Is DC headed for a “Fresh Start” later this year? In the neverending quest for better buzz and sales, the company is rumored to be planning a refresh of their line around Fall of this year. Said refresh will consist of the kind of new first issue relaunches that we’ve come to expect in this era with a number of high-profile creators taking them over. At this point the rumors consist of Kelly Sue DeConnick taking over “Aquaman” (sure), Brian Azzarello on “Suicide Squad” (promising, but with HUGE potential to misfire), and David Walker on a “Flash” title (which sounds like a waste because when has “The Flash” been popular enough to support two titles at the same time). It’s kind of a mixed bag, but there’s one more rumor which I hope really pans out: Grant Morrison on “Green Lantern.” This seems like a perfect fit for the writer as it would allow him to embrace his sci-fi and psychedelic tendencies to the hilt. He’s also demonstrated a keen desire to respect and build on what has come before in a series, so it’d be really interesting to see what he would add to the “Green Lantern” mythos. Liam Sharp is also said to be the artist for this run and that’s fantastic news too. Even though Morrison/Sharp on “Green Lantern” only exists as a rumor, I can’t wait to read it. Let’s hope I’m not setting myself up for disappointment regarding its existence.
It’s (red) dragon slaying time! After the opening chapter catches us up with Namari and her party, adding some to the title’s mythos and doing a bit of foreshadowing along the way, the rest of the volume is focused on taking down the dragon that wiped the party back at the beginning of the story. Working against our heroes is that they’re down two members compared to the last time they took on the dragon. The good news is that, thanks to Senshi, they’re able to have a delicious meal of fried frog thigh meat cutlets before the fight and aren’t going to be defeated by hunger this time. Even so, the red dragon is the biggest and most dangerous monster the party has faced yet. How are they going to manage to take it down in a way that doesn’t involve anyone else dying (this time around)?
If you guessed that they manage to pull it off through proper planning and preparation, then go back and re-read the first three volumes. (It’s okay, I’ll wait.) Once you’ve realized that this party’s plans tend to fall apart even with proper preparation, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that everything comes down to the fact that adamantine woks can contain explosions really well and Laios getting in the right position to put his leg into the dragon’s mouth. It’s equal parts heroic and crazy, perfectly keeping with the tone of the series so far.
Do they manage to resurrect Falin after the battle? Let’s just say that there are some complications that have to be worked through, and will have lasting consequences for the party, before everyone can enjoy the mega-happy ending and post-battle banquet. Mangaka Ryoko Kui also delivers some nice character moments in the last couple of chapters that warm the heart in a way that really feels earned by the narrative. Of course, the ending comes brandishing a knife that you can fully expect to be stuck in your guts and then given a twist once vol. 5 comes around. I know that sounds painful, but it’s something I’m willing to suffer through for a series this good.
Vol. 1 made for a pretty great showcase regarding family matriarch Grace Briggs as she took a hardline stance to asserting control over the title land and detoxing her husband’s influence over it. I was expecting great things from the follow-up, but the problem with vol. 2 is that the focus shifts from Grace to the rest of her family as they deal with new threats to Briggs Land. The biggest of which takes up the first half of the volume when Isaac Briggs comes across some hikers trespassing on their land and through some circumstances of bad timing winds up taking them hostage. While the family is able to keep this quiet, federal and local searches for the missing hikers eventually lead them to Briggs Land, a bit of a media circus, and both sides exchanging fire.
While this is the longest storyline in vol. 2, the business with the hitchhikers still feels like it wasn’t given enough space to fully play out. Writer Brian Wood isn’t able to really dive into the various family members’ feelings regarding this situation and the feds mostly come off as antagonistic bullies. Though there are a handful of really well-done scenes, like the one involving the Briggs Land member who takes some potshots at a helicopter, most of them feel weirdly abbreviated. There’s also a weirdness to the timeframe of the story as we’re told that four weeks have passed between the hikers’ capture and the standoff with the Feds and it never feels that way at all.
This arc is followed up with a one-off about Abbie Briggs, wife of wild child Noah, smuggling one of the Land’s residents out for a potential abortion and to reconnect with some old friends herself. It doesn’t go well and while I get that the story is trying to make some point about how her life on Briggs Land is meant to be an improvement over the one she was living it comes across as something that’s being told and not shown. Things improve for the final arc, a two-parter that has one of Jim Briggs’ old friends making his move to retake the Land. It actually works the best as an ensemble piece among the Briggs family, even if the conflict feels like it wraps up before it can really get going. It’s not a bad volume overall, but future volumes (if there are any -- the series is currently MIA from Dark Horse’s solicitations) would do well to put the spotlight back where it belongs on Grace.
Longtime readers should know that I’m a big fan of James Stokoe’s work. So when Dark Horse announced that he’d be working on an “Aliens” miniseries for them, I was really excited. After all, Stokoe had shown that he can do excellent work when it comes to licensed material in his “Godzilla: The Half-Century War.” “Dead Orbit” isn’t in the same league as it attempts to use raw style to compensate for the fact that it’s telling a very familiar story. How familiar? As we find out through flashbacks, the six-person crew of the Weyland-Yutani space station Sphacteria were minding their own business one day when an unmarked spacecraft came into range. The ship didn’t respond to their hails, the crew went over to investigate and found three people in cryosleep. An accident during their revival leaves these people partially cooked and unable to talk about where they came from or what kind of thing managed to burn through the ship’s bulkhead.
If you’ve got any familiarity with the “Alien” franchise, you can probably guess where things go from here. Stokoe tries to add a layer of mystery to the proceedings by flashing back between the past and the present, occupied by the engineer Wascylewski and two Aliens. It works to a certain extent, but also leads to some odd gaps in the narrative. At least the series has Stokoe’s phenomenal art to fall back on. He’s always been a stickler for detail and the gritty, run-down future aesthetic of the Sphacteria offers him plenty of chances to show off. While it’s easy to be impressed by the intricacy of his art, Stokoe also manages to deliver suspense and thrills in the anticipation of and actual Alien attacks. There’s also a selection of art, including Stokoe’s original “Aliens” pitch, with commentary to round out the volume and show you that the creator’s black-and-white art is pretty damn impressive too. So while “Dead Orbit” certainly has style going for it, the quality of the story still leaves it as something best appreciated by existing fans of Stokoe or the “Aliens” franchise.
This is an odd volume in the series in that it’s as upbeat as this title ever gets. With the Whisperer War and Savior threat behind them, the residents of Alexandrea and Hilltop set their sights on rebuilding. There are signs of discontent, Dwight is still angry at Rick for killing his ex in self-defense while Maggie is not happy with the idea of Negan being set free, but with the bad stuff behind everyone the series is free to focus on hope for a change. Which is good because, as the series has demonstrated in the past, nothing good comes from focusing on doom and gloom all the time. Besides, I’m sure Kirkman and Adlard are saving that for the next volume when Michonne and Eugene’s group finally comes face-to-face with the community that the latter has been talking with for the past few volumes.
“Lines we Cross” is also notable for its introduction of a new character, Juanita “Princess” Sanchez. That’s her on the cover, in case it wasn’t obvious. She’s a lively chatterbox who rubs Michonne the wrong way, but in a friendly, amusing manner. So far Princess is memorable for how lively she comes across in comparison to the rest of the cast as opposed to bringing anything interesting to the overall plot. That could very easily change and her oddball nature does contrast well with the group she’s currently interacting with, so that’s a plus.
Then we get to the final issue which is the Negan spotlight that I’ve been waiting to read ever since it was solicited with the admonishment “This is what he deserves.” It very much draws a line under the character’s arc up to this point as he struggles with living in solitude. With only his memories of Lucille to comfort him, Negan prepares to fall back into bad habits… only for Maggie to show up with the intent of settling things once and for all. Even if his trademark braggadocio is still present, the Negan we see here is a humbled, changed man compared to the charismatic psychopath we first met twelve volumes ago. It’s honestly kind of remarkable that the creators have taken the character to this point while making his journey feel utterly credible. Even if this is the last we see of Negan in this series, it’s still a hell of a note for him to go out on.
Steve is back to talk about two new manga that deserve your time and money. We also talk a bit about "Golden Kamuy," "Not-Genshiken" follow-up "Spotted Flower" and "Delicious in Dungeon."
Yes, I really should’ve reviewed this back when it came out around the beginning of March. Mainly because this series is almost as sales-challenged as mangaka Hiroki Endo’s other series published out here, “Eden: It’s an Endless World!” The fact that it was a solid six months between the publication of volumes five and six gives me hope that the series is on a (very slow) schedule now. Which is a good thing because vol. 6 features what is probably the best match in “All-Rounder Meguru” yet.
After a short scene to show us the fallout from Yamabuki’s game-ending high-kick on Yudai -- if he’s lucky, the latter will just come away from the match with fractured ribs and an arm -- we dive into the meat of the volume: Meguru vs. Kagaya. The latter is a burly up-and-comer with a bad rep after he broke a girl’s arm in a practice match a while back. He sees Meguru as little more than a speed bump on the way to the finals match against Yamabuki, and with the title character running on fumes at the start of the match it seems like this match is over even before it starts.
That’s obviously not the case and Endo gets a great volume-length match out of the two going at it. While Kagaya has strength and skill, Meguru has the on-the-spot adaptability that’s become his stock in trade to make the match far more interesting than you’d expect. As with any great fight, MMA or otherwise, there’s lots of well-choreographed back-and-forth between the two combatants as neither is able to fully gain the upper hand on the other. Right up until the end where we don’t get the “Rocky” ending, but it all winds up being a big learning experience for Meguru. The fight’s momentum is sapped a bit in the end when we get some flashbacks to flesh out Kagaya’s character. They really should’ve come at the beginning of the match, yet they’re still well-done in and of themselves and are only a minor distraction in this otherwise great volume.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the “Star Wars” comic quality spectrum we have the latest adventure of Doctor Aphra. After finding a way to safely reactivate the technopathic presence of ancient Jedi “Immortal” Rur in the wake of the “Screaming Citadel” crossover, Aphra does what comes naturally to her. She invites a host of the galaxy’s scum, villains, and academics to participate in an auction for the crystal housing Rur. Though Aphra may be savvy enough to keep all of the bidders in line, she’s failed to consider the possibility of betrayal from within. While Triple-Zero and BT have been enjoying their time with the good Doctor, the lack of murder in their current assignments has left them bored of late. So they figure the best way to fix that is to put in a call to a certain dark and sinister figure from Aphra’s past to let him know about the auction as well.
The fact that Aphra’s plan to auction off Rur goes horribly wrong shouldn’t surprise anyone. What’s great about both halves of the story is that writer Kieron Gillen doesn’t waste your time with either of them. The first half is spent properly introducing us to all the dubious characters who have come to bid on the crystal, setting up the betrayal, and foreshadowing all of the little things that are going to go wrong when Rur gets loose. With the second half, it’s all expertly choreographed chaos as things go completely to hell and Aphra not only has to figure out a way to escape with her life, but figure out some way to profit from this mess too.
Kev Walker returns to provide the art for this arc and it’s fantastic to have him back. The level of detail in his environments and characters in this series continues to be well above what he’s delivered in the past, and he’s also great with giving us an emotive cast that makes even the scumbags with the bit parts just a little sympathetic. All of this is preceded by a story detailing how Black Krssantan came to be known and feared with some impressive art from Marc Laming. Though it has some funny bits and an interesting twist on the Wookie “life debt” it’s a little disappointing in how straightforward it is. Still, even if Aphra herself doesn’t come away from this story with an “Enormous Profit” anyone who reads this certainly will as far as entertainment value goes.
It’s a credit to how Marvel has handled the “Star Wars” license that they have yet to release a genuinely bad comic book featuring it. Some could be called boring and inessential, but this “Mace Windu” miniseries is notable for how it combines these two things. Don’t expect to learn anything about the title character here as he and three Jedi are assigned to investigate the Separatist presence on the remote planet of Hissrich. Once there, it isn’t long before they find out that the Separatist operation is being overseen by greedy mercenary droid AD-W4 who’s looking to collect a few lightsabers for a bonus to his fee. He’s got all the droids he needs to make it happen; at least, he thinks he does.
That’s pretty much all there is to the main story. Well, there’s also a subplot about how one of the Jedi Windu has brought along starts to freak out about their role in the Clone Wars after coming across a lot of dead natives. That could’ve been an interesting storyline to pursue, but he’s quickly dealt with so everyone can get back to fighting droids only to be brought up again at the end to add what passes for moral ambiguity in this story. Aside from that, the story and characterization suffer from terminal blandness. Every beat plays out in the way you’d expect with nothing being done to make the characters more interesting compared to how they’ve been portrayed elsewhere.
“Mace Windu” comes to us courtesy of writer Matt Owens. I’m not familiar with him and while the end result is polished enough to not seem like a first attempt at writing comics, it’s not something that makes me want to actively check out more work from him in the future. The above-mentioned blandness of the story also carries over to the art from Denys Cowan. Cowan has demonstrated a memorable scratchiness to his art in previous works, something which has been smoothed out into a more conventional look here. As I said at the beginning, this isn’t a bad comic because it’s too competent to be called that. Yet it feels all the more annoying for its mediocrity and failure to do anything interesting with the title character.
We’re technically on the third volume of this series, as I’m counting the “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” crossover, and pretty much all of it has been focused on the new Weapon X/Weapon H storylines. That’s a lot of time to devote to one subject in this day and age, but that’s not a bad thing as writer Greg Pak, now working with his “Incredible Hercules” co-writer Fred Van Lente, has been delivering a consistently enjoyable team book with this title. That trend continues here as our team of mutants -- now adopting the Weapon X name from Reverend Stryker’s rebooted program -- is on the hunt for Weapon H. Or, the Hulkverine if you will. Working against them is Stryker and the remnants of his organization, including Weapon H’s creator Doctor Alba. Alba’s got her own agenda as the creator of what she sees as the perfect killing machine and the doctor wants nothing more than to see it live up to its potential.
Pak and Van Lente have a good handle on the core cast and, more importantly, give them all some time in the spotlight for this story. They even chose an appropriate guest-star for this arc and she gets to put in a substantial contribution as well. The writers also get the cast to deliver some quality banter amongst each other and that enlivens things as well. As for Weapon H himself, he’s your standard “good guy in a bad situation” who fits the role well enough. He’s kind of personality-free at this point into his shelf-life which is more of an issue for the upcoming Pak-written “Weapon H” series than this current hunt for him.
Weighing this arc down a bit is the art from Marc Borstel. Though it’s largely competent and filled with good detail there’s a plasticine sheen to it which isn’t that appealing. It gives the characters a somewhat unnatural look to them, something that’s amplified during certain action scenes where they look “posed” into a panel. Ibrahim Roberson is also credited as an artist here as well, but he was apparently drafted to provide stylistic consistency with Borstel than display his own style. All this being said, vol. 3 of “Weapon X” is still another surprisingly enjoyable entry into this series which has me looking forward to seeing what the creators can do now that they no longer have to focus on the Hulkverine.