So the big news of last week was the announcement of Fantagraphics’ new manga line, edited by Matt Thorn. While Fantagraphics is most well known for publishing some of the most innovative and challenging graphic novels of the past few decades, Thorn’s presence means that the line is in good hands. Not only is he a professor at Kyoto Seika University, he was a manga editor and translator at Viz, where he worked on “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind,” and spearheaded the drive to bring classic shoujo manga to our shores in the form of the “Four Shoujo Stories” and Moto Hagio’s “A, Aʹ.” That the line will be starting off with a “sampler” of other Hagio stories titled “A Drunken Dream and Other Stories,” is telling of his involvement and a very good thing for manga fans. Thorn was instrumental in getting an interview with Hagio for The Comics’ Journal’s “Shoujos Manga Issue” and based on what I’ve read of her work, I find it easy to believe that she’s second only to Osamu Tezuka in terms of significant manga creators in Japan. That we’re getting more of her is only a good thing.
The other manga that was announced, Takako Shimura’s “Wandering Son,” doesn’t really grab me in the same way. Aside from the fact that it’s about youths with gender identity issues (and that it’ll be getting an anime adaptation later this year) the most significant thing about it is that Fantagraphics is choosing it as one of the initial titles for its manga line. I don’t think it’ll be bad, but I’ll be waiting for the word-of-mouth reaction before I think about picking it up. Speaking of specialty manga lines from other publishers…
Bokurano: Ours vol. 1: This is the second title from Viz’s IKKI line to receive a trade paperback collection, and while it’s much better than Daisuke Igarashi’s “Children of the Sea,” I find myself in a funny place when it comes to reviewing it. The premise is simple enough: A group of children on summer vacation find a strange man in a cave who gets them to sign up for a new “game” that puts them in charge of a giant robot that lets them live out their mecha fantasies with fatal consequences. Showing the dark sides of childhood fantasies seems to be a specialty of mangaka Mohiro Kitoh (he’s also responsible for the “Shadow Star” manga) and he does a good job setting up the characters, the mystery surrounding everything, and the sense of dread that slowly starts to envelop the proceedings. My problem is that a lot of the awe and surprise of this volume is lost on me as I’ve seen the anime, so I’m left marking time until we get to the point where it surpasses the anime (which should be fascinating to see, as the anime’s director infamously declared that he hated the manga and started telling his own story with Kitoh’s permission). That said, this comes highly recommended for everyone else, especially if you like seeing horrible things happen to kids who both do and don’t deserve it.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol. 10: Few series these days are as reliably entertaining as this. None have a better English adaptation. This volume has three main stories which see the KCDS crew becoming involved with corpses that mysteriously get up and start walking around again, the delivery of a drug detecting dog to a seemingly peaceful coastal town, and working on a TV show trying to unearth the secrets of a twenty-year-old mystery. While these aren’t the best stories the series has produced, they’re still cleverly plotted and chock-full of all sorts of things you probably didn’t know about Japan today (such as how automated external defibrillator units are being placed for public use over metropolitan areas). Most interesting, though, is the insight we get into Numata’s character and his skills at dowsing. For most of the series he’s been fairly reliable comic relief; but, we finally get to see that he does have more than one dimension as we learn how his skills at dowsing for dead bodies were developed as a response to solving the mystery of the disappearance of his family years ago. Good stuff, and sure to please any fan of the series.
Detroit Metal City vol. 4: While I’ve praised the series in the past for its ingenuity in mining the one-joke nature of its premise, I have a feeling that we’ve finally reached the point where diminishing returns will be setting in. That fact becomes even more disappointing when you take into account that this volume features the conclusion of the series’ unquestionable high point, the “Satanic Emperor” arc. DMC’s battles with Deathism and Swedish black metal band Helvete are hilariously disgusting looks at how bands (and the people in them) are definied by their images, and how easily these images can be manipulated. The problem after creating such an epic arc is that once the series returns to its usual brand of one-shot stories, it feels like mangaka Kiminori Wakasugi is just repeating himself and falling back on old tropes. Is he only resting up to take “DMC” to greater heights, or is the series fated to go the way of all shock metal acts and fade away into mundanity? For now, I’ll stay tuned to find out.
Thor: Ages of Thunder: I picked up this hardcover collection of writer Matt Fraction’s four “Thor” one-shots on sale a little while back. Having read it, I can say that I probably would’ve felt a little disappointed had I paid full price for it. While the first three stories tell a loosely-connected story, the last one is more of a tribute to legendary “Thor” writer Walt Simonson. The best part about the first three one-shots is the genuinely epic mythological feel that Fraction and his artists (including “Cable and Deadpool” artist Patrick Zircher, who knocks it out of the park in his sections – I honestly didn’t expect this level of quality from him, and this should certainly lead to bigger and better things for him in the future) achieve with these stories of Thor and the other Asgardian gods clashing with fearsome beasts and each other. Unfortunately, things kind of peter out at the end as we’re served something that feels vaguely conclusive rather than serving as a decisive finish for what has come before. The final story is nice in and of itself, but I’d have rather seen another one-shot tying up the events of the first three.
X-Men and Spider-Man: This hardcover was also picked up in the same sale as the aforementioned “Thor” collection, and while it’s far less ambitious, it at least hits the marks it was aiming for. While I wouldn’t call the story being told in this mini-series essential by any means, those of you who have any affection for either of these franchises (in their incarnations from the 60’s, 80’s, 90’s, and present day) will find it to be a fun nostalgia trip. The story involves a long-reaching plan by Mr. Sinister and his plans to use the genetic material of familiar rogues from Spider-Man’s and the X-Men’s rogues galleries to create the ultimate mutant hunter. Said plan leads to much fighting between superheroes and supervillains, with lots of witty banter and exposition before, after and during the fighting. It’s nothing special, but artist Mario Alberti shows that his years of drawing comics for the European market have made him into an artist who can do both fantastic detail and intense action without having things get too cluttered or chaotic. Writer Christos Gage also shows off his ability to write consistently engaging superhero tales also extends to Spider-Man and the X-Men, and while the tale itself is of little consequence, the interaction between the characters is consistently enjoyable. Plus he even tells a good story involving Ben Reilly, the spectacular spider-clone – truly an achievement in and of itself.
Ultimatum: Spider-Man – Requiem issues #1&2: Reading these by themselves, it becomes even more apparent that they should have been included in the last volume of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Not only for the reasons that I outlined in my review, but because they still feel pretty slight when read like this. The main thrust of these two issues is J. Jonah Jameson and what’s left of the Daily Bugle crew coming back to the ruins of the office in the aftermath of “Ultimatum.” JJJ, still reeling from the personal effects of the destruction and his realization that he was wrong about Spider-Man, finds himself in the even tougher position of having to write the superhero’s obituary. While JJJ’s internal monologue still packs as much punch as it did in “USM,” the stories he’s choosing to cite, heretofore unmentioned tales of conflicts with Hydra and the Hulk, don’t really add much to the series or offer up any sense of closure. Writer Brian Michael Bendis’ knack for clever dialogue that also illustrates character is in fine form here, which means that these issues are still engaging, and it’s nice to see artists Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen tackle the cast one last time. Still, when you do find out Spider-Man’s final fate, the moment is so rushed and under-developed that it’s hard to feel anything at all. The fanboy in me was hoping for something more substantial, such as JJJ finding out Spider-Man’s secret identity and wrestling with that revelation. What we get in these issues is well-meaning fluff, and if you decide to skip reading them then all you need to know is that Spider-Man is OK and he’ll live to star in “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.” But the cat came out of that bag long ago…