Friday, July 4, 2008

Constantine, Blaise and Rao

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Hellblazer: Tainted Love (DC/Vertigo, 1998), Modesty Blaise: Yellowstone Booty (Titan, 2008) and Sand Land (Viz, 2004).

In many of DC's contemporary collected editions, a little work on the part of some editors is sorely missed. This one, assembled before their line got so slapdash, is reader-friendly to the point of including an introduction, explaining recent events in the life of John Constantine, the powerful English mystic and con man, who, in these six stories by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, has hit rock bottom after his girlfriend Kit has left him. Constantine is easy prey for the vampires and demons who've got a grudge when he's homeless and drunk. I'm not sure that this is in any way a good introduction to the character - for Ennis-written Hellblazer, you want Dangerous Habits or Damnation's Flame, I think - but it feels like some effort and love went into this volume. The story about Kit going home to her sister in Northern Ireland is a truly beautiful piece of writing, glowing with a love of family and community. Recommended for mature readers familiar with the character.

Now I'm certain that all of you reading this have taken my advice and started reading Modesty Blaise, right? Good. Well, since there's very little continuity in the series, you can probably give this one a miss until later on. Oh, it isn't bad, don't get me wrong, but the second story, in which Peter O'Donnell gives a little too much credence to the "mystic powers of the martial arts" malarkey, brings an otherwise thrilling story of an old enemy springing a trap in Cambodia to such a damp climax that you can't help but feel a little cheated. Anyway, this reprints another 14 months of the strip, from 1978-79 and gives you the last two stories illustrated by Enric Romero before he took a hiatus to draw Axa, and the first one handled by John Burns, better known for his work painting Judge Dredd and Nikolai Dante. If you like Burns's painted art, you will really like his linework, which I find even more agreeable. Recommended for readers pretty familiar with the character.

Very, very fun stuff! Akira Toriyama is best known around the Hipster Pad for Dr. Slump, but he's best known everywhere else for Dragon Ball, a strip so phenomenally successful in Japan that it elevated Toriyama to the very rare position of being able to do whatever the heck he wants in comics and not have to sign long-term contracts to keep producing stuff every week in order to also sell the things his heart's really in. So from what I gather, he sold Shonen Jump the concept as a 14-week, fast-paced serial with a definite beginning and end. While I'm certain the magazine would prefer a 14-year Toriyama strip which they could then turn into a huge line of books, they ran the series in the summer of 2000. It's about a retired general in an arid wasteland ruled by a fat, corrupt king who asks a pair of wisecracking demons to help him find a fabled water source. The three of them steal a tank and make their way south while the military and some bizarre criminals try to stop them.

You can tell there's the background here for something that could have run a lot longer, but Toriyama resisted the opportunity for the long-winded "power-up" fights that made Dragon Ball so agonizing, and just kept to the meat of his story. It's lean, fast-paced and very funny, with goofball characters and unexpected comic twists, suggesting what Dragon Ball might have been had the pressure and the money not been so great as to keep him and his studio working on it so long past its sell-by date.

Wikipedia suggests that Sand Land has been the last comic project for Toriyama in some time, and the only one of his short post-Dragon Ball series to be collected in English, though I'm optimistic we'll see the mid-90s Dr. Slump Returns, But Only for a Little While after Viz finishes that series' original run. I understand he's wealthy enough to not have to draw comics anymore, but damn, he's too talented to stay retired, don't you think? Recommended!

(Originally posted July 04, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

No comments: