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East of West #2 (Image): This might be the only time you ever catch me saying I don’t fully understand a book, but I really like it at the same time. Hey, I even thumbed through the first issue again and all it really did was confuse me further about what was going on in this second installment. Yet, I don’t think it’s an exercise in style over substance. Hickman is clearly doing something here, but it remains to be seen as to what it is exactly. Death kills the President in the first issue and then 3 of the other 4 assumed Horsemen of The Apocalypse come along and kill the (another?) President and most of the cabinet in the second issue. I know in the first issue there’s a scene about them being reborn without Death, and there’s verbiage around something happening to Death in a previous incident, so I’m guessing there’s some cyclical pattern emerging here from the event that occurred at Armistice(?) or it created some kind of divergent timelines or something(?). It’s like you can intuitively understand the themes working in this book, the cautionary aspect of what man does to the planet, and the warring states, and the post-apocalyptic world-building, but the plot, the narrative itself, lies somewhere on the very periphery of understanding. I do believe there’s method to the madness and am willing to stick with it. I kind of enjoy the challenge, and in the interim the book is absolutely stunning visually. Dragotta incorporates a contemporary superhero aesthetic, Naoki Urasawa style manga, western riffs, Marvel cosmic vibes, and a 1990’s Vertigo sensibility that all converge into a style that feels authentically fresh and new instead of a pastiche of worn-on-the-sleeve influences. Quantitatively it might not register on some analytical scoring rubric, but it’s got that indefinable “x” factor that makes it hot. Grade A.
Deathmatch #5 (Boom!): Considering this is one of my favorite new books, I’m surprised that I don’t have anything (new) to say about it. It’s a great example of effortless world-building from Paul Jenkins, making us instantly care about the characters, feel intrigued by their rich back story, and engaged in how their current relationships will affect the outcome of their current predicament. The archetypes offered and the world built here is just so damn cool. With the power temporarily out in the containment compound, we take a quick break from the planned death matches, so that every issue the surviving characters seem to get one step closer to figuring out some of the larger questions in the series, which seem to point toward Meridian’s secret and a secret voice that only Omni-Engine can hear. I’m going to go ahead and say that Carlos Magno is George Perez for the 21st Century; there’s a slick level of detail and consistency in his figures that’s crisp and inviting. It lends a rich quality to the art that makes you want to linger in panels and pore over the figures. Grade A.
Mind MGMT #10 (Dark Horse): It’s the all Duncan issue, as Henry Lyme and Meru try to re-recruit him, but how do you catch a guy who can anticipate your every move? Finding Duncan advances the larger objectives of the strike team Lyme and Meru are putting together, but this issue functions even better as an in-depth character study. Duncan is a lesson in “be careful what you wish for,” something that sounds like it’d be fun as hell (and I’m sure it was at first) becomes boring and predictable, and without challenge in life, you’re ultimately led down a road of unhappiness and depression. As far as the extras go, the Dream Walker short up front owes a little to Neil Gaiman’s work on Sandman, but Kindt seems to increase the relevance of the text in the margins, showing how Duncan can process all of the chatter within a 15 mile radius; at one point, it even bleeds into one of the panels in a seamless way. As different and well done as Mind MGMT is, if I'm being honest, I have to admit that for some reason it's not a book I look forward to reading as much as I used to, at times even feeling like it's treading water a little. Grade A-.
The Wizard School #1 (Minion Comics): I got a comp of this two year old book, and that’s the end of the positive things I can say about it. It’s a blatant Harry Potter knock-off, complete with "Professor Bumblebane" running the school, Sabretooth in the Hagrid role, and flat blocky art that’s lifeless. It’s way too offensive and grotesquely misogynistic and materialistic to be directed at kids and way too puerile and hollow to be directed at adults, with vapid humor that’s funny to neither, so I’m not sure who the intended audience was in the first place. Grade D-.