Friday, December 28, 2012

EnTitled Angel

Earlier this year when there was some controversy over an editorial mandate to change the wording of the usage of "psycho" in one of his past volumes of his classic Battle Angel series, Yukito Kishiro suspended his lesser follow-up, Last Order, which was supposed to be the continuation of his planned story of exploring Alita into outer space.  At the time, he hastily wrote together a conclusion that somehow managed to tie several overarcing threads together into a satisfying finale, his results at trying to expand his universe past that vantage point has been less than satisfactory.  There's been less emphasis on character interaction and natural world-building by letting events reveal themselves and exposition that slowed the story to a crawl.  New characters are rapidly introduced, then just as quickly forgotten if they don't fit the overall narrative.  It stopped becoming philosophical and more analytical.

Yukito Kishiro seemed to be floundering over various subjects trying vainly to fit his constantly switching interests from one subject to another like a skipping stone over water until the inertia threatened to plunge the story into a watery mess.  The chapters are also kept to a more rigid 30 page count, which limits the amount of creativity and freedom of the early Alita books.  Violence was always a large part of Alita's world, but it was never the primary focus.  It's never a good sign when a once high-reputed series starts relying on a tournament as a crutch.  Only after he changed publishers and came back from his hiatus did his focus improve somewhat, but it still falls short of his original mark.

I was worried that the jump to Kodansha would affect the quality of the series, since I heard reviews of some of Kodansha's other Mangas that lacked the ease of flow of the dialogue.  I needn't have worried - Fred Burke who'd been there from the start was still available for the job.  Though there's a new typesetter, and the Japanese sound effects aren't replaced by English ones, which isn't really much of a loss.  The informative footnotes are still there, but they've changed in size to a taller format, which is somewhat distracting and hard to read.

What I was most concerned about was that the new publication wouldn't have a variation of "Angel" in its volume, since all the previous books had one, starting from Rusty Angel to Last Angel Standing.  Even though there's not one included on the cover, one of the chapters is titled Space Angel.  At least there's some consolation there.

In the back of the 16th volume, it was advertised that the previous volumes of Battle Angel Alita would be released in omnibus collections, including various side stories that were never collected.  This would include a prequel featuring Dr. Ido, Alita VS. a ball-bearing opponent, a brief interlude in the life of a broken-down Deckman and Koyomi's handling the dissolution of Barjack after Den's death.  This is also good news, since the individual volumes had strong stories on their own right, but was slightly hindered by Viz's faithful release of the Japanese model where the story finished in the next volume for the first two books.  In fact, the nine books of Battle Angel Alita are so divergent from each other that when I first read books 4, 2 and 6 (in that order), I thought I was reading three different cybernetic post-apocalyptic dystopian futures staring cute fighting robot girls.  I figured the genre was popular enough to allow variations of that theme, and was surprised to find out they were all part of the same universe.  Other than that early hiccup, the remaining books all had a natural stopping point.  But there's still a few chapters that I'm hoping they'll fix this time around.  Maybe we'd get the footnotes for what a Soliton is in the Kodansha version.  (Strangely enough, the French version has the missing footnotes)

When Battle Angel Alita was first being published, it was around the time that Manga in America was delivered in 32-page comic books instead of fat volumes.  As a result, some titles were either added, combined or excluded when collected into the Viz volumes.

Missing titles are bolded out below. A comprehensive list can be found here, though there's a few I'd like to point out:


Battle 4: Resurgence
Battle 5: Initiation

HELL TRAP part 1
Battle 6: Responsibility
HELL TRAP part 2
Battle 7: Survival Mode


Struggle 2: Awakening Heart
Struggle 3: (the second subtitle is missing  If anyone has the comic, let me know what it was)

Struggle 4: Fugitive of Dreams
Struggle 5: Ride The Lightning


Race 3: Work to Rule
Race 4: To Kill or To Win

The Skull Challenge is the one title I have the biggest issue with.  The actual match only last one chapter, but is shown to "continue" into the next, even though it concluded earlier.  When compared with the title for the next chapter, ONLY ONE HEART Race 5: Risking All, it fits the cover and chapter's theme much better.

Race 6: Second Stage


The Motorball arc had one of the longest uninterrupted individual issues, and had to be split into several issues in order to fit all the excitement.  The two subtitles were included, which makes me wonder why this wasn't the case for other chapters as well.

Race 7: Face of Evil
Race 8: Touch of Cruelty

Race 12: The Long Way Home


Cycle 5: Scapegoat

The only problem I have with this one is that the so-called "Demon Dog" actually showed up briefly in the previous chapter, but save for an alternative use of a monster, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a worthy alternative suitable for replacement.


Journey 3: Comrades


Mission 2: Gambler's Luck

Mission 4: Undercurrents


Fight 4: Insanity
Fight 5: Revolution

This was one chapter subtitle that I preferred one over the other, which

Fight 8: True Strength


Challenge 3: Alternatives
Challenge 4: Anger

Just for clarification and to refresh anybody's memories, chapter 3 refers to Alita, while chapter 4 refers to Den.

Challenge 8: Mother's Love
Challenge 9: Regeneration

Strange that the epilogue would be absent of a title, but that's editorial choices for you.  It's something of a long shot, but I'm hoping these little mistakes will be pointed out and corrected the next time around.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Well, This is Embarrassing

I originally meant to update this blog the day after the so-called Mayan Apocalypse came and went without incident.

Unfortunately, I received some unwelcome news about a sudden change in my work schedule, which means that there’s less of a chance that I might be able to update my blog twice a week.  The Mayans were right - it was the end of MY world.  I was so upset that I’ve developed a sudden loss of appetite, and lost six pounds, which is quite helpful around the holiday season and plenty of temptation abound.  I’ve spent the last four days sick with worry about the new year, and could only relieve the pain in my stomach by pressing against a hard object.  Ironically enough, the one object that matched my specifications turned out to be a medical book of symptoms.

In order to make up for lost time, I’ve been cramming as much as I can accomplish in the two weeks of free time I’ve got left.  All the side projects and notes I’ve left lying around, all the newspaper articles I meant to file away, all the VHS tapes I meant to transfer to DVD but never got around to, all the remixed Garfield comics I had in mind that were pretty time-consuming.  So far, the notes are the most problematic, because there are so many of them, and they're spread out between multiple word documents and folders, without any sort of proper organization, and that's not counting the dozens of scraps I haven't entered yet.  In a way, this recent scare is a great motivator, though I would be reluctant to admit it.  I need some kind of structure if I’m ever going to do anything.

And yet, despite everything I’ve accomplished and put off since then, I feel that I haven’t done much of anything.  All I see are the stuff I haven’t done, which has been on the backburner for longer than I intended.  Too often, I kept procrastinating feeling that I would get around to it “when I felt like it”.  Now I'm finding that a recent ZenPencils comic is much more relevant than I thought it would be.  Perhaps after years of taking it easy and getting back to a routine, I'll be able to concentrate more on my story concepts.  I operate best under total deadline pressure.  If that's true, don't expect this blog to be updated as much as often.

Sorry for a rather dour outlook on Christmas Eve, but this was the only way to present this news.  Originally,  I wanted to point out that dreading the future is nothing new with these pages from Electric Company, where Spider-Man faces Dr. DOOM yet again.  Sometimes it feels like Dr. DOOM fights Spider-Man more often than the Fantastic Four, even though they're his primary focus.  So, after Dr. DOOM threatens the innocent bystanders he was plotting to infect anyways, just so he can make his escape and gloat, Spider-Man rushes to the scene as fast as he can in the vain hope that he might be able to stop the ball before it drops down and delay the upcoming year from arriving ahead of schedule.  Will he get there on time?  Can he make it???

Don't be ridiculous, he's Spider-Man.  Of course he makes it.  Or rather, the Spider-Man of yore who used to go out with Mary Jane and had a wider supporting cast that wasn't composed of S-heroes, and a moral code that never shook from its foundation.  Frankly, with the recent editorial staff in charge, the current stories are so dismally removed from the core subject that I no longer even bother reading new stories about him, and only keep my eyes peeled for criticisms aimed at showing what the producers do wrong.  In my mind's eye, Dr. Octopus was more the definitive villain than the overhyped Green Goblin, but I didn't want the tentacled scientist back like this.  Seriously, if you're a fan, you're better off not knowing.
See you next year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


There's a lot of speculation that the Mayan calendar which runs its warranty out tomorrow will plunge the Earth into a state of disastrous catastrophe the likes of which have never been seen.  What's led to the credibility of the Mayans as opposed to other Nostradamic prophets is their unusual accuracy for predicting certain astrological events for a civilization that upon first sight, was composed of mainly feathers, grass, stone and blood.  Convincing arguments to the contrary have been made, but that still hasn't stopped people worldwide from bracing themselves for a disaster that might still happen.

While Mayans are still around, their age-old empire is a far cry from where they once originated.  Lentinent Democracies without any defences seem to have a tendency to fall prey to barbaric invasions, which could explain how some sufficiently advanced civilizations that've created objects such as Crystal Skulls and Out-of-Place artifacts fell to ruin because they weren't able to protect themselves from barbarbic invaders.  What this tells us about humanity leaves much to be desired, which is why some nations are fanatical about the military.

I unknowingly lived through 1984.  I survived harmonic convergence.  I was ignorant about Halley's Comet.  Though I have to admit that I fell prey to the hype of the Y2K bug, which I still affectionally call the Yuck-2 Bug.  (I call things by what they look like, not what they sound like)  I was increasingly worried that come the year 2000, all the money I deposited in my bank account would become illegitimate, and everything I worked so hard for would wind up for naught.  Even after the Millennium passed, I was still reluctant to deposit any of my hard-earned cash inside, out of fear that a hidden virus would spring up come 2001, the REAL year of 2000, since there was no "Zero" year.

Only after the year 2001 came and went without incident did I allow my guard to drop and start to feel relieved about relying on electronics again.  Not that I trusted the machines TOO much - only up to a point.  I find it extremely difficult to fully trust anything that's failed me once in the past.  Sometimes my alarm clock doesn't wake me up, and I have to rely on my internal clock to get up on time.  Sometimes the VCR doesn't program all the way to the end, and I have to constantly watch to make sure I don't miss the closing minutes of my favorite show.

After that lack of a fiasco, I embraced a simple philosophy: the world's been ending since yesterday.

There was an awful movie about the year 2012, which despite its worldwide carnage, solely limited its worldview to pure updated biblical implications of outrageous proportions.  Rather short-sighted for something that would have far-reaching consequences beyond the cosmos, but how would humanity be able to survive against such a disaster of Lovecraftian consequences without something to relate to?  Chances are, if nothing happens, we'll all safely look back and laugh at how wrong we were.

One of the theories of the Mayan Apocalypse is that rogue planet Nibiru will come from another universe to destroy us all.  Anyone wanting an epic disaster story with that theme should check out Hellstar Remina by Horror Manga artist Junji Ito.  Planetary destruction was never so much fun.

What the Mayans probably intended was that the end of their cycle would be a period of transition where the old ways would be forgotten in favor of new ways that would greatly transform the meaning of their world.  If the new year does come, chances are that it'll bring about various changes, many of which may be of little consequence to most people, but will affect me greatly.  I'm highly resistant to anything new that I'm not used to.  I rejected using the internet because I didn't want to become addicted.  I didn't want to use DVDs because they weren't as reliable as VHS cassette tapes.  I didn't want to try new foods, because I always acted like any character in Yakitate! Japan when they tasted something outrageous, twitching my face, whirling my arms and groping for the closest glass of water.  (Needless to say, my family LOVED to feed me new things just for my reactions alone)  In every single one of these cases, I was worried that I would like the new thing TOO much, and prefer it to the old model, which I clearly loved.

On the one hand, I'm hoping that the world WILL actually end, so I won't have to deal with a potentially stressful work project next year.  On the other hand, I don't want to lose my high scores in my favorite video games.  So far, the only way it seems that we'll be able to avoid the day of the apocalypse is if we fly clockwise towards the Earth's orbit.  Sadly, I lack the funds to pay for such a round trip, and I hate flying, because my ears always pop, and it takes forever for my hearing to come back when I land.  (These are the petty things I agonize about)

Oh, and the few people wondering about the extra-long acronym of this post's title, it's short for The End Of The World As We Know It.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Simpsons Newspaper Comics

It's hard to believe, but there was once a time when The Simpsons first debuted that there was concern from parents that Bart Simpson and his dysfunctional family would be seen as a bad influence on children.  Two decades after the legendary show made its debut, it's now no longer seen as shocking, but neither is it as groundbreaking as it once used to be.
To see the answer, either turn this screen upside down,
or see the answer at the end of this post.

Back when Bongo comics released their premier comics of the beloved animated TV show, they did so on the premise that it would take up the story ideas that couldn't be implemented on the show itself.  After various hits and misses, it could be argued that the comics were inspired from the "reject" pile just as often as the show itself.  Even the Halloween Specials don't have the same ring of honesty to it, despite the various warped interpretations of the family.

In January 16, 2000, Bongo briefly branched out into the newspaper world by releasing the Simpsons comic strip; an impressive 3/4 of the newspaper page, taking advantage of the extra space for longer setups and multiple punchlines than other typical comic strips.  However, as is with all media tie-ins, it was gone within a year.  It's just as well - despite starting out promising, it suffered from that cardinal sin of American comics; over-reliance on talking heads in the hope that lengthy speech balloons full of exposition and funny sayings would create humour.  Bill Watterson had the right idea of focusing on dialogue between two characters rather than rely on punchlines that would grow stale within a week.

Part of what made the show work was the themes and dialogue between the characters, and that's sadly absent on the printed page where the need to demonstrate as much information within a short time frame as possible.  Around this time, I was beginning to grow less enthusiastic about saving newspaper comics and only bothered to save the comics I figured were worth re-reading.  These are all the ones that I've got so far, save for a rather lame parody of mock movie posters, with Montgomery Burns doing "The Whole Monty".  (You're welcome, BTW)

For some reason, the few available comics found online are only present in black and white, as this (sadly shrunkPeanuts tribute can testify.  Even though the title heading is in colour, perplexingly enough, the rest of the comic is present in plain black and white.  The Peanuts homage is one of these comics I should've saved at the time, but only the first row was clever enough, and the remainder didn't seem worth the hassle for the extra room.

The TV show was helped by a crack team of writers who pooled their efforts and were led by a show runner who helped focus their creative energies towards a specific destination.  So is it any surprise that a comic spinoff would fail to emulate the same high standards as the show?  Not to mention the creative limitations of crafting a story using any of the Simpsons characters within the "unrestricted canvas" of an extra-large Newspaper page.  There are times when having extra space can prove to be a great inspiration, and there are times when having all that extra room can be just as much of a deterrent to creativity.

The Simpsons went from a defining media sensation that revolutionized the television industry to a Flanderized version of their former selves.  An impressive account of the rise and fall of The Simpsons can be found on this site which likens the first seven seasons to the "true" Simpsons, and all the other seasons that've happened later to be Zombie Simpsons.  It's probably the most comprehensive history of the show that's not based on the book The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History.  I haven't read any of it, but what I've heard is that most of the show's success comes less from the creator, whose concept was originally based on a rushed drafted version of Matt Groening's family in order to prevent using his character designs from Life in Hell.  There were still instances where the creator didn't quite understand the ramfications of his controversial ideas, such as his insistence that Marge Simpson have rabbit ears underneath her hair.  Sometimes it's the other oddballs of the group effort who wind up making the largest contributions.

For those who don't have the time to read through the whole fascinating history, here's a brief summary of what led to the show's decay:

  • The loss of voice actors for secondary cast characters, Doris Grau (Lunchlady Doris) and PhilHartman (Lionel Hutz / Troy McClure)
  • Poor unfortunate Gil, who couldn't stand a chance against these giants, and didn't have the same ring to it.
  • Writers who left for bigger and better things.
  • A higher reliance on outlandish storylines, usually involving "Jerkass" Homer who kept finding jobs not related to the Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Less truly emotionally honest scenes between the characters and more cartoonish unbelievable interactions bordering on the cartoonish.
  • Stories that sounded more like sitcom sketches than satrical portrayals of society, and an overall redundancy of the very stale TV staple it set out to deconstruct.
  • Celebrities that were inserted into episodes just for the sake of it.
  • The increased sensitivity and watering down of Mr. Burns, Springfield's overall antagonist.
What's surprising is that these comics were planned to be reprinted in a later book in 2004, but that never came to fruition.  The fact that these comics are somewhat lacking in the overall humour department might have something to do with it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Into Each Canadian Life, Some Snow Must Fall

Last week, I reacted with abject horror when I saw some fluffy snowflakes fluttering down towards the ground.  As a kid, I used to fervently hope that it would snow large and hard enough for it to close the schools and get the chance to stay home.  Now that I'm older and more immature, I no longer approach with abject glee the white precipitation.  After all, having plenty of the stuff around means that there's more obstacles to get through in the morning.  I have to time things exactly so that I'll have enough time to put all my coat and boots on in order to catch the bus on time.  And having plenty of the stuff on the ground means that I'll run the risk of either mushing my way through heavy snowbanks in time to see my vehicle zoom past without me, or wait several valuable minutes in the blowing cold for my ride to come.  The worst offenders are drivers who refuse to prepare their snow tires for incoming traffic, and wind up being the cause of a large majority of traffic jams, which is another minus in my book, because it means that it'll take me longer to get home again.

Even though the flurries melted the next day, I took no solace or relief from this relief period, seeing it as a brief intermission before the main event.  Sure enough, last night a sudden snowstorm was plopped right on our front step.  Whenever I see the slightest hint of frost on the ground, I react in the same way that Cathy does here when she sees a single scrap of paper left in her office:

That single piece of paper is just the scout.  Once they see it's all clear, the rest are sure to soon follow.
By association, I react the same way when I see "cotton" floating downwards from from Poplar trees.  The fact that I happen to suffer from ragweed hay fever might have something to do with it, or those memories of the psychedelic reaction Yoshi got from those Fuzzies.  Either way, I strive to avoid the white stuff, the soft stuff AND the hardcore stuff.

I've posted this before, but figured it was relevant enough to show it again at a larger format.

And yet, Canadians are ALWAYS surprised when they see snow on the ground, as if it were some completely new foreign object that never existed before, despite our overall familiarity with the weather.  It's as if Summer has melted our brains to the point where we're in a state of perpetual denial that we can't believe that it's getting colder again.  Some stubborn people even go so far as to continue dressing up in shirts and Khakis up to the actual Winter Solstice in December 21 when winter OFFICIALLY starts, despite all weather conditions go to the contrary.

There's a kind of inherent fear that the continuous warmer weather is causing Canadians to become more blaise about the upcoming cold, and we're losing that particular element of ruggedness that's made us somewhat unique.  Sure, other places near the equator are warmer, but they're not subject to the sudden climate change that Canadians brace themselves for.  It's the constantly preparing ourselves for changing weather that makes us distinctive, compared to other places where there are natural disasters that occur once in awhile during relatively mild weather.

That's probably putting the levels of hurricanes, tidal waves and earthquakes on a unfairly unequal equivalence to snowstorms, but the comparison still lingers, because there are veterans who take the upcoming news as the "same old stuff again", and expect it won't be as bad as the media plays it up; the whole thing'll blow over, and when the event actually does come, they're caught unaware by the sudden intensity of the disaster.  So far, the closest equivalent to a disastrous snowstorm was the epic Ice Storm of 1997, a freak incident of freezing rain that left 10 centimeter blocks of ice on the ground and frozen tree branches and blackouts on a provincial level.  That freak accident was only made possible thanks to a perfect storm of conflicting environmental factors, which, thanks to Global Warming, looks like it has a fair chance of happening again.  There's already talk of re-freezing the arctic north in order to preserve the polar caps (and Polar Bears) by releasing high concentrations of Carbon Dioxide around that area for the low low cost of $8 Billion dollars.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adventures of "Calvin" and Aaron

Some faithful fans of Calvin and Hobbes were notable disappointed when Bill Watterson announced that there would be no more of his legendary comic strip after a 10-year run.  (Actually, with all the sabbaticals he took, it amounts to a little over 8 1/2 years, but who's counting?)  With the sudden demise of an imaginative strip, syndicates and networks rushed in to fill in the vacancy.  This led to mixed results, ranging from TV shows such as C Bear and Jamal to the very Canadian Stickin' Around.

So when a certain spiky-haired kid made a sudden reappearance in a well-drawn (if overwordy trying-too hard) comic three months later, it came as a welcome surprise.  This has been posted before on a Calvin fansite, but I've never seen it in colour, and sought to correct that oversight.

What's less well known is the little sidebar commentary that was present in some newspapers who bothered to splurge on the extra content.

While there's never quite been another Newspaper comic that's captured the imagination of readers everywhere, Naruto could be considered the closest equivalent.  After all, the two do share a certain similarity in spiky hair and rebellious attitude.  However, there's a certain difference in how their mentality is portrayed.

Calvin's practically a dead ringer for many of the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome.  He's obsessively interested in Dinosaurs to the exclusion of everything else, has a vidid visual imagination, shows little social concern for anyone who isn't an animal, and has more fun on his own than with other people.  Whereas, Naruto has a tendency to act impulsively without thinking, has trouble staying still, doesn't always understand what's being taught to him, and is somewhat hyperactive.

In short, while Calvin appeals to the Autistics inside us, Naruto more likely appeals to the ADHD crowd.  This is certainly reflected in the later storylines where numerous plots are introduced and dropped within a time frame, even as Masashi Kishimoto continued to veer off into various tangents towards his inevitable conclusion.  One can only wonder what the next major media sensation will have signs of.  Synesthesia, maybe?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December: a Time to Reflect

You may not believe it, but I almost forgot that December started today, which is why this entry is a little later than usual.  That, and I've been preoccupied with some silly personal interests of mine.  Compared to the other months, the comics of the last month of the year tend to be more thoughtful and insightful than chuckle-worthy.

This is also the last time that we get to see Michael with his newfound Uncle Phil mustache.  Enjoy it while it last, because that last act of rebellion only lasts for so long before he moves back in with his parents.  (Literally and figuratively)

Of the few comics that actually do have a punchline attached, this one in particular reflects my attitude towards one of the most loathed lessons I've had repeatedly hammered in my head:

My general consensus is that being less than honest and forthright about how I really feel is an affront to everything I stand for.  Personal recriminations and simmering thoughts have to be abandoned in favor of civility.  I'm sure that there are plenty of other people out there who hate having to pretend they like celebrating national holidays when they really feel otherwise, because to express dissent would be seen as anti-social, and we can't have that.

While not taken from a specific comic, this is clearly used as a short joke in the FBOFW animated cartoon A Christmas Angel, which was the beginning of the decline of quality of the comic.  The animated specials were never as good as the comics themselves, but they were still better than the largely forgettable animated series that came later, with its awkward stories and off-model character designs.  I've never actually seen any of these, but from what I've heard, I'm not missing much.

While this may be the last of my For Better or for Worse calendars, this isn't the end of my cartoon calendars.  Starting next year, we'll be seeing some interior pages of another popular comic.  Here's a preview of things to come, assuming we're all still here after the end of the Mayan calendar.