LONE WOLF AND CUB
I read LONE WOLF AND CUB #1 this week. I started it on Sunday, and had to tear myself away from it for dinner, or I might have read right through the 280-plus pages of story in one sitting. It really is that gripping. I've since read through the rest with relative ease.
It was a bit difficult to get into at first, since my knowledge of Japanese culture is somewhat limited. There is a glossary in the back, though, so the words and phrases are easy to pick up. Really, you can figure out what a lot of the words mean in context. Most of it is political in nature, and it's easy to figure out what's going on.
The story is somewhat episodic in nature. Lone Wolf comes through a new town with his baby boy in tow. He picks up a new job from someone not quite willing to give him all the information he needs - he cajoles them into it. Armed with that knowledge, he goes into battle to kill the person he's been hired to kill. Usually, at the end there's a final showdown between Lone Wolf and some other ronin. Each story runs about 30 pages, and there isn't any continuity at all. (And, personally, I hope that continues. I can't keep track of the names used inside of each story. If these characters were to reappear in later editions, I'd be in deep trouble.) Don't be troubled by the sound of a 300-page book. It's easily broken into manageable pieces, which can be read fairly quickly. Stories range from 20 to 60 pages.
It's a fun read because it's so damned smart. Lone Wolf is a smart and skilled guy. He knows what he's doing, even when he doesn't let on about it quite so quickly. I have more fun reading about characters that are at the peak of their game than at their lowest point. To me, Batman is the most fun when he's well nigh invincible, and just uses his cunning and smarts to get through a mystery.
The biggest point of contention with this book has been the size. It's only slightly larger that the size of an index card - four inches by six inches. It's 304 pages thick. Yes, I would have preferred it to be on slightly larger sized paper, whether on the same size Oni used for FORTUNE AND GLORY or even the same size Drawn and Quarterly prints BERLIN on. It takes some time to get your eyes adjusted to the small size here. Lettering is often infinitesimal, the art can sometimes seem a bit smeared at this size, and you end up holding the book really close to your face to read the darn thing. The good news is that the book is much more flexible than I would have thought. You don't have to smash the binding of the book to read the interior pages. Dark Horse seems to have been really careful about offsetting the pages so that parts of panels don't end up lost in the binding.
After a while, though, you'll lose yourself in the stories and forget about the small size. Heck, as an oddity, it may even be a selling point. =)
Pipeline reader Craig Wilson wrote in a month and a half ago to ask why Dark Horse had decided to print the book so small. In preparing for this review, I went to Dark Horse and asked them. With special thanks to Michael Ring, I give you Dark Horse's Senior Editor, Chris Warner:
The 4"x6" format is the format at which LW&C has been published in Japan for quite awhile now. It's the format preferred by series creator Kazuo Koike, and Mr. Koike wanted to keep it as the standard format in America, which is fine with us, 'cause we love the books at this size!
And this format does produce a price benefit for readers. If we were to print this book closer to typical American comics dimensions (even slightly smaller as in our typical manga collections) we'd have to charge twice as much for each volume. For 28 monthly books, that rounds out to almost $560! As it stands, we can offer LW&C for US$9.95 a month. That's for 300 pages of one of the most influential and ground-breaking pieces of graphic literature in the *world*. We want to make LW&C as accessible as possible to the public and we are glad that we can offer it for a low enough price that won't drain the wallets of the folks that want to collect it on a monthly basis.
"The format is also more desirable for the mass market. This is a great benefit for not just Dark Horse, but the comic book industry as a whole. Dark Horse has a good presence in the bookstore market already, but Lone Wolf & Cub should help break down the barriers even more. Here's a book that has been around for close to 25-30 years and is also well known outside of the comic book market (it's got, what, seven or eight different movies?). By getting a strong presence in mass-market bookstores, we can expose this masterpiece to people that would normally never pick up a comic book. And we hope some of those customers will end up in comic shops, which is why we put the Comic Book Shop Locator Service in all our books."
Thanks for the response, guys! I honestly can't argue with your logic. And I hope the mass-market campaign works for you.
I wouldn't recommend this book for the kiddies, by the way. There's a certain amount of naked women in there, some sexual situations, and a lot of really gross violence, including decapitations and limb separations galore.
I have to say, though, that I'm excited about the prospect of having this much new and interesting reading material coming out every month for the next couple of years. It's ten dollars I can heartily recommend adding to your monthly budget.
I hope AKIRA comes out this well when Dark Horse begins reprinting it later this year. I've not read that one before yet, either.
JLA: THE SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-HEROES
…is something of an upsetting book to me. First of all, I once had a similar idea for a comic awhile back. I wanted to go even further with it, though. I wanted to write a super-hero comic book series in the same style that Isaac Asimov used for his Black Widower Mysteries. A group of friends get together once a month for dinner and share stories and solve a mystery. In the super-hero world, these people would never show themselves or their powers in open public displays. They'd be the silent helpers.
Such is Howard Chaykin and David Tischman's premise in this two-part prestige format mini-series. Here, the JLA acts incognito in the real world, but acts as judge, jury, and executioner behind closed doors. The story revolves around what happens to the group when they're forced out into the public, thanks in part to some snoopy reporter named Lois Lane. Of course. This is DC Elseworlds. What else did you expect? ;-)
The story itself starts out cute, as most Elseworlds do. Oh, look at what little Flash is doing in this world. Look at how Impulse is different. Ooh, Superman is a bad ass now. Etc. etc. The trick is in pulling something off past that. The premise - the high concept, if you will - has to be strong. And I think Chaykin and Tischman hit on a good one here.
Mike McKone provides the art, with inks credited to Jimmy Palmiotti. Therein lies the second big disappointment with the book. I love McKone's artwork. I've never made a secret of that. But it looks off here, and the only reason I can have for that is Palmiotti's inks. It looks like he's trying to place blacks and spot shadows where maybe he shouldn't. The artwork doesn't look as clean as when Mark McKenna or Marlo Alquiza provides the finishes on it. There are even a couple of spots where the line weights are awkwardly chosen - things that should recede into the background instead look like they're about to pop out. It's a bit of a shame to see it happen.
I would still heartily recommend this title. Yes, it's got its rough spots, but it's easily enough overlooked. You can't get perfection every time. The only deal-killer might be the $6 price for each issue of this two-parter.
ONE LAST THING
The COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE had an item in its 1403rd issue that just made me chuckle. The Comics Guaranty Corporation has been set up to officially grade comics. Such a scheme has previously appeared in the coin and stamp and baseball card worlds. Now it's come for comics.
It doesn't bother me much. Grading comics is an art as much as a science. If someone wants to make a living at it, more power to them.
What made me laugh was the article in the new CBG about the first comic that the CGC graded a 10. Was it an early Batman or Superman comic? No. Was it the first Claremont/Byrne X-MEN issue? Was it a Neal Adams Batman comic? Even a Jack Kirby KAMANDI?!?
Nope. It was a limited edition VENOM: LETHAL PROTECTOR #1
VENOM: LETHAL PROTECTOR.
NEXT WEEK IN THE PIPELINE
Tuesday's column will include, amongst a spate of other things, a rant against the rash of poorly printed comics we've gotten lately. In the same column: Praise for a comic that printed terrifically. Some comics are printed so dark that it's like reading mud. Others are printed with such clarity and such crispness that you have to stand up and cheer. Come back on Tuesday for that. And more.