"Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It's the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that makes a difference."
- Nolan Bushnell, sometimes called the "father of the video game industry"
Allow me to BANG BANG apologize in advance to my editors and BANG BANG readers for any boneheaded mistakes that creep into BANG BANG this month's column. Stately Isabella Manor is undergoing a series of BANG BANG repair-and-renovation projects this summer that BANG BANG fill more of my world with each passing day. As I write, there are strapping young men BANG BANG replacing the roof above my top-floor office. How come there's never a Cone of Silence around when you need one?
Obscure sitcom references aside, the second worst thing about these projects - after the formation of the black hole sucking away every dollar from the Isabella family checkbooks as well as much of our earnings for the rest of the year - is that they've effectively grounded me. My friends, comics readers and industry professionals alike, will have gone to San Diego and Chicago and other wonderful conventions while getting-grumpier-by-the-minute Isabella will have spent his summer stuffing wadded-up comic-book pages into his ears. It don't hardly seem fair.
The esteemed Jerry Bails, who is arguably the father of comics fandom, celebrated his 72nd birthday on June 26. I always remember his birthday because it's also my son Eddie's birthday. I e-mailed my best wishes to Jerry and, when I did, I thanked him for his role in creating comics fandom.
My dearest, truest friends are friends I have made - directly or indirectly - through comics fandom. Former CBG columnist Mark Evanier and I have been pals since we were teenagers, meeting as a result of our prolific writings for comics fanzines. I met Don and Maggie Thompson through fandom. I made my first industry contacts through fandom. It's never been a way of life for me, but I can't imagine my life without it.
I still make new friends through online comics fandom. Almost every job I have gotten within recent memory has been connected in some way to the online community which has grown from fandom, even the jobs which don't involve comics in any way. Moreover, I expect to make many new friends through CBG's new online meeting place [www.cbgxtra.com] and maybe even score some new jobs through the people I meet there.
I miss not seeing my old and new friends at the summer comics cons. While I still feel the comics community around me - despite the blasted vibrations from my roof - it's always especially grand to see my pals in person. Sigh.
I'll be returning to this theme of "the comics community" in a not-so-distant future column. For now, let's look at some comics which have entertained me and some which have not. In the case of the latter, I'll endeavor to be as gentle as the BANG BANG BANG in my skull will allow.
There were over two dozen new comics and books in the box I picked up from my friendly comics retailer, but MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE SUB-MARINER Vol. 1 (Marvel; $49.95) was the first one I grabbed to read. No nostalgia was involved - the stories reprinted in the book had been published a decade before my year of birth - just my ongoing delight in and fascination with the growing pains of the comics industry.
Opening remarks by comics writer/editor/historian Roy Thomas set the stage nicely for the re-presentation of SUB-MARINER COMICS #1-4 (Spring through Winter, 1941). Thomas has a gift for bringing comics history into a context easily understood even by those of us who weren't there when it was happening. He gets readers into the proper mood for the 60-year-old stories to follow.
SUB-MARINER COMICS #1 is my favorite of the issues reprinted in this book. In the first of the two stories starring the often-savage Prince Namor, the German navy launches a blitzkrieg on the undersea home of the Sub-Mariners. The body count is staggering as Namor destroys dozens of ships. At that rate, World War II would have been over long before the United States entered the conflict. The violence is appalling, but also immensely satisfying as Namor deals swiftly with clear aggressors.
The second tale has Namor coming to New York to obtain radium needed to treat a plague among his own people. The city's supply has already been stolen by German agents prior to his arrival, so he hunts them down and steals it from them. His people come first, the niceties of law be damned. Namor has never been your typical super-hero; that's part of his appeal and probably why the babes of the 1940s were constantly throwing themselves at him. Chicks just dig those bad boys.
Subsequent issues featured a slightly subdued Namor. He could usually be counted on to take out a few German planes and ships per story, but he wasn't quite as enthusiastic about it. In the fourth issue, he ignored Hitler's minions completely, dealing instead with a killer in a secluded hospital and a man-made monster who would've given Frankenstein's creation a fright.
The over-the-top action and mayhem of the Sub-Mariner stories continued in the Angel tales which backed up the lead adventures. I don't know if the Angel was supposed to have super-powers or not. Sometimes it appears he does, other times that he doesn't, often in the same story.
If the Angel had a secret identity, it was of no importance to these stories. He lounges around his home in costume. He is never called anything but "the Angel." When he dons civilian garb, he's said to be in disguise. But, no matter how lacking his social life might have been, he had more than his fair share of crazed killers, including an apparently bone-less human python and, of all things, a writer who was also an enemy assassin, determined to prematurely cancel a magazine called Anti-Nazi Comics. It's the stuff of cheap pulp fiction, but I love it!
Marvel's earlier Golden Age reprints were criticized for their poor reproduction, but this first Sub-Mariner collection looks real good to me. For its classic hero, historical value, wild-and-wacky action, and quality of presentation, MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE SUB-MARINER VOL. 1 earns the full five Tonys.
MOSQUITO by Dan James [Top Shelf; $12.95], a tale of a vampire slayer, is pretentiously cover-billed as "an omnilingual nosferatu pictomunication novel." To my mind, this translates into "how the story is told is more important than the story itself." While it's a valid approach to comics, it's not one that holds a great deal of appeal for me. Potential MOSQUITO buyers should be aware of this bias in making their purchasing decision.
I appreciate the challenge James faced in attempting to tell a 152-page tale without words. There are places where he succeeds and places where the lack of clarity derails the story. The latter is more prominent than the former.
I enjoyed the sort of abstract wood-cut style James utilized in this book. His depictions of the vampire slayer, the world in which the story is set, the vampire's minions, and the vampire are intriguing and unsettling. The harsh angles of his box-like people and creatures add to the horror of the tale.
Alas, for me, the story's the thing. That thing wasn't there in MOSQUITO, and, much as I might otherwise applaud a noble venture into unfamiliar territory, without it, I can't award this graphic novel more than two Tonys.
Kyle Baker's NAT TURNER #1 [Kyle Baker Publishing; $3] is also told largely sans words, but his drawings are so strikingly alive they pull the reader completely into the life and times of the man who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. As the story opens, the serenity of an African village is shattered by the arrival of vicious slavers. The beauty of the jungle quickly gives way to the desperation of the chase and the horror of the voyage from Africa to the United States, culminating in a mother's shocking attempt to save her new-born child from the further horrors she fears await at the end of the voyage. There were tears in my eyes as I finished reading this first of four issues.
NAT TURNER #1 is the kind of comic book that makes me proud to be part of this industry. It gets five Tonys and my recommendation that, if you can read but one of the items I praise in this column, this be the one you read.
SHOJO BEAT [Viz; $5.99] has made its long-awaited debut and it was worth the wait. The magazine of "manga from the heart" looks fabulous and reads better, presenting over 300 pages of comics, a heaping handful of text features, an Ultra Maniac mini-comic, and, on an enclosed DVD, an episode of the Ultra Maniac anime. Are we talking great bang for your bucks or what?
On flipping through this issue, I was immediately impressed by its clean and inviting design. The look is brighter and perkier than SHONEN JUMP, its brother magazine, so much so that I'd like to see JUMP get a similar, albeit less feminine, makeover in the very near future. I can't think of any reason why the kick-butt action of JUMP can't get an upgrade in the style department. So, kudos to Lead Designer V.R.R. Casson and the rest of the BEAT design team. They got the magazine off to a terrific start.
For the manga-impaired among you, here's a quick description of SHOJO manga, blatantly lifted from the magazine:
SHOJO (show-joe) means "girl" in Japanese. Shojo manga are often characterized by a moody, abstract style, with close-ups of characters' faces intermingling with dreamy backdrops. In contrast to action-oriented SHONEN ("boys") manga, SHOJO manga ruminate on themes of emotion, love, identity, and responsibility that often play out internally. That said, SHOJO manga are by no means just for girls. Shojo stories are about aspects of life that concern everyone - boys ans girls, old and young.
SHOJO BEAT takes its name from the Japanese word for "girl," but that doesn't necessarily mean its content is always appropriate for girls of all ages. Though you have to search for the advisory, the magazine is rated "T+" for "older teens."
Ai Yazawa's NANA is a brilliant soap opera about a high school graduate trying to find her way in life and romance. We got a 100-page chunk of the series in this issue and I wanted more. However - parents take note - the series opens with the title heroine being dumped by her long-time older lover, who was a teacher at the high school she attended. Such romances are common in Japanese comics, but are rightfully considered criminal behavior in the real world. It doesn't mean they don't happen, it doesn't mean they aren't fair game for fiction, but it's something parents should consider before they give BEAT to their young daughters.
In the same 100-page chunk, Nana has sex with a partner closer to her age. While the act is tastefully depicted - I wouldn't have a problem with my teenage daughter reading it - it's not a call I'd presume to make for other parents.
SHOJO BEAT features five other strips. Yuu Watase's ABSOLUTE BOYFRIEND is the weakest of them. Its heroine is a young girl who wants to make herself more attractive, which seems to translate to bigger breasts. Seeking such larger attributes via mail order, she accidentally buys a robot boyfriend from the future. I found this a touch creepy, though I'll give Watase a few more issues to either win me over or thoroughly disgust me.
Kaori Yuki's GODCHILD is a gothic romance. Young woman are in dire peril as a mysterious killer prowls the streets of Victorian London. A mysterious hero - if, indeed, he is a hero - appears to contend with the killer. The first issue story was fairly complete in itself, so I don't know if it's indicative of what is to come. I do know it kept my interest from start to finish, intriguing me enough that I'll definitely be back for more. The English language adaptation of GODCHILD was by noted cartoonist and comics historian Trina Robbins.
To avenge the death of her family, a girl goes undercover and joins a legendary band of revolutionary samurai. Taeko Watanabe's KAZE HIKARU deftly mixes a touch of comedy into its opening chapter without taking away from the seriousness of the turbulent times in which the characters exist. The series didn't bowl me over in this debut, but it was a solid and entertaining installment, one which bodes well for future issues.
BABY AND ME by Marimo Ragawa is definitely in the running for my favorite SHOJO BEAT series. A boy whose mother died in a car accident must becomes the primary care giver for his infant brother while dealing with his own grief and the loss of any life outside of school and home. Ragawa realistically portrays both the young man's frustration and his love of family. It's a gut-wrenching AND heart-warming series. Just like life.
Mitsuba Takanashi's CRIMSON DAWN is another outstanding SHOJO BEAT series. Its feisty heroine is driven to excel in volleyball, but her treacherous mother will go to any lengths to extinguish her daughter's passion for the sport and force her work in the family's restaurant, a "glorified hostess bar." If I were forced to choose between this, BABY AND ME, and NANA for the magazine's best series, my poor head would likely explode.
There's more. SHOJO BEAT has articles and columns on fashion, style, culture, and music. It has interviews with manga creators and a professional volleyball player. There's even a "horoscope" column which suggested I stop and smell the flowers nearest me. I tried to follow that advice and almost got clobbered by one of the old shingles being tossed from my roof, but I suppose I shouldn't blame the magazine for that.
The bonus ULTRA MANIAC DVD and mini-comic? Neither did much for me. The series strikes me as a one-note wonder. A witch girl in training goes to a non-magical school. She is befriended by a popular-but-shy young lady and proceeds to use her unskilled magic to help her mortal friend. Whenever she uses her magic, things go wrong and hilarity tries-but-fails to reign. Besides the episode mentioned at the start of this review, the DVD also has some scenes from other episodes.
My lack of enthusiasm for the bonus stuff aside, SHOJO BEAT is as good a comics magazine as you'll find in the bookstores, comics shops, and newsstands. At the risk of depleting my supply, I have to give it the full five out of five Tonys.
I hope all CBG's readers had a wonderful summer, filled with good friends, good times, and good comic books. I'll be back next month to talk about all three.
Every Tuesday, I post new TONY POLLS questions for your voting entertainment. That means today's your last day to weigh in on our current questions. One is on Marvel Studios and the ten movies it will be self-producing, the other is on your TV viewing. You can answer these questions at:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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