No Longer Human vol. 1

October 31, 2011

This is probably the most sane work I’ve read from mangaka Usamaru Furuya, who was also responsible for the deranged, psychosexual coming-of-age story “Lychee Light Club” published earlier this year.  It starts out with a metafictional twist as Furuya is struggling to come up with an idea for his next serial and is directed to the online diary of one Yozo Oba.  Oba is a child of privilege who has gotten through the first seventeen years of life by acting the clown, as he has no real idea of how to interact normally with other people.  This facade is slowly broken down through a new friend who acts the clown in a natural fashion, a falling in with a group of radicals, his slow withdrawal from school and eventual disownment by his father.

How much interest this will be to the reader will depend on whether or not you buy into the sadness inherent in his position.  For me, Furuya does a very good job of dramatizing this since even though Oba is popular in his class, has all the luck with the ladies, and lives a swank lifestyle we see that his efforts to maintain these is nothing more than a very calculated act by the young man who derives no joy from its performance.  Even the sex isn’t all that fulfilling, and to prove it Furuya shows all of these scenes in the least erotic ways possible.  The volume is essentially one long downward spiral for the character, but it’s not joyless as there’s hints of what his plans for the future are after he hits rock bottom at the end of this first volume (two more are forthcoming).  This may not be as visually imaginative as the mangaka’s other works, but the overall storytelling is enough for me to recommend it to those looking for something different in the manga and comics diet.

S.H.I.E.L.D. vol. 1

October 29, 2011

While Jonathan Hickman’s “Secret Warriors” is an epic, high-energy espionage caper, and his “Fantastic Four” reconfigures its classic elements into something new, this first volume comes off as an attempt to tell one of the “big idea” stories that made him famous at Image in the context of the Marvel Universe.  The high concept here is that before S.H.I.E.L.D. was the Supreme Headquarters, Intelligence, Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, it was an organization that stretched back to the time of the Pharaohs to protect the world from the forces that would threaten it.  Some of the brightest minds of the time, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Galileo have been/are still a part of it as they have stepped up time and time again to show that “this is not how the world ends.”  After reading this, I definitely want to see how it ends, though I’m at a loss as to seeing why it needed to be set in the Marvel Universe.

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The Invincible Iron Man vol. 7: My Monsters

October 28, 2011

This volume is a nice change of pace from the past few multi-volume epics that were the series’ stock-in-trade.  Instead we have a collection of three extra-sized issue-length stories (and a short eight-pager) that showcase Tony Stark’s past, present and future.  We also get to see what his “archnemesis” The Mandarin has been doing with his spare time.

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A Bride’s Story vol. 2

October 27, 2011

With my expectations properly adjusted, it’s much easier to appreciate this series’ considerable virtues.  Though chapters devoted to things such as breadmaking, embroidery and the title character “obtaining the heart of a bride” could’ve come off as tiresome history lessons, mangaka Kaoru Mori’s skill with character development and art that is both rich in detail and expression makes them thoroughly engaging instead.  The highlight of this volume is a two-chapter story where Amir’s family shows up to demand her return and her young husband Karluk, his family, and the rest of the village get involved to make sure that doesn’t happen.  It’s a tense arc that showcases the resourcefulness of this community and gives pretty much everyone in the cast their moment to shine.  Mori even finds the right moments to add a bit of levity to the story without disrupting the tone or momentum.

At this point I’d be content to follow the exploits of Amir and Karluk for several more volumes, but it seems that this isn’t the plan.  The volume ends with Mr. Smith, the English anthropologist who has been staying with the family, heading off for another city.  While focusing on him seems like it’d make for a nice diversion, Mori indicates in her (charmingly over-enthusiastic as always) afterword that the plan is to follow him for a while and introduce a new bride for the story to focus on.  It’s a dramatic shift from what I thought the series’ focus would be, and in lesser hands I’d be worried.  Not Mori’s, though.  In her hands, the possibilities are exciting to consider.

The Drops of God vol. 1

October 25, 2011

I’m a social drinker and generally see alcohol as more of a “social lubricant” than something that’s meant to be savored or enjoyed.   My poison of choice is usually Malibu Pineapple Rum, with their Mango variety coming in second.  The Banana variety is also good, though they don’t put it in the oversize bottles like they do with the latter two.  This being said, I’ve never been much of a wine drinker because it tends to fail me on counts of taste and inebriation.  That didn’t stop me from picking up this first volume about that subject as it’s a new release from Vertical and -- “Velveteen & Mandala” excepted -- they’ve generally been really good with picking out unusual and interesting series to release outside of their dedication to getting the entire Osamu Tezuka library in print.  What I got here wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I’m willing to stick around for another volume at least to see how it develops.

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I wasn’t expecting this either.

October 22, 2011

Last week I mentioned how surprised I was to see Osamu Tezuka’s “The Book of Human Insects” on the New York Times’ manga bestseller list.  This week had an equally unexpected and welcome surprise as vol. 17 of “20th Century Boys” debuted at #7.  While seeing a Tezuka work on the list was gratifying just to see proof that a sizeable audience does exist for his work, the presence of the latest “20th Century Boys” volume is remarkable for a different set of reasons.  After all, I doubt that Viz would have gone through the trouble of releasing three lengthy series from the man if there wasn’t an audience for his work, and he’s one of the few authors to get consistently name-checked on the American-comic-centric sites that I visit.  Plus, like Tezuka, Urasawa now has an Eisner award to his name as well.

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Ultimate Comics Avengers (vol. 3): Blade vs. The Avengers

October 21, 2011

No, this was not an improvement. Along with the previous volume, the story told here could’ve been done in half the space.  Just take out the pointless stuff about the new Daredevil, give Blade one good introduction scene, and set this up as the “initial strike” from the vampire population instead of the “final battle.”  There is the kernel of a good idea about Nerd Hulk finding his purpose after being turned into a vampire, but it doesn’t go anywhere fulfilling.  The rest of the volume is just more of Mark Millar having his characters tell us how cool and badass they are and failing to sell us on the threat of the vampire menace.  Though the year isn’t over, I’m planning on reserving a special spot on my “worst of” list for the man himself thanks to his painfully obvious and heavy-handed “Twilight” takedown -- yes, he even takes the fun out of that -- and the cringe-inducing moment when we find out who Nerd Hulk’s favorite writer is.  There are VERY few writers who can pull off something like what Millar tries there, and I’m willing to bet that most of them are smart enough not to try.

The reason the book itself won’t be on my “worst of” list is because it features art from Steve Dillon.  If you’ve been reading what I write here long enough, then you know that I think the man is truly one of the best in the business when it comes to conveying character expression and emotion in art.  He does the best with what he’s given here, even though his art has a thin, undefined look to it courtesy of Andy Lanning’s inks.  Having an inker involved may have saved time in producing this series, but Dillon and Lanning were clearly mismatched here.  On that note, if you want something involving vampires with better art from Dillon, then you’d be better off picking up a random volume of “Preacher” -- though I’d recommend vol. 6 “Dixie Fried” which feature’s Cassidy’s hilarious/tragic encounter with a “goth” vampire -- than wasting your time with this.

Comic Picks #92: Girl Genius

October 20, 2011

In which John and I talk about webcomics and I go on at length about one of the best -- which is also one of the most frustrating.

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The Walking Dead: What Lies Ahead

October 18, 2011

For all the dark clouds that have swirled around the series after its reported budget cuts and the firing of series developer/showrunner Frank Darabont, the season premiere felt like a logical continuation of what had come before.  In both a storytelling as well as a stylistic sense, because if you didn’t already know that Darabont had left, you probably wouldn’t have noticed based on what was on display here.  The slow, measured pace and sense of development which characterized the first season was still on display as Rick and the crew encounter the remains of a traffic jam on their journey from the remains of the CDC.  Things (naturally) take a turn for the worse after a zombie “herd” passes through and young Sophia is chased into the woods by two walkers.  Rick runs after her and finds out later that taking care of them was the easy part -- now the group has to comb the forest for any trace of Sophia.

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Okay, I wasn’t expecting this…

October 15, 2011

Most weeks whenever the New York Times list of the bestselling manga hits Anime News Network, it’s usually “a whole lot of shonen and shojo manga that I’m not reading,” with a few exceptions.  “Yotsuba&!,” “Chi’s Sweet Home,” “Claymore,” “Berserk,” “Battle Angel Alita,” and even “Biomega” are the ones that I can recall popping up on the list at one time or another, while volumes of “Eden!  It’s an Endless World” and “MPD Psycho” even made the first list.  (Their presence, along with a list that was made up of eight different volumes of “Naruto” led many to declare the ranking “broken” and you never saw such a gathering on subsequent lists.)  Now the reason I’m bringing this up is because this week’s list contains the latest title from an author that I thought I’d NEVER see on there:  Osamu Tezuka.

His “The Book of Human Insects,” about a scheming and manipulative female of many talents, made the list at #7.  It’s not his best work, much as I liked the amoral nature of the main character, it came off as a hollow echo of “MW” which featured an even more duplicitous male lead in a more focused story along with a none-too-subtle criticism of the U.S. military presence in Japan.  “Human Insects” isn’t a bad book, but now the best thing about it is that its presence on the manga bestseller list shows that there is a sizeable (and growing) fanbase for Tezuka’s work.  Vertical deserves to be commended for the work they’ve done in translating and marketing his series, and hopefully we’ll be seeing even more success for future releases including “Princess Knight,” and the just announced re-issuing of “Adolf.”  (I’ve read the original Viz release of the latter -- it deserves a spot in anyone’s collection.)