That time Englehart was Byrned

Byrned -- from WCA 51

Andrew Weiss is asked is there “A hated story or story line you like?” and answers with John Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers

Without trying to defend that nonsense (because, honestly, I can’t), I will say it regrettably overshadows an fairly entertaining and mildly innovative run of comics. For starters, it was John Byrne’s return to Marvel after a three year stint at the Distinguished Competition. The significance of that might be lost on kids born after 1980 or so, but for my demographic peers it was a Big Deal. Our memories of his X-Men and Fantastic Four and Captain America work was recent enough to give Ol’ Crankypants another chance.

Byrne’s run happened just as I was branching out from reading Dutch translations of Marvel series to the originals, as the local comic shop had finally started to carry them. First priority lay of course with all the series that had not been translated and WCA was one of them. For a noob like me, Byrne’s dynamism and willingness to shake up the status quo was great, even if I didn’t like what he was doing to the Scarlet Witch, who already was a favourite of mine. It was only later, when I’d more context to place his stories in that it became clear all his change was for the negative.

Byrned -- from WCA 56

And it was only when I read an angry open letter Steve Englehart had send to Amazing Heroes that I realised that was probably deliberate. Byrne has always had a reputation for trashing everything he didn’t like in series he took over, prefering to strip continuity back to his own view of what Lee and Kirby did, rather than build on the work of other, lesser writers. As far back as 1982, when Byrne had only just started his Fantastic Four run, you had Len Wein and Marv Wolfman complaining about the changes Byrne made. In an interview for The Fantastic Four Chronicles special put out by Fantaco, Len Wein wrote: “I muchly resent what John is doing, I resent his implication that everything in the past 20 years hasn’t happened, that it’s still 1964.” Now on The Fantastic Four, Byrne created as much as he broke down, but on West Coast Avengers it was different. True, he brought back the original Human Torch and remade Hank Pym, Failed Superhero into Jump Suit Battle Scientist Hanky Pym, which was rather cool, but apart from that:

Byrned -- from WCA 44

  1. Tigra reverted to a cat like state
  2. Master Pandemonium, from independent villain to lackey of Mephisto
  3. The Vision went from a crying android into an emotionless, “logical” Data clone
  4. Vison got a new, fugly piss yellow costume
  5. Scarlet Witch went insane and joined Magneto for a bit
  6. Scarlet Witch went insane and molested Wonderman
  7. Wonderman meanwhile hat the hots for the Witch
  8. The Vision and Scarlet Witch’s babies? Never existed, just shards of the soul of Mephisto

Byrne started his run with issue 42 and left with 57 and from begin to end he set out to systematically demolish everything that Englehart had done with the Vision & Scarlet Witch. Personalities destroyed, marriage demolished, their kids retconned out of existence, etc. It’s hard not to see that as a deliberate vendetta against Englehart, especially in the light of the troubles he’d later ran into on his other two titles under DeFalco as editor-in-chief. Rereading it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, seeing the creations of a writer who surely deserved better be torn down so brutally.

Usagi Drop

Usagi Drop: heartwarming manga until it gets skeevy

Sometimes it’s a blessing rather than a curse that an anime series is unfaithful to its source material. Usagi Drop is a case in point. The anime version is a charming, heart warming story of the 30 year old Daikichi, who takes in rin, the illegitimate six year old daughter of his just deceased grandfather when nobody else in the family wants to take the responsibility. In only eleven episodes it tells the story of how Daikichi has to grow up quickly to take on the responsibilities of a parent, has his priorities changed and how he and Rin learn to live together. It’s cute, it’s charming and it leaves you feeling warm and cozy, but it only covers the first four volumes of the manga.

And in the fifth volume there’s a time shift, Rin is now a teenager and she and Daikichi fall in love, but it’s alright because it turns out she’s not actually blood related. God knows why the mangaka Yumi Unita thought this was a good idea, but it turned a nice, sweet story into something creepy. The manga therefore is basically unreadable, the second half of the series ruining the first half for me, but luckily the anime series was smart enough no to touch the time skip. It’s basically the “good parts” version of the story.

Friday Funnies — Kono Oto Tomare!



So you’re publishing a manga series that takes place in a high school Koto music club and you want to promote it as well as provide your readers with some idea of what the music your characters are creating sounds like. What better way to do that than to ask an actual koto playing group to play some of the songs that were featured int he manga? Which is exactly what Jump Square did to promote Kono Oto Tomare!, with the video above featuring the song (Ku-On) played at the club’s first public competition in chapter 26 of the manga. There’s also videos for “Ryuuseigun” (chapter 8, the club’s first school performance) and “Double Personality” (chapter 16, an exchange session with two other school’s koto clubs). If you think the sound is familiar, you may have heard the koto used in David Bowie’s “Moss Garden”, off off Heroes.

Kono Oto Tomare: the first public performance

I blew through this series — in as far as it’s been translated in English — in a day after I learned about it from this tweet as the artwork intrigued me. It’s one of those manga series you hope gets picked up by a decent anime studio –KyoAni would be perfect — to make a series from it, as it would be great to see the actual performances animated. The manga does a good job of showing the intensity and emotional impact of each performance, as shown above, but a static medium can only do so much.

Kono Oto Tomare: enter Kudou

Kono Oto Tomare! has a fairly straightforward story: Takezou was the only freshman in the koto club, so once his seniors graduated he was the only left. He’s trying to find new members but nobody is interested and his club room is taken over by deliquents. Enter Kudou, a guy with the worse reputation in school, even to the point of having been arrested last year and this guy wants to become a club member? A bad joke, but Kudou is serious and when not only his friends join (for a lark), but the club also gains an actual koto prodigy, Hotsuki Satowa, who comes from a prestigious koto family, it finally has enough members to be safe, if they can convince the vice-principal both of Kudou’s sincerity and the club’s right to exist — through a public school performance…

Kono Oto Tomare: this could be love

Once the club’s survival is guaranteed, the story moves on to that well traveled path of the underdog club wanting to make an impact at the national competitions, introducing rival schools, various challenges as the club members realise the enormity of the task ahead, as well as new supporting characters. There’s plenty of melodrama, as expected of a series like this, as well as more than a hint of romance… Nothing new perhaps, but the execution of these familiar beats is done very well. The gorgeous art helps a lot of course in selling it; Amyuu can certainly draw pretty girls and isn’t afraid to distort when necessary to convey the tension in a performance. One of those series that sucks you right in and keeps you reading until there’s nothing left.

How far we’ve come in seventyfive years

75 years of Captain America: from anti-fash to Hydra agent

So in the latest “shocking twist” Captain America is revealed to be and always have been a Hydra agent and sympathiser. And it’s not a hoax, not a dream, not an imaginary story:

SPENCER: Issue 2 will lay a lot of our cards on the table in terms of what the new status quo is, but the one thing we can say unequivocally is: This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.

And of course, this being comics, there’s a zillion ways all of this could be true yet the status quo restored inside of a year or whenever the twist loses its novelty. Everybody knows this is a ratings stunt with no real meaning behind it, just like when Sam Wilson got to be Cap for a while. But, you know, having Cap die for a while or having a different person behind the mask for a while or whatever other stunt you could think of is completely different from turning him into a goddamn nazi. A hero created by two Jewish kids from New York, who punched out Hitler in his very first appearance, a full year before America would join the war against the nazis. Even in an industry rife with shitty stunts, this is a particularly shitty stunt. It’s also exactly the sort of stunt you’d expect from a penny ante industry like comics, but you’d think Disney would be a bit more sensitive about such a stunt reflecting badly on the movies if too much mainstream media pay attention to it…

Flying Witch: timing!

You can only pose at night

So I’ve been reading the manga version of flying Witch today after being well impressed by the anime adaption. An adaptation always changes things and it was interesting to see how the anime had changed and improved on some the gags in the manga like the weed pulling gag or Makoto getting lost on the way to her own bedroom. Just by having more control over timing these jokes have a better comic beat. There’s only so much you can do in a manga to control the reader’s flow of time: it works better to see somebody go left, wait a second and two then go right than to see the same thing in two side by side panels. Nevertheless timing in a manga can be perfect as well, as we can see in the two pictures shown here. First we have the setup above, which comes a few pages before the payoff below, which takes up an entire page. By using full length, short panels the mangaka perfectly controls the reader’s timing: each panel takes about a second to read, gving you three seconds of build-up before the payoff in the last one.

impeccable timing in this sequence from Flying Witch

It works perfectly, but in the context of a monthly manga that has twentytwo pages per installment, it comes at a significant cost: the payoff itself is an entire page and including setup it’s five pages of story being used for a single joke. That’s a lot. It’ll be interesting to see if and how the anime adapts this scene, which may be a minute long, if that? A lot less costly in the context of a twentytwo minute episode. Which also explains why the anime could expand on these jokes whereas the manga couldn’t: it’s more efficient.