Digression Strong

*Like a thing unto iron.


Batman: Cacophony #1 (of 3)

Travel (in which Yuichi Yokoyama and you board the inhuman mystery train, forever)

*Exotic Animes Are Forever Dept: Yeah, I fell of the wagon and went on one of my 'internet fansubs of olde tyme Japanimation' kicks again. Forgive me for what must follow; the comics list for this week is only a short dozen or so paragraphs down.

Blazing Transfer Student: I like a myth best when it explodes, so I think the most value I took from this 1991 two-volume OVA was the warm, fuzzy, altogether renewed knowledge that the famed animation studio Gainax never really reached some poison point after Neon Genesis Evangelion whereupon its incandescent artistry gave sudden way duller works. Turns out they always had one toe dipped in shit! Ha ha!

All right, all right - I'm already being too hard on this little number, an obvious labor of love from director/animation director Katsuhiko Nishijima, the auteur behind 1986's Project A-Ko, that friendly old fandom favorite, initially planned as a porno OVA but ultimately graduated to a feature-length otaku hodgepodge of sci-fi comedy. Perhaps it was fate that Nishijima's path would cross with the archnerds-turned-pros of Gainax; perhaps the middleman was character designer Yuji Moriyama, who'd worked on A-Ko as Nishijima's co-writer/character designer/animation director, as well as tackling animation direction duties on Gainax's landmark 1988-89 OVA opus Gunbuster?

This thing's no Gunbuster, that's for sure, but it's got a somewhat similarly conjoined adoration-criticism of old-school anime tropes going at its core. It's more like what Gunbuster would have been if the whole thing had stayed like the silly first episode, only here it's a school-of-young-toughs, Tomorrow's Joe parody. And it does deserve some style points - not content to merely rattle off zany bits of '70s genre arcana, it adopts an interesting, thick-outlined mangaesque visual approach, almost like it's trying to force the chunky 'look' of period anime into a slicker, smoother-running holistic design. It works pretty well! It is fun to look at.

I dunno about the rest of it. There's lots of veering between loud antics and seemingly low-key bits of spoofing, and I'm pretty sure I missed 40% of the latter at minimum anyway by virtue of having not been a 10-year old Japanese boy in 1972. The story's about a kid who transfers to a school where literally everything is decided by fighting. At least half of both episodes are spent on long, absurd, kinda tedious boxing matches where genre conventions are stretched to the breaking point - the entire second episode's fight centers around Our Hero trying to deliver his 'finishing' punch, but he gave it too fancy a name so he can never quite announce it beforehand without getting beaten and beaten, and you can't deliver a final move without announcing it, right? That kind of humor.

Mostly I laughed at broader stuff; there's some funny digs at genre sexism, with the love interest spending much of one episode wearing a sign reading "TROPHY." The next episode preview at the end of episode one totally spoils the end of the show, which I thought was unreasonably funny, because I'm simple. It's a nice show; raises a smile. It probably does a fine job of indicating what Gainax's stuff would have looked like a whole lot more like if its main creative forces hadn't been as ambitious or difficult or frustrating or pretentious. Sweet-natured, nice to look at, critical (but not too much!), happy and fannish and goofy. Appreciative. Kind of a bore.

The Labyrinth Real Estate - File 538: This one's a half-hour OVA from 1987, written and directed by Mamoru Oshii. He's hands-down one of the best-known anime directors alive and working today, so I'm not gonna recite his curriculum vitae or anything; however, I do think it's worthwhile to note that Oshii was also one of the first directors ever to work in the OVA format, back in the early '80s (with Dallos), and he was certainly the one that stuck closest to the ideal of the anime home video format as a means of personal expression, free of the production limitations and content restrictions of television, or the budgetary demands and length requirements of movies. And even by '87 it'd all pretty much begun to devolve into a glossier, bloodier, boobier version of whatever was on tv, but Oshii kept the dream alive.

This was actually part of an abortive ongoing series of short projects called Twilight Q, intended to provide a forum for eager directors to craft unencumbered, arty suspense tales of skewed reality - can you believe it didn't sell?! Oshii's piece centers around one of his favorite motifs as a writer, the vortex of repeating time (see also: 1984's Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer; 2004's Ghost in the Shell: Innocence), in this case serving as an all-purpose metaphor for getting pinned down by work, money, domesticity, anything.

It's mostly an ominous mood piece, very heavy on carefully composed still (or mostly still) images manipulated with small animations or light effects, with lots of voiceover narration. A down-on-his-luck detective takes a surveillance case concerning a father and his young daughter. Upon breaking into their room -- a place that clearly hasn't been occupied in forever -- he discovers the ready-to-print confession of the father, who was also once a detective fallen on hard times, and indeed eventually accepted a job watching a father and his daughter, despite no record of their lives (or their home, for that matter) to be found anywhere. Gradually, the former detective found his identity slipping away, until he realized that he actually was the father, and somehow hired himself, with all his universe orbiting that little girl, and one of his few serenities being the knowlege that he'd eventually get hire our present detective. Who is, of course, also him.

Or is it all the sweaty summer dream of a desperate writer, struggling to cook up a salable idea? Also: why are airplanes turning into fish? Is it a free-floating symbol of the capricious creative drive? Is the little girl a goddess? Could she take Haruhi Suzumiya in a fight? A dance-off? And where the hell's the basset hound? So many questions.

I liked it all a good deal, but I'll confess I liked it more after I read Justin Sevakis's review at Anime News Network, which presented the background needed to suggest a fascinating crypto-autobiographical/biographical reading, in that Oshii's father really was a struggling detective, and that the film was made in a sort of dead zone in Oshii's own life, roasting in an apartment after he was done with Urusei Yatsura but before Patlabor got off the ground (amusingly, with the aid of writer Kazunori Ito and character designer Akemi Takada, both of whom worked on Twilight Q's only other produced segment, Reflection - A Knot in Time). It lends an added sensation of going nowhere in life to the proceedings, of inescapable settling, of 'sons' becoming fathers.

Hell, I'm kind of piqued by another branch of the family tree. I don't know the exact chronology, but Oshii did have a young daughter he eventually lost contact with for about 20 years, which casts the project's familial aspect in a very different light. Oshii would eventually meet the girl again, when she was an adult, and their reconciliation provided one of the inspirations for his more recent film, this year's The Sky Crawlers. I wonder if the circle has again come around, in a temporally freer way.

*Now the anime is silenced.


Petey & Pussy: I like John Kerschbaum's comics a lot, and just when I started wondering where he'd gotten to, here comes an all-new, 128-page hardcover saga of the man's delightful funny animal characters with scary human heads. Gags aplenty, kissed by slapstick gore and surrealism, if my guess is right! Lush art too. From Fantagraphics. Large preview here.

Fuzz and Pluck: Splitsville: But don't let one pair of talking beasts from Fantagraphics deter you from flipping through this long-coming, 240-page collection of Ted Stearn's 2001-08 series, splitting up his meek teddy bear and cocky plucked rooster duo into a dual adventure that totally involves pit fighting. There's a huge (albeit subdivided) preview at Stearn's Flash-based homepage, if you click "comics" up top - otherwise, slideshow here.

Swallow Me Whole: Nate Powell's new book, a 216-page, $19.95 (though Diamond's list says $14.95) b&w hardcover from Top Shelf. Two stepsiblings struggle with mental troubles in a visually impressive fugue of familial love and absorbing ailment. I'll recommend this. My review here; a preview here.

The Lagoon: Being the first longform comics work from Lilli Carré, whose 2006 Top Shelf project Tales of Woodsman Pete got some good attention. This one's from Fantagraphics; $14.99 for an 80-page hardcover focused on the reactions of individual members of a family to a sweet song from a strange thing somewhere out there, underwater. Preview here.

Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance: Also from Top Shelf, but not at all a comic - it's actually a 296-page, $19.95 hardcover book of fun facts and anecdotes relating to every damned US VP that was ever seated, written by Bill Kelter with illustrations by Wayne Shellabarger. Preview here, homepage here, official blog here. It's fun, I enjoyed it.

Archer & Armstrong: First Impressions: Oh shoot, I've got a soft spot for this one. This was 'the Barry Windsor-Smith series' Valiant started up in 1992, spun out of its Unity crossover. And you'll apparently be getting to enjoy those early Event tie-in issues as part of this new $24.95 hardcover collection. No offense to Jim Shooter (already being shown the door at this point) & Bob Layton, who co-created the series with Windsor-Smith, but the stuff doesn't really hit its stride until BWS takes over as sole writer/penciller as of issue #3, at which point it becomes a funny, easygoing story of a spiritual superfighter/reprobate immortal odd couple zipping around the globe having adventures. This goes up to issue #6 (counting #0); Windsor-Smith wrote up to issue #12. I hope the new coloring doesn't kill the art. With a new cover by Michael Golden and a new short story by Shooter & Sal Velluto, which ought to be the only non-BWS stuff in here.

Skitzy: The Story of Floyd W. Skitafroid: Reprints, o my reprints! This one's a new edition of a 1953 work by illustrator, painter and children's book author Don Freeman, tracking the adventures of a man who literally splits into a carefree artist and a dour workaholic. It's $19.95; samples from an older edition here.

Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage Vol. 5: September 18, 1961 to March 9, 1963: You too, Leonard. Classic Comics Press shall accomplish the reprint. Anticipate 264 pages of lavish newspaper strip drama-among-the-dramatic for a $24.95 toll.

Jack Kirby's The Demon Omnibus: All of it will return to print ALL OF IT ALL OF IT ALL OF IT. Herein rests 384 color pages comprising all 16 issues of the King's 1972-74 project of devilish appeal. It's $49.99.

The Spirit Special #1: Parts of this will return to print too, since there's a movie and all (I hear Frank Miller cut the giant squid, the fucker). Herein rests 32 color pages comprising four tales of Will Eisner's original creation. Only $2.99!

Stan's Soapbox: The Collection: Oh god yes, even the fucking text pieces will be reprinted. This is for the Hero Initiative, though, so it's not quite the same. Compiling every last madcap missive from the muddy middle of Marvel mammoths and marginalia, 1967-80. Video hype here. It's a $14.99 softcover, although pricier limited editions should be out later.

The Punisher MAX #64: Marvel!

Foolkiller: White Angels #5 (of 5): MAX!

Punisher War Journal #25: Howard! Chaykin!

The Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus: Marvel! Knights! Yeah - $99.99 will net you the complete 'funny' Punisher -- including the whole of Welcome Back Frank and the early Kills the Marvel Universe one-off, plus all pertinent issues of the ongoing Knights series and that one Double-Shot -- from the writer who later switched it up to grander effect. One-stop shopping for all your 'wonder what he did with it beforehand' needs.

Conan the Cimmerian #5: Corben and cohorts.

Youngblood Vol. 1: Even this, friends - even Liefeld shall ascend to the altar of reprints in this golden age. A 168-page, $34.99 deluxe hardcover ($75.00 signed 'n numbered!) collecting the original 1992-93 storyline. That's a good time. Ha ha, remember how "issue #5" was actually a back-up story in an issue of Brigade? Man, those comics sold hundreds upon hundreds atop hundreds of thousands of copies. Boy. Do note that this is the exciting revised edition of the material, which has been entirely re-written by Joe Casey, with pages swapped around and all-new Rob Liefeld art added when necessary. The ending's different too. The rest of that Brigade issue: not included. Preview. Run toward the reader. Run.