WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #1
Writers: J.M. Dematteis, Tom DeFalco, Sean McKeever Art: Val Semeiks & Dan Green, Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema, Stephanie Buscema Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugYou know, I’m gullible.
I really am.
A while back, when Marvel promised that there would be one Spider title and only one monthly Spider title to come out thrice monthly, I believed them.
I took them for their word, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty damn pleased with the outcome. Spidey stories haven’t been this strong in years, in my opinion. I like reading big chunks of Spidey stories taking place in a month (or so) span. The talent lined up in the monthly Spidey books seems a bit sporadic, but consistently good.
Let’s face it, for the longest time, Spidey books were crap. For a good fifteen to twenty years there were too many of them on the stands. Too many different storylines. Too many different creators who didn’t seem to talk with one another. And they came along and streamlined it. Sure they did a couple of controversial things, but the last few months of Spidey books have made it all worthwhile.
The funny thing is, though, that just when Marvel is getting it right, they go ahead and try to screw things up. And it’s also funny that this happens to coincide with the reemergence of the Clone Saga storyline. Now, I’m all for the new miniseries that came out a week or so ago and I think the first issue of CLONE SAGA was old school fun (although it still had a lot of the faults old school comics used to have too). I just hope that the return of the CLONE SAGA doesn’t signify the return of the suckidude of Spidey-books past.
Take WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #1, last week’s new Spidey title that has been advertised as not your regular Spidey title. The book doesn’t focus on Spidey, per se, but tells tertiary tales that somehow fit into the continuity of the regular tri-monthly title, but aren’t necessary reading to enjoy the tri-monthly book. So right off the bat, the ads are saying that you’re not going to be missing any of the Spidey story if you skip this book. To that, I said, “OK, then I won’t get it.” In these economic times, why buy one more book, especially when its ads tell me it’s not really relevant to the story I’m already reading? “I’ll save a few shekels and skip it!” I exclaimed to myself whilst reading the solicit in the coffee shop, causing more than one sideways glance.
So of course, when I saw the first issue on the shelves last week, I bought it. I figured it was my civic duty as a comic book reviewer to do so. Plus I have low impulse control.
Now, I don’t want to take anything away from the people who put this book together. They tried to make something out of this book. J.M. DeMatteis wrote a Kaine story. Though I have to say this may have been the weakest story in the book, it was good to see Val Semeiks art again. I found this story to be pretty ponderous though, with the storyline going through multiple stops and starts. I just had a hard time connecting to Kaine’s character, maybe because Semeiks drew him so ugly-ly. Not sure why, but I got to the end of this story not giving two shits and hoping Kaine will be staying in his little prison for a very long time (though it looks like he’s going to be back in the main title soon).
Tom DeFalco got another mile out of the Spider-Girl character. I don’t follow the SPIDER-GIRL book, but I know that there’s quite a loyal following and she seems to be the little spidey-girl that could when it comes to eeking by and continuing to have stories published about her. The story in this book has a lot against it because in order to get new readers invested, there’s a lot of back-story and history to sift through, which took up most of the short story and left very little room for actual stuff happening. Still I was able to clearly follow the character and she was a character I wouldn’t mind reading more of given this creative team’s heart and dedication to the character.
Finally, Sean McKeever tosses out a cute Frog-Man story with even more fun art by Stephanie Brown. This was a light and fluffy story, heavy on humor, low on depth. Having a soft spot in my heart for the Frog-Man character and his many adventures with Spidey in the eighties, it was a great chuckle inducer. All these stories, all fun reads.
In the end, though I had fun reading most of them, they were ultimately forgettable and surprisingly dull for a first issue. If this was the show starter that was supposed to convince me that I should put this book on my pull list, then the book is ultimately a failure. These stories read like back-up stories that editors had to blow a few layers of dust off of in order to get them to press. Sure, they may have some relevance to the main story, but I didn’t come away from this issue feeling more enlightened or more enriched having read them. And I don’t think that if I missed the book, I would have enjoyed the main Spidey title and more or less.
So I guess the book lived up to its name. While the stories weren’t bad, they ultimately didn’t really matter and it looks like this is going to be another number one issue I bought that will not be getting a second issue follow up next to it in my long box.
I know no one’s looking for my suggestion, but I’ll give it anyway. Since Marvel’s trying to sneak in their $3.99 price hikes and they admitted that there is no rhyme or reason as to which titles get the dollar hike and which doesn’t, why not just put one of these stories as a back-up feature in the tri-monthly books? The added pages and price hike seems to have worked for DC. And then folks wouldn’t have to buy another Spidey title. I’d be much more likely to read a Spider-Girl or a Kaine story if it was a back-up feature in AMAZING than if it was a main feature in a side-note title. Just makes a lot more sense to me.
Gullible? Yeah, I’m gullible occasionally. But I’m usually only fooled once. I was one of the folks that supported one Spidey title because it would mean better stories. Hopefully, this isn’t the downward turn into the dregs that occurred before BRAND NEW DAY. In the end, unless you’re a completist and have another $3.99 to piss away a month, you can avoid this title and won’t know the difference.
Pasqual Ferry’s cover deserves a bit of praise, though, for some wicked pit-web action flowin’ in the breeze as Spidey swoops across Manhattan. Man, I love it when Spidey’s drawn with those pit-webs…
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over eight years and one of the original @$$holes. Check out his comic book shorts from Cream City Comics’ MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1 on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics and here and here about his latest comic from Bluewater Comics, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1-2. Look for more comics from Bug in 2010 from Bluewater, including VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS WITCHFINDER GENERAL and ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS DEATHSPORT.
GALACTICA 1980 #2
Writer: Marc Guggenheim Art: Cezar Razek Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Reviewer: Jinxo“GALACTICA 1980” (the TV show) was bad. Just a bad, bad mistake. I was quite happy when I thought of a way to undo the whole show while not just pretending it never happened. They did one semi-decent plot where they chased a bad guy into the past where the bad was helping the Nazis to win WWII. I thought all they'd need to do was have that plot end with full out nuclear war. Nuke Earth. Then there's no Earth for Galactica to find...meaning they don't go back in time causing the nuclear war. Continuity snaps back to Earth not being nuked. The cycle gets broken because someone somehow realizes what is going on and disrupts it, hopefully by throwing baby Dr. Z out an airlock. So then “GALACTICA 1980” could be done away with and a new continuity started.
I think a lot of fans had thoughts like that. Sitting around drinking beer with other geeks, getting angry going, "You know what I would have done with that show?!?" To me that's kind of what this book feels like. It is so insanely the opposite direction from the original show but in its own way just as goofy. With issue #1 we had Adama just deciding to fly the Galactica at the U.S. Capital??? Really??? Dr. Z wanting to flat out take over Earth and subjugate us? It feels like a drunken fan idea gone wild--"and zen Adumah ish like, 'Screw you! I'm flying us at the Capital! It'll work. Ish all good. And BOOM! The ship gets blown up!"
Issue #2 has a plot point that reeeeally added to this feeling for me. Our heroes Troy and Dillon are getting ready to land in Washington, DC to search the wreckage of Galactica. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, a SETI-style scientist has discovered the fleet's transmissions and that the newcomers are talking in ancient Aramaic. Fine so far. Cut to some other plots. Back in DC Troy and Dillon are on the ground and in pitched conflict with US troops. And then...the SETI scientist is there! What? Not much time could have passed. Wasn't he JUST in Puerto Rico??? How did he get to Washington so fast???
"Wellllll...he had a privut plane. Ish a jet. A Shooper dooper jet."
In its own crazy-ass way the book is enjoyable but, really, the writers need to not get too hammered while writing. The edge and madness is just about right as is. If they drink more I fear scenes of conflict like...
"Screw you... talking robot jerk!"
"SCREW YOU HUMAN!"
"Yeah, well you can suck it."
Not good. But seriously, if you could kill Dr. Z as soon as possible, that would be great.
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.
FRANK CASTLE: PUNISHER MAX #75
Writer: Tom Piccirilli (DOLLS), Greg Hurwitz (GATEWAY), Duane Swierczynski (GHOUL), Peter Milligan (FATHER’S DAY), Charlie Huston (SMALLEST BIT OF THIS) Art: Laurence Campbell (DOLLS), Das Pastoras (GATEWAY), Tomm Coker (GHOUL), Goran Parlov (FATHER’S DAY), Ken Lashley (SMALLEST BIT OF THIS) Publisher: Marvel MAX Reviewer: Mr. PastyPerhaps the most surprising thing about FRANK CASTLE: PUNISHER #75 is the fact that I almost didn’t buy it. The Punisher saga is one that I’ve never been able to commit to on a regular basis, primarily because the Castle family has been dead for over thirty years. I’m kind of over it. That’s not to suggest that I don’t enjoy the occasional murkery of some criminal crackpot, or the terrific work of Garth Ennis earlier in the MAX series, but the whole routine with the brooding and the grimacing and the eerily out of place spit curl is just too dark and dour for me to make this a consistent pick-up.
I enjoy Frank Castle the most when the shackles of his memories are taken off and he’s allowed to roam freely, much like he did in the simple but wildly enjoyable BACK TO THE BAYOU storyline a few months back. Having said that, I was a bit apprehensive about ish #75 and its promise to make me relive the worst memories of the man in black. I eventually based my decision on the comic book flip, which most of us know as that move we pull when we’re on the fence about a purchase. Grab a book, thumb through a few pages and determine its worth on how much we like the randomly selected panels. For PUNISHER, I was pretty happy with what I saw.
In fact, let’s just go ahead and say it. FRANK CASTLE: PUNISHER MAX #75 is an astounding achievement in storytelling. What we have here is basically five separate stories all based around one horrific tragedy. It could have been trendy and gone RASHOMON, replaying the incident from five different points of view, but no, these are standalone works that somehow manage to grab a hold of your emotions and never let go. This is the first book in quite some time that left me with butterflies -- an hour after finishing it.
I’m not sure the individual tales could have worked on their own, but that’s not the point. The point is they coexist in the same space but at separate times. Frank Castle is the same person but most of the narrative is presented out of context, almost as if Castle is in the story but also following along as terrible things happen to him. In short, he’s living in a nightmare and the reader is trapped there right alongside of him. I’ve always thought there was a play on the franchise with his fourth wall narrative, that perhaps he was dead and wading through the depths of hell while reliving the death of his family. This book comes as close as you possibly can to capturing that mood. So many bizarre twists and turns but the only constant is death. Not just the death of his victims (and his family), but the death of his soul.
The writing is strong here, and the visuals are even stronger. Like the separate stories that work in unison, the contrast in artistic styles begins to bleed together in a palette of blood-soaked rhythm. Unlike the standard PUNISHER blood and guts fare, which I’ve always found to be pornographic in its depiction, there’s an underlying elegance to the brush in this book, and it sweeps across each page like a pendulum. Mood, atmosphere, tone …it’s all appropriately gratuitous but never presented out of context. Could the gore have benefited from some restraint? Perhaps, but I think it’s messy by design, causing the panels to appear disjointed and jerked out of place, almost like a puzzle that gets dumped out of its box and onto a table. Personally, I didn’t care for the pencils of Ken Lashley, but because his art was so jarring and out of place, it fit right in with the nightmare theme, in a classic WTF moment.
FRANK CASTLE: PUNISHER MAX #75 left me with an uneasy feeling after reading it. It might seem unusual to praise a book that makes you feel down, but the ability to evoke any kind of emotional response is a testament to the effort the talented writers and artists put forth to deliver a book that advertises itself as a milestone. It is a milestone. Not because it’s issue #75 – because it took the same story it’s been telling for the past thirty years and managed to make it as fresh as the day it happened. Buy this book and find a quiet spot to kick back and read it. You may finally get a chance to understand what it means to be Frank Castle for a day.
Final Word: If you had to find a way to put a nightmare into print, this is as probably as close as you’ll ever get. Cathartic mise-en-scene at its most horrific – and its most effective.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at here. MMAmania.com. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
JACK OF FABLES #38
Writers: Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham Pencils: Russ Braun Publisher: DC Vertigo Reviewer: JinxoJACK OF FABLES has turned into one wacky three ring circus. And that's a good thing. For those of you late to the game, any myth, fable or fairy tale involving a Jack? All the same guy. Jack is the swaggering handsome Han Solo of the story book crowd. Well...until recently. Ring one of the circus brings us Jack basically devolving into Daffy Duck. You know the cartoon where Daffy gets in a fight with the animator who proceeds to torture Daffy with all sorts of indignities? Jack is having that fight with the artist drawing his book (Russ Braun, you cruel bastard!). Suddenly Jack finds himself changed from handsome bad boy to a fatboy with a receding hairline and an overbite. And you remember when Daffy would get his hands on some treasure how he'd grab it shouting, "Mine mine mine!!! I'm rich! I'm rich! I'm fabulously wealthy!" Well, Jack has bad luck with keeping hold of any treasure he finds and now... he's getting a little Daffy about his treasure. But Jack's pain is our pleasure. Sorry, Jack.
In ring two...turns out that Jack has an illegitimate son he never knew about - also named Jack - who has recently decided to become a champion. Only he's more chump than champ. He's all good intention and no experience. Fun and funny, Jack Junior's quest gives us the meat of the story with Senior Fat Jack saddled with comic relief (no, seriously, put a saddle on him. No indignity should be spared.).
And finally, Jack of Fables would not be complete without Babe The Blue Ox. Classically, Babe is a GIANT ox. But over the course of the book Babe has been shrunk to a mini-ox. Babe is regularly given a page to himself where we see into his inner fantasy life, into his dreams of his other personas. You know how Snoopy would dream of being a flying ace or a vulture, etc? Babe is like that on acid and it's awesome. Used to be Babe was part of the book's "gang". But now he's just off on his own somewhere. Turns out we don't care if he's hanging with Jack as long as we still get to check in with him and learn what insane person he imagines himself. Undercover chiropractor? Rogue philatelist? It's all good, Babe.
If you're looking for some misguided adventure by some humiliated heroes, a little ox, and a damn good time then Jack, Jack, and Babe are your men...and ox...err...damn, so close to something quotable!
UNCANNY X-MEN #516
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Greg Land Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheALL HAIL MAGNETO, RULER OF UTOPIA!!!! I kid, I kid. But, based on the closing pages of 515 and ole’ Erik’s berserker face on the cover of this issue it’s a logical if expected conclusion. But as we all know, the expected would be way too easy for the Marvel wunderkind Fraction. Not every choice Fraction has made with the direction of the X-men has been popular, but it would be damn hard to argue he treads on common ground.
Yes, there’s been a hell of a lot change in this book, but let’s be perfectly honest, it was needed. After forty years of living on Graymalkin Lane in a building shaped like a gigantic cross-hair, I’m sorry X, it always perplexed me as to why the merry band of mutants rebuilt after past decimations. Really, it’s the same thing as the morons that keep rebuilding on beach front property. Aside from it being simply a logical choice, with the firm commitment not to resurrect Jean Grey (I know lil’ red headed Hope Summers is out there, but let me dream for the time being) and Scott Summers’ budding romance with a past rival, I was fully on board for a change of home base. A complete reinvention if you will. Sadly all that really changed during the time in San Francisco was the scenery. The X-Men stories never thrive in comfort, and San Francisco was slowly turning into being simply Westchester West. All they needed was a softball game by the Golden Gate Bridge to complete the cheery picture.
With Nation X, though, Fraction is not only changing latitudes, but to borrow a phrase, he is changing attitudes as well. This metamorphosis started with Summers and Xavier, who are no longer teacher and student — hell, at this point one would be hard pressed to even call them friends — I think of them now as rivals who exercise great civility. Now, Magneto is turning another cheek. Don’t get me wrong, all of the pomposity is still there, but it’s now balanced by humility and reverence.
Yes, Magneto comes to Utopia heart in hand, or I should say “psychic deterrent helmet” in hand, to laud Scott Summers and the island nation he now governs. Is it a ruse? With enough time I’ll say most certainly. For the near term though, I think Fraction is playing a different card. This is a different Magneto than the wolf in sheep’s clothing that guided the New Mutants; this is not a Magneto looking to be in charge, but rather become part of the flock. In every precious second of this encounter you could see a man that has been beaten by time and his fruitless pursuit to reignite the X-Gene. Every beat of this encounter bled palpable danger and was simply perfect.
With the perceived danger out of the way the real threat to Nation X still exists with the mysterious Lobe and his cohorts. Intent on something…perhaps conquest of this island, they send in their captor Scalphunter on a suicide flyby of Utopia packed with what I can only describe as four legged velociraptors on board.
Taking a page from the clean storytelling (if not artwork) of ASTONISHING X-MEN (which is now woefully out of continuity), this back to basics approach of focusing on a singular X-Team is exactly what Marvel needed after the endless tangential storylines of the past few years. One team, one island, and one damn fantastic book.
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."
RED ROBIN #5
Writer: Chris Yost Art: Ramon Bachs Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI've been a fan of this series from the get go, but I understand why folks have been leery of this book. Mistakes were made in the way the plot of this book was doled out in the early issues. In my initial review of this series, I said that these kinks would probably work themselves out in the coming months, and for the most part they did. But a lot of people aren't as patient as I am, so for those of you who were annoyed by the way this story of Tim Drake's trip down a darker path began, it may be a good time to give this book a second look.
Why Tim had so much faith that Batman was alive when everyone else thought he was dead was one of the big beefs fans had with this series from the get-go. It was extremely vague in the first issue why Tim was the only one who couldn't take Batman's death at face value. Yost took his time revealing what I had suspected from the beginning. Some may call out fans for being impatient, and I'm not above doing it too. But in this case, the impatient fans had a point. If you're going to hinge an entire series on a belief one character has, you better be damn sure that the belief is well displayed right up front, or you're likely to chap some asses. Now that Yost finally doled out the info as to why Tim so firmly believes he can still save Bruce, it all makes much more sense, but that key scene ***SPOILER*** when Tim finds the symbol of the bat scrawled on the cave wall--the very same bat symbol Bruce scrawls on the wall at the end of FINAL CRISIS ***END SPOILER*** needed to be seen in issue one of this series. A bombshell like that would've been the hook to keep readers on the line and not putting it in the first issue was a missed opportunity of the highest order.
But that milk's been spilled.
Another qualm folks have had with this series is that Tim isn't acting like the Tim folks grew up with. To that, I have to disagree. Sure, you can be pissed that Tim's been put through the emotional wringer and that editorial has been treating him as if he were a member of the JLI for some reason, but the darker, more driven, more Bruce-like Tim that we've seen mincing about in RED ROBIN feels like a natural extension of a character that's been getting darker since IDENTITY CRISIS through Geoff Johns' future-spanning TEEN TITANS series, and with Fabs Nicieza's final issues of the last ROBIN series. Why would he don the tights of a rogue like Jason Todd's Red Robin? Well, Tim's a teen, you know. He's a teen who not only has suffered major loss, but also has been spurned by one of his closest friends when Dick chose Damian to become the next Robin. Tim's pissed and he realizes that he may have to do some things he's not proud of, so instead of sullying the Robin costume, he decides to pick up one that is already sullied. So maybe it's a bit irrational that Tim decides to keep this proof of Bruce's survival to himself, but then again, angry teens do irrational things from time to time.
The latest issue of RED ROBIN makes me feel like the book is finally getting its sea legs and is ready to rock and roll. Although occasionally, Yost chooses to scattershot the timeline of the story (which is one of the book's more distracting qualities), he has peppered in some damn cool moments and some elements that you can't help but geek out over. This issue opens with Tim waking up in a Lazarus Pit. Immediately he assumes the worst and believes he's been resurrected and, like most Larazrus Pit-ians, will go insane from his immersion into the immortality-inducing pool. So Tim starts going off and kicking ninja @$$ until one ninja reveals to Tim that he wasn't immersed in the pit. To this, Tim responds, "Now, that's just embarrassing." Great scene and one proving that even though Tim's life is a bit darker these days, there's still room for some humor.
On top of cool scenes like that one, Tim's got a new love interest in Tam Fox, Lucius Fox's daughter. I love this development. The two are just meeting in this issue, but Yost's attention to her character and how she and Tim interact signals to me that something is brewing there. But Tim's girl troubles don't end there. There's a mute psycho chick merc named Pru that may prove to be a femme fatale for Tim as well.
This issue ends with a hint of what's to come as Tim tries to take down Ra's Al Ghul's organization from within. A Herculean task, yes, but one I'm willing to hang around and see, most definitely. RED ROBIN has its faults (scattered timeline storytelling, rocky start), but there's something damn cool about it and for the last couple of issues it's one of the first comics I read when I get home from the store. With the possibility of Tim tangling with Damian's mom and grandpa as well as possibly some time trekking to find Bruce (Booster crossover anyone?), this series looks to be full of surprises. So despite its faults, RED ROBIN is turning out to be a fine read.
X-MEN FOREVER #9
Writers: Chris Claremont, Steve Scott and Peter Vale Pencils: Steve Scott Inkers: Al Vey and Gary Martin Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI get the impression a lot of people are writing this book off. And I get that. The main complaint seems to be the fact that this book isn't even in continuity. It doesn't even really count. With a jillion X-books on the market that DO count, why bother? Plus Claremont is old school. He's not one of the new cutting edge writers.
The thing is, I like this book. I don't loooove it. It isn't the first book I grab to read when I pick up my books, but I do enjoy it. And I actually like it for some of the very same reasons others dismiss it.
It doesn't count! Not in continuity. Cool. I don't have to worry about big crossover events coming in requiring me to also read tons of other titles I don't normally read. And I don't have to worry about the book's plot getting derailed to accommodate some company event. And since it is out of continuity, doesn't count, that means Claremont actually has free reign to just do what the hell he wants to. No worries that he can't use Nightcrawler or Kitty Pryde because they're promised to the EXCALIBUR book. He can use who he wants. Can't kill this character or turn that one into a villain because they are valuable Marvel properties that can't be messed with too much? Screw it! Doesn't count! He can go nuts and mess with the status quo. Whether it counts or not, seeing Wolverine scragged, Storm going crazy evil, sentencing all mutants to early deaths or Kitty getting a claw is all good fun for me.
And Claremont's writing is of a different style but for the most part I enjoy the throwback style. In particular I like the "cut to the chase" cheats of the older comics. The writer wants to move ahead with the main plot but some side development comes into play that could slow things up. What to do? Some fast and dirty expository dialogue that shuts it down. Can't really call it "good" writing, I guess, but it used to happen all the time and often it's just such a pure balls move I enjoy it. Now sometimes it can go too far... which can be amusing too. Like a few issues back when Sabretooth was going to join the X-Men to hunt down Wolverine's killer. Cyclops and Sabretooth get into it. Sabretooth wants to kill Wolverine's killer. Scott says NO. The war of words came down to something like...
"You play by OUR rules, Sabretooth!" "And if I don't?!?" "Uhhh..." "Strong argument...I agree. Not killing sounds cool. Impressive, Cyclops. I am in."
What???? But it was so mad that it actually entertained me. And, thankfully, the book doesn't normally stretch things that far.
I'm also a bit thrown by Nick Fury hanging out with the X-Men constantly. I keep waiting for Xavier to go, "Well, it has been nice seeing you but...you've been here a month and, God knows we love having you visit but...don't you have somewhere else you need to be?" Luckily Nick Fury is always badass so it's hard to complain about too much Nick Fury. I'm just happy it's not the crazy-spandexed and steroided Fury from the final issues of Claremont's last run. That was not good.
It's imperfect and it doesn't "count". But it's got a fun swagger to it. It doesn't take itself too seriously. And it's doing its own thing without having to worry about crushing cross-book continuity. For me it's a nice, light break from the rest of the Marvel U.
EDEN: IT'S AN ENDLESS WORLD Vol 12
By Hiroki Endo Released by Dark Horse Manga Reviewer: Scott GreenWith the title resting high on my list of recommended manga, I've been impressed by EDEN throughout. As such, I don't feel that there has been sufficient down time to warrant volume twelve being called a reward for patience. That said, the breathtaking sci-fi action manga has definitely begun to bundle elements together and pour some accelerant on the blaze.
The manga commenced with an adolescent boy, an adolescent girl and a dying scientist on an isolated island known as Eden. As a pandemic of Closure Virus sweeps the globe, leaving behind calcified husks, this privileged few discuss metaphysics. Then a helicopter arrives, returning them to the world from which they had been protected... The better part of a generation passes, and the manga shifts its view to Elijah Ballard, the son of that boy and girl. With drug cartels operating as a front in the war between the new super-national UN replacement The Propater Federation and unified resistance groups, the manga's post-prologue early goings projects the brutality of war onto a local, personal scope. As Elijah tags along with anti-Propater mercenaries of Nomad, sci-fi elements like androids and bio-engineered soldiers are woven in with more current concerns such as landmines, hostage taking, conscription and ethnic cleansing. After shifting focus to cover some of Elijah's comrades in arms, when the manga returns, it rearranges its framework from sci-fi military/asymmetric warfare to straight urban crime saga. In that coming of age in a landscape of prostitutes and drug dealers, the manga drifted so far from the original island Eden that it bewildered some of its readers. It then transformed again, returning to geo-politics, such as the Chinese Uyghur conflict, and to the Closure Virus.
12 volumes in, EDEN is synthesizing all of this in earnest... the virus, the sci-fi elements, the crime, the global politics, the motivations behind the Ballard family's actions...
Beyond all of those disparate pieces, it was never apparent whether Eden's overtures towards Gnosticism were going to develop into anything substantial. Now they are...
A pair of semi-divine artificial intelligences walk the earth. The female Letheia, with a GHOST IN THE SHELL-like construction of human brain in cyborg body, accompanies Elijah. Maya, a consciousness in a male, human body, accompanies Elijah's sister Mana... occasionally visiting her mind in the guise of a serpent.
So, a virus is releasing humans from their physical shells, turning cities into unified, hardened masses. At the same time, Maya and Letheia manifest themselves as possibly divinely inspired technologies. During a meeting between Maya and a team of scientists and military representatives, one of the soldiers matter of factly states that he'd kill Maya if it would stop the virus. Maya responds by smiling and mentioning that he'd just find a new body into which he'd implant his consciousness. When Maya leaves, one of the scientists remarks "Christ was murdered by human hands...but maybe god's learned a thing or two now..."
A significant part of this coalescence is due to the development of the manga's protagonist. EDEN calls up the notion that while children can demonstrate promise and unashamedly mouth idealism, maturation and effecting change involves becoming compromised. Elijah's father went from adolescent philosopher to kingpin in the manga's initial time jump. The son's story is proving to be no Luke Skywalker, redeeming a father gone astray with adherence to better angels. Instead, no longer simply along for the ride, Elijah is now party to the manga's nasty business.
Hiroki Endo has constructed a geek's dream battlefield for Elijah, yet, Endo's made it traumatizing rather than freeing or macho. This is the next generation of Masamune Shirow's cyborg, information age warfare, with pieces of GOODFELLAS, CITY OF GOD and THE KILLING FIELDS woven in. Endo is fully detailed an explicit in his rendering of the players, action and consequences. In volume 12, Elijah is embroiled in a run and gun battle in which Letheia takes off her skirt, and engages in some high caliber bullet-ballet, culminating in a show down of her kung fu versus the limb snapping jujutsu of cyborg opposite number Akinetos. As cool as this sounds and as cool as it looks, Endo allows little to exalt in the slick spectacle. It's never more than a few panels without the horrific reminder of men with faces torn apart and organs torn open as a consequence of that action. In a similar sense, Elijah is narrowly escaping bombs dropped from high altitudes and tracking down the source of stroke causing nanomachines. Yet, the approach taken to dealing with these concerns often falls back on stone age tactics. Elijah is still working with people who gather information by stringing up men by their arms and battering the victim's legs with sticks until what's left of their joints are "swollen up like soccer balls." Endo is apparently well aware that he has Elijah marching into action that could evoke responses like "damn, that's cool..." "that's cold..." "that's badass..." which is at the same time damnable business that Elijah is damnably involved with.
With Elijah given adult agency, EDEN has apparently gotten down to business now that it's two thirds of the way into its run. While this will please some, especially those who weren't enamored by the street crime business, I'm not convinced that EDEN was broken. Nor am I convinced that Eden is fixed. Instead, it's a fairly mature, exceptionally smart, spectacularly violent example of what's right about manga, and what can go wrong with it.
Most manga, and nearly all of what's released in North America is originally serialized in anthologies. Most of it is from single creators, with a notable minority from writer/artist pairings. While a staff of assistants might aid that process, it's the inspiration of that person or pair, without some extensive committee, mediated by an editor and mediated by the manga's popularity.
Manga is a nimble medium and a nimble format. There's the visual flexibility. In EDEN that allows Endo to maintain realism of his sci-fi inventions function, as bombs drop from the sky, and characters wander through memories. Beyond this platform for committing any scenario into a graphic representation, limited only by imagination and skill, manga has a tradition of amalgamating diverse concepts and tones. Like many qualities of manga, Osamu Tezuka offers the great, primal example. From ASTRO BOY to BLACK JACK to PHOENIX, nothing was boxed into a simple, restrictive definition. If Tezuka was inspired to explore religion or vent on a topic like traditional versus scientific medicine, he'd construct a story around it, regardless of if it was being published in a boy's weekly manga anthology. "Manga can be anything" sounds trite, but looking at the expansive range of inspirations that Tezuka drew into a work like BLACK JACK and looking at the genres and concepts that Endo synthesizes in EDEN, and that trite statement resonates. From oil pipelines to god AIs to pandemic control, Eden spreads itself wide without spreading itself thin.
There's a danger in overselling EDEN that has resulted in some downplaying of the manga. At issue, it has been working ideas that are difficult to develop in manga, both due to the nature of the medium and the framework.
Manga has to distill exposition into short conversations. Stringing together more than two sentences in a statement is tough on the reader and tough on the graphic design of the page. Debates and conversations require similar abridgement. The manga does not read like Endo was straining to squeeze large ideas into the terse format, but he does seem limited to provoking rather than developing. Few chapters lack an idea that couldn't be further fleshed out. There is some benefit to leaving reader to ponder implications. Yet, the manga does not get around to shaping many theses, and it does seem like gathering the evidence and shaping the argument for a thorough statement is a challenge for the format.
Beyond these characteristics of the medium, I've never been sure how much of EDEN I should attribute to its need to maintain a audience from one chapter to the next. Inarguably, sex and violence play a substantive role in the themes of EDEN. It's likewise with the showy tech. Yet, I've never been sure of how much is done for effect. How much of the fightin' and fuckin' genuinely contributes to EDEN versus how much is there to command the attention of a reader? To what extent is the quotient affected by EDEN's serial origins?
There's an amount of freedom that EDEN gains from being manga, and there's an amount of freedom that it loses. If it were a novel, it could flesh out its debates and dialog. It could modulate its pacing and take a slower route for longer stretches rather than constantly sizzling. Yet, it wouldn't be EDEN: IT'S AN ENDLESS WORLD in any other medium. The evocativeness of the manga's graphic scenes boosts its considerable potency. These are interesting concerns for a work of manga to raise, owing to laudable ambition.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over eight years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column every week on AICN.