Hey folks, Ambush Bug here reminding you that we have a contest going on that we introduced in this week’s Monday AICN COMICS SHOOT THE MESSENGER column. John Howe was one of the creative minds behind the concept design for the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. He’s written a book for Impact called JOHN HOWE: FORGING DRAGONS where he goes into the mythology of dragons, the actual history of the big beasties, and how it all relates to his art. A trailer for the book can be found here.
The good folks at Impact have given us 10 copies of John’s book along with 10 posters (36x24) entitled WANDERING FIRE signed and numbered by Mr. Howe himself (previously only available at the San Diego Comic Con). Since Guillermo Del Toro (the director attached to THE HOBBIT) himself is known to peruse this site from time to time, let’s help him out with some dream casting of THE HOBBIT. 10 lucky amateur casting directors will receive a copy of JOHN HOWE: FORGING DRAGONS along with a signed and numbered poster. Send your HOBBIT casting picks here along with a full mailing address. Those not sending a full address will be disqualified. The most creative picks will win the poster and book. Good luck! Have fun! Cast away!
And now, on with the reviews!
An @$$HOLE 2 in 1 Review of BATMAN: CACAPHONY #1
Writer: Kevin Smith Artist: Walt Flanegan Publisher: DC Comics Reviewers: Ryan McLelland & Optimous DoucheOptimous Douche (OD): Seeing as I’m a Jersey native and a card carrying member of the “oh so cynical Gen X,” I’ll admit that my unrequited bromance for Kevin Smith’s movies, comics and other musings will be much steeper than, say, a teenager from Arkansas. However, I will do my best to inject a level of objectivity into the following brain hemorrhage.
This book worked on two levels. There were many elements of BATMAN: CACOPHONY that were simply very cool “comic” moments, like the current events opening break-in and the logistics behind Deadshot playing possum. Then there were the elements that can only be truly appreciated by those that love Smith. Yes, this title has big fucking word balloons, a cast of characters whose tongues are bathed in irony and sarcasm, and some surprising ass-play. Ahhh,, welcome back, Kevin--you have been gone far too long.
Ryan McLelland (RM): I love Kevin's work having been turned onto him with “Clerks” while working in a New Jersey video store. I can thank the man for actually making me want to be a writer, and further for him being the first director I'd meet time and time again. I'd collect the comics he scribed but usually lost patience and dropped them when they become insanely late. His best work, in my truly humble opinion, was the stuff he did on GREEN ARROW, so I started looking forward to this book. Then ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO came out and while it was funny as balls, it lacked much in the story department. Could BATMAN: CACOPHONY suffer in the same way?
Luckily Kevin brings his trademark humor to a story of murder, drugs, and intrigue. The best part of this book hands-down is Onomatopoeia, a superb villain who first debuted during Kevin's GREEN ARROW run. It's perfect that he brings him back for this story, but it also brings up a gripe I have with DC. This guy is phenomenal - why do you not put him in more books!?!? Out of the four baddies who appear in the first issue, the others being Joker, Zsasz, and Deadshot, Onomatopoeia steals the show once again.
OD: Onomatopoeia is just another example of Smith’s curse with the mainstream. I seriously don’t believe DC shelved this character due to lack of originality, they shelved him because people on average are stupid. There’s a reason that marketers and advertisers are told to write on a fourth or fifth grade level (I swear, I’m not making that up--that’s insider knowledge, kiddies: you are being pandered to). I guarantee that if Smith named him “Talker” or “The Announcer”, Onomatopoeia would be polishing Darkseid’s pimp stick over in FINAL CRISIS as we speak. If one were to call Johns and Brubaker golden children of comics, Smith would be dubbed the golden shower child. And I’ll tell you, it pisses me off to no end.
While it was nice to see Smith’s action-announcing villain back in action again, I was most intrigued by the choices Smith made for the Joker. We had not one, but two scenes that alluded to the Joker fancying man-meat over lady-loving. Too much time in Arkham or was he just born that way? We don’t know for sure, but this is the first time in my twenty-five years of collecting that I think the possibility has ever been broached. Now, I’m hoping Smith won’t focus too much on Ass-Play Joker for the rest of this series and at some point gives him a tussle in the sheets with Harlequin. Why? No, not my lily-white suburban upbringing. A bisexual Joker wouldn’t break continuity and we would all be spared from the corrective crossover events CUNTDOWN or ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS CRISIS. Some will be put off by this choice, but personally I think the sexual ambiguity drives home that Joker is the poster boy for grating against societal norms and he truly does have a big bucket of crazy atop his shoulders.
RM: Yeah I agree that the gay joke thing might be great when it is pouring out of Jay Mewes' mouth, but here I think it’s a bit much. That or you simply accept that the Joker is insane and does whatever he can to get a rise out of someone.
I have to commend Walt Flannagan and his artwork. Traditionally he's been the guy that sells comics at the Secret Stash in Red Bank or Walt the Fanboy in Smith’s movies, but the guy actually has some very serious talent. Sure, he may only be getting this job because he's Kevin Smith's friend, but he'll have many jobs in the future because of his work here. Flannagan is having a great time drawing Smith's story.
OD: You can truly tell that this was a labor of love. As a View Askew fanboy, I seriously wonder what has taken these two so long to join forces with a comic or an action movie. Hopefully this will be explained on some “Fuck DVD Bonus Track” in the near future. I’m truly glad to see Walt is a tsunami of talent whose fame will transcend being a throw-away line in “Jersey Girl 2: Electric Boogaloo”.
BATMAN: CACOPHONY was a welcome return to Kevin Smith’s ample creative bosom. Let us pray no other miniseries, especially one with this strong of a sadistic cliffhanger, suffers the curse of SPIDER-MAN/BLACK CAT.
RM: Joker butt-jokes aside, I thought BATMAN: CACOPHONY #1 was an amazing return of Kevin Smith to DC Comics. Smith handles Batman like a true pro and masterfully runs us through the issue. Flannagan is a much welcome addition to the comic book world and the two are truly a dynamic duo together (bad pun well intended). This is a comic I can't wait to get my hands on, so hopefully the rest of the series will come out on time.
E.C. SEGAR’S POPEYE V2: “Well Blow Me Down” E.C. SEGAR’S POPEYE V3: “Let’s You And Him Fight”
Writing and Art: E.C. Segar Publisher: Fantagraphics Reviewer: JinxoSome time back when Volume 1 of this series came out I did a write up of it. Last fall, when Volume 2 came out, I had intended to point it out too. The only problem was the sheer volume of material in these books. Each one covers over 2 years of funny page strips. That is a lot of reading. And these strips are ones I like to take my time reading and enjoying. By the time I got done reading Volume 2 it seemed almost too late to bother writing up, the book had been out so long. So now a year later Volume 3 is out and I don’t want to miss my chance to alert you guys to the latest in this amazing series.
So…I’m cheating. I actually only bought Volume 3 days ago and have only read a handful of strips. So, mostly, let me back up and pimp Volume 2.
The beauty of the first volume was getting to see proto-Popeye, a version of the character before he was fully defined, before he solidified into the character WE think of as Popeye. A more wild and wooly character who wasn’t necessarily safe. He was brought in a weird, oddball and notably ugly sailor. He was rude, crude and seemingly unkillable. He was also a supporting player. Castor Oyle was the lead. He would be doing the heavy lifting of centering the story while Popeye could fly off in all sorts of weird directions and just go nuts.
Volume 2 chronicles the next stage of Popeye’s career. It starts with him still as a supporting player but by this point its clear he’s become the favorite character of the strip. He’s starting his rise to fame. But with that rise comes a price. He can’t be quite the freak he started as. Kids clearly like him. This is reflected in the strip with Popeye literally becoming friends to all the kids. In the color strips they start including cutout play money for the kids reading the strip, kind of an interesting artifact to see. Seeing them I can picture little kids from the 30s cutting up their folks’ newspapers. So with tons of kids across the country loving Popeye, they clearly couldn’t keep him as quite the same bizarre, ugly sailor. So he gets reined in some… but not a lot. He’s still pretty weird, but for me there is a sadness in seeing Popeye settle into a final form, knowing he’d pushed the envelope of the character as far as it would go.
Also in keeping with his rise to fame, Volume 2 sees Popeye move from supporting player to the definite star of the strip. For a long time the focus of the strip was the comedy team of Popeye and Castor Oyle with, again, Castor Oyle slightly more in the starring role. You can clearly see the moment in this book, though, when Popeye fully takes center stage. Midway through one of the first adventures in Volume 2, which finds Popeye involved in a war in the country of Nazilia, Castor Oyle just starts to disappear. He shows up less and less. When Popeye and Olive return home, Olive’s parents matter-of-factly inform them that Castor returned home from Nazilia a month earlier and has been running his detective agency. Right at that moment it’s clear Castor is gone for good and this is now Popeye’s strip. He’s the star. And where he AND Olive had both been established as butt ugly characters, they are now not identified as ugly and start on their way to becoming the, ahem, romantic couple we are familiar with.
Now, just because Popeye is settling into a final form, don’t take that to mean the comic itself starts to go flat. It’s still crazy. It is filled with silly satire. The weird thing is, there is such satire in some of these strips that they remind me less of the Popeye cartoons and more of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. Popeye’s adventures in Nazilia, for example. Nazilia is at war with a neighboring country, only none of the soldiers on either side seems interested in fighting. Nazilia’s king is a goofball who should never lead a country. Yet, oddly, the whole sad impossible setup in some strange way also feels… a little too much a reflection of the real world. A reflection through a comic lightly.
But if you’re not looking for subtle satire, there is also violence and wrongness. You know, for the kids. Olive and Popeye have several adventures out west. In one the bad guys take Olive hostage and make her cook for them. It ends up, though, that one by one Olive starts, well, shooting them. A guy will come in and Olive will end up shooting him or knocking him out and throwing them in the basement. Now they take the curse off of it by clarifying that she doesn’t actually kill any of them but… who cares? She just shoots them like crazy. In another western tale, Olive falls into a pattern that would play out repeatedly in the cartoons. She hooks up with some bad men and decides to trust and throw in with them over Popeye with Popeye then having to save her. While technically clean and okay for the kids, there is a sort of hidden level of wrong. Olive’s new “friends” betray her and she ends up having to work as a dancehall girl, dancing for the drunken crowd. So not a “stripper” or anything, but she is dancing for a bunch of drunks. And then while dancing she does a split and gets stuck that way, leading to a run of strips centering on that as the joke. Dirty? Not really. But at some level I was laughing going, “Really? Can… can they do that? Have a running gag about Olive dancing for men and then getting stuck with her legs… really???”
Volume 2 also notably introduces two important pieces of Popeye lore. First, there’s Wimpy who first shows up as a fight referee but soon becomes the mooch we all are familiar with. More importantly, this book brings in the spinach. But the spinach isn’t quite the secret power supply it is in the cartoons. In the cartoons Popeye is a normal guy until he gets his spinach. Here, Popeye is always a badass but if his strength is flagging, say from being forever in the desert, spinach is the one thing that will quickly bring him back to full power.
There’s just so much to say for these books. They’re really amazing. Again, I’m just starting Volume 3, but right off the bat it has me laughing. Volume 3 picks up with Popeye and Olive returning from the old west. Popeye immediately narcs out Olive to her dad for treating him bad and becoming a barroom dancing girl. Her dad immediately pulls up his sleeves and spanks Olive like a madman as Popeye laughs. You have to see it. Just so wrong seeing Popeye “Arf arf”ing lik a madman over Olive’s pain. Of note in Volume 3: the arrival of both Bluto and Sweet Pea as well as a return to Nazilia. Also some real rarities: it seems that for the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair, Segar did a series of promotional comics to advertise the fair. The book points out these strips have never been presented in print since the 30s. Pretty amazing. The writers of the book seem amazed they weren’t collected for publication as all the other strips were back in the day. But, really, back then I’m sure they were viewed as just ads. When Marvel does a Spider-Man collection they don’t include those Spidey ads for Hostess Twinkies (Although I might be crazy enough to buy a book collecting those ads…). But 70-some years after the fact, they seem less like ads and more like amazingly cool lost Segar gems.
They’re putting out one of these books every fall. If you haven’t been picking these up, you have a year’s time to catch up before Volume 4. The books are very well done, and the strips are great. This is a series well worth collecting.
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.
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #30
Writer : Peter J. Tomasi Artist: Patrick Gleason Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous Douche“This week on Yellow Lantern’s Cribs, we tear into the back fat of homicidal homonym Kryb. She’s got a whole sack of nipples and can interspecies lactate, that’s why all the Green Lantern babies are getting up inside this Kryb!” Ever since Kryb was introduced during the Sinestro Corps War, she has been a nightmarish favorite of mine in the same way I revere and at the same time fear Carol Anne’s clown from the movie “Poltergeist.” Tomasi wasted no time imbedding readers in dark undertones right from outset by opening the issue with Kryb’s line of razor sharp teeth and nipple-backed baby cage. With each panel of the hunt for Kryb and the botched diplomatic mission to the Star Sapphire home world in this issue, the war drum of Blackest Night beats louder. I’m never one to promote or validate crossovers, especially when they simply serve to sell more books. In this case, though, I will say without hesitation, if you are not reading GREEN LANTERN CORPS you are not only missing out on an amazing reading experience, but also critical story elements to the entire Blackest Night war of light.
In my opinion, the Guardians of the Galaxy have always been more concerned about controlling the universe than serving as malevolent protectors. This belief has been flirted with in past issues of GREEN LANTERN, but always pulled back at the last minute with a very special “awwww aren’t they cute and blue” moment to show that their deeds are truly altruistic. Well, no more. As the Guardians seek allies to thwart the onslaught of the Red and Yellow ring wielders they seek out their sisters in Guardianship, the pink ring wearers of love, the Zamorans. There were so many golden moments to this diplomatic mission gone awry I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Suffice to say, Guy Gardner acts perfectly in character when confronted with a planet of interstellar babes and Ion serves not only as muscle should the shit hit the fan, but also to drive home the point that the universe needs love to survive as much as unrelenting willpower.
If any two titles deserve to be called a crossover it would GREEN LANTERN and GREEN LANTERN CORPS right now and why they aren’t being officially dubbed as such boggles my mind. This tightness of storytelling is what I’m still waiting to see in amidst the FINAL CRISIS hullabaloo. I won’t pretend to know how stories are developed are cross pollinated across titles, but the harmony and synchronization between GREEN LANTERN and GREEN LANTERN CORPS is making me believe that Johns and Tomasi are sharing a work space and interchangeable creative centers of the brain.
In short (I know, too late), if you enjoy GREEN LANTERN and want to experience the full impact of Blackest Night – buy…this…book!
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.
TOP 10 SEASON 2 #2
Script and Layouts: Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon Pencils and Inks: Gene Ha Publisher: America’s Best Comics Reviewer: JinxoI was a little worried when the new run of TOP 10 started. I mean, a book started by Alan Moore being written by somebody else? I had a definite fear of things going wrong, of the new writers just mucking up the characters’ voices. The first issue still had me on the fence. It was good. It held its own but it didn’t bowl me over. For the uninitiated, TOP 10 is a police saga set in a world where everyone, and I do mean everyone, is a superhero. It is simultaneously a mix of straight cop dramas ala “Hill Street Blues” and a spoof of every fantasy/sci fi/comic book element you can imagine. The trick Moore pulled off perfectly was having the straight drama elements work as drama while at the same time dropping crazy, comic, surreal humor in at the same time.
The first issue of the latest run worked well towards setting the stage for the drama. The Top 10 cops get their latest in a long line of police commissioners (commissioners at Top 10 have the same luck and longevity as the Defense Against The Dark Arts teachers in the Harry Potter books). Someone dealing magics to kids has been selling youngsters scrolls that turn them into supermen. The whole squad is still dealing with the death of Officer Girl 1, an artificially created life form, when they suddenly have to find themselves working with Girl 2, who looks exactly like their fallen comrade. And then of course there’s the dozen unidentified dead bodies that instantly appeared outside police headquarters.
The biggest funny of the first issue for me came when Lieutenant Peregrine came home and found her husband dressing up in a hero costume not his own, crossing over into a new identity. Yes, he’s a crossover dresser. It’s just so silly and yet written really really seriously. It’s a problem! Peregrine is worried it will ruin her marriage, after all. But normally there are a million small visual jokes going on in the background. Hobbits, heroes and other familiar looking characters popping up in the background in odd moments. It’s my habit now to scour any panel of TOP 10 for jokes. Only in this case… nothing. Not a huge problem but enough to put me on guard.
Issue #2 has allayed any fears I may have had. The dramatic elements from the first issue continue nicely. I’m also now confident that the character’s still sound and feel like the same as when they were being written by Alan Moore. That’s big. Nothing worse than seeing characters you like turned into characters you don’t even recognize. And just as the drama continues nicely, so does the funny. Peregrine tries to help her husband with his… perversion, supplying him with information on a help program whose name made me laugh out loud. And there’s also at least some background funny. The restaurant Peregrine and her hubby eat at made me smile as it danced on the line of DC Comics copyright infringement.
It’s nice to be past worrying about if the writers would get it right and be able to just settle into the fun and action with characters I really enjoy. And it should be mentioned that while Moore is gone, his co-creator Gene Ha is still on board with the art doing a great job visually bringing the strange world of TOP 10 to life. For Season 2 it looks like TOP 10 will be living up to its title--at least on my pull list.
KINGDOM COME SPECIAL: SUPERMAN #1
Written and Illustrated by: Alex Ross Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandI really wanted Superman's KINGDOM COME SPECIAL to be the end-all, be-all. Maybe it is my trying to get over the fact that the Superman from the Kingdom Come Earth (designated Earth-34B-69A-Square Root of 37) is here on our Earth while trying to end the "Kingdom Come” storyline.
When I read KINGDOM COME back in the day as they were released I wasn't saying to myself, "I wonder if this is really happening on Earth-34B-69A-Square Root of 37?" I really didn't care. I thought it was a great non-canonical book full of amazing ideas and Alex Ross’s phenom artwork that we had previously glimpsed with Marvels. Now it is as if every story that has ever occurred in a comic book in a Marvel or DC book has actually happened in that universe, allowing a multitude of crossovers to occur over and over again.
So it is where we stand in terms of the KINGDOM COME SPECIAL: SUPERMAN #1. Superman from KINGDOM COME is on our Earth, having adventures with the Justice Society of America, and bringing an end to this entire KINGDOM COME saga. I’ll now get over griping that this Superman is here on our Earth (ugh) and actually look at the book itself.
I don’t care if you love or hate Alex Ross – there can’t be any denying that the man has an amazing ability to draw/paint comic books. I’m of the opinion that Ross is a cocky fellow but I don’t really care because I’m a cocky fellow in real life as well. It’s the merits of the work that I care about, and this book looks amazing from start to finish. As we follow this Superman (henceforth known as Old Superman) on our Earth we see a fellow who is cranky and sort of tired of the supervillain scene. We truly see Old Superman’s age, the bags under his eyes, the wrinkles embedded in his face. The beauty of Ross’ art is that we know that Old Superman is a powerful fellow but he has truly seen better days. Everyone retires – from generals to athletes – yet this superhero is one of the last from a war-torn Earth still having to fight a good fight.
Unfortunately, while the issue does expand a bit on the Old Superman character the story does take a backseat to the artwork here. One can only wish that the end of this saga has Mark Waid along for the ride, but I don’t want to say that Alex Ross in necessarily a bad writer. Ross does a good job with the plot and dialogue but you do feel the lack of Waid’s presence. The issue pulls off what it is supposed to do: a look into Old Superman, how he thinks, and how he feels. But right as you get into it the issue ends and we are told ‘Continues in MAGOG #1!’. That’s not because the comic is only 16 pages, but at around 24 pages the comic probably could have been a few more pages along. Instead we are treated to 12 more pages of ‘bonus material’ so we can see how the comic we just read was made. I say save that stuff for the inevitable graphic novel and just give us more pages now!
As a fan of the original source material it is good to have Alex Ross back doing KINGDOM COME. While I’m not thrilled by this storyline, I can say that Ross makes Old Superman a bit interesting and hopefully Geoff Johns can compound on that when THE KINGDOM #1 launches shortly.
Ryan McLelland has worked in movies and comics journalism for the past several years before joining the @$$holes here at AICN. Ryan’s comic work has already graced comic shelves with Arcana’s PHILLY, WISE INTELLIGENCE, UPTOWN GIRL, and THE SENTINELS ANTHOLOGY. He rarely updates his blog but when he does it can be read at www.eyewannabe.com
SIR APROPOS OF NOTHING #1
Writer: Peter David Artist: Robin Riggs Published by: IDW Publishing Reviewed by: BottleImpPeter David has long been one of my favorite comic book writers, starting with his original run on Marvel’s X-FACTOR back in the 1990s. He has a knack for dialogue that feels real, not forced—you could read lines spoken by his characters out loud and it would sound perfectly normal, as opposed to, say, any given text from SIN CITY. And David was always great at including humor in his comics as a means to both lighten the tone of the stories and add a humanizing dimension to characters that had been about as three-dimensional as a cardboard cutout before David took a whack at ‘em. And nine times out of ten, Peter David was able to blend humor, humanity, drama and pathos into a satisfying story that never felt forced or contrived.
Which brings me to SIR APROPOS OF NOTHING. I don’t know what happened, but this comic is nothing BUT forced and contrived.
Instead of character-driven humor, there are puns… the title alone, for example, as well as a throwaway line about “the Aybee Sea” (get it?). There also is an underlying thread of parody of Stephen King’s DARK TOWER books (and the recent comic series spin-offs), but the satire is so slight that it feels more like a background gag rather than an integral part of the plot. Did David have this Apropos character’s story lying around and decided to scotch-tape it to a poor man’s MAD Magazine take-off?
Perhaps the tone of this comic would have come across better if the artwork had been…well, I was looking for a polite way to say it, but…if the artwork had been better. The figures are all drawn semi-realistically, but in a very bland fashion—there’s not a lot of spark to the character designs or their settings, and the compositions tend to be fairly static rather than dynamic. The colors aren’t helping any, either—the very limited color palette rendered in very light tones throughout this issue may have been done to try to convey the desert light, but it just ends up looking washed out and dull. This is a case where Riggs’ art just doesn’t seem to gel with the writing. Perhaps if an artist with a more stylized or humorous design sense had been drawing this story, the comic as a whole would feel more cohesive.
And yet, despite my disappointment, I’ll most likely pick up the next issue just to see if Peter David’s going anywhere with this mess—it’s the “slow down to look at car wreck” mentality, but hey, it’s still getting me to fork over my cash. Well done, David.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast who's given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
FABLES COVERS BY JAMES JEAN HC
Artist: Were you not paying attention? JAMES JEAN! Publisher: DC Vertigo Reviewer: JinxoJames Jean… oh how I HATE you. You make me sick! Well, okay, only the frustrated artist side of me hates you because…damn, you’re good. Which is why the rest of me just loves the hell out of your work. And now thanks to Vertigo, I have a huge batch of it in one really nice hardbound collection.
For those of you not into FABLES, it’s the story of the classic fairy tale characters of old transplanted to and living in New York as they try to win back their fairy tale homelands from the oppressive rule of a tyrannical dictator. Various artists have been responsible for the work inside the book, but the cover art has consistently been provided by James Jean. And each cover pretty much ends up looking like an amazing painting or like an illustration from the ultimate book of fairy tales you can imagine. Okay, I’m gushing, but I love these covers.
This book has the covers for the first 75 issues of the series as well as the cover art he created for the trade paperbacks. For each cover you also get a selection of the prep art that went into the covers. Might be thumbnail sketches, alternate concepts or maybe the progression of the cover from sketch through to final cover. There is also a small panel of text for each cover that sort of describes the plot elements behind the cover. Could be dialogue from the book or writer Bill Willingham’s description of a chunk of action in the comic. All these elements combine to give you a different sort of story--the story of each piece of art.
Because of the plot of FABLES the covers also cover an amazing array of subjects and styles. You of course have the straight up fairy tale and medieval knights sort of stuff. But FABLES’ timeline spans such a huge amount of time you also get WWII paintings, cowboy imagery, riffs on propaganda art, advertising art, James Bond spy imagery...there is just such so much and not a bad cover in the bunch.
Now I could see this not being some people’s cup of tea. A book of collected comic book covers? Why not just buy the damn comics and get them that way? To those folks I have to say…yeah…shut your pie hole! No, sorry…that was wrong. The truth is, as a fan of James Jean’s covers, it is so nice to have all those pieces together in such a nice book.
As a sort of final note on this…I’m horrible with events and signings and such. Even if my comic shop hypes an upcoming event like crazy, I’ll be the one to miss every piece of promo material and not know the thing is happening. But by sheer chance, Wednesday when I went in for my comics James Jean was there for the launch of this book signing copies. Normally if I manage to stumble onto a signing I still will weigh who is it, do I want to plunk down X amount of money for the book, how long is the line? With James Jean, none of that. I heard James Jean, collected Fables covers, and it was a done deal. Didn’t care how much, didn’t care if there was a line. Get to the front of the line and he’s not only signing each book, he’s doing quick sketches in each book. Making it look sickeningly easy, he whips out this amazing sketch. I realize he’s probably got a number of sketches pretty much memorized so that he’s able to produce them that quickly. But it is still very impressive. Again, that moment where 99% of me is excited and impressed and that wannabe artist 1% is just like, “Ugh…I hate you! I wanna be able to do that!” Regardless, for FABLES fans I 100% recommend this book.
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.
GOLGO 13 Vol 4: THE ORBITAL HIT
Created by Takao Saito Released by VIZ Media Reviewed by Scott GreenGiven that NARUTO’s North American release hits volume 32 this month, we've seen examples of the gargantuan libraries that a manga title can amass if it remains popular in its Japanese, serialized run. While that's a respectably large collection, NARUTO has a while to go before it can really contend with the big boys. DETECTIVE CONAN is over sixty volumes. Not counting the STEEL BALL RUN spin-off, JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE hit eighty volumes. KOCHIRA KATSUSHIKA-KU KAMEARI KOEN MAE HASHUTSUJO (THIS IS THE POLICE STATION IN FRONT OF KAMEARI PARK IN KKATSUSHIKA WARD), or KOCHIKAME for short, a title which has never been released in North America, is still running after 160 volumes.
Then, there's GOLGO 13. Kept in print by legions of fans, who can claim new Prime Minister Taro Aso amongst their numbers, GOLGO 13 recently commemorated its fortieth anniversary in an event featuring the manga's 72 year old author Takao Saito, Tetsuya Chiba (creator of classic boxing manga Ashita no Joe), Naoki Urasawa (MONSTER, PLUTO, 20th CENTURY BOYS), Go Nagai (founder of the piloted giant robot, and transforming magical girl genres), Mitsutoshi Furuya and Fujiko Fujio (A).
Part of what's interesting about this sustained reader support is that it does not leverage the rolling teen/adolescent audience on which something like NARUTO relies. Instead, GOLGO 13 is written for an audience that generally does not read many comics or manga in North America. Frederik L. Schodt's 1996 DREAMLAND JAPAN describes the Anthology in which GOLGO 13 is published, saying: Big Comic: The grand-daddy of the Big family, Big Comic serializes works by big-gun artists. Long running stories have included the famous GOLGO 13, by Takao Saito, about a Zen like professional assassin who always gets his mark; HOTEL by Shotaro Ishinomori, about the inner workings of hotel life; and the gag strip AKABE-EI, by Hiroshi Kurogane. Don't look for sex and titillation here, though. This is serious stuff, written mainly by men over fifty and read by a faithful but aging male readership mostly over thirty....Ads are scarce and are mainly for cars, marriage services, energy drinks, hair tonics, hair pieces, and so forth.
If you read samurai manga LONE WOLF AND CUB, you will be familiar with a type of character who lives by the Zen koan, "if you meet the Buddha, kill him." In the case of LONE WOLF, Ogami Itto recognized the truth behind his kill or be killed Road to Hell to the extent that he was willing to risk the life of his infant son.
Named for Golgotha, the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the unlucky number, Duke Togo is the globe hopping, omni-talented gun for hire known as Golgo 13. Think of James Bond, a man who crosses international borders, entering into dicey situations, fighting men and (beep)ing women. (Takao Saito worked with Bond leading up to the launch of GOLGO 13) Subtract the tension between the mission and moments of moral compunction or sentimentality. Subtract the glibness. Also, subtract the reason to support the character, whether it's nationalism or that this killer is "our guy," standing between the western world and SMERSH, SPECTRE or QUANTUM. The result is literally and explicitly a man of action, without a history or a motivation. See that expression that GOLGO 13 is making on the cover? That's the same one you'll see on the characters face whether he's listening to the proposal for an outrageous mission, sitting in proximity to a man whose betrayal almost cost him his life, or engaged in sexual intercourse.
Bits of GOLGO 13 have been released in the US. Osamu Dezaki's 1983 anime movie THE PROFESSIONAL: GOLGO 13 and the 1998 OVA GOLGO 13: QUEEN BEE (with John Di Maggio as Duke Togo) can still be found on DVD if you do some hunting. No one has announced plans to release the 2008 televised anime series in English. The live action movie GOLGO13: ASSIGNMENT KOWLOON, featuring Sonny Chiba, was released, but if its predecessor with Akio Ohtsuka ever made it over, I've never seen it.
Amazingly, North American audiences did get GOLGO 13: TOP SECRET EPISODE for the Nintendo, featuring the 8-bit generation version of smoking, sex and violence, but with (most of) the Nazi references excised. And, the game's developer/publisher Vic Tokai, along with LEAD, and Viz published short runs and promotions of GOLGO 13 manga in the mid, late 80's and early 90's.
In 2006, Viz began publishing a 13 volume set of GOLGO 13's greatest hits. The approach of cherry picking GOLGO 13 stories is an issue to the extent to which you'd want to read as much GOLGO 13 as possible. In terms of fracturing the narrative, with no pretence of an over-arching plot, or developing the character, selecting specific stories doesn't. In fact, the atomic nature of each story is one of the serial's conceits. Duke Togo is born into each story a veteran assassin, with the experience needed to carry out his mission. Many of the stories are exploited from the geo-politics news feed, but whether the president of the US is Carter, Ford, or one of the Bushes, the protagonist is the same age, without any "reboots" or attempts made to reconcile the fact that he has been operating for forty years.
As an aside, this agelessness also applies to the creators of the manga, as Takao Saito and Saito Production have become indistinguishable. While manga is generally produced by a creator or pair of creators, more often than not, a team of assistants contribute to the effort. While these workers are often uncredited, many of the best known manga creators have started in the industry in that capacity (INU-YASHA's Rumiko Takahashi was an assistant under Kazuo Umezu, ONE PIECE’s Eiichiro Oda was an assistant under Nobuhiro Watsuki). Takao Saito might be 72, but a new GOLGO 13 story does not look different than one produced decades ago. This isn't a function of Saito being immune to age or new influence. Rather than rely on assistants to fill in the time consuming work or apply their talents to gaps in the chief creator's, Saito Production evidently executes on a model laid out by Saito. As such, the style of almost goofy, exaggerated caricature with stiff figures, set against intricately rendered backgrounds and objects, as well as the mix of weapons tech and inflammatory politics, has persisted throughout the decades.
The eponymous first story in GOLGO 13: THE ORBITAL HIT is a fine example of the manga's sentiments and its character's hyper-competence. In 1975, the American government backed itself into an affair comparable to a "sci-fi version of Watergate." Operation Damocles was put into orbit by a shadow space program. A manned, nuclearly armed false Soyuz would be prepared for retaliation against the Soviets, if the time came. Unfortunately, on the eve of the Apollo mission's rendezvous with the real Soyuz program, the false craft was battered by debris, leaving America's dirty laundry out for the Russians to see. For plausible deniability, and so the press could not track the preparation, President Ford okayed the recruitment of a man rated highly reliable by the CIA, with jet pilot qualifications... Duke Togo.
This is the sort of manga written to read after being buffeted by a storm of ugly news headlines. The "sci-fi Watergate" bears out, with cataclysmic mistakes warranting cover-ups and cover-ups to the cover-ups, with the din of street protests and journalistic investigations hammering in the background. GOLGO 13 comes through as a catalyst, a self-preserving instrument. With his crystallized MO, he's the one person not co-opted, foolish, or channeled by the flow of events. There's something classically cool about being the one needed to clean up the mess, rather than be part of it, but there's also an antisocial edge in being above the fray.
The second story assassinates class, then audaciously throws its calling card on top of the body. Published in November 1997, Golgo 13 is hired to kill a Dodi Al-Fayed doppelganger as the Egyptian magnate-heir Ahmad Al-Farid rides through a Paris tunnel with Princess Di. Another assassin from MI6 is on the job, and the results we recognize from August 31, 1997 take place. Between the reaction by the entrenched power players to Di's AIDS activism and the juxtaposition between exotic mechanisms and the horrifically real scene of the crash, the manga seems intent on tweaking the reader's sense of real events. The intent does not appear to be to come away thinking that there was a real conspiracy theory. However, it starts with what we accept as plausible: that a reaction to the accusation that past colonialism has caused modern woes, such as the African AIDS epidemic, would be to lash out at the accuser. It ends with graphically real consequence. In the middle, it throws us for a loop with byzantine plotting and Duke Togo involvement.
Part of GOLGO 13's appeal is related to enjoying the manga ironically. A staple of gag manga is to have GOLGO 13's granite face loom over some mundane situation. Seeing such an absolute figure not react to lust, danger, pathos or incredible circumstances is laughable. The exploited from the headlines approach to current events is similarly worthy of an irreverent grin.
At the same time, GOLGO 13 is serious business. The evident effort plotting, and rendering set pieces, weapons and locations is frequently jaw-dropping. While manga is written for almost every conceivable audience, most of what we get in North America is published for a prominent subset of what was intended for teenage and younger readers. (The strongly recommend ELECTRIC ANT zine has a conversation with manga guru Frederik L. Schodt that touches on why few look to expand the scope of manga published in North America.) A manga written for 30+ year olds, one that seeks to let its reader process the complexities of history being made through the lens of an omnipotent killer, is something exceptional in the field of manga in North America. GOLGO 13 has lasted forty years for a reason, making it an essential part of any thorough comic/manga collector's library.
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.