Thursday, 30 September 2010

Manga Focus: Legendz

To say that "collect 'em all" series like Pokémon and Digimon have entirely shaped the way anything is aimed at children is perhaps to make the most obvious statement yet to anyone who's as much as looked at multimedia successes aimed at children in the last decade or so. Of course it stretches further back than those two high points, I mean there were series like Transformers or Marvel's Rom Spaceknight comic series to shill toys to unsuspecting children over the years but it's arguable that Pokémon and Digimon are entirely responsible for today's focus existing, so I'm sticking to my guns on this train of thought.

Turn on your TV. Put on any kid's animé. It was probably made to sell collectable toys. Go to a bookstore, look at kid's manga. It IS there to sell something to the kids. Go to a toystore. THAT is what's being sold to them. It's just how everything works, and I know you're unsurprised. But it leads me to an interesting point about Legendz.

Legendz is a manga made to shill these unique and intriguing virtual pet style pod things to young'uns, we know this to be true. And yet when the manga was licensed for the US nothing was released. To this day, nothing has actually transferred over from Japan. And I don't even know if it was a success over there at that. Basically there's no business reason for this Pokémon clone series to be localised, and yet here it is in its entirety, available from any good bookstore. It boggles the mind to some extent.

But then I take a look inside the books and I get it. Who cares about whether it's selling goods to impressionable youngsters? It's good all-ages reading with art that blows the reader away and that is ALL that matters in the long run, isn't it.

So let's all hit that magical jump thing I include in these articles so you can read me worshipping the very pages the series is printed on or some such, shall we?


What Is It?: Legendz is a 4-volume manga series based on a toy range. Released by Monthly Shonen Jump and Shueisha in Japan and localised into the english language by Viz Media. It follows hyperactive Shonen generic mold #3, Ken Kazaki as he makes friends easily through the power of friendship and defeats bullies with ease. But that's just dumbing it down. What it actually does is follow Ken Kazaki as he starts as a new school, making friends and a name for himself as a legendary player of Legendz, a tamagotchi style battling game. This draws the attention of his school's best Legendz players, the leader of whom tries to give Ken a mysterious GOLDEN LEGENDZ CRYSTAL! This leads to conflict with increasingly evil groups of people who all want access to this mysterious and powerful tamagotchi thing. Along the way to the conclusion to the series Ken and his friends learn a lot about friendship, whether somthing has to be alive for you to care for it (and whether those items actually ARE alive) and how to have a jolly good time.

What's So Great About It?: As you've probably gathered from my synopsis of the plot it's not gonna be the writing that stands atop its qualities. Series like Beet the Vandel Buster have successfully proven that generic series can have excellent writing in the execution and Legendz certainly has a glimmer of what made its Monthly Jump cohort's genericness enticing, but around the second volume's conclusion it just gives up the ghost, realising that it may as well embrace the generic nature of any collectable, catch 'em all type series and start a slippery slope towards a lackluster conclusion.

No, what completely sells this to me and any other manga fan with sense is the art. Makoto Haruno is an artist without equal. You only have to look at the one-shot Toriya Trip from JUMP SQ II back in 2008 to see this. That's not to say that Haruno is the best artist out there. Far from it. But when it comes to what Haruno excels at, facial expressions, poses, proportions and adorable creature designs... Well, it's hard to imagine someone as perfectly suited to these things.

A simple way of getting this across to those who prefer western comics is to say that Makoto Haruno comes across in his work as a quality equivalent to Kevin Maguire with the sheer strength of the expressions, being realistic whilst looking nothing like real life.

The sheer amount of creatures and characters shoved down your throat over the four volumes is another brilliant aspect of the series. Not a single one feels rushed or poorly designed and stand out as much as the next. There will always be a little design touch or different bit of design to every character on the page that you will honestly never mix up one person or creature with another. And when it comes down to what you'd want from something expecting you to want to buy every buyable thing you see, it's kinda the most important thing.

Is It Worth Buying?: 4 volumes at £5/$8 a pop? For a fun and beautiful series with only some glaring writing flaws to be held against it? Why are you even asking? Seriously, this is a great book to ease you into the Shonen Jump style and has some decent appeal to any people who just plain love great art. It's a nice, easy to complete package and you can't possibly feel ripped off!

So get your derrières over to and order yourself these gorgeous little things, they're out of print and may not be around forever!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Thought Balloons: Update + Renee Montoya pg.4

Oh my GOD! I've been gone a significant portion of time and another Thought Balloons update has rolled around. you'd think I'd have multiple entries to make up for the time between posts but... No. No, I only have one script for you. A script where I killed a character because I'm just not a fan, essentially making me much like any given E-I-C. Whoop.


As usual each script teaches me a valuable lesson, and this one is no exception. I've successfully learnt that if I don't like a character and don't think I can do anything with her flawed, unlikeable arse then frankly I shouldn't force myself to write something. Sure, people are hired all the time to write about characters they may not have a story for, but the basis of things being done through pitches kinda means that if you've got nothing or hate the character, you're not gonna get the job. It's as simple as that.

Also breaking necks Wonder Woman style is AWESOME.

Anyway, onto a character I DO like, to the degree that I took her elseworlds arse and caressed it fondly for what is now 4 out of 12 pages. This is a nice simple stylised wednesday comics style page, providing a simple clothing switch before I dive into the previously alluded to strip club.

... Yeah, so I'm just kind of a huge perv with this story but it's more for the style of the piece than anything. And a love letter to Frank Miller's scripting. So onto Noir As Heck page 4!


Page 4 - 8 Panels

1-- A sillhouetted Renee Montoya is in front of an open cupboard in a dimly lit apartment. the contents of the cupboard are unclear, but on the top of it is a selection of trilbys. As she's currently preparing an outfit Renee is down to her underthings, consisting of incredibly girly, frilly and colourful panties and bra, both of which are fully visible on her silhouette. Also of important note is that if at all possible her hair should be fully outlined on her silhouette.

NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - The Dark Bible has a strict dress code for its patrons, and an even stricter dress code for their employees. And seeing as I'm lacking the necessary fetishes to own my own uniform for that sordid place I'd better get suited and booted.

2-- A shot of Renee's legs as she pulls up some trousers onto her silhouette. The trousers are fully visible, being part of the traditional Question outfit.

3-- A shot of Renee's torso as she buttons a white shirt over her silhouette, tie hanging around the collar, untied.. Whether her bra is slightly visible underneath is purely a matter of whether you feel the colour would show up underneath a white shirt.

4-- Renee is tying her tie on her now done up shirt, with arrows or motion lines indicating her turning and tucking the tie around.

5-- Renee pulling the Question's trademark trilby onto her head, daintily keeping the angle perfect with both of her hands.

6-- Finally we have Renee with the Question's jacket on, doing that thing where you heft your shoulders and shake the collar (man, what is with that thing?). She is now suited. If you're in need of reference for this motion just ask me for some and I shall happily provide.


7-- Renee is now sitting on the bed in this apartment, putting on some loafers.


8-- A full shot of Renee in her full Question gear (sans the mask, which shall not be seen in this story). She's neatly dressed for a night in her seedy location, with no make-up other than some considerably dark lipstick.


NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - It's a strict dress code, all right, but I'll be struck down if it isn't the best for someone as snappy as me. Read More ..

Monday, 27 September 2010



(ah the 90s!)

A to Z: O is for Othello

So it's been a while, and a significant gap in my new schedule. Let's blame it on computer issues and self-loathing and get back on the horse, shall we?

To say that misinformation and ignorance can breed accidental racism or insensitivity is to say something exceedingly obvious. And when it comes to manga there are no end of these groan-worthy moments of cultural distance. Usually these come in the form of how people from foreign countries are represented, most notably America and Africa (doubly so African-Americans, obviously).

If you can catch my gist here, Japan has a HUGE problem in how they usually illustrate black people in manga. More often than not they just look like a horrific caricature, and not out of racism, but purely because most authors just don't realise that the depiction might be a TAD racist. Let's look at one of the more popular examples of this, the Shaman King character Chocolove.This is a relatively early image in that series, so it DOES improve, mind you.

I mean the name alone hints at some small issue, as I'm sure you've noticed, but the huge afro, tribal clothing (he's from New York and at one point was wearing a huge African mask) and large white lips all kinda sit awkwardly as kinda-sorta a bit racist.

But that's the thing. It's not represented as such. In fact Chocolove in that series is one of the more able characters, strong and capable and with a tragic history that's inspired him to want to give good humour to the world at large. It's just that the visual is painfully off (and kinda close to minstrels with the huge white lips). It's just not knowing what you're doing.

Which brings me to today's entry in A to Z. See, this segue is largely unimportant to the manga at large, but I wanted to make a point of acknowledging how awkward it is that a rich girl has a completely subservient black assisstant who doesn't speak so good. It's utterly cringe-worthy and utterly unintentional. The poor speech is because he's not Japanese and doesn't fully speak the language, and the subservience is just how a worker should behave towards their boss in Japanese society. But it rings so awkwardly due to a simple lack of knowledge.

... So yeah. I just wanted to bring up how kinda awkward that is. Now let's talk about Othello.
[WARNING: This review has absolutely NO images of the series in question, because my own scanner and the big bad evil scanlation community have let me down. With that said let's continue, shall we?]

So Othello is a 7 volume series by Satomi Ikegawa that follows the life of Yaya Higuchi, a timid, withdrawn type (something that is basically comics code for "bullied the shit out of") who secretly spends her sundays hanging out with a gothic lolita group (SAFESEARCH ON, PEOPLE!) in secret, the only place where she feels she can truly be herself. But that's really neither here or there. Basically the bullying becomes too much and a childhood persona Yaya calls Nana comes to the rescue, being a brash, no-nonsense polar opposite of Yaya who can deal with the bullies that give her a hard time. And as with ANY story about split personalities Yaya doesn't remember any time she spends as Nana.

Basic set-up, right? Well.... it doesn't really get any more complicated than that for the most part. I mean there's a love conflict between Yaya and Nana of sorts, and more people out to bully poor little Yaya, and even some music related stuff as a central plot point, but really when it comes down to it the series is just an interesting if not simple take on a multiple personality trope spliced with a bit of magical girl tribute.

Oh, that? Yeah, it's kinda interesting. The tool that brings Nana to the fray at first is a magical-girl styled kid's mirror, and Nana herself has very Sailor Moon-esque poses when need be, as well her own catchphrases "HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT" and "JUSTICE IS DONE". Which is kinda awesome in its own awesome way. Not just that, but the idea of someone too weak to fight turning into a powerful version of themselves is kind of the whole crux of the magical girl genre, so there really isn't any denying the connection to the much-loved genre.

So this is where I get into why it's worth reading as part of this 27-part super range of comics. And I gotta say, it's NOT because of the art. Ikezawa's art is very much the typical Shojo art style, in that it's background light and details aren't in the least bit important. Oh and the tones kinda suck complete arse. But if you've been reading Shojo for more than... I don't know, a month? Yeah, a month. If you've been reading Shojo for more than a month you know to expect this and completely ignore it in favour of the story, which is more than satisfactory.

Othello manages to just about dodge becoming saccharine sweet simply by how destestable the antagonists are, or even with how frustrating each situation becomes. It's no Hot Gimmick or I"S when it comes to making you too frustrated with awkwardness and emotions, I mean you can still turn the pages without missing a heartbeat, but it certainly stands out as one of the better titles offered in English.

The most important facet here though is simply this: most quality Shojo series run for about 20-30 volumes, and even the shorter, most brilliant titles like Hot Gimmick run in at 12 volumes. So the fact this clocks in at 7 without feeling the least-bit rushed pays dividends, providing a complete and interesting story without breaking your wallet.

So I implore you to ignore my lack of images in the article, to go to a shop, book exchange, amazon, ebay or even a library, and find this book. Give it a try and you won't be disappointed. And heck even if you are at least you'll... um... hmmm... I'll get back to you on that.

You can find Othello on Amazon (UK) and probably in many a book store, especially as Del Rey's support for manga in the UK is good enough that most of their titles can be found in any decent-sized Waterstones.

And that's O. Next up is P, which is... Classified?! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAA?! Read More ..

Tuesday, 14 September 2010



Monday, 13 September 2010

Lazy Sunday: Beta Ray Bill Rocks Out


Steps to a successful image of awesome:

1. Buy a Beta Ray Bill Marvel Legends.

2. Buy a Transformers Animated Soundwave

3. Give Soundwave's Guitar to Beta Ray Bill

4. Sit back in awe of the wonder before you:


Friday, 10 September 2010

Friday List: Top 10 Awesome Pokémon

Be honest. You love Pokémon. You still play it, and sometimes you feel the need to check out the TV show or card game just to see if they still exist. You moan every time they reveal new Pokémon for upcoming games, but still form new favourites and get excited about the game's release. Deep down you're still that child who played Pokémon for the first time, absolutely entranced by what you saw and what you did. And heck, it warms your heart every time you see a kid experience this crucial part of your history for the first time, becoming as enraptured as you were at their age.

... Okay, I'm projecting a bit. But it's pretty safe to assume that you're like me, one of those people who had their life profoundly affected by an admittedly basic monster training RPG.

So today I'm breaking away from comics (though Pokémon has had, like, a MILLION manga spin-offs and such) to look at the 10 Pokémon that are just so god damn cool when you think about it that you wish they were real. Except the ones that would just kill you. I mean fuck those guys.


#10: Probopass
This dude has facial hair that no man can truly beat. Screw his moveset, strengths, weaknesses, whatever. He wins. Because that EV-trained lv.100 Arceus you love so much or whatever? Does NOT have this fucking Moustache. And it IS capitalised. Just because it's so hardcore. Like the Dad you always wished you had, he has the wisdom that only those who know the true art of Moustache can have. And that's why he's on this list. That and I'm pretty sure his ears are stone bird-heads, which makes your arguments invalid.

#9: Blastoise
Blastoise does NOT fuck around. Every other Pokémon out there is just a creature using its abilities to fight and survive. Not Blastoise. No, Blastoise saw his chance to outshine them all and through the sheer power of evolution grew TWO HUGE FUCKING CANNONS OUT OF ITS BACK PURELY TO KILL A BITCH WITH!! He'll stare you down and hurt you. And sure he's tubby, but you try and burn him and he will SOAK YOU!

#8: Houndoom
Dude's straight-up just a HELLHOUND. I mean Houndoom is a creature of hell, walking amongst the living, burning up their Pikachus. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?! Oh, devil horns and some bones on the outside? Flame breath? If you can find a way to get three of these guys on a shirt with a moon we're ALL gonna be rich, and you know it.

#7: Ledian
Are you a teensy little ladybird? No. Can you punch the shit out of things with your many, many arms? Hell no! Then Ledian owns your arse. Doesn't hurt that it's bloody adorable either.

#6: Hitmonchan
He's SUPPOSED to be Jackie Chan. But Hitmonchan doesn't buy into that. Instead he's decided to just be a boxer. That's right, this Pokémon is so badass that he's defied his very name and decided to just punch dudes in the face. Perhaps even harder than Batman can. Just think about that for a minute.

#5: Hitmonlee
Named after Bruce Lee. Kicks things. That and we can all agree that Bruce Lee is better than Jackie Chan, yes? Good. Because things'd get ugly if you disagreed with this headless freak.

#4: Sharpedo
You know why these reasons are getting smaller. Because the pictures speak for themselves. Observe: THIS POKÉMON IS A FUCKING TORPEDO AND A SHARK. AT THE SAME TIME!

#3: Muk

#2: Honchkrow
Honchkrow is the Godfather. A traditional gangster of a Pokémon, who'll make you offers you can't refuse, or you'll sleep with the fishes. Which, being a crow... He's probably eat. Along with your eyes. So you better recognise, respect and really pay attention to anything this crow does. Or you're in a world of hurt from the big don of the Pokéworld. If he extends his wing towards you, you BETTER take it.

#1: Tropius
Imagine you have your own Dinosaur. Yeah, big enough that you can ride it. Cool, right? Now also imagine that it's a tree, with big shady leaves to chill under, and healthy nutritious bananas growing from its neck. Awesome! AND HEALTHY! Now add in the fact that it can fly! AND THAT IT LOOKS LIKE THE MOST AWESOME THING IN THE WORLD AND THAT NOTHING CAN EVER BE BETTER! You've just imagine Tropius. Look at that son of a bitch. You can't beat that. You want to BE it. And moreso to OWN it. And why wouldn't you? It's just that damn cool. It's so cool that just looking at it makes you want to go high-five someone. Go on, go high five someone. I'll wait for you to come back... Done? Good. Because now you know. Tropius is more awesome than anything EVER.

Manga Focus: Beet The Vandel Buster

Generic isn't always a bad thing, you realise. The implication that a story being by the numbers or conceptually something we've seen a million times before doesn't inherently make it BAD. I mean heck, nearly every single shonen manga churned out from Shueisha in the last two decades has been conceptually the same thing, which is assumed to mostly be King Generic's fault (King Generic in this piece is played by Dragon Ball).

Let's just put the obvious out there as to how 90% of shonen manga are nowadays. First take a naive boy. Now give him a special talent or something he excels at despite other failings. Give him some insurmountable thing to face that can only be beaten through love, friendship and hope. Oh and while you're at it we're gonna need a brooding anti-hero with black hair and an inability to JUST ABOUT reach the heights of the main character, even if he started off being far more talented. Finally the cherry on top, a stubborn girl who despite constantly being annoyed by the main character's actions slowly falls for him, worn down over time. Heck, be adventurous, throw in a side character or two, an old friend who's lost his way, a teacher who has something mysterious about him, and another girl who is far more outgoing and love crazy than the main character's love interest. With larger breasts.

So, what shonen manga have I made there? MOST of them? Yes. Yes, I have. But then almost half the manga that fit this template have a gimmick, a unique selling point that pulls it above the rest. And those, those generic little beauts, are the BEST generic shonen manga out there.

Which brings me to today's focus (yeah it's late, I know), a manga that sounded so generic that I almost passed it up. But it does everything just so... tweaked to perfection, utilising each trope perfectly, that it truly deserves a look from each and every one of you. Even Clive over there in the corner. Yeah, you see him. Glare at the bastard for not already owning this series. The bastard.


What Is It?: Beet the Vandel Buster is a shonen series from Koji Inaba and Riku Sanjo about a young boy in a world of monsters, where humans often choose to stand up to the monsters and their leaders, the Vandels by becoming Busters, warriors of might and magic who are out to make the lives of the humans of the world just that little bit easier in such oppressive times. The young boy (Beet) idolised a group of these "Busters" and one day became one himself to follow in their footsteps. This was admittedly poorly timed, as one of the strongest Vandels in existence attacked Beet's hometown, his heroes the Zenon Warriors attempted to save them all and (SPOILER!) Beet's youthful arrogance almost gets himself killed. For Beet's life to be saved the Zenon warriors (which it turned out was led by Beet's older brother, a fact revealed as they saved Beet's life) they had to give him their Saigas, magical weapons powered by the elements. Without their weapons they fought on, appeared to all be killed, and Beet decided to live on and fight in their memory.

That's the initial premise anyway. From there it became a series about Beet and his "fiancée" Paola building a team of warriors and taking on the strongest Vandels, who begin to target Beet and his team for their slights against them and the promising power within Beet himself.

It is ALSO a series that went on hiatus 4 years ago when the artist Koji Inada fell ill, and has yet to have had even a hint of continuing to this day, leaving the current volume count at 12, with a VERY awkward cut-off point mid-fight. But we'll try to ignore that for the minute, shall we?

What's So Great About It?: I have to heap praise on the characters on display in the series. The humans are pretty much entirely stocks, albeit stock characters done to a fine degree. Beet is the weirdly relaxed/serious when he REALLY needs to be hero with unusual talent and an inability to pay attention to big problems along the way. His ignorance and goofiness are endearing because he can switch just like that into a fighter, ready to do anything to protect the people he cares about. Paola is the standard grumpy love-interest who denies being a love interest, frustrated at how far behind her team-mates she believes herself to be. But of course behind that is a person capable of something great that none of the others on the team can do, with a soft spot in her heart for Beet and a readiness to do crazy things to save the day. That small change is endearing compared to other Shonen heroines, who are usually just left at the 'weaker than everyone else' stage for an eternity or two. Then there's the other team-mates, the most notable of which being Slade, a gruff, miserable looking black-haired ally who hides his caring and respect for someone who he mostly treats as a nuisance and a weaker rival. The stock for this sort of anti-hero type is broken in that he learns to display his respect for others more openly as the series progresses, and even learns his faults and deals with his mistakes over time. It's captivating.

But the REAL stars here are the Vandels, giant demonic humanoid demons, who all have their own personalities and strategies, with different motivations for how they act and an unpredictable element that often shows that when you JUST ABOUT think you know them you're proven wrong. This is something we see most notably with Grineed, the first big-time Vandel Beet & company take on. At first he just seems to be a calm, collected and suave Vandel, intent on taking out any promising Busters before they can become anything more than amateurs. But as the series progresses we see that he's also a calculating, ruthless bastard who plans everything he does to perfection, all to hide that deep down he's a hyper-aggressive and super strong monster whose rage drives away all around him. And this upsets him. It straight up makes him cry out in despair at one point when his true form is revealed to all, showing him for the brute that he is. It's actually one of the more emotional turns in the story, as you emphasise for the enemy who just wants to be more than he was created as. I mean the Vandels don't choose who they are. They're made and they be exactly what they are. And he just didn't want to be that. Which is heart-breaking and a true credit to both the stellar writing and the art.

Oh, the art! I should definitely talk about the art. Koji Inada brought something spectacular to the table with Beet the Vandel Buster, bringing his inimitable style from Dragon Quest: Dai's Great Adventure (which sadly ISN'T out in english) to a new level. The faces were better defined, the proportions felt tighter. And the expressions carried a lot more impact. Again, the main praise here has to go to the Vandels, who all look so different from each other and anything else I've seen that it boggles the mind how he managed to create them. But then I guess with him and Riku Sanjo working together for so long (they both worked on the aforementioned Dragon Quest series for EIGHT YEARS) they'd surely know how to take any crazy thought they'd have and put it down perfectly on paper.

... Wait, so basically I could have just made all this section shorter by saying "WHAT MAKES THIS SERIES SO GREAT?! THE FUCKING VANDELS!"? Bugger.

Is It Worth Buying?: Honestly? Kinda-sorta. If you can live with the fact that there's a 99.9999% chance that the current arc will NEVER finish and that the series is effectively over for good now then yes. Seriously, without the hiatus issue looming over everything this is the dog's bollocks, a perfect example of how you can take something generic in concept and craft a perfect world around it, defying the limitations of the thoroughly stereotypical Shonen genre. And even if you don't care about stuff like that, this is a pretty cool footnote in manga, being a key series for Monthly Shonen Jump when it was around, with a dedicated following and being a decent success at that. And I like to think that maybe, just maybe it'll come back, and those who've experienced it will rocket it to the heights it's always deserved.

That and it's bitching. You can get the current 12 volumes at Amazon (UK) and really, why wouldn't you? Aside from the huge and obvious reason. But as I said earlier, let's just ignore that, shall we?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Thought Balloons: Update + Renee Montoya pg.3

Another week, another entry at Thought Balloons, and as such another update on the blog. This week brought about a character I know not nearly enough about, except that he's Daredevil and I own at least two books about him/his father. Which counts for knowledge, right?

Daredevil - His Worst Enemy

Again, this entry came with a lesson learnt. When trying to be clever with SFX, at least TRY to make them work. I did a little Thought Balloon based in-joke, that whilst a good idea, had a pretty lousy execution. So lesson learnt, sound effects will be thought about far more in the future.

And with that it's time for another page of my 12-page Wednesday Comics size epic! This entry is a bit text heavy, but that's the advantage of trying to utilise a grander space for each page, really. And even then, over-narration? Kinda a noir trope in its own way.



Page 3 - X Panels

1-- Renee Montoya is walking down a dark alleyway in the black of night. In front of her by some distance is an indistinct slumped shadow curled up against a wall, shapeless and slender.

NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - So here I am, on another dark night in another dark alley, looking for some clues about these "Beastly Gentlemen". Hhh. Beasts, she said. I don't know anything about them, but I DO know about a Bat. Seems as good as any a place to begin.

2--Renee is now next to the slumped shadow, who we can now see looks like a withered shadow of Batman, in that the shadow clearly has something that looks like a cape and pointy bat ears. Renee is looking down at the shadow disdainfully, and grabbing a torch from her belt.

NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - I don't even know why I'm doing this. The lady... THAT lady... Is clearly manipulating me somehow. I mean no broad talks like that, do they? To say nothing of what she was... Doing... That was... Where was I?

3-- Renee kicks the Bat-Shadow as hard as she possible can, the shadow's body crumpling around her foot.



4-- Renee has turned on the torch and is waving it at The Bat. The Bat is a crazy looking tramp with overlong canines, a long shawl that looks like a cape, and a mask made out of soggy cardboard. A mask that looks an awful lot like Batman's.



NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - Crazed son of a bitch. Years ago his family were shot down in this very alley. Since then he's been stuck in a deranged state of mind, refusing to leave this godforsaken little alley. Still, he hears things. And if there's one thing a P.I. needs in a city like this it's someone with good ears. Even if he is The Bat. That Bat for Bat$#!t, obviously.

5-- Renee has grabbed The Bat by his shawl and pinned him to wall, leaning in, yelling in his face. She's shouting so hard that spit is flying from her mouth at The Bat.

SPEECH BUBBLE/RENEE MONTOYA - LISTEN! I want to know about some strange men. A group of them. Carouse with a Woman In White, a fake-tanned sort. Beasts, I'm told. DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING?!

6-- The Bat is now responding, horrible green clouds of rotten breath spewing forth from his mouth. He has maybe two teeth in total left in his mouth. Renee is leaning back, cringing, screwing up her face in an attempt to hold her breath.

SPEECH BUBBLE/THE BAT - Ya, I know about the beasties. They a... Uh... 'ligious people. Mus' be. Tha's why they go to... Urp... The Dark Bible! Now LEMME GO!

NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - There has to be a better way than talking to this schmoe, I swear.

7-- Renee throws The Bat back to the ground.


SPEECH BUBBLE/RENEE MONTOYA - Urgh... That'll do Bat. You go back to protecting "your world".

NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - Still, I have a lead. The Dark Bible. It's not a religious place at all, you see. The Bat's confused. It's the most high-class strip joint around here. And it adds a new level of fear to my job. I'd better head straight there...

8-- Renee is now at one end of the alley, with the reader viewing from the other end. The Bat has curled back up against the wall, and Renee's silhouette is being violently sick onto the floor.


NARRATION/RENEE MONTOYA - Right after I've purged this whole experience from my body...

To be continued next week!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010



No, That's me.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A to Z: N is for Nomad: Girl Without A World

Everyone has characters that immediately click with them that, no matter the stories they've been in, just fit so firmly within their hearts that they'll never budge. They're YOUR characters, that you're so invested in that you'll follow them anywhere. They're, frankly, your favourite comic book characters.

Mine are pretty clearly known to anyone fool enough to read this blog for a significant amount of time; Jubilee, Chamber, Connor Hawke (okay NONE of you know that one), Moon Knight and most importantly, Rikki Barnes. Rikki Barnes, former Heroes Reborn Bucky and current Nomad, who currently has the good graces to star in one of the best team books coming out from Marvel as well as the rare pleasure of sharing a book with Captain America.

She's. Just. That. Cool.

Her origin lies in Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld's alternate universe relaunch of Captain America, where through a very slow burn she got wrapped up in a crazy skinhead plot (in an attempt to dissuade her brother from being in said skinhead group), strapped to a missile (as you do) and rescued by the formerly amnesiac Steve Rogers. From there she got about one issue's worth of decent use before Heroes Reborn went kinda tits up and it all ended in a clumsy, painful way.

Now, I'm not exactly a hater of Rob Liefeld (at least not anymore). I mean I LOVE Youngblood and his New Mutants/X-Force stuff is the tits. But Captain America easily had his worst art, and nothing from it should really be seen by anyone. But within that mess was Rikki, a shining element of a young girl trying to be worthy of her rescuer, the gargantuan figure of good that is Captain America. It was a spark too good to be left alone and years and years later, it came back with a vengeance.

See, Loeb & Liefeld hadn't really gotten to finish their story, due to the abrupt end of their run on Captain America, and the havoc that followed for the rest of the title's existence. So ten years after the fact both creators got one more chance to finish the story with Onslaught Reborn, a 5-issue miniseries. The time had been good to both creators, outside of the funk of mainstream 90s comics and having had time to refine their skills. Well, for Liefeld to refine his skills. The art had taken a massive step up, becoming something worthy of the content and proving that Rob wasn't the hack everyone claims him to be to this day (which is basically just a popular internet opinion as a sort of rite of passage dealio, if we're all being honest). Not just that, but the time away seemed to have clicked in the creator's minds. They knew what to do with their story, and who to have as the core character of the miniseries. That's right, Rikki Barnes.

[I know, I know, this is getting VERY long for an introduction to the article, but just bear with me, I'm getting to the actual article. I just wanna boot lick for a minute. If you're tired already just scroll down to that part where I say the title of the comic just above a picture of the comic's cover.]

Rikki led us through a quick journey into the Heroes Reborn universe (restored to existence by Franklin Richards temporarily) and we got to see through her eyes the final conflict of that little-remembered alternate universe, with all the heroes of that land joining together for the final time to protect Franklin Richards (inside his own univerAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH MY BRAIN) from a revived Onslaught, potentially the ultimate enemy the Marvel Multiverse has ever faced. Suffice to say they won, but at a cost. The Heroes Reborn universe was once again gone, taking everyone with it, save our brilliant narrator, Rikki. The reasoning about it was something along the lines of her not existing in the 616, but I'll get to that in the actual review.

Anyway, Rikki survived the event, at just the right time to see that Captain America had been assassinated in the wake of the superhero civil war.

Which is where... THIS all begins. And where I encountered the character for the second time (the first is another tale I'll get to in a future A to Z, but rest assured that it's Thunderbolts). Rikki Barnes got a short story in Captain America 600, in which she interacted briefly with Patriot of the Young Avengers. It wasn't a massive story, but it got me into the character sharpish, by no small means due to the teaser image for her story in the issue, drawn so beautifully by Rafael Albuquerque that I freaked out about it on this very blog. A teaser that got redrawn for the debut issue of Rikki's very own miniseries by Sean Mckeever and David Baldeon. A miniseries that was easily the best thing to come out of 2009 for me.

A miniseries called Nomad: Girl Without A World.
Wait, this image looks remarkably familiar... Wonder where we'd have seen an image almost IDENTICAL to it?

See? Told you I'd do that! Anyway, the plot. It's fairly simple, but be warned, there are spoilers (or at least painfully obvious hints towards spoilerific moments), so... I don't know, look the other way and scroll down for... A while...

So Nomad: GWAW picks up with Rikki a fair bit of time into her new 616 existence, with her having a job, a place to live AND beginning to get an active role going as a superheroine again. Her school life is pretty okay, as she's been clever enough to pick the same school that the 616 version of her brother learns at, allowing her to get some bonding in with a much less insane person than the brother from her world (more on this later). In fact her main task that she's failing to accomplish is managing to meet the new Captain America, James Buchanan Barnes, just so he can know that she exists. She almost succeeds at the start of this story, if only it weren't for Black Widow shooing her away, knowing that the last thing BuckyCap (as he's so delightfully named) needs is to see another Bucky.

So dejected she returns to her school life, where some strange goings on are afoot with the school election. Strange going ons related to Mad Dog, the monstrous member of the secret empire! Needless to say Rikki ends up in an awkward position, getting torn the hell up by Mad Dog and having to make a hasty retreat back to her home. Where a strange gift has been left for her: The Nomad costume.
It's only a double page, but Mad Dog beating on Rikki is impacting. You can really feel that she's getting wrecked with every vicious blow. Not bad for a more traditionally comic art style. All that photo-realism can bugger off.
And that's the first issue. I won't recap any more of it in my usual manner, because it really deserves to be experienced first hand. But there ARE a few moments I wanna talk about. Or one in particular to be sure, and that's the nature of Rikki's 616 family, and the explanation as to why there isn't another Rikki Barnes staring her in the face. See, this world's Rikki died at birth, a tidy excuse if not incredibly depressing. Just through that simple move (And calling herself Rebecca Baines) any chance of her connection to her brother is kept secret. Which in no way completely backfires, drawing brother Barnes a dangerous step towards being just like the Heroes Reborn skinhead. It's actually a little chilling, and a relief in that he never becomes that horrific parallel.

But enough of that. Let's talk about the art a bit, yes? David Baldeon's art style is a healthy mesh of European sensibilities and classic comic book art. It's a refreshing change of pace from the hundreds of artists trying for the most realistic things possible, or the sketchier styles of people like Leinil Yu or Khoi Pham (not that they're bad, they're great). What's more Baldeon doesn't go for cheesecake. Which is a good thing when you think about how this is a mini about a teenager, but even when Black Widow pays her small appearance there's no sense that she's there to titillate some pathetic 45-year old comic reader. Which, when it comes down to it, is what we want ALL comic artists to be like.
This is a particular favourite moment of mine. Here's a healthy teenage girl doing exercises. No ridiculous back stretches, chest thrusts or the like. Just some sweat and effort. Which impresses the hell out of me.

Not just that but Rebecca's new costume is brilliantly designed. It's, dare I say it... SENSIBLE! It's covering, padded, bright yet not ostentatious and most importantly it's functional. The boots and gloves are large, protective items, and her two discs on her chest (easy, now) detach from her outfit to act as throwing weapons a la mini versions of Cap's shield. It's just perfect. Not to mention it's adorable! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE or something.

Finally I should give big ups to Sean McKeever. When it comes to writing teens he's the only one worth calling, and with good reason. Outside of a few poorly received DC storylines, McKeever has been consistently cracking out comics starring teen characters of a ridiculously high calibre for what surely has to be the most successful streak of comic books in recent history. He proves it more than ever here, having a grip on Rikki Barnes' voice from the offset, with nary a misstep on the way to the finish line. Sure she's not the most deep character ever, but this is defining stuff and he. has. DEFINED.

I can't recommend this story enough and wish I wasn't trying to keep to a schedule so I could make this a more coherent and loving piece about the work, with more in-depth looks at the minutiae and the flaws of the piece (occasional duck-mouth, awful t-shirt slogans/logos), but you don't need to know about all of that. All you need to know is that this is one of the best comics of 2009 and does great things without reaching for the stars. Both McKeever and Baldeon are great talents and with any luck will one day helm some sort of super-book that they can use to rocket their characters into the heights of all those long-running 60s characters. Or beyond, as the case SHOULD be.

You can get Nomad: GWAW in the snazzy TPB-GN format over at Amazon (UK) and I heartily encourage you to. Nomad is one of several characters that NEED the support of readers to not drift into obscurity, alongside other members of the new team comic Young Allies (by the same creative team, of course, so buy THAT too) like Arana or Gravity. You really can't go wrong with this mini unless you're a heartless monster.

And you're not. Are you?

And that's N. Next is O, obviously, and a return to manga to write about the slightly controversial matter of racial insensitivity inherent to Japan's isolated society. That and multiple personality disorder creates rock stars, don't you know. Read More ..

Lazy Sunday: My Comics

The updating streak is damaged slightly by there being no list on Friday, but that's okay, there'll be TWO next Friday! AND a new Saturday feature! I spoil all none of you readers, yes?

Anyway, it's another Lazy Sunday, in which I do something that cannot possibly take more than 5 minutes to complete. Last week we had that terrifying picture of Darth Vader with no clothes on and spiky nipples, now we have... MY COMIC BOOKS!

Well, most of them. The shoeboxes are left closed and the Generation X issues are hidden safely away, and you might well only see half of the manga in my cupboards, but it's still a hefty and quick look at what a man with too much time can collect! Let's go!

First there's the box of current issues/boarded collections, which isn't very interes-... The G.I. Joes? What, it's one of my favourite movies!

And then there's a shoebox of random issu-... What? I NEED A BRUSH TO BRUSH MY HAIR! And the Marvel water squirters are awesome.

Oh and then there's the shelf of trade paperbacks. What do you mean you can't see anything? What, because of all the Marvel Legends in the way? BAH!

How about now?

Or even now? That better? Now, this is all kinda small so far, so let's take a peek inside the cupboards, shall we?

Oh, bloody hell...

... It just doesn't stop, does it?

AND there's a second row behind all this. AND some crap in the cupboard. IT JUST DOESN'T END! SAVE ME FROM MYSELF!

*ahem* That concludes out tour of shit Max owns. Goodbye. Read More ..

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Manga Focus: Hot Gimmick

Shojo manga is pretty much the shittiest sub-market of the entire manga industry.

Now, that's a very harsh statement to make of an entire age-group of a core part of a country's societal being, but screw that have you read some of the things being released in the west lately? I mean gosh. Let's have a quick run-through of some series so I can pretend my point is valid, shall we?

First there's the recent series Cactus's Secret. It's about a girl who gives up her crush but then suddenly the crush starts calling her CACTUS because she's all PRICKLY AROUND HIM! HA! Will the crush learn... CACTUS'S SECRET? That's... just terrible. I assume there's some clever english going on here that I'm not aware of too, because I'm fairly sure the possessive of Cactus (as a name) would be Cactus', with no extra S. Which if I'm right makes this title really stupid. Like, dumber than the actual plot.

Then there's series like Black Bird, a series about a SPECIAL GIRL WHO COULD BE YOUUUUUUUUUUUUU who has a UNIQUE POWER THAT MAKES HER OH SO SPECIAL. In this case it's that she's one of a few who can see a special world where magic and myth intersect with reality. But OH NOES SHE GETS ATTACKED, an old childhood friend helps but OH MY GOD HE'S ALSO AFTER HER BECAUSE OF HER SPECIAL TALENTS! BUT MAYBE ROMANCE WILL HAPPEN BETWEEN THESE TWO AND THEIR SADISTIC BLOOD-LICKING WAYS! These sorts of series make me sick, stupid-ass attempts to tell the same story over and over.

But there is SOMETHING in the latter that appeals to me, an element that if used in a competent Shojo series (rarity that they are) would rock my socks off. A sadistic love interest. Heck, I'd love to see a series where a sadistic or cruel love interest whom the main character doesn't initially like grows and becomes something more than the little kid expressing love in an immature manner...

... Wait, that's Hot Gimmick. A brilliant example of Shojo done right. In that it's mostly not incredibly stupid. And it hurts my heart with every plot turn. As I'll try to explain to you in the review, after the jump.


What Is It?(Spoilers): Hot Gimmick is a (brilliant) Shojo manga that ran for 54 chapters, following the romantic misadventures of Hatsumi Narita as she deals with a variety of men, all of which being problematic in their own way. Along the way she must deal with her sister having a pregnancy scare, being blackmailed into some very awkward sexual situations (as a direct result of said scare), almost being gang-raped by a love interest and his friends and dealing with the affections of her adopted older brother... Wait I'm making this sound a lot more fucked up than it is! Um... It's also a brilliant tale of people growing up past their immature natures as children to become adults, find love, discover themselves, or face up to the realities of the situations they come to be in. But really no matter what this story is about the romance that builds between Hatsumi & Ryoki Tachibana, which whilst SO uncomfortable at first (because of the whole blackmail thing and Ryoki's immature and abusive nature) becomes something that truly MATTERS to the reader, demanding the attention and emotions of the reader. But I won't say anymore about that, just in case you don't want ALL the plot beats ruined for you.
What's So Great About It?(SPOILERS): This is a series that knows drama. There isn't a single twist in this series that feels tame. Seriously, you read any twist in this story and your heart is torn right out, thrown on the floor and completely destroyed, all before the story kicks it back up into the air and slams it back to where it belongs. But it's too late by then, your heart is hurt. It can't cope with how emotional this stuff is. And not just that, it feels realistic. Okay, that needs some adjustment. It FEELS realistic, even when it's clearly stuff that would NEVER happen. For example there's the reveal of Azusa Odagiri (another of Hatsumi's love interests) true intentions and the motivation for them. See, turns out he's out to hurt Hatsumi's Father by hurting Hatsumi, because he's convinced that the Father had an affair with his Mother, ruining his life and leading to his Mother's death from ill health. That's a real convoluted plot, but one that is treated in such a manner that you believe that not only COULD it happen, but you can realistically imagine it happening as you read. That's pretty damn impacting.

Still, I can't truly address what makes this series great without dealing with the huge fucking elephant in the room: Hatsumi is abused by Ryoki, the character she stays with. And it's treated like it's acceptable. Now, you and I both know that it is absolutely NOT acceptable, and it reads in a way that absolutely SHOWS it's not acceptable, but it IS shrugged off more often than not. This actually becomes comedic more than once when he goes beyond the acceptable threshold and gets CONSTANTLY INTERRUPTED. But what matters here isn't how horrible Ryoki can behave, but how he grows throughout the story. What was once a horrible and petulant child in the body of a man, a person who doesn't understand how to interact with others correctly because of their... corrupt upbringing. It's a man growing from his nurture to discover who he truly is. And in the end he's still a jerk, sure, but he's no longer horribly abusive in attempts to show affection or in dealing with others. He's just kinda a dick. And if we're honest, isn't that the best any man can aspire to be? It also helps that on more than one occasion along the way he shows that underneath it all is a gentleman, ready to protect the people he cares about. I mean the man saves Hatsumi from Azusa's attempted gangrape situation in an incredibly gallant move. You don't get much better than that deep down, do you?

Oh and the art and writing is brilliant, and representative of what Shojo manga could truly be if given as much love and care as Miki Aihara has clearly put into her work. But I'm sadly running too short on time to delve into that, and sadly have no scans to back up my claim on this occasion.

Is It Worth Buying?: Originally I would have said it depends on how much you want to read this story. It ran at 12 volumes at about $10/£6 a pop, which added up fast. But due to the rare bit of common sense from Viz Media the series recently got re-released in their 'VizBig' format, which is a high-quality 3-volumes-in-one dealio at a much lower price than they would be seperately. So for about $60/£40 you can get one of the western markets best Shojo manga. And you can't say no to that. Unless you're an arsehole. Or, ya know, if I've offended you with my earlier whinging about Shojo.

You can get Hot Gimmick in both its formats on Amazon (UK) and I implore you to at least grab the first vizbig 3-in-1 volume. For your own good.