January 31, 2022
The first half of this volume carries in much the same way as the first one did. That is to say it makes for decent fantasy comfort food reading as Frieren and her apprentice Fern continue their way North back to the Demon King’s castle. Her former comrade Eisen is here for the first chapter and it's under his recommendation that they pick up his apprentice, a warrior named Stark, to help them along on their journey. Stark has gained a fair amount of fame at a village where he stood up to a dragon, but the actual reasons as to why he survived that encounter are a bit more complex. Not too complex, however. This whole mini-arc involving the warrior basically amounts to a pat moral lesson about needing to believe in one’s self delivered in a straightforwardly acceptable fashion. It’s not bad nor is it exceptional in any measure. Which is a good way to sum up the series as a whole to this point.
As for the arc that follows Stark’s introduction, that’s a different story. After a few chapters, Frieren, Fern, and Stark find themselves in a northern town that has reached a stalemate in fighting off the remnants of the Demon King’s army. They’ve now sent emissaries into the town to negotiate a truce, only for Frieren to jeopardize the peace talks when she attacks the demons on sight. It turns out she has her reasons for doing so, and they’re representative of a cynical side that I honestly didn’t expect to see from this series.
Up to this point, “Frieren” has been a pleasant read devoid of any major moral conundrums or meditations on the natures of good and evil. That changes in the volume’s back half as the series reveals a real cynical side towards the demons via Frieren’s words and actions and it makes for a pleasant surprise. Particularly in the way that it does so while remaining true to the tone and style the series has established up to this point. Even with the increased bloodshed, which isn’t to say that you should expect the series to turn into “Berserk” at this point. This change doesn’t turn “Frieren” into an exceptional series, but it does make me more interested to see what future volumes have in store.
January 30, 2022
No One Left to Fight II
The choice this month was between the latest collection of a miniseries from a creator that I really like or the latest volume in this series – the first issues of which both received the “Above-the-Board” treatment when they were solicited. I decided on “No One Left to Fight” because I think it could do with any boost to its word-of-mouth. That’s because while Dark Horse was likely right in calling the first miniseries “critically acclaimed,” “smash-hit” only works if you consider it against the other creator-owned titles they publish.
In case you’re not familiar with this series, the premise is simple: What happens when all of Goku’s battles have been won and alzheimer’s strikes? Of course, he’s not called Goku here, and any other homages to “Dragonball Z” have been changed enough so that they resemble the best kind of distinct. Legally distinct. That’s not a bad thing as writer Aubrey Sitterson did a good job in distinguishing the cast and setting up a story that Akira Toriyama would never consider telling. Better still was the art from Fico Ossio who delivered gorgeous, flashy, over-the-top work that sold the drama and made the volume a visual delight. Myron, Rob, and myself have already talked about how much we liked the first volume, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they think about this follow-up.
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January 29, 2022
Superman: Son of Kal-El vol. 1 – The Truth
This isn’t the first time that DC has tried to replace Clark Kent as Superman, but it could wind up being the most successful. As a result of developments over in “Action Comics” that have seen Clark’s powers fluctuate and sent him off to dismantle the oppressive systems of Warworld, his son Jon Kent has stepped up as Earth’s new Superman. The thing is that he’s not just content to fight crime and save people from natural disasters. No, Jon wants to change the world as well. The problem with that is there are a lot of people who don’t want that, and some of them – like Gamorran President Henry Bendix – aren’t as subtle or as nice as Lex Luthor in how they go about pushing back against his efforts.
Tom Taylor is writing this series and he’s made his awareness of social issues known throughout the series he’s written. From “All-New Wolverine,” to “Suicide Squad: Bad Blood,” and even “DCeased,” it’s clear that he recognizes that there are problems with this world and wants to raise people’s awareness of them. He’s also really good about telling entertaining stories while doing this, which is a trend I’m expecting to see him continue here along with artists John Timms and Daniele Di Nicuolo.
Oh, and in case anyone is wondering what I think about the major development in Jon’s character that has already garnered major media attention? I say, good for him and I hope it works out without Jay getting fridged later in the series.
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January 28, 2022
The Secret History of the War on Weed (One-Shot)
Several years ago Gerry Duggan teamed up with his friend comedian/writer/actor Brian Posehn to co-write “Deadpool” over at Marvel. The issues they did were genuinely funny and got me involved in the Merc-With-A-Mouth’s exploits in a way that I haven’t been since. That includes the period where Duggan wrote the character solo and delivered a first volume that was so unfunny I stopped reading his “Deadpool” comics right then and there. He’s since redeemed himself in my eyes with his work over at the X-Office, but the fact remains that for a few years I actively avoided anything with his name on it.
What does all this have to do with “The Secret History of the War on Weed?” This is the first comic that Duggan and Posehn have written together since their “Deadpool” days. They’ve even recruited artist Scott Koblish, who did the era-specific art for the “flashback” issues of that run, to tell the story of Scotch McTiernan and his recruitment by Nancy Reagan to crush the cannabis farmers of Northern California in the 1980s. Scotch is all gung-ho and HOO-RAH to do this for the First Lady, but what happens when he starts burning down these farmers’ crops and gets high in the process?! It all sounds thoroughly ridiculous, and like a whole lot of fun. I realize it’s a big ask of this team to make the “Deadpool” lightning strike twice here, but it’ll be great if they can pull it off.
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January 26, 2022
X-Men: Red #’s 1&2
You may recall that I said Al Ewing’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “S.W.O.R.D.” were two of my favorite comics last year. Unfortunately they suffered from not selling well enough to continue beyond issues #18 and #11, respectively. However, Al Ewing is a consummate comics professional and all of the plots he set in motion in those series will just be rolled over into this new title. Though it’s ostensibly about Storm and her management of Mars – excuse me, Planet Arakko – and the millions of new mutants living there, a lot of the cast from “S.W.O.R.D.” will be making the jump to this title. First and foremost being Abigail Brand and her signature brand of ruthlessness. Though she believes in Earth having a strong presence in cosmic affairs, she’s got some very specific ideas about how to get there and they don’t always align with mutant interests. Seeing her clash with Storm over this should make for some great drama.
These solicitations also mention that Cable (back in his old man form) and Magneto will be showing up here as well. In addition to… ROBERT DA COSTA?! HELL YEAH! Ewing’s version of the former New Mutant, turned X-Force member, turned Avenger, and full-time businessman was a highlight of his underappreciated “New Avengers/U.S.Avengers” run. This take on Sunspot was someone who could see all the angles and plan accordingly, and who could respond to the threat that his office had been turned into a deathtrap with, “You mean like some kind of… Danger Room?” It was a joy to read and it’s been disappointing to see other writers fail to pick up on this read of the character. Which is why it’s so good to see Ewing and Bobby reunited at last.
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January 24, 2022
The bad news is that the apocalypse happened and humanity survived. The worse news is that the special bunker meant to house America’s government didn’t wind up doing that. The worst news is that this bunker wound up housing a whole bunch of one-percenters who made it in and have been carrying on much as they did before the bombs fell. Until now, that is. After venturing out into the wasteland to see what the country is now like, one man has declared himself president with the intent of subjugating the survivors using all the technology that the bunker has at its disposal. Standing in his way are the techs who stood up to the President when his aims became clear, but they’re going to need some help in order to pull it off. Help like a cyborg woman whose family was wiped out by this new administration, and who is looking to dish out some payback herself.
“Post Americana” is another post-apocalyptic story in a medium that likes to deliver a couple new ones on a monthly basis. It also feels fairly close in tone and style to one in particular, that’d be the first volume of “Undiscovered Country,” in how it delivers a wild and crazy vision of our society after everything falls apart. I’m talking about large feral chickens roaming the landscape and looking for payback. Automatons that keep our (violent) superhero legacy alive. Cannibals, too. You can’t have one of these stories without cannibals, but at least these ones know how to party!
Creator Steve Skroce, who has also given us “Wolverine: Blood Debt,” the art for “We Stand on Guard,” and storyboards for “The Matrix” and other movies, invests his story with a lot of energy and style. This is a comic that succeeds mainly because of these two things as you’re constantly wondering what crazy thing Skroce is going to throw at you on the next page. Which is good, because the story itself follows a lot of predictable beats that you’ll still be able to see coming through the hail of blood and bullets. It all makes for a solid done-in-one volume that you’ll remember more for its cannibal dinner deathmatch than any larger points it tries to make about humanity and its current state.
January 23, 2022
Have you ever played a “Yakuza” game and thought to yourself, “You know, this Goro Majima guy is pretty crazy, but he’d be even more crazy if he wore high heels?” If you have, then the arc that kicks off in this volume has you covered. Zenpachi Kurogane is a member of the Yakuza family that Kuroko’s girlfriend Chiyo is a part of and he’s just got out of prison. While he’s enjoying the party that Chiyo has thrown for him, Kuroko is sulking to herself. Until she gets a call from the cops about another weird murder. This time the corpse in question has lost a lot of blood after being stabbed multiple times. Kuroko’s all about proclaiming this the work of the “Hundred-Jab Thrust,” and she’s actually not too far off this time. Former possessed swordsgirl Hikaru acknowledges that this person was murdered… with a rapier.
So if rapier-specific murders and yakuza in high heels don’t do it for you, then I’m not sure what else to say about this arc. The killer in question is your garden variety kind of crazy with only his raging hard-on to distinguish himself from the maniacs this series has shown us in the past. There’s also not really a lot of intrigue to this arc as well with Major Kyogoku’s interest in the crime (and Kuroko) and the killer’s ties to another character from a previous arc providing interest beyond the crime itself. Neither of these things are enough to make this arc stand out, particularly with the action being rather pedestrian for this volume. It all makes me (again) pine for the days when this series had arcs that involved girls getting turned into fertilizer, kids being murdered, and high school kids getting curbstomped. No, none of it was in good taste, but it at least made the series stand out.
January 23, 2022
Vol. 6 was as compelling as it was uncomfortable to read. Vol. is more on the “uncomfortable” side of that equation as it turns out that completely submitting to his mother’s wishes hasn’t made Seiichi’s life any better. Especially in that he can’t even follow them correctly when it comes to his (former) female friend Fukishi. That said, you may be wondering how that volume-ending cliffhanger involving Shigeru coming out of his coma turned out. It only leads to more uncomfortableness as well as the volume’s most interesting idea.
That would be the insight it provides into Seiko’s mindset. It’s been clear for a while that she’s profoundly unhappy with her present family life. That unhappiness is quantified to a certain extent here as we finally get a good idea why she pushed Shigeru off of that cliff back in vol. 1. I think the explanation provided by mangaka Shuzo Oshimi makes sense, especially in light of what we know about Seiko’s mental state. It does, however, make me more curious about how she got to this point in the first place. My hope here is that we get that answer before the end of the series as I can see Oshimi saving it for the end in order to give us the kind of game-changing finale that “The Flowers of Evil” provided.
The series then jumps forward a few months after Shigeru wakes up, and we see that things are going even worse for our protagonist and his family. Seiichi and Seiko are helping with the boy’s rehabilitation as needed, even as the latter is only putting on a polite face about it. This back half has one major plot point on its mind and it stretches it out over about a hundred pages, while Oshimi’s usually strong face game with his characters comes off as more overwrought than naturally expressive. This pushes the story closer than it has ever been to the self-parodying heights of vol. 1. Unless the mangaka is preparing to drive his narrative off of a cliff (where it will hopefully explode to reveal ninjas on fire), then he needs to dial the histrionics and predictable plot points back in for vol. 8
January 21, 2022
I said last time that I’d stick around for this series no matter how long it takes. That, uh… turned out to be quite a while, but I’d say the wait was still worth it. This is mainly due to how vol. 15 is one of the better volumes of “Real” in advancing the stories of its three protagonists. Starting off with Nomiya, who has been on the sidelines for far too long, we see him start a new job with a friend who specializes in physical training. This also inspires the character to get back in shape himself, even though an encounter with the law may wind up putting a stop to any notion of a comeback. Meanwhile, his former friend Takahashi has joined the Dreams, the hotshot wheelchair basketball rivals to Kiyohara’s team, the Tigers. Takahashi is only on the sidelines with them now, but he feels that his old basketball skills will be an asset to the team now that he’s got wheelchair mobility down. As for Kiyohara, he still wants to beat the Dreams, except hs team’s lack of cohesion and his own professional disappointment are forcing him to rethink how he’s going to do this.
Of the three, Kiyohara’s storyline gets the least amount of pages. We still get a good idea of where his arc is headed, and it even has one little surprise for those of you who remember the characters in his orbit. The rest of the volume is given over to Nomiya and Takahashi’s storylines to better effect. We get to see the latter’s struggles with wheelchair basketball realized in a dramatically satisfying way – both in terms of him grappling with the technical aspects of the sport and actual drama. This eventually involves what looks to be a goodbye to one of the title’s most memorable supporting characters as his goals and rehabilitation will be taking him away from here.
While I do like seeing Nomiya finally get some proper face time (as well as the cover) in this volume, there is the feeling that his arc is stuck in a rut here. It’s been established that the biggest obstacle to his success is his own mindset, and that remains true here even as he recognizes what he needs to do in order to push himself forward. We also get a lot of flashbacks to the early days of his friendship with Takahashi, and I can’t recall if this is actually new material or just reiterating what has come before. If this is all an attempt to give the character a “soft reboot,” then I’m all for it so long as we get some real forward momentum on his storyline next time. Which I’ll be here for, even if recent events imply that it’s going to be just as long, if not longer than the wait for this volume was.
January 19, 2022
Liu! Samura! Ewing! Thompson! Tynion! Fujimoto! And MORE in my look back at the year that was.