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Some Sort of Respite: Jeff’s Reviews of 9/13 books…

Jeff Lester

Yesterday, Friday, was my first day working at CE in two weeks and I gotta say: looking at the new comics rack and seeing all the issues of Julia Wertz’s Fart Party next to the latest volume of MOME? Genuinely heartwarming.

In other brief not-comics-but-pop-culture news, I’d seen (almost all of) the first two Lone Wolf & Cub movies, but that restored version of Shogun Assassin is fucking great. That narration? That synth-heavy score? All the most insane parts of the first two Lone Wolf & Cub movies cut into one not-qute-coherent whole? I loved it.

But hands-down my favorite thing about it is Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami Itto. Not only is he an awesome badass, but he is a fat, slobby awesome badass. There’s a scene where he’s half-dead and killed a dozen guys and about to kill a dozen more and, like, he’s unshaven, and his hair is sticking up in weird places and there’s, like, leaves in it, and it was just the coolest fucking thing ever. I know it’s just an extension of the Mifune Yojimbo/Sanjuro thing but it’s taken to an even higher level.

Anyway, it got me thinking–who would you say are the top five cinematic fat slob badasses of all time? My list at the moment looks like:

1. Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami Itto (Lone Wolf & Cub; Shogun Assassin)
2. Toshiro Mifune as Sanjuro/Yojimbo (movies of the same name)
3. Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan (Touch of Evil)
4. M. Emmet Walsh as Loren Visser (Blood Simple; and just as you can’t imagine Wakayama’s performance without Mifune’s, you kinda can’t imagine Walsh’s without Welles’)
5. John Belushi as Capt. Wild Bill Kelso (1941)

Who else am I missing? (Note: All other Belushi performances are probably null and void unless they’re very different from above, as is Sammo Hung unless you’ve got a role where he was also a slob badass, as opposed to just a fat one.) Drop me your picks in the comments.

Where was I? Oh,right. Those whattya-call-’ems:

52 WEEK #19: I was expecting to be deeply annoyed by Lobo, but the idea that he’s found religion and has kinda cleaned up his act, made that storyline kinda interesting and fun. The Booster Gold stuff read a little rushed but had some cool patches and you’ve got two gorgeous looking pages by Brian Bolland, to boot. Highly OK, I thought.

ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO HC: I thought this second volume of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work was better than the first, probably because there’s at least a little more variation in the choice of protagonists–for example, the first story (whose title I can’t remember because I am a dope), about a failing kid’s manga artist whose interest in bathroom graffiti is a stunning piece of work, oddly reminescent of Clowes’ Caricature, that succeeds precisely because of the creator’s willingness to risk the reader’s confusion between creator and protagonist. (It also has one of the most haunting full pages I’ve seen in some time, where the protagonist is shown on the street after having descended a pedestrian overpass. Tatsumi is giving us an ordinary bit of everyday life and a shockingly bluunt metaphor–the protagonist is caught in a spiralling descent–at the same time.) There’s some other amazing stuff in here (the title story, and, jesus, that story with that monkey!) although your best bet is to read just a story every other day so they don’t suffer from their similarity: a gorgeous hardcover for $19.95, this is Very Good if you dole it out accordingly.

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE SC: Although I only read this once, I think Graeme’s review is pretty much spot-on–this is a one of the best graphic novels of the year. It effortlessly strikes that sweet spot of being hilarious, troubling, entertaining and thought-provoking all at once, and it puts you in that all-too-rare position of laughing and challenging about why you’re laughing all at the same time. I understand Graeme’s initial vexation at the end but I thought it kept the three storylines from being more than just variations of each other–I was reminded of the way the melodies in a canon follow and then come together–and opened not just the technique of the story but possibly the message into a new place none of the stories could have gotten to on their own. And, to put it crassly, at 240 color pgs. for $14.95, this sucker is a god-damned great deal for the money. Excellent work, worth reading and worth owning.

BECK VOLUME 5 TPB: I know, I know. Several weeks old but worth commenting on anyway, because on the one hand, the payoffs were tremendously enjoyable and yet, on the other, out of synch with the pacing of the previous volumes–it read like Harold Sakuishi had been told to wrap things up and then halfway through the editors changed their mind and told him to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was damn Good stuff and if I had my way, you fuckers would buy this and like it even if you did so at gunpoint, but I’d be a sycophantic cheerleader if I didn’t admit this volume felt a little off.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #21: A little bit of trouble with that ending scene between C & B, but the rest of this was pure comic book nirvana. Very Good stuff if you’re a Cap fan.

CASANOVA #4: Four issues, four months, and Fraction’s work is shaping up to be a very pleasurable thing, indeed. Under an enjoyable done-in-one cosmic spy heist story is a lovely subtextual rumination on the difficulty of determining the value of what’s real and what’s fake in matters (largely, but not solely) spiritual. And it’s not even diagrammed out, underlined or prechewed in the accompanying text piece. Really Good stuff–I quite liked it.

CLAWS #2: Far less stiff and annoying and tool-ish than I expected it to be. In fact, although maybe not quite as charming as the first issue, still very charming overall. Sadly, the larger price tag (like, $3.99 or something?) keeps in the Valley of the OK, I think.

DEATH NOTE VOL. 7 TPB: Like Beck, suffers from a sudden heaving jump of the plot but I still wouldn’t trade it for the world: Death Note was becoming just a bit too complacent in its formula and the revelation in this volume were just what was needed. Could well have screwed itself, but, for now, Very Good.

DEVI #3: I know, I know. It’s really just Witchblade: India and yet, between the large cast and the occasional surreal cityscape and the badass who really seems like he should look like Sanjay Dutt instead of a dude you’d find on an Old Spice bottle, I’m just the teeniest bit hooked. OK.

DMZ #11: A really lovely looking issue, but I think looking at the pre-DMZ break between NYC and the USA is a mistake–it’s a concept that works as a conceit, as a rich base for satire and allegory and personal vision; trying to sell the reader on the idea that this is something that might actually ever happen is just inviting disbelief. But as a gorgeous looking issue, and another oddly moving loveletter to New York, Good.

DRAGON HEAD VOLS. 2 and 3 TPB: I’m glad this is being spared Tokyopop’s “direct ordering” treatment because this book didn’t get interesting to me until Volume 3. Minetaro Mochizuki’s art is great–something about it reminds me of Charles Burns and, weirdly, Chester Gould–but the first several volumes push the hysteria and “descent into madness” thing a little too quickly. If you can push through that, Volume 3 does a much better job of positing the ways in which panicked and isolated people fall into patterns of magical thinking. Vols. 1 and 2: OK. Vol. 3: Good, but to be honest, if you had to pick between this and the similar Drifting Classroom, I’d steer you toward Drifting Classroom.

DRIFTING CLASSROOM VOL. 1 TPB: Seriously, this was a great first volume: an entire elementary school gets transported to a mysterious wasteland and everyone loses their fucking mind. Unlike Dragon Head, this book nails the madness lurking behind shock and trauma, probably because it shows how much mass panic contributes: some of the most shocking scenes in this volume are of panicking children trampling each other or falling to their death in an attempt to get back to their parents. If you ask me, the very retro art (the series originally ran from 1972 to 1974) makes the work all the more disturbing as doe-eyed Tezuka kids running in mid-air really heightens the sense of innocence being strapped into the front car to Hell. Very Good stuff and you should hunt it down pronto.

ESCAPISTS #3: All of my problems with issue #2 magically disappeared this issue, and I’m back to really enjoying this. On the one hand, I mourn its brevity–it’s not going to explore nearly as many interesting ideas and riffs as the novel did–but I’m actually thrilled that this miniseries might now pace itself properlyand not dramatically drop the ball at the end of things. Very Good stuff.

EX MACHINA #23: On the other hand, if you must buy only one BKV dream sequence this week (and “buy” in the sense of “believe”) this one has it hands down over the one in Escapists. Forced ending, but there’s always something about this book that never really gels quite right for me. OK.

FART PARTY: I’ve enjoyed every issue of Julia Wertz’s self-published Fart Party, but, to be honest, have been leery about recommending them because they’re, like, $3 each. (I know, I know. I’m a cheap bastard and I suck.) So here’s a great solution: go to Julia’s site, read all of her strips, then give her as much money as you think she deserves. If you hate reading comix on the web, get the second issue of Fart Party either from us or from her (it’s fifty cents cheaper and has a priceless Liz Prince cameo). Either way, I think you’ll really like her work–the charmingly crude visuals are more than made up for by the hilariously crude obscenities–and will support it accordingly. Funny stuff.

GOLGO 13 VOL. 4 GN: I can’t really review this because I still can’t think about G-13 sniping a space satellite without some primordial pleasure center in my brain going off. And the English Rose story is an audaciously fucked up piece of work that doesn’t care who it pisses off. Very Good stuff although if we could get just a bit less Clancy and a bit more Crazy, I’d be very pleased.

GREEN ARROW #66: It’s sloppy–the captions start off omniscient, go to Ollie, then end[?] with Connor and at least half the book felt like it was set to the “Montage” musical number from Team America–but it’s effective: I read it back to front, all in one go, enjoyed it and will read the next issue if it’s in the store the same time I am. Quite OK.

GREEN LANTERN #13: Sometimes I wonder if Geoff Johns did intern work for Satan drafting the selling-of-the-soul documents because that guy can find the loophole in anything: Here, it’s revealed that Arisa was thirteen years old on a planet where a year’s rotation around the sun was equivalent to blah-blah-blah-blah, making her not underage jailbait but instead a super-hot grandma. The rest of this will either similarly entertain or annoy you, depending, but any book where planets blow up willy-nilly and giant transformer robots beat the snot out of Green Lanterns gets a Good by me.

LOVE & ROCKETS VOL 2 #17: Most of the Beto work seemed to poised to easily understandable dramatic denouements for a change, but I’m not sure if they really worked in a dramatic sense. (I suppose they will in the trade but that doesn’t do my $4.50 much good right now, does it?) But that’s just me snarking. It doesn’t matter because Jaime’s Hopey story kicks nine kinds of ass and makes the issue worth it all on its own). And, wow, the way that guy draws kids breaks my heart (in a really good way). Very Good issue, despite my initial pissiness.

MONSTER VOL. 4 TPB: If you ever wondered what it might be like if David Lynch directed an episode of The Fugitive, Vol. 4 is maybe as close as you’re going to get. Good, and maybe my favorie volume since the first.

MAN CALLED KEV #3: Is it wrong to admit I’m enjoying this much more than The Boys? It’s not perfect by any means (Ennis either wrote it in a hurry or his ear for dialogue is getting a bit tinny), but as I think I said elsewhere, it reminds me a little bit of Ennis’s dear departed Hitman. Good or highly OK, depending on where you stand with this sort of stuff.

PHONOGRAM #2: I thought the first issue of this, with its Hellblazer-meets-High Fidelity take on the British music scene (and yes, apparently every review of Phonogram is required to take a stab at reverse-engineering the high concept), was quite good. I’m really on the fence however as to whether this issue is better or worse–although it’s admirable that the creators don’t blurt out the backstory all at a go, I think I spent more of the issue baffled rather than intrigued. The art’s lovely and the concept is really, really great but my enthusiasm is more guarded than I would like. A guarded Good (bonus synchronicity points for the way the Transformers screed ties in perfectly with American Born Chinese from First Second).

PRIDE OF BAGHDAD HC: Again, see Graeme. The art on this is stunning and Vaughan’s characterization and eye for event tremendously affecting. If you’ve been wondering what to give that person who loved that copy of We3 you gave them last year, look no further. This book is not without its flaws–the book’s end, a nudge to make you take that final little leap of empathy, felt a little pushier than I would have liked–but goddamn, is it a strong piece of work. Good stuff.

SAM NOIR SAMURAI DETECTIVE #1: Very very dumb–it makes Sin City look like The Dubliners by comparison–but very, very gorgeous. Not how I’d spend my cash, but hard to rank that lovely art lower than OK (although I probably should).

TRUTH JUSTIN & AMERICAN WAY #4: I have no idea if anyone’s reading this but me (and honestly, I can’t remember if I made it past issue #1 or not) but I’d like to sit down with all the issues of it sometime. The ’80s shout-outs get old fast–avoid that fake letters page at all cost–but Giuseppe Ferrario’s art is goddamned good and the story is fun. Provided there’s not tentacle rape in the next few issues, a trade of this skewed to the teen market’d probably do really well. Highly OK.

WASTELAND #3: This, Phonogram, and Casanova all seem very similar to me, and I don’t think it’s just the WEF pedigree. Even though they’re not done in Fell format, Phonogram and Wasteland have similarly ambitious takes on their specific non-capes genres, with black and white work and generous text sections at the end. But whereas Gillen maybe holds his milieu back a little too much, Johnston gives his too much free reign: a really iconic storyline that should move like a b-movie drags under mostly underwhelming art and an over-fastiduous eye for detail. On the letters page, Johnston mentions growing up and playing a lot of RPGs and it shows: Wasteland gets bogged down in too much flavor text too often. My hope is that both Gillen and Johnston will nail down these pacing issues as their books go on but, until then, this is really just kinda OK.

PICK OF THE WEEK: As you can see, didn’t bother too much with the crappy stuff (hopefully not to the entry’s detriment) so I’ll leave it up to you.

PICK OF THE WEAK: See above.

TRADE PICK: American Born Chinese, and then, if you have the coin, either Pride of Baghdad or Drifting Classroom and some other manga volume.

NEXT WEEK: Not from me, amigo! I’m down to the wire this week on two separate deadlines and it’s my one year anniversary on Monday. Besides, wasn’t that a big ol’ portion of mouthiness right there?

Please submit yr. thoughts and lists of slobby fat badasses below. K, thx, bye.

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