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Manuelito Review

Before I start, I just want to say that I will try my best to keep the politics to a minimum and focus more on the graphic novel as a whole. Immigration in the United States is a super complicated topic that I will not get into on this blog. This is a review blog and, while I do review things that have political leanings in them, I do my best to avoid putting my political views into them and just review the story and, in this case, the artwork.

With that, if you haven’t been living under a rock these past three years, immigration and the Mexico/America border is a hot topic. While the only viewpoints we see are from politicians, Americans and the news media, we never hear from the actual immigrants. Comic book writer Elisa Amado decided to change that with Manuelito with illustrator Abraham Urias.

The story is about a young boy named Manuelito who lives in a small village in Guatemala. Things have gotten extremely dangerous in the village due to the influx of gangs and soldiers making life hard for everyone that his parents decided to hire a coyote (a man who helps people cross the border illegally) to take him to live with his aunt in the US.

How accurate the journey in this book is is unknown, but the only peril shown in this comic are the soldiers, gangs and the coyote who everyone says is dangerous. While that sounds interesting, the tension is about as thin as the paper this comic is drawn on. Manuelito even has a cell phone THAT HE KEEPS WITH HIM THROUGHOUT THE STORY! There are some tense moments that stop being tense on the next page or so.

There is only one major negative that happens on the journey, but it’s to his friend Coco Loco.

The only great thing with the story is the writing. Amado does a fine job of letting the leader see into the mind of Manuelito and how he’s feeling in a certain situation. There isn’t much of it though.

The artwork is all pencil illustrations. They’re nice drawings that do manage to tell a sequential story. Many may not like this style, but for a story like this, you really don’t need anything spectacular.

While Manuelito does have good writing, the story is OK and the ending is but predictable. This is obviously just a way to tell a point, which it does a fine job of, but as a comic it’s mediocre. The pencil illustrations are great, though so kudos to Urias.

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Kindred (Comic) Review

What some of you may not know, I and an associate have been doing a panel called Comics: An Underappreciated Form of Literature for the past two years at Boroughcon (new, super small con in New York City.) We’ll be doing it again this year at Xavier High School Comic Con on May 11 (time TBA) so come on by.

The reason I brought up the panel is that last year my associate decided to add a new comic: Kindred, the comic adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel. Problem is, I never read Kindred in any of its forms so she had to all the talking. This year I decided to just read the damn thing to give my two cents.

For those who’ve never read it, Kindred is about Dana, a young black woman living in 1970’s California who mysteriously gets sent back to 1815 Maryland. Here she meets (and saves the life of) Rufus, the son of a plantation owner who apparently has the power to bring Dana back in time whenever he needs her. Without having a clue as to how to go back and forth through time, Dana must now live like a slave in 1819 Maryland.

Yes, this is one of those books where people are sent back in time where they just might die if they do something wrong. The only thing here is that it’s practically guaranteed that Dana will get beaten (which she does) and even die. On top of that, she has ZERO rights and people WILL be her if she looks at them wrong. Butler does a nice job of making Dana, not a complete idiot and actually competent enough to live “normally” in that era.

The thing that ground my gears about this book is Rufus. He’s a whiny spoiled little shit who Dana has to suffer under because he’s the only one with the power to send her back. Butler does a great at making the reader want to whip that brat.

Also, besides the two beatings, she does have it a little easier than the other slaves on the plantation, mainly due to her “not sounding like a nigger” and can read well.

How does the comic adaptation do in terms of telling the story? It does it pretty well. Unlike in novel form, we do get to see Rufus’s face and reactions when he’s acting like a spoiled little shit, the pain on the characters’ faces whenever something bad happens to them and actually seeing Dana getting whipped is a lot more powerful. In our panel, we show a panel that has the right half of Dana’s face and the left half of Rufus’s face together. This is in the climax of the story that basically shows the conflict between these two very different people and it is pretty impactful.

So now that I have read it, all it did was give me more ammunition for me and my associate’s argument that comics can be literature and should be held at that standard. Call me a snob if you want, but I feel that comics have a place and they can be and are so much than what the masses view it as.

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My Take on Stan Lee

I know I’m late for this, but life happens.

So, Stan Lee, one of the greatest if not THE greatest comic creator ever, has died. Now, I’m not going to reminisce about how great a person Stan Lee was because I never knew the guy personally. I wanted to meet him at a convention but never got the chance. Instead, I’m going to talk about how his work influenced an industry and in some ways me.

I understand how this subject has been touched on many times, but once you think about it, WHAT did Lee do to influence and for some say change the comics industry? Simple, he made characters that were human. Think about this for a minute: Before X-Men, Spider-Man and anything Lee made, comic characters were, well, characters. Their personalities were dependent on what their title was. There really was no complexity to any of the characters. Hell, Superman was just some super strong alien who punched people and smiled a lot. And played baseball. Yes, that actually happened.

So Stan Lee decided “hey, let’s give characters some kind of scope and depth.” Thus, X-men was made. Let’s not forget Spider-man, Blade, Black Panther and The Punisher. Yes, these are superheroes, but they all have realistic “in a way,” shortcomings and weaknesses that aren’t some space rock. Hell, Spiderman’s weakness is that being Peter Parker sucks. Spider-man=fame, fighting bad guys and hanging out with Iron Man. Peter Parker=dead uncle, dead-end job and dead girlfriends.

This guy has influenced guys like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and way too many indie comic artists to name. This guy said you can make a superhero that has real-world problems and still fight baddies, why? Because that’s what real-superheroes would be like. Yes, people have taken it a bit too far and just create characters that are nothing more than Watchmen ripoffs times 10 or Frank “Sex Sells” Miller clones.

As for me, well, I’m going to be real with you and say not much. I was never really a fan of Marvel/DC but I have seen the 90s X-Men cartoon, Spider-man carton and the Marvel movies. I’m more of a manga guy and whatever American comics I do read come mainly from Dark Horse.

However, I can see the influence in the comics I do read and they do form in my mind that comics are literature and that Lee has had a major hand in it. Granted, I’m not that saddened by his death because I’m not a Marvel/DC fan, but I do know what his work has done for the industry and how well respected he is.

So, Rest in Peace Stan Lee and Excelsior. Your many contributions and cameos will never be forgotten and there probably never will be another comic creator like you.



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Something Wicked This Way Comes (comic) Review

Time to sound like a broken record: I tried to like this. Yes, I tried to read the novel, failed and now I read the comic and even failed at that. Let’s just get on with it.

Two friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, decide to go to an amusement park that has just arrived in their town. This amusement park is operated by Cooger and Dark, two figures who, as our leads find out, are much scarier and have some grim ideas for their park.

Yes, this is the origin of all those scary amusement park stories that ever came out. Hell, this is a brilliant set up and a lot can happen. The only problem is this book is boring. Ray Bradbury was a talented writer and was able to write some excellent books. This is, sadly one of his stinkers. Both the book and the comic bored me because not much of interest happens. Yes, there are some moments and some truly disturbing imagery, but most of the book is about Will and his dad. While there’s nothing wrong with that sort of story, the main point of this story is that there’s an evil park run by evil dudes and I want to be scared dammit.

As far as scared, the only scary bits are what the characters look like and act. They don’t really do anything scary.  It may be more of a psychological terror, but even that doesn’t work.

The idea of an evil carnival/amusement park is scary because this is something many kids look forward to when summer comes. If there is some kind of danger, such as “you’re literally going to die,” it will scare kids and is something some parents have a fear of. People have died on rides, you know. Hell, freak shows scare some people because they’re afraid of the acts attacking them. Bradbury had that chance here, and while he did something with it, all came across as weak.

Ron Wimberly did the art for the comic adaptation. It does bring out the creepiness of the situation and the black and white works a lot better than if it were in color. The character designs, on the other hand, aren’t anything spectacular. They look like an average Saturday morning cartoon, making this look more like a Goosebumps comic than something Bradbury would write.

Something Wicked This Way Comes has a great setup and is the originator of said setup, but the overall story is dull and not scary in the least. The art in the comic version has some nice things but also doesn’t quite mesh well.

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Let’s Talk About The Killing Joke

I have no shame in stuff like this.

As many of you have hear, there is an animated version of The Killing Joke coming out this September. It’s about now a good time for me to talk about it. I remember reading this comic a few years ago and being underwhelmed by it. Yes, I did not like it when I read it a few years ago. With the movie announcement I, decided to give this comic a second chance. After reading it, I have a new found respect for it.

For those who don’t know, The Killing Joke is a Batman comic written by famed comic book writer Alan Moore. It’s about The Joker escaping Arkham Asylum and Batman is looking for him. Along the way, The Joker buys an abandoned amusement park, shoots Barbera Gordon and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon.

Only Alan Moore can make this plot work. You see, something like this needs that special kind of fucked up, and who better than a guy who looks like this to write it. That special kind of fucked up includes shooting, paralyzing and taking nude pictures of Barbera Gordon and an entire song about the joys of being crazy. The joy of reading this is is that it is not the typical Batman story. It’s more like a trip into someone’s messed up mind.

Ehn I first read it, I thought the ending was lame. Now that I have re-read it, it’s brilliant in a way. I can’t say what happens because it will be a spoiler, but if you pay attention you’ll understand why. It’s also open-ended, which sometimes sucks but this time, it’s pretty awesome. That is until DC fixed all that.

Speaking of DC fixing stuff, DC is now retconning Barbera being paralyzed. That is really, really stupid in my opinion. Also, one of the biggest reasons this comic had such an impact of Batman is because of Barbera getting paralyzed. That’s it. Not about The Joker finally having something resembling a background, not what happens in the ending. NO! Barbera getting paralyzed is a big deal.

The art is done by Brian Bolland. As with the story, the art is one of the reasons this comic has stood the test of time. The best parts are that whenever something is supposed to be demented, it looks demented. Just look at the most famous panel. That alone is iconic.

Will I be seeing the movie? Of course. The thing is, it is possible to mess this up because some of the imagery and scenes may be watered down. Also, Alan Moore REALLY hates every adaptation of his work.

With that, read The Killing Joke before the movie comes out. It has a great story, fucked up everything and great art. If the movie sucks, go to Alan Moore and tell him that you’re going to boycott any further adaptations of his works. He’ll probably thank you.

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Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood Review

Yup, another comic review. This one’s a little personal. As with almost all the books I read, I found this while perusing my local library’s shelves. See, libraries are still useful. This comic is called Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood by Martin Lemelman.

The reason I picked up this book is because, like Martin, I was born in Brooklyn to foreign parents and the Brooklyn I grew up in changed drastically. This comic is Lemelman’s memoir of growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with his Holocaust-surviving Jewish-Polish parents and his brother. Here he describes incidents that happened to his family, his dad’s candy store and how his neighborhood changed.

To many who read this, this is just the typical story of a first generation American growing up in America. To others, this is all too familiar. I may not be Jewish (I’m Italian,) but Lemelman’s life is all too familiar for me. Immigrant parents who gave up lots to start a better life in a  foreign land in a neighborhood with people like them. Then, it all changed. Lemelman even said at the end of the comic, “I stopped. I looked. I drove away.”

This is an all too familiar feeling for many people who grew up in Brooklyn. What they remember is now long gone. It’s pretty sad. Many of these people have moved away to New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island, Upstate New York or, like Lemelman, Pennsylvania. Even many of his more private moments will ring true to a lot of people.

That’s why this comic is so powerful. Many people will see themselves in  Lemelman and maybe even shed a tear.

The artwork is black and white pencil drawings with some real life objects and photographs superimposed in them. This is one instance where flashy art is unneeded. This simple art style is effective in what it’s trying to do because this really is a simple life. It actually feels more lifelike this way.

Two Cents Plain is an astounding comic that hits home to many people, especially former Brooklynites. It’s well told and will cause many people to bring back some fond memories and even a tear or two. This one did it to me even though I never left Brooklyn.



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Another (manga) Review

It’s pretty inevitable that if you write a young adult novel in Japan it will be made into a manga and then an anime. Thus is the case with Yukito Ayatsuji’s Another. Hell, there’s even a live action movie version of it. This time we’ll be looking at the manga since I already touched upon the novel here.

As with any adaptation the adapter needs to know what to keep and what to leave out/change. Artist Hiro Kiyohara actually manages to keep 95% of the original story. Since this is a manga that’s fine. A smart thing he did was to not include the many pages of narration from the book since manga and novel are two different mediums (something some comic writers fail to take into account.)

The changes that were made in the manga version are the inclusion of Izumi Akazawa’s story. While Akazawa was a side character in the novel, here we delve deeper into  the character and how she feels. This is actually pretty interesting in that we get to see the emotions and reactions from other characters. Since the novel is written in the first person this tactic would not make sense (even though the interludes in the book were third person which I felt were pretty weak.)

Here’s a good question, though: Why Akazawa?  For starters she does eventually become the class leader for the girls and two people she was close to do die. Also, the personality we’re shown is different than what she’s really like. If there is to be a spinoff of Another then she would be one of the likely candidates (Mei being the first.)

Another thing that changed (though slightly) is the ending. Two characters are omitted entirely in order to continue developing Akazawa’s arc. In a way this does not make much sense, but in another it’s probably for the best since these two characters seemed like Ayatsuji came up with them at the last second.

The art is pretty phenomenal. This manga shows that manga art can be subtle, nuanced and break boundaries. The characters are drawn pretty well and the background art is nice to look at. One thing that may go unnoticed to some is the symbolism in certain scenes. Hell, Mei’s eye patch is symbolic the characters only seeing half of what’s really there. The only time we find out who the casualty is is when Mei takes off the thing. Wrap your brains around that.

So as not to write another post about this title, I’ll come out with my feelings on the anime. It’s OK all around.The acting, the art even the added scenes (the beach episode) were nice. It was what drew me to read the novel so that’s a start. While it is a good place to start, I don’t really think it holds a candle to the novel or manga. For starters the death scenes are pretty drawn out and overly dramatic. The final episode writes a brand new ending where the characters flip out and attack each other. Again, the novel/manga versions did it much better. This is because this is just way too over the top and the deaths that happen just don’t make any sense.

So, if you’re a fan of the anime or the novel the manga version will not disappoint. It’s the closest thing to the novel, the added scenes with Akazawa are pretty nice and the art is phenomenal.




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Let’s Talk About V for Vendetta

My fellow Americans,

Today we have voted in a very democratic election that would greatly alter this country’s future. Now, look at the date. Today’s the 4th and tomorrow’s the fifth, right? You know what means, right? No? Well, let me remind you:

“Remember remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should ever be forgot”

That’s right, Guy Fawkes Day is the day after our election day. From democracy to anarchy, huh? And there’s no safer and legal way to celebrate that day than to read or watch V for Vendetta.

When people try to tell the plot of this story they always start with V or Evey. I say the real protagonist here is London. Now wait a second and just listen to me for a few minutes. Right, look at the story, especially the comic version (preferably, by the way.) We don’t follow just one character, we follow multiple characters. V, Evey and the people who work for the government. So the story is not about one person, but many. Also, all their decisions impact what happens to London. So, in a way, this is a story about how badly can we destroy London.

We also need to take a look at V’s famous television speech. He is pretty much daring London to destroy itself. He wants anarchy, rioting in the streets. Pretty that entire Sex Pistols song come to life. V even destroys a statue of Madam Justice in the comic. Of course, that can be interpreted as there is no longer justice in the, so destroying justice is no big deal.

What makes the comic a beloved masterpiece is that is that this can take place in any time period and the events can ring true. In fact, this story can take place in any country and it can ring true. Alan Moore was showing what he feared London was becoming, but plenty of Americans can say they see America becoming like this. I can even name some Italians I know who think Italy is becoming like this.

The characters are also very identifiable. There’s V who represents the anti-government anarchist, Evey who represents the lost soul who turns to the extremist for guidance, the widow who gets screwed by the government and people who are in power who are only looking for ways to screw everybody and make themselves the top dog. If you don’t relate to any of these characters you, sir/madam/ are living in the perfect society.

Of course, Guy Fawkes Day can just be an excuse to blow shit up and that V for Vendetta is a non-traditional comic that non-comic readers like because it doesn’t read like a regular comic. Whichever you believe, Happy Guy Fawkes Day, all.



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Let’s Talk About Manga

Ah, manga. Or Japanese comics or whatever you want to call them. Love them or hate them, they have taken the West by storm in the late nineties and there seems like there’s no stopping them.

This just begs one question: Why do so many people love manga? Most people will dismiss manga as just some fad Japanophiles (or “weeaboos” as some people call them) love because it’s Japanese. Let’s look at this medium into some detail.

First off, no, manga is not superior to western comics and vice versa. Both are pretty much the same thing: Low-brow entertainment for teenagers. Both share the same type tropes, genres and styles. Both have superhero stories (trust me, Goku and Naruto do qualify and superheros,) horror, girly stories (even though the West mostly has Archie while Japan has, like, a million others) and other genres.

So, what’s so different about manga? The best answer I see is that manga is basically the same stories found in Western comics but with an Eastern feel. You see, Japanese culture has its ideas of how to tell a story and what society is which does come out in plenty of manga. Some people find this fascinating.

Other reasons can be is that manga has more genres that Western comics sorely lack. There’s a lot more slice of life, romance, children and, let’s face it, balls to the walls weird stuff than what we see come out on this side of the Pacific. Please, name me one Western comic about high school kids being high school kids and name me one Female hero that’s not essentially a sidekick for a male hero? (Sorry, Wonder Woman is only famous because of Superman and Red Sonja is relatively unknown.)

One other reason can be because we as a species love, and I mean LOVE, serials. Your average Western comic runs for about seven issues while a manga runs for about four-hundred. Many have a lot more than and are still going. Some people do tire of these series, but many, MANY people continue reading them.

I know what many of you are thinking, “why would anyone want to read the same story that goes on for twenty years?” Does your mom watch soup operas? Yes? How long have Days of Our Lives and General Hospital been on the air? About forty years? and your man has been watching them for twenty years? It’s the same with manga. Many people fall in love with certain characters that they are hell bent to continue reading about them for the rest of their lives. Do you know how many people cry because a thirty chapter ended and they want to see another three-hundred chapters? They’re out there. They’re willing to stick with a certain story for fifty years and they just don’t care.

In the end, manga is just another entertainment medium that a ton of people love. Many people may love it too much, but that’s with every fandom. This may not be your cup of tea and I won’t bash you for it. You like Game of Thrones or Marvel comics, fine. I love manga and will do it for a while now. It fills a need for many non-Japanese and it will continue doing so for a while now.





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Cirque du Freak Manga

As with  many things that gain some type of popularity, Cirque du Freak has had a comic based off of it. More specifically, a manga by  Takahiro Arai.  After spending some time with it, I can safely say Arai has done a decent job with it.

As with making anything into a comic, there’ the whole “does this character look like how I imagined him/her to be?” The thing is Darren doesn’t have that much of a description. He is essentially described as any normal teenager. You can’t blame Arai for that. What you can blame him is giving Steve white hair. On top of that, Mr. Crepsley and the other vampires have this weird skin tone. It’s sort of silvery and unnatural. They are supposed to look like normal humans and not stand out at all except if they’re the Vampaneze.

Beyond that, the art is above average manga fare. He manages to make every scene as close to the novels and possible and he does a good job of it. He doesn’t take any advantages except to make the scene work in a comic setting. Remember, what works in a novel does not necessarily work in a comic.

You can chock this up to Arai being a huge fan of the novels. He even says to himself and that’s the only reason he made the manga in the first place.

For the people who complain that it looks way too much like a typical shonen manga, remember that the series is YA and thus the manga will be shonen. There’s nothing wrong with shonen at all if the series is well written and has nice art. Look at One Piece of Attack on Titan (even though AoT’s art is pretty bad, the story is still top notch.) Also, just like the novels, it’s lots of fun so there really is no need to expect Dickens or Shakespeare here. Hell, even Shakespeare wrote for the audience of the day. He had no intention of being “literary.”

One thing that the manga does better than the novels is pacing. The pacing seems much better written and it keeps your attention better than the novels. It’s either because manga tends to be father paced or Arai is better at pacing than Shan.

In all, if you’re a fan of the Cirque du Freak series, the manga is a nice addition to your fandom. Just get used to the shonen style and it’ll be enjoyable.






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