By Osamu Tezuka
DMP, 435 pp
Rating: Not Rated
From the mind of Osamu Tezuka comes Barbara, the dark and bizarre tale of writer Yosuke Mikura and the winding paths his life takes after a chance encounter with a homeless, drunk by the name of Barbara.
Barbara is over 400 pages of sexual deviancy, occult happenings, mystic babble and ponderings upon the source of creativity and more. The story focuses on the relationship between up and coming writer Yosuke Mikura and the young, homeless drunk he takes in, Barbara. What follows is a car wreck of a relationship full of abuse, hijinks and more. It’s difficult to really like Yosuke Mikura, which is a bit of problem for the book since he’s the main character and the narrator throughout it all. When we’re introduced to him he’s already psychologically disturbed and for a while it seems like Barbara might be his savior in that regard. Sadly it’s not really the case and he goes from being a perverted, unlikeable jack ass to an abusive, unlikeable jack ass. Even in the later parts of the story when he’s shown to be struggling, trapped in a dead end life and desperately looking for a way out I just couldn’t find it within myself to root for him or hope he’d get out of things. Barbara isn’t a whole lot better. She’s got that whole “Magical Pixie Girl” thing going on, a beautiful woman who helps lift a broken man out of his doldrums and inspires him, but her constant state of inebriation and her willingness to take the non-stop abuse just makes it difficult to do anything other than hope she gets her life together and moves on. Now a tale of abusive relationships between creative types might have had some traction. There’s been plenty of them in real life that have made for compelling tales (ie. Sid and Nancy, but then Tezuka throws in tons of stuff involving magic, the occult and the fact that Barbara isn’t just your typical drunk. No, she’s literally a muse from Greek mythology. At that point the story went from a troubled relationship and veered into weird supernatural funkiness. It just gets weirder as it goes as the story takes stranger and stranger turns as it attempts to say something about the nature of creativity and insanity. And ultimately it does. It just takes a little while getting there and at times feels like it loses itself along the way.
Visually it’s as solid as you’d expect an Osamu Tezuka work to be. He does a fantastic job at depicting emotions, managing the pacing and allowing the visual flow of the story to just grab you and pull you along with it’s deceptively simple artwork. It’s also full of other little Tezuka-isms, warping walls or backgrounds to help enhance the surrealistic or hallucinatory feel of a scene or sequence and things like that. The humor is toned a bit though it’s certainly still present, absent are the visual gags that are present in many of his all ages works.
This was one odd book. Despite the rather unlikeable characters it was still a fairly compelling read and I found the pages going by at a surprisingly fast pace. It was enjoyable but I don’t think it’s one of Tezuka’s better works. It will undoubtedly find a welcoming audience here and while it was kind of enjoyable, fun and interesting at times I don’t think it’s something I’d find myself re-reading again and again.
Barbara will available on August 29th from DMP. Digital review copy provided by the publisher.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 2
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Written by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +
The second part in the Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise series has arrived courtesy of the Gene Luen Yan and Gurihiru! The situation with the Fire Nation Colonies is quickly reaching a tipping point! Meanwhile Toph and her metal bending academy finds themselves dealing with some of the ramifications of the Harmony Plan as the schools former occupants, a class of firebenders, seek to move back in.
Gene Luen Yan does a wonderful job at continuing to show the difficulties of ending one hundred years of occupation through a variety of smaller stories interwoven within the larger one. Toph’s metal bending academy is a lovely example. While it might not initially seem connected to the main plot, the fact that she’s occupying something that belonged to a fire bending school for decades if not longer is just one manifestation of the tangled web the occupation created. In addition the fantastic glimpse we get into the life of Zuko’s would be assassin show’s the situation in a more nuanced light, giving us a glimpse into the life of some of the people against de-colonization. While Toph’s subplot seems a bit more black and white, the assassins life and her complex web of familial and romantic relationships shows just how complex the situation can be. At the same time all this seems like it’s clearly laying the foundation for things seen in the recently concluded Avatar: The Legend of Korra series. Aang and Katara’s story is still present but takes a bit of a back seat and seems like it’s there solely for comedic relief.
Gurihiru’s artwork continues to be solid and evocative of the original series while introducing new characters, designs and locations that fit in seamlessly with the world the cartoon created. Gurihiru does a great job at capturing the likenesses of the various characters and their physical mannerisms as well. The action sequences are solid but short and quick. Still, they’re fun and interesting to look at and often contain clever little tweaks and twists that expand on various ways bending can be used in combat. Zuko’s would be assassin springs immediately to mind in her use of a stone ball and chain, something that’s both interesting visually and also suggests an interesting use of her earth bending skills. Plus the stone ball covered in metal spikes just looks cool too.
With one volume left is seems unlikely that they’ll be able to wrap up everything they’ve set in motion and while the announcement of a second trilogy focusing on Zuko’s search is welcome and anticipated, I do wonder if the ending to this series will be satisfying. Despite any fears I have regarding the climax I can’t deny that so far it’s managed to be a solid and entertaining read that any fan of the original series will probably find to be an enjoyable addition to the Avatar world.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 2 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Maodhen, Vol. 1
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Ary by Jun Suemi, Translated by Eugene Woodbury
DMP, 258 pp.
Rating: YA (16+)
The latest Hideyuki Kikuchi release from DMP is a bit of blast from the past. Originally published in 1986, Maohden is a tale of Demon City Shinjuku predating Yashakiden but involving the familiar faces of Doctor Mephisto and Setsura Aki. A mysterious and deadly figure from Setsura Aki’s past reappears in Shinjuku after nearly 15 years. What secrets does he hold and how does it all connect to the Demon Quake and the current state of the city? This series promises the answers!
While I’m used to Hideyuki Kickuchi mixing sex and horror in his other works I don’t think any other book of his that I’ve read has ever ever been quite as crude and extreme in it’s usage as Maohden. Within the first thirty pages we’re treated to an employee at a hostess club being raped by a were-bear creature and a female co-worker stripping down and masturbating after watching Setsura Aki slaughter the clubs security. It just gets more bizarre and in your face from there. While Kikuchi’s hardly going to be mistaken for a feminist or a progressive when it comes to gender relations it all just feels a bit more omnipresent in this book. After finishing the novel and reading the Afterward I found out why. He wanted it to be more extreme and over the top in the sex and violence content. The result is a rather brutal, crude and graphic read full of just that, people being slaughtered and screwed. Interestingly enough the sex comes off as cruder and more graphic than the violence but admittedly that could just be my American cultural biasses and influences showing. Aside form all that this book is loaded with information about the city and some rather tantalizing hints regarding the bigger questions surrounding the Devil Quake and what the Demon City means for the world at large. It’s full of Kikuchi’s usual imaginative and over the top characters, powers and bits of world building history that he tends to pepper his books with. References to specific streets, stores and buildings abound! As for the characters, they’re what you should be expecting from Kikuchi at this point, beautiful, stoic, kind of dark and mysterious. I doubt they’ll develop much beyond that during this series.
The translation is courtesy of Eugene Woodbury, who happens to have been the translator on both the Yashakiden series and the Demon City Shinjuku collection from DMP. From what I remember of Yashakiden I thought the translation was ok with some odd bits here and there. Sadly I feel that the translation for Maohden is a bit rougher and the book suffers from it. I’m hardly a grammar expert so when I start to notice strange sentence fragments lurking about that cause the flow of the text to come to a screeching halt you know something is up. I’m not sure if he was simply attempting to be literal in his translation and these floating fragments are due to grammatical differences between Japanese and English, but they stick out like a sore thumb and make the book rather awkward to read in places. I’m not really expecting perfect grammar throughout, but more often than not these seem like fairly noticeable things that some minor editing or proof reading could have taken care of.
Jun Suemi, whose work appeared in Yashakiden, provides the spot illustrations here as well. His work here also feels a little rougher and stiffer than in that later series and even the cover doesn’t click or grab me in the way Yashakiden’s did. Still, they’re decent enough and don’t really detract or take away from the reading experience at all and in fact do a good job at depicting one or two of the minor characters.
This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read from Kikuchi and I don’t think it’s in danger of becoming my favorite. Still, there are seeds of what’s to come here. The exhaustive and lengthy asides that flesh out the history and culture of the city are as enjoyable as ever. Likewise the teasing hints and promises that we may find out some secrets behind the city’s existence should be enough to warrant a look from any hardcore fan of his or of the Demon City itself. Assuming they can get by the huge amounts of graphic and crude sex that is. It’s not a good introduction to Kikuchi’s work and is something long time fans will probably get the most out of.
Erementar Gerade, Vols. 8 + 9
by Mayumi Azuma
Rating: Teen (13+)
Mayumi Azuma’s saga continues with the eighth and ninth volumes of Erementar Gerade! Following the dramatic and violent events of Coud and company’s battle with the Viros it’s time for a visit to the doctors. Unfortunately for our heroes the mysterious Org Night which has been pursuing Ren is still on their tails.
These two volumes are a bit of a mixed bag for the series. You can see where it’s starting to tread water with the villain of the week formula and there’s a huge info dump in volume nine which stops any momentum the story had dead in its tracks. Worse, it’s an info dump that lays out the power tiers and hierarchy of Edel Raids, complete with diagrams. If there’s one thing I’ve always hated about shonen series it’s their inexplicable love of tiering for characters and their abilities. Despite this there’s some interesting twists and turns along the way as well. A figure from Ren’s past appears all to briefly and we get a better look at Org Night and their forces. Sadly we also see the departure of my two favorite characters, but I’m hopeful that they’ll both pop up in a future volume. The odd sexual exploitation theme that the series has been flirting with takes something of a back seat in these two volumes. We get some small mention of a doctor who molests his Edel Raid patients and there’s a line that seems to confirm that whatever Viro did to Ren was akin to rape, but that’s about it. That said one of the villains is bonded to multiple Edel Raids which does raise some interesting questions and ideas about relationships and emotions in general. With rare exception the Edel Raid/Pleasure pairings have been female/male and they’ve touched upon the idea of using women as objects and exploiting them versus a healthy relationships, but with this volume we’re introduced to a male Pleasure who’s bonded to no less than ten Edel Raids! If we continue along the idea of an Edel Raid/Pleasure relationship being akin to male/female relationships then what are to think about this? Edel Raids can only be bonded to one Pleasure at a time but apparently Pleasures can be bonded to as many Edel Raids as they want. Is there some kind of weird commentary about men being able to juggle multiple women but women only being able to give their heart to one man at a time or am I simply reading way too much into it?
The artwork is still solid but not terribly spectacular. The fight scenes take a small step backwards as well in volume nine, losing the clarity and flow that they had started to develop in favor of panels full of barely decipherable lines which contain the suggestion of action and movement rather than the depiction of it. The new characters who are introduced don’t strike much of a chord with me visually either aside from the figure from Ren’s past.
Overall these two volumes were a bit of a surprising read. The unveiling of the Edel Raid tiering structure, something that had been hinted at before but never explicitly explained, was incredibly disappointing and its inclusion was awkward and clunky. The repetitive nature of the villains is also starting to grate though at nine volumes this seems like something that won’t be changing any time soon.
Empowered, Vol. 7
By Adam Warren
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
Rating: 16 +
After a nearly two year wait Adam Warren’s Empowered returns! For the first time this volume sees the focus shift off of Emp and onto her hard drinking, ninja princess buddy Ninjette as we delve into her past and learn more of her ninja clan!
The volume focuses heavily on Ninjette, though all your favorite cast members return and have their own individual arcs continued and pushed forward a little as well. The volume alternates between flashbacks involving Ninjette, Empowered and friends and a brutal fight scene set in the “present” involving Ninjette and a squad of ninjas sent to bring her in. The flashback sequences are where most of the other cast appear as we see everyone dealing with the continued fallout from the Willy Pete incident and now the fallout from Emp’s confrontation with Deathmonger from the last volume. Adam Warren continues to do a fantastic job at giving the characters heart in what’s ostensibly a sexy, superhero comedy and delves into the various aspects of their lives. Everyone in the series is flawed in some way and it’s really these insecurities and the genuineness of them that gives the book it’s heart.
Adam Warren’s artwork is fantastic as is to be expected and looks even better then ever thanks to the new glossy paper stock used in the volume. The huge ninja fight scene, something I was really looking forward to with this volume, is solid and entertaining but somehow felt a little underwhelming. In fairness that could be due to built up expectations. After a two year absence and hearing how the fight scene was initially intended to be nearly 100 pages your expectations tend to be raised. Still, it’s intense and clear with some incredibly clever moments. In addition the book continues to show off Adam Warren’s skill at depicting everything from violent battles to quiet intimate moments and more. His character designs are creative and range from the memorable and stylish to the weird, hideous and downright silly.
All in all this remains one of my favorite American comic series at the moment and is probably the best superhero series out there right now. With lovely art, creative action scenes, well written and well rounded believable characters Adam Warren’s continues to put most other American superhero comics to shame.
Empowered, Vol. 7 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Blood Blockage Battlefront, Vol. 2
By Yashuhiro Nightow
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
Rating: 16 +
The second volume of Yashuhiro Nightow’s horror action series Blood Blockade Battlefront has arrived! We return to Jerusalem’s Lot for three more tales of Libra struggling to keep the more destructive forces of the Otherworld in check.
I found this volume to be a bit more enjoyable than the first one. While the first heavily focused on Leonard, the newest member of Libra, this one switches things up and we spend a bit more time with the other members of the cast while being introduced to a few more members as well. This is a good thing as Leonard was pretty damn passive and boring, so getting glimpses at the rest of the cast is a welcome change of pace. The three stories within it also hint at a possible over arching plot line involving the most underexposed of all supernatural horrors… vampires. We get a short history of vampires in the world of Blood Blockade Battlefront, their origins and more before an all too brief confrontation with one. Meanwhile the comedy continues to miss for me and feels a bit too slapsticky and over the top. It also tends to stick out like a sore thumb and often feels awkward and forced, pulling. The characters aren’t terribly interesting or intriguing at this point either. They tend towards one or two traits cranked up to eleven and that’s about it.
Visually the book is pretty engaging and interesting to look at it. Nightow’s style is fairly unique and pretty stylish. The demons, monsters and weird bits of technology that fill Jerusalem’s Lot all look fantastic and are eye catching. The detailed backgrounds and crowds of demons, humans and things in between do help reinforce the weirdness of the setting and how it’s all usually taken in stride. Unfortunately when it comes to action sequences things get a bit messy. This is thanks in part to cluttered layouts, poses and the compressed nature of the action scenes. The result is something akin to the sequential art equivalent of the fight scenes from Nolan’s Batman movies. Some fast, undecipherable movement and positioning followed by a pose of the hero or villain looking cool as hell. They just lack the fluidity of other action series, both shonen and seinen alike.
The second volume of Blood Blockade Battlefront is a definite improvement over the first, thanks in part to the marginalization of Leonard and the shift in focus onto other characters. Unfortunately it failed to deliver in several other areas. The build up to the confrontation with the vampire was fantastic, the actual confrontation itself was rather short, underwhelming and failed to convey any of the menace or threat that the creature was built up to be. This seems like a good summation of the series so far. Lots of potential and interesting ideas but lacking in the delivery for various reasons.
Blood Blockade Battlefront, Vol. 2 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition
Created by Variety Art Works
One Peace Books, 576 pp
Rating: Not Rated
The latest release from One Peace Books is a massive manga adaption of The Bible. Yes, that Bible. It contains adaptions of key stories from both the Old and New Testaments with a streamlined, all ages friendly feel to it.
As mentioned above this feels like a very streamlined and trimmed down version of the Bible that most people are at least passingly familiar with. It starts with Genesis and covers many of the major and more well known biblical stories right on through to The Passion. That said, it’s not exactly uncut. There are a few stories missing and the snipping and tweaking of the Old Testament reinforces the idea of it as a family history. It essentially focuses on and follows a succession of kings from the blood line of Adam and Eve. While many of the more well known stories from the Old Testament are intact, such as Noah, Moses and Exodus, Solomon, David and more, I couldn’t help but notice some of the missing tales. Things like Samson and Delilah, Jonah and the Whale are no where to be found and what’s left has been edited and tweaked to give it a family friendly feel. For example, yes there’s the bit about Sodom and Gomorra but this adaption glosses over the details of those cities and what happens afterwards with Lot and his daughters. The editing and missing pieces continues into the New Testament portion of the book where they gloss over The Passion, omitting the details of Jesus’ punishment and skipping over the Stations of the Cross. The Doubting Thomas incident is also missing and the book only pays lip service to books and events that took place after the crucifixion. There’s also the omission to the one piece of the Bible I was most looking forward to seeing a manga rendition of, namely Revelation.
Visually the book is average but solid work. Despite some of the hugely memorable moments there are few stand out and eye catching moments. Moses parting the Red Sea is probably the visual highlight of the book, but other events that would seem to lend themselves to a visual spectacle aren’t really given time to convey their import and impact. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, David’s battle with Goliath, the siege of Jericho and even The Passion and crucifixion lack the visual oomph you’d expect them to carry. Some of this might be due to the writing, there’s a lot of stuff to get into this single volume even at nearly 600 pages, so everything’s fairly compressed and it lacks some of the visual emotional beats and visual cues often associated with manga, such as lingering establishing shots to enhance the mood and so forth. In fairness if they took the time to include those it’d probably be a multivolume set of thousands of pages, so hey. The character designs are nothing amazing or special but most of the characters are different enough to be able to tell them apart. That said there’s something odd going on with the eyes in this book. The looks of happiness and rapture in several places come off as the opposite, and some of the panicked or fearful looks are so over the top that they’re almost laughable.
It’s hard to critique this given that it’s, well, The Bible and as such wasn’t exactly written with plot and character development in mind. It was intended to convey ideas, morals, oral history and more and this adaption does an ok job at getting some of those things across. It just fails to deliver in the some of the more emotional and moving moments. I don’t think this will be replacing the tried and true prose editions the Bible but I can see where it might make a nice, all ages, accessible version to supplement and perhaps even help encourage interest in Christianity in younger people already inclined in that direction.
The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition is available now from One Peace Books. Review copy provided by the publisher.