Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth #1 (Image): Ken Kristensen and M. K. Perker (who I last saw on the underrated Vertigo series Air with G. Willow Wilson) open things with some very precise characterization on the roster page which instantly sets the subversive tone. Perker shifts his art style here to a very compact aesthetic that packs a lot of punch. Overall, I felt like this was some sort of heady blender of Peanuts (attempting to reconcile the way life is, versus the way life should be) and Joe Casey work like The Milkman Murders (a scathing take down of suburbia) in the way it carries itself. It’s dark humor that’s a cult classic in the making. As a Korean family moves into the neighborhood, so do we, meeting titular Todd and his bagged head, his emotionally absent parents, his childhood tormentors, oblivious teachers, overzealous cops, and even the local serial killer. The strongest theme in Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth is probably the dueling notion of outsider status and a sense of belonging, and with that you have a smart indictment of jingoism. Artistically, Perker is just as clever, using transitional devices like a floating leaf to get from scene to scene, or the unflinching intra-panel view from cleaved frog brains. Beyond readily discernible themes and fresh panel to panel storytelling, I found this to be a powerful slice of commentary about a wide spectrum of social issues. We have detached parenting, over-medicated youth, socialized ethnocentrism, homophobia, desensitized violence, materialism, victim-blaming anti-feminism, the allure of fame, bullying, lack of respect for authority, the wrong people being rewarded, the oppression of the innocent, and all manner of aberrant behavior crammed seamlessly into a beautiful debut. I loved every second of it. Honestly, on the day President Obama released his recommendations on comprehensive gun control, shit, if you want to curb gun violence and want to address our culture of violence, send this book to Obama and have teachers us this as a learning tool. It’s a parody of everything wrong with our culture. It’s a dark satire featuring a cornucopia of explanations for our societal breakdown, masquerading as a really funny, really weird comedy. Image Comics has another hit on their hands. Grade A+.
Conan The Barbarian #12 (Dark Horse): Conan is one of those books that I really enjoy reading, it feels dense but effortless (read: you get your money’s worth of entertainment), but I often feel like I don’t have much to say about it. It’s crafted exceptionally well and one thing that instantly jumped out at me when I read Conan differentiating between avoiding a point and missing it, is that Brian Wood really loves language. He knows that words are powerful and if you explore the vocabulary, you can create stylish tension right out of that, regardless of script. In a more Hemingway-esque “pure” sense of language use, he also gets the value of short, crisp, declarative sentences. “I am the wolf” is a chilling, simple, and devastatingly effective little sentence when you’re not expecting it. I dug N’Gora’s characterization, as well as the brilliant action sequence that sees Conan snatching a spear out of mid-air and turning it on his attacker, all in one fluid motion, which is brought to life by Declan Shalvey’s chiseled lines. I was surprised to realize that, at this point, Wood is basically halfway through his run at 12/25 issues. Even Conan begins to reflect on this period of his life. He and Belit have already experienced test after test of their budding relationship in this period that will help shape the identity of young Conan for years to come. There’s a line, a moment, that occurs unexpectedly, late in this issue, which literally made me gasp out loud. I love that feeling. Grade A.
Saga #9 (Image): The short version is that this book is good, but does not deserve all the hype and praise it gets. It is just too self aware for my taste. For example, the lines about The Will wanting a “contract-killing apprentice” reek of Vaughan’s appreciation for films like The Professional, just to name the one probably most apt. For example, the new Freelancer saying “This is why I never trust reviews.” If the former was a wink at the audience, the latter is a slap in the face. There was a time, in the late 90’s or early 00’s, when I would have eaten that level of meta right up. But after reading stuff like Joe Casey’s Automatic Kafka way back when, it just feels dated and played out now. It’s so self-aware that it basically borders on breaking the fourth wall, and a little of that goes a long way before it starts to feel like gimmicky writing. I have a hard time with this book. I like it, but I’m sick of the general BEST. COMIC. EVER. mentality that seems rampant about it. It didn't even make my Top 13 for 2012! It probably would have been on my Top 20 of 2012 if I pushed it out that far. So, yeah, there's like at least 19 comics better than this or something. I have a hard time separating my legitimate enjoyment from my true annoyance at the hype from my generally contrarian tendencies. I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain why BKV can be a good bright writer, yet still pull stunts that feel like a second year creative writing student playing games with the audience which just play as “too smart by half” as my Brit friends would quip. Similarly, I like Fiona Staples art a great deal, but it’s got some issues too. Her figure work is incredibly strong, and getting better just within the space of 9 issues. However, her backgrounds still feel too stark and sterile to sell the level of world-building Vaughan is aiming for. They feel rushed and sparse and simple. I keep comparing Saga to something soap opera-ish like the new 90210. I recognize that it’s cheap entertainment, yet I keep watching. In that way, it succeeds because it accomplishes what it set out to. It’s great at being what it is. But what it is, is great light entertainment, not high art. It’s not terribly complex or challenging, but it’s fun and creative. Anyway. The whole issue basically moves away from Marko and Alana and focuses on The Will trying to free Slave Girl. I was also just wondering why some panels are clipped with blunted corners like BSG documents. Grade A-.