Monday, July 13, 2015

Love and Rockets: Can I request more "movies"?

Love and Rockets: New Stories #7
By Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics

This latest volume of the Hernandez Brothers' always-ongoing series sees an interesting confluence of interests, in that it sees both brothers present comics versions of B-movies that exist within the world of their stories. This isn't anything new for Gilbert, who has been alternating between the ongoing adventures of his long-running characters and the weird movies they make for years, but it's interesting to see Jaime take the same tack. And while he's not new to sci-fi/superhero stories, this one is striking, since he seems to be competing with Gilbert in the weird, disturbing department. While Gilbert's readers are used to stuff like this (from elsewhere within this issue):

Seeing something like this from Jaime is kind of off-putting:

It's still pretty compelling though, with the "movie" (which Maggie and Hopey watch in a theater, although at first I thought it might have been one of the comics that Tonta's teenage friends were making, with the character based on Angel) following a disgraced space princess who is exiled to the "asteroid of sorrows" for the crimes she has committed, but once she gets there, she learns that consuming the blood of the creatures who dwell there gives her superpowers, and thus a means to revenge. It's dark, fascinating stuff, taking Jaime's penchant for depicting shapely women with a punk attitude and going in a fully nihilistic direction with it, making a scorned woman a terrible force of nature to be reckoned with.

That may have been the highlight of this year's installment for me, but the story around it, involving Maggie and Hopey meeting up to go to a reunion of their old gang in Hoppers is also very good, with the two of them reconnecting, pondering their relationships with each other and their individual significant others, and wondering if they made a mistake by not staying together. I expect we'll see more of this next year, and I can't wait.

As for Gilbert, well, I'm still enjoying the glimpses he gives of the movies that Fritz and Killer star in more than the characters' offscreen adventures, although one story called "Daughters and Mothers and Daughters" was quite good. It starts with Fritz as a baby, and it follows her, her mother, and her other relatives throughout the years, showing how choices and mistakes made echo through the generations. It's got a nice gravitas (even with glimpses of movies starring a ridiculous comedian named Ping Pong), and it offers some interesting insights into the characters' lives. The other "behind the scenes" stories throughout the volume aren't as good, but as we see how more and more of Fritz's imitators and doubles pop up, it's interesting to see how she becomes distanced from people, including what might possibly be her daughter. There's some compelling stuff to be had here, but I'm still not really feeling whatever Gilbert is going for here, whether it's meant to be Hollywood satire or just soap-opera-style drama.

The B-movies that he shows us though, that I'm into. The longest one here is "The Magic Voyage of Aladdin", and it sees a kid playing the title part, but the most meaty roles going to Fritz and a couple of other similarly-proportioned ladies who play Morgana Le Fey, Circe, and a captured damsel, all of whom have magical powers of some sort, with everyone getting into sometimes-violent battles and all sorts of other nonsense. It's pretty goofy, but it's lots of fun, and it's the kind of thing I look forward to in Gilbert's stories in each new installment.

So, who knows what to expect for next year, but I bet it will be good. For now, we can marvel at the quiet beauty of lovely scenes like this:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

CAKE 2015: A Banner Year for Groo Sketches

This year's CAKE was another chance for me to get some new additions to my Groo sketchbook, and this batch is a doozy:

Zac Gorman brings his expressive, cartoony sensibility to the Wandering One. 

Evan Dahm makes Groo look pretty cool. 

Yes, this is a Groo sketch by JAIME FUCKING HERNANDEZ.

Derf gives Groo that signature Derf slouch. 

Drew Weing went kind of nuts here, fusing Sergio's style with Frank Frazetta in a "Death Dealer" homage. Awesome. 

Eleanor Davis went simple and cute, leading to another great representation of our favorite mendicant. 

Ed Luce drew his Wuvable Oaf character cosplaying as Groo (or is it the other way around?).

Kevin Czapiewski drew a great depiction of Groo wandering. 

John Porcellino did a nice Groo in his simplistic style. 

Zak Sally did a nicely grotesque image. 

Tom Kaczynski drew this nicely gory scene, with some spot color for added effect. 

And finally, Dash Shaw turned Groo and his swords into this cool, abstract image. 

Awesome stuff, as ever. Thanks to all these great artists for contributing to the increasing coolness of my sketchbook. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

CAKE 2015: I brought home many things

This past weekend was the fourth annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, or CAKE, and I'm happy to say that it seemed to be a successful event for everyone involved, from the organizers, to the attendees, to the many amazing artists who were exhibiting their work. I've volunteered for the event in previous years, but this year they asked me to get even more involved, so I was the Social Media Coordinator for the weekend, running the official CAKE Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr accounts. I spent the weekend walking around, taking pictures on my phone, and doing lots of tweeting, retweeting, and sharing, so if you check out the past couple days of activity on those accounts, you'll have a pretty good picture of what I was up to.

But anyway, as I usually do when I attend these sorts of events, I want to share all the cool stuff I picked up. Check out this pile of comics goodness:

And here's an explanation of just what all that stuff is. Starting from the top "row":

Going across the middle:

Along the bottom:

That's a lot of comics to process! I'll be reading them over the next week or two, and since CAKE has gotten me inspired, I'll even try to write some blogs about them. But first, I'll do a post sharing the awesome Groo sketches that I got this year. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: Sometimes life can be too adventurous...

Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Son of the Sun
The Don Rosa Library, Volume 1
By Don Rosa
Published by Fantagraphics

Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comics have long been some of my favorites, and next to the master of these characters, Carl Barks, Don Rosa has always been a close second as a creator whose work I loved, and one of the first cartoonists whose name I recognized. That means I'm very glad to read this collection of his earliest duck comics; however, reading these as an adult, while they're still very enjoyable, they don't quite meet the level of perfection that I thought they did when I was a kid. Having read a number of the classic Barks comics in recent years as Fantagraphics has been releasing them, I now notice just how fannish Rosa's work is, packing in as many references as possible to Barks' stories, dialogue style, flourishes of motion and emotion, incidental characters, and even background gags and bits of detail. It's a bit off-putting; Rosa's work is good enough to stand on its own, but he's so slavish to not just Barks' style, but even his actual stories. Characters regularly mention their previous adventures, flashbacks take place in and around various Barks stories, and some stories are even sequels or follow ups to some of the classics. Rosa would take this to an extreme a few years later with his The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a biography of the character that is entirely based on things mentioned in Barks' comics, but even at the beginning, it's a crutch he leans on quite a bit.

To be fair, many of the reasons for this fannishness is explained in the volume's supplementary material, as Rosa describes how his entry into the world of professional cartooning basically arose from his work creating fanzines for the duck characters, and without any formal art training, he basically came to his particular style from copying Carl Barks. Given the chance to create official duck comics, it's only natural that he would try to build on the creations that his hero did so well, and he never claims to do anything but create stories that are reverent of what Barks did. He even explains his philosophy, stating that even though plenty of other creators have made duck comics, he only considers Barks' stories to be canonical, and he even insists that they all take place during the 50s, in order to keep the timeframes realistic (otherwise Scrooge would have to be upwards of 150 years old). It's an odd, interesting ruleset that he defined for himself, but hey, that's apparently what floats his boat, and even in these earlier, somewhat rougher comics, it's obvious that he has storytelling energy to spare, so why not spend some of it cramming in references and details that only die-hard Barks fans will get?

And while I'm pointing out the shortcomings of decades-old work that even its creator says he cringes to look at, I don't know if Rosa had an especially good grasp on Donald Duck's character in these early stories. He doesn't quite manage to capture the "everyman" essence of Donald that Barks imbued him with, and he often comes off as petty, violent, and prone to fits of anger (which actually makes him more in line with the portrayal of Donald in pretty the Disney cartoons where he was more likely to throw tantrums at Chip and Dale than hold down a job or have rivalries with his annoying cousin Gladstone). It's weird, and kind of strange, especially considering Rosa's devotion to Barks in every other aspect of his stories.

All complaints and nitpicks aside, Rosa's comics are still enormously fun to read, especially the action-filled adventures that he has Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews embark upon. He fills these tales with such vibrant detail and fun action that one can't help but be drawn along with a grin on their face. In fact, "The Son of the Sun", Rosa's very first duck adventure, may well be the highlight of the book, a classic story in the vein of Barks' globetrotting quests for treasure that even pairs the ducks up with their nemesis Flintheart Glomgold as they search for a treasure-filled Incan temple high in the Andes. There are plenty of fun gags and references along the way, but the real highlights come with the chosen venue, the snowy mountaintops being the perfect place for Rosa to include some of his signature motion-line gags in a scene with a runaway airplane:

The climax of the story presents another opportunity for Rosa to dazzle, as, after the ducks find the treasure they are seeking in a temple atop a near-inaccessible peak, a plugged-up gas vent literally explodes the mountaintop and sends the temple flying:

I love the sense of scale in that image, with the energy bursting out of the mountain, the snow being blown off of neighboring peaks, and the temple itself reduced to a tiny projectile sent soaring into the atmosphere with the ducks still "aboard". He follows this up with an image (and a tense scene) that conveys an excellent sense of vertigo, as the ducks realize that they have been sent sky-high, with nothing between them and the ground but thousands of feet of thin air:

This sort of crazy action is what Rosa does best, and this story is a great start to his career as the second-best duck artist (even if it was, as we learn in the book's backmatter, a repurposed story from a series that he drew for his college newspaper [although that series was meant as an homage to Barks, so it sort of makes sense for him to make the connection literal]). There are some other pretty good stories in this volume (including "Last Sled to Dawson", which expands on Barks' "Back to the Klondike") but the only other one that I think captures Rosa's particular specialty is "Cash Flow", in which Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews defend Scrooge's money bin against the Beagle Boys, who mount an effective assault through the use of a pair of rayguns that allow them to control inertia and friction. That's a fun concept, and it leads to a gloriously over-the-top climax that involves the complete destruction of the money bin, sending all of Scrooge's money (which acts like liquid, having been rendered frictionless) raging through Duckburg like an especially expensive flood:

Rosa also takes the chance to deliver another of his intricate tangles of motion-line action, as the ducks race through town in their inertia-free car to try to catch the money before it pours into the bay:

I love this sort of thing, and seeing it paired with Rosa's intense devotion to Barks only highlights it as a unique area in which he may have been better than his idol. I wish he had spent more time on this sort of zaniness and less on working in Barks' margins (which can also be fun, but I'll take originality over nostalgia any day). But I can't fault the guy for doing what made him happy, and I'm excited to read the coming collections of his comics and experience his continued growth as an artist and storyteller. Now I'll just have to wonder when William Van Horn will be getting his fancy hardcover library?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Kung-Fu Klassix: Legendary Weapons of China

Legendary Weapons of China
a.k.a Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu
Directed by Lau Kar-Leung
China, 1982

Man, I have no idea what was going on in this movie. It's got something to do with a society of "pugilists" who use semi-magical tricks (making the wind blow through the power of their punches, hypnosis, apparently shooting fireballs and/or smoke bombs while fighting) to fight their enemies. However, these powers are mostly trickery (although one character refers to them as "witchcraft"), but the government is still using them to recruit people to fight invading Westerners, making them believe they can gain the power of immunity to bullets. Lei Kung, one of the leaders of the society, left the organization and dissolved his branch of it because of this, so the others want to have him killed. And that's the main plot of the movie, with three or four different assassins from different factions of the society trying to track this guy down and murder him.

I think that's what was happening, anyway. There's one young guy who's kind of dumb and bumbling, and another guy who is obviously a girl in disguise, although everyone is amazed when her secret is revealed. Her uncle (the great Gordon Liu) is also on the case, but she appears to be leaning toward Lei Kung's side, bringing her into conflict with the other assassins. And there's also Lei Kung's brother, Lei Yung, who looks just like him and either wants to kill him and take over the society or help him. Plus, Lei Kung has gotten old and isn't as powerful as he used to be, so he's refusing to admit his true identity, which leads to a subplot in which he (or maybe his brother?) hires an impersonator to take the fall for him.

That's as close to a summary as I can come up with, since the plot of this movie was near-incomprehensible to me. Usually, I can get over that if the fighting is worth the time spent on dumb jokes and random nonsense, but other than some general weirdness (like the evil leader of the society using his powers to make some of his followers kill themselves in gruesome ways, with one guy tearing his own eyes out and another ripping his junk off, I think), this is just a confusing slog.

However, it's got a hell of an awesome final fight, with Lei Kung and Lei Yung facing off in a fight in which they use the 18 traditional weapons that give the movie its name. It's a great scene, full of everything the rest of the movie lacked, like understandable combatants, visible movements, dynamic acrobatics, exciting stakes, and lots of mindblowingly cool moves. I normally prefer to have some context for fights, since while they can be great on their own, relatable emotions and genuine dramatic stakes can turn them into great combinations of action and drama. In this case, however, there's little else about the movie that I found especially worthwhile, so feel free to just watch this fight on its own:

And just for fun, here are some GIFs of some of the other enjoyable stuff, like Gordon Liu fighting with his shoulder blades:

Guys under hypnosis maiming themselves:

Or Gordon Liu just looking awesome:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Kung-Fu Klassix: Dirty Ho

Hopefully this will be something of a semi-regular feature around here...

Dirty Ho
Directed by Lau Kar-Leung
China, 1979

Well, this is the goofiest, yet most enjoyable, martial arts movie I've seen in a while. It's pretty nuts, starting out as what seems to be a rivalry between businessmen/jewel thieves and building, in that hard-to-follow way that old-school kung-fu movies often do, into a complex plot that has to do with the succession of the Chinese Emperor's heirs. Of the two rivals, the younger, Ho, gives the movie its name, since he's uncouth and uncultured compared to his counterpart, Wang, who likes to surround himself with art, music, and fine wines. The plot sees Wang, who is played by the great Gordon Liu, take Ho under his wing as he battles assassins for reasons that eventually become clear, and the two of them face off against ever-more-dangerous opponents on their way to the expected climactic fight.

What makes all this especially amusing is that Wang wants to keep his kung-fu skills secret, so for most of the movie, any fights he has are done surreptitiously, with him and his opponents kicking each other under the table while everyone else in the room is unaware or trading quick blows while people have their heads turned. This makes for some especially bizarre fight scenes, such as a bit in which Wang is sampling some nobleman's wine, but the nobleman and his servant keep attacking him in between pours and sips. It's hard to explain, and I wasn't even sure what was going on at first, but as the scene progressed, I became more and more delighted at the sheer oddness of a wine-tasting battle.

In another great bit, Ho breaks into Wang's house and attacks him, and Wang passes off a female musician as his bodyguard, then when Ho tries to fight her, he stands behind her, pushing her hands and feet to make her punch and kick him and making for a hilarious scene as she beats him up without understanding what is going on:

The move is definitely a comedy, full of goofy facial expressions and noises, and some of the silliness that would show up in kung-fu movies of the period. There's a fight with some beggars who are all pretending to be cripple, although it doesn't seem to give them much of an advantage, and an unfortunate bit in which a gang of effeminate men attack Ho and make him question his sexuality. But overall it's a lot of fun, with Liu especially seeming like he's having a great time acting completely oblivious while he fends off attackers without letting on that he knows what's going on.

The fights are impeccably choreographed, all leading up to a climactic scene in which Wang and Ho, sharing a long staff, face off against three foes, one of whom uses one of those spears with a big, sword-like blade on the end and another using what appears to be some sort of weighted chisel, and the whole thing is like an intricate dance, with each side switching weapons and positions, moving around each other and striking each other in close quarters. It's crazy and awesome, everything I would hope for in a Gordon Liu fight.

Occasional dumb jokes aside, this one is something special, one of the most unique and strange examples of the ways that kung-fu movies of the 70s would go to weird places and stretch themselves into nonsensical plots just to get in some good fights. You always hope for something like this when you watch one of the older martial arts movies, and this time that expectation paid off.

If this sounds like your idea of a good time, you can watch the whole movie on YouTube. I don't know if this is only temporarily available, since I don't know how much attention the rights holders to old kung-fu movies pay to YouTube, so just in case it gets taken down someday, here's the fight I took the gif above from, and here's the final battle. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fables: I Think I See Where This Is Going

Fables, volume 20: Camelot
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Russ Braun, Steve Leialoha, Barry Kitson, et al.
Published by DC Comics/Vertigo

Over the past year, I took something of a hiatus from blogging, but I didn't remain completely silent. I guess I can't let my thoughts go unrecorded, so I regularly posted little "here's what I thought" blurbs on Goodreads about most of the books I read, including the last few volumes of Fables, a series that I used to like quite a bit but felt had been kind of floundering for the past couple years. I was especially down on the 19th volume, so I'll go ahead and repost what I wrote about it here (and if you want to see what I thought was a dumb comment and my somewhat-obnoxious reply, go check it out):
I think this volume confirms that I'm ready to stop buying this series (which means I'll still read it, of course, just to find out what happens to the various characters). It's just not really doing it for me, even though its events should be intriguing. There's just something about the nature of the threats that the characters face that seem kind of contrived, as if Bill Willingham is casting about for new stuff to cause them problems, but then also wrapping them up too quickly. Snow White having a secret "husband" that predated Prince Charming and Bigby Wolf should be a big deal, but we learn so little about the guy (except that he's a sexist jerk, so we can boo and hiss at him), how he got his magical powers, and what exactly he wants (to rape Snow, apparently; did I mention the booing and hissing?), that he seems more like a device to get the characters where Willingham wants them to be by the end of the volume. The early years of the series were characterized by a massive threat hanging over the characters, one that we only slowly learned about, so when the big confrontations came, they seemed epic. And even after that was over, other events took time to play out, rather than appearing, being confronted, and ending before we fully understand what is going on. At this point, Willingham seems like he's casting about for something to do with the world he's created, which doesn't bode well for its continued existence (which isn't lasting that much longer anyway, but this sort of thing makes me think that, like happens so often with long-running TV series, it's limping to a close rather than reaching anything resembling a planned conclusion).
Well, as of the next volume, I can see that there does seem to be a plan for the series' end, and an interesting one at that, but I'm not ready for a complete mea culpa; I still think that volume is pretty clunky, abruptly introducing a powerful threat, shuffling a major character off to the edges of the story until he can show up at the end for a big battle, and then killing him off in a way that all but guarantees a later return.

This next volume, however, makes some of that story make sense, at least as an awkward way of hammering the series into shape for the final few volumes. It's obvious in retrospect that it was meant to accomplish two things: remove Bigby Wolf from the series for the time being, and introduce something to drive a wedge between Snow White and Rose Red. It seems that Willingham has a big finale in mind for the series, but had to get some pieces into place in order to kick it off, and rather than spend a while building to it organically, he found a way to unceremoniously shove the characters into the spots he needed them.

So, it was kind of an ugly way of getting to this 20th volume, but now that we're here, I like where it's going. Rose Red has decided to take her place as an agent of the avatar of Hope, specifically as the Paladin of Second Chances. In order to do so, she decides to reestablish Camelot, recruiting knights in need of redemption who can go on quests for the betterment of Fables everywhere. But what she doesn't realize (or thinks she can control) is that establishing this paradigm will repeat the full story of Camelot, including its horrible fall.

That's pretty interesting stuff, especially seeing how the different characters fall into different roles (Rose as King Arthur, Morgan Le Fey as Merlin, and even Lancelot as Guinevere). But what I find especially intriguing is that Snow White is being set up as the new Morgan Le Fey, due to Rose's decision to give the evil Prince Brandish a chance at redemption. That's a really interesting conflict, and Willingham sells it pretty well, giving Snow a sort of villain speech in which she describes how cold and hard she can be when defending herself from threats. I'm really curious to see how this plays out over what I believe are the remaining two volumes of the series.

There's also a single-issue interlude that's one of the best stories the series has done in a long time, in which Bigby meets Boy Blue in the afterlife, and they discuss the new perspective that being dead brings, as well as contemplate the meaning of life and the afterlife. It's an interesting look at some of the grander themes of the series, and even gives a touch of humanity to the crazy, mystical world of the series, providing a nice bit of character exploration and ending on one of the more poignant scenes of the entire series. Bigby is certain to come back to life before the series is over, but this would work well as a last hurrah, even though we know it won't be.

The volume isn't all wine and roses; there are a few one- or two-issue stories that look at some of the series' minor characters that aren't very good (the Geppetto story is interesting, indicating that he's going to become a threat again, but I can't imagine he'll play into the finale too much, considering how the series has moved past him), and some moments are kind of distasteful, such as Dr. Swineheart's sexual advances toward the now-beautiful former Nurse Spratt. But overall, this installment is a definite improvement, and one that makes me hopeful for the upcoming end of the series. For now, at least, it looks like this is going to come to a satisfying conclusion rather than an indecisive close. We'll see if Willingham can stick the landing, but even though it's not going to be as good as the series' glory days (I would mark volumes such as March of the Wooden Soldiers and The Good Prince as high points), it looks like it's going to be better than I had been expected for the last few volumes. That's a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

One Piece is Still Awesome as of September 2014

I've continued reading One Piece as it came out in digest form since the last time I wrote about it, but even aside from my near-complete lack of blogging since then, I haven't found much to write about. It's been enjoyable enough, but the story that lasted from that volume (67) all the way up through volume 71 got kind of draggy, acting mostly as setup for the next portion of the plot, which is finally kicking into gear as of the current volume, #72. But with all the craziness and stuff that's going on, I'm back on board, at least for now (we'll see how I feel in a few months, when the next volume comes out).

Want some examples of the stuff that's got me excited again? I would start with the plot, but as usual, it's way too complicated to explain in a way that makes much sense; it basically involves the Straw Hat Pirates infiltrating the kingdom of their current enemy, Don Quixote Doflamingo. They're supposed to do a prisoner swap with him while secretly planning to destroy a factory he's using to manufacture artificial devil fruits (the things that give people the crazy superpowers that almost everybody in the series has). Things immediately get sidetracked when Luffy gets distracted by a fighting tournament, in which the prize for the winner is the Flame-Flame fruit. This was the fruit that gave Luffy's brother Ace his powers, but now that he's dead, somebody else can claim it (that's apparently how things work in this world), and Luffy doesn't want anybody else (especially some vicious criminal) to have it. That gives the tournament some stakes, but that doesn't matter all that much (for now); you never need much of an excuse to throw a fighting tournament into a shonen manga series.

The previous volume featured some of the preliminary rounds of the tournament, but the bulk of this installment is dedicated to the round that Luffy participates in, and it's as awesome as one would hope. As with any big fight scene, Oda takes this chance to throw in a bunch of crazy characters, like this martial artist whose badassery is somewhat tempered by the frilly ruffed collar he wears:

Or this cactus-hatted fellow:

Or these brothers, one of whom has the bizarre power to be worn as a jacket:

But while that's funny, we still get some awe-inspiring, grin-inducing action, like this moment in which Luffy comes up against a giant who had been wiping the floor with everybody:

I love the reaction shots that Oda mixes in to the action there, especially the one at the end of the first page. We see Luffy winding up for a massive punch, but it actually happens off-panel, and we just see the crowd freaking out about it, before turning the page and seeing its immediate effects (and a further freak-out as the shock of what just happened continues to register).

Later, the battle comes down to Luffy and another powerful foe, and you can tell it's going to be awesome as soon as they throw their first punches:

Their fight gets a bit of emotional stakes due to the revelation that he was a pirate whose life was ruined by Luffy's grandfather Garp (you see, he had hidden his pirate treasure beneath a glacier that only he could break open, due to his diamond pointed head, but Garp punched him on the head so hard, it wasn't pointy anymore), so he swore revenge on Garp's family. I won't spoil the resolution to the battle, but it's awesome and hilarious, and as the other competitors get fleshed out and their motivations come into focus and begin to tie into the rest of what's going on in the kingdom, I expect it's going to lead to some pretty amazing places.

But that's not all that's going on in this volume. There's also a bit in which Sanji starts to form a relationship with a lady who is working for the kingdom's organized crime family, and she has one of those powers that Oda occasionally uses that is based on the silly things that kids do (see also: CP9's finger pistols):

And she also has a pretty good kick-to-the-face move:

I also liked a scene in which Trafalgar Law, the Straw Hats' ally, is facing off against Joker/Doflamingo and a Navy General, when the latter apparently uses a power to call down a meteor strike:

The three of them use their various powers to block it, leaving a gaping crater and the three of them standing on tiny pillars:

It's only a short scene, but it's a hint at an epic battle to come, demonstrating the immense powers that our heroes will have to face at some point. I can't wait to see how Oda deals with it, whether it's Luffy, Zolo, or any (or all) of the other characters that will have to come up with some way to battle literally world-shaking forces.

On a lighter note, there's a running subplot in which Nami, Brook, and Chopper get attacked by a lady who has the power to turn people and things into "art", which means they get transformed into the following forms:

That's really weird, but I like the references to Munch and Picasso. This lady also lets Oda break out one of his classic gags, in which an ugly woman insists she is beautiful in a non-sequitur manner:

And I didn't even mention the other running subplots, in which there are some tiny people living underground in the kingdom planning on launching a rebellion, or that half of the country's population is living toys. The latter looks to be leading up to a classic emotional reveal, since there are hints that somebody with strange powers is turning people into toys, who then go on to secretly help out the families that think they are dead without revealing their true identities. That sounds silly, but if anybody can make it work, and even wring tears from it, it's Oda. I'm hoping he won't spend too many more volumes working it all out, but if the rest of this storyline is as enjoyable as this installment, I probably won't mind.