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The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 1 (v. 1)
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 1 (v. 1)
by Eiji Otsuka
Edition: Paperback
34 used & new from $7.68

4.0 out of 5 stars As a first volume it provides a tantalizing taste of horror and humor, February 10, 2014
In Japan, cremation is king; dead bodies lack a place, lack respect. So do college students without job prospects, a category that main character Kuro Karatsu finds himself lumped into. Luckily for Karatsu, he comes across a way to help himself and corpses in Japan. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is the solution, the idea of classmate Ao Sasaki, a hacker and the leader of the group.

Aimed at catering to the needs of the deceased, Kurosagi employs Karatsu, who can speak with the dead; Makoto Numata, a corpse dowser; Keiku Makino, a young embalmer; and Yuji Yata, who is able to channel aliens through his sock puppet. Together, this strange and almost hopeless band takes the cases that the rest of society turns a blind eye to, bringing the dead to where they need to be. It is an interesting mix of mystery and slice of life, horror and comedy, as the Kurosagi group tries to do right by their clients while hoping to make money on the side.

And really, this is a story about people trying to find a place, trying to find relevance in a world that does not value what is not useful. As college students without useful skills, the group stares at not being able to eat, to live. As corpses, the group’s clients are ignored, dumped, and abused. The corpses are, in many ways, lost souls that the group feels obligated to help, in large part because the group shares a similar fate. Each member is isolated, rejected by society, and only in Kurosagi can they find the connections that make their lives meaningful.

This theme is developed well through the four stories told in this volume, from the old woman whose body was locked in a shrine and tossed in the garbage to the women who are cut apart and sewn back together by a deranged killer. These stories are not just about delivering bodies, but are instead about giving voice to the corpses, giving dignity to the dead. With their abilities, the group delivers a certain justice as they deliver corpses, even if not every case pays well. The tales take a very episodic approach, no doubt a symptom of being originally published as four distinct stories. But they all work well together, each exploring different aspects of the theme.

This is, however, a very adult manga, with striking and graphic depictions of violence and nudity. These scenes, though shocking, are a further examination of the theme, and the artist forces the confrontation with the corpse, with death, instead of dealing with these things off panel. For a series filled with corpses, there is nothing glorious in the violence, nothing exploitative. The violence, the nudity, the horrific scenes, all are effective in not shying away from showing uncomfortable subject matter. The art is detailed and expressive, the characters all distinct, and the corpses capturing the horror of death. It accentuates the parallels between the corpses and the main group, both trying to find their place in a world that does not seem to want them.

And in the end this manga manages to bring the reader face to face with both the corpse and the strange group of characters that deliver them. It also leaves enough mystery to promise more complications in future volumes. Each character is only introduced here, established but not explained fully. Their stories are left for another time, and there are a number of mysteries, like what force is helping to guide Karatsu, that this manga wisely steers clear of. As a first volume it provides a tantalizing taste of horror and humor, a firm first step into what promises to be an interesting and challenging series.

- Charles Payseur

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1
by Naoki Urasawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.67
63 used & new from $0.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Provides an entertaining story as well as a depth for critical interpretation., February 10, 2014

Someone is killing the most powerful robots on Earth. With that premise, Pluto opens, blending an almost childlike innocence with the harsh realities of war and death, humanity and monstrosity. A mystery at its heart, Pluto is based on but not bound to Astro Boy, a creation of Osamu Tezuka, and while being familiar with that series might give a reader further insight into some of the visual references and nods put into the series, it is unnecessary to understand and enjoy what Pluto does, which is to tell a compelling story using elements and ideas most often associated with juvenile stories, but in an undeniably adult manner. Instead of being an Astro Boy story, this stands more on its own, as a detective story starring a German robot named Gesicht as he seeks to solve a series of murders.

The setting is of a near future or perhaps an alternate present where robots have been developed to the point that they are nearly human, enjoying certain rights while still used as soldiers and construction workers. And as Gesicht travels, the reader is brought up to speed gradually to where robots stand in the world, designed to be without emotion and yet to carry out the most emotionally devastating duties. And each of the major players in the series is tied in some way to a war fought in the not-so-distant past, a war that saw robots killing robots on a massive scale. Mont Blanc, the first robot murdered, was one of the most powerful to fight in the war, and had since dedicated himself to trying to help the world. The volume definitely toys with the idea of these robots confronting their actions as moral agents as well as soldiers, with dealing with, for lack of a better word, their own humanity in a world that does not see them as human.

And the art does a tremendous job in bridging the gap between the source material and the current form, taking the exaggerated characters of Tezuka and rendering them as something that fits into a real world. There are no efforts to pull the punches, either, and the series does contain violence and a lot of more disturbing and dark imagery. In many ways this works with the themes of the series, with the idea that what we assume is innocent or pure is hiding a darker, repressed side, that these robots who weren’t supposed to be damaged by war have been fundamentally altered by their experiences. Otherwise, the art is slick and clear, the characters and scenes simple most of the time and incredibly complex when it needs to be, when it needs to make the reader pause and take in the details.

The action moves quickly, from the mystery of Mont Blanc to the life of North No 2, another powerful robot from the war, who seeks in his retirement to put his skills to something different, to learn music. It is in these small nods, these contradictions, that a robot designed solely for battle would yearn to learn to play the piano, that we have the most humanizing moments of the volume. The tragedy is only enhanced as these same characters that seem to be trying to move on find themselves unable to escape their pasts, unable to escape the things they did in the war. It is a moving start to a story that promises to draw many more parallels to the nature of war and humanity than the source material did.

In the end, this is definitely a manga with depth and layers, and acts as the introduction into a story that foreshadows a lot of striking and poignant themes. The series benefits from being not incredibly long, complete at eight volumes, and short enough that you never lose track of the beginning by the end. The narrative balances action and more ponderous material well, giving us very human moments of the characters while keeping things moving briskly along. And this is a title that shows the unique benefits of the form, using words and text together to tell a story about what it means to be human. Which is to say that this series does what commercial art is supposed to by providing an entertaining story as well as a depth for critical interpretation.

- Charles Payseur

Blue Is the Warmest Color
Blue Is the Warmest Color
by Julie Maroh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
68 used & new from $2.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shines a white-hot spotlight on the overwhelming power of young, immature desire, February 10, 2014
When Clementine first passes Emma on a crowded French street, she is immediately drawn to Emma’s warm blue hair --- as well as the threat of the forbidden love that she embodies.

Far different from the story that unfolds in its movie adaptation, the graphic novel BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is a passionate look at young, immature love amid self-doubt and uncertainty. Clementine doesn’t want to be a lesbian, doesn’t want the judgmental looks from friends and family that come with it. At the same time, Clementine --- “Clem” --- is young and headstrong and unsure of where her life is heading. She’s a high school student in the 1990s when we first meet her (Emma, an art student in college, is a few years older), and she doesn’t know how to handle the onslaught of emotions she’s facing. Clem pull Emma in (not that Emma resists strongly), and then pushes her away…repeatedly. For her part, Emma tries to prevent their desire for each other from turning physical. Emma has a longtime partner, Sabine, for one thing. For another, Emma believes Clem is straight at heart and that Clem will eventually settle down with a man.

There’s wonderful familiarity in this push-pull, as well as powerful storytelling. But BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is also, at its heart, an overwrought drama, and that weakens the story in its later pages. Clem is already dead as the graphic novel begins (that’s really not a spoiler; Clem’s death is revealed on the very first page of the book), which shows that this is going to be one of “those” types of gay-love books, the kind where one of the protagonists has to die because that’s the only way a tale this passionate can be resolved. And while that overused device is a flaw, the rest of the story --- told in flashbacks courtesy of Clem’s well-kept journals --- capitalizes on great strengths and insights into the sexual politics of coming out so young and dealing with the fallout. “For Emma,” Clem writes in her journal, “her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is.”

Intimacy is what Clem is truly looking for, what she most greatly desires. Or at least it’s what she believes she most desires. But how well does she truly know herself at the age of 17, when Emma finally lets down her barriers and allows her relationship with Clem to be consummated? Clem is still 17 when she disastrously brings Emma home to meet her parents, and when she hears Emma say, for the first time, “I love you.”

Interestingly, in its last act, the novel jumps from 1997 to 2008, skipping over pivotal years of the two heroines’ lives and romance. It’s here where BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR changes focus from sexual politics to the overly sentimental. That’s a shame, because the book has, up to that point, managed to shine a white-hot spotlight on the overwhelming power of young, immature desire. All those silly, lovely things we do for love at that age are delightfully mingled with scenes of intense eroticism, and that’s where BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR hits its highest notes.

- John Hogan
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 16, 2014 10:43 PM PST

Pariah Volume 1
Pariah Volume 1
by Aron Warner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.78
59 used & new from $3.53

4.0 out of 5 stars A solid introduction in setting and story, February 10, 2014
This review is from: Pariah Volume 1 (Paperback)
PARIAH is primarily the story of four Vitros, teenagers enhanced with extraordinary mental gifts that make them "better" than normal people. They are smarter, capable of pushing the boundaries of science and technology, able to manipulate people and objects and ideas in ways that normal people simply cannot. It is about the fear and the otherness that these individuals feel as a result of possessing abilities that those normal people do not. More than that, though, PARIAH is the story of the different ways people deal with that otherness, that betterness, and how they all relate to the idea of normalcy when they are all deemed terrorists for being born different.

Brent Marks, the first of the characters introduced, wants to pass as normal, wants to be normal despite his enhanced skills and potential. Lila Ellerman wants to use her gifts for the betterment of everyone, to be a part of society but without having to hide or apologize for herself. Robert Maudsley believes that normal is lesser, that normal people exist to be manipulated into getting him what he wants. And Franklin Hyde wants only to be left alone, to be isolated from normal people in order to protect the Vitros from the normal people who seem to resent and hate them for what they are.

These characters each face their differentness in unique ways, and yet each is thrown into the same boat as the government rounds up the Vitros. There is a political angle to the story as well, as the government, or at least certain parties within the government, uses their abilities to label them enemies, uses their otherness to create political capital at the expense of human rights. It is an interesting look and critique of how governments tend to treat people who are different.

The art of the volume fits well with the grittiness of most of the story, the rather bleak place that these people find themselves in when the government comes after them for just being different. Scenes are scratchy and distorted, and everything has a slightly surreal feel to it. Faces retain a good amount of expression, though, and the characters each have a defined look that seems to fit into their role in the story. Brent is slouched and detached, Lila fierce and committed, Maudsley a little paunchy and creepy, Franklin uptight and arrogant. All of that comes across in the way they are portrayed, and it all works to create a cohesive whole.

This is, however, only the first volume of a larger story, and that comes across rather starkly. Not that it's a bad thing, but real revelations about how these different characters and their approaches to otherness are held back to be explored in later volumes, and instead what is given is a solid introduction that ends with a large shift in setting and story. It was a bit jarring to reach the ending and see where the story went, but as far as cliffhangers go, it definitely did the job of making the next volume seem important. And it did a good job of setting up who the characters are and how they view the world.

- Charles Payseur

by Mark Millar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.55
55 used & new from $3.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A comic this fun has to be criminal, February 10, 2014
This review is from: Supercrooks (Hardcover)
A comic this fun has to be criminal. A group of supervillains is forced to make the ultimate heist in this hilarious four-issue series from Mark Millar and Leinil Yu. Their target: The Bastard, one of the world’s most feared supervillains. He even has a superpowered protector, The Praetorian. Clearly, this isn’t going to be easy.

SUPERCROOKS borrows from several other sources (OCEAN’S ELEVEN being the obvious one), but it’s incredibly entertaining in its own right. The gag of presenting superheroes as real-life (i.e., flawed) guys is done a lot (see THE BOYS, as one really good example), but when it’s done well, it’s a treat for longtime comic book fans.

The lead here is Johnny Bolt, devilishly handsome and charming and possessing electrical powers. He rounds up a team of powered baddies and one hilariously blackmailed hero to go to Spain to get some quick cash (his reasoning? Hey, there’s no Captain Spain…why not try being a supervillain in a country without an abundance of superheroes?).

What’s follows is the kind of fun-filled comic you’d expect from Mark Miller (KICK-ASS) and the excellent artwork of Leinil Yu.

- John Hogan
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2014 8:59 AM PDT

The Wake Part One #1
The Wake Part One #1
Offered by DC Comics
Price: $8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE WAKE is a welcome surprise., February 10, 2014
Something strange is going on underwater off the shore of Prudhoe, Alaska. Dr. Lee Archer, a cetologist (she studies the songs of whales and dolphins, among other things) is called in by the Department of Homeland Security to join a team investigating. But given Dr. Lee’s political activism and her firing from NOAA, she’s not too eager to take part --- until they make her an offer she can’t refuse: They’ll help her get back custody of her son.

Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s smart, thrilling, and eerily provocative THE WAKE is a welcome surprise. Dr. Lee is asked to help investigate because she’s previously experienced the mysterious sound that has been recorded in Alaska. She joins a team of mostly unfriendly scientists --- including the former boss who fired her from NOAA --- all of whom have been assembled under different pretenses. What they find is a species of underwater creature no one has ever seen before. And so the mystery begins.

In flashbacks and flashforwards, Snyder and Murphy create a deep-sea thriller that mesmerizes. The art is stunning and theatrical, truly a visual treat. The story is compelling and fun. It’s cinematic in tone and feel. Comparisons to LOST are apt.

This collection of the first five issues of the comic shows the series as it’s just getting started and gives readers a perfect jumping-on point.

- John Hogan
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2014 8:52 AM PST

Bonnie and Clyde--The Beginning
Bonnie and Clyde--The Beginning
by Gary Jeffrey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.60
35 used & new from $7.63

4.0 out of 5 stars Crisp and clear, December 20, 2013
So much attention is focused on the end of the Bonnie and Clyde story…it’s easy to forget about the beginning. This new graphic novel attempts to uncovers some of that story.

Gary Jeffrey both writes and illustrates the black-and-white BONNIE AND CLYDE: THE BEGINNING. In the Depression era, these two outlaws inspired a wave of publicity, with some of the public cheering them on and others calling for their heads on a platter. But the real story behind the legend is one of mystery.

In Jeffrey’s version, Bonnie is held in thrall by Clyde’s devilish ways (other recountings have held that Bonnie was far more Lady MacBeth-like).

As a visual storyteller, Jeffrey is quite talented. His art is crisp and clear, and characters’ movements are beautifully rendered. With current interest in the legend of Bonnie and Clyde seeing a resurgence, this book satisfies at least some of our curiosity…and helps keep the legend going.

- John Hogan

Takio 2
Takio 2
by Brian Michael Bendis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.46
72 used & new from $1.71

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and powerful, December 20, 2013
This review is from: Takio 2 (Hardcover)
Taki and Olivia, the two sisters who make up TAKIO, return for more battles…and a lot more in-fighting.

Listening to these two sisters bicker is half the fun of TAKIO, the story of two sisters from a multicultural family who were gifted with strange telekinetic powers after an accident. In the world they inhabit, they are the only superheroes in existence --- which is pretty cool for them.

What’s not cool is how to live with these powers while going unnoticed. “I want to go to school. I want to come home. Every once in a while we’ll do the superhero thing,” Taki, the older sister, announces. It’s a worthwhile wish, but unfortunately, things are about to get more complicated.

This lovable sisterly duo is both funny and powerful, and the art by Oeming is pitch-perfect.

- John Hogan

by Brian Michael Bendis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $8.58
95 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling all-ages adventure, December 20, 2013
This review is from: Takio (Hardcover)
The team behind POWERS creates a new spin on all-ages superhero comics with TAKIO, a fun-filled series about two bickering sisters just trying to a) save the world, and b) avoid getting grounded.

Taki and Olivia are both adopted sisters in a multicultural family. Their father has recently died, and their mother is doing the best she can. When the girls happen to be visiting Taki’s best friend’s house, a weird accident occurs (the best friend’s father is a scientist, so naturally, an odd explosion is a distinct possibility here). The two sisters gain telekinetic superpowers. Alas, so does the best friend, and it turns out she’s a little on the evil side. Taki and Olivia go to work to defeat the menace…all while minding their mom’s curfew and avoiding punishment.

As much as POWERS is an adults-only delight, TAKIO is a thrilling all-ages adventure that is truly funny, truly well-drawn, and truly exciting storytelling. This is not a dumbed-down comic; it’s a great action series that comics-reading kids and adults (and those in between) will love.

- John Hogan

An Enchantment (Louvre Collection)
An Enchantment (Louvre Collection)
by Christian Durieux
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.02
33 used & new from $4.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Full of beautiful delights, December 20, 2013
A big, bold book that is full of beautiful delights, AN ENCHANTMENT continues NBM’s wonderful Louvre Delights series. Each book in these editions prominently features works on display in the Louvre while telling a compelling graphic story.

In this case, we meet the retiring minister of finance, for whom a dramatic banquet is being thrown in the legendary museum. Realizing how much he detests everyone gathered there to bid him adieu, he wanders off…and meets a remarkable young woman who has snuck into the museum. Together, they enjoy a bottle of wine, and then a second, while roaming the museum unattended.

The two spend a luminous night enjoying some of the greatest works of art while evading the many people looking for the retiring man. But this is his greatest night, the night of his life…he does not want to return to their midst. And so he delves into the world of art instead.

This gorgeous book is another stunning winner from this series.

- John Hogan

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