1.18.12 Reviews (Part 1)
Wasteland #33 (Oni Press): Here’s 3 words that I love together: Chris. Mitten. Color. Beyond that, reading the recap blurb made me realize just how much story and world-building has been squeezed into the 32 preceding issues. Johnston doesn’t waste any time jumping right into revelations about the “Branded Man,” and catching up with Gerr upsetting the Michael/Abi duo, all 3 of them with secrets in tow. “Cross Chains Towns” is a clever turn of phrase that’s a great example of how crafty Johnston is as a writer. It’s a phrase that we’ve never heard before, but it’s one we instantly understand the implications of by inferring the meaning. On top of that, there’s more clues, like someone referencing “back east,” insinuating that this story possibly takes place further west(?). Also, let me just say “DAMN YOU, ANTONY JOHNSTON!” For years now, we’ve all been postulating our pet theories about where/what “A-Ree-Yass-I” lies/is/does/means, ie: is it the corrupted name of a town, a place, a facility, a person, a thing, an event, a bastardization of “Area 51,” etc. But now he throws us for a loop by placing those words up on the Christian cross in the cover pic of issue 34. They’re placed there just like “INRI” is in Judeo-Christian visuals, the Latin acronym for “Iesus Nazarene Rex Iudea,” or “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” I mean, fuck! Now I feel like I have to somehow try and translate “A-Ree-Yass-I” to an alpha-acronym, say “REAC” and then correlate that to Latin to figure out what it means!? “Rex… something, something, something.” I don't really know much Latin. It could be a red herring, I’m probably not right, but it’s just another fun clue/possibility in trying to figure that piece of the puzzle out. Anyway, I like how he doesn’t pull any punches in discussing the difference between the literal and the figurative in belief systems, and puts the “Branded Man” right out there as a possible Christ figure. Justin Greenwood’s art is less detailed, has thicker line weight, and a more representational quality to it than Mitten’s, but one isn’t necessarily better/worse than the other. They’re just different styles. I like Greenwood’s style (though you do have to watch dudes with the “JG” initials), it never fails to convey emotional content or clarity of movement. Speaking of movement, it actually feels a lot like an animated style, as if this were some B&W animated movie. Now, that’s something I’d like to see. Probably not for Saturday mornings though. Get on that, Hollywood. I was prepared to give this the “A” grade, but considering the ridiculous price point, let’s call it Grade A+.
Prophet #21 (Image): This is the first shot in a couple of new titles from the old Liefeld “Extreme Studios,” helmed by Brandon “King City” Graham and Simon Roy, who actually reminded me of Simon Gane in spots – but I confuse my Simon’s easily, so pay no attention. Graham seems to blend the genres of sci-fi and fantasy in disproportionate quantities; it’s a pulpy blend that emphasizes some of the fantasy elements a lot harder than the sci-fi. I’m not complaining though, because regardless of the formula, the results are a wholly unique vision unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I keep trying to find mental comparisons for the sake of ease, and the fact that I can’t is probably a sign of how strong and original the ideas are. I think that this title deserves the type of attention it’s getting, unlike, say, Nate Simpson’s Non-Player, which was all the rage for about 5 seconds, and then didn’t do anything with it, like, say, put out a second issue. Anyway, I like the deliberate and effective design choices, little things like the way the red bleeds down the title page. It’s clear very early on that we’re in for something different. The combination of the weird critters and aesthetics bathed in warm Earth tones make the proceedings feel like we’re reading some dirty old 1950’s pulp rag; when John Prophet emerges, it’s not in some gleaming future utopia, it’s more like Dune, but without the impenetrable internal mythology and social editorialization. Roy’s level of detail is not quite on par with someone like Geoff Darrow, but the creative duo does seem intent on world-building in the idea sense, if not the physical minutiae. Rest assured there’s big ideas amid big places. With all of the wrecked ships, parasitic wolves, and mutated Earthscape, it’s like some sort of post-post-apocalyptic setting, with diagrammatic layouts I just eat right up. The voice-over narration in lieu of any actual dialogue for the first 2/3 of the book also gives it the feel of being some cautionary parable, like an old lost text that was found about different paradigms clashing. After reading comics for 30+ years, one of the best compliments I can give something is that it's like nothing I’ve ever seen. It feels fresh and new, which is a difficult thing to pull off. Prophet does that. So go ahead and believe the early buzz and say hello to one of the potential best books of 2012. Grade A.
Batman #5 (DC): Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo continue to bring their “A” game to this book and ensure that 2012 is off to an amazing start. I enjoy the way this issue slips quickly into the unconventional, in an effort to deconstruct Bruce Wayne. And man, the dialogue just flows *so* easily, it’s such a joy to read. You can breeze through every line, but also go back and savor each line. It’s never stumbly or awkward or staged like so many comics are. Jim lamenting leaving the Bat Signal on, wanting to believe in hope, is wrought with emotion. The 1960’s Silver Age flair to the maze works in a way that Grant Morrison never was able to pull off without over-the-top self-congratulatory Easter egg dramatics. Snyder understands that this world is about a family, understands how to use an ensemble cast effectively, and understands that tech must be balanced with old-school detective work. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but the reason this incarnation of Batman succeeds is that it’s a distillation of everything great about the character. Capullo’s depiction of Bruce losing mental acuity is equally precise. The mental breakdown works because it has the right balance of lifelike and stylized art, believability but superheroic flair. Most criminals would do better if they understood that choosing between a mental fight and a physical one is a losing proposition, attempting both in a dual attack may be one of the only ways to break the Bat. The physical maze is also a mental puzzle that literally turns Bruce upside down. The (probably) hallucinatory cliffhanger is easily reversed, but that doesn’t make the visual any less powerful or startling. Grade A.