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Mind MGMT #8 (Dark Horse): My retailer reports that back issue sales on this title have picked up since news of the Ridley Scott helmed film option have surfaced. That’s great for Matt Kindt, who is a swell guy that I’ve been following the career of for, what, 10 years now? I can only hope if Hollywood types are looking at Dark Horse Comics, then Brian Wood’s The Massive is next! Kindt's creations are full of ideas; I could use a whole book about The Wish breaking into The Louvre as one of “The Lost Ones,” for example, and here it’s basically just bonus window dressing. Lyme and Meru go a-recruiting, trying to assemble a secret team of ex-agents to thwart The Eraser re-establishing the agency. I enjoy the marriage of a couple of Kindt’s trademarks here, his espionage infused writing and fascination with two sisters (he has another book called that after all). In the book within a book portion, we see the sisters basically creating books as a form of control, able to incite unrest or calm, in a nice bit of reflexive and introspective writing from the creator. Kindt is such a triple threat, clever writer, terrific designer, and amazing artist, using his standard ink washes to create a simultaneously fluid and gritty style that’s able to capture both ends of the emotional spectrum. It’s clear that he thinks through his panel choices, like the long vertical panels emphasizing Meru’s sense of claustrophobic panic as she’s whisked off to Zanzibar and beyond sans passport. There’s a mega-cliffhanger here that you don’t see coming because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by way of the manipulation of pace, with the small group visiting people over and over. It’s a fast-paced, very well-played issue. That faux romance novel on the back cover is a big deal, no? If Elle and Ella met Henry Lyme long ago, does that mean that Meru is [REDACTED BY MIND MANAGEMENT]? There’s nothing like this on the stands, it’s one of the most unique books currently available, and a good lesson in letting a creator-owned talent just run wild. Grade A+.
Batwoman #17 (DC): Well, it’s all come down to this as JH3 is leaving art duties for a stretch to go work with Neil Gaiman on the ballyhooed Before Sandman or whatever. He’ll be sticking on as co-writer for the book, but the art is really half the magic here, arguably more, so I’m still not sure if I’ll be sticking around for the extended Trevor McCarthy era. There’s a lot riding on that first issue, but I’m really getting ahead of myself. Regarding this issue, there’s so much going on visually that it’s like a seminar in the creative process. Nobody can manage the types of layouts that Jim Williams can, period. It works on a macro-scale and even on a micro-scale, small flourishes like the way Kate’s cape flips up to reveal text underneath, or the gleams of light rounding the contours of her uniform. I think that critics, myself included, probably give the writing short shrift when the art is so phenomenal. When I was reading the first couple of pages, I typed a stray line in my notes that it sounded like David Mack, which is pretty high praise from me. Something about it harkened back to the old Kabuki days when I first discovered that title. The final showdown with Medusa is great, especially the uhh, “Perseus Trick” that Kate pulls, or the two page spread redemption song with Flameb-- , err, Hawkfire saying “I don’t know whether to cheer or puke.” Williams gets downright Geoff Darrow with some of his crowd shots; there’s a bottom half of another two-page spread where I counted something like 38 distinct characters rushing the sequence. I loved the bond that was established between Batwoman and Wonder Woman in this arc, truly living up to the hallowed name "World’s Finest." The reveal that most people are talking about is one that captures the ultimate trust – in more ways than one. However, the actual final page reveal also has some wild ramifications – in more ways than one. Batwoman is still the minority exception that proves the majority rule. Amid the dreck of the generic lackluster New 52, this is by far the brightest bright spot, and the way it should all be getting done. Grade A+.
Conan The Barbarian #13 (Dark Horse): When you dive into the descriptions of the port cities of Shem, you feel a very palpable sense of history for this world. There isn’t a lot of action per se in this issue, so it’s a nice opportunity to slow down and really savor the language. The opening assault being staged on The Fortress Ramah En Ram for some reason reminded me of the Roman siege of Masada, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. Mirko Colak joins Wood for this outing and the art style is noticeably more European, a bit more realistic and less ethereal. At times, I could sense some Richard Corben in there or even faces that reminded me of something out of Metabarons. Colak helps Wood craft a story of pained longing in the aftermath of Belit and Conan’s tragic recent incident, but there’s more than that going on. There’s the respect between Conan and N’Gora which is very enjoyable, and the story of Conan’s conscripted service against Ramah En Ram. Colak creates some great forced perspective shots that get revealed dramatically as you flip the page over. I find it interesting when Wood dips his toe into fascination with the tactics of warfare. The bits about the trebuchets flinging rudimentary explosives reminded me of Northlanders #17: “The Viking Art of Single Combat” back in 2009 (which I distinctly remember because it was one of the first advance reviews I ever did for him, and the lyrical line “some fucker slipping his hunting knife under the shields and unzipping your thigh” has stuck with me for years), or even Warren Ellis’ fabulous Crecy, which ultimately both contend with man’s fetish interest in war and the meaningless brutality of it all. I thought it was cool how even the letters to the editor have picked up on the fact that Wood’s tendency toward character driven storytelling grounds this series in more realism and emotional accessibility than swashbuckling uber-competence ever did. That “100 Issues At Dark Horse!” bullet on the front cover is interesting. It makes me wonder if Dark Horse will start a similar cover treatment for Star Wars in an effort to campaign for keeping that property out of the gaping maw of Disney/Marvel. There must be high-hundreds (thousands?) of Star Wars issues under the Dark Horse banner. Anyway, totally digressing, great issue of Conan. Grade A.