Oh hell, I don't even have time to update today.

*Bloody things in the world, keeping me spinning. The most interesting thing I did today was try the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at Pizza Hut, where they very carefully select about five or six items from the menu and let you have as much of them as you want. And then I got a pumpkin custard from the ice cream place, because I'm all about healthy living. I should soak my face in a plate of Coca-Cola Classic for a half-hour before bed tonight, just to take it to the next level. Oops! My chicken and cheese fried things are done!

*Interesting Reads Dept: It's not that the Japanese/American comics aesthetic exchange is one-sided or anything. Several well-known manga talents have expressed an interest in folding Western influences into their work, from Ryoichi Ikegami's (and by extension, Cromartie High School's Eiji Nonaka's) use of Neal Adams stylings, to Katsuhiro Otomo's appreciation for assorted European creators. But still, it always manages to catch my eye when I come across a Japanese book that owes a clear, out-and-out stylistic debt to popular English-language originals.

I read one such book recently, Yukito Kishiro's Ashen Victor, which is set in the world of his popular Battle Angel Alita series, though it takes place before the events of that story. It's shorter than a lot of manga series, complete in one volume and weighing in at only 136 pages in total. It's also an open, utterly unashamed homage to Frank Miller's Sin City, only played out with cyborgs and futuristic sports. And it's not just style - Kihiro whips up a nice little caffeinated noir story, complete with shady sorts fixing bets on games, a dogged anti-hero urged to throw big matches, secret briefcases and dirty tricks. There's even a few direct cites to material from that first Sin City yarn, with Our Hero getting mixed up with similar-looking prostitutes, one of whom is murdered under brutal and mysterious circumstances.

But the homage doesn't stop with Miller - the protagonist, for example, is drawn to look almost exactly like Morpheus from The Sandman, complete with spiky black hair, pallid complexion, and pools of darkness for eyes 98% of the time. Except, he's a robot. And participating in a manga Sin City. Have you ever wished Morpheus would just give up all that quiet suffering and observation and climb into a mighty mechanical racing/football suit and cause a man to literally explode by ramming into him at hundreds of miles per hour?

I mean, it's too bad Kishiro didn't go hog wild and throw in the hazy black word balloons too, but yeah. Morpheus goes to Sin City and kicks people's (and cyborgs') asses. And flips out on psychotropic drugs. It's manga!

And it's good too. Visually, Kishiro sometimes goes for straight-up Miller mimicry (his 'little old man' character design is flawless), sometimes just saps all the shading and collateral linework out of his traditional figures to produce a high-contrast look, and sometimes breaks out charcoal-looking hallucinations that don't look like much of anything else. The plot involves the King of Dreams (oh ok, 'Snev'), once a promising competitor on the down-and-dirty Motorball circuit, who went a bit mad after killing a man during a match. Now he can't even finish a race without crashing - and seeing how he's mostly machine anyway, he crashes spectacularly, often leaving only his fleshy head bouncing out of plumes of flame and ash. He's even gained an unwanted cult following, bloodthirsty onlookers who value the sport more for the promise of blunt violence than art and skill. But Snev doesn't want to be a loser anymore, and on his path to something smacking of redemption he'll oncover murder, dodgy drug testing, social ills, omnious robots to fight, and the price one must pay for giving the world what you want rather than what they'd prefer.

There's actually a lot going on under the hood, more so than some of the actual later Sin City books - lots of notions of art decaying in a world where those seeking the lowest common denominator are some of the loudest, and the clash between personal satisfaction and the all-consuming demands of commerce. Might the choice of abnormal style fit into this? I don't know, but I'm glad I read the book; it's too damn bad that it's seemingly the only bit of Kishiro's US-released Battle Angel Alita material that VIZ hasn't seen fit to reprint. You'll have to settle for used copies of the 1999 trade, but go for it - even if only for the sheer trip of it all.