The Lone Ranger #10 (Dynamite Entertainment):
Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello continue their re-imaging of the titular character with a stoic sensibility that feels perfect. There are glimpses of emotion throughout the long bouts of hard nobility that are made all the sweeter due to their inherent rarity. Cariello seems to be more influenced by Cassaday the more the pair work together, check out the way John's mask hangs realistically on his face for proof. There is a stunning sunset, the colors of which will stop you dead in your tracks to take it all in, thanks to Marcelo Pinto's lush palette. As John struggles with the ultimate decision he must make this time out, one phrase kept repeating in my mind... "let justice be done, though the heavens fall." Grade A.
Conan #46 (Dark Horse): This issue wraps up the wonderful Born on the Battlefield arc that Kurt Busiek and Greg Ruth began long ago. Ruth's line work really captures the chaos and delirium of medieval warfare. On the scripting end, Busiek truly succeeds in explaining Conan's suppressed rage that he's carried inside since his youth. This arc reads with a robust energy that suitably feels like the bittersweet conclusion to a grand epic, full of classic prose like "he wanted to say something to her... he did not know what to say." Grade A.
Ex Machina #32 (DC/Wildstorm): Brian K. Vaughan keeps pushing out complex, but accessible, social issues through a combination of wit and brisk dialogue. Though this really felt like all middle, the collision course that the nefarious (and creepy) plot was on finally seems to be impacting and lines like "Please, that was the Puritans. Those people were crazy," continue to delight. Grade A.
The Umbrella Academy #3 (Dark Horse): Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba have an entirely first class product here that pops and zings from start to finish. There's the James Jean covers, the wonderful design and layout of the book, Ba's beautiful full color art, and Way's quirky and engaging dialogue. I enjoyed the fulcrum that Vanya's character represents, as she's caught between opposing sides. Simply put, this book leaves you wanting to know more, which seems to be a rarity in today's market. Grade A-.
Grendel: Behold The Devil #1 (Dark Horse): This re-introduction of everyone's favorite anti-hero to hold the Grendel mantle, Hunter Rose, plays nicely in black and white with just a few splashes of color. The character is succintly and effectively put back in the spotlight through a series of journal entries and small interesting bits, like the police work centering around a certain cologne that's out of place. The letters are even interesting (as is the ad for The Escapists Hardover - finally!) and the touch of angular, representational Tim Sale pencils that I can see getting into Wagner's art doesn't hurt either. An entertaining package overall. Grade B+.
The Brave & The Bold #8 (DC): The Challengers of the Unknown being used as a framing device with the Book of Destiny feels really shoehorned in and is taking waaaaay too long to resolve itself. True, I've not kept up with all of the Infinite Countdown to Multiple Crises tomfoolery, but when did Wally and Linda have these kids? The horror notes are either ill-timed (suppose this would have played better around Halloween...) or ill-conceived (lightning strikes after an ominous line by Caulder feel so passe...), and the campy comedic aura is actually a little off-putting. As has been the case recently, the real draw for me is Perez's art. His Metamorpho shows a nice nod to the recent redesign by Tan Eng Huat, and his facial expressions are basically unmatched in their variety and intensity. I love the way he uses cross-hatching to achieve the effect of shading with minimal inking required. Overall, I feel that this title is a little off track at the moment. I understand the concept of rotational arcs featuring different characters since you can't really feature one person, but there is a certain focus lacking here. The macro story with Megistus (who? what?), the Haruspex (wasn't that resolved?), and the Book of Destiny (still going...) is really unclear by itself, let alone how it's spanning across all the players who've appeared in the book to date. On a micro level, the in and out nature of different players every issue feels very rushed. The early issues seemed to have it down, with Batman and Green Lantern appearing for a couple issues (or at least overlapping as the next players were introduced), but that last couple seem very siloed in their approach. Again, largely for the clarity of the art (and by intention, *not* the story), Grade B+.
Checkmate #20 (DC): As usual, this issue is full of all sorts of little goodies. We've got Jessica Midnight's reveal, some embedded racial commentary, Waller's ferocious (if reckless) manipulation of the so called "Rule of 2," and the Tommy Jagger/Count Vertigo fight coming across really visceral. There's a bit of an unfair feeling in scripting, as Mister Terrific provides some exposition about OMACs and nanites that the audience was never privy to. No clues were dropped on this along the way, we're simply *told* that's what's happening. In addition to that cheat, it also feels rather abrupt. As usual, Rucka's otherwise intricate and engaging script is hampered by mediocre art. It's loose and inconsistent, with tall foreheads and blocky chins that are just awkward and, well... the term that comes too mind is just that it's all wonged out. Grade B.
Kade: Shiva's Sun #0 (Arcana Studio): Rounding out the bottom of the pack is this 90's Image throwback that employs a huge reliance on narrative captions to navigate stale pin up art. There are some facial features of Liefeld-ian proportions, implausible poses, and skewed anatomy. From a storytelling perspective, we get a little Eastern philosophical mumbo-jumbo and the tired prophecy of "the chosen one" amid your basic sword and sorcery debacle. Thoroughly underwhelming, even for a quarter promo issue. Grade F.
I also picked up;
Queen & Country: Volume 8: Operation Red Panda (Oni Press): Ok, you all know I love Q&C and this is sorta' bittersweet since this is the last arc before the title officially went on hiatus. So, needless to say I'm already a little bummed. To add insult to injury, I'm really confused by the format/release dates and not sure if I need to castigate blame onto Oni (doubtful), the distribution chain (possible), or my retailer (most likely). The (red) hardcover edition of this book was solicited for last week, but my LCS didn't get it. For some bizarre reason, they've been getting some of their Oni books a week late. That's weird factor #1. Weird factor #2, today they get it in, but only the softcover, which was not solicited this week or last week and is not what I want. I buy it anyway since it's the last copy and I have no idea if I'll ever see the elusive harcovers which are limited to the initial print run. Weird factor #3 is that Oni has been putting out the hardcovers and softcovers on the same day so that people can choose their format and price (which is a nice touch), so regardless of shipping last week or this week, shouldn't they both arrive on the same day(?). Weird factor #4 comes when I inquire and am told that my LCS ordered both, but they don't know when they'll get them in, maybe next week, so that's not really any help. Weird factor #5 is that I'm now realizing I'm going to probably end up buying this story three times. I bought the single issues, bought the softcover, and will hopefully pick up the hardcover, whether it's from my unhelpful LCS or direct order from Oni (in which case I'll pay the fucking shipping too). I mean, I like the book and all, but fuck, it really shouldn't be this difficult to buy a book that's not even going to come out anymore anyway. Whatever.
Went to another shop and encountered an odd (in a good way) sale that had batches of quarter comics and dollar stuff. For a quarter, I picked up a few random issues of a Steven Grant mini-series from Avatar and two complete sets of the four issue mini-series My Faith in Frankie by Mike Carey and Sonny Liew, which is FANTASTIC! I had these originally, gave them away thinking I'd pick up the trade, and then was disappointed that the digest size trade was done in black and white. You have to experience this in color. Glad to score this mini again and even pick up a spare copy to give away, that's 8 issues, all for only $2. Then, for a buck each I scored with Altercations by David Yurkovich, Farewell Georgia by Ben "Midnight Sun" Towle, and a whole bunch of Epic Illustrated Magazines. I remember buying the very first issue of Epic Illustrated off the newstand in the early 80's. It ultimately turned me onto Jim Starlin's Dreadstar and was really a great idea that Marvel had to showcase more adult horror, sci-fi, and fantasy work at the time, all in a slick magazine format. It was such a nostalgic feeling to pick these up and thumb through them again, seeing names like Rick Veitch, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Marie Severin, John Bolton, and Dave Sim. The cover price was $2.50, which by today's standard seems like a steal, then I remembered that comics were about .75 cents at the time, and I was making like $4.25 an hour working at the local comic shop. Anyway, looking forward to perusing these for the second time in 20 years or so after Thanksgiving Dinner.