Scalped #14 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron opens this issue with a fascinating Lakota lore lesson that segues the audience into his cold as hell world, typified by effective and simple prose like “that ain’t my case.” Shelton, who would be a throw away character in the hands of a lesser writer, becomes a nice foil to Bad Horse, who begins to see shades of himself in someone else’s story. As usual, we’re given a spectrum of escalating evil here, with crooked local cops, deceitful FBI handlers, and Red Crow himself, who appears to be the modern day trickster promising a world to his people that will never quite pan out right. Aaron nails the inverted morality system here as the one thing Bad Horse should care about (his mother’s death), he doesn’t. And the thing he does care about (seeking justice for an out of control fellow FBI agent) is the one thing he’s not allowed to address. Along with R.M. Guera, Aaron presents a difficult, fucked up world that’s accurately and beautifully depicted. Grade A.
Wasteland #14 (Oni Press): With the help of guest artist Joe Infurnari, writer Antony Johnston gives us a nice look at Michael the “Ruin Runner’s” mysterious past. Infurnari’s sketchy lines and lack of panel borders establish an ethereal dream like quality that matches the mystery of the tale perfectly. In addition to some commentary on religion and belief systems after “The Big Wet,” Johnston drops a couple more cryptic clues, such as “Flad-Si-Dee” (Flat City?) for his audience of code-breakers to attempt cracking. Grade A-.
Abe Sapien: The Drowning #1 (Dark Horse): Jason Shawn Alexander (whose gritty detail I enjoyed on a brief stint of The Escapists) is right at home in the stable of Mignola collaborators, here depicting what should be a milk run of a mission for rookie BPRD Agent Abe Sapien. As soon as I saw the dirigible descending and a man brandishing two guns drop out, I knew I’d enjoy this book. That action sequence is set against a poemic verse that immediately defied my preconceived prejudice that this would somehow be a droll and boring story. Tidbits like the line about Jack the Ripper and the history of the Lipu Daggers add an air of authenticity that makes this story of the early(er) days of the BPRD extremely engaging. Grade A-.
Northlanders #3 (DC/Vertigo): Like DMZ before it, Brian Wood’s latest hit pairs truly disturbing action sequences with quiet introspective moments that reveal universal truths about the human condition. A great example here is the twinge of regret that’s evident in Sven’s voice as he explains how he’s been using Thora (sexually and otherwise) to gain information about his usurping uncle. Grade A-
The Circle #3 (Image): Brian Reed and Ian Hosfeld’s espionage thriller started pretty strong for me, but has witnessed a couple mis-steps along the way. This issue is no different. The art isn’t as crisp or dramatic as I recall in the first issue; here it’s merely competent, boasting none of the inspiring images that stuck with me from the debut issue. The dialogue also feels really stiff and wooden in spots, with some blatant exposition: “I don’t know what to do right now. I tried playing the game the way we always do, and it didn’t work this time.” Oh, thanks for explaining how you feel and what you did in a completely inorganic and unnatural way. The biggest gaffe that pushed me out was seeing a cell phone ring and the caller ID displaying “MI-6” as the caller. I get that Wallace isn’t a field agent and all, but that’s just ludicrous. Not to mention it’s not really necessary given the context of the story, the caller later identified himself as an MI-6 handler anyway. But, the main issue here is that all intelligence officers (even if they’re not field personnel) from the major global agencies (CIA, MI-5, MI-6, Mossad, etc.) have a training module that’s loosely referred to as “basic tradecraft,” which is generally comprised of firearms training, some martial arts, how to spot/lose tails, etc., and as targets, basically avoid compromising their own safety abroad. That said, there’s just no way in hell someone even loosely associated with MI-6 would label their cell phone that way, it would most likely have their handler’s name, or even a pseudonym for a handler, but certainly not the name of the damn “secret” intelligence agency they work for. I’m intrigued enough to buy one more issue, but my excitement has cooled off immensely. Grade B.