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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

J LHLS Archives: April 2004

Friday, April 9, 2004

No Honor
Publisher: Top Cow

Before I start this review, I have a confession to make: I'm not going to be entering this review unbiased. Of course, any reviewer has their biases because each person their own tastes and preferences, but in the case of "No Honor" I admit I have a bias against Top Cow. As with most people, images of impossibly built, half-naked women and chiseled beefcake are inevitably conjured up when I catch a glimpse of the Top Cow Productions logo. Alongside the T&A-friendly house style, which seems to vary little from book to book, the actual titles have been a mixed bag at best for me. Top Cow books tend to try to mix late-nite TV genres, like cop dramas or crime stories, with genres more rooted in the comic book medium, such as fantasy or sci-fi, which is an interesting approach, but unfortunately annoying cliches from both mediums become part of the package deal. Luckily for me, Fiona Kai Avery's "No Honor" isn't a bad read by any means, even if it did nothing for Top Cow's credit by changing my opinion about the imprint's approaches.

"No Honor" is a new take on that old action-drama sub- genre: the "two partners who must work together but are polar opposites that shouldn't be able to get along" story. Only in this case, the two partners are a modern day professional art thief, Random, and Tannen, the ancient ghost of a samurai who ends up sharing the same body with Random. Leading poor Random by the nose, Tannen urges Random to go to Japan and try to investigate a centuries-old tragedy that has left Tannen's spirit in unrest. In the meantime, Random is pursued by Brit, a thief-turned-cop, Tannen's actions destroy Random's career, and they are contacted by a host of lost spirits only Random/Tannen can see and hear.

The book's theme is built on the fact that Tannen and Random operate under completely different and seemingly contradictory moral codes. Random objects strongly to Tannen's willingness to kill, while Tannen is furious when he finds out the fellow he's possessing owes his living to stealing, even though Random patiently points out that his victims are always wealthy. Like I wrote, it's a solid premise to start with, but it's given almost no room for moral ambiguity. Tannen's actions, no matter how violent, are justified because the plot makes them so. For instance, there is a scene where the spirits of men killed by corrupt cops back in the 1920s ask Tannen to avenge them on some present-day cops. Tannen readily consents to carry out the spirits' request, despite Random's more than understandable objections. Basically Tannen, although he makes some noise about seeing cops act "dishonorably" in the short time he's been possessing Random, agrees to kill a few police officers for a forgotten crime committed by their predecessors decades ago. At the same time, we see the pair of cops Tannen will target brutalize a few innocent teenagers. To be fair, Tannen doesn't get to fulfill his promise to the ghosts, but the whole "hey, Tannen's perfectly happy to go carve up a couple of people for a crime they have no personal responsibility for" is kind of sidestepped.

That aside, the conflict between Random and Tannen does fuel the plot well, even if Random seems to adjust too readily to the fact that Tannen sometimes has complete control of his physical body. Unfortunately, there isn't much ground to cover: Random is literally stuck with Tannen, they contact several ghosts, Random's career falls apart because of Tannen's gung-ho actions (and a close associate of Random's dies in the process), they go to Japan, and meet more ghosts. There is, of course, more to it than that, but the book's plot feels a bit unfocused past its center, Tannen's relationship with his unwanted tenant. The closest thing to an antagonist "No Honor" has is Brit, but, even though her actions end up impacting the plot and she does interact with our protagonists for one scene, her story just feels like a sub-plot only tangently related to what we see happening to Random/Tannen. Of course, this is only Vol. 1 of what I expect will be an ongoing story, but, if Brit is meant to become a permanent antagonist, she probably could have used more breathing space in this early volume. Also so much space is spent on the ghosts Tannen encounters - the grandfather of an abused child, the aforementioned police brutality victims, a Japanese noblewoman killed in the nineteenth century - that the story's climax, where Tannen's past is finally revealed with little build-up and we learn what has kept his spirit wandering, feels terribly rushed.

The dialogue does run somewhat smoothly. Tannen's speech is rendered in archaic, purple prose, but not to the ridiculous levels you'd expect from how some genre stories depict noble warriors from alien societies. Tannen's words do clash with Random's modern dialogue, but not so much that there's too much of a distracting contrast. Unfortunately, there are parts where the dialogue derails, like this ugly visit from the Exposition Fairy:

Brit: "Look, you didn't hire me for my ethics - you put me on the art squad because I know the mindset."

Police Chief: "You are the mindset! Brit, you can't do this anymore! That's why I gave you the option to serve the NYPD instead of going to jail!"

As for Clayton Crain's art, it is in the Top Cow house style - although there weren't as many slices of cheesecake as I thought there would be (although there is one extended scene where Brit works at the police office during hours wearing a tight, belly-revealing t-shirt and hip-hugging pants) and actually more panel space is devoted to beefcake. There's a fair amount of attention given to detail, whether it's a moonlit field in the Japanese countryside or the ubran ally haunted by the embittered ghost of a child abuser. While the main characters are quite distinct and capable of showing their emotions. His action scenes are a bit awkward, but far from incomprehensible.

Now Fiona Kai Avery's script does work quite well. There's an effort to seamlessly mix in elements of drama, action, comedy, fantasy, and even horror here, and for the most part she pulls it off. The tone keeps the right amount of darkness needed for the subject moment, but knows the right moments to lighten up.

It won't be changing my views on Top Cow's output, but it's certainly a solid work with a premise that's worth the interest.

Posted by Chad Denton @ 06:42 PM PST [Link]

Monday, April 5, 2004

Beckett Anime Collector Vol. 6 No 3. Issue 55
Publisher: Beckett

A magazine of lighter paper and thinner glossy stock, its contents seem to reflect the material used to print it. Content that contains a bit of this and a bit of that touching on Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, Inuyasha, and Duel Masters. It is reflective of the attention span of their target market. Short, sweet, and thin. If you are over the age of 15, this won’t hold too much interest.

The Price Guides for Pokemon Cards and Yo-Gi-Oh are thorough and helpful for value guided purchases as well as ascertaining the value of one’s collection.

Otherwise you’ll find reprinted articles from the Yu-Gi-Oh Collector Issue 11, as well as like minded articles that introduce the ideas, culture and general flavor of the Anime and Anime card collecting community.

In other words, I would call it a beginner’s guide to becoming a retail customer for the Anime industry.

I get the feeling that this particular titled magazine is the compilation of snippets from the Beckett Line of title specific collector magazines. The advertising is more frequent and crass. Featuring the who’s who of cable network cartoon providers; ABC, ABCfamily, Disney, CartoonNetwork, et al. Retail sellers such as Samgoody, Suncoast, BestBuy, and Fry’s also get some real estate within the magazine. Beckett themselves reserves 6 pages of real estate to sell their Cool Anime Stuff.

There are 4 contests throughout the magazine. Maybe it’s my age, maybe I’ve been in sales and marketing too long myself, but all I can think is, “Jeesh, they’ve pushed the Major retailers and broadcasters in the kids’ faces, now they want a boatload of free market research from them?”

Ultimately, I tried my best to stay focused inside this publication, but failed. It is, for all intents and purposes, a commercial.

Save your money, and buy Beckett’s title specific collector magazines.

Posted by Kathy LaFollett @ 03:04 PM PST [Link]

Yu-Gi-Oh Collector, #11
Publisher: Beckett

Reviewed by Kathy LaFollett

When Beckett described this publication as a guide to Yu-Gi-Oh cards, games, and other Anime Products, they were understating the facts.

Issue 11 featuring an embossed “Slifer” on the cover screams for attention. The binding, paper weight and glossy product will stand the test of time, and manhandling. One of the mandated features I look for is top notch 4 color printing. The print job has to live up to the graphics. As a publication Issue 11 is sharp and professional. Issue 11 is a keeper.

Beckett offers a veritable smorgasbord of Yu-Gi-Oh pricing, collecting, buying, selling, celebration, sharing, game play training, and URLs supporting more of the same.

If you have a Yu-Gi-Oh collector in the house, they will spend hours inside this publication.

The Price Guide bestows up to date information as to the dollar value of these mighty collectable dueling cards. Your YGO collector may be a very wealthy person as well as powerful at the card table. The price guide also allows buyers to see where to put their investment monies. (Are you getting this Grandma and Grandpa?)

Yu-Gi-Oh Episode Reviews keep the avid fan up to date on the happenings of their favorite characters, as well as filter out episodes that aren’t worthy of taking time away from dueling with friends.

A PC Game review gives a fair and balanced overview of the latest software YGO gaming has to offer. Does one go digital and leave the traditional cards on the table? Only the true YGO Master knows.

Background articles and insights to new characters help weave the YGO tale and the intricacies of their inked lives. To date, Slifer the Sky Dragon, one of three Egyptian God cards, is the favorite of duelers and collectors. YGO is translated to English from the Japanese format and at times the translation process looses the intent of the Japanese writers and artists. These types of articles help to clarify intent toward the powers and personalities of key YGO entities.

Coming Attractions opens the window to new toys and novelties of the industry. Collectors and fanatics will appreciate the edge to availability without having to travel to a Comic Con miles away.

The Best of the Best covers in detail the top 100 cards to date. Compiled from the North American Continents most avid players this list proffers those cards most sought and used within the card dueling of YGO. (That’s another shopping list Grandma and Grandpa)

Much like Fantasy Football, Beckett offers an in depth Ultimate Fantasy Duel List. Here you can find deck structures, plans, strategy, and risk management that General Sun Tzu would admire.

Ask the Yu-Gi-Oh Master offers Yoda-like instruction. All the questions come from readers. If your YGO fanatic is yearning for higher knowledge and power, he can email the YGO master directly!

My personal favorite section is the Yu-Gi-Oh Gallery. Readers and fans can mail in, or email in their personal fan art for sharing and publication.

To simply state that this publication is a guide to Yu-Gi-Oh cards, games, and other Anime Products is akin to saying the ocean is a bit wet.

Posted by Kathy LaFollett @ 12:59 PM PST [Link]

Sunday, April 4, 2004

Hellboy was great! Totally worth the $9.50 +$2 parking I paid to see it.

I really did like it. I've only seen Ron Pearlman in "Name of the Rose" and "La Cite des Enfants Perdu" and his characters were kind of brain damaged and creepy. As Hellboy his character is creepy, but wisecracking, sharp as a tack creepy.

Good music, good action even though there were no car chases, and good casting except John Hurt sucked very much. But seems like old John has been on auto-pilot for about fifteen years now, so I'm not surprised.

I've only read a few of the Hellboy comics at Playboy.com and, astonishingly, they still have the Hellboy comics up on the Darkhorse pages. I only started reading Hellboy because I ran out of Bettie Page comics. I mean, Bettie Page he's not, but I still managed to enjoy reading them. However, I don't remember the fish guy, but I might not have been paying enough attention.

Oh, and there's a gateway to Hell in Scotland in this film and this might or might not come as a surprise to some of our longtime readers.

So go see it. I'm cheap and I'm here to tell you: it's worth the money.

Posted by Ginger Mayerson @ 07:10 PM PST [Link]

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