Monday, December 28, 2009

Tokyo Comic Book Report: December 2009

Christmas in Tokyo is glitzy and romantic. Young couples stroll the gaily decorated streets of fabulous entertainment destinations like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku. Christmas music fills the air along with extreme right-wing nationalist harangues broadcast over loudspeakers from vans decorated with the "rising sun" flag. There's both a chill and a feeling of magic in the air and a comic book geek's thoughts lightly turn to...

Hitting up Blister in Harajuku for the latest American monthly comic book magazines. Unfortunately, this time around the pickings were pretty slim. I must have hit Blister at an off time. The most recent offerings from DC and Marvel were available, but not stocked very deeply. There were absolutely no issues of Batgirl to be had either on the main shelf or in the back-issue bins, no new Astonishing X-Men, very little Dark Horse other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Conan the Cimmerian and one BPRD title. However, if you want a nearly-complete run of Wildstorm's Gen13 series, you're in luck; they have practically every issue, plus some from the earlier volumes. I didn't buy any of them. The ready availability of Gen13 is probably not a good sign for that title (I can't believe it's still being published), but I imagine the scarcity of everything else points to robust sales here in Japan for those titles.

I bought the fifth and final issue of the Batman: Unseen miniseries with a Doug Moench script and Kelley Jones art. While I'm not a big Kelley Jones fan, the comic looked oddball enough to attract me, and I had yen to burn. Actually, I gave it a try because I was desperate.

In this story, Batman takes an invisibility formula and turns into slightly more of an asshole than usual (I don't understand the big deal about Batman taking super-steroids and getting 'roid rage or going insane with power under the influence of some H.G. Wells invisibility formula when for the past few years he's been written as a borderline psychotic anyway). And Jones makes Batman's silly bat-ears look as though they're three feet long. And gives the Caped Crusader a pinhead on top of a grotesquely bulbous body.

I noticed from Dark Horse's house ads (and even in the Conan letter page) they're positioning themselves as even more of an alternative to DC and Marvel as they trumpet their standalone titles. Counterprogramming for those of us burned out on massive crossover storylines and the expectation from the Big Two that we're just dying to buy 20 comics a month to get a complete plot... which they'll just un-do and render superfluous as soon as it becomes inconvenient or problematic for the next giant crisis. Well, maybe most superhero comic fans do like those kinds of things because they seem to top the sales charts.

But for me, these enforced participation in crossovers interrupts the narrative flow of whatever monthly I'm reading. Case in point-- just when I was starting to enjoy New Mutants, all developing story threads get temporarily tossed as the team crashes headlong into an boneheaded issue where they fight zombie versions of their old enemies because of "Necrosha X," some overarching X-title event that just seems the tiredest, least essential crossover so far. I couldn't even enjoy the return of a couple of familiar characters from the first New Mutants series.

I bought this issue because I'm following this one title; it was nothing but yawn-inducing superheroic fisticuffs (nice Adam Kubert cover, though), so not only has Marvel failed to interest me in buying other books to follow this inane storyline, they've killed a lot of my interest in New Mutants as well.

This just makes me like Dark Horse even more. It's simple-- they publish more of the titles I enjoy than any other company and I rarely feel ripped off or insulted after reading them. Their books give you a genuinely pleasurable reading experience that doesn't feel like a hollow marketing stunt masquerading as a story. I even bought odd-sized Empowered special, "The Wench with a Million Sighs." My final purchase consisted of 5 Dark Horse books, two issues of Marvel's New Mutants (one of which turned me off) and a single DC offering.

But since Blister's shelves seemed as bare and uninviting as the Cratchits' pantry in A Christmas Carol, I didn't spend too much time there. Also because there was just too much to see in and around Harajuku. Lights, Christmas trees, beautiful young people walking together in pairs. A river of red brake lights on Omotesando-dori competing with the glittering decorations in the trees lining the street.

Kinokuniya behind Takashimaya in Shinjuku still has a decent selection of graphic novels, heavy on the mainstream stuff, although Alan Moore's works are heavily represented. This is your most reliable source for newer English-translation manga volumes; they have a relatively huge selection that compares favorably with American chain bookstores. I picked up Nana 18 and 19 there. At Tower Records in Shibuya I bought the last battered copy available in Japan of Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets Library (Part 1): Maggie the Mechanic. Tower carries a lot of Fantagraphics' books, but they don't seem to be stocking Love and Rockets New Stories; I buy those from

Tower Records has also expanded their English-translated manga section onto a second shelf. Not as extensive as the stock at Kinokuniya, but still worth a look.

And that's what a comic book Christmas in Tokyo was like in 2009.

No comments: