The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, published by DC/Minx
Being pretty far removed from the target audience for this book, both by age and gender, I wonder if that makes me a better or a worse judge of its quality. It reads a bit like some of the better shojo manga out there, with a dramatic, if not melodramatic, emotive approach to story, placing its emphasis on relationships between characters instead of plot. But a little more plot wouldn’t have hurt, as new girl Jane, eager to reinvent herself in a new town after her parents fled the city in the wake of a terrorist incident, forms a new clique with three other girls named Jane. By the rules of high school cliquedom, that these four girls would so easily become good enough friends quickly enough to form an underground art collective that peppers the city with conceptual and installation pieces…well, it seems unlikely, and a bit too conveniently handled in order to hurry the plot along. But those quibbles of pacing and convenience aside, the story does have a nice emotional resonance that I suspect will mean more to someone not quite as old and jaded as I.
Although, if I can inject a small complaint over one of my pet peeves: the gay best friend character? Who adds nothing to the story other than to be the “gay best friend” type of character? Yeah, I don’t need to see that character in anything anymore.
Jim Rugg’s art is nicely matured here from his earlier work. He strikes a nice balance between a realistic and a cartoony style, which allows him to very clearly show emotion and action, but still caricature and exaggerate characters for whatever effect or mood the scene calls for. If there is a fault, it’s the sometimes odd choices of “camera angle” which just call attention to themselves for their peculiarity. Just because Gil Kane could pull off an up-nostril shot, that doesn’t mean they’re always a good idea.
Countdown #51, by Paul Dini, Jesus Saiz and Jimmy Palmiotti, published by DC
Judging by online critical reaction, I seem to be in the minority in enjoying this comic. For what it’s worth, it’s not that I necessarily disagree with any of the more intelligent and perceptive critics who have been disappointed by this book. It’s just that: what they call a slow story, I call deliberate pacing. I also can’t get too bothered by the the somewhat insular appeal of this book. Let’s be perfectly honest: this isn’t going to be anyone’s introduction to the DC universe. And while overtures to new and returning readers who aren’t caught up with all the intricacies of contemporary continuity are always appreciated, I don’t think a book that’s designed specifically to appeal to the regular super-hero reading audience has to necessarily go out of it’s way to pretend that “every comic is somebody’s first.” Even the much maligned scene from Justice League of America which reappeared in issue #50 works within that context, as it establishes a benchmark by which events in other DC books can be placed on a time line. Given that the title of the series is “Countdown” that seems like an acceptable use of a few pages every couple weeks.
All that being said, I actually do enjoy this book. Dini has a good ear for dialogue and the voices of the various characters, his plotting is very deliberate, and the co-writers and artists lined up for this series have all done good work which I’ve enjoyed in the past. No, it’s not the super-star line-up of 52, but it’s competent craftsmen who know how to tell enjoyable super-hero stories in service of the corporate properties.
Manga Catch Up: Some manga titles I’ve been reading, that I don’t believe I’ve talked about before.
Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs, by Yukiya Sakuragi, published by Viz
A very, if not deliberately, cute comedy about a dog-crazy girl and the misunderstandings and adventures she gets into because of her infuriating naivete and love of dogs. It has good, if somewhat unremarkable art, with the exception of highly realistic and exquisitely rendered dogs. And in a really nice change of pace for a story about a naive girl in the big city, there’s so far not a hint of any romantic subplots.
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki, published by Dark Horse
A comedic horror/mystery series with engaging art in an original style, with a wacky cast of characters who, in any other title, would be really messed up, but just fit in perfectly and work here? What is not to love?
Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara, published by Del Rey
I was actually a bit underwhelmed. Oh, the art is lovely, to be certain, but the stories are so…vague and ephemeral. Yes, I understand that what we’re going for here is more tone and “bigger picture” effects than any emphasis on plot or character would allow. But the end result is something that feels a bit hollow.
Reiko the Zombie Shop by Rei Mikamoto, published by Dark Horse
I can’t even begin to adequately describe how much I’ve come to love this comic. I’m not sure if it’s the super-cute artwork, or the utterly depraved over the top gore, the absurdist black comedy, or the intersection of those three elements, but it all comes together in a glorious totality of cute girls and horrific violence that puts the most ambitious torture-porn producing shlock producer to shame. And, to its benefit, unlike the torture-porn films, the women actually legitimately kick-ass and take no grief.
Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Kendi Oiwa, published by Tokyopop
Unlike the various iterations of Train Man that have come out in the last year, this is not the story of a nerd who comes out of his shell and discovers the wide world outside of fandom. No, this is the dark mirror of that story, about a shut-in who only falls further and further into more and more depraved and soul-numbing depths of misanthropic nerddom. There’s a bit of “there but for the grace of” feel to the enterprise, especially as this is no gentle mockery of the foibles of nerds, but rather a vicious evisceration of all their negative personality traits.
I hate the kind of scuttlebut that says “if you don’t support Book X it will be cancelled” because the suggestion that a book is on the cancellation bubble is usually enough to get it pushed over, but since there seems to be concern over the survival of Aquaman, I thought I’d take a moment and say that Tad Williams has been doing a bang-up job with the title since he’s taken over, adding a nice, lightly humorous touch to a super-hero adventure title that retains the best elements of Busiek’s revamp while bringing the title more in line with a traditional Aquaman book. It’s good stuff, in other words, and you should give it a shot if you haven’t yet.
Speaking of which…I’ve been enjoying Will Pfeiffer’s run on Catwoman a great deal since the start…but if there are any dead babies in upcoming issues, I’m done with the book. I put up with Nazis buzzsawing children because I trusted that Johns was going somewhere with it, and y’know, Nazis are bad. But killing a baby we’ve known for over a year, who actually brought something new and interesting into the title character’s life…no, that’s my limit.
Consider yourself on notice, Pfeiffer.
I love comic book fans. “Oh noes, a not very good picture has been released to the internet! Clearly the movie is going to suck! I’m going to go on every message board I can find and make a Brokeback Gotham joke to express my displeasure!”
Apart from Doctor Who, the only television I’ve been watching much of lately is the new BBC Robin Hood series. It’s overall good, but the “family appropriate” heart it wears on its sleeve is very telling and overpowers the stories a good deal of the time. If anything, the series is a bit too bloodless. When even the villain of the piece is making metatextual comments about how the hero is stupid for not just killing him already, you’ve perhaps pushed your “the hero doesn’t kill” rule too far.
But, apart from that, I enjoy it, and I’m continually fascinated that even the BBC was willing to put a children’s show on the air that’s basically a thinly veiled condemnation of the “war on terror” and Britain’s and America’s domestic policies in response to it.