Spinner Rack: Copperhead and Thomas Alsop

Copperhead #1

Copperhead #1 cover

written by Jay Faerber
art by Scott Godlewski
Image Comics, $3.50

As Faerber starts off his editorial note, “I’m not the first person to think of this.” Many people have done space westerns, from Star Trek to Firefly and beyond. But what attracted me to this series was its sense of character and its unusual choice for the protagonist. Most Western leads are vigilantes, not the official voice of the law.

Clara Bronson has come to the mining town of Copperhead as its new sheriff with her son Zeke. There, she meets a resentful deputy, who was passed over for the job, he believes because of his species.

The dialog is wonderful, creating a strong sense of location on the post-war frontier, in spite of the mag-lev trains and spaceport and what looks like a land speeder and the domestic call for a squabbling family of frog-like aliens. Godlewski’s visuals are impressive and establish a solid world.

Bronson’s no angel, seen by her dislike of artificial humans. I get the feeling there’s lots of backstory to explore, whether hers or the town’s or the culture. This extended first issue (28 pages) not only gives her something juicy to explore — a family murder — but her son gets his own adventure as well, with a hunt for a lost dog that takes him out too late. The emphasis here is on the Western side of the equation, exploring the frontier and what happens when people move away from civilization, not the space trappings, which I like. A good start to what looks to be an intriguing series.

Thomas Alsop #4

Thomas Alsop #4 cover

written by Chris Miskiewicz
art by Palle Schmidt
Boom! Studios, $3.99

I know halfway through a miniseries isn’t a great place to start, but this is a good issue that shows off the various themes of this premise well. Thomas Alsop is “the hand of the island”, the home mage of Manhattan. It’s a family job, handed down over generations, but he’s turned his time in the role into a reality show and blog.

This issue introduces Emma, a British witch friend, and engages in a substantial flashback showing their early days together as a rock band made up of magicians. As Alsop explains things to Emma, the reader is also reminded of (or introduced to) the conflict and costs.

What some will find tricky about the series is the underlying concept: that Alsop is trying to exorcise (or otherwise handle) the ghosts at the World Trade Center from 9/11. It’s treated delicately, and while one might argue that the story didn’t need to be told at all, if you’re going to postulate a place-based magician in NYC, you sort of need to tackle it. It’s as valid a way of processing that event as any, in my opinion, through fantasy fiction. (And at least we aren’t presented with some kind of story about preventing or reversing the event.) There’s also the complication of the hull of an enchanted slave ship buried as landfill, reminding us of the tangled history of any long-standing place.

The art is spooky and good at setting mood, from old friends reminiscing before getting down to the business of why you’d ask someone from your past for help, to the dodgy edges of a society based around exploring the unknown. The story’s got an excellent sense of place and plenty of content to ponder.

(The publishers provided digital review copies.)

Jump Start Brings New Japanese Series to Weekly Shonen Jump Same-Day

Viz Media has launched “Jump Start“, bringing the first three chapters of every brand-new manga series appearing in the Japanese Weekly Shonen Jump to English. The digital translated Weekly Shonen Jump will feature these chapters, one per week, on same-day release as the parent country.

Weekly Shonen Jump with Judos

The first three titles are

  • Judos by Shinsuke Kondo, a martial arts series about a 15-year-old village kid who wants to be the best judo practitioner in his village full of the world’s most powerful fighters — available now
  • Hi-Fi Cluster, starting September 15, a sci-fi crime thriller by Ippei Goto
  • Sporting Salt by Yuto Kubota, about sports medicine (interesting!) and debuting September 23

Fans, who are often concerned about authenticity, should love the chance to check out brand-new series in super-timely fashion. (This cuts the legs out from under scanlation sites, too, as who would want a sometimes-sloppy translation when they can get the official in the same time frame?) Readers also get the chance to leave feedback through an online survey. Magazine Editor-in-Chief Andy Nakatani says,

“The ‘Jump Start’ initiative begins a new era in digital manga publishing that will give seasoned readers, as well as those new to the genre, seamless, same-day, simultaneous access like they’ve never enjoyed before to what’s hot and brand new in the world’s most popular manga magazine. ‘Jump Start’ gives new titles an important opportunity to develop an international following. Our readers can play a more active role than ever to help VIZ Media and Shueisha discover what new series resonate on an international level and decide what might possibly be featured on a regular ongoing basis.”

So put in those surveys, kids, and you too can have a voice in manga to read. Weekly Shonen Jump is 99 cents an issue or $25.99 for a yearly subscription (48 issues).

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 2 Now on Blu-ray

Out today on Blu-ray is the complete second season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This follows, of course, Season One, which came out at the end of last year.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 2 on Blu-ray

All 26 episodes are included, as listed below, on two discs in widescreen HD. Guest stars this season include Aquaman, the Flash, the Justice Society, Justice League International, and the Super Batman of Planet X (voiced by Kevin Conroy). Best of all, the episodes are presented in the producer’s preferred order for the first time — including “The Mask of Matches Malone!” in the correct aspect ratio!

We previously reviewed the first half of these and loved them.

Disc One Disc Two
  1. Death Race to Oblivion!
  2. Long Arm of the Law!
  3. Revenge of the Reach!
  4. Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!
  5. The Golden Age of Justice!
  6. Sidekicks Assemble!
  7. Clash of the Metal Men!
  8. A Bat Divided!
  9. Super-Batman of Planet X!
  10. The Power of Shazam!
  11. Chill of the Night!
  12. Gorillas In Our Midst!
  13. The Siege of Starro! Part 1
  1. The Siege of Starro! Part 2!
  2. Requiem for a Scarlet Speedster!
  3. The Last Patrol!
  4. The Mask of Matches Malone!
  5. Menace of the Madniks!
  6. Emperor Joker!
  7. The Criss Cross Conspiracy!
  8. Plague of the Prototypes!
  9. Cry Freedom Fighters!
  10. The Knights of Tomorrow!
  11. Darkseid Descending!
  12. Bat-Mite Presents: Batman’s Strangest Cases!
  13. The Malicious Mr. Mind!

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic is a great idea, but I had some problems with the execution. Learning about geology in comic format seems like a good match, since the science is known for being visual, what with earthquakes and volcanos and such, plus exploded diagrams of the earth’s content.

Unfortunately, the authors — writer Kanani K.M. Lee is a Yale professor of geology and geophysics, while the work of artist Adam Wallenta can be seen at his website — seem to have fallen prey to the idea that comics = superheroes. Instead of concentrating on making the educational material clear and interesting, they’ve dressed it up with a silly and pointless daydream of being a superhero, just to provide the kind of flashy graphics seen on the cover.

George is concerned about his upcoming science test, so he dreams about skateboarding through ancient earth with a robot dog. This is unnecessary and distracting from the actual content, which is fascinating enough. Most of the art is dedicated to drawing George getting to school or these daydreams, with little left for explaining the science in depth. The educational material is dropped in, in large text chunks full of specialized terms. The diagrams are the same standard ones I saw in my grade school textbooks, without thought being given as to how they could be elaborated in a visual format or explained in more memorable fashion.

It looks to me as though the authors fell in love with the concept but didn’t know enough about non-fiction comics to convey the material in the best form for education. Plus, already a slim volume, at 40 pages, the comic only takes up 22 of them. The rest are text pages that explain geology in more depth than the comic could handle.

This thin color comic is flashy and eye-catching, but I found it disappointing. It feels as though the authors felt kids needed to be pandered and talked down to in order to make exciting material entertaining. You can see a preview at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Arrow Season 3 Trailer Promises Brandon Routh

Arrow Season 3 launches on the CW on October 8, and here’s the trailer.

Clearly, I have some catching up to do when Season 2 comes out on DVD on September 16, since I have no idea which guy on the motorcycle is flirting with Felicity. Oliver, I guess, since he’s kissing her later.

Anyway, Black Canary returns, yay, and even more exciting is the introduction of Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, whom we comic fans know as the shrinking Atom. (I’ve been rewatching Chuck, where Routh has a substantial role in Season 3, and it’s quite impressive. I’m glad he’s into doing geek roles.) Plenty of action coming, too.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Out on DVD Tomorrow

Thinking back, Captain America: The Winter Soldier just might be my favorite Marvel superhero movie. Sure, it isn’t on as huge a scale as The Avengers and it doesn’t have the wackiness of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it also doesn’t have the sexism of the latter or the yet-another-dark-villain of either. So overall, it’s more balanced, less of a guilty pleasure and more just pleasure.

Out tomorrow on home video is the movie, starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, and Sebastian Stan in a story of betrayal and friendship. Man, that sounds sappy, doesn’t it? But those are the themes that make me want to see the movie again, those questions of who can be trusted. Here’s a trailer for the Blu-ray release:

The Blu-ray includes making-of featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes, and bloopers, while the single-disc DVD has one featurette and deleted scene.

I am disappointed that Disney has cut back on its packaging. For a release-day price of about $20, you used to get a combo pack with Blu-ray and DVD (and originally, a digital copy). Now, to get a variety of formats, you have to upgrade to their 3-D package, which for most people, is a waste, since I don’t know anyone that watches 3-D at home. For $20, you only get a single Blu-ray disc. I suppose that’s the main way I’m going to watch the film anyway.

SPX 2014 Programming: Learn How to Get Your Comics Reviewed

SPX 2014 poster

I can’t believe that SPX — the 2014 Small Press Expo — is this coming weekend! I better get ready.

One of those tasks includes reviewing the outstanding programming slate put together by Bill Kartalopoulos. I always have a hard time tearing myself away from the show floor, looking at all those new and exciting minicomics and graphic novels, but it’s good to remember that there are informative and entertaining panel discussions as well.

One of those I hope you’ll consider is the one I’m hosting: “How Comics Get Reviewed” will be held at 2:00 on Saturday. I’m joined by Brigid Alverson, Michael Cavna, Dan Kois, Heidi MacDonald, and Douglas Wolk to talk about how to get coverage for comics and what editors and critics are looking for. It will be fun and enlightening, I hope!

Chibis: Recent Manga Updates — Say I Love You, Midnight Secretary, Sherlock Bones, more

Midnight Secretary Book 7

by Tomu Ohmi
Viz, $9.99

The Midnight Secretary series concludes with Kaya and her boss finally coming to an understanding of how their relationship will proceed. He’s been kicked out of the vampire clan for refusing to give her up.

Both Kaya and the reader are misled into thinking that a very attractive woman he’s making dates with is a source of jealousy — but the plot’s more convoluted than that. Which makes this volume less satisfying than some of the others, which focus more on the pair’s emotions and less on the cultural politics. The core conflict remains the same, whether Kaya can be a perfect secretary for her boss at the same time her feelings are involved with her love for him. Everything is answered with, “yours is the only blood I want.”

Typical of a final volume is how the series concludes with plans for marriage, with meeting Kaya’s mother, working out living arrangements, and love vows along the way. It all moves very quickly, with a final reminder of the virtue of competence. More entertaining to me was a short bonus story, “Midnight Butler”, that flips the genders. Another vampire, Marika, picks up a guy who then refuses to leave. He’s handsome but homeless, and he insinuates himself into her life by cleaning up both himself and her home. I was fondly reminded of the much-missed Tramps Like Us.

Sherlock Bones Book 6

story by Yuma Ando
art by Yuki Sato
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

We’ve fully moved out of the school arena, a process that began in the previous volume. Here, in Sherlock Bones Book 6, Takeru is a rookie police officer completing his first case. Also working on the force with him are former classmate Miki and import showoff Kento. Kento’s convinced that the murder of the anchorman’s wife was a mugging gone wrong, but Takeru knows the truth. The anchorman did it, but how to prove it?

That’s my problem with most of the cases in this series. There’s no deduction involved. Instead, the victim is revealed by being worn down by a series of small glitches observed by Takeru until he finally confesses. Sherdog doesn’t do much of anything but encourage Takeru that he can become a detective on his own.

The second case involves a plastic surgery clinic. A client whose treatment went horribly wrong, due to counterfeit drugs, is killed by the doctor to cover up his shoddy treatment. Between her exaggerated ugly face and his mask-like countenance, the art in this section is horrific on several levels. There is the occasional amusing moment, though, as when the surgeon thinks to himself, in response to Takeru’s focus on detail, “Nitpicky men will never impress women, you know?”

I think this series concludes with the next volume, and it’s about time. The cases aren’t getting any more clever, and while still adorable, Sherdog has become less relevant. It’s a tough challenge for the writer, showing Takeru growing up by becoming more competent, which makes his magical companion less necessary.

Say I Love You Book 3

by Kanae Hazuki
Kodansha Comics, $10.99

Former loner Mei is still getting used to her new relationship with popular boy Yamato. The world is full of rivals who want him, though, from Aiko, former fat girl embarrassed by her stretch marks, to Megumi, teen model who wants a “prince charming” who’ll look good next to her. She ropes Yamato into modeling with her as a pretend volunteer.

Although Mei is open with him about her feelings, she’s still struggling with how to be human and reach out to others. She gets jealous, understandably, and she feels pressured by others’ expectations. Say I Love You Book 3 has the classic “I have to make chocolate for my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day” chapter, adding to the stress.

My favorite part, though, is when Mei meets and consoles Yamato’s younger sister Nagi, a girl hurt by discovering how she’d been used by false friends. That chapter also portrays Mei’s discomfort with physical feelings and uncertainty over how far to go with Yamato. I like this series because there are odd bits of wisdom in it, as when Mei says, “Once you decide you hate everything, that’s it. You’ll never like anything.”

What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 4

by Fumi Yoshinaga
Vertical, $12.95

If you look closely at the cover to What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 4, you’ll see a number of European-sounding dishes listed: hamburgers in mushroom sauce, leek consommé, spaghetti neapolitan. And they all appear in the book, as Shiro cooks a variety of meals, but they all have a uniquely Japanese spin to them. The tomato in the spaghetti sauce, for example, comes from ketchup, shudder.

The material in this series continues to get more and more interesting, as we learn more about Shiro and Kenji’s life together. Shiro’s uncomfortable being identified as gay in public, so he and Kenji wind up inviting another gay couple to dine at their home. But Shiro’s concerned that his cooking won’t live up to one of the guest’s gourmet tastes. In another story, Kenji is happy that Shiro is sick because Shiro is so self-sufficient otherwise, and this is the only way Kenji gets to take care of him and cook for him.

Kenji’s rolled omelet recipe, in Japanese-style layers, looks simple enough I may actually end up trying to make it someday. I felt rather proud of myself, when it came to the chapter about how Shiro doesn’t feel comfortable making tempura, since I’ve successfully made it before (although mine wasn’t as complex as his, it’s true).

There’s a tiny lettering technique used here that I loved but have never seen before. Kenji is still waking up when talking to Shiro, and it’s portrayed with a tilde in the middle of words to signify his yawning, like this: “Have a good da~y.” He later uses the same pattern when getting cute about his boyfriend to show how he’s extending his syllables in sing-song fashion.

As for cooking tips, I’ve learned from the recipes herein two keys to successful meals: keep a variety of seasonings and sauces on hand to jazz up dishes quickly, and the same few ingredients can be assembled in a delicious-sounding variety of ways. Shiro’s hamburger-making tips are right on, although I’ve never dared mix raw onions in the meat before. And he serves them in sauce with a side of rice instead of on a bun, of course.

Happy Marriage?! Book 7

by Maki Enjoji
Viz, $9.99

The punctuation in the title Happy Marriage?! is really important, because the series does not focus on good times. Instead, every book, Chiwa and Hokuto face another challenge. Sure, by the end, they’ve usually reinforced their feelings for each other, but it’s important to remember that the premise is that these two people got married without knowing each other. (And I feel silly that I just realized that this series probably reads very different in a culture where some people still experience arranged marriages, where that could be true for them.)

In Happy Marriage?! Book 7, the challenge is time. Hokuto has been working a lot of overtime for an important new work project. Chiwa is already feeling insecure about not knowing a lot about finance or international politics or other topics he works with, and now she’s feeling neglected. However, her own work starts becoming more troublesome as well, keeping her from him at a key moment.

Those sensitive to how this situation would feel if played out in real life will want to skip this volume (and the series, frankly), since there are lots of control issues on display, and his behavior is right on the line of abuse, as he manipulates an injury of hers to make her listen to him. He also has a habit of dragging her into sex when he’s feeling insecure. However, in my opinion, these two characters are so ridiculous (and two-dimensional) that a realistic interpretation just doesn’t work for me, so I have no problem rooting for them — in spite of their exaggerated behavior — to talk to each other and be happy together.

I find the story with Hokuto’s father — who raised him to be coldhearted and self-sufficient — more sympathetic. Now that they’re adults, and the father is in the hospital with no hope of recovery, Hokuto won’t visit him, because he doesn’t care about family. Chiwa is torn between who she thinks her husband ought to be and a honest glimpse at who he really is. This isn’t resolved in this volume, instead changing focus for each of them to worry about the other’s past partners.

(The publishers provided some of the above as review copies.)




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