Sunday, May 22, 2022

On DC's 2009-2011 Red Robin

DC Comics launched a Robin ongoing series starring the third Robin Tim Drake in 1993, following a trio of successful miniseries, and it ran for 183 issues over 16 years, plus sundry annuals, spin-offs and specials. That meant the character was strong enough, and the narrative momentum intense enough, that the Tim Drake was able to survive the introduction of a fourth Robin, Damian Wayne, in 2006, his title surviving another three years before cancellation, when it became clear that Damian-as-Robin wasn't going to be a temporary state of affairs after all; indeed, when Batman "died" in 2008's Final Crisis (and/or during Grant Morrison's occasionally quite messy Batman run, depending on whether one read both books or one or the other), and Damian became the official Robin to Dick Grayson's new Batman, the move seemed as permanent as anything in super-comics.

 DC would have to find something else to do with Tim Drake.

They settled on making Tim take the Nightwing path of "graduating" from the role of Robin and taking on a new superhero identity of his own...sort of. Though the "Nightwing" name and costume were then  up for grabs, with Dick becoming Batman, they went with "Red Robin," a somewhat fraught name (it is the name of a fast food restaurant chain, after all) that came with a pretty cool grown-up version of the Robin-costume designed by Alex Ross in 1996's Kingdom Come (In that story, which, in DC Comics tradition, became a "world" in the reemergent Multiverse, Red Robin was the name Dick Grayson took on as an adult, donning a red and black costume that seemed to be a compromise between the original Robin costume and a Batman costume).

I remembered thinking this was a terrible idea. 

First, I'm more than okay with their being more than one character with the same name, something the two Green Arrows of Oliver Queen and Connor Hawke normalized for me (not to mention the 7200 Green Lanterns, including a bunch of Earthlings who could all wear rings and use the name at the same time). There's no reason that Tim Drake couldn't be a solo Robin and/or appear with the Teen Titans as Robin while Damian was Robin to Grayson's Batman, I thought at the time.

But if Tim had to take a new name, "Red Robin" seemed a lame one (I was and remain in favor of "Redwing" or "Redbird"). In addition to the fast food thing, the name and costume appeared in the comics before they became Tim's. 

First, resurrected second Robin Jason Todd wore the suit in the pages of Countdown and, in pre-New 52 continuity, Todd and Tim weren't exactly friends. Todd attacked him (wearing and Earth-2 Robin suit, for some reason) in the pages of Teen Titans, and later tried to kill him in the pages of 2009's Battle For The Cowl; Todd was at this time depicted as an unrepentant murderer, more of a Punisher-type vigilante than the tie-'em-up-and-leave-'em-for-the-cops sort represented by Batman and his family of followers.

The costume was also briefly adopted by Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong, AKA The General, a Chuck Dixon and Michael Netzer-created Batman villain that writer Fabian Nicieza used as Tim's archenemy during his run on Robin

So by the time Tim picked it up, it made about as much sense as him going by The Red Hood, Anarky or Blue Beetle, 2009 Caleb thought. 

It turns out, writer Christopher Yost, who launched the new Tim-starring Red Robin series in 2009, had an answer for that. "'Red Robin' isn't a hero," Tim narrates while fighting a trio of League of Assassins assassins on a Paris rooftop in the opening story arc, "The Grail." "I can cross lines that Robin can't." The identity, like the suit, came to him pre-sullied, providing some distance from the Batman brand (although not that much, I'd say, given that it just adds an adjective to "Robin") and the connotations of bad guy-ishness that Todd and Armstrong brought to the identity. 

I of course skipped the series when it was originally published, despite my affection for the Tim Drake character (I was only ever a sporadic reader of the Robin ongoing, something I'd rectify now if I could do so easily; I was awfully bummed when DC stopped reprinting Robin after just five volumes). The Batman line outside of Morrison's own titles—Batman, followed by Batman and Robin, followed by Batman Inc—at the time was a mess, with Morrison apparently telling the "official" Batman story, while all the other titles reacted to it the best they could, seemingly not knowing what exactly Morrison had planned more than a few issues ahead of what readers knew. 

Also, the Red Robin character in the DCU spun out of  the events of Countdown, and who on Earth wanted to read that

A decade and change later though, I was curious about my old friend Tim Drake, and it seemed like an okay time to revisit the era of Batman comics. Following Robin, which was canceled in April of 2009, Red Robin was launched in August of that year, with Yost attached as writer, Ramon Bachs as pencil artist, and Bachs, Art Thibert and Guy Major inking the first arc. The run lasted just two years and 26 issues, with one major creative overhaul about halfway through, when Fabian Nicieza returned to the Tim Drake character. 

Having now read the entire series in rapid succession, it's hard to guess what exactly went wrong, although it's pretty clear the DC Universe was quite messy throughout the book's publication, and much of its plotting seemed  captive to the events in other books. Even read in isolation like this, the series' four collections—The Grail, Collison, Hit List and 7 Days of Death—read like a tertiary title in a publishing line, rather than an ongoing concern with a star in some command of his own destiny.

While reading, I was constantly reminded of other stories and series—Infinite Crisis, "War Games",  Batman: RIP, Battle For The Cowl, Final Crisis, Darkest Night, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Nicieza's own Robin run—and though these were usually alluded to in dialogue or narration in a way that was meant to ground the book in the overall, overarching narrative of the DC Universe, it simply reminded me of how much was happening at once and how much I had forgotten. Like Superboy and Bart Allen being dead, for example, or presumed dead, and then coming back to life. 

Yost begins the series with an arc entitled "The Grail," a five-part story that fills the first collection. Tim is separated from all of the now late Batman's other allies in his belief that Batman Bruce Wayne is really still alive somewhere. This is not an unreasonable belief in the DC Universe, although it's treated as such. 

"But this time...this time is different," Dick-as-Batman explains midway through the arc. "We're not like the others. We're not gods, or aliens, we don't have special powers. Bruce was just a man, Tim. Superman brought Bruce's body to us. We buried him. And now we have to let him go." 

It's one of the reasons given for why Tim takes off on his own, pointedly turning his back on allies like Dick, Alfred, Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandsmark and Spoiler Stephanie Brown, all of whom he meets with in one way or another before he leaves town. He's convinced he's right, and seeks proof, with an obsession that leads him to be darker and more violent than usual...that, or maybe it was hearing the Anti-Life Equation during Final Crisis, as he explains to Cassandra at one point. 

"But you know what? Before the equation took hold, I remember thinking..." he explained, "...I remember thinking that there wasn't much of it I disagreed with."

So yeah, whichever of the multiple reasons Yost gives, he wants us to know his Tim is in a dark place. 

For the first arc, Tim is travelling through Europe in his new Red Robin costume, fighting crimes as they are presented to him, while looking for something...vague. Proof that Batman's still alive, although we won't see that proof manifested until Tim finds it, and even then its never explained why Tim thought to look for it, why he thought to look there, or why he was convinced Batman was still alive (There's a retcon answer given in Red Robin #12, which flashes back to a scene in Red Robin #1 and fills in a blank: apparently while trashing a room in Wayne Manor in frustration, Tim came across a picture of one of Bruce Wayne's pilgrim ancestors, which looked so exactly like Bruce that he became convinced Bruce was lost in time. The evidence he finds to further support this is a cave painting of a bat apparently made by Bruce; this would all be in the pages of The Return of Bruce Wayne. Life would have been a lot easier for Tim if he just showed everyone that pilgrim picture and explained, but it seems like Yost didn't know about it at the time he wrote the earlier issues of the series. One gets the sense Yost didn't know to use this bit of evidence in the earlier issues of the series though, as perhaps he didn't yet know about the plot of Return of Bruce Wayne). 

Meanwhile, Lucius Fox's daughter Tam Fox is in Europe, trying to find Tim and bring him back to the United States for some ill-defined reasons (Tommy Elliot, AKA Hush is currently masquerading as Bruce Wayne, and everyone seems to be going along with it to protect Batman's dual identity), Vicki Vale is looking for Tim as she tries to put together the fact that Bruce and his sons may all be superheroes, and members of the League of Assassins are being hunted and killed on jobs by various other assassins with spider motifs.

The payoff to all of this occurs in the second trade, Collision, penciled by Marcus To and Talent Caldwell, the latter of whom draws the issue of Batgirl included (which is written by Bryan Q. Miller), and four inkers. The League of Assassins is being hunted by a superior group of assassins, the Council of Spiders, who regard fighting and killing as a game, and the League as the very best prey (As to why they are all named after and have various spider-themes and powers, that's a coincidence that Yost never explains). 

Ra's al Ghul takes Tim into his confidence, and gives him carte blanche to lead the League against the Council. The arch-fiend's interest in Tim began with his shared belief that Batman might still be alive, but it transformed into an alliance thanks to the pressure of the Spiders.

Tim, naturally, betrays Ra's and cripples the League through their computer systems, which he was given complete access to. This leads into a an immediate retaliatory plan by Ra's, in which he seeks to simultaneously assassinate everyone Bruce Wayne cared about while also going after the Wayne fortune. It's up to Tim to protect everyone and save the day, which he does by proving one way in which he is superior to even Batman.

This first half of the series is a bit shaggy, but is overall a pretty nice portrait of Tim as Batman's successor, coming into his own and proving himself worthy by taking on and defeating one of Batman's greatest enemies—twice. It also gets Tim out of Gotham and globe-hopping for the first half of it, keeping him out of the way of the Batman/Batman and Robin narrative, until ultimately bringing him back to Gotham to save everyone and best Ra's a second time there.

This leads to a pretty squicky ending, where Ra's reveals to Talia that this was all a test to prove Tim's worth, and now that he is sure of it, "He will produce a worthy heir." I...don't know. Not only is Tim a little young for Talia, but the whole use-my-archrival-to-produce-an-heir plan didn't really work out with Damian, so one might think Ra's would have abandoned it after Damian joined Batman's side in their ongoing war. 

This collection, and Yost's run, ends with Tim wearing a newly modified version of the Red Robin costume, one that brings it a little bit closer in line with his previous Robin costume. For all it's faults, this wouldn't have been a bad place to end the series but, it turns out, this is only the halfway point.

Nicieza takes over the title with The Hit List, and, to a degree, he seems to pick up plot-points where he left them during his Robin run, including the presence of a second character named Lynx, former Anarky Lonnie Manchin being in a coma but hooked up to computers to make him something of a living computer entity that can help Tim by acting as his own personal Oracle, and Armstrong acting as the new Anarky, one with a renewed obsession with killing Tim Drake based on events from Robin

There's an element to the record-scratching about this, mostly because these issues seem to follow older Robin issues more closely than they do the preceding Red Robin issues (and Nicieza doesn't seem to be entirely sure what to do with some plot points, like Tim's blossoming almost kinda sorta romance with Tam, which develops into a close working relationship, but never gets defined romantically, to the frustration of the characters seemingly as much as the readers). 

Nicieza's seeming uncertainty with what to do with the character and the book is mirrored in the story, the first arc or so of which has Tim settling uncomfortably into a working relationship with the new Batman and Robin, where Damian makes it quite clear he's not welcome (in fact, the two will come to blows overs Tim's keeping of a secret file on Damian). Tim makes a list of things he needs to figure out, including where to live, who to work with, what to do and so on, and then Nicieza has him answering that slowly through the course of his two volumes (it's not until the penultimate issue of the series that Tim gets a new headquarters of his own, in the theater that Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered outside of).

It's difficult to blame Nicieza too much for the uncertain nature of the back half of the book's run, however, as he doesn't seem to have a lot of control. Big moments that seem like they should be bigger in the book—the eventual return of Bruce Wayne to life, for example—are acknowledged, but not the focus. It reads weirdly now, given the book was set-up with Tim's search for Bruce being a major part of its original premise, but, when Tim finds the proof he's looking for, he simply turns it over to other heroes (off-panel) and has nothing to do with the search itself; Bruce just shows up alive in an issue of Red Robin and the pair take off their cowls and hug (To be fair, there was a Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Red Robin #1 one-shot special by Nicieza and Bachs, which perhaps gives Tim a more central role in the story of Bruce fighting his way through time against the Omega Sanction to return to his life in the present, but it's not collected here and I haven't read it yet; it's collected with a whole suite of similar one-shots in Batman: Bruce Wayne—The Road Home).

Here too the feeling that this is a less-important title in a line of comics is evident; what seems like it should be a central part of the story, narratively, actually occurs elsewhere, and is only reacted to second- or third-hand here. 

Nicieza has Tim engaging in rematches with Scarab and Anarky, beginning a Batman/Catwoman-like dalliance with Lynx, fighting Damian, approaching Cassandra Cain, tackling a Russian oligarch referred to as a Lex Luthor wannabe and his interest in an evil version of the Internet and teaming up with the Teen Titans, with whom Damian is a current member. He also teams up with Red Star and Batgirl, and meets a mysterious immortal that's not Ra's al Ghul that seems to have some designs for him. 

Marcus To handles the pencils for Nicieza's run, while Ray McCarthy and MarkMcKenna ink it. 

The series ends with an issue that seems like it was written a long time ago to be used as a final issue, in which Tim orchestrates the death of Captain Boomerang, the man who killed his father in Identity Crisis. He sets up an elaborate plan in which Boomerang would escape from jail, find what he thinks is an incredible power source, and follow a bunch of predictable steps that will ultimately lead to his death, which Tim watches but doesn't actively cause, just passively sets up, allowing Boomerang multiple chances to make the right rather than the wrong choice, and thus sparing himself.

Tim ultimately doesn't go through with it, and ends up having to intervene to save Boomerang's life repeatedly. While Dick-as-Batman praises him, Bruce-as-Batman doesn't, as he figured out what Tim did. "You saved him tonight, Tim," Batman says, "But what about tomorrow...?"

The series ends with a panel of Tim staring off over the Gotham skyline and narrating dramatically:

It's my city now if I want it to be. 

Not Dick's. Not Bruce's. Mine. 

But to make it that way make it right...what will I have to become? 

So many choices...

...but what will be my decision...? 
We'll never find out, that being the final panel of the series. 

Red Robin ended the same month that all DC comics being published in summer of 2011 ended, in order to make way for the new New 52 line of comics...and the new continuity that accompanied them. 

In that continuity,  ad hoc as it was, Tim would fare particularly poorly, as the timelineof the DC Universe was officially compressed down to just five years, in which time Batman still had four Robins, including Tim (Stephanie Brown was, at least initially, never a Robin in the new continuity). The result was that his time with each would have been extremely short, a year at the most, and that's if the time was divided evenly, as it probably wasn't, Dick's career as Robin lasting so much longer than those of Jason, Tim and Damian. 

In the new continuity—since abandoned, with Death Metal leading to a "new" continuity that seems to be the old one minus much of The New 52—Tim never went by just "Robin", but was always "Red Robin," a name he chose to distinguish himself from the late (but later resurrected) Jason Todd. Tim would have a new Red Robin costume and appear mostly in the pages of Teen Titans, with occasional appearances in the Batman books.

Eventually he got a new version of his original Robin costume back and played a central role in Detective Comics, where he spearheaded Batman's "Gotham Knights" initiative. Eventually, Tim got his old, original, pre-New 52 origin story back, as well as the name "Robin." 

As with most of the other characters, it seems like we're now pretending much of the New 52 continuity didn't happen, but it's, as ever, unclear how much of what we've read really "happened" or not; now, for example, I couldn't tell you if Tim was ever meant to have gone by the name "Red Robin" or not, and in the 2009-2011 series is now canon or if it's been excised. 

Sunday, May 01, 2022

A Month of Wednesdays: April 2022


Challenge of The Super Sons (DC Comics) The Super Sons have gone through some stuff since their last adventure, Adventures of The Super Sons, the kind of stuff that characters tend to go through in shared superhero universes. 

Superboy Jon Kent went into space with his dead paternal grandfather, somehow hyper-aged through puberty, spent some time with the Legion of Superheroes and now fills his father's one-time role of Superman, protecting Earth while the other Superman is off in space somewhere.

 Robin Damian Wayne got a new costume. 

Okay, one changed more than the other, but the point is, the Super Sons team-ups that Peter Tomasi was writing for a while are a thing of the past...which makes Challenge of The Super Sons, which ignores all those changes for a story set well before they happened, so much fun. Beyond the normal pleasures that come from these two very different characters bouncing off one another, it also has the feeling of a sort of last hurrah, a one-more-time encore before we submit to the forces of change. And/or Brian Michael Bendis.

The story opens at the West-Reeve school, where the two are classmates—it's unfortunate that we didn't get to see more of the pair in school—and then has them suiting-up to go on patrol together, this time in Metropolis ("We have to patrol Metropolis tonight," Jon stipulates. "My mom is making chili!") There they eventually get wrapped up in a particularly weird case involving time travel.

They are shunted to the 16th century, where they encounter the immortal Vandal Savage and his new partner Felix Faust, as well as Faust's young apprentice, who they just met as an old lady in the present, mere panels before their leap back in time.

 When they return to the present, it's with the "doom scroll" in hand; this is a blank parchment which shows the symbol of a Justice Leaguer on it and the means of that Leaguer's death an hour before that death is ordained; they must then prevent that death from happening without letting the Leaguer know about it, as foreknowledge will activate the spell trap that Faust laid for the League in the past. 

That's the "challenge" part of the book.

While they're saving their dad's work friends in the present, they are trying to escape Savage and Faust in the past...of course, they will also have to deal with them in the future, given the villains' immortality.

As a plot goes, it's a bit on the complicated side, but as long as it keeps the two friends together and bickering, it will suffice. Oddly, each of the seven issues is broken into two chapters, with the second half of each issue marked "Chapter Two." When reading it in trade, these chapter notations are nonsensical, as there are seven chapter twos and no chapter ones, or chapter threes or any other chapters.

The artwork comes courtesy of Max Raynor, Jorge Corona and Evan Stanley, three different artists with three extremely different styles, particularly Stanley, whose work looks more appropriate for a kid-friendly DC original graphic novel—which, come to think of it, might be a better home for future Super Sons adventures—then the DC house style of Raynor and Corona.

At any rate, it's always fun to see Damian ranting and raving and the unflappable Jon, and as much as this feels like a last hurrah, I do hope it's not the last we've seen of Tomasi on the Super Sons 

Oh, and the Supermobile is in this comic. I love the Supermobile. 

Sensational Wonder Woman Special #1 (DC) This trade-like anthology includes a trio of stories featuring Wonder Woman...and nothing else that really binds them together as a unit. They very much read like a trio of inventory stories. 

In the first, by Paula Sevenbergen, Paul Pelletier and Norm Rapmund, Wonder Woman faces off against her Golden Age enemy The Blue Snowman. Beyond the hero vs. villain business, there's a bit about a little boy who dresses up like Wonder Woman for his school's hero day, and gets bullied for it...although he, naturally enough, proves to be a real hero. That's the reason I bought this, actually. I find the Blue Snowman fascinating, as I do most of Wonder Woman's Golden Age rogues gallery, although she's here little more than a generic freezing-stuff villain, in a robot snowman suit.

The second, by Scott Kollins, is a Doctor Fate team-up in which the two heroes must fight a giant monster while trying to stave off an invasion of Lovecraftian space monster gods. It's laid out in such a way to suggest it was intended for an online fact, these might have all appeared online first for all I know. I don't really pay attention to comics that aren't printed on paper.

The third, by Stephanie Phillips, Alitha Martinez, Dexter Vines and Vincente Cifuentes, is a Freaky Friday-inspired story and thus the most high-concept of the lot:  During a fight with Circe, the witch casts a spell which switches Wonder Woman's mind with that of a teenage girl who happened to be at the scene at the time, and Wonder Woman must try to make it through a day of high school in a teenager's body while a young, inexperienced girl pilots her body. Things end abruptly, given the strength of the concept, but it's pretty fun while it lasts.

The book naturally shipped with lots of covers. I got the "International Woman's Day" one by Maria Laura Sanapo, featuring a random assortment of five other superheroines rushing into action behind Wonder Woman. 


Batman: Legacy Vols. 1-2 (DC Comics) Having just recently re-read  Batman event story "Contagion", I of course then felt the need to re-read its sequel story, "Legacy." I wasn't sure if I should include the trades collecting it in this column or in a separate, standalone post, but since I did borrow them from the library this month, then they technically qualify for inclusion in this feature, even if I am re-reading them. 

Or, as it turns out, mostly re-reading them. The two volumes, published in 2017 and 2018 respectively, contain a lot more comics aside from those marked with the demon's head "Legacy" logo.  In fact, it's not until the final issue collected within volume one that we get the official part one of the "Legacy" storyline; the rest is all build-up.

Obviously, this storyline was written to be read as it was published—serially, across multiple titles—rather than in this, its current collected format. People who complain about comics being "written for the trade" would have had no such complaints about this 1996 storyline.

Because stories that merely foreshadow or otherwise lead-in to "Legacy" are included, the first trade begins with a two-part storyline introducing the villain Lock-Up, included presumably because the story has a scene in which a character dies of "The Clench" disease introduced in "Contagion," and another in which Commissioner Gordon reacts ominously to that death (Incidentally, it also introduces readers to the "Dynamic Trio" team of Batman, Robin and Nighting, working together as a well-oiled machine; they'll continue as a team throughout "Legacy"). 

From there, there's a multi-issue Catwoman arc, in which the thief is press-ganged into raiding a tomb—and springing all its traps—that leads to the ancient "wheel of plagues" that has both the formula for creating The Clench plague and the formula for its cure. There's an issue of Robin included, a Wildcat team-up, presumably just for the last page, in which Batman and Alfred realize that if The Clench can come back in and kill those who were originally infected with it, Robin is still in danger, and then an issue of Shadow of The Bat and Batman leading to the first chapter of "Legacy," where it's finally revealed exactly who the shadowy character referred to as "The Immortal" who has been searching for the plague is: Ra's al Ghul, who, in a surprise, has teamed-up with Bane, who has taken the role once offered to Batman, as Talia's promised mate. (Of these many issues, I had only read maybe three issues total when they were originally published.)

There's a lot of great art in this volume, primarily from Graham Nolan, inked by Scott Hanna, as well as a few issues of Balent's Catwoman, Mike Wieringo on Robin, Dave Taylor on Shadow and, most interestingly Jim Aparo inked by Bill Sienkiewicz.

The second volume opens not with part two of "Legacy" but, rather, with the four-issue miniseries Batman: Bane of the Demon, by the prolific Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan team (Nolan is here inked by Tom Palmer). This storyline, while something of a deviation from "Legacy", explains what Bane has been up to—seeking the identity of his father—and how he came into contact with Talia and Ra's, eventually coming to a tense detente with The Demon's Head that made them allies in the plot to wipe out a huge percentage of the population with the plague weapon and set themselves up as rulers of what's left.

From there, "Legacy" continues through the pages of Catwoman, Robin, Shadow, Batman and Detective Comics by the then-regular creative teams of those books, an epic storyline that features the heroes heading off Ra's terrorist cells in Paris, Edinburgh and Calcutta, before Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Huntress all unite in Gotham City to stop Bane, Ra's and Talia. This includes a rematch between Batman and Bane, for the first time since the villain broke Batman's back. 

This is followed immediately within the collection with Batman: Bane #1, a character-specific one-shot published in connection with the 1997 Batman movie Batman and Robin and that functions as an epilogue to "Legacy", picking up directly where the plot left Bane, and showing him immediately moving on to another plot to menace Gotham City and, after coming into conflict with the Dynamic Trio again, disappearing into the waves yet again.

This second volume of "Legacy" includes art from some of the same artists as the first, with Staz Johnson pencilling the issue of Robin rather than Wieringo, and the great Rick Burchett handling the pencil chores on the Bane one-shot/epilogue. 

It's interesting to read and/or re-read these comics today, as the Bat-family was then quite small (just Robin, Nightwing, sometimes Huntress and, behind the scenes, Alfred and Oracle) and Bane and Ra's were still new enough and/or used infrequently enough that their very appearances felt like quite big deals. It's a far cry from today, when membership in the Bat-family dwarfs that of the Justice League, and Bane and Ra's or more-or-less constant presences in the Bat-books, which have grown substantially in number, and thus rely on near-constant churn of name Batman villains.  

Chainsaw Man Vol. 10 (Viz Media) Denji is still reeling from the loss of Aki and unsure to live with all of the thoughts currently messing up his brain when the thinks he comes upon a solution: living in complete submission to Makima, who will do all the thinking for him. This...may not be the best plan, given that no sooner is that decision made than another member of the cast gets killed off. 

The book must be nearing its finale, as there are precious few members of its cast still alive, and the new ones introduced in this volume specifically to take on Chainsaw Man, don't seem like they will last too long either. I'm still holding out hope for a happy ending for Denji but, if it's coming, it looks like there's going to be a whole lot of misery for the character before he reaches it. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 18 (Viz) The fallout from the cultural festival continues, as Komi and Manbagi openly compete for Tadano's affection...or as openly as they can, which, of course, isn't so openly that Tadano notices what they're doing, only that they are acting really weird. The volume ends with the biggest climax in the Komi/Tadano relationship so far, as Komi flat out asks Tadano what he thinks of her...and then...someone walks in and ruins the moment. 

This volume ends with the results of a character popularity poll, ranking the 100 most popular characters in the series. I was a little surprised by some of the results, like how high Nene Onemine placed (third!), given her relative place in the hierarchy of the cast (she's hardly in the top three most-seen characters...or even the top ten). 

The Masterful Cat is Depressed Again Today Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Something seems to have gotten confused somewhere in the translation of the title, as it doesn't seem to mean quite what it says in English. That is, Yukichi, the "masterful cat" of the title, isn't ever depressed so much as he is often disappointed in his master, Saku. 

See, Saku is loving and appreciative, but also something of a mess, and, try as she might, she can't seem to get or keep her act together for very long without the help of her house cat, who differs from most house cats in several respects. 

First and most noticeably, he's huge, towering over Saku as he goes about on his hindlegs, and he is often mistaken for a bear when he's seen in public (That, or a person in a cat suit). 

Secondly, while Yukichi can't talk, and his mind works a lot like that of an ordinary cat's, he takes care of all of the housework, functioning as something between a mom, a housewife and a butler for Saku. 

After the main manga, there's a five-page short story narrated by Yukichi which basically explains things from his point of view, including the how and why of his becoming a masterful cat. He realized that humans work in order to get money in order to buy cat food, or, "To put it another ways, if you don't get your human to work...YOU'LL STARVE!!" And so he took it upon himself to keep Saku functioning, "to make sure the cat food keeps coming in!!" He seems to have grown in proportion to his "masterfulness," having  been able to cook only the most simple of dishes when he was still a little kitten, but now being able to do the shopping (in an apron he made himself, no less), take out the garbage, cook and bake fancy meals and otherwise run Saku's apartment and life. 

It's a pretty compelling situation for a comedy series, I just don't think "depressed" is quite the right word to describe the typically temperamental cat's mood. 

 The lines between owner and pet are thus quite blurry, but it's an odd and funny situation with 


Avengers: Tech-On (Marvel Entertainment) Beyond being merely interesting in its unusual remit and execution—it's a sentai-inspired series created in collaboration with Bandai Namco, and there are three credited designers among the staff involved—I found Jim Zub and Jeffrey Cruz's Avengers series rather engaging. Remarkably enough, Zub manages to tell a story around the concept that fits more-or-less into the comics continuity, and he uses characters and their characterizations that are familiar-feeling whether your a fan of the Marvel Comics Universe or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's definitely far better than it has any reason to be. More here

Sir Ladybug (HarperCollins) Picture book author Corey R. Tabor turns to comics with this perfectly charming story of a ladybug who is also a knight, and his friends/herald and squire, and their adventures. In this initial installment of what is already a series, they have to save a caterpillar from a ravenous monster...a chickadee. More here