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Xombi #7 – 11: School of Anguish and Xombi #0

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch and Denys Cowan
Milestone
Rating: Unrated

Following the events of the opening arc, David Kim attempts to return to his normal life. Sadly it seems that fate has other plans as a night out with friends causes him to stumble onto a hit being carried out by a most unusual being; Manuel Dexterity one of the Painful Inscriptions of the cult the Beli Mah. Once more David is drawn into the weird world of the occult and paranormal as his interference brings him to the attention of the Beli Mah.

If the second arc was David Kim’s introduction to the weird, shadow world that exists alongside ours, then the “School of Anguish” arc is all about his denial of this world. From the beginning of the arc until the end David is a reluctant participant in the story, getting involved only out of necessity and his desire to be left alone and to have a normal a life. His reasons for this should be readily apparent to anyone who read the first arc, but his fears are made manifest as he finds himself pulled into the Beli Mah’s plans. While it’s unlikely given the ending of the arc, I’ve always hoped that the Beli Mah might be expanded upon and discussed a bit more at some point as there are several unanswered questions raised during the climatic battle; the exact nature of their leader, Crowne, why everyone’s skin seems to be flakey and so forth. Plus they’re just an interesting group that I can’t help but want to see more of them.

Xombi #0, while published months before the launch of the ongoing series, is effectively a bit of an epilogue to the “School of Anguish” arc, taking place mere minutes after it’s resolution it continues the theme of David Kim’s attempts to deny his role as a weirdness magnet but features what seems to be a fairly key moment in his journey towards accepting his place in the world of the weird. What’s interesting about the issue is that it was also our first introduction to Xombi and it fills the role of an introductory story just as well as fills its role as an epilogue to “School of Anguish” arc, and that’s despite being part of a cross over to boot!

J.J. Birch’s art actually wanes a bit here. While he still does a good job at conveying emotions and mood through the characters’ faces, there’s a few times where things just look odd. At one point there’s a panel where the background perspective just looks… off. There’s also a distinct lack of backgrounds in this arc and that’s always been a bit of a pet peeve for me. Still, he does a great job with the Painful Inscriptions with the Dexterities and Flickering Ed being my favorite of the group. For Xombi #0 Denys Cowan handles the art and does a fantastic job as well. What really stands out in the zero issue though, are the colors. I didn’t mention it in the first review but Xombi featured painted colors by Noelle Giddings. The series is mostly printed on your typical comic paper stock and they look ok, nothing terribly special or outstanding, but in Xombi #0 they printed on a glossy paper stock and look absolutely fantastic.

There’s a lot to like about this arc and I barely touched the surface of some of them. The further fleshing out of some of the series supporting cast, most notably the return of Rabbi Sinnowitz and the nice attention to detail given to his faith and it’s practice. David Kim’s fears being represented physically rather than verbally is another fantastic moment as well. The second arc definitely feels a bit more nightmarish than the first and it does a good job at showing my David wants nothing to do with the supernatural world, while at the same time showing why he has no real choice in the matter.

Xombi #7 – 11: Silent Cathedrals and Xombi #0 were published by Milestone Comics..

Silent Möbius: Complete Edition, Vol. 3

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Silent Möbius: Complete Edition, Vol. 3Silent Möbius: Complete Edition, Vol. 3
By Kia Asamiya
Udon Entertainment, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teens (16 +)

The third volume of Silent Möbius picks up right where the second volume left off. The groups resident psychic, Yuki, has been kidnapped by figures from her past. Just what secrets do they hold about her powers and will she survive? Afterwards Lemia Maverick takes center stage as we get a glimpse into her life and her contribution to the team as a series of cyber attacks threaten to down Tokyo’s entire network.

I think this is probably the most uneven volume of the three so far, but it’s still a very good read. Both Lemia and Yuki’s tale not only give us glimpses into their lives and characters, they also give us some rather interesting looks into the non-magic aspects of the world Silent Möbius inhabits. Experiments in engineering human weapons, the first look at the world’s internet and a glimpse of the subculture’s that surround it all turn up. Unfortunately it’s not all bells and whistles as Yuki’s story didn’t do much to engender sympathy with me. While it does provide for some interesting fight scene’s and has a strong core concept, Yuki comes off as a bit too helpless and pathetic. She’s largely an observer and does little to help herself out of the situation. It’s actually the other ladies of AMP and some figures from her past that end up protecting and saving her. Meanwhile Lemia’s tale, while very interesting, suffers from an abundance of technobabble that feels awkward and can be a tad confusing at times.

That said, Asamiya’s artwork is lovely and both chapters are quite a treat to look at it. The setting’s been gushed over in the past, but it still bares mention again. The city looks fantastic, from the dense crowds on the street, to the abandoned Tokyo Tower and more. Asamiya’s action sequences feel a bit clearer here as well, especially in Yuki’s tale which features a psychic battle full of rampant property destruction. Lemia’s story is heavily dependent on Lemia’s infiltration of a computer network, something that occurs in manner similar to that of Ghost in the Shell with Lemia projecting herself into it. Sadly, unlike Ghost in the Shell, the visual depiction of online/network work is less than breath taking. It’s dark, a bit muddy and seems to rely heavily on random shapes floating about that are meant to represent bits of data. It’s just not terribly interesting to look at and feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Three volumes in and I’m still really enjoying this series. The mixture of sci-fi and supernatural elements gives the series a nice “anything can happen” feel that really clicks with me. That said, it’s been quite a while since this volume came out and outside of a TBA 2011 mention on Udon’s site, there’s no sign of volume four on the horizon. Hopefully there will be news about it soon, but for right now there’s plenty of time to go and grab the three volumes out so you’ll be all caught up whenever the fourth one drops!

Silent Möbius: Complete Edition, Vol. 3 is available now from Udon Entertainment.

Xombi #1 – 6: Silent Cathedrals

February 14, 2011 2 comments

Written by John Rozum, Art by J.J. Birch.
DC/Milestone
Rating: Unrated

Beginning in 1994, Xombi was the story of scientist David Kim as his world of logic, computers and normalcy became intertwined with the shadowy world of the occult, magic and other weirdness. For two years the series gave readers a glimpse into a fantastic world that ran alongside the more traditional superheroics of the Milestone comics line, one comprised of carnivorous clouds, cults, angels, computer ghosts, teleporting frogs and more. While our first glimpse came via a special #0, the regular series kicked off with a six part arc called “Silent Cathedrals” which depicts the events that led to David Kim’s immortality and introduced most of the major supporting cast as well as setting the tone for the entire series.

The story opens in a broom closet as a nun known as Nun of the Above and her sidekick/apprentice Catholic Girl are called to investigate the appearance of a horde of talking frogs known as the Nomatoads. After some suitably ominous and odd moments involving the frogs babbling about where they’ve been and who they’ve been near the scene switches to a more mundane one as the series protagonist finally appears. David Kim is introduced as he walks his new employee and long time friend, Kelly Sandborne, through the details of what they’ll be working on, medical applications for nanotechnology by using it to reconfigure available organic material. Unfortunately things don’t end well and following an attack upon the lab by the bizarre Rustling Husks, homunculi composed of the spirits of insects who died trapped between window panes, Kelly Sandborne makes a desperate attempt to use the nanomachines to heal his wounds. Shortly after David Kim awakes with this wound healed.. only to make the grisly discovery that the raw material utilized in the repair process came from Kelly Sandborne’s body. Accused of murder David Kim flees and finds himself sucked into a world of the weird as he attempts to clear his name and unravel the mystery behind the attack.

If the above didn’t clue you in, weirdness is one of the hallmarks of the series and the first arc is full of it. Creatures like Carnivorous Clouds share page time along side characters like the aforementioned Nun of the Above, Rabbi Sinnowitz and his golems and more. Almost everyone in this arc will appear later in the series, some becoming hugely important and influential in David Kim’s new life. With so many characters and monsters featured perhaps it was almost inevitable that the first five parts end up feeling a plot heavy as David and company move from one encounter with crazy creatures to another as they follow the bread crumbs towards a potential world ending situation. The story barely stops to catch its breath or give us any real insight into the players. This is a bit of a double edged sword as it’s one hell of an entertaining ride, but as the main story ends in the fifth chapter you’re left knowing not much more about David Kim and his allies then you did when it started. Then you get to chapter six, the epilogue, and that changes drastically. In what is easily one of the most talked about issues from the original series, the weirdness, monsters and supernatural threats and evil plots are set aside as David Kim reflects upon the life of his Kelly Sandborne. The entire issue is a journey through his memories of their friendship. It’s a quiet moment that still manages to get me choked up every time I read it, and frankly I think it did more to set the book apart from the grim and gritty 90’s than the five issues before it.

J.J. Birch’s artwork is unique and definitely an acquired taste. There’s an awkwardness to it that’s a bit off putting at first, but one that ultimately works and helps sell the reality of some of the weird creatures and monsters that appear in this arc. I’d love to know just how much details he was given in Rozum’s scripts and how much of it was left to him. He’s also very good a depicting emotions through body language and facial expressions, something that’s good given that the book ultimately isn’t much of a slap, bang action fest, though he handles the few fights we see in this arc fairly well too.

“Silent Cathedrals” is a fast paced, whirlwind tour of the weird and Rozum does a great job at sweeping the reader and David Kim up into it, introducing many of the players who will play into the rest of the series and giving us all the basic information we really need on them. The final installment of the arc shows that he’s not just capable of doing strange and quirky and that series isn’t just about that, but that underneath it all is a human and emotional tale about someone’s who’s life was turned upside down and how he’ll deal with it.

Xombi #1 – 6: Silent Cathedrals was published by Milestone Comics..

Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 23: Scarlet Swords

February 10, 2011 1 comment

Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 23: Scarlet SwordsBlade of the Immortal, Vol. 23: Scarlet Swords
by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse, 224 pp
Rating: 18 +

Another year, another volume of Blade of the Immortal. The pieces that were set up in the previous volume begin to move in what just could be the final act of the series. Habaki Kagimura, the fallen samurai, faces his imminent death but is allowed one last chance at redemption. To this end his elite group of fighters, the Rokki begin to make their move on the remains of the Itto Ryu before that group begins their journey into exile. Add to the mix Manji, Rin and Kagimura’s replacement the devious Hayabusa Ugen and the tale takes on a new complex and deadly permutation.

As stated above this volume really focuses on the beginning of the showdown between Kagimura’s Rokki and the Itto Ryu. The two factions’ first clash was shown in the previous volume and this one steps up the skirmishes a bit more. It’s not all fast paced action though as the once monstrous Kagimura continues to grow into a desperate and sympathetic character who’s now trapped and being crushed by forces he once wielded and controlled. His relationship with his illegitimate daughter continues to be a highlight and gives him some genuine warmth and humanity, something I’d never thought I’d see given his portrayal in the past few volumes. It’s not all heavy, emotional and grim tales though as the two female shinobu, Meguro and Tanobo continue to provide some wonderful comedy throughout the volume.

Samura’s art continues to be some of the best in sequential art today. His combination of dark, heavy thatching with just a spindle of toning for shading and the suggestion of colors results in each panel being a lovely work of art in its own right. Despite the odd flipping and cutting and rearranging of panels, the visual flow still moves wonderfully and his action sequences are lovely, clever and easy to follow. Add to that the interesting new costumes and designs for the Rokki and their Hanya masked henchmen and you’ve got a book that’s a feast for the eyes.

All in all Blade of the Immortal continues to be a fantastic read and the new characters, twists and turns that this volume throws at the reader keeps the anticipation high for future volumes. Easily my favorite series out right now and while it may cost a little bit more than your average volume of manga I have no problem paying it for a quality story that’s held my attention for over a decade.

Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 23 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

Categories: Manga Reviews, Reviews Tags:

Calling You

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Calling YouCalling You
Written by Otsuichi, Art by Miyako Hasami Translated by Agnes Yoshida
Tokyopop, 184 pp
Rating: Teen (13 +)

Calling You is a collection of three short stories from light novel author extraordinaire Otsuichi. Unlike many of the stories in his other collections these are not horror stories and are instead touching, emotional tales of people dealing with loss or painful situations. The book opens with the titular “Calling You” whose plot revolves around a young isolated teen and her imaginary cellphone. The second story, “Kiz/Kids” involves two friends and the painful but miraculous secret they share. “Flower Song” rounds out this collection and is a touching tale which explores the troubled life of an accident victim as they attempt to deal with the losses suffered from said accident.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised at how divorced the three tales are from the horror work which makes up the bulk of the stories I’ve read from Otsuichi so far. The stories in Calling You are far closer to his work in Faust or the short story involving the android in Zoo then anything else. Like most of his work all are written in the first person, something he uses to nice effect throughout the volume. The unifying theme in all three are troubled and lonely people coming to terms with something in their life. Usually this occurs through unexplained surreal or supernatural means, giving the book a bit of contemporary fantasy feel. Also, like most of his other works, the stories are all told from the first person perspective, making them all fairly quick and easy reads. It also allows him to reach into his bag of tricks and utilize the unreliable narrator trick, something he’s done well in the past and something he does nicely here as well. All three stories are so focused on the emotions of loss and reconciliation and are so touching that it’s almost hard to believe that these are from the same author who’s cranked out many of the fantastically disturbing and horrific tales that populate his other collections. It’s definitely a tribute to Otsuichi’s versatility as an author.

Miyako Hasami’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous but, sadly, there isn’t much of it here. When they do turn up they do a fantastic job at capturing the emotions of the characters and the scenes they depict. The facial expressions are quite lovely and reinforce the mood and atmosphere surprisingly well. It’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t more of them, but at the same time I don’t feel like Otsuichi’s stories really needed the artwork, they’re just an added bonus really. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Miyako Hasami’s artwork at some point.

I think Calling You was the first collection of Ostuichi’s work published in the US and after reading it it’s easy to see why Tokyopop and other companies have been publishing other work from him since. For fans of his work this book offers a better look at a side of Otsuichi you only get glimpses of elsewhere. For folks who have heard of him but have been avoiding his books due to not being fans of the horror genre, this book is a chance to sample his light and enjoyable style without the blood and guts of Goth or Zoo. Either way, it’s a fantastic and enjoyable read with some wonderfully touching and haunting moments that are sure to linger after the final page has been turned.

Calling You is available now from Tokyopop.

Categories: Novel Reviews, Reviews Tags:
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