By Adam Warren
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
The sixth volume of Adam Warren’s sexy, superhero comedy has finally arrived! It picks up hot on the heels of the previous volume as Emp and the cast are forced to deal with the fallout from the disastrous Willy Pete mission. Accusations are thrown around as Emp finds herself under an increasing amount of scrutiny from her allies. If that weren’t enough one of the superhero communitie’s darkest secrets is revealed!
I’ve been in love with this series from the get go and volume six doesn’t really seem like it’s going to change that all that much. What has changed however, is the tone of the book. While it’s still full of comedy and humor, not to mention fantastic and believable moments of emotional intimacy and strong characters, this volume does take a distinctly darker turn. Whether it’s Emp and Spooky dealing with the loss of a mutual friend, or Emp dealing with accusations of betrayal from a colleague, or the return of Death Monger and the superhero communitie’s secret involving, well, death, this volume ramps up the darkness meter considerably. Despite the focus on death, at almost no point did the volume feel as if it were wallowing or being excessively shocking for shocks sake. One moment aside, even when Empowered is detailing and dealing with some intensely twisted concepts, Warren manages to give it all a humorous edge, usually through the sheer absurdity of what’s being presented. If all this wasn’t enough, several subplots intertwine and move forward in some rather unexpected ways which hint at bigger things to come.
For those just joining us, the artwork consists of Adam Warren’s uninked black and white pencils. The artwork continues to be incredibly beautiful and detailed. Jo Chen and Emily Warren also make brief contributions as Warren returns to the yaoi/slash gag once more. I also can’t stress enough how well the artwork meshes with the content. Adam Warren does a great job at keeping things clear but interesting to look at. The scenes flow across the page wonderfully. One of the things that has really come through with this series is Warren’s amazing eye for character designs. Every character, even minor ones look fantastic and give the impression of being a fully realized character with their own history and story, despite the fact that some may only appear for a few brief panels.
After six volumes Empowered continues to be one of my most anticipated purchases of the year, and while this volume has a decidedly grim tone to it, it was still an intensely entertaining and enjoyable read. Ultimately this has easily been one of my favorite pieces of sequential art this year and probably my favorite American comic of the year.
Empowered, Vol. 6 is available now.
By Makoto Tateno
DMP, 168 pp.
Rating: YA (16 +)
Sowil is a man with no family. His mother died at birth and he has no memory whatsoever of his father. What he does have, however, is the unique ability to use runes to magical effect. With this power and a desire to find out where it comes from, Sowil sets out in search of his father. Along the way he runs across two twins, Allueh and Erudite, about to be buried alive for being hearing and channeling the voices of demons and angels. Quickly he trades some magic beans for them and the unlikely trio set off.
He is a young man in search of his past, attempting to discover who he is and why he’s the way he is, wandering from town to town and getting involved with whatever supernatural shenanigans happen to be occurring. It’s not terribly original on either accounts, but plenty of books, TV shows, manga and more have taken theses basic ideas and turned them into something memorable. Unfortunately Angelic Runes isn’t among them. For one thing Sowil comes across as bland as Wonder Bread. The most memorable thing about his character is his rune based magic. The twins don’t fare much better, but thankfully they make up for their lack of personalities by being the mouthpieces for a horde of demons and angels, all of which are catalogued by title, rank and dominion when they speak. It adds some light comedy to see two little girls rattling off instructions and attributing them to various entities, all while wearing rather blank expressions. Sadly it does start to wear thin after a while though.
The visuals match the story and are dead average. The twins look alike, which is to be expected, but unfortunately Sowil looks like several of the other long haired male characters who appear within the story. The women don’t look terribly unique or individual either. Add to this the rather sparse backgrounds and a fondness for slapping random toning all over the place and you end up with a book full of uninteresting and fairly forgettable visuals.
Angelic Runes isn’t a terribly good read, but it is a quick one. There is some potential and I did enjoy the way Makoto Tateno dumps creatures from various world cultures and mythology into the story at once, but it’s not really enough to make up for the books’ shortcomings. With a bland and boring protagonist, lackluster art, and powers that are more memorable than anything else that occurs within this volume, Angelic Runes is simply a forgettable and skippable read.
Angelic Runes, Vol. 1 is available now at Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.
Written by Adam Warren, Art by Brian Denham
Marvel Comics, 152pp
Rating: T+ (13 +)
Iron Man: Hypervelocity tells the tale of one very bad night in the life of the titular character. It starts out well enough with him putting the finishing touches on a new suit of armor and preparing to take it out for a test ride but it’s all down hill from there. From Adam Warren comes a tale that sees Iron Man pursued by a host of foes ranging from a sentient computer program, mysterious mechs, and the elite “cape killing” unit of SHIELD, while attempting to unravel the mystery behind the attack that put Tony Stark in a coma.
The book is a stand alone story and it functions as one beautifully. Even if you don’t happen to know anything about Iron Man despite the two recent block buster movies, Adam Warren does a good job at introducing Iron Man, Tony Stark and SHIELD, giving us just about everything you need to understand and enjoy the story in short order. The book is rife with ideas of cutting and bleeding edge technology and innovations, which works perfectly with Iron Man and in turn with Adam Warren’s own penchant for hi-tech gizmos, gadgetry and scientific theory. The result is a story that feels less like your average capes and tights fare and more like a smart sci-fi action flick on paper. On top of all this, Warren manages to expand upon an aspect of the Marvel Universe that’s mentioned every once in a blue moon, but seems to be almost ignored most of the time. Namely the subculture of technologically enhanced beings, ranging from cyborgs, artificial intelligences, upload consciousness’ and more. In this one miniseries he paints it as a vibrant and thriving subculture with various factions, social conventions, trends and more. It’s really fascinating and something that’s interested me since I saw Dwayne McDuffie play with the idea in Deathlok way back when and I’d love to see more done with it.
The artwork follows a similar tact to that of Livewires, with Warren doing the layouts and Denham taking it from there. Unlike Mays though, Denham’s style is very different from Warren. Denham’s artwork is far from the stereotypical “manga” style of Warren and a lot closer to the more “realistic” artwork of many western comics. There’s a nice high contrast look the artwork, with lots of thick, heavy shadows contrasted by the bright LEDs, explosions and gleam of armor, machines and more. The action scenes are very well done and creative, featuring a wide variety of weapons, ranging from a muffler pipe to devices extrapolated from the experimental weaponry of today.
I’m not a huge Iron Man fan, but I absolutely adored this series. It’s so good, that if Adam Warren and Denham were given a monthly Iron Man book and allowed to do their thing, I would buy it without question. It’s exciting, beautiful to look at and is just plain fun. And it’s probably my favorite of Adam Warren’s Marvel work to date.
Iron Man: Hypervelocity is available now.
Original story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Adaption by Saiko Takaki
DMP, 266 pp.
Rating: M (Mature Readers)
The manga adaption of the third novel is quite possibly the most well known Vampire Hunter D tale to date as it’s the basis for the second Vampire Hunter D anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. D is hired on by a wealthy father and asked to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a Noble, but D’s not the only hunter to respond to the summons and offer of millions of gold. The infamous Marcus Brothers also take the job. What ensues is a three way chase with twists, turns and tragedy on all sides.
This volume takes a distinctly more action oriented tone than the previous ones. The entire set up is perfect for insane, over the top, non-stop action and for the most part it deliveries on this. When it does slow down it’s usually to introduce a new character or give us a few brief flashbacks to expand upon the relationships of several of the characters. The flashbacks, while imformative, actually didn’t really work for me here. They almost felt forced into the story and the transition from the present to the flashbacks wasn’t really handled well either. Usually in comics and manga there’s something to denote that the time has changed when it comes to flashbacks, borderless panels, rounded panels, black gutters, etc. but none of that is present here. It’s simply a matter of turning the page and finding yourself in a scene that doesn’t really click with what had occured on the previous page.
Saiko Takaki’s artwork doesn’t feel quite as on the ball here as it has in the past. There are a few moments when Leila comes off looking nothing like she does throughout the rest of the volume. It’s really jarring and surprising since Takaki’s usually pretty consistent. On the other hand, the ridiculously long necks that appear in other volumes aren’t quite as noticeable here. The action scene’s are energetic as always and are really entertaining thanks in part to the various unique abilities and fighting styles that the myriad of anatagonists utilize. Beyond that it’s the usual highly detailed, ornate artwork that I’ve come to expect from Takaki’s work.
This volume highlights one of the things I really like about Vampire Hunter D. While the concept for each book is fairly similar, there are a myriad of ways that the events can play out. Up until now we’ve seen slightly more straight forward vampire hunter fare, a strong mystery oriented story and now an action packed thrill ride. The break neck speed at which it moves, the variety in the antagonists and the twists within the story all click wonderfully and make it a surprisingly quick and enjoyable read.
Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 3 is available now at Emanga.com. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Written by Adam Warren, Art by Rich Mays
Marvel Comics, 144pp
Rating: T+ (13 +)
Originally release in 2005 Livewires was the first series to really bring Adam Warren to my attention. It’s a sci-fi action tale featuring a group of androids, designed to look like teenagers naturally, from Project Livewire who are tasked with hunting down and eliminating rogue black ops groups and projects. The series originally ran for fives issues and was eventually released in this dirt cheap, digest sized collection!
Livewires starts off with a bang and it doesn’t really ever let up. It kicks off with a new member, Stem Cell, joining the group in the middle of a mission. Adam Warren does a fantastic job at using her to introduce us to the entire team and continues to use her as the audience point of view character throughout most of the tale. Her curiosity about the group’s past leads to flashbacks throughout the volume, and it’s really the tale of her becoming a full fledge and actuated member of the team. While Stem Cell is a little innocent, naive and unsure of herself, the rest of the team is made up of seasoned pros, including the weapons specialist Hollowpoint Ninja, the group’s muscle Gothic Lolita, tech man and hardware guru Cornfed, and Social Butterfly who specializes in human interaction. What’s really fascinating is that the group, comprised of specialized androids, actually comes across as just that, but without the stereotypically serious and dry attitude. Their dialogue, rife with the techno-babble and the quirky slang that marks Adam Warren’s work, doesn’t feel odd and unnatural here but it feels like the kind of thing that would develop if a group of androids spent a large part of their time simply interacting with their own kind. It’s not just the dialogue either. Their personalities, while fun and relatable at times, are marked with a distinct otherness. While they all come across as individual characters and look like super powered teens, Warren never really lets you forget that they are a group of inhuman machines designed to destroy rogue black ops groups and, if necessary, kill or otherwise manipulate their human operatives into silence.
My understanding of the artwork is that Adam Warren provided the rough pencils and layouts and Mays did the rest. Mays’ artwork here is very complimentary to Warren’s, but with a slightly more simplified and streamlined look to it. The action sequences are fast paced and nicely over the top, featuring all sorts of hi-tech weaponry and goodies. The action sequences are well drawn and easy to follow while maintaining a thrillingly fast pace throughout. The coloring is a bit of an odd duck. Livewires was originally was published as a monthly comic on glossy paper which did a fantastic job at emphasizing the blacks and the glowing LED’s and explosions wonderfully. Unfortunately for the collection they chose a different paper stock, probably to keep the price down to a measly $8, and the vibrant colors end up looking a bit dull at times as a result. Also, the caption boxes are often accompanied by a small picture and the codename of the team member talking, but when they shrunk it down to a digest sized collection the name’s can be a bit difficult to make out at times.
Livewires was probably my first introduction to Adam Warren as a creator and to this day it remains an enjoyable, over the top, action packed, sci-fi adventure. The characters are fun and playful, the concept is unique and incredibly interesting, and the whole thing is a blast. It’s been five years but I still enjoy cracking it open and giving it a read every now and then. If you come across this on the shelves, definitely give it a look.
Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo is available now.
By Ai Tenkawa
DMP/DokiDoki, 216 pp.
Rating: 13 +
After years of waiting I finally dip my toe into the shojo genre with the first volume of Wolf God from Ai Tenkawa. Young Kyounosuke Shirogami is a member of an Inugami clan, people bonded with wolf spirits/gods. With the clan’s head on deaths door Kyounosuke journeys to Tokyo in search of his brother, the next in line to lead the clan. Enter Koyuki, a young a young high school girl who’s floating about with no real direction to her life, something that gets her harassed by her family and teachers at school, not to mention her friends as well. When she sees Kyounosuke looking sickly, due to the pollution in Tokyo, her maternal instincts kick in and she quickly finds herself falling for the young, waif-ish, lost looking boy. This works out well for Kyounosuke as Koyuki and her brother actually know his elder sibling. Unfortunately, that’s also when the plot hits a brick wall.
The story is set up as a search of utmost importance and immediacy. Not only is clan’s leader on death’s door, but if Kyounosuke can’t locate his brother then he’ll be forced to take his place as the new Alpha, something he claims to want nothing to do with. Unfortunately this is contradicted once he meets Koyuki as, aside from some very minor and halfhearted attempts at continuing his search, Kyounosuke spends a good chunk of the story bedridden from his illness. Yes, he’s sick, but he puts up almost zero resistance to Koyuki’s pampering and her demands for him to stay put. He barely even looks unhappy about this, wearing the same vaguely lost and confused look he sports throughout the book. Thankfully things pick up a bit once Kanosuke, a member of the Tokyo branch family, is introduced and we see some rivalry play out between the two, but it distracts quite heavily from the search and it’s reason for being comes off feeling incredibly tenuous.
Ai Tenkawa’s artwork is clean and easy to follow. The eyes on the characters are wonderfully expressive, conveying emotions beautifully. The panel to panel flow to the story is pretty straight forward and there was rarely a confusing panel or sequence within the book. Sadly the art’s also really bland and average looking. None of the designs are terribly memorable. It’s all basic, contemporary clothing and several of the characters look alike, most notably Kyounosuke and Kanosuke. They could be twins if it wasn’t for the hair color and some clothing accessories. The art style itself falls firmly into the realm of the stereotypical “manga” style.
Wolf God was an ok read. I don’t think I was terribly enamored by any character or concept within it, but it wasn’t offensively bad either. While I’m not terribly well versed in shojo manga, this came off feeling like your typical, middle of the road series. Something that’s a flawed, but perfectly acceptable piece of entertainment.
Wolf God, Vol. 1 is available now. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.
Written by Adam Warren, Art by Hector Sevilla Lujan
Marvel Comics, 48pp
Rating: T+ (13 +)
Galacta started out life as a short comic in some Assistant Editors anthology which featured strips and comics put together by various Assistant Editors from Marvel. All the shorts were part of a contest and the feature with the most votes would receive a short, digital comic series available exclusively through Marvel’s website. Apparently the digital strip did well enough, because Marvel saw fit to collect all of the strips under one cover!
Written by Adam Warren, Galacta tells the tale of the Daughter of Galactus, a massive cosmic entity with a penchant for devouring worlds to sustain him. The shorts are mainly one offs, stand alone tales with a few reoccurring themes and subplots throughout. Most notably, Galacta’s attempt to contain her hunger and not become a world devouring juggernaut like daddy dearest. That’s not easy to do as she also has the equivalent to a cosmic tapeworm which simply exacerbates her hunger! The stories are short, but fail to connect in any direct sense. Instead they feel loosely connected via her never ending search for food and the comedy that it entails. Most of the dialogue comes via a non-stop internal monologue from Galacta, done in the form of a letter/voice mail to her father. This narration never stops and is full of Adam Warren’s signature slang and techno babble. The combination of the two makes this book an incredibly dense and slow moving read, which isn’t really what you expect from a comedy comic.
I’m not sure how much Adam Warren was involved with the artwork. In the past he’s done the layouts for several of his Marvel comic projects but I’m a little uncertain of whether or not that’s the case here. I think it is since several of the characters sport faces that are more than just a little reminiscent of Adam Warren’s style. That said, Hector Sevilla Lujan’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous! Whether he’s drawing talking continents, zombie trees or a planet sized Wolverine head, the artwork is a treat to behold. The panel to panel flow is easy and clear to follow, despite the copious amount of narration boxes, and often his artwork adds to the puns in Galacta’s ongoing commentary. It really is a visual delight.
Galacta: Daughter of Galactus is not Adam Warren’s best work, or even his best work for Marvel. It certainly has some funny moments and the selected tweets (yes, she has a twitter account) at the end are absolutely hilarious on their own, but the lack of action scenes, the caption heavy nature and Adam Warren’s own incredibly quirky dialogue and sense of humor make it an undeniably, and sadly, slow and clunky read.
Galacta: Daughter of Galactus #1 is available now.
Original story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Adaption by Saiko Takaki
DMP, 250 pp.
Rating: M (Mature Readers)
This volume sees D investigating a series of vampire attacks in a small village that has another notable secret. About ten years ago four children went missing. Eventually three returned with no memory of the missing time. Of the three, Lina is the one we see the most of as she serves as the book’s damsel in distress. She’s very, very spunky and although it’s stated that her interest in D is more than friendly, for the most part I had a hard time viewing their relationship as anything other than sibling. The real treat is the fact that the convoluted tale serves as an info dump and gives us a glimpse at the history of the world and of the Nobility. With all that said, the plot for this volume is a bit confusing at times as a number of subplots weave in and out of the main story, several of which actual serve as red herrings to the book’s central mystery. Add in to that the disappearance of several characters for long swaths of time with little to no explanations and you’ve got a surprisingly complex and convoluted tale.
Saiko Takaki’s artwork is wonderfully detailed as usual. The clothing, body types, facial types and more are all wonderfully varied and help give the world a fleshed out and solid feel. There are still some anatomical oddities, once again the women are prone to having abnormally long, swanlike necks, and there’s one or two moments where Lina jumps from surprisingly attractive to frightening hag in the space of a few panels. Takaki’s action sequences are fast and exciting, but on at least two occasions I found myself struggling to follow them properly. Admittedly this may have something to do with the fact that I’m reading it on Emanga.com and my screen isn’t the largest, so it might be perfectly comprehensible otherwise and easy to follow in print, or with a larger screen.
I think I actually preferred this volume over the other two I’ve read, namely the first and the fourth. The mystery, while a bit confusing at times, does a great deal of world building, scratching an itch I’ve had since I saw the original Vampire Hunter D anime all those years ago. This volume gives us a tantalizing glimpse at some of those things, such as the rise and fall of the Nobility, D’s origins and more. In the end, it was another nice adaption from Saiko Takaki and another nice, weird tale from Hideyuki Kikuchi.
Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 2 is available now at Emanga.com. Review copy provided by the publisher.