The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers (Jan. 17–31, 2013)

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers (Jan. 17–31, 2013)
Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 by
Our trade and hardcover reviews for the second half of January covers Yoshitaka Amano’s Deva Zan, Michel Gagné’s ZED: A Cosmic Tale, and the English language edition of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia. If you have difficulty finding any of these books, don’t forget that they can be back-ordered through your local comic book shop or purchased directly from any number of online retailers. Also, unless stated otherwise, all review copies have been provided by their respective publisher.

Dark Horse Books

Deva Zan

  • devazan1p0Story and art by: Yoshitaka Amano
  • Format: 300 pages, full color, hardcover illustrated novel
  • Sale date: 23 January 2013
  • List Price: $49.99
  • Description (from Darkhorse.com)In Japanese Buddhism, twelve generals—the Juni Jinsho—stood guard over the cosmos at the points of the zodiac. But now they have vanished, and nothing stands between us and the forces of darkness, except Deva Zan, a samurai without a memory. To restore order to existence, he must marshal not only his own fighting skill, but find companions that can cross the boundaries of time and space—to join him in a battle that will stretch from the fields of ancient Japan, to the streets of modern New York City—and to dimensions beyond human comprehension!
  • Read the nine-page preview here.

Yoshitaka Amano’s name might sound only vaguely familiar to Western comics readers, but his work as a character designer is firmly embedded in our collective pop culture consciousness: The 60 year-old, Shizuoka-born artist has had a prominent hand in the design of characters in many of the most enduring entertainment exports from Japan, including the Speed Racer TV series, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (known in North America and Europe as Battle of the Planets or as its later 1980s incarnation G-Force), Casshan, the Vampire Hunter D illustrated novels, and perhaps most famously among the relatively younger set, the first six entries in the Final Fantasy role-playing video game franchise.

Readers expecting Deva Zan to be a graphic novel should know that the work is an illustrated prose novel, much like Amano’s previous work for American publishers like 1999’s The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (with Neil Gaiman, for DC Comics/Vertigo) and 2002’s Elektra and Wolverine: The Redeemer (with Greg Rucka, for Marvel Comics). The narrative is an archetypal hero’s journey rooted in the mythology of the Jūni Shinshō, albeit one with a strong sci-fi bent. There is a folktale-like quality to the story’s language that works quite well with the themes and subject matter of the book, but I imagine that for the most part, readers will be much more invested in Deva Zan for Amano’s art than his writing.

Amano’s paintings for the book combine contemporary watercolors with traditional Japanese sumi-e ink wash tools and techniques and the results can be somewhat variable, but never uninteresting: The philosophy of sumi-e dictates a certain level of—for lack of a better term—controlled spontaneity that generally eschews preparatory sketches to firmly establish perspective, anatomy, and volumes. In the instances when he leans heavily on black ink washes, Amano’s Deva Zan work takes on an appearance more in line with popular expectations of Japanese ink wash painting:

 

devazan1p3-4

 

It is when he combines ink wash painting technique with watercolors however, that a more idiosyncratic aesthetic emerges, one that emphasizes bold color. energetic—almost wild—brushstrokes, and mood over strict representationalism:

devazan1p5-6

Amano’s finely-honed character design instincts are on display throughout the book. Protagonist Deva Zan and many of the book’s creatures have inherited certain features of the artist’s most popular Final Fantasy and illustrated novel creations, but distilled in a way that they are no less unique, as well as making for easy translation to multiple media formats as seen in this brief trailer of the currently in-production Deva Zan animated feature:

Despite the cachet Amano’s name and reputation brings to the project however, the somewhat esoteric grounding of the story and the quasi-Fauvist composition of many of the paintings will likely limit the immediate appeal of Deva Zan to those readers primarily interested in Amano’s distinct painting style, as opposed to fans of his character design work, although there probably is a significant overlap between the two audiences.

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

  • Hyrulehistoriap0Editor (English edition): Patrick Thorpe
  • Lead designer (English edition): Cary Grazzini
  • Translation coordinator (English edition): Michael Gombos
  • Introduction by: Shigeru Miyamoto
  • Exclusive comic written and illustrated by: Akira Himekawa
  • Format: 276 pages, full color, hardcover art book with bonus comic
  • Sale date: 29 January 2013
  • List Price: $34.99
  • Description (from DarkHorse.com): Dark Horse Books and Nintendo bring you The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, containing an unparalleled collection of historical information on The Legend of Zelda franchise. This handsome hardcover contains never-before-seen concept art, the full history of Hyrule, the official chronology of the games, and much more! Starting with an insightful introduction by the legendary producer and video-game designer of Donkey Kong, Mario, and The Legend of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto, this book is crammed full of information about the storied history of Link’s adventures from the creators themselves! As a bonus, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia includes an exclusive comic by the foremost creator of The Legend of Zelda manga—Akira Himekawa!
  • Read the nine-page preview and watch the video trailer here.

First, a little disclaimer: I haven’t played a Legend of Zelda game in almost twenty years—the last entry in the long-running video game franchise that I actually played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System—so I’m not the most qualified person to review this particular title, since it was originally released in Japan last year as a belated part of the franchise’s 25th anniversary celebration and a companion volume to the 2011 chart-topping video game bestseller The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, released for the Nintendo Wii.

Hyrulehistoriap2

Zelda is the girl.

All that being said, my unfamiliarity with the more recent character designs did little to diminish my enjoyment of the book, as much of the concept art in the book are elaborations of characters featured prominently in the earliest Legend of Zelda games, seeing as how The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a “chapter zero” prequel to all the games that came before it. Players of the current Legend of Zelda games will obviously find much to enjoy here—in-game secrets and anecdotes from individual members of the Skyward Sword design and development team are littered throughout the volume—and this is almost an automatic purchase for the serious Nintendo fan. But even those only marginally familiar with the video game and the property should appreciate the detailed, insightful, behind-the-scenes look at the processes of character, environment, and prop design, world-building, and interactive storytelling. The book is surprisingly instructive, and offers to the student of interactive digital arts extensive and diverse examples of thematically-tied concepts and working designs that have proven to be consistently successful in the rarefied intersection of art, digital craft, interactivity, and commerce—a feature more outwardly educational and academic tomes occasionally lack.

The book also includes a 31-page exclusive The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword comic from Akira Himekawa (the joint pen name of the long-time Legend of Zelda manga creative team of A. Honda and S. Nagano) which, as far as I can tell, summarizes key story events early in the video game’s narrative. It’s quite the entertaining read that I found quite accessible despite my never having played the game it is based on, but it is the rest of the book that should prove to be the real draw for potential readers.

Image Comics

ZED: A Cosmic Tale

  • zedStory and art by: Michel Gagné
  • Format: 280 pages, black & white, trade paperback
  • Sale date: 30 January 2013
  • List Price: $19.99
  • Description (from ImageComics.com)When a cute little alien named ZED demonstrates his invention to the Hierarchy of the Galaxy, something goes wrong – terribly wrong! Before long, ZED’s universe is thrown into complete turmoil and our little hero must face nearly insurmountable odds trying to survive and save the very fate of his home world. Imbued with a dark edge, peppered with pure silliness, and wrapped up in a childlike sense of wonder, ZED’s adventures will keep readers tickled and captivated from start to finish. Originally published in comic book form over a period of eleven years, ZED has been completely revised and remastered for this definitive edition.
  • Check out the eight-page preview here.

There is the potential for a genuinely transgressive work in ZED: A Cosmic Tale, the latest comics project by Annie Award-nominated animator and independent video game developer Michel Gagné. At first glance, the combination of highly-stylized, cute character designs and a dark plot promises the kind of intrigue and refreshing upending of conventions of the type seen in media like Chuck Jones’ Martian through Georgia and the underrated Wizards by Ralph Bakshi.

sad_zed

Unfortunately, a penchant for ridiculously expository dialogue, odd pacing, one-dimensional characterization, and an ultimately platitudinous and sapless narrative prevents ZED from fulfilling that potential. Characters spend a whole lot of time explaining to each other what they are doing even as they are doing them and the plot progresses through clunky and ill-timed infodumps, robbing the story of momentum or any sense of psychological believability and naturalistic character interaction.

angry_zed

Worth noting too, is the fact that apart from the tragedy that opens the book, one never gets a real sense of danger or consequence in the conflict that is central to the book’s space opera-styled proceedings. While the protagonist’s preordained triumph over adversity is never really in doubt in most popular entertainment, that quality is especially telegraphed in the writing such that even the merest illusion of tension cannot be sustained through the book’s reading.

Gagné’s art, on the other hand, serves the book quite well. The artfully spare but functional linework is elevated by terrific grayscaling and as mentioned earlier, the character designs are cute and quite appealing. The storytelling is up to the task in situations that call for dynamism but these instances are too often bookended by unimaginative and drawn-out talking head sequences spawned by the leaden script and plodding pace.

The marketing copy states that the book took eleven years to complete. Given that Gagné already spent that long working on the title, it probably wouldn’t have hurt things in terms of the larger picture if some more time had been spent tightening up the narrative and polishing the script with the help of an experienced editor and/or co-writer. As it currently stands however, the only thing that (weakly) recommends ZED: A Cosmic Tale is the fact that it is a technically competent vanity publishing endeavor by an accomplished, multi-talented member of the professional animation community.

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