Upcoming 2/3/2010

February 2, 2010

I was surprised to discover that Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega (Viz) isn’t an adaptation of an existing video game. Its set-up and execution are exactly like a good first-person shooter, with a well-armed guy on a tricked-out motorcycle entering hostile territory with a mission and a subset of shifting objectives. There’s melee combat with a horde of shambling zombies, timed vehicle rescues, and malicious opponents in the form of a shadowy government conspiracy. There’s even a holographic wrangler providing useful information and reminding the protagonist of pending tasks. A more suggestible person might try and turn the book’s pages with their Xbox controller. (It doesn’t work.)

With its fast pace and progressively escalating stakes, Biomega actually does a better job capturing the experience of playing a video game than comics that are actually adaptations of existing franchises. As a result of that, the characters are thin and serviceable and their consequence is a distant second to event and spectacle, but there’s rarely a shortage of either of those ingredients. It’s also drawn extremely well, with clear, kinetic staging and some inventive bits of design (but not too many, because if you stare at how neat things are, the zombies will get you). There’s also a talking bear with a rifle for reasons that are probably no more complex than “just because,” but he’s welcome, as he keeps things from being entirely functional.

Biomega isn’t a book that inspires any contemplation, and it only takes itself as seriously as it absolutely must. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, any more than there is spending a few hours shooting digital zombies in the head and making a last-minute motorcycle jump from a burning building. It’s a time-waster executed with style and craft. (Review based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Now, let’s move on to the rest of this week’s ComicList, which offers a bounty of potentially appealing books for young adults:

I picked up Raina Telgemeier’s mini-comics at a Small Press Expo a few years ago and really liked them a lot. It was no surprise that publishers asked her to work on adaptations franchise properties like Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club (Graphix) and X-Men: Misfits (Del Rey). But it’s especially nice to see that Graphix is giving her original work such lovely treatment with Wednesday’s release of Smile. It heightens the average obstacles of life in middle school with a big bout of dental drama.

I expressed my enthusiasm for Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s March (Oni) over the weekend, so I won’t repeat myself.

Collections of Jimmy Gownley’s terrific Amelia Rules! have been available for a while now, but they’ve found a new home at Simon & Schuster. One of those trade paperbacks, Superheroes, is due out Wednesday, and if you haven’t sampled the series yet, this is a perfectly good opportunity.

It’s also time for Viz’s monthly mangalanche, and the emphasis is on titles from their Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump lines. There’s lots of good stuff on the way, but I find myself unproductively fixated on the first volume of Ultimo, a collaboration between Stan Lee and Hiroyuki (Shaman King) Takei, with assists from inker Daigo and painter Bob. With that many credits, it’s easy to suspect that Lee has already been a bad influence. To be honest, I’m not quite ready to issue a verdict on the book, but please do go read thoughtful reviews from Erica (Okazu) Friedman and Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey. In the meantime, I’ll continue my fruitless stare-fight with the book as I try and figure out what it is about it that irritates me so.

Debuting this week: Yōkaiden

November 26, 2008

Nina Matsumoto’s Yōkaiden (Del Rey) has a lot of things working in its favor, but the one that really sells it for me is its wry authorial voice. The peppering of sly, smart humor elevates what might otherwise be a fairly generic folklore tour.

Yōkai are spirits that range from benign to mischievous to deadly, and Hamachi is crazy for all of them. The orphaned boy wants to learn and teach about the spirits and prove to suspicious humans that everyone can get along. The people of his village think he’s kind of simple, and they’re kind of right. When Hamachi’s surly grandmother dies, apparently at the hand of a yōkai, Hamachi sets off for their dimension to find out the truth.

Since Hamachi is so well-informed about and enamored with yōkai, Matsumoto has no trouble introducing the various types either in the narrative or in end-of-chapter pages from Hamachi’s journal or in the form of excerpts from “Inukai Mizuki’s Field Guide to Yōkai.” (Mizuki is Hamachi’s inspiration and predecessor in human-yōkai diplomacy.)

Applying a consistently light-hearted tone, Matsumoto presents varied encounters between Hamachi and the objects of his obsession. He saves one from a trap, avoids having the skin of his feet removed by another, protects a surly, talking lantern from bullying, and so on. The individual episodes are fine, but it’s Matsumoto’s wit that really carries things along.

Hamachi is never smarter than he should be, and Matsumoto is able to maneuver him in and out of trouble with imaginative little flourishes. She gives the yōkai amusingly distinct personalities, peppers the dialogue with tart anachronisms (from schadenfreude to Kelsey Grammer), and is game for the occasional, amusing digression. (When the villagers learn of grandma’s fate and Hamachi’s quest, they engage in a discussion of just what kind of irony the situation embodies.)

Matsumoto has a solid visual sense as well. Her character designs, human and yōkai, are varied and charming, and her storytelling and layouts are clear and energetic.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Now, here are some other highlights from this week’s ComicList:

  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 (Dark Horse)
  • Mushishi Vol. 6 (Del Rey)
  • Tezuka’s Black Jack Vol. 2 TPB (Vertical)
  • Honey and Clover Vol. 4 (Viz – Shojo Beat)