"Sometimes, we raise the level of the world of comics, sometimes not."

Little Nothings Vol. 1: The Curse of the Umbrella

There's just not much to say about this one. It's the first English-language collection of Lewis Trondheim's his diary webcomic, a 128-page softcover from NBM, priced at $14.95. It's as affable a comic as I can think of, a breezy, unfailingly pleasant work from an artist who's done it all, and seems to always know what he's doing.

Expect nothing tricky or fancy in here, although there's plenty of off-the-cuff beauty; Trondheim works in inks and watercolor, typically setting his character art against simple splotches of moisture, so as to suggest panels. He varies his colors expertly among 'frames,' so as to evoke particular emotional beats or carry across a tone, although he sometimes delves into richer colors when dealing with backgrounds - in those cases, Trondheim's drawn environments often stand isolated, forming their own 'frame' through the mere presence of accumulated detail.

It gives off more of a sketchbook feel than some diary comics -- Trondheim occasionally devotes a whole page to a tree or landscape he wants to draw, with captions carrying the weight of narration -- but the artist's sheer expertise, his iconic animal characters slightly bendable so as to suggest the population of a perfectly realistic world given away to the cartooning impulse of iconography and caricature, ensures that each page feels entirely complete and ready for any type of publication you might imagine.

Actually, with its one-episode-per-page structure, balanced between one-off gags and continuing storylines, it's easy to imagine this project finding a place on the daily funnies page of some parallel universe’s newspaper, where space isn't so limited and color is unrestrained. Save for the occasional joke about borrowing Italian hermaphrodite porn comics from Mœbius, Trondheim works mainly in observational humor and amusing anecdotes, with an added focus on his own nervous/whimsical peccadilloes (looking for rainbows, fretting about illness, being superstitious). He also gets a fair amount of mileage out of faux callousness: upon musing how it's good to get his family two cats rather than one, so that everyone won't be so sad if one of them dies, he tosses in "Just like with the kids?..."

There's also a few treats tucked away for longtime readers of Trondheim and/or French comics; the period covered by these comics saw the artist win the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême, so there's the obligatory bits of rumination on his life in comics, and various noteworthy figures appear in funny animal form, particularly Dungeon co-creator Joann Sfar. But you don't need to know who any of them are, since this is no At Loose Ends, and Trondheim's aesthetic so rarely veers from the intimate, the moment - his is a capable illusion of presenting friends-of-friends, half known through handshakes and snips of conversation, the rest filled in through the assertions of people you know better.

Perfectly deft, lovely work here, maybe even a bit troubled by its marriage of lacquered gag diary to such estimable visual skill - I did quickly recall Matthais Wivel's criticism of the "good-looking, petty bourgeois comics affirming the status quo" he sees French comics as inclined toward, and I suspect this book -- internet-based as it might have been -- will do little to combat that perception among those who might share it or its North American autobio-focused variants. Ah, but I was happy to share Trondheim's company for a short while, soaking in his manner of presenting just what he admits to in the thing's title.


Time Displacement

*Busy week coming up, but I'm ready.


The Quest for the Missing Girl (Jiro Taniguchi, out on his own)

and a few thoughts on ye olde bad girl book Fatale


Dan Dare #7 (of 7)

and a pair of manga (Takehiko Inoue's Real Vol. 1 and Osamu Tezuka's Dororo Vol. 2)

At The Savage Critics!

*Manga and reprints are the names of the children born -


Tokyo Zombie: It's rare that a US edition of foreign language material becomes instantly noteworthy for the folk behind the English adaptation, but I think most people reading this site will understand this lil' hot potato best as the first above-ground translation project for Ryan Sands of the popular scanlation/random manga fun blog SAME HAT! SAME HAT! It's a Last Gasp production, a $9.95, 164-page collection of Yusaku Hanakuma's 1998-99 serial (from the pages of AX and the basis for the 2005 motion picture) about working-class killers taking on a city of the undead. Blood and laffs will flow, in the heta-uma (bad-good) style. Don't let it escape your grasp, even though it got stranded in Diamond's Merchandise section with a Hellboy magnet set and stuff.

Me and the Devil Blues Vol. 1: But that's not the only worthwhile manga out there this week - Del Rey has this 544-page collection of the first two volumes in Akira Hiramoto's fantasy biography of a blues guitarist you just might mistake for the famous Robert Johnson. Your $19.95 will get you an odd, compelling mix of folktale, horror, melodrama and suspense, and December's Vol. 2 will bring you right up to speed with the Japanese releases. Del Rey also has Vol. 4 (of 8) for Hitoshi Iwaaki's Parasyte this week.

Little Nemo in Slumberland: Many More Splendid Sundays: And I bet Sunday Press Books' upcoming Sunday will be splendid if enough people throw $125.00 at this 128-page, 16" x 21" sequel to the book that built its name. Prepare for many more restored samples from Winsor McCay's classic, with an exciting bonus Gertie the Dinosaur flipbook included for your troubles. Samples here. Meanwhile, for the completests among you, Checker has the comparatively frugal Little Nemo in Slumberland Vol. 2 (of 2), a $49.95, 348-page, 9" x 12.5" hardcover collecting McCay's later episodes, including the rarely-reprinted 1926 revival. More samples here.

Journey Vol. 1: But something tells me certain readers will be far more interested in this new IDW reprint project, a 424-page, $19.99 b&w omnibus softcover collecting issues #1-16 of William Messner-Loebs' 1983-86 historical adventure series, a fondly-remembered project for many present at the early days of 'alternative' comics in the Direct Market era. With an introduction by Sam Kieth, Messner-Loebs' cohort on Epicurus the Sage and early issues of The Maxx.

White Rapids: I've heard good things about this Pascal Blanchet book, a boldly visual history of a Quebec town founded in the middle of nowhere to provide a cocoon of modern comfort to workers at a nearby dam. Have a look, and read a critical review by Derik Badman; it's $27.95 for 156 pages. Note that Drawn and Quarterly actually put this out late last year, though Diamond doesn't label it as 'offered again' or anything; are they just releasing it to Direct Market stores now?!

The Completely MAD Don Martin: Ok, I could swear Diamond already released this thing back in 2007 when it was published, but here's another week for this $150.00, 1200-page slipcased hardcover boxed set to shine. Apropos of nothing, Jason Shiga's well-regarded Bookhunter actually is being offered again this week.

Popgun Vol. 2: Ooooh, looks like someone missed the anthology avalanche of last week (although a literal avalanche of those things is a scary thought - that Tori Amos book could totally kill someone). It's the second outing for Mark Andrew Smith's & Joe Keatinge's 'graphic mixtape,' a 460-page full-color blast of stuff for $29.99. Rich times we live in. Featuring the efforts of Jim Rugg (Afrodisiac!), Danny Hellman, James Kochalka, Dean Haspiel, Erik Larsen, Corey Lewis, Claudio Sanchez, Leah Moore & John Reppion, and many more.

Neverland: A cute, 32-page, $6.00 one-off by Dave Kiersh, a little yellow love poem about hanging around in a suburban strip and flying off in assorted ways. From Bodega.

Style School Vol. 2: The first installment of Dark Horse's $16.95 US edition of a Japanese anime/manga 'how to' magazine was a pretty polished affair, with high production values and some fairly detailed looks at how to manage certain visual techniques, with a focus on particular tools. This one looks to be about the same.

Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art and Will Eisner's Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative: But if you're in the mood for something a wee bit denser, here's a pair of Eisner-authored educational texts from 1985 and 1996, revised and expanded into $22.95 softcovers from W.W. Norton. Also in this week's word books, Diamond is again offering the hardcover edition of my sitemate Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, which recently won the Eisner for Best Kiss. No, wait - Best Comics-Related Book. Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson won for Best Kiss.

Comic Book Comics #2: More from Fred Van Lente's & Ryan Dunlavey's series of comics about the history of comics, this time covering events from WWII and soon after. Sample story here. It's $3.95 for 40 b&w pages.

Haunt of Horror: Lovecraft #2 (of 3): More from Richard Corben's collection of prose and verse adaptations, however he feels like it.

Narcopolis #4 (of 4): More (well, the rest of it) from Jamie Delano's & Jeremy Rock's tale of world-vision drugs and omnious tendrils.

Batman: Going Sane: More movie tie-in hijinx, this time packing up some Joker issues of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight into a 160-page, $14.99 softcover. Ah, but do note that one of those issues (#200) is written by Eddie Campbell & Daren White, a hospital-set thriller illustrated by Bart Sears. A nice one.



Another Ice Climber

The Quest for the Missing Girl

This is the newest release from deluxe manga specialists Fanfare/Ponent Mon, a 336-page Jiro Taniguchi work from 2000. It'll retail for $25.00 whenever it's released in the US, although I genuinely don't know when that'll be. I think there's a sample edition sitting at Fanfare's booth at the San Diego con this weekend, though, and UK readers can pre-order a copy from Ponent Mon's homepage, so some sort of street date must be imminent somewhere in the English-speaking world.

And some of you aren't gonna want to wait. I mean, just look at that cover - manga pop noir, 101%. And from the artist of Hotel Harbour View and Benkei in New York! Ah, but it's helpful to remember that those works were collaborations, which Taniguchi tends to excel at; what I've seen of his solo work tends to rise and fall on how well the subject matter accommodates his fascination with landscapes and memories, an aesthetic always rich with detailed scenes, old ways of dressing and living, and the soul as revealed through the eyes.

All of this is present in The Quest for the Missing Girl, but it lacks the lyrical ambition of Natsuo Sekikawa on Hotel, or the melancholic blood pulp of Jinpachi Mori on Benkei; it's more the sort of thing a salaryman could tear through over a pair of train commutes, without filling his head with much to distract him over the rest of the workday. I liked it ok enough, but it truly is manga as the popular novel of Japan, and I expect it's a novel not unlike several others.

Of course, having Taniguchi as the author will always provide some benefits. The visuals are as immaculate as you'd expect, the storytelling clean as can be. Don't go in looking for any of the aplomb of the artist's earlier works, though - this is a sedate Taniguchi, working his admiration for bandes dessinées into scrupulously composed cityscapes and natural scenes, with plenty of conversations and several narrated flashbacks. No speed lines here, save for a few short fights - this is 'grown-up' comics, nothing pushy for you, polite social actor.

The plot is expertly wound, professional through and through. Shiga is a muscular he-man of the mountains, a climber who's devoted his life to nature, perhaps to the decline of his social life. But one day he's called away from the hills when he learns that young Megumi has gone missing - she's the daughter of a woman Shiga once fancied and his former good friend, who died in a Himalayan climb Shiga didn't attend. He feels guilty, and has promised to protect the girl always; as you can already tell, he's something of an avatar for Japan's rugged spirit, set to descend into the underworld of Shibuya, where today's society has fallen.

But Taniguchi isn't just playing with mythic tropes - as Shiga goes about a one-man investigation into what the hell's gone on, his artist gingerly applies noir tropes to his realist depictions of then-contemporary Japan. It's very much a work of its specific time, as a lot of attention is paid to the concept of 'paid dates' and the like: an uncentralized urban phenomena of young teenage girls collecting money from working men -- often so they can buy the latest clothes and gadgets -- in exchange for anything from merely hanging around with them to full-blown prostitution. It was all over the Japanese media in the late '90s, glimpsed by Western audiences through films like Masato Harada's Bounce Ko Gals and Hideki Anno's Love & Pop, and manga like Usamaru Furuya's Short Cuts.

As such, there's an obvious element of social comment to the book, and it's no shock that Shiga's quest has him follow the rot right up to the halls of corporate power, all while undergoing a personal awakening and talking to other characters about their feelings. There is some deft storytelling in here - one particular flashback fills in the romantic triangle of Shiga's past in the space of about two pages through a marvelous blend of elliptical conversation, body language and plain ol' implication. But then, naturally, there's a later sequence that fills it in specifically, and characters talk about it to, and it all eventually feels like Taniguchi would rather avoid presenting any challenges to his readers when he could just fix their eyes on his ramrod-straight story and its strapping, noble hero. Populism!

"If you're exhausted before you tackle a peak, you'll never make it." So says one of Shiga's allies in a none-too-subtle evocation of the work's themes, which I ought to say become awesomely, ridiculously literal in the book's extended final fifth set piece, which also rolls out some high-pulp treats like a captive supporting character bound in bed with chains. Your eyes may roll, depending on your appetite for seinen suspense silliness - mine is virtually bottomless, and I was frankly glad to see the comic go a bit mad after all those furrowed brows and investigative procedures.

Still, even across the book's dryer portions, there's something to be said for Taniguchi's use of the genre. The detective has his underworld informant (or is it an underworld spirit guide?), for example, but it's a man who's self-consciously divorced himself from adult society, one who's no longer 'proper' for a waking Japanese life. The obligatory tough dame is 15 or so years old, and entirely the product of having built her own identity over the absent parent hole that his her home life. Our Hero stumbles through several misdirections, but often it's not just people lying - it's adults talking past one another, always terribly polite, always helpful, and using that very Japanese social face as a means of tucking away their crimes and desires.

No wonder Taniguchi has a reserved, strong man -- a true alienated outsider for this corrupted place! -- bust in to show them all a little old-timey spirit. Hardly uncommon for manga of this sort, but Taniguchi's cosmopolitan influences make it snap a little harder than it otherwise would. I can't call this book anything more than a minor piece among its author's works, but it's fortunate enough to have an author that can't help but polish these things until some shine has wriggled free.


A Holy Pilgrimage Continues

*Rancid Self-Promotion Dept: I won't be at San Diego this week; I'll have to get down there one of these years, just to have been there, but not this time.

However, I will be there in spirit through the heavenly grace of Comics Comics #4, a new edition of the world famous PictureBox newspaper-about-comics that most reputable theologians now believe is actually the second coming of Jesus Christ. And while they may not be Christian theologians, well, I think it's still accomplishment enough.

Content details here; the cover feature is Frank Santoro's profile/interview of/with the enigmatic UK comics figure Shaky Kane, and there's added features on Bazooka Joe co-creator Woody Gelman and Kentaro Miura's manga Berserk (new volume out this week, btw). Maggots artist Brian Chippendale reviews recent superhero comics, Kramers Ergot founder Sammy Harkham holds forth on the pamphlet format, and some internet guy writes about Gerald Jablonski and Cryptic Wit (which you can now order online!). Get your copy early, since it's all everyone will be talking about on every panel, including Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts of Interning for Animation and the Al Jaffee spotlight.

*There's another noteworthy panel going on at 11:00 AM on Thursday (in "Room 8"): The Comic Art of J.G. Jones. I might have stopped in for that one, if I was around, since I'm still moving forward with my quest to read every damn comic that ever featured the Final Crisis artist's interior work. That's not a lot of comics, which maybe provides a clue as to why I picked up this particular quest - you'll never get a series of novels out of my journeys, writers of the fantastic!

Anyway, I just finished the 1996 Broadway Comics series Fatale. I wonder if anyone'll bring that one up?

Broadway Comics is mostly known today as the third time that wasn't the charm in Editor in Chief Jim Shooter's attempts to head an untested comics publisher back in the '90s (it came after Valiant and Defiant). It was intended to be the comics arm of Broadway Video, the Lorne Michaels-founded entertainment company with tendrils in film and television, but it got sold off by its parent to a separate entity that promptly went bankrupt. I'm not sure if many of its series even finished their opening storylines, although Fatale just barely made it; as such, it essentially functions as a standalone miniseries, with the benefit of a consistent art team. I think a trade was planned at some point, but I don't think it ever came out.

This was Jones' second work with Shooter, after Dark Dominion at Defiant. The artist had also been working on a b&w creator-owned vampire series titled Rant (unfinished; Boneyard Press released two issues), which was his first printed work inking his own pencils and stretching into some visual maturity. Fatale is sparser, and conservative in storytelling terms - one might suspect the pressure of producing a monthly-or-so series (bimonthly after issue #3, and in effect quarterly by the concluding issue #6) coupled with Shooter's famed editorial insistence on unadorned narrative clarity to constrain the artist in small boxes. He's inked by Silver Age veteran Frank McLaughlin, who adds a sort of edged quality to the character art.

It all looks a bit stiff, although I'm sure the many included drawings of pretty women helped Jones onward to Shi, then Painkiller Jane/Darkchylde, and eventually Marvel by way of Black Widow. Which led to Marvel Boy, with Grant Morrison, of Final Crisis.

But Fatale is kind of interesting from a writing standpoint too. It's unabashedly a comic-by-committee, with nearly the entire Broadway editorial staff credited with the script on most issues. It's also a very calculated, self-admitted attempt to tap into the then-current 'Bad Girl' boom in American comics, while apparently attempting to correct some of the dumber aspects of the (sub?)genre.

What results is an odd sort of post-feminist (for lack of a better term) superheroine comic about Rogue from the X-Men with the serial numbers filed off and really large breasts. She loves shopping and chocolates, and hates exercise (since she can simply sap strength and knowledge from anyone she touches), but knows how to kick ass. She has a tough uncle who pulls her around by the hair and spanks her, and a strapping super-soldier boyfriend who mainly exists to get tortured and killed so as to affect her; no, it doesn't work any better in the reverse. Sometimes people call her fat, but nearly all men desire her, and she becomes caught between warring factions of a secret society that rules the world. The main villains are her wicked niece who wants to steal the power inside her, and a tough soldier woman whose boyfriend she stole. In the end, she dumps all her romantic partners and becomes top-secret ruler of the world, and kind of depressed.

It's genuinely compelling to see this comic trying to dance between thrills for both genders, and not fall into any pits. At times its blend of bloody shootouts, explosions, comedy, soap opera, 'tough' women, sensuality and very... particularly proportioned bodies makes it seem like a comics-format early draft of the most sprawlingly ambitious, self-regarding Andy Sidaris movie ever. There some moments of rather catchy characterization (after a big fight in which Fatale is captured, the sinister anti-hero/love interest immediately summons oral and plastic surgeons to fix the physical damage done - hello objectification!), and bits wherein saucy maids pull Our Heroine's panties up for her. There's a subtle racial exploitation subtext running through everything. Issue #5 contains the following exchange between an underling and the aforementioned tough soldier woman:

"Layil would like to see you right away."

"In her office?"

"No, ma'am. The steam room."

That issue had six credited writers.

But really the most fun in Fatale occurs outside the story. You see, Shooter ran an obligatory 'strong women who inspired us' editorial in issue #1, praising his grandmothers and mother for their hard work and sacrifices. Perfectly nice; I expect people liked it.

Well, I know one person liked it, since issue #4's letters column features a short missive from Jim Shooter's mom, blessing him for those kind things he said and thanking God for giving her such a wonderful son. It's terribly sweet, but it raises several grave questions. Was Jim Shooter's mom a regular letterhack? Like, does she have anything in the back of The Star Brand ("Al Williamson's inks were phenomenal, pumpkin.")? I know if I'd written Secret Wars II, my mother would totally have supported it, but that's just the kind of woman she is...



*Well, I'm back from my (somewhat) yearly vacation to the beach. Which means this site, it slept.


Omega: The Unknown #10 (of 10)

That's from The Savage Critics. I'll also note that the Mory Buckman comment I link to -- a reading of the series as a metaphor for Asperger's Syndrome -- has been expanded into its own full-length piece at Tucker Stone's site, so you'll want to check that out too.

*You never know where the gems will be found. Unless there's only seven or so places to look.


Meathaus S.O.S.: You know, I make a lot of jokes about the Merchandise section of Diamond's weekly list, and how neat bits of reading have a way of getting lost among the statues and toys and Cthulhu slippers - I mean, I don't mind the existence of Cthulhu slippers (dude did leak the Kodansha publishing story a while back), but I am mostly interested in comics, and I do wish that the comics ordering process didn't involve things like that huge Zot! collection from last week getting filed away with the HeroClix, if only because it makes my weekly funnybook orientation easier. But never quite has my unofficial pick of the week been relegated to the land of the Halo 3 Shotgun Ammo Belt Buckle, until now - yes, believe me, the new, ninth Meathaus anthology should be showing up in stores on Wednesday. And it's going to be a big one, a 272-page, 6.5" x 10.25" full-color brick of comics and illustration, priced at an even $30.00, featuring works by Brandon Graham (also co-editor with Chris McDonnell and Matt Gagnon), James Jean, Farel Dalrymple, Tomer & Asaf Hanuka, Dash Shaw, (the awesome) Rebecca Dart, Matt Furie, Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca (of Street Angel), Corey Lewis, Ross Campbell, Dave Kiersh, Ralph Bakshi(!!) and many more. You can read three full stories online, then check out a huge preview from publisher Nerdcore. I saw a copy of this thing at MoCCA the other month - while I can't say if it rectifies the lack of focus that troubled prior volumes, there sure are an extra three or four layers of visual gloss rubbed right on.

Modern Masters Vol. 18: John Romita Jr.: Meanwhile, also holed up in the valley of the Jason Vorhees Animaquette, is the latest in TwoMorrows' line of extensive, art-laden interview-profiles of noted comics folk, this time one of the all-around best superhero artists active today. Text 'n such by George Khoury & Eric Nolen-Weathington, 128 pages for $14.95. The publisher also has The Flash Companion this week, a 224-page tome of pertinent articles and interviews by Keith Dallas.

Who Can Save Us Now?: You mean from Diamond's Merchandise section? Nobody. But look at the company you have! Anyhow, this a new Free Press anthology of prose superhero stories, edited by Owen King & John McNally - contributor list here. It's $16.00 for 432 pages.

How to Love: And back in the land of proper miscellaneous comics from anyone and everywhere, here's a $29.95, 144-page landscape-format hardcover collection of six themed (love) stories from the Israeli comics collective Actus Tragicus, distributed by Top Shelf and including new work by Rutu Modan of Exit Wounds. Samples can be viewed with this review by Bart Beaty.

Flight Vol. 5: And then, you know, there's always this 368-page fifth entry in editor Kazu Kibuishi's wildly popular line of visually resplendent full-color comics for all ages. It's $25.00, from Villard. Big preview here.

Comic Book Tattoo: Image used to publish Flight. But this week they're publishing another of the many extensive anthologies of July 23, 2008, a 480-page, 12" x 12" block of funnies inspired by the songs of Tori Amos. Only $29.99 (for the softcover; the hardback's $49.99), with works by Hope Larson, Carla Speed McNeil, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Laurenn McCubbin, Andy MacDonald, Ryan Kelly, Mike Dringenberg(!) and many more. Intro by Neil Gaiman.

Liberty Comics: A CBLDF Benefit Book: This should be neat - a 32-page, $3.99 Image one-off (masterminded by veteran editor Scott Dunbier) presenting all-new material in support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. And it's not just any material: there's a new Criminal story by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, a short from The Boys by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson, some Brat Pack(!!) stuff by Rick Veitch, and added things by Mark Millar (also of this week's War Heroes with Tony Harris) & John Paul Leon, Mark Evanier & Sergio Aragonés, Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone and Art Adams, with variant covers by Mike Mignola and J. Scott Campbell. God, there's a lot of anthologies out this week... but this is a damn impressive lineup.

Scud: The Whole Shebang!: And here's Image's $29.99, 786-page collection of Rob Schrab's 1994-2008 series, 1996 Drywall: Unzipped one-off included.

The Apocalipstix Vol. 1: A new ongoing series of original digest paperbacks from Oni, with writer Ray Fawkes and artist Cameron Stewart crafting the adventures of a trio of girls who just won't stop rockin', even after nuclear annihilation leaves the Earth a burned-out wasteland. It's $11.95; 50-page preview here.

Yam: Didn't this used to be titled Yam: Bite-Size Chunks? Maybe it still is, and Diamond's list is whispering its beautiful lies again? Huh. I reviewed this $10.00 Top Shelf collection of wordless, kid-targeted comics by Corey Barba a while back, and found it to be nicely drawn and sometimes pretty funny. Also in $10.00, all-ages, no-words comics from the publisher this week, we've got Korgi Vol. 2: The Cosmic Collector, which finds Christian Slade's flame-belching lil' pup facing off with CGC slabbing from Alpha Centauri, maybe.

World War Robot: Illustrated History: It's like every time I crane my neck Ashley Wood has some new comic out I'd not known was coming; thank heavens I wear a cowl that strictly prohibits movement or I'd die from items. This one's an $11.99, 48-page IDW one-off, poised to tie in with a line of deluxe robot toys Wood is working on. If that's not enough, Wood is also in this week's Device Vol. 1, a 120-page IDW production celebrating odd contraptions created by assorted artists. And then you can drop $50.00 on The Complete Popbot, collecting all seven extant issues of Wood's irregular series (with writing help from Sam Kieth early on, then T.P. Louise). And then you can drop $35.00 on The Complete Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty -- hardcover available for another twenty! -- which I believe is Wood drawing a video game (with art help from Rufus Dayglo later on).

Snake Pit Vol. 3: 2007: Artist Ben Snakepit has been drawing three-panel diary comics for a while now, putting together minicomic compilations since 2000. Here's his newest, and sign of the times - it's now a 96-page, $6.00 paperback book from Microcosm Publishing, covering the year in the title. So it goes.

BFF: Brainfag Forever: Also from Microcosm, but worth its own entry here, is a 224-page collection of Nate Beaty's comics from 1999-2007, only $9.00. Lots of stuff here.

Our Gang Vol. 3: Those Pogo reprints may not have shown up yet, but at least Fantagraphics has this latest, $14.99 collection of vintage licensed comics by Walt Kelly. Jeff Smith provides cover art for this 96-page softcover.

Madman Atomic Comics Vol. 1: A $19.99 collection of issues #1-7 of Mike & Laura Allred's moody, troubling, deeply idiosyncratic revival of their beloved superhero series, taking the ol' business to parts nearer to Mr. Allred's early surreal/grotesque serials and shorts, with some moments of humor, adventure and striking beauty. There's a stretch in here where nearly every panel blows through every conceivable visual influence Mike Allred can think of, forming something close to a cleansing ritual in preparation for the journey to come, one I doubt the majority of Madman readers wanted to take. Still, there's something to be said for upending expectations...

glamourpuss #2: More thrills and laughs from Dave Sim's World of Tracing.

The Boy Who Made Silence #5 (of 12): More silence from Joshua Hagler.

Elephantmen #13: More animals from Richard Starkings and Moritat.

Dan Dare #7 (of 7): Wrapping up this handsome Garth Ennis/Gary Erskine revival of the consummate British space hero -- presented as a stately, old-fashioned war epic -- with a double-sized $5.99 finale. From Virgin.

Black Summer #7 (of 7): Wrapping up this handsome Warren Ellis/Juan Jose Ryp revival of characters they created for this series -- presented as a comic book in which people explode -- with a regular-sized $2.99 finale. From Avatar.

Uncanny X-Men #500: Well, this is the start of a new run by the much-admired writing team of Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction, they of The Immortal Iron Fist (which sees its own new team start this week - writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Travel Foreman); a new status quo is promised, encouraging new readers to explore the quintessential Marvel mutant superhero series. They will also encounter the visual stylings of primary penciller Greg Land (with Jay Leisten on inks), of which I cannot say I'm anticipating. Terry & Rachel Dodson will also be around, and are set to rotate storylines with the other art team. Have a look.

American Flagg!: The Definitive Collection Vol. 1: Oh holy shit, it wasn't all a joke. One of 21st century comics' most famous bits of vaporware will really and truly be condensing onto shelves this very week, after nearly half a decade's worth of a nightmare restoration scenario that ultimately required the pages be shot from back issues, the colors reconstructed via Photoshop and portions of the lettering reworked. I expect this 440-page, $49.99 hardcover (designed by Chip Kidd, intro by Michael Chabon) will not look like those old First Comics graphic novel compilations, but it will bring the whole 12-issue initial megastory for Howard Chaykin's early '80s classic together for the first time, with an all-new short by Chaykin and letterer Ken Bruzenak. The fill-in issues #13-14 are tossed in as well, which strongly suggests that a Vol. 2, rounding out Chaykin's run as writer/artist (and probably Alan Moore's supplementary/follow-up run as writer!), is being planned. For some time.



Gone to Lunch

*...one that'll last all weekend. I'll be back for the usual Monday evening post.


It's still my (site's) birthday.

*No tears. All links.


Batman: Gotham Knight (anime is... straight from the corporate bosom!)

Cat Eyed Boy Vols. 1-2 (Kazuo Umezu, between worlds)


The Goddess of War Vol. 1

At The Savage Critics!

*And words about upcoming comics. Those are the monies of my internet economy, and even they are worth more than the US dollar right now. Did you know if you flash a euro at an American right now, they have to let you put them on a leash for ten minutes? Thank heavens I was into that stuff before...


The Comics Journal #291: I never take the decal off the covers of these 'new look' Journals, even though there's a "PEEL HERE" at the bottom corner. I guess I'm just antiauthoritarian to the core. This issue's feature interviews are Tim Sale and Josh Simmons, and the feature review is surely Gary Groth's 30-page(!) take on Ralph Steadman's The Joke's Over: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and Me (excerpt here). With a 32-page chunk of vintage comics by animator Dan Gordon and an 11-page preview of Danica Novgorodoff's Slow Storm (coming later this year from First Second). 'Tis 216 pages for $11.99.


Omega: The Unknown #10 (of 10): I don't know if anyone's read the new issue of Comic Foundry, but there's this two-page interview with Jonathan Lethem where he just lays out a lot of the themes he's been working with in this series, like how Omega and the Mink are amplified Marvel versions of Superman and Batman (streetwise Marvel version, it seems to me), one alienated to the point of autism (which bring to mind a reading floated over at Tucker Stone's), the other a brand-crazy arch-capitalist in his 'real,' costumed life, and how they deal with a world of endless franchising, which is all a corporate superhero world often seems to be. It's implied that just as Omega fights against the insidious franchise element -- cooking and eating his own birds -- so does the series begin with the original Gerber/Skrenes scenario, only to drift away from what Lethem always felt were Marvel U interests (Hulk, villains, etc.) trampling a sort of Omega ideal. Obviously, just as Lethem's reading of the original comics doesn't necessarily line up with authorial intent (he admits as much), we don't need to accept his take on this now-ending series as the take, although it's a compelling one. Compelling series too - spoil yourself with pages.

Howard the Duck Omnibus: Ah, but for that real Steve Gerber flavor, what can beat a $99.99 brick of classic color Howard? Collecting issues #1-33 of the original Howard the Duck series, plus pertinent contents of Adventure Into Fear (#19), Man-Thing (#1), Giant-Size Man-Thing (#4-5), Marvel Treasury Edition (#12) and Marvel Team-Up (#96).

Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection: God, I really loved Zot! back in the day, when I was pretty much dead-center in its suburban teenager demographic - the sheer longing that existed in those wispy, thoughtful superhero comics spoke to me a lot more directly than the manufactured angst that a lot of the genre dealt in. I never read it when it was new (1984-91), though - there were apparently a lot of copies of Kitchen Sink's first hardcover collection floating around upon its 1996 publication, so I managed to get my own for, oh, two bucks or something off of a remaindered books mail-order service. It was even signed by Scott McCloud, who was only 23 himself when he started working on that stuff. And lucky me, the very material collected in that old book, which I still have -- the full-color issues #1-10 of the original series -- are exactly what's not included in this 576-page softcover omnibus from HarperCollins. No, your $24.95 will net you the whole of the series' later, b&w material, with 10,000 or so words of extra commentary by the author. Big preview here. Found in Diamond's crafty Merchandise section, along with something called a Dark Knight Attack Bat, which I hope is what Batman uses when someone's blocking his parking spot on the streets of Gotham.

How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning: I'd totally forgotten that Kyle Baker had a 'how to make comics' book coming up from genre specialists Watson-Guptill Productions, but here it is in all its 112-page, $16.95 glory. Dramatic video preview here. This was also found in Diamond's glittering Merchandise section, sharing space with a "Tin Robot 2000." What is that, nostalgia? I'd better hear Santana and Rob Thomas as I open that box...

Jeff Smith: Bone & Beyond: The concluding installment of this week's Diamond Merchandise section trilogy; might I interest you in a Hannah Montana Holiday Singing Doll? All your Arbor Day favorites, and perfectly comparable to a 96-page, 10.5" x 9.5" hardcover exhibition catalog memorializing Jeff Smith's Wexner Center/Cartoon Research Library show, still running through August 3rd. Contains 96 pages of art from all of the artist's recent comics projects, plus samples of works that influenced him and essays by the likes of Neil Gaiman and the aforementioned Scott McCloud. It's $24.95. Preview here.

Houdini: The Handcuff King: A $9.99 softcover version of the Jason Lutes/Nick Bertozzi book on the man of the title.

Real Vol. 1: This week's big manga debut is actually something a side-project, an ongoing series about wheelchair basketball that superstar Slam Dunk and Vagabond creator Takehiko Inoue has been chipping at since 2001. Seven volumes have been released in Japan, to brisk sales and much acclaim - it even won an Excellence Prize for manga at the 2001 Japan Media Arts Festival. Now it's the latest VIZ Signature release, in a deluxe, 224-page format for $12.99. Several pages here.

Conan the Cimmerian #1: Being the official, 40-page relaunch for Dark Horse's ongoing chronicles of the Robert E. Howard character. It'll run ya $2.99. Written by Tim Truman, with drawings by Tomás Giorello and color by José Villarubia, plus covers by Frank Cho and Joe Kubert, though the real draw for me will inevitably be Richard Corben's flashback sequences. For those keeping count, this is now the third simultaneously-running series to feature Corben's art. Preview here.

Gødland #24: Counting down the final year in this starry series. Also from Joe Casey & Image this week is Charlatan Ball #2; the first one was short and manic enough -- and so stuffed with world-tripping setup -- that it seemed like something that might drop out of the official NES cart's box. I was upset with the lack of tips 'n tricks in the back, though I want to see what Stage One plays like.

Tank Girl: Visions of Booga #3 (of 4): I do like that Rufus Dayglo.

Universal War One #1 (of 3): Marvel's second $5.99 release of material from French publisher Soleil, and I believe the first one that hasn't been seen at all in English. It's writer/artist Denis Bajram's series about a band of damned soldiers sent to investigate a black wall that's suddenly cut the solar system in two, right in the midst of a civil war. What's odd is that this is a six-album series, while Marvel only has three issues set for release, which I don't think are fat enough to accommodate two albums each. Huh. Look a little. On the same front, this week also brings Sky Doll #3 (of '3'), which is close as you'll be getting to an ending anytime soon, True Believer.

The Punisher MAX #59: Only one bullet left in Frank Castle's clip after this, and it's going somewhere warm. You'll see. Also from Garth Ennis this week is War is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #5 (of 5), with Howard Chaykin. Also from Howard Chaykin this week is Punisher War Journal Vol. 3: Hunter Hunted, starring Frank Castle. It's the circle of life. While you're at it, you can also pick up Foolkiller: White Angels #1 (of 5) (formerly Foolkiller: Short Time), the second of Gregg Hurwitz's tongue-clucking MAX epics (art by Paul Azaceta and colorist Nick Filardi, they of B.P.R.D.: 1946), this time sporting a cameo role by... Frank Castle! Whose MAX series Hurwitz will be writing as of issue #61! Oh my god, I think I just gave birth to myself!!

Hellblazer #246: This is the second half of a Jason Aaron/Sean Murphy fill-in story, which is a fun little bit of Jamie Delano homage with its Newcastle setting and a set of young pop punks failing to appreciate either the danger of the place they're in or the texture of John Constantine's Mucous Membrane - the politics of old Hellblazer, perhaps? Also from greater DC this week is the Aaron-written Scalped #19, and Astro City: The Dark Age Book 1, a 256-page, $29.99 hardcover compilation of the first half of a long story from Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson.

Batman: Faces: Say, I think a movie is opening this week. That would explain this new $12.99 collection of Matt Wagner's Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight story (#28-30), all about a betrothed English girl's scheme to invite three men to her upcoming wedding, one of which must be her father: Batman, the Joker or Two-Face? Better dial S.O.S. - some will die, but all will dance! How the hell Hollywood turned this into something like Space Chimps I'll never know.


This website is four goddamned years old today.

*Pretty soon it'll be riding a bike and knocking over the preschool's Candyland game. At the same time.

Thank you for reading.


New Society

Cat Eyed Boy Vols. 1-2 (of 2)

This is a new(ish) VIZ release of comics by Kazuo Umezu, an influential horror and humor mangaka, retired from comics since the mid-'90s, who's recently picked up a small, vocal English-speaking fanbase through the release of his popular 1972-74 survival horror opus The Drifting Classroom. But unlike the 11-digest spread of that project, VIZ has opted to release the present series as a pair of 500-page bricks, each of them $24.95, released at the same time.

And once you've read the two of them, you'll understand why. At the end of Vol. 2, VIZ includes a helpful (if out-of-date) list of releases from the Japanese Umezz Perfection line of career-spanning omnibi - one presumes these two books are based on corresponding Perfection volumes (the same goes for IDW's release of Umezu's Reptilia), and I'll hazard a guess that VIZ might be looking to bring over more -- maybe a four-book set of Umezu's Orochi, which the publisher partially released back in 2002 -- if sales hold up.

Beyond that, Cat Eyed Boy also very much represents Umezu in the 'short' form, which I'm liberally construing as 'not a multi-volume serial.' That's pretty much all we've seen of him besides The Drifting Classroom, and I wonder if VIZ took a look at, say, Dark Horse's unsuccessful Scary Book series of Umezu shorts 'n standalones as a sign that smaller projects by the author are best laid out in large clumps, wherein the madness can congeal. I'd rather see some of the serials from Umezu's latter 20 years of creation, in which he supposedly embraced his role as a horror comics trailblazer and pushed his style farther and farther into manic, bloody territory.

But, we have what we have. Cat Eyed Boy began in 1967, a dozen years into Umezu's career as a comics professional, but still early among his horror works. It remains somewhat well-recalled today, having been made into a feature film in 2006 (although earlier adaptations had been mounted). It's also very much a product of its time, reflecting a certain trend in horror manga in the mid-to-late-'60s: the yōkai craze.

Yōkai are a class of folkloric Japanese creatures, often magical or supernatural, which found great success in manga through the works of Shigeru Mizuki, none of which are available in English, though the French translation of his NonNonBâ won Best Album at Angoulême in 2007. In particular, his GeGeGe no Kitaro series -- begun in 1965 and concerning a 'good' yōkai's battles against evil ones -- prompted the creation of many monster-heavy comics, like Osamu Tezuka's Dororo, which overtly namedrops Mizuki, in-story.

There's little doubt that Cat Eyed Boy was also born of that trend, since its title character is also a half-human, half-yōkai that spends most of his time tangling with strange creatures. At times, the series seems unsure of what even to do with itself beyond its basic, not terribly original concept - if I'm reading my internet translation of Umezu's homepage right, it seems that Cat Eyed Boy went through three separate incarnations in different magazines, and the difference is obvious from reading the stuff.

The first two stories see the title character, a sassy little homeless boy with strange eyes, basically acting as a 'horror host' - he addresses the reader directly, proclaiming that strange things tend to follow him around, and generally holding the reader's hand through the spooky tale that follows. But Cat Eyed Boy is also a participant in his stories, sometimes rushing in to save a well-intentioned human at the last minute, sometimes getting himself in trouble with assorted bad guys. There's a great supervillain in the second story: Professor Monster (maybe he studied abroad with Doctor Doom?) an old man with long white hair, a black opera cape and striped Coke bottle glasses, who loves nothing more than switching brains around and performing mad experiments for the sake of art.

Content-wise, the two stories are typical of Umezu's early horror works, in that they partially act as social indoctrination for their target audience of children. I say 'partially' because Umezu never, ever allows adults to get the upper hand on children - that's a typical enough motif for children's entertainment (kids rule! we eat what we like!), but Umezu uses it so often with so much emphasis that he effectively undercuts the whole notion of adult authority, a technique he'd amplify to screaming with The Drifting Classroom. But at the same time -- particularly in The Drifting Classroom! -- Umezu understands the trust a child places in the family unit, and much of his horror comes from panic over the breakdown of that very trust in the rightness of parents and grownups. His is a bitter medicine!

Yet in his early horror stories, Umezu at least supports the rightness of the social order. The artist's monsters and threats are always invaders of a latently good familial setup -- always an affluant, peaceable setting -- and while individual adults may fail as protectors, the overall beauty of the postwar community dream is ultimately preserved. Always, Umezu's children and well-meaning adults are beautiful and strong. Always, evil is ugly - earthy, muddy against the good clean homes of hard-working Japanese.

I wonder how much Umezu believed any of that? The higher his star rose, the more liable he became to criticize the contemporary society in his horror works, expanding his distrust of authority into depictions of a rot at Japan's core, just as society itself became mired in political struggle as the '60s ended. Horror artists like Hideshi Hino began their work at that time; Hino would often see the sadness in ugly monsters, even going so far as to romanticize their murderous rages as expressions of internal, often crypto-autobiographical strife. Umezu wouldn't go so far at that time, but the older artist was certainly on his way as younger ones cropped up.

The great value, maybe, of Cat Eyed Boy is that it tracks Umezu's evolution. I don't know what happened after the end of the second story (as Prof. Monster says, "When an artist fails in creating a work of art, he loses."), but many things change starting with story #3. A proper 'origin' is provided for Our Hero - he's hated by yōkai because he was born half-human, but his father couldn't bring himself to kill the infant.

So he was left with humans, who hated him for being ugly and weird (see?), which left him no qualms over stealing food and playing tricks. This Cat Eyed Boy is harder, meaner - when he sees a holy statue his first instinct is to piss on it. He still chats with the reader, but his hints that maybe one day he'll show up at your house, ha ha ha ha ha, are really threats. He holds genuine contempt for humanity, though he can be moved to kindness for the rare kind human. When much of his adopted village is wiped out by a tsunami -- one caused by monsters he warned them about -- he only feels sadness for the woman who took him in. The rest of them can go fucking die.

The plots grow longer, and much more ambitious in these stories. Vol. 1 ends two-thirds of the way through a 300+ page epic titled The Band of One Hundred Monsters, which starts off with a hacky horror manga artist being stalked by real monsters pissed that he's ripped off their likenesses(!!), then expands expands expands into a frantic survey of Umezu's own changing approach to horror, as the titular band is revealed to be a gang of deformed superhumans who want to disfigure beautiful people with ugly hearts. Cat Eyed Boy, however, sees the lot of them as the same old pathetic, shitty humans (just ugly in a unique way), playacting as genuine monsters, which pisses him right off.

It's a uniquely Japanese conflict at work, with Cat Eyed Boy having been born into a low station in life, and taking it out on others who try to rise above without the proper birthright. Much of Umezu's famous narrative velocity has clicked into place at this point -- there might be 10+ panels per page but your eyes fly across -- and his plotting dumps event after twist after revelation until the story finally collapses onto itself. Frankly, there's signs of editorial interference at work - some of the damage done to the beautiful human characters is suspiciously erased in the end, despite Umezu's assurances earlier in the story (via omniscient narration!) that the harm is permanent. No matter: there was little turning back for Umezu.

Another of these stories, the nearly 200-page The Meatball Monster, embodies the artist's shift in style. It's a big, sloppy allegory for the fear of cancer paralyzing a town, 'cancer' being played by a stinking, sentient glob of boiling, expanding meat, prone to clouding men's minds and feeding on fear before literally stuffing itself down its victim's throats. It's not terribly scientific, but Umezu's real impact lands through his crazed, eccentric account of events.

Cat Eyed Boy starts the story off in the hospital, since the shack he was holed up in got hit by a train, so he makes sure to spend six pages taking revenge on every train he can find before he realizes that the blood transfusion he got has tethered him to a doomed family's visions of cancer, which they've held up to almost a godlike status - merely looking upon it will kill you!

It's another cause for an Umezu family to disintegrate, adults literally jabbing their eyes out with pins so they won't have to look upon the Meatball, and thus be doomed. As many panels depict hallucinations as reality, it seems, and the plot (again) expands into an army of meat beasts taking on the whole town, until the infected Cat Eyed Boy meets up with a baby monster that somehow holds the key to stopping everything, just as one might pray to find an herbal cure way out in the jungle.

These aren't well-tuned, clockwork stories. Umezu always gives off the impression of never quite knowing what's going to be on the next page himself, and some readers, perhaps used to trusting in a sure hand pressing meaning and assurance into every panel, will find it annoying. But as novelist Mizuho Hirayama observes in a short essay included with VIZ's Vol. 2:

"But just what is this unforgettable bizarreness that lies at the core of Umezu's work? Is it a child's nightmare? I think that is probably the best way to describe it. There's no logic or reason to it. It's simply fear."

Hirayama further writes that Umezu possesses a child's naiveté, and that the intermingling of humor and horror in his work -- 'laugh-out-loud horror,' as I've heard it called -- represents an adult's approximation of a child's approach to being scared, which certainly fits his subject matter, as well as his roundabout way of telling a tale.

Cat Eyed Boy's third incarnation sees it return to the short form for a quartet of stories of 25-45 pages each. These are the most assured, most effective works in VIZ's release, perfectly melancholic tales of childhood anxieties, operating almost solely on dream logic despite their clinical, 12-panel grid arrangements. Cat Eyed Boy becomes kinder, but only enough to walk with nice kids through bad situations. A mom dies, and a little boy wants to see her. A father promises an infant to a snake, and the growing child becomes fearful. The very best of them sees Hell literally erupt into a child's bedroom (in color!), spewing ominous portents that freeze the child's hand in fear - it's obsessive-compulsive!

In this place, Umezu's weird child anti-hero is far from monster-fighting, far from his influences. He's purely a denizen of Umezu's world, hearing and telling stories that only Umezu can really create. For these short stretches, adults are so powerless they seem like ghosts, creatures that don't understand the child's world of fear at all. This is their most profound ineffectiveness in Umezu's stories, a loss of perception so that they never understand anything at all. Not the loudest show of the artist's contempt, but the most poetic.


Anime is... totally unexpected! And sometimes unexplained!

Batman: Gotham Knight

This is a new, 76-minute anime OVA, just released today to R1 dvd. It's an anthology of linked Batman stories, poised as a tie-in to some movie that's coming soon. It's sort of ok, sort of boring, kind of striking at times, sometimes unimpressive. It might be worth renting; even $13.00 or so to own the one-disc edition seems too much.

It probably wasn't hard to sense trouble brewing. The project was announced before any specific animators were attached by name, although the involvement of three major anime studios was noted: Production I.G., Madhouse, and Studio 4°C. Rumors swirled of participation by directors like Satoshi Kon (Paranoia Agent, Paprika) and Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Kaiba). Eventually a press release arrived, and there were only five directors named for six segments.

Information dribbled out as the release date drew near. It turned out the three studios weren't doing two shorts each - I.G. had only completed one, with another handled by its former subsidiary Bee Train, a studio notorious as a type of junior varsity team for young animators, often producing just the results you might expect. A well-placed source claimed that one of Madhouse's segments had been sort of taken on by 4°C after an unnamed initial director left the project. And the case of the missing director grew much darker when it was revealed that the pertinent segment had the names of everybody in its primary animation crew omitted from the credits. Yikes.

I don't know what really happened, although I do know that these American-Japanese animation projects tend to be difficult. And I don't mean low bid jobs for US-targeted cartoon shows like back in the day - I'm talking about the caretakers of a major entertainment concern from one culture dealing with the autonomous animation traditions of another, both forces used to calling the shots and getting things done their way.

The very model of such a contemporary project remains 2003's The Animatrix anthology, which saw the desires of often-idiosyncratic Japanese directors bump into the franchise vision of The Matrix. Not that some good things didn't happen (some of them better than the proper Matrix sequels) - hell, my favorite of those shorts was 4°C co-founder Koji Morimoto's (the one with the glitchy 'haunted' house), allegedly the result of struggle and compromise between Morimoto and the Wachowski brothers.

And things seemed even hairier on 2007's feature-length Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, with director Yoshiaki Kawajiri (he of Ninja Scroll fame) making various and sundry unilateral changes the American script; in the end, the US producers recut the auteur's final product for the version that saw release.

The present project is top-heavy with Western talents, from Bruce Timm as executive producer down to the assorted screenwriters, filled with animation, movie and comics veterans. Don't look to the dvd's supplements for guidance on the Japanese (you know, animation) side of things - the second disc of the deluxe edition somehow manages to get through two and a half hours of stuff without so much as a mention of the Japanese staff. You get four episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, a remarkably tedious documentary on the Batman rogues gallery and a fitfully interesting video biography of Bob Kane, which does at least try to hit the unsavory bits of his life in the process of stuffing it into a Charming Rogue Finds Redemption narrative. More than once an art sample seems to hang on a detail of Bill Finger's story credit, as if in apology.

The main disc has a spotty, mostly uninteresting audio commentary by DC Senior VP/Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, longtime Bat-family writer/editor Dennis O'Neil and voice actor Kevin Conroy - at least they talk a little about the animation, if only in broad expressions of praise for everyone's hard work. But mainly the package seems focused on promoting the Batman brand above anything specific, and it thereby fails to overcome the impression of a mercenary big media tie-in; granted, that's what The Animatrix was too, broadly, but at least it made an effort to tour the animation approaches at work, really giving off some enthusiasm as a worthwhile standalone project.

This? You'd swear it was plain Bat-product. It feels like it sometimes. Let me go bit by bit.

Have I Got a Story For You

All the stories in Batman: Gotham Knight are connected; it must have been a chore getting all these animation studios to hew to the connecting story fiber. Some differences were inevitable -- especially visual ones -- so this story (scripted by Josh Olson of A History of Violence) serves as sort of an overture, being a new take on the old scenario of everyone telling ultimately-connected stories about wildly different versions of Batman. It makes more sense as the plot of a short cartoon - the project's megastory is barely noticeable, and culminates in nothing whatsoever. Was Warner Brothers nervous with the idea of an anthology all of a sudden?

Ah well, at least it's an opportunity for Studio 4°C to strut its stuff. The director is Shojiro Nishimi (also animation director), who served as animation director/character designer on 4°C's 2006 Tekkonkinkreet theatrical feature. It looks and feels quite similar to that work, squat and plump personages abounding, although the storyboards, character designs, staging & layouts, art direction and animation supervision is the work of Shinji Kimura, Tekkonkinkreet's art director and a segment director on 4°C's Genius Party anthology.

A lot of fun is had with the various versions of Batman -- a shadow monster, a flying beast, a mighty robot -- with the action moving methodically across the expected expressive urban detail. This is the only segment to work its title into the action itself, which says something for the level of decoration involved. The chunky True Batman seen above maybe also says a little for the lack of slam-bang action - this is more a dancing thing, kids wobbling on their skateboards and far more interest aroused by someone in the background losing their footing when Robobat deflects a laser blast. Lots of visual nuance.

Lots of work too, I expect; judging from the credits on its two official segments, 4°C seems to have employed one-fifth the population of Japan as in-betweeners. Such inclusion!


And then, my hopes came crashing down. This is just boring, which I sure wouldn't have expected from Production I.G.'s only segment of the project, one written by the very capable Greg Rucka. But this is as dull and simplistic as a talk-heavy Batman story can be - Cop #1 doesn't trust Batman while Cop #2 does, but then they get caught up in a deadly crime event which is resolved by Batman hitting things until justice wins. Then Cop #1 likes Batman. Yay!

Writing aside (and keeping in mind that the 'writing' can always change on the way to the screen), this is maybe the dullest piece of animation I've seen out of I.G. in a long while. Director/Storyboardist Futoshi Higashide (whom I've never heard of; he was an animation director for some 2007 feature titled JAPAN, Our Homeland) and Animation Director/Character Designer Shinobu Tagashira (of the Hunter X Hunter franchise) bring no innovation or interest to long scenes of chit-chat, relying exclusively on a neon carnival background vision of Gotham to keep the viewer's eyes open. The concluding action scene does snap things to attention a little bit, but it's not long enough to act as an impressive set piece; it seems inevitable, like even its novel motions are so directed by formula that they can't impress.

It's like a throwaway backup story in an Annual, or a fill-in episode of a television series or something. So unremarkable it can be plugged in anywhere, anytime, if something better can't be found, which isn't the best feeling to present when getting to the meat of your anthology's content. What a waste.

Field Test

Seriously though, if you'd come up to me last week and said that fucking Bee Train's entry would top the work of I.G. proper, I'd have laughed (then probably asked who you are). But look what's happened.

This is probably the most 'traditionally' anime-styled of all the segments; the director/animation director, Hiroshi Morioka (co-director of the second season of the Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE televisions series) is probably a competent enough craftsman, although this is the only work of his I've seen. The star of the show, however, appears to be Toshiharu Murata, character designer and co-animation director of the Hellsing television series, who serves here as storyboardist, character designer and, apparently, sole key animator. If those credits are right, this is impressive work - not outstanding, or even particularly inspired to my eye, but steady and on-the-level in visual quality.

The script (by Jordan Goldberg) is a showcase for Batman's relationship with his gadgets; Goldberg is also credited with the "story" for many of the project's segments, so it's probably unsurprising that a good deal of time is spent toying with plot strands that only get picked up elsewhere in the OVA - given the lack of impact for all that, it seems like time that could have been better spent teasing out the psychological implications of Our Hero's gear, an interesting enough tact that winds up getting limited play. Really, I can't say this is all that effective a short on any level, not on the whole, but at least it has a decent ring of technical victory.

In Darkness Dwells

I really like this episode's director (and animation director, and storyboardist), Yasuhiro Aoki. He's directed a few episodes of Studio 4°C's oddball kiddie tv series Tweeny Witches, but I know him best for the wonderful 4°C Amazing Nuts OVA anthology short Kung-Fu Love. This is the Madhouse short that 4°C supposedly worked on a lot after the first director left; I notice there's an official "co-director" credited (Yuichiro Hayashi) with character designs and art direction by Kaoru Inoda, who's notable for having worked as a background artist or art director on three of Satoshi Kon's projects. The production coordinator is Toyoo Ashida - holy shit, is that the same guy who directed Vampire Hunter D and Fist of the North Star?!

It's a strange, slow-building piece (script by David Goyer), with brief, spooky appearances by Scarecrow and Killer Croc, and much of its energy spent on rotten sewer atmosphere. Batman is pumped full of hallucinogenics (how current!) and swings around flying scythes in a slow, hellish collapse of stuff. All mood. Maybe the result of picking up after a broken-down start? Good anyway.

Working Through Pain

On the other hand, this is probably the most ambitious of the shorts in a storytelling sense; it's the other official Studio 4°C segment, with a script by Brian Azzarello, who follows up the preceding short with a long, bloody trudge by Batman through the sewers, flashing back to his education in the ways of putting the pain away, at the hand of a young Indian woman with trouble in her own background.

Philosophy is doled out, meditations are undergone, and things, unfortunately, get kind of silly by the time Young Master Wayne saves the woman from local toughs by standing around and letting guys break wooden boards and glass bottles over his head, because he can just ignore the hurt, man - no word on the metaphorical quality of his presumably cast-iron skull, or if he can move past the concussion as well. Yet Batman's success dooms him to the shadows - it all ends in a scene of the Dark Knight frantically gathering stray guns in his arms, leaving him unable to accept the hand of aid.

I mean, points for effort, hell yeah, but this got too rich by half for me.

It's an old-timey romp on the animation front, with direction and animation direction by Toshiyuki Kubooka (chief animation director of the classic Gunbuster) and character designs by Naoyuki Onda, an old hand animation director/character designer with credits dating at least as far back as Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam in the mid-'80s. The "storyboard supervisor" and "conceptual design" credits go to Tatsuyuki Tanaka, another Genius Party fellow. It's very pretty, very classy, and of a softer touch than the writing it has to work with; it calms a little in that way.


And finally -- oooooooh! -- the mystery segment! Directed by Edward Nigma! Storyboards by Matches Malone! Actually, there is a credited director of sorts, one Jong-Sik Nam of Dongwoo Animation ("executive director" of the 2001 South Korean tv animation series BASToF Syndrome), albeit under the omnious heading of "Additional Animation Services By" - all the animation that isn't 'additional' is credited collectively to Madhouse, which didn't seem to have an easy time at all with this show.

Still, some clues as to the primary animation crew can be discerned from the segment's visual... you know what? Fuck it. This thing looks a lot like the work of the aforementioned Yoshiaki Kawajiri, of that troubled Highlander production (and an Animatrix episode too). And he doesn't exactly have an orthodox visual approach either - the long faces and sculpted muscles and swooping action and flamboyant costuming and cheeseball visual grandeur of this segment all but scream Kawajiri, a Madhouse stalwart whose work remains remarkably constant across various character designers and art directors.

Sure, it could be someone else doing a loving homage to Kawajiri, their hero. Maybe it was all an elaborate apprenticeship for some young successor. Maybe the credits are misleading, and Jong-Sik Nam really called all the shots (at Madhouse, a studio I don't believe he's ever worked for). Maybe Warner Brothers demanded something that looked like Ninja Scroll, and nobody wanted to fess up to the emulation. Maybe Haruhi Suzumiya took over. Ooh, maybe Batman is real, and he directed the episode!! That would be great. "Directed by Batman."

But whatever happened, and whomever it happened to, there's a funny thing about it: Deadshot, minute-for-minute, is probably the most entertaining thing on this disc. It's fast, it's simple, it's faintly ridiculous and glad about it - it's basically Batman vs. Golgo 13, if G13 was a sneering, monocle-wearing playboy with wrist-mounted machine guns tucked under his red pimp outfit. Everyone on the audio commentary seems agog at what's happening on screen; I just wished there was more of it. More absurd Bat-fun, with loud villains pulling off wild stunts and Bruce Wayne hitting things in style.

It's a preference among Bat-simplicities, I guess, and it sure helps that the animation plays out in that bulky, trapped-in-'93 style - it still speaks to me, when I want to hear bullshit. I wonder how much of a compromise this episode was. Which direction did Alan Burnett's script go in? What happened to cause all the names to vanish? Which tipping point am I smiling toward? Any?

Warner Brothers isn't talking, not in any iteration this package. And no, I don't expect a studio to talk about all the production headaches that go into a major project, particularly a work of animation.

Yet, the whole 'animation' things seems so elusive in the presentation. So optional. Forgive me if I read too much into it, but this dvd seems franchise-focused to the point of dehumanizing the people that made it all move. In a way, that's rather 'modern anime' of it - I doubt I'll ever read as much about this thing online as I will any popular cartoon show on Japanese television right now, since... er, you have to pay for this, and so much of today's anime fandom is based around piracy. Not just sampling - a generation of viewers that don't see the need to give money, that often don't know of the people that make these shows, that consume. Like the stuff always existed, and always will.

That's the sense I get of Batman on discs like this. Character over creators! A superhero classic, and maybe, in the little world of anime, a certain queasy encouragement. But watch out for the results, caretakers of a major entertainment concern.

I'm sure Warner Brothers doesn't want anyone to stop buying stuff.


More Than I Thought

*In new comics, that is. I did about as much as expected for a holiday weekend in -


Batman #678 (hey, did you know Grant Morrison is blogging? that's the "exclusive content" for registered users at his revamped website; there's only been one post in the two weeks it's been up, but it's a longish, amusing one)

minicomics roundup #1 (featuring Swell #1, Hyperbox #2-3 and Part 12 Chapter 3 of "Together Forever")


Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1 (of 3)

At The Savage Critics.

*Be warned: comics probably aren't showing up at US locations until Thursday. That didn't stop Diamond from releasing a list of products today, though - I hope it's the final list. For example, the new issue of The Comics Journal isn't present, although the online sampler (and full edition for subscribers) is up now. Another hint: only one of four Secret Invasion #4 variant covers listed! I'll stay alert for you, reader. Lover.


Red Colored Elegy: New old gekiga, vintage 'dramatic pictures' from Japan - often worth mentioning first. And this one -- a 1970-71 tale of aimless young things -- is especially mentionable as closer to the graphically bold dream comics of the great Yoshiharu Tsuge than anything that was likely to develop into wide-appeal seinen, although creator Seiichi Hayashi made sure to draw from contemporary pop culture and European cinema as well. Some capital-AC Art Comics here, and quite a talked-about work in its time. Drawn and Quarterly's 240-page hardcover is $24.95, and probably just as pretty as their Yoshihiro Tatsumi books. Preview here.

Cola Madnes: Yeah, I spelled that right. At first I thought this might somehow be the first time ever that Diamond carried the 2001 Funny Garbage Press edition of Gary Panter's ill-fated 1983 foray into manga, but then I realized that PictureBox had it reprinted for TODAY. Your $24.95 gets you 212 pages of Jimbo seeking refreshment at two panels per page, inside the head of the tribal dreamer Kokomo. I couldn't tell you any more. PictureBox also has issue #1 of Lauren R. Weinstein's oversized fantasy opus The Goddess of War this week, and its blend of myth, angst, passion, spoof and adventure is well worth that $12.95.

The Fart Party: Also in the 'finally from Diamond' category, here's the much-liked Atomic Books collection of Julia Wertz's comedic autobiographical comics. Cartoon violence; a relationship declines. Your $13.95 gets you 178 pages of delite.

Nat Turner: Hell, I think this 208-page Abrams collection of Kyle Baker's 2005-07 image-driven series has been out for a month or something too. It's about the famous 1831 Virginia slave revolt, and the man who led it. Both a $12.95 softcover and a $24.95 hardcover are available. Exciting video preview here.

Snaked: On the other hand, I am confident that this Clifford Meth/Rufus Dayglo collection -- great for "folks who enjoyed really heavy, nastily-tinged, brutishly handsome comics made possible by the direction of the comics market 1988-1995 or so," in the words of Tom Spurgeon -- will actually be showing up in four-walls retail establishments for the first time, this week. Featuring conspiracy and fangs. From IDW, 104 pages for $17.99.

Magic Whistle #11: Body Armor For Your Dignity: I have no dignity when confronted with the latest Sam Henderson release, especially when it's an even-numbered year and therefore time for a fresh installment of his signature series. The 2008 edition is a 96-page, $11.95 stack of laffs from Alternative Comics, in b&w and color.

Aces: Curse of the Red Baron: This is a $12.95, 112-page AiT/Planet Lar collection of a serial from Image's Negative Burn (#7-10), created and co-written by animation veteran Shannon Eric Denton, co-written by essayist and Vertigo/DC scribe G. Willow Wilson, and illustrated by Curtis Square Briggs. It's about a pair of WWI fighters that discover a treasure map on the corpse of the Red Baron; adventure, one might presume, follows. Have a look.

The New York Four: And speaking of DC, this is the new Minx book from the Local team of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, 176 pages of an NYU freshman ('n pals) having teen-appropriate adventures on the town. Big ol' preview here. It's $9.99.

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #1 (of 5): Restoring the whole of the core creative team, with the added bonus of Kevin Nowlan on cover inks - man, he was supposed to draw Hellboy: The Third Wish back in the day, but I think this is his first 'official' contribution to the extended family of comics. I think. Anyhow, this is the first of what's to be a suite of three storylines aimed at fucking around with the B.P.R.D. status quo; count me in. Preview here. Elsewhere in the franchise, this week has the third of those prose story anthologies, Hellboy: Oddest Jobs, with Joe R. Lansdale, China Miéville and more contributing.

Berlin #16: Unless I'm hopelessly lost, this is actually the concluding chapter to Vol. 2 of Jason Lutes' historical trilogy. That's right, bookshelf holdouts - your seven-year wait is almost over. And since I'm back to Drawn and Quarterly here, I'll also note that they've got a new $14.95 hardcover edition of Raymond Briggs' 1980 classic Gentleman Jim, about a restroom cleaner that lets himself drift on fantasies of a mightier life.

Wolfskin Annual #1: I wound up sort of liking the original Warren Ellis/Juan Jose Ryp Wolfskin miniseries from Avatar, in the way I'll probably sort of like any barbarian comic that culminates with the entire supporting cast dying and the title character coming down from his drug rage to flee the scene in disgust, at which point the plot simply stops. This is a one-off sequel (anticipating a new miniseries), now co-written by Mike Wolfer and drawn by Gianluca Pagliarani, who will also be illustrating Ellis' next Apparat book, Aetheric Mechanics, later this year.

Captain America: White #0 (of 6): Also from Avatar this... wait, no... this is Marvel pulling the issue #0 stunt. I haven't read a damned one of these Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale projects set in the early days of various Marvel characters, but I'm sure Sale's pencils and Dave Stewart's colors will mix well. For example. The series proper doesn't start until later in the year, but this $2.99 pamphlet will include a new story, a b&w version of that same story (gotta fill those pages!), plus the expected sketches, script excerpts, etc. Also from the Marvel U this week, Captain Britain and MI: 13 #3, the fourth and final Whedon/Cassaday Astonishing X-Men trade, and that thing with the aliens.

Criminal Vol. 3: Dead and Dying: That's Vol. 3, covering Series 2 so far, a trilogy of stories set in the series' past, all of them overlapping in time to some extent, shining different lights on a common set of characters. It helps to read the prior two volumes, for maximum resonance, but this is where the series gets awfully good. From Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, $11.99 for 104 pages.

Bone Color Edition Vol. 8 (of 9): Treasure Hunters: My my, we're almost to the end of Scholastic's very lucrative second life for Jeff Smith's epic. I recall this particular material feeling like treading water back when it was new, but I suspect it might come off better knowing it's the calm before the final storm. The hardcover is $19.99; the softcover is $9.99.

Comic Foundry #3: Being the newest issue of this lifestyle-focused magazine about comics (and such). Details here.

Batman and Son: Gee, there's five separate Bat-items out from DC this week... almost as if some sort of large-scale production was opening in less than two weeks. This is a $14.99, 200-page softcover edition collecting the first chunk of writer Grant Morrison's run on the title, all the way up through the big #666. I bet Batman will be in Final Crisis: Requiem too, although I don't think the promise of Doug Mahnke pencils will get me to sit for a one-shot about the Martian Manhunter's dying wishes. Um, Jason Aaron's writing The Joker's Asylum: Penguin, which is a one-shot about the Penguin. Jason Pearson is drawing it. Detective Comics #846 starts up that title's R.I.P. tie-in, although it doesn't look like much of a direct tie-in (like, it has Batman dealing with Hush, again). I dunno, not much of a tie-in guy myself...



This was a weekend of independence.

*As such, my blog posting was limited. But today, to round out the holiday, I will devote myself to minicomics - those most independent of comics for this most independent of times, provided you are currently within the United States of America and aren't going to be difficult about the exact dates of American declarations of independence. I don't need difficulty right now. I saw WALL-E yesterday, and the shopping mall in space really inspired me, ok?


(EDIT 9:40 PM: added pics & corrected credits to Together Forever)


Swell, Part One (of Three): Openfaced Sandwich (Juliacks; 20 pgs, $2.00): And, as it often goes with so widely-applied a label, this first 'mini'comic is actually an 11" x 11" square of comics. As such, page samples lose something reduced to the piddling dimensions of this site, and it's fruitless to display mere details since every page is quite carefully constructed as a standalone design unit. I recommend you check out larger images at the book's webpage, for maximum acquaintance.

This is impressive, dense stuff, its narrative bounding around in time -- back and forth, then indistinctly forward, page-by-page -- and shifting in and out of a primary character's consciousness, events sometimes observed and sometimes felt. Generally, it's the story of young Emmeline, whose sister Lucy dies while she's away at university. In execution, it's an account of reminisce and supposition swirling with grief, as time continues to stagger indistinctly forward. Juliacks works in mark-heavy, sometimes geometrically arranged displays that recall Mark Beyer's Amy and Jordan strips, albeit far less controlled in tone and apt enough to shatter into tiny story bits that moment-to-moment reading occasionally becomes a challenge.

Still, there's a firm grasp of pace behind this, long horizontal strips of narrative on one page giving way on the next to those twisted roots of sadness as (barely) seen above. The artist's visual world deliberately struggles to pull itself into a restrained schema as its main character tries to set her emotional state in order, but it's all futile for part one. I'll like to see how it progresses.


Hyperbox #2-3 (William Cardini; 20 pgs per, $3.00 per): Meanwhile, other one-world-per-page realities contort on their own. I like Cardini's simple minis, devout to mutation and shifting alien landscapes, words becoming scenery, people losing distinction, etc. Issue #2 sees series protagonist Mark -- lost in the Hyperrealm! -- unable to control his bodily transformations and eventually eaten by a nasty Lizzard. The reader's perspective tips to the side then rights itself again, mostly zooming in and out of the scene so as preserve the consistency of Our Hero's eventual crystallization.

Issue #3 begins to suggest a larger cosmic saga, as the series' technical limitations begin to hamper it a little - one double-page spread in particular is rendered nearly inchoate by an extra-large center gutter. But I find it all very joyful, just delighted to simply be on paper, and it's infectious in that way.


Part 12 Chapter 3 of "Together Forever" (Stephen Hirsch & Connie Su; 20 pgs, $1.50): This comic, on the other hand, seems to adopt sci-fi tropes primarily as metaphors for romantic and sexual anxiety, just as its 'serial' nature appears to function as a very self-contained expression for its narrator's lingering (if not immediately perceptible) doubts.

Jackson Pillows and another man are working on some sort of crew outside of a gleaming city, their present-day activities constrained to tiny panels. But Pillows isn't one to keep his mouth shut, ever, so he regales us with a full-bleed flashback to a time at the Academy when he had sex with a woman on the rebound. Her skin goes translucent, Pillows' masturbatory nature is revealed in a mole on her breast, and a spunk monster rises from the toilet in ejaculatory triumph as Our Hero's franker doppelgänger.

It's a notably self-critical piece, in that its narrator's expected anxiousness with his romantic life is disbursed to everywhere but his proper narration. It's best taken as transplanted into the book's visual construction, with a TCHONGGGKCHONNKK sound effect originating in the icy 'present' pages and literally cutting through all of the flashback, although Hirsch is more prone to have his talkative character recite enough information so that Su's visuals might more directly undercut (or perhaps complicate) his quizzical musings on this woman Pillows is so attached to. Regardless, its value as a short story is in its application of the comics form; there is some inspiration in there.