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Punk Rock Jesus #5 (DC/Vertigo): The penultimate issue of Sean Murphy’s creator-owned baby opens with a Kasabian-style club riot, with Thomas trying to protect Chris outside the confines of J2. Murphy’s art is simply to die for, with a compact and detailed essence, and an overarching management of beats and pacing that’s done so well. The art is full of flourishes in the form of background graffiti, nods to DCU properties, music and bands, 80’s pop culture drops, and a bike that might as well be right up there with Kaneda’s, it’s so iconic. I loved the crazy two page spread, from the in your face WWPRJD t-shirt to the miles of depth behind it. I loved the band profiles for the group from the flooded Isle of Manhattan, Front Man Jesus Christ, Bassist "Tape," Rabbit on Guitar, and Henny on Drums. The band is completely independent, and it’s hard not to view that idea as a welcome statement from Murphy on the creator-owned rights issue. One observation, not a criticism, is that the issue feels so dense, the news feed crams events in, very fast-paced, almost as if Murphy was panicking, having realized the final issue was impending and he still had lots of ground to cover. The content was no less satisfying though, and it basically just felt like you were getting $5 worth of material for $2.99. The IRA back stories are always fun in the way they inform the present, and I loved the swagger at Milton’s bedside. I found it a little funny that Murphy makes the same small mistake that the crew on The Massive did a couple issues back, by showing a still-jacketed slug spinning off of a tire after it's been fired. Yeah, that’s not how projectile munitions work, but whatever, I wonder if Murphy will undergo the same fanboy outcry that Brian Wood and company did? What I appreciate the most about Punk Rock Jesus is that it’s now ramped up to be incredibly raucous and fun, but it’s not just mindless punk energy. Murphy actually has some important social commentary to voice about the covert civil war brewing over religious extremism, the hypocrisy of groups like NAC, corrupt politicians, and media excess, which extends out of the pages of fiction and into our real world. All this is happening as Chris is intent on playing the ultimate gig – Jerusalem. Grade A+.
Conan The Barbarian #10 (Dark Horse): It’s the start of a new arc with artist Declan Shalvey, and I immediately noticed his Mignola-esque blocky angular lines, which are never devoid of emotion, blood, or strife. It’s almost as if Shalvey has managed to mine the best bits of the Conan artists that have preceded him, a nice balance of, say, Cloonan and Harren, the right edge without being either too soft or too stylized. Conan and Belit are basically content in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to, but start to question if riches and success not earned can be hollow. When a derelict ship is put alongside The Tigress, it presents a mysterious threat like none they’ve ever faced before. Though this introductory issue is perhaps a bit quieter than we’ve become accustomed to, everything is in sync here, from Dave Stewart's lovely warm colors and cool night time palette, to the way N’Gora seems to already be anticipating the need when he tosses Conan’s blade just as he calls for it. It all feels like the calm before the storm, and Brian Wood’s scripting continues to reach a level of soulful excitement instead of the dry academic prose that some original texts can offer. In short, it’s an example of brilliant interpretation and presentation. Grade A.
Batman #14 (DC): Snyder and Capullo are basically firing on all cylinders here; the issue is enjoyable from first page to last page, never a dull beat in between the two. I have to say that I wish DC would pull the tangential back-up feature out and slip the price back down to $2.99 for the trouble, because it never seems to add to the experience, only detracting from the quality of the whole and gouging an extra buck in the process. This is an immersive assault from the Joker, who references the Bat’s recent troubles with the Owl. You get the sense that it’s not just Snyder being self-referential for kicks, but really making things feel like a fully realized world, where Joker was watching on the sidelines as he planned his brutal attack. He blindsides the Bat because he’s doing the scariest thing you can do; he’s changed his thinking and is utterly unpredictable. Capullo’s art seems to steadily get stronger and stronger, full of gloss, detail, and kinetic energy. As a fan of Dick Grayson, Nightwing, and all of the assorted Robin lineage from the time I was old enough to read, this tickles all the right buttons and feels terribly consequential. Snyder has found a way to display absolute mastery of the illusion of change, the best you can hope for in mainstream superhero fare. Somehow the Bat Office @ DC has cornered the market with the two best books, Batwoman and Batman. If I was still buying non-creator-owned DC stuff (and not getting comps), these would be top of the heap, basically the best things the DCU is capable of producing at the moment. Though I’ll damn with faint praise or give a backhanded compliment or insert your colloquial slight of choice here, and say that 2 successes out of a New 52 is a dismal percentage. Grade A-.
Locke & Key: Omega #1 (IDW): Joe Hill’s comic book opus begins with a brilliantly concise recap page regarding the overall narrative, though if you came into this blind (and I can’t imagine who would do that), it’s a little disjointed in that you’d be absolutely lost about who’s who. It doesn’t even come close to passing the “every issue is someone’s first” guideline. It’s really the beginning of the end, as Gabriel Rodriguez’s crystal clear lines depict past regrets looking back over the course of the series, which have all shaped the present. The Kavanaugh film bit grows a little tiresome as a way to unnaturally frame the exposition, but overall it was an engaging read with Kinsey and all the rest confessing, while Dodge basically has all the keys and power, preparing to open the portal for other non-corporeal demons. The one ray of hope is a somber little scene with a duo trying to forge something anew. Grade A-.