June 30, 2021
Dark Ages #1 (of 6)
With “DCeased,” Tom Taylor delivered a smash hit for DC that, as of this writing, entails two core miniseries, a thoroughly entertaining side-story, and a digital-first series that has since been collected in print. Given how the writer has had a long history with Marvel before this, “Dark Ages” sounds like one of his editors called him up and asked, “Hey, do you have any ideas like ‘DCeased’ that you can do for us?”
“Dark Ages” looks to be the answer to that, even if the solicitations are being very cagey about what its basic concept is. What I’ve heard is that it’s going to be a miniseries about what happens when power, electricity specifically, disappears from the Marvel Universe. That’s where the title comes from and, appropriately, Tony Stark is going to be the point-of-view character for the miniseries. This does seem a little more high-concept than what the writer delivered in “DCeased,” but Taylor has shown that he’s good at working through the logic in any given situation so I’m sure he’s got some clever ideas about what happens to a superhero universe when the lights go out. “Venom” veteran Iban Coello provides the art, which means that this miniseries should have a good look to go along with its writing.
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June 28, 2021
Get this: Saitama actually plays a significant role in the volume’s first half. That’s all about the final throw-down between Child Emperor in his Brave Giant mech against the supercharged Phoenix Man. While there’s some quality spectacle to this fight, the important parts take place in “Phoenix Space” as the monster tries to convince the kid hero that he’s unappreciated and should join the Monster Society. Saitama, being a decent guy overall, has some things to say about this while also doing his best to keep the story from going off the rails in a way that leaves Child Emperor as a big wet stain on cement. It’s cool seeing the title character in action again and there’s even some quality one-punch action to be had as well. Still, this storyline’s biggest achievement is that it takes a hoary line about heroism not being a costume (“It’s what’s inside.”) and actually makes you believe in it for a second. Only a second, though.
Vol. 22 continues on with an intermission involving the hero known as Zombie Man and adds a whole lot of background to his cameo in the above-mentioned storyline. His gimmick is regeneration and this story finds him up against a vampire with the same ability. What follows is about 50 pages of Zombie Man dying over, and over, and over, etc… until he finally succeeds. Creators ONE and Yusuke Murata are skilled enough that they can take a premise this simple and imbue it with enough style to make it fun. It was also smart of them to make this a one-chapter story as they push the concept about as far as it can go here.
The volume ends with two chapters that look like they’re going to set up the title’s next arc as a trio of sword-based heroes mix it up against the mercenaries who were sent in a few volumes back and are now mind-controlled lackeys of an S&M monster dominatrix. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for us, Amai Mask shows up to lend a hand. The most unlikeable of heroes is actually revealed to have some skeletons in his closet, which look to be leading him on a collision course against the heroes he’s currently fighting with. This is the most promising part of the volume as finding out what makes this arrogant pretty-boy tick is something that’s been long overdue in this series.
June 27, 2021
The current “Justice League” title stopped being central to the DCU at the end of Scott Snyder’s run. Surprisingly, DC didn’t cancel and restart the series with a new #1 once new ongoing writer Bendis took over. Instead, they had a number of creators try their hands at telling stories involving the League. One of them was Simon Spurrier, and that’s why I felt the need to pick up this volume. It may not be the writer’s best work, but it’s still a lot better than the other story collected alongside it in this volume.
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June 26, 2021
The previous volume ended with one of its characters taking a brick to the head during a parade. Fortunately for the character in question, Shirley is made of stronger stuff. Literally and figuratively. Yet she’s still uneasy about her friend Lori’s rise through the ranks at Everything and starting to display some doubts about store owner Marshall Gooder motivations in trying to bring happiness to all. Doubts which she’s right to have as former stereo salesman Rick is currently being tortured underneath the store, and former city manager Eberhard dies a slow death along with his daughters. However, not everyone in the town of Holland, Michigan, is against them. It’s just that when your main allies are a hundred-year-old blind woman and a talking plush blue bear, hoping that things turn out for the best kind of feels like a lost cause, you know?
Writer Christopher Cantwell and artist I.N.J. Culbard have a different plan in mind. The problem is that it feels a little bit predictable when all is said and done. Both creators do a good job of continuing the sense of quirky unease that drove the first volume, and there are some expertly timed bits of humor that keep the tone from feeling too oppressive. It’s just that this concluding volume of “Everything” lacks a genuine moment of surprise which made me go, “I didn’t see THAT coming!” to take the series to the next level. Granted, I do appreciate the fact that I could tell that Cantwell was working with a real plan here, and Culbard’s art does an excellent job of selling all this weirdness and surrealism. “Everything” certainly looks and feels different compared to other kinds of comics. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the “good” kind of different. I just don’t think it’s good enough to recommend to other people who read those last two sentences and weren’t sold on what it’s selling.
June 25, 2021
They say the course of true love never runs smooth. Which is likely why the relationships showcased in this volume are certainly doomed, because they’re both going really well. Amateur BDSM enthusiasts Alan and Ally are having the time of their lives as they explore their respective fetishes in the most adorkable fashion. Even when stricter security measures at Alan’s men-only dorm mean that they have to find a new place to meet up, their unyielding horniness means that it’ll only be a matter of time until they do. As for Anne and Laura, they’ve got a bit more issues to work out. Like the latter’s controlling tendencies, and the former’s indecisiveness about what she wants to do with her life. The good news is that these issues actually turn out to be strengths in this phase of their relationship and the girls become even closer as a result.
Creator Stjepan Sejic writes in his afterword to this volume that there’s a joy to writing a relationship that’s chugging along. This is true and the best part is that the joy he’s talking about is infectious. It’s actually a lot of fun to read a romance comic that’s relatively drama-free and just shows its primary characters enjoying each other’s… company. It helps immensely that Sejic is one of the best artists in the business and it’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch his characters talk about themselves to each other. Or recognize certain sexual foibles like making sure panties are put on over the garter belt, and how using a shower nozzle as a sex toy only works in an apartment with sufficient water pressure.
All of this -- oh, plus Laura’s case of foot-in-mouth disease (figuratively) whenever she’s around Anne’s father -- provides a more than suitable distraction to the volume’s biggest issue. Which would be the fact that anyone who has already read the first five volumes knows what’s going to happen with these characters. That leaves the “Mercy” arc of “Sunstone” coming off as an exercise in telling us something we already know, only in exhaustive detail. Those details are quite entertaining, however, and there’s always the chance that Sejic has some surprises in store for when the drama ramps up into high gear in vol. 8.
June 23, 2021
Does the series with the slowest burn in comics finally catch fire at its end?
June 21, 2021
A funny thing happened after I got the five volumes I’m going to write about here. I got another shipment of manga from the Right Stuf. Which means that my backlog of manga to write about has only become that much larger. Rather than wait until one of these series has accumulated enough volumes to provide enough content to write about for a week, I figured it’d be in everyone’s best interest to write about them now. (And do a podcast about one, but that’ll be a few weeks from now.) So just click on the link below to find out my thoughts on the latest volumes of “Kaguya-sama,” “The Ancient Magus’ Bride,” “Blood on the Tracks,” “Inside Mari,” and “Raw Hero.”
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June 20, 2021
Vol. 1 was pretty much everything that I’d hoped a Simon Spurrier-written version of “Hellblazer” would be. Macabre horror, stories with clever twists, and John Constantine being the one bastard who could always be counted on to come out on top. For better and for worse. I was excited to see what the writer had in store for this second volume, even though I knew that the series had been cancelled while he was planning for its second year. At the end of the day, that’s not the volume’s biggest problem. “The Best Version of You” does have a lot to recommend it, even as Spurrier seems utterly determined to find a way to make its title character into a bigger bastard than he’s ever been.
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June 19, 2021
Eddie Brock did the right thing at the end of the previous volume and told the Avengers about the impending threat of Knull. While they (specifically Iron Man) weren’t happy about it, Eddie’s actions gave them time to figure out a gameplan and for him to take Dylan to someone who can tell them what’s going on with his powers. The problem here is twofold: The person they’re going to see isn’t all that cooperative or trustworthy, and the Brock family is now being chased by a new villain, Virus, who has a bunch of recycled Marvel tech at his disposal. All of this leads to Eddie and Dylan being flung into an alternate universe. One of the bad ones where the world has become a symbiote-run fascist dystopia led by the mysterious individual known as Codex. On their own, the two of them stand no chance against the Avengers of this world. Which means that they have to team up with the local resistance, who happen to be led by the one person neither of them thought they would see again.
A good alternate timeline in the Marvel Universe will have both a good reason for existing and do things with the characters we know that couldn’t be done in the 616 proper. “Venom Beyond” fulfills both of these requirements as the reason it exists plays upon a key moment from the title character’s origin and also acts as a “What if…?” in regards to Dylan’s fateful choice about letting Knull out of his prison in “Absolute Carnage.” The end result gives us some good family drama, something that is a specialty of writer Donny Cates, that does a good job of driving the story alongside its many action scenes.
Said action scenes are capably handled by Iban Coello, Juan Gedon, and Luke Ross. All of them do good work, even as I wished for a bit more stylistic consistency between the three of them. There’s also the fact that Virus is more of an interesting idea than as a proper villain, but he ultimately winds up being more of a distraction than the heart of the story. Which is something that I genuinely liked along with the mega-happy ending it provided. Of course, that mega-happy ending can’t last as this is the last volume of the series before “King in Black” and we get an appropriately bleak final page to lead into it. Naturally I’m on board with this, as the Brock family drama should provide a solid emotional core for the event before everyone gets symbiote-d.
June 18, 2021
There’s a moment early in this volume that serves as a litmus test as to whether this volume (and really, the series overall) is for you. Newly-promoted cabal head Sen. Connie Lipshitz is taking ideas from her fellow senators about initiatives to make life better for everyone in the U.S.A. One senator talks about a birth-control drug that causes a woman to eject an egg during intercourse. This egg would then lodge itself inside a man’s urethra where it would subsequently be fertilized and develop. What greater purpose would this serve? Well, it’d end both the abortion and health care debates since men would now have a very compelling reason to want both of these things to be as accessible as possible.
If you think that the idea of dick-babies is a winning mix of dumb, clever, and funny, and for the record I do, then vol. 2 of “DIE!DIE!DIE!” is definitely for you. For those of you who need further clarification, this volume is as crass, over-the-top, and unrepentantly violent and left-wing as the first one was. Co-writers Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimple are clearly having a blast writing this, and Chris Burnham is clearly on the same wavelength as all of the carnage, ridiculousness, and ridiculous carnage is quite lovingly detailed. Yes, this series is also determined to alienate anyone who isn’t as liberal as its creators, but I’m fine with that. They probably wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the sight of Obama boxing aliens in space for our freedom anyway.