Yow! Discussion!

*We begin with LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Quit City #1 (of 1) (the latest of Warren Ellis' pulp genre updates, only this time minus the pulp genre)

Garth Ennis’ 303 #2 (of 6), Tom Strong #30, Iron Man #2

The Stacks (collection of Marc Bell odds and ends, but few comics included)

and then we have my

End of Year Top Ten Listing of Thrilling and Potent Works


*Over at the Galaxy, Abhay Khosla offers up a lengthy, very good exploration of the comics of Naoki Urasawa. Beyond the simple discussion of content, however, the essay is interesting in that it’s based largely around works (and there’s a lot of them) which can only be procured in English in digital format online, though the work itself originated in the printed format; reviews of this sort will surely become more plentiful in the near future. And indeed, Abhay includes some great commentary on the distinct lack of manga discussion in the English-language comics internet despite the simple accessibility of online fan translations of current works, and some excellent observations on how the Big Two have managed to seize the reins of online comics discussion, even if only through critical dissection and snark as directed at their latest works:

"The Big Two seemed especially effective in capturing the discussion and defining the context in 2004 through massive hype, a series of increasingly awful, creatively bankrupt works, and staggeringly idiotic publishing decisions (variant covers? Seriously?). Its frustrating in a year like that to think the following: “AKIRA could be coming out regularly in Japan and we’d have no idea, and instead all I’m hearing about is whether or not the Green Goblin hired a French hooker to sleep with Gwen Stacy while he watched in the closet” (or whatever J. Michael Stracynski innovation is the Hot Topic du Jour). It is even more frustrating to think that it could be available, a mouse-click away, and still no one would notice, no one would care except maybe, possibly come December when its time to say “Well, at least there’s manga.”"

Plenty more where that came from! Check it out!

*I’m about halfway through “Epileptic”, and I have to single out one sequence as my very favorite thus far: in the middle of some heavy emotional stuff, we suddenly shift forward in time and get several panels of the narrator (David B. himself) and another character as adults, sitting at a table in a white room, dressed entirely in black, contemplatively smoking cigarettes, and making remarks like: “That moment was when my sadness began.” It’s like one of the primordial cliched images for me, the sort of thing I always suspect I’ll find in a ‘serious’ work of visual narrative art, but I’d never really seen it in action and totally without irony until right now. “Epileptic” is the sort of book where it fits right it, of course, but more on that later...


Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface: Oh dear. What to say about this, the long-delayed trade collection of Masamune Shirow’s sequel to his much-loved landmark for manga acceptance in the US (lord knows it’s the first Japanese comic I ever knowingly read, with an ashcan preview tucked into some issue of “Wizard” back in the day)? First, I’ll say that you should try not to get it confused with Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell: Innocence” movie, which is totally different, or the current “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” tv show, which is also totally different. While we’re at it, don’t confuse it with the episodic slow-build structure of Shriow’s original (which by the way, just recently got an uncensored edition released in the US, despite its huge popularity for years and years); this one is largely a single, ongoing plot. You should avoid as much confusion as possible going in, since there’s pretty much no chance of not being confused by Shirow’s crazed jargon-laden metaphysical harder-than-hard sci-fi plotting, with additional (and constant) author’s notes inserted directly into the panel gutters. Surely it’s a triumph of pure world-building and technical prognostication, and maybe that’s more than enough for some readers, but Shirow does remarkably little to acclimate us with his universe; we simple get reams and reams of details and information in lieu of interesting characters or emotions or any of that. I bought this entire series back when it was released in the US as a 9-issue mini, and only upon my second reading did I even begin to fully understand exactly what was going on, but it wasn’t a fun method of discovery. So much of the book is such a slog that, beyond the desire to achieve basic comprehension, there’s little motivation to unlock the hidden details that are no doubt present. And there’s indeed no doubt that Shirow has thought his world through to the farthest extent possible, and clearly he’s hugely intelligent and understands exactly what’s going on. But at times he seems to be deliberately trying to make his work as impenetrable and reader unfriendly as possible. The translators deserve goddamned medals of valor for sifting all of this through the language barrier and keeping it at least somewhat coherent, but pretty much every page still comes off like:

CUTE ROBOT 1: “Motoko! They’ve got a Zenotech 84D22 IceWall 2.72 routed off their backend! Shall we launch a cyro-meme or try and refrag their exonet B port?

MOTOKO: "Zenotech?! Damn... that’s a beta-subsidiary of Greenwald-Kurosa! Export a Met trace beyond their intra-hook line-shield, but don’t push the BlackNet antiviral beyond the red point! I’m shifting to HUD ghost control in my B625 shell-annex, coordinates 98435 by 22090.2 Algerian groundstone!"

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: A Met trace exportation would realistically occur invisibly, but I have portrayed it here as a flying octopus dousing itself in sake to give the page more visual flair...]

MOTOKO: "Goddamn! The B625 stasis port developed a G-Purple FYAD calciworm! And all my clothes are missing!"

CUTE ROBOT 2: "00011 11100 00011 010101 10100011010 110000 1010110 01 001 0110100 0!"

And so on and so on for 312 pages. And even given all of this, the story does manage a few moments of genuine power, particularly in the final chapter as two characters discuss the Nature of Being as they stroll through all sorts of manga genres, panel by panel. The book’s ultimate point is a compelling one (after I had figured out exactly what it was) although the journey there was often headache-inducing, and there’s almost no follow up; a bunch of characters stand around to explain to each other how all of this stuff is Extremely Important and, well, that’s the end. I enjoy books that make readers do a little work and I like books that are more about ideas than action or character, and I certainly don’t want the translators to dumb the material down, no way. But I do think that Shirow, who’s always had a tendency toward richly detailed but over-convoluted comics, has finally wandered so far into technical detail and concept and world-building, that this book has lost any sense of fun (for the reader at least). And while we’re at it, Shirow’s love for cheesecake has become amplified as well, with the barely-dressed (if dressed at all) female characters thrusting their heaving breasts and spread legs toward the reader at every opportunity. We are even denied much of Shirow’s lovingly detailed b&w inks; much of the book is in color, with full computer-rendered environments, which occasionally look impressive (especially in the abstract designs outside of the ‘real’ world) but more often seem simple and undetailed. I’ll still give Shirow this: he’s surely unlike anyone else currently producing comics, Japanese or American. It’s like Thomas Pynchon and William Gibson teaming up to write the most complicated “Witchblade” arc ever; a fun idea, even admirable from a distance. But good reading it’s not.

Flaming Carrot #1: Ut! This, however, will most likely be a ton of fun, as Bob Burden’s unhinged sentinel of justice returns to regular (quarterly at least) comics, guns blazing and flask filled! Now from Image! If you’ve not read prior adventures of the Carrot, expect much imbibing and reckless injury and surreal villains and non-sequiturs, all drawn with a simple but gritty line! I really can’t wait for this, more so than anything else this week, and while I can’t guarantee that you’ll love it (the taste of Carrot is an acquired one), I urge you to give it a flip on the stands.

The Intimates #3: In which we find out exactly how much of the series’ visual adornment is retained, after the sudden simplification of last issue. I’m really hoping that the characters will become better-defined, since I do think that the book has a lot of potential.

Wild Girl #3 (of 6): Hmm. I still like this one. A good stab at fanciful all-ages material, and a smart one at that. Nothing mind-blowing, but a decent effort all around.

Lore #5: I really did like the prose segments in the last issue of this T.P. Louise/Ashley Wood book. I was just completely thrown by the sheer amount of it: 40 out of 48 pages were pure, unillustrated typeset. Considering that IDW’s site hypes this issue as “Featuring the prose Jonathan Bradley diaries with comic pages by Ashley Wood,” I’ll be expecting skimpy amounts of sequential art this time around. The story is still mighty compelling though.

Youngblood Imperial #1 (of 12, if that’s still holding): Hey! Look! It’s the latest “Youngblood” series, written by Robert Kirkman! Er, at least for this issue and the upcoming issue #0, since he’s already off the book, to be replaced by Fabian Nicieza of Liefeld’s “X-Force”! And no, there’s still no sign of issue #2 of “Youngblood Bloodsport” either. This has been your mandatory “Youngblood” update.