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East of West #3 (Image): Well, I’m almost 100% certain that it’s probably the only comic you’ll read this week that has a sentient rhyming eyeball. The Three Horsemen come to consult Hunter and subsequently track Death toward the Imperial City as he seeks out his lost love. All of this could wildly upset the balance of things in this universe. My only little small tiny gripe is that Xiaolian’s blades basically look exactly like Klingon battleths, but I understand that’s being super nitpicky. Nick Dragotta’s flashbacks have this awesome fuzzy no-line panel border thing going on that gives a rich rustic quality. One more example of the artistic swagger all over this book is the way Dragotta lays out the stacked “T” and “H” on “THOOM.” Jonathan Hickman is careful to avoid exposition and doles out just a little more information with each passing issue until the world is fully formed and fully comprehensible to the audience. East of West has the latent potential to achieve GoT level intrigue with family allegiances and territorial alliances amid an insanely cool world-build. Bottom line, this is basically the new Saga. It’s the Saga for me. It’s the book I wanted Saga to be. It’s less tongue in check and more gravitas. You don’t have to choose in this golden age of creator owned comics, thank god, but if you did I’d be all contrarian and tell you to read East of West instead of Saga if it came down to it. Grade A+.
Ten Grand #2 (Image): I was a fan of the first issue, but this second effort is even better. From start to finish, this issue is an engaging descent into another more spiritual world lurking just below the surface of our own. The sense of resigned fate displayed by a character like Johnny is a somber signal to the type of story JMS is telling. What Johnny sees when he looks at Joe with his special sight is a clever juxtaposition of text and art, proving that Straczynski understand the true strengths of the medium. The way Joe explains what souls can hear that the ears simply cannot is also a clue to how this series is already packed to the brim with demonic creations and intuitive ideas that are so fascinating. Ben Templesmith offers these rich pops of color against dark shadows and heavy inks that are perfectly suited for a story of a secret war being waged by angels and demons through proxy individuals on the earthly plane. The narrative voiceover from Joe runs almost the entire length of the issue, so it’s maybe a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s also so enthralling that you hardly mind its presence. JMS is quickly positioning this as a bit of an existential exercise, examining how we either can, or cannot, make the most of the precious little time we’re given with the ones we love. I’m also more than a little amused at how badly this daring story puts the untapped potential of DC Entertainment’s John Constantine character to shame in the flaccid creative bankruptcy that is The New 52. Grade A+.
Astro City #1 (DC/Vertigo): Confession: I was all set to wave my hand dismissively at this book based on how I remembered it as a return to romanticizing the normalcy of do-good superhero archetypes. I am a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, superhero paradigm deconstruction guy after all, so this modernization of Golden Age feel-good comics just bored me to tears. Now, it’s still got whiffs of that, but it turns out it’s also executed much more intricately and clever than I remember. Right from jump, the introduction breaks the fourth wall hard, which is a high risk and high reward proposition that can make or break a book, and it’s self-aware nature poking fun at the very genre it operates in worked quite well. It’s almost as if Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson are paying so much homage to this style of comic booking that it borders on a type of reverse multi-layered satire, itself deconstructing how these stories and archetypes typically function. Shoot, there’s even the coming of a Kirby like figure who sort of stumbles his way through first contact in an endearing way. Along the way, we catch up with too-cute-for-her-own-good American Chibi, Samaritan, the uhh, Wonder Woman archetype, and the Batman archetype, both of whose names I’ve long forgotten, and an everyman with a destiny who gets instantly characterized with clever writing like “what he was working to do, he’s done.” With Brent Anderson providing some nice big spreads and utilization of perspective, along with the flipped endgame of the mysterious narrator, I’m all onboard for this smart return to Astro City, marking the 60th issue of what is now an ongoing title. Grade A.
Suicide Risk #2 (Boom! Studios): Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande deliver a follow-up issue that’s probably stronger than the debut. They make it clear that this is going to be a human drama first and foremost, merely set in a world where powers are commonplace. What I like more than anything is the attention to detail they pay every aspect of the story. It’s there in the investigative work on the law enforcement end, in the time spent fleshing out the family members, and in the little scientific factoids that are laced into the story. There’s enough familiar foibles for an audience to identify with, including the protagonist still figuring out his power set, along with the mysterious woman he sees in his dreams. We get the title explained in this issue, and overall this is a great new take on the realistic toll the superhero paradigm would take on individuals and society as a whole. Between this and Paul Jenkins’ work on Deathmatch (not to mention the way he's been speaking out against the corporate culture at Marvel and DC, which seems to favor the IP catalogue over human capital), the recent creator-owned surge has put Boom! Studios on my radar in a way that it never was before. Grade A.
Locke & Key: Omega #5 (IDW): In some ways, this issue of Locke & Key is reminiscent of the latest episode of Game of Thrones that preceded it, in that you can’t say much without venturing into spoilers. Joe Hill is able to bring several plot threads and themes to a head here. He hits these frantic emotional highs and just never lets up for the duration of the entire issue. Gabriel Rodriguez has got to be one of the most underrated artists working in the industry today. In terms of conveying complex human expressions, I’d put him in the category that also contains artists like Terry Moore or Carla Speed McNeil. There’s a clarity and flow to his work that many more prominent practitioners could learn from, despite this being his first major work in the American comics scene. As I understand it, seems like the end of this long-running tale may have gotten away from Hill a little. For a while, Omega was billed as the final arc, but now we expect two additional Alpha issues which will bookend this final arc and the entire story. Oh well, at this point Hill has banked enough credibility that I’m sure I’ll check it out, along with his new series Thumbprint coming out later this summer. Grade A.