Sunday, March 29, 2009
JSA: Justice be Done, Darkness Falls
So pretty much right off the bat I realized that this comic would be about characters I knew very little about. Before the comic has even started there's an intro to the characters that will be appearing, the only two I think I've actually read comics about before were Wildcat and Black Canary. Robinson, Goyer, and Johns were going to bring back all the concepts and characters in the superhero comics they used to love and I know nothing about. I guess I haven't gotten around to picking out issues of Infinity Inc. from quarter bins yet.
But hold on, the Grey Man? Wesley Dodds*? Didn't I just read comics about them? Talk about syncronicity. Of course that doesn't help me know who the hell Mordru is. And I think that name is awful. Ick. And is that Kid Eternity from the Vertigo miniseries? How is he showing up here? And Dream! Oh comics.
One thing I do like about this comic though are the costumes. Or maybe not all the costumes (Sentinel's mask is awful), but the fact that half the team seem to just be wearing clothes anyone could. Sure it depends on which artist is drawing them, but Starman is pretty much always just a guy in goggles. Sentinel has ridiculously puffy sleeves and a huge belt buckle. Flash looks like he's wearing jeans in some panels. Sand, at least at first, is a guy wearing a sweater and a gasmask. That could be me right now! Mr. Terrific wears a jacket! A jacket! I have no idea who or why he even is, but he has a jacket. And a weird T on his face.
And how about the more superhero-y costumes? I love the fact that the Star Spangled Kid wears shorts. Yeah, they're skin tight, but they are a million times more sensible than what most superheroines wear. And while in volume two she's wearing pants, you have to wonder what was going through Black Canary's mind when she wore what was basically a bathing suit to a funeral. What?! I like Hourman's costume too. It seems as though it should just be a jumbled mess (that line on his face!) but it actually turns out surprisingly well.
Of course this isn't to say I love all the costumes. Atom Smasher's costume is pretty lame, but maybe I'm just bitter he doesn't have a mohawk anymore. More superheroes need ridiculous haircuts. I also find Wildcat's mask fairly ridiculous about half the time. And some of the villians and supporting characters (Scarab!), urgh.
I also like that Dr. Mid-Nite is an actual doctor. I like the inventive ways Sentinel uses his powers. That's how you be a Green Lantern! I don't even understand how he made versions of dead superheroes and had them fight. That seems like it would take way more work than is good. And he made a wheelchair and splints for an injured person!
But enough about that, onto the actual comics. I liked the first volume more than the second, even if the artwork in book two is definitely better than the first, and it contains ten issues (I love thick trades). The second book also has lots of characters I like, Mr. Bones (although I know almost nothing about him), Agent Chase (!!!) show up as part of the DEO, and Dove comes back. I love Dove!
Volume two does have a pretty fun issue with an injured Wildcat taking out almost the entire injustice Society by himself. Though what kind of surprised me about that issue was that of the seven members of the IS, I knew one of them (Count Vertigo). I am still not that up on my knowledge of the DC universe it seems. Oh wait, Geomancer showed up in issue five. I didn't remember him though.
But the arc where Kobra is/are the villain(s)didn't do much for me. I mean, I like Kobra and all, but he didn't seem to be treated like a viable threat.
Also, it seems that if you are related to a superhero, even distantly, you are about a milllllion times more likely to get powers. That seems so unfair!
I wonder if in another ten years or so some new writer will be undoing all the stuff done in comics like this. They'll bring back the weird '90s Fate, and get rid of the helmeted one, they'll turn Atom Smasher back into Nuklon, and I don't know what else.
So yeah, I guess I'll read more JSA, but I really want more of the Starfox Justice Critter though. That comic looks awesome! And for the Red Bee to come back. And to be able to write coherent reviews.
*So, unrelated but awesome. I was at a Workless Party Party recently, and like many other people was dressed up in costume. In my case that was sort of '30s style hat, pants (with suspenders), and a gasmask (and some pussy willows I'd found at a skytrain station on my way). At one point a guy yelled out "Hey Wesley Dodds!" thinking I was dressed up like the Sandman, and we proceeded to have a really good costume. Now I need to make an actual Sandman Costume.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Tsutomo Nihei is the only creator who's works I own in three different languages. It all started back in 2002 when I went to Russia for school. I didn't buy any of his comics there (the only comics I managed to find that time were reprints of American superheroes, I think I still have an issue of Gen13 somewhere), but I did become friends with one of the other guys on the trip. He was also into manga and anime, and upon returning to Canada he lent me a bunch of stuff.
While I was looking through his collection, I noticed he had a bunch of books in Japanese, from a trip he'd taken there the year before. I didn't really pay attention to them, as I can't read Japanese and generally prefer to actually read my comics, but I took volume one of Blame, because I liked the art style. Soon I came back and borrowed volumes 2 and 3. This comic was great! And there was barely any dialogue so it didn't matter that much that it was in Japanese. All the English I needed was printed on the dust jacket "Adventure Seeker Killy in the Cyber Dungeon Quest." What did that even mean?
The next year I was in Montreal for a student journalism conference, and when I wasn't making a new friend I went looking for comics. I drooled over all the amazing hardcover collections you could get, but the only comics I actually picked up where a cheap used copy of the Invisibles volume 2, and three assorted volumes of Blame! (somehow even cheaper than English manga).
An aside: How often does that happen now? When I was a kid reading comics I didn't really care what number an issue had. Sure it was exciting when I eventually got every issue of a series or story line, but if I only had some I didn't care that much. I have three random volumes of DragonBall/Z in French too. Why don't I do that any more? About the only time I've thought of picking up the new volume of a manga without reading earlier ones is Monster, where I stopped reading fairly early, but heard such good things I thought about checking out a later volume. I didn't though.
Okay, so back to Blame! I can't actually remember what volumes of Blame I got (2, 3, and 5 maybe?), but I was excited to have them. And now I could even read them! Even if my French wasn't that good. I could at least find out the name of the main character (Killy!) and what sound his "emetteur positronique" makes.*
Some of the French editions are really nice by the way. They're flipped, and slightly smaller than most manga is put out here, but apart from that they're beautiful packages. Dustflaps, colour pages at the begining, translated sound effects, really nicely put together in general. The only real downside being that they've taken the ! off of the title, and don't match the others on my shelf.
A few years later in 2004 I was Montreal again and bought another couple of volumes from the same CD/comic store (I think it's called C'Dment, but I can't find it online). And came incredibly close to buying Nihei's art book at the Beguiling in Toronto (I sort of wish I had, but at the time I had not very much money).
Something I did buy around this time was the incredibly oddity of Snikt, Nihei's Wolverine comic. I think it came out before the manga boom really hit, and the graphic novel was in print for about a day and has never come back into print. I've been confused about this ever since, as you'd think that a comic by an actual Japanese artist with a following would be something Marvel would want to put out in digest format. When Blame! starting coming out in English I figured Marvel would rerelease it, but they didn't. When the Halo graphic novel, featuring a story by Nihei that I totally couldn't understand as I've never really played Halo, came out from Marvel I figured Marvel would rerelease Snikt, but no, never. Sigh, I just don't understand.
Anyway, finally, Blame! did start coming out in English. About a month (or less?) before I left the country for over two years. I managed to buy volume one, but left it...somewhere... (Korea?) I did come close to buying a full run of Blame in Korean for dirt cheap at a comic library store in Korea that was closing, but I decided if I was going to buy the rest of the series I was going to get it in English. One of my students did buy it, but he didn't like it that much. The fool!
After living and traveling in Asia for a while, I decided to go back to Canada, but not before stopping in Japan. I spent a lot of time looking at comics there, but because I didn't have much room to carry stuff I limited myself to just a few volumes of comics I couldn't read. Two volumes each of Abara and Biomega, both by Nihei and found in a Book Off (oh Book Off!).
I also picked up the anime while in Malaysia (?) and when I watched it found it to be incredibly bizarre. I found out it was original a series of animations on the internet. And it's...disjointed. It seems to just take the animators favourite bits and animate them, so there's not real plot there (as much as there is a plot). It's just Killy fighting things. The weird music and sound effects, nonsensical plot, but beautiful art work made me think of it more as an art film than anything else.
When I got finally got back to Canada I worked in a comic shop for a while, where I got volumes 8-10 of Blame, but discovered that 1 and 4 were unavailable for some reason. I eventually found volume 1, and then 4, for sale (cheap!) in a couple of comic shops here, but after almost seven years, three languages and I don't even remember how many countries visited it's kind of bizarre to have the final volume I read by number 4.
Does it solve any long standing plot points? Does it throw light onto the world Killy inhabits? Well, not really. I even started rereading the series at volume one last week, and when I started reading volume four a few days ago I didn't even remember what had happened at the end of volume three (well, I was reading it in French).
Still, it hardly even matters to me. Killy wanders around a world made up entirely of crazy architecture, megastructures, killer robots, and humans who are oddly disproportionate to each other, and that's all you need to know. I could probably read this series in any order and it wouldn't matter to me. I could read this stuff all day.
*Supposedly the comic was supposed to be named the sound a gun firing. Blam! But Nihei's (or someone's) English skills ended up making it the much cooler sounding Blame!
Friday, March 27, 2009
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
I have a problem with manga: I can never remember the character's names. Sure I know who they are, I know how they act, what they want, why they do what they do, I just have no idea what to call them other than "that guy with the weird hair" (isn't that everyone in manga?).
I mean, I've read twenty something volumes of Eyshield 21*, and I doubt I could name even half the cast.
The same problem presents itself to me with Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which is probably my favourite manga coming out right now. And yet, what are the characters names? I just finished reading volume seven an hour ago and...I don't know. I can just identify them by the way they're described on the cover (psychic, dowsing, hacking, embalming, channeling, puppet).
Is it just because they have Japanese names, which I find to be just random jumbles of sounds when I'm reading them? I'm bad with names in real life too, so maybe I just sufer from this in general (who were those people I met at that party last night?). Yet I seem to be able to remember superhero codenames (and their backstories!) with ease.
But all this is beside's the point: Kurosagi is one of the best comics out there right now hands down. Despite this, when volume seven opened I was a little disapointed. Why? Because the incredible cliffhanger from volume six (which, apart from the Jack the Ripper side story, was one of the best comics I read last year) was completely ignored. The notes at the annotations at the back say that it's supposed to be picked up at some point in the future, but blah.
Still, that feeling didn't last long, as this was yet another volume of gripping, corpse delivery**. Okay, so this volume dosesn't really have any corpse delivery, and instead the Buddhist university graduates (finally! A degree less useful than mine) are doing various jobs to pay the rent. Moving gravestones to a new cemetary, moving box after box of manga for an artist, moving stuff on a movie set (hey! it's just like all those university graduates I know working in construction), and oh, one of them gets to do some makeup at the movie too. But still, "I talk to/find dead people" isn't the best skill to have in the job market.
The first story in this volume has probably the most insane concept that we've seen so far. I don't really want to give away much, though the cover sort of does that anyway, but I will say it involves a robot.
One of the other joys found in this manga are the copius editor's notes found in the back, and written by Carl Gustav Horn, who's pretty awesome. The notes aren't just by him of course, some are from the translator, some are from the letterer, some of them are just random anecdotes that are vaguely related to what's actually happening in the comic. But in between those, there're also incredibly informative notes. Sure, some of them are just explaining in-jokes, but others actually help you understand the story by explaining cultural references that might go over the heads of people that aren't Japanese (or extreme fans). How he figured out that each book's chapter titles are songs from old Japanese singers is completely beyond me. If only every manga had notes like this.
To be honest, based on the other works by the creators involved in this series I'm surprised I enjoy it as much as I do. Mail didn't do much for me (though I only read volume one), and I didn't even notice the character from that the first time I read the story where he gueststarred in Kurosagi. While MPD Psycho just left me confused, what is going on there? Despite that, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery service is well worth checking out. Black Jack's in volume 6! (I think.)
*Which is incredibly good by the way, you should defnitely read it, even if you have absolutely no interest in football. How are they going to win the Christmas Bowl?! How many more volumes can the series go on for?
**Which, based upon Smuggler, the other manga I bought at the same time as Kurosagi volume one, is an actual subgenre.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
You know, I really like the Wildstorm Universe. Yeah, it started out with loads of terrible comics, but it grew into something interesting. Warren Ellis's Stormwatch was really good, and it's kind of sad/frustrating looking at the supercomics he writes now, because they're not even in the same league.Sure, the Authority eventually degenerated into terribleness after Ellis, but other Wildstorm comics were similarly good. Sleeper is fantastic, and a new edition of it coming out later this year means it has, rightfully, joined it's place amongst Wildstorm books that will stay in print.
I also really dug Stormwatch: Team Achilles, which I finally read a full run of last year. Yes, the writer lied about his past, but I sometimes wish he was still writing comics now.
Even the books I didn't dig that much (I even liked Gen13!), like much of Joe Casey's run on Wildcats, was at least doing something interesting with the superhero genre and trying to see what would happen if the crazy technology found in comics was for sale to the public.
But then came relaunch after relaunch, and I stopped caring. Mostly because the relaunches were supposed to make the Wildstorm universe less "grim and gritty" when, apart from its creators, that was really all the universe had going for it. It was a world that seemed far more like our own in regards to how superpowers would be dealt with and reacted to. The government would be trying to keep it out of sight from the public, while at the same time using people with superpowers to try and get an edge up on the other countries. People would be experimented on, some would have their lives ruined by powers that were given to them and they'd try to rebel, others would work for the government. People with too much power would become corrupt. People who were insane would end up with too much power. Organized crime would end up being run by people with superpowers.
And that's what the average person doesn't even know about. Sure they know about superheroes, but they're terrified of them because maybe seeing one means that their city is about to get destroyed by aliens, or maybe it just means martial law's about to be instated. Sure there's better tech, but that hardly matters when maybe tomorrow everyone you know will be dead. Or never existed at all.
But yeah, relaunch after relaunch. I tried to read some of it. The most recent Gen13 was awful, as it just brought the characters back to where they were when they started. I don't think I made it through more than an issue or two. Okay, so they'd died, but loads of Stormwatch and other characters who had died were brought back without needing to completely reset their status quo.
I read Azarello's Deathblow in trade, though I don't remember much of it, and I thought Stormwatch PHD was at alright and had pretty good art from Doug Manhke. I agree with the sentiment that Christos Gage wrote his scripts like someone who hadn't been reading Wildstorm comics that long.
And fuck, his Authority: Prime mini series was dreadful. Though a lot of the blame for that also has to be placed on Darick Robertson, who seemed to be doing some of the ugliest art of his career. Plus the miniseries just seemed pointless in general. I can understand wanting to continue to have the characters appear in between proper serieses coming out, even if only so that readers remember them. But putting out terrible books like this only damages the brand. You'd think that Wildstorm would have remembered that the last time they killed the buzz on the Authority by putting out a series of terrible Authority comics.
But then, then things started to go right. The Armageddon one shots started coming out, and while they weren't great, they at least indicated there was a direction for the universe again. Revelations was better, but seemed to be somewhat pointless time filling. I guess it was there to build up to the world changing event, make it seem more important. But it was essentially just another tour of the Wildstorm Universe.
And then Number of the Beast. I can't say I was expecting that much from the series, but it delivered exactly what I want from my Wildstorm univese comics. Secret military projects involving superheros, different, rival secret military projects involving superheroes. Combining elements of the Wildstorm universe we know with "the secret history of the 20th century" because there were no wildstorm comics coming out before the 90s, and so they're able to populate it with a fictional history, create new characters, or just analogues of existing ones, and do whatever they want with them.
For Number of the Beast Scott Beatty and Chris Sprouse have created an entire set of WWII era superheroes (yes another bunch) that had disapeared at the end of the war, supposedly vaporized by an atomic bomb. They weren't of course, they've been in a VR simulation based on alien tech set up by an evengelical Christian military leader. And hell, new old superheroes are practically stock in trade for Wildstorm now with Red Menance, the American Way, and Astro City all coming out from them. But they're still interesting! Sure some of them aren't that great, but I want to know more about a lot of them! I want more comics with Neandra and the Skeleton Crew! Even the weird desert plant version of Swamp Thing, Tumbleweed.
So those characters are running around. Other characters from the Wildstorm universe are running around (The High! That's how you bring back a character who died without/despite a line wide reboot!). Secret military organizations are being secretive and doing bad shit. And you know it's all going to end badly because of what happened next. But it's good, I totally enjoyed this series.
Plus footnotes! You never see those anymore!
At the end of the series we've gotten to the point where the Wildstorm universe was actually interesting again. The end of the world happened, what happens next on this post apocalyptic earth? There was some buzz going on, and I wanted to check out some of the most recent relaunches. And I was working in a comic book store! What better time to do so! Except that we ordered so lowly on the titles they'd sell out before my lunch break the day they came out.
There was actually some interest there, but retailers didn't even give the line a chance, it was pretty much dead in the water from the get go. I read that the guys writing Authority have a 15 issue arc planned. What happens after that I don't know, but I doubt Wildstorm can keep on at this level unless Jim Lee signed a contract with DC saying that Wildcats has to come out every month.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Tell Me Something
Despite the quality of his comics, I think I will always remember Jason for another reason. For a while last year I worked in a comic book store. One day a guy came up to me and asked about I Killed Adolf Hitler. I told him that it was really good and that he should read it. He asked "what's it about? Does Hitler really get killed?" I responded in the positive and he replied that that was "lame" and asked if Hitler at least "got to kill some guys". I had no way to reply to that and just walked away from the conversation, completely confused and wondering what the deal with that guy was.
When you list the elements included in Jason's comics, they seem like they should be as confusing as that event, but they follow their own internal logic, that works perfectly.
His comics seem to happen in some weird version of Europe that has never actually existed. It lies somewhere between bittersweet black and while films, surrealism, and complete depravity and brutality. In this world everyone wears hats, nobody ever seems to end up happy, and hired killers are only ever a phone call. Oh and the hired killers, like everyone else, are anthropomorphic animals.
In Tell Me Someting, the comparisons to film are even more evident, as Jason chooses to tell the story almost entirely without dialogue. What little dialogue that does occur appears as "inter titles" full panels with nothing in them but the words a character is speaking, a technique used in old silent films. Yet so masterful is Jason's art that characters are fleshed out, and we know their motivations and flaws despite them never saying a word.
To help tell the story, which frequently jumps back and forwards through time, Jason uses a form of artistic shorthand I've only noticed before in Japanese comics: using black borders around pages to signify something is a flashback. I'm not saying that only Japanese comics have used these (clearly they haven't, as Jason isn't from Japan), but that's the only place I've noticed it. Here Jason ues the technique incredibly effectively, for a story that is being told with as little dialogue as possible, captions saying "five years ago" would kind of pull you out of the mood, and even if you have no idea what's going on at first, you'd soon be able to figure it out.
I wouldn't say that this was my favourite Jason comic, I think that's Last of the Musketeers, but it's an enjoyable, if sad (like pretty much all of Jason's work) story, and definitely worth checking out.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
First up a page from the Viz version of Black Jack:
Now the same page from the Vertical version (please excuse the terrible quality of this image):
And now, a photo of a postcard showing Tezuka's original art from the same page:
Check out those corrections! And the amount of detail totally lost in the Viz version.
I went back and forth on which translation I preferred, but the lettering on that page of the Vertical one is waaaay better.
Also of interest here are a couple of other pages (without Tezuka originals).
What you should be able to notice here, despite the terrible image quality, is the large amount of gray shading in the Viz edition that isn't evident at all in the Vertical edition, leading me to assume the Viz version was printed from a colourized version. Ooooh.
And speaking of colour Tezuka, I recently got an awesome set of postcards reprinting covers to a bunch of his early work. Here's a bit of a preview, I'll try and post more later.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I wrote this for Jeju Life, and found out over a year later that it was never published because it was "not good enough" or whatever. I'll put it here so that maybe someone else will find out about this awesome place.
Unless you're about eight years old or really into monsters, you've probably never heard of Dokkebi Park, Jeju's premier monster related tourist attraction. The only mention of it in the English language guides available is a "goblin park" on one of the maps, no further information is given.
A dokkebi seems to be a sort of friendly, trick playing monster common in Korean folklore. Dokkebi are often shown having only one, cyclopean eye, and are commonly represented as having one or more horns. They also usually carry a club, which can be used to cast spells to summon anything they want (by stealing it from someone else). Still, they're supposed to be friendly, so don't freak out if you meet one while hiking.
Despite this lack of information, and because I'm really into monsters, I decided to go and check this place out. So off I went, armed with a Korean language brochure which promised statues of monsters and well, that's about all I could figure out to be honest. Still, that was enough for me.
Upon arriving at the park we received a pleasant surprise, an amazingly well written guide in English. Amazing! This was probably the best English information I received at any tourist attraction in Korea. I can only assume a bilingual monster fan happened by and wrote it for them, as none of the staff seemed to speak much English.
Most of the park is devoted to really strange statues and sculptures of dokkebi, some of these are really big, and all of them are pretty neat. In addition to the big statues, there are also examples of ones made from "junk" and small ones made of fimo. There's also a number of exhibitions that are more or less incomprehensible if you can't read Korean.
There's a few places that are actually kind of scary (seriously), so if you're easily scared you might want to skip the final performance and be on your guard while walking around the park. To counter balance the fear there is an enclosure with some cute bunnies.
Probably the best thing at the park is the dokkebi mask making available in a building which also houses the gift shop. An employee will make you a neat silver foam mask in one of a number of designs. Then you get to colour in your mask following one of the many examples they have, or just creating your own thing! Fantastic!
The park is a must see for any big fans of monsters, and even if you're not, taking photos of monster statues is an amusing way to spend an afternoon.
Tickets cost 6000 Won for adults and 5000 Won for children. There's a discount (how much? I think it was 50%) if you have your foreigner card with you.
If you've decided you're really into dokkebi it's also worth a trip up to the "mysterious road." In Korean it's known as the "dokkebi road" and you'll see them decorating several of the shops and stalls. There's also a bunch of statues in an abandoned mini golf place a little bit up the road.
How to get there:
If you've got your own transport just drive down road x (Jim! I have no idea where it was, sorry... check your maps?). You'll see bizarre silver warriors where you have to turn off.
Getting to Dokkebi Park without your own transportation is incredibly frustrating. A bus from the main terminal will bring you past it, but it won't actually stop there. Instead it'll drop you off down the road by some weird mushroom houses. From there you'll have to walk about ten minutes back up the side of the road to Dokkebi Park. Not really recommended for children. Thankfully, going back into town is easier, as you should just be able to flag down a bus going down the road.
For more information try calling (064) 783-3013 or go to www.dokkebipark.com (only in Korean, but there's pictures!).
There's more photos here and here (the second link also features photos from Loveland, so maybe not worksafe).
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Aquaman: The Waterbearer
So a little while ago I said I didn't know much about Aquaman, seeing this on the shelf of my library I decided to expand upon my lack of knowledge. I wish I hadn't.
I mean, I like Rick Veitch, he's done some good comics, but this isn't one of them. This book collects the first arc of the Aquaman relaunch from a few years ago, so, of course, it's a bold new direction. And part of it is a little interesting, though the fact that a hand made out of magic water seems more sensible than a harpoon might indicate that Aquaman comics have no idea what they're doing.
But yes, the bold new direction, after something that happened in some JLA comics Atlantis is on the bottom of the sea (what ever happened to Sub Diego?) and Aquaman isn't king anymore. So he is banished from the sea, and goes and lives in a lighthouse off the coast of Ireland with an oddly multicultural cast. And seriously, that's the plot of your Aquaman comic?
I can understand why they went that way, as the king of Atlantis idea seemed to be incredibly broken after a JLA arc where Atlantis was sent back in time and enslaved for years by magic stuff before coming back to the present. Because of Aquaman. So yeah, it's understandable the Atlanteans don't want to be ruled by him anymore, I certainly wouldn't (but of course, I'm against monarchies in general) , but replacing him with sociopathic magicians doesn't seem like much of an improvement.
Oh, one thing I am curious about, what is (are) the religion(s) of Atlantis? I presume at some point they worshiped Greek gods or something, though to be honest, I'm not super hot on my DC universe Atlantean history, but I guess a couple thousand years of isolation must of put a stop to that right? Otherwise the gods over in Wonder Woman might actually care about what was going on there. I mean, it'd probably be the largest group of worshipers they still had left.
But that's not dealt with here, instead we have vague magic magic stuff. And killer barnacles. Yes, the first conflict Aquaman deals with in this collection is when he's somehow restrained to some rocks by a breed of barnacles that is never supposed to let go. So, uhm, how did you attach him there guard guys? Later Aquaman spends most of an issue telepathically inhabiting a fish. Also, barnacles! This is stupid! Why am I reading this comic?
Okay, it's not all bad. The art is pretty good. I like the way Yvel Guichet draws the armour of the Atlantean soldiers (though not as much as the armour in another comic I read recently). I like the colouring on the Secret Files story at the end. I like Aquaman's new pants.
But mostly, I wonder why I read this instead of one of that book by Jason I haven't read yet, or basically anything else.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead
I can understand why companies don't put numbers on the spines of their graphic novels, you're less likely to pick up volume 4 than you are volume 1. The problem is only compounded by the constantly changing creative teams. What number do you put on the spine of a book collecting issues 214-217 of Wonder Woman (and an issue of the Flash) when most of the run not only isn't collected, but probably never will be?
At the same time when you do pick up a volume of a creator's continuing story you might end up totally lost, even with recap pages put in to bring you up to speed.
And while this isn't completely the problem here, it is some of it. I know Greg Rucka wrote Wonder Woman for a while, and the two pages (!) recapping what's happened up to this point seem to indicate this is in the later part of his run. After Wonder Woman has set up an embassy in New York, and the gods have fought about a bunch of stuff, and Wonder Woman has blinded herself with venom from a snake so that she can fight (and kill) Medusa on live television. (What?!)
Ok, so first off I have no problem with Wonder Woman killing*, especially killing monsters. It's what characters from Greek/Roman myths and legends did, and she was made by a god, and raised in a society that wasn't exactly that modern. Plus, monsters!
But that was before this comic started, so what actually happens in this one? Well, there's a crossover with the flash, which is kind of eh. It didn't do much for me. Though there's nice use of the lasso of truth. Then we get into a much more interesting (to me) story, Diana journeying to the underworld. Now this is part of Rucka's ongoing story about gods rebelling and revolting and fighting each other and changing position which seems like a pretty solid base for a Wonder Woman comic. Though, to some extent I have to wonder why it took her 2000 years before Athena decided to overthrow Zeus? What were the gods doing all those years?
I find it interesting to contrast the use of these gods with their use in the Marvel Universe, where the Incredible Hercules is probably the best title they have coming out. They use some of the same characters (Ares especially), but in different ways. Even if they are both totally jerks. Actually, this reminds of a scene from, I think, JLA/Avengers when Wonder Woman meets the Marvel Hercules and is suuuuper mad at him for stuff he did to piss off her goddess a long time ago. Hercules is just like "What? Woah, I'm a fun loving, drunken buffoon, I didn't do that shit!" But yeah, good scene.
This has some decent scenes too. Like I said, I enjoy the battle of the gods, and how Rucka was having it evolve in ways that seemed to grow off the ancient myths. What I don't care for is all the modern stuff. Ferdinand the bull is a pretty neat character, but all the other embassy staff are total ciphers in this collection, and I have no reason to care for them or that kid who shows up at the end. Bah! More goding, less humans. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to read more Hercules comics for that.
*Other superheroes? Yes. I was kind of freaked out while reading Essential Spider-Man 5 to see Spider-Man kill an apparently sentient alien in the savage land by leading it into quicksand. He was wearing clothing! And talking a language you didn't understand! And you killed him and felt no regret! No Spider-Man! Bad!
Friday, March 20, 2009
I think that, apart from the most recent Top Ten mini (and that Cobweb story printed in a Drawn and Quarterly anthology or something), this is the last thing in the ABC universe that I hadn't read. It took me a long time to finish (I bought volume 1 yeeeeaarrss ago), partially because of a combination of "do I want to read a guide to magic written by Alan Moore?" and "do I have the time to spend to properly read a guide to magic written by Alan Moore?"
Of course I shouldn't have worried, considering it is written by Alan Moore (who wrote other well known comics such as Wildcats/Spawn*), and drawn by JH Williams, who seems to be capable of transforming even the most mind bending of scripts into into coherent comic pages. Despite that, what I'd love to see printed (or put online!) would be some of Moore's scripts for this series. We get a brief glance in the final trade, but it's not very much. Moore's scripts are known to be so dense you could probably fill up another five volumes just with them, so I doubt we'll ever see them all in print, but it would be fantastic to compare what Moore described with what Williams actually drew.
Onto the comic! Now, even if the book had been called "Alan Moore explains his personal beliefs about magic" it would have been worth reading if only to discover part of what makes Alan Moore think. And while a lot of it is that, admitedly desguised as Sophie Bangs/Promethea finds out where her powers come from, and done so skillfully that someone other than me is going to have written a much better critique of it, there's more to it that just that.
(I find it somewhat ironic that I'm saying "Hey wait! there's more to this comic than just an explanation about magic! There's also superheroes!" In a parallel universe, every comic is like that.)
The backstories for the various Promeatheas through the ages, stretching through comic books, the pulps, and even futher is a theme that was much being explored in comics at the end of the 20th century (and created some really good comics too!). Here it's something I really enjoyed. The Little Margie in Misty Magic Land comics that was spun off from this, and done in the style of Little Nemo are fantastic. I need to read more Little Nemo.
(A random note I can't think of to put anywhere into this very poorly written review: What was with editing the swearing? You show naked girls all the time but characters can't swear? I do not understand.)
And while presumubly the superhero story that's woven through the explanation of magic given by Moore is one that was created to give the comic a wider audience and allow it to sell well enough to reach it's conclusion (Alan Moore Explains Magic #1 will probably sell fairly well, issue 32 not so much), it's also really good. Promeathea starts doing the general "new superhero" stuff, and later goes through a bunch of the other superhero tropes. Meanwhile, supporting science hero team the 5 (later 4) Swell Guys, are running around New York having a multitude of adventures off panel that we only know about through vague mentions. I kind of wish Moore would right a straightup superhero comic featuring those guys, but after breaking his ties with DC and more or less retiring from comics, it seems unlikely.
*Not worth reading.
In other JH Williams III comics, I read his arc of Batman the other day, and was disapointed. Now yes, I'd been disapointed by Morrison's run on Batman twice already, but this was supposed to be the good arc. And while teh story was cool, and the art very nice, it read really choppy. And I guess that's just the style Morrison has been going for lately. He's trying to supercompress everything, but that means he's not showing everything on the page. I found myself not enjoying it that much as "why/how did that just happen?" situations kept arising.
To my great surprise I may have enjoyed the next arc with art by Tony Daniels better. Cops trained to be messed up Batmans! Suddenly that opening arc makes more sense!
I also read the first issue of Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to Batman comic, and yeah, Andy Kubert totally can't draw the different styles well enough to make this work. That was supposed to be B:TAS Joker? If you say so internet...
Thursday, March 19, 2009
While I knew the Charest comic would be worth looking at, it was to my great surprise that the rest of comics in this collection were pretty good too. The Jim Lee drawn one has a pretty stupid plot, but that's going to happen when you have the WildC.A.T.s (let us shoot things!) cross over with the original X-Men (I have agility and big feet). Actually, it gets really stupid at one point when Nick Fury gives Grifter his uniform complete with mask and coat. Really? Really? But yeah, the Jim Lee art is pretty good.
The Adam Hughes drawn one also looks good (hmm, I know he's a big name, but what else has he drawn? I'll have to find out), and has the most sensible and reasonble excuse for the characters to meet. Oh! It's written by James Robinson. Perhaps that's why? Though I imagine most of the plots of these books was based on "what do you want to draw?"
The final book is drawn by someone I don't recognize, but is written by Warren Ellis. And it's an Ellisy book featuring superheroes in a dystopian future, so it's got fetish wear and ridiculous bleakness (though admitedly, based on previous X-Men comics) and bitterness. I don't think anyone smokes though. Surprise twist!
Considering how big a deal the artist was in early image books, and how Wildstorm produced some books with really nice art (another crossover with Marvel, Wolverine/Deathblow, has an incredibly interesting colouring style not normally seen in superhero comics), it's somewhat ironic that the last several years seem to have more or less developed a "Wildstorm house style" that doesn't seem to be doing the label any favours.
Uhm, so yeah. It's dumb, and the ways it ends means it has no relevance to either set of characters (okay, crossovers rarely do). Well, maybe the Wildstorm ones. Maybe. But the main reason to read it is the art, Travis Charest's art alone is good enough to make it worth checking out (of the library).
*Even in France, where slow artists are the norm, Charest pushed his luck too far when he decided to _learn how to paint_ in order to do a Metabarons comic, and was eventually kicked off the book for producing like 30 pages in seven years or something.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Justice League International
It's interesting looking back on eras of comics and seeing how certain writers and artists guided the entire line. Growing up in the '90s I had almost no interest in DC comics at all, it was only as an adult (or "adult" at least) that I actually became interested in DC comics. Of course the ones I became interested in weren't the ones coming out then, or even the ones from my childhood (or at least not my childhood in North America), but the ones from the late '80s and early '90s that clearly existed in an interconnected universe I knew nothing about.
The Lords of Order and Chaos exist in comics that aren't The Sandman?! They have stuff to do with Dr. Fate? and Hawk and Dove? Hawk and Dove is actually good?! It was a constant string of revelations that I never get anymore because I know what's going on in most comics coming out from Marvel and DC even if I don't read them.
I can't remember what the first of these comics I snagged from a quarter bin was. Either an issue of Justice League Europe (along with an issue of '90s Justice League Taskforce, which was terrible), because I was really enjoying the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or an issue of Suicide Squad, because I'd heard it was good and really enjoyed that episode of Jusice League Unlimited they showed up in. Either way it soon led me to other titles written by the same creators (Giffen, Ostranger) or published in about the same time period and I soon amassed a collection of comics that in some instances (issues of Suicide Squad) I may have paid up to cover price (75 cents or $1).
Of course I've since gotten rid of all of them, several moves (cross countries) have made me pare down my comics pretty severly. Plus there was the promise of a Showcase Presents Suicide Squad volume. If that was coming out then surely things like Hawk and Dove weren't far behind? Everytime I see an issue of Suicide Squad I haven't read for sale I can't bring myself to buy it, because the Showcase is still coming right? Right?! I weep.
Anyway, Justice League: A New Begining spun out of the Legends miniseries, that once again rebuilt the DC universe, blah blah. In his introduction* to this volume Editor Andy Helfer presents the conundrum he was given: relaunch the JLA comic, but make it better and great! Because the Justice League at the time was...not so great. Helfer set out to do it, a return to the greats that had made the Justice League what it was! Except other writers had dibs on certain characters, so no Superman, no Wonder Woman, no Flash.
So Helfer (and Giffen, now roped into trying to figure out what to do) had to go in a different direction, and so the "Bwha ha League." Not exactly what you'd expect to come out of crossover nowadays.
Considering how closely Kevin Maguire's name is connected to this era of the League, the way he got the job is fairly ridiculous. A brand new, virtually unknown artist, he'd done a book for Helfer, but the next script was late. He told him unless he got some steady work, he was going to Marvel. Helfer gave him Justice League. Of course! To some extent I feel as though a stressed and busy Helfer's mind was presented with "artist needs book" and "book needs artist" and just did it without thinking, thankfully it turned out well. Well, apart from Black Canary's costume, but I don't think that was his fault.
Okay, so how are the actual comics? Considering how much I remember enjoying JLE and the (ooh, I reviewed it here) flashback miniserieses from a few years ago, less than I expected. I think Giffen and DeMatteis are clearly finding their feet with these characters in these first issues, figuring out what, and who, does and doesn't work in the book. Or maybe I just want more Elongated Man.
There are moments of genius (Guy Gardner suddenly being nice), but also just plain bizarre things (having the first supervillains your team fight be equivalents of Marvel's the Avengers). Still, at least the Justice League were being international, and interacting with other countries, dealing with politics, and fighting truly global threats. Hurray! (Perhaps, not being an American, and spending quite a lot of my life in countries not even in North America makes me more interested in what's going on "over there" than in New York.)
While in these opening issues it's still pretty much all Americans (and aliens) on the team, they diversified at least somewhat later on. Hopefully it also brought up why there was a "superhero" gap for the Soviet Union to try and catch up (or maybe I'll have to read Green Lantern comics for that), or why so many superheroes were Americans to begin with (other than the "written for American readers" bit). Well, I'd like to read more, but not in expensive hardcovers. I figure at the rate they're currently coming out, DC's Showcases will hit this point in about 10 years. I can't wait!
*As much as I enjoy reading comics, I also have a much geekier enjoyment, reading about how comics were made. I think I may have enjoyed this introduction going through all the trials and tribulations of how this League came to be than the comics contained within. Another example of this are the afterwards in Dark Horses's Conan reprints. I've read through several of those in the library, but I don't think I made it through the actual comics in volume one.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Nightwing: Year One
Of course, probably everyone has one really good comic in them. Unfortunately for Dixon, that comic is not Nightwing: Year One.*
However, his other "year one" comics haven't been nearly as good. I barely remember anything about Robin: Year One (the Mad Hatter was in it?), while I think this may have actually been the second time I read this comic. It all seemed so familiar.
Of course that could just be because I've read a lot of Nightwing comics (and more specifically, a lot of Chuck Dixon written Nightwing comics). So maybe he's just collecting a bunch of stuff that's been mentioned before and putting it into one arc.
There's also the fact that Nightwing's story is so well known. I certainly known more about him than I know about, say, Aquaman. Even ignoring the comics entirely, I own all of Batman: The Animated Series, and not enough of Teen Titans, but just watching those two gives you a pretty good idea of who Nightwing/Dick Grayson is and who he was before.
For a "year one" comic I felt there was an oddly large amount of backstory here, he doesn't even become Nightwing until the end of the third issue! I guess it's understandable, as it's hard to tell the first year of Nightwing's existence without just retelling old New Teen Titans comics. However, I feel this goes too far in the other direction, with the Titans barely showing up at all. In contrast we've got Superman (yeah, required for the story), Batgirl and the Jason Todd Robin showing up. Plus lots of Batman. It seems that doing this comic without showing more of the alternate life that Dick Grayson had set up for himself isn't really showing how the character had grown. It's like basing a story about your life on when you went home for Christmas and hung out with the people you used to know, instead of the life you spend most of the year living.
Additionally, to me Nightwing is connnected to Bludhaven (he was there for over 150 issues! Well, maybe, he was probably in Gotham a lot, and I don't have any idea what was going on for the last few years of that title) that I for some reason assumed that it was going to be a story set in his early days there. Of course, if I want that I can just go and reread trades of the early issues, so there's no reason to make that comic.
All Nightwing: Year One makes me want to do is read more comics with Jason Todd in them, as he's a character I have pretty limited exposure to. A "year one" comic for him would be worth doing I think. Maybe if he becomes Batman or something after that big crossover that's happening currently.
*It's Batgirl: Year One, which shocked me by being really good. Like seriously, go and read it.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Banya the Explosive Delivery Man
This was written for Jeju Life, but I didn't even submit it, or even finish it really, after they didn't run the other review I wrote for them.
Fast. Precise. Secure.
Banya the Explosive Delivery Man
By Kim Young Oh
Five volumes from Dark Horse
While the title may lead you to think this series features mail carriers blowing up dogs, Banya is actually about a delivery person in the fictional Gaya desert. Though the act of Banya delivering things is really only there to allow him to encounter people he has to fight.
The first few volumes are Banya, and the other delivery people, Mei and Kong, just delivering things and fighting people.
Volumes four and five are when a plot more indepth than "get this thing to this location" kicks in and we start getting some of Banya's backstory. To be honest I liked these two books less than the first three. Mei and Kong are written out (to "protect" them, oh Banya), and we're introduced (or reintroduced) to some other characters: the evil guy who's trying to take over/destroy the world by gaining control of a dragon, the female summoner monk from earlier in the series who is trying to stop this, and a big strong guy who has a talking sword.
I would have prefered it if Banya had just continued making deliveries as more of his history was revealed. What I would have really liked to see was a story where Banya is delivering something for the "bad guys" and heroes are trying to stop him, but while he knows it's wrong, he feels he must deliver it anyway. Perhaps that will show up in the next comic I read about delivery people.
Despite my disinterest in the plot of the last two volumes, the art still holds up and you get some nice action fight scenes between more of the ugly, ugly villians. Plus it's translated by Derek Kirk Kim, indie comics superstar. Go read his comic "Same Difference and Other Short Stories."
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Batman: War Crimes
Unlike yesterday's Scarecrow Tales, this is exactly the type of terrible Batman comic I don't understand the point of.
To begin with there's an incredibly long recap of the huge crossover that came before it that opens with "The worst case scenario has come to pass." What is the worst case scenario for Gotham City? Gang wars. Seriously? In gotham? This is a city that had a major earthquake and was disowned by America. Gang wars probably happen every day!
Anyway, this is all fallout over girl Robin/Spoiler/Stephanie Brown dying. Despite everyone elses reasons being valid, I think one of the reasons I was frustrated by DC Doing that was that one of the Batman comics I owned as a kid (and I believe one of the first comics I owned at all) was the first appearnce of Spoiler. Hurray! Not that I have it now or anything, but yeah, go Spoiler. I liked that she was kind if incompetent. I'm sure there're loads of kids running around Gotham doing the same thing. Well, depending on whether Batman is on TV leading the Justice League or if he's just an urban legend.
But yeah, this really just seems to be a bunch of people running around and acting incredibly out of character. In a story that's already (thankfully) been retconned, there's really no reason to read it at all.
The arts okay (though whoever drew part 2 draws the worst Bruce Wayne I think I have ever seen, I don't know who it is because DC can't be bothered putting in proper credits), and I like Black Mask as a bad guy, but like, blah.
One thing I sort of wish would happen (but know never will) is for current Robin Tim Drake to just stop being Robin. He's said he doesn't want to be Batman, and he's had so many people in his life killed because he's Robin, so I kind of wish he'd just stop. I know he won't (because comics are comics), but girl Robin seemed like it would have been a good way to continue having a Robin without Tim.
In other not good comics news, Exiles gets pretty terrible once Chris Claremont starts writing it. Sure it wasn't amazing or anything before, but it was worth checking out in libraries and stuff. But it was all downhill once Claremont came on board. Why did you have to ruin Spider-Man 2099? I love that character! I still have all my Spider-Man 2099 comics.
I still like old Claremont comics. And I still have his run on Excalibur. I should probably reread those at some point.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Batman: Scarecrow Tales
As much as I enjoy quote unquote "good" comics, sometimes all I want is comics about people punching other people. In the face. Also kicking.
And along comes Batman to save the day. Scarecrow Tales was presumubly released at the time of Batman Begins, and it seems to be one of the best ways to collect older Batman comics. Batman probably has more collections devoted to him than any other comic book character (or at least American character, there's probably some Japanese ones with more). When I worked in a comic store our Batman trade section was immense, the only thing that rivaled it in size was X-Men comic section, which included all the spinoff stuff, while Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, and others were filed by themselves. Despite this there aren't that many Batman trades you can tell someone to buy.
The recent years seem to be filled with things that aren't that good (how could I not enjoy Morrison's run on Batman? Awful art and obtuse storytelling it seems), huge crossovers (we sold so many copies of all of Knightfall, which meant that people kept coming back), and, um, yeah. I'm sure Rucka and Brubaker wrote some good Batman comics, but it seems only their crossover stuff is collected.
For older Batman comics you have the Archives and Chronicles collecting the early stuff, and the recent Showcase Presents Batman are collecting some of the stuff from the '70s. But Batman has been around for like 80 years, and there's a bazillion comics out there.
Scarecrow Tales collects some of them, picking about one a decade from the Scarecrow's first appearance in the '40s up to the early 2000s.
It is kind of funny reading the first few of these comics in a row, as they all tell, or retell, the Scarecrow's origin. He was a university professor who spent his money on books instead of clothes and the other (continually updated for the times) professors insult him for this by saying he is shabby and "positively weird"*. Then they don't invite him to a party so he decides to steal some money (to buy more books). Yes, that's it. Oh, and he shoots a flowerpot in one of his classrooms to show his students fear.
Ignoring the fact that he is clearly insane to begin with, lets look at what pushes him over the edge, other professors not inviting him to a party because he dresses poorly. This is something that is not conveyed in any of the _three_ comics in this collection to show his origin. He's wearing a three piece suit! And a hat! He dresses classier than I do! He dresses better than my dad does and he is a university professor. Nothing about his appearance screams "shabby" or "scarecrow" to me. His clothing isn't patched or anything, he looks the same as the other professors shown. Thus we can only assume that the other professors at Gotham U are a bunch of jerks.
The earliest comic here is from World's Finest Comics #3 published Fall 1941, and to my surprise there's actually a few panels of really nice art in there. None of them involve Batman or Robin, but whoever drew it did a pretty good professor Crane and Scarecrow. The story itself is the standard story of the Scarecrow. He tries to scare people into giving him money, he fights Batman. The one major difference in this early story is how Scarecrow repeatedly gets the best of Batman in straight up fights, something few characters could do today, let alone one as physically inept as Scarecrow. He looks as though I could take him. Thus based on bad logic I could beat up 1940s Batman.
The next comic is from the '60s, and Scarecrow hasn't changed a bit in the intervening years. What has changed is that Dick Grayson is now a playground instructor in Gotham Park, which involves forcing other kids to climb on a jungle gym, while Bruce Wayne and Alfred drive around in an ice cream truck. While Batman looks better art wise in this story, the Scarecrow doesn't. And the story itself is kind of terrible. The Scarecrow blinds Batman and Robin aboard a replica of Noah's Ark and releases a jaguar and a panther at them. After some endangered animal punching (good thing Catwoman didn't see you Batman), Batman and Robin chase down Scarecrow and punch him too.
The '70s comics (including an issue of The Joker, where was the collection of that to capitalize on the movie?) feature an abandoned amusement park (Gotham must be 20% abandoned amusement parks) and Scarecrow's seemingly magic crow Nightmare. Seriously.
By the '80s writers have apparently realized that "Scarecrow uses fear gas/machine to make people afraid of him" is a plot that has kind of reached its limit. So we have stories of people being afraid of Batman and Batman having no fear at all.
The second of those stories is drawn by Alan Davis, who apparently drew a bunch of Batman comics in the '80s, but the only other issue I've read is the first issue of Year Two (which isn't that good a story). Alan Davis was probably the first comic artist I really liked, and I find his art so tied to old Excalibur comics, where I first discovered him, that seeing him draw Batman is kind of weird. Davis has a very specific style, that I still like a lot, but he totally has haircuts and looks that he uses over and over again. One thing he totally has going for him is that the flashback origin in this issue actually has Crane looking awkward and weird when he was a professor, and his scarecrow looks considerably more scarecrow-like, then anyone else up to this point (most of the artists just drew him as a guy in a costume). Davis draws him like he's on muscle relaxants and is constantly about to fall over, which is, I guess, how a scarecrow that walked would look like. Floppy.
But the clear stand out here is Davis' grinning, fearless Batman. He looks awesome. It is totally Batman about to have some wikkid fun by escaping a death trap. Yeah! Hurray!
This page ends on a total downer though as the "most terrible fear [Batman] could conceive" is the death of Jason Todd. Something that would actually happen a few years later. How long was Jason Todd Robin anyway? I don't think it was that long. Tim Drake has been Robin for like 15 years without aging hasn't he?
The '90s comic is by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo, which seems to be a fairly super team if I was trying to think of people to do a Scarecrow comic. Fegredo does a Scarecrow who looks actually scary, and the story itself, featuring Scarecrow trying to use fear to create someone like him, is pretty good.
The final story features probably the worst gas masks I have ever seen in comics, and a story that is more about exploring Bruce Wayne's fears, than it is about the Scarecrow. I guess the current trend of 4-6 issue story arcs to be collected into trades means it's harder for stand alone stories to be found for collections like this. Kind of too bad really.
Oh, there's also various pinups of the Scarecrow by a bunch of different artists in between the stories. It's neat to see different artists takes on the character, though I think I like Mike Mignola's the best.
In the end though, this collection really just shows the limitations of the Scarecrow as a character. Yeah, he's been in a couple of good stories, but it's kind of surprising he's as big a name as he is. Still, I like the way this collection worked, and wouldn't mind reading similar books about other Batman villians like the Penguin or the Riddler.
*Which, when you think about it, is actually a compliment. Better than "negatively weird" at least.
Friday, March 13, 2009
The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea
A few years ago I was in Singapore and picked up an English language, Singaporean published comic for my brother. It was a retelling of (part of) the legend of the Monkey King, a character well known in Eastern myths, and perhaps most familiar in the west as the basis of Dragon Ball.
It was also something close to my brother's heart (maybe) as he both studied and wrote about it in university.
So it was with some amusement that I recently opened a package from my brother (now living in Taiwan) and discovered he sent me another from this series of comics retelling Chinese legends.
This time it was "The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea" the story of, well, the eight immortals who apparently show up repeatedly in Chinese folklore and are, supposedly, the most popular characters. They also represent the I Ching. Exciting!
The comic itself, is not what I expected. Instead of the eight immortals going off and having adventures together, this is mostly just their individual origins. Each of them achieved immortality in a different way and a number of them would fit in fine with super hero origins. One of them runs away from a battle, finds a mysterious isolated building, studies and trains with the mysterious old man inside, and when he leaves discoveres the building has disappeared. Sure, he's studying the Tao instead of martial arts, but that's a little thing in comparison.
Another sends his spirit off to study with Laozi, but he returns to find his body is gone (burnt in a funeral pyre by an over anxious pupil), so he ends up in the body of an ugly old man who needs a crutch to get around.
The other stories are a mixture of just plain bizarre and cultural teachings I clearly do not understand. Yes, of course, not being sad when your family dies, being incredibly passive when people rip you off, saying that yes, I should indeed be killed for a murder committed in a past life, and eventually not feeling any emotions at all is best! Even I, who sometimes wishes he was a feelingless robot, finds this hard to understand.
The final story, The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea, is more what I expected. In it the eight immortals attempt to cross the sea (yes, I've spoiled it for you), using their various means of transport (a giant lotus, a bamboo container, a paper donkey, and so forth). However they come across the underwater palace of the Dragon King. The Dragon Crown Prince attacks on some flimsy pretense, and kidnaps one of the immortals (the girl, I'm sure you're surprised to know). A fight follows and...why am I even explaining this? You've all read comics were Namor or Aquaman fight the surface dwellers, this is _exactly_ the same.
Except that this story features what is totally the best art in the book. The Dragon Crown Prince may just be a guy in armour with a dragon head (and who's sister looks like a human), but he still looks awesome. And his soldiers? They consist of seahorses, prawns, fish, crabs, sharks, and jellyfish! All wearing armour and brandishing a wide assortment of weapons. They are adorable.
The art in the rest of the book is pretty good too. It's all done in a cartoony manga-y style, which means the demons and monsters who show up in some of the stories aren't actually that scary, but it tells the story.
The writing is where the book really falls down. It was translated by someone (from what language?) and is filled with somewhat awkward phrases. It also frequently is just narrating what can clearly be seen in the panels and is kind of extraneous. Though I guess these are aimed at little kids? The lettering is kind of blah too.
Still, it's an amusing enough book, and I guess if you want a way to learn some stuff about Chinese myths there's worse ways (reading this review for one).
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Madman: The Oddity Odyssey
I have a friend who was raised Mormon. I'm not sure for how long, but she says she wasn't that interested as a kid, and her and her siblings now look back on it all as completely ridiculous (even her parents aren't part of the church any more). It really is probably the most ridiculous "accepted" religion. It's probably about 100 years past the derision Scientology currently receives.
Anyway, my favourite Mormon (as opposed to my favourite ex-Mormon) is Mike Allred. Most people had no idea he even was a Mormon until a few years ago when he started doing that comic book adaptation of the Book of Mormon*. Maybe I should have been tipped off by the bio in the back of Superman/Madman that said his marriage to Laura Allred was arranged. More likely I just didn't believe that, because based on the comics he's produced, Allred may seem crazy, but not Mormon crazy.
The first time I ever saw Madman was probably on the cover of Superman/Madman. I didn't read it at the time, I don't think I even looked through it, but somehow I still remember seeing it on the rack of comics at a Shoppers Drug Mart. I don't remember any other Superman comics, hell, I don't remember any other comics I didn't buy (apart from an issue of Captain Canuck?). When I finally read it years later, it became my favourite Superman comic (not that it would be that hard to do that as, despite the Superman hoodie I own, I don't like the character that much). Still, I though Allred's artistic depiction of Superman was really good, and I'd like to see him do more Superman comics.
But this is Madman: The Oddity Odyssey, the first Madman comic (I think?). Before it was even in colour. When Allred didn't draw the comics on the right size paper (note the filler art on the bottom of every page). When we didn't know who Madman was, because he didn't either. He was just a guy in a costume who ate a gangster's eye. He was crazy.
From the begining Madman was fairly ridiculous. This trade is filled with people stuffed into freezers, so that they can be brought back to life later, train hopping, clones, a deupty mayor gone bad, a head in a jar, creepy diseases, helicopter shoot outs, papermache solar systems, the aforementioned gangsters, and through it all Madman fights it out with everyone using a slingshot and a yo-yo.
I get the feeling Allred had a goal for where he wanted this story to end, but he was just making everything up along the way. It works though, as even at this point in his career Allred's skills are clear. The art is good, if it hasn't completely developed into the later style Allred is so well known for. It's weird seeing Madman without his hair sticking out of the top of his costume.
But yes, it's weird that this comic is made by someone who is apparently a devout Mormon. I don't really know what to make of it, time to find some interviews with Allred I guess. Maybe the library has back issues of the Comics Journal.
*Come to think of it, I don't think I know anyone who's ever read it, is it any good?
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Thankfully, I eventually stopped that, and gave up reading books I didn't like. There are lots of _good_ books out there that I could read instead! An amazing discovery I assure you!
The most recent book I have failed to read is the classic sci-fi novel Ringworld by Larry Niven, which won both the Hugo and the Nebula.
And is so incredibly '70s and mysoginistic I couldn't bring myself to read most of it. I can see why it was popular, it bounces along at a pretty good pace, has some decent world building (it is part of Niven's Known Space Universe of books), aliens, a main character who presumubly the readers are supposed to identify with, and a terrible, terrible female human character.
Hey role is to be dumb (she is only 20! She doesn't know anything compared to the 200 year old male), and have sex with the main character. Or to pout and refuse to.
Some of the claims seem really ridiculous. She's never experienced pain? How? What type of messed up utopia do you live in where nothing bad has happened to you? Well, based on the ludicrous party that opens the book and where she first appears, I can only assume that she's the equivalent of the poor little rich girls of today. I assume there's some sort of human underclass that's never mentioned throughout the book (or at least what I read of it). A book about them would have been more interesting.
Oh, and she's "lucky" which is why she's on the trip. Or she's supposed to have been bred for luck, but isn't lucky. It's just kind of ridiculous to be honest.
Yeah, that's all I have to say really. I gave up a while after they got to the actual Ringworld of the title. Maybe halfway through the book?
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Tarantula, and The Face and The Brute
Written by Matt Wagner
Drawn by Guy Davis, John Watkiss, and R. G. Taylor
Coloured by David Hornung
If for no other reason* I will always be glad I took lindy hop class for the CD of swing music my teacher gave me one class. Its been the perfect background music to reading Sandman Mystery Theatre.
Maybe you think the music you're listening to when you're reading something doesn't matter that much, but I sat down to read The Tarantula, and got about three pages in before getting up and changing the hip hop or electronica or whatever it was I was listening to to something else, as it was completely pulling me out of the story.
And a CD full of unidentified songs from the 1930s (maybe? At least some of it is from then I'm sure) was what pulled me back in. I just talked about how I found a comic about music (Klezmer) didn't really work for me because it was silent. Yet, here I am championing listening to a certain type of music to increase enjoyment of a comic.
Heaven up in Harlem.
I found the music increased my enjoyment as many scenes in SMT happen in night clubs and um, whatever the word for parties that rich people go to is. Soirees? Galas? I clearly do not move in those circles. But Dian Belmont, daughter of the DA, and Wesley Dodds, the Sandman, do. In fact, for Dian, who despite the name of the book really seems to be the main _character_ in these early issues (with Wesley/The Sandman being far more of an enigma), going to night clubs and parties seems to be the only thing she does at all. And Wesley isn't a slouch himself either; sure he claims to be running his father's business, but we only seem to see him when he's either running into Dian at parties or restaurants (oh! That's another place they go, though there are still bands playing) or when he's gassing people.
In fact, I can't really believe the similarities between Wesley/The Sandman and Bruce Wayne/Batman. Sure, I guess pretty much every m/billionaire playboy who is secretely a costumed crime fighter probably ends up doing the same thing, even if only to protect their identity. "Oh Bruce Wayne is such a lush/manwhore, he can't be Batman. Did you know he's covered in spelunking scars? So careless!" "Oh, Wesley Dodds is too quiet/serious/taking care of his father's business to be the Sandman. Did you know he spent several years in the Orient** allowing him mysterious knowledge of all the skills he needs to fight crime all secret."
Actually, that's putting the series in a bad light. It's really good. I haven't read much of writer Matt Wagner's stuff, but what I have read (random issues of Mage and Grendel, the first issue of Madame Xanadu) didn't lead me to think he could do something like this. In fact, I more closely associated later writer Stephen T. Seagle with this series than I did Wagner.
But yes, it's a crime comic set in the 1930s. Corrupt aristocrats, Chinese gangs, cops, misogyny: it's all there. Things happen, the cops investigate, the Sandman investigates illegally, probably almost gets caught (by either the cops or the bad guys), uses his gas gun, Dian will overhear her father saying something to someone, do some investigation of her own, go and have a talk with Wesley because, hey, why not? They are becoming such good friends (despite almost every one of their meetings seemingly only lasting five minutes). And then everything gets solved. But it's really good.
Well, the first two stories are. I don't know what happened with the third, The Brute, but it's not very good at all. Pretty much everything that happens is a cliche, the brutality is seemingly just there to be brutal, and not to move the plot along. And by plot I mean "plot" as things just kind of happen regardless of what the characters motivations or actions are.
Also "Gasp!" "Gasp!" "Gasp!" (from one character, in three speech baloons, in one panel) is some of the worst dialogue I have ever read.
But on to more positives: the art in the first story arc, by Guy Davis who later became the book's main artist, is the most "Sandman" of them all, which I feel must surely have been a calculated move on Vertigo's part. The opening page could have just as easily been a page from a Sandman comic, it is a dream afterall. But his art is quite good and works well with the story.
The art in the other two arcs is pretty good too, though John Watkiss appears to draw what certainly seems to be a one legged hooker, and R. G. Taylor cannot draw children at all. Both artists seem to be far better at drawing talking heads than whole bodies, but in a series such as this that's actually a benefit.
The colouring holds together the vartious art styles. I want to say it's an art deco style, but can't seem to find anything to back up my claim. But the specific colour palette used, and the flat way in which it is used, reminds me of art deco things. I am so specific!
I'm going to check out the next volume on the strength of the first two stories, and hope the next arc will improve over The Brute. As the series continued for quite some time after that I assume it will.
* And there are _lots_ of other reasons why I'm glad I take lindy hop. It is very fun.
** Still an acceptable term at the time!
Monday, March 09, 2009
Originally published in the January 2007 issue of The Ulsan Pear (you can find issues in pdf format at ulsanonline.com).
Che Kyung Shin was just a normal high school girl, but now she’s learning just how much being a princess sucks. Every day is scheduled down to the last minute, she can’t live with (or even see) her family anymore and her husband (the crown prince) is a jerk.
So Hee Park’s Goong is set in a world were Korea still has a royal family and operates as a constitutional monarchy. The royal family are absurdly popular with the general public, despite, or perhaps because of, their extreme ties to tradition. So when Shin Lee, the crown price or “seja,”
starts going to Che’s school, she’s excited. Until she actually talks to him and discovers he’s a jerk who she wants nothing to do with.
Unfortunately, things don’t go that way. It turns out that Che’s grandfather was best friends with the prince’s grandfather (the former king) and before the king died they decided that their grandchildren (Che and Shin) would marry. In the twenty-first century it seems unlikely that you could convince two teenagers, especially ones that don’t like each other, that they should get married, yet in volume two they do. So what happened?
At first Che is going to say no, but having her mother prodding her towards marriage because she would rather have her daughter be unhappy for the rest of her life than her father-in-law feel guilty, doesn’t exactly help. But when Che realizes that this could be a way for her family to escape the poverty they live in, she relents. She is willing to sacrifice herself for her family.
However, Shin’s motivations are nowhere near as self-sacrificing. The prince thinks Che is a clutz and a fool and only agreed to marry her because he knows the life of a princess is horrible. “Do you think I’m crazy enough to make the one that I love be forced to live in the palace like a doll? Since I don’t care what happens to you, I am letting you be sejabin [crown princess].” He also says that later, when things get really horrible, he’ll just divorce her. How nice!
At this point you can pretty much figure out this isn’t the start to a typical romance story.
It is, however, funny and mostly undercuts things expected from this type of comic. At times a page will show what will happen in normal romance comics, and then the next page will have what actually happens in Goong (usually featuring characters doing something stupid).
The art is heavily influenced by Japanese comics (as are most Korean comics), but it looks good
and works well with the story (a lot of effort has been put into making the characters’ clothes look fashionable). At times it becomes super-deformed, which is strange the first time you see it, but is part of this artistic style.
Romance stories aren’t really my thing, but Goong is good and different enough to pull me in. Will Che fall in love with Shin (don’t do it, he’s not worth it!) or will she end up with his brother who seems nice (yes!) but may be too good to be true?
Goong is one of the most popular comics currently being made in Korea, and has also been made into a TV drama. If you want to brush up on your Korean, you can pick up the graphic novels easily enough. Thankfully, it’s also now available in English, just check amazon or somewhere.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
I first read Klezmer, by French comic artist Joann Sfar, a few years ago, and I couldn't really get into it. However, that was before I had read some of Sfaar's other comics last year* and come to really appreciate him as an artist.
I started with The Professor's Daughter, which was very good, but since another artist, Emmanuel Guibert, did the art I didn't realize it was a Sfar book at the time. Dungeon was pretty much the same story, except it was cowritten by Lewis Trondheim and drawn by a number of different artists. Plus the reading order seems ridiculously complex.
Then there was The Rabbi's Cat, which in other hands would be a very bizarre story about a talking cat, but in Sfar's hands becomes a story about Jews living in Northern Africa in the 1930s. This was the book that started changing my mind about Sfar. The hardcover from Pantheon collects the first three books published in France, and while the first story didn't really grab me, by the end I wanted more. Thankfully, more was available in volume two, which is both stranger, and better, than the first.
Then there was Vampire Loves, about a sad and lovelorn vampire and various other monsters. Its release from First Second collected the first four volumes in one book, and after finishing it I actually searched through the BD** at a local foreign language bookstore to find the two volumes not yet out in English. (I didn't succeed.)
Having created several titles I really enjoyed, I decided it was time to reread Klezmer.
And immediately found a major problem I have with most comics dealing with music: they just don't work for me. You can write "Umpa umpa umpa umpa!" and "Bom! Bom! Bom!" as much as you like, but it doesn't sound like music to me. I could claim that this was due to my lack of knowledge of Klezmer music, but a few months ago I actually read a comic (Me and the Devil Blues) about music that was about a genre I knew nothing about. And it worked, mostly I think (or seem to remember) by being entirely silent in regards to music.
Simlarly page after page of people singing songs in Yiddish, or at least I assume it's Yiddish, it's some language I don't understand, doesn't do much for me.
The art is frustrating. The flaps on the book say Sfar uses a "startling, loose watercolour style" and I can only assume that by this they actually mean that he didn't spend a lot of time on the art. This is not to knock Sfar as an artist, some of his other books are fantastic, and this one definitely has it's places where you can see his talent. But I find the art too loose. Too frequently the characters seem like nothing more than squiggles that have been painted strange colours.
The style he uses of more realistically drawn closeups and caricatures for longer shots is one I think is good slash interesting. you already know what the characters look like, but he's able to use artistic short hand. Still I didn't really enjoy it here and found it, like much of the comic, lacking. Perhaps that's why future volumes haven't come out in English.
*Well, I read one of his Little Vampire books years ago too, but I don't even remember which one it was, so apparently it didn't leave much of an impact on me. (Though apparently I loved it!)
**Bande dessinée, the French term for comics.