Dark Fang #1

I gotta admit, when I first saw the title for Image’s newest vampire comic Dark Fang, I pictured a half-dressed, big-tittied vamp babe swinging a hatchet around and lamenting on being deathless or some garbage. Either that, or a comic about a fifteen year old going through some very rough puberty and bad fashion. Luckily, I was only partially right! There’s plenty of blood and some tits in it, but the work moves past the typical vampire tropes and explores a world fraught with social issues, proving that sexy monsters are the least of society’s worries. While perhaps not the first comic to explore worldly issues through the “who’s-the-real-monster” trope a la Swamp Thing, Dark Fang has a little fun with the genre by mixing humor and fast paced illustration while allowing for the reader to self-reflect without feeling too guilty. Unfortunately, releasing the work in today’s climate, in which every time you turn around there’s another natural disaster or social media firestorm, it’s kind of hard to care about what the comic is trying to sell.

The work focuses on the lead, Vanna, a vampire who’s been living in the ocean for over 100 years like some undead mermaid. After spending her time fighting octopuses and getting dressed by jellyfish, she is forced to leave the sea in revenge when an oil spill kills her best friend, a shark. Suddenly, she finds herself in a world very unknown to her. People around her focus more on their phones than each other, and over-indulgence and violence stalk the corners of the cities. Luckily for her, her vampire powers also allowed her to roll natural 20 on charisma and she’s soon making money off the poor saps via cam-work, allowing her to fulfil a long-time dream of owning Dracula’s castle. But little does she know how much the oil spill had affected her body and how little time she really has left. Looks like sunlight isn’t a vampire’s only enemy.

So, while there are definitely a good few laughs, mostly focusing on Vanna as she learns the ins and outs of modern society, Dark Fang is pretty heavy handed with the social issues. Every side character is buried in their phones, men (and some women) roam the internet looking for sex, and everyone is, well, kind of shitty. Money seemingly buys you everything you want; but of course, the lesson that Vanna needs to learn is that it can’t. The comic is billed as an “action-horror middle finger to the politicians and propagandists who choose to deny the reality of climate change,” although to be fair, the first issue doesn’t really cover much climate change (aside from the oil spill which is more of an environmental disaster), but you get it. That’s where it’s going with it. I GET it and that’s the problem. This comic is aimed at people who are in an echo chamber. Of course we think climate change is real, of course oil spills and money cause a lot of problems, we hear it from the same news sources that the writers do. It’s the same thing that we deal with every day and having a comic tell me AGAIN, even with a sexy vampire mermaid, I just don’t care about its message. That’s not to say that these issues aren’t important, they are incredibly important and very much need to be addressed, but with this comic, it’s just the same old ground over and over. Dark Fang assumes that we haven’t addressed the issues, but we have, for decades, and we’re past awareness and now want to move on to action.

 Now, with that out of my system, I would still recommend this comic for a variety of reasons. One, if you like social issue awareness in your comic (and there’s nothing wrong if you do), this is a good read. As stated, it does attempt to mix some humor and action while recognizing there are real world problems that affect both the reader and vampire mermaids. If you have a younger reader, maybe a high school age kid who likes sexy horror comics and is out of the loop, definitely give them this work. It’s an easy way to introduce them to environmental issues while giving them a fun read. Two, I love the art. Kelsey Shannon has this amazingly fluid artwork that makes the pages simply fly out of your hands and invokes a fun cartoon feel, while dousing everything in blood! No two characters are alike, and each one is perfectly expressive when needed. Visually, this a very professional work done by a well-versed hand. Three, I kind of like Vanna. I dig her tenacity, the fact that she never compromises who she is in the face of adversity; instead, she’s smart enough to use situations to her advantage, like a proper vampire mermaid. She’s a good catalyst for, I dunno, action on global warming or something. Either way, she’s a good lead and keeps the work from tilting into tropey absurdism.

If Dark Fang is tickling you something weird, the first issue is out now!

Usagi Yojimbo #163

There are very few independent comics that have survived to their 30 year mark like Usagi Yojimbo. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of anything outside of Love and Rockets and Judge Dredd, which makes the samurai-laden, anthropomorphic action epic that is Usagi that much more special. That being said, I have the distinct honor of never having read an issue. Not for any particular reason, I just have never picked up an issue despite having many, many opportunities (of course, it seems like Usagi does just fine without my business) so when I heard that issue 163 was the perfect jumping on point, I decided to finally see what I was missing out on. As it turns out, quite a lot! Usagi Yojimbo is a great, low flying comic about a samurai bunny named Miyamoto Usagi that travels Japan and helps out wherever he can. In the latest issue, we find our hero helping out in a town plagued with a Robin Hood type thief who’s framed for something that he didn’t do.

While the Usagi world is full of ghosts, monsters, and dinosaurs (!), #163 goes the easier-to-digest route and starts off with a thief. Nezumi, a gentleman criminal that steals from the rich and gives to the poor, is seen flying over rooftops as a crowd of onlookers cheer him on. Chased by the police and a conflicted Usagi, he finally gets away from his pursuers only to witness an even bigger crime! A local merchant is murdered for not paying protection fees to a gang, who not only are looking to harden their stance on payment, but also hatch a plot to take down their leader. Nezumi quickly makes a getaway but not before leaving behind a distinctive stolen treasure that can easily be traced back to him, quickly framing him for the murder. While Nezumi is forced to plead his innocence to Usagi, there are much deeper waters stirring in the gangs that threatens to encompass the town whole.

They weren’t wrong when they said this is the issue to start with. Granted, a bunch of Usagi Yojimbo tends to be self-contained with a longer story running underneath it, so it’s pretty safe to start with any of the graphic novels, but if you want to simply sample the story without committing, this is a good way to go. Usagi is a serious character with a strong sense of justice and, based on his interaction with Nezumi, follows his gut when needed, like a lawful good character in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The official Usagi Yojimbo website describes him as oftentimes stumbling into delicate affairs of national and political importance, which is exactly what happens in the newest issue. The great thing is that it’s not an over convoluted story line about the powers-that-be, but instead, is broached with careful explanation through action instead of the less appealing talking-head standard. It’s not a group of people (er, animals) simply talking about betrayal; the reader actually gets to see it happen and get more invested in the story line. Sure, Usagi and his world have been around for a while and the author could’ve simply crammed in a story, but he took the time setting up the situation which allows for fresh readers to feel part of the series.

Speaking of the author, Stan Sakai also has the double duty of illustrating the epic as well which allows for him to have complete control over his work. Each character is completely unique, ranging from the tough faces of the gangs to the flirty figures of the geishas, with each one contributing to the 17th century Japanese period setting. While there is a definitely a back-catalogue of supporting characters that Sakai could’ve also packed in there, the only well-known faces are Usagi and the police captain on adorably high geta sandals. Sakai keeps it pretty mellow. Of course, if you do want to see more of the police captain and other characters, there are literally decades of material just waiting to be checked out. It’s a fun read, honestly; I enjoyed it. I might finally pick up some of the graphic novels.

If you love stories about politics in the Edo Period or simply enjoy samurai epics (or furries, I’m not judging), Usagi Yojimbo is for you. I suggest starting out really anywhere, but if you got a lineup of things to read and want to wait, #163 is out today, the 1st November!

The Tea Dragon Society

Alright everyone, buckle up, because I’m pretty sure I just read the cutest thing ever. Here at Warped Perspective, we are very open to all kinds of entertainment as long as it’s unique and a little weird, so this is, by FAR, the least scary thing to have ever been made, but GEEZ, is it cute. It’s fantasy cute! It’s a make toys out of it and cross-stitch the flowers cute! It’s vomiting rainbows cute AND it has dragons in it! And they are adorable! The Tea Dragon Society, IDW’s recent masterpiece of fantasy and cute girls, invites the reader into a world not torn by war or evil wizards, but instead, where tea is always served and a friend is never too far away. There’s almost no action and instead focuses on the beauty of a magical world that is enjoying a time of peace and prosperity and how one might grow up in it. With, dare I say, perfect illustrations, this all-ages comic is the perfect mellow down book for sweet dreams and tough days.

The comic is broken up into four chapters with each chapter representing a season. In the first chapter, Spring, our lead heroine Greta is introduced. She’s a young, naturally talented iron worker that lives in a small village with her parents. One day, as she’s shopping for groceries, she rescues a small dragon from a couple starving dogs (don’t worry, she feeds them) and brings him back to his owner. Here we meet Hesekial, the dragon’s owner, who explains to Greta that the dragon is actually a tea dragon whose leaves get harvested for tea. As a thank you, Hesekial offers to teach her about the art of tea dragons, but can this young black smith learn about such a delicate art? And who is this silent girl that hides out in the fields? Perhaps it’s time for her to grow just like the dragon leaves.

Perhaps the best way to see this book is like a grown up picture book. The story is insulated in a world where adventure and magic exists but, in this story, it doesn’t really come into play. It focuses more on the everyday beauty of living in a world where the shopkeepers are cats and you get your own magical creature depending on your line of work. It’s not about huge change and sudden dilemma, it’s just a fun story and that really sets it apart from other popular fantasy work. It also makes it much more relatable. The reader can absolutely picture themselves as the tea shop owner or the iron worker because odds are, that’s what the average person in a fantasy was going to be. We can’t all toss rings into volcanoes; somebody has to be an NPC. Also, the lead is a super spunky go-getter so if they do need to someone to throw down with some wizards, she’d be damn ready.

The characters themselves are creamy sweet and each have different but lovable personalities that just make you die a little inside. There’s even a little bit of queer love in there via Hesekial and his partner Erik that the work handles very gracefully. Writer and creator Katie O’Neill also handles the illustration duties and it’s spectacular! It’s perfect, no way around it. It’s cleverly tailored to the story with a contemporary animation style simplified down to graphic medium. The comic has a simple but effective color work that focuses more on basic colors than shadows or light, giving the whole work a mellow feeling. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

If you’re looking for something to wind down with at the end of the day or simply take a peek at some of the prettiest artwork on the market, pick up the Tea Dragon Society. Out on Halloween!

Bob’s Burgers, Season 8 Episode 1: Brunchsquach

Bob’s Burgers is the quintessential struggling family show. You got a mom, a dad, and 2.5 kids working together to keep their struggling burger joint afloat amidst money woes and wacky happenings. Each character is a caricature of various family member archetypes almost anyone might have in their household, from the boy-crazy teeny bopper to the crazy cat lady aunt. It’s this kind of dedication to keeping the characters grounded and relatable (despite the number of times they have avoided certain death) that has made the show as popular as it is. In the premier of Season 8, the creators of the show, eager to show their love to their millions of fans, let their devotees take rein of the episode. Each segment, ranging from a simple front shot of the restaurant to a full two minutes of animation, was created and drawn by a fan team. An impressive 62 distinct animation styles were used overall, leading to a unique and inclusive start to the newest season.

Intent on focusing on the various animation styles, the plot of the episode, entitled Brunchsquach, was very simple, with the action restricted either to the house or the restaurant. In the episode, Bob and family decide to give brunch a try in the hopes of hauling in more customers on Sundays, but become overwhelmed when customers only show up to get drunk on mimosas. Meanwhile, the kids are angling for a dog but when they are told ‘no,’ they begin hiding their landlord’s brother, Felix Fischoeder, at their restaurant for spare cash in a mad game of hide and seek.

As stated, the premier was rather simple and maintained the entire episode within the walls of the restaurant and the house, making it easier on the animators to focus on only on two locations. The fun part was that the creators weren’t looking for outstanding or professional works by people who have been in the animation industry for two decades, but actual fans; as a result, there’s all manner of weird and goofy-looking animation on top of some pretty stellar, even cute work. There was even a bit of Claymation and felt creations added to the mix. The line work and coloring ranged from flash animation to crayon and marker, as if some kid scribbled out a piece. Mostly, it was just fun to see the different takes on the same characters, especially when the drawings are realistic and you get to see the family as actual people.

As the styles change, the voice actors keep steady through the changes and the jokes keep on rolling, making Brunchsquach a classic episode in a long line of classic episodes. It’s the perfect episode for fans to draw all over and proves just how cool the creators of show are. It’s like a giant coloring book and everyone gets a page!

If you haven’t checked out the episode, it’s streaming now on Hulu or, you know, wherever you watch your cartoons.

Only Yesterday (1991)

When most people think of Studio Ghibli, they think either magical fantasy, high flying machines, or both. Almost all of the studio’s work (excluding one or two films) has some sort of larger-than-life element to it, be it flying witches or the newest airplane signalling the beginning of the Great War. Only Yesterday, Ghibli’s 1991 release, steers clear of the easily recognized tropes and instead forces the viewer down to earth with a slice-of-life tale about a woman searching for the meaning of her life. Mixed with flashbacks of the woman’s youth, the story moves between her reminiscences about her younger days, and the stormy road ahead. While the movie may step back from the tried-and-true Ghibli fare, it more than makes up for it with breathtaking visuals and a story that we can all relate to.

Unlike most Ghibli films, this movie is not set in an alternative timeline between the 1890s and 1950s, but instead in 1980’s Japan. Taeko, an unmarried career woman, takes a ten day vacation off her big city job to go join her sister’s family in picking safflowers in the country. While her co-workers and even her sister mock her for going to a farm on a vacation, Taeko can’t help feeling excited at the expanse of wild land and hard work; so much so, that she starts to remember her younger days as a fourth grader. Soon, memories begin flooding back, from her first crush to her tasting a fresh, albeit unripe, pineapple for the first time. As she works through her vacation, she begins to doubt her own happiness with life in the big city, and asks if perhaps she’s doing a young Taeko wrong in her life choices.

As stated, Only Yesterday is a movie that falls in line with the more slower-paced Ghibli works such as My Neighbors the Yamadas and Whisper of the Heart. It forgoes using outside elements such as war or illness as a driving force, and instead focuses inward in an attempt to make a movie that is very relatable to the viewer. It’s a simple story about a woman who has reached a turning point in her life. She is attempting to align what she had hoped for as a young girl with what she now has the opportunity to do, while trying to figure out where her true obligations lie. She tells stories of her younger self when the proper opportunity arises, each one ranging from cute and funny to kind of sad, and manages to bring it back to where she is now. It’s an interesting, multi-layered work, like Eat Pray Love but as an anime. Much like Eat Pray Love, there is a ton of dialogue which, at times, seems to go nowhere. There’ll be five to ten minute intervals of just conversation between Taeko and whoever is around, so do make sure to have some patience.

The animation is also markedly different from previous Ghibli works as well. While the basic style is still the same (round faces with doll like eyes), there is a lot more detail put into the facial expressions than earlier films, which will change as Taeko’s emotions flutter to the service. The characters also move more consistently as they speak so as to keep the watcher engaged through reams of dialogue. An interesting note is the difference in background detail as the movie cuts between Taeko’s memories and her current experiences. Younger Taeko focuses much more on her immediate surroundings and the people around her rather than smaller details, so objects such as buildings and doorways ended up getting painted with a softer touch, much like a child’s memory. When we rejoin Taeko in the present, her world is much more detailed and that sweeping landscape that so often marks a Ghibli work is front and centre. It’s a wonderful way to break apart the two time-lines and help the viewer understand Taeko’s world.

If Only Yesterday sounds up your alley, it is currently on DVD and most likely streaming somewhere. While it was initially released in 1991 in Japan, it just hit the English speaking shores last year and is voiced by Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel, who do a brilliant job. The Blu-ray version comes with several goodies including the full storyboard, a making of section, and interview with the English dub team.

Even if you’re not into slice-of-life anime, I recommend Only Yesterday simply for the wonderful animation and voice acting. Also, it’ll make you feel things and sometimes, you just gotta feel things. Grab your copy today!

Kill Them All

If there was one constant theme in today’s (or at least this quarter’s) comic market, it’s vengeance comics. Works such as Sisters of Sorrow and Made Men have been blazing the comic shelves, each one adding its own twist on the well-worn idea. Oni Press’s newest graphic novel, Kill Them All, though, seems intent to powerhouse all of them into a headlock and take the throne for itself. While, unfortunately, it’s not a rendition of Metallica’s debut album through the illustrated medium (though how badass would that be?), it is a fantastically bloody, quick-witted, and kung-furied piece of art that hearkens back to old 90s action flicks and Old Boy-esque digs. While it doesn’t muse on the art of violence such as Sisters of Sorrow or have cool monsters like Made Men, it does bring back something that revenge titles have long left behind: it’s pretty damn funny.

Kill Them All starts off like any good action comic, with a disgraced cop just looking to drink his sorrows away. Detective Iruka has been kicked off the force after blowing up half a city block and shooting the dick off a pedophile and now spends his days fighting in an underground punch dome; you know, punching people out. When his ex-partner tells him of a way to get his job back, he eagerly jumps at the opportunity, especially when it involves bringing down the biggest crime bosses in town. Little does he know that another person had the very same thought, only she’s in it for revenge. Known only as Tiger’s Daughter, this trained assassin is betrayed by both her boyfriend and her master, and she will not go down easy. When TD and Iruka meet at the steps of the criminals’ high rise building, they fight their way to the top through floors of hitmen, booby traps, drug lords, and accountants, only stopping after they KILL THEM ALL!

Kill Them All is basically every awesome action movie rolled into one. It’s like Kill Bill, Old Boy, Die Hard, and Dredd had a baby with Big Trouble in Little China and Kung Fury. It’s a wonderful homage to all those different classic films that helped define the image of what action movies (and action comedy movies) are. Kill Them All is not going to break any stereotypes, but that wasn’t the intention. It’s a bit like Cabin in the Woods, where it’ll satirize the concept of its origin movies but still respects the genre, while avoiding the Scary Movie 4 territory of just plain dumb. It’s very clever and the jokes work with the plot, allowing them to come naturally out of a situation where the characters very suddenly realize how crazy things have gotten. Iruka’s partner is a perfect straight man and their back-and-forth is absolutely hilarious.

The one-man powerhouse behind the project, Kyle Starks, is no stranger when it comes action homages. His previous work, Sexcastle, garnered him an Eisner nomination and Kill Them All continues to carry on his legacy of making non-stop thrillers. His illustration style is actually kind of cute and delves heavily into animation and small-press styles. The fighting sequences are highly stylized and don’t shy away from changing up angles and fighting styles. His color work also changes, depending on what floor our heroes have arrived on and the color of the particular punch, giving each one its own distinct feel. This is a very well thought out comic.

Kill Them All will be hitting, kicking, and blowing up your local comic book shelves this October!

Retcon #1

Being a soldier is no joke, and every war brings its own share of consequences. Whether it’s on a global scale or taking only one life, there’s no such thing as a victimless conflict. But hey, it’s not like there aren’t support groups out there, people who have fought the same fight and seen the same horrors; at least, when you’re not a supernatural creature who hunts weaponized paranormal monsters for your shadow government. If you are, than maybe Retcon is for you. Image Comics’ newest supernatural work mixes post-war issues with shape-shifting monsters and just a smidge of espionage and smoking-men to keep you on your toes. A heavy-handed work that pulls no punches, Retcon is a clever twist on the soldier that came home too soon.

The story starts with Chris. Chris is an alcoholic. It had been ten years since he drank but a visit from an old friend tossed him right back off the wagon. Before the rest of the AA attendees can get a word in, he starts spilling his guts. Chris isn’t like everyone else: he was part of a squad of soldiers whose mission was to fight beings whose existence is doubted by most – creatures like genies and ghosts and such. What he doesn’t know is that while he’s chatting up a storm, two of the people in the room have been specifically contracted to keep an eye on him, and it seems his time has finally run out. As a battle breaks out between the three agents, loyalties are suddenly tested and monsters long buried begin to dig their way out.

Retcon #1 is a pretty interesting read, mostly highlighted by the artwork of Toby Cypress. It’s hard to not be immediately attracted to the cover with its thin line work, soft neutral background and sharp contrasting red devil artwork. It’s very reminiscent of James Jean and clearly shows an illustrator with a solid understanding of design and illustration. The interior artwork is just as unusual, following the same ink-over-paint technique that gives the whole comic a wonderful small press vibe. It’s like an art magazine vomited all over the comic but instead of looking like a pretentious mess, it actually adds to the overall work.

Retcon is billed as ‘re-boot of a comic mini-series that never existed’ but, to be honest, I don’t know what that means. Maybe we will be seeing multiple alternative storylines in the future? Maybe this isn’t the real story, but a version of events that have yet to be revealed? Either way, the first issue starts off with a bang and mostly focuses on the three protagonists fighting it out while orders are given from a man behind the scenes. It gets pretty technical when it comes to describing weapons and devious plans, which gives it a sense of realism in an otherwise imaginative world.

While the supernatural angle is the draw, the comic is more of a conspiracy action work than a straight horror. There’s a bit of a Hellboy vibe, but it avoids the dark folklore angle that made the former so popular, instead focusing on a Jason Bourne type of deal. It’s a solid change of pace from your typical conspiracy comics.

With monsters on his tail and a headful of demons, will Chris ever manage to get away from the government? Find out with maybe issue 3 or something, but start with Recon #1 on shelves now!

Scales and Scoundrels #1

Hey you! Are you ready for an adventure? Do you dream of slaying dragons and finding a hoard of gold? Do you wish to exchange secrets with elves and dwarves while wandering the ever growing landscape of the world? Well you’re out of luck because that stuff doesn’t exist, but you know what does exist? Fantasy comics, and boy oh boy, do I got a great one for you! Scales and Scoundrels, the newest wandering adventurer title on the market, has all those things and more! Pub fights? Check! Apple thievery? Check! A handsome prince in need of rescuing?! You bet your +2 agility boots that’s a check! A true all-ages read, Scales and Scoundrels takes everything that makes the fantasy genre fun and gives it a cartoon-inspired pop that readers from kids to adults will absolutely get lost in. Toss in a strong lead and a deadly secret, and you got yourself a hit.

One of the fun things about the book is how it takes common tropes and flips them, starting with our tough-talking, gold-hoarding lead, Luvander. The comic opens up with her playing cards (or more precisely, an alternate version of Magic the Gathering) in a tavern with several burly men, when they immediately accuse her of cheating. Despite getting a massive beating, she gets back up and, with a touch of magic, burns the tavern to the ground. Suddenly, she’s on the run from the guards who are quick to accuse her of being an Urden, a half-dragon creature. Deciding that the town is simply not her style, she marches on into the wild unknown only to once again run into trouble; ROYAL trouble. But it’s not until she hears about a place of endless riches that things get really interesting!

 This comic is absolutely awesome! Everything about it, from the characters to the world to the art, is exhilarating and fresh, like the first time you played Zelda or read The Hobbit. The main character is a nimble adventurer that can squirrel out of any situation and plays by her own rules; a classic outcast who takes no shit, whilst living in a world that is incredibly expansive, even from the smallest rooftops. She’s everything every kid dreams of being: the lead in their very own adventure. It may not be overly original or full of twists, but it knows itself and it knows its genre, which, every once in a while, is exactly what the comic doctor ordered. Sometimes you want a high adventure story about treasure and dragons without wondering when the ‘big twist’ or the ‘big reveal’ is coming (though there is definitely a twist coming if her fire-breathing has anything to say about it). It goes back to the roots of fantasy, where magic and mayhem is one blink away and all you need in life is meat on a stick and a hoard of gold. It’s a wonderful homage.

The art by GALAAD (which is a very odd pen name) is really what brings the whole comic together. He mixes cartoon aesthetic with big production colors and makes a work that not only jumps off the page but invites the reader to create their own narrative as Luvander wanders the landscape. He puts in a wonderful splash page of the village at sunrise in which Luvander surveys her surroundings, and allows the reader to fully grasp how beautiful and tempting her world is. He easily transitions in the next scene to a crowded market stall, like the beginning of a new chapter, and subdues the colors as Luvander starts her adventure. It’s so easy on the eyes that you almost don’t realize how involved you get until you reach the last page. Personally, I can’t wait until she starts exploring new areas and he starts doing larger scale pieces in a display of her growing knowledge.

Whether you’re a long time fantasy fan or just looking for your next hit of something fun, I highly suggest Scales and Scoundrels. On shelves now!

Retrospective: Laputa Castle in the Sky (1986)

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big into anime and manga. I mean, not like ‘seen every episode of Dragon Ball Z’ big, but I know my way around the fandom. That being said, when I heard that my local theater was playing Studio Ghibli’s classic Laputa Castle in the Sky for a one-night only event, you better believe your cat ears that I put on my Ponyo shirt, grabbed my home-made Totoro toy and raced down to see it. Let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing a Studio Ghibli movie on the big screen and Laputa is definitely made to be watched in the largest format possible. With lush colors and sweeping animation, it’s easy to see why this movie became a classic among anime and animation fans alike.

Originally released in 1986, Laputa marked the cinematic debut of Studio Ghibli (though not Hayao Miyazaki’s debut, whose first movie was Toei Animation’s Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro in 1979) and went on to set the standard for Ghibli’s animation output. Following its success, Ghibli managed to put out a new film at the MOST, every two years, with some years doing a double movie release. That’s a lot of movies for a film studio basically run out of a large house. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Laputa is a film set on an alternative Earth where flying machines, dirigibles, and steam power had become the standard by the late 1800s. Somewhere on this Earth exists the floating castle Laputa, a place that our lead, Pazu, is determined to find for himself. As he dreams about the flying piece of land, a girl named Sheeta suddenly crashes into his life by literally falling from the sky. With her arrival comes a whole flurry of trouble as her pursuers all hanker to get a gem that hangs around her neck. As Sheeta and Pazu get closer, Pazu learns that there’s much more to Sheeta than meets the eye and that she might just be the missing piece to finally get him to Laputa. That is, if the government and the pirates don’t get her first.

The movie, like most animated movies in the seventies, was completely hand drawn with hand painted backgrounds and meticulous movement quality, which makes the final product that much more awe inspiring. As each scene pans from one moment to the next, the viewer is completely entranced by the sheer amount of detail that went into the scenery. From Pazu’s hometown that was built into a cliff side to the expansive world of Laputa itself, they cut no corners when it came to vivid color work and the dream-like quality of this alternate earth. It looks like a world caught in a permanent setting sun; where the twilight illuminates the hills and technology of a place much like our own.

The story itself was pretty fun and I absolutely adored every character in it, from hero to villain. Even the minor characters, such as the pirate crew and the Laputa robots, each had a full personality and if they didn’t speak it, they definitely wore it on their faces. The robots are completely silent, but I’d be lying if I didn’t want a bunch of robot toys by the end of it. That being said, this movie is definitely aimed more at an older audience than some of Ghibli’s lighter films. It’s beautiful and full of kisses and love and comedy but it isn’t as quick paced or as lighthearted as Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service and so would probably bore younger kids. It is a long movie or at least it felt like it. Laputa doesn’t have a standard ‘three-act’ arc and it almost seems to move at its own pace instead of how the audience would expect it to. There are lot of mini-conflicts and mini-resolutions surrounding the larger one of Pazu and Sheeta getting to Laputa (and even when they do that, there’s still like a half hour left). So if you’re settling in to see this for the first time like I did, be in it for the long haul.

There are many ways to see Laputa other than theaters if you have yet to pick it up (though, definitely try to see it see it in theaters.) There are several versions available for purchase, either standalone or part of a set, but I recommend checking to make sure it’s the fully restored version. A few of the early translated versions went through some heavy editing, though you do get a wonderful dub by James Van Der Beek and Anna Panquin, so there’s that. Either way, I definitely suggest taking a watch (or a re-watch) of this anime classic. It’s a hell of an experience.

Kid Sherlock #3

Sherlock Holmes has been part of fictional lore for as long as there was a mystery to solve and if there wasn’t a mystery, by George, he’d find one and solve the shit out of it. He’s classy, he’s sassy, and he’s probably addicted to morphine, but hey, it’s Victorian England, you gotta do something to keep your mind off the piles of dead babies lining the streets. (That’s a real thing, by the way; Victorian England was no joke.) Anyway, Sherlock’s legacy has led to hundreds of adaptations spanning dozens of different entertainment and creative outlets. This particular adaptation focuses on a young Sherlock, not as a child in the dusty streets of London, but as a modern student solving small time mysteries with his faithful dog companion, Watson.

Before you get too excited, this is very much a young reader comic instead of the more popular ‘all-ages’ tag a la Adventure Time. That being said, if you’ve got kids, this is a pretty fun read! In issue three, Sherlock and Watson are very excited to finally get first pick of toys for recess when, GASP, the toys are gone! Somehow, all the balls and bats have been getting checked out but not getting checked back in. Who would be so dastardly as to steal the toys from their classroom? The two are pretty sure that it’s the older kids, especially when Sherlock’s keen eye spots an obvious classroom number forgery on one of their balls, but he has little evidence to prove that they are the actual responsible party. With no other options, Sherlock is forced to turn to the one person he never thought he would have to, his big brother.

Kid Sherlock definitely plays to its audience and adds in a bunch of fun activities at the end for those bored afternoons at home. On top of the comic, the reader gets a maze, a crossword puzzle, a coloring page, and even lessons on how to draw the characters. So while you may shell out $4 for an issue, you get a good couple of hours of use out of it. The whole comic is very straightforward and easy to follow, making this a good read for kids who are just getting into comics and are getting burned out on Tiny Titans. Even the art is very simple, keeping to a Highlights-type aesthetic (you know, those magazines in every dentist office), and would make a very easy transition to the small screen or the back-log of “Ages 5-12” cartoons on Netflix.

Perhaps the only complaint is that there is no way for the reader to solve the mystery along with Sherlock. The reader simply rides along as Sherlock explains the clues right as he finds them, making it more of a mystery story than a mystery help-solve-it, which I think kids would have more fun with. But regardless, Kid Sherlock is a great way to ease your young reader into both mystery and comics without demanding too much of the child’s attention. Also, if you’re on the picky side, there are no swears, no blood, and nothing scary, so it won’t scar them for life. Unless you want that, then, uh, I suppose a Garth Ennis comic is the way to go.

Kid Sherlock #3 on sale now!

Redlands

Since Warped Perspective recently celebrated all things folk horror, it’s only appropriate that their own comic reviewer checks out a new addition to the folk horror comic scene, Redlands. Comics and folk horror have gone hand in hand for decades, dating back to early horror anthologies that prominently featured witches, ghouls and the Devil, delivering them into the eager hands of children everywhere. Even now, popular titles such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Wytches, Harrow County and others keep bringing back that old Puritan terror of evil lurking in the deep dark woods and Image Comics’ Redlands is no exception. A classic gothic tale of witches and madness, the series is as thoroughly creepy as it is original, though the first issue ends a little sooner than I prefer.

As stated, Redlands is about witches; witches that descend on a small town called Redlands, Florida and hold it hostage. The comic focuses on the sheriff of said town who is desperately trying to keep everyone he can alive in the police station, but a foul wind and a strange girl have different plans in mind. As he scrambles to maintain order above, the jail below is full of prisoners ready to riot and once their bloodlust is released, nothing can stop them. It seems like the sheriff is between a rock and a hard place, but his hands aren’t clean either. Did he bring this plague himself or is the Devil coming to town?

There’s a lot to like about Redlands. There’s a solid feeling of claustrophobia and panic throughout the whole issue that really adds to the overall witchy vibe. You really get a feeling for the atmosphere, especially with the heavily shaded and scratchy artwork by Vanessa Del Ray. Each character is uniquely designed and fits the bill of their personalities, which almost makes you feel bad every time one of them is killed. Lots of high octane action surrounds the creeping terror of a town in danger and the first issue refuses to slow down on them. Also, on top of all the wonderfully grotesque horror, the comic also contains a strong vein of social commentary. Setting the work in the 1970s, Redlands doesn’t shy away from speaking openly about the racial issues that plagued the South at the time and even uses these to its advantage.

Personally, I did feel like the issue ended too soon. This is one of those “dropped-in-the-middle” type of first issues where the reader is thrown into the action without warning and usually would have some sort of mini-resolution, especially with what seems to be about three storylines happening at once. Unfortunately, there’s not real resolution or ending point to the issue. It felt like a middle issue instead of beginning issue. Sure, they finally reveal the witches, but it feels like these characters demanded more than a quick add in at the end. I would’ve loved to see them peppered in throughout the issue or to see some kind of longer reveal to give the issue less of an introduction feel and make it more of a contained work. Redlands is gonna make a kick-ass graphic novel, but it falls just short on being a kick ass first issue. Still, those witches are pretty damn rad.

American Folk Horror

Folk horror movies are a bit of an odd duck. Based on the folklore of the country from which the movie originates, the genre relies heavily on the unique landscape of its audience’s heritage and history to divvy out the scares. Examples are much more common in Asian horror such as Sadako from The Ring, who comes from a mix of old yurei aesthetic and the Japanese legends of Okiku and Oiwa, but when it comes to English language works, more specifically American, it’s harder to find examples. American folklore is just not that old. So what exactly is specifically ‘American horror’? Things like ghosts and vampires are known worldwide, with each country having its own version, so what does the US provide to the tapestry of monsters?

Well, after much research, this author has compiled what she believes to be a rounded example of American folk horror movies. These are movies that take their cues from history, cryptids, obsessions, religion, and urban legends, all with a unique American twist.

The Witch (2015)

There is nothing more American folklore than the 2015 horror The Witch. Set in the New England of yesteryear, The Witch takes American witch legends and turns them into one of the most successful examples of folk horror in decades. The movie focuses on a Puritan family that is turned away from their village and live a secluded life on the edge of a forest. Unbeknownst to them, the forest is home to a witch and the family’s devout ways are perfect for her to corrupt and booooooy, does she ruin their day. Soon, the cow’s milk turns sour, the crops dry and fail, and the children beginning muttering to a large black goat named Black Phillip. But it’s not until the righteous father is forced to wander in the woods that things start to get really weird…

The Witch has everything an American folk horror could ask for. Isolation in a new land, an unknown horror stalking them in the woods, the testing of puritanical faith, and the Devil. There have been dozens of articles written examining the movie from a dozen different angles, so I won’t get into any of that, but I will say this is quintessentially American. Witches have been part of the American mindset ever since the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock and at the time, they were thought to be a very real threat. Hundreds of people died in the witch trials, and just a mere accusation could make you the next tied to the stake. The Witch takes all those fears and makes them real for the family. If you want to see what Americans actually believed at one point, this is the movie for you.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project is in the same vein as The Witch, but instead of a historical setting, it’s set in modern day (well 1994) New England. It plays with a lot of the same elements, including isolation in an unknown land and the witch messing with the three leads instead of outright killing them. For a quick recap, this found footage movie is about three college students who explore the legend of Blair Witch in Burkittsville, Maryland. After asking a few locals questions and dicking around with their gear, they soon hit the woods and end up getting lost, all the while being hunted by an invisible monster. Is it the famous Blair Witch, rumored to have cursed anyone who has stepped into the forest, or are they simply losing their minds?

Once again, this is steeped heavily in witch lore and most likely takes its cue from the folktale The Bell Witch, about a witch who curses a family with her dying breath. The movie also focuses on the ‘word-of-mouth’ angle, another staple of American folklore where traditional tales weren’t so much read as told over a camp fire. The Blair Witch Project spawned two sequels which play a bit more with the witch as a mind fuck element, especially the 2000 sequel, though neither quite managed to achieve the success that the first one had. But, despite whatever failures they had, the movies don’t shy away from presenting the true powers once attributed to witches and solidifying The Blair Witch into the folk genre.

Candy Man (1992)

Though originally written by Clive Barker, who is a native Brit, this movie is a solid work of Southern folklore. Candyman touches on American history, with an emphasis on early slavery and urban legends such as Bloody Mary and The Man with a Hook Hand, and mashes them into a hulking figure of revenge. This horror features a woman who is studying urban legends and stumbles on the legend of Candyman, a man with a severed hand who appears to those who say his name five times in front of a mirror before murdering them with his hook hand. While there isn’t a lot of backstory in the first movie, the sequel reveals him to be a slave who fell in love with a white woman and got punished for it by having his hand cut off and covered in honey for bees to attack.

Candyman is a wonderful mix of modern and historical horrors where, while the supernatural angle is a definitely the big draw, it’s more about the evils that people can do to those they feel are inferior. American slavery is a large part of US history and it’s ripe for a horror movie. Urban legends, especially the ones referenced for the character, are another obsession of the American psyche and by blending the two together, makes for a very unique folk horror. In fact, just having a black slave antagonist is an interesting choice. Race relations have always been a hot topic in American culture, even going way back to the founding fathers, so by having the very imposing Tony Todd play a revenge figure, the movie not only bring scares but to make an uncomfortable but important statement about American fear.

Mothman Prophecies (2002)

If there’s one thing that’s a staple of folk horror the world over its cryptids and America is loaded with them. From Bigfoot in the northwest to the Chupacabra of the South to whatever the hell the Jersey Devil is (it’s Snookie right?), we’re up to our necks in weird monsters. The Mothman Prophecies picks a West Virginia oddity and thrusts Richard Gere into the role of a lifetime! In it, he plays a professor researching the legend of the Mothman, only to learn that those who have seen it have started to hear voices in their head, each connected to a particular tragedy. Though the Mothman monster doesn’t make nearly enough appearances, the movie is based on real events (or real enough) and it’s believed that the Mothman only shows up before a big tragedy.

The Mothman Prophecies is not a good movie but it’s based on a good example of an American cryptid as well as the American UFO obsession. The creature, Mothman, is believed to either be an alien being, some kind of supernatural monster, or an unknown animal. It’s also rumored to be followed by the folkloric men in black after every appearance, which all adds up to a monster that exists almost purely on paranoia and the fear of the unknown. He’s another one of those whispered rumors that’s used to keep children in at night, and by tying him to the government or aliens, he becomes wholly original to the American landscape, kind of like Roswell. By the way, if you’re ever in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, check out their statue. Mothman has some abs!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is definitely the wild card in the bunch here, but stay with me. TCM is the kind of movie where it’s easy to get lost in the blood and guts and not realize that it’s heavily inspired by the darker side of American folklore: murder. Highwaymen, murderous families, cannibalism, and, of course, the serial killer all figure in the American consciousness. While murderers and cannibals are not a purely an American phenomenon, the US went on to create songs and make stories about them, sometimes even touting the persons as anti-heroes or murderous Robin Hood characters. Americans love crime to the point where criminals have become woven into the fabric of Americana.

The Texan setting also harks back to the Wild West days of the Gold Rush, where a wrong step could get you robbed or killed. The west is filled with unseen traps, from Indian attacks to wild animals, and the unsuspecting travelers in TCM stumble into something very similar. This movie takes all those fears and makes one of the most successful horror movies of all time. It managed to succeed so well because Tobe Hooper understood the underlying obsession with American killers (particularly Ed Gein) and that we just simply cannot look away. While he ultimately ended up using the movie as an allegory for the state of the world, it’s hard not to feel that tinge of nostalgia when Leatherface slashes up his latest victims.

Get Out (2017)

Get Out, much like Candyman, is a layered horror that focuses on Southern folklore and racism, albeit much more modern racism than its predecessor. Yet, unlike Candyman, it goes even deeper into Southern mythology; it goes into voodoo. Okay, maybe not so much voodoo as hypnotism, but the movie clearly draws inspiration from the Afro-Cuban folklore brought over during the slavery years, which tells tales of possessed men via the undead. In Get Out, the black protagonist Chris Washington is invited to spend a weekend at his white girlfriend’s parents’ home, only to feel very out of place. But it’s not just the well-dressed black help that’s putting him on edge, but something much more sinister and the nagging suspicion that he might just be next in line.

Get Out touches on a lot of American issues and by addressing them via voodoo horror, the movie re-opens doors that haven’t been opened since, well, Candyman. The film is also set in Alabama, home of rich white folks and abandoned plantations, which create the perfect setting for a work steeped in a slavery allegory. The voodoo folklore serves as the cherry on top and even goes so far as to have that element not used by the black characters but the white ones, making it clear that even a person’s folklore can used be against them and that everything is up for sale.

Red State (2011)

The US has always been a heavily religious country. In fact, that’s why the original settlers left for the new world, so they could find a place where they could pray without the fear of prosecution which haunted them in Europe. Freedom of religion is even a staple of the US Constitution and that freedom has been utilised in a variety of ways for hundreds of years. From holy rollers to traveling bible salesmen, we sure do love our God, in whatever form he may take. Red State is what happens when we love our God too much and have to get the police involved. Harkening back to the real-life cult standoff in Waco, Texas, Red State pulls inspiration from centuries of preachers and the good word and exposes how evil some of it can be.

As stated, religion, specifically Christianity, has always been a big part of the US. Our Puritanical heritage has woven Jesus into almost every folk story of our culture, so it’s no surprise that movies like Red State can make such an impact. American Christianity has become its own religion and has spawned dozens of branches with some, like Mormonism, deriving exclusively from the US which allows for a uniquely American vision of horror. Red State doesn’t shy away from also focusing on the darker parts of cult Christianity, including homophobia and brain-washing, proving that Jesus is not quite as innocent as the folk songs make him out to be.