Thursday, September 18, 2008

American Empire and Japanese Boxing

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of A People's History of American Empire (Metropolitan/Holt & Co, 2008) and One Pound Gospel volume two (Viz, 2008).

I always enjoy glancing at the Amazon reviews for a book when I get the URL for the link to help you readers purchase your own copy. I was exceptionally curious what I'd find waiting for me in this case. This is a lengthy, narration-filled companion to historian Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, weaving in the writer's own story from a lieutenant in the Army Air Force in World War Two to rabble-rousing civil rights agitator among the Spellman College faculty to toast of the left-wing intelligensia today, and it's a scathing indictment of the military-industrial complex that's kept the United States in a perpetual war footing for most of the last century.

I think that it's a book that deserves honest critique on its own merits. Is the storyline factually sound? Does it treat the subject fairly? These certainly seem to be true. Where I think it is on shaky ground is in using the medium of comics to its full advantage. At its worst, the book reminds me of the wordier passages in some of Paradox's old Big Books, where you are taken out of the experience of reading a comic and are just reading text with sequential illustrations. If I understand correctly, while Zinn gets top billing, it's David Wagner who provided the actual script and Mike Konopacki the art*. Konopacki's caricatures and clever iconography are very amusing, but the herky-jerky, unnaturally paced script has him working at a huge disadvantage. The imagery is just fine, but the storytelling needs a little work. Few of the topics seem to get the space needed to come alive, while others cry out for much greater detail. I am not certain what the solution could be, but it really feels a draft or two short of where it needed to be.

For my part, I was chilled by what I learned, and it made me want to read more of Zinn (in prose form, mind), so it certainly accomplished its goals despite the rough narrative, and so I certainly recommend it to open-minded readers. But I mentioned the Amazon reviewers, and they didn't disappoint. None of the handful of one-star reviews that the book received came from people who assessed the book honestly, but rather were so incensed in their land-dat-I-love Archie Bunker mentality that Zinn would question our nation's motives that they could only cast aspersions on Zinn himself. I was amused, briefly.

*A commenter noted that while Paul Buhle gets a cover credit, he was actually the editor of the volume and David Wagner the writer. This entry was revised on 9/19 to correct my error.

This is the second revised, resized edition of Rumiko Takahashi's charming little comic about a boxer with an all-powerful punch but no willpower to make a championship career from it. I first gave this a mention about a year back, but I don't know that I gave it enough of a thumbs-up, at least where the incredibly fun and clever first story, "The Lamb Resurrected," is concerned. Taro Matsuzaka, with his fixed, fake grin, is a really delightful enemy, particularly as a little more about him is revealed over the course of the story.

The second tale truly is a drop-off; perhaps, since it had been two years since she'd last written the characters, Takahashi had forgotten that Kosaku shouldn't be quite as stupid as he comes across in this tale. Maybe that face-full-o-ramen reveal makes up for it and maybe it doesn't, but this is certainly the weaker of the first two One Pound Gospel collections. The third is due next month and the last in December.

(Originally posted September 18, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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