Shaenon K. Garrity (shaenon) wrote,
Shaenon K. Garrity

New Smithson!

Aw, my little superhero dude looks so heroic. I must find some way to humiliate him.

You'll notice that Smithson now has a comments function, so you can post commentary directly on the site. Or, if you want more of a discussion, you can post on my message board.

Also, Brian's added new pages to the Art of Smithson site, so don't miss that.

Oh, and Andrew posted a new installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion:

Andrew also wrote this month's Redirected Male column at Sequential Tart. Whew, lot of links today.

If you happen to be attending Wondercon in San Francisco this weekend, don't miss the Linda Medley panel on Friday, which I'll be moderating. I'm a huge, longtime fan of Medley's work, and I'm very excited to be doing this. Andrew will be moderating a panel of artists featured in the Cartoon Art Museum's new exhibit, "Worlds of Wonder." Check that out, too, and check out the show at the museum if you get the chance.

Okay, on to the Overlooked Manga Festival!

You know, I don't want to hate on American superhero comic books. I love all comics that don't suck, and in a world that includes Grant Morrison's and Frank Quitely's Superman, Jeff Smith's Captain Marvel, and Warren Ellis's and Stuart Immonen's recently-concluded Nextwave, that means loving superhero comics. But I think I have identified a problem. The problem with American superhero comics is that they look like this:

...when they ought to look like this:

I'm not knocking Civil War artist Steve Mc Niven. He's an excellent illustrator. In the page above, for example, I like that he makes Captain America's costume look like something he sewed himself, probably using cloth he tore off the body of a dead Nazi, rather than some generic painted-on spandex thing. That's attention to detail that most artists don't even think about. But still...

Crummier artwork. Better comic. Much better superheroics.

Yes, today's Overlooked Manga is the tragically ignored classic Cyborg 009. Biff! Bam! Hey, kids, comics!

And let's give Tokyopop a hand for some top-notch retro cover design, please. Why doesn't every manga cover look as rad as this?

We glimpsed Shotaro Ishinomori in last week's OMF Special Event, drawing the manga adaptation of The Domestic Yappo, one of the most disturbing manga in Japanese history, which is saying a lot. Ishinomori is best known, however, as a children's manga artist, and Cyborg 009 and the suspiciously similar Kamen Rider are his most famous and beloved works. Cyborg 009 started in 1964, when Osamu Tezuka had just been invented and everyone was already trying to draw exactly like him, and continued, on and off, for almost twenty years in the pages of Shonen Sunday.

In Japan, this is one of the best-known of all manga, not to mention one of the most widely copied; it was an obvious influence on Knights of the Zodiac, for example, and therefore on every battle manga of the past twenty years. In America, it went in and out of print with nary a whisper. Apparently, Americans have no desire to be entertained by AWESOME 1960s CYBORG ACTION.

The premise: the Black Ghost Organization, an evil secret cabal of war profiteers, is secretly and evilly financing the development of superpowered cyborgs. Perhaps Black Ghost himself can explain the situation to you.

This project is carried out in the logical way: by kidnapping a completely random assortment of people from around the globe and turning them into cyborgs against their will.

Ah, but the first nine cyborgs rebel, escape, and go underground, like the A-Team. For 36 volumes (only the first ten have been published in English, but it's actually a good ending point, since Ishinomori originally wanted to stop at the tenth volume), Black Ghost sends increasingly powerful cyborgs with increasingly high serial numbers after the rogue team, and our heroes fight them off. They also help people in need (again, like the A-Team) and battle villains ranging from the Viet Cong to Neo-Nazis in penguin suits.

Congratulations, internet: I have just provided you with your new LiveJournal icon.

But before we go any further, let's introduce our brave transhuman team, composed of offensive ethnic caricatures from around the world. Though their character designs be racially insensitive, their hearts be true. Cyborg Roll Call!

Cyborg 001, the Professor X of the team, is a supergenius baby with psychic powers.

Cyborg 002 is an American street punk with super-speed, which comes in handy a lot.

Cyborg 003 is a French girl with enhanced senses. Her duties are to hold the baby and occasionally hear things.

Cyborg 004 is an East German insurgent whose body houses countless weapons, earning him the lovable nickname "God of Death."

Cyborg 005 is a stout Native American fellow with super-strength.

Cyborg 006 is a Chinese peasant who can burrow through rock and spit fire. No, I don't know how these two skills are related, either.

Cyborg 007 is British, as the 007 in the group would have to be. He's an alcoholic ex-actor, and he has the power to change shape. He's also the comic relief; here, for example, he has cunningly disguised himself as a cartoon hippo.

Please ignore the man who appears to be a poodle. We've got a lot of ground to cover here.

Cyborg 008 is...look, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sure Ishinomori meant no offense. Anyway, he comes from Africa, and he can swim really well. Which makes him the Aquaman of the group, i.e. the least useful member, especially since everyone else can swim, too. Eventually Ishinomori starts writing him as a smart tactician so he can contribute something on non-marine-themed missions.

And Cyborg 009 is our hero and is awesome and totally has every amazing power you can think of, to the point that he gets his own cutaway schematic to explain them to you. Naturally, he's Japanese.

I can't say Ishinomori's art is great--in fact, it's on the crude side--but it's perfectly suited to this material: it's rubbery and kinetic, cartoony yet intensely sincere. Sincerity is crucial in manga. He draws some of the most gung-ho enthusiastic robot battles around.

(You're right; it should be "Cyborg 010" rather than "Cyborg 0010." What's up with that, Ishinomori?)

The little-kid enthusiasm carries over into every detail of the manga, such as the side notes that solemnly, yet insanely, explain technical details for the curious.

And yet, at its heart, Cyborg 009 is a surprisingly dark story. After all, it's about the escaped subjects of secret experiments conducted by the international military-industrial complex, and their efforts to avoid being brainwashed and used as weapons of mass destruction. It's like if the X-Men had a really grim origin, and also included a telepathic baby. And fought giant wooden robot Trojan horses.

The Trojan horse is part of a long storyline involving cyborgs based on the Greek gods (again, I suspect Knights of the Zodiac stole liberally from Cyborg 009). And there's a giant spider cyborg. And a cyborg that's an evil house. And tons of cyborg spy dolphins. And an undergound cyborg empire. And so on.

Look, it's up to you. When you need a superhero fix, you could turn to American comics. Or you could be reading THIS:

I think the choice is clear.

Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Dr. Slump
Your and My Secret
Wild Act
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
Banana Fish
Skip Beat
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History

Tags: overlooked manga festival, smithson

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