Friday, March 30, 2007

New comics that I feel like talking about

There was other stuff, and I might make a mention of some of them, but here's what I'm going to focus on for now:

Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday #3 (of 3)
Written by Eric A. Anderson and Manny Trembley
Art by Manny Trembley

Man, this comic is tons o'fun. I'm glad I decided to pick it up; now I'm hooked. Last issue ended with Sam about to get buried alive, and this one starts with a goofy dream sequence in which he imagines himself as a suburban father of 15. It's pretty funny, and quite jarring, as it's drawn in stark black and white, without the moody shadows that fill the rest of the book. Plus, it's another example of the book's goofy setting, which blends 19th century characters like samurai and pirates with some more modern "furniture". It's pretty wild. Of course, Sam digs himself out of his grave, with a great line: "Being buried alive just sets you up for a great night's sleep. It was time for Sam Noir to rise and shine." That's followed by this touching reunion:

He then gets to confront the voodoo priest, and ends up fighting another character who has been zombified (I won't spoil who, but if you've been reading the book, you can probably guess), then finds out who is behind the scheme to kill him. It probably makes a little more sense if you've read the original miniseries (I got the collected version this week (yay!), but I haven't read it yet), but it doesn't matter that much. In the end, we get a setup for the next Sam Noir series, which looks like it will see him hunting his foe in America. Sweet! I can't wait.

As I mentioned, it's a super-cool book, with over-the-top dialogue reminiscent of both samurai movies and Chandler-esque detective novels. It's great stuff. The art is cool, filled with noir-ish shadows, and Trembley choreographs the fights excellently. Good stuff. Keep up the good work, guys!

Bonus! The back cover ad for Manny Trembley's next series, Sara Pumpkinhead:

Manny, if you're reading this, wanna tell us what it's about?

Pirates of Coney Island #5 (of 7)
Written by Rick Spears
Art by Vasilis Lolos

Whew! This is one fucked-up book. We get an introduction of a new character, known previously to the Pirates as Cadillacula. He's a murderous, be-mulleted fellow with an awesome car that never seems to come out during the day. A couple of the Pirates stumble across it and decide to steal it. I expect we'll see some consequences for that action in the future. We also see the Pirates and the Cherries recuperate after their fight last issue. The Cherries do so by having a pajama party, giving each other makeovers and talking about which of the Pirates they think are cute. I'm still wondering about the gender issues in this comic, but it's obviously not the point. We also get further Pirate/Cherry confrontation, as the Pirates run down the Cherries' car and chase after them on foot. Patch ends up confronting Trish, who previously cut his eye out, and their ensuing fight is even more brutal than the fighting last issue.

But there's a twist! A fucked-up one at that. I won't spoil it though; read the issue!

Bonus! My current favorite comics panel:


Texas Strangers #1
Written by Antony Johnston and Dan Evans III
Art by Mario Boon

I told Antony Johnston a while back that I would review this when it came out, and here it is, finally. Here's the concept: it's an alternate past, with the history of the United States influenced by magic. The Native Americans are actually elves, and Mexico is full of orcs. The United States covers the northeast part of the continent, and the southeast corner, Louisiane, is controlled by France. In the middle of all this is the Free Nation of Texas, maintaining its independence and patrolled by the Texas Rangers, which, due to their magic-using nature, are known to most as the Texas Strangers. And we have a title! The story concerns two orphaned children in possession of a magical knife that they need to return to where it came from. We don't have much backstory yet, but I'm sure it will be revealed. The kids have a run-in with some thugs in a saloon, and they're bailed out by two Rangers, an elf and a Scottish ogre. Later, they run into a third, named Rick Blackwell. They get entangled with the bad guys again, and end up on a wagon train full of dynamite, giving us a cliffhanger.

It's a decent story, although I'm more interested by the various Rangers than the main characters. Here's the back cover, which shows a few that haven't been introduced yet:

Maybe the kids will end up interacting with the whole team more often in the future. It's a perfectly pleasant book, with clean art (although I don't especially like the squarish faces that Boon draws on the children) and a fun concept. Hopefully the creators will develop it further. I'll give it at least another issue or two.

Okay, that's it for tonight. Maybe some more tomorrow.

TV non-comments

Not especially keen ones, at least. I watched this the last night, and I felt like I should say something about it, but I'm having trouble gathering my thoughts into any coherence:

Battlestar Galactica, season 3 finale:

(Spoilers, of course).

Kinda like the end of season 2, we got a conclusion (of sorts) to the running plot, and then a setup and cliffhanger for the next season. I must say, I did like the courtroom stuff, especially Lee's monologue about justice. It was a good summary of the series, and kind of an acknowledgement of the problems with serial fiction; he pointed out all the huge plot points and conflicts from past seasons that have nearly been forgotten by now. Interesting, and pretty moving as well. And I do agree with the final verdict, although it was probably a given, since they're not going to have Baltar executed. He's too good a character. Roslin sure seemed bloodthirsty about it though. I guess she wanted revenge for the death squad incident. I guess it's good to not just have everybody be moved by Lee's speech and wrap it all up with hugs.

Okay, enough about that; then we get to the season 4 setup/cliffhanger. Four major characters revealed to be Cylons. Or is it a trick? Who knows. It works for most of them, but raises some questions with Tigh. The Cylons infiltrated the human society 40 years ago? That seems suspect. Or maybe they replaced him somewhere along the line. Huh, I guess questions like these might be answered sometime, but I suspect it's "make it up as you go along" syndrome. I did like the Bob Dylan stuff; that was pretty weird. And then we get the Starbuck scene; as I suspected, she's probably a Cylon. Unless she went through some sort of dimensional warp when we saw her explode. Maybe she has superpowers now or something. And she says she's been to Earth and will lead them there. Interesting. I'm glad to see some progress in the search for Earth, rather than just having it as some possible series-ending event in the undetermined future. And that final zoom was pretty cool. All in all, a pretty good season finale, and I'll be watching the next season whenever it shows up.

Afro Samurai:

Spike reran all five episodes of this series the other night, smashed together into a "movie". I had watched episodes 2-4, so I finally got to see the first one, then fast forward to the last one. It's a pretty fun little series, with tons of cool violence and wacky ideas. Turns out Afro's father used to be the owner of the Number One Headband, so most of his quest was about revenge. But another theme that emerged was his rejection of his adopted family (the master and students that took him in) in pursuit of his quest, and how that rejection caused them all to be killed. That aspect almost overshadowed the main quest. Lots of fun fight scenes, but I still think the freefall fight with Robo-Afro in episode 3 was the coolest. And Samuel L. Jackson's sidekick character turned out to be imaginary, as I suspected. The ending was pretty wild, with a villain who kept fighting after his arms and head had been chopped off, growing a third arm out of his back. Then he impaled Afro through his afro, before being chopped into tiny pieces. Fun! I dug it, but I'm glad I got to watch it on TV for free; I don't think it would be worth whatever the DVD will cost (although I suspect there was some editing for TV; the DVD probably contains nudity from the sex scene in episode 2). It's worth a rental, I guess. Check it out if my description interests you.

I'm home sick today, so I might get a chance to do some comics reviews, if I feel up to it. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In lieu of actual content: Links!

An anonymous commenter left some links to reviews of American Wasteland in my weekly preview the other day. I still doubt I'll read that book, but one of the links was to Wizard's look at 40 "indie" comics to watch in 2007. It's an interesting article (even though some entries should be taken with a grain of salt, like Shrugged and Banzai Girls). I'm glad it's giving some exposure to stuff like Maintenance, The Amazing Joy Buzzards, Mouse Guard, and Action Philosophers, and it also mentions some comics I haven't heard of but sound interesting, like Ragmop, Stykman, and Black Mane. I'll have to look for more information on those.

Chris Butcher has a really good story about his merciless advice with a young artist. Good stuff. He also mentions a few web-based games that I'll have to try.

I recently added this to the sidebar without comment, but I should mention it: Male Call, by Milton Caniff. It's another comic he used to do, and I think it was a spinoff of Terry and the Pirates, about a sexy dame who gives "support" to soldiers back during WWII. Sweet! Humorous Maximus posts new entries weekly, on Tuesdays.

Oh, and I don't know why I haven't mentioned this in a post yet, but Kevin Church recently started a new forum at his site, and it looks like there are already some great discussions underway, with the participation of such comics blogoland luminaries as Mike Sterling, Dorian Wright, Jones (one of the Jones boys), Joe Rice and MarkAndrew from Comics Should Be Good, Ragnell, and Bully! And myself, of course.

All right, that's all I have for right now. I gotta go eat some lunch, but I might post other stuff that I find later. And I might possibly get to some review of new comics tonight, so watch for that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The feminists might get mad at me for this one

I don't know why it's taken me so long to get to this, but I'm going to do it, dammit! And maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get some linkage from When Fangirls Attack. Anyway, on with the show!

Empowered, volume 1
By Adam Warren

Well, Adam Warren manages once again to craft a fun, wacky story, and he fills it with incredibly energetic, expressive art. The book starts off in a light, comedic, and somewhat exploitative manner, detailing the adventures of the titular superheroine, who has a propensity to get her costume shredded to indecent scraps and end up tied up bondage-style by villains.

We find out later in the book, via fourth-wall-breaking chapter title pages, that the original concept for the comic came from some commissioned artwork that Warren was hired to do of superheroines in bondage. He got bored of the drawings and started doing short comics instead, but then he got interested in the character and developed it into a graphic novel. So that explains why a good portion of the early parts of the book (which mostly consists of short, 4-8 page chapters) are goofy stories in which the main character makes a fool of herself and ends up defeated and tied up suggestively.

But then Warren starts to delve into her character, finding out what makes her tick, not only in terms of powers and abilities but also mentally and emotionally. We see how she gets discouraged at being defeated so often, but pluckily picks herself up and keeps plugging away at the forces of evil. She has self-esteem issues, and she's embarrassed by how revealing her incredibly skin-tight costume is (one slight quibble here: she complains that she has trouble staying in shape, but other than possibly drawing her rear end slightly larger than normal, Warren doesn't make her look any larger than a normal superheroine. It wouldn't have hurt to add a little chunkiness to her waist; that can even be somewhat sexy, in my opinion). You really start to feel for her as she gets discouraged at her perceived lameness.

A turning point is reached when she meets a guy (ironically, a thug working for villains) who encourages her to keep trying. This might seem regressive (a man is the one that gives her the strength to go on), but I think it's actually fairly feminist: he lets her know the good things about her, like her courage and determination. He helps her see the positive qualities about herself; it's really rather sweet. There are some great scenes of the two of them thinking about each other (I love that he's the one that seems especially lovestruck), and when it's discovered by other thugs that he's helping her out, she gets to come to his rescue. Later, she also gets some female support when she makes friends with Ninjette, a martial artist who is also sick of working for villains. Ninjette is ultra-competent, so she's there to help "Emp" learn to use her abilities better.

And then we get into another somewhat controversial area, which gave the book its shrink-wrap and "explicit content" sticker: sex. There are a lot of scenes of Empowered and her boyfriend having sex; it's not merely hinted at. Warren claims that there's no nudity, but there might as well be; a few strands of hair sometimes cover nipples, but when characters are getting it on right on panel, it doesn't make much difference. But in my opinion it's well-depicted. Rather than shying away from the subject or hinting at it, Warren puts it front and center: this young couple, who are in love and living together, are having sex with each other. No need to be coy about it. It's refreshing to see the subject dealt with in an adult manner, (mostly) refraining from juvenile humor. Warren also takes advantage of this "don't hold anything back" atmosphere to cover the little details of superhero life, such as what to do about body hair when you wear a skin-tight costume, or the surprising number of superheroes who got their powers from STD's. It seems like there's no place he won't tread, and that's a good thing.

I haven't really mentioned the comedy aspects of the book, but they're really the main focus here. Pretty much everything is played for laughs, from the silly names of superheroes (Empowered's team is called the Superhomeys, and members have names like Capitan Rivet, Sistah Spooky, Major Havoc, and Glorpp/Protean) to Emp's near-constant state of disrobement. Halfway through the book, she manages to trap a villainous demon lord in a piece of alien technology, and he is left in her care. So he spends the rest of the book sitting in her apartment, watching TV, and commenting on her actions in a typical villainous tone, with lines like, "Costumed wench! Insert the "Mad About You" DVD for my viewing pleasure!" It's hilarious.

And I have to mention Warren's art here. He's celebrated as one of the original U.S. artists to draw in a manga style, but he's really developed that style to fit his own hyperkinetic writing brand of storytelling. I love the dynamic layouts that he puts together, and his action sequences are always great fun. I've also found that he's really good at facial expressions and body language, especially in his female characters. The range of emotions that Empowered shows in this book are all distinctive, making us feel sorry for her when she's sad and laugh when she's angry, frustrated, embarrassed, or confused. Great stuff.

So, it's a book I definitely recommend, although I'll note that it's not for everybody. As he talked about in a recent interview with Newsarama, Warren enjoys jumping back and forth across the line separating titillation/fanservice and the satirization thereof. He definitely enjoys drawing sexy women in various states of undress, but he's also making fun of people that like that sort of thing, and, by extension, himself. But under the surface of the silly jokes, sexy chicks, and superhero comedy is a good story about a girl developing the confidence to do something she loves. If you're so inclined, check it out.

P.S. I thought I would mention that in his journal post on the day Empowered was released, Warren talked about his plans for future volumes of the series (volume 2 should come out in October!) and stated that "If if Empowered fails, then I’m extremely unlikely to ever bother drawing another comic again." Not that you should buy this if you won't like it, but it's something to keep in mind if you're an Adam Warren fan. If you can't find a copy, here's a link to Amazon.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Get ready for the upcoming scandal

Via commenter hcduvall's blog, I found this article about Death Notes in China. Wow, I can't wait to see people freak out if somebody does this in the United States. Here's the gist of the article: somebody released a normal notebook of lined paper that looks like the notebook from the manga Death Note (a series I love, by the way. Click the "Death Note" label at the bottom of this post to see my reviews). Kids realize that these are not actual demonic notebooks that will kill somebody if their name is written in it, but when schools found out that kids were using notebooks that are supposed to kill people, they banned them. Ah, the overblown reaction to something kids like. It's a classic. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before something like this comes to the U.S., even if it's not official licensed merchandise. I can't wait to see the media fallout. Katie Couric should be shocked (shocked!) at the way children are willing to kill people. People are always willing (even eager) to be offended. It should be fun to watch.

New comics: Lots of stuff, but not too much to buy

It's Monday, so let's look at

New comics this week (Wednesday, 3/28/07):

Thanks again to Chris Butcher for providing the shipping list.


I doubt I'll get this, but it looks interesting. From what I understand, It's a biography of Lewis Carroll. It's by Bryan Talbot; I haven't read much of his stuff (I need to check out Luther Arkwright sometime), and I'm not sure if I want to bother with this or not.


This one seems interesting (premise: truckers vs. vampires!), but judging by the preview on Arcana Studios' website, I don't think it looks especially good. I'll see if I read any reviews, and decide if it's worth reading.

BATMAN #664 2.99

Probably actual comics this time.


This collects the Mr. Freeze origin story from Legends of the Dark Knight #192-196. I'm interested in Seth Fisher's art, which was some of his last before he died. Also, J.H. Williams III is one of the writers, which I didn't realize. He's a great artist, but I have no idea if he's a good writer or not.


I already have this, but it's pretty damn enjoyable, so I'll recommend it.

DMZ #17 (MR) 2.99

The end of the "Public Works" storyline. On his blog, Brian Wood recommended reading the previous four parts of the story before this one. I'm not sure why. I'll probably just read this issue and look at the others if I feel like I'm missing something.

GODLAND #17 2.99

Looks like I was wrong about this coming out last week. That's okay, it's still worth reading.


A vampire comic coming from Marvel's Dabel Brothers publishing arm. It'll probably suck (HA!), but I might at least take a look at it.


Chris Butcher says this looks interesting, so who am I to disagree? It's a biography of Houdini, if you couldn't figure that out by the title. It could be interesting, but I don't know if I'll spend the money on it. Might be something to read from the library. A good example of the breadth of subject matter in comics right now.


I have no idea what this is, but the title amuses me. It appears to be written by D.J. Milky, who I think wrote the Princess Ai manga. It's cheap, if nothing else.


I started reading this series, but it became too difficult to follow in monthly installments (that's Brian Azzarello for you). I might pick this up and see if it's worth buying in trades.


Interesting. I doubt I'll read this, but it's probably a good idea. Shakespeare's pretty adaptable, so hey, why not manga? I guess I just find it interesting that it exists.


And here's another one that I was wrong about last week. It's an awesome comic; if you haven't been reading it, this probably isn't the place to start, but I'm sure it will be collected.


Wow, this seems to be coming out quickly. I'm digging it.


And maybe I'll finally get to pick this up this week!

SILENT WAR #3 (OF 6) 2.99

Has this been any good? I was tempted to pick it up for the Frazier Irving art, but my distaste for mainstream Marvel stuff prevented me. Somebody let me know if it's worth reading!


I have all the issues of this, but I'll give it a hearty recommendation. It's awesome.


This seemed to take its time coming out. I liked the first few issues, although it seems a bit padded to fill out a six-issue storyline. Whatever; it's Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale!


Hmmm, I thought this came out last week. I didn't see it, so I was going to get my shop to order a copy for me. But maybe it's another one that I was wrong about. I'll definitely look for it on Wednesday.

WALK-IN #4 2.99

You know, I've heard next to nothing about this comic, even though it's written by blogosphere darling Jeff Parker. Is it any good?


This one's a one-shot from Virgin Comics about some American soldiers fighting a supernatural menace in India, or something like that. Might be interesting.

Well, that appears to be everything I found notable. Lots of stuff there, but it'll probably be a fairly light week in terms of what I'll actually buy.

As for the blog, I promise I'll try to do that review of Empowered tonight. Really!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Quick comics comments

Here's some quick reviews of comics that came out last Wednesday:

The Punisher Presents: Barracuda #2 (of 5)
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Goran Parlov

I haven't read any of Ennis's current Punisher series (although I hope to rectify that someday), but I thought this Barracuda mini would be okay to pick up. Sure enough, any background is quickly explained (The Punisher cut off Barracuda's fingers on one hand, blinded him in one eye, shot him in the chest with buckshot, and dumped him in an ocean full of sharks. But he survived.), and then on with the story. And I'm enjoying the hell out of it, as Barracuda is a great character that Ennis writes really well. He's huge and intimidating, but he keeps a goofy grin on his face, giving him a disarming look that completely freaks out anybody he's talking to. It's great fun to just see him interact with other characters, including the nerdy kid that he's been hired to "make a man of".

They end up in South America, and Ennis throws in some social commentary about U.S. foreign relations (a drug smuggler has a statue of Ronald Reagan, in honor of the man who helped him get rich). We also get a contrast of how the rich criminal lives compared to the common man, and an example of the kind of "electioneering" that Barracuda and his military compatriots participated in in order to get the smuggler in power. Good stuff. Ennis is great at doing comedic violence (and sex; we get some of that too) while giving it a subtle message. It's very enjoyable, and I'll be reading the rest of the series.

The Spirit #4
By Darwyn Cooke

Wow, this issue was great. While I thought the last two issues were pretty good, they didn't exactly knock my socks off. But this one really wowed me. Wonderful art, and I loved the story that Cooke put together here. He introduces Silk Satin, the CIA agent who will surely end up teaming up with the Spirit again. She's an ultra-competent agent (for the most part), and we get the classic scenario in which she and the Spirit are chained together and stranded in the desert. Good times. We also see a bit of the continuing plot threads Cooke has going between the self-contained issues, as Hussein Hussein from #2 figures into the plot (and introduces us to The Octagon terrorist group let by The Octopus).

Wow, that's almost nudity. I'm surprised Cooke got away with that.

I love the way Cooke makes Satin the real hero of the book; she keeps saving the Spirit's life, and she's the one that takes down the villain in the end. And he gives us some good banter between them, as she's attracted to him but doesn't want to admit it.

And Cooke's art is excellent, as always. He gives us some great, sand-swept views of the desert, along with the usual urban environments and exciting action scenes.

It's a very fun book, and probably my favorite issue yet. If you haven't been reading it, I recommend the upcoming collection (there's going to be one, right?).

Testament #16
Written by Douglas Rushkoff
Art by Liam Sharp

Well, it looks like this is going to be my last issue of this comic. I enjoyed it for the first year or so, but lately it's gotten more confusing with less payoff. Maybe it's the "Babel" storyline that finishes this issue, but I'm just not enjoying the book like I once was. For a while, it was an interesting interplay of near-future conspiracy with Biblical stories, but that seems to be making less sense, and the characters aren't interesting anymore. Plus, the art has gotten much, much worse. What was once clearly-defined, with well-drawn characters and interesting layouts, has become muddled and ugly. Check out this almost Liefeldian depiction of a character:

Yuck. I could give other examples, but I'm tired of the series, so I'm not going to bother. I'm done.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #16
Written by Sean McKeever
Art by David Hahn

I don't actually have much to say about this one, but I think the new artist on the title is pretty good. The writing is lots of fun, as usual. But the real item of interest in this issue is David Hahn, and whether he can actually follow Takeshi Miyazawa. I'm happy to report that he seems to be filling Tak's shoes pretty well, and will probably only get better. However, I read somewhere (Miyazawa's blog?) that the series might be ending after #20, which makes me assume that will be McKeever's last issue (he recently got an exclusive contract with DC). If so, bummer. We'll see what happens. Anyway, I don't have much else to say, so here's some examples of Hahn's art:


Army@Love #1
By Rick Veitch

This is another one I don't have too much to say about (for now). I enjoyed it quite a bit, but that was to be expected since I dig Rick Veitch's work. I'm enjoying the satirical elements, and the artwork is very cool. I'm sure the story, setting, and characters will be developed more in future issues, so I'm happy to get this introductory look at them. Don't let me down, Veitch!

Ah, I suppose I should describe what this is about to anybody who hasn't heard of it. In the near future, the U.S. is still at war in the Middle East, in this case in a country called Afbaghistan. In order to increase morale, a secret Motivation and Morale outfit has been created that sends soldiers on retreat for sexual gratification (that means orgies). But they're keeping it secret due to the uproar that would get out if people back home found out. We also get some satirical looks at the consumerist society that has developed in the U.S. (that is, the even more consumerist society, since we're pretty big spenders already), and what technology will be used for. It's an interesting introduction, and I can't wait to see where Veitch goes next.

Bonus! Here's a look at some naughty battlefield shenanigans (image NSFW):


And that's all for now. I'll try to do that Empowered review later today, or tomorrow at the latest.

Friday, March 23, 2007

UPDATED! Links 386!

Wasn't that a computer golf game from about 15 years ago? Anyway, this will eventually be a link post, but for now I'm just going to link to a cool webcomic that Kevin Church pointed me to: Soft Instruments. It's a wild steampunk/alternate history story. Here's the synopsis from the site:


Welcome to 1997, in a world much different from our own. The rise of the steam age prevented the industrial revolution as we know it from ever having occurred at all. As the world's only steam powered juggernaut, Great Britain spread out and assimilated the rest of Europe into the Anglo-centric super power The Union of European Allies. The cultures and languages of these occupied countries were eventually forgotten or pushed far underground, as the Victorian way was cultivated and held onto as the dominant and accepted culture.

As the Union of European Allies celebrates it's 100th anniversary the classes have never been further apart. The "Gentlemen Class" ...royalty, government officials and people of influence and affluence are the privileged few who have been "socketed". Steam powered identification sockets have been implanted into there arms giving them an unforgeable passport to cross international borders and travel freely within all union territories. The majority of the population however, the unsocketed masses, either vie for Gentlemanship by serving the state, or work in huge prison-like factory camps producing goods and services to sustain the self- sufficient Union.

Genocide in Central Asia, and civil war spreading throughout the Americas are only a few of the UEA's concerns. Their own workers have begun to organize, and the UEA Government (or "Central Gov") has begun to fear domestic terrorist attacks and possibly even a mass worker revolution. Security has never been more stringent as they tighten their grip on the populace.


As our tale begins, fabled explorer, scientist, adventurer and Gentleman Dr. Elezear Zednik is sent to Union Territory #617-03 to investigate a rash of mysterious disappearances among the city's factory workers.

As he arrives he is met with hostility and mistrust by the local constabulary.


I'll add more links later as I find them.


UPDATE: Okay, here's some stuff:

Brian Wood shares some art from Northlanders, his upcoming Vertigo series about Vikings.

Joshua Middleton has some covers he recently did up on his blog. I'll have to add that to the sidebar. He also features preliminary sketches and stuff, which I always like to see. I like this page of Flash doodles:

Oh, cool! Newsarama reports that Hayao Miyazaki has a new movie in the works, called Ponyo On A Cliff. Here's the description: "[The film is] the story of Sasuke, a five-year-old boy, and a Princess Goldfish (Ponyo) that wants to become human. Production on the film began last October and it is slated to be released in the summer of 2008. Miyazaki is creating the storyboards himself in watercolors and it is thought that the feature will be produced in the traditional hand-drawn 2-D manner." I can't wait.

Also on Newsarama: apparently a girl named Mindy Owens co-wrote the recent Runaways Saga, a recap comic that gets people caught up with the series' plot if they're joining when Joss Whedon starts writing. I took a look at this thing in the store, and decided against getting it. I've read every issue, so I don't need to know the plot. It's also by C.B. Cebulski, who I don't like. There was a bookend strip in which the characters read Molly's diary, which makes up the main content of the comic. Well, it looks like Cebulski asked Owens to help him write the diary portion of the book, as she's a long-time Runaways fan. Good for her. It almost makes me want to buy it. But I won't.

I was going to point this out the other day, but I never did. The popular webcomic Penny Arcade is having a video game adaptation made. Mike Krahulik, the comic's artist, posted some art for the game, which will be 3-D, but will have some 2-D animated story sequences which are done by other artists. He gave some examples of the art that the animators did, and his corrections to it that showed them how to ape his style more closely. I found it fascinating, as he has a somewhat simple, cartoony style, but he's very specific about it. It's really cool to see him point out all the little details that he keeps consistent in his art.

I haven't had a chance to watch this yet, but apparently you can see an animation that Chris Ware did for the opening of the new This American Life show on Showtime.

From The Comics Reporter: Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author that I like a lot and one of the editors of Boing Boing, is going to have several of his short stories adapted into comics by IDW. Cool!

Via Journalista!: Same Hat! Same Hat! has some pictures of manga they scored from Book-Off, a used book store in NYC. Weird, cool stuff, including an adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Osamu Tezuka!

Via Journalista and Dorian Wright: No-Sword (which I think is a scanslation site) has some scans from a new Japanese manga anthology called Comic Charge, including a scene of an alien potato farting on a girl. Apparently the Japanese view potatoes similarly to how Americans view baked beans. Weird!

UPDATE on 3/24: Newsarama has an interview with Adam Warren about Empowered, his graphic novel that came out last Wednesday. It's pretty informative. Hopefully I'll have a review of that up soon.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My secret shame

Well, it's more of a guilty pleasure, actually. Only not really guilty, just the cause of (imagined) strange looks when people think I'm reading Seventeen. That's right, I'm confessing/revealing/announcing to those who will probably judge me harshly: I have a subscription to Shojo Beat magazine. Okay, you probably don't really care. I just think it's funny for a nearly thirty-year-old guy to regularly read comics aimed at teenage girls. I had been sitting on this revelation for a while now, thinking maybe I could get a theme week out of it or something, but the most recent issue had some damn good comics that I wanted to talk about, so I figured what the hell, I'll just go for it.

But first, some background. I first got a subscription when the magazine launched in 2005. I was probably on a manga kick at the time, and I thought this would be cool, something my wife and I would enjoy together. Well, it didn't really work out that way (I don't think my wife has read any of the issues), but I still like reading it each month. I was actually considering not renewing my subscription, but a little math made me realize it's a good deal (a year is $35, which is less than the cost of four whole volumes of one series, with each volume only collecting 4-5 monthly chapters), and then this most recent issue got me more excited in some of the series that I had been losing interest in. So I think I'll end up renewing for at least one more year.

Oh, and I should give a description for those who don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Shojo (or shoujo, depending on the person) manga is geared toward teenage girls, and Shojo Beat is the American form of the monthly manga anthology magazines that come out in Japan. Each month, it prints a chapter each of six (or sometimes more) titles. I'll go through each of the titles and say what I think about them. I was considering reviewing titles that no longer run in the magazine, but I didn't especially like any of them, so screw it. I'll stick to the current version.

Yumekira Dream Shoppe
By Aqua Mizuto

This is the series that gets the cover image this month, and this month saw the first chapter. Apparently it's only four chapters long, so a new series will debut in a few months. That makes me glad, since, judging by this chapter, it doesn't exactly attract me. The premise has to do with a guy named Rin who runs the titular shop(pe), a floating store that stocks items which will grant people's wishes. Along with his anthropomorphic stuffed rabbit. In the first chapter, he meets a tree that wants to become human in order to thank a young, terminally-ill musician. Rin finds a way to turn the tree into a girl, and she falls in love with the musician, yada yada yada. Boring. I'm glad I only have to endure three more of these stories. On to the next selection!

Vampire Knight
ByMatsuri Hino

I'm getting the series I don't especially like out of the way first. This one is a weird, gothy high school drama about vampires. Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are guardians at Cross Academy, which has a student body divided into a "Day Class" and "Night Class". And wouldn't you know it, the Night Class is all vampires! I guess the academy is supposed to acclimate them to living among humans peacefully or something. As guardians, Yuki and Zero keep an eye on the vampires and make sure they don't kill any humans. Yuki's family was killed by a vampire when she was little, and then she was taken in by the headmaster of the academy, where she grew up alongside Zero. Whatever. I'm bored just describing this stuff. Anyway, the main plot of the series so far has dealt with the revelation that Zero was bitten by a vampire sometime in the past, and is turning into a vampire himself. We learn that he will eventually go crazy and turn into a blood-hungry monster, but Yuki convinces him to keep fighting and living rather than just kill himself. In a disturbing bit, she allows him to drink her blood in order to satisfy his hunger. Yikes. And there's plots about the heirarchy of the Night Class and vampire society, and so on. Not my cup of tea, but it probably does well among teenage goth chicks. Let's move on (after a sample of the art).

(Click to enlarge, and remember to read right-to-left).

Baby & Me
By Marimo Ragawa

This is the story of young Takuya, an eleven-year-old boy who is left to be the main caretaker for his younger brother Minoru when their mother dies in a car accident. It's a very cute series, especially the depiction of Minoru:

The first few chapters were pretty sad, with the boys still hurting from the loss of their mom. Then it seemed to segue into primarily comedy, with Takuya's classmates acting goofy and two younger girls fighting for Minoru's affections. It wasn't bad; fairly innocuous, really. There were a few weird chapters with a change in tone; one was a ghost story, and the other consisted of a dream of Minoru's in which he entered a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy world. This most recent chapter introduces what might be a new character, the delinquent son of their neighbors, who is staying with their family for now. He might be a new addition to the cast, or he might just stick around for a few chapters. Overall, it's a decent series, but I wouldn't be too sorry to see it replaced with something else.

A quick note before we move on: you'll notice that the pages here are monochromatic, but they are printed with colored ink. Originally, the comics in the magazine were all black and white, but after about a year, they began printing in color. Apparently, this is how manga anthologies in Japan are printed. It's a bit odd, in my opinion, but I don't really mind it. I would probably prefer black and white, but whatever.

Crimson Hero:
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Ah, now were getting to the series I like! This one is about a tomboyish girl named Nobara who loves to play volleyball. She transferred to Crimson Field High School at the beginning of the series because they were known for their volleyball program. Unfortunately, she soon found out that while the boys' program is going strong, the girls' program had been cancelled due to lack of participation. The first several chapters of the series detailed Nobara's work at recruiting new members to the team. Added drama came from the fact that she had basically run away from home, since she didn't want to work in her family's upscale traditional Japanese inn; she just wanted to play volleyball. So she has to deal with family pressure, and she ends up working as a "dorm mother" for a group of guys on the volleyball team in order to earn room and board. There are the expected romantic complications, as various characters compete for each other's affections, but the real drama comes from Nobara's passion for the sport. There have been some matches that were incredibly tense, sometimes lasting three or four chapters. And the characters are all very well realized; we can understand their feelings and motivations, both from the dialogue and the artwork, as Takanashi is very skilled at both facial expressions and body language.

The chapter this month is kind of a filler, as a storyline about the teams' trip to a training camp is reaching an end. We had some romantic complications and stuff like that, but now they're going back to school, and hopefully on to another exciting match.

Absolute Boyfriend:
By Yuu Watase

You might have heard of Watase from her fantasy series like Fushigi Yugi or Ceres: Celestial Legend. She also did a shojo comedy called Imadoki! (which is the only one I've read any of). Here, she gives us a sci-fi story (sort of). It's about a girl named Riiko who orders a "figure" off a website that sells "lovers". The figure shows up, and it turns out it's a robot that's pretty much meant to be a sex toy for women. It takes the form of a teenage boy, and Riiko wakes it up, imprinting it on her as her "boyfriend". She names it Night, and he ends up following her everywhere, including to school, and trying to be a loving boyfriend. It's pretty good comedy, as he has superhuman powers, but Riiko is always trying to keep them a secret. Since he's designed for sex, he's always stripping naked and trying to get Riiko to get it on with him, but being a teenage girl, she's horrified by the prospect. By the way, she lives by herself, since both her parents are always away on business, so Night can live with her without anybody knowing. Complicating matters is her next door neighbor Soshi, a childhood friend who has always watched over her. He has a crush on her, so eventually a love triangle develops. It's a really funny series, with lots of slapstick comedy (something Watase excels at). There have also been some pretty good cliffhangers, including one multi-chapter storyline in which another woman almost stole Night away from Riiko (he hadn't completely imprinted on her, since they need to have sex for that to happen, so when the other woman kissed him, he briefly became her boyfriend instead of Riiko's). I was starting to get tired of the series for a while, as nothing interesting had been happening, but this chapter was excellent, getting me interested again. It was the culmination of another multi-part story arc, in which Riiko meets a boy who claims to be someone she had a childhood crush on. He acts interested in her, at one point even seeming to drug and date rape her(!). However, it was revealed that he was another "figure" that was angling to take Night's place as her boyfriend. This chapter saw Night rushing to stop him so he could remain with Riiko. This led to a hilarious confrontation and fight scene:

So I'm back on board with the series, for now. Hopefully it will continue in this manner, with comedy or character development rather than remaining in a holding pattern.

By Ai Yazawa

And here's the real cream of the crop. This is an excellent series; in fact, I probably would have quit my subscription long ago if it wasn't for this one. It makes all the others worthwhile. The premise is this: two girls, both named Nana, share an apartment in Tokyo and deal with personal and romantic issues. That's about it. The good part is the excellent characterization; Yazawa has built a large cast, each with their own personality. It's great just to see them all interact. One of the Nanas is in a rock/punk band, so some drama comes from watching them struggle to try to attain success. Her boyfriend is also in a band, but his band hit the big time and became stars, so she has to deal with jealousy of his success and trying to cope with his fame. The other Nana, who has been nicknamed Hachi (after a famous Japanese dog; it makes sense in the comic), came to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, but she ended up breaking up with him (I won't spoil it and reveal why), so now she's dealing with other romantic issues. She's also kind of flighty and has trouble holding down a job, which provides some more drama for her. It's great to watch this all play out, and Yazawa allows plenty of time to build the characters. Each Nana got her own chapter at the beginning of the series to establish her background; the two of them didn't end up moving in together until the fourth or fifth chapter. We also got to meet all their friends and see them interact; it's a blast just to watch these characters' lives. The current storyline is about Hachi's romantic troubles: she's sleeping with Takumi, the guitarist of Trapnest, Nana's boyfriend's band. She ended up with him as kind of a groupie, but she's worried she's falling in love with him without him reciprocating. Plus, she knows a member of Nana's band has feelings for her, but is having trouble tearing herself away from Takumi to try to get together with him. It's all very convoluted, but emotionally realistic. I'm really digging it, as I have been from the beginning. And the art! Yazawa's style is a bit different from the "standard" manga style, featuring skinny characters with long, thin limbs. She draws beautiful backgrounds, and outfits her characters with cool, lovingly-detailed fashions:

I didn't mention it, but there's lots of character-based humor, as you can see above. And some great layouts:

I love that page. Tons of emotion expressed in the space of a few silent panels.

This is another great silent moment, as Hachi's expression and posture reveal volumes. It's my current favorite comics panel.

It's a great series, and I really recommend picking up the collections.

Well, that's it for this issue. I could look at the other content, but it's more in line with the teen magazines that I hope people don't think I'm reading. There is a recurring feature in which Yuu Watase gives advice on drawing manga, and horoscopes with art by Junko Mizuno, but that's mostly incidental stuff. The comics are where it's at, and for the most part, they're worth reading.

UPDATE: If you liked this post, I've completed a follow-up, looking at the May issue of Shojo Beat.

Images of a solicitous nature

Next month I'm going to have to come up with a different pun. Damn. Anyway, here's the Image Comics solicitations for June 2007. Well, the meager few comics that I'm interested in, anyway:

Texas Strangers #4 - The first issue of this series was supposed to come out yesterday, but I don't think my LCS got any. I'll have to order it. The cover to this issue is weird; it's drawn by a different artist than the interiors (and previous covers), so the characters lose their square-faced look. I think I like this look better, actually.

Ward of the State #2 (of 3) - I'll probably check out the first issue of this series, but if I don't like it I won't be getting this one. As for the cover: gross, and graphic. Makes me think the series might be cool.

Godland #20 - Wow, the Triad is still around by this issue? I wonder what's going to happen for numbers 17-19? And they go to Vegas (baby!). Should be fun.

Gutsville #2 (of 6) - I'll get the first issue of this, due to Frazier Irving's art. Hopefully it will be good enough to stick around. Looks like he recently read (or watched) V For Vendetta.

Madman Atomic Comics #3 - Wow, this looks awesome! Madman vs. Mister Excitement (I think)! And it has to do with Madman traveling through alternate universes. I always love that plot.

Repo #1 (of 5) - Looks interesting. The premise sounds, um, "inspired" by Repo Man. It's by Rick Spears and Rob G. (Teenagers From Mars, which I haven't read). Might be worth checking out.

Sam Noir volume 1 TPB - I'm digging the Ronin Holiday miniseries, which is collected in this volume. I probably won't get this since I'll have that and (hopefully) the collected edition of Samurai Detective. But if you believe my reviews, it's a cool book, so check it out. And a nice cover too. Good job, Manny!

And that's it; slim pickings. I hope to have a review up tonight, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's solicitation week in Comics Internetville

Both DC and Marvel have released their solicitations for June 2007, so let's take a look. I'm probably more interested in DC, so I'll do them last.


Marvel Illustrated: Last of the Mohicans #2 (of 6) - I'm still not sure if I want to pick this up. Alex Maleev's cover looks nice.

Marvel Illustrated: Treasure Island #1 (of 6) - This one I'm pretty damn sure I don't want anything to do with, due to the presence on art of Mario Gully. He's the guy who does Ant, and even if he tones down the T&A completely, I am not interested in anything he does.

Legion of Monsters: Satana - On the other hand, while the subject (and cover) of this doesn't especially interest me, the presence of Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News) as co-writer (with The Dark Tower's Robin Furth!) and co-artist intrigues me. I knew it was only a matter of time before the big guns snatched him up.

The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born #5 (of 7) - I mentioned before that I think I'm hooked on this series, so I'll most likely be getting this. Another creepy cover by Jae Lee.

Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears #5 (of 6) - I don't know if I'll still be reading this one. Hell, I haven't decided whether to bother picking up issue #3.

The Punisher Presents: Barracuda #5 (of 5) - I liked the first issue of this mini, and the second comes out this week. I'll probably end up buying the whole series. Funny cover.

Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #3 (of 4) - More Jeff Parker/Mike Wieringo goodness (I hope). Don't let me down, guys!

Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #14 - Speaking of Jeff Parker, he's definitely trying to get me to buy this one, as the Avengers travel back in time to team up with the Agents of Atlas. With art by Leonard Kirk, who did the art on the Agents of Atlas miniseries. Jeez, Jeff, you know how to pull me in (even if I can't tell who any of those guys on the cover are).

Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four #25 - In other Marvel Adventures activity, Frad Van Lente (Action Philosophers) writes this story of the Human Torch being flung through different alternate universes and meeting other versions of the FF. Sounds crazy fun.

Franklin Richards: World Be Warned #1 - Looks like a goof on "World War Hulk", Marvel's big summer event. Should be fun; I like all the Franklin Richards specials.

Immortal Iron Fist #7 - According to the solicitation text, this is a self-contained story about the Iron Fist that we saw in issue #2, with art by Travel Foreman. I wonder if this is going to be a regular thing. We've had a few pages in each issue of an Iron Fist of the past, so it would be cool to get stories about them every so often. It's a good idea. I'm glad I started buying this.

Iron Man: Hypervelocity #6 (of 6) - I love this miniseries, so I hope Adam Warren finishes it strong. Awesome cover, with the armor having lots of holes blown in it.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #19 - Unless something drastic happens, I'll still be reading the book by the time this issue shows up. Interesting cover; don't tell me MJ is going to get together with Flash?! When does Sean McKeever stop writing the book? I hope it's not for a while.

Runaways #27 - Whoa, weird cover. Time travel? Who knows! Whedon seems to be doing interesting stuff with the book; I hope he doesn't ruin it, but I don't think he will.

Powers #27 - Looks like this is still showing up. I didn't read the solicitations text because I didn't want to spoil anything, so looks like that's all I have to say. Oh, I guess I could mention that the last issue's cliffhanger was interesting, and I definitely want to see where they go from there. Don't let me down, Bendis!

Criminal #7 - And it also looks like this is still showing up. I have very little idea what the next story arc is about, so I don't have much to say. I bet it will be good reading.

And that's it for Marvel. On to


Batman #667 - This is the issue I mentioned the other day, with J.H. Williams III on art in a story about the Batmen of All Nations. It should be awesome. At least, I really hope so.

Action Comics #851 - I wouldn't normally care about this, but it's at least partly in 3-D, which interests me. I might pick it up just for that. Yup, I fall for the obvious marketing ploy.

All-Star Superman #8 - Ooh, this looks cool. I don't know who that is on the left side of the cover (Lex Luthor?), and Bizarro doesn't look very, um, bizarre. And the rocket, which seems to be pieced together from signs and fireworks, is really cool. I guess what I'm saying is, the cover has me really interested in the story within. And that's what it's supposed to do, right?

The Spirit #7 - This is always a fun book (judging by the first three issues), but this one looks like a bit of a departure, if only because Darwyn Cooke is not doing anything besides the cover. There are three stories, one by Kyle Baker, with the others by Jimmy Palmiotti/Jordi Bernet
and Walt Simonson/Chris Sprouse. At least, I think those are the teamings. It will be worth it for Kyle Baker alone; I hope the other stories are also good.

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #4 (of 4) - Jeff Smith's awesome Captain Marvel series wraps up. It's been awesome so far, and I really doubt that will change.

The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen TPB - I doubt I'll buy this (although it would probably be fun to read), but I wanted to point out the sweet Brian Bolland cover.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus volume 2 HC - Volume one of this collected series should be out soon. I'll have to try to find it at a discount somewhere. Volume two doesn't actually come out until August. DC is trying to get all my money.

Clubbing - Another Minx book, this time by Andi Watson and Josh Howard. I've never been wowed by Watson, although Paris was pretty good, and Howard (Dead@17) doesn't really do anything for me. I might skip this one.

Gon volume 1 - Looks like DC's CMX imprint will be reprinting Gon. I've read the first volume of this, in one of its incarnations. I don't know if I'll be picking up any of these, but what I've read is pretty enjoyable.

Samurai Commando volume 1 - Now this looks cool. I've been considering importing a DVD of the live action Samurai Commando movie, so this might be worth reading. I might actually buy a manga from CMX! By the way, it has to do with a time-traveling group of modern-day soldiers ending up in ancient Japan alongside samurai warriors. An awesome concept; we'll see about the execution.

Midnighter #8 - Uh oh. This is by Christos Gage and John Paul Leon. I've been reading this book due to Garth Ennis's writing, so if he's leaving I might have to stop getting it. Not that I have anything against Gage or Leon, but it takes a trusted writer to get me reading about the Midnighter.

The Highwaymen #1 - This looks like a comic version of The Transporter or something. I'm not familiar with any of the creative talent involved, so I probably won't get it. But check out the cover: That girl is in a ridiculous pose, and it looks like the car is holding a gun. Hilarious!

Ex Machina #29 - Is this late? It's the finale of the "Power Down" storyline, which started in the most recent issue. Whatever; I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Testament #19 - As I mentioned the other day, this comic is pushing its luck with me lately, so I don't know if I'll still be reading it when this issue shows up. Come on, get me back on board, Rushkoff!

DMZ #20 - I'm still on board with this one though. Nice cover. I can't wait to read it.

Fables #62 - As I mention every month, I buy this in trades, but I wanted to point out this beautiful cover by James Jean. I hope it's not indicating that Flycatcher is going to die. That would be sad.

Jack of Fables #12 - I dig this book too, and I love the snarky non-cover image. Keep up the good work, boys (and Jack)!

Army@Love #4 - And, finally, we get to this bit of strangeness, featuring the legs of a sexy battlezone nurse. Or something. The first issue of this comes out tomorrow. I can't wait.

And it looks like that's all. Unless something else catches my eye. And Image should post something later in the week or next week. I'll talk about it when they do. I might have a review later tonight, or maybe tomorrow. Check back and see!