Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga classic, Skullman, is available for the first time in the US thanks to the fine folks at Comixology! This singe volume story tells the tell of a dark, masked avenger carrying out a war against a massive, secret organization that seemingly controls the world. Unlike his spiritual brothers in the Kamen Rider franchise, Skullman presents a rather grim take on the concept.
This is something I’ve been wanting to read for a while now and there’s something of an urban legend feel to it’s creation. The story goes that Ishinomori was asked to create a new hero for a kids show Toei was putting together. He presented them with this, Skullman, a dark, grim and possibly insane man waging a war against a secret organization. Reportedly the executives rejected it as being too violent and scary, so Ishinomori went home and after a few days he tweaked the concept and thus was born Kamen Rider. Indeed it’s hard to look at Skullman and not see quite a bit of Kamen Rider present in it. But make no mistake, the executives were right on this account; Skullman is surprisingly dark and he’s definitely not a knight in shining armor, he’s not even a knight in slightly tarnished armor, he’s a driven man who seems to take sadistic glee in the lives he takes and at one point even claims that genocide is an acceptable means to his ultimate end.
Shotaro Ishinomori’s artwork is lovely and effective. His action scenes are easy to follow but exciting and he does a fantastic job at conveying motion, speed and energy throughout the book. At times the cartoony style does seem to clash with the grim nature of the story and there are a few moments which lose a little impact because of it. In addition there’s another small issue with Skullman when it comes to visuals, namely… Skullman himself. His costume is fine, the all black clothing and the jacket that is vaguely evocative of some kind of military dress suit and the cape all work wonderfully together. It’s the helmet that really threw me a loop though. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the recent Skullman anime series, but Skullman’s helmet in this just doesn’t scream scary or skull to me. It’s a large, white helmet which covers most of his face, leaving his mouth and jaw exposed, with two giant red eyes. It’s not terribly skull-like and actually made me think of Riderman rather than.. a scary, skull like monstrosity. Still, despite this and the odd cartoony style I did love the book and it has some absolutely gorgeous moments. The opening with the giant bat in particular is visually impressive and memorable.
I’m incredibly glad that this is finally available in the US and I’m very thankful for both Ishinomori Productions and Comixology for getting it out to us, along with several other series of his that I’ve been interested in. While I did have some minor issues with the visuals as I mentioned above, and the ending feels a bit sudden and anti-climatic, I did enjoy reading this and I can see myself going back to it again and again in the future as well. Fans of classic manga, tokusatsu shows like Kamen Rider or the Power Rangers, and superhero fans in general should definitely give this a look.
Skullman is available now from Comixology.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 3
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Written by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +
The first Avatar: The Last Airbender comic series comes to a close with it’s third installment. Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei have marshaled their respective forces and march on Yu Dao, and caught in the middle is Aang. Will the world fall into war once more? Can Aang resolve the issue of Yu Dao before it’s too late, and if he can what will be the cost? Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru and the rest of the team bring the series to it’s conclusion!
This third volume is the pay off we’ve been waiting for. With the showdown between the two armies all the various strands which have popped up come together in a surprisingly introspective and thought provoking conclusion. Yang does a fantastic job at capturing several of the characters and their personalities here, but beyond that he does a wonderful job at twisting the story and turning it into a generational saga and one of transition and change, both of individual rulers and Avatars and of cultures in general.
Gurihiru’s artwork is gorgeous to behold and does a fantastic job at capturing every character’s likeness while making sure that any new characters fit in seamlessly to the shows aesthetic. The action sequences are solid, if not spectacular, and are easy to follow. In addition to the action and the likenesses, Gurihiru’s seemingly mastered body language and facial expressions to a degree that put most of the “big name” American comics artists to shame. The characters are expressive both facially and in their use of body language, with both nicely echoing the original characters mannerisms in the cartoon.
Honestly, this series has been something of a surprise. Often times continuations and media spin off series can be of questionably quality but that’s not the case with Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is a fantastic expansion to the original series and feels faithful and true to the spirit of the original while setting up plot points and ideas that will eventually bare fruit in Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Gene Luen Yang and Gurhiru have done an amazing job with the series and I eagerly look forward to the next series slated for release in 2013. If you’re a fan of the Avatar cartoon series then you owe it to yourself to give this spin off a look.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 3 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Mega Man Megamix, Vols. 2 + 3
By Hitoshi Ariga
Rating: Not Rated
Hitoshi Ariga’s retelling of Mega Man’s exploits and battles against the evil robots of Dr. Wiley continues in the final two volumes of Mega Man Megamix! These two volumes cover events from the various games and come complete with two collections of of Mega Man comedy strips.
Despite these being the final two volumes there’s no real closure on the adventures of Mega Man. We get some thematic climaxes with regards to why Mega Man does what he does and what makes him special amongst the various robot characters, but people looking for a more complete finale may find themselves disappointed. Game wise these two volumes seem to cover up to Mega Man 6 or so, though it doesn’t really adapt them so much as retell and brush over. Many of the events in the climatic volumes don’t really line up perfectly to in game events but the tale’s are so engaging I can’t imagine it’d matter to any but the most hardcore of Mega Man fans.
Ariga’s artwork seems to improve with each volume as does the intensity of his action scenes throughout these two books. His style seems to fit the world of Mega Man perfectly and his character designs look faithful to the original and are slick and eye catching. It’s a bit of shame that the later robots were so ornate and over done that they really seem to clash with the earlier, streamlined designs. Despite this Ariga manages to make even the more ornate designs fit in with the rest of the robots regardless.
It’s not life changing but Mega Man Megamix has been a fun, upbeat and enjoyable series. It also deals with some rather interesting material such as what it means to be a robot, free will and more without being too angsty or depressing. It’s been a good, solid read and I’m hoping to track down volumes of Ariga’s follow up, Mega Man Gigamix in the near future.
Mega Man Megamix, Vols. 2 + 3 are available now from Udon Entertainment.
Hush A Bye Baby
By Yuriko Matsukawa
DMG, 198 pp
Rating: 13 +
Hush A Bye Baby is a collection of three short stories from Yuriko Matsukawa, each focuses on a young woman and the man she loves. The title story is about a young woman working at an all night store who ends up handcuffed to a former member of a biker gang who’s out to clear his name. The two stories that follow it, “No Saint of Soupe” and “Professional Passion” take place at a French restaurant called Poete and focus on romances involving it’s two French chefs.
The three stories are rather run of the mill romances and follow the same formula, a young woman finds herself flustered by a pretty boy only to eventually realize that she has feelings for him. In “Hush A Bye Baby” this budding romance is set against the young man’s fight to clear his name for murder, while in “No Saint of Soupe” it’s set against the young man’s attempt to prove himself as a chef to his older brother and in “Professional Passion” it’s set against a young woman’s struggle to prove herself as a reporter. They’re not terribly memorable and all three male leads and female leads felt awfully alike.
Yuriko Matsukawa’s artwork is rather forgettable and unmemorable. There’s no stand out scenes and it all feels like the stereotypical shojo manga style, pretty boys, borderless panels, sparkles and toning scattered about. There’s little panel to panel flow and at times I had trouble following the flow of dialogue as the word bubbles were often accompanied by bubbleless internal dialogue scattered about, narration boxes and more. In addition to this none of the characters look particularly amazing, memorable or impressive and often look eerily similar to each other at times. Most of the book is composed of talking heads and upper body shots floating against white, grey or minimal backgrounds, giving the whole thing an oddly ungrounded feel.
Hush A Bye Baby ultimately did nothing for me whatsoever. None of the stories were particularly interesting and the book didn’t do much to make me want to seek out further works by Yuriko Matsukawa. I get that I’m not the target audience for shojo, but surely there are better and more memorable romance stories than this out there. Itazura Na Kiss, springs immediately to mind. At any rate the bland artwork and bland stories resulted in a wholly forgettable read.
Hush A Bye Baby is available now from Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.
Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 6 (Viz Big Edition)
By Nobuhiro Watsuki
Viz, 584 pp
Rating: T +(Older Teens)
Rouroni Kenshin’s epic Kyoto arc comes to a head! For the past several volumes Kenshin and his allies, the brawler Sanosuke Sagara, former Shinsengumi member turned cop Saito Hajime and the rest have clashed with the forces of Shishio from Tokyo to Kyoto and now the battle comes to its conclusion with the final showdown between Kenshin and Shishio! But as one threat fades another rises as more figures from Kenshin’s past emerge from the shadows.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Rurouni Kenshin but one of the things that impressed me is how easy it was to get into the story even after a break of a year or more from it. As mentioned above this volume finishes off the Kyoto arc which is probably the best known and most well regarded arc from the series. I saw it years ago in anime form on Toonami and it’s lovely to see it in it’s manga incarnation. Everything that comes after it though, that’s all new material and uncharted territory for me. I’m rather interested in it all since finding out more about Kenhin’s history is always welcome. That said I’m a little worried that Watsuki’s repeating himself here. Shishio’s arc was pretty heavy with Kenshin being forced to face and deal with his violent past and judging from the second half of this volume it looks like we’re heading there again. At least it looks to be a little more personal this time around though.
Visually Watsuki’s art is pretty fantastic. While we get the odd hit or miss character design in this volume when he gets it right he gets it right in a big way. Shishio is an incredibly memorable figure as are most the cast involved in the final showdown with him. The new group doesn’t look quite as good at this point but we haven’t seen much of them yet but at least one character is noticeably anachronistic and another is the fourth or fifth X-Men we’ve seen so far. Watsuki’s action scenes are intense and full of splash pages that feel like they’re ready to explode off the page. While they’re lovely to look at I found myself wanting some more back and forth in the fight. Some smaller moments between the big moves and supposed one hit kills would have been nice and I think the final battle with Shishio which dominates the action in the volume really would have warranted them. It’s also worth mentioning that thanks to the paper quality of the Viz Big line Watsuki’s art looks absolutely fantastic and beautifully sharp and detailed. Whether it’s the line work indicating speed and force or just the quiet Kenshin gives Shishio it all looks crisp and amazing and as good as anything coming out today.
I’m still digging the hell out of the series even if the final battle with Shishio wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. It carried a nice emotional punch though and the following arc certainly seems to be something I’ll be interested in reading. Hopefully this time I won’t wait a year or so in between tracking down the Viz Big volumes.
Ruouni Kenshin, Vol. 6 (Viz Big Edition) is available now from Viz.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 12
Written by Eiji Otsuka, Art by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse, 224 pp
Rating: 18 +
After far too long of a wait Eiji Otsuka’s and Housui Yamazaki’s wonderful, black comedy, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service continues with it’s twelfth volume! We’re treated to three tales this time dealing with a Second Life-esque virtual world, stand up comedians and some rather disturbing dolls.
For those not familiar with this series here’s a brief rundown of the central idea behind it. A group of students at a Buddhist university are having trouble putting their unique skills and talents to use in the real world (embalming, dowsing, etc) so they come together via a college club and end up dealing with the dead. They communicate with them, solve mysteries, transport corpses and more all for a fee which often comes from the corpses belongings. It’s absolutely hilarious, well drawn and genuinely scary and disturbing in many areas. This particular volume continues the trend of shorter more stand alone tales though there are a few continuing subplots. This usually kind of annoys me since there are some mysteries and counting story arcs at the center of the series and for the past several volumes they’ve just kind of meandered showing the KCDS crew taking on various jobs here and there. Thankfully Dark Horse has been slow to release volumes of the series so by the time one does come out you’re so starved for it that you don’t really mind the fact that the volume consists of three one offs. It also doesn’t hurt that the one offs in this volume are pretty fun. The first is a twist on the idea of prisoners being forced to play online games as part of their punishments and while it’s not inherently funny there’s a certain visual that runs through it that’s both hilarious and kind of creepy. The second tale, probably my favorite for this volume, focuses on an ill fated romance between two would be stand up comedians. While the comedy is far more prominent it doesn’t really shy away from the disturbing imagery. It does a fantastic job at nailing the mix of humor and horror that makes the series such a treat to read. The final tale involving a certain dictatorship on the Korean peninsula is clever and focuses on the supporting cast as the two unofficial leads of the series are away for some unknown reason. It not only tells a rather disturbing tale that mixes historical fact into it’s tapestry but it also expands upon one of the characters histories and gives some possible hints regarding his particular mystery and “origin”.
Visually the book continues to be absolutely solid thanks to skills of Housui Yamazaki, It’s clean, easy to follow and he’s got a great sense of pacing for the more disturbing and horrific moments. In addition he knows when to ramp up the detail and when not to. Most of the book looks simple and clean but when gore is called for the detail ramps up, the pacing alters to heighten the mood and tension and it becomes a glorious bloody mess with corpses, faces being removed and much more. He’s really a fantastic and underrated artist who seems to deliver on a consistent basis.
The series takes forever to come out but once it lands I devour it. This volume was no different. It’s incredibly entertaining but the short story nature of this volume and most of preceding can make it feel like the series is just spinning it’s wheels. That said The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service in wheel spinning mode is still an incredibly fun and entertaining read that fans of black comedy and horror shouldn’t miss out on.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 12 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Dolls Don’t Cry
By Kaoru Ohashi
DMP/DMG/Emanga, 223 pp
Rating: 18 +
From Kaoru Ohashi comes Dolls Don’t Cry, the tale of a girl named Sena who, after protecting a friend who would later betray her, finds herself attacked by a boy named Shin. The two fight on a foot bridge near their school and end up falling from it into a strange, fantasy, sci-fi world. Unlike the real world though, there are no women here, only strange engineered female sex toys called Dolls.
The story starts off like a fairly straight forward shojo or shonen series before it takes a hard left and begins to explore what it means to be a woman and ideas regarding the treatment and objectification of women in society. Sena’s starts off as a fairly strong and capable character but once she finds herself in the weird alternate reality she’s quickly thrust into danger as any man who discovers her secret, that she’s not a Doll but an actual woman, something that’s incredibly rare and unheard of in this world, pretty much attempts to rape her on sight. The story is fairly graphic in its use of sex as it puts Sena through the ringer, showing her as strong and capable one moment and helpless and scared the next. Along the way she begins to develop feelings for Shin. The feelings contrast with the sexual desire and urges that nearly every other male in the world has towards women and Dolls and the result is a complex look inside Sena’s mind. How on one had she desires Shin, fears him and how her feelings and how sex might change things between them and more. It’s a surprisingly complex tale that deals with the ideas of male/female relationships and the various ways in which they’re confused, tense and complicated by emotions and desires and to a degree societal pressures. Sena’s not the only one with mixed feelings towards a man. One of the Dolls, Thea, slowly develops feelings and a level of self awareness and comes to love her master despite his abusive attitude towards her.
While the story was a bit of a pleasant surprise the art wasn’t. It’s rather generic and bland looking with several characters looking alike. In addition to this Kaoru Ohashi uses a technique where there’s no toning or shading in some panels for emotional affect, but sadly this often leads to some of the characters who were only identifiable by their hair color looking exactly alike and things becoming confused. There’s a few short action scenes but they’re muddy and difficult to follow.
Dolls Don’t Cry is a bit of an odd duck. While there are certainly some interesting ideas regarding gender relations, the treatment of women in society and more, none of the ideas feel fully formed to me. The Doll and sex toy analogy is the most fleshed out on but even there it just didn’t quite click for me. It’s certainly an interesting manga and it does raise some interesting ideas and questions but in the end it just doesn’t hold together very well as a story.
Dolls Don’t Cry is available now from Emanga.com. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.