WIBR: Chi’s Sweet Home vol. 1

June 30, 2010

IT'S A CUTE KITTY MANGA!!!

Uh... and there's not much more to say than that.  If you're a cat person like me, then you'll find it impossible to resist this series' charms as mangaka Konami Kanata does an incredible job of making Chi's behavior both familiar and utterly believable to any cat owner.  My main issue with the series is that Chi's "voice" has the same saccharine stylistic quirks of a little kid's and is completely unnecessary to the action 99% of the time.  I think it'd be better off without Chi's dialogue... but the manga as a whole is so cute that I just don't care.

Now that’s an interesting coincidence…

June 28, 2010

In the space of a week I've read two comics that have featured surprise same-sex hook-ups.  The first one happened in the pages of John Layman and Rob Guillory's "Chew vol. 2" while the second appeared in vol. 2 of Masayuki Ishikawa's "Moyasimon."  Both were quite surprising to read, though it was more surprising to observe that the Americans produced a more interesting scene.

(Minor spoilers for a specific scene in both series follow...)

In "Chew," FDA agent Tony Chu's professional life has been made a living hell by his superior, Applebee who hates him for reasons that aren't really that clear.  It's the series' biggest issue in my opinion and vol. 2 continues along those same lines when Chu's ex-partner from his police days, John Colby, becomes his current partner, cyborg face and all.  They're both good friends as well as partners, so when Applebee goes on the warpath looking for Chu after he takes off to investigate Chu begs Colby to find some way to get him off of his back.

The final scene of the issue is a full-page shot of Colby sleeping in bed while Applebee stares at the ceiling.

It took me a few seconds to realize exactly what I was looking at here, but when it finally hit me, I couldn't help but laugh.  I mean, I was expecting Colby to resort to something like knocking Applebee out and putting him in a closet but that would just be too mundane for this series.  While Layman has shown that he can pull of strange concepts with the greatest of ease in this series, such as the worldwide ban on poultry, and even get good stories out of them, this is probably the most character-driven moment of the series.  What's even more interesting is that Layman even set it up in a counter-intuitive fashion earlier in the volume when Colby makes an offhand remark that Applebee's anger comes from his repressed homosexual urges.  Chu's interaction with Applebee near the end of the volume would tend to bear out this idea, but there are a lot of other questions begging to be answered and situations to be explored.  If nothing else, it makes me hope that Layman continues to find unorthodox situations to conventional problems in this series.

As for the scene in "Moyasimon," it involves college freshman Hazuki Oikawa waking up naked in a futon with upperclassman Aoi Muto after the two got completely sloshed while they went out to eat with Professor Itsuki the previous night.  Now there's a chance that Ishikawa could write off this situation as a hilarious misunderstanding, but that would be taking the easy and far less interesting way out.  To be perfectly honest, I'm hoping that he does develop the relationship between the two because it would make a refreshing change from all the gay relationships that we see in localized manga both serious (see Fumi Yoshinaga's "Antique Bakery" and "Ooku") and fanservicy (see all of her titles that Digital Manga has released that aren't "Antique Bakery").  It'd also make a good fit for the series' underlying theme of broadening one's horizons, as it shows you one more way people can change and grow when they get to college.

At any rate, it wouldn't surprise me terribly if we found out that Oikawa just passed out before anything happened in the next volume.  Though the series has been fun, it hasn't really been all that deep since Ishikawa has yet to show that he has a story that he wants to tell with the characters he's created.  These two volumes have given me the distinct impression that he sees the series as more of a vehicle to talk about the things that interest him, such as germs, fermentation, what makes good sake, crazy college clubs.  That's not a bad thing, but as these things have mostly been exploited to comedic rather than dramatic effect I'm betting that Oikawa's heterosexuality will emerge from this encounter bruised but unchanged.  It's a shame because as "Chew" shows us, such a scene can be played for more than a cheap laugh.

WIBR: Chew vol. 2 — International Flavor

June 24, 2010

While I generally enjoyed the first volume of this series, it was essentially just setup for future stories and its "surprise twist" at the end wasn't very surprising.  Now that these "future stories" are here, I can say that "Chew's" future is looking pretty bright.  Re-teamed with his old partner, cibopath Tony Chu is sent on another crappy assignment that ends with him encountering a strange plant... that may be a fruit... that also tastes like chicken.  This leads him to a tropical island where chicken has been recently outlawed, a large-breasted martial arts expert working for the Department of Agriculture, his brother who now has a job cooking this "fruit," and an international assassin known only as the "Vampire."  All of this is played dead straight, which makes things even funnier and writer John Layman throws in a few genuinely surprising plot twists along the way which makes me think that he has a plan for this series.  Or he's just really good at plotting by the seat of his pants.  Hats off to artist Rob Guillory as well, since the series wouldn't be as entertaining without his comically twisted art.

WIBR: Conan vol. 8 — Black Colossus

June 22, 2010

In case you're wondering about how writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello's run on "Conan" has been going -- it's still quality stuff.  While this volume won't make a believer out of anyone who isn't already a fan of the legendary barbarian, it's still an entertaining, action-packed adventure.  "Black Colossus" finds our protagonist falling in with a group of mercenaries who are hired to defend the city of Khoraja from the wizard Natohk and his vile hordes.  When Conan finds himself in the right place at the right time, he winds up becoming the leader of Khoraja's armies -- a position that fits him better than he would have thought.  Giorello is utterly at home depicting whatever situation the title character finds himself in, be it joining a fight in progress on a grassy meadow, leading a group of troops in a parade, and bedding the city's sovereign in a dark tomb.  Truman continues to show he has a great understanding of how to write the legendary barbarian and makes his transition from soldier to leader of men a believable one.

WIBR: Hellboy vol. 10 — The Crooked Man and Others

June 21, 2010

I wasn't expecting much from this volume, now that the title character's ongoing story had FINALLY gained some direction and momentum, but it turned out to be one of the better short story collections this series has offered up.  That's mainly due to the title story which has Hellboy trekking through the Appalachian wilds with a former soldier returned to settle some old scores with the titular Crooked Man.  Not only is it an engaging story, touching on bits of American folklore that I wasn't familiar with, but it's also one of the creepiest stories I've read in this series thanks to Richard Corben's art.  It would've been even better if Hellboy had more of a part to play -- his involvement is almost incidental to the story.  As for the others, Josh Dysart/Jason Alexander's "They That go Down to the Sea in Ships" is a fun flashback teaming up Hellboy and Abe Sapien on a job to find the pirate Blackbeard's skull, and Mignola's return to writing and drawing with "In the Chapel of Moloch" is similarly enjoyable with Hellboy beating on a nasty demon, for the sake of art.  While the final story, a Mignola/Duncan Fegredo collaboration, fleshes out an interesting throwaway idea from "Darkness Calls," it ultimately winds up being weird for weirdness' sake.  Even with that miss, fans of the series will find that this will tide them over nicely until the next proper volume.

Comic Picks #57: Jonah Hex

June 16, 2010

In a move that should surprise no one, I talk about another comic book character who has a movie coming out this weekend.

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What I’ve Been Reading: X-Men — Nation X HC

June 16, 2010

When I was last talking about Marvel's merry mutants, I mentioned how the "Utopia" crossover set up a potentially interesting new direction for the franchise.  After butting heads with Norman Osborne and his Dark X-Men and Avengers, all of mutanity has found itself living just out of his reach on a re-purposed Asteroid M in the San Francisco Bay.  No longer having to contend with the political situation on the mainland, Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men now have to figure out how to provide for the two-hundred-plus inhabitants of the island and fend off all of the new threats coming their way.

While I doubt it would surprise anyone to learn that Norman Osborne still has a mad-on for how Namor and Emma Frost stabbed him in the back, he's not the only problem they have to contend with.  In addition to making sure that the island has enough supplies to function, the "science team" finds out that while raising an asteroid from the bottom of the sea was easy enough, generating enough power to keep it there is another matter entirely.  Making matters worse is that former Marauder Scalphunter has been press-ganged by a group of mysterious super-powered individuals into delivering five Predator Xs to assault the island.  Things have looked better for mutantkind -- then Magneto shows up.

In what is the volume's best plot thread, and an interesting sign of how the dynamic of mutant power has shifted in Marvel's post M-Day world, Magneto hasn't come to fight the X-Men, but to join the party.  Even though Cyclops is plotting the future of his species by the seat of his pants, he's managed to do the one thing that neither the master of magnetism or Professor X has managed to do:  unite all of mutantkind.  Seeing this, Magneto now wants to join the party and help out any way he can.  Only his decades-long habit of attacking and otherwise antagonizing the X-Men has left all of them more than a little wary of his intentions.

Refreshingly, Magneto turns out to be telling the truth and his efforts to try and win over Cyclops and co. are the most interesting parts of the book.  His take-charge nature proves to be at odds with Cyclops' leadership and every attempt he makes to better life on Utopia only winds up alienating him further from the people whose trust he desires.  Then he searches and finds more radical (and implausible) means to do so.  Writer Matt Fraction gets a lot of good scenes from his characterization of Magneto as a sad old man, once one of the figureheads of mutant power who now finds himself without an invitation to his species last party before its extinction.  It's a characterization that's at odds with how he's usually presented, but it also couldn't have been done in a pre-M-Day setting and Fraction pulls it off well.

The other main threads involve the fight against the Predator Xs on the island; Cyclops, Prof. X and Psylocke working together to get the sliver of the Void that was stuck in Emma's head after her run-in with the Sentry; and Wolverine, Colossus, and Psylocke (again) going to New York to track down the people behind the assault and running into Fantomex along the way.  Two of these threads mainly serve to dish up some quality superhero fight scenes, while the other allows for some nice character-driven action as Cyclops dives into Emma's head to save her from being taken over by a "splinter of absolute evil."

Now, the context of a Marvel superhero comic is probably the only time that I could take something described as a "splinter of absolute evil" seriously, but Fraction uses the threat of a psychic takeover to have his characters try and think their way out of a conflict rather than fight their way out of it.  While there is some fighting, most memorably when Cyclops realizes that the multiple Emmas in her head are actually manifestations of the Void because she would never say something as "high school" as that and then blasts them to hell.  The majority of it centers around Cyclops and Emma finding ways to re-connect in their minds and ways to use their surroundings to their advantage.  I don't think I'm really spoiling anything to say that the Void splinter is neutralized, but the way Fraction has Cyclops do it is both truly inspired and true to his character.

This two-issue thread also benefits immensely from art by Terry and Rachel Dodson.  Not only do they have a bright, energetic style that's perfect for superhero comics, they also show a willingness to experiment with page and panel layout to capture the confusion of the mental conflict in this mini-arc.  With the exception of the last issue, the rest of the issues collected here were drawn by Greg Land.  Now Land gets a bad rap for his photoreferenced style and I'll willingly admit that it is very distracting in parts.  The man can't seem to draw a woman who doesn't seem like she was traced from a men's magazine, and characters of both genders tend to have their mouths gaping or grinning in ways that distract you from the story at hand.  That said, I do like the detail his photoreferencing brings to his art and his storytelling is clear.  It's not enough to make me not wish that the Dodsons had drawn his issues as well, but it could've been worse.

The final issue in the arc is drawn by Whilce Portacio, and while I generally like his style, his characters' body language comes across as awkward at times.  That hampers the emotional impact of this issue as it involves the return of Kitty Pryde from deep space.  The mechanics of her return stretch even the most generous amounts of comic book logic, and I still think that she wasn't gone long enough for me to miss her.  Still, I do like how her return isn't without complications and there's a very nice silent montage of panels at the end which show that despite all of the craziness that's been happening on Utopia, its inhabitants still find a way to enjoy the little things in life.

That's not the end of the volume, as the four-issue "Nation X" mini-series is also collected here.  This was an anthology series in the vein of the "Dark X-Men" mini-series collected in "Utopia," and while the stories there were mostly filler, the ones here have a huge advantage in that they're able to explore this new setting with the entire X-cast at their disposal.  It is, perhaps surprisingly (considering the quality of most X-anthologies), a huge improvement over its predecessor.

Most of the stories are nice little character pieces that have members of the cast touching on issues that the main story didn't have time for.  We get to see Iceman cracking jokes as a way to get his mind off of how he thinks these are the end days of his species, Wolverine and Nightcralwer on a cross-country trip debating the new status quo and Cyclops' status as a leader, and Northstar inviting his new normal boyfriend to Utopia and nearly ruining the relationship as a result.  Some of the stories also touch on continuity issues, but in logical ways as Magneto confronts an old "ghost" of Asteroid M, and Armor and Danger hash out their issues (violently) over how the latter killed the former's friend, Wing.  They're not all winners, as Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's story about Doop acting as the island's detective is just too weird for its own good.

Still, it has Allred on art which means that it at least looks good.  The same can be said for the rest of the stories as they're all visually interesting on some level.  Some stories trend towards a stylized, yet still recognizably superhero comic book style, while others, see "Cannonball's" Corey Lewis, let their freak flag fly to great effect.  Overall, this is one of the rare anthologies that has more hits than misses, and if all X-anthologies were this good, people wouldn't complain about how many of them we get in a year.

Overall, "Nation X" is a worthy addition to any X-fan's library.  While the art on the main story is a mixed bag, Fraction's writing holds it all together while dishing up wit, action, and characterization in a way that keeps you engrossed in the action.  It's not an X-book that I'd recommend to people who aren't interested in the franchise, but those of you who are following its narrative (like myself) won't be disappointed by what you find here.

WIBR: Invincible vol. 12 — Still Standing

June 14, 2010

For future rundowns of my ten favorite comics in a given year, I think I'll have to set aside one slot solely to determine which was the better Robert Kirkman title of the year:  "Invincible" or "The Walking Dead."  While vol. 11 of "The Walking Dead" did a great job of smacking genre conventions upside the head earlier this year, this latest volume of "Invincible" due to the sheer scope, brutality and overall insanity of its action while laying the groundwork for some potentially fascinating stories down the road.  Things open up with the army of alternate universe Invincibles that Angstrom Levy has gathered laying waste to the Image Universe and all the superheroes that occupy it.  It's a fantastic done-in-one crossover issue, but that's only the warm-up for the arrival of Conquest, the Viltrumite agent sent to check on Invincible's progress in assimilating Earth for the Viltrum Empire.  Their multi-issue fight is easily one of the most brutal fights I've seen in comics as it comes down to Invincible using the one part of his body that isn't broken to try and win the fight.  Almost as interesting is the interplay between Invincible and Cecil, as they still don't like or trust each other, but are forced to work together to save the world.  I'm also looking forward to seeing what's going to happen when Cecil's "use the enemy" schemes finally backfire on him.  They will, because there's no way that his latest catch (as seen in the volume's almost-final pages) is going to want to play ball.

Bleach vol. 31, My Last One.

June 12, 2010

When I brought in this volume to read at work earlier this week, I told one of my friends that unless it was really good it was going to be the last one I buy.  He said "okay" but thought that my decision was a little strange after noting that I had spent in the neighborhood of $300 on the series so far.  After pointing out that it was probably closer to $200, I told him that it was better to do it now than to continue to watch the series become an increasingly pointless endeavor with this current storyline.  There's also the fact that by stopping now, I'm saving myself about $140 as the series is currently up to vol. 45 in Japan with no end in sight.

To be honest, I would've made vol. 30 my last one as it had a nice volume-length story focusing on Rukia and one of the Arrancars who appeared to her in the guise of her former commander in the Soul Society.  As it turns out, he was originally the Hollow that killed her commander and was reborn through Aizen's machinations.  Not only was it a physically brutal fight, the personal connection Rukia had to this character gave it an intensity and meaning that a lot of the Arrancar fights have been missing throughout this arc.  Had they all been as gripping as this one, I'd have pre-ordered all the upcoming volumes months ago.

Then you get to the fights in this volume and they're just sad in their predictability.  You get Ichigo changing into his Hollow-fied form to try and take out Ulquiorra as fast as possible and failing miserably because we haven't reached the point in the story where he's supposed to beat the #4 Arrancar.  Then the scene shifts to pick up on Renji's fight with Szayelaporro (who graces this volume's cover) which is quickly joined by Uryu.  After the usual "I'm so badass" posturing from both sides, Uryu unleashes his special move to take out that ridiculously named Arrancar with Renji's help.  I was half hoping that this would be the end of him, but of course it wasn't as he ate his followers to return to full strength after the attack and vowed to return to finish the fight after he changed into something that hadn't been burnt to a crisp.  Things wrap up with Grimmjow  taking Ulquiorra out of action so that the newly jailbroken Orihime can heal Ichigo and the two of them can have a proper fight.

One thought kept echoing in my mind as I read through all of this:  "I don't care."  This arc has been a pale retread of the "Soul Society" arc with Orihime in Rukia's role and a far, far less interesting group of opponents here.  In addition to occupying key roles in the world and mythology of "Bleach," the various captains of the Soul Society were also entertaining characters themselves and their presence is missed here.  The Arrancars have failed to make much of an impression on me at all beyond "I dislike them and I wish Ichigo and company would kick their asses."  Rather than being characters in their own right, they just come across as insanely powerful plot devices whose only reason for being is to provide the main characters with someone to fight.  Yes, I know that this is a Shonen Jump manga and the fighting is its main attraction, but this series has shown that you can have fights that move the story forward and develop the characters at the same time.  Hell, they did in the last volume!

Fights like that, however, have become the exception rather than the rule these days and I'm tired of it.  I'd be more inclined to keep following the series if I thought that mangaka Tite Kubo had a plan for the series; however, after hearing that he'll keep making the series as long as fans keep buying it at his Comic-Con appearance two years ago I don't think that's the case.  I'm also betting that this arc isn't going to end with Aizen's defeat, but with the revelation that the struggles of Ichigo and his friends have only played into his master plan JUST LIKE THE END OF THE LAST ARC!  So rather than subject myself to further disappointment, I'm calling it quits here while I can still think fondly of the series and entertain the possibility of picking up the series again at a later date.  Granted, that's not going to happen for a while so be sure to ask me how that's going two or three years from now.

WIBR: Battle Angel Alita — Last Order vol. 13: Sans Angel

June 10, 2010

That's a particularly apt subtitle, and one that will surely annoy longtime readers of this series, as the title character is (once again) absent for the majority of the volume.  This time we're treated to the battle between Zekka and Toji's "Space Karate" team against the seeded Venusian team who specialize in bio-engineering rather than the mechanical kind.  They're led by the bestial Homme du Feu who has been promised his freedom and the woman of his dreams by the team's scheming mastermind Pissarro.  While I'm disappointed that Alita only appears in five panels and speaks only two words, I have to credit mangaka Yukito Kishiro's skill at giving the Venusian team enough depth as characters so that I actually cared about them even though their loss was predicated by the needs of the story.  Equally impressive is the scale of the fights in this volume (the roof is literally raised here) and the utter weirdness of the Venusian fighters and their weaponry (biologic missiles and rose guns are probably the most normal things in there).  Even though I can understand why people are going to bitch about this volume, I still thought that there was plenty to like about it.  Easily one of the better volumes that didn't feature the title character.