Thursday, March 22, 2007

MAKE MINE MANGA: OEL Roundup OR Holy Shit! These books are good!!

It's been a while since I checked in with some manga, and one of the things travelling for cons affords me, is some reading time, in airports and on planes... so I've got a good stack of recent Tokyopop OEL (or original English language) mangas that I spent time with.

Normally I rate the books individually, either as Not Recommended, Mildly Recommended, Recommended, or Highly Recommended... but since this group was spectacular, all falling under the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED category, I'll go ahead and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10!

Written by Stormcrow Hayes with art by Rob Steen
Afterlife is a dark introspective tale that looks at the afterlife and one possible scenario where everyone ends up in the same place once they die, that's neither Heaven or Hell, but more a mysterious limbo. Everyone fills the dark, alien landscape as-is upon their death, and are given no answers as to why they're all there, or what they're to do, except for a very select few who become guardians of the lair as it were, tasked with keeping order for all time (yet are otherwise no more informed than the rest).

Afterlife explores rich themes, and also weaves a strong tale, that moves forward to the future second and third volumes. If you've ever contemplated death, or what comes next, you'll enjoy exploring one possibility here, that's both well written, and uniquely illustrated.
9 out of 10

Written and drawn by Dan Hipp
Dan Hipp is a co-creator on the semi-popular Image comics series, The Amazing Joy Buzzards, and anyone who's seen that work will recognize his cartoonish style instantly. Here Dan turns in a completely different fantasy-style dark hero's journey, with storyteller flair.

Gyakushu! volume one sets the stage for the bandaged and mysterious protagonist "The Thief", slowly revealing the critical moments that shaped his path and defined him as the man we now see, and the events that lead up to it. It's an epic similar in tone to the dark fantasy of Tolkien, with nice touches of character and menace that are in keeping with some of the best works of comic book fantasy. High praise, but Gyakushu! truly is a solid first outing that leaves the reader setup and anxious for more.
9 out of 10

Written by Paul Benjamin with artwork by Steven & Megumi Cummings
First off, I love this book!
Pantheon High is superpowered adventure done to perfection, with an imaginative premise (high school teen offspring of the gods, complete with the abilities of their mythical parents, all attending one school for their kind), and a razor sharp story and plot. There are moments in the first volume where Benjamin sets scenes up that play out masterfully, showcasing his cast, while delivering choreographed action the likes of the best of whats found in cinema. Meanwhile the Cummings' artwork is detailed, rich, stylish, strong, and sexy.

If you enjoy the themes of the X-Men, done right, or superpowered adventure within real world settings, give this book a shot. It's damn fun, original (especially for this genre), and good!
10 out of 10

SNOW Vol.1
Written and drawn by Morgan Luthi
Snow showcases, more than anything, Luthi's strong cinematic/animated sensibilities, that are a treat to read. A sci-fi epic centered on a person of mass destruction (with the ability to destroy worlds no less), trying to leave his life at the hands of the Warmongers behind at the farthest reach of the galaxy. Familiar sci-fi themes, sure, but Snow is wholly unique in the approach and creativity of Luthi.

While, of these four, it may be the weakest story, Snow is still a fabulous comic that completely transports the reader to the worlds laid out by the creator, and tells a fun, cosmic yarn. Grab this if you like sci-fi comics, or fun animated artwork.
8 out of 10

Once you add this quality list of OEL outings to the already strong lineup that's proceeded it, Tokyopop have published an impressive list of quality comic offerings that are criminally underrated. Unfortunately the OEL books are a bit of an oddity, that although published by TPop, are not marketed at all, and turn off the closed-minded - manga purists who deem them as not "true" manga, and comic book fans who view them as more "big eyes, and speedlines". Folks, comics are comics, and as long as you close your mind to other formats, or stay within your comfort zones, you're missing out on some of the best of what the medium has to offer, be it Tokyopop OEL, European Graphic Albums, indy comics, whatever... do yourself a favor and give one of these books a try if you haven't!

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