The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 230 | The Books of Summer: A Bride’s Story, Appleseed, Economix, and more

Leaving Proof 230 | The Books of Summer: A Bride’s Story, Appleseed, Economix, and more
Published on Friday, June 27, 2014 by
After a brief break, Leaving Proof makes its return with a summer reading list featuring Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story and four other titles. ALSO: We talk about the surprisingly watchable RoboCop remake.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (HarperCollins)

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (HarperCollins)

Some five or six years ago, I started to make a habit of assigning myself a comics-themed reading list at the start of each summer. Some of the titles that make the list are books that anyone who fancies him or herself to be an aficionado of comics and sequential art should read at least once for the sheer instructive value—stuff like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, for instance—while others are classics of the medium that I missed reading in my youth for any number of reasons such as Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit. And still other titles that make the list are contemporary comics that I’m curious about but haven’t previously committed to seeking out—in 2012, for instance, I finally got around to reading Darwyn Cooke’s excellent, Eisner Award-winning graphic novel adaptation of Donald Westlake’s The Hunter, some three years after it was first published by IDW.

I don’t always make my way through the entire list—there are so many comics to read, and there’s so little time—but the experience of trying to make it through is always an edifying one, especially when I tackle works that aren’t in my favored genres (crime, science-fiction, military/espionage, and historical action-adventure) or I try to get into a creator whose style represents a departure from my usual preferences.

The task of tracking down the titles on my list has become easier in recent years, too. Thanks to forward-thinking and open-minded librarians, the local library system now has a fairly diverse graphic novel collection—I never thought we’d ever get to the point where the municipal library has an almost complete collection of Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal—and as much as I like to rail in this space against DRM and the business practices of certain e-tailers, I will admit that companies like comiXology and Amazon.com provide a convenient way to track down and read titles that may be difficult to find locally.

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A Bride’s Story, Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

Anyway, I thought I’d share in today’s column my initial thoughts on the first title on my Summer 2014 reading list, A Bride’s Story, Vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori (published in English by Yen Press), a manga about the life of a young bride in 19th century Turkic Central Asia caught in a dispute between her old village and the village of her husband.

It’s an absolute shame that the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Yen Press parent company Hachette is making it more difficult for readers to get discounted copies of this title, because more people need to pick up A Bride’s Story (a.k.a. Otoyomegatari). Don’t let the description that it’s a “historical romance manga” turn you off it, because there’s a lot more than that going on in the book. There’s socio-political intrigue, there’s some understated slice-of-life style humor, and there’s even a hefty helping of action sequences, and of course, there’s Mori’s breathtaking art. The amount of work that goes into illustrating the period-accurate costumes, props, and architecture in A Bride’s Story has to be seen to be believed, and yet all that detail doesn’t weigh down the panel composition and visual storytelling. Mori’s figures look dynamic and the backgrounds have a real sense of depth to them.

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Kaoru Mori’s art on A Bride’s Story is incredibly detailed and meticulously researched.

I started reading A Bride’s Story, Vol. 1 late last night thinking that I’d peruse it in daily 15 to 20-page increments but before I knew it, I’d already read through the first chapter and was well into the second, and I’d somehow spent almost two hours just poring over the art in the first two chapters. It’s really, really engrossing stuff. What strikes me as really quite interesting about all of this is that prior to starting to read A Bride’s Story, I’d never actually spent much time thinking about the history and culture of 19th century Turkic Central Asia. But now, I find myself voluntarily jumping into a “wiki-wormhole” and reading up on the region.

The local library system only has the first volume of the series in its collection—Yen Press has published six English-language volumes thus far—but I’m hoping that subsequent volumes will become available before the summer is out.

Here are the rest of the titles I have lined up in my Summer 2014 reading list, for those of you who want to play along at home (note that publisher-supplied comics and graphic novels I’ve been scheduled to officially review for the Geeksverse over the next couple of months are not included in the list):

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Appleseed, Vol. 1: The Promethean Challenge (Dark Horse Manga)

Appleseed, Vol. 1–4 by Masamune Shirow (Dark Horse Manga): I actually read a few issues of the English-language edition of Appleseed back when it was being published by the now-defunct Eclipse Comics in the late 1980s, but for some reason, I never got around to continuing to read the title after the license moved to Dark Horse. Appleseed, in my mind, is just as influential as Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell in terms of how it has informed the visual design of science-fiction comics, animation, and video games of the past 20 years, so it will be interesting to see how the source material holds up after all these years.

Economix

Economix: How our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures (Abrams ComicArts)

Economix: How our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr (Abrams ComicArts): I firmly believe that comics and graphic novels, because of the way they combine text and sequential art, are an ideal medium for instruction, particularly when dealing with complex subject material or concepts that require a high degree of visualization. (This belief comes from personal experience: The only way I was able to finish reading the José Rizal novel Noli Me Tángere for my Filipino class in my junior year of high school was by “cheating” and reading the komiks version!) I can’t wait to see how Goodwin and Burr leverage the format’s strengths to explain the ins and outs of the modern American economy.

LoEGv1

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 (DC/Vertigo)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1–2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (DC/Vertigo): Yes, yes, I know. I’m a bad comics fan for not having read this yet. Like Appleseed above, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a title I began reading in its original incarnation (back in the late 1990s, when it was being published as a monthly serial comic under DC/Wildstorm’s now-retired America’s Best Comics imprint) but eventually stopped following for some reason, likely having to do with a lack of funds. I’d always planned on eventually getting back into the series again but could just never find the time. That hopefully changes this summer.

shamanwarriorvol1

Shaman Warrior, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Manhwa)

Shaman Warrior, Vol. 1 by Park Joong-Ki (Dark Horse Manhwa): This introductory volume to the sword-and-sorcery series was the first US-published work from the creator of Over Bleed and The Arms Peddler. I don’t know much about manhwa (Korean comics)—I’ve only read the occasional stray trade paperbacks of Yun Mi-kyung’s Bride of the Water God (Dark Horse Manhwa) and Park So-hee’s Goong (Yen Press) and they weren’t really working for me, style-wise—but this seems like as good a starting point as any, given that a lot of the reviews I’ve read online compare it with Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, which is a personal favorite of mine.

On the RoboCop remake

Robocop_2014_posterLike a lot of fans of the original 1987 RoboCop movie, I was skeptical when I first heard that a remake directed by Jose Padilha (Elite Squad, Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within) and starring Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Easy Money) was in the works, having seen one failed attempt after another by major film studios to cash in on nostalgia with poorly-received remakes of fan-favorite 1980s films like Clash of the Titans, Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn, The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, among others.

Early footage didn’t exactly fill me with anticipation. Why does RoboCop have one exposed hand? Will the film have a villain anywhere near as funny and interesting to root against as Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker from the original film? Where was the self-awareness and satire of the original? When I heard that the film was scheduled for a February premiere in North America—the month film distributors jokingly refer to as “Dumpuary” because that’s when studios traditionally launch films whose box-office prospects they don’t feel too confident about—I made up my mind to steer clear of it and just wait for it to hit Netflix or some other platform. I also passed on reviewing the four tie-in comics that were to be published by BOOM! Studios to coincide with the film’s North American release.

My brother was more optimistic about the film, however, and bought the Blu-Ray of the RoboCop remake the week it went on sale earlier this month, and after a couple of weeks, I finally ran out of excuses (I really didn’t want to waste two hours watching a film that I was convinced I would not like) and ended up watching it with him last weekend.

Boy, did I have the movie pegged wrong.

Let’s get this out of the way first: It’s not as entertaining as the original—it’s nowhere near as funny and the action quotient really suffers because the producers decided to go for a PG-13 rating in the hopes of goosing ticket sales (the original film had an R rating)—but I will say that it has a reasonably smart screenplay, despite some glaring plot holes.

I liked that the screenwriters didn’t just go the obvious route and recreate the original (not that it would have been easy to recapture the spirit of Paul Verhoeven’s breakout work). Padilha’s film tackles contemporary issues like the ethics of drone warfare, public surveillance, and life-extending medical procedures and it shares with the original film its criticism of corrupt corporate culture as well as jabs at the marketing-driven mindset and empty consumerism. I did miss the delightfully cheeky and hilariously satirical bent of the original, though—one could say Padilha’s movie suffers from a bit of “post-Chris Nolan depression” and it could have greatly benefited from an infusion of fun and self-awareness.

The film does attempt to be subtly clever in parts. The example that readily comes to mind is the fact that Gary Oldman’s character was named “Dr. Dennett Norton,” a clear conflation of the names of the influential American philosophers Dan Dennett and David Norton. While I’m not 100% certain, it seems like Gary Oldman’s introductory dialogue contained bits adapted from Dennett’s landmark essay “Where Am I?”, and a big through line in the film is the theme of free will and autonomy within a structured society, subjects both Dennett and the late Norton have lectured and written about extensively.

The RoboCop remake has its flaws—it’s excessively subdued for an action film, I find—but it’s a film that I can respect on the basis of its craft, and one I was able to enjoy on its own terms. Now that I’ve seen it, in the coming weeks, I hope to have a review of the recently-released RoboCop: The Human Element, which collects the four BOOM! Studios RoboCop one-shots I skipped reading all four months ago.

Digressions

• Don’t forget that the Kickstarter campaign for Where is Home?, a 60-page, full-color comics anthology created by an international collective of animators and illustrators led by Valerie Stefaniuk is still on-going. With 12 days remaining in the funding period, Where is Home? still needs a little over $1000 to become a reality. Check out the Kickstarter project’s fundraising campaign video below, and click here to learn more about the book and the rewards for backers and pledge your support for the project.

• Is there a better record to work out to than The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole? Maybe, but with its driving, aggressive rhythms and steady tempo—the album averages a BPM of about 122 (the tracks “Dig Your Own Hole” and “Setting Sun” top out at 135 BPM)—it’s become my go-to listen when doing speedwork and interval training.

• I finally finished watching the final season of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood earlier this week. What a great series.

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