Archive for May, 2009


Lone Wolf & Cub: The Gateless Barrier

May 31st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Lone Wolf and Cub volume 2: The Gateless Barrier
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
ISBN: 1569715033
304 pages

I completely missed this last time around, but so far, the titles of each volume of Lone Wolf & Cub are very specific references to events in the book. The Assassin’s Road, obviously, is the path that Ogami and Daigoro walk. It’s filled with senseless slaughter and cruelty, and leads directly to meifumado, the Buddhist hell and home to demons and damnation. The Gateless Barrier, as explained in this volume, is mumon-seki, walking alone between heaven and earth. The assassin’s road is all there is, and nothing exists outside of it. You become mumon-seki of the assassin’s road.


This volume is a grab bag of stories. There are five of them this time, chapters ten through fourteen. “Red Cat,” “The Coming of the Cold,” “Tragic O-Sue,” “The Gateless Barrier,” and “Winter Flower” brings up the rear. The stories this time around are a good deal longer than before, giving Kojima more time to play with the storytelling of individual scenes and Koike more time to establish a setting. In “Winter Flower,” for example, Ogami appears on-panel for maybe six pages. His voice appears for more often, but he spends most of the story locked in a house. In “Tragic O-Sue,” Daigoro essentially stars for most of the story, up until the end.

lw-c_v2_022Ogami remains just as invulnerable as he was in the first volume. The first story, “Red Cat,” features a tale that should be familiar to fans of The Punisher. Ogami allows himself to be captured and taken to jail to fulfill a job. When he gets there, he’s hassled by the prisoners. They sing a song to intimidate him (no, really). When that doesn’t work, they attack him. Just as in “Wings to the Birds, Fangs to the Beasts” in the last volume, he doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. He takes the beating, not even bothering to grunt. This just pisses them off more. When he finally speaks, it’s to ask where a man is. Once he finds out that the man is on death row, Ogami murders a lot of them. The guards come and he’s taken to death row, to be executed tomorrow with his target.

He finds his man on death row, and they speak briefly. The target is an arsonist, and indirectly caused the death of the warden of the prison. Last time he was arrested, he’d started a fire in his cell, forcing the prison to evacuate. Rather than returning to jail after being temporarily freed, he ran. The warden took his own life out of shame.


Ogami reveals that at some point before getting arrested, he’d fired an arrow into an alcove in the cell (which raises the question of the point of the song and dance earlier). Ogami engineers a situation in which the arsonist and the man who hired him in the first place die, complete with a brief remark to send the latter off. After that, since prisoners must be freed in case of a fire, Ogami walks right out and the chapter closes.

After that, though, we get right into the child abuse.
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The CHIKARA Comic-to-DVD Cover Gallery

May 31st, 2009 Posted by Gavok

For the past couple years, I’d take a second every once and a while to talk about CHIKARA, an indy wrestling organization based out of Philadelphia. Founded by wrestler and head trainer Mike Quackenbush, it’s a school that turned into its own federation. With seven years under its belt, it’s grown to have its own cult following and for good reason.

I regularly bring guests to their shows, tending to take those along who know little or nothing to do with wrestling. They always have a blast. Where else can you see a mute sea monster in a muscle suit team up with a amateur wrestling Rocky Balboa against two clown-like figures dressed up like ice cream people? And not only that, but the wrestling is actually GOOD! It’s routinely funny and the storytelling is top notch.

Back when I first got into it, I did a post about how a bunch of the DVD covers are homages to notable comic book covers. As time went on, the article became a bit popular, but I lost track after a while and kept putting off an update. Now, I think it’s time not to pick up from after I left off, but to redo it from beginning to end. Here we go!

Kids Eat Free On Tuesday & Pick Up Or Delivery
Based on: Flash #123
Features: Mike Quackenbush… and Mike Quackenbush

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May 31st, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

When asked about the best significant other to pair up with Batman, the first choice I’ve gotten from nearly everyone I talk to is Catwoman.

I understand the symbolic pairing.  His sense of order and her lawlessness.  His grim quest and her indulgent enthusiasms.  Their two avatars complementing each other.  That really works in the comics.  I can totally get on board with them as the two those two people who can’t keep their hands off each other. 

But in every other way, I just don’t feel the pairing at all.  They don’t work except jumping across rooftops flirting with each other.  Whenever they interact in any other way, all I can think about when I see the two of them together is how he’s too good for her while she is, simultaneously, too good for him.

Professionally, he’s too good for her.  He’s a guy who works tirelessly to rid the streets of crime, to look out for the truly helpless, to make sure that no one else has to feel what he felt as a child.  She’s a klepto with some social skills.

But then, at least she has those social skills.  Good god, imagine dating Bruce Wayne even if you knew he was Batman.

“I don’t know Bruce, what do you think the Penguin is up to?”

“Gee, Bruce, that’s okay.  I don’t mind you missing dinner again.  It’s only been sixteen days in a row.”

“Wow.  That’s a picture of a really cute kid.  So how did you get estranged from this one?”

Even aside from all of that, honestly, what a boring, judgmental, withdrawn, sullen, self-righteous, and humorless prick Batman is.  I love him.  I got into comics reading Batman.  But he’s a trial to be around, and I can’t ignore that.

Selina Kyle, on the other hand, has consistently shown, wit, humor, empathy, charm and a joie de vivre that would make her a fantastic date and a great girlfriend.

So while these two are equally weighted and eternally paired in the public consciousness, and while they really do know how to steam up a fight scene, I’ve never been a fan.  You?

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Do Comic Movements Work?

May 30th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

HEAT worked. It took ten years, but they finally got back their totally awesome better-than-everybody-else forever-and-ever-amen hero back.

All the others, though– Girl-Wonder (at least regarding Stephanie Brown), whoever it is that wants Ted Kord/The Question/Firestorm back, and various other comics movements– have any of those ever worked? I can’t think of one.

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Hugo Pratt x Corto Maltese

May 29th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

My problem with most comic book apparel is that it’s ugly. It’s all ugly faces, awkward logos, faux faded, and completely lacking in any real design sense. Graphitti Designs is a tremendous offender in this respect. It looks like kid clothes.

Freshness Mag posted about a neat bit of comics apparel yesterday. From their site:

Italian comic strip creator, Hugo Pratt, swept the world in 1967 with the Corto Maltese comic series, featuring an eponymous adventurer-sailor, Corto Maltese. Tying in with the current exhibition at Musée National De La Marine, Colette replicated two models (court and length) of sailor jackets donned by protagonist, Corto Maltese. These sailor jackets are included in the Fall/ Winter 09 Hugo Pratt Corto Maltese collection which is on preview at Colette from May 25 to May 31.

The wool sailor jackets are exact replicas of the coats that Maltese wore, in a vintage faded black. The forearm is adorned by a navy and gold ribbon pipping and the underside of the collar has Corto Maltese’s name embroidered in cursive. On the inside, a patch featuring Maltese’s profile portrait is sewn to the coat. The nautical inspired winter jacket is tailored and smart, and there are more styles to choose from the collection. Other items include a longer wool sailors coat, a bomber-inspired jacket and a t-shirt. The pieces are now available online at Colette.

A couple of images:

This is the kind of thing I prefer to something that just says “HEY WORLD I READ COMICS LOOK AT ME AIN’T HAL JORDAN AWESOME?” I hate it, but I’d rather see someone wearing a jacket designed like Hal Jordan’s Dad’s Bomber Jacket That He Almost Died In rather than a shirt with Hal Jordan in a circle. A gym shirt that says “PROPERTY OF XAVIER’S” is much better than something with the ’90s-era X-Men logo on it, or any X-Men logo, really.

I don’t know that I’d ever wear this jacket, but it’s nice to see some comic fashion that actually tries to be fashion, instead of a twenty dollar t-shirt with a logo on it.

Colette’s site is here.

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Pluto: Kids’ Comics for Grownups

May 29th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

In a just world, Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka would be a game changer.

For the past twenty or thirty years, Marvel and DC have made a business out of telling mature stories with characters that were originally aimed at kids. While they have had some runaway successes, the majority of their output has been less than quality. The characters began growing older, going through increasingly extreme trials and tribulations, and rapidly speeding away from anything resembling “appropriate for all ages.”

In Pluto, Naoki Urasawa does it right. I recently finished the first three volumes He avoids the sensationalism and grime that tends to accumulate around stories that reinvent kiddie characters for an adult audience. I can’t judge its faithfulness to Osamu Tezuka’s “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” I’ve never read that story, and probably won’t until I finish Pluto. However, as a story in and of itself, Pluto is excellent.

pluto-atomPluto is, essentially, a re-telling that shifts the focus of the original story. My understanding of the original work is that it was an Astro Boy story that featured several guest stars. As of volume 3 of Pluto, Urasawa has elevated Gesicht, a detective, to the same position as Astro Boy in the original work, while Atom and another character serve as something between supporting characters and lead protagonists.

You could say that the story is about Gesicht and his search for a serial killer, but that would be selling it short. It is about Gesicht, Atom, Atom’s sister Uran, and various other characters. The serial killer, whose identity isn’t truly revealed until the end of book three, simply serves as a convenient way to move these characters into situations where they have to interact with and bounce off each other.

I’m very fond of the relationship that Atom and Gesicht have. The inversion of the traditional “wise old man” works very well. Gesicht comes across as child-like next to the more technologically (and emotionally) advanced Atom. He’s full of questions and conjecture, and eager to pick Atom’s brain. He comes across almost rude in his probing, but he’s coming from a good place.

pluto-atomfaces-01Atom, on the other hand, is impossibly self-assured and confident. He knows his abilities well, and is content with his life. His “real boy” demeanor never comes off as false or forced. When he sees a floating UFO and get distracted, or when he digs into a bowl of ice cream, he genuinely enjoys it. Boiling him down to something as simple as a robot is doing him an injustice, because he is clearly so much more. Just the fact that the first thing he orders is ice cream is telling.

One of the best scenes in the series so far, from an emotional and artistic perspective, involves two of the strongest robots in the world, Brando and Mont Blanc. Urasawa begins the scene with wide shots of bits of wreckage and Brando’s battle suit. Brando himself is a heavyset man who resembles his armor. Urasawa plays with angles and scale in the scene, causing Mont Blanc to seem enormous next to a man who can fairly be called “large.” Mont Blanc stays motionless while Brando approaches, and doesn’t speak when Brando greets him. When Brando asks him how many he killed, there’s a close-up panel of Mont Blanc’s emotionless face, which is followed by a panel that’s even closer while Mont Blanc simply says “A lot.” The next page is a two page spread of devastation. Robots lay dismembered and unrecognizable. No robot is whole in this scene except for Mont Blanc and Brando, and neither are scratched. It was clearly a slaughter.


This four page sequence is just a sample of how Urasawa makes Pluto work. There is action, yes, but the real action, the action you care about, is in the drama. It’s in the despair in an emotionless face, and in the way that a robot, a machine built to be precise, simply answers “a lot.” It doesn’t matter how many robots he killed, because the only true answer is “a lot.” He’s fighting in a war, but he’s also struggling with his faith in that war. It doesn’t matter that he killed 3,022 robots. It just matters that he killed a lot. The specifics don’t measure up to the reality.

The follow-up sequence to this examination of war features a televised broadcast of Atom and his role as a member of the peace-keeping forces in this war. The old warhorses (Mont Blanc, Brando, and a third named Hercules) talk about how easy he has it. He’s an “Emissary of Peace.” He isn’t stuck fighting for someone else’s hate, an emotion they don’t even understand. They came to fight for justice, but found something hate in its place. The kind of hate that forces three robots to destroy almost ten thousand of their kin in one day. After Hercules asks “What is this thing they call hate?” they look out over the battlefield and broken robot bodies and the answer is clear.

Even the scenes focused around the serial killing are more about the people involved than the murder. Atom’s encounter with a bigoted detective serves to tell us as much, if not more, about Atom’s character and depth of compassion as it does about the case itself.

It’s hammered home in scene after scene: the characters are what matter. It isn’t about the why, or the what. It’s about the who. The latter third or so of the first volume is dedicated to the story of North No. 2, his new master, and both of their attempts to regain, or attain, their humanity. It’s almost complete lacking in action until the last few pages, and even that action is kept mainly off-screen.

Our first meeting with the killer of the book is played the opposite of the way these scenes usually are done. Rather than a scene which would normally begin with slam-bang action and end in pithy farewells and threats, Urasawa pens a meeting that is disconnected and more than a little sad. Urasawa’s choice for the character who meets the killer first is a keen one in light of that character’s special ability.

The killer, rather than being a thoroughbred monster, is more like a lost animal. He’s confused and detached, not entirely sure of who he is or what he can do. He’s at a different level of humanity than Atom or Gesicht. Gesicht is curious about being human, Atom accepts his humanity, and the killer has lost his, if he ever had it in the first place.

This is where Pluto shines. It’s more than just a murder mystery, and sometimes borders on a subtle meditation on the idea of humanity. Gesicht, Atom, Uran, Brando, Hercules, and the killer are all functioning as different aspects of humanity, and this makes their interactions all the more interesting.

pluto-atomfaces-02pluto-atomfaces-03Urasawa takes an idea that has been run into the ground and manages to pull it off. Every other mature book starring a kids’ character needs to sit up and take notice of how it is actually done. Urasawa doesn’t show us Atom waist-deep in the blood of the fallen to get a rise out of us. There’s no leering, drooling rapist of a villain lurking around in the background to raise the stakes. And despite that, the regret is clear as day on Atom’s face and in the awkward pause after he talks about his role in the 39th Central Asian war.

Where Marvel and DC failed in this is that they went for the cheap shock. A wife of a superhero was raped, a Robin beaten to death, another Robin grew up and became a victim of sexual assault, and if a hero doesn’t die in an event, that event is a failure. They went for the thing that would rile people up, rather than get them talking.

Urasawa gets me talking. I’d barely finished the scene of Atom and Gesicht in the diner before I got online to say something about it. Urasawa has a lot to say in Pluto, and he’s doing it in a way that draws you in without going for the cheap shock of Atom punching through a bad guy.

If you aren’t reading Pluto, you are missing out on some of the best comics around. Volumes 1, 2, and 3 are available now, while 4, 5, and 6 drop in July, September, and November respectively. I assume that Viz is going to keep up a monthly schedule for the series, which means it will conclude in March 2010 with volume 8.

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McDuffie fired off JLA

May 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Nope, it was my own doing. I was fired when “Lying in the Gutters” ran a compilation of two years or so of my answers to fans’ questions on the DC Comics discussion boards. I’m told my removal had nothing to with either the quality of my work or the level of sales, rather with my revelation of behind-the-scenes creative discussions.

I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, because next summer was planned to feature a JLA-driven crossover, where my book’s story line would have been the driving force. I’m distressed by where I left Black Canary, as my intention was to use the current subplot to strengthen her character and relationships with the new membership, and instead I’m leaving her at the bottom of a hole I’d intended to rebuild her from. I was also just about to get a regular artist for the first time since I’ve been on the book, which would have been nice. That said, I’m sure DC’s going to put together a creative team that will generate major excitement around JLA, which is as it should be.

As for me, I’m still busy story-editing both Ben 10: Alien Force (just nominated for 3 Emmys!) and the upcoming new Ben 10 series “Ben 10: Evolutions.” As far as comic-related stuff, the all-new “Milestone Forever,” is still on track for late this year/early next year, and the Milestone trade paperback program is in full swing, with Static Shock, Icon and Hardware volumes already on the way. I’ve also recently completed a console video game script that I can’t talk about yet, but that will be of interest to anyone reading this thread. I’m currently writing a Direct-To-Video animated feature for Warner Animation, the second of two I’ve taken on this year. Again, I can’t say what they are until they’re officially announced, but they’re likely of interest to superhero fans, and one of them I can’t help looking at as what-could-have-been. You’ll see what I mean.

From McDuffie’s boards, via the homey Uzumeri.

And I mean, I’m not surprised. It’s sad, but I’m very glad to see that McDuffie has plenty of stuff lined up. I wish DC hadn’t hamstrung him right out of the gates, but that’s what happens with top-down editing. I said it in ’07 and it’s still true: DC screwed up. They screwed up hard.

McDuffie show-ran Justice League Unlimited and he’s running Ben10. Those cartoons are rolling in dough. The Static Shock cartoon had better ratings than Pokemon. Why bring him in and then handcuff him? He gave Tom Brevoort gold on Fantastic Four. Fun, all ages comics that had plenty of appeal for everyone.

To put him on JLA, and then tell him “Write these stories,” is pathetic. McDuffie and the JLA is a no-brainer. Everyone loved JLU. That’s why they put him on the book. It’s so simple a child could come up with it. The fact that he had to address the status of the book in public basically means that he was getting no traction behind the scenes, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that sound like some kind of mismanagement?

Firing McDuffie when you still employ artists who can barely draw anything approaching acceptable comics, such as Ed Benes or Tony Daniel, is pathetic. Try again.

DC Comics, and Dan Didio, lost. End of story.

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On Katsuhiro Otomo

May 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Early this week, Matthew Brady linked to a great lecture on Katsuhiro Otomo by Kentaro Takekuma. Click through, give it a read.

I’m a big Otomo fan, in part because Akira was one of the first anime I ever watched. The anime led me to the manga, which led me to the (awesome) colorized Marvel/Epic versions, which in turn led me to the (slightly less awesome) Dark Horse reprints. I’ve got three of the hardbacks Marvel and Dynamite Forces put out in the ’90s, even. I’d love to get the ones I’m missing in hardback form, but finding those seems to be pretty tough.

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Tuffy the Vampire Flayer?

May 28th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Buffy’s coming back to the big screen!  And when I say, ‘Buffy’, I mean just her.  Not Willow, or Angel, or Xander, or Giles, or Oz, or Dawn, or Joss Whedon.

Or any reference to the television series.

So, some girl who is blonde and stakes vampires.  Or perhaps she stakes vampires.  One of the people involved in re-making the series is Roy Lee, whose past films include The Strangers (People struggle helplessly against evil but evil wins.), The Grudge (People again struggle helplessly against evil but it still kind of wins.), and The Ring (Well.  We’ll call this one a possible draw for evil.  Nah.  Screw that.  It wins.).  I hope at some point during the hiring process someone asked Mister Lee whether or not he could make a movie in which good triumphs.

So what do you think.  Will this help you not look like a decaying dinosaur when you make Buffy references to today’s impressionable youth?  Or is this basically a way of turning Buffy into a brand name?

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Blokhedz Act 2: Paid in Full

May 27th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Blokhedz Act 2: Paid in Full is up over at MissionG.

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