Currently Reading: Aliens: Defiance, The Autumnlands, The Black Monday Murders, Black Road, Black Science, Briggs Land, Britannia, Deadly Class, Descender, East of West, The Fuse, God Country, The Goddamned, Heathen, Injection, Lazarus, Low, Manifest Destiny, Moon Knight, No Mercy, The Old Guard, Paper Girls, Rebels, Saga, Seven to Eternity, Shipwreck, Southern Bastards, Stumptown, They're Not Like Us
Kick-Ass #1 (Marvel/ICON): Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. cut right to the chase and hit us with the most enjoyable first issue of 2008! Their hero is set in a narrative that has a down to Earth, everyman quality to it, which is really rich. We’re immediately introduced to a realistic world where Falcon-inspired wings malfunction, Armenians abound, and electrodes strapped to your testicles is about as glamorous as the superhero game gets. There’s a simplicity to the storytelling here that I just have to applaud, check out the way the secret origin is called out, announces itself plain as day. We’re brought into a familiar, self-aware world, with self-referential nods to the greater Marvel U. Along the way, Millar poses some interesting questions about the people that society chooses to idealize and obsess over. This kid’s mind is insightful, he views himself as different, and he’s contemplative on that different path, even as he’s getting the shit kicked out of him. This is the title to watch. Grade A+.
Ex Machina #34 (DC/Wildstorm): I like the shift over to focusing on Angiotti, who is surprisingly interesting and by no means one dimensional. I deeply appreciated the realism of the shootout, it happens quickly with no time for smart-ass quips, and is essentially over before anyone even realizes what’s happening. Jack Pherson remains a solid counterpoint of a villain that highlights the dichotomy between nature (him) and technology (Hundred). Vaughan recently admitted that like Y: The Last Man before it, Ex Machina will also have a definitive end planned that’s looming on the horizon. I’m looking forward to all the unresolved plot threads, (like Pherson) and the info provided by the recent Papal arc, all coming together. Reminiscent of the very first issue, Vaughan leaves us with an unexpected last page reveal that’s beautifully depicted, unexpected, smile-inducing, and sweet homage. The Number of the Beast preview offers yet another story that plays around with the pantheon of familiar archetypes and offers little beside Chris Sprouse’s pencils. As an aside, I vote for him to take over as artist on The Brave & The Bold when Perez departs. Grade A-.
DMZ #28 (DC/Vertigo): There are a couple of nuanced notes in this issue that I appreciated, like the portrayal of futility in the attempts at waging war in the modern technological age, or the interesting imagery that compares war to a senseless hunt, or the polar extremes that the FSA and USA are perceived by Soames to be. In the end, the denoument feels a bit abrupt with little overt explanation as to his motivations. Overall, these stand alone issues were mostly good, and occasionally great, but I’m tired of this arc and glad it’s concluded. Not to damn with feigned praise, that is to say that it will read much better collected, because it will read quicker. Sitting through so many of these done-in-one issues that trickle out monthly with no real thematic consistency, other than a formatting one, is hard. PS – The Young Liars preview looks less than intriguing; is Lapham losing it? Grade A-.
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.
The Last Musketeer (Fantagraphics): That damn Norwegian strikes again. Jason is building up an immaculate library of works, his latest is another in the series of ostensibly simple anthropomorphic adventures. But... look closer and you find his typical intensely emotive lines, sweeping drama, and commentary on the human condition. More than anything, I really enjoy the way he experiments with different genres and time periods in each successive work. You have something like The Left Bank Gang, which chronicles Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Pound in Paris and all of the embedded social commentary of that era's literature, he then deftly moves onto something like Why Are You Doing This? and plays with Hitchcockian mystery, suspense, and voyeurism. Finally, we arrive at this book which is an interesting hybrid of Ming The Merciless from the pulpy Flash Gordon era and add a dash of the trinity of French Cavaliers. It's getting boring reviewing Jason's work, in the best way possible. As usual, this is excellent; not to be missed. Our highest, Grade A+.