Sunday, November 11, 2007

Good junky comics

-Saw this on Blogorama: a preview for Aqua Leung, which looks like a much less lame version of Aquaman or the Sub-Mariner. I've always been a little confused as to why underwater superhero comics have never been very good (Sharkman excepted, of course). I shouldn't damn with faint praise--this actually looks pretty good, and I'll be happy to pick it up when it comes out next year. Never heard of the artist, Paul Maybury, but his art looks to be in the same general area as Bryan Lee O'Malley, except his inking is much denser (lots of nice feathery brushwork). So good for Image for publishing another interesting comics.

And speaking of Image, that company sure is putting out a lot of nice, art-driven titles these days. Rocketo, Killing Girl, The Nightly News, Pax Romana, the Popgun anthology, Hawaiian Dick, Lucha Libre, Suburban Glamour, Special Forces, Elephantmen/Hip Flask, whatever the Luna Brothers are working on right now, and surely a whole lot of other things I'm forgetting. Not all these books are to my tastes--in fact, looking over that list, very few of them are--but it's a welcome trend. And it's one that builds on Image's legacy as an art-driven publisher in a very positive, pluralistic way. I'd say there are lessons to be learned here, but what do I know?

-Sort of related: I'm glad I waited for Marc-Oliver Frisch to do the heavy lifting.

-Reviews of recently-read comics:

MW: It's one of Tezuka's lesser works, right? Cause that's what it read like. Which is to say, I'm not sure if it was exactly good, but it was worth reading because it was Tezuka. It compares unfavorably to another lesser Tezuka work, Ode to Kirihito. The latter was also goofy, but the wider scope gave it a sense of drama I never felt with MW, which was more like The Jew of Malta minus the antisemitism. And no, I don't think the book was entirely homophobic. I do think Tezuka was using homosexuality in an exploitative way, in order to shock and revolt the reader. But several characters assert that Japan is behind the rest of the world in its acceptance of homosexuality, and there's at least one scene in which Tezuka portrays gay characters in a very positive, sympathetic light. On the other hand, he seems to be banking on his audience's homophobia. One might be especially offended by the thematic proximity of homosexuality and bestiality, but I consider this more like Tezuka's attempt to characterize Michio as a Caligula-like figure. Plus sex, regardless of who's participating, is always depicted as a type of weapon, so you might also accuse Tezuka of being puritanical.

So it's really messy and problematic, but that's not the biggest problem with MW. The biggest problem is that Michio, the book's villain, isn't charming or interesting, just brutal and unpleasant. In a book where all the "heroes" are effete or incompetent, you really need the villain to be so seductive that the audience almost cheers for him/her. That wasn't the case here.
I also should add that MW is, as one would expect, a great showcase for Tezuka's cartooning. However, it's not quite the tour de force Ode to Kirihito was. That book had some kind of interesting formal or illustrative technique on practically every page--dropped out panel borders, exaggerated anatomy, unexpectedly expressionistic rendering, etc. This has a little of that--Tezuka plays around with using a wolf/dog as a symbol for Michio, for instance--but it's not as daring. And when you're talking about the lesser works of a great artist, you really want more of those moments. MW is okay, but those unfamiliar with Tezuka should probably start with the classics. Those already familiar with Tezuka will find it interesting but deserving its relative obscurity. Of course, Tezuka at his worst is considerably better than most cartoonists at their peak. So if it's MW or nothing, I'd pick MW.

Brave and the Bold 7: More than anything, this reminded me of an episode of the animated Justice League cartoon. Wonder Woman and Power Girl form a superhero odd couple, each favoring a crimefighting tactic in apparent diametric opposition to the other. So it's an extended character study with lots of punching and interesting scenery and a fairly fresh villain (I sure haven't read a Dr. Alchemy story in a long time). Notable by its absence is any discussion of Power Girl as either a symbol of stunted fanboy sexuality or as a pawn in an epic game of Continuity Chess. That said, this is a comic for people who like superheroes; if you don't, then you won't like it. I do like it, because I like superheroes and this is a very well-crafted superhero book that doesn't demand anything of the reader beyond what the comic itself can provide. It helps that George Perez' artwork doesn't make me want to stab myself in the eyes.

Batman 670: I'm as surprised as anyone, but Tony Daniel is actually a step up from Andy Kubert. That says more about Kubert than Daniel, though, since there's a clumsy storytelling sequence within the first couple of pages involving a shopkeeper and a tipped vase. The return of Ra's Al Guhl is a fairly mundane sort of Batman story, but Grant Morrison establishes a fairly compelling tone and plot hook (grandfather vs. father!). Unfortunately this story will be told across several books which I have no intention of reading. I'm a little unsure about how well this title will read by itself, but I'm willing to give it at least a month if it's as good as this issue. Morrison has set up Damien as a pretty interesting character, one who can't be easily categorized as hero or villain. That shouldn't be a big deal, but it is--characters with ambiguous morality almost always turn into heroes in comics (or practically any other serialized medium). We've all seen countless variations on the "raised to be evil, exposed to good, now torn by conflicting loyalties" story. Still, given Morrison's track record with these kinds of primordial stories, I'm eager to see how this plays out. Especially since it should be easier to tell what the hell is going in the post-Kubert era.

Hunter x Hunter: I hate to say it, but it gets way better once you have no choice but to read the scanlated chapters. Well, I guess you do have the choice to wait for those volumes to come out in the next few years, but that requires greater skills of self-abnegation than I possess. The series really picked up steam with the Greed Island story (current logo taken from said storyline), but it's the Chimera Ants story that pushes the series into the realm of the most imaginative of all junk fiction. I'm most taken with the introduction of Morau (see also here), a senior hunter who looks like a cross between Neil Young and Terry Gordy, wears a shirt and tie, and carries a 10 foot long pipe. That pipe is the source of his special technique, Deep Purple. I mean, come on--Deep Purple. And there are several other interesting characters introduced for this story, including one of the best villains to appear in the story to date.

Great characters, great design, mystery, danger, action--these are the sorts of things that hooked me on superhero comics in my childhood, and they're abundant in HxH. I thought the series started out slow, and I probably would have stopped reading if not for the badge hunting chapters during the initial storyline. From there the series kind of starts and stops, with the expository sequences about the nature of the characters' powers being the absolute dullest. Thankfully, there's less and less of that as the series progresses, with very, very little in the Chimera Ants story. Instead of wasting my time with a bunch of nonsense about auras and Nen manipulation types, Yoshihiro Togashi concentrates on showing those powers in action. Which, needless to say, is much cooler. It's just too bad that those early chapters are so weak in comparison--if the whole series was as good as the current story, there would be a lot more buzz about Hunter x Hunter. Disillusioned superhero fans should check it out.

-Reviews of recently bought food items from Trader Joe's:

Marinara Sauce: This is their two pint, 99 cent marinara sauce. I tried it in two applications: as a sauce for the TJ gorgonzola walnut tortellini (which I don't think I ever reviewed, but trust me when I say it's delicious). It was actively bad in this context, to the point where I was trying to remove it from every bite of tortellini. Secondly, I tried it as a sort of dipping sauce for a smoked mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich. Here it mostly served to get the sandwich wet, adding very little in the way of taste. The texture of the sauce is watery, yet it's also kind of acidic in a vaguely unpleasant way. It's hard to detect any tomato or garlic taste. This marinara sauce might be cheap, but it's every bit as bad as your least favorite supermarket brand.

The Emperor's New Coves: I've had bad luck buying garlic from my regular grocery store lately; it all seems to be withered or moldy. I mean really moldy. Not just a few flecks of green-blue on the bottom of the bulb, but an actual moldy smell emanating from the crate. So I've been buying this oddball product. It's a basket containing six bulbs of garlic, each of which is comprised of a single clove of garlic. It's pretty convenient, not too expensive (about $2 a package, if memory serves), and they taste fine. Maybe a bit milder than I like, but I'm sort of a garlic fiend.

Soy and Flax Clusters, week two: I've decided I kind of like this cereal. It's not quite the bowl of Colon Blow I expected, and it's actually kind of tasty once your jaw muscles have been trained to handle its, uh, assertive texture. Best of all, it's very filling. Maybe it's all the soy protein. Maybe I really have been protein deficient all these years!

15 comments:

Matthew J. Brady said...

Man, I really need to read MW, if only so I can do more than skim reviews like this. I ordered it from Borders though, so I'll be able to join the conversation soon (after everybody else is done talking, most likely).

I think I downloaded some scanlations of HxH a while back, before it got licensed over here, but I never read it. I don't think you've talked about it before, so what is its deal? I mean, what's it about, and is it worth checking out?

Also, what is your current masthead image from? I need to try to work up something like that for my blog; I'm getting sick of the boring text title.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Hunter x Hunter is weird, because it sort of suggests that it will be one thing and then becomes another. The first chapter is about the efforts of the protagonist (Gon) to become a Hunter, which is some kind of licensed position that allows for free travel and access to certain...things? It's not real clear, and I got the idea that the rest of the series would be about revealing the mystery of what Hunters really do. Plus Gon's father (who he's never met) is a Hunter, which deepens the mystery.

Along the way, Gon makes a lot of friends who also become Hunters, and the focus kind of shifts to what exactly motivates his colleagues. But Togashi then moves away from this and back towards Gon's search for his father. And then the Chimera Ants story that I like so much is a more straightforward action story, with a greater emphasis on weird new characters and their weird powers.

My current logo is a cropped panel from the Greed Island story, which is mostly available now. Togashi's art improves dramatically around then, especially his action shots. My logo doesn't really do justice to that panel, which is overflowing with energy. Here's the full page:

http://img220.imageshack.us/img220/4528/hxhv16au0.png

I'd say the series is definitely worth reading, but it's a hell of an investment in time and money to get to the point where it's actually good. I'd recommend trying to read the first six volumes or so at the library or the bookstore before putting any of your own money into the series.

Dan Coyle said...

Hey Dick, have you read Beyond! by McDuffie and Kolins? It's the kind of pure superhero book that Brave and the Bold is, I think you'd enjoy it. The Hardcover is out but a trade is scheduled for January.

Dick Hyacinth said...

I'm a little wary of Scott Kolins' art, but I'll try flipping through it at the comics shop or a bookstore or somewhere.

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