Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-ups, Volume 1

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-ups, Volume 1  Written by Bob Haney (mostly), Art by various

The Brave and the Bold started its publication run in 1955 as an adventure anthology, featuring such characters as the Viking Prince and the Silent Knight.  Around issue 25, it switched to a tryout title for new concepts such as the Justice League of America and Strange Sports Stories.  Then in issue #50, the series switched to being a team-up title featuring seemingly random pairs of DC’s superheroes, the first such story teaming  up Green Arrow and the Martian Manhunter.

Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold Batman Team-ups, Volume 1

In issue #59 (1965), Batman was teamed up with Green Lantern against a villain known as the Time Commander.   This criminal scientist had developed technology that well, commanded time.  But it could only do minor effects until the Commander disguised himself as Batman to trick Green Lantern into energizing the device with his Power Ring.

Bizarrely, Time Commander divided his attention between using his hourglass to commit heinous crimes…and attempting to clear himself of a previous crime attributed to his civilian identity.  The story never reveals whether or not he did the previous crime.

Thanks to his television show, Batman was hot at the time, and the issue sold very well.  He appeared more often than any other character in TBatB, and eventually became the permanent “host” for these team-ups.  Thus, this volume only contains the stories with him.

Bob Haney was a very uneven writer, and some stories are terrific, like the first Deadman team-up (with art by Neal Adams!) while others are dreadful.  Mr. Haney was especially noted for not paying attention to continuity or characterization from other writers; thus some of the guest characters come off as warped reflections of themselves.

Particularly bad is #78, which graces the cover of this collection.  Batman is up against a slippery thief named Copperhead, and having a little difficulty catching him.  So the Caped Crusader calls in Wonder Woman and Batgirl to help.  Not, mind you, to help him search for the villain’s hideout or catch the crook.  No, the plan is for these two powerful heroines to pretend they’re both madly in love with Batman and have public catfights about it.

The idea is that Copperhead will believe that Batman is distracted by his love life and get careless the next time he steals something.  This plan is derailed when both heroines get too into it and actually fall in love with Batman.  And then they become distressed damsels that Batman must rescue from the scaly foe.

Nor is this the only poor showing on the sexism front, as one story has Batman spank a woman in public to shame her into reforming.   (She falls in love with him for it.)

There are also stories with Native Americans and Chinese-Americans that are well-meant but come off as racist.  And some weird stuff with sideshow performers.

That said, there’s a lot of goofy Silver Age fun here, and some nifty art by artists like Neal Adams and Ramona Fradon.

The final issue in this volume is #87, featuring Mike Sekowsky on both writing and art.  The guest star is Wonder Woman during her “powerless” period when she hung out with a blind martial arts mentor named I Ching.  She and Batman investigate shenanigans around an international race track.  It includes a moment when Diana could have saved the day, but Batman insists on driving with a concussion.

Recommended to Batman fans who enjoy a lighter version of the character.  If you have a particular fondness for one of the guest stars, check this volume out at the library.

There’s a cartoon inspired by this run of the comic book, so enjoy the opening!

Manga Review: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

Manga Review: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon by Shigeru Mizuki

Quick recap:  Kitaro is the last surviving member of the Ghost Tribe, a once populous group of yokai (Japanese spirits/monsters.)  His father lives on in the form of an eyeball and advises the young fellow.  Together with his untrustworthy friend Nezumi-Otoko (“Rat-Man”) and sometimes other friendly monsters, Kitaro acts as a mediator between humans and yokai.  (This being a comic book, often this mediation involves deadly combat.)

Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

This is the second volume of Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of stories from Shigeru Mizuki’s classic GeGeGe no Kitaro series of children’s horror manga.  It has a continuation of the history of the manga, and a handy guide to the yokai appearing in this volume in the back.

The lead story is also the one that titles this volume.  Traditionally, the nurarihyon is a humanoid creature that shows up at your house and acts as if he’s an invited guest.  As long as he’s there, he demands the best in food, luxuries and entertainment.  Only when the nurarihyon has finished abusing your hospitality and departs do you suddenly realize you never actually invited him in or even know who he was.

But this particular Nurarihyon is actively evil.  He hates humans and commits acts of terrorism while appearing to be a harmless old man.   Nurarihyon despises yokai that want to be friends with humans, and especially Kitaro.  He runs into Nezumi-Otoko one day at the pachinko parlor, and pretends to befriend the greedy rat-man in order to lure Kitaro into a trap.

After several twists and turns, Kitaro manages to trick Nurarihyon and his accomplice Jakotsu Baba (Snake Bone Granny) into a time machine and strands them in prehistory.   (In the anime, Nurarihyon manages to return more than once, acting as the Big Bad for a couple of larger stories.)

A kappa (water goblin) is the antagonist in “Sara Kozo”, though his motive is a bit more sympathetic.  The sara kozo’s secret song was stolen by rock musicians who used it to become famous, but paid no royalties.  Knowing that he has no standing in the human court system, the sara kozo decided not to sue, but instead just kidnap the thieves.  Kitaro has to get them back.

The two stories that end this volume are connected.  In “Odoro Odoro”, a mad scientist attempts to find a cure for baldness, but turns himself into a malevolent hairball that thirsts for the blood of children.  Mind you, not all their blood, but since he can’t afford to have them reveal what’s going on, the Odoro Odoro has been stuffing them into the Spirit World for safekeeping.  Kitaro apparently vanquishes the monster at the end of the story.

But in “Odoro Odoro Versus Vampire”, it turns out the creature survived.  It steals Kitaro’s soul and makes him its slave.  While Kitaro is away, Nezumi Otoko becomes the mostly willing servant of Dracula IV, descendant of the famous Dracula and himself a vampire.  Eventually, the two monsters meet and engage in fierce battle.   Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad) plays a larger role than usual, as Kitaro is out of action for most of the story.

The art ranges from cartoony to detailed, displaying the artist’s range.  This volume is suitable for horror-loving readers from fourth grade on up.  (Some sensitive parents might find it too scary.)

And just for contrast, a show where Nurarihyon is the good guy:

Book Review: Lambda I and Other Stories

Book Review: Lambda I and Other Stories edited by John Carnell

New Worlds was a British science fiction magazine that started professional publication in 1946.  Despite some financial hiccups, it was a reasonably good seller, and was still going in the early 1960s when the stories chosen for this anthology were published.  The editor picked stories that had gotten a good reception in Great Britain, but never before published in America.   According to his introduction, this was the first paperback anthology of “foreign” science fiction stories published in the U.S.

Lambda I and Other Stories

“Lambda I” by Colin Kapp leads off with a transportation engineer being visited by an old friend.  It turns out the friend is a psychologist, here to try to reconcile the engineer and that man’s estranged wife.  The science fiction part comes in with the Tau transportation system, which uses a dimensional shift to send ships directly through the Earth so that one can travel in straight lines from one point to another.

It turns out that the Tau system has an inherent stability problem, and if a ship ever became locked into the never-actually-seen-before Omega frequency, disaster would ensue.  The engineer’s futile attempts to forestall this problem led to the stress that caused his marriage to collapse.

Oh, guess what!  Yes, a ship has gone into Omega frequency.  Yes, if it isn’t fixed, the entire Eastern Seaboard will be destroyed.  Yes, the engineer’s wife is aboard and she’s carrying his child!   Yes, there are only a few hours before the dimensional rift, and the one thing that might have a chance of getting the two protagonists there in time is an experimental prototype without proper shielding.

There’s some hallucinatory sequences that would have blown the budget in any 1960s movie as our heroes explore the weird dimensional shift that the lost ship in stranded in.  It turns out that psychic vibrations affect the Tau system, so the psychologist is the one who saves the day.

“Basis for Negotiation” by Brian W. Aldiss takes place in the then-near future of 1971.  America and Red China are at war, with the possibility of escalation into nuclear attacks imminent.  In a startlingly tone-deaf moment, the British Prime Minister has declared Great Britain strictly neutral.  He’s ordered all American military forces out of the British Isles, and is planning to Brexit from NATO.

Sir Simon, Chair of Moral History at the University College of East Lincoln, is livid.   True, he might not currently be in the government, but he feels a deep interest in public affairs.  He must get to London and see what can be done to fix this!  The remainder of the story is his journey to Whitehall and what he finds there.

This story was turned down by all the American magazines Mr. Aldiss submitted it to, possibly because it’s a bit too “insider cricket” (there’s a very House of Cards moment at the end), but it might also have been the relatively sympathetic portrayal of gay Communist David.

Yes, David was in favor of disarmament, but as part of a global reduction of arms, not a unilateral surrender.  And yes, he’s a Communist, but he is by George a British Communist.  One can’t fault his courage or moral fiber, but his combat judgement is poor.  Also, his obsession with classism makes him a very irritating companion for long car trips.

The science part of the science fiction comes in at the last moment and puts a very different cast on what the actions of various characters leads up to.

“Quest” by Lee Harding takes us to a future where robots are everywhere and everywhere looks exactly the same.  One man senses that this is wrong, and goes in search of something, anything, real.  He may be too late.  A grim story.

“All Laced Up” by George Whitley is a comedic tale about interior design.  You may have noticed that iron lace isn’t around much any more.  Especially the really intricate handcrafted stuff.  It turns out there’s a reason for that.  Unusual for having a female…villain? whose motive is pretty much entirely financial.

“Routine Exercise” by Philip E. High involves a time traveling nuclear submarine.  Has a mandatory twist at the end, but some very evocative scenes as the submariners try to figure out what’s going on while being hunted by aliens.

“Flux” by Michael Moorcock is set in a unified Europe of the future.  Max File, prototype superbrain, is called in because the ruling council has discovered that society is going to crash in the next few years.  They don’t know how, and fear that any action by the government to stall the crash will cause it instead.  However, they have a time machine.

File turns out to be the sole living subject of an experiment in creating artificial supergeniuses through vaguely-described education of children.  All the others went mad, and File might have joined them, but the scientists purged much of the excess knowledge from his brain.  He is still, however, the most flexible mind on Earth, and the only one who can be trusted with a time machine to go into the near future to gather information.

File arrives in the ruined future, and learns of the disastrous effects of several different social experiments that collapsed civilization in various ways.  He attempts to return to his present, only to discover that time machines don’t work that way.

Things get progressively weirder as File continues his quest, and finally learns the true nature of time itself.  This allows him to accomplish his goal…sort of.

Mr. Moorcock would soon take the helm of New Worlds and turn it into a haven for the experimental “New Wave” style of science fiction.  This is definitely a forerunner of the movement.

And we finish with “The Last Salamander” by John Rackham.  A coal-burning power plant awakens something from prehistory.  A living thing that is at a temperature that no human could withstand.   One of the workers (actually a company spy) must figure out a way to destroy the creature before it destroys all the workers and surrounding area.   It’s a bit of a sad story, and would have made a good episode of The Outer Limits.

I like “All Laced Up” and “The Last Salamander” best, but “Basis for Negotiation” and “Flux” are pretty good too.  “Quest” is perhaps too predictable.

Recommended to fans of British science fiction, and especially to those who favor Michael Moorcock and Brian W. Aldiss.

 

Manga Review: Hunter X Hunter Volume 1

Manga Review: Hunter X Hunter Volume 1 by Yoshihiro Togashi

On a world a little bit like Earth, Gon Freecs has been raised on an isolated island by his Aunt Mito.  Although she told him his parents were both dead, Gon learned a while back that his father Ging Freecs was in fact still alive, and a powerful Hunter.  The Hunter Guild is a professional adventuring organization that seeks out new lands, animals, treasures or anything else that takes a member’s fancy.

Hunter X Hunter Volume 1

Having reached the age of twelve, Gon now qualifies to take the Hunter Exam and earn his license.  He corners his aunt into allowing him to try the deadly test (each year a sizable fraction of applicants die.)  Mind you, first Gon must survive the journey and find the location of the test, since finding the Exam site is part of the competition!

This fantasy adventure series is by the creator of YuYu Hakusho and Level E.  It was partially inspired by Togashi’s love of collecting things and seeing other people’s collections.  It’s still ongoing, but the creator’s health issues have caused several long hiatuses between parts of the story.

On the ship to the first destination, Gon meets the androgynous Kurapika, last survivor of the Kurta Clan.  That person’s people were slaughtered for their beautiful eyes, and Kurapika wants to become a Hunter to track down their killers and retrieve the eyes.   (Kurapika’s gender was a mystery for years until it was finally revealed in a sourcebook.)  They also encounter Leorio Paradinight, who grew up in poverty.  His best friend died from a disease that could have been cured if he’d had the money to pay for treatment.  Thus Leorio wants to get enough cash to get a medical degree and license, and then treat the poor for free.

There’s a certain amount of friction at first, but the three soon become friends.  They support each other through the journey to find the Exam.

At the exam site, the trio meet Tonpa, an experienced examinee who’s failed the test multiple times.  While he seems friendly, Tonpa is actually a “rookie crusher” who is less concerned with passing the Exam than in destroying other applicants’ hopes.   We also learn of Hisoka, who looks like a clownish magician but is in fact a ruthless killer with a cruel streak.

On the brighter side, Gon meets Killua Zoldyck, who has run away from his family of assassins to take the exam.  Despite being one of the deadliest people alive, Killua becomes a good friend of Gon’s.

The first two stages of the exam are already making people drop out (or drop dead) but then Hisoka decides he wants to have a little fun….

As is often the case in shounen manga, protagonist Gon is one of the least interesting characters.  His “find my father” motivation moves the plot at first, but it’s more of an excuse than anything else–we won’t see any movement on it for a long time.  And Gon’s mother is a non-entity, while Aunt Mito vanishes after the first chapter.

The three companions are much more interesting, with contrasting personalities.  My favorite is Leorio, who is a bit older than the others and much more of an “average joe” who barely keeps up.  The contrast between his greedy outer persona and his actual motivations makes him more complex.

There are a bunch of interesting looking minor characters, most of whom soon vanish; and the monster designs range from cool to creepy.

It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Gon passes the Exam and becomes a Hunter, at which point the really interesting plots begin.  Be prepared for characters and subplots to vanish for long periods of time, and at some point you will hit the most recent volume and then have to wait ages for the next installment.

Still, this is very good shounen battle manga, and well worth looking into.

There have also been some anime adaptations, here’s the opening from one:

Comic Book Review: Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Volume One

Comic Book Review: Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Volume One written by Martin Powell, art by Seppo Makinen

Sherlock Holmes and his good friend Doctor Watson are on the trail of Professor Moriarty, but they’ve just missed him.  The Napoleon of Crime has realized that the world’s first consulting detective is more difficult to deal with than he ever imagined, and has a new plan.  It involves a trip to deepest Rumania, and a treacherous alliance with a certain nobleman who has dwelt there a very long time.

Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Volume One

Now Holmes must grapple with something he had heretofore deemed impossible–the supernatural!  Dracula and Moriarty have unleashed a plague of vampirism on London, and even the help of Abraham Van Helsing may not be enough to turn the tide.

The script for this comic book series was developed by Martin Powell during the independent comics boom of the 1980s.  He shopped it around, finding no takers until Malibu Comics (RIP) took a chance and assigned an artist to it.  Both the Dracula-related story “Scarlet in Gaslight”, and the followup “A Case of Blind Fear” which takes elements from H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, were well-received, and they’ve gotten several reprints, the most recent from Moonstone Books.

Mr. Powell dug deep into the Holmes canon, even while violating one of its primary rules.  His Holmes is vulnerable, retreating into seeming madness at one point when his worldview shatters.  (He’s able to handle Griffin’s science-induced invisibility much better.)  But fear not, Holmes is soon back on form.

The centrality of the Holmes part of the stories does excise many of my favorite characters from the books that are being crossed over.   This is especially a pity in the case of Mina Harker, whose modernity would have clashed nicely with Holmes’ distrust of women.

Speaking of women, Irene Adler appears in the second story in what is a huge tease for those who ship her with Holmes.  It seems her husband has been tempted into trying to obtain blackmail documents Irene saved from her original appearance.  She’s contrasted with Mary Watson, who plays a more conventional damsel in distress.

The black and white art is effective.  The stories rely a little too heavily on scantily clad women and sexual violence–the independent comics boom was partially fueled by the fact that it was no longer necessary to subscribe to the content restrictions of the Comics Code to get distributed, and creators took full advantage of this.

Recommended for fans of well-written Sherlock Holmes crossovers, not so recommended for Holmes purists.

And here’s another take on Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula:

Manga Review: Black Jack 2

Manga Review: Black Jack 2 by Osamu Tezuka

Before Osamu Tezuka became a full-time manga creator, he was  a medical doctor.  He drew upon this training and experiences with Japan’s medical establishment for his work on Black Jack starting in the 1970s.

Black Jack 2

Black Jack (birth name Kuro’o Hazama) is a brilliant physician and surgeon who is unlicensed (reasons differing between continuities) and therefore operates outside the law and the established medical system.   For reasons that are not revealed until late in the manga, Black Jack requires large sums of money and will often charge outrageous fees.  On the other hand, he will also often treat a patient for free or a nominal payment if the whim strikes him.

The stories are mostly episodic, and the order of presentation is not necessarily the order they occur.  Most of them features valuable lessons about life, usually for the patient or another civilian, but sometimes for doctors or Black Jack himself.

In most of the stories, Black Jack is accompanied by Pinoko, a cyborg he created from a parasitic twin that had never fully developed.  Her artificial body makes her look like a small child, and she usually acts like one, but Pinoko considers herself a grown woman and Black Jack’s wife.  This can get pretty disturbing, but Tezuka never takes it in a sexual direction.

The first story in this volume is “Needle”, a thriller which begins with Black Jack successfully completing a tough operation.  But an earthquake causes the tip of an IV needle to break off and travel down the blood vessel.  Now Black Jack and his surgical team must try to locate the foreign object and remove it, before the heart is reached.   Truly, the human body should not be underestimated!

“Where Art Thou, Friend?” is a flashback story that explains Black Jack’s mismatched skin tone.  As a child, Kuro’o was in a horrific accident, and needed a large skin graft immediately.   The only donor available (because the other classmates either chickened out or were forbidden by their parents) was a mixed-race child named Takashi.

Decades later, medical techniques have advanced, and Black Jack could get matching skin and have his facial scars ameliorated, but feels he would be dishonoring his friend by rejecting the lifesaving gift.  This becomes his permanent attitude when Black Jack learns that Takashi died fighting for the environment in Algiers.

“Assembly Line Care” and “The Blind Acupuncturist” both have Black Jack clash with other doctors.  In the first, a hospital director is keeping  costs low by running operations like an assembly line, which is efficient, but gives an impression of impersonality.  In the second, the title alternative practitioner donates his services freely, and dislikes Black Jack’s onerous fee structure.  But he’s a little too hasty to volunteer, and makes a needle-phobic patient’s condition worse.

This volume also contains a “sealed chapter” (one that was excluded from the standard collections), “The One That Remains.”  Sextuplets are born in Germany, one hideously deformed.  The doctor in charge calls in Dr. Kiriko, a specialist in painless euthanasia.  On the plane, Kiriko encounters Black Jack who violently objects to allowing patients to die.

Black Jack gets Dr. Kiriko detained by the police, and shows up in his place.  While the sixth infant is deformed to the point of never being able to have a normal life, it’s also the most likely to survive, as the other five sextuplets are sickly.  Indeed, one has just died!  Black Jack suggests an audacious plan.  He’ll use the organs of the dead sibling to fix some of the mutant’s deformities.

In the end, all the normal-looking babies die, but the sixth sibling is now no longer deformed and will survive.  The public (who had not been told about the deformity thing) cheers, and Dr. Kiriko (finally released from custody) no longer has a patient.

The disturbing images and morbid subject matter caused the story to be pulled from compilations aimed at the original audience of young boys.

Although Tezuka felt no compunctions about just making up diseases for a good story, his anatomy is excellent and the operation scenes look realistic.  This may be difficult for more sensitive readers.

Some physical depictions of other races are done in the then considered okay in Japan burlesque style that is now seen as highly racist.   This translation has left this in place rather than have them redrawn.

Recommended for fans of medical drama.

Here’s the opening for one of several animated adaptations:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQUEZ4kGwMU

Book Review: The Invisible Man

Book Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The sleepy village of Iping doesn’t get many visitors in the middle of winter, so when Mrs. Hall gets a new customer (and one that pays on time!) for her boarding house, it’s not polite to look a gift horse in the mouth.  It’s true the guest is something of an odd duck.  He keeps himself fully clothed and bandaged at all times, and wears dark glasses, performs mysterious chemical experiments in the parlor, and has a nasty temper.  But the stranger (odd, I don’t think he ever gave a name) keeps to himself and, again, pays on time.

The Invisible Man

But as winter melts into spring, the little oddities of the stranger begin to rub people the wrong way.  Plus, there are some mighty weird events in the village.  And the guest appears to be running out of money, so Mrs. Hall is running out of patience with his eccentricity.  After the vicar and his wife are robbed by an unseen criminal, the stranger suddenly has money–could there be a connection?  The Halls decide to have it out with their boarder once and for all–but they could never have guessed his secret!

The power of invisibility and its potential abuses have been the subject of fanciful stories since time immemorial.  This 1897 novel has one of the first truly thought-out considerations of how one might become invisible and the consequences thereof.  Griffin, the Invisible Man, is not so much invisible as transparent, having found a way to alter the refractory properties of human flesh, blood and bone.  He started out as an albino, so didn’t have to worry so much about the pigmentation of skin or hair.  His eyes are partially visible, so that he can see.

Griffin claims that he can treat cloth to make it invisible, but never actually does so, requiring him to run around in the nude for much of the story, a nasty handicap in inclement weather.  While the Invisible Man is certainly a threat on an individual level, his dreams of rulership require him to have visible accomplices.  Unfortunately for Griffin, his choices of lazy tramp Thomas Marvel and old schoolmate Kemp both backfire.

While it’s suggested that either the formula itself or the permanency of his invisible condition have driven Griffin insane, it’s also clear that he was not the most stable of scientists before his transformation.  When his job as a poorly-paid college demonstrator  (TA) prevented him from pursuing his experiments with optics, Griffin had no hesitation in stealing money from his father.  Griffin has no qualms when the old man commits suicide, only annoyed that he must set aside time to go to the funeral.  Griffin is bigoted even by the standards of his time, quick with ethnic, gender-based, and ableist slurs, and is cruel to a cat.

Kemp is quick-witted, and intelligently tries to stop Griffin before the Invisible Man can escalate his reign of terror.  (But it’s too late for the one man Griffin definitely murders as opposed to probably murders.)

There’s quite a bit of incidental humor in the story.  My favorite bit is the visiting American who just happens to be carrying a large firearm and starts shooting randomly in the direction of the Invisible Man, apparently in the belief that sufficient firepower can solve any problem.  (In fairness, he does manage to wing Griffin.)

Those more familiar with the movie versions might find the long early section before the big reveal dragging.  Still, it’s a classic for a reason, and the last section is genuinely suspenseful.

Recommended to science fiction and horror fans who enjoy stories of invisibility.

And here’s Claude Rains as Griffin:

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01 Story by Ukyou Kodachi, Art by Tatsuma Ejiri

Emi Kaido is not your normal high school girl.  For starters, her father is always away on business (currently in Los Angeles) and her mother passed away, so Emi lives alone in a huge apartment.  But perhaps more important is her love of tinkering with mechanical objects, taking them apart to learn how they work and usually being able to put them together again better.  As part of this, Emi has learned how to draw, and is pretty good at it, if not professional level.

Infini-T Force 01

Emi’s a little surprised when a creepy-looking delivery guy brings a brightly-colored package to her door.  It’s not her birthday or any other special day, but no time to think, as she’s late for school!  At lunch, she realizes she brought the package instead of lunch.  Inside is an oversized, childish-looking pencil.  It’s labeled as a “Possibility Pencil” able to grant her every desire.   Which sounds pretty unlikely, but when Emi draws a picture of her missing lunch, it shows up underneath her desk!

After school, and Emi communicating with her father to learn he wasn’t the anonymous sender, Emi finds herself in a dangerous situation with a drug-crazed criminal.  Emi doesn’t have any defense training or weapons, and there’s no police in sight.   She needs a hero!  He’s got to be sure, and he’s got to be soon, and he’s got to be larger than life…anyhow, her hand takes over and sketches out four heroic figures on the floor with the pencil.  There are three flashes of light, and a strange man in a gaudy costume comes in the door.

The man rescues Emi, and turns out to be Ken Washio, “Eagle Ken” of the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman!  He’s a bit puzzled as to why he’s here, as the last thing he remembers is fighting along his comrades against the forces of Galactor.  Emi doesn’t know how to send him back, but it soon becomes clear that her Earth is faced with other threats, which will need the intervention of not just Gatchaman, but Tekkaman, Casshan and Polimar as well.

This series is a love letter to the Tatsunoko Productions superhero shows of the 1970s.  American readers may be vaguely familiar with some of them, in particular Gatchaman, which was heavily edited to become more suitable for U.S. children as Battle of the Planets.  Fortunately, their stories are recapped here for people who might not have seen the originals.    The somewhat silly magic pencil plot device makes this feel like many a crossover fanfic I’ve read over the years.

The heroes are introduced one by one in this first volume, showcasing their different personalities and philosophies of heroism.  (Perhaps a bit exaggerated to create more conflict.)   In particular, Gatchaman and Polimar clash over using lethal force on human opponents.  (All the heroes are A-okay with lethal force against monsters and robots.)

Besides nostalgic oldsters like me, this manga is clearly aimed at the shounen (boys’) market.   There are a couple of gratuitous fanservice shots of Emi, and she is generally useless outside of providing support for the male heroes.  Her magic pencil seems to have very limited power outside of summoning heroes or power-ups for heroes, and an attempt to open a gate back to Casshan’s world backfires badly.   This could in its way be a homage to the original shows, which tended to treat women as damsels in distress or the “heart” of any grouping.

It’s not clear if the villains are a team-up of past Tatsunoko enemies under a new leader, or if the new villains are just using familiar tactics.  In particular, the enemy leader is shrouded in mystery.

I’d like to see Emi’s school friend Sanae take a larger role in future chapters, just to amend the gender imbalance a bit.

Recommended to fans of Tatsunoko superhero shows, and tokusatsu (special effect show) fans in general.

Naturally, there’s an anime adaptation:

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway  by Seanan McGuire

Nancy went through a door to the Halls of the Dead.  She learned to enjoy the skill of remaining perfectly still, and wearing elegant black and white clothing.  When she asked to stay forever, the Lord of the Dead asked her to be sure–and sent her home.  The journey changed her, and Nancy’s parents can’t understand why she isn’t their “little rainbow” any more.  But somehow they’ve learned of a place that might be able to help.

Every Heart a Doorway

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a boarding school for young people with the “delusion” that they went to another world and want to return rather than stay on Earth.  It seems that a fair number of children every year walk through doors or fall through mirrors or get lost in the woods, and find Fairyland or the Webworld or the Moors.  Some of them never return and are indistinguishable from missing children that just died, but others return by their own will or another’s.  Maybe they aged out, or they broke the Rules, or they just went home to say goodbye and couldn’t find the entrance again.

And a certain number of those returnees are able to adjust to life back on Earth, and get on with their lives, but the ones who can’t and are lucky enough find their way to the Home.  There they’ll live among people who more or less understand what they’ve been through and get education until they can either live with their memories or find their way back where they belong.  (There’s a sister school in Maine for kids who went to the absolute wrong world and need treatment for their trauma.)

Nancy meets Eleanor West (who could go back anytime but no longer has the childish mindset needed to thrive in her Nonsense world), and is made roommates with Sumi, who went to a candy-themed dimension, and has become a madcap bundle of clashing bright colors and energy.    Despite their very different styles, Sumi takes a liking to Nancy and drags her around to meet some of the other students.

There’s Kade, who was tossed out when the fairies discovered he was a prince instead of the princess they wanted.  Jack (short for Jacqueline) and Jill (short for Jillian), whose mentors were a mad scientist and vampire respectively, and left their world one step ahead of a pitchfork and torch-bearing mob.  Christopher, who can make skeletons dance, and twenty or thirty others.

Nancy is just beginning to learn the ropes and settle in when one of the students is mutilated and murdered.  And that’s only the first death.  Nancy comes in for some suspicious as she’s been to an Underworld and the murders started after her arrival, but she’s pretty sure she isn’t responsible.  But who or what is, and why?

This dark fantasy young adult novel is by Seanan McGuire, who does a nice line in urban fantasy and horror.   Kids going to fantasy worlds has been a sub-genre of speculative fiction for decades; Narnia is mentioned (though it’s considered unrealistic by the students–they think it’s just fiction.)  In Japan they’re called isekai stories and are so common that one literary prize banned them from consideration for a year.   But few stories have considered that all these tales are taking place on the same Earth, and what aftereffects that might have.

The proceedings are a bit gruesome, and more sensitive junior high readers might want to skip this one until they are ready.

The writing quality is excellent, and there are a number of fascinating characters.  That said, the majority of the students are self-centered to a degree I found unsympathetic, which may make sense for troubled teens but does not please me.   The mystery aspect was pretty easy for me to figure out, and most savvy readers should figure it out a few pages before the protagonists do.

At some level, this book is metaphorically about how young people find their own identities in adolescence, often very different from what seemed to be the case in childhood, and their parents and other authority figures sometimes are not able to accept this.   This is most directly addressed with Kade, whose parents will welcome him any time he starts calling himself “Katie” again.

This book has been amazingly popular with its intended audience, and there are two more so far in the Wayward Children series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones (prequel) and Beneath the Sugar Sky (a sequel with a very surprising character.)  I am hoping at some point we’ll see the sister school and some of its students.

Recommended to young adult fantasy fans, with a slight emphasis on girls.

And here’s the Japanese equivalent, which is more heavily aimed at boys:

Anime Review: Devilman Crybaby

Anime Review: Devilman Crybaby

War, pollution, crime, climate change, general immorality–it sure seems like the world is going to Hell these days.  According to Ryo Asuka, a teen genius professor, it might be because an increasing number of humans are becoming possessed by demons.  He’s come up with a plan, though.  Ryo theorizes that by allowing oneself to be voluntarily possessed, a human of sufficient will can retain their human mind while gaining demonic powers.  And he has just the candidate in mind, his best friend, the wimpy but truly good-hearted Akira Fudo.

Devilman Crybaby

The plan involves infiltrating a “Sabbat”, a wild party where people engage in mind altering drugs, illicit sex and blasphemous dancing.  With a violent push by Ryo, the balance is tipped and demons begin possessing the partiers.  Akira is able to merge with the particularly powerful demon Amon, but retain his humanity.  He distinguishes himself from those fully taken over as not a demon, but a “Devilman.”  Now Ryo and his foster family the Makimuras (particularly his lovely foster sister Miki) become the target of demons bent on returning Amon to the fold or killing him.

This new Netflix animated series is based on the 1972 manga Devilman by Go Nagai.   Unlike the 1970s anime adaptation, which was considerably toned down for television (but still gave small children screaming nightmares), this horror show mostly follows the plot progression of the manga, including its legendarily apocalyptic ending.  It also takes advantage of not being for broadcast to go for a Mature Viewers audience, with nudity, sex, rape, gore aplenty, cruelty to animals and general nastiness.

It also does a good job of updating the setting for the current day.  A gang of delinquents in the Seventies style is replaced by rapper fans (at least one of whom is a skilled rapper himself), and social media plays a large part in certain events.  A weird touch is that some version of the Seventies cartoon exists in the backstory, causing people to dismiss reports of Devilman as other people watching too much anime.

The title refers to another change–in this version, Akira is empathetic to the point that he can sense other people’s sorrow, and cries in sympathy with them, even retaining this trait in his Devilman identity.  This makes it clearer that despite some personality changes, he’s still the same person.

Go Nagai intended the manga as a metaphor for how war destroys everything and twists human hearts.  And indeed, in many cases, the humans live down to the worst demons.  But there are exceptions, and even some characters who are initially unsympathetic show redeeming moments.

The art style and animation work very well for the type of story that’s being told, and there’s some stirring music.

Highly recommended for adults with strong stomachs and an interest in horror.

And here’s the trailer!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww06yGPM7Kc

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