Monday, February 27, 2006

RIP Speakeasy

As reported by Newsarama, Speakeasy Comics will cease publication. It's always too bad when a new publisher isn't able to make it. I had a kind of affection for Speakeasy, even though I didn't really care for some of the books I picked up from them. I did read The Grimoire for the first half dozen issues and have been looking forward to Elk's Run being collected (which may still happen elsewhere). The recently released Athena Voltaire mini-series was a really good read and kind of reinvigorated my excitement for the company in the face of several disappointments, but at least Athena Voltaire will continue in its webcomics form and maybe (hopefully) The Flight of the Phoenix mini will move to another publisher. Chris Butcher reported a Speakeasy source as saying that March books will still ship, so I'm going to at least get my hands on the second issue for now... This isn't as devastating a blow as Crossgen's demise, as I was quite invested in many of those titles and characters, but it's still too bad.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Black Widow 2

The Things They Say About Her is Richard K. Morgan's follow-up to his previous Black Widow mini-series, Homecoming. Some events from that story are carried on here, but for the most part, it is a story all its own. This six-issue mini-series follows Natasha Romonova as she attempts to track down Sally Anne, a runaway being used in experiments that are tied up with the Black Widow program conditioning that have affected her life, and the lives of over two dozen other Black Widows. Throughout her adventure to Cuba, Natasha encounters Yelena Bolova, the blonde Black Widow who has starred in previous Black Widow adventures in Natasha's stead, as well as Nick Fury and Daredevil himself. Sean Phillips layed out the series with Bill Sienkiewicz doing finishes. Unfortunately, the art was pretty much the only thing this story had going for it. Richard K. Morgan manages to make an uncompelling Black Widow story even less compelling in this sequel of sorts. Full of dull villains navigating through a completely lackluster story, Natasha really doesn't have much to work with here, and ends her story in a climax that leaves one feeling completely cheated and unfulfilled. Now, granted, Richard K. Morgan had some big shoes to fill following Greg Rucka's mastery of the character in the three previous mini-series (one of which stars Yelena in an S&M club called Pale Little Spider), Morgan should almost be embarrassed with the mess he produced here. A charming character goes completely wasted, with only Phillips' and Sienkiewicz' art to counter it being dubbed a complete waste of time and money. The Things They Say About Her...I say check out Rucka's works based on the character and leave this mess be.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

In Passing...no love for my local comic store

I'm really annoyed by my local comic store. Aside from the typical Marvel and DC titles, anything's a gamble at (I'll illustrate some restraint from using their actual name and just say a local store near my apartment, in Milwaukee). I often miss Image and Dark Horse titles, manga trades, and now, I've missed out on one of my most-anticipated titles: Mouse Guard. I was seething when I left the store. The arrogant staff has been overheard speaking of how they deserve an Eisner for being the best store in Milwaukee (as laughable as the stores of the area are) and how well they use their space (half the store could easily be taken up by more books - they have two nearly empty shelves of alternative comic material, and there's no excuse for the small selection of trades when there is so much extra space in the store and the demand for that format is rising so substantially) and the store manager actually made a comment to someone asking about The Comics Journal about how they only review the most obscure figures in comics lately (Uh, hello! If you actually read it, they've done Will Eisner, Eddie Campbell, Craig Thompson, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and fricking Shojo manga! How mainstream can you get!!!? He needs to actually read the material before he comments on it) Ugh! I seriously want to boycott the store, but then I would have nothing. I really, really wish I had the financing to open my own store in the area. I'm serious; I've looked into it and it's a goal of mine that I want to see happen in the next few years. But anyway...for now, I've ordered Mouse Guard #1, Robotika #2 and The Flying Friar #1 on-line and I'll review them as soon as I can...


Polly and the Pirates #4 (of 6) - Thank god there's been some major buzz around Ted Naifeh's book or I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to get this one either (not that Mouse Guard's press is anything to sneeze at). Polly and the Pirates has consistently been a fun book to pick up. I love his new character for the series, Polly Pringle, as she's thrown into these wild situations and forced to examine her actions and what is really important to her. 9/10

The Book of Lost Souls #5 - I know that this book hasn't been doing exactly stellar on the sales charts, but I was a little surprised to see "The End" on the last page of the book. Has it been cancelled? I certainly wouldn't be surprised, but I hadn't really heard anything... It's not a great loss either way. It was trying too hard to be Marvel's Sandman and it was just a watered-down book that wasn't even in the same ballpark. 4.5/10

Astonishing X-Men #13 - Yay! The great book returns with a crisp Joss Whedon story full of intrigue, and John Cassaday doing what he does best. It's cool to see Cassandra Nova being used in this book, probably released from the prison Grant Morrison put her in in some other X-Men book, not that it matters much as long as she's there. I'm not sure who some of the ranks of the Hellfire Club are, but I'm assuming they're new aside from Sebastian Shaw and Cassandra. Great Emma and Kitty stuff, great first issue back! 9.1/10

Ultimate Spider-man #90 - The finale of the "Silver Sable" arc as Spidey battles the Vulture over the skyscrapers of New York. This issue's pretty much one big battle with Silver Sable and SHIELD both, for the most part, just watching from sidelines. Silver Sable was treated a little too lightly through the storyarc, portraying her as more an amateur than anything, but I get the feeling that that was Bendis' intention. She did sort of redeem herself and was quite resourceful throughout the story, but in the end, she was just kind of...there, unable to do much to help Spider-man and not leaving much of a mark behind. It would be cool to see her return in the futurea little more seasoned, but for now, we got a chracter with more ambition than skill. 8.8/10 for the issue. 9.3/10 for the arc.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Previews: May 2006

ADV:
Neon Genesis Eveangelion: Angelic Days (volume 1) - This manga is based on a Playstation 2 game from Japan where the characters from the popular anime series star, out of continuity, in a romance comedy of sorts. Weird.

Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics:
Wonderland #1 - This looks like fun. A pretty, cartoony story of what happened in Wonderland after Alice left the kingdom.

Dark Horse:
Lady Snowblood (volume 4): Retribution Part 2 - I'm admittedly behind on the series since the first trade came out, but it's always nice to see a new one come out. I think this is the finale?

Octopus Girl (volume 2) - Yeah, the firs one hasn't come out yet, but god, the covers look so awesome I can't believe it will be anything less.

Fantagraphics Books:
Castle Waiting HC - Collecting the entire Castle Waiting story, this should be a great read. I've been meaning to track this down for a while. Saves me a lot of work.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937-1938: Shifting Sands Dusts Its Cheek in Powdered Beauty - Beautiful cover for the latest installment. I haven't gotten around to Krazy & Ignatz yet, but Patrick's excited for it.

Free Comic Book Day:
Free Scott Pilgrim #1 (Oni Press) - New Scott Pilgrim!

Owly: Breeakin' the Ice (Top Shelf) - Owly's cute. And so are the chipmunk and goose on the cover...

Wizard Presents: The Top 100 Trade Paperbacks of all Time (Wizard) - Yes, this is going to be ridiculous. Yes, I will get plenty of laughs over what they choose.

X-Men/Runaways (Marvel Comics) - All-new Runaways story!

Gemstone Publishing:
Carl Barks' Greatest Ducktales Stories (volume 1) - Should be cool!

Hyperion Books:
Abadazad Book 1: The Road To Inconceivable and Abadazad Book 2: The Dream Thief - Oh, Boy. I am sooo excited about this. I loved Abadazad and we're finally going to get more!!! Mark your calendars! The first one must have a lot of what was collected in the first three issues that were actually released (with the cover of the collection featuring the same cover as issue #2), but since they are hybrids of comic and prose, there has to be a bunch more Abadazad goodness in there to justify the purchase. Book Two's cover was a picture I haven't seen before (of the villain) and man, it was cool just to see that! I hated The Stardust Kid, so I hope Ploog and DeMatteis haven't lost their touch during the gaping time between the last issue by Crossgen and the new collections, but I have to have faith that it'll flow as before. I'm hoping the next issue of The Comics Journal, with a Mike Ploog interview has some nice tidbits in it about the series...

IBooks:
Wings GN - This sounds adorable - A farmer finds a dog with wings on the roadside and takes it in to his family, where it is charming and comedic. And free of text. Should be nifty.

Image Comics:
Girls (volume 2): Emergence - The first trade was my #10 pick of last year, so I'm definitely looking forward to more Luna Brothers goodness.

The Walking Dead (volume 5): The Best Defense - This series hasn't been impressing me so much as of late, so I hope this one picks the pace up a bit.

Marvel:
Civil War #1 (of 7) - I usually hate these crossovers, but god, I love Steve McNiven's art. The preview art looked amazing!

Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four (volume 10) - Collecting the final issues of the legendary Lee/Kirby run! Also, it sounds like it'll have some nice supplementray material.

Skrull Kill Krew TPB - Who can resist more Grant Morrison goodness?

X-Men Fairy Tales #1 (of 4) - Okay, I'm a Kitty Pryde fan and I loathed "Kitty's Fairy Tale," so right off the bat, using that as a sales pitch for the series is a bad thing in my book. however...this looks great! The preview art is beautiful, as is the cover. It's kind of like that Neon Genesis Evangelion manga that's coming out this month, using the X-Men characters out of coninuity for a different tale, this one based on Japanese folktales. And did you see Beast? I want to pinch his little cheeks!

X-Men: Firestar Digest - Wait - what? Yeah, this collects the Firestar mini-series, issues 1-4, from before her time with either the Avengers or the New Warriors. An odd choice, but hell, I'm gonna check it out for $8!

Oni Press:
Borrowed Time #1 - A story that takes place in the Bermuda Triangle, but sounds like it focuses more on the human aspect of the main character. Humanity is sometimes best examined when taken out of context of familiar surroundings.

Seven Seas Entertainment:
Inverloch (volume 1) - Another poular webcomic makes the leap to paper. Another cute-sounding story.

Viz:
Naoki Urasawa's Monster (volume 3) - Great first trade - can't wait for the next one!

Nana (volume 3) - I think this is the best manga currently being serialized in America.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Lone and Level Sands

The Lone and Level Sands is an original graphic novel published by Archaia Studios Press this past December. It was originally self-published in black and white, but was colored by Jennifer Rodgers for its Archaia Studios hardcover debut. Written by A. David Lewis and illustrated by Marvin Perry Mann, this book has very beautiful production values. Nice glossy pages, a nice book jacket and just an overall very professional presentation. The story, basically, is a retelling of the book of Exodus, from the perspective of Ramses the pharaoh. The idea behind the story is really interesting, of a man who tries to do the best for his kingdom in the face of Moses, who is depicted as a ruthless, pretty arrogant messenger for a wrathful god. He taunts Ramses as locusts are on their way: "Diminishing water, scarce food, virtual imprisonment within their homes - where is your nation now, Pharaoh?" God is the bad guy here, manipulating people on both sides to make his prophecies come true, laying waste to this proud civilization. Like the creators of the series wanted, it throws out the traditional good vs. evil motif and explores the fact that there is no absolute good or evil, but motives for actions, whether they're selfish and oppressive, or ambitious and self-righteous. Ramses isn't a two-dimensional tyrannical ruler here like in Exodus. He loses everything in the end, no matter how you look at it. In his pitiful state, can he really be called the villian of this tale? And on the flip side, can Moses be called evil because he desired the freedom of his people, trusting in a god who brought about such devestation for their oppressors? The Lone and Level Sands focuses on the people of the story, rather than indulging in the plagues as most stories on the subject would have done. It's very effective in this regard. However, I have to say that going into it expecting some great art depicting these scenes, I was disappointed. I must confess that I wasn't too fond of the art overall. I enjoyed reading this book, but I would say that it's an average read and can't bring myself to recommend it above things that I truly love. But if you think it sounds interesting, by all means, check it out.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Shojo Beat: March '06

The March edition of Shojo Beat magazine contains an exclusive preview of Aishiteruze Baby, as well as more Nana goodness and Absolute Boyfriend!

Nana is consistenctly the best manga out there, even with such great new titles coming out like Dragon Head and Monster. Ai Yazawa is just a master at soap opera, whether dealing with money issues or secrets between friends, she gets the feelings across to the reader amid a tidalwave of emotions. She just knows the perfect moments to have her characters react in the right ways. In this installment of the series, Nana calls home to find out why her mother sent money to her account and gets a shock of sorts. I can kind of relate to how she felt at one point when her mom says "Just don't come home" - I think anyone can really. Your parents are always a fallback and it's always "home" in the space where you grew up. When my mom changed my bedroom to a guest room when I left home, I felt a little hurt. Then she sold the house and I really felt like "home" was kind of gone. It's these kinds of emotions that Yazawa is able to portray in stories that make them superior to others. And yeah...lots more happens too!

I was a bit disappointed in Aishiteruze Baby. I really enjoyed the preview of Beauty Is the Beast that they had a few issues back and I was expecting something a little more...interesting, I guess. Aishiteruze Baby is basically about a high school student, a spoiled playboy, who has to grow up fast and help his family raise their missing aunt's five-year-old girl. Of course, he grows attached to her and shows a softer side than he has before. I just felt like I was hitting all of the notes along the way as the story unfolded. Nothing really new and inventive happened. Very predictable.

I thought Absolute Boyfriend would fizzle out after the initial first few issues, but it's actually chugging along quite nicely. It may have actually grown on me a bit, if truth be told. I think having Riiko go through such a trial with her best friend was a good way for Yuu Watase to make her audience relate to her protagonist a little more closely. At first, she was a very generic character, but she's congealed into something a little more since then.

And that's all I read in the magazine. I should consider just purchasing Nana and Absolute Boyfriend in serialed digests, but what can I say? I like the previews, I like being caught up with the story and I like the little tid bits of Japanese culture speckled throughout the magazine.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

In Passing...Runaways to Spider-woman

A lot of really good action in the floppies this week. New Avengers and Manhunter were pretty much straight action, and great action at that. Spider-woman: Origin contained probably one of the most satisfying action scenes I've read in awhile...

The New Avengers #16 - We're already sixteen issues into this series? That went rather quickly. First of all, loved the art. Steve McNiven is awesome. And while this issue had no actual Avengers in it aside from a brief video interview with Tony Stark, it was really exciting. Mostly, the story takes place on a SHIELD aircraft where the agents basically watch a super-powered being have a lot of fun killing people. And I had fun watching it. 8.7/10

X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl #2 (of 5) - This is really a fun series. It's really silly, but seeing a bunch of dead characters in one comic again is nerdtastic. Dr. Strange is awesome, even though I've never really thought of him as hot like the girls in the book seem to... And I like Deadgirl's choice of friends: Mocking Bird, Moira MacTaggert and Gwen Stacy. Though having them in Hell is kinda harsh, isn't it? 8.3/10

Runaways #13 - A stand-alone issue featuring Molly, as she fights a child-persecuting villain and his pickpocketing ring. I really enjoyed Adrian Alphona's art throughout the entire issue, particularly the children's clothing. It wasn't a very riveting story, however. Probably one of the worst, in fact. 5.0/10

Spider-woman: Origin #3 (of 5) - Jessica Drew confronts Fury and learns the truth about her past. This issue has some really great action sequences and just nice moments that showcase how cool this character really is. The best of the mini so far. 9.4/10

Manhunter #19 - The "Who's Your Daddy?" story arc comes to an end as Kate Spencer confronts her father as he threatens the ones she loves. However, Kate's actions kind of leave one wondering how far the apple has fallen from the tree. Kate is continuously one of the most interesting, complex superhero characters. 8.9/10

Testament #3 - The conspiracies keep coming and the mysteries are slowly unfolding as the university rioters are taken captive by the government. Goddesses intervene and the characters of the story blur with those of characters from a Biblical time. It is intriguing as I read the series, but the way some things are solved are too simple and it just keeps getting sillier. This is always a hard book to talk about - it's kind of complicated and it just doesn't sound very cool when you explain it. But anyway, I can't in good conscience recommend this book, so don't try working out my ramblings. This was my last issue. If I hear good things later on, I'll pick up the trade, but it just seems to be getting progressively worse, so I'm going to have to pass. 5.3/10

Thursday, February 16, 2006

THINK ABOUT COMICS: Fantagraphics

A Column By Patrick Markfort

This week, I’m paying tribute to my favorite publisher, Fantagraphics, by reviewing three of their recent releases.

The Comics Journal Library 6: The Writers Book One: I’ve been a big fan of this series of collected interviews from The Comics Journal since the first volume on Jack Kirby. It’s very nice to have this material collected, particularly for someone like me who came rather late to the magazine. This volume collects interviews with mainstream comic book writers between the years 1975-1985, an interesting time for American comics, as a growing level of sophistication in comics storytelling seemed to be pointing towards something, although nobody seemed to have any idea just what it was pointing towards. The writers featured here (including Chris Claremont, Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore, and others) were the last generation of American comics writers to work in the medium before the idea of the “graphic novel” had become a viable alternative to the monthly superhero comic book, and it is fascinating to examine their thoughts in regards to the medium. This quote from Steve Englehart captures the tone of this volume perfectly: “If you did a 250-page comic book novel, would people buy it or would they just throw up their hands in despair and not touch it at all?” The Harlan Ellison interview will be the big draw for most people. It is somewhat infamous in that Ellison’s vitriolic comments lead to a lawsuit against both Ellison and The Comics Journal, as well as a long standing feud between Gary Groth and Ellison. It is also a long, very good interview, with both Ellis and Groth in rare form in discussion of a wide variety of topics. The surprise favorite interview for me was Denny O’Neil, a writer who’s work I’ve not had much experience of, but who proved to be a well-spoken, highly intelligent and articulate subject. Alan Moore’s interview closes the volume, with the British author’s discussion of his Swamp Thing work providing a natural jumping off point for this first volume. Editor Tom Spurgeon has done a really nice job putting all of this together, and I’m eager for the second writers volume. Highly recommended.

Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson: It seems to me there was a lot more discussion of this “comic book novella” before it was released than after, which is puzzling because it is an extraordinary debut from a highly talented young cartoonist. A coming of age story concerning a young man, Loren Foster, and his experiences as a high school student living in Hawaii, Night Fisher really impressed me with it’s invocation of a very particular time and place. I couldn’t help comparing this work to Craig Thompson’s Blankets, I suppose because both feature male protagonists of about the same age (with similar physical characteristics, come to think of it), drawn in a similar style, with realistic black and white artwork and masterful figure drawing. Comparing the two works, I have to say I actually prefer Night Fisher, as it avoids the sentimentality Blankets indulged in a bit too often for my tastes. In any case, R. Kikuo Johnson is definitely someone I’m going to be keeping my eye on, and you should too. I believe he’ll be appearing in Fantagraphic’s literary anthology, Mome, in the near future.

Ganges #1 by Kevin Huizenga: This is the first of Fantagraphic’s “Ignatz” books that I’ve purchased. I really, really like the format - an oversized comic book with high production values and dust jacket priced at $7.95 and delightfully blurring the line between “comic books” and “graphic novels.” Ganges presents us with several short stories revolving around Huizenga’s cartoon alter ego, Glenn Ganges. His wife, Wendy, is also featured in several of the stories, all of which are quiet, slice of life tales usually involving Glenn ruminating on some subject or other while performing some common, everyday task. For example, the first story finds Glenn on his way to the library. When he casually wonders about how many times he has walked this particular route to the library, it leads to a rumination on the nature of time itself. Another tale features Glenn’s imaginings as to the fate of a boy he observes littering. All of the stories are illustrated in black, white, and blue, in Huizenga’s spare, cartoony style which is somehow perfect for these types of stories. While Huizenga employs a lot of formal experimentation in his comic book series Or Else, here he is more restrained, presenting most of the stories in a more or less straightforward manner, and I think they are stronger for it. Huizenga is one of the brightest talents around right now, and this debut issue is a perfect showcase for his talents.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Strangehaven: Arcadia

I wasn't surprised at all, after reading the first collected edition of Strangehaven, "Arcadia," that it has been compared to Twin Peaks. I would be quite surprised if Gary Spencer Millidge wasn't inspired by the show to some degree, as the atmosphere of his book, the way the story unfolds, drew comparisons for me to nothing else. The story follows Alex as he is taken in by a small secluded town, Strangehaven, following a car accident. The supernatural circumstances that caused his accident carry on through the story, although the eccentric residents of the town are thrust to the foreground of the tale. Among the strange characters of Strangehaven are a man who claims he's an alien stranded on earth with x-ray vision, a shaman from an Amazonian Indian tribe and an elderly lady whose house is filled with animals that she has conversations with. While the story meanders to all of the different corners of the town, the main events center around Alex and his budding relationship with young Janey, and the strange society of the Knights of the Golden Light who make all of the goings-on in Strangehaven their business. Strangehaven is beautifully illustrated realistically with an odd panel thrown in here and there to unnerve the reader, and with just enough sinister inuendos to keep us on edge through the tame soap opera happenings.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Mother, Come Home

It took me a while to get into this book. I did immediately love Paul Hornschemeier's art however. He kind of bounced between a more sketchy art he used in dream sequences with thinner inklines, to a more fully-realized style that's really just beautiful. The coloring in particular is great. The story follows a young boy who watches as his father falls apart in the wake of his wife's death. He has to grow up quickly to take care of things around the house and his father, while dealing with his mother's death on his own and resenting the treatment he receives from relatives and teachers. I'm not sure exactly why it took all the way through part one of the book to finally get into the story, but I think it was a combination of being turned off by the father's behavior and the tedious explanations given through the child's thoughts. You have to do a bit of work to transform a child's confused rationale and half-truths into something more coherent and meaningful. Hornschemeier really gives his readers a lot of credit, leaving things unsaid for us to draw conclusions about and make connections. It's really a fascinating read about the grieving process of this child and I assume, it was very therapeutic for the author to have written. All in all, a very satisfying read once you get into it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Eden: It's An Endless World!

I'd been meaning to check this one out for awhile now. The cover for volume one of this series is really beautiful, I think, and the interior? Just as wonderful. Even absolutely horrifying images of corpses and gore are hard not to admire right along with great close-ups of soft shading upon the main character, Elijah's face. Eden: It's An Endless World! is basically a post-apocalyptic manga, where a virus has decimated most of the world's populace, forcing many people to forego their flesh for cybernetic bodies, and others to scavenge for food and shelter, avoiding the Propater, a vicious military group. Mysteries are abundant in this book, from a killing machine to the corpse of a young boy ravaged by dogs to the father that Elijah remembers nothing about. The fluid storytelling leaves these questions on our minds, salivating for more, while touching us with moments of real tenderness. Eden really does shine in a genre that's grown tired over the years.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

THINK ABOUT COMICS: Manga

A Column by Patrick Markfort

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Think About Comics. This week, it’s another all-manga editon, as I’ll be taking a brief look at some manga I’ve read recently.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (Volume 1): This had been one of my most anticipated releases for 2006, and I wasn’t disappointed. Urasawa begins his tale of a young doctor being terrorized by a monstrous former patient with the skill of a master storyteller, building tension throughout this first volume and leaving me wanting more, while at the same time providing a satisfying reading experience. You’ll want to track this one down.

Cromartie High School (Volume 2): While I didn’t find myself laughing quite as much while reading this second installment of Eiji Nonaka’s comedy series as I did reading the first, it is still one of the best humor comics currently being published, and one of the strangest manga I’ve ever encountered. As I said when I reviewed volume one, I recommend flipping through this one at your local store and reading a few pages…..that should give you a good idea whether or not the style of humor on display here is in tune with your own.

Dragon Head (Volume 1): If you were only to read one manga from this list, I think it should be this one. I was absolutely blown away by this compelling story from Minetaro Mochizuki. When high school student Teru Aoki awakens amidst a terrible disaster, he finds himself trapped beneath the streets of Tokyo. The subway train he and his classmates had been on has been derailed, and nearly all of the other passengers are dead. This first volume takes place entirely underground (despite a couple of brief flashbacks to Teru’s home life), which creates a feeling of dread and paranoia essential to good horror stories. This first volume was flawless, and I really hope Mochizuki is able to maintain the level of quality on display here throughout the series. I can’t wait to read more of this.

Naruto (Volume 1): This is basically Harry Potter with Ninjas. Naruto is a young ninja-in-training (and also a demon fox, although that aspect of his being is dormant…long story), and he and his friends must graduate the Ninja Academy and survive the brutal training they are subjected to by their teacher, Hatake Kakashi. The story takes place in a magical other world, where ninja skills are mixed with magical abilities…Naruto’s signature move is to make duplicates of himself. I really liked this book. Creator Masashi Kishimoto draws in an appealing art style, writes engaging characters, and is a master of really terrific action sequences. I’m not at all surprised that this is so popular with young boys, and I plan to keep reading myself, although I think my continued interest will depend on whether the plot advances the story of Naruto’s journey, or if it falls into a formula of endless battle sequences. We’ll see, but for now, I’m on board.

Well, there you have it. Lots of good manga that is probably worth your time to seek out. I’ll be back in one week with something different.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In Passing...Fables to Black Widow

Next week has some great floppy releases. This week, not so much. Ah, well. Just gives me an excuse to pick up another trade.

DMZ #4 - Stand alone issue. During this story, Roth is searching for a group of AWOL soldiers around Central Park called "The Ghosts." During his exploration of the area, he's taken in by a group of environmentalists securing the park and Central Park Zoo. This issue left me a little cold. I hope the series doesn't turn into a string of "cool ideas" where Wood showcases what "this part" of NY is like now, and then "this part." There's something to be said for these things, but I don't really go to comics for a tour. If something like this is so elaborately illustrated, I want it to be a big part of the series, really advancing the plot and characters. 3.2/10

Fables #46 - Guest penciller Jim Fern unfolds a story of forbidden love between wooden soldiers in part one of "The Ballad of Rodney and June." Fern's art is pretty unspectacular, but it makes for a nice, quiet interlude story for the series. It's kind of a lackluster story as well, but it does raise some interesting ideas. Now we know that the wooden dolls may walk and talk like humans, but they're...err... not anatomically correct. 4.1/10

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her #5 (of 6) - Well, well. Natasha finds herself in a compromising position in this issue, having gotten herself captured and all. Daredevil and Yelena are still out there, however, with an opening scene that doesn't make as much sense as it should. But small gripes aside, this is a fun issue for the masochists in all of us, watching Kestrel beat the crap out of Natasha tied to a chair, and taking her snappy remarks with little grace. 6.6/10

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Oscars

Obviously, the Oscars are coming up, so I'm putting my two cents out there about who I'd like to see win...

Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain
I still want to see Good Night, Good Luck before I make a final decision, but man, I can't imagine it being better than Brokeback Mountain.

Actor In a Leading Role: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)

Actress In a Leading Role: Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice)
It seems like all of the actresses in this category are kind of dark horses. The most obvious choice is Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, but I have a feeling someone like Judy Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents), a more seasoned actress, will come out triumphant.

Actor In a Supporting Role: Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain)
I'm a little impatial here because I'm smitten with him...

Actress In a Supporting Role: Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain)
I just want to see Williams win because I think it's surreal that she's even nominated. I still get that Paula Cole song stuck in my head whenever I see her. I do like Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) though and Amy Adams looked great in her role in Junebug though I haven't seen it.

Animated Feature: Howl's Moving Castle
I think Wallace and Gromit will win here, but Howl's Moving Castle's only fault was that it wasn't as good as recent Miyazaki hits. It's still, however, superior to most animation out there.

Art Direction: Pride & Prejudice

Cinematography: Brokeback Mountain

Costume Design: Pride & Prejudice

Directing: Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain)

Documentary Feature: March of the Penguins

Film Editing: The Constant Gardener

Visual Effects: Sin City
No, it wasn't actually nominated. Dumb Academy fucks.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): History of Violence
Well, it would be cool to see a comic book adaptation win, though it's a long shot...

Writing (Original Screenplay): Match Point
This was just a great, overlooked movie. I think I may have liked this better than Brokeback Mountain...

Obviously, I left out some categories I didn't want to arbitrarily pick a winner for. I feel bad that I didn't see any of the Foreign Language Film nominees. Anyways, see the complete list yourself at The Oscar's Official Site.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

One Hundred Demons

It's been a long while since I've read a Lynda Barry comic. I think she was my introduction to more alternative material with some Marlys strip or another. I can't believe I just got around to reading One Hundred Demons, considering how much attention its gotten and how much I admire the artist. But it finally happened and, of course, I loved it. I'm used to her style and storytelling, but with this collection, it seemed like Barry was really drawing some really interesting, honest conclusions about the human condition. Not that Barry's previous works were superfluous or anything - it just seemed like she went to the next level here and really delved deep within herself, asking pertinent questions. One of my favorite things about the collection were the pages that introduce each chapter of the book. They're done in a sort of scrap book/collage type style that was just really fun to look at. I spent minutes at a time just pouring over the pages at the fine detail and love that went into these. This is just a wonderful, honest book and a lot of fun to lose yourself in.

Friday, February 03, 2006

In Passing...Bulleteer to Silver Sable

Two Marvel and two DC books to review this week. Kinda lame, but at least I squeaked in a Speakeasy title earlier this week (and would have had another one if my local stores had carried The Flying Friar). Ah, well. Here they are...

Y - the Last Man #42 - I keep getting really really close to dropping this title, but I was sad that I didn't get The Flying Friar, so to fill the empty void that the friar left behind, I bought the damn thing. Even though I did enjoy this issue, I think this is definitely a series I could do without. I may watch for how it's being collected and read Y-the Last Man that route, but some exciting shit has to go down next to keep my interest as is. This issue focused on the lovable monkey Ampersand and followed his journey from just before the plague hit to the present, giving us glimpses into how Yorick's relationship really sat with Beth before she left for Australia, and linking some seemingly random events together. And, of course, it shows what Ampersand has had to endure since parting with Yorick. All in all, a pretty good issue in a pretty mediocre series. 8/10

Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #3 (of 4) - Another awesome issue. I feel like there's not much I can say to make people buy this with what everyone else is saying, so I'll leave it at that and add that I loved the characters Morrison added to the series - Mind Grabber Man, Sally Sonic, Thumbelina and Miss Stellamaris the mer...uh, person. 9/10

Sable & Fortune #2 (of 4) - The second silver woman of the week, Silver Sable, continued her adventure with Dominic Fortune amid gorgeous art and classic spy action. I love Brendan Cahill's portrayal of Silver Sable here. She's such a cold-hearted bitch. And if there's anything I love, it's a cold-hearted bitch. In heels. In a silver, low-cut top and big hair. 8.2/10

X-Factor #3 - Art changed hands halfway through the issue again. I hope this isn't an indicator for how the rest of the series is going to play out. I would personally rather wait a little longer for more consistency. I wasn't too jarred however, as the art styles are fairly similar and the panels were constructed much better than the previous issue. I can certainly forgive it for now especially if Peter David keeps up with the top-notch storytelling. 9.4/10

Last movie I saw in theaters: Match Point
Last graphic novel I read: In the Shadow of No Towers - Art Spiegelman
Graphic novel I'm currently reading: One Hundred Demons - Lynda Berry
Last episode Patrick and I watched in our Buffy marathon: "Earshot"

Thursday, February 02, 2006

THINK ABOUT COMICS: Secret Comics Japan

A Column By Patrick Markfort

Secret Comics Japan
Edited by Chikao Shiratori
Secret Comics Japan is an anthology of contemporary (the book was published in 2000) “underground” or “secret” manga. These terms are explained by the editor, Chikao Shiratori, in his introduction, wherein he contextualizes the manga reprinted in this volume in regards to the larger manga scene in Japan. Most of the work here originally appeared in the now defunct manga magazine Garo (for which Shiratori worked as an editor), a famous publication specializing in avant-garde manga, but, as Shiratori explains, the term “underground” may no longer be applicable, as so many of the storytelling tropes and styles (and, indeed, many of the artists themselves) first appearing in Garo have since been assimilated into mainstream manga. This anthology, then, seeks to collect a sample of works representing the crème de la crème of unusual manga of the type generally only appreciated by connoisseurs.

The book gets off to a bit of a rocky start, as the opening story, written by Norimizu Ameya and drawn by cult favorite Junko Mizuno was a beautifully drawn, impeccably designed gothic fable that nevertheless left me a bit cold. It was a nice enough story of a girl who becomes a jellyfish, and I understand that Mizuno has a lot of fans, so it probably made sense to open with her piece, I was just hoping for something with a little more depth to open the book. I really disliked Hironori Kikuchi’s Gedatsu Man, a nonsensical tale of monsters vs. robots, which was weird and random seemingly for the sake of being weird and random. Kikuchi draws in a bold, cartoony style, which looks nice enough but lacks depth and weight, not unlike his story. I’ll admit that I didn’t even finish reading this story, and have no wish to read anything further by the artist.

Fortunately, after these first two entries, the book improves dramatically, as all of the remaining pieces are good to excellent. Yoshitomo Yoshimoto’s “Jr.” presents a very silly premise (Jr. is a 32-year old elementary school student…it is never explained why), which is interrupted by moments of shocking violence and pornography. Very well drawn, with characters you come to care about despite the brevity of the tale and the absurdity of the premise. Kiriko Nananan’s two short stories, “Heartless Bitch” and “Painful Love” are too brief to prove really satisfying in and of themselves, but do work well as samples from an obviously talented cartoonist. Shintaro Kago’s “Punctures” seems to be a story the artist made up as he went along, utilizing grotesque horror images to great effect. Benkyo Tamaoki’s “Editor Woman” is a funny and well crafted example of pornographic manga, which Shiratori suggests may be the last true “underground” manga in Japan. The sex is explicit and no doubt “useful,” but there is a surprising amount of interaction between the characters while fully clothed, and it’s clear that Tamaoki cares about his characters, and wants his readers to care about them, as well.

One of the best pieces in the book was Makoto Aida’s “Mutant Hanako.” A fine artist who wished to become a manga artist, Aida originally created “Mutant Hanako” as an addendum to one of his art exhibits, printed on ultra cheap newsprint and limited to 300 bound copies. The story is drawn in unlinked, crude pencils, and is at once a critique and a celebration of manga. The outrageous story involves Hanako, a young girl (she is nude throughout much of the story) and her battle against the Americans (depicted as demons) during World War II, as they attempt to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. She is unsuccessful in her attempt, and ends up strapped, naked, to the bomb as it is dropped on the city. The explosion (described by one of the Americans as a “big cock of smoke!”) and its aftermath are depicted in all of their gory detail, with one particularly disgusting scene of a girl’s slow disintegration from radiation poisoning. Miraculously, Hanoko survives, reborn as the super powered Mutant Hanako, and she joins together with a young boy to once again battle the Americans. The story doesn’t end there, and goes on to involve a good deal more outrageous violence and sex (between the two apparently adolescent protagonists), all gleefully depicted in lurid detail. Clearly, Aida does not intend this work to be taken seriously, which is exactly the point. As a fine artist, Aida admires the freedom manga artists have to indulge their more prurient interests, but is critical of them as well. The story’s treatment of the atomic bomb points out Aida’s feelings that examining serious themes through an inherently juvenile medium is ridiculous at best and offensive at worst. I’m not sure I agree with this idea (in fact, I’m fairly certain that I don’t), but I admire Aida’s creative way of examining the issue.

I also really enjoyed Usamaru Furuya’s “Palepoli,” which I first became aware of via Timothy R. Lehmann’s excellent book of interviews, Manga: Masters of the Art, and which provides the cover image for this book. Like Aida, Furuya was trained as a fine artist, and his approach to manga is highly unusual. “Palepoli” is a series of four-panel gag pages, some of which are funny, some of which are simply bizarre, some of which experiment with the medium, and many which do all of these things. Furuya changes his art style drastically from page to page, and while there are a few recurring “characters,” there is no storyline as such. Some themes do emerge, however, such as the frustration of being an artist, and a critique of Christianity, this most explicitly in the opening image, of Jesus pinned to a board and labeled alongside various types of insects and arachnids, as though part of a child’s science project. It’s difficult to describe too many of Furuya’s pages without spoiling them, so I’ll just say that they are all very good, and most are very funny. The “Golgo 13” parody in particular had me laughing out loud. I’d love to see more from this artist.

My absolute favorite story in the collection, and one of the best manga I’ve ever read, is “Swing Shell,” Yuko Tsuno’s beautiful, haunting story of a young girl’s relationship with her father after the death of the girl’s mother. I would be doing you and Ms. Tsuno a grave disservice were I to attempt to describe the story in too much more detail, as it functions more like a poem than a narrative, with images appearing as loaded symbols (bears, water) to be experienced and interpreted firsthand. The delicate linework belies a depth of meaning lying just beyond the edges of the story, and events are suggested rather than depicted. “Swing Shell” is an extraordinary work from an extraordinary talent, a true work of art created, according to Ms. Tsuno, only for herself. We are fortunate she has chosen to share it with us.

Secret Comics Japan is a very good book, with a few excellent stories which should not be missed by anyone interested in manga outside the mainstream. Hopefully, it will encourage publishers to translate more work from the featured artists in the near future.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Athena Voltaire

A new title appeared on the stands of comic book stores on Wednesday courtesy of Speakeasy Comics, but Athena Voltaire isn't new to the world of comics at large. When I picked up this comic, there were quotes from the likes of Warren Ellis raving about the series, an impressing "Eisner Award nominee" logo in the upper right-hand corner. This naturally caused me to wonder what I'd missed. Had there been a previous Athena Voltaire mini-series? A quick stop by Speakeasy Comics' site and Athena Voltaire's own website, and I discovered that Athena Voltaire is an acclaimed webcomic, up for best digital comic at the 2005 Eisners. The heroine makes her first print debut in the mini-series Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon, by series creators Steve Bryant, Paul Daly and Chad Fidler (with Kevin Volo and Thompson Knox working with Fidler on colors). The Speakeasy title makes for an impressive debut, as the company's high production values do the colorful, action-packed title justice. It's told in a 30's adventure comic strip style complete with airplanes, jungles and nazis searching for one artifact or another, fun and full of life and with a heroine to reckon with. A lot of story is packed into this debut issue, filling in some of the blanks on Athena's background and illustrating just why this woman is so kick-ass (and she is), while setting up an interesting story just about exploding with double-dealing and well, dynamite.