Hit-Girl, Volume 1: Colombia by Mark Millar and Ricardo Lopez Ortiz

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Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date – 26 June 2018

 

The baddest little vigilante in America goes international in this outrageous new series from comic book legend Mark Millar.

Hit-Girl is the moniker of Mindy McCready, a pre-teen vigilante killer who is the Kick-Ass universe’s most effective and terrifying hero.  Introduced early on in the first volume of the Kick-Ass comic, Mindy was a 10-year-old girl who had been indoctrinated by her father, Big Daddy, into becoming an expert killer and crime fighter.  Despite an attempt to live a normal life after the death of her father, Mindy has reverted to her vigilante ways with her trademark extreme violence and sassy attitude.

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Following the events of the Kick-Ass 3 comic, Hit-Girl has decided to take her vigilante gig international and bring her version of justice to criminals around the world.  However, with her partner, Dave Lizewski, the original Kick-Ass, retired, and his replacement (a young man Hit-Girl randomly recruited off the street) deciding to quit in the face of armed criminals, Hit-Girl is all on her own.  With a request for help in Colombia looking too big to handle by herself, Hit Girl decides to recruit a partner as deadly and deranged as herself.

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Enter Fabio ‘Mano’ Mendoza, the most ruthless and dangerous hitman in Palmira, Colombia.  Freeing him from imprisonment, Hit-Girl ‘convinces’ Mano to help her with her mission, utilising an explosive device to keep him in line.  Armed with an array of advanced and insanely destructive weapons, Mano helps Hit-Girl turn all of the city’s gangsters into corpses.  But what will happen when Hit-Girl forces Mano to target his own gang?

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Hit-Girl was created by author Mark Millar, one of the most impressive and recognisable names in modern comics.  Millar has worked with a number of different publishers throughout his career, including DC, where left his mark on titles including Swamp Thing, Superman and The Flash, and Marvel, where he wrote the iconic Civil War series and had significant input in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, which serves as the inspiration for many recent comic book movies.  Millar has also created a number of the best alternate universe stories these two major comic book publishers have ever produced, from the inventive Superman: Red Son to the incredible Old Man Logan, which served as the basis for 2017’s best comic book movie, Logan.  Millar has also created a range of independent series, many of which are quite dark and brutal, such as Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jupiter’s Legacy, Superior and Wanted.  However, one of Millar’s most iconic works is his independent series, Kick-Ass, which was adapted into a fantastic movie in 2010 that helped dramatically increase the author’s general profile.  Kick-Ass ran for three volumes, and the final issue revealed that Kickass and the above independent series all exist in a shared universe, known as the Millarverse.  Readers may recognise several of the above comics from recent movies, with Kingsman and Wanted both having been adapted into big screen movies.  In addition to this current Hit-Girl series, Millar is currently working with Netflix to create a number of intriguing new comics, such as The Magic Order, and a range of movies and television series.

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A large amount of the success of Kick-Ass can be attributed to the character of Hit-Girl, a sensational addition to both the comics and the subsequent movie adaption.  Hit-Girl is easily the most popular character in the series due to the sheer craziness of having a 10-year-old girl tearing through groups of dangerous criminals while swearing her head off.  This cool character continued in the movie, where Chloë Grace Moretz brought Hit-Girl to life in all her foul-mouthed, murderous glory, albeit with an altered costume.  Hit-Girl appeared in all three volumes of Kick-Ass, and has already been the star of her own Hit-Girl miniseries comic, much of which was adapted into the Kick-Ass 2 movie.  This current series of Hit-Girl represents the first work that has been done on the Kick-Ass storyline since 2014.  The first volume of this new series is called Colombia and contains issues #1-4.  The second volume of this series will continue Hit-Girl’s international murder spree as she heads to Canada, and will be released in late October.

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This new Hit-Girl series contains pure insanity as the titular character goes on a rampage down in Colombia.  There are some fantastic sequences throughout this book as artist Ricardo Ortiz draws a series of demented murders and deaths as Hit-Girl and Mano attack and kill hundreds of gang members in Palmira.  These gang members suffer an insane amount of different gruesome deaths including being shredded by bullets, sliced by swords, shot with arrows, killed by a train, blown up into tiny pieces, vaporised by flesh-eating gas, and thrown off buildings.  Ortiz’s artwork pulls no punches during these scenes, with the highlight having to be the microwave gun that cooks one gang member from the inside out.  There are also a ton of great action sequences throughout this book, with the artist presenting some excellent battle artwork that really highlights the fast-paced and frenetic action portrayed within.  Some of these scenes are so wonderfully over the top that it is hard not to laugh, such as the sequences where Hit-Girl and Mano are forced to overcome a zoo of coked-up animals standing between them and their target.  This is some brilliant work from the artist and a real highlight of the volume.

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While all the superfluous violence is outstanding, this first volume of Hit-Girl is far more than just about the killing of criminals.  It is actually a complicated revenge plot, and Millar has created a fantastic overarching story for this entire volume.  Watching the full extent of Hit-Girl’s plan unfold is so much fun, especially when you realise just how much she is playing all the other characters in the book.  Hit-Girl revealing that her plan involves saving a kid who served as her patsy from joining a gang is pretty powerful, especially when the kid is left wondering about the origin of the ‘final message’ from his brother.  By the end of these four issues, all the characters get what they deserve, leaving the reader extremely satisfied with the result, while Hit-Girl is left determining where to go for her next rampage against crime.

Hit-Girl is once again a fantastic main character for this book, and Millar and Ortiz’s portrayal of her is absolutely amazing.  Placing murderous attitude and terrifying adult personality inside the body of a little girl is still spectacular to see, and it is quite jarring and very entertaining to see this little kid doing crazy stuff like jumping up and down in excitement while requesting that her associate perform a particularly gruesome murder.  Ortiz presents some incredible changes in facial expression throughout the book that really show off the dual personality of the character.  In some scenes, she looks quite innocent and childlike, while in others, she looks positively demonic, especially when she establishes control of a situation.  While she is mostly portrayed as destructive, adult and emotionless, there are times when she comes across as more human and acting her age.  She spends several scenes getting closer to Mano, and the two work out that they have some interesting similarities, including being manipulated by a controlling father figure for most of their lives.  In hindsight, it is quite horrifying that she spent time getting close to Mano, considering the multiple ways she was playing him and her eventual intentions for him, but it is still great to see her team up with someone who has the same killer instinct, as well as a similar moral compass.  I also love the scene at the end when Hit-Girl allows her ally, Camila to get a chance at revenge, but is not surprised when she does not take the shot, stating “you’re a good person”.  Hit-Girl’s facial expression while she says that is perfect, as it helps portray the fact that our protagonist knows she is not a good person and never will be.  Overall, this is some amazing character work and Hit-Girl is still an amazing protagonist.

Mark Millar is once again in top form as he brings in the first volume of his new Hit-Girl series.  Featuring some outstanding artwork from Ricardo Ortiz, Hit-Girl Volume 1: Colombia contains an insane amount of graphic and entertaining violence and death, while also containing a fun and satisfying story with an awesome main character.  I am already excited for the next volume of this new series, and I cannot wait to see what chaos Hit-Girl causes in Canada.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Runaways Volume 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 8 May 2018

 

From bestselling young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and exciting Marvel artist Kris Anka comes the revival we have all been waiting for, with the return of Runaways.

Years ago, six young friends found out a terrible truth: their parents were members of a supervillain group known as The Pride and were working towards the destruction of the planet.  Uncovering their hidden powers and strengths, these friends, genius Alex Wilder, the sorceress Nico Minoru (Sister Grimm), alien Karolina Dean (Lucy in the Sky), mutant Molly Hayes (Princess Powerful/Bruiser), mad scientist offspring Chase Stein (Talkback) and proud dinosaur owner and daughter of two time travellers Gertrude Yorkes (Arsenic with her deinonychus, Old Lace), became the Runaways to escape their parents’ evil plans.

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After the death of Alex and all of their parents, the surviving Runaways become family and even brought in new members, including the cyborg Victor, the Skrull Xavin and the time displaced mutant Klara.  While the team’s plans to live in peace were often disrupted by their forced heroics, for a time they were happy.  But even the best families have a hard time staying together in the Marvel Universe, and following the death of Gert, Xavin’s forced departure for the stars, the events of Murderworld and the elevation of several members to the Avengers, the Runaways have gone their separate ways.

However, one former Runaway has had a hard time letting go of the past.  Stealing a time machine, the team’s wildcard member, Chase, has gone back in time to fix his biggest regret: the death of his girlfriend, Gertrude.  But being brought back to life several years in the future is tough, and all Gertrude wants to do is reunite with her friends, even if they are now older than her.  Chase is his old goofy self, but Nico and Carolina have moved on with their lives, , Victor is now just a head and Molly has moved in with her grandmother.  Will the Runaways get together again, or have their subsequent adventures affected their relationships too much? And who is the evil scientist stalking them from afar?

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Runaways was a ground breaking series originally released in 2003 that focused on a fresh new group of heroes with no previous connections to other characters in the Marvel Universe.  Created by Brian K Vaughan of Y: The Last Man and Saga fame and artist Adrian Alphona, Runaways represents some of their most significant work with Marvel.  Runaways was an exciting tale of teenage rebellion which was amplified by the superhero elements.  Featuring some incredibly iconic characters, the initial series of Runaways featured a fantastic enclosed story about crime and heroics in Los Angeles with only minimal inclusions from the outside Marvel Universe.  Featuring characters who acted in a contrary way to the other superheroes by actively avoiding fights, making fun of costumes and team names (they never actually referred to themselves as the Runaways) and only using superhero monikers ironically, this was a fun series with some clever new ideas.

Following this initial run, the story became a more traditional superhero series, focusing on the adventures of the titular heroes as they fought crime and other threats in LA.  There were a series of great adventures during this period, which included memorable events such as the tragic loss of Gert, Xavin’s sacrifice, several team-ups with the Young Avengers and involvements in the Civil War and Secret Invasion crossover events.  The series would abruptly end in 2009, and readers would have to wait years to see a significant follow-up.  The characters have appeared in several other series, including Daken: Dark Wolverine and Avengers Academy.  However, the characters would not significantly return until Avengers Arena, where Nico and Chase found themselves trapped in Murderworld, and Avengers Arena’s follow up series, Avengers Undercover, which saw the return of Alex Wilder.  At the same time, Victor would join the cast of Avengers A.I.  An alternate version of the Runaways got their own series as part of the 2015 Secret Wars crossover even, and Nico would eventually become a member of the female Avengers team in A-Force.
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With the release of 2017s Runaways television show, a new comic series of Runaways was announced by Marvel which saw the first run of the original characters in nearly nine years.  This new series is helmed by acclaimed young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and dedicated Marvel artist Kris Anka.  Volume 1 of their run of Runways, Find Your Way Home, contains issues #1-6 of the series, with a second volume to be released in October 2018.

Runaways has long been one of my favourite series, and is probably one of the best comic examinations of young teenage characters that Marvel has ever produced.  As a result, I was very excited to get my copy of Find Your Way Home, and headed into this new series with high expectations.  I was not at all disappointed by the result and really enjoyed this new series.  This first volume expertly captures the heart and soul of the original series, reunites several fan favourite characters, and skilfully addresses all the tragic events that have impacted this team over the last few years.

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The first thing that can be seen in this series is the extreme emotional damage that most of the characters have experienced over the last few years and the strain this has placed on the team.  Because of all the pressures in their lives, the Runaways have disbanded and each have gone their separate ways.  This appears to have affected team members Nico and Chase the most because of their traumatic experiences in the Avengers Arena series.  Nico comes across as very emotionally compromised from the very first scene, while Chase is still obsessed with his greatest tragedy, the sacrifice Gertrude made to save his life.  The other Runaways are just as damaged in their own separate ways.  Karolina is apparently trying to live a normal life, but while she seems unhappy, she is the most reluctant to re-join the team, and her eventual return results in emotional upheaval between her and Nico.  After dying, Gert finds herself alive again in the future with older versions of her friends, as well as an adult boyfriend.  She spends most of the volume trying to deal with these significant changes, the fact that her only real family fractured after her death, and the emotional trauma she experienced dying.  After his death in Vision, Victor spends the entire series as a disembodied head, and keeps his status hidden for most of the volume as he tries to work out if he wants to remain online and re-join the team.  Of all the characters, Molly seems to be the most together, as she is being looked after by her grandmother and is her usually bubbly and high-energy self.  However, her behaviour disguises the fact she knows about some of the deep problems happening around her, and her emotional breakdown at the end of the volume is quiet heartbreaking to behold.  Overall, the creative team handle these deep emotional issues well, and I really appreciated the fact that they did not deny or shy away from the trauma that these characters experienced in other Marvel series.

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Despite the high level of emotional trauma, there are quite a few very nice moments within the book that fans of the original Runaways series will really appreciate.  The team coming together at the end of the volume to save Molly and Gert is an amazing moment.  After viewing all of the above trauma, it was also great to see the team decide to get back together to become each other’s emotional support.  I also challenge anyone not to get emotional during the scene where Gertrude is reunited with Old Lace, as the two mentally connected friends are finally reunited for the first time in years.  Once again, the youngest Runaway, Molly, is the heart and soul of the team, and it is great to see that despite her age, she is still one of the most emotionally mature, giving sage advice and actually being the only person to notice the threats around them or the fact that Victor’s head is rolling his eyes at the events around him.  I also love that she still has the same Marvel fangirl attitude that she had in the original series, as she spends time wearing Captain Marvel inspired leggings.  Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe as she did before (the issue she spent running around with Wolverine is one of the funniest bits in Runaways’ previous run).

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One of the more interesting parts of this volume is that it focuses more on the character interactions than on action or adventure.  There really is not too much violence until the end of the book, and even then their biggest fight is against a group of psychic cats whom they do not actually want to hurt or kill.  I think that this is a good choice for the first volume, as this allows them to really focus on the characters, while also showing off the difference this series has to a classic comic book story.  Despite the lack of action, the series starts with one of the best scenes in the entire volume, when Chase appears in the middle of Nico’s apartment with a mortally wounded Gert.  Nico, despite her shock and the implications of what Chase has done, tries to use her magic to try to save Gert.  While Nico is a powerful magic user, all her magic is tied up in The Staff of One, her parent’s magical staff that has bonded to Nico’s body.  The Staff of One can bend reality to what Nico requests, however, it will only do the specific spell once.  This far along in their adventures, Nico has used a lot of spells already, including ‘heal’, and must use a range of more obscure or very specific statements to try and achieve her goals.   The first sequence where she uses a huge range of different spells really shows off the unique and in some ways limited nature of Nico’s powers and really shows emotional depth right off the bat as the characters get more and more desperate in their attempts to save Gert, and there is palpable relief when they manage to save her.

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This series of Runaways has a new artist at its helm, Kris Anka, and as a result the art style of Find Your Way Home is slightly different from the previous series.  It still works well to show off the story, and the depictions of the characters’ superpowers being used are pretty cool.  The new character designs are interesting, as Nico, Chase and Karolina are each given a different design to reflect how they’ve aged up since the last series.  Nico looks particularly worn and sad at the start of the comic, and is definitely showing off the strain of her adventure.  Anka has created an interesting look for Chase, and he now looks like a cross between a beach bum and a mad scientist.  The other characters, Molly, Victor, Gert and Old Lace retain similar styles to those they had in the previous series.  These similarities make a lot of sense, as Gert has time-travelled from the previous series, Victor is a cyborg head and Old Lace is a dinosaur.  The artist has also chosen not to change Molly’s age too much, and thankfully she retains her distinctive looks and hats.  One of the highlights of Anka’s work is the dinosaur Old Lace, and quite a lot of the book’s humour can be seen in her funny reactions and antics.  Overall, I really enjoyed the new art style of the book and found that the new character designs suited the book’s necessary changes.

Runaways return in top form with this fantastic first volume, which sticks true to the core of the beloved original series while also going off in some interesting new directions.  Rowell has created an intense narrative that expertly plucks at the heartstrings and examines all the problems and horrors that this group of young heroes have experienced since their initial run.  This is a superb new start to an excellent series.  I’m so happy to have my Runaways back, and I can’t wait to see how they resolve some storylines from the original series.  This is definitely a must-read for fans of the original series, but this is also the perfect chance for new readers to find out about this awesome superhero family.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Volume 2 – Legacy’s End

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Writer: Charles Soule

Artists: Giuseppe Camuncoli

               Daniele Orlandini

               David Curiel

Publication Date – 12 June 2018

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Writer Charles Soule and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli return with an action-packed addition to the new and compelling series which follows the Dark Lord of the Sith in another sinister adventure in the newly formed Empire.

Legacy’s End is the second volume in the new Star Wars series, Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, which observes the shadowy journeys of fiction’s favourite villain immediately after he turned to the dark side of the force.  The first volume of this series, Imperial Machine, followed on directly after the events of the third prequel movie, Revenge of the Sith, and contained Vader’s initial mission for the Empire, acquiring the materials to forge his first red-bladed lightsabre.  It also featured the formation of the Emperor’s Inquisitors, the group of force users who, while not quite Sith, have fallen to the dark side of the force and are now being used to hunt down the remaining Jedi.

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Set immediately after the events of the first volume of this series, Legacy’s End continues to focus on Vader’s service to the Emperor and his multiple missions to obliterate all threats to the new Empire.  Vader has begun his training of the Emperor’s Inquisitors and is using his destructive teaching techniques to turn them into dangerous hunters.  Reviewing the list of Jedi whose destruction is a priority for the Emperor, Vader notes one name that stands out from the rest: Jocasta Nu, the former librarian of the Jedi Temple.  Despite her minor powers in the force, the Emperor views her as one of the most dangerous threats in the galaxy.  This is because Madam Jocasta has an unsurpassed knowledge of the hidden lessons of the force and the powerful secrets and weapons that the Jedi are protecting, which could be used by or against the Sith.

Teaming up with the Grand Inquisitor, Vader prepares to engage in the hunt for the elusive librarian.  There is just one problem: Jocasta Nu is already on Coruscant and has managed to infiltrate the Jedi Temple.  Perhaps the most important secret of the Jedi lies hidden in the archives, and Jocasta plans to ensure that the Sith will never have access to it.  But when Jocasta is discovered by Vader, the two force users must engage in a desperate fight, with the future of the Jedi in the balance.  While Vader has the pure power, Jocasta has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and her entire archive at her disposal.

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In another adventure in this volume, Vader finds himself also being hunted by a mysterious foe.  Someone wants him dead, and the trail leads straight to the top of the Imperial Navy.  Who is trying to kill him, and how will Vader react when he finds the people responsible?

This is a fantastic second outing from the team of Soule and Camuncoli, who team up with new artists Orlandini and Curiel for Volume 2 of this fantastic series.  Soule is an experienced comic book writer, with significant work for both DC and Marvel under his belt, and is actually the man responsible for recently killing off Wolverine and Cyclops in two separate X-Men storylines.  Soule has also written several different Star Wars comics, including two limited series and the entire 31-issue run of Star Wars: Poe DameronLegacy’s End collects issues #7-#12 of the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series, with a third collected edition currently set to be released in the next few days.

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This new Darth Vader series is an intriguing and entertaining series that takes place inside Disney’s new canon universe.  This book contains elements from the movies, while also being strongly associated with the Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated shows.  As a result, it is a perfect series for dedicated fans of the Star Wars universe, although more casual fans of the movies will also enjoy this series, especially if the prospect of seeing Darth Vader kicking ass and taking names appeals to them.

This series primarily focuses on Vader and chronicles his early rise in power following his conversion to the dark side of the force.  Legacy’s End continues to examine his new role and position within the newly formed Empire.  Not only is he leading the fight against the remaining Jedi; he is also brutally training the Emperor’s Inquisitors and taking a commanding role in the imperial military complex.  Legacy’s End also does much to highlight Vader’s mindset in these days and to reveal the hateful creature that he has become.  For example, the first scene shows him chopping off the arms of several of the Inquisitors as a training exercise in order to teach them about loss, a lesson he claims they will never forget.  There are also several scenes where Vader is shown meditating, and the dark and twisted creature that appears as a representation of his inner self is an ugly and scary sight to behold.  The team behind this series do a fantastic job showing Vader’s sheer power and anger in several devastating battle sequences where he powers through his opponents with the maximum amount of brute force and zero concerns about collateral damage.  In these scenes his power is not limited to the destruction he causes with his lightsabre; it highlights the devastation he can unleash with the force and even with his fists.  For example, there is one memorable scene in which he punches a powerful droid to death when his lightsabre proves to be ineffective.  There are also several great interactions between Vader and the Emperor, and it is absolutely fascinating to see the twisted master-and-apprentice relationship that they have, especially as it is a major part of this series.  Overall, this volume continues to highlight Vader as a powerful badass, as well as showing him as a complex character, in order to create a powerful and addictive narrative.

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This volume also contains some interesting connections to the rest of the Star Wars universe.  Not only are the early days of the Empire once again shown, but the series makes use of the Inquisitors, who were introduced in the Star Wars Rebel’s animated show as key antagonists.  It is great to see the formation of this group, as well as their early interactions with Vader, as none of this was really shown in the animated show.  However, the most intriguing part of this whole book was Jocasta Nu, the Jedi Temple’s librarian.  The character of Jocasta is fairly minor one that hasn’t been explored much before in the Star Wars canon.  She appeared briefly in the second prequel movie, Attack of the Clones, played by late Australian actress Alethea McGrath, and was a minor character in a few episodes of the Clone Wars animated show.  It is therefore very cool to see her in action in this series, and curious fans will be able to see what she is capable of for the first time.  The team behind this volume cleverly showcase her talents as a librarian and archivist rather than as a great Jedi warrior, and her methods of fighting against Vader are quite fun, involving several unusual Jedi weapons, such as a blaster powered by a lightsabre.  These scenes are pretty awesome, and interactions with Vader once she knowns he is Anakin Skywalker are very intense, especially when she realises that the terrifying figure hunting her was once one of her former comrades.  I also found the exchanges between Jocasta and the Grand Inquisitor to be quite intriguing, hinting at some more of the Grand Inquisitor’s past as a Jedi and Temple Guard, much of which has yet to be revealed in the extended Star Wars universe.

The overall story within this volume is fantastic and it is backed up with some spectacular artwork.  The second part of this volume, which focus on Vader being targeted by assassins is incredibly fun, especially the battle scene in which mercenaries who believed themselves capable of defeating a standard Jedi are completely overwhelmed by Vader’s insane battle tactics.  However, the main storyline with Jocasta is the most impressive part of the volume and contains some memorable scenes.  The conclusion of this storyline is the best part of the entire entry, and it will ensure all Star Wars fans will respect the courage of the Jedi librarian.

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Legacy’s Fall, the second volume of Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith is an amazing continuation of this outstanding series.  Vader continues to shine as a sensational villain, and the creative team have done an excellent job showcasing this complex character as well as the sheer destruction and power that he possesses.  If you love to see the antics of a great villain, this is the series for you, as the early and most destructive battles of one of fiction’s most popular antagonists are shown here with some breathtaking artwork and fantastic storylines.  I have already ordered the third volume of this series and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

My Rating:

Five Stars

If you enjoy Star Wars fiction, check out some of my previous reviews:

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/08/12/star-wars-thrawn-alliances-by-timothy-zahn/

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/05/30/star-wars-last-shot-by-daniel-jose-older/

All-New Wolverine: Volumes 1 – 6: Complete Series by Tom Taylor

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Dates:

All-New Wolverine Vol. 1: The Four Sisters – 24 May 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 2: Civil War II – 8 November 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 3: Enemy of the State II – 3 May 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 4: Immune – 29 November 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X – 27 February 2018

All-New Wolverine Vol. 6: Old Woman Laura – 24 July 2018

 

Prepare yourself for an all-new Wolverine in this exciting new series from Tom Taylor and a skilled team of Marvel artists, as one of the best characters in the Marvel Universe, X-23, rises to take the place of one of comic’s most beloved superheroes.

Following the death of the original Wolverine, Logan, in the 2014 series Death of Wolverine, Marvel chose to elevate his clone and surrogate daughter, X-23, to the role of Wolverine.  Starting in 2015, the All-New Wolverine series followed X-23 as she took on the moniker of Wolverine and made it her own.  Originally running between November 2015 and May 2018, the series is made up of 35 issues.  These issues have been assembled together into six collected editions, which were released between May 2016 and July 2018.  With the upcoming return of the original Wolverine to the Marvel Universe, All-New Wolverine has been cancelled, and the character has reverted back to the X-23 moniker, with a new X-23 series having just started.

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I have been a major fan of X-23 for years, and find her to be one of the most interesting characters in the entire Marvel Universe.  As a result, I was excited to see how she would be utilised as the new Wolverine, and have been keenly collecting all the volumes in this series.  I had originally intended to review the latest volume, Old Woman Laura, by itself; however, as this volume ends the series, I thought I would take this opportunity to review the entire series in one go.

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The protagonist of this series, the brand new Wolverine, Laura Kinney, is a fascinating example of character creation, and it has been intriguing to see how this character has evolved over the last 15 years.  Originally known by the code name X-23, the character was first introduced in 2003, in the season 3 episode of the X-Men Evolution animated television series, X23, and was established as a female clone of Wolverine created by an evil scientific organisation.  In her first appearance in X-Men Evolution, X-23 took out every single X-Man and went toe-to-toe with Wolverine himself, only stopping when he broke through to her emotionally.  This was a surprisingly dark episode for kids cartoon, but the fun appeal of a young female Wolverine and her sheer badassary quickly made Laura a fan favourite character, and her transference in the comic universe was quickly established.  These days most people would recognise the character from her amazing appearance in the 2017 film Logan, played by young actor Dafne Keen, which showed a slightly altered version of her origin story.

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Her first appearance within the main comic Marvel Universe happened in the 2004 series NYX, where she was shown to be living in New York City.  She was later introduced to the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men 450, with her origin story fleshed out in two limited series.  The first of these series, Innocence Lost, looked at her creation, early life, training and missions as part of the institute that created her, as well as the relationship she had with her mother and their attempts to escape the institute.  The second series, Target X, follows on directly after Innocence Lost and focuses on Laura’s attempts to start a life outside of the institution, her interactions with her mother’s family and the pursuit that would haunt her for the rest of her life.  This second short series also shows how she ends up in New York in NYX and her first interactions with Wolverine, and is framed as a retelling of her life story to Captain America and Daredevil.  Both of these series are extremely well written and serve as an excellent introduction to the character.

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After her introduction, X-23 appeared in a number of different series including Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, New X-Men and Marvel Team-Up.  She was a major character in Volume 3 of X-Force and appeared in key roles in several of the larger X-Men storylines.  She obtained another X-23 series in 2010, before having starring roles in Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena and All-New X-Men.  Following The Death of Wolverine, Laura was involved in some of the following storylines dealing with his death before taking up the role of Wolverine herself.

This series was created by Australian author Tom Taylor and a rotating roster of Marvel authors.  Taylor has a range of writing experience in a number of different formats, including theatre, musicals, books and television, and has also created an animated series, The Deep.  Over the last 10 years, Taylor has worked on several different comic books, including several Star Wars series, some Injustice series, Superior Iron Man and Green Lantern Corps.  The original art style and new character design for the series was developed by veteran artist David Lopez, and the other artists closely replicated his style.

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The first volume of the All-New Wolverine, The Four Sisters, sees Laura newly in the role of Wolverine and keen to honour the name by becoming a non-lethal hero.  In this volume, she encounters four clones of herself that are being hunted by the sinister corporation who created them.  In order to save them, Laura must work with several other Marvel heroes, such as Dr Strange, Wasp and her boyfriend, Angel (the young one transported from a past timeline).  The volume ends with Laura taking in one of the surviving clones, the young girl Gabby, who becomes one of the main characters in the series.  This book is a fantastic introduction to this new incarnation of the character, and it sets the tone for the rest of the issues.

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Volume 2 of the series, Civil War II, starts with Laura teaming up with Squirrel Girl in a zany escapade to save a squirrel Laura wronged in the previous volume, while also introducing the actual wolverine Jonathan, who becomes Laura and Gabby’s pet.  The second adventure in this volume sees Laura and Gabby help SHIELD, Iron Man and Captain Marvel fight against the giant monster Fin Fang Foom.  During this story, Laura and Gabby encounter and rescue the Old Man Logan version of Wolverine.  While the first two issues are both fun significant, the main storyline of this volume ties into the Civil War II crossover event.  The Inhuman Ulysses has a vision of Logan killing Gabby, so SHIELD and Captain America attempt to intervene, but the confusion and chaos that follows only results in tragedy.  This sees an exciting tie-in to one of Marvel’s more intriguing and high-profile recent crossover events, and this volume also helps highlight the discord and disagreement that the other Marvel heroes were experiencing in the main Civil War II event.  Seeing Logan’s alternate world connections to Laura and Gabby is rather interesting, and the reveal of Gabby’s full potential as Laura’s main side character is amazing.

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The third volume, Enemy of the State II, sees the return of Laura’s arch-nemesis and sadistic former handler, Kimura, who is once again determined to make Laura’s life a living hell.  After engineering the massacre of a small town with Wolverine present, Kimura forces Laura and Gabby into hiding as part of a terrible plan to control Laura once again.  However, Gabby, with the help of Angel, Gambit, young Jean Grey and Nick Fury Jnr, has a plan to free Laura once and for all from the terror of Kimura.  This is probably the most emotional volume in the series, dealing with the protagonist’s biggest fear: being turned into a killing machine once again.  Enemy of the State II is strongly connected to both of the original X-23 series, especially Target X, and represents a massive turning point for the character.  It is fantastic to see some of these storylines concluded and Laura given the happy ending she’s been denied for so long.

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Volume 4, Immune, takes Wolverine up into the stars for an intergalactic adventure.  When an alien ship crash lands on Roosevelt Island, the dying alien child piloting it has time to whispers one name: Laura Kinney.  Within minutes, the island is infected with a fast-acting alien virus and is immediately quarantined.  Laura travels to the island and must work with Gabby, Ironheart, Logan, Daken and Deadpool to cure the disease.  Laura, Gabby and Jonathan than travel into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy in order to trace the origins of the alien virus, but they find a far more dangerous threat on the planet they visit.  This is a very fun volume that includes some notable team-ups, while at the same time really highlighting Laura’s potential for heroism.  This serves as a fantastic example of a really well-done one-off intergalactic adventure for a terrestrial based series and proves to be very entertaining.  It is probably the most laugh-out-loud funny volume in the series, with some remarkable interactions with characters such as Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

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The fifth volume of this series, Orphans of X, goes deeper into the mythology of Wolverine, as the only weapon that had the power to kill him, the Murumasa Blade, is recovered and unleashed upon his children.  A mysterious organisation known as the Orphans of X is hunting down and killing all of the Marvel mutants with claws and a healing factor.  Laura, Gabby and Daken must find a way to defend themselves from these devastating and well-coordinated attacks, but find themselves conflicted once they find out the truth behind the Orphans of X.  This is another heavy and emotional volume with a great story premise behind it.  This one ties into both Innocence Lost and Target X, and shows the devastating consequences of the Laura’s childhood missions.
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The final volume, Old Woman Laura, contains an interesting mixture of stories.  The first issue features Gabby and Deadpool teaming up to take down the scientific laboratory that Jonathan was rescued from in Volume 2.  The second story follows on from the Orphans of X storyline, and sees Laura and Amber Griffen, the daughter of one of Laura’s first kills, team up to take down the person who ordered the hit.  The final story is set far in the future and sees an older Laura and Gabby go on their final mission together in order rescue their long-lost sister, Bellona, from a dystopian landscape ruled by Dr Doom.  These are some intriguing and diverse stories, and it serves as a good wrap-up to the entire series.  The two team-ups in the first two adventures are very fun, while the issues showing the potential future for All-New Wolverine’s main characters is an intriguing and emotional affair that has some nice closing thoughts for this series.

A recurring theme throughout this series is Laura’s attempt to build on her character and to move past her childhood of being raised to be a vicious killer.  Now, as Wolverine, she’s trying to live up to the legacy of her father, the original Wolverine, and become a non-lethal superhero, even though she will still maim many of her opponents.  Taylor does a good job of conveying the guilt and responsibility that Laura feels.  There are times where Laura thinks back to her past with Wolverine, seeing herself in his shoes.  Like the original Wolverine, Laura establishes and maintains relationships with many of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, most of whom find her to be a worthy replacement for Wolverine, even if they are surprised that she wanted to take on the mantle.  There are also elements of family involved in this story, as not only does Laura take responsibility for Gabby, but she becomes closer to members of the Wolverine family, including Daken and Old Man Logan.

This series is a bit lighter than you’d expect of a series focusing on Wolverine or X-23, and perhaps this ties into the overarching feeling of redemption that Taylor was trying to infuse into the story.  There is actually a huge amount of humour included within the various issues, including several crazy adventures and some real laugh-out-loud moments.  Examples of this include Squirrel Girl randomly showing up to declare that Laura has “wronged the squirrel world” and bringing along a real life wolverine to help get her point across (she was under the impression that Wolverine could understand real life wolverines, just like Squirrel Girl can understand squirrels).  Another of the series’ really funny scenes occurs when a serious conversation is interrupted by two burglars who break into the apartment and come face to face with Wolverine, Old Man Logan and Gabby.  Having all three characters break down laughing as they consider just how unlucky these burglars are is a fun, hilarious scenario.

While All-New Wolverine has a somewhat lighter tone, Taylor is still able to produce some deep and emotional stories throughout the series.  Many of these darker and more emotional stories are tied into the main character’s tragic past.  It is great to see several of the old storylines wrapped up, and I was glad to see Laura reunited with the family who was forced to go into hiding.

For me, one of the best parts of the All-New Wolverine is the introduction of new character Gabby, who becomes the secondary protagonist of this series.  Gabby is a young clone of Laura who has many of her abilities and training.  However, due to protection she experienced from her clone sisters, Gabby grew up without the emotional damage that Laura and other members of the Wolverine family experienced.  As a result, Gabby has a very funny and bubbly personality, as well as kick-ass combat skills, retractable claws and a healing factor.  Given the moniker Honey Badger, Gabby ends up accompanying Laura on a range of missions, and proves to be quite a capable field agent.  Much of the series’ comedy comes about because of her antics, as well as her humorous interactions with other members of the Marvel Universe, which sees her pull funny moments and comments out of several usually serious characters.  Her instant friendship with Deadpool is comedy gold, and the two play off each other wonderfully, easily stealing the show in the issues they feature in together.  Despite her major humorous overtones, Gabby does get serious when it comes to protecting her family, and she has several intense moments, as well as scenes where she makes scary threats in order to protect her sister.  Laura’s relationship with Gabby is a major part of the series, and it is great to see Laura mirror the role Wolverine had in her life as a mentor and parent.  Gabby is definitely one of my favourite new Marvel characters of the last couple of years, and I’m really hoping that she’ll have a similar role in the new X-23 series and will continue to have some insane adventures in the future.

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Lopez and the other artists of the All-New Wolverine series have created a great style for this series, and I loved the new costumes that they pulled together for Laura, as well as the original and unique look of Gabby.  There are some slight variations in drawing style between the various books, but the artists keep the style somewhat consistent throughout the series.  There are a number of drawn scenes throughout the book that are particularly beautiful or memorable for various reasons.  The final battle between Laura and Kimura in Volume 3 is very dark and brooding, but the artists are able to show the raw emotion on Laura’s face as she finally frees herself from Kimura’s shadow.  I was also particularly drawn to the striking drawings of the Hand assassins in Volume 5, where the assassins wore the masks of the Orphan X organisation.  The artists are also able to draw some funny pieces into their work.  The potential comic cover art that Gabby imagines when she finally comes up with a superhero moniker, Honey Badger, is fantastic, especially as several classic Wolverine covers are replaced with Gabby’s evilly smiling face.  I can also barely describe the awesomeness of the drawings in Volume 4 of the series, which see Gabby and Jonathon play with Baby Groot in the background in several funny scenes.  Overall, the art displayed in this series is fun and has many uses to enhance the story.

Overall, All-New Wolverine is a fantastic, entertaining and really enjoyable series that promotes one of Marvel Comics’ most unique characters into the role of Wolverine.  Featuring some amazing uses of humour, an excellent new supporting character and some deep, emotional storylines, this is an incredible series that is well worth getting into.  I am definitely keen to check out the new X-23 series that has just been released, and I will also be looking into the new X-Men Red series from the Australian creator of All-New Wolverine, Tom Taylor, which will feature both Laura and Gabby.  A perfect read for long term fans of the X-23 and the X-Men series, and also a great introduction to the comic universe if you loved X-23 in Logan.

My Rating (Series and Each Volume):

Five Stars

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol 32: Mysteries by Stan Sakai

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Publisher: Dark Horse Books

Publication Date – 10 July 2018

 

After a year I have finally gotten the new volume of Usagi Yojimbo, one of my favourite long-running comic series.  Now I and other fans of the long-eared samurai can finally enjoy another set of exhilarating adventures in Stan Sakai’s version of feudal Japan.

Usagi Yojimbo is a great series that has been running since 1987, three years after the character was originally created.  In a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, the series is set in the early Edo period of Japanese history, during the time of the Shogun and the wandering samurai.  The series was originally supposed to feature human characters and a protagonist based on the famous historical samurai Miyamoto Musashi.  However, the series was changed to feature animals after the artist drew an early version of the hero with rabbit ears and created the series’ titular yojimbo, Miyamoto Usagi.

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The Usagi Yojimbo series follows the adventures of Miyamoto Usagi through feudal Japan.  After the death of his lord, Usagi has become a ronin, a masterless samurai, and has spent the last few years wandering the country seeking employment as a yojimbo, a bodyguard.  Throughout his travels, Usagi finds all sorts of danger and adventures, and is often drawn into a range of conflicts throughout the troubled landscape, facing threats both natural and supernatural in origin.

With 32 collected editions over 30 years, as well as the two additional graphic novels and the spin-off series, Space Usagi, Usagi Yojimbo has developed a dedicated fanbase.  Those who have not read this series may be familiar with it due to its frequent crossovers with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Characters from both franchises have crossed over into each other’s respective comic book series several times.  In addition, Usagi has appeared in all three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television shows, often with some side characters.  One of my first exposures to the characters of Usagi Yojimbo was during The Big Brawl arch of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and I’ve been a fan of the character ever since.

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Stan Sakai’s series is a hybrid of western graphic novels and Japanese manga.  The style and format of the comics come across as more of a classic western style, but the story content and the series’ art is heavily influenced by Japanese culture and history.  Every issue is filled with incredible depictions of Japanese customs, history, folklore and mythology, and includes realistic and historically accurate illustrations of feudal Japanese weapons, clothes and buildings.  In addition, the dialogue includes a number of Japanese words which are translated in text, and the characters are all named using traditional Japanese naming conventions, with the family name presented before the given name.

Mysteries is the 32nd collected edition of this series, and contains issues #159-#165 of the Usagi Yojimbo series.  These issues see Usagi reunited with his friend Inspector Ishida as they investigate a series of mysteries in Ishida’s jurisdiction.  There are four main stories, including The Hatamoto’s Daughter, Death by Fugu, the two-part series The Body in the Library and the three-part series Mouse TrapMysteries also contains two of the shorter Chibi Usagi stories that Sakai writes with his wife, Julie, which feature cute versions the franchise’s characters.

Readers of the latest volume of Usagi Yojimbo are in for another visual treat as Sakai continues to highlight the delicate beauty of the Japanese landscape and fantastic architecture of its towns with his spectacular artwork.  Each of the portrayals of the anthropomorphic characters in their period accurate clothing is amazing, and the reader will be astounded by the author’s desire to make his comic as aesthetically realistic as possible.  However, the real visual highlights of this comic are the action sequences that see the protagonists engage in a series of elaborate sword fights against a variety of opponents.  The artistic styling of these sword fights is both exciting and intricate, which allows the reader to imagine how these battles would occur in real life.  Mysteries contains some great examples of this series’ fantastic art form, and the reader will love the creativity that inhabits every panel of this book.

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While most Usagi Yojimbo stories are standalone episodes, the separate stories featured within Mysteries share several connections with each other.  All of them are set within the same town and feature the character of Inspector Ishida.  In addition, several of the cases are connected by a shadowy crime boss, although the full nature of this connection isn’t fully known until the final story in the volume.

As you may be able to guess from the title of the volume, all of the main stories featured within Mysteries feature a murder and the following investigation by Inspector Ishida and Usagi.  Inspector Ishida is a high-ranking member of the Shogun’s police and is renowned throughout Japan as one of country’s most effective detectives.  Usagi has teamed up with him before in a number of adventures, including a great story, Murder at the Inn, back in Volume 29, which featured Usagi, Ishida, and Usagi’s frequent companion Gen investigating murders in a locked-down inn.  There are some great stories in the Mysteries volume, especially as Sakai has crafted together some intriguing mysteries in such short entries.  Several of the big mysteries and crime stories are connected into an elaborate overarching narrative that examines the criminal underworld of feudal Japan.  Two of the stories feature some really complex murder mysteries that flit back and forth between a number of suspects and contain motives that are very unique.  The final entry, Mousetrap, is the longest story in the volume and features an excellent tale about a thief getting caught in a middle of a fight to control the area’s organised crime and the sinister figure that has been manipulating the events of the previous stories.

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Sakai ensures that his examination of feudal Japanese society carries through to each of these stories and their investigative arcs, affecting the characters’ investigations.  For example, only members of a lower caste are allowed to touch the murder victims’ dead bodies, which hinders the protagonists from properly examining the bodies to work out the cause of death.  There is also a fantastic investigation of the role of the inspectors in feudal Japan and how they bear the authority of the Shogun.  It also allows Ishida to show off his fighting skills with the jitte, one of my favourite Japanese weapons.

In addition to the returning Inspector Ishida, this volume of Usagi Yojimbo sees the return of several characters from previous stories.  Our favourite thieving duo of Kitsune and Kiyoko make a return in the middle story, The Body in the Library.  The fox thief Kitsune was first introduced in 1992 and has become one the series’ main recurring characters, adding significant amusement to the stories she appears in through her schemes, humour and continued casual theft of the other characters’ valuables.  Her young companion, Kiyoko, was introduced in a later story and serves as her apprentice in the life of crime while taking up many of her mentor’s bad habits.  Their inclusion in this story adds significant comic relief to an otherwise dark story of murder, and it is always fun to see what this mischievous duo are up to.  The mysterious masked thief Nezumi returns for a second adventure and is a major player in the book’s longest story, Mouse Trap.  Nezumi was introduced in the Volume 20 story After the Rat, and acts as a public Robin Hood character in Inspector Ishida’s town.  He is used to great effect in this new story, being framed for murder in a way reminiscent of his first appearance in the series.  Sakai continues to taunt his audience with the mystery of Nezumi’s identity and motives, and it is great to see this interesting and formidable character interact with Usagi for the first time, especially with their differing definitions of honour.  Readers should also keep an eye out for a certain recurring snitch who has played a similar role in a number of prior Usagi stories, despite the main characters failing to remember how treacherous he is.

One of the best parts of the Usagi Yojimbo series is the incorporation of intriguing and unique parts of Japanese culture into amazing action based comic issues.  Throughout the series, the author has utilised a number of great Japanese cultural elements in various stories, including giant kites, giant drums, pottery, swordsmithing, tea ceremonies, seaweed farming, games of chance and a huge number of mythological creatures and legends.  These stories often contain descriptions and informative depictions of the cultural activities in question, and the author works them into a fun adventure or creative mystery.  Mysteries contains two of these stories.  The main one, Death by Fugu, focuses on the preparation of fugu, the meat of the poisonous pufferfish.  This story contains an excellent description of what fugu is and the preparation required to eat it.  Death by Fugu is a powerful and tragic tale that prominently uses the art of fugu in its mystery, and definitely one of this volume’s standout stories.  The other entry, The Body in the Library, takes a brief look at the examination and trade of western medicines in Japan.  While this is not examined in as much detail, it is a fascinating to see what impact western medicines could have in feudal Japan and to see it used as a motive for a series of murders.

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Once again Stan Sakai has produced a powerful and fantastic new volume of his iconic Usagi Yojimbo series.  Fans of this series can look forward to seeing Sakai’s iconic art style and detailed cultural insights that are a love letter to Japan and its fascinating history and society.  Mysteries contains a range of outstanding new stories, and readers will enjoy unwrapping their mysteries with Usagi and the fan favourite Inspector Ishida.  I wish I didn’t have to wait a whole year for the next volume of this amazing series.

My Rating:

Five Stars