Friday, 15 April 2011

Doctor Strange, No. 1

Written by - Steve Englehart
Pencils by - Frank Brunner
Ink by - Dick Giordano
Cover by - Frank Brunner

Published in June 1974 is issue number 1, Volume 2, of Doctor Strange; featuring Stephen Strange 'Master Of The Mystic Arts'. There are 81 issues in total in volume 2 and throughout the run I would say that the art maintains a very high standard. I find the look of these Doctor Strange issues very appealing due to their psychedelic nature; the page layouts and general movement with the page are always visual stunning and very dynamic; a testament to the quality of Frank Brunner's impeccable skills as a penciller.

The title of this story is 'Through An Orb Darkly' and features the very first appearances of both Agamotto (and Agamotto's Dimension) and Silver Dagger. Silver Dagger infiltrates Doctor Strange's Sanctum, stabs him in the back with a mystical dagger and makes off with the Eye of Agamotto and Clea. Doctor Strange survives the attack, attempts to use the Orb of Agamotto but is transported to the Land of Agamotto which is very similar in appearance to Alice in Wonderland. Very Strange indeed...

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ghost In The Shell (Manga)

 “It is the near future. The world has become highly information-intensive, with a vast corporate network covering the planet, electrons and light pulsing through it. But the nation-state and ethnic groups still survive.

And on the edge of Asia, in a strange corporate conglomerate-state called ‘Japan’…”

Ghost In The Shell is a story created by Japanese Manga artist Masamune Shirow (see for more info) first published in 1989 in 'Young Magazine', later reproduced in English by Black Horse Comics in 1995. The original Japanese title is 攻殻機動隊 'Kōkaku Kidōtai', which translates as 'Mobile Armoured Riot Police'.

 (Cover Art, Issues 1 - 8)

The world of Ghost In The Shell is a highly complex and thought provoking futuristic look at what may lie in store for the future of humanity. At times it often raises more questions than it is able to answer, but this only acts to deepen our appreciation for the world. The story does follow an ark that flows through the entirety of the book, but often seems splintered and fragmented as we are led further into Masamune Shirow's lucid and seemingly spontaneous imagination. Heavyweight thematic concepts are bounced around in a somewhat carefree way at times, touching on socio-political ideals and ideas of existentialism; the perception of the self, what it is to be human and dealing with the fact that human conciousness is no longer unique.

(Major Motoko Kusanagi, Batou, Chief Aramaki, Togusa, Ishikawa and Saito)

The overarching storyline follows government division, Public Security Section 9 (公安9 Kōan Kyūka), a fictional intelligence agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Section 9 is an elite counter-terrorism unit that specializes in cyber-warfare with the majority of its members having military special ops backgrounds. The central protagonist is Major Motoko Kusanagi who is on the hunt for a cyber-criminal known as 'The Puppeteer'; whose real identity is unknown. The Puppeteer has committed a large number of crimes by what is known as Ghost Hacking (see below), the mystery is slowly unravelled and it is revealed that The Puppeteer is not actually a human but in fact a unique autonomous artificial intelligence project, known as Top Secret Project 2501. This project, we learn, was created by another government agency, like Section 9, called The Treaty Bureau Of The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs; also known as Section 6. The Puppeteer manages to escape from Section 6 and is looking to evolve by merging with Kusanagi's 'Cyber-Brain' (see below). The Major allows it and thus they become one; sharing consciousness.

The World of Ghost In The Shell

The Manga is set in the year 2029, many changes have taken place on Earth; two World Wars have brought in changes to national boundaries. Not only have Third World countries disintergrated and collapsed, even First World countries like the United States have split. Civil wars and non-state revolutionary movements are a regular occurrence and numbers of refugees are now a huge problem. The situation in Japan however seems relatively stable as it seems to be suffering less from the aftereffects of the wars and it is also still a productive nation with a high standard of living; I particularly like the lines uttered by the Major in chapter 10 where she says;

“We’re such a globally conscious nation aren’t we? If those peace activists would just deal with reality a little more effectively we wouldn’t be placed in these situations.”
Aramaki then replies, “They’re just like us. They hate violence…”
To which the major replies “They’re so hypocritical. Emphasising a lifestyle based on consumption is the ultimate violence against poor countries.”


It’s hard not to be impressed by Masamune Shirow’s intricate and obsessive levels of detail that he puts into the design of the technology. One of the really nice touches are all the little notes written into the gutters between panels that make the storytelling all the more intimate; the English graphic novel also contains 10 pages of ‘Authors Notes’!

(example of some 'gutter talk')

Cyberbrains (電脳 dennō) are a physical casing that house the human brain and part of the spinal cord. Essentially this means that the human mind can be transported and placed into any specially made human body (chapter 5 shows how this is done). Cyberbrain implants in combination with 'Micromachines' allow the brain to connect to networks, data terminals and even other individuals that possess a Cyberbrain. The term 'Ghost' is used to represent what could be considered similar to the soul; the Major often senses 'whisper's' in her ghost, this could be compared to intuition or that of a 'gut feeling' I suppose.

(The creation of a Cyborg)

One of the down-sides to a Cyberbrain is that it is possible to be 'ghost hacked', this is usually carried out by what is known as a 'super-class-A hacker', this can involve the mind being completely taken over by another. For security purposes barriers are used, set at different levels of encryption; this is the equivalent of a internet firewall.

For those who mainly consist of prosthetic parts, in addition to Cybernetic-brains, it is possible to have limbs replaced if they become damaged or even upgraded for improvement. The character Batou has had cybernetic eyes installed, whereas Togusa is the only member of Section 9 who is 100% human.


The final important pieces of technology worth mentioning are the Fuchikoma (多脚戦車(たきゃくせんしゃ) Takyakusensha) translated as ‘multi-legged tanks’; Masamune Shirow is know for his collection of exotic spiders and the look of the Fuchikoma suggest that maybe they were the inspiration for the design. They walk upon four legs and also have two ‘front-mounted manipulators’. The pilot sits in the rear segmented body but the tanks can also operate independently by way of their own AI. Each unit operates independently, but at the end of a day all of their collective experiences are synchronised. Only Batou has a preference for which Fuchikoma he uses.

(Top right panel - Note the Sockets on the back of the neck; pre-dating 'The Matrix', 1999, by 10 years)

The majority of the story is told in black and white, but the impact and quality is no less. Masamune's skill as an artist is an amazing talent and one of my absolute favourites in all comics; not just Manga.

Next up: Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Masamune Shirow

Born Masanori Ota on November 23, 1961 the highly influential and world famous Manga artist later adopted the more familiar name, Masamune Shirow (named after Japan’s greatest ever swordsmith, Gorō Nyūdō Masamune). Shirow was born in the Hyōgo Prefecture capital city of Kobe, here he studied oil painting at the Osaka University of Arts; it was whilst he studied here that he developed an interest in Manga. 

(Atlas fanzine logo and an early sketch by Masamune Shirow)

His first exploits such as, Areopagus Arther, Yellow Hawk, Colosseum Pick and Persuit featured in fanzines such as ATLAS, Funya and Kintalion dating back to 1980 through to 1982.
Following on from these came Shirow’s first major work, Black Magic, which also appeared in the fanzine Atlas. 

(early Black Magic cover)

His work managed to catch the eye of Seishinsha President, Harumichi Aoki, who offered to publish him.
Following his graduation, Shirow went on to teach high school art and during this period he created Appleseed, which was first published in 1985 and a further three volumes were released over the coming years. 

(early Appleseed drawing)

From here on this was the start of an illustrious career which saw the creation of works such as; Dominion, Orion and Ghost in the Shell, along with his input on numerous film and TV productions, the most notable being his collaborations with Production IG.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be taking a closer look into the works of Masamune Shirow, starting with, in my opinion, his most important output, Ghost in the Shell.

Major Works

Early Works

(Apologies for the low quality images, I don't own these comics, they are scans I've found from searching online and are the best examples I could find.)

Areopagus Arther

Yellow Hawk

Arice In Jargon


Bike Nut



Pick Coliseum

Shirow Kunwa Konkai Oyasumidayo!