July 31, 2020
Alien: The Original Screenplay HC
I’m mentioning this hardcover here less for my expectations of its overall quality than what it represents. As with all collected editions solicited from Dark Horse, “Alien: The Original Screenplay” is advance-solicited by two months. Which means it will come out in December -- an “under the wire” publication given that after having them for over 30 years, the publisher will be losing the rights to “Aliens,” and “Predator,” once 2021 rolls around. It’s just one more knock-on effect of the Disney/Fox merger; though, it looks to be the last obvious one to affect Dark Horse.
So if you want this adaptation of Dan O’Bannon’s first-draft screenplay for “Alien,” back when it was known as “Star Beast,” then you’d better get it when it ships in December. While Marvel has republished a good chunk of Dark Horse’s “Star Wars” comics, they have yet to get around to reprinting the adaptation of George Lucas’ first draft of “Star Was,” “The Star Wars.” Possibly for good reason, since it was kind of crap. Will writer Cristiano Seixas and artist Guilherme Balbi deliver something better with this project? If nothing else, they’ve certainly got a low bar to clear here.
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July 29, 2020
Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #1 (of 5)
I’ve heard of “Warhammer” over the years, of which “40,000” is its future sci-fi version, yet I’ve never really had a reason to really take an interest in it. Until now, as you may have guessed. That’s because in acquiring the “Warhammer” license from Games Workshop, Marvel has secured the talents of one of its superfans to write this inaugural miniseries and showrun the whole operation. The superfan in this case is none other than Kieron Gillen. As he’s a writer who routinely delivers on all of his projects, I’ll certainly follow him to the sci-fi wildlands of “Warhammer 40,000.” As for anyone who’s wondering who this Marneus Calgar is: He’s the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines and living legend within the universe of the game. As for how he became such a legend, that’s the story that Gillen and artist Jacen Burrows are going to tell. The solicitation doesn’t give us much to go on beyond the fact that Marneus is going to face a threat from his past, but when said past is said to include campaigns in something called the Black Crusades, it’s a safe bet to assume that whatever’s coming after him means business.
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July 27, 2020
I was hoping this arc was going to bring the series back to its old, nasty roots. Having it involve a crazed serial killer living in the sewers who takes bites out of girls will do that to you. What it ultimately winds up being is little more than a riff on your average underground horror story. That’s because a good chunk of it is given over to Narumi, who was captured by the killer in the previous volume, as she has to lead the other captured girls to safety as they all deal with broken appendages. She’s got the guts and the resourcefulness to do so, but she’s still up against a killer that’s more beast than human at this point. It all comes down to guessing who’s going to live to be rescued by Kuroko and her burly buddy Urara.
If I sound disappointed by this, it’s not because of the actual quality of the story. Mangaka Yoshimurakana does a good job in ramping up the tension during Narumi’s scenes and it’s ultimately satisfying to see Urara go toe-to-toe with the killer. It’s just that I was left expecting more from this arc when it comes to seeing this series try to push the envelope in terms of content. It’s yet another reminder that this series was at its best when it was trying to go completely over the top and find new ways to disturb the reader. That doesn’t happen here, unless you count the way the arc’s name, “‘Til Death Do Us Part” is invoked by cutting between the climactic sewer fight and Chiyo’s heartfelt talk with Hinako at a water park. Which is more disturbing in a, “...the hell is this?” kind of way as opposed to something genuinely stomach-churning.
July 26, 2020
Volume one was no fluke and vol. 2 of “Hillbilly” brings more of the same “Backwoods Appalachian ‘Conan’” charm to its table. This time wanderer Rondel and his Devil Cleaver mix it up with an actual legendary creature, the Tailypo, in a cautionary tale about the dangers of eating tail meat. There are also stories about the origin of Rondel’s friendship with talking bear Lucille, a 3-D dream involving the wolf who will eat the world, Rondel mixing it up with a hog-man named Hogslopp, and a story that starts with our protagonist agreeing to deliver some skins and ends with some rich farmers working for a man with a dead opossum on his head. As that last story should tell you, even if these stories appear familiar at the outset, they’ll usually wind up taking you to some strange and unexpected places either along the way or by their end.
All of the stories here are worth reading while creator Eric Powell’s art delivers the creepily rustic feel and impressive detail that I’ve come to expect from him. The other artistic contributions from Steve Mannion and Simone Di Meo are similarly impressive as well. That said, Di Meo’s story is colored by Warren Montgomery who gives the story a livelier look to it. While Powell’s art itself is great, it also has a drab sepia-toned look to it that doesn’t really add anything to the story. As I’m nitpicking here, though the individual stories are entertaining, it’s unclear at this point if the creator is working towards telling a larger one with this series. Are the hints with the stories about the wolf and James Stoneturner hints of something to come, or simply their own tales? Even if the latter turns out to be true, I’ll keep buying this series as long as the individual stories continue to be as good as the ones in this volume.
July 25, 2020
Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka has just come back to New York after spending several years in Nigeria. Not that the choice was her own, as she had to get a potential victim of genocide out of the country. A floral genocide, specifically. If that sounds strange, then you should know that “Laguardia” takes place in the future where aliens have made their way to Earth and the planet has several interplanetary travel hubs. Of which the titular New York airport is one. Future may have left her old life and a bewildered fiancee behind, but she has support here in the form of her grandmother who is an attorney specializing in immigrant rights -- both human and alien. Which is good because Future is also several months pregnant. With a kid who might be a human/floral hybrid.
“Laguardia” may take place in the future, yet it’s very much about the now. Writer Nnedi Okorafor dives right into the hot-button issues of racism and immigration with a sci-fi sheen that helps the messaging go down that much smoother. She’s also created an interesting world with its own issues with a memorable cast that tries to work through them. Said world is also marvelously realized through Tana Ford’s art. It’s teeming with life and imaginative alien designs that manage to be just as expressive as their human characters. Whether they’re emoting through tentacles, leaves, or bio-gelatin.
What holds this miniseries back from reaching its full potential is its lack of a plot to drive the action. Future’s circumstances provide the opening hook, but they fade in and out of primacy between then and the finale. That leaves an assemblage of subplots to vie for the reader’s attention, with none of them really breaking through. The end result feels like less than the sum of its parts: A well-intentioned plea for tolerance and understanding that never quite stops feeling like it’s preaching at the reader. Still, the world and characters are interesting enough that I’d buy another ticket if “Laguardia” makes another stopover in the future.
(Which seems more likely after it won the Eisner award for “Best Limited Series” the other night.)
July 24, 2020
Stokoe snagged five Eisner nominations this year: Two for his artbook “Grunt” and three for this one-shot. While I’m a big fan of his work, shelling out for the cover price and shipping of this single issue was still a big ask for me. It wasn’t until it got these Eisner nominations that I figured it was time to see what was up with the creator’s take on the Egyptian deity.
The answer to that is, “Not a whole lot.” “Sobek” starts off with a small raft of the god’s followers heading upstream to ask for his help in freeing their city. He agrees, takes a leisurely swim downriver and thereabouts to get there, encounters some resistance, fights Set, and that’s it. There’s no clever dialogue, no surprise plot twists, and no revelation at the end to make you think further about what you just read. I mean, you can imagine a caption at the end which says, “Maybe the cure was worse than the disease…,” but it won’t add any real depth to this story.
What “Sobek” does have going for it is Stokoe’s incredible art. He’s always been a meticulous artist and he drew the hell out of every scene here. Every page is filled with his intricate linework in service of some oddball concept. Whether it’s the trippy approach of the followers to their god, the crocodiles that pour from Sobek’s mouth before he speaks his first words, or the vibrant throw-down with Set, the art never disappoints. Neither does Stokoe’s beyond-chill take on the title character who treats every encounter like it’s just another thing. I can see how Stokoe earned the Writer/Artist Eisner nod here, but not the ones for Best One-Shot or Humor Publication. Those of you looking to see what he’s really capable of are recommended to check out “Wonton Soup” or “Orc Stain,” which can be had for only a little more than what it cost me to get this issue…
July 22, 2020
Vertigo's last gasp is a glorious one.
July 20, 2020
I’ve been banging on for a while about how this series has lacked for a strong narrative direction, even as most of the stories being told are still quite good. Well, this volume has finally addressed this issue. “Diamond is Unbreakable” finally has a direction again: Finding and stopping the serial killer lurking within Morioh. We even get a proper introduction to him in the first arc and while he’s not an epic-level threat like Dio was, this guy is still plenty creepy with his fetish for the severed hands of women. This is what gets him into trouble when Shigechi accidentally picks up the bag with the killer’s latest “prize” and takes it to school with him. What follows is a series of ordeals for this new antagonist that reach comical proportions. It’s unusual to see a bad guy put through the wringer like this, but it establishes that he’s smart and resourceful on his own terms and not the creator’s. Mangaka Hirohiko Araki knows how the game is played, though, and the arc wraps up with him giving the reader an even bigger reason to see this man brought to justice.
From there we get a one-off which shows the whole cast of this arc of the series coming together to acknowledge the threat and get everyone on the same page. So if you really weren’t sure that the series was laying into this new direction, this is actual proof of it. Afterwards is a short arc featuring Yukako Yamagishi, the girl with the hair-related Stand, as she tries to win Koichi’s heart again -- this time with the help of a woman who has her own beauty-related Stand. There are some catches and it eventually comes down to the schoolboy to save the good looks of the woman who loves him. While I think Araki’s heart was in the right place with this story, the way that the “romance” is handled through magic rather than actual consent may rub some people the wrong way. Koichi features again in the final storyline, which gets back to the main story and teams him up with Jotaro for a fight against the killer’s special stand. In short, vol. 5 delivers all of the quality action you’d expect from a volume of “Jojo,” only now it has an actual purpose behind it!
July 19, 2020
After more than 20 years I’ve finally gotten around to reading the hottest comic of 1998! Words can’t describe how hot “Battle Chasers” was when it launched, with its artist Joe Madureira coming off a hugely popular run on “Uncanny X-Men” that was largely driven by his art. Now he was launching his own series, with co-plotter and writer Munier Sharrieff, that would allow him to indulge his love of anime and manga to the hilt. That was the idea, at least.
While “Battle Chasers” launched to stellar sales and good word-of-mouth, it was quickly beset by delays, leading to only nine issues being published over the course of three years. Aside from “The Ultimates 3” and a couple of three-issue “Spider-Man” team-up stories, it was also Madureira’s last major work in the comics industry before he jumped over to create videogames like the “Darksiders” series, one based on “Battle Chasers” itself, and an upcoming one set in the “League of Legends” universe. As one of the people who followed the artist’s work on “Uncanny X-Men,” I was really looking forward to reading it after all the previews and attention it got from “Wizard.” My enthusiasm was also dampened by the magazine’s reporting regarding the many delays the series went on to experience after the first few issues…
Which is why I’m only getting around to reading it now, twenty-odd years later and after I picked it up in that Amazon sale a few weeks back. What I got was a reminder of how great an artist Madureira was back in the day as his work here is incredibly vibrant and full of energy and easily the best thing about the volume. The story is boilerplate fantasy stuff that mainly reads like writer Sharrieff was getting paid by the word here. I’ll admit that the story and character had potential to become interesting, but it’s potential that’ll never be realized. Based on the reviews and Metacritic score, you’d likely be better off spending the $30 this volume costs on the video game if you’re looking for a truly memorable “Battle Chasers” experience. (Sorry, Myron.)
July 18, 2020
Nearly five years after it was published, I still can’t make up my mind as to whether Benjamin Marra’s “Terror Assaulter: One Man War On Terror” is either the greatest thing I’ve read or the dumbest. “Night Business,” on the other hand, is considerably easier to wrap my head around. It’s the creator’s ode to the sweaty, trashy, bloody glory of 80’s cinema that’s filled to the brim with strippers, drug dealers, serial killers, cults, and street thugs. The title’s protagonist, Johnny Timothy, is one of the latter, working as an enforcer for Glitz Glam, a company that manages dancers. Both artistic and exotic. Unfortunately for them, there’s a masked killer going around and murdering strippers with a knife. Johnny knows that this is bad for business, but it doesn’t become personal until Chase, one of his friends and the company’s best dancer, gets knifed within an inch of her life.
If you think that this is going to lead our hero down a complicated path of vengeance, violence, and violent vengeance, then you’d be absolutely correct. Not that he’s the only one to head down that path, as Chase has her own agenda to follow once she’s out of the hospital. This is a much longer work than “Terror Assaulter” and presented in a more straightforward fashion as well. Which can lead you to feel that Marra is simply going through a checklist of 80’s tropes that he wanted to include here. Yet, there’s still a feeling of self-awareness in the dialogue that lets you know the creator isn’t taking things too seriously. The same is true of the art, which feels like it starts at self-parody and then tries to work its way back towards actual seriousness.
All of this leads me to believe that publisher Fantagraphics will only publish either comics that function as high art, or are dumb enough to make early 90’s Image titles look as such. “Night Business” clearly trends towards the latter, even if it feels like there’s enough craft behind it to keep it from fully crossing over into “so bad it’s good” territory. It’s still a fun read for those who can appreciate the trashiest bits of 80’s culture.