Monday, December 05, 2005

Sharknife Volume 1 - Never Too Young to Learn Old Tricks

Today's "You Decide" is Corey Lewis's Sharknife: Volume 1. I think that the criticism that I have read for Sharknife has, so far, read to me like a bit of a Cousin Larry Trick. A good deal of reviewers seem to say that the reason they did not like Sharknife was because they think that they are "too old for the book." I do not buy that as a reason, but it is SUCH a good Cousin Larry trick that, after I first read Sharknife, that was MY response as WELL! However, looking at it again, I do not think that that is a good enough explanation.

The main reason why I do not think that "we are too old to get it" is a good enough reason is because of Scott Pilgrim. Sharknife and Scott Pilgrim have a good deal in common. Both books are coming to us from the perspective of the first comics to be written by the "Mortal Kombat generation" (for lack of a better term). These are the people raised on video games that are practically comic books themSELVES, and this style of video game is a direct influence upon the way that they write their comics today (and, by proxy, the Japanese influence in those video games is also transfered to their comics, as well).

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It's an exciting new style, and I think that Corey Lewis will probably be a name to watch for years and years to come.

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However, Scott Pilgrim was a book that most of the same reviewers who felt that they were "too old for Sharknife" DID like! So if they (and I) liked Scott Pilgrim, there is no reason that the style of the story should be a deal-breaker.

I think the reason is that, for right now, that Corey Lewis just has not reached the same level of comic book goodness that Bryan Lee O'Malley achieved with his Scott Pilgrim,

Sharknife opens up a lot like Scott Pilgrim, and I was really into it. The plot of the comic is that Sharknife is a mystical protector of The Guandong Factory, a five-story Chinese Restauarant that the mob, led by its half-Cuban/half-Japanese leader, Ombra Ravenga, is constantly trying to eliminate. Busboy Caesar Halleluja transforms into Sharknife to defend the restauarant, and when he is not Sharknife, he is close to the restauarant owner's daughter, Chieko Momuza.

Great premise, right?

And those names! The comic totally exudes cool at all levels.

The problem is, it does not always exude STORY. When it does (the first three chapters), it is like Scott Pilgrim's brother by a different mother. And Lewis' decision in Chapter Three to have it just be a dialogue between Chieko and Caesar in a "cutie-ball" style of art (a drastic change from the art style the rest of the book) was extremely impressive.

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That, though, only takes you about one/third into the comic. The next TWO/THIRDs of the comic is basically just Sharknife fighting an array of bad guys (with plenty of video game references, like keeping track of Sharknife's "health"). And that's really it.

Page after page of just Sharknife fighting bad guys.

The intent, it appears, is to make the experience like the reader is playing an intense game of a Street Figher-esque video game. However, in my estimation, it instead reads like WATCHING someone ELSE play a video game. And yeah, there is SOME interest in that. But not for two/thirds of the comic.

It eventually just gets boring.

Here are two pages from the fighting parts of the book:

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Really nice art, right?

But would you like to read page after page after page of the pages I just showed you?

And I do not think that that is a result of me being "too old" to understand the comic. It is not exactly complex. I might not be big on video games, but I get what Lewis is doing here. I just did not think it was that good.

If you DO think that you'd be into reading pages after pages of the two samples that I just gave you, then, by all means, Sharknife is JUST the book for you!

With all the complaining out of the way, let me reiterate that I thought that the first third of the book was quite good. Very similar to Scott Pilgrim, which was excellent (as an aside, it is really freakin' annoying that I cannot find the review I did for Scott Pilgrim on this site! It doesn't show up in the search function at the top of the page OR a google search for "Scott Pilgrim Comics Should Be Good"!!!).

So I hope Volume 2 will be more like that. Lewis has talent and cool to spare, so I just hope that he hones it in the future. He could be a very special comic creator.

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Blogger kelvingreen said...

I've not read Sharknife, but I did pick up the semi-sequel PENG! (with a Scott Pilgrim cameo!), and while I did enjoy it a great deal, I didn't like it as much as I felt I was supposed to.

Oddly enough though, the video game storytelling is something I actually enjoyed most about it, so I'm not sure what it was that I had an issue with. It felt a bit light in both story and characterisation, I suppose.

But the author is young, and I think depth will come with time and experience. He's already got style and flair in abundance.

12/05/2005 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew Craig said...

Yeah, I think you're being a bit harsh, there. Maybe expecting a bit much. Sharknife is manifestly not supposed to be About The Plot, is it? I mean, any more than Tank Girl, for example.

The key to Sharknife is the legend on the back cover: 100% ACTION COMICS. It's the comics equivalent of freewheeling down the hill on your BMX, no-handed, but with monsters.

It's a stream of consciousness work (or a clever approximation of same), gleefully barrelling from start to finish for the sheer joy of putting pen to paper. Okay, it's a little bit shallow. It may be the comicbook equiavalent of a chocolate bar - all energy, no vitamins (but even that's a bit harsh) - but it's ace! All the power of the book is dedicated to getting from one joyous fight scene to another. The minimal character moments (my favourite bit is Ombra Ravenga's origin) are merely well-judged grace notes.

I think Sharknife sits a bit towards the opposite end of the spectrum to Scott Pilgrim. SP is yer actual character comedy, with the PlayStation stuff tacked on to it. It's a bit more structured than Sharknife. It's like O'Malley was trying to replace the desolation of Lost At Sea (which was also ace) with something a bit more energetic, while retaining the strong character dynamics. O'Malley is a more mature storyteller than Rey, for sure, but he's got three years and a couple of fat books on him, too.

Timing and surface details aside, Sharknife and SP are two totally different books, and I think that trying to judge one by the standards of the other is unfair.


12/05/2005 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

That's the thing, though, Matthew.

I am saying I get that Sharknife is "100% Action Comics," but that I think that having a comic be "100% Action" results in the comic ultimately being boring.

It doesn't have to be Scott Pilgrim, but I'm using Scott Pilgrim as an example of a similar comic that managed to mix characterization AND the dynamic video game-esque action scenes.

12/05/2005 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Kurt said...

So maybe the age issue is a problem. I’m like you Brian, I liked the art but was looking for more of a story – a little growth or movement in the characters. Perhaps someone younger, or maybe more deeply vested in the video game culture, can approach a book like this without any expectations beyond cool pictures and stuff happening – essentially the same way they might approach a new video game. You and I are probably going to come at these mediums with completely separate expectations for each.

That being said, I think SHARKNIFE has real potential and if Lewis continues more books in this series I think there’s a reasonable chance it will grow into something beyond action only.

12/05/2005 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Definitely. Give Lewis a chance to grow as a writer. He's not even twenty yet, is he? I'm sure there'll be more depth to his storytelling as he grows older.

12/05/2005 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Definitely. Give Lewis a chance to grow as a writer. He's not even twenty yet, is he? I'm sure there'll be more depth to his storytelling as he grows older."

For what it's worth, did I not get that feeling that across in my piece?

"It's an exciting new style, and I think that Corey Lewis will probably be a name to watch for years and years to come."

"I think the reason is that, for right now, that Corey Lewis just has not reached the same level of comic book goodness that Bryan Lee O'Malley achieved with his Scott Pilgrim,"

"So I hope Volume 2 will be more like that. Lewis has talent and cool to spare, so I just hope that he hones it in the future. He could be a very special comic creator."

Or, in other words, agreed. :)

12/05/2005 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

For what it's worth, did I not get that feeling that across in my piece?
Actually, you did (albeit briefly), but it's certainly worth reiterating. :)

There's undeniable talent there, and talent worth encouraging. But the way some people have fallen over themselves to worship Sharknife and PENG! strikes me as a bit wrong-headed, and perhaps a tad unwise; if he picks up on this and believes his own hype, we might be left with a series of books that are filled with wild and inventive visuals and not much else, and that would be a terrible waste of potential.

So yeah, it's good work, but it has undeniable flaws which I hope will get worked out in time, and I'm not about to be an apologist for them in the present. :)

12/05/2005 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

I didn't like Scott Pilgrim, either.

Also, I hate puppies and small children.

12/05/2005 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...

It's funny - if I were to write a review of Scott Pilgrim, I'd probably talk about how much I enjoyed the goofy fights and then post two pages of boring relationship bitching, complaining that most of the book was just that. It would be a Bizarro version of this review!

12/05/2005 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Marionette said...

Sounds a lot like Dragonball Z to me. That's like 90% fight scenes, isn't it? But then I've seen plenty of Marvel comics that are all flashy fight scene with virtually no plot.

I didn't buy them either.

12/06/2005 05:02:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

"Sounds a lot like Dragonball Z to me. That's like 90% fight scenes, isn't it? But then I've seen plenty of Marvel comics that are all flashy fight scene with virtually no plot."

Dragonball Z has tons of characterization, but it does a rare feat of actually incorporating characterization within its fight scenes. In manga, action and character do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Some of the biggest character growth moments happen in the heat of battle. I think Dragonball Z is more characterization heavy than just about any American superhero comic out there, as characters grow, change, evolve, marry, breed, die, and age. It's just that unlike American comics they don't beat you over the head by broadcasting "THIS IS A SAPPY CHARACTERIZATION MOMENT." It's a lot more subtle.

And I don't understand the stereotype of DC having more plot than Marvel. I always found it to be vice versa. Before they started trying to be more like Marvel, DC was painfully inept at writing plots and characters. Marvel showed them the way.

12/06/2005 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Marionette said...

T, did I say Dragonball Z had no characterisation? No, I just said it was 90% fight scenes, which you apparently agree with. From what I gather from this review, Sharknife's problem is that it has a lot of fight scene time that contributes very little to the story.

As for the whole Marvel vs DC thing, your mileage may vary. I don't read much Marvel, and when I pick up a Marvel comic at random and find it one long incomprehensible fight scene, it leaves me with the impression that this is typical of Marvel and puts me off buying more in the foreesable future. I can see where a non-DC reader might get the same impression if they picked up, say, almost any issue of the Death of Superman storyline, but then I prefer the radio version.

12/06/2005 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

The criticism and comments directed toward Sharknife was that it was videogame fighting devoid of story or characterization. You said it sounded like Dragonball Z, so i figured you meant that Dragonball was also lacking the same things. No biggie.

12/06/2005 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Marionette said...

Anyhow, from what I gather from talking to a friend who is a big fan of DBZ a lot of this characterisation you mention, such as marriages and births take place between issues, so I'm not sure it's entirely fair to claim that it all happens during the fight scenes.

Not that I'd want to see a marriage or birth during a fight scene. That would be silly.

12/07/2005 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/07/2005 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"Not that I'd want to see a marriage or birth during a fight scene. That would be silly."

Ha! That'd be disturbing! Didn't Troia give birth during a fight scene? :)

And despite the marriages and births taking place between battles, a lot more growth happened during fights.

Not that these names will mean anything to you, but run these examples by your friend and see if he still thinks most of the character growth occurs outside of fight scenes.

Vegeta redeems his villainy during the fight against Majin Buu. The redemption of Piccolo and the development of his first friendship (with Gohan), as well as the discovery of his humanity all occur through fighting, and he eventually sacrifices his life for the good of the same planet he once tried to destroy. Look at Gohan's development from spoiled, mollycoddled brat to a gifted teenager that eventually outshines his father and mentor and saves the day when everyone else came up short (that happened in the fight against Cell). Contrast that with a couple of dozen declarations by Nightwing that he's stepping out of Batman's shadow and becoming his own man, only to immediately re-enter said shadow again and return to his career of receiving humiliating ass-whuppings.

I can think of three or four beautiful character growth moments with the villain Vegeta that all took place during major battles: when he cries and shows weakness for the first time before he's killed by an even more powerful villain Frieza, when he allows himself to be manipulated by the villain Bobity in order to regain his princely pride and beat Goku once and for all, when he sacrifices himself in battle against Buu once he realizes what his half-human son means to him and his final redemption once he's resurrected (he receives a halo rather than a sentence in hell).

That's the beauty of Dragonball Z, character growth doesn't have to be at the expense of fight scenes. Same goes for Naruto, another good example of this. Lee/Ditko did something similar in the Master PLanner saga in Spider-Man, which was basically a wall-to-wall fight but had more intense character moments than any talking heads superhero story, in my opinion. Same with Lee/Kirby's "This Man, This Monster" in FF. I think it's the sign of a true master to blur the lines between characterization and fight scenes so subtly, rather than compartmentalizing them.

How'd the novel go, by the way?

12/07/2005 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

"Dragonball Z has tons of characterization, but it does a rare feat of actually incorporating characterization within its fight scenes."

not really a "rare feat" in manga/anime, as it is actually a staple of the media, as proven by the aforementioned NARUTO, and SLAMDUNK and KNOCKOUT and MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH and YAIBA and RANMA 1/2 and SAMURAI X.

off the top of my head, the only titles i can think of that wasn't able to/didn't do this is GHOST IN THE SHELL (the manga, the movie, and the anime), seemingly more interested with mood than characterization.

and sadly, we don't get SCOTT PILGRIM here in manila. i remember rubbing elbows with mr o'malley in the old old ellis forums, though.

12/08/2005 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Yeah, youre right Adam, if you exclude American and European comics and look at just manga, it isn't that rare a feat. I should have specified that I was talking about comicdom as a whole.

12/08/2005 07:29:00 AM  
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