Friday, May 30, 2008

Judenhass: Not really the place for jokey post titles

By Dave Sim

I think I tend to overuse the word "horrific" in my reviews when describing war scenes or depictions of gore, but I don't know if there is a more apt word that I could use in conjunction with this book. But it's not the kind of visceral revulsion that results from seeing some blood and guts splashed around a page; this horror is the kind that reaches right into one's soul; I was literally trembling by the time I finished reading it.

Judenhass translates from German as "Jew hatred", and the book is a study of exactly that, with an awful array of quotes from various world leaders of the last few centuries, all leading up to what would result from those sentiments in Germany in the 1940s. And as background to all of this, Sim fills the pages with images of dead Jews in concentration camps, recreated from photographs. But rather than just alternating pictures and text, Sim presents the images as a sort of comics-style collage or wallpaper that sits behind informational captions, quotes, and depictions of historical figures, with panels cinematically panning across piles of bodies, zooming in and out on haunting faces and emaciated body parts:

It's harsh stuff, imagery that you can't (and shouldn't) get out of your head. The near-endless repetition of images seems like it would become monotonous, but it actually works to cement them in place in your memory. Details sometimes seem indistinct, but they gradually become more and more detailed, until the full horror is revealed:

Seeing these terrible pictures again and again, and knowing that they are all too real, makes them impossible to ignore. This is real. This really happened, as disgusting and incomprehensible as it seems to us today. But that's Sim's point, as he states in the introduction of the first few pages: there was a historical record of anti-Semitism that stretched across the world, eventually leading to one of history's worst tragedies. It wasn't limited to Germany; that was just where it reached critical mass.

And that's the lesson that we need to take here. Hatred and bigotry are exactly that, whether in form of violent action or simple attitude. Some of the quotes on the pages might seem kind of mild, along the lines of "Oh, those Jews can be such trouble. It's best not to deal with them; after all, they did kill Christ". But while those sorts of sentiments might seem fairly harmless, the images behind them show where they can lead. Think of that, bigots, the next time you paint all Mexicans as lazy or all blacks as violent and ignorant (or all women as emotional, creativity-sucking basket cases); the images here are the logical endpoint of that line of thought. If you treat a particular category of person as subhuman, you might as well gather them up and systematically murder them.

I do take issue with Sim's assertion that non-Jews don't speak out against the Holocaust, or that they have to qualify it with statements that others were included in addition to Jews. As a gentile myself, I certainly don't feel that that is true. But at the same time, I am two generations removed from anybody who directly saw or experienced the events. It's good to get a wake-up call, reminding us what can happen if we let it. These days, the Holocaust is known more as fodder for movies or books that use the emotional resonance of the events for easy artistic affirmation. Sometimes we need to experience something that remind us of the true horrors that humanity is capable of, and pledge to do everything we can to ensure it will never happen again.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dororo: I love a good limbless samurai story

Hey, I forgot to mention this earlier: I've got a review of Marvel 1985 #1, the first issue of the new miniseries by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards, up at Comics Bulletin as part of a "slugfest". Enjoy. And then read this:

Dororo, volume 1
By Osamu Tezuka

So this is apparently kind of a lesser work from Osamu Tezuka, an unfinished series from the late 60s mixed in with all the other stuff he had going on. But you could've fooled me; it's just as fun and crazy as everything else I've read by Tezuka, and it's full of action, gore, and weird supernatural monsters and demons. I gotta say, I totally dug it.

Here's the bizarre plot: an official named Lord Daigo makes a deal with 48 demons to become the ruler of all the land, offering them each one part of his unborn son's body. When the child is born, he's a limbless, blind, deaf lump of flesh, so his father sends him down the river in a basket. He's eventually discovered by a kindly doctor, who decides to raise him after taking pity on his appearance and seeing his desire to live:

Eventually, the doctor devises a series of artificial limbs and other devices like glass eyes and a wig that make him look normal. Also, he has amazing psychic abilities, which is how he communicates and is able to perceive his environment. Hey, why not? But their life is disrupted by the constant harassment they receive from demons and monsters, who are attracted to the boy:

I love Tezuka's rendition of those goofy Japanese supernatural creatures. So the boy takes on the name Hyakkimaru (which means, roughly, "boy of 100 demons") and goes out into the world on his own. He has some adventures involving a blind swordsman who inspires him to hone his skills and a band of wounded refugee children who give him the hope to survive, and then he ends up wandering the land, searching for the various demons who stole his body parts so he can recover them and become whole.

Oh yeah, and then there's the title character, a young boy thief who Hyakkimaru sort of takes under his wing after rescuing him from some bad guys. Dororo (which is sort of a kiddie pronunciation of the word for "thief", dorobo) has his own tragic backstory, and the two of them go on adventures together, always keeping up kind of an adversarial relationship, since Dororo wants to steal Hyakkimaru's swords (which are stashed inside his artificial limbs; see examples of their use below). Apparently, Tezuka thought Dororo was the more relatable character, but audiences (including myself) preferred Hyakkimaru, so his adventures became central to the series.

And man, those adventures are crazy awesome. He's always getting into battles, either with freaky demons or regular bandit types. From his first appearance as an adult, we get the idea of the kind of balls-out action Tezuka is going for here:

There's plenty of blood and swordfights, in the awesomely dynamic style Tezuka does so well, like this fight with a demon dog:

Much of this volume is taken up with the origin stories, but we also get a couple adventures involving demon-hunting. The first, about a woman/frog monster who has enslaved a village (and also has something to do with a face-shaped tumor, which was strange) is pretty enjoyable, but the final story, about a possessed sword, was probably my favorite part of the book. It begins with Hyakkimaru facing off against a swordsman who randomly challenges him, leading to a 20-hour psychic battle. Dororo ends up stealing the evil sword, which makes him go on a killing spree in the local village (although I don't know if he actually kills anyone, or just attempts lots of violence). Eventually we learn the history of the cursed sword, which is a nice look at the way violence begets violence, and how its effects can destroy someone's spirit. The swordsman who challenged Hyakkimaru turns out to have a pretty awful backstory, in which he was ordered to kill a bunch of innocent laborers to prevent secrets from falling into enemy hands. He doesn't want to do it, but he eventually follows orders, leading to a horrific display of violence:

It's harsh stuff, and when he eventually meets his end at Hyakkimaru's hands, it's tragic and sad. That's the stuff of good samurai tales, even when it's mixed in with Tezuka's weird blend of action and comedy.

That's right, this is like most anything by Tezuka; there are anachronisms and fourth-wall-breaking moments (at one point, a character receives a message, states "I can't read", and then presents it to the reader to read for him), and plenty of goofy slapstick. But he's got such command of the comics form, it's all so readable and fun and compelling. The action is all clear and fast moving, and he occasionally uses the Jack Kirby-style technique of making it appear to protrude outward from the page:

I also love the cheeky way he mixes comedy and drama. In one scene, we see a scene of chaotic warfare:

But even in the midst of such a serious scene (millions died!), Tezuka can't resist throwing in bits of comedy like two soldiers waltzing, a guy using his sword as a shish-kebab or his own decapitated head. Man, that's weird, but it keeps things from getting too serious and lets us just enjoy the story.

So, I dunno, maybe this is a "lesser" Tezuka work, but it's a good bit of coolness in the middle of everything else he always had going on. I'll definitely read all three volumes; now let's get all his other stuff made available in English, okay?

Bonus: Tezuka character cameos!

Acetylene Lamp:

Another Tezuka appearance:

And I think there was a Hyoutan-Tsugi at some point, but I can't find it right now.

Because I gotta post something

Sorry about the lack of content as of late. If all goes well, I'll have a review up tonight, but in the meantime, here are some links that I recommend:

Top Shelf recently launched a webcomics portal, called Top Shelf 2.0. It updates every weekday, and some of the stuff on there looks pretty good, including Kagan McLeod's "Infinite Kung Fu" and some stuff by Chris Eliopoulos.

In other online comics, Smith Magazine has a new continuing feature called "Next Door Neighbor", based on true stories about, well, the title kind of explains it. So far, there have been some nice stories by the likes of Nick Bertozzi and Kevin Colden, and it updates with a new story every other Monday. Plus, it's edited by the awesome Dean Haspiel. Check it out!

I recently came across the website of TCM Underground (the Turner Classic Movies channel's midnight cult film block), which has a section called "Lost Scenes", which contains comics that take off from the various films they show. I think I originally followed a link to read Peter Bagge's behind-the-scenes goof on Reefer Madness, but when checking around, I found that there's plenty of other cool stuff on there, like Nathan Fox's takes on Coffy or Mark of the Vampire, or Troy Nixey's addition to Freaks. Good stuff (even if it's presented in a cumbersome Flash interface).

I was also recently notified by an anonymous commenter that James Kochalka is serializing a new Superfuckers story on his site (although it should be mentioned that, as with American Elf, only the most recent installment is viewable for non-subscribers). To which I say: Tit-Fuckin' Awesome!

Finally, I wanted to make sure everybody is ready for an event this Saturday, May 31st, in which my pal Tucker Stone will be live-blogging his reading of the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus. Tucker does the hilarious "Comics of the Weak" column (and plenty of other good stuff) on his blog, The Factual Opinion, along with other good writing, like a regular column for Comixology, so I'm stoked to read what he has to say.

And I think that's everything for now. Tonight: demonic dismemberment!

Monday, May 26, 2008

This week is Morrison-tastic

And I'm not even planning on picking up Batman.

In the other-sites department, I've got a review of The Boy Who Made Silence #3 up at Comics Bulletin. Man, that's a weird, crazy, fascinating comic.

And in the non-comics department, I wanted to mention the movie I watched yesterday, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It came out a couple years ago, and it's directed by Tom Tykwer, who also did Run, Lola, Run. It got pretty poor reviews (56% on Rotten Tomatoes), which I suspect all result from the super-crazy ending. Up until that ending, it's a fairly normal, if pretty stylish, serial killer story, about a guy in the 18th century with an incredible sense of smell who starts killing pretty girls in order to capture their scent and create the greatest perfume in the world. Sure, that's fine enough, but the ending is where it goes nuts, in a way that I found hilarious and awesome, but probably pissed off most people. Here's what happens (this means spoilers if you want to see it, so if it sounds like you might like it, skip the rest of this paragraph): Mr. Perfume gets captured right after completing his perfume, and he's going to get publicly executed. But he puts on his perfume beforehand, and when he goes up in front of everybody, it has a profound effect on them, with them all thinking he's an angel or some sort of prophet. Instead of calling for his head, they all scream at him worshipfully, and then everybody starts making out with each other. The scene turns into a big, naked orgy, with hundreds of people stripping down and turning into a mass of writhing flesh. It's totally insane; I imagine most people wouldn't be able to make the leap required to accept this, but I thought it was so crazy it worked. There's also a funny final scene, but at this point, you can do whatever you want, you're in crazy-land. So, yeah, good times. Check it out if it sounds like your kind of thing.

Okay, on to the main business:

New comics this week (THURSDAY, 5/29/08):

All Star Superman #11

I wasn't expecting this to show up this week, but I'll take it. Man, the last issue was one of the best superhero comics I've ever ready, and I have no idea what Grant Morrison will come up with here to finish the cliffhanger he left with. Damn, this is good comics.

Dan Dare #6

This seems kind of late, doesn't it? I'll have to try to recall what was going on, but I'm pretty sure I was enjoying it. Garth Ennis writing a sci-fi version of his style of stolid British war comics. Good times.

Firebreather Ongoing #1

I'm not familiar with the original miniseries this is a sequel to, but it's by Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn, both of whom I like, so it might be worth a look. It's about the adventures of a guy whose father is a giant monster, I guess. Sounds like fun.

Final Crisis #1

Here's the other Morrison book of the week. I was thinking I would try to avoid big crossover events like this, but I don't think I can resist Morrison playing with the large-scale, cosmic, Kirby-based elements of the DC Universe. God, I hope it doesn't suck.

Giant Sized Astonishing X-Men #1

Whoa, and here's this book finally showing up. It's been a long ride, but the finale of the Joss Whedon/John Cassaday run on the book is finally showing up. It's had its ups and downs, but it's been pretty good for the last couple arcs, so hopefully it will end well, with a big slam-bang finish. Don't let me down, boys!

Immortal Iron Fist #15

I haven't been following this comic (I switched to waiting for the trade after the first arc, which I probably shouldn't have done), but I believe this is the final issue of the Brubaker/Fraction run. In fact, it's written solely by Matt Fraction, and it's another one of those one-shot stories about an Iron Fist of the past. I don't know what will end up collected, so I might have to get this by itself at some point. And then I can ignore the book for the foreseeable future, since it's being done by creators I don't care about.

Jimmy Zhingchak One-Shot Special

I'm usually not that interested by Virgin's India-based comics, but this one looks goofy enough to be worth a look. It's an adventure set in the disco-Bollywood world of the 80s, and it could be fun. Or it could suck. We'll see.

Marvel 1985 #1

Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards continue Millar's odd spate of recent stories, with a story about Marvel villains invading the "real world" in the titular year. I read a review PDF, so I should have something up about it on Comics Bulletin tomorrow, I think. It's interesting.

Northlanders #6

I thought the recent flashback issue of this series was pretty good, but it will be good to get back to the "present" and see the repercussions of what happened at the end of #4. That was pretty crazy. Bring on the violence!

Speak of the Devil #6

Gilbert Hernandez's miniseries finally ends, so hopefully that means it will be collected soon so I can read it. I've heard it's good.

Hellboy Vol. 8 Darkness Calls

Here's the collection of the latest Hellboy series, which I purchased in single issues for some reason. It's pretty darn good, with huge fight scenes and awesomely-detailed art by Duncan Fegredo. I had trouble following it, but that's just because I haven't read all of the various Hellboy stories. Someday I'll get caught up, and then maybe I'll be able to reread this and fully understand it.

Immortal Iron Fist HC Vol. 2

Here's the hardcover version of the recently-ended Iron Fist story. I'll save my money and wait for the paperback version in a couple months, but I do really want to read it. My only question is if it will contain everything that came out after I stopped getting the monthly book. I think it contains issues 7-14 and an annual, but what about the Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death one-shot? And #15, which comes out this week? I might need to get those separately. Dammit, Marvel, you can't make it easy for me, can you?

Jack Kirbys OMAC One Man Army Corps HC

Ooh, this should be cool. A collection of the sadly-truncated series about "the world that's coming!" I have most of the individual issues of this series, and it's awesome. Big, crazy action in Kirby's kick-ass manner. Check it out if you haven't read it before, and see the cool ideas that DC keeps trying to bring back in especially lame forms.

Johnny Boo HC Vol. 1

James Kochalka's new kids' comic, about a cute little ghost. Probably fun, but I would prefer to read more Superfuckers. Come on Kochalka, cater to me instead of the (probably much more lucrative) kids' market!

Judenhass GN

The always-controversial Dave Sim's "secret project #1", which will hopefully be able to avoid any feminism-based arguments and just focus on the subject matter, the Holocaust. The samples I've seen look incredible, and no matter what you think of his personal views, Sim is a genius artist, so I expect this will be a pretty good comic. Don't let me down, Sim!

Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus

$25 for a huge collection of Fred Hembeck's cartoony versions of popular comics. Sure to be cute and fun.

Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 HC

A new Thomas Ott book, containing what will surely be some creepy and offputting stories. I dug his Cinema Panopticum, so I'll definitely try to get my hands on this one.

Skyscrapers Of The Midwest HC

This is one of those books that I've heard great things about, but haven't read. Maybe now I'll get a chance with this collected version.

Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 1

And finally, here's a series that I always hear is really good, but I never read when it was out originally. I don't think I'll drop the $50 for it, but it is there to check out someday, or maybe read from the library or something.

And that's it for the week. Kind of slow, but what's showing up is a big deal, so it should be exciting. And maybe I'll get around to reviewing something else at some point. Stick around and find out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shojo Beat: This might be too much analysis for my own good

I don't know how long this is going to be, since I've sat on this for too long after finishing it. I blame the lack of scanning equipment (anybody who is sick of me whining about that can forego telling me to shut up already; I've annoyed myself with it enough to get the message). Anyway, here we go:

Shojo Beat
June 2008

Doing crafts and shit is the non-comics theme of this issue. Since I'm not a very crafty person, most of it doesn't interest me, but maybe I'll try to get my wife to make the little plush versions of the panda bear mascot that feature in one article. For, um, my daughter, not me. Okay, on to the manga:

Time Stranger Kyoko
By Arina Tanemura

This month's preview series is yet another Arina Tanemura manga. Viz really wants her to be a superstar, don't they. While she's still not a favorite of mine, I think I'm warming up to her, and her gigantic-eyed style isn't bothering me as much, perhaps just through all the exposure I've had to it over the last several issues. As for this series, it's one of those "princess must learn to relate with the common people" series. That's a genre, right? I was disappointed to find that it's not about time travel; instead, it's about Kyoko, princess of planet-wide Earth Nation at some point in the future, who has been passing for a common person in order to go to a regular high school. Her sixteenth birthday is coming up, and she is supposed to present herself to the populace in order to be honored, but that would blow her cover. We get the hints of a "magical quest" type of story when she finds out that she has a twin sister who has been asleep for her whole life, and the only way to wake her is to gather a bunch of "god stones" from across the planet. So she sets to doing it, but the whole thing gets derailed when she has to expose her magical princess powers to her classmates anyway. It's an odd scene, in which marauders attack the school, and she and her bodyguards (two cute guys, providing the requisite eye candy) defeat them. In an incredibly bizarre bit, a bad guy shoots an arrow at her, and she somehow summons a flying pig-lizard (?) to intercept it:

Yeah, I don't know what happened there either, but it's so weird, I at least cracked a smile. So anyway, her secret exposed, she decides to continue her quest anyway, so she can wake up her sister and get to know her. So that'll be the rest of the series, I guess. Strange, and not really for me, but I'm starting to see the positives of Tanemura's style, with its goofy comedy and determination. Wait, isn't that every shojo manga?

Gaba Kawa
By Rie Takada

Well, this series is more than half over, and I'm wondering why it ends so soon, since it seems to have plenty of elements in place to run for a while. In addition to the mischievous lead character, there's at least two other demons that can add rivalries and plot complications, two cute guys who we learn in this issue have psychic powers, and now, a ghost who wants to get in Rara's pants. That's right, this chapter introduces a dead guy who got lost finding his way to the afterlife, and he wants to become a demon by having sex with Rara (or "getting freaky", as the cover so loudly trumpets; go teen sex!). There's an interesting plot point for you, especially since he offers to possess the body of Retsu, the boy Rara likes. We also see Rara possibly get found out as a demon, but that's a cliffhanger that won't be resolved until next time. Hey, it's enjoyable stuff, but I'll be fine with another series taking its place when it ends.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Nothing of much interest this chapter. A human girl gets bit by a vampire, Zero gets blamed, everybody sits around and talks about politics, Zero and Yuki angst about their feelings for each other. There's also a development in which a group of vampire students who are appointed to find the culprit. That could lead to something interesting, but for now, it's a typically boring mid-story-arc chapter in which nothing much of consequence happens. Yawn.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Other than the romantic ending of the chapter (which I won't spoil), this is another series with kind of a filler story this month. After the big game, Nobara and company celebrate, and then she and her fellow students head home on the train. There are some good moments though, like the drunken antics of the Eagles:

Or a bit in which Mr. Zaki, the middle-aged member of the Eagles, sings some songs that he composed for Nobara, causing everybody except her to writhe in agony. But that's about it. I'm sure the drama will begin again next month.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

It seems like I'm always praising this series, and this month is no exception. Ann has returned home to Tokyo, and she's back to the long distance relationship with Daigo, while still being pissed off at Fuji for kissing her, then claiming it was just a joke. So even though she has been friends with him for years, she feels like she has to push him away to keep him from threatening her relationship with Daigo. But, as someone remarks, he's kind of like her mother; will inflicting emotional pain cause him to get depressed and suicidal? His quitting school doesn't seem like a good sign...

In other events (and what's really the "A" story of the chapter), Daigo bonds with Fuji's sister Shika, who has been raised as a sheltered rich kid by her mom and doesn't have too many friends. But she just found out that she's a bastard child, so her world is kind of in chaos. Daigo, seeing her as sort of a little sister, takes her under his wing and gets her to help some of his friends who are working on building a shrine. It's nice to see her feel fulfilled, having relationships with other kids instead of stuck in her house studying the ponderous rituals of the aristocracy. Like every month, it's a good slice-of-life story; we'll see if more of the harsh drama emerges next month.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

I don't know what is is about this month's chapters of my favorite Shojo Beat series, but it's prompted me to do an examination of Hagu, and the quasi-moe stereotype she falls into. I don't know if I'm fully up on the exact specifics of moe (and I'm not sure if the idea really even translates from Japanese very well), but it seems to be a fetishization of a particularly submissive, cute, childlike type of girl. Well, Umino has taken the idea and examined it, looking at what that type of character might really be like. In this case, Hagu is fully grown (she turns 20 in this chapter), but she still has the appearance of a child. She's pretty quiet and withdrawn, but at least two guys are interested in her, but for different reasons. Takemoto, the closest thing the series has to a main character, seems to like her as a person, admiring her creativity and personality, and actually attempting to bond with her. On the other hand Morita seems to view her as more of a moe object, treating her, as I've heard the moe trope described, as a pet. He's more interested in the cuteness aspect, and almost doesn't even view her as human. Interestingly, he seems to be the one winning the contest for her heart at the moment, but that's because he's actually beginning to view her as more than a mascot, and it surprises him. In fact, this leads to my favorite moment from this month, when a regular teasing session turns into something more:

Oh man, that's hilarious. But another interesting aspect of the moe type is the forced youth. Umino seems to see this as tragic, as we see that Hagu is still basically a child, clinging to her "older brother", Professor Hanamoto, well past the age in which she should do so. It's not healthy; why would we want a person to be like this? Why would we wish stunted development and impaired personality on someone we aspire to love? That seems to be the question here, and I'm interested to see where Umino goes with it.

There's plenty of other stuff that goes on this month, but I've gone on enough already. Suffice to say it's a great read, as always. It's the highlight of the magazine for me each month, and I can't get enough of this groups goofy antics and sweet romances. Even just seeing them hang out together is pleasant and enjoyable. That's good comics, I say.

And it looks like that's it for the month. I'll have to get this done sooner next time; I might be able to come up with more to talk about. Since it's not like I don't go on and on enough already, right?

Oh, and if I've misinterpreted the whole moe thing (which is probable), feel free to correct me in the comments. Tell me why it's good to lust after the childlike girls!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Perla La Loca: Jaime Hernandez can draw pretty

I now have a working scanner, so it's time to go to the other half of what I talk about when I review comics: the art! I already went on at length in coverage of this book, but prepare for more blatherings about stuff that I liked about it. So here's more about:

Perla La Loca
By Jaime Hernandez

As with the previous look at this book, it can be somewhat difficult to know where to start when talking about the art, since Jaime has been delivering excellence since the beginning. But you gotta start somewhere, so why not go with one of his most celebrated skills: drawing pretty women:

Since a fair portion of the early part of the book takes place in a strip club, it's easy to choose the rampant nudity. But while it's enjoyable, it's not completely gratuitous; in that image, for instance, you can see the pleasure on Danita's face as she dances. While she's nervous about the idea of showing off her body in front of strange men, it still excites her, she finds it enjoyable, and she obviously loves to dance. And Jaime doesn't just explain away her objectionable line of work like some would; he explores some of the more unsavory aspects of it, like in this scene in which she kind of freaks out about all the weirdos ogling her:

The fact that one of them ends up stalking her weighs into the equation as well. And then there's scenes like this, in which Danita's sister objects to a painting Ray made of her:

While that sentiment fits as part of the story, it also works as a bit of self-criticism from Jaime. Is he degrading her by portraying her nude, ready to be drooled over by readers? Is he just one of those dudes in the audience, staring at her tits? I dunno if he really comes to a conclusion in the matter (although the nudie bar does get closed down), but he is willing to consider the issue, rather than just explain things away and cater to his (and the readers, if they're so inclined) groin area.

But Jaime is still pretty good at teasing us that way, and still adding a bit of comedy or drama, making the scene work as part of the larger story. Take this scene of Maggie, for instance:

She saw some guys looking at her, and she pretends to be all sexy and sultry, but it doesn't fit, and she jumps like a scared rabbit when startled. It's pretty funny, in the middle of a story that combines that comedy, drama, and character advancement.

I think the thing that strikes me about Jaime's art (and storytelling in general) is how varied it is, not sticking to any single motif or style for too long. We get slapstick comedy and genuine emotion. We get action, both realistic and comic-booky. We get weird dream sequences, or noir visions. There are stories where characters sit around and talk, and others that are dialogue-free, in which we only see people's actions. There's cute kids and their antics, right alongside harsh violence and explicit sexuality. It's enough that we never get bored, and each story is an opportunity for Jaime to surprise us, demonstrating his skill and filling in more of the lives of his characters.

Still, there are a few other bits that I want to point out, like this amusing scene in which Hopey gets to see Nan, the aging comedienne, act out on her child-rearing fetish:

That one cracks me up, probably because we had gotten to know the blonde girl as an adult who just does this for a job. That makes her ho-hum expression and subtle display of her middle finger especially amusing. I also liked this scene, in which a bunch of Nan's fetish-sharing friends come over and bring along their charges:

It's an example of the type of scene that Jaime does so well, presenting a tableau of activity, full of unique characters who all stand out. It's not easy to pull off, but Jaime makes it look like it is.

Other cool stuff: the scenes from Maggie's diary, in which we get to see some of her childhood:

They're all pretty fascinating, but this one stood out, with its true-to-life quality and almost voyeuristic peek into somebody's real-seeming life.

Finally, there's the "slapping scene" I spoke of, in which Maggie imagines being slapped by pretty much everyone she's ever known. Here's the first page (of two):

Damn, that's a harsh sequence. Maggie's self-loathing has sunk to a state in which she imagines that all these people she knows and/or loves just hate her, and as it goes on, you can see her expression progress from surprise, to pain with a little anger, to sadness and almost acceptance. By the end of the second page, she's almost beyond feeling, just taking it with her head bowed, and that's when the worst comes:

That's the last person she (or us) would ever want to slap her, and it's horrible to watch, even if it is only a fantasy.

See? That's how good Jaime Hernandez is: he breaks our hearts even when showing us stuff that doesn't actually happen. Damn, there's probably plenty more I could talk about, but I'll stop there. I don't think I'll ever be able to get enough of this stuff. Jaime is okay in my book.

Monstrous imagery

Now that I have a working scanner, here's that double-page spread I was talking about in volume 7 of Monster:

It works a lot better as comics than as my description, if you ask me. The way Urasawa holds that image of Richard from behind at the top of the first page, or the slow "zoom" to focus on the drinks, or the emphasis on Richard's facial features on the second page all work better as imagery. And the subtlety! He's not gritting his teeth as beads of sweat pour down his face; it's a silent battle with himself, all internal. The biggest displays of emotion on both pages are when his adam's apple bobs and his hand shakes. Or maybe the slight softening of his features when he stutters as he orders the drink. It's incredible stuff, and this is just two pages out of a couple hundred, in one volume out of eighteen! God, Urasawa is a master. I need to go get volume 8 really soon.

Comics and such this week: I plan to buy them

Man, I've been quiet lately, haven't I? I'll blame it on general busy-ness, as well as my much-bemoaned lack of a scanner. That's a good excuse not to blog, right? But I should be getting a replacement within a day or two, so then I'll be good to go with all the typing and the posting and the hey hey. In the meantime:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 5/21/08):

Boy Who Made Silence #3

I really liked the second issue of this artsy series, once I finally got my hands on it. But now that my shop knows to order it for me, I should get each one. Maybe I'll even post about it sometime.

Burn #1

This looks interesting. It's a manga-ish sci-fi series from Camilla d'Errico, the artist on Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes (which sounds terrible but wasn't too bad, judging by reviews I've read). The new book is a pamphlet-format miniseries from Arcana, and it's all about robots and angst and shit. Here, you can read all about it in this interview with d'Errico. I kind of dig the art style, so I would be willing to take a look, if I ever see it anywhere.

Damned Prodigal Sons #2

This being a favorite series of mine, I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed with its return last issue. Let's hope for more excellence. Don't let me down, Bunn and Hurtt!

Dead She Said #1

A new horror-noir series from Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson. All the informational sound-bites (text-bites?) I see about the series trumpet the fact that it's the first time Wrightson is inking his own work in 20 years, so if that sort of thing excites you, this is the place to be. Myself, I love Wrightson's art (who doesn't? If you don't, watch out for the wrath of Mike Sterling!), but Niles' writing usually leaves me cold, so I'll pass.

Doktor Sleepless Manual #1

Avatar never passes up an opportunity to release something in a slightly different version, like a black-and-white sketch cover or some crap like that, so here's a special edition of this series first issue, with the added bonus of stuff Warren Ellis wrote for the book's website. But by this point, you should probably wait for a trade or something, since searching out the back issues will probably be a pain. And read the website for free. There, I saved you a few bucks.

Igor Movie Prequel #1

This is a tie-in to an upcoming animated movie, and judging by the art, it looks fairly appealing. This issue is written by Dara Naraghi (Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now, Lifelike) and illustrated by Grant Bond (Clockwork Girl). Will I look at it? Maybe!

Pigeons from Hell #2

I'll certainly look at this second part of the miniseries, since I liked the first a lot. Mostly because of Nathan Fox's art; that guy is pretty cool. Other than that, it seems like a fairly-typical haunted house story, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Programme #11

Whoa, the series is almost over. We've seen super-powered race wars, wholesale Commie destruction, and nationalistic brainwashing so far; what's next? Here's hoping for a good finish. Don't let me down, Milligan!

Tank Girl Visions of Booga #1

The latest Tank Girl thing, by Alan Martin and Rufus Dayglo. I tried out the first issue of the last miniseries, and it was all right, but I feel like I'm missing a lot, not having read any of the rest of the various feminine artillery comics. Ashley Wood's art was fun on that one though. Of course, he's not drawing this one, so I'll skip it.

War is Hell First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #3

Issue #2 was a slight letdown from the excellent first installment, but I still liked it. Ennis always knows how to score with the whoremongering jokes. We'll see how the rest of the series goes, but I doubt it will be all that disappointing. Ennis' tales of honor on the battlefield rarely are.

Batman Unauthorized TP

Hey, this isn't a comic! In fact, it's one of those books full of essays about comics, which I would normally not give a second glance to, but I'm pointing it out because it contains a piece written by my internet buddy Geoff Klock. So if I see it in a bookstore, I might sit in the cafe and read that essay. I encourage others to do the same (and maybe even buy it, who knows).

Breathe HC

This is a graphic novel from Markosia about a girl in 1700s China whose family is slaughtered by ruffians, causing her to seek violent revenge. Maybe? Or maybe she just mopes around for a few hundred pages; I can't really find too much information online about the book (which apparently collects a previously-released four-issue miniseries), but the cover image is one that would definitely prompt me to flip through the book (although I don't think the t-shirt/shorts combo was a popular fashion choice in 18th-century China). I'm not sure if that's a recommendation or not.

Finding Peace TP

I've had a PDF copy of this modern-war-set graphic novel sitting on my computer for a while now, but much to my consternation (and that of the people at Comics Bulletin, I expect) I haven't gotten around to reading or reviewing it yet. It certainly looks incredible, with art that resembles battlefield charcoal sketches, providing an air of immediacy. It looks like it might be hitting shelves now, so I recommend at least taking a look. And maybe this will spur me on to finally get the damn thing finished.

Golden Age Sheena Best of Queen of the Jungle Vol. 1

Ah, the classic genre of the jungle chick in the leopard-print bikini. I only find this notable because it was produced by Will Eisner's studio, which gives it a good pedigree, if not any real respectability. Anyway, this book collects stories from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, classic stuff, I'm sure. Be sure to peruse it closely, in hopes of spotting a nipple.

Grendel Devil Child HC
Grendel Devil Quest HC

I always elicit gasps whenever I tell people I haven't read any of Matt Wagner's Grendel comics. Maybe I'll get to them someday, since, you know, they're supposed to be good and all. If I ever do, these will probably be on my reading list. And they're in stores this week. That is all.

Heartburst & Other Pleasures TP

Rick Veitch's latest collection of his older work. I've read Heartburst, and it's pretty good; I'm not sure what else is contained in this volume. It's probably worth getting, if you dig Veitch like I do. In fact, I never did get a hold of Shiny Beasts...

Hellboy Companion

Ooh, it's "the definitive guide to the Hellboy universe"! I normally don't care for that sort of thing, but this one might be interesting, since Mike Mignola seems to draw from such obscure myths and tales for the various Hellboy stories. Also, this one contains "up-to-the-minute coverage of the Hellboy Universe", so read it now before a Crisis-like crossover destroys everything!

Incredible Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1

Hey, it's another one of those huge volumes containing old comics! As always, it's too expensive for me to consider, but it contains some interesting material, including the early Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko stories. I certainly wouldn't mind reading some of those someday. I'm not going to spend $100 to do so though.

IRS Vol 1 Taxing Trails TP

This is from British publisher Cinebook, and it looks to be a European-produced action tale, which involves a secret wing of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. That's so crazy, it just might work. Here's Cinebook's page, which has a couple preview pages.

La Perdida TP

From Random House, it's a cheaper ($14), paperback version of Jessica Abel's graphic novel. It's pretty good (here's my review), so check it out if you haven't read it already.

Neptune Noir Unauthorized Investigations Into Veronica Mars TP

Damn, another "scholarly essays about some pop-culture entity" book? You guessed it: this one also features one Dr. Klock's contributions. Read it!

Prisoner Of The Stars TP

From IDW, this is a book that certainly looks European, although I can't find any information about whether that's the case or not. It's by Alfonso Font, and it's about some adventurers questing across a futuristic wasteland. It might be worth a look?

Skim GN

From Groundwood Books, a high-school lesbian love(?) story, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Looks nice. Here, read an article all about it.

Superman Escape from Bizzaro World HC

I was tempted to buy these issues of Action Comics, solely for Eric Powell's artwork. But I didn't, even though it looked pretty nice, from what I saw (Dave Stewart on colors!). Now I've got the chance to spend a bunch more ($25) and get little more than the three-issue story and a few other reprints of various Bizarro appearances! I think I'll still pass.

Tim Sale Black and White HC

And finally, a new version of Tim Sale's art book. He's a good artist, but I wish people didn't just think of him as "the Heroes guy" these days. Eh, I'm sure he and Jeph Loeb will blow everyone's minds with the upcoming "Captain America: Not Black". Anyway, I bet this book has some pretty pictures.

Wow, I got kind of obnoxious near the end there. A few days of not writing anything must warp my sensibilities. I guess that's it for the week; it's another small one, so maybe I'll save more money (and then blow it on Amor y Cohetes). Hopefully I'll have reviews of something or other up tonight or tomorrow. Stay tuned?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Perla La Loca: No pictures means I actually have to talk about why this book is good

I'm still without scanning equipment, so we'll see how this goes. In the meantime, I've also got a review of Sky Doll #1 up at Comics Bulletin.

Perla La Loca
By Jaime Hernandez

It's kind of difficult to know what exactly to talk about with this volume, since just repeating "it's excellent" over and over would be boring and pointless. But Jaime Hernandez is such a good artist and storyteller, he makes the creation of his compelling, enjoyable stories seem effortless. I find myself irresistibly drawn to follow his characters' lives, but I struggle to explain why.

Maybe it's the way Jaime has built a sprawling cast that extends well beyond the main duo of Maggie and Hopey, and while they all have stories and character development, it feels like a living, breathing world that could provide stories in perpetuity. While some strange, out-of-the-ordinary things happen (although much less so than in earlier volumes; no dinosaurs or rockets here), the characters seem so real, as if they're living their own lives, whether we get to see them or not. They grow and change, and often the relationships and developments are messy; as in real life, sometimes things go unresolved, rather than getting wrapped up neatly.

It's fascinating to see everything work together, and keep working; by the end of this volume, the stories had been progressing for something like fifteen years, basically in real time, and the characters kept changing as time progressed. You can see the years on Maggie and Hopey's face; they're not the same young girls that they were at the beginning, and this is only emphasized by occasional flashbacks. And all that accumulated story informs us as to their characters, making them feel all the more whole and three-dimensional. But not obviously so; they're just people living their lives, and through all this time we've spent with them, they seem like friends to us. Again, it's masterful work by Jaime, and a large part of what makes me want to just keep going on about how great he is.

As for the stories here, they're pretty far-ranging and full of details and events. Well over a third of the book is taken up by a long graphic novel called "Wigwam Bam", in which we see what happens to Maggie and Hopey after they reunited in the previous volume. But apparently they weren't ready to be together yet, since what seems like a petty argument splits them up again, leaving Hopey to survive on her own among an east coast society of artistic lesbian types and a Lucille Ball-like comedienne with a fetish for underage girls. Meanwhile, back in Hoppers, Ray and Danita are having problems with their relationship, Danita begins working as a stripper, and Doyle gets mixed up with a rather forward teenage girl. And then there's the issue of Hopey's picture, which keeps showing up on the "missing persons" section of milk cartons. The issue of whether this is a prank and who pulled it is an ongoing one throughout the story, and it eventually drives Izzy to go on a cross-country trip, first to avoid the nagging thought of Maggie and Hopey, and then to eventually try to find them. (Amusingly, the identity of the milk carton prankster isn't revealed until a later story). And then there's an amazing section in which Izzy obtains Maggie's teenage diary, and we get to see some of her past and learn where she came from; it's beautiful stuff.

But as a whole, "Wigwam Bam" isn't very cohesive; it's an example of the sprawling, ragged storytelling I was talking about, checking in on the various members of the "Locas" crew, filling in history with flashbacks, inching characters in different directions. It's certainly not a "beginning, middle, and end" sort of story, like "The Death of Speedy". Instead, it almost seems like Jaime wasn't sure where to go with the various characters, so he just noodled around for a while, popping in on, say, Ray for a while so we can see him struggle with his failed relationship with Maggie, then jumping back to spend some time with Hopey and the deviant world of the rich and famous. Not that I'm complaining, since it's all compelling stuff, and I can't get enough of any of the characters.

When it's all through, the main accomplishment of "Wigwam Bam" seems to be to get Hopey moving again, instead of holing up in a society that views her as a cute plaything. An ugly turn of events sends her back on the road with a band, and while she considers going back home to Hoppers, it's not the same place anymore, and she doesn't really fit in, at least not without Maggie. So you know she's going to have to search for her old soulmate, and we're going to end up having another reunion.

That comes later though; instead, we spend much of the rest of the book following Maggie's adventures in small-town Texas as she develops a closer relationship with her younger sister Esther, reconnects with her father and his family, and comes to terms with who she is. Of course, this involves starting a feud with a prostitute at a small strip-mall restaurant and hotel, fending off the advances of a lesbian wrestler, and eventually getting involved in some of Rena Titañon's business with the mob. Again, it's some great storytelling, whether it's Maggie hanging out in a hotel room and discussing (gay) guys with her sister, or her encounters with various wrestling types (she also hangs out in her aunt Vicki's training camp), or her adoption of Danita, who moves in with her after having a scary encounter with a stalker.

Eventually, everything comes to a head when she fools a bunch of people into thinking she's getting married just to get them off her back, and then considers a relationship with El Diablo Blanco, a masked wrestler who happens to be Rena Titañon's brother. This all ends badly for her, of course, and it coincides with Hopey trying to reconnect with her, which happens just as Maggie gets slapped in the street by an old lady (because she thought she was a whore...oh, just read the story to get the whole explanation). This is followed by two pages of Maggie imagining being slapped by pretty much everybody she has ever known, and it's hard to watch; her self-esteem has sunk pretty damn low. And then, in an even more heartbreaking scene, she passes out and imagines what would have happened if she had gone on tour with Hopey and her band (back in the previous volume) instead of staying at home. And, of course, it's joyful and great, as if that was the turning point for everything bad that ever happened to her. That's the way our minds work, with us thinking that one small decision might have made everything turn out differently, but of course that's not going to be the way life works. Still, it's hard to watch somebody you love go through tough times.

But all is not lost, since Hopey managed to witness everything, and she and Maggie reunite, on the last page of the volume. Damn, that Jaime knows how to end a book. I know these stories are continued in the second volume of Love and Rockets, and other related graphic novels, but I still feel that need to know what will happen next. It's not exactly a cliffhanger, but it's a stopping point, and I can't wait to go on to the starting point of what's next.

I don't know if all this has made any sense to anybody besides me, but it's good to get something down about why I find this series so affecting. I really feel that Jaime Hernandez is one of the greatest cartoonists of all time, and these stories are a great demonstration of why that is. I highly recommend them to anybody who wants to read great stories about real-feeling, three-dimensional characters, whether it's in comics form or not.

Wow, that was kind of long, wasn't it. And I didn't even include any images. But there are some great pictures in here, so I'll probably follow up with an image post about the book when I get a working scanner. Watch for it!

UPDATE: That image-centric post is up, so go here to read a bunch more of what I have to say, whether it makes much sense or not.

Monday, May 12, 2008

This week is not as expensive

Still no scanner, dammit. Maybe I can do more word-type posts. We'll see. In the meantime:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 5/14/08):

Batman #676

Although I've stopped reading Grant Morrison's run on this title, I'm still intrigued by what he's doing, and this issue kicks off the "Batman R.I.P." storyline that's been teased for a while now (most prominently in the recent DC Universe trailer-fest). So while I don't plan to buy it or anything, I'm still kind of interested, so I'm half-assedly keeping track of what's going on, and maybe I'll read it someday by getting it from the library or something. How's that for an endorsement?

Casanova #14

I'm all over this book though. God, I love Casanova; it might be my favorite ongoing series. This issue is the big finale to the second story arc, with the promise lots of explosions and such. And maybe some revelations about what the hell has been going on with the title character, who we haven't seen since issue #8. But even if it makes little sense, it should be a great read, with fun plotting and dialogue, and some beautiful art by Fabio Moon. I don't know if the book is going on hiatus again after this issue, but if so, I hope it won't be any longer than a few months, like last time. Anyway, go Matt Fraction!

Fiction Clemens #1

From Ape Entertainment, this is an interestingly-stylized sci-fi/western that might be worth checking out. You can go to the official site for a preview.

Genext #1

If you're dying to see Chris Claremont do yet another revision of the X-Men (didn't he just spend 18 or so issues wanking about in X-Men: The End?), here's your chance. This one (which was voted on by fans to be his next series, so I guess that's his excuse) imagines the Marvel Universe as occurring in real time, so if the original X-Men stories took place in the 60s, the characters would all be in their 60s or 70s now, and we get to follow the adventures of their children. Ah, Claremont writing teen characters; I can't imagine a more apt choice. I expect many monologues about the dangers teens face today, like pregnancy, meth addiction, or, I dunno, Myspace?

Goon #24

Is this the one where the Buzzard returns? Will Goon ever get around to blowing up that burlesque house? Is Mr. Wicker running around again? What's the deal with Labrazio? What kind of feces/vomit-based humor will Eric Powell resort to this time? Can I just shut up with the questions and enjoy the issue already?!

Newuniversal Shockfront #1

Warren Ellis finally follows up his revival of Marvel's New Universe, although this time around, the art is being provided by Steve Kurth, rather than Salvador Larroca. I did like the first six-issue series, although it did end pretty abruptly, so it's good to see that it hasn't been abandoned. We'll see if I decide to get this one or wait for the trade (I'm leaning toward the latter).

Soleil Sky Doll #1

Ah, Marvel's first issue of their new editions of French publisher Soleil's comics. This one looks interesting, in a pervy, manga-ish way. I should have a review of the issue up at Comics Bulletin tomorrow, provided I get around to reading it.

Transhuman #2

The second issue of Jonathan Hickman's genetic engineering "mockumentary". Keep it interesting, Hicky!

2 Guns

Steven Grant's crime series from Boom! Entertainment gets collected. I heard it was pretty good, so I really should check it out.

Almighty GN

A post-apocalyptic story by cartoonist Ed Laroche, who is self-publishing the book. It might be interesting, and it's always good to support small publishers like this. The official site has a preview, but be forewarned, it's an annoying Flash-based interface.

Amor Y Cohetes

I thought this came out a few weeks ago, but it looks like it's showing up at my shop now. The final volume in the reprints of the first volume of Love and Rockets, this one contains various stuff that isn't really connected to Jaime's "Locas" stories or Gilbert's "Palomar" tales. Plus, stuff by the lesser-known third brother, Mario. I'll definitely get it at some point.

Batman The Resurrection Of Ras Al Ghul HC

I mentioned Grant Morrison's run on Batman above, and here's a good example of why I haven't been reading it, since it tends to get caught up in lame, probably editorially-mandated crossovers like this. I only heard bad things about the story, which makes me glad I'm not reading. Then I hear about some of Morrison's crazy concepts, like Bat-Mite and weird golden age stories, and I feel like I should be reading it. Then I look at the awful art, and I'm glad I'm not. Stick with good writing, and get a decent artist on there, and you'll win me back, DC. How hard is that?

Life Sucks

Looks like this teen vampire book from First Second is also showing up at my shop this week. I'll keep an eye out.

New X-Men by Morrison Ultimate Collection Book 1

Speaking of Morrison, here's a new collection of his awesome run on X-Men. I think it was originally available in hardcover form (and also a massive one-volume omnibus), but this is a new softcover edition. It's still $35 though, which can't be too much of a savings over the hardcover. If you still haven't read it, you could consider this format, but you'd probably get a better deal by just searching through back-issue bins.

Potential GN Touchstone Edition

A collection of Ariel Schrag's high school memoir comics. Has this been published before? Apparently, it was done while she was still in high school, so it's probably pretty rough, but it still might be interesting to look at her earlier work.

Rex GN

The English translation of Danijel Zezelj's European graphic novel, about a cop who gets framed for drug-running and ends up in prison, then gets out and seeks revenge, or something like that. Zezelj is quite the artist, so this should definitely be worth reading.

This Is As Bad As It Gets TP

Humor cartoons from French artist Vouch. Here's a page with some samples. Looks enjoyable, in the classic, deadpan, New Yorker single-panel cartoon style.

Ultimate Hulk vs. Iron Man Ultimate Human

Another Warren Ellis book, collecting the recent four-issue series illustrated by Cary Nord, in which Ultimate Hulk and Ultimate Iron Man fight Ultimate Leader, with lots of Ultimate violence. $20 for a hardcover; expensive.

Vertigo First Cut

Another one of those five-dollar Vertigo samplers, containing the first issues of Army@Love, Crossing Midnight, DMZ, The Exterminators, Jack of Fables, Loveless, and Scalped. A decent introduction to all of those, I guess, although the way comics are these days, you usually need to read at least two or three issues to get a real feel for a series. And haven't at least two of those series been cancelled? Still, you can't beat the value, I guess.

Wacky Packages HC

This is on my store's list, but I can't find any information about it. I believe it's a collection of the trading card set that Art Spiegelman did that was a precursor to Garbage Pail Kids, with brands and logos reimagined as naughty versions of themselves. Like, Skittles were changed to "Spittles". Oh, the hilarity! Actually, I probably would have loved that sort of thing when I was eight.

Aria Vol 2 GN Tokyopop Edition

Plenty of manga this week, starting with this latest volume of the "gondoliers on Mars" series that I hear is excellent. One of these days.

Manga Sutra -Futari H- Vol 2 GN

I never read the first volume of this "instructional porn" manga, and I didn't hear that it was exceptionally good or anything, but it seemed interesting, if only for the novelty of having this sort of product that probably seems natural in Japan but wild and crazy to Americans. Maybe I'll get to read it someday.

Marchen HC

A $47.99 Yoshitaka Amano artbook, with illustrations based on European folklore. Amano always has beautiful art, but his books are so damn expensive. Here's a preview.

Parasyte Vol 3 GN Del Rey Edition

Ooh, I've been waiting to read this one ever since I finished the second volume. I'm behind on manga these days (I've got volume 10 of Nana and volume 8 of Drifting Classroom at home, and I still need to get caught up on Monster, to name but a few series), but it looks like I'll need to grab this one as soon as I can as well.

Shoulder A Coffin Kuro Vol 1 GN

This one looks pretty wacky; it's a "4-koma" (four-panel gag strip) manga about a girl who carries a coffin on her back and gets in strange adventures while in search of a witch. I doubt I'll ever read it, but I had to include it, because the title cracks me up for some reason.

Sgt Frog Vol 15 GN

Man, this series keeps plugging along. I'll probably get around to reading the last few volumes one of these days. I can only go for so long without goofy slapstick alien-invasion nonsense.

Toto The Wonderful Adventure Vol 1 GN

From Del Rey, it's one of those "boy with a dream" manga, about a boy who wants to travel around the world, so he stows away on a zeppelin. I have been wanting to read more shonen series, so this might be one to check out.

And wow, I think that's pretty much it. Not too big of a week, but there are a few things to grab, along with some manga. Comics: slowly leeching away at my monthly income!

Anyway, maybe I'll get to another review or two tonight, depending on what happens with my scanner and how much I feel like writing without it. Stay tuned?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Monster: Alcoholics can't catch a break

Crap, I had this post all ready to go the other day, and then my scanner crapped out on me, so it looks like I'm going to have to do it the old-fashioned way and use my words. I hope it still works.

Also, I've got a review of House of Mystery #1 up at Comics Bulletin, where I actually intended to not scan anything. So you can read that and enjoy its non-disjointed nature.

Monster, volume 7
By Naoki Urasawa

This volume kicks off with a chapter that demonstrates something Naoki Urasawa does so well on the series: establishing characters quickly and making the reader care about them. In this case, we are introduced (although we might have met him briefly at the end of the previous volume) to Richard Brown, an ex-cop private detective who is investigating the "suicide" of a student we saw in volume 6. Urasawa quickly establishes that he's a recovering alcoholic who is divorced and wants nothing more than clean up his life and be able to see his young daughter. In a brilliantly-timed sequence, centered mostly on one double-page spread, we see him receive some bad news and begin to succumb to his old impulses.

First, we see Richard's ex-wife exiting the bar, with a view of his grim expression that gets cut off by the edge of the panel. Then there are two identical panels of Richard from behind, showing his motionlessness as he battles with his emotions. The next tier of panels shows some guys drinking on the bar, with the second panel (of two) giving a closer, zoomed-in view of the drinks they are drinking. This is followed by a panel of Richard's eyes; there's no doubt as to what he's looking at and thinking about. Another panel of a drink being downed is followed by a close-up of Richard's Adam's apple, accompanied by a "gulp" sound effect. Then, the page ending panel shows Richard's hand raise, shakingly, as he calls for the waitress.

On the next page, the waitress asks what he wants, and over two panels, we see a closeup of first his mouth, then his whole face, as he grimly says, "Wh--whiskey". She returns to the bar to get his order, and we see a silent panel of Richard, waiting, clenching his fists in anticipation. Then she puts the drink down in front of him, and we get a panel of Richard looking down at the drink, which is centered in the foreground of the panel. Finally, there's a close-up of his eyes, and a page-ending panel of his hand reaching toward the glass tremblingly.

(Note: after I was able to obtain a working scanner, I've since scanned the pages and posted them here. Now you can see the actual excellent art instead of my poor description of it.)

Urasawa gives us all the information so perfectly (especially through the subtle facial expressions) that we understand exactly what is going through Richard's mind during this whole sequence. It's as tense as any of the violence in the series, leaving readers (or at least me) shaken, suppressing the urge to yell at him not to do it.

So like many of the incidental characters in the series, Richard makes a good protagonist for his storyline. But he ends up going against Johan, so we know he's doomed; we only have to watch and see how it happens. And it's pretty satisfying to watch as it plays out. As Richard edges closer to the truth about Johan (who, as we see, is enacting a long-running scheme to get close to a man who controls much of the finances of Germany) and Johan becomes aware of him (or maybe he knew about him all along; he has seemed to be near-omniscient thus far), we learn more about Richard's disgrace and the demons he keeps at bay. The end result becomes obvious, and we edge closer and closer to the morbid result, being pulled along unwillingly. Man, that Urasawa is a sadistic bastard.

But he's damn good at what he does. For the past six volumes, it seemed that Urasawa was setting himself up for a disappointment. We had seen the results of Johan's schemes secondhand, and it seemed that he had almost supernatural powers of persuasion, brainwashing people to do his bidding or convincing people to commit horrible crimes. But now that we've caught up with him, we see his manipulations directly, right there on the page, as he starts to mess with Richard's mind and push him toward an awful end, and it's totally convincing. I didn't know if Urasawa would be able to pull it off, but he ably rose to the task, making us believe in Johan's genius and cold, calculating nature.

After that story comes to an abrupt end, our ostensible hero, Dr. Tenma, shows up, ready to finally confront Johan. It should be interesting to see where this goes, since this is the closest we've seen Tenma get to his target, and we've also seen how Johan has set himself up in his position of power, and Tenma is threatening all of it. I doubt Urasawa will simply have them relocate and continue business as usual; he'll surely add something interesting to the equation. Will Tenma disrupt Johan's operations enough to put him on the run? Will Johan strike back and manipulate Tenma into doing his bidding? Who will live? Who will die? Damn, I'm gonna have to get the next volume ASAP.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

High School Debut: In which I get some macho back

Another review: Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1, over at Comics Bulletin. And then there's this:

High School Debut, volume 2
By Kazune Kawahara

Good lord, I think reading this book made my Y chromosome kick back in. While some things get me feeling all girly, I must have an estrogen tolerance limit or something, because while I wouldn't call this book bad, it was just a bit too feminine for me. No, it's filled with nice, slick art, and some pretty well-defined characters, but the angsty romance (or rather the teenage stumblings toward it) just got tiresome; I almost starting yelling at the main character to just act on her feelings already and spare me having to sit through the indecision.

So here's the deal (with which I already was familiar, after having read the first chapter when it was previewed in Shojo Beat; I feel like I didn't miss much, skipping to the second volume): Haruna was an athletic tomboy in junior high, but now that she's in high school, she's decided to be more girly and try to get a boyfriend. But she's terrible at attracting boys, so she ends up recruiting Yoh, a handsome, quiet guy who swore off girls after a bad breakup, to be her "love coach" and tell her how to get guys to like her. Which sounds pretty mercenary, but it's got a good message, of the "be yourself, rather than what you think people want you to be" variety. Yoh pushes Haruna to be more outgoing and shows her some good fashions and hairstyles and such, but he doesn't try to make her into anything she's not. How wholesome.

So at the beginning of this volume, Haruna has decided that she's in love with Yoh's friend Fumi, so she gets Yoh to hook them up. This leads to an amusing date in which Haruna is too petrified to talk, so she has Yoh watch from nearby and keep texting her with what to say:

Ah, to be a teenager again. Yeah, this only emphasizes how much those years sucked for most of us (or maybe just me).

So, yeah, good times, but then the drama kicks in, because Yoh's sister Asami, who had helped Haruna out by offering encouragement and lending her clothes, turns out to be a backstabbing bitch, swooping in and stealing Fumi out from under her. Damn, girls can be mean to each other. This leads to a bunch of angst and crying, along with a possible subplot about Asami's mental health problems. But Haruna eventually gets over it, just in time to fall for Yoh himself. Which is a problem, because Yoh forbid her from doing so, saying he wouldn't be her coach anymore if she did. So, more angst, as Haruna tries to deny her feelings and freaks out about not being Yoh's type. This is where I get frustrated, as it's page after page of the internal drama and indecision:

But it's probably great, if that's the sort of thing you're going through in your own life. It just drives me crazy, being male and adult.

So while it's not for me, I would recommend it for somebody closer to the age of the characters. It's got nice characters and good plots, and some spiffy art. I really dug the depiction of Haruna doing her softball fast-pitch:

Yeah! Kick-ass! Be yourself, Haruna! That's the way to get Yoh to like you!

...Okay, I think I need to go read some Lone Wolf and Cub now.

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

Monday, May 5, 2008

Local #11: I didn't want to punch her in the face

See, here's a review already!

Local #11
Written by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
Art by Ryan Kelly

In this penultimate issue of Local, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly (who co-wrote the issue this time around) deliver what might be their best issue yet, touching on the invasiveness of biographical storytelling, self-reflection by artists, and the folly of trying to discern a story from only small fragments. It certainly gave me plenty to think about, and that’s what art is all about, right?

This time around, series protagonist Megan is living in Toronto, but we don’t follow her too closely. Rather, we watch an office co-worker of hers, a young artist named Nancy. As the cover of the issue indicates, Nancy ends up stealing a bunch of mementos from Megan’s apartment and displaying them as her senior project, claiming Megan is fictional. It’s an awfully intrusive and horrible thing to do, and Megan is shaken, as you can expect. But when you think about it, that’s pretty much what Wood and Kelly have been doing with this entire series. Since each issue takes place a year later than the last, and only features a small incident, we are limited to small fragments of Megan’s life. We may think we know her, but do we really? To act as if these bits of kitsch can tell us everything about her is pretentious and presumptive; it’s almost as if Wood and Kelly are lashing back at themselves for not doing justice to their creation. It’s a wonderful little bit of meta-commentary as the series is coming to a close.

There’s also the interesting Nancy, who, as the issue’s title indicates, is a member of “The Younger Generation”. While this was an awful thing to do to Megan, maybe she didn’t see it as such. This younger generation is used to putting themselves out there for the world to see, through Myspace, blogs, YouTube, or whatever other channels they find. As the world continues to shift to this style of tell-all communication, maybe what she did wasn’t so bad. I don’t know if this is what Wood and Kelly were intending, but it’s an interesting idea, and it might be one to explore further.

So, yeah, this was a damn good issue. Let’s bring it home big next time, boys! (and not too late, I hope.)