February 29, 2020
Doctor Strange: Surgeon Supreme vol. 1 -- Under the Knife
When I heard that Mark Waid’s run on “Doctor Strange” was getting a relaunch, I was just glad to hear that he’d still be writing this series. Sure the “Surgeon Supreme” subtitle sounded a little goofy, but he was a surgeon at one point, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I read the most recent volume of the series and found out that there’s a very good reason for this subtitle. Waid has gone and undone one of the title character’s defining traits, and done it in a way that actually creates more complications for him rather than less. I’m definitely curious to see how the writer handles a character who is confident and arrogant enough to think that he can handle commitments from two different callings at once and not have either of them suffer. “Under the Knife” is likely going to present a rude awakening for the doctor, but one that should look fantastic with “Doctor Aphra,” “Black Panther,” and “Spider-Man” artist Kev Walker providing the art.
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February 28, 2020
Harrow County Omnibus vol. 1
I was always curious about this series as I saw new issues and volumes offered month after month in these solicitations. While Cullen Bunn is a decent writer and Tyler Crook is a great artist, the series never quite captured enough of my attention to pick it up. That Dark Horse was selling each four-issue collection for $15 didn’t really help things either.
Now the series has arrived in omnibus format and we’re getting the first half of the series (16 issues) for $30. That’s enough to convince me to finally give this series a shot. While I like the creative team, the fact that it’s an ongoing Dark Horse title that actually ran to completion suggests that they were doing something right. As for what “Harrow County” is about, the solicitation text tells me that it involves a young woman who lives out in the monster-infested woods and finds out about her connection to said monsters. Should be interesting to see if this was worth waiting for once July rolls around.
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February 26, 2020
Generation One (One-Shot)
Guess what? The DCU is getting rebooted again. Well, maybe reboot is too strong a word. “Continued” may be a better one based on what I’ve heard is planned for it. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and a lot of other current heroes are either getting aged up, retired, or both to make way for a new generation of heroes. If that sounds like a rather extreme thing to do, then consider the fact that DC has been losing ground to Marvel ever since “Rebirth” and they just haven’t found a sustainable way to keep the growth they manage with all previous relaunches. So it’s time to do something REALLY different.
And it looks to have started with the firing of DC co-publisher Dan Didio. He was at DC for close to two decades, been running things for a little more than half that, and had fans braying for his blood for just a little longer. I’m not one of those and kicking out Didio as abruptly and unceremoniously as DC did seems like a mistake. If they’re going to try and make a major change like “Generation Five” is supposed to be, it would make sense to have someone who knows the business inside and out like him on hand to make sure it goes smoothly. At least Didio can sit back and play the “Don’t Blame Me” card if this latest stunt goes over like “New Coke” did.
That said, it’d be interesting if this does succeed and we wind up getting a lot of new superheroes and creatives into the industry. DC is even said to be recruiting outside the normal comic channels for this. I’d like nothing more than to see the company succeed in what they’re doing here and find some lasting success as a result. I also think I’ll be fine with losing the current versions of the characters as well because they’ve already had so many great stories written with them that I could probably spend the next decade just catching up on them all.
The problem facing this relaunch is an expectation as to why it should be any different than the previous ones. The New 52 and Rebirth started out strong before sales settled back down to normal levels, and while the existing fanbase is likely going to be curious regarding these new changes a good portion is also likely to be pissed off by them as well. I applaud DC for swinging for the fences on this. I just hope they don’t wind up smacking themselves in the face and knocking themselves out in the process.
Before this happens, however, you can look forward to...
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February 24, 2020
The three issues actually written by Waid in this volume are arguably the best he’s offered up on his run so far. “Strange, Visitor” has the Doctor barging into a home in Kansas to stop a demonic invasion while the parents inside try to keep up with him and his arrogance. It’s a fast-paced tale that showcases Strange’s arrogance and kindness while serving up a solution that’s both logical and magical at the same time. Then comes the title story which has the Doctor needing to perform a life-or-death surgical procedure that requires the full use of his damaged hands. So what does he do? He makes a deal with a demon and a bet on some magical odds, which will no doubt come back to haunt him later on. The last issue, “The Secret of the Ancient One” follows up on the immediate fallout from that decision while drawing a line under this part of Waid’s run.
Had these issues come out back in the 90’s, or even the 00’s, there would’ve been a lot more talk about what the writer does to the character here. Waid effectively undoes one of Strange’s defining characteristics in the space of a single issue and it’s hard not to feel a little bit of story-based whiplash from that. As we find out in the following issue, however, there are consequences for it and the Doctor is going to have to do some work in order to get back. It’s a good spot for the doctor to be in, from a storytelling perspective, and these issues make a good case for following what Waid will be doing on “Doctor Strange: Surgeon Supreme.”
That series will have Kev Walker providing the art, and he’ll make for a worthy follow up to the efforts from Jesus Saiz and Javier Pina here. The former really kills it in the two issues he illustrates here, giving the volume its most shocking sight in a full-page splash from “The Choice.” Andy MacDonald and Lalit Kumar Sharma also provide decent art in the stories they illustrate from Tini Howard and Pornsak Pichetshote in the Annual collected here. The creators’ work in the Annual is fine for what it is, but it’s not quite enough to escape the feeling that Marvel just ginned up some filler with it to pad out this otherwise good collection.
February 23, 2020
What happens when the woman who can remember everything that’s happened in this world loses her memory? That’s the premise for this volume as the title character emerges out of the woods of Southern Japan in late ‘73 with no memory of who she is. Fortunately she meets up with Ryozo, a young researcher who takes her to a nearby hospital. Even though her memory stubbornly refuses to return, she’s plagued by dreams of Earth’s past that only serve to traumatize her. Good thing that Ryozo’s such a nice guy as he takes her in and they start a life together. Eventually they tie the knot and have a kid together. Which brings on a new kind of tragedy as the woman Ryozo loved becomes a shell of herself while their kid becomes the new Emanon.
I’ll admit that development prompted another slight uptick in my interest for this series. Mainly because the previous volume’s revelation that the current Emanon’s memories pass into her child’s, leaving her a shell of her former self, created a plot hole when you consider that we saw her mom walking around just fine in the first volume. Writer Shinji Kaijo looks to be digging into that towards the end of the volume and it provides a decent plot hook for the next volume. Maybe it’ll even tie into the mystery of Emanon’s brother and why he can blow stuff up with his mind.
Before we get to that point, it’s more of the same languid “Emanon” business of the title character hanging out with a guy her age, talking about stuff, and generally being propped up by Kenji Tsuruta’s lovely art. Even now that the plot has acquired some direction, Tsuruta’s art remains this volume’s main selling point. Which this series has been doing, apparently. Editor Carl Horn explains in his afterword that Dark Horse is pursuing the fourth volume of this series, which hadn’t come out when they licensed these first three volumes. It makes me wonder why there wasn’t an “...and all future volumes” clause included when this series was licensed, but I’m glad that it looks like we won’t have another Dark Horse manga fading into an indefinite hiatus.
February 22, 2020
It’s been a while since I’ve written about the exploits of Hachiken and company. That hasn’t been because of any decline in the overall quality of this series, just that there have been other titles that have demanded my attention. Vol. 12 marks the start of the title’s march towards its end (vol. 15 will be its last) with the start of the “Tale of Four Seasons” arc and Hachiken’s plans for the future. He finally knows what he wants to do with the rest of his time at Ezo Ag: Start a business. Not just any business, one focused around growing (delicious) pigs to sell. The good news is that he’s got a starter pig and Mikage’s family is willing to rent him the land and give him the necessary materials to help raise it and others. The bad news is that because he’s a student with limited resources, he needs to convince his dad to invest in his plan. While Hachiken’s dad is open to the idea, he’s rejected every plan his son has sent him so far. The ugly news is that the only person Hachiken has been able to bring on as a business partner is Ookawa, whose handiness and skills at hard work are balanced by his generally lazy and selfish personality.
These are only the parts of vol. 12 that are centric to its protagonist. Mangaka Hiromu Arakawa also finds time to talk about Mikage’s academic struggles, the ongoing trials of Komaba and his family, and even Yoshino’s two-week study abroad in France. There is A LOT going on in this volume and at times it can feel like the mangaka is simply rushing through things to get to the end. Most of the time it feels like she’s just cutting out the boring filler stuff and focusing on all of the actions that are central to “Silver Spoon’s” main story. That being Hachiken’s struggles to grow as a person and become someone capable of standing on his own. In showing that, vol. 12 is a success. At the same time, it makes it clear that he’s got a lot more work ahead of him in the three volumes to come.
February 21, 2020
It has an art style that owes a deep debt to Hayao Miyazaki’s work on “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.” There’s also the fact that it makes a big deal out of making meals from fantasy creatures like “Delicious in Dungeon” does. Which means that “Drifting Dragons” is kind of a mash-up of two of my favorite manga. Given that, I can’t help but feel that I should’ve enjoyed this first volume more than I actually did.
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February 19, 2020
It's a vampire story with two protagonists. One of whom is clearly more interesting than the other.
February 17, 2020
Man, I’d forgotten that vol. 5 was published at the end of 2017. I thought it had only been a year since it came out and “Drifters” was actually managing something resembling an annual schedule. Silly me. Anyways, the latest battle in the war against the Black King is getting underway at the start of this volume as Nobunaga attends to its final preparations and Toyohisa beams with excitement at the fighting to come. Which is pretty impressive as the Black King’s army musters armored giants, dragons, and a ton of orcs to attack the Drifters’ fortified hillside position. Fortunately they’ve got Nobunaga’s smarts on their side to help counter this numerically superior force. Problem is that the Black King’s team has someone in their ranks who is veeeeeeery familiar with these tactics and is looking to take him out once again.
It’s a good thing that mangaka Kohta Hirano delivers on the action here as it’s the only thing this volume has to offer. Things like watching the golems get taken down, or seeing Toyohisa commandeer a dragon and turn it on the Black King’s army are pretty awesome. Problem is that it’s all for naught because this is the part of the story where the protagonists have to lose before they can win again. Seeing that happen is about as much fun as it sounds, especially since it feels like the Ends didn’t really have to do any actual work to succeed here. I’ll give credit to Hirano for delivering a slam-bang finale as Toyohisa leads some dwarves on a final rampage while Hijikata’s supernatural PTSD looks to get the better of him in the end. Vol. 6 of “Drifters” is a pretty decent read overall, but I expect more from a series when I know that its next volume isn't likely to be out for another two years.
February 16, 2020
“Critical Role” is a hugely popular web series where voice actors roleplay their Dungeons & Dragons characters over the course of an evolving storyline that has spawned its own fandom, a ton of merchandise, and the most-funded TV & Film Kickstarter in history. Because it’s always easier for me to find an entry point into things I’m unfamiliar with through comics, I decided to make my first experience with it through the comic-book miniseries it spawned. As the “Origins” in the title would imply, it shows what the cast was up to before the series started. What they were up to involves mucking about (literally and figuratively) around the swamp town of Stilben. Half-elf rogue and ranger siblings Vax’ildan and Vexahlia are investigating a potential curse on the town, gnomish bard Scanlan and goliath barbarian Grog are adventuring with a party that has just raided a nearby cult stronghold, and dragonborn sorceror Tiberius and half-elven druid Keyleth have found themselves with some very unsavory people who are also trying to figure out what’s going on with the town.
I’m not giving away anything to say that all of them team up to eventually get to the bottom of the happenings in Stilben. What matters is that series creator Matthew Mercer with writer Matthew Colville and artist Olivia Samson make it an engaging and generally amusing journey to get there. While the characters are likeable and the dialogue and art frequently filled with funny bits, this first volume of “Critical Role” could’ve used some judicious editing. While I generally liked the dialogue, there’s honestly too much of it in this particular story. Were I to hazard a guess, the main appeal of the web series is from having the actors act out and ad-lib with their characters as much as they can. I’m assuming this because it’s the only explanation as to why Mercer and Colville would have their characters ramble on as long as they do here.
Still, what’s here isn’t bad and it makes for a decent fantasy adventure with some good comedy along the way and appealing art from Samson. This wouldn’t normally be enough to get me excited about the next “Critical Role” comic, but this one will have a seasoned veteran of licensed comics at the helm: “Star Wars: Thrawn & X-Wing” writer Jody Houser. Based on her work with those titles, I’m optimistic about vol. 2 being a substantial improvement over this one.