Monday, July 27, 2009

Manga Monday: To Terra...

(Usually I have lots of scanned images to accompany my review, that I scan myself, but Manga releases are smaller than bigger American comics, and it gets harder to scan them without horribly damaging the binding, and since all the comics I review are ones I have spent money on...I don't want them damaged! Sorry guys! Check out the free preview on the To Terra page linked below!)

This Manga Monday is going to cover To Terra..., a Shonen Sci Fi Manga from Shoujo Manga Master Keiko Takemiya. To Terra... is a three volume release from Vertical Inc. Which for my money is one of the best Manga Publishers to date. Each Manga volume they release is handsomely designed, faithfully translated and printed on beautiful paper. They have been releasing a lot of work by Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, and Takemiya's work can stand proud next to any volume of Tezuka's work. She was a pioneer of Manga drawn by women, and was among the first women to actually draw Shoujo comics as we know them.

To Terra... is set in a future world far in space. The human race has surrendered the management of their lives to all powerful telepathic computers, since they had depleted their natural resources and damaged their home planet. Most humans went to space, while the machines and computers stayed on Terra to clean up. Children are created artificially and raised by foster parents on other planets. Around age 14 all children are subjected to a maturity check, where the computers deem them acceptable to move onward to adulthood and make the journey to the mother planet, Terra. If they are not deemed acceptable they are killed. Unacceptable children may have emotional problems, have disabilities, or even have ESP. Children with ESP are eliminated, as they are not human, but MU, a race of physically weak beings who have powerful psychic powers. Humans and the computers try their best to eliminate the MU, but the MU fight on and rescue as many children as they can from the maturity checks, in the hopes that one day they will be strong enough to return to Terra and live there side by side with humans, without the will of the computers. Enter Jomy Marcus Shin, a Human who is rescued by the MU, and is heralded as the new leader of the MU, who possessed strong Psychic abilities and a strong body, unlike most MU. Jomy has to lead the MU against the Humans in his quest to return to Terra, and suffers many hardships along the way.

I don't want to give anything away, so I will keep the description at that, but these volumes are gripping, and are fine examples of how good Manga can be. This is great science fiction. There are robots, other worlds, aliens, space ships battles, cities in space, questions about humanity, technology and all those great things that make a good sci fi story. There are a lot of tense moments here, and characters live and die in terrible battles all the time. It is a gut wrenching work at times, but there are moments of humor throughout, much like how Tezuka would throw in a little joke here and there to relieve tension. The art is nothing short of spectacular, the heavy ink lines, appealing characters and amazingly designed space ships make these volumes a feast for the eyes. My only complaint is that at times the word bubbles are hard to follow, but its nothing too egregious. Being Manga, these volumes are read from right to left, keeping the artwork unflipped. Most of the sound effects go untranslated, but that doesn't really detract from what is going on. Looking at these volumes you can see where Clamp got a lot of their influence, but I feel Takemiya is still the master.

You can find these in comic shops and book stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, and if you do, I would say pick them up! If you like science fiction, buy these! If you like shonen manga, buy these! If you like shoujo Manga...Definitely buy these!!!! If you like comics buy these!!! Vertical Inc. is a great company that needs our support, their manga releases are of a high quality, and the average manga reader doesn't give 2 craps about old manga like this, but it is amazing stuff! The stuff Vertical Inc. puts out is a little more expensive than the usual manga fare, but you get it unflipped, you get titles other companies don't have the balls to release, you get beautiful covers and excellent print quality and paper quality. Check these out!!!!!

Verticals Website

To Terra Page

Check out the free Preview on the To Terra page!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Radioactive Man

Today I will review two issues of Bongo comic's Radioactive Man series. Radioactive man is a fictional comic book character from the Simpsons, and I will assume everyone knows what the Simpsons is. The issues I will be reviewing are issues number 412(Steve Vance Script-Layouts Bill Morrison finished art, Tim Bavington Additional Inks, Cindy Vance, Colors and Matt Groening as "spin doctor"), and issue number 88(Steve Vance, script/pencils, Bill Morrison co-plot/finished art, Cindy Vance co-plot/colors). Now, the comic hasn't really been released for 412 issues mind you, the limited series was released "out of order", I guess to poke fun at Super hero books that run for hundred upon hundreds of issues. The whole series is a loving swipe at superhero comics, and it is very enjoyable, to my surprise.
Radioactive Man is really Claude Kane, who somehow had a lightning bolt stuck in his head. In his secret identity form he must always wear a hat to hide the lightning bolt. His partner, Fallout Boy (Rod Runtledge) is a Peter Parker/Robin type character, who has an Aunt and is a bit of a wiener. They also are teamed with the Superior Squad, a Justice League-esque super team of heroes.
Each issue is Packed with little tidbits of comic bookish humor, poking fun at the corny style of old comics, but lovingly so. I think everyone involved has a great love of old superhero comics, but also realizes how inherently funny a lot of them are today.
For one thing, they always explain what they are doing, despite the fact that it is a comic book, and we can plainly see what they are doing, just like old Stan Lee comics and the like. Also, many of Radioactive Man's heroic exploits result in big problems, like in the two images above. There is a section in issue number 88 that covers the origin of Fallout boy, which is similar to Peter Parker's.
There is also a section similar to a classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spidey tale, in which he is trapped under a giant piece of machinery. I never read the issue of spider man, but I saw some art and remembered the plot, I thought it was a cool tribute.
The series art is in the Simpson's style, with a little bit of Jack Kirby thrown in, and I think looks pretty sharp overall. I really like the limited color palette, and I think they capture the look of Silver age comics very well. These comics are really funny, and I am sad I don't have the remaining issues. For a comic based off an existing property, I would say these issues are very impressive. In fact these two issues are just good comics! Great, funny stories and writing, great cartoony/comic style art, no ads to speak of really, except for ads for other Bongo books, as well as Hilarious fake comic ads like this one:
So if you like the Simpsons or old super-hero comics or even both, then pick these up! They aren't exactly new, these issues are from 1994, but they are great stuff!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Manga Monday: Eat Man

For the first manga Monday I will review a title released by Viz in June of 1998, Eat Man, by Akihito Yoshitomi. According to wikipedia the manga ran for 19 volumes in japan, but in the US of A we only got what I believe are the first two volumes. I have had these two collections on my shelf since their 1998 initial release, and they have been favorites of mine ever since.

Eat-Man centers around an explorer named Bolt Crank. The world he inhabits is a little hard to describe, like many manga worlds, it is a combination of multiple genres. I would say it is equal parts fantasy, sci-fi, and western. There are air ships, monsters, giant laser weapons, six shooters, mermaids, wizard kings, and robots. Explorers are basically jack of all trades for hire. They take any type of job, from delivery to protection. Usually the jobs taken by explorers are very dangerous, but it doesn't seem to trouble Bolt one bit. The thing about Bolt is he doesn't carry a gun or a sword...but he does carry screws and pieces of metal and machinery around. Not only does he carry this stuff, he also eats it. He is more often than not seen with a screw between his lips. He has chomped the barrel of a gun and caught bullets in his teeth, and has also been know to drink industrial alcohol. All of the items he ingests have a purpose later in the story. For example, the industrial alcohol. after drinking it all up, a monster confronts him and his traveling companions. Bolt takes a match and shoots the alcohol he drank from the tips of his fingers while holding the match, creating an inferno from his finger tips. Any object Bolt dismantles and eats piece by piece, can be re-formed and used as a weapon, and reappears in his hands.

Each tale in these first two volumes of EAT-MAN generally have a similar premise. Bolt is hired to do something, is accompanied by a pretty young woman, who has a secret. During the story the secret is revealed, Bolt uses whatever weapon he has been eating throughout the tale and saves the girl, and we all find out that there is more heart to Bolt than meets the eye, as well as how terrible an opponent Bolt would be if you ever got on his bad side. Bolt seems to be ageless, and the trusted friend of famous explorers and sword smiths. He also shows a degree of clairvoyance it seems, because he always knows exactly what weapon he will need at the end of each tale to defeat the bad guy or solve the conflict. For example, in one tale, Bolt eats a radio at the opening. He is sent by a prince to retrieve a special flower that he must present to his beloved as a marriage proposal. The woman the prince loves accompanies Bolt to retrieve the flower, she does not know that the prince has in fact chosen her to be his bride, and wants to get the flower for him in the hopes that the gesture will change his mind. At the close Bolt gets the flower and saves her from the monster guarding it (the monster actually IS the flower, its a strange story) and pops the radio from his hand, revealing a transmission from the prince that the woman he loves has gone missing, and for anyone having seen her to report to the palace. Did Bolt know that he would need this radio at the end of his adventure, to show the woman that the prince really loves her? Probably not, but in each tale Bolt has a similar gift of foresight.

Interestingly enough, the gimmick doesn't really get old. Bolt is a charming character, and the stories are exciting and creative. How bolt uses his unusual gift in each story is a sight to behold, and brings a smile to my face even today.

The artwork in EAT-MAN is pretty fantastic, the backgrounds and technology all look genuine and convincing, the world building is great here. The character's faces can be a bit cookie cutter, but that is to be expected sometimes in manga. The Author's sense of pacing and action storytelling is really effective, it is an exhilarating joy to read these pages. The stories here are generally light hearted, but get intense when they need to be. It is never too melodramatic, and definitely does not take itself too seriously. It is a cryin' shame that the rest of the series wasn't picked up. I know there is an anime of this that was brought over here, but I haven't seen it. Volume one is up on Amazon dot com...FOR ONE CENT USED!!!! That is more than worth it for this under appreciated gem of manga over here. Volume 2 is also available used one amazon starting at $1.27, still a great deal, although featuring a cover (that i do not like in the least) by American comics legend Jim Lee. CHECK THESE OUT!!!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Long Hiatus/Batman;The collected Adventures volumes 1 and 2

It has been a while, but it is time to get back on the horse. The titles I am going to review today have been on my shelves for quite some time, two trade paperback collections of the DC comics series THE BATMAN ADVENTURES, based on the holiest of comic book animated properties, BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, the cartoon that represents the ultimate version of batman to many fans, including myself. When I think of Batman, the image that is conjured in my head first and foremost is the animated series version, over all of his comic renditions, over Adam West, Micheal Keaton, even Christian Bale. It might be silly to hold the cartoon version in even higher esteem than his comic counter part, but I think that speaks to the quality of the show. Batman the animated series had a great setting, great mood, stellar character designs and actors, a fully orchestrated score, (for the most part) amazing animation, and fairly intelligent scripts for a Children's cartoon.A comic series based on the cartoon show was started, that would use the character designs and general style of the show as inspiration.Volume 1, written by Kelley Puckett, Martin Pasko, pencilled by Ty Templeton and Brad Rader, inked by Rick Burchett, colored by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins, is a great start to a series that many probably thought would be a throw away comic based on a cartoon. All of the art is great, crisp and clean line work in an easily accessible cartoony style, with lots of rich black shapes and exciting compositions. The writing is great, just as snappy as the cartoon, reminiscent of the older comics and movies. There is a good mix of bumbling henchmen, menacing main villains, and wry wit from Bruce Wayne/Batman. This Batman is still dark, but also has a bit of charm to him, some times shown with a slight smirk. I think I like this Batman a bit more than the thin mouthed growler that seems to be popular today.
The stories here feature (in order) The Penguin, Catwoman, and the Joker, followed by the Scarecrow, as well as a Hitchcockian style murder story. The first three issues involve a sweeping plot devised by the Joker, who uses Catwoman and the Penguin to steal some important objects for him, in order to set into motion a master plan to rid himself of Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself. These stories are pretty standard Batman fare, but with good writing, and brilliant panel layout and staging, are carried to the next level of comic story telling.
Following these is a 2 part Scarecrow story, where the citizens of Gotham begin losing the ability to read. The pencils in this 2 parter are done by Brad Rader, and I really like the use of dark shapes and lighting. Rader has a great understanding of anatomy and noir Lighting, and really makes these issues epic in scope. Rader also pencils the last issue in the trade, THE THIRD DOOR, which doesn't involve any of Batman's rouge's gallery, which I find slightly refreshing. The staging and lighting in this issue is nothing short of amazing, and really gives the reader a cinematic vibe while reading.
Volume 2 is written solely by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Mike Parobeck, inked by Rick Burchett, colored by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins. Mike Parobeck is one of my favorite pencillers of all time, and has a very cartoony style to his art. Some of the characters have an almost rubber hose quality to them, he uses his dark shapes well and has an amazing knack for composing action scenes. The stories in volume 2 are much more stand alone, and involve (in order) Killer Croc, Clayface, Rupert Thorne, the Riddler, Manbat, and a tale involving Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.
Much like the show, the stories in volume 2 each play like little epics or films, telling a complete, compact story, packed with tons of action, humor and fun. I think this volume better captures the essence of what the cartoon was going for.
Overall I think these two volumes are a great addition to Batman the animated series, and a good addition to your comics library. They are a good read for kids and adults alike, not too violent or gritty, but not dumb either. The two trades are available used on amazon for about 25 dollars apiece before shipping.