5.16.12 Reviews (Conan Uber Alles Edition)

Conan The Barbarian #4 (Dark Horse): They told me his name was "James," but I’m just gonna’ go ahead and call the guy “Rough Hewn Harren,” because that’s how his glorious pencils strike me. The single panels are good, the full pages are great, and the double-page spreads are breathtaking. They have an almost Sergio Aragones level of detail about them, without the humor obviously. His hard-chiseled men look like they’ve brawled and been knocked around, and that’s all juxtaposed against the sumptuous eyes of Belit’s female form. I think I actually like this art better than Becky Cloonan’s (which I like a lot) because it feels more at home here, more rough and tumble, not as (and I hate this term) “cartoony” or light. You can’t really talk about the art without acknowledging the best-in-the-business colors of Dave Stewart. Whether it’s warm Earth tones, the crisp blue water, or a starry moonlit sky, the world just leaps off the page in a way that grabs you and demands attention. It’s interesting to see a younger Conan, one not as self-reliant as in his later years, willing to trust, work as part of a team, depend on other people, be swept up in their plots, give into emotions, and even let himself fall in love. At times, Wood’s script may lean toward being a little dense with omniscient voice-over narration, but it’s so rich and engaging you hardly notice. It also generally fits the tone of the source material well, which could be heavy with descriptive prose. It’s a difficult thing to strike a balance between being faithful to source material (close enough to avoid fanboy fury anyway) and striking out to tell your own tale. At nearly $4 with tax, this still feels like you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s dense, it takes time to digest, and is impossible to fly through. I hate to invoke the name of a writer who only wrote one book I honestly like, but the poeticism of Neil Gaiman and Sandman kept popping into my brain toward the end. As Conan plunged into the icy waters of despair in his dream, we learn that one of the most powerful things, more powerful than his physical prowess, more captivating than a pirate’s greed of gold, more alluring than the raw drive and freedom of adventure, or even the primal attraction he bears for Belit, is hope. And there you have it, "despair," "dreams," all balanced with "hope," key words for any Gaiman scholar. It’s a handful of the most intense universal forces you’ll find, fictional or otherwise, from California to Cimmeria, from Vermont to Messantia. Grade A.

Saucer Country #3 (DC/Vertigo): Ahhh, it’s just so effortless. It’s like you’re watching a TV show, you can just sit back and be entertained as the natural words pour over you and the images flow seamlessly from one visual to the next in front of your eyes. There’s no hiccups, no pauses, no difficult transitions, it’s just so fluid, words dancing around pictures dancing around script dancing around plot. It’s really good. There isn’t like some blow you away moment, but Paul Cornell delivers a high quality drama from start to finish with slightly off-center characters that instill a real curiosity about what’s to come. It really makes you think that his TV writing experience has finally come bearing fruit and prepped him for this oft sound-byted “West Wing meets X-Files” project. Ryan Kelly’s art has been getting better and better with every project, and just when you think you’ve seen the best it can be (New York Five), it can look even more polished (admittedly, probably due to the color). Point being, he’s absolutely ready for prime time rockstar artist status. Vertigo should be signing him to an exclusive deal already and getting him on some even higher profile creator-owned projects, so he can continue to fund his own (Funrama!) ventures on the side. This issue sees Professor Kidd coming aboard staff complete with his own psychosis, with several other fringe groups investigating extraterrestrial theories in their own manner. Cornell has a way with the language, tapping ideas like “myth bridging the gap between truth and lies.” Also? Blue Bunnies! Grade A.

Scalped #58 (DC/Vertigo): Man, I can’t believe there are only two issues left! I still remember picking up #1 years ago and the thrilling instant hook of leafing over to that last page to learn that Dash was an undercover FBI Agent. It absolutely makes me tense and my skin crawl whenever Dash and Red Crow face off. You never know if they’ll continue their weird “honor among thieves” credo or give into their base instincts and shoot the hell out of each other. And what the hell is Catcher doing? One thing you can say about Jason Aaron is that he’s a closer. With the credibility in the bank that this book has established, he could have probably just coasted across the finish line, but instead he’s still charging ahead like a runaway freight train. Honestly, I feel like I can’t really review this thing until it’s all in and all done. I mean, the art is lovely, the language is scary, and it’s one of the best comics created, like, ever. What the hell am I gonna’ say now on issue 58 out of 60 that’s gonna’ move the needle one way or the other? Grade A.

Batwoman #9 (DC): Has it been a while since this book came out last? I ask because I have zero recollection of the overarching plot thrust here. Something about missing kids? Or was that the last arc? I remember the name “Falchion,” but couldn’t tell you who he is or what he’s doing here. I recall nothing about Sune either, feels like I missed an issue, though I’m positive I didn’t. Anyway, the art from Trevor McCarthy was actually a really pleasant surprise. Honestly, I expected to hate it, but I like it more than Amy Reeder’s work. It’s still not as good as JH Williams III (what is?), but the line work is nice and tight and the layouts are particularly effective at aping JH3’s overall style and ornamentation, to the point that I’m wondering if Jim actually did some layouts for Trevor? Despite a faded plot hook, despite DC revolving door artist shenanigans, I’m still really enjoying this cast of amazing women. This book would be hard to give up if I ever gave up Marvel and DC books some day like David Brothers did a while back. I’m just sayin’. From Kate, to Maggie, to Cameron, to Bette, and now to Sune as would-be sidekick, it’s pretty rare you see not only well-written women (by someone other than, say, Brian Wood), but an entire ensemble cast of well-written women carrying a mainstream property title. Also? (Spoiler Alert, I guess?) I’m deeply concerned about the status of Bette Kane, aka: Flamebird. Her flat-lining while her uncle watches, and her cousin being oblivious to what’s going on, does not bode well at all. Grade A-.


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