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Monday, August 08, 2005
Monday Morning Reviews
Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective by Frank Cammuso This book collects the original, stand-alone Max Hamm story and the three-part mini-series follow-up. It is the story of a detective living in a fairy-tale kingdom, continually drawn into the seedy under-belly of that world. Cammuso has an appealing art-style, and he alternates wonderfully between a traditional comic-format, and a gray-wash illustrated story format for flash-back scenes. The book works well both as a subversive twist, through adult sensibilities, on the "reality" of the fairy-tale world and as both an homage and parody of the "hard-boiled" school of detective fiction, notably the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. It's a hugely entertaining and enjoyable book, well worth an Eisner nomination and anyone's attention.
Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden Vol. 1 by Yuu Watase The prequel to Watase's epic fantasy series Fushigi Yugi, Genbu Kaiden tells the story Takiko Okuda, the first girl from Earth to find herself transported into the Universe of the Four Gods via a magical book, only to this time find herself destined to fill the role of the priestess of Genbu. Opening in Japan during the 1920s (or the 12th year of the Taisho era if you prefer), Takiko immediately makes a positive impression on the reader. She's confident, strong-willed and assertive, a welcome change from the usual door-mat/wishy-washy shojo heroine. Her few moments of angst, notably an estrangement from her father over the sickness and death of her mother and her pining for an unattainable man, are both appropriate for the genre and not situations outside of the experience of real girls. Once transported into the book, Takiko takes up the mantle of Priestess of Genbu in short order, without any of the insecurities Miaka showed in the original series which drew out the narrative to almost interminable lengths at times (see also: Inu-Yasha and that damn jewel quest). Unsurprisingly, to those familiar with the FY universe, Qu-Dong is again the villain and a romantic triangle has developed by the end of the first book. This series is a must-have for any fan of Fushigi Yugi or of Watase.
Antique Bakery Vol. 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga A scruffy ladies man, a retired boxer with a penchant for sweets and a gay chef of demonic charm and appeal make up the cast of this series. The book starts out rather abruptly, skipping forward in time at an abrupt pace to establish the setting, and waits until the last chapter to tell the story of how the bakery came to be and how these three came to be working there. Most of the stories, in fact, don't even focus on the central cast, but rather on the visitors to the bakery. And while Yoshinaga's art is quite nice and the stories themselves are engaging, by putting the focus on the customers in so many stories and by abandoning the idea of linear story-telling, the book does end up with a slightly dis-jointed feel. It's quality work, but it takes a bit of patience to get through the first volume. It's also notable in that Ono is one of the very few gay characters in manga (so far translated into English, that is) to be portrayed in a confidant and self-assured manner. He's actually quite relatable, and the first gay character in manga that seems like an actual, plausible gay man. The one flaw, his "fear of women," has all the hall-marks of a set-up for a bad joke, one that thankfully does not surface in this volume.
Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Todd Klein and Art Lyon While this book is probably indispensable for the Top 10 fan, or even the Alan Moore fan, it also has a slightly disjointed feel to it. Transitions and plot developments seem abrupt and jumped to, rather than natural progressions. But apart from that minor complaint, it is a truly excellent book, one of the more enjoyable and clever of Moore's playing with the super-hero genre. The development of Neopolis serves as an excellent metaphor for the cultural decline of the super-hero in the post-war period, pre-saged by the decline of the newspaper strip and advertising mascot and with a strong foreshadowing of the over-all inappropriateness of these types of fictional characters for the coming real-world problems. The bombing of Tin Town is both a call-back to the racist attacks by the Nazis on Jewish neighborhoods but a foreshadowing of the anti-civil rights violence that America would face in the coming decade. And Moore also manages to insert a charming, if somewhat old-fashioned gay romance sub-plot into his super-hero fiction, which I'm almost tempted to read as a deliberate tweaking of the gay panic so many comic fans seem to suffer from.
Also Noteworthy Yotsuba&! Vol. 2 by Kiyohiko Azuma: more charming and light-hearted all-ages adventures and discoveries with the wonderfully innocent green-haired girl.
The Wallflower Vol. 4 by Tomoko Hayakawa: the surreal bent to the stories continues as Sunako valiantly fends off every attempt to turn her into a proper young lady.