Archive for the 'comic books' Category

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How Captain America Saved Agents of SHIELD

May 4th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

When it comes to comics, a major event story can completely ruin a less-important comic series. It can be derailed and refuse to ever rebuild itself, driving away readers and getting cancelled. When it comes to Agents of SHIELD, it’s kind of the opposite.

I was interested in Agents of SHIELD when it was announced. The Marvel Avengersverse has always impressed me. The synergy and the quality have been great almost across the board. The movies have ranged from awesome to kind of bad but not unwatchable (Iron Man 2). These days it’s rather funny to watch Warner Bros. try to play catch up with the feeling that they’re going to trip over their own feet like a cinematic Goofus compared to Marvel’s Gallant. Meanwhile, Marvel has Netflix shows on the horizon for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Movies coming up about talking space raccoons and Ultron. There’s a lot to be excited about as a comic fan.

Agents of SHIELD started pretty lukewarm and led to the overwhelming response of, “That was okay, I guess. I’ll give it another episode or two.” The characters were pretty flat, but at least we had Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Not only did he add plenty of personality, but it brought in an interesting mystery of how he was back after being impaled to death by Loki back in Avengers. One thing the show did fantastically was troll the fans by shoving in as many hints as possible to play with everyone’s prediction that he was a Life Model Decoy while never intending it to be anything more than a red herring.

While there was the occasional good episode (the one where Simmons is infected with an electric virus), but the show lacked anything genuinely gripping. As it slogged on, the only thing it really had going for it was Bill Paxton joining the cast and the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection. Even that one started to lose its steam as it kept stretching out more and more.

People involved with the show would sidestep those criticisms and say that people didn’t like it because it wasn’t constantly dealing with Marvel movie stuff. To be fair, it did get annoying when the best way they could figure to do that was by having the characters say stuff like, “Blah blah blah gamma radiation blah blah blah Chitauri blah blah Extremis blah blah Super Soldiers.” It didn’t help when they hyped up one episode as being about the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World and all we got was a couple minutes of them literally cleaning up a mess before an Asgard-related plot that had nothing to do with the movie kicked in. It felt cheap.

I stopped watching right when they teased Lorelei for the following episode. I got tired of seeing them build on a wild goose chase of a plot that was in no way engaging. Who is the Clairvoyant?! I don’t really know, but I’m getting tired of caring. The show was spinning its wheels and there were only two reasons why I intended to come back to it later: Patton Oswalt was going to show up and to see the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I say that before even seeing Winter Soldier. While the trailers did a good job not explaining exactly what was going on, at least we knew that it was going to be Captain America vs. SHIELD and there was likely going to be some kind of major aftermath. Then the movie came out and made Agents of SHIELD must-watch for at least one episode because what the hell? The reemergence of Hydra was one thing, but the movie outright ended with SHIELD completely done away with. How can you do a show about SHIELD when a movie with a higher pay grade just told you that there is no SHIELD to do a show about?

And that’s the funny thing about the synergy here. Apparently Agents of SHIELD was spinning its wheels for months because they really were waiting for Winter Soldier to come out and let Hydra out of the bag. It’s like the movie was the go-ahead to move the plot forward and let the show be a good show. It wasn’t just a minor callback like the Thor episode. It completely changed the show and for the better. Bill Paxton’s John Garrett was revealed as an agent of Hydra. Nearly every lingering plot from the show, from the Clairvoyant to Centipede to Deathlok to Graviton, is really a Hydra plot. Which is pretty awesome in the sense that in the first episode, they did hint at it with a line about cutting off Centipede’s head and having another one sprout up.

Most importantly, Grant Ward – Bland McActionHero himself – is also an agent of Hydra and has been from the beginning. This whole time, he’s been playing a role, trying to build trust so he can turn on them out of loyalty to Garrett, doing stuff that can’t be redeemed, such as shooting cops and agents directly in the face. Since then, there have been some serious stakes, most notably when Skye figures it out and has to pretend she doesn’t know while being led around by a man who will likely have her killed when she’s no longer useful.

This all leads to a wonderful scene where Skye and Ward are at a diner and she angrily rants about Garrett betraying Ward while making it increasingly apparent that she’s aware that Ward is Hydra.

“It’s got to be so hard, living a double life like that. Getting close to people only to turn on them. I don’t know how Garrett did it.”

“Garrett?”

“What about all that time he spent as your S.O.? Getting to know you? Being your mentor? Only to lie to your face. Betray you like that.”

“It was, um… difficult to accept. But thankfully that’s over.”

“Because you took care of him.”

“Can we not discuss this right now?”

“If you could have had one more moment before you shot him in the back of the head – so heroically – if he was sitting right here and you could say anything you want, what would you say?”

“Skye?”

“Would you say he’s disgusting? Would you tell him he’s a disgusting, back-stabbing traitor? Or to rot in Hell?”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just trying to have an honest conversation for once.”

Yeah, that rules. Also later, when she calls him out on being a Nazi serial killer.

While it doesn’t make up for most of the season being just kind of there, it does at least fix one moment from earlier that always irked me. In the first episode, Coulson injected Ward with a truth serum so that Skye could interview him and there’d be nothing to hide. It was one of the premiere’s highlights. A few episodes later, she teased Ward about it and he told her that the serum was fake. They were just playing her. When she asked Coulson about Ward’s claims, he just gave her a smirk and said that that was very interesting. At first I hated that because it rubbed away that clever scene from the first episode. Now I see it as playing into the plot because if it really was truth serum, Ward might have been made a lot earlier.

There are still two episodes left to go and who knows if we’re going to get a second season. I hope they do get it because once the editorial curtain was pulled away, Agents of SHIELD has become consistently good. That is one of Captain America’s greatest acts of superheroism. His own movie somehow made a mediocre show watchable.

By the way, I knew something was up with Ward when he threw away Fitz’s delicious sandwich that one time. Ruining sandwiches is something only a monster would do.

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Space Brothers: Maybe Next Time

April 17th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

chuya koyama - space bros - nope

Created by Chuya Koyama, translated by William Flanagan, serialized on Crunchyroll. Space Brothers.

Not even humans can defeat the weather.

I like Space Brothers a lot. I’m ninety-some chapters in at this point and it’s managed to be funny, thrilling, sad, poignant, and good without really being anything but a low stakes slow motion kind of comic. There may be death or failure or tragedy, but it’s not really a comic that trades on those. Koyama is telling a story about triumph more than tragedy, so any setback is put into a greater context that ameliorates it some.

Space Bros is good because its two lead characters are a remarkably motivated and successful astronaut and his unlucky older brother, who is attempting to become an astronaut. He’s a dummy, but he’s not dumb, like an adult version of a shonen protagonist, so the series is constantly walking this line between comedy, motivational speaking, and amazing and meaningful coincidences from the past reflecting in the present day. It’s all very unbelievable, but it makes me feel good/sad/good, so I’m into it.

It’s facile, but it reminds me a lot of Twin Spica, one of my favorite comics from a few years back. Twin Spica had a cast of mostly underdogs knocking down obstacles left and right on their way to the top. It was sweet, it was earnest, it was very good. Space Brothers is very similar, though with sibling rivalry and friendship at its core instead of cute stubbornness. Space Brothers is astronomically less melancholy than Twin Spica, but they both share a certain amount of bittersweet sentiment, which in turns makes the triumphs better.

Or the jokes, like this one, where the dummy older brother gets ready to train to become an astronaut, sees the weather, and thinks twice.

(Vertical’s begun releasing Twin Spica in ebook format. You should read it. I wrote about it a little.)

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Three Comics Kickstarters

April 16th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Some people I like a lot are doing Kickstarters that make me feel good about where comics as an industry are going. Check it out:

-Smut Peddler 2014: LADYPORN CONQUERS EARTH is masterminded by Spike Trotman. I interviewed Spike back in February as part of Inkstuds Spotlight. Spike’s a great interview, funny, free, and most importantly, she knows how to talk about biz in a way that makes it easy for newbies like me to understand. I came away even more impressed and entertained than I already was, and it’s a delight to see Smut Peddler 2014, a sequel to the porn anthology she Kickstartered years ago, to blow up so huge. She asked for twenty grand, so far she’s up to one hundred five with eighteen days to go, and that means that all of the wonderful pornographers involved in this project are getting a fat stack of extra money on top of their page rate.

It’s 1) an anthology project 2) focused on lady-friendly pornography 3) with a page rate for the creative teams and 4) bonus cash for the creative teams, scaled according to how much money the project earns. Any one of these four things is a pretty wild idea according to common comics sense, but here are all four and it’s already a raging success. I think that speaks to something about comics as we know it right now, that there is an audience for this stuff that is not just being underserved, but not served at all.

But more than that, on a basic “Comics Needs To Be Better” front: artists are getting paid. And as the money coming in rises, they’re getting paid more. This is good. This is what comics shoulda been doing all along. Pay attention to Spike and her gang. Learn something.

-I’ve known Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle pretty much since I moved out west, and I was glad to see them put up THE RATTLER a 96-page graphic novel thriller. Greg’s an artist that people are gonna dig once he breaks out, and Jason’s a mean writer in the best sense of the word, a real blood-in-the-unrepentant-grin kinda guy. They’ve been cranking away at this book for ages, and the Kickstarter is to publish it, rather than complete it. The book is done, so this is more like a pre-order than anything else. I’m stoked, personally, both because it’s great to see these guys succeed, but also because it’s sorta representative of what I think Kickstarter can be great at, which is connecting creators and readers without a middleman or marketing team getting in the way. “Here is my book. If you like it, buy it?” It’s basic, but Kickstarter can enable a lot of people who had exceedingly limited options beforehand, and I think The Rattler is a good example.

-There are a ton of comics out there that aren’t Marvel & DC, and I’ve been slowly figuring that out and dipping my toe into those waters over the past however many years. It’s tough to know where to start, but I’m glad Zack Soto and crew put Study Group Comic Books out there. It’s a webcomics site with a bunch of indie comics from a wide variety of creators, with a few print books on the side. Study Group Comics: 2014 Spring Pre-Order Fest is the Kickstarter for Study Group’s books this year, including new Farel Dalrymple and Sam Alden. A big part of figuring out this side of comics for me has been being able to check out Study Group and following the breadcrumbs. Sometimes finding new dope stuff is as easy as clicking on whatever looks cool.

I like all three of these projects and the folks involved. On top of that, all of them have a digital-only tier with PDFs. That’s my favorite kind of Kickstarter. DRM-free is the way to go, and if you’re looking for a few new books, any of these should be enough. They all have about ten days left and they’ve all met their goals, but it’s still worth backing any or all of ‘em.

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Nisekoi: Love Hurts

April 14th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

nisekoi - jokes 01

nisekoi - jokes 02
Written and drawn by Naoshi Komi, translated by Camellia Nieh, edited by John Bae. Nisekoi: False Love, 2014.

On the one hand, Naoshi Komi’s Nisekoi: False Love, currently being serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump is not my type of comic. It stars a Polite Loser who has girls of various types of specific fetishes chasing after him or aggressively ignoring him, depending on the lady. He’s pretty clueless and he secretly likes someone, but he’s in a fake relationship with another girl to bring peace to their respective Yakuza/mafia clans, so soap opera hijinks result…blah blah blah. It’s a hijinks romcom manga, not a crime manga, which is basically my entire problem. “This comic isn’t like an entirely different comic.” There’s a lot to like about it, anyway, though.

Nisekoi is drawn pretty well, despite not being my bag, so I like to flip through it when Jump comes out to see if anything catches my eye. While it isn’t entirely my type of comics, the joke in the middle tier of the first image and the entirety of the (nonconsecutive) second page have a sense of humor that are definitely my type of humor. I didn’t know comedy suplexes were a thing until I read GTO, and now I get a kick out of it every single time.

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Freak-out Comix: East of West 09

April 1st, 2014 Posted by david brothers

East of West 09 - vizier

Drawn by Nick Dragotta, written by Jonathan Hickman, colored by Frank Martin, lettered by Rus Wooton. East of West 09, 2014. I work for Image.

This panel here is my desktop at work. It’s the Vizier from Dragotta & Hickman’s East of West, a character that has only appeared on a few pages of the series. I sat up and started paying attention as soon as I saw this panel, and it still makes me freak out a little. Black women in comics are rare enough, but ones drawn as well as this…well, Storm never had it so good, you know?

I spend a lot of time chasing that feeling. A comic that makes you freak out over some big move (“Now it’s my turn,” “’tis on,” the end of Top Ten, “thirty-five minutes ago,” “Me? I’m magic,” and so on) is cool, but lately I’ve been getting that feeling more from the little things, like a single panel of a comic that’s just perfect, or the way a character moves across a page. That feeling leads me directly to the feeling you get when you want to talk about something with someone else just to share the joy.

This one made me freak out because it’s drawn so well and perfectly staged. East of West is a good comic, I’m into it, but this felt over and beyond what I was expecting, like finding a hundred dollar bill in a roll of twenties. I like finding things that make me feel stupid, like I don’t even know how to explain why it works as well as it does.

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and we are all cyborgs

March 19th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Last year, I provided an afterword for Archaia’s release and updating of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009, drawn by Marcus To, written by FJ DeSanto, and colored by Ian Herring. My copyright was left out of the book, but part of the deal was I kept the rights to the text so I could bring it here and show it to you. If you’re into Ishinomori, this Cyborg 009 dvd set is well worth checking out, too. This text is as it appeared in the hardcover, though I’ve styled the titles and headers differently than they appeared in print.


ishinomori, innovator

Something as simple as a cursory overview of Shotaro Ishinomori’s career can impress even the most jaded comics fan. He holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Comics Published By One Author,” laid the foundation for two separate popular genres, and blazed several different trails across a wide variety of projects. He had a fuller career than most people dream of, and even fifteen years after his death, his creations are still being revamped, remastered, and revived for all-new audiences. His influence is tough to overstate, and his remarkably fruitful career has resulted in a bibliography that’s a library unto itself.

Ishinomori often worked in a science fiction mode, filling his stories with giant monsters, transforming heroes, and robots big and small. His bombastic sci-fi tales worked magic on his target audience — young children and teens, generally — but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t appeal to adults. The contrary is true, in fact. Ishinomori employed classic hero versus villain tropes and slapstick humor in his work, but made sure to include just enough nuance and depth to make the stories fascinating from an adult point of view, as well. The subtext in his work speaks volumes, and often presents a fascinating point of view. Beyond that, the subtext meshes with the child-friendly material in a remarkably organic way.

Cyborg 009 is a classic example of Ishinomori’s broad appeal. A team of nine humans-turned-cyborgs rebel against Black Ghost, an evil organization bent on doing wrong. They fight other cyborgs and giant robots using special powers and laser guns. Each cyborg has his or her own custom power or specialty. Some are capable of moving at mach speed, while others can breathe flame. The fights are flashy and exactly as exciting as they need to be, but the subtext provides Cyborg 009 with an unexpected amount of depth. That depth makes the conflicts in the series even more resonant and exciting. It hints at a greater context than something that is purely the forces of good battling the forces of evil.

merchants of death

Cyborg 009 begins with a history lesson. Ishinomori quickly summarizes World War II, including the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before introducing the idea of nuclear proliferation and the Cold War. He then immediately transitions to a meeting of the real villains of the series, creating a direct link between war and our villains. Instead of being a shadowy cabal of evil magicians, scientists, or aliens, the men behind the horrors sweeping over the globe were much more mundane. They were mere arms dealers and warmongers. They put up with the dramatic overtures of the Black Ghost and produce weapons of mass destruction in order to make money hand over fist. The evil of their actions is simply an acceptable side effect of business. It’s collateral damage.

Ishinomori’s use of warmongers as the prime movers of the series is pointed casting considering the atmosphere at the time. Cyborg 009 debuted in 1964. That’s less than 20 years after the end of World War II and the introduction of atomic warfare, 11 years after the end of the Korean War, and square in the middle of rapidly escalating violence in Vietnam. The world was in the process of being carved up by opposing forces, and the business of war was booming. The creation of newer and more lethal weapons allowed war to become a very profitable enterprise. The predations of warmongers partially led to the overwhelming paranoia and fear that permeated the Cold War era, and nuclear panic ensured that everyone knew that the world could end at any moment.

It’s telling that the villains have such a banal motivation, as well. Ishinomori’s villains may employ the classically cartoonish and outlandish tactics that you would expect from an organization with a name like “Black Ghost,” but at their core, they’re simply men who want more than they have and will stop at nothing to get it. They’re greedy, and greed is a very human failing. The human element is what makes Ishinomori’s stories so resonant, even decades after they were first introduced. The villains in Cyborg 009 are human to the core, and it is the very human capacity for unthinkingly callous evil that drives the Black Ghost.

The cyborgs are part of an arms race. In this case, the warmongers want to create new weapons to take advantage of new battlefields, and thereby avoid the peace process. They’re an escalation, another result of the evolution of war. Black Ghost’s plan to turn humans into cyborgs requires the corruption of human beings. Rather than soliciting soldiers or building a volunteer army of cyborgs from scratch, the organization chooses to kidnap innocent humans from a variety of places and walks of life and turn them into cyborgs. The Black Ghost, like war, can and will touch you, no matter how far removed you may think you are from the conflict.

man made machine

The international and diverse cast of Cyborg 009 hammers that home. Our nine cyborg heroes and the cyborg villains they battle are ballerinas and chefs, actors and delinquents, privileged and oppressed, adults and children. They represent us; they represent humanity. The cyborgs are unique, both in power and personality, but they all have a great capacity for good or evil. Like most humans, they simply have to choose between their baser natures and doing good.

The concept of free will is a vital part of the Cyborg 009 story, but Ishinomori explores coercion and the limits of free will, as well. The villainous cyborgs are under the control of evil forces, but still manage to demonstrate genuinely human traits, sometimes even in the midst of battle. Sometimes they’ve been bullied and are lashing out, and other times they repay a kindness as best they can, even if it goes against their programming.

They are human first, even when their human identity has been stripped away. Many of the cyborgs have been altered far past the point where they can be strictly defined as human. Cyborg 0013, for example, is a giant robot, while another is a Western-style mansion. But, no matter what we go through, no matter what horrors, we are still human. We have the capability to not just adapt to our situations, but to overcome them.

the good doctor

Part of what gives us the strength to overcome adversity is our community. We find strength in groups, wisdom from our elders, and motivation from seeing people like us succeeding. In the case of Cyborg 009, Dr. Isaac Gilmore serves as their mentor and engineers their jailbreak. Gilmore served as a scientist in the Black Ghost organization, and shares responsibility for the creation of the cyborgs. He rebelled against his employers, and in doing so, represents another important aspect of the human experience: repentance.

Gilmore, as an agent of the Black Ghost, did wrong. His intentions may have been honorable, but he took part in an experiment that forever ruined the lives of more than a dozen human beings. Many of the advances in science that led to the creation of weapons of mass destruction didn’t come from men and women who wanted to destroy the world. The pursuit of knowledge often comes with a catch, and Gilmore was lucky enough to realize the catch before he progressed too far down a dark path. He chose to stop and repent for his dirty deeds, and that gives him a strength and depth that is vital for the story of Cyborg 009.

Making up for mistakes is an important part of the human experience. It’s a way of exercising control over both yourself and your environment. You refuse to let yourself be defined by your mistakes, you work to make up for those mistakes, and in doing so, you change the world around you. You become the good person that you want to be when you seek forgiveness for your mistakes, and the knowledge that you have the capacity to slip up keeps you on the straight and narrow. You’ve been there before — you don’t want to go back again.

the morally upstanding juvenile delinquent

Joe Shimamura, better known as 009, is another example of a heroic character with rough edges. Originally, he was the son of a Japanese woman and a foreign father. He was considered an outcast, and he suffered for his heritage. He was bullied and teased, and he slipped fairly easily into the life of a delinquent. He didn’t become an outlaw because he wanted easy money, or because he felt like being a delinquent was fun. He was forced into a corner and he adapted.

He never left behind his inner goodness, however. After becoming a cyborg and returning to Tokyo, he comes across an old friend in Shinjuku. The friend is more than willing to bully and rob another person, but 009 rejects that idea. He stops his friend and rebukes him in front of a complete stranger. This kindness is repaid later, when the stranger is revealed to be a rival cyborg in disguise and chooses to spare 009’s life.

009’s graciousness is another sign, and an important one. You always have a choice. If you find yourself between a rock and a hard place and you do something wrong, that doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing right. It just means that you made a choice. You can always choose differently, even if it means temporarily alienating a friend to comfort a stranger.

The fact that 009 is the titular character and the window into the Cyborg 009 universe is fascinating. We see the world through 009’s eyes, and as a result, we can’t help but identify with him. 009 and the reader are both new to the world Ishinomori has created, and 009’s experiences color our own experiences with the world.

Many heroes are written as if they were always morally upstanding and have never, ever wavered in their beliefs. It’s a comforting idea to think that there is someone out there who always makes the right decision, but that isn’t realistic. Everyone makes bad decisions and goes through trials and tribulations. 009 is no different from anyone else. The difference is that he’s made the decision to reject the negative choices he made before, and to do right from that point on.

danseuse, soldat, femme

Francoise, unit 003, is innocent and unaffiliated. Where 009 had to fight simply for the right to live life as he wanted before he became a cyborg, 003 spent her time as a ballerina. Her passion was to entertain people, to be a living work of art. In a way her purpose in life was the opposite of what war represents. War devastates communities, destroys livelihoods, and lines the pockets of the men and women who don’t care who they hurt. There are no winners when it comes to war.

Dancing, on the other hand, is meant to enrich our lives. You can experience it on a physical level, as you admire the acrobatics and contortions the dancer performs. You can also experience it on an emotional level, as the movements of the dancer spark feelings within you. Dancing is meant to create appreciation in a viewer, while war only ever creates conflict.

By drafting 003 into their war, the Black Ghost organization is doing exactly what war does: it corrupts innocence. It takes something beautiful — whether that’s dancing or simply living your life as you wish — and dashes it against the rocks. It’s cruel and unfair and 003 is a perfect example of why. She’s a kind and sweet person, nice almost to a fault, and she did absolutely nothing to deserve her fate.

War respects no one. It doesn’t pick and choose whom it affects. It simply happens and we’re left to pick up the pieces. In the case of 003, she was left enhanced by her experience with the Black Ghost, thanks to the addition of high tech communications capabilities, but is left divorced from her previous life. She can’t go back, not without bringing the baggage she now carries with her. War’s touch is indelible. You can move past it, but it sticks with you. You’re forever changed.

cyborg soldier, human heart

One of the most impressive things about Ishinomori’s original Cyborg 009 stories is how resonant and relevant they remain to this day. The world has existed in a state of constant warfare for decades now, if not longer. Skimming the newspaper or Internet shows that armed conflict is a fact of life for many, many people. There are powers beyond our control that wish to divide the Earth up, reasonable people who have been forced into bad situations, and bad people who are eager to take advantage of bad situations. War is here, it is real, and sometimes it’s even right outside our window.

Ishinomori’s cyborgs represent us, but they do more than that. They encourage us. They inspire us. They suggest that someone, somewhere can stand against great evil and not just survive, but succeed. They can make a difference, whether that difference is pushing for nuclear disarmament in real life or battling evil cyborgs in fiction. All it takes is making a choice. The specific choices change as time goes on, but the core idea is incredibly versatile.

The cyborgs are human. Once you understand that, the meaning behind the rest of the series flows like water. Their enemies are war incarnate, men and women who would exploit the Earth for their own gain. After being touched by those enemies, the cyborgs are decidedly different than they were before, but their innate human goodness remains the same. They rage against the injustice they suffered, and they fight to make sure that that injustice is never perpetrated again.

The setting of Cyborg 009 is a world that is constantly on the brink of being destroyed. Governments wage war, shadowy figures finance and enhance those wars, and the only thing stopping humankind from being overrun are the actions of honest and moral human beings who refuse to let the wrong side win. The cyborgs are sacrificing their lives to prevent that exact outcome. There are plenty of reasons to be afraid, but there is a reason to have hope, as well.

Seeding a comic intended for children with these ideas may seem strange at first glance, but Ishinomori pursued his allegory in such a way that the story remains perfectly appropriate for all ages. Ishinomori stops well short of becoming overbearing or preachy. There’s nothing in there that’s inappropriate for children. Ishinomori couches the allegory in familiar ideas: a delinquent with a secret heart of gold, a wizened mentor, and a flashy and bombastic evil organization. It’s only once you scratch the surface that you realize the reason why Cyborg 009 works as well as it does is because it is working with deeper themes than pure “good versus evil” or squeaky-clean generic adventures.

– david brothers, 2013

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My Grandpa’s Stories Can’t Be This Weird

March 18th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Kazuhiro Urata - Grandpa 01

Kazuhiro Urata - Grandpa 02

Written and drawn by Kazuhiro Urata, adapted by Tania Fukuda, translated by Abby Lehrke. My Grandpa’s Stories Can’t Be This Weird, 2014.

Kazuhiro Urata’s My Grandpa’s Stories Can’t Be This Weird, which runs in the free Manga Box app, is dumb. It’s the same kind of dumb that made Akira Toriyama’s Dr Slump one of my favorite comics. It’s aggressively-but-knowingly dumb, a shaggy dog joke with digressions that are actual jokes instead of distractions.

The hook is almost always the same. There’s a boy who just wants to go to sleep, a grandfather hellbent on reading a story to his grandson, and a storybook that is a wacky version of an established story. The kid reacts to each absurd new element with disbelief until the end, when the story kinda-sorta comes together.

There’s just one main joke here, and the fun is seeing how the joke is twisted into a new form with each new strip. Everything about this excerpt makes me laugh, and it’s just the first three pages. There was one a while back where he replaced all the characters in a fairy tale with murderers, good and bad, that has me ready to cry laughing by the end of page one, and the Red Riding Hood story is a new twist on an old joke with several utterly incredible bits.

There are a few other comics that have that one-joke framework that I like. I was an avid reader of Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics for years, and ONE & Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man has a surprising number of gags based around one punch. (My favorite is a background gag, a bear that got knocked out in the woods.) My Grandpa’s Stories is more steeped in anti-humor than any of those series, but I’m really into it. Reading it is kind of like waiting for the point where a balloon tips over from inflated to burst.

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World Trigger: Teen Teams vs Aliens

March 17th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

daisuke ashihara - world trigger

Created by Daisuke Ashihara, translated by Lillian Olsen, edited by Hope Donovan. World Trigger, 2014.

Daisuke Ashihara’s World Trigger is one of my favorite strips in Weekly Shonen Jump. It’s about teens fighting aliens from a neighboring dimension, and while I thought it was going to be a weirdo analogy for illegal immigration (the organization is BORDER, the aliens are Neighbors), it is actually a great teen team comic. It’s cool like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game was cool, but with a boys’ manga swagger—swords made of lasers, customizable weapons that fit your temperament, teams of people with diverse interests and personalitys, coolguys saying cool things right before or while things explode, and heroes thinking of their friendships while effortlessly carving up aliens. There’s a sense of danger, but it’s lessened by the fact that the characters are using fake host bodies made of energy, so if you need to—for example—cut off your own leg to kill a monster, then you can do that, and it’s cool instead of horrific. When they ramp up the carnage, it’s like a video game character booping out instead of wall-to-wall gore and viscera.

It’s not Screaming Shonen like Seraph of the End or Attack on Titan, where uncontrollable and annoying levels of rage power the main characters. It’s…Steady Shonen? It has a lot in common with sports manga, where that lone wolf nonsense only goes so far. World Trigger feels very safe, both in style and in plot, but it has a lot of good stuff within that safeness. It feels good, and that’s because the character work is very strong and the jokes are good.

A good example is this page from a recent chapter, where a nerdy girl who belongs to BORDER wears her fandom on her sleeve. Sometimes you don’t need a laser sword to slash a monster…

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“I think I might be pregnant.”

March 13th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

katusuhiro otomo - akira - nurse 01

katusuhiro otomo - akira - nurse 02
Written and drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo, adapted by Jo Duffy, colored by Steve Oliff, lettered by Mike Higgins. Akira, 1988.

I say I like to re-read Akira a few times a year, but the truth is I do that in addition to reading random passages out of it whenever they come to mind. I get something out of it every time I go back to it, and this latest round, spurred by a couple friends reading the book for the first time, is no different.

This scene and its followup are among my favorite bits in the book and a good illustration of both how callous and awful Kaneda is and how good Otomo is at making comics. This time around, I’m looking at the table the school nurse is holding onto for dear life. I like how the table is the only thing keeping her from floating into the air on the first page. She’s into Kaneda and feeling good, until the second page rolls around and the table is the only thing keeping her from collapsing to the ground.

Otomo does a lot with a little.

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Luke Cage, keeping it realer than most

March 12th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Richard Corben - Cage - fence

Richard Corben, Brian Azzarello, Jose Villarubia. CAGE, 2002.

I re-read this one the other week. It’s one of the comics I got way back when I was getting back into comics, and was probably one of my first Corben comics, too. I hadn’t read it in years, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I re-read it. It looks like the last edition debuted in 2002, and the series hasn’t been re-packaged since, which is a shame. The intro to the hardcover, written by Darius Jones, is called “Straight-up Real Nigga,” something I can’t imagine Marvel ever associating with Cage in the here-and-now, but also an idea I’d love to see the character actually be able to deal with in the comics themselves.

Corben and colorist Villarubia put in work on this page, and it’s probably my favorite image of the character. There’s no tiara, no yellow shirt, nothing that screams “This is Luke Cage!”, but it’s still signifying nonetheless. You get the sense that he’s dangerous, he’s mad, and he’s invincible. You can hurt him, you can knock him down, but you don’t get to win. That background Villarubia threw behind him in panel 4 is great, a bloody sunset that follows in Cage’s wake.

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