Tuesday, February 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: January 2024


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo: WhereWhen (IDW Publishing) In 2018, Dark Horse Books published Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection, which included every single one of the comic book crossovers of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's TMNT and Stan Sakai's samurai rabbit, from the 1987 Sakai-drawn six-page short "Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew" to the 2017 Sakai-created "Namazu or the Big Fish Story," a 40-page IDW-published one-shot.

The title of that book, as vital and rewarding as the book itself may be, is no longer accurate, as IDW just published another TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo crossover, this one the most substantial one to date: The five-issue, 144-page adventure WhereWhen. The book, written, drawn and lettered by Sakai, with colors from Hi-Fi Desgin, technically features the IDW iteration of the Turtles (at least the main four; Jennika is MIA), since they recognize Usagi from the pages of "Namazu", but otherwise these could be any version of the Turtles, so continuity-lite is their end of the story (something that I, a fan of the original iteration, was thankful for; these just read like the real Turtles, rather than a particular version of them).

The continuity is a little heavier on the Usagi side, with some surprising changes in the cast—read: deaths—in this, a crossover. In Usagi's time, this is set just before the events of 2014 miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, with the ronin rabbit now a general serving as part of an army travelling to eradicate Hijiki and his forces at the request of the shogun. 

As they prepare to set up camp for the day, local villagers approach Usagi and tell him of a kappa that is menacing them. Usagi seeks permission to hunt for the turtle monster, and does so, so we get to see Staki's version of the famous Japanese yokai (and, being turtle-like in shape, it is, of course, an auspicious creature for the Usagi characters to face just before the TMNT arrive).

Meanwhile, in the present, the four Turtles—"naked" compared to their current, Sophie Campbell-written IDW versions—are on the trail of a supervillain, a time-travelling cyborg Dr. WhereWhen from the future, who has come to his own past to conquer the world with his superior technology.

His robots are no match for the Turtles, though, and so he decides to flee even further into the past, where they won't be there to fight him, and thus he arrives in 17th century feudal Japan, or Usagi's time. Due to the vagaries of time travel stories, WhereWhen actually arrived there well before the Turtles, and has had time to build all sorts of clockwork samurai and monsters using his futuristic knowhow and the technology of the day. 

After a brief crossing of swords due to the stories of kappa, General Usagi arrives to greet his old friends (this story apparently takes place 20 years after the last TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo crossover) and straighten everything out. No sooner does WhereWhen hear of their arrival though then he sends waves of attackers after the Turtles in Lord Noriyuki's encampment, first an ambush by mogura ninja (that's mole ninja), then WhereWhen's "Samuroids." 

Not simply sitting still, the Turtles, Usagi and some of Usagi's allies storm WhereWhen's castle, finding various clockwork monsters built to repel them. They succeed in shutting down WhereWhen's operation, and getting his time-travel device, allowing for themselves to get back home (as to why feudal Japan is full of talking animals instead of Japanese people, there are a few brief allusions to this being weird, but nothing that stops the story; as ever, Usagi Yojimbo, like Disney comics, are apparently meant to be read as is the animals were more-or-less human, perhaps moles aside).

At this point in his career, Sakai is as accomplished as any living cartoonist, and he has drawn the TMNT enough times at this point to make him one of their better artists. 

Each issue of the series included a wrap-around cover by Sakai, and a variant by Kevin Eastman, all of which are reprinted within. There's also a single cover by Peter Laird and Eastman, which is a pretty big deal if you ask me, although it's simply relegated to the status of fourth issue variant (it's not too Turtle-heavy, either, featuring one-half of Leonardo and one-half of Usagi only; still, this is the first time the pair has collaborated in forever, and the first time I've seen a Turtle drawn by its creators since I can't remember when). 
Other variants come from Sarah Myer, who draws the "Retailer Incentive" covers, and does so in a highly animated style, including pupils in the turtles' eyes on one cover where they are shown feasting on okonomiyaki, and a connecting cover by David Petersen. 

Sadly, there are no Sophie Campbell-drawn variants; I would really like to see what her version of Usagi might look like. 


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 28 (Viz Media) Never mind what the cover shows, it's not Komi and the girls in the cast that visit a sauna in this volume, but the boys; specifically, Tadano and Komi's dad...and little brother (Komi's dad being too shy to hang out with Tadano by himself still, apparently). They go on this date so that, as Komi's dad finally admits well into the proceedings, so that he can bond with Tadano. They even end up kissing, although it's a kinda sorta medical procedure prompted by Komi's dad pretending to fall ill.

Kissing remains on Komi and Tadano's mind throughout this volume, and they seem to get awfully close during a study date at Komi's, until her mom interrupts them. Komi's parents seem quite fond of Tadano, and, in fact, they get dressed up and join the kids during their study date until Komi eventually shoos them away. 

Other stories this volume include new editions of the Summer Uniform Grand Prix and Quiet While Studying in the Library, Wakai who can't talk to girls finds himself able to talk to Manbagi through a loophole in his logic, and Komi's dealing with a group of friendly stalkers who all want to be her friend but, well, like everyone else in this manga, all seem to have communication problems of their own. 

My Cute Littel Kitten Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) The inciting incident of this yuri manga is Yuna bringing home a tiny kitten to the new-pet apartment she's shared with college friend Rena for years. Realizing the time may finally have come for them to go their separate ways, Rena prepares to finally let go of Yuna, despite the fact that she's madly in love with her.

What does that mean, exactly? "You see...I'm in love with you," she confesses. "I don't mean as a friend. I want to kiss you, to sleep with you. That kind of love." 

To Rena's surprise, Yuna returns her feelings...sorta. Or at least she wants to keep living together, and seems willing to go with the flow, even if that means entering into a lesbian relationship with her long-time best friend and roommate. Her attempts to consummate their love keep getting frustrated by circumstances, though, from Yuna getting so drunk she passed out for what was going to be their "first time" (and which Yuna thought might have actually happened, even though she couldn't remember it) to their newly found little kitten pet, Chibi, causing trouble.

Eventually, the pair decide to stay together and find a new, pet-friendly apartment for their new family of three, while their relationship continues to take halting, often-frustrated steps forward, as Rena tries to determine if her cute little kitten Yuna is really ready for a relationship with her, and Yuna wrestles with whether or not she's good enough for Rena. 

It's a charming enough affair, with a sufficient degree of suspense and drama, despite the fact that the confession happens so early in the proceedings. 

Star Wars: Darth Vader—Black, White & Red Treasury Edition (Marvel Entertainment) The character of Darth Vader seems well-suited to the limited palette anthology series, given that it is a limited palette character design, all in black, with a bright red iconic weapon in his hand. This book, produced at 8.7-inches by 13.25-inches, is a nice showcase for the art, which comes courtesy of names I'm quite familiar with, like Leonard Kirk and Klaus Janson, a few from names I've heard of, like Peach Momoko, Alessandro Vitti and Daniel Warren Johnson, and a few I've never heard of, like Marika Cresta, Stefano Raffaele, Paul Davidson and Danny Earls. 

The books four issues are divided up so that there's a chapter of a longer Jason Aaron-written, Kirk-drawn storyline called "Hard Shutdown" (Kirk is inked, in just the fourth installment, by Mark Morales), followed by two standalone short stories from some of the other creators, and so on to the end. The collection follows this formula, breaking up the Aaron/Kirk story with short stories throughout. 

"Hard Shutdown" introduces the son of a doctor who worked on constructing Vader's cyborg body, and who therefore knows a special code that can render the Star Wars villain into the title state, completely immobilizing him. The idea is to then cut him up and sell off his very expensive, state-of-the-art parts while getting rid of the galaxy's worst bad guy at the same time. Things don't go according to plan, however, as despite the fact that Vader can't so much as twitch a muscle, his mind is still active, and he still has access to his Force powers, allowing him to control all the tools in the room meant to cut him up, to fling around the bodies of reinforcements to come to help, to even pull a ship out of the sky. 

The point of the story, other than to imperil the 47-year-old character in a new and interesting way, is to highlight just how incredibly powerful Darth Vader really is. In fact, this is a theme throughout the book, which is basically a celebration of Vader's bad-assery, as he uses his laser sword and Force powers to meet and beat all opponents, even if he has to fight off a pack of Wampas while damaged/injured in Frank Tieri and Earls' "Return to Hoth" or fighting off a planet-wide viral life form while floating limbless in a bacta tank in Steve Orlando and Davidson's "The Inhabitant."

It's a wonder that Luke Skywalker kid was ever even able to go toe-to-toe with Vader.

In addition to the Aaron-written story, stand outs include the bizarre imagery of Momoko's dream story, a little boy learning exactly the wrong message in Victoria Ying and Cresta's "Power" and Johnson's "Annihilated", which contains some especially neat light saber effects, and the pitch perfect "ZROWWW" sound of one swinging in a wide arc. 

I was also intrigued by the variant cover gallery, which includes a contribution from Kevin Eastman, depicting the Dark Lord of the Sith on what appears to be snowy Hoth, all black and white save for the red of his sword. I'm always interested in seeing Eastman's signature style applied to other people's characters, and Darth Vader is about as unlikely a character to imagine the artist drawing as any. 


Punycorn (HarperColllins) Andi Watson's latest finds the long-time creator at his absolute silliest, in a work that seems like a rather great departure from his usual writing...and even drawing. Even when compared to his other kids work, this seems like a departure. That said, it's a fun little book, and the usual charms of Watson's work are all present, even if one has to look a little harder than usual to find them. More here


I spoke to Cleopatra In Space creator Mike Maihack about his trilogy of Spider-Man graphic novels for Abrams on the occasion of the release of the second one, Spider-Man: Quantum Quest. You can read our conversation here