10.21.2010

10.20.10 Reviews (Part 2)

DMZ #58 (DC/Vertigo): The countdown begins: 14 issues to go. I want to state absolutely unequivocally that Riccardo Burchielli has done a tremendous job as the regular series artist, capturing the grit of life in the war torn DMZ. However, this opening shot of Manhattan in flames by Danijel Zezelj is freakin’ amazing, it’s a holocaust captured on paper. That shot immediately sticks you in time and place, drawing out uncomfortable emotion with a sort of forced escapism. It’s powerful. This issue focuses hard on everyone’s favorite street artist, Decade Later, and highlights the value of self expression and social messaging as a driving life force even when the world is crumbling around you. Brian Wood’s fine arts background and youthful punk sensibilities converge and reveal themselves here. Decade Later is, of course, a fictional character, but it’s not hard to imagine someone like Shepard Fairey bombing walls, wheat pasting murals, and cascading millions of his Obey Giant stickers all over LA in a near future Civil War on the West Coast, especially when Wood laces the narrative with mentions of real world artists like Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. In case you hadn’t noticed, I recently wrote a whole lot about Brian Wood and the arc of his career. When you encounter lines here like “This city is my home. This city is my career.” you get slapped in the face with one of the creator’s strongest themes. It’s that love of New York City that runs like a spine through most of his work. I loved seeing Zezelj do Decade Later doing his stark and emotional black and white mural in a literal one-man show. We see the artist’s life on the wall, coming up, 9-11, friends, lovers, and works of art, they too a beautiful ode to New York. It makes me wonder if Zezelj ever dabbled in street art in his native Croatia. Last, but not least, this (probably) final visitation of Decade Later is a reminder of the beauty of the “one-shot” in comics. For a writer who leans toward longer arcs in his books, he proves that the “done-in-one” can be one of the most potent outlets the medium has to offer. Grade A+.

Vertigo Resurrected #1 (DC/Vertigo): Yeah, I essentially paid $8 for a 22 page story by Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez entitled “Shoot” that was originally pulled as a John Constantine: Hellblazer story in the wake of Columbine. Thankfully, it was largely worth it. On his web-site/blog/Internet Monkey Interface, Ellis is careful to point out that this was not really intended as any sort of grandiose social commentary, but as a work of horror. I think it actually functions well as both. It’s about children killing children for no reason at all, so it is absolutely horrific in the way it’s depicted. There’s no sensationalistic shock value, it’s played straight and subtle, the cold violence speaking for itself. The tangential recurring appearance of Constantine himself also adds a slightly mysterious quality to the work. Ellis also pointed out that he was slightly embarrassed to see how the quality of the writing would play 10 years later. For my money, only two little quibbles popped up. One, there’s an omitted word in the line “…blow [the] shit out of each other.” Two, by the end of the book, when the woman is sitting alone monologuing, it was unnerving that she’s basically talking out loud to herself. I know that thought bubbles have gone the way of the dinosaur in comics, but I would have preferred some narrative caption boxes instead of the blatant soliloquies. Jimenez’s pencils are nice, if a bit different than his current style. Here, they look a little looser and not as compact, more Mark Bagley than Carlos Pacheco, for some quick reference. The basic question the story asks is “why?” Why does seemingly random, senseless, youth violence occur? Without the “why?” part of the equation, it can’t be easily catalogued, understood, or offer any sense of closure to those closely involved. Ellis essentially answers the question of “why?” by offering something psychologists and cultural anthropologists call “The Missing Hero Complex.” Children today are not socialized in a way that allows them to feel compassion and step in to avert danger. They wait to act, because in the age of entitlement, it’s simply someone else’s job. I’ll sound like an old fuddy-duddy sitting here in my mid-30’s, but “these kids today!” are drawn to danger like they’re drawn to train wrecks and car accidents, with a morbid sense of fascination. They like to voyeuristically watch, as if it’s a harmless reality TV show that doesn’t affect them, not the real world happening, with real people, and real world consequences. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and so many anti-social outlets, kids are not being socially conditioned to actually physically interact with fellow human beings, much less care for their fellow man. They’re not only desensitized to violence, but de-socialized in terms of expressing compassion. Psychologically, they can’t differentiate between the shooting occurring outside their window or in their school, and the first person shooter they’re playing at home. As Ellis points out in the story, kids don’t run from violence, they merely stop and watch for entertainment, yet they won’t ever step in to lend a hand or try to avert it. This one’s an easy Grade A.

Let me buzz through the rest, which are all reprints, some I’d seen before, some I’d not. The Kapas by Brian Bolland was a story I’d originally picked up from a quarter bin in a Strange Adventures book. It’s about British adventuring meeting up with an ironic twist of horror infused fate, capturing the elitism and xenophobia of the period. And yeah, Brian Bolland could basically illustrate paint drying and I’d be interested. Grade B. Native Tongue by Brian Azzarello and Essad Ribic mines the horror notes in the same way certain episodes of The X-Files used to, with exsanguinated cattle and serial killer activity. Grade B. New Toys by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely was a fun ride, like a twisted warfare version of Toy Story. It plays like an old episode of Twilight Zone, and you can certainly detect precursory riffs on Morrison’s Joe The Barbarian. Quitely’s art is still gorgeous, but not as sinewy or thin and elongated as his more current style. Grade A. Nosh and Barry and Eddie and Joe by Garth Ennis and Jim Lee drags on a little too long, ostensibly about military buddies on leave. It quickly turns into some kind of MK Ultra riff that misses the horror mark and relies on a government conspiracy motif. Jim Lee’s style is enjoyable, but very loose and not as polished as his work on say, Hush. This one’s a low Grade B. Diagnosis by Steven T. Seagle and Tim Sale is about compromise becoming total sacrifice of principle. The small inset circular panels certainly capture the 50’s romance aesthetic. This one was a good lesson in being conditioned by your surroundings and letting that color your perception of the world. Essentially, if you have a hammer, suddenly every problem begins to look like a nail. Grade A. The Death of a Romantic by Peter Milligan and Eduardo Risso is hard not to enjoy. Risso draws the type of women that every guy I know wants to knock boots with. Here, his art comes complete with a sort of spiritual female masturbation scene that’s depicted more tastefully than I like to imagine it. Milligan’s story moves from grounded to ethereal, beginning with the co-dependent cycle of abuse, and then getting (almost) lost in an affair with a dead virgin poet. I enjoyed the psychosis that was created, but thought it leaned a little too far into fantasy. But hey, Risso art. Grade A. It Takes a Village by Bill Willingham had a fun premise, but the punch line of the entire story was essentially a weak one-liner. It’s about a costume shop that rents out real monsters. Grade B. Resolve by Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson was a strong way to end. It absolutely nails the lurid sexuality and intertwined horror elements that made EC so popular back in the day, and influenced later DC books like House of Mystery and House of Secrets. Wrightson’s aesthetic is basically perfect to recapture the zombies, sexual desperation, and faint bondage overtones that are hallmarks of this type of work. Grade A. The price here seems exorbitant at first glance, I mean, it is $8 for what *feels like* a floppy, but upon closer inspection, it proves to be a good value. If a regular 22 page comic runs you $3, that means 66 pages would be $9. Yet here, we’re getting 100 pages for $8, so it’s actually a pretty good deal. Overall, I think those grades average out to something like a Grade A-.

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