9.11.2008

9.10.08 Reviews

Pax Romana #3 (Image): Lateness, and a couple typos aside (“becuase” and an extra “of” in one spot), I think there will be a point in the future where I look back on Jonathan Hickman’s body of work and decide that this issue is where I was finally “sold” on him as a creator. The Nightly News was groundbreaking in its design and artistic approach, but I felt that the story and scripting was difficult to engage with. I enjoy Transhuman, but it’s a little one-note with VH1 Behind the Music meeting big bio-business – with monkeys. Red Mass for Mars has unfortunately only managed one issue, so it’s a little soon to tell there. With Pax Romana, I think we finally have an equally impressive pairing of visuals and thought provoking story. It’s not easy to grasp per se, but it carefully rewards studious readers with a great blend of religion, history, military, sci-fi time travel, and compelling “what if” scenarios about calculated manipulation of thousands of years in the time stream. There’s a plethora of quotables to be found, from the concise declaration of intentions: “Prevent man’s ability to punish others simply because they might be believers, heretics, heathens, or even pagans. We deny no man his faith,” to the cold hard reality of: “We are being conditioned,” to a revelation on hypocrisy: “Religion hides behind a veil of righteousness. It attacks legitimate questions by simply calling them immoral.” As the papal paramilitary team attempts to engineer mass accelerated societal progression with a cycle of fascist revolution, communist industrial stabilization, and finally democratic consolidation with fluid social classes, we’re reminded that even a mission with the best laid plans is still subject to the unpredictable element of human emotion and shifting loyalties. This is stellar work, Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #13 (Dynamite Entertainment): There are a couple of awkward lines here (“not what he told me he did”), but this issue focuses largely on character development occurring while good deeds are done. Our protagonist grows a little more into his newfound mantle of Lone Ranger, his partnership with Tonto is advanced, and we learn more about Tonto’s general relationship with the (white man’s) world. I deeply appreciate the way that Matthews and Cariello don’t insult our intelligence; the audience is invited in to parse what’s not spoken. Through effective story beats, complex facial expressions, and the intelligent juxtaposition of panels, a dynamic is created where we can infer meaning, rather than being told what’s happening on the page and in the minds of the characters. With superficially simple and sparse prose, much like Hemmingway, we find an intensity in the words that matches the literal fire our characters are enveloped by. This isn’t just a retelling of a beloved pulp hero’s adventures, but a brilliant new way of framing and interpreting his character’s meaning. Grade A.

Ex Machina #38 (DC/Wildstorm): Despite three readings, I’m still not entirely clear what exactly happens during the “coffee” sequence at the press conference. I know that Mitchell is hit with hot coffee, but how that happens remains a mystery. There’s a girl holding a cup of coffee, then it appears that she’s holding a puff of whipped cream, while it’s not clear whether the motion of her hand is coming or going, or what the soon-to-be Deputy Mayor is doing. And why does the cop suddenly appear? Why wouldn’t he charge the lady with assault rather than, or in addition to, trying to serve a warrant on Hundred? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter I suppose, but I just found these bits terribly distracting and annoying. Otherwise, the flashback to The Great Machine’s coming out party were fun to see, there are plenty of corollary jabs at the current administration, Spitzer, Giuliani, and even the current presidential candidates. The prelude-to-sex scene between Amy and Agent Cheyenne was played well, and Ex Machina continues to be a great drama that’s half superhero, half political intrigue. Although, it does read much better collected than in these floppy snippets. Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Omega: The Unknown (Marvel): This hardcover collection of Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s reimaging of Steve Gerber’s 1970’s cult classic is intricate and layered. Highly recommended, and don’t be surprised if it returns as a Graphic Novel Of The Month, fair warning!

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