10.28.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #21 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood seems to have a knack for presciently including hot button social issues in his work. The mysterious plague of this arc entitled “The Plague Widow” is an interesting analog for the current Swine Flu paranoia sweeping the nation. Many of the Northlanders arcs to date have witnessed competing paradigms, whether they’ve been modernism vs. tradition, man vs. nature, or female vs. male roles. This introductory issue hones in on science vs. a more faith-based explanation for the sickness ailing the settlement. Boris’ attempted sense of epidemiology is quickly countered with cries of “heathen!” Not only is the greater social topic explored of how to deal with the plague, but we get quiet character moments addressing guilt over wanting to perish along with family members, which is ultimately supplanted by classic survivor’s guilt. At the end of the issue, it’s an interesting morality play that makes readers wonder if the actions of the protagonists are truly carried out for the sake of the greater good, or simply an example of succumbing to mob mentality. My first exposure to Leandro Fernandez’s art was during a run of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country over at Oni Press. Though I was an instant fan, his style has changed dramatically from that period. I remember sharp angles and highly stylized lines adorning the espionage thriller, which here have evolved into softer lines and more refined and realistic proportions to the figures. I kept thinking that the art looked like a blend of Eduardo Risso and Dave Lapham, due in no small part to the fantastic coloring of Dave McCaig, who has really been making an impression on this title of late. Grade A.

Detective Comics #858 (DC): The origin story for Kate Kane kicks off in this issue and has the typical strong elements we’ve come to expect from Greg Rucka and JH Williams III, but also has a few added twists. The current scenes come full of JH Williams III signature flourishes, including his thin elegant lines and impressive levels of detail packed into the panels, but take things to the next level with two gorgeous double page spreads. These spreads spend some time showing the forensics work that Greg Rucka is so expert at researching and describing, but here he yields to his creative partner and allows them to be depicted visually. For the flashback scenes to Kate’s childhood years, Williams employs a completely different artistic style with a markedly alternate look and feel. Not only is his versatility amazing, but he’s able to match the script tonally with a retro vibe that compliments Rucka’s scripting. The creators continue to work in unison as they help explain the twist ending to the last issue, fill in some of the clues we’ve been given about Kate’s family, upbringing, and her own personality. For me, the highlight was a brilliant page full of nothing but blackened panels, some bearing subtle changes in position or relation to the panel gutter to explain the actions taking place in the dark. With nothing but sound effects and clipped speech, we’re able to perfectly discern story meaning in a horrific and claustrophobic environment with nothing but the art, and lingering evidence of a strong script, left to guide us. David Uzumeri nails an analysis of this book in a more articulate fashion than I could summon over at Savage Critics. I particularly enjoyed his formula of Rucka combining the well-researched detail obsessiveness in his military/procedural wheelhouse with familial drama and strong female leads to attain the pinnacle of his superhero work and something greater than the sum of its parts. Sorry, but I can’t stand The Question back up feature, and it’s still preventing the “+” from being added to this Grade A.


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