Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Comics Review: Chronicles of the Universe

Someone forgot to tell Espinosa that only Sigourney Weaver is allowed to fight aliens in her panties.

Chronicles Of The Universe, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2005. ISBN: 1-932453-87-3. $9.99.

Readers of this blog or Holy Heroes!! know I like to whine from time to time about how women are portrayed in comic books...and that I read comic books anyway. Readers of this blog also know I like to read and review most everything from Amerimanga writer/illustrator Rod Espinosa, who has a vast imagination, a good sense of fun, a sure hand with a pen, and female protagonists who are usually tough and likable, if virtually indistinguishable.

Previously, I reviewed Espinosa's Battle Girlz. Chronicles Of The Universe takes place in the same sprawling universe, a place called Jalto Shrept, where slimy aliens and traditional superheroes rub shoulders with magic-wielding elves and gun-toting vampires. Jalto Shrept is a canvas on which Espinosa can do what he does best, which is mix together a hodgepodge of sf and fantasy tropes into a massive stew that is always familiar yet always entertaining.

Chronicles of the Universe is a collection of short stories about a single family. It begins by introducing the thirteen Manowar brothers, the greatest heroes in the universe, who long ago defeated an evil overlord named Destructor. Now that Destructor is gone and only second-rate villains plague Jalto Shrept, the Manowars can settle down and raise families, only occasionally venturing out to topple a tyrant or rescue a distressed planet. The stories generally focus on the Manowars' children, who are following in their fathers' footsteps. The comic easily slides back and forth between battle sequences and scenes of domestic life, the juxtaposition of which lends the volume its greatest charm. Along with the good fun, Chronicles effectively conveys the sense that the Manowar Clan is degenerating and that the children lack the talent and character of their forebears. This lends the volume its greatest depth.

Some of the Manowar children, it's worth noting, grow up to be Battle Girlz, so Chronicles of the Universe gives us opportunity to see them at a younger age. The back of the book also contains some studies and sketches for an upcoming volume, Prince Of Heroes, slated for release this summer. This future book promises to follow a bastard son of one of the Manowars as he claims his birthright and gathers his declining family for a great battle. It also promises to bring back the Battle Girlz, and some of the images suggest Espinosa is planning to use them to make Prince of Heroes into a harem comic.

These three comics collections, Chronicles Of The Universe, Battle Girlz, and Prince Of Heroes, are an ambitious project; Espinosa is apparently chronicling a single powerful family over multiple generations as it grows increasing decadent, something like a superhero space opera Amerimanga version of Buddenbrooks. It will be interesting to see how this project turns out, or if Espinosa takes it beyond three volumes. The writing is uneven, and the panels are frequently cluttered, but the idea is good and the stories are always amusing if never exactly moving.

Now that I'm done with the review, it's time for the whining (I'll keep it short)! Honestly, does anyone think a miniskirt is a good outfit for battling an alien supertyrant? Why do the Manowar sons have an easier time keeping their clothes on than the Manowar daughters? Why are there full-page images in the back of girls in their underwear? And perhaps most importantly, do we really want to turn the rock-em sock-em Battle Girlz into a harem?

Why you shouldn't fight in a miniskirt.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Chronicles Of The Universe:

Myth Level: High (an interesting, sprawling universe, universal themes, battles, etc.)

Quality: Medium (uneven presentation, good times and good fun mixed with some flat storylines)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (action violence, generally family-friendly and good-natured with some fanservice [I'm getting sick of that word; Snuffles, can we find a synonym?])
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