An early review of NEW AVENGERS: THE REUNION #1
In stores today. Writer: Jim McCann Artist: David Lopez (pencils), Alvaro Lopez (inks) Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugReading this book was like a trip back into time. Right about the time I got into comics was right about the same time HAWKEYE got his first miniseries. For the longest time, Hawkeye had been growing in popularity as the guy who spoke out at the big Avengers meetings. He would challenge Cap and Iron Man on their leadership decisions. Hell, he was even booted off the team in favor of the Falcon at the time. No wonder he decided to head to the West Coast and branch off on his own. In that mini, he met Mockingbird, a former SHIELD agent with a past as checkered as Hawkeye's. It was a match made in heaven and I watched them become one of the cooler husband and wife teams in comics. Then Mockingbird died. And Hawkeye was sad. And then Hawkeye boinked Scarlet Witch. And then he was happy again for a bit, then remembered how batshit crazy she was and almost chewed his bowslinging arm off to get out of Wundagore. And then Hawkeye put on a neon ninja outfit and was sad again. Then SECRET INVASION happened and Mockingbird came back from the dead. And again, Hawkeye was happy.
And that's where this miniseries starts off. With Mockingbird back, the couple should be happier than ever, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Mockingbird is acting kind of squirrelly, which leaves Hawkeye suspicious. Since it was revealed that his wife had been a Skrull for god knows how long, who can blame Hawkeye for being a bit leery of the whole situation. What commences is a nice little cat and mouse (or is it Hawk and Bird?) game with Mockingbird investigating...something and Hawkeye trailing her. Interspersed are some nice scenes between the estranged couple, some cool solo Mockingbird recon scenes and a really well executed scene between Hawkeye and the new Captain America.
Jim McCann talked briefly about Clint (Hawkeye/Goliath/Ronin) Barton and Bobbi (Mockingbird) Chase's relationship in our last “Shoot the Messenger” column, stating that they are very much like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's relationship in MR. & MRS. SMITH in this miniseries, and I kind of like this angle. McCann's got the two at odds, yet still fighting the good fight. Having a husband and wife super-team that occasionally goes all slugfest on each other may make for some disturbing real life consequences (see the Chris Brown/Rihanna debacle), but it makes for some good comic booking. McCann keeps the pace brisk and the mystery deep in this first issue; an issue that leaves you wondering which end is up by the end.
The art by a pair of Lopez’s (David on pencils, Alvaro on inks, not sure if they are related) is crisp and clean. It's one of those straightforward looking comics that I really appreciate. Too many comics these days act as portfolios for artists to develop their distinct style in order to stand out from the herd. This isn't one of those books. The art in this book isn't trying to be the star, it's simply there to highlight the cool story and even cooler characters.
NEW AVENGERS: THE REUNION is a comic I plan on following very closely. It's got some of my favorite characters and I don't know what to root more for: for Clint and Bobbi to get back together and live happily ever after or for Clint to burn the stupid Ronin costume and get back into the old Hawkeye costume we know and love. I'm sticking with this one until the end to find out what happens with both.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out previews to his short comic book fiction here and here published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics. Look for more comics from Bug in 2009 from Bluewater Productions, including the just-announced sequel to THE TINGLER for their VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS ongoing series.
Artist: Ashley Wood Writer: Wood & T.P. Louise Publisher: IDW Publishing Reviewer: steverodgersThere are days when you walk into a comic book shop and all thoughts of job anxiety and the recession blues fall right out of your head. You stare at the new books all lined up, flip through the pages, make awkward conversation with the guy in a Bartman t-shirt (whoa dude), turn off your mental calculator and start pulling books like you’re Daddy Warbucks. If you’re lucky, you look through Ashley Wood’s POPBOT #8 and decide that you’re completely ignorant for not knowing about this before and 10 bucks is a small price to pay for an oversized, prestige-format book full of beautiful paintings and drawings of robot bodyguards carrying rock-star cats, naked women cavorting with one another (and robots) and hip-hoppy cloned autistic warriors called the Tomorrow Kings bred to kill robots, cleaving their metal bits with samurai swords.
This is mainly an art book, so one look at the paintings and you’ll know if you like it right away, but the writing credited to Wood and T. P. Louise is also pretty nifty—a kind of atmospheric, science-fiction prose that tells you just enough but takes nothing away from the juicy goodness of the art. And the art is juicy, with globs of paint and big strokes, while other times the paint is thin and drippy with colors hiding and reappearing and elongated figures (and ROBOTS!) painted on top of light washes. The paintings generally take up one page and the prose is set on the opposite page on the bottom, in tiny type that annoyingly wanders in toward the binding so you find yourself flattening the pages to read it all. It’s graphically spot-on, but wicked hard to read.
For me, this was a great introduction to Ashley Wood, an artist who flew under my radar, but now I can’t wait to go back and look at his other work. I love that feeling. One of the great things about comics is that you never know when you’ll be surprised; even after years of buying them you can still discover something new in your local comic book shop—something that will catch your imagination and set you off on new discoveries. Hopefully you find it in the quarter bin, but this time it cost me 10 bucks and I couldn’t be happier.
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #4
Writer: Gerard Way Art: Gabriel Ba Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Reviewer: JinxoWow. Doc Brown thought the night of the Enchantment Under The Sea dance was some sort of time travel nexus. Screw that. The Kennedy assassination is apparently a must-see-and-mess-with stop for all time travelers. Setting aside THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY I can think of at least four other time travel adventures set on that deadly day in Dealey Plaza. Taking all of those stories into account (and you really shouldn’t since they are all part of separate continuities but… screw it)… Kennedy is not Kennedy but one of his time traveling descendants from the future taking his place, Oswald is actually a merger of Oswald and a time traveler from the future, and the mysterious figure on the grassy knoll was actually Kennedy himself time traveling back from a future gone wrong because he didn’t die who fires the fatal shot to put history back on track. And apparently Doctor Who was kicking around that day too but not exactly sure what he was up to. Probably just acting as traffic cop to all the other bone headed time travelers.
And now THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY looks to be heading back in multiple groups to muck up history even more. No wonder nobody knows what the hell happened that day! Keeps changing, apparently! Now clearly I enjoy a good time traveler meets Kennedy assassination story and I really do dig on THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. And I don’t want to bitch much because I think the guys on this book are still doing good work…but this is the first issue where my confidence in them slipped juuust a tad. I think it can be a fine line between being mercurially clever and cool and being a little smug and lazy and telling yourself you’re being clever. This issue…I got a slight whiff of the latter. Right from the get go with the cover actually saying, “This is the cover to the fourth issue”. I picture smiles all around from the creators over how great an idea that was. Meanwhile, for me it came across as cocky and a total “whatever”.
In the story itself there were also moments of writing that seemed a little slipshod. Now this is a book where sometimes crazy stuff happens without fully being explained because and it’s okay. But usually it is okay because they’ve just got such a pop art/pulp fiction blur of a story whirling by, keeping you occupied and entertained, that I don’t quite care if something is left unexplained because, hey, the story is zipping along too fast and furious to make an expositional pit stop. But this issue they take shortcuts at points where I’m not in the middle of having my mind blown and with things where, frankly, I WOULD like an explanation. Like an intro scene that is just a surreal throwaway waste of my time. What did it have to do with anything? Then we have a character who goes from dead to inexplicably feeling much better? Explanation? Apparently that’s just how things work for that character. What? That’s all you got? REALLY? Hazard a slightly more elaborate BS guess that we readers can then assume is semi accurate, okay? Given the character I could come up with a one sentence bit of logic that would better explain things.
I don’t mean to get too down on the book because overall I really am still liking the book a lot. And by the end it had me back in the whirl of craziness that WOULD allow me to overlook a lot. Just when something or someone who has been knocking you out with their performance so consistently finally stumbles, even a little, man, it just makes you nervous. I’m hoping I’m just being overly critical because I want this book to keep flying high.
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.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT #10
Writer: Rob Vollmar, Jim Salicrup, Greg Farshtey Artist: Tim Smith 3, Rick Parker, Mr. Exes Inker: Tim Smith 3, Rick Parker, Mr. Exes Publisher: EC Comics Guest @$$hole Reviewer: WilliamWow, imagine my surprise as I was carousing my usual comic book store and I came across this comic. TALES FROM THE CRYPT? New stories? Same style as last remembered, i.e. lots of monsters, same freaky hosts, and the occasional hot scantily clad girl running in terror? Sign me up.
It had been years since I last came across one of these comics. I remember being in junior high and coming across a copy at a friend’s house, and like coming across something really taboo I remember reading the stories that were supposedly so controversial back in the day. I can’t remember much about the stories, but I think they consisted of some beheading, or some kind of person being buried alive and so on. It’s so weird to think how much controversy these comics caused back when they were first printed, and then when you look at things today the latest Punisher issue blows these issues out of the water within the first page or two. Since that time, I came across the famous Crypt-Keeper by watching some of those late night rabbit TV (albeit severely edited btw) showings of the HBO show (way too poor for the real thing), and then my most recent encounter was with the purchase of those incredibly well made audiotapes. Seriously, if you’re a fan of anything TALES FROM THE CRYPT related you have to pick up a copy of these audiotapes. Exceptionally well produced stories, with a great supporting cast and sound effects to make it easily seem like you’re a part of them.
Anyways, back to this. Apparently EC decided to produce some new material, and seeing this latest copy at my comic book store it was a no-brainer to pick it up. So how do the new stories fare after all of these years? Well, you still basically get the same treatment as before. There’s still around two or three short stories within each issue, there’s still the same freaky co-hosts commenting before said stories in a tit-for-tat kind of way, the stories still involve a weird macabre type feeling showcasing humanity at its worst, with the main character usually dying in an ironic kind of way.
What felt weird, at least in the way that it’s presented now, is how modern stuff is suddenly interjected into these storylines. For example in the first story, the “Old Witch” is talking not through the usual creepy TV or coffin from way back when, but rather through a laptop. Also there’s another part in another story where one of the characters whips out their Blackberry and uses it to control a robot maid. It just felt weird having the latest technologies showcased in the issue, like a bad sense of culture shock. I guess the closest I could compare it to is watching a Sherlock Holmes story where Holmes suddenly takes out his iPod Touch to look up the latest news about some disaster. It just doesn’t feel right.
Anyways I thought it was a good enough issue on its own. The artwork by all of the various artists listed above did seem a little simplish, as if the 48 pages that the comic proudly announced for $3.99 was a tough timeline to meet. The artwork from the previous comics were much more detailed IMO. But I still enjoyed it enough to add it to my subscription list at my local comic book store, and I recommend the same to anyone who’s a fan of this great franchise.
THUNDERBOLTS #129 Strikes Thrice
Writer: Andy Diggle Art: Roberto De La Torre Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewers: Jinxo, Humphrey Lee, and Ambush BugJINXO: Norman Osborn, you nutty bastard. Some folks are saying, oh, he’s being made into a second rate Lex Luthor. Bah! The thing is…Luthor is a bad bad guy but Norman Osborn is NUTS. He’s got Lex’s logic and cunning but it’s mixed in with a good dose of The Joker’s madness, as exemplified by this issue. On the one hand Norm is playing an elaborate chess game. He’s on Air Force One with Doc Samson and The President and he’s basically running an elaborate con where he’s controlling and manipulating everything, but not in some safe political way. He’s blowing holes in the plane, literally playing with people’s minds, really risking his own life as well as The President’s…he’s just going for it. That’s the difference right there. Lex might create a scenario where he’d risk The President’s life but I don’t see him risking his own life. I have to say, Norman Osborn being large and in charge…it makes me smile. Enjoying this insanity much more than the previous reconfigurations to the Marvel U.
HUMPHREY LEE: A couple issues into the new direction and creative run of this title and I just don't think I'm feeling it. The thing is, while this isn't so far off from what the Warren Ellis issues were doing post-CIVIL WAR i.e. taking the team more to its roots of villainy, but making it more government sponsored while the truly reformed peeps like Songbird and Radiation Man tried to compromise/survive it from the inside, this version just rings a little more hollow. It's not a bad comic either, mind you, in fact the way Norman Osborn these past two issues set up a strike by his team to cement his credibility with the new President was pretty creative, but I'm just not latching onto any of this new team. Unlike the Ellis team before it, there's no one in the immediate picture for me to identify with or root for, though I guess Songbird at the least is going to try and take them apart from the outside. And the problem that arises with this book, as it does with DARK AVENGERS and probably will with the other DARK titles, is that you can't exactly have this team of misfits and villains lose all the time, because that undermines their threat value, but you can't really have them get any major victories, because we all know at the end of the day the good guy has to win a little, or at least survive. I think I may try the next couple issues, just to see what comes out of this whole mini-crossover with DEADPOOL and see if that gives me any glimpses of this book playing for any stakes I can get invested in, but with a roster that I could really care less about who lives and dies, and that I don't really find to be that terribly worthy of my ire since they're mostly C-tier villains at best, I don't really see myself continuing with this one.
AMBUSH BUG: I’m leery about this title. I came in late to the game with Ellis’ THINDERBOLTS. Read them all in one sitting and really, really liked it. When I heard writer Andy Diggle was coming on board, I flipped. I love, Love, LOVE THE LOSERS. And Norman Osborn’s Black Ops team has the potential to be just as cool. I don’t want to pass judgment yet, but this issue had a couple of things that worked and a couple of things that didn’t. First and foremost, to Marvel and all comics for that matter: please stop putting Obama in your books. I’m just plain sick of seeing him. I’m not sure who has more appearances now in Marvel books this year, Obama or Osborn. Whoever has more appearances; both are played out and tired. Just knock it off. Secondly, this book needs to find an artist—one artist and stick with it. The switches between three artists in this issue were jarring and ripped me straight out of the story. The good: It was interesting to see Doc Sampson Hulk out. It was interesting to finally meet the rest of the team. There’s a lot of potential here with the cast Diggle has chosen, but I agree with Humphrey about the futility of having a team like this filled with such dastardly and unlikable characters. Is the concept of heroism such a forgotten thing that we have to edge-up every one of our comics these days? Even a squeaky cleaner like Captain America has been replaced by a former assassin. It’s just a depressing thing that true heroism is so hard to find and worse yet, stories of good people doing good things simply don’t sell. I’m a fan of Diggle, but another book following a group of people or a person with very few redeeming qualities is as played out as Obama’s comic book guest appearances.
THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OGN
Writer: Mark Andrew Smith Artist: Matthew Weldon Publisher: Image Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheI’m going to put a firm stake in the ground by saying that THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY is the most important book hitting the shelves this week. Not because it will irrevocably alter the fictional universes that we have all grown to love like DARKEST NIGHT and DARK REIGN, but because this book has the potential to change our real universe -- you know, the one we call life. As we all transition from fanboys, to fanmen, to fanoldfarts, to fandead, we might as well bury our long boxes with us, because late Gen Y and Millenials simply won’t give a shit about comics.
The big houses have actually created universes over recent years that are utterly inaccessible to the pre-teen market. Cryptologists and NASA scientists are still trying to decode FINAL CRISIS, and let’s not forget that the whole event was kicked off by the family fun game of rape. Over at Marvel, CIVIL WAR was kicked off with the deaths of hundreds of school children. I’m not complaining about these choices because for right now they speak directly to my demographic, the thirty year old male and older, but as Sally Struthers pined throughout the 90s, “What about he children?”
Sure you have your Cartoon network titles, but despite the fact they are supposedly for children, the titles all focus on adults doing adult things. The success of books like Harry Potter, lie in the fact that children are empowered and accomplish things that the adults of their world simply can’t. Back when I was a little Rodimous Douche as opposed to the hulking 6’6” Optimous Douche of today, there were titles like the Harvey line, where kids actually made a difference and accomplished things that befuddled the bumbling adults. THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY takes this approach and makes it a million times cooler than any issue of RICHIE RICH or that fat chick LITTLE LOTTA. After scrolling through the last page of my preview PDF, I was slightly pissed off that a title this lush and imaginative was not around to help shape my formative years.
THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY is comprised of four orphans whose parents are killed in a, you guessed it, archeological expedition. The first thing that struck me about this book was Smith’s bravery in not making these children pint-sized adults. As the kids become acclimated to the mansion of their care-givers, they use their imagination to create adventures in ways that only kids or seriously bi-polar adults can. Whether defending their ground in a snowball fight, fighting perceived zombies or rescuing trapped ghosts, every adventure is given the same severity of importance as a G8 summit. By the time the main story of a quest for coveted books of magic kicks in, you are firmly vested in Smith’s world and the well-being of these vertically challenged adventurers.
To build this world Smith put a brilliant spin on past literature ranging from children’s tales like Peter Pan, fantasy lore like Lord of the Rings and even a nice smattering of some tales from eastern cultures. Despite the fact I had read most of the source of material, his imaginative take on telling these tales through the eyes of a child made all of the concepts feel as fresh and exciting for me as a reader as they were for the new Brighton Archeologists.
This naturally wouldn’t be a children’s book without a few moral lessons weaved into the pages. But what made these “very special” moments even more special is that the kids are allowed to discover the lessons of sharing, courage and problem solving without a meddlesome Dumbledore or some other overbearing adult spoon feeding them the answers.
This book was also the perfect example of using art to drive a story forward. Not only does Weldon paint a damn pretty picture, but because this is a children’s book the art is used heavily to drive the story forward. Instead of just showing off the fact that he can craft a pretty splash page as so many artists are prone to these days, Weldon gave each panel a purpose. I’m generally a word guy and not happy with pages upon pages of pictures, but in this case I was perfectly content to sit back and stare. My only regret after the perfectly sweet and utterly foreboding ending of THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY was the fact that I had to read the book as a PDF. Weldon crafted some beautiful two-page spread eye candy that of course got turned into one page grainy shots by Adobe.
THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY gives me hope for the future. It proved that there can be an outlet to introduce kids to the world of picture-based story telling without pandering to them or horrifying their innocent sensibilities. If the day ever comes when I decide to populate the world with little Douches, THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY is a book I would not only feel comfortable reading with them, but excited at the possibility of once again traversing this mystical realm.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. "What if the whole world had superpowers? Find out in the pages of Optimous’ original book AVERAGE JOE. Read the first full issue on Optimous’ New Blog and see original sketches by fellow @$$hole Bottleimp. If you are a publisher or can help these guys get AVERAGE JOE up, up, and on the shelves in any way, drop Optimous a line."
DEAN KOONTZ’S FRANKENSTEIN: PRODIGAL SON VOL 1 HC GN
Original story by Dean Koontz Adapted by Chuck Dixon Art by Brett Booth Publisher: The Dabel Brothers Reviewer: Ambush BugThe trade collecting the first 5 issues of Dean Koontz’s modern Mary Shelley story is definitely a slick package beginning with the cover, which is gorgeously painted by Arthur Suydam. Even before you crack it open, this is one good looking book.
Once inside, I found that Dean Koontz’s story about the Monster of Frankenstein returning from exile to destroy his maker and a few other human monstrosities along the way that torment the streets of modern day New Orleans was masterfully adapted by action guru Chuck Dixon. Dixon does a great job of making this read smoothly as not your typical Frankenstein story by injecting a ton of cop drama and procedural into the mix. Bodies are turning up sans different body parts. The media is dubbing the murderer “The Surgeon”, and a pair of cops have a theory that there is more than one fiend walking the streets of the Big Easy snatching up bits of people. At times the main pair of cops assigned to this case act a bit over the top with a heaping helping of melodrama. But as soon as Dixon starts laying it on thick, he smartly cuts to a scene of evisceration or a cool scene with Deucalion, this story’s Monster.
Artist Brett Booth is talented for sure, but he occasionally misses his mark with this book by neglecting dimension to his figures, making them seem very flat on the page. Because of the lack of depth, Booth’s figures seem somewhat disconnected and get lost within the many spacious panels throughout the book. I found the amount of negative space jarring at times, making me feel that a space that could have been filled with word balloons or panels were wasted. It just seemed that quite a few panels looked as if they were making space for word balloons that weren’t there, as if the writing of this book and art were somewhat disjointed, as if the art was done before the words were written, so excessive space was allotted just in case Dixon had more to say.
Criticisms aside, Booth does a whole lot of good with a whole lot of panels, especially the ones depicting the story’s anti-hero Deucalion. The scenes of carnage and action are vivid and well done as well, as if these scenes got extra attention by the artist because he was more invested in them. All in all, this is a fun horror story twisted and gene spliced to fit into modern times. Presented towards the end of the graphic novel is an original short story by Dean Koontz himself that is equally if not more horrific than the main content. If you’re a Koontz fan, you won’t want to miss this snazzy hardcover. If you’re an occasional fan like me, you’ll probably be entertained as well. Look for this book from The Dabel Brothers in April.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #131
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Penciler: Stewart Immonen Publisher:Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoAgain, regardless of whether the overall “Ultimatum” saga gets plotted right, I do really admire the level the story has raised the “New York gets stomped on” story to. I mean, in the 616 Marvel Universe they’ve recently had New York torn up by many, many full out wars. Yet in the end it’s kind of like none of them really do any real lasting damage. With ULTIMATUM, at least in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, they are really selling that, really, New York is %$#’d. That maybe…90% of the city is just dead dead dead. Could they do a take-back later? Sure. I mean the faults I have with this issue are some sloppiness in that area. For instance, if you are going to bowl me over by showing that a major Marvel hero is has been killed, maybe not put ads in the back for later issues where he’s back up and kicking ass. If you’re gonna lie to me at LEAST don’t have an ad screw up the pathos of the lie. And they do go from a shot of the city 10 stories under water to a shots of people at street level doing okay, then back to tidal waves licking the tops of buildings.
But for all the glitches, I’m buying in emotionally. I buy Spidey being figuratively and literally out to sea as to what the hell he can do to help against something so massive. I like the idea of this being something so horrible that it would cause some strong, base level anger in a certain Dr. Banner who is really better off staying calm. And I really liked the scene they gave to J. Jonah J. that many might feel should never happen. Certain things certain characters should never do. In this issue J.J.J. does has a moment I’m sure many would say the stubborn Spider-hating prick would never have. One where he really opens his eyes and, at least for now, allows his perspective to change on what sort of person Spider-Man is. It’s a moment I’ve wanted to see happen if just because it makes J.J.J. into a real person capable of growth and change and not just a snarling caricature. Even if it’s just the Ultimate version of the character, I liked letting the big blowhard have that human grace moment.
My hope, though, is that this isn’t a take back situation. I’m starting to suspect Marvel is looking to either gut or just go nuts with the Ultimate line so that…maybe this is for keeps. I think back to the New Universe when they just went, screw it, let’s blow up Pittsburgh. Maybe here they’re doing that. Maybe not. But flawed as it is, again, it has me actually giving a crap.
EDEN: IT’S AN ENDLESS WORLD Vol. 10-11
by Hiroki Endo Released by Dark Horse Manga Reviewer: Scott GreenVolumes 10 and 11 of EDEN: IT’S AN ENDLESS WORLD circle back around to the manga's central premise. A generation after a pandemic outbreak of the Closure Virus killed a third of the world's population, Elijah Ballard acts as a fulcrum in the conflict between the Propater Federation (Japan, America, Europe and South America) and its opponents, who count Elijah's drug lord father Ennoia Ballard and mercenary/refugee alliance Nomad among their numbers. These volumes find Elijah no longer a philosophical teen or a novice to the grittier realities of military and criminal conflict. College aged, exhibiting a hedonistic streak and remarkably wilder than he once was, Elijah has almost completed his time living in a Peruvian brothel, acquiring some martial skill, learning the joys of sex and drugs, and involving himself at the ground level of narco-conflict. Now with the Closure Virus mutating and an AI calling itself Maya manifesting at key hot spots, Elijah has teamed with a female cyborg instance of Maya called Letheia Aletheia and Peruvian/English special division police officer Miriam to step back onto a global stage. In other words, Eden's transitioning from the catastrophic ocular injuries and bomb threat scenarios of recent volumes to something no less intense, but far more sci-fi, with lectures on bacteriophage and quantum computers, Chinese ICBMs and a reshaping of Ayres Rock.
There's been some debate as to whether EDEN: IT’S AN ENDLESS WORLD is overrated. I've seen people with good taste in manga and credible opinions on the subject roll their eyes when mentioning the effusive praise that the manga has received. While I've been a proponent of the manga, I agree that the assertion that EDEN is the greatest manga ever" is difficult to support. I'd also agree that it's hardly flawless. Yet EDEN is doing something different, it is doing it well and consequently, I would place EDEN very high on the list of works that I recommend to anyone, regardless of whether they're predisposed to being interested in manga.
While I've thought about and discussed EDEN fairly recently, it was slightly over a year since I actually read any of the manga. That was sufficient time to forget that I'd not only read volume nine, but reviewed it. I'd also forgotten that the volume dealt with China's Uyghur ethnic minority. Here's where writer Hiroki Endo really demonstrates his command of global affairs. If you're a news reader, you may have caught mention of the Uyghur people. One of the hot button issues regarding Guantanamo Bay is the twenty-two Uyghurs being held. To fit the manga into the case's timeline, the Japanese collected edition of volume nine was released in July 2003, before most of the international debate on the issue. These people were probably Islamic separatists, but they also probably were not engaged in anti-American activities and there's plenty of ambiguity concerning how and why they came into American custody. While all but one have been "approved for release," America has faced considerable difficulty repatriating the Uyghur detainees. The Uyghur issue may not have garnered high profile space on CNN.com, but it is illustrative of the complex, intractable fallout of how the "War on Terror" was pursued. Looking back at volume nine a year later, I see it as an example of EDEN's outstanding approach to the complexities of the current, global condition. You don't see 24 or LOST evoking issues like this.
But, what does EDEN do after broaching the subject? The question I've asked myself, and presented in the AICN Anime column is "how profound is EDEN?"
Two things occur to me upon returning to EDEN after a year's break.
First, I remember getting a heady hit from Hiroki Endo's complex, graphically violent fight illustrations. I can still see why I get that impression, and I still think that it effectively conveys a feel of ferocious motion and sudden, grievous consequence. Established by its own, particular look, the illustration has that quick cut tempo used in movies like BOURNE and BATMAN BEGINS, only with the clarity of Endo's fine lined, detailed rendering. Maybe I'm being fussy, but I'm now seeing the action work as slightly flawed. Many of the motions seem more iconic than real. Like everything in EDEN, Endo evidentially studied the reality of what he was depicting, then considered how to reflect that real model in the manga. What I'm now noticing is that Endo seems to fall back on a library of fight postures. It's as if he developed a set of tools for building the action sequences, and had trouble extending beyond the range afforded by that kit. This looks apparent in Volume 10's knife fight. Endo's thoughtful creativity pays off in panels that snap to combatants readying their concealed weapons from sleeves or behind belts. Then, looking at the knife work, it's all cross thrusts, ear to full, straight armed lateral extensions and pitch throws in which the shape of the knife seems to bend. This generally looks fine, but it does not hold up well under a dissection of the fight logic. The issue is by no means that Endo's fight illustration is ineffective. It's that after putting it on a pedestal, I'm noticing significant imperfection.
The fact that I'm evaluating the quality of its fight scenes is indicative of the second thing that occurred to me when revisiting EDEN. I've re-arrived at the conclusion that I'm unsure of whether EDEN offers a cogent examination of the topics that it raises.
EDEN runs in Afternoon, Kodansha's monthly, slightly younger audience sibling magazine to the publisher's weekly, adult male aimed Morning. It's an anthology that collects an eclectic range of work, from artistically violent samurai epic BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, to geek affirmation Genshiken, to historical fiction Vinland Saga. Yet, this isn't an alternative anthology manga anthology or a science and philosophy journal. EDEN has been carried in Afternoon since 1998, and you don't run a decade plus in an anthology like this by being a thought piece. I don't want to discount EDEN because it mixes truly adult sex scenes with tittering about characters' virginity or homosexually or that it slings a few severed arms seemingly to maintain a reputation for grisly violence. My concern is that 11 volumes in, I'm still not convinced that EDEN adds up to something or that the presented ideas form a thorough argument, or even a question.
Volume 10 opens with the story "Idiotic, Useless, and Beuatiful Behavior," an Elijah-less narrative concerning imbalanced, deadly Nomad operative Kenji and Uyghur separatist Marihan Ishaq's involvement with a plot to detonate a bomb in a crowded Chinese shopping complex. In this, Marihan's actions are guided by a stated motivation to die "doing the right thing."
Later, in relation to people infected with the Closure Virus, the manga offers a Selfish Gene argument; that preservation of genetic material is what constitutes victory from an evolutionary perspective. The biological imperative and the willingness to sacrifice ones life for a human notion of righteous seem to be at odd with each other, but is EDEN juxtaposing these ideas, developing a conversation between them or jotting them onto the page because these interested Endo when it came time to write the chapter?
Endo has laid the groundwork for an outstanding dialectic here. Humanity invents (or, if you're religious, is given) a code of morality that is supposed to superseded the biological imperatives to survive and procreate. Yet, in the snap shots we've seen, EDEN has charted Ennoia Ballard's course from a high minded adolescent to an adult who maintained his noble goals, but built a brutal criminal empire to achieve them. Similarly, we're watched Elijah start on a hero's journey and, still pursuing his objectives and ideals, wake up in a room with a pair of naked women, strewn with empty booze bottle and marijuana residue, briefly escaping a path of severed limbs, broken ribs and murdered friends. Conversely, while the notion of human equality brought about by a viral pandemic sounds like nihilistic, super villain rhetoric, in this context, it's an intriguing counterpoint to political, commercial and religious wars engaged in by the likes of the Ballards and Propater. Yet, the manga seems to be churning rather than developing. I don't know if Endo is going to resolve this debate with a knife fight, a full out war, an AKIRA like assault on comprehendiblity or a conversation, and I'm not know if Endo knows either.
My skepticism as to whether there is a cohesive framework for the ideas brought up during the course of EDEN's plot is informed by the nature of the medium.
Frederik L. Schodt's DREAMLAND JAPAN notes that Morning and Afternoon are anthologies that are not marked by a tremendous amount of editorial edict. However, "like nearly all Japanese manga magazines today, Morning has established a feedback system with its readers to tell whether a story is popular or not." Beyond the demands of fostering popularity, there is the demand of producing a serialized story month after month, year after year. To paraphrase Jonathan Clements' SCHOOLGIRL MILKY CRISIS, you have you're whole life to write the first chapter of your manga. Once a publisher picks up the title, you have until your deadline to write the second. With the pressure for popularity and constraints of time, I can see a slowly developed intellectual argument getting fairly ground up in the machinery of commercial manga publication.
Despite these reservations, my reaction to EDEN is reminiscent about how I recently felt reading Stieg Larsson's much praised mystery novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Like EDEN, North America received a translated edition of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, a while after it was written (first published posthumously in 2005, published in North America in September 2008). While I ultimately had some problems with the structure and plot, I was amazed by its characterizations and a sense of up to date modernity rarely seen in popular media.
Even if EDEN is thrashing, the consequence is only a matter of sussing out the degree of success to adjust my high respect for the work. Regardless of whether EDEN builds up a substantial argument amongst its provocative ideas or develops a satisfactory resolution, the process has been tremendously worth while. A specific scene that represents why I react to EDEN isn't one of the momentous moments of sci-fi or violence. It's Miriam going through her morning rituals in front of a bathroom mirror... brushing her teeth, applying make-up, clipping nose hairs. In the background, there is an ignored TV news broadcast going on about new outbreaks of the Closure virus and other calamities "...the New York Stock Exchange with an overall average monthly loss of twelve percent...chemical and pharmaceutical corporations soar... the number of suspended airline flights has climbed to forty percent..." Scenes like this are the work of someone in tune with the currents of how the world is developing and how people might react to those changes. Though it wasn't written recently (2003 in this case), it feels like it reflects our current moment.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.