This is me clearing off a significant portion of the manga on my “to review” list before the next batch arrives later this week. Most, but not all, of the titles here were also read by me during my time at this year’s Fanime *sigh*. After the break, prepare yourself for my thoughts on the latest volumes of Golden Kamuy, Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, The Girl From the Other Side, Kaguya-sama, and The Heroic Legend of Arslan.
The first volume of this series made a good case for following the ongoing adventures of Eddie Brock and his symbiote even though I’ve never really bothered with that before. This second volume furthers that case in a way that pushes the series into some dark and disturbing territory. It starts off with Eddie in the custody of The Maker (a.k.a. Ultimate Reed Richards) all because his symbiote’s mind has disappeared following its battle with Knull. Before he escapes The Maker’s custody, Eddie finds out that his symbiote was on the run for three weeks and was finally caught when he showed up at his dad’s house in San Francisco. So it’s time for Brock the younger to visit Brock the elder to get some answers and open up old wounds in the process. Maybe even get some new wounds as well as Eddie has to deal with his new younger brother Dylan who wants his help to kill their dad.
At Donny Cates’ spotlight panel at WonderCon earlier this year, he mentioned that he wrote the issues in this collection while he was going through a divorce. It really shows as much of this volume has to deal with the uncomfortable relationship that Eddie and his symbiote have found themselves in. It’s to the writer’s credit that he finds interesting ways of addressing this via interactions with The Maker, Dylan, and Eddie’s Dad. While the story is mainly about how much it sucks to be Eddie Brock at the moment it does so in a way that engages your sympathy for the character rather than simply club you over the head with that idea.
That’s thanks to the art as well which is really strong after the opening two issues from Iban Coello. No offence intended to the artist, as the first two issues are solid superhero fare. The work from Ryan Stegman and Joshua Cassara in the four issues which follow really do an impressive job of pushing the book into horror territory. From the scenes where Eddie loses control of his symbiote when he meets his dad, to the later conversations he has with it in his mind, there are scenes here which will likely make it difficult for you to sleep if you decide to read this before going to bed. This may be some real dark stuff here, but it still makes for a gripping read.
Despite what the title to this collection may imply, it wasn’t part of the Great Color Cull of “X-Men” titles from last year. “X-Men: Black” was the branding for a series of five one-shots which spotlighted various X-Men antagonists. Or villains, depending on your perspective. Whichever way you think of these individuals and their motivations, these one-shots were clearly intended to either refocus the direction of the character they were spotlighting or give them a new direction. Whether or not any of what this volume does with these characters will remain relevant as we head into the Jonathan Hickman era is a good question. Fortunately it’s easy enough to enjoy the majority of the issues collected here on their own terms.
Here’s another title that you can add to the ranks of volumes where I started reading them before I went to bed and wasn’t able to stop until I had reached the end. I had my doubts about the setup for this volume, coming so close on the heels of “Return of the Purple Man.” The thing is that writer Kelly Thompson and artist Mattia De Iulis, with help from Filipe Andrade, craft a different kind of story about Jessica’s archnemesis that focuses on the psychological implications of his powers. They serve up some gripping drama as the title character worries about how much of this stuff is just going on in her head and how these worries spill over to her friends and family in the real world. If only the story didn’t serve to undercut itself by going back to a familiar well one more time.
A writer and artist will team up for each issue to take Jack Kirby’s “Last Boy on Earth” on an adventure that will end in a cliffhanger for the next creative team to solve. That’s “The Kamandi Challenge.” If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good story, then you’d be correct. Most of the writers seem content to throw up some of the craziness of Kirby’s world for the artists to draw, have the title character jump off a cliff, and call it a day. It’s a great showcase for the many talented artists that were recruited for this -- Amanda Conner, Carlos D’Anda, Ryan Sook, and Walt Simonson among them -- but for me there were only two issues that really stood out for me out of the twelve collected here:
Issue #6 “Sub-Tropical Thunder” by Bill Willingham and Ivan Reis: After escaping from a group of armed kangaroos and floating on the raft that was his plant-girlfriend Villa, Kamandi is rescued and meets up with Raja “Mack” Maccao. He’s a tiger who started off as a pro wrestler before becoming the world’s greatest consulting detective! It’s the kind of combination that would’ve seen the character fit right in with Willingham’s “Fables” and he writes the character with such affection and gusto that I’m now disappointed we likely won’t see any more of him outside of this issue. Throw in some fantastically detailed art from Reis, who delivers on the tone of high adventure the writer is calling for, and arguably the best cliffhanger of the series and you’ve got an issue that clicks in ways that the majority do not.
Issue #9 “Ain’t it a Drag” by Tom King and Kevin Eastman & Freddie E. Williams II: If you’ve read King’s work in “Batman,” “The Omega Men,” or “Mister Miracle” then you know that he’s big on repetition. Either thematically or stylistically. The focus is on the former here as Kamandi finds himself trapped with several anthropomorphic characters in a cave where, once every month, a robot comes to take them out. The stark monochromatic art from Eastman and Williams is very distinctive and they do great work in bringing the characters to life along with dramatizing Kamandi’s impossible struggle. King himself makes every character’s situation different in interesting ways, and if you look close enough you might even spot some commentary on the nature of the comics industry itself here. It’s an ambitious, mostly self-contained, story and all the better for it.
It’s not usually an issue to determine what the flaws are in the comics that I read. Some suffer from characters who lack depth or act in dumb, logic-defying ways to serve the story. Others have stories whose twists weren’t clearly thought out beyond the idea of trying to surprise the reader. There are also those that have just plain terrible art. It’s even more rare that I get to the end of any comic and go, “What was the point of what I just read?” As you can guess, this first volume of “Emanon” is just such a comic.
Hope may have died in the previous volume, but Luke, Leia, Han, R2, and Threepio are still alive and kicking. Unfortunately, even help from ace smuggler Sana Staros isn’t enough to get them through Imperial space undetected. Now they’re stuck on the isolationist moon of Hubin home to Clan Markona. They’re an easygoing bunch of military types who are enjoying the quiet life after their leader, Thane, secured them this moon as a home as payment for a job from the Republic. Or was it the Empire? While Leia and Han don’t have problems finding enough on this quiet planet to keep themselves occupied, Luke is going stir-crazy with the thought of what the Empire could be doing while they’re stuck on Hubin. So he’s got plans to find a way off the planet, regardless of what kind of trouble they may bring.
After the high drama of “Hope Dies,” “The Escape” is a nice little comedown chapter from writer Kieron Gillen and new artists Andrea Broccardo and Angel Unzueta. The new artists are a welcome addition to the series, particularly Unzueta as he manages to nail the photorealistic vibe that previous artist Salvador Larroca kept trying for in a way that feels much more natural here. The story itself is kind of lightweight, but executed with enough cleverness to keep you engaged. Gillen knows what kind of story you’re expecting when we’re introduced to a group as outwardly friendly as Clan Markona and he does his best to not tell that one.
It was also nice to see the writer nod to other stories in the Marvel “Star Wars” universe in ways both small and large. Doctor Aphra gets name-checked in an amusing way while Sana isn’t the only Jason Aaron creation to be featured by Gillen here. “The Escape” also succeeds in building excitement for the writer’s final arc, “The Scourging of Shu-Torun.” Leia says her plans to make that planet worthless to the Empire aren’t about revenge, but I’m honestly not sure whether or not to believe her. We’ll see what kind of results the rebel offensive produces next time.
Nathan Bright doesn’t quite have it all, but what he does have is pretty good. He’s the most popular weatherman on Mars thanks to his wacky personality and crazy on-air antics. So while fame and fortune are his, he’s got a personality that doesn’t really encourage the ladies to call back for second dates. This is why he’s so surprised when Amanda calls him back and the second time is looking like the charm for Nathan. At least it is until some nasty bounty hunters show up to take in this weatherman. For some reason they think that he’s part of the biggest act of terrorism the Solar System has ever seen: The extermination of 18 billion men, women, and children on Earth. Unfortunately for Nathan, they’re not the only people who believe this. The Martian Government doesn’t just think the weatherman was involved in that incident, they think he may be the only way to keep something like it from happening again.
Believe it or not this story of intense sci-fi action comes to us from the co-writer of “Shirtless Bear Fighter” Jody Lehup. Though “The Weatherman” is miles away from that series in tone and execution the writer’s skill at worldbuilding and creating memorable characters is a great asset here. Nathan’s a very likeable and sympathetic protagonist and the ways he deals with being wanted for a crime he knows nothing about feel very believable. There’s also a strong supporting cast made up of a bitter government agent, a mercenary who has a complicated past with said agent, and a scumbag selling pay-per-view vengeance across the Solar System. This cast and the world they inhabit all have an energetically detailed look to them courtesy of artist Nathan Fox. He delivers some incredible action scenes as Nathan is chased all over Mars and even the more esoteric stuff like when our protagonist is tortured within his own mind. This is a very strong start for what’s going to be a series-of-miniseries and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lehup and Fox take the title character next.
Well, Wizord and Ruby Stitch had a good run in our world but it looks like it’s coming to a very violent end. It’s all down to the return of vengeance-seeking Frenchman -- now with magic of his own -- Jacques Zaques. While his initial attack doesn’t go quite the way he was expecting, Jacques soon meets up with one Mr. Opaque to get some magical training. It’s during this training that he hits upon an idea that’ll put Wizord in a world of hurt: Putting together a magical team. Wizord has made lots of enemies since arriving on Earth and convincing them to team up to put the wizard in the ground may wind up being the easiest thing Jacques does in this series. While this is going on, Wizord and Ruby find out that the Hole World the wizard created for the people who were in the stadium he zapped away is actually a really nice place. Margaret, on the other hand, is still confused about her actual relationship to the two magical people, but has a bigger problem on her hands when it comes time to meet her secret crush in Australia.
As the penultimate volume in this series “Queen Margaret” does a decent enough job of setting things up for the endgame. I say “decent enough” because Jacques’ story is really the only one driving the action for the majority of the volume. Barring a couple plot-relevant scenes here-and-there, it feels like writer Charles Soule didn’t have much of an idea about what to do with his main cast while Jacques got his act together. So he just had Wizord and Ruby zone out on the couch and Margaret get involved in some sitcom-level mistaken-identity shenanigans. Artist Ryan Browne does what he can to keep all this interesting, but that’s a really tall order when the opening scenes have him drawing the Titanic, reanimated as a monster boat, chowing down on Jacques.
Things really don’t kick into full gear until the final issue. That’s when Jacques’ team really starts putting the screws to Wizord for all that he’s done. We also find out just how the Hole World wound up the way it is in a way that sets things up for some time-travel causality shenanigans next time. Then you’ve got Margaret making her move and it’s not something you’d expect -- because it involves tigers. It’s all good stuff that leaves the series in a good place as it heads into its final volume, even if it took its sweet time in getting there.
The flaws of this series are forgivable under the scope of its ambition, ideas, and amazing art.