2.24.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #35 (DC/Vertigo): If Bruce Springsteen’s folksy heartland rock songs from about 1973 to 1982 (yeah, basically everything prior to the commercial success of the Born In The USA album) could be a comic, then they'd manifest as Scalped. Writer Jason Aaron frequently cites Springsteen as an influence and you can feel it dripping off the pages here. It reverberates with the same poetic swagger that showcases the glimmers of grandeur found in the every day struggles of American life. Steve Wands’ lettering deserves a special nod for visually fueling the dual-running inner monologues. Jason Aaron’s script is illustrated this time out by Croatian phenom Danijel Zezelj, whose work from his own REX, all the way to Warren Ellis’ Desolation Jones is always concerned with visual grit and decay intertwined with complex social implications, so it’s right at home in this story about “Listening to the Earth Turn.” I enjoyed the idea of one’s social outlook being reflected in the distance they live from the imposed town on The Rez. Even though this story is filled with plight, it flirts with being hopeful, and touches on a really sweet old married couple. I won’t spoil it completely, but the passage that ends with “but I ain’t never done nothing as hard as this” nearly broke my heart. It’s interesting to see that The Rez is an accelerated microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the country; the top 1% of the population live in total excess, while nearly everyone else slips toward the poverty line, with the rapid elimination of the middle class, and there’s a nice juxtaposition of these extremes depicted visually with the casino sign on the periphery of the story involving our protagonists. If you’re new to Scalped with this reflective standalone story, then it serves as the perfect introductory sample, riddled with the same tone, themes, aesthetic, and importance that the title usually dishes out. If for some uncouth reason you’re not reading Scalped, well, then you’re missing out on one of the best books the medium has to offer. It’s been a classic in the making since its inception, so you might as well jump on now, so one day you can say you were there. Grade A+.

Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1 (Avatar Press): I’m not sure what it is about the coloring work at Avatar Press, but this is the second example of me liking the original pencils more than their fully colored counterparts. The first time I noticed it was when I really enjoyed Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani’s book Aetheric Mechanics in black and white, but was then disappointed with the visuals they delivered in the full color Ignition City. This time out, I’m reminded of Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres’ prior collaboration Crecy (in black and white), which I enjoyed just fine, but now seeing the same team on Captain Swing (full color), I’m not as engaged visually. I don’t have a hypothesis as to why this is yet; it’s merely an observation that appears to be growing toward a trend. While the solicit would lead you to believe the whole book takes place in Caceres’ “woodcut style,” it’s actually just the cover spots and a few random pages. Overall, the book plays like more of a “secret history” than an alternate history with a steampunk-y vibe that marries Victorian trappings with accelerated anachronistically out-of-place-in-time (Ellis says “uchronic”) technology. It’s easy to see how Swing’s use of electricity and a primitive sort of taser round would be viewed as magical or phantasmic to a period lay eye. I really enjoyed the seedy underbelly of the London Metro Police force and their opposing antagonistic agency The Bow Street Runners, who play the MIB/X-Files role quite well. There’s a bit of incongruity with describing the uniforms as “long coat with stiff high collars to fend off garotte,” but then depicting them visually as short Chinese-style collars. That aside, the action is interspersed with mysterious historical notes and narration in a very well-balanced point-counterpoint fashion. Captain Swing manages to capture the energetic sense of wonder and retro-bleeding edge science that underrated 2006 films like The Prestige or The Illusionist had, and judging from the initial installment, looks to be one of Ellis’ better works. Grade A.


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