Usagi Yojimbo Vol 32 Review

Mysteries is volume 32 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own and would not be a bad point to jump in.

 

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

 

Detective Ishida is as much a main character as Usagi now, and I continue to enjoy the time the series is spending focusing on the two of them together solving mysteries. Things have a little bit of a different feel now that Usagi has been in one place for a while, but it still stays true to the heart of the series.

This volume starts with two single chapter stories, followed by two and three part stories respectively, then finishes with a couple short “Chibi Usagi” installments.

There are elements in the main stories that connect a bit, giving a nice sense of progression throughout the volume. The stories are interesting and the mystery elements well done as usual.

The inclusion of recurring characters Kitsune and Nezumi (in separate stories) is starting to present a characterization problem with Usagi. The lengths to which he trusts the thief who routinely takes advantage of him and distrusts the other (who has helped investigations and acts in a Robin Hood mold) are becoming exaggerated and risk making Usagi seem oblivious and borderline unsympathetic at times.

Outside of that though, this is another strong volume of intrigue and action. The Chibi Usagi shorts are light and amusingly silly.

 

 

Batgirl Volume 1 Review

Resharing a review of a favorite comic of mine I wrote on Goodreads before this blog existed. My opinion stands so this is presented without edits/updates:

 

This trade collects issues 1-7 of Brian Q. Miller’s Batgirl series.

Batgirl starts in the shadow of the events of Batman:RIP. Bruce Wayne is dead (for the time being anyway) and the various members of the “Bat-Family” are dealing with the fallout. For Stephanie Brown, this means trying to give up wearing the bat emblem and live a normal life. This doesn’t really work for her. She ends up taking the Batgirl costume from Cassandra Cain (who is successfully leaving the bat in her past) and continuing the fight in her own way. This doesn’t necessarily thrill anyone else…

 

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As presented here, Stephanie is a fantastic character. In over her head, but embracing it and refusing to give up because something inside just won’t let her. Her journey to make the Batgirl identity her own is well developed, comical at times, and a lot of fun to follow along with.

Stephanie is given a wonderful supporting cast, and watching their interactions with her and their relationships evolve is a real treat. Even though they are established characters from other series, one of the most impressive things about Batgirl is how well it reads on it’s own. It certainly helps if you have previous knowledge of Oracle, Damian, “Dick Grayson Batman,” etc., but Miller presents all the characters well enough that it’s not really needed.

One last compliment I’d like to give is to the artist. The art is outstanding and contains a ton of little touches that enhance the story (such as some of great panels of Stephanie next to Batman or a villain that clearly show their size advantage over her, something often glossed over in comics).

Beautiful Dreams 3: More Art of Juri the Dreamer

It’s been a year and change since my last spotlight on the work of my favorite artist, and I’d like to share and talk about more of her incredible work and some of the inspirations behind the pieces. See Beautiful Dreams and Beautiful Dreams 2 for more about Juri H. Chinchilla’s art, including past pieces I’ll be mentioning in this write up.

 

 

Juri’s Personal Sketch Cards (PSCs) have been a great opportunity to request particular subjects and design elements. One of the more unique requests I’ve made was a card featuring one of my favorite professional wrestlers, and I adored it so much that I’ve followed up with several more since. Juri’s done an AMAZING job depicting these previously unfamiliar to her subjects and these are in many ways the pride of my entire art collection. See Another Wonderful Way Pro-Wrestling is Art 2 for more about the above works featuring WWE’s reigning Smackdown Women’s Champion Asuka, Sendai Girls’ phenomenal high flyer Dash Chisako, and the recently retired Happy Maker Aoi Kizuki.

 

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Misaki Ohata PSC by Juri H. Chinchilla.

 

Another favorite of mine also retired in 2018, and Juri’s strikingly posed Misaki Ohata with a wonderful background of venue lights is a great keepsake.

 

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Reika Saiki PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

Tokyo Joshi Pro’s Reika Saiki is known as the “Muscle Idol,” and all aspects of her strength and charisma as a wrestler, idol, and body builder are gloriously highlighted in Juri’s drawing.

 

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Mitsuru Konno PSC by Juri Chinchilla.

 

The last wrestler in this batch was also the first of all. Juri’s first rendition of Mitsuru Konno from Gatoh Move for me featured a great action pose capturing and combining Mitsuru’s strength, determination, grace, and beauty in a remarkable rendition. Equally wonderful is Juri’s quite different recent depiction, featuring Mitsuru in her newer wrestling outfit with a palpable sense of celebration and excitement captured.

With the exception of Dash doing her trademark frog splash, I didn’t specify poses and the layouts, details, and way Juri captured each subject are just wonderful. I couldn’t be happier with how these all turned out.

 

 

Juri’s work have are as diverse in creation method as they can be in subject matter. I’ve added a pair of wonderful paintings of hers to my collection, including a striking abstract and an atmospheric, haunting image of night in Rainy Gotham.

Another unique piece is Aquatica, which shows off Juri’s wonderful use of color in a gorgeous image of an original character.

 

 

As always Juri’s work for Perna Studios‘ high quality card sets is pitch perfect for the subject matter. I was lucky enough to get some Artist Proofs (APs)  from her for their most recent sets. For Witchcraft, I requested a female grim reaper from several artists, and I adore the delicate yet powerful feel Juri brought to her version. In the past I got a witch from Juri with some amazing ravens, so loved the idea of getting Celtic goddess Morrigan for her Classic Mythology III metal AP. Rounding out this group is a graceful moonlight scene featuring my favorite Greek goddess, Artemis, with just a touch of lurking menace as she hunts.

 

A very different Morrigan was part of one of the Personal Sketch Cards I got previously from Juri, an incredible depiction of the Darkstalkers character with her “sister” Lilith. Morrigan’s an old favorite and one of my most played fighting game characters ever, so I was thrilled to add this larger, equally amazingly done drawing of her to my collection.

 

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Continuing the video game theme are three new PSCs from some of my favorite game series. Makoto from Persona 5 joins my previous PSC of Elizabeth from the third game in that series, with a bold red background complimenting the deep blues of the other card. The wonderful balance of a sense of motion while still posing is a wonderful touch not only in the two Persona cards, but also accentuates Juri’s drawings of Fire Emblem’s Tharja, and Valkyria Chronicles 4’s Riley, as well as the Bombshells version of DC’s Raven and Clare from the manga/anime Claymore. Finally for this time around is a beautiful depiction of two of Juri’s original characters. The cards are all excellent and unique works showcasing Juri’s attention to detail and mastery of color in their own different ways

 

 

More information about Juri’s art can be found on her artist page. I hope to continue to follow and collect her wonderous creations for a long time to come. 🙂

 

 

 

Astro City: Life in the Big City (Volume 1) Review

Why would a man who could fly dream of flying?
What’s news in a world where anything can happen?
What should a small time crook do with the greatest of all secrets?
What is it that defines home?
How would our lives look to an outsider?
Is there time for superheroes to take a night off?

 

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Life in the Big City collects Astro City vol. 1 issues 1-6. This is the complete original miniseries.

 

A tad over 20 years ago, Kurt Busiek introduced the world to Astro City. It was his attempt to tell stories of depth in the medium of superhero comics, as both a celebration of them and to push the boundries of what they were capable of. In his own words from the prologue: “We’ve been taking apart the superhero for ten years or more; it’s time to put it back together and wind it up, see what it’ll do.”

What it did was create wonderful stories in a world of heroes, that answer the question above and tons more like them. This is not a comic about a hero – it’s a comic about all of them. Most of the six standalone stories here star a different character, from heroes to criminals to bystanders. This is a comic about life as much as anything else.

Astro City was an enormous undertaking. Busiek did not want to limit his stories to a single perspective, nor establish a setting that felt hollow or could change to suit events. He created an entire world to explore, with fully realized geography, denizens of all types, and depth and consequences to the stories he tells there. There is a full history to this world, which we get wondrous glimpses of here and there until later trades fill us in. The careful groundwork set up here connects to and is built upon by all the future trades. All the stories (including the individual ones here) read fine alone, but together they have amazing depth and resonance.

Since he was creating an examination of heroes, Busiek used many familiar archetypes. You will see similarities between Samaritan and Superman, Winged Victory and Wonder Woman, etc. But to equate them or dismiss Astro City’s heroes as imitations would be a mistake. Even while using the archetypical nature of these characters as a point of discovery, Busiek makes them compelling, complex people in their own right.

The consistent art is also a strong positive. Alex Ross provides his usual astounding work for the covers, and the interiors are all Brent Anderson. Anderson’s art has a unique style and can take some getting used to. It’s not quite as crisp as the typical comic art, but it suits the stories extremely well and his habit of leaving some details a little obscured pays off beautifully when the scene requires more detail (which he provides in amazing fashion – emotion comes across strongly from his characters). Personally I love it, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Life in the Big City is the start of a truly phenomenal comic and should be read by any comic book fan. The most impressive part is that Astro City would get even better in the second trade…

Ant Man and the Wasp Review

“I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most – they pay the price.”

 

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I’ve really enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on Scott Lang and company, both in the first Ant-Man movie and Civil War. Ant-Man and the Wasp explores the fallout from both those films, and I was extremely excited for it in general as well as to see Hope take a more starring role this time around.

In a way that kind of reminds me of what was done with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the plot scope is narrower this time around, with a single core, character driven plot driving everything. The approach is a great one for a second movie in any series, as it advances the types of issues the protagonists face and expand the general universe they inhabit while simultaneously allowing more personal, emotional developments to take center stage. Scott’s choices in Civil War have had a huge effect on his life and the people he cares about, and the film faces those consequences and the subsequent difficult choices Scott has to make head on. Also as expected (and hoped for), Hope is Scott’s equal this time around and I really liked the portrayal of both heroes, including their different approaches and complicated relationship.

That strong central plot is anchored and supplemented with great acting and a sense of humor to the film that makes it all resonate and provides several truly hilarious moments (although I’ll admit certain aspects of the comedy are getting to the point where they need to be reigned in a bit and applied with a more of a deft touch).

Ant Man and The Wasp is a movie that makes some really interesting choices, tells a complete story while setting things up for the future, and stays true to the spirit of the first film while advancing its heroes to the next level. Another strong hit for the MCU.

 

 

Spirit’s Bloom Review

“The mysterious origins of how webcomic dahlia-darling Erma’s parents came together.

After innumerable requests from fans, asking how an apparently average human man could meet (let alone fall in love with!) a mysterious dark spirit, Brandon Santiago presents the much-anticipated backstory. Learn how they met! How they came to care for each other! And the beginning of Erma herself!”

 

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I adore the Erma webcomic and with the intriguing family reunion story currently unfolding decided to pull the trigger on getting this print only prequel showing how Erma’s parents met.

I’m a huge fan of “slice-of-life” style stories and tend to be perfectly fine with deliberately placed stories that know when to get out of their own way an let the narrative unfold naturally. But honestly this is almost too minimalist, feeling like something was a bit lacking. It’s always a tough thing to balance as the author knows all the details, so the line of providing too much information versus too little can be tricky to navigate. I personally felt Santiago was too sparing and secretive with information in this case.

There were more questions than answers regarding Emiko’s family situation, as well as huge new cliffhangers and ominous foreshadowing. For something that was seemed poised to fill in some context for long running questions it falls short, instead raising many more dangling mysteries than it addresses. Because of this it paradoxically feels both inessential and essential at the same time, containing a major plot point I don’t recall seeing yet in the main comic amid a story that otherwise seems to want to save important reveals for the regular comic.

All that said, there are still decent story threads here that span from cute and heartwarming to dark and ominous. It’s an enjoyable read with a handful of fantastic moments and a nice addition to Erma’s mythos overall. But at the same time I personally hoped for more from it and can’t help but wonder the heights it could’ve achieved with a tweaked approach.

Infinity War Review

“Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same.”

 

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I’ve essentially been waiting for a movie version of my favorite comic story for over 25 years. So even with the excellent knack the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown for balancing large casts and adapting stories as well as the roll they’ve been on with excellent films like Black Panther and Thor: RagnarokI was a bit apprehensive going into Infinity War. I’m pleased to report that I needn’t have worried.

This felt right, building on the previously established mythology of the prior movies while keeping the essence of the themes of the comics (and in some cases improving on them) and paying tribute in numerous “Easter egg” type moments that fit in this new story and didn’t feel forced. That balancing act is difficult, and kudos to all involved in pulling it off.

While some characters could have used more screen time and a couple of characterizations felt a little off compared to the characters in their own movies, overall the movie did an extremely good job of balancing the huge cast (including a well deserved spotlight on some supporting cast members) and walking the line of comedy and drama that was so important to making this story work in the MCU. The cast banters out of stress and habit, amusing the audience in the classic Marvel movie way without losing sight of the gravity of unfolding events. Thanos, one of my favorite comic villains ever, shines as a powerful foe with a distinct point of view and agenda that requires sacrifices he’s willing to make. Sacrifices that are, of course, not acceptable to our heroes leading to the promised conflict that has the proper weight and epic feel.

The work Marvel’s put into building its universe over the last decade, letting viewers get to know their heroes and follow along with what’s brought them all to this point while slowly sewing the seeds foreshadowing this tale of the war over the Infinity Gems, pays off in spades. This story couldn’t be a simple adaptation, as the preceding events, general plot setup and themes, and even the key characters involved were very different than the comics. All the careful preparation and groundwork laid out in the previous movies allowed this tale to grow organically as a proper part of this narrative universe.  Yet I think that while that true depth of Infinity War might be lost by those new to the MCU it also does a good job of establishing the stakes, cast, and plot to the point where the story could be followed by new viewers. Again, not an easy task and I’m happy to see things come together so well.

 

The way things unfold are unique enough to the particulars of the MCU that even though this is based on elements of now classic stories it’s worthwhile to avoid spoilers. So I’ll wrap up here by saying that while not perfect this was still pretty much as excellent as I could have hoped for, and I’m dying to see the sequel next year to experience the fallout and see where everything goes from here.