Friday, December 31, 2010

7 Billion Needles Vol. One - Review

We're The Haystack


Adapted from Hal Clement's famous science fiction novel, "Needle," "7 Billion Needles" is a manga re-telling of the story of symbiotic hosts in a battle to stop the next mass extinction of Earth. After a young girl named Hikaru is taken over by an intelligent alien being named Horizon, she is charged with hunting down another creature that exists purely to kill, maim, an eat everything on the planet. Even though she has become endowed with superpowers, Hikaru still can't stand up to the challenge, due to her chronic social withdrawal from her peers.

This is the first volume in a set of four, and though I haven't read the novel, I did some research to distinguish the differences so far in the basic story. The original story, "Needle," is the same premise but with a young boy as the protagonist and New England as the backdrop of the story. From what I can gather, this doesn't take too much of the overall impact of the story away from the text, though I'd like to read the original novel to compare the two.

I just read the whole first volume in one sitting, which, as I've said many times before, is always a good sign. I'm eager to read the second volume and review it, but right now my obvious answer is that this is really fun science-fiction. It's a story about being asked to do something difficult in a time when you're already feeling like the world is coming down all around you. The characters are well fleshed out and the art and pacing of the panels is top notch.

I haven't seen it at any libraries, but it's easily found at Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon.

House of Five Leaves Vol. One - Review

Kidnapping My Attention


Written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, and published by Viz Signature, "House of Five Leaves" is the story of Masa, an out of work samurai plagued with social awkwardness and a growling stomach. After taking a job with a strange and charming man named Yaichi, Masa realizes that he's entered the world of the House of Five Leaves, a gang of kidnappers who may or may not have admirable intentions.

The story revolves around Masa being forced into helping the House of Five Leaves in order to send money home to his younger brother and sister. Each chapter has Masa learning more about the members of the gang, and questioning his morals in working for a group of thieves when he yearns to be a proper samurai.

Like Ono's other works that I've read, a reader finds themselves lost in her beautiful and yet simple artwork, and intrigued to turn the page even though the actual use of swords is few and far between. It's definitely samurai drama at its best, and I suggest picking it up if you'd like a story set in the Edo Period of Japan (1603 - 1868 AD).

There's also an anime adaptation of the series, which I've started watching after having read the first volume. So far it seems to capture the essence and plot points of the manga very well, and I hope to review that series in the near future as well. Though I'd like to be all caught up with the comics before I dive fully into the TV series.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lost at Sea - Review

Just a Girl in the World


Bryan Lee O'Malley is most famous for his graphic novel series "Scott Pilgrim," which was also turned into a motion picture this past year. This graphic novel, "Lost at Sea," is a much more realistic slice of life story, though it still holds some of the same quirkiness that Scott Pilgrim carries around with him.

Raleigh is eighteen, traveling in a car with three strange kids from her school up through California toward Canada, and is pretty sure a cat stole her soul when she was younger. Centering around the road trip and mental journey of Raleigh as she joins Stephanie, an "in your face" girl with a new look for every day of the week, Ian, the driver and know it all of the gang, and Dave, the dark brooding member, they traverse the American West through rest stops and fast food joints on their way back home.

The book takes a look at the mental processes of a teenage girl who has played the part of an outcast most of her life. The text takes a look at themes and instances in teenage life that ring true to losing best friends and feeling estranged from parents and peers. The artwork is simple, but bold and engaging. The dialogue and captions come thick and fast, but are welcomed in the very dreary and cartoony atmosphere that O'Malley builds around the characters, who read just like people you knew in high school who would sneak off to the local 24-hour restaurant to smoke.

I read this book in a single sitting, which is saying mouthfuls in and of itself. Some of us may be past our teenage angst years, but this book revisits them with an admittance of insanity and confusion, neither celebrating or putting down the horribly wonderful years in high school.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

FMA Brotherhood Vol. 1 (Blu Ray) - Review

A Wonderful Exchange


I had heard about "Fullmetal Alchemist" years ago when it was first broadcasting on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, but had stayed away from it due to it's obvious popularity with the type of anime and manga fans that I don't really connect with. By that statement I mean people who wear cat ears or goggles everyday of the week.

While at the library a few months ago, I was looking through the graphic novel section and found that they had every volume of the FMA manga available. On a whim, I checked out the first volume and became instantly hooked.

However, I'm not going to review the manga until I've finished reading it. I'm about halfway through the series and I want to review the graphic work as a whole and not in parts. The anime series, however, I'm willing to take on bit by bit.

"Brotherhood" is the second run of a FMA series. The original series was good in it's own right, but took so many liberties with the source material that by the fifth volume of the manga and the twenty-fifth episode of the show, you're really watching and reading two entirely different stories. "Brotherhood" attempts to follow the manga more closely, though still having to take some liberties since it's a different medium, and so far has not disappointed in terms of better quality and storytelling.

For the basic premise of "Fullmetal Alchemist," I'd like to post from the wikipedia page description of the story and franchise:

"Edward and Alphonse Elric are two alchemist brothers searching for the legendary catalyst called the Philosopher's Stone, a powerful object which would allow them to recover their bodies (which were lost in an attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy). Born in the village of Risembool from the country of Amestris (アメストリス Amesutorisu?), the two brothers lived there with their mother. Their father, Van Hohenheim, left home for unknown reasons and years later, their mother Trisha Elric died of a terminal illness, leaving the Elric brothers alone. After their mother's death, Edward became determined to bring her back through the use of alchemy, an advanced science in which objects can be created from raw materials. They researched Human Transmutation, a forbidden art in which one attempts to create or modify a human being. However, this attempt failed, ultimately resulting in the loss of Edward's left leg, and Alphonse's entire body. In a desperate effort to save his brother, Edward sacrificed his right arm to affix Alphonse's soul to a suit of armor. Some days later, an alchemist named Roy Mustang visited the Elric brothers, and told Edward to become a member of the State Military of the country to find a way to recover their bodies. After that, Edward's left leg and right arm were replaced with automail, a type of advanced prosthetic limb, created for him by his close family friends Winry Rockbell and her grandmother Pinako."

That's the basic start of the story, before the brothers embark on their journey for the philosopher's stone in order to gain back their bodies. The text has a very "Frankenstein" feel to it, as the constant theme of pushing the limits of science on living beings is brought up through horrible experiments and bloody battles over technique and information.

So far this story has really inspired me as a lover and writer of comics, and the Blu Ray set of "Brotherhood" Vol. One doesn't disappoint either. The color is crisp as ever, the soundtrack resonates well in HD sound, and the set itself isn't expensive.

If I had to recommend a series to watch, I'd have to go with "Brotherhood" over the original FMA anime version. Though it does have more of the cutesy Japanese style humor, as did the manga, this sort of thing doesn't really bother someone who has gotten used to it. So be warned, if that sort of thing annoys you after a very bloody and freakish battle, then I'd probably just read the manga. Which I'll review as soon as I'm done with it.

Final Verdict:

It's worth watching for anyone who is into stories of the taboos of science, or a fan of adventure stories in alternate timelines with a steam punk flair.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Green Lantern: No Fear - Review

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night . . .



Hal Jordan, the most popular Green Lantern of them all, had a brief stint of death in the 90's (along with many other DC superheroes). Brought back to life and made the title character again in July of 2005, "Green Lantern: No Fear" is a collection of the first issues of his new ring-bearing adventures. Written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, Carlos Pacheco, Ethan Van Sciver, and Simone Bianchi, each issue has it's own unique art style and direction. Every artist brings their own flavor to the Emerald Gladiator, and makes it feel like a collection of short films done by different directors.

The stories deal with Jordan's return as both an intergalactic officer and a pilot in the US Air Force. Things are made even more complicated when his home town, Coast City, is rebuilt after the disaster that caused Jordan to go insane, become the evil Paralax, and eventually lead to his death. The city is filled with skyscrapers, beautiful parks, and sits right on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. The only problem is that no one is willing to live there after Cyborg Superman leveled it, killing all of its inhabitants. Just as much as it's a story about a superhero trying to get back into the swing of the adventuring life, it's also about a man trying to bring people together and overcome their crippling nature of living in fear.

As a huge Green Lantern fan, I thought that this collection was a must have for the new age of "Green Lantern" books that have risen since then. The characters have been really fleshed out and given deep purpose, and the plot lines are fun and often dark in nature.

Readers that I've talked with who aren't big fans of Green Lantern have also found this book to be a great read. A sign that good writing and great direction through artwork can really bring any character into the hearts of readers.

It's an easy collection to find, and I recommend checking out the later collected issues of the new "Green Lantern" series. As well as the counterpart series, "Green Lantern Corps.," which follows the adventures of Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner across space and different alien worlds.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

True Grit - Review

Grit till the End




Originally a novel written by Charles Portis, and adapted into a film in 1969, "True Grit" gets the Coen Brothers treatment in this newest incarnation starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld. The film has a classic Coen Brothers color scheme and atmosphere to it, and is definitely grittier than the original. One scene in particular with a severing of four fingers and a nasty gunshot wound to the face can attribute to that.

Bridges gives a fun but mumbly performance as Rooster Cogburn, and steals the show whenever he's on screen. Though it is hard to understand him at times, I can remember thinking the same thing of old drunk people I've met on the street.

Damon plays his part with extraordinarily well, and gives off the true pride of a Texas Ranger. Even playing off a difficult injury convincingly halfway through the film, and carrying that believability to the end.

Steinfeld is very plucky, well spoken, and balances out the acting of Bridges and Damon, making them a strong team on the hunt for a man escaping the law. She delivers her lines sharply and with conviction, and don't be surprised if Steinfeld starts popping up in films more often.

Overall the film is very good, though not the best that the Coen Brothers have ever put out. There are some points where the movie drags on a little bit, or where the balance of philosophies tend to turn toward the outlaws more than the actual law, but it's a great deal of fun to watch and great for anyone looking for a strong revenge story.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cowboy Bebop - Manga Review

3, 2, 1, Let's Jam!





"Cowboy Bebop" has become a staple in the libraries of many who enjoy animation, jazz music, crime noir, and science fiction. When I found out that the TV series had a set of manga stories that were based on the adventures of Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed and Ein, I was excited to see the crew of the Bebop do some bounty hunting inside of panels instead of on the screen. However, I was more than a little disappointed.

The manga doesn't have a clear timeline of when the stories take place exactly, though it's obvious it's before *spoilers* Ed leaves the ship to live on Earth again and before Spike's final encounter with Vicious and the Syndicate. The stories themselves, sadly, are a little lackluster. Though "Cowboy Bebop" had always had a good sense of humor about what was going on, the manga seems to try to make the series more comedy than crime noir, which takes some of the flair away from it. I have to say that I also missed the rockin' jazz soundtrack by Yoko Kanno and the darker atmosphere that the animation gives off. Somehow, even though it was in black and white, the comics didn't really give the darker feeling that "Bebop" held in many of its episodes.

I did enjoy a story here or there, and there was a great little yarn about Spike breaking into prison to help a convict escape in order to claim a bounty on them. But as a whole it kind of fell flat.

If you really like the crew of the Bebop and want to see some more adventures with the most famous Cowboys this side of Mars, then by all means, give it a read. For others, it's worth a pass, just watch the already critically acclaimed series and tap your feet to the kick ass soundtrack.

Nook'n' About Town

I've always been a fan of reading something on an actual page. There's something really special about having the actual weight of a book, along with the cover and physical pages, that makes it something unique to carry around. That being said, I can't understand why I'm so interested in getting a Nook lately.



I went through this same thing about a half a year ago, when I wanted a Kindle. I'm a huge fan of amazon.com, and would most likely tattoo the logo on my rear if I got drunk enough. The thing that really intrigues me about the Nook is that it apparently is really good for handling manga.

Now I won't say I condone pirating *puts on an eye patch and paper hat,* but when I can't get literature and media in my country and have to rely on other people translating it, well, I don't have much of a choice. And this would make it a whole lot simpler to read graphic novels written and downloaded from other countries on a book-like device, rather than a computer screen.

Any thoughts from anyone else on this subject? Would the Kindle be just as good and I just haven't heard anything? Spill the details like BP spills oil!

I'm doing my research and keeping my options open. I treat media like I treat women - loving every aspect of them and then keeping them on a shelf to show off to people.

...

Only kidding.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"V for Vendetta" Review

Remembering the 5th of November




V for Vendetta

Originally a ten-issue series that was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, "V for Vendetta" follows the story of Evey, a young woman making her way in a dystopian future, and a strange masked man named "V," who wages war against the new political state in Britain.

My first exposure to this material was through the film directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowski brothers. The film was a faithful adaptation, though it did lack some of the major key plot points that change the importance of the material. Then again, an adaptation can never truly be the same as the source material in order to work on screen.

The graphic novel focuses more on Evey's "training" for a very important task that she's going to have to take up in the story. I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone, so we'll leave it that the story takes a much stranger turn after the bombing at the end of the story. The graphic novel also puts more on the general public as having to decide how the world is going to work now that they realize they don't have to be controlled by the powerful state anymore.

I did enjoy the graphic novel overall, Moore always delivers an interesting story, but at times I felt like it dragged on a little bit. I do enjoy the ending of the graphic novel more than the film, and recommend anyone who really liked the movie adaptation to read the comics and gain a bit more insight to what Moore was trying to convey with the story.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Batman: Year One" Review

Strong Beginnings




I recently re-read Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's collection of four issue run titled "Batman: Year One," and was instantly reminded of why it might be my favorite Batman origin story of all time.

This book was a big inspiration for the "Batman Begins" film that came out in 2005, so being a fan of that representation I was very drawn to the mood and atmosphere that "Year One" utilizes. It starts with Bruce Wayne's humble beginnings as Batman, showing the difficulties of being a masked vigilante with a pledge not to take a life. This pledge nearly gets him killed on one of his first nights as the Caped Crusader, when a group of young thugs on a fire escape nearly kill him while he tries to save one of them from falling off.

The story arc itself, on a much broader scale, has to do with Batman establishing himself as a force against the mob and corruption in Gotham City. There are no supervillains present in the four issues, though there is a very famous and strategically placed playing card scene that was used at the end of "Batman Begins." The main villains are some of the corrupted police officers that Lt. Gordon himself is trying to take down.

Gordon is another reason that I think this text really separated itself from other Batman stories. In most Batman comics or films that I've seen, Gordon has been often portrayed as the cop who just hands everything over to Batman without thinking twice. In "Year One," Gordon is just as interested in unmasking the Dark Knight as the villains are. In fact, proving that his detective skills are much more honed in this version, his first suspect is Bruce Wayne. How's that for risky take on an old plot?

Overall the short four issue run gives a good glimpse into an original take on the Dark Knight's origins, and it effectively leaves the reader wanting more. The only drawback I can see from the text is the limited involvement with Selina Kyle, which could have been dropped from the text or maybe expanded upon.

That being said, Miller's writing and Mazzucchelli's art are top notch. Especially the throwback character designs and outfit that The Batman wears - a classic gray and black affair with a simple solid bat symbol.

If you're just getting into Batman or are looking to revisit his origins, this is a wonderful place to start.

A little tidbit to add is that DC Universe's animation company is planning to do an adaptation of the graphic novel, which hopefully will be released soon.

Writing Comics

I've been into writing and storytelling for as long as I can remember, and that love of story has always coincided with my love for comics. When I was in elementary school, I was convinced that I was going to grow up to be a comic book artist for Marvel or DC, drawing characters like Spider-Man, Batman, Green Lantern, and the X-Men. As I grew up, I realized that what I really wanted to do was tell the stories associated with the artwork, and started to focus more on writing.

Writing comics is very similar to writing a screenplay. Where a screenplay will look something like this:

INT. BAR - NIGHT

The MAIN CHARACTER does something heroic by hitting a guy over a head with a bottle.

MAIN CHARACTER (CENTERED)
I love being a man!

Comic book scripts look more like this (though it's much more open to style in scripting than films are):

PAGE ONE (5 PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Wide shot of the MAIN CHARACTER at the bar, snatching a bottle off the stained wood counter.

MAIN CHARACTER:
I'll show you a knock-out beer!

SFX: Swiff!

Now, neither of those little snippets are award winning material, but you get the idea.

In comparing the two, I've recently found that I like writing comics slightly better. When writing a comic book script, you have to plan out your story a little more, since you only have a set number of images per page to convey your story. This makes the outlining stage one of the most important in the process.

When writing a comic book script, a writer is also able to use more prose-style language to describe how things look and feel in the panel. Instead of a movie script where you only describe action with little or no details (these are meant for the production team and director), the comic book script needs to have all of the emotion and deep language for the artist to capture what is happening in a confined space of narrative.

I do plan on trying to improve my drawing again, and to gain back what I lost from over fifteen years of pencil withdrawal, but I'm really enjoying working in a medium that uses the structure of scriptwriting and the same level of detail as novels and short stories.

"Not Simple" Review


Anything But Simple



A review of

Natsume Ono’s “Not Simple”



There’s a certain mystical quality about Nastume Ono’s “Not Simple,” that lures readers in with its minimalist artwork and intriguing cover. On the amazon.com review section for the graphic novel, many shoppers and readers agree that the cover and unique art style drew them in, causing them to purchase a book they might have otherwise skipped over. Ono doesn’t draw or write her characters in conventional manga styles or pacing, and this gives it an atmosphere that allows it to transcend borders when read outside of the country of Japan.

Her artwork is a monster in and of itself in the best of ways. Her use of line and movement fills the page with open space, massive filled black clothing, and spooky atmospheres in even the simplest of moments between characters. This atmosphere that Ono builds causes the dramatic flair of the story to leap from the panels and keep the reader turning the page over and over.

The story itself is about a young Australian boy named Ian, walking across America, looking for his sister. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The complex characters in Ono’s narrative, however, are anything but simple, and add an emotional depth as massive as the Grand Canyon. Ian’s sister, Kylie, has been a troublemaker since her youth, and Ian’s best friend, Jim, a sports reporter turned novelist, is dead set on helping Ian find her.

Every chapter reveals something about Ian’s troubled family, including his alcoholic mother and distant father, that makes every reveal a huge surprise and an emotionally powerful moment.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re looking for a graphic drama that deals more with the problems of discovering your identity and has more of an American/Indie feel that most other manga titles out there, this is a book for you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Introductions

I've recently rekindled my love for sequential art (comics, graphic novels, manga, etc.) and have decided to start a blog where I review various series and graphic novels that I read in my spare time. I hope that other people enjoy the reviews and suggestions, and I hope that this can be a way to expose readers to things they might not read and also get some suggestions for material that I might enjoy as well.

Feel free to post any questions or thoughts on any material or subject matters brought up on this blog.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Ken Porter