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The Places We’ll Go, The Trades We’ll Read: Jeff’s Look At Some Recently Released Trades

Jeff Lester

Gah. Welcome to the new Savage Critics’ world of ultra-content [insert your own “Hope you survive the comix experience!” joke here], and enjoy it for as long as we can keep the plates spinning. Hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll smooth out the wrinkles a bit, so you’re not reading all three of us reviewing the same book with more or less the same take on it. For example, I’m writing this review of trades knowing that Graeme’s got the same thing in the hopper and we’re covering some of the same books, which I find a little daunting and also an excellent excuse to instead go and play a few more hours of Dragon Quest VIII (which I would totally recommend to readers of Dr. Slump, by the way, because Akira Toriyama designed the characters and monsters for DQVIII and they’ve got a great loopy touch to them).

On the other hand, if it provides all y’all with some sort of guideline to track down a new book that you end up loving, I’ll be happy.

BECK MONGOLIAN CHOP SQUAD VOL 7 TPB: It’s always hard pretending to be a critic, and never more so than when you’re reviewing something you love passionately but you know to have more than its share of flaws–for example, Harold Sakuishi’s Beck, to which I’m passionately devoted. This volume finds Sakuishi relying ever heavier on a rather gaudy plot element–a stolen guitar that ties into the death of an American pop star–and abruptly ending scenes between characters so as to prolong the development of relationships over time, rather than letting his drama build, crest and peak naturally.

On the other hand, this volume of Beck is chock-full of Sakuishi passionately drawing things he clearly feels passionate about–pretty girls and guys hunched intently over guitars, gratuitous cartoon slapstick and people’s faces contorted in song and anger and joy. And if you’re invested in the slow struggle and triumph of the underdog protagonist like I am, it’s like that long, endless ribbon of delicious nougat they’d show in candy bar commercials on Saturday morning–a simultaneous promise and delivery of cheap and blissful sensory overload. Very Good work, and worth reading despite the shortcomings.

DOOM PATROL VOL 5 MAGIC BUS TPB: Although I’ve been buying the trades, I’ve been pretty lax about re-reading these classic Grant Morrison Doom Patrol stories, but I tucked into this volume to see what was being reprinted and found myself impressed at the variety of material here–there’s the “Mr. Nobody for President” story, a great Lee-Kirby piss-take {thanks, Duncan!], probably the most elliptical superhero origin story ever told, and the beginning of the final Doom Patrol arc which has all the balls to look at the origin of the Doom Patrol in a way that finally has it make sense. Although I’m probably preaching to the choir here, this is a Very Good set of reprints, and impressive for being a well-told superhero book (well paced subplots and everything!) as well as a flashy, gaudy, dazzling shot of pop-culture transgressiveness.

DRIFTING CLASSROOM VOL 4 TPB: Took me a while to get around to Vol. 4 of this and I worried that maybe it wouldn’t be as grippingly insane as the first three volumes. Fortunately, Kazuo Umezu’s volume opens with a bunch of first-graders convinced they can change into birds and leaping to their death, and then just gets better from there. Giant monsters, bloody dismemberment, semi-voluntary chloroforming, last minute life-or-death school elections–Drifting Classroom hurtles along like a full-bore nightmare, heedless of its own illogic and committed to making you break out in a cold sweat even while you’re chuckling at the insanity of it all. It’s been Excellent work so far, and I have every hope it’ll continue its streak of brain-melting brilliance. Amazing stuff.

GARAGE BAND TPB: I didn’t want to be the first SCer to review this because my take on the book is so pedantic. While I loved Gipi’s art on this, I found myself wishing that First Second had opted for a foreword or an afterword to this tale of four kids trying to overcome any number of travails; for one thing, the book strikes me as deeply, deeply Italian with some of the struggles going on between the kids and their parents with Communism, Socialism and Nazism having pretty specific meanings within the ongoing free-for-all that is Italian national identity. Secondly, Gipi’s central conceit–that the kids are playing in a garage owned by the father–is a pretty specific thematic concern to the book as the band struggles with the influence of family (particularly their fathers) in the way they’re going to do with their lives and what’s expected of them, and again I think this didn’t strike as deep a chord with me as an American reader as it might someone in Italy for whom family is an all-pervading influence.

I’d like to think that such a foreword or afterword might help adjust a reader’s expectations a bit, so that the focus is put more properly back on the kid’s struggle, rather than whether they fail or succeed; becuase it’s the struggle that Gipi is stressing here as important, not the success or failure, and it might make it a little easier to put the book down satisfied if one knows that going in.

Either way, it’s a tremendous looking book and I’m glad that First Second is publishing it, but Garage Band is easier to admire than to love (which makes it exactly the opposite of a its subject matter) and I think that’s a bit of a shame. OK.

GOLGO 13 VOL. 7 TPB: Although the exchange of prisoners never happens, and we are not passed from our sensible jailer Takao Saito to the crazed revolutionaries of Golgo 13 readers, editor Carl Horn picks two nice complementary Golgo 13 stories with more than a touch of the crazy to them. I particularly liked the villain of “Eye of God,” a religion obsessed peeping tom satellite intel specialist who tries to deceive Golgo 13, with typicially sniperific results. But the second story, “Far From An Era” also has a enoyable denouement stemming from the bat-shit crazy idea that a guy would hire a professional killer to snipe an earring off his wife’s ear. Oh, and Golgo 13 beds a lonely widow with little more than five sentences and three set of ellipses. Good stuff, and among the more enjoyable volumes released yet.

MUSHISHI VOL 1 GN: Picked this up because of some stuff Jog said (sorry I’m being too lame to look up direct links), and I wasn’t disappointed. I was amused, however, by a possible influence on Yuki Urushibara’s work that hasn’t been noted; while everyone has pointed out the influence of Tezuka’s Black Jack on this story of a wandering healer-for-hire in a rural, semi-magical time, I haven’t seen anyone mention that Ginko wanders around in a trench coat, hair in his eyes, smoking a cigarette. Maybe everyone is afraid of making the terrifying high-concept pitch for this but I won’t: if you’ve ever wanted to see Hayao Miyazaki try his hand at John Constantine, you’ll probably dig Mushishi. I thought the first story, which won a prestigious manga award, was filled with tons of a cool ideas but was a little on the draggy side but by the time we get to the “Light In The Eyelids,” Urushibara is crafting taut little stories about tiny innocent things we do that connect us to a more powerful and dangerous barely seen world. If you think it sounds like the sort of thing you’ll like, then trust me, you will. Good stuff.

NAOKI URASAWAS MONSTER VOL 7 TPB: As Dick Hyacinth pointed out on his blog somewhere, Naoki Urasawa is a helluva cartoonist, and his love of jowly, mustached old men serves him particularly well in this volume–I could spend hours looking at the sequence on pgs. 146-148, where a tubby old guy has flashbacks while jogging. In fact, said old guy, Dr. Gillen, pretty much steals the show for Volume 7, which works in the volume’s favor and makes it one of my favorites of the series. While Fugitive-style narratives with new characters constantly stepping into the limelight seems like a good idea for an open-ended story, in fact I think it just makes it easier for the reader to stop caring about the overall narrative. But Urasawa’s solid cartooning chops and surehanded way with melodrama manage to keep me chained to the story every time. A highly Good read, I thought.

THE PLAIN JANES TPB: I’m cheating, because I only read the first half of Hibbs’ copy before he dashed off with it. However, the two things that struck me the most were: (a) how much Jim Rugg’s work here looks like Dan Clowes and all the half-baked conclusions that I leapt to as a result of that (is Ghost World a tremendously popular read in the teen girl market? Is Rugg’s style and some of the plot element of Plain Janes an attempt to tap into that specific readership?) and (b) wow, this needed another draft. There’s a lot of stuff I really liked about Castelluci’s story–for one thing, the book’s theme is about how the creation of art is implicitly tied to trauma and the attempts to come to terms with trauma, and so art can be uncomfortable, unsettling and challenging to the status quo even while it is for the status quo’s ultimate good–but it’s poorly structured: the protagonist’s story flips around awkwardly in time as Castelluci tries to throw in all the important elements of the backstory while making a run at having the plot power forward. I’m sure the idea is to unpeel the protagonist’s motivations seem mysterious and complex, but the opening covering the most dramatic part of that backstory (the explosion that changed her life) renders that pretty moot. What we get is a story that feels like it’s told on the fly, one of those “Oh, wait! I forgot to tell you this part!” jokes where the punchline is going to end up mangled.

I really love the idea of the MINX line, and Rugg’s art is gorgeous in places and clean and emphatic throughout, but I’m kinda relieved I can’t give you a rating for the full book of The Plain Janes. The first half was Eh, but I hope when I get the chance to read the whole thing all my criticisms will be nullified by a terrific ending. I’m doubtful, however.

THE PROFESSOR’S DAUGHTER TPB: Like Bri and Graeme, I thought this was the hit of the upcoming First Second books I’ve read. In fact, having read Graeme’s review, I don’t know what I can tell you about it that he or Brian hasn’t. The watercolor work on it is stunning; the story is goofy, but also romantic and touching and sweet. It’s told with incredibly charm and brevity and scope, so that what starts off as a quiet afternoon in the park between an animated mummy and a professor’s daughter becomes a crime story, love story, family drama and courtroom epic without losing its pitch-perfect note of whimsy. I’m pretty stingy with my Excellent rating, so hopefully the fact this book earns it (from me and Graeme and Brian) will send you in search of it. It’s absolutely worth your time and attention.

Believe it or not, I’ve got another six or so trade reviews up my sleeve but I’ll try and save ’em for later so your eyes don’t explode. But what do you think of the new content-heaviness? Too much? Not enough? Both? Let us know…

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