11/27/2012

Superman: Earth One Vol. 2


Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by Shane Davis
Inked by Sandra Hope
Colored by Barbara Ciardo
Lettered by Rob Leigh

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Superman: Earth One was a largely uninspired effort - a tweaking of Superman's origin story that didn't really do anything to improve on it. The move to make the destruction of Krypton a result of an act of war added no pathos to Clark Kent/Superman. The book's villain was pretty generic. And the pieces of journalistic writing from Clark and Lois Lane wouldn't have passed muster at a school newsletter, let alone a major metropolitan newspaper. The most notable contribution to the mythos by writer J. Michael Straczynski was the more "emo" interpretation of Clark's personality, something  further explored in Superman: Earth One Volume 2.

In many ways, Straczynski's Clark is a variation of Mark Milton/Hyperion from an earlier Marvel series he penned, Supreme Power. Clark is essentially how Mark would have grown up had he avoided capture by the U.S. military and been raised by the kindly Kents. He still feels emotionally isolated from the rest of humanity because of his superhuman status, even though he decides to help others. The world's governments and ordinary citizens don't trust him. This is the "realism" in Supreme Power that makes it's way to Earth One. It mixes uneasily with Superman's more traditional idealism, resulting in an often passive and unsure protagonist. The visuals also reflect this trend. Artist Shane Davis is no Gary Frank, but his gritty pages look like something that would be more at home in a Batman comic. The color scheme is fairly muted and ugly. Clark with his glasses on looks more nebbish than geek chic. And Superman's physical appearance is closer to the lean athletic type than to the more conventionally bulky bodybuilder ideal.


Where vol. 2 surpasses vol. 1 is in having to no longer retell Superman's well-worn origins. Straczynski instead gets to develop the character by tossing around several familiar tropes. While Superman uneasily settles into his role as superhero and world figure, the U.S. military is researching methods to kill him if he ever goes rogue. A suspicious Lois begins to snoop into Clark's background. And Superman finally gets to fight his first Earth-based supervillain, a monstrously creepy re-imagining of the Parasite. These threads don't quite cohere, which makes the story feel more like a serial squeezed into the book format. Superman's eventual solution to a punitive island dictator's rule is closer to the extreme measures of the Authority, and would give everyone else more reason to distrust him. His battle with the Parasite exudes a "monster of the week" vibe. And Lois' investigation peters out as if Straczynski simply ran out of pages for her.

And then there's the issue of how a super strong alien can mate with fragile mere mortals. Clark is given a a new supporting cast as he moves into a new apartment and becomes acquainted with the building's other residents, the most conspicuous being his attractive and flirtatious neighbor Lisa Lasalle. The whole subplot is a not so subtle shout-out to Larry Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", but not as funny as the original. Highlighting Clark's own frustration at his inability to do the nasty is certainly one way to make his alienation more relatable to the reader. Lisa however is still a one-note character at this point, and the resolution to the sexual tension between them feels way too much like an easy out.


So while the book is a slight improvement over its predecessor, it doesn't quite rise to the level that makes it stand out from the already massive pile of preexisting Superman material. It ends with the promise of a newer, shinier version his greatest arch-enemy about to make his life very miserable. Will this make "Superman: Earth One" much better on its third installment? I'm a little skeptical.

11/21/2012

Animation: Fleischer Superman cartoons


Go to: YouTube, by Warner Bros. (via Joseph Hughes)

These gorgeous animated shorts from the early 1940s hold up amazingly well, even when compared with work created using today's more advanced computer-assisted techniques.

11/17/2012

Where are you, you spongy yellow delicious bastards?

Tallahassee:  This Twinkie thing, it ain't over yet. - Zombieland
Farewell Hostess. I loved the artificially sweet aftertaste and funny sounding names of your products. If you can't find a buyer, I might still need to learn parkour, like really soon.

Update: As any Canadian already knows, the demise of Hostess doesn't mean their products are no longer sold elsewhere. Americans can still go north of the border to satisfy their craving for Twinkies, Ding DongsHo Hos, and other goodies.

11/16/2012

Making Things


Go to: The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman (via Guy Kawasaki)

11/13/2012

Webcomic: Nimona


Go to: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Ninja Girl Ko! Indie Special #1-2 and Video Girl Ai Vol. 15

Today's reviews are all about the kind of girls shonen manga fantasizes having around the house - inexplicably loyal to the passive male whom they happen to share the same roof.

Ninja Girl Ko! Indie Special #1-2
by Marco Dimaano, Kriss Sison

Ninja Girl Ko! began in the pages of the original pinoy manga anthology Mangaholix in 2007. With that magazine no longer an ongoing concern (as far as I can tell. Their website hasn't been updated lately), series creator Marco Dimaano has decided to go the self-publishing route, resulting in a big drop in production values. Succeeding the previous glossily colored work, NGK lives on as a pair of cheaply-printed minis. Ironically, this change brings the comic much closer to the look and feel of Japanese manga magazines.

NGK takes its cues from traditional shonen tropes from the Eighties. Filipino teenager Anton Alcazaren wanders into the woods during a school excursion, where he runs into Michiko Yamashita, a beautiful kunoichi and surviving daughter of a WWII-era Japanese soldier. At first enraging her with his patented clumsiness, he manages to earn her loyalty by saving her life. Michiko follows Anton back to Manila and becomes his bodyguard/housekeeper. But it isn't long before her presence attracts the unwelcome attention of a shadowy nativist organization called The Kamao. While the premise sounds like the setup to a domestic farce along the lines of Ranma 1/2 or Tenchi Muyo, both the artwork and preference for combat hews closer to later series like Naruto and Bleach.


The story has not yet gotten too far, so the two indie specials are a suitable enough jumping on point for new readers. Prior events are summarized and things pick up where they left of. In order to pay to replace a previously wrecked bike, Michiko enters an underground cage-fighting tournament. She easily thrashes the competition, but is then attacked by an equally skilled escrimador. Naturally, she's also a cute teenage girl. Named Maya Luna, she's later revealed to be working for The Kamao. Much of these two issues is devoted to building her up as a worthy martial arts rival to Michiko. And she's contrasted as the short-haired, genki girl equivalent to Michiko's more reserved personality.

The change in format seems to have freed-up series artist Kriss Sison. He's more willing to break with the grid and utilize a more Japanese style of layout. The results are more elaborately staged fights scenes accompanied by more "decompressed" storytelling. And the computer coloring of the past is now replaced by more straightforward stippling. The upshot though is that the series is now paced like mainstream shonen manga, while subject to the irregular release schedule of an indie comic. This could get much more irritating with the passage of time.


Video Girl Ai Vol. 15
by Masakazu Katsura

Any knowledgeable fan who's read Video Girl Ai could have predicted that nonentity/wish fulfillment character Yota Moteuchi would end up with magical helper Ai Amano. That's how the formula goes. How the story arrives at that endpoint is what attracts the reader to a particular series. Masakazu Katsura accomplishes this through a mixture of tortuous personal growth and shameless fan service. Characters are often expressing their niggling insecurities through extended monologues. Then the scene suddenly shifts to someone staring at some cute girl's ass. The pain and suffering isn't always confined to people's headspaces. There are scenes involving actual torture, assault, and attempted rape. Then there's the fantasy elements embodied in Ai. Unlike other would-be magical girlfriends, she exudes spunk. Her tomboyish behavior doesn't make her immediately attractive to Yota, so it's a slight subversion when he begins to favor her over the more traditionally feminine love interest. Not that this hasn't been seen before in romantic comedies were the leads start out hating each other before they fall in love at the end. However, the meaning of Ai's very existence is tied to getting Yota a girlfriend. So when she begins to develop feelings for him, her mission is not only deemed a failure, her life becomes imperiled as well.

The saga of Yota and Ai lasts for an emotionally-laden thirteen volumes. But rather than ending there, the last two volumes of the series feature side stories involving a different cast of characters. I skipped reading Vol. 14, which forms the first part of "Len's Story". I didn't really find that I missed much, as the it mirrors a lot of the main narrative. Hiromu Taguchi is a Yota version 2.0, and is helped by new Video Girl Len Momono, whose personality and appearance is also very similar to Ai's. The main difference is that the emotional issues Hiromu faces are resolved a lot more quickly and with less fuss. The last volume apparently ended with Hiromu thrown into turmoil over rumors about his love interest Ayumi Shirakawa. Vol. 15 starts with Len berating Hiromu for thinking less of Ayumi just because she might not conform to his virginal fantasy of her. It's very candid for a shonen romance. But hey, it turns out that the rumors are lies being spread by Aumi's conniving ex-boyfriend. The ex is confronted. Problem solved. When Hiromu starts to take Ayumi for granted, triggering the couple's first big fight, Len tells him to rediscover what he loves about her through art. Len is a repository of practical dating advice, embodied in a cheerful and assertive teenage girl. It's a more lighthearted approach. But the relative brevity of "Len's Story"  doesn't allow much room for its cast to establish a stronger separate identity from the main cast.

The last story "Video Girl" is actually an early prototype for the entire series. The art is a lot less refined, the visual gags are a bit more obvious, the humor tends towards slapstick, and the characters' personalities are portrayed in broader strokes. Compared to what came after, it fares badly. So it's more of a curiosity than integral reading material.

11/08/2012

Schadenfreude, Post-Election Edition


It's Revenge of the Nerds, for 2012.

I should also mention that orc assassin Santiaga, a.k.a. Colleen Lachowicz has won in her election. Don't mess with WoW geeks. They will crush you.

While (some) white people mourn, Key & Peele celebrate.

Yes, it's unseemly to gloat. Like 99% unseemly. Some people can't help it.

11/07/2012

Webcomic: America: Elect!


Go to: The Guardian, by Richard Adams and Erin McCann

11/05/2012

11/04/2012

Futile

Image via Gerry Canavan

Well, it [the Occupy Movement] should have gone on. It should have built and built. It was a great start that didn’t go anywhere, and that’s also tragic — really tragic. It wasn’t the first massive left-wing thing we have seen in a long time because the progressive people signing up for Obama was a massive thing that also failed. Before that, the protests in Seattle in ’99 — people were enthusiastic about that, and that fizzled, too. There’s a larger problem here about why the left can’t get off the ground, take off, failure to launch…  
 ...There’s a bunch of different problems, but one of the problems is that these movements always — somehow — get sucked into the academy. They get taken over by people who are absolutely determined to not speak in a way that is comprehensible to average Americans. In fact, [these are] people who have enormous contempt for average Americans. The whole idea of the left is about empowering average people, and you can’t do that if you despise them. 
- Tom Frank on the irrelevance of the modern Left