Sweets #5 (Image): What else is there to say about Sweets that I haven’t already said? It’s a great conclusion to a great series. Sweets runs this balance between being about subtlety and authenticity. When subtle, you’ll notice small details like the way the sun hangs in the sky, the way the city is drenched in amber and sepia tones, the strong glares that impart meaning, small gestures that carry the emotional weight of the story, the way that paranoia about the inbound storm colors everything, and the general earthy feeling that is raw, yet fertile storytelling ground. Creator Kody Chamberlain suggested somewhere (Blogger? Twitter?) that his audience should re-read the preceding four issues before they consumed the tasty conclusion, and I’m inclined to agree. The overarching saga rewards the attentive reader and mines all that has come before during the flashback scenes and with throwaway lines, heck I’d almost forgotten about the little Bird Flu problem, maybe that’s on me, or maybe that’s a result of the bimonthly schedule. Ah well, it will cease to be a concern once collected. When Sweets displays its sense of authenticity, I believe it’s at its best. We see a cop using a nice bit of deductive reasoning skills on the investigative front. We see a bit with an oyster shucker that just screams New Orleans. We see a seasoned cop watching his backgrounds before he takes a shot. We see Chamberlain continuing to use those black transition headers that remind me of what Christopher Priest used to do in Black Panther, which makes us feel like Chamberlain has been at this longer than he actually has. Notice how when the shootout ensues, it immediately sucks the color out and phases to black and white. If you talk to most people who’ve been in a shootout, they’ll recall strange perception issues about time slowing down, or getting tunnel vision, or a sharp sense of color loss… how does Chamberlain know this stuff? I don’t really care as long as it rings true. Honestly, it’s why an insanely small typo like “hasmat” instead of “HazMat” just kills me, because it was so close to utter perfection. The Katie stuff at the diner is heartbreaking and though perhaps the ultimate denouement does lean heavily on a last minute epiphany that ties all the loose ends together, I remain sold on Sweets as a success and Kody Chamberlain as a thrilling new talent to watch. Is it possible that a 5 issue mini-series that was a favorite in 2010 could also be a favorite in 2011? If I were a wagering sort of fellow, I’d be making my bet for its appearance on My 13 Favorite Things of 2011 list. I’m also actually starting to wonder if Kody’s mom is named “Mary,” because the way he burst onto the scene was a bit of an immaculate conception, and the way he writes, draws, letters, inks, colors, and designs the book is the type of water-into-wine miracle that could help save our crossover written-by-committee superhero-sinning industry. Grade A.
Northlanders #39 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Simon Gane deliver the finale to the The Siege of Paris and it starts with an amazing cover. Massimo Carnevale turns in a performance that looks like a lost Conan piece from the 70’s, only better, because it’s so drenched in color and anguish. I kind of miss those old school covers that let you know exactly what you were getting into. Gane turns in quite a performance as well, with some full page shots that mix the style of Sergio Aragones and someone like Geoff Darrow, the sheer volume of figures, the small scale, and pervasive detail are almost overwhelming at times. Gane’s page and panel composition is also worth commenting on. His panels are dense with activity, but never cramped, and I like the way he habitually uses small gutters to maximize the page real estate he gets to work with. Smart. There’s a part of me that feels like when I turn a Simon Gane page, I’m going to be suddenly transported to the Getty and see their impressive illustrated manuscript collection. It’s almost as dense as one of those mosaic type pages. Brian Wood uses one of his go-to themes here about changing times and the lead character’s sense of identity. The dialogue is minimalist at times as Mads and Abbo the monk alternate their telling of the tale. They document a story about inborn fatalism, honor in battle, and reconciling one’s only place in life as a warrior. War can be many things, addictive, part of a given culture, but near impossible to give up once your soul is conditioned to only accept mission objectives. As Jean-Luc Picard once said, “you can make all the right decisions in life and sometimes still lose. This isn’t weakness, it’s life.” Grade A.
Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker #2 (Image): This is really an example of the Image Comics that I love. It’s the same Image Comics that allowed Fell, Casanova, and rivaled the heyday of WildStorm when they were churning out Desolation Jones and Joe Casey’s own Automatic Kafka and Wildcats incarnations. It takes chances, lets creators create without restraint, and it’s just good to see the industry cutting loose a little again. In the last issue our anti-hero blew up the prison housing all the supervillains, yet some survive. We see El Sushi, White Lightning, Abominable Snowman, Angerhead, The Absolutely, and Jihad Jones congregate to exact revenge. This crew has got to be one of the most entertaining groups of villains that I’ve seen in recent memory. Arnie B. Willard has chance encounter at a roadside diner, and the whole time I’m wondering who the heck colored this issue?! It’s great, and it’s Mike Huddleston inking and coloring his own work. He’s shoveling primary colors onto the pages, mixing in what looks like washes, and it all really pops. Casey is doing what he does best, subverting superhero tropes, specifically the American Hero archetype, but it’s not just clinical deconstructionism, it’s also really fun! His backmatter essays are always a joy to read, but I do fear sometimes that they’re a little ego fueled. The interviewing himself bit comes off as pretentious, but the meat of the writing about the need for creator owned comics, art for the sake of art, and blurring the line between amateur and professional in the industry are all well received. Grade A.
Uncanny X-Force #7 (Marvel): I’ve been struggling to accept this Deathlok Nation arc as relevant or necessary, but Rick Remender and Esad Ribic do their damnedest to try and change my mind. Remender seems to be quickly returning to the type of witty biting humor that attracted me to his writing in the first place. Deadpool is again a delight, going from fascination with a gun that will shrink and enlarge anything to a feigned masturbation that somehow snuck by the editorial goalie. But, it’s not just Deadpool, Fantomex and the entire cast all get their individual moments to shine while working as a cohesive whole and one of the best strike teams modern comics has seen. The team should be totally dysfunctional, dissonance existing between almost every character and every other character, yet they always pull it out, or so it seems. The last page reveal perhaps confirms some suspicions that have been flying around the interwebs. I keep harping on Ribic simply because he’s not Jerome Opena, and while I don’t believe Ribic will ever reach the level of confection that Opena does for me, that’s just me. I miss the sketchy details of Opena’s lines. Ribic’s pencils seem at times a little to clean, his style a little too sterile for me, but in terms of actual storytelling mechanics it’s totally adequate. He also draws eyes and the various expressions they can carry extremely well. The book’s got good banter, well choreographed action, the fun of the team being hunted by cyborg versions of themselves, and it’s all a little better than mindless popcorn entertainment. Yeah, it hums with the glee of a summer movie, but it also has a profound heart and is a lot smarter. Grade A-.