5.27.2010

5.26.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #28 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood is a clever guy. He uses a writing tool here that I’ve seen loosely referred to as “The Great Wish.” By juxtaposing two sets of images, one revolving around the way times bleakly are, and the other a nostalgic projection of things desired that may never come to pass, what comes out the other side of the equation is a set of visual ideals that fill in a lot of information about a character’s desires and motivations. One prominent example of this in popular culture is at the end of James Cameron’s Titanic (not that I'm a fan, but it uses this trick very well), after Jack and Rose have died, and you see that long shot of Rose ascending the staircase aboard the grand glory of the ship, passing by friends and family, finally meeting Jack at the top near the clock. Another example would be at the end of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator when General Maximus has died, and as he passed into Elysium (the Roman “Heaven”) he strolls through amber wheat fields to be greeted by his wife and son. The opening passages of this issue do just such a thing, contrasting the life desired and the unfortunate life actually present. On top of that, it also sets up the analogy of birds fleeing the cold. There’s just so much going on here, it’s deceptively simply, but is actually quite a complex script. Wood hits other notes about shielding your children from harsh realities, both mental and physical, the strength required of women in a world largely dominated by men, and the realization that sometimes being strong means being quiet or asking for help. Leandro Fernandez, whose art here bears a strong Eduardo Risso influence, helps Brian Wood bring this final chapter of The Plague Widow to a close, and it’s a subtle but emotionally satisfying conclusion. At the end of it all, Karin learns the greatest lesson about capable self-reliance, and even though her mother may have perished, she ultimately succeeded as a parent. Grade A.

X-Men Origins: Emma Frost #1 (Marvel): In an odd way, this book is a good example of my comic book buying habits today. I could really care less about Marvel, or the X-Men, or even Emma Frost, but I’ll follow my interest in Valerie D’Orazio’s writing to just about anywhere. It’s the same way that I don’t really have a thing for Viking comics, post-apocalyptic comics, or a strong interest in Adam Strange, but I will follow Brian Wood, Antony Johnston, or Paul Pope to any property at any company. Every once in a while, you get an artist you like and a writer you like who lock up on a title, and that becomes a quirky favorite. Warren Ellis? JH Williams III? Desolation Jones! Boom, instant cult favorite. But I digress… D’Orazio and artist Karl Moline present an overbearing father who is a bit of an over-the-top cliché, with lines like “simpering buck-toothed patsy.” If you add an emotionally absent mother to that mix, it’s a recipe for disaster that allows the entry of a person like Sebastian Shaw to show some attention and steer Emma’s energy toward her sordid past. Part of me felt that it was all a little pat and predictable, but also considered that level of stereotypical dysfunction was probably necessary to fuel Emma’s powerful psyche. I thought that the mixing of the Revolutionary attire, modern parlance, and stripper pole could be a confusing composition for anyone not steeped in Hellfire Club history, but I’m not sure if that describes anyone actually reading this book. Moline is a good artist, but I’m not sure that his slightly cartoony and cheery style is the right match tonally for the gravitas of this script. It’s interesting to see Emma go through life attempting to escape the ideology of her father, but ultimately realizing she has the ability to be more like her manipulative father than she probably cares to admit. The acquisition of power supersedes the binary choice of failure risking mockery and success garnering jealousy. My only real basis for writing comparison is D’Orazio’s recent work on the Punisher Max: Butterfly one-shot, and I don’t think the Emma Frost book is nearly as incendiary. There may be a few small glitches here, but for the most part it hits all of the right psychological notes necessary to highlight a complex character. It lacks the gut-wrenching punch of the Punisher book, but does end with a coyly familiar image for anyone steeped in classic X-Men continuity. I also really liked the Women of Marvel feature, this time with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, offering a smart take on the stumbling bocks of new readership in comics. Also of interest are the house ads for Avengers Prime, with Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis. Grade A-.

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