December 29, 2021
Defenders: There Are No Rules
Al Ewing was doing great work at Marvel long before he blew up with “The Immortal Hulk.” I’ll refer you to his “New Avengers” and “Loki” series if you need convincing. Both series had great writing and clever plotting in addition to a willingness to take odd, random bits of Marvel history and find new ways of looking at them. That last bit has been the real calling card of his work at the company and it’s likely to remain true here as Ewing revives the idea of a disparate group of heroes being stuck with each other to take on a greater threat with this latest “Defenders” series. Reality is facing its undoing from Marvel’s oldest villain and Doctor Strange has assembled a team that includes the Silver Surfer, Harpy Betty Banner, and two more heroes I can’t quite identify from this volume’s cover, to go through time in order to stop its assault. Along the way they’ll also come face-to-face with the secret architecture of the universe, which sounds like something that would be tough to realize on the page. Except for the fact that this miniseries is being drawn by Javier Rodriguez who specializes in drawing anything and everything, while also making it look good.
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December 27, 2021
I was genuinely surprised by the first volume of this series. Most of James Tynion IV’s superhero work had come off as by-the-numbers to me and his (and Werther Dell’edera’s) monster hit series “Something is Killing the Children” didn’t feel like it offered me anything new. “The Department of Truth,” however, took a nightmarish look at the conspiracy theories that are gripping our nation and imagined a department of the government whose business it was to control them. A department led by one Lee Harvey Oswald. That revelation at the end of the first issue was so perfect that it sold me on the series right there – and the four issues that followed it solidified my opinion further. Which is why I’m a little sad to say that vol. 2 isn’t quite on the same level as the first one.
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December 26, 2021
This latest arc of “Jojo” got off to a slow yet solid start as new protagonist (and son of Dio) Giorno Giovanna took his first steps to achieving his lifelong dream of being a mafioso. He takes a few more steps here after settling things with Polpo and formally joining Bruno’s gang. Its members, Abbachio, Mista, Narancia, and Fu are also Stand Users and we get to see three of them in action over the course of this volume. It starts off with the gang heading to the island of Capri to secure a hidden stash of gold and gems that, once turned over to the Family, will make Bruno a proper Capo. This is assuming that they all live through the attack by the Stand User who decides to pick them off one by one in order to convince Bruno to give up the location of the treasure while Abbachio tries to stop him. Then there’s the shadowy figure on the island who matches wits with Mista and his assassination-based Stand, and another who decides to take on young Narancia in the hopes he’ll tell him what the Family has planned for the gang.
With the introduction out of the way, the action picks up significantly in this volume. Not only do we get a clearer picture of where the story is going to go for this arc, but the new additions to the cast make a favorable impression here. Chief among these being Mista and his Stand who get the volume’s longest and most successful storyline. There is cause for concern, however, as Giorno’s Stand still feels like it’s a narrative “Get Out of Jail Free” card without properly defined limits. The struggle on the ship also comes off as feeling a little nonsensical as it’s unclear how the bad guy was able to pull off his big plan. I’ll say that the jury’s still out on Narancia’s encounter as he faces a threat that’s imposing, yet also a little tame by “Jojo” standards. Still, vol. 2 is a step in the right direction for this arc as it still delivers the kind of crazy strategizing I like to see from this series; though, not without a few hiccups this time out.
December 24, 2021
If anyone was expecting something significant to follow on from Makie and Nakahara’s late-night encounter at the end of the previous volume, then you’re going to be disappointed. In fact, much of Makie’s storyline gets put on the back burner as Minare and Mizuho gear up for the former’s latest gig for her radio show. That would be convincing a shut-in who’s living with his stepmother and stepsister to rejoin the human race. It’s a difficult proposition even before you consider how someone with Minare’s personality would approach such a problem. Then again, the idea here is that someone with our protagonist’s disposition will likely find an unconventional way to solve this problem in a way that makes for good radio drama. This is generally true for the majority of the volume, and mangaka Hiroaki Samura even throws in some additional complications when we find out why the guy became a shut-in in the first place.
It makes for agreeable entertainment… until we get to the last quarter of the volume. Then something happens that throws a wrench in Minare’s plans, as well as just about everyone else in Japan. No one falls down into a trapdoor to land in the clutches of a nefarious cult this time around. The event in question has Minare and company trying to get to the nearest hospital while the crew back at MRS shifts into Emergency Broadcast mode. The shift comes out of left field, but it’s still credible when you consider Japan’s (recent) history. It also adds a sense of urgency to the current storyline without derailing it completely. The aim to solve this shut-in’s problems is still there, it’s just going to continue alongside this new development. I’m fine with this, even as it has me wondering if Samura is going to keep pulling this “SUDDENLY, OUT OF NOWHERE!” in future storylines for this series.
December 23, 2021
Rooting for the bad guy has never been more fun when the good guys are this dumb.
December 20, 2021
Contrary to what its title implies, the third “Reckless” graphic novel does not involve a giant-size Ethan Reckless taking on Gozilla, Mothra, King Ghidora, and other monsters in a giant kaiju free-for-all. (I would still pay to read that, Ed and Sean, if you’re reading this.) “Destroy All Monsters” is a bit of a departure from the previous two graphic novels as the focus isn’t solely on a twisty case that the title character finds himself involved in. There is one, of course, and it involves Ethan trying to get some dirt on a shady real estate developer who’s involved in the construction of the 105 Freeway in L.A. and the renovation of the land around it. The real focus of this story is on the relationship between Ethan and his friend/assistant Anna and how time and life are starting to drive a wedge between them.
It may sound like heavy stuff, though the end result isn’t as much of a downer as that implies. That’s due in part to the fact that the reason a rift develops between Ethan and Anna is due to more grounded reasons than cheap drama. Which makes it all the more satisfying to see them work together on this case because they do have a good rapport together that stems from friendship and mutual respect rather than romance. It helps that the case they’re investigating is a solid one with roots in real L.A. history that allows them to work things out as they go along.
Things aren’t back to normal between Ethan and Anna by the end of the volume, but that’s because they’ve managed to forge a new one together. The end result is a heartfelt reminder that while change comes to all relationships, sometimes it’s even for the better. That would be a good note to end the volume on, except for the fact that the creators throw us a bit of a curveball in the last few pages and reveal that the “Reckless” series we thought we’ve been reading is actually something different. It’s a twist, or change, that I’m fine with. Particularly as it looks to be giving Anna the lead role in the next volume.
December 19, 2021
The monster finally made another appearance at the end of the previous volume, and it capsizes a ship at the beginning of this one. It’s on its way to Tokyo and that means it’s time for Asa, Kasuga, Keiichi and their shady government friends to spring into action, right? Well, it would be if everyday life wasn’t determined to butt right in. It starts when Asa’s friend Yone comes to her one morning to tell her that she’s going to meet with the entertainment agency to make her debut. She still hasn’t told her friend Miyako about it, though. Then there’s Asa’s observer/chauffer A-kura who has to deal with how his car was impounded by the local police after their pre-Olympic opening ceremony crackdown. Kasuga also has his own drama to deal with when he finds out that someone has been snooping around the aircraft hangar.
With all that’s going on, it looks like the monster’s appearance is going to provide a welcome distraction from everyone’s issues. However, in loading everyone down with these problems, mangaka Naoki Urasawa runs the risk of piling on too much drama and squeezing out all of the tension from a suspenseful setup. It’s a testament to how well he’s able to pace all of these little incidents that this doesn’t happen. For the most part, these are all inconveniences and most of them are resolved with the characters in question employing their own cleverness or by those around them being willing to compromise or lend a helping hand. It all leads to Asa finally getting what she wants as the mangaka brings the curtain down on this latest volume at just the right point to leave you wanting more.
December 18, 2021
Any longtime reader of Inio Asano isn’t likely to ask if things are going to get better after the events of vol. 9. No, they’re likely to ask “How much worse are things going to get?” while also holding out hope that things don’t become terminally depressing by the end. At the risk of minor spoilers I think it’s worth mentioning that this volume ends with the words, “TWELVE HOURS UNTIL THE END OF HUMANITY,” so feel free to guess if this series is still for you.
That said, if you didn’t stop reading after vol. 9 then nothing here is going to dissuade you from seeing “Dead Dead Demon” through to its end. (Which is coming in two, probably three volumes.) So when I say that things are going from bad to worse in Tokyo, I mean you can expect to see everything from reporters acting dishonestly, to spaceship decay-driven destruction of residential areas, to politicians trying to save their own skin, to radical fringe groups planning and carrying out murders, to one big public massacre. Oh, and while this is happening, America and China are planning to make their moves against Japan, while certain members of the island nation prepare to go “Smell ya later, suckers!” to the rest of the world. It all makes you wish that you could be hanging out with the main cast on the beach while all this passes them by.
Except it doesn’t and their story ends with one character pulling a gun on another as they try to go off and be a big damn hero. There’s no escaping the pull of the events in Tokyo, even as the situation disintegrates. It’s also not too bad to read as Asano keeps the plot moving in an unpredictable fashion as while you can be sure that bad things are going to happen, you’re still surprised to see what they are. This is in spite of the fact that the series could really use a Cast of Characters list at the beginning now as it’s getting hard to remember who’s who outside of the core cast. Regardless, this is a strong start to the end of this series even as it indicates that humanity is quite clearly screwed.
December 17, 2021
OH NO! Chiaki has wound up having dinner with both his fiancee Mariko and his sex-obsessed stalker Mihono! As this is happening at his apartment in front of his younger brothers, you have to wonder how things could get worse. At least, until the end of the chapter when Mihono puts him in a sleeper hold and takes him back to her apartment so she can have her way with him. Which she does in what can only be described as a truly “shocking” experience. *rimshot* Oh, and because God clearly hates him, Chiaki also has a close encounter with Hoshi that shakes him to his core, while also causing the man to realize that Guitar Wolf’s classic proclamation from “Wild Zero” was right all along. With all this going on it makes the Special Ability Liberation Front’s plan to raid a publisher which published a scandalous article about them seem, and the Justice Management Team’s plan to intercept it, seem quaint in comparison.
It all seems like things are building to a climax, aren’t they? It’s appropriate since this is the penultimate volume of the series. Whether it’s because “Raw Hero” didn’t catch on in the way mangaka Akira Hiramoto hoped, or because he decided to call it quits before things got old, the series is still firing on all cylinders. Vol. 5 is as raunchy as the series has ever been, and as creative in that regard as well. This is best exemplified by the misunderstandings that Chiaki has with Mariko in regards to Mihono (and one of her co-workers) in ways that would’ve been cliche in your average pervy rom-com, but are pushed to hilariously ridiculous extremes here. It’s also impressive that Hiramoto manages to finally make Hoshi shine as a character as his newfound obsession with bananas represents a level of acceptance and tolerance that we should all strive for. (Well, not really, but you have to admire his guts nonetheless.)
All of this indicates that “Raw Hero” will be going out on a high note. I’d like to say that I’d hope it’ll be better than “Prison School’s” finale, but that’s a low bar to clear. Hiramoto should be shooting for “actually good” this time out.