For today’s Stack Overflow, I’m catching up on some of the titles from Oni Press. They’re based here in Portland, Oregon, and celebrated their 20th anniversary this year. We’ve covered several of their titles here on GeekDad before (there are a few of them in this Stack Overflow), but during the past month I sat down with a few of their collected editions from the past year or so and binged—there’s stuff for kids, teens, and adults!
I mentioned The Mighty Zodiac back in May 2016 after reading the first issue. Starfall, published in March, collects the first six issues. The Mighty Zodiac is a group of twelve animal warriors, protectors of the land. But the blue dragon has died, sending six stars down to earth. Master Long, the current leader, has not yet achieved his full form, and on top of it, he’s very ill. The rest of the Zodiac is trying to hunt down the fallen stars, hoping that they may provide some answers. But the dark rabbit army from the moon is also after the stars.
The story jumps back and forth between the current race for the stars and flashbacks, showing the various warriors at earlier points in their training. There are some interesting revelations about the various characters that are then tied to what’s happening in the present. The story is fun, with lots of great action sequences, and the illustrations are great. I mentioned before that it is kind of weird to have a cat as part of the zodiac (since the rabbits are the bad guys)—it’s never really addressed, at least not in this first volume. [UPDATE:] J. Torres explained in a comment below that the Vietnamese zodiac actually has a cat instead of a rabbit, unlike the Chinese zodiac—so that makes more sense now! This is a fun book, appropriate for middle grade readers and up.
I mentioned Bad Machinery in a previous Stack Overflow—I had just gone back and caught up through volume 7 online, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Volume 7 is now available in print, and the plot involves one of my favorite topics: time travel! The boys are acting really weird this time, so it’s up to the girls to investigate a mystery: a weird kid named Calvin who is obsessed with Communists and dresses like he’s from the 1960s. (Spoiler: he’s from the 1960s.) It’s a goofy romp of the sort only possible in Bad Machinery, with lots of humor and side-plots (like what’s going on with those boys?) and, you know, time travel wackiness. Highly recommended.
And for fans of Bad Machinery: you should also know that the books are now available in a “pocket edition” as well—much more portable than the oversized softcovers. The pocket edition of Volume 3 is out next week.
Princess Misty is set to be married to Pete, a handsome but clueless prince, but she really wants something more. She’d rather be swinging a sword and going after Lord Badlug, who’s up to something with his shadeling spies. Well, it turns out that Badlug is looking for a queen. To prevent Badlug from taking Leveler, a powerful magical sword, she allows herself to be captured and taken to Grimoire. But Misty is no damsel in distress, and she knows that relying on Pete to rescue her is futile.
Another Castle is a very funny twist on the damsel in distress trope. There are, as you might expect from the title, some allusions to video games, but they aren’t the primary reference material. There are a lot of colorful characters: Gorga, Misty’s attendant at Badlug’s castle, who is just so excited about the wedding (but has trouble for a while understanding that Misty isn’t interested); Fogmouth, her jailor, who is really more interested in baking than minding a prisoner; even Pete himself, the fool who fancies himself a hero. There’s some pretty sharp social commentary about privilege and change, along with some of the expected messages about true love and finding one’s purposes.
The artwork is fantastic, and it’s a lot of fun to read. Another Castle is recommended for teens and up.
Drew is a Jewish kid in Yonkers, troubled by bullies; his grandfather and mother have their own issues with gangs demanding protection money. But when his grandfather is killed by a gang, Drew seeks justice through an old story his grandfather told him, about a creature made of mud and clay to fight the Nazis during the war. Incredibly, he is able to bring a golem to life, naming it Brik, and decides to seek vengeance on those who hurt him and his family.
Of course, the story of the golem also included the fact that it was too powerful to control, and that the elders eventually shut the golem down, feeling that it was too dangerous. Drew finds himself facing the same decision: will Brik remain under his control, or will it cause more harm than good?
Brik is also rated for teens and up: there’s some strong language throughout, and a few scenes of violence. I liked the story all right, but wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork—though I have to admit that it’s fun seeing Brik come to life.
Our Cats Are More Famous Than Us: A Johnny Wander Collection by Ananth Hirsh, illustrated by Yuko Ota
Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota are both the creators and the characters in a webcomic, Johnny Wander, which has been online since 2008. They portray their lives, their cats, and their roommates in single-page comics that are sweet and hilarious. They’ve published a few collections before, but this book collects eight years’ worth of strips into one big hardcover, and it’s terrific. I hadn’t actually read Johnny Wander before, so it was all new to me, and I loved getting to know Ananth and Yuko through the funny stories they tell. Hirsh and Ota are also the creators of Lucky Penny, and Hirsh (under the name Ananth Panagariya) was the writer for Buzz!, both of which were in this Stack Overflow column. So I was already a fan of their work—I just didn’t know as much about them. Or their cats.
While the comics are autobiographical, they’re not always totally realistic. Ota uses some manga conventions from time to time, and there are some situations played up for comic effect. I think the comics are appropriate for teens and up—there’s some occasional swearing and the characters are adults, but the stories are still more or less teen-appropriate.
I’d read the first issue of Kaijumax Season 2 last year, and was pretty fascinated by it. On the surface, it’s a story about giant monsters and the giant robots that humans use to keep them in line. As the title implies, though, there’s a lot going on under the surface. You get to see the story from several perspectives: some of the monsters, a giant robot, one of the robot pilots, the prison warden for Kaijumax, and so on. It’s a commentary on prisons and criminal justice: do these giant monsters deserve a chance to reform, or should they just be wiped out? There are a couple of monsters we see who are trying to stay out of trouble, but the system makes it very hard.
On the flip side, there’s a robot, Chisato, who believes completely in the system. Her “father” is the inventor of the giant robots himself, and she is eager to be a protector and a force for good—unlike her brother, Mecha-Godzilla, who doesn’t want to serve what he sees as selfish human interests, and spends his time locked up in Kaijumax, promoting his newfound religion. We see her learning from her pilot and from her experiences in the field, trying to judge where she fits into this picture.
Kaijumax is social satire in the form of a giant monster tale; it’s thought-provoking and takes current headlines and lets us see them from different perspectives. The comic is rated for 15 and up.
An assassin, a mage, and a cleric walk into a bar … but it’s no joke. They’re part of a ragtag band, joined by a bard and a barmaid who turns out to be the greatest thief in the city of Umber. The bard has summoned them for a job: to raid the Tower of Uhlume, home of a death cult where hopeless souls shed their belongings. Surely there are treasures to be found. What seems like it’s going to be a heist story then takes a turn into horror, when they find instead an undead army, poised to take over the city.
Night’s Dominion is about a group of misfits who end up defending the city that rejected them—each with their own hidden agendas and failures. You know, kind of like the Avengers, but in a swords-and-sorcery setting. There’s also the Furie, self-appointed protector of Umber, who cuts a Batman-like figure with his hawkish mask and feathered cloak.
I really enjoyed the various twists and turns of this story—political intrigue, the secrets of the Uhlume cult, the thief’s hidden motivation for all of her thefts. It’s rated for adults—I’m guessing because of a couple scenes with nudity and the violence, though I imagine it’s probably okay for young adults and up. The writing and storyline may not be quite as appealing to younger readers, though.
MOTRO is one of those comics that is pretty hard to explain, even after you’ve finished reading it. There’s a kid, Motro, who dreams about his dying father telling him to “save them.” He lives in a world with strange creatures, like tanks that are alive. Motro is unnaturally strong and is out to save the world, but doesn’t quite know how to do it. The story jumps around—he’s now older, scavenging graves to recover useful items. And now he’s an adult, leading an army against the Reptoids, who have stolen all the babies for some nefarious purpose.
It reminds me a little of the aama series (see here), a comic in which impossible things happen over and over again, and the strange visuals can feel like something from a dream. It’s a little hard to follow, but also really amazing to look at, even if you don’t quite know what’s going on. If you’re a fan of the strange and bizarre, MOTRO is definitely one to check out.
Logan is a repairman, called to a lab in the middle of the night, where he discovers that some really weird things are happening there, starting with a shadow creature that’s attacking the guy at the reception desk. It turns out there’s a mad scientist who has been doing some biogenetics experiments, turning himself and some of the other folks from the lab into monsters. (For instance, Clement Valker, CEO, now has a giant hissing mouth on his forehead with a creepy tongue.) Thankfully, security officer Maela and Bia from IT seem to be fully human, at least for now. Logan just wants to get back out, but first he’ll have to get through a bunch of creepy crawlies, and it sounds like they may need to find that crazy scientist first. At least, that’s if they listen to the guy with the lizard mouth on his head.
Not Drunk Enough is something between horror and comedy—it’s gory and disgusting and also silly and funny. In this volume, you gradually get a picture of what happened to send the scientist off the rails, but it ends before Logan and his pals make their escape, so there’s more to come. This one’s for teens and up—definitely for those who don’t mind creepy humor.
The Damned is like a noir detective story: set during Prohibition, with gangsters and rival mob bosses fighting for control of the city. Except in this case, not all the bosses are human: they’re demons. Eddie’s our hero detective in the story, but he’s got his own problems: he lost his soul to the demons and is cursed. If he dies, he transfers his death to the next person who touches him. Big Al has raised him from his last stint in oblivion to do a little detective work. Al’s been trying to negotiate a deal with a competing demon boss, Bruno Roarke, but his go-between has vanished. He wants Eddie to track down the missing demon before the deal goes sour and a war breaks out. This book has it all: double-crosses, guns, informants, and some hidden agendas that Eddie needs to figure out, and fast.
The Damned was originally published as a mini-series in 2006 and 2007; this volume is a republication, but now in color, and there’s a new ongoing series that started earlier this year. Although Eddie solves this particular case by the end of the book, there are still a few questions left unanswered, and I’ll be curious to see where the story goes in the new series.
Disclosure: I received galleys of these titles for review from Oni Press.