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This diamond indicates those titles included in the Top Ten Core List


Gunslinger Girl: Volume 1
by Yu Aida
ISBN: 1413900208
ADV, 2003

If you've been horribly injured, the Social Welfare Agency is here to help. They'll use state-of-the-art cyborg prosthetics to get you on your feet again. In return, you'll have to become a government assassin. In Gunslinger Girl, the Social Welfare Agency is a shadowy group sponsored by the Italian government that trains young girls to do political dirty work. Each girl is conditioned to obey her grown-up handler without question and to use her technologically enhanced strength and speed to protect him at all costs. She regains her mobility, but loses any chance for a normal life.

Gunslinger Girl tells the stories of the girl assassins and their relationships with the adults who train them: sensitive Henrietta, who looses control when her handler is threatened; teenage Triela, whose emerging womanhood is both a tool and a challenge; and Rico, who will happily kill as long as she can keep her functioning body. It's a disturbing premise, and the manga doesn't flinch from the troubling questions it raises. How much of these girls' humanity remains? Do they feel love, or are they simply brainwashed? Can their handlers control these living weapons without destroying them?

Gunslinger Girl is a gripping read. Readers may be disturbed by the implications of young girls trained to love and obey adult men, and not all the handlers treat their charges well, but the manga never exploits its characters to titillate. There are no Lolitas here. Yu Aida has created fascinating characters and sensitive stories that even have a touch of grim humor at times, and the art is excellent; the characters have distinctive, expressive faces. The elegant use of blank space and shading give the pages a feeling of stillness, which in turn make the occasional explosions of violence more effective.

review by jen

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Tokyopop 2001

Clover also crosses the boundaries of girls or boys comics, the two audiences CLAMP commonly writes for, by packing a wrenching examination of love into an action-packed drama full of genetic experimentation and explosive battles. As is common in the best Japanese work, Clover explores all of the usual questions around genetic engineering people as weapons or slaves-- there's a reason Blade Runner remains one of the most recognized Western films in Japan. At the same time, Clover's focus on the people involved, and not their genetic make-up, makes the story a uniquely human story at it's core. read more...

If you like, you can skip to individual volumes in the series:
Clover Volume 1
Clover Volume 2
Clover Volume 3
Clover Volume 4

reviews by robin

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A Distant Soil
By Colleen Doran
The Gathering: ISBN: 1887279512
Image Comics 2001

Aliens are about to attack! The only ones who can save us are a motley band of humans! I can hear you all saying, "Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before." Ha! Collen Doran's great trick is to take a classic plot from seemingly every sci-fi novel known to man and make it new, exciting, and not just a little bit funny! Yes, there are the usual trappings of sci-fi -- advanced societies gone horribly wrong, reluctant heroes, psionic powers, political intrigue, and battles in space. Embrace the sci-fi space opera (you know you love it) and you'll find yourself sucked in to an epic full of laugh-out-loud humor, love, revenge, and loyalty.

review by robin

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A Distant Soil
The Ascendant: ISBN: 1582400180
By Colleen Doran
Image Comics 2001

Colleen Doranís finely drawn and elaborately plotted epic only gets better as time goes on. In the last issue, sister and brother Liana and Jason unexpectedly inherited their long-dead fatherís legacy: the fate of a millennia old alien civilization mired in tradition and about to collapse into civil war. Separated and informed (and manipulated) by entirely different sides, each embarks on a quest to embrace their past and future. Under the protection of resistance leader Seren and his motly crew of humans and Ovanans, Liana begins to see her place as a reformer and rescuer of a crumbling world. Jason, told a quite different story, is set firmly on the path of revenge and assassination for what he believes are noble ends. By the finish of this volume, long hidden secrets are revealed from both enemies and allies, leaving newly minted loyalties and a worldís political system balancing on the edge of a precipice. All of this still happens,of course, while everyone is fabulously attired and sports suitably sinuous hairstyles. I dare you not to get totally obsessed with this series.

review by robin

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A Distant Soil
The Aria: ISBN: 1582402019
By Colleen Doran
Image Comics 2001

Although brother and sister are finally reunited in The Aria, this brings neither accord nor safety to any involved in the struggle for Ovanan leadership. As the various factions jockey for position, our bad of heroes are ever more fractured and doubtful of their cause. At the core of the uncertainty is the double life of group leader Seren, the revelation of which is poised to both launch Liana in her destiny (perhaps prematurely) while tearing down any power or strength Seren held. The fluid artwork gives a sometimes frightening and unsettling story a softer edge, perhaps making it all the more effective and creepy. The evil side is getting ever more treacherous and unforgivable while the side of the right is blurring a bit on its own. One warning: this volume ends on a terrific cliffhanger, and as of yet, no more of the story has been printed in book form!

review by robin

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ISBN: 1401200567
by Warren Ellis
Art by Colleen Doran, Dave Stewart and Clem Robbins
Vertigo/DC Comics 2003

I grew up with two physicists for parents. We often had great dinner conversations about subatomic particles and cosmology. When I was ten, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. My friends and family can tell you that started a loyalty right then to space exploration and the Trek universe. As I grew up, I was allowed to raid my father's expansive collection of classic science fiction, from 50s era onward. I've always loved the wonder and yearning for exploration that space still holds, and it dismays me to see the lack of wonder many of my fellows feel for the possibilities space holds.

Seeing my history, you can probably guess why Orbiter is definitely the book for me. The basic story is classic sci-fi through and through: after a space shuttle, the Orbiter, mysteriously disappears without a whisper of warning, the U.S. manned exploration of space is completely suspended. Ten years later, that missing shuttle returns to an abandoned Kennedy Space Center full of mysteries and carrying an apparently insane captain, the only surviving member of the mission. Old experts, from ex-astronauts, physicists, and a psychiatrist, are brought in to discover Orbiter's secrets. They, of course, discover much more than they can comprehend. Thus follows a tale of broken dreams and rerouted destinies suddenly put back on course, whether the human race is ready or not.

Warren Ellis always writes passionate, critical dynamite, and Colleen Doran, ever since I devoured A Distant Soil, is an intriguing and appropriate choice for a creative collaborator. As it turns out, they're also great friends and space enthusiasts. In the end, Orbiter is a story about not giving up the dream of space. With email, voice recognition, cell phones, and the Internet, we're already living in the science fiction I grew up with. But where's the shuttle to Mars? Where are the cities on the moon? Ellis acknowledges in his introduction (which I admit made me get teary), this title had a frightening prescience within its echo of the recent loss of the Columbia shuttle and the grounding of the U. S. space program. The necessity of books like Orbiter, and their ability to make us dream, can be summed up in his words, "Human spaceflight remains experimental. It is very dangerous. It demands great ingenuity. But we are old enough, now, to do these things. Growing up is hard. But we cannot remain children, standing on the shore or in front of the TV set."

review by robin

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Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street
ISBN: 1582401977
by Warren Ellis
Art by Darick Robertson
Vertigo/DC Comics 2001

Spider Jerusalem is not the kind of guy you take home to meet your parents. Heís crude, offensive, and his favorite state of dress is naked. Heís also very pissed off. Heís just been forced to return to the city after several blissful years of almost total solitude on the side of a mountain. Unfortunately, heís spent his book advance and his publisher is making him come back and write for the Cityís biggest newspaper ĎThe Wordí, heís even willing to throw in an assistant/photographer if itíll make Spider happy. It doesnít. Not much thatís actually socially acceptable makes Spider happy. But thatís okay because Spiderís weekly column "I Hate It Here" is wildly popular no matter how offensive he is to everything and everyone. A fact which only disgusts him more. Warren Ellis has created a compelling and all too possible future in which all the excesses of todayís world have been multiplied and carried to their logical extremes. Information and advertisements bombard you 24 hours a day, catering to every imaginable (and unimaginable) desire for pleasure. Spider is not a moralist, he fully partakes of the pleasures of the City while maintaining a cynical outlook on all of it. He can accept the excess but he canít stand hypocrisy. His goal is to make others aware of the essential vacuity and falseness of the world they live in. The art work in the comic works with the tone of the text Ė bright brash colors, graphic images. It's an unflinching vision of Spiderís world that sees through the glamour to the dirt underneath. Through Spider Jerusalem Warren Ellis offers biting social commentary on the state of our world. Spider isnít cuddly, and he isnít polite, but he is often right and after a while, heís oddly endearing. This is not a comic for the faint of heart. Be warned this does contain very graphic language and violence, as well as frequent nudity, it is not meant for children. But, the language and violence are not gratuitous, Warren Ellis uses them as an integral part of the commentary he is making.

review by Petra

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Red Star: The Battle of Kar Dathra's Gate
ISBN: 1582401977
by Christian Gossett, Bradley Kayl
Image Comics 2001

This is one of the few graphic novels I've come across that made me sit back and just stare. The artwork, a combination of traditional illustration techniques and the 3D computer imaging used in the finest computer games, is absolutely stunning. Lucky for us, the story is equally brilliant. A reworking of world history, The Battle of Kar Dathra's Gate follows one Comrade Sorcerer through her brutal memories of the title battle in a conflict which mirrors Russia's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. On that day, she lost both her faith in her country and, more personally, her beloved husband. Her story, however, is much more than it seems, and destiny has greater plans for both her and her husband.

review by robin

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Red Star: Nokgorka
ISBN: 097147141X
by Christian Gossett and Bradley Kayl
Art by Christian Gossett, Snakebite, Paul Schrier, and Richard Starkings
Archangel Studios 2002

The audacity of reworking Russian history and filling it with technology-driven sorcery and mythological destinies still wows me when I consider Red Star Ė the authority and brilliance with which Team Red Star does leaves me gasping. We return to the world of the United Republics of the Red Star to find the once great now corrupt government falling apart internally while fighting a fruitless war against the rebellious and feverishly insular people of N0kgorka. As Sorceress-Commander Maya Antares and her remaining allies struggle to find reasons to obey their orders from above, a fourteen year-old member of the AlíIstanni resistance, the fearless Makita, stalks the remaining soldiers through the ruins if her city. The loss of her closest friend drives Maya into the smoking remains of the city, with Makita soon picking up her trail Ė what neither of them knows is that the greater spirits behind the battleground have far different plans than either one expects. Once again, the combination of traditional illustration techniques and computer-generated environments blends into a vivid iconic style that remains to be matched. The detail and the blend of history into the writing is just as remarkable.

review by robin

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Loveless: Volume 1
by Yun Kouga
ISBN: 1598162217
Tokyopop, 2006

To be perfectly clear: Loveless is not an easy manga to understand. Within the first volume alone readers will encounter murder, loneliness, willing sacrifices, inherited responsibility, physical abuse, crushes, and virtual battlefields. The characters are close-mouthed and reluctant to reveal their secrets, even to the reader, so first-time manga readers should prepare themselves to feel a bit lost. But what a fascinating world to be lost in!

Due to his own inability to remember farther than two years past, twelve-year-old Ritsuka is a blank slate. His unstable mother insists he's not her son and repeatedly attacks him. His only protector, his older brother Seimei, was murdered and his body left to be discovered in Ritsuka's old classroom. Ritsuka, damaged and afraid to connect with anyone, retreats into coldness. Enter Soubi, a college student who claims to be an old friend of Seimei's, tempting Ritsuka with clues to finding Seimei's murderer and the first person Ritsuka wants to talk to. Soubi was not, however, only Seimei's companion but also his weapon in magical battles fought in pairs designated by secret, matching names. Seimei was one half of the pair Beloved, acting as the sacrifice or the player who withstands the physical damage of any attack. Soubi was Beloved's fighter unit, a human weapon trained, almost brainwashed, to fight by turning spoken words into weapon spells. Now Seimei has left Soubi to Ritsuka as his inheritance-- Ritsuka must become the sacrifice, and use this relationship to investigate the underground world that hides Seimei's killer.

Loveless is the kind of manga that startles a reader with just how close it treads to taboo lines without ever crossing over into true transgression. Ritsuka develops a powerful crush on Soubi, and the conditioned Soubi returns the affection as much as he can within his orders. The relationship between sacrifice and warcraft adds a whole other level of conditioned loyalty, and it is never clear whether Soubi is still acting according to the dead Seimei's orders or of his own accord.

Yun Kouga's art is breathtaking; fluid, dark, and full of slicing edges to show the beauty and the damage in sharp relief. This title is definitely most suitable for older teen readers, given the variety of dark subjects and the suspense-ratcheting unwillingness to explain too much, but once you start the series, you'll be dying for the next volume.

Review by robin

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supermanAkira Volume 1
by Katsushiro Otomo
ISBN: 1569714983
Dark Horse, 2000

"At 2:17 P.M. on December 6th, 1992, a new type of bomb exploded over the metropolitan area of Japan.... Nine hours later, World War III began." So begins Katsushiro Otomo's epic Akira series, which opens with a full color spread of one of the creepiest images I've ever seen in a comic book. The islands of Japan are obscured beneath an unimaginably huge, black bubble of perfect destruction which blots out the sun with a hurricane of force stretching from Leningrad to Los Angeles. 38 years later, the semi-ruined city of Neo-Tokyo perches on the lip of the bomb's vast crater, a sterile no-man's-land declared off-limits by the government. No one knows what, if anything, is hidden in the center of the crater. Rumors that the area will be re-built as the site of the next Olympic Games lure teen delinquents Kaneda and Tetsuo's daredevil motorcycle gang to sneak out in the middle of the night for a closer look. There's not much to see on the ruined highway out of town, until a strangely wizened, ghostly child steps into the road, overturning Tetsuo's motorcycle in a huge fireball. Tetsuo isn't dead, but the government agency who takes an interest in him after the accident make sure that Kaneda will never see the friend he remembers again. Kaneda soon has more pressing problems, as he is caught up in an anti-government plot to kidnap the mysterious child on the highway, enigmatically nicknamed "Number 26." As the military frantically tries to regain control of Number 26, Kaneda begins to realize that this prematurely aged child and his cohorts (also identified with numbers) might hold the clue to the military's most secret project of all, code-named "Akira." In the meantime, Tetsuo wakes up strapped to a table in a lab with his injuries magically healed but experiencing pain in his head worse than anything he could have imagined (note to readers: don't read this for the first time while recovering from a migrane like I did.) Along with an excruciating headache, Tetsuo soon discovers that he has developed psychic and telekinetic powers which allow him to kill at will and destroy solid objects without using his hands. Mentally unbalanced and maddened with pain, Tetsuo escapes the military's secret lab in the heart of the old bomb crater (where else?) and heads back into Neo-Tokyo with only two goals: revenge on his past gangland enemies and any kind of drug that will dull his hyperactive senses and numb his increasing pain. When Tetsuo and Kaneda meet again they barely recognize each other - one is now an anti-government revolutionary on the trail of the Akira Project, and the other is a pain-wracked, drug-addicted madman hell-bent on dominating the streets of his city. The Akira series is not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but once you're hooked into the intricacies of the story with its interweaving plotlines and host of characters both evil and inspiring, the narrative's furiously fast pace will keep you reading on the edge of your seat. Otomo's drawings range from shockingly detailed realism to near-caricature, heightening the story's speed and tension, and illustrating the crumbling metropolis of Neo Tokyo and its denizens with a bizarre geometric beauty.

review by alison

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