The best manga of 2016? Review of A Silent Voice and Yona

In this second part of a two-part blog post (read part 1 here) I’ll review two more manga from 2016, the widely acclaimed A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima and the ‘dark horse’ Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi.

A Silent Voice (聲の形 / Koe no katachi) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Yoshitoki Ōima
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2013)
Number of volumes: 4 so far (completed with vol. 7 in Japan)
Pages: 190
Price: € 7
Website: http://www.egmont-manga.de/buch-buchreihe/a-silent-voice/
ISBN: 978-3-7704-8996-1

This is it. This must be the best manga of 2016. While I can’t claim to have read all manga from last year, it’s inconceivable that another manga could be as good as A Silent Voice.

As with Orange, the synopsis didn’t sound that exciting though, which is usually given as something along the lines of ‘deaf girl is bullied by her new classmate but then they get to know each other better’. However, apart from the first 8 pages of a framing narrative, the girl (Nishimiya) doesn’t even appear until page 50. This gives us a lot of space to get acquainted with the compelling character of Shōya, a sixth-grader who (similarly to e.g. Bart Simpson) does evil things without really being evil. Everything he does is motivated by his desire to ‘defeat boredom’ by all means. It’s impossible not to like him when he exclaims, “I declare this day a triumph over boredom!”, and it’s understandable how he immediately sees his new classmate Nishimiya as a remedy for boredom and desperately tries to make use of her to this end.

They way Ōima crafts her story is simple but couldn’t be more effective. By contrasting Nishimiya’s ultimate kindness with Shōya’s ever-increasing meanness while at the same time evoking the reader’s sympathy with Shōya, we experience their conflict as a gut-wrenching lose–lose situation. It can’t get more emotionalising than this. And even though the manga goes on for 6 more volumes, it’s not even all that important whether Nishimiya will ever be able to forgive Shōya – the story as told in vol. 1 is already perfect in itself.

While the script would have been strong enough to work well even if it had been drawn by a lesser artist, the opposite is also true: Ōima could probably illustrate the proverbial phone book and it would still look good. The art of A Silent Voice is absolutely on par with the writing. Of particular ingenuity is the device of repeating panel compositions of certain scenes (Shōya and his mates hanging out in his room, Shōya getting told off by his teacher, Shōya talking at Nishimiya) – not copy-and-pasting but re-drawing them with myriad background details (the amount of which is incredible in many panels anyway) changed.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ●


Yona of the Dawn (暁のヨナ / Akatsuki no Yona) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Mizuho Kusanagi
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Hakusensha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2009)
Number of volumes: 3 so far (22 in Japan)
Pages: 190
Price: € 5
Website: http://www.tokyopop.de/manga/tokyopop-manga/shojo/yona-prinzessin-der-morgendaemmerung/
ISBN: 978-3-8420-3143-2

With vol. 1 released in both Germany and the US and vol. 20-22 in Japan last year, plus a popular anime adaptation the year before, I would have thought Yona to be the most talked-about manga of 2016. Instead, I found it on only one best-of-2016 list. Does that mean it’s not actually that good?

Yona is marketed as a fantasy story for the shōjo demographic, which is an interesting niche – although ‘fantasy’ might be somewhat misleading, as there are no supernatural elements (at least in vol. 1), so it’s more of an alternate history story in a vaguely medieval East Asian setting. This genre mix means that the manga has to deliver not only on drama and romance but also on ‘swordplay’. While the drama/romance part works out fine (could there be anything more dramatic than Yona’s father getting killed by the man she is in love with?), the few action scenes seem stiff, especially when compared to manga by masters who appear to feel more at home in the ‘samurai’ genre such as Sanpei Shirato, Gōseki Kojima, or Hiroaki Samura.

Another problem of this volume is its slow pace: at the end, Yona flees from her father’s murderer and embarks on a journey that will surely end in another dramatic confrontation with said killer. It’s palpable that this is the beginning of what will eventually become an epic and probably very exciting and good story – but in vol. 1, we’re simply not there yet.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○


To sum up, in my humble opinion, A Silent Voice is the best manga of the year 2016. However, there are several other strong ongoing series with which I have yet to catch up to their 2016 volumes, so maybe there’s going to be a third review post later this year.


The best manga of 2016? Review of Orange and Knights of Sidonia

Are the manga that almost everyone put on their best-comics-of-2016 lists really so awesome? (Spoiler: yes, they are.) Or was the actually best manga a completely different one that was overlooked by most? In this little two-part blog post [EDIT: read part 2 here] I’ll review two titles from each of those categories.

Orange (orange) vol. 1panel from Orange #1 by Ichigo Takano
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Ichigo Takano
Publisher: Carlsen Manga (originally Shūeisha and Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 3 so far (completed with vol. 5 in Japan)
Pages: ~190 (+ 30 pages backup story)
Price: € 8
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/serie/orange/72643
ISBN: 978-3-551-71324-7

Orange is the highest-ranked manga in the aggregate ranking of 2016 year-end lists, so it certainly is the most popular among critics. But is it also the best? If you only go by its synopsis, you wouldn’t think so: 16-year old Naho mysteriously starts receiving letters from the future, written by herself at age 26. The letters are mainly concerned with Naho’s new classmate Kakeru, who will die next year, and adult Naho wants teenage Naho to prevent this.

Magically travelling back to one’s teenage days is not a particularly original premise for a manga – cf. the recent ReLIFE by Yayoisō and 31 I Dream by Arina Tanemura, and of course Jirō Taniguchi’s 1990s masterpiece, A Distant Neighborhood. The new spin in Orange is that 26-year old Naho doesn’t travel back in time; she only sends letters but can’t control what her 16-year old self does, and 16-year old Naho doesn’t know anything about her future except for what she reads in the letters.

This makes for an ideal starting point for the compelling exploration of a theme that was also central to Taniguchi: regret. One could even argue this works better in Orange, because although 16-year old Naho knows what she is supposed to do (according to the advice in the letters), she often can’t bring herself to do it, or decides against it, or simply misses the opportunity. The letters don’t change who she is; they don’t turn her into another, more courageous, person.

Add to that some gorgeous artwork (masterly use of screen tones!) and you get an almost perfect manga. Almost, but not quite: what took me by surprise was that the story is partially set in the time of adult Naho, and – not unlike the much-reviled epilogue to the final Harry Potter novel – I don’t think this works all that well. While the manga demographic terms of shōjo and josei are often problematic, this distinction might be at the core of the problem here: a reader can identify with either Naho the wife and mother or Naho the high schooler, but probably not both.

Another potentially problematic element is the unlikely plot device of sending letters back in time in an otherwise realistic setting, which as of vol. 1 hasn’t been explained yet. An unconvincing explanation at the end can still ruin a series that had been good up to this point (I’m looking at you, Nobuaki Kanazawa), so we’ll have to wait and see how this is handled in the four remaining volumes of Orange.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

Knights of Sidonia (シドニアの騎士 / Shidonia no kishi) vol. 14
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Tsutomu Nihei
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2017 (originally 2015)
Number of volumes: 14 so far (completed with vol. 15 in Japan)
Pages: ~170
Price: € 7.50
Website: http://www.egmont-manga.de/buch-buchreihe/knights-of-sidonia/
ISBN: 9783-7704-9240-4

Ostensibly, this penultimate volume of Knights of Sidonia has little to do with 2016: the original Japanese tankōbon was published in 2015 already and this German translation only this year. However, the 15th and final volume, which is yet to be published in German, came out in the US last year, so I would have thought the conclusion of the series would make a bigger impact on the Western manga scene.

Instead it seems to have gone by unnoticed – it wasn’t on any of the best manga/comics of 2016 lists -, which is a shame because of the historic significance in the field of science-fiction manga that this series has already earned itself due to its scale (surpassing Tsutomu Nihei’s earlier magnum opus, Blame!, by 5 volumes), its ambitious genre-bending, and its modernisation of the venerable mecha genre.

I’ve sung the praises of the series before, but how does a a single volume hold up when judged individually? In the case of vol. 14, it’s an above-average volume because many exciting things happen in it: there’s an alien infiltrator aboard the mothership Sidonia, Mrs Hiyama the talking bear makes several appearances, we get to know the enigmatic captain Kobayashi better, we even learn something about protagonist Tanikaze’s origin, Tanikaze gets a new mecha model, etc.

That being said, Knights of Sidonia might be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – or rather, being precisely the sum of its parts, with each new volume adding to the enjoyment of reading, rather than merely replicating it. For each awesome scene, there’s a sequence where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on (particularly the space fights), or an unlikely twist that’s only there for shock value. But put together, there’s a lot of awesomeness over the course of this series.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○


The 650-Cent Plague turns five

panel from Akira #12 (Epic) by Katsuhiro Otomo

If one year for a dog equals seven years for a human, then five years in ‘Internet years’ equals… a long time. I started this weblog on January 15, 2012 and published two posts a month ever since. A look back on the first two years is already available, so here are some facts from the WordPress statistics about The 650-Cent Plague in 2014-2016:

  • For some reason, 2014 is still the most popular year with 9% more visitors than in 2015 and 3% more than in 2016.
  • The blog post with the most hits in these three years is still my completely off-topic review of Luzia Simons’s and Sarah Jones’s flower photography, probably due to reasons outlined in my 2nd anniversary post. However, its number of hits is declining from year to year, while the second most popular post, on Erwin Panofsky, is on the rise. The post with the 3rd most hits is the one on Heinrich Wölfflin, which makes me like to think that people might be interested in this whole ‘theory in comics’ series. So maybe I’ll write some more of this stuff this year.
  • Most visitors come from the US, followed by Germany. So far, so predictable, but what baffles me is that Germany is closely followed by France (UK on 4th place, Canada on 5th). There has been almost twice as much traffic from France than from the UK!
  • By far the most requested image is gay young Ozymandias and his “… aquaintance” from Before Watchmen.
  • Apart from image links, most outward traffic from The 650-Cent Plague goes to www.manganet.de, the website of German publisher Egmont Manga (which they seem to have changed to http://www.egmont-manga.de recently). In contrast to e.g. Marvel and DC, their manga series URLs are relatively stable, so I don’t hesitate to include them in manga reviews.

What will I write about at The 650-Cent Plague in the future? Well, is there anything you would like to read here? Tell me in the comments!


The best comics of 2016: a meta list

panels from Patience, Orange, and Madgermanes

[UPDATE: added 2 more lists – Chicago Public Library and AiPT.]

[UPDATE: added one more list – Comicgate.]

[UPDATE: added 9 more lists – Autostraddle, 3× Barnes & Noble, The Beat, ComFor, Comic Report, ComicsAlliance and Odyssey.]

[UPDATE: added 3 more lists – Amazon, Graphixia, and Rob Clough’s -; thus the strikethrough text in the comments and the little arrows next to some comics to indicate that their rank went up or down compared to the previous version.]

Towards every end of year (and shortly afterwards), lots of people publicly share their opinion on what the best comics of that year were in the form of best-of lists. Aggregating these lists into one ‘master list’ or ‘meta list’ might yield, if one believes in the ‘wisdom of crowds’, the best of the best.

For 2015, such lists were compiled by Multiversity Comics and ICv2, and their straightforward method was to simply count in how many best-of lists each title appeared, and then to rank the titles by that number. So I did that too, but I’m not quite satisfied with this method, and thus also offer a new kind of ranking below. Here’s the top ~25 according to the ‘old’ ranking method first:

1.) The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire (on 16 out of 36 lists)

2.) March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (14)

3.) Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson (12)

4.) Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (10)
Patience by Daniel Clowes (10)

6.) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (8)
Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden (8)
Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (8)

9.) The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (7)
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (7)

11.) The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson (6)
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (6)

13.) Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin (5)
Dark Night
by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (5)
Faith
by Jody Houser, Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage (5) ⇧
Goodnight Punpun
by Inio Asano (5) ⇧
Hot Dog Taste Test
by Lisa Hanawalt (5)
Mooncop by Tom Gauld (5)
Orange by Ichigo Takano (5) ⇧
Panther by Brecht Evens (5)

21.) The Fix by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber and Ryan Hil (4) ⇩
Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart (4) ⇩
I Am a Hero by Kengo Hanazawa (4) ⇧
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg (4) ⇩
Princess Jellyfish
by Akiko Higashimura (4) ⇧
The Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (4) ⇩
A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima (4) ⇧

…and then there would be lots of titles found on three or fewer lists.

The problem with this ranking method is, it gives equal weight to a comic that is ranked #1 and one that is ranked #20. With unnumbered best-of lists, the problem is that a comic included on a top 5 list is given equal weight to one in a top 30 list. Therefore I suggest to assign points, based on the list with the highest number of comics (in this case, NPR and B&N Comics with 30 each). For titles on numbered lists, each title is given 30 points minus the respective rank, plus 1 because otherwise a comic on #30 would get no points at all. So e.g. a comic on the top spot gets 30 points, a comic on #7 gets 24 points, and so on. For unnumbered lists, all comics get 30 points minus the total number of comics on the respective list, plus 1 because otherwise no points would be given for a top 30 list. Each title in a top 10 list, for instance, gets 21 points, while a comic in a top 20 list gets 11 etc. Here’s the top 25 ranking based on this ‘new’ method:

1.) The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire (295 points)

2.) March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (245)

3.) Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson (221)

4.) Patience by Daniel Clowes (190)

5.) Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (170)

6.) Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (162)

7.) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (152)

8.) Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden (139)

9.) Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (129)

10.) The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (128)

11.) The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson (126)

12.) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (109)

13.) Panther by Brecht Evens (102)

14.) Orange by Ichigo Takano (93) ⇧

15.) The Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (89) ⇩

16.) Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano (88) ⇧

17.) The Fix by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber and Ryan Hil (85) ⇩
Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart (85) ⇩

19.) A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima (84) ⇧

20.) Dark Night by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (77) ⇩

21.) Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt (73) ⇩

22.) Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann (66) ⇩

23.) Un océan d’amour by Wilfrid Lupano and Grégory Panaccione (63) ⇩

24.) The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon (62) ⇩

25.) Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (61) ⇩
Midnighter and Apollo by Steve Orlando, Fernando Blanco and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (61) ⇩

The advantages of this second meta list become apparent: there are fewer ties, showing that e.g. Patience is far more popular than Monstress even though they are both on the same rank on the first list. Rosalie Lightning and Monstress even swap their relative positions, because the latter was included in more lists but on lower ranks. The biggest surprise, though, is that Megg & Mogg makes almost makes the top 20 in the 2nd meta list – it is found on only three lists, but always on high ranks – whereas Black Panther disappears (or more precisely, drops out of the top 25 to rank 27 28).

Personally I find it interesting (and rather sad) that only six seven lists (Goodreads, Derek’s at The Comics Alternative, Amazon, Graphixia, Comic Report, Comicgate and Chicago Public Library) included a manga along with non-manga comics. Apart from Orange, Punpun, and A Silent Voice, the only other manga further down on the meta list, due to their inclusion in two or three lists four or fewer lists, are Princess Jellyfish (35), Assassination Classroom by Yūsei Matsui (36), One-Punch Man by Yusuke Murata and One (34 37), and Wandering Island by Kenji Tsuruta (49) I Am a Hero (40), plus a few others that didn’t make the top 50.

The two three highest-ranked German comics just missed the top 30: Madgermanes by Birgit Weyhe (32), Röhner by Max Baitinger (tied for 32), and Didi & Stulle by Fil (34 37).

These are the lists I considered:

Adventures in Poor Taste (manga), Amazon, Autostraddle, Barnes & Noble: New Manga / Ongoing Manga / Comics & Graphic Novels, The Beat (multiple mentions only), Best and Worst Manga of 2016 Results – Comic-Con International (first 4 categories only), Chicago Public Library, ComFor (German), Comicgate (German), Comic Report (German; multiple mentions only), ComicsAlliance, The Comics Alternative (counting Andy’s and Derek’s as two separate lists), Forbes, Goodreads, Graphixia (first 2 categories only), The Guardian, High-Low (Rob Clough), How To Love Comics, io9NPR, Odyssey (Rachel Freeman), PastePublishers Weekly (Best Books 2016, ‘Comics’ category), Rolling Stone (German), School Library Journal, Sumikai (German), Slate, Tagesspiegel (German), Unwinnable, Vox.com, Vulture, Washington Post, Women Write About Comics.

Did I overlook a noteworthy list? Tell me in the comments.


When an artist carousel actually works: Review of Moon Knight (2016) #6-9

These four issues constitute a story arc of their own (titled “Incarnations”), the end of which is also marked by Greg Smallwood’s return as the sole artist from the next issue on, so it makes sense to review them now.

Language: English
Authors: Jeff Lemire (writer); Greg Smallwood, Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla & James Stokoe (artists); Jordie Bellaire & Michael Garland (colourists)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages per issue: 20
Price per issue: $3.99
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/20488/moon_knight_2016_-_present

Previously in Moon Knight: Moon Knight has escaped from the mental asylum but then met his patron god Khonshu, fell out with him, jumped from a pyramid, passed out and awoke in his Steven Grant persona. He is producing a film starring his girlfriend Marlene as the female lead. Everything seems fine and the last panel of issue #5 shows a smiling Steven.

And here his troubles begin. Our protagonist keeps involuntarily changing in and out of his identities, and his surroundings change with him. Everywhere he is haunted by incarnations of his tormentors at the mental asylum, nurses Bobby and Billy and psychiatrist Dr Emmet. And also by werewolves from outer space.

Neither Moon Knight nor the readers know which reality is actually the real one. The guest artists reduce the subtlety somewhat, but it is also an interesting gimmick that each of Moon Knight’s personas/realities is drawn by different artists: taxi driver Jake Lockley by Francesco Francavilla, film producer Steven Grant by Wilfredo Torres and Michael Garland, and space pilot Marc Spector by James Stokoe.

So how exactly does this brilliant device of switching back-and-forth between identities work? Jeff Lemire employs a variety of ways to do this, but let’s take a closer look at the beginning of this arc in issue #6. The first panel (art by Torres and Garland) shows Moon Knight in his old cape fighting some villain in what looks like ancient Egypt. So far, this could be a classic Moon Knight story. In the second panel though, a speech bubble is partly obscured by a boom microphone, and on the following double page we learn that this was only a Moon Knight film being shot, produced by Steven Grant. The name of the leading actor though, whose face we never get to see, is Marc Spector – the real name of the real Moon Knight!

panel from Moon Knight #6

On page 5, Steven and Marlene enter a taxi and talk about a fundraising event at a mental hospital (because their film “explores some real themes… identity, mental illness”), which of course later turns out to be the hospital where Moon Knight was detained earlier. The last panel on this page contains a caption: “Steven Grant is too soft for what comes next…”, and on the next page (from now on drawn by Francavilla) their taxi driver turns out to be Jake Lockley! After he has dropped Steven and Marlene off, he meets his friend Crawley, who remembers the events from the first arc (the escape from the mental hospital) but Jake can’t.

Crawley tells Jake on p. 9, “You’re in the hospital right now”, then disappears. Jake opens the trunk of his taxi where he keeps his Moon Knight costume. The following page is drawn by Torres and Garland again, and on the first panel we see Steven Grant looking at his dinner suit (which looks not unlike Moon Knight’s ‘Mr Knight’ costume) on his bed from the same perspective. Apparently he and Marlene are getting ready for their fundraising party at the hospital. Steven is confused and says to Marlene, “I – I was somewhere else! I was in this cab and there was this man, this old man with white hair, and he told me – he told me I was in a mental hospital.”

2 panels from Moon Knight #6

Marlene answers, “Have you been taking your meds? […] You remember last time you got off, how you got.” So (according to this version of Marlene) Steven is mentally ill, which would explain the Jake Lockley scene as Steven’s delusion. But Steven doesn’t even remember being on medication at all.

And so it goes on. It’s a joy for the reader to gradually realise on how many levels the various realities are intertwined, and how they all contradict each other. Until issue #9 when Moon Knight, in his Mr Knight outfit and drawn by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire again, confronts his other three personas, defeats or makes peace with them, and they vanish.

The “Incarnations” story arc was one wild ride, and if Lemire, Smallwood and Bellaire keep up their good work in the next arc, Moon Knight will surely be the best current Marvel comic, now that The Vision has ended.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○


Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large – in comics?

Arjun Appadurai’s book Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization was published in 1996 but is based on texts written around 1990. Its core is the chapter, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy” (27-47), first published as a journal article in 1990. Thus it can still be seen as a continuation of the discourse on postmodernism/postmodernity from the 1980s (as reflected on this weblog by the series of posts on texts from 1980 to 1985).

The new element that Appadurai brings to the postmodernist discussion is globalisation: his aim is “to construct what John Hinkson calls a ‘social theory of postmodernity’ that is adequately global” (47), although Appadurai usually speaks more often of “modern” when he means the present day. The important point, though, is the rupture or paradigm shift that he suggests to have occurred around 1970: “it is only in the past two decades or so that media and migration have become so massively globalized, that is to say, active across large and irregular transnational terrains” (9).

This leads to the present-day “new global cultural economy” (32) that needs to be analysed by a framework of five “dimensions of global cultural flows” (33):

  • ethnoscapes, i.e. the flow of people,
  • mediascapes, i.e. mass media and the images and information they convey,
  • technoscapes, i.e. the distribution of high-tech knowledge, machinery, and skills,
  • financescapes, i.e. “the disposition of global capital” (34), and
  • ideoscapes, i.e. “meaning-streams” in “the discourse of democracy” (37) and other ideologies and concepts.

It would be easy to apply this framework to comics as commodities, i.e. comic books, TPBs, tankobon etc., the production and reception of which are nowadays almost always transnational processes. But are these global cultural flows also reflected in the content of comic stories? While this is not meant by Appadurai as a characteristic of postmodern cultural works, it is not far-fetched to expect that postmodern works are more likely to reflect a global cultural economy than previous ones.

This also gives me the opportunity to write about a comic that more should be written about (though it surely will be included in many end-of-year lists for 2016) because of its outstanding quality: The Vision (I keep seeing the title given simply as Vision, but on the covers it clearly says The Vision) by writer Tom King, artist Gabriel Hernández Walta and colourist Jordie Bellaire. Across the 12 issues, I found the following traces of Appadurai’s landscapes:

  • page from The Vision #4 by King and Waltaethnoscape: the series is about the ‘synthezoid’ Vision having created an artificial family – wife, daughter and son – and moving into a house in Arlington, Virginia. This, and their difficulties of settling in among humans, are of course metaphors for transnational migration and xenophobia. But there is also proper migration represented or at least implied in The Vision: in #4, the children, Vin and Viv, play with a football that has “Fighting Redskins” and a caricature of a Native American printed on it. It’s the mascot of their high school, they explain to Vision, and only recently has it been changed to the “Fighting Patriot”, a politically correct “colorful bull in a three-corner hat”. This little episode brings to mind that naturally, there are only few Americans whose ancestors were not transnational migrants.
    Then there are characters in this comic who represent, through their name and/or appearance, more recent immigration waves than the Mayflower – Leon Kinzky, the Asian-looking Matt Lin, and Marianella Mancha. Her son Victor Mancha even draws a connection between himself and the Spaniard Don Quijote de la Mancha on the sole basis of their names (in #8).
    Finally, there is a long quote from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice about being Jewish.
  • panel from The Vision by King and Waltamediascape: specifically, Appadurai means electronic media such as television (3, 35), so the play The Merchant of Venice first shown as a hardcopy book in #5, though written in England, doesn’t count. Although there is some talk of “downloading” and “uploading” things and some smartphones are shown, there are few instances of content being electronically mediated across national boundaries. One example is Vin “downloading Bach’s cello concerto” in #3 – while we are not told where the recording was made, at least the composer is German.
  • technoscape: a series with androids as protagonists is bound to feature lots of high-tech machinery, but the sources of all these gadgets are Ultron, Vision and Tony Stark – so I think it’s all ‘made in USA’. No transnational flow here.
  • financescape: in the beginning of the comic, Vision mentions his difficulties in getting a steady income, and Tony Stark, the embodiment of wealth in the Marvel universe, appears a few times. Apart from that, financial matters don’t play any role in The Vision, let alone transnational financial flows.
  • ideoscape: The Vision is quite a cerebral comic, but few ideas that can be traced back to outside the US are mentioned. In #9, however, Victor Mancha says: “Vin’s reading this book [The Merchant of Venice] over and over. Like he’s obsessed with mercy and justice.” So some ideas have travelled from England to America after all.panel from The Vision by King and Walta

To sum up, applying Appadurai’s framework to the content of a (supposedly postmodern) comic doesn’t yield as many representations of global cultural flows as I had expected. But, again, that’s not what it was intended for. Applying this framework to the para- and extratextual information pertaining to a comic, however, would surely reveal it as a product of Appadurai’s global cultural economy.


What about that feminist agenda? Review of Mockingbird #8

Mockingbird #8
Language: English
Authors: Chelsea Cain (writer), Kate Niemczyk (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colourist)
Publisher: Marvel
Publication Date: October 2016
Pages: 20
Price: $ 3.99
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/21245/mockingbird_2016_-_present

I don’t usually review single comic book issues, but Mockingbird #8 merits an exception for two reasons:

  1. This eighth issue is already the last one of this series, and when it came out, writer Chelsea Cain tweeted: “Please buy Mockingbird #8 this Wed. Send a message to @marvel that there’s room in comics for super hero stories about grown-up women.”
    Furthermore, there was some scandal about Cain being harassed on twitter, leading to more pleas for solidarity with Cain. So far, this campaign hasn’t had any effect on the sales of Mockingbird #8, but sales figures are based on retailers’ purchase decisions made months ago, so who knows, maybe this solidarity campaign will make an impact after all. Plus, many people seem to buy the first trade paperback instead.
  2. And then there’s the cover. Comic book covers are always made to be eye-catchers, but this one stands out as one of the most iconic covers of at least this year. In contrast to many other covers, it even reflects the contents of the comic, as Mockingbird is shown wearing this t-shirt on 5 panels on the penultimate page.

“ASK ME ABOUT MY FEMINIST AGENDA”? That’s just what we’re going to do now: does Bobbi Morse a.k.a. Mockingbird have a feminist agenda? The short answer is, there would be no reason to wear that t-shirt if she didn’t. For the long answer, there are four key scenes with regard to feminism that merit a closer look:

  • p. 5: “I’m the law on this boat, Slade”, Mockingbird says to the Phantom Rider when he comes to haunt her on a boat cruise. Superheroes often take the law into their own hands and act as ad hoc commanders of civilian groups (as in this case, the cruise passengers). Here, a woman assumes leadership over a group of both women and men. The fundamental possibility to do so is a classic feminist claim. On the other hand, this gender perspective is not made explicit.page 5 of Mockingbird #8 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk
  • p. 16: “He divorced me because I cheated on him. He told himself that you had drugged me, taken advantage of me, but he never truly believed it. It’s too ridiculous. He knows that I’ve always made my own decisions. And that I’ll live with the consequences.” Divorce is a traditional feminist device for sexual self-determination, but here it’s Bobbi’s husband who divorced her, not the other way round. However, there is also a discussion (at least from what I gather online – not sure about serious feminist theory) whether cheating can be considered a feminist practice to achieve sexual self-determination. In this case, though, it looks as if Mockingbird regrets her extramarital affair. (For more information on this piece of backstory, see e.g. this review on xmenxpert.)page 16 of Mockingbird #8 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk
  • p. 19: “This doesn’t count as a rescue”, Bobbi says to Hunter when he comes in a helicopter to rescue her from some beach to which she was swept after she had gone overboard the cruise ship. What could have easily turned into a ‘damsel in distress’ scene is put into perspective by Bobbi’s lines of dialogue and the beach resort setting: she clearly didn’t suffer hardship alone on that beach. Then again, the action in this scene remains the same: when the man comes to take her away from the lonely island / family resort, she lets him. Or is this just an instance of the controversial opinion that feminism and male ‘chivalry’ are reconcilable?page 19 of Mockingbird #8 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk
  • p. 20: “We’re here because I need a foot rub.” The comic ends with a scene that Chelsea Cain describes in the epilogue as an “alpine threesome”. A male-male-female threesome in which the woman is clearly dominant? That surely is a feminist sexual practice if there ever was one.page 20 of Mockingbird #8 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk

In that same epilogue text, Cain describes Bobbi as “separate from the male gaze, but still not afraid to bask in it” – and there is indeed some basking going on in this comic, though not as much as in others. All things considered, while Bobbi may not have an explicit, discernible feminist agenda in Mockingbird #8, there are much more subtle and not-so-subtle feminist undertones in this comic than in most other mainstream superhero comics.

That alone makes Mockingbird #8 an outstanding comic book, but it’s also beautifully drawn (and coloured), has some genuinely funny moments, and many fresh and wacky ideas. Ultimately Mockingbird proved too over-the-top for either the readers or the editorial management of Marvel, but I hope this won’t be the last we get to see of Cain and Niemczyk.

No rating today because the reviewed item is so short, but here are two other reviews I found interesting: Major Spoilers Podcast #702 and The Marvel Report.