CINDERELLA: FROM FABLETOWN WITH LOVE #1
Writer: Chris Roberson Artists: Shawn McManus Publisher: DC Vertigo Reviewer: Optimous DoucheSpinoffs can be very dangerous ground. For every success like “The Jeffersons,” there’s infinitely more failures like “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “Joey” and “Flo.” Willingham’s take on Grimm’s fairytale characters in a modern day world is rife with limitless possibilities for side story treatment, but thankfully greed has not gotten the better of this creative team and forays outside the main FABLES book have been warranted and added to the overall richness of Willingham’s universe.
While I’ve enjoyed brief flirtations with certain JACK OF FABLES storylines, I could never get fully into it as an on-going series (despite my zealot adoration of FABLES). I don’t fault the existence of the book, I just personally have a low threshold for someone who is perpetually (irony alert) a douche. CINDERELLA, though, is the FABLES spinoff I’ve been waiting for. A cross between a socialite and James Bond, she is a femme fatale that has captured my imagination with story possibilities since her brilliant solo outing in FABLES 71. And the first issue of this six part miniseries far exceeds my earlier unimaginative expectations.
The story and formula are simple, but as with all things FABLES the genius lies in the execution. Set somewhere just after the end of the Great War and prior to the destruction of Fabletown, the time period this tale takes place in was my only real “problem” with the book. After the breathtaking opening atop Big Ben, where we learn that this version of Cinderella is in fact a spy, we are immediately whisked away to a completely intact Fabletown and it’s clearly stated that this all taking place post Great War. Any fan of FABLES knows first-hand that the destruction of Fabletown occurred almost instantly after the end of the Great War. If someone was keeping a careful eye on things (like some middle-aged comic geek whose pen name rhymes with Hippopotamus Smooch), Cindy’s miniseries really only has a week or two to unfold. I have to admit my geek rage started to rise when I thought this was going to be an ongoing series. However, since this a mini, it’s entirely plausible that a week is all that’s necessary. Moving on…
Since there’s only a select few that know of Cindy’s true super spy mandate, her secret identity is appropriately set as a mild mannered shoe store owner. Her sole employee is rightfully disgruntled since he believes Cindy is shirking her shoe store responsibilities to simply gallivant across the globe. While the interchange was brief between Cindy and her slave with a wage, the seeds of a future coup were deeply sowed.
Cindy is given a mission to head towards the Middle East to recover magical items that are being illegally transported into the mundy world from the Fable Homelands. Before heading out, though, she needs to equip herself with allies and gear. Here is where Roberson’s creativity truly shines. Cindy’s gets her “gadgetry” from Fabletown’s very own Q — Frau Totenkinder. However, unlike Q’s freebies to James Bond, Cindy must pay a price for every magical bauble Totenkinder bestows upon her. The only thing we ever learn about the price is that it involves a favor. What the favor is, we don’t know, but it does plant some nice seeds for later mystery.
Cindy’s field agents come in the form of Puss in Boots, played with more than enough snobbery and aristocracy to make me seriously regret the donation I gave to my local animal shelter last week. The ever present surveillance mechanism Jenny Wren steps up to bat to be Cindy’s eye in the sky. I was also a fan of the brief back-story between Jenny and Cindy. It was simple and brief, but it just felt right. And finally and probably the most original of the bunch was the little mouse Dickory, who is able to move between minutes of the clock — that’s super-speed for anyone that requires a translation (or it could be time travel – only time will tell).
While I will always miss Buckingham’s signature artistic panel breaks and margins, McManus does a fine job of penciling within the tonality of this series. For those that will remember Mike Allred’s ill fated turn at guest penciling FABLES after the Great War, yes FABLES does have a tonality and it needs to be adhered to (love you Mike, just not within this universe – more X-STATIX please).
Steeped in back-story, Cindy’s actual mission time is fairly short in this issue, but there’s enough danger set in place to definitely put issue 2 on next month’s pull list. If issue 2 keeps up with the great characterization (a strong independent woman who is not immediately labeled or comes across as a bitch), a great story and some sweet eye candy I can say with certainty I’m in for the long haul of this series.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. "What if the whole world had superpowers? Find out in the pages of Optimous’ original book AVERAGE JOE. Read the first full issue on Optimous’ New Blog and see original sketches by fellow @$$hole Bottleimp. If you are a publisher or can help these guys get AVERAGE JOE up, up, and on the shelves in any way, drop Optimous a line."
DEATHLOK #1 (of 7)
Writer: Charlie Huston Art: Lan Medina Publisher: Marvel Knights Reviewer: Ambush BugWhat's wrong with this comic? Ohhh, my friends, let me count the ways.
Before I get into this, I must say I was really excited to see Deathlok was getting a new lease on life when it was announced at this year's SDCC. The battlefield berserker was always one of my favorites mainly because he looks cool as hell and also because of those awesome issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA he starred in during the eighties. I also liked the 90's version of the character, though the "pacifist in a warrior's body" was somewhat played out and overshadowed by the million and one other half-man/half-machine characters of the time (I'm talking to you ColdBlood, Cable, Death's Head, Digitek, Robocop, Kaine, etc., etc., etc...). A new version of the old character was definitely needed, and since Deathlok showed up as a rampaging killing machine recently in NEW AVENGERS, I was hoping for something interesting with this new incarnation.
What I got out of this first issue was...well, let me just say it was very disappointing.
At play here in this first issue of DEATHLOK (a seven issue series I won't be purchasing the other six of) are some of my least favorite trends in modern comics. First and foremost, someone needs to get a muzzle for writer Charlie Huston. Man, the guy likes to fill each and every panel with gigantic word balloons filled with copious amounts of gab. I'm not talking annoying Bendis-speak filled with repeated sentence fragments and "uhms" and "ohs" and "the hells". I'm talking about tween-girl chatter filling up every panel. This book took twice as long as your normal comic to read, which sometimes I'm grateful for, but here, I'm pissed because with that many word balloons, you'd think you'd get a textured and rich story. No, it's just chatter. You can tell Huston was a prose writer here due to the sheer amount of story reliant on people talking or description reliant on some kind of verbiage. Had Huston embraced the visual medium and maybe let ONE PANEL speak for itself rather than use every inch of this book to hang another descriptor or nonsensical word balloon over, this may have been a somewhat interesting read.
Granted, I know what Huston was going for here. The story is set in the future as battlefield war zones are the next arenas for big time entertainment. The endless chatter, for the most part, comes from a trio of announcers who do color commentary as the generic battlefield firefights take place. Not only is this some of the most uninteresting chatter I've read, it's utterly pointless and redundant as what they are saying either has nothing to do with the action taking place OR it is describing the action taking place. Even outside of the commentator-speak, characters discourse freely to one another in word balloons the size of She-Hulk's sweater-steaks.
On top of a severe case of the talksies, did you notice something about this review so far? Did you notice I didn’t even mention Deathlok?
Well, this book suffers from one of my biggest pet peeves--a peeve I thought was on the down slide in recent history at Marvel, but apparently Huston never got the memo.
Bare with me...(deep breath)...
If the comic says DEATHLOK on the cover...
And has a picture of Deathlok on the cover...
Don't you think Deathlok should show up in the book?
Hell, at the turn of the century (I find it weird to say that), when Marvel was putting out Hulk books sans Hulk and Silver Surfer books where Silver Surfer shows up only on the last page reveal as if it were supposed to be a big surprise for the reader, AT LEAST THEY HAD THE TITLE CHARACTER IN THE BOOK FOR ONE PAGE!!!
Here, nary a page (hell, not even a panel) has Deathlok in it.
Who is the guy at Marvel telling writers this is a good way to do comics? I can see the pitch meeting in Joey the Q’s office right now as if it were a badly written piece of fan fic by a comic book reviewer…
“Come into my office, Huston. Have a seat. I hear you’ve got big ideas for me!”
“Thanks, Mr. Q. I sure do got a good one brewing. Here goes. I’m going to call this book DEATHLOK, but…wait for it…we won’t even see Deathlok until maybe issue two!!!!”
“Hold on just one minute, Huston.” Joey Q reaches for his phone, “Gladys, can you order me a new pair of socks…BECAUSE THEY WERE JUST KNOCKED CLEAN OFF!!! GET THIS MAN ON DEATHLOK, PRONTO-SQUANTO!!!”
“Hot-diggity!!!” shouts Huston in triumph.
It didn’t work with Hulk, it didn’t work with Hawkeye, it didn’t work with Silver Surfer, Devil-Slayer, or the million other title-character-missing first issues I’m forgetting because they were so horribly, horribly bad and not worth the memory space in my brain pan.
Sure there is foreshadowing. Luther Manning is the name of one of the soldiers on the battlefield. But in this issue, hotshot superstar soldier Mike Travers is the star of the book. There is a set up for Deathlok maybe to appear in the final panel of next issue, I guess with Manning and Travers being caught in an explosion, but still, if you're buying this book to...I don't know...maybe see Deathlok, well, my friends, you're going to be sorely disappointed.
What you do get is pretty cool art by Lan Medina. The painterly style is solid and definitely reminds me of Ariel Olivetti's painterly line work in INCREDIBLE HULK. But Medina's art doesn't save this stinker, a throwback to the worst of Marvel in the last ten years. Wanting to like this book, I was doubly disappointed in it once it was in my hands.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over eight years and one of the original @$$holes. Check out his comic book shorts from Cream City Comics’ MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1 on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics and here and here about his latest comic from Bluewater Comics, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1-2. Look for more comics from Bug in 2010 from Bluewater, including VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS WITCHFINDER GENERAL, ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS DEATHSPORT, and the just announced vampire miniseries NANNY & HANK.
Writer: Greg Rucka Artist: Matthew Southworth Publisher: Oni Press Reviewed by Humphrey LeeIf there is anything that STUMPTOWN does, and does well, it is that it reaffirms my more-or-less Gay Man Crush on one Mr. Greg Rucka. There’s something about the detective genre – more on that later – that really just brings out the best the best in him. It really is his sweet spot for character building, as we have been seeing for several months with his run on DETECTIVE COMICS where he as been fleshing out his Batwoman creation. And following in the fine tradition he has set for himself with these types of books and with a strong, female lead, STUMPTOWN is already looking to be another feather in the cap of a man with many well-deserved accolades in his comic writing career.
Now, getting back to that detective genre comment, it seems to me looking around the internet’s comic book haunts, that this book seems to be getting a “yet another noir” book label on it. Firstly, how is that a bad thing, if it were true? There’s maybe, what, a half dozen books comics out there you could label “noir” on the shelves, and somehow this is overkill when there’s literally a hundred standard capes and tights books right next to it? Sometimes I really wonder about comics fans. But, secondly, I don’t get this as a noir book. Within one issue of it riding with our lead, Dex, this comic shows us a bit more of an emotional depth but simultaneous light-heartedness that you don’t normally see in your more hard-boiled detective noir stories. Yes, there is a bit of a hard edge to it, but it doesn’t overwhelm all the other elements that are looking to make this book, and Dex, special.
Dex, short for Dexedrine – and that right there will kind of give an indication of how messed up this girl’s life is – is already a pretty engaging lead. Yes, she’s a bit Jessica Jones, that is a bit of a given, but like I said before already she has shown a bit more emotional stability that Jessica did in her debut. Honestly, Jessica was a bit of a fuck up and a whiner for a good bit of the ALIAS run and it actually kind of annoyed me more than intrigued me for the most part, even though I still really love that particular work. Dex, though, seems to have a lot of turmoil in her life and is brushing it off relatively well. She’s got a gambling problem, which is the lead in to the case that will make up this first arc, she has younger brother with an apparent mental handicap that she has to look after, there seems to be no parents in her life to help her with this (as much help as you could expect from people who would name their child after a narcotic) and on and on. Oh, and she might be a lesbian too. Oh, that Greg Rucka and his lesbians. He gives his leads a taste for the fairer sex more than Judd Winick gives them AIDS. Anyways…
The actual overlaying story itself is a solid one, even if it is a little derivative. Dex has a big gambling debt and she is given a way out by taking on a case: finding a runaway grandchild of her debtors. Along her line of inquiries some very bad men try and threaten her off the case while another very rich and powerful man makes her a counter offer as well. And at some point in it all she gets two bullets put in her Kevlar armored chest. It’s all extremely well-executed of course, but a little conventional. Execution means a damn lot though, and with all the character foibles and whatnot I mentioned above, it makes an excellent overall package and has already made STUMPTOWN one of the titles I am looking forward to reading the most each and hopefully every month. But, speaking of the overall package…
I do not know who Matthew Southworth is, but he reminds me a lot of Michael Lark and that is no way a bad thing. Much as I hate to compare a guy I just got acquainted with to the skills of someone else, it’s the best I have and am rolling with it. There is a great deal of similarity in their styles, though. Lots of darks and shading, lot of detail in the lines but also a bit of sketchiness to them as well. It’s very polished but a little raw at the same time, a great compliment to the story being told as Mr. Lark’s was in the heyday of GOTHAM CENTRAL. Kudos to colorist Lee Louthridge who was able to help made all the black ink on this pop with some really light shades of color. It really puts all the proper emphasis where it needed to be.
STUMPTOWN is another one of those examples of what happens when you let a person with a true gift for a kind of storytelling do just that: tell their story. Just like with Brubaker on CRIMINAL, or Bendis in his prime with POWERS and ALIAS, almost any of the regulars working in the Vertigo imprint, etc., this is a great talent working with other highly talented people completely unfettered, and it is already paying off wonderfully. I am already looking very forward to getting more into the every day life of Dex and how she survives it and her profession. And hopefully the case she is currently working on takes some interesting turns and becomes a little livelier. Not that it isn’t already pretty damn lively to Dex herself, but as far as detective conventions go, it’s a little standard so far. But, as mentioned before, while great execution on even these more fundamental types of stories can go a long way, it’s the overall package that will make me come back each time. And this, this is a book that already has me riding shotgun along with it.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
STARR THE SLAYER #3
Writer: Daniel Way Art: Richard Corben Publisher: Marvel MAX Reviewer: Mr. PastyOriginally created in 1970, STARR THE SLAYER was recently resurrected under the Marvel MAX line of comics. Perhaps it was to give the book an updated, edgier feel. Or perhaps it was to simply cash in on an existing template by peppering the narrative with the word “fuck” every few panels amidst some random beheadings. I’m kind of leaning towards the latter, for no other reason than this story feels like it hasn’t changed a lot since the series was first created. I’m sure STARR was hot in 1970. Then again, so were corduroys.
One of my biggest gripes about this book is the art. Aside from looking like it got peeled off the walls inside a time capsule, it’s just downright ugly. Technically proficient? Of course--it’s Richard Corben. But my first reaction to the antagonist was that he’d been drawn in an overtly racist manner. Even if it wasn’t intentional, the fact that it prompted that kind of response is a detriment to this book. Facial features are exaggerated and deformed, as if jungle pygmies had sprung to life to wreak havoc on hapless villagers. As for STARR himself, he’s not seen much throughout the book, but his eventual appearance is simply disastrous. That whole Johnny Weissmuller look, with the loin cloth and the bare chest – it’s over. It’s been over for a long time. And what’s with the teased blonde hair? Hey kids! Who wants to be an effeminate He-Man for Halloween?
It’s one thing to look silly, as many characters do. It’s another thing to look dated. Unfortunately, STARR is both. The knee-jerk reaction to this book is a comparison to Conan, also debuting for Marvel in 1970. Roy Thomas was a driving force behind both books and what’s ironic is the first run for STARR would have probably fit in better in this day and age than its eventual remake. I know it’s unpopular to criticize someone with Corben’s accolades, especially since his work on HEAVY METAL and MEATLOAF’S BAT OUT OF HELL album are legendary, but I found this to be a rare misstep. Even Michael Jordan missed a buzzer-beater in his career, just as Tiger Woods has missed a tournament winning putt at one time or another.
Not helping matters any is the inconsistency in the dialogue. One panel they’re speaking like ancient prophets, the next panel like THE WARRIORS coming out to play. It’s hard to get into a story like this because it’s all over the map, and that’s frustrating because I was happy with the pacing and enjoyed the depth of the supporting characters. Having said that, this book lives and dies on the merits of its title character -- and he disappoints with his underdeveloped look and the robotic delivery of his dialogue.
Final word: STARR THE SLAYER is based on a series that was created in 1970. That gave Marvel forty years to improve it. Were they successful? Well, let’s just say that if this book had been published in ancient Sparta, it would have been hurled off a cliff with the rest of the uglies.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at here. MMAmania.com. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
DOOM PATROL #4
Writer: Keith Giffen Artists: Justiniano, Livesay METAL MEN Backup Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis Artist: Kevin Maguire Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: SquashuaFucked up my car last week. Backed my Toyota out of the garage and ripped the driver's side mirror clean off. Toyota side-views don't bend backwards, they just break. Dealership would have repaired it for $400, but I lined up my usual mechanic to do it for $250 with an hour's wait time. The part arrived Wednesday, and on the way to the garage, I pass my local comic store, so I picked up the week's stash to read. Only four books this week though, DOOM PATROL among them. Sat my ass down in the garage office to wait for the repair, and expected to finish the books before the hour passed. I was wrong.
It took me forty minutes to read DOOM PATROL.
In a day and age where publishers can get away with charging four bucks for a comic consisting of a single fight scene taking several splash pages with little to no actual content or story progress several issues in a row *cough*NEWAVENGERS*cough*, DOOM PATROL not only delivered an extremely engrossing story requiring no prior knowledge of the team in question, but consumed almost three quarters of an hour of my time. And the story isn't even finished. Oh, no. It continued from a prior issue you didn't even need to read, and continues on to the next issue. And both this issue and the next are “Blackest Night” tie-ins with a "Holy shit, I totally didn't even see that coming even though it was totally telegraphed earlier" end-page gotcha. An engrossing, editorially-mandated tie-in issue with what appears to be true ramifications for the team.
The story is wordy and engrossing; it grabbed not only my attention, but my concentration. And it ties in cleanly with “Blackest Night”, respecting the tie in without selling out. And the art is excellent. What, I wasn't an art major at school; I liked what I saw and you will too. The METAL MEN second feature focused more on a new menace than the featured characters, had some excellent call-backs to the Giffen / DeMatteis JLI run, and was fun enough overall.
DOOM PATROL earned my money this issue, and my loyalty going forward. It'll earn yours too.
Squashua only comes out of the woodwork now and then when he really feels passionate about an issue that you need to know about, or if he's just procrastinating from doing actual work elsewhere. Also his creative writing teacher in high school told him he had to write a few paragraphs a day in order to maintain any sort of a groove. His teacher never indicated to Squashua whether the writing actually had to be good.
THE COMPLETE BATTLEFIELDS Vol. 1 HC
Written by: Garth Ennis Art by: Russ Braun, Peter Snejbjerg, Carlos Ezquerra Published by: Dynamite Entertainment Reviewed by: BaytorWhatever misgivings I might have about the quality of THE BOYS, I know that there’s one arena where Garth Ennis will rarely disappoint and that’s with his excellent war comics. Continuing in the tradition of the WAR STORY series at Vertigo, Ennis is teaming up with some top-notch (if not widely known) artists to bring us three tales in the three theaters of World War II.
On the Eastern Front, he tells the story of a group of courageous female pilots who earned the nickname of “The Night Witches” for their daring bombing raids on German troops while gliding in with antique bi-planes. It’s the sort of story that should be the basis of a major motion picture, regrettably starring Drew Barrymore doing an awful Russian accent, but because the Soviet government did as little as possible to tell the world of their exploits, their contribution remains fairly unknown.
Ennis’ treatment is slightly clunky, as he keeps shifting the focus away from the Russian pilots to a group of German soldiers raping and killing their way across Russia. Eventually the two stories merge to a satisfying (and slightly unexpected) conclusion, but until then you really want to spend more time with the Russians, as the women quickly prove themselves to be more than the novelty act that their male counterparts feared they were. Although the biggest lost opportunity of the story is recounted in the afterword in which Ennis tells of a photo of elderly women, some with so many medals they seem on the verge of toppling over. Still, it plays to his strong suit of war stories by shining a much-deserved spotlight on a little-known aspect of the war.
“Dear Billy” is next up and as I stated in my review of the trade paperback release, I think this is one of the best war stories Ennis has ever penned. For the first time in his writing career, he shifts focus to the Pacific War to tell the story of a nurse who is raped and left for dead. Stories from behind the front are a tricky beast, because no matter how dramatic the tale, it pales by comparison to what is happening on the front. Ennis nimbly side-steps this by never allowing our heroine to wallow in self-pity, a trait that ultimately dooms her, because she is slowly, but surely, turning into something of a monster as she takes out her murderous rage on defenseless Japanese prisoners.
One of my favorite aspects of the story is that Ennis doesn’t attempt to portray the conflict through modern eyes and never attempts to soft-pedal the attitudes or behaviors of the time. Only at the very end does he strike a reconciliatory note and it is that very attitude that finally pushes our heroine over the edge.
Lastly Ennis returns to the Western Front in “The Tankies”, which is the only real disappointment of the bunch. Lacking any real emotional center, it tells the tale of a Churchill tank crew as they race to catch up with the rest of their unit. Lacking any real emotional center, it reads as part buddy movie (will the Cockney & Geordie learn to respect one another?) and part history lecture as Ennis strings together a bunch of real-life anecdotes which tell of the dangers Allied tank crews faced under the might of German tanks.
“Johann’s Tiger” (from the aforementioned WAR STORY anthology) proved that a tanker’s life is fertile ground for a story, but Ennis never does find a proper hook to hang the story on and it ends up being about a bunch of Southern English guys mocking the accent of a Northern English guy for most of its run.
For those of you who bought these three stories in their individual collections, there’s not much in the way of extras in the hard cover. Ennis, as he did in WAR STORY, provides some notes about how these stories came to be and which elements are based on reality and which he made up, while Braun, Snejbjerg, and Ezquerra (who Ennis is quick to point out did the lion’s share of research) provide some of their character sketches. But if you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time passing up a deluxe collection of these (save one) fine stories.
By Keitaro Takahashi Released by Viz Media Reviewer: Scott GreenMy initial impressions of JORMUNGAND rapidly shifted going into the manga. First, I was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of an older audience action title from Viz's strong Signature label. Then, I caught the hints of an irksome, self serious story of a child-assassin. Having read the first volume, I ultimately found JORMUNGAND to be neither what I hoped for, nor what I feared. While I'm not ready to adopt it as a new favorite in a manga genre to which I'm inclined to cling, I did enjoy it more than I thought I might. I developed a genuine affection for some of its sloppiness and spirit, especially in retrospect. However, every refreshing or daring move made by Keitaro Takashi is offset by a move back into familiar territory or undercut by differences in tone or intention that fail to complement each other.
JORMUNGAND originates from the anthology Sunday GX, home to a few other gun blazing works, most notably BLACK LAGOON. Like BLACK LAGOON, this is an adventure concerning colorful people with firearms operating in a lawless zone. The difference is that while BLACK LAGOON declares itself a blustering COMMANDO/RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD 2 80's action movie, with a modern subtext concerning the pathology of its participants slid in underneath, JORMUNGAND is a 00's action flick with its social conscience a super-text rather than a subtext.
The first thing spotted when opening JORMUNGAND is the author's note "my first story is about arms dealers. It's a rather serious topic, but while I draw I'm always smiling and having a lot of fun." Keitaro Takahashi is true to those words. The manga pins itself to the gravity of real issues, then ignores that poignancy in a manner that is more unrestrained than it is irreverent. Humorous digressions are more whim than knowing subversion. Nor is there an apparent awareness of the contradiction between the hang-wringing about armed conflict's human cost, then indulging in military porn, with loving martial expertise, knowing detail on guns, terminology, procedures and so on. Takahashi is in good company in this regard. Hideo Kojima arguably falls victim in his METAL GEAR games - similarly Mamoru Oshii (GHOST IN THE SHELL, PATLABOR, JIN-ROH) both decries militarism and is evidently fascinated by the trappings of military organization. He's just a bit more haphazard in his evocation of "serious topics."
The manga commences with the background of Jonah, a boy orphaned by a "prototype fighter jet and a new type of bomb," employed in a West Asian war. The child soldier turned mercenary embarks on a career of vengeance against the "ones who designed, build and sold the weapons, and the ones who used them." In that pursuit, he signs on with eccentric arms dealer Koko Hekmatya - a rich girl surrounded by exotic mercs, traveling into war zones to make a buck.
Jonah slabs in the "serious topic" note of the manga with an unmoving thud. This is a now standard anime/manga character type: sullen kid who has seen and done too much. As in works like LEON/THE PROFESSIONAL, this works when it is a difficult concept. The anime series NOW AND THEN, HERE AND THERE could be pointed to as an illustration of how soul crushing the notion of a child soldier can be, but if it is just presented rather than developed, familiarity has robbed the idea in and of itself of power.
In contrast to Jonah, the Evangelion's Misato meets the Joker chief of the arms dealing enterprise points to what is more distinctive and successful in JORMUNGAND. Koko is an arms dealer looking to solve the death dealing problem from within. Maybe not the best idea, but one JORMUNGAND makes interesting to watch. While "maverick" might have come out of the last American election with some divisive connotations, this exercise demonstrates some of the magnetism to the personality type.
JORMUNGAND gets there by both trading in and distinctively twisting manga tropes. Koko evokes the "genki" energetic charter model. She might as well have one of those cute little fangs jutting over a lip. She flails, skips, hollers and otherwise acts like a child who has consumed too much sugar. When the character is not barking, growling, or casting a feral eye over underlings and adversaries alike, she's hamming it up - traipsing around in fuzzy slippers or reacting to a shallow scalp wound by wrapping herself in bandages and stalking around like a mummy. Yet, despite her appearance and behavior, Koko is notably older than many of the manga characters in this sort of action story. While her morality is being questioned, its asked "didn't they teach you ethics in your fancy private college?" Her response... "College? ha! I was too busy working the Balkans!"
The manga commenced in 2006. Assuming it takes place around that time and assuming that Koko was involved in the tail end of the Yugoslav Wars, she'd probably be in her mid-late 20's at the youngest, which would make her the "old woman" in plenty of manga.
Regardless of whether or not her mission to reform the arms trade from within is a quixotic task, she proves to be canny, with method to her madness. More than the childish adult supervision in the venture, she proves to be a woman with expertise, authority and purpose. And, with Jonah providing some of the muscle, at least for now, Koko's arms deals and plots are driving the manga.
JORMUNGAND has its own look and feel. In terms of the narrative, the arms deal based stories place the manga into particular territory. They match Koko's personality; planned, and farsighted, but also audacious, and dynamic in their reactions to adversarial counter-moves. I can't say if the manga's going to transition into more long form stories. I wouldn't be surprised if it did. And, maybe it's a function of lack of faith, but I'd prefer it to say with these tight, quick ventures.
In terms of the manga's aesthetic, Takashi gives the manga a rushed look that emanates creative energy. Ferociously jagged lines are more suggestions shaped definitions. The carpet bombed zip tone patterns extend in halos beyond the inked borders. Facial features are shaded over or omitted. Takahashi does not have extemporary judgment in balancing the tones of the manga; that its contrasting elements often weaken each other. The judgment for breaking the rules of manga illustration does seem to be better. The purposefully flawed approach lends JORMUNGAND a quick and rough spirit that is elaborated upon by the impression of fast cut editing. The manga is mostly compressed of large panels that transition from one angle to the next. While most of JORMUNGAND is aspect to aspect, direction to direction cuts, step by step sequences are reservedly used in action scenes like the knife fight in the volume's finale.
I'm not entirely sure that I should accuse JORMUNGAND of being in love with the short hand of manga and its sibling medium, anime, but it certainly does seem to gravitate towards it. Whether it is scenes, such as a group around a dinner table keeling over as result of bad cooking, or designs, such as the post-Evangelion girl with eye patch, familiar touch points are leaned up to establish and develop characters.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over eight years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column every week on AICN.
Ambush Bug here. Times are tough. Don’t I know it. The amount of money in my “Bad Muther Fucker” wallet never seems to match up to the sum total of all of those overpriced books on the stands. So what’s the alternative? Well, there is a magical place where comics are free and this section is dedicated just to that genre of comics. What comics, you may be asking? Why, dot.comics. That’s what comics. Check out these winners of the online webcomic variety.If you’re looking for quality online comics, look no further than DC’s Zuda website, which hosts an online contest every month to pick an online book worthy of publication. Just a few clicks through the site and you will see the variety of talented individuals vying for the top spot. A while back I touted GOLDILOCKE as something pretty damn special and it turns out Zuda fans agreed. This surreal sci fi joint is epic in both story and artistic scope, offering breathtaking imagery and an out of this world storyline. You can check out this fantastic strip on its own website here.
SHOCK, POP, TERROR! Pandora and Nemesis Bane are two fit and foxy chicks just moseying along the bayou like many fit and foxy chicks do. How were they to know that their bouncy little trip would take them face to face with inbred swamp hicks and bog monsters? Luckily they’ve packed the tire iron and the chainsaw. Only a few pages of this one have been released yet on Zuda, but Jean Michael Ringuet offers a fun romp and worth a click or two for fans of light hearted horror such as EVIL DEAD II, BUFFY, and SCOOBY DOO. Check out more from JM Ringuet here at his blog.
MODEL STUDENT by Joe Bowen is not your typical comic strip. You’ve seen the scenario a million times. New kid in town. Trying to fit into a new school. Gaining the attention of teachers, the cute girl, and of course the school bullies. But Kevin is no normal student. He’s trying to be a model student, but doing that is proving tougher than it seems. Not with Kevin’s rage issues. I like this story because it’s kind of like the Hulk without the muscles and the green and the radiation. He’s just a kid with anger problems constantly being tested and pushed to the breaking point. This is a fun story that’ll be running on Zuda through November.
But it’s not just Zuda making cool webcomics these days. The first chapter of Tim Seeley’s COLT NOBLE & THE MEGALORDS just wrapped up and if you had that unposable Battle Cat “action” figure and know what Battle Damaged Skeletor looks like, then this is the strip for you. This strip is funny and fun. It takes everything you loved from THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and gives it a self aware kick to the He-Nuts. I especially love the way the main bad guy keeps ripping on the witch who brought him to life and her horribly messy apartment. This is a great riff on some old toys written by the warped mind behind HACK/SLASH.
BICYCLE COP DAVE doesn’t have too many pages yet, but the few pages that are up on the website are pretty fun. Bicycle Cop Dave wakes up to find a playful and curvy-licious babe in his bed. Thus is the exciting life of Bicycle Cop Dave. So even though there isn’t much content yet, I can comment on the fantastic art by Manoel Magalhaes, whose expressive faces speak volumes. This black and white webseries looks to have a good sense of humor and writer Gary Phillips sure knows how to open a story.