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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 09/14/06
brought to you by FanboyPlanet.Comics of Santa Clara

Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

Sam Noir:
Samurai Detective #1

creators: Manny Trembley &
Eric A. Anderson

A private detective gets hired to watch over a client's wife - from a distance. By seeing her unguarded as he guards her, he falls in love. But hey, he knows a guy like him doesn't have a chance with a dame like that, though for just an instant his heart leaps into his mouth when she shows up on the doorstep of his office.

Before the truth of their love can be shared with the other, the dame, Jasmine, collapses dead with three bullets in her back. Except they're not bullets, they're throwing stars. And despite a narration that could easily be delivered by Humphrey Bogart, Sam Noir isn't really a hardboiled gumshoe the way we usually see them. He wears sandals. Instead of a trenchcoat, he wears a kimono. In Japan, apparently, freelance private detective could just as well be another phrase for "masterless samurai."

With only a few nods to cultural concepts, the script for Samurai Detective should be a lot more jarring. Instead, it's strangely satisfying and works incredibly well. Why not translate Sam Noir's Japanese narrative into the idioms of the noir story? The sense of honor isn't exactly identical, but close enough to make for one cool tale.

Noir drinks warm sake instead of warm scotch, but the dissolution is the same. He failed his master where a Western detective might have failed his partner on the police force. Avenging the death of your dream girl is a hellish shot at redemption no matter where in the world you are.

No part of the script forces the genre-blending. Anderson's art delineates a dark but beautiful feudal Japan, not a society trying to ape the Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler. Only one panel seems to slip, in which Sam heads out of the city, and it looks like dim skyscrapers rising in the horizon behind him - but that could be a purposeful artistic parallel, not meant as a literal representation.

The art has a soft feel to it, a slightly hazy black and white to match the stark but muddled view of the Samurai Detective. Anderson has the slight and comfortably unsettling exaggeration of artists like Kelley Jones and Berni Wrightson; despite having a familiarity, it should be acknowledged as great work on its own.

Sam Noir: Samurai Detective sneaks up like a thug with a heavy sap on your skull. Unexpectedly fun and well-told, it's a great start to an interesting story, and the strongest product yet out of Jim Valentino's Shadowline studio for Image.

Also on the Stands:

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #210: No disrespect to Bruce Jones, but he writes a much darker uglier world than the mainstream DC Universe can take comfortably. Yes, this takes place early on in Batman's career, but it still makes Bruce Wayne look like little more than an angry chump. If it were about a character other than Batman, someone original or more directly noir-ish, maybe this wouldn't taste so bad. But it isn't, so it does. At least Ariel Olivetti's art is extremely pretty.

Casanova #4: Bowie and Blaine can suck it. That line from the first page is going to stick with me. Only two pages in, and Matt Fraction makes us think about certain popular personae before plunging us into another wild Casanova adventure. Then comes the twisted Jonny Quest. Once again, I cannot believe that Fraction and the sublime Gabriel Ba are giving us this much pure pop joy for only $1.99.

Fables #53: Let me focus on the back-up story first, "Porky Pine Pie" with art by Joshua Middleton. It's gorgeous. It's fun. As always, it's clever. And it's absolutely necessary after the dark and terrible (in a good way) main feature. Some terrible times are coming for the Fables, and it's insidious the way Bill Willingham has made these mythical creatures seem all too real.

Firestorm The Nuclear Man #29: A few months ago, I wrote that Jamal Igle's artwork just didn't stand out for me. I clearly didn't appreciate that the guy has a consistent sense of layout and storytelling, and draws a clear line in the ages of his characters. Jason and his father look like father and son, and Martin Stein looks like an aging scientist, not some model with glasses. Though this book is in the middle of an extended plotline, it's worth seeking out back issues and catching up. Firestorm is good solid comics.

Martian Manhunter #2: Sure, J'onn J'onnz has become a bit of a jerk, but A. J. Lieberman makes it understandable. Since 1956, he has thought himself alone. Apparently, the U.S. government was quite content to let him think that. Picking up from Dr. Erdel's experiments, they've got quite a few of his people, who think the humans must secretly be White Martians. If only these captors were the hereditary enemies of J'onn J'onnz, his turn might not be so chilling. It's hard to guess where Lieberman is heading with this, but his arc might just be the one that finally convinces people that the Martian Manhunter is a force to be reckoned with, and not just a green shape-shifting Superman.

Phonogram #2: It's dense and different. Like the best of Hellblazer, Phonogram presents a magical world that's dark and dirty and not nearly different enough from our own. But as the creators point out, don't you think that's the way it really would be? So far, so good.

Truth, Justin and the American Way #4: As fun as each issue has been, this mini-series kind of coasted to stretch out to five issues. Then again, each episode of The Greatest American Hero teased the crap out of us before Ralph would suit up and do something powerful. Finally, this issue sees some real action that moves the plot along without sacrificing any of the fun it had before. Let's not just hear the theme song, guys - let's see a cartoon.

Sight Unseen:

Jonah Hex: A Face Full of Violence DC collects the first six issues of their relaunch of the scarred gunfighter. It's good stuff, and it belongs in your collection.

Pride of Baghdad Brian K. Vaughan writes this graphic novel about zoo animals in Iraq. It is Vaughan. It will rock.

The Shazam! Family Archives, Vol. 1: Mostly adventures of Captain Marvel, Jr., which are some of the most beautifully drawn of the Golden Age. The book also features the origin of Mary Marvel, whose role in The Trials of Shazam! remains to be seen - or acknowledged.

Star Wars Legacy #3: I haven't picked this up yet, but Star Wars fans are going nuts over this book that carries on the legend after Return of the Jedi. What are the consequences, really, of having overthrown an Empire and resetting a quasi-religious warrior caste?

Veronica #174: Every now and then, I just like to remind people that Archie Comics are still going strong.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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