Tag Archives: Sequential Art

Vagabond by Inoue Takehiko

Author’s Note:  For consistency, all Japanese names in this review will be in traditional order – surname first, and given second.

 

13Vagabond

 

Inoue Takehiko has created a masterpiece in Vagabond – not just for the breathtaking artwork, but for the story as well. A loose retelling of Yoshikawa Eiji’s 1935 novel Musashi, in turn loosely based on history, this manga series follows Miyamoto Musashi as he follows the way of the sword, testing his skill in mortal combat, ultimately transforming him through introspection into a more whole and compassionate human being. Yet, despite the action-heavy premise, characters drive the plot and interest.

 

Slam Dunk

 

The author’s previous experience with the high school basketball saga Slam Dunk informs the fight scenes with the crackle of tension and physical struggle, yet the characters and their development through slow growth and sudden insight hold just as much interest, if not more, as duels to the death. Tightly plotted encounters and fleshed-out characters illustrate facets of the journey to enlightenment in the way of the sword. What to do with pain and rage or even kindness in an unfair and often violent world – this question, and the success different characters have in answering it, lies at the heart of the story. Is it possible to run away forever, from pain and responsibility, as Matahachi tries to do? What if rage grows unchecked, as it does for Gion Toji? Grief, love, and death stand as open and complex questions underpinning the plot. Despite characters’ places in the story as questions or foils, they each grow, or fail to, thrive, or die, in a vivid and electrically realistic way.

Inoue has taken liberties with the original novel, but even those update and refresh aspects that would not be as relatable to a modern audience. The character Otsu, for example, while a blank, rather flat archetype of a love interest in the original novel – is a much more developed, complex person in Vagabond, struggling to transcend her own abandonment and rejection, first by her birth parents, then by her fiancée, and even her own adopted mother.

21Vagabond

It takes a lot of guts for an author to adapt a classic and acclaimed work of literature from the past for the present. In addition to the pitfalls inherent in re-telling a well-known story (how to keep it fresh?), every decision the author makes comes under microscopic scrutiny (what to change, what to keep?). Even more challenging, then, is an adaptation across media, such as turning a Shakespeare play into a film. Adapting a beloved work of the modern literary canon for a comic book, however, is audacious, bordering on career suicide. Yet, Inoue Takehiko has done just this, and triumphed. Whether you love manga already, or if you have never tried the medium, Vagabond is a thrill to read – intelligent, sophisticated, and driven by the sensitive depiction of its characters.

 

Editor’s Note:  If you are new to the Japanese format of manga (or its sister format anime), check out the author’s FAQ (which is also available on the Reader’s Corner’s Comics and Manga page).

Formats Available:  Manga

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Twelve Great Reads

Can you believe it? 2013 is almost over. And you know what that means…end of the year time is Best of the Year time!

So here is a list of some favorite comics from the past year. They may or may not have been published in 2013. Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume.

All of these works can be checked out from LFPL. I have also named the author and main artist for each title (except for #12 where there were multiple artists over the course of its run, sometimes even in the same issue).

Due to the variety of stories being told, it was difficult to rank the items in order of preference. Instead, they are listed below in alphabetical order.


American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

What if vampires were evolving? What if one of the meanest, low-down gunslingers of the Wild West was the first of a new breed of stronger, faster vampires? Stephen King himself adds his macabre touch to this tale of horror and revenge across the decades.


Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

One of the best of DC’s New 52 storylines. Scott Snyder (who is also the primary writer for American Vampire) deftly continues the building of Gotham’s most important character – the city itself – that he began in the Gates of Gotham. We are introduced to the shadowy Court of Owls and to the Talons, an army of immortal assassins in service to the Court, as they decide to show Batman who really runs Gotham.


Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja

Action and comedy mingle in this fast-paced look at the life of the non-powered superhero. It’s just a man with a bow tackling problems with femme fatales, Russian mobsters, and the training of a sidekick…er, partner. The writing by Matt Fraction is quick and witty, and the art by David Aja is a perfect fit.


I, Vampire by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino

A minor character from J.M. DeMattheis’ run on House of Mystery is now the star of his own title in the New 52 universe. The background of Andrew Bennett, the titular vampire, is revealed along the way as he battles the plans of his lover, Mary Queen of Blood, to lead a worldwide vampire revolution against humanity’s dominance over other species.


The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

Imagine a world where The Manhattan Project was but one undertaking of a long-running government program to investigate and master exotic science for the benefit of the U.S. Many important scientists from the mid-Twentieth Century work there but one, Robert Oppenheimer, is harboring a secret of his own that will threaten the very existence of The Projects.


The Massive by Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson

The Massive is not just another post-apocalyptic tale. It examines what it would mean to be an ecological activist in the wake of multiple events that trigger permanent disastrous climate change. Brian Wood – best known for creating DMZ and his work on various X-men titles – keeps this exploration from becoming didactic or boring by focusing on the mystery of a disappearing ship which the main characters are seeking. Plus they have to battle pirates!


Mind the Gap by Jim McCann and Rodin Esquejo

This para-scientific thriller is about a woman admitted to the emergency room after being beaten into a coma and what her place is in an unfolding conspiracy. The protagonist, Elle Peterssen, finds herself conscious but separated from her body. She is in an indeterminate spiritual realm and wants to get back to the real world. While Elle struggles to return to everyday life, there is a lot of drama involving her friends, her family, and a mysterious stranger who seems to be orchestrating events from the shadows.


Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

Morning Glories is part prep school drama, part Lost-style conspiracy, and all fun. Nick Spenser – creator of Infinite Vacation, a title that almost made this list – keeps the intrigue and the action going without skimping on characterization. Love them or hate them, you definitely want to know what happens to these characters.


Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

What if a zombie outbreak happened only in a small, rural Wisconsin town? And said town has to struggle with the reintegration of its newly revived citizens into society? Not only that but it has to face the pressure from the rest of the world that is pushing at the boundaries of a CDC quarantine zone. Revival is subtitled “A Rural Noir” and that is exactly what it is. Tim Seeley doesn’t back away from showing the macabre and horror inherent in the situation. What else would you expect from the creator of the infamous Hack/Slash series?


Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Two alien races are at war but love unites a couple of soldiers from each race as they are pursued by their respective forces who wish to punish them for their treason. They also have to figure out how to take care of their newborn child and deal with overbearing parents! Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space opera never turns into corny pastiche even though its core story is as old as Shakespeare and is filled with stock science fiction trappings like space battles, mercenaries, and robots.


Saucer Country by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly

This series has been described by its creators Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly as “The West Wing does The X-Files,” and they deliver on the promise of those words. Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, is about to make a bid for the Presidency when she is abducted by aliens. As her staff struggles to keep her campaign from faltering, Arcadia hires Professor Joshua Kidd, a Harvard sociologist who has studied alien abduction, to help her get to the truth of UFOs and the alien agenda.


The Shade by James Dale Robinson

The Shade (a.k.a. Richard Swift) has been a super-villain since the Golden Age of comic books, primarily serving as nemesis to both the Jay Garrick and Barry Allen iterations of The Flash. But he is also an immortal who gained his powers in the same period which saw Charles Dickens rise to fame. In fact, Dickens was a great friend of The Shade when he was still a normal man. In this series we find The Shade in a morally ambiguous place as he has decided to change his super-villain ways and save his descendants from assassination by a mysterious opponent.

-Tony-