Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dororo: Never fall in love with a demon

Still getting caught up, it seems. I've also got a review of Water Baby up at Comics Bulletin. Not a bad bit of writing, if I do say so myself. Sometimes I'm not completely satisfied with a review when I finish it, and other times I feel like everything worked out pretty well. This is one of the latter.

Dororo, volume 2
By Osamu Tezuka



The reason this series was never finished becomes slightly more obvious in this second volume, as Osamu Tezuka seems to be casting about for a direction for the series, unsure of where he wants to go with the concept. A samurai warrior traveling the land and recovering his lost body parts from demons must not have been enough, because this volume sees him confront the family that rejected him, a plot that could have waited several more volumes for resolution (or maybe that's just the more modern style of manga storytelling; things have changed a lot since the late sixties). Then, his boy sidekick is revealed to have a map to a great treasure etched on his back, providing another running series hook, as Hyakkimaru tries to convince Dororo to seek out the treasure and use it to help the common people. It's an odd, kind of unfocused continuing plot, but that seems to be Tezuka's style anyway, letting stories flow whichever direction his muse took him. And it's not like it's any less entertaining; the series continues to dazzle with big, bloody action, weird demonic fiends, and nutty plot twists.

At the beginning of the volume, Hyakkimaru and Dororo come across a strange wall sitting in the middle of a barren landscape. They stop there to sleep, but are attacked by a bunch of fox spirits, and Hyakkimaru ends up fighting them throughout the night:



It turns out to be an evil place, as they find when soldiers show up the next morning and line a bunch of peasants up against the wall, then execute them with arrows. It's a pretty harsh scene, with Tezuka unflinchingly depicting men, women, and even children being ruthlessly killed. Dororo eventually loses it and attacks the soldiers, and Hyakkimaru saves him before he can be killed, confronting their leader, a strangely familiar nobleman who calls his men off once he figures out who the weird, prosthetic-limbed swordsman is (his long-lost son, of course!). Our heroes then set out toward the local town, where the plot splits into two halves, as Hyakkimaru meets up with his father's family, including the younger brother he never knew he had, and has a dramatic reunion with his mother, which leads to a sad scene of denial:



Meanwhile, Dororo gets captured by the townspeople and beaten mercilessly:



That seems to happen to him a lot. We learn that the town sits on the border between two warring kingdoms, so it was split, with people on each side arbitrarily assigned to a kingdom and sent to battle their neighbors. Dororo befriends a street urchin who was stranded on the side of the wall opposite his home, left unable to return home and reunite with his family. It's a nice commentary on the ridiculousness of war, which can gather up people who care nothing about borders and politics and give them a pointless reason to murder the people they used to be friends with. Eventually, the culprits behind the whole dispute are revealed to be a group of fox demons who have been filling people with rage toward outsiders, resulting in lots of dead bodies for them to feed on. That's as good a symbol of propaganda-wielding governments as I can think of.

Eventually, the two plot threads come together, and Hyakkimaru has one of those emotional battles that work so well in samurai stories:



Then, he defeats the evil fox spirit, leading to an awesome display of victory:



His father is left alive though, so there's still room for a big confrontation, which, given the truncated nature of the series, might or might not happen in the next volume.

The next story is more about Dororo (although there is some nice suicidal angst on Hyakkimaru's part); after being banished from Hyakkimaru's presence, he goes off on his own and befriends a strange woman who acts motherly toward him. She's obviously got some sort of deadly secret though, but he is so lonely and misses his mom so much, he sticks with her. It's a nice bit of characterization; Dororo talks tough, but he's still a vulnerable kid underneath all the bluster. The woman's secret involves a face-stealing demon who takes the form of a Buddha statue and controls a waterfall, commanding her to lure monks to sit under the stream of water, where he kills them and takes their features as his own. While Dororo comes close to being killed by the demon, Hyakkimaru ends up getting over his self-loathing and returns to save the day, in a predictably awesome manner.

The final story in the volume begins in a crazy manner, as the pair of adventurers get saddled with a monstrous child that won't stop following them around:



They end up getting mixed up in the affairs of a town which used to have an orphanage run by a kindly nun, until it burned down. There's also a weird-looking nobleman who has a strange wife and servants. I wonder if they'll turn out to be demons? There are plenty of crazy twists and turns, but it ends up with Hyakkimaru managing to lead the townspeople against the monsters, which turn out to be led by a freaky moth-creature:



And with a nice X-Men-style scene in which the villagers distrust our heroes and chase them away, we finish the volume. It's another excellent piece of Tezuka awesomeness, with some dynamic action, nasty monsters, and good characterization. It probably doesn't hold together as well as some of Tezuka's other works, but it's still a really fun read, with some amazing content. I love the barely-lit silhouette-style of art he uses at times, and it works especially well in the middle of an action scene here:



And the monster art is wonderfully weird. Here's a really cool effect that he throws in:



And the wacky, fourth-wall-breaking humor continues to feature, with characters mentioning anachronistic details, or Dororo asking Tezuka not to reveal a non-manly moment to readers. And then there's his "secret move", which is simply screaming really loud:



That stuff cracks me up.

On a side note, the notes that are provided in the margins are wonderful, explaining cultural references, language-based jokes, and anything else that isn't immediately clear in the translation. This should be a standard manga feature, in my opinion.

So like I said, it's a great read, especially for Tezuka junkies like me. It might not be his best work, but I'll take anything by him that I can find.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

COWA!: there are no cows in this book

Man, I am way behind on writing about books I've read recently, so I'm actually reading a novel for once, in hopes of catching up. It's Catch-22, one of my favorites, but I have to read it again because my wife doesn't believe it's actually as good as I remember it. She gave it a try a couple years ago, but gave up after twenty pages or so, which seems crazy to me. So she says if I read it again and still think it's good, she'll try again. I think she's destined to lose this challenge, because I'm loving it so far, and I haven't even gotten to any of my favorite parts. I'll keep reading. Take that, illiteracy!

In addition to the review below, I've also got a look at Fantastic Four: True Story #1 up at Comics Bulletin. Dig it.

COWA!
By Akira Toriyama



I still haven't read hardly any of Akira Toriyama's more famous works, but after checking out this kids' book, I'll definitely want to read more of his stuff. In this one-volume work, he tells the story of some monster kids who end up going on a quest to save their village when everybody gets the "monster flu", necessitating the need to travel far away and buy some medicine from a witch. Leading the group is Paifu, a half-vampire, half-werekoala who has personality to spare. He's a headstrong kid who barrels into every situation without thinking, dragging his friends along with him. The one who gets included most often (and with the most reservations) is Jose, a ghost kid who always gets wrapped up in Paifu's schemes, but Paifu's rival Arpon, a Japanese-style yokai monster (he probably fits a familiar type, but I don't know what it is) who is always in competition with Paifu, whether the latter cares or not:



Rounding out the main cast is Mr. Maruyama, a human and former sumo wrestler who moved to Paifu's secluded village after accidentally killing an opponent. He's actually the most interesting character in the book, coming off as irritable and stand-offish, but revealing himself as lonely, friendly, and loyal through his actions, a testament to Toriyama's storytelling skill. In a string of jokes that probably read better in Japanese, the kids mispronounce his name as "Marumaya", badger him to learn his first name (it's Mako, which he is embarrassed about, because it sounds like a girl's name), and then call him "Makoleen", because it's easier to say. He gets mad at them about this at first, but eventually gives up and just accepts it, as adults usually end up doing with kids' annoying behavior.

It's incredibly fun to watch these goofy characters as they go on their journey. The kids often react with astonishment at the crazy human world they've never seen, getting excited about simple pleasures:



Most of their interactions with humans end up in fights, which is highly enjoyable, since if there's anything Toriyama can draw the hell out of, it's fighting. Paifu is especially fun to watch, since he always leads with his head:



He also has the ability to turn into a giant, ferocious koala, leading to some really funny gags involving the others trying to get him to turn normal again. And Makoleen, being a champion sumo wrestler, is a force to be reckoned with:



It makes for a rousing story, with some exciting action, hilarious jokes, and just an all-around good time. I love Toriyama's art here, which seems kind of different than his usual style at first (at least, from my limited experience), with simple, rounded characters that have dots for eyes (but pointy ears still reign supreme). When the more human-looking characters debut, they feature the more familiar, triangular-shaped eyes and hairstyles (or bald heads) that mark them as Toriyama cast members, but he still throws in plenty of unique creatures and locales. The settings are beautifully-realized as well, with a colored opening chapter that gives the monster village a dark, spooky feel, full of bizarre creatures and weird-looking houses:



This contrasts nicely with the normal-looking human cities, and also with the creepy forest and tall mountain where the medicine-making witch lives.

It's just tons of fun (sorry if I'm overusing that word) throughout, and there are tons of other details that I could point out, such as the Donkey Kong-like sound effect that results when Paifu runs:



Or Paifu and Arpon totally kancho-ing a mean guy:



It's an excellent book, fun for all ages and a hell of a good read. I've really got to read more of Toriyama's manga. He's definitely one of the best there is at what he does.

This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

This might be the last week...ever!

Bummer stuff coming up, but first I'll point to my review of Glamourpuss #2 over at Comics Bulletin. Oh, Dave Sim, you can cheer up the gloomiest soul. And them piss him off all over again.

So the bad news (for me, at least) is that my wife and I sat down and took a look at our finances, and due to the new addition to the family and the cost of gas and food and whatnot, the budget for comics has shrunk to pretty much zero. Hell, gas alone is costing us something like $200 more each month than it did a year or two ago, so there goes my comics money right there. I'll probably be able to buy stuff here and there, but I definitely won't be able to continue picking up three or four issues each week, much less the graphic novels, trades, and manga that I usually end up buying. So, that sucks. I do plan to keep writing about what I read here, but I'll just have to rely more on review copies and the local public library. I might try to continue to keep covering the weekly releases, since that seems to be a popular feature, but not actually getting to buy a lot of what I talk about might just get too depressing. But let's try to give it at least one last hurrah, okay?

New comics this week (Wednesday, 7/30/08):

Batman Death Mask #4

See, here's a book I would like to read, but it's just not essential enough for me to insist on purchasing it. It has been pretty fun, in a weird sort of way, with goofy Japanese takes on Batman and his world. But I think I can skip it.

Comic Book Comics #2

And this, since it comes out so irregularly, is probably a book I can spend a few bucks on. I needs me my Van Lente/Dunlavey exploration of comics history.

Fantastic Four: True Story #1

This new miniseries by Paul Cornell and Horacio Domingues sees the FF enter the world of fiction to save it from some sort of invasion. Expect a review from me sometime today over at Comics Bulletin, but I'll say that it's entertaining, and future issues could get really fun.

Haunt of Horror Lovecraft #2

Rrrg. I really want to buy this, but maybe I shouldn't. See, it's like quitting smoking or something. But, man, Richard Corben is great. What better use of my money is there than to see him depict Lovecraftian monstrosities?

Newuniversal: 1959

In a backstory-filling one-shot, Kieron Gillen tells the story of what happened in the titular year, when some people got superpowers and the government exterminated them. At least, that's what I think happened, judging by comments made by characters in Warren Ellis's main series. While I enjoy that series, and maybe offshoots like this, I think it's one that I can do away with without too much harm.

Northlanders #8

Well, I've gotta get this, the finale to Brian Wood's opening storyline on his Viking book. Although, the story mostly finished last issue, so this will probably be more of an epilogue. I can stop after this one; that's all I need.

Narcopolis #4

And here's another one that I might or might not want to pick up, mainly because I wouldn't mind seeing how Jamie Delano's story of futuristic totalitarianism ends. But is it essential? Probably not.

Pigeons from Hell #4

No contest here; I've gotta get this ending to Joe R. Lansdale and Nathan Fox's horror-fest. It's one of my favorite minis of the year, with a nasty, chilling story and some awesomely gore-filled artwork. Let's hope it reaches a worthy ending.

Babysitter GN

From Slave Labor Graphics, creator Andy Ristaino tells the story of a Japanese high school girl who babysits in her spare time when she's not doing typical Japanese teenager stuff, like battling giant robots, ghosts, and aliens. Looks like a silly take on Japanese culture, from somebody who makes sure to note that he's never visited the country. Could be fun. I can't find an official site, or even any information on Slave Labor's site, but here's an image of the cover that I found elsewhere.

Dead Men Tell No Tales TP

A pirate comic about Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Black Bart searching for the lost relics of Christ. Written by Dwight McPherson, creator of The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allen Poo. Cover by Ben Templesmith. Maybe enjoyable?

Dream Maiden Megan GN

Also from Slave Labor, it's a graphic novel about a normal teenager who finds a portal to another dimension in his closet, and ends up ensnared by the titular character, a self-centered, mystical party girl who delivers dreams to him. Also maybe enjoyable? Slave Labor's site actually has information about this one.

Little Nemo In Slumberland Vol 2 Limited Edition HC

Checker's second and final volume collecting Winsor McCay's influential series. Features color and black and white art, with strips from 1914-1916 and 1926. Checker's page has some art samples. Man, I would love to read this sometime.

Mr Spic Goes To Washington TP

Oh, that's not offensive or anything. This actually looks to be a satirical story about a former L.A. gangbanger who ends up running for the U.S. Senate. The art style seems purposely crude, but it might be an interesting look at politics. Here's the official page from publisher Soft Skull Press, and here's an interview with creator Ilan Stavans about the book.

Neverland GN

Cartoonist Dave Kiersh tells "a post-modern fairytale of love, loneliness, and mordant self-deprecation", using a crazy, detail-packed art style. Here are some sample pages: part one, part two. From Bodega Distribution. I'd love to read this one too.

Popgun Vol. 2

Oh, man, this is where I really regret not having any money, because I really want to get this book. I loved the first volume of the Joe Keatinge/Mark Andrew Smith-edited anthology, with it's fascinating array of incredible art and creativity, and this one looks to be just as good. Plus, it's got a Paul Pope-illustrated cover! And comics by Jim Rugg, Frank Espinosa, James Kochalka, Dean Haspiel, Paul Maybury, Corey Lewis, Danny Hellman, and many more. Damn, I'm missing out.

Templar Arizona Vol 2 Mob Goes Wild GN

The second collection of the excellent webcomic about the weird city of the title and the characters who live there. I loved the first one, so I've got to try to get my hands on this installment.

The Order Vol.2 California Dreaming Tpb

The second and final collection of Matt Fraction's aborted Marvel team book. It's pretty well-regarded, so I should try to read it. But I can't really spend any money, so to the library I go.

Me And The Devil Blues Vol 1 Unreal Life Of Robert Johnson GN

The first of some interesting manga releases this week, this is Akira Hiramoto's look at the life of blues legend Robert Johnson, particularly the story about him supposedly selling his soul to the devil. It looks pretty awesome, with an art style that reminds me of Takehiko Inoue, so I would absolutely love to check it out.

Parasyte Vol 4 GN Del Rey Edition

Another point where I regret my lack of funds, because this has been a really enjoyable manga series, with a story that gets me all antsy about wanting to find out where it goes.

Tokyo Zombie SC

And finally, another cool manga, about zombies, presumably in Tokyo. It's more of an indie style than most manga, and it's the pet project of Ryan Sands of the scanlation blog Same Hat! Same Hat! Yet another book I would love to get my hands on. Here's the official page on publisher Last Gasp's site.
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Okay, that's enough of my whining about money. I don't know if I'll be able to keep it up in future weeks, so we'll see how well I can suppress the urge to complain about not getting to buy everything I want to. Stick around; I should hopefully have a review or something up tonight.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Eddie Campbell and I are totally pals now

Tonight, I attended an appearance by comics artist extraordinaire at Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago (a cool independent bookstore where, if I had the money, I could drop a small fortune on all the small-press, indie comics that don't show up at my local comic shop). Campbell was promoting his recently released book The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, and it was a fun little evening, with a small audience for him to discuss his works, take some questions, and sign various books. He's an immensely enjoyable speaker, talking with a charming Scottish accent and prone to plenty of tangents and digressions that never cease to be entertaining.

Monsieur Leotard certainly looks like an enjoyable story, and Campbell shared its genesis in a conversation between (he thinks; he can't remember the specific source) Will Eisner and Michael Chabon, in which one of them speculated that all superheroes could be traced back to the circus. As Campbell said, this doesn't seem right until you think about it. Take, for instance, the Fantastic Four: you've got the India rubber man, the strongman, the fire-breather, and the magician's assistant who appears to disappear. There are also parallels in characters like the Beast (patterned after animals like bears and lions) or the Golden Age trend of midget sidekicks like Woozy Winks, Ebony White, and Doiby Dickles.

All this talk about circuses led Campbell to formulate an adventure story centered in the circus along with his friend Dan Best. They found out about the real-life Jules Leotard, the inspiration for the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" and the inventor of the skin-tight garment which was named after him. Unfortunately, Leotard died young, at the age of 28, too early for Campbell and Best's plans for a character that would "Forrest Gump" his way through history, getting involved in events like the Jack the Ripper murders (watch for an Inspector Abberline cameo appearance in the book) and the theft of the Mona Lisa. So they invented a nephew for him who would attempt to take up his mantle, performing in disguise while wearing a fake moustache. It sounds like a great read; I can't wait to plow my way into it.

Campbell spoke about many of his other works, including a long talk about The Fate of the Artist. In a lengthy, incredibly amusing story, he talked about how his propensity for using the likeness of his designer, Mick Evans, and then killing the characters based on him, led him to name Evans as Campbell's murderer in the book. Campbell originally intended to leave the mystery of "his" disappearance in the book unanswered, since it was obviously a joke anyway, but the editor insisted on him solving the mystery, saying that he had to "follow the rules" and deliver a payoff. So Campbell figured he would allow Evans to get him back for murdering him so many times. It's a funny story, but for the final punchline about Evans' revenge on Campbell, you'll have to attend an appearance and hear Campbell tell it. That's personal-appearance-exclusive content, at least until somebody spills the beans about it elsewhere.

Campbell also talked about working with Alan Moore (the two questions he gets most often when meeting fans are "where do you get your ideas?" and "just how mad is Alan Moore?"), stating that in his opinion, Moore's best work is The Birth Caul. After Campbell heard Moore's performance of the spoken-word piece, he asked to do a comics version of it, and Moore wasn't sure at first, because he thought it wasn't possible to adapt. Campbell envisioned something like Dave McKean's more complex work, and he did a few pages as an example, after which Moore agreed. Unfortunately, Moore didn't save the original text, to Campbell had to listen to the recording and transcribe it, which led to at least one instance of wondering what the hell Moore meant when he misread his own writing. Campbell also talked about how much fun he had creating some of the imagery, like an image of a boy wearing striped pajamas that he made by obtaining some actual pajamas, cutting them up, and assembling them in the shape of the outfit on the page:



Or a page depicting a broken clock, for which he bought an antique clock and smashed it with a hammer, removing the spring and spray-painting around it to create a cool, shadowy image:



Campbell also spoke about the forthcoming Alec (Life-Size Omnibus), which will be published by Top Shelf in 2009. It will collect all the extant Alec books in chronological order, along with other hard-to-find and previously-unpublished stories, and a new 35-page story which Campbell says is his best work in years. I've actually only read a small portion of the Alec books, so I can't wait to be able to read the entire saga.

There were plenty of other stories told, but that covers the most interesting bits. Campbell also signed books for everybody, and I took a picture with him:



Flatteringly, he remembered linking to me about a year ago, and we talked blogging a bit. We also chatted about his habit of referring to his wife as "the wife of my bosom" in his blog writing, a cute (my word, not his) pet name from Victorian times that he read and decided to use, since it was a nice term that didn't sound stupid. I like how he pronounces "bosom" as "boozum".

So, it was a nice evening, revealing Campbell as a nice, friendly guy who is also incredibly talented. He should go a long way in this business.

Stay classy, San Diego

Monday finality:

I expect this will be the final parroting of other sites' stories here, now that the con is over and all. But how about this: Neil Gaiman is writing Batman? Da fug? Looks like it's a story called "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?", and obvious homage to Alan Moore's "Whatever Happenend to the Man of Tomorrow?". Andy Kubert on art, so it will probably look like crap. This seems like small potatoes for Gaiman; he's got the literary respectability, so he shouldn't need to bother with lame superheroics. But maybe he had a story he really needed to tell. Me, I haven't been impressed with his recent comics work (although I do love Sandman and pretty much all of his novels), so I doubt I'll bother with it. But who knows, maybe he'll pull something great out of his ass. At least he's probably being paid a pretty penny for it.

Some slightly interesting stuff from the Fables panel: another standalone graphic novel called Fables: Peter and Max, about Peter Piper and the Pied Piper (who are brothers, of course). Illustrated by Steve Leialoha, who I've not really been a fan of on Fables art (I believe he illustrated the first volume, which is the weakest one by a very wide margin). We'll see how it turns out. There's also a spy-themed Cinderalla miniseries, written by novelist Chris Roberson, and a Fables/Jack of Fables crossover called The Literals, which, following the style of superhero comics, also has tie-in issues in both series. I don't know if that's the best idea, but whatever.

Hey, it's the cover of the next volume of Scott Pilgrim!



Supposedly, there was an Oni Press panel in which this book was discussed, but I can't find anything about it on any of the major news sites, so any other news which was announced can go unremarked upon by me.

Apparently Scholastic is doing at least one more volume of Bone collections (colorizations?) after finished volume 9. I assume this would include Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails and Rose, unless there is anything else that I'm not aware of.

Okay, I think that's enough of my blither-blather. I doubt I'll bother doing any more of this sort of "news" writing, since nobody comes here to find breaking stories (at least, I hope they don't). Outside of a couple interesting bits (Darwyn Cooke's Parker books, Viz's Urasawa licenses), there just isn't that much for me to talk about, other than the fact that I wish I could be there. And from the conventions that I've been to, I'm more interested in prowling around artists' tables and meeting creators than hearing company heads inform everybody how excited they are about some upcoming crossover. It's fun to attend a panel and hear a creator talk about their work, but reports on news sites are pretty boring, with factual descriptions of what transpired. "Brian Bendis said that he really likes working with Khoi Pham." "A fan asked what Jeph Loeb's favorite color is, and he sarcastically said 'chartreuse.'" That sort of thing can be enjoyable if you're sitting in the audience, but reading about it is generally pretty damn lame. So in the future, screw it. I can mention interesting news at the top of whatever my next post is, if I feel like it, and I'll limit most convention discussions to ones that I attend. Take that, apathy!

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Sunday junk:

There's some interesting stuff from IDW's panel, but nothing that makes me sit up and cheer or anything. They lead off with lots of talk about zombies and vampires (and Ben Templesmith's Welcome to Huxford, which I'm actually looking forward to reading), but then drop some offbeat news, like the collection of a Spanish strip from the 80s called Torpedo, which, from what little information I can dig up on the web, was drawn by Jordi Bernet. There's one or two other notable things, but I'm most interested in Ben Templesmith's The Presidents of the United States, which should make for an interesting comparison to Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's forthcoming (someday) Action Presidents! Templesmith says he wants to spotlight some of the lesser-known presidents, but look at the sample image:



Yeah, nobody knows about that guy.

Looks like I might actually be interested in a comic from Devil's Due, now that they're going to be releasing books from French publisher Humanoids, including finally finishing the John Cassaday-illustrated I Am Legion. I regret missing out on most of the DC imports of Humanoids books from a few years ago, but that was when I was just getting back into reading comics regularly, and I was less adventurous then. So now I'll hopefully have the chance to check these out.

Here's a summary of Chip Kidd's panel about his Bat-Manga book, with a couple slideshow images. I'm looking forward to checking that one out.

For more stuff about manga, ComiPress has a list of announced licenses, many of which might be interesting, but it's hard to tell until we learn more information. Viz's Shojo Beat panel has some interesting info (I'll have to try to check out the VizBig edition of Fushigi Yuugi, and Blank Slate sounds cool), but maybe only for shojo junkies like me.

For an example of Newsarama's Eisner-winning journalism, check out this interview with Valerie D'Orazio about her upcoming Cloak & Dagger miniseries, in which they mention the art team, but never state who they are. Very helpful guys. I think I'll start apologizing when people offer me congratulations for the award.
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Saturday things:

Another example of Vertigo kind of reaching: a new Haunted Tank series, set in Iraq. What's next, a revival of Joe Simon's Green Team, set among the high-stakes world of commodities trading? Hey, I should pitch that to Karen Berger.

Damn, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba are all over the place lately; they've got a new series called Day Tripper coming out from Vertigo. Other news from the Vertigo panel: Dark Entries, the non-Azzarello Vertigo Crime book, will feature John Constantine (wow, they're really going for something new and different there). After Seaguy 2: Slaves of Mickey Eye, Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart are doing Seaguy 3: Seaguy Eternal (awesome news!). Another Morrison series, War Cop, will be coming out at some point, illustrated by Sean Murphy (I might be one of the last people to know about this).

Eh, I could probably find some other stuff to talk about (like the Eisner award winners; I've already got one congratulations for Newsarama's win), but screw it, I'm tired. And this is all ending up kind of boring anyway. We'll see if I can muster the interest to talk about anything else.
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Friday updates:

I don't know If I'll bother with this, but it's at least kind of interesting: Marvel and Stephen King are doing some sort of comics/video/internet/cell phone thing, with art by Alex Maleev that is presented in "pan and scan" format with voiceovers and whatnot. Weird. Sounds kind of dumb, actually, but it's notable that they are trying to tell stories using a new medium. Maybe I'll try to check it out at some point, although I don't have a cell phone that can do that sort of thing.

I don't know why I neglected to mention the Dark Horse horror panel yesterday, maybe because nothing really jumped out at me as especially noteworthy, but there are some interesting tidbits, like the fact that Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba will be illustrating an upcoming BPRD miniseries. That's pretty cool.

Here's some more information about that David Mack adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "The Electric Ant". It sound's pretty cool; I'll be interested to see how well Mack can adapt Dick's style to comics. Lord knows it should be better than the "make it an action movie!" approach Hollywood has usually used. And check out the nice artwork:



Info about the upcoming collection and revival of Dean Motter's Mister X. I've never read that series, but I probably should try it out. It looks cool.

Manga news! CMX has acquired the interesting-sounding titles Genghis Khan and March on Earth. Del Rey has a series called Yokai Doctor, which is a good title, at least. They also announced some cool-sounding non-manga books, like In the Flesh, a story collection by Israeli artist Koren Shadmi, and Life with Dr. Dangerous, by Paul Hornschemier.

More in-depth stuff
about the new Ennis/Dillon Punisher miniseries, which sees the return of Ma Gnucci, the mob boss who was dismembered by a polar bear and seemingly burnt to death back in their original storyline. This kind of reeks of trying to squeeze too much lemonade out of a particularly well-worn lemon (that doesn't even make sense). But Ennis should be able to at least make it pretty funny, I imagine.

God, news has to just trickle out in annoyingly minute details, doesn't it? Here's a very slight update on the Vertigo Crime imprint, revealing that the comics will be in graphic novel format, black and white, about 200 pages long. And you can find out the titles of the actual books, for all that good that will do.

There's one worthwhile item in this post about the Image panel, and that's that Darwyn Cooke will be writing and drawing Madman Atomic Comics #14. There, I saved you the trouble of reading through the rest of the dreck. Actually, there's one or two mentions of Invincible and The Walking Dead, and I know those aren't terrible, so I suppose you could read it if you're a Robert Kirkman fan.

Hey, how about this? Viz announced that they finally licensed Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys and Pluto, both of which should be coming out in the US in February. Awesome. That might be the best Comicon news I've heard yet.
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Because I feel like it, I'll try to do a roundup of news and whatnot from San Diego as the convention continues. Looking back at the post I did last year, it's interesting to see that many of the announcements didn't bear fruition until right around now, a year later. So let's see what's in store for mid-2009:

The first big news is pretty awesome: Darwyn Cooke will be adapting Richard Stark's Parker novels into a series of graphic novels for IDW. Suh-weet. I'm all over that. I love Cooke's art, and it will be great to see him doing some more serious, adult work.

Boom! Studios has a new deal with Disney/Pixar to do stories spinning off from their movies (and also The Muppet Show. Weird). I'm surprised there hasn't already been an Incredibles comic book, since that's obvious, but their other stuff should lend itself to the medium as well. We'll see how it goes. Here's the original story, and here's an interview with editor Paul Morrisey. And an interview with Boom! EIC Mark Waid, who mentions that Roger Langridge might be involved with the Muppets book.

Vertigo, which seems to be flailing around for some sort of identity, is launching a new imprint, Vertigo Crime. Starting sometime next year, the first two books will be written by Brian Azzarello (cool!) and Ian Rankin (who?). Why couldn't these have been plain old Vertigo series? Huh.

CBR has an interview with Gerard Way, mostly talking about the upcoming second volume of The Umbrella Academy. There are some interesting tidbits of information, and some boring talk about a movie adaptation (it works best as comics; why worry about adapting it to film? Oh, right, money). If you're a fan (of the comic, or his band, you weirdos), check it out.

Looks like that's all for now, but I'm sure I'll have more to add soon.
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I don't know if this is really comics news, but Virgin is doing some sort of multimedia project with Grant Morrison called MBX, based on the Indian epic Mahabharata. It includes animation and video games, but who knows if there will be any comics involved. If it's anything like Morrison's awesome Vimanarama, I'll be glad to check it out.

Here's an interview with Guy Davis about The Marquis. I've never read that series, even though I dig Davis's art. I'll have to try to check it out sometime.

More to come soon, I'm sure. I'll eventually start sticking updates at the top of the post, but it's still too small and too new for that.
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Lots of boring news about the X-Men and Green Lanterns and crap like that. Meh. But I was interested to see a new Agents of Atlas series from Jeff Parker and some as-yet-unnamed artist. Here's a kind of in-depth article about it. I don't know if I'll want to read it, what with my current antipathy toward superheroics, but I'm definitely more interested in that than whatever's going on with Wolverine.

Other possible stuff of interest from Marvel: a David Mack-drawn adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "Electric Ant" (with Paul Pope on covers!), and Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon doing a six-issue weekly Punisher: War Zone miniseries, which is supposed to be more along the lines of their humorous, satirical Punisher work, rather than the more adult MAX series.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Machine Girl: Back to the good old WST

I don't write much about movies anymore, but I figured this was worthy of its own post.

The Machine Girl
Japan, 2008, directed by Noboru Iguchi



This might be one of the most enjoyable films I've seen lately in the "ridiculous camp violence" category. As could be guessed by the title and plot description, it's Japanese. The story concerns a girl whose brother was killed by a bully who is the son of a ninja Yakuza family descended from Hattori Hanzo, and after she loses an arm, she gets a machine gun replacement and goes on a bloody killing spree of revenge. Good times. Here, check out the trailer:



The opening scene sets up the movie pretty well, even though it's probably some sort of dream sequence that doesn't fit into the rest of the film's chronology. Our heroine, Ami, shows up in an abandoned parking garage (you know, the kind where teenage thugs always hang out) to interrupt a gang of bullies that are picking on a poor kid. She accuses them of killing her brother, whips out her crazy cyborg limb, and sets to murdering them all in the goriest fashion possible. It's the kind of movie where every wound results in geyser-like sprays of blood that drench everything nearby, including the camera.

That scene leads to a flashback (which lasts for the rest of the movie) in which we learn how Ami ended up this way. It's the familiar old story: brother gets killed; arm gets burned, cut, and severed; friendly auto mechanics fashion a gigantic machine gun prosthetic; hilarity ensues. It's all very silly, but there's enough imagination to make things pretty enjoyable, and a refreshing lack of angst-wallowing.

Sure, Ami does some weeping and crying about her brother's death, and in the beginning she vehemently denies the murder charge that her parents committed suicide over, but as soon as she sets out on her quest to bring her brother's killers to justice, she decides murderous revenge is her best option, and goes about gleefully killing everybody involved. There's a hilarious scene in which she confronts one of the bullies, and his parents get offended that she would accuse him, so the father starts attacking her with a golf club, and the mother fries her hand in boiling oil, resulting in a terrible, terrible bit of makeup that looks more like feathers than fried batter. But Ami responds by sneaking back into the house, chopping the son's head off, serving it to the mother in some soup, stabbing the mother through the back of the skull (which somehow makes her vomit up her intestines), dragging the son's body into the bathtub where the father is bathing, and dousing him with gallons of blood from the son's neck stump.

There's plenty more of this sort of thing, with each scene ending up crazier than the last. After Ami is captured by the yakuza family and tortured via arm removal, she escapes and makes her way back to the auto garage where her brother's friend Takashi's family lives. Takashi was killed along with her brother, so his mother, a tough former biker chick, hates and blames Ami, but Ami manages to win her over through some fist-fighting and arm wrestling. Of course. They end up teaming up to fight the yakuza family, and get a sweet bonding scene later when they mutually torture a henchman by hammering nails into his face.

The yakuza family is also incredibly enjoyable to watch, since they're so ridiculously over-the-top. Early on, the father and son have a bonding moment that involves sword-fighting and blood-drinking, and a later scene sees them have a swell family moment when they force a chef who spilled soup on the son's lap to eat some sushi topped with his own severed fingers. Hey, family values comes in all sorts of different forms. They also employ a ninja team who call themselves "The Junior High Shuriken Gang" to take out Ami and company, and have their own crazy weapons, including the father's flying guillotine and the mother's drill bra.

While the movie doesn't take itself at all seriously, there's rumination on revenge and whatnot when the parents of the boys who Ami kills get recruited to form their own revenge squad against Ami. It's not very deep or anything, but it's at least an acknowledgment that Ami isn't the only one affected by murder. That's all pretty negligible though; it's really just a showcase for gory, ridiculous violence; you'll get to see holes blown in bodies (and heads), heads severed and exploded, people cut in half both horizontally and vertically, and more fake blood spraying all over the place than any of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. It's awesomely stupid, and a hell of a good time.
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Also of note: when perusing director Noboru Iguchi's IMDB page, I see that he also did an adaptation of Kazuo Umezu's Cat-Eyed Boy and something called Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theater: The Harlequin Girl. Sounds cool, I'll have to see if I can find those and watch them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Magic Trixie: If future volumes introduce a character named Warren Peace, I want credit

Taking a break from the nigh-pointless proliferation of news about comics which might be seen sometime in the wispy mists of the future, here's a good, solid book that you can find right now:

Magic Trixie
By Jill Thompson



It's no secret that Jill Thompson is quite a good artist, since she's been slaving away, producing excellent work for quite some time now, but the beautifully-watercolored comics she's been making in the last few years have been simply wonderful, especially her story in Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall and the collaborations she worked on with Evan Dorkin for the Dark Horse Book of... series. And she may have done her best work yet in the new children's comic Magic Trixie, a cute story about a little witch girl, who, like several other Thompson-illustrated characters (see examples here) just happens to resemble Thompson herself:



Magic Trixie (who is always referred to by her two-word name, for maximum punnery) is a cute (expect to see that word used a lot here) little girl who happens to have magic abilities, along with all the other members of her family. She goes to school along with several other monstrous children, including Stitch, a Frankensteinian monster, Loupie Garou, a werewolf girl, Nefi, a mummy princess, and The Twins, a pair of young vampires. In this volume, she worries about what to bring for show-and-tell and has trouble coming to terms with the attention everybody pays to her baby sister, Abby Cadabra.

While Thompson's exquisite artwork might hide the fact at first, the book is really aimed at young kids, probably around the age of five or six. There aren't any Harry Potter-style grand adventures here; it's more of a children's storybook plot about learning how cool it is to be an older sibling. You see, poor Magic Trixie is always being told she's too young to do grown-up stuff like fly brooms without training wheels or cook up potions in the cauldron, but Abby Cadabra somehow ends up getting to use all those grown-up things even though she is just a baby:



This sentiment gets repeated several times, as does the eventual lesson Magic Trixie learns, and it's a good one for kids who feel neglected or less important when everybody is focused on the new addition to the family.

But the nice thing is, the main plot doesn't kick in until about halfway through the book; that initial portion is dedicated to setting up the world, and Thompson does a beautiful job at it. Magic Trixie gets introduced early as a super-expressive ball of energy, seemingly always in motion, and usually making plenty of noise and causing lots of commotion:



She's also accompanied by her cute little talking black cat, Scratches, in a touch reminiscent of Kiki's Delivery Service. Scratches makes a nice foil for Magic Trixie, accompanying her on her various exploits, offering encouragement when she needs it, and just playing around and having fun with her:



Come on, who can resist a cute kitty dressed up as a pirate?

Magic Trixie's world is wonderfully fleshed out and detailed as well, with tons of little jokes and flourishes filling the corners of the panels (I love that the kids attend a Monsterssori School). And the watercolors that give everything such depth and texture are just beautiful:



It's a great little book that kids will probably want to devour again and again. And Thompson isn't quitting yet; she already has a follow-up volume, Magic Trixie Sleeps Over, scheduled to appear this fall. For fans of all-ages books, this is the current one to get, and as for me, I can't wait to be able to read it to my own daughter in a few years' time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Too Cool to Be Forgotten: Well, I don't think I'll forget about it

Well, this merits some examination, since people I respect didn't like it so much. But I did (spoiler alert!). Okay, to business:

To Cool to Be Forgotten
By Alex Robinson



For some reason, I've never read too much of Alex Robinson's work. It might be lingering mainstream prejudices; I did try out Box Office Poison several years ago, and the cartoony artwork didn't sit right with my superhero-fed brain. But after reading his new book, I feel like I should pay him more attention, because I found it to be engaging and enjoyable.

The story goes: Andy is a middle-aged, married guy with a wife and daughter who has, after trying every other method, resorted to hypnotism to stop smoking. But when he goes under, he wakes up in the body of his sixteen-year-old self, still in the midst of high school. After some initial confusion, he realizes that he's about to attend the party where he tried his first cigarette, so he figures his "mission" is to avoid doing so, and thus never set himself on the path to blackened lungs. But while he's there, why not try out some of the things he never got a chance to do the first time around, like ask out the cute girl he always had his eye on?

It's a pretty enjoyable romp, and Robinson plays with the situation in fun ways. As a middle-aged man in a teenager's body, Andy is constantly thinking, remembering what it was like to struggle his way through useless-seeming classes, hang out with nerdy friends, and be constantly distracted by members of the opposite sex. At first, it's like a reunion, as he looks around and wondered what became of all his fellow students after they left school and went on their separate ways:



But Robinson also does some interesting exploration of the nature of memory. I found this bit fascinating:



Andy also takes the opportunity to play around with history a little bit (even though he recalls from Star Trek that when time-traveling, you shouldn't mess up the timeline), and it's funny to see what he comes up with:



He's got some of the mentality of an adult, but the impulses of a teen, and it ends up being pretty amusing. Especially when he finds that he can't control his rampant horniness (for any female types in the audience, yes, it's true, teenage boys get aroused at the slightest sensory provocation or imagining thereof, with results that can be physically difficult to hide at times. Sorry to give away secrets, guys). There's a scene at the party in which Andy ends up making out with the girl he brought, and when he suddenly realizes how young she is, he freaks out. I don't know if Robinson intended for it to be disturbing, but I found it hilarious.

The aforementioned cartoony artwork has a surprising amount of depth as well, particularly excelling at the depiction of teenage awkwardness. The range of emotion and expression that Robinson is able to convey is impressive, and he gives a real sense of place to the story as well, with nice background scenery and plenty of detail in the scenes in the school, Andy's house, and the party. And he also pulls off some really cool tricks, like the page in which adult Andy is undergoing hypnosis, and we see a rough depiction of his face consisting only of his thoughts:



And a later scene in which a page of panels showing a series of childhood memories comes together to form an image of teenage Andy's face (I've blanked out the captions to remove spoilers):



That one in particular blows me away, and it's only one example of Robinson's general artistic excellence.

But as enjoyable as all this is, there's an emotional component to things as well. For much of the first half of the book, there seems to be something going on in the background that's not being mentioned, and when Andy successfully completes his "mission" but doesn't return to the present, it all comes rushing back to him in a flood, leading to a wonderful, poignant scene that is the real reason for his trip to the past. It's incredibly well done; Robinson totally nails all the feelings and pain that come with the situation (I'm trying to be vague here to avoid spoiling anything), and the whole story comes together in a matter of a few pages. It's excellent stuff; I might have even squeezed out a few tears.

So it's definitely a worthwhile read, telling an entertaining story and really tugging at the heartstrings with some earned emotional weight. I would recommend it to those who aren't too cynical to get into that sort of thing, and I expect it'll be a contender for the best comics of the year. Well done, Mr. Robinson.
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So that's my take on things, but I'm curious as to what others might not have liked about it. To be specific, both Tucker Stone and Chris Mautner indicated disappointment with the book in this post and its comments (Tucker's verdict seems to be "too sentimental", which I can understand, but I didn't find that aspect bothersome). So if anybody wants to discuss what they thought did and didn't work in the book, please use the comments here to do so.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shojo Beat: Cooking is fun, but dying isn't

I'm finally getting to this, a week or so later than I planned to. Dammit. Now I've forgotten all that I was going to say. But that's cool, I can throw something together. Professionalism!

Shojo Beat
August 2008



This issue's theme is cooking, so there are several articles about preparing and/or eating Japanese foods, including instructions for making your own tofu. More interesting (to me) is a page listing some food-themed manga, including Iron Wok Jan, Project X: Nissin Cup Noodle, and Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture (which gives me hope that the latter will end up being translated, maybe when Kodansha starts their much-discussed U.S. publishing venture). And then there's the first preview chapter of the month:

Mixed Vegetables
By Ayumi Komura

If you go by the description given, this seems like a fairly typical shojo mismatched-romance story: Hanayu grew up in her family's pastry shop, but she wants to be a sushi chef. Her love interest is Hayato Hyuga, whose family owns a sushi restaurant, but he wants to cook pastries. Ha ha, hilarity ensues, right? But the result is slightly different, at least in this first chapter. Hanayu has decided she's going to marry Hayato so she can work in his family's restaurant, rather than out of any sort of attraction to him as a person. Maybe that sort of thing is more acceptable in Japan, where (from what I understand) arranged marriages are, if not common, at least more prevalent than in the United States. But I found it a bit off-puttingly mercenary. It makes for an interesting conflict though, since Hayato seems like he might have similar desires to hers, and they've started to develop an enjoyably combative relationship. Hanayu does seem to be a bit maddeningly wrong-headed about what will make Hayato interested in her:



Hanayu's relationship with her friend Ichii is also a good aspect of the comic, as are the little details, like the neat-looking dishes they prepare, or the flashback in which we learn how Hanayu developed her love of sushi. It's a nice, attractive platter, served up with some appealing artwork (see what I did there?). I could see giving it a try.

Wanted
By Matsuri Hino

For the weirder style of shojo manga (what else would you expect from the creator of Vampire Knight?), the second preview chapter of the month is a pirate-themed series about a girl named Armeria who poses as a cabin boy in an attempt to find her lost love, who was kidnapped by seafaring scalawags. I suspect that the plot will contain a twist though, since we only get twelve pages of the story here, and too many elements seem "off" to simply be about what it seems to be about. For instance, we never see the face of the nobleman who gallantly treats her with the respect she never receives, being a commoner. But he has a strikingly similar hairstyle to the amusingly-named Captain Skulls who supposedly kidnapped him, so I expect a twist will be forthcoming, perhaps along with the discovery that Armeria is a girl, which seems to be about to happen in the artificially-imposed cliffhanger. I guess we'll have to see, if I ever read any more of the series. I don't know if I'll bother, since I'm not that big of a fan of Vampire Knight, but it could be enjoyable, especially since, hey, who doesn't like pirates?

Gaba Kawa
By Rie Takada

And so we reach the finale of the short series. As I mentioned last month, Rara had to choose between death (ceasing to exist, that is, since demons don't really go to an afterlife) or killing her beloved Retsu. But she can't bring herself to do it, because she looooves him too much. There are some hijinx about her friend/rival Bibi trying to do it for her, and it all leads up to a nicely emotional climax; not a bad ending. I would say it's a shame it wasn't able to go on longer; it seemed like Takada had a nice, fun series developing, and she ended up cutting it short before it was able to come into its own. That leads to at least one kind of jarring moment in this chapter, when Retsu confesses his love to Rara. Given more time, it might have seemed natural, but instead he goes from a bemused friend to a passionate lover. Of course, you could chalk it up to those reserved guys, who never want to share their feelings. What'll we ever do with them?

Anyway, it's a pretty good ending (even with an epilogue that I didn't really understand, but I get why it was included), and this little series has convinced me to try to check out something else by Takada, since she seems pretty competent at telling an engaging story and crafting comedic moments. And nice, romantic ones too:



Damn, I get girlier each month, don't I?

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Speaking of girliness, there's a moment in this chapter that had me laughing out loud at its feminine drama. The conflict this month comes from Kanako, the tall, somewhat goofy late addition to the volleyball team, and her rivalry with Nobara. In Nobara's absence, Kanako has been training really hard, and she is determined to be even better than the team's (and series') big star. But nobody is as good as Nobara, and try as she might, Kanako always seems to get upstaged. In a fit of anger, she quits the team, but when Nobara realizes how hard she's been working to improve, she tracks her down and tells her that she won't forgive her if she gives up, leading to this this moment of reconciliation:



That cracks me up. As Homer Simpson would say, it's funny because it's true. But it's also a good moment because it builds on all the past interactions between the characters, especially Nobara's realization that she wasn't considering the feelings of the other members of the team. It's some nicely-done character drama, with some great moments, like when Nobara realizes how hard Kanako has been working herself:



I love the way that last panel amps up the level of detail, giving us a really clear view of the wear and tear on Kanako's equipment (and herself! Sorry, that's corny). Sometimes I get tired of this series, but chapters like this remind me why I like it so much. Next month, I hope we get to see some actual games.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Last month, I complained about the way Matsuri Hino backed away from actual character development, but she somehow managed to do it again this time around. In this chapter, Kaname and Yuki are canoodling in that especially sensual way that vampirism allows:



Kaname offers to bite Yuki and turn her into a vampire, so they can live together forever, and she accepts, but then Kaname changes his mind and says he was kidding. I realize Hino has to keep the Kaname/Yuki/Zero love triangle going, but did she really have to emphasize that she has no intention of resolving it two months in a row? Sure, maybe it will lead to some more drama, since a freshly-rejected Zero will be grumpy about Yuki wanting to become a member of the race he so hates (even if he is one), but it's one of those reinforcements of the status quo that seems egregiously tiresome, at least to somebody who prefers to see forward plot movement rather than endless angst.

The rest of the chapter has to do with the Night Class going home for winter break, and there's some rumblings about some sort of sinister figure pulling strings and manufacturing plots from behind the scenes (maybe Hino herself will make an appearance!), but it's not enough to relieve the annoyance of a chapter of treading water. Maybe next month we'll get an actual plot.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

I guess some caption-writing wires got crossed last month, because the chapter ending teaser text that I found so confusing gets repeated here, and it makes a hell of a lot more sense. But that's not really important; the actual plot of the chapter has to do with Ann's trip home for Christmas, and the big scandal that has erupted because Fuji ran away and disappeared after the events of last month. I expect he'll turn up at some point in the future, but it makes for some nice drama for the moment, and some good, true-to-life character moments:



That's a good scene, in which Daigo, concerned for his friend, expresses it in terms of annoyance, until he realizes that Ann is upset, and then makes moves to comfort her. It's simple and elegant, doing some good storytelling through facial expressions. And I also like the little curly hair that extends from Daigo's head in the top left panel to indicate his frazzled irritation.

The rest of the chapter has some nice moments between Ann and Daigo, and between Ann and Shika, including Ann figuring out what she and Daigo see in each other and Ann realizing that Shika likes Daigo. It's all good character stuff, but I wanted to spotlight this goofy bit:



That's a good translation of what was surely a pun-filled Japanese exchange. As it is, it fits the scene perfectly, and it's pretty damn funny, especially the last panel with its mutual ellipsis of lameness-contemplation. Let's keep the good times coming. And, since I've got my girliness on full display this month, let's look at one more image, simply because it's a good, sweet moment:



Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Speaking of Japanese-language jokes, I but this month's chapter would be a lot funnier in that tongue. Japanese is so conducive to puns and wordplay, it's got to be hard to translate a lot of the jokes that are included in manga series, and scenes like this one:



I bet that reads a lot better in Japanese, because in English it just sounds inane. But it's not going to distract from a typically good chapter of the series, as Mayama and Hanamoto commiserate about working with Rika, the object of Mayama's affections. As we know, Rika is still mourning the loss of her husband in a car accident that left her badly injured, and a flashback about Mayama telling a stupid joke about being able to determine whether a dog is the reincarnation of a human leads to a really poignant moment in which we see how much she misses her husband:



Rika is only a peripheral character in the series, but Umino is still able to get some nice, affecting material out of her. Impressive.

The second chapter this month has more good moments, but they're mostly centered around Ayu's mooning over Mayama, a plot that is growing slightly tiresome. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel like reading about how much she loves him and wishes he would love her back, just a little, month in and month out. Luckily, there are plenty of other characters in the series, and lots of other stuff going on. And really, the main plot in this chapter is about Ayu and Hagu getting dressed up in yukatas (summery kimonos) for a festival, which leads to lots of complications when they can't find one that fits Hagu. Poor Hagu; I always feel sorry for her.

So, as I say every month, it's a great series. Goofy comedy, touching drama, the works. I would exhort everybody to read it if they haven't, but people are probably getting tired of that, so I won't (at least, not explicitly; wow, I'm so sneaky). Instead, I'll just say that next month's issue can't get here soon enough.
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And that's it for this month. I had originally intended to go on a rant about the ineptitude of Haruka, but my fervor on that front has calmed in the week since I finished reading the issue, so I'll settle for continuing to try to ignore that series. Also, I should mention that next month sees the debut of a new series, Miki Aihara's Honey Hunt, about which I have no information except the description "celeb-obsessed". I did enjoy Aihara's Hot Gimmick, so I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of ridiculous soap-operatics she can spin with this new series. Like I said, bring on September!

Monday, July 21, 2008

This week, I'm back to being behind, especially since new comics do continue to appear

I usually do this on Monday, but I'm traveling tomorrow, so let's see if I can get it finished tonight. UPDATE: looks like I didn't make it. Now we'll see if I can actually get it done on Monday.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 7/23/08):

Black Summer #7

About fucking time. Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp got behind on this one, even starting another series (No Hero, which does seem pretty good so far) before finishing this story about violent superheroes. It's been all right, if not world-shaking or anything. We'll see if they can wrap it up satisfactorily.

Boy Who Made Silence #5

Oh, man, I've been meaning to write about the last couple issues of this series, but I haven't gotten to it. It's been pretty incredible, beautiful, impenetrable stuff, so I look forward to each new installment. Keep it up, Joshua Hagler!

Dan Dare #7

Speaking of delayed miniseries that are finally ending, this Garth Ennis/Gary Erskine revamp of a classic character is finishing up as well, and it has been quite good. Ennis writes war comics like nobody else these days (especially since nobody else seems to want to), and that's basically what he's doing here. It's still quite excellent, and the last issue promised a huge action finale. The issue is $5.99, so I imagine that means it's extra-sized, for more explosions (and probably the reason for the delays). Let's hope Ennis doesn't let us down.

Glamourpuss #2

Who knows what will show up in this issue. Will there be a narrative? More drawing with running commentary on drawing tools and whatnot? Satire? Bizarre rants? Who knows, but it's interesting stuff from Dave Sim. If it's just like the first issue, I don't know if I'll be interested in continuing to read the series (will he just talk about art techniques for 20 issues?), but I won't have regretted buying these two. Sim is a hell of an artist, and I don't mind indulging him a little bit, but only so far. I'm sure he cares immensely about my opinion, so there we go.

Immortal Iron Fist #17

This issue sees the debut of the new creative team to the title, and a probable exodus of a massive amount of readers. I read a review PDF of the issue, and it seems all right, not a horrible drop-off in quality or anything. New writer Duane Swierczynski is following Brubaker and Fraction's formula to a T, with current-day Danny Rand exploits interspersed with Russ Heath-illustrated flashbacks to adventures of a previous Iron Fist. The plot has an attention-grabbing hook, but the threat seems kind of impotent, since Marvel isn't about to kill off a newly-popular character. So, I guess if you're hooked on Iron Fist's kung-fu adventures and need a monthly dose, you can keep reading, but Fraction/Brubaker fans probably shouldn't bother. But I doubt you needed me to tell you that.

Liberty Comics A CBLDF Benefit Book 1 Shot

One of those "for a good cause" books that just happens to contain some really cool stuff. Contributors include Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragones, Mike Mignola, Garth Ennis (with a new "Boys" story), Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker (with a new "Criminal" story), and Rick Veitch. Methinks I'll get me a copy.

War Heroes #1

With yet another variation on "what if superheroes were, like, real, man?", Mark Millar gives us this super-powered war story. It should look nice, with Tony Harris on art, but I'm so sick of this stuff, so I won't bother with it. When does that next Ex Machina trade come out?

Wasteland #19

I hope I didn't overpraise the last issue of this series, but I'm really liking it these days. So here's another one. I bet it will also be good.

X-Men #500

If I still cared about the X-Men, I might be interested in this, since it marks the debut of the new writing team of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. But I'll skip it, the two-word reason being: Gred Fucking Land (I guess that was three words). I actually read a PDF of the issue, and it seems okay, with some setup for plots that might not suck. And the Terry Dodson-illustrated pages are fine, but god, the Land pages are as terrible as you would expect. I cannot read anything he illustrates. So screw it; there's no way I'm throwing any money away on this.

Aldebaran Vol 1 Catastrophe TP

British publisher Cinebook has this European sci-fi series that looks pretty nice. I doubt I'll ever see it, but I wouldn't mind if I did. Here's the official site, with a couple preview pages.

American Flagg Definitive Collection Vol 1 HC

Okay, it looks like this is the new reprint collection of the famous series. I've almost always been underwhelmed by Howard Chaykin's work, so maybe if I read this, it will help me understand why he's supposed to be so great. I don't really have the fifty bucks to spend on it, but at least it's now out there and easily-attainable. So, someday I might be able to find out what the hell everybody else is talking about.

Apocalipstix Vol 1 GN

Oh, man, here's one of the fairly major releases for the week. Written by Ray Fawkes and illustrated by Cameron Stewart, it's about a girly rock-band trio in a post-apocalyptic world. I've been looking forward to it ever since I first read about it, since I really dig Stewart's art, so I'm all over this one.

Army@Love Vol. 2 Generation Pawned TPB

Ooh, another one that I'm excited for. I decided to wait for the trade after loving the first story arc of this satirical Rick Veitch series, so I'm stoked to read the rest of the first "season" of the series. I guess it didn't sell all that well, so the book went on some sort of hiatus after the twelfth issue, and it's scheduled to return in another (mini-?)series sometime in the next few months. I think I'll have to buy that one monthly, in hopes that it won't get "cancelled" again.

Art of Witchblade TPB

Heh. Ha ha. Ha ha ha! Hee hee hee! Hahahahahahaha! Heh heh. Hoooo. Yes, please enjoy this highly artistic offering of "sexy" girly drawings with goop barely covering the naughty bits. It's like fucking Michelangelo up in here.

Comic Book Tattoo

Here's another big offering for the week, the Tori Amos-themed anthology featuring work from tons of comics creators, including Carla Speed McNeil, Mark Buckingham, Hope Larson, Ryan Kelly, Christopher Mitten, Pia Guerra, David Mack, Jonathan Hickman, Lauren McCubbin, and many others. Fifty bucks hardcover, thirty bucks softcover, for over 500 pages. I'll probably get it, if only because it's something I can get my wife to read. But hopefully I'll like it too.

Complete Popbot TP

A huge collection of Ashley Wood's creation, at $50. I don't think I can afford it, dammit. But it will certainly look cool.

Zot Vol 1 Complete Black And White Stories 1987 To 1991 TP

I mentioned this last week, but I don't know if that was this or not. Wait, that doesn't make sense. Anyway, this is the actual collection that has been under discussion as of late, and I've found that it's not the stuff I've read. I only got to the color stuff, but apparently the series got much better in the stories collected here. Looks like I'm going to have to try to read it.

Flight Volume 5 TPB

While I still have yet to read an actual volume of Flight, I love the look of every one that comes out, and I really need to pick one up one of these days. Yes, my comics to-do list grows ever longer...

Jack Kirby Checklist TP Gold Edition

Now, I love Kirby, but I don't think I'll be spending fifteen dollars for a listing of everything he's ever done. Sure, I bet there will also be pictures and whatnot, but I have enough trouble getting to major Kirby works like The Demon and Kamandi; I don't really need to own a book telling me about all the 40s romance comics I'll never be able to get to. But if you're trying to put together as complete a collection as you can, it looks like this is the resource for you.

Kitty Pryde and Wolverine Prem HC

Isn't this supposed to be terrible (although, since it's by Chris Claremont, I bet Jason Powell will find some way to defend it. Ah, I love ya, Jason!)? Even though it has a reputation as a dreadful miniseries, Marvel is giving it the fancy-pants hardcover treatment; I guess they're running out of ways to bilk the fanboys of their money. My recommendation: don't buy it.

Korgi Vol. 2 Cosmic Collector TPB

I read the first volume of Christian Slade's cute, wordless kids' fantasy series, and while it looked nice, it was feather-light; I think I blew through it in ten minutes or something. So here's the next installment, in which we'll see more monster battles and the characters will continue to develop new powers, I expect. I wouldn't say no to reading it, but I don't plan to spend any money on it.

Madman Atomic Comics Vol 1 TP

I've enjoyed parts of this new volume of Mike Allred's signature characters' adventures, but it's been so meandering and disappointing, with some really anticlimactic resolutions to long-running plots and lots of nonsensical mumbo-jumbo. So I can't really recommend it to anybody, unless you're a long-time Madman fan who was waiting for the trade and has to know what all that business about "the four" was. But you'll almost certainly be disappointed, so you'd be better off hunting down issue #3, which was the one where Allred aped the styles of just about every great comics artist ever. That's about the only one that I would really call "good" out of the bunch.

Maintenance Vol 3 TPB

Here's the third collection of one of my favorite ongoing series. This volume contains the fun story in which the cast goes on a rescue mission to space to retrieve Mendy the receptionist. It's a lot of fun, and it's got a pretty nice climactic finish to the action. Robbi Rodriguez, whose art you might recognize from the recent Tek Jansen issue, continues to do a bang-up job on this series, and Jim Massey doesn't stop with the funny writing. Check it out, if you haven't already.

Meathaus SOS TP

Man, here's another pricey anthology that I definitely want to pick up, since it contains work from so many cartoonists that I dig. You've got the likes of Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, Corey Lewis, Brandon Graham, Dash Shaw, James Jean, Tomer and Asuf Hanuka, Ross Campbell, and many more. Damn, I gotta get this. It's normally $30, but you can get it for $25 along with a postcard set at nerdcore.com (which also has some preview pages).

SCUD The Disposable Assassin The Whole Shebang! TPB

Well, I've still never read any of this series, but it's supposed to be decent. I doubt I'll spend the money to buy it (although it's a pretty good value, at $30 for 24 issues worth of material), but I suppose I could read it and see if it's any good.

Scrambled Ink HC

This collection of comics by animators from Dreamworks looks interesting. It'll cost you $20. You can read more about it in the comments to this post, where one of the artists dropped by to chat.

Schmobots TP

This new graphic novel from Boom! Studios looks like it could be entertaining. It's about a future in which humanity built robots to do menial labor, but they contracted with the lowest bidder, so all the robots are as lazy as the rest of us. It's written by movie guy Adam Rifkin (he directed Detroit Rock City and wrote a bunch of crap like Underdog, Small Soldiers, and Mousehunt) and illustrated by Les Toil. Like all Boom! stuff, I've got a review PDF, so I'll try to write a review if I think it's worth it (and ever get the time and energy to do so).

World War Robot TP

Ashley Wood seems to be trying to get a bunch of my money this week, because here's another book from him that I'll want to buy. It seems like some sort of follow-up (prequel?) to Zombies vs. Robots (vs. whatever), with similarly-designed automatons engaging in a globe-spanning conflict. No, I didn't need a thesaurus for that. Only $12.99, so I might actually be able to afford it. We'll see.

Code Geass Lelouch Of The Revolution Vol 1 GN

On the manga side of things, Bandai has this tie-in to the anime series that I haven't seen, but am aware that it's currently showing on Adult Swim. Can anybody tell me if it's any good? Should I commit myself to the draining work of tuning in on a Saturday night (or rather, setting the DVR) and finding out? And is this manga worth a look? Will we ever know?

Gon Vol 5 TP New Printing

Tiny, angry dinosaurs are awesome. I keep saying I should buy these new editions, and one day I will actually do so.

Kasumi Vol 1 GN

Del Rey has this very shojo-seeming series about a high school girl who can turn invisible when she holds her breath, which somehow leads to romantic complications and whatnot. On one hand, it sounds kind of dumb, but on the other, it's exactly the sort of thing I enjoy every month in Shojo Beat, so who knows, it might be worth a look.

Kujibiki Unbalance Vol 1 GN

Also from Del Rey, this one seems more on the shonen side of the fence (the young girl upskirt on the cover is kind of a tip-off). It's about a boy with bad luck who goes to a school where everything is decided by chance and also has a student council that goes on missions to fight evil. Or something. I dunno, sounds like it could be enjoyable. Or stupid.

Red Colored Elegy HC

Did this already come out? It's the eagerly-anticipated new art-manga volume from Drawn & Quarterly by Seiichi Hayashi. Sure to be a contender for a lot of "best of the year" lists come January. I'll have to try to read it (he said, for the 25th time in this post).
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And I think that's everything worth mentioning. I finally made it back from vacation, and I've got an ass-load of stuff to write about, so expect lots of content over the next week or two. Or a total burnout, and me curled in bed in a fetal position babbling about Wolverine or something. Good times. Later.