Saturday, March 21, 2009

Monster Mash: Love is doomed

Non-Monster stuff first, so skip down to the cover image if you don't want to read my blathering and linkage:  

I haven't talked about Battlestar Galactica around here for the last couple seasons or so, but the final episodes and the lead-up to the finale have been pretty incredible.  And while I don't know if the last installment was perfect, it was probably about as satisfying as it could be, bringing everything to a conclusion and answering about as much as possible.  Some of the long-running mysteries were kind of hand-waved away as "God did it", but the divine has been a long-running aspect of the show, so it's not completely unexpected, and I did like the final nod toward "god" being some sort of alien intelligence rather than an actual deity; it satisfies my atheist urges, even though this is all fiction anyway.  But the best thing about the episode for me was probably the character moments; I teared up at least twice, once early on when President Roslin gave some final thanks to Dr. Cottle, who couldn't figure out how to react, and later on when Adama and Roslin were taking their final flight.  The final scene between Starbuck and Anders wasn't bad either.  Good times all around, with some exciting action and actual finality; I call it a win.

By the way, if you want to read more of my babbling about TV shows, I reviewed last week's Dollhouse at The Factual Opinion.  Man, that episode was terrible.  I still haven't watched the one from last night, but it better be good, or I'm done with this thing.

Links: I gotta point out this excellent review of an old Smurfs comic by Jog; it's an amazing piece of criticism, summarizing the story and enlightening readers by pointing out the Belgian politics that influenced the creators.  If there was a prize for internet criticism, this post would be the one to beat.

Tom Neely posted a nice one-page cover version of the X-Men story where Kitty Pride fought the demon in the mansion, done in the style of Nancy.  It was done for a charity art show; that guy can draw.

Check out Paul Pope's cover for the long-rumored and actually finally upcoming Marvel "indie" anthology!  Damn, that thing is beautiful; I can't wait to see it colored.

And speaking of Pope, DC has announced a new title called Wednesday Comics, and it's a pretty cool concept, replicating the format of old Sunday newspaper comics that took up an entire page, with some great creators involved, including Pope, Mike Allred, Joe Kubert, Kyle Baker (this appears to be where that Hawkman project he's been mentioning is going to see print), Neil Gaiman, Walt Simonson, Ryan Sook, Amanda Conner, and others.  I rarely get interested in new superhero-based projects, but this should be pretty awesome.

And finally, this preview of a new comics-instructional book for kids is charming and fun.  It's called Adventures in Cartooning, it's by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, and Andrew Arnold, and it's coming out in April from First Second.  Looks like one to watch out for.

Okay, to the real content.  Watch out for SPOILERS:

Monster, volume 15
By Naoki Urasawa

It seems like I say this for every installment of the series, but wow, a lot happens in this volume.  We see some continued revelations about what's going on with Johan and the conspiratorial machinery that created him and wants to control him, Nina continues to regain her memories (including a somewhat dodgy scene involving hypnosis) and develops a new resolve to stop her brother, Detective Suk and Verdeman (Tenma's lawyer) discover in each other kindred spirits who want to bring out the truth, and Tenma encounters yet another person with a past that has been affected by the conspiracy and a desire for vengeance.  It's all excellent furthering of the plots, although with only three volumes to go, one wonders how Urasawa is going to wrap everything up satisfactorily.  He does seem to be relying on coincidences more and more often, including a scene in which Tenma is trying to escape on foot from the Frankfurt police and is somehow rescued and spirited away (after being knocked unconscious by a car) by somebody who just happens to be associated with his quest.  But at this point, you kind of have to just go with Urasawa's story; it's all or nothing.

And luckily, the emphasis on character overrides any clunkiness of the plot.  The real centerpiece of this volume is what goes on between Eva and her bodyguard Martin; they're both wounded individuals that have built up impressive, seemingly-impenetrable facades, and the moments where their exteriors crack and real emotion shows through is played wonderfully, giving real heart to the story, rather than concentrating solely on the tangled schemes that ensnare everyone.

The emotion starts early, with the first scene in the volume seeing Tenma confront Martin in a bar, only for Martin to beat the snot out of him and tell him to get lost:

Martin seems to have developed some affection for Eva, even though she treats him so scornfully.  But maybe he recognizes some similarities in her, as somebody who has suffered some losses and found her own way of coping.  Not that her methods are very healthy; they seem to consists primarily of constant drinking and mocking rejection of anybody she encounters.  But he managed to get through her shell too, if only by reversing the trajectory of his life and refusing to kill her.  We learn that he has twice seen people he cared for kill themselves when he had to opportunity to stop them.  When Eva expresses similar desires, he doesn't continue the trend; perhaps it's balking at doing the deed himself rather than letting others finish themselves off, but it seems that he has turned over a new leaf, refusing to allow someone to let despair overwhelm them, not if he can help it:

As we learned in last volume's flash-forward, this decision will have dire consequences for him, but it seems to be enough to have jostled Eva out of her drunken, nihilistic state, at least for now.  In a series of heartbreaking scenes, she waits for him at a train station, hoping to run away together, and it's fascinating and sad to watch her familiar look of contempt melt into one of sadness and even possible hope:

And then when she finds out Martin's fate, it turns to sorrow and regret:

Urasawa does such an excellent job with facial expressions that all this emotional information is communicated through the images; the words aren't even necessary to get the full effect of what she is feeling.  It's wrenching stuff.  Following these characters over the course of the series, we feel like we've gotten to know these characters, and we're going through this rocky emotional terrain right along with them.  And luckily, even though this seems like it could be a natural exit point from the series for Eva, it looks like we haven't seen the last of her.  I'm glad; she's turned into one of my favorite characters.

In addition to all this character work, a few important plot points are struck, including the revelation of another major villain of the series.  That would be Peter Capek, who appears to be one of the men behind the Red Rose Mansion, 511 Kinderheim, and the origins of Johan.  And, interestingly, Johan appears to have gained an apprentice, another young man with murderous intentions.  He has a confrontation with Martin that is deliciously freaky, mostly because he seems to be Johan's opposite; where Johan is cool and emotionless, he seems to get a perverse joy out of the idea of death and despair:

It's another counterpoint to Johan's inhumanity; Urasawa seems to be examining the various reasons that people kill each other, from loud displays of passion, to perverse serial killings, to calm and calculated genocidal impulses.  Or maybe he's just coming up with an array of different villains that are all compelling in their own manner.  Whatever the case, it's highly enjoyable to watch them bounce off each other, with the end result almost certain: Johan will execute all of his pale imitators, and only Tenma will be able to stop him, although everyone else, from Nina to Eva to Reichwein to Verdeman, will get involved in the ultimate confrontation.  We'll have to see how that plays out in the final volumes.  The end is not too far off now...