Storytellers: James Robinson, Bernard Chang, Dan Jurgens, J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Majin FuHot on the heels of BATMAN #700, Superman’s seven hundredth issue delivers a far less cerebral narrative that ties up the War of Krypton, takes a look down memory lane, and finally sets up for the future!
I should preface this review by noting that I am not a religious Superman reader, but I am a fan. I am a huge fan of the Max Fleischer cartoons and the Christopher Reeve movies. I found ALL-STAR SUPERMAN inspirational, and I am still waiting on the last issue of Geoff Johns’ SECRET ORIGINS, but I have skipped the War of Krypton entirely. I felt, like Straczynski voices as a reporter in this very issue, that Superman has “lost touch.”
Luckily, you don’t have to be up to date on the War of Krypton to understand this issue. Anniversary issues have become a staple of the industry, so I have come to hold two basic expectations to such a book. First, they are targeted at fresh readers, so they’re a good place for those interested to jump on, and second, they celebrate the things that made these comics get to the point they’re at today. With Batman, Morrison focused mostly on his legacy and the passing of the cowl. With SUPERMAN #700, the writers focus primarily on his relationships with the humans around him…with varying degrees of success.
The first story benefits from a minimal plot based around one of the classic tropes of Superman, his romance with Lois Lane. Superman’s love life is a defining trait of his character, and an appropriate subject to open the book, but the execution is lacking. The last page of the story in particular looks terrible. Oh, and Parasite’s there so the blue boy scout has something to punch, but he never really gets to do anything. His appearance is generic enough that he could be substituted for any other lumbering goon without missing a beat. Bernard Chang draws some nice close-ups and some dynamic action, but the art lacks the oomph I have come to expect from an anniversary issue. Robinson and Chang’s swan song is ultimately a pretty generic affair that hardly adds anything new to Superman’s romantic life. It’s also a direct contradiction to Superman’s motivation in the last third of the book, but I’ll get to that later in the review.
The middle portion of this book mostly concerns Richard Grayson in an early meeting with the Man of Steel, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens. The plot is more akin to those you would find in an anniversary issue, and the art is classic DC.
And it’s chock full of nifty knowledge for the tykes! Remember kids, if you disobey your guardian to fight crime alone, Superman will save your rash ass from certain death AND do your math homework for you. Swell!
This brings us to the last portion of the comic. J. Michael Straczynski has shown a knack for effortlessly epic storytelling and meditations on modern mythology on titles like THOR and BRAVE AND THE BOLD, so I had high hopes. Much of Straczynski’s part of the story is dedicated to setting up Superman’s motivation for his walk across America in the upcoming “Grounded.” Superman’s revelation is inspired by what Straczynski refers to humorously as a “poor-me nutbar” who blames her hero for not being there when she needed him. Not only is this story a cliché that has plagued superheroes for years, but it doesn’t jive well with Kal-el’s earlier proclamation of love for Lois. Perhaps this friction between Superman’s love and his sense of responsibility toward the rest of the nation is something Straczynski will explore during his run.
Contrary to what the cover may lead you to believe, Superman’s supporting cast is mostly absent. Neither Krypto nor the Superkids make an appearance, and Jimmy Olsen appears in a grand total of one panel. This is not a criticism, but it’s worth pointing out if you consider these characters to be an essential part of the appeal of Superman. If an anniversary is truly a celebration of all things Superman, why can’t we see more of the lives he has affected? Even Lex Luthor’s presence is limited to a preview for another comic in the back of the book, which I didn’t even read. I am just speaking personally of course, but previews are not appreciated, and hardly serve as a good reason to raise the price of a book, especially when it’s a preview that appears in multiple titles. If I wanted to see a preview, I would seek it out online.
On a different note, does that full page of Superman and Robin in the second story remind anyone of a recent episode of “Venture Brothers”? Also, is Superman sulking across the United States really the best way to compensate for his recent absence from Earth? Furthermore, how is denying the incredible gift of flight ensuring you are doing more good for the people of Earth? These are the questions I can’t help but ponder while hugging my pillow in my Superman footie pajamas in the cold, cold night.
Honestly, this issue has left me a little cold, so I’m still on the fence about jumping on Straczynski’s upcoming storyline “Grounded.” If you have five dollars to spend, you’re better off giving your money to SEA BEAR & GRIZZLY SHARK instead. (reviewed further down).
CASPER AND THE SPECTRALS#2
Writer: Todd Dezago Artist: Pedro Delgado Publisher: Ardden Entertainment Reviewer: Professor Challenger“Umm...Professor...? Are you sure this isn't going to, like...melt my brain or something? -- Eloise “Ellie” Essex
Waaaaaayyyyy back in November of '09, Ardden Entertainment came out with this really cool updated take on Casper the Friendly Ghost, along with Wendy, the Good Little Witch and Hot Stuff, the Little Devil. I wrote up a rave review of the 1st of 3 issues because it turned out, surprisingly, to be my favorite comic book of that week. Then I waited for the next 2 issues to come out. And I waited. And I waited. Then I decided that something must have happened and the Harvey license must've gotten yanked...or something.
Yet, here finally, is the second issue on the stands this week. I have no clue what delayed the comic so long, but here it is (and hopefully the third issue is on schedule to follow promptly). Rather than try to catch everyone up to speed with a rewrite of the basic premise, I will simply quote myself from 7 months ago:
“Ok. Here’s the basic premise. In the original Harvey comics, these character rarely if ever crossed over with each other. I think Casper and Wendy occasionally would. But for this new series, the folks at Ardden have conceived of a fun way to tie them all together with an almost FABLES-like idea of these different supernatural worlds all co-existing within our normal human world but obviously on some kind of different dimensional plane. The ghosts all live in 'Ghostburg,' witches in 'Witch Way,' devils in 'Deviland,' goblins in 'Goblin Gulch,' etc. These creatures are not necessarily malevolent but they have to regularly make efforts to scare us normal humans because our fear powers their 'fear-ometer' devices that help keep them all safe from a big bad monster they keep imprisoned by fear.”
The second issue is, once again, so well-written for a comic intended for the younger set, but clever enough for the adult reader to enjoy. Props to Todd Dezago for that. Pedro Delgado still knocks my socks off in this issue with his cartooning style and storytelling abilities. It's almost an angrier version of Amanda Conner-style. If that makes sense.
The characters are consistent with their histories but updated effectively for the modern day in both look and attitude. The three of them are drawn together because they need each other. All three of them feel like outcasts among their peers and are generally unhappy...except when they are together. Then they complete each other and can have fun and enjoy life...or death...or whatever it is they have. The point is that there is a good message about friendship and acceptance buried beneath the action and the humor. Plus, in the second issue, the “big bad” gets loose and our Three undead Musketeers are going to have to come to the rescue in the next issue.
Once again, a highly recommended comic book that is good for all ages...alive or dead.
“Prof. Challenger” is actually Texas graphic artist and lifelong reader of comics, Keith Howell. He really digs Green Lantern, most recently completed the cover art for the upcoming book THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER, and has contributed award-winning art, design, and editing to a number of books and magazines. He occasionally updates his website at at profchallenger.com and welcomes feedback from readers, both pro and con, but if female please include an attached pic in a tasteful state of undress. Thanks for all the fish.
X-MEN: LEGACY #237
Writer: Mike Carey Artist: Greg Land Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheThe issue that was so fucking nice I read it twice. This issue…this whole series…has reignited a passion in me for the X-Men that burns hotter than a thousand Phoenix forces. This particular issue is kinetic, a living breathing experience that jumps off the page as the X-Men throw all of their last Hail Marys at the marauding sentinels from some time after tomorrow.
Carey and Land have created a piece that simply moves yet remains still. This issue is panel after panel of action, yet it never ignores the character moments that have made the X-Men such an enduring team over the years. Each battle is interlaced with such perfect character moments from old time friends like Douglock to newly anointed members of the X-fold, it was like watching the softball game issues minus all of the gay softball. The battles end as you would expect (oh ya, spoilers ahead scallywags), but you do seriously wonder if both the battle for San Francisco and the battle in the distant future will turn out OK. You know--the exact thing that a serial comic should be. Right from Granov’s cover to the last panel, Carey orchestrated and portrayed each character in their purest and truest forms. Oh ya, I kind of like Hope now too, the girl has moxie.
I’ve had a love hate relationship with Doug Ramsey over the years. Mainly hate. He was the Jan Brady of the NEW MUTANTS…there but sorta not. He then went on to become the Jar Jar Binks of EXCALIBUR when he fused with Warlock to form the microchipped monstrosity Douglock. Well thank “soulgodmandovefriend” Carey strips bare these archaic Apple IIE versions of Doug and makes his power really fucking formidable. Doug’s interfacing with the future Master Mold Sentinel’s CPU was cybernetic poetry not seen since THE MATRIX. These were some seriously fantastic dialogue bubbles as Doug gets assimilated and then ultimately turns the tide to frak MM’s hard drive. And there ends the battle for tomorrow. Not the danger…the battle.
In the here and now Land delivers some beautiful spreads of gunfire and carnage. Hope finally steps up her game to prove she’s more than Jean Gray’s doppelganger (she does sort of look like ol’ Marvel Girl, guys…sorry). There’s also a moment when she confronts Cyclops that was a pitch perfect exploitation and uncovering of Scott’s lack of people skills when he gets into hyper leader mode. Again though, it was perfect; Scott Summers is at his best when manipulating the X-Men in a genocidal game of chess. The battle in today is short lived, though. Once Douglock blue screens the Master Mold all of his minions crash like apps on an iPhone left out in the sun for too long. But wait, there is that persnickety last detail of some heavy-hitting X-Men left in tomorrow land.
And therein is my only objection with this issue and series. In an attempt to use the same time travel membrane that the Sentinel’s used to cross into yesterday, X-Force learns that only inorganic material can slip through unaffected. Yet, somehow, Cable is able to cross over. We always knew old glow eye had a few parts provided by Radio Shack, but his whole body? And what of the other X-Men, the ones that are more man than metal? Will they make it through? I’m OK with danger and cliffhanger suspense, but if it turns out Cable is a sentinel or some other kind of robot, and not the son of Scott Summers, I am going to burn my entire run of X-Men in effigy. I’ve never prescribed to comics needing to hold dogmatically to canon, but at the same point in time, continuity is what keeps us buying several hundred issues of this stuff. Plus, how could they leave X-Force in the future? Since Wolverine is one of the characters left behind, Marvel would have to hire a whole team of writers to start the FUTURE AVENGERS, FUTURE UNCANNY X-MEN, FUTURE X-MEN LEGACY and FUTURE X-FORCE. I mean, the guy can’t be on just one fucking team--it’s a sacrilege. He’ll get bored, right?
Nasty little fanboy nits aside, I pity the team that has to jump on these books once “Second Coming” draws to a close. This is one series that will be very very hard to live up to.
Optimous has successfully blackmailed fellow @$$Hole BottleImp into being his artist on Average Joe. Look for Imp's forced labor on Optimous brain child in mid-2011 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.
MINDFIELD #1: AN INSIDE JOB
Writer: J.T. Krul Art: Alex Konat Publisher: Aspen Comics Reviewer: Mr. PastyImagine you were on your couch watching a television show that you were starring in while experiencing consciousness in both places simultaneously. That’s one of the more intriguing aspects of our dreams as we get the benefit of playing ourselves in addition to the role of “Watcher.” But what if you could somehow achieve that impossible feat of dual consciousness outside of the dream state? The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believes you can in MINDFIELD, an interesting look at the common themes associated with extrasensory perception (ESP). What would the CIA do if it could send agents into the field armed with the gift of sight beyond sight? I’m sure the official press release would ramble on about the good of mankind and national security but you don’t need to be Jerry Fletcher to know that it would really be developed for something much more sinister. How do we know for sure? C’mon people, this is a comic book, the United States government exists for the sole purpose of employing devious men in dark colored suits.
MINDFIELD is a good offering that could have been great. When writer J.T. Krul forgets that he’s penning a comic book, this becomes a taught thriller with some brilliantly layered and complex themes. Unfortunately he seems to snap out of it just as he sets his hook and then blankets us with an obligatory action scene or dialogue that sounds like it was pulled straight from the writer’s handbook. There was far too much reveal in the opening act and I think it took a little of the mystique out of the narrative.
The CIA has tasked a small band of heroes (or anti-heroes, depending on how you grade their methods) to fight the evildoers of the world. They’re armed with the ability to see what cannot be seen by tapping into the thoughts and memories of their foes. Is the bomb that terrorist is carrying actually armed? Has the suspect in custody really committed the crimes he’s accused of? Our group of heroes already knows, and that gives them a tremendous advantage in the field. The only downside to “Project Cobalt” is that it requires you to swallow a government-issued pill to jumpstart your powers. I guess when you break it down it’s basically getting high and fighting crime. Or as I like to call it, my life’s ambition when I was a criminal justice major at Temple University.
But after years of being on the stuff, how do you keep track of your realities? How do you handle the power of seeing the deepest, darkest thoughts of the criminals you come into contact with? Without “blocking exercises,” which are required, it’s easy to see how madness would be a foregone conclusion. And it seems like it could be for Connor, easily the most appealing character in this story. In fact, I hope he ditches the rest of the group because the more time he spends as the central focus, the better this book gets. That brings me to the illustrations, and boy does Alex Konat have the gift of drawing eyes. It must be difficult to pencil a comic book void of the traditional heroes and villains. No giant monsters or exotic locales, just people, people and more people. Konat makes up for it by giving us a plethora of Easter eggs (+1 for Butthead) and like I said, he can tell an entire story with his characters just by the attention he gives the eyes. The backgrounds and framing are all standard fare, technically competent and lucid, but these characters have souls.
So too does MINDFIELD, but based on issue number one it reads like a ghost that’s still looking for its body. If it finds it over the next few issues, we could have an early candidate for the 2010 @$$ies. AN INSIDE JOB is not without its share of problems, but the good parts elevate the mediocre high enough for me to recommend it. And I have a “sense” it’s only going to get better moving forward. That, folks, is some bona fide Mr. Pasty ESP at work right there, brought to you without the help of trance-inducing government pills. I save those for the weekends.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at MMaMania.com here. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Art: John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Johnny DestructoOk, so as I suspected, right now I'm eating a big ole platter of venomous vowels and caustic consonants as I ingest the words from last month's review. I wasn't as keen on the first issue of AVENGERS, or most of the Heroic Age books at first, but this issue was kinda fun. I'm a sucker for alternate timelines and the various futures of comic characters, so this issue got me pumped for a hefty helping of awesome.
The time-stream is apparently busted all to hell and that ain't good. We discover this thanks to the help of new recruit Noh-Varr AKA Marvel Boy, in his newly redesigned mess of a costume. What he lacks in fashion sense and ability to understand human sarcasm though, he makes up for with his ability to create the amazingly convenient Space-Time Continuum Viewer doohickyjabob. With this aforementioned doohickyjabob (for reference, see last sentence), we get a peek at some of our more prominent alternate futures, like A-Next with Spider-Girl, 2099, Days of Future Past, so on and so forth. I'm hoping this wasn't just a glimpse and that we'll get to return to these timelines during this story.
We also get a guest appearance from Wonder Man, who is made of energy or something and used to be a movie star or something but now has a crewcut hairdo and I don't care cause I never liked him as a character runonsentence blah blah blah. He's pissed about some stuff that I'll let you read about and a bunch of angry sound effects later, he disappears.
I'm mildly curious about the double-page spread ending of this issue which showcases some alternate reality versions of some our most recognizable characters, and where this storyline is going. Sure it reads like a super-old Avengers comic. But for the first time, maybe I'm actually enjoying a super-old Avengers comic. My apologies, Bendisface.
JD can be found hosting the PopTards Podcast, discussing movies, comics and other flimflam over at www.poptardsgo.com, graphically designing/illustrating for a living, and Booking his Face off over here.
BAD KIDS GO TO HELL OGN
Written: Matthew Spradlin & Barry "Bazz" Wernick Pencils and Inks: Anthony Vargas & Chris Allen Publisher: BAD KIDS GO TO HELL.com Reviewer: Optimous DoucheHave you ever wondered what would happen if the script for “Poltergeist” decided to grudge-fuck the script for “The Breakfast Club” and didn’t pull out? Well, wonder no more, because BAD KIDS GO TO HELL is the demon seed that epitomizes this unholy act. It also takes readers on a cathartic journey of blood, splatter, and retribution against every jerk off you ever went to high school with.
To know the cast of BKGTH is to be American. They are stereotypes that have transcended to archetypes of the high school experience. The jock with more testosterone than brains; the weird girl who today always seems to be goth, wiccan, emo, fuck it — girls that go dark in lieu of any real substance to their personalities; the brainy girl who wants to be “oh so bad” if she could let her id suffocate her super ego; the kid from the wrong side of the tracks that is the most soulful of the bunch; the nerd; and the douche bag authority figure.
The plot, like the characters, is also instantly recognizable. Take one well-to-do school; plunk its plans for expansion on top of an Indian burial ground; devise a way for the world’s most deplorable students to end up in Saturday detention in the school library; then drain the blood of every character in the book…well, save one.
Derivative? Hardly. BKGTH only pays homage to Gen X staples, which most readers under 30 won’t recognize anyway. That’s a good thing, because it’s unnecessary baggage. Sure when the kids arrive for detention “Don’t You Forget About Me” was playing in my head, but Molly Ringwald never did coke, Ally Sheedy didn’t tried to fuck Principal Vernon and Emilio Estevez was not packing heat. That level of debauchery is squarely set in the post-Columbine era of high school life. And those horrible qualities are what make this pulp slaughterfest work. Seriously, if these were good kids, you might actually feel bad for them as they meet their end one-by-bloody-one.
There are some great twists and turns of fate as the kids meet their respective untimely demises. And just when you think you have everything figured out, it turns out you don’t.
To give away more would simply ruin the book. I can say I’m not surprised this book is being talked about for a movie. Vargas and Allen have a true panache for rendering the subtle cheesecake shots that are a staple of modern horror films, while TV writers Spradlin and Wernick have pretty much served up the storyboard and dialogue in a neat, tidy package. Basically, it would take a really really bad director to fuck this one up.
You won’t feel good about anything after reading BAD KIDS GO TO HELL, but sometimes it feels really really good to be really really bad.
SEA BEAR & GRIZZLY SHARK #1
Writer/Art: Jason Howard & Ryan Otley Publisher: Image Comics Reviewer: Majin FuIf you saw that title and weren’t immediately intrigued by the cover, then this comic is probably not for you. It probably also doesn’t help that the interiors are entirely black and white, but this book might be worth your attention more than you think, and not just because of the thrilling premise. Image artists Jason Howard and Ryan Otley take a crack at writing their own stories, each telling a short yarn concerning a bear in the ocean and a shark in the woods, respectively. Right from the introduction by Robert Kirkman, it’s apparent that the creators aren’t taking themselves too seriously. You won’t find a scientific explanation anywhere other than “they got mixed up”, but the zaniness of the content combined with the token humor inherent to such an insane scenario justifies the more exaggerated five dollar price tag.
The first story is by Jason Howard. I guess it’s about a sea-bear, but as it progressed, I kept wondering how many more ridiculous ideas he was going to jam into the story. The story resembles a revenge tale, with sprinklings of conspiracy theory and science fiction for good measure. It seems Howard did not have faith in the concept of a bear roaming the oceans alone to carry his half of the book, so he also added a cyborg protagonist, military intrigue, a cult, mutants, and even a sea bear cub lusting for revenge. None of these additions are particularly outstanding or get much explanation, but I guess that’s partly the point. In fact, many of them draw away from the focus of the story, while the various additions to the plot make it even harder to gauge the tone of the book. I laughed at the last frame of the story, but I’m not sure it was meant to be taken humorously. Regardless, it’s written well enough, and the combination of so many concepts makes for a fun read.
You’d think with those two onboard, at least it’s going to be pretty book, and you’d be absolutely right. Having already worked on ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN, Howard’s style is more tailored to drawing a shaggy bear, and he does a respectable job. Howard’s figures are somewhat simplified, allowing for him to deliver some solid action, but there’s nothing here that truly capitalizes on the awesome concept of a bear in the water.
The second half of the book is lacking the revenge spin, and is much richer in humor of the morbid variety. Otley keeps the plot deceptively simple; there is a shark in the woods stalking some hunters. It is also improved by the focus on the shark as a hunter, giving the tale a b-movie vibe, and pages of uproarious gore. Early in the story, a hunter’s son is bitten in half. After his father cauterizes the wound in a campfire, Stumpy’s lack of a lower half becomes a potent source for comedy right up until the last page of the book. It’s gruesome, but it’s always done with a dark sense of humor I found refreshing after reading so many stoic superhero books.
Otley’s style is slightly cartoonier here than his work on INVINCIBLE, with exaggerated facial expressions and some truly inspired page layouts and imagery. The shark’s method of travel throughout the forest is never explored, making for some very funny scenarios, including several pages showing victims in their before and after stages. The morbid humor is displayed with a visual flair that takes advantage of the novelty of a shark out of water, and helps to keep the story in the realm of light-horror.
The dispute between bear and shark, and which one could eat the other, is an ancient one which humans have deliberated upon for ages. While SEA BEAR & GRIZZLY SHARK can’t offer a definitive answer to that question, it does provide a peek into the mysterious lives of these noble killers, and we are all wiser for it. For five dollars, you’re essentially paying for two comics with exceptional art and a wildly unique story you simply won’t find anywhere else. Check this book out.
Written and Drawn by: Various Artists Published by: KettleDrummer Books & Diabolo Ediciones Reviewer: BottleImpI’m an unabashed H.P. Lovecraft junkie. Slap the words “Lovecraft,” “Cthulhu,” or “Yog-Sothoth” on book cover, comic or just about anything else from action figures to prophylactics and I’ll lay my hard-earned greenbacks down faster than you can say, “Iä!” So when I saw this trade emblazoned with the name of Lovecraft’s watery creation, ornamented with a writhing, tentacled monstrosity, and promising adaptations of Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson “and other terrifying nightmares,” I grabbed it without a moment of hesitation. Once I broke free from my esoteric trance I was able to actually flip through this book—turns out that CTHULHU is a black & white Spanish language anthology, this trade collecting English translations of the first few issues. Like all anthologies, the quality of work within varies, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the majority of the work engaging and effective.
The anthology leads off with probably its strongest story, “Darkness,” written and drawn by Pepe Avilés. Narrated by the last surviving member of a fishing expedition, “Darkness” serves up a glimpse of Lovecraftian horror told in bold, cinematic strokes. Avilés also serves up a moody tale called, “The Warning,” an interesting twist on the old “hitchhiking girl by the side of the road who turns out to be a ghost” urban legend. “The Warning” lacks the punch of “Darkness,” but it’s an effective story nonetheless. Other chapters of note include Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House,” adapted by Carlos Lamani, “In Me,” a twist on the werewolf legend written by Álex Ogalla and illustrated by Salvador López, and “The Session,” a quick stab of a chiller written by Ogalla and illustrated by Karen Sellés.
There are also a few examples of great, macabre art that convey the intended mood with little or no story. Toni Fejzula’s inkwash drawings create an eerie gloom in his three-page story, “The Well.” Enrique Corominas channels the technique of Gustave Doré, the visceral quality of Ian Miller and the morbid imagination of Hieronymus Bosch in his nightmarish illustrations for “The Songs of Maldoror.” And Javi Santonja shows a mastery of the pen & ink medium in his “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jack,” posing the hypothesis that Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale came to him as a premonition of the Jack the Ripper killings.
It’s not all straight horror, though—some levity is provided with Ángel Rodriguez’s “Gothicómicos,” lighthearted one-panel cartoons in the manner of “The Far Side,” and “Young Lovecraft,” written by José Oliver and drawn by Bart Torres, a look at our favorite writer as a morbid little child drawn very much in the Roman Dirge vein.
There’s only one aspect of this trade that I would call negative, and even that’s my being super-nitpicky, but sometimes the writing feels a little clunky. But since that problem follows nearly every story here, I’m guessing that it’s due to the problems inherent in translating from one language to another. Even with the occasional awkward script issues, CTHULHU more than lives up to the qualities embodied by its chosen title. And it’s only ten bucks for ninety pages, to boot! Fellow fans of fright should check their local comic shops for this imported gem of some of the best serious horror comics in recent publication.
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 here. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
Manga Spotlight: GANTZ Volume 10
By Hiroyo Oku Released by Dark Horse Reviewer: Scott GreenThough I'm occasionally tempted to be pulled back in, I'm going to say that I've learned to stop worrying about whether Oku is going to begin deconstructing his subject in earnest, and love GANTZ.
The decisive break from wondering if GANTZ would turn its attention to mental rather than visceral instigation came when it became unmistakably apparent that, at this point, the manga is feeding the wish fulfillment fantasies of its guy audience to a staggering extend rather than subverting it. Where it once got mileage out of hugging onto a notion of reality with nasty consequences, it's leaped off the rails. Particularly in regards to his relationship with the opposite sex, the main character is now reaping benefits for his participation in GANTZ 's action. The fact that bits seem to resonate around larger implications go along with Oku's provocateur tendencies. But, really, GANTZ has crossed a line where it's become apparent that it is not ideology or consideration driving GANTZ. It's simply committed to agitating and exciting the reader.
It's just that the manga is so full out... and that I do enjoy trashy, violent manga, that I have to appreciate rather than condemn GANTZ.
Ever see “Drunken Master”? Jackie Chan's adversary, Hwang Jang Lee as Yan Ti San, had an attack called the Devil's Shadowless Hand where he'd flash his digits in front of Jackie's face, and follow the quick burst of motion with a solid strike. Gantz advances with a similar MO. Even when it's not in the midst of something devastating, it's advancing with something attention grabbing to set up the big crush.
Teen malcontent Kei Kurono is given the opportunity to assert himself when he's plucked from the moment of his premature death and outfitted to play out lethal video game-like scenarios on the streets of Japan. These level-like sorties resolved into complete cluster you-know-whats. He was matched with yakuza, stars and politicians. He was matched with grannies, and low rent toughs. And he's been paired with people who actually seemed prepared...various varieties of martial artists, a sniper, a military geek, etc.
If Oku was credibly developing the implications of GANTZ, it would be interesting to try to put together a thesis regarding these support crews.
Volume 10 is more wave than it is strike, setting up the next team to go out with Kurono. This latest group to be developed is distinguished from the previous by several factors.
The early part of the manga reflected Kurono's misanthropy. The people he dealt with were, for the most part, the dull, corrupt, weak people that he believed populated the world. As the manga has progressed, he's been lightening up a bit. While still chilly, he's developed some attachments. Similarly, the latest group are getting cast in a more favorable light than previous ones. Maybe they will not be long for this world, but Oku is encouraging the reader to want them to fight and survive, and not just get chewed up and spit out in a graphic spectacle.
The layer of fiction in GANTZ had been that real-ish, regular people were given guns and black spandex outfits and sent to go kill and be killed by aliens in a recognizable urban conflicts. Again, GANTZ has come off the rails. A subthread of the manga had been really rage-inducing male dominance rituals/bullying going on in the background, occasionally percolating up to bother Kurono. It was presented as life ruining/traumatizing hazing that the hero was able to swat down with the help of his Gantz toys. From this soup of testosterone, GANTZ has summoned characters more routed in fiction than reality.
I can point to few manga that can be as damaged by spoilers as GANTZ. Revealing specifics is actually apt to ruin the fun. To dance around that, I will say that some of these folks are pulled from fight media, and others are a bit Stephen King-ish. Curiosity is directed to the same questions that applied to previous groups. What's going to happen when these people who have credibly believed that they live in a reality safe from aliens and things that go bump in the night are put into kill or be killed situations with monsters ready to eviscerate them? Part of this question is still phrased the same way it was when Kurono was paired with grandmothers and sickly politicians; what will their reaction to the threat be? But, increasingly, the second part of the question has become, what happens when Kurono and company step up to the challenge? With that becoming an operative factor, the confrontations have become recast as brutal action rather than brutal horror.
I've had to reset my expectations for GANTZ. Oku simply isn't engaging what the early manga looked like he might be, and that narrows the appeal of the provocatively shocking work. If you're looking for more than a gratuitous display of flesh and blood in a manga, definitely pass on GANTZ. Conversely if the notion of the most unapologetically guy oriented manga on the market appeals to you, GANTZ is a must see.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over nine 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.
Before I get to this review I’d like to mention that I’ll be checking out the Anime Expo in Los Angeles this Saturday. So if anyone has anything they’d like the AICN comics gang to check out feel free to drop me a line here.
IKIGAMI Vols. 1-5
Written and Illustrated by: Motoro Mase Published by: Viz Signature Reviewed by: superheroI went through a period where I was just absolutely fascinated with any and every Japanese comic I could get my hands on. If it was from Japan I had to get a look at it. It seemed like the Japanese were just doing things that American comics would never even think of. Manga was an incredible breath of fresh air in a comic world that had just gone completely stale. As time went by the market became oversaturated with tons of comic material from Japanese shores and it wasn’t long before it became hard to find anything that just wasn’t strictly geared towards teenage girls or boys and the stuff that Tokyopop and other manga publishers were pushing out became as stale and uninteresting as what their American counterparts had been producing.
But every once in a while there comes a manga that stands out among the overpopulated shelves of the local Borders or the stuffed racks of the local comic shop. In recent years it’s been books like MONSTER, FIREFIGHTER DAIGO OF FIRE COMPANY M, BATTLE ROYALE or 20TH CENTURY BOYS that have captured my attention. Well, this year, my hands down number one comic book discovery is IKIGAMI: ULTIMATE LIMIT.
IKIGAMI is the story of a society a bit like the one from BATTLE ROYALE. It’s set in an unnamed future where the government has decided it needs to take drastic steps to keep the populace in line. In IKIGAMI the government has decided that in order to teach its citizens to value life it has to instill an appreciation of life. In order to do so this future regime has instituted a forced immunization program in which a tiny percent of the population is injected with a nano-capsule that will kill a random person when they reach between the ages of 18-24. When it’s you’re time to check out the government gives you twenty-four hours notice and that’s it. The indiscriminate nature of these deaths are supposed to instill a gratefulness for life in the general populace so that every moment is seen as one to be treasured, one to be used to its maximum potential. No time should be wasted because at any moment it could be your turn to go.
Sure, it’s a bit of a farfetched scenario but it’s not the way out premise that makes this book function so well. Essentially IKIGAMI is a sort of anthology series in which each chapter deals with a different person who’s just found out that their time is up and what to do with that knowledge. It’s a story that posits the age old question…what would you do if you had only twenty-four hours to live? It answers it with a series of masterfully executed comic book tales about regular people who’ve finally been backed into a corner to decide…what are you gonna do with the rest of your life? Or what did it all mean in the end? Creator Motoro Mase is a fantastic storyteller whose artwork and characterization make each vignette a powerful and gut wrenching read. In each chapter we are introduced to a new group of people whose circumstances are decidedly different but who are all faced with the same decision to make: what do I do with my last day on earth? Do you take vengeance on those that wronged you? Do you take the time to do something valuable for your family or society? Do you just have a nervous breakdown? What? It’s some seriously compelling stuff and I don’t think I’ve read a comic book in recent memory (besides MONSTER) that kept me on the edge of my seat as much as IKIGAMI did. Each segment is a terrifically told little tale that sticks with you for a while after you’ve read it. This is comic book storytelling at its best and I cannot recommend it highly enough. IKIGAMI is a masterwork in the manga world and it’s one I’m looking forward to reading more of as it continues. Bravo!
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com and check out his blog at www.parttimefanboy.com.
More indie treats for you, served by your faithful indie chef, Ambush Bug. Enjoy these fixin’s from the edge of the periphery of graphic storytelling.
THE IMAGINATION MANIFESTO Vol.1 Bluewater ComicsThis is a truly impressive piece of work. A modern day witch is hired to hunt monsters in this first volume of THE IMAGINATION MANIFESTO. Though the tone is deathly serious, I had a blast as the creator known as GMB Chomichuk mixes media to deliver a wonderfully imaginative and original comic book experience. I loved every beautifully rendered page which mixes text with word balloons with photo-refs with drawings. On top of it all, Chomichuk is a pretty great writer, slowly doling out just enough info about these beasts the witch named Endswell battles and bathing the monstrosities in shadows that caused the hairs to raise on my neck. The battle with the bug-like wyvern was about as intense as they come, not necessarily because of what you see, but what you don’t. And the monstrous giant at the end of the book has me itchin’ like a fiend for the next installment. This book is something worth seeking out for the amazing art, original concepts, and truly memorable presentation. A sure fire winner, this one is!
PRINCESS LUCINDA #0 Channel MA little witch wreaks havoc on any human who crosses her path is pretty much the premise of this introductory issue of PRINCESS LUCINDA. She’s an otherworldly twelve year old who is all attitude with a penchant to turn humans into animals, inanimate objects, whatever her wicked little brain comes up with. This issue is a hodge podge of fun as we follow some of the Princess’ victims, now turned to frogs as they lament about having crossed paths with Lucinda. There’s also an equally sadistic meeting in a coffee shop that ends badly. All in all, this issue does a great job of introducing the comics world to a new wicked little girl. Good luck to the makers of this comic. So far so good.
REED GUNTHER #4 www.reedgunther.comThis time on REED GUNTHER, BEAR RIDING COWBOY, Reed and his faithful bear head to the big city in search of monsters. The question is, is that search successful? Does a bear shit in the woods? Well, only Reed Gunther and the bear he rode in on know the answer to that one. One thing I do know is that there’s a whole lot of fun to be had with this comic that never takes itself too seriously. With Secret Agent Mundy fixin’ to break up the team, Reed and his bear have a lot of danger to face. Plus quiver at the menace of Frog Ape!!! It’s another issue chock full of great stuff from Shane and Chris Houghton. Plus this issue sports a ton of pin ups by some very talented artists.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Check out his ComicSpace page for his entries in Cream City Comics’ MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1 anthologies. Bug was interviewed here & here (about AICN Comics) and here & here (on his VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER comics). Bug’s latest comic is VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #21: WITCHFINDER GENERAL (available in May’s Previews Order # MAY100828) on sale in July. Fanboy Radio recently interviewed Bug about it here. Bug was also interviewed here & here about his upcoming original vampire miniseries NANNY & HANK (available in June's Previews Order #JUN100824) due out in August.