Monday, April 29, 2019

Three reviews of Marvel collections I found in my drafts:

Avengers: Unleashed Vol. 2--Secret Empire

Although the second collection of writer Mark Waid and primary artist Mike Del Mundo's Avengers ongoing, this is actually the fifth volume of Waid's run on the primary Avengers team; his All-New, All-Different Avengers was relaunched after about 15 issues, because...because Marvel, that's why.

The turning point presented at the end of this volume, then, in which particular elements of the status quo introduced just last volume shift, may seem somewhat violently sudden, but it is perhaps best read in the context of the writer reacting to the goings-on in the Marvel Universe beyond his control, and as simply the latest necessary course correction rather than Waid quite suddenly thinking better of decisions he just made. As with the events of Civil War II, which took Iron Man Tony Stark out of the cast and helped shunt the younger Avengers off into their own team and their own book, Secret Empire presents Avengers with a big change, and Amazing Spider-Man apparently deals it another.

The first two issues, co-written with Jeremy Whitley of the sadly canceled Unstoppable Wasp, feature Doctor Victor Von Doom, currently wearing Iron Man-like armor and calling himself "Iron Man," teaming up with the Avengers, who are pretty frosty to the alliance. Only Wasp Nadia Pym is really into the idea, in part because of her fan girl fervor for Doom's brilliance.

Both are done-in-ones, with the Nadia/Victor relationship the most notable throughline. In the first issue, Doom stops by for tea, and then recruits Nadia's help in infiltrating a Lumberjanes camp. In the second, the Avengers are on the ropes, thanks to a power-stealing villain, but the Nadia/Victor team are able to save the day, with their science.

Both of these issues are drawn by Phil Noto, whose painterly style is a good fit with Del Mundo's. It was refreshing to finally see this post-Secret Wars Doom drawn at some length by someone other than Mike Deodato, who just draws him as Vincent Cassel for some reason (Still not sure why that is allowed to go on; can't he sue Marvel? Shouldn't Marvel be worried he might sue them for using his likeness like that?). I got lost among the relaunches of writer Brian Michael Bendis' Iron Man books, so I haven't read any of Infamous Iron Man, which Alex Maleev is drawing.

After those, Waid scripts three more done-in-one stories, two of which are set during the events of Secret Empire, and one of which is an epilogue. Oddly enough, they barely refer to the events of the event series, and make sense as tie-ins only if you've read it. If not, well, they stand alone fine, but they likely seem to be extremely odd choices for the title.

First, there's a Thor solo issue, which apparently details where she went after she was zapped away at the beginning of Secret Empire. Narrated by a native being to the dimension she was sent to, it's a nice, solid story of the character's heroism, with a fair degree of humor derived from the clashing cultures thrown in.

Then, Doctor Octopus narrates an adventure featuring Bad Cap's Hydra Avengers line-up of reprogrammed Vision, (possessed by a demon) Scarlet Witch, former Thor Odinson and mercenaries Deadpool, Taskmaster and The Black Ant. It's a very short story, but one that sends them all on a mission they see through to completion, while highlighting the self-serving villainy of some of the members and the tensions inherent in a character like The Odinson working alongside former bad guys.

The final story takes place after Secret Empire and whatever has been going on in ASM, as Peter Parker has apparently lost Parker Industries and possession of The Baxter Building, which is where the team's HQ has been for all of, well, all of just 10 issues. The six Avengers split up into pairs to have conversations with one another. The Vision and Hercules go out for coffee, and the synthezoid expresses his concerns about learning that he is immortal, and gets some surprisingly sage life-coaching from Herc. Spidey tries to find some common ground with The Wasp by inviting her to a science fair, but they get side-tracked by superhero stuff. And Sam Wilson, who here has already surrendered the shield and title of Captain America back to Good Cap but hasn't yet put on his new Falcon costume, pulls Thor aside and tries to convince her to lead the team, since he's no longer Captain America. It's a nice between-arcs breather issue, but then, because so much of the title has been reactive to line-wide crossovers, Waid's Avengers series has, more often than not, been a whole series of these sorts of relaxed breather issues.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear--The Complete Collection

I'm glad Marvel gave prose novelist David Liss' Black Panther comics "The Complete Collection" treatment, putting all 18 or so issues of the T'Challa-starring comics he wrote between a single pair of covers, because Liss' run on the character might be murder to try to assemble through single issues (The run was previously collected into a trio of trade paperbacks under two different titles). This is because of how weird Marvel is at selling their damn comic books.

After Daredevil event storyline "Shadowlands" and Black Panther-centric "Doomwar," both Matt Murdock and T'Challa need to rediscover themselves. And so Murdock goes away, but he asks T'Challa to become the new guardian of Hell's Kitchen, where the now de-powered Panther decides he will be able to prove to himself whether he's still a total bad-ass without his former magic Panther powers and all the resources of a sci-fi fantasy kingdom to call upon.

And, for whatever damn reason, Marvel decided to make Black Panther the new star of the Daredevil comic book series, changing the title of the series to Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, but keeping Daredevil's numbering, so that the first issue of the new series was Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513. And then, after about 12 issues, they changed the title again but kept the numbering, so the book was then Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive for a while. Oh, and then there was one of those dumb decimal-point issues, Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #523.1. (As for Daredevil, when Matt Murdock returned, he got a whole new title with a new #1; I honestly have no idea how any of this works.)

Anyway, none of that really matters for the purposes of this collection, which reads as a complete, 400+-page graphic novel. What little one might need to know about what happened in Daredevil and Black Panther and Doomwar before gets quickly and efficiently explained in a conversation between Murdock and T'Challa in the first issue, and then referred back to organically throughout the story. And, if you're reading the entire Black Panther saga in preparation for the movie (UPDATE: I guess that's a pretty  clue as to just how dang long ago I wrote this review, huh?), well just know that this falls between Black Panther: Doomwar and the beginning of Ta-Nehesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet.

What will be most immediately evident about Liss' run is the way it looks. Artist Francesco Francavilla draws and colors the majority of it, and his art is highly, highly stylized. It is heavily "drawn" looking in a way that stands out from the bulk of Marvel's comics. His designs are realistic, but stripped down and abstracted in the rendering, with well-placed lines of shading and a lot of usage of darks and shadows. The artist whose work might most immediately jump to mind when reading Francavilla's Black Panther book is, fittingly, that of long-ago Daredevil artist David Mazzucchelli.

Even when Francavilla's not drawing, Liss' Black Panther was fortunate to have some pretty great artists involved. Jefte Palo does a lot of the non-Franacavilla art, and he draws big, bold, exaggerated, muscular figures perfect for all the skulking and brawling in the book's action scenes. As the book nears its conclusion and Man Without Fear turns to Most Dangerous Man Alive, the comic gets more and more Daredevil-y, and Michael Avon Oeming and Shawn Martinbrough do much of the art. Both are great, and neither are too far removed from Francavilla's style, although Oeming is the artist who most sticks out as different from the others; his highly cartoony take calling to mind that of that other famous Daredevil creator, Frank Miller.

So after Daredevil gives T'Challa permission to be the new vigilante in town and then bugs off to wherever, Foggy Nelson helps set T'Challa up with a new identity. Under a goatee and pair of glasses, he is now Mr. Okonkwo, a Congolese immigrant who quickly finds a new gig as the manager of The Devil's Kitchen diner and a not-so-great apartment, the better to keep an eye on the neighborhood. Because he lacks Vibranium and his fancy gadgets, he basically fights crime as a sort of cape-less Batman or color-swapped Daredevil; wearing a bullet-proof vest over his togs and punching and kicking people. He occasionally busts out a gadget he made himself with equipment from the hardware store. Storm of the X-Men, who was still T'Challa's wife at this point, is limited mostly to Skype-ing with him, as he wants to go it alone as part of his proving-himself thing, and he's afraid if his storm goddess/queen/mutant superhero hangs around too much, his cover might be blown.

The six-part "Urban Jungle" features an escalating war between the new vigilante in town, The Panther--oddly, hardly anyone ever recognizes The Black Panther as The Black Panther, superhero, Avenger and former King of Wakanda, but just call him "Panther"--and a new would-be Kingpin of Crime in town, Vlad "The Impaler". It's low-level and low-stakes for a Black Panther comic, but then, scaling his world down from the world to a New York City neighborhood is part of the entire remit of the series. It's all-around super-solid superhero crime comics, with Luke Cage and Spider-Man both briefly dropping by only to be rebuffed (Palo draws the issue with Spider-Man in it, and he draws Panther a few heads taller and a few torsos wider than Spidey, giving them a nice physical representation of their attitudes in relation to one another).

That's followed immediately by the two-part, Palo-drawn "Storm Hunter," that follows on a dangling plot point from the previous arc. This issue pits T'Challa up against Kraven The Hunter, and he gets an unwelcome assist from his wife Storm.

Next is the Francavilla-drawn "Fear and Loathing In Hell's Kitchen," a Fear Itself tie-in of sorts...although one need not know much of anything about Fear Itself to follow the story, which features the rise of a new Hatemonger and the debut of "American Panther," a star-spangled, Panther-themed version of Black Panther to provide an America First answer to the foreign-born, immigrant hero, whose "accent" is referred to repeatedly. This three-issue arc actually reads incredibly uncomfortably in 2018, as the sorts of things The Hatemonger's followers say about immigrants sound way too familiar and, well, real today. At the time Liss was writing this story in 2011 or so, he was basically taking real attitudes of bigoted and/or racist and/or nationalist assholes and turning their words and actions up from, like, an 8 to an 11. Now that exaggerated-for-superhero-comics 11 is, like, part of the national discourse. If a guy showed up in a purple Klan hood with a big "H" on the forehead for "Hate" and demanded that immigrants return America to Americans in real life today, well, the actual president of the United States might say there were fine people on both sides of the argument, or that there were violence on both sides of the torch-wielding mob marching through New York (I guess the geography of the story is dependent on mind-control and the influence of a supernatural fear god, as it's difficult to imagine the events of Charlottesville in 2017 occurring in New York City, but still...)

Then there are two done-in-ones, a "Spider-Island" tie-in drawn by Francavilla (In which Panther has six arms and fights Overdrive and Lady Bullseye...Panther's extra arms being the only thing really making this a "Spider-Island" story) and a Palo-drawn "Point One" issue in which T'Challa fights The White Wolf again, this time getting an important assist from his waitress-turned-confidante Sofija.

Finally, there's "The Kingpin of Wakanda," drawn by Martinbrough, Oeming and Palo. This story arc is the Daredevil-iest of them all, in its villains if not its tone. Kingpin Wilson Fisk has taken over The Hand, and he makes a play for Wakanda. Faced with these foes and Kingpin's two top assassins--Lady Bullseye and Typhoid Mary--T'Challa finally accepts help from his fellow super-heroes Luke Cage and The Falcon, and even reaches out to allies in Wakanda.

Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi--Captain Phasma

Yes, that is actually the actual title of this comic book, at least according to the fine print on the title page. As you can see from the cover, the actual title looks like it might actually be a little different, but, well, whichever is the case, I think we can all agree that it features all of those words in one arrangement or another, and that "Star Wars" is in there one time too many.

I recently listened to the audiobook version of Delilah S. Dawson's Phasma novel and, as a result, know way more about the new trilogy's fascinating and mysterious character than I need to, or even want to. One thing that was particularly striking about Dawson's Phasma, which is for all intents and purposes a novel-length secret origin story for the character, is that she is constantly presented as the ultimate, undefeatable badass in it, but her relatively little screen time in Force Awakens and Last Jedi hardly matches up with her reputation from the book (In Force Awakens, she rolls over for a septuagenarian Han Solo and friends then lets them toss her down a garbage chute; in Last Jedi she's quickly defeated--and maybe even killed!--by a former subordinate after a few seconds of hand-to-hand combat). Of course, I soon realized that is generally the case with Star Wars bad guys in the expanded universe stuff: Boba Fett, General Grievous, even Darth Vader himself, all of them are infinitely more skilled, powerful and dangerous in comics, cartoons and novels than they are in the actual films, where they are generally blundering boobs that are almost ridiculously easy to take down by our heroes (Vader's appearance in Rogue One notwithstanding; that Vader seemed a lot more like the comic book Vader than the one from the original trilogy).

As for Phasma's first comic book miniseries, it echoes Dawson's novel in several ways that I found somewhat disappointing. The majority of the series takes place on a planet that is so similar to her home planet of Parnassos that it's weird that her comic book is set there at all--she does make reference to the fact that this planet reminds her "too much" of one she used to know--and there's even a brief flashback to her time spent there, including the namedropping of a character from the novel, but I couldn't quite make sense of it.

The relatively short story--it's only 80-pages long--is written by Marvel rising star Kelly Thompson and drawn by artist Marco Checchetto, with colors by Andres Mossa. It follows immediately from the climax of Force Awakens, beginning with her exit from the trash compactor and detailing how she spent the rest of the film's run-time, at one point rather comically walking past Kylo Ren and Rey as they light saber-fight in the snowy woods. She has her own, desperate mission to complete ASAP: To cover up the fact that she's the one that gave Han Solo and company access to Super Death Star Starkiller Base's computer systems and thus pretty much doomed The Empire The First Order's battle against The Rebel--er, The Resistance (See, I'm getting the hang of it!).

As only one person in the First Order knows she was the one who did so, a rando officer who checked the logs, she gives chase to him, eventually commandeering a TIE fighter, its pilot and its BB-8-esque droid to chase him to the Parnassos-like planet. There she and her partner navigate a sort of civil war between the humans living there and a race of aquatic beings who have captured her prey. Because she has to make sure he's dead herself, that means she first has to rescue him.

As I said, it's a pretty short, even slight story, one that reiterates something that is made extremely clear in Dawson's novel: Above all else, Phasma is a survivor, and a ruthless one at that, willing to sacrifice and kill anyone that threatens her survival. It is, however, the very definition of nothing special, which was something of a disappointment to me, based on how much I've liked the last few Thompson-written comics I've read.

Chechetto's artwork is similarly just okay, about on par with the level of quality and general visual style of the bulk of Marvel's Star Wars comics. The pages are very photo reference-y, perhaps unsurprising given how many costume and vehicles are being visually cut and pasted from the film into a comic book spin-off, and so aside from a few different creatures--humanoid and monstrous--living on the planet Phasma hunts her prey on, he's not called on to come up with much that's new or different from what we've seen in Force Awakens anyway.

Phasma's shiny chrome armor doesn't really seem to pop in the over-colored artwork, either. Again, it looks to be consistent with the bulk of Marvel's Star Wars comics, but the result of all the different lights reflecting off of Phasma is that she sometimes just look transparent, or else just badly colored white, rather than shiny and polished, which loses her most striking visual identifier. I can't help but wonder how much better this comic might have looked--although perhaps I'm just speaking from my own personal aesthetic preferences here--were it drawn by Elsa Charretier, who was drawing Marvel's Unstoppable Wasp, and has been doing some truly superlative work on IDW's Star Wars comics. In general, I think Phasma's look would be better served by something that looks more drawn than photographic.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Some manga reviews that have apparently been in my drafts for 3-4 years now:

Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil Vol. 1-2 (Seven Seas Entertainment; 2015): There's a special class of 13 girls at Myojo Academy, almost all of them transfer students from elsewhere. What's so special about the class, Class Black? Of those 13 girls, 12 of them are assassins, and they are all there to kill the 13th.

There are some peculiar, particular rules that don't get clearly laid out until fairly late in the story as it appears in these first two volumes. The girls' motivations are mostly pretty clear: Whoever successfully eliminates the target is essentially granted a wish as a form of payment; they can make any request and it will be granted. Each assassin has to declare in advance that she's going to make her attempt, and from the point of declaration she gets 48 hours. If she fails to kill the target during that time frame, she is expelled.

There are a couple of complicating factors to that otherwise straightforward set-up. One is our protagonist, Tokaku Azuma. A skilled, misanthopic, remote assassin proficient in knives, she's apparently a "virgin" who has yet to actually take anyone's life. For precise reasons not yet articulated, she decides to serve as the target's bodyguard, defending her from the other 11.

The other is that the target, Haru Ichinose, is aware of the situation, but wants to try to enjoy the boarding school experience as much as possible, which means constantly putting herself in danger as the girls try to befriend her in order to get within striking distance. While Haru seems completely guileless and child-like, referring to herself in the third person like The Hulk or Cookie Monster, she actually knows the score, is capable of defending herself (of the three attempts on her life in these issues, it's not entirely clear that she wouldn't have survived without Akuma's interference) and has some incredibly mysterious past she won't discuss with anyone (the clues, however, include horrible scars all over her body and a passing reference to a spell that keeps her from dying, even though others are often giving their lives to defend hers).

The story takes a while to get get going, as a lot of the pages of the initial volume are devoted to Akuma's own weird school and her strange relationship with a bizarre teacher figure there--he sends her impossibly subjective fill-in-the-blank questions on her cellphone, which may be where the title comes from--but once it gets going, there's a reassuring, almost arcade-like episodic quest-structure, one that will likely be interrupted as the volumes progress, given the various motivations of the assassins, and the attention spent on some of them more than others.

Aside from the girls school dramedy (much of it presented as rather straightforward, if tinged with the sinister), the fight-scenes and melodramatic origin stories of the teenage girl assassins, there's still enough kept mysterious that there's a lot of motivation to keep going once you start. It's compelling, even if one wants to read for answers as much as for the pleasures of the story itself.

The Ancient Magus' Bride Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment; 2015) The set-up of Kore Yamazaki's fantasy manga is a bit on the icky side. Fifteen-year-old Japanese girl Chise Hatori is sold in a modern day slave auction, wherein the bidders are all monsters of various types. For five-million dollars she's purchased by the ancient mage of the title, Elias Ainsworth. And, as the title suggests, he purchased her to be his bride.

That's the icky part. In reality, whatever his marital or sexual intentions, they are never mentioned beyond Ainsworth's occasional references to the pair of them one day marrying. In reality, he's training her to be his apprentice, and he pursued her in part because she is something called a "Sleigh Beggy;" I've no idea where Yamazaki found the term, but basically Chise is a rare human with the sort of second sight that allows her to see supernatural entities. There's a flashback that shows her in a school yard, teased by other kids while her attention is seized by a yokai.

Later, when she arrives in Ainsworth's home somewhere in the United Kingdom, she can see and converse with somewhat traditional fairies (although designed in a rather peculiar way by Yamazaki to make them at once both cuter and more horrifying than traditional British fairies). The business regarding their marriage and their relationship, including what they know and what they gradually learn of one another's past, is more premise than the focus of the least as I can judge from this first volume.

After Ainsworth gets Chise somewhat settled in her new home and introduces her to the world of mages, alchemists and the supernatural, he begins taking her on a series of missions, apparently embarked upon as favors to the Catholic church (which has back channel communication with the mage through his friend, a local priest).

These include a visit to Iceland to investigate recent, restless dragon activity, and then a trip to Ulthar, a city of cats where there is some particularly potent evil magic going down. That second mission ends with a cliffhanger, with our protagonists discovering the source and coming face-to-face with the dangerous entities behind it, but not resolving their conflict with them.

Yamazaki's world-building is pretty top-notch, and is perhaps particularly impressive in that it requires her to come up with a sort of unified theory of the occult world, and designing and re-creating everything so that it fits together visually, despite the various traditions separated by continents here.

Ainsworth himself is a particularly great design. While he appears like a perfectly normal human being from the neck down, his head is that of some sort of animal skull, with long, twisting horns, and little lights in the back of his eye-sockets to indicate a flicker of consciousness. He sometimes wears a veil of sorts over his face, which has the interesting effect of only making him look more disturbing, as he clearly has a long, pointed snout and a pair of animal horns, even when the specific details are hidden, and someone seeing him would then have to imagine what inhuman form his face is in (As has so often been noted, it's what you can't see that's always scarier than what you can).

It's a cool design, but what's even cooler is that Yamazaki is able to wring so much emotion out of what is essentially a frozen fossil.

Citrus Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainent; 2014): The back cover of NTR: Netsuzou Trap Vol. 1 reads, "For fans of Citrus, comes an all new yuri series!" So I took the back cover's advice, and tried Citrus; there were already five volumes in print, so it seemed like a good thing to read while waiting for future volumes of NTR.

It too is an erotic-but-not-exploitative love story involving two high school girls, but its premise is so much more labored than the straightforward set-up of NTR. In fact, it's so weird, yet played completely straight (er, maybe not the best choice of word) rather than as some sort of comedy, that it can be somewhat comic.

Fun-loving Aihara Yuzu is transferring to a very strict, all-girls school as a result of her mother's re-marriage, to the son of the man who owns and runs the school. Conveniently, he has gone on a mysterious trip to the other side of the world as soon as she and her mom are set to move in, so he's written out of the narrative immediately. Yuzu doesn't fit in at her new school at all, and racks up myriad violations as soon as she walks through the door, as her hair color, make-up, skirt-length and so on don't adhere to the uniform policies. She tries to argue against them, but is immediately put in her place by the cool, cold student council president Mei.

Yuzu comes home from her stressful first day at school, where her mother introduces her to her step-father's daughter, her new little sister. Who just so happens to be...Mei!

So the two girls, who are so different and have such conflicting personas at school, are now forced into even closer proximity--even sharing a bed--after school. Complicating things even further is their apparent, if equivocal, attraction to one another. Their first kisses are all acts of surprise and aggression. The first time Mei kisses Yuzu, it's because Yuzu asks her if a teacher she is seemingly having an affair with is a good kisser, and she angrily forces a kiss on her to show her what it felt like. The next time they kiss, it's when they are in the bath together, and Mei sees Yuzu looking at her, and when asked why she kissed her that time, Mei simply responds that it Yuzu looked like she wanted Mei to kiss her.

Yuzu is clearly curious about her new little sister sexually, but whatever is going through Mei's head is kept from the readers in the first volume. She is mysterious, and acts with a whiplash spontaneity whenever she temporarily switches from proper and business-like to passionate. For Yuzu's part, not only does she have to struggle with her sudden and upsetting sexual attraction to Mei, but with her desire to actually be a good big sister to her, two mutually exclusive forms of relationship that cause her a degree of angst--and should help keep a will they, won't they narrative in place.

Despite the overheated premise and the clear promise of sexuality offered by the covers, it's interesting the way magna-ka Saburouta navigates the labored premise, focusing on plot and emotion over scenes of the girls fooling around. The actual sexual content of this first volume is no more than one nude scene in the bath, which is basically "TV nude," meaning their nipples and genitals are always covered by hair or limbs or water or whatever. Additionally, they each throw the other down and kiss them once, but that's the extent of it.

Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon (Drawn & Quarterly; 2016): The second volume of Drawn & Quarterly's new series collecting and reprinting Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro comics takes its title from the first of the seven stories. It's not necessarily the biggest or most important of these, all of which are from 1967 or 1968 issues of Shonen Weekly (save for a somewhat random seeming story from a 1978 issue of Shuken Jitsuwa), it's simply the first to appear in the collection.

Nurarihyon, according to the "Yokai Files" feature that appears in the back, is "an urban yokai with a mysterious air of authority." He "comes into your house and orders you around, acting like an important guest...Only after he is gone and the spell is broken do you realize you have been a victim of Nurarihyon." As Mizuki draws him, he looks a somewhat squishy-headed old man, his design a mix of cartoon and traditional Japanese art, leaning more heavily toward the former than some of the other yokai in the book (particularly Odoro Odoro, who looks like he could have come right off a painting or scroll).

Here Nurarihyon doesn't "attack" in the method described, but does decide to do away with the smug yokai Kitaro, who hunts bad yokai himself. He ingratiates himself with Kitaro's greedy sidekick Netzumi Otoko, and lays a trap for them both. Only Kitaro's hand manages to escape, but that is enough to deal with Nuarihyon and save Kitaro and Netzumi.

As with the previous volume, all of the stories contained within are fairly simple, stand alone ones in which Kitaro and his allies, which include his detachable eyeball which is also his reincarnated father, become embroiled in conflict with a bad guy yokai of some kind, and ultimately triumph...generally through Kitaro's weird powers. Each story is a lesson in Japanese folklore and ghost stories, punctuated with Mizuki's extremely detailed artwork and sketchy cartoon characters, the tone shifting from somber to silly just as the visuals shift from hyper-detailed to highly abstracted. Everyone who likes comics should check out at least one volume of Kitaro.

My Monster Secret Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment; 2016): Kuromine Asahi is a high schooler with a very specific problem: He can't keep a secret to save his life. He has the worst poker face of all time, and anyone who looks at him can generally tell exactly what it is he's thinking. That's why his friends have given him the nickname "The Holey Sieve," as he is apparently completely unable to hold anything back.

So when he develops a crush on his mysterious classmate Shiragami Youko, the cool, quiet, loner who no one ever sees arriving to or leaving from school, his friends encourage him to confess his love to her immediately before she sees through him and figures it out for herself (which is what usually happens; he gets pre-rejected by girls he likes before he can say anything because they can see what's coming from the guileless Asahi). "Don't be the Holey Sieve anymore," one of his friends encourages him. "Pour it all out before you spill."

But when he confronts Youko in an empty classroom after school, he discovers that she's hiding a secret much bigger than his: She's totally a vampire, as her outstretched bat-wings and visible fangs reveal.

And so suddenly the guy compulsively unable to keep a secret is saddled with the biggest secret of all: He can't tell or let on to anyone that one of their classmates is really an actual vampire or she will be forced to leave the school forever.

The plus side, of course, is that suddenly all of her strange behavior makes sense to Asahi, and now that he knows her secret, they become the best of friends. A little on the clueless side, Youko doesn't even pick up on the fact that Asahi is in love with her, and he manages to keep that secret from her as well (All the times she caught him staring at her in class, she thought it was because he might have suspected her true nature).

So that's the set up of manga-ka Eiji Masuda's school comedy manga, in which the two good-hearted but slightly dim kids strike up a platonic friendship based around the concealment of a fantastic secret, all while the boy continues to pine for the girl without either making explicit any feelings they might have for one another beyond friendship, meaning this is a narrative that could go on for a while.

Complicating matters further is Asahi's old friend Akemi Mikan, the completely unhinged editor of the school paper who will do anything for a juicy story and who hounds the new friends for proof that they are dating one another, unaware of the even bigger secret they are hiding. And then, near the end of the first volume, there's the appearance of the Class Rep, who has a monster secret of her own that Asahi and Youko accidentally discover: She's actually a human-sized robot that a tiny alien that looks just like her pilots (The give away? The huge fucking screw-shaped capsule sticking out of the back of her head).

This was actually pretty fun, I thought, although it is kind of bizarre that the most unbelievably over-the-top character isn't the vampire or alien, but the girl from the school paper.

School-Live! Vol. 1 (Yen Press; 2015): So here's a pretty interesting take on the zombie apocalypse scenario, which in and of itself is something of an accomplishment, given the hundreds of riffs on said scenario that have appeared in pop culture so far this millennium. The "School Living Club" is the sort of school club that is so prevalent in Japanese manga and anime (and, I would assume, Japan itself?), but their specific interest is a particularly unusual one: They literally live at school. Why they do so is teased out in the first chapter by artist Saroru Chiiba and writer Norimitsu Kaihou/"Nitroplus", although if you've read the first sentence of this review, or the back of the manga, then you've already figured out that the characters are trying to survive a zombie apoclaypse, and they are living at school because they can't go outside of the school, or they will be eaten by zombies.

The conceit isn't just for the sake of the comic, though. Three of the four members use it to keep their youngest, most innocent, most naive (and thus most cheerful) member from trying to leave the school and/or perhaps from breaking down. Yuki Takeya seems to have not entirely noticed that the world has ended and there are zombies eating people just beyond the school walls. When she's on the roof with the others, tending to their garden, she sees living corpses shambling around on the baseball field, and waves, saying that the baseball team seems to be practicing very hard. When a zombie gets into the school halls, she's told to be quiet and hide, as there's a bad kid there to cause trouble.

That first chapter is pretty devastatingly effective, and the rest of the first volume details how the members survive day-to-day and keep their elaborate ploy going, although it's pretty clear that Yuki may have already lost her mind, as through her eyes the school looks totally normal and is full of students, who she occasionally talks to as if they weren't just in her head. Perhaps then the others aren't just keeping the gag going to preserve her innocence or fragile state of mind, perhaps they are afraid of causing her some sort of dangerous psychotic breakdown.

These others include Kurumi, who never goes anywhere without her shovel, which seems a weird quirk to Yuki ("Heh heh! Don't you know? The weapon used to kill the most people in the trenches in World War One Was--" Kurumi tries to explain, but Yuki interrupts her by waving the shovel around, "You really like shovels, don't you?); Yuki's big sister-like friend Yuuri; and club adviser Megumi Sakura. They don't all make it to the end of the first volume--damn those bad kids!--but there's a pretty dramatic cliffhanger, in which the girls send out a message on helium balloons, and it's found by someone on the outside who appears to be a potential new club member.

Meanwhile, there are flashbacks to the characters' lives before they were forced to join the School Living Club, and hints of what happened to get them in their current predicament, providing one more source of ongoing drama to the series.

Friday, April 26, 2019

DC's July previews reviewed

Eager to prove himself as a guardian for the criminals of Gotham City, Killer Moth has set his sights on taking out one of Gotham’s finest heroes…Batgirl! Does this insect menace really stand a chance against Batman’s smartest ally? Meanwhile, after their daring escape, the Terrible Trio is on the hunt for new ways to cause trouble for Batgirl. Little do they know, Lex Luthor has already beat them to it and is about to bring Batgirl’s worst possible nightmare to life! Oracle is back online. And she’s angry.
ON SALE 07.24.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I've always liked the Killer Moth character, ever since I first met him in Alan Grant, Tim Sale and company's "Misfits" arc from Shadow of The Bat. I like his funny name. I like his original costume. I like that he's one of the "loser" type villains that fights Batman, the type of villain that only seemed to appear to be greater losers over the years as Batman and his a-list villains were depicted as increasingly hyper-competent. I liked his original scheme of being the Batman of bad guys--something James Tynion recently referenced in his referenceiriffic run on Detective Comics--and the way he was linked to Batgirl's (original) origin. I like his Teen Titans/Teen Titans Go redesign. I did not care for his becoming "Charaxes" during Underworld Unleashed (In fact, I believe I wrote a letter to the editor of Robin to convey my distaste for that development). I did not care for his weird New 52 redesign, which was apparently just a gas mask and, um, nothing at all moth-related...? But despite that, I did like his role in Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike, in which his enmity for Batman had a rather specific, rather moth-like source.

When I was a teenager, I really wanted to grow up to write Batman comics, an interest that has waned quite a bit over the years--although I'd be totally cool doing shorter, funnier stories for holiday specials and anthologies and the like, if there are any DC editors in the reading audience!--but Killer Moth is one of the few Gotham City residents I still get ideas about and whose inner life I am most curious about. I mean, I don't love him as much as The Scarecrow (a character I have next to no interest in writing, I just like hanging around him) or The Calendar Man (whom I also met in "Misfits"!), but he's a pretty great character.

Anyway, the point is, I am glad to see him appearing in Batgirl and getting back to his roots of losing to one of Batman's sidekicks--who beat him on her very first day on the job!

I just hope he looks moth-y. The cover seems to indicate he will.


Have I mentioned that I don't like Batgirl's current costume much? I have? Oh. Well, I still don't like it very much.

written by SEAN MURPHY
art and cover by SEAN MURPHY
In this explosive sequel to the critically acclaimed blockbuster BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT from writer/artist Sean Murphy, The Joker recruits Azrael to help him expose a shocking secret from the Wayne family’s legacy—and to run Gotham City into the ground! As Batman rushes to protect the city and his loved ones from danger, the mystery of his ancestry unravels, dealing a devastating blow to the Dark Knight. Exciting new villains and unexpected allies will clash in this unforgettable chapter of the White Knight saga—and the truth about the blood they shed will shake Gotham to its core!
ON SALE 07.24.19
$4.99 US
1 of 8 | 32 PAGES

Sean Murphy's White Knight has been on my "To Review, Eventually" table for a very, very long time now--pretty much since it was released in trade. I am and have long been a big fan of Murphy's artwork, and always thought he was a particularly good fit for Batman, so I was happily surprised to find out that he's also pretty dang good at writing Batman comics. That said, I found the book sort of uncomfortable and awkward in terms of its premise.

I think it took me a while to realize what, precisely, felt strange about the book's very existence to me, but I eventually realized that it was that unlike most Elseworlds/What If...? style super-comics, Murphy didn't just take an extant element of the character or point of their history and change it or diverge from it, nor did he transplant the narrative to a different setting.

Rather, he just changed various things at random, while leaving many of them the same. So, for example, Jason Todd's fate was very, very different, and, for another, Mister Freeze was a Nazi war criminal who had worked with Wayne's parents. There are other ones, but I think it was when we got to Jason Todd that I first realized that what Murphy was doing was basically rebooting Batman to tell a specific story; it wasn't a simple "What If The Joker Went Sane? (And This Time In A Sean Murphy Comic)", but "What If a Rather Random, Specific Version of The Joker in a Specific Version of Gotham Went Sane?"

And that just made it feel strange and off to me. I really enjoyed the art, and the story was structured well and mostly moved the way a story should, but it was so off-brand that I couldn't find it truly compelling. I did dig all of his rogue's gallery redesigns though, and particularly liked the incredibly implausible scene where The Joker and Harley trick them all into drinking mind-controlling nanobots or whatever simultaneously (Who drinks something the fucking Joker hands you?).

So I certainly see why people seemed to dig this as much as they did, and it's cool they're going to let Murphy do whatever he wants to do in that version of that world he's created, but it feels uncomfortable to me as a reader.

And, if I'm being perfectly honest, it also kinda disappoints me that a really great Batman artist like Murphy is drawing an out-of-continuity Batman miniseries that is just pretty okay--I should note, too that it's not just that it's not canon or a traditional non-canonical story that disappoints me about White Knight, it's also that it isn't so good that it justifies the changes it makes--every time a mediocre or simply not-as-good-as-Murphy artist draws Batman or Detective.

new cover by NICK DERINGTON
Available to comics shops for the first time! Following the theft of a priceless Fabergé egg, the Riddler leads the Dark Knight on a wild hunt after its true owner: Jinny Hex, descendant of Jonah Hex! Guest-starring Deathstroke, Green Arrow and dozens of Riddler look-alikes in stories by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Nick Derington, originally published in BATMAN GIANT #3 and #4!
ON SALE 07.10.19
$4.99 US | 1 of 6 | 32 PAGES

Starting in July, the original content that was appearing in those bargain-priced Walmart-exclusive anthologies--that is, the stuff that might conceivably entice existent DC comics readers--will finally arrive in comic shops. I will confess to being slightly surprised that it will be appearing in serialized-comic book format first, rather than going right to trade. But that surprise only lasted for a few seconds, because of course DC is going to try and make as much money off of this content as they can, so they will re-sell it to the direct market as a comic book before going to trade, where I look forward to eventually reading this comic.

Bendis' Superman comics have been surprisingly good, although I assumed the character that would lure him to DC Comics would be not Superman, but Batman. And here he is, writing him for the first time! Outside of a few appearances in those Superman books! Frankly, I'm more exicted to see Derington's artwork though, as from what little I've seen of his Batman comics, they have been amazing.

As for the theft of the egg, I'm going to guess The Penguin. As it's an egg. And he steals bird stuff.

This month DC will also being selling the Tom King-written Superman comic and the Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti-written Wonder Woman comic, neither of which seem particularly interesting, although I'm sure I'll at least borrow the Superman one from the library when it eventually gets here. King's Superman and Lois have been pretty good in the pages of his Batman, but from what little I've seen of his Heroes In Crisis, I just don't know about his take on the wider DC Universe of superheroes...

designed by ANT LUCIA
sculpted by TIM MILLER
She’s the drum major of the most electrifying marching band on Earth! Mary Shazam! is the newest addition to the DC Bombshells statue line. This whimsical piece, designed by Ant Lucia, features Mary in mid-marching action, having a spectacular time.
This polyresin statue is sure to become an iconic look, and one you don’t want to miss!
• Limited to 5,000 pieces and individually numbered
• Statue measures 12.35" tall
• Allocations may occur
• Final product may differ from image shown
$125.00 US

Mary Shazam...? That's not her name. I quite clearly remember that when Miriam Bätzel says the magic word "Shazam" she is gifted with superpowers and the abilities of Jewish heroines Shiphrah, Huldah, Abigail, Zipporah, Asenath and Miriam, becoming Miri Marvel, or sometimes just "Shazam." She was one of the more interesting imports into the Bombshells-iverse, I thought, and I really loved her costume (As drawn by Sandy Jarrell and others in DC Comics Bombshells, she looked more small, slim, girlish and less, well, bombhsell than this, though. Also, I don't remember that hat).

Although, I suppose it's possible that "Mary Shazam" is meant to be the name of her DCU character nowawdays, and that's why the statue is listed as it is here...?

I'm trade-waiting Geoff Johns' Shazam ongoing, so I still don't know: Has the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel officially adopted "Shazam" as his name yet...? What about Mary, Freddy and the rest of their siblings...?

art and cover by ALEX MALEEV
variant cover by JASON FABOK
“The Detectives”! EVENT LEVIATHAN, the new miniseries by the award-winning team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, continues! As the mystery of Leviathan continues to rock the very foundations of the DC Universe, the world’s greatest detectives gather for the first time anywhere to solve the mystery before it’s too late! Lois Lane leads Batman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Manhunter, the Question and a couple of genuine guest sleuths in the search for who Leviathan is and how their plans have already unfolded. This issue also guest-stars Red Hood, Batgirl and more!
ON SALE 07.10.19
$3.99 US | 2 of 6 | 32 PAGES

Plastic Man...? You guys sure you got the right stretchy superhero? Because there just so happens to be a similarly-powered DC superhero renowned for his detective skills...

written by GEOFF JOHNS
It’s a new era for the Flash as Barry Allen returns to a world he doesn’t recognize anymore. Then, Barry Allen and Wally West must battle the undead Rogues! But can even two super-speedsters stop these unbeatable foes? Plus, the Rogues reassemble to remind the world why no one should mess with them! Collects The Flash: Rebirth #1-6, Blackest Night: The Flash #1-3 and FINAL CRISIS: rogues revenge #1-3.
ON SALE 08.21.19
$29.99 US | 344 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9263-8

Ugh, poor Geoff Johns. It must suck to have some of one's early, career-making works forever linked to an artist who has since become radioactive among non-asshole comics readers with Internet connections...

written by GARTH ENNIS
art and cover by JOHN McCREA
The cult hit from writer Garth Ennis (PREACHER) returns in a brand-new “greatest hits” collection! These tales include the introduction of super-powered gun for hire Tommy Monaghan, his encounters with Superman, Batman and the Justice League of America and more! Includes stories from THE DEMON ANNUAL #2, HITMAN #4-7, #13-14, #34 and JLA/
HITMAN #1-2.
ON SALE 08.14.19
$19.99 US | 320 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9963-7

Well this is certainly a surprise. Those comics are the first appearance of Tommy Monaghan (with kicky red scarf) in The Demon's tie-in annual to 1992's "Bloodlines" event; the four-issue "Ten Thousand Bullets" story arc; the two-part "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium" (from which the collection's cover comes from...don't worry, that baby seal is a zombie); the Superman team-up issue "Of Thee I Sing" and then the weird JLA/Hitman miniseries, which sort of follows up on the events of "Of Thee I Sing" and, to a lesser extent, other books not included in this collection.

It's a strange package, really. Some of it seems geared toward DCU hero team-ups (Demon Annual, "Of Thee I Sing", JLA/Hitman), but not "Ten Thousand Bullets" or "Zombie Night" and, of course, more obvious stories with more prominent DCU guest-stars aren't included, like "Local Hero", "Ace of Killers" and the Lobo "team-up" one-shot. Some of these are among the book's--which, might I remind is, still one of DC's best ongoing series and my personal favorite series--greatest hits, like "Zombie Night" and "Of Thee I Sing", while others are among the lesser Hitman stories.

I'm honestly not sure why this book exists at all--did the individual Hitman trades all go out of print?--but there are certainly worse ways to spend $20 than this...

This is the cover for the Justice League Dark Annual, by Riley Rossmo. And it's got Guillem March art on the inside! Those are two artists whose work I like quite a bit, although there's almost never an alignment of their work plus a project I am interested in (beyond their involvement) on a sizable or sustained comic.

I really like Zatanna, Wonder Woman and even Floronic Man's faces on this image, and Detective Chimp and Man-Bat look downright cute (if distressed).

I've only read a handful of issues of this series, but, for the most part, it struck me in much the same way that writer James Tynion's Detective Comics run did--I really liked the concept, and wanted to like the book, but it just didn't connect with me.

written by JIM KRUEGER and ALEX ROSS
cover by ALEX ROSS
The best-selling 12-issue series illustrated by Alex Ross is now available as a new deluxe edition hardcover! The villains of the Legion of Doom—led by Lex Luthor and Brainiac—band together to save the world after a shared dream that seems to be a vision of the Earth’s demise. They are confronted by the Justice League of America, who doubt their motives—and as their true plans unfold, the two teams do battle. Contains over 100 pages of bonus material!
ON SALE 08.07.19
$49.99 US | 7.0625” x 10.875”
496 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-4012--9343-7

I liked this quite a lot. As I recall, it was basically Challenge of The Super Friends for grown-ups. The Justice League line-up was essentially the one of Alex Ross' personal head canon, which is a pretty good one that I heartily approve of, but the Legion line-up was pretty much exactly that of the cartoon, although obviously some of them had some weird redesigns and updates (I recall The Riddler's costume being particularly strange).

I am blanking on many of the specifics of this though, so maybe revisiting it in a collected format like this wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. I think that fans of the current Justice League who missed Justice the first time around might be particularly interested in it, as its conceit as an all-out war between the two super-teams from the cartoons is pretty similar.

written by SHOLLY FISCH
art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
With his chemical shape-shifting powers, Metamorpho the Element Man is more than a match for pretty much any super-villain…except maybe a huge elemental monster with shape-shifting powers of its own! It’s up to the gang to solve the mystery and unmask the monster—once Scooby and Shaggy stop running in terror from both the monster and Metamorpho, that is!
ON SALE 07.24.19
$2.99 US | 32 PAGES

To recap: Scooby-Doo and the gang are teaming up with Metamorpho, The Element Man. That is all.

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I find it weird that Billy Batson/Captain Marvel/Shazam's current costume appears to have Kirby dots permanently embedded in the emblem, even though that is one of the, like, 15 superheroes currently appearing in monthly super-comics that Jack Kirby didn't create.

written by NANCY A. COLLINS
In these 1990s tales written by critically acclaimed Bram Stoker Award-winning horror novelist Nancy A. Collins, a mad priest has come to Houma to test his followers with a fatal poison, and Swamp Thing must stop him before things go too far. Then, Swamp Thing finds himself a surprise candidate for governor of Louisiana. And when Swamp Thing must save Abigail Arcane and their daughter, Tefé, from the murderous dream-pirates of Dark Conrad, who’s he gonna call? John Constantine! Collects SWAMP THING #110-139 and ANNUAL #6 and #7, BLACK ORCHID #5, and a story from VERTIGO JAM #1, plus never-before-published behind-the-scenes material.
ON SALE 01.08.19 | $125.00 US | 968 PAGES
FC | 7.0625” x 10.875”
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9709-1

This sizable chunk of comics comes from quite late in the run of the Swamp Thing comic run that people think of when they think of Swamp Thing--the series would finally ship its last issue in 1996 with Swamp Thing #171, written by some guy named Mark Millar. I've only read a handful of these, but some of them--like the piece from Vertigo Jam--was my first introduction to Swamp Thing outside of the USA live action TV series. I would certainly be interested in reading this complete run, although it's hard to imagine a book that huge being one I want to bring into my apartment, put on a book shelf, have to pack and move some day. I guess that's what libraries are for...?

That sure is a gorgeous Mike Zulli cover, isn't it...?

art and cover by JOHN TIMMS
Young Justice—lost in the Multiverse! After the explosive conclusion to their Gemworld adventure, the team is having a tough time finding their way back to their Earth. No, we can’t tell you where they end up, but rest assured, you will be surprised! But as exciting as all that is, we have bigger problems to deal with as Tim Drake is about to do something he has only done...lots of times before. He is about to announce his new alias...a new superhero name. A Young Justice name. And this time, it’s permanent. Like, forever.
ON SALE 07.03.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Wait. I keep re-reading those last few sentences because I'm not sure I understand them. Tim Drake has announced new superhero names lots of times before? What? Red Robin'm drawing a blank. In continuity, I think that's it, isn't it? (I guess he was Batman briefly during Battle For The Cowl, and...actually, all the other superhero identities I can think of for Tim have all been Batman in various alternate futures).

Anyway, is this still good? I thought those first few issues were quite good, and then I went into trade-waiting mode on it.

Oh, speaking of artist Riley Rossmo, as I was a few entries ago, here's his variant cover for this month's issue of Young Justice. I think that book, written by Bendis, would be one that would be a good fit for the artist, and one that I would be happy to read.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Marvel's July previews reviewed

Dan Hipp's cover for Amazing Spider-Man #25 is the best single image that Marvel released as part of their July 2019 solicitations, right? We can all agree on that? Okay, good.

• Boomerang’s influence is finally felt, and Spider-Man joins the Superior Foes!
• Wait, that’s not possible, is it?
• IS IT?!?!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Let's see...1,2,3,4,5...6! With Spider-Man on the team, Boomerang's Sinister Six finally has the requisite number of members for that name not to seem like a joke. Spidey joining the Sinister Six of Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a pretty good idea for a Superior Foes arc, and, personally, I like to think of Spencer's ASM run as the Superior Foes relaunch, guest-starring Spider-Man.

Having read the second trade collection of the series though, I understand why the solicitation copy says that shouldn't be possible, but then, as I noted when discussing that volume, the current state of that Sinister Six was related to Peter Parker (and the reader) by Boomerang, so not the most reliable of narrators.

I notice that the book's regular artists Ryan Ottley and Humberto Ramos are not drawing this issue, nor is Superior Foes artist Steve Lieber, who drew a few passages of their last appearance in the book, but while maybe not ideal, I do really like Kev Walker's art, so I think I'll survive.

I don't like when Black Panther's mask looks that..catty in the comics. Ideally, I like when his face mask is smooth and featureless below the white, pupil-less eyes. Maybe a bit of a bump for the nose. But when he has, like, a muzzle like that, he gets into ninja furry territory, and feels a little too Thundercats to me.

Is Avengers still good? I really enjoyed the first two volumes of that, too.

March 1941. Assigned to safeguard President Roosevelt during a fishing trip in the Bahamas, the newly commissioned Cap endures his baptism under fire — while a German U-boat (carrying the Nazi super-soldier called Der Wunderkrieger (or Wonder Warrior) heads for the island chain’s capital! His mission: to kidnap England’s once-king, the Duke of Windsor, and sit him on the throne of a defeated Britain! But others happen to be in that part of the Atlantic as well — the once-bitter rivals the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$4.99

If you told me Jerry Ordway was drawing an Invaders comic for Marvel this summer, I would be surprised and excited. If you told me Roy Thomas was writing an Invaders comic for Marvel this summer, I would be surprised and excited. So it goes without saying that the news that Ordway is drawing and Thomas is writing an Invaders comic for Marvel this summer is a huge surprise--and a very exciting one at that.

The war years are the period of Marvel history I'm personally most fascinated with, and I love Namor...particularly Golden Age Namor. So, eah, I'm excited about this one. Of course since a one-shot can't later be collected into a trade paperback, I guess Marvel has no choice other than to publish another two or three Captain America & The Invaders one-shots in the near-ish future in order to generate a collection's worth of material.

DEATH’S HEAD #1 (of 4)
Connecting Variant Cover by JOHN MCCREA
Rising stars Tini Howard & Kei Zama take on Marvel UK’s hottest character, Death’s Head, in a new miniseries!

When a job goes wrong, intergalactic mech merc Death’s Head wakes up half-assembled at a punk show! And if the crowd full of deodorant-eschewing youths wasn’t enough, the Young Avengers show up! Well, half of them anyway. Hulkling and Wiccan face down the best freelance peacekeeping agent in this universe!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

I've just barely read any comics featuring Death's Head before, but I've always liked the name and the character design. So this might be interesting. As a John McCrea fan, I kinda wish he was doing the interiors, rather than just a variant cover though. Nothing against Roche, of course, I just like McCrea.

Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade. The blockbuster icons and bold new generation of the trailblazing 2010s! As iconic heroes enjoyed worldwide cinematic success, a diverse array of young champions stole the spotlight! Find your favorite movie stars in outstanding adventures by the best modern creators — from Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel…to Thanos! And get to know the new kids on the block — Miles Morales; Spider-Gwen; Thor, Goddess of Thunder; the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl; and Kamala Khan, the incomparable Ms. Marvel! Collecting ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN (2011) #7, CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #1, IRON MAN (2012) #1, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2013) #4, EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #2, MS. MARVEL (2014) #12, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2015) #3, MIGHTY THOR (2015) #5, BLACK PANTHER (2016) #1, UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL (2015B) #7 and THANOS (2016) #1.
248 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91792-0

As with the previous volume, The '00s, I was pretty curious about the contents of this volume of the series, as rather than focusing on a particular character or type of comic, the focus seems to be more thematic. And it's spelled out right there in the solicitation: Marvel defines the decade that is just wrapping up as one devoted to the characters that buttressed film franchises and the introduction or reintroduction of newer, younger and more diverse heroes. That seems to be a pretty good cross-section of comic books, too. Or, at the very least, a nice place to start with the Marvel Universe. Like, if someone told me that they were curious about Marvel comics and wanted to know where to start, this seems like a good book to suggest, as it would offer avenues for further exploration if they decide they really like this Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl character, or want to see more Thor comics featuring that Thor and/or by that creative team.

They’re back and more alive than ever for this special one-shot! But what new threat is so grave that only the most famous mutant celebrities can fight it? And who is the new U-Go-Girl? Only the original X-Statix creative team Peter Milligan, Michael Allred and Laura Allred know for sure!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Parental Advisory …$4.99

I don't know if Marvel was compelled to publish a new X-Statix comic to renew the copyright or what, but I'm more than happy to see more X-Statix, particularly by the original creators.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Marvel Universe — in one lavishly illustrated series!
From the Big Bang to the twilight of existence, HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE chronicles completely, for the first time, everything that was, is or will be!
Lushly illustrated text tells the complete story of the Marvel Universe, revealing previously unknown secrets and serving as the ultimate reference book for Marvel fans! Witness the greatest tale ever told — and be prepared for some shocking revelations!
32 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

This sounds like it could potentially be pretty great, but I'll obviously wait for the trade version. I would love something like this for the DC Universe...although they keep rewriting their history so often that I guess that would be impossible. They would need to publish a new one every time there's a crossover story.

Fresh from the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, for the first time Susan Storm-Richards stars in her own limited series – and the secrets about her past revealed therein will shake readers’ perceptions of the Invisible Woman forevermore! Years ago, she undertook an espionage mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. –
and now it’s up to her to save her former partner from death at the hands of international terrorists!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Not really a whole lot of "variance" between those two variant covers, is there? Which image of Sue Storm slowly turning invisible from the bottom up should you choose...?

I was actually kinda shocked to read that this is the first Sue Storm solo effort, but I guess that kind of makes sense. Has Reed ever had a solo outting...? I assume it's not the way they were originally intended, but I always thought of those two as the straight men in the Johnny Storm/Ben Grimm show...the boring characters that kept the plot moving.

At any rate, I'm sure this will be pretty good. Mark Waid's not really in the habit of writing comics that aren't, at worst, pretty good.

• Ms. Marvel reaches the explosive finale of her adventure in space and finds her life — and her costume — forever changed!
• Victory comes at a cost, and when it comes to paying up, Kamala may not have much choice in the matter…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

No no no, that's not how you spell "awful." You got the first two letters right, A-W, but then it's F-U-L, not E-S-O-M-E...

Yeah, I'm not really feeling this new costume, especially the change from the best kinda mask, the classic domino, to the worst kinda mask, the Gambit/'90s Cyclops head sock. Given that this new, worse costume deals with an adventure in space though, I suppose there's a pretty good chance it will just be story-specific, and not permanent...even if the solicitation does promise that her costume will be "forever changed." Forever's a really long time, Mr. or Ms. Solicitation Copy Writer...!

Wait, she gets a new costume during an adventure in space, and she's keeping it...? I thought Kamala Khan was a student of superheroes; has she learned nothing from Spider-Man...?

POWERS OF X #1 (of 6)
Superstar writer Jonathan Hickman (INFINTY, NEW AVENGERS, FF) continues his revolutionary new direction for the X-Men. Intertwining with HOUSE OF X, POWERS OF X reveals the secret past, present and future of mutantkind, changing the way you look at every X-Men story before and after. You do not want to miss the next seminal moment in the history of the X-Men!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$5.99

Guys, it has been so long since the X-folks have done anything that has so much as piqued my interest--maybe when Brian Michael Bendis brought the original team into the present and kept them there so long I couldn't figure out how they would undo it?--that Hickman getting involved sounds downright revolutionary.

I really loved his massive Avengers epic, and while I've yet to read his Fantastic Four stuff, people sure did seem to like that. So this definitely seems like a good move on Marvel's part.

• During the War of the Realms, Frank Castle made a promise of vengeance, and Frank Castle keeps his promises.
• A van full of orphans is about to make that promise a lot more complicated.
• How does a man kill gods and monsters?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Okay, wait. "Kill Krew" implies more than one killer, right? Like, a whole crew of killers. And yet the solicit reads "One Man." I...just don't follow the math on this one.

I like Frank's dumb-looking helmet on the cover, though.

You saw him tear through Fire Goblins in WAR OF THE REALMS with his big, damn magic sword! Now learn the mysterious origins of LIN LIE, A.K.A. SWORD MASTER, Marvel’s newest Chinese superhero, in the English language debut of the original series written by Shuizhu and drawn by Gunji! Haunted by dreams of demons, Lin Lie hunts for his missing archeologist father – and for the secret of the black sword he left behind.
And in a brand new story written by Greg Pak (NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS), Sword Master teams up with SHANG-CHI! What happens when an undisciplined, untrained kid with a magic sword tangles with the one and only, undisputed MASTER OF KUNG FU? (Spoiler alert: they will indeed drive each other crazy, with huge ramifications for the Marvel Universe!)
40 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

This book seems to deserve some attention for just how goddam different it looks from all the other books being solicited. This sounds like what I would have expected if you told me C.B. Cebulski was going to be Marvel's Editor-In-Chief, like, ten years ago. I'm not sure I quite follow the history of this project, as "English language debut of the original series" implies that this was published in Chinese previously...? Was it a Marvel comic, though? Or did Marvel buy a character/comic to add to their universe...?

Whatever the case, it looks interesting, and introducing the character in War of The Realms certainly can't hurt what is otherwise sometimes kinda tricky: Introducing a brand-new superhero into a jaded, cynical direct market already clogged with superheroes.

Similarly, Marvel is publishing a book called Aero which also features heroes of Asian descent that were part of the War of The Realms event and also has Asian creators attached.

Reprinting material from Venom: Sinner Takes All (1995) #3
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting Carnage, U.S.A. (2011) #1
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00

Reprinting Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #361
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00


Reprinting Venom vs. Carnage (2004) #1
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$1.00

Reprinting Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #430
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting material from Spider-Man Unlimited (1993) #1
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00


Reprinting Venom (2003) #1
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00


Reprinting Venom: Separation Anxiety (1994) #1
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting Carnage: Mind Bomb (1996) #1
40 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting material from Amazing Spider-Man Super Special #1
32 PGS./Rated T ...$1.00

Okay, serious question: Which, if any of these, should I order?

Cover by Mahmud Asrar
A new hero emerges straight from the pages of THE WAR OF THE REALMS! For years, you knew her as Dr. Jane Foster, one of Thor’s most steadfast companions. Then you knew her as Thor, the Goddess of Thunder, who took up the mantle when no other hero – god or human – was worthy. Now Jane takes on a new role as Valkyrie, guide and ferrywoman to the dead! But her days of punching are far from over. WAR OF THE REALMS master architect Jason Aaron and superstar Al Ewing (IMMORTAL HULK) join forces with rising star artist CAFU for the book that’ll have everyone talking!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Huh. Interesting.It makes sense to have Jane Foster continue to superhero after all that time spent as Thor, although I'm not sure about this particular code name, given how widely shared it is in the Marvel Universe already. Additionally I'm not sure about that costume, which seems a bit needlessly far removed from her look as Thor.

Like, I would have at least expected the same helmet/mask combo to stick around. Without the mask portion, her helmet looks a little Wasp-like, and so she's missing her mask, her weapon, her armor and her coloring from when she was Thor.

I am so far behind on Thor comics I doubt I will ever catch up though, so I wonder if I'll ever even read this...