Advance Look at BLACKEST NIGHT #0 Free Comic Book Day Edition
Writer: Geoff Johns Art: Ivan Ries & Doug Mahnke Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI am a huge, huge, huge fan of Geoff Johns. When he wrote STAR SPANGLED KID, I was a fan. When he decided to move over to THE FLASH, I was blown away by the way he took over a book that had been done so well by Mark Waid and confidently made it his own. When he revamped the JSA, I was a fan. I was even a fan of his short lived stint on THE AVENGERS, for god’s sake. And of course, GREEN LANTERN. Despite the fact that I was always a fan of Kyle and Guy over Hal, he made me love that book too. So now that I’ve established my liking for the guy as a writer (possibly the only one with the yarbles to bring the greatness back to the DCU), I have to comment about something kind of alarming I have noticed in Johns’ work.
You see, after following these modern writers, your Bendises and your Ruckas and your Morrisons and your Ennisses and the like, there tend to be traits that stand out. Maybe its because the internet has made them more accessible, but moreso than ever before the trends in writers works are visible and evident. Morrison seems bored with straight forward stories and steeps his stories with the meta-contextual and experimental; a concern for coherency and overall fan acceptance isn’t really important as long as the story is challenging as a writer. Ennis loves the over-the-top raunch and doesn’t really seem to take comics seriously unless it’s a topic that he feels strongly about (like WWII or his homeland). Rucka has a tendency to write strong women. Bendis has a gift for street gab. Azzarello, organized crime. Brubaker, straight forward action. Alex Ross, a love for what once was. Peter David has a gift for character and humor. Etc, etc. etc.
Johns is a strong storyteller. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s something about his writing that seems…well it just seems to be somewhat obsessive compulsive in his writing.
Let me explain.
When Johns took over THE FLASH, he set out to revamp the Rogues Gallery. And he did that, making them some of the coolest villains in the DCU, rivaled only by Batman’s foes. In fact, he revamped all of them. Every single one. He accomplished what he set out to do, revamped all of the Rogues and finished his run on the book.
Move over to the JSA where Johns made sure that each and every classic DC character had a modern counterpart. Once he did this, he finished the first run. When he returned to the book, he set out to match up current continuity with the continuity leading up to KINGDOM COME. Now that that task is accomplished, Johns looks to be leaving that book soon.
Now let’s look at GREEN LANTERN. I’m not saying that the idea isn’t pretty damn sweet, but matching up a Corps, a special little rhyme, and a personality trait to each letter of ROY G BIV (the color scale) seems to be somewhat over the top to me. It’s like the kid who liked to collect every single issue a comic book character appeared or had to have every figure in a toy line no matter how obscure, then had them packaged and saved in an orderly fashion. Entertaining, yes, but obsessive? Just a tad.
BLACKEST NIGHT #0 is a short little ditty. It’s a Free Comic Book Day Special, so I wasn’t expecting a huge number of pages. The main story was a quick fun read, but it was the supplementary material describing the various Corps and their members and purposes proved that made this more of a substantial read than I’ve read in FCBD’s past. The art is fantastic. The story, with Hal and Barry pining over Bruce’s grave talking about their own mortality (or lack of such a thing) is thoughtful, well structured and well written. Well worth a few bucks and quite a bargain at FRIKKIN’ FREE!
But it was the amount of supplementary material that took me aback. Johns has this all worked out in painstakingly precise detail. Every I is crossed and T dotted. Sure he’s taken his time to do it and it looks like it’s finally here. If this issue is any indication, it’s going to be good despite the long buildup. But man, does it seem obsessive.
Don’t think of it as a knock. I appreciate that much attention to detail. Comic book readers are an obsessive lot, so I guess Johns is in the right place writing to the right audience. Coming from someone who makes sure you Talkbackers have a comic book column on AICN to read come rain, shine, influenza, computer glitch, or relocation each and every week, it shouldn’t surprise you that Johns’ attention to every detail and making sure it all fits into its predetermined and right place is much appreciated by this Bug.
When you go to your comic shop this Free Comic Book Day, be sure to pick up BLACKEST NIGHT #0. It’s DC’s last, best hope. And it’s damn good. Mahnke’s WHO’S WHO entries alone would make it a must read, but it’s Johns’ care and dedication that, albeit a tad scary, is evident on every page of this freebie that guarantees BLACKEST NIGHT is going to be something worth the wait.
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 in stores October 2009.
HULK # 11
Writer: Jeph Loeb Artist: Ed McGuinness Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: Liam ‘The Kid’Note: ‘The Kid’ is 8 years old and has been doing reviews on his own site since August of 2008.
In the last issue this guy this alien cosmic guy the Grandmaster had both the Red and Green Hulks come up with different teams. The Green Hulk took Namor, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer and called them the Defenders. The Red Hulk picked Tiger Shark, an evil magician called Mordo and a big alien warrior that is enemies with the Silver Surfer. The two teams have to kill each other and whatever side wins gets to have all their wishes come true. Both Hulks have fought each other before but now they each have teams that can help them. Green Hulk really needs the help since the Red Hulk beat him before and beat Thor, Iron Man and a bunch of girl superheroes before.
I like how both the Hulks were fighting underwater and the Grandmaster gave them the ability to breathe in water like fish and when the Green Hulk took Red Hulk into a hold and started to squeeze him but the Red Hulk broke out of it real easy. There were a lot of really cool battles in the book. I like when Silver Surfer was fighting his enemy and the alien bad guy cut his surf board in half and the Silver Surfer was upset because he thought he had all the power and that the alien shouldn’t be able to break his board.
The fight with Tiger Shark and Namor was really good, too. I liked Tiger Shark in the DEADPOOL comics but he isn’t as funny in this book. He’s meaner and more serious and dangerous and has these very sharp metal teeth and he uses those teeth to beat Namor in the fight by taking a big chunk out of him. The Dr. Strange fight was a bit boring but then this devil looking guy shows up and he uses all his power to capture Namor and Tiger Shark. He has a big hand made of fire and scoops them up to keep them from fighting each other.
The best fight was between the Hulks. I like how Green Hulk nailed Red Hulk between the legs with the end of a Trident and almost took him out. Green Hulk said that he doesn’t kill and wants to know who he really is and then the Red Hulk grabs a trident and stabs the other Hulk with it. I don’t think the Hulk is dead because both Hulks keep getting hurt worse than that in the comic but it was a good scene.
The big problem with the book is it seems way too short. I really like the art in the HULK book. The artist draws all of the characters really cool, especially the Hulks and different types of monster and alien creatures. The bad part is because he draws the characters so good and makes his drawings take up the whole page or sometimes two pages at a time. There were a couple of different times when it was the same drawing on two pages or one drawing on a page. It looks really good but it makes the comic go by a lot faster. I hope in the next issue there is more of the Hulks or their enemies and less time with people like Dr. Strange or Silver Surfer.
DETECTIVE COMICS #853
Writer: Neil Gaiman Artist: Andy Kubert (pencils), Scott Williams (inks) Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerI held off on forming an opinion of Part 1 of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER to wait for Part 2 so that I would have the full story. So, now I have read both parts, and I have an opinion.
I am disappointed and underwhelmed.
This review will likely spoilerize anything that might be considered a surprise in this story, so if you haven't read the story and want to be surprised, bow out now. My assumption is that most people reading this review have either read it or never plan to.
Once again, I went into a DC comic with high expectations and came away with a major wtf moment. The entire tenure of Dan Didio as Editor-In-Chief has been one wtf moment after another. In fact, that this man continues to be employed there is a wtf moment, but that is a rant for another day. I'm sure he had little to do with the content of this comic book other than possibly gratifying himself in the corporate bathroom as he read the claptrap here that passes for writing.
Neil Gaiman is one of those writers that either hits all the right notes for me or misses connecting with my sensibilities entirely. Coming into this project, surely he knew that comparisons to Alan Moore's classic WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW story were inevitable. In fact, it was basically marketed by the Didio editorial team as a spiritual sequel of sorts to that Moore classic.
However, what Moore understood and Gaiman apparently does not understand is that the outer trappings of the character are not what ultimately matters in any kind of imaginary "final" story such as these. As well, Moore understood the layered psyche of the character of Superman much more than Gaiman simplistically appears to understand the layers that make up the mind of Batman.
The truth of the matter is that Bruce is not confused about who he is. For him, the Batman identity is a completion. Many times, stories have been told that demonstrate that even if circumstances had changed and he had not lost his parents, he was still destined to become Batman. And Batman is a character grounded in heightened realism surrounded by a madhouse of absurdity in the villains he must take down. In a sense, he's much like the doomed Robert Neville in I AM LEGEND barely maintaining his sanity as the only human in a world of vampires. Batman is driven to accomplish something that he knows can never be fully accomplished, but the attempt is what matters. He was given birth by the death of his parents, but there is more at work to drive him to do what he does on a daily basis than that. He is religious in his devotion to make their deaths have purpose rather than a random act of cowardice and greed.
Batman is not a philosophical man. He is a practical man. And for Gaiman to cloud this "final" story in wispy, childish, theo-philosophical meanderings does a disservice to the character and to the reader.
In Part 1 and Part 2, Gaiman centers the narrative around an incomprehensible funeral service for Batman in which all his friends and enemies gather not to pay respects, but to apparently argue with each other over how he died. So, it is essentially a less effective and overdrawn swipe of the BATMAN animated series episode and recent GOTHAM KNIGHT DVD story where some kids each tell their own version of an encounter with Batman which are dramatically different versions of the character. From a story pitch standpoint, I kind of get it. Okay? "We'll get all the supporting characters to tell their own version of his death and that will allow us the chance to get the artist to ape the different styles of the different eras of Batman." Good theory, but failed. Andy Kubert is a fine artist and a good match for Batman. But his work here just did not work for me. He seemed to miss the subtleties of the different looks for the character and was not given enough space to excel because Gaiman crammed way too many different supporting characters into the story with an opportunity to talk. It was forced and removed any emotional connection between the story and this reader.
At the point where the "real" Batman shows up wandering around in the dark wondering about whether he's going to Heaven or Hell and visiting with his dead mother's spirit, I was ready for something to be brought to this story to give it some coherency and weight. So, we get an internal monologue from Batman within his own transitional purgatory, in which he proclaims that he is a fighter and that's what he was made to do and that's what he's going to do up until he dies. Batman is a fighter.
Batman is a hero.
He is much more than a fighter. But that's what I mean when I say Gaiman misses the main points of the character. Batman fights because he is forced to fight, not because that's who he is. His actions are an outward expression of his inner character striving to honor the memory of his parents but it is an inward-out expression of who he is. "Batman is a fighter" is an outward expression only, and misses the real fact that Batman is and always will be Bruce Wayne. At this point in the story, the Batman suit should have disappeared and the reader should have seen him as Bruce Wayne from there on out. Because in the end, as a human soul is moving on to his greater reward, I would expect that tights, cowl, and a utility belt would be pointless. And I also struggle to accept that in that moment between life and death that Bruce/Batman would not embrace his true face, especially if encountering his mother. Would Bruce really meet his mother in spirit and continue to block his face and eyes from her?
That's not rhetorical. The answer is no, he would not.
However, this is still not the worst thing about the comic. That starts right after the "Batman is a fighter" moment, when his mother starts taking him back to his childhood and we are forced to endure a Gotham City version of the goddamned GOODNIGHT, MOON book!
I am not kidding.
If you have kids, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you have just forgotten because you were so young when your parents read this book to you. And it may be a wonderful book in the real world, but it is also like Barney in that it may be age-appropriate for babies and toddlers and even meaningful to them and their parents at that time, but out of context and time it is eyes-ripped-out-of-your-skull-set-your-hair-on-fire pablum of the worst kind.
And that Gaiman would use this less-than-juvenile plot device as a means of spiraling to possibly the most hackneyed and useless ending I could've ever imagined on my own is just plain ridiculous. Apparently, if I read this right, Batman is existing within a completely deterministic universe in which the only thing he is sure of about himself is that he fights and will fight till he dies and when he dies, he just returns to his birth moment and begins another endless cycle of fighting until he dies and then returning to his birth to do it all over again. And his life and manner of death is determined each time by everyone else but him. What a sad, useless, and pathetic ending for a hero who has served as an inspirational archetype for 60+ years of heroic fiction. No triumph. No reward. No peace.
Why do I have this sick feeling that Gaiman was convinced that this juvenile attempt at circular reincarnation and continual reinterpretation was profound and insightful? I hope this doesn't diminish my enjoyment of his other works that I have liked in the past.
Time to file this one into my imaginary comics junk canister and get it out to the curb before trash pick-up day.
Prof. Challenger is illustrator and "Renaissance Man" Keith Howell who is married with two kids, a dog and a cat. Headquartered in the Republic of Texas, he has a glorious ability to annoy people, the strength of ten men, and sometimes updates his website at profchallenger.com.
ASTONISHING X-MEN #29
Writer: Warren Ellis Art: Simone Bianchi Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoI’m coming at this comic from a strange place. First, I haven’t been reading it consistently, so my last impression of the title was the first issue of the current creative team, and like Nuke LaLoosh’s pitching from “Bull Durham”, it was sorta all over the place. Second, I really appreciated Whedon’s run, so I lowered my expectations for this run accordingly, even knowing Ellis was taking over.
I probably shouldn’t have worried. The “Ghost Boxes” run has been classic Ellis: mind-blowing exposition, clever characterizations, equally clever dialogue. Maybe too clever, from time to time, but still very good. Emma and Hank stand out in my mind as excellently done.
I hear some people complaining and I’m not sure why. Is it Marvel’s best book? No. But is it very well done, and worth the entry fee? Absolutely, if only for the artwork alone.
Bianchi’s work, in art, inks and colors, is absolutely stellar. I couldn’t decide if it would be more at home in a picture book, or in an issue of HEAVY METAL. Maybe in a very twisted children’s book, I dunno. I’ll say this: the art is actually bigger than the story, and almost makes the story small by comparison. This art may be even bigger than the comic book. It’s that good.
My only disappointment is how a multiverse-spanning tale suddenly bottomed out in the shallow end of the pool. It looked like things were getting bigger and bigger, then suddenly, Forge has somehow pulled a Nick Fury and is fighting a secret war, making mutants (and why would anyone agree to be so forever-fugly? Great dental benefits? I’m not getting the motivations here) and generally being the Wizard of Odd.
Plus, you would think that a guy of Forge’s genius (“Death legs!”) would be able to build legs that don’t require him to use a cane?
Oh, but holy crap, the artwork. The artwork was magnificent. Without it, it’s just another entertaining Ellis story: always good, but not necessarily great. With it, however, and with Laura Martin involved anywhere in the colors…it’s been a while since I opened a book two or three times just for the pretty pictures.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #13
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Penciler: Brad Walker Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpOnce again, I have arrived late to the party. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has been getting glowing praise from my fellow reviewers, yet I never really felt the urge to pick up an issue to read for myself. It took a cover featuring former X-Factor leader Havok (one of my favorite B-Listers) and a blurb proclaiming, “The Starjammers (some of my favorite C-Listers) Strike!” to get me to plunk down my two hundred ninety-nine pennies and dive into this series. See, I love the lesser-known superheroes. You can keep your Wolverine, I’d rather have Strong Guy. Ditto swapping Batman for Blue Devil, the Avengers for the Defenders, et cetera.
How come nobody told me that GOTG is a second-string paradise?
Even from just one issue, I can tell that Abnett and Lanning are doing everything right with this series. There’s a great mix of characters ranging from the relatively obscure Vance Astro and Mantis, the wonderful throwbacks to the early 1980s with Rocket Raccoon and Bug, the vaguely cult-characters of Adam Warlock and Starlord, and topping it all off, a giant tree monster named Groot. The best thing about this eclectic mix (aside from its very nature of being eclectic) is that none of these characters are safe—meaning, unlike such characters as Spider-Man or Wolverine, none of these characters is an icon. Even when a major, iconic character “dies” or goes through some “life-changing event,” it’s a pretty well-established fact that the status quo will be regained sooner or later (usually after a year or so). But the cast of GOTG, as a bunch of oddballs from the fringes of the Marvel Universe, are subject to no such laws—only to the whims of their writers.
The writing of this series is really what it’s all about. As with their NOVA title, Abnett and Lanning are able to convey lots of essential information to the reader without resorting to a dependence on narrative captions or other clunky devices. For example, I learned what this whole “War of Kings” crossover business is all about within this comic, and I learned about it while still being entertained by the plot. Again, just as with NOVA, the classic Marvel technique of giving key plot information in every issue to make it understandable to new readers has been updated for the 21st Century. And it works—one issue and I’m already hooked. That’s more addictive that cigarettes, marijuana and heroin combined!
On the artistic front, I like the look of this series, right down to the retro-Buck-Rogers-style uniforms. Walker has a good handle on both the big action stuff and individual characterizations. Of course, it helps when your comic book features such a wide array of unique non-human protagonists. Did I mention how much I love Rocket Raccoon?
Lately I’ve been drifting away from the bigger superhero titles (although to be fair, I haven’t followed Marvel’s flagship titles for over a decade), but books like GOTC (along with other gems such as NOVA and X-FACTOR) are able to entertain without collapsing under the weight of their own continuity. Hell, this comic got me interested in picking up the “War of Kings” crossover issues—when a comic book is good enough to persuade a tightwad like me to shell out more dough, you KNOW it’s gotta be good.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast. You can see some of his artwork athere. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
IGNITION CITY #2
Writer: Warren Ellis Art: Gianluca Pagliarani Publisher: Avatar Press Reviewer: steverodgersThe second, solid issue of IGNITION CITY—the straight up, retro-rocket-fueled, alternative-history, mystery comic by Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani—takes us back to 1956, soon after Earth decides to end all space travel.
We follow our hard luck and newly-grounded space pilot, Mary Raven, as she searches for clues into the murder of her pilot father, who was ray-gunned down by an unknown assailant. Ignition City, the last spaceport on Earth, is also a kind of awful retirement home for old-timey space heroes like Mary’s father, Rock, and his peers Lightning Bowman and Gayle Ransom. Ignition City is where they go to eke out the rest of their lives, slowly die forgotten and alone in flop houses, in alleys, and in single beds bolted to the floor. Ellis systematically introduces us to the key players and moves us right along deeper into the mystery and into the culture of Ignition City.
The art has a FIREFLY feel to it—it’s a realistic, western, science fiction mash-up, with everyone looking appropriately weathered, beat and ready to die. One minor distraction is Mary’s unfortunate costume design of a late-90s belly shirt made out of a tight man’s office work shirt with a big and collared leather jacket on top. It makes you wonder if they have mirrors in Ignition City. The ray guns, on the other hand, are top-notch, Flash Gordon-awesome.
It’s been a great year for indies putting out first-rate, sci-fi: first SHRAPNEL over at Radical Publishing and now IGNITION CITY by Avatar Press, this is a perfectly satisfying mystery that takes place in the shadow of rusted rockets and the broken promise of space travel.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #592
Writer: Mark Waid Artist: Mike McKone Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: Liam ‘The Kid’Note: ‘The Kid’ is 8 years old and has been doing reviews on his own site since August of 2008.
Spider-Man just came back from his adventure with the Fantastic Four and he’s mad that it took so long. He was only supposed to be away helping them for a day or two and he was actually gone for two months and one of his enemies, Jonah Jameson is the mayor of New York and someone is sneaking into his apartment and cleaning up things when he’s away and he doesn’t know who it is.
All of the parts with Jameson were really funny. He is getting yelled at and talked to by a lot of different people who want to ask questions and stuff because he’s the mayor and he just wants to be left alone. And then his dad is bad and wants to get to know him even though they haven’t seen each other in a long time. Jameson’s dad likes Spider-Man and thinks that he is a hero but Jameson still hates him. It was really funny when the two of them were in Jameson’s office arguing and then they hear crunching. Spider-Man is sitting in a web hammock outside of the window eating a bucket of popcorn listening to them fight and then when he came inside he gave Jameson’s dad the bucket of popcorn. Jameson’s dad says that Spider-Man is cool and Spider-Man says he loves the dad and it just makes him even madder. Spider-Man came to the mayor’s office because he wants to call a truce since Jameson is the mayor but Jameson calls out a SWAT team to shoot him down.
Spider-Man dodges all the bullets and jumps out the window and says that he is just going to be Spider-Man all the time to mess with Jameson. I like that all the newspapers show that Spider-Man is doing things all the time and being a big hero and saving people and catching bad guys but I really think they should have shown the art for that. The one thing I did not like in the book is that there was no fighting at all. Spider-Man is in costume a lot swinging around and talking to people but that’s all he does. And in the part where it talks about all the crime he’s stopping they don’t show any of it so I thought that was a waste of drawings. All the drawings of Spider-Man looked great, though. I like how the artist drew him in a bunch of different positions when he was swinging around but my favorite page is when he is in the web hammock and the Jamesons are just staring at him.
The book had a lot more things in it that were funny and a lot less action. The funny parts were really good, though. In one part in the mayor’s office one of Jameson’s friends is telling him that Spider-Man even saved a cat and in the drawings a cat in a basket is being lowered on a web to Jameson. Jameson says he’ll pay for even more people to hunt down Spider-Man and the cat is licking him when Spider-Man swings by his window singing.
I hope that there will be some more action in the next issue, though. It’d be cool if in the next issue that Vulture bad guy who is killing the other bad guys shows up and fights Spider-Man so we can get a good action fight with Spider-Man. It was still a good comic but mostly because of the art and the funny moments.
Rating: 9 out of 10
GANTZ Volumes 3 – 4
Released by Dark Horse Manga Scott GreenFew manga gleefully embrace a "mature" tag the way that GANTZ does. Its purview is a first person shooter on familiar streets, with familiar people. Normal Johns and Janes, armed with sci-fi gadgets, try to chase down alien creatures, and GANTZ watches as things get very nasty. Punctuated with shower scenes and teeth loosening beat-downs, GANTZ is seinen manga with the commitment to deliver on the more graphic, more charged brand of violence found in manga like HELLSING, BERSERK, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL or EDEN: IT'S AN ENDLESS WORLD. And, it is very refined in its approach to going about playing to primal interests. Creator Hiroya Oku's background includes risqué relationship stories, most notably the gender-swap manga HEN. GANTZ builds off that, along with his experiments integrating digitally inked 3D models and manga, in order to construct a title that's both smart and salacious.
When a manga is still running after 25 volumes, the way GANTZ is, it can be difficult to determine what an accurate, representative sample looks like. The impression suggested by GANTZ's first four volumes is a bit different than the impression suggested by the first two. After a character revealing third volume and a fourth that gives revived meaning to the cliché "action packed" after a female character asks the male lead "will you keep me as your pet?" I'm more inclined to say that GANTZ is more intended to be smartly salacious in giving the audience what they want than it is smartly salacious in commenting on those expectations.
Upon finding himself standing next to long separated childhood friend Kato Masaru, Kei Kurono is guilted into jumping onto a subway pit to save a disheveled man who fell onto the track. This reluctantly performed good deed is swiftly and brutally punished when an oncoming express train splatters pair. Instead of what typically follows death, they're reconstituted in an apartment, bare except for a large black sphere, along with female peer Kei Kishimoto, devious looking middle school student Joichiro Nishi, and a host of other representatives of the recently deceased. The ad hoc squad are outfitted with form fitting, shiny, black suits, armed with sci-fi looking guns and told to go out into the city and kill off a group of child-sized "onion aliens." The mission doesn't go well, and ultimately, the aliens and humans do a fairly thorough job brutalizing each other.
Volume four delivers more of Gantz's attention commanding human versus "alien" battles of attrition. This time Kurono, Masaru, Kishimoto and Nishi are teamed with four members of a biker gang, just dispatched from the losing end of an ambush by rivals, an old lady and her grandson, who were just in an auto accident that also carried off a teen idol on a motorcylce with a girl he picked up. The adversaries on this go around are "Tanaka Aliens": bird-men with a grotesque just-hatched quality about them, housed in bowl-cut headed robot-man bodies. Given that the scream from one of these guys can turn the insides of a human into mush, a lot of which seems to ooze out the eyes, nose, ears and mouth of the victim, the bug hunt certainly delivers a barrage of GANTZ's caliber of unrestrained, disturbing violence.
GANTZ's violent exchanges maintain their vigor going into the second outing. While the ferocity and abandon of this remain impressive, it is not fundamentally different from the Onion Alien battle. Volume three is the point at which I feel that the series evolved, or at least prompted a shift in my perception. While setting up the piece for the Tanaka Alien battle, the volume offers insight into the backgrounds and personalities of Kurono, Masaru and Kishimoto. While Masaru demonstrates genuine heroism outside the guns and birds mortal combat and Kishimoto seems desperate to clutch onto anything, Kurono continues to drive GANTZ's conversation with its own wish fulfillment elements.
In discussing the dramatic and ideological elements of the manga, it is worth highlighting that beyond its exhibition of skin and blood, GANTZ is far from a subtle manga. Hiroya Oku's writing is packed with arch tendencies. The character centric third volume reveals that Kato Masaru is an orphan, beings housed long with his young brother by an aunt. The relationship could not be laid out any more explicitly. "I have to teach you and your brother how to make your own way in this cruel world. For your own good. You aren't a part of this family." The broad faced, hang wringing aunt then takes her own children out for a steak dinner. "Aren't they coming with?" "No. we can't spoil them."
While these broad gestures are unmistakably obvious, there is a utilitarian purpose to them that leverages Oku's talent for cutting scenes. By packing heft into short exchanges, rather than slow development, Oku can allot more time to the manga's salacious marquee qualities. At the same time, these scenes are effecting. There are plenty of instances of school bullying captured in manga. Given that Oku doesn't do anything in half measures, GANTZ's depiction of large, stubby roughs tormenting shorter geeky schoolmates is one of the medium most enraging.
Because of these sharp moments, it only takes a few scenes to prompt a reevaluation of the manga. There is one in particular in volume three that takes place during a respite between alien battles, after Kishimoto has implored Kurono to take her in as "pet". Kurono lives alone, financially supported by parents who are working abroad. Kishimoto can't return home because of a quirk in how GANTZ reconstitutes the recently deceased. Kurono sits on the side of his bed reading Young Jump (the anthology that serializes GANTZ), while Kishimoto kneels on the floor, watching TV. Kurono thinks to himself "Why am I sitting here reading YOUNG JUMP? And why are we sitting so far apart?" GANTZ does still seem to be commenting on the kind of power fantasy that an anthology like its own trades in. Through the first two volumes, GANTZ seemed to be a power fantasy that had metastasized. The manga introduced Kurono in the midst of an internal monologue, thinking that he's cleverer than the dull humanity around him, but denied the excitement and gratification that he deserved. When given the tools and opportunity to demonstrate his supremacy on Gantz battlefield, he proves to be largely unimpressive in a painfully nasty conflict.
In volume three, Kurono starts accumulating the spoils of being an action hero. He takes what he receive in his alien battles and applies it to combating school bullies with dominating results. This proves to be disadvantageous in the next alien battle, but that is more a function of his thoughtlessness. Then, there is the Kishimoto aspect. There is a real character there, but she is also used as a sex object, with plenty of petting scenes in which Kurono's hands don't seem to be where Kishimoto wants them.
GANTZ could go back to an anti-power fantasy stance, but I don't think that the manga is going to refute the Jump formula. I predict that this is going to blow up in Kurono's face to the extent that he's not doing the Jump hero routine correctly.
From its inception, GANTZ was unashamed to flaunt excessive displays of flesh and blood. Chapter title illustrations frequently feature context-free pin-ups of undressed and semi-dressed Kishimoto: parts of an incomplete black Gantz suit draped over her body, naked except for shoes and glove-smiling and holding a sci-fi pistol, chest exposed, holding a dog in her lap, or in one case just Oku seemed to be fitting as many naked figures as he could onto a single page. Beyond this, 5 page shower scenes and the like are worked into the manga. Personally, I can take or leave the titillation part, but I do have to say that few do it better than Oku. As someone who can go for a bit of exotic violence, GANTZ is still a manga that I look forward to, that I get excited for. Yet, I feel that it is a let-down that Oku doesn't seem to be pursuing his pointed, dark commentary on the genre the way he seemed to in the opening chapters.
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.