2.08.2012

2.08.12 Reviews (Brian Wood Edition)

Northlanders #48 (DC/Vertigo): In a startling turn of events, Northlanders actually takes the top spot this week. I really expected Conan to be the book I’d rave about the most, and the first issue is great, but this issue of Northlanders was something on an entirely different level. Northlanders has never been my favorite Brian Wood book to tell you the truth, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have much to say about it, but when it’s on like this, shit, it’s on fire. It’s bittersweet to acknowledge that the series is most definitely ending at #50, but there’s nothing like going out on a high note. Danijel Zezelj is one of my favorite artists and one of the most underrated guys working today; I only wish American audiences would embrace his moody reverberating style more than they do. This is Part 7 of 9 overall, and part 1 of 3 in this third act of the trilogy, entitled “War 1260” in the Icelandic settlement. Zezelj previously worked on a short Northlanders arc entitled "The Shield Maidens," which might be my second favorite after the initial "Sven The Returned" arc, but it looks like this is going to give those a run. Perhaps part of what makes Zezelj’s work shine is the coloring by Dave McCaig. His colors are a good match because they stand up to the bold inky lines of Zezelj, striking a very dangerous tone. This issue is full of generational tension, with a father and son possessing conflicting views on how to position their family amid times of chaos and change. That tension is one of the many themes that Wood excels at. With Freya acting as a Shakespearean advocate for killing the king, we see a man on the precipice of change, and being completely self-aware about that moment in time that could fork left or right depending on his decisions. Everything that this issue is thematically about is so in Brian Wood’s wheelhouse as a writer that it’s a shame more people aren’t around to see it in its full glory, situated at the tail end of a cancelled book. Grade A+.

Conan The Barbarian #1 (Dark Horse): You know the first thing I noticed about this book? It was that old-school typewriter looking text, with inky blobs, that does all kinds of things. It makes you think you’re reading some pulpy old tome, it makes you imagine Robert E. Howard banging out these stories in some smoky room somewhere, it makes you feel like you’ve unearthed forgotten stories about this Cimmerian swordsman, it calls to mind the way that the Kurt Busiek run used them to great effect. Anyway, I’ve never actually read any of the original Howard tales; what I know of Conan comes from a) the silly movies b) the Marvel comics of the 70’s and 80’s I’ve dug out of quarter bins (some nice Gil Kane art in some of those), and c) Dark Horse’s own run, which started with Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord. I still own all those hardcovers from Busiek and Nord, and I love them. I thought it would be impossible to surpass their achievement, but it certainly looks like Wood and Cloonan are gearing up to attempt just that. Brian Wood. Becky Cloonan. Dave Stewart. Richard Starkings. Massimo Carnevale. Yup. Sounds like a dream team to me. Before you even realize it, Conan is leaping from dock pillar to dock pillar, diving into action embedded in foreign lands, and we’re off and running on one of the most revered stories of all time. Along with the adventure and romance required of this arc, Wood is also toying with the class system and conflicting values, things that are right up his alley. Cloonan’s work looks beautiful in color, you can see traces of her indie roots in some of the line work, sometimes calling to mind peers like Vasilis Lolos, but it's certainly accomplished, slick, and polished enough to be ready for prime time. When Conan says “I pay with steel,” it was hard not to imagine a Greyjoy from the Iron Islands talking about “paying the iron price,” but that’s just me. I like that Conan is young here, he’s still capable of making mistakes, but you’d never know it because of his charm and steely-eyed sense of justice that always seems to clash with local corruption. The first issue walks a fine line between feeling really dense and satisfying, yet flowing smoothly in the dialogue department. There were a couple of panel transitions that were a little confusing the first time through, ie: which ship Conan was on, when he was in the water, dreaming, on a ship, or not, but that could just be me. For the most part, Cloonan impresses, particularly in the backgrounds of Kush, with the design flair in the archways and sickly looking palm trees. Wood has clearly done his homework, he knows the geography and is able to relay the environs. As Conan becomes embroiled in all things Belit, you get the sense that it’s partially his sense of integrity, but also just horny curiosity. It’s a great combination that captures his personality at this point in his life. At the end we get a nice introduction to this creative team and why it’s a good match for the property, hopefully making everyone feel like settling in for a nice long adaption that would make Howard proud. Grade A.

Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #2 (Marvel): I’m still really having a hard time with the art of Roland Boschi and Dan Brown on the Westchester sequences, but Mark Brooks’ work on the construct portions is really nice. I like small touches, like the way he depicts Armor, uhh, armoring up. It seems a fitting nod to John Cassaday, who did it the first time. It’s funny to see an Omega Level Telepath using his ability to simply torment his teacher, if only someone could channel that energy for good, but I guess that’s what this story is largely about. Poor Quentin... youth - wasted on the young. Brooks does a nice job capturing the mélange of pop culture references in his head, GI Joe, a James Cameron style HK, and a dystopian Blade Runner future that almost connects to the X-Men’s own Days of Future Past timeline. Logan is also growing suspicious that something is going on, he can’t seem to recall his own immediate back story, and clearly there is a “glitch in The Matrix” as some figures become pixelized during the fight scene. I like those parts. I guess the only down side is that I feel like nothing much happens. Logan and Hisako are still on the run, meanwhile Quire desperately tries to get someone, anyone, to notice him and appreciate his genius. Grade B.

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