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Think Tank #4 (Image): Short version? Ready, set, go: This is the best issue of the series to date. More detail, you say? Well, it’s a wild ride from the start to the twisty-end finish and I finally figured out who Rahsan Ekedal’s art sometimes reminds me of. For me, it has a very Carla Speed McNeil vibe to it, in that it can deftly capture all of this fantastic high tech, but it’s also very Earthy and warm when it comes to human emotion. Matt Hawkins delivers a lesson in strategy vs. tactics amid the best bust-out caper in recent memory. I enjoyed the priceless “Rules of Engagement” scenarios and the fact that the book is so smart it can surprise you even when you already know going into it that the internal rules mean David Loren can outsmart and surprise you at any given moment. There are some very timely reservations embedded here about our covert drone UAV fleet and its remarkable capabilities. This issue is basically flawless, and that’s a term I rarely use. It's so smart and crisp that I found myself frantically scribbling a question in my notes: "Is Think Tank a contender for one of the best series of the year?" Only a few more weeks and you can find out when I unveil my annual list. Grade A+.
Mind MGMT #0 (Dark Horse): This is a collection of 3 webisodes that background the series, full of secret histories and so much style. The fascination with espionage and wild imagination of Matt Kindt give us things like flux houses on ley lines, with Meru investigating early mentions of the Mind MGMT organization. She’s on the trail of the Soviet “Bear,” their top agent who is pointed through the Berlin Wall at his American counterparts. The next story is a series of “perfect murders,” which interlocks with the other stories via code words. The last of the trio is about a Brazilian expedition with Sir Francis at the turn of the century. We learn clever factoids, like mind over body being the functional Fountain of Youth, as the agents Forrest Gump their way through a couple real-world historical events. One of the letters described the narrative as “Herge meets PKD,” and that’s just fine with me. This was a great issue, a mix of haunting aesthetic and background information on current events that all leads to one mysterious place… Mind MGMT. Grade A.
Saga #7 (Image): These scenes are smartly edited together, and Saga remains a very dynamically paced series, a fun world-build, and it’s good, good, good. But, something about it still bothers me. It’s perhaps smug in its ability to be good. In other words, Brian K. Vaughan knows it’s good, and maybe flaunts it a little, which is off-putting and not endearing. Anyway, I like lines like “You have no idea what I know,” and the family dynamics and refreshing acerbic female humor of Alana are all spot-on. All this happens amid an interstellar race war that echoes so many problems in our society, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. It’s no surprise the series is resonating so well with the masses. While I did actually LOL at the slothy giant’s twig and very dangly berries, I have some mixed feelings about the art as well. Fiona Staples’ foreground figures are simply amazing. They pull you right in and engage you so much, you almost don’t notice the skimpy backgrounds. I’ve heard tell that this is some sort of intentional sci-fi aesthetic, but sometimes the backgrounds look like blurry generic shapes that the characters are green-screened in front of, and that leaves me a little cold. I like Saga a lot, yet I don’t feel it deserves *all* of the acclaim it’s getting. It’s a good series and has proven to be extremely consumable, but it’s not really high art or anything. So, if possible, I’d like to somehow issue a very contrarian Grade A-.
Great Pacific #1 (Image): The debut issue of the much-hyped Great Pacific had me squarely engaged early on and then sort of slowly lost me with a degradation in the art and scripting. Joe Harris brings what is actually a great premise full of interesting stats about the massive garbage swirl lurking in the Pacific Ocean, and it felt like some sort of distant cousin to Brian Wood’s The Massive. As time went on though, you can see the obvious influences of both Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark (not to mention the last name of one of the original X-Men), the merging of billionaire philanthropist paradigms, down to specific lines about racing in Monaco and a secret “Applied Sciences” division w/in the protagonist’s late father’s company. This is all crammed together with the enviro-apocalyptic realm in a way that violates an old filmmaking guideline, which might as well apply to comics too. “Get into scenes as late as you can, and get out as early as you can.” Great Pacific essentially does the opposite, getting in very early and taking too long to ramp up (I mean, dude isn’t even on the damn island yet, all this could have been done in half the space or in flashback), then lingering so long that it begins to telegraph its moves. For example, I knew well before I was supposed to that Chas Worthington was going to stage his own death. You can just see it coming in formulaically staged more-than-a-clue tells. Some of the science is interesting, sort of a very watered down version of what’s going on in Think Tank, with a plasma beam that makes water vapor out of oil and plastic and other hydrocarbons, yet those golf balls seem like they’re right out of Twister. Which I guess is a half-assed segue to some issues I had with the art. Martin Morazzo’s sinewy detail is interesting and 70% of the time very sharp. The rest seems too elongated in spots so that figures are distorted, and all manner of little things began to bother me. Those golf balls I mentioned, well, sitting in the bucket they have a scale that’s just way off, Alex’s hair looks ridiculously inconsistent in places, I’m not sure why two of the Maasai warriors are floating in that one panel, and why is the house wait staff all black?! It’s not the South in the 1960’s, it’s West Texas in the present day. If you’re going to rock a racial stereotype based on region, if anything, they should be Mexican or even Native-American. Grade B-.
All New X-Men #1 (Marvel): Didn’t buy this, but had a chance to read the issue. Let’s face it, Immonen’s art alone is probably worth a Grade B. It’s great. The dialogue wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; the problem for me is really in the concept and where this falls in continuity, both big and small. Last time I saw Scott Summers, he was in a SHIELD prison when his brother Alex came to visit him in Uncanny Avengers. So, I guess he’s out now? When did that happen? How? Why? There are two X-Force teams running around and NOW! this rogue group, along with whoever else I’m forgetting. There are so many fringe X-Men groups, is anyone just a regular X-Man? Not everyone can be outsiders if there’s no insiders. In a larger sense, it’s basically a time travel story, full of paradox traps that would make Doc Brown and Marty McFly seriously balk. I’m just not sure that you can get an ongoing series out of this premise. I just don’t see the need for this book to exist. How long can you really milk the basic idea of “The old X-Men meet their future selves! Ha!”? As if time-traveling alternate future reality X-Men continuity wasn’t already fucked enough. Grade B-.