Scalped #10 (DC/Vertigo):
Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera deliver a perfec
t issue of what is already a great series. They serve up a well balanced dichotomy that starts with Poor Bear's noble prose, his desperate sounding words about transcending his origins, and desire to provide a better opportunity for his daughter than he was given. We become so empathetic toward the protagonist as we see him enamored with the temptations of youth. But, his path is so easily swayed by the manipulative, faux guilt-ridden influence of Red Crow. His ultimate choice becomes the heartbreaking realization of feeling truly fucked in an inescapable cycle of harsh reality. Despite the noblest of intentions, it's difficult to rise above "My Ambitionz Az A Ridah," the ridiculously perfectly titled end note of Part 5 of the Casino Boogie arc. Aaron's masterful and subtle script hits a new high here as well. Example: examine the page with Poor Bear and his cohorts drinking, it is sans dialogue, yet we instantly know that they've sat there hundreds of times, silently contemplating their lack of a future, the sheer number of empty cans strewn about speaks volumes, yet lacks words - the hallmark of a storyteller who has truly grasped the powerful pairing of images and text that only the comic book medium can provide. Guera's art also takes a leap forward here. Superficially, we have the fourth-wall breaking commentary arrows that bring to mind a sort of Tarantino-esque Natural Born Killers vibe. Additionally, the lighter coloring palette now seems to let his pencils breathe with life, reminiscent of Eduardo Risso's clean lines, instead of the earlier claustrophobic feel that brought to mind the sense of dread that someone like Igor Kordey's dark lines can bring about. Lastly, I was truly in awe of the simple name of Red Crow. This well chosen monicker really tells us all we need to know about the man. He is red
; angry, bitter, and vile. He is a crow
; a predatory scavenger, preying on hope, picking clean the remains of others for sustenance. This book is quickly rising in strength in a most antithetical fashion. Many titles start with a bang, then whimper to a close, losing steam, or focus, or ideas along the way. Scalped is the opposite; it has built a world slowly and deliberately, introducing characters in no rush, taking time to flesh them, and the world they inhabit, out in an interesting and plausible way that reveals human nature and can expose man's inner darkness. In terms of complexity of craft and strength of concept, this is shaping up to be one of the best Vertigo books of all time. Grade A+.
The Vinyl Underground #1 (DC/Vertigo): First off, bravo to DC for green lighting another ongoing series. Let's hope they keep churning out hits, ala DMZ and Scalped. There are bits of the Underground that I dig. The four likable rogues are just different enough and just intriguing enough that I'll come back for more. Weaving in some real world factoids about the dirty drug khat (last seen in Black Hawk Down as I recall) and London historical references also worked well. The art is 90% open and expressive with lines that remind me of a refined Becky Cloonan or a Bill Willingham approach, with only 10% coming off a little awkward, staged, and stiff. For my taste, there's a little too much reliance on voodoo mumbo-jumbo, but the strength of the character archetypes and witty dialogue will probably hold my attention for the first arc. Grade B+.
Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #2 (Dark Horse): I'm just thoroughly enjoying this book. While not the height of originality, the reliance on fun and imaginative adventure vs. a dense, mystical, continuity laden writing style (Hellboy, I'm talking to you...) has won me over. This is the perfect little noir thriller, with interesting settings and an intriguing lead and ensemble cast. Grade B+.
Parade (With Fireworks) #2 (Image/Shadowline): You'd think if I told you about a little familial, two issue series highlighting the conflict between Fascists and Socialists in pre-war Italy based on a real account, that it would be pretty boring, huh? Well, you'd be wrong. It's an engaging, beautifully rendered tale about delayed justice. Grade B+.
Omega: The Unknown #1 (Marvel): I'd heard absolutely nothing about this book, but all I needed to see was two words and I bought it on the spot: Farel Dalrymple. Anything by the writer/artist of The Pop Gun War is an immediate, no-questions-asked purchase. This is a complex story about an above average intellect kid (who just might be a robot?) who has confusing dreams (or are they having him?) and endures the end of his family (and maybe has already found a new one?) while attempting to cope with the world and a pseudo-savior (is it an idealized version of himself he's created as a coping mechanism?). Like I said, complex, if not a bit frustrating, but I'll be back for a couple issues to see how it sorts out since I have faith in the creative team. Jonathan Lethem (writer) is not a name I've heard before, but he's certainly writing in a style reminiscent of Dalrymple's own. Farel's pencils look amazing in color and I can't wait to see more, even if the story threads remain elusive. Besides, one should spend the most time with works of art that at first are not fully appealing or easily understood, often times we learn the most from these, if not ultimately growing to like them. Grade B+.
Atomic Robo #1 (Red 5 Comics): I haven't had an opportunity to read anything else from the Red 5 line (which as Luke's call sign, I can only assume is an X-Wing Rogue Squadron reference?), but the appealing Michael Avon Oeming cover and casual flip test prompted me to start. If you had Spielberg direct a Rocketeer/BPRD/Five Fists of Science blender, it might look a little something like this. Yes, not terribly original (Nazis as bad guys? Yes, again) and the pastiche of derivative parts is easily identifiable, but it's still pretty fun. On the artistic front, I see a mix of a really cartoony and humorous Mike Mignola style combined with the representational geometric flair of Jason Asala's Poe (style points to anyone who remembers that fun series!). Grade B.
I also picked up;
The Best American Comics 2007 (Houghton Mifflin): Yeah, I would have bought this anyway, but pieces by Sammy "Poor Sailor" Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Art Spiegelman, and Adrian "Optic Nerve" Tomine basically sealed the deal. And the introduction essays are usually brilliant! And it's a 350 page hardcover for only $22!
Bagel's Lucky Hat (Chronicle Books): Bizarre art style, but looked like great fun. Really well designed dust jacket sealed this deal.