A review below the manga.

*Bin-Diving Dept: I finally managed to track down some stuff I’d wanted for a while - the final issues of Dark Horse’s serialization of Katsuhiro Otomo’s and Takumi Nagayasu’s The Legend of Mother Sarah, which ran from 1995-98, spanning three miniseries that I presume equate to the first three volumes of the collected manga.

Only the first of Dark Horse’s miniseries was collected into its own trade paperback; the latter miniseries, the seven-issue The Legend of Mother Sarah: City of the Children and the nine-issue The Legend of Mother Sarah: City of the Angels, have been left to languish in back-issue bins. A fifteen-issue(!) fourth miniseries titled The Legend of Mother Sarah: City of Peace was planned, but low sales prevented its publication (plus there was the matter of an odd conflict between Dark Horse and the book’s creators that erupted when issue #1 of City of the Angels was apparently printed without one of their names on it, an omission that somehow blocked the release of the rest of the series for over a year). I believe the series was (is?) a slow one to produce in Japan; having begun in 1990, it seems to have just reached Vol. 7 in 2004, and I don’t know if it’s even over yet.

It’d be among the last of writer Otomo’s lingering ties to manga - I can’t recall if the influential Akira creator has actually drawn a comic in the last decade, and even the most recent of his script-only efforts came in 2001-02 with Hipira: The Little Vampire, which was actually more of a children’s book. The Legend of Mother Sarah contains many of his pet interests, from a powerful sense of social justice to the now-familiar motif of little psychic children. The story sees Sarah, an Amazonian wanderer, searching a ruined, war-streaked future Earth for the three children she lost when fleeing her satellite home from violence. Each storyline sees her enter a new town, inevitably war-torn, and encountering various and sundry metaphors for the human condition: religion, sacrifice, maternal care, greed, violence, everything. Violence ensues, with plenty of splashing gore and large-scale property damage (of course!), and Sarah moves on to the next town with her comic relief sidekick.

At the end of the last issue, Dark Horse editor Rachel D. Penn wrote: “Hopefully, the industry will grow stronger, sales will skyrocket, publishing houses will grow instead of shrink, more readers will embrace the art form, and all of these much-loved titles that have fallen into the shadows will resurface to reach larger audiences than ever before. If this hope becomes a reality, Dark Horse will be able to not only resurrect some of the titles it once ran, but also expand the line of manga itself.”

From where we stand today, in 2007, all of this has arguably happened. The irony, however, is that the perception of what ‘manga’ ought to be has also changed with the market. It’s hard to think of a manga that’s less out of style today than The Legend of Mother Sarah, a dense, blood-spattered tour of realistic war zones, a serious, even dour thing that sets out to deliver downbeat messages about human nature through a detailed, Western-influenced visual style (I know of nothing else by artist Nagayasu, but it’s plainly informed by many of the same European influences that inspired creators like Otomo and Jiro Tanaguchi). Just like all the best-sellers, eh? Well, maybe we can keep dreaming that Dark Horse or somebody will get back to it someday

*And speaking of Europe and manga - as you may have heard already, Shigeru Mizuki’s NonNonBâ has just won Best Album at this year’s comics festival at Angouleme, the first manga to receive this top honor. The comments section over at MangaBlog’s pertinent post reveals this ten-page French-language sample from the book, if you’re curious.

Eternals #6 (of 7)


This is now the penultimate issue instead of the finale, although it’s still extra-sized as promised, with 39 pages of story. There’s few series I’m reading right now that frustrate me quite as much as this one - at times it really does teeter on the edge of apparently having something to say about these characters and this concept, but it’s like writer Neil Gaiman feels it’s sufficient to merely suggest deeper themes of faith and human identity, rather than actually exploring them to any meaningful extent. I recall issue #1 of this series doing a good job of teasing out the fire-and-brimstone elements of Jack Kirby’s original concepts and applying them to a contemporary scenario, but just as many yet not all of the series’ issues have some cutesy religious title, Gaiman’s attentions to that sort of content have flagged.

That might be ok if anything equally interesting had popped up in its place, but one issue before the finale it seems that Eternals is shaping up to be little more than an extended continuity modification job, the sort of shuffling of deck chairs that occurs every so often when Marvel or DC decides it’s time to reactivate a dormant property, and some lucky soul gets tapped for the assignment of configuring said property to the current demands of continuity. Oh, doesn’t it sound like a blast?! The best of these series do manage to find something of their own to say -- the fine likes of Klarion the Witch Boy certainly double as efforts to implant the characters into the contemporary scene -- but often these things can become bogged down in minute detail that might provoke delight from longtime, hardcore fans, but do have a way of boring everyone else.

That’s exactly what’s happened to this series - a remarkably large amount of space has been expended outlining the Eternals premise, explaining the characters’ backstory, sorting out how they got into current continuity, and exploring bizarrely aimless subplots about their current we-think-we’re-humans life while doing little to actually illustrate the disconnection between humanity and immortality. Even when one of the series’ major plot points hinges on that very disconnection -- that’s Sprite’s ambition -- it provides no more character illustration than necessary on the way to further elaboration on how the Eternals got to where they are today. With the point so clearly being the reinsertion of these characters back into active Mighty Marvel duty, minor things like emotion and suspense seem to be left hanging.

And it’s not that I expect the sun and the sky from Neil Gaiman; he’s been extremely hit and miss for me with his comics works (his prose tends to be more satisfying, from what little I’ve read), and his last Marvel project, 1602, declined swiftly from amusing to awful over the course of its run. But continuity modification to this extent is something I’ve never even seen from him, and I can’t help but shake the feeling the whole project might have been best left to some workmanlike Marvel hand that could maybe strike a better balance with this sort of thing. Gaiman simply seems lost, capable of occasionally shining and all the more infuriating for wasting the potential.

Anyway, this issue seems to wrap up the main plot, setting up a new Eternals status quo that seems sort of similar to the old status quo, from what I understand - waiting on judgment from on high yet again. There’s the usual cutie-pie bits of precious Gaiman dialogue (“Do not eat your human before he is trapped, Dzyan.”), though the comedy is a little better than usual - Iron Man and Hank Pym show up to tie the series yet again into Civil War and they’re basically treated as comic relief buffoons, the issue concluding with a nice little statement on the absurd inapplicability of a concept like Civil War’s to characters with the powers of gods.

But the Eternals seem distinctly ineffectual in their own action climax; everybody zips around and argues for pages, and then the story’s main threat essentially makes up his own mind about what to do, and then the issue’s over. I suppose this is all to demonstrate the equalization of humans and superhumans alike before the true majesty of the God concept? Not even the mightiest of us can control our fates in that ol’ time religion? Boy do I wish this stuff was more focused. And paced better. And didn’t feel the need to rely on cheeseball faux-suspense techniques as dragging out miscellaneous cosmic characters to bolster the grand import of this continuity modification - why, the Watcher is so stunned, he actually cannot bear to watch!! Wasn’t he just crying over in Civil War the other month? Is he Superman now? Next he’ll be getting a sniffly nose over Spider-Man changing his costume.

There’s still another issue to go, yes, presumably to reestablish the characters’ Earthly links and possibly wrap up some of the subplots. Maybe (probably) set up another series somewhere in the future, like 1602 did in its final pages. Really, this all feels a bit like an overextended, trade-paced opening arc to an ongoing series, one that’s taken far too long to do anything interesting, but might inspire a belated glimmer of hope for future storylines. Except, here the next issue’s supposed to be the ending. Ah well, John Romita Jr.’s pencils certainly kept it all looking pretty, even under this issue’s four credited inkers, and if I’ve been able to count on him for six issues so far, I can at least count on him for another.