Monday, October 31, 2011

Manga Monday: Everyone has a past, even demon hunting orphans

Hyakkimaru and Dororo travel on, defeating evil spirits in Dororo Volume 2.
Note: Dororo Volume 2 is, of course the sequel to Dororo Volume 1.  The review of Dororo Volume 1 is here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Newford gets a visit from Australia

Charles de Lint takes Newford back into Young Adult territory with an Australian flavor in Dingo

While this is the 22th book in the Newford world, it is certainly accessible to first time readers of Charles de Lint's work.  While there are no real spoilers that I could tell, there may be some that I missed, so be warned.  Otherwise, read on.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Manga Monday: A maid's situation always depends on others

William gets his father's official word of disapproval of his relationship, and Emma faces new hardships of her own in Emma: A Victorian Romance Volume 2

Note:  Emma: A Victorian Romance Volume 2 is, of course, the sequel to Emma: A Victorian Romance Volume 1.  The review for Emma: A Victorian Romance Volume 1 is here.  Otherwise, read on!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Who said that superheroes needed to be humaniods?

Superheroes team up all the time.  Marvel has The X-Men and The Avengers.  Likewise, DC generally has a Justice League and a Justice Society active, with revolving rosters of members.  Even the sidekicks occasionally strike out on their own, forming the Teen Titans and Young Justice and the like.  But why should the humanoids be the only ones with friends?  And so, The Pet Avengers was born.
Meet the Pet Avengers!  When Mr. Fantastic goes to the Inhumans  to look for the Infinity Gems, Lockjaw happens to have found the Intelligence Gem.  With his boosted smarts, he decides to go find the Gems for Mr. Fantastic himself.  But he knows that he'll need help, so he goes and finds more Avengers to help him.

Enter Throgg.  Formerly a human, he was turned into a frog by a gypsy and took on the name Puddlegulp.  He found a shard of Thor's hammer, and used it to help defend his colony of frogs from a group of rats.  Taking on the mantle of Thor, and using the name Throg, he is the first animal Lockjaw goes to for help.  Because of the Intelligence Gem, Lockjaw is able to project his thoughts to Throg, who becomes the second-in-command and voice of Lockjaw.

Hairball is another of the more outgoing members of The Pet Avengers.  The pet of Speedball, he too has the power of kinetic energy.  He also has the traditional hatred of dogs (except Lockjaw) that a cat has.  

So, of course, Lockjaw includes the rather...airheaded Ms. Lion.  Ms. Lion means well, but as simply the puppy owned by Peter Parker's aunt May, he doesn't have the intelligence or powers of the rest of the team.  His heart is in the right place, though, and if the intelligence-augmented Lockjaw says that he's needed, he must have a role to play in all this, too.

Along with Kitty Pryde's companion dragon Lockheed and the falcon Redwing, the Pet Avengers head off to find the rest of the Infinity Gems.  They end up travelling to all sorts of places, thanks to Lockjaw's teleportation powers, from the underwater domain of Sub-Mariner to the Savage Lands.  Along the way, in the spirit of team-ups of any species, the learn to appreciate each other and work together as a unit.  It may have started as a novelty, but the Pet Avengers certainly end up deserving their place in the Marvel universe.

Being compressed into a four-issue miniseries, the story of searching out the gems itself gets a bit lost under the banter and character development of our team.  A few points get a bit confusing, but the ride is fun enough to go along with it.  What is almost better is the one-shots that follow, which each deal with a different Pet Avenger on their own.  Watching Throg go back to his colony and see how having a protector has affected them is one of the best issues in the book. 

Following the one-shots is an encyclopedia of Marvel animals.  The reading is a bit dry, but it's certainly a reference that Marvel fans might want to have.  Some entries are more interesting than others, but it's a great place to pick up the little bits of trivia that fans love.

Highs:  Ms. Lion's introduction to the team.  And the clarification of his gender.

Lows:  Without a general idea of who the pets 'belong' to (and the term pet is used rather loosely here), some of the subtext is lost.

Verdict:  A hilarious, fun treat that comes along once in a great while.

Further Reading:  GLA - Great Lakes Avengers #1 (Misassembled)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Manga Monday: A new rival for Rinne, and more souls to send on

Rinne battles soldiers, singers and a lovestruck teenager to put their souls where they belong in Rin-ne Volume 2.

Note:  Rin-ne Volume 2 is, of course, the sequel to Rin-ne Volume 1.  The review for Rin-ne Volume 1 is here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

War and death cause dark magic to flourish

The Great War creates problems throughout both mundane and magical Europe in Mercedes Lackey's fourth Elemental Masters novel, Phoenix and Ashes.

While this is the 4th book in the Elemental Masters series, it is certainly accessible to first time readers of the series.  While there are no real spoilers that I could tell, or anything beyond basic 'fantasy world magic' to know, there may be some that I missed, so be warned.  Otherwise, read on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Manga Monday: Black Jack may not have very many friends, but he'll do anything for the ones he has

Black Jack's skills are stretched to the limit treating children, presidents and even whales in Black Jack Volume 2.

Note:Black Jack Volume 2 is, of course, the sequel to Black Jack Volume 1.  The Vertical edition is published not in chronological order, but in the preferred order of Osamu Tezuka, so spoilers are not generally a problem.  The review for Black Jack Volume 1 is here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A bad decision gets a young man lost to North Korea for most of his life

There are some decisions that set the course of your life forever.  Picking a major in college.  Getting married.  Quitting a job to follow your dream.

Then there are the less well thought out life changers.  Dropping out of college to gold mine in World of Warcraft.  That one-night stand.  A drunk-dial to your (now former) boss.

Charles Robert Jenkins' poorly thought out decision probably trumps all of those.  Stationed in South Korea during the end of the US' involvement with the Korean war, Jenkins hears that his unit might soon be transferred to the war now heating up in Vietnam.

Jenkins has always been the type to take the easy way out.  In fact, he enlisted in the army because his father told him that he either had to get a job or join the military, and the military seemed easier.

Not liking the stories that he was hearing coming out of Vietnam, he comes up with a plan to get out of being transferred.  He's heard that men who have defected to the USSR regularly get sent home in prisoner exchanges.  He might spend a few years in Leavenworth, but that would be easier than the hell going on in Vietnam.  So, one particularly drunken night, he walks across the DMZ and turns himself in.

Unfortunately, North Korea is a completely different animal that the USSR.  Instead of seeing Jenkins' capture as a chance to get back some of their own men, they saw a golden opportunity to get information and train their spy program.  So there Jenkins stayed.

For four decades.

So Jenkins hardly got the easy out he was hoping for.  Although, in the world that is North Korea, he probably had it easier than many others.  He never quite starved to death, for one.  While the beatings were at times plentiful, from both the North Koreans as well as other American prisoners, he always recovered from them.  He even found something of a love match with a prisoner kidnapped from Japan to work with the spy program as well.  All in all, it could have turned out much worse for him.

Along the way, we get to see some of the truly bizarre customs and beliefs that are programmed into the lives of everyday North Koreans.  The government does such a complete job of blacking out the media that the average citizen simply has no idea how different the world outside is.  And those who do know what happens to them and their families if they show the slightest signs of dissent.

Even as you shake your head at the sheer idiocy of defecting to North Korea, to which Jenkins fully admits, there are moments to cheer for him as the underdog of the story.  When he's assigned to teach English classes to future spies, he purposefully gives them the wrong words, out of a combination of amusement and spite.  You can't help but cringe along with him when he's assigned a 'housekeeper' who lays down the law about how the house is going to be run.  And you cheer at the end when he gets to teach his daughters about how the rest of the world lives.

The writing's simple, and it's a very quick read.  It gives a unique and intriguing look into one of the most insular countries in the world, which would be hard to get anywhere else.

Highs:  The writing's brutally honest in its self-reflection, which keeps the story from turning into a "look how hard my life is" mess

Lows:  Parts of the narrative could have been cleaned up better by the editor of co-writer

Verdict:  Material you won't get anywhere else, and short enough not to be boring

Further Reading:  North Korea Kidnapped My Daughter, Pyongyang

Monday, October 3, 2011

Manga Monday: Can Kosaku live up to his potential as a boxer if he keeps binge eating?

It takes a lot to get me to read a sports manga. For every Hikaru no Go or Initial D, there are dozens of other, terrible shonen sports manga out there that are eminently forgettable. But Rumiko Takahashi hasn't lead me wrong yet, so I tried to keep an open about her boxing manga One Pound Gospel.

It's a terribly odd premise.  In one corner, we have Kosaku Hatanaka,.  A boxing prodigy who has quite a bit of raw talent paired with the devil's own luck, his only downfall is a binge eating problem like none other.  Forced to starve himself before each match to make weight, he's lost his last four fights simply because of his weakness for food.

In the other corner is Sister Angelica.  A young novitiate, Kosaku has been going to her church for confession and to ask for help with his weakness.  Partially out of the caring that nay nun would have for a down-on-his-luck member of her flock, and perhaps a bit because of her soft heart, she takes him on as a personal case, helping him resist the temptation of street food that lines the roads he jogs down.

We also see a lot of Mudoka, Kosaku's coach.  An old man with a bit of a heart condition, he started getting his hopes up with Kosaku when he won his first match to be a pro so young.  He rather seems to regret having taken on a boxer with no willpower.  With his heart condition, the rest of the members of the gym are constantly concerned about his well-being when Kosaku has to weigh in before a fight.

As much as I like Rumiko Takahashi's other series, and as much as Kosaku reminds me of Godai from Maison Ikkoku, this series gets off to a rather rocky start.

The chapters are fairly formulaic, with the first one or two chapters of a story arc establishing the new opponent and setting Kosaku up to fail at keeping his weight down.  Then comes the match, where he either fails because he gave into temptation, or succeeds with the help of Sister Angelica.  Admittedly, that's the basis of just about any sports manga, but I did expect more character development of our two main characters.  I'd love to see more of Sister Angelica's life at the convent, or before she took her vows, and perhaps Kosaku before he joined up under Mukoda.  

Alas, it's a shonen sports manga, so perhaps this is all we can expect.  Still, with likable characters and a relatible premise of overcoming weaknesses, there are still a few things to like in this manga.

Highs:  It's cute to watch Angela and Kosaku interact when they're walking down the street together

Lows:  Just not enough of the characters' backstory

Verdict:  If I'm going to read a sports manga, I suppose I could do worse than this

Further Reading:  Maison Ikkoku, Initial D