Travel abroad is supposed to provide a life-changing, mind-broadening experience. It’s an notion that Lars Martinson craftily subverts in the first volume of his ongoing, Xeric-award winning “innocents abroad” story, Tonoharu.
The book opens with Martinson, or a reasonable facsimile, logging in his complaints and fears after taking on a English teaching job in a small town in Japan. This isn’t autobiography though. Martinson quickly steps aside so that his predecessor, one Daniel Wells.
Wells could have stepped out of the pages of a Daniel Clowes comic (or rather, your non-indie fan’s impression of what a Dan Clowes comic reads like). Insecure, sensitive, ill-suited or prepared for his new job, and uncomfortable around just about everybody, Wells spends most of the book making fumbling attempts at contact, particularly with a fellow, female expatriate, only to be gently rebuffed each time. To be fair, he doesn’t show much initiative, either in his job or social life (when asked what he does in his free time he lists sleeping and watching TV). One wonders what propelled him to take such a journey in the first place or what he expected would happen.
Martinson adopts a regimented, almost cramped style to match the awkwardness of his main character and further distance the reader. Each page is broken up into four panels, no more, no less. There are no panel or word balloon outlines. The lettering is done in a typeface font. His characters are conistently framed in either mid-level or full body shots, no close-ups or worms eye views here. And his characters, though cartoonish with big noses, are very stiff, with thick black lines outlining them, as if to announce their social division from each other.
Rather than be an dull slog though, Tonoharu is a very funny, painfully awkward comedy of manners, with plenty of cringe-worthy moments to revel over (I particularly enjoyed Wells’ too-late realization that he was supposed to have an activity prepared for his first day of class). There’s a nice rhythm in the book’s episodic series of embarrassments and growing isolation that I find compelling.
It’s important, however, to remember that this is only part one of an obviously longer tale and, as such, is mostly involved with set-up. It’s apparent that Martinson is preparing Wells for a fall — the on-screen appearance of a mysterious group of fatuous Europeans in the last third of the book almost guarantees it. Suffice it to say that I’m intrigued enough by what Martinson has created here to be willing to find out how much deeper a hole Wells digs in the next volume.
– Chris Mautner
Gargoyles, Volume One: Clan-Building
Written by Greg Weisman; Illustrated by David Hedgecock, Nir Paniry, Karine Charlebois, and Gordon Purcell
When Gargoyles debuted in 1994, I thought I was probably too old for it, but I watched it anyway. Star Trek: The Next Generation had just gone off the air and I was mourning the loss of those characters, so when I heard that a lot of the Next Generation actors were doing voices for an after-school cartoon, I checked it out. And I was pleased to learn that it was really pretty good.
My schedule didn’t allow me to keep up with the show every day, but I watched when I could. I especially liked the soap opera element to it. I sincerely mean this in a good way, but not since Chris Claremont’s first run on X-Men had I seen such a complex story slowly unfold. As the series progressed, relationships between the characters changed and new characters were continually being introduced who had old ties to the current cast. The overarching story became rich and full. It was just the kind of cartoon an X-Men junkie wanted. Plus it had Riker, Troi, Worf, and Data doing voices.
Eventually my schedule must have gotten the better of me, because I quit watching after a while. That’s why I wasn’t sure I’d be able to just dive in to SLG’s new Gargoyles comics series. It’s written by Greg Weisman, who created the TV series, so I expected it to be just as intricate.
I wasn’t wrong about that, but Weisman does a nice job of filling in new readers about what’s going on. Though I didn’t even remember the characters’ names, much less who’s supposed to be allied with whom, I never felt lost reading this collection. On the contrary, I was pulled into the story and finished the book with a desire for more, not only for continuing the comics series, but also for going back and watching the TV show on DVD.
Clan-Building collects the first six issues of the Gargoyles comic, but it’s clear that Weisman isn’t “writing for the trade” with the series. There are actually two story arcs in this volume and the second one ends in a cliffhanger that leads into issue #7 (or volume 2 of the collected series). The first story establishes the setting: the Gargoyles have recently been outed to the public and are being persecuted. A government-sponsored Gargoyle Taskforce has been established, but the more serious concern is a group of masked, sledgehammer-wielding vigilantes called the Quarrymen. We’re also reminded that head-Gargoyle Goliath is in a relationship with a human police detective and that the Gargoyle’s are now living with their former enemy, David Xanatos. (Doing a little research, I’ve learned that these two issues are actually an adaptation of the first episode from Gargoyles Season Three, the last episode Weisman wrote of the series.)
The next four issues pick up a new storyline about a secret Illuminati organization with plans for the Gargoyles. I won’t reveal what those plans are – partly because I suspect we don’t know the whole story yet ourselves – but it’s a cleverly conceived organization that feels as powerful as it ought to. I don’t like a lot of Illuminati stories because you never buy that the organization is really all that in charge. But in Weisman’s version there’s a lot of secrecy, playing opposing groups against each other, and surprise revelations about who’s involved and in what capacity. The Illuminati feels real and dangerous and I’m curious about what they want to do with the Gargoyles and how the Gargoyles are going to react to it.
Like the cartoon, there’s a ton of thoughtful world-building that’s gone into the Gargoyles comic. It’s perhaps too heavy and multifaceted for kids, but for adults who grew up on Claremont’s X-Men and are looking for something similar to take its place, Gargoyles is excellent stuff.
– Michael May