Monday, March 31, 2008

"As alpha is the beginning of all things--then omega is the end!!"

In today's Fourth World panel (from Forever People #6), cower in fear as Darkseid unleashes the Omega Effect!

Awesome. I love the burst of energy and the horrific doom of the situation. Also awesome: Mark Moonrider wrecking the shit out of Desaad's Happyland:

Hell yeah. Overall, a cool issue, which leaves Forever People with a cliffhanger until the next volume. Dammit.

Also, I think Mike Royer's inking is improved in this issue from the last issue of New Gods. It's looking suitably rough and hard-edged for all the action and destruction that goes on here. We'll see if I keep liking him or not.

Next time: The Glory Boat! I'm pretty excited to read that one, since I've heard it touted as one of the best Kirby stories ever. Ever!

This week: lots of stuff, some of which should be worth buying

Plenty of interest this week. Also: a review of Transhuman #1, by me, at Comics Bulletin! Read it! (note: I've been informed that JM Ringuet is male). Then:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 4/2/08):

Amazing Spider-Man #555

Despite some affection for the character, I don't usually read Spider-Man comics, especially in the midst of the current deal-with-the-devil/reboot kerfuffle. But this issue, along with the next couple, is illustrated by Chris Bachalo, and the art looks pretty incredible, so it might be hard to pass up. On the other hand, it's written by Zeb Wells, who I don't really have any feelings about one way or the other, and it appears to guest-star Wolverine (and a bunch of ninjas), and lord knows I love Wolverine comics (that was sarcasm). I'll probably decide in the store, but I guess it's saying something that I'm even considering it.

American Splendor Season Two #1

No waffling about this one though; I'm all over a new Harvey Pekar miniseries. I definitely dug the previous "season" that he did with Vertigo, and this one should also be cool. I like that they've paired him up with some well-known artists, providing some good variety and fun stories. This issue sees David Lapham, Chris Weston, Mike Hawthorne, and Dean Haspiel (of course), among others. Should be fun.

Anna Mercury #1

From Avatar, a new series by Warren Ellis, about a spandex-clad vigilante, or something like that. I expect there will also be some techo-fetishist sci-fi, but that's kind of a given with Ellis. Art by Fecundo Percio, multiple covers by the usual Avatar suspects, weird groin feeling by me.

Boys #17

I'm not sure if this is actually coming out this week (it's not on my local shop's list), but I'll welcome it if it is. I'm enjoying this current storyline, with Hughie's courting of, uh, what's-her-name, the goody-goody superhero chick. And other stuff, most of it well done. Don't let me down, Ennis!

Casanova #13

No worries about this one letting me down though. How awesome was that last issue? It was titled "Fuck Shit Up", and it delivered on that promise. So now let's see the repercussions. I think I might be enjoying this second storyline even more than the first, which is saying something. Also, Matt Fraction's backmatter about his son being born was pretty endearing to me, for obvious reasons (if you've been keeping up with my personal news). Keep up the good work, fellas!

Countdown Special Kamandi 80 Page Giant

Hey, it's Jack Kirby! I guess this is stuff that ties into whatever is going on in DC's current crossover(s), but it's probably also a good sampler of what the series has to offer. Me, I'll save my money and put it toward a collection of the series, if I can find one that's not too expensive. I do definitely want to read it someday though; that's my goal in life: read as much Jack Kirby as possible. I don't think I'll ever be fully satisfied.

Kick-Ass #2

If you want more Mark Millar-flavored "realistic" superheroics, here you go. I don't think I'm supposed to discuss it, but I've read this issue, and, well, it's more of the same. If it's your sort of thing, I'm sure you'll continue to read it, but I'm not planning on following it too closely.

Logan #2

The first issue of this series seemed to get a somewhat cold reception, perhaps due to its use of Hiroshima as a "cheap" emotional plot development. I didn't mind it, but maybe I just expected that sort of thing in a tale of Wolverine's untold past. And really, I'm more interested in an enjoyable Brian K. Vaughan-written story and some lush Eduardo Risso artwork. That issue certainly didn't disappoint in the latter area, that's for sure. I especially love the warm, painterly colors. So, I expect more of the same, and who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and be pleasantly surprised by an especially good twist or something.

Many Happy Returns

This looks to be a one-shot containing some continuing adventures of small press stuff from the 90s. I don't really care about Crossfire or Licensable Bear (actually, that one's more recent, I think), but I'm interested to see a new "Journey" story by William Messner-Loebs. I picked up an issue or two of that series in a discount bin a while back and became hooked, which led me to grab as many as I could find. So I might have to get this one just for that story, and suffer through the other parts.

Secret Invasion #1

For those interested, it's the beginning of Marvel's latest "nothing will ever be the same" crossover. If you're buying it, be sure to get the blank cover variant, so you can crayon in your own drawing of Paste Pot Pete as a Skrull.

Holmes GN

Collecting a miniseries from AiT/PlanetLar, this is a revisionist take on Sherlock Holmes, in which he's a dope fiend and Watson is his supplier. Or something like that. It could be enjoyable.

Jenny Finn Doom Messiah

I've heard this is a pretty good series, by Mike Mignola, Troy Nixey, and Farel Dalrymple. It's some kind of Victorian, Lovecraftian monster story. Hey, why not? It's from Boom! Studios for $14.99, which isn't bad, since their books are often overpriced. EDIT: I'm referring to their single issues, which are $3.99 (and really, even the Marvel/DC standard of $2.99 is a bit much for what you're getting). I used to avoid books at that price level (which also eliminated much of IDW's output), but I've since caved. Now that I look at Boom!'s selection, I see that most of their trade collections are $14.99 or cheaper, which is not bad at all. So I take it back, with the qualifier that waiting for the trade seems to be increasingly the best option when buying comics.

Rabbis Cat 2 HC

Joann Sfar! I've read the first volume of this series, and it's pretty good stuff. I liked the first half better though, when the cat was talking and questioning religion. The second half was all about love and marriage and not as interesting to me. I don't know where Sfar goes with the story next, but it should be interesting reading.

Shakespeares Hamlet The Manga Edition GN
Shakespeares Julius Caesar The Manga Edition GN
Shakespeares MacBeth The Manga Edition GN
Shakespeares Romeo & Juliet The Manga Edition GN

When I saw these, I originally thought they were part of the line that Chris Butcher linked to the other day, which seemed interesting. That one (Hamlet) was by Neil Babra, and I liked the art style, which reminded me of Nick Bertozzi, even if the script, which tries to "reinterpret" the play into more modern language, makes me worry. I suppose something like that could be done, but it would be very tricky to get it right without losing what makes the plays interesting. Nevertheless, it's an interesting experiment, more so than what these actually are, which is illustrations of the plays in a manga-esque style, with art by Tintin Pantoja (Hamlet), Yali Lin (Romeo & Juliet), Eve Grandt and Candice Chou (Macbeth) and Hyeondo Park (Julius Caesar). Here's some more information about the line. Is it worth reading? Who knows? But it all seems like an attempt to get kids interested in the classics by dressing them up in the latest fad. Oh, grownups, will you ever learn?

Tonoharu Part One

From Top Shelf, this is a Xeric Award-winning graphic novel about expatriates living in Japan, focusing on a character who is an English Language Teacher. It's by Lars Martinson, and you can find out more about it at his website. I must say, it looks pretty good.

Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons HC

For Ashley Wood devotees, here's a chance to spend twenty bucks on a collection of a three-issue miniseries about, well, read the title. It's decent enough, but I wouldn't recommend it to anybody who isn't already a Wood fan. There's some nice art (a lesbian orgy in the first issue is a standout scene), but it's kind of indulgent and fairly pointless. I guess I'm saying I didn't mind reading it, but I would definitely hesitate before recommending it to anybody, especially in light of the price.

Dragon Head Vol 10 GN

Manga time! It's a series that I'm way behind on! This one is actually the final volume, so I suppose I have a chance of catching up now.

Gun Blaze West Vol 1 TP

From the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, it's a shonen series about gunslingers. I'm just about to start reading the first volume, which Viz sent me for review, so I'll let you know how it is.

Haruka Beyond The Stream Of Time Vol 1 TP

Please don't buy this. For further elaboration, read my complaints in my monthly Shojo Beat roundups. Here, pick a random one from the last few months and watch me complain. Then go buy something good, like Honey and Clover or Sand Chronicles.


Speaking of Shojo Beat, I talked about the first chapter of this (one-volume?) series when they ran it as a preview, and it's not too bad. It's by Arina Tanemura, the creator of Full Moon and Gentlemen's Alliance, among other stuff. Check it out if that sort of thing is your bag.

Path of the Assassin Vol. 10

And here's the latest volume of the latest Kazuo Koike/Goseki Kojima series to hit the US. Maybe I'll get to it one day, whenever I finish reading Lone Wolf and Cub and Samurai Executioner.

Okay, I think that's everything, and it's quite a bit, isn't it? Ah, looks like I'll continue to get behind. Maybe I'll be able to eke out a review tonight, but don't bet your life savings on it or anything.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Drifting Classroom: Don't eat the mushrooms

Hmmm. I'm getting behind here, so hopefully I'll be able to write a bunch and catch up. We'll see how it goes.

The Drifting Classroom, volume 7
By Kazuo Umezu

Wow. It's hard to come up with new things to say about each volume of this series, but that's not because it fails to engage, it's just that I'm not as creative in coming up with new content as Kazuo Umezu. I mean, crap, last volume saw an outbreak of bubonic plague, a mummy-based delivery system, and a giant (psychically-inspired?) flood. So how does Umezu follow that up? With a lot of worries about whether to eat the mushrooms that have sprouted up all over the place:

And a weird religious cult that eventually leads to a monster attack (I won't spoil the reveal on that one).

First things first: those freaky mushrooms inspire a lot of debate about their edibility, some of it violent:

The students (against the wishes of our good-hearted hero, Sho) end up deciding to force-feed them to Sekiya, the evil adult delivery man who reverted to an infantile state after facing an imagination-monster (I love describing this stuff). Hmmm, commentary on the proper treatment of prisoners and/or criminals? I'm probably reaching there, like usual, but it does come back to bite them on the ass when some abuse leads to one of those convenient memory-restoring head-bumps:

Oh, snap, that's not going to turn out well. Anyway, through hard-to-explain circumstances, a chubby kid ends up eating the mushrooms, and soon enough, he's running around like a loon, insisting that they're tasty and everyone should join in:

It's the classic case of peer pressure; "Come on, man, all the cool kids are doing it!" Like everything else in the book, you know this won't turn out well.

Later, Sho and the gang decide to use a bust he created of his mother as a goddess, giving the kids something to pray to. I don't know if this is Umezu's intent (isn't ancestor-worship prevalent in Japan?), but I see this as a demonstration of the ridiculousness of religion. Although it's also a look at religion's usefulness, since it gives them something to think positively about, rather than focus on the relentless hopelessness of their situation. Of course, this devolves into violence, when a cult of mushroom-eaters splits off from the main group, choosing instead to worship a one-eyed monster. And wouldn't you know it, the monster shows up to terrorize everyone (and possibly welcome its mutated worshipers). Classic. That plotline will have to be resolved later, however; it looks like the return of the evil Sekiya will take precedence for now. I'll have to get to the next volume soon.

But I also have to mention one instance of gruesomeness that Umezu brings here, as we get glimpses of the transformation that befalls kids who ate the mushrooms:

Yikes. Those dangly little toes are freaky. I love the energy of Umezu's art, whether it's the swooshing motion of the kids as the run around and fight each other, or their constant wide-open mouths as they scream about everything that is happening. And the oppressive darkness really emphasizes the horror of their situation. He's really established an anything-can-happen atmosphere, so you're never surprised when some batshit-crazy stuff goes down. Or rather, events surprise you, since it's impossible to predict what will spring forth next from Umezu's psyche, but nothing seems unrealistic. Umezu can sell this story so well, I believe it fully, and even though I'm repulsed, I can't look away. Awesome. I don't think I'll be the same after reading this series, but it's totally worth whatever emotional scars I suffer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"This 'woman's lib' thing is getting more serious than I thought!"

Check out the awesomeness in today's Fourth World panel, from Mister Miracle #5:

Hell yeah! Big Barda positively wrecking a dozen Apokolips goons at once with her mega-rod! That's pretty sweet. Even though Barda ends up as the damsel in distress here, you can tell Kirby liked her, since he gives her that scene, a big opening splash page (where he unfortunately gives her Liefeldianly skinny ankles), and the following bit involving a Civil War-era cannon for Scott's act:

There's plenty of other coolness in this issue, as Mister Miracle goes up against Verman Vundabar and his killing machine that is compared (both on the cover and in the comic) to a car wash that "traps you on the way in and kills you on the way out!" Good times. We also learn about Scott's past in Granny Goodness's orphanage, and a four-page backup strip shows us some of what he went through, and it's pretty horrific. Man, Kirby could really draw out the bombastic drama, couldn't he. I'm loving this stuff. Next: The Omega Effect!

Monday, March 24, 2008

"These great steel doors! They're locked by complex systems!"

You know, when I do these posts of Fourth World panels, it seems I almost always focus on either action, wreckage, technology, or dialogue. I hope that's not getting monotonous. But here's another example of one of the above, from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143:

Yep, it's the ol' Kirbytech! Gotta love the trippy colors. There are plenty of examples of the other types here though, including action with wreckage:

And post-action wreckage:

I love that last one. Why a dog? Why not? The plot of this issue is actually pretty cool, and it kind of justifies the last issue, which I didn't like as much. Superman and Jimmy discover a laboratory containing a miniature planet, which scientist Dabney Donovan has kept developing by projecting horror movies on its atmosphere, which is why the inhabitants have taken the form of vampires, werewolves, and, um, Frankensteins. If I remember correctly, Grant Morrison used a pretty similar plot in an issue of The Filth. Anyway, the scientist has decided to exterminate life on the planet, so he's doing so in the form of a demon dog that emits the titular "genocide spray" to exterminate life on the planet. That's pretty cool.

I don't know how much this issue has to do with the rest of the Fourth World saga, but it does have asides about Intergang (hence the incongruous Newsboy Legion panel up there) and the DNA Project. Hey, it's all cool. Next up: Doctor Vundabar's Murder Machine!

This week: ASS! In the Grant Morrison sense

Ah, maybe I should get to the posts I need to do here soon. But I've also got this:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 3/26/08):

All Star Superman #10

Ah, the occasional dose of elegant superheroics. This book is now quarterly or something, I guess, but it's good to get it when it shows up. Only a few more issues to go, I think. Make it good, guys!

Dan Dare #5

Ah, Garth Ennis keeps up the stoic British sci-fi. I liked the last issue quite a bit, and it really seemed to play to artist Gary Erskine's strengths. Let's see if we'll get to see some black hole-shooting now.

Jack of Fables #21

Crap, what was happening last issue? I know Jack was escaping with the gold, or something. Maybe it's almost time for me to switch to trades...I still dig it though. Go Jack!

Smuggling Spirits Book One

I reviewed an electronic copy of this book from Ambrosia Publishing back in September, and thought it was pretty good. It's about a sort of ghost-haunted 1930s, with some nice artwork and an interesting story. Looks like it's finally available in the direct market, but you can still read it online here, or order a copy from the company. Check it out!

Speak of the Devil #5

Man, when is this series going to end (and get collected) so I can finally read it? Also, I notice that Gilbert Hernandez has another of his "B-movie comics" coming out in June called The Troublemakers. I dug Chance in Hell, so I'm all over that one.

Spirit #15

Well, looks like I'm done with this series. I dug Darwyn Cooke's tenure on the book, but it took Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier one issue to drive me away, with a boring, pointless, stretched-out story that confirmed everyone's fears about the appropriateness of continuing to tell stories featuring Will Eisner's signature creation. Maybe they'll improve, but I'm not spending the money to wait for them.

Transhuman #1

Another Jonathan Hickman series (although he's only writing this one, with JM Ringuet providing the art), about superhuman genetic engineering, told in a "mockumentary" style. I'm not sure what that means in the context of comic books, but I dig Hickman, so I'll be reading it. It would be nice if he could get Pax Romana out on a regular schedule though. And I'm still waiting for Red Mass for Mars to show up...

Wolverine First Class #1

I don't really bother with these sorts of books (even though I do like Jeff Parker, writer of the similar X-Men: First Class), but this one is notable because Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers, the awesome new Comic Book Comics) is writing it. I don't know if there's a need for untold tales of Wolverine and Kitty Pride, but if it's your sort of thing, it'll probably be a decent read. How's that for a recommendation?

Apocalypse Nerd TPB

Peter Bagge's tale of post-apocaptalyptic geekery gets collected. I've heard it's...interesting, but also that it's sort of a showcase for his libertarian views. I dunno, might be interesting, and he's usually pretty damn entertaining. Maybe I'll read it someday.

Flight Explorer Vol. 1

A kid-oriented spinoff of the popular Flight anthology series, featuring Kean Soo's Jellaby and Kazu Kibuishi's Daisy Kutter, among others. It's $10, so it sounds like a good deal; I'll have to check it out if I see it.

Ghost Rider Trail of Tears

I collected this series for some reason (probably Garth Ennis), even though I don't like Ghost Rider, and it was pretty disappointing. It might have been Clayton Crain's artwork, which is weirdly goopy and computerized. So, yeah, not recommended.

Haunted HC

From Drawn & Quarterly, a collection of stuff by French cartoonist Phillipe Dupuy. I haven't read any of his stuff before (he usually works with Charles Berberian), but I always hear good things, so this will probably be a good one to watch for.

Jack Kirbys Fourth World Omnibus HC Vol. 4

Oh, man, I'm still reading the second volume, but I really want to get to this one. I collects the end of the various Fourth World series, the sequel miniseries Kirby did in the 80s, and the Hunger Dogs graphic novel, which I think was originally meant to be a conclusion to the saga, but it obviously wasn't. I can't wait to get to it.

Last Winter

A graphic novel from Image adapting director Larry Fessenden's film of the same name. It's an eco-horror story about a scientific base in the arctic. I dunno, might be worth a look.

Mouse Guard Fall 1152 TPB

I dig the Mouse Guard, and this is a cheaper paperback collection of the series, so if you haven't read it before now, I urge you to check it out. Mice with swords!

Newuniversal Everything Went White

Collecting Warren Ellis' and Salvador Larroca's miniseries (although I think it was supposed to be ongoing when it started) revival of the 80s Marvel "realistic superheroes" spinoff. I enjoyed it (even with the rampant celebrity "casting") due to Ellis' sci-fi ideas. I don't know if I'll keep going with the new miniseries that's coming out, but this is definitely an interesting start.

Paul Goes Fishing GN

Another Drawn & Quarterly book, a slice-of-life story from Michael Rabagliati. I haven't read any of his other books, but I always hear good things, so this looks like another one to look for at some point.

Stardust Kid Vol. 1

Boom! puts out a collection of J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog's kid-fantasy miniseries. I've heard it (along with their series Abadazad) is pretty good. Yet another one to maybe read someday.

That Salty Air

Another of those slice-of-life graphic novels, this time from Top Shelf. It's about a fisherman trying to take revenge on the sea. By Tim Sievert, 110 pages, 10 bucks. I should try to get it.


I'm actually caught up on this series, although I never got around to reviewing the second or third volumes. It's an enjoyable series, so I'm sure I'll get to this volume when I get the chance. Hey, gore, murder, and psychiatric disorders are always fun.

And I think that's it for the week. Hopefully I'll get to some real posts here soon. And maybe a look at solicitations, but I might stop doing that, so maybe not. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Southland Tales: Another entry in the "Movies I don't understand" list

I don't know if this will count as a real review, but I had to talk about it, since it's so ridiculous.

Southland Tales
Directed by Richard Kelly

So, yeah, I don't get this movie, but it's pretty entertaining nonetheless. It's some sort of post-apocalyptic Orwellian future that kind of comments on current events, but it seems more like a showcase for indulgent weirdness, with much less focus than Richard Kelly's celebrated debut, Donnie Darko. There are a ton of plot threads, involving Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a movie star who married into a political family and ends up in the sway of Sarah Michelle Gellar, a porn star/pop singer/actress/Paris Hilton-esque famous person who is involved with a group of "Neo-Marxist" revolutionaries that are trying to blackmail some Presidential candidates played by John Larroquette and Holmes Osborne (the dad from Donnie Darko). Also, Osborne's wife, Miranda Richardson, runs a government agency called USIdent, monitoring everything going on in the world behind a bank of monitors. And there's also Seann William Scott, playing twin brothers, one of whom is posing as the other and involved in the blackmail scheme. And Justin Timberlake narrates, mostly quoting from the book of Revelations, while he sits behind a giant gun and watches everything.

Yeah, not a lot of it makes much sense, but there are some pretty crazy scenes and some nice performances, especially Johnson, who alternates between William Shatner action-star vocal delivery and Woody Allen-esque nervousness. My favorite scene involved a dream sequence in which Timberlake dances through a skee-ball arcade wearing a bloody shirt, drinking beer and lip-syncing to The Killers' "All These Things that I've Done" (the one that goes "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier"), accompanied by a bunch of girls in sexy nurse outfits and Marilyn Monroe wigs. Hey, why not?

Kelly is definitely trying to go for some political commentary, with explicit mentions of Iraq, George W. Bush, election fraud, civil liberties, and the Patriot Act, but all that kind of gets buried under a bunch of pseudo-scientific junk about time travel and rifts in the fourth dimension. But hey, it ends with a guy shooting at a "megazeppelin" with a rocket launcher while standing on a flying ice cream truck, so there's that. I wouldn't really recommend it to anybody, but I'm glad I watched it, just for the "that's kind of cool" and "what the fuck?!" moments. Enjoy, if it sounds like your sort of thing. I'm sure it will become a cult classic for the ages.

Edit: Somehow, I forgot to mention the stuff about an eccentric mad scientist (played by Wallace "inconceivable!" Shawn, who gets a horrifying make-out scene with Bai Ling) who develops a tide-based source of alternative energy and presents a commercial to the politicians that involves a couple of SUVs fucking. I can't believe I skipped that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Therefore Repent!: It's a little late, isn't it?

Hey, I've got another review besides this one: Madman Atomic Comics #7, over on CB. And don't miss the latest Fourth World panel, right below this post. Enjoy! And enjoy this too:

Therefore Repent!
Written by Jim Munroe
Art by Salgood Sam

So, that "rapture" part of Christian mythology is kind of disturbing, isn't it (I mean, aside from all the other disturbing stuff in the Bible)? Everybody good (with the definition of "good" meaning you agree to say God exists, or whatever) gets sucked up into the sky, leaving everybody else behind, rejected, ignored, and pretty much left to kill each other and rot in hell. Good times! Jim Munroe and Salgood Sam explore a post-rapture world in this freaky graphic novel, and it's a weird, ugly place. For some reason, people seem to have developed magical abilities, and an army of angels outfitted in combat gear is going around killing anybody who practices this "witchcraft". Swell! In the middle of all this are a young couple known only as Mummy and Raven, so called because he wears bandages all over his body and she wears a bird mask over her head. They wander into one of the suburbs of Chicago (but not as far out in the boondocks as the place where I live) and take up residence, getting to know the people in the neighborhood, including a Korean kid who runs his family liquor store, the owner of a local bar, and a couple lesbians who run an interdimensional communications business called "She-mail". Also, their dog starts talking, and Raven starts developing strange ash-controlling powers. Who knows what's going on with this strange world.

So it's a fascinating, rich world that Munroe and Sam have created, but I did find it a bit hard to follow at times. A lot of the story is left up to the reader to infer, or references events and relationships that we don't see. Part of this might be due to the fact that the book is a sort of sequel to Munroe's novel An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil (which began life as a series of faux blog posts, which are still online). Munroe also did a sort of prequel comic with artist Michel Lacomb (also viewable online). So it's not a completely standalone work, but I was able to follow it well enough, especially when it all came together for a very satisfying ending.

But really, I found the best part of the book to be Salgood Sam's art. I've seen his work before on the Image vampire-pirate series Sea of Red, but I didn't think too much of it. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't especially distinctive or interesting to me either. But here, he's working on a whole new level, sumptuously detailing dingy environments, expressive characters, and fantastical creatures. Being a sort of Chicago native, I loved seeing his work with cityscapes (and his depiction of the infamous "bean" sculpture in Millenium Park):

His depictions of animals are also great; the dog, who is a fairly major character, is expressive and even emotive while not seeming cartoony or anthropomorphized. He also comes up with some great layouts, like this dynamic shot of angels deploying:

And I even find the "less-readable" layouts fascinating:

There are at least three different scenes sort of melting into each other there, and I'm not sure how it all works, but it's so well put-together, I keep coming back to it. I especially like the thick, but not oppressive, shading, which adds a nice texture to everything. The character work is pretty great too; I love the girl's expression in this bit:

It makes for a funny/sad scene, and those nicely-defined and -detailed characters make for a good, human grounding to Munroe's crazy world. Finally, I wanted to point out one last bit that wowed me, in which Raven and Mummy have a shared vision that takes the form of the drawings in Mummy's notebook:

It's an effective shift from Sam's normal pencil-shaded style, and the sudden "open-ness" of the art is striking and effective. Nice.

So, yeah, I definitely dug this book. Any perceived storytelling deficiencies that I felt while reading were assuaged by the excellent ending, and the exquisite artwork (and well-drawn characters and fully-realized world) kept me going until then. It makes for a really good book, and I definitely recommend it to anybody who is interested in something a little bit outside the mainstream. Good job, guys.

"Here I come!--You noisy bundle of mangy fur!"

Hmmm. The issue for today's Fourth World panel, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142 might be my least favorite yet. It's got a silly plot about vampire- and werewolf-aliens from a miniature planet, and I had trouble finding one panel awesome enough to spotlight. I decided on this one, because I like the perspective:

But it's also got some awkward coloring in the background, so whatever. There's also this bit, which I thought was cool:

But there's not much else worth mentioning in the issue. Bummer. But the next issue is titled "The Genocide Spray", which sounds awesome, so maybe it'll lead to something cool. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shojo Beat: Fairies, cute demon girls, demon dogs, and dismemberment; sounds like a teen girls' magazine to me!

It's time for the monthly dose of girliness, but first, I've got a review of the first issue of Garth Ennis' new Marvel MAX war series, War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle. I thought it was pretty damn good, even though I generally dislike Howard Chaykin's art. Okay, on to the main event:

Shojo Beat
April 2008

As the cover says, this is "the anime issue", but there's really only a little bit about animation within, limited to a list of editor Nancy Thistlethwaite's favorite titles, a mention of the upcoming Vampire Knight series, and brief articles about the anime versions of Honey and Clover, Nana, and Haruka (Viz is releasing the first two, so there's some cross-promotion going on here). So, whatever. On to the manga:

Fairy Cube
By Kaori Yuki

This month's preview chapter is of a new series by Kaori Yuki, the creator of Godchild and Angel Sanctuary. I've read some of the former, when it used to be serialized in the magazine, and I hated it; it was all so nonsensical and pointlessly gothic. So I'm generally not disposed to like her work, even though I've heard Angel Sanctuary is pretty good. This one wouldn't normally lead me to think otherwise, but there seems to be some interesting metaphorical stuff going on here. The story has to do with a boy named Ian who is being stalked by a troublemaking spiritual double of himself named Tokage, who is always causing problems. Of course, nobody believes him when he claims he can see fairies, so he's known as "Ian the Liar". He used to be friends with a girl named Rin, and even got her to see fairies with him, but he distanced himself from her because he believed she was going to get hurt by dangerous fairies or something. Now that they're both in high school, she is trying to get close to him again and find out what his deal is. And there's also some crazy stuff about a serial killer who seems fairy-related and magical forces at work and whatnot. But the interesting angle, to me, is the way this all seems to be a metaphor for abuse. Both Ian and Rin have abusive parents, and it seems like the series will be a look at the way children deal with abuse, constructing fantasy worlds for themselves as an escape from the terror of their lives. Of course, Yuki might be going in a different direction, involving Ian and Rin in a quest through faerie as they fight murderous creatures or something. But this chapter, at least, seemed pretty resonant, and had some striking imagery, like this shot of Ian and Rin seeing fairies:

So who knows how the series will turn out, but I'm intrigued by the first chapter.

Gaba Kawa
By Rie Takada

And here's the debut of the magazine's new series, from the creator of Punch! and Happy Hustle High. It's about a demon girl named Rara who is posing as a human as a way to romance her dream guy, a demon named Hiroshi Akusawa, who is the top performer of evil deeds on earth. She's a cute, spunky protagonist, and she has a snooty rival named Bibi who is also going after Aku. It's your basic shojo comedy, with a supernatural twist. Also, she ends up falling for a human guy, which will surely cause plenty of craziness in the future. Takada has a pretty appealing style, with lots of dynamism and expressive conversations. She goes to the super-deformed well a bit more often that I would prefer, but she has an interesting way of doing it, reducing her characters to rounded, baby-like figures:

Eh, the series seems nice enough, but I'm kind of glad it's only five chapters long. Who knows, it might turn into something awesome in the future, but for now it's just a pleasant enough source of cuteness. We'll see how it goes.

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

Well, I managed to go one month without talking about my most-disliked series, but this issue has something to talk about. A short article describes the video game it is based on, and it kind of explains what is up with the series. While I had assumed it was a role-playing game (it's about a girl whisked to the past and gifted with magic powers who teams up with eight guardians and tasked to fight an evil force), it's actually in the "neoromance" genre. This means it's kind of a girly type of dating sim, in which you can try to romance each of the eight guardians, who all have different personalities and plots and whatnot. So now I understand the weird plotting of the series, and the focus on the different people that are joining Akane's army. Sure, it's still not done very well in terms of clear storytelling and sensical plotting, but if the focus is all on the possibility of romance with the various hot guys in the cast, does any of that matter to the intended audience? It might be the first case of a series in the magazine that is so opposed to my point of view that I just can't get into it. I guess my propensity for reading stuff aimed at young girls was going to come back to haunt me at some point.

So anyway, this chapter focuses on the past of one of those guardians, Major General Tachibana. In a flashback, we see that he was a player, always scoring with the princess's handmaidens and refusing to be serious about relationships. But, the teenage reader thinks, maybe I could get him to finally settle down! As always, I say "meh". On the positive side, I did enjoy this sound effect:

But that's about the only thing I liked. Let's get back to the weird stuff, so I can feel like I'm not completely wasting my time reading it.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

This chapter, Zero and Yuki face off against some vampire assassins who think Zero killed Shizuka Hio. But then the vampire students show up to save the day, and one of the bad guys totally gets his arm blown off:

Whoa. Other than that, it's more of the same confrontations and talking that happens every month in this series. But it looks like there might be some plot movement, with the impending shojo milestone in which Yuki faces the choice between her two love interests. Drama! I also like the idea of Kaname struggling to control his newfound power (which he acquired after he killed Shizuka Hio). Maybe it will cause him to actually emote; he's one of the most annoyingly inexpressive characters I've ever seen. Come on, man, crack a smile or make a frowny face or something! So, yeah, business as usual; I expect the series should be able to keep my interest.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

All right, some volleyball action! I always like the infrequent times when an actual volleyball game occurs in this series. This month, we see Nobara and her adopted team play some "real" athletes, the college team at Central Sokai University. To complicate matters, Nobara's love interest, Yushin, shows up to watch, and maybe even realize his feelings for her:

Ooh, how cute! Hopefully there will be some setbacks or something next month; things seem to be going altogether too easy at the moment. Sure, a victory will be nice, but you gotta earn it. And then we can get back to the main plot and do the whole "team learning to work together" thing. Go team!

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Another good chapter of one of my favorite series, but that's almost become a given each month. This time, Ann gets to travel back to the country and be with her boyfriend Daigo for the summer, but she's still guilty and emotionally conflicted about that time (last month) when Fuji kissed her. Cue the angst. We also get some drama about Fuji's sister Shika being pestered by their mother to act ladylike and not associate with "commoners" like Ann. And then there's the awkwardness between Ann and Daigo, which begins in this hilarious scene which takes place in his messy bedroom:

Hilarious. But it leads to some awkward making out in which she gets mad at him for being too forward. Ah, the worries of teenagers. I love how it's all so realistically portrayed, even with the amped up levels of emotion and drama that you get with manga.

So yeah, it's a good chapter of a great series. I'm never disappointed by this one. Let's keep that streak going!

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

And then there's this series, which is just incredibly enjoyable, full of hilarity and drama. First, the gang gets together for a dinner party (with some horrible food made by Hagu, like "Chocolate Mintkin", a half-pumpkin filled with scoops of chocolate mint ice cream), which turns into a birthday party for Takemoto (nobody remembered). Morita comes up with an impromptu gift: a homemade "Twister" mat. This leads to a hilarious scene of the two of them having a match and getting painfully entangled:

While the others call out ridiculous colors like "pale pink", "mineral violet", and "passion blue", watching in horror and turning into characters out of a manga by Kazuo Umezu or Hideshi Hino:

Oh god, that's some laugh-out-loud funny stuff. To me, at least.

And then we've got the usual drama, as Takemoto continues to pine for Hagu, while at the same time, she seems to be falling for Morita (who probably reciprocates, since he always picks on her, in the manner of pre-teen boys with crushes). And Mayama pines for his old boss, while Yamada pines for Mayama. And Professor Hanamoto, off on a research trip to Mongolia, misses Hagu desperately:

There's also a funny bit where Takemoto hangs out with Hagu, but she's watching a neighbor's dog, a poodle that is drawn with a face like a Japanese demon that seems ready to eviscerate him. Like always, the series is a great mix of comedy and drama, with nice art and some really poignant moments. It's another series that I really love, and I can't wait to read more of it each month.

Okay, I think that's it for this month. I'll be back with more next time. As for other content, I've got at least two books on my plate that I need to review, so hopefully I'll be able to find time to do so. Watch this space!

Monday, March 17, 2008

This week, there's not as many new comics of note, which is fine by me

Now I can try to get caught up on my reading (and blogging), and manage to actually save some money. Um, nothing new to point to on other sites today, so on to:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 3/19/08):

Boy Who Made Silence #1

I picked this book up in a different (self-published?) form at Wizard World Chicago last summer, and I liked it quite a bit. Now it's being published by Markosia, so I'm going to have to make a point of picking it up.

Everybody's Dead #1

Just what everybody has been clamoring for: another book about zombies. This one, from IDW, seems to take a jokey look at frat boys and how they would deal with the apocalypse. Normally I wouldn't care, but I like the artist, Dave Crosland. So I might take a look.

Programme #9

More post-Cold War superhuman violence. And race wars. And other weirdness. Hey, am I the only one who didn't realize Senator Joe was black until last issue? That was confusing.

War is Hell First Flight Phantom Eagle #1

A new war miniseries from Garth Ennis and Howard Chaykin, about fighter pilots in World War I. I almost always like Ennis's war comics, so I expect this to be good. In fact, I've got a preview PDF of this issue that I need to read and write a review of, so I should be linking to that tomorrow. Don't let me down, Garth!

Wasteland #15

Okay, I'm on board this series for the long haul now. Last issue was the periodical inter-storyline fill-in (and it was quite good), and now a new storyline starts. Should be awesome.

Al Capps Complete Shmoo The Comic Books HC

This is one of Dark Horse's overpriced "archive" collections, but I would love to check it out. It's a spinoff of Capp's L'il Abner strip, and I'm sure it's quite good. But I might never know, since I refuse to pay so damn much for these books. Come on, Dark Horse, put out stuff that's affordable!

Asterix Omnibus vol. 1
Asterix Omnibus vol. 2

Oh man, I would love to get these (they're new collections from Sterling Publishing). I don't think I've actually read any Asterix, although my grandparents, who used to live in France, had a bunch of the albums, and my sister and I used to beg them to read them to us (they were in French, so we couldn't understand them). I've always wanted to get some translated versions of the books, and this looks like a good option. Maybe someday I'll be able to afford them.

Batman Killing Joke Special Ed. HC

Here's a new edition of the seminal Alan Moore/Brian Bolland comic that ruined Batman for around 20 years. And even though the original was, what, six dollars? You can pay ridiculous prices for a super-special edition! Eh, it's not a bad comic, but definitely not one of my favorite Alan Moore books. The art's nice, at the very least, but it's kind of a wallow in misery with a "Dude, Batman and Joker are, like, both kind of psychotic, am I right?" ending. I'll pass.

Maintenance vol. 2

Hey, a new collection of the cool humor book about janitors who clean up after mad scientists! I have all the issues, but Oni sent me a review copy of the trade, so I might write something up about it. I do highly recommend it though.

North World Vol 1 GN

Also from Oni, this looks to be a webcomicky fantasy-type story. I've also got a review copy of this one, so I'll try to get it read and reviewed soon.

Princess at Midnight

A new Andi Watson graphic novel! Similar (in format and price, and probably style as well) to his excellent Glister series! I think this was previously published in a "Best New Manga" anthology, but I haven't read it, so I'm all over it. Don't let me down, Andi!

Punisher War Journal vol. 2

I haven't been following this series, but it often receives a fair bit of acclaim, and I do like Matt Fraction, so I might end up reading it sometime. I did read the most recent issue, and it didn't do too much for me, but maybe I had to have been reading to understand it better. Eh, I'm not really a Punisher fan anyway, so I'll probably continue to pass.

My Heavenly Hockey Club Vol 4 GN

Now for the manga! I hear this is a really fun series. Maybe I'll get to it someday. I say that a lot, don't I?

Phoenix Vol 12 Early Works TP

Ooh, I think this is the final volume of Viz's Phoenix series. I think the previous one finished up the series proper, and this is a collection of early bits and pieces that didn't fit into any of the other volumes. But I'll still read it whenever I finally get to it; I'm not gonna pass up any Tezuka if I have the chance.

Shojo Beat Vol 4 #4 Apr 08

Good stuff in this issue; I hope to have a review up soon. Soon!

With The Light Raising An Autistic Child Vol 2 GN

And here's the second volume of courageous motherhood triumphing over adversity. I liked the first volume quite a bit, so I'll definitely have to pick this up when I get the chance.

And that's all! We'll see when I'm able to get another post done; new fatherhood doesn't provide a lot of free time. Later!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Derby hats vs. UFOs

Quickly: I've got a review of Checker's reprint of Winsor McCay's Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays up at Comics Bulletin, so check that out (if you feel like it). Then:

Today's Fourth World panel is all about the weird dialogue:

I have no idea what that means, but it amused me. Usually Kirby's dialogue makes a twisted sort of sense, but that statement is just odd. Anyway, it's the first appearance of "Terrible Turpin", who later went on to become a supporting player in the Superman books (this is the same Dan Turpin, right?).

Also in this issue (since I can't stop myself from scanning more than just one panel for each of these posts): Orion cackling madly as he beats an Apokaliptian beastie to death:

That's pretty brutal and unexpected, to see the hero of the book savagely killing a villain. I imagine it was a surprise to readers at the time, and it was a good hint of the coming revelation about Orion's origins. Nice. And awesome, of course. I can't wait for the next issue, in which Orion has to face some sort of giant mutated whale.

On another note, this issue is the debut of inker Mike Royer (in the Fourth World comics anyway; I believe he had previously worked with Kirby at Marvel), who worked with Kirby a lot over the years. Now, I know Vince Colletta gets a lot of flack as a poor inker, but judging by this issue, I think I prefer his work to Royer's. So far, at least. I know I've read some later stuff that Royer inked, like The Eternals and Captain Victory, and I liked it a lot, so maybe he got better as he went on. But just comparing the image above to the previous issue of New Gods, Colletta seems to make the faces less "messy". Well, we'll see how it goes through the rest of the book. For this volume, Royer inks all the books except Jimmy Olsen, which Colletta continues on.

Next time: It's the vampire bit!

Monday, March 10, 2008

This week, there are too damn many comics. Aargh!

Hey, in case you didn't notice, I've got a review of Phoenix: Dawn below this post. I wrote it last night, but Blogger wouldn't let me post pictures, so I managed to get it working this morning. I just wanted to make sure nobody missed it. Also, I've got a collaborative review (with crazy Dutchman Martijn Form) of Narcopolis #2 up at Comics Bulletin. And then:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 3/12/08):

Atomic Robo #6

The final issue of this first miniseries, although a second (ongoing?) series is supposed to continue in the fall. I'm still really enjoying it, although the ongoing story about a rampaging robotic Egyptian pyramid seems to have derailed in favor of a flashback story about Robo's archenemy, whom he defeated in the first issue. Oh well, it's still really fun reading, with some cool artwork. I'll keep taking the ride.

Bat Lash #4

Mass slaughter! Well, that's what last issue's cliffhanger suggested, anyway. I'm starting to wonder if I should keep reading this series, but I've come this far, so I'll go the distance. It's definitely not bad, especially if you dig the westerns. And hey, John Severin's art is pretty sweet.

Cemetery Blues #2

I never did get the first issue of this series about bumbling gravediggers/monster hunters, but I ordered it from my shop, so maybe they'll stick this in my pull box. I hope it's worth it.

Comic Book Comics #1

Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy's follow-up to Action Philosophers, exploring the history of early comics and their creators. I'll follow these guys anywhere, but if the story in the Awesome! anthology is any indication, I won't have to worry about a lack of quality.

Goon #22

Man, this is coming out like clockwork. Sweet. Last issue was pretty great, exploring the history of the zombie priest (and having the Goon fight a giant transvestite). I don't know what Eric Powell has in store, but I'm excited to read it.

Gutsville #3

Whoa, this is late. But I'm glad it finally showed up; Frazier Irving has become one of my favorite artists, and this is one crazy, weird-ass story. If I remember correctly, our characters were exploring the intestines of their giant host, looking for an exit. I expect plenty of viscera and psychedelia. Don't let me down, guys!

Madman Atomic Comics #7

Man, last issue was disappointing. I hope Mike Allred can get back on track after that (admittedly pretty) disaster. Don't drive me away from one of my all-time favorite books, Mike!

Maintenance #9

Here's another one that is coming out more regularly, which is quite welcome. This issue, our heroes (accompanied by a caveman scientist and a man-shark) venture into space to rescue Mendy the receptionist. I can't wait.

Screamland #1

I read (and reviewed) a preview of this issue a while back, and it was pretty interesting, a look at Frankenstein and other monsters as aging screen stars looking for work. I don't know if I'll follow it, but mostly just because I'm financially strapped (especially this week. Yikes!).

DMZ vol. 4 Friendly Fire

This was a really good storyline, and the last one I bought in monthly form before switching to trades. I definitely recommend it if you like DMZ. Man, I can't wait to read more of this series.

Empowered vol. 3

Whoa, more Adam Warren exploitative wackiness! I really like this series, so I'm looking forward to reading this one. I expect more sex, cheesecake, cool action, and subversive superhero comedy. And hopefully more character development and just plain nice writing and art. Don't let me down, Adam!

Gumby vol. 1

I haven't been reading this Bob Burden/Rick Geary series, but I've heard it's quite good, with plenty of surreal comedy. So maybe I'll consider reading it sometime.

Justice League International HC

I never read the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire incarnation of the Justice League, but I always hear that it was great. And now DC is finally collecting it, so maybe I can read it sometime. I don't think I'll shell out any cash for it, but I might look for it at the library or something...

Wormwood vol. 2 It Only Hurts When I Pee

Ooh, more of Ben Templesmith's sublimely twisted, demonic, grotesque, tentacle-filled book of weirdness. I liked the first volume a whole bunch, and I really want to read this one. Unfortunately, I can't afford it right now, but it's going right on the wish list. I'll be able to get to it soon, I hope.

Ichigeki Sacchu Hoihoi-San GN

In this week's manga releases, this one looks plenty weird and goofy. It's about a cute little-girl-shaped robot that kills bugs. Hey, why not?

Metro Survive Vol 1 GN

Here's another interesting-looking manga about a mild-mannered guy who has to lead a group of survivors trapped in a subway after an earthquake. Sounds like it could be a cool survival-horror story along the lines of Dragon Head. Sounds like one to keep an eye on.

Suppli Vol 2 GN

Here's the second volume of the adult women's romance series. I liked the first one, so I'll try to grab this when I can. Go Minami!

Switch Vol 1 GN

This is a new series from Viz, looking to be a seinen manga about drugs, cops, violence, etc. I might read it.

And I think that's everything for the week. We'll see what I'm able to afford, and how badly my wife hurts me if I spend too much. There might be more blogging coming up, but we'll see how much time I have. Later!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Phoenix: That is one hot birdie

Okay, we'll see how much of this I can get through tonight; baby- and wife-care takes up most of my time at the moment (not that I'm complaining; I'm loving every moment of it), so we'll see how often I'm able to sneak away and write reviews or whatever. This is a book I simply must talk about though, so expect something long-winded. But worth it, because Tezuka rocks!

Phoenix, volume 1: Dawn
By Osamu Tezuka

So here's the beginning of Osamu Tezuka's great, unfinished masterpiece, his life's work. A few years ago, I read the second volume of the series, Future, after checking it out from a library, and loved it. This was before I had read much manga, if any at all, but it really blew me away with its combination of cartooniness and sophisticated sci-fi storytelling. At the time, that was the only volume of the series available in the U.S., but Viz has now published the full series (what there is of it; Tezuka died before ending it), so I'm able to start from the beginning and take the whole thing in order (which is also out-of-order, at least chronologically; Tezuka structured the series to jump back and forth in time with each volume, converging toward the present).

But having read that second volume, I wasn't quite prepared for the power of this one. Rather than being a cosmic sci-fi tale, it's more of a historical story, looking at early Japanese cultures and warfare, with a similar emphasis on life, death, and humanity's purpose in the universe. In fact, it also shares some of the same philosophical questions as Buddha, helping to provide a fascinating look at Tezuka's worldview.

But it's also a rip-roaring tale of violence, war, revenge, power, and lust for immortality (which are probably themes of the entire series, judging by the first two installments). It begins in third-century Japan, as a primitive tribe of people worry about the fate of one of their warriors, who has gone to try to capture the titular bird, which is rumored to provide immortality to anyone who drinks its blood. He dies trying (it's way too early in the series for anyone to even come close to succeeding at that task), dooming his sick wife Hinaku, who is being watched over by his young brother, Nagi. But then a man from a neighboring island washes up onshore, and luckily he's a doctor (in a cute bit of Tezuka humor, his name is "Em Dee"). He manages to cure Hinaku, and then marries her, only to later reveal himself as a spy for his home country of Yamatai, whose warriors invade and annihilate the population of the village, killing everyone, including women and children.

The only survivor is Nagi (oh, and also Hinaku, who is spirited away by Em Dee), and he lives because the leader of the Yamatai army, Saruta, decides to take him as his slave. When they return to Yamatai, we learn that their queen, Himiko, is getting old, and is also seeking the Phoenix in an effort to regain her youth. She's a sorceress who keeps her people in line with "magic", but as she ages, her people are losing their trust in her, and she's afraid they will rise up against her.

Meanwhile, Nagi has sworn to kill Saruta in revenge for his village, but Saruta intends to train him with the bow, in order to kill the Phoenix for Hinaku, whom he worships and reveres without question. From there, the plot takes plenty of twists and turns, involving assassination plots, more Phoenix-hunting, escapes, attempts to rebuild a decimated society, and another invading army that sets up a huge and exciting climactic battle. It's great reading. Similar to Jack Kirby, it seems to me that Tezuka kind of wrote this stuff off the top of his head, coming up with awesome scenes and crazy, incongruous jokes on the fly. I'm sure he had key plot and character points in mind, but one definitely gets the feeling that anything can happen in his stories.

But they're still grounded in character, and Tezuka manages to build those characters in the middle of action scenes, rather than using lengthy exposition. Saruta is a favorite of mine from this volume (and from what I understand, he is reincarnated several times in future volumes); he loves and worships his queen, but isn't stupid. He wants what is right for his people, and he stick up for those he loves. He's a big, tough man, but surprisingly sensitive. You can see his growing affection for Nagi over the course of the book, eventually referring to him as his son in a few rather touching scenes. He also takes an interesting visual turn; here's how he initially looks:

But a mid-story incident involving hornet-based torture morphs him into a more recognizable form:

That's right, he's Tezuka's recurring "Big Nose" character! In addition to his appearances in Phoenix, he also had a role in Black Jack. Cool.

Many of the other characters in the story are very well-realized and fascinating, including the aging, increasingly ugly Himiko. Dig the way Tezuka makes her age over the course of the book:

Tezuka does something similar with Nagi; at the beginning of the story, he's a young, naive child:

But by the end, he has matured into a brave, fierce (although still young) warrior:

It's pretty subtle, but unless it's only psychological on my part, I see a lengthening of the limbs, a reduction in the size of the eyes, and a slight change in the shape of the face. But it's nothing obvious; it seems like the character has just grown over the course of the story.

I haven't even gotten to other characters that fascinated me, like Hinako's brother Susano, a manipulative schemer who turns out to have the land's best interests in mind when he begs her to give up her mystical hokum; or Hinaku, who vows to repopulate her village by birthing a thousand children. But I also wanted to talk about Tezuka's amazing artwork. As always, he pens stunning landscapes and interesting layouts, but he does plenty of other great storytelling. I love the sometimes variable level of detail he uses, especially in crowd scenes or action scenes. Sometimes he'll reduce the people to near-abstractions, conveying just enough detail to get across the idea of what is going on (although his skill is such that the lack of detail is probably not even noticeable):

But other time's he'll give every person in a crowd unique features, emphasizing their individuality:

He could also draw some incredible action, viscerally capturing the reader's attention:

And although his style is cartoony, he didn't spare the detail when dealing with harsh themes like war and genocide; plenty of gory deaths happen on panel, and they're felt as much as if they were rendered photorealistically. He also uses some really cool effects here; I especially liked one scene in which Saruta and Nagi met up with men from another civilization, who ride on strange beasts. Tezuka bathes that first encounter in deep shadows as if the sun is shining directly into the readers eyes, emphasizing the mystery of these unknown creatures:

I love that sort of thing, and I love how Tezuka seemed to do it instinctively.

And then there's the weird humor, which I feel like I can't talk about Tezuka without mentioning. I don't know if he did it because he got bored or something, but he would inject some strange stuff into his comics, from slapstick, to fourth-wall-breaking antics, to anachronisms, to just plain silliness. That sort of thing is all over this book, and while I've become accustomed to seeing it in his works (and actually enjoy it quite a bit; much of it is hilarious), it must be really strange to a newcomer. But I guess it's something you have to be ready for when reading Tezuka. Here are some of my favorites:

Tezuka makes a cameo:

Nagi converses with his creator:

Some animals engage in slapstick while fleeing a volcano eruption:

Himiko turns into various historical leaders while giving a speech:

Some wolves engage in various styles of motion while advancing on some prey (the first tier is "Kabuki style", continued from the previous page):

Hyoutan-Tsugi, Tezuka's recurring "punch-line" character, inserts himself into an Old-West-style showdown (the last two panels have been removed to avoid a spoiler):

There's tons more of that sort of thing, but I think I've gone on long enough. Suffice to say, I love Tezuka's comics, and this one is excellent. It's a great story, and I'm sure it will serve as a wonderful foundation for the rest of the series (whenever I get around to reading it). So now I've only got another eleven volumes to go...