Holiday Catch-Up: Comics Mishmash

Figured I’d crank out one more game of catsup before the new quarter starts. Like I’ve said before, I’m going into the American comics world completely blind outside of things like movie and cartoon adaptations, so take that as you will.

The Amazing Spider-Man #666-675 (Spider Island / Vulture)

I’ve been following with Spidey’s Ultimate universe from start to finish (to uh… re-start), so I wonder what exactly I was waiting for to get me into the webhead’s main universe title. Well… guess it was a massive crossover event.

Not gonna lie—I’m usually not too keen on massive crossover story arcs. I remember reading one of the Crisis events for DC and feeling completely and utterly lost. Random characters popping in and out without much to do or say; references to events a billion issues ago; not to mention the expected techno-babble which is made even worse since I’m not even familiar with the universe or characters… it was just a bad first time.

Spider-Island is different.

The crossover works well in that it’s able to get new fans into the series right off the bat. You’re starting at the start of a new arc, where past interactions with characters doesn’t mean all that much outside of the slightly distracting but still not too bad overall little asterisk notes you get from time to time. The level of danger present is clearly on a grand enough scale to warrant the use of so many of Marvel’s heavy-hitters, but it’s executed in a way that you’re not swamped with so much information that you’re immediately turned off. There’s some kind of virus around the city that’s giving Average Joe’s Spidey’s powers, and it’s up to the original Spidey to bring a stop to it all before things get too out of hand. It’s a simple story at its core presented in a way that can get new readers immediately rooting for Mr. Parker and booing the baddie in Jackal, even though the most noteworthy thing he’s been a part of was turning off readers to the comic via the Clone Saga.

As for the following short Vulture arc, it works as a good short little story to get readers back into the (get ready for it…) “swing” of things. I don’t know why, but the Vulture’s always seemed like a good introductory type of villain to get the story running again. He’s nowhere near on the knowability level as the Goblin or Dock Ock, so the amount of danger he presents comes off as bad, but not too bad.

The Avenging Spider-Man #1-2

Yes, another Spidey title.

From Marvel’s description of the series leading up to its release, I was kinda getting the vibe of a Wolverine and the X-Men (the animated series) in that I didn’t want it all to be about Spidey with some random heroes shoehorned into the series. Though so far, it works. The writers are well aware that it’s ridiculous how many teams Spidey’s part of in the main universe (the Future Foundation, and the Avengers?) and they have him bring it up a number of times in a mocking sort of fashion as he lays the beatdown on the baddies… which looks excellent bytheway. The artwork in this series has been complimented so many times, but I feel like I have to bring it up anyway: the art in this series reminds me of the best mix of East meets West, with its clear attention to detail and nice full page spreads where everyone’s poses look just right—definitely a series to keep an eye out on.

Wolverine & the X-Men #1-3

… not to be confused with the animated series that goes by the exact same name.

Like Avenging Spider-Man, this title is the kind you’d buy because the cover just popped out to you. Unlike Avenging, it comes off as kinda meh.

The series is coming right off the heels of some kind f X-Men crossover I never read, but unlike Amazing Spider-Man, its mentions of past events just end up flying over my head and don’t work to push to plot forward in any way. Besides those, you’re presented with Wolverine who ends up being the head of a new institute for mutants, though many are reluctant to let him go forth with the idea. In the middle of an attack on the school, we’re also introduced to the kids that’ll no doubt make up the bulk of the cast and they’re equally aged villains.

In general, I feel like this series was just messily made all around. Besides the artistic stylings of things that give off a Teen Titans (animated, not comic) vibe, I couldn’t really get behind anything else. The writing reminded me of an American action cartoon on a bad day with the obvious character set-ups and cheesy (even for a comicbook) dialogue. Very much a series you’d pick up for the cover and not the plot.

Bakuman #1-161

Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally caught up with the one current Jump title I actually care for.

With a manga about two kids following their dreams and making a manga, it does take an overly optimistic mindset. Then again, I don’t think I’d want to read about about a couple dropouts that quit on their dreams and go into the black market business. The duo that makes up the penname of “Ashirogi Mutou” seems to jump through the obstacles they’re faced with a bit too easily at times, as do the rest of their  manga-ka comrades that also happen to be around the same age as them. Not to mention, you’ve got the love interest character that’s decided to go into the voice acting business herself and doesn’t seem to be having too much in the form of any real trouble with making her dreams come true, either. On one level, it’s refreshing to see something to optimistic as to think that hard work alone is enough, but on the other hand, it just makes me want to roll me eyes every other chapter.

What really makes the series for me are the interactions between each character. Between most, it’s a rivalry in wanting to make a manga that ranks higher than the other’s. On the other spectrum of things, you also have the editors overseeing the manga-ka and trying to one up their fellow editors. It gives off a sort of “gods influencing the humans” vibe at times, which makes for an interesting read.

Not to mention, all the details about this particular universe the authors aren’t delving into. The premise for each manga-ka’s series is enough to peak anyone’s interest, with titles like Otters 11 coming off as something that could work on adult swim if the idea were actually followed through in the real world. On another not, keeping in mind that this is the same team behind Death Note, it makes sense that the author is obsessed with having a solid timeline to the plot. You’re not told it often, but every now and then, you’re reminded the exact time period, up to the month, day and year, which leads to so many questions. The characters clearly mention other, older, manga titles and yet are able to top the top 5 on Weekly Jump’s list without having to worry about titles like Naruto, One Piece, or Bleach. For a while, I thought it was ridiculous to think that this oddball group of younger manga-ka are able to beat out such titles. Then I considered that the current time period the manga is up to is a time when all those series have long gone… what an optimistic series, this Bakuman is.

Bakuman: Initial Thoughts

When I first heard that there was a manga out there created by the same artist/author team that did Death Note, the first thing that crossed my mind was “money grab.”

Honestly, with Hollywood playing up the “from the same creative minds behind <insert blockbuster hit of five years ago here>” you can’t blame me for initially thinking such. Though considering the creative mind that is the meshing of artist Takeshi Obata and author Tsugumi Ohba, I guess I should have given them the benefit of the doubt. Upon reading the first volume of the manga, even without any shinigami, you could immediately tell it had that Death Note vibe, with Obata once again having his fantastic art competing against Ohba’s continuous onslaught of speech bubbles yet in the long run still making for a good read unlike the page compositions of some certain pirate manga that whenever bombarded with text just makes me want to puke… but that’s beside the point.

Story aside, is anyone actually surprised this series got an anime adaptation?

Having read the first volume of the manga, I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into… but nothing could prepare myself for the cheesiness that was the opening song. Darn you, Kobukuro and all your inspirational folk tunes.

So we’re introduced to the melancholic Moritaka, a ninth grader still fresh off the heels of his visions of becoming a manga artist like his uncle. Already somewhat down from his uncle’s less than uplifting story of how he became a manga artist in an attempt to get closer to a certain female acquaintance of his, the actual death of his uncle from overworking doesn’t exactly help Moritaka all that much. Disappointed with the world and its discouragement of following your dreams, the kid’s been in quite the slump, as a string of soliloquies demonstrates.

Enter Akito: the one blonde kid in class which of course translates to a person of interest. Noticing how Moritaka forgot one of his notebooks after class, Akito anticipated his coming back after hours and waits for him with a proposition in mind. Creeper status? Maybe. But it’s an anime, so we all know that his character design must match his actual character, meaning his intentions must be pure. In pure “because the plot calls for it” form, Akito is the perfect sidekick to Moritaka, being the class’ smart kid yet still holding out for a future more glamorous than your typical government job—the manga author to Moritaka’s manga artist.

“At this rate, you’re gonna watch your life pass by at a snail’s pace! You’re fine with that being all your life amounts to?”
“It’s weirder to have and strive for a dream in ninth grade.”

Still being the realist, discouraged from continuing his dreams after seeing the life his uncle lived, Moritaka is less than enthused at the blondie’s proposition, taking his notebook back and going home to play some videogames… which will forever be the kid equivalent to heavy drinking when in a slump. But it seems like Akito just can’t let Moritaka be, since he calls the guy in an elaborate scheme involving Moritaka’s crush to eventually get him to buddy up and actually try to make a living in the manga industry. So besides the obvious themes of following one’s dreams, Ohba also suggests that in order to strive for what we truly desire, we must be willing to come off as a bit creepy first. Yeah, this is an anime for otaku, alright.

To compare to Ohba and Obata’s other teamup project, this seems like a much better adaptation so far than Death Note’s. While the former really made a point of playing up the dark nature of the manga with its lighting and sudden lightning storms not present in the manga, Bakuman has done a pretty good job of keeping the same ambiance kept in the manga, not watering down the series to one basic theme (with exception to the opening theme, which I guess is allowed to pull that off). Swift changes between dramatic monologues and goofy school goings-on are well executed, with a lighthearted soundtrack that doesn’t keep viewers too down when the characters are getting too serious.

What I especially enjoyed this time around, though, was how the small little jokes from the manga were also kept for the anime. What brought down the Death Note anime for me was how a majority of the lighthearted moments were removed, all for the sake of maintaining the series’ serious atmosphere. Sure, there were Misa’s occasional outbursts, but the manga just had so much more to offer. With Bakuman, every memorable gag, no matter how small, was kept for the first episode from Akito’s stuttering to the ever so awkward meeting up with Moritaka’s crush.

My one fear for the series is that it’s been slated for 25 episodes total, with the manga series itself not even being finished yet, at 10 graphic novels as of late. Will the series pull an FMA and make a new ending while the manga continues? It sure seems possible, and based on the nature of the series, it’s not exactly the type of story to have that major of a twist near the end of the story to differentiate the manga from the anime. Still, only time will tell.

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