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Currently Reading: Aliens: Defiance, The Autumnlands, Black Magick, The Black Monday Murders, Black Road, Black Science, Briggs Land, Brittania, Copperhead, Deadly Class, Descender, East of West, Eclipse, The Fuse, The Goddamned, Hadrian's Wall, Injection, James Bond, Lazarus, Low, Manifest Destiny, Moon Knight, No Mercy, Paper Girls, Pretty Deadly, Rebels, Saga, Sheriff of Babylon, Starve, Stumptown, They're Not Like Us, Vision
This week I’m most looking forward to Northlanders #29 (DC/Vertigo) from Brian Wood and Fiona Staples, which is a one-shot before the Metal arc begins. Northlanders’ one-shots seem to always be something special. Metal looks like it’ll be quite interesting too, sort of a genre blender, like only Wood can do. I guess I’ll also be picking up Secret Avengers #2 (Marvel); it seems like three issues should be a good number to judge a new series by. I think Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 (Marvel) will be entertaining; it sounds like Matt Fraction doing a Keyser Soze inspired rendition of The Mandarin. The House of Ideas also has something called Astonishing X-Men #34 (Marvel) coming this week. Oh… is this still being published? I think I remember a book from Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez that last shipped 6(!) months ago bearing that title. Speaking of lateness, coming in just 3 months late is Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #2 (Avatar Press) from Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres. I really do enjoy Warren Ellis’ writing, but one certainly begins to see a pattern forming with all of these quickly started and then abruptly delayed projects. On the collected edition front, I might just pick up Batwoman: Elegy Deluxe Edition HC (DC) from Greg Rucka and JH Williams III. If it’s not marred by any non-Williams issues or that detestable back-up feature, this is just special enough to warrant a swanky hardcover on my shelf, and I can pass those single issues on to someone deserving.
Joe The Barbarian #6 (DC/Vertigo): The intricate precision of Sean Murphy’s art is still very impressive. Not only is he able to add so much life to the talking heads scenes and the rousing kinetic action sequences, but the Easter egg hunts are always fun as well. In this issue, I was able to spot Mr. Freeze, Lobo, Green Arrow, Catwoman, Batman, He-Man, The Shadow, Snake Eyes, Riker, Worf, Troi, Wonder Woman, Transformers, Robin, John Constantine, and the DeLorean from Back to the Future! I really like the mythology that Grant Morrison is able to create. It has the entry point wonderment of something like Narnia, coupled with the broken mindscape of (obscure alert) the Tarsem film The Cell (and for anyone interested, despite starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn, this is really a good movie). There’s gravitas to be found, but also a certain air of whimsy to the dialogue with lines like “Majesty, I’m a plain man… What your Celestial Highness calls scripture, I call the ravings of a toilet dwarf with mold fever.” Joe suddenly seems very determined (almost to the point of being out of character) to rally the troops and save Playtown, which runs contrary to Queen Bree’s philosophy of patience being the ultimate weapon. I like the balance between literal interpretations (“Hearth Castle”) and the mirrored corollaries to the real world from characters who see Joe as their belief system. This reflective property of the two worlds being shown is probably captured by the greatest one line quote in the entire saga: “My ordinary world is your mythology.” Grade A.
It seems like a light week; is this the sign of the pre-con hold back strategy from all of the publishers waiting to debut their “big” projects at SDCC? At the Distinguished Competition, I see Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (DC) calling to me, with Joe The Barbarian #6 (DC/Vertigo) also pleading for a purchase, both Grant Morrison joints. I own a couple sets of Flex Mentallo and my precious All-Star Superman Hardcovers (when is that Absolute Edition coming out?), but past that I don’t consider myself a huge G’Mo fan, yet here he is with DC’s only buys for me for the week. I didn’t buy Batman #700, so there’s even less likelihood I’ll pick up Superman #700 (DC), but it’s fun to mark the milestone. I’m still waiting for the day that Detective Comics hits #1,000 – now that’ll be something special, with 134 more issues to go, that’s just over 11 years at a regular monthly rate! Meanwhile, the House of Ideas delivers Avengers #2 (Marvel) from Bendis and Romita Jr. I’m still not 100% sold on the scripting, but it sure is purdy. On the indy front, The Killer: Modus Vivendi #3 (Archaia) rounds out the week’s financial pull. What looks good to you? Who’s buying what? Any titles you’d like to see me reviewing that I’m not?
DMZ #54 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli deliver the end of the four part M.I.A. arc and it’s really an unexpected twist that resets the DMZ world in an even more complicated way. I really enjoyed the palpable disillusionment some of the characters are feeling, probably best evidenced by Soames’ defeated line “you get a dream in your head and then you do a bunch of stupid shit to get there.” Matthew Roth still seems to be lost and adrift without an identifiable sense of self to hold on to. The centerpiece is the conversation between father and son, which is surprisingly honest as Matty seeks some sort of absolution of guilt regarding the execution of his “sloppy order” before he can mentally move on. As he skeptically enters his new role, which I won’t spoil, he finds a way to hold himself accountable, re-establish cover and credibility in the DMZ, and somehow answer to the conflicted interests of his new masters. This issue was dense but thoroughly engaging and it reminded me of the way President Obama used to speak during the debates back when he was still running for office. Sometimes there aren’t trite and crisp sound-byte style answers, complex problems may require complex responses and discussions, not simple taglines that can be quoted on the front page of the newspaper. As Wood shows, there’s no clear sense of black and white consequence when complex politics and managed perceptions are involved, and every player with a stake in the big game has an angle to play. I sometimes wonder how much of this story comes about organically and how much is a conscious exercise from Wood. Particularly in this arc, it almost feels as if Wood is testing himself, adhering to the writer’s adage of putting your characters where they’d least like to be for the most storytelling tension, and deliberately backing Matty so far into a corner in order to see if he can possibly get him out of it. Whether it’s a natural gift or a deliberate structure being imposed, the results are impressive and this is the type of text that should be required reading in the more progressive poli-sci college classrooms across the nation. Grade A.
DV8: Gods & Monsters #3 (DC/Wildstorm): I should probably be taking a couple more hours to collect my thoughts before posting this review, but I couldn’t contain my excitement over what I just witnessed. Starting with Rebekah Isaacs’ contribution, I love the way the diversity of the settings she depicts are perfectly capable of keeping pace with an aggressive writer. She has quickly become a favorite with just a couple of issues of this title, capable of delivering bold graceful lines like long-time Brian Wood collaborator Becky Cloonan, or lines as intricate as someone like Frank Quitely (look at The Carrier!). The vibrant colors of Carrie Strachan are part of the equation here as well, but the real hook for me is the writing. Wood sort of lulls us in with Powerhaus in a secluded hut adorned by scantily clad women, inhaling some substance. Of course, he also continues the engaging interrogation/debrief sequence with Gem, which is a smart exchange devoid of any overt exposition. And, he also proves that he’s still capable of turning a clever phrase which grabs you by the brain and demands attention, throwaway gems like “And let me tell you something, Ms. poly-cotton tech-wick track jacket, Ms. iPod, Ms. lab-vat-rat genactive future girl…” But the real meat on the bone is the basic examination of what it means to have powers. How that would affect a wide range of human psyches, and what the perceptions from those people and the rest of the world would be. He’s proving that, in actuality, “superpowers” would be far more problematic than superheroic, and that the perception of the masses would be that the figures were, well… “gods and monsters.” It’s this deconstruction, this examination of functionality and feasibility that everyone should be noticing. While it’s filled with smart observations, like magic, science, and religion lying on a continuum of understood technology, and while one could argue this is merely an extension of his fascination with the concept of character identity, the main focus is this tinkering with the genre, and it’s understated and surprising. To the casual observer, DV8 is masquerading as some passive reinterpretation of a 1990’s Image Comics property, a disposable adventure about some team mysteriously marooned on some planet, but to those of us in-the-know and wary of such dismissive parsing of our generation's rock star writer, it’s this very in-your-face post-modern superhero analysis. It calls to mind works like B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun’s Battle Hymn and Warren Ellis’ recent No Hero. Who would have ever thought that such a strong indy creator, the same guy who delivered Channel Zero, Supermarket, Demo, and Local… the same Vertigo powerhouse responsible for DMZ and Northlanders, would also quietly bring us this examination of heroes after the figurative (and literal) fall, an analysis of the flawed paradigm that superheroes seem destined to occupy. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this is Brian Wood’s Watchmen. Grade A+.
Neil Young’s Greendale (DC/Vertigo): I’ve never heard the eponymous Neil Young concept album Greendale, but there’s no doubt this reinterpretation was a special project that strayed from a more traditional graphic novel’s inspiration or source material. It’s evident in the extra effort of the family tree provided, down to the obvious political and environmental concerns prevalent in the work. Writer Joshua Dysart’s voice can certainly be felt throughout the work with politically charged ideas like the Iraq War not being about terrorism, not even about the mythic WMDs that Dubya promised, but in a larger context it’s actually the thinly veiled “first resource war of the 21st Century.” For me, the book possesses a great sense of world building; I really enjoyed the inclusion of the family tree and kept referring back to it, fascinated by the repercussions of a woman named Ciela marrying two brothers and their various offspring forming two distinct branches of the family from that point forward. It’s about her quest to create a “flashpoint” by mixing her bloodline of… elementals is the best word I suppose, with the offspring of Mahalia, a scary old woman who is probably a low level witch that’s the last of her line. The book has two very minor technical flaws that I noticed. One is in the afterword, which mentions Greendale being a “Southern California town,” when all other references are accurate as describing it as a “Northern California town,” quite obvious from the geographic references to the redwoods and sequoias. The second issue is that if you know Northern California, you know there aren’t really any major airports north of Sacramento, so air travelers overhead would be cruising high at altitude and couldn’t see Sun’s anti-war sign, but I guess some small liberties were taken. I consider myself a liberal, but I was worried this book’s very overt treehugging hippie leanings would be a little too much for me to handle, and that was thankfully not the case. It’s not hippie de rigueur, but a legitimate examination of what could “activate the activists” as one character describes the dynamic. It also helps that the book is infused with the subtle sense of mystery and horror that the original Vertigo line was really built on, even including a nod to the 1922 T.S. Eliot poem, later alluded to in 1934 by novelist Evelyn Waugh, and last seen in these parts in DC house ads for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s the line “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Vertigo has always played with religion as a recurring motif and I was especially drawn to how it’s handled so subtly here. It’s not quite outright allusion, but more of a sly insinuation that Sun’s preternatural abilities portray her as a Christ figure, particularly in her ability to herd animals – sheep, of course. All told, the Green women keep disappearing, and it’s not by accident. They seem to be some form of elementals trying to establish peaceful coexistence with nature to achieve “…a sleep clean of heavy dreams” and avoid a charming personification of death. Dysart’s script also proves that he’s not all about cold research and social commentary, but can actually deliver a sweet line when necessary. “You made me feel important” is the type of line that belies “the quest of every young woman’s life to exist in a complex web of nurturing relationships,” a line I stole from The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian, a parenting book that is part neurochemistry, part psychology, that helps define female brain development and their subsequent needs. Visually, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein provide a stunning, quietly confident look for the graphic novel. Chiang’s phenomenal look is typically crisp and vibrant (Doctor 13), but that same palette here seems to be washed through muted earth tones, emphasizing the environmental connection to characters with names like Sky, Luna, Sun, Sea, and Stone. For my money, Chiang is capable of penciling some of the best looking characters in comics, especially his beautiful women, and I’m still waiting for the day he locks up on an ongoing series I can really get behind. His talent is deserving of status as more of a (comics) household name. While Greendale’s story themes and meaning are clear, the actual plot remains slightly obtuse. While that might push some readers away, it’s done after a tradition of Vertigo works that don’t assault you with exposition, but allow you to infer your own set of conclusions based on what’s presented. Both in Greendale and out here in the real world, that’s the point. It's the vacuum of mental agility in getting people, particularly the younger generation, to think beyond what they’re blindly consuming and beyond what the talking heads on TV are telling them, because “good government demands the intelligent interest of every citizen.” Grade A-.
Sometimes I feel like if it wasn’t for Brian Wood, I wouldn’t be reading comics at all. This week we get DMZ #54 (DC/Vertigo) and DV8: Gods & Monsters #3 (DC/Wildstorm), and that’s the mark of a pretty good week in comics right there. If I’m definitely buying those, then I’m pretty sure that I’ll also be picking up Lone Ranger #22 (Dynamite Entertainment), though I’ve decided to start trade-waiting this title once this arc wraps. The shipping schedule is just so sporadic and it reads better collected anyway. Billy Hazelnuts & The Crazy Bird (Fantagraphics) is also out, and that’s pretty exciting. The original Billy Hazelnuts is my favorite Tony Millionaire project so it’ll be fun to see if he can maintain the high, less fun to wonder if Sea Donkey is actually going to have it.
Daytripper #7 (DC/Vertigo): I’ve devoured just about everything that Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have done over the years, from De: Tales: Stories From Urban Brazil, to Casanova and The Umbrella Academy, to smaller projects like Sugarshock, and I’m inclined to agree with the Paul Pope pull quote adorning the cover of this issue – that this is “their best looking work to date.” It may not have the raw energy of something like Casanova, but it’s certainly more refined, and some of the credit definitely goes to colorist Dave Stewart. He makes ordinary things you might not typically notice simply hum with life, from innocuous clouds around the plane to Bras’ gentle eyes when he gets wispy about times past. When you think about what Leandro Fernandez did over on Northlanders recently, it feels like this sort of South American (mostly Brazilian) Renaissance of Sequential Art. In addition to the reflective introspection we’ve grown accustomed to from this title, the creators also explore the notion of separating the creator from the work in the mind of the audience. It was a fascinating bit of commentary, using Bras’ rising star as a novelist as a cipher. It was a treat to see the “origin story” of the friendship between Bras and Jorge, and while the title continued to examine the repercussions of both paths taken and not taken in life, the art is so good that it almost kept distracting me from the story. It’s easy to get lost in the depictions these artists are capable of. Their women are gorgeous yet realistic, the men are strong yet vulnerable, and the places are used yet beautiful. Did you ever hear that dream interpretation explanation that says you are represented by all characters in your dreams? That the people who appear are not the people you think they are, merely slivered aspects of self divulging inner drives while you slumber? That popped into my head while reading this issue, and I began to notice that to some extent all of the characters found in this series can be read as various personifications of the multi-faceted personality of Bras. There are components of him that are the pragmatic wife, the larger than life father, the recklessly bold best friend, the comical boss, or the nice stranger, all reflections of the central figure. Despite those digressions of thought, the main premise seems to still be seizing moments in life, not assuming “we got all the time in the world,” and the realization that comes with age that there are so many opportunities presented in life, hopefully the scale tips in the direction of those explored, and not those squandered. The grand plan with the title still remains a little mysterious, but the individual moments are precious. And that’s kinda’ the point. As if the contents of the issue weren’t strong enough, the marketing folks at DC really offered a complete package here that suits me well. We also get an ad for Stuck Rubber Baby, a preview of Revolver by Matt Kindt (which looks amazing, from the CNN-style newsfeed cleverly housing page numbers at the bottom, to the story blend of Brian Wood’s last issue of Demo, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Jumper, Lost’s “sideways timeline,” and Kindt’s rough espionage feel from Super Spy), ads for my favorite Vertigo books Scalped and Northlanders, and an editorial piece from Joshua Dysart, the writer of Neil Young’s Greendale. In short, this little floppy pamphlet is really a good snapshot of everything I’m interested in. Grade A+.
If last week was a bit of a drought, this week could be a flood in terms of things I’m interested in and could be potentially purchasing. Let’s start with the things I’ll definitely be picking up. Daytripper #7 (DC/Vertigo) is out, and the series has been a treat on so many levels. It’s an ethereal story about life, terrific pencils, stunning inks, and the ability to create discussion amongst friends about the structure. On the superhero end of the spectrum, it’s doesn’t get much better than Invincible Iron Man #27 (Marvel) by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (Marvel) is also (over) due this week; it’s taken some flack online, but I really enjoyed how different it is, putting a historical context around the Marvel Universe. The off again, on again, mostly off again relationship with Uncanny X-Men #525 (Marvel) will continue this week. Last of the sure bets is Terry Moore’s Echo #22 (Abstract Studio), a finer independent (essentially self-published) title probably doesn’t exist; it’s a book that has proven it can play all sides of the ball, from sheer entertainment to dogged craftsmanship, it’s really a sight to see.
Demo #5 (DC/Vertigo): I can't say that I had time to fully absorb this issue, though I did read it over the course of three sporadic bursts. Becky Cloonan's art looks better than ever, with a level of intricate detail I don't think we've seen from her before. What I recall the most about Brian Wood's script is that it seemed to subtly buck most time-travel trends in pop fiction and the inherent paradoxes contained within. I'm looking forward to a time when I can really dive into this, not distracted by work and personal happenings. I couldn't resist posting something. I suspect this could actualy go higher once I wrap my brain around it, but for now let's call it... Grade A.
It looks like a really quiet week for me. The only “for sure” purchases I’ll be making are Demo #5 (DC/Vertigo) and The Killer: Modus Vivendi #2 (Archaia). Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan offer an intriguing time-travel premise for Demo, but man, I can’t believe the series is almost over! I guess it’s better to do what my grandma always suggested: don’t overstay your welcome, “leave them wanting more.” The Killer is simply one of the best comics to see print in the US in the last 5 years or so; it’s been great to revisit this complex character. My “maybe” list starts with Avengers Prime #1 (Marvel). On principle, I’m kinda’ disgusted with how Marvel continues to flood the market with Avengers properties, with Avengers Spotlight #1 (Marvel) also hitting this week, in the third week in a row to see a plethora of “new” Avengers titles. I’m sure the marketing muscle has been justified from a dollars and cents perspective with the impending movie(s), and they’ll capitalize greatly with all of the “hot” creators involved, but in terms of sheer quality and audience attention fatigue, I’m not sure it will make dollars and… sense, so to speak. However, the presence of Alan Davis is certainly going to be worth a look, if not an outright purchase. On the graphic novel front, I’ll see if Moving Pictures (Top Shelf) passes the casual flip test. It’s by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen and (paging Matt C. from Paradox Comics!) plays around with a real world idea I was reading about and discussing as a story premise a year or two ago, the Nazis pillaging the great art collections of Europe during WWII. Lastly, it’s absolutely horrible, but if you want to see one of the (probably *the*) worst mainstream superhero stories that exists in recent memory, it will cost you only $24.99 for the Justice League: Cry for Justice HC (DC). As the phrase was coined on the interwebs in its aftermath, this is "superhero tragedy porn" (that's all randomly violent money shots with no story context whatsoever) at it’s finest. It’s such a devastating train wreck that how can you not crank your neck and stare in awe as you pass by?