Reading with SJ: Graphic Novels, Manga, and Comics #2

It’s interesting that now that I’ve committed to getting back into reading, I’m slurping down titles like water. Lucky you, you get to share it all with me!

Admittedly graphic novels and comics are really easy reads for me. I’m that obnoxious person that will check out ten volumes of manga at a time and be through with them in like two days, if that. Admittedly I read all of these in like a night, but part of that is because they’re all so incredibly good.

East of West (vol 2 and vol 3) by Hickman/Dragotta/Martin – I love this series. This has become one of my favorite titles from the moment I fell into volume one, and I cannot wait until four comes out this month. This is a true definition of cross-genre. There are western themes, sci-fi, post apocalyptic (in the sense that it’s after big giant futuristic wars), apocalyptic (in the sense that the main action is actually the apocalypse), dystopian…it’s like if John Wayne, Alan Moore, Ray Bradbury, and probably a legion of others raised a very strange child together. The art is just gorgeous in a balls-to-the-wall, unsettling way. There are strange creatures, weird tech, and interesting faces abound. The basic story is that three of the four hoursemen have been regenerated as youths, sans Death. They feel betrayed and are trying to push their mission forward, while Death is still an adult and has his own agenda. The US has been divided into nations (some stereotypical, some rather bold), and there is a war going on between the Chosen (those who follow the Message, the apocalypse) and those who are trying to stop the Message (ie Death and his crew). Mixed in with that you have the story of Death’s wife, his search for his son, a group of rangers who have taken over justice, the bizarre and tragic glimpses of characters like Eli…it’s intense. And insane. And amazing. How this has not been optioned for anything yet is infuriating.It will make you rethink your stance on religion, politics, humanity…everything. I also really like the thought process of the apocalypse AS religion instead of from any one religion. Like any good cross-genre work, the actual elements are nothing new, but the way they’re blended and used creates something way bigger and better than the sum of it’s parts. Love.

Also, the last two pages or so of vol 3 has one of the most incredibly awesome, gut-wrenching reveals I’ve read in a comic in a long time. I sat there with it in my lap, staring and flipping back and forth for a good five minutes. If this is an indication of where the series is going, I’m unbearably excited.

Trillium by Jeff Lemire – After the streamlined art of East of West, I nearly put this one away when I first opened it. It’s not bad, but it is a completely different style and for me, personally, it took a slight bit of adjusting. By the end the art grew on me, and I couldn’t imagine a sleeker style for the unique group of characters I’m glad I stuck with it, though. This is an odd combination of genres, a quirky story that changes things up in its direction, and is a tale that contains a good amount of heart. I can see where this might appeal to the YA crowd a bit more, maybe, but once I got into it, I was transfixed. Nika is a scientist in the far future – Earth is gone and she’s trying to find the Trillium flower which will act as a vaccine for the sentient virus The Caul that’s wiping out the galaxy to the point where there are only 1,000 humans left (though I swear this number bounces around through the book). William is a war veteran on an archaeology expedition with his brother in 1921. Through wild circumstances involving the flower the two meet and nothing is the same.

This is kind of time travel meets romance meets sci-fi meets alt history meets I don’t even know…it’s bold. There are aliens, war flashbacks, thoughts on South American Cultures, steampunk…there is a lot going on here, but it never feels like it gets away from the author. Honestly, people should forget about Indiana Jones 4 and read this instead. This blends and succeeds where that movie fails, because it never loses its focus: Nika and William, both as separate lost souls trying to reclaim a part of themselves and their fragile relationship as they fight to preserve it. I will say if you are looking for hard sci-fi, definite romance, a definite anything, you will probably not like this. This book is it’s own thing. It’s not trying to be a chick book, it’s not trying to be a hardcore comic book. It is it’s own story and nothing but. And thank God for that, because don’t we have enough straight, formulaic genre work in the world? I honestly didn’t even view this as romance – Nika and William see in each other the only other person who is having the same experience as themselves. So no, it’s not all lovey dovey because they literally don’t know each other that long, but because they carry each other’s memories and have to work through the other’s life in a sense, they’re brought together in a way that is completely unlike any other relationship in the book.

This book gets major props for treating its female characters and male characters equally. While some of the personalities may seem a little stereotypical (like the brash/tunnel-vision commanding officer), I will say it’s refreshing to see that viewpoint given to a lady. There are also a good deal of women soldiers and it’s Nika’s know-how that’s dependent on. Even the AI is consistently portrayed as a female. For that alone, this is worth reading.

The biggest criticism I have is also the book’s strength: it makes the reader work. The alien language is punctuated with enough English to get by and there is a key in the back of the book, but this is what makes me feel like this is predominantly a YA title – I don’t know that an adult will actually use the key unless this ever gets made into a movie/exploded into fandom. I think it’s a really, really cool concept, but there is so MUCH to take in with the actual story, I simply didn’t have the energy to go back and do the translations once I’d finished it. Also, there is a section in the middle where you read the top portion then page back and read the alternate perspective from the bottom. Don’t let this deter you, because it’s planned out better than I’d expected. You actually read the top, pivot the book and read from that same place, then go back to where you began. There’s still page turning involved, but when you begin to notice how things are synced up together, it’s pretty impressive. I’ve seen it called gimmicky and maybe it is, but it works. The other thing is I haven’t read the author’s other work to compare it to, and like I said – I think this probably works best as a YA title, and it’s worlds above the norm for that genre. Otherwise, some of the narrative text is pretty small and I still have fairly young eyes. All that being said, however, the story would not let me put this book down and the tone/genre kept changing, keeping me on my toes. The ending is strange and didn’t bother me – I liked sitting there thinking what had actually happened and what that meant.  I can see where this might be an acquired taste, but it’s one worth sticking with, because I truly  have never read anything quite like it.

All You Need is Kill by  Ryosuke Takeuchi, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Yoshitoshi Abe, Takeshi Obata – Admittedly I picked this up because it looks cool. I nearly put it back because one of the people involved was behind Death Note and I am apparently the one person in the world that has mixed feelings on that series. I ended up reading it because this is a manga version of a novel, so as a one-shot I figured it was probably more palatable than five thousand volumes of talk that geared up to not a lot. Again, future earth where the planet is invaded by an alien called a mimic. These are spherical chomping machines that shoot spikes and are basically on a mission to make the planet habitable for themselves – colonizing it. They don’t take the forms of anyone, etc, just to clarify because I never did really figure out why they were called mimics. Keiji is a new jacket (mecha) soldier who finds himself in the middle of a time loop – reliving his first battle, restarting every time he dies. I shouldn’t have liked this one…I’m not a huge fan of shonen manga and I find the time loop device tiring to experience, but I thought this was overall a really, really good story and nicely streamlined. I found myself reading faster to find out just what things were getting at. I like the thought process behind the time loop, I like that a huge key to things was a female soldier – who also happened to be the best soldier at fighting the mimics. Rita and Keiji’s stories complement each other in a nice way. Overall, it’s a good action tale that will satisfy that part of you that likes a fun action movie. There’s just enough heart through it to keep you invested in the characters, there’s a little bit of a twist at the end that did startle me,, so kudos for that. My irritations are the ones I have with a lot of shonen: the panels of girls with their boobs or rears taking up most of the space, full pics of female characters in the shower/in their underwear) though that shows up considerably less here than in other titles. I get there are quirks in shojo, too (chibi characters, dynamic shirtless dude scenes, etc), so I really can’t say much, but for once I’d appreciate it if either sensibility would take those elements out and just tell the story. I was relieved to see there wasn’t really any random explosion of stupid humor – for the most point things stay on track. I will say I thought some parts of Rita,and Keiji both felt a little forced character-wise, a little cookie cutter. There are parts that are probably (hopefully) explored more in the actual book and I get this medium streamlines things into the basic narrative, which is pretty awesome. There are a lot of fight scenes, a lot of action, and it’s drawn fairly well for the medium. It looks just badass and epic. Like most timeloop stories, it left me wanting a little bit more about the characters and less ‘how do we get out of the timeloop!’, but that’s more my personal taste. I do feel like it handled the repetition well, I never felt bored or like I just wanted to get on with things. It’s a tough rope to walk, and the team that produced this work does it well. I also like what I’m presuming is the use of book quotes throughout, and the time taken to explain the reasons the characters have behind certain choices. Definitely more well thought out than most pieces I’ve read in the genre.

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