By Kazuhisa Iwata
Dark Horse, 200 pp
Rating: 10 +
Originally created in 1954 by a legendary duo of Eiji Tsuburaya and Ishiro Honda, Godzilla stomped a path of destruction across Japan and on the silver screen that would span five decades and leave an indelible impression upon the minds of audiences both young and old. Arguably one of the most well known film franchises in the world, Godzilla has carved a swath of destruction through film, television, animation and, yes, comics and manga. Originally released in 1988, Godzilla was Kazuhisa Iwata’s adaption of Godzilla 1985 (aka. The Return of Godzilla) and was one of the first, if not the first, manga series released by Dark Horse Comics. With all that in mind one might expect Godzilla to be a lost epic, one of the cream of the manga crop. If only that were true.
The manga closely adheres to original Japanese movie, depicting the events that lead to the legendary monster’s return and the attempts of the Japanese government to halt the monster’s advance. The drama heavily unfolds through the eyes of a young reporter named Goro Maki and others as they desperately try to cook up a scheme to defeat the monster. The story is solid and fans who have only seen the US edition of the movie, Godzilla 1985 will be pleased to see the original plot line unfold pretty much as intended with a little extra focus on the human characters and their relationships to one another.
While the story remains as solid today as it was in the 80s, the artwork has not aged as well. The character designs are hideous and the heads seemingly emerge from the torso sans any necks. Mouths are placed at bizarre, impossible angles and everyone emotes dramatically no matter what conversation is being had. There’s a distinct lack of background throughout most of the book which in turns hurts attempts at conveying atmosphere or location, particularly for the human portions of the book. Thankfully Godzilla fairs a little better and comes off looking appropriately monstrous in several portions, and there are also some lovely full page spreads showing the amount of devastation that his rampage wrought upon Tokyo. The few actions that occur are unfortunately short and lack any real ebb and flow, often times feeling static and.. dare I say it, almost boring at times.
Godzilla is an interesting historic relic, but sadly that’s about it. The manga leaves a lot to be desired in the visual department, which is kind of key for any Godzilla comic or manga. The story itself holds up alright, it’s just not a fantastic adaption. If anything, I guess this goes to show that it’s not just American comics which has run into problems with translating the exploits of King of Monsters into the sequential art medium.
Godzilla is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
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.
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.
Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 25
By Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse, 224 pp
Rating: 18 +
Manji and Rin have had some rough times of late. The two were separated, Rin’s quest for vengeance was put on hold as she undertook the rescue of Manji. Since then they’ve had rather clear sailing though with plenty of time for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately all that is about to change. The 25th volume of Hiroaki Samura’s samurai revenge epic brings us the beginning of one of the major and most anticipated showdowns in the series as Manji must face off against the psychotic Shira.
The last few volumes have slowed things down a bit introducing new antagonists and focusing on the machinations of Kagimura, the disgraced samurai now sworn to track down the Itto Ryu, and the Itto Ryu. Now it’s time for the spotlight to once again rest upon the duo of Rin and Manji. While the showdown with Shira is the driving point for this volume it’s not the only thing that happens. Samura takes the chance to fill in some blanks and call back to the torture arc which explored attempts at transferring Manji’s immortality to others as he reveals the final conclusion reached by Burando, the doctor in charge of the experiments. While it’s both interesting and vaguely fascinating to revisit that arc the revelations in this volume feel a bit out of place and forced. Samura essentially spells out the mechanics of Manji’s immortality boiling it down and explaining in detail, complete with a chart detailing certain biological aspects of it. The whole thing feels less like something I’d expect to see in this series and more like something I’d expect to crop up in the middle of a generic shonen fight scene. While his reasoning for spelling it makes a certain amount of sense and allows for a rather interesting and disturbing upgrade for a certain someone, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed with the revelation and feel that in doing so Samura’s stripped the series of a little bit of it’s mystery and charm.
Visually the book hasn’t lost a step at all and it looks fantastic. The action sequences are engaging and interesting, especially the opening chapter which briefly switches to a first person perspective before switching back for a rather incredible and gory two page spread. Beyond that though Samura’s art looks as lovely as ever, a trend which seems to have started with the end of the torture arc and which I’m glad to see continue here.
It’s a rather important volume for the series as several plot threads come together once again for what promises to be a rather brutal and entertaining battle. I can’t really see Manji or Rin dying, but Samura’s spent the last few volumes building up a supporting cast, several or whom are present and it’s quite possible that any number of them could end up dead before the end of Manji’s battle with Shira. I suppose the only way to find out is to stick around for volume 26, something I definitely intend on doing.
Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 25 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
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.
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.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Scripted by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 comes to us courtesy of Avatar co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, with co-writer Gene Luen Yang, creator of American Born Chinese and artwork from Gurihiru. This comic is set shortly after the end of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series and continues the stories of Aang, Zuko and the rest of the cast as they attempt to rebuild the world following the TV series conclusion. Unfortunately things aren’t quite as clear cut as they had hoped and our heroes quickly find themselves butting heads with each other, old allies and new enemies alike.
The series is the next logical step with regards to the TV series plot line. Yes, the big bad is defeated and it’s time to rebuild but 100 years of war and death tends to leave an impression. You have people who are very unhappy with the Fire Nation still and looking for justice and revenge. The primary issue in this volume is Aang and Zuko’s attempts to put an end to the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom, the realm which suffered the most from the war with the Fire Nation. Unfortunately after a century of occupation things aren’t as clear cut as our heroes might like. In some cases Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom families are entwined, making separation rather difficult, to say nothing of the Fire Nation citizens who were born, raised and never knew any other home other than those of the colonies. It’s from these issues that the conflict and story is built. The story manages to move the plot forward in a completely logical manner and also manages to maintain many of the characters and their personalities from the original TV series.
Visually the book is fantastic. Gurihiru does a bang up job of aping the TV series visual style, even nailing some of the movements used in bending. The fight scene’s are short and few but they’re crisp and resemble those from the TV series. The cast of characters all look like their TV counterparts with costuming, facial expressions and more all being true to the source material. The few new characters who are introduced also fit seamlessly into the world and look like something you’d expect to see in the cartoon. All in all, it’s a fine looking book!
I have to admit that I was a little nervous about how this would turn out. Dark Horse has done continuations of fan favorite TV shows before with mixed results, but I’m glad to say that Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise is a solid addition to the Avatar mythos. It looks and feels like an extension to the original series while taking the story in a new direction without feeling untrue or radically different from the source material. From what I understand the series is slated to run about 5 volumes and frankly, if they’re able to continuously deliver this level of quality then I’ll be on board for all of them!
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
by Kohta Hirano
Dark Horse, 216 pp
Rating: Teen (13+)
Drifters is the newest series from Kohta Hirano, creator of Hellsing, and it gets off to a rather interesting start as a samurai warrior on the brink of death finds himself dropped into a fantasy world full of dragons, elves and more.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Hellsing, gave it a try but it just failed to hook me or pull me in at all. Drifters fares a little better in this regard mainly due to how straight forward it is. The plot revolves around two warring powers plucking figures from Earth’s history and pitting them against each other for some unknown reason. The whole thing seems to boil down to a child like “my guys can beat your guys” action figure battle. Sure, the mechanics and motivations for the powers doing this are unknown but does it really matter when you’ve got Joan of Arc facing off against Billy the Kid and the Carthaginian general Hannibal? For the most part the book focuses on a new comer to the world, Toyohisa, a warrior from the Battle of Sekigahara, as he arrives and.. well, throws himself into the battle without batting an eye. The exact role that Toyohisa or the other two Japanese warriors he stumbles across will play in the larger scheme of things is still unknown at this point and it looks to be a key factor in the series in general.
Hirano’s artwork is pretty unique looking. He eschews much of the stereotypical traits associated with manga artwork and gives us something that’s a bit rougher but still stylish and interesting. His characters swagger across the page with long lanky limbs, exploding into brief moments of blood soaked carnage. There aren’t any decompressed one on one duels in this volume and most of the action is resolved in a matter of pages, if not panels. He does a fantastic job at conveying a certain sense of madness in several of the characters. The only disappointing bits of the artwork for me came with the gag bits where he fell back on something that was reminiscent of chibi-ized characters for humorous reactions and the like. It’s hard to make that click with me, especially in a book that’s as action packed and butch as this one. Instead it simply takes me out of the story and the moment completely. It’s also not funny or cute at all, but hey.
Drifters seems like it could have quite a bit of potential and fun about it as long as it doesn’t start to take itself too seriously. If Hirano can keep it at a level of tons of historical figures beating the crap out of each other for some vague and nebulous reason then I think this is a winner. At any rate I’ll definitely be attacking around for volume two. Mindless violence and big dumb action scene’s have their place in my entertainment menu after all.
Drifters, Vol. 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Created by Kenichi Sonoda
Rating: Mature Readers
After nearly seven years Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats return to the printed page! The first two volumes of Gunsmith Cats: Burst see the return of all the familiar faces from the original series and promises a return to the same high octane action that made the first series such a hit! But after such a long time off can it possibly live up to the hype?
Yes and no. Gunsmith Cats: Burst starts off incredibly slowly, opening with several short stories that aren’t terribly memorable and in at least one case is just downright boring as it involves Rally spending about ten pages explaining the ins and outs of gun modifications to her partner in crime, Minnie May. While this might be fascinating for some people who are really interested in guns and gun modification, my interest in them begins and ends with how well they’re used in action sequences and the whole thing just about put me to sleep. Thankfully afterwards things begin to pick up and return to form as Rally finds herself involved in a convoluted mod plot to manipulate stock prices via terrorist attacks. While the villains aren’t quite as memorable as those of the original series, at least not yet, they manage to give the ladies of Gunsmith Cats enough trouble that we’re able to get some fun action scenes and stand off’s out of it. Still, it feels like it falls a little short of the insanity of the original series. In the second volume things continue their upward trend thanks to a lengthy tale focusing on Bean Bandit and a crazy looking cop obsessed with taking him down. While I do love seeing Bean in action and he’s ridiculously bad ass in the story it’s a little disappointing to see the most exciting and interesting tale of the first two volumes given over to Bean rather than Rally and company.
Sonoda’s art is a little shaky at times. There are a few times were the characters look a little stiff and awkward with their limbs looking a little off, stiff or bizarrely skinny here and there. His action sequences are still solid and entertaining but none quite live up to the reputation of the original series. Sonoda continue to do a great job at conveying motion and controlling the flow of time across the page, allowing him to churn some incredibly complex and speedy action scenes that are clear and easy to follow regardless of the number of people involved. And of course it wouldn’t be Gunsmith Cats without some fan service and elaborately detailed guns and cars and those are here in abundance as well!
If there’s anything wrong with Gunsmith Cats: Burst it’s that it feels like more of the same old, same old. None of the characters seem to have grown or developed a whole lot and the stories feel a bit rote and predictable at times. Still, the American manga market tends to be dominated by Shonen heroes, fantasy tales and more so despite it’s flaws and familiarity Gunsmith Cats: Burst manages to feel like a breath of fresh air and scratches that itch for contemporary action stories. And honestly? Sometimes more of the same can be like hanging out with an old friend and that’s definitely the case with this series.
Gunsmith Cats: Burst, Vols. 1 + 2 are published by Darkhorse and are available now.