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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Friday, July 10, 2009

Barefoot Gen Vol 4 Barefoot Gen 5

Barefoot Gen was first serialized in Japan in the 1970s. Eight of its ten volumes have been translated into English and those books have remained more or less in print ever since. Keiji Nakazawa's stories of Hiroshima in the days and years after that city was leveled by the American atomic bomb, focusing as they do on the hardships facing the survivors of that attack, seem particularly apt reading to me at a time when two hostile nationals - North Korea and Iran - are developing their own nuclear weapons. Scary times.

Through my local library system, I've been reading Barefoot Gen from its start to as close to its finish as possible. I recently finished Barefoot Gen Volume Four: Out of the Ashes and Barefoot Gen Volume Five: The Never-ending War [Last Gasp; $14.95 each]. As ever, I was impressed by Nakazawa's mastery at combining action, comedy, drama, and even horror in a compelling narrative further enriched by his great cast of characters.

Nakazawa is a survivor of Hiroshima. He was seven when the bomb was dropped. Although the series is based on real events from his life and those of other survivors, Barefoot Gen is not itself an autobiography. For that, seek out I Saw It!, the 44-page story that inspired the longer work.

Gen witnesses the deaths of his father, sister, and a brother. He has to drag his pregnant mother away from their burning home and, later that day, assist in the birth of his new sister. But, even with the return of a brother from the countryside and another from the military, the family struggles to survive in a city where there is simply not enough food or other necessities for the survivors of that terrible event.

Trying to take the lessons of his father, who was against the war, to heart, Gen fights to help his family survive and to keep their spirits alive. He is a clever and determined young man. He will not surrender to despair or even to his understandable hatred of the Americans who have come to his country in victory. It should be noted the Japanese who started the war and those who continued to rule afterwards are treated as harshly and sometimes even more harshly than the Americans. No one who contributed to this misery gets a pass from Gen and he often finds way to gain some measure of vengeance from them.

In the midst of unending tragedy, one of the most uplifting aspects of the series is how Gen encourages those around him. He takes a street urchin into his home as a substitute for the young brother he lost. When that boy gets into trouble of a criminal nature, he helps him and other youngsters build a home and a new life, a life complete with a surrogate father, an award-winning author who lost his family to the bomb. Though Barefoot Gen is an off-tragic work of accusatory fiction, it is likewise a tale of hope.

This review is intentionally light on details. Barefoot Gen is comic art at its finest. I'd like my readers to take my praise of it to heart and come to it as fresh and open as possible. I've no doubt they will cherish it as much as I do.

Barefoot Gen Volume Four: Out of the Ashes and Barefoot Gen Volume Five: The Never-ending War each earn six out of five Tonys. That special rating is reserved only for the very best comics in the history of the art form.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



Trying to keep this brief...

There was obvious ballot box stuffing during the first round of the 1980s version of our "Comics Idol" competition. Because of that, I made the decision to not count votes for the recipient of those fraudulent votes. At no time did I accuse that recipient or his fans of ballot box stuffing, there being no shortage of online jerks who do this sort of thing for whatever sick entertainment it brings them. This was an interim decision. In retrospect, most everyone would have been better served had I skipped ahead to my final decision.

The Tony Polls were launched to bring a little extra fun to my website and to let me know where my readers stood on this or that issue. I never made a dime off them.

With this latest bit of ballot box stuffing and the subsequent response from those who clearly don't think well of me, the fun is gone. At least for me, the guy who spent several hours each week coming up with the questions, supervising the process, and writing about the results. I figure those several hours can be better used working on my long bucket list of things I want to do and things I want to write while I still have a bucket.

I know many of you are disappointed that the 1980s version of "Comics Idol" has ended so prematurely. My readers are welcome to send me brief e-mails extolling their fondness for the writers they voted for in the competition. I'll run as many of them as possible in future TOTs.

As always, thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/09/2009 | 07/10/2009 | 07/13/2009 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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Zero Tonys
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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