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)ย 

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)ย 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)ย 

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 call for comics! April’s pick of the month

As some of you have probably guessed, I’m a big reader of books … and that includes comics! The good thing about comics is that not only are they a fantastic medium for prose and visual storytelling combined, but they’re also much easier to get into than you might think. There’s something for all tastes.

While we can’t always read the same books at the same time (read-alongs are a nice idea, but they’re up there with book clubs: not always practical), we can read the same comics on a regular basis. They’re not as much of a time sink. That’s why I wanted to reach out to my fellow lovers of comics and anyone who’s interested in learning more about them with this proposal: What are your favorite series currently on sale? Recommend them to me! And would you like my suggestions? Together we can expand our familiarity with genres and talented writers and artists.

Before you say no, keep in mind that you don’t have to understand decades of a comic’s history to enjoy it—and not every series has years to its name. New books are always coming out, and for the ones that have been on shelves longer, many writers make “cannon” a very accessible, non-scary word. Plus, you can now buy comics digitally as well as in print (if you can find a local comic shop).

I’d even be up for discussion! What do you say?

My first pick is THE LI’L DEPRESSED BOY from publisher Image Comics. “LDB,” as he’s called for short, isn’t so much a boy as he is a young adult who doesn’t fit in. The comic is an accurate depiction of the shyness and self-doubt that accompanies cases of depression. “What,” you say, “like the mental illness?” Yes! Comics deal with real life issues! Awesome, right? Even the fantastical can be grounded in the realistic … not that every comic is unrealistic.

Everything seems to go wrong for LDB when he’s at his lowest, and for anyone who’s ever been down, you know that when one bad thing happens, it seems like your whole world starts to fall apart. Although LDB might not always feel included, he’s surrounded by people who care about him—and a few people who don’t quite understand his needs, like his crush Jazmin, who seemed to reciprocate that affection until she revealed she had a boyfriend.

One of the major recurring themes in LI’L DEPRESSED BOY is music, which can be used to enhance any situation. Sometimes we see LDB listening and then leaving a crowd. Other times music is a source of empowerment and positivity. The language of music is very personal, especially for LDB, and a good many of us are familiar with the contrasting effects music can have on mood.

For me, the most singular aspect about LDB is that he is literally a blank slate—a doll figure without any remarkable features. For a depressed character like LDB, that self-reflective attribute is spot-on. Credit to artist Sina Grace for making it so visually convincing.

What do you think? Have you read LI’L DEPRESSED BOY before? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments whether you’re interested in more of these features and if you’d like to join the conversation. Feel free to hop over to the digital service ComiXology to make a purchase.

LI’L DEPRESSED BOY #10 hit stands yesterday, on Wednesday—new comics day!