April 30, 2021
Hellions vol. 2
There’s another round of collections from the X-books in these solicitations. Much as I like what Jonathan Hickman and Gerry Duggan have been doing on “X-Men” and “Marauders,” I have to admit that Zeb Wells has been doing great, demented work on “Hellions.” Its first arc could have come across as creepy and grimdark, but the writer and artist Stephen Segovia found ways to insert a surprising amount of (dark) comedy and character. This was also the case, even more so, when Carmen Carnero joined for the two “X of Swords” issues which were just tie-ins to the main event. But what tie-ins they were as Sinister led his team down the garden path for his own ends and the surprising fate that awaited everyone who wasn’t him. The only question here should be whether or not Wells and co. will be able to keep the good times rolling into vol. 2.
...which I can say is an “Affirmative” after reading through issues #7-8 on Marvel Unlimited. It’s a two-parter which sees the team face off against a classic X-villain as they try to rescue Nanny’s ship from him. Backstabbing, acid-drenched insults, a wanton disregard for the necessities of a happy ending -- these two issues indicate that this volume is likely to be as enjoyable as the first one was.
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April 28, 2021
Spurrier + Henson + Bowie = Greatness...?
April 26, 2021
Whenever this series makes the news over at “Anime News Network” it’s usually because it’s either going on hiatus or coming off of hiatus. Inio Asano has stopped and started his current series multiple times over the past few years and there’s never really been an explanation regarding why this is the case. I’ve got a theory after reading this volume, though. The reason Asano has taken so many breaks while writing this series is because it requires him to get his head into some really dark places in order to write it.
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April 25, 2021
The Dereleth was a state-of-the-art mapping/drilling ship that went down near the edge of the U.S./Russia aquatic border nearly 40 years ago. Everyone had assumed it was lost until a tsunami caused it to surface on an atoll and its emergency distress signal to reach the world at large. While the fact that the Dereleth is now hung up on an island whose ownership is disputed by the U.S. and Russia makes recovering it a politically tricky situation, its owner, the Rococo Corporation, does not want to wait. The son of their president was one of the 32 crewmen who were lost when the Dereleth went down and it’s up to their representative, David Lacome, to bring it home. Which is why he’s recruited a crack team of divers and salvagers to get in and out before world powers have noticed. While this seems like a simple enough situation, no one on the team ever stopped to consider whether or not anyone on the ship could still be alive after all this time…
“Plunge” follows “Basketful of Heads” as the second title Joe Hill wrote for his “Hill House” imprint at DC. While they are very different books -- both are horror, but the latter is supernatural-tinged while this has a weird sci-fi bent to it -- “Plunge” gets the edge due to its tighter pacing and more effective characterization. The miniseries has a really effective build of suspense over the course of its run as things get worse and stranger concepts are introduced in such a way to keep you absorbed and eager to find out what’s going to happen next. It also helps that Hill makes most of the cast likeable enough that you’re actually sad when bad things start happening to them.
Make no mistake, there are a lot of bad things waiting for the cast in this miniseries and the way in which they unfold probably won’t seem too surprising to genre veterans. So it’s a good thing that the execution is top-notch, and that includes the art from Stuart Immonen. Granted, this is more of a showcase for his storytelling abilities as he’s asked to draw A LOT of talking heads here and he does a great job of keeping that visually interesting. It’s just that he doesn’t get a chance to show off his skill with action and inventive (also tentacle-y) design until the very end. All this means that the current hardcover edition of “Plunge” is a worthwhile hardcover purchase for fans of the creators, while people looking for a good, weird horror story are encouraged to check this out when it hits paperback.
April 24, 2021
Cosmo and Arthur Pryce are brothers. They’re also soon-to-be former hitmen for the local mob boss known as the Baron. They’ve just taken out the men guarding Little Harkness, a key figure in a rival gang, and are about to bring him back to their boss, The Baron. Cosmo is the kind of optimist who hopes that he’ll be able to find a wife to move into the house he’s in the process of buying, and that maybe The Baron will get him something nice as a retirement gift. Arthur is cynical enough to wonder why his brother is even contemplating these things, though the irony is that it’s his actions that are likely to doom Cosmo’s chance at happiness.
“Write it in Blood” is the American comics debut of writer Rory McConville and artist Joe Palmer. They’ve got history writing for “Judge Dredd” and “2000 A.D.” which implies that they’ve got British comics cynicism down pat. Their work here mostly bears that out. Most scenes have a dry deadpan wit to them, which usually involves some pithy line or speech being delivered to a poor bastard dying from his wounds, or just about to be shot in the face. Don’t expect anything as memorable as “I am the law!” but it’s serviceable enough.
“Serviceable” is actually a pretty good way to describe this graphic novel. While all the parts are here for a quality crime story -- feuding brothers, vengeful mob bosses, hotheaded criminals, a whole lot of dead bodies -- they only come together to deliver a story that gives the bare minimum of satisfaction. It’s straightforwardly engaging, but McConville’s writing lacks style and Palmer’s art lacks flash (and isn’t helped at all by Chris O’Halloran’s drab colors) to make me really want to recommend this. That said, it’s probably worth noting that this OGN is divided into four issue-length chapters, as if this was originally planned to be a four-issue miniseries. Making “Write it in Blood” an OGN was the smart move as people would’ve likely forgotten all about it before it was collected.
April 23, 2021
“The Boys” has become a big hit for Amazon’s Prime streaming service. Longtime readers will recall that I was generally a fan of Garth Ennis’ effort to take his hatred of superheroes to the next level with Darick Robertson, Russ Braun, John McCrea, and friends along for the ride. So when it was announced that Ennis and Braun would be reuniting for another story about “The Boys” I was intrigued, even if the timing was a bit suspect. The original series wrapped up pretty conclusively, so what else could the creators have to say about its characters without having it feel like they were cashing in on the success of the streaming series? The answer lies in the title.
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April 21, 2021
Faith left her old struggling artist life behind at the end of the first volume. While the implication was that she may have lost her soul (figuratively and literally) in the process, vol. 2 doesn’t dwell on that a whole lot. Now that Faith has thrown in her lot with Poppy, her uncle Louis, and friend-with-benefits Solomon, she’s living the high life in Italy. The only struggling she has to do here is in deciding what to paint next as Faith has become the next enfant terrible of the art world. She’s got fame, fortune, and some very experienced lovers to cater to every sexual need she’s thought of (and maybe a few she hasn’t). There is the lingering doubt she has over who Poppy and Louis really are, but that’s easy to push away between everything they provide. At least, it is until a certain homeless woman shows up in the city to let Faith know exactly what forces she’s playing with here.
To their credit, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Maria Llovet managed to find a new way to disappoint me with this volume. That they managed to avoid the obvious route here was certainly impressive. It was actually fun seeing Faith enjoy the perks of her new life as you fully expect these kinds of stories to try and sell you on the hollowness of upper class life. Not “Faithless.” Azzarello and Llovet are here to let you know that there are perks to possibly having bartered away parts of your soul by palling around with The Devil Himself (his name’s Louis, I mean, c’mon…) and his favorite nice. It’s not an approach I’ve seen practiced too often, which adds to its appeal here.
The problem is that vol. 2 starts feeling like the middle part of a trilogy by its end. This is mainly due to a reveal in the penultimate issue which begs to be explored in greater detail and a finale which is far too ambiguous to be satisfying. Unfortunately, there’s no indication as to when Azzarello and Llovet will get around to delivering it as they’re both currently busy with other creator-owned projects. That they’re leaving this series unfinished is disappointing and something that casts a pall over this volume equal to the moralizing that I thought I was going to get from it.
April 19, 2021
You know how I said in my review of the first volume that Godai wasn’t going to stay a schmuck forever? Well, that part is absolutely true. It’s just that after reading these two volumes it feels like I’ve underestimated the length of time that it’s going to take for him to grow out of that phase. That’s because with these volumes it becomes clear that mangaka Rumiko Takahashi has figured out that she has something here with the romantic tension between her hapless male lead and Kyoko, the landlady of Ikkoku-kan. So she’s going to stretch it out as long as she possibly can.
Which is why we get so many sitcom-level stories as Godai and Kyoko’s romantic progression takes a couple steps forward, a couple steps back, a few more off to the side, some sashays, and even a Moonwalk or two for good measure. You can see this awkwardness in so many plots over the course of these volumes as Godai and Kyoko wind up having to spend New Year’s Eve together, Godai gets a job at a beer garden and has to fend off his obnoxious neighbors, Godai gets a cat named Kyoko, and Godai and Mitaka awkwardly vying for Kyoko’s affections at an ice skating rink. Reading through these volumes, it feels like Takahashi is going to put her leads through every stock sitcom plot she can before she has them get together.
This wouldn’t be so bad if many of them didn’t rely on idiot plot logic in order to work. Especially in extended cases where Godai moves out of Ikkoku-kan in a huff because he thinks Kyoko is going to marry Mitaka based on a rumor from Ms. Ichinose. Then again, it’s hard to feel too bad for him because he also spends these two volumes stringing along fellow college student Kozue as his girlfriend. I know that Godai eventually becomes a guy worthy of Kyoko’s affections, but man it is rough seeing him pursue her while also trying to be a good boyfriend to the girl he’s already in a relationship with. Even though there are some quality story bits in this volume, such as the scenes in vol. 2 with Kyoko’s parents, a lot of what went on here tried my patience more than anything else.
April 18, 2021
Here we have a story about a man who got out of Texas when he was young, escaped the cycle of violence and drugs that he and his brother were trapped in and made his way out to California. This man is Randy Terrill and wouldn’t you know it, he just got word that his brother Travis is dead and now he has to come back out to Texas to sort out his brother’s affairs. Which include drugs, guns, and a whole lot of owed money. If you think that’s enough drama to pile on one story, writer Chris Condon would disagree with you as he throws in Randy’s concerned girlfriend and the plight of aging Sheriff Joe Bob Coates into the mix as well. The end result is a narrative filled with heated conversations between characters, overwrought monologuing in the text boxes, and a main character who doesn’t so much as choose tragedy for himself, but is shoved into tragedy’s toilet and made to drink from it. If that sounds like Texas to you, then you’re welcome to it.
That said, I didn’t buy “That Texas Blood” because I was expecting the story to be good. No, I bought this volume because it’s the artistic debut of Jacob Phillips. As the son of one of my favorite artists, Sean Phillips, I wanted to see what he was capable of. “Much of the same stuff as his dad,” appears to be the answer for now.
It’s very unsurprising that Jacob takes after his dad, as his characters have the same kind of look to them only with thinner lines. They also have the same intensity to them at times, even if they feel less so than his dad’s. I realize it’s kind of a terrible critique to say that Jacob’s work is a lot like his dad’s only not as impressive, but that’s really what we’ve got here. Except that his coloring work is spot-on. Which is why he’s been coloring his dad’s art for the past few years now. Jacob’s art is good enough that I’d like to see him develop his own, distinct style. I just think that I’ll be waiting until he’s moved on from this particular series to see how that goes.
April 17, 2021
The party has split as a result of Ash’s manipulations and she now finds herself as the Queen of Angria, with Isabelle as a mostly-willing partner in this and Sol still rotting as a Fallen in the dungeon. They want to leave the world of Die, but they also want to do so in a way that leaves it in better shape than they did the last time. It’s a great idea. In theory at least. That’s because before they can really do anything, they’re faced with an invasion by the neighboring country of Little England. This is because they believe the (absolutely true) rumor that Ash and her party were responsible for the destruction of Glass Town. So while half the party manages the tricky business of warfare, Chuck, Matt, and Angela are trying to get far enough away from it to figure out how to convince their (former?) friends to return right now. The problem is that the first part of their plan involves a dungeon crawl through the sewers…
It gets better for them, and for the reader as well. “Die” still isn’t as engaging as writer Kieron Gillen’s other work, but the upward trend of quality established in vol. 2 continues here. The morose horror aesthetic of the series still feels like it’s smothering the writer’s wit, though I’m impressed with how many quality one-liners he manages to sneak in here regardless. There’s also a lot of successful examples of setup and payoff here. Sometimes it’s stuff that was set up in a previous volume, other times only a few pages ago. The best example of this comes when we meet the Master of Little England and find out his historical connection to gaming. Along with the way that he may have screwed it all up in the end.
Artist Stephanie Hans produces more quality work here, even if we don’t get any big double-page splashes of Angria and Little England at war. What sticks out for me here are the designs for the various gods that Isabelle has bound that she has come up with here. They’re all wonderfully distinctive and I find myself wanting to know much more about her history with the False Friend just based on his design alone. That likely won’t happen as vol. 4 is going to be the final one for this series. I find that to be a much more disappointing prospect based on what I think about the series now as opposed to what I thought of it after reading vol. 1.