Sunday was eaten.

*Tomorrow is going to be a busy one, and I’m trying to prepare. Argh. Still, some interesting things are floating around.

*For example, just when I think I’ve mapped out the borders of the English-language scanlation scene, something new (to me) pops up to capture my attention. Right now, there’s this - a horror-based site with a good deal of Suehiro Maruo material (including a rare multi-volume extended story, The Laughing Vampire), plus a couple volumes of Go Nagai’s Violence Jack, for those looking to catch up on their classics (Nagai remains one of those popular, influential forces in manga who has pretty much nothing readily available in English). Also available: a whole lot of completely disreputable, revolting exercises in degenerate excess. I’m not kidding - some of this stuff is kind of beyond the pale. Please assume that all the image links and the links to other sites are NOT SAFE FOR WORK, and probably prepared to do you mental harm. Note too that all downloads are via RapidShare, which makes you jump through a few hoops and limits you to one file per 75 minutes or so. (found at the Comics Journal Message Board)

*East Meets West Again Dept: The other day, I did something I don’t normally do anymore - I bought a new anime, something that was just freshly released on R1 dvd. And why did I buy a new anime? Well, it looked kind of interesting, and the mood took me. Plus, there looked to be some interesting US/Japan cooperation going on. I’d heard some people online talking about it (not all of the talk good, mind you). Oh, and it was also damn cheap - part of a ‘first week of release’ sale at Circuit City, the price came out to less than ten bucks after tax.

Karas: The Prophecy

That's what it's called. It’s a collection of the first three parts of a six-episode OVA (Original Video Animation) series, commissioned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Tatsunoko Productions, the producers of a lot of famed series, many of them featuring costumed heroes and teams running around and fighting evil in a manner not entirely unsuperheroic. You’ve heard of Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets), right? That’s them. Karas is an all-new production, not based on any manga or prior anime, released in Japan across 2005, though according to an early (mock-up?) trailer included on the disc it's been in production since at least 2003.

A little something happened in 2004 as well: Dark Horse released a one-shot pamphlet-format special based on the property, written by Phil Amara (editor of many titles and writer of The Nevermen) with art by Núria Peris (pencils) and Sergio Sandoval (inks). It's interesting that such an English-language tie-in would be produced so early, many months before the anime would even be out in Japan. Anyway, that comic is included (in miniaturized form) in the dvd case, along with a little advertisement for various Dark Horse manga and manga-related releases. The dvd itself is from Manga Video, a company that's been somewhat infamous among anime fans for years due to its sometimes troublesome dvd releases (folks were calling them Mangle Video as early as half a decade ago) - there appear to be no major issues with this release.

Well, unless you count the show itself. I should have suspected something was wrong when the dvd case declined to mention any of the people involved with the actual making of the OVA by name, opting to instead focus on the presence of Jay Hernandez and Matthew Lillard among the English dub cast. The project appears to be the directorial debut of Keiichi Satou, an experienced character designer and director of animation (which is different from being simply 'director') on shows like The Big O. Satou also came up with the original concept, although that's really beside the point - Karas (at least as far as its first three episodes go) is going to rise or fall entirely on how much the viewer appreciates 3D video game cut-scene type eye candy. That's the long and short of it.

And some of that eye candy is decent, especially a crazed opening fight scene, packing into five or so minutes almost everything a hyperactive 13-year old boy might want from sci-fi/costumed hero action, to sometimes funny results:

"...and and then these SPACESHIP JET PLANES are flying through the night and they SHOOT each other and the credits are in BURNING LETTERS and then the jets pass through GLOWING MAGIC and turn into ARMORED SUPERHEROES and they FIGHT WITH SWORDS and then they FALL out of the air and they STOP TIME AND BREAK A LOT OF GLASS and one of them SWINGS AROUND TOWN LIKE BATMAN and then there's KUNG-FU and ARMS FLY OFF and and and IT WAS AWESOME!!1!"

I mean, it really tries hard. Hard enough that nothing else in the show quite lives up to that. The big action scenes are in pretty much full 3D, while the rest of it is higher-end 2D/3D augmentation - it's worth watching the production footage in the extras, as it's clever how the creative team uses light effects and visual trickery to cover up some of the rougher edges of the 3D work. It looks nice on the whole. But again, that's about all there is.

It wouldn't be accurate to say that there's no story in Karas; it's just that what little story there is proves to be so uninspiring that you manage to forget it's even there. Karas is some sort of crow-derived spirit guardian of Tokyo. There appear to be multiple 'hosts' for his power, all of them apparently dead or comatose humans stuck between the mortal and spirit planes. One of them is Otoha, our personality-free hero - he spends his spare time running a hospital for ill spirits in some sunny meadow-like limbo. He's nice, and a hero. That's it. There's also a cute teen girl Karas, who does nothing whatsoever for these three episodes. And then there's Eko, an evil Karas who's somehow making the spirit world ill by turning ambitious spirits into giant 3D machine monsters called Mikura, who run on human blood. It's all part of an exceedingly vague scheme to accomplish something evil, I suppose - the Dark Horse comic identifies it as wiping the Earth clean of technology. I guess later episodes of the anime will explain it more. Also, each Karas is guided around by an entity called a Landlord. The back of the dvd case tells me that Otoha's Landlord, Yurine, represents the will of the people. The Dark Horse comic tells me that Otoha's Landlord, Yuri (yes, the spelling is different), and all the other Landlords are aspects of the same being. Anime-Kraze tells me that Yurine is the spirit priestess for Tokyo. I guess later episodes of the anime will explain it more. Catching a pattern?

Also running around: a hardened cop who believes in the spirit world, though everyone thinks he's nuts, and the young, doubtful partner he's just been assigned. Plus, there's an antihero Mikura who wants to do good, but struggles with his evil inner nature. You can tell he's a dangerous bad boy, because his character design is a veritable encyclopedia of 'hip' visual clichés, ranging from the stubbly chin to the tinted glasses to the twin pistols to the big hair to the cocksure grin - basically he looks like he was rejected for the lead role in Cowboy Bebop and wound up here. There's another cute girl in there somewhere. And some evil minions to fight in every episode.

And that's about it for the plot in this 80 minutes of anime. More than anything, it reminded me of a prior Manga Video release, Blood: The Last Vampire, another project that emphasized action and prettiness, leaving the story to soak in a broth of familiar tropes. Blood was only 48 minutes long, though, and intended to augment a larger multimedia project. Karas, in contrast, blows through three whole episodes, half its total project runtime, while barely even getting getting the concept out on screen. I'd be a more forgiving if it was more unique in execution, but yeah - video game cut-scenes. Some good video game cut-scenes, sure. I wasn't really bored with it, despite the blandness (enough flashing lights and loud noises to assure that), but I felt my teeth starting to rot as soon as the credits rolled. I imagine I'd be pretty steamed if I'd paid more than ten bucks for the whole thing.

Oh, about that Dark Horse comic? It's a tie-in project, but it's worth contrasting with the anime for the very different approaches taken. I don't know how Dark Horse got the info on the project that they needed from Tatsunoko, but it appears they're working from a larger outline of the project than what can be glimpsed by the viewer in these three episodes. Thus, there's a ton of concept-related information doled out, including an encounter that's not in the anime episodes included here, though it appears to be kind of important. The characters are much more prone to spelling out their feelings and motivations, and the project's overall plot drive is filled in much more completely, enough so that you have to wonder if some of the anime's easygoing revelations are being spoiled a bit early. More than anything, it's extremely direct, while often it feels that the anime is puttering around with pretty visuals in order to avoid telling you much. Probably we can chalk it up to the anime having a lot more space to fill. But maybe there's also something to the old saying that American comics are about getting places, while Japanese comics are about how you get there. Might the latter portion of that extend to anime?

Well, there's three episodes left. The journey isn't even over. I just wish the journey so far wasn't as bland, though. Maybe I'll check in for the next stretch, but probably only if that's less than ten bucks too.


It's manga edutainment!

How to “Read” Manga: Gloom Party Vol. 1 (of 5)

Oh, now this is something interesting. Not really ‘new,’ mind you, but interesting.

It’s fairly rare that folks in the US get exposed to honest-to-god four-panel gag manga (yonkoma), even though the superficial attributes of the form seem decidedly akin to American weekday newspaper strips - besides the fact that the Japanese strips are positioned vertically rather than horizontally, the basic structure seems to be entirely the same. Just glossing over such strips gives one an almost cozy reading experience, though there’s not many opportunities - there’s always the popular Azumanga Daioh (by Kiyohiko Azuma of Yotsuba&! fame), and I do recall Masahiko Kikuni’s Heartbroken Angels from the pages of Pulp getting a few collections, but stand-alone English-language books dedicated to yonkoma are scant.

And once you look beneath the surface, that’s understandable. Humor isn’t always universal, and it’s easy to see how a dedicated humor comic might inevitable delve into a specific culture’s popular iconography or social concern to withdraw fresh material, making it all the more impenetrable to the foreign reader - and the relative lack of ongoing storytelling in such strips might remove any additional ‘buffer’ against the unacclimated reader slamming into the wall. There’s certainly exceptions; the aforementioned Azumanga Daioh both features a (loose) ongoing story, and a minimum of difficult-to-understand gags.

But then there’s comics like Gloom Party, the brainchild of Yoshio Kawashima. I really can’t imagine anyone without a very deep grounding in (sometimes archaic) Japanese pop culture and social mores getting through even half of this material without missing a great deal of the content - much of it is utterly impenetrable. Apparently Digital Manga Publishing agrees, as they’ve elected not to release a ‘standard’ edition of this tome - rather, the raw source material has been augmented (armored, really) into the first in a new line of semi-educational books, How to “Read” Manga. Apparently, if you’re not going to laugh as much as you normally would, you might as well learn something.

Translated, adapted, and commented upon by one G. Genki, Kawashima’s strips are presented one or two per page, in raw Japanese, flanked on two sides by supplementary material. To the right of each strip are English translations of every sound effect, caption, and line of dialogue, split up by panel. Below each strip are commentaries, usually split up into two or three bullet points, explaining pretty much everything. Pop culture references are revealed (Kawashima sure loves his '70s Japanese cinema). Obscure cultural mores are explained. The translation itself provides the biggest pool of material for these commentaries, with seemingly every difficult and/or unique term or phrase presented in both kanji and romanized form, divided and explained, any use of artistic license or handling of regional accents duly discussed. Sometimes, there’s even photographs provided of pertinent bits of scenery or objects, so the reader might better understand how everything in the comic relates to real life. Some of the notes are repeated, from time to time. Sometimes they explain obvious things, or chalk punchlines up to nonsense when there seems to be a different point being made by the strip itself. In a way, it’s like having an extremely long set of annotations and translator’s notes dribbled throughout the work itself rather than relegated to the rear of the book.

Except for that whole ‘comics left in Japanese, translations pushed to the side’ thing, of course. That seems to push the project more in the direction of language education than anything else. The long-running learn-Japanese-through-manga magazine Mangajin employed a similar brand of presentation, though this book isn’t nearly as thorough in its dissection of language. That makes sense, as I don’t think the purpose here is to actually teach anyone Japanese, though I presume folks with a working knowledge of the tongue might pick up a few tips here and there. No, the intent here is more general, a desire to dole out a lot of handy(?) trivia and factoids about Japan and Japanese as a means of providing a unique reading experience. Obviously the humor content suffers - there’s nothing more likely to kill a joke than explaining it, after all - but then, most English-speaking readers weren’t going to get a lot of laffs out of it anyhow without guidance. Thus, the yonkoma is reborn in the current English-language manga market as what can only be dubbed a hybrid, maybe in the hopes that a niche might be found in need of filling.

Given the uncertainties involved in this type of pursuit, however, it seems odd that the first test subject for this new treatment (albeit using old techniques) is, well, Gloom Party, a work that I suspect some readers might deem uncomfortable, or even outright misogynistic. Basically, Gloom Party is a barrage of sex and bodily function jokes, most of them revolving around horny men ogling pretty girls. There’s a very odd ongoing story involving a toddler bride and her melodramatic adventures (the joke almost always being: hey, she’s a toddler), and a few additional recurring characters, like See-Through Teacher (a sexy educator whose clothes are translucent), or a trio of middle-aged men who’ll stop at nothing to gaze upon unclad girls, or Hamichin-kun (‘Mr. Slipped Out Ball,’ in the words of translator Genki - basically, he’s a typical hot-blooded shounen manga hero, beloved by everyone despite the fact that his testicles are constantly hanging out of his too-short shorts). Often, there’s just random gags - one of the recurring ones involves some man or another attempting to peer beneath a girl’s skirt to see her panties; the girl is wearing shorts, however, so the man gets mad and punches or slaps her in the face, blood streaming from her fresh wounds. Wokka wokka wokka!

The running commentary isn't as much focused on the tone of the work as the niceties of cultural and linguistic specifics, and I was frankly hoping for a bit more in the way of wide-view analysis of the work by its end. There's a few flashes of that - one particular strip (consisting of a man on a crowded subway pivoting his body to delight in the feeling of a sleeping woman's breasts against his back) prompts Genki to muse:

"Oh well - I suppose this comic strip isn't intended for female readers, is it?... in my opinion, the author likes to capture the degenerate in all of us, or maybe it's just what men think about but don't act out. You be the judge. I'm a woman, so I can't go there."

And Genki is right about audience - the strip hails from Weekly Shonen Champion, a boy-targeted anthology, and the humor is very much in synch with the feelings of its intended audience: sputtering, rushing lust, women appearing almost as alien beings, bodily functions and dangly bits of great primacy in the mind. Much like Apocalypse Zero (itself a Weekly Shonen Champion alum), it pushes the whole thing way beyond what a US audience probably wants their youths to see (indeed, Explicit Content and 18+ warnings cover the shrinkwrapped package), though its mindset remains keyed to a certain emotional state. I don't doubt that many souls outside of the target audience read this work, but the very categorization itself can prove useful.

Still, all the context in the world doesn't quite erase the shakes one gets from reading a strip about a toddler dressed in a tanuki costume licking honey off of a 16-year old girl's breasts. "I don't think the author is intending to portray a lesbian relationship here. Instead, I believe this is an intimate moment the author captured - perhaps because it's part of a fantasy some Japanese men might have." So goes the commentary. Perhaps. But it's telling that the educational adornment in the world can't quite remove the punch of some of this material, whether it's funny or revolting or whatnot. Some bits of work cross borders more easily.


Now you get to put up with me in print as well.

*New Releases Dept: Right, then. As several sources have noted, I am the new writer for Cape Fear, the superhero comics column at The Comics Journal. The first of my pieces will run in the very next issue of the Journal, #276. I am very excited about this new endeavor, and I hope you’ll all enjoy the results!

Iron Man: The Inevitable #5 (of 6)

Just tossing this one out to remind you all of what a nice superhero book this is. Fun (often funny), intelligent, good-looking, and with a keen grasp of character dynamics and melodramatics - it’s the sort of thing that threatens to give miscellaneous Marvel superhero miniseries a good name.

Actually, this issue really makes me wonder about the project’s status as a ‘miniseries’ - it’s now very clear that writer Joe Casey means to directly follow up on the themes Warren Ellis suggested in his own just-concluded run on the ongoing Iron Man book, which makes me wonder if this project wasn’t meant to actually be a storyline in the ongoing book, perhaps later bumped into the form of a miniseries due to the lengthy delays the ongoing experienced, and a desire on Marvel’s part to not create a backlog of material awaiting publication. Just a thought.

Regardless, in this book readers of the Ellis run will have some extra stuff to chew on - the core conflict in those issues was not between Iron Man and some guy who can throw cars and stuff, but between Tony Stark’s desire to use technology to improve the lot of humanity beyond mere hitting and exploding, and the potential for such technology to be turned toward additional acts of violence and aggression. Eventually, Tony winds up simply beating the shit out of a villain, yet again, his pleas for surrender ignored - we’re left with Tony telling himself that he’s trying to look toward the future, though the actions he must take (as a superhero in a superhero book) prevent the species’ actual arrival.

In this issue, Tony’s even madder. The Living Laser, whose humanoid form was temporarily subsumed into a new brand of living, of perception, has apparently executed a murderous getaway. Once again, villains from the past are haunting Tony, but he’s no longer even in the mood to participate in such a setup. Artist Frazer Irving visually cites Adi Granov’s conception of Iron Man’s new flesh from the Ellis run, and Tony loudly rants about how others perceive him, “…one side of a ‘vs’ marquee that I’ve come to see as a ridiculous paradigm of pro wrestling clichés and wasted energies.” - amusingly, Marvel then follows that very page with a double-page spread advertising pro wrestling action figures. That’s unwittingly telling, as what’s a superhero to do in a superhero book other than fight villainy? Doc Samson makes the argument for slam-bang status quo: “Do you think you have a choice? You might’ve found a new way of doing the same job. But you’re still a super hero.” And by the end of this issue, Iron Man is leaping back into action, now against a villain that that seems to hunger for little more than the thrill of a clash. If Ellis himself asked at the end of his run, ‘Is all of this upward-gazing futurism futile in a genre like this?”, then Casey replies with a resounding ‘Probably!’ The visionary scientist in this story has died, and the transformed villain seems to have reverted to wrongdoing.

But what’s The Inevitable? It’s set up as several different things in this issue - for one, it could be death. But is Tony Stark likely to die anytime soon? Is any ‘major’ superhero? Maybe it’s the future, as Tony puts it, the ascension of people and superheroes beyond slugfests through the aid of technology. But then - on to another fight. Or just maybe it’s what Doc Samson hints at, superheroes needing to be superheroes, fighting villains. It may be done in different ways - “Something to do with futurist technology,” as Doc puts it - but it must be done. Perhaps all the talk of a gleaming technological future is futile, even dangerous, as it takes the eye off of immediate problems. Casey doesn’t settle on any one answer, but he deftly expands on Ellis’ concerns with his own re-imagining of the character, maybe forwarding the philosophical dilemma as Iron Man’s new core struggle for future writers to play with.

Those writers will be at something of a disadvantage without Frazer Irving, though. These pages see yet more lovely visuals from this fine talent, from the grinning big-headed characters of an upper-class party (the style there a bit reminiscent of Richard Corben), to the quiet majesty of Iron Man floating through space, searching for what's missing, to the smoky curves and spires of gigantic, ruined research facility. If it's inevitable that costumed heroes be grounded in such a world, at least they're assured much beauty.


*Right. I've uploaded my Seven Soldiers review index, which is right below this message. It's also listed among the various links on the sidebar. Today's post, reviewing Solo #10, is right below the Seven Soldiers index, so scroll down to find it!

Seven Soldiers: A Short List

*What follows is a list of links to reviews I wrote concerning the expansive, Grant Morrison-written comics project Seven Soldiers. Every issue of the project is covered here, all 30 of them. For those who aren't familiar, Seven Soldiers was a DC-published array of seven miniseries, all of them four issues in length, plus a pair of one-shot comics serving as bookends. Put together, a large story is told, though each miniseries focuses on a single title character, who undergoes a personal journey of transformation without meeting any of the title characters from other miniseries.

It is perhaps necessary to explain the context surrounding the earliest of these reviews - Seven Soldiers was originally promoted as a 'modular' project, meaning that each of the miniseries could be read on their own, providing a satisfying experience apart from the larger saga. Indeed, Morrison himself mentioned in at least one interview that each issue could stand alone ("Each of the four issues are also self-contained reads because I wanted to try a completely modular story.") - this did not prove to be accurate. Issues lead into one another. Every miniseries ends on a cliffhanger, flowing into that final bookend. But the expectations I had regarding this project permeate my writing early on, and color my reactions.

I have not 'cleaned up' any of these posts. My reviews for each issue were written shortly after their initial release, when I did not know what was coming next in the project. Any predictions made about where the stories might go were made without knowledge as to what was actually going to happen, as future issues at the time remained just there - in the future. Often, there'll be additional material in these posts, random musings or links, reviews of contemporaneous comics releases, or even extended examinations of other Grant Morrison stories. You'll likely pick up on some changes made to my writing style over the passage of time. In sum, these pieces constitute not only individual comics reviews, but excerpts from my life, across the breadth of well over a year. I have thus arranged them in order of their writing, to preserve their status as points on a continuum. Not all of these comics came out on time, and I react to that too in my writing.

Many thanks to Jim Roeg, who indirectly put the idea of creating this index into my head, and gathered up an awful lot of the links for his own Seven Soldiers Syllabus - check it out for more reading, as well as the mighty Barbelith's Seven Soldiers Annotations!

And so:

Seven Soldiers #0

Shining Knight #1

Guardian #1

Zatanna #1

Klarion the Witch Boy #1

Shining Knight #2

Guardian #2

Zatanna #2

Klarion the Witch Boy #2

Shining Knight #3

Guardian #3

Zatanna #3

Klarion the Witch Boy #3

Shining Knight #4

Guardian #4

Mister Miracle #1

Klarion the Witch Boy #4

Bulleteer #1

Zatanna #4 and Frankenstein #1

Mister Miracle #2

Bulleteer #2

Frankenstein #2

Mister Miracle #3

Bulleteer #3

Frankenstein #3 and Mister Miracle #4

Bulleteer #4

Frankenstein #4

Seven Soldiers #1

Thanks for reading!


Once again, your author loses track of time, or even what day it is.

*Inventory Dept: I was going to wait until the end to do this but since that’s a long way off now - sometime tonight (probably in the next 3-4 hours), I’m going to put up a link to access an index of all my Seven Soldiers reviews, just so the lot of them will be in one easy spot and everyone can point and laugh at how wrong my predictions for the project were in discussing early issues. It’ll be over on the right, in the Best of/Specials section. I’m also going to create a similar index for my Comic Book Galaxy reviews later this week. Say! Maybe this fresh yen for organization will one day extend to my apartment! No.

Solo #10

Another installment of this much-acclaimed dead man walking, this time showcasing the art of Damion Scott. That’s a nice dynamic cover he did, I’ll say again, but I’d not seen any of his work prior to this. He’s provided art for the likes of Batgirl and Robin, and one certainly gets the sense that they understand the flavor of those works from what’s presented here - indeed, Scott is one of the few talents participating in this series who sticks exclusively to DC-owned superheroes in the stories he presents. One does still get a sense of understanding where the artist is coming from, however, regardless of the genre uniformity of his work.

The thing I love about wildstyle letters is that although they can be hard to read, if u take the time it opens up your imagination.” This is Scott himself, addressing the reader directly via handwritten note. Actually, it occurs to me that Scott’s concept for his issue might defeat claims of his sticking ‘exclusively’ to superheroes - there’s only four stories in here (three really, but more on that later), with a fair amount of space taken up by Scott writing introductions to all of his pieces and chatting about his influences. Various sketches and alternate cover thumbnails are sprinkled throughout. But really that above quote is the key to grasping Scott’s approach, a feverish, convoluted visual morass that strives to force the reader into appreciating comics storytelling on a level more attuned to pure movement and force rather than anatomic and panel-to-panel exactitude. In a way, many of Scott’s pieces are visually reminiscent of Cory (Sharknife) Lewis’ work, focused largely on giving the reader dynamic impressions, often to the detriment of direct storytelling clarity.

This sometimes works. In a decadent, adorned fight book like Sharknife, it’s perfectly fine to blast through those pages, understanding what is happening on a loose level even if the visual display itself doesn’t easily surrender what precisely is going on. It’s enough to feel that Character A has struck Character B, with the reader’s brain painting in the finer details. But when a more detailed story is being told in the same visual manner, the very opposite effect can be experienced - the brain screeches to a halt, searching every inch of the page for clues as to what’s going on, as suddenly any character action could mean something necessary to basic comprehension. That’s what happens in some of Scott’s work here - his stories can be slow reads, because they remain intent on providing semi-detailed story ‘moments’ without offering up clear portrayals of such.

Suffering most in this regard is the final piece, a alternate future Batman thing titled The Batt - it’s co-written by Scott and Randee Carcano. Occasionally Scott does well with his visual display, a pulsing mass of deep, painterly hues and wild, stretching lines - on several pages, he deftly leads the reader’s eye around the page using the capes of Batman and Batgirl and various sound effects and word balloons, though there’s virtually no sense of where the Dynamic Duo are going in regards to the spatial ‘reality’ of their environment. It is enough to know that they are moving across the page, on page 39, and toward a deadly sound effect.

But on other pages, one simply cannot tell what’s happening very easily, which leads the reader into trouble when specific events are cited later in the story. The plot of this one involves Batman and Batgirl interrupting a deadly firefight - eventually, Batman hotly chides a burglarized storeowner for shooting one of the robbers in the back as he ran away. The problem is, I couldn’t even tell when that had happened, and was thus left confused. I flipped back through the pages, searching around until I puzzled out exactly what had happened. That’s really not the way I should be reading an action comic - I think Scott would be better served by keeping up the abstraction, but on a story level too, letting action be action, and plot happen under calmer circumstances.

I know Scott can do this, because he does it in another story in this very issue - a Flash opus titled Death Race, written by Rob Markman. Here, the plot is essentially divided between a crazed dream sequence the Flash is having, racing with doom through a hellish landscape, and the plight of an innocent man about to die in the electric chair. It’s not an impressive bit of writing, prone to presenting loud, cackling villains and saintly suffering victims in its social justice mélange, but as a blast of artistic play it works just fine, the prison bits kept mostly tight and clear with the superhero racing all but bleeding jagged lightning bolts and sharp angles, culminating in a great, symmetrical joining of the two forces in a double-page spread. If tied to a more interesting story, I can easily imagine Scott’s work excelling.

Elsewhere in this issue, we have a series of Superman pin-ups, each one representing a word that embodies Superman’s core qualities (and if you take the first letter of all eight of them, you get S-U-P-E-R-M-A-N) - they’re nice pieces, ranging from homage (oh that Action Comics #1!) to more portrait-type images. And finally there’s a Batgirl/Robin story titled Second Chance, again written by Scott and Carcano, with special guest inks and color by Brian Stelfreeze. This one looks entirely different from anything else, providing a simple, crystal-clear, animation-ready approach. According to Scott, it’s the style he used on Batgirl - “It’s kind of hard to bring back an old style, but here it is for the Batgirl fans.” Again, the plot is simplicity itself - Batgirl and that female Robin who didn’t last long fight a girl gunslinger named Calamity, and there’s a twist at the end. The real attraction is the visuals, which are certainly pleasing, and I expect more on the level of what a lot of readers prefer in their superhero comics.

But Scott has his eyes on other things, and what he’s doing now can be very good. It can also be confounding, a hurdle. And in some areas of visual storytelling, a quick recognition of what those letters say is necessary to reader enjoyment. There’s some good stuff in here, and I hope it gets better on the whole in the future.


This won't last much longer, so let's make it count.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #4 (of 4)


In this issue, among other amazing feats, Frankenstein confronts an uncomfortable metaphor for human development, scores some cherry government funding, time-travels one billion years into the future, quotes Milton, explodes six mighty dreadnoughts at once, loses an arm, gets a new arm, learns to adapt his own wild ways to the requirements of a modern metahuman team, learns to use the internet, hijacks an inter-dimensional flagship like he’s in Grand Theft Auto, and destroys an entire universe by shooting it in the head and skewering it on a stick. “All in a day’s work… for Frankenstein!” In other words, it’s exactly as effervescently over-the-top as you’d expect from the final issue of this book.

It’s also the final issue of the final Seven Soldiers miniseries, leaving only the extra-tardy Seven Soldiers #1 on the table (latest tentative release date: June 21st), and so you’d probably also expect lots of wide-view megaproject work being done as well - you’d be right with that. What seals the deal as to Frankenstein being one of the strongest Seven Soldiers segments (oh, and since they’re all done now, from most to least: Klarion the Witch Boy, this, Bulleteer, Zatanna, Guardian, Mister Miracle, Shining Knight) is that it deftly juggles miniseries-only themes with the concerns of the larger project, neatly informing our view of the wide via our experience with the narrow. Yes, this issue might seem somewhat obscure to someone just peeking in out of curiosity, just from all the excess information flying around (and the obvious lack of an ending), but never does this monster seem strapped down to the table of a crossover - he wanders.

For those who’re looking at this particular chapter as Seven Soldiers #29 (of 30), get ready to break out those back-issues yet again, as there’s plenty of tie-ins to Shining Knight (keep your eyes peeled for a quick Justin cameo), Zatanna, and Bulleteer, plus citations of general Seven Soldiers sights like Miracle Mesa and Summer’s End, big fat references to writer Grant Morrison’s runs on JLA and JLA: Classified (the latter of which now quite firmly acts as a Seven Soldiers prelude), homage duly paid to Golden Age forebears, and a wink or two in the direction of Infinite Crisis. Against the odds, I think lightly connecting this project to Infinite Crisis has actually aided it, since it throws the book’s concerns with forgotten heroes and their potential for transformation into sharper relief - the world must now be saved by them, as everyone important is busy dealing with Superboy popping continuity in the kisser. Individual transformations eventually add up into something that can change the shape of the universe, or at least slow its slide into the gutter.

There’s two big indications of that in this issue, neatly housed in each of this chapter’s distinct halves.

The first half is a big throwdown with recurring project villain Neh-Buh-Loh, Frankenstein literally clashing with a universe on a snowy mountaintop. As always, Neh-Buh-Loh looks different here than he does in other segments of project, as if every one of the heroes who confronts him sees him in their own way - amusingly, artist Doug Mahnke at one point draws the villain in a style similar to that of Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines of JLA: Classified, during an in-issue summary of that storyline. Oh yes, we all get to enjoy a brief synopsis of those issues (#1-3, for the record), as Frankenstein uses The Internet! to download the fiend’s history right into his brain (hey - does that mean he’s pirating comics?!), from Neh-Buh-Loh’s Golden Age clashes with the first Seven Soldiers of Victory as Universe Man (at the behest of the Iron Hand, himself having appeared in Bulleteer) to his back-to-the-future birth as the Infant Universe of Qwewq. Stuff like this has been going on throughout this whole project, so it’s funny that Morrison takes this opportunity near the end of it all to indulge in a direct historical infodump, and doubly funny that it’s done through a character looking things up online, just as so many readers have done with the rest of the trivia in this project.

Anyway, Neh-Buh-Loh uses the fight scene as an excuse to unload his secret tale of woe as the Sheeda’s enforcer - he could have been big and bad enough to replace this universe with his own form, but a flaw is present inside him - at some point he learned to appreciate beauty, and hesitated in killing Princess Errrhiahchnnon, better known as Misty from Zatanna’s end of the project. This is due to the invasion of the Ultramarines into his system at the conclusion of Morrison’s run on JLA: Classified, “…medicine to hasten your end,” as Frankenstein puts it. Those who’ve read the JLA: Classified material know that Neh-Buh-Loh is, shall we say, very similar to our universe from an interior perspective, and it’s a cute extension of Morrison’s themes from that storyline that the thing keeping Neh-Buh-Loh from growing to replace a grand superhero universe with his own ‘realistic’ form (albeit a ‘realism’ concocted through the poisonous influence of supervillain Black Death - see also: the Terrible Time Tailor in Guardian) is the injection of superheroes into the ‘real’ world (see also: Flex Mentallo - Christ, these cross-references are getting thick). Ultimately, the strictly C-list superheroes of the Ultramarines have managed to stop the growth of a bad universe. They’ve transformed the biggest thing possible, in the end.

In the second half of this issue, S.H.A.D.E. finally puts two and twenty-seven together and puzzles out the Seven Soldiers megaplot (“I keep spotting repeated patterns in all the incoming crisis data. Read the FBI girl’s report!” - ah, poor doomed Agent Helligan, too far ahead of the game for her own good), and sends Frankenstein to Miracle Mesa just in time to hitch a ride to Summer’s End with Gloriana Tenebrae, wicked Sheeda queen extraordinaire. Frankenstein can get close to her since he has Sheeda blood, yet again triggering the ‘good children vs. bad parents’ theme as seen all over this project. Again, we get a big supervillainous speech, as the queen details the history and motives of the Sheeda. Not only are they out to regularly strip humanity of its culture at crucial junctures, but Summer’s End itself is just a ruined Earth they’re hiding out on, One Billion Years Later (999,999,999 more than usual these days, I suppose). But the Sheeda recur throughout human myth and story, not only because they pick on us, but because we are like them:

Humankind has ever preyed upon the Earth, and we are only the last link in that chain -- we super-survivor organisms.”

Indeed, the Sheeda can be seen in the context of this story as the logical conclusion to humankind’s own tendency toward exploitation, those so hungry to devour things that they’ve devised a way to travel through time and feast on what can be viewed as immature versions of themselves. And naturally, there’s nothing writer Morrison hates more than the wrong type of maturity! Together (yet apart), the Seven will use their newfound transformations and improvements to protect the world from an incursion of an arrogant mirror’s image of ourselves, eager to send us back to the Dark Ages for their own greedy cultural gain. That means Frankenstein gets to deliver his own spin on the old WatchmenI did it thirty-five minutes ago” standard.

And yeah, what of Frankenstein’s transformation anyway? He's joined S.H.A.D.E. now, despite their cynical attitude, and he's found a way to work things through in his own special manner, while also belonging to a group and arguably doing more good than before. The Sheeda queen makes loving reference to the lack of objective moral standards in the Sheeda world, but Frankenstein retains his rather black and white view of things - sometimes, evil just needs squashing. He's working in a formal, even corporate system, but he's stayed himself while thriving in a modern world - kind of like how he's actually a public domain concept being used in a corporate superhero comic. Really, if you want to go that deep, you can see this book as a little story about keeping things authentic in a word that seeks to cut you down - like writing superhero comics! In this book, all of humanity is geared toward waste: self-loathing and bloody revenge (issue #1), slavery and exploitation (issue #2), militaristic science (issue #3). This last chapter sees it exploded onto a cosmic, time-tripping stage. Sometimes, a figure has to rise to bring a little old fantasy back the world, and make it better. Before it picks up a spear and starts skewering people.

And isn't that what this project is all about?


Manga Ketchup

*Several sources are reporting on a rather interesting turn of events concerning that 20th Century Boys news I mentioned the other day. Apparently the ‘ending’ is not a firm ending, as the book appears to really be going on hiatus until Spring of 2007. Writer/artist Naoki Urasawa makes reference in a note accompanying the newest chapter to a desire to “disappear for a while.” This post at ComiPress posts spoilers (which I’ve not read) and some theories as to what’s going on, making reference to fan ‘outrage.’ Some are reading this as some type of prank on the readership, while others see it as a sign of Urasawa conceding that he’s losing track of the plot. Some suspect he’s abandoning the work altogether, and that his editors are scrambling to cover. Or maybe he’s just trying to focus on Pluto, striking while the iron is hot. I have to wonder if maybe he’s simply getting burned out on, well, working on 20th Century Boys for 22 volumes, and needs a break from the grind.

This isn’t an unprecedented act, after all - in 1995, Yukito Kishiro brought his sci-fi series GUNNM: Hyper Future Vision (aka: Battle Angel Alita) to an abrupt ‘end,’ allegedly due to concerns regarding his personal health. Years later, he essentially asked his readers to disregard the last few pages of the series’ final volume, then picked the story up where he left off under the new title of GUNNM: The Last Order, still ongoing to this day (and out in English as Battle Angel Alita: The Last Order). Takehiko Inoue of Vagabond is also somewhat famous among fans for his tendency to take breaks from working on his series, returning at later dates. Plus, I have to presume that Pluto will continue, given that there’s no word on that series being halted too, so it’s not like Urasawa is simply vanishing from comics. Just yet.

Anne Freaks Vol. 1 (of 4)

Speaking of manga and not getting around to things, you might recall me having spent portions of a few older posts talking about my anticipation for the Yua Kotegawa manga Anne Freaks, a 4-book series from ADV. Well, I finally got around to buying a copy, and gosh were my hopes misplaced - Anne Freaks is a thuddingly mediocre book, uninspiring suspense action clumsily dressed in the costume of transgression. I posted a bit about it on another site, and I really don’t think I need to go into it much further:

Anne Freaks Vol. 1 (of 4): On shelves from ADV. I was looking forward to this one but wow did I not like it at all. Uninteresting cute teen girl assassin recruits a shy nerdy boy and a hot-blooded youth into her battle against Terrorists in Scary Masks (not their real name). The 'twist,' I guess, is that the nerdy boy recently killed his crazy mom, so every so often we get ponderous 'I am a murderer too, oh woe!' moody bits, plus gratingly schematic wacky comedy. Also, the cute teen girl assassin might be more than she appears, but I don't think anyone didn't expect that going in. The stiff, anime-ready art is just the cherry on top. Avoid.”

Concise, that. Actually, I maybe don’t quite do justice to the theme of ‘gasp, murder!’ as it’s forwarded by the book, since it's not just shy guy that's involved. The hot-blooded youth also gets into it, killing his first man out of revenge for his dead family. Naturally the uninteresting cute teen girl assassin eggs the two of her charges on, whilst committing the extra, unnecessary slaughter of witnesses on the side, and engaging in (yay!) torture. There’s a little Moral Ambiguity 101 work done with the possibility that maybe the boys are on the wrong side, or that perhaps there is no ‘right’ side, but lord knows there’s nothing compelling done with it. I’m guessing we’ll eventually be heading down the ‘forced into more and more questionable killings’ path with the fellers, since the stuff they pull in this volume isn’t all that shocking, really, unless Kotegawa is playing unreliable narrator games with us - that’s a possibility.

I should also expand a bit on my thoughts as to the visuals, since I don’t think ‘anime-ready’ necessarily equates to ‘stiff’ all the time; Kiyohiko Azuma of Yotsuba&! employs a very slick, rounded, animation-ready style, yet he manages to keep everything flowing nicely. But Kotegawa’s visual work seems inert, all of the attention focused on pretty, if sometimes disconcertingly broad-shouldered character designs. The opening of the first chapter in particular is poorly staged, with no time spent at all establishing a sense of environment, making cute teen killer’s entrance clash with the prior page's fantasy bits - it's not a compellingly surreal feeling the reader gets, only jumbled irritation. At times, Kotegawa's character art barely seems to be occupying the same space as everything else. Take a look at that panel of the legs of the witness' corpse near the end of Chapter (excuse me, Fabel) 01 - they seem to be floating above the floor more than anything.

So yeah, don't get this. The whole thing felt a bit reminiscent of a below-average Warren Ellis book, really, with moral questions and ideas flanked by too-dangerous, too-violent questionable heroes, and everything washed away by action scenes in the end. And uh oh! Is that a little ‘audience complicity’ argumentation I smell?

We made a game out of whether people lived or died. And we enjoyed it. What an awful thing to do.”

Jesus Christ, it’s bad enough I’m reminded of Jack Cross - I don’t also need to be told that my terrible impulses for vicariously savoring violent death have been laid bare, yet again. No, that trick only works if I’m enjoying what I’m seeing, and Anne Freaks just isn’t good enough to hit that level of effectiveness. It’s just more lazy posturing, and I’m not sticking around for the possibility of another 600 pages of that.


Easy Times!

*Just what I need for another loaded first two days of the week.


Cry Yourself to Sleep (debut book by Jeremy Tinder - there's promise laying among the low-key humor and melancholy)

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #4

Every Girl is the End of the World for Me (Jeffrey Brown scales it back, and he's better for it)

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #4 (of 5)

And a film review of Michael Haneke's suspense-cloaked think piece, Caché, to round it out.

*Sweet god, this is a feather-light week. I don't know where Death Note Vol. 5 went, but it's not on the final list. Maybe some stores are getting it anyway?


Solo #10: Let the funeral march begin! Accolades, end-of-year best-of lists, award nominations, and set to die in only three short issues! This time around, we’ve got Damion Scott, an artist whose work I’ve never actually seen in a comic - he’s got a substantial run on Batgirl to his credit, plus shorter tours on Robin and the most recent incarnation of Spectacular Spider-Man, and he’s co-authoring a book on How to Draw Hip-Hop. His cover looks nice and dynamic to me, though we’ll see what the innards of the beast can tell us. Certainly the future of Solo seems foreordained.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #4 (of 4): Well, try and savor this - it's the penultimate chapter of the Seven Soldiers saga, promising to reveal all of the secrets about the Sheeda as Our Hero goes on "a rampage the likes of which has never before been seen in comics" as DC's solicitation breathlessly notes. That whole "A Soldier must die" thing is kind of waning in suspense now that we've already seen evidence of more than one of them strolling around in Infinite Crisis and related covers. Although, it still leaves me curious as to what Morrison has planned, exactly. We might be waiting a while to find out, but Frankenstein is clearly one of the stronger segments of this project, and I don't expect it to let us down in the final sprint.

Kilroy is Here: Although there’s always some interesting curiosities to examine, like this 304-page tome from Image, collecting a whole lot of stuff from writer Joe Pruett’s eponymous ‘90s Caliber project from back in the day, which spanned two series, a host of short stories, and various specials. Featuring art by the likes of Tim Bradstreet, Phil Hester, Michael Avon Oeming, and others. I’ve not read any of this material, but I keep seeing it floating around in back-issue bins, and I’m sure its fans will be happy to see this compilation.

Hawkgirl #51: Hmmm - this little Walter Simonson/Howard Chaykin project proved to be more divisive than I’d expected. Granted it’s rather old-fashioned, sometimes clumsily so (I don‘t know about you, but I always babble expository information aloud while driving alone in my car), but I thought it was a workable enough introduction to the new creative team. We’ll have to see a little more meat this issue, to get a sense of where all of this might actually be going.

Gødland #10: Generally a pleasure to see this one. What kind of crazy hi-jinx will Adam Archer stumble into this time, especially now that he's stuck hanging around with perturbed Doombot par excellence Frederiek Nickelhead? Will Basil and the Tormentor bond as father and (mostly) daughter? Will there be pretty laser effects as villians bounce around? I bet I know the answer to that last one!

Iron Man: The Inevitable #5 (of 6): Well, there’s always miniseries that I happen to be reading.

Ed the Happy Clown #7 (of 9): Those generally fill out the old stack.

Boys of Summer Vol. 1 (of 3): Hey, it’s that Tokyopop book that Chuck Austin is writing with artist Hiroki Otsuka, who’s better known as hentai artist ‘Pirontan’ - a very NOT SAFE FOR WORK sampling of his work can be found at his homepage. This book however, while rated OT for ages 16 and up, is not porno - rather, it looks to be a pretty straight-up melding of horny youth ‘fan service’ comedy with sports action, and I’ve got to say that Austin looks to have a pretty decent handle on the ins and outs of the style. Not that the style itself is anything I’m itching to experience, but it certainly doesn’t seem deficient in any relative way, at least judging from at this 19-page preview.


Energy Enough for One Review

*(EDIT 4/24/06 3:35AM): Well, and this I guess - word is out among those paying direct attention to the Japanese serialization scene that Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys has recently drawn to a close. It is indicated that the series will thus be complete in 22 collected volumes. No word on what Urasawa's next move will be, as he seems to like working on more than one series at a time - Pluto continues onward, regardless.

And according to that same thread, Tsugumi Ohba's and Takeshi Obata's popular Death Note is maybe ending too, though nobody seems sure. A thread at Anime News Network indicates that it's currently up to Chapter 110 in serialization. Dismayingly, pretty much everyone seems to agree the series suffers a nasty dip in quality in its later volumes (it's currently up to Vol. 10 in Japan, with Vol. 5 due out in the US very soon)...

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #4 (of 5)

In which the plot kind of slows down as writer Peter Milligan decides to do a little character work, having revived all of these characters and all. Even if the protagonist is nominally Dead Girl, and really Dr. Strange, there’s no reason why Milligan can’t take some time out to examine where members of the old X-Statix cast at large stand, even if it kind of causes the story to halt as we approach the finish line. There’s certainly worse ways to fatten up the issue count, particularly since Milligan’s now gone all the way and brought Edie back. Obviously something can be done with that.

But this book, just like its parent series in its prime, thrives on confounding expectations, and thus we’re immediately told that last issue’s shocking tearful reunion actually wasn’t that shocking - Edie and Guy have met up quite a few times in the afterlife, it seems, but Edie has been going out of her way to avoid him lately as his sensitivity has really started to chafe over the course of eternity. It’s a funny little trick, and neatly turns the tables on what looked like the triumphant climax of a grand search by Guy last issue - he’s really more of a stalker, once our perceptions have shifted, and Milligan has a great time subverting such heroic narrative impulses, not to mention the romantic notion of ‘together forever after death,’ which only ever sounds nice to the living, who don’t actually have to deal with sticking around with one person forever.

Actually, Guy is more than a little similar to nominal series villain, the Pitiful One (and just as Dr. Strange is actually the protagonist of this series, his mentor The Ancient One is really the antagonist) - certainly our masked mastermind never tires of moaning to anyone who’ll listen about his countless unsuccessful clashes with Marvel heroes great and small, much like Guy won’t let go of his past with Edie. Cute bit of doubling there. Fortunately Guy is still a little better off, so after a nice pep-talk from the Phantom Rider (why the Phantom Rider, you ask? why not the Phantom Rider?) he’s acting like a hero and beating the shit out of Ant-Man, which is maybe redundant to say. Meanwhile, the Pitiful One gets his ass handed to him by Dr. Strange’s assistant Wong, another mark in the ledger.

Oh, and Dr. Strange and Dead Girl are still flirting it up. I really have no idea where that’s going, but I expect some sort of payoff next issue.

There’s also a bit more overt visual humor than usual from artists Nick Dragotta and Mike Allred, what with people’s heads laying passed out atop file cabinets, or the villains dragging Strange’s frozen corporal form around with them everywhere, knocking stuff over as they go. Hmmm, maybe the Phantom Rider’s in here just because he makes for such a nice sight gag, riding his horse through office cubicles and mighty canyons alike. A bit like how this series has galloped through both genre commentary and the playing of certain old refrains, for old times' sake. It hasn't fallen out of the saddle yet, and I've no reason to suspect it will come next issue's finale.


Buster Keaton: Assassin for Freedom

*One of the most enduring myths regarding the US film industry’s widespread switchover from silent to sound production is that its stars were caught unaware, unprepared to adapt their particularized styles to the demands of the talkies. There’s a bit of truth to that, but a good number of performers were ready and willing to tackle the new world as it arrived. It’s thus really no surprise to discover that silent comedian Joseph 'Buster' Keaton, die-hard tinkerer and lover of technological play, was really quite interested in exploiting the properties of sound film. After all, he’d been performing on stage for well over a decade prior to entering the cinema as a protégé of the ill-fated Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, so he knew how to deliver lines and utilize verbal humor. Hell, if you’re going to meticulously repeat camera setups in order to play every character in a scene, as Keaton did in 1921’s The Playhouse, figuring out sound technology shouldn't be all that hard.

No, Keaton’s problem was not that he was blindsided by technology; rather, he was blindsided by business. Keaton’s prior producer (and father-in-law), who had offered him great creative freedom, had sold out his contract to MGM shortly prior to the popularization of sound. And while at first blush things seemed hardly different working for MGM, even a bit more lavish, the studio quickly brought the whip down during the sound changeover, stripping Keaton of the creative input he’d normally have, and plugging him willy-nilly into whatever ill-fitting vehicle seemed to touch the public’s fancy, artistic satisfaction to the star be damned. The grand irony of it all: often these films were popular. Audiences paid well to see Keaton teamed up with Jimmy Durante, despite the rather patent clash between the two men’s individual comedic approaches. This only encouraged the MGM heads, while Keaton tumbled downward into a pit of alcohol abuse, culminating in a brief stay in a sanitarium in the mid-‘30s and the destruction of his viability as a feature leading man in American film.

But that was not the end of Keaton. It was not the end of the new technologies he’d be confronted with either. Indeed, the advent of that in-home miracle box - television - would provide Keaton with much of the star attraction support that the cinema would deny him in his later years, vindicating his hopeful interest in new technologies. Television, in its early days, provided financial succor to vaudevillians and comical bit-players through its abundance of variety shows, and Keaton took great advantage of the opportunity - as early as 1949, Keaton was starring in his own live west coast broadcast, The Buster Keaton Show, which was then cleared for a second (taped) season and national syndication as Life With Buster Keaton. Keaton terminated the program after that sophomore run, but continued as a frequent guest on many different shows, usually performing in silent-influenced (often adapted) skits.

Oh, and he also once played the completely dramatic lead role of a reluctant revolutionary who violently tears down a bureaucracy-stuffed totalitarian regime.

Yes, Keaton (very) occasionally scored ‘serious’ roles on the tube, the first and most fascinating of which can be found in Episode #49 of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents, an anthology series that ran from 1953-57, filmed in England (though commissioned by NBC in the US) as a showcase for original half-hour dramatic, comedic, mysterious, and fantastical stories. A bit like Playhouse 90 or The Twilight Zone, both of which also featured Keaton in episodes, though earlier than either.

The episode in question is titled The Awakening, and first aired on July 14, 1954. As the chipper, pencil-thin mustached Mr. Fairbanks himself mentions in his introduction, it’s an adaptation of the famous Nikolai Gogol short story The Cloak; he’s no Rod Sterling, but Fairbanks does a decent job of hyping the show up, placing special emphasis on the fact that this is Buster Keaton’s first dramatic role (it’d be more accurate to say ‘wholly’ dramatic, given the lightly melodramatic nature of Keaton’s feature debut, 1920’s The Saphead, but what can you expect?). Plainly, Keaton still had name recognition (whether carried over from the silent era or freshly produced in television), and his appearing in a drama could act as a genuine selling point. And what an odd little drama it is!

It soon becomes apparent, as the show proper starts, that we’re looking at a rather loose adaptation of Gogol, one turned to the service of explicit political allegory, some of it still amusingly modern today. Keaton plays a meek file clerk in some unstuck-in-time totalitarian municipality, valued for his ability at memorizing difficult document numbers and knowing just where to store all the right files. Never mind that these files concern things like the apportioning of much-needed medicine for sick people - the good clerk’s task is to distinguish between form 456.32(A)(25) and form 456.32(B)(15), thus keeping the gears of bureaucracy well-oiled (and if you’re anything like me, you’re already whistling the theme to Brazil). Speaking of oily, all citizens are urged to tune into their fearless leader The Chief’s blatantly propagandist radio broadcasts, in which he boasts of how much he cares about his people, and much smiting of the enemy is going on. Keaton is a good follower, taking it all in unquestioningly as he traverses his world, which is wedged uncomfortably between '19th century village' and 'art deco Hell' in terms of set design. The environmental jumble even extends to language, with all of the salt-of-the-earth common folk speaking in vaguely Eastern European tones, all of the government tools sporting British accents, and Keaton himself retaining his twangy Kansas baritone.

This patchwork aesthetic distracts, but it doesn’t really detract from Keaton’s performance, which is really quite sublime. His voice has always carried a slightly pleading, emphatic quality, and it’s put to fitting effect with this character. But the real trick behind his success is even simpler to appreciate: Keaton is fundamentally playing exactly the same ‘great stone face’ character he plays in his most famous comedies, only now the character exists in a world with no jokes. And just as removing all of the thought balloons from Garfield makes the strip seem oddly poignant, eradicating all surrounding slapstick from the archetypical Keaton character’s universe suddenly renders him depressive, sad, even ominous. It helps that Keaton is now 58 years old; his hair largely fallen out, deep wrinkles and crags pressed into his familiar expression, and large, piercing eyes growing visibly watery at times, Keaton looks incredibly weathered yet utterly unique, and immediately draws all audience attention whenever he’s on screen. All of the best of this show’s scenes have him silently walking around, acting with only that face. It makes me wonder what a visually masterful director like F.W. Murnau could have done with an older Keaton, had the former been up for it and the latter alive in the sound era.

Anyway, the plot involves Keaton visiting a tailor’s shop on his lunch hour in order to fix his overcoat; the ratty rag has been attracting derision from various quarters, and Keaton is eager to get it mended before winter. Keaton dozes off in the middle of one of the fearless leader’s broadcasts, kindly telegraphing the big final twist for everyone who’s seen more than two films or dramatic television programs in their life. The tailor wakes Keaton, saying the coat is beyond help - only a new cloak will do, and it will be the very best of the best, so hungry is the tailor to create something real in so awful a world. Keaton reluctantly agrees, saving his cash for the purchase, and it’s all worth it when the new coat arrives - it truly is the finest in the land! Coworkers don’t even recognize Keaton, and women suddenly think he’s handsome! It gives him self-esteem like he’s never known, but it all comes crashing down when he attracts the city’s criminal element, a mugging resulting in the theft of that damned fine jacket.

Needless to say, Keaton suddenly develops a sense of empathy for the common person. He tries to talk to the police about finding his beloved coat, but they only ask him to file the appropriate forms and wait. When he protests, he’s immediately sent to prison (not much for subtlety, this regime). Upon release, Keaton finds that he can no longer perform his filing duties without thinking of the people behind the numbers, an attitude that makes him even less popular than before among his coworkers. Finally, he decides to write a personal plea for aid to the fearless leader himself. After all, the man keeps saying he cares about the people, right?

Before he knows it, Keaton is brought before the Chief (played with gregariously hammy gusto by British character actor James Hayter), and he pleads his case on a live radio broadcast. Instantly, the Chief orders a bunch of workers assigned to the mater dismissed, and declares the problem solved. This solution has produced a distinct lack of ‘coat’ though, and Keaton starts getting mad. Finally realizing that his leader only has petty power games in mind, Buster uses his pulpit to deliver a top-of-his lungs message of dissent to the people, his eyes bugging out and his voice booming as a crowd of armed guards try to restrain him, but no human bondage can tie down justice and/or Buster Keaton! Seizing an officer’s pistol, Our Hero busts a cap (several, really) in the head of repression, a climax that certainly would have made some of those later MGM films more lively. Then, as everyone who hadn’t been using the toilet for the first ten minutes of the show had expected, we return to the tailor’s office, where Keaton awakes once again (granted, the whole thing is titled The Awakening...).

Just a dream! Or was it… a vision?! Keaton becomes agitated when his conversation with the tailor begins repeating itself from earlier. Why, if the tailor makes that coat, then Buster will be driven to assassinate the Chief again! Keaton saunters out of the store. What will he do?

And then he saunters back in.

(come on, all together now…)

Make me the coat!” he demands! YEAH! Now it’s B for Vendetta! A triumphant orchestral refrain rises up, as the camera frames Keaton’s granite countenance, the sheer contours of revolution now carved onto his stone face! Silent clowns should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their silent clowns!

And fade to black.

So clearly, I loved the damn thing. It says a lot about what makes Keaton's humor work, even as he strove to find new means of support in a fresh era. The whole show is available on Kino's R1 dvd of latter-period Keaton miscellany, Keaton Plus. It's a great disc for fans, also rounding up some television commercials, bargain-basement sound two-reelers, behind-the-scenes footage from The General (!!), home movies, content from John Bengtson wonderful book Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton, and tributes from various famous folk, including a tipsy-looking Orson Welles in front of a blood-red background. Also available is a second latter-period Buster disc, Industrial Strength Keaton from Mackinac Media, which boasts a generous selection of the man's work in industrial film, a venue that allowed him almost all the creative freedom he craved, so long as the necessary message got across in the end.

And he still did his own pratfalls, even at age 68.


Those old indy standards.

*But first, a little spillover from yesterday's movie post: it seems filmmaker David Lynch recently whipped up a short film for inclusion in some sort of educational dvd on the topic of digital filmmaking, and you can view it here. It's very slow, quite odd (which is to be expected), and I have no idea what it's meant to demonstrate regarding the possibilities of digital filmmaking, yet I liked it anyway, particularly the ending. All that grinning really got under my skin for some reason...

Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Huh. A little proof that scaling your ambitions back might be good for the artistic soul - this is handily the strongest work writer/artist Jeffrey Brown has produced in a good while. It’s funnier, shorter (104 pages), and more focused than the scattershot diminishing returns on display in his last ’major’ release, AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy, while remaining far more affecting than the intermittently amusing superhero hi-jinx of Bighead or the jumbled miscellany of Minisulk. Yes, Brown is still essentially hitting those ‘girlfriend trilogy’ beats here, but he suddenly seems more energetic, more feisty in his observations, and that might be due to confining his focus not to the sprawl of an entire relationship, but the little narratives that can leap out from the span of a few weeks.

Covering the day-to-day period of December 26, 2003 to January 15, 2004, with a brief prologue set sometime in the past and an epilogue bringing us up to January of 2005, the book’s structure all but demands that Brown keep his vignette-based narrative style running tight, and it does wonders for the story’s sense of build and progression. Unlike the usual juxtaposition of temporally diverse events Brown might indulge in to raise some sort of resonance, a style that both afforded supple effect to the likes of Clumsy and saddled AEIOU with disconnected, emotionally superficial feel, here Brown relates events in a straightforward style, largely in the service of gentle humor and romantic befuddlement. And self-reference too: it’s perhaps inevitable that a successful autobiographical cartoonist will eventually start making comics that reference their own earlier comics, particularly in the way prior successes have affected their ways of living. It’s only natural, and maybe irresistible, though the risk of tiring narcissism is high.

Brown manages to turn this instinct to good comedic effect, however, with the plot being set in motion by his book Unlikely, the saga of his having lost his virginity. It seems Allisyn, the female lead of that tome, has caught wind of the book; her and Brown have begun communicating again, and Brown is rather excited about meeting up with her again. But she’s far from the only girl in this book, as Our Hero also deals with pen-pals, co-workers, ex-girlfriends that have not had books devoted to them, comics fans that really want him to date their roommates, and the requisite coffee-slinging crush at the joint in which Brown draws his stories. As the title suggests, Brown remains endlessly perplexed and decidedly ineffective with the opposite sex, though the pathos are subsumed into a sweetly bemused ‘such is life!’ tone, almost as if Brown the author is affectionately chuckling at Brown the character and patting him on the head.

It's a good road to take at this point, if Brown is going to continue creating books about his relationships with women; maybe it's just my experience with the rest of the Brown oeuvre coloring my reactions, but I was utterly grateful to be treated to a page as winkingly vulgar as the bit with Brown and an ex sitting down for coffee, the girl's face obscured by word balloons whilst her ample cleavage is positioned to attract the reader's eye in every panel, Brown himself longlingly staring from off to the side. And there's some good bits of running comic business, like the cough Brown catches in Allisyn's apartment that sticks with him for most of the book, every "cough" dutifully rendered, interrupting sentences, hanging out of word balloons, etc.

It's not that all of this adds up to an awful lot; at best it's a cozy sweater of a slice-of-life comic, all warmth and cuteness. But it doesn't fall apart or anything, and it does well what it sets out to do, with a measure of sturdy craft involved. I don't know if I can call it a 'return to form' for Brown, as it's not all that much like anything he's done before in terms of form itself, but the feel of the piece is pleasing in a way that's been missing from some of the author's recent books. Worth noting from that angle.


Hiding it all away.

*Reviews of the recent cinema! Because you requested it! And by ‘you,’ I actually mean Tam. But hey, so long as Tam is reading this, I can’t be entirely wrong! Ha ha!


"I like the multiplicity of books, because each book is different in the mind of each reader. It's the same with this film - if 300 people are in a cinema watching it, they will all see a different film, so in a way there are thousands of different versions of [Caché]. The point being that, despite what TV shows us, and what the news stories tell us, there is never just one truth, there is only personal truth.”

- Writer/director Michael Haneke, as quoted on the Internet Movie Database

The first I’d heard of Michael Haneke, the German-born creator of this 2005 film (French-language, though it’s actually a French-Austrian-German-Italian co-production), he was big among horror and exploitation fans. This was subsequent to the release of his 1997 feature, Funny Games, which I’ve unfortunately never gotten around to seeing. I do recall the hype surrounding it - a quickly infamous psychos-invade-the-home epic in which (from what I’ve heard) hardly a drop of blood is actually spilt, it was nonetheless hailed for its psychological brutality and eminently Hitchcockian preoccupation with the very act of watching films, inviting the audience right in to savor the viciousness of vicarious immorality. Or so it’s said; it might just be crap.

Actually, this is the first of Haneke’s films I’ve viewed, his newest and most acclaimed release; it captured several awards at Cannes 2005, including Best Director, and that no doubt helped fuel a wide enough US theatrical run that it eventually trickled into my neck of the woods about two months prior to its R1 dvd release (that’ll be June 27). It’s been called by some a ‘thriller,’ though that’s not very accurate - there is some inevitable suspense raised by the simple fact that the plot involves a mystery, though Haneke’s cinematic technique often works overtime to sap any overt excitement from the proceedings. There are plenty of long, long takes, lots of unmoving shots, no pulse-quickening uses of sound, no musical score whatsoever, extended, mid-tempo conversations between characters about their lives and feelings, virtually nothing in the way of climactic build, and a pronounced absence of clarity as to the mechanics of the mystery itself. It’s a slow film. A lulling one. This does work to the great benefit of a certain scene about ¾ of the way through, the film’s one and only lunge into visceral shock, and it had half the audience audibly gasping. You’ll know it when you see it.

But really, Caché is a stridently intellectual food-for-thought film that just so happens to employ certain thriller mechanisms to suit its purposes. And taken in that way, it’s a pretty rich success - simultaneously a type of parable for race relations in France and a rumination on the cinema’s capacity for truth-telling, it’s the type of movie that derives the lion’s share of its impact from thinking about it after the credits have rolled. I can understand the Cannes jury’s enthusiasm for Haneke’s directorial technique, as it’s furiously canny (yet remarkably quiet) in its use of visual triggers and recurring shots, which are generally employed to obfuscate whatever narrative point-of-view the film is employing at any given moment.

Indeed, this is Caché’s great success, on the level of ‘pure’ cinema. It’s been said that the act of watching movies has altered the ways filmgoers dream - the cuts and angles and juxtapositions that early film pioneers developed as a unique storytelling grammar has awarded them with a special brand of immortality, as the very subconscious of the public is now keyed to a deep understanding of what filmic visual techniques ‘mean’ in a narrative sense. I am not much of a lucid dreamer, but I know I sometimes dream through the eye of an omniscient narrator, viewing myself as one in a theater would view me from the outside. Haneke understands this, and he directly connects film and personal points of view and dreaming over the course of his film.

The opening titles appear over an unmoving view of the front of a home. Absolutely nothing happens as the credits proceed, save for a few people walking by, and the nothingness continues after the credits have vanished. But soon it becomes clear that we’re not seeing ‘reality’ - we’re watching a videotape along with successful bourgeois couple Georges and Anne, a recording made of the front of their very own home. Somebody has left this tape on their doorstep, and they can’t figure out why. Additional tapes quickly appear, similar in content, and some of them accompanied by lurid drawings - a human with blood erupting from its mouth, a chicken with its neck cut - drafted in a childish style. Soon, the couple’s young son is receiving similar artwork on a postcard at school, and Georges gets identical mailings at his workplace, where he hosts and edits a literary chat show. In one scene, we see him ordering a conversation cut up to remove challenging “theoretical” debate - this is important to understanding the film’s themes and characters, as Georges has a few things to hide, and has a habit of telling lies to make life easier. So does his wife. Maybe his son does as well. Actually, Haneke leads us to think that every character in the film is less than trustworthy, with only those long stretches of videotape offering a semblance of objectivity. But can video ever really be trusted, when humans must create it?

Eventually, the tapes begin to change, bearing footage of Georges’ family estate, among other sights. Haneke films these sequences identically, with an unmoving camera (though occasionally placed in moving vehicles) offering slightly off-kilter angles. Eventually, dialogue clues us in to the fact that we’re watching another recording. Until it no longer does. As the film proceeds, Haneke begins repeating shots seen in the videotapes, but to different ends, playing nicely off of the audience’s expectations. Some of these scenes are part of the ‘action’ proper. Some of these scenes are offered without comment. We often glimpse background characters filming various activities. Sometimes Haneke shoots scenes in a style simply reminiscent of the videotapes, forcing the viewer to wonder if the characters are secretly being recorded. Obviously they are - they're characters in a film after all - and Haneke ultimately links dreams to film in their creation of a personal 'reality,' and maybe one that contains details more omnious than one would expect.

As far as the story goes, Georges' and Anne's life becomes awfully unstable, and their marriage strained. The intrusion of another party's personal 'reality' upsets their own, as it exposes their failures and secrets. The title of the film means 'Hidden,' and everything from individual sins to cameras are hidden in this movie. Everyone hides something. Society hides more - I won't spoil everything for you, but let's just say that another theme of the film - this one delivered via dialogue and proper character interation - is that of complacency in a racist system,
unconsciously (maybe even innocently) utilizing prejudices to your advantage and then denying that any wrong was done. But eventually the narrative of the oppressed will come to light, and the subjectivity of one will 'crash' into the subjectivity of another, to evoke a certain film that won a whole bunch of awards recently.

So what can be done? Haneke seems to suggest that communication is what's really needed. Perhaps the communication of art, but really just person-to-person understanding. As one might expect from a film so loaded with mistruths and cloaked motives, there's no objective resolution to the mystery, though there's plenty of room for individual interpretation, especially given the highly ambiguous final shot. But expecting a solution to be handed down is an element of the thriller, and that's not what Caché strives to be. It's only what it might be mistaken for, which I'm sure delights Haneke. It's more a film to be admired and pondered than enjoyed, but who says all art need be enjoyable? Not Haneke, maybe still playing those Funny Games, forcing his audience to consider themselves considering him.


In which I wreck all the good bits.

*Sure, Seven Soldiers itself probably won’t be ending until sometime around the winter solstice from the looks of things, but that can’t stop the trivia train from rumbling forward! Remember back when Marc Singer noted that a certain bit of Klarion the Witch Boy seemed inspired by the Shamen’s tune Ebeneezer Goode (dubbed by Marc “possibly the most precious single of all time”)? Well guess which music video Tim O’Neil just posted? Remember: there are no drug references in this song! Any thoughts to that effect are purely the product of your deviant brains!

*Suprises Dept: Two of them today.

First, it appears that a goodly number of comics stores have gotten in their copies of the new Renée French graphic novel The Ticking, so I think I’ll toss up a link to my pre-release review from a while back. This book is very good stuff, and I’ll add that the package design is quite lovely too - well worth buying.

Secondly, you might recall my mentioning the other day that Ron Regé Jr. has two new books coming up: a Drawn and Quarterly release titled The Awake Field, and a new installment of his ongoing series Yeast Hoist, #12, from Buenaventura Press. Well just imagine my expression as I picked up a copy of the former, released to shops just today, only to find out that it’s actually… Yeast Hoist #13! Such information is listed inside the book, on the spine, and on D&Q’s included informational ribbon attached to the back cover, though I didn't catch it at all in the promotional material I viewed. Not that it matters a whit - Yeast Hoist is simply Regé’s regular space to do what he wants, and has taken a whole lot of forms over the years, from its early minicomic incarnations to #9’s presence as a 4-page color contribution to the SPX 2001 anthology (I believe it existed as a minicomic before that as well) to #11’s being a supple standalone book published by Highwater. Having two different issues arrive in different formats from different publishers, only one directly utilizing the title ‘Yeast Hoist,’ seems about right. For the record, #12 should be available through the Buenaventura store soon.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #4

Well, this book has officially changed its name in the legal indicia, so that’s what I’ll now call it. Despite the title augmentation, there remains a certain familiarity about this series, four issues in. There’s random laughs, lots of fast violence, bits of self-effacement (whether targeted at the genre itself or writer Warren Ellis), and then the issue ends. It almost doesn’t matter if we’re on an issue that begins or ends one of the book’s two-part sagas - even among cotton candy comics, this is extremely light. As usual, this particular issue is a mixed bag. Being a surface-oriented book, I guess I’ll skip some stones across said surface, via the magic of lists. I do like lists.


- The issue opens with a nicely rueful analysis of its own agenda: “Selling you a huge crazy mutant cop menacing an attractive young woman and calling it Fun.” Cynical, but I laughed.

- The image of a giant anime robot looming over the city whilst shouting out clichés. Between this and the giant monster attack last storyline, I get the feeling that Ellis is eager to get some more Japanese pop culture influence out of his system and onto the page.

- One great sight gag: Boom Boom stealing the telescope to take a peek. You’ll know it when you see it.

- Actual character humor! Thus far, the various members of the team have been sort of difficult to tell apart in terms of dialogue, save for Machine Man. But this time Ellis makes some effort at milking mirth out of the differences among the characters, particularly in how they all act before the badge of authority. It’s successful.


- I am getting to like the running gag in the front-of-issue Primer regarding how the book’s new extended title makes little sense given the book’s premise.

- And the excuse in the letters column as to why there even is an extended title got me snickering.


- “Tick tick tick. Boom.” Bad catchphrase! Bad.

- The whole three page flashback with the kindly aliens fell entirely flat, since it was so utterly predictable. At this point it’s obvious that anything smacking of genre camp or earnestness is going to get steamrolled over, and such inevitability kind of takes the fun out of the experience. It might be viewed as a logical, comedy-centric extension of writer Ellis’ general discomfort around superhero tropes that haven’t been filtered through his particular sensibility.

- You also might as well count on cute critters getting killed too, whenever they appear.


- Penciler Stuart Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger manage some fleet movement in the action sequences, and never sacrifice expressive character art in the process. My favorite page in the book was the one where Monica gets clocked by the manhole cover, and a simplified Boom Boom (all dot eyes and circle mouth) tries to wake her up. Lovely.

- However, the many explosions of this issue kind of trip over the line of monotony. I prefer seeing the characters move about and engage in more visually diverse antics - there’s two bits in here where characters simply stand around and fire things at villains, causing them to ignite, which is one too many for as quick-reading an issue as this.

- On the other hand, the whole sequence beginning with the Captain flying into the gun and ending with the manholes flying manages to marry the exploding to a diversified set of images - it’s a lot more effective, I think, while retaining that magic blowing-things-up appeal.

And that’s that, you know?

Well, I’ll also note that I’m beginning to come around to Ian Brill’s perspective in sensing a certain visual kinship here with the now-cancelled Joe Casey book The Intimates - something about the flippant flashback this issue suddenly connected with the constant deployment of title banners throughout the story to trigger a sense of nostalgia that I didn’t get before. The visual stylization is not nearly as mannered here as it was in the Casey book, and it doesn’t really provide anything save for a few more jokes and an added dollop of surface pleasure - but that mostly fits the intent of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., looking pretty and not sticking around long enough for its welcome to be worn out too thoroughly. It just occurs to me now that Ellis may have succeeded best here in beating back the tide of stretched-out storytelling in comics: he’s written a series that’s almost certainly best taken in very small doses.


It hid behind my head.

*Important Updates of 3:25 AM on 4/19/06 Dept: Jesus Christ did the three newest chapters of Pluto kick ass. That's #27-29, out just the other day. I mean, really.

*Well, that’s one way to get my attention - it looks like the much-selling video game franchise Halo is getting its very own graphic novel, accordingly titled The Halo Graphic Novel. It’s produced under the supervision of game developers Bungie Studios, and they’ve managed to attract quite a lineup of folks - I think I’m most excited by the teaming of The Winter Men writer Brett Lewis and comics legend Moebius, though new work by writer/artist Tsutomo Nihei (of Blame! and Wolverine: Snikt!) will also attract many. Rounding out the teams for the four included stories are writer Lee Hammock and artist Simon Bisley, and writer Jay Faerber, penciler Andrew Robinson, and colorist Ed Lee. There’ll also be a big gallery section, with contributions by the likes of Geof Darrow, George Pratt, Kent Williams, and many more. Full lineup here - I’m linking to Bungie’s own news update on the book, since they’re the only ones I can find that actually matched up the creative teams in detail.

Also - the book is being published by Marvel, which is interesting as it appears to evidence an interest on Bungie’s part to break into the Direct Market with a certain amount of force - I presume bookstore sales are a focus as well, though when folks from Bungie cite the need for a publishing partner “that could take it to the next level and get it in front of the most people,” I instantly get to thinking that their eyes are as much on comics stores, where something with the Marvel (or DC) label on it can still prompt orders more easily than otherwise.

Cry Yourself to Sleep

This will be out in shops tomorrow. It’s an 88-page, $7 book from Top Shelf, a low-key debut by writer/artist Jeremy Tinder. There’s not all that much to say about it, save that it’s gently humorous, in possession of some attractive visual flourish, not entirely well strung-together, and suggesting of good things in the author’s near-future.

A vignette-driven examination of three characters, the book bounces around between viewpoints for most of its pages as everyone tries to deal with a sudden outbreak of sadness. Andy is a video store clerk and an aspiring writer, whose novel has just been rejected by a big publisher. Jim, Andy’s roommate, is an anthropomorphic bunny who can’t seem to hold down a job. And Robot is, as one might guess, a mechanized construct that has begun to experience a long dark midnight of the soul on account of his blithe ways with others’ feelings (as displayed in prior comics). There’s a very nice prelude segment that neatly wraps all of them together - we start out with Jim’s being fired from his latest job, in typical comics style with three horizontal tiers of panels per page. Then Andy’s story begins, except it only occupies the second and third tiers, with Jim’s point of view continuing to occupy the first tier. Eventually, we’re introduced to Robot, who gets the bottom tier, and all three characters’ paths eventually synch up into the story’s title page. Disarmingly simple, attractive storytelling.

Tinder’s visual style in general is appealing, his character art reminiscent to me of Steve Weissman with touches of Chester Brown; his storytelling is clean, with constant shifts in point-of-view executed without convolution. This is important, as the various bits of Tinder’s plot don’t cohere as well as they could; almost everything is conveyed through short bursts of events, little snatches of experience, but there’s not quite enough done with the book’s characters or themes to lend so fragmented an array a sense of resonance or build. There's some effort at added depth via visuals - Tinder's technique of sometimes removing most background art and shading from the final panel of a segment, indicating isolation, is a good one, but used a bit too much for as short a book as this, and ultimately comes off as artificial and emotionally pushy, exclamation points added to sentences that don't need them.

And they're short, direct sentences. Andy walks around and talks with his friends and maybe starts up a flirtation with a pretty customer at the store, while Jim attempts to secure cash from his parents and Robot talks to a bird that he’s decided holds the key to inner serenity - but most of these scenes simply evoke a tinge of amusement, or sadness, leaving the eventual stringing together of the characters at the end to evoke only an inevitable nod rather than a climactic feel. As one might guess simply from the book's structure, it's interpersonal caring that's really important, and maybe a desire to step outside of your life's comfort zone (and your art's as well), and while that's a good sentiment, the work backing it up doesn't do all that much to really delve into it. Folks are sad, then the point is raised.

But there are pleasures to be found in Tinder's fragments of life: I liked the monologue about early video games mirroring the efficient repetitions of the natural world, and the bit with Andy's friends urging him to break out of his autobiographical production mold. I also appreciated the random positioning of various character design types - Jim having a rabbit mother and a human father raised a nice laugh. A small book, skimming the surface of its concerns, but not bad work by any measure. The potential is there, and this tome may soon aquire the luminosity of promise later fulfilled.