First post of the new year… and I’m still waiting for the first comics of the new year to show up. I was expecting to have the new Vertigo Crime GN, “The Chill” by Jason Starr, and the first volume of “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, but Amazon doesn’t have them shipping until next week. That’s still better than the fact that they don’t have a shipping date for “The Walking Dead vol. 11: Fear the Hunters,” which means that they’re likely sold out of it until further notice. That said, I’ve still got PLENTY of stuff to talk about from the previous year…
Irredeemable vol. 1: Or, “What would happen if Superman finally snapped and became a bad guy.” Except that it’s not “Superman,” but the “Plutonian” who for reasons that will eventually become clear has turned on his fellow supermen and decided to explore the idea of absolute power corrupting absolutely. This first volume gets things off to a good start as we get some novel takes on traditional superhero events such as what happens when one reveals his identity to his longtime girlfriend (and it’s utterly believable). It’s also fun seeing writer/creator Mark Waid create his own superhero universe and using it to do stuff he couldn’t get away with while working for the big two. Granted, this universe will seem instantly familiar to anyone who has read a Marvel or DC comic, but the biggest issue with the series so far is artist Peter Krause. While Krause is a capable storyteller, his art doesn’t conjure the awe and grandeur that’s needed to sell us on the appeal of this new world. Still, a good first volume overall and I’m looking forward to seeing where Waid goes with this from here.
Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture vol. 1: For now, this is the only Del Rey manga title that I’m reading – at least until the omnibus edition of the last three volumes of “Mushi-Shi” ships in July. Based on this first volume, well… I’d like to say that the pre-release buzz I heard about it was justified, except it’s not really. The series gets points for its unique setup as it’s not only one of the few titles I’ve read that takes place at a college, but it’s the only one that takes place at an agricultural college. However, the real hook for this series is that the main character, Tadayasu, has this ability to see all the bacteria around him (and they’ve been anthropomorphed into very cute -- and therefore marketable -- forms). As far as slice-of-life stories go, it’s not bad and I liked all of the insight into the details of life at an agricultural college that mangaka Masayuki Ishikawa packs into the volume. The only problem is that this series seems to have no greater aim than to show off Ishikawa’s knowledge of biology and really disgusting yet edible foodstuffs. It doesn’t help that the characters are either too thinly depicted to be interesting (Masayuki), too cartoonish to be taken seriously (Masayuki’s oddball professor) or taken straight from the “stock manga characters” drawer (the professor’s strict and overbearing assistant Haruka). Overall it’s alright, and I’m willing to give it another volume or two to see if it develops into something better, but I was expecting more from this one.
The Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign: Or, “volume four” since the series took over from the “Incredible Hulk.” As with all of Marvel’s series that have the “Dark Reign” title to them, this volume involves the cast coming into conflict with Norman Osborne’s agenda and the fighting that ensues as a result. It’s handled in a more interesting manner here as Osborne isn’t out to get the main cast (Hercules, boy genius Amadeus Cho, and goddess of wisdom Athena), but rather Hera and the rest of the Greek Gods she has under her command as CEO of the Olympus Corporation, who is out to get the main cast (for every indignity she’s suffered because of them in Greek mythology). So in order to survive her wrath, Hercules and Amadeus are sent to the underworld to bring back Zeus (he died a few years back in the “Ares” mini-series) only to find that Pluto, lord of the underworld, is planning to put the king of the gods on trial for his multitude of crimes. This is an easy book to review because all I have to say is that if you’ve liked the previous volumes then you’re going to like this one as well. The series wit and knack for skillfully blending Greek mythology with the rest of the Marvel Universe is on fine form here and the end sets up the next volume quite well.
Jormungand vol. 1: This, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess. It reads like mangaka Keitaro Takahashi wanted to create a rip-roaring action yarn in the vein of “Black Lagoon” only set in the world of arms dealers, while nicking the “child soldier as protagonist” idea from “Full Metal Panic” as well. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the skill to pull it off. We’re introduced to Jonah, the child soldier, as he joins up with arms dealer Koko Hekmatyar and the rest of her motley crew as they go about their business of making sure that their deals go through with a minimum of fuss and government interference. Naturally a lot of shooting is involved. While exploring the demands of being an arms dealer in today’s world is a topic rife with storytelling potential, but Takahashi doesn’t seem to be interested in it beyond using it as an excuse to set up action scenes – which are very confusingly choreographed for the most part. Focusing the series on arms dealers also creates another problem as their profession doesn’t really make me want to like or see these people succeed at all. While it’s possible to base a series around people who morally dubious things (see the above-mentioned “Black Lagoon”), said people need to be interesting enough to make us see past their occupation. That’s not the case here as Takahashi falls back on silly comedic elements that feel out of place and some token arguments about how the characters are acting in a moral gray area that we’ve all heard before. My only hope for this series’ future is that Takahashi starts digging deeper into his premise to offer more insight into why these characters are in the business of dealing arms, and to find ways to make the characters themselves more compelling.
Gravel vol. 2: The Major Seven: The first volume of Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer’s ongoing series about combat magician William Gravel was a fast-paced and entertaining action story that involved the title character killing his way through seven other magicians (of varying degrees of bastardry) for an item of immense occult power. Upon finishing off the last of these “Minor Seven,” Gravel found himself invited to join the ranks of the “Major Seven,” the ruling magicians of Britain. Now he has two tasks: to reform the “Minor Seven” and to find out who killed Avalon Lake, the member of the “Major Seven” he’s replacing. I was looking forward to this volume a lot after reading a favorable review of the issues at Comic Book Resources and having a friend of mine wax enthusiastic about how this volume was about more than just Gravel killing a bunch of bastards. Long story short: I was disappointed. While it was a nice change of pace to have the title character do more talking than shooting and to see him begin recruiting members for the “Minor Seven,” there’s not enough change to make this volume seem like a more flaccid version of the previous one. The ending comes off as particularly redundant after the events of the first volume. That said, I’m hoping to see that the next volume will let us see more of Gravel trying to build something in this life rather than trying to tear it down.