Thursday, May 28, 2009

Northlanders: Vikings were people too

To begin, I should let anyone know who hasn't heard that I'll be at the MoCCA festival next weekend, so let me know if you want to try to meet up.  I'm very excited about the whole thing, especially considering the programming and all the creators that will be there (here's Fantagraphics' signing schedule, for a sample).  If you're going to be there, hopefully I'll see you!

Speaking of Fanta, they've got news of a cool-sounding Dash Shaw animation project that's coming this fall on IFC.  Wow.

This has already been linked around a bit, but David Brothers talks about a Hulk manga that Kazuo Koike wrote back in the 70s, and it looks pretty awesome.

Also on the manga front, here's some discussion of Mickey Mouse imagery in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis.  Crazy.  I haven't read that manga (although I did see the anime adaptation), but I might need to check it out.

And in a completely different bit of depravity here's some nightmare fuel: images (don't worry, they're safe for work) from a live-action porn version of Sgt. Frog.  Yikes.

Okay, here's something that just came out today, I think:

Northlanders #17
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Vasilis Lolos

Brian Wood is calling this issue of his Viking comic one of the best things he's ever written, and even if it's not quite up there with my favorites of his work (Demo, DMZ, Local), it's still pretty damn good.  Instead of a multi-issue epic, this is a done-in-one story detailing the one-on-one battle between the champions of two warring tribes, with narration provided by an unnamed onlooker.  It's riveting stuff, full of fascinating, well-researched details and some excellent, visceral artwork by Vasilis Lolos.

And while that art is quite beautiful, the captions are the meat of the issue here, full of information about the Vikings' hardscrabble life in the harsh North, lending a real personality and humanity to the people of the series.  We learn about what it's like for a farmer to be pressed into service in a war, about weapons and battle tactics, and how the warriors tend to favor crafty Loki over pompous Thor when worshipping the gods.  But these aren't dry recitations of historical facts; Wood lends a real, lived-in feel to the voice, putting the reader right there among the people watching the fight.  And he gives plenty of information about the fight itself, from the circumstances leading up to it, to the backgrounds and styles of the fighters, to the emotions rushing through their heads as they battle to the death.  It's gripping stuff, making us realize that these characters weren't the cartoonish brutes we often see in entertainment, but real people struggling to survive like anyone else.

And yes, Lolos really drives home the fight itself, limiting character details almost exclusively to the two fighters and making sure we get in close to see their expressions and the effects of the attacks.  They're on a windswept beach, cutting background details to a minimum and making the confrontation all the more intimate, although the clouds that are defined by thick brushstrokes lend an ominous air of death to the scene, and Dave McCaig's pallette of light blues and greys seem to preemptively drain the blood from all concerned.  Those same brushstrokes also detail swooshing weapons and the clanging bursts that break panel borders; we definitely feel every blow.  It's wonderfully done, perfectly complementing the narration.

Yep, Wood is certainly right about this being a good one.  He took on a challenge to stretch himself and tell stories outside of his normal range with this series, and he's obviously giving it his all, doing the research to get the details right and still bring characters to life in a setting far removed from our present experience.  And he succeeds; this is a really good comic.

This review was based on a PDF provided by the author.  You can see some preview pages of the issue here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century: 1910: Opera is not my forte

Elsewhere: I reviewed Dark Reign: The Hood #1 at Comics Bulletin.  Enjoy?

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century: 1910
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

It's always difficult to fully understand any of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, since Alan Moore packs them so full of references and jokes that even the most well-read observers will still miss a few.  We've always got Jess Nevins' annotations to fill us in on what we missed, but being able to spot things without having to look them up always makes one feel especially smart.  Of course, the series wouldn't work as nothing more than one reference after another (and that's the criticism some leveled at the last book, The Black Dossier), so luckily Alan Moore is always reliable when it comes to good stories as well.  The unfortunate thing here is that this is only the first part of a sweeping, epic volume, and so it ends leaving the reader feeling unfulfilled, with the promise that further installments will eventually provide answers.

For this third volume of the series (Black Dossier apparently counts as a side story, rather than a proper volume), we start with the team in 1910, with the next two volumes spanning the rest of the twentieth century for some long-range plotting.  For now, the team consists of old stalwarts Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain (posing as his own son after having gained immortality), joined by supernatural detective Thomas Carnacki, master thief A.J. Raffles, and the ambiguously-gendered Orlando.  They spend the volume investigating mysterious portents and visions, but don't actually do much; the story seems to be unfolding around them, leaving them powerless to do anything about it.  

No, the real story here is a takeoff on Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, which involves a murderous madman with a possible connection to Jack the Ripper and a street singer, at least to the extent that we see here.  Most of the opera's story takes place off-panel, but those two characters both get to serenade readers with commentary on current goings-on, their speech balloons dancing with musical notes so we know they are singing.  We also see Captain Nemo's daughter Janni try to leave behind her oppressive home and strike out on her own, becoming a menial laborer in the slums of London and learning the real, nasty way of the world.  She ends up experiencing a rather brutal loss of innocence and embracing her origins, providing the big action for the book.

Whether it's due to unfamiliarity with the opera material or the ineffectiveness of the League, this book ends up being somewhat unsatisfying, although one can definitely see some pieces being set in place for the next issues.  Mina and company end up on a wild goose chase, trying to find some information about a secret society of occultists led by Oliver Haddo (a stand-in for Aleister Crowley), but coming up empty and only barely showing up for the big action scene.  They'll probably end up confronting the danger more directly in the future, but not so much here.  Things are still pretty interesting though, mostly because of all the crazy details and references, but also because of the nice characterization.  Allan and Mina have settled into a long-term relationship by this point, and their new colleagues are rather interesting additions, especially Orlando, who comes off as a flamboyant, snarky boaster, always talking about his exploits with people like Sinbad and Prospero and referring to people as "dear".

It makes for an interesting read, with standout bits being the appearance of Andrew Norton, the "Prisoner of London" who is moored in place but unstuck in time, and the lengthy text piece that makes such diverse references as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Fletcher Hanks' Stardust the Super Wizard. But it's not the satisfying bit of metafictional action that the previous books were, although that will probably be remedied by future installments.  

In the meantime, we can definitely examine the book just to try to absorb the intricacies of Kevin O'Neill's artwork, which is as gorgeous as ever (and looks pretty amazing under Ben Dimagmaliw's colors).  His talent is especially astonishing here, rendering hundreds of characters against detailed backgrounds, some of which, like Nemo's domain, are quite fanciful, yet still real-seeming:

And the character art is wonderful, with expressions revealing emotions clearly, in a way that doesn't seem like overacting (at least, not where it counts; the women are the people to watch in the panel below):

It's full of funny details too, like the crazy expressions on the carousers above.  And when it comes to action, O'Neill delivers, with explosions and fires lighting up the panels, and plenty of blood and gore resulting from the fighting.  It's the kind of thing that disturbs in the midst of providing entertainment; very striking stuff.

So overall, I think I was a bit disappointed with this issue, but found plenty to satisfy nonetheless.  Moore can always be counted on to deliver a comic packed with information and detail, and O'Neill really rises to the occasion.  Hopefully, future issues will deliver on the promise that is set up here; I have no reason to believe they won't.

Monday, May 25, 2009

This week, I'm ahead of schedule

On this post, at least, and that's only because of the holiday.  Anyway, links:

The big news lately is that, hot on the heels of Shojo Beat's cancellation, Viz is launching a new online manga anthology, IKKI, which is based on the Japanese magazine of the same name.  Right now, the only comic they've got running is Daisuke Igarashi's Children of the Sea, but they will add more when the site has its "official" launch later in the year.  Apparently, they're also using it as a measurement of what to realease, with the popular series getting a print version.  Sounds quite interesting, and I'm happy to see more seinen manga being made available in English.  I expect I'll be a regular visitor.

Other neat news includes the upcoming release of Act-I-Vate Primer, a print anthology from the talents who publish webcomics at the Act-I-Vate site.  It will feature exclusive content from artists like Dean Haspiel, Roger Langridge, Nick Bertozzi, Mike Cavallaro, Mike Dawson, Michel Fiffe, Joe Infurnari, Molly Crabapple, and others.  That's a great lineup; I'm all over this one.

Other stuff to see online: art from the Ghibli Museum's display on Hayao Miyazaki's upcoming Ponyo on the Cliff.

You can also read the entire first issue of the second volume of Mouse Guard here.  I do like that series.

And I haven't read it yet, but Kentaro Takekuma, who wrote that interesting article about Miyazaki's Nausicaa a few weeks back, has another piece up, this time about Katsuhiro Otomo.

Okay, let's go:

New comics this week (THURSDAY, 5/28/09):

Back To Brooklyn #5

Has anybody been reading this Garth Ennis/Jimmy Palmiotti gangster series?  I remember reading reviews of the first issue or two, but nothing since then.  So here's the last issue; should I try to read it?  Probably not, is my guess.

Cursed Pirate Girl #1

I've seen the artist of this series, Jeremy Bastian, the last two years at Wizard World Chicago, and it looks like the comic is finally coming out.  It's been one I've been looking forward to, because the art is gorgeous.  You can see some preview images here, along with an interview of Bastian.

Dark Reign The Hood #1

I shouldn't care about this, since it's one of those obnoxious miniseries that tie into Marvel's current big "event", but it's notable due to being written by Jeff Parker, with art by Kyle Hotz (who also drew the original Brian K. Vaughan-written miniseries that introduced the character).  So maybe it will be good, who knows?  I should have a review of this first issue up at Comics Bulletin tomorrow.

Garth Ennis Battlefields Tankies #2

It's a big Garth Ennis week this week, with the second issue of his current war-based miniseries coming out, along with other stuff.  I decided to just buy the issues of these series, since the trades are more expensive than the monthlies (I hate that).  Maybe I'll even write about them sometime.

Glamourpuss #7

Ah, it's more of our regular dose of Dave Sim strangeness.  This issue is apparently about superheroines for some reason, including a Steve Ditko tribute (or something) named Ms. A.  I guess readers will get to vote on which character gets a spinoff miniseries, because lord knows we need some Dave Sim superhero comics.  Also, more art discussion, which is probably as interesting to Sim and five other people as usual.

Godland #28

This series seems to be lurching toward its final issue (which I think is #36, or thereabouts).  I'm currently reading the fourth collection, and it's a blast.  Keep up the Kirby tributes, Joe Casey!

Hero Squared Love and Death #3

I've read some of this Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis series, and it's not bad.  This miniseries is finishing up the story (which, for those who don't know, concerns a regular schlub who gets involved in cosmic craziness when the version of him from another universe turns out to be a superhero), and it's been as funny and fairly enjoyable as ever.  It's another one that I should probably write about someday.

Ignition City #3

Warren Ellis' sci-fi series continues.  Like everything Ellis does, I'll probably get around to reading it at some point.

Immortal Iron Fist #26

It's the final issue of the current storyline, with our heroes escaping their otherdimensional prison and getting into a huge brawl, or something like that.  I've definitely been enjoying this series when I read it, so check it out if you gave up on it after Brubaker and Fraction left.

Last Days of Animal Man #1 (of 6)

I don't know if this will be worth reading (it's written by Gerry Conway, which isn't usually a sign of excellence), but here it is.  I think this is taking some cues from Grant Morrison's run on the character, but maybe it only seems that way because Brian Bolland is doing the covers.  Maybe worth a look?  Eh, probably not.

Literals #2 (of 3)

Part 6 of the Great Fables Crossover.  I don't know how that story will be collected, but I'm excited to read it.

Mouse Guard Winter 1152 #6

Hey, speaking of Mouse Guard (which I did up at the top of the post), here's the final issue of the second miniseries.  I've enjoyed it quite a bit, as always, and it's one that I've actually been readin in single issues, because it comes out so infrequently.  Good times; hopefully volume 3 won't take too long to get here.

Muppet Robin Hood #1

Everybody loves the Roger Langridge Muppet Show book, so here's another one, doing the thing that the Muppets still occasionally do, plugging the characters into a classic story.  No Langridge here though; this is written by Tim Beedle, with art by Armand Villavert, Jr.  Hey, it could still be good.

Northlanders #17

New story arc!  This one sees Vasilis Lolos on art, and it's apparently a detailed examination of a one-on-one Viking fight.  Cool.  I really need to catch up on this series.

Rapture #1 (of 6)

This is a new miniseries from Dark Horse, by Michael Avon Oeming and his wife Taki Soma.  It has something to do with a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated by super-powered beings, and there are two lovers who have to deal with one of them being turned into some kind of angelic warrior.  Interesting; I definitely wouldn't mind checking it out.

Runaways #10

This appears to be a transitional issue in the gap between creative teams.  Two stories here, one by Chris Yost and Sara Pichelli, and the other by James Asmus and Emma Rios.  Might be okay, but I'm still waiting for Kathryn Immonen to come on board.  This should at least be a good opportunity to see what Pichelli's art is going to be like on the series.  Don't let me down, ladies!

Spider-Man the Short Halloween

This is a one-shot comedy effort from writers Bill Hader and Seth Meyers (both of Saturday Night Live), with art by Kevin Maguire.  Probably enjoyable; I'll have to read it and see what I think.

The Stand American Nightmares #3

I know I've disparaged this book, but I did read the last issue or two, just for kicks, and they weren't bad.  Mike Perkins' art is pretty nice, and while it's pretty narration-heavy, it works well enough.  I guess that might be a sort of a recommendation?

Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk #6

And it finally ends, long after anybody stopped caring.  I did read this, and the rest of the series, and while it's not bad, there's really nothing much to it other than the title characters fighting a bunch.  I guess there's the creation of Ultimate She-Hulk, if you care about that, but overall, I give it a yawn.  If you dig this sort of thing, you'll probably disagree, but whatever.

Unknown Soldier #8

I finally read an issue of this series, when I picked up a reprint of the first issue on Free Comic Book Day, and I thought it was very good.  Now I just need to read the rest of the issues...

Bayou Vol 1 TP

DC's Zuda online site gets its first print collection, of Jeremy Love's supernatural swamp story.  It was one of the first comics on the site, and I remember reading the initial chapter and thinking it was pretty good, so it seems like something worth getting.  Of course, as with most webcomic collections, you can also read it for free online...

Billboards HC

IDW has this graphic novel by Clifford Meth and Dave Gutierrez, about a future when people get ads tattooed on their bodies, enabling corporations to track them and control what they do.  It's satire! Hey, it might be good, even if I haven't loved everything I've read by Meth.  CBR has a mostly-text preview, if you want to take a look.

Comic Books 101 History & Method & Madness SC

This appears to be a book version of Scott Tipton's columns about comics, with the help of Chris Ryall.  They both write at the Comics 101 site, so good for them, getting their writing in print.

DC Library Roots of the Swamp Thing HC

I expect this will be entry number forty-two in Mike Sterling's collection of these stories; I hope there's more of an audience for books like this than him alone.  It's a fancy, forty-dollar book collecting at least a good portion of that initial run, written by Len Wein with art by Berni Wrightson and Nestor Redondo.  I've read a good deal of these stories, and they're pretty good reading.  Check it out, if you can afford it.

Essential X-Men Vol 9 TP

You can buy this if you want to follow along with Jason Powell's reviews of Chris Claremont's X-Men stories.  I have no idea what was going on in the series at that point, but it might be interesting just to see.  Despite the title, it's probably not essential though.

Galveston TP

It's the collection of that pirate series from Boom! Studios, about Jean Lefitte teaming up with Jim Bowie.  I meant to read this, but never got around to it.  I should try sometime, since it sounds like fun.

Garth Ennis Battlefields TP vol 2 Dear Billy

More Garth Ennis war stories, this being an example of the collection of these miniseries that's more expensive than the monthly issues.  I ended up obtaining these issues, so I should get around to reading them soon.  Man, I love Ennis' war comics.  So good.

Incognegro SC

Here's the paperback version of the Vertigo graphic novel that came out a year or two ago.  I never read it, but I was interested, so maybe this will be my chance to get to it.  For those who don't know, it's about an early-20th-century African-American reporter pretending to be white in the racist South while investigating a murder case involving his brother.  Interesting stuff.  Mat Johnson wrote, Warren Pleece drew.

Jans Atomic Heart

I read Don MacPherson's review of this book a while back, and it sounded quite good.  I'll have to try to procure a copy.  The premise involves a future where people can get mechanical body parts (or replacement bodies), and a recipient of this technology fearing that he's being used as part of a terrorist plot.  Cool.  Here's an interview with creator Simon Roy that includes an extensive preview.

John Stanley Library Vol 1 Melvin Monster HC

Everybody seems excited about this release from Drawn and Quarterly, and I must say I did like the sample in their FCBD book (I didn't think the Nancy comic was as good).  For twenty bucks, you get a big chunk of funny old kids' comics.  Enjoy.

My Inner Bimbo TP

This miniseries took its sweet time coming out, but now it's all collected and ready to read in one shot.  Sam Keith and Joshua Hagler tell a bizarre story about a guy's feminine side comes to life and turns his life upside down.  Yeah, I wouldn't mind reading it.  Here's an interview with Keith that contains a big, long preview.

Neil Gaiman & Dave McKeans Crazy Hair HC

Is this only now coming out, or has it been out for a while?  It's a children's book that's sure to be goofy and enjoyable.  I was at a Neil Gaiman reading something like three years ago, and he read the text of this book, but apparently it's taken Dave McKean a while to finish it.  I expect Caleb Mozzocco will write about it at some point, since he likes to cover the kid books.

Power Up GN

New Doug TenNapel!  This one is about a guy who gets special powers from a video game.  Fun.  I do like TenNapel's cartooning, so I bet it will be a good read.

Special Forces TP Vol 1

And here's another collection of a series that I liked, by Kyle Baker.  I've been meaning to write something about the final issue, and I may still get around to it.  Great stuff, with some smart, angry satire about the war in Iraq, peppered with over-the-top action and sexiness.  Highly recommended.

This Is A Souvenir Songs Of Spearmint & Shirley Lee GN

I guess this is another entry in the "anthology comics about musicians" genre.  It features contributors like Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Jamie S. Rich, and Chynna Clugston, but I have never heard of the band, so I doubt I would get much out of it.  We'll see, I guess.  Here's another one of those interviews (with editor Eric Stephenson) that has a couple preview pages.

T-Minus Race To The Moon GN

From writer Jim Ottaviani (who happens to be the subject of this week's Comics Reporter interview), it's another science-y comic about, well, read the title.  Art is by Zander and Kevin Cannon.  Might be good.


I'm way behind on this series; who knows if or when I'll ever get caught up.  I do have volumes four and five, I think, but I still need to read them.  It's pretty good, if you don't mind lots of goriness and nastiness.  We'll see how it goes.

Mushishi Vol 7 GN

Another series I might try to read more of someday.  I wasn't all that into the first volume, but it's supposed to get better as it goes on, so I'm sure I'll try it again at some point.

Part-Time Pets GN

Finally, here's an odd-sounding title from Aurora, about people owning genetically-engineered human-animal hybrids.  I think it's yaoi, so it will probably eventually involve a dude sleeping with a guy with cat ears.  Weird.

Okay, I think that's enough.  More content soon, I hope.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Britten and Brulightly: I get it! "Brew lightly!"

So, the big news as of late appears to be that Shojo Beat is going to cease publication, which has me totally bummed out, man. As regular readers know, it's one of my guilty pleasures to dive right into its girliness each month, and I've had some really good reading from the magazine. Hell, I might not have ever started reading Nana if it weren't for SB. It's quite sad to see it go, and I'll really miss getting my monthly dose of Honey and Clover, Sand Chronicles, Crimson Hero, and yes, I'll admit it, Vampire Knight. I think there's at least one more episode left to go, so I can give it a proper send-off with my review of that month's installment. Until then, let's all pretend to hug each other and wipe up our mutual tears.

But hey, at least there's other good comics to read in the meantime:

Oh yes, and if you want to read other stuff I wrote, I reviewed Agents of Atlas #5 for Comics Bulletin and the season finale of Fringe for The Factual Opinion.

Britten and Brulightly
By Hannah Berry

It's always great to see a talented young creator explode onto the scene, and that's exactly what Hannah Berry does with this graphic novel, which tells a detective story featuring a quiet, reclusive character and his unconventional partner. It's a great bit of noir, set in an undefined era in the past in which men wore suits and hats, women wore floor-length dresses and berets, and everyone ate in low-lit diners and drove cool old cars. Our hero, Fernandez Britten, is a detective who must navigate this world of reticent informers and people hiding secrets to uncover the truth behind the death of a woman's fiancé, who apparently hung himself. As he delves into the matter, Britten finds a variety of involved suspects, a possible blackmailing, proof of underhanded activity, and at least one bump on his head from a figure in the shadows. While it's compelling stuff and an intricately twisty plot, it's a fairly standard bit of noir, which makes one wonder about the inevitable twist. And that's where things get interesting.

You see, Britten may seem like a normal, if quiet, fellow, but since we're privy to his internal monologue, we find out that he's actually pretty strange, with the most obvious oddity being his "partner" Brulightly, a teabag that he keeps in his pocket and consults regularly, arguing about details of the case. This seems to point to the fact that Britten isn't all there upstairs, and while he is a competent "researcher" (as he prefers to be called), something seems off about him throughout. He reveals early on that he has all but given up detecting after case after case involving errant husbands and wives garnered him the nickname of "The Heartbreaker". A murder is enough to get him back in the game, but it seems that he can't take any more of the heartbreak that cases involving spurned lovers consistently dredge up. But he obviously enjoys the pursuit of the truth, and watching him puzzle his way through the case's details is a fascinating exercise, especially as he comes closer and closer to an all-too-familiar conclusion.

The other thing that Berry does so well is mood; her atmosphere is so encompassing that you feel transported to the gloomy, rain-soaked setting from the very beginning, and the deep blues, greys, and purples keep that opressive feeling going until the very end. It's impressive stuff; the combination of watercolors and charcoal shading give the omnipresent shadows an oppressive, almost tactile feel:

Page layouts are another strength, with frequent scenes of conversation given life by interesting techniques like dividing a scene into several tiers, with small changes in each tier signifying lapsed time:

Or just coming up with interesting, virtuosic viewing angles:

It's beautiful and fascinating work, a pleasure to witness on each page, and some moments are pretty astonishing, like the expected moment in which Britten experiences a strange dream after being conked on the head; it's a unique depiction of the swirl of memories that flow through his head, and just one great page among many.

Berry is obviously quite a talent; the fact that this is her first book is nothing short of amazing. If this is any indication, she has a long career ahead of her; it should be a pleasure to see the work she continues to produce.

By the way, apologies to Sandy Bilius, who was the person who originally pointed out the page layout example. I hope I didn't just steal what he said about it outright.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This week, I'm still behind on the reading. Actually, that's true every week

One link, so far: the new "issue" of Myspace Dark Horse Presents has a really cool Marquis story by Guy Davis.  I especially like the colors by Dave Stewart.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 5/20/09):

Agents of Atlas #5

It's another issue (already?) of what is probably Marvel's best superhero book (hell, maybe it's the only good one they've got going, for that matter), with the team facing off against one of the many versions of the Avengers (the New ones, I think, as opposed to the Dark, Mighty, or Pet editions).  Should be good times, even if we get a full issue of Carlo Pagulayan's passable, over-colored art, with no backups by Gabriel Hardman.  I'll have a review up tomorrow at Comics Bulletin if all goes well.

Boys Herogasm #1

Garth Ennis!  Doing nasty stuff with superheroes!  And John McCrea draws it!  Should be fun.

Complete Dracula #1 (of 5)

Dynamite really likes public domain characters, don't they?  This purports to be an "unprecedented" adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, telling the tale as it was intended to be told, whatever that means.  I don't know enough about Dracula to know what has and hasn't been included in other adaptations, so who knows if that's a worthy task or not.  The comic is written by Leah Moore and John Reppion, with painted-style art by some guy named Colton Worley.  Sounds British.

Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #3

Jonathan Hickman continues his story of alternate Fantastic Fours (Fantastics Four?), and it'll probably continue to be halfway decent.  I might have a review of this one up at CB tomorrow, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Ex Machina #42

This continues to come out.  I would certainly like to read more about the superheroic mayor, so let's have a new collection sometime soon, mmkay?  Doesn't this arc guest-star Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris as the creators of a comic about Mayor Hundred?  I guess that's clever?

Fantastic Four #566

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch are trying to stay on schedule; this issue apparently kicks off the storyline about Dr. Doom's "masters", who taught him to be evil.  Sure, whatever.  Wake me when Stuart Immonen does his guest artist issue.

Final Crisis Aftermath Dance #1 (of 6)

I generally care not about all this DC event stuff, but this miniseries is notable for being written by Joe Casey (art is by ChrisCross).  It's about the Grant Morrison created Super Young Team of Japanese superheroes.  Could be fun; somebody let me know how it goes.

The Great Unknown #2

The first issue of this Duncan Rouleau series didn't seem to be all that well-received, but I'm still intrigued.  Maybe I'll get the collection.

Incredibles Family Matters #2

More of the Boom!/Disney/Pixar kids' comics; I bet this is fun.

Jack of Fables #34

Part five of the Great Fables Crossover.  I am fairly excited to read this.  Apparently Jack popped up in the main title last week (an issue that had a great cover, by the way), so who knows what he's getting into here.

Killapalooza #1 (of 6)

I like the title of this comic, if nothing else.  It's a creator-owned miniseries from Wildstorm, along the lines of Mysterius the Unfathomable, I suppose, with creators in question being Adam Beechen and Trevor Hairsine.  The comic? It's about a rock band that is also a team of superhuman assassins.  That sounds neat.  I bet it's worth a look, at the very least.

Marvel Mystery Comics #1 70th Anniversary Special

Another of those lots-of-years celebration issues, with a story by Tom DeFalco that sees the Human Torch and the Submariner team up with some other heroes to fight bad guys.  The good news is that the art is by Chris Burnham, who illustrated Nixon's Pals; he's pretty awesome.  Also, there's some reprint backups, including one starring a character called The Ferret.  That's something, right?

Mysterius: The Unfathomable #5

Hey, I just mentioned this comic!  Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler continue their magic thing, and I hope it finishes and gets collected soon, because I wanna read it!

Olympus #1

An Image miniseries about twin Rome-founders Castor and Pollux hunting rogue gods in modern times, I think.  It seems interesting; Sandy Bilius talks about it here and gives some art samples.

Wolverine Noir #2

I guess the first issue of this one was okay?  I'm mostly interesed in the C.P. Smith art; it looks weird.

World Of Cars The Rookie #2

More Pixar stuff from Boom! Studios.  I don't think the first issue was as well-received as The Incredibles, but it's probably enjoyable enough.  I should read these and form an actual opinion.

X-Men #510

Hey, Psylocke is back!  Wait, she was dead?  Should I care? (No)  Matt Fraction's run on this title has been sporadically interesting, but it's currently in a Greg Land-illustrated arc, so it's probably best to wait this story out.

X-Men Forever Alpha

Everything old is new again.  If you really wanted to know what Chris Claremont was going to do with the X-Men next back in 1991 (and even Jason Powell might have been getting tired of it at that point), you're going to get to find out with this X-Men Forever series.  And here's a preview, in the form of a reprint of Claremont's last story, before he got pissed at Jim Lee and walked away.  Now, if you somehow missed out on a story that only sold a few million copies or so, you can read this reprint, in all its overly-word-ballooned glory.  This is some pretty dire stuff, with lots of lines and grimaces, and page after page of Claremontian speechifying.  Needless to say, I loved it as a teenager (I was especially fascinated with scenes of Moira MacTaggart being coated in liquid metal that highlighted her womanly shapes; yes, the roundness of Jim Lee-penned breasts were quite enticing to me at the time).  Now? Not so much.

32 Stories The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics TP

This is a new collection of Adrian Tomine's minicomics that has a pretty cool format, with reproductions of the original seven issues in a box set.  I don't think I've read any of this material; I should give it a look if I get the chance.

Batman Mad Love and Other Stories HC

This is the well-regarded origin story of Harley Quinn, I believe, although it's the version that was in the animated series rather than the DC Universe proper, if that distinction means anything.  Paul Dini writes, Bruce Timm draws, other stories get included.  Decent Batman stories, right?  That's not a terrible thing to exist.

Ben Templesmith's Dracula GN

Looks like it's Dracula week.  This isn't a comic, but rather an illustrated version of the novel (shouldn't it be Ben Templesmith's Bram Stoker's Dracula?).  I bet the pictures look cool.

Big Book of Barry Ween Boy Genius TPB

Before Judd Winick was DC's most hated writer, he used to make funny comics that he even drew himself.  This is probably his best-regarded creation (take that, resurrected Jason Todd!), a foul-mouthed kid genius who gets up to various comedic shenanigans.  I read some issues a while back, and I remember them being pretty funny, but it's possible that the humor hasn't aged well.  Still, if you're a fan, this seems to be a nice package, collecting all twelve existing issues that came out between 1999 and 2002.  Fun?

Flinch Vol 1 GN

From a publisher I've never heard of called Gestalt, this anthology features a bunch of artists interpreting the titular word in some way or another.  Okay, sure.  The headliner here is Shaun Tan, but there are one or two other recognizable names among the contributors, including Colin Wilson and Ray Fawkes.  Could be interesting.  Here's the official site, which contains preview art and information and all that jazz.

G-Man TP Vol 1 Learning to Fly

Chris Giarrusso, the guy behind the Mini-Marvels stories, has this new digest-size collection of stories featuring his own superheroic creation, and it looks fun, in a kind of cute, kiddie way.  Maybe worth checking out.

The Goon Vol 7 Place Of Heartache & Grief TPB

This collection should bring the trades up to date, finishing the recent epic-length storyline that saw the Goon go up against a resurrected Labrazio and other nasty minions.  I do love this series, due to Eric Powell's great art and ridiculous sense of humor.  He's not bad with the drama either, and this story managed to walk a pretty good line between the two extremes.  By this point, you're probably either on board for The Goon or not, but if you haven't read it before, I suggest starting with one of the earlier volumes and plowing through it.  It's a great series.

Johnny Hiro Vol 1 TP

Fred Chao!  I've only read the first issue of this series, but it was super-fun, and from what I hear, it's only gotten better.  This was one of the casualties of Diamond's increased order minimums, so no longer being feasible in pamphlet format, the issues (including two which have not been released) have been collected into this nice volume.  I think it is one which I will have to procure.  You can download some preview pages at Adhouse's site, if you wish.

Milton Caniffs Steve Canyon 1955 TP

Milton Caniff was a hell of a cartoonist, and Steve Canyon is pretty awesome.  The strip was nine years old at this point, so Caniff definitely knew what he was doing.  Give it a try, I dare you.  Oh, and you can also read the strip online, if you like.

NYX No Way Home Prem HC

This probably isn't really worth reading, but it's notable for sporting the art of one Sarah Pichelli (although only on two or three of the six collected issues, it seems), who will soon be providing visuals for Runaways.  I probably shouldn't get too excited about that creative team (Kathryn Immonen!), but I can't help it.

Photographer Into War-Torn Afghanistan With Doctors Without Borders TP

The new Emmanuel Guibert-illustrated book, an autobiographical look at war written by Didier Lefevre.  It's supposed to be good.  Hell, I still need to read Alan's War; like that book, this is probably going to be on everyone's short list for best-of-2009 honors.

Transmetropolitan Vol 2 Lust for Life New Ed

The nice new versions of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's series continue to appear; this now collects issues 6-12 of the series.  Good times with the old bowel-disruptor gun.

Ultimate Galactus Trilogy TP

Speaking of Warren Ellis.  Has this not all been collected in softcover before?  It's a story that consists of three miniseries (Ultimate Nightmare, Ultimate Secret, and Ultimate Extinction) written by Ellis, in which various players in the Ultimate Marvel universe discover the approach of Galactus (or Gah-Lak-Tus, which pissed some people off) and try to work out a way to fend him/it/them off.  Pretty good stuff, in my opinion.

You'll Never Know Vol 1 A Good Decent Man HC

From Fantagraphics, this is the first full-length graphic novel from Carol Tyler, about her relationship with her father and his experiences in World War II.  I bet it's pretty good.  Here's Fanta's page for the book, with the usual excerpt and preview slideshow.

Afro Samurai Vol 2 GN

I was looking at this volume at the bookstore the other day, and it was tempting.  I do like scenes of graphic bloodletting in my manga, and this one has the distinction of coloring the blood red on top of the black and white artwork.  According to Jog, it's not the greatest manga, but it could be fun.  Maybe I'll read it someday; I did enjoy the anime series, for the most part...

Clover Omnibus Edition TP

Dark Horse collects all four volumes of this CLAMP series into one book for only 20 bucks; not a bad deal.  I haven't read enough (or any, really) CLAMP, and this probably isn't the place to start, but maybe I will anyway.  According to Wikipedia, it's about kids with special powers in a dystopian future.  Could be good.

Dragon Ball VIZBIG Edition Vol 4 TP

One day, I'll read this whole damn series.  I don't know if I need to own it, but if I do decide to acquire it, the VIZBIG edition is definitely the way to go.  Here's my review of the first volume; it's fun stuff.

Fairy Tail Vol 6 GN

This series is supposed to be pretty good. Maybe I'll read it someday.  Which is the volume where Jason Thompson shows up?

Flower Of Life Vol 4 GN

I haven't read any Fumi Yoshinaga, but she's supposed to be very good, even for those who (like me) aren't into yaoi.  I could definitely give this series a try, but I'm inclined to read Ooku, which is coming out later this year; that one looks good.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol 9 TP

Oh snap, I'm never going to catch up on this series, am I?

Lapis Lazuli Crown Vol 1 TP

Judging by David Welsh's review, this series looks to be a decent bit of shojo drama.  Maybe worth a try?

Mijeong TP

NBM has this manhwa book by Byun Byung-Jun, author of the well-regarded (I keep using that term...) Run, Bong-Gu, Run!, about various city folk crossing paths.  Looks quite good; NBM has a preview up at their site.

Oishinbo A La Carte Vol 3 Ramen And Gyoza TP

More foodie manga, hoping to hook us Westerners and demonstrate Japan's superiority.  I quite liked the second volume, so hopefully this one will also be good.

Pluto Urasawa x Tezuka Vol 3 TP

Apparently, I can never stay caught up on Naoki Urasawa manga; I still haven't read volume 2.  Get ready for a cascade of Pluto and 20th Century Boys posts sometime in 2009 or later.

Shojo Beat Vol 5 #6 June 2009

Ah, my monthly teenybopper manga.  If all goes well, I should have a review of this issue right below this post.  I do hope all goes well...

Vagabond Vol 29 TP

And finally, it's another series on which I am very far behind.  Hell, I'm getting behind on Takehiko Inoue's other series, so it will likely be years and years before I get around to this volume.  Someday though.  Someday.

And that appears to be the entirety of notability this week, from where I'm standing.  Keep your needle pointed at this site though, because I've got more content planned.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shojo Beat: Again with the raping?

No links? That probably makes for better reading.

Shojo Beat
June 2009

In non-comics content, this issue has some interesting articles about DIY and crafting and that sort of thing, which is nice if you can do any of that.  Oh, to be a teenage girl with lots of free time.  I liked the bit about papercraft; that's fun.  There's also an interview with Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier about their manga-style X-Men: Misfits comic.  The video game page is also neat, alerting me to goofy titles like Noby Noby Boy (from the creator of Katamari Damacy) and Hammerin' Hero.  

But enough of that; on to the manga:

Kimi Ni Todoke
By Karuho Shiina

This preview chapter gets the cover this month, but that image is an odd one, since it implies that all three characters will play a role in the series, but the two flanking characters only get bit parts, at least in this first installment.  No, the focus is on Sawako, a girl who is struggling with her image, since she looks like a character from a J-horror movie.  In fact, her classmates have given her the nickname "Sadako", after the character from The Ring (or Ringu, if you want to specify the Japanese original from the American remake).  Being the shy sort (manga stereotype #something or other), she doesn't speak up, trying to get on their good side and be included whenever she can.  It seems like a tiresome conflict, until you remember that for teenagers, the image you're stuck with can be inescapable, and the desire to fit in can be overwhelming.

Anyway, the real central relationship of the series appears to be between Sawako and Shota, a nice boy that seeks to include everyone and is super-sweet.  He talks to Sawako even though everyone spreads the rumor that she can curse you if you make eye contact with her!  He remembers her actual name, rather than her nickname!  She might melt with happiness!  It's all rather cute, although Shota does seem a bit over the top in his perfection.  Further chapters will probably introduce more in the way of conflict (and angst.  You can't have a high school shojo series without angst).  But judging by this sample, it'll probably be a decent good time.  Check it out, if it sounds to your liking.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Man, if last month's rape imagery wasn't enough, now we've got more in the way of sexual aggression, with extra creepiness in the way of teenage sexuality.  Last month, Nobara got locked in a closet by Kaz, the obnoxious guy who has been pursuing her.  Now, he threatens her and Yushin, saying he's "dying to corrupt [her]", and sort of forcing himself on her.  Who knows what he actually intends to do, since Yushin ends up rescuing her before anything happens, but it's still a disturbing scene:

This is serious stuff for a younger-readers series, but I suppose it's somewhat realistic, right down to Nobara's reluctance to report Kaz for fear of getting herself or Yushin in trouble.  At least we get some decent character moments out of the conflict, with the young couple and their friends commiserating over their troubles and being cute.  The conflict with Kaz might not be over, so we'll see what happens next month.  I hope it doesn't get even uglier.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Ai yi yi, Miki Aihara really amps up the awkwardness for her characters, doesn't she?  It can get tiresome; hopefully she'll eventually develop Yura beyond the simpering introvert she appears to be in most chapters of this series.  This chapter sees Yura return to the show/commercial she tried to quit, only to be belittled and humiliated by a surprise guest star, an actress who is an old rival of her mother's.  The woman might be modeled on a Japanese celebrity, since her appearance seems oddly specific:

Or maybe it's a cultural reference of some sort that doesn't really translate.  Whatever the case, she's a mean lady, referring to Yura, the child of famous parents, as a "thoroughbred" and saying things like "she must be a terrific actress.  After all, she comes from such stellar genes."  And Yura, of course, freezes up, acting all stiff and wooden and unable to get into character, making for some incredibly cringe-worthy scenes.  Aihara seems to delight in tormenting both her characters and her readers; who wants to see the main character fail?  The chapter ends with the promise that she's going to turn things around, so next month should be a relief.  I just hate to have to wait that long to see some redemption.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Oh boy, it's more in the way of creepy complications in every teeage girl's favorite vampire series.  I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum last month, but this month's cover blares the fact that Yuki is now a vampire, so I guess the cat is out of the bag.  And so is the ickiness; with the revelation that Yuki is Kaname's sister, their relationship is now especially gross, even with the assertion that "it is not uncommon in a pureblood lineage for siblings to marry".  Yuck.  But if you can get past that, or if you want to just glory in the wrongness, scenes like this one will certainly float your boat:

The sexual undertones of this series have rarely been more blatant; just look at the toes pushing into the bedsheets.  Hawt?

The series has certainly taken a dramatic turn, and Hino seems to be ramping up for a big confrontation, with an evil vampire planning to kill Kaname and/or Yuki and steal their powers, and Zero getting caught up in the middle of it, along with many of the other Night Class students.  Exciting stuff; I'm anticipating the next chapter in spite of myself.  Looks like I'm on board this weird-ass series, at least for now.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

There appears to be some actual character development this month, as Takemoto continues on his journey of self-discovery.  He gets a nice scene in which a loudmouth kid at the construction site confronts him, saying that his wandering around trying to find himself is selfish, since not everyone has that kind of luxury.  He can't stop and do the easy thing, he has to face his fear of the future and keep moving on.  The old boss has some nice words of wisdom about that:

Meanwhile, Mayama, Morita, and Professor Hanamoto are worrying about Yamada, trying to figure out how to encourage her to move on and get over Mayama.  It's the usual emotional angsting, but a bit in which Morita becomes convinced that he has to throw Yamada off a roof (don't ask) leads to this nice bit of slapstick comedy:

I like Chica Umino's comedy style on the series, with characters often lapsing into sort of rough, cartoony versions of themselves, and she uses that wonderfully in the physical tussling of the first few panels there, but then opens it up in the final panel, placing a small image of Morita against a straight-lined background and an expansive sky for maximum effect.  It's a great bit of composition.

The second chapter in this issue is another good one, focusing on Hagu as she connects to one of her art students.  He's a go-getter, trying to live up to his family's expectations by getting perfect grades and getting into a prestigious school, and he hopes that he can win an art prize to better his chances.  His rants about expectations and goals strike deep, making her realize exactly what is wrong with her life, since she isn't painting for the joy of it anymore, but just for recognition and to further her career.  It's a profound, moving moment, the kind that Umino does so well, and the chapter builds to an emotional crescendo and ends on a perfect, moving image that sums everything up wonderfully.  Stuff like this is why I love this series so much; Umino can wrangle a large cast as they move through some fascinating emotional turmoil, and she mixes comedy and emotional drama in the perfect amounts.  It's a pleasure to read, month after month.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Oh, the emotional turmoil is so hard-hitting!  This series has gone from a wonderful bit of recognition at the complexities of relationships to a painful observation of the things people do that can hurt themselves and others when they aren't willing to move on from traumatic moments.  Ann can't get over Daigo, even though she has now slept with Fuji, and he knows it.  He tells her that he's okay with it, but this is obviously unhealthy for both of them.  Hinako Ashihara depicts the emotional tangles so well, and so painfully that the reader shares in the characters' discomfort:

The bottom-right panel there is great, isn't it?  We see Fuji from Ann's point of view, and the way his image fades into darkness is so sad, showing the increasing distance between them, and the blackness of their moods.  This is tough stuff.

The rest of the chapter separates Ann and Fuji, with Fuji traveling back to Shimane to visit his family, where he ends up running into Daigo and sort of bonding over their mutual emotional turmoil with Ann.  When they realize that neither of them will ever be as important to Ann as her mother, it's a tough, but true moment.

And in Ann's half of the story, she ends up stumbling into some shocking information when she accidentally overhears a conversation between her dad and his friend Kaede.  Surprising few, it turns out that they were a couple, and now she is pregnant, but she wants to break up and raise the baby herself, since she doesn't think he wants to be with her.  It's a revelatory moment for Ann, as she realizes that some things are bigger than her adolescent issues.  As ever, it's some great storytelling from Ashihara; she really has a handle on the emotional landscapes of her characters, and the way she bounces them off each other is exquisite.  Maybe all this will help Ann realize the position her mother holds, and enable her to scale her emotions to relate to those who are still around to receive her love.  The fact that I'm this involved in the outcome speaks volumes about Ashihara's skill.  I'm excited to see what she does next.

Wow, this was a good issue!  Next month can't get here fast enough.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mini manga musings

Before the real stuff, some links:

This interview with Felipe Smith is pretty interesting; for those who don't know, he's a Western cartoonist who is working on a manga in Japan called Peepo Choo.  I kind of liked the volume that I read of his series MBQ (which you can read about here), and he's got a crazy, frenetic, interesting style that I would like to see more of.  Hopefully Peepo Choo will get imported.

This overview of David Mazzuchelli's career is very interesting.

I always like seeing original art and/or sketches.  Here's the title page of a Gilbert Hernandez story in the upcoming Love and Rockets volume.

Joe Infurnari has an annotated version of his Eisner-nominated webcomic Vs. up at Act-I-Vate.

Hey, I'm disappointed that Joseph Larkin didn't respond angrily to my review of The Arcade of Cruelty like he did to Kevin Church.  That would have been amusing.  I guess I'll have to settle for secondhand obnoxiousness.

Here's an interesting look at Osamu Tezuka's adaptation of Crime and Punishment.  Looks like one to look for the next time I'm in a used bookstore in Japan.

Have I mentioned that I'm up on Twitter now?  I've had an account for a while, but I've actually been using it recently, so there's another way to receive my questionable wisdom, even more scattershot than usual.

Oh yeah, I also reviewed Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1 over at Comics Bulletin, and I talked about the most recent episodes of Dollhouse and Fringe at The Factual Opinion.

Finally, the real post.  I've gotten behind on a few books, and the longer I wait, the less I seem to be able to come up with a lot to say about them, so I'm going to throw a few of them together into a post of short reviews.  I hope it's readable.

20th Century Boys, volume 1
By Naoki Urasawa

It's hard not to automatically compare this series to Monster, since that's the most-recently-completed of Naoki Urasawa's translated works.  And it's not completely inapt, since Urasawa has some of the same themes going on here, like conspiracy and paranoia.  But he seems to be going for more of a look at memory, as well as a contrast between youthful idealism and adult complacency.  Plus, he's being especially ambitious, setting up a world-spanning conflict and telling stories with a multitude of characters in different time periods; he's as great a storyteller as ever, and while much of this first volume seems to be setting things up, it's a blast to watch him work.

The plot here involves a group of guys who grew up together in late-60s Japan, forming a club and getting up to the usual youthful shenanigans like swiping porn magazines and coming up with grandiose plans involving heroism and secrets.  Thirty years later, Kenji is a regular guy working at his family's convenience store and looking after his sister's baby.  But when strange things start happening that somehow seem related to his experiences as a kid, he begins to investigate, and may soon end up caught up in something much bigger than he ever expected.  For one thing, there's a sort of cult forming, and it seems to be based around his and his friends' club.  The symbol that one of them designed, which looks like an eye set inside of a hand which is set inside another eye, is popping up in places connected with murders and disappearances related to the cult, and the cult's enigmatic leader, who is only known as "my friend", seems to be taking his teachings straight from the experiences we see in flashbacks to Kenji's childhood.  It's freaky and chilling, and who knows where it's going to lead.

It's compelling stuff, and Urasawa really builds to a sense of something creepy going on that's beyond the grasp of the characters, giving the readers just enough of a sense of what's going on to make us feel like we know what the characters should do, but not enough to actually understand what is going on.  It's very effective and exciting, and it really keeps you guessing and wanting to find out what is going to happen next.  But beyond the larger plot, the small incidents work really well too, whether we're watching Kenji and pals be rescued by the outcast Donkey and his running skills in the past, or seeing the adult Kenji try to convince his friends that there's something weird going on while at at wedding before giving up, getting drunk, and singing karaoke.

It's great stuff, full of well-realized characters and memorable incidents (the boys getting excited about the 1969 moon landing is another highlight); I'm really excited to read future volumes (all 21 of them, I think).

One-Pound Gospel, volume 2
By Rumiko Takahashi

This second volume of Rumiko Takahashi's boxing manga (read my take on the first volume here) indicates why it only lasted four volumes (as opposed to the dozens of installments of her more popular series, like Ranma 1/2 or Inuyasha), as it already seems to get a bit tired here.  Not that it's not entertaining, but for the two multi-chapter stories in this volume, Takahashi seems to have settled into a formula, with boxer Kosaku Hatanaka struggling to meet his weight limits, sneaking food, barely qualifying, crushing on his nun confidant Sister Angela, and winning through a combination of luck and determination, with plenty of goofy slapstick along the way.  It's entertaining, but diminishing returns seem to have set in already; hopefully Takahashi spun some interesting changes into the final two volumes of the series.

Of the two stories here, the first is the more enjoyable one, with Kosaku going up against an old rival named Taro Matsuzuka, who was humiliated by having all his teeth knocked out when he decided not to wear headgear.  There are some pretty funny wrinkles, with Kosaku having to drop a weight class to match Taro, who has do do the opposite and bulk up in order to get to Kosaku's level.  Their eventual match is a highly enjoyable bout, with both fighters struggling to prevail and uttering oaths about honor and dedication.  It's fun stuff, especially when Kosaku reveals his true motivation:

The second story isn't as good, possibly because it gets a bit silly.  Kosaku is still obsessed with Sister Angela, and he's pressuring her to become his girlfriend, which is of course impossible, since she's a nun.  Is this supposed to be plausible because knowledge of Catholicism is limited in Japan?  That seems doubtful; if Kosaku regularly goes to confession, he must know about vows of celibacy, right?  Yet the pressure continues, to ridiculous extents.  And I'm sure that she will eventually relent, with the two ending up as a couple.  We even get some nice hints that she is starting to fall for him; a more mild, believable romance would be preferable, but Takahashi seems to prefer to go over the top.

Maybe I'm just too used to cute shojo romances; or, I might be bitter at the outcome of the match in this chapter, since it is kind of silly, with all parties being happy and content.  It's not perfect, but there are still some enjoyable moments, especially Kosaku butting heads with Angela's Abbess.  Overall, it's still a pretty good volume of a fun series.  If all goes well, Takahashi will turn things around in the second half of the series and deliver some exciting, funny boxing action along with cute romance.  Here's hoping.

Dogs, volume 0: Prelude
By Shirow Miwa

It's always nice to see seinen manga get translated into English, since so much of the market focuses on shonen and shojo books; material aimed at adults is something we need more of.  Series like this aren't great art or anything, but can be the equivalent of fun action movies that are filled with stylish violence.  This particular series is an interesting case, if only for the volume number; it's like something taken from American superhero comics, which often have a "number 0" issue published as a sort of origin story, often coming out after other issues in the series.  I thought that might be the case here, with mangaka Shirow Miwa putting out a series of origin stories for his characters (who seem to be a team of assassins or something, although they don't actually come together in this volume).  But it turns out this was sort of an introductory volume of the series, published in 2000 and 2001, with a second volume following in 2005.  It's similar to the model of Love and Rockets or The Invisibles, with a series being relaunched, but continuing from where it had previously left off.

Anyway, this volume isn't necessarily all origins, but more of a series of introductory stories for its characters, with each of them getting their own one- or two-chapter bit in which we can get to know them.  First, there's Mihai, a hitman who was tasked with raising the illegitimate son of his gangster boss.  When the son grew up, he turned on both his surrogate father and his real one, murdering Mihai's girlfriend and killing his father to take over the criminal empire.  Now Mihai returns and ends up facing off with his protege and learning what caused him to turn on his loved (and unloved) ones.  

Next, we meet Badou, who seems to be the comic relief of the team.  He's a goofball P.I., although he refers to himself as an "information broker", snapping pictures and "gathering sensitive data" to sell to the highest bidder.  When he ends up stumbling on a local mob boss in the midst of kinky sexual escapades, he becomes a marked man, going on the run through the city and trying to survive the waves of mobsters that are out to kill him.  Just when we think he's in an impossible spot and is going to die, it turns out that he gains impressive gun skills when deprived of nicotine, so (since he had been unsuccessfully searching for a cigarette all chapter) he is able to shoot his way out of trouble.  Amusing?  Yeah, pretty much.

Things get more serious with Naoto, the sole girl of the group.  She fits into the "silent but deadly" action girl trope, the kind of character that Garth Ennis mocks in The Boys.  We see that her parents were murdered when she was a child, the killer leaving her with an X-shaped scar on her chest, perfectly centered for aesthetic notability when she ends up topless (which happens in-story, but we also get to see her naked image, along with the other three male characters, on a fold-out poster in the inside front cover of the book).  After the murder, she was taken in by the killer and raised to be a killer herself, constantly trying to better herself so she can kill him and take revenge.  Except...maybe she was mistaken, and everything she has always believed is wrong.  The truth comes out in a dynamic knife fight, making for some nice action:

And finally, things take a strange turn with the story of Heine, who lives in a sort of underground city of criminals.  The book, which had seemed to take place in a modern city, takes a sci-fi turn here, when Heine discovers a prostitute girl who has small, angelic wings growing from her shoulders.  It turns out that she's the subject of genetic experiments, and thus highly valuable to certain people (i.e. pimps).  Heine ends up rescuing her, with the help of Badou, and we learn that he is also an experimental product, having a Wolverine-style healing factor that allows him to take plenty of bullets without falling.  That's an odd addition to the mix, but it also makes for some pretty stylish, dynamic action.

Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable book, if not a very deep one.  I'm not sure what the eventual status quo will be, since the team (if that's what they are) doesn't even get together here, so who knows what sort of business they will get up to in volume 1 and beyond.  But judging by Miwa's skill at exciting action here, it should make for some crazy action, and hopefully some good reading.  I can't say this is anything world-changing, but I can dig some violent gun- and sword-play that doesn't spare the blood and sex.  I imagine it won't be anything less than satisfying.

Hmmm, those musings weren't all that mini.  Hey, it's good to get caught up.  Stay tuned for more writin'!