Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

By Shirow Masamune (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 1-84023-767-8

The long awaited sequel sees Motoko Aramaki (neé Kusanagi) as a bodiless presence capable of possessing both meat and robotic bodies in her ongoing struggle to stabilise an increasingly insane and out-of-kilter planet and society. The plot however is broad and meandering, lacking a clear narrative drive, and there is an overwhelming dependence on increasingly more detailed footnotes and authorial asides which hinders the flow. Also, on a personal note, I quickly tired of the preponderance on “anatomically coy” nude and crotch ‘n’ gusset shots.

I’ve heard all the blather about cultural differences but I refuse to believe that cyber-space combat can only be rendered with authenticity if all the combatants are young, leggy, nude, lavishly and luxuriously painted girls with prominently displayed pudenda and nipple-less breasts in every shot. It’s just cheesy, prurient and not a little bit sad.

Ultimately it also detracts from the storytelling. It’s like Hamlet in the nude. Nobody goes home pondering on the deathless poesy, and it’s just not necessary to get your attention.

The advances in computer imaging techniques have enabled the creator to produce a truly mind-boggling display of visuals for what is sadly a rather confusing and slow story that ultimately feels rather shallow to this reviewer. Perhaps however many readers will like it for the very reasons I can’t.

© 2002, 2003, 2005 by Shirow Masamune. All rights reserved.
English version © 2002, 2003, 2005 by Dark Horse Comics All rights reserved.

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

By Shirow Masamune (Dark Horse Manga)
ISBN: 1-84576-018-2

Reformatted and released to complement the publication of the long awaited sequel, Ghost in the Shell is ostensibly the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, an agent for a covert security department dedicated to protecting a country in political and economic decline from outside threat and internal depredations by hackers and organizations capable of supplanting human consciousness and turning people into robots and vehicles.

Her dedicated fight to preserve some kind of status quo in a world spiraling out of technological/spiritual balance and her inevitable evolution to another state struck a metaphorical chord world-wide, spawning a TV series, two movies and a computer-game. Shirow Masmune’s complex prognostications and spectacularly detailed illustration astonished and captivated audiences, although previous English language publications were drastically censored. This new edition restores and translates these omissions for the first time.

Complex and intriguing with much to recommend it, it nevertheless remains a difficult book to read if all you want is a quick thrill, but the visual panorama is an art fan’s dream. I suppose we should try to concentrate on what’s going on, not just how well it’s drawn.

© 1991, 1995, 2004 by Shirow Masamune. All rights reserved.
English version © 1991, 1995, 2004 by Dark Horse Comics All rights reserved.

Flash Gordon Volume 2

Flash Gordon Volume 2 

By Alex Raymond (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 0-9741-6646-4

The second irresistible collection of the immortal Flash Gordon’s adventures sees Alex Raymond and co-writer Don Moore introduce a host of new races and places for their perfect hero to win over. In Sunday Comics pages that ran in newspapers from April 21st 1935 until October 11th 1936 (generously sub-divided into ‘Witch Queen of Mongo’, ‘At War with Ming’ and ‘Undersea Kingdom of Mongo’ for your ease and delectation) we can experience the sheer beauty and drama that captivated the world, producing not only some of the world’s most glorious comic art, but also novels, three movie serials, a radio and later TV show, a daily strip (by Raymond’s former assistant Austin Briggs), comic books and more.

The Ruritanian flavour of the series is enhanced continuously, as Raymond’s futurism endlessly accesses and refines the picture perfect Romanticism of idyllic Kingdoms, populated by idealised heroes, stylised villains and women of staggering beauty.

Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo, wages a brutal and bloody war with Flash and his friends for control of the underworld, which eventually leads to all out war with Ming the Merciless – a sequence of such memorable power that artists and movie-men would be swiping from it for decades to come – and the volume ends as the heroes are forced to flee, only to become refugees and captives of the seductive Queen Undina in her undersea Coral City.

I never fail to be impressed by the quality of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. True, there is the merest hint of formula in the plots, but what commercial narrative medium is free of that? What is never dull or repetitive is the artistry and bravura staging of the tales. Every episode is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but the next episode still tops it. You are a fool to yourself if you don’t try this wonderful strip out, and all the more so in such inexpensive yet lavish volumes. It’s not too soon to start dropping hints for Christmas, you know…

© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc.

Havoc in Heaven

Havoc in Heaven 

By Tang Cheng & various

(Foreign Languages Press)  No ISBN

Although not strictly Graphic Novels, and certainly hard to find in many parts of the country, the picture books portraying Chinese tales and legends are always a rewarding read. If you have a local Chinatown it’s certainly worth a scout around, or perhaps you might try Googling.

This time out is a double oddity, in that Havoc in Heaven, another tale of Monkey, taken from Wu Cheng’en’s classic Journey to the West features full colour stills from an animated film of the same name, embedded with small blocks of English text in the manner of Rupert the Bear, rather than those wonderful black line drawings that drive western artists to tears of jealousy.

The irrepressible and wayward Monkey is the bane of the pious and stiff denizens of Heaven, whom he offends with his carousing and fighting and mischief. In an effort to control him, The Jade Emperor invites Monkey to join the Celestials and even gives him a job in the palace, but Monkey’s wayward nature cannot be tamed and the resultant chaos and combat shakes the heavens and rattles the gods themselves.

Spectacular, bright and irresistibly engaging, this colourful interpretation is an absolute delight, thanks to the beautiful illustrations of Yan Dingxian, Pu Jiaxiang, Lin Wenxiao, Lu Qing, Gao Yang and Fang Pengnian. Although these books are seldom out of print for long, it would be nice if some entrepreneur could pick up a British license for both the books and the film too.

© Foreign Languages Press BEIJING 1979