It’s fine to be a pop-culture dabbler, enjoying little bits and pieces of whatever media floats up to your side of the lifeboat, but there’s also a great pleasure in being a specialist — picking one massive property and making it your thing. Lately I’ve been churning through the Wheel of Time novels, which at the rate I’m going (one chapter a night before bed) should last me for the next couple of years; and my partner’s just finished the Berzerk comics which has led to some very gory conversation over dinner.
But if neither of those are quite your cup of blood, perhaps you’ll be interested to hear that Viz Media just announced a re-release of Bleach volume 1 and also the first 20 (!) volumes of My Hero Academia. After 20 years, Bleach will reach its conclusion this October, so it’s a fine time to dive in (pre-orders are currently open for an August release). And MHA (also pre-orderable, October release) is one of those phenomena that has its hooks in the young nerds and will probably shape the next generation of pop culture, so if you’ve got the bandwidth it’s a worthy ride to enjoy.
Or just thumb through 30-second TikTok videos, that’s fun too.
We’ve also got an exceedingly pleasant restaurant romance coming out this week, as well as spaceships and spooks. Thanks as always to Phoenix for sorting through the new releases!
Like nonstick cookware, this queer kitchen romance is almost entirely friction-free, a glossy comfort meal that goes down so light and airy as to leave almost no impression. Ben is a recent college graduate with an English degree who can’t seem to find work in his field — but through a lucky twist of fate he manages to talk his way into an entry position at a fancy restaurant. The head chef is skeptical about his abilities; his friends are miffed that work takes him away from social time; his parents wouldn’t approve; but none of these woes comes saddled with any consequences beyond a few pages of awkward conversation. If there’s any tension, it’s between anxious Ben and handsome coworker Liam; but their chemistry doesn’t sparkle so much as maintain a low simmer. Comfy cooking banter keeps the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low in this extra-medium story. It’s a fine relief from drama for readers who are conflict-averse; but those seeking narrative stakes may find their attention wandering. Good thing it tastes so sweet.
Rating: 🍳🍳🍳🍳 (4/5)
Writer: Jarrett Melendez. Illustrator: Danica Brine. Colors: Hank Jones. Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
A TOWN CALLED TERROR ISSUE #1
Like a gothic horror fill-in-the-blank template with most of the fields left empty, A Town Called Terror calls upon all the right tropes without adding much of an original spin. A creepy, gross old man has died, but someone or something has reanimated his corpse; a tough-talking young man with a goatee has been kidnapped back to his childhood home upon the death of his father. With plenty of time for rumination and reflection, this isn’t a particularly eventful page-turner. But the art’s intriguing, a black-and-white-and-red approach that evokes sinister foreboding far more effectively than the events of the story. But the writing veers less towards spooky and more towards silly: I laughed out loud when I turned a page and saw a bunch of crows perched on a signpost reading “WELCOME TO TERROR.” About as scary as putting your hands in a bowl full of peeled grapes that you’ve been told are eyeballs.
Rating: 🦶🦶🦶 (3/5)
Writer: Steven Niles. Art: Szymon Kudranski. Letters: Scott O. Brown, Marshall Dillon. Alt cover: Tony Daniel.
BREAK OUT ISSUE #1
It’s impossible to ignore the metaphor of Break Out, in part because the book is so insistent about reminding you about it. Several years ago, mysterious cubes appeared over the Earth, and began abducting young people for reasons unknown. After initial resistance proved futile, humans have settled into a comfortable routine in which everyone just accepts that every now and then, a bunch of teenagers will simply vanish. The new normal! Extrapolate this premise to school shootings, or the pandemic, or global warming — whichever crisis you like that we’ve simply decided to live with. But although the premise is science-fiction, I don’t think it’s fictionish enough — so much of it just feels like documentation of our depressing preference for accepting a crisis instead of fighting it. Fortunately, in the last few pages a daring scheme emerges among a group of plucky mismatched teens; it would have been nice to get there a little earlier instead of wallowing in a premise we already know too well because we’ve been living it for so long.
Rating: 🧊🧊🧊 (3/5)
Script: Zack Kaplan. Art: Wilton Santos. Colors: Jason Wordie. Letters: Jim Campbell. Covers: Adam Gorham, Rafael Albuquerque.
ALSO: QUEER TUG OF WAR, WOLVERINE IS BIG, and LET’S REVISIT THE DUST BOWL
I’m looking forward to reading Love and War, a queer romance set in the world of competitive varsity tug of war. The recently-released Cheer Up, a delightful queer story about a cheerleading team, just won a GLAAD award — if you haven’t read it yet, now’s a good time. There’s some fine superhero stuff this week: A great big hardcover reprint of Wolverine Weapon X, and also Flashpoint has shenanigans with Batman. There’s some new Sandman stuff out from DC, just in time to coincide with the new Netflix series. And for something a bit more grounded, Days of Sand is a historic dramatization of The Dust Bowl.