Jake Maddox Graphic Novels

The Jake Maddox Graphic Novels series was designed with young readers in mind. These sports-centered stories all present a teen athlete who has a recognizable weakness, learns a lesson, overcomes the weakness, and then goes on to win the game in about 65 pages. Each book spells out the flaw clearly, and each ends with a glitteringly clear resolution. While these stories can be unbearably predictable for an adult audience, I believe they give readers who are working on skill development the right amount of practice to read for character, plot, and theme.

I also applaud the books for covering issues relevant to a wide range of students on and off the field. In Soccer Switch, Andre faces frustration and disappointment in a new coach’s unusual techniques. Comeback Catch focuses on Eddie as he learns to feel more comfortable at the batter’s mound instead of behind the plate. Daydream Receiver has Gus realizing he can’t just be caught up in dreams; he also has to work hard towards these goals. In Double Scribble, Diego has to overcome his disappointment of losing the game to regain a sense of himself.

However, a consistent weakness in the series is the lack of attention to graphic art relative to the story. These illustrated novels have a mild artistic sense, where the art serves mostly as a comprehension aid and does much less to push the story forward or to draw readers towards a deeper meaning. The art mostly relies on a limited range of emotions and gestures from the characters, simple paneling, and solid backgrounds. More attention could be paid to the visual senses of these stories, whether it be towards portraying the athletic victory or towards illustrating inner thoughts and feelings.

Another weakness is the use of sophisticated storytelling structures (flashback, inner monologue, dream sequences, and story-in-a-story) to tell highly readable stories. I am concerned that students who would be able to understand the characters, plot, and themes independently might get hung up on the structural elements, such as telling the difference between a character’s inner dream sequence and outer real-life action. However, some might make the case that these books can be used to teach readers about these structures.

I encourage children and teen librarians who are in need of engaging instructional tools for developing readers to look into the Jake Maddox series for their libraries and schools.

Comeback Catcher (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels)
by Eric Braun
Art by Bere Muñiz
ISBN: 9781496537003
Capstone, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Daydream Receiver (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels)
by Brandon Terrell
Art by Eduardo Garcia
ISBN: 9781496537027
Capstone, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Double Scribble (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels)
by Brandon Terrell
Art by Arburtov
ISBN: 9781496537010
Capstone, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Soccer Switch (Jake Maddox Graphic Novels)
by Brandon Terrell
Art by Arburtov
ISBN: 9781496536990
Capstone, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Cosmic Odyssey: The Deluxe Edition

A mysterious, monstrous scheme is discovered beneath the streets of Gotham City. A machine has been assembled that could wipe out not only our planet, but trigger a chain reaction that will engulf the universe as we know it. An odd team of heroes and antiheroes are assembled by the leaders of New Genesis and Apokolips to announce a deadly revelation: the Anti-Life Equation, long believed to be one of the highest powers in the universe, is in fact a sentient being aware of our universe’s existence. It has gained some covert influence on different planets across the galaxy, but there is still time to prevent the Anti-Life Aspect from completing its utter takeover.

Ten-hut! The Anti-Life Aspect has planted world-destroying bombs on several planets, and our protagonists, including Superman, Batman, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Etrigan, Starfire, Martian Manhunter, Dr. Fate, Orion, Lightray, Forager, Darkseid, and Highfather form teams to save each world. That may sound like an afternoon’s worth of wiki-searching to keep straight in one’s head, but Starlin allows for each character’s distinct personality traits to shine through, and the art team’s rendition of each character’s design makes them stand out visually, too.

The universe never truly ends in comics like this, and Starlin & Co. don’t play that angle any further than necessary. Once the stakes are set, each team’s mettle is tested to varying levels of success. For example, Superman wishes to dismantle his assigned bomb without causing a ruckus among the alien population, while his teammate Orion itches for a fight. Martian Manhunter is impressed by John Stewart’s Green Lantern ring, but Stewart invests too much confidence in its powers. Lightray’s pride as a warrior has him scrapping with one of the Aspect’s minions, but Starfire’s observant eyes are their true key to victory. Everyone is leery of Darkseid, whom everyone is sure wants to gain power from the Aspect in some way (everyone is right). Etrigan the demon speaks in rhymes, which always entertains. Batman and Forager…are blatantly outclassed, all things considered, but they try their best.

The story ends with massive doses of reflection and mourning, whether for a destroyed planet or fallen teammate. Consider Superman: his rebuttal to Orion over killing a town’s worth of brainwashed soldiers is an outright rejection of the ends justifying the means. “There are no innocent victims in war, Kryptonian. Only survivors and the dead,” Orion explains. “You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?” Superman replies. “Savage platitudes sprinkled over the slaughtered. A warrior’s honor excuses all, right? Wrong! We could have beaten the Aspect without this senseless massacre!” Superman then clocks Orion out of his flying gear over a background of fire and corpses.

If any of that came across as gibberish, don’t worry, this comic’s pleasures come more from character moments as well as the art of penciller Mike Mignola, inker Carlos Garzon, colorist Steve Oliff, and letterer John Workman. This hardcover edition collects all four issues of the 1988 miniseries written by Jim Starlin and acts as DC’s rival piece to Marvel’s Infinity Gauntlet, also written by Starlin and published in 1991. Either way, lots of superheroes and some villains will team up to take on a universe-level threat that transforms colorful capes and tights into cosmic knights of Camelot. Anyone still skeptical of this comic’s weight should take note of the cover featuring the main cast presenting a solid line of crossed arms and frowns. I’m partial to the original trade edition’s cover art, included in the back of the hardcover, with everyone bounding across space beneath Darkseid and Highfather’s supervision, but your mileage may vary.

It’s grim stuff, but again, Mignola, Garzon, Oliff, and Workman make it all sing. Batman almost looks like Hellboy in black, resigned to punishing battles and skin-of-his-teeth escapes. Bold lines and shadows serve a strong contrast to the bright yellows and blues in many sequences. The weird cosmic bits look confusing yet inviting, taking on something of a Lovecraftian dimension. The Anti-Life Aspect looks like a mountainous shadow with a burning eye perched to grab and absorb you where you stand. Action scenes explode off the page. Bomb timers count down their seconds  in dramatic fashion. A number of wordless sequences portray mood and internal struggle better than Starlin’s prose. Without spoiling anything, I can testify to having a greater appreciation of Martian Manhunter and John Stewart after this story, owing in large part to facial expressions and body language. Starfire, the only female character present, is in a bikini and boots yet isn’t relegated to a cheesecake supermodel role. Workman’s lettering turns up the volume on shouting and threads narration through the comic’s many beautiful layouts.

Cosmic Odyssey lives up to its title: everyone leaves their usual confines to embark on a cosmic-level adventure and returns somewhat changed. Fans of Mignola’s Dark Horse series’ Hellboy and Baltimore will appreciate seeing a team of optimists take on a seemingly doomed mission against forces from the great beyond. Fans of Starlin’s other science fiction comics will find familiar tropes aplenty (again, much like Infinity Gauntlet, which is a compliment). DC fans fresh off of recent fare like Justice League: Darkseid War or Green Lantern: Godhead will recognize several names used here. Aside from a couple of mutilated bodies at the beginning and end, there’s no reason this couldn’t be read by a general audience, but I’d start with readers old enough to parse all the lore and cast.

Cosmic Odyssey: The Deluxe Edition
by Jim Starlin
Art by Mike Mignola
ISBN: 9781401268152
DC Comics, 2017

Interview: Jonathan Maberry

jonathan_maberryJonathan Maberry may be best known in recent years to many librarians for his runaway hit in the YA field, the gripping Rot and Ruin series, but this year he’s gone back to another favorite monster, the vampire, in his miniseries Bad Blood for Dark Horse Comics. Check out a six-page preview from Dark Horse here. Bad Blood is currently available in individual issues from Dark Horse, and will be available as a trade paperback in December 2014

NFNT contributor Anna Call was able to snag an interview with Mr. Maberry to pick his brain* about his return to comics.  Read on to hear more about his inspirations, histories, and fears generated by the monsters, human and inhuman, that still give us nightmares.

-Robin Brenner

*Yes, I wrote that intentionally. I know. I couldn’t help myself.

BadBloodtpbNFNT interviewer Anna Call: Thank you very much for sitting down with me. I’ve read Bad Blood. I was very impressed, as I think a lot of your readers were, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how it was to write Bad Blood verses some of your other material that readers may have been familiar with previously, the YA novels that you’ve written, the zombie books, and the stuff you’ve done for Marvel.

Jonathan Maberry: It’s certainly different than the Marvel stuff. I was writing mostly superhero stuff for Marvel, even when it was apocalyptic, like Marvel Universe Versus and Marvel Zombies Returns. But it was definitely a different approach. This was a darker story, there aren’t any conventional heroes in it, and it’s a bit more personal in some ways.

I had a friend, when I was in high school, or junior high school, who had leukemia. Going through it with him and trying to be his friend, you know, a good friend through it while he was dealing with what he knew to be a life-threatening disease, couldn’t be detached from it. I kind of have some of that back story built in, and I had planned to explore that dynamic as time went on. As far as my novels, comics are substantially different than novels. Even though with a five-issue arc, you get to tell a moderately complex story, but it’s a different type of storytelling. You get more personal very quickly. Bad Blood has that kind of vibe to it.

NFNT:  It is very personal.

JM: Yeah. What does it mean to be a hero, what does it mean to live forever, what does it mean to die? These are fairly complex questions for a person. The nature of hope, and the nature of hope being lost or betrayed are things you can explore pretty easily and pretty fully in the comic book because you get the artwork and the expressions of the characters to help tell the story in ways deeper than through just words. You get that extra layer of storytelling that comic art really does well.

NFNT:  What made you decide to make this a vampire story? We’re a very vampire-saturated culture and you’ve contributed a lot of very interesting, innovative stories to the zombie genre. This wasn’t a complete change for you, you’ve written vampires before, but what inspired you?

GhostRoadBluesJM: I was into vampires long before zombies. I did five nonfiction books on the folklore, myths, and legends of vampires. So I did quite a bit of research on the subject of what people actually believed in terms of vampires and vampire-like creatures. And also, my first three novels, Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song, and Bad Moon Rising, are vampire novels, so I was more into vampires before I got into zombie fiction. I’ve always loved the vampire as monsters. It’s a very interesting monster to write about because it’s so different than what people expect. Most people, the only thing they know about vampires is from Hollywood movies and pop culture, and those versions of vampires don’t in any way resemble vampires of myth and legend. So I kind of like playing with being new by being old-school, so to speak. Finding fresh new stories by tapping into older legends that people have, in this day and age, kind of forgotten.

NFNT:  Is that why you present characters who seem to think that vampires are almost this angelic being as opposed to the very dark creatures, the almost parasites that you present?

BadBlood1JM: Well, vampires become romanticized. It’s kind of hard in movies and TV to keep a monster purely monstrous and be able to tell a story that people relate to. When Dracula was brought to the theater, into early film, they made him a romantic, tragic figure so that it would kind of tie into Victorian, post-Victorian seduction elements, which were big factors in the culture of the time. So the vampire had to be a seductive character rather than just a pure monster. Pure monsters tend to be one-note. By giving the vampire complexity of that sort, they were able to bring something fresh to it. The thing is, when they stuck to that one note, it kind of became a problem, it became also one-note. The vampires became this kind of tragic, love-lorn creature that is misunderstood and is only looking for love in this horrible thing that they do. It became that same one note again. In folklore, there are a lot of different kinds of vampires, different reasons for people to become vampires, and not all of them are evil, not all of them drink blood, etcetera…I wanted to go back and explore the other possibilities.

NFNT:  Well it’s pretty refreshing after Twilight.

JM: Well, you know, it’s a funny thing about Twilight. A lot of people take punches at it and certainly a lot of my writing colleagues do. I don’t, for the following reason: I’m not the demographic for that. I’m not a 13-year-old girl, or an 11-year-old girl. Since I’m not the person it was written for, I feel that it’s kind of not for me to say that this is right or wrong. Stephenie did a great job in writing for her demographic and the success of the Twilight books and movies did quite a lot for the horror industry and vampires as a fictional trope that helped people sell books, comics, movies, whatever, so I don’t take any swings at it.

vwars_cover_hires_croppedThat said, because the vampires of that being moderately sanitized and sparkly and so on, people were looking for a darker version, a darker story, and there have been some responses to that. Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro did The Strain, Justin Cronin did The Passage, and of course I did Bad Blood and V-Wars, which was also darker, less happy vampires. That’s a response to what people wanted and to what we as storytellers wanted to say.

NFNT:  Previous comics that you’ve written have dealt with superheroes, sometimes focusing on people who are on the high side of normal human ability, like the Punisher, Black Panther, going up against enemies who would have no trouble taking down a god. In Bad Blood, your heroes are sort of taking that to the extreme. They’re just about as weak as they could possibly be, but they’re going up against, we find out, the killers of history. So is there something attractive about writing weak heroes? Is there something that makes them strong in their weakness?

JM: I think that’s part of the personal journey. I grew up in an abusive household with a very monstrous father, and I grew up in a rough neighborhood where the strong and violent groups took advantage of the weak, and I survived it. I went on to teach self-defense programs to special-needs groups, women, children, the elderly and the physically challenged. I saw a lot of successes in what can happen when somebody discovers when they are stronger than they think [I saw] … people telling them that they were weak …or were trying to make them believe that they were weak so that they could make them easy prey. I know that people of all kinds can be powerful and that power and strength come in a lot of different frequencies. So I like to write about people discovering their power and finding ways to confront different kinds of threat and darkness. And, it’s fun. It’s fun to write the stories where people tend to surprise not only the bad guys, but themselves.

NFNT:  Is this really a victory in Bad Blood? We find at the end that nothing is as it seems, so what does this bode for humanity? Can we look forward to a Bad Blood 2? Will Trick continue the fight?

BadBlood2JM: That’s being discussed. I really don’t want to give all the details, but it’s being discussed. I had originally pitched it as a five-issue standalone mini, and end it where it ends, but I’m certainly open to going further. I know what the story would be should we decide to go further. Even further, it’s still not going to turn into the feel-good comic of the year. Not all stories have happy endings.

NFNT:  That is true, but something I think it’s refreshing for a story to have a little bit of a darker ending.

JM: Yes, victory has its own costs. That’s something that we should learn in Bad Blood.

NFNT:  Will there be a cost to Jonas, who sort of disappears at the end?

JM: I have a feeling that I’ll be exploring the Jonas story. Also, that sort of fits with some of my political views. Sometimes, the bad guys don’t ever get comeuppance. Look at the bankers during the economic downturn. They never really got comeuppance even though they were responsible for the economic crash. It’s a political statement, but it’s a fairly provable one, that sometimes the bad guys do actually win. Doesn’t mean the good guys can’t win also, or survive or recover or whatever, but usually the world doesn’t have a very clean, final act where all villains get comeuppance and all problems are solved.

NFNT:  That actually brings me to another point that I thought about when I was reading this. These vampires seem to symbolize a lot of the ills of humanity. Is that something you were going for, then, that they symbolize some of our own darkest motivations?

JM: Certainly. In mythology, which is one of the things I draw on for this, vampires have been what we’ve used to explain bad things that have happened to us. A great example: in the clinical condition of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS, they would put a child to bed, and the next morning the child would have died. There was no explanation, they didn’t understand it, and if you’re going back even a century, there are people who just can’t imagine how God would let their child die. It was easier for them to believe that some kind of a monster came in – a ghost, a spirit, a demon, a vampire – and attacked the child, took its life, stole its breath, or whatever. That makes sense, because if there are monsters, then that helps prove the existence of God, because if you pray for protection from monsters, having seen what monsters can do, those prayers are often rewarded. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome rarely affects the same family more than once. So once the child dies and they pray to God for protection from this monster, this vampire or whatever, then their other children don’t suffer the same fate.

BadBlood3This is one of the ways in which faith was built: the fact that prayer appeared to give you protection against these types of events. And I’m not saying this as an attack on any religion, it’s just a phenomenon within the folklore of vampires that things like SIDS was explained away by the creation of monsters. It gives you a measure of comfort to know that if there’s a monster, then there’s a god trying to protect you from the monster and all you need to do is follow the tenets of whatever your religion is, and you’ll be protected.

If you look at werewolf legends, there are hundreds and hundreds of cases in Italy, Germany, France, and other places where people were arrested for being werewolves, and if you read the transcripts of those trials, which are available, what you find out is that these were serial killers, people acting like animals. There was no concept of what a serial killer was at the time. Believing a person was possessed by a demon or a monster made sense because we didn’t really understand abnormal psychology, sociopathy, or any of that. Monsters help us have a balanced view of the world. Sounds freaky, but that’s pretty much how it works out.

NFNT:  How do the vampires in Bad Blood – or do they – balance the world? They seem to think that they are apex predators, keeping the human population in check. Do they have a place, or are they just an evolutionary gaffe?

BadBlood4JM: We don’t really explain it too much in Bad Blood and I don’t really want to yet because if we did go into a second story, that would be kind of a factor. But the short version of it is that they are part of nature, but they’re part of a darker side of nature. Nature has a duality: one that’s positive and geared toward health, and one that’s negative and geared toward destruction. Both are necessary. Even cancer is part of nature. Vampires are to the evolution of predators what cancer is to the microscopic world. They have their place. It’s just that, unlike cancer, they develop awareness so that they are able to understand that their nature is predatory. Unfortunately, there are corollaries in humanity as well, people who realize that being a predator is more fun than being prey, so that they simply embrace that as what they’re supposed to be and who they’re supposed to be.

NFNT:  You’ve been prolific in both print and comics. Have any of your previous successes influenced Bad Blood at all?

JM: There’s an echo of it in my Pine Deep novels. There’s a character named Mike Sweeney who had his own issues with a doomed life and his own connection to vampires. It isn’t a direct connection, it’s just part of the process of thinking about what it’s like to be in a life where essentially you’re doomed. How do you go on living if you’re doomed? In this case, Trick in Bad Blood has terminal cancer, and in the Pine Deep novels, the character Mike Sweeney was destined to become something terrible that he didn’t want to be.

This also brings up another issue that is a factor in some of my writing: nature, nurture, and choice. We often look at that issue of nature verses nurture, but I actually believe that there’s a third element to that, which is choice. We don’t have to be what our nature or our environment has tried to make us. We can impose our will and choose to be who we want to be. Trick could just very easily give up and be nothing. He could let it all go and say,”It’s not mine to do.” And that isn’t his choice. Actually, he’s one of the most heroic characters I’ve written because he has no resources. He has no chance, no thought that he could possibly win. He just knows that he can’t die without having done something. He’s a fun character.

NFNT:  He was very easy to empathize with.BadBloodtpb

JM: It was a shame to mess with him so much, because he probably wouldn’t like me! But writers aren’t in the business of giving their characters a good time.

NFNT:  That is true. Lolly actually has very sad story as we learn more about her. Did you research her world, her subculture at all, or did you draw upon influences from anywhere else?

JM: That’s a little bit of personal experience too. I worked, for several years, as a bouncer in a very seedy strip club. I knew a lot of the girls who were dancers and a lot of them were people who were either lost or who were trying to make a buck. A lot of them were junkies. Some of them were single moms with no education, no resources, trying to make money to raise their kid and didn’t want to get trapped in the lifestyle. It’s a very destructive one. You see a lot of substance abuse, you see a lot of sadness. You see a lot of people who, if they just had one good break, would have a much better life, but life just does not seem to give them the break that they deserve. I drew a lot on that experience, the years working at that club. It’s a sad, sad thing that we have so many people pushed to the fringes of our society who just aren’t convenient for us to take time to deal with, so we marginalize them, forgetting that that means that we’re ignoring an actual life. There’s a lot that went into the character of Lolly.

NFNT:  Do you have anything big in store for the future? I’ve heard rumors that one of your series is on track to become a movie.

Rot-and-Ruin-us-editionJM: Actually, we have two books in development for film right now. The Rot and Ruin series is in development for film, that’s my post-apocalyptic zombie series for teens. And, I’m doing a new monthly comic on it for IDW that will launch in September, all brand-new stories set in that world, set between books two and three in that series. Also Dead of Night, which is one of my novels for my adult readers, which is also a zombie novel, is in development for film right now. We’re just a script phase for that right now. The other thing is V-Wars, which started out as a prose anthology for IDW.  V stands for vampires [and] the culture acquires vampires after a virus triggers junk DNA and people begin turning into whatever type of vampire is part of their ethnic background. So you have all of these different vampire species from around the world causing problems. The first anthology came out last year. It went really well. The second anthology is coming out in August and IDW asked me to write a monthly comic, which came out this past week. Plus we had a free issue come out on Free Comic Book Day on Saturday. That’s just been optioned for television.

NFNT:  It sounds like you have an awful lot going on.

JM: I’m having a lot of fun working on all these different projects. Right now, I’m in that gear where I’m spending half my time working on zombies, half on vampires, with just a little time left over for other things. I’m doing my adult thriller series, a couple new projects that I’ll be announcing pretty shortly, from outside my usual zone.

NFNT:  If I can ask you one last question before we go, I’ve been wondering, while reading your previous works, what brought you to zombies and vampires in the first place?

JM: The zombie part – I was always interested in horror and horror movies when I was a kid. My grandmother got me interested in the folklore of vampires and other monsters before I even started watching monster movies. She was really knowledgeable on the subject and told me quite a lot about world folklore and got me to read quite a bit about everything from archaeology to anthropology to mythology. So that kind of kicked that process off. Then when I was ten years old, a buddy and I snuck into the movies in Philadelphia to see the world premiere of Night of the Living Dead, back in 1968. That pretty much locked me in to being a zombie fan for the rest of my life. That movie absolutely scared the bejeezus out of me. I love the movie. I went back to see it over and over again, and have seen, as far as I know, just about every zombie movie ever made. One of the fun things about writing this sort of stuff is that I also get to know and become friends with the people who write zombie books. Robert Kirkman, Jim McKinney and so on, we all get to know each other and share in the very strange world we’re procreating.

MarvelZombiesReturnNFNT:  I saw your work in Marvel Zombies. That must have been a lot of fun to work on.

JM: Yeah, that was originally supposed to be Marvel Zombies 3 or 4, but I decided to call it Marvel Zombies Return. Seth Grahame-Smith, David Wellington, and Fred Van Lente, we each took turns writing different chapters of that story. It was so much fun. I got to do Zombie Wolverine and Zombie Spider-Man, and now I have a Zombie Wolverine statue on my bookshelf here. It’s a very cool statue. But yeah, Marvel Zombies was always a favorite of mine. What a lot of people don’t know is that the Marvel Zombies characters were originally created by Robert Kirkman, the guy who created The Walking Dead. It started with the Ultimates, which is where the zombies showed up. He’s a much bigger influence on zombie pop culture than people know from Walking Dead. It was fun to play with those characters, see what we could do with them.

NFNT:  Do you have a favorite character? You mentioned that you’ve never written anyone quite as heroic as Trick in Bad Blood, but how does he rank in your personal pantheon?

JM: Of my characters, or of all the characters out there?

NFNT:  Of course your characters.

JM: My favorite character is Joe Ledger, the main character of my thriller series. He’s actually the opposite of Trick. He’s the ultimate badass. He’s also a smartass and he’s an awful lot of fun to write. Trick is probably the one I feel the most sympathy for and wish that I’d been able to give a happier ending than I gave him, but it is what it is. Trick was a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of subtlety and in-jokes that we throw into Trick that people may catch later on. Some of the visual sight gags and so on have nods to other things in pop culture. Trick was a lot of fun. He’s one of the characters I’ll always remember, probably one I’ll return to.

 

Pokémon Adventures: HeartGold & SoulSilver, vol. 1

67-coverGold is a cocky Pokémon trainer with staggering skills and an even more staggering ego. Silver is a loner with a troubled past trying to make good. Crystal works with children as well as Pokémon, and she wants to make the world a better place for those kids. All three young trainers have been selected by Pokémon expert Professor Oak to receive the latest in Pokédex technology. They’ll need all the help they can get: it looks like the villainous Team Rocket is making a comeback. Elite trainer Lance has gone missing, and Team Rocket has four very powerful trainers seeking sixteen mysterious plates. What do the plates do and what does Team Rocket want with them? Can Gold, Silver, and Crystal figure it out and prevent a disaster?

Our story opens with a series of sporting events called a Pokéathlon during which Gold and his Pokémon team win a bunch of events and wow the spectators. After we see Gold spout off about his own greatness, we learn that he is actually in the area to meet up with Lance on Professor Oak’s request. When the event comes under attack by one of Lance’s Pokémon, but Lance himself is nowhere to be found, Gold realizes that something has happened to him. Next we see Silver, who is investigating Lance’s disappearance when he is attacked by Team Rocket. He ekes out a victory and in the process, he learns about the mystical plates that Team Rocket is collecting. Finally, we check in on Crystal, who is taking a group of children on a field trip. She meets up with Silver just in time for both to be attacked by another powerful member of Team Rocket.

Pokémon Adventures: HeartGold & SoulSilver is a two-part mini-arc, so this volume only covers the first half of the story. There is a brief introduction to the characters at the beginning, and then readers are dropped headlong into the Pokémon world. I doubt that people new to the franchise would have trouble understanding or keeping track of things, but those who have read other Pokémon manga or played the video games will see greater significance in some of the characters and settings that appear here.

For example, several characters are introduced as “gym leaders,” but the book doesn’t explain what that means. In the Pokémon video games, many towns have battle centers, also known as “gyms.” Each one specializes in one kind of Pokémon. Players battle each gym’s strongest trainer, the gym leader, to prove themselves and receive a badge that allows them to advance in the game. A gym leader may leave town if his or her skills are needed in an emergency, but mostly they stay put to accept the challenges of new trainers who come to the gyms; this varies a little in the manga and in the Pokémon TV show. In this story, Team Rocket’s scheme is such a threat to the world that gym leaders are leaving their towns and banding together for protection. This ups the stakes for those who are familiar with the Pokémon world. These readers will also recognize Lance as a one of the most powerful trainers in the world. Has Team Rocket really grown strong enough to beat him?

The characters have clearly-drawn contrasting personalities. Gold is arrogant and over-the-top, Silver reserved and brooding, Crystal caring and insecure. I assume that the second volume will bring the three together; it will be interesting to see their dynamics.

The art is par for the course of Pokémon manga: clear and active with lots of bloodless fighting and a good dose of humor. This volume, which spends over thirty pages on the Pokéathlon, includes quite a bit of action that isn’t battle. There are also pages inserted between sections of the book that explain the rules of the Pokéathlon in detail (just in case you were wondering).

Fans of the Pokémon franchise will find a lot to like in Pokémon Adventures: HeartGold & SoulSilver, vol. 1.

Pokémon: HeartGold & SoulSilver, vol. 1
by Hidenori Kusaka
Art by Satoshi Yamamoto
ISBN: 9781421559001
VIZ Kids, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

Hot Off the Press!

Highlights from the past two weeks, with commentary from the NFNT gang:

adventure_time_v4_tp

Adventure Time Volume 4 (BOOM! Studios, 9781608863518)

Jennifer W: I still don’t get the appeal of Adventure Time, but every comic collection I’ve got is checked out (except the ones I bought in paperback, which promptly disintegrated)

Aliens-Vs-Parker-TPB-Vol-1

Aliens vs. Parker Volume 1 (BOOM! Studios, 9781608863501)

Renata: I’m excited for Aliens Vs Parker! I think Paul Scheer is hilarious but I hardly ever read single issue comics, so I haven’t seen it yet.

AloneForever

Alone Forever: the Singles Collection (Top Shelf, 9781603093224)

Andrew S: I “discovered” Liz Prince last fall when I went up to SPX and fell in love with her stuff then and there.  Her style reminds me of Jeffrey Brown, both in terms of art style and her ability to share openly and freely her life, and I just love that.  I added her to my list to keep an eye on, but completely forgot that this was coming out until I saw this email.  So I ordered it for myself last night and can’t wait to read it:D

AntColony

Ant Colony (Drawn & Quarterly, 9781770461376)

Garrett: Ant Colony looks like a trippy, weirdo visual feast.  I’ve been in a funk lately with comics just being satisfying and not being, “whoa, what just happened,” and I need more of the latter in my brain.

AntiqueBakery

Antique Bakery – Complete Collection (The Right Stuf International)

Saeyong: Antique Bakery is shockingly good, and I’d love to see what it reads (“sounds”?) like in English.

AvatarTLALibEdition

Avatar: the Last Airbender, the Search (Library Edition) (Dark Horse, 9781616552268)

Jessikah: As a fan of the Avatar series (as in Aang and friends), I am happy to see, “The Search” in a collection.  It may not have been the exact resolutionthis Avatar fan was expecting, but I am glad that the fate of Zuko’s mom was resolved.
Andrew S: After reading the previous series, The Promise, I vowed to wait to read The Search all at once, because I didn’t want to have to wait so many months between each volume.  So I downloaded the ARC last week and loved it! It answered so many questions and I really liked the ending and the journey that the characters took.  I can’t wait to see what happens in this next series.
Jennifer W: Avatar comics are still popular at our library and they are still intact, which is quite something for paperbacks.

axe-cop-volume-5-axe-cop-gets-married-and-other-stories-tpb-cover

Axe Cop Volume 5: Axe Cop Gets Married (Dark Horse, 9781616552459)

Anna: I’m an avid Axe Cop fan.

BattleAngelAlitav3

Battle Angel Alita: Last Order Omnibus Volume 3 (Kodansha, 9781612622934)

Thomas: Battle Angel Alita Last Order’s releases were (and are) so spaced out that I would love to reread the series in one fluid trip, and the omnibus releases seem to be a perfect cue.

Constantine_Vol_1_1_Textless

Constantine Volume 1: the Spark and the Flame (DC Comics, 9781401243234)

Saeyong: I’m completely unfamiliar with comics, except for Sandman, and have been looking for a non-intimidating entryway for some time; I wonder if Constantine might be one? I have the impression that it is a relatively standalone series…?

DeadpoolbyPv1

Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan Volume 1 (Marvel, 9780785154464)

Renata: I didn’t know Brian Posehn was writing Deadpool! I’ll have to check that out. I guess this week I’m just excited for actor-comedians writing comics?
Jennifer W: I’ve had kids asking for Deadpool for some time now, but I felt doubtful about putting it in the teen area and I don’t purchase for the adult collection. But then I thought, hey, I have Marvel Zombies in teen so…personally speaking though, I didn’t much care for the Posehn story (and have had many vigorous arguments about the art and storylines with my local comic shop!) My preference is for the Daniel Way stories.

DialHv2

Dial H Volume 2: Exchange (DC Comics, 9781401243838)

Jennifer W: I finally got a copy of Dial H from inter-library loan…and was really, really disappointed. Somehow none of the descriptions had conveyed that it was about a mid-life crisis. I found it boring and depressing.

FruistBasketComplete

Fruits Basket – Complete Collection (Funimation)

Jessikah: I am glad to see “Fruits Basket” is back on DVD.
Eva: Is that a rerelease of the Fruits Basket anime? If so, Yay! I love that teens who never got to read the manga (it’s been out of print for awhile now, yes?) will have a chance to be introduced to this fab story.

KiminiTodoke

Kimi ni Todoke – From Me to You – Volume 1-3 (NIS America)
Jessikah: Kimi ni Todoke (From me to you) is always fantastic.

LobsterJohnsonv3

Lobster Johnson Volume 3: Satan Smells a Rat (Dark Horse, 9781616552039)

Anna: I’ve been meaning to get into Lobster Johnson. Other Hellboy fans claim that it’s just great, which matches the trend of the other Hellboy spinoffs.
Andrew S: I’ve only read a handful of the comics, but I really, really like the character so far. It’s classic Mignola, but a different type of character than Hellboy, at least from what I’ve read. But I’ve enjoyed the action and the characters and I can’t wait to read more.
Garrett: Anna and Andrew, Lobster Johnson is fantastic. I’ve been following the series since it started and I love it much more than BPRD…I got real tired of BPRD after the 7th or 8th book and I realized that I simply wanted either just Hellboy or just Lobster Johnson.

locke_keyomega_cvr_dbd

Locke & Key Volume 6: Alpha and Omega (IDW, 9781613778531)

Marissa: I am so excited for the 6th Locke & Key!
Mark: Excited to see Locke and Key v. 6 finally released, we’ve got a ton of holds on that one at the library.

LunchLady

Lunch Lady & the Schoolwide Scuffle (Knopf, 9780385752794)
Jessikah: The kids at my library really enjoy the “Lunch Lady” series.
Marissa: I’m looking forward to the new Lunch Lady graphic novel. I’ve enjoyed them so far, and the kids at my library devour them.
Jennifer W: Yay Lunch Lady! Always popular at the library.

MoominGoldenTail

Moomin and the Golden Tail (Drawn & Quarterly, 9781770461338)

Moomin’s Desert Island (Drawn & Quarterly, 9781770461345)

Saeyong: Anything Moomin must be good. [puts on to-read list]
Jennifer W: The Moomin comics are small paperbacks with a single story in color. I had to weed our big black and white collections *sob* (I own the complete collection myself) but these little ones have actually checked out some at my library, so they seem to attract kids more than?the bigger, black and white collections.

PowerGirlPowerTrip

Power Girl: Power Trip (DC Comics, 9781401243074)

Mark: I’m interested to see that DC is republishing some of the Gray/Conner Power Girl run in a new printing.  That was a fun book.  I hope it does well.

ProphetVol03-Digital-1

Prophet Volume 3: Empire (Image, 9781607068587)

Anna: Prophet is another one I watch, which I did initially because my patrons liked it, but eventually did because it’s neat. Brandon Graham’s funky style really complements the super weird setting.

Sabrinav4

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Magic Within Volume 4 (Archie Comics, 9781936975761)

Saeyong: Sabrina as a comic is something I want to take a look at, just to check the art style and how they depict the magic, and whether Salem is still cynical and put-upon. I hope the aunts are larger than life.

SixthGunv6

Sixth Gun Volume 6 (Oni Press, 9781620100165)

Jennifer W: I’ve fallen behind on Sixth Gun and this reminds me to remind our adult purchaser to get the next volumes so I can read them! I recommend these a lot to teens who have read all the Marvel Zombies and want something else that’s equally gory but has a good story.

Superman_Family_Adventures_Vol_1_12_Textless

Superman Family Adventures Volume 2 (DC Comics, 9781401244156)

Jennifer W: I thought Superman Family Adventures would be popular, but to my surprise not many kids are interested in them. I think they may be too “cute” compared to the other, more exciting comics.

USNA

USNA: the United States of North America (USNA Publishing, 9780980970104)

Saeyong: The title United States of North America is intriguing enough that I googled it. Looks good.

AND NOW FOR THE COMPLETE LIST

The following list of new releases is compiled from Diamond Comic Distributors’ complete weekly shipping list and Anime News Network’s Releases encyclopedia

Graphic Novels

Action Lab Entertainment

  • NFL RUSH ZONE SUPER BOWL SPECIAL TP

Antarctic Press

  • GOLD DIGGER PLATINUM VOL 06

Arcana

  • 7 HOLES FOR AIR GN

Archie Comics

  • ARCHIE 1000 PG COMICS PALOOZA TP
  • SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH MAGIC WITHIN TP VOL 04

Avatar

  • FERALS TP VOL 03

BOOM! Studios

  • ADVENTURE TIME TP VOL 04
  • ALIENS VS PARKER TP VOL 01
  • BRAVEST WARRIORS TP VOL 02
  • SUPURBIA TP VOL 03

Dark Horse

  • AVATAR LAST AIRBENDER SEARCH LIBRARY ED HC
  • AXE COP TP VOL 05 AXE COP GETS MARRIED
  • BERSERK TP
  • CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT TP VOL 01
  • CONAN PHANTOMS O/T BLACK COAST TP
  • CREEPY ARCHIVES HC VOL 18
  • EC ARCHIVES VAULT OF HORROR HC VOL 03
  • FORBIDDEN WORLDS ARCHIVES HC VOL 03
  • LOBSTER JOHNSON TP VOL 03 SATAN SMELLS A RAT
  • MASS EFFECT FOUNDATION TP VOL 01
  • SHERLOCK HOLMES & VAMPIRES OF LONDON HC
  • STAR WARS LEGACY HC VOL 03
  • STRAIN FALL TP VOL 01

DC Comics

  • BATMAN DARK VICTORY TP NEW ED
  • CONSTANTINE TP VOL 01 SPARK AND THE FLAME
  • DEATHSTROKE TP VOL 02 LOBO HUNT
  • DIAL H TP VOL 02 EXCHANGE
  • DMZ DELUXE EDITION HC BOOK 01
  • FABLES DELUXE EDITION HC VOL 08
  • FLASH HC VOL 03 GORILLA WARFARE
  • FLASH TP VOL 02 ROGUES REVOLUTION
  • INVISIBLES HC BOOK 01 DELUXE EDITION
  • JLA TP VOL 04
  • LEGION OF SUPERHEROES GREAT DARKNESS SAGA TP NEW ED
  • LEGION OF SUPERHEROES TP VOL 03 FATAL FIVE
  • POWER GIRL POWER TRIP TP
  • RAVAGERS TP VOL 02 HEAVENLY DESTRUCTION
  • SPACEMAN TP
  • STRANGE ADVENTURES TP
  • SUPERGIRL TP VOL 03 SANCTUARY
  • SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES TP VOL 02

Devil’s Panties LLC

  • DEVIL’S PANTIES GN VOL 07

Drawn & Quarterly

  • ANT COLONY HC
  • BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS HC
  • MOOMIN & GOLDEN TAIL GN
  • MOOMIN DESERT ISLAND GN

Dynamite

  • BEST OF PANTHA THE WARREN STORIES HC
  • DEJAH THORIS & GREEN MEN OF MARS TP VOL 01 RED MEAT
  • MOCKING DEAD TP VOL 01
  • ZORRO RIDES AGAIN TP VOL 02 WRATH OF LADY ZORRO

Fantagraphics

  • EC GRAHAM INGELS SUCKER BAIT & OTHER STORIES HC
  • EC JACK KAMEN ZERO HOUR & OTHER STORIES HC

First Second

  • BABY’S IN BLACK TP

Hermes Press

  • TERRY & PIRATES GEORGE WUNDER YEARS HC VOL 01 1946-1948

Humanoids

  • MILAN K HC PART 01 TEENAGE YEARS
  • RETROWORLD HC

IDW

  • DUNGEONS & DRAGONS FELLS FIVE HC
  • GI JOE TP VOL 02 THREAT MATRIX
  • KISS GREATEST HITS TP VOL 05
  • LOCKE & KEY HC VOL 06 ALPHA & OMEGA
  • MARS ATTACKS JUDGE DREDD TP
  • MY LITTLE PONY TALES TP VOL 02
  • POPEYE CLASSICS HC VOL 03
  • RED LIGHT PROPERTIES GN
  • RED PANDA MASK O/T RED PANDA TP
  • TMNT ONGOING TP VOL 07 CITY FALL PT 2
  • TRUE BLOOD TP VOL 03 THE FRENCH QUARTER
  • X-FILES CLASSICS HC VOL 03

Image

  • FATALE TP VOL 04 PRAY FOR RAIN
  • HOAX HUNTERS TP VOL 03 BOOK OF MOTHMAN
  • PROPHET TP VOL 03 EMPIRE

Knopf

  • LUNCH LADY & SCHOOLWIDE SCUFFLE YR GN

Kodansha

  • AIR GEAR GN VOL 30
  • BATTLE ANGEL ALITA LAST ORDER OMNIBUS VOL 03
  • SANKAREA GN VOL 05

Marvel

  • AVENGERS TP VOL 01 AVENGERS WORLD
  • CAPTAIN AMERICA TP VOL 01 CASTAWAY DIMENSION Z BOOK 1
  • CAPTAIN AMERICA TP LIVING LEGEND
  • CASTLE TP RICHARD CASTLES STORM SEASON
  • DAREDEVIL BY MARK WAID HC VOL 02
  • DEADPOOL BY POSEHN AND DUGGAN HC VOL 01
  • FEARLESS DEFENDERS TP VOL 02 MOST FAB FIGHTING TEAM OF ALL
  • INFINITY HC
  • INFINITY TP HEIST HUNT
  • IRON MAN TP VOL 01 BELIEVE
  • MMW DEFENDERS HC VOL 04
  • SAVAGE WOLVERINE PREM HC VOL 02 HANDS ON DEAD BODY
  • SCARLET SPIDER TP VOL 04 INTO GRAVE
  • SHE-HULK BY SLOTT TP VOL 01 COMPLETE COLLECTION
  • ULTIMATES 3 TP WHO KILLED SCARLET WITCH NEW PTG
  • X-MEN HC PHALANX COVENANT

Oni

  • MYSTERIOUS STRANGERS TP VOL 01 STRANGE WAYS
  • SIXTH GUN TP VOL 06

Pocket Books

  • US JUDGE DREDD COMP CASE FILES TP VOL 07

PS Artbooks

  • ACG COLL WORKS OUT OF THE NIGHT SLIPCASE ED VOL 02
  • HARVEY HORRORS BLACK CAT MYSTERY SLIPCASE ED VOL 03
  • HARVEY HORRORS TOMB OF TERROR SLIPCASE ED VOL 03
  • PRE CODE CLASSIC THING HC VOL 01
  • PRE CODE CLASSIC THING HC VOL 02
  • ROY THOMAS PRESENTS VOL 03 PLANET COMICS HC
  • ROY THOMAS PRESENTS PLANET COMICS SLIPCASE ED VOL 03
  • THING BOXSET EDITION

Renegade Arts Entertainment

  • LOXLEYS AND THE WAR OF 1812 HC 2ND ED

Seven Seas Entertainment

  • A CENTAURS LIFE GN VOL 02
  • ALICE I/T COUNTRY OF JOKER CIRCUS & LIARS GAME VOL 04
  • DRAGONAR ACADEMY GN VOL 01
  • HAGANAI I DON’T HAVE MANY FRIENDS GN VOL 05
  • LOVE IN HELL GN VOL 02
  • MY BOYFRIEND IS A VAMPIRE GN COLL ED VOL 06

Titan Books

  • ABSENCE HC

TOON Books

  • TIPPY & NIGHT PARADE TOON BOOKS YR HC GN

Top Shelf

  • ALONE FOREVER GN
  • BOJEFFRIES SAGA GN

Udon

  • BRAVOMAN HC VOL 01
  • STREET FIGHTER CLASSIC HC VOL 02 CANNON STRIKE

USNA Publishing

  • USNA UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA GN

Valiant

  • HARBINGER TP VOL 04 PERFECT DAY

Vertical

  • KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA GN VOL 07

Viz

  • HAPPY MARRIAGE GN VOL 04
  • KAMISAMA KISS GN VOL 14
  • TIGER & BUNNY GN VOL 04

Zenescope

  • GFT NO TOMORROW TP

Anime

Funimation

  • Fairy Tail – Part 8
  • Fruits Basket – Complete Collection
  • Kamisama Kiss – Complete Collection
  • Strike Witches – Complete Collection
  • Strike Witches 2 – Complete Collection

New Video Group

  • Saint Seiya – Sanctuary Classic Collection

NIS America

  • kimi ni todoke – From Me to You – Volume 1
  • kimi ni todoke – From Me to You – Volume 2
  • kimi ni todoke – From Me to You – Volume 3
  • Natsume’s Book of Friends – Season 1 & 2
  • Wagnaria!!2 – Complete Second Series

The Right Stuf International

  • Antique Bakery – Complete Collection
  • Blessing of the Campanella – Complete Collection

Sentai

  • AKB0048 next stage – Complete Collection
  • MM! Complete Collection

Keep in mind that titles are not always available from book vendors on the same dates as they are released in comic book stores, so not all of these will be available everywhere at the same time. Check with your vendors, just to be sure!

Nuns Without Guns

9780980238594_p0_v1_s260x420I can’t say I’ve thought much about the Vatican keeping a secret team of highly trained enforcers to take down mystically charged villains, but it’s a concept that certainly makes sense. After all, what other large organization would have the knowledge, wealth and motivation to do such a thing? Author Jason M. Burns explores this idea in his book Nuns Without Guns.

The story opens with a stereotypical scene of a dark cult casting a spell to summon the Antichrist; while dangerous, they hope it will put them on the short list to be favored in some way when the end of the world comes. The Vatican learns about the cult’s plans and sends in their four best agents: military expert Marie, the technological genius Frances, the acrobatic Wendy, and Bertha, a large, muscle-bound German who lives as much for the action of her job as she does to serve the will of the Church. What’s the twist? These four consecrated commandos are also nuns and do their job donning the full black robes and habits of their order.

Using a mixture of their natural skills and a series of mystical prayers and holy objects, the team breaks into the cult’s conclave. After a quick battle they realize that what the cult summoned wasn’t the Antichrist at all, but a demon named Mammon. If you know your Bible you might remember that Mammon sits as one of the great lords of Hell and is most often tied to vices like greed, lust, and vanity. Mammon uses the confusion to escape and starts his own plan to take over the world.

Although the four nuns in this title lack the wild creativity of the nuns in John Rozum’s Xombi – it really is hard to top a character like Nun the Less who gained the ability to shrink after eating bad shrimp – Burns does an admirable job in handling their distinct personalities in a book that’s only 80 pages long. It would have been easy to make the nuns a team of over-the-top holy crusaders, but he manages to give each one enough personality that they stand out on their own. Sister Marie in particular has to overcome some of her own personal demons as team leader before finding victory on the battlefield.

Erich Owen’s art, unfortunately, doesn’t measure up to the same level as Burns’s writing. With their simplified, exaggerated expressions, Owen’s character designs are a touch Saturday morning cartoon and don’t always match the violent tone of the book. He also shows a real weakness with anatomy. While this doesn’t matter with most of the book (the nuns, after all, are donning billowy black robes the whole time), the final battle occurs on a crowded public beach. While he can draw the individual muscles fine, he often has trouble putting them together in a whole figure, transforming the muscle bound lunkheads and bikini clad damsels into figures that are simultaneously stiff and slightly out of proportion.

It’s not all bad, though. Owen does have a real knack for page layouts, often breaking out of a simple grid design to help carry the eyes across the page. Likewise his colors show an instinct for matching the mood of the tale.

The rest of the volume sends the nuns out across the globe to track down and stop Mammon before he can enact his evil plan. It’s fun, but also a bit predictable and doesn’t hold up well to a second reading. That said, it might serve as a nice diversion for fans of Six Gun, B.P.R.D., or other supernaturally powered action books.

Nuns Without Guns
by Jason M. Burns
Art by Erich Owen
ISBN: 978-098023859
Viper Comics, 2009
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Slayers Evolution-R (Slayers series/season 5)

slayers5Fresh off a victory over the demon beast Zanafar, the sorceress Lina Inverse and her companions – the bold warrior Gourry, the naïve warrior priestess Amelia, the stone-skinned sorcerer Zelgadis, and the pint-size plush Prince Pokota – have little time to rest on their laurels. As their friends in the kingdom of Seyruun struggle to rebuild their homes, the party begins their search for an artifact of legend – The Hellmaster’s Jar! It is rumored their old enemy The Red Priest Rezo has found a way to defy death itself and that his soul is hidden away, awaiting resurrection, inside the mystic container.

Naturally, the idea of bringing such a dangerous villain back from the dead isn’t something Lina Inverse relishes, even if she had the first clue about how to do it. But Rezo is the only one who can reverse the spells that turned Zelgadis into a stone-skinned demon, trapped Prince Pokota’s soul in the body of a plush animal, and forced the plague-stricken people of Pokota’s homeland into an eternal sleep. And there’s also the hope that the Red Priest, once hailed as a great hero and healer, may be cleansed of the corruption that turned him to villainy.

Ignoring the difficulties in finding the jar in the first place (and the unreliability of their guide, an animated suit of armor named Nama), Lina and her friends aren’t the only ones seeking the Hellmaster’s Jar. Some of Lina’s old enemies, such as the ruthless, shadow-manipulating assassin Zuuma, aren’t quite as dead as they seemed to be. And the manipulative monster priest Xellos is still watching the party, showing up when he’s least wanted to taunt the party with secret knowledge he refuses to share.

The fifth and final chapter in the long-running Slayers anime series, Slayers Evolution-R is surprisingly accessible to new viewers. Despite picking up precisely where Slayers Revolution ended, great care was taken in the scripting of this series to make sure that those who stumbled across this volume would be able to jump into the action without being confused. Cleverly, the characters are able to avoid being overly repetitious, as most of the exposition has to be laid out multiple times for the dim-witted but good-hearted Gourry. This season also features more one-shot episodes which focus more on the humor and the characters than on the over-riding plot. One particularly amusing episode centers upon the justice-minded Amelia getting locked inside of Nama and then setting out to become the personal guardian of an increasingly horrified village.

Technically, the animation style is smooth, but of standard quality for a televised comedy anime. The characters all have distinctive designs, so there is no difficulty in telling anyone apart. The voice acting in both the original Japanese and English the dub is top notch. And as with the earlier Slayers series, this one is rated PG for some mild scariness (gross undead thingies), mild bloodshed (a few lost limbs), and numerous jokes about Lina’s figure (or lack thereof).

Slayers Evolution-R (Slayers series/season 5)
FUNimation, 2010
directed by Michael Sinterniklaas, Takashi Watanabe
312 minutes, Number of Discs: 2, Season set
Company Age Rating: PG
Related to: Slayers by Hajime Kanzaka, Rui Araizumi

Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal, vol. 1

32-CoverYuma is determined to take on any challenge, no matter how impossible. He even has a catch-phrase he uses to describe doing his best at a tough challenge: jetting. As in, “I’m going to jet!” (If the idea of reading variations on that phrase more than a dozen times in one volume sounds to you like an ordeal, well . . . you may find this book to be an ordeal.)

When Yuma’s parents disappeared, they left him two things to remember them by: his dad’s Yu-Gi-Oh deck and a mysterious necklace. Lately, Yuma’s dreams have shown him a massive door, telling him that he can unlock it with his necklace to gain great power, but he will lose the thing most important to him.

Now, to help out his friend Tetsuo, Yuma challenges the bully Shark to a duel – that is, a game of Yu-Gi-Oh, a card game that uses holographic technology to make the cards’ monsters appear and fight. Tetsuo bet his Yu-Gi-Oh deck on a duel with Shark and lost, so now Yuma is betting his deck to try and win Tetsuo’s back. Unfortunately, Yuma is a genuinely terrible duelist, barely understanding the game’s rules (pretty funny, given his dream of becoming World Duel Champion).

In the middle of his duel with Shark, Yuma suddenly sees the door from his dreams. Hoping it will help him win, Yuma goes for it. A ghostly figure appears. His name is Astral, and he has an important mission, but he can’t say what – he’s lost most of his memories. He does remember that he’s a duelist, and is dismayed to see how badly Yuma plays, especially when he realizes that his memories have been trapped in special Yu-Gi-Oh Numbers cards, and he must help Yuma win these cards from other duelists – including Shark – to get his memories back. If they fail, Astral’s ghostly form may vanish completely.

Astral helps Yuma win, regaining one of his lost memories and earning a powerful Numbers card for Yuma’s deck. The victory has an unexpected effect: Yuma is now the top duelist at his Yu-Gi-Oh-obsessed school. He has a reputation to uphold now, and more Numbers cards to collect. For that, he needs Astral’s help – which means that Yuma is stuck with the constant company of a ghostly creature that can’t been seen by anyone else, doesn’t understand human culture, and won’t shut up. Wacky adventure is sure to follow.

The “bonus story” at the end seems to be an alternate explanation for Yuma and Astral’s meeting, but has no preface or explanation. In it, Astral appears, seemingly for the first time, to help Yuma win a duel for Tetsuo’s soul. An interesting story, but it’s hard to see how exactly it fits into the continuity.

The art is fun and playful, but with a serious side that’s a great match for the dueling action sequences. Yuma’s world includes a combination of settings and styles: sleek, futuristic buildings and technology blurs into fantasy with the battling monsters and the appearance of Astral, but Yuma’s school looks much more mundane. Indeed, the only weird thing about it is how much everyone there obsesses over Yu-Gi-Oh.

As someone who doesn’t play the real-life card game Yu-Gi-Oh, I still find the duels fairly easy to follow. All of the Yu-Gi-Oh series I’m aware of feature a great deal of preoccupation with the card game, and this is no exception. The addition of Astral, whose very existence (not to mention lost memories) depends on Yuma’s victory in duels, adds something for readers to care about beyond whether or not Yuma eventually becomes World Duel Champion.

Squeezed in around the card game action are messages about friendship and honesty, as well as humor. The volume includes funny side cartoons that show the artist trying to draw while Astral hangs around bothering him. This should appeal to fans of other Yu-Gi-Oh series and possibly Pokémon as well, considering the similarity in the messages and the battle-centric world.

While the publisher rates this book Teen, it’s not apparent why. The violence that takes place is between holographic monsters, making it even less “real” than the bloodless violence of the Pokémon series. The ghostly figure Astral doesn’t wear clothes, but he also lacks any discernible genitalia. The rating may simply be indicating that the book’s plot is complex enough to confuse younger readers, which is likely true if those younger readers are not familiar with Yu-Gi-Oh or at least with the idea of battle-oriented card games.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal, vol. 1
by Shin Yoshida
Art by Naohito Miyoshi
ISBN: 9781421549026
VIZ Media, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

Bamboo Blade: the complete series

bamboobladeToraji is a second-rate sensei – a starving teacher who manages the Kendo team at the public high-school where he is employed. Toraji’s enthusiasm for his job is rekindled after a fellow Kendo coach makes Toraji a wager he can’t refuse. Both coaches will test their girls teams against one another, with Toraji winning a year’s worth of free gourmet sushi if his team is victorious.

There are just a few small problems standing in the way of Toraji’s getting a full belly. Thanks to his lax discipline, most of last year’s team members were scared off by bullying upperclassmen, who only showed up to practice to beat people up. And as the school year opens Toraji only has one serious team member left – energetic sophomore Kirino. What is worse, the only new recruits he can field are boys!

Things are looking grim until Toraji chances across Tamaki – a pint-size freshman with lightning-fast reflexes and years of fighting experience. But Tamakai sees Kendo as more of a chore than a hobby and has little interest in anything besides her favorite anime programs! But Kirino won’t take no for an answer and after a chance encounter with the same bullies that drove off most of last year’s team, the injustice-hating Tamakai decides to stay and serve as team’s champion.

As the year progresses, they will recruit the rest of their team. There is Miya-Miya, whose cheerful façade hides a dark, sadistic personality. Next is Saya, who seeks stability to balance her unfocused creative spirit. Finally, there’s Azuma, a would-be scholar who doesn’t study well and is clumsy and awkward everywhere except the dueling floor. Together they will forge a team. And in time, a slacker sensei may learn to be a better teacher, a group of outcasts will become friends, and a would-be captain will learn her first hard lessons in leadership.

I’m not usually a fan of sports anime, but Bamboo Blade is not your typical sports anime. The focus of the series is firmly upon the characters and their relationships – not the sport. Indeed, the viewer doesn’t need to know anything at all about Kendo and even during the tournament scenes the action is easily followed by a novice.

This focus on the characters – and the fact that those characters truly develop and grow as the series goes on – also separates Bamboo Blade from most comedic anime and sport series. While Sensei Toraji is a comic (and occasionally pathetic) figure, his heart is in the right place and he honestly does try to be a good example. Being obsessed with victory at any cost early on, he later removes Tamaki from the action in one tournament after it becomes clear her temper is getting the better of her. And in one dramatic moment, he leaves the ethical decision of how to handle one situation in the hands of Kirinio, despite her protests that as advisor he should tell her what to do.

Most of the other characters undergo similar growth arcs. Indeed, one of the only weaknesses of this series is that so many members of the ensemble – particularly the two male team members Donny and Yuji – aren’t as well developed as they could be. Indeed, Donny and Yuji comment to one another about how neglected they feel compared to their female teammates – a complaint that could be aimed at their sensei or the series writer.

The series is well-animated, though the animation is strictly standard. The one noteworthy thing about it is also one of most maddening points regarding this series. As written, this would be a wonderful empowering series for young women about sports and friendship. Yet the camera of the series has a bad case of “male gaze”, focusing at times upon the back of the girl’s skirts or their chests as they workout and talk to one another, for no apparent reason! While there are no panty shots or any bouncing cleavage, it is just distracting enough to make me think twice about showing this to any audience with any children younger than 13, despite the series’ PG rating. With that caveat in mind, I highly recommend this series for all anime fans.

Bamboo Blade
FUNimation, , 2007
directed by Hisashi Saito
650 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, Season set
Company Age Rating: PG
Related to: Bamboo Blade by Masahiro Totsuka, Neko Sutajio

All-Action Classics No. 3: The Odyssey

All-Action Classics No. 3: The Odyssey
   
The Odyssey is the third book in the All-Action Classics series and a really great pick for this sort of treatment. Kids might not be thrilled by the idea of an epic poem written thousands of years ago, but the ferocious cyclops on the cover ought to get their attention. Many a Classics professor has tried to convince their skeptical class that The Odyssey is actually a rip-roaring action story, but few have done so as convincingly as writer Tim Mucci and artists Ben Caldwell, Rick Lacy, and Emanuel Tenderini.

The book begins as the Greeks finally capture the city of Troy after a ten year siege, thanks to some clever trickery from Odysseus. Agamemnon, the Greek king, says that it’s the gods’ fault the war was so hard and refuses to thank them for the victory. That sort of pride never works out well in Greek myths. Poseidon and Zeus get angry and when the Greeks pile into their boats and sail for home the gods send a storm that scatters their fleet. Odysseus and his crew end up spending several years trying to get home. On the way they tangle with a cyclops, a witch, a sea monster, and all manner of other threats.

Mucci’s adaptation works really well. The story moves quickly from one threat to another, keeping things interesting. There’s nowhere near enough room to include all the crazy stuff that happens in the original poem and Mucci does a nice job of picking the greatest hits. All the high adventure is grounded by Odysseus’s relatively simple goal: He just wants to get home and see his family, something kids shouldn’t have any trouble understanding.

The characterization is cartoonish in a way that will amuse young readers and is surprisingly in keeping with the source material. Odysseus reminded me of Bugs Bunny, letting his curiosity and pride get him into trouble and then relying on his wits to get out of it. Zeus, most powerful of the gods, is played for comic relief. He’s childishly preoccupied with playing with his storm clouds and lightning bolts and easily manipulated by Poseidon and Athena.

The cartoonishness of the writing is backed up by the art, which is highly stylized and dynamic and a lot of fun. Odysseus looks slick and cool, his crew of unnamed goofballs is fun to have in the background, and the various monsters are outlandishly terrifying. Caldwell and Lacy aren’t afraid to go a bit off-model to convey a character’s emotion or bust out a weird panel layout to make enough room to show how big a sea serpent is. Tenderini does some very nice work using colors and lighting to heighten the magic and otherworldliness of the story with a lot of lush secondary colors and cool glow effects.

The publisher gives this an age range of 10-14, which seems appropriate. Odysseus solves most problems with wits rather than violence and when violence can’t be avoided it is presented without gore (the cyclops gets his eye stabbed out off-panel, thankfully). Kids younger than 10 may have a hard time with the language. Those older than 14 may still enjoy the book but might find it simplistic.

All-Action Classics No. 3: The Odyssey
by Homer, Tim Mucci
Art by Ben Caldwell, Rick Lacy, Emanuel Tenderini
ISBN: 978140273155
Sterling, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14