Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I've Been Reading - Chew, Sugar Shock, Azumanga Daioh & More


In this edition of What I've Been Reading I take a look at some recent and not so recent comic and manga purchases. Included in this edition are two recent sensations that have been getting a lot of positive press, Chew and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as one of the main tie-ins to Final Crisis, Final Crisis: Revelations. 

And, from the world of manga, I take a look at the new Azumanga Daioh Omnibus from Yen Press. But it's not just collections that I have been reading, as I also take dive back into the world of singles issue with both Sugar Shock, from Dark Horse, and super-sized Amazing Spider-Man #600. All of this, and more, after the jump.


CHEW Vol 1, TASTER'S CHOICE
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Collects Chew #1-5

One thing that I've really been drawn to with manga is the fact that when a series is based on an inherently absurd or silly idea they play it straight or take the idea seriously. Often times in American comics there is a tendency for there be kind of *wink*wink*nudge*nudge* "we know this is stupid but just play along" attitude or attempts to make the material more "serious" by, say, having Mr. Freeze and the Toyman create a Composite Superman/Batman robot in order to commit genocide against the Kryptonians. Both tendencies are stupider than the material they are trying to "improve." 

Chew doesn't have any of this. No one in the story, and I mean no one, finds the idea that the F.D.A. is a powerful law enforcement agency or that chicken is outlawed the slightly bit moronic. Layman takes the material seriously and gets a fantastic story out it because he does so. Approaching the ideas and material on it's own terms Layman can tell a much better story because when writers treat the material they are writing about with respect, it always ends up creating a better story. Granted, this is mostly a problem with Marvel and DC but they are not alone in the regard.

The other thing that makes Chew a great comic is that, at its core, it is simply a detective comic. Sure, it's an oddball detective comic but it is what it fundamentally is. This gives Layman a solid foundation so that Chew doesn't have to relay on it's gimmick to carry the comic.


SUGAR SHOCK
Written by Joss Whedon
Art by Fabio Moon

Sugar Shock is part of Dark Horse's online comics anthology on MySpace and, obviously, I enjoyed it enough to buy a physical copy any though I could read it online for free because it is actually a really great comic. Essentially, it's a non sequitur as a story which, of course, means there is no point in really trying to describe but it's really funny though. Given the nature of the humor and the fact that Whedon wrote it, means that it won't appeal to everyone. That said, it's still worth picking up for Moon's art, which is great. I have a slight preference for the work of his brother Gabriel Ba, simply because I've read more work by him, but Moon's work is just as good. His character designs are wonderful and his art works well with the tone of Whedon's script.

The comic also includes a relatively large sketch book in the back, which I always enjoy. Dark Horse also used a thicker paper stock for both the cover and pages than your average Marvel or DC comic so it feels, and is, heavier than them and it's also a lot more sturdier, which is nice. Also, 40 pages with no ads. All for $3.50.


FINAL CRISIS: REVELATIONS
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Philip Tan
Collects Final Crisis: Revelations #1-5

To me, Revelations is pretty close to being an ideal event tie-in. It takes a minor subject from the main series, in this case the Crime Bible and Religion of Crime, and expands it into it's own story that adds to the overall event while being inessential and without detracting from it as well. This is something a lot tie-ins can't do because either they are essential to the plot (which, to my mind, is a cardinal sin since event minis should be able to be read by themselves) or the tie-in has nothing to offer to the larger story. The latter is simply a problem of event being too big and, therefore, most tie-ins can't actually offer anything to the overall story while still being different from every other title that is involved with it. One of Final Crisis's strengths, as an event, was that it's small size allowed for some more concentrated tie-ins that offered more than "Character A, B or C in Generic Event Tie-In."

Not only does Revelations do a good job of of expanding on the Religion of Crime, it also does a good job of including several other plots Rucka has been working on the past couple of years while still being accessible to new readers, which is almost the complete opposite of Legion of 3 Worlds. It also fits pretty well into Final Crisis's timeline, though The Question's timeline in the overall picture gets a little muddled, but she is also a relatively minor character so it's nothing major.

Revelations one misstep, and it's a pretty big one to me, is that does not work out how The Spectre fits into the larger cosmology of the DCU. Now, I don't actually remember if this was original part of the story's goal or not but, to me, this is a fundamental problem with the character since his status quo actively detracts from other characters like the Guardians, Shazam (the wizard), The Olympian pantheon, and (highly relevant to Final Crisis) The New Gods. Several character mention that God is allowing Darkseid's action which, when you think about it, makes Darkseid worthless as villain since, in theory, the Spectre could step in anytime and stop him. You can give some reasons why that isn't the case but God generally is more powerful than characters that are fundamentally more important to the DCU. Again, to me, this a major storytelling problem both because it weakens other, more important, characters and I think it makes the Spectre too powerful thus making him unusable in the larger DCU.


THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Original Story by L. Frank Baum
Adapted by Eric Shanower
Art by Skottie Young
Collects The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1-8

My interest in this series comes solely from Skottie Young's artwork. I'm mostly familiar with his cover work, his is always very good, though I've only read two comics were he does interior artwork, New X-Men #42 & 43. Long story short, Young really impressed with his work. So much so that his work on this series has made him a Must Read artist for me. Young is now one of my Top 10 favorite artists, possibly even Top 5.

 Like all artist that I consider Must Reads, Young has both a distinctive style combined with solid, or above average, story telling skills. Generally, I've found that good story tellers have an average style while a lot of artists with distinctive styles tend to be poor story tellers so I'm usually getting one or the other, not both. Now, this isn't always the case but it is rare to find an artist with a highly distinctive style that is also an excellent story teller.

As for the story, I really enjoyed it. It was a lot more subtle that I was expecting and more violent since, well, there was violence. Granted it was very much PG violence but still, I wasn't expecting any to begin with. It also has that wonderful quality that Pixar movies have were the surface features will appeal to younger readers while there is some depth to satisfy older readers. It is also a wonderfully imaginative tale in both the writing and Young's designs, which definitely appealed to me. All in all, I can't recommend this comic enough. In fact, the only thing I dislike about the the series is that J. Scott Campbell did a variant for issue #1. It's actually pretty good cover but I'm kind of shocked that someone at Marvel thought that Campbell would be a good fit for series despite how well the cover turned out.


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600
Written by Dan Slott, Stan Lee, Mark Waid, Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim, Zeb Wells, Joe Kelly,
Art by John Romita Jr, Marcos Martin, Collen Doran, Mario Alberti, Mitch Breitweiser, Derec Donovan, Max Fiumara

Timely, I know. Anyway, I picked this up for the Dan Slott and John Romita Jr. Doc Ock lead story despite not being overly impressed by their last collaboration, New Ways To Die, and, unfortunately, I was also unimpressed by this one, though for different reasons. But, before I get to the problems, I'll just mention JRJR's art is still great as always and was more than worth it so I have no regrets about picking this up.

Now, for the problems and I'll start by getting the two minor ones out of the way. First off, the issue begins with a three page montage of the various cranial injuries that Doc Ock gotten over the years. This is dumb simply because it point out the fact that Ock should be well, dead. It's just one of those things that you just really shouldn't point out. The other main problem, which has been a recurring one since Brand New Day started up, is the attempt to be "hip." This includes the phrase "Parker for the win!" and a reference to Johnny Storm twittering. Please Spidey Brain Trust, just stop.

The main problem though has to do with the story. In it, Ock takes starts to take over New York City in order to create a modern paradise based on the power of his intellect to make amends for his past actions as a villain. There are a some bugs in the system though, namely his sub-conscience trying to use the city to kill Spider-Man and ruin Aunt May's wedding. Of course, Spider-Man, The New Avengers and The Fantastic Four decide to team to stop Ock. Essentially, they want to punish him for trying to do a good. Granted, there is the problem of him unconsciously trying to kill Spidey but why not simply have Spidey move out of NYC? Wouldn't that just be a better solution? Sure, it might suck for Spidey but wouldn't be better for NYC?

Another problem that it runs into the other problem that Marvel insists that the Marvel Universe resemble something relatively like the real world. Granted having an, at the time, ex-supervillain running a city might not the be best idea ever but I'm sure Reed Richards wouldn't have a problem running NYC and saving the world at the same time. Again, it just points out an inherent problem with superhero stories, this time being that their time would be better spent doing thing other than using violence to solve all of their problems.

To end this on a positive note, there is a lot of nice humor in the story, something missing from Slott's work on NWTD. And, while I didn't really care for most of the backup stories, they more inoffensive and boring rather than just being bad, the Stan Lee/Marcos Martin and Zeb Wells/Derec Donovan ones were definitely worth reading. A great effort by both creative teams.


AZUMANGA DAIOH OMNIBUS
Written by Kiyohiko Azuma
Art by Kiyohiko Azuma
Adopted by Stephen Paul

I'm hoping that I get some to time review this, since Azumanga Daioh is a wonderful series, but, in case I don't, I wanted make sure I mentioned it somewhere.

Anyway, the series is a slice-of-life comedy about a group of friends during their three years in high school, three since the story takes place in Japan. Azuma's writing and art are both fantastic. The characters are enjoyable and have a lot of great dynamics while the art does a fantastic job of conveying the story while contributing to the series with Amuza's wonderful comedic exaggerations. The humor also translates excellently and I only had to reference the translation notes once or twice.

Azumanga Daioh is also a yonkoma(four panel) manga, which is one of the reasons why I checked it out. Each page has two columns of four panels and each set of four panels generally forms a complete scene or story. Of course, a story can be told over a series of columns but each can function on it's own regardless. It's similar to how newspaper comic strips work yet in a very different way. I'm definitely interested in checking out some more yonkoma manga since I enjoyed the format. Of course, there was some novelty to it but I think it's definitely an interesting format.

One thing that annoyed about the collection though is that the table of contents divided the book up by the school years even though the collection is actually divided along four volumes that make it up. This is a problem because the translation notes are at the end of each volume so you have to dig around to find them. Again, it's nothing major but it's still annoying none the less.

I am also going to take this opportunity to showcase the opening credit sequence from the anime, which is one of the definitely one of the more oddball/surreal/just downright strange yet totally awesome ones I've seen.



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11 comments:

Andrenn said...

I've been interested in Chew. But hey if you're looking for another great Image comic, Jersey Gods is absolutely great.

Primewax said...

I freaking LOVE Azumanga Daioh. I'm glad you are enjoying it. I may have to get the omnibus as well.

Kirk Warren said...

If you enjoy Azumanga Daioh, you simply MUST read Yotsuba&!. In fact, every one should be reading Yotsuba&!.

Primewax said...

I gues I'll read Yotsuba&! then. lol

Klep said...

I don't think it's possible to NOT love Azumanga Daioh. It's like it's specially designed to be the most adorable thing ever created.

Anonymous said...

Final Crisis: Revelations was, in some ways, better than Fianl Crisis itself.

It should be noted that God wasn't letting Darkseid invade the planet, but rather that Final Crisis was a war for God's greatest gift to humanity, free will. Thus God was keeping the Spectre at bay.

Eric Rupe said...

Andrenn - I read the first issue and wasn't impressed. I've been hoping the library would get a copy of the first trade but they haven't yet.

Kirk - I should be ordering some volumes of Y&! by the end of the year.

Anon - See, that just kind of proves my point though. The Spectre could be Darkseid but isn't allowed to. That just undermines Darkseid and doesn't allow him to be a credible threat.

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