Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Omega the Unknown: What's not known is how something this good came from Marvel

I don't think I linked to this earlier, but I reviewed Punisher War Zone #3 over at Comics Bulletin.  I'm on a roll with that series.  Go Ennis!

Oh, and looks like no weekly preview this week, because I was sick the last couple days.  I suppose I could still do it, since new comics don't come out until Friday, but screw it.  There wasn't much there anyway, except maybe the new Goon.  Next week will be back to normal, hopefully.

Omega the Unknown
Written by Jonathan Lethem and Karl Rusnak
Art by Farel Dalrymple, Paul Hornschemeier, and Gary Panter

How did something this unique and bizarre and, well, good come from the corporate blandness factory that is Marvel Comics?  The obvious answer is that it wasn't their idea; novelist Jonathan Lethem (author of the excellent books Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, among others) brought the concept to them, pitching a revival of Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes' weird, unsuccessful 70s series.  Amazingly, they agreed, so along with co-writer Karl Rusnak and indie artists Farel Dalrymple and Paul Hornschemeier, he managed to create this fascinating reimagination of the character, making for one of the best reads of 2008, especially in the "mainstream" superhero genre.

Lethem brings a novelistic flair to the series, weaving a dense, layered tapestry of plots, themes, and characters.  It would take several readings and some intense analysis to attempt to unpack everything that is going on, but it's pretty fascinating to see the story touch on such varied ideas as robotics, nanotechnology, mental illness, celebrity, inner-city life, and marketing.  But at its core, it's all about a teenage boy growing up, accepting the changes he is going through, and making a family for himself in a harsh world.

Familiarity with the source material might make the book work better, or at least provide some illumination on Lethem's themes and ideas, but the lack thereof certainly doesn't hurt.  The story follows a teenager named Titus Alexander Island, a socially-maladjusted genius who is moving to New York City to attend a prestigious academy after being homeschooled for his entire life.  These plans get derailed, however, when a car crash reveals his parents to be robots in a jarring, horrific scene:

Soon, Alexander is left nearly on his own in the city, living with a nurse from the hospital who felt sorry for him and attending a public high school in Washington Heights, Manhattan while trying to understand the weirdness going on around him.  For in addition to his own parental issues, he has some sort of connection with a mute superhero (or a guy who dresses like one, at least) who is wandering around the city getting in fights with robots.  The local superhero, a boastful, egotistical blowhard named the Mink, who has a TV show and an army of henchmen is on the case, but he is more interested in getting his name in the papers and schmoozing with politicians than in fighting for justice.  And under everybody's nose, there seems to be some sort of infection related to a fast food chain called Butterdogs and a delivery serviced called 2U Quik that is turning people into mindless drones. 

This is all rather complex and confusing, but it's all grounded in the very human story of Alex learning to make his way in a world that seems confusing and bizarre to his sheltered mentality.  In fact, it has been suggested that the entire thing is a metaphor for Asperger's Syndrome, which is a compelling idea.  But the character is relatable simply as a symbol of the awkwardness of adolescence, and particularly feeling like an outsider.  He's a compelling figure, and he's surrounded by several others, including the pompous Mink, the mute (and mutable) Omega (or whatever the "blue guy" is supposed to be called, since he's never officially named), and the sentient statue named Verth the Overthinker who sometimes narrates the story.  Not to mention the walking hand that escapes its owner, or the guy who gets combined with some robots and cooking machinery into an unholy cyborg being.  Their plots all bounce around and off of each other, until everything comes to an explosive and fairly satisfying conclusion that still leaves a lot open to interpretation.  It's smart stuff, and for a first-time comics writer, Lethem does an excellent job of telling a great story and using the medium to its fullest.

He gets some great help from artist Farel Dalrymple, who brings a really nice indie sensibility to the book.  His style is closer to somebody like Jim Rugg (Street Angel) than the usual Marvel superhero artists, and it gives the book a unique look, while doing a great job of telling the story.  Dalrymple uses a kind of scratchy, sketchy line, but one that's clean enough to convey exactly what needs to be related, and to do so expressively and excitingly.  He gives the story a very street-level look, adding lots of urban detail:

He does a great job with the small, icky details, like this scene of freaky nano-bling being absorbed into a character's skin:

Not to mention the action, which isn't the big focus of the book but does entertain when it shows up.  This fight in a fast food restaurant is mostly depicted from the exterior, placing the reader among the bystanders and giving just enough of a hint as to what is going on inside as to picque the curiosity:

The panel-to-panel flow works wonderfully; there are several scenes that play out in sequences of small panels to show moments in matter-of-fact detail:

A lot of credit should be given to colorist Paul Hornschemeier as well, who brings a muted pallette to the art, grounding it in more of a real-life-seeming setting than with the usual candy-colored superheroics. It's beautiful to look at, and as mentioned, it's a great use of the comics medium.  This is the sort of story that couldn't be told nearly as effectively in any other medium, as demonstrated in one sequence in which an imprisoned Omega seizes on the idea of comics storytelling to convey his history.  The resulting product is perfectly realized by Gary Panter in his crude style:

All in all, it's a pretty damn amazing book, full of great moments and fascinating developments.  As good an author as Lethem is, he delivered beyond all expectations here, possibly due to the strengths of his collaborators, with whom he worked to create a truly unique and riveting work of art.  That he managed to do so within the confines of corporate comics makes the victory all the sweeter.

By the way, this will probably be my last post of 2008, so happy new year, everybody!  It's been a pretty good one (in some aspects, at least), so let's hope things only get better in 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nine things I liked about Bat-Manga!

Bat-Manga!  The Secret History of Batman in Japan
By Jiro Kuwata
Edited, created, and taken credit for by Chip Kidd

-The cool old cars:

Being from the 60s, the cars are all in the long-and-wide style of the day, and it's cool to see bad guys like Lord Death Man cruising around getting in car chases in them.

-Batman swinging from things on Bat-ropes:

He sure seems to do a lot of swinging; that page follows a panel in which he instructs Robin to "speed up and drive in circles, creating a centrifugal force."  And then he swings around behind the car, kicking a bunch of goons.  Sweet.  This scene is another good one:

And a wrecking ball is the best rope swing of all:

-Gotham city's Mount Rushmore-style monument to its hero:

-Inspector Gordon's awesome moustache:

-The moral debate involving human evolution:

That's from a story called "The Man who Quit Being Human", and it's about a man who mutates into a new life form.  It's like something out of X-Men comics.  The story ends up being kind of silly, but I did appreciate the philosophical debate.

-Batman wrestling with a gorilla in a mask and cape:

That one's another cool story, about a gorilla who gained human intelligence and then sets out to destroy human civilization.  As the story progresses, he ends up capturing Batman and leeching Batman's intelligence, while also giving Batman his gorilla strength, which leads to a big, awesome fight.  That's one of the best things about this volume; the stories are pretty simplistic, but they are constantly moving, delivering fun, exciting moments.

-The Batmobile being chased by a tornado:

-Jiro Kuwata appearing in the comic Tezuka-style to introduce a story:

-Speed lines, speed lines, speed lines:

Combining Western superhero stories with manga storytelling makes for an incredibly dynamic mix.  I love the sense of motion that you get from panels like those, and the placement of moving objects in the foreground really adds to the movement and excitement.

Overall, the book is very entertaining, even if it's pretty slight.  There's nothing of any depth here, but as mentioned, the stories move.  I don't know if I need to read anymore of this sort of thing, but one volume is a pretty good length.  For fans of older comics, especially those from Japan, it's a nice experience.  Check it out if you get the chance.

I can't really mention this book without commenting on the online controversy that spun out of Chip Kidd basically crediting himself as the author, but I don't have anything to add that hasn't already been said several times over.  So, I'll point anybody interested in commentary on the issue to J. Caleb Mozzocco and Tom Spurgeon for the best and funniest analysis, respectively.  Enjoy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This week doesn't seem very Christmasy

Well, maybe a little.

Linkage: Don't miss this comic that Dean Haspiel did for the New York Times' blog about drinking.  It's nice work.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 12/24/08):

Atomic Robo Dogs of War #5

Here's the final issue of this sequel miniseries to one of the most fun pamphlet comics out there.  I should have a review up at Comics Bulletin sometime soon.

Batman #683

Okay, I think we're finally to Grant Morrison's final issue, for now.  Will all the nonsensical RIP stuff turn out to be in Batman's head?  Should I care?  Probably not; I've lost most of my interest in all this.  I might end up reading Final Crisis someday though.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #3

I keep meaning to check this series out, since it looks charming and fun and all the things people say about good kids comics that don't usually apply to superheroes these days.  Maybe I'll catch up when it's collected.

Final Crisis Rage of the Red Lanterns #1 2nd Print

Ooh, obviously this acid-vomit thing was so important that it needed another printing.  Don't miss out; I'm sure it's not to be missed.

Galveston #2

Part two of Boom!'s series about pirates and western heroes.  I really need to read both issues and see if they're good.  I hope so.

Greatest Hits #4

I think this is the last issue of this Vertigo miniseries about Beatles-esque British superheroes.  So, was it any good?  Should I try to read it sometime?  I am somewhat intrigued, but I need the impetus to push me into the camp of feeling like I should bother to check it out.

Mister X: Condemned #1

A new continuation of Dean Motter's series.  I'm supposed to write a review of this for Comics Bulletin, but I don't know if I'll ever get to it; I think this works better if you've read previous parts of the series, which I haven't.  But if you have, it might be good?  I dunno.

No Enemy But Peace One Shot

A true story about Marines in Iraq, written by one of their number.  According to the website, it's about the real heroism that's going on over there, but I find title of the book itself kind of offputting; is it supposed to refer to the philosophy of "the enemy"?  Because if it's referring to our troops, that's kind of disturbing, and not very heroic.  Anyway, here's a free preview.

Patsy Walker: Hellcat, Agent of Initiative #4

The final issue of Kathryn Immonen and David Lafuente's enjoyable series.  I haven't read all of it, but what I've seen has been great fun, with some really nice artwork.  I recommend giving it a try.

Punisher War Zone #3

The Ennis/Dillon train keeps rollin'.  Once again, I should have a review up at CB on Tuesday.

Remnant #1

I got an email from Boom! saying that I should ignore the name on the cover (Stephen Baldwin seems to be the obvious choice) and give this book a chance, but I haven't done so yet.  It seems like a action movie sort of post-rapture series, so if that sounds like your thing, you could also follow their suggestion.  If I do get around to reading it and think it's worth mentioning, I will.  But don't hold your breath.

Top 10 Season Two #3

I'm upset with myself for missing out on this series so far, but I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.  I think it's only four issues long, so it's almost over already.  I haven't heard too much about it, but it looks like a good old time in Neopolis.  

Umbrella Academy Dallas #2

Another one I need to read, but I might have to wait for a collected version.  I did really like the first miniseries, so I'm expecting to dig this one too.  I can't wait.

Unknown Soldier #3

The African revamp of this series continues.  I might try to read it someday.

Beasts Book 2 HC

I never did see the first volume of this book on mythological creatures, but it sure looked nice.  And so does this one.  Not really comics, but still some nice artwork and stuff.  Here, watch a slideshow and see.

HP Lovecrafts Nyarlathotep HC

Another not-comics book, but an interesting one.  This release from Boom! Studios reprints Lovecraft's poem, with illustrations by Chuck BB.  It's another one that I might get around to reading and reviewing sometime.  You can see a few of the images here.

MOME Vol 13 Winter 2009 GN

I really need to start reading these; maybe my library can get some of the volumes in.  From what I understand, each volume has great work by a bunch of excellent indie creators.  For instance, this installment features David B., Paul Hornschemeier, Al Columbia, Dash Shaw, Eleanor Davis, Jonathan Bennett, and many others.  Man, I feel like I'm missing out.

Nice Work Vol 1 GN

This is a collection of a webcomic about a Frank Sinatra lookalike who tries to cash in on his connection to fame.  Sounds interesting; I could try checking it out sometime.

Repo Elf HC

A kids' book about elves who repossess toys given to naughty kids who fooled Santa into being nice.  But a kid is waiting for them, and a battle ensues, or something.  Sounds like it could be quite fun.

Station TP

Another one of those Boom! series that I need to get caught up on.  I did like the first issue quite a bit, so I expect the rest of the series is pretty good as well.  The high-concept tagline for this would be "Whiteout in space", so take that as you will.

Ultimates 3 Who Killed Scarlet Witch Prem HC

Ooh, another important release, I'm sure.  See! ridiculous breasts!  Marvel! at the lack of subtlety (impressive, since Jeph Loeb's predecessor on the book, Mark Millar, isn't exactly known for the subtle, but Loeb makes him look like Daniel Clowes).  Yes, surely a masterpiece of our times.

Why I Killed Peter HC

NBM presents some of the ol' Eurocomics, with an autobiographical story by Olivier Ka and artist Alfred about Ka's childhood relationship with a pedophile priest.  Heavy stuff.  Here's a preview.

Young Liars Vol 1 Daydream Believer TP

Here's another Vertigo series that I never read, mostly because I don't especially care for David Lapham.  But from what I hear, it's totally psychotic, so it might be worth checking out.  Somebody who has read it, please advise me.

Crayon Shinchan Vol 6 TP CMX Edition

I really need to read some of this series.  Shinchan is funny.

Rurouni Kenshin VIZBIG Edition Vol 4 GN

This is a series I would love to check out someday, since it's supposed to be quite good and I dug Gun Blaze West, which was by the same creator.  And look, it's already four volumes into the large VIZBIG version.  Always behind, that's me.

That is all.  Merry Holidays, and may faceless cosmic beings bless us, every one!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Skim: Because she doesn't like milk?

So, will this book make it onto "best of 2008" lists because it's good, or because of the semi-controversy involving it?  Not that it really matters...

Written by Mariko Tamaki
Art by Jillian Tamaki

Is this your typical teenage coming-of-age story?  Well, it's not especially unique in its themes, but the well-defined characters and evocative artwork give it a flair that definitely makes it worth reading.  And out of those two aspects, the art really lifts the book to the next level; Jillian Tamaki brings a wonderful sense of mood and atmosphere to her cousin Mariko's story, adding a wintry beauty to the proceedings that matches the emotions on display.  Actually, "display" might not be the right word, since those emotions are very repressed and hidden, only becoming known through the main character's diary entries, which are delivered via caption.  But while the character is reserved and withdrawn, the art really brings her inner emotions to life via her surroundings.  It's a thing of beauty to watch.

As mentioned, the story here is nothing new, a fairly typical thing about a teenage girl learning about love and friendship, seeing her life change as she matures.  Kim Cameron is a student at an all-girls' school in 1993, and she and her best friend Lisa are what would be known today as "emo", the social outcasts who are into Wicca and like to mock all the popular kids.  Things get thrown into upheaval by a few incidents, the most dramatic of which would be the suicide of a popular girl's ex-boyfriend, and her own resulting suicide attempt.  This throws the culture of the school into an upheaval, as the students and faculty go on a touchy-feely spree of counseling and attempts to "celebrate life".  This runs counter to teenagers' natural impulses of cliquishness and popularity contests, and Kim and Lisa can't help but mock it even if it is well-intentioned.

At the same time, Kim (who usually goes by the titular nickname; when asked why people call her that, she responds, "Because I'm not," whatever that means) develops a crush on her English teacher, the hippie-ish Ms. Archer.  That first teenage crush can be an intense experience, but when it heralds a possible future of being even more of an outcast than before, the heart-pounding is off the charts:

As time goes by, it becomes obvious that Ms. Archer is going through problems of her own, but Kim never learns what they are.  And there are plenty of other things to figure out as well, like how much stock she should put in all this Wicca stuff.  An early scene sees Lisa and Kim attend a meeting of a coven with Lisa's sister, but it seems kind of lame, with a bunch of strange, similarly dressed adults standing around a fire and talking about spirits.  And it turns out that it doubles as an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  But Kim soldiers on, reading books and trying her best to keep to the spirit of her beliefs.  Lisa, on the other hand, seems to drift farther and farther away, becoming interested in boys and hanging out with other girls.  And Kim ends up befriending Katie Matthews, the girl involved in all the suicide controversy.

It ends up being a story about people drifting apart and others coming closer together, the fluid state of personality that adolescents experience, and forming relationships where you can find them.  There's not much of a dramatic arc; the story seems to be all middle, with little in the way of a beginning or ending.  But that's teenage life; things keep going on, whether you want them to or not.  You might not understand why people act a certain way, but you have to make the best of it.

This sort of thing might not work for everyone; it's less of a conventional plot and more of a character piece, examining the tumultuous teenage years and how we react to them.  But whatever the reaction to the plot might be, there can be little but astonishment when it comes to the artwork.  Jillian's linework is assured and confident, while seeming sketchy and easily done, and the greytones add a nice feeling of depth; she defines the characters perfectly, and makes the faces, hair, and bodies seem very real while keeping the depictions simple, and adding just a hint of cartooniness:

I especially like the way she depicts clothing. Often, when patterns are drawn in comics, a piece of art is pasted in place, making a character seem like an outline cut out to view something on the page below.  But Jillian doesn't take that route; her depiction of the schoolgirls' plaid skirts gives them a feeling of movement that the other style lacks:

And the backgrounds are just beautiful, full of inky streaks and fluid linework:

They're some of the best depictions of foliage that I've ever seen in comics, perfectly capturing the feeling of the seasons of the book, not to mention the emotions of the main character.  It's absolutely gorgeous to look at.

So it probably depends on your tolerance for confused teenage emotions and relationships, but even if you just want to view the pretty pictures, this book is definitely worth reading.  Sure, the artwork might be king (or queen), but the well-developed characters work really well for the story being told, so don't discount Mariko's contribution to the book's success.  But really, Jillian is the breakout talent here; with anyone else providing artwork, it wouldn't work nearly as well.  Keep an eye on this one; if there's any justice, she's going places.  But for now, this is the place to see what she can do.  Hopefully it's only a hint of what is to come.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Get your manga online, straight from the source

Hey, check this out: it's the website for the Japanese Weekly Shonen Jump, in English, and it's got manga that you can view online (although you have to download a browser to read it).  The key series seems to be a soccer manga called Meister by Kimiya Kaji, and it's a hoot.  I'm amazed at how effective the storytelling is in these shonen manga; this one has all the stereotypical characters, including an impossibly cheerful kid who motivates his teammates, a pompadoured punk who likes to fight, and an emo kid who is a dead ringer for Death Note's L.  And even though we only see an introductory practice game in this first chapter, it's exciting and fun, with some great visuals (which I would have excerpted here, but the reader won't allow me to capture images.  Bummer).  I might just have to keep checking back and reading chapters each week.

There's also a series called Bakuman, which appears to be about two characters creating a manga series; it's by Death Note creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, which makes it worth checking out, even if the only chapter currently available is the twelfth one.

And while I can't seem to get either one to download, I'm quite intrigued by a pair of chapters in which creators illustrate each other's series: Takeshi Obata takes on Yoshio Sawai's BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo (read my review of that series here), and Sawai reciprocates, offering his version of Death Note (and why not read my take on volumes of that series here?).  Sounds awesome; I think I'll scour the internets to try to track those down.

So, yeah, online manga: wave of the future.  Like I didn't have too little free time already.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fables: Where do we go from here?

Quick link:  Check out this excerpt of a cool-looking never-published adaptation of The Prisoner (the TV show) by Jack freaking Kirby!  Man, that's a match made in heaven; talk about one of those dream projects.  I guess we'll have to dream about what it would be like in toto.

Also, here's a free educational comic by such fine folks as Rick Veitch, Todd Klein, Lauren Weinstein, R. Kikuo Johnson, and Josh Neufeld, among others.  It's a tie-in with the PBS show Nature.  Nice.

Okay, to business:

Fables, volume 11: War and Pieces
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham (with Andrew Pepoy and Steve Leialoha) and Niko Henrichon

What to say about this series at this point?  If you're already on board for the series, you probably really dug this volume, and if you're new to the story, this is certainly no place to start.  It's still interesting to talk about it, but since this is from the perspective of a devoted fan, it might not be all that interesting to read, unless you're coming from a similar frame of mind.  Even so, this volume's big events merit some discussion, if only to gasp in awe at the developments.

And along those lines: whoa.  Wow.  This is big.  And so on.  The story goes that Bill Willingham had an endpoint in mind for the series when he started it, but he's enjoying the world he created so much that he doesn't want to quit doing the book.  But he decided to go ahead and write that ending storyline anyway, but keep going afterward.  Which is a pretty damn bold step, considering that the main plot of the series has almost entirely focused on Fabletown's conflict with the Adversary and his forces.  Removing that aspect of the book entirely upends things, adding an exciting status quo that could literally go anywhere.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here; this volume sees the culmination of the storyline that has been steadily building pretty much since the beginning, but at least since volume four, March of the Wooden Soldiers.  The book kicks off with an enjoyable interlude based at The Farm, in which the animal fables are given the opportunity to move to the kingdom of Haven, which was established last volume.  But a lot of them don't know if they want to go, since they've gotten used to the technological conveniences of the mundane world:

There's also some romantic developments (or undevelopments) between Boy Blue and Rose Red, and some planning for the upcoming war, but it's mostly a breather before the action starts.  And it's really nicely illustrated by Niko Henrichon, who gives it a scratchy, energetic feel that's an interesting departure from Mark Buckingham's usual style.

But things get moving, sort of, in the next story, which sees spy extraordinaire Cinderella embark on a mission to rescue a certain important "package" that arrived through the portal to another Fable world.  It's a two issue story, and it's an action-packed bit of business, with lots of gunplay and chases, ending in a dramatic, violent fight on the streets of New York.  I love Buckingham's art here, especially the way he sets off Cindy's scenes by having her logo run down the sides of the page and gives her a stylish James Bond (or maybe Emma Peel) wardrobe:

And the action is exciting and hard-edged too; for a story starring Cinderella, there's a whole lot of bloody gunshot wounds.

But it's not until the next chapter that the war kicks off in earnest, and the rest of the book is a doozy.  We've gotten a hint of the plans for the war, but seeing them put in action is something to behold.  Said plan involves a flying carpet-powered airship carrying makeshift bombs, a sort of sleep-causing magical suicide bomb, and a beanstalk-based exit strategy.  The entire thing is narrated by Boy Blue as he teleports from front to front, carrying messages and delivering supplies, and it's all matter-of-fact.  That's one of the things Willingham does so well in this series; he makes all the magic believable by describing it in down-to-earth terms.  But it's still fantastical enough to be exciting and dramatic, especially when we get huge, chaotic scenes of dragon attacks: 

And a climactic scene in which thousands of monsters and magical animals meet on the battlefield is a thing to behold.  Not to mention a final duel between the Emperor and Bigby Wolf, which is powerful and awful to watch:

Wow; it's probably the sheer scale of what's going on here, but I'm damn impressed by how well Willingham brought this together and paid it off.  For fans of the series, it's some mighty impressive, awesome stuff.

And then it ends, and we're suddenly left with a brand new status quo (watch out for spoilers), in which Gepetto, the feared Adversary, has joined Fabletown and been absolved of any wrongdoing.  Who knows how that will work out.  And now the good guys have the run of all the Fable worlds again, which should offer myriad story opportunities.  I'm curious as to what happened to Briar Rose; she basically agreed to sacrifice herself to shut down the Adversary's capital, but she's still sleeping there with the possibility of being woken up.  And who would be the perfect candidate for an awakening kiss but Prince Charming, who seemed to die heroically, but could very well have survived.  And I'm sure there are plenty of other stories waiting to be told that I haven't even considered; that's how good Willingham is at this (end spoilers).

So yes, it's pretty much everything that it could be, actually delivering on the promise of what had been building.  That sort of thing is tough to pull off, but Willingham and company have done it just about perfectly.  Who knows where they're going to go next, but it's a big new world of possibility, and I for one can't wait to see what they've got planned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shojo Beat: The key to romance is lots of heavy touching

Hey, has anybody been following Dick Hyacinth's compilation of best-of-2008 lists?  I love that stuff.  Here's a good post about the various issues and type of lists and whatnot.  Fun stuff.  And by the way, I've been working on my own list, but I really doubt I'm going to feel like I can finalize it until at least sometime in early-to-mid January.  There's just too much that I need to read before I can be sure I'll have read enough, and that's not even including the stuff that I'm sure I won't get to (Kramers Ergot, anyone?).  But hey, that means it's been a good year, right?

Oh, and here's my review of Punisher War Zone #2.  Enjoy the Ennis/Dillon violence-making.

Shojo Beat
January 2009

Hey, what's Sof' Boy doing on the cover?  There's a cross-promotion I wasn't expecting!  But aside from that, there's not much non-comics content of note this month.  Maybe the "planning a New Year's party with shojo-manga-based activities" article is worth mentioning?  Actually, I thought this month's installment of "Drawing With Yuu" was funny.  I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, but that's an instructional manga that runs in each issue, written and drawn by Yuu Watase (creator of Absolute Boyfriend, Fushigi Yugi, and others).  It's usually two or three pages long, and it has followed the travails of a would-be mangaka who is receiving instruction from Watase herself.  It's rarely all that interesting (unless, I assume, you're an aspiring comics creator and you're taking all the lessons to heart), but this one had some funny bits, in which the artist was trying to come up with a great line for her main male character to say at a key moment:

I thought that was funny.  There are a couple other amusing bits, including the artist thinking really hard about what to have her characters say, and the character experiencing a horniness-indicating projectile nosebleed.  Good times.  

Anyway, on with the manga:

By Aya Kanno

This looks like it could be a pretty entertaining series.  The concept is that a teenage boy named Asuka really likes girly things (shojo manga, teddy bears, jewelry, knitting, etc.), but he feels that he can't be un-manly, so he hides his proclivities and throws himself into macho, honorable stuff like kendo and karate.  But he feels his facade slipping when he starts to fall for a girl named Ryo, leading to complications and conflicts, including dealing with a rival who is a bit of a ladies' man.  That's not a bad setup, and Kanno seems to do some fun stuff with it, even in this short excerpt of the first chapter.  I love the way Asuka stoically helps Ryo do some sewing for a craft project:

There are some clunky bits, including some pages of the shojo manga that Asuka reads that show up without any warning, but maybe that will begin to make more sense when reading a longer portion of the series.  I would definitely give it a try.

The Magic Touch
By Izumi Tsubaki

This other preview chapter has a goofy-yet-endearing concept for a series: massage!  The original title translates as "Romance from the Thumbs", which is much funnier, but probably less commercial.  The story goes: Chiaki is a member of her high school's massage club, and she loves to massage people.  She notices this guy who has a back that is crying out for a rubdown, and she decides she has to give him a massage.  But it turns out he's the most popular boy in school, and kind of a jerk, so she's going to have to convince him to submit to her touch, and she'll probably end up falling in love with him too.  It's pretty silly, but enjoyable nonetheless.  In fact, it almost seems like a parody of shojo tropes while still remaining firmly within the genre (similar to something like Yakitate!! Japan or Ouran High School Host Club, from what I understand), even including stereotypical elements like an evil twin sister who foists the consequences of all her naughty activities on Chiaki, or a group of girls confronting her for daring to mess with the popular boy, or the heroine being especially clumsy when it comes to anything outside of her area of expertise.  It's pretty fun.  The only thing that weirds me out a little bit is Tsubaki's tendency to draw eyebrows as if they are somehow floating above characters' hair, and pointing outward like insect antennae:

But that's easily overlookable, once you get used to it.  Especially when most every other aspect of the series is so enjoyable (I included the full page there, since there's at least one good joke in that scene).  The translation might have been difficult, since there are obviously some Japanese puns that make no sense in English, but that just makes some scenes seem strange and surreal (especially a bit involving an octopus).  This is another one that I would definitely read a full volume of if given the chance.  In fact, one wonders why the magazine continues to run an execrable series like Haruka, when Viz has series like this waiting in the wings.  I think I might have to make it my personal mission to get that series replaced with something that's good, or at least readable.

Oh well, speak of the devil:

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

Why do I keep talking about this series, when I generally hate it so much?  I guess its presence in the magazine means I at least read it each month, so I think about why it does or doesn't work.  Or what the appeal is, since somebody must like it enough to keep running it in the magazine.  In the past, I've pondered the fact that it might have surpassed even my generous level of girliness.  But I might have hit on another aspect this month, that being prettiness.  As much as I dislike the characters, plot, and storytelling of the series, I will admit that the art is generally quite nice.  That is, it's nice if you like looking at pretty pictures and don't mind that they don't convey action, character, movement, location, or most anything useful for providing information to the reader.  For instance, here's a typical page:

Now, I could harp on the bizarre layout there, but if you ignore that you're supposed to be able to tell what's happening, it's a beautiful image of falling flower petals.  Really, I think the appeal here is supposed to be pretty pictures, cute boys, and little else.  The flimsy plot and lame characters surely can't be what brings in the readers, can it?

Of course, this is all speculation, since I obviously dislike the series and wish it would go away.  I could be completely wrong here, just missing the fact that the audience has bad taste.  

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Drama time!  Well, that's a given in this series, but this chapter introduces a new source of the series' energy by having Zero's evil twin Ichiru enroll in the school, presumably to get revenge on his brother (I won't go into what he's avenging; it's too complicated).  And while the other students like him, since he seems to be a more friendly version of Zero, he shows his true colors right away:

Ooh, what a meanie!  And...that's about it for the chapter.  Sure, there's some stuff about Zero being unhappy that he owes Kaname his life, and Kaname refusing to tell Yuki what he knows about her past, and a continuing plot against Kaname by an evil vampire, but none of that is all that interesting.  Maybe it will pay off in the future; we seem to be in "set up an upcoming confrontation" mode, which makes up probably about 75% of this series.  But those confrontations can be immensely entertaining when they do show up, so I'm hoping one happens soon.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

We get some good athletics in this chapter, along with some nice on-court drama.  In this match, Tomoyo seems to really flower, jumping to another level of skill and leading her team to a possible victory.  She's the character who was a star player at a different school, but had to quit due to an injury.  But Nobara managed to convince her to join the team, and now she's reaching the culmination of that comeback.  It's a nice realization of a long-running minor plot.  And it gets maximum drama here when the mean players on the opposing team start to target her, and maybe even aggravate her injury on purpose.  We do get a little bit of characterization from those players, so they don't just seem like one-dimensionally-evil villains, and it's a nice effort on Takanashi's part to make all the characters seem like real people and not just plot devices.  I suspect this will play into the climactic game next issue, as everything comes to a head.  It's good athletic drama, which is one of the things this series does best.  More, please.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Man, shojo is all about drama, isn't it?  Of course it is, and this series is doing its best to keep the drama quotient high each issue.  This chapter sees Yura worry about her possible crush on the pop idol who seems to like her, but probably only because he idolizes her dad (who is a famous musician).  And while his brother (also a pop idol, and her costar on a TV show) seems to hate her, he might be coming around when he gets a glimpse of her private life.  That being her horrible relationship with her evil, condescending mother (a famous actress).  Wow, that lady is a great villain; when she runs into Yura, she belittles everything about her efforts to be an actress, saying "I guess if you tell people you're our daughter, then you can enjoy the fun parts of being a celebrity."  Ooh, don't you just want to hate her?  

I like Aihara's art style here; she's very expressive, especially when it comes to Yura's dismay and embarrassment.  She has an interesting style of doing chibi, or super-deformed art; rather than making the character smaller and more cartoony, she simply removes details from the face, often depicting little-to-no nose, giving the face a smooth profile, or drawing the mouth more simply:

It's an interesting technique, and it works pretty good for showing Yura's emotions, especially since she's so easily-flustered.  Yeah, I'm liking this series pretty well; Aihara does a great job of getting us to root for Yura to succeed, and I definitely want to see it happen in the future.  But more drama is certainly okay in the meantime.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Morita's back!  That's the big event of this month in this series; he spent a year of story time away in the United States, so having him show up and immediately resume his wacky ways is great to see.  But he gets an excellent re-entry scene, with the rest of the gang witnessing him accepting the "Mocademy Award" for visual effects in a movie called Space Titanic; his acceptance speech ends up being a 35-minute tirade against the tyrannical director:

Ah, that's funny stuff.  There's also a really bizarre moment involving a butch nurse:

Wow, that makes no sense.  I think it's a reference to another manga?  The art style reminds me of Cromartie High School, but I think that itself was referencing manga by Ryuichi Ikegami, so I don't know what exactly Umino is pointing to.  But it's still a hilarious, weird scene, and it made me laugh, so what the hey.

The rest of the month is dedicated to pondering college graduation and dealing with more of the Mayama/Ayu relationship.  Also, Morita manages to finally graduate, but then he re-enrolls in the painting department.  Yup, looks like we're doing the "make sure the characters stay in place" thing again.  It's a decent couple of chapters, and there are definitely some funny bits, but I'm not feeling the personal, dramatic moments like I have in the past.  But we'll see, maybe next month will bring more goodness.  In the meantime, there's this funny scene of Takemoto imagining Morita and Hagu comparing accomplishments:

Ah, that's funny.  More, please.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Did I mention that shojo generally means drama?  Because here's another example, as Ann finds out about her friend Shika's troubles and worries that she's headed for ruin.  It's some well-done teenage drama, and there's one especially nice undercurrent, in which Shika tells Ann about a dream in which she is being chased by shadows, and she reaches to Daigo for help, but is unable to reach him.  Ann starts having the same dream, but she does reach Daigo, only to pull him down into the shadows with her.  It's a great contrast between the two characters; Shika likes Daigo, but feels that he doesn't care about her, and thinks he won't help her as she sinks into depression and despair.  Ann, on the other hand, is worried that her problems will only end up hurting Daigo; she can't bear to bring him any pain, even if he's trying to help her by taking on some of her emotional burdens.  Man, those girls can be complicated.  It's sad stuff, but realistic and in-character.  I'm constantly impressed with how well Ashihara has defined her characters.  And she turns in some really nice artwork too; check out this scene of Ann finding Shika lying by a stream:

Wow, that's beautiful stuff.  I really dig this series.  Let's hope it continues to be this good for a long time.

Whoa, that's the issue.  More next month!

Monday, December 15, 2008

This week continues the holiday doldrums

Which is fine; I for one still need to get caught up in my reading.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 12/17/08):

Age of the Sentry #4

I guess this series is kind of fun?  I read the last issue, and it wasn't bad, but it wasn't the hilarious Silver Age-style romp that the series has been touted as.  I guess it's worth reading if you really like this kind of thing.

Beanworld Holiday Special One Shot

I think this is the first new Beanworld in quite a while (aside from the story on MySpace Dark Horse Presents).  I think that online strip might be the only bit of the series that I've ever read, and I found it near-impenetrable.  I always hear that it's a great series though, so I'll have to continue to give it a try, maybe by reading some of the earlier stuff.  I guess the appeal is the worldbuilding and the experimental language?  I suppose I'll find out, someday.

Doktor Sleepless #10

Ellis.  I haven't been reading this series.  Any word on how it's been?  Or am I the only one who was bothering with it in the first place?

Ex Machina #40

BKV and Tony Harris.  I'm already ready to read another collection here.

Fables #79

I just finished volume 11, so expect a review soon.  I like this book.  More, please!

Hellblazer #250

I don't normally read Hellblazer (not out of dislike or anything; it's just something I've never gotten into), but I think I'll have to pick this issue up.  It's an anniversary/Christmas special, featuring several short stories by an all-star lineup of creators, including Dave Gibbons/Sean Phillips, Brian Azzarello/Rafael Grampa (with a story about the Chicago Cubs curse!), Jamie Delano/David Lloyd, Peter Milligan/Eddie Campbell (and Milligan is the new writer, which is pretty cool), and China Mieville/Guiseppe Camuncoli.  That's a great group; I gotta check this one out.

Invincible Iron Man #8

Fraction.  I guess people are still reading this.  The new Marvel status quo might screw up the book, but Fraction will probably be able to run with it.

Madman Atomic Comics #12

This is still coming out.  It was one that I was close to dropping anyway, but maybe it got better in my absence?  According to the blurb I read, this issue introduces Madgirl, and supposedly answers many of the secrets of the Madman universe.  I thought the big "space" story was supposed to do that already?  I hate to say it, but I'm kind of past caring.  I'm sure I'll end up collecting these stories as back issues in a few years, since I still like Allred, but who knows, maybe I'm done with him.  Bummer.

Punisher War Zone #2

More Ennis/Dillon wackiness.  I'll have a review of this one up soon; maybe I'll end up writing about the whole damn thing.  I hope that doesn't ruin it for me (and everybody else).

Samurai: Legend #4

Another Marvel Euro-comic ends.  So, was this any good?  Anybody?  Has anyone been reading these Soleil books?  Hello?

Spider-Man Noir #1

Following up last week's X-Men version of the "black-and-white crime movie type of story that features Marvel characters for some reason" comic, here's one with Spidey.  Will he be some sort of mob enforcer?  Will anybody read it?

Thor God-Sized #1

More Fraction.  I guess this continues the classic Walt Simonson story about Skurge.  I should try to read that one someday.

Wormwood Gentlemen Corpse Down Pub

Ben Templesmith!  It's a one-shot with some short stories featuring everybody's favorite reanimated-corpse-controlling demonic worm.  I really need to get caught up on these; they're awesome.

Armageddon Now World War III HC

Ah ha ha ha!  It's the Rob Liefield Christian end-of-the-world thing!  I only mention it so we can all gather around and point and laugh.  Here's a handy link for doing so.

Boys Definitive Edition HC

Ooh, it's "definitive"!  I'm not sure what that means, but this gets you a fancy version of the first fourteen issues of the series, with a slipcase, bonus artwork, scripts, the works.  Not the best way to spend your fifty bucks, if you ask me.

Brush With Passion Art Of Dave Stevens PX Slipcased HC ED

To commemorate Bettie Page, you can spend another fifty bucks on lots of pictures of her.  And probably some other stuff, but Dave Stevens was all about Bettie Page.

Programme Vol 2 TPB

The second half of Peter Milligan's "US vs. Russia" superhero maxiseries.  It's interesting stuff, but I don't know if I would recommend it unless you're a Milligan fan.  I kind of regret spending the money on it, but it's not bad or anything...

Secret Wars Omnibus HC

Hey, I was just talking about this series with a friend the other day.  I actually enjoy it quite a bit, as an example of an enjoyable large-scale superhero punch-em-up.  It's definitely not worth $100 for a big collection though.  Spend that kind of money at your own risk (of being punched in the head by me).

Showcase Presents The Brave and Bold batman Team-ups Vol 3 

Hey, here's hoping for "The Cowardly and the Castrated", part two!

Skitzy HC

Brian Heater reviewed this one the other day; it looks decent.  It's an early graphic novel by Don Freeman, who previously had worked as a gag cartoonist, I think.  Neat-o.

Spaghetti Bros Vol 2 HC

Did anybody read the first volume of this Carlos Trillo-written European crime thing?  Just curious.  I always like other people to do my legwork for me.

Wolverine Origins Vol 5 Deadpool TPB

I'm really not very interested in this series, or Wolverine in general, but Tucker Stone assures me that this storyline was the bee's knees, with lots of Looney Tunes-style violence.  That doesn't mean I'll ever pay money for it, but it could be worth a look if I ever see it at a library (which probably isn't likely, but you never know).


I think I've read through volume 4 on this series.  Maybe I'll catch up someday, maybe not.  But it's still coming out, and I'm sure there's plenty of violence and nastiness within.  Enjoy, people who read it.

Naoki Urasawas Monster Vol 18 TP

Final volume!  I actually have this at home, but I'm still stuck on volume 8, which I haven't yet procured.  I really need to remedy that, so I can get through to the end of this.  It's awesome stuff; Naoki Urasawa rules.  Now bring on Pluto and 20th Century Boys!

Shojo Beat Vol 5 #1 Jan 2009

Hey, I already have this.  In fact, if all goes well, you might have already seen my review once you read this.  Yes, I am able to bend time and space via my blot posts.  Mwa ha ha! EDIT: Never mind, I'm full of crap.  Maybe tonight?

Vagabond VIZBIG Edition Vol 2 TP

Another big Takehiko Inoue volume!  I have the first VIZBIG volume on my review stack, but I haven't read it, and probably only because I had previously read the volumes it collects.  But here's another installment of his stuff, and I'll give it a recommendation sight unseen.  Inoue is that good.  Check it out if you haven't before; you won't be disappointed.  At least, you better not, or I'll be disappointed in you.

Uh, everything?  Yes, I suppose it is.  More content to come, probably.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In which I make a nuisance of myself, as usual

So I ended up attending the Kramers Ergot 7 release party at Chicago Comics last night, and it was pretty cool, if only because I actually got to check out the book, which I will never be able to actually afford.  It's a pretty amazing package, even if many of the comics within don't seem to be to my personal tastes.  But it's a beautiful thing to look at, being huge and full of intriguing imagery.  And even if I don't like every contributor, you've still got the likes of Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Jaime Hernandez, Anders Nilsen, Kevin Huizenga, and probably quite a few others that I have no problem with.  If you can afford it, or at least have a chance to flip through it, I recommend taking a look.

This event was more of a signing than a reading/Q&A (like this one), so I don't really have much to report about what creators think, or upcoming news, or anything like that, but I do have some pictures and general anecdotes.  Plus, there was free beer!  One of the highlights was watching (left-to-right in the picture below) Dan Zettwoch, Sammy Harkham, and Souther Salazar jam on sketches in the front of fans' copies of the book:

You could tell they were havning a blast; one of them would start drawing a hand or a face or something, and the others would just add whatever they felt like to it, until it grew into a crazy jumble of imagery.  It was impossible to tell who had done what; one recipient of this treatment was incredibly excited to own such a piece of coolness.

Not being able to afford the book of the night (Chris Ware said it wasn't worth it anyway), I did bring some of my own books to be signed, and purchased a couple others.  I always love to share the sketches that creators do in my books, so here are a few.  Ivan Brunetti, drawing in McSweeney's #13:

He thanked me for my support (sarcastically, I think), confirming Laura Hudson's mom's opinion of him.  Kevin Huizenga signed a copy of Fight or Run #1 that I purchased:

Anders Nilsen signed The End:

And Ron Rege, Jr. signed that little minicomic that came with McSweeny's #13:

Talking with Chris Ware was the highlight of the night for me (aside from the free beer), especially because he had read my recent review of Acme Novelty Library #19.  I think I was more flattered by that than he was by my effusive praise, although he was the last person I expected to confuse me with the more famous Matt Brady.  He was also interested in the library copy of Skim that I was carrying; when I mentioned that it was the book about which Seth and Chester Brown had written a letter protesting the nomination of the writer for a Canadian Governor's General Literary Award while ignoring the artist, he said, "Oh, and me"; I had forgotten that he had also added his support to the issue.  He hadn't read the book though, since he asked me how it was; when I described it as "a teenage coming-of-age story", he said, "why doesn't anybody write 80-year-old coming-of-age stories?  It'll happen sooner or later."  I also asked him if there was a projected completion date for Rusty Brown, and he said "when my daughter enters college".  He did mention that he's been able to get more work done lately, so hopefully it won't be that long (his daughter is three-and-a-half at the moment).  And he also signed some books, so here are the sketches he did.  McSweeney's #13:

Acme Novelty Library #18:

And Acme #19:

Other enjoyable tidbits: Carol Tyler entertaining people in line with some baton-twirling:

Chris Ware taking a picture with me:

And a few other shots of the creators, starting with Kevin Huizenga and Chris Ware:

Ron Rege, Jr. and Anders Nilsen:

It was a good time; I wish I could have afforded to buy the book, especially since it came with a tour-exclusive print to which the creators could add their own embellishments; it can sort of be seen in this picture:

Maybe next time, after I've won the lottery.  Yeah, that's going to happen.  So anyway, check out the book if you get the chance, and keep reading the comics!  Good times.