December 30, 2020
Star Wars: Legends of the Old Republic Omnibus vol. 1
You’d think that diminishing returns would start to set in when you’re doing a licensed spinoff comic based on another property within that same license. “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” however, is here to prove you wrong. The series, written by John Jackson Miller, and illustrated by Brian Ching and Bong Dazo, takes place before the classic “Knights of the Old Republic” videogame to tell the story of one Zayne Carrick. He’s a padawan who is seen as something of a lost cause by his peers and superiors, which is why his life is turned into a special kind of hell when he’s framed for murder by the Jedi Council. Now the only individual Zayne can rely on is Marn Hieroglyph, a con artist that he kept trying and failing to bring in. It’s the two of them, and some eventual friends, against the most powerful group in the Republic.
I was skeptical of this series at first. Trying to add on to the story of arguably the best “Star Wars” videogame seemed like a recipe for disaster. Except that Miller treads lightly on the ground covered there, with the actual tie-ins being subtler and more well-thought-out than you’d expect. Which are good things because the core story is pretty engaging and the main cast itself is very likeable. Toss in some good, if stylistically inconsistent, art from Ching and Dazo, and you’ve got an omnibus edition which is worth its hefty $125 price tag.
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December 28, 2020
Do you know who we haven’t seen a whole lot of over the course of this series? The humans from the Inside, that’s who. That changes here as the King who almost sacrificed Shiva in the previous volume gets a lot of page space as he reckons with his infirmity in failing to go through with the act. He also manages to get to know the girl a little better, as her knowledge of what happens to those who become Outsiders causes him to ask questions about what they really are. The problem is that the Kingdom’s existing knowledge of these beings is incomplete. Which is why the King is compelled to ask the High Priest for further knowledge, and winds up finding out all the answers he could want. More than that, too. Because where the King lacked certainty in believing that Shiva’s death would solve the Kingdom’s problems, the High Priest doesn’t have that problem. It’s just that his certainty doesn’t benefit the Kingdom. Just that of a higher power…
Vol. 9 also provides something I didn’t think we’d see in this series: Answers regarding the very nature of the Insiders and Outsiders. We get an interesting Creation lesson here that casts a different light on things, even if it doesn’t make things completely clear. It does give a good reason as to why the High Priest wants Shiva to be sacrificed and serves in kicking up the story’s drama content by its end. This leads to a spirited chase scene through the castle with Shiva, a gallant last stand, and a daring escape with a guard who may actually know who Teacher really is. Which all means the story is in good shape before we get to the volume’s ending.
...I don’t know how many more volumes there are in this series, but vol. 9 gave me some real “penultimate volume” vibes. Particularly with the cliffhanger that greets us at its end. My gut tells me that its devastating implications will be walked back a bit, even if vol. 10 turns out to be the finale. Still, that won’t stop the breath from catching in the throat of anyone who has been even a little invested in the relationship between Shiva and Teacher when they get to that final page.
December 27, 2020
Back in 2004, writer Kurt Busiek teamed with artist Stuart Immonen for a story called “Superman: Secret Identity.” It had a dubious high-concept premise: What if a kid named Clark Kent gained the powers of Superman, in a world where “Superman” was a fictional character like he is in ours. The end result, however, was an affecting, heartfelt tribute to the Man of Steel that went in some surprising directions and is still recognized as a fan-favorite story over a decade after its release.
Of course, when you’ve done a story that’s basically “Superman in the Real World” and have it come off as successfully as “Secret Identity” we all know what has to come next. Except that “Batman in the Real World” is kind of redundant. Busiek knew this too, which is why “Batman: Creature of the Night” is a much different kind of story than that classic “Superman” tale. It’s a much darker and sinister one, being a “Batman” story and all Fortunately for us, it’s not needlessly so.
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December 26, 2020
With a resume that includes works like “Summer Blonde,” “Shortcomings,” and “Killing & Dying,” Adrian Tomine stands as one of the comics industry’s most respected cartoonists. It’s not nothing, but “most respected” doesn’t translate into personal wealth, fame, or actual respect. This is something that “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist” makes abundantly clear with its series of vignettes about the creator’s life at different stages of his career. Such as the time he went to Comic-Con in 1996 where he didn’t win an Eisner and presenter Frank Miller skipped over his name. Or the time he went to Tokyo in 2003 for a book signing and had to deal with someone who wanted him to sign a book by Dan Clowes. Or when he prepared for NPR’s “Fresh Air” in New York in 2008, and saw all that preparation go right out the window (literally) when he saw an awful dental procedure in the next building over. Or when he went out to dinner with his family in Philadelphia in 2017 and was gifted a dessert by a fan at a restaurant he went to, that he was also charged for. Or when…
As you can see, there’s a certain formula to the stories in “Long-Distance.” Tomine starts off each story in great spirits, only for some combination of arrogance, social misconceptions, or just plain bad luck to bring him low, just in time for things to wrap up with some awkward humor. There’s enough variety in the characters our protagonist interacts with and the situations he finds himself in to keep things from getting dull in their repetitiveness, however. Plus, Tomine’s version of himself manages to project just the right amount of smugness and shame throughout to keep things from getting too depressing or himself from being too unsympathetic. He even manages to tie everything together with a heartfelt speech to his wife in the end, with her response being very on-message for the volume as a whole. It ultimately results in an engaging series of stories that are funny, sad, uncomfortable, and truthful in equal measure. Assuming you can get on Tomine’s wavelength of self-deprecation, you know.
Of course, if I ever meet him in person, I’m not going to be able to stop wondering if I’ll be starring in one of these if he ever makes a second volume...
December 26, 2020
In an America where laws are literally fought for on stumps in public, Senator Jack Hammer was someone with his best days behind him. Until he beat the crap out of Senator Sweet Smell over a bill to deregulate genetic engineering. Not only is he now more popular with the general public, he’s got the attention of some people with their own agendas. There’s FBI Agent Annabel Lister, who has been following a trail of corruption that leads to Senator Thunder Bearer. He was backing Sweet Smell in his fight and now he, and his Clown League thug, have it in for Senator Hammer as well. Then there’s the secret league of Blacksmiths living under the White House, former Senator Hail who’s running the Nyxx Corporation, and a book that requires some blood before it can be opened. Senator Hammer will find himself working with or against all these factions and more, all because he finally found something to fight for.
There’s plenty of crazy in “On the Stump” and artist Prenzy does a good job of bringing it to life with pencilwork that’s light on detail but filled with all the energy this story needs. The thing is that while writer Chuck Brown’s tale starts off strong with its “What if politics were run more like the WWE?” premise, it pretty much goes off the rails by the end of the volume. Part of that’s due to all of the above-mentioned complications that are foisted onto the miniseries over its five issues. Part of it is because the story becomes increasingly more serious and preachy as it goes along. Part of it is because the volume ends without strong resolution, in that it tries to set up a sequel (that probably won’t be coming anytime soon). Still, the idea of politics via wrestling showmanship is a compelling one that kept me reading, and Brown conjures up a generally likeable crew of protagonists. Even if Brown and Prenzy don’t come back to this series, there’s enough interesting stuff here to make me want to see what they’ll do next.
December 23, 2020
A perfectly fine Marvel Event, courtesy of Ewing, Slott, Schiti, and friends.
December 22, 2020
This final volume arrived a couple months back and it’s been sitting, buried, under other, objectively better comics after I finished reading it. BUT NO LONGER! The craziest train in comics deserves to have its final volume recognized in some form. Even if I’m going to be recounting a lot of the insanity that makes it such an entertaining read.
Such as the time when a doctor, moved by the diclonii who saved her from being crushed by a helicopter, takes out their mind-control devices to find out if they really, really like her. Or when Lucy takes on the giant mass of flesh that is the Director of Diclonius’ Research’s daughter and he goes full “Bond Villain” in his speechifying. Or the mass of mindless diclonii who march through the facility murdering everyone they see. Or when we find out about the artificial anti-diclonius weapon that’s been made by the OTHER secret research facility. Or when the female doctor creates an anti-diclonius vaccine, then needs to be rescued, and then drops it down a pit without saying what it is until it’s too late. Or the many, MANY tonal shifts Lucy and Kouta’s final confrontation takes as mangaka Lynn Okamoto gleefully goes “NOPE!” whenever it looks like some kind of resolution has been achieved.
However, “Elfen Lied’s” bizarre mix of tones, subject matter, and copious graphic violence placed alongside quaint slice-of-life situations has made it so that this isn’t a bug in its storytelling. No, this insanity is actually the heart of the series and while it may be an utter shambles in terms of coherently advancing its characterizations and themes, the title still manages to shock and provoke sympathy within the reader. Sometimes even at the same time. It’s why when Okamoto looks to bring back every character back from the dead that she possibly can -- without completely breaking the narrative -- in the volume’s final chapter doesn’t feel like a cop out. It only makes me throw up my hands and go, “‘Elfen Lied,’ amirite?” Entertaining in spite of itself, this series was the best kind of mess.
December 21, 2020
Conventional wisdom dictates that “Kaguya-Sama’s” best days are behind it now. After all, Kaguya and Miyuki are now a couple so all of the romantic tension is deflated along with the “Will They or Won’t They” shenanigans. If fourteen volumes of this series have told us anything, it’s that “Kaguya-Sama” laughs in the face of conventional wisdom. You see, this series has a two-fold plan to combat the twin specters of boredom and diminishing returns that would bog down a lesser series at this same point.
The first being the ongoing difficulty Kaguya and Miyuki have with remaining to be a couple. While they’ve managed to confess their love to each other, there are still things that they have to learn about their partner. Things like Kaguya’s “Ice” persona, the cold and demanding side that her family trained her to present to the outside world. It’s something that she’s slowly been moving away from, but it’s still a key part of her personality. Then there’s Miyuki’s relentless drive to succeed, which we learn might be stemming from psychological scars rather than scholastic ambition. Mangaka Aka Akasaka mines a good deal of romantic drama from these concepts over the course of these two volumes. What’s more impressive is that he never forgets to be funny while doing it as bits involving old-lady perfume and Hayasaca’s “impersonation” of Miyuki are solid gold.
The other thing working in “Kaguya-Sama’s” favor is that this series is no longer just about its protagonists. While it’s still their story, the title now has a remarkably deep bench of supporting characters to focus on as well. From Ishigami’s ill-fated romantic pursuits (he had THE WORST Christmas Eve), to Miko’s stubbornness to own up to her own desires, to Hayasaca’s saint-like patience in dealing with Kaguya’s drama, to Chika simply being Chika, they’ve all go storylines that are either funny, interesting, or both. This is true even when the series is spiraling off into randomness like Chika’s encounter with seasoned ramen eater or Maki’s trip to India. In short, pretty much everything in these two volumes show that “Kaguya-Sama” won’t be running out of steam anytime soon. As for anyone who thinks otherwise, Chika said it best in vol. 16 when she went, “Shut up! Or I’ll kill you!”
Wait… That sounded better in my head…
December 19, 2020
It took a while, but “Diamond is Unbreakable” finally realized its main plot and actually steered a couple of its principal characters into a conflict with Stand-wielding serial killer Yoshikage Kira. However, the characters in question were Jotaro Joestar and Koichi. In other words: “Guy Who was the Protagonist in the Last Arc” and “Best Friend of the Main Character in This Arc.” Both of which would be fair game to kill off in order to raise the stakes in the fight against Kira. While I won’t spoil the outcome of that conflict, it does lead Josuke to investigate Kira’s house, which is still occupied by his father who has his own Stand. Surprisingly, this leads directly into an arc where Rohan Kishibe takes part in the most dramatic game of rock-paper-scissors that you will ever see in comics. Period. Yes, it’s another diversion from the main story, but it’s good even by the standards of the many we’ve seen in this arc so far.
One other thing that I liked about the wrap-up to the Kira fight from vol. 6 is how it took one of those stories that looked like a diversion and made it into a key part of the storyline. As to what it is, I’ll just say that Kira is now living a new life as a family man, and struggling to be as normal as possible. A task which proves difficult when a Stand-wielding cat enters his basement (and trust me “Stand-wielding cat” is the least weird thing about that storyline). So it’s entirely possible that these “diversions” are simply mangaka Hirohiko Araki’s way of setting up plot points that he plans to spring on the reader when they least suspect it. In that case, we can be sure that the shape-shifting schoolboy who claims to be an alien, the Stand-wielding biker punk, and the guy living on an electrical tower, who figure prominently in vol. 7 may have much different roles to play as the conflict with Kira goes on. It’s a thought I’ll be clinging to as the series looks to throw more diversions at us with this volume.
December 18, 2020
It took three years, and a Netflix movie, but we finally got a second volume of “The Old Guard.” I really enjoyed the first volume and the self-contained story it told made it so that the wait for this volume wasn’t as taxing as it could’ve been. Still, it was advertised as “vol. 1” so it was clear that creators Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez were planning on making more of this series. It just became a question of when we’d actually see it. Now that we finally have, I can say that “Force Multiplied” was worth the wait… until you get to its ending.
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