Best comics this week:
The Field TP
Manifest Destiny #11
Flowers of Evil vol. 11
In Real Life GN
My Love Story vol. 2
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents MacBeth
Action Philosophers HC - All kinds of nifty extras in this complete collection, including sketches, a full-color cover gallery and a list of recommended reading!
Dark Horse Presents 2014 #3 - Argh I’m already behind in reading these, even though the excellent Resident Alien is being continued in each issue…
The Usagi Yojimbo Saga TP vol. 1 – HOKAY, SO. This is the first of the new omnibus editions that Dark Horse will now be publishing in place of the former single books. This volume contains the previous volumes numbered 8, 9, and 10. This is going to make things awfully confusing for new readers, and it doesn’t appear that Dark Horse will be reprinting the single volumes, so fill any gaps in your collection now!
Station 16 HC – Shorted. Boo.
The Field TP – This trade has a bevy of sweet bonus content, including a series of tweets that led the to creation of the comics, a bunch of a sketches and process art, a whole damned other story that was supposed to be published in an anthology that was delayed(!?), and some variant covers. (The original comic covers are between the issues and serve as chapter breaks.) If you haven’t jumped on this crazy, time-travelling bandwagon yet, here’s your chance to pick up the whole thing in one go!
Giant Size Kung Fu Bible Stories –This book is definitely for fans of hero comics. The snowman story by Ryan Ottley was pretty great, but I’m not a follower of any of the other artists and writers whose works were included in this anthology, so I caution non-hero book fans to think long and hard about dropping that 20 bucks. The Bruce Timm short is right in the front, and it is, of course, off the freakin hook. Even I was able to pick up on a good number of the characters being parodied – and what a parody! I laughed out loud. If you’re the kind of person who will buy an anthology for one brilliant story, pick this one up.
Manifest Destiny #11 – Another fantastic issue, and a powerful end to the “stranded” arc.
Trees #6 – Ok, well, I thought this was a weird political comic about some giant alien pillars that was going to have everything to do with aliens showing up and something happening, but it turns out it’s about several concurrent storylines that I cannot follow due to missing an issue. I sure wish I knew what the hell was going on, though, because a bi boy and a trans girl showed up in this issue and maybe fell in love. I WANT to know what’s going on in Trees, but I don’t have a damned clue.
A City of Whiskey and Fire One-shot (second printing) – This tale of how the city of Denver was burned to the ground on April 19th, 1863 is unexpectedly raw and intimate. Daniel Landes paints a dingy picture of the suffering and suffocation of the inhabitants of the ill-fated town under oppressive clouds of smoke and soot from raging wildfires, and Noah van Scriver perfectly captures the both the agitation of the characters and the narrator with his unique art style. Unexpectedly insightful and philosophical. I liked it.
Adventure Kartel HC – Holy damn. This book is huge - and when I say huge, I mean 1.5 feet tall - and full of GORGEOUS art. Sketches, paintings, and comics. Yowza.
Ajin: Demi-Humans GN vol. 1 – This book starts out weak, but it’s worth hanging on through the awkward introduction. When the story finally gets rolling, it explodes with mysterious characters and a fascinating sci-fi conundrum. In the world of Ajin, a group of humans with unusual abilities have been classified as demi-humans. Unlike X-Men, each of these demi-humans has the same traits, the most notable of which is the ability to survive seemingly deadly injuries. Demi-human fever has gripped the populous of Japan with both fascination and fear of these new, unknown beings. With the discovery of the existence of demi-humans being so recent, not much else is known about what sets them apart from the average human, and there certainly aren’t any obvious identifying factors unless a person is seriously hurt.
As you might guess, this first volume follows a protagonist who discovers very quickly and to his dismay that he is a demi-human. Without revealing too much of the plot, there are also unexplained, mummy-like humanoid figures that pop up throughout the narrative, which are invisible to most people. I’m looking forward to the next volume – lots of great plot hooks!
Amazing World of Gumball #3 - Some pretty silly, overblown stories in this month’s issue. I think I’ll be dropping Gumball after this.
The Black Dragon HC – A quality reprint. I found the storytelling and characters to be uncompelling.
BUMF vol. 1 TP: I Buggered the Kaiser – This stuff was just not up my alley at all. Normally I’m all about ridiculous nudity, but the level of political commentary going on made me set this book right back down.
The Collector HC – I didn’t have the time to get through this entire book, but it only took 40 pages for me to make up my mind; The Collector is an absolutely beautifully illustrated tale of a true badass searching for a rare artifacts, helping those in need, and kicking jerks’ butts five ways to Sunday. One part Indiana Jones, one part 007, and one part something new and wonderful, the Collector throws himself into many dangerous situations for his own personal reasons, but always behaves like a proper gentleman. Prepared for all sorts of eventualities, but not above obsessive behavior, his travels expose him to a wide range of characters, all gorgeously rendered in black and white. Purchased.
DMC GN #1 – Shorted. Boo
Doctor Who 12th #1 – This is a good bit of writing, with an interesting plot. Unfortunately it captures the personalities of the current doctor and his companion perfectly, so they insult each other more or less constantly between conversations about what else is going on. The drama level is higher than I’d prefer, but more or less perfect for Doctor Who. Fans of the current series should enjoy this comic; I probably won’t be reading any more as both the Twelfth Doctor and his companion annoy the heck out of me.
Flowers of Evil vol. 11 – Hmm. The last volume of Flower of Evil. The last time I remember being this confused about what was going on in an anime or manga, is was Serial Experiments Lain. Unlike Lain, though, Flowers of Evil radiates a feeling of a deeper meaning behind the chaotic actions of the protagonists. I’m going to have to sit down and read through the entire series again to really grasp everything that’s going on, but if I had to summarize it now with my limited understanding, I would have to say that this is a series about profound loneliness and the effect that it has on different people, as well as the standards of Japanese society; what is expected as far as acceptable behavior, and what those kind of restrictions do to a person on an emotional level. Nakamura, the protagonist, does something that not many citizens feel that they can do; she turns her frustrations outward, rather than keeping them inside in an effort to blend in. In rejecting those standards and remaining true to herself, she effectively isolates herself, magnifying her loneliness such that when she catches Kasuga in a moment of vulnerability, she is driven to bring him into her world of self-expression, albeit by devious means.
A review of the entire series is something for another post, but I must say that I have been extremely impressed with every book in it from beginning to end. All of the characters have behaved in a manner that openly rejects all of the tropes of modern anime and manga at every turn. It has been profoundly entertaining in its unpredictability, and this final volume carries that strength to the very last page. Highly recommended.
In Real Life GN – I’m going to start this off by saying that this book was a very emotional read for me. As a woman who played MMORPGs pretty seriously for years, I both connected with and completely rejected some parts of this book instantaneously. In Real Life is an absolutely gorgeously rendered introduction to the world of MMORPGs that paints a wonderful picture for anyone who has never played one. However, it also presents a very narrow and fanciful view of the extremely complex world of online gaming for the purposes of getting the reader thinking about a single message; one of humanity, the way people treat each other, economics, and the world we live in today.
I find it very hard to detach myself from my own experiences in gaming and review this book on its merit as a comic rather than its accuracy in rendering the game world the protagonist inhabits. The game the main character plays is a fictional one, created for the purposes of telling the story, but the illustrations give the impression of so much more freedom of expression than I have ever experienced in any MMO. Of course, when playing any RPG, the mind often fills gaps that the graphics in the game limit, but I digress: the thing that I found the most improbable about this book was the fact that the main character was able to strike up a conversation with a gold farmer. In my years of playing, I encountered hundreds of gold farmers, none of whom EVER broke script. I politely (and rudely) refused the offers that they pushed on me and thousands of other players on a daily basis. The idea presented here – that a gold farmer would ever initiate conversation with the English-speaking player, beyond whatever it takes to sell them something – is the most fanciful part of this story (which is full of talking animals and magical plant people).
There are parts of this comic that are unerringly accurate; the protagonist’s friend’s hatred for gold farmers is something that is almost universal in MMOs. Gold farming absolutely does heavily affect the in-game economy, and that, coupled with the lengths to which gold farmers go in order to force their advertisements upon the players, makes for a lot of animosity. The camaraderie one can find in a really good guild is also very real.
Aside from the main message that is meant to get readers thinking about the way we, as humans, choose to interact with one another, there is a secondary message here about being a woman in the gaming universe. The main character, Anda, is privileged in more ways than one. Not only is she already attending a programming class with a bunch of other girls and making games of her own, but she in invited to join an all-female player guild. In no part of the book is she exposed to the kind of garbage female players generally put up with in playing MMOs. I can see why the writer might have left those details out in the interesting of drawing the readers’ attention to messages he wanted to get across, but it made for an unrealistically sterile gaming environment that is completely uncharacteristic of what most players experience.
I found the part of the narrative where a guest speaker comes to her class and asks the female students if they play female avatars – and they all respond negatively – to be shocking. As a female player who has been forced to play male protagonists by nearly every game out there for years, I JUMPED at the chance to play a female character whose stats aren’t gimped because she is female, and all of the other female players I knew went for female avatars as well. Perhaps that little piece of dialogue was meant to imply that the girls in the book, like myself, haven’t had a choice in the avatars they play, but that’s not how it came across.
It’s the little details that make a universe believable, and in that sense, this book failed on many fronts. However, I don’t believe its main purpose WAS to build a realistic game world. Its main purpose was to draw attention to the disparity between the bounty of Western (and specifically American) society and the restrictions of Chinese society such that a 16-year-old boy must work 12-hour shifts gold farming in order to support his family, and get the reader thinking about the way people judge each other based on appearance and/or preconceived notions. On that front, it was a roaring success.
If I were to give this book any sort of label, it would have to be “a good start.” It’s a gateway that opens the door to many different concepts that the average reader has probably never encountered, and while it does present everything in a very safe, clean, package, it’s an effective one. Highly recommended.
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: The Witches #2 – Beautiful and moving. A bittersweet tale of love, loss, and kindness in the face of anger and fear; this issue is both a joy to read and to behold. I try to resist purchasing single issues when I know a trade is inevitable, but the production values are so high on these single installments that it is wholly worth the expenditure.
The Life After #4 – Things aren’t working out too well for anyone in purgatory – which makes sense, it being purgatory. Not surprisingly, this issue takes issue with why a group of people are in purgatory before dumping our protagonists into another crappy situation.
Lumberjanes #7 - DAMN things got real this week in Lumberjanes. I’m enjoying this comic about 5000 times more now that a major plotline has emerged. The fact that the head of the camp is so laid back about all of the monster craziness has me anticipating a spectacular reveal as to who she really is…
Magical Girl Apocalypse GN vol. 1 – Manga is fucking weird. This is a survival horror manga in which a bunch of macabre cute little girl-looking monsters drop out of the sky and start exploding people. If you like spraying guts and walls painted with blood, you’re in for a treat. There’s a zombie aspect here, too: everyone who is killed by the “magical girls” and has enough body left to get around rises again and starts attacking people. The characters are about as tropey as you can get: everyman male main character, super moe apologetic childhood friend, obligatory gargantuanly-breasted girl, high school boy who thinks everything is bothersome….you get the idea. There’s a whole lot of running, screaming, and gore in this first volume. The monsters rank right up there with clowns as far as the “twisting something that is normally benign and making it effed up” trope, but they are as close as this book get to having an original idea. This book also takes a page out of the Walking Dead handbook in that no one is safe (except the main character). With the amount of death going on, the characters in the core group switch out a few times – and this is only the first volume! (Don’t worry, pervs – the girl with unbelievably huge tits survives the lethal falls that killed everyone else.) Not recommended.
Meteor Men GN vol. 1 – This book started off like your average E.T./Iron Giant-type story, only with much slower burn. While I found the majority of the book to not be very engaging, the payoff at the end almost makes wading through the rest of it worthwhile. Fans of alien invasion stories will surely find book to be a very satisfying read. I was content to gloss over a good deal of the actual dialogue and just absorb the overall plot. Great idea, ho-hum execution.
My Love Story vol. 2 – Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any cuter, along comes My Love Story vol. 2 to raise the already extremely high bar it set in the last volume! With the perfect balance of comedy, drama, and tear-jerking romance, this manga beats the crap out of all other slice-of-life romance on the manga market today. Protagonist Takeo is the perfect balance of incredibly manly, clueless doofus, and genuinely kind to make anyone’s heart going pitter-pat. One of the most refreshing things about the writing in this book is the fact that all of the main characters have well developed, distinct personalities. but they all share one trait, and that is that they are nice people who want the best for one another. Watching them perform selfless act after selfless act provides a wonderful contrast to what most shoujo books offer up. The pacing and structure are just top-notch from start to finish; this book leaves just enough time for the dokis before making you laugh out loud with freaking ridiculous art or an overblown romantic moment that you can’t take seriously due to whatever look is on Takeo’s ugly mug. I am in love with My Love Story!
Say I Love You vol. 4 – This manga is starting to stumble into all-too-familiar shoujo territory. The last three volumes have kept it pretty fresh with a main character who isn’t very interested in romance and an unflappable love interest. The heavy focus on the protagonist and her endless worries made this volume start to drag after a while, where it could have easily bounced to her boyfriend and reinforced the fact that he has a personality beyond “unerringly dedicated.” Readers will have to wait until the next volume to see if the newly introduced male character is going to be another foil for their relationship, but I’m gonna give it an 80% chance that he is, indeed, gonna get all up in someone’s biz.
Sleepy Hollow #1 – Surprisingly not-crap! This issue reads a lot like an episode of the show and takes the kinds of liberties that would be very expensive if rendered in special effects that most sci-fi/fantasy comics tie-ins do. Bonus comic in the back by Noelle Stevenson is freaking HILARIOUS. Highly recommended for fans; will definitely be confusing for newcomers due to show references.
Steven Universe #3 – - Maaaaaan my only problem with musical comics is that I really want to hear the music the writer is imagining - especially with how awesome all of the music in the Steven Universe cartoon has been! Three more awesome one-shot stories in this issue!
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth GN – Death! Betrayal! Tacos! The animals of the Stratford Zoo create a wonderful introduction to the works of Shakespeare for younger readers, beautifully illustrated by (one of my favorite artists) Zack Giallongo, and clever enough for adults to enjoy. Reminiscent of Disney’s classic animated take on Robin Hood, the anthropomorphic denizens of the SZ Midnight Revue (and the audience) are delightfully expressive. This is the kind of book that will leave you smiling and snorting, even in an empty room. Highly recommended!
The Devilers #4 – Hrm, the story took a turn for the not-so-clever this issue, and in a very clumsy way, too. Transitions in this comic had been decent up until this point. I’m going to check out the next issue, but it looks like the story is about to go downhill. Fast.
Wild’s End #2 – This story is just chugging right along, adding fabulous new characters and raising the excitement level! At this point, I’m hooked. My only criticism in this issue was a failure to render any tears when a character was crying. While I do enjoy the art style, there aren’t very many emotions that register on the characters’ faces. Either they are all very stoically British, or the artist need to work on facial expressions a bit.
Mishka and the Sea Devil HC – When I first began reading this story, I was surprised to see the art style change after only a few pages. When it changed again in short order, I assumed that I was reading a book that had been written by one person, and drawn by a bunch of their artist friends. Though the dialogue was extremely simplistic and not at all engaging, I pressed onward, eager to see all of the art styles the book had to offer. Eventually, it became obvious that there was to be no improvement in the storytelling whatsoever. Halfway through the book, I lost interest completely in the two-dimensional characters and their expositional chatter; I thumbed through the rest of the pages. When I flipped to the front again to check out the art credits, I was not a little shocked to find that the entire book had been drawn by a single artist! It’s almost like viewing a portfolio, and must have been a wonderful exercise. It’s a shame that the story is just so weak, it can’t be carried by all of the impressive artwork.