Samurai movies are some of my favorites. Watching Kurosawa weave universal tales and Toshiro Mifune cutting down endless numbers of foes, films simply called Kill! wove 1960s-style cinema with breathless fight choreography and riveting stories of characters barely surviving. For me, there was something otherworldly, yet completely relatable, as themes of honor, loyalty, and death were explored in ways that made my imagination spin uncontrollably. And even though there is a strong similarity, I feel more connected to the worlds of the Samurai than I ever could to those in a Western, and that’s closer to my culture. That’s a whole other article, so I digress…
They pay him to kill.
He lives in a world of faces without names, without futures. Two-dimensional images frozen in time.
An amateur would be shaking like a leaf before each operation.
He’s like a cold, tranquil lake.
Taking some inspiration from the Tuskegee Airmen, Jeff Lemire takes his world of Black Hammer to World War II, as we follow a group of three black and one Chinese pilots, known as the Black Hammer Squadron, on their final mission against the Axis. Lemire doesn’t do it alone this time; writer Ray Fawkes is the first to co-pilot and takes on the job of telling the story. In addition, three of my personal favorite comic creators hop on board - Matt Kindt (art), Sharlene Kindt (colors), and Marie Enger (letters) - all three of whom worked on a beautiful book and one of my favorites from last year, Dept. H. It’s like Lemire wanted a powerhouse team; he got it, and it shows.
From March to July of 2018, Dark Horse Comics published the five-issue miniseries of Frank Miller’s neo-peplum comic, Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and The Rise of Alexander. Xerxes was a continuation of Miller’s prior sword and sandal epic, 300, which became a pop culture juggernaut in the mid-2000s when it was adapted into a film by Zack Snyder. Dark Horse has now collected all the issues of Xerxes and published them in a handsome hardcover collection.
Amanda Ripley (daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s iconic heroine) and ex-Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks continue to rage against the machine in Aliens: Resistance #2, released this month from Dark Horse Comics. Continuing the story that writer Brian Wood and artist Tristian Jones established in the Aliens: Defiance mini-series, Wood (now paired with artist Robert Carey) uses the second issue to shed a bit of light of on some of Weyland-Yutani’s darkest secrets, while also making it quite clear that no one’s safe return is guaranteed from this deadly mission.
How much more can one family both endure and continue to heap upon others? In Bone Parish Chapter Seven: The Pains of Rebirth, the Winters family is back in the driver’s seat in The Ash empire, even if they might be usurped at any moment.
Issue #4 brings BOOM! Studios’ first arc in the relaunched Firefly series to a close, and it’s a doozy. If your head was spinning from all the backstabbing and double-crossing that’s been playing out in the last three issues, you will probably need to sit down for this one, because, you guessed it, our beloved scoundrels are in for more of that. Last time we were with the big damn heroes, Wash, Book, Jayne, and Inara were at the mercy of the pilgrims they were escorting to their shrine. Big surprise, these pilgrims aren’t all that peaceful (if their previous calls for blood didn’t tip you off), and half the Serenity crew is about to be offered up to Ba’akalal the Nightbringer. Meanwhile, Simon and River were captured by Boss Moon and her unificators, and Mal and Zoe were left cutting a deal to save the rest of the crew. Questionable morality is definitely one of the themes of the Firefly title, and it’s front and center here with seemingly honorable people being shady and an honorable antagonist, just to muddy the waters more.
BOOM! Studios’ reboot of the iconic Buffy franchise continues to recontextualize the familiar without totally reinventing them. Personally, I think that’s a wise choice, as Joss Whedon’s original creation stands on its own, even today, but a fresh take that speaks more directly to a newer generation is not a bad idea, as sensibilities have evolved. As established in the first issue, even the core Scoobies have been shaken up a bit and remixed for a more contemporary feel. While Buffy is still the slayer dealing with balancing the weight of the world and her desire to be just a teenager (dealing with her mom’s live-in boyfriend, no less), with Giles serving as her oftentimes disapproving Watcher (We’re still very much in the infancy of their relationship, as Buffy has just recently moved to Sunnydale, a point that is brought up several times.), Willow and Xander show the most reshuffling of their character traits. While Willow seems to be pretty well-established as being an out queer character (She’s in a relationship with a fellow student, Rose.), Xander’s characterization seems to focus more on introspection, almost as a response to the criticism of some of his more toxic masculinity issues from the previous iteration.
The home stretch is upon us, as we are now at the final four issues of this series. It's been a strange, intense ride over five years of god-based insanity, ridiculous specials, more musical references and/or puns than any one series should have, and so much beautiful art. Over the past forty issues, we've seen the gods of the last few generations die, betray each other, die some more, kill each other and a lot of other people, come back to life, and die some more. In between all of this dying and resurrection has been a mystical soap opera of backstabbing, love, loss, and some really crazy things. That being said, it's all been glorious, and this issue is no exception.