The Monkey King and the Sacred Quest for Panties: Akira Toriyama – “Dragon Ball” (Volume 1)

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ABOVE: Children of all ages, gather round for this wholesome tale!

Ah, Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball.” The finest of children’s entertainment! It is truly refreshing to revisit the pages of this beloved classic, looking for a gentler time, a more innocent time. What wondrous insights will we find in this pure-hearted adaptation of “Journey to the West,” the revered, borderline sacred 16th-Century Buddhist tome?

*opens comic book*

WHAT THE… WHAT IS THIS FILTH?!?

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ABOVE: I’m too disturbed to even think of a caption.

“Dragon Ball” is, from what I can glean, the tale of Son-Goku, a toddler with a tail who runs into a 16-year old girl named Buruma, (as in Bloomers, after the female undergarment.) While Bloomers is asleep, Son-Goku takes off her panties so as to dive into her crotch. This unorthodox behavior, we learn, can be traced back to Son-Goku’s habit of sleeping with his grandpa’s genitals as a pillow.

You think I’m joking or exaggerating. This is LITERALLY what happens in “Dragon Ball.”

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ABOVE: Or, Friday night at every frat house ever.

The monkey kid is shocked to find that Buruma, or, in the politically-correct, bowdlerized American translation, “Vulva,” doesn’t have a pee-pee and testicles. After being “woke” to gender inequality, the hero of our tale will walk around town, patting little girls in the nether regions to ascertain their sex.

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ABOVE: I’m not even going to go into the whole “Injun” thing.

Of course, we haven’t even met the actual pervert of our tale: that would be the wise Master Roshi, the Dumbledore of our delightful saga, perpetually asking Buruma to show him her magical honey valley.

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ABOVE: He’s 300 years old, she’s 16. The turtle is of indeterminate age.

This is all within the first few chapters of our mythic, decade-spanning quest for magical wish-granting balls. “Dragon Ball”‘s legacy may be one of protracted, onerous world-rending fights, the predecessor of “Naruto” and “Bleach” and “One Piece” and “Fairy Tail” and countless others; but its origins are those of a humble, a pervy parody of “Journey,” which explains things like Roshi summoning “baby Gamera” as a transportation device, a gag more on Tezuka’s territory.

Before long, Goku and Buruma are joined by Oolong, (as in the tea, as in tea-bagging), a cutesy Communist pig whose hobby is drugging and abducting his female victims in an unsuccessful search for a child bride that will obey his whims. THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS IN OUR SAGA!

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ABOVE: I suppose a perverted pig trying to force children into abject obedience is as good a metaphor for Communism as any other.

The cast expands with every episode: We meet tough-guy-wanna-be Yamcha as well as his cat-like sycophant, Pu’ehr (say it outloud). The characters will soon number on the hundreds, but as the first volume (out of 42!) concludes, we have a sizable questing crew- the final addition being the cutesy Chi Chi who, unlike Buruma, at least seems like size-and-age appropriate for Goku. By this point, I have become immune to the depravity, and only wish these children a happy marriage.

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ABOVE: Hey! You! Get off of my Cloud!

RATING: MASTERPIECE of its kind! Amoral, amoral masterpiece.

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Lost in the Shell : Osamu Tezuka – “Angel’s Hill”

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When we first meet Luna, Mermaid Princess, she’s being ritually shut in a shell (along with her monkey Chichi and her parrot Koko) and set adrift on an unforgiving ocean, an exile from her native island paradise. This is the beginning of “Angel’s Hill,” Osamu Tezuka‘s idea of an homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”

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ABOVE: “We expected a redhead with a fish and a crab. Not a brunette with a monkey and a parrot.”

Tezuka does share with Andersen a profitable tendency to ignore the borders between the comical, the whimsical, the melodramatic, and the tragic. Luna is a cutesy chracter that might belong on a Sanrio sticker, (so might her pets) but she is no sooner rescued from her shell, than she’s made to suffer as a slave among humans, tormented  in a PG-rated Marquis de Sade scenario.

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ABOVE: See, Kanye? Even old Japanese cartoons get that slavery isn’t a choice!

Eventually she’s rescued by Eiki, the rich, handsome captain who reluctantly takes her to Japan, largely because Luna looks like Akemi, Eiji’s younger sister. Akemi is a merciless brat, an attention-seeking human “princess” who treats Luna like a pauperish punching bag. Akemi insists Luna trade places with her to do her more boring chores. Bad plan: Akemi ends up kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity by the evil Pyoma, who pretends to adhere to “tradition” and the worship an ancestral, monstrous mermaid god, (with feet of very wet clay, naturally).

The vicissitudes are countless before Luna returns to Angel’s Hill, in an attempt to save Akemi, as well as be reunited with her older sister the Blind queen Soleiyu, (get it? Soleil? Luna? Sun/ Moon?). The plot never lets up, with wave after wave of developments, and, as always, ingenious design choices in nearly every panel. Submerged in the fantasy, though, is Tezuka’s message for 1960s Japan: if that Angel’s Island isn’t going to sink into some mythical ocean, it must learn to balance tradition and co-existence with the rest of the world.

For the most part, Japan listened.

RATING: COOL!

Ok, Batman, I Apologize for the Name Calling : Scott Snyder – “Batman” (“City of Owls”)

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I wasn’t kind to Scott Snyder’s New 52 “Batman” run from a few years back. I must have been in a pretty bad mood when I wrote what I wrote. I wasn’t WRONG, mind you, but I wonder what motivated me to do that kind of extensive listing of a book’s perceived transgressions. Re-reading “Batman” this week, in a different mood, I glossed over the things that bothered me then. I still find this an overrated book, but it’s clear that I was more critical of Batman saturation than of the story itself, which does manage to come up with a new and powerful enemy for a Batman that had spent way too long dealing with the usual suspects and the revolving door policies of Arkham Asylum.

So sorry for calling you a dick, Batman. I’m back on Bat-mode.

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ABOVE: Consider this an apology gif

After a long Bat-break and from another critical viewpoint (I had previously addressed Batman’s fascist, self-righteous violence) I went back to “City of Owls” (issues 8-12, with art by Greg Capullo). Dismissing all that, what makes the story interesting is the fact that Batman, who usually hovers above his villains figuratively, morally, or literally (sometimes all three at once) is here under-powered by forces that predate even this all-powerful millionaire. The word “predate” does double duty here: pre-date as an adjective, as in: the Owls were there before Batman, and also PREDATE as a verb:  Owls prey on bats. So seeing the whole scheme come together really does make it a pleasure. Batman is off his game. Gotham wasn’t a Bat City, it was an Owl City all along. He just didn’t realize it. That’s potentially powerful stuff. But of course, this is still a DC graphic novel and Batman does have to triumph.

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ABOVE: Bat out of Hell

Imagine a world where someone taps Batman on the shoulder and says: “Forget it, Bruce. It’s Gothamtown.”

RATING: COOL!

 

 

May the Fourth and All That : John Jackson Miller – “Lost Tribe of the Sith”

Taking place after “Dawn of the Jedi”, but feeling even more genuinely mythological, John Jackson Miller’s “Lost Tribe of the Sith” is further evidence that almost everyone in the Galaxy has given more though to Star Wars mythology than George Lucas. Now no longer “canon” and relegated to the “legends” designation, this is a nice collection of 9 novellas: “Precipice,” “Skyborn,” “Paragon,” “Savior,” “Purgatory,” “Sentinel,” “Pantheon,” “Secrets,” “Pandemonium.” (Notice a certain pattern?) After the Sith Starship “Omen” crashlands on Kersh, 5000 years or so before the Battle of Yavin, the Dark-Forced castaways made themselves a new home by conquering the Keshiri with incisive, genocidal glee over millennia. Their biggest challenge, though? Their inability to co-operate:  a civilization of sheer evil doesn’t last long because its leaders turn to political cannibalism. How the Sith of Kesh manage to make it all work is an interesting tale, although necessarily fragmented and rushed (you try covering two millennia of Lost Tribe history: even Gabriel Garcia Marquez stuck to 100 years of solitude.)

Jackson Miller, (who also wrote the “Knights of the Old Republic” series) would return to the Lost Tribe with “Spiral,” a 5-issue graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics. This follows the collected stories, and is set two thousand years or so before “A New Hope,” or, as normal people call it, “the first Star Wars movie, the one that didn’t have that Jar Jar Binks fella.” Continuing with the idea of strangers in strange lands, “Spiral” is about two discontent Sith who wind up in Kesh’s supposedly uninhabited version of the South Pole, only to find “The Doomed”: descendants of Fallen Jedi.

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There is a particularly dumb moment in “Episode III : Revenge of the Sith” when Annakin says something to Obi-Wan Kenobi like (and I paraphrase because dialogue this bad shouldn’t be committed to memory): “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” to which Obi Boy replies all like: “Only a Sith would think like that. THEREFORE YOU’RE NOT WITH ME AND YOU ARE MY ENEMY AND I MUST KILL YOU AND I DON’T SEE THE IRONY IN ANY OF THIS!”

The much smarter (and better-written) Doomed, instead, have  realized that there IS a possible middle ground between the Dark Force and the Light Force. This is a concept so apparently beyond the subtleties of Hollywood cinema that so far it hasn’t even been considered in 7 “Star Wars” movies- and a spinoff. To find out how they make it work, of course, look up the comics.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH, clearly best for SW fans.

In Cold Blood : Daniel Clowes – “Ice Haven”

“You want to know why we did it? Because we damn well felt like doing it.”

In 1924, two seemingly well-adjusted young men from “good families” abducted and murdered a 14-year-old boy because they were convinced they were bright enough to get away with it. They were indeed bright, perhaps remarkably so, but Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb got caught almost immediately, their “perfect murder” botched in a way that would be laughably idiotic if the circumstances weren’t so horrifying. (To wit, Leopold dropped his custom-made glasses at the crime scene! D’oh!)

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The Crime of the Century long before O. J. Simpson, the Leopold and Loeb case is at the chilling core of Daniel Clowes’ “Ice Haven,” a “comic strip novel” about the small titular town, where a boy named David Goldberg has disappeared. Has he been done in by a local L&L admirer?

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If Lloyd Llewellyn , “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” and “David Boring” are, at least nominally, surreal mysteries, “Ice Haven” is more about what happens on the periphery of a mystery: David’s disappearance is an excuse to look at the lives of his family, his neighbors, his schoolmates – the surprisingly expansive circle of people touched by the loss of this most insignificant of lives, (and it’s no slight; David himself embraces his own insignificance with stoic pride.)

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Clowes, like most of his peers, is a child of the comic strip, and it’s in the Sunday Funnies format that “Ice Haven” unfolds; but although there are Schulz parodies here, (and “Nancy” and “Little Lulu” allusions and, heck, even nods to “The Flinstones”) these strips are mainly riffing on their own Daniel Clowes-ness.  That would be self-parody if “self-parody” didn’t usually suggest creative bankruptcy; to the contrary, there’s wealth in this slim volume. Think of it as Clowes’ illustrations for “Our Town” as inhabited by Nabokov characters. A listing of the novel’s wacky cast would read like a chapter index, and give too much away. Go saunter through “Ice Haven,” and meet its denizens. In the words of Random “Not Thornton” Wilder, (the town’s bespectacled, self-proclaimed bard): “It’s not as cold as it sounds.”

RATING: COOL! Perhaps too brief for MASTERPIECE!!!

P. S.:

“While prose tends toward pure ‘interiority,’ coming to life in the reader’s mind, and cinema gravitates toward the ‘exteriority’ of experiential spectacle, perhaps ‘comics,’ in its embrace of both the interiority of the written word and the physicality of image, more closely replicates the true nature of human consciousness and the struggle between private self-definition and corporeal ‘reality.’ ”

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