Again, deep into the night.

*Work work work work work.

Tom Strong #34

Well, this was decent. Tom zips off to a strange place called Samakhara to investigate the appearances of strange creatures which seem to bear a resemblance to beasts out of a favorite 19th book, The Chevalier de Reve and the Spires of Samakhara, part of an ongoing series of adventure heroine escapades as crafted by one Armond Delatour. Naturally, it turns out that the fiction is real, and Tom manages to save the day through impressive feats of conjecture and judiciously distributed pops to the mug. Thanks to the pencils of Paul Gulacy and Jimmy Palmiotti, Tom seems burlier than usual, the overall visual design perhaps grasping at a halfway-there pulp illustration feel. It’s a fair attempt, certainly weighted and supple enough, and the exteriors of the aforementioned Spires are nicely designed. There’s a few weird sequences where character expressions and movements suddenly become exaggerated and antic, breaking with the rest of the book’s solidity to offer a more liquid, pliable reaction style. It’s strange, jumpy.

Writer Steve Moore (no stranger to Tom Strong contribution) occasionally circles around some interesting ideas before opting for wholly straightforward resolutions. It seems that (way back in the day), Mr. Delatour himself wandered into Samakhara, the site of his book, which apparently possessed a magical property that brought all of his creations to life. He also discovered that he was gradually coming to resemble his own archvillain creation, the foul Tengri Khan, and he slipped into the role all too neatly. This also brought about the emergence of Delatour’s heroine, the titular Chevalier de Reve, but Delatour/Khan, aware of all of the story’s rules and thus able to subvert them, opted to simply put her into a deep sleep instead of killing her, in fear that the death of the lead character would undo the entire fiction universe. Naturally, this is where Tom comes in to wake sleeping beauty and promote the death of the author in a more literal fashion than is usually intended.

All of this is mere background for Tom and his new lady friend to run around in front of, encountering scantly-clad zombie bondage slaves and yetis dressed as aristocrats, and eventually bringing the story to its proper conclusion. And in such conclusion, the book offers up a cute little bit of (inadvertent?) self-evaluation: serial heroes tend to outlast their creators, often acting against their original wishes, and little can be done to stop it. In fact, that’s the proper way to go, the book seems to tell u. And while I can’t say that Tom Strong is particularly dissonant in approach to any of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse’s discernible intents, there’s something to be said for the image of the creator-free hero(ine), wandering away across the desert sands, any deliberate purpose unknown, but moving at all deliberate speed.


Oh yes yes yes!

*Triumph Dept: As Ingwit points out in yesterday’s comments thread -


The news is out in a couple places. Vol. 1 sees release in February, 2006. And oh! Oh heavens!! A 'best of'?! Are they bringing over the 13 Greatest Hits series, just like I wanted?!?!

Oh wow. Oh I'm happy now. I am the very opposite of bored. Oh yes.

(Wait... you mean you… *gasp* *choke*… haven’t heard of Golgo 13?! Have a look at my two part special feature, hopefully not too riddled with errors and misleading conjecture!)

*Tom Spurgeon reviews a book you really really really need to procure post haste, even though there‘s a fairly good chance it’ll totally confound you: Gerald Jablonski’s self-published Cryptic Wit, released in 2002 with help from a Xeric Grant. I wrote a little about the same book way back in November of 2004, and I’ve since gotten to read Jablonski’s only other collected comics release, Fantagraphics’ 1996 Empty Skull Comics. Jim Woodring wrote an introduction to that book:

I don’t know Gerald Jablonski well enough to say whether or not he is crazy, but if he isn’t he’s the most gifted mimic since the leaf hopper. His comics, have that alarming glass-hard veneer of isolated intellect that distinguishes the product of the bona fide lunatic. There is no sense that he intends his work to be read, much less understood by others… There is no point in judging these comics by conventional standards any more than there is to critiquing an epidemic… Reading this book will be like your first parachute jump, or your first successful ménage a trios. Exhilarating new sensations will wash over you, the world will seem fresh and new for a short precious time. And afterwards, like the supplicant whose life of devotion culminates in a reality-shattering vision, your personality will bear the imprint of this experience for the rest of your days.”

Now that’s what I call an endorsement! You may have seen Jablonski’s obsessive renderings in various The Comics Journal Specials - once you’ve read a few of them, and become initiated into the world of Howdy and Dee Dee and Farmer Ned and the teacher who’s an ant and has a message for the people of the world, there’s no reason for you ever to leave, and you won’t want to.

*Wow, there’s a lot of stuff


Or Else #3: I need say no more. It’s the latest Kevin Huizenga release. I have the utmost confidence that it’ll wind up being the best thing out this week. I strongly recommend you all check this out, unless you’ve already got a copy (as seems to be the case with a number of you). Yeah, I’ve gushed enough. Just get it.

Smoke and Guns: New AiT/Planet-Lar release, written by Kirsten Baldock with art by Fabio Moon. My review is here (scroll down a bit).

Pure Trance: Early work from the popular Junko Mizuno, released not by her usual English-language home base of Viz, but by the venerable Last Gasp. Sure to be incredibly odd and poisonously cute. In the words of Chris Butcher: “Listen, I'm not going to lie to you. That book will fuck your shit right up.” Yes.

Japan: Hmmm, now this makes for a lovely contrast. A $12.95 Dark Horse release of a 1992 single-volume manga, written by Buronson with art from Kentarou Miura. Both are popular fellows as far as violent action and manly intrigue go - Buronson (who also works under the alternate pseudonym of ‘Sho Fumimura,’ though his real name is Yoshiyuki Okamura) has written such strapping epics as Sanctuary and Fist of the North Star, while Miura is best known as the writer/artist behind the popular gore-soaked barbarian fantasy, Berserk. This one sees a macho Yakuza thug, his measurably less-macho brother, a beautiful reporter, and a bunch of high school kids whisked away to a desolate future Japan for no-doubt thrilling escapades. The preview doesn’t have all that much to show; given the creative team and the premise, not to mention the solicitation promise of plenty of 18-and-up explicitness, it might be decent enough trash.

überbabe: [same as it ever was], the lost books of everything [or something] volume 1: Sure to be lavishly designed, this is a print format version of the graphic novel released online earlier this year, which itself was a collection of four comics put out individually since 2001 as gorgeously little design bites. Primarily written by Lisa Voldeng, with scads of lovely art by Rebecca Dart, among other contributors. I wrote a bit more about this stuff the other month; you might find it to your interest.

2020 Visions: Man, talk about up from the past! This is writer Jamie Delano’s 1997-98 Vertigo maxiseries, all twelve issues of which are now collected into a single trade by Cyberosia. It’s basically a quartet of three-chapter short stories, all of them set in the same nasty futuristic world, with a different artist set loose on each. The most notable of them today is obviously Frank Quitely (in his first post-Flex Mentallo major work), though you’ll also get some choice Warren Pleece, James Romberger, and Steve Pugh. I’ve heard it’s interesting work, and at only $19.95 for 296 pages, it’s not too big a financial risk. Look at the pretty pictures and spin it around in your head.

Solo #6: Covering the art of Jordi Bernet, an artist I’m not familiar with. This issue sees the needle moving back toward the Tim Sale direction of the ‘solo’ scale, since there’s five writers, five colorists, and two letterers credited in addition to Bernet himself. Apparently it’s going to be heavy on the mid-20th century newspaper adventure strip style, cheesecake most certainly included. I expect the cohesive single-unit construction of the past few issues of this book will be out the window for this one, but it might be worth checking out, $5 price tag notwithstanding.

Seven Soldiers - Shining Knight #4 (of 4): Is the bloom off the rose for old Shining Knight? I keep hearing it brought up as the weakest Seven Soldiers book; I suppose it suffers from having simply maintained a certain level of quality while Guardian and Zatanna jumped forward and Klarion gently drifted back. Then again, last issue was awfully wordy. Ah, no matter. This is the first of the conclusions of the project, and it’ll be nice to see how Morrison handles it.

BPRD: The Black Flame #1 (of 6): The latest miniseries (though really it’s an ongoing series with lengthy breaks in between arcs - there’s been a common, continuing plot running through each miniseries thus far) to feature the Hellboy supporting cast, and I’m still kind of torn. Artist Guy Davis is a gorgeous craftsman, and probably the best alternative to creator Mike Mignola imaginable, his scratchy renderings beautifully crafting all sorts of nasty sights and beasts while still managing some elegance for the main cast. But co-writer John Arcudi just doesn’t do the trick for me, and his arrival on the book coincided too neatly with a turn towards dumbed-down characters and less successful humor. Hey, as far as I know Mignola (also co-writer) himself may have devised that awful new Hardcore Ass-Kicking Zombie Captain to lead our heroes; whoever came up with the idea, it was a very bad one. So I don’t know. Looks reeeeeeal pretty!

Tom Strong #34: This time, we’re back to Steve Moore, former workhorse of Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales and future contributor to that Tomorrow Stories Special that’s coming soon. Art by Paul Gulacy and Jimmy Palmiotti. Can’t say I’m quivering in anticipation, but it’s remarkably tough to screw up a Tom Strong story, I’ve gotta say.

JLA: Classified #11: More of Warren Ellis toying with Major Superhero Icons. I don’t know about you, but I keep having to remind myself who’s working on this thing - ‘JLA: Classified’ is such a nondescript title to give a comic, it’s like a cloak of invisibility draped over the damn thing. I keep passing issues of this by in the store. And It doesn’t help that now we’ve got JSA: Classified to deal with. They should just convert these things into miniseries simply to benefit me - I think that’s the best direction for the DCU to take, actually. Benefiting me.

Astonishing X-Men #12: Interesting to hear the conversation regarding this one shifting to whether or not writer Joss Whedon is, well, actually writing the book. That’s hardly a vote of confidence. But few can deny that the title has suffered a rather sharp downturn in writing quality in the past arc (not that it was blowing minds to begin with, but at least it was entertaining, uninsulting X-Action). Cassaday is keeping up the pace to a certain degree, though. I mean, we could wind up with…

Daredevil: Father #2 (of 5): …this. Not that it’ll change sales a whit. You don’t even really need sales data to figure that out - I simply presume that if I’m willing to wait however many months for the new Planetary or Optic Nerve, the Joe Q. faithful (god bless ’em) will probably turn out for this, yearlong gap or not. Hell, there might even be an increase in sales, with all the notoriety this book has attracted. Same goes for Kevin Smith... hell, it’s probably double for him.


Please God, Send Your Angels to Shoot Me in the Back, For My Education is Done

*Just don't kill me before I set forth


Comics Underground Japan (excellent 1996 collection of alternative manga - get it!)

Jack Cross #1 (none too pretty)

Hip Flask: Mystery City (The Big Here & The Long Now - Episode One of Three)

And I also managed a movie review, of the recent Terry Gilliam joint, The Brothers Grimm.

*And now, to further my endless Grant Morrison preoccupation:

The Mystery Play


Through the grace and generosity of several beatific souls (you all know who you are), I finally got to read Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s much-vaunted Flex Mentallo over the weekend. It was quite an experience, and I’m still not certain how I feel about the work. I think I can safely say that it operates much better as a statement of purpose than as a coherent story, though nobody’s saying that (1.) stories need to be coherent to be successful or (2.) statements of purpose can’t be richly entertaining and enlightening. Sure, the folks who got all sweaty and ornery over the perceived incomprehensibility of JLA: Rock of Ages or Seaguy will probably want to keep away from this one, lest they risk brain aneurisms, but I was impressed by how personal, how intimate the book was on a scene-by-scene level (I would not fall onto the floor in shock upon discovering that a lot of the childhood flashback material was autobiographical, let’s say). There’s a lot of beautiful sequences, a real sense of rigorous self-evaluation via multi-dimensional fiction masquerade; it’s practically Morrison’s Quimby the Mouse, though I wonder how much of Quitely’s own life has been inserted into the proceedings. And it’s funny! Riotously so at times - the prose bit involving wartime Golden Age publishers had tears in my eyes.

It’s heartening, then, to see that such a fine balance of personality, philosophy, critique, humor, and the general sense of being alive managed to hit the stands in 1996, only two years after the publication of The Mystery Play, as portentous a work as Morrison has ever written, so self-consciously weighty and meaningful that no air can escape its amber walls (naturally I jest, in part - Morrison has been mixing cheeky pop enlightenment with alternate tones of execution for much of his career). Characters walk through this book with sober faces, their eyes often turned low, their hands often grasping their brows in consternation. Their world is one of harsh lights and saddened watercolors. This, my friends, is A Very Serious Comic, and if there’s anything Morrison has proved himself to be less than adept at, it’s precisely this phylum of brooding chamber piece. Expectations are thus duly met.

From my own conversations with fellow Morrison fans, it seems that the hallowed choice of ‘Weakest Morrison Work’ (excluding the collaborative likes of Skrull Kill Krew) often comes down to either this book or Arkham Asylum, and it’s impressive to observe how closely the two works are joined. Both are original graphic novels (Morrison’s first two), both sport ominous painted art by talented individuals (here it’s Jon J. Muth, while Arkham had Dave McKean). And both adopt a uniquely rigid storytelling structure, with some sort of dark event prompting an 'outsider' character to enter a curious world, hopping from party to party, engaging in wooden exchanges of philosophic posturing with each, an element of hallucination and fantasy permeating the affair along with the occasional blunt symbol or literary allusion, until we reach an unreal finale involving the outsider’s exit and the insiders’ reflections, both factions having presumably learned and/or taught something from the whole episode.

It’s just that the latter volume doesn’t involve Batman.

The sheer extent of such structural similarity certainly calls into question Morrison’s current claim that much of the darker-than-dark slog of Arkham was meant in a sense of industry satire (in Flex Mentallo, on that note, a pro-Hitler superhero publisher claims ‘satire’ as a means of avoiding the electric chair on charges of treason - it was funny). And if Morrison’s earlier, sorely underrated Kid Eternity knowingly aped the surface characteristics of Arkham, offering a more interesting, successful narrative in the bargain, The Mystery Play is a truer sibling work - I honestly cannot determine which is worse.

The story is set in the English municipality of Townely, the Mayor of which has elected to spur a revival of the town’s famous cycle of Mystery Plays, allegedly to reaffirm the town’s cultural identity and attract valuable media attention, though the more cynical observer might posit that it’s all a means of diverting attention from that nasty sex scandal Hizzoner was recently embroiled in. A 'Mystery Play,' by the way, is an ancient dramatic tradition (perhaps the oldest medieval European dramatic tradition), portraying noted scenes from Biblical origin, often with secular elaborations on the sacred text. Morrison has apparently named ‘Townely’ after the 'Towneley Cycle' (note spelling) of Mystery Plays, authorship attributed to the pseudonymous Wakefield Master, who allegedly resided in Yorkshire (hence the book’s reference to Townely’s participation in the 'Yorkshire Cycles'). It will come as no surprise to seasoned Morrison readers that the book itself acts as something of a contemporary Mystery Play, if heavily secular and thoroughly post-modern. Various characters are introduced, most notably Annie, the archetypical Ambitious Girl Reporter Who Can’t Wait to Get Out of This One-Horse Town, and our view fades from the performance of one of the plays itself to a more adorned Biblical Realist portrayal of the same scene, free of the confines of the stage.

Then some bastard up and kills God. Damn it.

This, of course, prompts the entrance of the obligatory outsider, a vision-prone detective by the name of Carpenter and - you know what? Stop. Stop right there. That first impression you just got as to where this story is going? It’s absolutely right. That’s exactly what’s about to happen. For any of you with any grounding in New Testament scripture, you seriously do know precisely what’s coming up, even before Morrison has the fellow suddenly sporting a stigmata. It’s all a matter of how we get there.

And it’s none too smooth a ride. Basically, Jesus H. Police Detective wanders around conducting his investigation, drifting in and out of reverie, which conveniently causes characters to speak largely in declarations of theological intent, albeit accompanied by Muth’s pretty colors. For example, the actor playing Satan actually transforms into Satan (a distinctly Nietzschian one at that), and taunts Carpenter with the notion that all is chaos, and that order is only imposed via man’s will to power, and that the statute is not the stone’s potential but its submission, etc. etc. The meeting is punctuated by the corpse of God being eaten by hogs, those Biblical carriers of demons. Other characters become less specific: the Mayor becomes a symbol of exploitative lust, the local priest one of the hollow spirituality of the contemporary cloth. This isn’t much of a guess on my part, by the way - Morrison has the character explicitly say:

We’re dumb, frightened animals, petitioning the empty sky, and if I can help ease the fear of my fellow creatures by lying to them about Heaven, then I shall.”

And since that’s obviously not enough, Morrison resorts to the howling blunt image of Carpenter peering into a model church on the miniature golf course on which the pair are playing and solemnly intoning:

The house is empty.”

Tragically, the priest doesn’t retort with a spirited “Well yes, of course it’s empty, since we’re on a goddamned miniature golf course you blithering fuckwit!” Instead, the conversation drags on, the reader presumably meant to nod and scratch his or her chin at the terribly meaningful depth of it all. But I can’t, and I expect many other readers won’t be able to. It’s arid, self-satisfied, yet oddly over-explained material, a hallucinatory story that’s not a story, but not a particularly enlightening allegory or insightful comment on spirituality or theology or man’s positioning in the universe or anything of interest. That’s the key - it’s uninteresting. I might be missing volumes of deeper significances, I readily admit, but I’m not exactly inclined to dig further, and I have to wonder if everything is perhaps simply as blunt as Morrison often leaves it. And this is a surprisingly blunt work, eager to offer ready explanations for much of its content.

Even at the end, in the big crucifixion sequence (oh come on, you knew it was coming - give yourself more credit!), when Carpenter is cruelly betrayed by his Judas, Annie the reporter (who handily fits into another, far more secular stock role: the ambitious woman who sells out that which is good to further her career, boo, hiss), reacting to charges of child molestation levied against Carpenter, who’s actually an escapee from the local loony bin, things remain decidedly soggy. Carpenter, his garments suddenly bathed in white, manages to escape the cross, leaving only his jacket behind, nailed up real good. This would have been a more enigmatic image had Morrison not had a character from earlier in the book explicitly identify ‘a hanging coat’ as an artificial apparition that terrifies the childish, which sort of dials down the mystery, you‘ve gotta admit. We then get an epilogue involving Annie, now a successful reporter yet still haunted by those events, being literally handed a similar coat to wrap herself in, which she does, eyes downcast and spiritually chastened. The (Very Serious) End!

I realize I’m coming off as a bit flip in this review, but it’s only because I know Morrison is capable of better than this, and indeed, he’s since created better things. I just don’t think he’s particularly inclined toward excelling at this sort of too-rich passion (er, mystery) play. St. Swithin’s Day did manage to mix a realistic milieu with ‘human fantasy’ elements fairly well, but it’s interesting that Morrison keeps it simple. Here, he’s in over his head, resorting to face-to-face talk and endless wheel-spinning to make his points, his reach exceeding his grasp. He has help on the art side; Muth (just as Dave McKean and Duncan Fegredo did before him) serves up some lovely images, though he’s basically kept to a near-photo realist simmer for much of the book. Even the more visionary sequences are presented through intensifying sources of light on realistically rendered figures, with only an autopsy scene allowing Muth to really cut loose on the visuals, and even then only briefly. The rest of the book resembles attractively smeary scenes from a well-staged television play, though Muth’s art is more fluid and page-friendly than most heavy realists.

I’ve done a disservice, perhaps, by reading this book so close to Flex Mantallo. I think that’s it. Both works strive for meaning inside and outside of their respective universes, both become examples of their own subjects (Flex Mentallo is about superhero comics as much as it is one, after all). But the later work is so alive, so crackling, so kaleidoscopic and bravura! The Mystery Play is leaden, ponderous, sitting there like God’s corpse on the slab. It’s a good thing Morrison himself has a tendancy to spring back to life, up from the dead again and again.


Sundry and Various

*A good essay from the ever-good Mark Fossen, undoubtedly one of the better new bloggers around, on how recently-reinforced (they were drawn long ago) battle lines must be rejected by those looking to the future. I suppose my own views (on the rare occasions I manage to sort them out) ultimately rest on the rejection of notions of volume-dominance-as-rhetorical-superiority, so I find myself inclined to agree with Mark, especially in his characterization of ‘Indy’ fans (though there's as many factions of 'Indy' fandom as there are birds in the sky) as shoring up the primary positioning of the Big Two (‘ceding the front racks,’ to paraphrase Mark) by establishing themselves as The Other.

Granted, I think the thrust of Mark’s essay as a whole is to secede oneself from the paradigm of conflict entirely, while I’m more likely to acknowledge the thrust of so much online argument as essentially focused on the Big Two, even as villains, further canonizing them as what’s ‘worthy of chat,’ but I think I eventually reach the same conclusion as Mark does (really, we might simply be saying the same thing in different ways): the only way is to free the mind, cast off notions of The Other, and concentrate on a more uninhibited approach to reading and enjoying (“I don't care if it's a multinational conglomerate or a basement inkjet, I'll read what appeals to me. I don't feel the need to be an activist, and I don't feel the need to let Marvel/DC frame the debate.” - YES, exactly, though I do think activism is a viable approach on a title-by-title basis, though I don’t know how thoroughly ‘activist’ has been redefined as useful term!). Naturally, there are many other arguments (by way of example, I’ve read an interesting piece recently on how the characterization of ‘manga’ as something other than ‘comics’ is in fact beneficial to the appreciation of manga as an art - just wish I could find it now), but Mark’s is very nicely done.

Remember - we don’t need to enter the cave at all, and in that way the Super Medusa can no longer wield power.

*Amusing Find Dept: Reading through the first volume of Crying Freeman, I was struck by a tendency on artist Ryoichi Ikegami’s part to throw in an extreme close-up of whatever gun(s) a thug or villain happens to be brandishing at any particular moment, whenever such a weapon appears. It’s kind of distracting, but sort of funny too; it’s like the unnecessary fashion spreads that shoujo manga used to throw in whenever a female character would sport a fresh outfit. And in much the same way that the young girl target audience of such shoujo manga would presumably ooh! and aah! over the delightful styles, I expect that Ikegami’s near-erotic weapon renderings serve to satisfy the gun otaku among the readership.

You see, there is a certain subculture in Japan focused on the building of model guns and classic weapons (actual gun possession is a big no no in Japan, hence the very existence of the fandom - that’s what got Kazuichi Hanawa of Doing Time tossed in the cooler, I believe), and I think the existence of such panels is essentially fan-service for fans of guns (rather than fans of panties, though I expect there may be some overlap). I wonder if such a crew is often attracted to the ‘manly romance’ (in Ikegami’s own words) of books like Freeman?

*Well crap, I’m out of time yet again. Always fun when I have a crapload of things to do on the weekend. Anyway, expect a longish piece on Grant Morrison’s The Mystery Play posted sometime on Monday (Morrison has a very particular means of approaching books like this and Arkham Asylum - seeing as how these two are among his weakest works, you can consider it a type of ‘evil formula’). And then there’s Alan Moore’s The 49ers, which I haven’t quite finished yet, but I’m working on something in regards to that one too. Oh, and Or Else #3, once I get the chance to buy it!


I put the comics before the movies, don't worry.

*Tom Spurgeon, as part of his weeklong quest to summon eight interesting bits of comics news for 2005, brings up a really excellent point in his ‘Catching Up to Manga’ entry:

I'm also interested to see if a used-book pricing structure for such books blossoms and becomes the norm. Such books could appeal to a reading public that doesn't have money to invest in the object as well as the story, and make it easier for the rest of us to find what we like even if we are a little late in sorting things out.”

Oh, I’m not just interested, I’m benefiting! I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had cruising around the internet, picking up nice deals on older manga that I’d missed in the past. Even rarer tomes, like the 1988 Catalan Communications compilation of Yoshihiro Tatsuiti works, Good-Bye and Other Stories, can be had for just over ten bucks, and that’s after shipping (speaking of which, get ready for a nice compare-contrast with D&Q’s upcoming Tatsuiti book The Push Man & Other Stories, once I get a hold of it, since there’s going to be some overlap between them). Old issues of Pulp are dirt cheap (if you can find 'em), considering that they’re anthologies, and there’s a ton of recommendations in there for future searches. Earlier collections, lovely work like Taiyo Matsumoto’s No. 5 and the excellent Comics Underground Japan can be had for around half their original prices, usually in excellent condition. You just need to check out the used sections of Amazon, plus Half.com and Bookfinder and the like; there’s a whole world of good, cheap, used manga out there, largely free of the pestilence of speculation. Truly, the future is now!

The Brothers Grimm (obviously not comics)

A pretty decent movie; it’s not Terry Gilliam’s best, and it bears some visible scars from its famously (considering who's directing, maybe that should be consummately) torturous, gap-laden production, during which Gilliam managed to shoot an entirely separate film (the upcoming Tideland), but it’s an able enough campaign in the director’s never-ending war to bring a little more class to commercial pop filmmaking.

Gilliam has a short interview in the new Entertainment Weekly; it’s good for some bitchy critiques of recent summer films (on War of the Worlds: “…Spielberg is a man who makes brilliant scenes but can’t make a movie anymore”; on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “…started brilliantly and Johnny is terrific - but he‘s all on his own. There‘s nobody around him, just people standing behind him looking at beautiful sets.”), though I expect most of Gilliam’s criticisms of other filmmakers can be doubled back upon him - disjointed stretches of miraculous ability sometimes fail to cohere, and certainly the main performances sort of get lost in all the scenery. It’s got the director’s signature stamp, though, even if it seems more apt to play toward the summer blockbuster bleachers than average.

I’ve heard that Gilliam didn’t care for the script, which he likened unfavorably to The Mummy (that’s the more recent franchise, of course); significant re-writes were allegedly performed on the fly, and the final picture does indeed seem to be thoroughly infused with Gilliam’s pet themes, while retaining a certain loud, garish CG beastie videogame aesthetic. Gilliam didn’t win every battle: his original pick for lead actress (Samantha Morton) was vetoed, and cinematographer Nicola Pecorini was fired from above Gilliam’s head mid-shoot, both events masterminded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who only became attached to the film themselves when MGM abruptly pulled out of financing. Money was obviously an issue to everyone, and I don’t know how well things will ultimately pan out in that regard: the 10:00 PM opening night show I attended played before a theater at barely 1/6 capacity. And this movie cost $80 million before advertising. I’m not predicting financial success.

But it’s not bad, not nearly the mess that many critics are claiming it is (do note that nearly every mainstream reviewer and film pundit in the country hated Gilliam’s last film, 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which has since undergone quite an impressive critical reevaluation). Certainly Gilliam’s pet theme of ‘imagination v. reason’ is strong throughout, incarnated in the title duo - when they were boys, bespectacled dreamer Jacob Grimm traded the family’s cow for magic beans instead of cash for medicine, a poor business decision that resulted in his younger sister’s horrid death. Brother Wilhelm never quite got over it, and the friction between the two follows them into their adult careers as traveling demon-buster charlatans, Wilhelm providing the charm and cunning to set up local rubes, and Jacob mustering his best storytelling creativity to concoct ‘spirits’ for the team to ‘vanquish’ - for money, of course. And if you haven’t already puzzled out that the brothers will be forced to confront real supernatural forces at some point, welcome to your first movie.

Gilliam also extends his theme to fit the villains. On the side of Reason is Gilliam regular Jonathan Pryce, playing a haughty French military officer, living it up in occupied Germany (where the action takes place). Pryce knows that there’s a logical (and doubtlessly subversive) explanation behind the disappearances of young girls in a nearby town, so he captures the Grimms and sends them out to investigate under the threat of death, figuring that it’ll take a pair of con-men to crack a con-game. Gilliam almost seems more comfortable with Pryce on the screen, loading his scenes with background detail and creative accoutrements (note the chamber orchestra that follows Pryce around everywhere - into the dungeons, or even outside, and I loved how Pryce's aide keeps handing him fresh pistols to fire after he's shot them only once).

Actually, that’s the real strength of the film - the little details, the small characters. The performances among the supporting cast are glowing with typical Gilliam-directed exuberance; a mean old village witch is utterly perfect, and surely no man was born more ready to appear in a Terry Gilliam film than Mackenzie Cook, aka Gareth of The Office fame. Only when such characters are used too much, like Peter Stormare’s scenery-chomping Italian torturer, do they begin to grate. Heath Ledger also turn in an entertainingly twitchy, nervous performance as Jacob; given Gilliam’s natural predilection to favor the imaginative, it’s maybe unsurprising that Matt Damon, as the grounded Wilhelm, doesn’t have quite as many interesting things to do.

And accordingly, the Irrational side of the villainous equation quickly becomes dominant, as the Grimms venture into the long-suffering village. The film also grows less choppy once Gilliam can get down to the magical details; references are made to many popular tales, and scary monsters come and go. There’s a wonderful sequence in which a possessed horse spews cobwebs from its mouth to entrap a young girl, which it then devours whole, spiriting her away in its engorged belly as the Grimms give chase. But editing scars remain: a subplot involving a beautiful local huntswoman (Lena Headey, in an initially promising role which swiftly devolves into typical girl-in-distress malarkey) and her long-lost father goes absolutely nowhere, and the catchy suggestion that the Grimms might have to reach back to the dank, violent, folklore origins of their much-collected tales proves to be only that - a suggestion. The notion of one particular villain collecting stories as magical spells is a nice one, though, and the film’s climax, while utterly nonsensical from a storytelling point of view, does subscribe to a tempting dream-logic, Gilliam again celebrating the success of unrefined imagination.

‘Unrefined’ is a good term for The Brothers Grimm - even the special effects seem to be oddly rushed, vaguely incomplete, and the plot isn’t exactly a miracle of structural rigor. But it has such neat moments, like a wicked queen gently blowing toward her tower window, a puff of air that grows to a hurricane gale, knocking away a whole regiment of French troops. That’s the sort of thing you ought to see this film for; you need to buy Gilliam’s preference for ideas and beauty and absurd fun over total cohesion. And even if this particular bowl of punch has been spiked with scary monsters jumping out and making LOUD NOISES and whipcrack-edited action scenes and the like, it’s still a very Gilliam production, which I assume most of his fans have been waiting seven years for above all else.

And just think - it’ll only be a few short months before the next one!


Ouch I Hurt.

*A world of disgust awaits you in this week’s column! A look at how the insecurity and negativity that sometimes pops up in the US comics is also present in other nations, and what it all might mean! Have a good time reading it!

*Such a splitting headache today. The problem is that I got way too much sleep last night, because I only ever get headaches when I sleep to the point of indulgence. Gah.

I did check out that Ichi the Killer dvd (the OMG TOTALLY UNCUT edition) and the experience largely served to remind me not to pay any attention when a large number of critics and the like start babbling about extreme violence in film; most of them, while very smart, simply don’t have much of a grounding in exploitation or ultraviolent or transgressive cinema, so their perceptions are naturally going to be out of whack with, say, mine. That’s certainly the only explanation for the furor that still occasionally trails the 2001 Ichi, a film that mostly traffics in Rikki-Oh-style gore, adopting the loudest form of manga bloodshed as the model for its make-up effects. In addition, quite a lot of the nastiness takes place off-screen (something The Story of Ricky would never do!), and there’s long stretches of character interaction and walking around streets and stuff.

Which is precisely the big big big problem with Ichi the Killer: there’s no way in hell this material justifies a two hour and nine minute runtime. The second half of the film in particular grinds to a crawl as director Takashi Miike opts to explore the pasts and motivations of his characters, pursuits that frankly aren’t necessary to the progression of the film. For those who aren’t familiar, Ichi the Killer (based on manga by Hideo Yamamoto) is basically a head-on collision between the ever-popular Yakuza genre of organized crime fiction and a costumed super-vigilante story. The titular Ichi falls into the latter category, running around in a black costume with blades in his heels (didn’t The Guyver have blades there too?), driven on a quest for vengeance against all bullies and criminals. He even runs into a little kid who looks up to him, and has a mysterious and wise mentor/benefactor, played in a stroke of casting genius by Shinya Tsukamoto, writer/director/star of Tetsuo the Iron Man among other classics (I assure you, this is the low-budget Japanese trash cinema equivalent of Sergei Eisenstein casting Vsevolod Pudovkin in Ivan the Terrible). Unfortunately, Ichi is also a seething mass of sexual confusion, displaced rage, and social ineptitude. And when he uses his amazing powers, he always kills.

This is all contrasted with his flamboyant would-be nemesis, Yakuza masochist extraordinaire Kakihara, who believes that Ichi might be able to give him the ultimate pain he secretly craves. Kakihara also likes to stab people with needles and scald them with oil and suspend them from hooks, all of this accomplished through some passable CG and goopy make-up effects. I wonder if Miike was trying to say something through the differences between Ichi’s colorful arteral spray brand of killing, and Kakihara’s more grounded (and realistically-rendered) tortures? Certainly he strives to make points about the cyclical nature of violence (even ‘good’ violence, superhero violence) and the vagueness of vengeance (I really enjoyed how Tsukamoto’s justifications for sending Ichi out into battle gradually change as the movie goes on). It’s nothing that regular readers of superhero comics since the mid-’80s haven’t heard before, but it’s pretty well put. I’d go so far as to say that a really smashing film (of between 90 and 100 minutes in length) is hidden somewhere in this material, but it’s not my job to find it.

Miike and mangaka Yamamoto’s audio commentary is neat though, even if both men speak very slowly and Yamamoto is constantly breathing sharply into the microphone, which is a tad creepy.

*Ok. That’s all I can take for today. And I’m supposed to go out and see Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm tonight, which I’ve heard will only intensify my headache. Ah well…


It's talking hippo day!

*The street outside my building is a pretty busy one; not quite a thoroughfare, but it fills up with vehicles pretty quickly around the 5:00 rush. So around that time today I was crossing the street, trying to watch out for speeders or early bird drunks, and this old man suddenly stops his truck as I approach.

Hey kid!” he calls out, “You know where the Chevy dealership is?”

I’ve got no clue, naturally, but I’m about to respond anyway when I see another car bearing down upon me from the opposite direction. I sort of dart behind the old man’s truck to get out of the way, with the intention of going over to his passenger’s side window to deliver my useless answer, but he suddenly peels away before I can get there.

So now I’m wondering - did I scare the guy off or something? Did he think I was trying to carjack him? I certainly look like a dangerous and powerful man, yes, but I only use my might for good. He should have been able to tell from my soulful eyes.

Or maybe he was trying to abduct me? He should have offered me candy. I never refuse candy. Ever.

*Not too too much going on right now. I discovered that the lovely unrated dvd of Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer was on sale for about $12 at my local Best Buy, so I picked it up. Looking forward to the audio commentary by Miike and creator Hideo Yamamoto, whose manga provided the basis for the film, and who also contributed to many an issue of Viz’s old Pulp anthology with his Voyeur and Voyeurs, Inc. series, which were never all that good, to be honest. His place in J-pop infamy has since been secured.

*Comics-wise, I’m on a real Ryoichi Ikegami kick right now, as you might have picked up from assorted recent posts. I’m moving through the first volumes of Crying Freeman (very special thanks on that one to John Jakala, who is simultaneously human and god) and Wounded Man. The latter was originally produced back in 1982, the former in 1986, and it’s nice to watch Ikegami progress as an artist between those four years, his realist style gradually climbing up from general muddiness (Wounded Man) into a nice mix of simplicity and ashen hyper-detail (Crying Freeman).

Of course, Wounded Man (released in the US way back in 2001 by Comics One, which I believe is now defunct) is an outstandingly trashy thing in every aspect; an early scene sees the protagonist raping the female lead in order to scare her away from his dangerous mission - naturally she realizes that he cares and they become romantically involved, which doesn‘t prevent him from yanking her around by her hair every so often. And when it’s not indulging in utterly toxic gender politics it’s stunningly ridiculous, with the hero injecting dental cement into people’s penises and taking on an all-powerful porno company called GPX, or God’s Pornographic X-rated Film (where’d the ‘F’ go?), that (in flashback) tries to tempt him into a life of sex and sin with footballs made entirely of 10,000 yen bills. But our hero and his virtuous steady girlfriend see through their little game: “This is not God’s creation! This is actually disrespecting God!” So then the villains lock them in a room with no food to see how long their ‘love’ can last without basic survival needs, a plot device identical to one in a pre-code Charlton horror short I just happened to read a few weeks ago (I found it in NEC’s old Tales Too Terrible To Tell). That’s where the first volume leaves off, and I think my Ikegami thing will be over before I’m tempted to pick up the next one, god or his porno films willing.

Oh, and the story was written by Kazuo Koike of Lone Wolf and Cub; he also did Crying Freeman, and many other bizarre titles (my kingdom for Mad Bull 34 in English! even though it’s 27 books long and apparently batshit insane!). I’m starting to think that his much-acclaimed work on LW&C saw him straining to remain on his best behavior, at least from what little of it I’ve read.

Hip Flask: Mystery City (The Big Here & The Long Now - Episode One of Three)

This is actually the third book to feature Hip Flask, that trench coat-clad anthropomorphic hippopotamus mascot of lettering studio Comicraft, but you don’t need to have read either of the prior two issues (Hip Flask: Unnatural Selection from 2002, and Hip Flask: Elephantmen from 2003), since everything important is recapped in the first eight pages of this latest tome. Perhaps seeking to imbue the project with a little extra class, publisher Active Images has opted to present the book as a semi-Prestige Format kind of deal, with a proper binding and a slick (though soft and bendy) cover. It’s got 42 story pages, with six additional pages of drawings and pin-ups; coupled with glossy, full-color production values, the book’s $4.99 price tag seems fairly reasonable.

Hip Flask is a curious book, basically a straightforward European sci-fi/fantasy album series scrunched down to US pamphlet size (I believe that Unnatural Selection was made available in album format at one point, though). Certainly Jose Ladronn’s art sports the lush, ultra-heavy look that marks quite a few European productions, and his style is perhaps the book’s trump card - it’s not just that his visuals are smooth and pretty, it’s that he approaches the story’s many anthropomorphic beast characters with such seriousness, such a drive to forge ‘realism’ from the fundamentally silly, that he winds up with a uniquely cracked accomplishment in visual world building. Whether it’s the zebra police detective with an eye patch or a blatant Joe Camel parody (host of a luxurious kasbah, naturally!), Ladronn brings total devotion to the page, so much that the reader will probably find themselves willing to overlook the occasional garish computer texture slathered all over a rhinoceros’ hide as he slips into his finest business suit.

The plot, by Ladronn and Comicraft founder Richard Starkings (Joe Casey, who provided the dialogue for the first two books, has left the project), seems jumpy and indistinct, though I think I recall additional background being provided back in Elephantmen; it’s tough to remember, two years subsequent. Basically, Hip Flask and his humanoid assistant Vanity are Information Agency workers who’re tracking the origins of a mysterious vehicle that materialized during a time-travel experiment, the car’s driver liquefied behind the wheel upon arrival. Meanwhile, there’s a war going on involving noted rhinoceros businessman Obadiah Horn and his human lover’s father, both of whom are apparently gang lords. Oh, and the insane scientist creator of all these walking, talking zoo exhibits is plotting something or other from prison, which doubtlessly ties into things, I guess. We ricochet from event to event, location subtitles flying deployed with machine-gun speed (for example, we get “Downtown Los Angeles” “Long Beach Seaport” “Venice Beach” and “The Docks * Long Beach” in the space of twelve pages). A lot of stuff seems to happen, but it all brushes past you too quickly to register. The characters are entirely one-trait wonders, at least judging from this issue, and nobody gets more than a few pages to say some quick lines then race off to the next scene. It’s almost pure plot-propulsion storytelling, a pause only taken to reflect superficially on Horn and his lover’s relationship, before a particularly hoary plot twist disrupts the peace.

Granted, it’s never really bad. Given the rich visual quality, the moderate length, the emphasis on choppy movement-happy plotting, the occasional splash of blood, the abrupt ending, and those friendly old sci-fi environs of shimmering skyscrapers and iron corridors, Hip Flask basically feels like an above-average Heavy Metal feature, and the fact that we probably won’t see another installment for a year or so only adds to the comparison. And it’s entertaining work in that Heavy Metal way, where you don’t have to think too hard with all that candied visual information rushing in; it’s also a bit cheaper, with the (usually awful) back-up shorts stripped away, so it really does balance out in the end.


You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.

*Ironclad Must-Buy Dept: I missed this the other day in my Diamond shipment roundup since it (rightfully) wasn’t listed with the comics. Yet I would be negligent in my blogging duties, liable for blogging malpractice even, to pass up a New Comics Day opportunity to sound the trumpet for a guaranteed coffee table masterpiece:


Nearly 600 pages of all-new prose and argument, straight from the mouths of Sim and his readers.




I, for one, cannot imagine a better use of $30. The homeless and starving don’t need that money, and you know it. Buy this book, and if you don’t have the cash, rob your local grocer to get it.

Jack Cross #1

This is, on first glance, an almost beautifully schizophrenic book. Practically dreamlike, really. I’m almost certain now, having completed a closer read, that much of this feel is totally unintentional, but damn if I didn't think there was something queer going on beneath the hood, modesty mixed with ultraviolence crossed with a type of madness. But what is it they say about the cinema of Dreyer? That some of his loveliest visual effects were discovered through camera malfunction?

Jack Cross is a DCU book. As I pointed out the other day, there’s a really odd sequence of automatic weapon slaughter that’s almost completely devoid of blood. It looks like the hapless victims are being kissed by dozens of tiny dots of flame, Will ’O Wisps summoned to suck out their souls or something. Artist Gary Erskine doesn’t even draw in any environment damage; bullets are seen striking walls, furniture, a window, a goddamned lamp - yet nothing is breaking or shattering or giving way, save for a lone pizza box. It’s like a hundred tiny spontaneous combustions of individual cell clusters, all broken out at once. I sort of liked it, and I wondered if it was an intentional distancing effect.

And then, I reached the final quarter of the book, which is devoted to a bloody torture sequence. Our hero, liberal activist cum deadly agent-for-hire Jack Cross, brutally works to shatter the will of a murderous, mysterious DHS turncoat by blowing off his fingers with a pistol, one by one. It seems to go well, yet Cross, on the final page, is plainly haunted. Is he going insane? Will we bear witness to a torn-apart agent's mental breakdown splashed across the stage of national intrigue?

No. No no, there's a far more mundane series of explanations; first and foremost, DC has apparently (maybe? possibly?) printed a page out of its correct order, specifically the issue’s penultimate story page (the one where the traitor is whispering “Please.”), which I believe is intended to appear right after Jack yells at the screaming fellow that he’ll never touch his wife again. I wonder if this is an across-the-board gaffe, or if I merely own a special copy. Or is it not an error? Certainly, the resultant continuity slips in the 'misprinted' edition have managed to convince me through their sheer number that we’re bearing witness to a production mishap rather than any intentional trickery or rampant sloppiness. Cross cracks the traitor in the face with the butt of his pistol, a thick rope of blood issuing forth. On the next (misprinted) page, the man’s head is entirely clean. The suspect’s hand is bandaged on one page (and two of his fingers seem to be damaged, including the one that Cross points his gun at in the second shooting, though the color is really muddy), and naked on the next. A cup of coffee appears on the table from out of nowhere, obviously meant for earlier in the story.

And yet... I'm torn. Cross says "Ten minutes and I come back for the next finger!" after the first finger is blown off. Is the page correctly placed, and the visual continuity simply that bad?

Of course, printing errors can’t excuse the fact that the blood smear on the interrogation table changes position, shape, and size from panel to panel. An awkward view of Cross exhaling cigarette smoke is resized and recycled later in the issue - one page later, that is. On that same latter page, Cross’ head seems to temporarily contract, like a gently squeezed balloon, beginning in a stout, round sort of state (panel 2, the recycled panel from the page prior), then his cheekbones suddenly become thin (panel 3 - also note how one of his eyes seems to be drifting off to the side while the other one stays straight), then stout again (panel 4). Coupled with the largely damage-free miniature firestorm from earlier in the issue, I’m forced to conclude that the images and contrasts that so arrested me at first can only be attributed to a mix of intermittently-enforced DCU content restrictions coupled with possible manufacturing gaffes and plain old visual laziness. I’ll not get into the general stiffness of Erskine’s character art, or how a trio of corpses somehow magically vanish in the middle of a surveillance video - it’s just a bad-looking book, simple as that.

What a letdown. Well, there’s still one good thing I can credit the art for: Erskine does pretty well with character faces. I sort of dug the sad grimaces on the lips of a posse of gunmen. And that gleam in Cross’ eyes on the final page is certainly well-rendered, though now it only signals writer Warren Ellis having his cake and eating it too, gesturing toward the horrid toll that torture exacts on good people while merrily playing it up as The Way To Get Things Done in exciting fiction. Maybe he has more to say on the subject. Hell, maybe he’ll do something with Cross’ presumed inner conflict, which is currently limited to (1.) that final image, (2.) the occasional frowny face, and (3.) cynical dialogue that an Ellis protagonist of any political stripe would readily spit toward the supporting cast (it doesn’t take a tortured liberal to understand the inter-intelligence conflict seething in today’s US, after all). But what we’ve got right now is a too-typical thriller set-up, an extended interrogation, and some really dodgy art.

But hey, does that make the disturbingly unreal mood I felt on that first read any less authentic for being an accident? Can't my initial impression stand?

I mean, can you blame me for grasping at straws?


One to grow on.

*Being an incredible psychic mutant, I always know exactly what you (dear reader) are thinking at all times. For example, right now you’re musing, “Gee Mr. Jog, all of this manga stuff is ok, I guess, but what I’d really like to see is a website that provides English translations of assorted gag manga with coverage of extreme horror manga occasionally interspersed.”

Well you know what?

You are about to become a very happy person.

*And the gods of fortune truly smiled upon me this day, as my discovery of the above linked site coincided flawlessly with the arrival of -

Comics Underground Japan

(you know, just to be certain, let's just assume that all the links in the review below are NOT WORK SAFE, ok?)

Published by Blast Books in 1996, and consisting of stories written between 1983 and 1993, this is one of three major bookshelf-worthy anthologies of alternative manga to have been released in the last decade, sandwiched between Fantagraphics’ 1995 Sake Jock and Viz’s 2000 Secret Comics Japan. Trusted sources have assured me that the latter is a delight and an education, and I’m sure Fanta gave it the old college try, but I’m happy to say with first-hand certainty that Secret Comics Japan is 200+ pages of necessary purchase, a fine and vital collection, even if Blast made the bizarre design choice of printing the damn thing unflipped, yet with the covers designed to accommodate a left-to-right tome. Confusion quickly ensued, but just as rapidly subsided.

With a thirteen artist lineup, culled heavily from alumni of the much-lauded alternative manga anthology Garo, there’s bound to be a lot of stuff here you’ve never heard of (on a side note, don’t go thinking that ‘Garo alum’ necessarily equals ‘wild and offbeat’ - Ryoichi Ikegami of Crying Freeman and that ’70s Spider-Man manga also got his start there, by way of example). However, there’s also probably a few tidbits that will hook even the more mainstream manga/anime fan, stuff folks have maybe already heard of. I bet most of you know about Hideshi Hino, who’s seen about a zillion volumes of his work released in the US by now (two of them by Blast), had his art grace the cover of a Comics Journal Special (Vol. 5, that is), and enjoyed a lively filmmaking career that only once involved Charlie Sheen and the FBI starting up an international snuff ring investigation (I’m serious). He’s in here, doing his thing in a circus-based context. It’s ok, though there’s more interesting things inside.

Anime fans will also have a reason to search this book out, if only for Cat Noodle Soup, a short story by Chiyomi Hashiguchi, working under the penname ‘Nekojiru,’ with some help from her husband, latter-day gekiga stalwart Hajime Yamano. This story was later expanded into Tatsuo Sato’s 2001 anime short, Cat Soup, which has since garnered something of a cult following subsequent to its R1 dvd release. It’s a strange story, full of visual-thematic dissonance, as a poor little anthropomorphic kitty is taken away by Death, with only her younger brother able to see her spirit leaving. He tries to save her, but only manages to recover half of her astral form, which causes her physical body to awaken with severe brain damage. And yet - everyone’s pretty kitty face remains utterly joyful and perky at all times, no matter what. I’m not sure how successful a work it is; while ably cooking up a good mood of gentle children’s book sadness in its early pages, the story later ties itself up into an abruptly pat bow. But really, its key source of power lies outside of the physical and temporal space of the book; Nekojiro committed suicide in 1998, retroactively soaking the piece in melancholy for anyone who knows the background, which I believe provided the drive behind the creation of the anime adaptation. Unfortunately, Nekojiro is not the only artist in this anthology to have died by their own hand; Hanako Yamada, whose included two-page strips of frenzied urban female life could easily run in any of today’s alternative comics anthologies, also took her own life in the early ’90s (here’s an interesting essay on the two artists and their sad connection).

And the book’s tendency to allude ominously to the future does not even end there; today, Kazuichi Hanawa is probably best known to English-speaking readers as the author of the autobiographical Doing Time, an account of his three-year stay in Japanese prison on weapons possession charges. Meanwhile, years in the past, reference is made in the ‘About the Artists’ section in the back of Comics Underground Japan to a letter-writing campaign directed at police officials on Hanawa’s behalf, urging them to grant him clemency. Not too much came of it, from the looks of things. But at least the anthology preserves his excellent talent for historical grotesques, in a great little story about religious futility titled Mercy Flesh. Here’s another one of his shorts, just so you can get a good taste of his lush, humorous style (and speaking of taste - mmmmm, monkey brains!).

But enough beating around the bush; the real showstopper of this book is a gentleman by the name of Suehiro Maruo. Here is his official site. Here is a shrine to his work. Here is a collection of every cover of every book he has released. I’m giving you all this because Maruo is a truly unique talent, a man of almost breathtakingly vile vision, yet gifted with a truly luxurious visual acumen. His story is entitled Planet of the Jap, and it’s a veritable Red Cross bloodmobile explosion of sopping violence, arid humor, violent sex, rueful anti-US sentiment, self-loathing anti-Japanese sentiment, and vintage imperialist high kitsch.

Its plot liberally inspired by Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Maruo’s story begins with incredible WWII military action (complete with English-language sound effects) rubbing up against phallic ordinance imagery; this time, though, it’s Japan that firebombs Chicago, leading into the atomic bombings of Los Angeles and San Francisco. The flag is raised, the occupation begins, atrocities are committed graphically, and the losers seem to have become the winners, until Maruo starts busting out some Japanese-specific images of sword-driven beheadings, history’s brutality seemingly repeating itself no matter who’s victorious. Then a soldier has an orgasm in his pants while watching the execution of General Douglas MacArthur, and we’re apparently whisked back to the ‘real’ world. “To all you who never saw the War! Don’t be fooled. Japan is by no means a defeated nation. Japan is still the strongest country in the world.” So concludes Maruo, narrating via caption over a glorious splash of a Victorian-era Japanese horseman, a plume in his hat and a pencil-thin mustache below his nose. It’s bananas, yes, but a truly effective indictment of militarism, and a genuine visual triumph.

Maruo has two books available in English: the Blast-published Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show, and a short story collection from Creation Books titled Ultra-Gash Inferno (one of Creation’s two manga releases - the other is the brilliantly-titled Beauty Labyrinth of Razors, by Jun Hayami). You also just might run into some stories online, all somewhat lesser works which are not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach. I’m warning you, some will be offended by this material, partially because Maruo seems so flippant in tone, and/or so loving in depiction. Maruo’s aesthetic is one of total revulsion, mixed with dark (and sometimes rather cheesy) humor, sex and blood all mixed up in an irrational stew. It’s compelling, I think.

And that’s not all! I haven’t even gotten into the excerpt of the book’s other big anti-imperialist piece, an excerpt from Takashi Nemoto’s Panteresque Future Sperm Brazil. Or Muddy Wehara’s aptly-titled Bigger and Better, told entirely in eight double-page splashes, with a gag manga-laden intermission in between. And there’s even more. But that’ll lay in wait for you. This is a great collection, extreme in content, but high in quality. Go search it out for an advanced manga curriculum.

(and goddamn is SAME HAT! SAME HAT!! a nice blog)


Help me decide!

*Hey everyone, which of these events is more wicked rad? Finding out that a bunch of money I was supposed to be paid today isn't going to arrive until Friday due to events beyond my control, or realizing that a prior engagement is probably going to keep me from going to SPX this year? I simply cannot choose because both of them, while hardly grievous, are pretty fucking annoying! Ha ha!


Seven Soldiers - Klarion #3 (of 4)

Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #1 (of 5)

And at Comic Book Galaxy, a piece on the neat little 'zine Mineshaft, with work by many an underground legend.

Not a very heavy review week.

*God. I think there’s only one thing that can successfully cheer me up and out of such a state, a little something I found on the redoubtable AnimeOnDVD forums:


Actually there appears to be some argument as to whether these things are Taiwanese or Korean, but regardless; let’s say you’re a producer in Taiwan (Korea), with little-to-no cash on hand. Everyone loves that giant robot and space battle anime. But those licensing fees - argh! How can you possibly climb onboard the anime bandwagon? Well don’t fret, dear producer - the answer is as easy as procuring random cells and action sequences from a dozen odd ‘70s shows, redrawing a few of them, producing a couple original backgrounds, and fastening it all together with scotch tape into feature films, hoping the dubbing will cover the worst of the scars (don't laugh too hard; this is pretty close to what Ralph Bakshi was doing with the third season of the old Spider-Man cartoon).

And now, noted retail giant Wal-Mart, hell-bent as always on proving true the old axiom that a merchant’s product declines in quality parallel to the viability of his competition, is carrying three of these things on region-free dvd: Space Thunder Kids, Protectors of Universe, and Defenders of Space.

For one dollar each. They even stock them in the toy department, as opposed to with the real dvds in the electronics section.

Lord help us all, Defenders of Space was actually sold out (!!!) when I got there today, but I snapped up the other two along with what appears to be a genuine original animation production, something called Beauty and Warrior, and a copy of the public-domain first-ever color anime feature, 1958’s Panda and the Magic Serpent. Also one dollar each.

What, I ask you, is better in life?

*Perhaps looking forward to


The Comics Journal #270: Full specs here. Feature interview is with Jessica Abel, who in terms of visibility seems to have gone nearly missing since devoting herself to the recently-completed serialized graphic novel La Perdida (her older series, Artbabe, strikes me as having once occupied an Optic Nerve-like position as lightning rod for criticism as per the perceived narcissism of young, popular alternative cartoonists writing about youth affairs - but I might simply be bamboozled by the glare of history). Deleted stuff from the chat here. There’s additional talk with Lalo Alcaraz and Mark Bodé, plus the return of regular columns by Tom Spurgeon (superheroes) and Tim O’Neil (webcomics). And - Ng Suat Tong on Chinese manhua! Good times straight ahead, cap’n!

God the Dyslexic doG #3 (of 4): I liked the first two issues of this series, written by animators Brian and Phillip Phillipson, with art by Alex Nino of DC’s Thriller and many other titles. Very odd story about multiple gods and a messianic pooch and all kinds of weird things. Here’s an earlier review of mine; you’ll want to look into this.

Smoke #3 (of 3): Closing out the Alex di Campi/Igor Kordey miniseries. A quick look toward the charts reveals that this hasn’t sold very well at all, even granting the additional income of the $7.49 price point. Really not a bad book; familiar set-up, yes, but amusing, novel execution.

Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis the Menace 1951-1952: The latest classic newspaper strip reprinting project from Fantagraphics! This initial volume is a 624-page giant, packed with jazzy single-panel gags and precocious antics. Katcham has a gorgeous style, though I can’t say the strip is among my favorites. I’m sure it’ll be a plush production. On the other hand…

Krazy & Ignatz Dailies 1923: In case you haven’t yet bought this third square volume of the Pacific Comics Club compilation of Krazy dailies (a lovely, if compact companion set for those huge Fantagraphics Sunday collections) directly from the publisher, now Diamond is sending out copies to the Direct Market. As always, it’s a 1000-piece limited edition; copies of the first two compilations are also still available, which probably gives you a depressing picture of the size of today’s Krazy Kat fan base more than anything else.

Vampire Hunter D Vol. 2: Raiser of Gales: The mere fact that Dark Horse is actually releasing a second volume of this vintage Japanese non-comics fantasy/horror/sci-fi series is utterly fascinating to me. Can the sheer popularity of the anime (and the general popularity of manga as a collective force) seriously sustain a series of translated prose novels in today’s US environment? Has anyone actually read these things? Are they any good?

Jack Cross #1: Yet more heretofore unseen work from Warren Ellis, prolific fellow that he appears to be now that his logjam of prior-completed scripts has been unknotted. This one hails from 2003, with Gary Erskine on art. It’s about a left-wing activist superagent or something, though the most interesting bit is that it’s being released as part of the plain ol’ DCU. Have a preview, and enjoy an almost surreally bloodless automatic weapon massacre.

City of Tomorrow #5 (of 6): Waiting to read this all in one big batch now…

A History of Violence (new edition): Because, you know, DC might as well try some promotion for this. It’s been fun seeing once-warehoused copies of the prior edition dribbling into stores over the last month, and I might yet buy it someday.


Over and over and over...

*Worked from since I woke up, and working into the night. I love work I love it love it love it love it, and I’m sorry this weekend was so lite on this site I'm sorry I'm sorry.

*Pet Concerns Dept: Chris Butcher presents the Paul O’Brien-prompted semi-brouhaha as, in part, indicative of the hegemonic grip the Big Two holds over online comics discussion. Key quote:

Is the discourse about comics at the moment really just people being angry at superheroes, people being angry about people being angry about superheroes, and people excited about superheroes? Because if it is, perhaps we should all take my advice up top and just fuck off away for a little while.”

Very well put. And naturally, this fits right into my own preoccupations. In the cold, cruel words of that awful bastard, The President of Comics:

If the conversation is always pointed toward two companies, then it makes sense to focus the conversation into a batch of interrelated talking points, bits of debate handed down. If you praise them, they win. If you complain, they win again, because at least they are talked about. At least the conversation reinforces them. And if you don’t care for that, the realities of shops across the country scream ‘why not’? They scream ignorance! A clawing at your mind! It’s like a super Medusa, turning you to stone even while gazing upon her through a mirror! You can only hope to not enter the cave at all, and what epic hero dares not enter the cave?”

But need we be heroes? Or superheroes, for that matter? These are the thoughts that keep me from finishing all of this awful crap I have to do any earlier…

*For the anime fans out there, or anyone who loves the works of Studio Ghibli, home of beloved filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, here’s an old but good interview with the Disney-hired folks who are supervising the dubbing of Studio Ghibli’s works into English for R1 dvd release. Just this last Tuesday, a pair of Takahata films were released to stores everywhere: the gag manga based (and financially unsuccessful in Japanese theaters) My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), and Pom Poko (1994). The interview is most fascinating when focusing on the localization troubles inherent to the latter of that pair; the story is intensely culture-specific to a Japanese audience, featuring heroic tanukis beating back oppressors with their engorged scrotums, among other fascinating sights. Takahata inevitably plays second fiddle to Miyazaki in most English-language discussions of Studio Ghibli, but his career has taken an arguably more interesting, varied track. He’s dealt with so much more than Grave of the Fireflies, where the discussion of his career seems to begin and end, partially due to simple availability issues. Now, however, a richer dialogue is possible, along with the delightful bonus aspect of films about raccoon-like beasties whapping folks with their giant balls invading Wal-Marts across the US.


Saturday meander.

*Anticipation Dept: Cromartie High School live-action movie trailer.


Cromartie High School live-action movie trailer.

Actually, I don’t know how excited I am, considering that the two episodes of the anime I saw were pretty weak; the material simply thrives in comics format, and I don‘t think it translates all that well to other media. Still, the trailer works, if only as a delightful sample of how all of this lunacy would play out with real people; maybe watching the feature-length film itself is unnecessary.

*Ed Cunard (of The Low Road fame) is a very nice fellow; I met him today at RIOT and we sat around in the lounge with Jason (RIOT’s proprietor) and chatted a lot. It was a good time, and I discovered that I really enjoy having people call me ‘Jog’ in face-to-face encounters. Good old Internet intruding on the tangible world...

*I’ve been pretty busy getting things together for next week, which is going to be a loud and nasty one. My main recent comics pursuits involve reading the fourth and final volume of the 1980’s Lead Publishing trade-format translation of Golgo 13, subtitled The Ivory Connection (thanks, Ingwit!!), which is completely fucking insane (seriously - it involves psychedelic aphrodisiacs and scary Aryan toddlers getting cleaved with broadswords and Duke completing his mission by dumping an old man out of his wheelchair to his doom), as well as moving through my big stack of $1 back-issues of Pulp, Viz’s now-defunct ‘mature’ ongoing manga anthology.

What’s most capturing my attention in Pulp (aside from how sloppy Ryoichi Ikegami’s art has gotten since Crying Freeman, at least judging judging from 1996-98's Strain) is Benkei in New York, a suite of seven self-contained short stories that ran one per issue, featuring a super-assassin’s journeys through the underworld (it’s very much a Golgo 13 descendant in concept, though I know there were many super-killer antecedents in Japanese film and literature and such). The art is by the ever-unpredictable Jiro Taniguchi, whose solo volume of meditative slice-of-life contemplation, The Walking Man, was released in English by Ponent Mon. He also has completed several works with writer Natsuo Sekigawa, including the classic Noir thingy Hotel Harbor View (1 volume, Viz), and the literary historical sprawl of The Times of Botchan, (the first of 10 volumes is out from Ponent Mon). In addition to that, his art has been spotted in both the Moebius-scripted sci-fi extravaganza Icaro (2 volumes, iBooks) and the more genre-friendly Kan Furuyama-written historical piece Samurai Legend (1 volume, hardcover, CPM). Basically, he’s been all over the place. He’s quite an excellent stylist, his characters often sporting big, broad faces, mouths portrayed as simple curved lines, adding a note of simplicity to the hyper-real visual milieu.

Actually, Benkei’s face is one of the most important elements of the series, his sad eyes filled with death and blood. Most stories end with a shot of the triumphant killer (actually a masterful Japanese artist who can produce flawless forgeries; he’s since become an expat and gone to work for the underworld, or at least that‘s what I can gather having not read the first few chapters) gazing sadly out into space. Not quite the ‘weeping after every kill’ motif of the aforementioned Freeman, but close. Thankfully, writer Jinpachi Mori’s stories keep the wistful regret down to a simmer, an undercurrent, focusing on bleak action and unpleasant deeds, offering Taniguchi’s art plenty of chances to shine. Each chapter is a perfectly-paced little unit; they’re real marvels of compressed storytelling. Lovely, textured action business, deluxe junk food all the way. Viz has compiled it into a single volume, and you should get it.



*For about half of this post, I'm going to talk about very scary things, and then I'm going to move on to other stuff because I can't focus on anything for too long or the gnomes will take my baby sister away. We begin with this week's column, which covers my perceptions of the horror comics of the '50s, and what their cruelties meant for a troubled, wildly popular art form. Also featuring my most overblown title ever - I'm so proud! Take your time, we'll all wait for you to come back.

*Roger Ebert’s Fight Club Dept: Though I feel that America’s Most Popular Film Critic suffers from all-too frequent lapses in taste these days, more prone to handing glossy mediocrities a pass than ever before (granted, I always preferred Siskel anyway, if forced to choose), there’s one thing that remains good and beautiful in the balcony: when Roger Ebert gets into fights, entertainment is sure to follow. It’s no surprise; putting all analysis of his weekly new releases commentary aside, Ebert’s skills as a pure theoretician remain formidable, even underestimated, and engaging some producer or director in a philosophical joust can only play to the man’s strengths these days.

And really, it’s a win-win situation for all: Ebert gets to strut across the stage flexing his rhetorical triceps, while Filmmaker X gets to reap the natural benefits of being paid mind by such a big name. Would the likes of Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny have merely sunk into a quicksand of disregard had they been denied Ebert’s venom, a veritable lifeline of infamy? It sure couldn’t have hurt, and the subsequent confrontation/revaluation in re Gallo's film was publicity gold for critic, filmmaker, studio, everyone.

The spotlight now shines on the tiny-release horror flick Chaos; the general critical summary indicates a particularly lazy ‘update’ of The Virgin Spring/Last House on the Left, goosed with added nihilism and a goofy old-school exploitation prologue scroll extolling the film’s educational virtue (as Ed Gonzalez of Slant snarked, “But where's the lesson here? Don't let your kids out of the house?”). I haven’t seen it, so I can’t directly support any of this, sorry. Ebert gave it a nasty review (though it couldn’t hope to match the same week’s ‘critics v. comedians’ takedown of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, a veritable street-gang skirmish between warring clans of pasty nerds that was all but predestined to triumph through force of sheer gleeful pomposity), and the film’s canny director and producer (David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim, respectively) decided to purchase an advertisement in Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times home paper, calling him out by name, surely not ignorant of the valuable publicity that would surely follow.

Thus, we have Ebert’s response. It’s interesting that Ebert feels the need to explicitly point out that the film would probably have done the same amount of business whether he chose to even review it or not; maybe so, but now I’m certain there’ll be more of an attentive audience waiting for that dvd, if not an appearance at a theater near them. It’s as if Ebert has to deny his own power in order to excuse the patent benefit he bestows merely by dignifying the filmmakers with a response. It’s a good little piece of theory on nihilism and evil in the cinema, however, so at least we the readers get to share in the boons - Ebert can be a disarmingly lovely writer when he puts his mind to it; in summarizing the banality of the filmmakers’ shocks, he notes “it is like a movie of a man falling to his death, which can have no developments except that he continues to fall, and no ending except that he dies.” And in response to the filmmakers’ entirely expected claims of ‘reflecting the times’ and ‘refusing to sanitize,’ Ebert succinctly concludes that “Your answer, that the world is evil and therefore it is your responsibility to reflect it, is no answer at all, but a surrender.”

Very well put, though I’m not inclined to agree with the sentiment. Especially in horror cinema, I think the aesthetic of despair, howling against the wind, pounding the dread of each day’s shadow into the viewer’s skull, is a valuable one. I can respect the accomplished wielding of a sledgehammer, in other words, but I hasten to emphasize the ‘accomplished’ portion. Few species of filmic execution are more prone to inspire audience humiliation on behalf of the cast and crew than the tear-down-the-sky brand of scorched earth brutalization (physical, emotional, societal) that fails through indelicate presentation, transformed to a work of grating adolescence, a surly kitten’s growl evoking only bemused giggles, eyes rolling in the aisles, to haplessly mix my metaphors. I say the sledgehammer ought be used with the precision of a scalpel, or the blow will only glance off, power and force harnessed for nothing.

Accordingly, I’m ready to pay less attention to the ‘nihilism’ of Chaos, than the whole ‘ripping off earlier films down to their knickers’ angle. While I’m more than willing to reserve for future argument the possibility that the filmmakers are attempting some sort of intertextual engagement with and/or commentary upon Bergman and Craven, I dare say that it’s more likely just a big rip-off, and knowingly aping Last House’s infamous tagline in the ad copy doesn’t automatically reverse that, as if pure shamelessness could pass for insight. Remember now, I don't know any of this for sure, having only read reviews of the movie, but the perception I've got brewing isn’t exactly propelling me out of my seat and into theaters (er, hypothetically speaking; the film is most certainly not playing at a theater near me), even if the damn thing doesn't strive to be any more than the middling exploitation throwback that its distributor seems to be selling it as, rolling out the old barf-bag handout gimmick and using ‘70s-style fonts on the poster art. I mean, most vintage gore pictures weren’t miracles of innovation either, but there was usually some kind of individual flair involved. Maybe that’s present here too, but I wouldn’t bet my kidneys on it.

But anyway, yeah, Roger Ebert wrote some interesting things (even if I don’t really agree with them) and the makers of Chaos were smart to prompt that, so I expect everyone is happy and stuff. Hooray?

*In other movie news, the new Entertainment Weekly (#836) accompanies Owen Gleiberman’s rapturous review of The 40 Year-Old Virgin with a giant photo of star Steve Carell reading Marvel Team-Up #4, a look of vaguely bemused engagement across his face; if you squint, you can even make out Robert Kirkman and Scott Kolins’ names on the cover - can’t buy this type of publicity! The accompanying caption reads: “Imagine: a comic-book geek who doesn’t get laid.” No word on whether this chilling status quo is exclusive to readers of MTU.

Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #1 (of 5)

This turned out ok, all things considered. The biggest drawback, I think, is that writer Paul Di Filippo doesn’t have Alan Moore’s deft hand with avoiding (or attractively disguising) contrivances, so we’re left with a lot of scenes of transparent plot-driving and button-pushing. Of course all of our favorite super-powered cops (and a few new ones too) are instantly partnered up with someone they either harbor a secret attraction or loathing towards. Naturally Toybox has a (conveniently off-page) prophetic dream that prompts her to expand on plot points from the seminal Moore/Gene Ha/Zander Cannon 12-issue original in detail. Hell, the dialogue gets kind of clunky too; literally the third proper word balloon in the book is “We haven‘t had a stretch this wild since that whole Commissioner Ultima mess five years ago.” A bit too early to be clumsily evoking memories of earlier issues for me.

Di Filippo also seems to be shooting for a broader, somewhat goofier tone than what I recall from the wry original; witness the Beagle Boys being chased down the street by talking dinosaurs in police hats, complete with little guns for their little hands in giant shoulder holsters. And how about that robot junkie dialogue (although I did like how one of them was really inarticulate - that gag never gets old)? Are my memories of Moore’s issues merely gilded with time’s passage? No, I’m certain Moore managed to tackle Shock-Headed Peter’s anti-robot slurs with an abler hand; under Di Filippo, the character basically walks out and goes “Greetings fellows, I am prejudiced! Why not have a laugh or two at my expense?” and everyone obeys.

It’s all entertaining stuff nonetheless, loss of subtlety or not. At least Di Filippo has a good sense of staging his absurdities for maximum impact, a screaming primate deployed at just the right time. And as indelicate as he can be, he does appear to have the necessary team dynamics down pretty well. I also liked how the big scary robot is made to look like a skeletal version of Tanino Liberatore’s Ranxerox, and I appreciated the hints at a wide set of suggested subplots (“No, Captain. I am a High Church Eganite in my beliefs when it comes to software transubstantiality.”). ABC regular Jerry Ordway strives mightily to evoke bits of the old Ha/Cannon magic into his personal muscular style, though all feels slightly ‘off’ in the same way Di Filippo’s script does. But you know what? I didn’t expect this book to be just like the Top Ten of old, so my observations on how things have declined are simply that: observations. Not disappointments. My expectations have actually been quite perfectly met, which lends this issue the bizarre tone of soothing distortion, an almost welcome letdown.

Still, it’s pretty far off from bad. It’s just been taken down a few notches, which probably placed it right where we planted our sights.


I don't recall if I've reviewed a Seven Soldiers book yet.

*New Comics For Presentation on Your Computing Machine Dept: Peter Bagge takes on medicinal marijuana in his latest four-pager for Reason Online; the victimization of people who commit largely victimless crimes, sometimes at the hands of more hurtful but less financially attractive-to-law-enforcement criminals, is a running theme. Even more so than usual, this is sober, personal interview-fueled comics journalism rather than rollicking farce, although Bagge’s occasional in-strip consternation at how unbalanced things are turning out (“Note to self: talk to prosecutors for a future Reason feature.”) is pretty funny.

Seven Soldiers - Klarion #3 (of 4)

We're now approaching the home stretch for the first wave of releases, and things are getting slightly more anecdotal in general. If there’s any connection between the third issues in this project, it’s that each issue is structured as something of an individual anecdote, eventually leading into a grander scheme at the cliffhanging conclusion, ushering us toward the fourth issues. Shining Knight creates the most trouble with accepting such analysis, as the events of its issue #3 step largely from everything that’s gone before (I daresay that Shining Knight is proving to be the most smooth-flowing work thus far if taken as a single miniseries rather than a series of segments in an Event centipede), though Justin’s surrender to the police does occur in an empty space between issues #2 and #3, blocking off his interview as a little story of its own.

The rest of the books are easier: Guardian, Zatanna, and this thing here all traffic in individual tales of action, set some indeterminate time after the conclusion of their respective second issues, and each one closes with a big cliffhanger, promising to tie everything in each individual title together via incorporation of elements present from the beginning (taken in order, Galahad, Stargard’s secrets, Misty, and the people of Limbo Town, all individually lead their according protagonists toward their personal conclusions). So what does this type of structure actually accomplish? Mostly I think it affords writer Grant Morrison a chance to easily interconnect the various series (both through structure and explicit inter-plot citation) while retaining a veneer of self-contained individuality. But I reserve the right to babble on even more later.

But making comparisons and examining similarities can only take us so far, just as crafting a bunch of bonded storylines can only do so much for Morrison. This issue is a bit of a letdown, though I think it’s largely because other titles in the project haven’t started out with tremendous strength, and now benefit from the kick of rising expectations, the comics Event equivalent of Hulk Hogan starting up a nice stop ‘n clap with the audience as he waves his arm and rises from the mat. Klarion, meanwhile, was quite excellent right from issue #1, and I find myself feeling kind of disconcerted with the whipcrack action and jumpy pacing of this issue, which seems to work against the peculiar, plesing tone that the book has set up so far.

Basically, it’s a little too heavy on the action for me, since what I‘ve grown to enjoy about this book is Klarion‘s personality, his effervescent excitement at breaking through barriers; his sense of morality isn’t exactly fine-tuned either which certainly sets him apart from the rest of the Seven Soldiers protagonists. There’s plenty of flaws to go around across the board, but this one seems just shy of being malevolent. And there’s tiny scraps of that here (“Shall I tell you the hour and date of your death?”), but it’s filtered through a more traditionally heroic framework; we even get a rain-soaked Moment of Choice, in which the bold yet reluctant hero decided to risk it all by returning to aid those who once spat on him. What self-sacrifice! What familiarity! Had Klarion simply said “You know what? Screw those bastards.” in that final splash panel, I’d have been devouring my fingertips in anticipation of issue #4. Now - well, it seems that we’re in a more secure place, though insecurity is what I appreciated about this title.

Oh hey, remember in my Zatanna review when I mentioned that there were no discernible patterns of seven in Klarion? Well there is now, with our Witch Boy being drafted as the seventh member of an all-kid crime (?) squad. “All I’m saying is this: we only just got the gang working straight again,” remarks vain team leader Billy Beezer (I‘ve entirely stopped trying to look up the origins of all these dusty characters, btw), the seventh element obviously completing the portrait. But then, a member gets lost (hmmm, the Newsboy army also may have cast a young boy into a void in their critical act of self-destruction… hmmm…), and everything pretty much immediately falls apart. To Morrison’s credit, he draws some keen parallels between the seemingly candy-coated world of the blue rafters, its money and flash evident, and the unique Puritanism of Limbo Town; both societies send the young men away for a little rude awakening at a certain age, after all. So at least the themes are nicely self-contained. And hey, Frazer Irving draws and colors it all mighty pretty, the big dragging through the Erdel Gate being a colorful highlight.

But still, a bit of a comedown. I guess that the onrushing force of the total project is helping out books like Guardian and Zatanna, and maybe that same clattering machinery is bringing Klarion down a level, almost in response, a type of balance achieved via Morrison’s eye turning from the individual series to the big picture. But then again, I thought the latest Guardian was lovely on its own terms, apart from its role in Seven Soldiers.