FINAL CRISIS #5
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: JG Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Marco Rudy, and Jesus Merino Publisher: DC Comics A point/counterpoint review from the Siskel & Ebert of AICN Comics: Ambush Bug & Stones ThrowAMBUSH BUG: One of the things that crossovers should do is promote the size and scope of the universe it is occurring in. It serves as a highlight reel for those who don't normally read that set of books in hopes that it piques enough interest for readers to check out tie-ins and maybe even a few of the ongoing series that star some of the characters taking part in the story. These events are meant to make the line of books more accessible. From a marketing standpoint, that's the only reason why they should exist. And believe me, you can hem and haw about artistic integrity, but when it comes to Marvel and DC, the almighty dollar is thought of first and foremost. As a kid, I remember reading CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS. This was an amazing marketing series. It featured almost every character in the Marvel Universe and at the end was a checklist (the first incarnations of the Marvel Universe Handbook) guiding the reader to where they could check out these characters in other books in the Marvel Universe. So you know what I did? I checked out those other books and from that point on, a Marvel Zombie had risen from the tomb.
Thought of in those terms, FINAL CRISIS is the antithesis of the event crossover. It is somewhat of a small scale event, hyped up by DC editorial (seemingly before a page was pitched, written, or proofread) to be the end all be all to the whole CRISIS events that began with IDENTITY CRISIS all those years ago. Well, Morrison failed to get that memo. He's writing something that is at times maddening to follow, sometimes downright unreadable, and about as scattered as a dandelion in a hurricane. It's even more maddening that the rest of the universe is going on as if none of this is actually happening. Not one of DC's books are even referencing FINAL CRISIS (save the direct tie in books like SUBMIT, RESIST, REVELATIONS, and SUPERMAN 3-D). If you weren't buying FINAL CRISIS, you wouldn't even know it was going on in the regular books.
The main thing that irks me about this series is the obvious holding pattern DC has been in while a Whirling Dervish of a writer writes and rewrites the bible of the universe. It shows a complete lack of editorial control and an evident case of one hand not even acknowledging that the other exists.
If FINAL CRISIS were that good, I'd almost be ok with this, but so far, as of issue #5, it's been a series of scattered premises threaded together with the thinnest of string. Sure, some of the ideas are good and given the time and attention could make for a year or two's worth of decent stories, but Morrison darts from the persecution of Hal Jordan to the Forever People showing up and talking about marks on their faces, to OMAC's being stored at Checkmate, to a trio of Female Furies (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Batwoman) terrorizing the streets (with not an ounce of character or struggle being injected in any of them…honestly, they could have been anyone and no one would notice), to Mary Marvel getting even more and more soiled, back to a Rubik's Cube and ending with a final page splash of someone I don't even recognize. Someone following websites that dissect every reference and panel may find this Rorschach Test of a comic entertaining, but to the average reader (who reads more that one comic a month and doesn't feel the need to reread previous FC issues) it's just a jumbled fever dream. I don't even want to think about the new reader who hears the hype and buys issue #5 on a whim to see what it's all about.
All I hear from the supporters of Morrison and his style is "I'm going to wait and see how it all turns out." To that I say, "How many times are you going to fall for this?" How many issues of un-event are you going to buy before realizing that you've been duped with a promise of consequence that never comes? I don't expect a complete story in each issue, but how about some kind of natural progression of plot, instead of a drawn out snapshot of an instance of a story and some quid pro quo idea ping-pong? I don't want to wait and see if I like the book. I shouldn't have to.
FINAL CRISIS is the comic book equivalent of a penis-growth spam email. It promises much, but when you buy into it, you're left with a mess of pop-ups and probably a virus that'll leave you flaccid, unimpressed, and angry at yourself for believing in it.
STONES THROW: The best thing about FINAL CRISIS is that it’s an event comic that’s about more than other comics. Darkseid’s conquest of human souls speaks about our current media and celebrity-driven culture more than a 1,000 “who or whom is not a Skrull” revelations in SECRET INVASION. Think it’s any coincidence the Anti-Life virus starts off on the Internet as a viral email? It’s like the slogans all over the new Darkseid-controlled world: “There’s no struggle with Anti-Life!” “Your life is Anti-Life.” Glorious Godfrey is a televangelist while Mokkari’s running Apokolips’s media communications unit. Morrison’s writing a 1984 or BRAVE NEW WORLD for comics and I’m loving it.
And now for a counter point, Stones Throw…
That’s not to say comic book tropes don’t come into it, though. Each issue so far has had a Julie Schwartz-style high concept hook that drives the plot, whether it’s the “Who killed Orion, the God of War?!” mystery of # 1 or Hal Jordan being wrongfully arrested for the murder later on. I guess this one’s is “You have 24 hours to save the universe, Lantern Jordan.” But what’s really remarkable is that Morrison can mix such unashamed “fuck, yeah” moments with the general sense of foreboding doom. That’s right, the quick cuts style is really working for me. It’s a way to cover the epic scope a CRISIS-type event calls for without bogging down the story and still letting the artists (who do a much more consistent job with this issue than last, by the way) draw in those purty big panels. And if there’s been a scarier cliffhanger than Darkseid rallying a completely subjugated humanity since last issue’s “Darkseid reincarnates and gives humankind the thumbs down”, I haven’t seen it.
What Morrison has managed to do is use a new vocabulary to tell an epic, universe-spanning DC event. And I applaud him for it. Who wants to see another CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS retread? Here’s a story where the heroes are defeated in the gap between # 3 and 4 and the final battle is a desperate, last-ditch stand in a ruined Bludhaven. (A particularly cool one, at that, with Frankenstein and co. riding in on vehicles made out of Metal Men.) I have to disagree with Ambush Bug. What I remember most from reading past events that span the fictional terrain of DC comics (say COIE or KINGDOM COME or ZERO HOUR) is marvelling at the density and the sense that, even if I didn’t know all of these characters, they were being used properly and in exceedingly cool ways. If you’re gonna do an epic crossover where the Fourth World reincarnates as the Fifth World, it should be unashamedly, mind-bogglingly big. It’d be insulting if it wasn’t. But it’s like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s sublime LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. Part of the fun is going through and decoding the references the writer and artist have put the effort into building.
But seriously, some of it isn’t even that difficult. That guy on the last page? He’s appeared throughout the series, starting with the conclusion of # 1. FINAL CRISIS is a comic that requires some input from the reader to be successful. Morrison’s style is kind of an event comic with the in-between bits cut out, which needs to be bore in mind. But hell, I’m not waiting to enjoy it. I’m enjoying it for the astounding level of detail J.G. Jones puts into a bulldozer constructed by John Stewart’s power ring as its willpower starts to be sapped by the spirit-crushing force of Darkseid. Or Lex Luthor’s vexations. Or Morrison’s most excellent Darkseid dialogue. FINAL CRISIS is everything a comic called FINAL CRISIS should be, produced with a genuine sense of experimentation, and I’m lovin’ it now.
ASTONISHING X-MEN: GHOST BOXES #2
Writer: Warren Ellis Art: Clayton Crain & Kaare Andrews Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheThis was kind of like a blowjob from a really hot tranny. You get duped by the package, and actually pleasantly enjoy yourself for a few minutes until you finally feel the most delicate stubble scrape across your balls. In this case the hot tranny was Ellis’ wonderful tangential slides through the alternate reality slipstream. The stubble would be the hefty $4.00 price tag and the anemic 15 pages of content that cums with it.
I won’t dispute the march of time or the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar. I know the day will come in the not-too-distant future when $3.99 will be emblazoned on all covers and I promise I won’t bitch about it, unless of course it takes me less than 10 minutes to read the book. I’m sure someone at Marvel thought it would be a hoot to bookend these tales of mutant woe with Ellis’ original script, but here’s a hint to all editors: there’s a reason we read comic books and it ain’t all about the prose. In a time not too long ago, these stories would have been offered up non grata at the end of regular ASTONISHING. But I guess in tough economic times, everyone needs to make a buck where they can and Marvel just made $8.00 off of me for one 22 page comic.
Like the first issue of this series we are treated to two alternate dimensions, and like the first issue these are two damn fine solid stories despite being achingly too short.
In the first “What If” tale, excuse me Ghost Box, we see Scott Summers as the last mutant on earth contemplating the best way to decapitate himself to make the pain go away. This was a macabre story and Crains’ heavy heavy pencils drove home the point that this was not going to end happily ever after. At times the dark undertones are a little too dark, though, making the majority of some panels simply awash in complete blackness.
Next up, we see a place where Wolverine, Armor and Beast traverse a barren landscape seeking refuge at the last bastion of human existence. I’m the first to balk when things are not brought to me in full-live Technicolor, but the choice to do this particular sidestep in gray scale was dead on. This was also the first time I found Armor to have a life and personality all her own rather than being the 21st century answer for Jubilee. With Wolverine a cripple and Beast a half-faced blathering idiot, Armor must make some tough choices, finally making her worthy of the X moniker.
Speaking of X’s I give a hats off to Marvel for once again proving that my X shaped lobotomy scar will get me to buy...well, anything. Were I not such a zombie, perhaps I could walk away from the words “Ellis and Alternate Realities,” but sadly I’m not that strong. With the first issue I was agog at the price jack and the pages hijack, but this time around I knew exactly what I was getting into. I actually sat and read the script afterwards just so I wouldn’t feel so ripped off at the price of admission; however it was a hollow solace. With EXILES in utter ruins and “What If?” a faint whisper of its heyday, I was thrilled when Ellis introduced the Ghost Box concept a few months ago. I enjoyed every damn issue of THE AUTHORITY when The Carrier would take the naughty Justice League to some new stop in the Bleed. But for every part of me that was enthralled by Ellis’ master storytelling, there were two more parts just simply pissed off at the ultimate cock tease this series ended up delivering. Thank you Warren, but for shame Marvel.
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.
BOOSTER GOLD #15
Writer/Artist: Dan Jurgens Finished Inks: Norm Rapmund Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpHey there, Average Comic Reader! Are you feeling dissatisfied with your reading lately? Do you feel like you’re throwing away four bucks a month—EACH—on titles that, frankly, you wouldn’t give two cents for? Sick and tired of endless, pointless, heartless “event” comics that inspire no greater emotion than utter boredom (seasoned with a dash or two of confusion)? Well you, my friend, are suffering from a condition known as “crossoveritis”—a particularly debilitating disease when combined with the dreaded “didiorrhea” that is so prevalent among readers of DC comics. But don’t lose heart, Average Comic Reader—the remedy is a steady diet of entertaining comics, and one of the best prescriptions out there today is BOOSTER GOLD!
BOOSTER GOLD has all the elements of classic comic storytelling that you love—a hero that you can believe in with a heart (and costume, and name) of gold, epic-scale time-travel stories that manage to stay bouncy rather than collapsing under the weight of their own pretension (see FINAL CRISIS), and a blend of action and humor that hearken back to those long-ago days when comics weren’t such serious business. Of course, sometimes side effects of campiness may occur—this issue finds Booster’s sister Michelle posing for Leonardo da Vinci as his model for what would become the Mona Lisa—but that side effect comes off as charming rather than stale; it’s a pleasant throwback to the gags found in a lot of the Silver Age comics.
Best of all, BOOSTER GOLD gives you, Average Comic Reader, a chance to enjoy your favorite characters as they were intended. Not happy that Ralph Dibny and his wife are dead (and now apparently “ghost detectives,” whatever that means)? Thanks to the time-traveling mojo of BOOSTER GOLD, you can see Ralph in all his stretchy glory as the very-much alive Elongated Man!
So do yourself a favor and write yourself a monthly prescription for one of the best superhero comics out there, Average Comic Reader! BOOSTER GOLD helps get rid of those pesky headaches left by crossoveritis and the nausea induced by didiorrhea, and may even remind you why you fell in love with comic books in the first place.
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.
THE CREAM OF TANK GIRL
Written and Illustrated by: Alan Martin and Jaime Hewlett Published by: Titan Books Reviewed by: superheroOK, first things first: this book fucking kicks ass.
Yep, Christmas came early this year for ol' superhero. This is, quite honestly, a book that I've been waiting for forever. It was made just for me and I'm as happy as can be that I've got it in my grubby little hands.
See, I don't care what anyone says…the '90's sucked for mainstream comics books. Make all the excuses you want but it's true. If you think the FINAL CRISIS nonsense and SECRET INVASION stupidity is bad I'd just like you to remember the '90's. Marvel and DC were complete shit during the 1990's. They were putting out Clone Sagas, fifteen bazillion X-Books (none of which made any sense at all unless you bought all of them), breaking Batman's back, and if they weren't killing off Superman they were putting him into a Xanadu inspired outfit that made the original costume look downright impressive…underwear on the outside and all. It was a bad time to be a comic fan. Really bad. Just think of it. Crap comics and hardly any actually good blockbuster superhero movies to delude you into thinking your hobby was cool because, well, at least Hollywood gives a shit about it, right?
Tough times, they were. So tough that I actually gave up on comics for a year. I stopped reading them completely. But I couldn't stay away forever and when I came back I needed things to be different. I needed to escape from the big two. I needed something that was fresh and new. Not something that just posed as fresh and new because it had a super-mullet haircut. I needed comics that would kick me in the teeth and make me pay attention. So I searched and I searched, looking for something interesting. It was around this time that the 90's went from crap to a glorious age of comic book discovery.
I ended up coming across some of what I would consider the most interesting and fun comics I've ever read. I would uncover books like HELLBOY, THE NEXT MEN, MADMAN, SHADE: THE CHANGING MAN, SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE, MILK AND CHEESE, and, yes, oh yes, TANK GIRL.
Oh, TANK GIRL. I remember picking up my first issue and literally thinking, "What the hell is this?" Just one look at Jamie Hewlett's genius artwork and I knew that this book was just what I was looking for. TANK GIRL was everything I needed a comic to be. It was messy and unorganized and chaotic and shouldn't have been something that I was drawn to. It was completely different than anything I'd ever laid my eyes on but I could tell just by looking at it: it was alive. Every page was bursting with artistic energy and creativity. There was no sense to it at all. It was pure an unbridled chaos. It was the comic book id manifest on the page. TANK GIRL didn't give a shit about what you wanted. She was there to rip the comic book world in half and if you didn't like it then you were bloody fucked. And from the first issue I was in love. I was Jeff Daniels in SOMETHING WILD and TANK GIRL was my Melanie Griffith…dragging me out from under the safe world of super people and their silly morality plays.
Hey, I'll be the first to admit I didn't get it at all. I didn't get most of the references. I didn't really follow or care for most of the stories. I just liked it and I couldn't really tell you why. TANK GIRL took me to a place I'd never been. It was comic book art in a way I'd never seen it done before with stories that were juvenile to be sure but you could tell that the guys making this stuff up were having fun. And it was infectious. When you picked up TANK GIRL you just got a sense of manic craziness that you didn't have to understand or approve of. It just was. And it was fun as hell.
Of course the fun can't last forever and, much like everything else it gets its hands on, Hollywood ended up putting a bullet to the brain that was the genius of TANK GIRL. It was hard to muster any kind of enthusiasm for TANK GIRL after that kick to the nuts and after I left the movie I abandoned any kind of affection I'd had for anything that started with the word "Tank" and ended with the word "Girl".
Which is why I ended up loving this book. This book took me back to my love affair with TANK GIRL. It reminded me of a time when a comic didn't have to make sense but it could be filled with so much uncompromising creativity that it could just take my breath away. It took me to a time where I believed that a comic could be different, successful and incorruptible. That there could be a purity in comic book artistry even if it covered itself in a slight grime and talked like a merchant sailor.
THE CREAM OF TANK GIRL is an impressive work for sure. Mostly impressive because of its display of the mad brilliance of Jamie Hewlett's artwork. Each page is just chock full of Hewlett's masterful cartoon work and it puts so much of comicdom to shame. There is just page after page of beautifully produced material here and it's breathtaking for someone like myself who is such a huge fan of Hewlett's work. Any cartoonist or fan of cartoon art would do themselves a favor by picking this book up as it shows a master at the top of his game.
But beyond just the artwork the text itself reads like a sort of DVD-like commentary on the creation, ascension and fall of TANK GIRL. It's fascinating to read how a property can rise from absolute obscurity to cult icon and then crash and burn just on the cusp of huge success. What was even more interesting to read was how the creators, Hewlett and Martin, kept trying to keep TANK GIRL "pure" so to speak but were unable themselves to really define what TANK GIRL really should be, if anything. In the end they were unable to protect their creation almost knowing that it had grown beyond them, that they could no longer steer the ship. That's probably what was best for a character like TANK GIRL, to fizzle away into the sunset before she could be bastardized any further.
I have to give my utmost thanks to Titan Books for publishing this book. It was a joy for me to read and look at. With the publication of WATCHING THE WATCHMEN and THE CREAM OF TANK GIRL I think Titan Books has put out two of the best books about comics I've ever seen. I hope that this company will continue to publish such impressive product because I'll most certainly be first in line to purchase anything from them in the future.
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com.
SECRET INVASION: DARK REIGN #1 (One-Shot)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Alex Maleev Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugIt’s been a while since we’ve been treated to an all “sittin’ an’ talkin’” issue from Brian Michael Bendis. Even after all of these years, I still can appreciate Bendis’ gift for gab, and that’s certainly what you get with this issue: a big buncha baddies sittin’ on their @$$es and talking.
The idea behind this book is a cool one. After the super hero community is decimated by the back-to-back events of CIVIL WAR, WORLD WAR HULK and SECRET INVASION, they find themselves scattered and, for the first time, out of the public’s favor--a perfect time for the bad guys to organize and reap the benefits. Rallied together by Norman Osborne, the baddest of the bad gather and decide what to do next. Again, the idea of this evil syndicate is fun. I’ll bet Bendis knocked the editor’s socks off with the pitch. Bendis has proven to have some really fun ideas for the Marvel U.
With Bendis though, the devil is in the details. And this issue is full of those little devils.
There were quite a few things that annoyed me with this issue. Bendis is still unable to fully grasp royal-speak, meaning that the dialog from Doom, Namor, White Queen, and Loki are all a bit off; a bit too street level, too casual, too common. Want an example? When Namor and Doom have their little secret discussion towards the end of the book, Namor asks “What’s the move here?” That’s just a bit too street for the Lord of Atlantis.
It doesn’t help when Alex Maleev draws Namor to look like a greasy, stubbly New York cabbie (Note to Maleev: if your going to photo-ref your friends, get some that look like the characters you’re supposed to be drawing). I don’t even want to begin to talk about how much Loki looks like a transvestite in this book. Or how Norman has somehow de-aged and lost his trademark hair. I know Maleev is a fave of Bendis and I guess a meeting of the baddies issue is the type of comic that works with Maleev’s picture-tracing style of “art,” but I think the story would have had more weight in the hands of a more capable artist with a talent for mood rather than mere smudging and carbon papering.
The development at the end of this book was pretty well done, but a waste for one specific character that had loads of potential when Ellis was writing him in THUNDERBOLTS. But despite all of the flawed finer details, I do like the direction the Marvel U is going. The bigger ideas have always been intriguing to me. It’s the execution of them that has been deeply flawed, though, and if Bends paid as much attention to his story structure as he does with his dialog the Marvel Universe would be in good hands. Until then, during this Dark Reign, expect more snail crawl storylines where small moments and exasperated conversations are looked at as highlights, while plot points, action, and especially resolutions are sped through or glossed over completely (a flaw in Bendis’ writing evidenced most recently in SECRET INVASION). Bendis is a sitter and a thinker, not a man of action; too many of his books go out of their way to avoid conflict to suggest otherwise.
But the return of the super villain is long overdue. I remember in one of our earliest @$$Hole inter-office email threads, back when Captain America was fighting the war on terror and comic book traditions like masks and slugfests were poo-pooed upon by Marvel’s sophisticated new echelon of coolness, I wrote “Somewhere, in a dark room in the Marvel U, all of the villains are meeting and plotting…waiting for the right time.” Took a while, but it looks as if that time is finally here.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out a five page preview of his short story published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW at Muscles & Fights.com.) on his ComicSpace page. There you can also see a five page preview of his short story in MUSCLES & FRIGHTS! Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics.
PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB #1
Writer: Kieron Gillen Artist: Jamie McKelvie Publisher: Image Comics Reviewed by Humphrey Lee"Feel the gravity under your feet now blowing speakers trying to figure out how to turn it up and turn it loose tonight to have rhythm and revolution seems like an easy solution but right now we're gonna set it all on fire to feel the power, to feel the juice, to feel the same things, feel the same things that I do oh can't you see, oh can't you see this world belongs to you and me oh can't you see, oh can't you see get injected, resurrected, let's get infected, engage in life we're the rejected, resurrected, and we will make it right" --The (International) Noise Conspiracy, "Armed Love"
When the first TPB volume of this series hit a little more than a year ago, I was immediately enthralled by the concept of the book, if not a bit overwhelmed by the content of it. I absolutely loved the idea of "Music as magic" and a means for certain powerful beings to arise and subside, just as music trends tend to do. But the amount of information being thrown at me really had me kind of taken aback, like I was missing pretty much everything that was thrown at me and that I apparently just didn't know as much music as a "discerning listener" should, until I really started to understand what was going on in the pages in front of me. As I went on then when I reviewed it, and as I will continue to say here (because I'm a bit of a corner cutter, which is why I always have extra pieces laying around after I assemble anything) is that, even though the actual band names and songs references that are a dime a dozen in the word balloons here may fall on deaf ears, it's not so much about the specifics of the music but what the intent around them is. This world that PHONOGRAM plays in takes music a lot more seriously than even your most elitist of sound wave experts, but the heart of the subject is still broken down into the emotion behind it all and how it moves you, and you don't have to be all knowing and a walking encyclopedia on every genre of music ever to understand, you just have feel the groove Gillen and McKelvie are laying down and know what it really feels like to be a part of a movement or scene or whatever term you want to use to romance it. Which is where we're at with this first installment of this series of "B-Sides" for the series called "Pull Shapes".
"Pull Shapes" brings us into the realm of a Phonomancer (a person who channels music as magic, you dig?) by the name of Penny B. She dances, BTW. Like we saw with the first series, "Rue Britannia", it looks like most of the Phonomancers channel their power through a sort of ley line or connection with whatever scene they draw their power from. Penny B. though gets hers from being on the dance floor. From feeling the rhythm and the pulsing beats. Simultaneously getting lost in the crowd yet being the center of attention. She's a little self-centered, obnoxious even, but also a bit of a self-conscious mess, and it seems she doesn't really know what she wants, but when she's on the floor it doesn't matter. If there's any way to present the overlaying theme of this series, I can't think of a better one, and true to form Gillen and McKelvie pull you in perfectly. You can't help but get caught up in the energy of it all, even though there's a blatant flaw at play here. Just like when you're at a live show, and its obvious something's off with the sound staging, but you can't help but be wrapped up in the excitement of seeing an act you adore at their most base. It's priceless really, even in its less than perfect state.
And since the segue is there, that is a phrase you'll never ever hear me utter about the line work of Jamie McKelvie - "Less than perfect state." This stuff is gorgeous. Some of the smoothest lines you will ever see in a comic. I don't know if it's the new color presentation (Which is also fantastic, by the way--the pure definition of word vibrant) or just natural progression, but the form, the detail, the facial expressions all seem that much better from the first incarnation I saw of it in PHONOGRAM, and even a little deeper than I saw in SUBURBAN GLAMOUR of his just a bit before the proverbial "not too long ago." The only minor quibble I'd level against it (okay, so I lied about the "less than perfect" quip--should I tell you the one about Santa while we're here?) is that the jawlines tend to be a little angular, and sometimes even look similar going from the boys to the girls, depending on the angle. Insignificant? Yeah, but it still happens enough that it tends to distract me here and there. I'm a special kind of Rainman though I guess...
As much as I'd like to see this series get towards the "bigger production" (if there even is one, honestly--how would I know what these gents have planned?) or at least just see another arc dedicated to another particular musical genre like "Rue Britannica" was with Brit Pop (like, say, mid-80's to mid-90's American punk rock yes maybe please?) I can see the potential in the series of one-shots this volume promises. It'll give the team a chance to touch on a larger quantity of genres or showing us different ways on how the Phonomancers channel this power they tap into and so on, which would go a long way to giving us a better understanding of what they're playing with (as we kind of glimpse with the couple pages of mini-stories in the back of the book), as well as having quaint little character studies like the main tale of the issue presented to us. Either way, I'm just glad to be back into this universe and enveloped in whatever smooth rhythms to face-melting riffs Gillen and McKelvie feel free to belt out at us.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
HAYATE X BLADE V1
By Shizuru Hayashiya Released by Tor/Seven Seas Reviewer: Scott GreenOf all the manga that I read in 2008, HAYATE X BLADE (or HAYATE CROSS BLADE) was the most delightful surprise of the year. It's a cute girl fight manga from ULTRA JUMP, the older audience JUMP family spin-off that has yielded BATTLE ANGEL ALITA: LAST ORDER, TENJO TENGE and BASTARD!! I knew that yuri (lesbian themed anime/manga) sage Erica Friedman had singled it out as something special, but I could also think of works for which she could muster far more enthusiasm than I. (To name an example, the BEE TRAIN gunslinger anime trilogy: NOIR, MADLAX and EL CAZADOR DE LA BRUJA; fine in my book; Higher rated in hers.) Except... wow. Shizuru Hayashiya is an amazing cartoonist. There's a liveliness to her characters' buoyant humor that completely won me over. I've now joined the crowd of people who are incredulous that HAYATE X BLADE has yet to be adapted into an anime series.
Going into HAYATE X BLADE, I was prepared to contend with some well worn plot paths. North America has not been buried with anime/manga set in private schools, but we have seen enough (REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA, HERE’S GREENWOOD, MARIA WATCHES OVER US, ORAN HIGH), that a manga set in a fantastic girls' school didn't pique my curiosity. And, that the girls were carrying swords and wearing kind of a military dress uniform crossed with one of those "sailor" style skirt ensembles? Advancement through a regimented hierarchy is a favorite structure for manga. In a not entirely called for associative jump, I glanced at HAYATE X BLADE's cover, read the summary on it's back, and I started thinking about Norakuro, a pre-Tezuka, pre-World War II manga about a black dog struggling to make a career for himself in a Japanese Imperial army comprised of white dogs. While the outsider who builds a place for themselves in the world by ascending rank is a device familiar in countless popular shonen manga (DRAGON BALL, POKEMON, YU-GI-OH), modern manga's been using it practically since it's inception.
So, set in the elite all-girls boarding school, Tenchi Academy, HAYATE X BLADE was tied to a specific imagined place. However, between works that I admire greatly (REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA) and ones that bothered me (BEST STUDENT COUNCIL), I wasn't enthused by the setting. At the same time, while I have plenty of patience for an "I'll be the best" fight manga, in and of itself, I don't find that notion to be effective in drawing interest. Then, there's a cover with two girls, whose swords bear cell phone strap kitty-cat charms, one of which has a Ken Akamatsu-like CB antenna-cowlick and a look more like a precocious child than a teenager. Again, the cuteness itself doesn't speak to me.
Despite those reservations, I felt that both of the manga's principal heroines come out of volume one as stars. The eponymous Kurogane Hayate arrived at Tenchi Academy under convoluted circumstances. First, it was supposed to be her twin sister Nagi who enrolled at Tenchi, but Nagi injured herself sufficiently badly that she hasn't even been able to appear on panel. Secondly, Tenchi's fascist student council president presides over a competition in which young women of the school assert their "brilliance" in a competition in which sword wielding pairs duel to take other team's star epaulets. Hayate has thrust herself into this competition to win the prize money needed to save the orphanage that raised her from Yakuza debt.
Then there's Mudou Ayana, the girl who Hayate latches onto as her ideal "Sister-in-Arms" for the competition. The graceful yet sour tempered yin to Hayate's trip-and-rebound ebullient yang, Ayana had ducked out of the competition, and most other school activities due to painful past experience.
The extent to which HAYATE X BLADE is a serious, dramatic work is not particularly evident one volume in. It does seem in a hurry to go somewhere. Both the characters and the script have looked to leap ahead. As such, volume one burns through elements that should have sustained an interesting status quo for a while longer. Yet it is not a short manga; its eighth collection was release in Japan in mid-November. I'm inclined to think it's not going to exceed the upper registers of the profundity expected from an ULTRA JUMP version of a cute girl fight manga, but I wasn't expecting to be as wowed by the manga as I've become either.
As long as Shizuru Hayashiya's illustrations remain as charming as they were in volume one, HAYATE X BLADE will remain on my personal to buy/highly anticipated list. If you take a quick look at HAYATE X BLADE, you'll probably label it "manga style," and by the standards of most North American readers, it is. Yet, if you look at what it is really doing, it is extraordinary. There is an approach that parallels animated works like Looney Tunes. In their exaggerated expressions and poses, characters deform themselves while remaining perfectly recognizable. Manga readers are doubtlessly familiar with the situations in which an illustrator will draw characters with cute oversized heads and stubby bodies. Hayashiya's repertoire is hardly limited to that motif. Nor is she limited to routine head shots and body placement. You can inspect a small tiny panel with Hayate shadow boxing while Ayana drags her feet, a complex action shot in which Hayate moves towards an oncoming sword in a flubbed sword catching move while Ayana skirts away and a fourth party deflects the attack, or even a panel in which the faces of the characters aren't seen as Ayana knees Hayate in the back. It's all full of dynamic motion. It's always specifically Hayate and Ayana rather than generic forms. And it's always brilliantly fun to read and re-read.
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.
Howdy independent comic book fans, Ambush Bug here with another edition of Indie Jones. This week, we have a nice selection of books outside of the mainstream. A familiar frightening face gives us a tour of the macabre! A flying feminine product fights for freedom! A toothy terror trips through time! And an artist shows how he can make a computer as much of an artistic tool as a paintbrush in a somber and poetic tale! Scroll down and bask in the indie goodness!
VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #4 Bluewater ComicsI really like this miniseries. It really fills my done-in-one horror appetite. This issue is especially good with writer Chad Helder offering up a cautionary tale about a scientist who tries to overcome the inquisitive nature of a child and defeat a family curse. The story unfolds really well and there are quite a few moments of real tension--an accomplishment for just 20 pages. The other two pages? More awesome art from Joel Robinson who offers up a photorealistic intro and outro that look as if Mr. Price himself crawled out of the grave and posed for them himself. Full of scares and fun from cover to cover. Previewed in this week’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER Column, this book is worth checking out.
SUPER MAXI-PAD GIRL #1 bewildered kid comixBecause no on demanded it, here comes SUPER MAXI-PAD GIRL. To avoid a fight, be sure not to let your girlfriend read this book. Just go to a corner and read it and try to stifle the snickering so she doesn’t get suspicious. Yes, a book focusing on a woman’s menstrual cycle written by a man may not be the best thing to get your girlfriend as an anniversary gift, but that doesn’t make this offbeat comic any less funny. Writer Daniel J. Olsen (another MUSCLES & FIGHTS alum) doesn’t hold back and gets down and bloody in this book. The book houses three short stories and two interludes made by Olsen’s girlfriend. Artist AJ Niehaus goes simple with this story and it makes it all the more hilarious when a thinly detailed silent maxi-pad flies in for some bloody justice. The monologue spewing evil Period is classic in every panel he is in. His goal, to “MAKE BLOOD FLOW THROUGH THE STREETS! Mwo-hahaha!”, had me rolling and the allies the Period and Super Maxi-Pad Girl gather in an all out bloody battle must be seen to be believed. No line is left uncrossed. I’d love to read more of SUPER MAXI-PAD GIRL any time of the month.
THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST #1 Studio 407A spooky theater. A group of mismatched people. A shadowy man with pointy teeth and piercing eyes. All ingredients for the fun that makes up THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST. This is one of those stories that reads as if it were a movie. The narrative switches from America’s witch-hunting days to the present, following a vampire with an agenda. Writer Robert Heske isn’t revealing what that agenda is, but he’s fleshed out a pretty textured story focusing on some obnoxious teens, an elderly couple, some cops investigating some strange goings-on, and the aforementioned bloodsucker. Artist Giego Yapura has a Tom Mandrake feel, and since Mandrake is one of my all time favorite artists, you can imagine how much I liked the art here. Like Mandrake, Yapura does a great job of drawing horrific panels that vary in angle and shade and always going for the scariest way to fill panel. This book has its share of shocks and is a pretty dense read for 22 pages. An impressive first issue and one I will be following as the series progresses.
MASKS #1 Septagon StudiosCreator Aaron Rintoul wanders through a fractured mind in this photorealistic waking dream of a comic. At times, the prose becomes a bit too poetic for my tastes, but the beautiful computer manipulated photographs make up for that. MASKS is very much a feast for the eyes. The story starts out like an exquisite fairy tale with soft images of a dancing female figure and ornate backgrounds, but as the images grow more and more disturbing, the tone darkens and soon some very warped things start happening. IN the end, this is a tale of tragedy and what one does to cover up those ghosts of the past. MASKS is not one for the cape and cowl set, but if you’re a fan of SANDMAN and especially the work of Dave McKean and Ben Templesmith, you’ll kick yourself if you miss this one.
EL DIABLO #4 DC ComicsForgot to review this one last week, but it is definitely worth mentioning. Jai Nitz has created a Spirit of Vengeance that is much more interesting than the Spectre or Marvel’s Ghost Rider in that he has really made both El Diablo and his alter ego, Chato, equally interesting. Chato is a character in search of redemption after a long life of crime. Crippled and arrested, he’s given a second chance to walk the earth as a vengeful ghost riding a fiery black horse and enacting proper justice on those who escape the law. Not a completely original concept in comics, but Jai puts enough character and inspired action in his issues to make this one stand out above the rest. Nitz has an especially capable hand at integrating action into the narrative and allowing the actions come out of the characters rather than stopping the story for an obligatory fight scene. And what can I say about Phil Hester and Ande Parks’ art? It’s just damn awesome. This is a very underrated series that you may miss with all of the other high profile crossovers on the stands right now. - Bug
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ #1 Marvel ComicsMarvel has put the dream team together for its new eight-issue adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s classic the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Eric Shanower smartly uses the original text in the captions, letting Baum’s understated words add to the wonder of Dorothy’s adventure; Skottie Young’s art has an elegant sweetness to it that just seeps into every panel; and all of it is covered in lush, painterly colors by Jean Francois Beaulieu. The one panel of the Scarecrow winking at Dorothy honestly made me feel real joy; it sent me back to the fantastical Oz I conjured up in my mind listening to my father read the books to me as a child. If you have any love for the original story, like I do with my father reading the books to me, or even if you just synched the movie up to Pink Floyd after a few bong hits in college, you will find magic in these pages. I have a feeling that the collected edition of this will live in elementary school libraries for years to come, and I can’t wait for the day my daughter brings it home so we can read it together. Highly Recommended. – steverodgers
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #27 DC ComicsThe one good thing about this comic is that the Vixen story arc is over.
That’s about it.
I’d like to say that I’m inspired by the integration of the Milestone characters into the DCU. But coming from someone who knows very little about those characters and never read the comics, I can’t say I’m curious about this new DCU addition. Maybe it’s because the characters don’t really seem that original; just alternate versions of already prominent DCU characters. There’s a Superman type. An Atom girl. A female speedster. A Hawkgirl type. An Iron Man/Steel type weaponeer. A vision, a gill man, a strong chick, a weirdo cloud guy wearing a top hat that looks as if he stepped out of a Magritte painting. OK the Magritte guy is kind of cool, but with 52 universes tossing alternate versions of the DCU pantheon at each other on a monthly basis, this really doesn’t seem like so much of an event to me. - Bug