5.02.2013

5.01.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Ten Grand #1 (Image): J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith come out swinging with an impressive debut for Joe’s Comics that deserves all of the acclaim its currently garnering. I’ll tell you, If I was DC Comics, I’d be embarrassed as a motherfucker by this book because there’s absolutely no way that they couldn’t be doing a similar treatment with John Constantine. It just goes to show that the magic of a story in this medium is dependent on the strength of the creators involved, not the inherent juice that any particular character or property possesses. The creative team seamlessly fuses a seedy crime story with strong supernatural elements with the subtle essence of a love story fueling the narrative. Joe the mob enforcer basically stumbles into some mystical shit (“deep [necro] ‘mancy” in local parlance) during what should be a routine hit, and that puts him on a collision course with the world of angels and demons. He’s offered the chance to spend just 5 minutes in heaven with his slain lover after every cycle of orchestrated deed and death that’s carried out from that point forward. If you were to put elements of Midnight Nation, Fell, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Hellblazer, and even Blade of The Immortal into a genre blender and pour it onto Templesmith’s gloomy and dangerous canvas, it might look something like Ten Grand. The dialogue is crisp and fun, the color palette is effervescent and tonally on point, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single flaw in this book. For just $2.99 and the transparent dedication to sequential storytelling evident in the end note from the writer, along with flashes of art and impending projects from the Joe’s Comics imprint, this is shaping up to be a huge win for creator owned comics. Grade A.

Wasteland #44 (Oni Press): Antony Johnston and Russel Roehling deliver a very satisfying issue of The Big Wet. From Roehling’s effective composite of caricature and figure drawing to the clues that Johnston is able to lace the story with, it pushes a lot of the buttons that long-time readers want. As the cover reveals, Michael and Thomas are reunited with Abi as they inch closer to A-Ree-Yass-I and encounter a small tribe of people claiming to have an oracle near The Golden Sea. The identity of the oracle is something I won’t spoil, but I sure wasn’t expecting to see that. It’s a suggestion as to the way life might evolve after the cataclysmic events in The Big Wet Universe. The oracle also whispers a foreshadowing and foreboding line that’s pretty creepy. Johnston has offered clues in the past about downed satellites and nuclear devices scorching the sky. Early guesses as to where/what A-Ree-Yass-I might be have included many things, including a visual/phonetic pronunciation of Area 51, though Johnston has denied that. In any case, it seems like all of these parts are converging to something that might involve military testing. Roehling helps out the mystery by inserting a beat up weathered sign into the last panel of the book. If you examine that carefully, you see things that might say “US Bombing Range” or “Nellis Bombing Range” (referring to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas?) or  the words “Trespassing”  or “Warning” or what looks like “US Air Fo…” One of the best Roehling panels for me was when Michael head butts a sand-eater; there’s a sense of movement to it that typifies his strengths as an artist. I also love the way the Ankya Ofsteen journal entries in the backmatter seem to become more relevant as time goes on. In this issue, she seems to reference runways on an airfield and “flying trucks” with “gods [that] came down from the sky to bless people.” It’s amazing to see how 100 years later, actual events have degenerated and morphed into myth. I also thought it was terrific the way Ankya’s story about the light flashing off the glass in her “binnox” bookends the very first page of the issue. And hey, if you can spot the reference to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, then good on you. With something like 16 issues of the book left in this multi-year run, I’m enjoying every second of these latter issues with increased intensity. There’s nothing quite like Wasteland; it should go down as one of the epic tales of the modern age. It's one of the best books you're not reading. Grade A.

Suicide Risk #1 (Boom!): Boom! Studios seems to be ramping up their creator-owned wing and making me take note. I’ve really been enjoying Deathmatch and now I can add Suicide Risk to my pull list. Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande demolish San Diego (the Manchester Grand Hyatt is on the cover, references to El Cajon, etc.) in a story involving regular cops trying to contain supes breaking bad for some unknown reason. Carey does some instantaneous world-building with great character names, clever substitution codes, and intriguing mentions of an apparent superhero database containing something called “krypts,” which I’m envisioning as encrypted protocols on how to stop them(?). It’s a world where villains outnumber heroes and the heroes aren’t just losing this battle, they’re losing the entire war, unless a game-changer is introduced. Casagrande’s gritty street level art is a perfect match for these consequences. I enjoyed the way the artists depicted the fact that when not powered up, these people are just regular dudes. For example, when Extended Remix has his powers dampened, one huge blow to the midsection takes him out. It’s quite realistic for a book with multiple supes rampaging down the streets. The first issue offers 17 dead cops, 12 wounded cops, and 14 dead civilians, in a world where you can buy black market powers on the street. There’s a maturity to the tone and aesthetic of the book that, for me, blows away something like Bendis’ dated Powers, which has some similarity to the premise. It’s instantly better and I’m instantly hooked. I was all set to award the coveted Grade A+ to this title, advancing it ahead of Ten Grand, when I started detecting glitches. I felt that Leo’s ultimate course here was telegraphed too hard, especially with the hesitation on Dr. Maybe’s face when he’s apprehended and their interaction in the jail cell. I wasn’t a fan of some of the specific word choices, which felt very dated or curious. I don’t know many women that would, even jokingly, refer to themselves as a “hussy” in the heat of the moment. Hey, I’ve heard “bitch” or “slut” or even “whore” used in self-aware sexual self-deprecation, but “hussy” is a term from a generation or two past. Unless you’re in an episode of Happy Days, nobody says “bubkis” either. While we’re at it, nobody, especially not a criminal in a dark alley, is ever going to say “oh spit” when “oh shit” will do. I also didn’t understand how that same dealer could get in close quarters and get the drop on Leo with his p-wand when we’ve already established Leo was drawn down on him. That wasn’t choreographed particularly well, but that’s the end of my little list of gripes. Overall, there’s nice world-building, nice character development (mixed race couple, son's birthday party, father-in-law interaction, etc.), nice mysteries being established, and an effort toward social relevance, with things like the debate over secret identities touching on the balance of personal freedoms and collective security. Grade A.

Harbinger Wars #2 (Valiant): I’m really enjoying the handy visual reference guide on the inside front covers of these issues. It helps keep track of a large cast that’s pitting Peter and The Renegades against Toyo Harada and The Harbinger Foundation against Bloodshot and one group of psiots against another splinter group of psiots called Generation Zero. In this issue, we get a recounting of the confrontation between Harada and Bloodshot, which kicks off the automatic activation of something called The Harada Protocol. In the process, writer Joshua Dysart also lays the groundwork for re-activation of The H.A.R.D. Corps, or Harbinger Active Resistance Division, “decommissioned in the 90’s” (!), which seems to be a more organic division of Project Rising Spirit used to track down psiots and counter Harada’s forces than the now unreliable programming glitches found in Bloodshot. Got all that? It could play a little convoluted while naturally feeling like “all middle” in this part of the crossover event, but Dysart and artist Clayton Henry keep it together, juggling many players in this complex tale of morality while expanding the boundaries of the burgeoning Valiant Universe at the same time. Grade A-.

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