Comics you should read: Ranma 1/2, Saga, and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

Ranma 1/2, Saga, and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man

I’ve read a boatload of comic books recently — all excellent — including one manga. Ready for some bite-sized reviews?

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Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi

I found this series after watching an episode of Geek & Sundry’s web series “Talkin’ Comics,” and I think it may be my favorite manga ever. Seriously, it’s that good.

My experience with manga is limited (I’m more of an American comics kind of girl), but over the years, I’ve added collections like Fruits Basket and Cardcaptor Sakura to my library. Ranma 1/2 reminds me a bit of the former (both feature humans shape-shifting into animals and are overall endearing), but it stands out for a few noteworthy reasons:

This is an unusually progressive manga. Chinese martial arts wonder Ranma is a boy who becomes cursed so that whenever he touches cold water, he turns into a girl. Vice versa with hot water. His father is similarly afflicted, only he turns into a giant panda. (Aww.) So the romance that ensues between the betrothed Ranma and a dojo owner’s third daughter Akane is interesting because it addresses issues of sexual and gender identity in a very insightful way.

I’m only two volumes in (there are 38 total), but I admire how deep and intelligent the commentary here is even though Ranma 1/2 is also one of the genuinely funniest comics I’ve read. Though Ranma experiences life as both genders, he identifies more with being a boy. Akane is a tomboy herself, so while she’s endlessly pursued by the boys at her school, she’s often the object of criticisms like, “Aren’t you supposed to have more grace?” — often from the brash Ranma, who has no room to talk. The societal rules of the sexes are rigidly upheld by these gender-bending characters just as they’re called into conflict.

Akane and Ranma struggle against the feelings of affection they feel for each other. Some situations are made awkward and strained by the gender Ranma is at the time, but in scenarios where their gender is the same, they feel more comfortable with the events that occur (like seeing each other naked). But both characters understood the worlds of male and female, and that’s what makes their relationship special despite their difficulties relating to each other.

To me, all of us have a little of the opposite gender inside us, and though we might clash with the opposite sex, it’s when we’re able to find a common ground between us on a mental and emotional level that we can communicate and get along.

VIZ Media just started releasing the 2-in-1 Editions (that’s two volumes in one book) of Ranma 1/2 in March, and there are three volumes out now, with a fourth arriving in early September (so each a couple months apart). Although the series itself ended in 1996, I’m excited to follow along with it as each 2-in-1 Edition is released.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (author) and Fiona Staples (illustrator) 

Saga is one of those rare comics that comes along and blows your mind.

I’m three volumes into this series now, and I’m not sure that there’s a more creatively illustrated or tenderly told sci-fi comic out there than this. Husband and wife Marko and Alana are traveling the stars as fugitives — both have abandoned their posts in the war, and both have come together to conceive a child despite the fact that their planets are engaged in a war that seems destined never to end. Now they’re running with an infant in tow, and the “freelancers” paid to kill them are relentless in their hunt.

Saga has suffered censorship for its sometimes pornographic content (there’s a whole planet named Sextillion and a robot prince whose television head sometimes displays genitalia), but at its core, this is a comic about protecting your family and finding peace amidst bloodshed and violence. Not a page is wasted. Every volume has gripped me, and volume three brought me to tears with a touching moment in its opening pages.

Like Ranma, Saga isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues of sex (including homosexuality and the sexual enslavement of children) head-on — and its female characters are just as capable as its male ones. It’s funny, gross, tactful, and shocking all in one swoop.

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The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer (author) and Steve Lieber (illustrator) 

I fell in love with Superior Spider-Man when I read a hilarious comic where Doc Ock’s mind ended up in Peter Parker’s body to prove he could be the better superhero. My boyfriend gave me The Superior Foes of Spider-Man Vol. 1 as a birthday gift this month, and while it’s more about the “Superior” Spider-Man’s enemies than Spidey himself, it’s just as enjoyable.

This is a villain’s comic. They’re not bad guys who look good from their side of the story. They’re bad guys who do bad things to their fellow crew members and aren’t ashamed about it. You won’t be rooting for them, but you will find getting inside their heads an exotic invitation that’s hard to resist.

A villain’s life isn’t glamorous. The five members of the new Sinister Six (yep, their name is a point of contention) spend more time debating whether to have separate or unisex bathrooms at their hideout than successfully executing criminal heists. And intercrew betrayal is only a group vote away.

The leader of the Sinister Six is Boomerang, a guy who’s had it rough because, well, he goes around wearing a boomerang on his head, fearing the wrath of merciless antiheroes like the Punisher, and meeting the bare minimum requirements of his parole. While Superior Foes is a comedic book — the Sinister Six attempt to steal the rumored living, talking head of a gangster named Silvio Silvermane for most of the first volume — it has its grave moments. Just about every time you think Boomerang has it in him to do a good deed, you’re let down big time.

That’s what makes the series so morbidly fascinating: The Sinister Six are on rails to a train wreck, and it’s hard to look away from the destruction that they cause and the beatings and humiliations that they take. Because maybe — just maybe — they can turn their lives around.

Either that, or finally score that big, devastating win on the side of evil.

What comics or manga are you reading these days? I always need recommendations!

 

A Fight Club sequel is happening

Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuk is working on a sequel to Fight Club — and it’s a graphic novel.

“It will likely be a series of books that update the story 10 years after the seeming end of Tyler Durden,” wrote Palahniuk in an email. “Nowadays, Tyler is telling the story, lurking inside Jack, and ready to launch a comeback. Jack is oblivious. Marla is bored. Their marriage has run aground on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban boredom. It’s only when their little boy disappears, kidnapped by Tyler, that Jack is dragged back into the world of Mayhem.

“It will, of course, be dark and messy.”

Fans must wait a couple years for the series to begin — around 2015. Palahniuk is still deciding on a publisher and fleshing out the complete story.

All I can say is yes. YES, YES, YES.

Photo credit: Adam Sidwell

A real super-heroine: a review of The She-Hulk Diaries

The She-Hulk DiariesEarlier this year, I expressed skepticism toward The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch — specifically, about authors scribbling down superhero adventures without the pretty pictures to match and, more importantly, with what seemed like a “romantic” spin (that turned out to be false).

I love comics, and removing their visual element would be like neutering them. The physical prowess of female superheroes, especially, is what grabs your attention; it’s the artist’s job to convey that. Then the writer steps in and uses that moment to communicate their emotional and mental strength as well. These three traits complement one another. I wondered if a novel could properly re-create that power. Since so much of a superhero’s identity is rooted in action and visuals — perhaps even more than words — would these characters even translate well into novel protagonists? Or would She-Hulk and Rogue become shallow versions of themselves?

The answer is different than what I expected — at least in She-Hulk’s case (I have yet to get around to Rogue). After reading Marta Acosta’s fun and very juicy The She-Hulk Diaries (out today), I decided that a) yes, superheroes have enough thoughts buzzing around in their heads to fill a novel but b) the whole superhero action thing is what comes across poorly.

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Starting fresh by destroying New York City

I’m sort of relaunching my comic book reviews over at Impulse Creations with a new look and focus. I’ll be delivering content throughout the week and writing single-issue reviews rather than grouped or publisher-specific coverage.

Let me know what you think by reading about AGE OF ULTRON #1 from Marvel Comics. Yeah … Ultron is back, that crazy guy, and he’s taken over New York City.

Age of Ultron #1

Call for questions: Ask the author of the Marvel book She-Hulk

She-Hulk

Update at 12:03 p.m. EST: Out of fairness, I’ve removed the word “romance” from the headline. What happened is this: Marvel/Hyperion didn’t explicitly state that these were romance novels — but most websites did. That created some confusion and, probably, much of the backlash.

Genre confusion is something Marta and I will be discussing in our interview, but I wasn’t aware of the incorrect labeling at the time of this post. That kind of got muddled, and I haven’t seen these websites issue corrections.

So, remember when I wrote about Marvel and Hyperion’s new line of novels that is starting with Rogue Touch and The She-Hulk Diaries? I took issue with the marketing message and expressed concern that the publishers were dropping these female superheroes into what they called “traditional women’s novels.”

Well, I’ve actually been talking to the She-Hulk author, Marta Acosta. We’re working on getting her a guest slot here on the blog, but I’ll also be asking her some questions. And I want to hear yours!

Worried about her approach to the character? Confused about what makes “good” romance/chick-lit/women’s fiction? Or maybe you just want to know more about the author. Whatever you’re wondering about, post your questions below, and I’ll be sure to get them to her.

Another creator is exploited on The Pirate Bay — with his consent

Promo Bay Sullivan's Sluggers

I’m fascinated by the relationships that have been forming between famous torrent site The Pirate Bay and creators of books, music, games, comics, and other forms of media. Piracy is a touchy issue, with people proposing a great number of “answers” to the problem. Some say it needs to be stopped at all costs — even if that means censoring the Internet — while others impose their own restrictions to limit it or make threats to try to cull it. A few even embrace it.

It wasn’t long ago that we were all talking about SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have an enormous negative impact on the web and information gathering. It led to an equally huge online protest. In fact, we’re still talking about it.

The chance of piracy infecting more video game systems also created a stir not long ago, with one developer swearing to stop supporting a whole platform if it continued. It would leave his studio “no choice,” he said.

Maybe that’s the case for him, but the act of piracy is a choice in itself, and that means the way we handle it is a decision that creators must make for themselves. There is, arguably, no one right way.

Companies have introduced digital rights management on games to eliminate piracy and watched the restrictions not only show no effectiveness but also punish legitimate users.

Now some are opening lines of communication with pirates to stem the flow of illegal downloads and encourage sales. Sometimes, that tactic is crazy enough to work. It did for the makers of the Zeno Clash game, who put aside their pride and righteousness and talked respectfully to pirates on their home turf. It led to noteworthy success for the developers of Anodyne, who then made $12,000 (a big deal for indie gamemakers) in a three-day period and saw more positive results just from featuring their title on the front page of The Pirate Bay. It cost them $7 to do the promotion.

They’re not the only ones. Over 1,000 artists signed up to participate in The Promo Bay when the torrent site, previously under threat of removal, introduced it early this year.

Author Paulo Coelho did it.

And just yesterday, so did Eisner and Harvey Award-winning writer Mark Andrew Smith with his baseball-themed horror graphic novel Sullivan’s Sluggers, offering the first two issues of his comic for free.

The comic was on Kickstarter, too, from May through June of last year and raised roughly $92,000 more than its target goal of $6,000. Then it appeared on the crowdfunding platform again and saw even more success.

The way we think about piracy is clearly changing. Yes, it’s still a serious problem, but addressing it might mean coming up with a better solution than launching a full assault.

What are your thoughts on piracy and how we need to approach the issue moving forward?

Marvel puts superheroines into ‘traditional women’s’ roles with a touch of rouge and green lipstick

Rogue TouchRogue and She-Hulk fight hard to beat the bad guys and restore justice to the world, all while struggling for equal rights in the workplace. But now Marvel and Hyperion Books are shuffling them off to romance novels. They’re a real girl’s supergirls, but here, their fists and intelligence are better served for putting on makeup and picking out purses — that’s how we can teach young girls about empowerment, apparently.

The problem is, young girls are going read these books and identity “superheroine” with romantic success.

Now, maybe the writers on this new line of romance novels (Christine Woodward and Marta Acosta) won’t have the characters swooning like helpless damsels before men — because there are plenty of “hip” Marvel comics that deal with teenage relationships and gender roles that don’t turn the characters into complete brainless airheads — but I can easily see these turning out just awfully. In comic books, at least, the gigantic muscles and dramatic facial expressions tell you that these are powerful women, not to be messed with. They could toss a human man over the moon if they wanted to, for goodness sake.

I can’t help but feel like the focus on writing alone — and not any accompanying visuals — will translate these strong female characters into silly little girls. Can we trust these novels to “showcase strong, smart heroines seeking happiness and love while battling cosmic evil”?

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December’s comic book pick of the month: Witch Doctor: Malpractice

Witch Doctor: Malpractice #1

These last few weeks in December are great for sorting through tons of books, comics, television shows, etc., that you missed throughout the year. And it’s almost 2013 now! Better hurry. We all have a lot to catch up on, and this is one title you don’t want to skip.

If you read my open call for comics back in April, then you know I’ll be spotlighting current comic book series (in addition to my graphic novel reviews) every month or so to inspire discussion. I’m also taking requests, so please — leave a comment or drop me an email.

Check out November’s review of WHITE DEVIL.

I didn’t read the WITCH DOCTOR four-issue miniseries (plus the few extras that came out) when creators Brandon Seifert (writer, SPIRIT OF THE LAW, DOCTOR WHO, HELLRAISER) and Lukas Ketner released it last year. Actually, I had never even heard of it until the first issue of WITCH DOCTOR: MALPRACTICE hit last month. But I do know about the company behind it: Skybound Entertainment, an imprint of indie comics publisher Image, is owned by Robert Kirkman. He’s a pretty famous guy in the industry — known for creating THE WALKING DEAD, the zombie comic series that inspired the popular AMC TV show and some games.

Witch Doctor: Malpractice #2

The name Skybound itself doesn’t guarantee quality, but give MALPRACTICE a shot and you’ll find it has a certain The Monstrumologist vibe that’s irresistible. I can only imagine that Dr. Vincent Morrow’s (the eccentric occult physician and lead character in the comic) laboratory and all the gruesome experiments that go on there are as ghastly as they would appear in Yancey’s young adult book if it were a graphic novel.

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Beneath the surface: a review of The Underwater Welder

The waves are high and the sunset’s red. So now it’s time to go to bed.

The tide is up and the wind does rip. But worry not, ’cause we’ll never tip.

We’fe far at sea, days from land. But if you’re scared just take my hand.

Just hold on tight, boy-o-mine. In my arms you’ll be just fine.

The moon is full, the sea is deep.

We rock and rock and rock to sleep.

The Underwater Welder by Jeff LemireJeff Lemire has become one of the most popular comics creators in recent years, working with DC Comics to write and illustrate titles like SWEET TOOTH and the new ANIMAL MAN. This year’s The Underwater Welder (from Top Shelf Productions) is a graphic novel entirely of his own invention, and Lemire’s keen moral sense of character and thorough understanding of happiness and sorrow, and of success and failure, translate wonderfully into this standalone tale.

Lemire has a knack for balancing simplicity and complexity with equal grace. Divided into four parts, The Underwater Welder is about a man named Jack who’s about to start a family with his wife Susan, but before he can move forward, he must come to terms with the past. He dives deep into the cold, dark sea every day not in search of riches or sunken treasure but answers. Years ago, when Jack was still a child, his father jumped into the ocean and never returned, leaving him and his mother alone.

Now, as he’s on the verge of becoming a father to a baby boy, Jack’s fears and doubts bubble to the surface. Was his dad really the hero that he idolizes, or has he been ignoring his loved ones’ advice and forgetting about countless disappointments? Susan is worried that Jack will turn into his no-good father at a time when she needs him most, and he almost disappears altogether — just like his dad did. To shoulder the responsibility of parenthood, Jack must understand his father not as a child does, but as an adult can. Fathers are human beings, with real moments of strength and weakness, and Jack must figure out what kind of man his was. But there’s a possibility that he’s searching for a truth he’ll never find.

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When past meets present: a review of Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks

Locke & Key

If you’re not reading Locke & Key from IDW Publishing, then you’re missing one of the best series in comics now. This review contains no spoilers.

Locke & Key, Vol. 5: ClockworksLocke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks by Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (illustrator)

Why is Locke & Key one of the most successful comics out there? The answer has something to do with the strength of writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez’s partnership. Hill introduced an original idea in 2008 with a strong follow-through — every issue pushes the story forward and keeps readers begging for more. Then, there are the gothic illustrations, which give the main estate, Keyhouse, that dark and foreboding mood we need to wonder what secrets are hiding inside. The monsters look real, the people are visibly distressed and haunted by their past and present lives, and shadows are everywhere. When you can’t see them, you can feel them in between the pages.

Locke & Key is rich with history and a growing darkness that’s unlocked with every finding of every key. We know there’s evil among the good guys, and it’s masquerading as one of them, listening to their conversations and manipulating them. When’s the last time a comic both shook you to your core with authentic, human feeling and messed with your head as much as it did the characters’?

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