Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
First Second, 2011
This nicely but simply packaged reissue of a comics classic sets expectations high with its cover, which touts the series of impressive awards (Eisner, Harvey, Ignatz) Kim won when the book was first printed. So one could easily be disappointed on discovering the low-key nature of the thing, in which little of great import happens. Mostly, it’s two Korean-American friends talking, which makes it sound like a hipper My Dinner with André. But just as Louis Malle’s film is unexpectedly involving, so, too, is Kim’s novel, in which the dialogue and every detail in the panels ring both truthful and carefully chosen. It’s hard to do small beautifully, but Same Difference is exactly that, a morsel the speedy reader can consume within half an hour but return to often. Yes, it addresses growing up, change, and man’s inhumanity to man, but the way its characters relate to and interact with one another show Kim’s light touch and gift for humor. Like the smartest entertainers, he leaves you wanting more. (HB)
Top Shelf, 2011
I thought Infinite Kung Fu referred to how long it would take to read this book. Don’t be afraid of its 450-plus pages, though. Kagan McLeod’s martial arts pastiche flies by as fast as the fists of the legendary Eight Immortals. Infinite Kung Fu is the gory tale of Lei Kung, a young soldier who becomes an Immortal’s student and leads the battle against legions of undead and a corrupt squadron of former students. Despite the subject matter McLeod mostly avoids an obvious manga style, with thick lines and copious shading lending a chunky and atmospheric feel to his fluid and surreal action. Beyond the fight scenes and Taoist trappings McLeod introduces a number of memorable characters, foremost being Moog Joogular, a P-Funk stand-in who studies kung fu to grow closer to the funk. Because that’s the same as chi, tao, and probably the Speed Force, too. McLeod’s canny pop-culture cocktail unites the absurd and kinetic violence of a kung fu film with the blood-drenched gristle of a zombie horror flick, resulting in bloody, fizzy fun. (GM)
Anyone looking for the next seizure-inducing Ameri-Manga hit probably already had Mark Andrew Smith on her radar. The Popgun editor and Amazing Joy Buzzards author has done an admirable job of mixing Asian comic ingredients like teenage melodrama, Wuxia showdowns and neon palettes with a Western mentality. His latest work, Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors, is no different. The titular school hosts students spawned from the universe’s most diabolical baddies, institutionalizing the next generation of evil. Most of the characters fall into the “good bad, not bad bad” mold, lampooning Silver Age villain archetypes. Smith’s characters are downright adorable, with vulnerable Mummy Girl and brash Kid Nefarious (aka bratty prepubescent Quasar) stealing the majority of the panels with their budding puppy love. But the Gladstone world also peddles deep into the cogs of the superhero status-quo, introducing a nifty perspective that gives its teen terrors a load of intriguing story potential. And as of now, that’s what elevates Gladstone above similar work. While Smith definitely has the talent to write the next Scott Pilgrim, his vision of youth anarchists tearing down their parents’ foundation rings with a perpetual relevance that could fuel this book for years. Though at this point, we’ll just have to wait and see if these bad seeds grow to their full potential. (SE)
Shimura Takako’s story of two adolescents—a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy—isn’t exactly fast-paced in terms of plot, but book 2 continues the excellent work of book 1 and raises the emotional stakes a bit. Shimura’s panel structure still comes with a little difficulty to the novice manga reader, although it’s hard to say how much of that is unfamiliarity with the form versus the author’s own quirkiness. Sometimes it seems like the equivalent of Jean-Luc Godard’s famous New Wave jump cuts, removing small elements that aren’t necessary in order to freshen up the presentation and make the audience pay attention. There’s not much backstory given at the beginning of this volume, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping straight in to #2, and, besides, there’s a slowly unfolding pleasure to Shimura’s story. Sensitive to the plight of young teenagers and potentially transgender youth alike, she’s managed to create a compelling story without including much that, considered in isolation, is particularly dramatic, which speaks to the realism of her efforts. (HB)