Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A to Z: I is for Incognito

And now I'm done venting on a comic that isn't nearly as bad as I make out (Pixie, not JLA. That legitimately pissed me off. Pixie is actually a very flawed title that has some decent stuff going for it once you've gotten past all the stuff that pissed me off) it's time to continue A to Z. Before that though I want to thank all the people who contacted me about A Crisis On Infinite Blogs, which is being worked on (occasionally) as we speak and will hopefully exist. With that, let's get past these italics and into the actual letter!

If there's one thing in this realm of heroic comics I don't understand it's the use of those bloody masks that every hero and their mother wears. I'm assured they're called Domino Masks, but as an X-fan I automatically associate the word Domino with a certain X-lady with a diamond over her eyes. And even that aesthetic touch on her would be a smarter and more effective disguise than a bleedin' Domino Mask (note: no it wouldn't). I mean there's the Clark Kent argument that something obscuring your eye area can alter how you appear to people, but C'MON, these are just poor. I'm surprised that all heroes and villains that use these didn't have all their loved ones slaughtered long ago and their identities ousted BECAUSE THEY SHOULDN'T WORK.

Why am I talking about these crappy superhero accessories? Because the series I'm about to talk about (recommended by the wonderful Ryan K Lindsay, of Stinkbrown and now Weekly Crisis fame) has another bleeding character that uses one of those godforsaken tropes on our unfortunate main character. But for once, just this once, it works. Because fuck it, it fits the pulp setting and that's something, right?

Oh, and the comics about a former villain in a stylish tale of heroism and crime. By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. And you need to read it. Because it's Incognito. And it's BRILLIANT.
Another wraparound cover? Oh realm of comics, you do spoil me so!

By now you're acclimatised to the template I attempt to follow here (unless you're new here in what case WHAT THE FUCK?! I CAN GET NEW READERS?!) so I can jump straight into a misguided attempt to explain the comic's plot to you in my incoherent manner. Incognito is the tale of a world where Pulp heroes have existed for AAAAAAAGES,and more specifically of Zack Overkill, former twin villain and at the beginning of our story in the witness protection program and on power-blocking drugs following the death of his brother and giving testimony about The Black Death, a creepy ass motherflipper of a criminal with an origin rooted in a weird meteor thing that made him and two others the first super-powered heroes back in the 1930s.

*inhale* That make any sense? No? Ah well. CONTINUE!

Anyway, after finding himself bored to all sorts of levels of shit Zack starts to experiment in illegal drugs, which interfere with the power-blocking drugs and return his super strength. Taking this as an opportunity to finally experience joy again by going out in a Domino mask (ugh) and being a vigilante (because villainous stuff would REALLY fuck with his parole ya see). Then as per the norm in this sort of tale shit hits the fan and it is discovered by Black Death and his compatriots that Zack is still alive and a manhunt begins. There's also some other stuff to do with a woman with a fucked-up costume fetish, a sub-plot to do with Zack's sole friend and confidant in his new life, and a plot about a lovely filthy woman who never ages and used to shack up with Zack's twin (which is all very weird but very captivating).
These captions and images are going to be hard. I mean I can't show or say too much without spoiling the comic in some way. So just look at them and enjoy the writing and pretty, pretty art.

And that's all there really is to say about this plot-wise (because I'm awful at this). It's not simple in the slightest to an idiot like me but it does everything perfectly and keeps ya coming back to read it again and again. Something that helps this greatly is the tone, which treads a careful line between bitterly dark and tongue in cheek. I suppose that technically makes this a black comedy but I think that'd be a bit much of a push towards 'funny' over 'tongue in cheek'. I mean it's got stuff in it that'll make you smirk and it has an edge of satire to how some elements of the story play out, but it's never in spite of the comic's dignity and that's what really matters, isn't it?

I'm losing track of what I'm saying now (isn't that always the way?) so let's talk about the immensely awesome creative team involved in this. Because that's what you kids like right? Me sucking on the genitals of my Gods? RIGHT?
Propping up a wall at a party. Zack is more like the readership than anyone will ever truly admit.

Ed Brubaker is Ed Brubaker. You know him. The guy who does the rarely anything less than brilliant Captain America, the critically loved Criminal series, Catwoman, some AWESOME Batman material, Books of Doom and my personal favourite of his recent materials, X-Men: Deadly Genesis (mostly because it led to one of the only good Uncanny X-Men stories EVER, Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire). If you can honestly say you haven't read anything by him then you're either missing out big-time or a crazed republican who's only reading this to see if I suddenly break into a teabag related rant. Which I won't, because my tea is usually of the iced variety from Liptons... Wait, what? *ahem* Uh.... derailed myself here. Just gonna go get some Liptons Iced Tea...

... What? A to Z? Really? Okay. Yeah, Ed Brubaker is someone you really should have heard of with a great body of works and some stuff I genuinely love, with this particular title as one of the best he's ever done. Capable of depth and touches beyond what you'd find on the first read through, he has talents that make nearly every single one of his works worth reading twice. His writing of characters is particularly strong here, with everyone having a distinct and notable voice throughout, something that runs across every title of his I've read.

Sean Phillips is another name you should really know, and not just for his frequent collaborations with Brubaker on titles such as this and the Criminal series. No, you should also know him for a decent body of work across 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine, WildC.A.T.S. and of course Marvel Zombies 1 & 2. In fact Sean Phillips is the reason I'm reading comics again, alongside Robert Kirkman (but if pressed I'll always mention Phillips first). Yes that's right, if you go back a year and some you'd find me reading a friend's copy of Marvel Zombies and being absolutely FLOORED by the visuals. It made me want to read more comics, with Marvel Zombie 2 only heightening that want. Without Sean Phillips I would literally not be here today, with some iced tea, writing about how much I love Sean Phillips for pulling me into a world so amazing that I want to be more and more integrated into it every day. This man, as some might say, is the shit. Any praise he gets is well deserved and I will gladly read anything he puts out, and (probably) enjoy it immensely. This is no exception, with art so tantalisingly gorgeous that I actually have to just stop and look at some panels and pages and take it all in. There are many an artist this talented, but only this one who I owe so much to.
No I'm not providing context for this image. Because without it it's infinitely more amazing than the already entertaining reason for him being in a Santa suit.

Of course the talent isn't limited to the comic itself. No, Incognito also happens to feature some excellent articles on pulp heroes by the exceedingly articulate Jess Nevins, whom some of you may well know for doing the unofficial annotations for Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. These articles bring up some classic characters that are worth reading him delve into at length, especially when two of them are Doc Savage and FU MANCHU. They're as notable a part of this series as the actual comic itself and whet the appetite somewhat for his forthcoming Encyclopaedia of Pulp Heroes.

I'm trying to speak as to the quality of this comic but honestly if I say too much I ruin the experience, as can be the case with a lot of plot-heavy comics like this. Rest assured that it's a quality experience and worth the attention of every single one of you and more, as it feels like a truly unique experience that can't be captured anywhere else by anyone else. It has atmosphere up the caboose and every element of the comic comes together almost perfectly. Zack is a very different protagonist/anti-hero sort who you genuinely feel attached too no matter what is revealed about him, his past or anything he does over the course of the story. In fact they continue to add layers to the character that make him the sort of complex character that so many other comics lack. The supporting cast is diverse and captivating and maintain their own elements that make each cast member worth keeping an eye on throughout, as they all show the sort of elements so crucial to decent character work that people should come to expect from comics nowadays (yet are so often denied by the lesser comic books out there).
... Yeah this is basically how all women talk to me too. In fact the only real difference here is that Zack is employed and ripped his car door of his hinges. And isn't fat and bloated.... Okay actually it's VERY different but shut up.

If I've managed to convince you to check out this series in any way then I implore you to get the issues for the bonus Jess Nevins content (which is sadly lacking from the tpb), though if you really prefer to buy trades (as I tend to) you still get some small bonus content in the form of an introduction by Bill Hader. You can probably track down the issues from either your Local Comic Shop or at various online sites, and of course the tpb is on amazon and readily available for you to order once I've finished typing this sentence.

Now I'm off to hide in a corner over my inability to write these articles with any sense of competence and drink more iced tea. Because that's what happens at 1am. I hide and drink tea.

And that's I. What's J?... Oh wait you know it's Robert Kirkman's Jubilee. Shut up. Read More ..

Sunday, 21 February 2010

A to Z: The Checklist

A to Z checklist:

A: Ambush Bug by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming (done)
B: Bakuman by Takeshi Obata & Tsugumi Ohba (done)
C: Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (done)
D: Dial H for Hero by Jim Mooney, Dave Wood & Others (done)
E: Elephantmen by Richard Starkings & Others (done)
F: Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan by Zeb Wells & Seth Fisher (done)
G: Gintama by Hideaki Sorachi (done)
H: The Hood: Blood From Stones by Kyle Hotz & Brian K. Vaughan (done)
I: Incognito by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (done)
J: Jubilee by Robert Kirkman & Derec Donovan (done)
K: Kinetic by Allan Heinberg, Kelley Puckett & Warren Pleece (done)
L: Lost Girls by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie (DONE)
M: Metal Men by Duncan Rouleau
N: Nomad: Girl Without A World by Sean Mckeever & David Baldeon
O: Othello by Satomi Ikezawa
Q: Quasar by Mark Gruenwald & Others
R: Rookies by Masanori Morita
S: Shaman King by Hiroyuki Takei
T: Thunderbolts by Kurt Busiek
U: Ultimate Muscle by Yudetamago
V: Vengeance of the Moon Knight by Gregg Hurwitz & Others
W: WANTED! by Eiichiro Oda
Y: YuYu Hakusho by Yoshihiro Togashi

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A to Z: H is for (the) Hood: Blood From Stones!

H already?! I'm a madman! we've officially passed the first line of that kid's song about the alphabet! And it's still not very good. As nature intended.

There are some comics that you just plain can't write about without there being the risk of your material becoming a ridiculous hate speech influenced by bias and a great dislike for something involved. Moreso if you're writing about an amazing gem that was glanced at by someone and warped beyond the original image by that specific someone.

So I shall try NOT to reference my dislike for how Brian Michael Bendis warped The Hood for his own needs in the perfect case of 'Square Peg, Round Hole' character utilisation since... ever, and indeed just try to let you all know what an excellent comic this Marvel MAX miniseries is and how well-crafted and captivating the cast and storyline are.

Because this is The Hood: Blood From Stones, and if you haven't read it you're CRAZY.

For those of you who don't know, The Hood: Blood From Stones was a 6-issue MAX miniseries that turned the super-human origin story on its head, giving a no-good scumbag (likeable though he may well be) who admires supervillains powers through unusual circumstances and watching him decide that with great power comes great opportunity to be an excellent criminal.

Actually that's an incredibly vague way of explaining this story, let's try that again. Parker Robbins is the son of a small-time crook who worked for the Kingpin and died. His mother is in a vegetative state, he cheats on his wife with a hooker and he has a child on the way. Oh and he admires supervillains and the amount of women they pull with their bad boy antics. One night his cousin and best friend John King convinces him to help steal what he's been told are valuable good in a warehouse. Of course that isn't the case, as it turns out to be a warehouse with a freakish demon in it. One that Parker supposedly shoots dead to protect his cousin. Taking the demon's hooded cloak and chunky boots as some sort of recompense for the bust being less than lucrative and moves on. He lives a happy life of adultery and nothing interesting ever happens to him again....
This guy's a perfectly reasonable demon to find in your average warehouse late in the night. I mean I have a similar one in my shed, so why not a warehouse?

BUT WAIT! That's not true at all. Later that evening some thugs down an alley and try to steal some shoes off of Parker. In response Parker throws them into the face of his assailants and runs, trying to get the demon's boots on along the way. Once the boots are on he disappears from the thug's sights and into the air. Because as you can probably figure out, these boots are made for flying. Sensing opportunity beckoning he shows John King his awesome boots and learns that the cloak makes him invisible whilst holding his breath (by getting suckerpunched in the stomach by his alcoholic cousin of course). With this revelation of convenient powers in hand they plan to steal some blood diamonds, which leads to all sorts of hell breaking loose involving a cop murder, the Golem and one of my favourite characters in comics, the Constrictor. But to explain all that would not only take too long but also spoil far too much of what is one of the best comics to come out of the largely mediocre Marvel Max line.
I don't really need a joke caption here, the panels really float on their own merits here. *rimshot* Sorry, I'll hit myself.

If that's not enough to make you realise this comic is amazing, it probably helps that this convenient rambling template I use to write these articles follows up the synopsis by explaining what there is to love about the comic.

To say that Brian K. Vaughan is a talented writer is a complete understatement and indeed the full extent of his talent is something obvious to just about any comic fan who's read Runaways, Y: The Last Man, Deus Ex Machina, X-Men Icons: Chamber or indeed this very comic I'm writing about. The man has chops, especially when focused on character development or anything remotely mysterious, making both aspects of his works completely captivating and keeping the reader clinging onto their... wherever they're sitting until he's finished whatever story he's telling. The Hood: Blood From Stones may not be his perfect work, but it easily stands shoulder to shoulder with every other series I've just mentioned in this paragraph.
"Like a character that gets viciously raped by another writer years later?" NO BAD MAX, DROP THE GRUDGE!

Kyle Hotz is really the talent that completes this work and makes it worthy of the highest praise. I can't speak much for his other works, but the art he provided for both Hood miniseries are some of the best pencils I've seen in comics. It's all very animated (a term that doesn't make much sense in what is ostensibly a static medium) and almost cartoony (another term that yadda yadda yadda) whilst still being perfectly suited to what is indisputably a dark as all hell story. In fact considering that the only other work of his that I've read outside of the Hood stuff is Annihilation Conquest: Wraith, another series stooped in darkness, it's probably safe to consider that Hotz is ideally suited to dark, atmospheric works that don't reduce themselves to being purely grim, gritty and visually boring, like so many other dark comic series. Where he truly excels is in his renditions of the Hood in full costume and the supervillains shown within. Constrictor is of course my favourite example of Hotz's artistry, being a character that when drawn right is excellent in his design.
"I mean, Jack here's so human he lost his head completely when he met the Punisher!"... No, that's not a very good joke either...

In fact that's another reason to love this book: the side characters. Choosing who to use in a story like this can define what sort of tone will come across; if you use A-list villains you're either reaching too high or your comic will come across as very assuming, believing the comic deserves such highly popular characters. On the other hand, using Paste-Pot Pete just means you don't even care if your ancillary characters look like jokes. The choices here are nice and simple, obscure(ish) characters that are either classics (Jack O'Lantern) or characters that are middle of the road C-listers (Constrictor, Shocker). It's the sort of angle that suits introducing a new character into the Marvel Universe without it being incredibly forced, like so many failed characters before him. I mean it took years until The Hood came up again, as an anti-hero type in BEYOND! but that's beside the point.
Hopefully I've been showing you the upside(-down) of The Hood.... GOD DAMN IT WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY JOKES TODAY?!

Anyway, I'm having trouble keeping on track. The comic is full of interesting moments (most of which I'm desperately trying not to spoil, as you really have to encounter them yourselves) that have the capacity to blow your socks off. Of course if you don't wear socks often like me you really need to be careful or you'll actually just straight-up lose your feet. Which makes it hard to walk, sure, but at least you'll still be able to sit down with your copy of The Hood: Blood From Stones.

Which you should buy. Now. Oh look a link to where you could buy it. Amazing.

Note: The Hood: Blood From Stones does not in fact blow off your feet, that would be pretty much impossible. But it IS awesome.

Okay that's H. Which is a bit different than the norm but hey hopefully you enjoyed reading it. What's I gonna be? I... ACTUALLY KNOW! It'll be fun and confusing to read when it's out! Read More ..

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Kinda-Sorta Primer: The Great Unknown by Duncan Rouleau

Every now and then there's a series that needs a simple plug. Whether it's something with ailing sales that's truly upsetting to see falter and die or a series that comes out with such ridiculous gaps between issues that it risks dropping out of the comic-reading consciousness before it's even over, as is the case with this comic.

Now usually, as we all know, a comic that comes out infrequently is usually related to horribly unprofessional creative teams or debilitating health issues, but every once in a while it's because the creator has more important obligations to maintain, such as Duncan Rouleau's focus on the television show Ben 10.

But as with all delays this one has come to an end and the series I'm priming you on (as far as I understand the concept) is returning in all its glory in April, and I could NOT be more stoked. This series is a gem of a concept from Rouleau and deserves everyone's attention when issue 3 (of 5) hits the stands. So I've taken it upon myself to fill you in on plot, characters and attractive qualities of the series in the hope you jump on board, at least for the eventual (EVENTUAL being the key word) trade that will one day come out.

So with that allow me to tell you all about THE GREAT UNKNOWN.

... after the jump.

What is The Great Unknown?
A comic full of BRIGHT ideas! AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA! Oh GOD someone please stop me making bad jokes! PLEASE!
A 5-issue miniseries written and illustrated by Duncan Rouleau (Metal Men, Ben 10, The Nightmarist), with two issues out at current, The Great Unknown follows Zach Feld, genius inventor/drunken slacker who, when not inebriated and accusing people of a lesser mental station of sleeping with their sisters, constantly attempts to successfully patent any of his million dollar ideas. The only issue is that someone ALWAYS beats him to the punch, no matter what idea he has. His family all perceive him as a hopeless case, to the extent of trying to stage a televised intervention (which our protagonist attempts to run the hell away from). And then out of the blue a mysterious man comes to him with information on who is stealing his ideas, a mysterious corporation called 'iMind'. A mysterious man he's seen before, back in his days as a college student. It also doesn't help that he discovers iMind is auctioning off his ideas to the highest bidder.

Oh and there's some stuff with his ex-girlfriend who used him as part of a book she wrote because he's an inconsiderate drunken arsehole. But then he's MY sort of inconsiderate drunken arsehole so I can't berate him for THAT.

Who are the characters?
Zachary Feld: Our main character and general charming motherflipper (AHAHAHA I FIT FLIP INTO A NEW WORD!), despite generally being a hopeless layabout with a genius intellect. In fact that intellect is described as basically being able to perceive 100 courses of action and working out which takes the least amount of effort. He's also a repulsive drunk who vomits more oft than not and has poor relationships with his ex and his family, due to his abrasive nature. Currently trying to figure out why and how iMind are stealing his genius ideas.

Zebediah 'lil hitler' Feld: Stumpy older brother of Zach and long-term sufferer of his brother's drunken antics. Has a wife called Julie. Appears to want to help Zach with the whole televised intervention antics, but could it be possible that he bears a grudge against Zach for years of brotherly torment? The nickname 'lil Hitler' doesn't exactly inspire confidence in him either.

Momma and Poppa Feld (as I deign to call them): The parents of Zach and Zeb, who have finally grown tired of their younger sons antics and have called out a cable television show for the sake of an intervention. Which makes them weird arseholes. But are they arseholeish enough to steal their sons ideas to sell at iMind?

Buchiner: Mysterious mustachioed man who revealed to Zach the existence of iMind. Was present back in the days Zach was a teaching assisstant/student at college. Wasn't too pleasant back then and spoke with Zach's professor as to getting Zach onto 'their side' (presumably iMind's). Guilt appears to have caught up with him recently due to his revelation to Zach, but could he really be one of the idea stealers, or just a bidder/client for them on the iMind website? Also, he's dead now.

Penny Lee: Ex-girlfiend of Zach who believes she wasted three years of her life with a lazy fool who is full of unfulfilled promises. Currently a popular author with a book based heavily on how much of an arse Zach is. Probably hasn't stolen any of Zach's ideas, simply because this comic needs a love interest, and there's a sadness to her attitude towards him now. An attitude that also involved getting him thrown out of trendy clubs.

Futurehead: Start-up company by neighbours who just so happen to have the iMind lightbulb in their banner. That's not suspect at all right? Also have a crappy slogan that doubles as their internet password. Probably misdirection, but who knows?

iMind: Evil group that sells stolen ideas on what is essentially their own ebay for intellectual properties. Hate them. SEETHE WITH HATE.

What's there to like about The Great Unknown?

  • The art. Duncan Rouleau is a genuine comics talent, with vibrant art that goes beyond the norm. everything is perfectly laid out and creatively drawn, from weirdly pretty vomit (seriously that stuff is freakishly well drawn) to what has to be the most well-drawn upside-down person I've ever seen. Which is weird praise but seriously, that upside-down Zach is so well drawn that it's replaced Chamber in my banner (something that I'm sure is mildly surprising to anyone who knows me).
  • The writing. It's a complete understatement to call Rouleau's writing on this anything other than incredibly verbose and intricate. Even at its most basic it chock-full of interesting statement after interesting statement, never losing your attention for a second. You seriously cannot find a comic that talks at this length without becoming boring as all hell. THIS is the exception. And maybe Rouleau's Metal Men, but I'm waiting on that to arrive in the mail at the moment.
  • The colours. This really falls under art again but it bears seperate mention. The Great Unknown is largely multiple shade of blue, but the colour theme will change to suit various locales or situations (e.g. red for a flashback, a yellowish-orange for the bar interior at the start of the comic, etc.). It's a little touch that keeps the comic captivating and your eyes gooey with veritable glee.
  • The opening three pages. All comics need a quality opener, and this manages that with a brilliantly scripted scene of Zach giving a helluva speech to his assailants (something that has not yet occurred within the story yet, as Zach uses that point in time to tell us his tale of woe). Heck, just to whet your appetite for the series' return I'll show you those three pages in all their glory:

Cool stuff, ne?

And that's the comic explained to you. It isn't without its flaws, as with any comic. The lettering appears to have more than a few errors, but it's not really the sort of thing that can detract from the enjoyment of the comic. And hey, if Batman & Robin can get away with switching entire character's statements, then a small series like this can misspell a couple of things. You honestly need to check this series out, as enjoyment is guaranteed.

Also worthy of mention but not actually being shown here are the 1-page stories following each issue focusing on History's greatest arseholes. It's another example of how intelligent and witty the series is in everything it tells you.

Hopefully you enjoyed this quick Kinda-Sorta Primer and I'll update again... Soon!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A to Z: G is for Gintama

And my attempts to write at a faster pace continue with the next A to Z entry. Yes, it's another manga, but unlike last time this one actually has volumes out. Though on the note of that last manga, it appears likely that the series will be surfacing in september. Keep an eye out, or else!

(note: all pictures read RIGHT TO LEFT)

It is a pretty widely known fact that I'm a sucker for comedy manga. Mostly the short, punchy 'gag' style manga, but generally if it's a comedy I'll jump onto it, check it out... And usually deride it as crap and not matching up to my standards set by series about such things as an orange-haired recorder-playing psychotic or a sword-wielding heroic knight who teaches homeroom at a school.

Of course there are series that match up to that high level of expectation whilst not being straight-up comedy manga, else I wouldn't be talking about one of them shortly. These tend to mix in what genre-heads like to call slice of life, a concept that is pretty self-explanatory really. The two series that pull this off to perfection are Sket Dance, a series about a support group of students who get up to crazy antics, and Gintama, the series I'm on about today.

A series about Samurai and Aliens.

... Yes. THIS is gonna take a while.

To explain Gintama is one of the most ridiculously hard things ever, which is in itself especially weird as once you've got past the initial premise it's an incredibly easy series to become immersed within. So let's have a crack at it and see how it sounds:

In a world where aliens invaded Edo (Tokyo) back in the Meiji era of Japan, resulting in a world where Samurais are outlawed and aliens rule over us all, a former samurai known as Gintoki Sakata tries to make a living as a freelancer who will literally do any odd-job given to him in an attempt to make his rent. He's joined by a former samurai-in-training Shinpachi Shimura, the incredibly violent teenage alien girl Kagura and the giant adorably vicious space-dog thing Sadaharu. The plots can range anywhere from terrorist plots, to giant cockroach infestations and all the way to heroic panty thieves and doesn't shy away from any possible craziness along the way.

That do for starters? Okay.

To be fair, I'm barely covering the bases here, especially when considering the sheer size of the regular cast throughout the series current 6 year, 32 volume history. It's daunting in scale, but thankfully has the sort of loose long-term plots that mean that a jumping off point is never more than a few volumes away once your wallet starts to weep.

Diving more into the comedy to promote this gem I feel the need to talk about a brilliant early story from the second volume of the series that introduces one of the manga regular cast members in a way you'd probably NEVER see anywhere else. Kondo, the flippin' head of the policing force known as the Shinsengumi, is introduced as a crazy stalker obsessed with Shinpachi's sister because she said she loves hairy arses (or 'butt-afros' in the english release, which is INFINITELY funnier) to him. At her job, which is essentially whoring herself out as a dinner date at a snack bar.
Let it be known: Buddha loved hairy arses too.

Stalking. Because she lied to him and said she loved BUTT. AFROS.

I'm not sure there's anything I can say to really emphasise how funny this chapter of the series is, other than to point out that it escalates to Shinpachi's sister coercing Gintoki (our silver haired main character) into pretending to be her fiancée, all escalating into a duel between Gintoki and Kondo where Gintoki cheats to win by giving Kondo a rigged wooden sword. It's all deliciously insane and it only gets crazier with each volume.
A Bandit of Love! A Gift From Above!... or something? am I funny yet?

If only all sword duels could be this slapstick and unsual. It'd make The Last Samurai nigh-on WATCHABLE!

I could talk up the ongoing serious plot elements of the samurai rebellion against the aliens and the continuing attempts to overthrow the alien empire by former members of said rebellion, but I'd much rather focus on one of the silliest things about the series, and indeed something that requires more explanation than you'd want to hear.

You see the creator, Hideaki Sorachi (who seems to draw himself as a filthy and lazy monkey), went out of his way to give this series a name that would disgust and confuse the Japanese reading public. You see, whilst Gintama is a perfectly innocent name that translates as 'Silver Soul' (in reference to our naturally permed silver-haired protagonist), it sounds an awful lot like the word 'Kintama'.

Which means TESTICLES.

Which is... ya know, a BALLSY move at best, to try and get young teenaged girls to talk about testicles on the trains, just to freak out uptight old people.

This is pretty much like every argument I'VE ever had with and old lady about rent. In that it's fictional.

I feel like I'm selling this series short. Writing about manga as long-running as this provokes the sort of confusion that no amount of bogged-down writing can solve. Which is more my fault than anything, as this series really is a charming, immersive, easy-to-get-into gem, with only a first volume of mild translation issues between it and a perfect English release. Hideaki Sorachi has crafted the sort of manga that will stand the test of time with ease, with peerless writing and an art style that's strangely serious looking for something that's about 70% straight up hilarity. You honestly lose nothing checking this out if you have any interest in manga, and gain so much if you enjoy comedy stylings that are a step more mature than gag-series like Yotsuba& or Pyuu to Fuku! Jaguar (not that you know of the latter but shut up).

If I've managed to provoke even the tiniest amount of interest then I direct you to either search out the series on amazon or to go straight to the Viz Media store to pick up a few volumes. And if you're not sure either way then I implore you to head over to OneManga to check out the online scanlations, which whilst different to the official product, are a nice way to tease the real product (a view that more people should probably take on scanlations).

And that's G. What's H going to be? H...orrible to even ATTEMPT to read? Well you have a tad longer to wait on that, as another post is gonna appear over the next day or two that'll hopefully promote something that deserves your attention. Read More ..

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A to Z: F is for Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan!

I-- I'm back to doing something that people actually appreciate, despite my rambling, impenetrable prose? Not just that, but A to Z is resuming for letters F to J? I can almost hear the sound of progression around here!

If there's any two things that go without saying in comics it is that comics are written and drawn, and rarely by invincible super-computers. In fact most of the time human beings handle these chores. One could almost say... That I'm losing my point here. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that people do comics. Some people that do comics are flippin' SUPER-PEOPLE that lovingly caress my eyes like they're two incredibly valuable yet fragile jewels made out of gunk. Two of these super-people are Zeb Wells and Seth Fisher.

Left to Right: Zeb Wells, Seth Fisher

Zeb Wells is a writing monster, capable of creating things that are fairly standard concepts elevated to the most enthralling levels. Think Mark Millar without the fame, occasional bad material, delayed works, crippling disease or crazily basic ideas no-one else has thought of. No, wait, that sounds negative. The basic truth here is that Zeb Wells is capable of making anything exciting that he writes. From Battlin' Jack Murdock, to Amazing Spider-Man, or even all the way to his brilliant ongoing run on New Mutants, Zeb has never managed to be anything other than the best I could hope for and is up there with my favourite comic book writers of all time. If you haven't read a Zeb Wells title then the book I'm about to tell you about is the place to start. Oh yeah and he's a writer for Robot Chicken or something, but I'm not writing a cyborg poultry journal now, am I?

Seth Fisher is a much more depressing shining star of comicdom, for he was taken long before his time. Dead at 33 after a fall from a seventh story roof, Seth provided art for some of the most enticing and insane-looking comics I've ever read, like the surreal Green Lantern: Willworld, or the peculiarly charming Batman: Snow. His work is unlike anything that comes out from any penciller that currently graces the big three, going for peculiar shapes and constructs alongside swirling creations and off-kilter monsters. This comic I'm about to get to is no exception, being the best of his work that I've seen and something that you have to read at least once in your life.

But then it'd probably help to actually talk about the comic and not just the behemoths who created it. The comic (as you can tell from the title) is Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan, and it is AWESOME.

Note to Comics companies: Wraparound covers are ALWAYS worth doing!

FF/IM: BIJ is as straightforward an idea as you'd imagine, with Iron Man and the Fantastic Four being in Japan against giant monsters and stuff. Whilst that may not sound like an epoch-making fantasy romp, the devil is in the details.... And the execution... And the characterisation... And everything else. It has a sense of scale unlike anything in comics today, humour that's purely insane (issue 2 has a three page moment that's so funny I had to stop reading for a while the first time through) and some truly captivating plot developments, largely relating to the monsters' behaviour and Mole Man's typical minions the Moloids. In fact that latter plot point is the most development that those little nigh-on blind guys have gotten in their long and fruitless history.

If you didn't even crack a smile at this bit there's seriously something wrong with you.

The overall plot summary (yes, I AM having trouble getting some flow going here, aren't I?) is that the Fantastic Four are invited over to Japan to open a museum of monsters and such, years after monster attacks finally ceased in Japan and during a tour of the museum's facilities Tony Stark appears, interested in a merger. Then of course the requisite insanity breaks loose and the monsters go on the rampage. Whilst everyone else is trying to contain the monstrous threat, Reed manages to get his hands on some monster vocal chords from a mummified corpse and communicates with one of the creature using his expanded lung capacity. Which is exactly as insane as you'd imagine.

"Hey Stretcho, look at me! I'm an ever-loving blue-eyed ribbon cutting Thing!"

The creature in question responds, telling Reed of the history of earth's monsters, the effect of the age of marvels on their kind and of a threat that has led to all of these monstrosities being scared to death and rampaging throughout Japan. With that in mind the Fantastic Four, Iron Man (in requisite ski gear ON HIS ARMOUR) and the museum curator (who of course has the natural ability to be as shifty and insane as a flapjack on a buttered piece of bacon-flavoured cake... which is quite shifty and insane) head off to the north pole to find and deal with this looming threat. A threat that turns out to be a massively huge virus-like monster who look unlike ANYTHING I've ever seen, with multiple faces, innards like a crazed maze and fingers larger than entire clusters of skyscrapers. Oh and it tears through the universe and almost obliterates the fourth wall. Oh yeah, the magical words: the fourth wall.

"Hey, Ben! Keep covering my eye-holes and I'll drop your craggy hide in the ocean!"
"Shut up, Shell-head an' fly faster or blah blah blah Aunt Petunia blah!"

The monster isn't the only example of this delightful storytelling device. The layouts play a part in making you remember this is a comic book, with directions and quirky little bits to throw you into it all. Not just that but before the big yellow monstrosity is summoned the crew encounter some two-dimensional entities where you can only see them one way, and see their speech bubbles the other. They make references to 'the next page' and stuff like that, and rather than it seeming like pathetic Deadpool style insanity, it's an intense moment that builds up how awe-inspiring the moments to come are. it's 4th-wall breaking genius on par with Animal Man and Ambush Bug, in that it actually feels like it belongs within the confines of the pages. There's even a moment where Thing freaks out because his arm is ripped off by a break in the page, only to be confused in the next panel as he appears completely fine, away from the tear in their 'universe' that had appeared. It boggles the mind as to how Seth and Zeb pulled off stuff like that without it seeming cheap.

.... I don't have a joke here. I wish I did but I don't. I guess when it comes down to it my jokes fall down FLAT anyway, so why bo-.... OH! I see what I did there!.... *sigh*

Anyway, as the giant (a word that doesn't do this monster justice) yellow all--destroying goofy-looking behemoth begins its doom-laced walk, Sue Richards and Iron Man head inside its body (Sue using a genius move that I'll poke at in a bit). As they ascend to the brain to try and deal with it who else but the master of monsters MOLE MAN appears, looking weirdly slim and riding a flying monster doodad. He tells the rest of the team to join him in heading to Monster Island to aid him and they comply, leading to another shift in the story that is truly awe-inspiring (am I running out of complimentary words?): the Moloids have stopped obeying Mole Man and are preparing themselves with some sort of weird machine for an unknown purpose. One Moloid still stands by Mole Man, which is saddening in that Mole Man doesn't even consider it a person, or even worthy of a name. After showing Reed and co. around the island a shocking discovery is made. One that I'll actually just straight-up SHOW you:

A GIANT SYRINGE! Also this is an example of how great the cutaway art is in the book, showcasing the innards of whatever it's cutting into.

Convenient, isn't it? Turns out the needle will inject the Moloids into the big yellow guy and turn him inside out, something they do very efficiently with the aid of the Human Torch's amazing ability to... Boil water. This defeats the monster who bounds off into space never to be seen again... At least never to be seen again the right way round. All this plus the moment where the last of the moloids are being shot up into the monster, including the one remaining loyal one, leading to Mole Man breaking down in sheer misery, calling out that he had a name for the loyal Moloid: Noah. Weirdly touching in that weirdest of ways. Then blah blah blah awesome ending, everyone is fine that matters and the creative team appear to declare it the end of the series.

There's a ton more little things that I could point out or tell you about the series to assure you of its impeccable quality, but that would ruin far too much of the book for you and remove the joy in finding every little thing about it that makes it worth tracking down. But hopefully from what I've told you about it you'll be able to swallow my statement that THIS is one of the few creative teams that put the Fantastic Four at their finest (and a fun Iron Man too), presenting the sort of epic and quirky story that you'd expect from a series that had such moments as Dr. Doom trying to steal Blackbeard's treasure, The Impossible Man's first appearance and a multiverse of Reed's trying to solve EVERYTHING. I mean there are three writers I equate with excellent Fantastic Four stories at the moment, and they are Stan Lee, Jonathan Hickman and Zeb Wells. And the art is so different in this story and, dare I say it, unique that it fully lives up to what Jack Kirby believed the Kirby Tradition was (to create something different, in case you were wondering).

Not just that, but the attention to little details that make the book more complete help rocket this to the pinnacle of Fantastic Four books, from Iron Man in a wooly hat and goggles to Thing doing a beat'em-up style 99 hit combo on a monster, to a scale image of the big yellow monster's finger, all the way to Sue Richards compressing air into one of the best makeshift costumes possible (and indeed one that allows her to breathe inside the big yellow monster). It's all pitch-perfect use of the format and I can say that all of it was a pleasure to read. It's an incredibly hard miniseries to top and I look forward to anything that betters it in the future.

But listen to me ramble, I'm sure you'd rather I just shut up so you can read something more worthwhile (like the actual TPB), so I'll start wrapping up. The trade itself has a wealth of additional material that I'm not picturing, such as a ton of notes from Seth about changes and details, granting insight into the creative process, and examples of some of Zeb's layouts and how they were transformed into the pages of the actual comic. It's all amazing stuff and a reminder of how much work goes into a comic book. And once you make it all the way to the back you get the best bonus of them all: the Seth-drawn story from Spider-Man Unlimited that apes Jackass, with a bunch of thrill-seeking idiots attempting to imitate heroes in hilarious and immature styles to entertain us all to hilarious effect (it's really worth mentioning the final page of the story that is the funniest way any trade has EVER ended for me, and how it involves silver paint, a parachute and a surfboard).

So I leave you to mull over what I've said on this gem, the best series I've mentioned so far on A to Z, and implore you to track it down and feast on the gooey goodness within. I got it for £9.00 new, so I can only assume that through the power of the internet you can beat that and more. And remember, always follow your Moloid exercise routine!

Work those scrawny limbs you devilish underground thingymadoodles, you!

[Get the trade HERE and check out an interesting little interview Newsarama did with Zeb and Seth HERE]

and that's F. What could G be? G...enerally quite uninteresting?.... Yes. Read More ..