SECRET INVASION #4
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Leinil Francis Yu (pencils), Mark Morales (inks)
ULTIMATE ORIGINS #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Butch Guice Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI have to say, I think I’m actually enjoying Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Universe-wide saga more than I am his 616 Universe saga. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying SECRET INVASION okay. But for me that’s almost too big and diffuse. You really need to read the tie-in books with Invasion to really make it work. I think if you JUST read the main Secret Invasion book it would feel less than satisfying. Last issue I felt like I got more out of recap information than from the actual story in the issue. Evil Queen Skrull goes on and on about what has led to this point in the story and I found myself thinking that I’d like to have actually seen more of what she was explaining. Sounded a bit more involved and intriguing than what was actually in the last few issues. Again, not that those issues were bad…
Cut to ULTIMATE ORIGINS, an Ultimate Universe book with a concept just as big if not bigger than SECRET INVASION: tell a current day story that ties back to the beginning of the Ultimate Universe, a point in time where the existence of all heroes can be tied together to a nearly singular origin point. That to me is actually a tougher, trickier and bigger story to tell than the Skrull Invasion. I mean, how hard is it to stage an alien takeover story? Not to say they aren’t working to make it a pisser of an invasion story. But at its base: take Earth, add heroes, sprinkle liberally with Skrulls and allow to marinate. But to say you are going to tell a story in which ALL of the super power silliness all ties back to a single origin event? You really have to do that right or it could end up feeling silly, contrived. And telling a story set in two different eras tying to every single hero…that’s a lot for one book to cover. But so far, with all those problems and pitfalls that need to be avoided, I think ULTMATE ORIGINS is doing a really great job. The way characters’ paths intertwine in the past and carry into the future all seem to track in a really cool way. The mysteries popping up actually intrigue me. What the hell IS that ancient eyeball/stoplight/totem poll thing? Can we get Ultimate Indiana Jones on that mother?
Bottom line, the story of ULTIMATE ORIGINS seems epically large but focused. Focused to the point where we are only getting the absolutely necessary details for understanding what is going on. Lean and mean, baby. Meanwhile SECRET INVASION just doesn’t seem nearly as focused. Both books are sort of giant puzzles. ORIGINS is a puzzle where you can just piece it together enough as you go to keep you intrigued and wanting to see what piece will fit into place next. SECRET INVASION, though, feels like one of those much bigger puzzles with a zillion pieces and large areas of the same color so that it’s hard to really even tell what piece goes where, where you start getting so caught up with the small pieces that it starts becoming hard to see the big picture they’re building. Again, for what it is I like SECRET INVASION. But where SECRET INVASION can be a bit baffling, ULTIMATE ORIGINS is for me Ultimately engaging and entertaining.
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
FINAL CRISIS: REQUIEM #1
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi Pencils: Doug Mahnke Inks: Christian Alamy w/Rodney Ramos Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpRemember when nobody ever died in the comics? Nobody important, I mean—there were always a few minor characters whose lives could serve as fodder to fuel the story. But the major characters, heroes and villains both…they always lived to fight another day. No matter how many times the Joker was caught in an explosion or buried in an avalanche, you just knew that he’d be popping up again at some point to screw with Batman. I remember reading once somewhere that writing comic books wasn’t about making changes; it was about making the readers THINK that something had changed when in fact everything was kept pretty much the same. I think the first time that guideline was broken (and correct me if I’m wrong) was when Barry Allen was killed off during CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Here was a character with a long history—the first Golden Age superhero to be revamped in the 1950s—and he died…and stayed dead. For a long, long time. Until a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact.
During the time that passed between the original CRISIS and now, the death of a major character became a publicity stunt to sell more comics—Superman and Jason Todd, the crippling of Batman (not death, but Batman’s condition was just as temporary as Superman’s)—when readers couldn’t be enticed by artwork or story alone, spilling some blood was sure to bring in the money (as well as the press). Now, it seems as if the death of a major character is supposed to send a message to the reader that: “THIS IS IMPORTANT!” Sue Dibny. Blue Beetle. Superboy. And now J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.
I always thought that the Martian Manhunter was a cool character (mostly from a visual standpoint—gotta love that gigantic green forehead) and I was most familiar with his incarnation during the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE, as the wise leader who held himself slightly aloof from the goofiness of the rest of the team. When I found out that Morrison was killing him off in FINAL CRISIS, I was a little disappointed that a character that has been around for more than fifty years was going to be sacrificed in the name of an “event” book. Then when I saw the deed committed on the final pages of FC#1, I was pissed. What a crappy, anticlimactic way for a major character to go.
Thankfully, FINAL CRISIS: REQUIEM makes up for that scene with a kick-ass first half. J’onn J’onzz did not simply roll over and die with a whimper, as we were led to believe—instead he rears a final defense that makes his death one of the most exciting action sequences that I’ve seen in a comic book in a long time. Mahnke’s artwork is incredible—the textural details, the depiction of light and shadow—hell, he even manages to make the revamped Martian Manhunter costume look pretty good. If for no other reason, that prolonged death scene makes picking up this comic worthwhile.
As for the rest of the issue, we’re given a cliff-notes version of the Martian Manhunter’s life, with the focus kept on events having to do with the history of Mars and J’onn’s conflicts with other members of his race; most of these stories are drawn from Morrison’s earlier JLA run and John Ostrander’s MARTIAN MANHUNTER series. Though it makes sense within this issue (J’onn’s memories of these events are sent telepathically to his closest friends so that they might set down the history of Mars after his death), I was disappointed that there was no mention of MM’s time with the Justice League from the 1970s through to the 1990s. I was glad, however, that Tomasi included the all-but-forgotten Gypsy as one of those whom J’onn entrusted with his memories.
There’s just one little detail that I can’t help but nit-pick: there’s a nice moment at the very end of the comic when Batman, the last one to leave J’onn’s tomb, leaves a sandwich-crème cookie on top of the casket. What’s the problem with that? The cookie is a “choco”—everyone who read JUSTICE LEAGUE in the ‘80s and ‘90s KNOWS that MM was addicted to oreos. It’s a raving fanboy detail, obviously, but aren’t we fanboys the ones for whom the comic is written? And is there really so much concern at the head offices of DC and Warner Bros. that Nabisco is going to bring out the big legal guns over mentioning their cookies in a non-negative way? Way to puss out, DC.
REQUIEM doesn’t really seem to add any development to the plot of FINAL CRISIS, so the $3.99 price tag is a little hefty for the casual comic book reader. If REQUIEM is meant to lead in to anything else, the dialogue between Green Arrow and Green Lantern seems to give us a little hint of the direction of James Robinson’s forthcoming Justice League comic. However, if you’re a Martian Manhunter fan and you want to see him go out in a blaze of glory rather than getting slapped around like a little bitch, then I highly recommend picking this issue up.
UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE VOL1 TPB
Writer: Gerard Way Artist: Gabriel Ba Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI don't know about you, but when I first heard about UMBRELLA ACADEMY, I scoffed a little. Written by the lead singer of that emo band MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE? Nah. I don't think so. But after seeing snippets of Gabriel Ba's artwork and hearing positive early buzz on the book, I decided to give the book a chance and I was so surprised that I became one of the loudest voices here at AICN Comics touting this miniseries as the next big thing. Throughout that time, fellow @$$Holes like Humphrey Lee and Sleazy G have sounded off agreeing that UA was in fact the shit. Now that this story has been collected in trade paperback form, I had a chance to reread the miniseries and reflect on it a bit.
On second reading, the quality of storytelling is still top notch. It's the type of story that oozes its inspirations such as ROYAL TENNENBAUMS, and films of David Lynch and Tim Burton. The Gorey-esque gothic designs of the characters and the world they inhabit set the tone. The unconventional powers and fractured personalities of all of the characters have a sweetness and heart to it that other authors fail to capture. Gerard Way seems to understand the X-Men-ish, outsider nature and conveys it well while setting it into a more familial CLAN DESTINE setting where we are working with fractured family dynamics more than the struggle to be accepted in a world that hates and fears them. In fact, the Umbrella Academy is lauded as heroes in this story: heroes who have disappeared and return to a world that is just as kooky as they left it despite the distance the family has put between one another.
APOCALYPSE SUITE starts out introducing the Umbrella Academy as children, brought together by the enigmatic and ingenious Reginald Hargreeves and treated as pawns more than kin. But instead of focusing on this fascinating story of how they came together, Way flashes forward to present day where the children are once again brought together as adults to grieve the loss of their fallen patriarch. Spaceboy, Seance, the Boy, Rumor, Kraken, Pogo the Chimp, and the powerless and therefore dismissed Vanya all meet after years of being apart. Each character reacts differently to the loss: some feel remorse, others indifference, others joy at Hargreeves’ passing. The fun comes when these differing emotions start bouncing off one another when a technological curse set against the UA when they disbanded comes alive once the team gathers together for the first time. Pretty soon, the team is reluctantly back together.
One of the coolest aspects of this book is its unpredictability. You never know what kind of insane menace is going to rear its head. Be it a battle against the Eiffel Tower or a demented orchestra playing a symphony that triggers the end of the world, the Umbrella Academy is fit to take on any task. Reminiscent of Morison's DOOM PATROL for its meta-storytelling, Wolfman and Perez' TEEN TITANS for the familial relations, and Claremont and Byrne's X-MEN for the damn cool powers, Way's UMBRELLA ACADEMY is a proper homage to those books, while avoiding redundancy and staying interesting and awe inspiring throughout the entire story.
After reading the story again, I did find the final issue to be somewhat rushed and surprisingly, emotionally distant compared to the more heartfelt issues that arise throughout the first five issues of the miniseries. Maybe it was my hesitance to put down the book and call it done, but the action moved extremely fast, wrapping up a lot of loose ends, yet still finding time to give up teasers about what will happen tomorrow. With the death of some major characters occurring in the fifth issue, I guess I was looking for more of a denouement than actually was given with the series’ end, but maybe those threads will be elaborated upon in future series.
I can't say enough about the quality of Gabriel Ba's artwork. I guess I have described it as a looser, more fluid looking Mignola style and after looking at the miniseries again, I think it still fits. Original character designs, dynamic panels, and spot on suggestion of movement and action from one panel to the next, this miniseries is a visual treat fit for a king.
Every now and then, a story, a set of characters and a special creative team comes along. When they come together the result is damn near comic book perfection. This is one of those instances. Extras in this book include the author's sketchbook (showing original designs of the UA), the Free Comic Book Day issue, and text from Grant Morrison and Dark Horse editor Scott Allie--all of which help add to the experience and never feel like filler or distraction. There are a whole lot of comics out there collected in trade. A lot of them don't really deserve to be. But this book certainly deserves it and is worthy of a place on any bookshelf to be read and reread over and over.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Look for his first published work in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW!) from Cream City Comics and Muscles & Fights.com. Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City about indie comics, his own artistic process, the comics industry, and other shades of bullsquat.
BOOSTER GOLD #1,000,000
Writers: Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz Artist: Dan Jurgens Publisher: DC Reviewer: Optimous DoucheWow, it seems like only 999,999 months ago I was reading issue one of this title and wondering if it would have the staying power to last just one year, much less several millennia. As a Morlock gets ready to eat my brain when the air raid siren goes off, I am truly glad I was able to stay around for the entire ride.
I figured a “tongue firmly implanted in cheek opening” would be fitting for a series that has been entrenched in deprecation, but never lowered it self to blatant mockery of Booster Gold and the past twenty years of DC comic history. Issue 1,000,000 not only thrusts Booster Gold into the far-flung future, but like issue 0 before it, delivers a witty kidney punch to the ghosts of DC marketing ventures past.
In the hands of lesser writers this series would have been a side-note in DC continuity. While wrought with witty quips, it would have lacked the substance to evolve Booster beyond his role of “sarcastic-man”, leaving the reader with the overarching question, “Why the fuck did we need a series about Booster Gold?”
However, the dynamic writing duo of GeoffJeff (say it like JibJab, it works) put a firm stake in the ground with the very first issue. While the echoes of Giffen’s JUSTICE LEAGUE Booster resonate throughout every panel, GeoffJeff successfully elevated the Golden One from a two-dimensional plot device into a real character with a specific mission.
While on the surface the book is about fixing the time-stream, I call bullshit and say this title is about a man’s quarter life crisis. He is questioning what his life has been and whether that life can be infused with purpose during his remaining days. While thirty doesn’t seem that old these days, when you are bombarded by the specter of mortality like Booster’s been, it’s hard not to believe you have fewer days ahead than behind (thank you Captain Picard for that pearl of wisdom). This is pretty heavy shit and a nice 180 for a guy who was donning himself up like Ricky Bobby’s NASCAR vehicle a year ago.
I generally don’t recommend jumping into a series half way through the run and certainly not at the end of a story-arc like issue 1,000,000, but GeoffJeff has consistently made this series accessible every issue. One reason for this lies in the fact that each story delivered its own enjoyable events apart from the greater whole. Even if you could care less about the emotional maturation of Booster or his man-love for Blue Beetle, the time travel theme of this series made each issue feel like a mini-Elseworlds and offered an alternate perception tour of historic DC moments. The other reason each issue has been so damn welcoming for new readers is the consistently great use of the first page to interweave the “story up until now.” Fun, lighthearted, never repetitive yet seemingly familiar, I much prefer this method of catch-up to the Marvel prose heavy paragraphs.
Issue 1,000,000 is truly a misnomer and solidifies my belief that GeoffJeff is in fact mocking some of DC’s worst crossover ideas. Perhaps three to four pages are spent in the year 1,000,000 and I’ll be frank, they deliver the lowest level of impact. This is not so much a criticism, but rather a compliment and testament to the strength of the rest of the issue. Epiphanies, resurrections, clandestine resurrections, humor, love, the reveal that Batman may not be a douche of epic proportions despite Frank Miller’s best efforts, and one hell of a surprise character reveal cap off this excellent first arc of BOOSTER GOLD.
Now, amidst all of my praise and adoration for this book, I will offer one word of caution. Do not think too hard about the “rules of time travel” because frankly, they don’t exist. Actually, I think Booster’s boss Rip Hunter, time traveler extraordinaire, just makes the rules to keep Booster in line. You can’t change the past and the future doesn’t exist. Well whose past and whose future are you talking about, Rip? If I read this right, Rip Hunter is the keystone of the time continuum. Like I said, don’t think about it.
Instead think about the future of BOOSTER GOLD with a new creative team taking the helm, think about all of the great past issues delivered by GeoffJeff and Jurgens, and revel in the fact that as the age of villains approaches, some stories still have happy endings.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
CAPTAIN BRITAIN & MI13 #3
Writer: Paul Cornell Penciller: Leonard Kirk Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoThis book is how you do things. The rest of the Skrull Invasion might be such a big picture you can’t take it in. This one? Focused, to the point and a pisser. Skrulls are after Britain’s magic. That is wacky crazy in a way that also feels…very British. With Skrulls flying all over the place, old friends and allies reuniting and fighting the good fight while going down in flames this could be an episode of Doctor Who. And it’s all just so much crazy fun. A Skrull that looks like John Lennon shouldn’t work. I should think that’s a crap idea. But somehow I love it. From the word go I loved it. And this issue’s big moment was an actual bona fide awesome big moment. And not spoiled on the cover in any way! Good cover but not a spoilery one. Nice.
And I have to say, Merlin and Excalibur are getting some serious face time in the Marvel Universe these last few months, both of them appearing in this book AND IRON MAN: LEGACY OF DOOM. Oddly enough, both magician and sword sport heavily different interpretations in both. Since Doom held that sword it has been given an extreme weapons makeover. And Merlin is so radically different in each that reading both comics back to back might give you whiplash. In LEGACY OF DOOM Merlin is a positively wacky old coot, using terms like, “Bucko,” and, “Gotta scoot,” referring to the giant eyeball-covered bad guy as, “Mr. Icky.” None of that silliness in MI13. The Merlin in that book is the serious, kickass no joke Merlin you want on your side when the chips are down. If I may, though, I will jockey for a Marvel No-Prize, that reward from of old for folks who could explain why a mistake was actually NOT a mistake. If I may…in LEGACY OF DOOM we actually see Merlin only as a mental projection since his physical body is actually still asleep and locked up far away, waiting to awaken in England’s hour of greatest need, which turns out to be SECRET INVASION, I guess. So in LEGACY OF DOOM we don’t see the real Merlin, we see a projection of part of his mind. So we’re probably getting some repressed unconscious silliness he would NEVER allow to show through while he was actually up and about for real as he is in MI13.
I do love this book. I hope this isn’t just a limited run title for SECRET INVASION. I would love to see this continue on as a regular series.
ACTION COMICS #867
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Gary Frank Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheWe’ve heard time again that 9/11 irrevocably changed our world. The reason we were so affected as a global community was for the first time in history we had a ground-level, crystal clear view of the horror unfolding before our eyes. Despite the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a far greater death toll, a grainy black and white shot of a mushroom cloud from 10 miles away just doesn’t deliver the same impact as viewing human suffering 10 inches in front of our faces.
Why the morose history lesson? Because I believe 9/11 has also irrevocably changed how we tell stories. Would the movie “Cloverfield” have been able to deliver the same impact without our gray matter making subconscious comparisons to the 9/11 footage from CNN? I think not. Nor do I think Johns would have had the fodder to take a similar ground-level approach of reintroducing the villain Brainiac into the Superman mythos.
Building off the momentum from the first part of this series, part two continues to humanize the tragedies left in Brainiac’s wake and interjects moments of heart warming brilliance amidst the well presented exposition.
Sure, Brainiac has always been evil, but few other writers have truly personalized the experience the way Johns has. Gone are the giant shrink rays emanating from a hovering mother ship. For the first time Kandor is no longer a tiny city in a bottle with its denizens content to live a miniaturized life within the Fortress of Solitude. No, Johns presents an assault on Kandor and other alien cities from the ground-level looking up. As each of Brainiac’s drones invasively penetrates the cerebellums’ of its victims, we get to see the sheer horror of an unexpected attack. When the final “shrink wall” drops we see families separated and wonder who to feel worse for, those beamed up to the mother ship or those left behind.
Well, issue 867 gives you the viewpoint of one of those left behind. This viewpoint is delivered by Superman’s jailbait cousin Kara-Zor-El. While not a citizen of Kandor, she terrifyingly recounts how the abduction of Kandor at the hands of Brainiac forever unsettled all Kryptonians and shattered the illusion that they could thwart or rise above any attack. Sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it? This was stroke one of this issue’s brilliance. Not only was Johns able to truly channel the voice of a scared girl, but he also reverently weaved past incarnations of Brainiac to form a new origin. Sometimes the simplest answers are the best. Even though Superman thinks he has fought Brainiac countless times, he has never fought the real Brainiac, merely his drones.
Stroke two of the book’s genius is found in the amazing sense of balance Johns strikes between the search for Brainiac and Superman tying up life’s loose ends as Clark Kent. It’s rare when an issue can drive three story threads and have each one be as riveting as the next. I’ve never had this much fun at the Daily Planet, nor been this choked up on Ma and Pa Kent’s farm.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the art work of Gary Frank, because it is outfuckingstanding. There were moments I thought I was actually looking at the first Superman movie and seeing the face of Christopher Reeve staring back at me. I’ll never begrudge a little T&A in a title, and Frank delicately renders the fairer sex in a demure, yet still tantalizing fashion. I also want to thank the New Gods, the Old Gods or Magog for the fact that Lois Lane looks more like Angelina Jolie than the coked out, mannish, Skeletor-faced Margot Kidder. After Mrs. Kent’s transformation to Asian lesbian earlier this year, it is refreshing to once again see her long black tresses.
For anyone that might be wondering when the aftermath of FINAL CRISIS is going to come to fruition, this issue is your answer. This is the true beginning of a new age for Superman. And let’s face facts, DC is Superman’s universe. This run is already on par with Johns’ now revered “Legion of Super Heroes” storyline, and I’m going to be so bold to say just after two issues, it has the potential to surpass that story in quality and sheer human emotion.
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Artist: Wellington Alves and Geraldo Burges Inker: Scott Hanna Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoBrilliant. Just brilliant.
The conclusion of this arc was as good as I hoped. Nova is continuing to exhibit all the signs of an A-Lister who has come into his own: grace under pressure, power with restraint, responsibility to a noble cause, and above all, an utter lack of whining. Gotta love it. With so many anti-heroes and unwilling heroes and unready heroes, I really dig the fact that this guy IS a hero. Not flawless, but still impressive in so many ways.
Regarding the story backdrop, I have to hand it to the creative team, regarding their re-elevation of Galactus to his former (and little seen) status as implacable and unstoppable. The conflict was never about getting Galactus to abandon his consumption of the planet. That story has been done to death. Instead, we get a new twist on a different story: Harrow, the mighty parasite whose existence Nova finds to be irredeemable, unacceptable and ultimately, correctable. (Whoa - I felt like I was channeling SuperTramp’s “The Logical Song” for just a moment.)
Also gotta give up the style points for NOVA taking the concept of WorldMind and splitting it open like a piñata. To think that he’s not the core operating system…imagine booting up your computer, and all you see is a black screen with a few white characters at the top that read “C:\ DOS 6.22>”…
The horror! And just so, so clever. As a computer geek, I could hardly stand how simple and devious that little twist was. As a reader, I really appreciate the way the creative team is not afraid to shake up the status quo, peeling back the layers of NOVA one at a time, in spectacular fashion.
Of course, a well written book could be weakened by art that wasn’t up to snuff (Morrison’s DOOM PATROL being one exception) but that’s not the case here. Hanna inks over Alves’ and Burges’ pencils so deftly, I almost didn’t notice the artist change, and each artist is strong that every character simply reeks of grandeur.
I’ll have to stop reviewing this book for a while, because I think I’ve run out of ways to say how good it is.
Dante “Rock-Me” Amodeo has been reading comics for thirty-five years. His first novel, “Saban and The Ancient” (an espionage/paranormal thriller) was published 2006. He began writing for AICN Comics in 2007 and his second novel (“Saban Betrayed”) is due 2008. He’s often told he has a great face for radio.
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #17
Writer: Geoff Jones Penciller: Fernando Pasarin Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: JinxoOh JUSTICE SOCIETY, how I want to like you. But you’re just making it so damn hard. So good with really establishing characters, making them feel real, so good at throwing in interesting premises. If only those characters and premises would, oh, I dunno… go some place? Seriously, this book slogs along so slowly in its plot it does start to feel like the granddad of hero groups. “You kids run ahead, I’ll just take my time getting where I’m going. All the yougens running around. Heheheh. Ooooh, I forgot my teeth.” This book really needs to find its teeth. It could use some bite. And, seriously, no more new characters. This issue even addresses that point by having a character say that the JSA is looking to create a huge roster of members. Admitting that is what the group is up to does not address the point that having 5 million active members to deal with can become a bit unwieldy for a single comic book.
I DO want to like it. Alternate Universe Superman comes to our world worried it is doomed. Ooh! Intriguing mystery. It doesn’t “pay off” fully but leads to the threat of Magog, a herald of doom causing violence and death. Cool! Does THAT pay off? No. Magog isn’t the finale. He leads to the scary god-being Gog. Okay. So Gog looks like evil incarnate only he’s a friendly jolly fellow. An angry/wrathful looking Tom Bombadill walking across Africa spreading good everywhere he goes despite looking so damn evil. Last issue, much walking and spreading of happiness while the heroes follow along warily awaiting his turning to evil badness. This issue…uh, more walking and bestowing of happiness, more heroes…walking after him. Then at the very end Gog starts to take actions that may be evil…or not. Sigh. Come on! Two images flashed into my mind with this issue. The first was the description in “Clerks 2” of the “Lord Of The Rings” movies. Walk, walk, walk, drop ring…the other was from “Monty Python’s Holy Grail”, where the narrator goes on and on and on explaining the story until every character in the movie shouts out, “Get on with it!!!” JSA really needs to get on with it. I think they have kept things very low key hoping to keep the readers wondering if Gog is good or bad. If we even see a half evil twinkle in his eye, let alone actual mischief, that mystery would be ruined. Only…come on! Look at him!!! He’s going to be evil so stop trying to tickle my ass with a feather over something that isn’t a mystery. We see it coming. Know we are smart enough to see it coming.
There would only be one way at this point I thnk they could impress me. Well, first off, this damn Gog thing needs to lead to a satisfying kick ass ending. No more almost climaxing and instead dovetailing into another story. No. I want a mother of a blow out ending. Beyond that they would have to go in a direction I don’t think they would have the balls to go. Speculative spoilers here. If you don’t like to even read guesses at what people think might happen (some people don’t) skip the end of this paragraph. You know what would be for me a flippy trippy ending? Have Gog actually turn out to be good and able to bring Eden to Earth with no strings attached, only because of how he looks our heroes prejudge. Their suspicions and paranoia get the best of them causing them to throw down, start a battle and kill Gog only to realize their mistake after the fact, to realize they blew it, they lost paradise for mankind and killed a truly beneficent and wholly good being based entirely on his appearance. Then they can be haunted and mind fucked by that for ever after.
Will that happen? I heavily doubt it. If it did I’d love it. I would be so happy to eat my words on that. But I think Gog will be another good god with bad strings attached. And it’s taking a long time to get to that reveal. Even if they end this thing in anyway that is satisfying it is JUST taking a long loooong slow walk to get to that ending.. Seriously. Grandpa JSA needs to get a bus pass at the very least so we can get to the action a LITTLE quicker.
What IS in the book is well written and well thought out. It is just sooooo damn sloooooow.
REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP V5 – 6
By Rei Mikamoto Released by Dark Horse Manga Reviewer: Scott GreenThere is a scene in VOL 5 of REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP in which a young woman boomerangs a coat hanger into a helicopter, causing an on-board gunman to kill the crew. The fact that she catches it on return should cement the manga as one of the medium's most brilliantly indefensible works not called GOLGO 13 or written by Kazuo Koike.
There is certainly a host of out of control, half clever trashy manga series being released in North America, but few of the older-audience variety have survived. Fewer still feature anything as sophomoric as a metal plated zombie quearadactylus (kindof like a pterodactyl) or a zombie serial killer reacting to the loss of her arms by carrying knifes between her toes. REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP produces instances of the tastelessly bizarre, of that caliber ever other page. It's hard to say that Rei Mikaoto means well, but this splatter horror/comedy is far too ludicrous to be cruel.
It's amazing, but you'll see reviews that suggest that new talk-to-the-dead TV dramas feature novel premises. Here's a related high concept that is legitimately novel. Reiko is a teenage girl who looks and dresses like Britney Spears back when she could pull off the virgin/whore dichotomy act. This teen's gift, which she uses to support herself, is the ability to call upon Satan to re-animate the dead. The deceased come back... they solve mysteries...extreme violence and unspeakable acts ensue.
The brutality is generally kinked out. At nearly every point, nearly every female character is in small, tight clothes. If you've been affronted by the women's wrestling video game “Rumble Roses,” this is like that, but less sensible. The action follows suit. A girl is running in something like a stripper's version of a school uniform as she's chased by what looks like a shock rock band. She trips over a root as a guy with a hand held pitch fork is almost on her. She catches herself in a hand-stand. There's a pro-wrestling move called a huracanrana described by Wikipedia as a "head-scissors takedown that is performed against a running opponent." In this case, it involves shooting herself, crotch first, into the would-be assailant’s face.
Yet, this is easier to take, and less misogynous than many sexual violence driven crime/horror manga. Essentially, it functions like Itchy and Scratchy with zombie people who look like Cabbage Patch Kids by way of Crumb's hyper sexualized caricatures.
Like many live action meat grinder horror movies, REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP tends to be raw. The clunky dialog rattles with exposition. "Midori Yurikawa has an evil soul, just like her sister Saki, who was a serial killer. I know this just by looking at the brutally murdered corpse of this young girl."
Storytelling alternates between episodic situations that arrange events for a sharp final climax, and longer shaggy dog tales. The case that falls into the former category from this set of volumes is a classic story of sibling rivalry and altruism, the likes of which have been used in works like Kazuo Umezu's SCARY BOOK. Yet, it's given the Reiko crack in the head, featuring situations like a bulling older sister pretending to be a magical girl anime character, then kicking her sister down a flight of stairs.
Most of VOLUMES 5, 6 and presumably into 7 are part of the latter case. The wild narrative starts by recounting the history of Shiro Amakusa, who lead a Christian revolt that was brutally put down by the shogunate; an event that has spawned numerous periodic anime, manga and live action. Then the story crosses between a pair of conservatively dressed sibling sociopaths who have been shooting people with bullets that will either cause the victim to evaporate (with their clothes Left Behind) or resurrected with a skull full of tentacles, and the intersecting adventures of a trio of childhood friends/classmates: the judo vigilante, the Visual Kei shock rocker and the spunky kendo girl. Then Reiko shows up. Then an old enemy of Reiko's joins in. Then a new threat injects himself into the middle of everything. Nor is he the last party crasher. Soon the crazy round robin, dog pile has foes literally dropping in. It's the kind of story where if a gun is fired in act IV, it probably was never seen before it fell out of the sky on the previous page. If nothing else, Reiko will keep you uncertain.
Much of the recommendation comes from the fact that REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP a rarity. If the world was full of works like this, the title’s brand of raw exploitation wouldn't be doing anyone any favors. But, it is certainly something uncommon. This is the manga version of Road House, with more throats being ripped out. You don't come for the presentation or the craft. It's compelling because it's so far afield from any notion of what's a good idea that that carefree disregard for taste becomes potent escapism.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.
MANGA SPOTLIGHT: THE GUIN SAGA; THE SEVEN MAGI: V1
Illustrated by Kazuaki Yanagisawa Story by Kaoru Kurimoto Released by Vertical, Inc. Reviewer: Scott GreenVertical has been releasing the opening books of Kaoru Kurimoto's 100+ fantasy epic, THE GUIN SAGA. The first novel was reviewed here, and what was most impressive about the work was the fluid rush of its narrative. Kurimoto sprinted between moments of crisis without dropping an edge of critical importance. This drive is bolstered by the gritty spirit of his fantasy world. The series is credited as an inspiration for Kentaro Miura's BERSERK, and Miura's specter of swords against an unforgiving, deadly world definitely finds an antecedent in THE GUIN SAGA.
The cycle starts with the uber-warrior Guin waking up with a panther mask affixed to his face and no memories other than the knowledge of living and fighting. THE SEVEN MAGI manga series is a gaiden/side story from some later, King of Aquilonia phase in the mythology of this accomplished warrior. Having read the novels that Vertical has released undoubtedly has some value, but it's not essential, and if you've read all of what has been translated, it still seems far up the road from where THE SEVEN MAGI starts.
In most respects, THE SEVEN MAGI is not going to compare favorably to BERSERK, but world and atmosphere aside, the intensions don't match. It's a short (three volume), punchy block in a larger framework that seems devoted to full-on action sequences. BERSERK has developed an expectation that its bloody drama will continue to carve into its hero, Guts. The hyper-competent Guin is more of a wandering figure like Kenshiro ( Hokuto no Ken/FIST OF THE NORTHSTAR). Which isn't to say that he's a GOLGO 13 cipher, just that King Guin of Seven Magi and the Guin who is desperately in need of food and water in novel 1 don't seem radically different. While the character will continue feeling the slings and arrows of his tribulations, his scars are in the past. The situation may continue to change around him, but, as a person he seems formed.
Artistically, Kazuaki Yanagisawa is no Miura. He's not really a known name in North America, but he's produced other manga of note. His Shin Megami Tensei (KAHN), PERSONA spin-off is due out from TOKYOPOP early in 2008. He also handled the art side of Kazuo Koike's PAPARAZZI. Here, he displays a very genre suited style. There tends to be something funky in his proportions, with characters that are either stubby or gangly, but his stacked women and super-hero proportioned Guin certainly set an agenda for the manga. That bawdy figure work is enhanced with a lunatic over-extension to the characters' expressions. While it is not quite serious, it is interesting to look at.
Yanagisawa is effective in his layout of buildings, especially when using them as a fighting arena. Like a kung fu movie, he'll set a fight in an alley, and let Guin and his monstrous adversary run up the walls, leap onto overhangs and the like.
While he might not be rewriting the book of monsters, and the novels have produced some far odder creations, there is an insanity to Seven Magi's monsters that is worth appreciating. We probably will never receive Go Nagai's GETTER ROBO manga in North America, so it's nice to have THE GUIN SAGA's giant, demonically horned t-rex dinos thundering around.
For fans of guy manga, THE SEVEN MAGI is a bit of a treat. Vertical applying their work to manga that is pulp, without the artistic gravity of a Tezuka or Takemiya title is certainly gratifying. It's even more worthy of a little thanks considering that manga for older male audiences have largely been nudged out of the market. Like the novel, THE GUIN SAGA manga is twitchy without being addled, which makes for a nice, caffeinated experience.