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Costa, Ben – Pang The Wandering Shaolin Monk Volume 2: Winter Worm, Summer Grass



Pang The Wandering Shaolin Monk Volume 2: Winter Worm, Summer Grass

I made it clear in the last review for this series that unless you an utterly joyless human being that you should be reading this, but it looks like that last review was from a few years ago, so just to make it perfectly clear: if you have any interest in the history of shaolin monks in China in the 1600’s, or martial arts, or Chinese history, or just good story-telling, you should be reading this series. I’ll get my only complaint out of the way early: this could have used a brief recap of the last book. A little “previously on” would have done wonders, but Ben does a good job of getting the reader caught up to speed pretty quickly. This one starts off with Pang remembering the very early days of his training (which comes up in a big way later on), and from there we spend a little time with Pang wandering around the countryside, trying to find a sign of a temple that he knows is nearby. The next scene is something that is probably going to haunt me, and something that was unexpected (to Pang and to me as a reader): a fight with a tiger. Pang stumbles across a couple of tiger cubs, the mother attacks to defend them, and Pang has to decide whether he is like a true Buddha, somebody who is willing to give his life to feed the tigress and her cubs, or whether he is willing to fight dirty to survive. You can probably guess which way he decides based on the fact that his name is in the title and this fight happens early on, and in hindsight what he does is probably the only way that anybody could have a hope of surviving a tiger attack, but I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of it, or the way that Pang is essentially consigning three tigers to death with his act. This act also breaks Pang, leaving him utterly unsure of the rightness of his actions for a long time afterward. From there Pang meets up with a drunken monk, hears the story of how another temple was destroyed, learns some pieces as to why all of this is happening to the monks, and meets a very skilled bounty hunter on the road. Yeah, that’s all vague, because it’s fantastic and you should just read it for yourself. Ben says on his website that he taking a break before starting the third and final volume of this series, and although “taking a break” always makes me nervous with comics, he does seem dedicated to finishing the story. I really hope he does, as this could end up being on the list of great comics achievements when it’s finished. Which, again, is why you should be reading this now. $19.95


Elfworld Volume 2 #1 edited by Francois Vigneault


Elfworld Volume 2 #1

I have no idea how I missed the first issue of this series. This seems like something that’s right up my alley, as I like my small press comics with a sprinkling of dorky sorcerers and such, even though finding quality examples of that genre is exceedingly difficult (and hey, send me an e-mail if I’m wrong). I do have to say that I don’t think you’re allowed to start the second volume of a series if you only put out one issue in the first series, but I don’t get to  make the rules on such things. With this lineup of talent it was pretty much a sure thing that this book would be damned near indispensable, and I think that ends up being accurate. First up is Grant Reynolds (who has either been quiet lately or he’s just stopped sending me review comics) with a tense chase between two creatures. Very few people outside of Jim Woodring can pull off “what the fuck IS that thing?” better than Grant and those skills are heavily on display here. Next is a piece by Alec Longstreth in which a wizard tries to audition new animals to deliver messages after his owl dies. I chuckled a few times and his cartoony art was perfect for this. Also a clear sign that this book wasn’t going to be either straight fantasy or straight parody of fantasy. Ben Costa and J.R. Parks are up next with a piece about the dangers of pulling a prank on your boss when you work in some kind of evil lair of doom. The Mute by David Enos deals with a mute (duh) wandering around, getting into adventures and saving the girl. Um, spoiler alert, but not really, because that’s not the end of the story so there. This was maybe the highlight of the book, although I may still contradict myself before finishing this review. Jane Samborski is next with a detailed list of dragon rating rituals listed by the types of dragon, and might I just add that this woman has a variety of dragon poses down cold, which I can’t imagine is an easy thing. Dash Shaw has a shortie next that’s the highlight of the book (see what I did there?) about an orc in his final moments before his execution. Brilliant, that’s what it was, and after a story that brutal it was nice to get a laugh out of the ending. Finally there’s a short Icecreamlandiaish (look up their other comics on this site to see what that means) by Eve Englezos and Joshua Moutray that I won’t get into because describing a one panel story is the same thing as ruining it. I guess if you hate all things fantasy you might not like this book, but even then there are pieces that only tangentially relate to fantasy, and it still has a pile of your favorite artists (if you have good taste, that is), so I’d say it’s worth picking up. I also need to mention the production design, as that Sammy Harkham cover and the work that Francois put into designing this book were both top-notch. Look closely at that cover; it took me a minute to get exactly what was going on there. So yeah, I’d say you should buy this book, and if the back of it is to be believed there will even be a new one out soon. $6

Costa, Ben – Pang The Wandering Shaolin Monk Volume 1: Refuge of the Heart


Pang The Wandering Shaolin Monk Volume 1: Refuge of the Heart

Finally!  Now I can quit the reviewing business.  It was all just a cynical ploy for me to get a free copy of a really fantastic hardcover edition about the history of Shaolin monks, so my work here is done.  OK fine, I’ll put up a review for this one, but then I am out of here.  There are times when it is dangerous to judge a book by its cover, and there are times when it’s a pretty safe bet.  This is one of those latter times.  If you can look at that cover without being instantly intrigued, I mourn for the lack of kung-fu in your formative years, but you’re probably beyond help at this point. If, however, you see that cover and can’t wait to crack open the book, you’ll be very pleased with what you find inside. This is the story of Pang, one of the last surviving monks from a devastating attack on his monastery who has been charged with keeping some books of shaolin knowledge safe.  Pang has reason to believe that he is not the sole survivor, so he has set out to find the remaining shaolin monks.  It is a problematic time to be a shaolin monk though (this is set in 1675), so he has to travel under a disguise. Pang settles in with a friendly innkeeper and his attractive daughter, and Pang eventually trusts her enough to tell her the story of what happened to his old temple.  Honestly, I don’t want to talk about the story at all, as every last bit of it would be left as a surprise if it was up to me.  Then again, if that was the case maybe nobody would give it a chance.  OK, how about this: the dialogue had me laughing out loud several times, which is unusual, especially in a book that is about 3/4 serious stuff.  Or perhaps you don’t want to give it a chance because Pang looks “too cartoony”.  Not that I’ve heard that complaint, but I have heard it for other books. Pang is a bald, fattish monk with a round head, so that’s what he looks like.  Detail is not skimped on the rest of the huge cast of characters.  What about the history, maybe Ben just made it up as he went along?  Nope.  There are footnotes all over the place, frank admissions that the history of shaolin monks is largely a matter of guesswork due to events like the attack depicted in this book, a list of books he used for research and a thorough afterward on the story.  Actually, that’s my one complaint, although it’s one of those useless complaints that doesn’t have an answer: sometimes the footnotes were distracting, as they were on the bottom of the page and not all clumped together in the back of the book.  I’ve probably complained about the bother of having to flip back and forth in other books, but the constant factual information was a little distracting from the story.  Yep, that’s my big complaint, which should tell you plenty about the quality of this book.  And the fights!  They were tense with a feeling of real danger, which is often difficult to pull off in a “named” comic like this (it’s not like you think Batman is ever going to get killed in his comic, although I guess he did recently, but he’s probably back by now, and I’ve gone off on a tangent. Sorry), and the attack at the temple was sheer chaos, but the kind of chaos where you as a reader can somehow keep up with what’s happening.  This was altogether quite an achievement, as plenty of things could have gone wrong here but somehow, some way, nothing did.  I’m just happy that I got in on the ground floor, and if Ben decides to drop this comic business for greener pastures, he better be practicing on his Iron Crotch technique to guard against some serious kicks…