Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 05: Dr. Slump vol. 18 and Maria M. Book One

Dr. Slump volume 18:
This is the final volume of Dr. Slump. I have to say, it’s a bitter sweet moment. I’m glad that the series is ending because there is no way to make an open ended humour series work. It will eventually grow stale and if I’m being perfectly honest with myself and with Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball, some of the stories in the later volumes demonstrated that things had indeed started to slow down. Part of this could be that while ending Dr. Slump, Toriyama was also working on the early chapters of Dragon Ball which as well all know became and international phenomenon. Maybe he was getting a bit distracted by his new series. It’s not surprising to thing that after four years of non-stop hilarity in Penguin Village, a new series with new characters and a different setting would have its appeal. Why wouldn’t Toriyama want to focus on a different project? I’m not saying this to complain or to rationalize a depressive decrease in quality in the 18th volume of Dr. Slump. The opposite is closer to the truth.

It’s impressive that Toriyama still manages to write funny stories about the townspeople who live in Penguin Village. If there’s one thing you need to understand about Dr. Slump is that there is a rotating cast of villagers that regularly pop up in stories. Some only appear one or just a handful of times but others appear at least once or twice a volume. Even after 18 volumes Toriyama is still creating new characters. The most notable in this volume is Biker Boy which should come at no real surprise considering the focus of this volume. Toriyama didn’t shy away from infusing Dr. Slump with his hobbies and all the other things he enjoys in life. Toriyama loves science fiction movies, building models, motorized vehicles and animals. He didn’t just incorporate this in the bonus feature pages in-between the chapters in the collections, he also incorporate these elements to the title pages and the stories themselves.

If there is one predominant theme to the final volume it’s advertising his new series, Dragon Ball. Seriously, if you haven’t read it, go out and buy a copy. It’s great stuff! I actually enjoy Dr. Slump far more than I ever liked Dragon Ball (and I really like it!). It’s one of the most overlooked manga series I know of. Sorry, I lost focus there. If there is one predominant theme to this volume its setting up stories in which Toriyama gets to draw vehicles of all sorts but specifically motorcycles. The standout new character of this volume is Biker Boy. A boy who has a rare and complicated (and entirely real) disease: he will die if he is not riding his motorcycle. He lives his life riding around the island never stopping for anything. A truck has to drive next to him so he can refill. He radios his favourite food truck to toss food at him while he drives by. Biker Boy’s condition is so serious he can’t even stop to use the bathroom. He wears a biking suit which is cut out at the back allowing him to poo in a special compartment of his bike which then flings it out onto the side of the road. This solves one of the great mysteries of Dr. Slump: just where do all the little piles of poo come from? Now we know where Arale finds it all. Thanks Toriyama, fans around the world also thank you for finally revealing the greatest secret in all of manga history.

Maria M. Book One review:
Gilbert Hernandez is a genius. He’s been hard at work on one of the best long form comic works of all time. Along with his brothers, Jaime and Mario, they’ve been regularly releasing Love and Rockets for over thirty years. Gilbert been pushing his work and bringing it to very interesting places since the Luba in America stories have been published. The most notable of these comics is the “Fritz B-movie” sub-series. Half-sister of Luba, Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez gave up her job as a psychotherapist to take up acting and Maria M. is her long lost masterpiece.

All of the Fritz B-movies are low-grade sexploitation films taking advantage of and displaying her unique physique. Maria M. is based on a true story and it has Fritz playing her own mother. The true story on which this “movie” is based is Gilbert’s incredibly dense Poison River, a huge and complex comic book opus. Already without looking at the story itself, Maria M. is a complex work simply based on its origins, both metatextual and real. The story though is pretty impressive for a 135 page comic that averages four panels per page. Maria Martinez has recently arrived in America (having run away from her home country in South America after an affair with her father’s gardener which resulted in the birth of her first daughter, Luba – that is if my memory serves me well, I haven’t read Poison River in quite some time). She finds a few “modelling” jobs and finally gets a few acting jobs as well. An influential gangster helps to produce one of those films, falls in love and marries Maria. The inconsistencies, or specifically, the artistic liberties being taken by Beto (a widely used nickname for Hernandez) with one of his previous stories is fascinating. In part because of how it contrasts with the earlier story and also on how it reflects more of Fritz’s character than it does on her mother. That makes sense of course since she’s had her story told in Poison River. But details such as Maria’s husband actually loving her or Gorgo having a brother and being Maria’s step-son bodyguard all feel kind of off but it makes for an engrossing read due to the depth of meaning these seemingly minor changes could have on the larger story of Fritz found in Beto’s work.

The Fritz B-movies has varied in complexity and quality but this latest one is pretty damn good. I feel like I’m missing some of the nuances the comic has to offer because it’s been such a long time since I’ve read the stories in my hardcover collection of Luba as well as Poison River that I’m certain I’m missing quite a bit. This comic, like most of the Fritz B-movies can only truly be appreciated by fans of Beto’s previous work. Still, I’m convinced Maria M. is a very good read because it’s a fast paced, haphardously paced crime comic. There is sex and violence to be found on nearly every page and the paranoia filled lives of Senor Cienfuegos (Maria’s husband), Gorgo and even Maria herself will delight even the most biased and critical fans of crime comics. I can’t believe Beto and Fantagraphics decided to split this story in two because the wait might just make me lose my mind but I shouldn’t complain too much since it gives me time to revisit earlier stories with Fritz and refresh my memory on just how big an impact making this movie had on her as well as her family. 

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