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?

ranma_vol_1

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.

saga_vol_1

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.

superior_foes_vol1

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!

 

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.

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.

Read More

November’s comic book pick of the month: White Devil

White Devil #1

So I realized I missed both September’s and October’s comic book picks. Bad Stephanie!

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 August’s review of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 9.

This month’s spotlight is a special pick. Thanks to writer Matt Evans for sending over his co-authored comic, WHITE DEVIL #1! And big apologies about the lateness!

I really liked this first issue (one of four to come), but readers should be aware that it has some very mature content. If you couldn’t guess from the title, this isn’t a kid-friendly comic.

Evan and cowriter Andrew Helinski introduce us to a picture-perfect housewife named Judy whose life isn’t what she expected. She makes dinner, watches the children, and serves her husband just like a good wife should, but they’re not nearly as well-behaved or doting as she is. Her husband sticks his nose in a newspaper at dinner and swears in front of the children, who are too busy making faces and flinging food at each other to notice.

White Devil #1 cover

But her humble living in small-town Alabama changes once Judy and her friend Betty leave for book night — only they’re not following the reading list. Instead, they’re turning to something much more sinister.

The woods at night are home to a cult of devil worshipers who strip naked, openly fornicate, and baptize members in the blood of a slaughtered animal. You can imagine this is where the black-and-white colored book (illustrated by Nate Burns) gets pretty graphic.

This comic is definitely out there, but I love how Evans and Helinski ease readers into the extreme rather than shove them into it. Judy is a normal woman who decides to escape her humdrum routine by participating in something crazy, but I get the feeling that her little experiment is going to cost her and the town.

As you can see from the cover, Burns applies red on top of the regular black and white — and even a little blue, as seen in the image at top. This technique works well since Burns uses these colors more heavily as the cult activity becomes more intense.

You can download the first issue for free at the comic’s website. Evans and Helinski haven’t set a date for the second issue yet, so I’ll keep tabs on when it’s available.

WHITE DEVIL #1 (by cowriters Matt Evans and Andrew Helinski and illustrator Nate Burns) released in June.

Happy Read Comics in Public Day!

Today is Read Comics in Public Day, created by editors Brian Heater and Sarah Morean from the now defunct indie comics website The Daily Cross Hatch.

“The easy part is: just read comics in public — on trains, on your lunch break, at the park, in the library,” wrote Heater. “Throw a couple of old favorites or new releases in your bag and get to it. And, hey, bring some to share. Remember that year that everyone outside of your immediate family bought you a copy of Watchmen for your birthday? It’s a great book, granted, but you don’t need 15 copies, do you?”

Coincidentally, it’s also the birthday of Jack Kirby, who would have turned 95 this year. Kirby helped create such famous comic book characters as Captain America.

So the question is, where will you celebrate, and what will you read?

Read Comics in Public Day

Awesome book cover Friday: Maps and Legends

Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends sounds like the perfect book for me.

From Amazon:

Michael Chabon’s sparkling first book of nonfiction is a love song in 16 parts — a series of linked essays in praise of reading and writing, with subjects running from ghost stories to comic books, Sherlock Holmes to Cormac McCarthy. Throughout, Chabon energetically argues for a return to the thrilling, chilling origins of storytelling, rejecting the false walls around “serious” literature in favor of a wide-ranging affection. His own fiction, meanwhile, is explored from the perspective of personal history: post-collegiate desperation sparks his debut, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; procrastination and doubt reveal the way toward Wonder Boys; a love of comics and a basement golem combine to create the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; and an enigmatic Yiddish phrasebook unfurls into The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Not only are the colors lush and beautiful, but look at all the detail and personality that went into the cover! The design reminds me more of a comic than a traditional book because it’s 1) illustrated and 2) finely detailed. I see way too many book covers that are just boring snapshots of people sitting or walking or looking lustily at someone.

Do you think the book world could use more imaginative covers?

Michael Chabon

Reading the game: who else loves Uncharted?

Recently I finished playing Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (see my review). I adore the series and will be sad to see it go as Naughty Dog continues work on The Last of Us for Sony. At least there’s Golden Abyss for the PlayStation Vita, so whenever I can afford the handheld (money, as they say, does not grow on trees, Sony), I’ll knock that off my list first.

Below are four great books for my fellow Uncharted lovers. Have you read any of these?

Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth by Christopher Golden
Publisher:
Del Rey
Paperback:
336 pages
Publication Date:
October 4, 2011

After his old archeologist friend is found murdered in Manhattan, Sully convinces Drake to globe-trot from New York to Egypt and Greece in search of three lost labyrinths—and a fourth that promises power and riches, of course.

I looked up Chris Golden, and while he’s not a popular author, his books have solid ratings across the board. All four stars and up on Amazon. The most reviews came from Of Saints and Shadows and the Body of Evidence thriller series (from 1999 and out of print). Video game stories rarely translate well across mediums, so I doubt this is written extraordinarily well, but since Uncharted structures its narratives more like movies … well, who knows. Might be decent.

The Art of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves by Daniel P. Wade
Publisher: Ballistic Publishing
Paperback: 272 pages
Publication Date: July 1, 2010

This one’s self-explanatory: It’s an art book, a complement to the video game Uncharted 2. Inside is concept art for the characters, environments, cinematics, etc. Amazon lists it for a pricey $45. The editor, Daniel P. Wade, has overseen production on other art books, such as The Art of God of War III.

Uncharted by Joshua Williamson (writer) and Sergio Sandoval (artist)
Publisher: DC Comics
Paperback: 144 pages
Publication Date: July 17, 2012

You’ll have to wait awhile for the collected version of the UNCHARTED comic book series from DC Comics. Amazon mistakenly names Tony Harris as the illustrator—he’s only the cover artist. Sergio Sandoval (HUMAN TARGET, DEUS EX) provided the interior artwork for the book, with Joshua Williamson (XENOHOLICS, DEAR DRACULA) writing. Six issues are contained in the trade, and the two reviews I could find (both on IGN) gave the comic moderately high scores.

UNCHARTED: Drake’s Journal – Inside the Making of UNCHARTED 3: DRAKE’S DECEPTION by Nolan North
Publisher: GameSpheres
Paperback: 128 pages
Publication Date: November 1, 2011

Nolan North (aka Nathan Drake) is one of my all-time favorite voice actors, and a lot of other people like him, too. So it was disappointing to learn that his own account on working on the video game series, a book entitled UNCHARTED: Drake’s Journal, is no longer in print.

According to the publisher’s website, only 500 first edition, signed hardback copies of the book were distributed. The only way to get a new copy is to buy the iPhone/iPad app for $4 … but of course, it’s not one of the signed and numbered few. Neither are the ones GameSpheres is selling on Amazon in “new” condition. The cheapest ones (from the exclusive 500 shipment) are available used for $70. Sigh. WANT.

Also, the back cover features joke pull quotes from the game’s cast, and they’re hilarious and true to character:

“This is the best goddamn book out there. I keep mine by the toilet.” – Victor Sullivan

“It’s not a proper book. It’s full of pictures.” – Charlie Cutter

“What’s wrong with pictures? I like pictures.” – Chloe Frazer

“Who the hell is Nolan North?” – Nathan Drake