Scalped #27 (DC/Vertigo): “The Ballad of Baylis Earl Nitz” is fucking grand! Grade A+. Oh, wait… you want me to review it first? Ok… Hot off of Dynamite Entertainment’s Zorro and some other misc. work, Francesco Francavilla continues the tradition of rotating artists that rock. His washed out, representational style feels right at home in the Scalped world, full of tired desperate feeling characters. Agent Nitz’s matter-of-fact delivery of classic Jason Aaron lines like “maybe we should tell him to stop scalping the other prisoners, that might help” just sing with sinful glee. Aaron’s ear for dialogue is just amazing, he is one of the best writers of his generation. He has an ability to show us that there are no true good or evil men in the world. There are just men. The world is inhabited by men with different intentions and psychological drivers that catalyze their behavior and actions. They are all products of their experiences, events which have shaped these guys into who they are. Aaron’s most powerful trick as a writer is showing us that everyone, all men, can be animals, lovers, killers, noble, loyal, misguided, or sympathetic figures – even ruthless and corrupt FBI Special Agent Baylis Earl Nitz. At first glance, one might think that Dash Bad Horse is the main character of Scalped. But, notice how he’s not even in this issue. In fact, I think he’s only casually mentioned even once. No, Scalped doesn’t rely on any one true main character, not one that’s a person anyway. What Jason Aaron and his collaborators have brilliantly done is invent a limitless storytelling platform by making a place, where many lives intersect, the main character. From that platform, they can spin endless tales out from it like spokes from the hub of a dusty old wagon wheel, all of which defy our pre-conceived expectations. Scalped is a classic unfolding right before our eyes. I wish I had a rating system that would go higher than Grade A+.
The New Mutants Saga (Marvel): In time for the new series coming out soon, here’s a FREE full length comic which encapsulates the umm… well, The New Mutants Saga in one sitting. This is similar to the bonus back-up that was in the recent Punisher #1 from Rick Remender, though a stand alone and expanded version. This is surprisingly coherent and the cover art by Diogenes Neves is really great, it even makes poor Doug Ramsey and Warlock look interesting. Heck, I didn’t even mind the Liefeld panels of X-Force. His old stuff actually wasn’t so bad, he’s gotten worse with time. But I digress, Grade A.
The Wolverine Saga (Marvel): In time for the movie and (for me) Jason Aaron’s new Wolverine: Weapon X book, another FREE full length comic which umm, tries very hard to encapsulate Wolverine’s history. But sheesh, that’s quite a task. Unlike it’s New Mutants counterpart, this is clumsily worded and of course a very convoluted history that swirls around and tangles up, defying logic and contradicting itself with times, places, and people. On a positive note, some of the panels chosen are really beautiful. Grade A-.
Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #1 (DC/Vertigo): Sure, I read Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart’s first Seaguy adventure and liked it. I read it once. Now, I’m not one of those rabid Grant Morrison fans and I certainly don’t think that Seaguy was his best work. I remember it being cheery fun, having kinetic art, and that it could be read (most interestingly) as Morrison’s commentary on working for “the man” on corporate controlled properties like say, New X-Men. It had rhymey songs and a great supporting cast. With that in mind, here comes the next in a trilogy of three part adventures. Immediately, Seaguy and new sidekick Lucky (alas, where is poor Chubby?) are pulled right back into an adventure. Read as: Morrison being asked to write another series. We get classic Morrison lines like “Have you come for the rent or my fabled virginity, Sea Dog?” Old Sea Dog says that “things are a-changin,’” that they’re all “planned, developed, and approved” now. Read as: Morrison’s participation in company orchestrated events, such as 52 and all things Crisis. This will provide for “continuous growth” (Read as: or continuous revenue stream) and “house thousands” (Read as: house thousands of readers or characters?). I liked the introduction of Prof. Silvan Niltoid (if ever there was a more apropos Silver Age name...) and the embedded commentary on fossil fuel consumption with things like the “Autoraptor.” Niltoid’s playful questioning of everything (“Are you sure? Are you?”) is exceptional fun, as are his comments on what makes shared universe, multi-creator properties tick: “bubblegum” (fun?), “flame” (dark, grim and gritty?), “science and history” (continuity?). It’s extremely difficult not to take it all in as commentary with lines like Chubby’s “I’m dead. Really dead. But dat’s no big deal dese days,” and “Nod Cholmondley’s Home for the Bewildered,” (writer Mary Cholmondeley?), references to “heroes dying” in “unapproved adventures” (pre-crisis?) vs. the “Anti-Dad” as the iPol (continuity police?) show up to force feed Seaguy some “forget-me” pie. Now maybe I’m assuming all of this is self-reflexive when it’s not, but I can’t help but think Morrison is, through a thin veil, writing about his experiences writing in the industry. It’s clear to me he’s writing about writing, but what’s he saying? Hopefully two more issues will tell. As usual, Stewart’s art is magnificent. It almost looks like the refined line work of Cliff Chiang, but with an inkier, thicker line weight. Special shout outs to Dave Stewart on colors and Todd Klein on letters, who all put together quite a package. Also included is a nice preview of The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. 40 pages for $1, yes I’ll be checking that out in May. Grade A-.
Invincible Iron Man #12 (Marvel): Whaddya’ know? Fraction and Larroca have hit the “one year” mark with 12 consecutive issues without any sort of fill-in creators! It might sound like I’m damning with feigned praise, but that genuinely is pretty cool since it appears to be rare these days. I’ll keep buying it as long as they keep churning it out. Larroca’s art is improving all the time here, with the exception of Namor’s face – which looks like a doughy Leonard Nimoy, his figures are more natural looking, there are plenty of details, and the panel transitions are quite smooth. Fraction makes us pull out our virtual dictionaries with references to “temblor hits” and “charnel houses,” which I very much appreciate. One of the things I look for in a writer is never dumbing down your parlance, don’t insult your readers like that, assume that they’ll either know or go figure it out. Bravo! There’s a tiny mis-step in the “Previously…” section, which references “Hill” a couple of times. Sure, I know that’s Maria Hill, but she’s never introduced and new readers wouldn’t (in theory) know who that was from this blurb alone. I did enjoy Hill’s desperation with her line “the world’s been carved up by very bad people,” right before she… well, you’ll just have to read it yourself. Pepper’s action scene with the commercial jet was a little unnecessary, but I did enjoy her suit essentially being a peace-keeping suit, with no weapons or inherent offensive capability. In a way, this title now reminds me of things like The Fugitive or the old Incredible Hulk TV show, it’s easy to root for intelligent underdogs on the run, as they outthink their opponents. Beside a few minor annoyances, this is still great fun and well done. Grade B+.
Cable #13 (Marvel): Duane Swierczynski and Ariel Olivetti’s Part 2 of the Messiah War essentially picks right up from the recent special that came out, however nothing really happens this issue. It’s mostly Wolverine and Cable arguing lots, Stryfe and Bishop expositing, and some generic baddies showing up to brawl at the end. If you want a gold panning analogy, you can get your pan out and sift through the murky river water here and find a few flakes sprinkled about in spite of it all. Deadpool is indeed “completely off his rocker,” as he offers up “Tolstoy, Cliff’s Notes,” or the “Previews Catalogue version” of what’s transpired. This interplay between him and a serious Wolverine (“continuity stickler!”) is pretty funny and I did chuckle out loud more than once. The humorous characters feel a bit like they could be in the Whedon-verse, even in the face of adversity, or you know – the Apocalypse (pun intended) – they always have time for a quip. The dynamic here between Cable and Hope doesn’t feel as smooth as it did in the X-Force book; it all feels like a crib sheet from Terminator. Cable sort of does his best Sarah Connor (gruff protector), while Hope does her rendition of young John Connor (dopey savior of the future). Bishop’s exposition reveals nothing revelatory except his quite convoluted plan: He kills Apocalypse (how?) for Stryfe so that Stryfe will kill Cable, then Bishop will (unexpectedly) kill Stryfe, but before Stryfe kills him first. Umm, ok. Why not just kill Cable? Screw Stryfe and screw Apocalypse, if they’re so bad, why even mess with either of them? On the artistic side, Olivetti’s CG’d cityscape is ugly and fuzzy; his art is a little flat, with skimpy backgrounds and awkward poses. The proportions of say, head size to body size, are all off, especially looking at Stryfe, whose suit is downright ugly, but not as silly as the silly knife that silly Warpath is holding at the silly end. I’m still interested in the overarching story, and I enjoyed the humorous bits, but the rest is pretty messy. Certainly not as strong as the special or the X-Force issues that preceded it. This is a very lackluster and weak showing, devoid of the same energy the other bits of the crossover have had, that limps in with a Grade B-.