comics


A reprint of the first three Modesty Blaise comic strips.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1963-1964
Titan publication year: 2004

I’ve been reading Modesty Blaise since I was a teenager but I’ve never read the strips in publication order, just in the haphazard way I go them in Finnish editions. Here, most were published in the Agentti X9 comic book which had one MB comic and three others, usually Rip Kirby, Corrigan, and other secret agents. Eventually, Modesty got her own albums but even in them, the stories weren’t in chronological order. I also don’t have all of them, but I have some albums and a stack of Agentti X9 comics. Also, I still have a couple of full adventures which I cut out from Finnish newspapers.

The Titan album has the first three strips: “La Machine,” “The Long Lever”, and “Gabriel Set-Up”. It also seems to have the short “In the Beginning” strip which tells Modesty’s tragic backstory as an orphan refugee struggling to survive to adulthood and then her rise to leading the criminal organization the Network and then retiring.

Even the first comic has all the ingredients that I love: a terrible enemy who seems almost impossible to defeat, clever schemes from Modesty and Willie, and really high stakes. What is missing is the occasional whimsical humor which made some of the later comics really memorable for me. But from the start, Modesty’s moral code is clear: she hates it when people are used, she especially hates drugs and prostitution and even took down those criminal organizations when she was a crime boss. She’s fiercely loyal to her people and defends them with her life, if needs be. Willie’s her right hand man.

MB is a newspaper comic strip, which makes the form very restricted. It’s black and white, in three panels. O’Donnell, who created Modesty and wrote all her stories, was already an experienced strip writer when he came up with Modesty and it shows. The panels are clear (at least when the printing is of good quality) and no panel is wasted.

“La Machine” is an introduction to Modesty and her world. Sir Gerald Tarrant, who is the head of British intelligence, comes to Modesty asking for a favor: to take down a French-based ruthless and efficient murder ring called la Machine. Tarrant has information that he could’ve used to blackmail Modesty but instead he destroyed the evidence. Modesty always pays her debts. So, she and Willie cook up a scheme to put Willie as a target for la Machine. They stage a public fight and Modesty puts a murder contract out on Willie.

This was a very good beginning. It showcases all the things Modesty and Willie are known for: they’re extraordinary loyalty to and faith in each other, their cool heads when in danger, and their fighting skills, especially with martial arts and Willie’s extraordinary skill with knives.

In the “Long Lever” Tarrant has a job for Willie but Willie won’t take it unless Modesty agrees. When she finds out what it’s about, she wants in. Dr. Kossuth is a former Hungarian citizen who was put in a horrible refugee camp. He managed to escape and flee to US. Now, he’s been kidnapped presumably to take him back to Hungary. The CIA has a lead: he might be on a yacht owned by a millionaire who needs money. Modesty and Willie are pretending to be a shipwrecked couple and search the ship. If they find Kossuth, they’ll try to free him.

“The Gabriel Set-up” introduces a bit more eccentric villain although not as over the top as some of the later ones: Gabriel whom even his own men fear. Gabriel has been working of a long time and has a large organization. This time, his minions have set up a health spa. However, Gabriel’s doctors use hypnosis to uncover secrets from their customers which include British government officials and very rich individuals. Even Tarrant is hesitant to engage Gabriel but Modesty goes to the spa to investigate. It’s near US border in Canada. Gabriel’s scheme isn’t easy to find out and he’s a formidable enemy.

Meanwhile, Willie has been working as a lumber jack nearby and is dating the daughter of the timber lord. Marjorie is an explosive blonde who has grown quite of Willie. When Modesty appears, Marjorie is jealous but Modesty quickly explains to her that Modesty isn’t a competitor and that Willie’s not the sort to stay with one girl. This is the first comic where we see that both Modesty and Willie have other partners and aren’t going to stay with just one person. Neither of them makes any secret of it to anyone they’re dating.

Several of the strips use characters who have ESP-type powers. Here the enemy uses hypnosis and only when the victim has been put into a receptive state.

These were all enjoyable reads even if none of them are my very favorites. They’re full of action, very James Bond type adventure except that I like Modesty and Willie (and many of the side characters) far more.

Collects The Expanse Origins issues 1-4 and adds a bonus story (Miller).

Writers: Hallie Lambert, Georgia Lee
Artist: Huang Danlan
Publisher: Boom studios

This collection has a story for Holden, Naomi, Miller, Amos, and Alex. They’re all set years before the series starts, except Amos’ story. They’re nice enough, fleshing out backstory I mostly know or have guessed already. I’ve read the first three books and seen three seasons.

The artwork is definitely based on the TV-show. The characters look somewhat similar to the actors but not all the time.

The first story is about Holden when he’s in UN Navy. He disobeys an order to shoot a spaceship which could be carrying guns or people. Holden has apparently been disobeying orders before but has a nice relationship with the ship’s commander who is near retirement age.

The second story centers on Naomi and is my favorite. Naomi has just started on the Canterbury as the main engineer. She needs a mechanic but nobody on board qualifies. She convinces the captain to hire someone new. Naomi interviews the possible mechanics and, of course, meet Amos. The story has some very nice interaction between Naomi and Amos.

The third story is about Alex. Alex has just quit the Martian navy because his wife wants him home. He’s been away for a long time and his son doesn’t know him. Alex gets a corporate job but life on Mars leaves him unhappy.

The fourth story centers on Amos. This is a nightmare where he must live through some of his terrible past in a game show kind of setting. This was a good choice because it didn’t make the story too sad and miserable but we get to know that some really bad things have happened to him.

The final story is about Miller. When the story starts, he’s still married. An orphan young boy give Miller information about Ariaga, a big crime boss on Ceres. The boy is hoping to get a better life. But of course things don’t end well.

Nice enough collection for big fans of Expanse.

This is a goofy school manga with a very specific focus: Rumi Yokoi is a studious and quiet girl who just wants to study but unfortunately, she sits next to Seki who does everything else than study. To amuse himself, he invents the most elaborate games. Sometimes, Yokoi tries to warn him to stop and pay attention to the teachers, but invariably she instead starts to follow his antics closely. Yokoi is also the one who gets in trouble for not following the teachers.

Seki sits behind the tallest boy on the class so he can do pretty much what he wants, such as building long domino rows, sculpting structures from sand with almost surgical precision, or bringing in cats to class. When he brings chess or go pieces with him, he ignores the official rules and plays his own games.

In a couple of strips, we get some continuity but the vast majority of the strips are stand-alones. At first, Seki and Yokoi seem pretty different from each other, but clearly Yokoi, too, has a great imagination; sometimes she invents her own stories from Seki’s play. Seki never talks.

Funny and goofy manga, although there’s some repetition. A few strips are set outside the class room. I liked the clear and detailed drawing style a lot.

The Finnish edition has three volumes called Pulpettinaapurit. Apparently, ten volumes have been published in Japan (and English). The Finnish editions have some clarifications about a couple of Japanese cultural points and the names. Apparently, most of the names of the characters are some sort of play on words.

14 short stories about Batman. They don’t follow any continuity and some are clearly in different worlds than any other stories in the collection.

Publisher: Bantam
Publishing year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 401

This is a mixed bag of stories. The mood changes from horror to comedy, most being rather dark. Most of them have multiple POV character, one is Alfred’s diary, and one told in memos.

“Death of the Dreammaster” by Robert Sheckley: This story starts with the death of Joker. In this world, most of Batman’s allies are also dead: Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman. Not surprisingly, Bruce is somewhat depressed. Then he sees Joker’s green hair and white face on the street. He must find out what’s going on.

“Bats” by Henry Slesar: Robin is dead and Batman has apparently gone insane. Faithful Alfred is so shocked that he pours out his emotions to a diary.

“Subway Jack” by Joe R. Lansdale: This story has lots of horror elements and is somewhat choppy. Someone is killing homeless women on the subway. Batman and Gordon investigate. The writing style is somewhat gothic, with diary entries in the middle of usual prose. A couple of times Landsdale also adds descriptions of comic panels. They’re very evocative but jarred me out of reading.

“The Sound of One Hand Clapping” by Max Allan Collins: From horror to comedy, Joker is distressed because he doesn’t have a woman in his life. Then on TV he sees a female criminal calling herself the Mime and convinces himself that he’s madly in love.

“Neutral Ground” by Mike Resnick: Just five pages told from the POV of old man Kittlemeier who makes costumes to various people. He asks no names and doesn’t care what the people do with them.

“Batman in Nighttown” by Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg: In this story, Bruce is holding a masquerade party on New Year. His costume is a devil but someone else has come as Batman… and that person robs Bruce’s guests. Bruce doesn’t have time to change to his costume before driving after the “Batman”.

“The Batman Memos” by Stuart M. Kaminsky: This story is told with various memos and letters. A Hollywood exec wants to make a Batman movie and is looking into the legal and other aspects. Wayne represents Batman and comes to Hollywood. In the memos, we find out that one of the actresses goes missing.

“Wise Men of Gotham” by Edward Wellen: The Riddler is threatening wealthy men whom he calls the Wise Men of Gotham. Batman must figure out the riddles and rescue the men.

“Northwestward” (Black Widowers #61) by Isaac Asimov: A group of men calling themselves Black Widowers interview real-life Bruce Wayne on whom the fictional Batman was based on. This Wayne is over seventy years old but his minds is still sharp. He has a mystery for the group.

“Daddy’s Girl” by William F. Nolan: A Robin story. Batman is in Washington and Robin is trying to catch a cat burglar. Instead, he falls through a skylight and meets a very strange and naive girl who has never left her father’s house.

“Command Performance” by Howard Goldsmith: Another Robin/Dick Grayson story. Carol is a runaway and Dick’s classmate. When she ends up on the police station after she’s tried to substitute a cheap imitation jewelry to a very expensive real one, Dick starts to look into her story of the Man who forces teens to steal. In this story, Dick’s a reporter for Gotham High School’s Clarion.

“The Pirate Millionaire’s Cove” by Edward D. Hoch: A man dressed like a pirate kills a millionaire on his yacht. Bruce decides to go undercover in the Yacht club to find out who is responsible.

“The Origin of the Polarizer” by George Alec Effinger: Waters is a genius but he’s forced to work at a lowly job shipping electronics parts. However, he realizes that one Gotham City resident orders a lot of such parts and deduces that Bruce Wayne is Batman. In a (il)logical move, Waters sabotages Wayne’s next shipment and becomes a super villain, the Polarizer. He’s determined to outwit Batman. Meanwhile Batman and Robin are building their new computer with vacuum tubes and punch cards. They’re marveling how much more effective the BATIVAC will be. The story is set in 1957.

“Idol” by Ed Gorman: The strangest story in this collection, told from the POV of a psychopath who is obsessed with another man whom he sees as an impostor.

I liked most of the stories but I don’t think any of them are particularly memorable. Still, they showcase how versatile Batman is: from horror to comedy and comic book like stories. It even has two rather realistic stories. The cast of secondary characters also differs wildly: one has Vicky Vale, in another Bruce is dating wealthy socialite Vera St. Clair, two features Robin while in two Robin is dead. Commissioner Gordon is the only other character, besides Batman himself, who is pretty much the same in the stories he appears. I was a bit surprised that the only major villain making a significant appearance here is the Riddler. Joker is on a couple of pages in the first story.

This is a three volume Japanese comic based on Makoto Shinkai’s animated movie of the same name. I haven’t seen the movie.

The idea is very interesting: two young people switch bodies when they’re asleep. They know nothing about each other or each other’s lives. This is a very fine way to mess up each other’s lives.

The beginning of the story is somewhat confusing. Mitsuha is a young woman who lives with her little sister and grandma in a small village. She dreams of living in Tokyo and perhaps even being a young man in Tokyo, where life would be far better. Her father is the mayor of the town but they’ve grown very much apart.

One morning she wakes up, not knowing who she is. Then we jump to the next morning. Mitsuha hears from her family and friends that she behaved oddly the previous day, not even knowing her name. She has no memory of it. Then the next morning, she wakes in a boy’s body in Tokyo. Of course, his life isn’t as rosy as she thought.

Taki is the boy who switches his mind with Mitsuha. He works in the local restaurant and has a crush on his beautiful co-worker. He’s not happy about the switch.

I really enjoyed the art work. The beginning of the first volume was rather confusing but otherwise I quite enjoyed the story. However, I thought that the strange things that Taki and Mitsuha did during the first day in each other’s bodies was brushed off rather quickly. But when the dramatic story line started, it really drew me in.

A dystopic science fiction series of six volumes.

The series is set in a future Japan where the computer system Sibylla oversees everyone. Using psychometric scanners it scans the moods, emotions and thoughts to find out if the person is stressed enough to possibly commit a crime. It does it all the time and the results are seen in that person’s Pscyho Pass which everyone must wear at all times. If the indicator number is too high, the person is classified as a latent criminal and they must either submit to therapy or go to jail.

The Sibylla system is also in charge of figuring out which job each person is best suited for, and therefore the happiest doing just that. People can’t apply for jobs which the system doesn’t assign for them. In theory, Japanese people are happier than ever and crime, especially violent crime, is very low or non-existent. Of course, this is a dystopia, so things don’t work like they should.

The Public Safety Department is responsible for capturing any latent criminals. They have inspectors who are the equivalent of detectives and the enforces who are responsible for capturing the (latent) criminals, usually with violence. Enforces are usually themselves former inspectors who over the years have started to resemble too much like the criminals they’re trying to capture. This, of course, creates friction between the enforces and the inspectors.

Akane Tsunemori is the only one of her class who got the perfect score and so she can choose any vocation, including the inspector. Which she does. Capturing criminals is a very demanding job; most criminals seem to be devilishly ingenious murderers or serial murderers.

She’s immediately put to the field where she meets her team: one experienced inspector, four enforces, and one tech. Also, Akane’s immediate boss and a couple of other people from the department have significant roles in the story.

This is a pretty violent, grim and almost hopeless story. It calls into question the role of Sibylla but also the roles of inspectors and enforces and their relationships to the criminals. On the other hand, the violence isn’t an end for itself: the criminals are murderers and their victims are a necessary part of the story. Also, the characters, some of the criminals included, think about their world and their role a lot. The ending is good and appropriate.

This is a very high-tech world. The enforces use weapons called dominators which kill or stun a latent criminal. The weapons themselves need to scan a high indicator number before they function. Also, hologram characters and virtual reality are a big part in a couple of the chapters. Akane’s apartment can also change how it looks whenever she wants.

The manga is based on anime called Psycho Pass which I haven’t seen. I read the Finnish edition which is called Tarkastaja Akane Tsunemori and translated by Suvi Mäkelä.

I recommend this series for anyone interested in grim detective stories and dystopia lovers.

A ten-volume manga comedy series.

Nichijou (which apparently means Everyday in English) is a surreal comedy manga series set in a Japanese high school. It doesn’t have plot lines, but rather strips of varying length. Most of the time the strips have an ensemble cast of character but sometimes focus on just one character. We’re first introduced to trio of friends: the class clown Yukio who is often late and dodges doing her homework, quiet and industrious Mai, and Mio who is often cheerful and has a real drawing talent. We’re also introduced to Nano who is a robot girl but doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s a robot… except that she has a giant wind-up key in her back, and her eight-year old creator the Prof who loves sweets and building sneakily more stuff inside Nano. They later adopt (or are adopted by) a cat who can talk because of one of the Prof’s inventions. Later, the cast grows a lot larger.

Many of the strips start with an ordinary situation but either something surreal happens or something escalates to surreal proportions. It’s easy to read a strip now and then because there’s not much continuity between them. The further the series continues, the more absurd the humor becomes. However, if you like the first volume, you’re likely to like the rest, too. One of the strips has a science fiction / science fantasy feel and it was one of the few which actually had continuity. I enjoyed it and thought at first that is was some sort of weird video game one of the characters was playing. But no. The end left me quite baffled.

I read the Finnish editions and the translator has put in some notes about Japanese customs, foods, and other things which are shown in the series. They were very helpful. Here, it’s translated under the name Arki (ordinary days in a life).

The balance between the first three friends (Yukio, Mio, Mai) is quite good. Yukio tries to get the other two to do funny things with her, not always succeeding. She tried to copy off the other’s homework, also not always succeeding. At one point Yukio and Mio fight, which starts off a bit uncomfortable but end sweetly. Mio draws mostly handsome boys and is afraid that someone else sees her work.

I enjoyed the series and enjoyed most of the strips and the characters. However, some left me baffled. There’s also an anime series based on this manga, but I haven’t seen it.

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