Friday, 26 February 2016

Dragonball Book 3: The Training Of Kamesen'in

"Well, now that was incredible.  You're both quite amazing" - Kamesen'in

This is my cut n'paste intro for my end of month indulgence as I make my way through all forty-two collected volumes of the enduringly popular and influential manga  Dragonball. The series used to be split into the fantasy and whimsy filled Dragonball and the more serious, sci-fi orientated strip it became after sixteen volumes known as Dragonball Z, but now the series is being released under the one "Dragonball" title again; uncut and with a spiffy new translation.  The series first ran in the famous anthology magazine "Shonen Jump" from 1984 to 1995 and was written and drawn by Akira Toriyama (It has been translated here by Mari Morimoto and adapted into English by Gerard Jones, the western publisher is Viz Media) and pretty much set the standard for the similar shonen manga and anime that came after like Bleach and Naruto.  It follows the adventures of the kindly if somewhat sheltered and simple "Son Goku" as he trains, goes on adventures and enters competitions all with the aim of making himself a stronger and better fighter.  Along the way he accrues a colourful cast of friends and rivals in a world where humans live alongside anthropomorphised animals, dinosaurs never died out and tiny capsules can contain vehicles and houses to be easily carried around.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]
Introducing Kururin.
Previously on Dragonball:  The hunt for the seven dragonballs was successful.  Together Son Goku, female tech genius Bulma, the desert bandit Yamcha and the shapeshifters Puar and Oolong found six of the balls, but they were captured by the evil Lord Pilaf who had the seventh.  When he united them and summoned the mystical dragon Shenlong who can grant any wish, Oolong managed to get a wish in first, for a pair of hot babe's panties.  Then the dragonballs flew off to random locations across the planet, and can't be tracked for another year.  Goku, upon seeing a full moon which his deceased grandpa had always warned him against turned into a huge crazed ape creature and broke them out of Pilaf's prison.  Puar snipped off his tail and he turned back with no memory of what had occured.  Bulma and Yamcha decided to give a relationship a go, and travelled back to the city with Puar and Oolong.  However, Goku decided to take up the offer of training from the aging pervert Kamesen'in, a martial arts master.  When he showed up at Kamesen'in's island house he is set his first task.  Find a sexy lady to come live with them and given that Goku has a hard time telling females from males, this could be his toughest task yet... And now the continuation.
Kame (I'm calling him just Kame for now OK!) says he is appalled by Goku's inability to judge women.  He showshim pictures and Goku can't pick the hot one.  Kame points at a picture of an attractive woman and says "bring me a chick like this.  Understand?! This!!" Goku flies off on his magic cloud Kinto'un to keep looking.
Perving foiled!
He returns with a sexy woman lying on the cloud.  Kame is very pleased and says Goku's first training exercise will be to get her panties. Goku goes right up and asks her and returns to Kame saying "that one says they've only got a shirt and no panties".  Kame thinks he's hit the perve jackpot but she turns out to be a mermaid.  When he asks to ogle her boobs up close she smacks him one and swims off.

Then a boat is rowed to the island by a diminutive monk, he introduces himself as Kuririn and he wishes to train under Kame.  Kame is initially unenthused by the prospect of another student, but Kuririn hands him a dirty magazine and he changes his mind.  Goku tells Kuririn his head looks like a pachinko ball.

Kuririn: "How dare you.  All who aspire to master the martial arts shave their heads in order to unfetter their ki!"
Kururin arrives.
Kame says, "actually I am just bald." He then sets Kuririn the same task as Goku.  Kuririn has impure thoughts and cannot sit on kinto'un directly, he has to hang off Goku's back.  They spot a woman on a motorbike being chased by cops.  After a pitched battle and lots of exchanged gunfire the woman sneezes and turns into a timid woman with a different hair colour and disposition.  She screams for help as the police close in.

Goku jumps down and "rescues" her.  She is able to ride the cloud and the three of them return to Kame's house.  Once there she looks in her bag to find a lot of money and says she probably robbed a bank again.  Kame comes outside and lays eyes on her and is more than happy.  Now Goku and Kuririn's training can begin in earnest.  She needs a place to lie low, so Kame says she can stay as long as she likes. 
"Good" Lunch.
He even offers to train her, and they all get dressed up in a "Uniform" consisting of a lacey basque so he can see her in one.  Then she sneezes and turns into the aggressive blonde who accuses them of kidnapping her and she opens fire on them with a machine gun.  Luckily they are all bullet resistant and she sneeze and turns back to her nice self.  Her name is Lunch.

Lunch: "Oops! Sorry"  I warned you about my sneezes didn't I?"
Crazy Lunch.
Now there are four of them Kame puts his home back in its capsule and they sail to a larger island.  The training begins with seeing who can run the 100 metres the fastest.  Kuririn manages it in 10.4 seconds.  Goku in 11 seconds.  But he has busted shoes, when he gets a new pair he runs it in 8.5 seconds.  Kame then runs it in 5.6 seconds.

Kame: "That is what I mean by breaking the human wall! At your age, with training and discipline you should be able to break 5 seconds."

For the next exercise, Kame draws his "turtle" kanji on a stone then throws it off the clifftop they are on into the woods below.  Goku jumps directly down into the trees while Kuririn runs down the mountain path.  He decides to fake the stone and returns to Kame with one he marked himself.  Kame says he can recognise when something isn't in his handwriting and hurls the rock back at Kuririn who runs back to the woods to look properly.
Goku and Kururin disagree.
Goku locates the rock by its scent.  Kuririn asks to look at it and grabs it from Goku and runs off yelling "FOOL!!!".  Goku catches up and they scuffle.  Kuririn pretends to throw the rock away and Goku runs off after it.  Kuririn returns the rock to Kame and Goku gets no dinner, and luckily doesn't suffer food poisoning from badly prepared "fugu" (puffer fish).

A few days later training starts when Kame and Kuririn have recovered.  Kame gives them some philosophy of martial arts:

Kame: "One masters those arts for health in mind and body for the ability to live ones life courageously, uniquely and energetically as one wishes."

They follow him for a jog to the diary where they are given milk to deliver all over the island.  At the top of a hill is a temple.  Kame says to the head monk that if Kuririn and Goku keep training diligently "they should be able to enter the tournament eight months from now."  Kuririn tells Goku the "Tenka'ichi Budokai" or "Strongest Under Heaven" is where martial artists compete against each other.  Both are excited at the prospect of taking part.
An exciting prospect.
Goku shows his power.
Kame says the tournament is a goal which will make them strive harder.  They finally deliver all the milk and Kame says that is their early morning routine which they'll be doing every day for the next eight months as Kuririn and Goku lie exhausted on the ground.

There morning training consists of ploughing fields with their bare hands.  After lunch, Kame says they must train their minds as well.  "We will begin with a study of the finest literature" and Goku starts reading a love scene from a racy novel.  Next it's time to go swimming.  Annoyed, Goku asks if they can forget this stuff and learn some moves.

Kame: "You little fledglings - how dare you be so insolent?!  You haven't even laid the barest foundation of strength and stamina - and you expect me to teach you some moves?!!!!"

He points at a boulder and says when they can move that he'll teach them some moves.  Goku concentrates then moves the boulder much to Kame's alarm.  Kame then points at a much bigger boulder and says he means that one, which Goku cannot move.  So swimming they go, avoiding sharks as they do so.

He then ties them to a tree and unleashes bees on them so they can learn to dodge.  At the end of the day Kuririn asks if they'll be doing this every day.  Yep says Kame and they'll be doing it wearing 20 kilo turtle shells on their backs.

Kame: "Now you see why they call me the turtle master?"

Seven months pass as Kuririn and Goku train together and become firm friends.  One day they call Kame out and show him they can both move the huge boulder.  After that demonstration Kame says he doesn't really have anything left to teach them.  They have followed the Kamesen'in School of Martial Arts and without realising have forged their bodies into steel.  Martial arts is no more than the application of those principles.
Goku and Kururin surpass expectations.
He tells them not to be "seduced by the improbable dream of winning" the Tenka'ichi Budokai.  They should just see it as an opportunity to "further focus your training".  For the final month they will continue as usual but with shells twice as heavy.

The month passes and when they take off the shells they feel light as air and can jump incredibly high into the sky.  They all get dressed up in suits and travel to the Budokai arena to register.  The registrar is amazed two kids want to compete.

Kame hands over new clothes for them to fight in, which have his personal turtle symbol on it marking them as his students.  "I gotta be worthy of it" says Kuririn. Kame then takes his leave saying only the eight who make it through the qualifiers will fight in front of the crowd.
New uniforms respecting their sensei.
At the qualifiers, the tourney rules are laid out: no opponents must be killed, no weapons, the rounds are one minute long and if there is no clear winner the judges decide.  Goku and Kuririn get drawn in the same block, but are far enough apart that they might not need to fight each other.  Although Kuririn thinks he'll go out in the first fight.

Goku goes up against a huge wrestler type.  Goku runs through his legs then taps him on the leg which fells the large opponent.  Kuririrn thinks he tripped, but Goku says to Kuririn to not use his full power unless the opponent is very strong.  Then some monks from Kuririn's old temple show up and start bullying him.  Kuririn has to fight one of them.  Goku tells him to give the monk "one good shot".  Kuririn dodges his opponents attacks and socks him one in the face, knocking him out.
Kururin gets some catharsis.
Goku and Kuririn make their way through the qualifiers and both end up in the final eight.  Also qualified is Yamcha who Goku is happy to see again. Yamcha notes how powerful Goku has become and with Kuririn showing similar strength his dreams of even second place seem unlikely.

After the qualifiers there is a break and Goku takes Kuririn to meet Bulma, Puar and Oolong who are in the crowd to show their support.  Then the final eight are called back to the waiting room next to the stage.  Kame also mysteriously disappears.  The contestants are Namu-san, Kaijo-Giran, Bacterian, Yamcha, Kuririn, Goku, Ran Fuan (the only female) and Kame in disguise as "Jackie Chun".
The gang reunites.
The first match is Kuririn versus Bacterian, so called because he has never taken a bath in his life and has cultivated a stench that overpowers his opponents.  Kuririn tries to get close to him but the smell repels him.  He gets knocked down and Bacterian is about to finish him with a fart on his head when Goku calls out:

Goku: "The smell's all in your head!!! There's no way you can actually smell any of it.  You've got no nose!!!"

And so with the power of breaking the fourth wall and being silly, Kuririn leaps up and kicks Bacterian in the head knocking him down and then farting on his head in retaliation.  Kuririn wins the bout and on that cliffhanger we leave the tournament for now, as it's the end of the volume.
Kururin versus the stinky Bacterian
This is another fun romp, with some surprisingly pertinent and deep mediations on the way learning martial arts can improve ones whole life.  When I was still able, I trained in Jeet Kune Do and still follow a lot of the philosophy Bruce Lee wrote down before he died even though I can't do the physical parts anymore.  It also goes without saying this is wrapped up in quite a silly coating, but Kamesen'in despite being an old perve is a diligent teacher and obviously comes to care for Goku and Kuririn, who also become friends for life during the eight months of training hell.  The tournament is an ideal situation to show off their newly acquired skills and power.  After some daft match-ups in the vein of the battle with Bacterian, things will get serious in the next volume with a 500,000 zeni prize money at stake as well as the honour of being declared champion under heaven.  Join me at the end of February for how the rest of the tournament plays out.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Saga Book 2 (#7-12) NSFW

NSFW: Revolting, syphilitic, full frontal, giant alien genitals.  Also some "cowgirl" position sex happens.

"You're not my enemy.  Not much of a combatant either" - Alana

Just for a kick off, I'm writing up each post on Saga before I read the next trade, so I may occasionally speculate about stuff that is completely innacurate, and please, no spoilers.  Anyway, Saga is the currently on-going series written by Brian K. Vaughn and drawn by Fiona Staples that tells the tale of a pair of star crossed lovers and their baby daughter.  The female is called Alana and is from a planet of winged beings called Landfall.  Orbiting it is a small moon called Wreath peopled by horned beings who are at war with them and which is where the male called Marko comes from.  Both have gone AWOL from their respective armies and the first book chronicled the birth of their daughter Hazel, who sometimes narrates part of the story from an unspecified time in the future.  Marko, Alana and Hazel managed to escaped the small planet called Cleave they were on, although as part of that escape Hazel had her soul bonded to the ghost of one of the inhabitants, a bisected teenage girl called Izabel.  The first book ended with two Wreathians boarding the wooden rocketship our family had commandeered and zapping Izabel, before Marko called them off.  They turn out to be his parents.  The union of Marko and Alana has got both races in something of a panic.  The Landfall aliens have sent "Prince Robot IV" to track them down, while the Wreathian's hired a bounty hunter.  Their first bounty hunter The Stalk was killed by Prince Robot IV and her ex-lover The Will swore revenge on him as well as also being sent after Marko and Alana.  The Will has his own mission though, which is to rescue a six year old girl from sexual slavery on a brothel planet.  We now rejoin our unusual family for book two in their adventures as they make for the planet Quietus where Alana hopes to meet the author of her favourite romance novel.
Young Marko
We start with Hazel narrating a flashback to her father Marko's childhood.  She confirms he was born on Wreath which is at war with Landfall, but by the time of his birth the fight had been taken elsewhere in the galaxy.  Proxy wars waged "mostly by unlucky draftees or conscripts from other worlds."

The average family no longer gave the bloodshed much thought, but Marko didn't come from an ordinary family.  His first memory was his parents taking him to the site of the last battle on Wreath.  The message was "never forget those evil fucks with the wings".

We then return to the present.  Marko introduces Alana to his parents.  Alana yells at his mum for zapping Izabel.  Marko's mum says she just banished her to the nearest planetoid.  She thought they were Marko's captors.  Marko takes the magic helm and staff they have and says he has to go get their "babysitter" back.

He opens a rift and jumps through it.  His mother "Klara", follows.  Alana is left with his father "Barr" and they regard each other warily.

Alana: "Cool.  So glad I got to do all this in a towel."

Barr apologise for his wife's attitude.  Her mother was killed in "Langencamp".  Alana counters that her uncles were slaughtered at "Southmoor".  When Barr asks if she thought Landfall's response was appropriate she shuts the conversation down.  He asks her "the child.  Is it.. normal?"  Alana says she's "fucking perfect" and he should back off.  The rocketship then binds Barr in some vines.
The ship imprisons Barr.
Marko and his mum arrive on a ruined planetoid.  She scolds him for breaking his sword which allowed them to find him.  And that they had been visted by a Freelancer looking for him.  His father refused to believe Marko had gone AWOL and thought he had been kidnapped.  Marko asks how they afforded the magical items and she says they sold the house.  He says that was "stupid" and she slaps him.

She then calls Alana, "the kind of misguided rebellion you should have grown out of twenty years ago".  Then Marko dives on her, knocking her to the ground and he lies protectively on her as a huge flabby pale giant with an enormous gross scrotum and armed with a club has appeared.
Put some underpants on!
Meanwhile Prince Robot IV is travelling through space in the ship he took from the Freelancer, The Stalk after he killed her.  Another Freelancer, The Will is brooding on the Freelancer planet remembering his old lover who was... The Stalk.

On the wooden rocketship, Barr says he can use magic to free himself.  Alana says he needs a secret and she doesn't have any.  But Barr says:

Barr: "I have less than a month to live".

And he is freed.  Stammering, Alana says doesn't his wife know?  She doesn't.  Barr then casts a hypnosis spell on her, she hands over the baby mumbling "no please... don't.. hurt.. hazel.."  She passes out and Barr holds the baby lovingly saying it's a "beautiful goddam name."
Barr escapes.
The next chapter starts with a flashback to Alana's time in the Landfall military.  She has just finished reading the book "A Nighttime Smoke" and is enthusiastically recommending it to a colleague:

Alana: "The monster and the girl meet, but instead of trying to kill each other, they mostly just hang out and play board games, except sometimes they leave their apartment to eat sandwichs at the movies."

Her colleague is somewhat unenthused but takes the book.  Then Alana is sent to deal with prisoner #9763572 who is acting up.
Love at first sight. Kinda.
Of course this turns out to be Marko.  Their eyes meet and as Hazel narrates, "against all odds they had found the perfect person to share everything with."  Then Alana bashes him with the butt of her gun.  Hazel says "In romantic comedies this is called the 'meet-cute'".  Back on the rocketship Alana is still very sleepy and Barr says the ship has agreed to help him with his project.

On the planetoid, Klara goes to attack the blubbery giant, but Marko says no killing so they cast a binding spell on it instead.  He says he'll use his translation ring to question it.  When his mum says it's Gwendolyn's ring and at least she was the right team, "unlike that overgrown housefly you decided to bed down w-".  A lightning bolt strikes the ground next to her.

Marko: "That is the last time you EVER say a cruel word about the mother of my child."

Alana finally wakes up to find Hazel sleeping on her and a package at the end of the bed.  It turns out to be new clothes.  She finds Barr, who had found a spinning wheel on the ship and made the clothes for her.  They are "ray-proof and gunpowder-resistant" but not so good against bladed weapons, "so try not to get stabbed."
Alana's new threads.
She asks him about his illness, he says he has made his peace with it and kept it secret because he didn't want his final days to be filled with sorrow.  He smiles and says she talks in her sleep and it's obvious she loves his son very much.  She says he annoyed her at first, but when Barr asks why she risked everything to be with him she says:

Alana: "Because your son is so goddam beautiful".

Barr says looks don't last, she says she wasn't talking about his looks. Meanwhile on the planetoid, the fatso giant tells them he saw a phantom girl in the Shadow City.  But they won't find her before the "birth".  The planetoid is actually a massive egg about to hatch.

On the Freelancer planet, the being who organise the contracts is being bothered by someone from Wreathian High Command about the Freelancers they hired.  He says The Stalk is dead and The Will has some issues to work through.  The caller say they want to see The Will, face to face and the caller reveals herself to be right behind him.  She's a horned Wreathian woman who says "Hello.  My name is Gwendolyn." She's Marko's ex-fiancee.  Uh oh.
Meet Gwendolyn
The Will is having a dream where The Stalk is helping him save the Slave Girl he met on Sextillion.  Then Gwendolyn wakes him up somewhat dubious about him being, "the best Freelancer money can buy?  This is why I never trust reviews."

The Will notes her language skills and she shows him her translation necklace which was part of a set with the rings Alana and Marko have.  The Will says he will be bowing out of the job as he has "personal matters" he wants to attend to.  Gwendolyn asks if that includes killing Prince Robot IV to avenge The Stalk.  She tells him the Prince is also hunting Alana and Marko so if he stays on the job he'll get his chance to kill him.
Lying Cat always knows when you are lying.
He asks what this job means to her and she starts saying how Marko has brought shame upon Wreath, but The Will says she is in politics and likely doesn't belive that jingoistic crap so her and Marko must have history.  She says no, "Lying" says Lying Cat.  The Will asks if he broke her heart?  Eying Lying Cat she says it's more complex than that, "though not significantly."

The Will asks for six hundred and fifty thousand up front and she laughs in his face. He says he needs the cash to buy a little girl from Sextillion.  When Gwendolyn says that if she rescues this damsel in distress, "would you quit moping and get back to work?" He queries how she can rescue her.

Gwendolyn calls the head of Sextillion, "Mama Sun" from her ship and says she is from the Wreathian police and they have information that a six-year-old Wreath girl had her horns surgically removed so she could be sold on the black market.  If she isn't returned she'll leak the information and that the Landfall customers won't be happy that they may have had sex with a "moony".  Mama Sun says she'll neutralise the security elixir in the girl and they can pick her up in an hour from a planet called Indica.

The Will and Gwendolyn travel there and the Slave Girl is there as promised, but flanked by three aliens with the heads of star-nosed moles.  They say she has been tested and is no moony, so now they want thirty million for her.  The Will stabs one of them dead with a sword that elongates into a very long lance.  Lying Cat deals with a second.
Alien mole gangsters, sure why not?
The Will runs in and fights hand to hand with the third, but it starts to get the upper hand so Gwendolyn calls a lightning bolt down on it, half killing it.  They take the Slave Girl and leave.  Inside The Will says he'll return her to her parents, but Gwendolyn points out it was them who sold her in the first place. 

As they debate what to do with her, the girl appears and says Gwendolyn's necklace sounds sad, "it can sense its friends nearby."  They realise she can sense the rings Marko and Alana have which is very helpful as the sensors can't detect a wooden ship, and the girl points in the direction they need to go, "thataway".

We then flashback to the imprisoned Marko doing some hard labour while Alana "guards" him and reads her book to him.  He says about the book, "I don't understand.  It's like it was written just for me." He says it's not a love story, it's about the Wreath/Landfall war.  Alana says it's in code and the author is saying the war has gone on too long and needs to stop.  She tell him "secret book club has been the highlight of my career".  He says it's their last one as he is being sent to "Blacksite".  Alana is upset, no one comes back from there.

Marko: "It's all right Alana.  I had no illusions about my ultimate fate when I surrended.  I'm just grateful I got to meet someone like you first."

She breaks the chain holding him and tells him to run.  He says she'll be killed for letting him escape and then they kiss passionately.
Back in the present, Marko and Klara are still looking for Izabel.  They encounter some weird aliens with upside down heads, but a huge red gorilla scares them off.  It transforms back into Izabel.

Izabel: "Just so you know, this is the third worst babysitting gig I've ever had."

She starts arguing with Marko's mum, but cracks appear in the ground.  The planet-egg is beginning to hatch.

On the ship, Alana runs to Barr holding Hazel saying she "broke her" because her umbilical cord nub fell off.  Amused, Bar says "congratulations.  Your daughter now has her very own belly button." Alana says she's not as bad at this mothering thing as she seems.  Barr reassures her that being a parent takes a lifetime to learn.  Then the others teleport back to the ship.
Izabel is found.
Marko says they have to get moving now, but the planet-egg hatches completely revealing a huge baby alien.  The lighting in the ship changes to red and Izabel says this means another ship is close by.  It's The Will's ship, he can't find the wooden rocketship on his instruments but Slave Girl says they are very close now.

The Will then sees the hatched alien and says "it's a timesuck" and they need to retreat.  Gwendolyn is unhappy and launches a heat seeking missile in the hope it'll find the rocket. Alana orders the rocket to ram the missle before it arms itself.  Barr reassures Klara that Alana knows what she is doing.

Before the missile gets far enough from The Will's ship to arm itself they "bounce" it off the rocket and this sends it into the path of the baby alien where it explodes.  The alien fires black beams at The Will's ship and rips a hole in the side of it, and Lying Cat gets sucked out into space.

Another flashback to Alana and Marko making sexy, sexy lurve.  Marko comes inside her and when Alana is alarmed at this he said she told him to.

Alana: "That was Sexy Alana!  She's a crazy person!  Sexy Alana is obssessed with her nipples and use the word 'dick' unironically.  She's not to be trusted!"
Horns, something to grab onto.  Handy.
They get dressed and Alana points out they should be more careful now they are wanted by two different armies.  She says she doesn't know if she can reproduce with Marko when he implies he wants a kid.  He said it would be a symbol of peace to have a child.  She says the idea is insane, what would they even call it?  Marko says he likes "Barr" after his dad.

Hazel: "In that moment my mother prayed with all her might that their firstborn would be a girl.  Some dreams really do come true."

Back in the present, they can't fly away from the giant space baby, it's sucking them in.  Marko takes Klara down to the engine room to rig something up. 

Meanwhile, The Will jumps out of his ship and grabs Lying Cat and uses his extendable lance-sword to latch back onto the ship and get both of them back inside.  He flies the ship away to safety.
I love a devoted cat owner.
In the wooden rocket, Klara says Marko should use the magic helm to get him, Alana and Hazel to safety, but Marko tosses it into the furnace.  Burning the exotic matter gives the ship enough energy to start to pull free, but it also starts to shake apart under the stress. Using magic, Barr holds the ship together.  But it puts strain on his heart and when the rocket gets to safety he slumps to the floor and dies.

On The Will's ship, Slave Girl is sleeping on Gwendolyn's lap and Lying Cat is washing herself none the worse for her trip into space.  The Will says they'll have to go and make repairs, but when he was outside he saw the rocket so he knows Slave Girl can track it for sure now.

Klara is chewing Marko out for burning their ticket back to Wreath but when they come up into the main room they are greeted by the sight of Alana trying to revive Barr.  Marko has a flashback to when he was a kid and his dad gave him a giant cricket he could ride on.  Then he and Klara kneel down and hold Barr.

Hazel: "The next morning they cremated my grandfather in the belly of our ship.  I still have a scrap of the outfit he made me.  These days I use it as a bookmark."
Barr doesn't make it.
Prince Robot IV is having some bad dreams about being injured in a battle and witnessing the gruesome death of a friendly medic.  He is roused by an incoming call from Landfall Secret Intelligence.  It is Agent Gale who wants to know why Alana is still running around free.  Prince Robot IV says he is nearly at Quietus where the author D. Oswald Heist is.  He believes "our war criminals may have been inspired in part by his work".

Gale says that will look stupid when he types it up in a report.  He says the Landfall President is seriously starting to question the level of support the Robot Kingdom is showing.  He then makes veiled threats against Prince Robot IV's pregnant wife, "just reminding you of the stakes IV" and he ends the call.
Prince Robot IV lands on Quietus and a small furry creature directs him to the lighthouse where Heist lives.  Heist lets him in and Prince Robot IV asks if he has been visted by someone from Wreath or a Landfall woman with child.  Heist does not answer his question, he asks "...what's this all about?"

Prince Robot IV says it's because of the book "A Nighttime Smoke".  Heist says, "that piece of shit?"  He says it's been out of print for ages and rightfully so.  When Prince Robot IV says it is a "veiled treatise on radical pacifism.. a compelling call to inaction" Heist is bemused.
D. Oswald Heist.
He says he wrote it for a quick paycheck, nothing more.  It's a dog's breakfast of a book.

Heist: "My sociopath of a second wife divorced me... so I shat out a draft of something they could slap a vaguely commercial cover on.  Honestly, I just wrote myself in circle until I hit an acceptable word count then sent it to an editor I hate."

He goes on to say "the reader is the final collaborator" though.  Thoughtful, Prince Robot IV looks at a picture of Heist's son.  He's dead, he was with the Landfall army at Threshold.  After a conversation about Prince Robot IV becoming a father he goes to leave.  Then he turns and asks Heist which battle his son died in.

Heist said he didn't.  He hanged himself after the war.  Prince Robot IV asks if that is why he wrote his "incediary little screed."  Heist pulls a gun on him but Prince Robot IV shoots him in the leg.  In a weird moment, Prince Robot IV kneels by Heist and gives him a pen and tells him to stab him in the neck with it.
Some serious  Lit Crit.
Heist tosses the pen away and says "fucking finish me off.  It'll only boost my sales."  But Prince Robot Iv says he is now more than convinced Alana and the others will come here and he is going to sit and wait.

Hazel: "Prince Robot IV was almost always right.  But he was dead wrong about my family coming to Quietus anytime soon.  We'd already been there a week".

And the final page of this volume shows Alana, Marko, Hazel, Klara and Izabel hiding in another room.
Zoinks!  How will they get out of this?
Saga continues with an on-going story that is exciting and compelling with fresh and naturalistic dialogue and wonderfully relatable characters.  I'm a sucker for couples who are deeply in love and Marko and Alana are great together.  Their love endures despite what seems like the whole universe trying to pull them apart.  I really feel scared for them and truly hope they will make it to the end of the series still together.  Alana's interactions with her father-in-law are very sweet and the kindly, doomed man is such a likeable character from the off that it's genuinely upsetting he dies even if he does it to save his family. Brian K.Vaughn's writing and the expertly way they are drawn makes even the "baddies" well-rounded and interesting, able to happily hold up plotlines of their own. Gwendolyn is a fun character and I can see why she wants to kick Marko's arse (can't wait for her and Alana to meet!) and her teaming up with The Will makes for a cool pairing. The Will continues to show that even feared bounty hunters have their soft sides, saving the Slave Girl and coming to Lying Cat's rescue when she is sucked into space.  Prince Robot IV isn't in it much, but he also shows he's a formidable and intelligent opponent by realising the book is a massive clue to where Alana and the others will want to go.  Now they are hiding out in the upstairs room, and with Prince Robot IV in no hurry to leave, how will they get out of their predicament?  If you aren't reading the books (and why aren't you?!) you'll have to wait until next month to find out.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Captain Marvel Book 2: Stay Fly (#7-11)

"Oh hell no!  I'm not giving anyone my cat!" - Carol Danvers

Well, phew, that Punisher story was pretty dark so lets indulge in some extreme mood whiplash and lighten things up a bit with the second Captain Marvel book.  And we're off to a good start already with the cover, look it's raining cats (or at least things that look like cats...).  You'd have to be a pretty hardcore cat hater not to crack a smile at that cover.  That's Rocket Raccoon from The Guardians Of The Galaxy standing on Carol's back as he makes a guest appearance in the first couple of issues.  This volume collects an initial two-parter then three done-in-ones rather than one long arc like the previous volume was. The set-up is simple, Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers is an Avenger deployed in space.  In the previous book she helped out the people of a planet called Torfa (which is made up of refugees from a cosmic disaster) defy tyranny and now she is heading back to rendevous with her ship on a borrowed shuttle where Rocket Raccoon has been minding things for her. That includes her misanthropic cat Chewie who he initially tried to kill insisting it was actually a dangerous alien creature called a "Flerken".  She's also picked up a stowaway, a green skinned female Torfan called Tic.  The whole tone of the book is light-hearted and fun under the smart, assured pen of Kelly Sue DeConnick and while it probably helps to have some background knowledge of Carol's continuity, I didn't find it difficult to enjoy what was going on with the information given.  So let us begin.

Although David Lopez is the regular artist, this first two-parter is drawn by Marco Takara. For a fill-in it's pretty good.  Rougher and more cartoony than normal but I like it just fine.  Anyway we start with Carol having a nightmare where she as Captain Marvel can't save all the people she cares about from The Builders.  She wakes with a start and Tic brings her some unappetising looking tentacle thing as breakfast.
Tic and Carol.
Carol asks Tic to make her some coffee, or "the hot, brown, breakfast beverage that I am pretending is coffee" and she might pretend she invited Tic aboard.  She says the rendezvous with her ship will be awkward as she left the Guardians of the Galaxy in charge and she was supposed to be taking Tic home, "and you're still here."

Tic says she will be Carol's "second".  Carol says she has enough drama having Spider-Woman in that role.  She wants to know what happened to Tic's whole "'Torfa is my home'" stuff:

Tic: "Nothing! 'Home' isn't the place you never leave Captain.  It's the place you always return to."

Carol docks with her ship and tries to communicate with Harrison her ship's computer.  She gets Rocket Raccoon instead.  She goes aboard and can't believe Quill left Rocket Racconn in charge.  He says he promised he wouldn't hurt her "Flerken" and shows her an annoyed Chewie confined in a cat carrier.
Rocket Raccoon and Chewie
Carol picks her up and fusses over her saying, "what did the horrible, ugly weasel do to my baby girl?"  Carol then tells Rocket Raccoon he has five seconds to apologise for putting Chewie in a box before she dines on "grilled weasel shish kebabs".  As Carol counts down, Rocket Raccoon tries to tell her an adult female Flerken is worth fifty thousand and that they are "gateways to pocket dimensions".

Just as Carol goes to zap him the ship is attacked by a giant oily space-flea looking thing.  They can't access Harrison as Rocket Raccoon has it doing something.  Then the computer meows at Carol.  When she queries this, Rocket Raccoon says "there is a perfectly logical explanation".  He had it trying to learn to speak Flerken.
Mysterious oily space flea.
Carol says for the billionth time, Chewie isn't a Flerken and "cat" is not a language.  The alien starts to bash its way in and Rocket Raccoon says it must be here for the Flerken and they shoud hand it over.  Carol says no and they look for Chewie, finding her lying amongst a pile of eggs she has laid.  Rocket Raccoon is all "I told you so" as laying eggs is what Flerken do to reproduce.

Carol: "I am choosing to be in denial about this while there are more pressing matters at hand, Okay?"
Chewie and her Flerken eggs.
Tic hugs Chewie and the eggs start to hatch.  Carol says "pinch me" and Rocket Raccoon lightly punches her and says she isn't dreaming.  Carol tells Tic to gather the eggs and get them onto the shuttle.  But when Tic gets herself and them aboard, Chewie jumps back out and onto Carol's ship while the rest are sealed in the shuttle.

Carol tells Tic to get the "Fler-kittens" out of here while she flies outside and tries to get the alien to leave.  Chewie and Rocket Raccoon aboard the ship have a tussle and Rocket Raccoon says he's sorry he tried to kill her:

Rocket: "But you're going to have to take my word for it that I feel a certain kinship with anything that's the last of its kind.  Even murderous vermin!"
Chewie gets a little payback.
The oily black tentacles penetrate the ship while Carol tries to blast the alien off.  Rocket Raccoon holds them off with his blaster and tells her the thing isn't a ship but a "hive" and they have to trap it somehow.

Combining her powers and the weapons aboard the shuttle Carol and Tic manage to pour enough firepower onto the alien hive to make it back off.  However there are still black oily tentacles attacking Rocket Raccoon and Chewie on the ship.  Suddenly Chewie disgorges a huge load of squirming tentacles of her own and swallows up the black oil remnants.

Rocket Raccoon: "That was the single greatest thing I have ever seen in my life."

Chewie looks demure.  With all the Flerken hatched, Tic brings the shuttle back round so Chewie can be reunited with her family.
We then jump forward a few weeks to the "T.O Polyviv Refugee and Rehab and Relocation Centre".  Carol is discussing with an alien there that Rocket Raccoon has repaired both ships and got them up to code.  The alien says she thinks Chewie was gestating her eggs the whole time Carol knew her, "that would explain her temperament" says Carol.

The alien says Chewie is a bit like a hamster, she can access "bubbles of space and time" and can hide things like eggs and tentacles in them.  Carol arrives at where Tic is playing with Chewie and her kittens, Carol says she is here to say goodbye.  Tic can pilot the shuttle back to Torfa and Chewie can stay here where she is safe.

Carol: "I love you and because I love you, I have to leave you."
Sadly she takes off alone on her ship, then Chewie and Tic teleport aboard using Chewie's powers.  Tic says she doesn't know everything about Tic and having her and Chewie around means she must be brave.  Aren't Avengers brave?  Carol asks Chewie if her litter will be safe, and Tic says they are "on the finest rescue centre in the galaxy".  Carol gives in.  "You're a terrible mother" she says to Chewie, who looks affectionately smug.  And they set course for "adventure."

After that silliness, David Lopez returns as the artist.  Onboard the ship, Carol and Tic listen to some music by Lila Cheney. Suddenly Lila teleports onto the ship.  Carol is not amused and wonders how she can be there when her mutant power only lets her travel on Earth to places she has already been.  But it seems the ship not being on Earth is good enough to allow her to get there.  Carol and Lila briefly argue, then Lila plays her a tune and Carol relents and welcomes her aboard.
The woman herself.
Lila tells them that when she was young she'd "pop off halfway round the galaxy".  She even found a "play world" and got bethrothed to a prince there.  Two decades later she returns to the world and well... she teleports herself, Carol and Tic there.  She has to wed the now grown up prince.  Oh and everyone on this world speaks in rhyme.

The prince's parents greet Carol enthusiastically saying she must be Lila's mother.  Carol wants to know why Lila brought them here, Lila says she's a diplomat so go do her diplomacy thing.  Rhyming rather clumsily, Carol gets to speak to the prince alone.
One hot prince.
He says he knows she is not Lila's real mother as her rhymes are so bad.  Marrying Lila would forge an alliance with Earth and his mum knows what's that worth.  He says once Lila is marrived to him she will be free to go, "our marriage will be one of extrangement".  He can't reign until he is wed though.  The planet is a matriarchy where women choose their mates.

Prince: "A man's choice is not his own.  Not even when he's grown.  His parents chose for him.  Give his choice or sell it on a whim."

He says she can object during the ceremony but this will result in him being married to "Marlo of Sleen", a thoroughly bad egg.

So the ceremony starts, when objection time comes, Carol uncertainly starts protesting then Marlo of Sleen bursts in, objects and challenges Lila to a "fight to the death".  Lila wants to escape right there and then.  But Carol takes her place and steps up to fight.  There is a brief struggle and Marlo zaps Carol and knocks her down.  This just makes Carol mad and she armours up and downs Marlo with a huge energy blast.  The prince begs his father:

Prince: "I'll do what you say.  Marry whoever this day.  But I beg this concession.  Do not let a woman die for our succession."
Carol gets serious.
Carol says the planet already has an alliance with the Avengers now so the prince needn't marry Lila.  But her parents are adamant he marry someone.  Tic then steps forward, she tells Carol she doesn't have long left to live and so she wants at least one kiss, "plus.. you know.. I get a wedding and a happy ending, and to marry a really hot guy, even if it is pretending"
After the ceremony, Carol and Lila walk and chat privately.  Carol wonders how long she'll be away from New York and what to do about Tic.  When she mentions New York, Lila suddenly remembers she's been given something to pass onto Carol.  Turns out to be letters from home.
The happy event finally happens.
She starts reading the letter and we see the events described being played out.  It begins with Kit, the young daughter of a friend of Carol's.  She says that a villain called Grace Valentine has broken out of prison.  She commanded techincally augmented rats to chew through the walls.  Her prison guard faints and Grace takes her gun and leaves.

Kit is playing fancy dress with a couple of friends on the steps of the Statue Of Liberty which is where she lives, in Carol's home there.  The rats swarm towards them and they run up the steps to escape but one friend is too slow so Kit uses her lasso to grab him then all three of them climb the rope and sit up and out of the way of the rats.
Grace Valentine.
The rats arrive inside where Kit's mum and Jessica "Spider Woman" Drew are.  Jessica takes over the narrative saying Carol will remember how much she dislikes rats, and we get a flashback to her freaking out when one comes into her and Carol's flat, while Carol calmly catches it to take to animal control.

Back in the present,  Jessica phones a woman called Wendy Kawasaki and tells her the are inundated with rats.  Wendy knows because Grace is commanding them via ultra-sonics gathering them to attack the Statue Of Liberty.  Jessica is repelling them with "Venom Blasts" but they keep coming.  Wendy says she needs to find the "lead rat".  Jessica finds it and must not kill it but remove its transistor.
They might be rats, but they're pretty cute.
She approaches it and it bites her finger, but she manages to get the thing off its head.  The rest of the rats then just leave.  Wendy wonders what Grace's actual plan was.  Jessica says maybe she just wanted to ruin Carol's pad.  Which gives Wendy a brainwave.  Rhodey then joins the story.  Grace is in Carol's old flat and has explosives.  He goes in alone to confront her and finds her in a Captain Marvel outfit. 

Wendy tells him not to walk past her, but it's too late.  He does so and Grace sticks a bomb onto his back. When Rhodey asks why?

Grace: "I want to destroy her.  Erase her and everything she ever cared about, starting with you".

Rhodey says at this range the explosion will kill her as well.  "Worth it" replies Grace.  So Rhodey flies himself up into the stratosphere where he has a vision of Carol and this somehow helps him get the bomb off his back where it explodes harmlessly.

Rhodey: "Still saving my butt, baby.  Even from a million miles away.  I hope you find what you're looking for out there."
"Carol" saves Rhodey.
The letter ends with Wendy saying Grace has been captured and is awaiting a psych evaluation.  Then we are shown a sick woman called Tracey in a hospital bed.  Wendy reads to her about Carol's adventures on Torfa and the letter ends.  Back with Carol, Lila and Tic, Carol asks if Lila can take her back to Earth for twenty-four hours she has something she needs to do.  So Lila teleports her there and it's Christmas in New York.

Carol transforms into a warmer outfit and Lila asks if she wants to come Christmas shopping with her.  But Carol has other things to do, so they arrange to meet in this same place the next day so Lila can teleport her back.  We then cut to Carol sitting by the sick woman called Tracey's bed telling her all about the friends she made on Torfa.

She nods off and wakes up to find her arms shackled with power dampening cuffs courtesy of Grace Valentine and another woman called June Covington.  Carol angrily tells them to leave her friends room but she is knocked out and wakes up to find herself in a strange room hanging from the ceiling while a tatty looking "Santa" is tied up and gagged in the same place. 
The real Santa of course!
Grace threatens Carol with a knife but Carol kicks the Santa into them, then flips up and kicks herself free of the ceiling.  Now standing on the ground she thumps Grace and kicks June.  June grabs an axe saying, "I'll just have to get what I want for Christmas myself."  And she goes for Carol.  Then a fat jolly (real?!) Santa appears and Carol's cuffs break off.  She lets out a big zap which knocks out Grace and June and the jolly Santa goes "ho ho ho".

Carol calls Jarvis at the Avengers HQ to send someone to pick up Grace and June and deal with the explosives they have concealed.  But then she has a better idea and asks Santa for a favour.  We then jump to the next day where Lila is waiting for her.  Carol has a bag full of the bombs and flies high into the sky.  The sick woman Tracey is lying facing the window and sees Carol in the midst of a huge skyhigh explosion as she lets the bombs off.  "Merry Christmas" she says quietly and that brings this volume to an end.
Christmas goes with a bang.
This was all good stuff.  Of course me being a cat owner who has often blamed him for eating her socks and tea-spoons the first two-parter amused me the most.  I now accuse my cat Biff of being a Flerken whenever he is driving me up the wall.  The Rocket Raccoon stuff was very well integrated, DeConnick really has his "voice" down pat.  Having practically a whole issue in rhyme can be unbearably twee, but as a planet influenced by a pop singer it works and Carol's rather strained attempts to play along are entertaining. Tic remains an enjoyable sidekick and her wish to make the most of the few years she has left adventuring in space are contrasted nicely with Carol's push/pull need to prove herself in space versus missing her Earthbound friends immensely.  The letters from home issue tells a fun story and the differing art style for each narrator is a nice touch too.  Although I didn't know the backstory behind the woman in hospital in the Christmas issue it was still very sweet seeing Carol put on a show for her.  Carol remains a well written, warm and funny character who is also brave and caring and all that is best about the superhero character type and remains a good jumping on point for anyone who wants to enjoy good female superhero stories. Keep an eye out for volume three in a few months time folks.