1.19.2011

1.19.11 Reviews

DMZ #61 (DC/Vertigo): “The twilight of our hallowed union.” I’m not one to succumb very easily to hyperbole, but this? This just might be the best little piece of writing this series has offered to date. If you had to condense the political ethos of DMZ into a single solitary little sound byte, then that sentence fragment there might just be the one. Damn, I’m impressed right now. When I saw the panel of an unnamed US soldier in Yemen in Brian Wood’s political fiction future, it triggered something in my mind. In the last issue, there was a throwaway line that the US had been at war for 39 straight years. Now, let’s do a little math. If you assume the start date was Gulf War I (1990), then that would place the events of DMZ some time around 2029. If you assumed the start date was later, say, The Iraq War (2003), then that puts us some time around 2042. I’m just sayin’. This issue continues the Free States Rising arc, examining how deep ideological dissonance and plain old frustration led to the FSA Movement and the Second American Civil War. America is a bubbling pot and DMZ shows what happens when it finally boils over. DMZ continues to be a book that matters, one of the most important entries into early 21st Century Fiction, in any medium. There’s so much going on in this issue, the FSA staging on The Jersey Shore and preparing to enter Manhattan. But, it’s not even Manhattan anymore, it’s just the DMZ. There’s a caption box with a strikethrough line over Manhattan, replaced by “The DMZ.” It’s a simple, but incredibly powerful little stroke. We see how a leaderless movement is susceptible to a strong personality exerting some influence. We examine the hypocrisy of war; how do revolutionaries avoid becoming the very thing they’re fighting against, ie: “the King is dead, long live the King.” Shawn Martinbrough’s pencils are an interesting choice. They’re angular and hard-edged, inked darkly, and move quite briskly. They give the right kind of energy to the danger popping off uncontrollably just below the surface of Main Street America. At one point during the Holland Tunnel sequence, the protagonist says that he becomes a convert. Yeah, me too. More than ever, I feel like I’m all in on DMZ. When most series can sort of quietly exit stage left toward the end of their runs, it’s almost as if Wood has saved the best, most compelling parts for last. At some point, DMZ stops reading like a comic and starts reading like an actual historical account of what could occur. It provides absolute suspension of disbelief and that’s the mark of a writer operating on another level of cerebral engagement. Grade A+.

Northlanders #36 (DC/Vertigo): One of the unsung heroes here is colorist Dave McCaig. Look at how crisp and frigid he renders that opening snow swept bloodletting sequence. That color palette over Becky Cloonan’s pencils is a pretty potent artistic combination. I hesitate to use the over-invoked superhero terminology “widescreen,” but it certainly applies here to the wide flat panels with the cinematic scope that we see being used in this short arc. As we expected it to play out, Jon is wrongly accused of Lara’s death, and an old man’s attempt to complete one final proper, noble task in a largely ignoble environment seems to be in vain. With one remaining piece of forensic evidence as a bartering chip, along with the guilt-ridden confession of a parent, Jon is able to find the truth and solve the mystery, but not prove his own innocence to the authorities. It’s abrupt and gut-wrenching, but it’s the only fitting denouement in this harsh environment. As an aside, this issue and DMZ above sure were rich packages this week, both coming with a preview for The New York Five, an editorial column from Brian Wood, and the re-introduction of the letters page, all for $2.99. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #500 (Marvel): Sigh. I’m so confused. So, I guess we’re switching the numbering schema now? But, the next issue is going to be 500.1, followed by 501, or… something? Yeah, I saw 500 covers in the back, but not 500 issues per se, it all seems kind of fluffy and hollow and serves to discredit the solid work that Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca have turned in on their 30+ issue run. The $4.99 price tag doesn’t help matters much, but ok, ok, let’s focus on the stories. The regular creative team give us Tony Stark at age 35 in present day 2011, teaming up with Peter Parker to investigate his memory lapsed super-WMD of the future. The shots with Tony and Peter expose a weakness in Larroca’s art, in that the characters, save for some facial hair and their hair color, basically look identical. Kano gives us Ginny Stark in the year 2052, at age 22, which means she was born in 2030. Ok. Nathan Fox gives us the War Machine sequence, featuring Howard Stark II, also in 2052, but at age 41, which means Tony would have had to sire him now in 2011, so I’m not real sure that math adds up, but sure, I guess it’s just another alternate future timeline or whatever. Foolish me, I actually sat down and did the math. We also see The Mandarin, with Tony at age 76. Bottom line, I think Fraction’s reach exceeded his grasp here. This was a very ambitious idea, but I’m not sure the execution really connects with much pop. There are moments of brilliance. We get a couple old-school maniac Matt Fraction lines, like Mandarin destroying the world as he utters “I’m off for one last night in the harem – I’ll mercy slaughter them at sunrise.” But for every line like that there’s a small stumble, like, oh, I don’t know, calling them “Chechnyans,” when the proper descriptor is “Chechens.” Tony’s super tech WMD of the future basically turns out just to be an RT powered James Cameron style Terminator HK sentient AI thing, which isn’t all that impressive. For a book that’s played very prescient and forward-thinking, that’s pretty derivative. I enjoyed the Spider-Man banter at the end, I hadn’t actually realized that part of Tony’s brain reboot wiped his memory of Peter Parker’s alter ego. Again, I like the concept of this self-referential closed loop story, but the execution felt like some fairly obtuse dot connecting. It just didn’t resonate all that well with me. It was meant to be this earth-shattering jumping on point, and it felt fairly inconsequential. Consider it a “noble failure” as it clocks in with a Grade B.

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