Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939

by Shigeru Mizuki

I really don't know a lot about Japanese history, and since I liked Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, his account of his own involvement in the Second World War, I thought it would be interesting to read his broader take on the country's history.

Showa is a multi-volume look into the era that began when Emperor Hirohito took the throne.  This also coincided, roughly, with Mizuki's birth.  The first volume of this series covers the start of the era through to the Second World War, and this was a time of great turmoil throughout Japan.

A devastating earthquake created economic instability, which was made worse by the Great Depression.  Following that, a number of 'incidents' in China, and a shocking level of independence in the military, plunged Japan into many years of militaristic expansion into other countries, notably Korea and China.

The larger history of the country is told a variety of ways.  We get straight narration, we sit in on discussions among regular men on the street, and are directly told what's going on by Nezumi Otoko, a magical character from Mizuki's other work.  These sections of the book are interesting, but often became a string of names and faces to me.

Of more interest were the sections that juxtaposed Mizuki's own life with the events of the time.  We see young Shigeru move from being a small child through to his early adulthood.  This provides some context to the larger events, and remind us that at every point of history where major events have happened, there have been people just going about their day.

This is a hugely ambitious project from a much-loved cartoonist who sadly passed away this year.  I look forward to reading the rest of this.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Written by Ande Parks
From a story by Ande Parks, Joe Russo, and Anthony Russo
Art by Fernando León González

Oni Press consistently puts out some very beautifully-designed and well-written hardcover graphic novels.  Seeing that this was published by them (and was clearly not a kids or YA-oriented book) was enough to get me to want to glance through it.  Recognizing Ande Park's name on the cover, the writer of the excellent Capote in Kansas, was enough to make me want to buy it.

Ciudad is a story about an American mercenary who is hired to rescue a Brazilian drug lord's daughter from kidnappers.  They have taken her to Ciudad del Este, the Paraguayan border town known for its open border and access to just about any kind of trade you can imagine.  The American, who goes by many names, gets her out of captivity in the first few pages of the book (the backstory is filled in as we go), and together they find themselves running a gauntlet of shady people, from police, the drug lord's people, and others who want them dead or at their disposal.

The Russo brothers, who came up with the story alongside Parks, are filmmakers, and that blockbuster energy is clear on just about every page of this book.  Like many comics, I feel like this might have been made as a prelude to trying to make a movie, and so things rarely slow down for more than a page at a time.  Parks paces the story well.

The art, by Fernando León González, is nice but a little stiff.  Too many of the action sequences became confusing, when González had to fit multiple vehicles or people into panels that are a little too small.  His work is fine, but something more dynamic might have helped propel the story better.

Still, if you're looking for a solid adventure read, you will be happy with this fine graphic novel.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

There is often a paint-by-numbers quality to Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics.  In recent years, he's tried to stretch the character into new territory by killing him and dumping him in Hell, but the stories are much the same as they were before.  He's also started exploring Hellboy's earlier years a little more, and to me, that's been a more interesting and successful endeavour.

The Midnight Circus is a one-off hardcover graphic novel that came out in 2013 and features art by the amazing Duncan Fegredo.  The story is pretty straight-forward - young Hellboy sneaks out of the BPRD offices one night to try smoking, and ends up visiting a strange circus.

Mignola does not push this into any new directions.  The person running the circus is a demon or something, and is interested in testing the lad, while the woman with him wants to try to kill Hellboy, fearing his prophesied future.

While the story is nothing special, the art is very nice.  Fegredo is always good, and colourist Dave Stewart really knows how to bring out his better qualities.  I like the way the colours help separate the circus-world scenes from the rest of the book.

This is a very quick read, but it's still a decent comic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fairest In All The Land

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Chrissie Zullo, Karl Kerschl, Renae De Liz, Ray Dillon, Fiona Meng, Mark Buckingham, Phil Noto, Meghan Hetrick, Russ Braun, Tony Akins, Gene Ha, Tula Lotay, Marley Zarcone, Ming Doyle, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Nimit Malavia, Dean Ormston, Kurt Huggins, Adam Hughes, Al Davison, Shawn McManus, Inaki Miranda, and Kevin Maguire

I'd gotten pretty bored of Fables and its related properties, but with this hardcover, featuring work by a number of fantastic artists, but telling one complete story from beginning to end, my appreciation of Bill Willingham's work with these characters was restored.

Fairest: In All the Land is a terrific murder mystery that begins in the lost Business Office, and is narrated by the Magic Mirror.  Our narrator is also a participant in the story, as he realizes that a visitor has come into the office, a space that has been set dimensionally adrift, and has been cut off from the other Fables for a long time.  Shortly after this, beautiful Fables, starting with Rose Red, are being murdered.  A list of intended victims is found, and Cinderella is pressed into solving the murders.

Cindy's skills lean more towards espionage than detective work, and so it takes her a while to figure things out.  The Mirror has an idea of what's going on, but isn't able to communicate with anyone, trapped as he is.

This story ranges across the history of Fabletown, and involves a number of supporting characters showing up for a bit to play their part.  I'm not sure that someone new to Fables would get a lot out of this, but for a long-time, lapsed, reader, it was a treat.

Willingham was assisted by a remarkable list of artists.  I'm not sure what I found more exciting - to see up and comers like Tula Lotay, Ming Doyle, and Marley Zarcone represented, or to see actual interiors by Adam Hughes.  There are a few artists here who are unfamiliar to me, which is also pretty exciting, as the art is consistently great throughout this book.

Having finished this, the only Fables left for me to read is the last volume; I'm going to have to get around to that some time soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

We Can Never Go Home

Written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlow
Art by Josh Hood and Brian Level

Black Mask has done it again with this excellent collection of We Can Never Go Home, a miniseries that was sold out long before it found its way onto my radar.

Madison is a very unique high school student.  In addition to being a straight-A student and the only Asian girl in her community, she has various abilities that kick in when she is stressed out.  Duncan is a typical misfit who likes to play with guns and doesn't have any friends.  He claims that he also has abilities - he killed his mother with his mind, but has not used these powers since.

The two teenagers get to know each other after Duncan interrupts Madison's boyfriend from getting a little too grabby at a popular makeout spot.  They sort of become friends, and when Madison rescues Duncan from a beat-down by his father, they have no choice but to go on the run together.

As the story unfolds, they attempt to rob a local drug dealer, and end up committing a murder.  Now, they are being pursued by the FBI (who already appear to know about Maddie's powers) and by the drug lord they robbed, who also has powered individuals in his employ.

The story, as written by Rosenberg and Kindlow, is very strong in terms of character development and their relationship with one another.  Both characters feel real, as do their reactions to things.  It's interesting to watch them get closer to each other.  The art, by Hood and Level, is pretty good, in a standard indie kind of way.  It definitely told the story well, and sometimes used some very interesting layout designs.  The general design of this book is phenomenal.

I've decided that it's past time to pay a lot more attention to everything that Black Mask puts out; they've definitely come out of nowhere to be a major company to keep an eye on.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Space Riders Vol. 1

Written by Fabian Rangel Jr.
Art by Alexis Ziritt

Basically, Space Riders is everything I'd hoped that the recent Dynamite version of Jack Kirby's Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers was going to be.  Fabian Rangel Jr. and Alexis Ziritt have channelled Kirby during a particularly productive ayahuasca session, and have come up with this wonderful comic.

The Space Riders are a strange trio who fly around the galaxy in their skull-shaped space ship, looking to dispense justice as it's needed.  The leader of the trio, Capitan Peligro has just returned to the service, and has to prove himself after a disgrace a year before.  He's joined by Mono, an alien mandrill, and Yara, a robot.

As they go about their psychedelic adventures, they rescue a space whale, fight a large group of robots, and end up squaring off against Hammerhead, the Capitan's former best friend who betrayed him and plucked out his eye.

On one level, this is pretty standard space comics stuff, with more than a little flavouring from Joe Casey's Gødland, but Ziritt's fantastically crazy art really elevates the material.  Many of these cosmic style books get boring quickly, but that's not an issue here at all.  This is another example of how Black Mask Comics are sometimes hitting it out of the park with their more unconventional titles.