Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2015 (Revisited)

OldGhostsThe last time we saw Alice Gailsone she was lying in a hospital bed recuperating from injuries sustained from an atomic bomb (The Red Rook). In her first post-nuclear adventure (“Old Ghosts” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: August 2014), Gailsone finds herself in a sentimental mood. But (no surprise!) her sentimental journey to Houston leads directly to an ambush by a gang of murderous mercenaries led by Benny Callahan. Big Ben was a crime boss who’s been chewing up the scenery for a long time (he helped Hernán Cortés colonize/destroy the Aztec Empire back in the 16th century). Now he and his pals are snooping around an abandoned Purge facility looking for trouble. All Alice wants to do is retrieve a cherished memento and get the hell out of Texas as fast as possible. She’s not going to let an immortal, a vampire, a magician, or any old ghosts get in her way. [Review first published 01.16.15.]

ZeusGeorge O’Connor’s six-volume graphic novel series featuring Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite was collected in a snazzy box-set last year (Olympians / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781626720596). Although the text sometimes veers closely to Classics Illustrated territory, we nonetheless recommend O’Connor’s retelling of these “original superhero stories.” In the first volume’s afterword, the creator explains how he became obsessed with ancient mythology at an early age. “I was sick from school one day in sixth grade,” writes O’Connor, “and my parents brought me a copy of The Mighty Thor, published by Marvel comics. The art was weird and wonderful, and I remember staring at it, trying to comprehend whether I loved it or hated it. The story was full of all those enormous, bigger-than-life beasts I remembered from my copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I had always loved comics, but that copy of Thor, with its gods and monsters and lightning and drama, changed what comics could be for me.” [Review first published 02.13.15.]

JacoFans of Akira Toriyama’s seminal manga series Dragon Ball can generally be divided into two distinct groups: people who enjoy the over-the-top battles of Son Goku in Dragon Ball Z, and people who prefer the gentle humor of the earlier adventures. Like millions of people around the world we love Toriyama, but we quickly lost interest in his epic once it gained the Z appendage. The early volumes were amazing and funny; the latter volumes were tedious and blunt. Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (By Akira Toriyama / First U.S. Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9781421566306) finds the mangaka exploring a world just prior to Dragon Ball mania. Jaco is from outer space, but he’s no ordinary spaceman. He’s a super elite galactic patrolman (and goofball) who is stranded on Earth. “I got distracted watching a video and I bumped into the moon,” he admits sheepishly. In a way, Jaco’s sort of like an inept member of the Green Lantern Corps. He’s on an important mission to save Earth, but he needs to save himself too. As the story progresses, Jaco serendipitously reinvents himself as a superhero named “Mask Man.” He hates the name but enjoys the notoriety – he especially likes striking iconic superhero poses whenever he’s in public. Toriyama’s distinctive cartooning, which effortlessly blends action and humor, is a treat. And the ending, if you haven’t heard by now, brings Jaco, Goku, and Toriyama full circle. It’s a nice way to revisit the pleasures of Dragon Ball (without the Z). [Review first published 03.06.15.]

PIXEmaline Laurel Pixley is the teenage daughter of the king of the fairies. But instead of hanging out with Tinker Bell, Thumbelina, or the Tooth Fairy, she wants to be a superhero (PIX: One Weirdest Weekend / By Gregg Schigiel / First Printing: February 2015 / ISBN: 9780990521808). Being a superhero, however, means that poor Emaline can’t spend her weekends sleeping late, binge-watching Mercury Beach, and hanging out with her pals Sherilee, Regina, and Shaggy. There are more important things to do. She’s got to squelch a fire-breathing dragon, battle a Magic 8-Ball-starfish-scorpion thingie, and rebuff the advances of a dreamy frog prince. Plus she needs to solve an unexpected rabbit problem. Artist Gregg Schigiel is a veteran cartoonist who’s published work at Marvel, DC, and Disney. And if you have kids, you’ve probably also noticed his name in a few issues of Spongebob Comics. It’s nice to see a pro like him tackle a kid-friendly superhero comic with a strong female protagonist. The words and pictures are sweet-tempered and will appeal to young readers who have yet to discover the super-serious punch-y action of DC comics. Most of all, we love how much heart young Emaline “Pix” Pixley has. “Yes, I have superpowers,” she says during an interview on TV, “So, like, why not use them to help people?” Right on. We’re already hoping for a Second Weirdest Weekend. [Review first published 03.25.15.]

RareGemsIn the latest Gailsone adventure (“Rare Gems” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: February 2015), the spotlight shines on Aika Fukijima and Allison Gailsone, two former killing machines who are struggling to reinvent themselves as superheroes. As we know, Allison lost her sister Meredith in a botched Purge assignment (see our review of Gailsone: Red Rook). Now we discover the sad details surrounding Aika and her sister Nanami. Known professionally as Lotus, Aika was once regarded as the deadliest assassin in the world. Her skills were legendary, and her martial techniques were forbidden and deadly. She was a woman who prided herself on perfection in everything she did. Sadly, however, she made one terrible mistake in her life and that mistake continues to hang over her head like a dark cloud. How Allison and Aika work to resolve their familial tragedies is a big part of this ongoing Gailsone series. We’ve got our fingers crossed that everything works out for the best. Shine on you crazy diamonds. [Review first published 04.17.15.]

SoloistSuperheroes are famous for being perfectionists. Bruce Wayne, Natasha Romanoff, Matt Murdock – they all trained diligently to reach their utmost physical and mental potential. And so it is with Kate Miller too (“The Soloist” / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: April 2015). In two excellent novels (reviewed here and here) Miller fought evildoers as a member of a superhero team called the Indestructibles. But she was the only member of her crew who wasn’t bit by a spider, hit by lightning, or cursed by Galactus. She had to work hard to be a badass. They called her Dancer because she moved like a ballerina and hit like a mixed martial artists fighter. Now, in a prequel to the first Indestructibles novel, we get an insight into Miller’s motivation. As it turns out, being a ballerina is excellent training for being a crimefighting vigilante. You never know when a perfectly executed grande jeté will come in handy. Coda: the author recommends listening to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” while reading this story. [Review first published 05.06.15.]

SHMonsterHunter TheGoodFightUnlike Bruce Banner, who was always angry, Lars Petersen had learned to control his transformative temper. Or so he thought. In “Slouching Towards Ragnarok” by Frank Byrns (Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight / Edited by Miles Boothe / First Printing: June 2015), Petersen was doing his best to live life as a normal person. But the government (or a complicit secret organization) wanted to provoke the beast within him. In his puny human form, Petersen was useless – small and weak. But as the rampaging Ragnarok, he became a weapon and/or invaluable test subject. The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. found a way to harness the incredible power of the Hulk. Convincing Ragnarok to get with the program, however, might be a little bit tricky. After all, what do you do with a monster with a broken heart? [Review first published 05.21.15.]

Dreamers SyndromeWhat would it be like if the world was transformed overnight by the fantasies of a group of 10-year-old children? That’s the premise behind “The Mistress and the Servant,” Frank Byrns’ contribution to a new short story collection called Dreamer’s Syndrome: New World Navigation (Edited by Mark Bousquet / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781512274134). At recess, Mike, Stevie, Chris, Valerie, and Perry were known as the League of Superdorks because of their superhero role-playing antics. But when the Reorganization turned reality into make believe, the Superdorks became super cool. No one knew exactly how it happened. Some people thought it was God’s Will. Other people theorized that it was the result of Millennial entitlement. But whatever it was, suddenly the laws of physics were limited only by the imaginations of a bunch of comic book-loving kids. It was debatable, however, whether life after the Reorganization was better or worse. Who knows? For answers, Byrns quotes Victor Hugo (“…imagination is the mistress and memory is the servant.”), but we prefer to quote Facebook: “It’s complicated.” [Review first published 06.08.15.]

DeathAugustIf comics and superhero fiction have taught us anything, it’s that death is rarely a permanent condition (Fritz the Cat, notwithstanding). And so it is with August Dillon (“The First Death of August” / By Matt King / First Printing: April 2015). He’s a rogue bounty hunter on the run from a highly advanced paramilitary outfit. But he’s also a newly minted superhero. Or, as he says, “I’m the first who’s willing to admit it.” Dillon knows that he’s strong. And he knows that his body heals quickly. But since he skipped his superhero training class, he’s not sure how strong and bulletproof he actually is. In this adventure, Dillon is killed by a clan of hillbilly bullies (“his life ended like a flame snuffed out in a windowless room”), and he’s later fed to a giant anaconda. When things get sorted out, he downplays his unlikely comeback. “I was a little off my game,” he says with a shrug. Find out more about the indestructible Mr. Dillon and The Circle of War series at the author’s website (here). [Review first published 06.24.15.]

Sunny

Sunny Side Up (By Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9780545741668) is a surprisingly mature effort from the creators of Babymouse and Squish. It’s a semi-autobiographical story about a 10-year-old girl named Sunny Lewin who is caught in the middle of a family crisis. Naturally, she doesn’t understand her brother’s slide into drug and alcohol abuse (she’s just a little girl, after all), but over time she gains a teeny tiny bit of insight into his maddening affliction. Reading comic books help – specifically ones featuring the Incredible Hulk and Swamp Thing. Both characters confuse her at first. Are they bad guys or good guys? But after a while she figures it out. Even though they look like monsters, they’re actually heroes. Like her brother, they didn’t plan for anything bad to happen. “Things just got out of control.” [Review first published 07.16.15.]

TowerfallThere’s a funny bit in the latest Gailsone episode (“Towerfall” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: June 2015). Allison Gailsone is riding a nuclear missile into outer space (that’s not the funny part, btw). Following the rocket’s blast, her superhero boyfriend is in hot pursuit. After some tense moments, Red Guard successfully intercepts the weapon and saves his girlfriend from being blown to pieces. But to his surprise, Allison has some sharp words for him. Red Guard’s response to his girlfriend’s criticism reminds us of the lyrics to an old Howlin’ Wolf song (and here we paraphrase): “I’m built for space travel, not missile-catching,” he says. “But I’ve got everything all the good girls need.” Don’t worry about the quarrelsome couple, however. They eventually patch things up. The astronautical makeup sex is awesome, apparently. [Review first published 08.09.15.]

Academia

My Hero Academia ( Vol. 1 / By Kohei Horikoshi / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9781421582696) takes place in a world where 80 percent of the population consisted of superhumans. Unfortunately, 14-year-old Izuku Midoriya was not one of them. His parents had low-level powers (his mom could move small objects toward her and his dad could breath fire), but he never manifested “quirks” of his own. Like all Shonen Jump protagonists, however, Izuku had big dreams. Despite being a wimpy scaredy-cat, he was determined to attend the U.A. Hero Academy and get his degree in superhero awesomeness. As luck would have it, Izuku serendipitously bumps into mighty All Might one day. The popular hero helps Izuku fulfill his super potential, and Izuku helps All Might reconcile his super angst (“If I hadn’t heard your story,” says the hero, “I’d have been nothing but fake muscles and insincerity”). Early on, Izuku wonders if he needs superpowers to become a superhero. The answer is obvious. But even with All Might’s tutelage, he’s got a lot to learn. [Review first published 09.01.15.]

OnePunchMan_GN01_cover_PRINT.inddNobody can survive the powerhouse punch of Saitama. But with great power comes great existential discontent (One-Punch Man, Vol. 1 / By ONE and Yusuke Murata / First Printing: September 2015 / ISBN: 9781421585642). In exchange for superhuman strength, Saitama wonders if he somehow forfeited his humanity. “Overwhelming strength is boring,” he says. “I feel nothing. There are no challenges in my life. My emotions are dulling. I have no fear, no joy.” The story may be sour, but the artwork by Yusuke Murata (Eyeshield 21) is sweet. The punching (especially pages 62-63 and 170-171) is awesome, and the rogue’s gallery is zany. Our favorite villains include Mosquito Girl (va-voom!) and Crablante, the man who turned into a giant crustacean by eating too many crabs. At the very end of the volume, a young boy asks One-Punch Man for some advice. “What should I do in life,” he wonders. “Do whatever you want,” says the cheerless hero. His counsel isn’t deep. But it’s a good way to live your life one punch at a time. [Review first published 09.27.15.]

ravenWho’s your favorite member of the Teen Titans? And don’t be a smart aleck and say Aqualad. We’re talking about the roster of Teen Titans Go! the loony series currently on Cartoon Network. Without a doubt, the most popular character in our house is Raven, the cute li’l sarcastic demon girl. In Raven Rocks! (By J.E. Bright / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9780316377324) she helps avert a Halloween crisis, gets trapped inside her favorite TV show (Pretty Pretty Pegasus), and competes with her teammates to be crowned the new Captain Crazy. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be pleased to see that the stories are faithful adaptations from each of the TV episodes. Plus, the book is sprinkled with a generous amount of cute Teen Titans Go! imagery. The book’s title doesn’t lie: Raven does indeed rock. Azarath Metrion Zinthos! [Review first published 11.04.15.]

AirboyDeluxe EditionJames Robinson and Greg Hinkle wrapped up their four-issue Airboy series recently with nary a scrotum, a boob, or an inflammatory remark in the final 29 pages. Instead, the creators took a bow after delivering a simple upbeat message. That’s somewhat surprising considering the series began as a loud and messy affair. Robinson even got into a bit of hot water when he used derogatory lingo in issue #2 (read his apology here). No apologies were necessary, of course. When you write a story with bad people doing bad things, sometimes bad language creeps into the dialogue. It’s all about context. Get the upcoming trade paperback (Airboy Deluxe Edition / First Printing: January 2016 / ISBN: 9781632155436). [Review first published 12.01.15.]

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