The annual Manga Jiman competition is BACK! Encouraging new talent, it’s a bit of a fixture now on any manga-lover’s comics calendar.
Regular Batgirl artist Babs Tarr takes a break for this annual, and four other artists step in – each one illustrating a different chapter of a bumper-sized story by regular scripters Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.
The plotline for the annual, it has to be said, is an entirely disposable MacGuffin-hunt involving the plans for a secret weapon. The how and where of the narrative, however, are not the point: Batgirl Annual #3 is intended primarily as a way to team Barbara up with a succession of guest stars.
First up is a crossover with Grayson, as Batgirl ends up working alongside Spyral agents Director and Dick Grayson. Only problem is, Dick previously faked his own death – and so, to his regret, cannot allow Batgirl to see him.
This is a clever twist on superhero crossover conventions. The now over-familiar pleasures of seeing two heroes side-by-side is replaced with the tension of two protagonists nearly, but not quite, meeting.
The Batgirl/Grayson crossover is drawn by Bengal, who previously illustrated the wordless Batgirl: Endgame. Although the present story has dialogue, it is similar to the Endgame special in its emphasis on almost non-stop action held up only by minimal exposition. It kicks off with Barbara saving a man from being hit by a speeding bus, and keeps up the pace through a series of kinetic action scenes. These are clearly one of Bengal’s strong points as an artist: the small panels deliver a rapid succession of punches, kicks and grimaces while holding the interest throughout.
The second half of the issue is taken up by three shorter chapters. First is a five-page episode drawn by David Lafuente, in which Batgirl meets Spoiler. This sequence is driven far more by character than by action, with calm and collected Batgirl contrasting with her goofy new partner-in-vigilantism. Lafuente depicts the exchange with a humorous, exaggerated style that is broadly similar in spirit to Babs Tarr’s work on the series.
The annual lurches off the rails a little when Batgirl teams up with Batwoman to save a captive from being – rather oddly – burnt to death in a wicker man. The two problems here are that Ming Doyle’s artwork is a trifle too stiff for the action scenes to work, while Stewart and Fletcher never establish Batwoman’s personality – she could be easily replaced with just about any other Gotham crimefighter.
Finally, the annual is wrapped up in a cosy manner with a Gotham Academy crossover, drawn by that series’ current illustrator Mingjue Helen Chen. This conclusion, in which schoolgirl adventurers Maps and Olive help Batgirl to finally crack the case, is so mellow as to underline that nothing was ever really at stake in the story – but at the same time, it makes a perfect finale for the annual.
After all, Batgirl Annual #3 was obviously put together as a tasty confection, so what better way to end it than with a touch of pure sweetness?
- Writers: Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher
- Artists: Bengal, David Lafuente, Ming Doyle and Mingjue Helen Chen
- Colourists: Bengal, Ivan Placencia, Mingjue Helen Chen
- Cover: Bengal
- Series: Batgirl 2011
- Issue: Annual 3
- Publisher: DC
- Price: $4.99
- On Sale Date: July 29 2015
- Color/B&W: Color
- Page Count: 52
I think I’ve said in previous reviews how influential CardCaptor Sakura was when I was younger. I loved it with the passion of a thousand burning suns and the enjoyment I felt remains something of a standard to which I compare the anime and manga I experience now.
Perhaps I’ve rose-tinted the memory of watching it after school, because I haven’t rewatched it or felt inclined to invest in the manga. My eight-year-old self would probably have something to say about this. Sorry, even tinier me. Recently, however, I wanted to experience a little more of CLAMP’s magic. I settled on xxxHOLiC and lawds if it isn’t an insta-fave. It is amazing.
We follow the exploits of Watanuki, a bumbling teenager relentlessly pursued by all manner of creepy entities and spirits. By the fatalistic force of hitsuzen, he stumbles across Yuko’s shop.
Yuko, a ‘space-time witch’, helps those with uncanny afflictions. She offers to lift the curse that leaves Watanuki in constant supernatural company. For a price. Watanuki must agree to become her part-time assistant and help her with clients.
From a compulsive liar drowning in the smoke of her own stories to an internet addict, Yuko and Watanuki must find the very human root of these paranormal problems. Watanuki is launched head-first into a world much wider and darker than he imagined.
How long will he persevere with this new part-time job?
Miles apart from the jolly japes of young Sakura, xxxHOLiC is a late-night existential crisis whispered into a glass of vintage brandy while Most Haunted or similar plays quietly in the background.
It is rich with dark humour. There’s something eerily hushed about this story; it seems to exist on a very thin border between hilarity and utter despair. Often the two sides seep into each other.
Watanuki is an explosive and obnoxious boy too easily bossed around by Yuko (and just as quick to complain about it). Yuko is a seductive, fiercely witty woman who takes immense enjoyment in teasing her young assistant. Together, they make a comical pair.
But just as prevalent in the series are scenes of incredibly engaging dialogue between the two protagonists. Yuko is almost frightening in her wisdom in matters both ordinary and supernatural.
She is the Victorian spiritualist, the Japanese storyteller, the timeless and anonymous recorder of history. Her character is immense; every silent glance and every bubble of speech is dripping with meaning.
She embodies what fascinates me so much about tales of the paranormal and characters who exist on a boundary between two realities – she has experienced the obscure and her word alone would be enough to make you believe, yet she’d rather drag you by your collar and dangle you over a monster’s open mouth just to prove a point.
Oh, and her outfits are always fabulous. I could write a thousand words about my love for Yuko but alas I must control myself. She’s aces, though.
xxxHOLiC has a distinct and intriguing style. I probably don’t need to convince most readers that the women of CLAMP are some of the best visual storytellers, but the aesthetic in this series is particularly excellent.
Somewhere between an erotic art-nouveau painting and an ancient picture scroll, xxxHOLiC stands out as having art that creeps and drapes and sprawls across the page. I’ve heard a few people mock the characters’ anatomy as being ‘noodle people’, but I think it fits with the surreal theme of the series.
The series does have moments which overlap with the Tsubasa universe. I’m not reading the latter, but I don’t feel as though I’m missing out (I do, however, have some Approximate Knowledge of Tsubasa which probably helps).
I’ll probably invest in it when I don’t have a million series on the go, but for anyone concerned about the relationship I think it’s okay just to read xxxHOLiC by itself. And you should totez read it.
Originally published a few years ago by Del Rey, Kodansha are re-releasing the series in a 3-volume omnibus format. For fans of supernatural/mystery comics, xxxHOLiC needs to be on your reading list. CLAMP’s stories are some of the best places to start if you want to begin your manga travels.
Have I mentioned Penny Dreadful in this review? No? That is shocking. If you liked Penny Dreadful, you’ll absolutely love xxxHOLiC. It is grittier than I was expecting, and I enjoyed it all the more for this. If sticking a hot poker into the sinister abyss of monstrous humanity is your idea of a good time, this series will go down a treat.