Sunday, September 30, 2007

Killing Girl: Not as killer this time around

Another external plug, before I start this post: my review of Apollo's Song has been published on MangaLife. Oddly, the pictures in their version of the article didn't come out so well; I'll have to check and see if I need to fix the way I send images to them.

Killing Girl
#2 (of 5)

Written by Glen Brunswick
Art by Frank Espinosa

Hoo, boy. When I reviewed the first issue of this miniseries, I felt that the stunning art overcame the mediocre writing. Well, the story veers into downright bad territory in this issue, with lines like "If I told you the sky is red today then it's red," or, "No sacrifice would be too great to have her matter what she's done." Ouch. But it's not just the dialogue that's lame here; the plot is pretty awful as well, with Viper/Sara unable to kill the agent she left alive last issue because he's the fiancé of her long-lost sister. Actually, Viper is the long-lost sister, kidnapped as a child by gangsters to become a prostitute/assassin. We get some flashbacks in this issue, seeing Viper's training by an ultra-butch woman named Nightmare (that's her on the cover of the comic), who threatens to kill her if she misses any shots. Anyway, Viper is ordered to kill the agent, which is an interesting conflict (should she destroy her sister's life, just as she's starting to remember her pre-criminal days?), and Nightmare is ordered to kill Viper if she hesitates. This leads to tragedy, and who knows where the plot will go for the next three issues.

Unfortunately, I don't really care. None of the characters are likable here, with the possible exception of Anna, Sara's sister. That isn't a necessity for a good story, but nothing they do really interests me; the gangsters are cartoonishly evil, and pretty much any motivation for Sara to do anything other than kill everybody she sees is removed at this point in the story. The plot really gives me no reason to follow these characters any longer.

And luckily for me, I guess, the art won't be drawing me to the book any longer either. Frank Espinosa is quitting the series, to be replaced by Toby Cypress, with whom I'm not familiar (outside of some preview art for the next few issues of this series). Seems like the perfect jumping-off point. So that's that for the series, and I can't really recommend it for anybody, unless you can't get enough of Espinosa's art. But while I'm talking about it, let's look at his art for this issue:

It's not quite as striking as the first, possibly because this is a second-act lull after the opening action of the first installment. Presumably, the next few issues would build to an awe-inspiring climax, but Espinosa won't be around to bring it to life. Too bad. But here, we mostly get characters standing around and talking, with flat, grey backgrounds and little movement:

Espinosa does what he can to liven things up, but the script doesn't give him much to do. Luckily, there are a few exciting scenes to punctuate the boredom, like a flashback to Sara's kidnapping:

That's a really cool page, giving the scene an emotional chaos, with the demonic-looking gangster grabbing Sara and her mom and sister reduced to mere brushstrokes in their inability to do anything about it. It takes a few moments to interpret, but once you grasp what's going on, it totally works. And then there's the bit where Viper's boss/lover slaps her around:

I actually didn't like that scene at all, since it deflates Viper's hard-ass character, adding violence toward women into a comic that should be about the opposite, and it contains some atrocious dialogue, but I love the way Espinosa drew the guy slapping her. The arm is elongated, with the fingers seemingly stretched beyond recognition; it's a great way of capturing fast motion in Espinosa's minimalist style.

There's some more action near the end, but it's fairly incomprehensible, and while I've been laying most of the blame for this book on Brunswick's feet, some of it might be Espinosa's fault, like this scene [SPOILERS, I guess, but it seems silly to warn for them when I've been telling people not to buy the book] when Nightmare is about to shoot Viper from a hotel window, and she's interrupted by a maid:

For one thing, there was no indication that the scene was taking place in a hotel; all we saw in the previous panel was Nightmare pointing a gun out the window, and then the maid appeared in the next panel. For another, Nightmare apparently still takes the shot, without looking, and manages to hit her target. Right. Third, the coloring around Nightmare's head (which had previously been shown as having short hair) indicates longer hair at first glance, and she loses her hard, perpetually angry expression at a totally inappropriate moment. I was actually confused as to whether this was Nightmare or somebody else at first glance, and that's not a good thing. I do like the second panel though; it's good to have some color on the page, and I love the splatter effect and bodily contortion caused by the impact.

Since I'm spoiling things, I'll go ahead and reveal that Anna gets killed, and Sara gets captured by the feds, so I'm guessing she'll spend the rest of the series working with Anna's agent boyfriend to take down the gangsters. And probably falling in love with him while rediscovering her lost childhood. I might have stuck with it if Espinosa was continuing on as the artist, but without his contribution, I expect this book will stop straddling the good/bad line and fall squarely into the "awful" category. Pity.

This week: comics. Just like every week.

Nothing too significant, I guess. But before I get to the weekly list, I'll point out two reviews of mine over on SBC: Lucha Libre #1 and Dust #2. The latter one was pretty terrible, so I used that as a chance to make lots of jokes, and hopefully they're funny to other people besides me. Isn't that what critics are supposed to do when something is bad? Anyway:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 10/3/07):

Howard the Duck #1

The first issue of the new miniseries by Ty Templeton and Juan Bobillo. I like Bobillo's artwork (he used to draw Dan Slott's She-Hulk), but I don't know if this will be worth getting. I'll wait for the trade and see what the buzz is.

Omega the Unknown #1

I'm waiting for the trade on this one too, but I'll almost certainly get it, because Jonathan Lethem is one of my favorite novelists, and the artwork (by Farel Dalrymple, with Paul Hornschemeier helping out somehow) looks amazing. Don't let me down, fellows!

Marvel MAX Sampler 2007

Didn't one of these samplers come out a year ago and promise a miniseries of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations by Richard Corben, similar to the Edgar Allen Poe one he did a while back? What happened to that anyway? I'm still waiting! As for this thing, I'll flip through it in the store, but that's all. I don't waste my money to pay for ads.

JLA Hitman #2

The first issue of this was pretty good, but I figured I would wait for the conclusion to do a write-up. Luckily, it's showing up really quickly (it's only been two weeks, right?), so nobody has to wait to hear what I thought.

Jack of Fables #15

I've been sort of planning to drop this and wait for trades, like I do with Fables, but it's such an enjoyable book that I don't know if I want to. This issue will presumably see more arguing between Jack and Wicked John, and more figuring out what to do about the sword that is currently impaling him. Good times.

Vinyl Underground #1

The newest Vertigo series, about magical London musicians, or something like that. Notable due to the art by Simon Gane and Cameron Stewart (plus covers by Sean Phillips). Like I tend to do with Vertigo series that interest me, I'll probably buy the first issue/arc, and then switch to trades if I like it.

Lobster Johnson & the Iron Prometheus #2

I didn't read the first issue of this, but it looked pretty good, and I heard a lot of good things about it, so I might end up getting the eventual collection.

Parade with Fireworks #2

I really liked the first issue of this, but I figured I would wait for the second and final one to review the story. So expect that sometime this week.

Injury Comics #1

I think I read a review or two of this that made it sound pretty interesting (I know Jog did one). But my shop probably won't get it anyway. Oh well.

Empowered vol. 2

I was wrong; this didn't show up last week. But it should be here this week. Oh joy!

I Killed Adolph Hitler

Um, ditto the last thing I said.

Lloyd Kaufman Presents The Toxic Avenger & Other Tromatic Tales GN

I don't know if this will be worth getting, but it could be fun. Notable contributors include Sean McKeever, B. Clay Moore, Kalman Andrasofszky, and Ivan Brandon. It's $18.99, and here's a preview/interview at CBR.

Outer Orbit TPB

You know, I never did hear if this series was any good. It's a sci-fi comedy billed as "from the creator of Shaun of the Dean", but that's not talking about any of the people usually associated with Shaun (Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, or Nick Frost); rather, I think they're referring to the writer of the graphic novel adaptation of the movie, or something like that. Anyway, I did get a review copy of this, but I haven't read it yet, so I might eventually write something about it, depending if I feel like it.

Sock Monkey Inches Incident TPB

I've never actually read any Sock Monkey, but I do like Tony Millionaire, so I suppose I could check this out at some point. I think I prefer Maakies, but who knows, this could also be pretty enjoyable.

Will Eisner Life in Pictures

I'm always up for some Eisner. This collects The Name of the Game, To the Heart of the Storm, and The Dreamer. Out of those, I've read Storm, and it's quite good; I might just have to get this someday. Here's Tom Spurgeon's recent look at the book.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Vol 4 TP Digest

A collection of the excellent series; I highly recommend it if you've never read it. This is the cheap manga-sized digest version, which is good if you don't want to spend too much. They'll probably also come out with a big, pretty hardcover collection of this material too.

Underworld Railroad Vol 1 GN

This could be interesting. It's a supernatural takeoff on the historical Underground Railroad, with deceased souls following a path of safehouses in order to escape the devil. It's by Jason M. Burns, creator of A Dummy's Guide to Danger, which I haven't read but looked all right. Here's an interview with Burns with some sample art.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 4

Hey, I'm not as behind on this series as I thought I was! I have the first two volumes, so there's not too much to catch up on.

Dragon Head Vol 8

And I'm still trying to get caught up on this; I've read through volume 5. Both of those manga are ones I never see in stores, or I would probably be more current. It's harder to keep up when you have to order the books online.

Nana Vol 7

I'm all caught up with this series though; this volume collects through the end of what was serialized in Shojo Beat. I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I love this book, so check it out if you aren't afraid of looking too girly.

Uzumaki Vol 1 2nd Edition

Ah, Viz is finally delivering their promised Junji Ito reprints. I've read the first two volumes of this series, and it's excellent, effectively creepy stuff. I might have to pick these up, especially Gyo, which I haven't read before.

And that's all for me for the week. I should also mention that I noticed a bunch of books by Zondervan, a Christian publisher, on Midtown Comics' list, so I checked it out, and it looks to be a crazy line of Christian manga-style comics for kids. Weird. Normally I wouldn't care too much, but I did review a similar book recently (it should be up soon on MangaLife), so this sort of thing has been catching my eye. Huh. Okay, maybe there will be more content today, but maybe not. I like to keep people guessing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Doctor 13: If I was an architect, I would also be immoral

Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang

I don't really have anything too incisive to say about this book; for that, I'll steer anybody interested to the excellent pair of critiques by Abhay Khosla and Jeff Lester at the Savage Critic(s), in which they discuss the types of stories in which creators mourn the loss of (superhero) comics' rich, quirky past in favor of the ol' grim 'n gritty. After a call by Abhay, the term "nostalgicore" has been coined, and it's a great one. But while it's a great discussion, I don't know if the work engages me on that level; it's more of a metafictional look at characters begging to exist, fighting against the constraints of being fictional, which is something I love, regardless of the genre. The thing is, I don't see this as a condemnation of any modern types of storytelling; it's more of a fun, funny look at some crazy characters and types of stories. If anything, it's a reminder not to forget this stuff exists in the forgotten corners of the DC universe. I mean, one of the antagonists of the story is Grant Morrison, and if anybody loves to dredge up goofy stuff and give it new life, it's him.

But aside from all that, the story is just plain fun. I'm fairly used to Brian Azzarello's witty, pun-filled dialogue in 100 Bullets, but where that book's jargon is obtuse and sinister, here he's just going for laughs. It's a riot, and the unique style of transcribing accented English is also hilarious ("Joo a yoo?"). And Cliff Chiang's crisp, cartoony artwork is amazing (a lot of credit should probably also be given to colorist Patricia Mulvihill), perfectly rendering these characters and adding lots of fun details, like this bit, where General JEB Stuart (the guy who haunted a certain tank) and Captain Fear (a ghost pirate) are swordfighting. They end up chopping each other up, but since they're both ghosts, their pieces stay together, leading to this priceless reaction shot:

In addition to those characters, we've also got Anthro the caveboy (who speaks French, for some reason), Infectious Lass, the Primate Patrol, Genius Jones a kid who can answer any question for the price of a dime, and I...Vampire, an emo bloodsucker who gives us some great jokes, since everyone around him has to follow up anything they say that rhymes with "I" with "...Vampire?" Here's my favorite:

In the story, these characters are fighting to keep from being erased from existence by the Architects, who are never named, but are supposed to be Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Greg Rucka, the writers of DC's 52. It's pretty amusing and fun, but like I said, I don't think it's that effective of a critique against modern storytelling. It's really just a call for characters like these to stick around, and I'm okay with that. Especially if they're in fun stories full of great art like this. So give us that promised sequel already!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Resurrection: Not another Jesus comic!

Crap, that would make more sense if a certain review of mine had been posted at MangaLife. Hopefully it will be up within a day or two, and then I can pretend people know what I'm talking about.

Resurrection #1
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by David Dumeer

Writer Marc Guggenheim (Wolverine, Blade) came up with an excellent premise for this series: what happens after the alien-invasion story ends? For instance, take the movie Independence Day. After the aliens are defeated, what does humanity do next? Most of the major cities have been destroyed, military forces are decimated, and wreckage litters the landscape all over the globe. Will society descend into anarchy, or will people manage to rebuild some sort of functioning civilization? Guggenheim uses this idea as the jumping-off point; the series begins as the sounds of a ten-year war cease and people venture outdoors for the first time in a long while. We don't know exactly what happened over the past ten years, but there are hints, like the President talking with an advisor about some sort of weapon that repelled the "bugs", as the aliens are referred to. We also get a scene of a scientist who has an alien in captivity, and the mention of refugees, but the main character of the story is a woman named Sara who despairs at her fellow humans' immediate use of violence toward each other after they venture out of their hiding place. She decides to leave everyone else behind and walk to see her son in a nearby town. Along the way, she gets attacked by a mutant (what's a post-apocalyptic story without mutants?) and meets a man named Ben who decides to accompany her on her trek. It's all a pretty decent setup for the series, and I assume Guggenheim will start to flesh out the world a bit more in future installments.

Unfortunately, artist David Dumeer might not be up to the task Guggenheim sets for him. His background art is pretty nice, and his depiction of rubble and wrecked machinery even reminds me of Stuart Immonen's work on Nextwave:

But his character art needs a lot of work. Facial expressions don't quite match the dialogue (although that might be on purpose in some cases; Ben in particular seems kind of creepy), and the movements and gestures of characters looks pretty awkward, whether they are holding and/or firing a gun, scooping water from a pond, or just pointing a finger:

It was enough to distract me from the story, and that's not a good thing in what should be an immersive book. I suppose it's possible that Dumeer could improve, but right now it's a big problem for a book that otherwise has a lot going for it. If you're able to get past the art, it seems like it will certainly be worth following. The monthly series will be $3.50 per issue, and the first installment comes out on November 28.

This review was based on a review copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Silent War: I sure haven't heard many people talk about it

I mean really, did anybody else read this thing?

Silent War
Written by David Hine
Art by Frazier Irving

Spinning out of whatever the hell is going on in Marvel comics these days, this miniseries details the conflict between the Inhumans and the United States government, who have stolen (or at least acquired) the Terrigen crystals that enable Inhuman society to function. For anybody who doesn't know, the Inhumans were a race of super-powered people introduced during Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original run on Fantastic Four. They lived in their closed-off city of Attilan, which was relocated to the moon at some point (I think it was during John Byrne's run on FF). There's a lot of history involving them over the years, but I'm largely unfamiliar with it, other than their initial appearance. But I was still able to follow this just fine, since it mostly sticks with the core Inhuman characters (Black Bolt, Medusa, Gorgon, Crystal, Maximus) and one or two others, like Crystal's daughter Luna.

It's an odd book, partially rooted in the nonstop event madness of the current Marvel universe (it follows directly after "Son of M", which was a sequel of sorts to "House of M", which followed up on "Avengers Disassembled", and so on), and attempting to inject real-world politics into Marvels fantastical milieu (there's talk of weapons of mass destruction, Geneva conventions, mutually assured destruction, and genocide, for starters) but it mostly transcends such trappings to tell a (In)human story about characters caught up in events larger than themselves. Black Bolt is struggling under the bonds of leadership, possibly leading his people into an unwinnable conflict. Medusa is feeling distanced from her husband and possibly driven into the arms of his insane brother Maximus. Crystal is trying to do what's best for her daughter and her family, but still has feelings for the crazed Quicksilver, who stole the crystals and set off the whole conflict. Luna is still too young to understand what is going on, but she tries to help as best she can. And Maximus, in a great use of his character, sits Joker-like in his jail cell, manipulating people in order to worm his way back into power. It's a pretty good ensemble piece, with each chapter narrated by a different character, giving a personal feel to a large conflict. The biggest complaint I have is probably too much use of the Sentry, a really lame character. But apart from that (which might have been mandated by editorial, who seem intent on pushing the Sentry as a major character), it's pretty well done.

But while the story is pretty decent, Frazier Irving's art is the real star of the show; I certainly wouldn't have bothered to pick this up if, say, John Romita, Jr. had illustrated it (not that I dislike Romita, but I certainly don't dig him enough to buy this sort of Marvel (or DC, for that matter) continuity-fest, no matter how well it's written). Irving's work is just incredible here, lending an otherworldly feel to the story about freaky beings fighting each other. He really brings out the bizarre and grotesque in superhero stories; I wish he worked on this sort of thing more often (luckily, he's currently illustrating the excellent Image miniseries Gutsville, so I'm getting a pretty regular dose of his awesomeness). From the range of subtle expressions on characters' faces, whether normal-looking:

Or freakish:

To the innovative portrayal of their abilities:

He seems to be drawing his heart out. It's probably the best work I've seen from him. I'm amazed at the color work he does here, using computer techniques to add texture to surfaces and give action scenes a real kick:

And the trippy visions he composes to demonstrate Luna's powers are flat-out beautiful:

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. There's plenty of other really cool stuff, like Quicksilver's ultra-creepy use of the Terrigen crystals, the spooky landscapes (moonscapes?) of Attilan, or Gorgon's horrific secondary mutation. It's really some of the best art being produced in mainstream comics today.

So while it's certainly not an essential series, it has some really good moments, and it's worth getting just for Irving's incredible visuals. The ending suggests that there will be more to come, but unless it's illustrated by Irving or somebody else I really like, I won't bother reading it (and if it's written by Jeph Loeb, all bets are off). This nicely-gilded slice of modern Marvel is enough for me for a while.

Solicitationary blatherings: Other companies, December 2007

Before I get started, I'll link to another review I did for SBC, of Madman Atomic Comics #4.

And here's the rest of the solicit crowd, although there are a few conspicuous absences, like Oni Press. Here we go, in alphabetical order:


BLACK SUMMER #5 - The miniseries will be nearing a close by this point, and hopefully it will still be entertaining. It'll be plenty violent, judging by the cover, but every cover has been that way. Um, not much else to say here.

DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #6 - This series looks to be still going strong. It's been decent so far, but I'm still hoping it will get better. It's got the usual Warren Ellis techno-future, but the main character has potential to be pretty interesting, being a mad scientist and all. We'll see.

STRANGER KISSES TPB - I guess it's Warren Ellis month at Avatar, for me at least. I already have both of these three-issue miniseries (both illustrated by Mike Wolfer), and they're all right, if not exceptional. The intent seems to be to shock and disgust, with weird, explicit sexual art showing us the adventures of a "combat magician". Decent stuff, and worth getting if you're an Ellis fan. But if you've just heard of him and want to see the appeal, this is probably not the place to start; you'll probably run away screaming.

Dark Horse:

GROO: HELL ON EARTH #4 - It's the end of the "Groo causes global warming" miniseries, and I expect it to be fun. Don't let me down, Aragones and Evanier!

THE KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE VOLUME 6 - It probably gets tiresome when I say this for seemingly every manga series that I read, but I'm behind on this series and hope to catch up someday. That is all.

NEXUS ARCHIVES VOLUME 7 - Okay, I have a question: does anyone actually buy these? I would love to get caught up on Nexus; I hear all the time how great it is, and there's a new series coming out that I would consider buying if I could read some of the past adventures of the character. But 50 bucks for 208 pages of material?!? Who's going to pay that when you can get a better deal on comics pretty much anywhere else? A regular manga digest is about that long for a fifth of the price. The only people who are going to buy this are probably already Nexus fans! Come on, Dark Horse, put out some cheaper versions so non-initiates might actually want to buy them!

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE #4 - Wow, that is an incredibly beautiful cover. James Jean rules. I liked the first issue quite a bit, so I'm pretty stoked to read the rest of the series.


CORY DOCTOROW'S FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW #3 - While I'm not sure I'll get the previous two issues of this series, I'll probably pick this one up, since I don't think I've read "Craphound", the story being adapted here. Unless, of course, I really dislike the art style or something. But look at that awesome Paul Pope cover! That'll be hard to resist.

LIFELIKE - An anthology of "slice-of-life" stories from contributors whom I don't recognize (other than Dara Naraghi, the writer of the aforementioned Cory Doctorow series). It might be worth a look.

SALLYANDERS - A graphic novel from Ashley Wood (he writes and draws, although T.P. Louise is also credited on the cover, if not in the solicitation). A little pricey ($19.99 for 100 pages), but I really dig Wood's stuff, so I'll probably end up getting it.

WORMWOOD: CALAMARI RISING PART #1 - A sequel to Ben Templesmith's miniseries (which I still need to pick up). The bits I saw of the first one were pretty fun, full of Templesmith's wit and visual panache, so I don't see why this would be any different. I'll probably wait for a trade though.

And I think that's everything that I saw worth noting. I don't know if any of Red 5's books will be worth getting, so I didn't list them. But they do look interesting, so depending on initial issues, I might start including them in these roundups in the future.

As for other content, I'll probably have at least one more review up tonight, so keep an eye out. You know where to look.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Samurai Commando: Not the latest Schwarzenegger movie

Ah, lame jokes. They never get old.

Samurai Commando: Mission 1549, volume 1
Written by Harutoshi Fukui
Art by Ark Performance (Kenji Mitsuyoshi, Koichi Ishikawa)

I had been pretty interested in this book due to the ridiculous-sounding concept: a squadron of Japanese soldiers get transported to the titular date and change history, so a second squad must follow them and try to set things right. It's so silly, promising a goofy combination of modern warfare and samurai action, that I couldn't help but be intrigued. Plus, I always enjoy time travel stories, even if they usually fall apart under heavy scrutiny. This one is no different (Oda Nobunaga, a major Japanese historical figure, gets killed on the first page, which doesn't seem like a fixable problem), and it kind of sags in spots, but it's still pretty fun, at least for the first volume (of two).

After a prologue in which we see the time-displaced Colonel Takeshi Matoba murder Nobunaga and take over his rule, the focus shifts to 2010, six years after the fateful experiment that caused the temporal chaos (the manga presumably came out in 2004). A man named Yusuke Kashima, who used to serve under Matoba, gets recruited to join an expedition back to the past and try to stop Matoba in his schemes to destroy the future. But they are unprepared for what they find when they get there: Matoba has transformed the ancient landscape into a sort of steampunk-samurai countryside, armoring the local soldiers and giving them weapons that allow them to tear through the modern soldiers like rag dolls. How can he be stopped? Find out in volume 2!

So while the plot is pretty simple and straightforward (at least, as much as a time travel story can be), it's executed pretty well, with interesting characters and dynamic art. It reads kind of strangely to my American eyes, however; the Japanese soldiers, being part of the "Self Defense Force", hesitate to use lethal force against their samurai opponents, and are subsequently wiped out. This seems strange, coming from a country that takes such pride in its ability to conquer those who are lesser-equipped. While it seems like a smart idea, in an "A Sound of Thunder" sort of way, to not kill denizens of the past, a character monologues to himself, "We're members of the self-defense matter what the situation, we're forbidden to do anything but defend ourselves." It definitely emphasizes the Japanese origin of the story.

But other than the cultural oddity, it's an interesting story, full of well-drawn characters. Kashima wants to find out what has happened to his former mentor, and Matoba seems to be taking some sort of revenge on the modern world; he also seems to have a tinge of madness, which might be influencing his actions. Then there's Shichibe Iinuma, a samurai who was transported to the future (it's never explained how) and goes back with the second team. He's one of those honor-bound samurai that are always enjoyable to hang out with. Finally, Lady Kicho, Nobunaga's wife, has been hanging around the background of the story, probably planning something. After reading about her on Wikipedia, she seems like another historical element that Americans might miss out on; Japanese readers familiar with history would probably immediately recognize her as a devious schemer

Ark Performance, the studio composed of Kenji Mitsuyoshi and Koichi Ishikawa, deliver some gratifyingly dynamic art that comes none too soon after the slow middle of the volume. Their depiction of the cool technology, both in the future:

And in the past:

Adds a lot to the atmosphere of the book. The action and violence are quite striking, with plenty of arterial spray as the samurai are decimating the soldiers:

Kudos should also be given to the localization team, who used a hand-lettered font for many of the sound effects that I thought was much more effective than a lot of the sound-effect translation methods I've seen:

The book is a pretty quick read, and it's a bit slimmer than most manga volumes. But it's still a good time, similar to an action movie (in fact, a movie version was also made, adapted from the same novel as the manga). And at only two volumes, it's much smaller of an investment than many manga series. It's definitely worth a look if it sounds like something you might enjoy.

I might save some money this week and I might not; I really should come up with wittier post titles

Whatever the case, here's what I think about this week's comics:

Wait! First, I should point out my review of The Programme #3 over at SBC. Okay, carry on:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 9/26/07):

Immortal Iron Fist #9
Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1

I probably shouldn't bother mentioning this book anymore, since I'm waiting for the trade, but I wanted to note that I hope the annual gets collected along with regular installments of the series. Don't screw me, Marvel!

Criminal #9

A "Marvel" book I'm actually buying on a monthly basis. It's good stuff. Please, Sean Phillips, give up the zombie nonsense and stick to this!

Franklin Richards Monster Mash

I've bought several of these specials, and they're always fun, but I don't know if they're really worth three dollars a pop. Maybe I should switch to getting those collected digest versions.

Batman #669

My last issue of Batman for the foreseeable future, but I expect I'll go out on a good note. J.H. Williams III finishes his three-issue run, so it should be pretty and awesome and pretty awesome. My guess at the murderer's identity: Squire! Hah, nobody will expect that one!

The Spirit #10

Continued from the last issue, in a deviance from the series norm. Our hero fights the bad guy, Mortez, who ties into his origin. Darwyn Cooke is cool, and this is one of his last issues on the series. Only two more to go, I think.

Superman Confidential #6

Both my local store and Midtown Comics say that this is the final issue of the Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale "origin of Kryptonite" story, but last I heard, that got delayed and this actually starts the next storyline. If so, I won't be getting it, but if I'm incorrect, it will be a nice surprise. I've enjoyed the story, even if it hasn't exactly been a masterpiece. I hope they'll be able to wrap it up satisfactorily. If nothing else, it's been yet another lesson on waiting for the trade.

Killing Girl #2

I really dug the first issue of this book, so hopefully this one will keep up the quality (on the art front, at least; hell, maybe the story will even bootstrap itself up to a new level). There's going to be an artist switch partway through the series, so if it doesn't appeal to me, I'll drop it. But I'll always have that awesome first issue...

Left On Mission #4

This isn't on my shop's list, but hopefully I'll get it anyway. It's been a very enjoyable spy series, so I've been looking forward to reading the rest of it. Oh well, I'll get it sometime, I'm sure.

Iron Man Hypervelocity TPB

I highly recommend this Adam Warren-penned miniseries. It's full of awesome techno-sci-fi ideas and crazy action, with Warren's signature cheeky mile-a-minute dialogue and weird sexual fixations. Not the usual sort of thing you see from Marvel, which makes it all the better. Check it out if you missed it the first time.

Empowered vol. 2 TPB

Hey, even more Adam Warren! Is this actually coming out this week? I hope so. I already received a review PDF of the book, but I haven't been able to bring myself to do more than scan through some of it; I would rather read a physical copy. I really liked the first volume, so I hope this one has more of the same. In fact, it should probably be better, since it won't have the early "learning curve" of that volume. If Warren can keep up the crazy, sexy comedy and wacky concepts while continuing the character development, I'll be happy.

Presents vol. 1
Variante vol. 1

I'm interested in both of these DC/CMX manga, which are about a creepy little girl who gives evil gifts and a girl with an evil arm grafted onto her body, respectively, but who knows if I'll ever find them anywhere. Eh, I'll wait and see if there are any positive reviews anyway.

Killer vol. 1 HC

I think Greg Burgas at Comics Should Be Good gave this a recommendation, so I might check it out at some point, if I ever see it. It's a European comic about, well, a killer. Surprise, surprise.

Loki TPB

This is the miniseries from a few years ago in which Loki defeated Thor and became ruler of Asgard, or something like that. It certainly looked nice, but I never really heard anything especially good about it. I dunno, I might take a look, but I doubt I'll buy it.

Punisher Presents Barracuda TPB

I enjoyed this miniseries, although I probably should have waited for the trade/caught up on the regular series first. It works pretty good on its own, with the titular character (Barracuda, not the Punisher) wreaking havoc in a small South American nation, but it would probably be better if you've been reading the main Punisher MAX series (which also sees the release of an annual this week).

Madman Vol 1 TP Image Edition

Hey, you can finally start to get caught up on the series (of series) without having to spring for the giant Gargantua edition! Check it out, if you want some fun Mike Allred comics (and if you don't, I probably can't help you).

Alan Moores Yuggoth Cultures TP

Weird Alan Moore stuff from Avatar. Did he actually write these, or were they just based on his short stories or something? I think I have an issue or two that I got in a discount bin; it had a lot of demon-fucking and stuff like that. I love Alan Moore, but I don't know if I would bother getting this.

I Killed Adolf Hitler TP

Another one that's not on my shop's list, but I think I preordered it, so maybe it will show up. I've been catching up on Jason's comics, and this one looks pretty good. Time travel and Hitler assassination are usually pretty fun.

Ronald Reagan A Graphic Biography HC

And then there's this. I'm not sure what to say about it, other than that I probably won't read it. But it amuses me, for some reason.

Best American Comics 2007 HC

While I probably won't buy this, I would like to see what is included. I liked the 2006 edition, for the most part, so this will certainly be worth a look. I hope my library gets a copy.

And I think that may actually be everything. Like I said, it could be light, with only a few pamphlets, but if all the various trades or whatever show up, it could be more expensive. We'll see. Anyway, I should have more reviews in the next few days, so watch for those.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dragon Head: We're getting closer to finding out what that's supposed to mean

I'm actually getting caught up on series like this, which is cool. Only two more volumes to go to get caught up with what's been released in the U.S., although volume 8 is supposed to come out in early October. I'm slowly gaining ground.

Dragon Head, volume 5
By Minetaro Mochizuki

When we left our characters at the end of the previous volume, they were in a helicopter, barely escaping a raging firestorm. More bad shit happens to them in this volume, as they struggle to survive in a disaster-ravaged landscape, and maybe even find out what the hell happened. We actually get some hints about the latter, but it's almost irrelevant when the characters are fighting to stay alive in a world gone mad.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, it's a nice ground-level view of the apocalypse, in the style that I like so much. Rather than concentrating on events, this series is all about character; the first two volumes consisted of just three (living) characters inside a collapsed train tunnel, and the madness that began to consume them in a state of perpetual darkness and decay. Interestingly, this volume shifts the main point of view from Teru, the boy, to Ako, the girl. Teru was wounded in the last volume, and now Ako is trying to procure the medicine to save his life. As you can imagine, in a wrecked world like this, pharmaceuticals are not easy to come by. She and the two remaining soldiers manage to put their helicopter down in what seems like a deserted area, and they meet a middle-aged woman who helps them out. She's the first adult we see after the disaster, or the first middle-aged one anyway; the soldiers seem like they're in their early twenties. She relates the story of her experiences during the "events", when she had traveled out of the country and into a nearby fishing town. She saw a sort of bright light in the sky, and then there was a big earthquake; then people noticed that there was no water in the ocean. Apparently, something happened to vaporize all the water nearby, which led to a huge tsunami when the ocean rushed back in to fill the gap. This destroyed most everything, and chaos ensued among those who were left. She witnessed people fighting savagely over supplies:

Like much of the human interaction in this series, these scenes feel "off", like something is just wrong. I still think something is going to be revealed about why this sort of thing is happening. Or maybe Mochizuki is just very cynical, believing that humanity will revert to thier worst natural impulses when faced with a world-ending situation like this, rather than working together for the benefit of all. Who knows, maybe he's right.

The lady also mentions seeing people silently evacuate down the road, in another display of strange behavior. Whether there's a supernatural/psychological/other explanation for this or not, it's still pretty damned creepy.

With the helicopter out of fuel and in need of repair, Ako and the nasty soldier Nimura decide to make the trek to a nearby village on foot, in order to retrieve medicine and supplies. It looks like this trip might take them the next few volumes to finish, since they encounter trouble on the way, along with more freaky stuff that might or might not have to do with the disaster:

I expect this guy will play a major part in the future, since he's the one who utters the series' title. Plus, he's on the cover of the next volume.

It's very a intense book, with near-constant life-threatening situations, and a very effective feeling of a world completely destroyed and gone mad. I had wondered about the lack of dead bodies in the previous volumes, and while we do finally see some graves and evidence of dead people, there still seems to be less of them around than there should be. It makes for a creepy landscape, with the washed-out evidence of the tsunami covering every detail:

Mochizuki delivers another striking moment when Ako and Nimura are traveling through a forest. Unlike the quickly crumbling man-made infrastructure, the trees and plants seem relatively untouched, demonstrating man's relative impermanence in the big view:

It's a beautiful moment, but one that is quickly interrupted by more life-threatening events.

I've really enjoyed this series, and it seems Mochizuki has a plan for what he's doing, rather than just throwing danger at the characters. I don't know how well it will work out when the series is complete (that is, when I've read the complete series), but I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mindgame and Inland Empire: More movies I don't understand

These movies have little in common, except that I watched them close together, and I'm still trying to recover.

Japan, 2004
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa

Man oh man, is this a crazy movie. It's an anime feature from Studio 4°C, the guys behind cool works like Memories, Spriggan, and the recent adaptation of Tekkon Kinkreet. It's a fascinating, hallucinatory, overwhelming visual treat, even if I didn't know what was going on. The animation style is pretty unique, more like European comics than the usual manga style in most anime:

But still pictures are deceptive; you really have to see this stuff in motion to appreciate it. The backgrounds expand and move around the characters, and while those characters look "flat", they often turn and move in amazingly detailed ways, sometimes stretching into crazy, exaggerated figures:

And occasionally cutting to photo-quality images of the characters that are graphically manipulated and jerkily animated:

The story involves a young manga artist named Nishi (apparently named after the creator of the manga the movie was based on) who is in love with a childhood friend named Myon. He goes with her to a sushi restaurant owned by her father and run by her sister, and they are all rudely interrupted by a couple of gangsters who show up to collect some debts. [Oh yeah, SPOILERS her, I guess]. One of the gangsters is a crazy, baldheaded soccer player (he's wearing a jersey and clutching a ball), and he snaps, attempting to rape Myon and killing Nishi in a particularly gruesome fashion. Nishi wakes up in the afterlife and has a conversation with God, who can't seem to hold a single form for more than a few seconds. Here's one form, although there are probably a hundred others, from cartoons to photos to weird blobs of who-knows-what:

After replaying his death over and over, God sends Nishi away to oblivion, but he doesn't want to go, so he runs to a different portal, managing to get back into his body just before dying. He seizes the day, turns the tables, and escapes with Myon and her sister. They get into a crazy car chase that ends with them flying off a bridge and getting swallowed by a whale. Hey, why not?

Most of the rest of the movie is spent in the belly of the whale, where they meet an old guy who has been trapped there for thirty years. He's built a good life with the various stuff that has been swallowed, so they spend most of the rest of the movie hanging out with him there and doing crazy stuff like dancing and making art. But eventually they hatch a plan to escape, leading to a climactic scene that involves them running for dear life across the surface of the water and out of the whale's mouth, with all sorts of crazy imagery flashing across the screen and through their psyches. It's an amazing scene, and it feels like it last for 10 or 15 minutes, all at a frantic running pace.

As I mentioned, the animation is just incredible, a sensory barrage seemingly featuring everything the animators could come up with. Bright colors, distorted characters, the aforementioned photo-manipulation, and an incredible soundtrack. One particularly beautiful sex scene sees the characters melt into intertwining splotches of ink or paint and dance about:


I don't know if I understand it very well (it might have to do with discovering dormant creativity/living life to its fullest before it's too late, or something like that), but it's an amazing experience.

Unfortunately, it's not too easy to get a hold of; it's never been released in the U.S. I had to get an import DVD on Ebay. While googling for the above images, I found this site, where you can supposedly watch the whole thing online, but I haven't tested it. So check it out, if you can find it. I've never seen anything like it.

Inland Empire
Directed by David Lynch

I always have trouble understanding David Lynch movies, sometimes to the detriment of the film. What the hell was going on in Lost Highway, anyway? But there's something about his style that makes him impossible to ignore; his movies have that quality that draws you in and won't let you look away. This one is a bit tough to weather though; it's a good three hours long, and it's as impenetrable as anything he's done (that I've seen, anyway).

The story, as it were, involves Laura Dern's actress character working on a movie and confusing it with reality. But there's lots of other weird stuff; before we even get to that plot, Lynch spends a good fifteen minutes on scenes of Polish gangster-types and prostitutes, along with a girl crying while watching a sitcom in which three people in donkey costumes (with clothes over the top) sit around an apartment spouting non sequitur dialogue. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. As Dern gets more and more confused, the movie devolves into sequences of her wandering through corridors (of her unconscious?) and witnessing strange events. She seems to be playing at least three different characters, or different versions of the same character: the actress, the role she's playing, and a third version who shows up later with bruises all over her face, talking to a guy in an office about how she violently fended off various men's assaults. We also see Dern watching a group of young women sitting around and commiserating with each other about men and occasionally breaking out into choreographed dance numbers. And then there are the various scenes of Polish men and prostitutes which seem to have nothing to do with the rest of the story.

I have a theory about what the movie is about, but I could be completely wrong. [SPOILERS here, I guess]. I think Dern is actually a mental projection of the woman watching the donkey show (har har) at the beginning, and she has lost her husband, possibly due to infidelity on her part. She imagines herself as a well-off actress acting in a glammed-up version of her life. The young women are probably other aspects of her psyche, and the scenes of Polish people probably have to do with her fantasies about why her Polish husband left her. [end SPOILERS].

So that's what I think, but I'm probably wrong. That's the little bit of sense I was able to make of the assemblage of strange scenes, creepy sounds, and bizarre imagery. It's pretty arresting; Lynch uses freaky music to great effect, adding an intense, surreal feeling to scenes that might just be odd in anyone else's hands. He also uses lots of jump scares, with sudden flashes, jangling sounds, or characters screaming at the camera. It's crazy stuff, but with the length of this movie, it gets exhausting. I was certainly ready for it to be over well before we actually got there.

But there's some really good stuff too, especially Dern's performance. She effectively portrays all the different versions of her character, and does a really convincing job as an actor playing a role. There's a scene in which she rehearses the script with her costar that reminded me of Naomi Watts' audition in Mulholland Drive. Lynch really knows how to draw great performances out of his actors.

So, crap, see it if you're a Lynch fan, I guess, but if you were annoyed by the craziness of Mulholland Drive, steer well clear of this one; it amps that sort of thing to a near-unbearable degree.

(Oh yeah, I should also mention Dern's apparent death scene, in which a couple homeless people spend ten minutes conversing about bus schedules over her body. Or the bit when she hangs out with whores and makes faces at another version of herself from across the street. Or hell, pretty much the whole movie. Jeez.)

So that's my recent movie watching that I had to talk about. I should be able to get back to some actual comics stuff sometime soon. Really!