*What Did You Eat Yesterday? Books 2-3 — Recommended

I adore this series. I’m so thrilled that Vertical has committed to What Did You Eat Yesterday?, since it combines such favorite things: art by Fumi Yoshinaga, a focus on cooking as an achievable skill, and insightful underlying relationships.

Book 2 opens with a flashback, showing how Shiro and Kenji met at a gay bar and got to know each other. They’re so cute together, both unsure in various ways, creating a relationship anyone can identify with. To commemorate, the first meal in the book is a lavish Christmas special, focused on spinach lasagna and marking their anniversary.

Shiro’s cooking is home-taught, often with non-specifics, particularly when it comes to seasonings and timings. He’s working to his taste and demonstrating that one doesn’t have to be precious when it comes to making tasty food. A delicious meal is a great way to show the depth of feeling for someone. His cooking is home-based, not restaurant-style, and the character’s focus on economy and value — not buying expensively, reusing ingredients so nothing is wasted — is particularly timely and inspirational.

The food is also inspiring in how the meals are made up of various small dishes, not meat-heavy and including plenty of vegetables. That’s a style of cooking that the Japanese do well, balancing flavors to provide satisfaction without huge portions or overly unhealthy ingredients.

Because I love this series, I also have gripes. The biggest is the lack of endnotes. With so much based in the particular culture of the author and characters, a few pieces of additional information would be much appreciated. Many food terms aren’t translated. Perhaps it can be argued that someone interested in this series likely already knows what ponzu, yuzu, mitsuba, and wakame are, but I love Japanese food, and I had to look them up. I want more people to try and love this series, and I wish this was less of a potential stumbling block for readers. I’d love to see an additional text page or two where a knowledgeable cook comments on the dishes. However, I suspect that the additional cost to develop the editorial material might not weigh favorably on the book’s profit-and-loss statement.

I am thrilled to see the recipe steps and dishes illustrated in such detail, but at times, I wasn’t sure the words used to describe the illustrations matched up. For instance, at one point, Shiro is said to be chopping leeks, but they look more like green onions in size. This may not matter to most readers, who aren’t likely to try and replicate the recipes. Heck, some of them — such as the stewed yellowtail scraps and heads — are unlikely to be possible in this country unless one lives near a specialty retailer. It’s still fun to dream about sharing the meals with someone you care about.

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 2 also has a story about a legal case where Shiro’s trying to help a divorced mom, punctuated by the hilarious panel where Shiro’s clearly having a bad day. His co-workers, unaware of his boyfriend, assume he must have had an argument with his girlfriend, but it’s really because one of his food purchases went bad before he could use it. That’s another virtue of this series, the way the structure allows for stories focusing on different aspects of Shiro’s life, from work to home to family.

Key for a visual artist, Yoshinaga has a great gasp of how appearances affect character, as shown by a story about a co-worker whom everyone assumes is about 20 years older than she is, based on how she talks and dresses. I also like how she recognizes how relationships really work, as in a later chapter, Kenji is explaining to Shiro how bad he felt about an incident with a friend. Shiro wants to advise Kenji on what to do, but Kenji just wants sympathy and a listening ear.

The book concludes with more insight into Shiro’s family life, as his father goes into the hospital for cancer surgery. He’s thinking about home, and the seasons are changing to fall, so he makes meat-and-potato stew.

Book 3 sends Shiro home for New Year’s, a family holiday, to spend more time with his recovering father and trying-to-be-supportive mother. That means we get to see Kenji cook ramen for himself, showing that he’s got a few culinary skills of his own. The story also hints at how being a gay man in Japan, with various expectations about families, can be difficult for an older generation to accept. A childless couple of any gender, though, can identify with the occasional worry of “who will take care of me when I’m older?” Shiro also struggles with the question of whether to help support his parents financially, with all the feelings that entails about loyalty and gratitude and pride preventing the acceptance of help. They have a lot to negotiate, since they’re not 100% accepting of their son’s choices, but they still love him.

At work, Shiro has trouble working with a female apprentice, while Kenji picks up a new customer by being sensitive to her needs. Shiro and his female bargain-hunting friend also talk about their relationships — as one gets older, one may understand that staying together is easier than all the work in finding a new partner. That doesn’t deny their love for each other, but adds a realistic reason to work at staying together, too.

What a beautiful series, reaching so many points of appeal — taste, emotion, and satisfaction. What Did You Eat Yesterday Volume 4 is out tomorrow, and having caught up with the series so far, I’m already ready for more.

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KC’s Previews for November 2014

KC’s latest Westfield column starts looking at the new Previews catalog — in which there’s an awful lot of Batman, including this oddity. There are also many collections of classic comics, many of which even have information about which comics they’re reprinting! (Sadly, that doesn’t apply to all of them.)

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Spinner Rack: Quick Thoughts on Good Comics Out Recently

Lumberjanes #5

Lumberjanes #5 cover

written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis; illustrated by Brooke Allen
Boom! Box, $3.99 US

There’s some weirdness going on here, since this issue was delayed twice in print, but the digital copy went out to subscribers. The print version will be out on Wednesday. Anyway, I’m surprised I’m still having things to say about this fantasy girl camper series, but it’s because of the creativity that goes into every issue. And a new crazy imagination monster in each outing. Here, it’s dinosaurs.

The girls’ friendship is so realistic and admirable. That’s a help, since there’s a mystical glowing disc artifact that’s causing nightmares and summoning monsters to the camp. There’s hilarious overacting and a surprise revelation about Molly and a were-bear-woman and dinosaur wrangling. Jen steps up to protect her campers, with some amusing exclamations. Plus, this issue teaches you to make friendship bracelets. How can you not love this series?

Princess Ugg #3

Princess Ugg #3 cover

by Ted Naifeh
Oni Press, $3.99 US

Another series about a fighting female that improves with every issue. This chapter takes a meaningful turn, as Ülga explains what brought her to the school for princesses in the lowlands.

She remembers her departed mother, who’s drawn in great glory, a truly admirable leader to attempt to live up to. The battle scenes are impressive, conveying just how different Ülga’s life is now in contrast. Yet her mother was also wise, disliking the cost of battle to all those involved, whether won or lost.

Ülga also enlists an ally, someone to value her for her own skills while helping her gain those she needs to live up to her mother’s last wishes. An important first step is learning to get along with her roommate Julifer, complicated by her new acquisition, a unicorn who isn’t yet broken to steed. All of this makes for gorgeous imagery with real heart and story behind it.

The Fade Out #1

The Fade Out #1 cover

by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Image Comics, $3.50 US

The best-known comic noir team returns with a new project, a series set in post-war Hollywood, full of the usual expectations: a beautiful dead blonde, cover-ups and secrets, and powerful bullies.

Events are narrated by a writer who had too much to drink the night before, so he’s as confused as the reader to start. He doesn’t remember what happened, but as he gradually recalls — and reveals events to us — things turn darker and more convoluted. In between, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes of the old-time movie biz.

It’s lovely work, full of atmosphere transporting the reader to another time and place, one that’s a lot more deadly. The text article in the back provides, to set the mood, a brief history of Peg Entwistle, the young actress who killed herself by jumping off the Hollywood sign in 1932. I’ve seen the movie mentioned, Thirteen Women, and I’m surprised the author didn’t mention the other reason (beyond being Peg’s only film) the movie is known today — it stars a young Myrna Loy in horrible Asian makeup.

Wayward #1

Wayward #1 cover

written by Jim Zub; art by Steve Cummings
Image Comics, $3.50 US

I’ve been turned off, a bit, from this series launch because of how hard they’re pushing it as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a new generation”. I feared that we’d be getting a watered-down version of someone else’s property — and there are better ways to say “monster-fighting girls”. Or just tell the story without having to catchphrase it (see Lumberjanes above).

I was relieved to see that this wasn’t as much of a copy as I feared it might be. It’s the story of Rori, daughter of a divorced Japanese mother and Irish father who’s just moved in with mom. She starts seeing directions, an odd but useful little ability, particularly in a new place. And visual, well-suited to comics.

The art, particularly in establishing the foreign city setting, is terrific. And I admire Rori’s initiative in exploring Tokyo on her own, even if it does lead her into a scary situation. Then a crazy blue-haired fighter jumps into the fray, and the bad guys turn out to be turtle demons. That’s the Buffy part, I guess. I’m curious to see where this goes, and if we get as much of the characterization in future, which I like, as of the monster-fighting, which I could take or leave.

The Wicked + the Divine #3

The Wicked + the Divine #3 cover

written by Kieron Gillen; art by Jamie McKelvie
Image Comics, $3.50 US

OK, three issues in and I no longer know exactly what’s going on. Absolutely wonderful to look at, though, and it feels like a puzzle that I don’t know enough about world mythology to work out (Wikipedia helps), or maybe it’s just that I’m too old and I’ve outgrown the absolute passion raised by just the right band or idol. (The letter column, with missives from those deeply affected by the book, suggests the latter.) It’s all terribly meaningful, in some other language, about fate and death and passion.

Well worth reading and rereading, so next issue I’ll have more figured out.

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Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 cover

I wasn’t as thrilled with the first issue of Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor as I’d hoped to be, but the second issue assuaged many of my concerns. Writer Nick Abadzis swings full speed into the wacky adventure mode of the David Tennant version, as he and Gabby Gonzalez run from a monster on a subway, talking a mile a minute the whole time.

I’m amazed at how well artist Elena Casagrande does in keeping the action readable in amongst all this dialogue, but it’s faithful to one of the things I enjoyed about the early days of the show relaunch. This kind of glorious nonsense is so very British, and part of the export’s appeal.

I also liked that Gabby managed to save yourself. She’s got strength and gumption and a willingness to take things on herself that make her admirable. She accepts the Doctor’s psuedoscience without blinking and even volunteers in spite of her instincts.

The comic format allows for interdimensional portals, scary psychic monsters, and all kinds of effects without them looking dodgy. This issue moves the plot along briskly, introducing the alien villains and setting up for more battle in the remaining three issues in the storyline.

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Madame Frankenstein #5

We’re more than halfway through the seven-issue Madame Frankenstein series, and so the characters are beginning to show more depth in their twists.

Madame Frankenstein #5 cover

Henry, who at first struck the reader as a jealous, spoiled, frat-boy type, is investigating what really happened to ex-girlfriend Courtney, whom he killed in a car accident. His apparent desire to atone makes him more sympathetic (although I suppose it’s possible that it’s just from selfish reasons, such as to once again punish Vincent). Vincent, meanwhile, is consorting with a stripper (or what passed for one in the 1930s — we’d call it burlesque). All the players come together at an alumni social, where Vincent wants to show off Gail, his reanimated creation.

As the story has progressed, Vincent’s egotism and general nastiness, the darker sides of his personality, have been revealed. At the party, Gail is doing her best, being out among people for only the second time since her revival, but her innocent attempts at small talk set Vincent off. Everything must be about him, of course, and his jealousy shows the small-mindedness under his accomplishment.

The craft is outstanding, with Jamie S. Rich’s dialogue revealing so much in just a few sentences, and Megan Levens’ art delineating the cast wonderfully. The slender Gail is perfectly suited for the fashions of the period, nicely done details, and she contrasts in more than one way with the plumper, earthier showgirl Linda.

I’m disappointed that there are only two issues left, since I fear we won’t have enough space to fully explore the ramifications of these characters and their interactions. Vincent has already moved from sympathetic to monstrous, and I’m eager for his comeuppance, but there’s so much more that could be done. Particularly, I’d like to know more of what Gail is thinking and feeling, following her mental growth into her own being. Madame Frankenstein #5 will be out on Wednesday.

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The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 Preview and Review

I’ve been looking for an entry point into Valiant’s titles, given how confusing I find their company foundation stones of reusing characters I never knew and lots of crossovers. The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1, next week’s launch of a five-issue miniseries, was much friendlier to me. Plus, I appreciated seeing a female lead (where a big deal isn’t made of her gender) written by a woman, Jen Van Meter.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 cover

Cover by Travel Foreman

Although a first issue, there are still references to events that have gone before. Our title character, Shan Fong (Dr. Mirage), has a departed husband she’s searching for. She can communicate with the dead, but for an unknown reason, not him. This provides a tragic undercurrent, as she can reassure other widows but not herself. In the meantime, she’s been asked to help a former military occult investigator with a curse left over from his secret past. Although that’s the main plot driving the story, I wanted to hear more about Shan’s past than this more-standard-style conflict.

I wasn’t sure, at times, if the references to past events were authorial-created background or occurrences from past comics I haven’t read, which made me a little uncertain. I would have appreciated a text page with some of the history of the character and goals for this version, but I guess that’s easily found on the internet. (Actually, that made it worse, since now I want to know what happened to Hwen’s first wife Carmen.) I think this is a reboot, although this isn’t Shan’s first appearance in modern Valiant continuity; that took place in Shadowman #5 last year.

I wish the art by Roberto de la Torre was as polished as the writing. I’m not a fan of this sketchy-looking art style, as though the artist didn’t get a chance to solidify his lines and the work was reproduced from draft pencils. I liked the unfinished look for the ghosts, but at times, I found it difficult to differentiate between the spirits and the living people. (There are preview pages at the publisher’s website that show some of what I’m referring to.) Don’t get me wrong, though, this is more a taste preference than a criticism.

Less a matter of taste is my wish that there had been more story meat here. Given the high prices of comic issues, for me to invest in a miniseries requires each issue must make me want to read more now. Otherwise, it’s more sensible to wait for the inevitable collection. Unfortunately, we get the premise established — that Shan is willing to risk a dodgy-sounding job and client because she’s seeking her dead husband — and not much more. I like what we know of the character, but I wish the overall package had felt more substantial. Still, I’m curious enough — and have enough faith in Van Meter — to read issue #2.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 is out next Wednesday. The publisher, in addition to providing an advance digital review copy, also supplied this substantial preview.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 1The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 2The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 3The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 4The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 5The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 6The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 7The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 8The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 9The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 10

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Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors Season Premiere Sunday Has Spider-Man Join the Avengers

Sunday at 9 AM (8 AM Central time), Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors debuts its new season on Disney XD with a two-part episode guest-starring the Avengers. “The Avenging Spider-Man: Parts One and Two” features Spider-Man getting a spot on the premiere superhero team. But then Loki finds out, and the results are described as

Spider-Man’s dream of joining The Avengers becomes a nightmare when Loki switches bodies with the web-slinger, turning his new teammates against him. Will Spidey ever be able to save his reputation after Loki uses his body to wage war against his new teammates and New York City?

Here’s a clip with some amusing video-game imagery, and my fave, Fin Fang Foom. Spider-Man is voiced by Drake Bell while J. Jonah Jameson carries over from the movies by using J.K. Simmons.

In part two, “Spider-Man and his friends team up with The Avengers to stop Loki and Doctor Octopus from using an army of Venomized monsters to destroy New York City. Spider-Man’s new and old worlds must join forces to destroy these monsters! But which team will Spidey choose to fight alongside when the battle is over?” The Web Warriors, in case you didn’t know, are made up of Nova, Iron Fist, Power Man, and White Tiger. In this clip, Iron Man faces off with Doctor Octopus. Even when getting beat up, Tony Stark never loses his charm.

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Arrow Season 2 Comes to DVD

Arrow: The Complete Second Season is due out on Blu-ray (or DVD) on September 16.

I found the first season a pleasant surprise. I haven’t been as big a fan of the second, primarily due to not loving the Deathstroke plot and the continuing island flashbacks, although it’s good to see more done with Black Canary and other female characters.

The second season home releases contain 23 episodes, the “Year One” recap episode, commentary, three behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, six mini-webisodes, and a gag reel. Here’s star Stephen Amell as Arrow discussing the season’s big bad, Deathstroke, with Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

This clip shows more of the supporting cast — Thea “Speedy” Queen (Willa Holland), Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). Such pretty people on this show!

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