- Posted by Johanna on September 8, 2014 at 7:57 am
- Category: Comic News
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!
- Posted by Johanna on September 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm
- Category: Manga Reviews
- PUBLISHER: VizVerticalKodansha Comics
Midnight Secretary Book 7
by Tomu Ohmi
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
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
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.)
- Posted by Johanna on September 7, 2014 at 2:31 pm
- Category: Superhero Reviews
Action Comics: Futures End #1
written by Sholly Fisch
art by Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes
DC Comics, $2.99
I normally read Sholly Fisch’s stories in the kids’ books, because I find “proper” DC too dark and grim, but I’m glad I randomly tried this stand-alone one-shot. Action Comics: Futures End #1 uses an ancient (in fandom terms) concept to show us what Superman really means to people.
If the phrase “sand Superman” doesn’t mean anything to you, you aren’t alone. It was how Denny O’Neil and Curt Swan “introduced the Bronze Age-era Superman“, back in 1971’s Superman #233 (at 15 cents for the issue!). The sand creature sapped Superman’s power (making him more reasonable to write about, for the “more realistic” storytelling style aimed for) at the same time all Kryptonite was converted to iron and Clark Kent moved from newspapers to TV.
Imagine my surprise to see, in this issue, a Superman-like being made of sand helping others. In five years, as required by the Futures End tag, the new 52 Clark Kent will have given up his Superman career to work at farming the desert. It seems hopeless, yet he has to try. Meanwhile, there are still people who need Superman’s help: a suicidal woman, an abused child, a wannabe criminal.
This isn’t a new idea, but Fisch gives it a clever twist — each of the victims sees how one of Superman’s powers could help them, but how they are limited without the others. Clark learns how he’s an inspiration to others, a role bigger than his own worries. And it’s a pleasure to see a Superman story that actually talks about hope and sacrifice and kindness to others.
Grayson: Futures End #1
written by Tom King
co-plotted by Tim Seeley
art by Stephen Mooney
DC Comics, $2.99
It’s a gimmick, but an effective one, and best of all, you don’t need to know or care about the Futures End crossover to appreciate it.
The entire issue is told backwards. Each page jumps the reader back to the previous significant event, so you won’t be sure what’s going on until after your first read through. I then promptly read it again, backwards.
As required by the tie-in, Grayson: Futures End #1 opens five years in the future, showing us where Dick Grayson winds up. Before that, he and Helena, another version of the Huntress, are lovers and heroes of the reunited Eurasia, recognized by their leader, the former KGBeast. They’ve teamed up to fight parademons, and although there’s no space to explore the concept in detail, there is at least a nod to the question of what happens after the big bad enemy is gone. There’s also a theme of looking at how far we’re willing to go for those we love.
The whole issue, because so much happens in such limited space, reads like Cliff’s Notes to a graphic novel, but it’s a nice change from the usual. Also does a nice job of tying everything together and coming full circle in the end.
All-New X-Factor #13
written by Peter David
art by Pop Mhan
Marvel Comics, $3.99 US
After finishing a satisfactory superhero story arc, I get nervous checking in on the next issue, since you never know what might have changed. It’s true, All-New X-Factor #13 has a different artist, but it works, in keeping with the style of the previous.
More importantly, the characters are consistent, even as we learn new things about them this issue. (Well, maybe some of these relationships aren’t new to long-time Marvel readers, but for me, who never followed this cast closely before, they read as significant revelations.) Lorna’s loyal to keeping the troublesome Quicksilver, her brother, on the team, even as he’s getting to better know his daughter, Luna.
David knows how to write believable kids (having raised some himself), which comes through in the interactions between Luna and her father and her new friend Georgia (from the previous storyline). He’s also great with humor, often stemming from the overly literal, which is proudly on display as Warlock tries to ask fellow robot Danger out. Woo, that does not go well, but it’s hugely fun to watch.
The main physical conflict here comes when one of the Inhumans comes to retrieve Luna, since she left without telling her mother, one of their group. Watching a custody discussion play out among superhumans is odd but entertaining, particularly when it’s set at Colonial Williamsburg. Of course punching each other comes before the actual sharing of facts and decisions, although the resolution is satisfactory on both levels.
- Posted by Johanna on September 7, 2014 at 1:37 pm
- Category: Animation
I was given a chance to check out the release of Young Justice on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. I hadn’t gotten into the show the first few times I tried it, but I wanted to give it another shot, for two reasons. I knew it got better later, and sometimes, knowing exactly how a series played out — in this case, that there was no finale, just cancellation, after only two seasons — can set expectations more appropriately.
There are two Blu-ray discs in the case, each with 13 episodes, no extras. Each disc has almost five hours of content, broken up as:
|Disc One||Disc Two|
It’s basic superhero adventure with generic, competent animation. (The Blu-ray looks fabulous, though, crisp and clear.) The kids are exaggerated teens — impulsive, grumpy, over-confident — which likely made them sympathetic to the young male audience the show was targeting. (Reportedly, the show was cancelled in part because the emotional content meant it appealed too much to girls.) The team is made up of Aqualad (the most sensible and de facto leader), Kid Flash (humor relief), Robin, Superboy (an angry Superman clone discovered and rescued in the first two episodes), Miss Martian (introduced at the end of episode two), and Artemis (who first appears in episode six, without much background, just that she’s Green Arrow’s niece).
Miss Martian is interesting, because as the niece of the Martian Manhunter, she plays the naive “I don’t know much about Earth” role. The others get upset when she doesn’t know how things are done here, demonstrating their youthful lack of empathy. Her role also makes it clear that the boys are there to instruct her, keeping her as an apprentice even though her mental powers make her as strong as any of them. I also wish Artemis had been given more of an introduction episode. She just shows up and she’s on the team because one of the older heroes says so.
The second disc, at least, was new to me, as well as the last episode of the first. That’s when Captain Marvel starts hanging out with the team, Superboy gets a wolf-dog, and we learn more about team mentor Red Tornado. Plus, young Zatanna makes an appearance. I also was thrilled when, in the last few episodes, Rocket (and Icon) show up.
The stories are mostly about fighting, with a strong undercurrent of Superboy looking for acceptance and friendship, both of which he won’t admit he needs. The whole thing feels angry — about the kids not yet being accepted as full heroes and about them not wanting the rules and advice they’re given. That makes fighting a sensible response, to get out that aggression, but the result is a show that I’m still not that interested in.
But then, I’m clearly not the target audience. The tone of this series, and its approach to guest stars, is in line with many of the DCU original animated films — darker and with less humor than I like in my superheroes. Instead, there’s an undercover prison infiltration, an attack on an armed base of militants, an alien invasion to stop, and other types of genre stories that aren’t normally seen in kids’ cartoons. This is in keeping with a lot of other DC-related products, from comics to movies. There’s no joy or happiness in these stories. It’s deadly serious, so no one can laugh at the viewers for liking it.
A teen boy will likely find this much more interesting, particularly as it expands into the DC universe, with other heroes appearing. This set makes it easy to do a marathon and sink into their world for a nice long time. I did like Black Canary as the team’s fight trainer, especially when she shows Superboy it’s not about power, but what you do with it. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on September 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm
- Category: Comic News
The Lumberjanes badges Boom! took to the San Diego Comic-Con were so popular that they’ve turned them into a continuing category of merchandise on their site. Each iron-on patch, as designed by Kate Leth, can now be pre-ordered for delivery in October at a cost of $5.99 each (which includes shipping). And as new badges appear in the comic, they’ll be available for purchase as well, so you can follow along with your favorite girl scouts. (The exception is the con-exclusive “CON-Quistador” badge.)
- Posted by Johanna on September 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
I’m a huge fan of Pre-Code movies, those films put out from 1930-1934, before Hollywood became subject to the Hays Code to maintain morality in its films. These early films tackled difficult subjects for a radically changing culture — the Depression was in effect, people were still arguing about what movies “should” be, sound films were relatively new, and morality, particularly as demonstrated by moviemakers both off- and on-screen, was a matter of much debate. Or, alternately, they showed more skin and/or violence than middle American morality protectors were comfortable with. Or both.
My favorites of the type are those that explicitly tackle how men and women should relate. Many of the women in these films have their own careers and their own ideas, and they battle against double standards while acknowledging they like sex — or at least are willing to participate in it for their own reasons.
Every Friday in September, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is spotlighting Classic Pre-Code Movies, a wonderful festival and a perfect subject for the channel.
Unfortunately, I’m late talking about this, so you’ve already missed the marvelous Ex-Lady (1933), in which Bette Davis doesn’t believe in marriage, so she wants to live with her boyfriend instead. And Female (1933), in which the underrated and powerful Ruth Chatterton runs a company, sleeps with young executives, and drops them quickly as soon as she’s done. (Or, if you have an iPad and a cable company that supports the Watch TCM app, you can catch them for another week.)
Many of these films have a tacked-on “happy” ending in which the women come to realize the virtue of marriage and settle down. But before that conventional, often abrupt, resolution, it’s great fun to see the variety of roles and lifestyles portrayed.
Still coming up (in an hour!) is the wonderful introductory documentary Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin, and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood (or it’s airing again in two weeks). Must-watches tonight are two of the most well-known and potent Pre-Codes: Baby Face (1933) and The Divorcee (1930).
In Baby Face, Barbara Stanwyck works her way out of poverty and a background of abuse by sleeping with a succession of banking executives. Literally, she works her way up, with the camera zooming into successively higher floors of the company’s skyscraper. Has one of my favorite movie quotes of all time, as she’s showing off her cache of jewelry and stock certificates to her maid: “That’s half a million dollars. Someday, I’ll have the other half that goes with it.”
In The Divorcee, Norma Shearer deals with her husband’s straying by having her own affair, which he finds unforgivable. She then sets off to become a European adventuress. The title is a giveaway, as we’re talking about a time when divorce itself was scandalous.
Later tonight/tomorrow morning, there’s another kind of Pre-Code, the “look at that skin on the screen!” kind. Search for Beauty (1934) is about a con artist putting out a “health and beauty” magazine that’s just an excuse for naughty pictures. Two Olympians (young Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino) are roped into being front figures, and there’s a lot of exercising in skimpy, near-see-through outfits. Fun comeuppance for the exploiters, too.
These films are also available on DVD in these excellent collections:
|Baby Face||The Divorcee||Search for Beauty|
- Posted by Johanna on September 4, 2014 at 7:56 am
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- CREDITS: story by Sholly Fisch; art by Dario Brizuela
- PUBLISHER: DC Comics; $2.99 US
I never envisioned a world where my favorite DC comic would be something called Scooby-Doo Team-Up, but each issue provides fun adventure and laugh-out-loud moments.
This time, the gang is visiting the Hall of Justice, which, as Batman puts it, “seems to be” haunted. The ghosts have kidnapped Superman, which means the Super Friends need the kids to investigate while the heroes “protect people from crime and natural disasters as usual.” I love that writer Sholly Fisch bothers to come up with a plausible explanation for why these superheroes need help from a gang of teens. I also love Robin’s dry lines, particularly when commenting on Wonderdog.
Even better is what they do with the kids — they dress them up as those well-known junior super heroes, Wendy, Marvel, Zan, and Jayna. The art by Dario Brizuela is wonderful, portraying these characters in classic fashion, instantly recognizable to young and old. There’s a surprise guest star that I was thrilled to see, and a plot full of imagination that continues with exciting revelations. Every page turn was an enjoyable new surprise, and it makes me so happy to be able to laugh so much while I’m reading an action comic.
This is a great week for DC comics for all-ages readers, with it also seeing the release of Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse #4, with the little heroes voyaging to Atlantis for lots of water fun, and Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet #4, marred only by the inclusion of inappropriate Dynamite title ads.
- Posted by Johanna on September 1, 2014 at 10:45 am
- Category: Manga Reviews
- CREDITS: by Fumi Yoshinaga
- PUBLISHER: Vertical; $12.95 US
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.