October 2007

Jeff VanderMeer


Cute Animals/Cool Adventures vs... Angst-Ridden Death Island

Is there really anything more mind-blowing than reading a volume of Flight back-to-back with the Tokyopop ultimate edition of the first three volumes of Battle Royale? I don't think so. I can't recall a single graphic bullet-through-the-brains panel in Flight, Volume 4 , but there seemed to be an awful lot of them in Battle Royale. Anyway, read on for further reaction to this bends-inducing juxtaposition.

As always, send comments, complaints, and mutterings to vanderworld at hotmail.com. Materials for review should be sent to Bookslut and to me at: POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315.

Flight, Volume 4 edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Although I liked Flight, Volume 3 quite a bit, and found some of the individual offerings wonderful, it did seem like the series had hit the wall creatively -- too many comics about kids chasing after monsters, or kids turning out to be monsters. The images remained diverse and dynamic, but the stories behind the images didn't thrill as much as in the past.

However, the latest volume, Flight, Volume Four , might just be the best yet. It opens with an absolute tour de force by Michael Gagne, "The Saga of Rex," about a horned mammal critter that goes on an incredible adventure. The set pieces are muscular in both the visual and storytelling sense. The fluidity, sense of play, and imagination exhibited by Gagne get Flight off to a champagne-cork-popping start. The second comic, Amy Kim Ganter's "Food from the Sea," about a seaside community's predilection for one type of seafood over another, has a marvelously grotesque depiction of the seafood in question, and a story that generally holds together despite a couple of clunky bits.

From there, the anthology proceeds from strength to strength, reflecting a much greater diversity of art styles and storylines than Volume Three. It's hard to know where to begin in praising this installment, or what to highlight, I enjoyed it all so much. But I'll try. Neil Babra's "The Blue Guitar," with its ragged, swooping panels and lyrical style, delighted me. "Igloo Head and Tree Head" by Scott Campbell has the kind of absurdist imagination behind it that exhibits an unholy originality, coupled to a deliberately "handmade"-looking art style that provides just the right amount of whimsy.

But even better is "The Story of Binny" by Lark Pien, in which a boy finds a strange talking animal that gradually manipulates him into worse and worse situations. The deconstruction of the usual cute mammal tale into something more sinister works marvelously well.

Finally, the wordless "Twenty-Four Hours" by Andrea Offermann, with its etching-like precision and genius-level use of browns and subdued color, had my jaw dropping in appreciation. Featuring strange flying boats, a tethered elephant herd, and a strange city, it's one of my favorites from the Flight series over all four volumes.

The overall energy, imagination, and storytelling chops on display in Flight, Volume 4 make it an early contender for an Eisner, in my opinion, and a welcome return to form for a series that continues to be a kind of best-of fantastical comics. Highly recommended for anyone who loves the kind of seamless sense of play that distinguishes the great from the merely good.

Flight, Volume Four, edited by Kazu Kibuishi
ISBN 978-0-345-49040-7
344 Pages

Battle Royale: Ultimate Edition

Where have I been? Living under a rock? A hermit in a cave by the sea? Apparently, because this is the first time I've read the manga Battle Royale, now in an Ultimate Edition hardcover from Tokyopop. Collecting the first three volumes, this stunning compilation is a blood-splattering kinetic adrenaline rush of a read -- so much so that even as I was wincing at times from the extreme situations, I couldn't stop turning the pages.

As a late-comer to this series, I'm sure there's nothing much original that I can say about Battle Royale, except that it displays the same kind of consummate understanding of the storyteller's art as a movie series like Saw, with which it shares a few similarities. (In fact, Battle Royale is a bit like a combination of Saw, Survivor, and Lost, with more bloodshed.) Yes, there is extreme violence, but there's also a skillful back-and-forth between past and present, a real brutality at the level of narrative that has to be admired, as the creators continually raise the stakes without compromising on their stark vision. You have to respect that commitment to raising what's a kind of B-movie premise to hyper-real brilliance through sheer bloody-minded power of will. Also, whether intentional or not, it's genius to wed the melodramatic situation to the melodrama that is being a teenager. In theory, this might have led to the whole series being one long shriek, but in fact the two things tend to complement one another. I really enjoyed Battle Royale, and appreciated having the chance to first experience it in this deluxe hardcover.

Battle Royale: Ultimate Edition, volume 1, Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi
ISBN 978-1-4278-0753-3
672 Pages

Final Thoughts

Next time I’ll be reviewing a slew of Tokyopop titles, with additional insight provided by my fellow Eisner judge Robin Brenner.