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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Liz's Pick of the Week

Do you like your comics a little on the bizarre side?  Do you enjoy the colorful characters, stylized look, and brutal violence of the average Tarantino film?  Do you think Elvis would be cooler with a little more blood on his hands?  If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you should check out Rafael Grampa's Mesmo Delivery, out now on Dark Horse.

This short-form graphic novel glimpses a fateful moment in the journey of two delivery men- one a garrulous old Elvis impersonator, the other a lumbering ex-boxer.  They make a quick stop at remote roadhouse, run into some unsavory types, and all hell breaks loose.  In the midst of it all we get the idea that one trucker may know a little more about the nature of their mysterious cargo than the other. 

It's a quick read, but a memorable one.  Grampa gives the reader just enough information to appreciate the gravity of all the action. The art has an old-timey animated quality, but is incredibly textured; the vintage-style signs and text and the washed-out, limited color palette create a really strong sense of place.  Not for the squeamish, but tight, fun, and singular, Mesmo Delivery comes highly recommended from your friends here at the Laughing Ogre!

Comics and Morality

How do we know who the heroes are in the comics we read?   Is it because we are told by the writer or do we gauge characters by our own moral compass?  While any character may at some time make compromises to their own code of conduct, the following series turn the entire concept of morality on its head, forcing readers to ask serious questions of the characters and themselves.

1. MW - Michio Yuki
The two main characters of this series are both despicable in their own right.  As murderers, extortionist, and sex offenders, they are not easy to sympathize with.  Regarded as the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka is one of the few who can make you.  While reading this series, you often question who to blame; Michio for his horrific actions, Garai for allowing them, or the government responsible for chemical weapon Michio is exposed to, leaving him amoral and apathetic.  It seems all of Michio's heinous crimes are committed for the sake of getting revenge against those responsible for the death of an entire island.  This is one of the most raw presentations of "the end justifies the means" you can find.  Read it and decide who you can forgive in a story with no heroes.

2. Death Note - Light Yagami
Do you believe in the death penalty?  What gives one person the right to measure another by their own moral compass?  Light believes very strongly in justice and law, so when he obtains a death god's notebook, he uses its power to kill off the world's most wanted criminals.  Murder is still murder, so Light is pitted against L, the world's greatest detective.  While L may not be killing criminals wholesale, he certainly violates civil and privacy rights. Both characters justify their actions through their own moral code.  A character who damns him/herself for the sake of others is still damned.  What is left is to decide whether or not their sacrifice helped or hurt the world.

3. Walking Dead - Rick Grimes

When society had crumbled, what rules still apply?  As a lawman before the zombie apocalypse, Rick Grimes must decide whether survival today or the laws of yesterday are more important.  While he wants to always do the right thing, Rick is quick to learn the old rules don't necessarily apply. He is constantly making moral compromises which slowly darken his soul. With the new way of the world, someone else's secrets could kill you.  Rick's optimism at the beginning of the story slowly (and understandably) erodes with the events that transpire.  When readers look back on the series when it's finished,have to decide if Rick is a hero and if his moral lapses are necessary and forgivable.

4. Full Metal Alchemist - Roy Mustang (secondary character)
After helping participate in an act of genocide, Colonel Mustang has been regarded as a war hero by some and a "dog of the military" by others.  He feels great remorse for what took place and resolves to create change from within the system.  Mustang dedicates his life to working his way up in the military to a position where he can dictate change.  He vows to protect those working under him and asks they only protect those who are under them and so on.  It all sounds well and good, but in a nation under a military dictatorship, how truly noble is his goal?  Can we forgive an act of genocide because he was "following orders"? 

5. Battle RoyaleShuyu Nanahara
"Kill or be killed."  That is the guideline given to any class of junior high students unlucky enough to be selected to participate in The Program.  Contestants on this reality show are placed on an island with a survival pack and a random weapon (anything from a coat hanger to an uzi) after being equipped with a radio collar (fatally combustible) for movement tracking.  Shu, being an eternal optimist, believes his classmates can unite and refuse to compete. His outlook is tested to it's limit as the students begin slaughtering each other at a record setting pace.  Shu must decide how long he can hold onto his personal ideology while protecting himself and the girl he's sworn to rescue from The Program.

- Ryan

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Weekly Spotlight: Nothing Better

On the rack this week is print collection number two of Tyler Page's webcomic Nothing Better! The Eisner-nominated creator of Stylish Vittles keeps the college-centric slice-of-life coming with a diverse group of young folks navigating the highs and lows of growing up.

St. Urho College is home to an ensemble cast of misfits, athletes, artists, and wallflowers who are, above all, just normal kids in a transitional period.  Crushes, trouble, and misunderstandings abound. At the center of it all are Jane and Katt, odd-couple roommates building a tenuous friendship: Jane is studious and straight-laced, questioning her Christian beliefs for the first time, while Katt is a wild-child agnostic with a few doubts of her own.  They give voice to the overarching themes of relationships and ideals that drive the story.

The artwork is in black and white, with gray tones; it alternates between highly-detailed settings and cartoonish exaggeration.  Page has made the leap from autobiography to YA fiction with alacrity; check it out today!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shiny New Comics

Okay, they might not be that shiny, but they are kind of glossy.

Darkwing Duck #1 - Suck gas, evildoers! He is the terror that flaps in the night.  He is the termite that devours your floor board.  He is the batteries that are not included.  He is the wierdo that sits next to you on the bus.  I could do these all day.  Give yourself a treat and check out this fantastic character.  The comic retains all of the charm and wit of the animated series.  It's sure to please old and new fans alike.  As "Double-D" would say, "let's get dangerous.
Walking Dead #73 - Rick and company have integrated into their new community fairly well.  Each has a new job and they are learning how adjust to life inside the wall.  Something still seems off about them, so Rick isn't going to feel safe until they get their guns back from the locked room. When Rick and Glenn make a play for the firearms, will their fragile peace fall apart?

Brightest Day #4 -  This is the follow-up series to Blackest Night and the driving force in the DC Universe.  If you want to make sense of super hero zombies of yesterday, you need to pick this book up.  Boston Brand (formerly Deadman) continues to get pulled around by the white ring as it slowly unveils its hidden purpose.
 The New Avengers #1 - In the wake of a few bad years for the Avengers, Steve Rogers gives Luke Cage an opportunity to put together his own team of Avengers.  It looks like they are going to start with a bang.  There is a supernatural threat emerging that is more than the world is prepared for.  You'll have to read this series to see if Cage and his new crew can pull it together fast enough to protect the Marvel Universe from this mysterious threat.

- Ryan

Monday, June 14, 2010

Seven Samurai

Nothing too heavy today, just some suggestions for samurai fans.  If you like ANY of the following characters, you should check out the rest of them.

1. Miyamoto Musashi - The main character of Takehiko Inoue's "Vagabond". This series follows a sensationalized account of the legendary swordsman's life.  Arguably the greatest swordsman to have ever lived, Musashi is already an interesting historical figure.  When coupled with Inoue's artwork, his journey to become the "strongest under the sun" is beyond compelling.  Beyond beautiful. Beyond words.
 2. Manji - Never one to make a lot of friends, Manji was responsible for the deaths of 100 men before being gifted with immortality.  As one who wants to die in battle, it's not a very good present (nor was it intended to be).  In order to lift this curse, the 800 year old nun responsible makes a deal with Manji.  If he cuts down 1000 evil people, she will let him pass on to the next world.  Even if the idea of an immortal swordsman doesn't appeal to you, the artwork of Hiroaki Samura is sure to impress.  The character design and fight sequences are genius.  Look for "Blade of the Immortal" (and the rest of these guys) in the manga section at Laughing Ogre.

3. Himura Kenshin - For those of you who don't want your bad @$$ swordsman killing people, check our Nobuhiro Watsuki's red-headed assassin.  While he has sworn off killing, his past is blood-soaked enough to make him a constant target of old grudges.  As a goverment assassin during the Bakumatsu War, Kenshin became known as the "Hitokiri Battōsai," mercilessly slaying anyone his superiors targeted. Now, he strives for peace in the era his bloody sword helped create.  I think we all know that never works out.  Read "Rurouni Kenshin" to see if this swordsman can protect his friends as well as his hope for a corpse-free life.

4. Roranoa Zoro - Another swordsman with the goal of being the strongest, Zoro trains and fights tirelessly.  Unlike Musashi, the quest is not for himself.  A tragic childhood promise drives this fighter to push himself beyond human limits.  Luckily, he joined up with the boy who dreams of being King of the Pirates, so he is given plently of opportunities to test his skills against the world's mightiest swordsmen.  Check out "One Piece", by Eichiro Oda. Yes, he does fight with three swords.

5. Usagi Yojimbo -The titular character of Stan Sakai's long running epic, Usagi is the epitome of what we expect from vagrant swordsmen.  He is honorable, spiritual, gullable, and deadly fast with a blade.  "Usagi Yojimbo" is a anthropomorphic window into the world of feudal Japan. Every issue of this series is a testament to Sakai's skill as a story teller.  Don't ignore this series because you harbor an aversion to rabbits. Usagi is a stand up guy, but he doesn't hold back when it comes to cutting down enemies.

6. Ogami Ittō -This guy is probably the one you should hire if you want a protector or an assassin.  If you imagine Batman for hire, you get this guy and his kid.  The stories in "Lone Wolf and Cub" are incredibly deep.  Anything I say about this series is going to fall short to the majesty of its reality.  You should know this is, in large part, what inspired Frank Miller (Sin City, Dark Knight Returns, Ronin) as a creator and artist. Read this series, by Kazou Koike and Goseki Kojima, to light your creative fire.

7. Takeshi Yamamoto -Being a swordsman to the captain of a pirate ship is pretty cool, but being the swordsman to a mob boss might be a little bit cooler (it's up for debate). Enter: Yamamoto.  This guy was the star baseball player at Namimori Middle School before falling in with Vongola the 10th (future mob boss) and his crew.  Yamamoto believes the mob thing to be a game (he's a dumb jock), but that doesn't stop him from learning his family's secret sword style to protect the others.  Look for this guy in "Reborn!" by Akira Amano.

- Ryan