Yesterday's Comics and Things

*Trade Waiting Dept: As I usually do with collected editions of comics I already read in serialized form, I flipped though the Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 4 trade yesterday. I’d suggest everyone at least flip to the back at some point, where writer Grant Morrison provides an interesting extra: an annotated version of about three or four pages from his script to Seven Soldiers #1. I’d love to see the whole script for that thing (even without annotations), but maybe they’re hoarding it for the Absolute edition or something (not that an Absolute edition is actually coming out - I’m just saying). Some nice tidbits on when and how the material was prepared (apparently the whole painted stretch set in the far past was written prior to Seven Soldiers #0), and art details you might have otherwise missed. Morrison also leaves himself open to more than a little snark, happily noting that the bit where Zatanna casts her big spell was the very last thing he wrote. Appropriate mystical touch, or desperation gambit? The world may never know, at least until we’re asked to buy the stuff again.

*I don’t know if anyone finished buying The Vault of Michael Allred -- I thought the wall of hype from Allred’s most popular period dominated issues #2-#3 to the point of dullness, without nearly enough commentary or unfamiliar art to balance it out -- but issue #4 is a pretty good finale, focusing largely on Allred’s commissions and side-projects, lots of stuff that hasn’t been seen much before, save for dedicated internet sleuths, I guess. Nine pages of Allred’s storyboards for the Madman movie are nice, but I tend to get more enjoyment out of seeing him draw random things like multiple versions of Starman (Starmen?). Lots of images of the Sandman cast, for some reason. Some of the unpublished projects are interesting too - I had no idea Allred had inked Jay Stephens on a Teen Titans Elseworlds special, written by Bob Haney, which is apparently complete and ready for action but has simply never been published. Also: pieces from a proposed Captain Mar-Vell project with Joe Casey, and a Superman/Batman thing with Paul Chadwick. Lots of promise (or frustration) in this one.

*Actual plain ol' pamphlet comics were kinda dull this week. I will recommend Usagi Yojimbo #100, though, if only for the unique feel it manages to convey - lots of easygoing, gentle humor among friends, filled with reminisce. I knew it was supposed to be a ‘roast,’ but I wasn’t aware it was actually going to be presented in-story as Stan Sakai having a banquet held in his honor, with different artists and writers taking the story’s reins whenever they’re called up to the podium. Except for Frank Miller, who sends Marv from Sin City crashing through a skylight - lots of other Dark Horse published characters lurk around in the background, by the way.

Many corny jokes, with Mark Evanier’s and Scott Shaw!’s piece probably both corniest and funniest, though I did like Sergio Aragonés’ piece a lot on a conceptual level. As usual, the bigger the names, the smaller the contributions, to varying effect - Miller’s page looks like it was created on 24 Second Comic Day, while Jeff Smith’s is infused with affection throughout its three panels. I’m not entirely sure how this is “the ultimate introduction to the world of the rabbit ronin and his inimitable creator,” since it doesn’t really tell you anything about Usagi Yojimbo the book in terms of characters of premise, but as an easygoing collection of gags and stories from talented veterans it has charm, maybe enough to interest those beyond the core readership.


Today's mission:

*Get to the woman in the hut. Give the woman in the hut my money. Get the slip of paper. The slip of paper makes me safe from parking in the city. If I park in the city, it's $8-$14 a day, and I don't want that. No, I want to walk through the wind chill to work, but only after I walk to the hut.

And really folks, what's more exciting than that?

*And in the interests of continued information of limited use for this Wednesday, here's a link to the official site of Eiji Nonaka's manga follow-up to Cromartie High School, a brand-new sci-fi comedy titled Mirai Cho Nai Kai. The button on the right is desktop stuff, the button on the left is the entire first chapter, for free. You never realize how much this stuff relies on dialogue until it's no longer in English, eh?


Short Parade

*It was -


review nuggets (starring Robin #157-158, Punisher War Journal #3, and 52 #38)

Mushishi Vol. 1

Eternals #6 (of 7)

*It is -


Beasts!: A chunky new hardcover art book from Fantagraphics, featuring 90 artists contributing all-new double-page illustrations of fantasy beasts once believed to truly exist. The lineup includes the likes of Craig Thompson, Souther Salazar, Dave Cooper, Anders Nilsen, Brian Chippendale, Brian Ralph, Mat Brinkman, Colleen Coover, Johnny Ryan, Jordan Crane, Marc Bell, Richard Sala, R. Kikuo Johnson, Stan Sakai, Richard Sala, Sammy Harkham, Steve Weissman, and oh so many more, from comics to fine art to children’s book illustration. Definitely going to be attractive. It’s $28.95.

The End #1: Tom Spurgeon’s review of this was really interesting. It’s another new Ignatz book from Fantagraphics, the first from Anders Nilsen. It’s a blend of many styles on themes of loss and transformation, maybe something of a companion work to Nilsen’s earlier Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, only more of a comprehensive cataloguing of his disparate approaches to comics. That’s the impression I get from reading about it. Almost certainly worth looking into. Also from Ignatz this week are Spanish creator Marti’s Calvario Hills #1 and Marco Corona’s Reflections #2.

Red Eye, Black Eye: A 304-page graphic novel from Alternative Comics and writer/artist K. Thor Jensen, a memoir of the author’s bus travels around America in a time of personal crisis, to stay with people he otherwise only knew through the internet. A 16-page preview is up on Jensen’s site. It’s $19.95.

Mushishi Vol. 1: A manga you should buy this week. Review here.

Welcome to the N.H.K. Vol. 2: I’ve already bought this, but I haven’t read it yet. Probably more humor from horrible people doing horrible things, which is nice.

Frank Miller’s Robocop: Oh wow, this is really coming out, eh? Way back in August of 2003, Avatar debuted the first installment of perhaps their most ambitious project - a nine-issue full-color comics adaptation of Frank Miller’s original script to the film Robocop 2, as it existed prior to any studio interference, with art by Juan Jose Ryp and comics translation by Steven Grant. And now, three and a half years later, the whole thing is finally collected into a 216-page, $29.99 trade. It took forever, but I do believe the only noticeable production bump was a colorist switch right near the end; otherwise, it should look very consistent. And consistency is awfully important when dealing with a crazed, babbling guilty pleasure project like this one, absolutely overloaded with extreme violence and sledgehammer social satire in the Mighty Miller Manner. Robocop faces off with a vile, privatized team of security experts on the streets, and finds himself at the mercy of creeping political correctness in the halls of OCP. Can’t a cyborg just shoot some villains anymore? It really does bear remarkably little resemblance to the film version, and a remarkably strong resemblance to Miller’s comics work (I note that the main villain was transplanted wholesale into Spawn/Batman), and Ryp’s art adds just the right touch of garish overindulgence for those whose expectations are properly set.

Garth Ennis’ Chronicles of Wormwood #1 (of 6): Also from Avatar this week is the new project from the team that brought you the underrated Garth Ennis’ 303, frankly one of the more interesting scripts Ennis did in years, despite rumbling over some rather familiar ground. This series also sees the writer on familiar ground: nasty religious comedy. Wormwood is the son of Satan, but all he wants to do is hang around with his good friend Jesus and have sex with Joan of Arc and things. Unfortunately, the Apocalypse is apparently supposed to occur. It might turn out interesting, and artist Jacen Burrows is a good match for Ennis’ style, so we’ll see.

XIII Vol. 1: Day of the Black Sun: You know, considering the path XIII has taken in the English-language world in recent years, I’d have never expected it to currently wind up with Marvel, much less in an uncensored, re-translated $14.99 softcover edition. It’ll probably be in typical trade paperback size, but that’s also part of the price you pay. Collecting the first three albums of Jean Van Hamme’s and Willaim Vance’s bande dessinée megahit, covering the years 1984-86. If you don’t know, XIII follows the story of a man who wakes up with no memory, only to discover that plenty of people would really rather him dead. Superspy stuff ensues. If you gave up on the Alias release for whatever reason, now might be the time to come back.

Usagi Yojimbo #100: Ah, god. This is one of those long-running, much-adored series that I’ve never managed to get into, mainly because it’s just so big that I feel it’d be a major commitment just tracking all the stuff down. But I do admire writer/artist Stan Sakai’s art, and here’s the gala Dark Horse issue #100, which is apparently going to be some sort of ‘roast,’ with 32 pages of story stuffed with special guests paying tribute. Featuring Jeff Smith, Frank Miller, Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Guy Davis, Matt Wagner, Rick Geary, Andi Watson, Jamie S. Rich, Scott Shaw!, and more. Dark Horse also says this will be a nice jumping-on point for new readers, so maybe I’ll stick around too.

Vault of Michael Allred #4 (of 4): I’ve stuck around for all of this. Completing the series, hopefully with some rare stuff.

Elephantmen #6: This is also a comic.

Southland Tales Book 3 (of 3): The Mechanicals: Just in case anyone is buying these things. Are they any good?

Ultimate Civil War Spider-Ham Frisis #1: I think that’s the actual title. Not that I’m immediately (or even belatedly) sold on buying a parody of Event superhero comics from Marvel and writer J. Michael Straczynski, but I should point out that there’s plenty of neat artists attached, like John Severin, Mike Allred, Nick Dragotta, Jim Mahfood, and more.

52 #39 (of 52): I think this issue’s back-up has the origin of Mr. Terrific, but don’t hold me to that.

Doom Patrol Vol. 5: Magic Bus: These are coming out at a pretty good clip, all things considered. Another thick installment, collecting issues #51-#57, including that Ken Steacy-drawn Jack Kirby tribute issue that everyone seems to love. Only one book of Grant Morrison material to go (I trust the final volume will be titled Doom Force and Other Stuff, as it should be), though I think this one ends kind of in the middle of a storyline again. Or at least at a natural stopping point with a larger storyline obviously still proceeding.

Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 4 (of 4): Some other Morrison thing.


And a fast used manga addendum...

*Oh, you know what’s sort of kicking my ass right now? Sanpei Shirato’s The Legend of Kamui, two volumes of which were collected by VIZ back in the day, after the obligatory early serialization via Eclipse (and probably VIZ themselves in some form). I got them both used for about $10 online. Shirato is one of the big names in manga, I believe either a literal co-founder or at least one of the chief forces behind the creation of the famed alternative manga anthology Garo (it’s named for one of his characters), so I was actually kind of floored by the Kamui material I’ve read. Here’s Hayao Miyzaki:

Shirato Sanpei was a man who reached the wrong conclusions about the historical view of the class system. I think he ran right into those mistakes when writing 'Legend of Kamui'. There's no way anyone survived in his world, not if they all had to become such killers. If the world were truly filled with such hate and destruction, if that were how history was made, then everyone would surely have been dead by the Edo period. That's the point that would have been reached.”

Now the stuff VIZ collected isn’t the vintage 1964-71 Legend of Kamui, but its 1982-87 continuation, created in collaboration with Akame Productions (which I presume is some sort of support staff, like Saito Pro - I notice they’ve been around since the ‘60s too). But wow, this isn’t really at all what I was expecting; I guess I’d anticipated something more… austere from an alternative manga legend, but this is all-out, hands-dirty ninja action sex & violence, with fight sequences lasting dozens of pages in every chapter, gore splattering everywhere - it’s real showmanship. It’s also heavily reminiscent of Kazuo Koike’s and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf & Cub, though I don’t know if that was Shirato’s influence on them, or if he was picking up some influence himself by 1982 - still, right down to the little explanations of miscellaneous aspects of historical life, it feels very much familiar. I also recall seeing Shirato’s art looking much more loose and cartooned back in the ‘60s; his stuff here is very scratchy and heavily realist, quite handsome and contemporary (for 1982 or thereabouts).

But yeah, there’s a shitload of slicing and dicing, gorgeously mounted violence, in between the reflections on paranoia and the abuses of feudal lords. Maybe I should have listened harder to Hideshi Hino, who credits Shirato for changing the world of manga with “spectacle” comics. Strange that so little of so eminently marketable a comics legend is available in English, but maybe a lot of other people have made the mistake of presuming that Shirato is less accessible than he is. I mean, these are really great action comics. Even stranger that I can’t seem to find I single website with any samples of his art. Oh internet, how can you let me down...


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.


"It was after them that the life we see began to branch out."

Mushishi Vol. 1

I don’t think this is due in the Direct Market for another week or so, but it’s in bookstores now, a new manga series from Del Rey.

You’ve probably heard something about Mushishi recently; much like Death Note, the extended franchise is arriving in the US just as it’s flowered into a multimedia bonanza, although this particular bonanza is not so loud as the mighty saga of Light and those people who get killed. Mushishi is smaller-scale, though no less impressive, especially considering that writer/artist Yuki Urushibara was a complete novice to professional manga publishing when the series began in 2000. She broke into the industry in a manner unique to manga, winning one of several contests held by prominent anthologies to discover new talents, and soon found herself with a slot in Big Three manga publisher Kodansha’s alternative-flavored Afternoon anthology. Soon after, the series won Kodansha’s Manga of the Year award. In 2005, the Mushishi anime series began airing, its 26 episodes comprised of close adaptations of the first 26 stores from the manga, albeit aired in a different order; the show won the Grand Prize for both television anime and art direction at the Tokyo International Anime Fair in 2006.

And it wasn’t just trophies these projects picked up - in a poll of fans from the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival, both the anime and manga versions of Mushishi placed within their respective Top Ten of All Time categories. All time. Admirers overreacting to the glimmer of the new? Almost certainly, but it’s strong evidence of the works’ appeal among enthusiasts, particularly with the manga being ranked among such pop powerhouses as Dragon Ball and Doraemon, not to mention fellow contemporary golden boy Death Note. Meanwhile, none other than Katsuhiro Otomo (yes, of Akira fame), adapted the manga into a live-action theatrical film, his second directorial outing on that front (following 1991’s World Apartment Horror), which debuted at the 2006 Venice Film Festival. The manga remains ongoing in Japan today.

In English-speaking environs, Mushishi was an active project in scanlation/fansubbing circles, with the anime attracting some special attention among viewers, but we now seem to be at the crucial moment of official aboveground breakthrough. Literally yesterday, the Mushishi anime was announced as officially licensed for R1 dvd release by FUNimation (though cease-and-desist letters sent to fansubbers months ago sort of spoiled the surprise), and the live-action film appears to be courting international buyers at Sundance, albeit under the dismaying title of Bugmaster (who are looking to court, Charles Band?).

And now - the arrival of the Mushishi manga, the font from which all else has sprung. Del Rey clearly thinks this series is special, as it been given a relatively fancy packaging job (ooooh, flaps!), along with the relatively fancy price of $12.95. I won’t hold you in suspense - yes, Mushishi is worth $12.95, yes, it is a very good manga, no, I don’t think it’s quite the greatest thing since opposable thumbs, and yes, I already can’t wait for Vol. 2, due in (ugh) May.

The special appeal of Mushishi is that it’s in equal parts artful and addictive, leaving the reader with a pleasantly fulfilled sensation upon the reading of even one chapter, yet intent on still reading more. ‘Chapter’ is not the best word to use, actually; while there is a light element of continuity in Mushishi, every story is self-contained (the five in this volume range from about 35-60 pages each), with lead character Ginko playing the only recurring role of much significance. Ginko, you see, is the Mushishi of the title, a master of Mushi, the ‘bugs’ of the theatrical film’s awful (if linguistically accurate) title. Mushi are not really bugs, though - they’re a primal form of life, often tiny or invisible or simple vague, and so close to the heart of nature and sensation that their activities can affect things in a manner not unlike magic. And those who master the Mushi are not unlike magicians, though they’re also doctors and scientists in the oldest sense, the wild-attuned potion-making visionary sense. Those people who can grasp and shape the darkness and the irrational, and keep the beasts outside the village walls.

Thus, every story in Mushishi follows Ginko around on a new adventure, where he’s essentially a cross between John Constantine and Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. The series seems to be set in a curious amalgam of time periods, so that some characters will be dressed in modern style, while stumbling into decidedly pre-modernization fishing villages and the like. All that is certain is that it's a time of national isolation. Ginko stops in to visit characters, and inevitably encounters a Mushi-related problem that he solves, often in exchange for an odd payment. He’s sardonic, a bit cocky, and always the smartest person in the room (even when he’s not, if you know what I mean), but also very empathetic to the fates that befall people who encounter Mushi. He's totally in control of his skills, and always comes prepared. The very cigarettes he smokes are actually Mushi, each puff a living entity with the power to bind and repel potential dangers.

Mushi can be anything, you see, diverse enough that one presumes Urushibara can extend the series as long as she pleases, so long as her imagination holds out. There’s plenty to spare in this volume, as Ginko encounters a boy whose left hand can cause anything he draws to spring to life, a horned child that’s come down with the curse of being able to hear everything, a man whose dreams come true with both wonderful and disastrous results, a little girl who’s cripplingly sensitive to light but can see such perfect darkness that she can grasp the ineffable truths of being (woah!), and a living, traveling, sentient swamp, a sort of fantasy Japan equivalent of Danny the Street, that may be on a journey to die. At the core of it all is a continuing concern with man's relationship to nature, yet never in a modern environmentalist sense; this isn't about give-and-take or preservation, but basic coexistence of people and other things, and the means thorough which that coexistence is possible. The eyes, ears, mind.

These are excellent little stories. On the back cover flap, Urushibara cites “the old stories” as her frame of reference, and there is indeed something fable-like and earthy to these comics, like it’s an elaborate series of half-scientific, half-mystic explanations for everything weird that might happen to a people, charged with wonder, but never entirely out of human control. As Urushibara notes between chapters:

I absolutely do not believe (nowadays) in ghosts or fairytale creatures, but I wish they did exist. (For that reason, I’m very happy to have people close to me who I can trust to confirm some dubious rumors.) ‘Mushi’ were born as part of that dilemma, and so they take on the form of monsters at times. But only a little while back, monsters lived very close to people. I’m kind of envious of that.”

And her tales are firmly grounded with those people, in relatable situations. Many of these stories deal with sensory perceptions, sight and hearing, or pure imagination, drawing and dreaming. These aspects of basic human existence are enhanced (or perverted) by the Mushi, creating an instantly relatable human drama. Who can’t imagine their dreams or their sight suddenly jolted onto the next level of perception?

Horror and wonder mixes freely in these tales, with the ‘cured’ parties often experiencing remorse that they’ve been brought back down by Ginko to the world of human perception. Our Hero himself is a poignant character, always concerned under his confident façade about whether he’s doing the right thing. We’re given a few hints as to his origins, indicating that his true mission might be to prevent other people from becoming someone like him - mastering the Mushi requires one to become very close to them, and that surely exacts a cost. And even then, Ginko is not infallible; not all of these stories end well for the people he tries to help, with some pretty bad judgment calls made. Despite the self-contained nature of these stories, Ginko’s failures haunt him from journey to journey, driving him even further.

But there’s also some good humor mixed in with the fantasy, and some lovely moments of pure queasy spooking. Gelatinous liquid pours from blackened eyes, snail-like Mushi swarm across a man’s face, searching for any orifice to crawl in, and bizarre visions are beheld, equal parts lovely natural vista and abstract scatterings of lines and shapes. The art does occasionally get in the way, it must be said; while Urushibara is obviously adept at tugging the indistinct forms of the Mushi into eyesight, and her many natural vistas are impressive, she sometimes stumbles with her human characters. Feet and hands are occasionally drawn far too large (and not even consistently so), and arms are twisted in perspective-defying ways that make them seem enormously long. True, these stories do represent the artist’s first-ever professionally published works, so one maybe shouldn’t realistically expect a gaffe-free outing, but the flubs are distractions nonetheless.

Better to try and focus on the artist’s evident talents with page-by-page storytelling, her sure hand with quiet menace, and the insightful nature of her plots, both humanely telling and fantastically intriguing. I’m not surprised this world of Urushibara’s has inspired the loyalty it has, as its so immediately relatable. If it’s really the author’s wish that fabulous creatures do exist, her greatest success is in prompting the same feeling in her readers, despite the horror that understandably courses through the thoughtful author’s world. She manipulates the senses, like a Mushi herself. She’s got me hooked, and I’m not going to be the last.


I have two links.

*Which is all I have because work is rocking my body. I'll have some review material up tomorrow, though.

*52 Addendum Dept: Since some folks were discussing this topic back when it was new - in the middle of Newsarama’s weekly 52 coverage, which means you’ll have to scroll down, Mark Waid shows up to explain exactly how Ralph figured out who Supernova was. (found at Douglas Wolk’s)

*Complete Brilliance Dept: Everything about this is great.


Really, who needs titles?

*Very Short Reviews Dept: Because comics can be very short.

- So, I noticed there were two Frazer Irving comics out this week, which was kind of a trip; Irving’s a unique enough stylist that seeing him pop up in multiple places at the same time is enough to make you question whether you’re awake. I didn’t want to buy both, and I anticipated that I’d already have my fill of Civil War for the week from Frank Castle, so I opted for Robin #158. It’s is the conclusion of a story that began last issue, featuring Klarion the Witch Boy (which Irving drew in Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers project), and both halves essentially balance each other out by being imbalanced in complimentary ways. Issue #157 was mostly Robin dealing with Klarion’s cat Teekl and the story building up to Klarion’s appearance on the final page, whereas this issue, aside from four pages devoted to what I presume are continuing Robin subplots, is a straight-up Klarion story with special guest star Robin.

It’s also instructive as to what the revamped character might be like in the hands of a different writer (here Adam Beechen) - insert-when-needed magical solutions to villainous threats that come crawling out of the character’s background, heretofore unrevealed sections from the Book of Shadows, and a basic contrast between the character’s self-centered exploratory nature and more wicked ambitions. Simple enough, missing both Morrison’s edge of menace and gift with the character’s dialogue, but that’s to be expected. The story flows fine, and looks nice (and I bought it for the art, so I guess I’m satisfied on that primal level), and comes off as inoffensive enough a piffle. But it can’t be particularly good that Robin comes off as such a paint-by-numbers quippy nonentity in his own book, even in #157, where the focus is allegedly on him, and heaven knows what regular readers will make of all this background-heavy focus on a character that doesn’t even have his own book, or even a regular supporting role in another book.

- Meanwhile, I did indeed have quite enough of Civil War with Punisher War Journal #3, the last of the Civil War tie-ins. It’s about time - as useful a vehicle the Event was to relaunch the book with a fresh premise and direction, this issue demonstrates more than ever how much the book needs to be freed from the confines of connecting to a larger series, since writer Matt Fraction seems to be itching to do more sequences like Clarke frantically escaping (love Ariel Olivetti’s tendency to vary the realism of his art depending on the story - Clarke’s pose in the elevator looks like Richard Corben, and the incidental characters were great), or Frank taking on the Rhino, while the Captain America bits this issue just seem to drag on and on, ultimately providing little more than some very unnecessary tone to Cap’s virtuous internal gritty-teeth suffering, while going nowhere but in circles with the main character. I’m sure this extended launch has helped sales, but all involved seem extremely eager to have their own story now after three issues, and I’m entirely with them.

- And finally, 52 #38 pulls its now-familiar stunt of doling out a big revelation while spinning its wheels on every other front. That said, the Oolong Island stuff was great as ever, neatly tying at least three semi-connected plot threads into a tight whole, with lots of fun character work surrounding notions of science vs. religion and unfettered imagination vs. personal restraint, giant talking eggs reciting passages from the Crime Bible while mad scientists huff at irrationality of it all (the Bible, not the talking egg) and claim credit for which bits of their designs made it in. Maybe the design-by-committee jokes come from an insider's view, given the makeup of the series - which writer designed the death lens? Actually, the Montoya wheel-spinning was better than average too, spending its page allotment recasting Nanda Parbat and the surrounding snow as a metaphor for Montoya’s cloudy state of mind, the destination appearing only when she’s found the right question.


Links to the homes of the free.

*Free Cartoons Dept: In case you’re interested, IGN is hosting the first episode of the new Production I.G. television anime Le Chevalier D'Eon for free, in dubbed form, as a means of promoting the show’s imminent arrival on R1 dvd from ADV. It’s another lightning license/release; the show just started airing in Japan in Summer 2006, directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi of a whole lot of Rurouni Kenshin. Posting the whole first episode for free is getting to be a more common means of promoting new anime licenses in the US, and I can’t complain.

Certainly it helps me form a more confident opinion about something that maybe looks neat in the abstract, like Le Chevalier D'Eon, which turns out to be (from this first episode, mind you) a fairly dull, mechanical thing in terms of storytelling, with hugs gobs of exposition choking up scenes, and mild dabs of political/alchemical intrigue added atop. Not to mention the 18th century France version of “I’m taking you off this case McBain!” The plot concerns a young knight in the court of Louis XV whose sister is found dead, apparently the victim of a string of bizarre murders that have been popping up. Our Hero goes to Paris and joins the secret police, and naturally there appears to be corruption in high places and dark conspiracies and evil lurking. Etc.

It looks decent in its stuffy, Classics Illustrated realist way, but I caught one too many CGI point-of-view shots straight out of a 1st-person shooter, and lord have I grown to hate flashbacks that are bookended by literal flashes of white and whooshing sounds. Only the last five minutes show much promise, and that’s mostly a gut reaction to the out of nowhere emergence of a classic anime plot hook, one I did not expect to see in this sort of show. And even that’s kind of wrecked by some awful English voice acting - the scary little girl didn’t inspire fear, oh no…

*Free Cartoons You Probably Cannot Understand Dept: Japan also enjoys uploading first episodes, mind you. Currently up at Sg-TV: the debut of the new GR-Giant Robo television project, a 40th Anniversary commemoration of the original work by Gigantor creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama that got turned into the classic live-action television program Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, as it was known in English. It does not appear to be a sequel to an earlier anime Giant Robo, a much-loved 1992-98 OVA Yokoyama homage. Obviously, it’s in raw Japanese, but fortunately I understand each and every word perfectly, and can also explain any and all puns that might appear. I just choose not to reveal my blazing talents as of yet.


Good, the streets are made of road again.

*I knew stealing that wizard's staff would pay off.


Robot 3 (more of Range Murata's glossy, largely vacant manga/design anthology)

review nuggets (starring: 52 #37, Wisdom #2, Zombies vs. Robots #2)

Gumby #2

Shadowland (another great collection from Kim Deitch, worth many words)

*No fuss, on to -


Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs: Oh hey, it’s the big colorful book of delite from Paper Rad (Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci, Ben Jones) that I named the #3 best comic of 2005 - it’s now out in the Direct Market from Diamond, just in time for Paper Rad’s new book, Cartoon Workshop/Pig Tales, to go on sale direct from publisher PictureBox, Inc. It’s kind of hard to explain Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs; it’s both a pair of short graphic novels and individual patches of color and b&w and monochrome comics smashed up against one another in a hodgepodge of paper stocks and comedy, and somehow it adds up to a personal philosophy of creation. Certainly a fine way to drop your $29.95.

Cold Heat #2 (of 12): More from PictureBox in this gala ‘Diamond is releasing our books’ week, we have the second issue of Ben Jones’ and Frank Santoro’s action-fantasy genre pamphlet in artcomics clothing, now available in the Direct Market. I reviewed it here. Also: another of Santoro projects, Incanto, a small booklet of drawings that Derik Badman reviewed here, plus The Drips, a collection of works by Taylor McKimens.

Tanpenshu Vol. 1 (of 2): Dark Horse’s long-awaited anthology of Hiroki Endo (Eden: It’s An Endless World!) short stories is finally here, and it’s gonna be 232 pages of swell times, provided the one story in here I haven’t read doesn’t turn out shit. I can assure you, however, that For Those of Us Who Don't Believe in God is a perceptive (if slightly sitcommy) tour of collegiate theater students and their efforts/foibles, and The Crows, the Girl, and the Yakuza is a superior piece of bloody crime comics, boasting the sort of polished, assured presentation that makes its perhaps-not-wholly-unique plot properties seem fresh as the hour just passed (it’s also the subject of the obligatory preview). Which I suppose means none of my recommendations are unqualified, but all of them are enthusiastic.

The World Below: Huh. I wasn’t expecting this at all. Comprised of two miniseries, four issues each, The World Below represented writer/penciller Paul Chadwick’s 1999-2000 attempt to establish a second ‘major’ series for himself (and inker Ron Randall), something he could use to tell the weird adventure stories that his Concrete couldn’t quite facilitate. The effort did not meet with popular success, but now Dark Horse is giving it a collection anyway, apparently a comprehensive one given the size (192 pages), in the same low-priced ($12.95), shrunken proportioned, b&w tones format they’ve reconfigured Concrete into. Although only the first four issues of this were in color anyway; the initial miniseries sold bad enough that they had to switch. I guess The World Below will never escape the shadow of its vastly more successful older sibling, but it’s very much a fun, bizarre adventure series, concerning the affairs of a team of six explorers sent into the bowels of the Earth by a software magnate to recover mysterious technologies, only to encounter single-issue parables for the human condition. The standout issue is probably The Spire, overloaded with manic sexual imagery, although the final issue also manages a special blend of intimate fantasy and horror. Here’s a preview - check this book out.

Blecky Yuckarella Vol. 2: Back in Bleck: The second heartwarming collection of Johnny Ryan’s weekly strip. I don’t know if it's in the book, but I laughed pretty hard at this one.

Criminal #4: Still going strong & steady.

Punisher War Journal #3: In which the book concludes its Civil War launch. Frank and Captain America beat each other silly, though not so silly that Cap’s role in future Civil War functions might be upset. Presumably, the book’s subplots then pick up the slack, so as to launch the series into the future. I’m looking forward to that future more than even one issue of additional Civil War, but I’m sure I’ll survive.

Ramayan 3392 AD #5: I may have lost interest in John Woo’s 7 Brothers (issue #4 of which is out this week), but I’m still taken by this night-and-fire sci-fi adaptation of the exploits of Rama. Do not make me explain in detail.

52 #38 (of 52): Oh Buddy, what have you gotten into now?!

Eternals #6 (of 6... no, 7): This used to be the double-sized final issue of the Neil Gaiman/John Romita, Jr. series, a series unfortunate enough to seem largely forgotten before its even finished, yet dull enough to seem like it maybe deserves it. I don’t know if this is running into the same problems that nagged Gaiman’s last Marvel project, 1602, which suddenly had its last issue expanded in page count (it didn’t help), or if things are moving slow enough that the double-sized issue #6 has merely been split into a normal-sized issues #6 and #7. Either way, this issue sees the endgame launch, as the characters presumably stop walking around in a haze, confusedly reacting to things, and/or talking to each other about backstory, so something affirmative might possibly happen. At least it will look nice.


The Streets = Made of Ice

*So I have to go quickly.



*YouTube Dept: This one's for Abhay, in case he hasn't seen it yet - a highlight reel showcasing the works of beloved key animator Norio Matsumoto, he of the special flowing style. It's NOT SAFE FOR WORK. I can't think of another active Japanese key animator that has as much name recognition as Matsumoto does among US fans, solely for his work in key animation, and this link will give you a decent look at why. Obviously it's the wild action bits that put the asses in seats, but the presentation also takes a look at the man's skills with quiet movement and gesture. The odd soundtrack also makes it seem like a Joseph Cornell short.

For added fun (and very little in the way of quiet movement and gesture), be sure to check out the famous episode of Naruto he worked extensively on, Episode 133, which is apparently considered quite a major moment in Naruto history by fans in terms of plot. Honestly, I think the story's awful, so awash in shounen action cliches that it's almost self-parody, but yeah, that's some damned pretty fighting.

*In other anime-on-the-internet news, Sony Pictures Classics has announced a May US theatrical release for Paprika, the new film from Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Paranoia Agent), and they’ve got the entire opening credits sequence up on their site. The plot concerns a research psychotherapist and her more beautiful, more gregarious alter ego, who become involved in reality-bending adventure after an experimental device is stolen, one that allows the operation to enter people’s dreams and toy with their personalities. So, yes, actually the plot is remarkably similar to that horrible 2000 Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Cell, though the source material here is a 1993 prose work by sci-fi author Yasutaka Tsutsui. And Kon is a skillful director, and the subject matter is very much in his comfort zone, and the footage provided looks interesting, so here’s to the best.

*And moving on to shows I’ve actually watched on a television recently, there’s the seminal 1985 OVA Megazone 23, which is utterly fascinating, albeit almost exclusively beyond its merits as a piece of entertainment. Helmed by several of the top talents behind Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, including director/co-writer Noburo Ishiguro and character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto (who actually only does one design as a special guest), and planned as the follow-up television series project of ARTMIC Studios, which had just finished Genesis Climber Mospeada, the show ran into a huge roadblock when one of its key sponsors unexpectedly pulled financing, forcing the team to hastily retool their planned 26 episodes as a single 81 minute presentation to be released in the then-burgeoning OVA market in the hopes of recouping costs.

And they did. Megazone 23 turned out to be a massive success in the direct-to-video market; indeed, it’s often pointed to historically as the big, necessary hit that sealed the financial viability of the OVA form for a decade to come. In a way, it’s not that hard to see why; the show’s got an obviously talented team behind it, with a zeitgeist-capturing premise and an assured, polished visual style, but there’s also no getting around the fact that this is an often clumsy, somewhat poorly-paced and disjointed production, that never once lets you forget that it was obviously intended as something different and wound up in its final form largely by accident. There’s more than one moment where a character just happens to overhear other characters explaining detailed plot points at length, so as to press through the premise with maximum speed, and some of the character arcs are obviously abridged.

But there’s something about Megazone 23. The story follows a young street rough named Shogo, a biker kid who spends all his time away from his McDonald’s job causing mild public trouble and flirting with girls - he’s never so abrasive he might alienate a large portion of the audience, but he’s the kind of ‘rough’ hero character that doesn’t really care about hurting people. He and his friends live in the economically-thriving, peaceful consumerist paradise of ‘80s Japan. Except - they really don’t. One night, Shogo comes into possession of an advanced test bike, one capable of transforming into a large robot, and his misadventures eventually lead him into an association with a gang of rebels who’ve discovered that reality isn’t truly real: it’s actually an illusion forced upon humanity by a controlling computer, and everyone’s actually onboard a faded metal spacecraft hurtling through the void.

This no doubt sounds familiar to you. But Megazone 23 is frankly much more morally and politically complex than it initially seems. Shogo doesn’t really trust the human forces, with good reason; they’re militaristic extremists, who’re probably going to institute a total police state (with themselves as police) as soon as possible. They care nothing for killing all who oppose their mission. But they also genuinely do believe in human protection and self-actualization, just as the controlling master computer has a honest mission of keeping peace among the ruins of humanity (there’s a good reason they’re fleeing Earth), at all costs. There’s also the matter of the (almost never seen) sinister forces that have been sending their own spacecraft to scout the place out. Obviously the product of a more militaristic society, the outsiders have weapons half a century ahead of the happy, peaceful society of Shogo’s, and the rebels figure there’s not only no harm in instituting a top-down program of warlike propaganda and intense mobilization, it’s mandatory to the very survival of the species, while the master computer and its (perhaps genuinely) Quixotic mission of peace-though-lies needs be taken down.

Basically, it’s like The Matrix, except it seriously entertains the value of taking the blue pill, stops to consider the implications of mowing down all those security guards in the big lobby battle, and generally refuses to subscribe to any simple concept of virtue striving against a solidified wickedness. Which means the story plays out in a wholly different way.

And like I said, it’s not a terribly satisfying way. Shogo spends much of the runtime wandering around and lashing out, having sex and fooling with friends, being angry and seething, slapping women around for giving him lip. There’s the occasional blast of real inspiration, like a computer generated idol singer suddenly stopping a song to scream for help as a manifestation of the master computer’s plight. I have no doubt this precise premise could have been much more satisfying in other hands, or even these hands, given more favorable production circumstances. As it is, it’s mainly a triumph of ideas and implications, and disconnected displays of very lovely animation, right on down to the infamous ending, which categorically refuses to resolve anything concerning the ‘main’ plot, instead seeing most of the young, naïve characters shot dead or made to leave the area. Shogo is ferociously beaten by the main human fighter, who leaves to continue his mission, and the program ends with Our Hero staggering around the empty streets of his fake city, bloodied and entirely lost in every way, but still defiantly alive.

Once again, I’m sure that’s more due to intense time and space limitations than artistic mission, yet I understand how the graceless anxiety of it might strike a chord with an audience, especially when so glossily animated. Eventually, Megazone made enough money on VHS that a sequel was put into production the following year to give the story a more ‘proper’ finale, and that (while aesthetically controversial in its own regard) proved popular enough to extend the story to a third, 1989 episode. The project even caught the eye of early anime-in-the-US adopter Carl Macek, who attempted in 1986 to dub it for a US theatrical release under the title Robotech: The Movie, mixing in footage from the Robotech television series (which, you’ll recall, was comprised of footage from the aforementioned Macross and Mospeada, along with the series Super Dimensional Calvary Southern Cross), rewriting the script to fit in with Robotech continuity, and commissioning a brand-new, completely exclusive, far happier ending from the Japanese creators. That project too was scuttled after test screenings, at least for the US; I’ve heard it actually played in other countries. Supposedly, this US version made the human rebels seem much nicer. Sometimes, a show can’t catch a break.


And now, a few words on passing amusements and idle fancy…


“…I sincerely hope these stories manage to entertain you all.”

Those are the final words of writer/artist Kim Deitch’s introduction to this new collection from Fantagraphics; it’s a large book at 12” x 9” and 192 pages, and the author’s forward adopts an equally tall tone. It’s always difficult to separate reality from fiction when Deitch’s work is concerned, so the reader might be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at his account of being put up by a patron in an isolated Virginia homestead in the late 1980s, where he lived for three years in a perpetual state of work, running for miles and drawing for upwards of 80 hours a week. Perhaps it was like the conclusion of the film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, and Deitch also mastered martial arts on a frozen lake and dragged a large stone up a mountain in penance for his childhood indiscretions. By the time Deitch sets up a mocking art correspondence with imprisoned serial killer John Wayne Gacy, an experience that would subconsciously inspire parts of the very book you hold in your hands, dear reader, you’ll seriously be wondering if perhaps the artist isn’t pulling your leg a tiny little bit.

But then, after the book is done, you’ll understand that blurring the line between fact and fiction is one of Deitch’s greatest strengths as a storyteller -- hell, longtime fans will have realized that long ago -- and it’ll become clear that the spinning of entertaining yarns is not merely the overriding theme of Shadowland, but is posited by the author as the sole redeeming quality of humankind as a whole. In this way, it may well be the ultimate Kim Deitch saga, the most complete embodiment of Deitch’s obsessions with history, ephemera, fantastic visions and metal breakdown. No wonder he hopes he’s being entertaining himself.

Shadowland is a collection of comics Deitch produced for various publishers from the late ‘80s though the mid ‘90s, all of which add up to the grand, century-spanning tale of the Ledicker family and their extensive set of relations, employees, and associates, all of whom are involved in American entertainment in some way. Medicine shows, dime museums, carnivals, brothels, movies - they’re performers and creators, visionaries and cogs. The title Shadowland refers to an early movie theater that serves as a key location in the book, and it’s pregnant with significance - Deitch is always wild about silent films, and his sprawling plot sets up movies as one of the ultimate forms of human storytelling, and a literal saving force in several characters’ lives. Yet, movies are watched from the land of shadows, where the flesh-and-blood audience must sit, just as humankind, while capable of beautiful creations, are otherwise brutish, covetous, murderous, doomed creatures, often ruined by their very capacity for entertainment, though never entirely bound to some dull duality of good vs. evil. If the book is to bear that title, it is to stand as both an ode to the creative verve of people, the things they put outside them, and a requiem for everything dead and dying, everything inside of them.

For example.

Shadowland kicks off like every red-blooded graphic novel ought to, with 33 consecutive splash pages. And gorgeous pages they are, fashioned like promotional posters and full of margin decoration and panels-within-panels; Deitch’s characters are thus literally presented as objects of entertainment and hype. But this first chapter tells the sad story of not any human, but Toby the pig, faithful performer in the Ledicker 3 Way Oil Show of the late 19th century, a traveling entertainment extravaganza concocted by paterfamilias Doc Ledicker as a means of selling his alcohol-heavy miracle medicines to every stripe of local rube. Hey, it’s all entertainment, one of the rare traveling forms of such in that time period, and Toby is an entertainer.

He starts out as a piglet, performing in the blackface serenade portion of the show as an infant ‘coon’ (no, this won’t be the book’s last taste of period racial attitudes), but soon he’s gotten too big, and must make his living high-diving from a tiny ledge into a tinier bucket of water. And fate has even more awful things in store for Toby, the Flying Pig, since pigs grow up too quickly, and are easily replaced - Doc has secured a new performer, and Toby is up for the slaughter. Desperate, and instinctively acting upon the fanfare for his old act on the night of his replacement/slaughter, Toby throws himself up toward the dive, dragging Doc’s clown-painted young son A.L. “Al” Ledicker with him -- the young boy loves the pig, and attempts to restrain him -- and makes a final, fatal jump into a now too-small tub of water. Al survives, and Doc decides to memorialize the dramatic occasion by having a poster made (much like how every page of the chapter is already a ‘poster’), stuffing the pig’s remains, and carting Toby’s mortal shell around throughout the decades as a posthumous attraction in subsequent dime shows and museums of oddities, a task gleefully taken up by the grown Al, still always wearing clown makeup, always an entertainer, who keeps the pig with him until his death in the late 1950s.

As such, in 33 splashes, Deitch provides a tragic little summary of the book’s themes, as characters are self-consciously presented to us as participants in an ‘act,’ a story, as entertainment both drives people (and animals) to survive, and ultimately kills them, though a type of immortality is attained through particularly vivid showmanship. There’s also all the accordant themes of love intermingling with exploitation, and laughter rising from horror. Even after you’ve read the rest of the book, it’s worthwhile to flip back through that first chapter - Deitch somehow slips in nearly every major character in the book as a participant or an onlooker, including a few tucked away in the margins that otherwise couldn’t possibly be present, and it’s great just to stare at their interactions with the knowledge of what’s in store for them. All of this is even more impressive when you consider that Deitch created this book piecemeal, in the form of one-shots and short miniseries and anthology contributions, for several different publishers over the course of nearly a decade - it’s either a masterpiece of careful planning or canny improvisation, take your pick.

As the book progresses, Al Ledicker emerges as something of a focal character, though only the very last chapter is told mainly from his point of view, and even then not exclusively. He’s quite marvelously complex, and it’s good that we see him early as an idealistic child; in the very next chapter, he’s an embittered carny owner in the 1920s, teaming with the Ku Klux Klan to frame his show’s alcoholic black geek for a murder Al committed, then filming the man’s execution for later movie exploitation. This story is told by Al’s wife, Kewpie, who soon stumbles onto the secret infiltration of Earth by space aliens who’re obsessed with the antics of humans throughout history as fine entertainment, and have a habit of recording the best parts on laser story chips to form little movies. Needless to say, actual human movies provide a special experience for them.

The book then bounces all over the 19th and 20th centuries, Kewpie viewing much of it from above the Earth itself, as the many bizarre events of Al’s and his family’s lives are revealed, virtually everything structured as someone telling a story to someone else, whether it’s simply Kewpie watching things as a ‘movie,’ or more of an in-story story like Doc lecturing a crowd on how he discovered the secret of endless youthful vigor, as part of his faux-miracle cure pitch. The waves of time are of great interest to Deitch:

I've always been interested in history. And even in my own brain, I often feel like I'm replaying past and present in my head at all times. I'm writing a comic book and then I'll think about some conversation I had with a kid in second grade. Time is like one big wide continuum, surging through me at all times. It's an odd feeling. There's a definite interest in different aspects of history. I feel like I've been here from the beginning, since I crawled out of the ocean as some primordial ooze.”

That’s from a 2005 interview with the Montreal Mirror.

And yet, nearly everything in Shadowland also doubles back on itself, challenging what we think we already know. Doc’s medicine pitch has a great, mystical personal significance. The seemingly wicked Al retains little reservoirs of kindness, even as we get the full story of his life’s bitterness. One character seemingly dies, only to miraculously rise again to life. Minor characters from early on, like Doc’s sister Emily, return as major forces in the continuing story. She’s a particularly wicked one, operator of a corrupt college and a brothel/convent at the dawn of the 20th century, and literally seduces young Al into her world, though all are eventually upset by young Molly Crafton, an orphaned girl (orphaned thanks in part to the Ledickers), who finds salvation, then personal ruin, then salvation again in the world of silent films.

Some people live, but most people die. All of the characters we spend time with are devoted to amusement, the audience just a distant, albeit surrounding element. There’s sex, violence, hallucinations (wouldn’t be a Deitch book without that), the threat of psychosis (ditto), eventually tumbling into the (then) present where Deitch himself essentially plays a dual role as both a ’realistic’ version of him, and as his own pseudonym, Fowlton Means, the latter of which enjoys various vivid sexual and film preservationist adventures in the finest author’s surrogate tradition.

There’s actually a key moment later on where Deitch actually depicts himself drawing earlier chapters of the book, the storylines having been fed to him by Mr. Means, thus drawing added attention to the book as a whole as a form of personal storytelling. This is a recurring trick with Deitch, who sometimes, in the context of recent works, refers to earlier works of his as mere comics, while his newest stuff endeavors to tell only a true account of real things, which inevitable proves to be just as outrageous as anything else. Part of the power of Deitch’s recent The Stuff of Dreams! miniseries (to be collected by Pantheon later this year under the title Alias the Cat) is that it’s presented as an autobiographical comic, one that entirely obliterates the line separating reality and fantasy in Deitch’s work.

Shadowland is even more self-conscious than that, in that it disregards any pretext of reality whatsoever, even the modest portrayal of an alternate reality that most fiction wears as its skin. Not only is Shadowland all about characters creating entertainments (without any pretense of high art, which perhaps mirrors Deitch’s own feelings as stated behind the above link - “Comics are like a junk literature medium. In a way I think we should just relax and let it be a junk literature medium.”), but it’s structured as a series of tales being told in various ways, and eventually, explicitly acknowledged as the singular presentation of said tales in the form of a comic, by Kim Deitch (well, and Fowlton Means, who's Kim Deitch anyway).

It fits perfectly - if all that humankind is really worth is entertainment value, as described in this book, it’s better to cast the book itself as rigorous a concoction of artificial whimsies as possible, so as better to enhance the themes. This never occurs, mind you, at the expense of characterization or emotion - Deitch way be all about stories, but his stories really do function as stories, not just drizzles of study in some metanarrative batter. Do note that every chapter of this book also works as a standalone story - they had to, since they all appeared in different forums.

In this way, Shadowland even manages to circumvent criticisms that surrounded Deitch’s last long-form compilation, the Pantheon-published Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which it is generally superior to. Deitch does not attempt to seamlessly blend his chapters into a unified, ‘proper’ graphic novel whole; the individual title sequences, obvious shifts in formatting, tendency toward brief in-narrative recapping, and occasional disappearance of a character or two are all hallmarks of individual entities being smashed together under one cover without the sensitive reconfiguring that a Chris Ware might perform. I would say that detracted a bit from Boulevard of Broken Dreams, but here it’s folded intuitively into the whole work’s construction as a series of stories, not all of them told by the same hand at an even nearly similar point of time. Similarly, Deitch’s tendency to draw everything from ‘reality’ to flashbacks to comics to movies to cartoons in precisely the same visual style seems less a distraction here than a unifying element, as if all of these little yarns ought to be glimpsed with the same texture, as they’re all bound together as what’s really important in the human endeavor. If Shadowland isn’t Deitch’s best collected work, it’s surely his most intuitively assembled through its very lack of discrimination.

It all soldiers forward (and backward, and forward again) until the finale, which as anyone could expect isn’t really a finish but a final stop in the temporal web, one last crack at the trio of milk bottles. The final chapter reflects the first, with Al Ledicker once again saved by an animal as a child, and once again left to reflect on things as a hardened adult. Once again, the beasts perish (this time along with some humans), all in the name of fun and liquor. Ledicker leans back and pulls out one of his father’s special cigars, and suddenly the book, which up until then had been entirely b&w, explodes into burning full color, as Al glimpses the afterlife that awaits good entertainers.

By that point, some character have found living paradise. Others, like Al, are on the road to ruin. But in the end, Deitch perhaps loves his characters too much -- yes, even the one whose clown makeup has been inspired by a certain convicted killer’s -- to deny them the possibility of a glowing place out of the boundaries of any understanding, a place glimpsed by creators and visionaries in life, but only inhabited after death. One where the lemon and plum hues are so dazzling, that those shadows that remain only serve to enhance the brilliance of glorious being.


The title that took more than a day to conjure.

*I just had a dream about a school for murderers where one of the tests was standing around holding a metal gun-like thing in the blazing heat for a certain amount of time; if you drop the weapon before then, you get a beating. It was pretty terrifying.

*Finally, I think I’ll have that Shadowland review up tomorrow.

*And speaking of books I’m getting to late -

Gumby #2

This actually came out the other week, but I just managed to find a copy the other day. I guess a Gumby revival from the men who brought you Flaming Carrot Comics and A Treasury of Victorian Murder isn’t tops on everyone’s hot list? This issue even shipped with a variant cover (by writer Bob Burden, regular cover by artist Rick Geary), though I wonder about the utility of such tricks to something like this, an all-ages book that’ll probably be of equal value to little kids and a teensy subsection of adults who appreciate mild surrealism and clawing unease surrounding children’s characters. Or Flaming Carrot fans. Regardless, that isn’t a huge chunk of the Direct Market pie, from a glance at where the money seems to flow from.

But Gumby struggles to offer things to the world. Released by Wildcard Ink at the back-of-Previews industry standard price (give or take a few cents) of $3.95 for a color book, it offers 34 pages of story when many would only manage 22, and also throws in a free Pokey toy. It’s a very polished production, with candied colors (by Steve Oliff) and warm, complimentary lettering (presumably by Geary - nobody is specifically credited). And while it’s bizarre, sometimes even more so than writer Burden’s Flaming Carrot, there’s an underlying decency to the book that compliments Burden’s often anarchic plotting and jokes.

This issue, Gumby wants a pair of those awesome shoes with the wheels in them, except these are rocket-powered and fire paintballs. He dreams of using them to impress Cuddles, a girl he has a crush on, except his heroic vision of rescuing her from a speeding clown car ends with Gumby accidentally flipping the vehicle and fleeing from a horribly burnt, staggering Cuddles who demands a kiss. Gumby then tries to roll up his sleeves and win his fortune in the free market (I don’t know why Burden enjoys making fun of Target so much, but there’s more jokes this issue), but neither investments nor hard work lead him anywhere. So he goes to the circus, and enjoys many random adventures involving but not limited to: (1) getting caught in a love triangle; (2) being transformed into a green clay golem; (3) challenging the Blockheads to a balloon sell-off; (4) winning a rigged carny game; (5) participating in a homage to Tod Browning’s Freaks; and (6) venturing through a Ring of Fire with help from the astral form of Johnny Cash, which has fortuitously descended from Heaven.

Meanwhile, Pokey vomits from too many hot dogs and cotton candies, and gets thrown in a dumpster. “Oh, no! I am garbage now!” He's ok by issue's end.

I assure you, this is actually all very gentle and sweet, despite sequences of Gumby’s parents, having been hypnotized into thinking a sack of potatoes is their son, staggering around the streets when the sack rips open yelling “Our child! His guts are coming out!” This never seems so much the exploitive, hackish ‘darkening’ of a children’s character it probably has the potential to be; it's more a natural development of the Gumby feel into slightly sinister (yet never overwhelming) territory, as if the characters are exploring a place that’s always been present. I sure remember some weird and rough episodes of the old Gumby (like the Robot Rumpus short that ran on Mystery Science Theater 3000), so it’s not like Burden & Geary are working without precedent. And surely Geary’s art is attractive and appropriately pliable, while Burden nails many of the small interactions between children and adults.

So, this is a good series, good for potentially all ages, though certainly not everyone in each of those age groups? Though what will the children think of those Kevin Smith action figures on the back cover? They can probably ask their parents while they're taught how to bag and board their alternate covers.


What should I have for lunch today?

*52 Dept: If you’ll recall my comments from last week, you’ll know that those last few pages did not come as much of a surprise, though I guess there could be something else going on - who knows which of many paths ‘life’ might take, especially in a series like this, which seems to thrive on upending its own twists in the space of a few weeks/issues. Another luxury that only a weekly series of this sort can really pull off - you need expediency for stuff like this to come off as more amusing than annoying.

Anyway, most of this issue is a big fight between Supernova and Skeets, including the 'really way more obvious than anyone entirely expected' reveal of his secret identity, which admittedly hinges around an apparent character death that nobody seemed to be taking seriously in the first place, least of all the series’ creative team. It’s not the most elegant issue of the run in storytelling terms -- Supernova needs to distract Skeets, so he flies around a lot and, er, narrates his entire backstory -- and I’m pretty sure not all of that explanation actually explains things as much as signals that such concerns are now officially off the storytelling table, but I’ll confess I found the whole thing entertaining in a lumpy, old-school talk ‘n fight way. The best part for me was Skeets’ means of attacking the bottled city of Kandor - continuingly bumping it with his nose.

Also: a remarkably simple code in the back reveals something I wasn’t entirely aware was still a secret, which is maybe the theme of the issue.

*Elsewhere, Wisdom (#2) continues to be a surprisingly fun series, albeit one close enough in tone and conception to Warren Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. that I occasionally undergo flashes of déjà vu. Something about a poorly-mixed team of superheroes tossed together to encounter archly ridiculous threats at a lightning pace - not that there’s anything special about that, but the two series seem particularly joined in tone as they run together in the current Marvel catalog, especially as contrased against much of the rest of said catalog. Or maybe it was the Red Bull joke that writer Paul Cornell cracked this issue.

Anyway, Wisdom is a bit more weighted and cerebral, a little more willing to run with extended Beatles references, and metaphors (loud and rumbly as they are) for the English unconscious. Lots of regional references. This issue also sports one of the better page-by-page depictions of a dreamstate I’ve come across lately, jumbled and random enough you’ll probably have to read the book twice to understand certain parts, though it all hangs together very nicely upon reflection. Impressive, though I wonder if Trevor Hairsine’s art isn’t enhancing the comedic surrealism by remaining so heavily realist - we’ll see if the tone changes with the visual switchover next issue.

And there's still no reason for that MAX rating, other than jacking the price up to $3.99.

*And Zombies vs. Robots #2, the ‘final’ issue, does indeed include many sequences of zombies fighting robots, as drawn by Ashley Wood, while the plot skates through several different premises in the course of a single comic, finally settling down as the introduction to its own sequel, which will presumably be done when its done. The very opposite of substantial, but there’s just something about a book that’s this keenly aware it’s a disposable artist’s showcase, the artist in question having raw ability to burn…


I dood it again.

Robot 3

Don’t ask me why I’m still reading this thing. It’s vol. 3 of editor Range Murata’s ultra-deluxe, 170-page color anthology of visual talents (including both manga artists and people from anime design backgrounds, like Murata himself), and as usual most of it falls into the ‘nice colors, sorta dopey’ category. Maybe I’m more attracted to candy coating than I’d like to admit? Maybe the strong bits really are strong enough to make up for anything else? Maybe I bought this thing for $12.00 instead of the cover’s $24.95? Ah, now we’re on to something.

Robot seems to be popular, though; it’s currently up to vol. 6 in Japan, and I have to confess it’s a one-of-a-kind deal in the US - there simply isn’t another high production value color manga(ish) anthology out there. I just wish there was more to hold my attention than generic tales of sword-swinging and cockeyed surrealism; it’s really quite tremendously reminiscent of Heavy Metal, with all of the faults that would come attendant to making Heavy Metal an annual book while keeping all the content the same - the intermittent interesting features would easily be crowded out by glossy crap with the space of months and issues to separate them.

As such, we wind up sitting through thirty interminable pages of Shigeki Maeshima’s inchoate girls ‘n guns ‘n blades epic Dragon Fly to get to four pages of reliable Yasuto Miura’s delicate watercolors, a wholly sentimental but very beautiful reflection on lost wars. Also good enough among the continuing features are Hiroyuki Asada’s Pez, a (guess what?) visually attractive little post-apocalypse body-switching thing in shades of deep purple and soupy green - Asada’s a veteran manga artist who’s probably best known in the US as music producer for the anime Gunslinger Girl, and he mentions in the back of this book that he’d like to continue his story as a monthly serial. And there’s always Yoshitoshi ABe’s Wasteland, a gore-caked dungeon crawl that now looks to be about identity or something, though it’s hard to tell at only twelve or so pages every year. You see? The bad ones drag one forever, and the relatively good ones don’t have much room to flower.

But, you know - pure visuals. Some of the contributions mange themselves a bit better without even bothering with a story and just presenting lovely new designs. The ever-impressive Imperial Boy presents another one of his outstanding CGI environments (examples here) and ‘Okama,’ anime character designer and manga artist, presents a single lovely costume design. Perhaps of most interest to anime fans is a ten-page story by Osamu Kobayashi, associate of Studio 4°C and director of the anime adaptations of BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad and Paradise Kiss (the latter just released to R1 dvd recently), designed as a series of posters and panoramic spreads as he follows a Japanese rock band around on tour. No depth (Joe Sacco he ain't), but lots of pure energy, which matches up well.

There's more in here, more illustration and little stories, but those are the closest things to standouts. As always, fans of page after page of eye candy will get their money's worth, as fast as the experience passes. By the end I was glad to welcome something as odd and funny as DMP's probably authenticity-fueled decision to translate into English the news & information page I presume was in the back of the Japanese edition, thus giving us all the freshest updates on what Range Murata was up to in mid-2005, including a handy explanation of what a US anime convention is like. Man, I'd never known...


I Can't Believe I Have the Day Off Work

*But I do.


The Carbon Copy Building (a 48-page book by Ben Katchor, and also an opera)

review nuggets (featuring Blade #5, The Punisher MAX #43, 52 #36)

The Grave Robber's Daughter (aka issue #14 of Richard Sala's Evil Eye)

Night and the Enemy (why review a Harlan Ellison/Ken Steacy 'comic' from 1987? BECAUSE I CAN)

*God, what is this, movies? January is pretty empty.


Batman: Year 100: This is the collected edition of writer/artist Paul Pope’s recent Batman alternate future thingy (they used to call ‘em Elseworlds), and it’s probably going to read better as a single book. Which isn’t to say that Pope wasn’t careful to attune his style to the demands of superhero serialization -- unlike, say THB, the visual approach is far more constrained, subdivided via panel, which at least provides the illusion of more ‘stuff’ actually occurring -- but that doesn’t quite erase the fact that a huge chunk of this material is one big action sequence. As far as Batman Elseworlds go it’s quite good, cleverly folding bits of the Batman mystique (the mask! the shadows!) into a fable of personal privacy in a terrorism-addled, nerve-jangled US of ambitious power players and endless Federal (out-of-)control. Sure, the ending is kind of a letdown, basically the finale of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination with the anarchistic edges filed smooth, but the spectacle of Pope’s art is always captivating.

Wisdom #2 (of 6): Issue #1 of this Marvel MAX miniseries was actually a lot of witty, self-contained fun, despite the fact that Marvel seem to have slapped it with the MAX banner for no reason other than to charge an extra dollar (it’s $3.99). Ah, so little faith in former Excalibur characters headlining their own miniseries, even if writer Paul Cornell isn’t quite writing ‘em like we know ‘em (actually, the only way I know Pete Wisdom is through my piecemeal memories of whatever Warren Ellis X-Comics I’ve bought, so it doesn’t matter much to me). Also note that this is the final issue to feature artist Trevor Hairsine, who will be replaced by penciller Manuel Garcia and inker Mark Farmer, perhaps in anticipation of issues appearing at a greater frequency than not-quite-bimonthly. I’ll confess I’d have probably waited, but maybe Marvel wants this over with sooner than later.

Ghost Rider #7: And in other news, here’s Richard Corben’s second (and last) issue on this title. It’s not like it’s an offensively bad comic or anything, but I don’t think I’ll stick around longer.

The Spirit #2: The P’Gell issue. Preview.

Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor #4 (of 8): This current storyline (concluding here) is particularly interesting in that it serves to integrate the Motoko Aramaki character from Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface into the cast of the original series, possibly addressing (or at least dancing around) the issue of what everyone thought of the disappearance of Motoko Kusanagi following the original Ghost in the Shell. And while preceding sentence was entirely incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t intimate with this series, those folks probably aren’t going to find much interest in an eight-issue miniseries of deleted pages anyway. The rest of us can continue to slap our heads and go “no Shirow, why’d you cut this stuff...”

Zombies vs. Robots #2 (of 2): The conclusion of this pleasingly odd (you know, even despite the done-to-death joke premise), very very pretty miniseries from writer Chris Ryall and future Tank Girl artist Ashley Wood. Preview here, if you scroll down. On the topic of the Tank Girl revival (which, to be precise, will be a four-issue miniseries beginning in May 2007, titled Tank Girl: The Gifting) - I can’t recall Wood ever tackling something dense and gag-packed like the classic Tank Girl shorts, tales that always seemed particularly attuned to Jaime Hewlett’s visual outlook, as opposed to Wood's often meticulously smudged ‘n scratched designer’s eye. Though he has demonstrated a lot more spontaneity (or the illusion of such) in recent projects like, er, Zombies vs. Robots. At least it’ll be a unique calamity if things go wrong.

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead: The Beginning #2 (of 3): Stuff will also get eaten in this.

52 #37 (of 52): So, the big news regarding this series is how issue #50 is going to arrive accompanied by an entourage of four one-shots, all on the same day, collectively titled WWIII, that are apparently going to expand the individual issue’s scope while also serving as an all-purpose dangling plot thread refugee shelter for the series as a whole, and indeed the entire One Year Later concept. They’re also not going to be written by the usual writing team (or bear covers by J.G. Jones), falling two books apiece to Keith Champagne and John Ostrander, which basically counts me out. I can just imagine the 52 board meeting this little plan rose out of, with a big chalkboard toward the rear of the room filled with nagging plot points the regular writing team either forgot about or don’t feel like tackling anymore. I’m sure the extra 300,000+ comics sold for DC in April will soothe the pain...


More Comics and Movies of Old

*Cinema Follow-Up Dept: You might recall a post from a couple months ago, in which I linked to a whole bunch of short works by experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Well, it’s now my duty and pleasure to inform you that The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume One is due on January 23 in the US from the redoubtable Fantoma. Restored prints, commentary by the director, a 48-page book... all the trimmings. Collecting the films Fireworks (1947), Puce Moment (1949), Rabbit’s Moon (1950), Eaux d’Artifice (1953), and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). Those interested in influential, enigmatic cinema are urged to check it out.

Night and the Enemy

Sometimes I read enough older comics that I wonder how I have time for anything new. I imagine that there’s enough great stuff floating around used and reprinted and occupying dark spaces in comics shops that someone could just forget about anything new for years and still have a very satisfying time with the form. Plenty of room for the unexpected, too.

For example, I just finished with the 1987 Comico production Night and the Enemy (that’s the foil-embossed softcover version - there’s also a hardcover edition that was simultaneously handled by Graphitti Designs), from writer Harlan Ellison and artist Ken Steacy. It’s really not much of a comic, actually; while the art is generally presented as sequential images, and dialogue sometimes issues from characters’ mouths, the visuals are often very heavily captioned, sometimes to the point where it’s really just elaborately illustrated prose. Which isn’t counting the segments that actually are straight-up illustrated prose. All of this stuff originated as Ellison prose stories, which will come as absolutely no surprise; I’ve generally found some reluctance in Ellison to trust all that much in visuals when translating his own words to comics form, and there’s certainly plenty of instances here of narration describing exactly what the art is showing us, and other telltale signs of a prose/screenplay specialist uncomfortably tackling another medium.

Still, I can’t say I’ve warmed up to Steacy’s gauzy, airbrushed ‘80s visuals anyway (nice b&w work, though), so much of my interest happily wound up falling on Ellison’s words. All of the stories here concern Ellison’s Human/Kyban War, a recurring backdrop for various bits of the Ellison catalog (for example, the Kyban popped up in Ellison’s famous episode of The Outer Limits, Demon With a Glass Hand). Ellison himself characterizes the material in an included essay as one of the two linked series of stories he’s done in his career, the other being the sundry pieces of his perpetually upcoming novel Blood’s a Rover, the most famed bit being A Boy and His Dog (which, tangentially, wound up being my mother’s first exposure to Ellison’s work when she, quite without warning, decided to see what her 14-year old was reading about - she’s not a fan to this day).

Night and the Enemy presents five of the Human/Kyban War stories, with a new framing sequence that strives to graft an overarching theme onto the whole affair. This stuff is definitely not the more popular of Ellison’s two ‘sequences,’ and it’s easy to see why - it’s space-faring war material, a popular staple of science fiction literature that’s nonetheless not Ellison’s forte, and you can practically hear the writer struggling to graft layers of ambiguity and doubt onto what are also expected to act as crackling examples of the subgenre.

Sometimes the effort just fails - Trojan Hearse emerges as just the sort of heroic account of cleverly annihilative military maneuvers that might prompt an unkind essay from Michael Moorcock. Sometimes Ellison doesn’t do quite enough - Life Hutch struggles mightily to recast its simple human vs. robot story as an allegory for mutually destructive conflict, but never quite manages the impact. Elsewhere, Ellison maybe errs too much on the side of moral questioning - certainly every time an experienced military official pops up (as opposed to a plain ol’ red-blooded pilot or grunt), Steacy might as well draw them wearing a placard reading I AM A VILLAIN, which doesn't much help Ellison's ultimate message of rational personal questioning.

Yet, there are many moments of genuine pulpy power. I’ve always been partial to Run for the Stars, that nasty little saga of a forgotten, ruined person so battered by powerful, uncaring forces that he elects to rain destruction down on anything that’s not him. Ellison’s recurring theme of powerful elders/ascendants/parents creating awful pain for their ‘children’ is in full effect; the story The Untouchable Adolescents is a reversal of Run for the Stars, in which the moneyed old race becomes spiritually ruined by awareness of the damage its thoughtlessness has caused on the young and unaccounted for. Always, the hubris of superpowers causes them to forget the small and seemingly worthless, sometimes with dire consequences. While particularly thick with 'nasty warlike' and 'good thoughtful' character types, arguably as Manichaean a setup as Ellison purports to repel, Sleeping Dogs is nevertheless a potent attack on the undercurrents of ethnocentrism ('human' being the ethnicity in question, valid when the 'alien' races are characterized through human traits) perhaps inherent to this sort of stuff, as the war between Human and Kyban finally escalates to the point where a heretofore undiscovered third party jumps into the battle, obliterating all notions of what was safe and strong. Feel free to extend the message to current politics, if you so choose.

And, while somewhat ad hoc, Ellison’s ultimate after-the-fact message, that the Us vs. Them binary of space war sci-fi itself is damagingly arrogant, even absurd, does succeed on some level as a subversion of what’s gone before. Ellison's prologue presents enlightened, all-spirit beings being 'told' the book's stories, and wondering which mighty race they are decended from, Human or Kyban. In the end, the very notion of who the 'victor' must be in these circumstances is given a good tweak, as it turns out that the final survivors are something else entirely, a certain lower form of life on Earth that had the good sense to learn from the self-destructive ways of the long-gone humanity. Hence, predators are recast as downright enlightened through learning from the mistakes of others, and we are denied the assurance that even an arguably virtuous or necessary war will result in anything that will benefit us; it may be all up to the next group of fools up to bat, who maybe won't be as foolish as us.

So it’s hardly the best of Ellison, and not a particularly stellar example of comics or comics adaptations, but it’s valuable as a handy document of an author’s uncertainty about the tone of a selected genre, given his particular worldview and political outlook. Certainly a fun thing to find on a neglected shelf.