Welcome and apologies for this slightly belated weekly review! This week I’ll be taking a look a the Yen Press release of Jack Frost, Vols. 7 – 9, but first, a few bits of pieces that caught my attention this past week.
- Long time manga blogger, critic and reporter Brigid Alverson writes up a rare review for Moyoco Anno’s In Clothes Called Fat.
- In the midst of con season, Seven Seas confirmed with ANN that they’ll be releasing three more Alice in the Country of Clover manga.
- And of course, The New York Times Best Sellers List for the week for July 26th.
And now, onto this weeks review of Jack Frost, Vols. 7 – 9!
About five years ago I read and reviewed the first volume of Jack Frost for the now defunct Manga Recon. At the time I was taken by the slick artwork and intense action scenes, but not much else. After all that time I’ve finally returned to the series with Jack Frost, Vols. 7 – 9. After so long and so many volumes, surely things have improved and the story’s developed nicely! For those who don’t know, Jack Frost tells the tale of a world between worlds known as Amityville. Here souls leave the karmic cycle and take part in the struggle for a being known as Mirror Image. This time around it’s young Noh-Ah, and her guardian in this strange afterlife has been the violent and enigmatic man known as Jack Frost.
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.
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.
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.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories is the latest volume in Brian Wood’s historical fiction series, Northlanders, and consists of three short stories. It opens with the three part “The Siege of Paris”, focusing on a siege gone horribly wrong from the point of view of a professional soldier for hire. The second story, “The Hunt”, follows a solitary hunter who’s lost everything, his children, his wife, his family as he refuses to lose his current prey regardless of the cost. And rounding out the volume is the titular “Thor’s Daughter” which gives us a glimpse of a young girl named Birna forced into adulthood following the death of her father at the hands of rivals.
The three stories, like nearly every other story in the Northlanders series, are stand alone tales and require no previous knowledge of the world, the characters or anything else. This means that despite being volume six in the series, the stories are just as accessible and new reader friendly as the first volume was. All three of the stories were very entertaining but at the same time I was surprised by their length. “The Hunt”, for me, is the stand out. Wood does a fantastic job at getting across the desperation of the hunter. His need to succeed and prove that he’s still capable of providing for himself was palpable. “Thor’s Daughter”, oddly enough, was probably my least favorite. The idea and the concept are sound and left me wanting to see more of Birna and how her story played out and it almost felt like the first chapter in a longer tale. I was definitely left wanting more from it. “The Siege of Paris” was an interesting tale and I enjoyed how the lead character had an almost man out of time feel to him. His desires clashed with those in power who were willing to settle wars through political discourse and money, something that was almost a personal affront to his raiding and pillaging sensibility. The fact that Wood was able to make a character who was looking to slaughter and loot a city sympathetic and enjoyable is a bit of a testament to his skills as a writer.
The artwork for the volume is a little hit and miss in places. While Marian Churchland does an absolutely fantastic job with “Thor’s Daughter” and Matthew Woodson’s work on “The Hunt” is equally lovely, something about Simone Gane’s work in “The Siege of Paris” just didn’t click for me. It was rough and ugly, certainly fitting for a story about a three month long siege from the grunt’s point of view, but at the same time there was an awkwardness and cartoonishness to it that undercut some of the epic moments and some of the emotional impact of certain scenes.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories probably wasn’t my favorite of the Northlanders series, but it was still an enjoyable and entertaining read. The short story nature of the volume means you get a good cross section of the kind of tales that Brian Wood is trying to tell with the series; massive historical war epics, more intimate tales of humanity and loss, and stories about people finding themselves and struggling with situations not of their making. It might not be the greatest introduction to the series, but it’s still far better than much of what’s coming out of the American comic book industry at the minute and is worth a look.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories is available now from Vertigo Comics.
Monkey King, Vol. 1, the first release from new publish JR Comics, is an adaption of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West courtesy of Wei Dong Cheng and Chao Peng. The opening volume kicks off with the birth and origins of the Monkey King, Sun Wu Kong, and chronicles some of his earlier exploits.
Monkey King’s story is incredibly fast paced, breezing along from one tale of Sun Wu Kong’s trouble making ways to another. It barely stops to breath and at times it feels very plot driven. Despite being the main character not a whole lot of time is given to exploring the ins and outs of Sun Wu Kong’s personality in this first volume. Events that seem like they’re meant to motivate and drive him are often depicted but then abandoned in favor of depicting more of his antics. The result is that there’s a lack of emotional resonance with these events. We see them occur but so little time is given to examining their affects upon Sun Wu Kong that it’s left up to the readers to fill in the blanks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but going from tragedy to a silly scene of Sun Wu Kong causing chaos seems to undercut the emotional impact they’re meant to have on him. It’s possible that these will be brought up and discussed at greater length in the future, but right now they just seem to lack the oomph that they should have.
Visually the book is pretty solid. Chao Peng does a fantastic job at illustrating the various gods, demons and mystics that populate the story. The action scenes aren’t as decompressed as those of similar manga and most fights are over in a matter of pages. Peng does a great job at avoiding the pitfalls of making characters look too much alike and is quite good at conveying expressions and emotions through the faces of his characters. The backgrounds are always fleshed out and the book’s in full color to boot, making it a bit of a visual treat with plenty of interesting things to look at and get absorbed into.
Monkey King is an interesting creature. I haven’t really seen an attempt at getting Chinese comics published in the US since the ComicsOne days so it’s nice to see someone trying again. That said I’m not sure if this is the right way to go about doing it. It’s a fairly entertaining read but something about it is just lacking the “it” factor to really make it stand out from what else is on the shelves now a days. Still, it seems like a solid adaption of a Chinese classic and I’m tempted to hunt down another volume or two in the future.
Monkey King, Vol.1 is published by JR Comics and is available now.