From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays, No. 83: It’s A Boy’s Life
As I sit here writing your favorite all-ages column this week, I’m on break from directing a musical review called Burtonesque, which is based off the film-musicals Tim Burton has produced/directed. I think back to when I first heard of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was in a series of advertisements every month leading up to its release that were published in the Casper, The Friendly Ghost digests I bought. It was a time of adventure at that age, a time when it was what some could call a boy’s life, really. As I reviewed the titles in this week’s column, they put a smile on my face with a slight nostalgia for my grade school years, for they are all adventure packed, from ninjas to pirates to robots. Let’s get down to it:
Here is a rocking fun book. The first volume of Ninjago is really what you’d expect out of this title, and that is not meant in a bad way at all. Ninjago Vol.1: The Challenge of Samukai brings the toy line to life, but retains all the humor we have seen in such Lego video games/TV specials like Lego: Star Wars and such. The comic’s classic good vs. bad story lines, with the characters done in the Lego-style of their Ninjago toy line, is a fire winner for boys who love the world of Lego and adults with a fondness for these things.
The plot of Ninjago tells the story of Cole, Zane, Jay, and Kai, four guys chosen to be trained by Sensei Wu to be masters of Spinjitzu, and prevent four sacred weapons created long ago from falling into the hands of the underworld, lead by skeleton-warrior Samukai and the evil demon-warrior Garmadon. In six chapters, we get the origin story, some fun battle training with Kai and the others, and the dealing of the underworld between Samukai and Garmadon.
The book is well done. As I mentioned before, the Lego humor the brand is known for is there, and the plots feel right out of Silver Age goodness for as modern day of a feel as they have. The action sequences are well drawn and entertaining. Although I know the title is Ninjago, don’t expect Shaw Brothers styled fights being drawn on the pages, these are Legos after all, but never the less the action scenes are satisfying for this comic, and I wasn’t bored or let down by them. It is exactly what we want it to be, not some Watchmen wanna be, but a fun all-ages Lego comic, which the team of Farshtey, Henrique, and Smith do a great job in presenting.
Ninjago Vol.1: The Challenge of Samukai is out on stands now and especially recommended to Lego fans of all ages.
Polly Pringle and her pirate crew reunite for another adventure in Polly and the Pirates Vol.2: Mystery of the Dragonfish, in which all sorts of misadventures happen as Polly sneaks out of her girls’ school to rescue Emperor Norton from his unjust imprisonment. We get some great battles, some foreign powers secretly planning to take everything over, and great characters.
Naifeh’s writing on the title is solid. It reads for teens to adults but is all-ages safe and can be enjoyed by anyone. He has created a wonderfully strong dynamic between Polly running her secret life, and her kinda bratty roommate Anastasia being the complete opposite. However, like the Betty-Veronica of Archie, these two just don’t stay rivals, and we get this wonderful arc of them becoming friends throughout the story. Rodriguez’s artwork has some nice highlights, and such moments like Polly’s airship being shot down were pretty cool. Given that, I wish it was in color, as the black and white gives the feeling of just empty space and an unfinished touch that makes us want more from the story’s visuals. Rodriguez draws these fantastic expressions and emotions in some of the panels, but the dead space around it sometimes doesn’t isolate the moment in a good way, it just feels rushed. I am a huge fan of and always championing for black and white comics, but the world Naifeh and Rodriguez have created could have another amazing layer on it with a color artist joining the duo.
Those complaints aside, if you enjoyed the first volume of Polly and the Pirates, you will be right at home with this one. Although not as strong as the first volume, it is still fun to see the characters get back together for another adventure (and hopefully they’ll be back a third time if we cross our fingers).
Polly and the Pirates Vol.2: Mystery of the Dragonfish is out now from Oni Press.
Gundam has had an interesting history in the United States. Gundam Wing was released on Toonami in the mid-otts, and between the show and the model kits, it seemed like Gundam fever got America finally after all these years. Then Bandai made their American branch next release the original 1970s Mobile Suit Gundam to follow up, being it is the base for almost all the Gundam shows, and not a side universe like Gundam Wing. This effectively killed the kids plus Gundam; they didn’t want to watch 70s animation and the show was damned to an early morning death slot. By the time Bandai tried to save the franchise with the more updated G-Gundam, it was kind of too late. After G-Gundam, they tried again with the super kid friendly SD Gundam, not doing too hot either. SD Gundam (which stands for Super Deformed Gundam) was a series developed with SD versions of the Gundam model kit line and proved so popular it had an off-shoot into manga and animation. While the SD-line isn’t the meat and potatoes for the franchise in Japan, it still is both loved by them enough and proves to be enough of a hook for kids that they keep coming out with a new animated version of the SD toys every few years.
SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors was the latest manga/anime incarnation of the line made in 2010. In it, the SD Gundam world was set in the feudal China, and the plot is an adaptation of the famous Chinese epic story Romance of Three Kingdoms (which is one of the most popular Chinese epics in Japan, right beneath the Monkey King tales). In it, our Gundam heroes band together as villagers of the lands to fight against the evil of the Yellow Turban gang ravaging the lands, of course represented by the Zeon mobile suits.
The episodes are fun, and both the animation and writing is superior to the SD Gundam that aired on American Cartoon Network, so if that show left a bad taste in your mouth, it’s safe to try again. Also, SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors may have a long title, but the episodes are only about 10-12 minutes each, being they were aired in a 15-minute block on Japanese TV.
It’s also a great way to see the story of Romance of Three Kingdoms. Have you ever tried to read the original story from China? It’s the size of a bible, and has a cast of over 1,000 characters, mostly historical figures. The notes alone that come with most editions are usually 100-200 pages. This tends to scare even the most curious reader, and casual readers forget something this size. This show is a great way to sum a good chunk of that book up for you.
Surprisingly, although Bandai of America earlier this month announced they will not be releasing any new anime DVDs any longer in the United States, the first 5 episodes of this series appeared in English-Dubbed form on the official Youtube Gundam page, which you can check out here.
That’s it for this week, see you next! Until then, get your kaiju game on!
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