Weapons of Mutant Destruction

January 19, 2018

Remember kids:  It may not say so on the side of this volume, but this is actually vol. 2 of the new “Weapon X” series.  Its first volume was a surprisingly entertaining start to what is basically the next iteration of “X-Force” and a prelude to this crossover between “The Totally Awesome Hulk.”  Greg Pak writes both series and while pairing them together may seem like an incongruous move, that actually works in this story’s favor.  While Amadeus “Hulk” Cho isn’t a killer, the “Weapon X” team is and they’re up against a group of scientists who are in the employ of the Reverend William Stryker.  The Reverend’s goal is still the eradication of mutantkind and now he’s got a new way to do it:  Using science to create a Wolverine/Hulk hybrid!


Yes, this is the storyline that gave us the Hulkverine and if you can’t get behind the awesome dumbness of that concept then this volume is definitely not for you.  There are some stabs at seriousness in the way that Pak plays up the “banality of evil” when it comes to the rank-and-file scientists as well as Cho’s efforts to see the humanity in the bad guys.  Most of this volume, however, is pure action-movie mayhem as our… protagonists close in on and go to war with the bad guys, all with maximum loudness.  What sets it apart is that Pak has a great handle on his cast and has them playing off of each other in fun and interesting ways.


The art is generally good, though parts of it clearly have issues.  Mahmud Asrar does the one-shot which kicks off the event and it’s solid work, even if I miss the brightly-colored solid linework he’s demonstrated previously.  The “Weapon X” issues are from Marc Borstel who has a clean, detailed style that occasionally gives his characters a plastic sheen to them and/or bug-out eyes.  Robert Gill’s “Awesome Hulk” work is the best with an appealing roughness that strikes a nice middle ground between the aforementioned artists and is great for showing us the Hulkverine -- I mean, Weapon H -- in all of its glory.  Next up for the “Weapon X” crew is “The Hunt For Weapon H” and I’m all for that after his introduction here.



Ultimates 2 vol. 2: Eternity War

January 17, 2018

Al Ewing’s “other” superhero team book got off to a great start with its first volume, was waylaid by its “Civil War II” crossover and some dodgy fill-in art for its second volume, and looked to be turning things around in its third.  The last of which I never got around to writing about.  My bad.  That volume ended with the revelation of the series’ big bad:  The First Firmament -- the living incarnation of the first iteration of the Marvel Universe.  Now, if you think that turning such a high concept into a workable character and wrapping up this ambitious cosmic saga in the space of four issues (even if one of them is oversized) is an impossible task… then you’re not wrong.  At least this volume still offers some fun stories and ideas to soothe the underlying disappointment.

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Ooku vol. 13

January 15, 2018

Vol. 12 may have ended with the promise of a new female shogun dealing with Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan, but that seismic event only plays a small part in the political intrigue here.  Most of the focus is on newcomer Masahiro Abe, the quick-witted Baron of Ise, who rises to the position of Chief Senior Councillor to the eventual shogun, Tokugawa Iesada.  Iesada also plays a pivotal role in this volume as well, even if it happens to be that of a victim.  While mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga finally did readers of this series a favor by writing out the villain Harusada in the previous volume, we’re not done with villainy quite yet.  Iesada’s father, Ieyoshi, is initially portrayed to be a dull, simple-minded fool, yet there’s one aspect to his character which is utterly reprehensible.  This is something else that Masahiro will have to deal with over the course of the volume.  She won’t do it alone, however, as the new senior councillor of the Inner Chambers, a man with a tragic background from a samurai family named Takiyama, has something to prove as well.


Even with the skin-crawling nature of Ieyoshi’s transgressions, Harusada’s depature has made “Ooku” easier to read again.  Even better is that while the series is now without its signature villain and the constant threat of the redface pox it hasn’t lost an ounce of its drama.  I’m not trying to damn this volume with faint praise but the arrival of the Americans actually stands on par with the many other surprising developments here.  None of this comes off as drama for drama’s sake, though.  It’s all grounded in the believable actions of the characters.  Yoshinaga does cram a lot of incident into this volume and it makes for a very dense read, as is usual for this series.  It still manages to maintain the humanity at its core, even as it finds time for some welcome comic asides.  While I think it’d be nice to get new volumes of this series at a pace that is faster than “annual” vol. 13 is yet one more example that the wait between volumes of this series is usually worth it.



Superman vol. 4: Black Dawn

January 14, 2018

Yeah, I think I’m done with this series.  While there was plenty of early praise for Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s take on “Superman” at the start of “Rebirth” I never really felt that it measured up.  With the payoff this fourth volume tries to deliver for the threads that the co-writers have established in the first three, it looks like this series never will.  Things start of promisingly enough with Batman and Robin paying a visit to Superman and his family to discuss the ongoing problems with Jonathan Kent’s powers.  It’s all downhill from there as Batman is captured by evil milk, Jonathan and his dad find out the secret their neighbors have been hiding, and an old foe of Superman’s is revealed as the mastermind behind it all.


My main response to most of the developments here can be summed up as “Was this necessary?”  I don’t think that a good portion of the Hamilton citizenry needed the kind of twist this volume springs upon us, particularly since the cast was working just fine when I thought they were regular humans.  This still comes off as a genius twist when compared against the reveal of the main villain here.  It’s treated as a very big deal, and maybe it is if you’ve got a special place in your heart for Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke’s “Action Comics” #775 where the baddie made his debut.  If you don’t, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never heard of this guy if that’s the case, then the big reveal is going to fall completely flat for you.  It may even fall flat regardless because all he has going for him here is Very Eeeeevil Cockney Britishness.


The good news is that Gleason and Mahnke do a pretty good job with the art, even with their contrasting styles.  I also wanted to mention that while there’s one sequence in Mahnke’s work that looks like he had to bash it out in a couple of hours… I actually liked it.  It’s more in line with his earlier, chunkier work and has more personality to it than the slick style he’s adopted for “Superman.”  It’s still better work than this story deserves.



Star Wars vol. 6: Out Among the Stars

January 13, 2018

After I read the first volume of Jason Aaron’s run on “Star Wars,” I was left with the feeling of, “Where do you go from here?”  “Skywalker Strikes” had the core cast facing off against Darth Vader in a balls-out action story and subsequently featured Luke squaring off against Boba Fett while Han and Leia came face-to-face with the former’s… wife?  Oh, and Jabba the Hutt was in it too.  It was the kind of story that threw all the familiar “Star Wars” things you’d expect at you right away and one that left me worried Aaron’s run wouldn’t have much gas left in it after he brought out the big guns right away.


That turned out not to be the case, for better and for worse.  Aaron spent the next four volumes, and two crossovers, introducing us to new characters and concepts in the “Star Wars” universe.  Sometimes this worked out quite well in the cases of the gang’s struggles against Grakkus the Hutt on Nar Shadda in vol. 2 and “Yoda’s Secret War” in vol. 5.  Then you had things like “Rebel Jail,” which had a good idea at its center but was dragged down by its execution.  For his final volume, Aaron has decided to give us five individual stories featuring the familiar faces we all know and love from the original trilogy and characters he’s created over the course of his run.  They’re a generally good bunch, even if the final one presents a questionable note to end on.

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Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard-Travelin’ Heroz

January 12, 2018

There was a time, back in the days of “Hitman,” where Garth Ennis’ superhero-baiting humor felt transgressive and genuinely funny.  Whether it was Hitman puking on Batman’s shoes, Kev taking the piss out of the Authority, or seeing the Punisher run over Wolverine with a steamroller, there was a time when I genuinely enjoyed seeing the writer make fun of superheroes.  Then time marched on and superhero comics eventually became more willing to laugh at their own conventions and I eventually found out that Ennis’ laughs at their expense came not from a place of love but utter contempt.  “The Boys” still stands as his ultimate statement on the genre, a remarkable achievement in that it manages to be funny and have some insightful things to say about male relationships and superheroes while also revelling in the author’s brand of crass and tasteless self-indulgence.


What does this have to do with “Sixpack and Dogwelder?”  Well, aside from being another great showcase for the talents of Russ Braun, who illustrated the latter half of “The Boys” and several other Ennis projects, it’s another project where the DC Universe gets to take its lumps from Ennis.  It’s also a follow-on to “All-Star Section Eight” where the absolutely awful team of superheroes from “Hitman” tried to learn about what it takes to be a superhero by bothering individual members of the Justice League.  Well, it was really their perpetually sloshed leader, Sixpack, who did the bothering and it was more memorable for the meta nature of his struggle and the really dark turn the story took when Superman got involved at the end.

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Comic Picks #254: Best of 2017

January 10, 2018

One of the rare times where it was a lot easier to pick the worst of the year than the best.


The Heroic Legend of Arslan vol. 7

January 8, 2018

Are you ready for another rousing volume of adventure as the title character struggles to take back his homeland from those who have stolen it from him?  Well, that’s not what happens here!  Vol. 7 is the beginning of an extended diversion from the main plot as Arslan and company have to deal with an invading army from the country of Sindhura.  Working in their favor is the fact that the prince leading the invasion, Rajendra, is something of a fool and thus easily susceptible to the plans of master tactician Narsus.  As a result, our heroes are able to begin their own invasion into Sindhura against its other prince, Gadhevi, in order to secure the Parsian border in this time of conflict.


It’s actually kind of fun to see Arslan and his monstrously capable comrades figure out clever ways to thwart the Sindhuran forces thrown against them.  Usually in stories like these we’re told about how capable our band of heroes are only to see the bad guys repeatedly get the upper hand on them.  In the case of “Arslan,” the protagonists really do have all the smarts and it’s equal parts entertaining and amusing to see them exercise it against the almost comically incapable Sindhurans.


This is assuming you can get over the fact that Arslan and company’s triumphs don’t just feel predictable, but preordained by the plot.  Even if there’s some cleverness displayed in each instance where the Parsians get the upper hand on the Sindhurans, it never really feels like our heroes are ever in any real danger.  The fact that this whole arc is taking us away from the more interesting conflicts between politics and religion happening back in the Parsian capital of Ecbatana is also disappointing too.  Essentially this volume makes it feel like the narrative has wandered straight into filler arc territory.  I’ve certainly read worse versions of these things, but this is still a filler arc nonetheless.



Shirtless Bear-Fighter

January 7, 2018

...With a title like that, what more do you need to know?


Maybe that he’s also “Pantsless Bear-Fighter” for a good portion of the first issue?


Or how about that this series does a decent enough job of delivering enough insanity to live up to that title.  You’ve got Shirtless himself, who lives in a bear house out in the woods and spends his days fighting the bears who cost him the life of his one true love.  Then the bears start coming to the city and he’s drawn into that conflict by his old friend Burke and the promise of a lifetime’s supply of top-quality flapjacks and maple syrup.  A bearplane, hillbilly warlock, and a mechanized fighting toilet are some of the more deliberately outlandish bits of insanity next to weirder ones like Shirtless’ greatest weakness or how he escapes from one fight by swimming upstream like a salmon.  Because why not.


Artist Nil Vendrell is utterly committed to all this and does a pretty great job of delivering on the craziness from Jody Lehup and Sebastian Girner’s script.  While I’d love to give an unabashed recommendation to this volume just for the title alone, I really can’t do that.  Though the script from Lehup and Girner definitely has its strong points, it’s also determined to follow the same basic arc of your average action movie.  Specifically, the kind where the hero is called back into action to do what he does best and is suddenly but inevitably betrayed before his inner strength allows him to overcome and triumph in the end.  It’s an especially ridiculous and crazy version of that kind of story, but it also means you’ll be able to see where all this is going right from the start.  A little insanity with regards to the plotting could’ve gone a long way here, which is something I wasn’t expecting to write regarding a series called “Shirtless Bear-Fighter.”



Jessica Jones vol. 2: The Secrets of Maria Hill

January 6, 2018

This latest volume of “Jessica Jones” gives me hope that Bendis is going to end his tenure at Marvel on an upswing.  I still have to catch up on “Invincible Iron Man” and “The Defenders” but “The Secrets of Maria Hill” is good stuff.  It even gets off on the right foot by addressing my lingering issues with how the writer apparently threw the title character’s life back under a truck to get the story in vol. 1 underway.  Though that volume ended with Luke Cage finding out where Jessica had hidden their daughter, Danielle, and taking her back, the first issue of this one starts the reconciliation process.  It’s actually kind of sweet as this happens because of Dani’s innocent need for both of her parents and leads to Jessica’s fairly well-reasoned explanation of why she did what she did in vol. 1  Even if the way Bendis handled her actions there definitely led to more drama than was necessary I can at least respect his willingness to engage with that issue here.


As for the main story in this volume, it involves Maria Hill showing up (shot, and high on painkillers) at Jessica’s office one night.  Having been dismissed from S.H.I.E.L.D. she’s now relying on her own wits and devices to survive a contract that was put out on her life.  What she wants Jessica to do is find out who put out this contract on her and why.


The route our protagonist takes to find out the answers to these questions is, like the first volume and the original “Alias” series, an entertainingly seedy trip down some of the less-explored parts of the Marvel Universe.  Jessica mixes it up with Sharon Carter, takes another trip back to jail, tracks down Maria’s father, and we get to find out about one of Maria’s earliest S.H.I.E.L.D. missions that went quite bad.  Nick Fury even shows up for a solid flashback cameo.  It’s entertainingly written with an appreciably twisty plot and great art from Michael Gaydos, with a slick contribution from Javier Pulido.  After this volume, I have every reason to expect that the return of the Purple Man in the next volume is going to be just as great if not better.