Totally Disconnected Things

*Well, first things first - I really do need to thank Chris Butcher, who said some very kind things about this site at the comics blogging panel at the New York Comic Con this weekend. I appreciate that!

*Jesus, I read a lot of random things. So here’s some short words on the miscellaneous books and comics I’ve stumbled across:

- Girl Crazy: Very, very odd book by Gilbert Hernandez, originally published by Dark Horse as a three-issue miniseries in 1996, then collected the following year. On first glance, it appears to be as lightheartedly prurient a t&a affair as can be, albeit one livened by Beto’s always-fine artwork - a trio of able-bodied young women is a bizarre multi-era pop fusion future strive to break a friend of theirs out of prison for their collective 16th birthdays, and mayhem duly ensues. There’s so many leering glances at 15-year old girls, you’d swear someone like Oh!Great had ghost-written it, though part of Hernandez’s joke is, admittedly, that almost none of the main characters actually look their age, so sexed-up and artificial is the future; only sweet Kitten actually somewhat looks her age, which makes her one of the most desirable women around.

And then, the book frankly goes apeshit, transforming into a surreal, surprisingly bloody reflection on the regrets of compromise, the will to power, and unkind subjugation of childish attitudes to the illusions of adulthood. Yikes - still plenty of panty shots and gags! I can’t really recommend this much -- it’s tonally inchoate, and the pacing feels like Beto was somehow under the accidental impression that he actually had four issues to work with and only found out the truth after half of issue #3 was done -- but you know the old cliché about some artists’ failures being more interesting than other artists’ successes, right?

- DESTROY!!: A 1986 novelty comic from Scott McCloud, at that time in between incarnations of Zot!, published by Eclipse. The novelty being that the comic itself is very, very big -- slightly bigger than the Quimby the Mouse issues of Acme Novelty Library, though not as big as either of the Big Book of Jokes -- and very, very silly. It’s what I’d today deem a ‘decadent action’ comic, in that there’s absolutely no point to it other than inviting the reader to gawk at gorgeously-mounted action sequences, and hoping the experience alone justifies the price, although McCloud obviously meant this particular comic to be some sort of commentary on the increasing reliance of super-comics on Big! action and Big! stakes, kind of a stripping the then-current genre down to its goofy core. As McCloud notes in his essay in the back, “I’m sure I’ll still be able to enjoy a good old-fashioned super-hero comic from time to time. Just like I can still enjoy Sesame Street.”

Of course, the big joke today is how uncannily well the book anticipates the splash-fueled, cool-moment, out-of-control action tone of the early Image comics that would not yet arrive for over half a decade, and the long-lasting influence they‘d have on the genre thereafter. Actually, so much of the grandstanding tone of this comic (which, by the way, documents the context-free battle of two superhuman characters across NYC, handy map included) has since been folded into the superhero mainstream that the only jokes that really land anymore are McCloud’s little winks at chauvinistic gender roles and the selective morality of property damage. The actual fighting? Hell, McCloud’s actually pretty decent at it, but he’d have had to go much farther over the top to still even register as parody in 2007. Well worth reading for historical study.

- Origin: Spirits of the Past: What? Ok, ok, this isn’t a comic. Or even a book at all. It’s a new-to-R1 dvd release of the 2006 first-ever theatrical anime feature by the prolific GONZO animation studio. I sensed some trouble as soon as I popped the disc in; FUNimation’s dvd can best be described as ‘unenthusiastic,’ equipped with absolutely no extra features to speak of, and no special edition planned for any point down the road, which is really weird considering that they seem to load up everything GONZO cranks out with baubles and doodads and such. And this is Gonzo’s big movie debut! I figured something must really be up with the film.

But actually it’s decently entertaining, so long as you’re willing to accept it as sort of a Roger Corman version of a Hayao Miyazaki film, the Carnosaur to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s Jurassic Park, if you will. God knows it’s absolutely loaded up with Miyazaki’s pet themes - co-written by frequent Katsuhiro Otomo and Satoshi Kon collaborator Sadayuki Murai and directed by first-timer Keiichi Sugiyama, the plot sees a confused young girl from our near-future wake up in a far-future Earth where a living forest has apparently beaten humanity to the ground. The denizens of the cleverly-named town of Neutral try to work with the mercurial forest, while another, sinister town (cue belching smokestacks and grinding gears!) seeks to destroy it with fascist military might. The girl gets caught up in the middle (obviously), and a young Neutral boy who fancies her must join with the power of the forest -- the very power that doomed his own father, gentle reader -- to turn his hair silver and cause things to explode. The ending is very spiritual, I think!

Dopey as it can get, the big letdown is that there’s actually not much in there that can stack up to Miyazaki’s own action scenes in something like Princess Mononoke. For a theatrical film, there’s some sloppy visual gaffes, like one moment where a character’s feet lose synch with the background and she appears to be levitating in thin air, and the CGI mecha sometimes don’t seem very well integrated into the 2D environments. Still, it’s a relatively self-aware bit of derivative fluff (there’s an Akira reference that made me smile), and you’ll probably get your rental’s worth of smashing and emphatic young love.

In a way, it’s probably emblematic of the GONZO ethos - I’ve never gotten much of a sense of inspiration from the prime talents there, though they all seem like sturdy enough craftsmen who are capable of putting out goodly amounts of fan-pleasing product. Only Mahiro Maeda (who contributes some mecha designs and storyboards here) strikes me as a particularly unique talents, and I’m not even much of a fan of his - but at least he seems possessed of a particular vision. I have heard good things about 2003’s television series Last Exile, and the director of that, Koichi Chigira, helmed GONZO’s second feature, 2006’s Brave Story. So maybe that’ll turn out better.

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