Grotesque Anatomy
Friday, April 30, 2004
  Miscellaneous Friday Links
Time to welcome another new blogger to the Comics Blogosphere:  Steve Pheley's Gutterninja is off to an auspicious start, with great posts on what American comic publishers should have learned from the successes of manga and how everyone in comics is haunted by the ever-present specter of superhero comics, even when they're not publishing, reading, or discussing superhero comics.  Good stuff.  (I especially liked the comparison with the movie industry and how DVD boxes don't feel compelled to explain defensively "Not all movies are about people falling in love with Meg Ryan...")  Welcome, Steve.  (And thanks to Franklin Harris for pointing out Steve's blog.)

It's that time of year again:  time to cast your vote in The Squiddies  (Link via Johanna Draper Carlson, co-admin for The Squiddies.)

Forgot to link to this earlier, but I'm really looking forward to reading Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá's new all-ages graphic novel, Ursula, due out in July from AiT/Planet Lar.  I've been enjoying the potential stories suggested by single panels from Moon and Bá over the past month or so, so I'm really excited to see what they can do in a 72-page GN.  It's already added to my cart but I wouldn't be opposed to reviewing an advance copy (hint, hint).

Greg McElhatton takes over the "Things to Come" column over at Ninth Art and spotlights several other interesting comics coming out in July.  I'm particularly interested in The Walking Man (which I found some preview pages for here) but I'm sure I'll end up ordering a couple other things from Greg's list as well.

Going through manga news withdrawal?  Well, here's an interview with Tokyopop CEO Stuart Levy over at Japan Today (via James Schee) and a short New York Daily News article on the thriving manga boom (via Kevin Melrose).  I know it's not as much fun as NBA or Dr. Pepper tie-ins, but there's always next week.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
  Manga Plans For World Domination: Non-Tokyopop Edition
    (With a little bit of Tokopop World Domination at the very end)
Franklin Harris and Kevin Melrose have already posted links to these stories, but I think they bear repeating:
Also, be sure to check out Franklin's article about Tokyopop's cable TV ad campaign.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
  Daredevil: The Man Without Anatomy
Chris Hunter samples the upcoming Daredevil: Father by Joe Quesada and finds a couple striking examples of true Grotesque Anatomy TM.  What the heck is the deal with that torso?  And people used to call Wayne Boring's and Mike Sekowsky's characters barrel-chested.  (Actually, some of those DD images make me think of this more than anything.)
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
  Bargain Bin Reviews: Three Manga
Recently I went to a Gamestop to look for some used Xbox games and stumbled upon a rack of various manga, all on sale for 50% off (i.e., five bucks apiece).  There were several series represented, but not all of them had the first volume available.  On a whim, I decided to check out the following three series.

SGT. FROG v1SGT. FROG: I remember awhile back someone spotted this book and commented on how outrageous the cover looked.  (Ah, the magic of Google:  I had thought it was Augie De Blieck Jr. but it was actually Dave Farabee over in The Fourth Rail's "Down The Line" feature.)  I felt the same way when I saw this sitting on the shelf:  The concept of a gun-toting, alien Kermit was so bizarre I just had to try out the book.  (Perhaps this is part of the reason behind manga's success:  Manga does a better job of capturing that elusive "I have to know what the story behind that odd yet compelling cover is" effect that American comics have, for the most part, lost since the Silver Age.  Or in other words, manga's not afraid to be goofy, silly fun.)

The good news is that the book doesn't disappoint:  It's funny in a surreal, madcap sort of way, with plenty of jokes that work largely because of the comic pacing and staging of creator Mine Yoshizaki.  The basic premise is simple:  Sergeant Keroro, a tiny alien advance scout who strongly resembles a frog, is discovered and adopted by the Hinata family (brother Fuyuki, sister Natsumi, and mother Aki).  Much of the humor comes from the comic contrast between Keroro's adorable appearance and his militaristic mindset (he's here to prepare Earth (known to his race as Pokopen) for invasion, you see).  Seeing the cute Keroro alternate between plotting against his human family and obediently helping with household chores provides plenty of opportunities for humor both dark and sitcomish.  And making this megalomaniacal mercenary so minuscule is comedy genius:  Sgt. Keroro easily joins the classic comedic ranks of other deluded, diminutive alien conquerers, such as Marvin the Martian.

Attacking Mom
Attacking Mom...

Helping with the chores
...helping with the chores.  It's all in a day's work for a busy alien invader.

A big part of what makes Sgt. Frog work is Yoshizaki's charming artwork.  It's simple in terms of detail but sophisticated in terms of storytelling:  Yoshizaki is one of those rare creators who can pull off subtle visual gags without disrupting the narrative flow.  Yoshizaki is also to be commended for getting so much mileage out of Keroro's limited design.  As Yoshizaki jokes in an extra feature at the back of the book, Keroro's expression almost never changes:  it's always the same "unblinking gaze" and unclosed mouth.  Yet Yoshizaki is able to suggest a variety of Keroro's moods using other devices:  shading, body language, props, etc.  (OK, Yoshizaki does "cheat" a couple times by giving Keroro other eye expressions, but it's still informative to see how much a skilled cartoonist can do with so little.)

Sgt. Frog is by no means a perfect work:  The multi-personalitied Momoko character is more grating than funny; and the obligatory fanservice elements (several panty shots and a mother who is (as Tokyopop's character bio puts it) "extremely well-endowed") are even more distracting than usual.  Still,  Sgt. Frog made me laugh much more than it made me squirm, so I'll definitely be getting the next volume.

AI YORI AOSHI v1AI YORI AOSHI:  Well, I only have myself to blame for getting this book.  The titillating cover art combined with the back cover copy ("Kaoru Hanabishi...runs into the childhood sweetheart he hasn't seen since leaving home....and she has come to be his wife") made me feel uneasy, but Craeyst C. Raygal's review over at Anime News Network convinced me to give it a chance, mainly by comparing it to Oh My Goddess, one of my favorite manga series.  Let's just say I should have followed my gut.

I'm sure a big part of my displeasure with this book stems from my personal tastes:  I'm not a big fan of romantic comedies, finding most of them to be overly sappy and sentimental.  In this case, however, my distaste goes beyond a mere aversion to the sweetly saccharine.  The idea of a woman who has devoted her entire life to becoming the perfect wife for a man she knew only when they were both children is more than a little creepy.  The story reads like some disturbing male fantasy about a perfect woman who has no desires outside of serving her man.

The art by creator Kou Fumizuki is the best part of the book.  His style looks like a mix of Kosuke Fujishima (Oh My Goddess), Hiroyuki Utatane (Seraphic Feather), and Kenichi Sonoda (Cannon God Exaxxion).  Unlike Raygal, I thought Fumizuki's backgrounds were one of his strongest points.  The backgrounds aren't omnipresent (most of the time panels are simply filled with Kaoru and Aoi talking) but when they do appear, the backgrounds are simple, elegant, and convincing.  I'm not much interested in continuing with this series, but I would buy a book collecting Fumizuki's illustrations of Japanese locations.  (Tokyopop has a couple sample pages up on their site that include some of Fumizuki's drawings of a subway station, but they don't really reproduce very well at the smaller size.)

FULL METAL PANIC v1FULL METAL PANIC:  My initial take on this manga could be summed up in one word:  Incomprehensible.  It's not that the plot (such as it is) is hard to follow.  What's hard to get a handle on is everything else:  Characterization, motivation, setting, and so on.  The gist of the story is this:  Kaname Chidori, popular high school student, is constantly being "protected" by the eccentric and enigmatic Sosuke Sagara.  Sosuke seems to be under the impression that Kaname's life is in danger, but Kaname is just annoyed by Sosuke's disruptive (and destructive) behavior.  The back cover blurb hints that Kaname is more than she seems ("Unbeknownst to her, a group of terrorists believes she possesses the special powers of 'the Whispered.' MISSION: KIDNAP KANAME.")  The only problem is that the actual story does nothing to establish this, so Sosuke's constant supervision comes across as stalking.  Further, a convincing setting is never established.  One character attempts to justify Sosuke's actions to Kaname by offering that he "lived in a disputed territory ever since he was a kid," but it's never explained what a "disputed territory" is.  Does this mean the story is supposed to take place in some dystopian future or alternate history?  Who knows; the story never provides the readers with any context one way or the other.

I get the feeling that writer Shouji Gatou was trying to create a sense of mystery that would bring readers back to discover what the true story is behind Sosuke's bizarre behavior.  Instead, the result is a baffling, disjointed story that frustrates the reader.  I'm certainly not interested in reading any further installments in this series.

On the positive side, the art is generally pleasing.  Towards the end of the book, artist Retsu Tateo really seemed to be hitting his stride, coming up with more innovative and interesting layouts and designs.  (One image in particular stands out:  A panel where Kaname's pointed finger is extended so far the reader can see the swirls of her fingertip.)  Also, I enjoyed the scene where Sosuke battled the cruel coach:  Having Sosuke remain calm and courteous in the face of the coach's increasing insanity was a nice touch.  Other than that, though, there isn't much to recommend this book.

Kaname's got a point
Funny, I was thinking the same thing after finishing this manga.

Conclusion:  Well, one out of three isn't that bad, especially at those prices.
  But Are The Dunks "Authentic Right-To-Left Manga Style"?
I think this tops the announcement that Marvel is working with AST Sportswear to produce a hip-hop-themed clothing line:  Tokyopop teams with the NBA to produce "FAST-BREAKING NBA SPORTS MANGA(TM)."
Monday, April 26, 2004
  All Your Fanbase Are Belong To Us
In a thread titled "Save Human Target" Micah Wright outlines what he sees as the main problem with the current comic book industry, The Comics Fanbase:
I've realized that The Comics Fanbase overwhelmingly wants escapist power-fantasies and nothing which comes anywhere close to the ugly realities of life.
Wright also adds that he'll "NEVER do another book with a Mature Readers tag on the cover" and sounds about ready to give up writing books targeted for the Direct Market altogether:
I'm about an inch from giving up to the idea that other than about 50 good stores, the Direct Market is a cultural wasteland catering to the juvenile power fantasies of a dying breed of 40 year old geeks.

Maybe I'll go write a Manga.
If Wright does write a manga book, perhaps he could even get some advertising this time around.
  "And I Would Have Gotten Away With It, Too, If It Hadn't Been For You Ninny Ultra-Cautionary Leftist Weasels!!"
From Monitor Duty, after a Q&A roundup with Chuck Dixon about American Power, Christopher J. Arndt comments on what really killed the series:
There you have it. The ninny ultra-cautionary leftist weasels have won another round.
CrossGen's new investors are ninny ultra-cautionary leftist weasels?
Sunday, April 25, 2004
  Praising Peanuts, Pining For Punisher
In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (#762/763; April 30, 2004) Ken Tucker reviews the first volume of Fantagraphics' The Complete Peanuts, giving it an A.  Over in the DVD & Video section, reviewer Marc Bernardin reminisces about the better, simpler days when Dolph Lundgren played the Punisher.  Finally, there's also a cover story on a sequel to some silly comic book movie coming out this summer.
  Biting The Hand That Feeds Me Reviews:  Planet of the Capes
Sugar daddy of the Comics Blogosphere Larry Young graciously sent me a review copy of the upcoming Planet of the Capes, which was especially gracious considering I still haven't reviewed the other comics he sent me over a month ago.  (Insert clichéd Catholic guilt here.)  So I feel bad that I didn't like the book more than I did.  (Catholic guilt now off the charts, which is especially bad considering I'm not even Catholic anymore.)

Let's start with the good.  I loved the slogan on the back cover:  "Nobody Learns Anything.  Everybody Dies."  Great, I thought:  an unsentimental look at superhero comics.  And while the book certainly is unsentimental, it's also unsatisfying.  At the end I felt I had read an interesting idea for a story more than a finished work.

In her review, Laura Gjovaag mentioned that she was won over from page one because she's "such a sucker for alternate history stories, and the alternate story of how Benjamin Franklin supported the raven as the national bird instead of the turkey or the eagle was very cool."  Other than that, though, there wasn't really much that stood out as "alternate" about the PotC world, so in my case it bugged me from the beginning.  Why start out the story that way if it's not really important to the story?

Things didn't improve from there.  We're introduced to the first of the heroes inhabiting the Planet of the Capes, Raven, as he's on his way to an emergency scene.  He's interrupted by a young boy seeking Raven's autograph.  It was amusing to see this Batman analogue act all grim-and-gritty before he eventually caves and gives the kid an autograph, but it was also distracting in terms of the overall story:  Wouldn't it be better for Raven to come back and sign autographs later, after he'd helped deal with the situation at hand?

That situation, by the way, is one of Raven's teammates, Schaff, rampaging through the city, à la the Ultimates version of the Hulk.  Plus, Schaff is holding on to a baby girl as he has his little property damage tantrum.  Bizarrely, another hero, Kastra (Schaff's daughter), tells the girl's mother not to worry because Schaff "just wants to show you a good time."  By smashing cars and holding a toddler hostage?  Uh, OK.  Kastra finally goes to "rescue" the women's child, but along the way she stops to give the same boy from before an autograph.  I guess that mom will just have to wait while Kastra does more important things, like flirt with an underage admirer.  When the mother is finally reunited with her child, she runs off, frightened.  Kastra is visibly annoyed, cracking, "No thanks needed, ma'am.  Just doing our job."  Yeah, who does that ungrateful mother think she is, not even thanking you for saving her daughter from your violently destructive father?  Sheesh!

Later an accident transports Raven, Schaff, Kastra, and a fourth hero, Grand, to another world, one unpopulated by superheroes.  Out of the blue, Grand (a Superman stand-in) decides to turn evil and take over the world.  His reason?  Because on this world there are no other superheroes to stop him.  The only problem is that, for all we readers know, Grand's home world didn't have any other superheroes either.  It's not a strict inconsistency by any means:  We can imagine that the other world was teaming with superbeings.  But the fact that no other superheroes were ever mentioned or depicted earlier in the story does lessen the impact of Grand's actions at the end.

In the end, Planet of the Capes was a frustrating read.  I felt as though there were some good ideas in there but they're never fully executed in any satisfying manner.  I never cared about any of the characters, nor was I interested in any of the situations they found themselves in.  One might argue that 72 pages isn't enough space in which to introduce brand-new superheroes and make readers care about them, but Kurt Busiek has done it with even fewer pages in issues of Astro City.  I wish I could recommend PotC, but I can't.  Your $12.95 would be better spent snatching up the early issues of Demo.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
  Another Public Service Announcement:
It's really for the best if you ignore the people who didn't like Dogville, which is easily one of the best movies I've ever seen.

I do, however, wish I knew how people can watch a movie in which disturbing behavior occurs and, because they find the film hits too close to home on some level, deduce that that reprehensible behavior is being endorsed--particularly in an oeuvre like von Trier's, in which characters who treat women horribly are inevitably punished for that treatment. (You want to see a movie in which gratuitous misogyny is immorally played for thrills? Rent just about any slasher/horror flick.)
  Personal To Graeme
Graeme, it's finally happening!  Over on the Jack Kirby Mailing List, Tom Brevoort mentioned that there will be an Essential Iron Fist collection sometime later this year.  (Guess those Marvel movies are good for something after all.)  Can a Luke Cage / Power Man / Hero(es) For Hire Essential be far behind?  (Thanks to Rodrigo Baeza by way of Steven Wintle.)
  Cognitive Dissonance Worth Reading
Reviewer extraordinaire Johanna Draper Carlson is the latest to join the ever-expanding Comics Blogosphere.  I wouldn't think that someone who reviews comics for so many sites would want to take on additional writing responsibilities, but if it means more loose, fun, and snarky writing like this then I'm all for it.  (I also love the "Chick Check" piece and hope it becomes a recurring feature.)  Welcome to the blogosphere, Johanna!  Your output already puts mine to shame.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
  Solicitation Snark
Marvel solicitations for July are up.  And even if I don't read many of their comics, their copy is still fun to snark at.
And once again, X-Statix wins with best cover of the bunch:


Man, I really hope X-Statix is collected in Marvel's oversized hardcover format sometime soon.
  Lazy Linkblogging, In Accordance With Prophecy!
In addition to the awesome catchphrase featured above, Simon Ringwood has a couple other goofy comic book sayings featured on his blog, this the Jackal swears!  (He's right:  That is fun!)

The Daily Record features an interview with James Jean, one of my favorite comic book cover artists.  (Yay!)  But there aren't any pictures of Jean's actual comic book art in the article.  (Boo!)  If, like me, you're jonesing for more Jean, check out his website, which has plenty of artwork, including some gorgeous sketches from his travels to London, Vienna, and elsewhere.  Man, I'd love to see a Datebook-style sketchbook focusing on Jean's artwork.

Christopher Butcher flies solo with a new monthly Previews Review and this one is even early enough for me to take into consideration before placing my order!  Whoo-hoo!!  Not that Chris writes these things just to help me out, but I always appreciate another perspective when trying to sift through Previews.  And in this case, I'm really glad that I read Chris' recommendations before I submitted my order because I think I'm going to steal his idea and get the WAR STORIES trade as a Father's Day gift for my dad.  So thanks, Chris:  Your efforts are appreciated.

And speaking of Previews, I had thought of doing my own pass through the monstrous catalog but never got around to it.  Most of the books I thought looked interesting were already covered by other people, though, except for one:  Headstatic, by Xeric winner Jay A Hacker III.  (Oops!  Just noticed that Laura Gjovaag did mention this in her "Flipping Through Previews" feature for this month.  But...but...but she didn't provide you with links for all of the preview pages as I just did!)

Marc Singer has the most balanced take on American Power I've read (and by that I mean it's the opinion I most agree with).  Funny how a comic that will probably never see print has generated so much commentary and controversy.  Too bad CrossGen can't make any money off all the reaction to this book idea for a book.  Wait, scratch that:  Too bad the creators who are still owed money by CrossGen aren't getting a nickel every time someone weighs in with an opinion regarding this idea for a book.

Jeff Chatlos revisits Half Price Books in another post, this time pointing out that there can be dangers associated with seeming bargains.  I feel your pain, Jeff.

Bill Sherman looks back on several manga series he'd previously reviewed to see how each one is holding up.  It's a great idea:  Often times books that seem promising at first falter later on down the line -- or vice-versa.  For example, Junji Ito's Gyo (which Sherman briefly mentions as disappointing) didn't impress me at first, but the second volume was a marked improvement, doing away with my complaints from the first book almost point-by-point.  And one of the two back-up stories, "The Enigma of Amigara Fault," is almost worth the price of admission on its own:  It's a chilling tale that takes a very literal look at the sometimes overpowering desire to find one's fit in the world.

Graeme McMillan's on vacation (although you'd hardly realize it with all the wonderful guest-blogging that's going on over at Fanboy I'm sorry, Fill-In Rampage!!) but that didn't stop him from assembling some assorted thoughts [not a permalink] on various comic industry goings-on before he left.  My favorite bit is the one where he points out the double standard many fans seem to hold DC to:  It's OK for Marvel to cancel low-selling titles, but DC is supposed to be the company that props up under-performing series thanks to those deep pockets of parent company Time-Warner.

Finally, Kevin Melrose is just all-around awesome.  There isn't just one post I can spotlight him for.  But I'm sure everyone already knows that because you're all reading his blog daily, right?  Right??
Sunday, April 18, 2004
  Your Misogynistic, Anti-American, Pretentious Art House Movie Recommendation Of The Day
Dogville is amazing.
Saturday, April 17, 2004
  Only In The Silver Age
"Before I hit the water, I'll dance the cha-cha-cha -- wave my cape like a flag -- then finish the dive while saluting with one paw!"

"But he doesn't have the string any more!! ...Are his X-Kryptonite sniffing days also gone forever??"

"Even if I still had my super-powers, I wouldn't overtake him!  Men enjoy feeling superior to women!"

"It's silly, but I actually feel jealous of my own robot, who is only following orders!"

"The Sparacolicin serum was successful!  What a shame our supply was the only amount of it in existence, and the formula has just been destroyed in a fire!"

"In a way I'll miss that second head!  It was almost like having...a twin sister!"

"Physically, she's the mightiest female of all time!  But at heart, she's as gentle and sweet and as quick to tears -- as any ordinary girl!"

(All quotes from the fabulously ginchy Supergirl Archives Volume 2, which, among its many other gems, includes a tale where Supergirl fights "The Infinite Monster" -- a monster so colossally big that it appears to humans as just a pair of gigantic legs because "our eyes can't see all of its unbelievably huge body!")
Friday, April 16, 2004
  Around The Blogosphere
Just added a new blog to the blogroll -- Jeff Chatlos' Otto's Coffee Shop.  How can I not love a blogger who crafts a lengthy "Ode to Half Price Books," one of my favorite shops when it comes to finding great comic book bargains.  (Remind me to brag about how I got copy of Drawn & Quarterly Volume 5 at HPB for less than half-off several months before the book even hit the Direct Market.)  Also:  Jeff, NAUSICAA OF VALLEY OF WIND VOL 2 was missing from my big box o' comics from Mailordercomics last month too, but it sounds like it was partially Diamond's fault.

Hey, another new blog on the blogroll:  Chris Hunter's Panoramically Challenged.  Chris Hunter is column editor and a contributor over at Broken Frontier, not to mention one of their top message board posters.  (Chris, what happened?  You're no longer #1!)  Chris has been a member of the Comics Blogosphere for just one day and he's already its biggest Marvel fan.  Plus, he's already managed to embarrass me with a sappy public display of affection.  Not bad for your first day, Chris.  Now put your clothes back on.

What the heck:  Let's add one more blog and call it a hat trick.  Carlo Santos' Tales of a Grad-School Nothing.  Carlo was the winner of the free Demo #5 I gave away and he's just reviewed it on his Live Journal.  It's an interesting review because Carlo approaches it from the perspective of a fellow creator (Carlo is the creator of various webcomics, including School Spirit Hunter Ashley) and because he one-ups Uncle Lar by using the word "awesome-tastic."

And in non-blogroll-fiddling news, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá have posted another lovely image on their blog:

The Girls

Now Moon and Bá are out-and-out taunting us readers, asking, "Don't you wanna know their story?"  Yes, I do!  Teases!
  Your "Why-The-Direct-Market-Sucks" Reading Of The Day
The latest installment of Brian Hibbs' "Tilting at Windmills" column in up at Newsarama.  He examines several recent topics of note:  CrossGen's ongoing, increasing woes; the move of Powers and Kabuki from Image to Marvel; and Tokyopop's recent exclusive distribution arrangement with Diamond.  It's the last topic that's the most interesting to me, as it provides concrete examples of how the Direct Market works.  One example in particular seems to shed some light on why indie books aren't well-represented in many comic shops:
For example, for books that are offered with a “H” code, your discount is the “Lower of 40% or Standard Discount”. Thus, if you were a “55% account” (like I am), you’d still only get 40% from Diamond on Drawn & Quarterly or TwoMorrows. Most publishers are evenly split between “E” (50%) and “”F” (45%)

Now the thing is, this only applies to orders submitted through Previews, otherwise Diamond assesses a 3% reorder fee. That means that every trade paperback I reorder, Diamond gets an extra 3% of the cover price, if you can believe that.

Interestingly enough, understanding what a huge drag this is upon growing the backlist, the brokered publishers actually eat this fee themselves. That is to say, they pay it (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to Diamond rather than making the retailer pay for it.

So, in other words, while I can buy a DC and Image TP at 55% and Marvel one for 54% off, when I buy a Drawn & Quarterly TP from Diamond, I only get 37% off the cover price (base discount of 40% minus the 3% reorder fee)

And people wonder why independent books don’t sell better?

Sounds like a factor to me.  (There's much more in the piece, including why the Tokyopop deal might end up being a worse arrangement for many retailers despite the higher maximum discount through Diamond, so go read it if you want to understand some of the difficulties comic retailers face in navigating the labyrinth that is the Direct Market.)
Thursday, April 15, 2004
  Things To Look Forward To This Fall
Christopher Butcher has posted the Fantagraphics solicitations for August 2004.  Of particular interest:


A 780-page hardcover collection of Jamie Hernandez's "Maggie" stories for only $49.95.  Damn.

I think they're trying to draw attention to the fact that The Comics Journal will be undergoing a redesign with issue #262:  "NEW FORMAT!! NEW FORMAT!! NEW FORMAT!! NEW FORMAT!!"  I also loved the bit announcing that TCJ would even be covering "(gasp!) mainstream comics."  Fantagraphics: Making reading solicitations fun again.
  Flights of Fancy
CBR has an interview with the organizer behind the Flight anthology, Kazu Kibuishi, along with some sample artwork that is simply stunning.  That cover is gorgeous.  According to the info at Diamond's site, the book will be 208 pages long and priced at $19.95.  Not bad for a full color collection of (mostly) original work.  (Derek Kirk Kim's story "The Maiden and the River Spirit" was originally featured on his website, but I guess this is still the first time the story will see print.  Plus, according to Kim, the story will not be archived on his site once it sees print in Flight.)

Kibuishi also reveals that work is already underway on a second volume of Flight.

(Thanks to Thought Balloons for spotting the story on CBR.)
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
  Comic Contrasts
It's always nice when life throws you a pleasant little surprise.  Today I called to renew a Shonen Jump gift subscription for my niece and nephews who live in California.  My niece Hannah had written to ask when I would be sending her and her brothers more magazines.  If Viz had sent me a notice that their gift subscription was ending, I must have missed it.  So I called the 1-800 number for Shonen Jump's customer service and the friendly representative informed me that the subscription had indeed ended...back in January. No wonder the kids were writing to demand that I send them more manga!  To my surprise, the service rep graciously renewed the subscription at the original introductory rate of $19.95 instead of the current rate of $29.95.  Nice!

But today hasn't been all happy surprises.  Some expectations have been met depressingly.  I've been calling around trying to find the latest issue of The Comics Journal.  So far I've called four shops and none of them have it.  In fact, I get the impression that none of them even carry it.  One shop told me, "We only order one copy of The Comics Journal, and it always flies off the rack really fast."  I should have asked why they didn't order more copies if it always sells out, but my disappointment must have momentarily disabled my curiosity.

So:  One comic product, easily available via multiple outlets, including a toll-free 1-800 number where service reps go out of their way to make you happy.  And another product that isn't carried by the very stores supposedly devoted to the art form the magazine covers.  Yep, the plan for Manga World Domination proceeds apace.

UPDATE:  That Uncle Lar, always looking out for us bloggers, has informed me not to panic:
Don't panic, John: it [TCJ #259] isn't on the Diamond shipping list for this week, and, even if it was, there's always this disclaimer from Diamond: "PLEASE NOTE: Please check with your local retailer to confirm availability of new items, as not all new releases will be on sale in all areas on the same week." Sometimes the warehouses just miss a week.
Whew.  And in even better news, the Diamond shipping list for the week does list another Fantagraphics book I've been eagerly awaiting.  Yes, that's right:  Sex Warrior Isane.  How could I not be interested in a book that promises "More salacious sex-action than one could ever ask for!"?

So when is TCJ #259 scheduled to come out?  I need to know when I should start pestering my local retailers via phone again.
  Lazy Linkblogging
OK, I don't want Uncle Lar to feel bad for breaking the comics blogosphere, so here are some links I was thinking of putting up anyway:
Well, it's not much, but at least Uncle Lar knows we're still out here.
Monday, April 12, 2004
  Next Issue:  Huntress, Wearing Only G-String & Tassels, Poses As Orthodox Rabbi
From the solicitation for Birds of Prey #69:  "Huntress goes undercover to infiltrate a religious cult with a dangerous secret and a hidden operative."

BOP 69

Because what better way to infiltrate a religious cult than by dressing as a prostitute?
  Failing Stamina
If my day at work today was any indication, I probably won't have the time or energy to blog much for the next week or two.  In the meantime, there's plenty of other good stuff to read out there in the comics blogosphere and beyond.  As Tim O'Neil noted today, the blogosphere has exploded recently with plenty of fine writers to pick up the slack when others are unable to deliver for whatever reason.  You're still welcome to check this page as often as you wish, or you can just watch the wonderfully useful Comic Weblog Updates page to see when 'Grotesque Anatomy' reappears on the list.  (There's also the atom feed for this blog, but I figure everyone who'd be interested in that is already using it, right?)

And to keep this from simply being one of those boring "Gone Fishin'" posts, here's a link to the blog of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, two "comic book storytellers from Brasil."  It's a bit light on content at the moment (their other blog seems more active, but, monolingual American that I am, I can't read it), but I love it for the banner graphic alone:

Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

I feel like there's a story in that single simple image.  Is this from a published story or new for the blog?  Anyway, I'm not that familiar with their work, having only read their short story "Qu'est-ce Que C'est?" in the Eisner-nominated anthology Autobiographix, but I like their style.  You can see more of their artwork here and here as well.
Saturday, April 10, 2004
  Entertainment Weekly Covers Comics
In the April 16, 2004 edition of Entertainment Weekly (#760), the subscribers-only supplement "Listen2This" covers comics once again.  The comics section has expanded slightly over the past few installments:  It now spans one-and-a-half pages instead of only a single one.  (One of those narrow vertical ads fills up the remaining half of one page.)   Four comics are reviewed:
Interestingly, the graphics accompanying the reviews for Abadazad and Van Helsing's Night Off are incorrect, instead depicting, respectively, Ed Benes' version of Huntress from Birds of Prey and Iron Angel from Howard Chaykin's Mighty Love.  Simple screwups or sinister subliminal promotion for comics from EW's sibling company, DC Comics?

In a bold new direction, CrossGen begins publishing popular DC characters under different names.  Meet CG's latest heroine, Abadazad!
"Yeah, it really is Van Helsing's night off, so he asked me to cover for him."

Upcoming comics mentioned are:  Chosen, The Black Forest, Touch, Daredevil: Father, Dawn of the Dead, and The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952.

Neil Gaiman also reminisces about his all-time favorite graphic novel, Tantrum by Jules Feiffer, reprinted in 1997 by Fantagraphics and featuring an introduction by...Neil Gaiman.
Friday, April 09, 2004
  Now I Know How Those "Real" Sites Like Newsarama Feel
Wow, Uncle Lar really does like us bloggers.  He's just sent me an exclusive preview of the cover to Demo #9.  Feast your eyes on this:


Nice, very nice.  I especially like the painterly background.  Personal association time:  Looking at that cover brought back fond memories of sitting at outdoor cafés in Paris.  [Sigh.]

And because I can't remember if it's been posted anywhere else yet, here's the cover to Demo #8 (courtesy of the Isotope's very own Comic Pimp, James Sime):

Thursday, April 08, 2004
  Why Isn't This An Eisner Category?
It's been awhile since I've visited the V Forum, so I'd forgotten just how damned funny Nick Locking can be.  This quickly reminded me, though:



It works on so many levels!  (Read the whole thread to get the full effect.)
  But Who The Heck Will Ever Remember The Term 'Metonymy'?
Marc Singer weighs in with an excellent essay about how the best superhero comics generally derive meaning:  It's not by having a super-powered character stand in for another thing; it's by having such a character become an exemplary case of the thing being commented on.  I highly recommend reading this piece.  It's good grounding for the never-ending "Are superhero comics capable of telling worthwhile stories?" debate that perennially pops up in the comics blogosphere.  (I particularly like Marc's example of Thanos:  "Why (to jump back to my Thanos rant) would you try to make a supervillain a metaphor for the death-drive implicit in autocratic conquerers when you could just have him try to fuck Death? On one level, of course, a character named 'Thanos' might seem to be just about the most metaphoric one in comics, but on another level he works precisely because the fantastic elements of the genre allow him to embody that death-drive in a horrifically literal manner.")

After reading Marc's essay, I'm especially glad that I didn't slip up and incorrectly refer to Kate's powers as "metaphorical" in my review of Demo #5.
  "Oh, Wait - We Should Have Been Going In This Direction All Along!"
Skimming through Dark Horse's solicitations for July over on Silver Bullet Comics, this jumped out at me:

On sale August 18, SC, 280pg, b&w, 5 1/8" x 7 1/4", $12.95

Finally!! After years of publishing chapter after chapter of 3x3 Eyes, and [sic] exciting epic of over thirty volumes, Dark Horse Comics will begin publishing the story of the mystical sanjiyan Pai, and her shy protector Yakumo, as it originally appeared in Japan. Follow our heroes as they continue their long journey to turn Pai into a human and restore Yakumo to his former mortal self. And of course it will be no short feat.

Published for the first time in non-Westernized format, 3x3 Eyes will remain unflopped, be published right-to-left, and the fx will remain un-retouched (with small translated fx printed on or near existing fx.)

Get ready for an exciting new era in 3x3 Eyes. A lot more, a lot sooner, a lot to lo

Is this the first Dark Horse manga to be shifted from the Westernized left-to-right format to the original "unflopped" Japanese format?  I wonder if DH will go back and republish older volumes of 3x3 Eyes in the right-to-left format.

Correspondingly, 3x3 Eyes is no longer being serialized in Super Manga Blast!:

On sale July 28, b&wm 128pg, $5.99

Giving a nod to the monthly manga magazines in Japan that have inspired Super Manga Blast! , issue #43 will feature a full re-design. Our exciting new look couples cover-to-cover fun with a bold new feel. Hoichi “Gun” Kano becomes humanity’s hero as the pilot of a gigantic super-robot in Cannon God Exaxxion. Dark science fiction drama collides with full-tilt, futuristic thrills in Seraphic Feather. The dash of hilarity found in Makoto Kobayashi’s What’s Michael? serving focuses on the plight of a ridiculed, hairless cat. fe [sic] Club 9 takes a dark turn, beginning with this episode, as one of the cheerful hostess girls becomes the target of a twisted mind. And in Shadow Star, a bitter, bullied teen uses deadly, supernatural forces to exact revenge on her tormentors.

I wonder how long it'll take for DH's other older manga (e.g., Oh My Goddess, Seraphic Feather, What’s Michael?, etc.) to follow suit?

UPDATE:  Oops!  Shows how much attention I've been paying to Super Manga Blast!3x3 Eyes hasn't been featured in that anthology since issue #40.
  Reconsidering "Wait For The Trade"
Shawn Hoke (not a permalink) looks at some monthly comics that have caused him to make exceptions to his general "Wait for the trade" mantra:  Demo, The New Frontier, and Dead@17.  It must be something in the water.  Like Shawn, I had been reading more and more trades, but lately I've been reading an increasing number of singles.  Part of it can probably be attributed to my short-attention-span tendency to alternate between various options, but I'm also wondering if part of it is a shift on the part of publishers to attract comic book readers back to individual issues by making that option more attractive by adding various extras (and by removing annoying ads that interrupt the story).  In any event, I thought Shawn summed things up nicely with this statement:  "[I]f you make a monthly comic unique, like a piece of art, rather than a corporate product, you may entice some of us 'wait for the traders' to part with our cash on a monthly basis."

'Nuff said.
  Bad Thought Balloon Elements
Wonderful weblogger Kevin Melrose announces that one of his comic stories is being published in Digital Webbing Presents #17, due out in August.  It's another installment of his "Bad Elements" series, which first appeared in Digital Webbing Presents #11.   "Bad Elements" mixes mobsters and magic in entertaining ways.  I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Kevin's concept is optioned by Hollywood and he leaves the comics blogosphere for bigger things.

DWP #17 won't be solicited until June, but here's something to motivate you to mark your calendars:  Check out this stunning artwork, reminiscent of Bruce Timm and Darwyn Cooke, from Brian Churilla (with greyscales by Eric Erbes):

Bad Elements

I just hope Kevin manages to work plenty of thought balloons into the story.
  Video Game Reviews: AVENGERS/JLA #4
bottom line


The greatest superheroes from two universes team up to stop the destruction of their worlds
Easily the high point of the game, although often cluttered and confusing
Voice acting is often stilted and needlessly expository
Because the developers tried to cram so much in, the framerate often slows to a crawl as the system tries to process everything
Your basic melee brawler; nothing terribly original or exciting
Low  (You may slog through the game again just to look at the detailed graphics, but you won't actually be playing this again, trust me)

It seemed like the most natural idea in gaming history:  Combine the Avengers and the JLA -- two of the most popular superhero franchises -- into one ultimate game.   Unfortunately, as seems to happen with most "Big Event" games, expectations far outpaced execution.

Things got off to a promising start.  Busiek and Perez, two of the most popular superhero developers in the biz, were hired to bring Avengers/JLA to consoles everywhere.  Early screenshots and demos looked promising.  And after a period of relatively few crossovers, the industry seemed due for a good universe-meets-universe team-up.

I wish I could say that Avengers/JLA fulfills that need, but I can't.  If you really want some mindless superhero fun, you're better off digging out your old games and playing those.  Sure, many of those games are simple and crude by today's gaming standards, but at least they're fun.  Avengers/JLA is an unplayable mess that collapses under the weight of its own ambitions.

I suppose gaming fans should have been worried when the developers announced that they would be cramming in every single character who ever appeared on the Avengers or JLA rosters.  Most fans were probably too excited by the thought that their favorite character wouldn't be left out, though, so they failed to consider the implications of the "pack 'em all in" approach. 
Gameplay and storyline are sacrificed in an effort to spotlight every character.

In order to ensure each and every character gets some 
screentime, the developers adopted two main approaches:  First, they've made the graphics extremely tiny and detailed (no large polygons here!); and, second, they've employed a "Chronal Instability" engine that can randomly alternate costumes (see below for a sample of two varied looks Green Lantern and Atom undergo) as well as entire characters.  Both of these devices lead to problems, however.  The small graphics often result in a cluttered screen, making it extremely difficult to navigate.  And the "Chronal Instability" waves seem like fun at first, but the trick gets old fast.  Yeah, it's fun to see characters cycling through their various looks, but it gets annoying when whole characters are swapped in and out seemingly at random.  (Why is Aquaman replaced with Green Arrow?)  Even when a character appears to stay the same, the results are often disappointing.  For example, in one level, Batman is arbitrarily depowered, just so that Batroc (the thug at that stage) can pose a threat for the Caped Crusader.

GL & Atom
"Let's Do The Time Warp Again!"

At first it appeared that
Avengers/JLA would be either a platformer (collect all the artifacts!) or fighter (I've always wondered if Superman could beat up Thor), but in the end it's a simple melee brawler:  In order to save the universe, you have to battle through wave after wave of increasingly powerful villains until you reach the Big Boss himself - Krona!  The developers have planted plenty of rewards along the way in an effort to keep the game entertaining, but, as noted earlier, the desirability of these bonuses in undermined by making them so random.  Players are unable to save costumes or characters, so they're often gone as soon as they were unlocked.  There are also problems with the consistency of power levels:  At the very end, it's possible to destroy Krona's big cosmic doohickey sphere thing with an arrow.  I don't know if this is a bug in the game, or if one of the developers just had an overly sentimental soft spot for archers.

This is the Final Boss?

There are some bright touches that save this game from being a total failure, though.  Many of the power-ups are quite creative.  (One of my favorites involved Superman getting a boost from the Vision's solar energy eyebeams, thus counteracting the Kryptonite radiation blasts of Radioactive Man.)  And characters can use other characters' weapons in interesting combos:  Superman is nearly unstoppable with Captain America's shield and Thor's magic Uru hammer, for example.  (I was disappointed that I couldn't get Captain America to pick up Green Lantern's power ring.  Imagine what Cap could have done with that ring and his willpower!)

Several of the cut scenes between the repetitive battles are also worthwhile.  An extended sequence in the League's Watchtower is particularly nice, with many good moments between the various characters, but, alas, it's over much too quickly.

In the end, playing
Avengers/JLA is about as satisfying as watching a flashy demo for an upcoming game.  Yeah, the graphics can be captivating; the many different characters and levels are frequently amusing (Ooo, Galactus-World!);  certain cut scenes may even be extremely well-crafted and clever.  But in the end the overall package lacks a compelling, engaging storyline to pull everything together.  Bottom line?  Save your money by passing on this over-rendered spectacle and pull out a classic game instead.  The graphics may be simpler, but the gameplay will probably be much stronger.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004
  Street Angel Watch
A six-page preview of Street Angel #2 is up.  The issue comes out in June and is available for pre-order in the current issue of Previews.  Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette features a nice write-up of the first issue ("Street Angel is a gorgeously illustrated black-and-white comic that celebrates outlandish martial arts derring-do even as it pays puckish tribute to the urban skateboarding aesthetic").
  CrossGen Goes Direct-to-Video?
In a thread over on Broken Frontier, the mysterious poster known as Broken Shakespeare (whom you might remember from rumors such as this) claims to have the scoop on CrossGen's new investors (you know, the ones who had a problem with American Power):

Well, apparently Crossgen does have new investors. They have received money from a company called:

Dee Gee Entertainment
Chicago, IL

Apparently the deal is this, Dee Gee gets $300,000 plus interest from the proceeds of Route 666, Ruse, and Sojourn. They also get a security interest in the copyrights and trademarks for Ruse and Sojourn, and in anything that derives from Ruse and Sojourn.

The deal was sealed back in January, so CG has had the money for months. It isn't like they just got new cash. So no, they won't be paying back the freelancers with it, or they already would have.

Now, at this point you should be asking yourself, what kind of nut gives CG a loan (probably for $300,000) and in return wants $300,000 + interest in proceeds from Route 666, Ruse, and Sojourn? Ruse and Route 666 aren't being published, so what revenue?

Here is where it gets interesting. If this is the same Dee Gee Entertainment that I am familiar with, they produce relatively low budget movies. So going out on a limb, I'd say they plan on producing low budget films of Ruse and Sojourn (thus the interest in all things deriving from those two), and perhaps a Route 666 film if the other two do well.

So far they have films like Ricochet River, Hostile Intent, Simple Justice, The Wedding Planner (hey, I'd consider this a real movie!), and currently, The Yank. You can find more info on all these films at .

So I guess the ladies of Dee Gee weren't too happy about American Power and made sure CG pulled the plug. So obviously they have some control over the company that they also purchased with their money.

If true, this would be pretty funny.  I'm trying to imagine who they'd cast as Arwyn in the low-budget version of Sojourn.
  Bulk Reviews: Demo #1-5
Intro:  As part of AiT/Planet Lar's 5-Year Anniversary Celebration slash Blogger Outreach Program, Larry Young was kind enough to send me a package of comics to review, including the first four issues of Demo.  (If you'd like to review AiT/Planet Lar's comics on your blog/site, see the March 28th entry on the AiT blog.)  Expect additional AiT/Planet Lar reviews sometime in the future, but for now let's focus on Demo.  (Warning:  Possible SPOILERS ahoy.)

DEMO #1#1:  "NYC" [SEP03 1995]

First of all, that cover is great.  It's eye-catching and it immediately establishes the story's theme of feeling different from everyone else.  (It also reminds me of this cover, but that probably says more about my skewed associations than anything else.)  In a period where many covers from the Big Two comic publishers are generic and unrelated to the story, having a striking, distinctive cover is a welcome change.

The story itself is extremely simple:  Two teenagers run away from home, hoping to find in the big city the freedom they lacked in their restrictive suburban environment.  But within that simple structure, writer Brian Wood and artist Becky Cloonan manage to craft compelling characters that we care about.  Marie and Mike are believable, as is their relationship together.  In fact, even the most unrealistic element of the story is believable, and not just because the characters aren't wearing spandex.

The high-concept of Demo, in case you haven't heard it before, is regular people with superpowers rather than superheroes.  (Sounds a lot like DC's recent "Focus" line, but AiT beat DC out of the gate by a couple months.)  The superpower in issue #1 is Marie's telekinesis.  Marie doesn't have her powers under control at all (no Professor X to teach her how to use her powers here), so she's kept heavily medicated by her mother and doctors, who have no idea what's wrong with her.  Marie, however, doesn't like feeling like "some semi-wanted drugged-up loser psycho freak," so she's been working on controlling her telekinesis without the meds.  Her goal is to live free, without the haze of drugs clouding her experience.

An obvious parallel for Marie's situation is the ever-increasing tendency nowadays to treat children who deviate from some desired norm pharmaceutically.  But aside from this specific social commentary, I also saw a broader application of Marie's tale:  The scene where Marie begged Mike to trust her even when she lost her mind made me think of the trust involved in any intimate relationship.  When we let our guard down and get close to someone, there's always that fear that we'll scare the other person away by getting a little crazy, by losing control of our carefully constructed persona.  Will the other person be willing to stick it out through the rough spots, or will he or she lose interest if things start to require a little work? 

The only weak point of the story is the beginning, which, because of the story's structure, is really the ending.  We see Marie and Mike in New York for three pages while the rest of the book takes place a year earlier.  During this flashback, we witness the full extent of Marie's powers, as does Mike.  So it doesn't ring true in the opening scene when Marie asks Mike, "Hey, you ever get that weird feeling that you're different somehow?"  Uh, Marie, Mike has seen you use your powers.  He already knows that you have "an ability or physical trait of some kind that sets you apart" so it's a little odd for you to address him like you're on a first date or something.

#2: "Emmy" [OCT03 2016]

The superpower in this issue will be familiar to readers of Preacher.  Emmy is a young woman with the ability to make others do whatever she commands.  These days, however, Emmy doesn't say much of anything out of fear that something bad will happen.  Years ago Emmy said something she didn't mean and now her mom is a vegetable.  (What could Emmy accidentally blurt out that would reduce her mom to a vegetable?  It's a small point, but it nagged at me throughout the story.)  So now Emmy works at a local gas station and cares for her mother, all in silence.  That silence is broken, however, when a stranger upsets Emmy one day.

God, I'm such a comic book geek.  At one point while I was reading this, my brain actually said, "Hey, this Emmy is kind of like Black Bolt!  Both characters have voices which contain such power they must remain eternally vigilant, lest they say something at the wrong moment and wreck untold havoc upon humanity!"  Apparently my brain didn't notice the many differences between Emmy and Black Bolt, chief among them the fact that Emmy is a sympathetic, well-developed character and Black Bolt is just a cool costume designed by Jack Kirby.

Geek moment aside, I did like the way the story expressed the idea that Words Have Power:  Not only Emmy's words, but also the words of the young man who verbally harasses Emmy.  His words hurt Emmy and cause her long-buried anger to come exploding out.  Could even Black Bolt withstand such anger?  I think not.


#3: "Bad Blood" [NOV03 1967]

I can't mention this issue's superpower because doing so would spoil the story's ending.  That doesn't leave me with too much to discuss, since this whole issue is essentially one long conversation between two characters in a car.  To their credit, though, Wood and Cloonan make the conversation engaging despite the static setting.  Also, Wood and Cloonan get major points for actually surprising me with the ending, and for doing so while still playing fair with the reader.

#4: "Stand Strong" [DEC03 2041]

You can probably guess this issue's superpower from the title.  I suppose it's only inevitable that everyone in comics is fascinated with the idea of super-strength.  Whether that's a result of some intrinsic aspect of human psychology or just a historical accident stemming from the fact that Superman is the granddaddy of all comic book superheroes I really can't say.  But I do know that when you're playing superpowers, everyone has to try their hand at super-strength.

To be honest, this issue is the one that grabbed me the least.  It's not a bad story by any means, but it feels very familiar.  It reads a great deal like something Garth Ennis would write (especially given the prominence of bars in the story).  Still, there's always a certain amount of satisfaction in reading a story where a character stands up for himself, so the story succeeds on that level at least.


Anecdotal Interlude:  After finishing the first four issues, I wanted more Demo.  As luck would have it, the fifth issue came out just two weeks ago.  I went to a shop near work on "New Comics Day" but they were already out of #5.  The only Demo they had in the store were a couple issues of #2.  Over the weekend, I went to a second comic shop and managed to grab the last copy of #5.  (Again, there were still a couple copies of #2 on the shelves.  I was wondering why this was until Google reminded me that Demo #2 was overshipped by half.)  Meanwhile, over in the Marvel section there were stacks and stacks of the first four issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four.  Insert standard rant about the problems of the Direct Market here.

#5: "Girl You Want" [JAN04 2043]

This is probably my favorite issue of Demo so far, even though it's the one I had the most problems with.  The main character Kate's powers are a bit odd:  Her physical appearance changes based on how the person viewing her perceives her.  So, for example, when Kate bumps into a guy who only knows her as someone who works in the library stacks, Kate's outward appearance is transformed into an appropriately "nerdy library girl."  It's a neat idea (it reminds me of a series of self-portraits I did in high school depicting how I thought others saw me) but the mechanics of the power are a bit wonky.  In the opening scene, Kate is at a crowded party.  There's a hilarious four-panel sequence where her appearance changes as she crosses the room.  But if you think about the concept too much, it doesn't hold up:  What happens when Kate is viewed simultaneously by different people with conflicting interpretations of who she is?  Does she turn into Ultra the Multi-Alien?  And even if a transformation that grotesque never occurred, wouldn't people be unnerved by a woman whose appearance kept fluctuating from one moment to the next?

Ignoring these literal-minded quibbles with Kate's powers, I really enjoyed the way Wood applied the concept in service of the story.  Everyone can probably sympathize with the experience of being judged based on one small aspect of one's character, so Kate is an immediately identifiable character.  Interestingly, though, Wood doesn't simply stick with the one-note characterization of Kate as a victim of others' prejudices.  When Kate meets someone who sees her for herself, Kate immediately assumes that person is perfect for her.  Rather than withholding judgment until she gets to know the individual better, Kate projects her wishes and desires onto this stranger.

At the end of the story, Kate learns something about the object of her infatuation that crushes her dreams.  I won't give away what that revelation is (I'm not even sure why the particular revelation was so devastating to Kate, but, then again, I don't exactly have a firsthand familiarity with stalker psychology), but it causes Kate's illusions to come crashing down, perhaps only because fantasy is finally confronted with reality.  In a brilliant touch, Kate is surrounded by people staring at her when her fantasy is shattered.  Picking up her pocket mirror, Kate looks into it and, seeing her normal appearance, says:  "Good job, Kate.  You blew it, stupid.  Everyone thinks so."  I don't think I've ever seen the concept of self-loathing depicted so effectively, and it wouldn't have been possible without the device of the superpower.  (This scene also made me think of a possible "No-Prize" explanation for Kate's powers:  Perhaps it's not other people's perceptions that alter Kate's appearance, but Kate's beliefs about how others perceive her.  At that low moment, Kate believes that everyone sees what a failure she really is, so she maintains her true features.  It doesn't explain everything, but I like this interpretation of her powers.)

The Art:  I've put off commenting on Becky Cloonan's art til now mainly because I worried that simply saying "Wow!  Great art!" over and over again would grow old fast.  Cloonan's art is a wonderful fit for Demo:  Not only is she adept at drawing characters--their expressions, their body language, their personalities--but she's also able to adapt her style subtly for different stories.  For example, in issue #4, Cloonan uses a thicker, heavier line to reinforce the concept of strength.

This isn't to say that Cloonan's art is perfect.  There are a couple times where Cloonan's loose art obscures an important story point, such as in #2:  A man throws a crumpled wad at Emmy and she picks it up.  It wasn't until I read the script samples at the back of the book that I realized the wad was supposed to be a twenty dollar bill.  When I first read the sequence, I thought perhaps the men were throwing trash on the ground, knowing that Emmy would be responsible for cleaning it up.  (Even knowing what the wad is, I still can't make out anything that distinguishes it as a twenty.)  And I can't look at the cover of issue #5 without wishing that Cloonan had used a straight edge to draw the medicine cabinet.

Still, despite some rough spots, Cloonan's art is a huge part of Demo's appeal.  I've already mentioned her ability with facial expressions, but this is really one of the strongest aspects of her art in my opinion.  Cloonan is able to convey a great deal of narrative information through deceptively simple expressions.  In this panel from issue #1, for example, I can really feel Mike's sadness mixed with concern for Marie:


Not many artists could pull off rendering that expression in such a stripped-down, essential fashion without losing some of the impact of the scene, but Cloonan nails it.  I'm sure there are some readers who would be put off by what they consider "cartoony" art, but I find it all the more impressive that Cloonan can convey all the information she does in such a streamlined style.  In this respect, Cloonan's art reminds me of manga:  Both focus on telling the story as efficiently as possible without getting bogged down in distracting, over-rendered details.  (The manga influence in Cloonan's art is especially pronounced in issue #2, right down to the grey tones). 

The Format:  For many comic fans, Demo may be best known as "that AiT/Planet Lar comic that isn't an OGN."  Yes, Demo is being published as a monthly comic in the single pamphlet format.  Yes, AiT/Planet Lar is primarily known for publishing original graphic novels.  Yes, Larry Young and Brian Wood have said that Demo may not be collected as a TPB, much to the chagrin of those who prefer to wait for the trade.  (As far as I know, however, neither Wood nor Young has ever said that Demo will never be collected in a trade; they've only said that there's no guarantee it will be collected.)

Speaking as someone who frequently waits for the trade, I think this is one of those rare series where the monthly issues are more than just a compromise along the way to an inevitable collection.  First, these stories are truly standalone, so there's really no need to see them collected between two covers.  Wood and Cloonan are not constructing a Demo-verse for their characters to play in.  You're not going to see Marie and Emmy fight and/or team up in the final issue.  (In his Demo review, Graeme McMillan suggested that if Demo is ever collected, the stories should be printed in a different order to emphasize their independence from one another, an idea I really like.)

Second, in a nice reversal of the usual singles vs. collection relationship, the individual issues are where the extras are:  Script samples, sketches, thumbnails, letters pages -- a lot of the stuff you'd usually expect to find in the TPB is included in the singles.  As Wood put it in his notes for issue #1:
I am inverting the normal "extras in the trade paperback" method, to give the people to strive to get these monthly issues a little bonus.  If there is a collected edition of Demo, it won't include these extras.
I think this is a good way to encourage customers to buy individual issues:  Make the singles worthwhile in their own right.  It's especially nice when the publisher is upfront with consumers about information that could influence their purchasing decisions like this.

Finally, the singles are solid, sturdy objects.  As someone who had taken to using the term 'floppies' to describe monthly comics, I really appreciate the sheer durability of these comics.  That may sound like an odd thing to praise a comic for, but one of the things that had really started to bother me about "regular" comics was how flimsy most of them are.  Demo, on the other hand, is printed on a nice, heavy paper stock.  As a result, I can treat issues of Demo like normal reading material.  You have no idea how liberating it is for me to toss around a comic without worrying about ruining it.

The Future:  As of this writing, there are still seven more issues of Demo to come out.  Based on the strength of the first five issues, I've added Demo to my pull list as of #7.  I originally missed ordering #6 ("What You Wish For" [FEB04 2047]) when it was solicited in the February Previews, but AiT makes it easy to order any back issue of the series:  Just give your retailer the order code for the issue you're interested in.  If you have a good retailer, it should be just that simple.  (I've listed the order codes for each issue in brackets next to the title.)

The Payoff:  Finally, if you've made it this far and you're interested in sampling Demo, I have an extra copy to send one lucky reader.  Last week Larry Young sent me a copy of Demo #5, but I'd already managed to find a copy on my own.  So I figured, Why not share the Demo love?  I'll mail out a copy of Demo #5 to the first person to post in the comments thread below.  (Generous offer good for U.S. residents only.  Sorry.)


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