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Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki

Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki

We all have expectations for certain kinds of stories – a romance will have two characters fall in love and get together by the end, a mystery will have at least one murder to be solved, an epic fantasy will have un’usual apo’strophes in the middle of words.

The first expectation is that they will be stories, formed into a narrative with beginning and end, and preferably a middle as well. But that is not always true.

Tono Monogatari  is a collection of folktales, in the first instance. An amateur folklorist collected them, a hundred-plus years ago, mostly from one tale-teller in one Japanese region, gathering all the bits of lore that one guy could tell him about the yokai and kami of the area.

And a lot of of them are not stories. There’s some “oh, yeah, one time this guy saw something!” or “and he was walking, and it was creepy!”, plus the more story-like “this thing came into town and here’s what happened.” But a lot of them are basically “yokai, man, they’re bad news – didja hear about the one that killed a guy over in that village?”

The noted manga-ka Shigeru Mizuki turned that collection of folklore into a manga – call it a graphic novel or comic, if you want to use English-language terms – late in his life, about a decade ago. It was published in an English translation by Zack Davisson (who also provides an introduction and a number of short text pieces explaining various Japanese cultural and folkloric ideas) last year.

And the Mizkui Monogatari is a fairly faithful visual version of the original book, as far as I can tell, taking the 119 tales in the original, mostly in order, and turning them into comics pages mostly directly, only adding himself as a commentary character, most often with a panel of reaction at the end of each tale. So he’ll be saying things like, “Oh, yeah, that happens all the time!”

So, the first thing to note is that Monogatari is episodic. More than that, it’s fragmented. It retells little bits of lore, some of which are in story-like shapes, about the semi-mythical creatures that people in the Tono region in the decade of the 1900s sort-of still believed in, we think, more or less. And those stories had already been retold once to put them into more elevated literary language and make them more consistent. Monogatari was edited rather than compiled; it was the product of a viewpoint and a purpose, to capture these stories before they disappeared and transmute them into the true literature of the nation. And, as I understand it, that was mostly successful: the underlying book is seen as a masterwork of Japanese literature.

Then the second thing to note is that “folklore” isn’t the same as “supernatural.” I was surprised to realize that the first batch of stories were all about yama otoko and yama onna, who are slightly larger, wild people who live (supposedly) up in the mountains and often are in conflict with “normal” people. And it goes on from there – I may be reading these tales the wrong way, but a vast number of them come across to me as “these other people, who we do not count as human, are evil and should be killed.” And putting this in historical context – towards the end of Japan’s forced modernization, in a time of resurgent militarism towards its near neighbors – gives me an uneasy feeling, as if one of the hidden purposes of Monogatari was to insist on the superiority of the rural Japanese people, the true lords of the world.

Back to the point about supernatural creatures: sure, there are some kappa near the end, and other things that are obviously powered by the supernatural. But there’s also a lot of “so I saw a woman in the woods I didn’t recognize, and killed her, so she’s totally a yama onna!”

I may be biased, but that strikes me as just pure “don’t talk to strangers” and garden-variety Othering, presented in a very stark and (frankly) bland way. I tend to like a lot more freakiness and magic in my folklore, and less “kill those people on sight.”

So I may have been a bit bored with Tono Mongatari. Mizuki tells all of this in a fun, semi-goofy way – he draws people with funny faces and in embarrassing situations a lot of the time (even when “people” means “him,” which I greatly appreciate), so he keeps it light and entertaining and amusing the whole time. He’s definitely a master, and does great work with this material. But the material feels dark and twisted at its core, in ways I’m both not comfortable with and don’t have enough background knowledge to really engage deeply with.

So keep that in mind, if this is an area that interests you. It’s not just “funny stories those rural peasants used to believe.” But, then again, folklore was never that simple, in any time or place, which may be my real point.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World by Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet

Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World by Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet

I like to think I’m flexible and adaptable – that I can figure out new things, incorporate them into my thinking, and move forward without a hitch. I’m probably wrong, though. We’re never the people we want to be or think we are.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading more French comics by writer/artist teams – previously I’d mostly either read massive assemblages like Donjon  (which list in detail what each person does, since there are a lot of them) or single-creator works. And it’s taken me a surprisingly long time to internalize that the standard French (maybe Euro in general) credit sequence is artist-writer, the opposite of the US standard. (Colorists, on both continents, are named lower and lesser. Letterers and other folks, where they’re separate jobs, are even more variable.)

Which is to say, when the second volume of the Back to Basics series had a series of jokes based on the opposite of the actual credits of the book, I shrugged – either going along with the joke or mixed-up enough to think it was plausible – and presented it straight. (Or maybe I’m mixed up now. But I don’t think so.)

Anyway, this is a light-hearted bande dessinee series, written by Manu Larcenet – should I mention that all comics creators in the book have slightly altered, “funny” versions of their names? – and drawn by Jean-Yves Ferri, all about Larcenet’s move from Paris to the rural enclave of Ravenelles and his subsequent life there with his partner Mariette and the various colorful rural folk already living there. See my posts on the first and second books.

That brings us up to Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World , in which the first Back to Basics book is finalized and published, in which Larcenet (or should I say “Larssinet;” see above) goes to a major comics show and wins “the Golden Eraser,” and in which Mariette is pregnant with their first child. (The baby is born right at the end, of course – Larcenet knows how to structure a book.)

As before, it’s all told in half-page comics, mostly six-panel grids, which tend to cluster to tell sequences. As I’ve said in the previous posts, it’s a lot like a daily comic in its rhythms and style of humor; as far as I know they weren’t serialized anywhere but they easily could have been.

This is amusing and fun, even if I seem to mostly write about which one of them does what job on the book. (That’s a silly side issue, but when you write about light humor, you grab onto anything specific and quirky to make it your shtick. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad summation of how Back to Basics works in the first place.)

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Vol. 1 is coming to Blu-ray and DVD January 3

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Vol. 1 is coming to Blu-ray and DVD January 3

LOS ANGELES – Get ready to travel among the stars for some galactic adventures with an all-new crew in Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 Blu-ray™ and DVD! Join the cool kids as they come together as a team to navigate a cosmic collision, explore new planets, and find themselves along the way in ten adventurous episodes. Go beyond each episode with never-before-seen bonus content and exclusive cards featuring key art from the series!

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 will be available on Blu-ray™ and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and Nickelodeon Home Entertainment on January 3, 2023, for the suggested retail price of $17.99.

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 episodes:
• Lost and Found, Part I
• Lost and Found, Part II
• Starstruck
• Dreamcatcher
• Terror Firma
• Kobayashi
• First Con-tact
• Time Amok
• A Moral Star, Part 1
• A Moral Star, Part 2

Star Trek: Prodigy follows a motley crew of young aliens who must figure out how to work together while navigating a greater galaxy, in search of a better future. These six young outcasts know nothing about the ship they have commandeered a first in the history of the Star Trek franchise but over the course of their adventures together, they will each be introduced to Starfleet and the ideals it represents.

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 fast facts:
Street Date: January 3, 2023
Audio: Dolby Digital English 5.1, French Stereo, Spanish Stereo
US Rating: Not Rated
US M.S.R.P.: $17.99

REVIEW: Peacemaker: The Complete First Season

REVIEW: Peacemaker: The Complete First Season

When director James Gunn took on a soft reboot of The Suicide Squad, he brought in some familiar members, some less familiar characters, and one who was, at best, tangential to the team in the comics. Yet, with a keen eye for casting, the director knew exactly who would make Peacemaker work despite his odd Pat Boyette-designed costume and weird rationale provided by co-creator Joe Gill. Christopher Smith loved peace so much he would violently assure it.

In the form of former pro wrestler turned actor John Cena, the character played it so straight that he was hysterical in an already gonzo film. Apparently, Gunn was so enchanted with the performance that he idly began writing a backstory miniseries and when he mentioned it to producing partner Peter Safran, he was encouraged to sell it. HBO Max snapped it up and it is now available on Blu-ray from HOB Home Entertainment.

The title credits alone make this having as it has become iconic and imitated.

Sifting through the DCEU and 80 years of DC Comics, Gunn cherrypicked the essential elements to tell us how Smith became the vigilante, spending much of the series exploring the strained (to put it mildly) relationship between Smith and his father (Robert Patrick), the bigoted White Dragon. Ironically, Auggie Smith designed many of Peacemaker’s helmets, each with its own attribute.

After recovering from his life-threatening injuries from the motion picture, we pick up with Smith attempting to resume his simple life. ARGUS had other ideas and forced him to accompany them on Project Butterfly, which proved to be the season-long threat with an alien lifeform that fled its dying planet and has been surreptitiously taking over seemingly thousands of Americans.

The odd team was comprised led by Clemson Mutt (Chukwudi Iwuji), Johnny Economos (Steve Agee), Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and newcomer Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), who we learn was coerced into working with ARGUS at the behest of her mother, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Everyone not only gets something to do, but each gets their moment to shine, and their interactions are delicious with sharp character writing.

The x-factor comes in the form of Peacemaker’s neighborhood friend and wacko, Adrian Chase (Freddie Stroma), who dons the Vigilante outfit but never fully grasps how serious the stakes are.

The season is a personal delight for me seeing characters I once edited on the screen in fully realized form. There are also cameos from Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller along with silhouettes of the other Justice Leaguers.

The 1080p high definition transfer captures all the color tones nicely and has no obvious flaws. The DTS lossless audio track is also just fine.

The discs come with a boatload of Special Features, mostly taken from HBO Max: Teaser Trailer (3:00), Trailer (3:00), Peacemaker and Vigilante: BFFs (2:00), The Story so Far (4:00), How to Properly Give a F*ck (1:00), Dramatic Comic Book Readings with Chukwudi Iwuji (2:00), Gag Reel (9:00), Unlocking the Quantum Unfolding Storage Area (2:00), So What do you Really Thing of Peacemaker? (2:00), Danielle Brooks Explains the DC Universe (1:40), Keep the Tweets (2:00), Dance for Peace (2:00), On the set with Steve Agee (2:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Eagly (2:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Murn (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Vigilante (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: John Economos (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Harcourt (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Adebayo (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Vigilante (1:00),  Under the Helmet (3:00), Big Daddy Issues: Peacemaker’s Search for Inner Peace (5:00), and Making the World Safe for Violence: Peacemaker’s Team (12:00).

Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane

Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane

Brandt made a promise to his grandfather, when he was just a kid: come back to visit, ten years after “Oiji-Chan” dies, under a particular tree.

When you’re a kid, you agree to a lot of things like that. Adults say that something is really important, and you say “OK.” Maybe it is important, maybe you actually remember it decades later – maybe a lot of maybes.

Brandt did remember. Probably because it was a good excuse to run away; his marriage with Alice is crumbling, now that he’s in his early thirties, and the anniversary of his grandfather’s death is as good a reason as any to head back to the rural Japanese landscape where he grew up.

Ghost Tree  is about what he finds there. As the title implies, it’s not just a tree – this is a book in which there are real ghosts, and some people can talk to them and interact with them. Brandt’s grandfather is one, but there are a lot more – that tree is a place where they gather, and ghosts, as we all know, are unquiet spirits who have something left unfinished.

Brandt isn’t fazed by the supernatural; maybe he’d suspected, or maybe this is just the kind of thing he always was hoping would erupt into his life. He’s happy to talk to his grandfather, happy to talk to various ghosts and try to help them work out their problems.

But his grandfather isn’t sure, now, if this was a good idea. He now thinks he wasted his own life with ghosts – neglected his wife, Brandt’s grandmother, who is still there in their old house, now quietly taking Brandt to task for the same flaws her late husband had – and he’s worried that Brandt will do exactly the same thing, will give up the world of the living for the simpler world of the dead.

Brandt has other things drawing him to that world: not just his breaking marriage behind him, but the ghost of Arami, his teenage girlfriend, the one who got away, who died not long after he left her and Japan so many years ago. The past is always tempting, especially when it hasn’t changed. Even when it’s a ghost you can’t touch.

There are other elements of this collection of ghosts, other issues and problems and creatures. But that’s the core of it: the question of how much energy and time to give to the past and the dead, and how much to give to the living and the future.

Brandt has to make that decision, in the end. Arami has to make a different kind of decision, because this is a cosmology where ghosts aren’t trapped, aren’t lesser or echoes – just people, later on, in a different way.

Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane (words and art, respectively – colors are by Ian Herring with Becka Kinzie and letters by Chris Mowry) tell this story well, in a mostly quiet mode. Gane gives the world a lushness and depth, and Herrings’s mostly subtle colors add to that depth. Curnow’s dialogue is real and his people realistic, and he doesn’t turn any of his endings facile or obvious. There are a number of excellent moments near the end, in particular: a panel that pays off the “usually one a generation” talk earlier, and a stronger ending to the Brandt-Alice story than I expected.

This is a fine graphic novel: as it says, about “love, loss, and how the past never truly stays dead.”

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Adventures of Batman: The Complete Collection Comes to Blu-ray in February

The Adventures of Batman: The Complete Collection Comes to Blu-ray in February

BURBANK, CA – One of Filmation’s most beloved animated series has been newly remastered in high definition for release on Blu-ray for the first time ever! Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will distribute The Adventures of Batman: The Complete Collection on February 28, 2023, as a two-disc set featuring all 34 episodes of the classic series for $29.98 SRP (USA) and $39.99 SRP (Canada).

The Adventures of Batman was one of the spotlight animated television series to be produced by Filmation, who generated more than 50 animated series, over a dozen television shorts, specials and movies, and eight feature films. The Adventures of Batman was also paired with another famous DC Super Hero to become The Batman/Superman Hour.

Filmation veteran Olan Soule (Super Friends, The Towering Inferno) provided the voice of Batman, while American Top 40 co-founder & host Casey Kasem (Scooby-Doo franchise) played Robin. The supporting cast featured two-time Emmy Award winner Ted Knight (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Caddyshack) as Commissioner Gordon, Larry Storch (F Troop) as Joker, and Jane Webb (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Archie Show) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

Soule and Kasem became the reigning voices of Batman and Robin, respectively, for several years as the Dynamic Duo would appear in two The New Scooby-Doo Movies crossovers, various versions of Super Friends, and The New Adventures of Batman.

Premiering on September 14, 1968, The Adventures of Batman also featured Batman’s primary rogues’ gallery at the time – Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Catwoman, Riddler, Scarecrow, Dollman, Mad Hatter and Simon the Pieman – as well as some notable team-ups of those villains.

The 34 episodes in The Adventures of Batman: The Complete Collection are:

  • My Crime Is Your Crime / A Bird Out of Hand
  • The Cool, Cruel Mr. Freeze / The Joke’s on Robin
  • How Many Herring in a Wheelbarrow? / In Again, Out Again Penguin
  • The Nine Lives of Batman / Long John Joker
  • Bubi, Bubi, Who’s Got the Ruby? / 1001 Faces of the Riddler
  • The Big Birthday Caper / Two Penguins Too Many
  • Partners in Peril / The Underworld Underground Caper
  • Hizzoner the Joker / Freeze’s Frozen Vikings
  • The Crime Computer / The Great Scarecrow Scare
  • A Game of Cat and Mouse / Beware of Living Dolls
  • Will the Real Robin Please Stand Up? / He Who Swipes the Ice, Goes to the Cooler
  • Simon the Pieman / A Mad, Mad Tea Party
  • From Catwoman with Love / Perilous Playthings
  • A Perfidious Pieman Is Simon / Cool, Cruel Christmas Caper
  • The Fiendishly Frigid Fraud / Enter the Judge
  • The Jigsaw Jeopardy / Wrath of the Riddler
  • It Takes Two to Make a Team / Opera Buffa


Blu-ray $29.98 USA / $39.99 Canada

Blu-ray Languages: DTS-HD MA: English 2.0 Mono / Dolby Digital: French & Spanish

Blu-ray Subtitles: ENGLISH SDH / French

Running Time: 378 Minutes

REVIEW: Doom Patrol: The Complete Third Season

REVIEW: Doom Patrol: The Complete Third Season

With Doom Patrol moving to HBO Max for their frenetic third season, the shows looks and feels much the same: an energetic mess that has a heart lying underneath the chaos and disjointed storytelling. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment, the 10 episodes unfold quickly.

We immediately dispatch the cliffhangers leftover from season two and plunges us into new issues, stemming from the death of the Chief (Timothy Dalton) and soon after the death of the team. In fact, it takes the Dead Boy Detectives (Sebastian Croft and Ty Tennant)—lifted from the Sandman universe and destined for their own series—to help locate the spirits. Meantime, a woman calling herself Laura De Mille (Michelle Rodriguez), arrives from 1949 and seems to be replacing the Chief as a leader. Once revealed as their long-time comics foe Madame Rogue, things take a deadlier turn.

While season two was mainly about Robotman (Brendan Fraser) and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), this season, it’s Elasti-Girl (April Bowlby) finally taking the spotlight. The slow dance between Rita Farr and Laura De Mille is a delight, thanks to fine performances. By season’s end, Rita seems ready to be the team’s true leader.

Larry (Matt Bomer) seems to be rid of his Negative Man energy, which is a mixed blessing, while Crazy Jane’s multiple personalities vie for attention, continuing her arc from last season.

We get the Garguax the Destroyer (Stephen Murphy), the Brotherhood of Evil, and the Sisterhood of Dada for good measure. But, the problem with the series remains fractured, focusing too much on individual story arcs and nowhere near enough team interplay. These are a bunch forced together by circumstance, who have bonded into a family of misfits, all robbed of their humanity, and yet, all showing their uniqueness hasn’t robbed them of anything at all.

With season four about to drop, now is a good time to revisit these episodes and refresh yourself because the pacing requires you to pay attention.

All ten episodes look sharp with a solid 1080p transfer and an equally good audio track.

Only two Special Features are here: Life After Death (14:00) with a look at the season; and Filter Not Included: Robotman’s Best Lines (3:00).

Unshelved: Library Mascot Cage Match by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum

Unshelved: Library Mascot Cage Match by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum

Some comic strips are vastly more likely to be posted in specific places than others. Even decades later, Far Sides cling proudly to doors in various STEM-related departments in universities throughout the nation. Dilbert – probably mostly older ones, if we’re honest – lives on fabric-covered cube walls, most often in a position where the worker can see it and passing supervisors can not.

And Unshelved is going to be posted in the sorting rooms and other “backstage” spaces of a library – I’m pretty sure of it. The strip itself ended a few years back after running for roughly the first fifteen years of this century, but that’s no impediment: I expect a lot of them were printed out and taped up in the early days, and are still making new appearances, here and there.

I am not a librarian, and my days of regularly dealing with the wild consumer were decades ago. (I was a cashier, and then a supervisor of cashiers, for a Bradlees store starting my senior year of high school. I’m never going back, but I’m glad I had that experience, and it made me think everyone should work a year or two in retail or foodservice, at least once in their lives.) But I like librarians, and I think I have enough library-adjacent experience (library patron, editor, book blogger, book-award judge, retail drone) to comment meaningfully.

And, hey, it’s a comic strip that’s pretty funny. That was an inducement, too. (I did read the first collection some years ago – this is probably the second, or maybe third, but it doesn’t make that clear anywhere.)

So I got Library Mascot Death Match , a random Unshelved book that’s the only one available in my library system. (Proof once again that librarians are the opposite of self-indulgent.) It was published in 2005, so it depicts a library that is somewhat technologically out of date – more so, I mean, even than a library today would be, since local taxpayers are not well-known for showering money on libraries to continually upgrade to the shiniest of new tech. But I think the people and concerns and issues are probably still pretty similar, though I wonder if streaming has blown a hole in libraries’ role in loaning out various video formats.

The main character is a young slacker named Dewey; given the time-frame, I suspect he was originally meant to be part of my generation, but he may read as a Millennial these days. (there’s always a new “those slacker kids,” and there always will be). As with any workplace comedy, there is a fair-sized cast around him, and my one complaint about this book is that they are not introduced well – a comic with a big cast needs a page (web or text) to say who the people are and what their deal is.

Dewey and his co-workers deal with the public, argue about their coffee orders and other workplace food issues, and spat with teachers about whose job it is to keep kids occupied at different times of year. There’s also a long comics-page-format story in the middle, in which a massively overfunded bookmobile (I think it’s supposed to be a metaphor for Amazon, but it comes across as “some other level of government has a lot more funding than we do,” which is weird) has to be defeated to save their local library.

It’s all a little bit quaint (2005, remember) and a little bit specific (library) but more than a little bit funny. You do not need to be a librarian to find Unshelved funny; I will attest to that. And it’s still being re-run online , so you can read it in the wild, as it was meant to be read, without finding this book or spending any money whatsoever.

And that’s very appropriate for a strip about a library, isn’t it?

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Grande Odalisque by Vives, Ruppert + Mulot

The Grande Odalisque by Vives, Ruppert + Mulot

This stylish thriller of a graphic novel (or bande dessinee) was made by three people: Bastien Vives, Florent Ruppert, and Jerome Mulot. The title of this post is styled as they are credited on the book: Vives / Ruppert + Mulot. All three are writer/artists. Ruppert and Mulot are a team who typically work together on all aspects of a story. I have no idea how they broke this down: if it were an American comic, that order would imply Vives was the writer and the other two the art team, but French credits often work in the reverse fashion.

So: the three of them did this, in some combination. If we can see a movie without worrying about what, exactly, a Director of Photography does, I think we can bring a similar equanimity to The Grand Odalisque , which is very much like a big-budget classy thriller movie on the page.

It’s a large-format album, appropriate for the style and the substance. I found the dialogue lettered just a bit too small and too lightly; take that into account, particularly if you intend to read this digitally.

It is a thriller, which means a lot of things: our heroines are amazingly competent, stunningly gorgeous, and massively flawed; the world is full of dangers, but not fatal ones; and hitting someone on the head or shooting them with a tranquillizer dart is a foolproof, immediate way of making that person go unconscious for exactly as long as you require, with no ill effects. Any readers who want more realism need to go elsewhere: this is Mission: Impossible-style action on the comics page.

Carole and Alex are high-level art thieves; we see them steal Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe from the Musee D’Orsay in the opening pages of the book. They squabble like an old married couple, and have been doing this for about a decade, even though they’re both still quite young – Carole is a few years older, but I don’t think she’s hit 30 yet. Again, in a realistic world they would be killed or captured very quickly; this is not in any way a realistic world.

They are gorgeous, they are stylish, they are the best at what they do. But they can’t do the next job alone – getting Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque out of the Louvre. So first they enlist an arms dealer to get them guns, and then a getaway driver, Sam, who becomes the third woman of their team – presumably going forward, since there’s already a second book.

After some minor complications – their arms dealer is captured by Mexican bandits, and to my surprise the solution isn’t “he’s already dead” (again: this is not a realistic story) but “let’s go, in bikinis, to slaughter the drug-lord and half-heartedly take over his operations” – it’s finally time for the big caper, which is as widescreen and cinematic as could be hoped, with exciting motorcycle chases and automatic-weapons fire and both helicopters and ultralight aircraft.

And if, in the end, the reader thinks “there’s no possibly way they could escape, in public, in the middle of Paris, with that level of police attention,” well, what I have I sad three times already? You are not meant to take The Grand Odalisque seriously. But, if you take it on its level, with all of its tropes and assumptions, it is a lot of fun. If you read it, I recommend making every effort not to engage the critical side of your brain; it will be no help.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Ralph Azham, Vol. 1: Black Are the Stars by Lewis Trondheim

Ralph Azham, Vol. 1: Black Are the Stars by Lewis Trondheim

Ralph Azham does not live in the same world as Dungeon . We’re pretty clear on that; this is not Terra Amata. But it’s the same kind of world: whatever Joann Sfar brings to the mix for Dungeon, that style of fantasy seems to be the way Lewis Trondheim operates. (There are some lesser similarities to his “McConey ” books, too.)

So: we have a central smartass in a big, complicated world, full of anthropomorphic people who plot and scheme, with magic that really works and can do world-changing things but has very specific rules that need to be learned by trial and error. We have authorities who are corrupt or outright evil or just low-key incompetent – this is no surprise, since everyone is out for themselves, pretty much all the time.

Ralph Azham is our central character: another vaguely duck-like hero, like Herbert in Dungeon Zenith. He grew up in an isolated, unnamed mountain village out in the wilds of the kingdom of Astolia, the son of an engineer, Bastien, who moved there to help the locals prepare for a potential attack by the Horde of Vom Syrus. (We don’t know a lot about the Horde or its leader: they’re clearly real, and have been rampaging around the outskirts of this kingdom for decades, but we don’t know who Syrus is or what his goals are. I have a very strong suspicion at the end of this book, though.)

In this world, some children turn blue on the night of a double moon – this is a sign they have a magical power, and are Chosen Ones, or potential Chosen Ones. In Astolia, Couriers take those children off to the capital, but they don’t generally seem to come back.

Ralph is blue. He can tell, infallibly, how many children someone has had. It seems to also include knowing who else was involved in the creation of those children, even if they were never born. And a Trondheim smartass can get himself in a lot of trouble, especially in a small village, knowing who knocked up who, who had a quiet abortion, who had older siblings that are now dead, and so on.

Ralph was taken by a Courier. He came back, a failed Chosen One – so he thinks. Since then, he’s become the village scapegoat and annoyance – he hasn’t helped this at all, to be honest, but he’s not treated well at all. The truth about Chosen Ones, though, is much worse, for a lot of people.

Ralph Azham: Black Are the Stars  collects the first three album-length books of the series. There have been twelve books in French, published between 2011 and 2020, and, as far as I can tell, that’s the complete story: this is not something open-ended like Dungeon. The first book, Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? , was published in a slightly altered form by Fantagraphics in 2014, but this volume is the first time the rest of the series has been translated into English. Three more English omnibuses are already scheduled, through next March: if all goes well, the whole series will be published within a year. (But the lesson of every Trondheim comic is: things never go well.)

What I’ve just told you covers roughly the first half of the first book. From there, the Horde does come, and violence ensues, as always in a book like this. Obviously, Ralph will leave his village to see the wider world. He will meet other Chosen Ones, and learn what happens to Chosen Ones. There will be magical items with very specific uses that are deployed in inventive and surprising ways. Ralph will learn that he has another, larger power, and two other people from his village – a kid, Raoul, and Claire, who is Ralph’s age – will also turn blue and travel the path of the Chosen One. There will be powerful people who are not who they seem, or who are corrupt and scheming, or both at once. There will be antagonists who are very hard to kill, and ordinary people who are far too quick to die.

The story is about Ralph’s family, maybe. Or about what it means to be a Chosen One. Or the usual overthrowing-the-corrupt story of epic fantasy. Or maybe just surviving in a dangerous world full of people with weapons and magic. This is only a quarter of the way through: it would be premature to say what the whole thing means at this point.

But it’s prime Trondheim: smart fantasy adventure with a sharp edge, pitched only slightly less cruel than Dungeon, accessible to smarter, slightly older kids but with depths only adults will recognize. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.