Sunday, August 31, 2008

Army@Love: If only

Some links:

After reading Brian Heater's interview with Nate Powell (part one, part two), I'm really interested in checking out his new book, Swallow Me Whole. I liked Powell's previous work, Please Release, and this one seems like a fascinating exploration of juvenile mental illness. I'll have to try to acquire a copy.

Also, Mark Andrew Smith has posted a fairly lengthy preview of the new volume of The Amazing Joy Buzzards on Myspace. If you've seen me raving about this series before, but have yet to experience it, here's your chance. The new book comes out on November 19!

And while I'm linking to previews, here's a page with a bunch of previews of the stories in the upcoming Liquid City anthology of comics from Southeast Asian creators. Lots of good-looking stuff.

Army@Love, volume 2.0, Generation Pwned
By Rick Veitch (with Gary Erskine)

What with collaborating with Alan Moore, crafting exquisite European-style fantasy and science fiction comics, doing stories that comment on the superhero comics industry, pioneering the field of dream comics, and much more, Rick Veitch has had a long, distinguished career, but he's nowhere near ready to lay down his pencil. With Army@Love, he has created a unique and crazy satire of the war in Iraq, and modern American life in general. When you read it, it's hard to believe the audacity (and believability) of what you're seeing; Veitch has turned a harsh magnifying glass on the superficialities of American culture, and while it's funny stuff, it makes you sick to realize how truthful it is.

In the near future that Veitch posits, military service has been re-branded as "peak life experience", like an extreme sport for the newest generation. The military is sponsored by a variety of corporations, including one "Polka Cola", and they throw regular "Motivation and Morale" retreats, which are basically sex-drenched orgies that get the troops to ignore anything going on above their belts. The culture of marketing has taken over, encouraging soldiers to join the "Hot Zone Club" (by having sex in the middle of a war zone) and treating life and death as mere commodities like anything else. It's pretty ridiculous, over-the-top stuff, and while it's played for laughs, it's scary because it's not that far removed from our current reality.

Veitch populates this scarily plausible setting with a large, thoroughly unsympathetic cast of thrill-seekers, self-promoters, ladder-climbers, schemers, liars, conmen, and just plain unlikable people (there are one or two possible exceptions, but everybody gets a chance to lower themselves). Nobody escapes Veitch's ire, from the high-level officers who worry about their own personal careers more than the good of the country or the men under their command, to the enlisted men and women who have no interest in the good of the country they are occupying outside of how much of it they get to blow up, to the civilians who treat the war zone as just another profit opportunity, importing predatory salesmanship and credit practices to the rest of the world. While it's enjoyable and amusing to watch these despicable specimens screw each other (both literally and figuratively) and pursue their all-too-temporary gratifications, it's also painful, since you see the complete disregard they have for their fellow man.

The question is, does Veitch make his satire too subtle? At times, it seems that the commentary gets buried below the plot and character developments. I would compare it to two other contemporaneous series which address the Iraq War: DMZ and Special Forces. While the former isn't meant to be humorous, it uses a fictional setting to address very real concerns. And while Kyle Baker's series is hilariously funny and full of large-scale, action-movie thrills, it makes a point of commenting on real-world events, refusing to downplay any of the anger at what is happening in the world. Army@Love, on the other hand, seems to lose track of the satire at times, getting caught up in the soap-operatic relationships of its cast and some futuristic science fiction ideas. Of course, that's Veitch's prerogative, but it's a shame to see him back away from such caustic provocation in favor of detailing the exploits of his repulsive characters. Or maybe the satirical edge is dulled by reading the chapters in close succession to each other; in a monthly format, the setting may re-emphasize itself with each installment, rather than settling into the background over the course of a long story.

But whatever the case, Veitch has crafted a compelling world here, and it's an enjoyable read that refuses to ignore the state of the world today and the effects and consequences of our society's current actions. The following panel is a good summary of the book's themes (and the source of the volume's subtitle):

Plus, it's got some really nice artwork, full of sweeping landscapes, urban rubble, unique characters, wild action, copious sex, and just plain craziness:

I highly recommend it, and can't wait to read the follow-up miniseries, Army@Love: The Art of War. Hopefully, Rick Veitch continue to wow us with his storytelling skills and satirical wit for years to come.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Short-Tempered Melancholic: A description of my mental state after reading this

I don't know what that means.

Short-Tempered Melancholic and Other Stories
By Arina Tanemura

Arina Tanemura is apparently incredibly popular, for some reason. Me, I've never been able to get into her stories much, mainly due to the overly-stylized art, with characters sporting eyes that take up about a third of the surface area on their faces. But the kids seem to like her, or at least Viz wants them to, because they've been running excerpts of her various manga series in Shojo Beat every chance they get. So why not give one of her books a try?

This short story collection probably isn't her best material, if only because the limited length doesn't allow much development of characters or themes; instead, we get four stories about girls trying to find a boyfriend. Tanemura does exhibit her flair for likable, high-energy heroines though; each of the protagonists here fits into the mold of the cheerfully flighty and exuberant teenage girl. The love interests aren't quite as interesting; they're all blandly handsome boys who end up falling for the cute heroines. But it's a book for girls, so the boys don't need to be much more than eye candy, do they?

In the first story, which shares its title with the book (although I don't know what that title means, since none of the characters exhibit any short-tempered or melancholy), Kajika is a member of a ninja clan who doesn't do a very good job of keeping her abilities secret, opening her family up to the possibility of an attack from rival families who are trying to steal their secret weapon. But being a teenage girl, she has a crush on the cute Fujisaki, and when he urges her to be more ladylike, she decides to give up her ninja ways. Being a short story, all this happens in the first ten pages, leaving the rest of the story to detail the consequences of her decision. Not to spoil anything, but it turns out that there might be an ulterior motive to getting her to give up ninja-ing. We eventually get some actual fighting, but it's of the silly kind that is resolved in one panel:

This is a shojo manga; it's all about the emotions and whatnot; no time for action! The story is actually two chapters long, so after the initial conflict is resolved, another one arises, in which Kajika's childhood friend Yuga decides to receive ninja training from her grandfather in order to go up against Fujisaki in a battle for Kajika's heart. But will she ever figure out that Yuga likes her? I wonder.

The second story, "This Love Is Nonfiction", uses one of the standard romantic comedy premises (seen in movies such as The Truth about Cats and Dogs), in which a less attractive girl passes off her pretty as herself to a guy she likes but has never seen face-to-face (in this case, he's a pen pal). Karin is the pretty friend (so the script says; she doesn't really seem any more or less attractive than her friend Yuri, outside of her long, flowing hair), and she meets up with Yuri's friend Ryo:

She's supposed to explain the situation, but she ends up going on a date with him and maybe even falling for him, because she's that type of flighty Tanemura character. Yuri chases after them as they hang out in an aquarium, and she keeps bumping into a weird guy wearing glasses and a surgical mask who also seems to be following the pair. Any clue where this is headed yet? Don't worry, there's no yelling or tears; it's going to be a happy ending for all involved.

"Rainy Afternoons Are for Romantic Heroines" is a bit less silly; in fact, it might have the most interesting relationship in the volume (or maybe I'm just saying that because the love interest seems to have actual emotions). Minori keeps "accidentally" forgetting her umbrella so she can get Takato, the boy she likes, to walk her home. He acts grumpy about it, but he still walks with her, and she worries that she's just harassing him. But we see that he still waits for her; maybe he reciprocates her feelings?

There's some goofy plot about a boy that Minori rejected in junior high, and some talk about Takato not believing in love, which causes Minori to swear to "awaken his passion". It's the normal Tanemura stuff, but I did like that central relationship, in which the couple quietly grow closer together.

Finally, there's "The Style of the Second Love", which was Tanemura's first published work. It's about Mana, who secretly likes her best friend Yume's boyfriend, but doesn't want to ruin their relationship. There's also Nakamura, who keeps bugging her, but she finds herself annoyed by him because he's popular with all the girls. Will she ever be able to get over her feelings for the guy who is off-limits, and realize what's right there in front of her face?

This one definitely seems like an earlier work, if only because Tanemura didn't draw eyes quite so gigantic at that point. But otherwise, it's pretty much the same as the others, with silly comedy and simple teenage romance.

So has my opinion on Tanemura changed? Well, I think I can see why she's popular, since she crafts some pretty fun characters and seems to get at the kind of relationships that teenage girls would like, but the appeal seems like it would be limited to those still in that age bracket. Anybody who has matured past that adolescent stage would probably be more interested in something weightier. I think I've also gotten used to Tanemura's art, if only through regular exposure, but I'm still not a fan of the giant eyes; when characters' irises get distorted to a kidney-like shape, that's just freaky, and not at all appealing. But I do see that Tanemura has a skill at goofy comedy, especially of the physical variety, and she comes up with some decent character designs (for the girls at least; they boys all look the same to me).

So I don't think I'm going to convert to Tanemura fandom anytime soon, but I would probably give her stuff a recommendation to teenage girls who want to read some manga. It's the kind of comic that I recognize as not being terrible, but definitely not falling into my area of interest. So interpret that as you like.

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dragon Ball: A joke about testicles here would not be inappropriate

God, I'm such a liar. Why do I lie so much? From now on, I'm going to say, "I'll have a review up when it's up, so don't expect it at any specified date. So there!"

But I do have another review of Fantastic Four: True Story #2 up at Comics Bulletin.

And I did want to link to this short comic by Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley. Enjoy.


Dragon Ball, VIZBIG Edition volume 1 (a.k.a volume 1-3)
By Akira Toriyama

I haven't read a whole lot of shonen manga, possibly due to a subconscious condescension toward the genre. It's aimed at little kids; it can't be worth my valuable time! But I do often hear that some shonen series are quite good, so I feel like I should check some out. But then there's the other factor: length. Many of the series are intimidating in scope; series like One Piece, Naruto, or Dragon Ball last for dozens of volumes and would potentially make for months or years of reading. If I start, will I ever be able to finish? And if I'm ever going to try to read some of these, where's the place to begin? If I go with a more off-the-wall series, like, say, Beet the Vandel Buster, will it not be good enough, and thus taint my interest in the entire genre?

Well, why not just jump in to one of the most popular series from a respected creator? Dragon Ball is an incredibly well-liked manga, and Akira Toriyama is somebody who I've really enjoyed in the past, so why not start at the beginning and see how it goes?

While the series as a whole is overwhelmingly long, it's easy to jump right into at the beginning. In short order, we get introduced to Son Goku, a young, monkey-tailed orphan who lives in the wilderness. He's pretty sheltered, so he's pretty surprised when a girl named Bulma shows up and disrupts his life. She's looking for all the "Dragon Balls" in the world, mystical jewels which, when all seven of them are collected, will summon a dragon god who will grant one wish. She already has two of them, and Goku has a third, left to him by his late grandfather. Bulma ends up recruiting Goku to join her on the quest for the Dragon Balls, and they embark on a series of wacky adventures looking for them.

It's pretty enjoyable reading, since Toriyama has built an interesting, unique world, full of futuristic technology, talking animals, mystical creatures, magic, and dinosaurs. And the characters are tons of fun to spend time with; Bulma is faux-sophisticated, but still young and naive, while Goku is so sheltered, he's astonished at everything he sees, including the differences between boys and girls:

He's also incredibly strong, so he ends up in plenty of fights and other adventures. He has a magical extending staff, and in the course of their journeys, he acquires a cloud that he can fly around on, but it only works for those who are pure of heart. He seems to qualify simply due to his ignorance; he's so simple and clueless that it comes across as a complete lack of guile.

Plenty of other characters soon join the fray, including Oolong, a shape-changing pig who is obsessed with girls' pantiesl; Kame-Sen'nin (a.k.a The Turtle Hermit, a.k.a Muten-roshi, a.k.a the Invincible Old Master), a weird, horny old man who is also obsessed with panties; Yamcha, a badass thief with a mastery of martial arts and a deadly fear of girls; and Pilaf, an evil, dictator who is also collecting Dragon Balls. It's constant hilarity, and surprisingly, the Dragon Ball quest reaches its goal before the end of the second volume. I wasn't expecting that; it seems like the sort of story that could be dragged out for several more volumes. Of course, it ends in just about the silliest way possible, leaving the possibility of another quest in a year's time, when the Dragon Balls become eligible for collection again (that's the rules of the game, I guess). In the meantime, Goku decides to go for training with the Invincible Old Master, who, despite his goofy look and complete lack of morals or decency, is the great martial arts master who trained Goku's grandfather.

This training sequence takes up most of the third volume, as Goku is joined by Kuririn, a fellow trainee who is a bit more on the worldly side (he can tell the difference between boys and girls, for one). After a lengthy qualifying feat that sees a new member join the cast (Lunch, a girl who changes personalities from sweet and nice to mean and violent whenever she sneezes), they end up going through an over-the-top, cartoonish version of the training sequences in martial arts films. The Turtle Master has them run all over the place delivering milk, plow large fields with their bare hands, swim through shark-infested waters, and dodge a swarm of bees while tethered to a tree. Amusingly, he says that while they might already be skilled, the goal is to "break the wall of humanity" and achieve superhuman abilities. Hey, sounds logical to me.

After eight months of training, they end up entering the Tenka'ichi Budokai, a martial-arts tournament that will determine "the strongest under the heavens". When they get there, they discover that all the training has given them amazing speed and strength. While they worry that they might not be able to compete against the hundreds of other contestants, they both easily make it to the finals, which will mostly take place in the next volumes, seeing them compete against a variety of strange characters, which include a dinosaur, a powerful old man, a sexy girl, and a disgusting fat guy who fights with the power of his stench. It should be incredibly fun to see it play out.

So, it's a hell of an enjoyable story, due to Toriyama's skill at setting up fun situations and populating his crazy world with quirky characters. Being a story aimed at the younger crowd, it's chock full of bathroom/anatomy humor, with joke after joke about butts, boobs, wee-wees, poop, panties, and so on. It seems a bit weird, considering the difference in cultural appropriateness between Japan and the U.S., but it's still quite funny; Toriyama has a great sense of timing:

He's also good at upending expectations; when the evil Pilaf captures Goku, Bulma, and Oolong, he grabs Bulma, intending to torture her to get her to reveal the location of a hidden Dragon Ball, the most degrading act of torture he can think of is this:

He also pulls off some nice wordplay (probably more so than we realize, considering how difficult it is to translate a lot of Japanese puns; the translators should be commended for what does come through). Pilaf makes for an especially rich source of comedy; he and his cohorts are known as the Reich Pilaf, and he's constantly using phrases like "order of Pilaf", "side of Pilaf", and so on. I don't know, it's silly, but it cracks me up.

And the action! Considering that there are still a few dozen volumes of constantly-escalating stakes to go, the fighting here is already pretty exciting, with Goku seeming near-invincible. Toriyama has such a dynamic style, it's super-fun to watch people get beat up:

Like the rest of the story, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

I should also mention that the series is apparently based on Journey to the West, a classic of Chinese literature. I'm not especially familiar with the story, and I'm not sure how exactly this series maps onto it, although I'm pretty certain Goku is the Monkey King, and Oolong is Zhū Bājiè (a.k.a "Pig"). Perhaps the rest of the connections are yet to come.

So I'm certainly glad I gave this story a shot, because I think I've quickly become an addict. Toriyama has a skill at crafting page-turning stories that make you highly excited to find out what will happen next. It's ridiculous; this is kids' stuff, but I can't tear myself away. I'm going to have to keep reading and see where it goes. I don't think I have any other choice.

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

Bonus self-referential humor!

Man, I guess I'll need to read Dr. Slump sometime as well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

This week, we've got something or other showing up

Nothing new to say here?

New comics this week (Wednesday, 8/27/08):

DMZ #34

This issue finishes the current storyline, "Blood in the Game". I only just picked up the collection of the previous arc, but the sooner this one comes out, the better. It's been too long since I've read this book.

Doktor Sleepless #8

I had been enjoying this series well enough, but it didn't survive the culling of my pull list. Still, I believe the previous issue ended with a "to be concluded" caption, so maybe this finishes a story arc or something? I don't think the series is ending or anything...

Fantastic Four: True Story #2

More of the FF battling monsters in the world of fiction. I should have a review up tomorrow at Comics Bulletin.

Final Crisis Superman Beyond #1

It's a spinoff of the regular Final Crisis series, starring Superman as he adventures through the multiverse, or something. I wouldn't normally care about this sort of thing, but it's actually written by Grant Morrison, so it will probably be pretty good. Art is by Doug Mahnke, so it will look nice as well, and there's even a 3-D section, which I imagine Morrison will make interesting. Definitely worth a look.

Freedom Formula #2

I only just reviewed the first issue of this futuristic robot-racing series, and here's part two already. Check it out, maybe?

Guerillas #1

I guess monkeys and gorillas are the new zombies. This silly-looking series is about a troop of specially-trained monkey soldiers in Vietnam. Cute concept, I guess, but is there more to it than the pun of the title?

Haunt of Horror Lovecraft #3

The final issue of Richard Corben's Lovecraft adaptations. This one includes "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", "The Well", and "The Window". Probably good.

Jack of Fables #25

I also dropped this book, but I'll miss it. This issue starts a new storyline involving Humpty Dumpty and Robin Page, I think. Maybe I'll get the trade.

Newuniversal Conqueror

Another spinoff of Warren Ellis' main series, this one tells the story of the 5,000-year-old remains that the archaeologist characters were investigating. It's written by Simon Spurrier (Gutsville), with art by Eric Nguyen. Worth a look, I would say.

Northlanders #9

It's the beginning of a new story arc on Brian Wood's Viking series. This one is about the first Viking attack on England, at a monastery in Lindisfarne. Art by Dean Ormston. I'll probably try to get the trade.

Pax Romana #3

Wow, Jonathan Hickman takes his sweet time getting his books out, doesn't he? I figured I could keep picking up this series, since who knows how long it will be between issues. The problem is, I don't remember what was happening last time. The time-travelers were starting a new government in the Roman Empire, I think. Let's hope I can figure it out. I guess the lesson here is, wait for the trade if you want to be able to follow the story.

Runaways #1

Oh, boy, I've been dreading this. It's the new volume of the series, by Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos. Having read this issue, I'm sorry to say that it's not very good. Moore doesn't have a very good grasp of the characters, making them all seem like interchangeable teenagers, and Ramos' art is frenetic and not very appealing. Maybe some will be able to tolerate it, but as a fan of the series (even through Joss Whedon's short tenure), I wouldn't recommend it.

Al Jaffee Tall Tales TPB

A collection of newspaper strips from the artist who was (is?) more well-known for the fold-ins in Mad Magazine. The strip ran from 1957-1963, and it was vertically oriented. This book collects 120 of them, with an introduction from Stephen Colbert. Sounds neat.

All Star Superman Vol 1 TPB

I was just talking with a friend who was waiting for a softcover version of this volume to come out so he could buy it, and lo and behold, here it is. The first six issues of the excellent series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, featuring what might be my favorite single issue: the Clark Kent/Lex Luthor prison chapter. That one was great. Really, read this if you haven't; it's some damn good comics. And it's only $12.99!

Americas Best Comics Primer TP

It's strange that DC is putting out this $4.99 collection of the first issues of Tom Strong, Top Ten, Promethea, Tomorrow Stories, and Tom Strong's Terrific Tales, since the ship has pretty much sailed on this imprint (although Zander Cannon and Gene Ha do have a new Top Ten miniseries coming out soon). Maybe it's just to promote sales of the various collections. Oh well, it's cheap, and it's all pretty good stuff, so I would recommend checking it out if you've never read any of it.

Barb Wire Omnibus Vol 1 TP

So, was this series any good? I never read any of it, and I'm probably more familiar with the Pamela Anderson movie, although I've never seen that either. Not that I'm planning to buy it either way, but does anyone have any fond memories of the series, or was it just another 90s "bad girl" series?

Ben Templesmiths Art Of Wormwood Gentleman Corpse SC

I like what I've read of this series, and I do hope to catch up on the rest of it as soon as I can, but I don't know if it warrants an art book. But, hey, Ben Templesmith is a damn good artist, and it's probably cool to check out his sketches and whatnot, so go for it, if you can afford it.

Daredevil by Bendis Omnibus Vol 1 HC

If you want, here's your chance to spend $100 to get a big book of Bendis. This collects everything he did on the title up through #60, including #16-19, which were illustrated by David Mack (and are quite good, from what I remember). It's pretty decent crime/superhero comics, so hey, why not check it out if you haven't read it?

Foundation TPB

This Boom! Studios series about some sort of conspiracy based on the prophecies of Nostradamus looks interesting. Maybe I'll check it out sometime.

JLA Deluxe Edition Vol 1 HC

Another expensive edition of well-regarded comics, this is the first volume of a collection of Grant Morrison's run on the title. $30 gets you the first nine issues, plus the story from Secret Files and Origins. I did enjoy this series, but it's been a while since I read it, and recent discussion has made me think that maybe I should go back and see how well it holds up. Luckily, I have all the issues, so I don't need to shell out the high price for this version.

Metal Men HC

This recent miniseries from Duncan Rouleau looked pretty good, throwing in some wild science fiction concepts to the silly "shape-changing robots" stories. Here's an expensive version of the collection, so maybe I'll get to read it soon.

Strange Embrace Vol 1 HC

So, is this horror series from David Hine any good? It looks kind of creepily cool, but I really haven't heard much about it. Is it worth a look?

Warren Ellis Scars New Printing TPB

Speaking of horror, here's a new version of Warren Ellis and Jacen Burrows' more-realistic horror series, based on the horrible stuff that homicide detectives sometimes witness. I haven't read it, but I've been wanting to check it out. Now's my chance, I guess.

Wolverine Logan Premiere HC Color

Ah, here's the color version of the Brian K. Vaughan/Eduardo Risso book. It's weird that they would put out the two different versions on separate weeks. Ah well, check it out if you like.

Young Inhumans

I think this was the version of the series from Marvel's failed "Tsunami" imprint of a few years ago. It was written by Sean McKeever, which makes me think maybe I should try to check it out, but I know so little about it that I'm not really planning to rush out and buy it or anything. Can anybody tell me if it's worth reading?

Cross X Break Vol 1 GN

A fairly weak manga selection for the week leads me to point out this odd-sounding series from Go! Comics about a boy who gets sent to study in a dangerous fantasy world or something. Interesting? Lame? Who knows?

Dragon Ball Complete Illustrations HC

Here's one of Viz's only offerings for the week, an artbook from Akira Toriyama, collecting illustrations from his most famous (?) series. Probably quite nice-looking.

Three In Love Vol 1 GN

Another Go! Comics book, with a Ménage à trois twist on the typical shojo love triangle. Weird. Interesting?

And that's pretty much it for the week. Stay tuned tonight (promises, promises) for another review. It's a good one.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard: Eddie Campbell could illustrate the phone book and I would buy it

That's kind of a cliche, isn't it? I don't know if I would really buy an illustrated phone book, no matter who drew it. Hmm, maybe I'll pitch that to Image as a new anthology series. Anyway:

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard
Written by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best
Art by Eddie Campbell

Eddie Campbell has such a unique style of comics storytelling, both in his distinctive artwork and the manner in which he tells stories. While he is still probably best known for his dark, moody work on Alan Moore's From Hell, most of his other stories aren't like that book at all; they use a freewheeling, enjoyable style, given to wit and whimsy. This new graphic novel definitely fits that paradigm, seeming like a Campbell sort of story even in its genesis (which can be read about here) and it plays out according to his whims.

As described in the link above, the book takes its title from the real-life acrobat Jules Leotard, who invented the article of clothing that bears his name and inspired the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze". But as interesting a character as he is, he dies at the beginning of the book, leaving his nephew Etienne with his last words: "May nothing occur." And that's pretty much what happens to Etienne throughout the rest of his life (and the book); nothing of consequence occurs, but he certainly has a colorful time carrying out that prophecy. He tries to continue his uncle's name and legacy, performing while wearing a false moustache. But he never really finds fame and fortune, and ends up wandering around and getting tangentially involved in various historical events, living out the rest of his life in obscurity.

It's an episodic sort of story, with each chapter seeing Etienne and his circus pals get involved in some sort of business, like the Jack the Ripper murders, or the sinking of the Titanic. But Campbell acknowledges this, titling almost every chapter with some variation on "The Next Episode" and ending each one by having a character make a remark like "I wish we'll all do well in the next episode." It's a knowing, playful style of storytelling, and Campbell goes all out with fun techniques, filling the margins with little drawings that sometimes comment on the story itself, along with occasional footnotes delivering scientific and historical information. One episode, "The Episode of Sleeping", even sees pages dominated by the image of Etienne in bed, while a tiny dream version of himself converses with his uncle, and Campbell and Best pop in to discuss the direction of the story:

The whole thing is full of that kind of whimsy, and it makes for a wonderful, enjoyable read. I particularly liked a scene in which Etienne loses his virginity to Lenore, the tattooed woman, told in a text excerpt from his diary presented as if it was written on her torso. Another scene sees him try to come up with a different invention to bear the name Leotard, a set of spring-heeled shoes. When he presents himself to Queen Victoria while wearing them, he keeps bobbing around the frame amusingly:

And of course, there's Pallenberg, a talking bear whose intelligence is never explained; he's simply another member of the cast. His involvement in the Jack the Ripper murders ends up being another good source of comedy. There's also an excellent section in which an Charles Blondin recounts the tale of a rivalry with another circus performer that involved a series of increasingly difficult tightrope walks across Niagara Falls:

Eventually, the tone of the book shifts to a more somber one, as Etienne and his friends begin to age and near the end of their lives. They all go on one last adventure together, attempting to rescue a colleague of theirs who was (wrongly?) imprisoned for stealing the Mona Lisa. It's a sad series of scenes, but it still ends up being sweet and touching; eventually, Etienne learns that while he might not have become rich and famous, he was happy because of a rich life spent doing what he loved in the company of good friends. Of course, Campbell doesn't make it as sappy as that description; he simply portrays them all reconnecting, and the history which we've already witnessed adds gravity to the situation. It's a beautiful way to close things out.

It doesn't really end up being a very complex story, but it's a satisfying one, due to Campbell's skill at telling it. He makes every scene feel fully-realized, due to the amazing, detail-filled art. The vast landscapes he splashes onto the page are beautiful, somehow seeming both tossed-off and incredibly meticulous. And his character art is always wonderful; he manages to convey motion and gestures wonderfully, while not making them look over-rendered. It seems like a few simple lines and dabs of paint were used in each drawing, but they combine to capture true-to-life details like the way people hold themselves while standing and talking, or facial expressions that can convey a huge range of emotion. And other details can't be ignored: the lettering is wonderfully done, as well. Campbell has a distinctive style of handwriting that works beautifully to convey the way words are being spoken (see the image above for a good example). One of my favorite scenes sees Pallenberg the bear singing while dancing with his handler/lover Ursula on the Titanic, and the letters that form the words of his song seem to dance around the speech balloon along with him:

With Campbell, you get the whole package; not a page of the book gets wasted, and there's something to entertain at every glance.

It's just a gorgeous book, a great bit of comics storytelling that uses the form like nothing else out there. Campbell makes comics like nobody else, and the world is richer for having his work in it. Hopefully, he'll be able to keep delivering beautiful works like this for years to come.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Solicitationary blatherings: Image, November 2008

I don't usually talk about solicitations of forthcoming comics anymore, but I had to take note of some of the excellent offerings coming from Image Comics in November:

The Amazing Joy Buzzards, volume 2: Monster Love - Aw, yeah, I can't wait for this one. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of this series, and judging from comments by creators Mark Andrew Smith and Dan Hipp, this new volume should be a good expansion and deepening of the series. Should be awesome.

Liquid City - In another of Image's line of anthologies, this one focuses on creators from Southeast Asia. Most notable, for me, is the inclusion of Lat; I'd love to see more of his work. There's also Mike Carey (who, to my knowledge is not Asian) and Sonny Liew (who is), and probably many others; the book is 312 pages for $29.99.

The New Brighton Archaeological Society - Also from Mark Andrew Smith, this looks to be a nicely-illustrated (by Matthew Weldon) series of stories about a group of children who discover that their archaeologist parents were involved in some sort of mystical war. There were some stories featuring the characters in Popgun volume 1, and it seemed like an interesting concept. I do usually like Smith (see above), but not always. So hopefully this will turn out good.

Those are the big titles, but there's also a new trade collection of Godland, a graphic novel called Douglas Fredericks and the House of They by Joe Kelly and Ben Roman, and one or two other notable offerings. But the ones above are probably going to end up on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Black Lagoon: No creatures here

Damn, I'm such a liar when it comes to promising new posts. Do readers just laugh when I say "I should have a review up tonight"? Oh well. Here's the one I was hoping to get to.

But first, I'll link to my Comics Bulletin review of Air #1 that I mentioned yesterday.

And I also wanted to point out this odd little "weird romance" comic by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca in New York Magazine. I guess it's part of the "fashion" section?

Black Lagoon, volume 1
By Rei Hiroe

The name of the game here is action, of the "nonstop explosive" variety, if you believe the blurb on the back cover. Guns! Explosions! Chases! Shootouts! Swearing! Improbable acts of physics! Poor characterization! Nonsensical plots! Yup, it's all here. Of course, while action comics can occasionally rise to the level of artistic excellence, all we really need from them is to be entertained. Provide that visceral thrill, and execute something unexpected, and you can forgive a lot. Of course, that's easier said than done.

This manga series makes the attempt, but for me, it falls short in a lot of ways. Not that it's a bad concept or anything. In the first chapter, the crew of the eponymous "courier" boat that regularly tools around the South Pacific starts off by kidnapping a Japanese businessman and stealing a disk containing some sort of vital McGuffin-esque information. Said businessman, who bears the embarrassing name of Rokuro Okajima (man, poor guy, who would want to be called something like that? Okay, it's a joke that makes more sense in Japanese, I'm sure), gets the shaft from his company; they pretty much give him up for dead rather than make a deal with criminals. Or something like that. But this gives him the impetus to say "screw it" and join the crew of the ship, rechristened with the nickname "Rock".

The rest of the crew consists of Dutch, the captain; Benny, the pilot/mechanic; and Revy, the interesting one (she's on the cover of the book, after all). She's a hotheaded, trigger-happy, badass tough chick, nicknamed "Two Hand" due to her John Woo-inspired shooting style. Of course, that's pretty much the extent of her personality: she shoots stuff! And swears a lot! And gets mad all the time! And wears teeny-tine cutoff-jean-shorts! There's a hint at a tragic backstory, which will surely be explored at some point, but as of this volume, she's little more than a source of badassery, the go-to member of the team when bad guys need to be killed.

So, okay, we've got some thin characters and some plots on which to hang some action, but is it worth reading? That is, is the action cool enough to make up for the shortcomings? Well, I'm sad to say that aside from some inspired touches, the action doesn't manage to save the book. It does come close; the setup for the action scenes are pretty good, but the execution is lacking. The problem is, the scenes aren't defined well enough; it's impossible to follow exactly what is going on. For instance, a scene in which the Black Lagoon is being attacked by several other smaller boats is impossible to follow; you can't tell where the boats are in relation to each other, so scenes of Revy jumping from boat to boat and blowing guys away with a grenade gun and a submachine gun are little more than collections of speed-line-heavy panels depicting jumping, shooting, and explosions:

Hiroe's art style reminds me of Adam Warren, if only because of the way he draws characters' pointed incisors. But that begs the comparison to Warren's excellence in action, and Hiroe simply can't compare. In the big ninja fight at the end of Empowered volume 3, the action was frenetic and complicated, but never difficult to follow. Warren makes his action exciting and entertaining without sacrificing clarity; Hiroe could stand to study his work and learn something. Unfortunately, most all the action here is of the variety above; it's just not clear enough to successfully rescue the weaknesses of the rest of the book. For an action-movie comparison, it's not at the John Woo level; it's more like The Transporter or The Boondock Saints, with scenes where you can't tell what is going on and have to try to figure out what happened from the aftermath.

And it's a shame, because there's some fun stuff here, like a big fight confrontation involving a helicopter and a torpedo, or a running gag reminiscent of Frank Miller's Daredevil in which the crew's favorite bar always getting destroyed. And the first panel on the first page is one of the best book-openers I've seen:

The final (and longest) story in the volume features a doozy: a former assassin disguised as a French maid who totes a bulletproof umbrella gun and a Desperado-style suitcase containing built-in weapons. But as goofy as that concept is, Hiroe keeps it from being lighthearted and funny by weighing the story down with tiresome emotional scenes between her and her charge, the young heir to a Colombian cartel (who, in a morally murky plot, is kidnapped by the crew to be sold into child slavery. And these are our heroes!), who can't stand to see her use violence. But it all ends with tears and hugs, and a gratuitous girl-on-girl fistfight.

So I really can't recommend the book, although it should probably be noted that I have pretty high standards when it comes to action storytelling. Or do I? All I really ask is to be entertained, but if the action is hard to follow, the plots are dumb and pointless, and the characters are paper-thin, there's just not much entertainment there. Your mileage may vary, of course, but mine ends up being rather Hummer-esque.

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

This week is another week

I think I've got something up at Comics Bulletin today? Maybe? If so, I'll give it a link.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 8/20/08):

Air #1

A new Vertigo ongoing series from G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker, the the creators of Cairo. I didn't especially like that book, but I thought Wilson and Perker showed promise. Unfortunately, this is still not very good. If you weren't impressed by the preview in recent Vertigo issues, you won't be surprised to see that the full issue pretty much lives up to its lack of promise. I should have a review up sometime today at Comics Bulletin, so you can see what I mean.

Anna Mercury #3

The first two issues of this crazy sci-fi action series from Warren Ellis were pretty good, but the book has fallen to the great culling of my pull list. I may never find out what happened, but I think I'll live.

Charlatan Ball #3

I don't think I'll get this one either, and that's a shame, since I loved the first two issues. Joe Casey can really bring the weirdness, and he put together an amazingly bizarre world here. And artist Andy Suriano fleshes it out beautifully, with lots of Kirby-style panache that still seems unique, rather than slavishly following the "square fingers, Kirby dots" style. It's excellent stuff; check it out if you want to see some of that true Kirby influence that so few creators have picked up on.

Immortal Iron Fist: Origin of Danny Rand

I might have a review of this one up tomorrow, but it's basically just a reprint of a couple issues of Marvel Premiere, with new computer coloring. I guess if you really want to read those old 70s issues, this is as good a place as any.

Killer #8

This European series is supposed to be really good. Maybe I'll get to read a collection someday.

Madman Atomic Comics #10

I dropped this one too, and maybe I won't regret it, but I do think that the most recent issue was the best one Mike Allred has done in quite a while. It was beautifully-illustrated and full of that old-school Madman adventure. If Allred can do more of that sort of thing, I'll really miss the series.

Rex Libris #12

I think I kept this one on my list, since it comes out so infrequently. Plus, I think it's supposed to end soon, so I've gotta complete my run, man. I can't miss out on the adventures of everybody's favorite two-fisted librarian. Maybe Rex will finally confront the Lovecraftian horror that has been unleashed. Or maybe he'll tell another story about fighting Nazis.

Victorian Horrors Of Old Mauch Chunk #1

This is a small-press book that tells a steampunk/horror story set in a Pennsylvania town during the industrial revolution. It looks pretty interesting, if only because the creators have set up a pretty elaborate promotional website. I would check it out, given the chance.

Abandoned Cars HC

From Fantagraphics, a collection of Americana stories from creator Tim Lane. It looks pretty good, so I suppose I could read it. Jog recently reviewed it here.

Achewood The Great Outdoor Fight HC

I've never been able to get into Achewood, despite the frequent claims of genius I read. I even tried reading this storyline a while back, since it was supposed to be really good, and while it had a couple amusing bits, it still didn't do much for me. Maybe one day I'll sit down and read a year's worth of strips, and finally get it, but for now, I still plead confusion as to what the big deal is. But if you want to check it out, here's a nice volume of that story, for $14.95. Or you could always read it for free online.

Donald Duck Family Daan Jippes Collection Vol 1 TPB

I'm not familiar with this Dutch artist, and he's not one of the "good" duck artists (Carl Barks, Don Rosa, and William Van Horn), so I don't know if he's worth reading. But he did get a whole book to himself, so I guess he can't be that bad. Oddly, the description of the book says he has done some "recreations" of Barks stories not originally drawn by Barks. I have no idea what that means.

Gravel Never A Dull Day Signed HC

I'm sure a less-expensive version of this book will come out eventually (this signed collectors' edition is $89.99), so when it does, I would give a sort of a recommendation for Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer's tales of "combat magician" William Gravel, originally published as Strange Kiss, Stranger Kisses, etc. I've read some of it, and it's weird, gross stuff, but it's got that usual Ellis good writing. If you're reading the current Gravel series (which I'm not), this would be a good one to check out.

Good-Bye Marianne GN

From Tundra Publishing (which I believe is different from Steve Bissette's old company), this is a comics adaptation if Irene N. Watts' novel about a Jewish girl growing up in Nazi Germany. It seems to be intended for kids. Might be good.

Herbie Archive Vol 1 TPB

This seems to be getting a lot of attention, and probably rightly so, since Herbie is one of those really bizarre Silver Age comics, about a fat little boy who fights evil in a rather nonchalant manner, usually involving lollipops. I dunno, it's hard to explain, but it's hella enjoyable, if only because it's so weird. It's one of Dark Horse's expensive archive books, so I don't know if many will shell out the cash for it, but hopefully it will be available at libraries, so people can experience the craziness.

Jews & American Comics Illustrated History Of An American Art Form HC

As Dave Sim recently informed us, most of the original comics creators were Jewish, from Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster to Will Eisner to Jack Kirby. So now we have a book all about it, by Paul Buhle, with lots of illustrations, including some strips from early-20th-century Yiddish newspapers. Probably very informative, and hopefully entertaining to boot.

Myspace Dark Horse Presents vol 1 TPB

Dark Horse seems to be going for the "pay for what you can read for free" dollar this week, since they've got both the Achewood book and this collection of material from the titular website. The first six "issues" are collected here, and there's some pretty good stuff, including Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon's "Sugarshock", an Umbrella Academy story by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, an Empowered story by Adam Warren (in color!), and pieces by the likes of Peter Bagge, Tony Millionaire, Guy Davis, and many more. Good stuff, but really, just follow the link above to read it, unless you absolutely have to own a hard copy.

Myth Of The 8 Opus Prologue Expanded ED GN

I've heard of this Kirby-inspired Tom Scioli book before, but I had never seen it. And lucky me, it's now out in an easily-obtainable edition. I love Scioli's work on Godland; he mimics Kirby, but he has enough of his own style to keep things interesting. I'll have to try to check this out.

Sandman Presents Dead Boy Detectives TPB

This is a new collection of the four-issue Sandman-spinoff miniseries from 2001 by Ed Brubaker and Bryan Talbot. I picked up the issues from a back-issue bin several years ago, and I ended up selling them on Ebay, finding them disappointing. The story seemed to just try to recapture Neil Gaiman's work, grabbing characters that he invented and attempting to do something interesting with them. The plot involves somebody using the titular characters to try to steal Hob Gadling's immortality; I barely even remember. I guess it's somewhat interesting due to the creators, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Scorchy Smith And The Art Of Noel Sickles HC

The latest in IDW's line of classic strip reprints, this is an adventure series that lasted from 1933-1936. The volume collects the entire run of the series, which was apparently very influential (Dave Sim mentioned Sickles in the most recent issue of Glamourpuss). I certainly wouldn't mind checking it out.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Vol 2 HC

This second hardcover collection of Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa's series collects some darn good material. In my opinion, this series sets the standard for teenage drama in a superhero-related setting. Check it out, if you haven't before.

Wolverine Logan Premiere HC BW

I don't know if this is only the black and white version of the series, or if the color version will be available also. Either way, twenty bucks is a lot to pay for what was originally three issues. I liked the Bryan K. Vaughan/Eduardo Risso mini well enough, but it wasn't anything great, mostly notable for Risso's excellent artwork. I read the color version, and I thought it was beautifully done, so I would go for that one rather than black and white, but it is interesting to have both of them available.

Youngblood Vol 1 Focus Tested TPB

Does anybody (aside from Rob Liefeld) care about Youngblood? I certainly don't; I only mention it because this most recent revival was written by Joe Casey, toiling away in the work for hire trenches, hopefully so he can put out some awesome labors of love (see above). I think this took the "superheroes as celebrities" tack that occasionally gets trotted out, which Casey might have been able to do something interesting with, but I'm sure it isn't really worth bothering with.

Dragon Ball Z VIZBIG Edition Vol 2 GN

I've still got volume 1 of this series on my review pile (except I think it's plain old Dragon Ball, rather than the Z phase of the series), so I need to get to that before I'll ever be able to read this. But it's not like I'll ever be able to finish the damn thing anyway...

Eiken Vol 11 GN

I continue to be morbidly curious about this series, if only because Jason Thompson labeled it the worst manga to be imported to the U.S. Maybe I'll be able to read some of it some day, and have my mind warped forever (yeah, right; I think it's as warped as it's going to get).

Naoki Urasawas Monster Vol 16 TP

The third-to-last volume of the excellent suspense series. Man, I've really got to try to get caught up on it; I still need to read volumes 8 and 9 so I can burn through all the ones I have sitting on my review pile. I can't wait; it's been a great read so far, and I'm sure it doesn't get any worse.

And that seems to be everything. I'll have a review up tonight, hopefully.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pocket Full of Rain: I feel like my pockets are full of excellence

I thought there were a few things I wanted to link to, but should I bother? Ah, why not:

Alison Bechdel has a strip she did for Entertainment Weekly on her site; it's about all the books she feels like she should read but was never able to get to. I feel her pain.

Huh, maybe that was the only one. Okay, here's something good:

Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories
By Jason

Norwegian cartoonist Jason has such a unique style, with his animal characters and deadpan humor, that it's hard to imagine him making comics that look any different. But this compilation of his earlier work from 1992-1999 shows us exactly that, giving an eye-opening view to the process of his artistic evolution. We see him try out all sorts of different styles, from realistic, to somewhat cartoony, to versions of his animal characters, with some of them mixing with humans, through to the motif he eventually settled on and continues to use. It's fascinating to watch, and since he's such an enjoyable storyteller, the stories themselves make for great reading aside from the interest in the art.

The longest story here is the one that gives the book its name, a 44-page 1995 story that sees Jason using a realistic style to examine some of his familiar themes, like relationships which are affected by the past of the participants. It follows one of Jason's typical disaffected young men, a police sketch artist named Erik who meets a girl and finds a genuine connection with her. But her previous boyfriend, a dangerous hitman with a penchant for blowing soap bubbles, shows up and causes trouble, forcing them to flee to what they think is a safe location. It's an odd story (although not when compared to Jason's other work), with plenty of strange, surreal touches, like a zombie panhandler who lurks in the background, the fact that the criminals that Erik sketches are all aliens or monsters, or a scene involving hats:

But the weirdness, while adding spice to the story, only serves to make the realistic human moments stand out. It's beautiful to see the relationship play out, and the difference in how Erik interacts with his best friend (all their conversations seem to be made up of movie quotes or discussions about pop culture) versus his girlfriend (whose name we never learn) shows what he sees in her. He can talk philosophy with her, or bare his soul about love and death. It's wonderful to watch, and it shows that Jason had the human element of his stories down even at this early date.

As mentioned, the art takes a more realistic style, making for an odd disconnect, since this certainly feels like a Jason story, but it looks so different. He does a nice job of it though, using some interesting shading effects, and I like the way he uses thick black brushstrokes to depict wrinkles in fabric:

And we can still see some recognizable touches, like the flying sweat drops that are used to show nervousness:

Jason also tries out some other styles through a couple dream sequences, one of which uses a more cartoony style that we'll see him try out later, and another that seems to use an old, folkloric style of artwork:

It's quite good, and it sets a good tone for the rest of the book, which is mostly filled with shorter works and ephemera. There are several one- or two-page strips in which an author avatar talks with an animal character about mundane matters, sometimes punctuated with a dog showing up and shooting one of them. A few seemingly-autobiographical bits that highlight Jason's personality. Some of them are semi-realistic, and some feature versions of the eventual animal characters. It's interesting to see the animal style develop; at one point it was more three-dimensional and rounded:

But as the years progress, you can see how it became the flat style that still persists. Other sections of the book see some goofy, surreal science fiction stories, like 1992's "Invasion of the Giant Snails", which sees a character named Sam Space fight off some gangsters using bananas and hair dryers (because they are shaped like guns). It's a strange story that rests on dream logic, and provides laughs just because of the weird non sequiturs. 1998's "Spacecat" is a funny, short piece in the style of Golden Age sci-fi comics, in which a cat hero rescues a space princess from an evil mad scientist. One of the weirder strips is the 1998 "X-Pilt", which combines The X-Files with a bizarre Norwegian children's show that apparently wounded the psyche of anybody who grew up there in the 70s:

Later in the book, there are a few other of these weird, dreamlike comics, with the most effective probably being 1997's "Kill the Cat". These are a bit less comic and more disturbing though, bringing that morose Scandinavian mindset to the page. There's also a pretty good comic from 1997 about the breakup of a relationship called "Falling". And my favorite of the short pieces is probably 1997's "Papa", which takes a cue from the film The Killers (which was based on a story by Ernest Hemingway, whom Jason is obsessed with), seeing a couple of shady characters show up at a small-town diner and terrorize the people there, planning to do something to the old man who often frequents the establishment:

Then, one of the patrons visits the old man, who seems to be based on Hemingway himself. The old man feels old and useless, unable to write like he used to. That's about all there is to it, but it's a creepy and emotional little story.

The final large segment is a series of newspaper strips from 1998 which were submitted to a paper but never accepted. It's a weird, surreal, funny strip, following a guy dressed in a striped prisoner's outfit (complete with a large metal ball shackled to his leg) as he wanders a desert landscape, interacting with ghosts, animals, and sentient cacti. It's pretty absurd, but it has a goofy, deadpan vibe, and some enjoyable breaking of the fourth wall:

Rounding out the book is a section of the beautifully painted color covers to Jason's anthology series Mjau Mjau, where most of these stories were originally published. And the table of contents, which is the last thing in the book, has some essential author's notes, giving background on many of the stories.

Overall, it ends up being a nice book, if not really among Jason's best work. The title story is a good addition to the author's well-known works, and the rest of the stories are interesting glimpses into his mind, but the main appeal of the whole volume does seem to be seeing the development of his style. Luckily, he's such a good artist that even his lesser works are fascinating to examine; even though he settled on one style, he is capable of spinning a great story using a large variety of artistic effects. It's probably worth a look for anybody who likes to see European comics translated into English, but fans of Jason's work will definitely get the most out of it. But if they're anything like me, they'll savor the chance, and continue to hope for more work from a great cartoonist.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Shojo Beat: Fame and zen. And etc.

I really meant to get to this last night. Don't tell me I'm getting behind again already...

Shojo Beat
September 2008

Not too much in the way of interesting non-comics content this month, although there is a review of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. The mascot illustration of the month is by Aimee Major Steinberger, author of Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventures in Japan:

She also contributes an article about places to shop in Tokyo, but it's not really my thing, being as I've never been there and don't plan to go anytime in the near future, and the locations are all clothes stores where you can presumably buy lots of gothic lolita fashions and whatnot. Ah well, I'll stick with Chris Butcher's travelogues instead.

Okay, on to the manga:

Blank Slate
By Aya Kanno

This month's preview chapter is an odd one for a shojo magazine; it's all about hitmen, bounty hunters, and killing, with little in the way of romance (or so it seems at first) or even female characters. It takes place in some sort of oppressive future with rival totalitarian governments sanctioning bounty hunters to hunt down criminals. Our main character is one of those hunters, named Russo, and he gets tasked to take down a big-time murderer named Zen. But when he hunts down Zen, he finds himself enthralled by him, and ends up joining him in his criminal activities, all while plotting to murder him at some point. But will he grow to close to Zen and find himself unable to finish the job?

So why would this be classified as a shojo manga? That can probably be summed up in one word: yaoi. Or maybe not; I'm not very well-versed in that genre. But the point of this series seems to be all about the smoldering glances that Zen and Russo give each other, barely able to suppress their desire. It even skips over what would seem like important details, like what exactly Russo finds so charismatic and enthralling about the murderer, and why he has no problem joining him. There is some talk about Russo's desire to control others, with the ultimate form of control being taking their life; mayhap he fetishizes being controlled himself? Being a Shojo Beat title, I don't expect there will be much in the way of hot guy-on-guy action; it will probably be limited to chaste glances, and maybe a climactic kiss or something. Ah, it's not like I'm going to try to read anymore of it; yaoi holds very little interest for me, outside of curiosity and speculation about just what the appeal of the genre is for its audience.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Miki Aihara seems to have a mixed reputation among manga fans, mostly due to her series Hot Gimmick. That enjoyably soapy series was fun to read just to see the way Aihara drew out the over-the-top drama that swirled around the characters, but many complained about the ugly gender roles and lack of positive character development, and the badly-received ending didn't help. Myself, I don't think I ever read the last couple volumes, so I should try to finish it and see what I think about the series as a whole.

In the meantime, Aihara has another series starting here, and it seems like it might be off to an enjoyable start. Yura is the daughter of a famous actress and a respected composer, and she hates living in their shadow. But even that was preferable to the storm that hits her when they split up; having your parents divorce is emotional enough for any teenager, but throw in constant harassment about the situation from paparazzi, and it quickly becomes unbearable. Can she find the strength to get through it?

Looks like more of the Aihara drama, with a couple of potential love interests and some really mean villains in her uncaring, self-centered parents. Yura does get a nice, cheer-worthy moment when she finally stands up for herself in front of the TV cameras:

We'll see how it goes, but I'm ever-hopeful for some over-dramatic soap-operatics. Bring it on, Aihara!

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

This series must have picked up some new readers since it started, because this chapter takes the opportunity to do a plot recap in its first few pages. Then it seems to kick off a new plotline, about Yuki trying to discover the past that she can't remember, and find what really happened when her family was killed. This leads to lots of the classic angst, and a journey to the headquarters of the vampire hunter society to view their historical records. So: secrets revealed! But not this time; instead we get a weird cliffhanger in which Yuki's curiosity causes a book to burst into flame(?). There's also another plot involving the president of the society (a woman who always holds a fan in front of her face, for some reason) wanting to make use of Zero's newfound vampire abilities for some sort of nefarious ends. So I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens. Interesting developments? Perhaps. I did like this bit, in which Yuki tries to remember what happened while taking a bath:

Apparently the mental strain caused her to hallucinate blood? I dunno, but it's nicely freaky. Okay, let's keep up the plot development! I might actually be excited to read this series for once!

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Hmmm, Takanashi is going to have to do something to mix things up here, because things seem to be going too smoothly. The volleyball team is doing awesome, rocking everybody else at their tournament. Everybody is getting along swell and everything:

Sure, there are some hints at future drama, including boys who might be interested in Nobara, and a lecherous principal who might cause problems for the team, but the inter-squad tussles seem to be all resolved. Maybe we'll just focus on the actual games. But I don't think so; I'm sure Takanashi has plenty of complications to invoke.

This chapter actually focuses mostly on Yui, the former member of the team who finished her eligibility. Now that she has moved on, the team is starting to do well, causing her to feel like she did nothing to contribute. It's a nice bit of characterization, and it's great to see the team show how much they appreciate her.

So it's not a big, dramatic chapter, but it's a pretty solid one. Let's hope for more big volleyball action or dramatic fireworks in the future though. I don't want to get bored here.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Strangely, this month's two chapters of this series seem like middle chapters, furthering plots without making much real progress. But big plot developments aren't really the point of this series anyway; it's more about small moments between friends, along with some goofy comedy. So this time around, an encounter with cicadas causes characters to muse about life, and Mayama spends time with his coworkers and gets a bit jealous when they start to flirt with Ayu. It's all nicely-done, but like usual, the bits of comedy are probably my favorites. The details of Mayama's workplace are pretty hilarious; we see their feng shui-based pre-sales-meeting ritual:

And we get to meet the bosses, a pair of mincing twins named Mario and Luigi:

Ah, gay comedy. I guess it's universal. Also funny is that aforementioned cicada encounter:

So, I dunno, it seems like a kind of slight month, but it's still pretty enjoyable. I guess that's what happens when a series is so damn good.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

If you want big dramatic plot developments, this is the go-to series for the month. Wow, it's a hum-dinger. Ann is in Shimane for winter break, and the appearance of Fuji's cousin brings up some big revelations about his family (although it's nothing that readers don't already know about) and prompts Ann to worry about Fuji, who has gone missing. All this emotion, along with the anniversary of her mother's death, dredges up some self-critical feelings; in a heart-breaking scene, Ann remembers how she said "Goodbye!" to her mom as she left on the fateful walk that ended with her suicide, and she worries that she might have said something to Fuji that prompted him to do something similar. It's a horribly realistic scene; who hasn't gone over and over events in their heads, replaying events, worried they said something wrong? For teenagers, who live in such an over-emotional state anyway, this sort of thing can be debilitating. Daigo, being the good boyfriend, tries to reassure her, but she blows up at him and says something she will certainly regret:

Again, it's awfully realistic; how often do we lash out at those closest to us when we are beating up on ourselves? Man, being a teenager is not the most pleasant experience, is it?

I won't reveal the big events at the end of the chapter (not this month, at least), but they make for plenty more fodder for good drama. This series is great because of the excellent characters and drama that seems like it could happen to anybody, and it seems like it will keep going in that direction. It can be hard to read, if only because it might remind you of similar unpleasant experiences, but it's so well done, you can't stop reading. I've lavished plenty of praise on this series, but I think it totally deserves all of it. Read it, I say!

Hey, that wasn't so long. I might be able to get caught up again after all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rex: Yes, he's like a tyrannosaurus

In case anybody didn't see it, I wrote a review of Radical Comics' Freedom Formula #1 over at IndiePulp, so you can read all about that one.

Also, I promised a while back that I would link to the trade version of Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now when it was available, and I figured out where it can be found today. So go here to (legally) download it, in CBR or PDF versions. Having read most of the stories contained within, the only one I can really recommend is "Craphound", but I guess the others are worth a look if you haven't read any of Doctorow's fiction. Otherwise, I would stick to his original short stories or novels, most of which are available for free download online. For instance, his new young adult novel, Little Brother, is available here. I've got to read that one when I get the chance.

And now, I'm about to get caught up, just in time to start reading comics again:

By Danijel Zezelj

While Croatian artist Danijel Zezelj might be a fairly minor figure in the U.S., known mostly for his work on some Vertigo titles like Loveless and El Diablo (or the still-unfinished Desolation Jones; who knows if Warren Ellis will ever get around to finishing that one), he has been working steadily in Europe for the last fifteen years. Upstart publisher Optimum Wound definitely sees some promise in these earlier works, because they've snapped them up for publication, starting with the 1995 book Rex. It certainly seems like a good move; Zezelj has a cool style that definitely deserves more attention.

It's interesting to compare this early work to Zezelj's current output; you can definitely see how he has refined his heavily-shadowed style over the years. At this point, he seemed a bit more frenetic, filling pages with splatters of ink to create pools of shadow (and lots of blood). Or maybe he was just amping up the grotesquerie to fit the ultra-noir trappings of his tale.

You see, this book is a tale of revenge, and not much else. The titular character used to be a heroic, virtuous, crime-busting cop named Bill Orlowski, but we only get to see those days in flashback. That era ended when he was framed for drug trafficking and sent to prison, where he transformed himself into a hugely-muscled animal of a man, renaming himself Rex and focusing only on murdering those who wronged him, preferably in the goriest fashion possible. Noir isn't really the right description here, since the morally-murky twists of the genre are pretty superfluous; the point of the story is bloody vengeance.

Maybe "grindhouse" or "exploitation" would be better terms, since it's a book aimed at satisfying the most bloodthirsty urges of its audience. And it certainly does that, with a series of gritty, nasty scenes of Rex being grievously injured in prison and waging his personal campaign of terror on his antagonists. This could be a pointless exercise in nihilism, but it becomes readable (depending on your aptitude for this sort of thing) simply due to Zezelj's style, which gets splattered all over the pages like it's flowing straight from his veins. He renders characters in a baroquely high-contrast style, showing every rippling muscle, wrinkle, wound, and scar in a criss-cross of black lines that cover their bodies and faces:

Action scenes are full of visceral intensity, with bodies crashing into each other violently in a jumble of brush strokes:

And there's plenty of other violence as well, with gunshots, car crashes, the works. It's all so over the top that you can't possibly take it seriously, but it definitely makes for an enjoyable, if somewhat stomach-churning read.

The translation isn't perfect, but it's serviceable, and its choppiness might even enhance the noir-ish nature of the story. I do like the sound effects, which remind me of those in Richard Corben's comics, and the occasional bits of mood-setting poetry that are delivered via caption are pretty amusing. Here's a sample:
I never learned chemistry
Elements went loose
I burned it all solid
With the poison of my curse
I chased my dreams like a dog
And they chased me back like cats
At the end we are all just passengers
On the ocean liner Rex
Overall, it's not an essential, unmissable read or anything, but it's a pretty interesting diversion, especially if you're interested in Zezelj's work. Optimum Wound has plans to publish more of his European comics, so it should be fascinating to see the further evolution of his style. And who knows, maybe he'll include a weightier story along with it.

If you're interested in reading the book, it can be purchased from Amazon, and it has also been serialized online, starting here.