Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol. 6

March 19, 2018

It seems like mangaka Yasuo Ohtagaki finally got around to watching “Memento” before he sat down to create this volume-length story.  I say this because the first half of vol. 6 has the same gimmick as that classic film: a story told in reverse. Things start out with Bianca, one of the veteran mobile suit pilots on the Spartan, in a tough position against Zeon forces on the Antarctic tundra while the narrative unspools in reverse to show us how they wound up at this point.  This approach works well enough, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s pure gimmickry. There’s no reason this story had to be told in reverse as the gains from telling the story in this way -- some suspense over Bianca’s fate, amusement from seeing an obviously doomed crew member die before you realize she was just a redshirt -- feel pretty negligible overall.  Ohtagaki could’ve told the story in the first half normally and I can’t imagine my overall reaction towards it changing all that much.


That the narrative approach to the first half is just a gimmick is also reinforced by the fact that normal service is resumed once Io shows up in his Gundam and takes the fight to Zeon’s undersea forces.  It’s a tense, well-executed battle in which one of this title’s erstwhile protagonists demonstrates some ingenious quick-thinking to survive the conflict and its aftermath. All without any kind of gimmickry.  Then you reach the end of the volume and realize that the only details meaningful to the overall plot of this current storyline have been saved for last. So maybe the reverse-storytelling gimmick does help distract from the fact that you’ve just read a volume of (well-executed) filler.  When the series is over with, vol. 6 will most likely be remembered as “The One Where the First Half Was Told in Reverse.” Let’s hope future volumes wind up being a bit more memorable than that.

Jimmy’s Bastards vol. 1: Trigger Warning

March 18, 2018

If it seems like we’ve been here before recently, that’s because we have.  Garth Ennis and Russ Braun are together again with the story of an ersatz James Bond coming face-to-face with his thoughtlessly cavalier lifestyle.  Jimmy Regent is the “Not Bond” in question and we’re introduced to him as he’s saving London from a blimp attack by two members of his rogues gallery:  Theolonius Trigger and Bobo the Bastard Chimp. (Clearly Ennis is drawing on the pre-Daniel Craig era of Bond Villains for this series.) Congratulations are in order, along with being teamed up with a new partner, Nancy McEwan, who believes she knows exactly what to expect from Regent.  While this is happening, the many disgruntled bastard children from Jimmy’s love ‘em-and-leave ’em legacy with women have all teamed up to finally give their dad what’s coming to him.


“Jimmy’s Bastards” is clearly meant to fall into the “comedic” section of Ennis’ works and it’s biggest failing is that it’s really not all that funny.  Some bits made me smile, but the humor here is either childish, outlandish, or some mix of both. A late-volume twist has the genders of everyone in London being swapped and many members of both sexes trying out their new equipment in all the ways you’d expect from a Garth Ennis comic.  If that sounds hilarious to you then the style of humor this series trades in will be right up your alley.


There are some things that I genuinely liked about this volume, however.  Regent is a charming bastard in spite of himself and his thoughts on things like political correctness and social justice (mirroring Ennis’ own musings I would imagine) do make a certain amount of sense.  McEwan makes a great foil for her partner and gets some awesome moments of action hero glory towards the end of the volume. Then there’s the art from the always-great Braun which does its best to sell the comedy, but does a better job of making the action and character moments genuinely involving.  With these things going for it, I think I can bring myself to see what the second volume has to offer. So long as it’s the concluding volume, because I can’t see this concept sustaining anything more than that.

Spy Seal vol. 1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix

March 17, 2018

“Spy Seal” is a character creator Rich Tommaso came up with as a kid and decided to make a comic out of.  While the idea of an anthropomorphic seal who is also a secret agent may seem a little strange to some, the fact that it’s drawing on two notable series as influences makes it easy to get into.  The dominant influence, from art style all the way down to trade dress, is Hegre’s classic “Tintin” stories, but the use of talking animals brings to mind “Usagi Yojimbo” as well. (Though that may say more about my tastes too since I can see others citing the duck-works of Carl Barks as inspiration here too.)


Aesthetically, the book is a clear home run.  Tommasso has a very clean style that recall’s Hegre’s without feeling slavish to it.  That’s due in large part to his animal character designs which are all distinct and very emotive too.  The story’s European setting also helps the story stand out, while the action scenes are pretty nifty too.


Where “Spy Seal” falters is in the execution of its story.  The title character is basically an ordinary seal who finds himself embroiled in a inter-continental caper after he’s recruited by MI-6 following an encounter with a Russian spy.  A familiar setup, to be sure, but the story never really finds a proper rhythm. It’s either zipping along while the action plays out or getting bogged down with exposition as we’re told about cool stuff that we should’ve seen play out on the page.  There’s even an awful cop-out in one scene where Spy Seal is plummeting to his death while tied to a seat only to show up fine two pages later. I admire what this series is trying to do and its overall style, but the storytelling isn’t quite there yet.  Maybe in the next volume.

Bitch Planet: Triple Feature

March 16, 2018

The first volume of “Bitch Planet” set up a rousing sports prision story in a future where women were systematically oppressed and the goal was to overthrow the patriarchy.  Vol. 2 said nuts to that premise and set about starting the revolution now. Proper setup be damned! Now we have a third volume of this series that doesn’t look to continue the main story at all.  “Bitch Planet: Triple Feature” is an anthology series featuring stories set in the world created by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as around here there’s precedent for a good anthology getting a series back on track after an underwhelming second volume.


That’s not what we have here, though.  All of the stories in “Triple Feature” have one thing on their mind:  Showing us how much it sucks to be a woman, a minority, or both in this world.  The problem is that this was abundantly obvious in the first two volumes and hammering the same point home over and over again through fifteen stories inspires boredom rather than sadness or anger at the situations the characters in these stories find themselves in.  It doesn’t help that after just two volumes “Bitch Planet’s” world doesn’t feel fleshed out enough to warrant this kind of exploration from other creators. The wildly varying tones and settings for these stories feel like their own things rather than a part of the world they’re supposed to be fleshing out.


There’s some really great art to be seen in these stories and that’s about the best thing I can say about this collection.  “Triple Feature” was clearly made to give the main series some visibility while DeConnick and De Landro took their time in order to get it back on track.  After reading this I’m left wondering if I should even bother when they finally get around to making vol. 3.

Saga vol. 8

March 14, 2018

Like a lot of long-running series, the volumes of “Saga” can be broadly generalized as being about one particular thing.  You can call vol. 2 “The One About the In-Laws,” while vol. 4 is “The One With Relationship Troubles,” with vol. 5 being “The One Where That Dragon Sucks its Own Dick,” and vol. 7 is “The One With an Actual Title.”  I bring this up because vol. 8 makes it clear from the very first page that it’s going to be “The One About Abortion.” If you’ve made it this far into “Saga” then the fact that creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are going to do a story about such a tricky topic shouldn’t surprise you in the least.  Given their track record, you may even have expected it from them. What you probably didn’t expect is their botched handling of the subject matter here.

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I Am A Hero Omnibus vol. 5

March 12, 2018

This latest volume can be neatly divided into three sections.  What’s telling about the division is that even its weakest section, which would be the first, is still pretty engaging.  That first section focuses on a manga editor and his assistant traveling to Taiwan to get some photo reference shots after just about everyone else in their office falls ill.  There’s no getting around the fact that this mini-arc comes off as filler as it appears to have zero significance to the events going on back in Japan. It’s still enjoyable on its own terms as it picks apart the casually adulterous relationship between the couple, slowly ratchets up the tension over the course of its four chapters, and showcases the start of an outbreak in another country.  In particular, there’s a sinister casualness with which the telltale signs of the outbreak are brought up in the narrative that’s all the more unnerving for how natural they feel to the setting.


The middle and longest section of the volume returns the focus to Hideo, Tsugumi (“Yabu”), and Hiromi as they make their own way after escaping the mall.  Hideo and Tsugumi’s primary concern is finding a place where they can safely remove the nail in Hiromi’s head. It’s a tall order considering that most hospitals are likely to be overrun by the infected.  So this section turns into a road trip that runs the emotional gamut. There’s triumph in how they manage to find enough spare change to gets some water from a vending machine, and gut-churning horror as Hideo encounters a new kind of infected when he goes out to scavenge for food.  If you have bad memories of the zombie baby from the “Dawn of the Dead” remake, then let me assure you: what’s here is worse. It’s followed by liberation and even triumph as Hideo and Tsumugi’s efforts to try and do the right thing in this crazy world look to be the new core of this series.


So where does that leave the omnibus’ final section as we’re formally introduced to the mysterious Kurusu and his followers from the point-of-view of a shut-in who is rescued by them?  They don’t seem to be outright evil, just focused on the mission in front of them with an interest in recruiting worthwhile survivors. Kurusu himself is something of a gigglingly creepy enigma with some impressive combat skills.  How did he manage to create a following of his own and forge them into an effective strike force? It’s something I’m definitely interested in finding out, even if I’m a bit wary about the special infected abilities teased in the next volume preview.

Black Hammer vol. 2: The Event

March 11, 2018

Vol. 1 ended with the arrival of Lucy Weber, daughter of Black Hammer, to the strange town that the heroes of Spiral City have been banished to.  Her arrival also revealed that one of these heroes may have more to do with their banishment than they’re letting on by wiping Lucy’s memory of how she got here.  Fortunately for everyone who does want to get out of this place, Lucy has the skills she’s acquired as an investigative reporter and they prove to be pretty useful in picking apart this artificial reality.  While she’s doing this, the series delves deeper into the various backstories and current sad situations of the rest of its cast. We find out about the time Golden Gail retired and actually found happiness -- with Sherlock Frankenstein!  Then there was the time that Abraham Slam tried to update his costume to try and compete with those younger heroes. How about the time that Talky-Walky and Col. Weird first met, played out against the tragic circumstances of their present.  Best of all is the Kirbyesque origin of Black Hammer himself, and how his legacy might be the thing that gets everyone off of the Farm for good.


One thing all of this background-building helps to distract from is how little progress is made regarding the main story of why these heroes are stuck on the Farm and how they’re going to leave.  Vol. 2 does end with another significant development that suggests things will really start moving forward with vol. 3. So yeah, “Black Hammer” is certainly asking for a bit of patience from its audience, but I’m not inclined to complain too loudly about it.  The series continues to play to writer Jeff Lemire’s strengths as a character-driven writer with the result being that it’s a joy to learn more about his cast than a chore. Main artist Dean Ormston continues to turn in work that’s just on the right side of creepy, and while guest artist David Rubin’s issue is about as far away from that as you can get his depiction of how Talky-Walky and Col. Weird first met is an energetic delight.  While the main story of “Black Hammer” does require your patience, getting to know its core cast better here is a reward unto itself.

Aliens: Defiance vol. 2

March 10, 2018

What happens when you don’t have the resources to fight the good fight anymore?  PFC Zula Hendricks, the android Davis, and their new ally Dr. Hollis are committed to making sure that Weyland-Yutani aren’t able to get their hands on a viable xenomorph sample.  They’ve destroyed lots of company property and killed other Colonial Marines on their mission, but it feels like they’ve reached the end of the line here. Their ship, the Europa, is falling apart at the seams, Zula’s spinal condition is worsening by the day, Davis is falling into disrepair, and Dr. Hollis is expecting… a xenomorph queen.  The three of them will have to figure out how to extract that unwanted thing without killing the doctor, and then what to do with it afterwards. Do they kill it and remain true to their mission? Or keep it alive in order to barter for safe passage back to Earth, compromising everything they’ve done up to this point now that their fight is unwinnable?


Much like the first volume, the strength of this series lies in its characterization rather than the plotting.  There’s some suspense to be had regarding what Hendricks, Davis, and Hollis are going to do about the queen and a potential return to Earth, but most of the story here still manages to play out as you’d expect.  What will keep you reading is the internal drama writer Brian Wood generates with Zula as she wrestles with her physical condition and the progressively harder choices she’s forced to make as the volume goes on. Davis’ subplot about gaining more human desires works so long as you’re willing to accept the fact that the story doesn’t offer an explanation as to how he was able to re-program himself in the first place.  As for Dr. Hollis, she gets a gruesomely thrilling scene early on that recalls the best part of “Prometheus.”


This second volume of “Defiance” features three different artists:  Stephen Thompson, Tony Brescini, and Eduardo Francisco. The former two offer up crisp and straightforward sci-fi settings and action, while the latter has a smoothness to his style that is still appealing even if it lacks for consistency.  It all wraps up well enough without completely shutting the door on a follow-up at some point. This series may not be good enough for me to recommend it to all comics readers, but “Aliens” fans or people who have liked Wood’s work on licensed titles at Dark Horse will find this to be a satisfying read.

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1954

March 9, 2018

Yeah, it’s been a while since we got one of these.  So long, in fact, that the next volume has already been solicited for release this June.  With a new volume due so (relatively) soon does “1954” deserve to be lost in the shuffle? I don’t think that any story featuring Hellboy deserves that fate, even if some of the tales collected here are some of the most conventional by Mignolaverse standards.

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Comic Picks #258: Snowpiercer

March 7, 2018

Liked the movie?  Then you'll like the graphic novels that spawned it.  The first volume, at least.