Scalped #42 (DC/Vertigo): I give up. I’ve run out of ways to explain it. I just don’t know how Jason Aaron does it. I don’t know how he can absolutely knock every single issue out of the park. For a while now, I’ve been trying to analyze single characters that appear in Scalped and attempt to predict how their character arcs might unfold. For example, I knew for a long time that something was up with Shunka, but could never have predicted his path. For a while now, I’ve been focusing on Carol, thinking that she might be the one who ultimately would break the cycle of lies, violence, shitty parenting, addiction, and poverty. She’s given an opportunity here, but doesn’t succeed. Aaron shows us again why Dash is the “star” of the book, and what a strong character he is. He tries so hard to be a good person and is struggling with the right thing to do, but when you’re surrounded by a system that operates in the wrong, it’s all the more difficult. I think what makes this issue such a winner is that Aaron and Guera play with the repeated juxtaposition of dissimilar images and concepts, allowing the reader to draw conclusions from the two sets of polar opposite data. Guera opens the book with “the wish” quickly mirrored with “the reality” and the result is a harsh dichotomy. The dual running narratives of Dash and Carol are both thematic and visual elements that are juxtaposed for the duration of the issue. There’s what the characters are actually saying, and then there’s what they’re really trying to tell each other. There’s the juxtaposition of Dash’s attempt at integrity, and Carol’s fear of being honest and accepted. There's pain all mixed together with love. It builds toward this startling crescendo that’s representative of the inverted moral system on the Rez, where the most difficult thing isn’t the lying, stealing, cheating, or murdering. It isn’t being an undercover FBI Agent. No, the most difficult thing is being absolutely direct and honest with someone you care about. As if the issue wasn’t perfect enough, there’s a Vertigo house ad for Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. I’m so happy for Sarah. I was reading How To Understand Israel back in 2008 when Sparkplug Comics was putting it out in single issues, before it got picked up by Vertigo and turned into an OGN. It’s a great book and just another piece of evidence as to why Sparkplug is a powerhouse small press publisher and Dylan Williams really has an eye for up and coming talent. It’s due out in November of this year, and I encourage you all to check it out. I’ll steal my own thunder a bit and tell you that it will likely be on My 13 Favorite Things of 2010 list. It’s that good. Anyway, this issue of Scalped is an easy Grade A+.
Uncanny X-Men #529 (Marvel): These covers have been really shoddy lately. It’s like they’re just random images collaged together at different figure scales. They appear really amateurish and simplistic, showing no effort in terms of design sensibility. As usual, Matt Fraction is juggling so many plot threads that it feels like any single one takes forever to get any momentum or closure on. Individually they're compelling enough, but the aggregation of so many makes for a muddled composition. Emma’s been ruminating about the Sebastian Shaw situation for several issues and we finally see some movement. Unfortunately, the plotting obstacles aren’t helped in any way by Whilce Portacio’s pencils. They’re full of awkward and unnatural poses. That first shot of Rogue piloting the Blackbird? Sorry, but she looks like a man, baby! Yeah! I think the basic problem is that Portacio’s harsh angular lines lack any fluidity. They’re cold, with no sense of life, only odd accoutrements like Hope’s weird teeth and eyes. I think Fraction’s concepts are good. I like Rogue, I like Sam Guthrie, I like Hope, I like Madison Jeffries trying to awkwardly ask Danger out, and I really like Fantomex being moved onto the board as a main player (between this and Rick Remender’s recent X-Force), but the events just aren’t executed well at all visually. It also seems at times like some of the more interesting bits happen off panel. Oh, the X-Club just whipped up a “phase suit” for Kitty, huh? It smacks a little of Johann Kraus in BPRD, but it would have been nice to see them do it, a throwaway line, some pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo, anything? Not a word. Fraction’s scripts, for the most part, have been slow burners that take an entire arc to get rolling, so if they’re not overtly capturing your attention, it’s just too easy to get distracted by this bad art. It pulls the effort way down. I was all ready to bash the issue for including a “fill-in” artist on the last 3 pages. While the style does change dramatically when Harvey Tolibao takes over… I actually like it better! Can he be the main artist? He’s got more compact detail, softer lines, and attractive figures that are easily identifiable. Generally speaking, I think the flagship X-Men book should really have a marquee name on art duty, but barring that, maybe Portacio should step aside and give this young buck a shot. After Portacio did some stray work on Alien Legion and inking Art Adams on Longshot, isn’t Uncanny X-Men how he got his big break? I’d be more lenient if this was $2.99 instead of $3.99, but as is… Grade B-.
I also picked up;
Northlanders: Volume 4: The Plague Widow (DC/Vertigo): I’ve been wondering how pull quotes work. I’m talking about print. I’ve got all kinds of online pull quotes out there, links, press releases, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But, in print, what goes on behind the scenes? Who decides that? Is it the creative team? The book’s editor? The collected edition editor, which sometimes differs from main series editor? Is it the designer of the collected edition? Is it a collaborative process where everyone can give input? Doesn’t it probably vary by company? I’ve been pretty fortunate with my ability to land pull quotes, picking up an early one from Marvel Comics, multiple instances from second tier publishers like Oni Press and Archaia Studios Press, even down to some mini-comic and small press publishers that I really value. The only obvious gap I had was not being able to land a pull quote from DC Comics. I wanted it for a long time, and though it was a small little goal that I’d made for myself, I’d basically given up. I noticed that DC was very selective with pull quotes, rarely using them on single issues, and on the trades they seemed to rely almost exclusively on more mainstream-y sort of outlets, like Entertainment Weekly or big household name newspapers. This has been my long-winded and rhetorical introduction letting you know that it finally happened. Brian Wood’s Northlanders: Volume 4: The Plague Widow came out this week and I was very surprised to see a pull quote from 13 Minutes on the back! Thanks Brian, or Karen, or Mark, or Bob, or Robbin, or whoever is the decision maker! (that’s the “decider” if you lean toward the right). So, go buy Northlanders: Volume 4. Not because of the pull quote. Because it’s a great book. Because it’s one of the few books that still has me buying the single issues, upgrading to the trades, and then handing off the single issue arcs to coworkers and friends, trying to get them hooked. Because of Hilda and Karin in this arc. Because it’s got Leandro Fernadez art, who I’ve wanted to do one of “my” books since I saw him on that Queen & Country run years ago. Because it’s Brian Wood. Because it will defy your pre-conceived expectations. Now, if I could just talk to someone about that DV8: Gods & Monsters collected edition due out in April…