October 17, 2020
This will be the fourth collection of comics written by Garth Ennis that I’ve read this year, and it’s safe to say that the writer has been having something of an off year. Yes, I’m saying that “Out of the Blue” doesn’t measure up to the lofty standards of the writer’s past work either. This is in spite of the fact that it’s a sequel to one of Ennis’ old “War Stories,” “Archangel.” “Blue” finds its pilot, human bad luck magnet Jamie McKenzie posted -- with his lovely wife -- at a new base where he makes the worst kind of first impression by crashing into a plane that was signaled to land at the same time he was. The base commander is not amused by this and puts the pilot with Ranjaram, the Indian who is disliked by everyone (because he’s an Indian), and made to fly the twitchiest plane in the roster. After this start, you’ll be wondering how things can get worse for Jamie, but he’s nothing if not pessimistic about his chances!
So if reading six chapters, originally published as two hardcover original graphic novels, regarding McKenzie’s terrible luck sounds like a good time, then “Blue” has you covered. You’ll get to see the pilot showcase his amazing skills in combat and then come back to base to stumble over how to talk with Ranjaram, be bullied by base commander Archie, and despair at the thought that his wife may be cheating on him. The plot is really just a collection of rambling episodes like these without an overarching plot to give them focus. Ennis does a good job of capturing the day-to-day gallows humor the war engenders, but the overall narrative feels slight. You’re left wishing that the writer had focused on one thing from these issues -- like the disfigured pilots who wind up being re-integrated into society and the war effort -- than giving us a broadside of plot points.
The volume does have great art, though, courtesy of Keith Burns. He’s got a keen eye for detail that makes the aerial combat scenes viscerally entertaining, which is good because there are a lot of them in this story. Better still is that his style also gives the many conversational scenes their own intensity as well, with Burns being quite proficient at nailing the heated emotions each character is (mostly) trying their best to tamp down on. Still, I had more fun reading Ennis and Burns previous collaboration on “Johnny Red” than I did here, and the writer’s collaboration with Steve Epting, “Sara,” is still the best war comic of his that I’ve read this year. “Blue” isn’t bad, but now it comes down to seeing if Ennis’ latest go-round with Frank Castle can deliver the quality read that I’m used to getting from him.
October 16, 2020
The main arc of this volume feels like Aaron had a lot of cosmic stuff he wanted to put his characters through and decided to cram it all in here. Which is why you get to see: Thor infected by the Brood; Ghost Rider, She-Hulk, and Captain Marvel vs. The Silver Surfer, Terrax, and Firelord; what happens to Blade when he’s in space; and the Shi’Ar’s prison galaxy. It’s that last bit that’s most relevant to the main plot as Ravenstarr is currently holding eight quadrillion inmates and the Avengers have just found out that one of them is the new wielder of the planetary-level defense force known as the Starbrand. It’s just a matter of finding this individual and bringing them back to Earth where they belong.
Standing between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are Shi’Ar Majestor Gladiator, three characters who have “Herald of Galactus” on their resumes, and a whole lot of Brood. It’s a recipe for a lot of action and conflict, which is what this arc is mostly fixated on. Granted, Aaron knows how to write this stuff and Ed McGuinness returns to draw (most of) it. So it looks great and it’s usually moving too fast for you to stop and think about how frivolous it all is. That said, when the wielder of the Starbrand is revealed (and clever readers will likely be able to suss out the twist hidden inside it) it doesn’t quite have the punch you’re expecting. Mainly because the wielder is more of an idea wrapped in sci-fi migrant worker analogy than an actual character.
Better is the opening story which tells us all about the Starbrand of One Million B.C. Before he was the team’s “Hulk” he was just a small caveman named Vnn who wanted to live with his handsome lover Brrkk in this sweet garden they found. Unfortunately, the Deviants want this garden and the power lurking under it for themselves. Even if it’s obvious that Vnn and Brrkk are the caveman-naming equivalent of Adam and Steve, it’s still a sweet story of love, loss, and a superpowered T-Rex. Dale Keown’s burly and detailed art (with two pages of Andrea Sorrentino doing his best Frank Quitely) help to sell it all, and make me wish we’d see more of these Avengers of One Million B.C. Being the best part of this volume tends to provoke a response like that.
October 14, 2020
FINALLY! Hickman and Dragotta's fictional apocalypse has more than enough style to make up for any lack of substance.
October 12, 2020
BARBARIANS OUT! That’s the rallying cry of the politicians from Kyoto as they despair at the savages -- you know, like the British, the Dutch, and us Americans -- that are infesting random small parts of the nation. However, it’s not like Japan can just close itself off from the world as doing so might be an invitation for other countries to open it up again. This time with lots of guns and generally superior technology. Shogun Iemochi recognizes this and, surprisingly, so does Emperor Komei. The problem is that the Emperor is too weak-willed to do anything about it and Iemochi’s efforts to try and bridge the gap between the sides are thwarted by either extreme views or extreme rudeness. Fortunately she still has her close advisors, including “Prince” Chikako to offer suggestions and advice on how to keep the country from sliding further into chaos.
Mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga continues the trend of these past few days regarding series that are actually talking about our present day instead of their historical/fantasy worlds. I know that Japan’s issues with immigration aren’t exactly the same as ours, but the basic sentiment behind them is similar enough that Iemochi’s situation comes off as all too familiar. Still, there’s a struggle between both sides to come out on top, which is a refreshing change for “Ooku” as I’ve been used to seeing one side (usually the bad one) dominate the other for an extended period.
Speaking of those who used to be on the other side, Chikako continues to get a substantial role in the events of this volume as well. The situation between the woman and her mother comes to a tragic resolution early on. It manages to avoid coming off as a total bummer, but it’s still really sad to read. From there, the princess masquerading as a prince gets to experience some lighter material as Tensho-In’s cat takes a liking to her over her master. The most intriguing bit for Chikako comes at the end when the problem of succession comes up. Iemochi has a problem and Chikako has a solution. The thing is that this solution is so awkward that it brings “Ooku” the closest it has ever come to having an overtly comic cliffhanger ending.
October 11, 2020
Max Winter used to be an outlaw. He, his brother, and their gang used to rob from those who had too much money, and they left more than a few bodies in their wake. Now it’s 1939 and Max is an old man who makes a living by writing thinly veiled versions of these adventures for a Western pulp magazine. But times are tough and circulation is down, so writing doesn’t pay what it used to. As circumstances conspire to make Max’s situation with his wife Rosa even more precarious, he starts to figure a return to the good old days might be the only way for him to make it through. That is, until a figure from his past shows up with a plan right along those lines. The best part is that the people they’re robbing from are a group that really deserves it: The Nazis.
Brubaker and Phillips’ is about a lot of things. The way the elderly are treated. The decline of print media. The resurgence of fascism. The difficulty of finding good health care. The problems of an indifferent society. I could go on, but “Pulp” is, more than anything else, just a really good example of “geezer noir.” Max is an effortlessly sympathetic protagonist, regardless of his history, and Brubaker makes sure his story has some interesting twists to keep it from being too predictable. Phillips’ art is on point as always, giving us a wonderfully gritty pre-war vision of New York, made all the more vibrant by his son Jacob’s colors.
It does bear mentioning that while “Pulp” is about a lot of things, just about all of the subjects it brings up transcend the era that’s being written about here. While Brubaker and Phillips do an excellent job of evoking New York in ‘39, this story could easily be set in the present day without changing too much of its core narrative structure. So while this story may take place in a bygone era, its subject matter is timeless. Regrettably so in some cases, but only if we fail to learn from this lesson about the past.
October 10, 2020
Scott Snyder’s run (and it’s also James Tynion IV’s too) reaches its climax with this volume. I’ve found his “Justice League” to be a little uneven overall. While the writer did his best to try and “Go Big” with every arc, they never quite connected in the way that I’d hoped they would. Either they fell victim to Snyder’s tendency to simply “Nope” the heroes’ plan, or the storytelling fell prey to predictability. Still, each storyline had energy going for it, and generally incredible art from start to finish. Even though “Justice/Doom War” feels like it’s going to fall prey to some of this run’s pitfalls, Snyder & Tynion actually manage to “Go Bigger” with a lot of the storytelling here, thanks to the help of artists Jorge Jimenez, Francis Manapul, Howard Porter, Bruno Redondo and Daniel Sampere.
At least, that’s how it is until the end. Which is when Snyder pulls out the biggest “NOPE” of his writing career at DC and plays it on the story itself.
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October 9, 2020
Things go from bad to worse for Zeke Jenkins and his family in this volume. First his dad has a bad run-in with the local voodoo priestess. Then, after crawdads start killing people Zeke has to find out if it has anything to do with the Jedediah Seed. To no one’s surprise, the seed is fully responsible and it has mutated into a wild variety that doesn’t require its namesake’s permission to grow. While all this is going on, Monica Thorne is continuing to increase her grip on Freetown’s citizenry by spreading her special brand of produce all around the town. Eventually Jedediah realizes that he can’t solve this problem by working at it from around its edges. He’s going to have to go to its source: Monica herself. The thing is that it’s not entirely her fault, as Zeke gets a vision that shows him what really happened the night his mother and Monica almost died.
“Root of All Evil” was building itself up to be a real game-changer for the series. Things were getting out of control with killer crawdads and plant-controlled people walking around. Jedediah’s penchant for keeping secrets was also finally coming back to bite him in the worst way, while Monica was preparing to flex her newfound muscle. All of these things were threatening to come together at the very end to change the shape of the series into something else. Maybe a full-on open conflict between Monica and her followers and the Jenkins family in the plant-ravaged ruins of Freetown.
That doesn’t happen. In fact, the end of vol. 3 came off as strangely anticlimactic after all of the buildup to it. It felt like creator Rob Guillory was getting ready to switch things up in a big way, but changed his mind at the last second. I’m not saying that the ending to this volume doesn’t work, as that final page suggests some dark potential for Zeke’s storyline in vol. 4. “Root of All Evil” ultimately comes off like a case of over-promising and under-delivering to me. Disappointing as that may be, it’s not enough to put me off the series yet.
October 7, 2020
Faith is a twentysomething living in New York with a keen interest in the ways of magic. It basically amounts to a bunch of weird-looking doodles in her notebook, but she keeps hoping that it’ll spring into something more. Then she meets Poppy and things start becoming magical. Not only is Poppy a skilled lover, she introduces Faith to an exclusive side of the city that she could only dream about entering before. Poppy also has a father who takes a keen interest in Faith as well, as he looks to nurture her artistic side. The only way our protagonist could be happier is if people around her stopped dying suddenly. From a stalker of Polly’s, to a couple of her friends, it almost feels like the universe is trying to send Faith a message about the path she’s on. The question is whether or not Faith is having too much fun in her new life to notice.
After the whole “Batpenis” debacle at DC, Brian Azzarello took his latest creator-owned project, with artist Maria Llovet, to the folks at BOOM! who have no problems with penises, vaginas, boobs, and sex in general in their comics. I’m mentioning all this because “Faithless” is a sexually frank series that has its characters engaging in all kinds of trysts, and some sex-themed death and retribution scenes as well. This is not a comic for prudes, in other words. As to whether or not it’s all relevant to the story, I’d say it’s tied in well enough with Llovet making it all look enticing and horrifying as needed.
The problem is with the story itself. “Faithless’” first volume comes off like a bog-standard story of someone losing themselves as they forsake their friends in moving up the social ladder. To Azzarello’s credit, he does a good job of selling the idea that Faith would be genuinely tempted by what’s laid out in front of her. He’s just going to be hard pressed to come up with an end to this story that doesn’t see his protagonist punished for her decisions, or deciding to ditch it all and go back to being an ordinary person. The supernatural trappings to this story do allow it to stand out a bit from stories with similar plots, but not by much. If anything, the story could’ve used some more devilish details to liven things up.
October 5, 2020
Three years. That’s how long it’s been since the last volume of “Master Keaton” was published in the U.S. and the last time anything from Naoki Urasawa hit these shores as well. After “Monster” and “20th Century Boys” established him as one of the most acclaimed mangaka around, you’d think we’d have received something new from him sooner than this. Yet “Billy Bat,” the series he did after “20th Century Boys” has yet to be picked up, and there’s no word as to whether or not his current series, “Asadora,” will find its way out here. So we should be grateful that we’re getting this one-volume story from him at all. Even though it left me wanting it to be better than it actually was.
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October 4, 2020
The latest volume, "Cruel Summer," isn't just good, it completes the circle of the series.