Monday, June 29, 2009

This week, comics appear on shelves, and people will buy them. You know the drill

I think I already used up all my links that I was saving.

Wait, I found one: the latest "issue" of Myspace Dark Horse Presents has a "Dr. Horrible" prequel illustrated by Jim Rugg. Also, a Hellboy story starring a young Dr. Bruttenholm and a cute two-pager by Nicholas Kole. Decent readin'.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 7/1/09):

Agents of Atlas #7

Jeff Parker! I'm really enjoying this series, so hopefully it's selling well enough to last a while longer, at least. This issue, which is once again illustrated by the excellent Gabriel Hardman, sees the wedding of Namor and Namora, maybe. Gross? Hot? We'll find out!

Bad Kids Go to Hell #1

I dunno about this one; it's published by Antarctic Press, which isn't usually a sign of quality, but it does sound interesting. The blurb describes it as "The Breakfast Club meets the The Grudge", with a story that sees a prep school haunted by an evil spirit. Could be decent, could be lame.

Batman and Robin #2

Morrison and Quitely! The first issue of this was pretty good, although it felt like mostly setup to me. Still, I love the action scenes that integrate sound effects into the art, and there are some hints of real creepiness to come, along with good characterization on the leads. I'll pick up the first three issues at least, and probably skip the non-Quitely ones for now. Can't miss out on excellent artwork.

Boys #32

Garth Ennis is still going strong; apparently last issue saw a major character die, but I'm trying to avoid spoiling who it was exactly. Dammit, that's what I get when I wait for the trade. Carlos Esquerra is still doing the art; I bet it will be a pretty good read, whenever I get around to it.

Chew #2

The first issue of this series seemed to go over pretty well among the online commentariat. I might have to give this series a try. For those who are unaware, it's about a detective who gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats; also, there's some business about black market chicken after it gets outlawed due to bird flu. Interesting?

Cursed Pirate Girl #0

I believe the first issue of this series already came out, but I guess this is a preview issue or something that keeps the interest up while waiting for the second? I can't find much information online, but this review indicates that it has a four-page story and some other content. I really need to check out this series; the art by Jeremy Bastian is gorgeous.

Destroyer #4

Man, this series is nuts, isn't it? Robert Kirkman's usual writing tics are in effect, but this series seems about as violent as he's ever gotten, or at least as bloody. It's so over-the-top that characters spend entire scenes coated in red from head to toe; that's pretty hilarious. If you can stand the earnest writing that seems lifted straight from an action movie starring John Cena, give it a read.

Existence 2.0 #1

This is one of those series from Image that features a sort of sci-fi concept that might be interesting; who knows if it will ever finish though. It's something about a physicist who gets killsed, but his consciousness transfers into the body of his killer, and he has to solve his own murder, or something. Here's a preview.

Fantastic Four #568

I think Mark Millar and Brian Hitch's run is coming to a close soon, maybe at the end of this storyline? I still don't really buy the whole "Dr. Doom's teachers showing up to destroy the Earth" angle, but it could turn out okay. Last issue saw them apparently kill Doom and then dump his body in the Pleistocene era; who wants to bet that he survives and spends 20 years building a time machine or something, and then returns and saves the day?

Finding Nemo Reef Rescue #1 (of 4)

Boom! Studios keeps going with their Disney/Pixar books, this one functioning as a sequel to the movie, with the stars returning and going on another adventure. Giving it a glance, it certainly looks bright and cute. If it gets into the hands of any kids, I'm sure they'll eat it right up.

Greek Street #1

Ooh, this is one that I'm a little bit excited about. It's a new Vertigo series from writer Peter Milligan, doing a sort of retelling of Greek tragedies and mythology set in modern-day London.
Northlanders' David Gianfelice provides the art; I bet it will be quite good. Don't let me down, Milligan!

Invincible Iron Man #15

I've been following this series with trepidation, since I feel like Matt Fraction is kind of struggling to maintain his creativity while working in the Marvel Comics salt mines, but while his current storyline started out a bit awkwardly, as if forced into place by editorial fiat, it's started getting better. I still don't see why Tony Stark has to erase his own mind, but Fraction is trying his damndest to make it interesting, having him slowly lose his facilities and have to switch to ever-simpler versions of his armor. Not a bad idea, and the characterization is still pretty good. I don't know if I would go so far as to recommend it, especially with the kinda-ugly Salvador Larocca art, but it's not a terrible read.

Marvel Divas #1

Oh, the controversial "Sex in the City with superheroines" comic! Will it live up to the (mostly negative) hype? Will everyone be appalled by the sexism, or will they be surprised at the rich characters and their compelling love lives? Or will anyone bother looking inside after seeing the hideous cover? Find out tomorrow; I'll have a review up at Comics Bulletin.

Unwritten #1 2nd Printing

I didn't read this when it originally came out, but I did get a free copy at MoCCA, and I thought it was actually quite good. Now I'm intrigued, enough to try to obtain a copy of the trade, at least. I'm not always on board with Mike Carey, but he seems to be doing something interesting here, and I want to see how it turns out.

USA Comics #1

Another of Marvel's 70th anniversary comics, this one starring the Destroyer, fightin' the Nazis well before he got old and covered in blood by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker. John Arcudi writes, Steve Ellis (High Moon) draws, and you can read a reprint of one of his early adventures in the back of the book. Fun, hopefully.

Witchfinder In the Service of Angels #1

Mike Mignola's newest Hellboy-verse series, about a Victorian-era dude who presumably finds witches. I liked the story starring the character that was on Myspace Dark Horse Presents last year, so I bet this will also be good. Man, Mignola just keeps going, doesn't he? That's good for everybody.

Y The Last Man #1 Special Edition

Here's the latest thing that DC has going to capitalize on the Watchmen movie; only one dollar for the first issue of this series. I did really love this series while it was going, and this first installment is a good one for getting people hooked, so if you haven't read it, I recommend giving it a try. You'll be eagerly following the adventures of Yorick the last dude on Earth in no time.

Boys Vol 4 TPB We Gotta Go Now

Hey, it's the collection of that "X-Men" storyline that recently finished! From what I heard, it went on a bit long, but it had a hell of a finish. I do like this series quite a bit, so I'll be picking this up. Don't let me down, Garth Ennis!

Far Arden HC

This new release from Top Shelf looks to be pretty enjoyable. It's by Kevin Cannon (who I recently learned is not Zander Cannon's brother, even though the two of them seem inseparable), and it's about a sailor searching for the mystical island of the title. It looks like great fun, full of action, humor, and funny sound effects. I definitely plan to pick it up. I also recommend Tom Spurgeon's recent interview with Cannon, which was quite enjoyable.

Firebreather Vol 1 TP New Printing

I never did get a chance to read this Phil Hester/Andy Kuhn series about the son of a giant monster and his various adventures. I think this is a collection of the original miniseries, rather than the second, ongoing volume, although I'm not completely sure. It's supposed to be good, isn't it?

Classic GI Joe TP Vol 4

I kind of doubt I'll ever read these stories from the Larry Hama-written Marvel run of the series, but I'm hoping Tucker Stone does, as long as it leads to fun write-ups like the one he did of the first volume for the Savage Critics.

The Goon Vol 8 Those That Is Damned TPB

I believe this volume collects the series up through the most recent issue, completing the year-long storyline that saw the Goon and Franky fight a resurrected Labrazio and keep him from taking over the town. Good stuff, with plenty of sick jokes, poignant moments, and great art from Eric Powell. I give it two severed thumbs up (that joke was dumb).

Magic Trixie And The Dragon TP

This came out last week, but I missed it somehow, so I'm mentioning it this week. I love this kids' series by Jill Thompson, so I recommend that everybody reads this. I should have a review up soon, but in the meantime, here's what I thought of the first two. Caleb Mozzocco seems to have also become obsessed with her recently, to my delight.

Nelson Mandela Authorized Comic Book

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a biography of Mandela, with the writer listed as "The Nelson Mandela Foundation", with art by Umlando Wezithombe. Published by W.W. Norton; I guess this is the way to go if you're trying to educate yourself and still remain trendy. Here's the Amazon listing if you're interested.

Runaways Rock Zombies HC

The end of Terry Moore's run on this series wasn't too bad, although the story was mostly saved by Takeshi Miyazawa's artwork. It was only three or four issues long though; does it really need to go into a hardcover and sell for twenty bucks? I say save your money and read the current Kathryn Immonen/Sara Pichelli run; it's much better.

Tales Designed To Thrizzle Vol 1 HC

It's the collection of the first four issues of Michael Kupperman's hilarious series, now in color! This stuff is comedy gold, so get it if you haven't read it already, and hell, spend the extra money to see the non-monochromatic version if you want. Fanta has the usual preview/slideshow, if you're interested.

Voice Of The Fire SC

I don't know if Alan Moore's novel/short story collection is only just coming out in paperback or if this is a new edition, but whatever the case, it's a great book. God, Alan Moore is a genius.

Emma Vol 9 TP

On the manga front, I always hear that this series is really good, so I'll definitely have to check it out at some point. This isn't the place to do so, being (I believe) the final volume and focusing on some tangential characters in the cast. Maybe I'll get to it eventually.

Girl Who Leapt Through Time GN

I'm not sure if this series started out as a manga and was adapted into an anime, but this particular volume is a manga adaptation of the anime, so it's either a second- or third-generation version of the property, and probably not the best way to experience the story. I think I've heard good things about it, so maybe I'll try to watch the anime at some point, but knowing how well adaptations like this usually work out, I wouldn't really give this a recommendation.

My Heavenly Hockey Club Vol 8 GN

Here's another series that I often hear is good. Yes, it's yet another entry in my massive list of stuff to possibly consider reading someday. I've removed that file from my memory so as to keep my brain from reaching capacity, but it exists somewhere in the ether. I'm so organized!

And that appears to be the extent of this week's notable releases. I may have to visit the comic shop twice in as many weeks! Maybe I'll even do some writing this week too; you never know.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Detroit Metal City: Doesn't everybody prefer demon blood to cheese tarts?

Linkages: I'm sure plenty of people have linked to this Art Spiegelman piece about old editorial cartoons dealing with a ship full of Jewish refugees from 1939, and how that relates to the way cartoonists deal with issues today, but I wanted to make sure I pointed it out, since I found it quite interesting.

In other news, Fantagraphics is putting together a couple of collections of some of Jason's books, which is nice. First is Almost Silent, which will include You Can't Get There From Here, Tell Me Something, Meow, Baby!, and The Living and the Dead. The second, which is tentatively titled What I Did, contains The Iron Wagon, Sshhhh!, and Hey, Wait. I'll probably pick up the second one, but I already own most of the first volume, so I'll pass on that one. Still, good values, good production, great comics, don't miss out if you haven't read them. Jason is awesome.

I'm sure people have been talking about this, but I found it interesting and worth mentioning: Longbox, a digital comics platform that seems based on iTunes. I don't know if it will take off, but it seems like a good, multi-company solution for digital distribution, finally making online comics sales something that makes sense. I'll be watching and seeing how it plays out.

I don't know if this is new or not, but you can read Agents of Atlas #0 for free at Marvel's digital comics site; it's a nice prequel to the series that's currently running, filling in the gaps between the miniseries and the ongoing. Go Jeff Parker!

Also not all that new: the official American trailer for Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo! I can't wait to see this.

And while I'm linking to videos, here's the latest episode of my main man Tucker Stone's show Advanced Common Sense. I saw some of the rough footage from this shoot when I was in New York, and it was quite hilarious. I encourage everyone to email Tucker and demand a release of the deleted scene in which he makes out with a fish.

Also, I reviewed Dark Reign: Zodiac #1 over at Comics Bulletin earlier in the week. That was a pretty good comic; Joe Casey and Nathan Fox!

Okay, actual content:

Detroit Metal City, volume 1
By Kiminori Wakasugi

Ah, the rape joke. Such a classic form of comedy. Why, I remember the nights I would sit around the campfire with my family, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, all relating our favorite rape jokes and laughing uproariously. Such grand times.

Wait, I'm mistaken. I've been informed that rape is a subject never to be broached in comis, much less in jest! How could anyone take it lightly? Only emotionless monsters would ever consider such an outrage!

Well, obviously the truth is somewhere between those extremes, but Detroit Metal City definitely skews toward the former, seeking to make comedy out of its outrageousness. It certainly does contain more uses of the word "rape" than I can ever remember seeing between two covers, but the key thing to note is that makes it really funny. It's got that Japanese style of humor, getting a lot of mileage out of awkward situations and over-the-top silliness. And while the art isn't anything to write home about, its bare-bones stiffness manages to make the goofy antics that much more strange and humorous.

The concept: meek, gentle Soichi Negishi wants to live a chic life in the big city (Tokyo), playing indie rock, hanging out in trendy locations, and meeting cute girls, but somehow he ended up as the lead singer of the titular "evil-core" metal band, going by the name of Johannes Krauser II and dressing in a ridiculous getup (my favorite part of the outfit are the oh-so-dainty ruffles on the wrists and neck) while screaming songs about murder, rape, blood, and mayhem. He hates the music that he plays, but he also happens to be really good at it when he gets into character, and his fans can't get enough of his antics. Each chapter sees some sort of conflict between Soichi's on-stage and off-stage lives, usually to incredibly humorous effect. It usually starts small and builds to a goofy climax that has the reader laughing out loud; for instance, one chapter sees him trying to sing his cute indie songs (which are as cheesily nice as DMC's are nasty) on the street, only to be drowned out by a DMC cover band. Annoyed, he decides to show the punks how it's done, getting into his costume and showing them up as Krauser II. But when the police come to break up the disturbance, he's mortified and tries to turn himself in, only to trip and accidentally brain a cop with his guitar, thus maintaining his reputation as a menace to society.

Other stories continue along those lines, with running gags like a girl Soichi has a crush on continually getting humiliated by DMC, or the band's ridiculous manager, a woman who is constantly urging them to make her panties wet with their rock and shouting lines like "I danced till my pants turned into a bowl of clam chowder." It can get a bit repetitious if read in a big bunch, but take a break between chapters and you'll find yourself laughing at the jokes over and over. I know I did.

As I mentioned above, the art is nothing too special, but it's effective for what it is. The characters are often quite stiff, and one might not realize what sort of ridiculous antics the band was up to if fans didn't provide commentary:

As for facial expressions, Soichi-as-Krauser only seems to have one, an open-mouthed maniacal scream. Without the makeup, Soichi has a couple, usually either a placid smile or a Krauser-esque look of shock and dismay:

It works for the story though, kind of putting a minimalist style on things, tending toward something like Cromartie High School, but not quite reaching those levels of abstraction. The low levels of detail work to make the rock and roll scenes more comedic, since the fans are getting all worked up over what doesn't really seem to be that big of a deal. The goofy costumes and lyrics about "raping all women" are pretty stupid, so to hear a fan react to them by saying "It's like I'm being raped by the music!" just makes the whole thing funnier.

And another nice aspect of the comic is that over the course of the volume, Soichi seems to be growing into his Krauser persona, rather than always hating it and wanting to quit. He finds a few good off-stage uses for the character, and he even seems to be enjoying the release that the shows provide. At the same time, he's progressing in his relationship with his would-be girlfriend, which should provide plenty of humor in future stories, since she's sympatico with his metal-hating trendiness.

Even though this is only the first volume, the series is quite hilarious, always upping the ante on what sort of perversity you expect from the band and coming up with funny ways to mix Soichi's disparate worlds. It might be hard to keep raising the stakes; the antics could get predictable and tiresome, but that's certainly not the case here. I expect future volumes to only get funnier.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This week, I note some notable stuff

Links: Hey, looks like Geoff Grogan is going to be doing a follow-up to Look Out!! Monsters, which I recently read and thought was pretty good. That's nice to hear.

CBR has a sort of "exit interview" with Mike Allred up, talking about his last couple issues of Madman Atomic Comics and various plans for the future. That's all good, but the best bit is that you can download several tracks from Allred's band The Gear's upcoming album, which manages to tie in to Madman and Red Rocket 7, Allred's other series. It's a multimedia explosion!

And check this out: J. Caleb Mozzocco reports that Boom! Studios is going to be publishing upcoming issues of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories and Mickey Mouse Presents. That's good to hear, since those are the place to read classic Carl Barks comics and the like, and Boom! is doing newsstand distribution with their kids' books. Get those comics out there!

New comics this week (Wednesday, 6/24/09):

Actress And The Bishop #1

Hey, this looks cool. It's a collection of Brian Bolland's strips starring the titular characters that have appeared in places like A1. Here's a post about them; I'll have to try to get my hands on this.

Astonishing X-Men #30

I don't know if anybody is still bothering to pay attention to Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi's run on this book, but this is their last issue, in which the X-Men fight Forge, who has turned crazyevil. Was it worth the wait? Eh, probably not. Following Bianchi, Phil Jimenez is supposedly going to illustrate the next arc, but I don't know if that has been confirmed, or if I should really care. Again, probably not.

Barack the Barbarian #1 Obama Cover

Oh god, this actually exists. I shouldn't even be mentioning it, it's so stupid. In fact, forget you ever saw it, and hopefully it will go away.

Cerebus Archive #2 Zombie & Obama Cover

Crap, more Obamasploitation. Dave Sim, what will we ever do with you? Here's more of his old stuff, if you really want to see what he was doing before Cerebus, which itself wasn't all that interesting until he had been doing it for a couple years. Yay?

Dark Avengers Uncanny X-Men: Utopia #1

I probably shouldn't bother mentioning this one either, but I'm kind of fascinated by Matt Fraction's continuing evolution into generic Marvel writer #47. Here, he's joined by Marc Silvestri for some ugly, ugly scenes (seriously, it's like less-laughable Rob Liefeld art) of superdudes fighting in order to establish a "dark" version of the X-Men, since everything Marvel does has to have an evil version these days. Yawn.

Dark Reign Sinister Spider-Man #1

See, here's more "darkness". Ugh. Again, I wouldn't even bother mentioning it if it weren't for Chris Bachalo doing the art. It looks nice, at least, but that probably doesn't make it worth reading. Brian Reed writes, if it matters.

Dark Reign Zodiac #1

And then there's one Dark thing that I am actually interested in, solely for the creative team. That would be Joe Casey and Nathan Fox; writer and artist match up, for once! I have no idea what this is about; maybe some sort of new supervillain? Hopefully it will be good; Casey can sometimes wrangle good stories in the midst of corporate dictates, and I love love love Nathan Fox's art. I should have a review of this one up at Comics Bulletin tomorrow.

Detective Comics #854

On the other side of the aisle, here's a comic that I don't really care to read, but it's still notable; it's the beginning of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's Batwoman story, which will surely look beautiful, if nothing else. Who knows, maybe it'll turn out to be a classic that we all hail as genius. If so, I'll read the trade.

Fantastic Four Giant-Size Adventures #1

I wouldn't really recommend this for the main story, which has kind-of-ugly art by Vicente Cifuentes (whoever that is), but the backup stories are pretty notable: a Sue Storm/Misty Knight bit illustrated by Colleen Coover, and that two-page Tintin homage drawn by Dustin Weaver that I mentioned the other day. It's all written by Paul Tobin; I say give it an in-store flip-through, at least.

Immortal Iron Fist #27

I didn't realize this was getting cancelled, but this is the last issue of the series. I guess the upcoming Immortal Weapons series is something of a relaunch, rather than a spinoff? It's too bad; this was getting to be pretty good. Anyway, this issue is about "the fall of the house of Rand". Sounds like fun; way to end on a downer, guys.

Literals #3

It's the end of the Great Fables Crossover! I've been avoiding reading too much about it, so I don't know exactly what the big to-do was all about, but I'll find out soon enough. Fables; apparently I can't get enough of it.

Northlanders #18

New storyline, apparently about Viking women going into battle, or the legends of valkyries, or something like that. Art by Danijel Zezelj, so it should look pretty great.

Runaways #11

It's the first issue in the long-awaited (by me, anyway) run by Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli! This one seems mostly devoted to re-establishing characterization (which was kind of all over the place in Terry Moore's run) and setting up the storyline that starts here, but there's at least one pretty major event that will shock fans, I expect. I'm definitely liking it so far, although that doesn't necessarily mean it won't go off the rails. Don't let me down, ladies!

Spirit Vol 6 #30

I haven't been following this series since Darwyn Cooke left, so I don't know if it's been any good, but this issue is notable because it's written and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming. I usually like his stuff, so hopefully it will be good. We'll see...

Unknown Soldier Vol 4 #9

Did I mention that I read the first issue of this series and thought it was really good? Now I'm pretty interested in reading more, even more so than I was already. Collection, please.

Viking #2

I picked up the first issue of this Ivan Brandon/Nic Klein book, and it certainly looked nice, but it was way too hard to follow for a comic about Vikings. I had trouble telling characters apart and figuring out what was supposed to be going on from panel to panel. Very disappointing, but it still seems like something worth following. Maybe Klein is still learning the sequential stuff; he mostly does covers, right? I do like that it's oversized and still costs only $2.99. This is one to keep watching, I say.

X-Men #512

I was ragging on Matt Fraction above, but this issue of his X-Men run is probably the best thing he's written on that series so far. It's a double-sized story about Beast's team of scientists going back in time to 1906 to research early mutants and getting in fights with the Hellfire Club of the time and a steampunk Sentinel; very cool and enjoyable stuff, with big action and actual emotional resonance. Nice art by Yanick Paquette too. Give it a try if you want to see Fraction do something that fits his style for once before he gets caught up in more pointless crossovers and shit.

X-Men Forever #2

Wow, I saw a couple mentions of the first issue of this Chris Claremont revival thing that seemed to think it was pretty good; me, I thought it was terrible, just badly-written, ugly, stupid shit. Please don't support this sort of thing, people.

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder TP Vol 01

It's the softcover version of Frank Miller's current Batman stupidity, in case you didn't want to shell out for the fancy one that already came out. Nine issues worth of material for 20 bucks; not a bad deal. As long as you really want to read this kind of dumb shit, that is.

Awesome 2 Awesomer TP

It's the second installment of Indie Spinner Rack's anthology, with a nice-looking cover by Jeff Smith! I liked the first one, if I remember correctly, so I bet this will be good. It looks like a lot of the same talent will be returning, along with people like Jeff Lemire and Alex Robinson. You can see a 20-page preview here.

Brat Pack TP New Edition

Rick Veitch! This is one of those comics that get mentioned in the same breath as Watchmen as stories that redefined superheroes or brough realism to them or whatever, although it also has a reputation as a book that just brought ugliness and nastiness to the genre. Me, I just want to read it because I really like Veitch. Here, you can sample the first 32 pages of the book at Veitch's site to get a taste.

City Of Fever HC

Apparently, this graphic novel by Kalman Spigel is some sort of sci-fi noir about crime in a domed city on a super-hot planet. The concept interests me, but I can barely find any information about it online; there's only a blurb and an "order now" link on the author/publisher's website. It might be interesting, but it's hard to tell.

Empowered Vol 5 TPB

Ah, more Adam Warren and his goofy, naughty, slightly meta superhero series. I love this book, both for Warren's art and his strong characters, not to mention his cool, out-there ideas. Don't let me down, Adam!

Graphic Classics Vol 17 Science Fiction Classics GN

I don't read much of these literary adaptations, but this one looks like it has some good stuff, including stories by Johnny Ryan, Roger Langridge, and Ellen Lindner, with the main event being Micah Farritor (White Picket Fences) drawing War of the Worlds. Cool. Here's a review by Johanna Draper Carlson; I might need to read this one.

Immortal Iron Fist Fraction Brubaker Aja Omnibus HC

Here's a complete collection of the run that got the current Iron Fist series going to so much acclaim, although 75 bucks seems pricey; can't you get the three or so individual volumes for less than $20 each? I guess you have to pay extra to have it all under one cover. I still haven't read the whole thing, but that first storyline is pretty great, and I dig the cool historical stories that Fraction told here and there during the run. I wouldn't spring for it, but I'll recommend the stories inside it, in one form or another.

Immortal Iron Fist TP Vol 4 Mortal Iron Fist

On the other hand, this follow-up to the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja run might be what killed the book. Duane Swierczynski might have been trying too hard to replicate their style; once he moved onto the next thing, it got pretty good. And then it ended. I say skip this one and read the next volume, then get bummed out that it's over.

JLA Deluxe Edition Vol 2 HC

Part two of the swanky editions of Grant Morrison's run on this series. I think this includes the "Rock of Ages" arc that a lot of people said Final Crisis rehashed, and the Prometheus story that came next. Good stuff; give it a read if you haven't before.

Low Moon TP

New Jason! Fantagraphics had this at MoCCA, and it looks like it's available elsewhere now. It's a hardcover book collecting the strips that ran in the New York Times Magazine. I think these are mostly shorts, with some of them being westerns, and maybe film noir or sci-fi. I don't care; I'll read the hell out of them. I love Jason. You can get the standard preview/slideshow at Fanta's site.

Outlaw Territory GN Vol 01

This is a western comics anthology from Image, featuring creators like Christopher Mitten, Dean Motter, Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Max Fiumara, Moritat, and (you always have to say this with anthologies) many more. Interesting; maybe decent stuff? You can see some samples on the official blog, and read a full story by Fialkov and artist Christie Tseng at Myspace Comics, as long as its still around.

Patsy Walker Hellcat TP

Here's Kathryn Immonen's calling card as Marvel's newest rising star; this series was tons of fun, with some really nice art by David LaFuente. This volume also includes the serialized story that Immonen did with her husband Stuart in Marvel Comics Presents. This is good readin'.

Remake Vol 1 GN

People have been talking about Lamar Abrams' book, and it looks like fun, so now that we're able to buy it, maybe it will get even more attention. I got a copy at MoCCA, and I hope to get to it soon. Don't let me down, Abrams.

Rex Libris TP Vol. 2 Book of Monsters

Ooh, Rex Libris! This comic is lots of fun, packed full of clever, goofy stuff. In case you don't know, it stars an immortal librarian who often battles monsters and Nazis, while telling long-winded stories and arguing with his publisher. It's by James Turner, who did the book Warlords of Io that everyone was talking about recently because it got screwed by Diamond, so I encourage everybody to buy this and encourage him to create more comics.

Ultimates by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch Omnibus HC

Another expensive Marvel omnibus? This one contains all 26 issues (plus an annual) of Millar and Hitch's series, which is some good reading, but I don't think it's worth 100 bucks; can't you get four trades of the material for about $15 each? Well, anyway, it's not very substantive, but I found both volumes to be highly enjoyable, full of ridiculous action and provocatively transgressive bullshit. Check them out if you haven't read them before, but don't waste your money on this huge thing.

Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow HC

Did I mention this book last week? I know Jog did, but I shouldn't be confusing myself with him. Anyway, just in case, it's the new book by Brian Fies (Mom's Cancer), and it's about a boy growing up with the science and science fiction of the 20th century. I bet it'll be good.

X-Men Spider-Man HC

I don't know if this miniseries was any good, but a few people mentioned it due to its pretty art by Mario Alberti. It was written by Christos N. Gage, and seemed to take a similar tack to that Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries that Dan Slott wrote a few years ago, showing Spidey's relationship with the X-Men in different eras of Marvel history. I suppose that could be all right, if you like that sort of thing.

Gantz TP Vol 5

This appears to be the only manga of note for the week, which is surprising. I still haven't bought any of Dark Horse's translation of this series, but I do hope to at some point. Violence can be fun. Okay, that's all.

Hmm, kind of a slow week, although there are several good releases. I'm sure I'll be busy with the readin' and whatnot anyway.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Color of Earth: It makes my face the color red

I think this is my first manwha (which means that unlike manga, pages below should be read left-to-right). How about that.

The Color of Earth
By Kim Dong Hwa

While publisher First Second has released a good deal of European comics in their short history, they don't seem to specialize in works from the Asian market quite yet, so given the general excellence of their offerings, this book from Korean creator Kim Dong Hwa is very notable. It's the first entry in a trilogy that, as Hwa notes in an introductory text piece, was inspired by his mother's life, providing a sentimental look at her youth, and especially her physical and emotional maturation as she experiences puberty and learns about love.

As the book starts, Ehwa is a young girl in rural Korea at some point in the early 20th century. She starts to learn about adult matters early on when she is unable to join some boys in a pissing contest and worries that she is deformed because she doesn't have a gochoo (a chili pepper, which makes an obvious euphemism). She gets straightened out by her mother, but in addition to curiosity about the human body, she also wonders about the things she hears about her mother, who men call promiscuous. As a widowed tavern owner, Ehwa's mother interacts with men constantly, and flirtatiousness appears to be part of the job. But little Ehwa doesn't understand why people say the things they do about her.

As Ehwa gets older, she learns more and more about life and love, developing a crush on a young monk who is also learning about the changes of adolescence, and her mother takes up with a traveling salesman/artist who charms her on a visit one night and leaves a paintbrush with her as a signal that he will return. There are occasional discoveries of physical changes, and slow assimilation of knowledge about sex and reproduction, all rendered in a highly poetic manner. In fact, while this aspect of the book is quite beautiful, it can get to be a bit much at times:

Ehwa and her mother have seemingly endless discussions about which flowers they are most like, and all the discoveries of maturity are glorious and fascinating, leading to much uncomfortable discussion about the door women have where babies come from, or the persimmon seed hidden within a woman's body.

The book does seem to view the past through rose-colored glasses, as if everything at the time was wonderful and peaceful, with little in the way of hardship or unhappiness. We do get hints of darkness in the gossip about Ehwa's mother, and it's not clear whether her lover reciprocates her feelings or if she's just an enjoyable stop along the road for him. And while it's an especially joyful view of childhood and adolescence, not everything is roses; Ehwa's friends come off as somewhat manipulative and obnoxious, and the poor monk gets shafted when she turns her eyes on another village boy. Maybe the next two volumes will continue this trend, giving a mostly happy view of childhood and showing that life doesn't stay easy throughout.

For this volume at least, Hwa's art captures the beauty of the countryside wonderfully, filling pages with lovely renderings of fields, trees, and flowers. It's a pastoral paradise:

And the character work is lovely as well, with a cartoony look to the figures that conveys emotion especially well. Hwa also does a great job of detailing Ehwa's maturity, with her starting out around six years old and growing over the course of the book to about the age of fifteen. The change in size, shape, and face are all realistic, selling the growth really well, even within the cartoony limits. Hwa uses an interesting style similar to Japanese manga, but different enough to seem like it comes from a separate culture. The eyes especially seem unique, often depicted as wide slits and sometimes even abstracted to the point that the irises look like a series of horizontal lines:

It's an interesting choice, and it definitely works to fit Hwa's mood, making the women seem beautiful and mysterious, even as they are narrating their innermost thoughts.

It's easy to see why First Second picked up this series; it's a wonderful, revelatory glimpse into a foreign culture that illuminates some cultural specificities while demonstrating that matters of the heart are universal. Gorgeous art and heartfelt emotion round things out for a fascinating look across the globe and into the past; I'm eager to read the next volumes and see the rest of Ehwa's story.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tales from Outer Suburbia: I guess I haven't migrated far enough from the city

Elsewhere: I wrote about the season premiere of I Survived a Japanese Game Show at The Factual Opinion.

I linked to a cool Scott Morse comic the other day, and here's another awesome-looking one, called "Dawn of the Gearheads". I'm loving his Kirby style on these.

Speaking of Kirby, check out Tim Hensley's attempt to replicate the style of his photo-collages. Neat.

Here's a really interesting post about comics from North Korea. That's not something you see every day.

Finally, I talked about a Shawn Cheng minicomic last week and mentioned that I would like to read his "The Would-Be Bridegrooms", and now it's available to read online. How's that for service?

Tales from Outer Suburbia
By Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan blew a lot of people's minds (mine included) with his 2007 book The Arrival, a beautifully-illustrated wordless graphic novel that told a metaphorical story of immigration using a torrent of surreal imagery. And with this book, he's back in the land of the strange, although it's an illustrated book of prose stories rather than comics, and the metaphors are much less concrete. In fact, it's quite open to interpretation what exactly this book is about, which makes it about life and the human condition, one would suppose.

But it's still pretty fascinating nonetheless. Tan's skill at creating enchanting symbols extends from his art to his prose, as his short tales of odd goings-on (which don't seem odd at all to characters experiencing them) are full of weird but compelling ideas, like a foreign exchange student that looks like a six-inch-tall shadow, a guy in a deep-sea-diver suit wandering through a neighborhood, or a whale-like sea mammal called a dugong suddenly appearing on a bickering couple's lawn. And the pictures supporting these tales add an eerie air to everything, emphasizing the otherworldly nature of the setting while juxtaposing it with a sense of normality:

The best stories evoke familiar feelings that might be just beyond your grasp, like "Stick Figures" with its descriptions of odd, semi-natural beings composed of branches and sod that are omnipresent and accepted, or "No Other Country", in which a family discovers a magical "inner courtyard" in their house that seemingly opens into another dimension. Both of those might touch on the issues of immigration that Tan has raised before, but that's only one possible interpretation.

On the other hand, at least one story seems pretty obvious; "Grandpa's Story" is a wonderful allegory for relationships, with a patriarch telling his family about the journey he had to go on in order to get married; it's a touching, beautiful description of the obstacles a couple must face in order to build a life together, and it's supplemented by some of the prettiest imagery in the book:

A few other stories use some interesting methods of delivery, including "Distant Rain", which sees the words assembled from scraps of paper, an appropriate delivery method for a story about disposed, unread poems accumulating into a huge ball that eventually grows too large to stay together and breaks up, raining small bits of phraseology on everything. Or "The Amnesia Machine", which presents its tale of people being coerced into ignoring the important things in life through a barrage of Orwellian doublespeak as a newspaper article surrounded by bits of exactly that sort of jargon.

Yes, it's a gorgeous volume, and Tan's skill as both a writer and an illustrator are given a wonderful showcase here. I would like to see more comics from Tan in the future, but this will certainly do in a pinch. His complexly layered vignettes are very thought-provoking; even though this book will probably get shelved among younger-readers material, it's a great read for all ages.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Second Thoughts: You might or might not have any

Elsewhere: I've got a review of Marvel's Young Allies Special #1 over at Comics Bulletin.

Links! You can read the entire first issue of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber's Underground at the series' official site. That was quick.

I really liked Anders Nilsen's story about what got him interested in making comics. Also, I wouldn't mind reading that book, if he ever finishes it.

Cartoonist Neill Cameron is doing a series of alphabet-themed posts starring comics characters. If the first few entries are any indication, they should be tons of fun.

Okay, getting caught up:

Second Thoughts
By Niklas Asker

A strong debut is always an exciting thing in any art medium, announcing a talented creator's entry into the field and planting seeds of anticipation for future works. And that's exactly what this book does; Niklas Asker is a young Swedish cartoonist, and this is his first graphic novel. Right out of the box, he's got a really good grasp of character art, making the people that populate his story move and breathe and inhabit real-feeling space. He also does some great street-level views of the urban environment; while there are occasional skyline shots, the best stuff is simple, gritty views of sidewalks, gutters, alleys, and storefronts:

It's a great visual look for the story, which sees a young man and woman meet at the London airport, with him on his way out of town and her there to meet somebody. When the flight they're both waiting for gets cancelled, they leave and go their separate ways, with the story following them both in turn. We find that the man, John, had planned to abruptly leave town, and so he's staying in a hotel until he can catch the next flight, but he can't resist going out for a drink and reminiscing about the beginning of the relationship that he's in the process of fleeing. Jess, on the other hand, is a writer, and she's having relationship problems of her own.

But something seems fishy here, and soon enough, the revelation comes that [Spoiler?] the part of the plot involving John is actually a story being written by Jess. Some hints lead to that conclusion, but it becomes obvious when we see that that Jess's rock star girlfriend is the same character as John's girlfriend, and they both share the same relationship dilemma involving jealousy and infidelity. The story becomes a fascinating depiction of how a writer can work out, or at least explore, personal issues through their work. And in the end, it all comes full circle, as the "real-life" John reads Jess's book and finds his own inspiration in its pages. [end spoilers]

It's a nice little book at around 80 pages, and Asker fills them all with very well-realized characters and settings, and an extra layer of metafictional interest coming from the fact that, judging by the back-flap author photo, John is obviously modeled on Asker himself. All the locations feel fully lived-in, and watching the characters move about them seems less like reading a comic and more like just watching people in their natural environment. Some early scenes from Jess's point of view are especially effective:

Yes, Asker is quite a talent; if there's any justice, this is only the first shot in what will prove to be a volley of exciting work. He's got the storytelling chops, now he just needs to tell some more stories.

Monday, June 15, 2009

This week, I'm getting too old for this shit

Hey, this is neat: Brian Wood put together a Google Maps thing that shows all the important locations of events that took place in DMZ. I feel one step closer to Matty Roth now.

Ugh, getting behind on reviews again...

New comics this week (Wednesday, 6/17/09):

Boys Herogasm #2

Reportedly, this miniseries about a crisis/orgy among the superheroes of the Boys-verse isn't very good, at least judging by the first issue. I'm sure I'll still read it at some point though.

Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #4

I thought this was the final issue of this miniseries, but there's one more to go. I might review this for Comics Bulletin; we'll see. Short version: Jonathan Hickman needs to do more with his ideas, instead of just throwing something like "pirate FF" into the story for fun.

Destroyer #3

Hey, I think I figured out why this is a Marvel MAX book, rather than a creator-owned thing. In a vintage ad that's reproduced in this week's Young Allies special, we see a character named Destroyer striding menacingly across the globe with Captain America, Submariner and the like on the cover of All Winners #4, and he looks pretty similar to the guy in this Kirkman/Walker miniseries. I guess Marvel already owns the dude, so it's more of a revival (if this was already common knowledge, just ignore me). And it makes the conceit of the series, in which an aging hero is killing off all his former villains before he dies, work pretty well. Neat. So check it out if you feel like more violence and old-man sadness and that sort of thing.

Executive Assistant Iris #1

I'm loath to pay any attention to a comic from Aspen, but the concept of this one amuses me, at the very least. It's about a secretarial type who is also a bodyguard and assassin and whatnot. Of course, I'm sure it will probably be unreadable and feature much in the way of T&A and general stupidity, but the basic idea is halfway decent, which is more than I can say for anything else I've ever seen from Aspen. Or maybe I just find women in business suits and glasses hot, especially if they're carrying swords. U-Decide!

Ex Machina #43

And the mayoral career continues on. Let's get Mitchell Hundred over to Baltimore; he'll blow Tommy Carcetti out of the water.

Groom Lake #3

Chris Ryall and Ben Templesmith keep doing their alien thing. I liked the first issue, but I'm a sucker for Templesmith. I might have a review of this one up at Comics Bulletin this week; I'll let you know.

Incognito #4

Brubaker and Phillips keep their supervillain series going, with this issue seeing Zack fight somebody named Zoey Zeppelin, who might be a hero or a villain; I'm not sure. Please read this, so the team can keep doing Criminal. As enjoyable as this is, that's where the real quality resides.

Jack of Fables #35

Part 8 of the Great Fables Crossover, which is almost over. I really have no idea what it's all about, so hopefully I'll be able to catch up by the time I read it. I bet I'll like it though, because I'm Fables' bitch.

Madman Atomic Comics #16

Mike Allred seems to be kind of limping to a close with this series, doing a repeated musical homage thing, with this issue's cover aping Abby Road (and hey, it looks like Joelle Jones drew a couple pages!). Of course, I might be mischaracterizing it, since I haven't read the last few issues, but I've been pretty unsatisfied with this volume of the series overall; maybe I'll come around when I get around to reading the whole thing.

Mr. Stuffins #2

It's been a couple years (I think) since the first issue of this series came out, but Boom! is finally continuing it. For those who don't know, it's about a teddy bear that has some sort of robotic defense chip installed, so it takes defending the kid who owns it as a serious military task. That first issue was fun; we'll have to see if it was worth the wait. Johanna Stokes and Andrew Cosby write, Axel Medellin draws.

Mysterius: The Unfathomable #6

It's the end of everybody's favorite miniseries of the year, so hopefully it will be collected soon and I can catch up. I hope I don't kill the series by waiting for the trade. Still, I'm excited to read it, since I dig Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler's art looks great. Don't let me down, Mysterius!

Olympus #2

I didn't hear much about the first issue of this series about Greek/Roman mythology in the modern world; did anybody read it? Is it any good? This second issue should get some looks, at least, since it features a Frank Quitely variant cover.

Red Mass for Mars #3

Wow, this series is taking its sweet time coming out; I blame Marvel, who has snapped up Jonathan Hickman and is in the process of smoothing out his rough edges and turning him into the next Matt Fraction. And actually, I didn't read beyond the first issue of this series, which didn't really grab me. Still, it's got some nice art by Ryan Bodenheim, so I encourage people to give it a flip-through.

Thor the Trial of Thor

This appears to be a one-shot along the lines of the Matt Fraction ones that came out recently, about Thor standing trial for murdering innocent Asgardians. Who wants to bet that Loki is behind it? Anyway, this is definitely of interest due to the creative team: Peter Milligan and Cary Nord. Let's hope it's not hackwork...

Ultimatum Spider-Man Requiem #1

I guess this is sort of an epilogue to the series, before it gets relaunched in a couple months? It does feature some nice art by Stuart Immonen and Mark Bagley, with a story about J. Jonah Jameson remembering being saved by Spider-Man, or something like that, but we probably shouldn't encourage this sort of thing.

Young Allies Comics #1

Here's this week's anniversary thing, featuring a story about Toro and Bucky teaming up to punch the Red Skull and Hitler, or something like that. Probably fun; it's by Roger Stern and Paulo Rivera. The reprint backups look kind of doofy, with a comic about Terry Vance, Schoolboy Sleuth and some prose stories by Stan Lee. Still, it's probably one of the best things Marvel has out this week. I might have a review of this one instead of Dark Reign: FF; we'll see.

Batman The Black Casebook TP

Ah, it's the trade collecting a bunch of the stories that Grant Morrison referred to in his run, which could be fun or could just be cringe-inducing. I guess if you care about whatever happened there, you might want to see this. Me, I don't, but I'm not a Batman freak like some people.

Body Bags TP Vol 1 Fathers Day

This collects Jason Pearson's original miniseries that introduced his violent setting and over-the-top characters, with a bouncy girl wanting to get close to her daddy, a badass bounty hunter/assassin. It's pretty fun stuff, full of blood and gore, and Pearson's got style to burn. Here, if you want a sample, you can read the first issue online.

Bone Vol 9 Crown Of Thorns TP/HC Color Edition

I don't know if this is just coming out or if it was already released, but I figured I should mention it just in case. It's the final volume in Jeff Smith's excellent series, finishing off the colorized version of the comic. This is great stuff; I highly recommend it if you haven't read it before. Not a bad price point either; you can get it in softcover for ten bucks, or hardcover for twenty.

Fart Party Vol 2 GN

I never did read the first volume of this book, because Julia Wertz's art just doesn't really grab me. But it did get a lot of acclaim when it came out, and I liked Wertz'sattitude when she spoke on a MoCCA panel I attended about comics in a down economy. I'm going to piss her off though and do exactly what she complained about: you can read her comics online for free (although her site seems to be down at the moment) if you don't want to drop cash for the book. There, I'm an asshole (her words).

From Wonderland With Love Danish Comics In The Third Millenium TP

Midtown Comics shows this as shipping this week, but I kind of doubt that that is the case, since Fantagraphics' site has almost no information about the book, which indicates that it's not coming out quite yet. It's a collection of Danish comics, spotlighting the scene in that country that gets overlooked in the U.S. in favor of Japan, France, etc. It looks pretty nice; you can see some samples at the Comics Journal message board. I wish I had checked out more European comics at MoCCA (including several creators featured in this book); that was one area I didn't look at too much, and I regret it. This book appears to be one way to remedy that oversight.

Hitman Vol 1 A Rage in Arkham TP

Is DC finally responding to fans' demands and putting out trades of this series? That would certainly be nice. This Garth Ennis/John McCrea series is pretty well regarded, and rightly so from what I've read, with its main character exploring themes of brotherhood and morality while getting involved in goofy shenanigans around the street level of the DC universe. This first volume deals with his origin, which is decent enough, but I think it picks up significantly in subsequent installments. Let's all buy it, so DC actually finishes collecting the series.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man TP

People seemed to like this Robert Kirkman-written series about a jerk of a guy getting superpowers and messing around with other Marvel superheroes; I think I read a little of it, but it didn't really do anything for me. But here's a second chance, with a trade that collects the whole series. Maybe I'll see if I missed anything. To the library?

Nexus as it Happened Vol. 1 TP

Since the Dark Horse archive editions of this series are so damn expensive, it looks like Steve Rude and company are offering a cheaper alternative, reprinting the first seven issues of the series (that is, an initial three-issue miniseries, then the first four issues of the regular series) in a black and white digest-size for ten dollars. Not bad. I've barely read any of the series, but it's one of those that everybody seems to love, so maybe I should check it out now that it's affordable.

Sleeper Season 1 TP

Brubaker and Phillips again! This was their well-regarded if ultimately doomed series from Wildstorm, and it's pretty awesome, about a hero working undercover in a supervillain gang. It's really good crime comics, paving the way for their current masterpiece Criminal. Check it out if you haven't before; this book collects the entire first volume of the series for $25. Dig it.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Season 2 TP Sophmore Jinx

Oof, this was sure a disappointment. I really enjoyed Sean McKeever's run on this series, but Terry Moore just boring-ed up the joint, and Craig Rousseau's art didn't really make things livelier. I say give it a miss; If you want to know more, read my reviews of the first and third issues.

Treasury of XXth Century Murder Vol 2 Famous Players HC

Rick Geary keeps pumping these volumes out, and they keep being entertaining and informative. This one is about the murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. Good times, with the shooting and the secrets and the hey hey.

Wasteland TP Vol 4 Dog Tribe

I didn't realize another volume of this series was coming out already; I need to catch up. I'm on record as digging this post-apocalyptic series by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten, so I'm excited to get caught up. I believe this volume collects issues #21-24, which are about Abi and Michael getting caught up in a war between "dog tribes". The bit #25 is coming soon, and it's going to be a full-color special. I need to get back into this thing; it's good comics.

Will Eisners Spirit Archives HC Vol 26

This is the final volume of DC's fancy collections of Eisner's signature series; it apparently limped to a conclusion here, so the best stuff is in earlier volumes, but I bet it's still good reading. I've only sampled The Spirit, but one day (one magical day, in which I have unlimited funds to spend on comics and time to read them) I hope to get to this series and experience more of Eisner's genius.

Wonton Soup Vol 2 GN

Hey, I had no idea this second volume of James Stokoe's space cooking series was on its way, so this is a pleasant surprise. I quite enjoyed the first volume, so it should be fun to see what sort of goofy sci-fi deliciousness Stokoe comes up with here.

You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation TP

Everybody seems to love Fletcher Hanks, so here's the second half of his dubious life's work. I've only read a little bit of his comics, and it's enjoyable, in a demented way, but I'm not seeing the big deal that everybody else seems to see. Not that it's bad, but everyone insists that there's more to this stuff than "so bad it's good", and I don't necessarily agree that he was a misunderstood genius or whatever. Eh, maybe when I eventually read the books I'll change my opinion. In the meantime, I'll still recommend them, since they really are some weird, crazy shit.

Naoki Urasawas 20th Century Boys Vol 3 TP

Aargh, I'm behind again. I really liked the first volume, and word is that it only gets better from there. Someday I'll be able to catch up, but I've got a bunch of other stuff to get to first. Yes, I'm complaining about having too much good stuff to read. Woe is me.

Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei The Power Of Negative Thinking Vol 2 GN

I've been hearing good things about this series, which sees a depressive, suicidal teacher deal with various wacky students of his. Yet another one to check out someday.

Shojo Beat Vol 5 #7 July 2009

Final issue! Boo hoo hoo. If all went well, you should see a review of this issue directly below this post. There's going to be a hole in my heart for a while; I think the positive view of humanity brought on by this ultra-feminine dose of comics each month might now wither and die. On the other hand, quitting the monthly dose of estrogen might stop this troublesome bleeding...

Yokai Doctor Vol 1 GN

I dunno if this will be any good, but I'm often interested in stories about Japanese monsters, so this series from Yen Press Del Rey about a guy who treats their illnesses could be fun. Maybe one to watch out for?

Once again, not an especially momentous week, but that's good, since it allows me to make a lame attempt at catching up on reading and writing. Keep you browser pointed here; I've got junk to blab about.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shojo Beat: It's all over

Newses: The Beguiling is putting out a translation of Francois Ayroles' Key Moments from the History of Comics, which I've seen excerpts from here and there and looks pretty great. Chris Butcher has some examples of good cartoons from the book.

Paul Tobin and Dustin Weaver are doing a Tintin homage in an upcoming issue of Fantastic Four Giant-Size Adventures, and Weaver has a sample image at his site. Looks neat.

Another announcement: Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber have a new creator-owned miniseries coming out from Image called Underground, about a park ranger chasing some bad guys through a cave. That should be one to watch for. Here's the info at Parker's site.

Finally, you can see a preview of the works in Jim Mahfood and Scott Campbell's upcoming collaborative art show here. Supreme Broship! Wish I could go check it out.

Shojo Beat
July 2009

Well, this is just weird. It's the final issue of the magazine, but there's no official indication within the issue itself that the magazine has been cancelled; in fact, one article mentions that this marks the fourth anniversary. You would think the letter from the editor would say something, but it's business as usual, talking about the month's content (I can't complain too much though, because the manga "pick of the month" is Pluto). The only indication that the anthology is ending is that the final page, which usually has some "coming next month" blurbs, shows cover images of most of the manga in the Shojo Beat imprint, and the caption at the end of each chapter of manga, which usually says something like "Will Nobara's team be able to come from behind and win? Find out next month!", says "Find out in volume 12!" with a picture of the upcoming volume's cover. It definitely seems that the cancellation came suddenly; it's really too bad.

Anyway, it's a pretty good issue in the non-manga department, with a big feature about sights to see in Tokyo if you ever get a chance to visit. There's also an promo article about a cute-looking upcoming younger-readers series called ChocoMimi, a mention of an interesting-sounding translated sci-fi novel called The Lord of the Sands of Time, an article by Minty Lewis (of PS Comics) about making and selling your own minicomics, and a short Q&A with Yuu Watase about making manga. Pretty good stuff, all around.

But, as always, it's the manga that counts:

Black Bird
By Kanoko Sakurakoji

Kanoko Sakurakoji had a short series that ran in Shojo Beat a couple years ago called Backstage Prince, and it was, frankly, kind of boring (which might have been why it was only one volume long). So it's good to see her move into something so different , with a series about demons, monster, and assorted supernatural weirdness intermixing with the usual high school comedy-drama. The story: Misao is a boy-crazy high school girl that can see spirits. She's always been able to, and they're usually just annoyances, but they've been getting more agressive as she is about to turn fifteen. At the same time, a couple of cute boys have taken an interest in her, and (get ready for a shojo cliche) she knew one of them as a child, when he promised to take care of her and marry her someday. All is not as benign as it seems though, when one of the boys turns out to be a demon, and suddenly attacks her in a surprisingly gory scene:

It turns out she is a once-in-a-century human who can give powers to demons who drink her blood, eat her flesh, or make her their bride. Yikes. Ryo, the guy who was her childhood friend, saves her from the other guy, also reveals himself as a demon and saves her, but then he takes the opportunity to feel her up. He says he's going to marry her, but he's obviously a horny teenager that's only interested in how he can use her. And now he's going to be her teacher, and she's going to have demons coming after her all the time.

That's a pretty darn good setup for a series, and if Sakurakoji treats Misao as more than a doormat who has to be regularly rescued by Ryo, this could be very interesting, with various demon politics getting mixed up with the outsized emotions of high school life. Yeah, I'd be willing to read this one a bit further.

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

I usually try my best to ignore this series, but since this issue marks what will probably be the last time I bother reading or thinking about it, I'll take the chance to complain about its awfulness one more time. The series is near-unreadable, with nonsensical bullshit occurring and Akane, the main character, mooning about and not doing anything while all the pretty guys around her save her again and again. This chapter, she apparently is suffering a crisis in which she fears the powers she has been given, even though this has never been mentioned before. Luckily, one of her bodyguards clues her in when he shares the most banal lesson about swords possible:

No way! Swords are dangerous? Why didn't anybody tell him? We also get some enigmatic spirit messenger telling her to quit bitching and do her magical job already (twenty-some chapters into the series, and the heroine finally gets the motivation to not just sit there and watch the plot go on around her), and some poorly-done slapstick. Business as usual. Also notable is this page, in which Akane is surrounded by the eight Guardians:

But wait! Only seven guardians have been introduced so far, according to the editorial notes at the beginning of the chapter. However, an eighth character, Major General Tachibana, is included. Is he a Guardian or isn't he? The damn story is so confusing that neither the author nor the editors seem to know. God, I hate this series, and not reading it anymore is going to be one of the few good things that comes from the magazine getting cancelled.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Man, wait a week or so after reading a chapter of this series, and I can't remember what the hell is supposed to be going on. Yuki is a vampire now, and Kaname is getting ready for a showdown with his evil uncle Rido. I guess that's all that I need to know; Matsuri Hino does have a way of dragging these sorts of confrontations out to great length. The best stuff in here is probably a bit in which Yuki (whose hair grew to waist-length when she got all vampiric, for some reason) tries to talk to Zero, but since he hates vampires, he's disgusted with what has happened to her:

And Yuki's response is pretty chilling:

I never thought I'd say it, but I'm impressed by the way Hino is mixing up her characters' motivations and relationships. We also get some mumbo jumbo about twin vampire hunter children who are twins (a.k.a. Zero and Ichiro) usually miscarrying or murdering each other in the womb, but who knows what the hell that is all about. It's all leading up to the big confrontation, which we won't get to see without reading one of the collections (volume 8, according to the final page of this chapter). I don't know if I can bring myself to go out of my way and read that one, but it will be hard to resist picking it up if I see it in a store, just to see what happens.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

This chapter manages to combine the two main aspects of Mitsuba Takanashi's series, those being on-court volleyball action and high school relationship stuff. Nobara is still shaken from the events of the last chapter, so she can't keep it together in the game, and the team loses, making them all realize they still have a lot of improvement to do (oh, those overly emotional females). And then we actually get to see the boys' team play, which is a rarity. That's actually probably the highlight of the chapter, as they seem to have various distractions (including a rival team that's trying to recruit Haibuki to switch to their school) of their own, but they're able to overcome them and play some powerful volleyball on their way to victory. And that's about it for the chapter; more drama next month (or not; make that volume 12).

I don't know if this is a series worth following outside of the magazine; it's been a good series to read each month, but I imagine it could get kind of old trying to read a bunch of chapters all in a row. Lately, it doesn't seem to have much forward momentum; Nobara is pretty much dating Yushin, but there's some supposed drama from them trying to keep their relationship secret. And the games occasionally provide some good sports action and emotional resonance, but they seem to be kind of few and far between. Still, it can be good, and even a sort of off chapter like this one can provide some interesting moments, like this one, in which Takanashi gives us a moment of athleticism that concentrates on emotion and expression rather than what exactly is going on on court:

So, I dunno, it's not bad, but the cancellation of the magazine probably means I'm not going to be reading it anymore, and that's kind of a shame, isn't it?

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

When we last left Yura, she was having trouble concentrating enough to make it through a script reading. After finally getting some resolve, she's able to get it together this month, eliminating distractions by removing her contact lenses. That's great and everything, but it would be nice if she was able to do her job by just, you know, acting. The oh-so-nervous act is getting tiresome, especially since she only seems to be able to gain the confidence to succeed by having the male characters heap encouragement on her.

In other developments, Yura's manager Keiichi has forbidden Q-ta to pursue her; it's a pretty lame conflict that seems artificially forced in order to create more angst down the line. Oy. I do want to like this series, since I think Miki Aihara can do some really gripping, addictive drama that's not especially realistic, but pretty damn entertaining. She manages some moments here, like a scene in which Yura imagines herself as her character while reading her lines:

But it's just not working all that well at the moment. The drama isn't juicy enough, and the occasional moment of goofiness doesn't do enough to lighten the constant whining. I would hope that it can get better, but given the cancellation of the magazine, I don't really have enough faith in Aihara to keep reading and find out.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

This month's chapters of this series are the kind of thing that reminds me why I love this series so much. Takemoto's quest of the last few months is still going on, and this month sees what is basically the culmination of his journey, as he reaches Wakkanai, the very "tippy top" of Japan. And there are some great moments getting there, including an encounter with an elderly woman who inspires him with her tales of international travel, a train that reminds him of Night on the Galactic Railroad, and a beautiful moment in which he emerges from a rainstorm into a beautiful, sunny landscape. And Umino even gives a sort of clip show of his untold adventures, suggesting so much more than what actually made it onto the page:

But luckily, she knows better than to drag things out too much, so having reached the high point of the journey, we suddenly get a jump cut to his return and get a reminder of what he has been waiting for:

It's a nice progression of character, with Takemoto maturing enough to come closer to realizing what he wants out of life and even talk to Hagu about his feelings for her. It's always good to see some resolution, or at least forward movement, of long-running character conflicts; we have yet to see how the Takemoto/Hagu/Morita love triangle will play out, but I do feel like something will happen with it, which is nice.

The rest of the chapters this month see Takemoto easing back into his normal lifestyle, with the gang going to a festival and playing some games, the regular sort of thing. There's the usual job-hunting and antics from Morita, but things seem different for at least one character. It should be wonderful to see Umino continue to develop the entire cast.

Yes, that's right, this is definitely a series that I plan to continue to follow. I'll miss reading it each month, but there's no way I'm giving up on it. Starting with volume 8, I'll be all over the collected volumes. Don't let me down, Umino-sensei!

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

And as for the other series that is almost always a standout, Sand Chronicles continues to be really good. Last month, we found out that Ann's father was going to have a baby with his sort-of-girlfriend Kaede, so now they're going to get married. Ann's grandparents visit Tokyo, which gives us some nice moments between Ann and her grandmother, and Ann also has a heart-to-heart with Kaede about Ann's mother. Ann still has her mother's shadow looming over her, causing her to worry that she will inherit the sensitivity that eventually led to her suicide. It's hard to watch her work out these feelings, but it feels so real, and so heartbreakingly sad:

There's also a nice development in which Ann reconciles with Shika, who treated her really badly while going through a rebellious stage. Shika has gone to a school in Vancouver, and now she and Ann are writing letters to each other, making for a nice bit of emotional catharsis. Really, the whole series is just a wonderful read, with a developing cast of characters that all fit together in a web of relationships and seem so real, whether it's Ann's exasperation at her grandmother's gruffness or the way Fuji still wants the best for her even though she has basically rejected him.

This is another series that I definitely plan to continue to follow. It might be the girliest manga that I really like, but in a good way. It's all about relationships and feelings, but the characters are like friends that I want to know everything about; I cherish every moment I get to spend with them. So starting with volume 7, I'll just be doing that on a less regular basis.

And there you go, that's Shojo Beat. If I get the motivation to do so, I might try to do a sort of series wrap-up post, talking about the whole darn thing (I did read every single issue, after all). But if I don't get to it, I'll say that I have greatly enjoyed reading it, and I might never have read such wonderful series as Nana, Honey and Clover, and Sand Chronicles without it. I'm sad to see it go; who knows how well I'll be able to explore my feminine side now?