Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Y’know what I love about these guys? They make it sooooooooo easy, week after week.
Cormorant here, and it’s upbeat columns like this latest effort – nearly devoid of negative reviews – that threaten to undermine our @$$hole status! On behalf of my fellow ‘Holes, I deeply apologize for finding so many good reads, but, y’know, sometimes bad things happen and what can you do? Folks, I promise - I promise - that we’ll get through this funk. We’ll get Quixote to savage something so thoroughly next week that we’ll once again bloody the waters of comic reviewing and make everyone hate us. This week, though, it’s all happiness and sunshine…
Except for this first review, courtesy of a guest reviewer with whom you may be familiar. Personally, I think he’s @$$hole material.
RELOAD # 1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Gulacy & Jimmy Palmiotti
Published by Homage Comics / Wildstorm / DC
Reviewed by Saddam Hussein, filling in for the soon-to-be-late Buzz Maverik
Unbelievers, godless infidels, sons of dogs and whores, and my fellow geeks, this is Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, sending you greetings! With everyone's favorite Talkback @$$hole Buzz Maverik on the run from my Republican Guard, I felt somewhat responsible for a gap in the TL@ lineup, so I decided to help out with a fill-in review. Those of you who have asked to become @$$holes in the past and have not had reviews accepted, please do not be jealous. You would be surprised how well these curs respond to the threat of biological weapons...not that I have any, of course.
First of all, let me state that I too am not a fan of these so-called "funny" reviews these @$$holes attempt and will be doing mine straight. I would have added my comments in last weeks talkback but I was unfairly banned. So what if I said Cormorant was a traditionalist jackal who had no place in the 21st Century and would soon perish in purifying nuclear fire? Was that out of line? Do I not have a right to my opinion?
For my review, I chose RELOAD # 1 by Warren Ellis and Paul Gulacy, primarily because I am fond of PLANETARY (when in the name of the Prophet will issue # 16 come out? Ah, Warren, I could tell you the real secret history of the twentieth century!) and was a huge fan of the original MASTER OF KUNG FU series. Several times during the reading of the book, I turned back to the cover to make sure I hadn't picked up an issue of Ellis' GLOBAL FREQUENCY by mistake. Ellis is working strikingly similar territory in the two series.
We have a mysterious, cat-suited beauty (somewhat like Jakita Wagner from PLANETARY, heh! I guess we know what Warren goes for) staring down a sniper scope at the President of your heathen country! The hero is a Secret Service agent protecting your evil leader. The way Gulacy draws him, he sometimes looks like Tom Cruise (people tell me I, too, look like Cruise) sometimes like Brad Pitt, sometimes just a mess. There's some MATRIX style action, with the Trinity-like assassin woman walking vertically down the side of a building while firing a pair of MAC-10s. She is wearing a special pair of boots that allow her to do this. If these boots exist in real life, I swear to make them standard issue for the Iraqi Army! There is a chase, a cover up and a conspiracy.
While the action was enjoyable, I think I will skip issue two and wait for the MATRIX sequels to hit Baghdad Cinema 20 in a couple of months. I recommend you do the same! A year between issues of PLANETARY for this!
Well, back to hid--, I mean destroying the banned al-Samoud 2 missiles. Everything cool gets banned! Rest assured, I will soon have Buzz Maverik's head in a jar of formaldehyde. My intel-ops report that a mysterious bandit known as El Maverique has joined a band of scum lead by the marauder El Elbeen and is cutting a bloody swath across the northern part of my most blessed nation. We will intercept him, either trying to cross the Turkish border (for the hashish) or the Iranian border (for the opium). Then perhaps I may realize my dream of permanently joining the Talkback League of @$$holes! Would that not be sweet?
TOTAL SELL OUT (TPB)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis & friends
Artist: Brian Michael Bendis & friends
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Looking for a great graphic novel to read on the can? I know I always am, and TOTAL SELL OUT fits the bill in spades! Whether you’re making a quick pit stop or going for that long, leisurely visit as you hide out from the in-laws, there’s something here for everyone. Am I scaring you yet? Relax. With their low page count and generally fluffy content, comics have been one of the staples of bathroom reading for decades. The only downside is that once you hit a certain age – say, past ten – it becomes increasingly uncool to leave your Spider-Man, Batman, and X-Men books there for subsequent visitors. Joe Sixpack wants ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, TIME, or maybe, just maybe a snooty (yet sexy) VANITY FAIR. Sure, you could leave WATCHMEN or MAUS there for credibility, but who wants to leave works of art in the stank-ass kiln that is your bathroom? Not me. That’s where DC’s BIG BOOKS series have come to the rescue, and where Brian Bendis’s TOTAL SELL OUT picks up the baton. No one’s gonna mistake these for works of art, but on the upside, no one’s gonna mistake ‘em for RICHIE RICH either.
The deal with TOTAL SELL OUT is that it’s a miscellany of Bendis’s short works from the last several years. The guy’s enough of a big shot now that there’s actually a demand for his lesser-known stuff, and so we get a host of autobiographical shorts, some odds and ends he did for a Cleveland newspaper as an aspiring cartoonist, “true crime” confessions he coaxed out of interviewees, a handful of collaborations with the likes of Warren Ellis and James Hudnall, and even a little portfolio section for, in Bendis’s own words, “…the seven of you that miss my drawing.” Like I said, something for everyone, and all of it swathed in Bendis’s trademark self-deprecating wit and trademark smartass dialogue (see also, FORTUNE & GLORY).
For me, the high points of the book are the autobiographical bits, from one-pagers to multi-pagers to a few all-text reminiscences. There’re a few moments of poignancy and teen angst to these things, but by and large, they’re just goddamn hilarious, and Bendis spares no expense in making fun of himself. You’ll read stories about Bendis terrifying shoplifting kids when he worked at a comic shop, tales of teen lust as Bendis the McDonald’s employee tries to make time with the unattainable goddesses of the mall hair salon, and a multi-laugh-out-loud classic about Bendis’s comic convention showdown with the entity known as “Sgt. Kabukiman”. Autobiographical stories are a dime a dozen in the comics biz, especially for up-and-comers who can’t draw for shit, but what Bendis has that most don’t is absolutely dead-on comic timing. Makes his stuff a true pleasure to read. He does suffer a bit from weak cartooning (an over-reliance on photo-reference, photocopied backgrounds, and black ink), but that’s not exactly new news. He’s still got fine fundamental storytelling abilities, and earns a salute for his mostly successful experiments in style and pacing.
The book also includes man-on-the-street-style interviews with folks concerning bad things they’ve seen or done, packed to the gills with all the realistic stutters and half-sentences that have come to inform Bendis’s dialogue in his comics. Since these stories are essentially verbatim transcripts, the fact that they’re illustrated (photorealistically no less) is almost incidental. Balloon placement and “beat” panels create deft timing, but the repetitive images sometimes strike me as a poor man’s answer to film. Still, the play is the thing, and the stories are indeed memorable. And twisted. Barroom brawls, childhood pranks, and poop-covered Indian culture enthusiasts – all fair game.
Rounding out the book are a few short crime stories written by Bendis or his smattering of collaborators, lots of one-pagers dealing with pop cultural observations on everything from food channels to museums to John Cleese and the nature of comedy. Bendis even has a two-pager illustrating a curious letter a fan once sent him describing an alleged miracle. One of my favorites is a multi-page story about a building-size can of soda. Something for everyone.
I do have a pet peeve I can’t let go of: the typos. Not many of ‘em, and they’re mostly of the “its/it’s” type, but enough for me to take notice. Now Bendis is infamous for his typos, and if you’ve ever seen his unedited posts online, you’ll know that pre-editor Bendis writing is about as indecipherable as Sanskrit. Being amusingly infamous for something doesn’t make it right, though, and what can be glossed over in a 22-page monthly is a little harder to accept in a fifteen dollar graphic novel. I sympathize with Bendis’s editors for the sheer number of typos these poor bastards have to deal with, but if they can’t catch ‘em all, then they need to hire some back-up. I’m available.
Final judgment: So it’s got a few typos. Fuck it, this is still a must-buy for anyone who likes listening to a born raconteur spin some yarns. For all the stories that make up the book, there’s nothing I’d really consider “filler”, and just about every page is guaranteed to bring a smile, a wince, or some genuine laughs. Buy it. Read it. Display it proudly in the can.
Title: AQUAMAN #4
Writer: Rick Veitch
Pencils: Yvel Guichet & Joshua Hood
Inks: Mark Probst & Sean Parsons
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
When I announced that I would be writing another AQUAMAN review to the other @$$holes, I thought they were going to shat a mackerel. It was just a few months ago that I tore the first issue of this book a new one and there was a unanimous belief that this series was yet another AQUAMAN relaunch that would sink like a stone before it even had a chance to get its feet wet. Well, being the fair minded chap that I am, I decided to stick with the series for a couple of issues to see if anything interesting would come to surface.
A debate has been going on in the Talkbacks and circling around the @$$hole roundtable for quite a while now. What in the holy hell does DC have to do to make Aquaman interesting? Peter David’s previous series centering around an underwater soap opera had its highs and lows, but I wouldn’t call those amazing stories. Some say Aquaman should be a wandering savage like Conan with gills. Some say he should be wearing an orange shirt and straddling a giant sea horse. Some say he should go on a sort of Odyssey, exploring the briny depths of the Seven Seas. It doesn’t matter what DC does to the character, the guy is still going to be the butt of all of the fish jokes. It’s easy to attack Aquaman. It’s just too easy. Of course, this review will have plenty of fishy goodness. I had to share it with you all. I didn’t want to be shellfish. Ahem.
I didn’t have high hopes when I picked up the first issue of this series. Like all good first issues, AQUAMAN #1 set the stage for the series. Unlike a good first issue, the premise behind AQUAMAN #1 was pretty lame. You see, Aquaman’s name is Arthur and he used to be the King of Atlantis. Because he shares the name and the profession of another King named Arthur, VERTIGO writer, Rick Veitch, decided to throw in all sorts of Arthurian innuendo including his very own Lady in the Lake. Veitch also cut Aquaman off from his most laughable power - the ability to speak with the feeshes - and exiled him from dipping even a pinky toe into the ocean. Now Arthur is faced with the dilemma of either fighting his own people to get back his throne or leaving the whole business behind him and starting over as a land lover. For the last few issues, Aquaman has been getting used to his new supporting cast - a Poopdeck Pappy wannabe with a rotten liver and bad teeth and a scrappy Irish coast patrolwoman who is obviously being built up as a love interest - and learning how to master his new magical water hand which replaced the much cooler hook from the previous series. Oh yeah, and Arthur got a haircut and some new pants too.
After reading the previous paragraph, it may be apparent to you that this series may not be the one that causes all of those fish jokes to disappear. The concept of mirroring Arthur’s plight with that of Arthurian legend may be an interesting one, but it just doesn’t have what it takes to get this series going. Aquaman and Namor from Marvel seem to have three types of stories – the hero king fighting to keep order under the seas, the attack on the surface world epic, or the dethroned king fighting to get his throne back. All of these tales have been told time and time again. Its just isn’t the new territory Aquaman needs to shed all of the bad barnacles that have grown on the character throughout the years.
I was just about to drop the series and write it off as another failed Aquaman attempt, but then issue #4 came along and I’ve decided to swim with it a little longer. The quest to get the throne back is still there, but something new has been added to the mix – something that just may make this series and the character of Aquaman interesting again. It is that weirdness. That cool, kooky weirdness that we’ve seen from Rick Veitch before in his past VERTIGO series. In this issue, Tempest turns Aquaman and himself into carp and takes the dethroned king on a tour of an Atlantis that has changed quite a bit since Arthur’s exile. We follow these two fish-formed heroes through cavernous new cities and around a menagerie of monstrous creatures formed by the ancient magicks that caused all of these problems for Arthur in the first place. Basically, Tempest comes back to Arthur to kick him in the ass and tell him to do his job as a hero, a protector, and as a king. Before you can say THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET, Tempest’s spell is detected by the Atlantean sorcerers, who unleash monstrous barracuda to take care of our fishy heroes. Both Aquaman and Tempest are eaten. We get a tour of a barracuda’s intestinal tract. And then even more weird shit happens.
When I put this book down, I didn’t care that Arthur’s new hand had the power to cancel out magic. I didn’t care that Arthur now felt obligated to save the people of Atlantis. What made me smile and say “Cool!” as I read this comic were those weird moments that I’ve never seen Aquaman in before. And then it came to me. AQUAMAN should be a VERTIGO comic. Tempest suggests that being out of the water for so long may affect Aquaman’s mind. Why not play with it? Why not put Arthur through some seriously David Lynchian, kookified mule shit? Why not push this series to the limit and Arthur to the limits of his own sanity? Veitch could do it. He’s done it before in SWAMP THING. He can do “out there” stories. The ocean is filled with bizarre creatures and dark unknowns. Why not do to Arthur what DC has done to characters like SHADE, SANDMAN, and ANIMAL MAN? Who wants another super hero comic where the hero is interchangeable with any other? By tearing the roof off and seeing where this series could go without the claustrophobic structures of typical super hero books, this AQUAMAN series could actually be something pretty cool.
Lately I’ve been seeing half-fulls instead of half-empties. Hell, I even gave a somewhat positive review of X-TREME X-MEN last week. If AQUAMAN continues down the traditional path, the series will be over by the end of the year. Right now, it just doesn’t have the hook that warrants a successful run. But this issue had some moments that reminded my why I read comics. It didn’t try to take apart what it is to be a hero. It didn’t follow traditional rules or trends. It had some truly weird stuff that I didn’t expect to sea…I mean, see. And I love surprises like that. If Veitch and Co. up the weird ante a bit and forget all of the played-out superhero crap, something cool could be brewing under the surface and those Aquaman jokes could finally swim with the fishes.
WOLVERINE LEGENDS VOL. 2: MELTDOWN (TPB)
Writers: Walter Simonson and Louise Simonson
Havok Art: Jon J. Muth
Wolverine Art: Kent Williams
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by superninja
Y'know, I've waited a long time for this.
Meltdown was one of those unfinished stories for me. Growing up reading comic books, I read whatever Dad read, and he only bought that first issue of the Meltdown series. But that single issue stuck with me, mostly because of the art - photorealism and watercolors with a slight hint of cartoonishness. Wolverine was so damn ugly. Squatty, pink-faced and with goofy hair made even goofier - it was the ugliest rendition of Wolverine I'd ever seen. Havok was a dead ringer for James Dean, and the female Soviet agent they inadvertently kidnapped looked like Melanie Griffith in "Something Wild".
Marvel has finally collected Meltdown as a part of their Wolverine Marvel Legends collection (originally titled Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown #1-4). In retrospect, I'm surprised I'd never hunted it down in the back issue bin. Meltdown has always been in the back of my mind since that single issue. The period in which Meltdown takes place is that interesting time during Soviet "Glasnost", when the Cold War had ended, and Communism was thought to be diminished by the collapse of the USSR ("Goodbye Glasnost, Hello Beijing!")
It's a bit of a nostalgic pleasure to finally read this thing from front to end. Yeah, Wolverine is still that strangely cool-ugly that I recalled. The art is both beautiful and grotesque but always interesting. It's a fun mix of noir and globetrotting adventure. The good guys, Wolverine and Havok, are caught up as pawns in a plot by Soviet dissidents who refuse to watch the mighty USSR fade into the sunset.
The bad guys are deep beneath a Gulag in Russia. General Meltdown (the brawn) has conspired with Dr. Neutron (the brains) to work with Quark (the beauty) to lure Havok into a trap. Gen. Meltdown is a human nuclear reactor waiting to be powered to full capacity. According to the story, they tried it once at Chernobyl, and when that failed went to Plan B. Enter Havok. Their genius machination is to lure Havok, through mindbender tactics, to another nuclear plant in India and have him harness the energies when it starts to go critical and transfer them into Meltdown (who will then, I assume, take over the world). There's just one hitch in their plan: Wolverine is indestructible and Havok is his bud.
At its heart, Meltdown is an old-fashioned superhero story about friendship, dressed up like a post-Cold War thriller. Not that there's anything wrong with that - the husband and wife team of Simonson and Simonson is writing. It's Wolverine's story - and while it's quite predictable as it leads you along, this is the classic Wolverine who could also be a ruthless bastard because he'll do whatever it takes to help someone he really cares about. He's not in it to get laid like the smarmy Wolverine of Ultimate X-Men, and he's not the "I'm the best at what I do" hip clichÃ© that can be found almost everywhere else. He's mean, he's nasty and he'll go through hell and back for a friend.
I'd recommend Meltdown for readers that miss that Wolverine, and want to see an old-fashioned superhero story told with fun sophisticated art.
MAIL ORDER BRIDE (TPB)
reviewed by: Lizzybeth
One of the most unexpectedly exciting reading experiences I’ve had in some time occurred when I picked this book up at random a few weeks ago while browsing the shelves. Reading through the comics in the aisles is, as I’m sure you’re all aware, a big no-no in many shops, so everyone does it on the sly. We sneak around the displays like pickpockets with our thumbs marking the page we scanned last. It’s hard to be sly with a 261 page oversized graphic novel, so I didn’t get away with reading MAIL ORDER BRIDE for too long before the owner not-so-gently suggested that I purchase the book or put it away. The last thing my pocketbook needs this month is another $20 plunked down for a single volume, but by then I’d read too much; I couldn’t put it down. I took this sucker home and read the whole thing at once, forgetting all about meeting my pal for dinner, and by the time I’d turned the last page my head was spinning from the experience. Mind you, the story isn’t a mind-bender with the familiar comic-epic bangs and whistles – its shocks are more subtle than that. The way this story defies your expectations is masterful, and its mid-air conclusion won’t tell you how to think or feel about what you’ve just read. I had a host of contradictory reactions reading the story, from mere interest to delight, to irritation, and finally amazement. It’s a flustering read that bores into your head and demands another look, and another, and another. This is the best graphic novel I’ve read in a long time.
For all that hyperbole, I’m not going to tell you a lot about the story. Part of the pleasure of reading MAIL ORDER BRIDE is not being able to get a fix on where the story is going. It starts out with a simple premise. A lonely man finds an ad for traditional Asian girls and sends for Kyung, a young woman from Korea. The two meet and marry with barely an introduction, and their story takes off from there to places unknown. Is it a mismatched romance story? A woman’s liberation story? A revenge of the repressed comics geek story? This uncertainty frustrated me as I read, filling me with an impatience that kept me racing through the pages. I was particularly worried about the characterization of Monty: with such a marvelous, fully realized female lead character like Kyung it seemed a shame to match her against such a vicious caricature of geekdom, Monty the toy collector/comic store owner, who thanks heaven on his wedding night that he won’t die a virgin after all. But what to make of Monty’s belittling father, his concessions to Kyung’s increasingly demanding attitude, and the bewildering reversal at the end of the volume, where her humiliation is finally made equal to his? More than anything, MAIL ORDER BRIDE is about stereotypes, expectations, and turning them on their heads. Kyung as the title character defies every mental image that phrase conjures up: she is tall, awkward, plainly dressed, opinionated, occasionally sullen, often impulsive, in other words very much her own person. Comparing the reality of Kyung to the fantasy of Monty’s “geisha girl” fetish is a revealing, though over the top, microcosm of the war of the sexes.
And there’s some terrific artwork too. Don’t let the fact that I haven’t mentioned the pencils until paragraph 3 convince you that the artwork takes a backseat. Mark Kalesniko is a wonderfully detailed penciller who can compose a page layout as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. His art has a playfulness, a frank sexuality, and when necessary, a biting satiric edge (particularly when depicting the “traditional” view of Asian women’s sexuality). MAIL ORDER BRIDE is a mature comic book in the best possible sense. While it does include nudity and adult language, what separates a work like this from the adolescent fixations of a mainstream comic is the author’s willingness to present the reader with complex characters, contradictions, and ambiguities. Kalesniko does not shy away from uncomfortable images or unpleasant undersides of human behavior, and approaches them without glossing over the humanity of his memorable characters. And even though that description doesn’t sound like much fun, I assure you the comic is completely enjoyable and engrossing from cover to cover. If you are willing to challenge your own conceptions, of comics and of yourself, I highly encourage you to seek out this book.
Originally published two years ago in 2001, MAIL ORDER BRIDE if not available in your local shop can be ordered from Fantagraphics. Or, let your comics shop do the ordering, and while you’re at it, let them know you’d like them to stock more titles like this. It makes things that much easier for folks like me, who like a few surprises on the shelves.
G.I. JOE: FRONTLINE #5
Writers: Dan Jolley/Drew Johnson
Artist: Drew Johnson
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Like all fans who cherish the comic book medium, I’m ready for the 80’s nostalgia trend to go the way of Friday Night Videos, Patrick Nagel prints, and Corey Feldman’s career. On the other hand, after half-joking in last week’s TalkBack about the fun that could be had with a G.I. JOE/ALIENS crossover, I had to give the latest G.I.JOE: FRONTLINE a look. It’s not quite what I was talking about, as the setting (an arctic research base) more notably references John Carpenter’s genius remake of THE THING, but it’s definitely in the ballpark. Serendipity, baybee.
The story opens with one of the Joe team’s top dogs, Duke, jogging around the base while listening to an all “beach rock” radio station. He shoots a thumbs-up to the jets launching on the nearby airfield, helps the Joe combat instructor demonstrate a move to her students, and jaws with a fellow teammate in the locker room. These character bits reminded me of the lightweight-but-fun camaraderie that was one of the unsung elements of Larry Hama’s original G.I. Joe series, and served to re-establish Duke as the go-to guy who everyone on the team respects. It doesn’t take long for the plot to get up and running, though, as Duke learns that a distress signal was recently received from an arctic research base. The mystery: how the hell can there be a signal coming from a base that Duke himself blew up during one of his black ops missions after the Joe team temporarily disbanded?
Moving at a snappy pace that FRONTLINE’s sister G.I. Joe book lacks, the story has Duke rapidly assembling an insertion team to hit the base and see what’s still alive up there. His mission briefing clues in both the team and the readers on the events of his black ops mission, a Hollywood-style clichÃ© which essentially comes down to an entire squad being slaughtered by out-of-control soldiers genetically altered to survive extreme climates. Yep, genetic research has definitely done for modern genre comics what nuclear power did for superheroes in the 60’s, but this is one of those cases where deft execution redeems an overused concept. I have no idea whether writer Dan Jolley (JSA: THE UNHOLY THREE) was a G.I. JOE fan as a kid, but he’s got the military banter down pat, and, most importantly, infuses the team’s exploration of the ruined base with spine-tingly creepy atmosphere.
Ultra-geek sidebar – Here’s the breakdown of Duke’s team for you hardcore fans who need to know if your favorite character’s gonna bust caps in a mutant by story’s end: Scarlet, Snake-Eyes, Lifeline, Frostbite, and Airtight. The team also uses one of the cooler vehicles from back in the day (and a personal favorite toy), the Snowcat. I know I should be embarrassed by the creeping nostalgia I’ve hit at this point in the review, but just look at that vehicle – it’s got frickin’ missiles that launch on skis! Recognize, sucka!
The artist on the book is a guy name of Drew Johnson, new to me but pretty solid on all fronts. He’s definitely been influenced by Adam Hughes, easy to tell because all the women in the book have distinctively “Hughesian” faces and hair. Of course, there are worse influences to have, and I should mention quickly that Johnson doesn’t go in for any of Hughes’ trademark T & A. Johnson needs a little more time to develop his style and craft, but he’s easily the best of the artists I’ve seen on G.I. JOE since the title moved to Image. Specifically, his storytelling is clean, his characters very individualized, and he draws all the cool military gear (so important to a book like this) with a level of detail that says to me “enthusiastic old-school fan”. I’d be happy to see him return for future arcs.
Final judgment: Okay, this is G.I. JOE we’re talkin’ here, so of course this is only a qualified recommendation if you’ve never been a fan of the series. If you do like the characters, though, especially as depicted by Larry Hama in the 80’s comic, this is a story to pick up. Jolley hits the right characterization notes, puts the team in a suitably novel setting, and even captures some of Hama’s realism with details like the Joes having to shore up the entrance to the ruined base before entering. It’s a low-action issue, serving mostly as set-up, but it’s a suspenseful set-up, and I look forward to some “Game over, man!” chaos when the shit hits the fan next issue.
HIGH ROADS (TPB)
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Leinel Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan
Published by Cliffhanger / Wildstorm / DC
Reviewed by George "Dubya" Bush, filling in for Buzz Maverik
My Fellow Americans, I come to you today not as your President but as a comic book fan interested in the truth. And fairness, also interested in that! It seems that an American comic book reviewer called Buzz Maverik, a minor civil servant not paid by black bag funds from MK-SEARCH, which doesn't exist, didn't believe that Saddam Hussein was a threat to world peace and has gotten himself in a heap of trouble in Iraq. Also, this Maverik is reported to usually be drunker than both my twins combined, so that doesn't help matters much.
Rest assured the United States Armed Forces, the regular guys and not those Black-Ops weirdoes, are searching for Mr. Maverik and will liquidate him as soon as he is located. "Liquidate" meaning "bring him home safely".
So why am I reviewing a trade paperback? When I learned that Saddam Hussein, a man who has spread terror and threatens the world with nuclear and biological weapons, was doing a substitute review for the missing Maverik, I was outraged and disgusted. If I remember right, I might have been disgusted first, then outraged. The order doesn't much matter unless somebody wants to write it down for the history books. No way was I going to let this Evil Dictator review a comic on Ain't-It-Cool-News, the website of one of my fellow Texans, without at least getting equal time.
Last Wednesday, I went down to Capitol Comics and looked around. It was fun to watch the geeks try to act tough around the Secret Service. Finally, I had their entire stock of Yu-Gi-Oh Cards impounded and bought the newly collected HIGH ROADS by Scott Lobdell and Francis Yu, two guys who used to do X-MEN comics long after I quit reading 'em when that feminist guy who wrote the clunky dialogue got fired.
This was a fine and funny little series, set at the end of World War II, a war in which my Daddy was a hero. My father took part in my adventures like the one in this book, in which an American GI, an actor who looks like Hitler's personal version of Mini-Me, a kamikaze (which isn't just my daughters' favorite drink) and an amoral American woman (the likes of which didn't exist in those days, they had decent, all-American sweethearts like my mother!) who was Hitler's secret mistress all team up to steal some all powerful doodad from der Fuehrer. They end up in one of those hidden Nazi bases at the North Pole and save the world. (For the record, the Nazis didn't really have bases at the North Pole. But Saddam does!).
This book offers some great, lighthearted, wacky INDIANA JONES type action with some really funny gags. The art is just right. It's epic and imaginative, although at times it seems a little out of sync with the script, but maybe that's just me. Or they used a Marvel-style script. Anyway, HIGH ROADS is all-American high adventure and high comedy at its best.
One last thing before I go: unlike Saddam, I love the funny and often innovative way these Talkback @$$holes (patriots all) sometimes do their reviews. I would have posted some support of them in last week's TalkBack, but what I wrote somehow ended up under ELSTON GUNN'S WEEKLY RECAP. Go figure. Anyway, those of you complaining about the reviews need to lighten up. Hell, we're on the brink of war, boys! Remember, I like these @$$holes, the IRS will audit anybody I tell 'em to, and I can draft your asses!
PHOENIX VOL.1 : DAWN (TPB)
Writer / Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Reviewed by Cormorant
There are graphic novels out there that are merely good reads, and then there are those graphic novels that are experiences…
I’m talking about those graphic novels that are deep enough (and yes, long enough) that they truly draw you into their world and hit you with a visceral experience the short story format just can’t attain. These are the graphic novels that you can’t put down for a snack break. The graphic novels that move you.
To the preceding list of luminaries, I would add both volumes of the manga, PHOENIX: the previously released “Future” (reviewed here several months ago) and the newest release, “Dawn”. The PHOENIX series, taken as a whole, spans no less than twelve volumes and constitutes the life’s work of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s revered answer to Walt Disney and Jack Kirby in one man. Each volume runs several hundred pages and stands on its own as a complete story, yet all share recurring themes and fundamental questions about the nature of existence, and all share recurring appearances by the fiery Phoenix of legend. On one hand, they’re adventure stories, drawn in a cartoony style similar to Tezuka’s most commercial creation, ASTRO BOY. To characterize them as simple escapist adventure, though, would miss the deeper level on which these stories function.
Where PHOENIX: FUTURE showcased an apocalyptic vision of earth in the 35th century, PHOENIX: DAWN travels back to the earliest history and legends of Japan, circa the 3rd century A.D. The setting is several hundred years before the age of samurai with which many readers are familiar, and beyond one or two hints of samurai designs to the armor, the warlike tribesman of DAWN almost seem to exist in a sort of general fantasy setting. It suits the timeless, allegorical nature of the story, which spans decades and features several lead characters.
Foremost among the characters is a young boy named Nagi, a naturally talented archer from a simple village of warriors. Early in the story, Nagi’s brother dies, burned to death in the lava that surrounds a nearby volcano in which the magical Phoenix makes its nest. The Phoenix’s blood is said to grant immortality, and was sought to cure Nagi’s dying sister, eventually healed naturally by a tribesman who washes up on the shores of Nagi’s village. The stranger has knowledge of herbal remedies unknown to Nagi’s superstitious people, and eventually even marries Nagi’s sister.
Sounds pleasant enough, right? Well, that’s just the prelude to the story, and shortly thereafter is when things get interesting. The stranger, it turns out, is an advance scout for an even more aggressive tribe from a neighboring island, and despite his genuine love for Nagi’s sister, he helps to usher in an brutal invasion, and so begins the first of many violent power struggles that occur throughout the graphic novel. Nagi’s village is slaughtered, save for he, his sister, and the spy who heralded the invasion, and all will play central roles later. The warlord who led the invasion also becomes a key player, as he takes Nagi for his slave in hopes of molding him into a loyal servant to his queen, a vengeful, self-proclaimed magic user. The queen is aging, though, dying of what appears to be breast cancer, and like everyone else, she too seeks the renewal the Phoenix offers. Characters live and die, new allegiances are formed, and grim retribution is occasionally countered by the possibility of redemption. As with PHOENIX: FUTURE, I am struck by the sheer depth of humanity of these larger-than-life characters, all visually designed in the classic, childlike Disney style. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but the mixture of the approachable, cartoony designs and harsh emotional realism is potent indeed. It’ll leave your head spinning when you realize that this stunningly unique paradigm actually dates back to 1967!
Now – there are a few quirks to this blend that detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of this epic, namely a few instances of Warner Brothers’ style humor. Knowing that PHOENIX: DAWN actually predates the previously released PHOENIX: FUTURE, I can see that Tezuka was still finding the balance between appealing to young readers and telling a very serious story. As such, readers may be surprised with a few anachronistic asides (the spy makes a joke about James Bond), by the occasional goofy visual straight out of Popeye (a man clobbers a bear with one punch), and by a handful of incidents of pure, visual slapstick (a wolf attack that must be seen to be believed). These moments broke the dramatic tapestry of the story for me, but on the whole, they comprise no more than 2 or 3% of a 340-page war drama, and I wouldn’t for one second discourage reading the book over them.
Visually, PHOENIX: DAWN is one of the most outstanding achievements I’ve encountered in comics, period. If this is Tezuka’s early work, I can wait with bated breath to see his evolution in future volumes. Character designs are masterful and memorable, the cinematic staging is already completely mature, and there are times when you’ll hit a page of such perfect design that it will all but take your breath away with grandeur: a fleet of hundreds of torch-bearing longboats slicing across the ocean at night, the realistically-rendered and mist-shrouded mountains of Japan, and Tezuka’s detailed and chaotic images of mass warfare. Even as I flip through the book in writing this review, I find myself wanting to sit down and immerse myself its harsh and beautiful world. It’s not a particularly hopeful world, but it’s absolutely enthralling.
Final judgment: PHOENIX: DAWN deals with the great questions of war literature within the somewhat more limited scope of a broad adventure story. WAR & PEACE it’s not, but it still provides a complex look at the nature of power, the inevitability of war, and the great and terrible sacrifices that people will endure simply to survive. Within the context of the surreal world Tezuka creates, allegory stands in for the total realism one might find in, say, Garth Ennis’s WAR STORIES, and while I enjoy both approaches, I prefer the wider appeal of allegory. For manga fans, owning this landmark series is a no-brainer, but I hope that those raised on American comics will give Tezuka’s epic the shot it deserves. It’s a book you’ll find yourself consuming in one sitting, only to have to take a few minutes afterwards just to take it all in, reflect on its brilliant strangeness, and just say, “Wow.”