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Author: Peter David Publisher: Ballantine Books/Del Rey Reviewer: Ambush BugThe best sequels are not sequels at all, just continuations of the story before it. The reason sequels have such a bad rep is because unimaginative types see something that is successful and decide to repeat that element rather than expand upon or continue the narrative. Sure the same things happen over and over again in real life, but life is boring. If you want to keep a story going, you don't put it on a loop, you let it continue to unwind and follow its own logical path. This can be said for the best of comics as well as the best of movies and prose fiction.
I got my grubby hands on a copy of Peter David's new novel TIGERHEART quite a while back and with the holiday hullabaloo and the fact that I read like a retarded snail, I'm just finishing it up. Actually I have about a chapter or two left to read, but since Mr. David was kind enough to toss me a copy of his new book, I figured I had waited long enough and should say something about the darn thing, finished or not.
TIGERHEART is an unofficial continuation of PETER PAN. All of the elements are there: a spunky fairy, a pirate with a lost appendage eaten by a monster, a boy that can fly, and a bunch of kids who refuse to grow up. Sure, you won't be able to find the words Peter Pan or Tinkerbell or the Lost Boys or Captain Hook in this book, but they are there in spirit.
I first noticed the talents of wordsmith Peter David about the same time I'll bet a lot of you did: during his extended run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK. What impressed me the most was David's range as a writer. His Hulk was just as convincing and entertaining busting heads in Las Vegas as he was leading the Pantheon. Range like that is a sign of a great writer.
TIGERHEART is testament to this.
Labeling TIGERHEART a sequel isn't really fair. It uses the story of Peter Pan mythos as a springboard, sure, but whereas the original tale only scratched the surface of NeverNeverLand, Peter David breaks out a jackhammer and burrows deep beneath the surface. David not only deepens the mythology of that mythical place populated by people who refuse to mature, he humanizes it, gets into the characters’ heads and makes them altogether new by giving these familiar faces new motivations and deeper characteristics which enrich not only the novel itself, but the original story as well.
My biggest compliment to Mr. David is that after reading TIGERHEART, I doubt I will ever see the film or read the story of PETER PAN the same way ever again.
The story starts out rooted in reality. Much like PETER PAN and even harkening to ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Paul is a boy who dreams of a more exciting life. His real life is surrounded by tragedy and adults that he does not understand. Every night, in his dreams, Paul travels to a world outside of our own, where tigers talk, pirates roam the seas, and boys fly. The first few chapters actually focused quite a bit on Paul's real world problem, so much that I thought this was going to be a real life drama about a delusional boy who thinks he's going to another world but really is just set and ready for a jacket that snaps in the back (if you know what I mean...).
But David takes his time. He's a master storyteller and knows that he has an entire book to explore this magical place. Spending so much time in the real world at the beginning only heightens the wonder felt by Paul when he finally does cross over.
Paul's motivation is extremely tragic. It's one of those harsh realities that some people protect from younger children from. And yes, the death of a child is something that may scare younger readers of this book. But this is a fairy tale and in most fairy tales some tragedy is always the prime motivator, no matter how Disney sugar coats it. David pulls no punches in delivering a reality and tragedy on par with some of Grimm's grimmest fairy tales, but does so in a way that helps you understand how desperate Paul is and how much he wants to believe.
Once in this magical land, though, the action rolls fast, each chapter focusing on one or more of the amazing characters Paul meets on his journey. Some of the concepts David conjures up during the course of the story are downright ingenious. The Boy (David's version of Peter Pan) is only as powerful as he believes himself to be. His powers rely on his own confidence. But his influence is felt even in the real world and influences all boys to act roguish and impish at times. When kids are acting bad and parents ask themselves "What in the world got into that child's head?" David offers up the Boy as the explanation.
The way David tells this tale could be seen as somewhat annoying, but I found it charming that the story realizes it is a story and often breaks the fourth wall and comments on things such as an escape that was woefully uneventful and not even worth talking about. David even acknowledges that some may label the author unimaginative and lazy for such a bland escape and lack of prose detailing it, and offers up the explanation that sometimes boring things happen and that's what happened here. This self aware story is told with that old timey charm, often found in comics like LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, that if read aloud would make you roll your R’s and possibly speak in a fake British accent.
Some of the visuals of TIGERHEART's prose are downright astounding. Paul and the Boy floating over the ocean, not paying attention and almost being eaten by a hungry great white shark. The Boy's battle with the white tiger. The end of the chapter cliffhanger where the Boy takes the story's version of Wendy in his cannon's sights. David's words are so vivid, I could almost see them playing out as if they were on a movie screen.
In fact, this would make an astounding film. Screw remaking PETER PAN for the gazillionth time. Why not make a film from a story that takes the initial idea and runs rampant with it like a Tasmanian devil after a sixer of Monster energy drinks?
Calling this a sequel may be doing a disservice to the amount of creativity Peter David put into this story. It’s more of an expertly executed elaboration of the initial concepts of PETER PAN. If you know Pan’s story, this will enrich that experience and probably make you love it even more. But TIGERHEART stands on its own as a strong novel that still remembers it’s a kid’s story yet doesn't pull punches the PC’ers want pulled. It's a good old fashioned fairy tale with violence and tragedy, heroes and villains, and the kind of magic that all of us need a little more of in these trying times.
I can't wait to finish the last few chapters of this novel to see how it all turns out for Paul and the Boy. I loved it so much I couldn't wait til the end to let you all know how damn cool it is.
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.
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Sean Phillips Colorist: Val Staples Publisher: Marvel Icon Reviewer: Optimous DoucheAs someone who believes comic books get better each year and finds comics written pre-1974 utterly unreadable, I waded into INCOGNITO with a great deal of apprehension. After all, Brubaker has put out all the stops promoting this book and in each interview, blog or meme he has made no bones that this is his homage to the forgotten pulp stories of yore. For someone with modern sensibilities who has never traversed this forgotten genre I was expecting to find pages of fast-talking clichéd dialogue and caricatures of Jim Cagney. Guess what? That isn’t this book. What Brubaker and company do deliver is one of the finest expositions I’ve read in years, leaving me salivating for the next issue. They also accomplished the seemingly impossible task of making me root for the bad guy without watering the son-of-a-bitch down.
The best way to imagine Zack Overkill, the bad guy/good guy at the center of INCOGNITO, is to think of a foul pedophile forced to work at Toys R’ Us while on heavy doses of saltpeter. After turning over evidence against a fellow super baddie, Zack cuts a deal to integrate into society under the witness protection program and imbibe power suppression drugs. Brubaker must have worked a few desk jobs when trying to make it big in comics, because as a desk jockey I can say without reservation that he perfectly captures the soul numbing aspects of the white collar world and amazingly extrapolates the oppression of normality for someone that used to rape and pillage at will with the power of a god.
Never one to pull punches, I was initially worried that Brubaker would make Zack a little too evil to empathize with later in the story. While I enjoyed the panels immensely from a visceral standpoint, the “Santa costume switcheroo” rape homage to “Revenge of the Nerds” left me a bit unsettled, no matter how bitchy the co-worker in question was portrayed. Bru, does a nice job of redeeming this scene, though, by making all of the surrounding players in Zack’s life even more douchey than he is. From his government handlers to simple passersby on the street, you begin to understand why Zack hates the world and the utter pettiness of people. When everyone you encounter is an epic cock, plotting their demise is almost justifiable.
Zack finally escapes the doldrums of his sentence by engaging in recreational drug use. The catch is that the “fun” drugs negate the power oppression drugs, so Zack once again finds himself at full strength and ready to bust some heads. Sadly (for Zack) the only heads worth busting when he realizes he’s back to full strength are a gang of muggers. And thus we see the birth of Zack Overkill - anti-hero.
With such a dark theme the obvious choice for the artistry would be to shroud each panel in black and call it a day. Never ones for convention though, Phillips and Staples shun the obvious and saturate each panel with mood setting colors. Since realism is the mantra of the day in comics it’s easy to be initially put off by an entire panel bathed in blue, but set against the tonality of the text you begin to appreciate this choice and eventually fall in love with this bold decision by the end of the title.
INCOGNITO bitch-slapped my senses and left me questioning the lines of morality, a pretty fucking spectacular feat in 22 pages.
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.
BATMAN: CACOPHONY #2 (of 3)
Writer: Kevin Smith Penciller: Walt Flanagan Inker: Sandra Hope Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpIt’s been said that “brevity is the soul of wit.” So with this in mind, I’m going to make this brief. BATMAN: CACOPHONY is not a great story by any means. The plot is decent, but nothing special, although Smith’s take on the Joker and Batman’s thoughts on him is interesting as it’s entirely at odds with the Joker/Batman dynamic as written by pretty much everyone else. Flanagan’s art is serviceable—again, no awards going out here, but it gets the job done (the best looking character ends up being the Joker, who evokes classic Jim Aparo-style Joker sprinkled with a smidge of Phyllis Diller… scary stuff). There’s the obligatory Kevin Smith humor, what with the gay jokes in the first issue and the pop culture “Clash of the Titans” references in this one, and while Smith doesn’t go overboard with the jokes, they don’t really add much to the story. Amidst all this average-ness, what does CACOPHONY have to offer?
A nice, neat, self-contained story in three issues—a short story arc like the ones that used to show up in the Batman monthly titles all the time. That is, before the editors at DC convinced themselves that the only way to get people reading comics was to shove “event” after “event” down the readers’ throats.
Hey DC—I refused to follow R.I.P. I got sick of FINAL CRISIS and never bought any of the tie-in issues. And even though the GREEN LANTERN books are getting good reviews, I probably won’t be jumping in on the whole “Black Lantern” thing. I find “event” books to be prohibitive to getting into a new series.
But I gladly shelled out four bucks an issue for CACOPHONY, despite its lack of “event” status.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Brevity (in comic books, in any case) is also a great way to draw in new readers. Take a hint, DC. Lay off the endless Crisis-es and R.I.P.-ing and try some good old-fashioned comic book-ing—you might be surprised at the reaction.
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.
ULTIMATE HULK ANNUAL #1
Writer: Jeph Loeb Artwork: Ed McGuinness/Dexter Vines/Marko Djurdjevic/Danny Miki Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoAlright, I’m gonna start with some minor bitching. Why the hell are these Ultimate “Annuals” called Annuals? They’re one shots. ULTIMATE HULK ANNUAL? You don’t have an ULTIMATE HULK monthly and hell if I believe you’ll do ULTIMATE HULK ANNUAL #2 next year. Like the ULTIMATE X-MEN/FF “annual”. You’re really doing another one next year, are you? No. So cut the ULTIMATE ANNUAL crap.
Okay that last bit sounded wrong. Like the finale to the longest bout of constipation ever.
Title semantics dealt with, on to the actual book. This story is just absurd. Just so many ridiculous, unbelievable moments. I mean…a restaurant manager gets pissy and confrontational with The Hulk? Does that make sense? Do I buy that?
No, I don’t. But I also don’t care that I don’t buy it. You know how I just said the book was absurd? Well, I actually meant that as a compliment. This book is just insane in a way that entertained the hell out of me. It’s just so purposely goofy and odd that I loved it. At first I was worried since the story opens with a huge “serious” battle having nothing even to do with the Hulk. What the hell?
But the battle is there for a reason: to introduce the Hulk’s costar Zarda to those not familiar with the new Squadron Supreme. A huge crossover between the Ultimate and Squadron Supreme universes left Zarda in the Ultimate Universe. She’s Wonder Woman gone wrong. She lived as a goddess worshipped and adored for forever in a barbaric era and can’t understand treating mere humans as equals or the concept of heroes being merciful.
Zarda hits the road traveling America, trying to learn how to behave more human and humanely. Then The Hulk shows up and…things get weird. The first absurd moment ironically takes an existing absurd premise and chucks it. You know how when Bruce Banner hulks out he’s always lucky enough to have some really durable pants on? Well…it’s a bad pants day for The Hulk. He really can’t keep them on. I mean, the real, ahem, meat of the story starts at a point that sounds like the setup for a joke. “A naked Hulk walks into a restaurant…” It just gets sillier from there.
This book actually reminds me of the way old days when occasionally a comic book would just do a story about the heroes trying to do normal stuff. Like Wolverine and Colossus just going out for a beer and then having things go wrong. Here you just have some hungry hungry heroes where just trying to eat out gets very complicated (heheh).
Some people will likely balk at the $3.99 price, which is a lot for a story that in the end is just a bit of fun. But for me it’s worth it because it was so much fun. With every comic around seeming to be uber serious and important, a good old fashioned fun yarn was so what I needed.
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.
BLACK JACK VOL 2
Written and Illustrated by: Osamu Tezuka Published by: Vertical, Inc. Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandBLACK JACK Volume 2 is a wonderful collection of stories featuring a doctor named after a card game. Black Jack is a surgeon who practices medicine without a license and does so for an extravagant fee. Those in the medical field want nothing more than to have Black Jack arrested for his practices but ultimately the characters does too much good for the field since he is a genius with the scalpel.
That’s not to say that the guy isn’t a total dick because he really is. Black Jack is in it all for not just the acclaim but for the large sums of money he collects for his services. It’s been a true long while since I’ve seen a character so self-centered and driven by life’s excesses. Black Jack has clearly quickly become my idol because of this and I will dress like him come Halloween next year.
BLACK JACK was originally serialized from 1973 to 1983 in one of the many anthologies over in Japan but has finally been collected here in America for us to enjoy. Osamu Tezuka is truly old school (I mean this is the creator of ASTRO BOY here) and his work does not look like most of the Manga you find on shelves today. It’s all more cartooney with an early Manga look to it but it takes away none from the stories or characters. It’s more adult in nature the most books I read these days as the subject matter can get very deep at times from the human psyche to all of the surgeries actually performed for us to see.
Not everything wraps in a pretty little bow either. One incredible story has a bus full of kids on a field trip who get trapped with the good doctor in a tunnel following an explosion. Kids everywhere are hurt, buried under rubble, and Black Jack isn’t running around trying to save the day. Another bystander standing around asks Black Jack why isn’t he doing more when BJ screams back at him, “Doctors aren’t omnipotent!” Black Jack does what he can and is able to send one well child out for supplies but even that goes awry for those who survive.
For those fans of older Manga or those itching for an incredible story than Vertical’s BLACK JACK collections are for you – especially with a choice of hardcover or soft cover versions. It’ll only take one story to suck you into Black Jack’s world and the book never remains in the status quo, keeping you quite stuck in your seat until the very last page.
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
SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO VOLS 1 & 2
By Satoko Kuyuouki Released by Yen Press Reviewer: Scott GreenSHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO is a minor key manga, the spirit of which is a marked contrast from the vehemently polarized reactions that it has stirred in North America. On one hand, about.com:Manga named it an "Underappreciated Gem of 2008," while other reviewers have strongly criticized the manga as slight and forgettable. The book itself works in and ambiguity. For most of its first two volumes the impetus for its plot is kept clouded in mystery. More often suggesting a tone rather than hammering a point, it's strange to think of SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO as a divisive work.
The manga's title describes its lead character. Kuro ("black") is an androgynous young woman (there are a few blind men and the elephant style conversations about Kuro in which different participants refer to her by different gender pronouns), dressed in black mortician/vaguely Puritanical garb with a coffin strapped to her back and talking bat Sen and his 999 siblings in tow. Wandering the roads of a Miyazaki/Kino's Journey quasi Europe, she stops in on the manner of a professor of the occult. When he doesn't answer his door after 119 knocks, Kuro and Sen let themselves in, and in the presumably abandoned building's basement they find a pair of ghostly pale young cat-eared girls locked in a cage. The two children, Nijuku and Sanju begin making a game of teleporting in and out of the metal bars, and in moments, Kuro has a pair of ethereal companions serving as the yin to her yang.
Chapters of SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO chronicle the fairytale like encounters of Kuro's travels. For example, Kuro arrives at a community that bustles around a grand cathedral. A desperate looking man hails Kuro as she passes by. Noting that she looks like someone "familiar with unorthodox magic or witchcraft," the man takes Kuro to see his illness stricken daughter. This man explains that the bishop of the church has been unable to help his daughter, but also mentions a witch on the outskirts of town. We, the reader don't see the countenance in question, but the girl's mother mentions "that traveler’s face made the most terrifying expression for a moment." So, Kuro and Sen travel from the town until they see a cottage situated at the top of a NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS curled hill. There, they meet a bubbly blonde woman who proves to be the witch, and as a proxy, Kuro heals the ill girl and the relationship between the devout community and their pagan neighbor.
In a welcome, unconventional move, Yen Press has published the manga with the opening pages of SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO's chapters in their original, colored format. In a more distinctively strange move, Satoko Kuyuouki relates the story of the manga through vertically aligned four panel comics strips.
North American manga readers may have seen four panel strips (also known as 4koma or yonkoma) before in comedies such as AZUMANGA DAIOH or as humorous supplements in margins or appendices of other manga. In comedies the format applies rhythm to the joke. A situation is presented. It's developed. It reaches a climax. Finally, it concludes. Here's an example from AZUMANGA DAIOH. Panel 1: a girl with outstretched arms yells "oh no! could you get that for us, please?" as a soccer ball bounces towards a lady. Panel 2: the lady is staring at the oncoming ball in preparation. Panel 3: the lady has kicked the soccer ball up, into her own face. Panel 4: the girl mutters "uh, you could've used your hands..." as the lady holds her head moaning "waaaugh."
The rhythm of four panel strips is an unusual fit for a non-comedy manga like SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO. An example of how it works.. Panel 1: a top down shot of Kuro carrying Sanju under her arms, muttering "it suddenly got really heavy..." Panel 2: a head shot reveals that Nijuku is also curled up asleep on top of the coffin, as Kuro continues "Did both of them fall asleep.? They're so selfish." Panel 3: A side view body shot of Kuro walking, carrying the girls and explaining "It's been a long time since I walked without anyone to talk to." Panel 4: a shot of the forest through which Kuro is walking with word balloons relating "I wonder what would've happened to these two if I had left them behind." The next strip continues that chapter's narrative, but a given strip is its own molecule of the story.
The confinement of telling the story through four panel sequences has several effects on SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO. First, it blocks in tunnel vision to one moment, related without many of the medium's graphical tools. Splash pages can't be done. Insets are difficult. Parallel progressions are possible, but not in the same strip. Instead, we're alone with the characters, or, more specifically, with Kuyuouki's representation of the characters. There's a lot of gazing at Kuyuouki's inky, gothic figures with their darling proportions; and there is a lot of trying to read nuances from their mannerisms, set against visually intense backgrounds.
In a comedy, the four panel form gives manga the rhythm of a performance, as if the manga were telling you a joke. In a work like SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO, the format gives the manga a poetic meter. This isn't to say that SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO is Shakespeare, but it is fascinating to see how manga reacts to a terse, rigid structure.
I'm a proponent of finding out to whom a work of manga intended to speak. A LITTLE SNOW FAIRY SUGAR and BOTTLE FAIRY are both anime/manga concerning cute winged micro-girls in innocent situations. The former is shounen, for boys. The latter is seinen for older, teen+ males. If you're looking to make sense of the subtext of the work in question, it's worth while to know differences like these in target audience. SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO ran Manga Time Kirara, a seinen publication largely comprised of four panel strips. This is not an anthology that receives much notice among North American manga enthusiasts, so kudos to Yen Press for locating the brilliant, unconventional manga.
I'm not saying that SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO should only be read by seinen's Spike TV demographics, or that that's the only audience who would be interested in reading it. Yen Press' "Teen - LV" rating looks fine to me, and I think both male and female readers will appreciate the manga. However, I also think that like most manga, SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO shows signs of being shaped by its specific readership.
SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO is often more disquieting than entirely bleak or upsetting. There are certainly fairy tales that place greater emphasis on the harsh punishment inflicted on those who mettle with witches or stray off the right path. In the case of SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO, what's most disturbing is what's not seen. There's a flashback in which another traveler gives Kuro her hat. When it partially covers her eyes, she remarks "I can only see half of what I usually see." The veteran wanderer informs her "half is just right. If you see the whole world, you'll realize that the world is not full of pretty things." I'm not quite sure of the degree of wrongness in matters such as the relationship between Nijuku and Sanju and the Professor who created them or captured them or something, but there's reason to believe that the coffin on Kuro's back is not the only heavy baggage that this cast carries.
What makes me more anxious about the manga is the contrast between what SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO is saying and who it originally said it too. If SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO ran in HANA TO YUME (home of FRUITS BASKET) or NAKAYOSHI (home of HELL GIRL), I'd say that the manga was drawing from themes of alienation and fitting them with a complementary goth motif. Except, I don't find that a seinen manga would converse with its audience about alienation through a story like the one in SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO. Similarly, the manga has more than a preponderance of girls receiving fairy tale punishment for their infractions or those of their communities. Volume two in particular looks at the fate of spoiled princesses several times. I think that SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO intends for its audience to react to rather than relate to its subjects. This raises the complex subject of moe. If these darling figures were intended to provoke feelings of concern, then the manga is working as intended.
Personally, I've always maintained a suspicion of cute seinen anime/manga. One reason is because I feel that people who grew up as geeks producing anime/manga concerned with youthful girls, intended for a geek audience establishes a scary echo-chamber to the exclusion of more inventive works. That's certainly not the case with a singular manga like SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO. Then, there is the pandering or questionable gender politics of those works. I'm not entirely sure that I'm ready to clear SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO, or even give it the benefit of the doubt (the fact that Satoko Kuyuouki is a woman does not necessarily increase my confidence; look at Peach-Pit's alien slave manga DEARS for a demonstration of atrocious gender politics in a manga created by women). Still, SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO's haunting tone and inventive use of the four panel format makes the manga relentlessly intriguing.
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.