God, can you believe there were three movies based on comic books in theaters last weekend? I'm sure the prestige pick is Marielle Heller's film of Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but given that the picture appears to be showing in no more than 4 theaters nationwide, it's a strictly theoretical one for now. On the popular front, there is Fantastic Four, which I have neither any desire to see, nor any desire to participate in the ritual scourging of what hadn't struck me in previews as enormously variant from the recent motion picture of Ant-Man in terms of narrative disposition.
But I did see the third one, friends: Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F', the gala nineteenth theatrical animated motion picture struck from Akira Toriyama's eternally popular manga. It's presently wrapping up a special week-long engagement in North American theaters, the relative generosity of which has resulted in nearly $6 million in takings so far for a film which reportedly cost only $5 million to make, and has already grossed at least $27 million in Japan. This is the second of the films in a row (after 2013's Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods) where Toriyama himself has been involved in the writing, and I suspect his close involvement is paying off; a new television series, Dragon Ball Super, is presently using some of the original characters Toriyama devised for the recent movies.
That said, the nostalgia I felt watching the film had really nothing to do with anime or manga; I'd never even watched Dragon Ball Z on television. No, what struck me was how much this movie felt like an old Marvel superhero comics Annual, cramming a whole bunch of characters together for a 'big' (yet somehow also low-stakes) story set in active continuity but not especially effective thereupon. There's a fan-favorite villain, Freeza, who returns with a new costume and amped-up powers (i.e. a new 'form'). There's little scenes or bits of business for many supporting cast members, all of whom get to briefly demonstrate their fighting techniques. There's a special guest from another comic in the same shared universe (Toriyama's 2013 Jaco the Galactic Patrolman), who gets to have funny interactions with the regular cast, though they all team up soon enough. And there's even a little narrative grace note that seeks to comment a little on the core appeal of the main characters, which in this case is the enduring rivalry between arch-fighters Goku and Vegeta, who could probably dominate any foe if they'd just work together - but they won't, 'cause that's how we love 'em!
Put simply, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' does not feel like a 'comic book movie' - it feels like a comic book in movie form, and a rather old-fashioned comic book at that. This is pretty striking, in its own way, in today's world of tried-and-true action movie formulae mutating slightly to accommodate the franchising opportunities of superhero fiction, though I can't say it makes for very consequential filmmaking - not that anyone in that theater, from the 25-to-35-year-old super-fans to even the gratifying number of actual children, probably expected more than a triple-length episode's worth of fighting and comedy from, again, the *nineteenth* Dragon Ball animated movie. Even when a whole city and its teeming population is annihilated by awful Freeza, nobody really bats an eye; we're informed later that the heroes have a means of resurrecting the city and all its dead after the fight. Nothing too dark is going to happen in this cartoon, on this particular Saturday morning.
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 identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. 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.
Idyl - I'm Age: New Hampshire's venerable Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc. is the entity behind this one, a 96-page, 9" x 12" edition of single-page works from two specific periods in the life of artist Jeffrey Jones: '70s strips for National Lampoon and '80s works for Heavy Metal. These poetic, whimsical, potentially elusive pieces were *not* typical of the fare for which either forum was or would become known, but their singularity offers them a unique appeal today - coupled, of course, with Jones' very striking and pleasurable drawing. An afterword by George Pratt will also be included. Be aware that the publisher has noted a production error resulting in one strip's omission, which has been corrected for mail-order customers via a loose print of the missing work... I don't know what the consequence is for copies in comic book stores this week; $24.99 ($39.99 in hardcover).
Hip Hop Family Tree Book 3: 1983-1984: Continuing writer/artist Ed Piskor very popular study of musical lineage through vignettes reminiscent of newsstand comic books at their most narratively direct. One hopes this effort is at the point where the artist can continue for as long as he so chooses. A 112-page Fantagraphics color softcover, very tall at 9" x 13". Samples; $27.99.
It Will All Hurt #3 (of 3): I haven't kept a datebook, but my impression is that this Farel Dalrymple project from Study Group Comics has been appearing in comic book stores at the irregular pace notable of most small-press comic book series, so let me draw attention to this final 48-page installment, distributed by Alternative Comics to Diamond-serviced shops. There is also a webcomic version; $8.00.
Sea Urchin (&) Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed: Two from Big Planet/Retrofit, both on the inexpensive side. Sea Urchin is a 60-page work by Laura Knetzger, a piece of direct communication focused on "creativity and depression, reflection and burdens." Ink for Beginners is an informational comic from writer/artist Kate Leth -- a web cartoonist and Comics Alliance contributor who's also written comics for BOOM! and IDW -- offering 28 pages on topics like "choosing designs, booking consultations, aftercare, tipping policies, how to prepare for your appointment, and even where it hurts most to get a tattoo"; $8.00 (Sea), $4.00 (Ink).
Little Nemo's Big New Dreams: Philadelphia's Locust Moon Press has already attracted a huge amount of attention for its massively-proportioned Kickstarted anthology of tributes to Winsor McCay’s beloved semi-readable fantasy demonstration -- sorry gang, I'm a Rarebit Fiend man! -- having recently won two Eisner awards for the effort, including Best Anthology. This is a new version of the project: an abridged (72-page), considerably smaller (7.25" x 10") hardcover edition published by the kids' comics specialists at Toon Books (specifically their Toon Graphics line of books for somewhat older readers), no doubt with an eye on wide accessibility. With a text foreword by publisher/editorial director Françoise Mouly and a comics foreword by Art Spiegelman; $16.95.
Windmill Dragons: Speaking of Toon Graphics, I've never gotten a chance to read 2012's The Secret of the Stone Frog, a brief David Nytra graphic novel which apparently drew no small amount of inspiration from the aforementioned McCay. Well, let's dig that hole deeper, 'cause here's Nytra's sequel, finding child heroes Leah and Alan in "a chaotic land" with "ancient monsters and aging knights" and a "Monster Island" - 120 b&w pages in this 7" x 10" hardcover. Preview; $18.95.
Judge Dredd: America: Being a new Simon & Schuster edition of one of the most enduring story sequences from the British action comics institution, in which the drollery surrounding its depiction of the title authoritarian dims in intensity to reveal an avatar of comprehensive repression, apt at destroying oppositional ideologies through both violence and assimilation. At 160 pages, this is slightly longer than the previous Rebellion edition, although I doubt it will contain whatever exclusive content was in the Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection hardback subscription service edition of this stuff, which positioned America as its introductory volume at the giveaway price of £1.99... again showing how highly 2000 AD thinks of this material. Written by co-creator John Wagner, with art by Colin MacNeil; $18.99.
Olympus (&) DC Comics Bombshells #1: Old and new collaborations here between French and North American industry talents. Really though, Olympus is 'French' only to the extent that it was initially published in France; a Humanoids project first released in English in 2005, the creators are basically a lot of big-ticket superhero people, including writer Geoff Johns (collaborating with Kris Grimminger), artist Butch Guice and colorist Dan Brown. It's something about a ragtag bunch of physically attractive sods facing monsters from Greek mythology - I unfortunately remember it mostly from a scorched-earth review by Journal contributor Tucker Stone. ("You need words that are bigger than 'a fucking stupid piece of shit' if you're going to categorize Olympus alongside the Nikopol Trilogy...") DC Comics Bombshells, meanwhile, is the print edition of a digital comic pairing writer Marguerite Bennett (of quite a few DC and Marvel comics from the past few years) with French artist Marguerite Sauvage, a cartoonist, illustrator and animator whose striking approach is evocative of the mid-century pin-up art which serves as obvious inspiration for the period superheroine action therein; $19.95 (Olympus), $3.99 (Bombshells).
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 (of 6): Your Image debut of the week, and a classic scenario of striking while the iron is hot. Writer Keiron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie debuted the original Phonogram series -- a concept positing music as magic and enthusiasts as magicians -- at Image in 2006; it was a different era, and the project did not do so well in terms of sales, nor, I think, did a 2008-10 follow-up, subtitled The Singles Club. But times have changed, and the creators' subsequent music-as-comic-book-genre-stuff Image offering, the 'pop stars as gods' project The Wicked + The Divine, is a readily explicable financial success, so now is a most appropriate moment for Phonogram to return with a story its creators have been working on since at least 2012, involving both the millennial electroclash scene and the early transformative days of television music videos. Preview; $3.99.
The Eltingville Club #2 (of 2): But where there are beginnings there are also endings; such pairings help me ignore the fundamental meaninglessness of existence, True Believer, and what has less meaning than devoting your identity to nerd culture garbage? Such questions hang heavily over this, the last-ever comic writer/artist Evan Dorkin has in store for his long-lived cast of bickering, hateful dorks, now glimpsed ten years later as aging men reunited by chance at Comic-Con - the perfect venue for the worst in everyone. All scores settled, or something, across 32 b&w pages published by Dark Horse. Preview; $3.99.
The Tick: The Complete Edlund: TRIVIA - I have never read an issue of The Tick. I recognize the drawing on the moon joke from the cartoon show, but I don't even know if that was in the comic? Nonetheless, Ben Edlund's superhero parody has obviously remained a prominent enough thing to spawn a huge number of reprints, spinoffs and whatevers, including this new 424-page phonebook edition of its creator's 1988-93 run of a dozen comic books, packaged along with earlier materials, commentaries by Edlund (who subsequently became a television producer/director/screenwriter on shows like Angel, Supernatural and Gotham), and some related stories by other writers and artists, one of which appears to be exclusive to this packaging. The publisher is still New England Comics; $35.99.
The Smurfs Vol. 19: The Jewel Smurfer: The Jewel... Eater? Hater? Lover? The world of Smurfs is one of delight, but also mystery. And, it is not free from the bonds of mortality, so this 1994 album was therefore the first to be produced completely without the participation of original creator Pierre "Peyo" Culliford, who had died in '92. The writers are Thierry Culliford (Peyo's son) and Luke Parthoens, while the drawings are by Alain Maury, a Peyo studio artist who'd contributed extensively enough to the prior album in the series (The Finance Smurf) to warrant co-artist credit. The English-language publisher remains NBM/Papercutz, presenting a 48-page, 6.5" x 9" edition; $5.99 ($10.99 in hardcover).
Is SHE Available?: Finally, your genuine whatsit of the week, a 164-page Rian Hughes-designed Fanfare/SUBVERSIONfactory hardback blending poetry by Igor Goldkind -- a digital publisher and marketer of UK graphic novels who did some comics writing for 2000 AD and related magazines in the early '90s -- with art from folks like Bill Sienkiewicz, Glenn Fabry, David Lloyd, Liam Sharp and others. There is also an iBooks edition that purportedly incorporates speech, music and animation into the whole, though both iterations seem to have been conceptualized to flatter their respective platforms, resulting in distinct works. Hell, I'd flip through it; $24.95.