Best of 2010: Two That’ll Make You Feel It

January 11th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire,It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9

naoki urasawa – pluto: urasawa x tezuka 8

I don’t think I can top this, not really. But Urasawa’s masterpiece is about hate and love and what makes us human. It skips all the trite garbage every other robot story indulges in with regards to what makes a human being and just puts it right in front of your face. It trusts that you’re smart enough to get one of the simplest points in fiction.

Atom is a real boy. Gesicht is a man among men. They have real emotions, and they are just as real as you or I. These are facts. You can’t argue with them, because it’s plain as day right there on the page.

So, Pluto is about emotions. Those that are in us, the reader. Those that are within Atom and Gesicht. Those that lurk just beneath the surface of humanity, waiting to break free and burn everything down. It’s about control and hate and love, and it manages to do it without resorting to cheap tricks. It’s an autopsy on our emotions.

“Nothing comes of hatred.” You knew it was true going into the book, but that doesn’t make the message any less incredible.

takehiko inoue – vagabond vizbig 9

Inoue’s Vagabond is about growth. We see Inoue grow as he creates it, reaching heights a lot of people never well, and we watch Musashi grow as he gets into bigger and bigger battles. After the emotionally intense battle with Denshichiro of the Yoshioka school, you’d think that Inoue would give Musashi a breather after this fight and give the readers some cooldown time. Well, he does, but it only lasts a few chapters before Musashi is thrown right back into the mix.

Fearing the damage Musashi would do to their reputation if he gets away after killing the top two swordsmen in their school, the remaining members of the Yoshioka gang together to ambush him and take his life, no matter what. That’s seventy men against one. Impossible odds for an ambush. Thanks to pure luck, Musashi overhears their plan and decides to make his way out of town rather than face certain death. That was the mature decision. Anything else would be foolhardy.

The thing is, though, Musashi started out wild and undisciplined. He threw himself against better opponents like waves throw themselves against rocks, with no thought to whether he was worthy of the battle. He just wanted to prove himself in battle. He wanted to be the greatest. No matter what. He’s past that now, of course, and he’s begun to learn about kindness. He knows what he needs to do to become a good swordsman. He’s not driven by ego quite so much any more.

So when he turns around and begins running back down the mountain to meet seventy armed men in mortal combat, he knows he’s being stupid. But he’s also thinking about how he can take on seventy men and live and how tough the battle is going to be. He’s thinking about how the challenge is irresistible, and how, since they spared his life one year ago, he owes the past year to the Yoshioka. He owes it to them to meet their challenge, no matter how difficult it may be.

And then he steps out of the woods and into the middle of the ambush, catching his enemies by surprise. He disables one man, takes his sword, and then goes to work.

And in the end, after four hundred pages and one of my most favorite fight scenes ever, seventy men lie dead.

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6 Writers: Naoki Urasawa

July 13th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Naoki Urasawa’s eighth volume of Pluto wraps up the series, maybe not in a neat bow, but very well nonetheless. It pulls on almost every string from earlier in the series, mopping up plot points and character arcs and setting the stage for the final confrontation. By this point in the series, any idea you might have had that robots aren’t as human as you are me has been ground into dust by several scenes of irrational acts and open tears. Volume six ended with a robot and a human embracing each other and bawling their eyes out. Gesicht comes face to face with the bad guy of the series and is ordered to destroy him, but refuses to do so. Epsilon demonstrated an amazing level of compassion for human life.

The one thing that Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka keeps coming back to is emotions, and particularly the effect hatred has on life. Hatred was the only emotion that could awaken an advanced robot, because it is the only emotion powerful enough to upset a balanced person. A man lost his family in a war, and in the depths of his grief, he began to hate the world. He created Pluto, the robot that has destroyed the seven most advanced robots in the world, out of that hatred. Behind all of the doomsday plots lies the hatred of a man who has found himself turned obsolete by the passage of time and an invading country.

Atom was deactivated, or killed, halfway through Pluto. His father, Professor Tenma, reawakens him by introducing the memory chip of Inspector Gesicht. Like the other advanced robot, only a strong emotion could pull Atom from the state of psychological indecision, for lack of a better term, that kept him deactivated. In Gesicht’s final moments, he was consumed with sadness, self-loathing, feelings of betrayal, and yes, maybe even a little hatred. the memory chip did the trick. It woke Atom up by giving him the capacity for complete and total hatred.

What’s crucial here is that Atom was not given hatred. The chip did not say, “Here, hate.” He was given the capacity for hatred. It logically follows that robots did not previously have the capacity for hatred. They can be happy, they can be sad, they can show compassion, and they can cry rivers of tears, but they cannot hate. Why? What is it about hate that makes it so forbidden?

Have you ever actually hated someone? I don’t mean “hate” like most people do, where they hate peas or Joss Whedon or Glenn Beck. That isn’t hate at all. I definitely don’t mean the lazy, impotent, cowardly hatred at the basis of white supremacy, or the hatred by default of most bigotry. I mean the kind of hate that sits in your heart like a little ball of lead. The kind of hate that lets you look at another man dead in his eyes and wish more than anything else that you had the power to make him stop living, stop breathing your air, or just shrivel up and wink out of existence. The sort of hate that makes you take a poke at him just to see what would happen, except you know exactly what’s coming next, you just don’t have enough regard for your fellow man to do the right thing and walk away. Hate is antisocial.

Here is a fact: hate burns. You cannot passively hate. I think a lot of comics people praise to the heavens and claim are nice are, at best, polite. That isn’t hate. That’s disinterest, dislike at most. Hate takes effort. If you hate someone, you’re obsessed with him. You think of him when you’re at work, in the shower, or late at night when the thought of him keeps you awake. Just the very thought of him is offensive and inescapable.

This is unlike most other emotions. If you look at love and grief, both of them have a vital social aspect. Love is when two people find happiness in each other and grief is about the loss of that happiness. There’s a certain amount of interaction required for these emotions to work. You cannot grieve in a vacuum. There has to be something that you’re grieving for. Sadness is maybe a little different, being that you can be sad without help from anyone, but sadness is cold. It’s passive. It doesn’t consume and burn you up the way hate does.

That obsession, that burning, is why hate is so dangerous. It consumes and controls you in a way that other emotions don’t. The other major emotions are a push and pull, a tug of war between you and someone else. Hatred is a one-way street, and as long as that avenue is open, it’s all you get.

After awakening, Atom is quiet at first. He says nothing and does nothing. He just sits and thinks. He’s focused internally. Then, he draws out the plan for an anti-proton bomb, something that could crack the earth and kill all life on it. He escapes soon after, and walks in the rain with wild eyes and a mean demeanor. He eventually eases back and returns to some semblance of his usual self, but several characters express concern about his mental state. His sister Uran, an empath, believes that Atom, and his emotions, may be so strong that he’ll kill Pluto. She specifically mentions his grief and hate.

In the fight with Pluto, he comes very, very close to doing just that. He pulls off Pluto’s arm, rattles off a list of Pluto’s sins, and then screams, “I’ll never forgive you!” He’s pissed, and he has every reason to be. But then, after a break in the action, he finds himself breaking into tears. He remembers Gesicht saying, “Nothing comes of hatred” just before dying. Atom can’t sustain the energy for hatred. It requires too much focus, too much ill will, to keep going for long. It’s unsustainable.

So: balance. A balanced mind cannot be composed of hatred. You’ll burn out quickly, like a candle put up to a blowtorch. Having the capacity for hatred, though, is different. You could look at it like the last step toward being human. It’s getting in touch with and learning to compensate for your lizard brain, that little tickle that says, “I don’t like him either, let’s kill him.” Knowing that it exists, and what it can do, is important, and you can’t control it until you know exactly what it is. Hate is a fog. It obscures the truth and reality.

The big threat of Pluto is described as hate personified. It is a man who was so consumed with hate that it was all he had left. Thus, hate is defeated on several levels. Atom defeats his own hate, coming to terms with his grief. The personification of hate, an example of the world-cracking damage hate can do on two legs, is eliminated. A being that was born out of hate finds some measure of peace. Hate, something that held back progress and represented genuine inhumanity in the pages Pluto, was the villain all along. Atom says as much on the final pages.

That’s Naoki Urasawa. Eight volumes and 1500 pages to hammer one point home until you get it through your thick skull. “Hate kills.” Everything before those pages was to emphasize and re-emphasize his point. The careful web of character relationships, exciting action scenes, and intricately drawn figures were build up for that one scene. It was to make you care, to make you relate.

It works.

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Eisner Nominations are out!

April 8th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

A lot of quality books got nods this year. Naoki Urasawa got five nominations, and Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, and Mark Waid got three a-piece. I’m very pleased to see more and more manga represented in non-manga categories, because ghettoizing it is dumb. It’s just comics, baby. If you don’t know Urasawa, click here and get to scrolling. I’ve got something cooking on Pluto 8, but that’s a few days away at the earliest. For Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, click here.

There’s a lot of cool stuff in here, including several books I have not read, but will be reading asap. I also want to point out the Eisner nomination for Laura Hudson’s Comics Alliance, a site I freelance for, making me 1/15th Eisner nominated! Congrats, Laura. You deserved the nom, and you definitely deserve the Eisner.

It’s so nice that nothing like Justice League of America #11, the Brad Meltzer/Rags Morales story that got an Eisner a few years back got nominated. You know the story, it had Arsenal and Vixen trapped in a building that was underwater, but they were too dumb to realize they were upside down? Yeah, that was kind of a lame win for DC. This year, though, there’s nothing like tha

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)

  • Brave & the Bold #28: “Blackhawk and the Flash: Firing Line,” by J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz (DC)


Click here to check out the official list of Eisners, or just hit the jump, where I got my copy/paste on.
Read the rest of this entry �

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Christmas Dollars: What to Spend Them On and Why

December 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A couple weeks ago, I had the bright idea of doing a gift guide. We’d each pick four books (because of the site, you see, and because I am a narcissist) and talk about why you should buy them for friends and family. Except then I got slammed at work, Gav hit Retail Hell (his favorite time of year) and Esther accidentally read an issue of X-Men and fainted dead away on the spot.

So, instead, the 4thletterers (4thletterkateers? citizens of Earth-4thletter?) are presenting to you twelve (or so, none of us are math majors) books that you should definitely, absolutely spend your Christmas money on. And if you do it through Amazon by clicking here… you help us out, too.


Essential Super-Villain Team-Up, Vol. 1
The Marvel Essential books are always fun to read, but they are also incredibly intimidating. I can’t get into reading the ones about Captain America, Spider-Man or the X-Men because they have hundreds upon hundreds of comics. It’s more fun to read through a series that had a more finite number of stories. Stuff like Spider-Woman, Iron Fist and Godzilla.

My favorite one, and the one I always suggest to others, is Super-Villain Team-Up. Don’t be fooled by the title. It isn’t about various villains joining together to take over the world and then fail due to the Avengers and/or Fantastic Four. At least, not for the most part. It’s mainly about the strange, but intriguing relationship between Doctor Doom and Namor, two Marvel kings who at times ride the line between hero and villain. Before that, there are several issues of Astonishing Tales that tell the story of Doctor Doom and his would-be usurper Count Rudolfo, a character who never met his full potential.

The dynamic of Doom and Namor lasts for well over a dozen issues, including two specials and an Avengers crossover with special appearance by Dr. Henry Kissinger. Sometimes they help each other out. Sometimes they’re at each other’s necks. But you know what? Not ONCE do they go forth with a collaborative way to take over the world. It’s STILL fun as hell.

There is a satisfying conclusion to their stretched out story arc, leading the way to a weird Doom vs. Magneto storyline and a disappointing Red Skull/Hate-Monger issue. Just consider that one an extra to a great collection.

The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus
I wasn’t reading comics when Death of Superman came out, but I remember how big a deal it was. It did lead to one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits where Chris Farley as the Hulk represented Marvel Comics and read a eulogy at Superman’s funeral ending with him smashing the podium and mumbling, “’Nuff said.” Plus, despite what people say about the lack of good Superman videogames, I’ve always dug the Death and Return of Superman SNES game.

The SNES game gave me a very skimmed look at the story’s events. When I got into comics for reals in the early 2000s, I had the idea that the whole story was a dull piece of garbage that wasn’t worth my time. After all, the 90s were known for long comic stories that tried to take the classic hero out of the picture, only to fail miserably, such as Knightfall, Clone Saga, Age of Apocalypse, and Onslaught/Heroes Reborn. The only reason I did read Death of Superman in the first place was because I was getting into Booster Gold at the time and wanted to read as many of his appearances as possible.

I dug it! Even knowing who the true Superman was and who Visor Superman and Cyborg Superman would turn out to be didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of the epic. Granted, the art does jump around and the Funeral for a Friend part can’t end fast enough, but everything else is fantastic. We get a good mystery, featuring some crafty red herrings and a couple neat hints here and there. Like when Cyborg Superman is in the White House, connecting to all the satellites and computers, there’s a monitor in the background that shows the Fantastic Four symbol. It’s a nice little clue on his original identity.

Even knowing who the real Superman is, you don’t even realize that he’s shown up until several issues after he appears. There’s some nice distraction in the storytelling to trick you.

The omnibus has the entire series in one thick hardcover for your enjoyment, plus extras in the back. It is a lot cheaper and easier to get the softcovers (The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, The Return of Superman), but I’m throwing the option out there. With the softcovers, you can easily skip over Funeral for a Friend, but that does mean having to miss out on the “first sighting” segments at the end. That part still gives me chills.

The Marvel Art of Marko Djurdjevic
I feel bad for saying this, but I’m not a big art guy. Yes, I appreciate good art, but I don’t go out of my way to collect it. When at Comic Con with hermanos and our good friends at Funnybook Babylon, they’ll usually be scouring Artist Alley as I wander around for other treasures.

That said, I have a jonesing for anything with Marko Djurdjevic’s name on it. I absolutely love his stuff. When I found out there was going to be a book of all his different Marvel covers, I was on it like consonants on “Djurdjevic.” That awesome cover of Dr. Doom holding the Infinity Gauntlet for What If: Secret Wars? It’s in there. Wolverine impaling Blade’s skull? It’s in there. The mind-blowing cover to Daredevil #100?

Hells yes, it’s there.

It features commentary by Djurdjevic for most of the pieces. This includes a bit in the end where he shows some attempts to redesign key characters. Apparently, he wanted to transform Iceman into Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury/King of Fighters. I can dig that if it involves knocking Apocalypse off a rooftop.

Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price
David: Gav, I need to talk to you about your pick for the holiday article.
Gavin: Is this about the omnibus? Because I didn’t know it was out of print until I handed it in.
David: No, I—
Gavin: Okay, I admit it! I found out about two sentences in! But they’re still selling it at a ridiculous price! Cut me some slack!
David: Stop. Please.
Gavin: You did say please. What’s up?
David: Cooking with Coolio? Seriously?
Gavin: I know! It’s great, isn’t it? I can’t believe it exists either. Just like that autobiography by Dustin Diamond.
David: That’s not what I’m talking about.
Gavin: It damn well should be! There’s a segment in the book called “Pimp Your Shrimp”!
David: Gav? Can you tell me something?
Gavin: I can tell you many things. I can tell you how to both chill and grill at the same time thanks to this amazing book.
David: No, I want you to tell me something specific.
Gavin: Oh, right. It’s on page—
David: Not that! I want to know what Coolio has to do with comics. This is a comic book site. You realize that?
Gavin: But he’s comic…al?
David: …….
Gavin: He is! You should read the back cover! It describes him as being “one of the most popular and successful rappers worldwide”!
David: I don’t care.
Gavin: He had a couple hits well over a decade ago and they still have the balls to say that! He’s most famous for being completely butthurt at Weird Al because the theme to that Michelle Pfeiffer movie is serious business! You ever see him on that Celebrity Poker Showdown show? He was out in two hands because he kept betting all-in!
David: That still has nothing to do with comic books.
Gavin: He… was in Batman and Robin. Oh, and he was in the director’s cut of Daredevil!
David: *sigh* Fine. Do whatever. I don’t have time for this.
Gavin: Of course. Busy with Kwanzaa and all that.
Gavin: What?


Blue Beetle
I’ve recommended these before, but I’m just going to keep on doing it until everyone has them. This is an all-ages comic in the best sense of the word. A grandfather could read these and love them. A small child could read them and love them just as much.

Jaime Reyes has somehow managed to become attached to The Scarab. It’s a ancient alien artifact that becomes sentient and gives him fantastic powers. Soon there are superheroes on his doorstep and aliens invading earth. Helping Jaime deal with this is his close-knit family and his two friends, Paco and Brenda.

It sounds like every superhero’s story. It isn’t. I don’t know how to describe it, except to say that the heart that goes into this story makes it stand out from every single book on the shelf. This is a story that will shock you with its power and its intrinsic sweetness. Buy it. Buy it. My god, buy it.

The volumes are, in order: Shellshocked, Road Trip, Reach for the Stars, and Endgame.

Two Superman Books with Tim Sale Art: Superman for All Seasons, and Superman: Kryptonite
There are few books that I read for the art. I’m a story and character junkie. Tim Sale’s Superman, though, gets me every time. The enormous, meaty face, the dark eyes, the way the character never seems to know what to do with his hands, they all add up to a story that you don’t need be able to read to understand.

Superman for all Seasons and Kryptonite, though, are worth getting out your reading glasses, though. They have the same thing that attracted me to the Blue Beetle series; an optimistic sweetness. That tone is hard to find anywhere. It’s too easy to prop up a story with horrors, or go for the cheap sensationalism of a hero pushed to the edge. Good books that are about the struggle to be kind, to be generous, to do the right thing, are worth a lot more than another edgy comic.

Agent X
So let’s talk about cheap sensationalism and a hero pushed to the edge. Agent X is an early Gail Simone book. Published by Marvel, it’s about a scarred anti-hero with no memory who careens through the Marvel Universe in the least dignified way possible. The hero, Alex Hayden, gets trained as a mercenary, goes through a series of disastrous missions, and finally finds his identity and his purpose in life.

Or maybe he doesn’t. It was too funny for me to really notice. A well-drawn, well-paced and hilariously funny series that was (criminally), never collected, this is worth haunting eBay for.


Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!
You know what’s really, really nice? Having a book you know without a doubt that you can turn to have your mood lighten. Yotsuba&! is like that. The story of Yotsuba and her group of friends and family is a great one, made even better by its simplicity. There’s no overarching plot beyond “Yotsuba and…,” though there is continuity between the stories.

One of the best parts is Yotsuba’s relationships. Her relationship with the world is one of utter naiveté and sheer joy. Everything she sees is a source of wonder and possible fun. Her relationship with her friends, the three girls who live next door, varies according to their ages in a really interesting way. Her relationship with her dad is part brother and sister and part sidekick, with lots of shouting and posing and >:O faces. Her relationship with her dad’s two friends, Yanda and Jumbo, is hilarious and completely believable.

Yotsuba is young, energetic, credulous on a level that is equal to six Amelia Bedelias, and intensely curious. The series is fun, and you can pick up any of the seven volumes that are currently out without missing anything major. And good on Yen Press for picking up the lapsed rights to it.

Yotsuba&! is cake comics, intensely enjoyable from all angles. Savor it when you read it.

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter (Darwyn Cooke)
Sometimes, not all of the time, but sometimes, you just need to see somebody get what’s coming to them. And Parker: The Hunter delivers that in spades. Parker is a cold blooded man in the truest sense of the word. Though driven by revenge, he’s scarily calm and collected throughout the book. He doesn’t pause at doing things that would slow a normal person down and when he tracks down his target, there’s no explosive confrontation. It’s a foregone conclusion.

Darwyn Cooke’s already impressive art hits a new level here, with a clean green being the only color in the work, barring the color of the paper and strong blacks. It’s a treat to look at, even without reading the words. It feels like a crime comic should, with a palette that puts you out of your comfort zone and a main character that’s about as bad as the bad guys.

This book is the kind of thing that’s aimed directly at me, crime movie junkies, and people who like a layer of grime on their books. Almost as good as the book itself is its design, which is decidedly not that of your average comic. It looks like a crime novel, or a particularly fancy DVD cover, and the image instantly sets the tone. Totally one of my favorites this year, if not the favorite.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1
I could spend another eighty thousand words talking about this wonderful book, and The Hunter‘s only real competition this year, or I could point you here, here, and here. Buy it now and you can say you liked it before it wins every award at the Eisners next year.

And if it doesn’t win anything… we’re bumrushing the stage.

Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond
A financial reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It has six hundred pages for twenty bucks, half that if it’s on sale. The value is insane.

A story-based reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It tells the story of Miyamoto Musashi, the most popular samurai ever, and how he came to be. We learn about his past, his friends, his family, and his love. We see him when he is talented, but not skilled, and little more than a savage. We see him fall back into old habits over and over while striving to be the best.

An art-based reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It looks amazing. Inoue employs a variety of styles throughout the book, resulting in a tale where the art adds a whole lot to the text, above and beyond the call of duty. Facial expressions, posture, and eyes tell tales above and beyond what the word balloons do. Visual metaphor is used to great effect, being both instantly recognizable (though one metaphor in book 4 was intended to take its time, and it paid off huge) and beautiful.

A historical reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It’s a manga based on novel based on the life of a real person. It may not be 100% historically accurate, but it is primarily rooted in fact. There are no magic powers, nothing outlandish. It’s just the story of a man, his sword, and his thirst to be the best. You learn something along the way about Japanese history, culture, and various forms of martial arts. You learn the advantages a spear has over a sword, and a sword over a spear. When you finish a volume of Vagabond, you come away with something more than you came in with.

One last reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It’s insanely good, bottom line. Words, story, setting, all of it is dead on.

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Pluto 6: On Man’s Casual Inhumanity

November 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Sometimes, knowing a creator’s work means realizing partway through a book that yes, this guy is seriously going to take everything he’s good at, put it down onto the page, and throw it right into your face. I was a couple of chapters into Naoki Urasawa’s sixth volume of Pluto when I realized that that was exactly what was happening.

Urasawa’s proven himself to be a master of tense, emotional confrontation, believable conversation, and careful pacing. What he isn’t as known for is high impact action scenes, but Pluto 6 manages to put that notion to bed.

The first third or so of Pluto 6 follows a formula similar to the earlier volumes. Gesicht is investigating and talking to people, there are brief asides where small robots break your heart into pieces with an equal mix of adorableness and poverty, a mysterious teddy bear does something frightening, and secrets are slowly passed out.

The difference here is that the secrets are passed out like candy. We find out exactly what Pluto is and where it came from. We find out why Gesicht killed a man. We find out what it looks like when a robot is consumed with hate. We learn just how deep certain characters are, and we get to see true grief in the face of more than one person. We learn the meaning of “500 zeus a body” and it’s the saddest thing.

We also finally get to see Gesicht in hard action. I’m talking wall running, hand turning into a laser gun, fighting a giant monster, dashing through the exploded remains of your enemy action. And Urasawa pulls it off just as masterfully as everything else. It’s horribly violent and utterly tragic all at once, as Gesicht is forced to fight something that either doesn’t know any better or isn’t interested in knowing better, because the truth is too awful to bear.

Pluto 6 is paced in a way that it all feels very inevitable. Inexorable. The first scene in the book is an uneasy conversation between Gesicht and a scientist from Persia. It sets the tone. Where Gesicht was once on top of things and ahead of the investigation, he’s apparently slipped a step. He finds out something surprising at the end of the first chapter, and the hits keep coming from there on out.

Tragedy is the fuel that makes Pluto go. By the end of the volume, we realize that Gesicht, our hero and point of view, has been lied to, betrayed, misled, and hindered by forces beyond his control. All of this despite being a more powerful being than most of the populace. He has to consult a murderous robot to even find a semblance of truth. He’s a good man in a world that doesn’t deserve him.

Pluto is that book where a conversation is just as tense as two robots fighting, and the last eight pages just raise the bar. Two people, one a robot, the other a human, embrace on the border of the past and the future. They open up in a traditional Japanese garden outside of a hotel, as a high-tech city looms menacingly in the background.

Pluto 6 is the best yet. There’s really no other way to put it. It’s everything that’s made Pluto the best series of the year, but simply done better than before. That’s impressive.

Matthew Brady has a good review of this volume. He includes some scans and it’s good reading.

You should be buying this comic. Blah blah blah, I don’t read manga, it’s backwards, it’s black and white, whatever- shut up. It’s the best. You’re doing yourself a disservice by missing out.

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Double Your Dose of David

November 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’ve started writing for AOL’s Comics Alliance. I’m going to be doing a few pieces a week, as of this week, and you can check out my posts here. So far, I’ve written about Astro boy vs Pluto and done a brief history bit on the pulps, with an eye toward DC’s Batman/Doc Savage Special.

Bookmark it, RSS it, do whatever the kids do these days. Twitter it, I guess. Put it on Friendster or AOL Chat or whatever.

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On Obligatory Critical Discourse

October 5th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

When the topic of “feeling obligated to contribute to the critical discourse” came up during the SPX 2009 Critics’ Roundtable, I rolled my eyes a little. If you’re feeling obligated, you’re doing it wrong and you should probably chill out a little. However, discourse that occurs organically, out of respect for the work or the emotions it caused in you, is a great thing. It’s nothing you can force into being.

Two of my favorite bloggers are Tucker Stone and Matthew J Brady. Maybe it’s because we share sensibilities. Maybe it was that night we had to bury a body in Juarez. Whatever the reason, I tend to enjoy reading what these two guys come up with, even if I don’t agree.

Critical discourse is what happened when all three of us reviewed Pluto at different points in time, from different perspectives, and found different things to enjoy about it. Matthew recently posted a review that praises the emotional investment Urasawa instills in his readers by way of some well-executed facial expressions and pacing. Tucker juxtaposed it with the maturation of American comics, or rather the immaturatization, kind of like I did a while back. At the same time, I fell in love with the fact that one of the central conceits in the book, whether or not robots count as human, is a smokescreen, a purely surface level reading that is quickly proven to be a falsehood.

You can read Pluto’s first volume and get everything you need out of the series. It could be that robots can be people. It can be that Urasawa is a master artist. It can also be that Pluto approaches comics for adults in a way that American comics generally don’t. Compare the treatment of death in Blackest Night, DC’s All-Zombies All-Death All-the-time crossover and in Pluto 1-3. Look at which one treats death like it matters, and which treats death as overwrought melodrama. (Blackest Night is a bad crossover full of bad comics.)

All three of our takes are valid interpretations and all three are ripe for discussion. What’s nice is that I don’t think any of this came about because we felt like Someone Had To Discuss Pluto. We weren’t trying to prove that we’re real critics, or writers, or whatever, by contributing opinions because we felt like we had to. That’s a stupid and self-centered way to approach things. “I’m smart, smart people do this, so let me do this, too, to show that I am smart.”

Post-script: Tucker was right when he said that Pluto “is better than you heard it was.”

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Fourcast! 18: Read These Books

September 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

After 6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental, we break down eight books that are worth reading. Esther’s got Dan Jurgen’s Booster Gold, Gail Simone and Nicola Scott’s Secret Six, Franco and Baltazar’s Tiny Titans, Batman Confidential, and Superman/Batman. I’ve got Amazing Spider-Man, Criminal, Yotsuba&!, and Pluto. We share some jokes, a couple anecdotes, and realize that though we approach comics in different ways, we generally want the same thing: good stories.

Visual aides:



And a bonus shot, since Esther got a whole extra book!


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Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

September 18th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

There are three books all comics readers should be forced to read this year, at gunpoint if necessary. One is David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. It’s the kind of book you read a couple times, discuss with your friends, and dig into to figure out what it really means. The second is Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto. Pluto re-contextualizes a children’s character for an adult audience and creates a compelling work that inspires complicated emotional reactions and rewards careful reading. The third is Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, which presents a classic revenge tale in a new format and is just an all-around great read.

Richard Stark’s The Hunter is a classic novel and an almost archetypal revenge tale. Man is wronged by his partner and his woman, has his money stolen, and is on a quest to get it back, no matter the consequences. The titular hunter is Parker, no other name given, and he is, almost to a fault, a professional crook.

Cooke’s adaptation a word for word transplant of the novel into comic form, nor the rote adaptation of a work you’d see other companies hack out to secure a quick buck. Cooke took the book, examined what worked as a novel, figured out what would work as a comic, and, well, he did it and he succeeded.

There are two two-page spreads in The Hunter, which are roughly 80 pages away from each other. The first of two two-page spreads opens the book with an overhead shot of a city, with “New York City 1962” stamped on top of it. The second spread is inevitable, something we all knew was coming and eager to see. Parker finally locates and gets a chance to get his hands on Mal, who has literally been caught sleeping.

thehunter_02That first spread is a starter’s pistol, as the next 80-some pages build up directly to the second spread. We see Parker’s long walk into the city and solvency, a largely wordless sequence save for a couple of muttered insults. While the wordlessness is nice, the real thing to pay attention to is Parker’s reaction to society.

He blends in very well. People, innocent people, offer him rides, give him blushing looks, and proposition him. He’s large and imposing, but he isn’t immediately identified as trouble. He’s enticing. Parker’s reaction to all this, though, is contempt at every turn. He tells the man who offers him a ride to “go to hell,” he walks down the middle of the bridge, he hops a subway turnstile, and he bums a smoke off a cute waitress before blowing the smoke in her face and leaving. Parker’s an outlaw. He’s got no place in proper society, and he doesn’t want one. He knows that he can take what he wants and, with proper planning, get away with it.

When the words come back, Parker’s reintroduction to the world is over and he’s all business from there on out. There’s little to no emotion to be found, and Cooke’s art reflects that. He doesn’t break from a strict grid for action shots or cool poses. It just hits, one after the other- bam-bam-bam.

When the grid finally breaks, it’s due to a change in the story. Parker’s flashback of his betrayal forces the words and the art into separate boxes, giving both room to breath and stretch their legs. They snap back to the grid soon after, though, and the story proceeds apace.

The first spread comes before books one and two. Book one is Parker’s reintroduction, while book two features the last days of the traitor, Mal. The second spread is the last image in book two, and it’s Parker coming through the window for Mal’s throat.

While the first two books were far from actionless, the second spread sets the stage for the rest of the book. Parker is within spitting distance of his target, and from here on out there is only going to be violence and death. Book three is the chase, and culminates in the end of Mal Resnick.

TheHunter_01Mal’s death, despite being a big deal, is treated as economically as the rest of the book. There’s no grand struggle, no promises, nothing. There is just a man and his big hands wrapped around the throat of the man who wronged him. Cooke is telling a story first and foremost, and everything is subject to that. Dialogue is to the point, the art enhances what’s going on. Characters act through facial expressions and body language. When Parker twists the filter off a cigarette, that’s character. When he slouches on a couch to sleep and awakes from his nightmare, you can see the malice in his pose.

Even the art style is economical. Black, white (though really an off-white/cream, due to the paper), and brushed green are the only colors you’ll find in Parker: The Hunter. Nothing stands in the way of the story that Cooke is telling. The limited palette gives the book a different feel than your normal black and white affair. It feels murky, not in a muddled art sense, but in the sense of a tale that’s nice and grimy. It’s dirty and thick, with some panels colored in completely and others decorated by splashes of green.

I think part of why I love The Hunter so much is because it doesn’t mess around at all. Each page is packed with info, whether there are words on it or not, and the grid is only broken for very specific reasons. The fact that it’s in a grid makes it very easy to read, but it also gives it an inevitable feel. The book moves along at a rapid pace, building up momentum toward Parker’s revenge like a snowball rolling down a hill, and you can’t escape from it any more than Mal can.

Parker: The Hunter is a page turner. You start it and you burn through it, and you’re left feeling satisfied and thirsty for more. The art and the story came together in a way that resulted in an excellent adaptation that’s extremely faithful, but still different enough to stand on its own. I read over a dozen of Stark’s Parker novels in the month or two leading up to Parker: The Hunter’s release, but this book still felt as fresh as a new Caddy. This is how you do an adaptation.

Three books: Asterios Polyp, Pluto, and Parker: The Hunter. As far as I’m concerned, Best of the Year is a three-way tie.

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Before Pluto: The Greatest Robot In The World

August 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka is an adaptation of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy and probably the best comic to drop this year, with only Asterios Polyp (review here, amazon) and Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter (spotlight coming, amazon) coming close to toppling it.

The story it’s based on was also turned into a cartoon years upon years ago. Luckily, because Manga Entertainment understands how to use the internet the way it should be used, you can check it out for free and legally here:

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