Action and adventure comes to the shores of Manga Island in the form of "East Coast Rising" from the West and "Kikkaider02" from the East. Full of all kinds of mayhem, adventure, and destruction, these books are well worth picking up to start the transition from spring reading to summer blockbuster time.
Becky Cloonan is known for her work on the comics "American Virgin, ""Demo," (nominated twice for an Eisner award!) and various other stories in anthologies such as "Flight." After reading "East Coast Rising," I understand why her legions of fans on the internet and abroad enjoy her work so much. "East Coast Rising" combines street smart (or should I say ship smart) gutter punks, pirates, and all manner of creatures into a story that flows effortlessly from page to page, with a visual style all her own.
As the name implies "East Coast Rising" takes place on the flooded stretches of the American East Coast, around New York and New Jersey. It's a strange new land of pirates and treasure hunters who share the waters with prehistoric and strange demonic beasts alike. Before you ask "Hey, didn't I see this in 'Waterworld,'" let me tell you, this is the kind of book that should be a blockbuster. I'll take an adventure full of tattooed punk pirates, turtle beasts, giant skull squids and the like over heroes with CG toupees and a cast of smoking rednecks fighting like they are on loan from a Sea World show gone awry any day. Becky Cloonan takes swashbuckling adventure and brings it to comics in a new and boldly contemporary way.
The crux of the story centers around the youth Archer who is left floating in the violent shore off the coast of Jersey. It seems that Lee and his crew will stop at nothing to get the map that Archer possesses. This map is rumored to lead them to the tomb of Venti, through the mazes of the flooded New York subway system, to what could be the greatest treasure or the most horrific monsters, or (more likely) both. Archer is rescued from certain death by sea turtle (or anklogame) by Cannonball Joe and the crew of Joe's ship La Revancha. The crew of La Revancha appears to be always at odds with the crew of the amphibious attack ship Hoboken and it's cool and marginally bishonen styled Lee, one of the most feared pirates on the Jersey shore. This rivalry is further fueled by the appearance of Archer and the map of Venti's tomb, leading to secret spy missions, high stakes battles on the high seas, and the introduction of some of the most interesting swashbucklers to sail the OEL seas. The crew of La Revancha is an interesting mix of the characters, like the mohawked Deathsnake, tempered by his young niece, El, the tough as nails fisherwoman, Abby, chef Drake, and rounded out by the likeable dreadlocked and peg-legged, Cannonball Joe. Action and adventure share equal time with some nice character moments as Archer tries to blend with the crew. This makes for a great intro book with some truly nice story touches. Becky Cloonan provides just enough information about the "East Coast Rising" world to explain what is need to know, but leaves just enough to the imagination to keep the reader wanting to know more.
Ms. Cloonan's expressive art style keeps the story going, with heavy brush and pen strokes and large tones. There is definitely a mix of manga and anime influence that people have come to expect from Tokyopop's OEL line, but the style is uncompromisingly hers. While some my find the malleability of her characters a bit odd, to me it shows a lot of expression and it compliments the flowing feel of the book quite well. The action scenes (and there are plenty) are dense with ink, explosions, and power with lots of detail throughout. She is never afraid to add some superdeformed cartoony moments to the comedy sections either, and they blend into the book nicely. Cloonan is a stickler for detail, as almost no building is left untouched by graffiti, almost no character without a tattoo of some kind, and no ship without guns and rigging galore. I found myself scrutinizing each page looking for a music or lyric reference in various signs and graffiti, and trying to decipher each characters tattoos in order to get into the story more. The way the art is handled, it is sure to inspire ink slingers of both the comic and tattoo artist variety.
Another welcome addition to the book is the production notes in the back. There are some interesting and hilarious comments on logos that didn't make the final book, as well as some nice factoids about the world and the characters contained within. These notes help to flesh out the book and are told with the same writing flair that propels the story dialog along as well. I hope that we see more of this kind of thing in other OEL books (and hopefully in more licensed books as well, lest Del Rey and Seven Seas corner the market on the back page omake sections).
At any given moment I am usually doing 2 or 3 things at a time, and this book made me want to throw "Pirates of the Caribbean", an Errol Flynn movie, or punk video, on the TV, crank Mastodon's "Leviathan" up on my stereo, and re-read it from cover to cover to burn it into my memory. It's an enjoyable romp that had me wanting more more more! Fans of pirates, gangs, monsters and mystery should add this to their summer reading list immediately!
If OEL and/or swashbuckling adventure aren't your cup of tea, there's always the robotic battles contained in "Kikaider Code 02" (Zero Two) from CMX. A retelling and reimagining of yet another Shotaro Ishinomori work (one of the godfathers of Henshin live action superhero shows, and many seminal manga works); "Kikaider02" is adapted by manga-ka Meimu, in conjunction with Ishinomori Productions. There have been several recent adaptations of Ishinomori's works over the past few years, from cool but sadly canceled "Cyborg 009" anime release from Pioneer, to the often obtuse but highly original "Skull Man" from Tokyopop (one of their original flagship titles, back when they produced monthly stapled comics), his works are an inspiration to generations of manga-ka. Although sales of old school manga are usually low, I have to give it up for those companies who are willing to take the risk on releasing these books.
The original "Kikaider" is an often violent and touching retelling of the story of Pinocchio, about a boy who becomes a violent robot, searching for the Gemini (a play on Jiminy Cricket) conscience circuit that will help to make him more human. This new version takes that premise and changes some of the characters around, updating the art and story to cater to teens of the present day. In this version, Mitsuko, the daughter of the famous robotics engineer Dr. Komyoji, gets an urgent message from her father (who disappeared a decade ago) to bring her estranged sister Hinano to the run down Komyoji mansion. Inside they find a dangerous assortment of experimental robots that threaten to kill them, along with a holographic message telling them to release the android Jiro to protect Hinano from the evil group D.A.R.K. Jiro is actually the not quite ready for activation Kikaider. As he transforms to Kikaider he shows his flawed, half good (blue side) and half evil (red and clear) sides. Luckily he has Mitsuko around to repair him when he is damaged (which seems to be often), and aid him in his quest to find the Gemini circuit before D.A.R.K. can get their hands on it.
The art in "Kikaider02" is solid and does a great job at blending classic Ishinomori character design with more modern designs. Manga-ka Meimu has a knack for drawing the insane battles prominent in the "Kikaider" series, which boast some really cool backgrounds and toning effects. The only drawback is that there doesn't seem to be a standard for translating the sound effects. For some reason, some effects are left untranslated and others are in English rendered to match the style of the original Japanese versions of the FX. I couldn't quite find a reason why some FX were translated and others weren't, making for some unevenness here and there.
Overall, I really dug "Kikaider 02" and I am anxious to read further volumes, especially with the promise of more regular "Kikaider" villains showing up. Hopefully remakes like this one will generate more interest in more Ishinomori works so fans can get more original manga and anime here in the US. Until then, "Kikaider 02" provides the robot fighting action perfect for great escapist fun.
From the brand new "East Coast Rising" to the previously released (with more on the way!) "Kikaider02," the manga keeps rolling onto the shores of Manga Island. I hope you'll keep joining me on the Island every other week, for even greater blockbuster reading. If these books are your cup of tea, I have to mention other ongoing series mentioned in previous columns, "Eden," "Berserk," and the wordy but always riveting "Death Note." I've been really enjoying subsequent volumes and they are well worth catching up on as we move into summer break and vacation time.
"East Coast Rising"
Volumes: 1 (of 3)
Rating: Teen 13+ for action violence
Volumes: 1 (of 6)
Rating: Mature (for Violence and Nudity, including an out of the blue shower sequence of the rather young Hinano,)
Links of interest:
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.