Upcoming 12/22/2010

December 21, 2010

It’s a jam-packed ComicList this week, so much so that I must engage in speculation: if I could only pick one of the thumping stack of Viz Signature titles that are arriving this week, which would it be? Keep in mind that I’ll buy all of them at some point, but that’s a lot of books, you know?

So, to start, I would theoretically postpone purchase of the SigIkki titles on the assumption that I’m up to date on having read them online and thinking that a little more distance between reading them on the web and in a physical book would improve the experience. That’s three out of the mix, and they’re really good, so ouch. And there are still three left.

There’s no shame in losing to Fumi Yoshinaga and Naoki Urasawa, so I’m afraid that Natsume Ono’s charming Gente would have to wait. Much as 20th Century Boys is my favorite Urasawa series, I’m not quite as starved for a new volume of it as I am for the next installment of the final contender…

… the fifth volume of Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers. Yes, it’s got some adaptation issues, but I find that it takes fewer and fewer pages for me to adapt myself to them and throw myself into the very beguiling story.

And, just for clarity, here’s the order of choice for all of Signature’s avalanche:

1. Ôoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 5, Fumi Yoshinaga
2. 20th Century Boys vol. 12, Naoki Urasawa
3. Gente vol. 2, Natsume Ono
4. House of Five Leaves vol. 2, Natsume Ono
5. Children of the Sea vol. 4, Daisuke Igarashi
6. I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow vol. 2, Shunji Aono

Vertical isn’t making things any cheaper.

I think the fourth volume of Kanata Konami’s Chi’s Sweet Home is the best yet. Konami really seems to have found a rhythm by this point and a solid handle on the comic potential of human-feline interaction. And I’m really looking forward to how Felipe Smith wraps things up in the third and final volume of the deranged cross-cultural theater-of-cruelty comedy, Peepo Choo.

And if you’ve never much cared for Marvel’s comics, I don’t know how meaningful this will be for you, but I’m really, really enjoying Secret Avengers. Last issue, Valkyrie, the Asgardian chooser of the slain, kicked the asses of a whole bunch of ninjas. That will either light a spark in your soul or not. The eighth issue comes out Wednesday, written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Mike Deodato.

What looks good to you?

Update: Major omission alert!

Drawn & Quarterly gets its gekiga on with Oji Suzuki’s A Single Match, a “collection of hauntingly elliptical short stories.”


MMF: Straw Hats, Assemble!

December 2, 2010

I often cite the Riverdale crowd as my entry point into comics, and it’s perfectly true. The first comics I remember reading with any regularity are from the Archie family, and I spent many pleasurable hours with that crowd. But the comics that turned me into a fan, the ones that turned an activity into an enduring hobby, were undeniably those that featured Marvel’s Avengers. It even reached a point where I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy The Fantastic Four, because each issue promised “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” and that was clearly a lie.

In retrospect, the thing that drew me to the Avengers and, to a lesser extent the Defenders and the X-Men, was the notion of the family of choice – people without much in common, people who at times ostensibly disliked each other, coming together because of a shared philosophy. The Avengers came together because they wanted to accomplish something – fighting substantial threats that were too much for individual heroes – while maintaining individual goals, whether that was redemption for past misdeeds, finding a place in a world where you don’t fit, or just enjoying the comfort of like-minded comrades.

The other quality at the core of the Avengers’ appeal to me was the sheer variety of characters, from the enormously powerful to the enormously skilled. Some members were unvarnished in terms of virtue while others had decidedly dodgy pasts and complex motivations. They didn’t always get along, but the bickering was one of the spices in the stew. Gods and carnies, soldiers and freaks, robots and knights could join forces, and each could be better than they were individually simply by virtue of their loosely shared identity as Avengers.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that, as I enjoy Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, I find similarities between the Straw Hat Pirates and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. If anything, the Straw Hats are a distillation of everything I like best about the Avengers minus of a lot of things I didn’t. The moments that rankled in Avengers comics were the ones over which the writers didn’t have any control – the comings and goings of characters that were franchises in their own right, like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. Every Straw Hat belongs to One Piece lock, stock and grog-filled barrel. Everything that matters (or at all) happens to them in this comic, and I know they won’t be yanked away from me due to the machinations of anyone but Oda himself.

Even the dissimilarities between the two teams end up being similarities. While the Avengers became notorious as a sort of rehab center for the formerly villainous (the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, Swordsman, and so on), the Straw Hats function as a kind of mirror opposite. Characters who previously lived relatively blameless lives (bounty hunter Zolo, small-town oddity Usopp, reindeer physician Chopper) decide that blamelessness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in the face of the lure seafaring adventure and Luffy’s bizarrely charismatic, seemingly unfounded certainty. (Some would argue, me among them, that the Straw Hats aren’t really all that adept at villainy, as they barely ever do any actual pillaging, but let’s just stick with the foundational premise that pirates are, by definition, outlaws. And really, unless defending yourself against attack counts for full marks as heroic, the Avengers don’t always live up to their mission either.)

For me, the dissimilarities just reinforce the idea that the Straw Hats, like the Avengers, are something larger than individuals. They can accomplish more collectively than they can individually, no matter how skilled or strong they are. And the Straw Hats’ roles are stated in ways that aren’t made explicit in the Avengers: Luffy is the Captain, Usopp is the Marksman, Nami is the Navigator, and so on. (The current Avengers writer recently took a big meta stab at each member’s iconic function, but that trick almost never works. Grant Morrison couldn’t pull it off with his JLA “pantheon,” either.)

And if the Straw Hats’ stated intent isn’t to fight evil and injustice, they do so with a proactive vigor that the Avengers should envy. How many One Piece arcs are driven by the Straw Hats discovering that something isn’t right and taking steps to rectify it for the benefit of the innocent or oppressed, no matter what the cost might be to them personally? These acts of altruism may just as often be a result of the crew’s thirst for adventure, but they inevitably come from a desire to do the right thing, at least insofar as they view matters of right and wrong. Half of the time, the Avengers’ adventures are driven by an assault from someone with a grudge, often the same person with the same grudge. If the Straw Hats run into an old opponent, the dynamic has often changed based on past events, which opens new and interesting possibilities.

There are also resonant individual parallels. Nami can be reasonably compared to the Wasp in that she’s a charming boy-magnet who is much more formidable than she initially appears. Of course, Nami’s primary function isn’t romantic, so she has a leg up on the Wasp in that regard. (Over time, the Wasp managed to transcend that set albatross herself, but I think she’s dead now, so Nami still wins.)

Everyone gets to be a little bit of a Hawkeye. Usopp gets to overcome his inferiority complex with skill and dedication. Sanji gets the hopeless crushes, the fruitless flirting, and the inclination to bicker with the alpha male. Zolo gets to be the badass by virtue of rigorous training. (Zolo is a bit greedy in that he also gets bits of Captain America’s stoicism and Iron Man’s glamour.) I could theoretically credit Sanji with a little bit of Jarvis, at least on the culinary front, but Sanji has none of the butler’s fastidiousness or fatherly virtues.

Nico Robin gets to be all of the Avengers’ various shady ladies in one glorious package. Like the Scarlet Witch, she’s tarred with the brush of her heritage. Like the Black Widow, it’s not unreasonable to question Robin’s motives, at least initially. Like Mantis, Robin is allowed to be her best self through the support and friendship of her comrades.

Sweet Chopper gets bits of some of my favorites, too. He’s like the Vision, fully experiencing the world for the first time in the company of friends. He’s also like the Beast, reliably delivering comic relief while maintaining a core of sadness and even a tinge of potential menace. Franky has the foe-to-friend aspect of characters like Swordsman or Wonder Man, without being as pathetic as either of those mopes. It’s a little early to tell what, if any, assembler will draw parallels to Brook.

And Luffy seems conceived to redeem qualities of the Avengers who mattered least to me. Like Captain America, he’s a natural leader, but Luffy is even more of a natural leader in that he rarely needs to assert his authority. Like Thor, Luffy is ridiculously powerful, but unlike Thor, he seldom feels the need to speechify on the subject. Like the Hulk, Luffy is at times random in his behaviors and choices, and he’s most answerable to his appetites, but the randomness and the appetite are glorious and funny instead of being obstructions. They’re part of Luffy’s rhythms, and his crewmates know how to roll with them in ways the Avengers never did with the Hulk. (Luffy is emblematic of Oda’s ability to show rather than tell. Oda allows readers to sense all of these things about Luffy, to realize the truth of them, without anyone having to stand around and discuss them.)

Another quality that I loved about the Avengers is noticeably absent from One Piece, that being the romantic subplots that proved to be such a substantial part of the narrative. This isn’t really problematic, in my opinion. I’ve talked with people about how One Piece seems to defy romantic fan fiction because romance is simply not among Oda’s narrative concerns. He simply doesn’t poke that ‘shipper reflex in the way that many other shônen manga-ka do. He doesn’t do anything to demean that impulse, but he does nothing to encourage it either.

And the things Oda does nail are the subplots about personal growth. He executes these both obliquely and explicitly. Readers can watch Luffy’s qualities evolve out of the corner of their eyes while seeing a more direct address of Usopp’s insecurity among people who overpower him in so many ways but match him in heart. Watching Robin re-learn how to hope and trust is lovely in some of the same ways it was to watch the Scarlet Witch become a formidable, independent heroine. And it’s all woven in so nicely with the goofy bombast that it might surprise you that you’re being moved as you’re being entertained. Better still, there’s nothing resembling Hank Pym’s decades-long struggle to decide just what kind of creepy loser he wants to be.

So, yes, One Piece is routinely what Avengers was to me at its very best. It’s about the family that you make because you trust people and respect them. It’s about big, crazy battles that seem lost from the start, until teamwork and individual courage come into play. And it’s about a seemingly incongruous group of equals becoming better and stronger in each others’ company.

(For a look at One Piece‘s resemblance to another super-hero franchise, please swing by Sam Kusek’s A Life in Panels. You’ll see why.)


Thanks!

November 25, 2010

To celebrate Thanksgiving in the laziest way possible, I thought I would mention some ongoing comics that debuted (if only in print and in English) in 2010 so far for which I am grateful. And there’s still more than a month left.

And here are some stand-alone works that made the year sparkle.

The manga industry may be correcting itself, but we’re still getting great books, don’t you think? The images above are all linked to commentary of varying lengths. And added thanks to everyone who makes the comics blogosphere and twitterverse such a delightful place to visit.


Upcoming 11/24/2010

November 23, 2010

The last time I wrote about 7 Billion Needles (Vertical), Nobuaki Tadano’s manga homage to Hal Clement’s Needle, I neglected to mention the retro cover design, which is terrific. You know that smell that used paperback stores have? The look of the book evokes that smell, and the proportions of the book support it. The contents of the book don’t quite evoke that pulpy nostalgia, but they hint at it, and they’ve got their own charms.

In the second volume, Tadano inches forward with his meta approach to the tale of two warring aliens who crash on Earth and proceed to mess up the life of an isolated high-school girl and threaten the people around her. If Ultimo (Viz) is kind of a bland, accidentally creepy look at the endless battle between good and evil, 7 Billion Needles seems intent to play with the construct in ways that are perversely endearing. These moments aren’t the meat of the book, but they are the spice, and they’re welcome. They enliven what might otherwise be a standard, well-executed bit of violent angst.

And it is well-executed, even without the twists on the formula. This time around, Hikaru confronts a trauma from her past. With the encouragement of her new friends, she goes to the village where she spent her childhood and confronts the reason she’s shut herself off from the people around her. Of course, the ostensibly heroic entity sharing her body and the monstrous being they battle complicate the sentimental journey with plenty of menacing action.

This series really is a pleasant surprise. Of the four series Vertical has debuted this year, my expectations were probably lowest for 7 Billion Needles, but it’s smarter and more interesting than I had anticipated. Go read Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s review for a thoughtful take on the book.

So what else is due this week? There’s the seventh issue of Secret Avengers (Marvel), a very enjoyable spin-off of a comics franchise I’ve long found really horrible, so that’s nice. It’s also one of the only successful attempts I’ve ever seen to make super-heroes “proactive.”

There’s also the debut of Kakifly’s K-On (Yen Press), a well-liked four-panel comedy about a high-school music club. It originally ran in Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kiara Carat.

What looks good to you?


Wolverines you can believe in

November 16, 2010

I’ve been largely indifferent to Wolverine, the character, though I’m learning to actively hate him as he’s portrayed in Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. I like the sight of Hugh Jackman in a sleeveless undershirt as much as the next person who is so inclined, so I suppose I can appreciate the existence of Wolverine, the character, in that it made such visuals possible. But I honestly hadn’t given much thought to wolverines, the species, until I saw this episode of Nature on PBS.

And yes, they are brutal, and I certainly wouldn’t want to inadvertently cross the path of one in the wild, but they are also some of the most adorable vicious predators I have ever, ever seen. Seriously, watch this episode if you get a chance.


Upcoming 10/27/2010

October 26, 2010

It’s time for another look at the week’s ComicList!

Tokyopop has a bunch of titles coming out, and my pick of that lot would be the tenth volume of Banri Hidaka’s V.B. Rose, a romantic comedy about a budding designer of accessories working in a high-end bridal shop.

Random House’s Del Rey manga imprint may be on its last legs, but it’s releasing a healthy volume of titles all the same. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first volume of Akimine Kamijo’s Code Breaker, so I’ll be looking for the second.

I’ve also been surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying Marvel’s Secret Avengers series, so I’ll also grab a copy of the sixth issue, which features a visit from the Master of Kung Fu.

I have no excuse for not yet sampling Beasts of Burden from Dark Horse, and perhaps the Beasts of Burden/Hellboy One-Shot isn’t the best introduction to the series, but I think I’ll grab it all the same, just because I know my comic shop will probably have a copy handy.

What looks good to you?


Guilt by association

September 20, 2010

Over at NPR, author David Lipsky identifies his literary guilty pleasure, Marvel’s Runaways. Setting aside the justice of whether or not comics should still be considered a guilty pleasure instead of just a pleasure (and right after Read Comics in Public Day!), there’s been some consternation over a portion of his commentary:

“But I bear the books a grudge. Marvel collected them — because their biggest fans were female teenagers — in tiny digests with girlish covers that were intensely embarrassing to read on the subway. I kept locking eyes with people I could swear had just shaken their heads.”

What do you think of the covers of the first three digests? Do you find them particularly gendered?

On a slightly different front, I’ve seen a few people mention that they’re put off by the covers of Vertical’s Twin Spica, noting that they read a little young. Thoughts?


From the stack: Secret Avengers 1-4

September 16, 2010

It seems as though Marvel and DC had a bad month in August, seeing big sales drops which subsequently led some people to wonder if $4 is too much to expect people to pay for a 22-page comic. I don’t really have a position on that, as I don’t buy that many pamphlet comics and I flunked the one economics course I took in college. But I did feel like mentioning that there’s a Marvel comic I’m enjoying a lot. It’s Secret Avengers, written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Mike Deodato.

I’m an Avengers fan from way back, and while I haven’t read any of their titles or crossover events with any regularity since Brian Bendis took over, I do like to check in from time to time when some new phase starts to see if any of them click with me. Avengers and New Avengers, both written by Bendis, didn’t click with me. New Avengers looks great, but it’s packed with pet Bendis characters and the kind of dialogue that I find grating after a while. Avengers looks horrible to me, and the cast is more thematically assembled than emotionally functional, if that makes any sense.

Secret Avengers has a few interesting things going for it beyond the fact that it isn’t being written by Bendis. It’s one of those “proactive super-team” concepts where a group of heroes tries to prevent problems rather than just reacting to them. This has never, ever worked to my knowledge, whether we’re talking about Extreme Justice or Force Works or what have you. But it actually works reasonably well here, at least in the first arc.

I think it works because the characters seem like competent grown-ups. They don’t have the kind of interpersonal chemistry that a lot of great Avengers groupings have had in the past, but they work well together, and Brubaker has collected an interesting mix of abilities, backgrounds and character types. That’s always a good choice, but it’s an even better one when there’s an actual narrative point to it. Steve Rogers, formerly dead Captain America who is apparently neither dead nor Captain America now, recruited people based on what they can do and what they know, and that makes sense to me.

This is also one of the more… well, only… interesting portrayals of Steve Rogers that I’ve ever seen. In the past, he’s been the ridiculously perfect icon that everyone tries to please. In Secret Avengers, he seems like an actual leader rather than an object of idolatry. The way Brubaker writes him, he strikes that confident position that suggests, truthfully or not, that consensus has already been achieved, that the people he leads are all on the same page, and that he trusts them to contribute to the best of their abilities. He’s the kind of figure you can see people wanting to follow.

I also like the cast, which is filled with interesting second stringers like the Beast, War Machine, and Valkyrie. Some of them have no previous connection to the Avengers, but all of them bring something interesting to the table, and none of them seem like a ridiculous, meta-driven choice. I’m particularly pleased to see Valkyrie, as she gets to be the demigod muscle. That role usually goes to a guy, and it’s great fun to see a woman in the bruiser role, and to see it not being presented as any kind of big deal.

Deodato’s art is more on the competent side than anything else. It’s attractive enough, and I always understood what was going on, but his body types are disappointingly similar. It’s not just that gymnast Black Widow and warrior Valkyrie have basically the same physiology; almost all of the men look like they could swap heads without difficulty as well. It’s not offensive, just kind of dull.

But overall, if you’re craving an Avengers comic where the characters seem functional and heroic, Secret Avengers might be a good choice.

(I also like Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, but I like it for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s a good, accessible comic. I’d guess that it requires a doctoral level of familiarity with Avengers back story to make much sense, given that it references a good dozen major Avengers stories of varying vintages. A good half-dozen characters enter the fray every time you turn around. But I like it because it holds the promise that the Scarlet Witch will be redeemed after an unfortunate “women can’t handle power, especially when they’ve got babies rabies” turn, and also because Wiccan and Hulkling are the cutest gay couple in comics, bar none.)


Upcoming 9/1/2010

August 31, 2010

It’s an interesting week in ComicList terms. Let’s go right to the pick of the week, shall we?

That would be Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, the first result of the Fantagraphics-Shogakukan team-up that’s being curated by Matt Thorn. It’s a deeply glorious book that brims with Hagio’s psychological and emotional insights. I plan on posting a review on Thursday. You can order a signed copy from the publisher.

If that doesn’t slake your appetite for classic manga, Vertical is kind enough to offer Osamu Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song in two paperback volumes. It’s an example of deeply crazy Tezuka, with the added bonus of lots and lots of sex. If you can resist that description, you’re stronger than I am.

One of last year’s big books is now available in paperback. David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton) offers a beautifully rendered and stunningly bleak look at a miserable childhood. It’s a really great graphic novel.

There are also new issues of three very different and very entertaining pamphlet comics. First is the second issue of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, following the Young Avengers as they search for the Scarlet Witch to the dismay of most of the rest of the residents of the Marvel universe, who seem happy to assume that the longtime heroine is evil and crazy. Next is the penultimate (I think) issue of Brandon Graham’s King City from Image, whose website is so terrible that I won’t even bother trying to find a link to additional information on the comic. And last is the fourth issue of Stumptown, a smart tale of a down-on-her-luck private investigator from Oni.

What looks good to you?

Updated: I forgot one big pamphlet offering, the arrival of Veronica 202 (Archie Comics) and Riverdale’s first openly gay resident, Kevin Keller. I hope I can find a copy so I can be appropriately derisive when conservative groups condemn the comic.


Upcoming 7/28/2010

July 27, 2010

There’s a perfectly mammoth volume to this week’s ComicList, and a lot of it looks really good. I’ll just take things as they come in alphabetical order.

It’s a big week for Del Rey, which has revised its web site and is now seemingly impossible to navigate in terms of finding information about specific books. Let’s head over to the Random House site instead. There you can find details on the omnibus collection of the last three volumes of Mushishi, written and illustrated by Yuki Urushibara. I love this episodic series of environmental folklore stories. It’s been the subject of a Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Ed Sizemore at Manga Worth Reading. I’m a little bit behind on Koji Kumeta’s very enjoyable satire, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, which sees its seventh volume released on Wednesday. And I was pleasantly surprised by the oh-so-formulaic-sounding Code: Breaker, written and illustrated by Akimine Kamijyo.

You can call pretty much any book from Fanfare/Ponent Mon either “eagerly awaited” or “long-awaited.” Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators has been in the pipeline for years, and it’s finally due in comic shops, which is very exciting. It features “[twelve] insightful short graphic stories into the “Hermit Kingdom”, six by European and six by indigenous creators, including award winning Park Heung-yong and “Best Manga 2006” artist Vanyda.” I’m equally excited about the second volume of The Summit of the Gods, written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. It’s about mysteries and manly mountain climbers circling around Mt. Everest, and it’s very beautifully drawn. (I know I pre-ordered both of these, yet they don’t seem to be arriving at my local comic shop, which I hope is just a function of warehouse weirdness at Diamond and not something… ahem… local.)

I’m surprised by how much I’m liking Marvel’s Secret Avengers, written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Mike Deodato. It’s always nice to see super-heroes behaving like well-intentioned professionals, and this may be the first time that the “proactive super-team” concept has actually worked. I’m not entirely sold on Deodato’s mildly cheesecake-y art, and Valkyrie’s braids are completely insane, but it’s a minor quibble.

Comics by Osamu Tezuka are always a welcome pleasure, and that certainly includes his episodic medical melodrama, Black Jack, about a mercenary surgeon dealing with more bizarre maladies than House could ever have imagined. The 12th volume arrives Wednesday.

Viz offers quite the mixture of titles from along the quality spectrum, so I’ll focus on the good and/or promising. Personal highlights include the 20th volume of Hikaru no Go, written by Yumi Hotta and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, and the fifth volume of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina. On the confirmed debut front is Bakuman, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by the aforementioned Obata. This one’s by the creators of Death Note, which is still selling tons of copies ages after the series concluded. That series was about using a notebook to rule the world. This one’s about using a sketch pad to make lots of money: “verage student Moritaka Mashiro enjoys drawing for fun. When his classmate and aspiring writer Akito Takagi discovers his talent, he begs Moritaka to team up with him as a manga-creating duo. But what exactly does it take to make it in the manga-publishing world?” If anyone should know, it’s these two.


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