Dark Reign: Zodiac #2 (Marvel):
One of the reviewers over at CBR claimed that this was the best thing Joe Casey had written since Automatic Kafka
, and I'll tell ya' I'm inclined to agree. It's full of irreverent fun and genre commentary right in Marvel's own backyard. It's hard to believe that a book with Sue and Johnny Storm, Ronin/Clint, and Wasp/Hank also comes with villains having sex, scenes that drip with strong subversive dialogue and clever personality quirks. If the first issue was largely set-up, the second one swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park. I was smiling from ear to ear as this little sex and violence dance played out. I wonder if Zodiac has an ultimate purpose to his plans that back door Osborn's entire agency and threaten to "challenge their personal belief systems"
or if he "just wants to watch the forest burn,"
to quote Michael Caine. Osborn's messianic posing and references to The Doors lyrics culminate with... Galactus(!). Fox's pencils are visceral and lived in, able to depict a beaten Johnny Storm or believably dingy uniforms after an explosion, all with a level of awesomeness rarely seen in the Marvel U. If you're interested in seeing Joe Casey once again at the top of his game, in conspiratorial collaboration with the next Paul Pope, aka: Nathan Fox, then look no further than Dark Reign: Zodiac
. Grade A+.
The Killer #10 (Archaia): Jacamon and Matz deliver the final chapter in a modern crime noir classic. What I appreciate the most about this book is its sense of inborm fatalism, with resigned lines like "even when I try to do the right thing, I end up with bodies." It has a flexible sense of morality, but it's not without its own internal code of ethics. The lush colors and energetic art from Matz help to avoid glamorizing the whole affair, allowing it to "Stay in the shadows. Always go unnoticed. It's never spectacular. It's never romantic." Jacamon is also careful to add realistic details, for example lines that differentiate between typical bullets and "armor-piercing incendiary rounds." During the epilogue sequence, the creative team uses a technique that James Cameron made famous in Titanic. By juxtaposing images, such as Rose wandering through the ship, up the staircase to find Jack at the very end, they create a mental projection called "The Great Wish." I was excited to learn that the Volume 2 Hardcover is also due out in August of this year and there's a planned six issue sequel series set for 2010. The Killer ends as it's always been, an introspective tale more about what it means to truly live your life freely and not simply survive, rather than a simple crime book. It asks the tough questions, really all you want from a modern work of art, and all I've ever really wanted from a comic. Grade A+.
DMZ #44 (DC/Vertigo): The final installment of the No Future arc really lives up to its name, with a twisty unexpected ending that is all about the protagonist getting back to what he's really been missing. Wood seeds his dialogue with chilling lines about New York becoming "another Mogadishu," which is a bitter reminder that there's an alternative to assuming order will be restored in some sort of tidy and satisfactory way. There's threads of smart ideas running all over the board, like war being filled with an amalgamation of little personal conflicts and soldiers being socialized into organizations through emotional triggers while "never preached an ideology." Wood has always been sly at pointing out that terms like "terrorist" or "opressor" or "freedom fighter" or "patriot" always depend on point of view. And like all of his variegated work, from Supermarket to Local to Northlanders, one of the themes this arc of DMZ has examined is the notion of identity. Kelly's art looks as great as ever, capturing weary wrinkled faces and dreary rainy streets with equal gusto, lending gravitas to an already taut script. Grade A.
Echo #14 (Abstract Studio): As Fast Eddy Felson said in Scorsese's The Color of Money, "you've got to be a student of human moves," and Terry Moore is just that. It's the only explanation for the absolute realism in his dialogue and lifelike expressive art. Echo remains dense with story and a clever, clear, and controlled read. I don't know how else to compliment this book. The story is entertaining and engaging, sure, but the real treat is witnessing the seminar that Moore puts on month after month for how to make stellar independent comics with quiet confidence. Aspiring creators should be lining up to study this book. Grade A.
Uncanny X-Men #514 (Marvel): This is really neither here nor there, but I gotta' say that the Utopia book dress on the cover is extremely ugly, and the quality sort of bounces back and forth from there. I like the inclusion of Cloak and Dagger, but I hate how Dodson draws Scott's visor. Scott's dialogue is essentially in character, but somehow really expository. Fraction "corrects" one of the Stepford Cuckoos as "Irma," but then refers to her as "Mindee" a page or two later, but then comes back with cool characterization like "Whatever you say, Mr. Summers..." Dodson's art is mostly serviceable, but reminds me of an M&M in a way. The thick ink line around the figures is like a hard candy coated shell that makes everything feel impenetrable and inaccessible to the audience. It was nice to see Emma as a strong field leader, but I'm still wondering what she's really up to, if Cloak and Dagger will have a change of heart and switch sides, what Beast and the Science Club are doing, and what the hell Dani is doing in Vegas. Instead of being completely intriguing, I'm starting to lean toward thinking that Fraction is once again juggling too many balls and all of the plot threads are starting to get away from him. Although the Dante Alighieri quote (translated for your enjoyment) "All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter In" has me hooked a little. Grade B.
Wednesday Comics #6 (DC): Batman checks in with beautiful colors and shadow work, but feels a little light with the lovely decompression of the scuffle. Grade A-. Kamandi comes at us a little high on exposition from Gibbons, but Sook's art is freakin' amazing. Grade A. Superman suffers from a supreme lack of story, one word of dialogue, and oddball scene flitting to the point of being non-sequitur, earning a Grade C+. Deadman establishes no reason for me to want to slog through all those text boxes. Grade C. Green Lantern makes me forget why the Dill side story is supposed to be important, was he in the first issue? More Green Lantern in the Green Lantern strip, please. Grade B. Metamorpho is a disjointed read, attempting too much at once. Ambition becomes crammed-in clutter with no masthead for the logo, the kid fans back sporadically, a weird board game, and Latin that I can't quite crack - "Audio Et Pareo" (is that "I Hear And Obey?"). As Gaiman's countrymen would say, this was too smart by half. Grade B-. Teen Titans has absolutely no focus and now appears to be a Blue Beetle strip. Half of the panels are devoid of backgrounds, and while the Spanish issue of Blue Beetle was cute when they did it, the mix here makes for a muddled composition consistent with all this strip has had to offer to date. Grade D. Strange Adventures sees Paul Pope capturing the duality of Adam Strange's character, part Rannian, part Earther, all in a cerebral, slightly ethereal way. There's zeta beam delusions, Machu Picchu, and vintage shots all in Pope's slick style. Grade A+. Supergirl makes a gigantic leap forward due to featuring a cranky, smart-mouthed Aquaman, clam phones, and Krypto crab fighting all at once - I just loved it. The strip is finally not just cute, but really funny. Grade A-. Metal Men comes with a big development, but the art still seems to be two steps ahead of DiDio's Silver Age script. Grade B-. Wonder Woman: Hey, it's 5,000 vertically oriented panels instead of 5,000 horizontally oriented panels. They still have the ugliest, most warped font and this is still an ambitious, but unmitigated disaster. Grade D. Sgt. Rock feels like it's spinning it's wheels, the same basic thing happening for six issues now, though it does look like there's a big turn poised for next issue. Grade B. Flash Comics leads with really kinetic art and then follows with a twisty surprise with an accompanying Gorilla Grodd piece in place of the Iris West strip. This makes me wonder if there's a Wednesday Comics: Volume 2, will creators utilize this two strip per page format more? Here, it's a clever Grade B+. Demon & Catwoman makes me wonder what's happening. I have no idea what's going on. Do these two characters have any interaction, is it two alternating strips? Something about Etrigan and Morgaine... yeah... Grade C. Hawkman offers up an interesting premise with a stranded, depowered titular character and breathtaking art. Grade A. If we look at this holistically and build our visual stack again, it looks something like this;
Demon & Catwoman
The yield from this exercise is that 33% of the strips are in the top tier, 20% in the middle, and a whopping 47% at the bottom. As we hit the halfway mark, we're essentially seeing the rapid elimination of the middle class, a thinning top, and a growing bottom. Even with Supergirl making an anomalous jump and Batman sitting on the bubble, the trend holds. It's hard to judge an anthology in its entirety, but fair's fair. Averaging out the grading, we come in at a lackluster 72% for the entire affair, which is a C-. Yikes. Even if I generously add an entire letter grade for the format and support of Chiarello's experimental brainchild (which I feel is totally appropriate), we still only get a B- overall. The bottom rung is really weighing it down. Playing with the stats a bit, if we were to lose just the dead weight, say everything below Superman on that list, it jumps up to an 80% overall, which could then be adjusted up to a 90%, or Grade A- factoring in the experimentation. But, as is... Grade B-.