Archive for the 'manga' Category


Cartoonishly virile, absurdly smooth: The Crying Freeman Story

May 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

It’s sorta interesting to me that cape comics have survived as a juvenile male power fantasy for so long. I don’t mean that in terms of being childish or whatever, but more literally. The love triangles, skimpy costumes, brawny dudes, stunted sexuality, and simplistic morals all read sorta teenaged to me. That’s part of the appeal, I think, because things are much simpler in cape comics than they are in real life. There’s a really boring essay to be written about that fact, I figure, but that’s not the point.

Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami’s Crying Freeman is some type of male power fantasy, but I can’t figure out what type. I decided to read the series whe Dark Horse started putting them up because I have vague memories of enjoying the movie as a kid. Plus, I dig on that whole ’80s Hong Kong aesthetic; the aviators, dusters, revolvers, and all that stuff. The John Woo/Chow Yun-fat steez.

The thing is, Crying Freeman starts as one thing (reluctant hitman who cries when he’s forced to kill) and evolves into another thing entirely when he’s made chief of the 108 Dragons triad. What follows is a lot of naked fighting and some pretty absurd sexual situations. I mean, there’s a bit where a guy attempts to make two body doubles for Freeman. Of course, Freeman is the overman, so they do a lot of work making sure that the doubles know his every movement and twitch so they can be perfect. Then, the lady who lured Freeman into the trap, Kimie, sleeps with Freeman in order to “absorb his every single sexual habit” so that when the doubles sleep with Freeman’s wife, she’ll believe that it’s actually him.

This is already pretty dumb, but it keeps going. They go at it for at least an hour, also known as “something like thirty pages of straight sex while onlookers gawk at his prowess.” Oh, and while all this has been going on, Freeman has been dosed with some type of super aphrodisiac that’s theoretically put him out of his mind with lust. Freeman invents a couple new fetishes for himself to throw off the onlookers (choking, mainly, and everyone Hmm!s and Aah!s over it and briefly psychoanalyzes him), but the rub is insane. He never comes, and that drives Kimie crazy. “You’re making me lose face as a woman!!” crazy. And then, on the night Freeman is due to die, Kimie sleeps with him again and betrays her criminal conspiracy for him. He basically let this lady sex herself into complete and total submission. And this isn’t even the strangest sex scene in the book.

Crying Freeman is incredible, is what I’m saying. I don’t know if it’s actually any good, but the stuff that Koike and Ikegami are putting down on the page is remarkable because it’s both extreme and strange. It’s a great book to read. It’s out there, and it’s out there in a way I hadn’t expected. Freeman, even when he’s hurt, always has the upper hand, having thought a dozen steps ahead and come up with insane reasons for doing things.

It’s the most Koike of Koike’s works, at least that I’ve read. The cartoonish Super Saiyan Level 4 Fusion-ha masculinity, the women who are sexy and dangerous until they meet Freeman and his incredible dick, the absurd criminal plots… all of this stuff I’ve seen elsewhere in Koike’s work, but it’s taken to such a ridiculous level in Crying Freeman that the book becomes as much a slow-motion train wreck as exploitation comic. Takao Saito’s Golgo 13 features some of the most manly manliness ever, and it still never manages to hold a candle to Crying Freeman.

If you’ve ever read anything featuring Golgo 13, whose own prodigious penis got a bio of its own in a volume of the manga, you understand exactly how outlandish Koike and Ikegami’s collabo is. I came in expecting a traditional crime comic, and instead got Crime Comix Plus. Freeman’s outthinking and out-screwing levels are off the charts, to the point where the book regularly shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Por ejemplo, this happens when Freeman returns to the 108 Dragons late in volume 5:

Those are gangsters, by the way, showing high school cheerleaders how to stunt properly.

Or this bit, which comes after a sexy might-as-well-be-naked eskimo assassin (she wears a fur coat sometimes, but is otherwise nude under it, because… of the arctic? I dunno) attempted to ambush Freeman in the dark while wearing a see-thru wetsuit, because apparently eskimos have great night vision and are built like porn stars:

No one has ever said or thought this. Ever.

Or this, where Freeman eavesdrops on a drug deal and kills three men before they can even draw their weapons:

(In their defense, if some dude in a suit hopped out of a pile of fish, I’d be frozen in awe, too. the only appropriate sound effect for that sight would be a harsh “ZANG!” or something.)

Or this, which I feel sorta speaks for itself:

I still don’t know what type of male fantasy this is. Like, is this how dudes dealt with impotence pre-Viagra? “This has never happened to me before, honest, but luckily I can go home in shame and read about a guy who is not only the most masculine man ever but also sensitive inside despite his magnificent penis and incredible aptitude for killing.” Does this represent some ’80s-era fear that I’m just not in the know on? Or is it just a couple dudes making a ridiculous comic that wears perfectly sensible clothes, as far as adventure comics go? I mean, it looks and quacks like a crime comic, maybe a little more heightened than I usually go for, but then you hit a speedbump that’s outlandishly sexed up (three or four times a volume, I figure) and pause to go “Whoa, wait? Is this supposed to be sexy?” What were Koike and Ikegami going for, here?

I know from male fantasies, too. Budd Root’s Cavewoman or Witchblade. They’re sexy girls with big boobs, and sometimes you get to see them (or parts of them, in Witchblade’s case), often when they’re doing exciting action-y things. Superheroes speak to wanting to impose our will on basically everything ever and be winners/popular, yeah? Righting wrongs and having an amazing life. And the only people who haven’t dreamed of being outlaws, whether that means cowboys or gangsters, are squares, I figure. I’m being flip, but you know what I’m saying: it’s easy to look at a lot of comics and go “Oh, this speaks to this insecurity or fetish that some dudes have and serves as a corrective/object of arousal.” Even something as gonzo as Crank is pretty easy to ID. But Crying Freeman?

Crying Freeman is a trip, is what I’m saying.

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Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica and the comfort of nostalgia

March 21st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Before I moved out to San Francisco a few years ago, I was going through my stuff at my grandparents’ house. I found this diary/photo album for kids. Actually, it may have been for parents, now that I’m thinking about it. It’s a little fuzzy, but each spread was a school year, I think, with spots for a photo, a list of accomplishments, goals, and all of that. The book was mostly empty. I think everything past the second grade was blank, but I’d scribbled on a few pages. On kindergarten or first grade, I forget which, I’d written that I wanted to be a comedian/astronaut, or astronaut/comedian. Some combination of the two, or maybe I thought a slash meant “and/or” instead of just “and.”

I used to get a big kick out of reading about black holes and astronomy. I never really cared about the speed of light or whether or not a phaser could conceivably be a real thing, even in fiction. But pictures of stars? Talking about how stars could orbit each other in a never-ending death spiral, feeding off each other until their balance is upset? Supernovas, dark matter, and that face on Mars? That really got me going. I’d be a fool to try to figure out why it hit me so hard — it was forever ago at this point, and I remember only a little of that time — but space definitely held a huge amount of appeal to me. It’s alien and scary and beautiful.

I’m not sure when that changed. My mom got divorced, we started moving around, and I guess it just fell by the wayside. I read some SF in middle school, once I got a library card and could bike around on my own, but it didn’t take, generally. I could never stand hard sci-fi, and to be perfectly honest, space-based sci-fi without pictures was and is a hard sell for me. Killer robots? Cool. Descriptions of alien vistas, like those in Larry Niven’s Ringworld? Ehhh…

In the back of Twin Spica 12, Kou Yaginuma has a post-script. A couple, actually, but the one that struck me the most was about time travel. Yaginuma speaks on wanting to go back in time and apologize to a girl he made cry, confess his love to another, and fix all the little errors we all make. He says:

If I had a time machine — I’m sure everyone has thought about it at least once — but in my case, it’s more than once. Late at night at my desk, I’m always thinking about such things.

I want to go back to the place I’m nostalgic for. I want to apologize to the girl I made cry. I want to let that horrible teacher have it.

I know I’d be turned down, but I want to tell that girl how I felt. I want to change all of my regrets into happy memories. I want to erase the no-good me.

If my destinations are the past and not the future, I guess that means I’m an adult now. But perhaps… having a past I long to return to means that I’ve lived a pretty good life.

People say time machines are the stuff of fantasy. But in fact the starlight we see is actually hundreds of years old — phantom light reflecting a past world, something of a time machine. I don’t understand the theory of relativity or wormholes or any of that hard stuff but time travel to the past through reminiscence is within my capability.

Picking up a favorite manga from my childhood can make me feel wistful. If the manga I draw can be someone’s time machine one day, I really couldn’t be happier.

I never had a telescope, not that I remember. I think I went to an observatory with school once or twice, and maybe some an IMAX film on space, back when those were strictly for educational purposes. My interaction with space was limited to stargazing (a possibility in the countrified town I grew up in, not so much in San Francisco, I realized in horror a couple years ago while out with friends) and reading.

Yaginuma’s Twin Spica made me remember that. I’d put space and my prior infatuation with it entirely out of my mind at some point. I’d forgotten how interested I was in stars and all of that. But Twin Spica stars Asumi Kamogawa, a young girl who is positively in love with space and dreams of being a rocket driver. Her dream is to go to space. She’s motivated from childhood, young childhood, to fulfill that dream. The series is the story of her trials and travails in astronaut school, and the friendships she enjoys along the way.

All of the characters have slightly different goals, but space is the common denominator in all of them. Space isn’t… I said that space is Asumi’s goal, but that isn’t right. It’s going to space that’s her goal, and that’s something else entirely. Space isn’t so much a goal as a… signpost, or a symbol of her achievement. But even that isn’t right. It’s not a trophy or a prize. It’s a thing that exists for her to aim at, and in the course of aiming at it, experience new things. Getting up there above the Earth is a motivator, not a goal.

The depth of Asumi’s love, and the way Yaginuma goes about portraying it, is incredible. It really brought back those feelings of idly wondering what the Oort Cloud is like, or what color Proxima Centauri is now. Twin Spica is like falling down a wikipedia hole, only instead of dry information, you’re diving into someone else’s emotions. You can feel the love when you read these books, and that’s an incredibly good feeling.

Twin Spica is at times melancholy, funny, serious, and goofy. Yaginuma covers a lot of ground over the course of the series, from heartbreak to grief to fruit-themed jokes, but more than anything else, Twin Spica feels comfortable. It’s a strange word for what’s sometimes a stressful or sad tale, but it’s true. You’re essentially watching a group of children grow up and learn who they want to become, just like you did. You can see mistakes they’re about to make, or spot areas where they were smarter than you. It’s a funny feeling, but a welcome one.

It’s nostalgia, but it isn’t like the nostalgia that led me to pick up Spider-Man comics at the grocery store after I quit comics. That’s a nostalgia for an object, for Stan and Steve’s baby. It comes from a desire to look and see how something I used to like is doing. The time travel nostalgia of Twin Spica is more like nostalgia for a specific time period. A when, rather than a what, that’s gone all fuzzy now, but still feels warm and inviting. I guess that is exactly what nostalgia is about: a yearning for yesterday. Twin Spica gets me caught up in a feeling I don’t have any more, though it sometimes returns in spikes, like when I find things like this scaled chart of the cosmos and then spend an hour on wikipedia googling up concepts I’d forgotten about.

There’s this bit later in the series where a character from the book is shown to have become a role model to complete strangers, little children in particular. It’s not pitched as yet another glory for that character, at least not primarily. It’s more like something that’s almost incidental, a side effect of that character’s dream. Infectious optimism or motivation, in a way. It’s a nice reminder of the fact that people can and will watch your path as you go about your life and chase your dream, whether you realize it or not. When your nose is to the grindstone and you’re wondering what it’s all worth, there’s somebody out there thinking “That’s the life.” The process of chasing your dream may enable, or encourage, others into doing the same. This isn’t really related to the nostalgia point much at all, but I wanted to be sure to mention it. It’s my favorite part of volume twelve. It’s probably the kindest moment in a series full of them. And I think it speaks well of Yaginuma’s skill with a pen, as well.

I remain impressed at the story Yaginuma told, and how he chose to tell it, but it’s the time traveling that got me most of all. The fact that he was able to evoke that feeling so well, well enough to reawaken that feeling in me personally, is a genuine achievement. It’s not that his artistic accomplishments revolve around me, either, so much as he’s so good at his job that he brought something out of me that I didn’t expect when I first picked up the series.

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Best Adaptation of Another Work, 2011: Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles

January 31st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The first thing adaptations of any sort need to do is justify their existence. What does Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 do that Arthur C Clarke’s novel doesn’t? That justification is crucial, because otherwise, why not just read the book? Adaptations that are just direct, or near-direct, copies, like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City or Zach Snyder’s Watchmen may provide a briefly visceral thrill at seeing what was previously limited to your imagination turned into real life and then displayed on a giant screen, but they don’t have anything over the original works beyond being films. Adaptations need to reveal some previously hidden truth or adjust the story for a new context in order to be truly worthwhile. A 1:1 adaptation simply isn’t enough. Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles, the latter half of which was published this year, is an adaptation that justifies its own existence.

It’s based on Needle, a science-fiction novel from 1950 by Hal Clement. In Needle, an alien life form comes to Earth and takes up residence inside a human boy. The alien is on Earth in hot pursuit of another alien, a hostile one this time, and enlists the boy to help in that battle. The hostile alien has hidden inside another human, and they must solve the puzzle before it’s too late.

7 Billion Needles keeps the broad strokes of the story. There is a kind alien and a hostile one. The boy has been replaced by Hikaru Takabe, a teenaged girl, and the conflict plays out in a vastly different manner. Rather than dealing with paranoia, it’s more about growth, both emotional and physical. Hikaru is exceedingly reserved after a personal tragedy, and has trouble making friends. She’s quiet with her family, too, even though they have taken her in. Thanks to the influence of the alien, she learns how to open up and just how important relationships actually are. You could even say that she learns just how important the relationships she already has are to her, though she may be actively avoiding or simply not cognizant of that fact. It takes time. There’s no magic button that opens up her emotions, but she eventually grows into a fuller human being.

Evolution plays a major role in the series, too. The question of what direction life on Earth should take, how dominant species can upset an ecosystem, and how species contamination works, are important parts of the latter half of the series. While it may not be scientifically sound, it does make for a very interesting wrap-up to a series that’s simultaneously personal and apocalyptic.

7 Billion Needles is a great example of pulling inspiration from an existing work and then doing it justice. Direct adaptations might as well be photocopies. Finding something new to say with an old story is much more interesting.

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ah, so it’s a mysterious joke

January 10th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I recently read Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece 62, which means that I’ve read over 12400 pages of this series, far more than anything but maybe Amazing Spider-Man, which I’ve read almost front to back, barring an extended break when it went sour in 1996. But yeah: 12400 pages, minimum. It’s as good as it ever was. It’s not at the emotional heights of Water 7 (I called it “a complete and utter emotional apocalypse” a while back, and I stand by that), but it’s still plenty enjoyable and better than most books.

Here’s a couple pages from it that I like a lot:

Oda does that thing at the top of page two a few times throughout the series, and it never fails to slay me. Someone starts to explain something related to the plot or science and Luffy listens, nods, and goes “Ah hah! So it’s a mysterious _______!” It emphasizes how dumb he is, but it’s also a good joke. He doesn’t have to know how things work, because he’s just going to barrel his way through anyway.

I dunno a lot about Japanese pop culture. Actual pop culture, I mean, not just manga or anime or movies. Maybe this “Ah, a mysterious _____” is a reference to a Japanese comedy show, or the “That’s what she said!” of Japan. But this gag works for me in a way a lot of equally dumb jokes normally wouldn’t.

Part of it is Oda’s cartooning. The contented smile, lazily closed eyes, mugs of tea, and body language elevate the dumb joke. I don’t even know that I can really articulate why I find this so funny. It’s like–you get it or you don’t. The earnestness, which is mirrored on the preceding page by Luffy aggressively wondering about the conditions required to sail underwater and then immediately pretending like he knows what “salinity” means, is crucial. (One day I’ll write a really salinity post.) Nami’s the eternal straight man for the antics of the rest of the crew, even Nico Robin, and is alternately horrified and exasperated with the rest of the crew.

I never get tired of watching her bounce off the rest of the crew, in part because Oda has created clearly-defined characters with their own comedic hooks. Luffy is endearingly stupid, Chopper is unbelievably naive, Sanji is Pepe LePew, Zolo gets lost, Nico Robin is morbid, Franky is strange and really into building fancy things, Usopp is a coward, and Brook is a pervert. Once you start combining the cast and creating combinations, you’re looking at differing types of humor. Zolo and Sanji are aggressively and absurdly competitive. Robin has no time for Franky’s strange antics. There’s a great bit in the “Thriller Bark” arc where Franky comes up with a combining robot (think Voltron with humans) for the crew to pilot. Robin refuses because it would be undignified, which pisses off the giant they were fighting, who thought the finished product would look really cool.

There isn’t endless potential here, but there are so many different hooks and combinations that no type of joke overstays its welcome, so each joke comes off fresh and funny.

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krazy komiks konvention

July 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Bought: Peter Milligan, Steve Dillon, and Brett Ewins’s Bad Company, Judge Dredd Mega-City Masters 2
Saw: a very nice Charlie Huston panel that I had to work through like a douchebag
Read: The Walking Dredd, and the rest of the Megazine that I bought.

Thursday at San Diego: overall success. Had a nice night out, too. Was planning to go to the hotel and crash at around 2000, ended up going to the CBLDF party (donations at the door) and caught up with a few friends, then dipped to karaoke, then found out there was an hour wait at karaoke so we bounced to the Hilton, and then made it to the hotel after 000. Life is pretty okay. Shouts to the lady at the karaoke bar who was so impressed I stepped aside for her or something that she gave me one of those awkwardly deep hugs.

Things I’m gonna do today: slowly grow to hate listening to people talk about corporate comix more and more, spend a grip on French comics against my better judgment, and showing up wild late to the iFanboy party. Why am I showing up on CPT? Because of this:

6:30-7:30 The Best and Worst Manga of the Year— There are a whole lot of Japanese manga, Korean manhwa, and manga-inspired comics out there — but what’s worth buying and reading, and what’s not? Manga/comics bloggers/pundits Christopher Butcher ( and The Beguiling), David Brothers (4thletter!), Eva Volin (School Library Journal), Carlo Santos (Anime News Network), and Deb Aoki ( Manga) share their picks for the best new and continuing manga series for kids, teens, and grown-ups and jeer at the most annoying manga published in 2010-2011. Room 26AB

Come out, ’cause I got jokes, son.

One last thing (for this week at least) on Hisao Tamaki’s Lovely Angels:

This is about as perfect an encapsulation of the Dirty Pair as you’ll ever see on one page. You’ve got Mughi, wanton destruction… it looks good. I like how it almost looks like they’re standing on a globe, while things explode in their wake and Mughi vogues in the background.

There’s a difference in the attitudes of Kei and Yuri on these pages due to a story thing, and I like how that difference plays out. They’re both still unbelievably good at their jobs, but Kei’s moving and dodging while Yuri is bloodlusting/sleepwalking through the swarms. Both are still doing work. Very cool.

Yuri’s hair in this, and the her actions, are one of the coolest things in the whole book. The fast drop, Kei’s look of surprise, and then BAM. I seriously love the way Yuri’s hair spreads in panel three and falls in panel one. Hair isn’t something I notice a lot, barring Storm’s stupid hair in X-Men. It’s usually used to show simple motion–a jump, a whip-fast turn–but here it’s used to set the speed of the scene. It’s very elegant. Yuri is so mean in this scene.

Blood rains down. Dirty Pair is super bloody, but this is a rare instance of the blood showing up dark on the page, rather than white. I’m curious if that’s a ratings thing (we can only get SO explicit, so let’s save it for impact) or strictly a stylistic thing.

These are seriously fun comics, though. I’d love to see them translated. I’m not sure if the release of the Dirty Pair tv show was a success or not, but I’d like to think that if it was, this manga could pretty easily draft along in its wake. It’s got a modern style, but isn’t mired in modern conventions, so it’d be a nice alternative to a lot of stuff right now.

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the real… hip-hop…

July 21st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I bought some stuff my dudes:


That’s Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson’s The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett’s Hewligan’s Haircut, Jodorowsky and Moebius’s The Incal, Michael Kupperman’s Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010, Adam Warren’s Empowered sketchbook, the Judge Dredd Megazine with Brendan McCarthy and Robbie Morrison’s The Walking Dredd, Diggle/Jock/others’s Lenny Zero, and Old City Blues, a book by Giannis Milonogiannis I know nothing about but heard good things about.

I tried to do all my shopping on preview night, ’cause… well, the con floor sucks in terms of traffic, but whatever whatever. I think I need to check for Kate Beaton’s book at D&Q, and maybe Petrograd and One Soul at Oni. If I get my act together and stop writing this blog right now, I could probably do it before I have to go to my first panel.

Anyway, DIRTY PAIR! Here’s more from Hisao Tamaki’s first volume. I realized I forgot to post the cover yesterday, too, so here’s that in hi-res babies:

Dope, right? A brief list of things that I like before I really have to go:
-Yuri throws a bunch of mirrored cards up in the air, and then Kei shoots one and the laser blast ricochets all around, hitting a bunch of soldiers. It’s very clever and very sci-fi, one of those things that’s a cool trick that you just don’t see often enough. It also speaks to their partnership. It’s like the part in old Jackie Chan movies where he locks hands with whoever his female lead is and they spin around, him bracing her, while she does a series of kicks, and then they end it with an attack where they save each other from two dudes who they both missed? Like that. Teamwork is fun-da-mental.

-Yuri’s cards. It’s been ages since I’ve seen DP, and man, I do not remember these at all. They’re dope, though, and versatile. I like that she can use them as bladed weapons (and boy, does she–those bursts of white are blood, and it gets grimy toward the end of the book), and they’re a weapon that requires a bit of finesse and style, too. I’ve liked cards as weapons ever since I read my first comic with Gambit in it, honestly.

-Yuri catching all the cards at the end is so great, too.

-I really dig the perspective switches on the page where Kei is running directly at us, gun drawn. The way it switches from first person (we’re the two guards) to overhead and behind–fun stuff. Also the fact that she’s beating her rounds as she run.

-Wait–what is Kei firing? Her joint rebounded off the cards, but here, they look like regular bullets.

-The layout on the next page is great, too. Kei running up a wall made of speedlines, arcing off, and then firing directly into the next panel is fun.

-I can’t believe Yuri took that guy’s fingers off. Cold blooded.

-The Shining Wizard on the next page is nuts, man. This was the point where I was like “Oh man, they ARE wrestlers, and accidental heels at that, how did I miss this?” Yuri definitely murders that guy with her Wizard, too.

Fun comics!

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did it hurt you when the lovely angels fell out of heaven?

July 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Brief Bat-break. Look for the last Miller piece next week.

I’m off to San Diego for a hair under a week in the sensory deprivation colosseum. If you’re at San Diego Comic-con on Friday, check this out:

6:30-7:30 The Best and Worst Manga of the Year— There are a whole lot of Japanese manga, Korean manhwa, and manga-inspired comics out there — but what’s worth buying and reading, and what’s not? Manga/comics bloggers/pundits Christopher Butcher ( and The Beguiling), David Brothers (4thletter!), Eva Volin (School Library Journal), Carlo Santos (Anime News Network), and Deb Aoki ( Manga) share their picks for the best new and continuing manga series for kids, teens, and grown-ups and jeer at the most annoying manga published in 2010-2011. Room 26AB

You can listen to me mangle the pronunciation of a couple books and wax poetic about others. The panel’s got a pretty good lineup, so I think it’ll be pretty entertaining.

There’s also this:

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
Alter Ego, edited by Roy Thomas (TwoMorrows)
The Beat, produced by Heidi MacDonald (
ComicBookResources, produced by Jonah Weiland (
ComicsAlliance, produced by Laura Hudson (
The Comics Reporter, produced by Tom Spurgeon (
USA Today Comics Section, by Life Section Entertainment Editor Dennis Moore; Comics Section Lead, John Geddes (

CA is nominated for another Eisner. It’d be cool if we win, but awards are… I dunno, it doesn’t feel like something I need to have earned, right? That probably sounds crazy ungracious, which it isn’t meant to be. I’ll be a little bummed if we lose, but all in all? I like me enough for the two of us.

Speaking of manga… I bought volume one of the new Dirty Pair manga by Hisao Tamaki. It’s nuts, man. Dude’s art is nice, and I scanned a few dozen pages out of it for posting here. I may save some til next week, I dunno, but here’s a few pages from the very beginning of it:

I dunno how familiar any of you are with the Dirty Pair. I love that duo, whether Adam Warren’s version or the ones I used to dub off Blockbuster tapes. Kei and Yuri are great, hyper-effective Trouble Consultants code-named Lovely Angels but better known as the Dirty Pair. Where they go, havoc follows. Not just regular havoc, either. I’m talking massive destruction havoc, borderline planetcide havoc, shrugging in the foreground while an atomic bomb goes off in the background and saying, “It’s not our fault!” havoc.

They’re fantastic, is what I’m saying. Real fun and funny comics. One of my favorite bits is how much they hate the Dirty Pair nickname. They’re the Lovely Angels, and even so much as thinking “Dirty Pair” will get you in a world of hurt.

That’s what’s going on in this scene, basically. They crash a party, Batman: Year One-style, and even have some impressive pyro to go along with their introduction. And then, in the middle of their big intro, the crowd screams “DIRTY PAIR!!!” and… well, things go downhill from there. I snipped the bulk of the fight, but I like that dual kick they whip out on the old dude.

This volume actually made me realize what I like so much about the Dirty Pair, and it took those new costumes to do it. Boob tube tops aside, their costumes are blatantly inspired by female wrestlers. I used to watch a bunch of women’s Japanese wrestling, bka joshi puroresu, when I was in school. (Usually instead of being in school.) I liked both puro and joshi puro, because the women’s game was often a little different than the men’s game. It’s been ages–I can’t speak authoritatively about it any more, but that’s what my memory says.

kana goes seriously hard in this video, stiff kicks and butt bumps out the wazoo. 1:40 is either incredible ringwork or v. stiff.

Anyway, the costumes are straight out of wrestling. The laces, the boots, all of it. I got curious and looked up the franchise. It has its roots in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling, which was a member of the World Women’s Wrestling Association: WWWA. It was like the scales fell off my eyes. And it clicked: Kei and Yuri are a tag team. I don’t know how I never realized it before. Maybe it’s because I got into DP while I was a kid, and puro was an adult thing, so I never had reason to consider them in relation to one another. Either way, they’re a rowdy couple of wrestlers who are crazy talented, but just cursed with bad luck.

In hindsight, what a great idea that is. Kei’s the rough one, Yuri’s sweet, but both of them are consummate professionals… up to a point. You can’t plan for luck, and sometimes luck involves accidentally destroying everything.

Those new costumes are probably way too va-va-voom, but man, I really, really dig this art. The girls are sorta thick (not quite Alicia Keys thighs, but probably about as close as you’ll get in manga), the fight scenes are real cool, there’s this great bit toward the end where Yuri zones out and switches into murder mode (which also features some very cool hair physics), and Yuri straight up Shining Wizards someone to death in one bit.

More soon, but let’s be honest: it’s a must-buy.

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Kiss Me And I’ll Kiss You Back

April 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I live fairly close to a Japanese bookstore, and that gives me a chance to recklessly spend money on things I can’t read. I’ve got a few manga, a few art books, and a few magazines that had pictures I like. I was flipping through one I bought a while back, Inio Asano’s Sekai no Owari to Yoake-Mae (Before Dawn and the End of the World), and really took notice of the kiss that closes out the last story in the book. It got me thinking about kissing and comics, and trying to figure out the first kiss I saw in comics.

I’m pretty sure that it’s in Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men 1. During a Danger Room sequence, Gambit steals a kiss from a robot duplicate of Jean Grey. She explodes, and Gambit’s response is, “As I always suspected… redheads, they have a dynamite kiss.” It’s part of the personality spamming Claremont often got up to, something to remind you that Gambit is a Cajun lothario with a sense of humor.

There was another kiss later in the same story. A brainwashed Cyclops steals a kiss from Jean Grey (I’m just now realizing how weird it is that it happened TWICE in the span of three issues) and asks if his kiss is as much fun as Wolverine’s, which is actually this whole weird cuckolding/male competition thing that I’m not sure I’m okay with in my old age.

I asked Twitter about other notable comics kisses. The most common suggestion was from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. After gallivanting around Earth and using their superpowers all day, Superman and Lois Lane share a kiss on the moon.

The next most common was from Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s The Dark Phoenix Saga. I flipped through and spotted a couple. I think most people thought of the kiss on the bluff, but here’s two:

The only multi-page kiss I found came from a suggestion from Jeff Lester. He suggested Gerry Conway and Ross Andru’s Amazing Spider-Man 143, which is toward the end of the golden age of ASM for me. This is one of the few kisses that lasts longer than 1 panel that I came across, and it’s good, if you’re a Spider-Fan.

There are plenty of others. Brandon Graham’s King City had a couple gooduns, Batman and Wonder Woman in Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke’s JLA: The Obsidian Age, and Ennis and Dillon’s Preacher undoubtedly had a few great ones, though specific instances are escaping me right now. Azzarello and Risso’s 100 Bullets had a great one in New Orleans.

The thing about 99% of the kisses I’ve seen in comics, with precious few exceptions, is that they all look basically the same. Look at the examples I’ve pulled. It’s usually a man, who is generally taller than the woman, in a dominant position, with one arm around the woman’s waist and maybe a hand bracing her head. The woman’s arms go around the man’s neck. It usually lasts just a panel.

The similarity got me thinking. This is a cultural thing, isn’t it? This is how people kiss. This is what it’s supposed to look like. It’s very Hollywood and screen-ready. Neither party is obscured from an observer, the man gets to lead the way, visually at least, even if the woman initiated the kiss… where’d this representation come from?

Here’s Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square. You’ve seen it before, I guarantee. It’s a spontaneous kiss, rather than a posed one.

I kinda feel like this is the kiss in America, too. It’s definitive. It’s what you see at marriages, when people propose, and in movies. This has to be the genesis of that specific kiss configuration, at least pop culturally, right? Sort of like how John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat are the genesis of hard-edged heroes with twin guns, Bruce Lee is the genesis of 90% of kung fu fools in comics, Clint Eastwood is the source of Wolverine and all of his descendants, and on and on and on. V-J Day in Times Square may not have been first, but it’s got to be the biggest touchstone.

What’s interesting to me is that this type of kiss is far from the only type of kiss in real life, but it’s the most dominant in media/pop culture. It’s fairly chaste, isn’t it? There’s no groping, no grinding, none of the stuff that makes kissing so unbelievably interesting. There’s passion, but there’s no lust, for lack of a better word. It’s just a kiss. It’s romantic.

Here’s the kiss from Inio Asano’s “End of the World.” Long story short, the girl’s dating a dopey guy, but she loves him anyway. It makes her a little uncomfortable, being so content, and I sorta feel like this is their first kiss. Five pages:

This is really interesting. There are a few major differences from the standard kiss. She’s in control throughout, it’s explicitly erotic (consider her knee on the first page), her tiptoes and subsequent collapse lend it a sense of both desperation and satisfaction, and I feel like the way both of them are blushing and sweating only add to the effect. And then there’s the tongues and the spit. This sequence is wet. It looks raw. It looks like making out. I really like the difference between page 1, panel 1, and page 3, panel 1. One’s a surprise. The other’s a genuine embrace.

You can imagine why I found this sequence so striking. I was raised on a diet of women bent backward, chaste mouth locks, and variations on a specific pose. This is dessert. Makeouts, instead of kisses. I feel like it’s more reflective of real life, too, and it’s almost definitely the best kiss I’ve seen in comics. I don’t think most porn comics even go at it like this.

(A few asides:

(-googling for info on the history of kissing, how kissing is different in various cultures, and really anything in detail on kissing got really really weird and makes me self-conscious in a way I really wasn’t expecting. Do I need to make some apologetic phone calls? In any case, tell your mom I said hello.

(-As pointed out by my man Jamaal Thomas (who should really write more, once he finishes doing things like “having several jobs”), the kiss in All-Star Superman is deflated two pages later by the overwhelmingly paternal kiss on the forehead Superman gives Lois. I’m not saying dudes shouldn’t be kissing their ladies on the forehead or anything, but in that instance? It’s a little too much like a father tucking in his daughter. Mmmmmno, thanks.

(-here’s the origin of the title of the post.)

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Buckshot Blogging: On Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece

December 4th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

One Piece! Manga Movable Feast! I could do an essay, but I think this will let me hit more of what I enjoy about the series so much. In short, though, it’s the best adventure comic, consistently good, and even when it’s less good, it’s still better than a whole lot of comics. That’s not a manga thing, either–it’s good comics, full stop. Here’s a series of observations why it’s so good, running from early in the series to late:

-Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece feels like the child of Dragon Ball and classic Looney Tunes/Tom & Jerry shorts. It being a post-Dragon Ball work is kind of obvious like Veronica Mars being post-Buffy is obvious–Luffy is definitely in the Goku mold, though exponentially dumber, and the escalating stakes over the course of the series should be familiar to anyone who’s even accidentally seen an episode of Dragon Ball Z–but the humor isn’t as much of a direct descendent. It’s a little more sophisticated. Not by much, Sanji’s whole gimmick is proof positive of that, but maybe like two notches on the “dumb joke” dial.

-The Looney Tunes/Tom & Jerry stuff is harder to pin down. I hesitate to call it an influence the way I can with DB, but there’s definitely a connection to be made. One Piece has the usual manga physical humor, like Nami handing out dummy smacks to every guy in the cast despite being the second weakest member of the crew, but it’s delivered alongside gags based around subverted expectations and hardcore slapstick. That’s stuff that I definitely associate with Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry. Luffy’s pliable body lends itself very well to that kind of stuff, which is probably why I made that connection in the first place. Maybe I’m off-base, but I haven’t been able to get the comparison out of my head.

-This clip is pretty much exactly what I mean. The humor isn’t quite the same as what you’d see in DB, but it wouldn’t be out of place in something like Duck Amuck.

[clip lost to the whims of hulu]

-The fights are deeper than “Who’s stronger, him or me?” Luffy is strong, but he isn’t the strongest pirate in the series. He’s got determination, and that tends to make the difference, but he gets stomped out fairly regularly. What makes the difference in the fights, other than surprise new special techniques, are teh gimmicks. Luffy’s made of rubber, and that means he has certain advantages and disadvantages to play with. You can see this in an early episode where, rather than letting him drown, Luffy’s friends pull his head above the water, stretching his neck. Later, when fighting Eneru, a guy who has steamrolled everyone ever with his electrical powers, Luffy shows up. Eneru blasts him and whoops, look at that, electricity doesn’t work on Luffy because he’s made of rubber. That sort of thinking works for me, and it was so blindingly obvious that you don’t even see it coming.

-Nami has an interesting position in the cast. Up until Robin joins, Nami is the only person with even an ounce of common sense in her head. This means she spends a lot of time pissed off and trying to keep the boys in line. It’d be easy for her to come off as a killjoy, but instead, she’s absurdly sympathetic. The crew of the Going Merry are, in a word, insane, and she is the lone spot of sanity in the group. I’ve seen a lot of anime with pretty unsympathetic female leads, but something about Nami is just awesome.

-Nami’s Clima Tact, a weapon that lets her control the weather, is very cool, too. It doesn’t make a lick of sense if you look at it too hard, but in terms of execution on the page and visually, it’s great. It’s not just a magic wand, it plays directly to her strengths as a normal human, and it’s effective.

-Sanji is Gambit from the X-Men crossed with Pepe LePew, from the French to the loverboy reputation. Oda’s hardline “Romance plots? Pfffffthahahahahaha yeah right buddy” keeps him from becoming completely obnoxious. His earnest dedication to Nami and Robin is funny, from creating special dishes just for them (which the crew immediately eats) to withholding the good food from the non-lady members of the crew.

-Sanji brings me to the next point–the fashion. Oda has a fantastically awful sense of design. A lot of characters look like they were designed by throwing darts at a board, but then, inexplicably, their designs somehow manage to hang together enough to actually be cool Don Quixote Doflamingo is a tornado of feathers, capri pants, sunglasses, and a waggling tongue, but he works. Rob Lucci is a guy in a suit with a pigeon on his shoulder that wears a fur coat.

-Rob Lucci is the greatest.

-Oda’s sense of design manifests itself in various ways. Other than stupidly awesome looking characters, he switches up the clothing of the main cast regularly. Nami, in addition to being greedy, loves shopping. Sometimes that just means shopping and sometimes it means actually buying new clothes. Nami, Sanji, and Robin changes clothes the most, I’d say, with Zolo and Luffy a few steps behind. It makes each arc feel fresh, and also gives us a better glimpse into the lives of the characters. Some outfits are less successful than others, but hey, everyone has bad clothes days.

-The animals in the series are just as weird as everything else. The South Bird is a giant parrot-thing that can only face south. Laboon is a huge whale with a guy who sometimes hangs out in its belly. There are giant, bear-sized rabbits who live in a winter wonderland. There are both merfolk and fish people. The monsters that litter the ocean are basically just regular animals adjusted for deep sea life, like a cow with fins, and scaled up 1000%. There are alligators crossed with bananas. There’s a sword named Funkfreed that ate the Elephant-Elephant Fruit. Chopper is a reindeer who ate the Human-Human Fruit and is now a… what, a were-reindeer? He squeaks when he walks. Get it?

-I like Bon Clay because of this:

[this one’s gone too]

-I also like Bon Clay because his design is so off the wall. The onion-waist, thick eye shadow, crown, ballet slippers, and everything else are the sartorial equivalent of a word jumble that accidentally spells out “awesome.”

-Bon Clay is actually emblematic of the main theme of One Piece, which is that friendship conquers all. He begins as a friend. He accidentally ends up on the Strawhat’s ship, they hang out, have some fun, and then he leaves. Later, it’s revealed that he works for Baroque Works and answers to Crocodile, the villain of the arc. He battles Sanji, gives him props after he loses the fight, and then, still later, helps the Strawhats escape from the Marines. When he shows up later, there’s no animosity and Luffy greets him like an old friend. Bon Clay responds in kind. Helping the Strawhats escape served as a single brief act of redemption, but really, Bon Clay didn’t really need it. He’s a good guy because he likes Luffy and his crew. Friends look out for each other, so he looks out for them.

-Friendship is one of those things that’s pounded into your head over the course of the city, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. Nico Robin’s tear-filled assertion that she wants to live during “Water 7” came about due to the fact that Luffy finally convinced her that she had friends.

-Buggy the Clown attempts to pervert the idea of friendship by using Luffy for his own gain, and it backfires wildly. The workers on Water 7 pretended to be friends with Paulie, another worker. Betrayal is treated as their true crime, even on top of brutalizing everyone they met. They broke the trust, and that simply isn’t cool. In Buggy’s case, selfishness is shown to be something to be avoided, otherwise you’re looking at a Spectre-style fate.

-Oda’s cast is huge. There are eight main characters, a sizable group for even an X-Men comic, but Oda manages to make it seem like every character gets a moment to shine. Sometimes he does this by taking Luffy entirely off the stage and letting someone else sit in the limelight. Usually, though, he uses that classic tactic of splitting the crew into smaller teams.

-The large size of the cast has the added effect of making the smaller teams interesting, too. Nami, Usopp, and Chopper make a good team because they’re all fairly easily frightened. At the same time, Nami, Sanji, and Robin make a great team because Sanji is a sucker. But then, if you put Sanji on a team with Zolo and Luffy, you’re looking at the three monsters of the crew, and they’ll bicker and fight and destroy all comers. Zolo and Chopper make an interesting duo, since Chopper is so young and earnest and Zolo is easily mislead. There’s a flexibility there that Oda is more than open to playing with, and it works to make the cast feel pretty intimate and diverse.

-Oda’s art, sense of design aside, doesn’t look like much of anything else. His characters are stretched out and warped to the point where even basic anime fanservice isn’t quite as fanservice-y as it should be. For some characters, the legs are too long, the arms too skinny, and the waists wasp thin. Other characters are built like Johnny Bravo–all upper body and stick legs. High foreheads (we used to call those fiveheads), long necks, and weird noses abound.

-It looks weird, but it works. Oda is great at cartooning, and starting off with completely unrealistic proportions actually makes the rest of the action easier to believe. Zolo’s Three Swords Style is stupid, a dumb joke for kids, but you take it seriously as you buy into the art and story. The art style certainly helped lower my suspension of disbelief, and made it much, much easier to get down with how weird the designs become later on.

-Oda’s approach to special attacks is pretty neat, too. Every character has a simple to understand starting point. One guy uses three swords, another can stretch, one kicks, another is good with the weather, yet another can grow body parts anywhere she can see. But then, the attacks they use is where things get interesting. Luffy uses his rubbery nature to increase his blood flow or to inflate his own limbs. Nico Robin can mix her limbs together, resulting in a series of hands with eyes in the center, or even wings. Sanji kicks, but when he gets mad enough, his kicks catch fire, because something something rage something love. If Chopper takes too many of his Rumble Balls, a performance enhancing drug, he flips out and loses control.

-Really, Franky is the only person the team who does normal things for his character type. He’s a cyborg that can punch hard, shoot projectiles, and so on. But then, when he has to do something simple like fashion a makeshift bridge, Franky does it between panels and does it so well that he has time to create really nice railings, and he still isn’t happy with how it turned out.

-Brook’s jokes are proof that the best jokes are bad ones.

-Usopp vs Perona is one of the best fights in the series.

-“Rob Lucci,” depending on where you from and what kind of slang you use, means “Take money.” Greatest Name Of All Time.

-Kalifa’s “That’s sexual harassment” made me laugh every time.

-Is it just me, or do Luffy and Lupin the 3rd laugh in the exact same way? That kind of wide mouth, eyes shut sort of thing? I’d be interested in seeing an exploration of how OP relates to other things from Japanese pop culture, but I don’t have the depth of knowledge necessary to do it justice.

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One Piece: Doing the Math Before Setting Sail

December 2nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

David Welsh is running the One Piece Manga Movable Feast this month, and he asked me to take a look at “Baroque Works,” an arc in One Piece. I gave it some thought during some downtime and came up with a few ideas. This is post is something I came up with that doesn’t really fit into an exploration of the content of the series, but it’s definitely something interesting about “Baroque Works.”

The “Baroque Works” arc comes at an interesting point in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. It spans roughly from the end of volume 12 to most of the way through volume 24, which puts it somewhere in the neighborhood of 2400 pages. Volumes 1-12 are collectively known as “East Blue,” but are instead more properly considered a collection of short stories and arcs rather than a long-term story arc. “Baroque Works,” though, is a monster, longer than Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (give or take a couple hundred pages). While it is composed of smaller stories–“Whiskey Peak,” “Drum Island,” that island with the giants whose name I forgot–those stories all work toward getting the crew to Alabasta. The first twelve volumes don’t have that unifying theme, beyond the goal of getting to the Grand Line. There’s no major villain lurking in the shadows so much as a series of midbosses that Luffy and crew need to get past to make it to the Grand Line. Kuro, Axe Hand Morgan, and Arlong don’t quite have the same pop as Crocodile, and Buggy and Alvida are so funny as to be more comedic relief than true blue threats.

Thinking through the length: Conventional wisdom says that if you have a super long epic in mind, and 2400 pages is several pages past “super long,” you need to hook your readers in first. You need them to believe in your story before you throw them into the deep end. You don’t lead with the uppercut. You start with a jab to test the waters. It worked for Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso with 100 Bullets, which was sold as a morality tale and ended up being something almost entirely different. Azz and Risso hooked them and then got down to business. Oda did the same thing.

Follow along: The main cast of One Piece is made up of Luffy, Nami, Sanji, Zolo, and Usopp. Chopper joins partway through “Baroque Works,” and Nico Robin joins at the end of the tale in volume 24. The next member joins around 21 volumes (another 4200 pages) later, and the final member comes a handful of volumes later. For much of the series, the cast that is established going into “Baroque Works” is the cast of the series. They’re the core, the primary cast.

Okay, so what, he has a cast, even Queen’s Blade has those, big deal, who cares? Well, by the beginning of “Baroque Works”, after having already made it through around 2400 pages of getting to know the primary cast, we’ve built up a connection between us and them. We made it through the emotional minefield that is Nami’s origin, seen Zolo’s slightly less sad in comparison origin, gotten used to Luffy’s (let’s be fair here) complete idiocy, and realized that Sanji isn’t just another pretty face. If you’ve made it twelve volumes in, you’re a fan, is what I’m saying, and you get how the characters react and feel.

That provides a necessary foundation for “Baroque Works.” Without that foundation, like if Oda had started the series with volume 13, we’d be dealing with getting used to the primary cast, meeting Chopper, meeting Vivi and Carue, and then the conflict of the arc. That’s a lot to take in all at once, but since we know all of the principal characters, “Baroque Works” is allowed to move at its own pace.

Long story short, “Baroque Works” is interesting because of its length and focus. It seems like after completing “East Blue,” Oda felt comfortable enough in his craft and in his fanbase to do something with a bit more meat on its bones. After “Baroque Works” comes “Skypiea,” which is around ten volumes. “Water Seven” is fourteen volumes, “Thriller Bark” is five, and “Sabaody” ended up being just a couple volumes, though “Sabaody” leads directly to “Impel Down.” He got away with a long arc on “Baroque Works” and then knew he could get away with it again.

That’s all I got as far as meta reasons to pay attention to “Baroque Works.” I’ve got a list of things to cover in the big grabbag in the next post (tomorrow, maybe) that’ll cover “Baroque Works” and more, but really, the best reason to pay attention to this arc is that it includes Mr. 2, Bon Clay. Bon Clay stands alongside Don Quixote Doflamingo, Hawkeye Mihawk, Rob Lucci, Trafalgar Law, Carue, Chopper, Kiwi, and Mozu as some of the best characters in the series.

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