Project D.O.A. Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A+

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  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 192
  • ISBN: 1-4278-0084-7
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Left to Right
  • Series: Project D.O.A.

Project D.O.A. Vol. #01

By Ben Leary     December 15, 2007
Release Date: November 30, 2007

Project D.O.A. Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Artist: Wagner Fukuhara / Story: Jeffrey Nodelman
Translated by:
Adapted by:

What They Say
An original English comic in the classic pulp tradition, that packs more thrills and laughs into a chapter than most books can work into an entire volume.

The Review
The cover has the rugged, weathered look of an old paperback. A moody picture of Dylan pouring the glowing serum into a flask dominates, while a couple of the supporting characters stand in behind him. At the top the title is printed on a couple of file folders labeled "Dylan Oliver Adventures". A skull and an ancient temple make up the background. It's a good non-flashy piece of work that gets the initial feel of the series very well. The back is a simple sepia-style drawing of one of the female characters with the marketing copy in white letting next to her. At the bottom we get a new and very welcome feature from TokyoPop: a breakdown of the content that earns the title it's age rating. It's something I really like to have, and I hope TokyoPop continues to use it.

The extras are restricted to two features. The one I like is the author's introduction, which is not only fun to read but is done as an official letter - one that has several sections blacked out and the word "CENSORED" stamped at the bottom. It's a great little touch, and one that gets you in the right mood for the story itself. The other is a preview for the third volume of another TokyoPop series called Earthlight. Based on what I saw here, I won't be picking that one up.

The character art is not something that'll appeal to most people right away, particularly if they're looking for "manga style" character designs. This is in the rougher, harder-edged American style, and, while it's not pretty, it does fit in with the pulp feel of the story fairly well. The backgrounds are excellent, though. They remind me of the Looney Tunes style, in a way: they use a lot of crazy lines and angles that give a very distict mood and look. The shadowing is also excellent in the darker scenes. But the layout is the real strong point. The pacing is just perfect, moving not only quickly but with a surprising smoothness. The style won't satisfy fans that insist either on naturalism or a rounded manga elegance, but it's a style that the matter of the story calls for.

With no translation required, even the sound effects being in English, there's not much to say here. The text is in a straightforward style and the sound effects are creatively drawn and well placed. One tiny typo is the only thing I could complain about.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A reviewer's life is not a happy one. It's no secret that mediocrity is in great supply; but what's less obvious is that it's very difficult to write about. When you review books, you find yourself forced to write and write when you don't really have anything to say. Often you attach yourself to characters or events, not because they are significant to the story or the overall impact of the work, but simply because you thought of something you could say about them that would help you get through one more review. You grab at something, anything, that just might help you distinguish this review from the ones you've done before. If you do this long enough, you can fall into the habit of reading books to find things to write about, instead of reading the book with your full attention and then describing your impressions afterwards. You fall into stock phrases, and begin using cliches to denigrate cliches. And worst of all, you work in the knowledge that the worst piece of trash you ever pan has more real value than the best review you'll ever write.

Yet there are compensations. And the greatest of these is having a book come out of nowhere and knock your socks right off.

I went into Project D.O.A. not knowing anything about it. I did some of my usual checking, but as far as I could tell it was just another one of TokyoPop's original English manga titles, with nothing in particular to make it stand out in the pile. So I picked it up, opened it and started reading with no expectations one way or the other, beyond maybe wondering if I'd like it as much as Hollow Fields. If ever the phrase "Little did he know..." has applied to anyone, it applied to me that evening. When I put it down I was at the very end, wondering if I should read it again right away or look for my socks first.

I'm someone who's always preferred popular fiction to what some people call "literature." I've never been able to figure out why some books are literature, and other much better books are not. I can't understand why people waste their time with Moby Dick when Tarzan of the Apes is about ten times better written and has monkeys. The author, known to men and angels as Jeffrey Nodelman, is a writer after my own heart. His inspirations, acknowledged in his introduction and even in the story itself, are comic books, detective stories, thrillers, and movies in the old chapter serial tradition. His influences deserve a pat on the back for bearing fruit like this. He has fashioned a story that is descended from the long and exalted lineage of the pulp thriller, and comes in the spirit and power of the dime novel.

This is the kind of book where you can almost see the author giggling with glee as he thinks it all up - the kind of book that throws in everything (kitchen sink included) for the sake of a good time. Car chases, gunplay, explosions, hair-breadth escapes; dark, expressionistic laboratories, mysteriously powerful potions, zombie animals; a hidden island, a lost Amazon tribe, a pirate ship, a forbidden temple. It's all here.

And that's not even the crazy stuff.

Let me be a little more specific. Our hero, Dylan Oliver, works in a lab that develops nuclear weapons. This of course is a hazardous business, and he loses a good friend in a lab accident. He feels responsible for her death, and decides to make up for it by researching life rather than death, developing a serum that brings back the dead. (This boy is nothing if not ambitious. He's our hero, after all.) Unfortunately, he can only come up with a concoction that sort of works, only not really, and only lasts a few minutes. Even so, we know some bad guys are going to be around who want this stuff.

At this point we realise that, as entertaining as the story has been so far, what we've seen is just the build-up. Before you know it you're in a headlong gallop downhill hanging on by the skin of your teeth, as Dylan and his sidekicks are launched into a wild globetrot after the giant diamond they need to filter the serum properly, dodging gunmen, deathtraps, and every kind of danger along the way. This is where the book starts to soar. And it never stops until it runs out of pages. The plot is a crazy tower of audacity piled on audacity, with some absurdity thrown in for good measure...but it's all done with such skill, unwavering conviction and sheer gusto that it never topples. And some of the dialogue is just priceless. "That's not a bridge," says the sidekick, "that's a colony of termites holding hands."

There's one other thing that's bad about being a reviewer. Whenever you come across a book that makes you want to dance on a table and throw torn-up bits of napkin as confetti, you can't express yourself through that medium: you still have to write a review. And when you do, the people who read the review will just think you're exaggerating. (Both of them.) So I hope neither of you will think I'm exaggerating when I say that I am absolutely in awe of this book. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun reading a comic of any sort - and something tells me I won't have this much fun again until the next volume hits the shelves.

If you're in the mood for purely recreational reading then I can't recommend Project D.O.A. highly enough. It does what the old serials and pulp novels were always trying to do. It opens up an entire world of mystery and danger and endless adventure: a place where the human heart can run wild. For maximum effect, read it late at night, under the covers, with a flashlight in one hand. This may very well be the overlooked gem of 2007.


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