Grotesque Anatomy
Thursday, June 24, 2004
  A Look Back At Bargains
Reporting back on some of the bargains I mentioned two weeks ago:

Crying Freeman Perfect Collection: Portrait of a Killer - Yep.  I thought this looked like "a gonzo mix of sex and violence, all gorgeously illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami," and I was right.  The gimmick of having Hinomura Yo cry every time he assassinates someone was a bit odd, though.  Was this meant as a way of making an otherwise unlikable character sympathetic?  ("Yeah, he kills all kinds of people, but he feels really bad about it.")

Gon - Short, silly, silent strips detailing a tiny but powerful dinosaur's run-ins with other wildlife.  The stories are cute but a bit too quick, even taking into account the time that one can spend admiring Masashi Tanaka's lavish artwork.  I'm wondering how this book would go over with young children.  On the one hand, the stories are easy to follow and full of broad humor.  But on the other hand, kids might be put off by the detailed artwork, which almost seems like the antithesis of what one generally considers cartooning due to its intricate linework.

Club 9 Volume 2 - I generally think of this as a fun, lighthearted series, so re-reading the chapters collected in this volume came as somewhat of a shock:  I'd forgotten how tense the scenes dealing with a customer who attempts to force himself on Haruo are.  The book is still an upbeat one overall, but that opening sequence is as dark and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock came up with.

Chobits Volume 1 - I can see what Johanna likes about this manga, but I still think it's all dressed up in a manner too geared towards titillation.  For example, Chi, a persocom (a humanoid computer companion), is "turned on" when Hideki sticks his finger up her vagina.  Chi's arousal/activation is visually reinforced by having all her tattered garments fly off before she throws her naked body at Hideki.  Hideki lusts after Chi, which is a bit disturbing since the art and plot cast her as a young child relying on Hideki as her guardian.  Later, Hideki meets up with a little boy who surrounds himself with persocoms dressed as (and presumably serving as) personal sex slaves.  In the end, the interesting themes this book touches on are undercut by the art's pervasive pandering.

Sanctuary Volume 6 - Less annoying misogyny in this volume compared to earlier ones, although perhaps that's only because the general presence of women is almost nil:  Ishihara hardly has any scenes in this volume, and when she does appear, it's basically to fawn over Hojo.  A nice twist involving the primary antagonist of the series and the standard lovely art from Ikegami make this an enjoyable installment in this pulpy, political manga.

Berserk Volume 2 - Well, the villain in this volume was imaginatively grotesque (I was reminded of the oversized morphing flesh-babies from AKIRA combined with the slug-people from UZUMAKI) but the story still fell flat for me.  I can see how the over-the-top action is exciting in a visceral sort of way, but there's really nothing to ground the spectacle.  Yes, I know that Kenturo Miura is slowly planting the seeds for the eventual reveal of Guts' tragic past, but it's already two volumes in and I simply don't care.

Benkei in New York - The character of Benkei is definitely the best part of this book.  Pudgy and principled (he won't use a gun, because it distances one too much from the intimacy of the kill), he's definitely not your average hired killer.  But the stories themselves are somewhat unsatisfying.  I'm not exactly sure why.  Perhaps I'm having trouble reconciling the realistic art with the implausible plots.  It's not a bad book by any means, but I found it disappointing somehow.  Perhaps my expectations were just too high going in.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! - A fun but forgettable collection of strange cases wrapped up in three separate tales.  Reminded me somewhat of Paradox Press' "Big Book" series, but those were probably more successful in the end because they didn't try to force unrelated events into one narrative.

Batman: Gotham Noir - Probably one of the best Elseworlds I've read, in part because it focuses on a different character than usual (Jim Gordon instead of Batman) and does such a good job of evoking the style it's emulating.  This really did feel like a noir thriller, complete with the down-on-his-luck P.I., the dangerous dames, and the rotten underbelly of polite society.  Writer Ed Brubaker turns in some great hard-boiled dialogue, while artist Sean Phillips and colorist Dave Stewart do an outstanding job on the artistic duties.  I also thought the twist at the end worked very well.

Batman: Reign of Terror - What can I say?  It was a Batman Elseworlds.  It hit all the familiar notes, although surprisingly the Joker was not present (unless I missed him).  Instead, the villain of the piece was Harvey Dent, here playing the role of the Phantom of the Opera.  I'm not up on my French literature, so I'm sure there were references that slipped past me, but it was still a mildly fun diversion with nice José Luis García-López art.

Reaper  - Yeesh, this was awful.  Reading this I was reminded of the guy in your high school art class who spent all his time drawing muscle-bound barbarians chopping up each other, with the carnage rendered in excruciating detail.  I imagine this is the kind of comic that guy would go on to create.  Plus, it really was an amalgamation of almost every CrossGen comic ever published.  You had a brash young warrior (Ethan from SCION) who was preternaturally skilled in combat (Arwyn from SOJOURN); a viciously sadistic and seemingly unbeatable foe (Mordath from SOJOURN; Charon from NEGATION; Bron from SCION; come to think of it, pretty much any CG bad guy); a mysterious floating lady who went through all the trouble of putting on clothes, only to have her nipples perpetually showing anyway (kind of a combination of CG's "mentor" concept with the revealing wardrobe of THE FIRST); a grotesque henchmen created by the very villain he was sworn to destroy (Javi from MARK OF CHARON or any of the Negation from CRUX); a nebulously Asian setting (WAY OF THE RAT, THE PATH); horribly bloody and violent swordplay (THE PATH); and a magical MacGuffin everyone's fighting over (WAY OF THE RAT, SOJOURN).
 
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Iron Fist

by John Jakala

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