Arts Desk

International Ink: Brody’s Ghost, Wolverine, Usagi Yojimbo

darA summer cold derailed my plans for a column last week, so this week's is jam-packed.To keep things organized, we'll go in order of maturity—as much as one can when speaking of comic books, of course.

Wolverine: Worst Day Ever by Barry Lyga (Marvel, $14.99) is an illustrated novel from the publisher's "kids" line backed with three comic-book reprints of Power Pack and Wolverine. Lyga is a novelist who doesn't write comic books, yet, but he turns in a nice story about a boy whose superpower is to be unnoticeable—the epitome of childhood angst. The hero can't get most people to even tell that he's in the room, but Wolverine's enhanced senses can track him, and Wolverine mentors him by example. The book is illustrated with drawings purportedly from the boy, but actually lifted out of 45 years of X-Men comics. Overall, this may be a good book for a reluctant 10-year-old reader to try on.

Mark Crilley's Brody's Ghost book 1 (Dark Horse, $6.99) aims for a slightly older audience—probably about 14. Crilley has spent much of his career developing his Akiko character for comics and then children's novels. Brody's Ghost is his third series, and the art is heavily influenced by manga—so much so that his sketchbook pages cite the look of Death Note characters as influences on his character designs. The story is typical manga, as well. In a dystopian future, Brody has begun seeing a cute girl ghost, who turns out to have a use for him. She has to find a murderer before being allowed into heaven and since Brody's a psychic, albeit an unpracticed and unknowing one, she's selected him to be her agent in the physical world. The first of six volumes ends with Brody being accepted for psychic training by an ancient Japanese ghost. Crilley's done a good job with the book, and this should continue to be fun and suspenseful throughout its run.

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai (Dark Horse, $14.95) is Stan Sakai's first "graphic novel" about his samurai rabbit. Notwithstanding a samurai rabbit being the main character, Sakai's comic book is filled with action and Japanese history, while avoiding the more gruesome visual aspects of sword fights. In Yokai, Usagi is walking through a dark wood when he's asked to save a young girl who's been lured away by a fox demon. On the Japanese equivalent of All Hallow's Eve, demons are walking and planning on taking over the world. Sasuke the Demon Queller joins Usagi in an attempt to stop them. The book is about the length of two standard comics, but Sakai's lovely water-coloring adds value to it, and the book makes for a nice celebration of the character's 25th anniversary.

Marvel Masterworks: Captain America volume 5 (Marvel, $55) reprints 12 issues (125-136) written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Gene Colan. The promo material claims the stories will “push the envelope for adventure as Cap goes behind enemy lines in Vietnam; teams with the Falcon to oppose the radical Diamondheads; and then sets out on a coast-to-coast road trip full of motorcycle gangs, rock festivals and the Red Skull!" The reality is less exciting, and the stories are competent if pedestrian efforts in early-1970s story-telling with cringe-inducing attempts to introduce relevancy, as when student violence on a college campus is revealed to be the work of evil genius (and floating head) M.O.D.O.K. The book does show the beginning of Cap's long-standing, and I guess somewhat radical for the time, partnership with the Falcon, who was a black social worker in Harlem when he wasn't being a superhero. This book is really for completists, though.

DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary volume 2 (self-published, $15) by Erika Moen collects the rest of her autobiographical Web comic, which she ended recently. Moen, in the book as well as real life, is an attractive, tattooed young woman with gender issues, who begins as a lesbian, but is married to an Englishman by the end of the first volume. No bodily function is off-limits for her comic, and a typical three-part story is titled "Erika's Basic Introduction to Vibrator Shopping." While I now know more about Ms. Moen than I ever really needed to, I enjoyed her comic. The book also reproduces her earliest efforts, and you can really see how much she's grown as an artist and a storyteller.

Brad Guigar's Courting Disaster volume 2 (self-published, no price listed) are "comics about sex, love, relationships and other disasters" and the cover shows an older woman carrying milk and cookies to a couple in bed while saying, “I distinctly heard someone shouting for more.” If that appeals to you, you’ll probably like the rest of the book, which collects cartoons used from 2006-2007 to illustrate the Philadelphia Daily News’ sex advice column. For what it’s worth—I like them.

I Thought You Would Be Funnier (Boom! Town, $20) is Shannon Wheeler’s collection of gag cartoons that the New Yorker, or more particularly cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, wouldn’t accept. As a regular reader of the New Yorker, I have no idea why most of these cartoons didn’t make the cut. They’re funny in a thoughtful way, and occasionally incomprehensible, which would seem to be the main requisites for the magazine, but hey, Mankoff is a comics genius, and I am not. Wheeler’s divided his book into sections like "Art & Inspiration," and "Coffee & Booze," and if a drawing of Jesus and the disciples at a bar for “The Last Call” makes you giggle, you’ll enjoy the rest of the book.

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