September 15, 2019
It’s the weekend of Comic Fest and Jacob Kurtz has a miserable task ahead of him. He’s been asked to watch over legendary comics artist Hal Crane. Just to make sure that the man gets to his panels and doesn’t get into too much trouble before he accepts his lifetime achievement award. That would be a tall order even if Hal were his usual lecherous, drunken, and misanthropic self. What’s going to make Jacob’s time at Comic Fest a living hell this weekend is that his former mentor is here on a mission. Something very important to Hal was stolen years ago and he’s looking to take it back. Fortunately for him, Jacob is friends with the kind of people who have no problem with stealing stuff.
As with the previous “Criminal” graphic novella, “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies,” “Bad Weekend” has some surprising ties to previous stories. Jacob should be familiar to readers after his appearances in the first two volumes and starring role in the fourth. He’s not the only familiar face to show up, and longtime readers will be very surprised when they see this particular character show up in the flesh. Much like “My Heroes,” none of this continuity stuff matters a bit to the overall story. You could pick up “Bad Weekend” blind with no other knowledge of “Criminal” and still find a very good story underneath its hardcover.
Make no mistake, however, this is one of “Criminal’s” best. While the series has always focused on the crooks, thieves, and killers who thrive on society’s fringe, we see that they’re also perfectly at home in the comics industry. “Bad Weekend” is a character study of an awful man who still manages to grab a little of our sympathy since it’s clear that the main reason he’s like this is because the industry made him that way. That doesn’t excuse any of the awful stuff he does here, but it does keep you glued to the page to see whether or not he’ll get what he deserves in the end. Well, him or Jacob at least.
September 14, 2019
Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca tackled the character as he worked his way out of disgrace in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction. Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli showed us the character as he was just starting out and unknown to the galaxy at large. Good “Darth Vader” stories like these have one thing in common: They find something for the Dark Lord of the Sith to struggle against without diminishing him. Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum has found a new track to take with this “Dark Visions” series: Exploring Vader as he’s seen by those around him. It’s a good setup without question. It’ just a shame that it didn’t result in a more consistently enjoyable set of stories.
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September 13, 2019
Vol. 1 ended somewhat incongruously with our happily married couple strung up over a tank filled with alligators. Rather than handwave it away as “The kind of thing that happens in superhero comics,” writer Kelly Thompson has it tie into the main story as Gambit and Rogue find themselves in the Mojoverse. The writer uses Mojo’s antics as a way to further get into Rogue’s head regarding her current issues with her powers and to provide some sly humor on how comic-book romances are perceived by readers. This is mainly Rogue’s story, although Gambit also has his moments as he has to do a little thieving to help his woman out. It might even wind up being a pivotal story for Spiral, Mojo’s most beleaguered of henchpeople as the Ragin’ Cajun has to get back her most important thing. Throw in some well-crafted art from Oscar Bazaluda and you’ve got a solid start to this final volume.
Then things shift as the story follows Gambit back to New Orleans to sort out some drama relating to his position as leader of the Thieves’ Guild. It’s not just that they want to replace him, but that there’s a merger planned with the Assassins’ Guild being orchestrated by the reborn X-Ternal Candra and she wants him taken off the board permanently. As good as the opening story was, I think this one’s just a bit better. We get to see Gambit pulling some very sneaky and clever stuff, a reunion with Rogue that foregoes the drama you’d expect and some nice nods to current and past “X-Men” continuity. It also looks nice too with Bazaluda providing art for half of the arc, and Javier Pina stepping in for a solid finish. This all leads me to agree with Thompson in her closing essay that “Mr. & Mrs. X” deserved many more issues than they actually got. I’m glad we got what we did, however, and I hope to see what was done here stick with the characters for a good long while.
September 11, 2019
The pun in the title of this Hope Nicholson-edited anthology from Dark Horse is that while “Pros” relates to the many professionals who contributed to it, it’s also full of prose as well. It’s basically a fifty-fifty split between essays and comics about the convention experience. So on one hand we’ve got shorts like “Only in…” from Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, where the former recounts the time he saw Horny Mormon Julie from “The Real World” tackle a very drunken Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. while he was being interviewed at the con. On the other, there are essays like “A First Time Moderator’s Worst Nightmare” where a Canadian TV host Morgan Hoffman finds out she’s going to be moderating a panel for David Hassellhoff and nearly has a breakdown preparing for it.
Those are examples of the kinds of stories I picked up this anthology expecting to read. What I wasn’t expecting was the wide swath of “What do cons mean to me” and “Survival Guide” entries -- mostly hailing from the essay side of the book. At best they’re a bit dull and at worst I feel like I’m actively being lectured at. It was a chore to get through those bits to more entertaining stories like how Kieron Gillen and Julia Scheer’s history of the “Thought Bubble” dance floor. Or surprising ones like finding out how “Something Positive’s” Randy Milholland met his wife in “Love at First Con.” Or reading about how Tini Howard went to Katsucon in 2002 on a broken foot while cosplaying as Yuffie from “Final Fantasy VII” (and even included a picture of herself in costume from the trip).
The best ones make a point about the special appeal of cons while telling an interesting story. Kris Straub probably does this best in “Connections” which is how he relates the time some rando wound up having dinner with him and his webcomic friends to the time that he wound up singing at a hotel bar with “Star Trek’s” Avery Brooks and Jonathan Frakes. While this story is probably the best of the bunch, there are also plenty more that I think are worth your time. That’s why this anthology is worth checking out, even if it is weighed down a bit by all the lecturing.
September 9, 2019
The ideal review for this volume would be a .gif of me shaking it with the words “MAKE IT BETTER” flashing at regular intervals. Three volumes in and this series has managed to distinguish itself from mangaka Tsutomu Nihei’s previous work in that it’s the most conventional and straightforward thing he’s done to date. That means it’s also the least interesting thing in his canon and something that doesn’t really stand out amongst other sci-fi action manga.
We’re still following Etherow and Keisha as they fight the Empire’s frames. After their big win in the previous volume, it’s immediately followed up with a battle against a brother/sister team that’s dispatched rather quickly. They then go on to Keisha’s home of Irf Nikk and meet her brother, the ruler of the colony. He seems like a decent enough person until a conversation with Titania lets us know otherwise. Then things take a turn for the worse as one of the Empire’s strongest frames, Tosu, shows up at Irf Nikk’s doorstep and everything goes to hell.
There are some interesting bits here with the plans of Keisha’s brother and the new machines that are encountered on the surface at the end of the volume. They’re not enough to overcome the feeling that Nihei is really starting to phone things in by following the sci-fi and shonen action playbook. Even if his fight scenes have some cool moments to them, it’s hard to care about the people involved because he really hasn’t developed Etherow beyond his mildly grumpy protagonist mindset. That’s still more development than the Empire’s lackeys get, however. None of this is terrible as the execution still manages basic competence. It’s just been getting more disappointing to see Nihei fail to manage the balance of accessibility and weirdness that kept “Knights of Sidonia” entertaining throughout its run.
September 8, 2019
Man, what is it about these “Black Hammer” spinoffs? I like the main series well enough, but the miniseries that have been spun out of it, “Sherlock Frankenstein,” “Doctor Star,” and now this, have all been disappointingly conventional. This is even though they’ve all been written by series creator Jeff Lemire. I think the main reason is because the main series allows him to make the main cast into actual characters who have personalities beyond their superhero inspirations. In the case of “The Quantum Age,” it just winds up being a transparent riff on “The Legion of Super Heroes.”
They’re called the Quantum League here and originally they were the galaxy’s greatest band of heroes who were inspired by the lost protagonists of “Black Hammer.” Then tragedy struck and the team was no more, leaving no one to oppose the galaxy’s descent into fascism overseen by the Earth Citadel. Along with imposing martial law, they’re also looking to wipe out all aliens, which is what drives a young martian to seek out the remnants of the Quantum League in the hopes that they’ll be able to turn the tide.
What follows is fairly by-the-numbers sci-fi action as neither the martian, the surviving Quantum Leaguers, nor this era’s version of Black Hammer really deviate from their expected characterizations. They’re either bright-eyed optimists, or some variation of hard-bitten realist at their current circumstances. Don’t expect any surprises from the overall plot -- save for the introduction of some characters you may have seen before. “The Quantum Age” does boast bright, lively art from Wilfredo Torres, but it’s not on the level it needs to be to make the story engaging simply because of the art. Throw in an ending which feels like a huge cop-out in the face of what’s come before and you’ve got another “Black Hammer” spinoff that’s deeply skippable.
September 7, 2019
Jonathan Hickman’s “House of X” and “Powers of X” are halfway done and the response has been pretty good so far. Critical acclaim, good word of mouth, strong sales -- it sounds both are going to be great reads when I pick up the edition collecting them both in December. However, out here in the land of trade-waiters, I’m still making my way through the last set of stories to come before the relaunch. That includes the spine of “Age of X-Man” in “The Marvelous X-Men” and this, the first volume of Matthew Rosenberg’s run on “Uncanny X-Men.” It’s a good start, assuming you’re in the mood for an “X-Men” story that succeeds at being intentionally downbeat.
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September 6, 2019
The title of this volume seems like good advice. After all, what good ever came to Marcus and the rest of his friends while they were at King’s Dominion? That’s exactly what winds up happening, however, and the results may not be what you were expecting. Unless you were expecting to see Marcus and Maria become the most popular people at the assassin’s school and on the valedictorian track after Master Lin gives them credits from “life experience.” While there are still plenty of people who’d like to see them put in the ground, the vibe of vol. 8 is surprisingly upbeat considering the title’s history and that it comes to us from Rick Remender. Still, the new tone of this volume is refreshing and promising in that if you squint a bit you can see the end of the series being set up from here.
While the return to King’s Dominion is the main part of this volume, it’s surrounded by a couple one-offs that are entertaining on their own terms as well. Vol. 8 opens with a peyote-fueled freakout that seeks to catch the reader up on what has happened in the trippiest way possible. It’s a great summation of the series so far and a phenomenal showcase for artist Wes Craig’s talents. Then we get to see how Saya is still suffering in Japan and that her only hope for rescue lies in Quan. That setup may not sound like much, but it leads to an escape that’s thrilling even by this title’s high standards. Vol. 8 closes out with the “Free Comic Book Day” story which goes back to a time when most of Marcus’ friends at Kings’ Dominion were still alive. Though the story is ostensibly about the time they all got stoned and saw Fishbone, it’s really about Viktor and how he responds to his shot at revenge. It’s a good story that I’m glad was added to this volume, because -- along with the other stories here -- it was certainly worth paying for.
September 4, 2019
Gillen made magic happen on "Darth Vader." Does he do it again here, with and without Salvador Larroca?
September 2, 2019
This has been a penultimate-y year for volumes, it feels like. “Black Science,” “Paper Girls,” “The Wicked + The Divine,” “Curse Words,” “Prison School,” “East of West,” and “Happiness” are all series that have seen their next-to-last volume released this year. You can now add “I Am A Hero” to that list and it’s one of the better ones, even after vol. 9’s ill-advised sexual hook-up. Speaking of the quasi-happy couple, Hideo and Hiromi are now safely at sea thanks to the mercy of the fisherman who picked them up. They want to head to Tokyo to see what has become of Hiromi’s mom, and the fisherman is okay with taking them. He just wants Hiromi to go down below deck and see if his ZQN-infected son can be saved.
That turns out to be the catalyst for arguably the most dramatic twist in the volume. We get a new perspective on one of the most shocking scenes in the series and then on the ZQNs as a whole. Mangaka Kengo Hanazawa finds a compelling way to render their communal mind which leads to some striking visuals high above the city, and the unexpected return of a character we haven’t seen since the first omnibus. Meanwhile, Hideo has a final chat with his mental illness and prepares to save the girl he… Loves? Cares for? Stuck it in? Whatever the case may be, he’s set up to either make like the title of this series or die trying.
A sizeable portion of this volume is also given over to Korori, his crew and the other inhabitants of the office building as things go straight to hell for them. The Kurusu Bakufu has arrived and they’re taking the absolute minimum number of prisoners. This leads to some of the most intense action of the series as the ZQNs storm the building, its defenders try to fight them off, and Korori and friends try to get in and get to the helicopter at the top. It’s thrilling stuff that serves to send us into the final volume with the series firing on all cylinders (hopefully with at least one going right into Asada’s stupid head).