I’ve mentioned once or twice that some comics I read were bad enough to be sold to BookOff, the Japanese used book/DVD/Blu-ray/videogame chain that also has branches in the U.S. Because that’s the worst fate I can imagine for a series that either offends me so, or I can’t remember why I cared about them in the first place -- not having the privilege of being part of my collection anymore. A little over a year after I made my last trip out to their Gardena branch with friends, I made another visit there yesterday. If you’re interested in what I decided to part with, the list, and the reasons why, they await after the break.
This title is still in a rebuilding phase after the dramatic events that kicked off the previous volume. Even so, vol. 8 still has plenty of scenes that provide deliciously painful entertainment from seeing the polite veneer of Japanese society pulled back to see what lurks underneath. The title’s “stock in trade,” in other words. We get to see this right from the start when Kasuga gets to meet Aya’s boyfriend Koji and then gets dragged along to their hangout. The chapter that follows is a slow pressure cooker of teenage angst as Koji subtly puts the screws to Kasuga to get the information he wants about his past and current relationship with Aya. This eventually results in a “controlled meltdown” of sorts, yet one that leads to us finding out more about what makes Aya tick and why she’s able to get along with Kasuga. Their relationship may have seemed unlikely at first, but here it becomes fully credible and even something that you’ll hope will blossom into something more.
Naturally, Oshimi sees this as the perfect time to throw a metaphorical wrench into things. It’s not the return of Nakamura -- that’s still a ways off and likely waiting for an even more precarious moment to happen. Instead, something happens that causes Kasuga to question his feelings for Aya in light of what his previous “girlfriend” meant to him and essentially calls him out on not finding out what has happened to her in these past three years. It’s an effective way of letting us know that our protagonist isn’t going to find any kind of happiness until he finds a spine. Of course, whether or not that’s going to happen is decidedly uncertain as there’s evidence both for and against that actually happening in previous volumes. Things could go either way at this point and the fact that I can’t say what’s going to happen with any degree of certainty definitely makes me want to keep reading.
“The bailiff sweats. The revolution is on.”
That’s the description of this volume’s events from the back cover. Short, sweet, and to the point, they gave me hope that the series would finally address its biggest issues and start living up to its potential. Though that hasn’t quite happened yet, vol. 3 takes some large strides towards becoming a title I can start looking forward to. In that I actually want to see what happens next, not because I’m waiting to see it go completely off the rails.
Rich Johnston’s latest bit of speculation about the market is something that I hope he’s wrong about. According to him, the comics industry seems poised to have comics prices jump to $4.99 an issue sometime this year. This is due to the fact that most of the industry has transitioned their titles to the $3.99 price point while most of Marvel and DC’s top-selling titles are already there and have been there for a while. “New Avengers” was cited as a prime example, as it has been priced at that level since it debuted back in 2009. With inflation still a factor in the materials that go into the comics themselves, and a reported reduction in the advertising in them, Johnston clearly thinks that someone is going to try to sell a monthly title at $4.99 sometime this year.
While I think that raising the price of comics is a terrible idea as a consumer of such, the only way they could pull this off is with a commensurate increase in the content in each issue. Anyone with a memory that can remember back to the 90’s and early 00’s knows that if you paid $4.99 for a comic, you were getting at least twice the pages of a monthly title. Without ads too if the comic was in the “prestige format.” If they’re going to start charging this much for a regular 22-page comic, then sales will start to freefall shortly afterwards. The sticker shock will be too much for an average fan to overcome, and people like me will just keep looking for better deals on the collections they buy. They’re welcome to it… in a few years after Image has re-established its dominance in the direct market and can sustain things on their own.
At least, that’s what I’d like to hope will happen.
Brian Wood’s take on the legendary barbarian reaches its second volume and some growing pains along with it. As was the case with vol. 13, it consists of two three-part arcs which present new challenges for the character as he now shares his life with the pirate queen Belit. The stories represent a solid read overall, though you likely won’t be able to escape the feeling that you’ve read better from this title before.
I’ve read elsewhere that a part of this title’s appeal, in Japan at least, isn’t just in seeing what kind of mischief the title character can get up to. That’s certainly fun in and of itself, but there’s also a fair amount of revisiting childhood memories through Yotsuba’s actions and living vicariously as a parent through her father. We get to see both sides of that coin in the opening chapter as she finds out about paint and then proceeds to recolor their kitchen table blue. Watching Yotsuba blissfully paint away, secure in the knowledge that what she’s doing is right and fun only to have those feelings vanish when the color won’t wash away and then daddy walks in to see what she’s done will ring true to anyone who remembers finding themselves in a similar situation as a kid. Subsequently, seeing her dad let the moment sit for several panels and then respond to his daughter’s fears about the paint not coming off by telling her that’s what happens when she uses paint without permission and now she’ll be blue forever… Well, it’s every parent’s dream to troll their children at some point. Isn’t it? The three panel sequence where he finally loses his cool and starts laughing is also a beautifully staged moment by mangaka Kiyohiko Azuma.
The rest of the volume doesn’t pack the same kind of “emotional resonance,” yet is good fun all around. Yotsuba hangs out with Torako and learns to tie a butterfly knot, goes shopping for dinner with dad and shows off her blue hands to the neighborhood, and goes camping with friends and family in a rare two-part story. There’s also a Halloween-themed story where she’s dressed up like a pumpkin and experiences the holiday from a Japanese perspective. It’s not as funny as you’d expect (nor should you expect any cosplay on the level of the back cover), but is redeemed through the lines, “Is Halloween a Christian holiday? Did Jesus start it?” Like that holiday, “Yotsuba&!” is an always-welcome dose of annual fun.
This originally started out as a digression on my review of “Powers: Bureau” before I realized that it was morphing into its own thing. As you can probably guess from the title, I’ve finally gotten around to playing the biggest game of 2013 and it’s an incredible technical achievement on many levels. I’ll be going back to it to mess with the stock market to try and turn my millions of heist dollars into billions and continue my quest to shoot out every tire on the highway. Throughout the game though, there were a couple things that really interfered with my enjoyment of its story missions. I generally liked, or at least understood, the main characters just fine, but having to deal with Michael’s family and Trevor’s friend Lamar sucked a lot of the fun out of things. You can have characters bicker and get angry at each other and still convey that they have affection for each other deep down, but this game gets it wrong where “Powers” got it right.
The most notable female Fables, the “fairest in all the land” if you will, are on a list and being killed off one by one along with whatever unlucky bystander happens to be next to them at the time. It’s up to Fabletown’s top spy Cinderella to find out who’s behind this, why they’re doing it, and whether or not the deaths can be reversed. Being the latest “Fables” original graphic novel, it’s not quite as good as “1001 Nights of Snowfall” but a huge step up from “Werewolves of the Heartland.” Written entirely by series creator Bill Willingham, “In All The Land” reads just as well as any volume of the series, or its current spinoff, as it’s full of the wit, whimsy and clever plotting that one would expect of it. If that wasn’t enough to get a fan onboard, the volume also gives a deserving spotlight to the Magic Mirror after all these years in text-with-pictures segments and addresses a neglected plot point from the main title. Just don’t make my mistake and be sure to read this after “Snow White” or else you’ll be spoiled for one of the key events of that volume.
“In All The Land” also boasts an impressive roster of twenty-four artists who contributed to its creation. They range from familiar contributors to the “Fables” world like Mark Buckingham, Tony Akins, Russ Braun and Gene Ha, to new faces such as Chris Sprouse, Karl Kerschl, Ming Doyle and Phil Noto. All of them are fantastic and before you think that having so many artists involved would lead to an epic clash of styles, Willingham wrote the book in a series of “chapters” with a different illustrator for each one of them. As a result, the effect is far less jarring than one would expect and even comes across as fairly natural for how these things go. One has to think that after the artistic trainwreck of “Werewolves of the Heartland” that Willingham figured having two dozen people work on smaller sections of a graphic novel would work a lot better than having one person, then two, then more come onboard to make sure the art got finished and the book made it out the door. If that was his thinking, then it was the right kind this time.
Credit where credit is due, Bendis and Oeming got the issues collected here out in a much faster and consistent manner than I ever expected. Then you start to consider the actual content of these issues and I’ve honestly read better from this team. For all of the hoopla about the focus of the title shifting from “cops on the beat” to “federal investigators” it’s pretty much business as usual here. On one level that’s a good thing, but the sense of urgency that has driven the best storylines in this title is missing here.
The title of this volume would imply that after nineteen volumes of this excellent series, Snow White is finally getting her time in the spotlight. That’s not quite true as though the events of this volume center around her past, the character’s profile isn’t any more or less notable than it has been previously. Even with some minor issues, this story provides another satisfying showcase of her mettle as she faces off a prince who embodies one of the most eminently hateable traits out there: misogyny.