Wasteland #38 (Oni Press): This arc with Abi, Michael, and Gerr stuck in Godsholm has been a more leisurely feeling pace than most in the series, but overall I enjoyed it. Perhaps the micro setting and new players moved slowly or were superficially not as interesting as some others, but in a macro sense, this was an important “moment” for the series holistically. There was a lot of important information laced into this otherwise innocuous story. This is a bit tangential, but I’ve been re-reading the Ankya Ofsteen journal entries online, starting with #1, and in hindsight some things are pretty obvious with a little bit of inductive reasoning. For example, with clues given in the first handful of entries alone, you can basically triangulate the location of most of the events in the series from her clues about the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico itself, references to Canada, what I still assume is Washington DC, and The Big Wet itself, the event, whether it was a “New Killer War” or an actual environmental disaster as enmythed (I just made that word up) by the Sunners. None of these places are named mind you, but they’re crackable. The only ones I still can’t seem to crack are Low-Wil, and the big one, A-Ree-Yass-I. I guess I bring all this up to explain that I’m starting to think Wasteland isn’t going to play like The Sixth Sense. What I mean is that I don’t think there there’s going to be some Earth-shattering revelation that comes in the 25th hour to retcon everything that’s come before, like a twist. I think the story will play to its natural conclusion, having offered clues along the way, some relatively straightforward and some more closely guarded, in a way that will reward long-time readers. That’s just a hunch the further along we get, I could be wrong. ANYWAY. This issue wraps up this arc and it’s largely worth it for two reasons. One, we get the back story of the assassin Gerr and how he came to be in the service of Marcus at Newbegin. He’s a fascinating character and it’s great to get anyone’s back story in this harsh mysterious land. Two, there’s a… something that happens, I don’t want to spoil it, but this something makes sense given what’s occurred, but at the same time comes unexpectedly and suddenly and is handled so matter-of-factly that I was grinning ear to ear because it simply rang true. Now, I know some people aren’t huge fans of Justin Greenwood’s animated art style, but I tend to defend him. It’d be hard for anyone to come in after Chris Mitten and show him up when he has such a distinct style and largely defined the look and feel of the series for 25 issues or so. The other thing you gotta’ appreciate about Greenwood, especially the more I learn about the production process from insider friends, is that the dude can turn in a monthly book! This seems to be becoming an endangered species in this industry, an artist who can produce 20+ pages a month, month in and month out, without delay or major hiccups. I will say that, at times, Greenwood’s panel composition feels a slight bit rushed, because, well, DEADLINES COMETH, and there isn’t much background work or real context for the figures he provides. But, the figures are all distinct, the storytelling is clear, and everything just feels crisp and clean and light and it’s a very smooth reading experience. All of that said, I’m really excited to be closing this chapter and looking ahead to the next arc. It’ll be interesting to see if we stick with Abi and Michael’s party and continue moving toward A-Ree-Yass-I, if we’ll get one of those diverting arcs like Dog Tribe, or even another of the special interlude issues. Grade A.
Popeye #2 (IDW): Honestly, I don’t care all that much about Popeye, but Tom Neely has become one of those buy on sight creators for me. He illustrates the Sappo back-up story here. Roger Langridge writes the initial story and the back-up. The intro story featuring Popeye, Olive Oil, and all the regulars(?) is illustrated by Ken Wheaton. The lead story feels very dense. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way I guess, there is a ton of text to get through, but it feels more like you’re really getting your money’s worth than feeling like a chore to slog through. Langridge basically has the vernacular down from what I recall, along with the aesthetic charm of the original strips, and it’s also refreshing to get a completely self-contained story told in just 15 pages. What I probably liked the most was the way he was able to slip in subtle modernized jokes, like a vase being from the “Bling Dynasty” or Wimpy as “Jones, one of the Jones boys.” My favorite part of the lead story was probably Wimpy himself, there’s something about the put-on erudition of this neighborhood bar bloke that’s really endearing. It’s about then that you realize the creators of Cheers must have totally based Cliff Claven on him. Neely’s back-up Sappo strip is interesting. It’s clear that Neely probably had to tone down his personal horror-meets-Floyd-Gottfredson style to visually mimic the house tone of the originals, but you can still faintly detect his own unique hand in there. If you really hone in on the Cheshire Cat grins and the small sinewy line weight of things like the tightly wound hair on some of the characters, you could easily transfer those detail images into The Blot or The Wolf and be convinced it was Neely. I think I enjoyed the slightly more subversive nature of the marital strife humor of Sappo than I did of Popeye proper. If I’m still being honest, this whole property really isn’t my brand of humor or my style of strip, but the thought of Neely doing an entire issue certainly is promising, and I’ll certainly be back to see that. Oh, and as usual, IDW probably consistently has the best overall production quality of any publisher. They don’t happen to publish a whole lot of books I actually like, but the paper quality, the design, the texture of the colors, the print quality, the page layouts, just the very feel of the book in hour hand, every single thing about it screams progressive professionalism. Screw digital, I like books, and these guys give good book. Grade A.
Worlds’ Finest #2 (DC): Ugggh. This is one of those titles that I genuinely want to like more than I do. The kind I wish it was easier for me to like. The kind that should just be fun and nice to look at, provided that y’know, something actually happens, I guess? The kind I wish I could turn my brain off for and just sit back and passively enjoy without overthinking, but being a critic means being intellectually honest about the full range of your reactions. I’m basically buying it because I really love George Perez’s art. And for 13 out of 26 pages, that’s 50% - even I can figure that one out without building an Excel formula, there he is drawing graceful action and lovely women and wispy hair and battle strewn rubble like only he can do. It's great. I feel like I'm a 'tween again, marching down to the LCS every week to gobble him up on New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths, naively, but gloriously, feeling like I've discovered something new, something my own, something that nobody else has claimed yet, like your favorite indie band. Maguire is a good artist too, don't get me wrong, but I don’t have any childhood nostalgia for him. The problem is really that the book isn’t about anything. For the bulk of the book, Power Girl and Huntress, they, well, they basically fight some generic monster robot guy that’s totally inconsequential, ramble on about something something Earth 2 which makes no sense because, well, the rest of the NuDCnUNew52Universe doesn’t make any sense, and even trade some vaguely lesbian innuendo while showing Power Girl in a skimpy two-piece for no reason because, uhh, I guess guys who are half my age and their parents don’t subscribe to Skinemax or they somehow don’t have web access or can’t otherwise find real porn still buy books like this for some type of creepy fan service alone time, or at least the people responsible for making these books THINK those guys still exist for those reasons and are trying to give their dwindling audience what they think they want? Despite my internal conflict, I can easily see myself buying another issue of this because “ohh pretty!” even though I know I should be dropping it. My heart says yes, my brain says no. Help. Grade B-.