Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some comics I've been reading

Thor #600
I don't believe I've ever read an issue of Thor before this one. Like Captain America and Iron Man, Thor was always a character that I'd enjoyed as a member of the Avengers yet had little interest in as a solo character. I picked up #600 both because it was a milestone issue and because I'd heard a lot of good things about J. Michael Straczynski's run. I was not a fan of Babylon 5, for which he is apparently best known, nor had I read any of his comic work. I mainly knew Straczynski by reputation as that fool who decided that Gwen Stacy was actually the whore mother of Norman Osborn's superpowered twin children. Still, despite my concerns, this was #600, including an additional story by Stan Lee. Also, of all the upcoming Marvel Avenger movies, Thor is by far the one I'm most curious (and worried) about, and I figured I'd check out the current comics for any ideas as to what direction the film might take.

While I'm used to DC's comics being impenetrable, Marvel's tend to be slightly more accessible, and so I was a bit surprised at how little I knew about the current Thor. Apparently, he has taken on the Donald Blake civilian identity again, though it doesn't see much use in this issue. Also, Loki is now a woman. At least, I'm pretty sure he/she is, going by the art. In any case, while I've obviously missed a lot of backstory, the issue is still relatively self-contained, focusing on a fight that begins and ends within its pages. It's neither amazing nor offensive, but it's competent enough that I feel no further need to rag on Straczynski over Spider-Man comics I haven't read, and, with the promise of a Doctor Doom appearance in the next issue, I'm interested to see where things go.

Runaways Vol.3 #7
Runaways is already better now with Humberto Ramos off the art chores, but, on its own, it's still not that great. I'm still just waiting for Terry Moore to wrap up his run and hopefully close it cleanly enough so that I can pretend it never happened once the new team takes over.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #22
Still trash. Getting worse, actually. And, unlike Runaways, Buffy mostly sucks even when Whedon is writing. The glacial pacing and incessant banter between characters of no name nor consequence is long past tiresome. The Jo Chen painted covers are now about the only consistently good things about this series. It could learn a lot from its sister series below.

Angel: Aftermath #18
Angel: After the Fall was a surprisingly great run of seventeen issues that, a few extraneous fanservice character inclusions notwithstanding, I really could have believed as the sixth season of the TV series. Whereas Buffy feels like it's taken twenty-two issues to tell the equivalent of about four hour-long episodes, Angel is now already into effectively a seventh season, and it begins with a game-changing twist very much reminiscent of that from the fifth season opener. Again, aside from the prominent addition of Kate, a minor character who likely never would have reappeared on the show, it's still good stuff that mostly makes sense.

G.I. Joe Origins #1
I don't have a lot of hope for the upcoming G.I. Joe movie, but it has nevertheless reignited my enthusiasm for this property which I loved as a kid. For this new look at the origins of the G.I. Joe team, publisher IDW brought back Larry Hama himself to write. Hama was the guy who wrote all the Marvel G.I. Joe comics back in the day, turning what might otherwise have been a glorified toy advertisement into a thriller of greater maturity and sobriety than most of Marvel's superhero books of the time. It truly was a book ahead of its time in its use of many strong female characters, well-represented minorities, and, most courageously of all, a mute lead character.

In the many years since Hama's original comic ended, the brand has severely declined, and even I virtually forgot that it was anything more than a kid's toy. Yet Hama has not missed a beat in his return. The action moves swiftly and suddenly, but there is also developing intrigue, and, to my surprise, this whole world of action figure soldiers is still more believable than almost any superhero comic.

For some unfathomable reason, the issue has two distinct artists alternating almost at random to distracting effect, but, otherwise, this title shows a lot of promise and is already clearly superior to the new flagship G.I. Joe comic series.

Claymore Vol.14
The first volume of this manga was one of the only books I'd ever picked up based solely on the cover art and back copy. Now, fourteen volumes in, I remain glad that I did.

Claymore is the story of Clare, an agent for a mercenary organization that hunts down demons using female warriors that have themselves been implanted with demon flesh. The early chapters had Clare working alone on small hunts, and she had a rather annoying boy tagalong, presumably to provide a character that the predominantly young male readership could more easily identify with. Around the sixth volume or so, however, the story took a turn in a different direction, focusing more on the organization and on Clare's many fellow Claymore warriors, not altogether unlike the Green Lantern Corps. It's consequently become one of the most exciting action manga currently running, full of bloody battles involving multiple Claymores, each with a unique ability, facing off against demons or even often one another.

Writer and artist Norihiro Yagi's artwork, composed mostly of lithe bodies in stiff poses, is not typical shounen manga art, and I expect his shortcomings in rendering human musculature contributed to his preference for a cast of mostly pretty females. At first glance, it could be mistaken for shoujo, were it not for the severed limbs all over the place. While the art may not be the most dynamic, Yagi more than makes up for it with a rewarding pace and a real sense of danger, as, aside from Clare, nobody ever seems safe. It's not the deepest manga around, but it's the one I most look forward to with every new volume.

Fruits Basket Vol.22
I was first introduced to Fruits Basket during my freshman year of college almost eight years ago. Now the only title of consequence in Tokyopop's catalog, it's taken a long time getting to this penultimate volume that pretty much wraps up the main plot. With months passing between the release of every volume, it's been hard to maintain interest, but author Natsuki Takaya's deft and convincing portrayal of human emotions always shines through the fantasy and melodrama, reminding me why I've stuck with the series so long. I'll be sad to see it go, especially since there doesn't seem to be any major shoujo manga waiting to take its place.

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