Saturday, September 8, 2007

Poison Candy v1 Review

Reviewed by Robert Murray

David Hine is one of my favorite comic book writers, scripting such quality work as District X, Daredevil: Redemption, and the current run of Spawn. So, when I heard that Mr. Hine was taking his considerable talents to the realm of manga, I was both excited and nervous considering the possibilities. Nervous, you may ask? Well, in the manga circles I roll with, American manga writers (with the exception of Fred Gallagher and a few others) are seen as little more than poseurs, albatrosses diminishing the unique talents of Japan’s elite scribes. Yeah, I think it’s kinda short-sighted too, but we all know you can’t drastically alter a fanboy’s comfort zone without a lot of resistance. So, looking at this first volume of Poison Candy, I thought about the possible reactions some of my mates might have toward this foray by a man better known for his work with Marvel mutants. In general, I think most American manga fans (particularly those that interlace their reading with American comics) will enjoy this vibrant, action-packed first volume. However, the hardcore otaku out there will despair the lack of some traditional Japanese conventions, as well as Hine’s attempts in making his dialogue and human interactions more manga friendly.

In my opinion, these attempts by Hine to make his dialogue more manga-like is evidence of his playfulness as a manga writer. He’s gently poking fun at the conventions of translation that would make an average English reader chuckle, such as overly descriptive soliloquies that don’t follow the patterns of normal speech or short exclamations of surprise such as ‘Huh’ and ‘Wah’ that normally accompany anime. Plus, the inclusion of nosebleeds, a teenage rock band, and a serene drop of water for scene transition illustrates the many Eastern influences that have gone into this first volume. But, there are some Western influences thrown into the pot as well. Take, for instance, the final chapter of the first volume (SPOILERS AHEAD!). Sam Chance has been cryogenically frozen so that an organization run by the mysterious Henry Raven can find the cure for the SKAR virus, the deadly mutagenic strain that has infected Sam and other teenagers throughout the world. Sound a little like an X-Men storyline? Well, stay with me... When Sam is awakened, one of the first people he sees is his old buddy Yusuf, who is a 1950s-obsessed video game greaser (Well, that’s unique!). The only problem is that Yusuf now appears to be elderly, looking life the older Biff in Back to the Future II, completely with cane and crotchety attitude (Hey, I wonder if he’ll give Sam a sports almanac?). We all know what happened without Yusuf saying it: Sam has been frozen for much longer than he expected. Actually, he’s been frozen for 100 years. Yipes! Of course, the normal questions are asked by Sam, regarding his parents and his girlfriend, Donna. When Yusuf informs Sam of Donna’s fate, he explodes with grief, rending a circle of destruction a la Akira. Lot’s of pop culture candy to taste in this first volume! Here’s hoping it’s not poisonous!

Illustrating the action is Hans Steinbach, whose work I am totally unfamiliar with. Judging from this volume, he is a capable artist who lacks a lot of the flash of other mangaka. This is not really a criticism, but it certainly doesn’t make Steinbach stand out as an artist of merit. The characters and the actions of the characters are illustrated in the least distracting way possible for Hine’s story, creating a look that is probably very close to what Hine has imagined with this series. Hine is creating both an homage to a comic form he truly loves and a parody of this same art-form. As we have seen from such entertainers as Mel Brooks and Tom Stoppard, parody is the sincerest form of flattery. True, this isn’t parody in the same vein as the two aforementioned examples, but Hine is definitely having some fun with the manga genre, and I think most readers will have just as much fun reading this series. High manga art it’s not, but it is a skillfully presented graphic story with thrills aplenty.

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