprint’s flagging fortunes and usher in a new golden age. Maybe that’s overselling it a bit, but “The Sandman Universe” has now outlived Vertigo itself. All of the titles are coming back for a second year, and being joined by a new (old) one: “Hellblazer.”
Of the four titles that make up “The Sandman Universe’s” initial lineup, “The Dreaming” was the easiest sell for me. Not only was it set to feature the rich supporting cast of “The Sandman,” but it was also being written by Si Spurrier. His presence alone was assurance that this wouldn’t be a simple attempt to play the hits and remind everyone of the good old days. Spurrier is a writer who is always committed to doing something new or at least differently and that’s exactly what he does with this first volume.
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August 14, 2019
I find out if the prolific (former) Marvel writer has got his mojo back with his new creator-owned titles and "Superman: The Man of Steel."
August 12, 2019
Well, um, you see…
About “‘Prison School’s’ darkest secret” I mentioned in my last review: Somehow I had heard and/or gotten it into my head that the main storyline with Kiyoshi, Gackt, Shingo, Joe, and Andre was going to wrap up here. It would have them leaving the school only to be replaced by a new group of protagonists to continue the wacky and perverted hijinks that are this series’ stock-in-trade. Their introduction would apparently faceplant so hard that the series would wrap up two volumes later. That’s what I was expecting to read as I cracked open this volume.
It is not what I got at all. After a couple chapters which show us how a combination of Gackt’s PBR-sama and Ritsuko’s large-scale “Boob Goldberg” save the school from the Chairman’s helicopter crash, we’re back to regular service. Mostly. Shingo and Joe are outcasts because of their groping antics, while Kiyoshi is even more reviled because of his panty-clad boner-waving during the Shoulder Wars. Meanwhile, Gackt and Andre have lucked into being school idols because of their actions during said Wars, bringing them closer to Ritsuko and Meiko, respectively. (And yes, Andre being closer to Meiko is the S&M nightmare/fantasy you’re envisioning.)
With the main conflict wrapped up, there are still a few things to drive the action in this volume. Kiyoshi is trying to gather the funds that will allow him to pull off an awesome confession to Chiyo, while Hana tries to deal with her own feelings about him. Meanwhile, Gackt tries to deal with being desired by two women after Slut-sempai takes an interest in him. And Mari drops a bombshell on Kate in the last few pages. There’s some good wackiness here too, the best of which involves Gackt and Slut-sempai in a box, but it all kind of feels like mangaka Akira Hiramoto is stalling for time here. With the end of the series happening next volume, this reads like he was trying to see if he could stumble upon an idea which would keep the series going for a while yet. It didn’t happen here, so it’s probably for the best that things are wrapping up in vol. 14.
August 11, 2019
As far as penultimate volumes go, this is ahead of “Curse Words” but behind “The Wicked + The Divine.” I do appreciate the fact that vol. 9 of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s opus is still an accessible read. This is in the sense that it never felt like I needed to go back and re-read the previous nine in order to appreciate what was going on here. All I needed to remember was the general thrust of the many ongoing character arcs and conflicts in this series. Whether it involves the very bad blood that exists between Death and War, Xiaolan’s drive towards war, or Archibald Chamberlain being a slippery old bastard as always, it’s easy to appreciate everything that goes on here. I guess the question is whether or not “East of West” will wind up feeling like more than the sum of these parts by the time it’s over.
Even so, there’s much to appreciate in the execution of this volume. Hickman crafts such memorable dialogue as his characters speak almost entirely in veiled threats or ominous proclamations. All of them wrought to the point where they have dramatic weight -- any further and it’d all be laughable. As opposed to the bits of dialogue that intentionally serve to puncture the self-seriousness. This works in great concert with Dragotta’s beautiful art as it captures the epic nature of the characters and their tasks -- such as Death hard-fought slaughter of the Psalms. He gives the action its energy and the drama its gravitas, to the point where it’s hard not to be transfixed by a scene like Death and War making tense words amidst the wreckage of battle. Yes, this volume is not without its more opaque moments -- kinda wondering what happened to Death at the end of that flashback -- but the overall work has me very ready for the finale when it arrives.
August 10, 2019
It’s launch day for Stark Unlimited’s biggest project: The eScape. It’s the most immersive form of virtual reality known to man and it’s up for sale to everyone in the Marvel Universe. While most people are content to play around with all the toys that Tony Stark has made for them, there are those who just can’t play well with others and wind up banned from the system. Which makes them the perfect recruits for the Controller’s latest scheme. While he gets them back into the eScape to wreak havoc, he’ll siphon their brainpower in real life to become a living god. Still, it’s not like Stark hasn’t taken down the Controller many times before now. Which is why it’s a real problem when he’s taken off the board. That’s because the eScape’s firmware is built using the memory engrams of two people very close to Stark, and one of them wants a word with him.
“Stark Realities” is the payoff to a lot of stuff Dan Slott was setting up in the first volume. In addition to the eScape, we get to see how Jocasta’s identity problems play out, where Tony’s biological mom Amanda Armstrong fits in, what Andy Bhang brings to the table and what happens to Bethany, the compromised security head of Stark Unlimited. Best of all is how Aaron Stack gets to be both a huge jerk and a big hero, which is all I really want to see from him post-”Nextwave.” There’s also good stuff done with James Rhodes towards the end of the volume, and I’m still really curious to see what Slott’s plans for Arno Stark are. He’s still creepy as hell here, but his actions don’t quite scan as “supervillain” just yet.
This arc does have its problems, however. Slott (and Jeremy Whitley and Jim Zub, who pitch in on scripting duties) does his best to fill the storyline with twists and turns amid the conflict. Yet “Stark Realities” still feels overlong at six whole issue. I was left feeling that the storyline would’ve been stronger had the story been split into two arcs with the first half being about the controller and the second dealing with the antagonist inside the eScape. Oh, and as for the bits of the story that pick away at Stark’s sobriety? “Too soon” is all I have to say about that particular card being played now. Even if this does wind up being a decent volume overall, you’re left feeling that it could’ve been better if it had more focus.
August 9, 2019
It’s all about putting the pieces in place with this volume. As the title implies, this volume is the lead up to the main event that is “War of the Realms” and Jason Aaron still has some setting up to do. So it’s time to check in with the likes of Angela, Roz Solomon, Dario Agger, Baldur, Freyja, the Borson Brothers -- Odin and Cul, Malekith, and even Loki to find out what kind of role they’ll be playing in the upcoming conflict.
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August 7, 2019
(What, no podcast? John and my schedules didn't line up over the weekend, or during the week. But don't worry, my thoughts on Bendis' start at DC will be here this time next week. In the meantime...)
It’s the end of an era as this is the last volume of “Usagi Yojimbo” which will be published by Dark Horse. The publisher has been the comic’s home for close to 25 years and I thought that would be the case until creator Stan Sakai finally decided to call it quits. That didn’t happen and now IDW is “Usagi’s” new home and I’ll look forward to reading the Rabbit Ronin’s new adventures (In color!) when they’re collected.
While it’s probably a bit unfair to regard “The Hidden” as a series that represents an end of an era, that’s the position it finds itself in. It also has the distinction of being the rare volume-length “Usagi” story which puts it in the company of classics like “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy” and “Grasscutter.” “The Hidden,” quite simply, isn’t in their league. Yet it still manages to tell an engaging story featuring one of the most memorable players in “Usagi’s” supporting cast.
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August 5, 2019
The farm life isn’t all wacky fun as Hachiken learns in vol. 8. It’s here that he finds out the reason why Komaba won’t be coming back to Ezo Ag: His family farm has gone under and now he has to help take it apart before he starts working full-time to help pay off the debt they’ve accrued. We also find out that this was the “something” Komaba and Aki have been talking about for the past few volumes, so it’s not like mangaka Hiromu Arakawa is springing this on us out of nowhere. Still, Hachiken takes it about as well as you could expect. Which is to say that he spends a good portion of vol. 8 freaking out about it and trying to find some way to stave off the inevitable. While his efforts don’t pan out, they do wind up bringing him closer to Aki and we close out the volume seeing how he’s managed to change her fate by assuming what appears to be a terrible, terrible burden.
Said burden leads Hachiken back to the last place he wants to be in vol. 9: His parents’ apartment. While his plan is to get what he needs and then get the hell out, well… you can probably guess how that goes. It leds to a tense lunch with his mom and dad where he’s finally able to speak his mind to his uncaring father. Even if his words don’t appear to make much of an impact on his old man, Hachiken’s mom is moved enough that she decides to pay her son a visit to see what he gets up to at Ezo Ag. This is all to say that if vol. 9 lacks the drama of vol. 8, it at least manages to be more heartwarming in a sincere fashion. Something which is also tempered by subplots involving Hachiken running a fund to buy pigs that almost takes on a life of its own and how a computer virus threatens to ruin the boys’ Christmas party. Quality stuff all around, as everyone should be expecting from this series by now.
August 4, 2019
I know what you’re all thinking: Between this and “Lando: Double or Nothing” which is the better comic inspired by “Solo: A Star Wars Story?” Wait. You weren’t asking that? None of you were asking that!? Well, I guess it’s not hard to guess why, especially after this miniseries doesn’t really tell us anything that we couldn’t have guessed for ourselves. After the first issue opens by lightly cribbing from the movie, it quickly gets to the “Imperial Cadet” part of the title and we get to see just what it was like for a young Han Solo in the Imperial Academy.
Scratch that. You can probably guess exactly what it was like. Han is your typical rule-breaking wiseass who gets in ALL the trouble. It’s a familiar story and while Leonard Kirk tries his best to jazz things up with his energetic art, writer Robbie Thompson seems content to play by the rules. Except in the third issue where Han sneaks his fellow cadets onto a casino space station and things get enjoyable chaotic for a while. Then it’s back to the familiar drudgery of the main plot as we’re meant to find the question of whether our protagonist will embrace the rules of the Empire or his own personal desires genuinely suspenseful. If you think there’s an actual question there, then you’ll probably enjoy this miniseries more than I did.
This volume also contains the “Beckett” one-shot spotlighting Han’s morally ambiguous mentor from the movie. It’s written by Gerry Duggan with art from Edgar Salazar, Marc Laming, and Will Sliney. I’d tell you more about it, but if you weren’t interested in a miniseries about Han Solo as an Imperial Cadet I sure as hell don’t know how a “Beckett” comic is going to change your mind.