Rising Suns #03: I AM A HERO (2016) [アイアムアヒーロー]

One-sheet of the I AM A HERO movie based on Hanazawa Kengo’s 2009 manga.

What was the best zombie series of the last 15 years? No, it wasn’t the fucking Wanking Dead. Anyone who knows anything about comics knows it’s hot (cake) garbage but the power of marketing, merch and a duff TV show led to unfortunate things. Like a virus, it spread and infected people into thinking it was more sophisticated than it actually is-was. It’s an unplotted pile of shit that’s thankfully ended and been buried, despite continuing to spray AMC and smartphones with piping-hot liquid excrement. If it had been a carefully crafted series with an endgoal in sight, I would look at it more kindly in hindsight. When it was a mere comic series, the first 20-30 issues were seen as a revelation for being brave enough to print in black and white, the brash pronouncement it would never end, and the twists that now seem tired like a stunned horse. As a persistent stench upon popular culture, it opened the doors to the comic dross that is now inescapable on streaming services that I don’t have the interest in wasting my time on when there are real books waiting to be read. The past is a treasure trove if you’re willing to dig deep enough to find the strands, not the Xeroxed copies of brief successes and excesses.

I AM A HERO is the antithesis to the shite yank Zombie fad of the 00s-?? and was wonderfully tied up in 22 volumes by Shogakukan and my much missed friends and colleagues at Dark Horse Comics, who finished the English translation and publication in 2019.

Just before a real pandemic forced its way into the world.

When the series reached its conclusion in Japan, I drove through long, dark, winding roads at 4am to buy a copy of BIG SPIRITS to devour the final chapter and its huge colour double-page spread of its poignant conclusion. It was, and still is a monumental piece of storytelling and cemented in my mind that mangaka Hanazawa Kengo had finally realised his ambition to tell a GREAT horror story for adults which was concise, violent, obscene, outrageous and tender all at the same time. TWD could never achieve that due to its inexcusable overwriting, 200 word monologues, the same narrative voice for all the characters (that being the grossly obese Robert Kirkman who I saw sweating and panting heavily at NYCC 2012)… need I go on? No. Let’s not.

In fact, I feel it’s insulting to Mr. Hanazawa’s talent to even compare his work with anothers as it stands tall as a work of art, rather than a media monolith that leaves most people cold.

I AM A HERO span out into four volumes of additional stories by new and major Japanese talents like Ito Junji, and a live-action movie in 2016, supported by a brief late-night mini series on TV that acts as a prelude to the movie (but to be honest, all good stories start small and we don’t need to know the origins of literally fucking everything; this is my major criticism of the dire Disney+ Star Wars spin-offs).

Now, let’s bite into the juicy meat of the brain. The movie. I’m a huge fan of Oku Hiroya’s GANTZ series which came out around 2008/9 in English translation, but the live action movies were failures in terms of narrative but not casting and design. The movies share the same director as IAAH, I only recently found out. Many manga gets optioned and turned into movies before the series is completed so the creators are leaving their work in the hands of studio writers with no idea how to turn in a satisfactory conclusion. The second GANTZ film was based on aspects of the manga but sadly unsatisfying (I do however highly recommend the GANTZ: O movie, which is the closest you will get to a truly satisfying fusion of manga and movie).

The same rationale can be directed at the I AM A HERO movie, however there are so many things RIGHT about it, I can forgive truncating 22 books totalling thousands of pages into two-hours. The cast is spot on, the costumes exact, the scenes in the first 30 minutes are ripped from the pages of the manga itself as if they were storyboards. Suzuki Hideo is a 35 year old manga artist who had won a newcomer award in his twenties but never managed to capitalise on this initial spurt of success. He becomes an assistant to another mangaka who is churning out a series he’s not interested in, nor does he raise his voice to question why he’s even doing what he’s doing (this doesn’t do you any favours in making real comics or books by the way, because you always get shot down by people with no interest in the medium who think they know better than you). The work relationship breaks down when a spate of attacks across Tokyo turn out to be (possibly?) a zombie/virus/mutation that causes people to attack and infect each other. Yes, sounds familiar. So what makes it fresh? The POV of the protagonist, without doubt. Instead of going gungho with his shotgun (gun use is not legal in Japan, except for hunting or sport in which case you thankfully need a license, unlike some countries where you can shoot up schools), he is constantly at odds with himself about using the weapon, the ramnifications of violence and his own destroyed confidence.

Later, he meets high-school student Hiromi, who has been infected partially and exists in a semi-infected state that comes into play at various points in the manga series. While the movie doesn’t quite expand on her role like the manga, she still provides a welcome counter-point to the on-screen excessive gore. The movie covers the bulk of the earlier volumes, but doesn’t make it to the final volume as it had yet to be published. However, what you do get is a concise, action-packed and faithful live-action event that deserves more than a single viewing.

Iron Man Never Has To Deal With This Sort Of Shit, Usually.


Tony Stark meets his biggest fan

They say never meet your heroes. In this case, quite literally. Jaxson Denno (as an aside, what kind of name is that? Sounds completely made up) was aghast to discover that Tony Stark was in fact just a man. A MAN, DAMMIT. Seriously though, the suit chafes the inner thighs. It’s a bit rich to expect a billionaire philanthropist to be wearing that thing all day long.

I’ll let the photo speak for itself, Mr. Frowny. Of course, this kid’s life is going to be hell from here on out.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars new strip ‘Lockdown’ update

Hello all. Sorry for no updates recently, but I’m currently going through some big “life changes”. No, I’m not turning into a horse or a Sith Lord or anything (even though turning into a Sith Lord would be awesome), but I am going freelance from April to concentrate on writing. You can expect lots of cool comic projects from me in the coming year.

With that said, my latest Clone Wars strip, ‘Lockdown’ is being drawn by the extremely talented Andres Ponce, who has done an absolutely amazing job so far. I’ve only seen the first 6 pages of pencils that my editor Mark sent me, but he’s really managed to put on the page exactly what I saw in my head.

Returning to the comic will be Volas Das, the villainous bounty hunter who’s been doing his own freelancing for the Separatists. He’s not got the run of the ship in this new story though, and is instead banged up in a wretched hive of scum and villainy: the prison level on the Tempestuous, a Republic ship heading back to Coruscant.

I won’t give the game away, but you should see this story in the UK and US Clone Wars comics in the next few months. I’ll update this post with the date as soon as I know!

If you want some info on the previous stories in the Hypermatters Saga, go here and here.

Comic Review: Aliens #1 (Dark Horse)

Funny looking through these old reviews. Prometheus came out to a mixed reception (I actually like it, so stfu) and this series was buried pretty quickly. Perhaps relying on a writer from twenty years previously wasn’t a great move. 

Aliens #1 (Dark Horse)
Written by John Arcudi
Art by Zach Howard & Mark Irwin

This time it’s war. Again…

With the recent announcement that Ridley Scott is to return (on production duties) to the franchise he kick-started back in 1979 and the 30th anniversary of the film’s release this year, there appears to be no abatement of hunger for a new Alien film. Dark Horse Comics have also returned to their own past glories, relaunching a sparkly new Aliens series penned by Mask and B.P.R.D. scribe John Arcudi.

The deceptively short first issue is not as predictable as you may think, but has clearly
been written with an overall story arc in mind that detracts from the fun of reading it as
single issues. The aliens themselves appear on only four out of 21 pages as well,
leaving you feeling a bit short-changed.

Characters are introduced only to be savaged or shot to bits, and while some of the best sequences in the Aliens movie were when the marines were being picked off one by one, having this happen suddenly during the first act feels forced and doesn’t allow you to get to know the characters well enough to appreciate them. See The Walking Dead series for the way comics handle great deaths of subsidiary characters.

On a positive note, Zach Howard’s art works really well — it’s clean, modern and energetic. His backgrounds don’t look out of place from the Alien ‘verse and his characters look interesting. Hopefully he’ll be able to stretch his artistic muscles throughout the rest of the story.

Comic Review: Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk #5 (Marvel)

Another one from the archives. Expect more of this rubbish until I run out, then I’ll post some scathing reviews about DC’s #0 issues.

Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk #5 (Marvel)

Written by Damon Lindeloff
Art by Leinil Yu

Angry hairy man and angry green man are displeased with each other. Words are had…

There’s a Whole Lotta Lindeloff in the public eye at the moment, with Star Trek burning up multiplexes and Lost’s fifth season perplexing the hell out us. So it was a shrewd move for Marvel to resurrect the Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk series that stalled back in 2006. Oh yeah, and there’s apparently a Wolverine movie out at the moment too. Ahem.

The Ultimate Marvel Universe has been around a good 10 years now, meaning that
for the casual reader – if there are any of you actually out there – jumping into a
supposed continuity-free universe like this one is a rather tall order. Jeph Loeb is
currently trashing everyone and everything with a big flood (ie, pressing a big flashing red button called RESET), but because of the hideously erratic schedule for UWvH, it comfortably stands apart from the ongoing monthlies.

The latest issue, #5 of 6, is quick to change the style and pace of previous entries with such weird and wonderful chapters as ‘Part One: In Which Logan Pisses Off A Panda’. Lindeloff is great at writing punchy dialogue and delivering the action up in spades; it’s also funny to see one of our cuddly friends tear into the guy with the daft hair like he’s a cheeseburger.
#1 saw Wolvie getting his legs torn off by one very angry Hulk; in ish three Lindeloff introduces Ultimate She-Hulk — a super-powered Betty Ross. It’s a fanboy-for-the-fanboys affair, but with Leinil Yu (Secret Invasion) providing some jaw-dropping, career-best art, you can’t help but be swept along with the energy and sheer fun of it all.

Fingers crossed that we’ll see issue six on the shelves before 2012 when the world ends.

Comic Review: Kick-Ass #4 (Icon)

Before CLiNT magazine, before Nemesis, this series actually had me excited. Four years later, I’m burned out with it all. The tasteless rape of a minor character in Kick-Ass 2 put me off for good.

Kick-Ass #4 (Icon)
Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita Jr.

Superheroes get real, get a MySpace page and get popular…

What does it take to put on a costume and become a real superhero? Loneliness and despair. So it goes in Mark Millar’s latest creator-owned series about a highschooler who decides to bring real life superheroics to the streets. It follows the story of a typical American teenager, Dave Lizewski, whose inability to woo the ladies and obsessive interest in comics leads him to slip into an eBay-purchased wet suit, and hit the streets to combat crime. On his first jaunt, he’s stabbed in the chest trying to stop vandals,
and then, if that wasn’t enough, hospitalised after a speeding car ploughs into him.

While this doesn’t exactly sound like a cheery read, Millar’s characters’ worldview is
not as cynical as you would expect, and this makes a nice change when most superhero output seems to go down the dark and gritty path. As Dave and his schoolfriends discuss the Fantastic Four’s battles with Galactus and the realism of Spider-Man’s web-shooters, we take one step away from the fact that we’re staring at a comic book page. The geeks that populate the pages of this story almost live and breathe.

John Romita Jr. is a long-established artist for Marvel, who’s worked across all the biggest and best titles they’ve offered up over the years: Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (with Frank Miller) to name but a few. This month also marked his return to the pages of Spider-Man alongside Kick-Ass colourist Dean White, who transforms Romita’s rough and frenetic pencil work into something of impressionistic beauty. Yes, this is still a comic we’re talking about. And
it looks damn good.

Millar, the other half of the creative team, should be a name not unfamiliar to most comic and graphic novel readers. With Wanted recently making millions at the UK box-office, and Kick-Ass already optioned for the big screen by the Stardust team of Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, Millar is a marquee name in the world of comics, and each new project he works on brings about an almost ridiculous level of anticipation.

Overall, this is a fast paced, over-the-top but brilliantly engaging read. It sits alongside Wanted, Chosen and new Millar series 1985 as a series that could quite easily be developed further, and it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves onto the silver screen.  Fun, violent, possibly even offensive, Kick-Ass is worth picking up.

Comic Review: Batman #666 (DC)

I’m already getting bored of reading these reviews because they’re so free of profanity. Mazza Manson should have appeared in this issue and pissed on a security guard.

Batman #666 (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Adam Kubert

It’s Damian Vs the Antichrist in the Satanically special 666th issue of the long-running comic…

Self-professed magician and purveyor of all things Crowley-esque, writer Grant Morrison hasn’t shyed away from the controversial during his twenty-odd year career. With memorable characters like King Mob under his belt, and a string of classic runs on titles including Animal Man, New X-Men and the critically acclaimed All Star Superman, Morrison has managed to put a fresh spin on often tired concepts and still retain those aspects that make the character so enjoyable.

Batman #666 is no exception. The setup is timeless comic book: good vs. evil, with a
predictable outcome. But it’s how good triumphs that proves that the character is in
the hands of a brilliant writer who can still inject new ideas into a sixty-year-old icon and not come across as twee. This is no Batman you’ve seen before, but rather the recently introduced son of Bruce Wayne, Damian. Despite his apt name, battle scars, pill popping and dead father, he also feels inclined to dress up as a giant bat and take on the hoods of Gotham.

Thrown into the future, the story doesn’t deviate into Dark Knight realms or reference Paul Pope’s recent Year 100, but instead pits the haggard new superhero against the Antichrist. Andy Kubert, who made his name churning out classic X-Men pages during the 90s, effortlessly realises this new Gotham and its denizens with a careful balance of hyper-kinetic action sequences and splashes that are packed with detail.

If Morrison and Kubert continue to provide such concise and exciting stories, hopefully the stale fallback of multi-part crossovers will be vanquished from the pages of Batman. #666 is a one off, but it’s devilishly good.

Comic Review: Criminal – Coward (Icon)

Criminal: Coward (Icon)
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Ed Brubaker (Daredevil; Uncanny X-Men) and Sean Phillips (Marvel Zombies) join forces for a tightly plotted crime tale of diamonds, drugs and deceit…

There aren’t many crime comics on the shelves these days. In fact, nobody has really resurrected the genre since the heyday of 1950s when the likes of Shock SuspenStories and EC shockers ripped stories from the headlines and turned them into eight-page disposable thrillers.

There have been a few interesting twists in Frank Miller’s Sin City, which made noir almost farcical, Brian Michael Bendis’ Torso and, more recently, Darwyn Cooke’s take on The Spirit. But nothing followed in the direct tradition of Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard until Criminal hit stores in 2006. With dialogue that wouldn’t look out of place in either of those writers’ novels and the sort of low down characters you might find in a Tarantino flick, Brubaker’s marriage of cool-talking and lawless abandon is epitomised by Leo, Coward’s protagonist. When Leo is offered the chance to walk away with $5 million in diamonds from a cop-organised diamond heist, he doesn’t spend too long weighing up the cons.

Seasoned comics readers will be surprised by the level of conflict and complexity Brubaker injects into his characters — you can feel these hoodlums breathe on the page. Phillip’s stark artwork, heavy with the black ink and subtle with the details, brings to life the crooked and dirty streets of a nameless

Best of all, the conclusion to this self-contained story comes from leftfield, but doesn’t feel contrived. This is fantastic storytelling that goes beyond mere comics, it begs to become celluloid.