Yoshikazu Yasuhiko is a visualist by instinct. You are never given a timeline for the One Year War. You are never told what a “colony drop” is. You are denied the bookish pleasures of the backstory pertinent to foldout quest map appreciations of Mobile Suit Gundam. Instead, in hues of toasted amber reddening slightly as the blast leaps alive, you see a blunt, dumb, wholly utilitarian lump of space technology lower itself stupidly into an urban environment and
A l l
m e n
g r e w
f e a r
t h e i r
o w n
d e e d s.
This is page six of a Prelude. It is an early summary of Gundam as a force in provincial entertainment. Concocted in 1979 by Yoshiyuki Tomino, a television anime specialist with a background stretching back to the quintessentially postwar Astro Boy, the original Mobile Suit Gundam program brought about a change in the “Super Robot” genre — county of towering heroes like Gigantor and Mazinger Z — comparable to that of Watchmen and its progeny on the superhero genre: irresistibly, the superheroic fantasy figures at the center of the old narratives became rollicking blunt-force metaphors for the armament of military powers. The nominal antagonist force of the series — the Principality of Zeon! — became a gummy stand-in for all the Axis powers of World War II, striking an early blow against the Earth Federation with a lethal sneak attack.
A “colony drop” is when you contrive to cause an orbital space colony or some significant portion therefrom to enter the Earth’s atmosphere and flatten a terrestrial target. It is simultaneously a high-casualty tactic and an act of terrorism, insofar as it seizes the very landscape of daily living — a colony — and uses it as a weapon, thus upsetting the expectations of a populace doubtlessly sedated into expecting their affairs and celebrations to continue without anything exploding.
It is unknown to readers of Yasuhiko, of the first collected edition of his Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin — a manga re-telling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime series, serialized from 2001 to 2011 — if the residents of any earthbound regions familiar with trans-atmospheric bombardments reacted to the event with any especial difference, though it is worth noting that Tomino, at least, was a small child during the war, and approaches the metaphor with a mix of the slightly older Leiji Matsumoto’s taste for space warship gallantry and a somewhat detached observational perspective on military tactics. But longtime viewers had convinced themselves of hotter emotions. Minagoroshi was his nickname. Kill ‘em all.
Not a few of Yasuhiko’s many action pages teeter precariously on the edge of comprehension, propulsion arcs and cannon blasts depicted as uniform white streaks and mecha design details stripped down to the point where whole panels seem like nothing more than adroitly molested pools of ink. I love this handmade stuff, and I love that the artist — a comics veteran since the late 1970s, and an animation designer for longer than that — knows exactly when to drop in a closeup of somebody’s face or zoom far enough into one aspect of the battle to give the reader some perspective. It’s breathless, but balanced.
It’s also quite fabulously indulgent. Yasuhiko, you see, was one of the prime visual forces behind the original anime series. In the bonus essays included with Vertical’s lovely hardcover English-language edition of the debut volume, Shinichiro Inoue, President and CEO of Japanese publisher Kadokawa Shoten, describes the process of Yasuhiko’s return to the property in feverish terms native only to fanzines and paid beneficiaries of a comic’s success – and why not? Haven’t you ever looked at the luscious package art of an anime product and wished the whole show looked just like those fine designs? Yoshikazu Yasuhiko was the guy who drew those fine designs for Gundam, and there he was, willing to draw a gigantic manga series based on that very show.
A new magazine was launched, specifically to be built around this comic. As a result, every serial chapter takes exactly as long as the artist feels is necessary: 41, 61, 57, 73 pages… whatever. This creates a fine-tuned imbalance to the initial reading, which is otherwise built around the beats of combative encounters, eventually settling into an episodic structure once bullheaded nerd-boy hero Amuro Ray finds himself slotted into the role as accidental pilot of the Federation’s most supremely advanced robot super-suit, pursued across his hurried journeys by charismatic enemy ace Char Aznable, decked out in a Will Eisner domino mask and a chrome samurai helmet.
People die, of course.
Gundam: The Origin is a war comic. Once we’ve gotten a few more of Vertical’s estimated 11 or 12 total volumes, we might try calling it an anti-war comic, but there’s no sense to that now. The prevailing emotional texture is what I like to call “manly reluctance” – the state of not exactly wanting to go to war, but knowing that it is finally your duty, and oh the pathos! Oh the price of proving one’s self a dutiful adult! Oh, oh make war no more! Look at those falling bullets; a mobile suit’s shells are literally that big, but Yasuhiko is clearly not unaware of the visual metaphor so obviously presented.
The long zooms too recall Harvey Kurtzman and EC, Two-Fisted Tales, or at least the way Kurtzman would leave the reader’s point of view fixed across series of panels while having characters navigate in and out, left and right, as if animated. But Yasuhiko does not exhibit Kurtzman’s ambivalence toward generic expectations just yet. Char Aznable is an Enemy Ace. This is Bob Kanigher stuff, Joe Kubert – cognizant of the humanity of the two sides but shaking with excitement over the possibilities of their conflict. Amuro Ray and Easy Company, the Allies in the master Gundam concept, handing out a good lickin’ to those space Ratzis. There’s a short guy in the supporting cast, a fat guy, a girl who can give it just as good as any guy, another girl who’s a nurse and flounces around for a little PG-rated sex appeal – no panty shots in here, so take that shit over to Shonen Jump, fanboy, this is a classy book.
It’s a good book. Very good, actually. Very good war comics, requiring no prior experience with anime or mecha or Gundam – just a well-made, old-fashioned war comic, full of thrills and spills and lucky breaks and narrow escapes and preening villains you’ll love to hate and pigheaded heroes you may hate to love, and expert drawings by a master craftsman, and hard, sturdy violence.
You do have to want the violence.
You do have to know — if this is your disposition at the moment — that violence, for now, in here, in volume one of eleven or twelve, is the beat that lifts men to move. It is movement that excites. It is toys; war toys, sold to you. It is said that Mobile Suit Gundam would have vanished into obscurity after the tepid reception to its initial airing, if not for the splendid success of model kits based on the series’ many robots. Toys, for grown-ups, from a cartoon aspiring to adulthood.
Elsewhere in Vertical’s edition, there is a short reflection by Hideaki Anno, the director of a later trend-setting mecha anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion. As is his habit, Anno laments the low state of today’s anime and manga, and indeed Japanese entertainment in general, “giving rise to masses that can only respond with praise for superficial details and technical proficiency; with tears, laughter, fear, or some other outpouring of simple emotions; or with identifying and particularism,” foreshadowed by the conversion of the Gundam franchise into an assembly line for model kits. But this comic, he says, is good enough to reverse the tide. This comic can snatch Gundam up from its toyetic purgatory, and get back to the serious business of telling a meaningful Tale. His capitalization. Something earnest, true and distinct.
Try and look. You can sense something coming.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Indigo Prime: Anthropocalypse: But what about the spectacle itself? This book may or may not show up; it’s an import of a UK item from Rebellion, and not on Diamond’s list, but some sources are reporting copies. It’s a collection of writer John Smith’s excellent newer comics for 2000 AD, starting with Dead Eyes, a Lee Carter-drawn bit of paranoia seeing an injured soldier losing control in a conspiratorial world. Then, suddenly, he is rescued; literally snatched up out of his strip and whisked away to a shimmering, Edmund Bagwell-drawn 2011 revival of Smith’s beloved Indigo Prime series from years ago, a multiverse concept involving beings who oversee all realities. Ah, but there is little peace for a soldier there, as gigantic threats menace the peace of all, generally requiring the officious elimination of some. What emerges from this totality is a breathless ‘pop’ comic reminiscent in tone of Grant Morrison’s many zippy superhero revivals of the ’00s, but bent to cruel and wicked ends – Anthropocalypse is very much a comic about comics, and a story about stakes, specifically how the constant, world-shattering raising of narrative stakes operates to obliterate a sense of workable empathy in everyone involved. All is lovely, shiny nihilism in the end. Give this a look, highly recommended. Preview; $24.99.
Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition: But fans of an older style of inquiry will no doubt be drawn to this new 480-page hardcover compilation of anti-superhero comics by Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill – from DC, no less! That makes sense, though; despite launching under Marvel’s Epic banner back in 1987, Marshal Law constituted one of the more serious attempts to follow Alan Moore’s & David Gibbons’ aforementioned Watchmen with a work of equal weight, despite Mills’ more humor-minded approach and O’Neill’s anarchic visual style, and a far more torturous balance of exploitative sex and violence and commentary thereupon. Definitely this is the writer behind Third World War. A prolonged consideration on superhumans as beneficiaries of a Superpower, the early stuff can read as startlingly thoughtful and nuanced to those only acclimated to the later revivals of the series, at which time the superhero-hunting title character became a little too obviously Mills’ & O’Neill’s attempt to own a Judge Dredd for themselves, and the whole thing descended into the kind of schtick later associated with the featherweight gross-out comedies of Garth Ennis, a young writer who almost certainly paged through this stuff at one time or another. Nonetheless, I believe *everything* is in here save for various prose works and assorted crossovers with other publishers’ characters, so you’re free to make up your own mind; $49.99.
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: A Graphic Novel: Being a new SelfMadeHero release via North American distributor Abrams, this time an H. P. Lovecraft adaptation by I. N. J. Culbard, a talented artist with a style reminiscent of Guy Davis, who some of you might recognize from the 2000 AD serial Brass Sun. This one’s 144 color pages. Samples; $19.95.
Miniature Jesus #1 (of 5): I never know quite what to expect from Ted McKeever, but the longtime alternative genre comics stylist has had a good run of original concepts with Image going as of late, and this is his newest – something about a recovering alcoholic and a cat mummy and a demon and Egyptian gods. You never do know! Preview; $3.99.
House of Secrets Omnibus: Speaking of alternative genre stuff, Vertigo long presumed to be the premiere source for the ‘literary’ strain of horror embodied by writer Alan Moore’s trend-setting run on The Saga of the Swamp Thing, which was almost a decade and a half old by the time this like-minded series launched in 1996 from writer Steven T. Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen, one of the more unique teams to assembled under the DC banner – you’ll recall their reflexive Superman graphic novel It’s a Bird… (2004), or maybe Kristiansen’s excellent issue (#8) of DC’s ’00s anthology series Solo. A First Second project from the duo, Genius, is due in a few months. Until then, you’re free to enjoy this 752-page hardcover doorstop in which a supernatural justice system explores the secrets of various people. With additional art by Christian Højgaard, Duncan Fegredo, D’Israeli and Arnold & Jacob Pander; $75.00.
Aliens: Inhuman Condition: Speaking of which, remember when Jim Woodring and Justin Green did Aliens comics? A little big of that flavor returns here, as Sam Kieth draws up a 56 page piece for the property, culled from the pages of Dark Horse Presents, scripted by John Layman, of the popular Image series Chew. In hardcover, 7″ x 10″. Samples; $10.99.
[various Cinebook items]: Ok, all series that have launched before, so quickly –
XIII Vol. 14: Release the Hounds!; $11.95.
Lucky Luke Vol. 25: The Stagecoach & Vol. 26: The Bounty Hunter; $11.95 each.
The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer Vol. 10: The Sarcophagi Of The Sixth Continent Part 2; $15.95.
Long John Silver Vol. 3: The Emerald Maze; $13.95.
Dorohedoro Vol. 9: Your new manga pick, in which Viz continues to publish Q Hayashida’s uniquely lived-in magical fantasy visions; not a small pleasure in these tighter manga days. There’s also a new volume of Mohiro Kitoh’s Bokurano: Ours (8 of 11) due, so this is pretty much seinen blowout week; $12.99.
Dial H Vol. 1: Into You: And finally, we’ll bring it back around with this first collection of DC superhero comics from writer China Miéville, maybe the great hope for now re: expressive, exploratory stuff in that particular genre at one of the big houses. There’s also Grant Morrison, I suppose, although a look at *his* release this week — Image’s collection of his parodic crime miniseries Happy! — sees a writer having worn his psychedelic positivism down to the point of nyaaahing at adverse genres he frankly doesn’t seem to understand all that well. In contrast, Miéville posits a locus for multifarious superhero concepts, some ridiculous, some not, springing outward into fascinating directions. The collection (issues #0-6) should end on an excellent, David Lapham-drawn confrontation of ‘offensive’ imagery in comics, always a concern for the few creators aware of the iconographic force behind characters so readily sold as Icons. This and Indigo Prime – not a bad week; $14.99.