East of West #12: Revenge is for the righteous

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One of the skills of maintaining a long running comic series is mixing it up, changing tone, changing pace and focus.

Nick Dragotta does this beautifully in East of West #12.

If you need a re-cap of where we are so far with the story take a look at my East of West issue by issue summary #01-11.

I know one thing, reading this right through in a collected issue is going to be a treat.

But for now trying to keep a handle on a plot with so many arcs, twists, turns and reveals is tough.

However, it is so worth the effort.

If you thought a whole comic where the entire cast sit around a table and have a debate would be boring you’d be dead wrong.

You could cut the tension between the characters in this issue with a knife.

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“Man is a most complex simple creature

See what he weaves, and how base his reasons for doing so.”

Oh, how true that is.

Each of the Chosen has their own agenda: revenge, greed, avarice…

All so base and simple; or are they?

Xiaolian is out to start a war.

To take revenge.

To hurt those who hurt her and took her child.

But what is her real agenda?

She’s too cool and calculating to just want to destroy the world in a fit of blind rage.

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As Dragotta reminds us all the way through this issue, there is deception here.

This issue opens up a raft of new potential sub plots.

What is Doma Lux’s motivation for making sure war breaks out?

And who will be the next Chosen One to take advantage of a deadly diversion?

An issue like this can seem like a pause in the momentum of the story.

But it also adds to the expectation.

As a reader I want the story to veer back across the paths of the characters I miss.

Where are Wolf and Crow?

Where is Death?

Where is Death’s child?

From the form of this comic so far I am sure I won’t be disappointed when Dragotta decides to bring them back into the spotlight.

Saga #19: In which Brian K. Vaughan makes us go “uurgh”!

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Chapter 19 of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples sci-fi series gives us something never seen before; a close up view of a baby with a TV for a head being born.

And this is part of what makes this comic so endearing.

In turns Vaughan makes us ooh, ahh and go uurgh.

I won’t spoil the effect by posting that image here.

We jump forward slightly in time in this chapter.

Our star crossed lovers are still on the run, living in hiding on the planet Gardenia.

Times are tough for a couple in hiding.

Being the primary care-giver can be a thankless task.

And wearing a huge wig and acting in a really tacky soap opera also has its problems.

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At its heart this story has always been about the relationship dynamics of the main characters.

Writers who want a really loyal following ignore that at their peril.

Brian K. Vaughan nails it.

I really care about Marko and Alana.

Their squabbles, their sense of humour and their need for each other just rings true.

Despite the floating ghost babysitter and the spaceships.

All of which are cool.

But importantly they don’t detract from how believable  the story seems.

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After a three month hiatus this chapter feels like the beginning of a new story ark for Saga.

And I can’t wait to see where they take it.

Comics Unmasked: London Exhibition

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On at the British Library in London till 19 Aug 2014.

According to the BL website Comics Unmasked features, “such iconic names as Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Grant Morrison (Batman: Arkham Asylum) and Posy Simmonds (Tamara Drewe), this exhibition traces the British comics tradition back through classic 1970s titles including 2000AD, Action and Misty to 19th-century illustrated reports of Jack the Ripper and even medieval manuscripts.

I love that this exhibition comes with a parental guidance warning :)

Hope I’ll be able to get down to London to see this but if you manage to go let me know what the highlights are.

The Wake #7 Review: The Retro-Future Beautifully Realised

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We are just a few issues away from the final issue in this run of The Wake.

I say This Run.

Because I hope that Snyder and Murphy are going to continue.

There is just too much still to discover.

I’ve a feeling issue 10 is going to end an an almighty cliff-hanger.

But back to issue seven.

This issue opens with a flashback of Leeward’s childhood.

Reminding us that even the most bad ass characters once wore dolphin socks.

And got scared.

Interestingly, we also get a rather more subtle flashback to Governor Vivienne’s childhood.

Collecting the bodies of dead birds.

Sliding down the enormous piles of their bodies.

Angry at the stupidity of their blind hope that a beacon would save them.

Which makes me think that there might be a real solution to the Mer problem.

But the people in power are concealing it.

After all a terrorised populace are easier to control.

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And that’s the great thing about this series so far.

Subtle storytelling.

Coupled with fantastic action.

Sean Murphy’s art is so dynamic, exciting and intriguing.

From the retro-fitted cruise liners to the design of the Arm uniforms.

Every detail is superbly realised.

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It is also a great example of retro-future in sci-fi storytelling.

Last night I went to the National Museums of Scotland Museum Lates event.

The theme was retro-future.

Which got me thinking about about this whole concept of the past in the sci-fi genre.

It happens a lot.

We imagine what the future is going to be like we turn to the past for inspiration.

Just a few examples:

Firefly – cowboys in space.

Tron Legacy – the 1980s in the future.

Blade Runner – the 1950s in the future.

The trick is to create a retro-future that still feels original.

That has enough to distinguish it.

In Firefly Joss Wheedon added Mandarin Chinese to the dialogue.

Allowing nerds worldwide to swear with impunity.

“Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng!”

The Wake stands out from the crowd with the terrifying Mers.

And with some very interesting pirates who we’ll be meeting in issue 8!

 

How Sandman Changed the Face of Comics Publishing

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I first read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series in 1996.

The year the series finished.

Over the years it has won a whole host of new fans.

Won a ton of awards including 26 Eisners.

But I hadn’t realised just how seminal this series was in terms of it’s impact on the comics industry.

Did you know?

Sandman was the first comic to be published in a collected edition.

Sandman was the first comic to be owned by a writer in the sense that when it ended it wasn’t passed to another writer to pick up the story a la Batman, Spiderman…

Sandman was one of the first comics that really attracted women to the genre en mass.

And how did Neil Gaiman achieve all of this?

By simply not knowing it was impossible to do these things.

Oh, and of course through years of hard work and incredible talent.

You can hear Neil Gaiman talk about all things Sandman related in this video.

It is from the 2013 Edinburgh Book Festival’s Stripped Comics series of events.

I’ll be attending this year so look out for more news and reviews from the event come August.

And just for fun here is one of my favourite pieces of comics memorabilia.

Actually this is my only piece of comics memorabilia.

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Comic review: Wynter #1-2 by Guy Hasson & Aron Elekes

 

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The best sci-fi is a reflection of the world we live in.

Especially if the reflection is unsettling.

Or horrifying.

With Wynter Guy Hasson and Aron Elekes have created a world which mixes overpopulation, teenage angst and an internal Facebook-like A.I. with explosive effects.

Here’s the set up.

Liz Wynter is a disaffected 17 year old.

She wants to feel special, unique, like an individual.

But

Her DNA has been born into millions of people before and after her.

Everything she could think, say or do has been predicted and recorded.

And most annoyingly.

There’s an A.I. in her head also called Liz.

Spewing statistics like

‘I AM SPECIAL’ 200 BIL + HAD SAME THOUGHT IN LAST 30 SECONDS

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHO THEY ARE

No wonder she’s ready to commit any petty infraction to feel unique.

But things soon escalate when Liz and her friend Shane get hold of an iSTEAL app.

Swiping apps from passersby they end up with something called ‘Subversive’.

That sparks a thought in Liz’s mind.

Perhaps I could do something unique, life-changing and explosive after all?

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The first issue of this digital comic is available from New worlds Comics and issue two will be released on May 06 2014.

Art work you can grab hold of

I love comics that take as much care over the art as the writing.

After all this is a visual medium.

This story is perfectly illustrated by Aron Elekes tactile, lush artwork.

All the way through we get the kind of graphic art you normally only see on the chapter pages in most comics.

It’s realistic without taking away from the dark otherness of a dystopian future world.

Flesh seems real, pain is a visceral expression on characters’ faces.

Deep shadows are full of foreboding.

If you love comics as much for the art as the words you’ll love this.

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Another great thing about this comic is that it passes the Bechdel test.

A standard invented for films to see if they have a gender bias.

The test is amazingly simple.

Are there two women who have a conversation together about anything other than a man?

Amazingly high numbers of films, TV Shows and comics fail this test.

I love that Wynter bucks this trend.

And does so in a natural, unforced way.

Although in their Manfesto New Worlds Comics state:

“Women are heroes. In New World Comics, most (not all) of our titles will have women as the protagonists. If you think women can’t be heroes (super- or otherwise), look out the window. Female secondary characters, even in titles that have men as protagonists, will also be real women.”

It is in no way at the expense of good storytelling.

Which after all is what the very best comics are about.

ARIA Vol 1 by Kozue Amano: Gently meandering through the canals of Mars

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Blade Comics

This is probably the most relaxing manga ever written.

Meet Akari Mizunashi.

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She’s what the Japanese call ‘genki’.

And this is her story.

It seems that in terra-forming Mars humans flooded the planet.

Now it is known as Aqua

Technology is 100 years behind Earth.

Now called Manhome.

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Blade Comics

But back to Akari.

She left Earth with a dream.

To become a fully qualified Undine (Gondolier) on the canals of Neo Venicia.

She is serving her apprenticeship with the ARIA company.

And that is basically what this manga is about.

Nothing life threatening happens.

Don’t read this expecting Dragon Ball Z type battles.

It is written in the style of letters home.

Everyday stories of a young girl gaining confidence and finding her place.

This manga showcases a couple of aspects of Japanese society that I think you’ll find interesting.

Group effort

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Blade Comics

I first read this manga back in 2002 when I lived in Japan.

Back then I taught English in a high school in Kawaguchi.

The whole ethos of the Japanese education system was work hard as a team and be cheerful while you do it.

It’s not a bad ethos.

Reading about Akari I was reminded of many of my students who embodied those principles of working hard and striving for self improvement.

Japanese Europhiles 

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Blade Comics

 

Many Japanese people absolutely love the ancient capitals of Europe.

They have an idea of what these places are like that equates to a fairytale land.

A lot of Ghibili anime are also influenced by this aesthetic for example Kiki’s Delivery Service.

In fact, there is actually a condition called Paris Syndrome which Japanese tourists are particularly susceptible to.

When the reality of the city is so misaligned with the idealized image it literally makes them crazy.

So you can see why creating a fictional Venice with all its ancient beauty intact and a layer of Japanese culture on top would be so appealing for Japanese readers.

O Kami-sama

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Blade Comics

The last reason I love this edition so much is the chapter called ‘Otenki Ame’ or ‘Rain of the Gods’.

When I lived in Japan I was fascinated by the many Shinto shrines large and small on street corners.

Close to my house was a small fox shrine.

I would always glance over at it as I cycled past.

Sure that the fox statue was watching me with his dark eyes of stone.

It wasn’t creepy.

It was an incredibly special place.

The atmosphere seemed to hang heavy around that little shrine.

So when I read ‘Otenki Ame’ it really made me smile.

Japan is a real dichotomy between ancient and modern.

Sometimes the ancient can seem rigid and frustrating.

But sometimes it can seem worth a thousand times more that all the throwaway culture we consume every day.

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Blade Comics

Maybe if you’ve visited or lived in Japan you’ll read this comic and also feel that wonderful sense of nastukashii.

Or if you’ve always wanted to visit then read this comic and get a sense of the essential Japanese character from a really sweet, feel-good story.

Also as a side note, Kozue Amano draws cats in a very odd way. The ‘President’ of the ARIA company the Shachou is a chubby white cat.

The cat is actually based on the artists own feline and I think it adds a unique look to the manga which is otherwise pretty standard in it’s aesthetic.

What do you think of ARIA Shachou?

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Blade Comics

 

 

You can buy Aria published in English by ADV Manga online and on Amazon.com.