Monday, October 10, 2016

Late Announcement: Obessive Geek Blog's Halloween Countdown

Hi, everybody! This is a flagrant attempt to get you to start following my new blog, the Obsessive Geek Blog! I started a month long Halloween Countdown there and I'd like or you, the few loyal readers who stayed with me, to join me on a journey through this season to be spooky. Here's the posts I've made so far:

#1-2: Music Mayhem
#3: The Art of the Cover
#4: Like A Moth to the Lame
#5: As the Clock Turns
#6: Reminders
#7: Like A Man-Bat Out of Hell
#8: Horror in the Time of Mile-Long Scarves
#9: Nightmare Merry-Go-Round
#10: Angles in the Flames

Friday, May 27, 2016

Moving On

This is just a heads up to anybody who follows this blog. I will no longer be posting on One Man's Obsession(s). Don't worry, I'm not quitting the blog game just yet, I'm just going to be moving on for the foreseeable future to Wordpress. My new blog is called Obsessive Geek Blog. Any new posts from me will be seen there. I've already got a review of DC Universe Rebirth #1 up, and I'll be moving some of my old stuff to there as well.

To everyone who's followed me over the years, I give my  sincerest thanks. God bless you for putting up with me or so long. Hope to catch ya on the flip side.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The FLCL Post

Fooly Cooly is.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Fooly Cooly is something that one has to experience for themselves. It cannot be described in any coherent fashion; to do so would simply make you come off as a rambling madman, his or her mind demented from too much television, comics and possibly controlled substances. Go watch it now. It’s on Hulu for free (at the moment), and is only six episodes long. You have no excuses.

Secondly, Fooly Cooly (or FLCL as it’s commonly abbreviated) is a lying son of a bitch. It tries to distract you with its wild shifts in animation style, seemingly nonsensical actions and characters who act so cartoony that the entire casts of the WB and Disney animated lineup would look at them and say “Damn, son! Switch to decaf and take some Ritalin before you hurt yourself!” Do not be intimidated by all this zany bull$#!%, FLCL is a very simple story of a boy named Naota coming of age and realizing his disaffected teen act isn’t gettn’ him anywhere. Sure, malformed robotic monstrosities from beyond the walls of sleep pop out of his head, a pink haired woman from outer space regularly beats his head in with  bass guitar and a robot with a TV for a head takes up permanent residence in his home, but do not fear. Do not simply walk away and say that this is just some incoherent mess. FLCL is a trying to trick you. FLCL is dishonest.

            The cast of FLCL struggle with honesty throughout. Naota is affecting disaffected “adult” attitude simply to get through the day. Mamimi is psychological wreck of a human being convinced of her love for Naota’s older brother Tasuku, an unseen baseball player who probably never noticed or cared about her blatant worship of him. Haruka, our manic pixie destroyer of worlds, is holding her true intentions for being on Earth and around Naota deliberately close to the vest. And Amarao, commander in the MIB-esque Department of Interstellar Immigration, is basically conning everyone into believing he’s actually a mature adult.

            This is not my first go-round with FLCL. Like some of you (I presume), I first experienced it on Adult Swim, sometime around the early 2000s. It kicked my ass back then and kicked my ass even harder when I was reintroduced to it during Anime Milwaukee of this year. I walked by a table with both its blu-ray and DVD release, but didn’t go for it. I went for the collection of Turn A Gundam and an S.H. Figuarts Piccolo I had been dying to have for years. I do not regret these purchases. I regret not getting the DVD of FLCL. Thank God that there was a showing for the entire series at the convention that I caught the last half of. Thank God for Hulu who still has the series…for now, anyway.

            “Unique” is probably what everyone whose seen FLCL would describe it. Well, no. They’d more than likely describe it as “f#$&*ing mental”, “bat$#*% insane”, “the most surreal mother%$*ing thing you’ll ever see in your entire life” or if their being polite, “nuts”. They would be correct in that assessment. FLCL is madness, the kind you could only find from a poem spoken to you by your rambling, drunken relative at your grandma’s birthday party. It’s a madness that lingers; stays with you for the rest of your days no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen an episode.

FLCL is madness, but it’s an all too human madness, born of loneliness, hormones and a severe lack of direction. It threatens to overflow into something incomprehensible, but it moves on the fine line of brilliance and jabbering lunacy in a combination of ballet, crunk and possibly pole dancing. In other words, FLCL is Mamimi Saejima, losing her god Tasuku and clinging to whatever she can find, ultimately divorcing herself from the madness to seek her true place in this benighted beautiful/ugly planet we call Earth.

FLCL is also a moment. It is a shooting star that flies in the sky. It’s here, gone in a second and never to be seen again. The memory will remain forever, but you know it will never come again.  And perhaps, secretly, you now it’s for the best. FLCL is Haruka Haruhara, speeding off on her Vespa to galaxies unknown.

FLCL is a time and place; a memory of days gone by. It is the fly frozen in amber, or cave painting from the Paleolithic age. It is that story that’s told in every generation of that one year, one summer or just one night that sets its protagonist’s life on the course that would lead him to true blue adulthood. FLCL is Naota Nandaba, from hanging out with Mamimi at the river to standing in the wreckage of the final episode’s events, watching Haruka fly away forever.

“Fooly Cooly is”. That’s how this all began; those words popping into my head. It will end with those words too. There’s really no other way this can end, can it? It’s inevitable; as inevitable as someone watching the first episode and dismissing it as a confusing, perverted mess that should be ignored for more “mature”, “rational” storytelling. That, my friends, is okay with me. Sad and disappointing, sure, but not anymore sad or disappointing than “mainstream” American culture’s belief in animation as little more than a babysitting tool.  Not everyone is going to get FLCL. That is because FLCL does not belong to a single genre.

I’ve seen both Wikipedia and Crunchyroll list the types of genre that FLCL is. I almost laughed out loud at the sight. Then I realized that wasn’t what the genre listings were about for FLCL. They were listing all the things all the elements that helped make FLCL what it is. It’s not a genre mash-up so much as it is a genre purèe, taking elements from absurdist comedy, science fiction, teen drama, slice of life stories, the DSM 5 and surrealist fantasy and somehow making them all fit into on damn perfect show, “complete and of its type” as Peter David would say.

FLCL is. It exists. It is out there, waiting for you to either discover it or reconnect with it after years apart. There is no other way to describe or inform you, the reader, of it outside of “You must see it for yourself.” It will fight you, yes, but do not let its surrealism beat you. Simply take the hit, stand up and say “Thank you, sir! May I have another?!” Fooly Cooly is Fooly Cooly, and there is no other thing like, nor should there ever be.

Fooly Cooly is.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dominus Nostrum Gundam: GBF "A Reason For Battle"

And after an interminable amount of time, we're back. 

Today, we pick where we last left off with Yuuki bailing on his match with Sei and Reiji. Warped priorities, crises of faith and complete destruction of toys are on the way on the sixth episode of Gundam Build Fighters.


We begin with some still shots of the school. Speed lines and heavy breathing sound effects are overlaid to still of the student's reactions in one of the most blatant ways the show has done to save on budget costs to date. (Beaten by the blatant reuse of Sazaki's entrance in episode one) We see Sei running down the halls towards the model building club, inter-cut with the scene of Yuuki no showing his match. Sei makes it to the model building club, only to discover Gonda (Mr. "I'm Not a Gorilla!!!" from episode 2) standing in the room alone. He's here to deliver more bad news: Yuuki has taken a temporary leave of absence from school!

"Ohh, the filet mignon is dead sexy
After the credits, we're in Sei's room at the end of the day, with Reiji laughing off Yuuki's presumed chickening out while reading a food magazine. Sei tries saying something but Reiji simply blows up, screaming at how Yuuki gave up on honor and pride and my inner shipper get’s some high levels of “jilted lover” from Reiji’s reaction. He even asks Sei to never talk about Yuuki again, in the vein of all teenager girls who just broke up with their boyfriends.

" I gave him the best weeks of my life and he leave for some blonde!"

After the title card, we cut to the semifinals and…. holy $#&@, it Sazaki! Oh yeah, he’s the guy who won by forfeit in the last episode. Sorry, it’s just been a long time since I did any recapping. Seems our purple prick has made some improvements to his Gyan, giving it two missile shields. Oh, wait…

1st Battle: Susmu Sazaki VS Sei Iori (Engineer) & Reiji (Pilot)

Sweet merciful Santa Christ, I’m rusty at this.

Sazaki fires off the missiles of his missile shield, but Reiji avoids them…for a little bit, at least. The Build Strike gets bombarded with missile in seconds, but it’s still in fighting shape. The two decide to settle things in a beam saber fight, but Reiji proves he can still maneuver the Build Strike smoothly slicing the Gyan’s torso and winning the match. All the while Reiji proclaims Sazaki to not be a worthy lover opponent.

Battle Ended. Winners: Sei Iori & Reiji

Sazaki impotently swears to defeat them another time; Reiji apologizes for getting the Build Strike damaged our heroes are off to the finals!

Farwell, dear douche bag. We'll always have your Prince Valiant hair.

But those are next episode. Now’s the time for Reiji to mope about the loss of what was the best opponent he ever had for good portion of the episode. Yes, Reiji is having an existential crisis on not being able to fight some random guy he only met at best a few weeks ago. Reiji…you need to get over this, or you’re gonna end up with a high school kid tied up stuffed in the trunk of your car.

The next ten minutes or so basically has our characters either moping about Yuuki seemingly quitting (spoiler: he hasn’t, as him training at the PPSE building with the blonde guy from the end of the last episode shows us) or questioning what to do next. There are really only two standout scenes worth mentioning about this section of the episode, so forgive me for skipping over Reiji lying on a hill and Sei fixing the Build Strike.
Tonight, on a very special episode of Gundam Build Fighters...

The first of these scenes involves China coming over to hang out with Sei and, of course, build Gunpla because there is only one hobby done in universe and it ain’t stamp collecting. This is probably the best time to bring up the budding romance of the world’s biggest Gundam geek and the art major who love him. One of the reasons that I love this show immensely is that the romance between Chin and Sei feels like one of the most natural and realistic portrayals of middle school love in anime since… you know, I can’t think of another example. The relationship starts out slow, with Sei and China basically just being friends and slowly realizing (more on Sei’s part than China’s) that they do actually have a thing going on and simply just going with it. Yeah, there’s a bit where Sei talks about Reiji and his need to have a resolution to not fighting Yuuki, but the scene more works as a moment of Sei and China growing close.

The second happens when Reiji is seen moping at a mall, running into Mr. Ral and watching a bunch of kids engaged in a Gunpla battle. Reiji tries to dismiss the whole Gunpla hobby as childish, but Ral gives what is probably the best speech in the show:

Building and battling Gunpla is merely a hobby. Unlike the Mobile Suit Gundam story, we’re not in a state of war, and we don’t have to put our lives on the line. It’s just played for pleasure, you’re absolutely right. But...No, for that very reason…people can be enthralled by Gunpla and Gunpla Battle. Because they like it, they can take it seriously.”

That speech (and especially that final line) perfectly encapsulates the mind set of being a fan of…well, anything really. Mind you, I would have added an addendum stating to not take things too seriously, but I needn’t worry. The series is gonna start doing that when we get into the Gunpla World Tournament.

Anyway, Reiji still seems on the fence about the whole thing until Ral points out a young man with the same seriousness as Reiji for Gunpla. It’s Yuuki, and this forces Reiji to haul ass all the way to Iori Models. He basically begs Sei (well, as much as Reiji can beg) to use the Build Strike, saying he may even damage or break it. Sei says that the Build Strike was made just for him and agrees…but he asks to come long knowing that Yuuki’s waiting for them.

Sei wants this to be a three way.
Then again,is it always a three way in this series?

We then cut to the school at sundown, which, given the fat no one else seems to be there, I can only assume that they broke in. They meet Yuuki at that large Gunpla battle table in the gym from episode two, and while China doe try to get some answers from Yuuki, Sei and Reiji don’t care, the only thing that matters is that the future Meijin Kawaguchi III is here... with the Zaku amazing in hand.

2nd Battle: Tatsuya Yuuki VS Sei Iori (Engineer) & Reiji (Pilot). Field 1: Space

The Build Strike and the Zaku Amazing go at each other almost immediately, with the Build Strike firing its enhanced beam rifle and the Zaku firing all missiles along with shots from its long rifle. They fly at each other, turning thing into a melee brawl. The Zaku crushes the enhanced beam rifle and cut through the Build Strike’s shield with two strikes of a heat nata.

Thing the basically become a DBZ fight, with only neon lines showing our two combatants. Reiji and Yuuki talk at each other about the things we’ve already discussed and head back to shooting at each other, this time with the B.S.’s beam cannons going up against the long rifle. The Build Strike takes damage and Reiji decides to straight up charge Yuuki. Yuuki charges as well, cementing the whole DBZ feel to this battle.

Duel of the laser pointers

We then cut from the battle to see that tonight is “Break Into a High School Night” in this town, sin both Ral and Fellini show up to observe the battle. We also see Allan (the blonde guy from PPSE) there two just a level above them!

"I thought I was the only one who could teleport to a Gunpla battle!"

After a scene where the Build Strike receives more damage, we cut to Allan giving a speech about how he understands Yuuki’s desire to fight Sei and Reiji; we cut back to the Build strike being utterly destroyed. The Zaku finally starts taking some significant damage as well, with the Build Strike stabbing it in the arm. The Zaku responds by shooting the Build Strike in the face until the face plate is basically only a mouthpiece. Dang, I haven’t seen toys be this brutal to each other since Woody and Buzz got into a cage match over Bo Peep. Or was that just a fever dream I once had?

Anyway the Build Strike’s destroyed, but Sei and Reiji aren’t done yet. They launch the build booster and Yuuki reassembles the Zaku into a spaceship (yeah, apparently it can just do that) and they charge at each other again this time screaming at the top of their lungs “This is our/my Gunpla!” , and Akira Toriyama gonna sue somebody if this goes any further. We get a crash, a giant flash of light and…

Battle Ended. Winner: Tatsuya Yuuki

We catch up with Yuuki at a train station with Allan, discussing the win and stating his true goal lies somewhere farther down the line. Sei and Reiji are walking back home and seem pretty happy despite the fact they lost and the Build Strike is, to put it mildly, FUBAR. Sei’s still confident, though, saying they’ll beat Yuuki next time, and has a surprise for Reiji: he built another Gunpla, the Build Gundam Mk II, while Reiji was wandering the city for a week. 

Sei starts geeking out about the back story he made for the thing, and while Reiji doesn’t really get it, he’s just glad they can fight with the Gunpla. They both swear to nail the final round of the qualifiers. 

We cut to the next day where we see Mr. Ral, China, Fellini, Sazaki and Mihoshi all in the stands (not all together, though) to see Sei and Reiji fight. The Build Gundam MK II is set, and Sei and Reiji are off!

…to a fight we won’t be seeing until episode seven. Doesn’t really matter anyway, since in the post credits scene, we see a platinum blonde girl in an all white ensemble  riding in a limo say the “white Gundam” (the Mk II looks more gray to me, but whatever) is gonna win. A blonde guy with glasses in the passenger seat of the limo smirks and that’s all she wrote.

Incoming albino! I repeat, incoming albino!

--Recap Ended--

First, let us have a moment of silence for the Build Strike Full Package, which had the short life of only three episodes.

We send you off with the proper accompaniment

This episode just felt weird to me. This feels like a major transitional episode most shows would save for the halfway point and here at episode six simply charging our way past the status quo of the show so far. Say goodbye to Whatever the Hell It’s Name Is High, ‘cause it never shows up again. From here on out, it’s all Gunpla Tournament, all the time. Well, except for the next episode. And the cameo festival that is episode twenty three. And the episode where Sei’s dad shows up in a poorly made disguise…okay you know what, never mind. It’s only mostly all Gunpla Tournament.

Since we already talked about Sei and China’s relationship, let’s talk about Reiji for a bit. This really is about giving him a reason to keep going on with all this when he has no reason beyond his friendship with Sei to keep going. He doesn’t have any interest in Gunpla beyond fighting, has no real connections to it beyond Sei and, oh yeah, he’s not even from Earth! Imperious Red could literally piss off back to Arian with only a “See you…out there” to Sei. While I’ was annoyed by Reiji’s funk throughout the episode, it mad e sense in its own hyper-reality way.

Besides, it gave Ral probably his defining moment in the series and finally cemented him in the mentor role for the series. Up until now’ he’s seemed more along the lines of a highly visible extra, always appearing out of nowhere to provide color commentary or exposition. But that speech gave him his “wise old man” moment that he’d needed since episode two. Even for shows as light as Gundam Build Fighters, your characters need a certain amount of weight to them, and that speech gave Ral something outside of being a domesticated Ramba Ral and having a crush on Rinko.

That’s about all I got for today. Come back next time (it will not take months, I promise you) when we’ll see my favorite character shows up again, we see Rinko in swimwear and meet the geekiest shakedown artist in history.

Repeat to yourself: it's just a hobby , I should really just relax.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Brief Look At Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle

My relationship with comic books has been a series of peaks and valleys ever since I first picked up paperback edition of the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man. They usually come down to three main factors: interest, money and time. I have a good portion of factors one and three, and with a raise I received at the Home Depot where I work, I’m in a position where I can indulge in my comic collecting hobby. (And various other hobbies, but that’s not important right now).

A few weeks back, I spent my Sunday afternoon attending the Milwaukee Comic Con. It was basically a large, geeky flee market hosted at American Serb Hall on Oklahoma Ave. filled with people in cosplay, dudes trying to unload old comics on people, and bootleg DVDs of Gundam shows. Of the things I purchased, the first I got into was the Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle mini-series by Grant Morrison, which I picked up for five bucks.

When prog rock album covers can’t find a home, comics will always have some space.

The tale revolves around Shilo Norman, former protégé of Scott Free and current Mister Miracle, super escape artist and “one of the seven celebrity wonders of the world!” Despite his fame and fortune, he feels oddly unfulfilled and haunted by an event in his life which we won’t even get to see until issue four. During a stunt which he tries to escape the event horizon of an artificially made black hole*, he meets up with Metron, he of the floating chair and the DC universe’s seeming answer to Uatu. After escaping though, thing get weird in our good Mr. Norman’s life, because if you’re Grant Morrison, escaping a black hole is only the start of the story.

No snarky caption for this one. It’s just an awesome spread.

*This is one of the many reasons I love comics, by the way. Among all the fighting and cheap melodrama and ill thought out reboots, you’ll get something that’s just refreshingly bonkers like a character actively throwing themselves into a black hole. If we had less “gritty” reimagining and more cosmic insanity like that, I assure you that the comic industry would at least be a more interesting place.

You see, Shilo and a bunch of others on Earth are all reincarnated New Gods, with New Genesis’ residents portrayed as the homeless and disabled, while Desaad and Darkseid are Shilo’s therapist and some powerful guy in a suit respectively. After the third issue ended with Shilo beaten half to death, his testicles presumably removed with bolt cutters and his broken body set on fire (in what I can only assume is an instant where Morrison and Mark Millar switched bodies briefly) Shilo finds himself trapped in the Omega Sanction, which here forces the victim to live a succession of meaningless lives, only to die and live a life more pointless than the last. He eventually escapes by offering the Sanction his friendship and realizes that he had only been trying to escape his guilt over his older brother’s death. Then it’s revealed that t was all a dream created by Metron to prep Shilo for whatever happens in the Seven Soldiers.

Kid looks like he’s sweating Ecto Cooler.

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle is by no means my favorite series. That’s not to say that the series is bad; it’s a perfectly good our issues that ventures into wonderfully bizarre territory away from the usual punch ups of mainstream comics. It’s just that I can see where some people would be slightly put off. The series (and, from what little research I did, most of the Seven Soldiers line) is basically a thesis on superheroes representing the human condition, jazzed up and made colorful for general consumption. I can also see that the off-kilter weirdness of the series could put some people off, but I'm not one of 'em.

The only real problem (from where I stand) is the mini’s tendency to change artists the way most men change socks. Pasqual Ferry did issue one, Billy Patton drew issue two and Freddie Williams II finished the series for issues three and four. Each man has distinct art style, none of which really mesh with the other. Personally I prefer Ferry to the other two, but they all do good work.

I’ll say this to finish: I bought this series knowing that Grant Morrison would at least provide an interesting read. I got my money’s worth, and was it was thankfully an entertaining form of interesting. That Shilo and this Mister Miracle series didn’tget a pmore substantia place in people's hearts is understandable…but slightly disappointing, none the less.

Okay, Shilo, buy you’re buying the Piña Coladas.

P.S. For the record, no, I haven’t read Death of the New Gods or Final Crisis. I actually got all seven issues of Final Crisis at the same convention I got Mister Miracle, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Trades: ULTRAMAN (manga) Vol. 1 Review

And so I return to the tokusatsu well to speak of the Ultraman franchise yet again. This time we'll be striking while the iron is (relatively) hot by extolling the virtues of the ULTRAMAN manga, written by Eiichi Shimizu and drawn by Tomohiro Shimoguchi.

So yeah, we're branching out into manga here on The Trades. Aren't you excited? I know I am. 

First, let's get the synopsis out of the way:

A long, long time ago, in a forgotten era known as the 1990s, the world (i.e. Japan) was threatened by a series of attacks by both Earth-born kaiju and aliens from beyond the farthest star. The Science Patrol, the organization tasked with stopping these menaces from, as David DeMoss would put it, f@#$%ing the country up like Percocet, often were overwhelmed by their foes' awesome power. So, in times of crisis, Science Patrol Captain Shin Hayata would raise his Beta capsule to the sky and become the giant of light, the hero Ultraman!

But that was long ago….about twenty to thirty years ago, if the look of old Shin is to be believed. 

In that time, Shin has retired from the Science Patrol, gotten married, had a kid and found himself in the cushy position of defense minister. He also has no real memory as his time as Ultraman, since the giant of light defused with him at the end of the last episode of the original series. This leaves Hayata understandably confused when he and his young son Shinjiro start exhibiting super strength and the ability to survive falls from great heights. His old friend Ide (named Ito in the dubbed for some reason), now the Grand Poobah of the Science Patrol, explains everything to the poor guy and brings him in on a secret project....

....Which we cut away from to meet a now teenage Shinjiro going through the motions of high school life.  Like standing up for a young female peer being accosted by ruffians (his words, not mine) and accidentally breaking the head ruffian's ankle with his superhuman strength. He flees in terror and later that night he ends up confronted by a tiny (by Ultra franchise standards) and redesigned Bemular, here to visit the sins of the father on Shinjiro by way of murder. Luckily Shin shows up to save the day, looking only slightly ridiculous in the power suit meant to enhance the “Ultraman Factor” within him.

Though he fights valiantly, Belumar puts the now 50ish Shin on the ropes. This prompts Ide to reveal the actual secret project: a power suit designed to look like a cross between Ultraman and Iron Man. He proceeds to smack Shinjiro into the thing and send him out into battle. Will Shinjiro be able to fight against this powerful monster and save his father?!

(Spoiler: the answer is “yes” on both counts)

Now that that’s out o the way, let’s get to the review.

In doing this little series of comic book reviews I’ve found myself coming to an obvious conclusion: all superhero stories are, by their very nature, products of their time. Just look at what we’ve covered so far: Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men are clearly products of the early 2000s. 30 Days of Nightcould only really have looked the way it did and told the story it wanted to tell in a post-Blade and post-Matrix world. And Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man could only ever have been told in this New Tens, when having a black person taking the role of a white hero wouldn’t get you laughed out of a pitch meeting.

And so it is for ULTRAMAN Vol. 1. Both it and the original 1966 series are supposed to be set “in the future”, but it, like many superhero and sci-fi tales, have the fingerprints of the now smeared all over it. The original series was produced at a time when humanity had hope for the future, with the same dreams of global unity that birthed original series Star Trek. This ULTRAMAN (yes, it is spelled in all caps, I checked) manga, however, could only have been produced in the world of today, where the future looks just like now and exo suits are all the rage. Oh, and every superhero tale not based on an already pre-existing property (and some that are) have to either crib notes from Spider-Man or Batman.

Since our main hero is a sixteen year old kid, it seems we’ll be cribbing from Peter Parker’s playbook. Here in this first volume, Shinjiro has to be one of the blandest teenage heroes I’ve seen in a long time. We learn near nothing about him, save for his desire for a girlfriend and his minor angst at not controlling his powers during a confrontation. We learn nothing of his hobbies, his friends, or even his interests outside of “I really want to get laid” and “I must defeat this monster to save my father”. I mean, when you look at Parker, Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Billy Batson, Tim Drake and the like, you have characters that were fully formed in their identities before page one of their adventures began. Compared to them, Shinjiro isn’t that much of a character.

His first tale itself is also decompressed like nothing I’ve ever seen. It takes a grand total of 228 pages for the first adventure to be over and done with.  That’s the kind of decompression that Brian Michael Bendis would look at and go “Damn, son! I thought I took my time…” It’s not like it packed to the brim with stuff that needs to be introduced for the audience to get accustomed to the world, either. We meet only three major characters, we see one confrontation with a monster and have our hero’s first battle…and that’s it. It just feels like their stretching out needlessly for time.

Wait… I said I’d be extolling the virtues of this bad boy, didn’t I?

It’s not like I can call this comic bad in any real sense. For all the hay I give Shinjiro, he’s probably one of the more believable teenagers I’ve seen in manga (though granted, my exposure to manga is limited.) You get the feeling that Shinjiro just hasn’t figured out his life yet and simply wants to be a normal kid and maybe get a girlfriend before he turns eighteen. There’s a scene in chapter two with Shinjiro talking with his father at the dinner table about his future that has to be one of the more normal versions of that conversation I’ve ever seen in fiction. For all his faults, he comes off as very recognizable kid. 

As for the rest of the cast introduced….well, we only really got to know Shin and Ide in volume one, so let’s talk about them. Shin Hayata is probably in the most interesting situation of anyone in the book, both the former hero passing down his legacy to his son and learning about what he had done as Ultraman. He obviously cares for his son and is worried that he’s damned him to a life of monster fighting. Again, it’s a believable take on a guy who’d been through such a life and honestly, I like him. Maybe even more here than in the original series, where he was your standard issue Silver Age comic good guy ( in the DC Comics sense).

But the volume’s MVP has to be Ide. He, and by extension the Science Patrol, really help this stand out from our standard “youth”-targeted reboot. Shimizu and Shimoguchi could have easily gone down the well tread road of “evil government deep science organization” or “amoral military branch” but instead basically portray them as straight up good guys. This is best exemplified in Ide himself: his genuinely friendly smile, his avuncular attitude towards Shinjiro and his comforting and relaxed tone when Shin starts remembering his time as Ultraman really sell the character and the organization. Hell, I can sum up what separates them from the pack of government super science organizations with one example: the fact they didn’t turn Shin into a guinea pig and made sure his superhero past remained secret so no one else would.

And now let us finally get to the art. It is, quite simply, spectacular; Shimoguchi really does some fine work on this book, giving it a style that’s modern but not to the detriment of the old. The designs are detailed and never feel like they’re busy or over-accessorized. Shinjiro’s Ultraman suit, yes, looks like Shimoguchi also watched the Iron Man movies, but it also feels like something a super science organization would whip up and design in homage to an old hero. And the action scenes (well, scene, I guess) have to be the most beautifully drawn I’ve ever freaking seen. Not only giving us all the good that’s there but making the characters feel mobile and alive on the printed page. I’m sure there’s probably better out there, but for now, Shimoguchi is on my list of current gen favorite comic artists.

Let me end on this: I’m not entirely sure how well this is gonna keep up. There’s always the possibility that the second volume will reveal heretofore unseen flaws or grottiness inherent in the story. But the fact remains: ULTRAMAN Vol. 1 is a good comic, buoyed by a likeable cast, and interesting premise and awesome art, held back from being great by only one or two major flaws. It’s an absolute joy to read (and a quick read too: about half an hour on my part, but you’ll probably get through it faster) and, whatever the future may hold, I’m glad I purchased this. I give this trade a 7 out of a possible 10.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Trades: The Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People

"The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy."

Somewhere around the halfway point of Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People, a question popped into my head:

Why does this comic exist?

And that, my friends, is probably the last thing you want anybody asking of your book. Sure, questions of continuity and characterization can kill a book’s quality for various reasons, but wondering why said comic even exists is probably the last thing you want your readers thinking about.

Getting back to that first question, I see no point in giving the X-Men an Ultimate treatment. It was thin enough gruel for Spider-Man, but the X-Men? As a concept, the merry mutants work on as an allegory for any persecuted peoples: African Americans, homosexuals, various forms of “them damned immigrants”, all the way down to that one lonely nerd in middle school getting the business from the local bullies for being different, there isn’t a person in on the planet who couldn’t relate (in either actuality or self deluding fantasy) to the premise of being belittled and feared for their difference form “normal” society. There is no real reason to give these guys any form of modern updating to pander to “the youth” because they, as labyrinthine as their back stories and published adventures are, already have a universal trait for kids from 1 to 92 to latch on to.

Never mind that, though. God knows should The Inquisitor come knocking on my door, my ass would be erased from existence. Let’s instead talk about how much this comic genuinely sucks.

The book starts out with my beloved United States reacting to an (off-screen) terrorist attack by the Brotherhood of Mutants the way you’d expect: paranoia and hatred masquerading as vigilance. The Bush administration has commissioned one Professor Bolivar Trask to build giant robots called Sentinels to hunt down anyone who dares have the mutant gene within them and stomp them into paste…. in major metropolitan areas… and in front of a slew of rubbernecking civilians. Instead of anyone calling this overkill or fearing this to be the first step towards the robot holocaust, these things are called a roaring success in stopping the mutant “menace” with a public declaration of war from the master of magnetism himself to help feed the beast known as Fear.

Given that these comics were published between February and July of 2001, you’d probably be prone to calling this comic “prophetic” and thinking that Mark Millar understands the character of the U.S.A. But thinking about it a little more reveals that not to be the case. Millar understands the U.S. in only the vague “a bunch of cheeseburger hoovering asshats who presume to know everything” sense. Man was born and raised in Scotland, after all. And while I won’t say that a foreigner can’t criticize my home country, but if years of watching Jon Stewart have taught me anything, it’s that you need an in depth knowledge what kind of bullshit the country is spouting in order to critique it properly. And sorry Mark, but ya don’t have that.

The whole book seems to function on only a shallow understanding of its franchise and its key elements. Almost every scene where the X-Men encounter prejudice and bigotry read like the most generic forms of prejudice and bigotry around; the kind of “go to hell, muties!” pronouncements that can been seen in any other given issue comics starring a mutant.  The plot is your standard boilerplate for a team origin as well: a bunch of dudes get brought together by a common cause, there’s tension in the ranks until a great looming threat brings them all together  to save the day and leave the door open for further adventures. The dialogue reads like everyone is talking at each other, delivering their lines more like they’re delivering testimonials instead of actual conversations. And as for the characters, well….

Alright, I’m going to be completely, 100% honest with you guys here: I would legitimately take an entire comic series with the firm of Harlan and Thompson from Ultimate Spider-Man. Yes, they were thin, one dimensional bullies from any given slasher film, but at least they were their own characters! Almost all of the teenage cast of Ultimate X-Men shares two traits: angst and snarky disaffection. There’s little to nothing to separate them from any other team of generic super kids you can find. This especially goes for Iceman, Colossus and Storm. They have a scene together early in issue three that, if not for height and gender, I wouldn’t be able to tell these guys apart! Cyclops comes off as a complete idiot when he decides, since Xavier’s plans nearly gets Beast killed, to joined up with the Brotherhood, even though the Brotherhood are bunch of smug mass murderers in the Ultimate universe! Beast and Jean Grey comes out as this volume’s MVPs by both being the least generic of the group, coming off as at least people I would be willing to read from month to month, and possibly even come go like.

Though, as much as I take the teenage cast o task, they’ve got nothing on the adults.

Professor X and Wolverine probably get off the easiest, coming off as themselves even if it through the incredibly cynical pen of Mark Millar. Almost all the background adults (the soldiers of Weapon X, every civilian character, the Bush White House circa 2001) are either complete jerks, shallow bigots and complete non-entities respectively. And Magneto has to have gotten it the worst out of everybody. I’ve never been a big fan of the guy, but even I have to admit that the guy does have a personality and a more complicated relationship with the X-Men than simple good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Here, though? Man’s a hypocritical, sadistic psychopath and possible cannibal, willing to kills scores of innocents to get his way and just as willing to cause the nuclear holocaust when it looks like a fight's going south. He’s not a villain you love to hate: he’s a villain that you hate because he’s such a complete cartoon!

Strike a pose!

The art for this sucker is merely okay. Adam and Andy Kubert (sons of comic legend Joe Kubert) don’t turn anything too terrible. There’s a scene where the X-men first gather where Colossus’ waist looks too tiny (an example you can see above), but all in all, there’s nothing really bad to report on the art front. Except for the cover of the trade; that thing looks ugly as sin. Wolverine looks less human and more like those rubber skinned T-600 models Kyle Reese mentioned in the first Terminator movie and the background looks like one of the CGI cityscapes from the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon as seen through an Adobe After Effects filter.

To finish this of, I’d like to make a comparison: Ultimate X-Men is the comic book equivalent to The Expendables franchise. It’s filled with guys you liked in the past going through the motions of a stock plot so stupid and contrived it’d be hilarious if it weren’t so damn dull. Plot point exist (Wolverine’s inevitable turn to the good guys, Scott’s moment of clarity, Beast’s nearly getting killed) not as natural story beats but as simply box checking for “What You Have To Include In An [insert type of story you want to tell here].” I realize that for some people, that’s enough. Good on them. It’s just not for me. I give this thing a 4 out of 10 and will probably cast it from my mind for other, better books.