Clearing Out the Backlog 4: Why You Gotta Be So Racist, TERRA FORMARS?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a huge backlog of comics to read. I’ve decided to create this column to force myself to start catching up. Every couple of weeks, I’ll be posting short reviews of what I’ve read while Clearing Out the Backlog.

terraformarsvol1Terra Formars volume 1 by Yu Sasuga (writer) and Kenichi Tachibana (artist): I’m very conflicted about this manga. On the plus side of things the concept is really cool, the first volume is overall exciting, and the art is gorgeous. Terra Formars is set in the future where Earth is becoming very overpopulated and the decision is made to terraform Mars (see that’s where the title comes from!). In the process making the planet habitable, a bunch of humanoid cockroach monsters have been created that need to be eradicated. The main characters of volume 1 face the task of exterminating the roaches. So why am I conflicted about this series? Well… it has to do with how the roaches look.

The roaches look like horrible caricatures of black people. I was taken aback when I first saw them. It’s not exactly what you’re expecting to see when you hear that the bad guys are cockroach monsters. In doing some digging online prior to writing this, I read some threads on manga forums and discovered that really I’m the racist and that Japanese people are incapable of racism towards people of African descent.

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The other thing that I’ve learned from manga forums is that the look for roaches is inspired by Homo erectus. Once you show me that, I can start to see an argument for the series not having racist undertones. It’s hard to figure out creator intent when it comes to art, especially when it comes from a culture different than your own. Even as I was reading, I was conflicted as to what the intent of the creators was. Maybe they weren’t meant to look like people of African descent and that was just an unfortunate consequence of what look the artist was going for. It would be easy for me to write it off as that if there weren’t pages like this:

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Not only does it look like this page equates black people with cockroaches, it incorporates a Charles Darwin quote about eliminating lesser variations of the species. Pages like this are problematic. Regardless of intent, it looks really bad for the creators. At the end of the day, I didn’t hate this series. Remove the potential racism and this book is pretty enjoyable. As of right now, I’m conflicted about how I feel and I’d rather be conflicted than be totally ignorant to the problematic aspects of this manga. I won’t say that people shouldn’t read and enjoy Terra Formars, but you should be able to recognize that something might be wrong with what you’re reading.

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They’re Not Like Us volume 1 by Eric Stephenson (writer) and Simon Gane (artist): This comic owes a huge debt to the XMen. Going into this series, I had no idea what it was about. I certainly didn’t expect it to be about a group of young people that have manifested super powers and all live in a house together. I don’t want to say that this is a darker take on the X-Men, but it’s certainly a different take on the concept behind the characters. In They’re Not Like Us, the powered folks don’t protect a world that hates and fears them. Instead, they do what they want and take what they want, simply because they can. They hand out some justice, but more often than not, it’s for selfish reasons. Sometimes they just mug random people because they want their stuff. There’s very little good and bad in this series, nearly everything is a shade of grey. We see the series through the eyes of Syd, a telepath who thought she was crazy because of all the voices in her head. She’s told the truth about her powers by a man known only as The Voice. He brings Syd to the big house where all the powered folks live and both she and the reader are introduced to everything in this new world at the same time.

TheyreNotLikeUsVol1I initially picked this series up because of how much I enjoyed Stephenson’s last series, Nowhere Men. I’m glad I was reading this in trade because I’m not sure if I would have stuck around for all six issues if I was buying this month to month. Early on, too much of the cast was just too unlikable, but I think that’s what Stephenson was going for. These characters aren’t exactly bad people, but they can be pretty sh**ty at times. I have a hard time reading comics where I don’t like the protagonists, but thankfully enough of them turned the corner to where I could enjoy reading this series. Even when I didn’t entirely care for the writing initially in the series, I really enjoyed the work of the art team. What really stands out to me from Simon Gane’s art is his skill at drawing faces. His characters are so expressive that they might be in the top ten of best actors in comics. The more I look at Gane’s art, the more detail that I find in his work. Even if I didn’t end up liking the story of this comic, I probably would have ended up sticking around for Gane’s art. Chances are that any time I see Gane working on another comic, I’ll probably pick that book up now. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Jordie Bellaire’s fantastic coloring work in this series, most notably when Moon and Syd are using their powers.

Going back to what I said at the start of this review, I really could have seen this series as what Marvel could have done with Ultimate X-Men. These characters have superpowers, but they aren’t superheroes. I’d very much recommend this series to people looking for something different out of the superhero genre.

Devil Dinosaur #1 by Jack Kirby (writer/artist): This past weekend I picked up this book at a small comic show; Mighty Con Milwaukee. I said that it was small, but it was actually a lot bigger than I was expecting. I’ve been to some local shows before and they were what you expect from a small comic show: a couple of comic vendors in a dimly lit room with dudes that smell. Mighty Con took up three rooms in Serb Hall and they packed a lot of vendors into the space they had. The vendors had a nice variety of comics (both cheap and pricey), trades, and toys. The show opened at 10:30 and my friend John and I arrived right around then. For as packed at the place was with vendors, it was equally packed with shoppers.

 

I managed to find some decent buys while I was there. From the first booth I stopped at I grabbed Devil Dinosaur issue 1 and Mister Miracle issue 18 (this book was in AMAZING shape) for $3 each. While I was at that booth I somehow managed to insert myself into and bulls**t my way through a conversation about the current state of Sports Center. Shouts out to the Voices of Wrestling podcast for giving me literally every talking point I had in that conversation. The Kirby purchases didn’t stop there, I also picked up one of the trades of Mister Miracle that are printed in black and white from a booth that specialized in trades and hardcovers. When digging through some dollar bins I found the issues I needed to complete my run of Alan Moore’s initial run on Tom Strong and some later issues of Master of Kung Fu. The best deal I got was a full set of the original Squadron Supreme series for $10. Overall, it was a pretty good show. If Mighty Con runs a show in your town, I’d recommend paying it a visit.

As far as Devil Dinosaur issue 1 goes, it’s pretty great. Here we get the origin of Devil and for the first time I learned that he got his red color from being set on fire by evil cavemen. That’s hardcore. This is awesome late 70’s craziness from Kirby and I really need to track down the rest of this series. This splash alone was worth that $3 I paid for the issue:

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On a related and unrelated note: In Animal Crossing I picked up an “industrial wall” wall paper and now it looks like the walls of my living room are Kirby machines. It’s pretty rad.

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Who ARE these people!?

Kelly Harrass is a comic shop worker and writer from Milwaukee, WI. You may know him as one of the regular hosts of the PoP!-Cast and the co-host of PCW. Find him on Twitter @comicgeekelly and email him at kharrass@panelsonpages.com

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