The Wicked + The Divine vol. 6: Imperial Phase Part II

February 23, 2018

I was worried for a while after starting this volume that the series had reached the point where it was losing its volume-to-volume appeal and a full re-read was going to be necessary in order to appreciate everything that was going on.  The basics of the plot are easy enough to grab as the cast is primarily concerned with two things:  Finding Sakhmet after she engaged in a bit of mass-murder at the end of the volume and setting up a massive concert as a means of generating some friendly PR and to power the mysterious machine Ananke left behind.  There’s other stuff going on too, such as Dio’s attempts to connect with and help Baphomet, and Persephone’s near-volume-length turn as the (self) destroyer.  Yet the larger picture of the plot and the characters’ role in it never felt as fuzzy to me as it did for most of the beginning of this volume.


Now, “The Wicked + The Divine” will always have Kieron Gillen’s dialogue that is as funny as it is sharp and Jamie McKelvie’s wonderfully emotive and dynamic art to soothe issues like this.  What I wasn’t expecting were a couple of twists in the final issue that went a long way towards banishing the doubts described above.  The first was a genuine surprise.  All the more so for how it made perfect sense in the context of what had come before and how it’ll make re-reading the series a lot more interesting with the knowledge it imparts.  As for the second, it’s of the “Should’ve seen this coming” variety in its reveals about a certain character and how death isn’t as permanent in this series as you’d have expected.  It’s still excellent work by the creative team and it leaves the series in a very strong place as it heads into its final year.

Comic Picks #257: Black Panther by Christopher Priest

February 21, 2018

John and I talk about the movie, and I go into what is widely considered to be the character's definitive run.


Princess Jellyfish vol. 7

February 19, 2018

This is starting to drift into “Why am I still reading it?” territory.  It looked for a while that the series was going to become more than a wacky rom-sit-com as Tsukimi, Kuranosuke, and the rest of the otaku AMARS gang branched out into making their own fashion startup.  That completely fell through and now Tsukimi is on her way to Singapore with quasi-shady CEO Kai to design clothes for his company as part of a deal that saves her friends’ residence.  Tsukimi’s ostensible fiancee, Shu, is off being his clueless self in Italy completely unaware of what’s going on thanks to a contrivance regarding his cell phone.  Kuranosuke, however, is the only member of the cast who isn’t going to take Tsukimi’s plight lying down and heads off to Singapore, making his modelling debut in the process.


What bugs me the most about this series is that, as the plot progresses, its characters stubbornly refuse to change.  They continue to act like they’re in a sitcom even as the narrative makes it clear that’s not what this story is.  It’s especially grating when it comes to anything involving the AMARS girls these days, and more than a little depressing in the case of Tsukimi.  Seven (actually 14) volumes in and she’s just about the same easily frightened wallflower she was when we first met her.  To see her thrust into the harsh and demanding world of fashion, complete with shrill gay fashionista stereotypes, with little to no support feels like a recipe for disaster.


Particularly with someone like Kai watching over her.  The CEO gets some of the best material in this volume as his backstory is detailed and he emerges as the kind of complex character this series needs.  My enthusiasm here is tempered by the fact that his relationship with Tsukimi falls more toward the “predatory” scale of the romantic spectrum as he seeks to manipulate this new talent he has brought under his wing.  Despite this, I’d still like to see Tsukimi really make a splash in Singapore and emerge as a notable talent in the fashion industry.  It’d set up some interesting dramatic challenges for Kuranosuke and Shu as they try to win her back, if nothing else.  Seeing Tsukimi flame out here, however, would at least offer me all the reason I need to stop reading this series.

Motor Crush vol. 1

February 18, 2018

Creators Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr (co-writer, co-writer/layout artist, and artist, respectively) managed to spark a mini-revolution at DC with their run on “Batgirl.”  Their “Batgirl of Burnside” brought a real sense of style and fun to the “New 52” and enough buzz to get DC to follow their lead.  It didn’t last, but the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr run clearly established these creators as ones to follow.  That they all re-teamed for “Motor Crush” at Image meant that I was definitely going to check it out (even if it took a little longer than I had planned).  The end result features a lot of the style the creators had on display for their “Batgirl” run, but precious little of its fun.

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Regression vol. 1: Way Down Deep

February 17, 2018

Adrian Padilla hasn’t been doing that great lately.  He’s been plagued by hallucinations of insects and rot infesting the people and objects nearest to him.  Though he’s not a junkie, his friends are about to write him off as one.  Well, all of them except for Molly who recommends that he go and see a hypnotherapist to find out what’s plaguing his subconscious.  They do this… and things get worse.  The hypnotherapy awakened the memory of one of Adrian’s past lives, a psychotic English serial killer named Sutter who joined a cult in search of even greater pleasures of the flesh.  Sutter’s soul was pledged to the dark god they worship and it’s determined to have him back along with his current host.


This isn’t a bad setup for a horror title but it doesn’t really rise above being “not bad.”  Adrian makes for a sympathetic protagonist, even when he makes the occasional dumb move like lying to the police.  While it feels weird to describe artist Danny Luckert’s style as appealingly clean, given all of the gruesome and… wriggly things he has to draw it’s still the truth and the first volume has a nice overall style to it.  Where it goes wrong is in writer Cullen Bunn’s decision to lay on the horror bits with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  Adrian’s initial hallucinations come on fast and strong and hardly a scene goes by without some kind of weirdness occurring.  It gets predictable and even boring after a while, even with Luckert’s efforts to bring the creepiness.


What at least makes me amenable to picking up the second volume is the fact that it feels like real progress has been made in the story by the end of the volume.  Adrian has an encounter with another hypnotherapist that goes better for him.  Instead of revealing that it had no effect in keeping his protagonist’s demons at bay, Bunn has a new but still related threat emerge to drive the story.  I’m not convinced that “Regression” is going to lead anywhere interesting yet, but it ends in a way that makes me want to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

Deadly Class vol. 6: This is Not the End

February 16, 2018

This volume ends on an amazing cliffhanger.


If you’ve been following Rick Remender’s writing for any length of time, you’ll know that he loves to grind down his protagonists.  Sometimes this can get really wearying, but in cases like “Deadly Class” it becomes part of the fun.  Still, when I was getting to the last few story pages of this volume I saw things take a turn for the worse with the main cast.  The Saya-less King’s Dominion crew managed to reunite with Marcus and Maria in Mexico while the duplicitous scumbag Quan has managed to not only bring the Yakuza down on them, but Viktor and Brandy too.  Everything was set up for the main cast to be totally screwed in classic, but completely expected, Remender fashion.  That is, until the writer decided to flip the script on the very last page.


Now, I’ll concede that some parts of this cliffhanger could easily be walked back from.  Not all of them, though.  Unlike his previous attempt at a game-changing cliffhanger in vol. 4, Remender doesn’t go in for any obvious fake-outs and I’m looking forward to seeing how the stab wound and (assumed) loss of pride one character is no doubt feeling are addressed in vol. 7.  It’s a textbook example of how stage an excellent cliffhanger all around.


While the ending of this volume is without a doubt its high point, there’s still plenty of fun stuff prior to it to make it another satisfying entry in this series.  We do catch up a bit with Saya in Japan and learn about her origin in flashback, but it’s the exploits of the rest of the gang back in King’s Dominion which rightfully get the most time here.  Remender and artist Wes Craig are still getting an amazing amount of mileage from their dementedly violent take on high school social politics while also finding new dimensions to their core cast to keep them from turning into stereotypes.  In short, the business as usual stuff in “Deadly Class” is still pretty fantastic and vol. 7 can’t come fast enough.

Descender vol. 5: Rise of the Robots

February 14, 2018

This was billed as the first major “Descender” event, but it’s also going to be the title’s last.  To my surprise, the back cover text told me that this is going to be the penultimate volume of the series.  I was expecting “Descender” to have a longer run (50-60 issues is usually how long most creator-owned titles tend to run) and the fact that Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen are deciding to wrap this one up after five is probably for the best.  At least, as far as I’m concerned.  Five volumes in and this title still has yet to deviate from the familiar sci-fi playbook or develop a memorable cast on the level of Lemire’s other creator-owned works.  Not helping matters is the fact that most of the dialogue in the series, and this volume in particular, can be described as “functionally expository.”  There are also a couple character deaths that certainly look fatal but turn out not to be so.  It leaves me to believe that the one significant death we get here might not be as permanent as its creators want us to think.


It’s not all bad for this volume.  Befitting a storyline that was billed as a major event, Lemire and Nguyen do a decent enough job of raising the stakes and pulling out a couple game-changing moments.  A planet blows up, characters are betrayed, Tim-21 meets a Harvester, and the Human Culls begin!  It’s enough to raise the overall excitement level of the title from “okay” to “interesting.”  I’ll also give the creators some credit for delivering a cliffhanger that at least sets up the possibility that we’ll finally get some answers to the questions kicking around since its beginning.  Given the quality of “Descender” up to this point, I’m going to keep my expectations low.  It would take some very special answers to get me to raise my overall estimation of this title.  With only one volume left in its run, however, I might as well stick around to see what they are.

Happiness vol. 6

February 12, 2018

I didn’t realize it until reading this volume, but I screwed up when compiling my “Best of 2017” list.  For reasons that I cannot explain, the brilliance of “Happiness” vol. 4 managed to slip my mind when I was putting things together.  It stings even more because mangaka Shuzo Oshimi manages some really impressive tricks with this volume.  Not only does she manage to craft an engaging and even suspenseful story while sidelining many of the core elements of the series up until now, but there’s even a real moment of genuine horror to be found here too.

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The Defenders vol. 1: Diamonds are Forever

February 11, 2018

With “The Defenders” getting their own show on Netflix, it was inevitable that we’d get a new comic which teams up Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil.  That the comic is coming from a writer, Bendis, who has experience writing all of them is definitely a plus as is the fact that it’s being illustrated by the phenomenal David Marquez.  With all these things in its favor it’s disappointing that this first volume didn’t turn out better than it did.

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Doctor Strange vol. 4: Mr. Misery

February 10, 2018

Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo wrap up their run on this title in the same weird, queasily funny, and strangely (pun intended) violent way they came into it.  The stakes are high, though, as we’re picking up from the previous volume’s cliffhanger which had Mr. Misery -- the living embodiment of Strange’s pain and suffering -- possessing Wong with the intent to turn him against his best friend.  Which he does by getting information on several surviving brain cancer patients that were operated on by the Doctor and having their cancers grow back -- with a vengeance.

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