INTERAGENTS 2

INTERAGENTS #2
Written by Dwight L. MacPherson and Bruce Brown and Drawn by Valerio Giangiordano
Published by
Chimaerea Studios

One type of comic I’ve been waiting for is classic, golden age styled heroes featured in a Watchmen-esque capacity. You know, a sort of modern morality tale with 1940s era superheroes. Well, the wait is over. Interagents is here and boy is it just what the Dark Gods ordered.

The Interagents are superheroes who live in the time of what would be called World War II. The story kicks off with the intrigue immediately, with the immersion into the setting made easy by Giangiordano’s classic looking art work. We are not presented with a time of innocence, and nor are we given the illusion of caped do-gooders crusading for truth, justice, and the American way. What we are handed are a group of heroes, flaws and all, and a backdrop of the USA’s entrance into WWII. Through flashbacks and other bits we are shown that there is more to what’s going on than our heroes think, and it’s up to them to figure it out or most probably get killed, along with the world’s hopes and dreams no doubt.

One thing I appreciate about MacPherson’s vision is that he throws standard comic book caped conventions out the proverbial window in favour of permanent character death and much-needed pathos. In fact, one of the heroes is murdered as soon as she’s introduced in issue #1, and not much time at all is used to show us how the group gets together. Anything regarding their origins or place on the team is explored with the excellent and superbly crafted dialogue. The same goes with the character relations, as each member expressed their personality through their actions and words. Another thing that should be noted is the pacing, which runs from panel-to-panel like a bullet. I finished reading this comic quickly not because it’s short and “decompressed”, but because I was pulled in immediately and not let go until the last page, which made me want to read issue #3. I suppose that’s my only real complaint— I’m left wanting more of the story. It’s THAT good.

As for issue #2 itself, the events introduced in #1 continue on track as the mystery deepens. There’s more death and more haunting imagery as the story marches forward. And, most importantly, we are allowed to peer into these characters that were so abruptly thrust on us in the last issue. See, the background and setting was the primary character of the premiere issue, with much focus given on events, FDR and how the US entered the War; then the story steamrolls ahead with this issue giving us more depth and character development. There’s action, make no mistake. And there’s at least one of the heroes who’s the classic “Superman” archetype. Hmmm… I wonder what his secrets are.

Overall, this is a tale of deep complexity in a supposed simple and straight-forward age. MacPherson hasn’t been shy about saying that this title is influenced a bit by Watchmen, if not story-wise then certainly attitude-wise. This is not Watchmen Part 2 or anything… But the influence is obvious and quite welcome. If you are looking for something deviating from the norm while throwing off the shackles of conventional superhero-story “wisdom” then you are in for a grim and gritty treat with Interagents.

For those of you wanting to jump on board, you had best start with Interagents #1, which can be read at wowio.com in Director’s Cut form. This comes highly recommended to even those who’ve already read the first issue because Mr. MacPherson has commentary for each and every page and that commentary is both illuminating and very entertaining.

I’m going to sit here and wait for #3 to be released. I may get a little hungry, but I think it will be totally worth it.

Steven Saunders

DRESDEN FILES: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

DRESDEN FILES: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Written by Jim Butcher and Drawn by Ardian Syaf
Published by
Ballantine/Dabel Brothers

A nasty mauling at the Chicago Zoo looks like a simple case of a gorilla getting out of its cage and “expressing” itself. But when the facts don’t quite add up, CPD calls in a specialist, one not exactly beloved by the entire department: Harry Dresden. Dresden is not just a private investigator; he’s also a wizard, the real kind, and expertise with the supernatural is his domain. But a case that looks like it will be an easy solve goes haywire when more bodies start turning up and Harry realizes that there’s a master plan at work that may be way out of his league.

THE DRESDEN FILES novels by Butcher have gained quite a following over the last few years, aided and abetted by a live-action series that ran on the Sci-Fi Channel. But it turns out that Butcher is a comic geek at heart and produced the story for this book himself, originally published as floppies in 2007 and now collected in a sweet hardcover version. And fortunately, the whole enterprise really works; Dresden comes across as an interesting character on the page, his world captures the imagination, and the added punch of seeing visuals with the text gives the book some added punch. And, as I’m sure Butcher intended, it draws reader interest into picking up one of the novels and giving it a try.

Syaf’s art smartly keeps things simple; the star here is meant to be the author, and the artist doesn’t do things to distract away from the story being told. Camera angles are kept clean, “money shots” are minimal, and the storytelling is fairly basic. That’s smart, as the book may draw in some readers who have never picked up a graphic novel before. Recommended.

Marc Mason

TOTO VOL 2

TOTO: THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURE VOL 2
Written and Drawn by Yuko Osada
Translated and Adapted by Elina Ishikawa
Published by
Del Rey

Kakashi is sort of your classic kid who should be careful what he wishes for. All he wants is a life of grand adventure; what he gets is a young companion named Dorothy and a strange dog named Toto… and Toto has a stunning secret. He’s actually the product of a military experiment and can turn into a giant dog-dragon capable of stomping armies. And after a confrontation with the local army, Toto repairs his damage the only way he knows how: by grafting himself to Kakashi’s arm and becoming a part of him. Now Kakashi and Dorothy are on the run from the army, hoping upon hope to reach a place called Emerald and save themselves from a life on the run.

One part “Wizard of Oz” tribute and two parts manga-weird, somehow TOTO manages to not only make sense but also overcome its strange plot twist (the fusion of boy and dog) and come across as a lively, fun adventure book. The characters are well-delineated, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, and the allusions to Baum’s work are just sly enough that they don’t overwhelm the story that Osada is trying to tell herself.

Osada’s art is also a standout; there’s enough texture to it that the violence in the story has true heft and doesn’t feel like a Chuck Jones cartoon. But the body language and faces on the characters are also soft enough to give the book a sense of light-hearted joy. If you’d told me I would enjoy this book, I’d have laughed in your face. I hate the WIZARD OF OZ and anything referencing it tends to be a complete turn-off. But TOTO works.

Marc Mason

MAMORU THE SHADOW PROTECTOR VOL 1, 2

MAMORU THE SHADOW PROTECTOR VOL 1-2
Written and Drawn by Sai Madara
Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Mamoru is a typical high school student; he’s nerdy, socially inept, and generally unable to express his feelings. But that’s just a disguise. Beneath that veneer, he’s a ninja, and a very powerful one. His family has spent 400 years protecting the Konnyaku family, and the task of protecting their oldest daughter falls squarely on Mamoru’s shoulders. But it isn’t easy; Yuna Konnyaku is a major-league klutz who can find trouble without looking. In fact, she manages to stumble into a drug deal going down in the neighborhood that has made her the target of a local crimelord. Can Mamoru protect her, keep her safe, and keep his secret? After all, she has no clue that the boy next door has a secret identity.

MAMORU almost defines the type of manga that’s generally a harmless lark. There’s no real sense of danger, the romance plotlines don’t really threaten to go anywhere, and there’s no graphic violence to turn off part of the readership. In short, it’s about as pleasant as you could hope for.

That isn’t a bad thing. The characters are genial, Madara has a good sense of humor, and his timing as a storyteller is strong. Sometimes, you simply enjoy a book that’s solidly mainstream and has broad appeal just to be reminded it can be skillfully done. I was never blown away by any part of these first two volumes, but when I sat them down, I felt like this was a book that I could see a new one of every few months and kick back and enjoy it every time. I’d call that a win for MAMORU. Wouldn’t you?

Marc Mason

MORESUKINE

MORESUKINE
Written and Drawn by Dirk Schwieger
Published by
NBM

German artist Dirk Schwieger is either a genius or a masochist. Upon taking a job in Tokyo in early 2006, he began doing a blog that would change his life. No mere chronicle of his daily existence in a foreign land would this be; instead, intrigued by the strange none land he was living in, he asked his readers to challenge him. To wit: his readers would suggest things that Dirk should do, food he should try, and places he should go, and he would do them, no matter how odd or unappetizing they sounded.

Over the course of twenty-four weeks, he ate singularly strange foods, learned how to “trance dance”, slept in a pod hotel, practice origami, and much, much more. It was quite an adventure.

Now those adventures are collected in this terrific volume. The gag behind the title is that it’s how the Japanese pronounce “Moleskine”, Schwieger’s trendy notebook where he did his sketching. And giving the book its extra oomph, it, too, is printed within a Moleskine. So you get a sensory experience that puts you closer to the artist’s challenges, as well as a phenomenal reading experience.

And make no mistake, a phenomenal reading experience is precisely what MORESUKINE happens to be. Schwieger does a wonderful job of placing himself within a foreign culture and explaining it to an audience who can only barely begin to comprehend what the experience must have been like. Mind you, there’s nothing special about the cartooning; Schwieger is an average artist at best. But as a raconteur, he delivers like nobody’s business.

He’s courageous, too. How many people would truly be willing to take on the dares of strangers as an experiment? That he did this, and that he succeeded in creating something completely unique, speaks volumes about the character of the man with the pencil. MORESUKINE is highly recommended.

Marc Mason

BREAKDOWNS

BREAKDOWNS
Written and Drawn by Art Spiegelman
Published by
Pantheon Books

In 1978, a young cartoonist named Art Spiegelman put together a collection of his work to date to little or no acclaim. In fact, after the book was printed, it almost didn’t make it to shelves as it was; the original publisher was too broke to pay the printing bill. But it was rescued, and the book sort of became an unusual curio, as its creator became a name. Spiegelman would go on to elaborate on the first tale in the book, “Maus”, and the history of cartooning and the graphic novel were changed forever. Amazing what a Pulitzer Prize will do.

Thirty years later, Pantheon has created a new version of BREAKDOWNS; the first half of the book presents new Spiegelman material, and terrific material it is. From observances about his relationship with his father and how it affects his relationship with his son to a quietly stunning piece about having to live in the shadow of his own masterwork, it’s quite a compelling introduction to Spiegelman as an artist and as a human being. After that lengthy section of new work, we get a full reprint of the original BREAKDOWNS, and it honestly comes as a bit of a letdown.

His early work has a lot of passion and verve, no question. And his willingness to experiment is quite bravura. But the majority of the tales fall flat, save an early “Maus” short and “Prisoner on the Hell Planet”, a look at his mother’s suicide that grips the heart (and makes you wonder if Spalding Gray had read it and was taking bitter, unfortunate notes). Both of those stories are wonderful work, but had you bought the 1978 edition of this book, you’d have felt short-changed.

Finally, we also get a closing essay from Spiegelman which illuminates his life as a cartoonist and the genesis for many of his themes and concepts. It’s a fantastic look inside the man’s head. So while the reprints aren’t necessarily much to look at, the book as a whole has plenty to interest the reader looking at the intellectual roots of an artist who has become a legend.

Marc Mason