Monday, June 27, 2016

Thoughts From Iceland

Thoughts From Iceland - The Complete Collection is a travelogue of a three-day journey to one of Europe's most interesting destinations.  Plus, Iceland's doing well in the European Cup, so I thought I'd read up on the country.  I've been all over Europe, but I haven't been to Iceland, mostly because it's one of the more expensive destinations.  When I was young and doing my travels, I'd rather spend a month in Poland than a half week in Iceland; back then, I had time to kill and not as much money.  Now I have a whole lot of neither.

"Day 1" isn't that interesting to me.  All the narrator, Lonnie Mann, does is go to a few shopping malls and buy the usual tourist crap.  "Day 2" takes him to the Solheimojokull Glacier, which I did find more exciting; however, nothing out of the ordinary happens, aside from him being lonely and getting lost.  That's another reason I like traveling in places like India.  It's impossible to get lost because you can just take a bike-rickshaw wherever you need to go for $0.30 or something.

"Days 3+4" is mostly the narrator hangs around Reykjavik, doing the same sort of stuff.  Lonnie is very skilled at lettering and drawing urban and rural landscapes; this is the highlight of this travelogue for me.  "Trip 2" takes on a different form than the first four-day trip.  It consists of watercolors with prose, mostly not lettered but typed, which is appropriate for the format.

For a title mostly devoid of conflict, Thoughts From Iceland is pretty engaging, and I found myself identifying with Lonnie.  He has a more adventurous palate than I do; he eats whale and fermented shark among other delicacies, while I'd be more comfortable finding a Vietnamese restaurant and eating chicken and rice.  Lonnie gives the reader an immersive feel for what it's like to be a tourist in Iceland but none of what it is like to live in Iceland.  This isn't a weakness, necessarily.  I merely opened this book with different expectations from what I ended up reading.

ComiXology Unlimited

ComiXology Unlimited is a way to borrow comics in digital format off the website for only $5.99 a month.  It generally has the first one to three volumes of a series for free, and you have to buy the rest.  Here are a few of my faves:

  • Saga is more than just "geek cred"; it's a good series for adults.  I've even got my parents reading it.  
  • The Fade Out is a 12-issue story of murder in 1950s Hollywood.  The first trade paperback (4 issues) is free.
  • Manhattan Projects is Jonathan Hickman's underground sensation, about an Earth where the top scientists used the Manhattan Project as a cover for more advanced and more devious scientific studies.
  • East of West is another Jonathan Hickman story.  While there haven't been many Manhattan Projects comics recently, East of West is still going strong. 
  • Fatale is classic Brubaker.  I reviewed all four volumes a couple of months ago.
  • Chew is a series I've read eight volumes of.  It's about a detective who has the power to psychicly connect with whatever he eats.
  • The Complete Peanuts is self explanitory.  
  • The Incal is Alejandro Jodorowsky's most famous work.  I have it in hardcover.
  • Lazarus is a long-running series about a future world where the world is split into a few family-run corporations that are at war with each other.  
  • My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san is a campy, unoriginal romantic comedy.  I love it.  The first three tankoban volumes are free.
  • Letter 44 is a comic I have yet to review, but I've read it a little.  I'm a big fan of its author, Charles Soule.  
  • The Woods is one of my favorite comics, taking place on a moon orbiting a gas giant, where 400 students and faculty of a high school have been transported.  
  • 'Tain't the Meat, It's the Humanity I bought in hardback, and I've read about half of it.  Classic pre-code comics.  
  • Thoughts on Iceland is what I'm reading right now.  I hope to review it later today.
I like real comics, but digital comics have their positive attributes as well.  There's more money going straight to the creators, and a few titles are unavailable or hard to find in print.  Of course, as Stan Lee famously said, comics are like breasts, good on the screen but great in your hand.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ripley's Believe It or Not, Vol. 1

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Original Daily Cartoons, 1929-1930 is a monster of a book, clocking in at 272 thick pages, each with two large daily cartoons.  Starting with Robert Ripley's career as a sports reporter in the 1910s, Original Daily Cartoons, 1929-1930 contains Believe It or Not! comics dating back to 1925, leading up to the syndication of the comic series in 1929.  A mix of sports facts, oddities, and freakish accounts, Believe It or Not! captivated a nation for 20 years, leading up to Robert Ripley's death in 1949.

But the story doesn't end there.  Ripley's style of cartooning inspired uncountable books, TV shows, radio shows, and even museums.  One of my favorite memories of living in South Korea was visiting the Believe It or Not! museum in an amusement park outside of Seoul.  It had video footage of a man who could "swallow his nose" by putting his lip over his nose.  Next to it was a mirror.  As you went around the corner, you found out that it was a two-way mirror, and you could watch people make faces, trying to swallow their own noses.

I look forward to reading and collecting this entire series.  I tend to buy comics from the 1920s to 1960s and not read them too much.  All of them are fantastic, but there's something decidedly difficult about reading a large book of newspaper stripes that were sometimes printed over the course of two or three years.  That difficulty doesn't exist with Believe It or Not!  Sure, some of the cartoons are a little far fetched, but that's part of the charm.

Robert Ripley was able to put out so many comics and be a success for year up on year simply because he did it better than anyone else.  He was a solid cartoonist, but what made him stand out from his peers is the way he traveled the globe, looking for more facts.  In the old days, you could get hundreds of dollars for selling proof of an "oddity" to Robert Ripley, should he use it in his daily cartoon.  Very highly recommended.

The Autumnlands #11

The Autumnlands, Issue #11 has Dusty, Aelbert, and Learoyd finally reaching the top of the mountain where all the "evil" is coming from.  After battling a monster, they reach a temple filled with statue-women, the Galateams.  To gain their acceptance, Learoyd must figure out the codeword, or they will all be destroyed.  Learoyd is able to search through a database of some sort, and he has the science-based ability to scan food for impurities.  It must have to do with the clothes he was given a few issues ago.

I've been a fan of The Autumnlands since I bought the first trade paperback last summer.  It didn't look like something I'd be into, but lo and behold, it is.  When I started buying single-issue comic books around the same time, The Autumnlands was one of the first titles I started buying.  It's just plain epic.  It's easy to say that it has something other comic books don't, but let me try to explain.  It's the different tribes of people, it's Steven Learoyd, it's Dusty, it's magic, and it's adventure.

I didn't get too much into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid, but I definitely liked it.  One of the best aspects of the game, which set the stage for video-game role-playing games, was how the characters change and grow, how they add characters and add weapons and abilities.  The Autumnlands has this down to a tee.  And, like always, the artwork, coloring, and lettering only add to what would've been a great comic without great realization.

Deadpool v Gambit #1

Deadpool v Gambit, Issue #1: "The 'V' Is for 'Vs.'" is written by the duo of Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, a pair of TV/multimedia writers known for their snappy dialogue and comedy.  It begins with Deadpool and Gambit in line for the best coffee in New York when it flashes back to the last time they met, a fake fight between the two dressed as Daredevil and Spider-Man which turns into a real fight.  In the past, they are fighting to draw attention away from a diamond heist, which they get a cut from.

This is really different, and I suspect a few people won't like it.  My main complaint is that the action begins before the characters are really introduced.  I know, the two are major superheroes/supervillains, but I'd still like to see their characters developed a teensy bit.  The actual fight is between Deadpool and Gambit, but they're dressed like Spider-Man and Daredevil; I read this as a fictionalized account between the former before realizing it was an actual account between the latter, if that makes any sense.  My favorite part of the comic was them making fun of the vegan hipster community. There's also a nod to "Hamilton," although I'm just not familiar enough with pop music to get the Destiny's Child reference.

The artwork is by Danilo Beyruth, with colors by Cris Peter and letters by Joe Sabino.  Beyruth is a Brazilian artist who's taken the Marvel world by storm, doing the artwork for this title as well as Gwenpool.  Peters has been working for Marvel and other publishers for some time, coloring Star Wars and Serenity, both good titles.  Sabino I've written about before.  He's a clear letterer who spaces out letters within words pretty well.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Old Man Logan #6 and #7

Old Man Logan, Issue #6 and Issue #7 are in the three-issue "Bordertown" arc.  Issue #1 through Issue #4 are about Logan suddenly finding himself in the present in another universe after his whole family was wiped out by the Hulk Gang.  After finding out that there's nothing he could do to stop what was going to happen, Logan went north to Killhorn Falls in the Northwest Territories.  There, he hopes to live a quiet life, looking after the girl who in another universe would become his wife.  Unfortunately, he brought his past with him.

Issue #7 is exceptionally well illustrated.  Andrea Sorrentino, the artist of this title, told me that this arc was his favorite, and I can see why.  I'm not much of an artist; I lack the patient hand and the subtle eye to do what Sorrentino and color artist, Marcelo Maiolo do.  I don't read every comic out there, but I feel like there should be some form of special recognition for Issue #7.  Not everyone I know likes the artwork.  I find the simplification of the fight scenes a strength, as it gives the reader a chance to imagine what happens in certain scenes.  In the movie Fight Club, the "I wanted to destroy something beautiful" fight between the Narrator and the blonde kid was originally graphically violent, but the studios nixed it.  The resulting scene focuses on the viewers' reaction to the violence and becomes more powerful because of it.  In Old Man Logan, the viewer is the reactor.  I don't know if that makes any sense.

I used to be an Image Comics guy.  I read some DC but not that much Marvel.  Old Man Logan by Lemire, Sorrentino, and Maiolo was the firs Marvel title I picked up in floppy.  Eventually, I started to realize that I was always reading the Marvel titles first, that I was looking forward to them the most.  I got a little behind at the end of last semester, but I'm starting to catch up.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Spider-Man #4

Spider-Man, Issue #4 sees Ganke letting Fabio Medina, the former X-Men member "Goldballs" in on Miles Morales's secret: he's Spider-Man.  It looks like Miles and Ganke have a new ally - and a new roommate.  Just when things couldn't get any worse, they do.  Three heat-seeking missiles fly out of nowhere to knock Spider-Man down to the ground, where he ends the comic about to be captured by Hammerhead, who is in the pay of Black Cat.  What does she want with Morales?

If you've read my reviews, you know that I like Miles Morales as Spider-Man because I like Spider-Man as a young man more than I do Spider-Man as an adult; it makes him different.  There are other young superheroes.  Captain Marvel/Shazam is the most famous of them, and the current Ms. Marvel is rocketing up in sales and gathering all sorts of new fans to the genre.  However, none of those characters are as iconic as Spider-Man.

Power Lines #2

Power Lines, Issue #2 is a title I've had in my "to-read" pile for some time.  Issue #3 came out three weeks ago, and I decided not to buy it until I'd read Issue #2.  In Issue #2, D-Trick goes back to Benicia to find the woman who has powers like his.  He has to use his powers when a bus crashes, trapping the passengers inside.  After rescuing several people, he's arrested and beaten by the police.

I'm beginning to really like this rough, racially-charged comic.  The scenery is legit, as well, taking place in Benicia and the "Iron Triangle" of central Richmond.  The Native American characters aren't present in this issue, but the idea of people having super powers in only a certain neighborhood is a novel one, one that is very well realized.  As before, Jimmie Robinson wears all the hats in this comic, writing, illustrating, coloring and even lettering the comic.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens #1

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Issue #1 is a title I didn't think I'd pick up, but here I am.  I'm already having trouble keeping up with the myriad of comics I've started reading in the past six months.  Sure, it's a Star Wars title, a limited-series adaptation of the movie, so why read it?  Chuck Wendig is the writer, and I like his series, Hyperion.  Luke Ross is the artist, and he's worked on a number of titles I've read.  Basically, this is a strong adaptation, one I will look forward to finishing.

I've seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the movie, twice.  One of my main complaints about the film is that it doesn't hold up well upon further viewings; there aren't as many tiny details about the film that you pick up on seeing it a second or third time.  While I wouldn't necessarily say that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is a superior movie to The Force Awakens, I've happily seen the former no fewer than 20 times, and each time, there's something new I pick up on.

What I like about The Force Awakens is the characters.  Rey, Han Solo, Finn, Poe Dameron, and BB-8 are just a few of the people in the movie that caught my eye, and I'm enjoying reading about them in comic-book form.  Right now, the only Star Wars titles I've picked up are this one and Poe Dameron, although I have read Jason Aaron's Star Wars.  Basically, this is good stuff, although some would complain that what makes this adaptation great is the source material.  Fuck that.  Recommended for fans of The Force Awakens.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Woods #23

The Woods, Issue #23 has two timelines.  The first is six months before the present and features Sanami talking with Sander about tracking down Calder, who has left the village for good, or so he says.  In the present, Sander and Calder are off to find the Horde; the cover features the two of them fighting against masked warriors and strange creatures, but is it real or just a drug-induced hallucination?  They head toward New Bombay, a great city that the Horde destroyed many years ago.

I really enjoyed the way the flashback timeline connects with the current timeline by using the same line to end end one as to begin the next.  I also like how the flashbacks are slightly more brownish, slightly more grayish than the scenes in the present, maybe because the scenes in the past take place at night.  And like always, I love the colors of this series.  Good stuff.

Green Lanterns #1

Green Lanterns, Issue #1 is the only "DC Universe: Rebirth" title I bought, and it begins the "Rage Planet" arc.  There might be more coming out, but I don't plan on buying any of them.  I'm all for major rebranding movements, although there was a major change in the DC Universe a scant half decade ago with the New 52, so this one comes a little to soon, if anything.  I do like the $2.99 price tag across the board, and I do like Green Lantern, but I have thousands of unread pages of Geoff Johns's epic Green Lantern run sitting on my shelf.  How will this one go?

Issue #1 begins with a Code 312, meaning that there's an unauthorized alien on Earth.  Simon Baz, the Muslim-American Green Lantern introduced near the end of Geoff Johns's run, is teamed with Jessica Cruz, who's new to me, at least.  I've read the first 1000 or 1100 pages of the Geoff Johns series and the last 500 or 600 pages.  I stopped when Johns left the series, so I'm somewhat familiar with Baz's story.

I will definitely keep reading this series, although I'm unfamiliar with most of the contributors.  Sam Humphries, the writer, has worked for Marvel for some years, taking over The Ultimates following the departure from that line of Johnathan Hickman, although I'd never read him before.  The Brazilian Robson Rocha, again, has worked on titles that I've read, but before this, I hadn't seen much of his work.  He's very good, especially how he does hands and hair.  I like the design of Jessica Cruz's "mask," which is an image of the Green Lantern symbol on top of her right eye.

International Iron Man #4

International Iron Man, Issue #4 begins with the revelation that Tony Stark was adopted in Bulgaria, from an orphanage.  He goes to that orphanage to try to find out about his past, who his true birth parents are, but why does his nemesis, Cassandra Gillespie, have a compound in Bulgaria?  And what happened between them 25 years ago?  This leads to a confrontation between Cassandra and Tony that ends in a cliffhanger.  There are basically four timelines in this issue, Tony just finishing up with Civil War II, Tony at the orphanage, Tony confronting Cassandra, and 25 years in the past, although it's fairly easy to differentiate them, unlike a Salman Rushdie novel, where you just have to pick up the clues as to what's happening where or when.

The superstar duo of Brian Michael Bendis and artist, Alex Maleev is almost as formidable as the star-crossed combination of Cassandra Gillespie and Tony Stark.  I like the direction this title is going in.  There's the romance angle, but what happens if Stark find out that he's a member of the Gillespie family?  Is he Cassandra's cousin or even her brother?  And what if they did it together back in the early 1990s?

Descender #12

Descender, Issue #12 begins the five-issue arc, "Singularities."  It begins 10 years in the past, on the planet Niyrata.  Tim-22 is given to an old man as a companion android by the man's son, Ambassador Crup.  The old man abuses Tim-22, who true to his programming, obeys him.  Something goes wrong, though.  One day, when Tim-22 is cleaning up a mess, the Harvesters attack.  In the aftermath, Tim-22 becomes a fugitive.  Ten years later, his violent confrontation with Tim-21 continues.

I'm so glad Descender is back again.  This really is one of my favorite comics.  If you haven't read it, give the first arc a try.  It's only $6 or $7 on Amazon, and ComiXology Unlimited might have it free to borrow.  My favorite scene in this issue is the part where the Harvesters attack, and the watercolors throughout the issue are imaginative and detailed.  The amount of work it must take to realize this comic must be overwhelming for artist Dustin Nguyen and designer/letterer Steve Wands.  It must be worth it, though because this comic is unlike anything out there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cry Havoc #5

Cry Havoc, Issue #5 is a comic I've had in my "inbox" for some time, along with Simon Spurrier's new comic, The Weavers, Issue #1, which I just picked up this weekend.  Cry Havoc, Issue #6 comes out a week from tomorrow, which will likely end the series, as far as I know.  Like usual, I bought the variant cover, pictured to your right (or down, if you're on the fora).  When Louise is in the Red Place in this issue, she's pregnant and about to give birth.

I like how the first London scene ends, with the dialogue from Sam just scribbling out from time to time, leading to nothing but scribbles on the next page, in the Red Place.  Simon Bowland is a solid letterer, as I've mentioned before.  Generally, this is the type of comic you want to be able to spend some time with.  The dedication needed to understand this comic is a lot like the dedication needed to understand East of West, another one of my favorite comics.  Cry Havoc is even more difficult, although with fewer characters to keep track of.

Here are a few things I like about this comic:

  • The variant covers with the number featured heavily.  They've gotten some good artists to work on these variant covers.  This one is by Cliff Chiang, whose cover work for DC Comics is well known.
  • The artwork on the first two pages.  There's always a sketch of one of the myths in action.  This issue features a two-headed wolf, or a one-headed wolf reflected across the y-axis, giving the impression of a butterfly.
  • The three different colorists used for the three settings in the novel: London, Afghanistan, and the Red Place. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

East of West #26

East of West, Issue #26 is fairly easy to follow if you remember Issue #25 and its protagonists.  It starts with the final meeting of the Chosen.  Surprisingly, Madame President Antonia La Vey appears, as do Xiaolain and Prince Freeman.  This issue is mostly about the assemblage of the Chosen.  For those that don't remember, the "Chosen" are the high-ranking members of the various Nations that formerly made up the United States of America.  The Chosen each have a task to complete to bring about the Apocalypse, but many of them have gone against the Apocalypse, such as Crow, Wolf, Governor Ben Solomon, and the Ranger.  Death is still looking for his son, so he isn't a part of the meeting.

I don't really know what direction the meeting will take.  You have all the main characters assembled at the Southern Gate; many of those characters have weapons drawn.  Are they going to be pro-Apocalypse or anti-Apocalypse?  Is the Apocalypse going to start in the next issue, or will the Apocalypse be averted in the next issue?  I'm really looking forward to Issue #27, as it will change everything.  And of course, artists, Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin are doing their job admirably, as is my favorite letterer, Rus Wooton.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Poe Dameron #3

Star Wars: Poe Dameron, Issue #3 is the story of Poe Dameron's Black Squadron looking for Lor San Tekka, 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi and just before the events of The Force Awakens.  Poe Dameron is trapped in the Cave of the Creche with Agent Terex of the First Order, where the two are playing a game of chicken.  The people of the Cave are guarding an egg that holds the savior of the galaxy, and Terex is trying to get Dameron to talk by having his stormtroopers roast the egg with flamethrowers.  Then something interesting happens...

There's a Wizard of Oz reference about halfway into the issue that I liked, particularly because there was one in A New Hope.  Charles Soule really knows his stuff, and more importantly, he comes across as a Star Wars fan.  J.J. Abrams never struck me as a Star Wars or especially not a Star Trek fan.  With references to not only the Star Wars Universe but the Star Wars Extended Universe (novels, comics, and the like), Soule, who I liked a lot to begin with, has shown a new side to his work, one I really like.

Empress #3

Empress, Issue #3 is about Queen Emporia's flight from King Morax with her children, her guard, Dane, and his friend, Tor.  Tor has a "ship" that's actually a small teleportation device, and it takes them from world to world, reminding me fondly of Millar's other comic, Chrononauts, where each world they go to is more bizarre than the world before.  The ship has a flaw, in that it has to be able to "see" where it's going, so it doesn't work in snow or ash or fog.  I thought this was a great plot device, making the gang get stranded on certain worlds for a time.

Like the first two issues, the imagination and artwork are out of this world.  Imagining a galactic empire situated on Earth just before the dinosaurs went extinct was one thing, but the way Millar and Immonen have conjured up new worlds and new situations is really fantastic.  Like the epic tales of the Bible, Empress may have beautiful and bizarre settings, but it's really just about a family.  The king is crazy, so the queen bails with their kids.  That's a situation anyone can relate to, whether they live in a trailer park or a McMansion.  Yes, there is another man involved, but whether his role is romantic or not waits to be seen.

Stuart Immonen, similarly, does great with the different worlds and shit, but similarly, he does excellent work on the family and friends.  Just look at the main cover (which I bought), featuring Dane.  The level of detail in his face and his clothes are fairly good for a cover, but they remain just as good throughout the comic.  What you see on the cover is what you get in the comic.  Just open it up, and you'll see.  Inks are by Wade von Grawbadger, and colors are by Ive Svorcina, both of which are crucial to the artwork of this series.  Peter Doherty is the letterer, and he uses a style I like, with upswept horizontal lines.

The Punisher #2

The Punisher, Issue #2 continues the story of Frank Castle - the Punisher - murderously attacking the producers and distributors of a drug called EMC.  EMC turns regular people into super soldiers, making them stronger, faster, and less sensitive to pain.  The gang making and selling the drug is called Condor, and one of their members, who seems to survive the Punisher more often than he should, is Frank Castle's old Marine buddy, Olaf.  Introduced in this issue is Face, a brutal man in charge of guarding the EMC production facility in Vermont.

A hero is only as good as his villains.  I'm a boxing fan, and I'm mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali.  Much of what made him great was his antagonists: Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman, the American government, and finally Parkinson's Syndrome.  I didn't know what to think about the first issue of The Punisher by Becky Cloonan and Steve Dillon.  Sure, I liked it, but I didn't know if I'd continue reading it.  I have about 15 unread comic books, dozens of trade paperbacks, dozens of hardbacks, and dozens of manga volumes.

Because The Punisher is such an historically well-produced title, I decided to give it another go.  See, in Issue #1, Olaf came across as a little weak, but now he's more of a badass.  And Face is just plain evil.  He only got four pages in this issue, but he is very well established as the next villain.  DEA Agent Ortiz doesn't get much pagetime in this issue, but he's proving to be an interesting character as well, siccing the police on Castle with an All Points Bulletin. The Punisher is a title I'll look forward to reading in coming months.

Monday, June 6, 2016

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 4

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 4 focuses a little more on Silvia, the Dutch-Japanese girl with enormous breasts.  In the 2011 timeline, Hitoshi is friends with her, but in some of the 2021 timelines, he's married to her, which isn't his desired outcome.  He's in love with Ai Wagatsuma-san, who he still calls by her last name in both the 2011 and 2021 timelines.  There are two many stories in this volume.  The first one starts in Vol. 3, with Wagatsuma-san overtraining for a swim meet.  The second story features Silvia wanting to buy a computer and enlisting the DX corps to help her.  She doesn't really want to buy a computer; she just wants company.  At the end of the volume is a story about Wagatsuma-san forgetting her lunch and Hitoshi going to great lengths to buy her a B.L.T.

The series ran for three years in Japan, from 2011 to 2014, and it just reached American audiences last year in digital-only format.  Three years as a weekly comic is a pretty long run, and I'll probably spend nearly $100 to read all 13 tankoban volumes despite the first three being free to read on ComiXology Unlimited.  Having three volumes free to rent was a good choice because if only one had been free to rent, I doubt I would have gotten this far (I've purchased up to Vol. 8).  I'm looking forward to the introduction of another time slipper, which happens eventually with the introduction of Seki Fumio, the new math teacher and adviser to the volleyball team.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 3

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 3 has me hooked.  I've already purchased Vol. 4 through Vol. 6, and I've read the first three tankoban volumes today.  Everything I could have said about this series, I've said in my reviews of the first two volumes.  Yeah, it's derivative, and there are a bunch of references to Japanese pop culture that the most ardent Japanophile would miss, from TV shows to puroresu to anime to true crime in Japan.  The "DX" characters' focus on popular culture is typical of their lack of social graces.  They want to be friends with girls and popular boys in class, but all they really care about it what they see on the television and the computer.

As I explained in the first issue, this series is still in the "black comedy" phase of the romantic comedy.  Hitoshi is a really nice guy, and he's become friends with Wagatsuma and Silvia (who is absent from this volume) in the 2011 timeline, but he's mostly stuck with his loser friends.  I laugh occasionally while reading this manga, and it is sort of funny, if not memorable.  Still, I forked out $28.97 for the next three books (Vol. 5 and Vol. 6 ended up being $10.99 in digital format), mostly because I needed some light summer reading.

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 2

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 2 is also free with ComiXology Unlimited, as is Vol. 3.  On Amazon, Vol. 4 through Vol. 8 are $6.99 each, and Vol. 9 through Vol. 13 are $10.99 each, so you can read the whole series for just under $90.  This blog is about whether you would want to.  I'm definitely reading the first three volumes, as I've finished the first two, and the second ends on too much of a cliffhanger for me to skip the third volume.

Yes, there are some lame aspects to this manga.  The premise is way too similar to How I Met Your Mother, a show I know only from commercials for it on football games.  Sure, I read romcom manga, but I absolutely abhor romcom situation comedies on TV or in the movies.  For me, light entertainment is reading, listening to music, or both at the same time.  On the rare occasions when I do partake in movies or non-sports TV, it's almost always because I've been dragged into it by a friend or family member.  Something else I don't like is how small the font is on some of the panels.  I know this is typical of many manga, but my aged eyes aren't what they used to be, and I usually read comics and manga on a very small computer.

What I like most about the manga are Hitoshi and the two main girls, Silvia and Wagatsuma.  As I mentioned in the review of Vol. 1, some series are meant to be formulaic, and Hitoshi is so similar to basically every shonen romcom manga star.  The basic premise is: be good, and tons of beautiful women will fall in love with you, even if you act like a creep.

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 1

My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, Vol. 1 is a situational romantic comedy about a 17-year-old loser, Hitoshi Aoshima, who time slips 10 years into the future to find that he's married to the prettiest girl in school, Ai Wagatsuma.  It's the first of 13 volumes, and this volume focuses on setting up the situation.  I read it for free on Comixology Unlimited, which for around $6 a month lets you read the first volume or two in a bunch of different series.  I've read a few romcom mangas in my time, and this series has sold pretty well in digital format.

Comedy is all about perception.  When a character's perceived status is higher than his actual status, comedy is bringing him down to the actual status.  Black comedy is when you bring that character down below his actual status.  For instance.  Frazier Crane on the TV show Cheers might be a well-educated and scholarly psychiatrist, but his actual status is just another guy in a blue-collar bar.  For years, the writers on the show crafted comedy between these differences.  Black comedy would be to make him wet his pants afterward, and that never happened on Cheers.

Romantic comedy is usually misidentified as a simple blend of romance and comedy, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Its structure is totally different.  It starts with the main character's perceived status being below what his actual status is and bringing it up to or above that actual status.  My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san begins with picture-perfect romantic comedy, with Hitoshi washing the towels and water bottles of the volleyball team because he isn't good enough to be a full member of the squad.  Is it formulaic?  Sure, but as Roger Ebert once said, "some movies are meant to be formulaic."

See, the initial comedy in a romcom is black comedy, because you have to take the main character's status down to build it up again.  Think of how pathetic any romcom star's life is as the romcom unfolds.  It's funny because his status keeps getting lower and lower.  Hitoshi follows Ai into a restaurant to try and say, "hello," to her, but he suddenly loses track of the girl he loves and in a restaurant, to boot.  A few panels later, he is seated in the fine establishment with a napkin tucked into his shirt.  Does he even have money to pay for the meal?  It doesn't matter because he'll do anything to save face.

So, will I actually pay to read the rest of this series?  I'm not quite sure yet.  On Amazon, the first eight or so volumes are $6.99 each, with the later ones costing $10.99.  I like the fact that if I'm ever in the mood for some Japanese romcom, I can just spend $7 and get another volume of a series I'm starting to like, but with Comixology Unlimited, I can sample a number of romcoms for free.  I think I like this one.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Spider-Man/Deadpool #5

Spider-Man/Deadpool, Issue #5 finishes, apparently, the "Isn't it Bromantic?" storyline.  In Issue #4, Deadpool murders Peter Parker, not knowing that Parker was Spider-Man's alter-ego.  In Issue #5, Deadpool goes to hell, literally, to see Peter Parker suffering unending torment.  The problem?  He's not there.  What follows is a search and a battle through limbo, heaven, and hell.  Deadpool realizes that he killed the wrong person, and he goes to extraordinary lengths to get Peter Parker back among the living.

I'm not big on the afterlife.  I don't think it's real.  Of course I understand what heaven, hell, and limbo are, but I think the whole idea is silly.  You die, and that's it.  That biased me a little bit against this issue, which is well done and clever, setting up future issues.  Of course, we know that Peter Parker can't die, but the way writer Joe Kelly and artist Ed McGuinness brought him back was unique and fun.

Mockingbird #3

Mockingbird, Issue #3 introduces a new character, a 12-year-old girl with super powers who is holding people hostage.  Her name is Rachel Oakley, and she got her powers that morning.  Meanwhile, Mockingbird is embedded with the New York Police Department for the day, and she's tapped to negotiate with the kid.  Rachel is wearing a "Girl Power" tee shirt, and that is the theme for this issue.  We go to Mockingbird's past, where we see that she always wanted to be a superhero.  Her mother was more interested in mundane issues like equal pay for equal work, taking the young Bobbi Morse to a women's rights protest.

I defended Issue #2 because I thought it was right to have a semi-ordinary action issue after the fantastic and unique Issue #1.  Mockingbird (I keep accidentally typing "Mockingjay."  Damn you, Suzanne Collins!) needed to be seen as a "C-list super hero," as she is called.  Issue #3 puts the emphasis on Mockingbird being a unique character, a woman in a man's world, and a very flawed person back in the forefront.

On a personal note, I've been reading fewer and fewer single-issue comics.  My interest in comics has always waxed and waned with my interest in novels, and I've come across a few fabulous books, including a memoir, Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie.  After I finished that, I started reading The Vegetarian by Han Kang, who won the inaugural Booker International Prize, and Prague Cemetery by the late Umberto Eco.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Star Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes

Star Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes takes place between Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.  Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker are on a mission to destroy a weapons plant in the Corellian Industrial Complex.  Solo is posing as a negotiator for Jabba the Hutt, but the negotiator for the Empire is none other than Darth Vader.  In a terse battle, Luke is defeated by the Sith Lord.  Without training, he is no match for Vader, but he escapes.  Realizing that he is not a Jedi yet, Luke travels to Tatooine to start looking for clues as to how to train.  He starts at Ben Kenobi's old house.

I've read a lot of the Star Wars Extended Universe, mostly the novels.  While Timothy Zahn's Empire Trilogy remains the gold standard for "fan" fiction, this nearly approaches that.  It fails to fall into the trappings of most adaptations, which include the portrayal of every minor character in the series and placating the fans in other regards.  The Extended Universe contains a number of different characters, so I was surprised to find someone from Han Solo's past that hadn't come up yet.