Comic Picks #32: The Dark Tower

May 27, 2009

Stephen King's signature work gets an enjoyable series of prequels that still could've and should've been even better.

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What I’ve Been reading: 5/20/09

May 21, 2009

The anime club that I attend (or rather, hang out in front of with all of my other friends who graduated from the college that hosts it) has semi-regular shopping trips to the Frank and Sons collectible show and the Little Tokyo area each quarter.  Generally it's a great trip to pick up some comics, manga, and anime swag and t-shirts.  This time was probably the first time I've gone on the trip and not come back with any manga.  Instead, I just made a list of stuff to pick up from either Amazon or at Fanime this weekend.  The list includes:

Clover Omnibus Oishinbo 3 Pluto 3 Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei 2 Mushishi 7 Nana 16 Flower of Life 4

Huh... I think I've got my list of what to review for the next time I write one of these posts.  We'll see.  Anyway, onto this week's reviews:

Fallen Angel Omnibus

The first 21 IDW-published issues of writer Peter David’s continuing story of the mysteriously superpowered woman known as Lee and her tenure in the “city that shapes the world” known as Bete Noir are collected in a format that, rare for this company, represents a good value for your money. You need not be familiar with the series original run at DC comics to enjoy what’s going on here (and the origin of that series and the transition to IDW is recapped entertainingly in a foreword from David), but I do recommend picking up the two collections that run spawned as they’re good readin’. Anyhow, this series represents David’s take on “life, the universe, and everything,” or what the hell God was thinking when he thought that stuff up. While I’m not convinced enough about David’s answers to start up a religion around the man, there’s no denying that the underlying idea about them is pretty clever (especially his thoughts on the origin of global warming). That said, most of this stuff comes in the first five issues which are very strong and the sixteen that follow are not bad, but certainly of lesser quality. You get a sense that while David has a general idea of where he wants to take the story, he’s not entirely sure of the best way to get there. I’m also really not sure about any road map that includes a crossover with 90’s “Bad Girl” comic star Shi (the story in question isn’t as bad as I’m making it sound, but still…) Most of the stories in this volume are very capably illustrated by J.K. Woodward, with the other stories possessing art that ranges from “good” to “not bad.” Overall, this isn’t the kind of collection I’d throw at someone new to comics, but those looking for something different that actually happens to be good are recommended to pick this up. (I’d also recommend this to fans of Peter David, but chances are that if you’re a fan of this, you own this, or the stories collected here already.)

X-Factor vol. 6: Secret Invasion

Speaking of Peter David, the latest volume of his X-title arrived in stores last week. I was about to write “the most consistently entertaining X-title,” but that would be a lie now as vol. 6 is best described as an “off” volume. It’s not so much due to David’s writing, which is still chock-full of witty dialogue and entertaining character bits (most of them involving Jamie Madrox, the multiple man, as usual) and makes the addition of Darwin and Longshot to the team work quite well. There is, however, the unavoidable sense of “killing time” that pervades these stories as David works through stories about Skrull religious icons and businessmen who want to make weapons out of Darwin’s “evolving mutation” to get to the stories he really wants to tell, starting with the birth of Siryn and Madrox’s baby, in the next volume. But that’s not the real problem with this volume as most of it is illustrated in an “Oh god! Oh god! It hurts my eyes to look at this stuff!” style by Larry Stroman. He did good work with David back on “X-Factor’s” original incarnation in the 90’s, but has apparently lost the ability to make people and places look “appealingly stylized” as opposed to “beaten with the ugly stick.” Disappointing by the series’ standards, but not a total loss. Thanks in advance to whoever at Marvel got Valentine De Landro back on the series as regular penciler, as he’s done good work on the series in the past, and should go a long way to making the next volume live up to the quality of the previous ones.

Oh My Goddess! vol. 32

Drifting ever so gracefully and slowly into the realm of “Why am I still reading this?”… I bet it can see “Air Gear” from where it is. But enough with the personal inside jokes – this latest volume in the “longest running manga in English” wraps up the “Gate” arc and then promptly sends Keiichi, Belldandy, and the rest of the cast to the beach. Swimsuits abound in equal proportion with failed romantic hookups between the series signature couple. Now this wouldn’t be a volume of “OMG” without some fantasy element sneaking in to disrupt the idyllic setting, and this time it happens to be a siren who takes to Keiichi after her clan’s “tear” gets lodged in his ear. As is usual for the series these days, there are some amusing bits sprinkled here and there, but mangaka Kosuke Fujishima has been doing this for so long, and done storylines much better, that the feeling he’s currently plotting this series on autopilot is inescapable. Now I don’t buy this series expecting “art” or “real emotional substance,” I buy it because compared to other otaku-oriented fluff manga out there, this was “superior fluff.” Nowadays, that “superior” looks mighty superfluous.

Me and the Devil Blues vol. 2

Clyde Barrow was a lot of things in real life, and even more in fiction; that said, I don’t think anyone could’ve anticipated “stabilizing influence on the fictitious narrative about the life of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson” would have been one of them. But ever since he showed up in the second half of the first volume, that’s exactly what he’s been to this series. The first volume of “Me and the Devil Blues” dabbled a bit too much in “weirdness for weirdness’ sake” with its surrealistic touches, the most notable being RJ’s tendency to sprout another right hand when he starts playing the blues. With Clyde around, the tone becomes closer to that of a depression-era “Lethal Weapon” and as this volume shows, that’s not really a bad thing. While the previous volume left RJ in jail and Clyde posing as a newspaperman who is taken under the wing of Mr. McDonald, a blind diabetic who also happens to be the most powerful man in town, this volume follows Clyde’s suspenseful night in McDonald’s mansion and efforts to break RJ out of jail and escape their pursuers. As opposed to indigestible weirdness, this volume shows that mangaka Akira Hiramoto has a real knack for coming up with suspenseful set-pieces, the best of which involve the former sheriff trying to goad one of his former toadies into killing RJ in his cell, and Clyde’s midnight encounter with Mr. McDonald. He also shows that he can whip up a gunfight that would make Garth Ennis or Rei Hiroe proud. The only problem with this is that for a series that was ostensibly about RJ and the blues, its best moments have generally revolved around an infamous white criminal. While the last chapter indicates we’re coming back into this territory I have to say that Hiramoto has an uphill struggle to make RJ’s exploits more interesting than Clyde’s.

Comic Picks #31: Art Manga!

May 14, 2009

For those of you who weren't scared off by the title, you're bound to find something to interest you in my look at highbrow manga.

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What I’ve Been Reading: 5/6/09

May 7, 2009

So I did get around to seeing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” over the weekend. I’m saving the bulk of my opinion on the assumption that we’ll be talking about it on “No Podcast for Old Men” in the next week or two, but I will say that I thought it was alright. Jackman nails the character of Wolverine like he did in the “X-men” movies, the rest of the cast also did a pretty good job with theirs (and my fears that Liev Schreiber was “too cerebral” an actor for Sabertooth were mostly unfounded), and things blew up nicely. The film’s biggest problem is that it fails to emotionally involve you in what’s going on. It has some decent ideas about how Wolverine became who he is, but the execution fell flat more often than not.

So for now, it seems that comics are still the place to go for the Wolverine stories that really matter (assuming you’re the kind of person that thinks a Wolverine story can “really matter”). On that note, the rumor came out today that writer Jason Aaron, best known for “Scalped” and assorted other Wolverine projects, will be taking over “Punisher MAX” with artist Steve Dillon with issue #75. After I lost my reason to care about the series after Garth Ennis left, naming Aaron as the new ongoing writer would actually get me to buy the series again. If you’re wondering why that’s a good thing, just click on the link below.

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #1-4

Yes, those numbers mean that I bought this in single issue form. Why’s that? Because I found this preferable to paying $30 for an oversized hardcover containing the miniseries plus four other “Manifest Destiny” one-shots I don’t care about. Of course I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of picking these up if I hadn’t heard this series was as good as it is. Jason Aaron and artist Stephen Segovia (with Paco Diaz Luque picking up the slack in the final two issues) bring Wolverine to San Francisco and toss him straight into a 50-year-old vendetta involving the nastiest gang in Chinatown. These four issues are essentially one big kung-fu movie and it’s as violent, ridiculous, and entertaining as you’d expect. Aaron makes the most of a formula setup with excellent pacing, good use of flashbacks, and lots of witty dialogue while Segovia and Diaz Luque show the story with style. Yes, these four issues are more expensive than a ticket to “Wolverine,” but they’re ultimately more entertaining.

Scalped vol. 4: The Gravel in Your Guts

When I last discussed Aaron and artist R.M. Guera’s brutal Indian reservation crime drama, I expressed hope that Dash Bad Horse’s character arc had reached its nadir and he was going to start on the path of redemption from here on out. This volume takes that notion, beats it to a bloody pulp, chops it up, and feeds it to the dogs with one sentence: “Can you show me how to smoke that?” So from here on out, I’ve let go of the notion of Dash earning any kind of redemption (before it’s too late…) and am looking forward to seeing just how far down the spiral he’ll go. Chief Red Crow, on the other hand, finds himself pushed to the limit with the brutal methods the Hmong’s enforcer, Mr. Brass, is using to make sure their investment in his casino is rewarded. The beauty of this series continues to lie in the moral ambiguity of its characters as Red Crow isn’t an evil man, but he’s done some very, very bad things for the sake of what he thinks is the greater good; and, even though Mr. Brass is an out-and-out monster, Red Crow’s methods for achieving his goals are only marginally less brutal. Excellent stuff all around.

Green Arrow: Year One

This is the only Green Arrow comic that I own that isn’t written by Kevin Smith. Like nearly all superheroes, my interest in the character extends only as far as who’s writing him. In this case, it’s Andy Diggle with his frequent collaborator Jock on board to provide the art. They’re not the most famous duo in the comics business, but after their work on Vertigo’s “The Losers,” I’ll buy pretty much anything they work together on. That said, this isn’t up to the same heights as “The Losers,” but I wasn’t expecting it to be, and it succeeds in its aim to provide an entertaining action story that freshens up the characters origin story for the new century. (And for Hollywood as well, I imagine, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) The story is simple enough: spoiled young millionaire playboy Oliver Queen gets marooned on an island by a trusted friend and is forced to hone his archery skills in order to survive. Things go beyond just surviving when he finds out that the island is also home to some opium traders who have enslaved the local population to do their dirty work. What ensues is both entirely predictable, yet still manages to be good fast-paced fun. Recommended for fans of Diggle/Jock, the character, or people who’ve wondered what his appeal is.

Nightschool vol. 1

Writer/artist Svetlana Chmakova produced one of the best examples of OEL manga with “Dramacon” a few years back. She displayed real style, energy, and talent with her writing and art on the series and wound up winning me over to it despite the fact that it was aimed at anime fangirls a good decade younger than I am. (I realize there’s no way to make that last bit sound not creepy, but you’re just going to have to live with it. Or buy the “Ultimate Edition” and find out why I was won over.) “Nightschool” is her new series, currently being serialized monthly in Yen Press’ “Yen+” anthology, and while I liked it, the first volume isn’t quite the home run I was expecting. Essentially the series is about what happens after midnight at a local school that doubles as a learning facility for vampires, werewolves, witches, and other nightkin go for their classes. The first volume focuses on Alex, a young Weirn (a particular breed of witch, as the back cover informs us) whose education is handled through homeschooling and her older sister Sarah who works as a “night keeper” (think “administrator”) at the school. Chmakova’s art is as good-looking and energetic as it has always been, but she drops the ball in the beginning as there are some crucial worldbuilding details that were left out. Things like showing how the school actually functions (we only get a few semi-connected scenes of school life), showing us where these human “hunters” come from, and what the particulars of this “treaty” they keep talking about are. I’m sure she’ll get around to explaining everything in time, but these are things that need to be considered when you’re springing a whole new world on the reader. Even so, Chmakova knows how to tell a story and even if we’re not entirely sure of all the fundamentals of her world, we’re still invested enough in its characters to find out what’s going to happen to them in the next volume.