Archive for October, 2011

One Missed Call 1 + 2

October 30, 2011 2 comments

One Missed Call 1 + 2One Missed Call 1 + 2
Original Story by Yasushi Akimoto, Manga Adaption by Mayumi Shihou
Dark Horse, 264 pp.
Rating: 16 +

One Missed Call 1 + 2 is a collection of adaption of the movie franchise. The original One Missed Call came out at the tail end of the J-Horror phase and was a hit in Japan, spawning several sequels, a TV series and a US remake. While the first movie wasn’t exactly spectacular, it was still an ok flick thanks in part to the direction by Takashi Miike. The manga on the other hand…

One of the weakest things about the original One Missed Call movie was the writing. The characters tended to feel a bit flat, one dimensional and seemed to move through the movie with little free will of their own. Takashi Miike was able to cover this up a bit with decent direction and a healthy dose of ambiance and mood. Sadly the manga has none of this. Scenes that were tension filled and unnerving thanks to Miike’s direction, appropriate sets, lighting, music and more become a muddled mess here and the characters are even flatter than ever, feeling like little more than mouth pieces wandering aimlessly from one scene to another. In addition there’s actually a moment within this volume where several pages from a later sequence appear randomly before hand and you end up with a rather awkward and confusing read. The translation, something that I usually don’t notice in most manga, also feels a bit awkward here. The dialogue is stiff, there’s an odd turn of phrase here and there and everyone seems to speak with the same voice. While I haven’t seen the second movie I can safely say that the manga adaption hasn’t done anything to encourage me to do.

One of the themes within both movies in child abuse. In the first the ghost is the spirit of a child who was seemingly desperate for attention, which in turn led to abuse and further neglect, which in turn led to her death. One of the main characters in the first story is herself a victim of child abuse as well. In his book J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond, David Kalat talks a little about how One Missed Call can be viewed as a commentary on child abuse and how it’s a silent plague which eats away at the fabric of a society. He further states that it’s something Japan has long turned a blind eye to, pointing out that up until 1999 the Japanese government didn’t even try to collect statistic and data on incidents of child abuse. With that in mind it’s hard to read the second story, which shifts the origin of the curse from Japan to Taiwan, without seeing it as an attempt to claim that child abuse within Japan is not a natural occurrence, but is in fact a problem brought to Japan by foreigners. In addition to that reading, the second story also shares all the faults of the first one, bland characters, odd dialogue, a meandering plot, and tosses in even more convoluted twists and turns.

Mayumi Ito’s artwork does these stories absolutely no favor whatsoever. It’s sparse, many of the characters look alike and there are almost no backgrounds. To make things even worse there are sudden transitions in time and space that are difficult to follow due to the similarity of many characters and the lack of background. One minute characters are talking in a house, turn the page and they’re somewhere else. A black panel with a word bubble later and suddenly they’re in the middle of a conversation with a group of people on the street. The word bubbles are almost entirely without tails and often over lap panels or appear in all black or all white panels. This makes it difficult in places to attribute dialogue to a specific character. This is even further complicated by the fact that the word bubble may appear in a panel focusing on a shoe, leg or hand. The lack of sound and the way it was used in the movies was well done, with the eerie ring tone being a stand out example of this. Unfortunately within the sequential art medium there’s no sound and we’re stuck with sound effects and musical notes appearing on the page instead. Both lack the impact of the sound from the original movie and often times the significance may be missed or over looked. A good example of this is the use of the asthma inhaler in the first movie and the first manga. In the movie the sound really stood out and was clearly some sort of aerosol spray, but in the manga it’s merely a “shuuu” sound. While the Japanese may hear this and think moving air or spray, to my western mind it could have been anything from elevator doors opening, shoes shuffling across the ground and more.

While the original One Missed Call was a hit I wasn’t exactly blown away by it and the manga simply highlights everything that was wrong or weak with the movie and magnifies it. When you add in sloppy story telling and bland artwork you end up with an incredibly underwhelming read that will do nothing to encourage one to see the movie or explore the franchise further.

One Missed Call 1 + 2 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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Blood Blockade Battlefront, Vol. 1

October 26, 2011 1 comment

Blood Blockade Battlefront, Vol. 1Blood Blockade Battlefront, Vol. 1
By Yashuhiro Nightow
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
Rating: 16 +

New York City is no more, destroyed in an instant when the wall between our world and the Other World was torn asunder. In it’s place is Jerusalem’s Lot, a metropolis contained within a mystic barrier, teeming with supernatural and human life. Unfortunately not everyone likes to live alongside each other harmoniously and when something threatens the fragile peace Libra springs into action. From Yashuhuro Nightow, acclaimed creator of Trigun comes Blood Blockade Battlefront.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I picked this up. From the description it sounded like a modern take on the ideas seen in various works from Hideyuki Kikuchi, and I suppose it is in a way but it skews a bit more strongly towards the action and comedy genre then the weird fiction and horror genre of the latter’s works. Blood Blockade Battlefront introduces us to the secretive world of Libra through the eyes of Leonard Watch, a young man who though some rather confused circumstances finds himself recruited into the group to defend the city from a madman. The book splits itself between two stories, the first one dealing with a madman attempting to sow chaos for no apparent reason and the second, shorter story dealing with a group of beings kidnapping people for snacks. Leonard is likable enough, but he’s not terribly memorable or interesting. Unfortunately the same goes for most of Libra as well. Klaus, the leader is quiet and strong but apparently seething with barely contained rage and violent urges. Zap’s a young, brash fellow who’s verbally abusive and generally comes off as a bit jerkish and dumb. Chain, the only female member, doesn’t really have much of a personality aside from sniping at Zap from time to time. None of them really stand out much and they all felt fairly flat and uninteresting.

Nightow’s artwork isn’t too shabby and the action is fast paced and intense. It can also get a bit messy at times with a few panels and sequences being incomprehensible and cluttered. Still, at least he gives things backgrounds, plus some of his character designs are pretty eye catching. The various creatures and monsters that appear throughout the volume are generally pretty interesting and fascinating to look at, which really makes me wonder why they’re relegated to villains and group shots and why Nightow didn’t bother to include one as a member of Libra. The Libra cast, for their part are pretty slick looking but aren’t the highlights of the book that you’d hope they’d be.

All in all, Blood Blockade Battlefront feels like the manga equivalent to a popcorn flick. It’s perfectly acceptable, middle of the road entertainment that you’ll enjoy at the time but probably won’t think about too often after you’re finished with it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but given the buzz around Nightow thanks to Trigun I guess I was expecting a bit more.

Blood Blockade Battlefront, vol. 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.

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Midnight, Mass #1 – 8

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Midnight, Mass #1Midnight, Mass #1 – 8
Written by John Rozum, Art by Jesus Saiz
Rating: Not Rated

Set in the fictional town of Midnight, Massachuesetts, Midnight, Mass is a eight issue series depicting the exploits of Adam and Julia Kadmon, a married couple who also happen to be the greatest paranormal investigators in the world. From John Rozum, the mind behind Xombi, comes this forgotten gem from 2002.

Midnight, Mass is something of an oddity. It was originally solicited and hyped as an ongoing series, only to be cut down to an eight issue mini-series between the time of the initial announcement and it’s actual publication. Rumor has it that creator John Rozum apparently found this out rather late into the game and as a result the eight issues don’t tell a single story arc. Instead it’s comprised of a single issue tale, a two parter, a three issue arc and another two parter which attempts to give the mini-series some sense of closure. Despite this the series is still a very enjoyable ride showcasing much of what made Xombi such a delight while allowing Rozum to portray something that’s rarely seen in American comics.. a happily married couple who enjoy their work. It’s such a refreshing change of pace, particularly in this day and age when American comics seem hellbent on breaking up every long term couple and peppering their supernatural characters with a heavy load of angst and grimness. While Adam and Julia do fight and argue, it’s not done out of bitterness or anger at their lot in life. It’s done out of worry and concern for each other and a certain fear of letting each other down in a life and death situation, but at no point is there a sense that either has to shoulder these problems or troubles alone. If a healthy couple isn’t enough, there’s also a slight inversion of conventional tropes for this genre. Adam’s the mage with an encyclopedic brain but no combat skills and Julia provides the brawn and weapon skills.

This was my first exposure to the artwork of Jesus Saiz and he’s not bad, but I don’t think he was the best fit for this series. Personally I thought one of his weakest points was his depiction Adam and Julia. The couple is described as glamorous and we’re told they’ve made Peoples 50 Most Beautiful People list several times in a row, but Julia doesn’t look that more beautiful then any other woman in the series and Adam doesn’t come off as terribly handsome either. Part of this seems to be his handling of their clothing. In the first issue Adam’s modern jacket is ruined and he changes into an older jacket that’s referred to as looking out of fashion, moth eaten and shabby but it really didn’t look that different from the first jacket he was wearing. Still, his work is clean, clear and easy to follow. Also some of his creature designs are fairly memorable, particularly the assassin in the first issue. For the most part though, he seems to lack a certain sense of mood and ambiance that the series called for. It’s serviceable if an odd and unspectacular fit.

Despite the lack of an overarching story due to behind the scenes weirdness and the average artwork, I still really enjoyed Midnight, Mass and would gladly pay to read more of the Kadmon’s exploits. Any fans of the recent Xombi series looking for similar work from Rozum would do well to give this series a loo as it shares many traits with that series. Unfortunately it might be a bit hard to come by as it’s never been collected, despite doing well enough to warrant a second mini-series Midnight, Mass: Here There Be Monsters. Still, those who can track down the single issues should find Midnight, Mass to be an enjoyable and fun read.

Midnight, Mass was published by Vertigo.

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Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Beasts of Burden: Animal RitesBeasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Written by Evan Dorkin, Art by Jill Thompson
Dark Horse
Rating: 14 +

From creators Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson comes Beasts of Burden, a fantastic horror series from Dark Horse Comics. Sporting just the right balance of comedy, adventure and horror elements Dorkin and Thompson deliver an incredibly amusing, gripping and moving read as they detail the exploits of a group of supernatural investigators with a twist… they’re all animals.

Beasts of Burden is quite possibly one of the best American comics of the last few years. It’s a series that is able to shift between incredibly cute and adorable to deeply disturbing and horrific in almost no time at all and does so in a way that feels completely natural. Dorkin and Thompson craft lovable anthropomorphized dogs and cats but do so without ever letting us forget that they’re not human. They do this through a variety of methods ranging from cute nervous tics such as butt sniffing, to dialogue full of animal related slang and insults and more. The interaction between the various pets that make up the cast is wonderful to read and will undoubtably elicit some laughs as you read it. But it’s not just dialogue and scripts that are fantastic but the setting and situations as well. Throughout the series, without huge info dumps, Dorkin paints a picture of an animal world that’s fully developed with it’s own beliefs, magic and protectors. Hints of a Council of Wise Dogs, mentions of the Great Dog and the Black Dog feel completely natural and need little explanation when they appear in scenes and help give the sense of a world that’s larger than the town of Burden and decades, if not centuries, of history behind it. Add in reoccurring characters in minor roles and you get the sense that things are happening outside of the main characters circle, that there are other groups of dogs and cats having their own adventures and conflicts. Dorkin also gives us several twists on conventional horror tropes, including the opening story which is a fun take on the haunted house tale and in a later chapter a ghost story that’s absolutely chilling and haunting as it touches upon real life animal issues.

It’s hard to imagine Beasts of Burden without the absolutely gorgeous, water color artwork from Jill Thompson. Under her talented hands the series is quite possibly the best looking American comic on the market. She manages to capture the body language of the dogs and cats perfectly, imbuing them with just enough humanity to make expressions recognizable while still looking completely natural on the faces of dogs or cats. Whether it’s the cowering before a ghost or leaping in joy as they chase frogs, all the characters physically move and behave like the animals they are and body language plays a large part in conveying the individual animals characters and personalities. Thompson also gets a chance to display her range as she renders the lighter and more disturbing moments with equal skill. Much like Dorkin’s writing, her artwork lures you in with the cute and adorable animals, only to slam you in the face with a truly horrific and disturbing scene when you turn the page, some of which may stick with you for days after having put the book down.

Honestly, I don’t think I can sing the praises of this collection enough. For $20 you get an oversized, full color hardcover collecting the five short stories and the four issue mini-series, plus a sketch book section and a cover gallery. It’s a fantastic price tag for an equally fantastic series that gets more enjoyable with each new reading. If there’s any negative about Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, it’s that it’s not enough. After reading this collection you’ll be left wanting more and sadly, outside of a one shot cross over with Hellboy, there isn’t a whole lot more out there.

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is available from Dark Horse Comics.

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Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Summer, Fireworks and My CorpseSummer, Fireworks and My Corpse
Written by Otsuichi, Translation by Nathan Collins
Haikasoru, 300 pp.
Rating: NA

From the fine folks at Haikasoru comes Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse, the latest collection of short stories from acclaimed author Otsuichi. The book consists of three short stories, all skewing towards the horror genre. “Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse” tells the tale of a murdered young girl and her killers attempts at hiding her corpse, from the perspective of the corpse. “Yuko”, the shortest story in the collection, is the interesting tale of a writer, his wife, their new maid and the tragedy that ensues. Rounding up the collection is “Black Fairy Tale”, a chilling horror story about a young girl who receives an eye transplant, only to find herself assaulted by memories of the eyes previous owner.

Otsuichi is perhaps best known in the US for his horror work and that’s certainly on display here in spades. What’s often forgotten or over looked though, is that he has a fantastic sense of humor and that really comes through with the opening story, “Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse.” Sure, it’s about the murder of a nine year old girl and the subsequent attempt at hiding her body by the murderers, but Otsuichi does a masterful job at setting up hilarious close calls and near misses. The situations start out simple enough but they slowly escalate until the finale which is so gloriously over the top that you can’t help but laugh. The second tale, “Yoko” is also the shortest in the book. The story is one that bears many of Otsuichi’s trademarks, most notably unreliable narrators. There’s nothing terribly memorable about it and sadly I feel it’s the weakest entry in the collection. The third and final story in the collection is both the longest and probably the best. “Black Fairy Tale” is a beautifully done horror tale whose initial premise is more than a little reminiscent of the Taiwainese horror movie, The Eye. A young woman receives an eye transplant and shortly after she finds herself experiencing visions of the eyes previous owners life. Aside from being incredibly chilling it also features Otsuichi’s trademark love of misleading the audience with unreliable narrators and other clever word play tricks. Unlike the previous stories this one contains no less than three interweaving perspectives, one for a murderer, one for the main character and another featuring a short story written by one of the characters within the story itself. At it’s core though, “Black Fairy Tale” seems to be about transience and the passing of time, and with it memories and the changes that occur to us over time. The killer also reminded me of an idea Otsuichi briefly touched upon in his afterward to Goth, that of a yokai of murder. While it was certainly an interesting idea in Goth I just couldn’t make it click with what little knowledge I had of yokai, but for some odd reason the killer in “Black Fairy Tale” felt very much like an extension of that idea and theme.

The stories are very easy and light reads, with all being told in the first person perspective. Otsuichi uses this to his advantage and tosses in many twists and turns. Nathan Collins has done a good job at making the text flow and move smoothly. Some translated novels can be rather clunky with strange turns of phrases or simply awkward sounding sentences scattered through the text. None of that is here. That said it’s not quite perfect. The inclusion of certain Japanese terms without any explanation of what they really struck me as a bit odd. For the most part this isn’t much of an issue and I didn’t find that it made the book difficult to follow or understand, but it did strike me as a bit odd to include a Japanese phrase or teem with no clarification as to what they mean, but maybe I’m just used to manga which often includes some sort of glossary or explanation of certain terms in the back or in the panel borders.

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is a great read and it’s perfect for the current season. Also, while Otsuichi may lament the amateurness of “Black Fairy Tale” in the afterward, I thought it was easily the best horror story I’ve read from him since Goth and, quite frankly, think it’s worth the price of admission alone.

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse is available now from Haikasoru.

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Giantkiller #1 – 6 and Giantkiller A to Z: A Field Guide to Big Monsters

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

By Dan Brereton
Originally published by DC Comics, TPB published by Image Comics
Rating: Not Rated

In 1999 a mysterious event resulted in the eruption of the long dormant Mt. Diablo in the San Francisco valley. The enormous eruption wiped out several surrounding communities and what followed would wipe out even more. For reasons unknown the destruction and volcanic ash clouds would spread and change, becoming dangerously corrosive and toxic to human beings and from within this no-man’s land would come the giant monsters. Writer/artist Dan Brereton, creator of the The Nocturnals, brings us the tale of humanities only hope in it’s battle against the giant monsters Giantkiller.

Giantkiller has a very straightforward story, with the arrival of the giant monster comes the need to create weapons which can battle them. Sadly due to the corrosive nature of the environment following the initial volcanic eruption conventional arms don’t last long. So the US government turns to genetic engineering and attempts to create a super soldier using scavenged DNA from monster scales, blood and the like. The result is Yochu, aka. Jack, aka. Giantkiller. From there things unfold about how you’d expect them to as the series essentially boils down to Jack vs. the monsters. Unfortunately, while Jack is visually striking, he doesn’t have much a personality beyond hating the monsters. There’s some attempt to flesh him out a bit towards the end of the series as Brereton has Jack questioning what he’s doing and whether or not he should be killing creatures that he has more in common with than humanity, but it comes just a little too late to make him more than a cool looking, bad ass monster killer. Thankfully Jack’s not the only character and his co-star, Jill Sleet, makes up for Jack’s lack of a personality. Her story takes her from being a selfish rogue who only looks out for herself, to someone who finds something worth fighting for and hanging onto in this world thanks to her relationship with Jack. Furthermore it’s only through Jack’s relationship with Jill that he gains anything resembling a realistic motivation and sadly that only comes at the very end of the series.

The series is a love song to the monster movies of the 50s and 60s, both domestically and abroad and this is perhaps most noticeable in the series artwork. While Brereton’s style is a bit of an acquired taste and isn’t to everyone’s liking it works beautifully here. Several of the monster designs look like they walked off the set of a Tsuburaya production, while others bring to mind the works of Lovecraft, and yet another bares a striking resemblance to Vincent Price. Then of course you have Giantkiller himself, a remarkably memorable yet simple design, tall, pitch black with red bits here and there. Toss in a long tail that ends in a lobster claw and a few fins and tufts of hair and you’ve got one very cool looking character. It’s not all roses though and sadly the action scenes tend to be rather short and can feel stiff and awkward at times. At other times the artwork fails to convey the sense of speed, power and rage that some of the dialogue or captions attempt to convey. Still it’s hard to deny that this is some lovely eye candy and that’s highlighted in Giantkiller A to Z: A Field Guide to Big Monsters. The book was a supplement to the main series and it’s essentially an art gallery featuring 26 monsters, some of whom never appeared in the series itself, in full page art pieces from Brereton.

While it was far from perfect Giantkiller was still an incredibly fun and enjoyable read thanks to Brereton’s lovely looking artwork and what feels like a genuine enjoyment of the giant monster movie genre. The series was originally published by DC in 1999 and was collected in 2006 by Image Comics. The TPB includes the original series and field guide so there’s no worry about missing anything if you chose to grab the TPB instead of spending hours attempting to track down the single issues.

Giantkiller was originally serialized and published by DC Comics. The TPB is currently available from Image Comics.

Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Written by Gary Russell, Art by Nick Roche, Jose Maria Berdy, Steffano Martino and Marco Pierfederici
IDW, 144 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)

Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur comes courtesy of Gary Russel and a bevy of artists, including Nick Roche of Doctor Who: The Forgotten. It’s a long, convoluted tale of the Doctor and Martha as they’re roped into a scheme to defeat some ancient, evil being from beyond our reality.

This story is a bit of a mess. It starts off with a one shot that seems to have no connection to the overall arc of the book, only the framing sequences give it any sort of the connection to the rest of the series. From there, very slowly, a large story begins to emerge but it does so at a snails pace. Essentially The Doctor and Martha find themselves sucked into a plan concocted by a group known as The Pantheon to defeat an ancient, nameless evil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s the way the plan unfolds that leaves you scratching your head. Why the elaborate ruse? Why all the intrigue? To make matters worse, The Pantheon is given zero personality beyond this plot, and only one member has anything vaguely resembling a regular talking role. Instead a lot of time is given over to one off adventures until the final few chapters, at which point all is revealed and the story careens head first to a conclusion that comes so quickly and suddenly that it feels terribly anti-climatic. Also, while the Doctor and Martha are more or less themselves, something about Russel’s writing and dialogue feels a bit off.

The artwork doesn’t help much as it’s all over the place due to the number of artists involved. I was rather keen on the later artwork, which I believe was done by Martino and Pierfederici though I’m not sure since there aren’t any specific chapter breaks in this collection. They seemed to do a fantastic job at catching Martha and The Doctor’s likenesses while keeping a nice amount of detail to the rest of the art as well. The earlier chapters are a bit too cartoony, which is odd since some where done by Nick Roche and I had no problems with his art in Doctor Who: The Forgotten.

Honestly, I think Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur is a bit of a mess. It feels like it could have been streamlined immensely to make the story a much easier, less convoluted read and probably would have cleaned up some of the head scratchingly obvious plot holes to boot. It certainly tried to be incredibly epic, spanning several time periods and planets, but in the end it just felt a bit silly and fairly forgettable.

Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur is available now from IDW Publishing and Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

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