Bob's Comics Reviews July 2003 Arrows


Second helpings
Time to go back to a few titles I've reviewed before that have gone and changed themselves or otherwise require more comment.


Kabuki - David Mack

This has developed in astonishing ways from its first, fast and furious volume. To start with, the pace has slowed to a crawl. At the end of Vol. 1 Kabuki was nearly dead; she takes all of Vol. 2 to die some more, mostly dreaming about her mother. It's told in a series of full-color paintings and collages; the text is spare and tortured and poetic.

The next two volumes show Kabuki imprisoned in a mental hospital for damaged security agents, ending in a raid-- her former Noh colleagues break in, not to rescue her but to kill her. The focus is here on resistance to the casually cruel authorities, and on Kabuki's first real friendship (though there's a worry that her friend is imaginary).

And the latest volume focusses on one of the other Noh superheroines, Scarab, and her rise from teenage rebellion and tragicomic involvement with the Yakuza. The ending of this story-- tying into Kabuki's-- packs a real wallop.

Mack is a strange guy-- not so much because of the ultraviolence, or because he has a fixation on cute Asian girls, more because he's into ultraviolent cute Asian girls. However, his storytelling has become increasingly quirky and beautiful. There was satisfaction in the bad-guy story arc of vol. 1; but there is something really moving in the quiet moments of Kabuki's later story. And the art is always spectacular.

Charm School - Elizabeth Watasin

Fairer Than, Dean, Bunny I've always hoped for a comic series from Watasin; though I'd like to have seen more of Susanoo the Brawler, I'm happy with Charm School. It's a trifle centering around a '50sish high school attended entirely by witches, vampires, and other monsters. At the center of the story is a lesbian love triangle, as the untrustworthy dragon-fairy Fairer Than and the butch vampire drag racer Dean compete for the affections of witch girl Bunny.

Watasin is obviously having a lot of fun with this, and it moves along quickly, assisted by silly side characters and Watasin's very assured black-and-white art.

Reading Charm School is like watching an affectionate parody of '50s teen movies. We need stuff like this in comics (anything to get us past the tumorous growth of the superhero genre), but I think Watasin could do something a lot more personal (A-Girl often hinted at this).

Lone Wolf & Cub - Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

This series is now done, in 28 volumes. The earlier volumes (which my earlier review was based on) are episodic and a bit disturbing. From about the eighth volume or so, an overarching plot begins to assert itself: Ōgami Ittō's epic struggle against the corrupt Yagyū clan-- complicated for several volumes by a third force, the piggish Abe, the shogun's poisoner.

Ōgami's battles, though always well executed, are not the high point-- since it's well established that Ōgami can be equalled only by Retsudō Yagyū, they have little suspense. More interesting is Ōgami's detective work uncovering Yagyū schemes, Abe's perversities, and the spooky innocence of Ōgami's son Daigoro.

If you make it to the end, you should really get a certificate in medieval Japanese studies as well.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill

You can hardly knock down a rack of comics these days without scattering something by Moore. This one is a takeoff on the big superhero groups-- the Justice League of America, the Avengers-- or perhaps a continuing deconstruction. The conceit is that the group is fomed of 19th century fictional heroes and villains: Allan Quatermain (not so famous today, perhaps, but the hero of H. Rider Haggard's ripping yarns), Jekyll and Hyde, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, and their leader Mina Murray (the first volume keeps her literary identity mysterious, though it's easily found on the Web).

Perhaps feeling that he had sufficiently explored Victorian reality in From Hell, Moore is elaborating a fictional Victorian age-- the 19th century as it saw itself in fantasy. Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Auguste Dupin, and H.G. Well's cavorite make appearances. It's an affectionate satire, adopting for instance (as a joke) the casual racism of the period, as well as its overloaded syntax. (Moore, like Neil Gaiman, does Americans very well, but in both cases they seem to really shine when they take on British voices.)

The characters are lively, full of squabbles and distrust and villainies. Mina Murray is the most interesting; she has to continually prove herself to her colleagues, but she is aided by a firm intelligence and a cast-iron will.

Marvin and Herbert This is now coming out as a movie, though it's been entirely replotted, and Mina has been demoted and tarted up.

O'Neill's art tends to caricature, but he gamely constructs the horrors and retrofuturistic landscapes required, and I'm glad to see that American comics have finally learned how to use color.

Dungeon - Lewis Trondheim & Joann Sfar

Trondheim hasn't caught on in the US before, but this may be his best chance: his comic adventure series Donjon (a collaboration with Joann Sfar) is now appearing in English, as Dungeon.

The series has become extraordinarily ambitious, but the first stories are irresistible: the duck Herbert, a minor functionary of the Dungeon, is sent to fetch an imposing barbarian who's needed for a quest. Unfortunately Herbert's summons distracts the barbarian for the instant needed to get himself killed. Herbert tries to get the monster responsible to take his place, but when he proves too stupid, he decides to undertake the mission himself. The Dungeon's general Marvin is sent after him, beginning an unlikely partnership.

Erotic comics
There's no logical reason why it should be impossible to do good comics about sex, which is after all of our chief preoccupations, full of interest and opportunities for excitement, humor, and drama. But for some reason most attempts are irredeemably skeevy and misogynistic.

I don't object to anyone's fetishes, but I've never understood the misogyny. It seems to me that if we enjoy sex with women, we should appreciate them for it. Surely gourmands aren't resentful and disdainful of chefs.

In any case, here's a short roundup of comics that are both fun and sexy; instead of hiding them from women you can share them with them. (Except for your mother, of course.)

Annie and her friend Yuriko Small Favors - Colleen Coover

Pretty girls make people happy, Coover says; if you agree, Small Favors will make you very happy indeed. The main characters are Annie and Nibbil, a sprite who is supposed to keep a watch on Annie's libido but becomes her lover instead. In the first issues there is more of a fantasy element: Nibbil is about eight inches tall, though she can also be full-sized if she wants. Later on the couple find a few like-minded friends-- amusingly, no one seems to exist in their world except pretty girls.

Annie and Nibbil (and their friends) are as insatiable and experimental as anyone in porn, but the overall tone is loving and light-hearted. Coover can draw, as well; her girls wouldn't seem out of place in Jaime Hernandez's world.

Xxxenophile - Phil Foglio

Phil Foglio used to do amusing cartoons about D&D, but now he has a much more respectable gig doing porn comics.

Most of Foglio's stories, though they feature plenty of acrobatic sex, are also short science fiction or fantasy pieces. So there's plenty of nymphs, aliens, elves, demons, warriors, hackers, D&D players, and other monsters. Sometimes these are more clever than arousing. (Typical story: two girl astronauts are stranded in space and, while waiting for rescue, get it on. Kicker: they've already been found, and their survival bubble is opaque only from the inside.) Ruby

That Kind of Girl - Molly Kiely

There's a plot of sorts to this: Dez Diva, a writer, takes a trip across the desert to visit an old boyfriend. Along the way she picks up a hitchhiker, Ruby Justice, a cowgirl who believes, shall we say, in living life to its fullest. They hit it off like a house afire; Dez doesn't however neglect to dazzle a few willing boys as well.

This is one of the best-drawn of all of these; Kiely's art is lively and inventive, and her women look natural, without the usual American big-breast fetish. These are mostly winning for their unabashed joie de vivre, though.

Birdland - Gilbert Hernandez

Fritz and a client Birdland doesn't exactly have a plot, but it does have characters and predicaments: Mark Herrera, for instance, is boffing two strippers (Inez and Bang), but his wife Fritz won't make love to him; the strippers have a rival who's stealing their act; Fritz is a counselor, though her method is to hypnotize the patient and have sex with him; and she has an admirer who fetishizes her lisp. Oh, and Mark experiences cosmic revelations whenever he bangs Bang, who used to be regularly abducted by aliens.

And then, at the end, it gets rather strange. Possibly you haven't seen dinosaurs in that lifelike pose before.

Honorable Mention

Elaine Lee's Skin Tight Orbit is more fantasy & sf, with more of an edge to it; much of it plays with virtual reality and other new sexual predicaments people in the far future may fall into.

Petra Waldron and Jennifer Finch's Lesbian School Girl features Julia Roberts-sized mouths, although Julia probably never had quite this much fun in school.

Ellen Forney's Tomato is lovely and intriguing and I hope that one day we see more of it.

Reed Waller's Omaha the Cat Dancer starts out pretty libidinous, and has a really hot lesbian scene, if 'lesbian' is the right word for cat-girl-on-bird-girl action. When Kate Worley gets involved in the later volumes, a good deal of the primal energy escapes.

Also see the Eurocomics page... sex is not at all hard to find in European comics, though it can get nasty. A couple of my favorites are Pichard & Lob's Ulysse, which only updates the sex inherent in the Homeric story; and Frémond's Les célibataires, whose goofball hero gets about a tenth of the sex he wants and at least twice as much as he deserves.

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