6.26.2013

6.26.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Lazarus #1 (Image): It didn’t take long for me to realize that Lazarus was registering in my brain because it marries together two of my favorite genres of storytelling, good old crime family stuff with dystopian world-building. On top of that, Greg Rucka fills it with procedural jargon, which is something I totally have a weakness for. I mean, Queen & Country is still one of my favorite comics of the Modern Age, right alongside Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary, and that's a big part of the reason why. On top of that, Michael Lark comes along and just nails specific scenes like the silent fight choreography, in addition to the general aesthetic of the entire book. The liberal inks fit with a somewhat monochromatic palette, which pops at all the right times to punctuate blue sorrow or red blood. It’s almost sickening the way everything just works so well here, but I don’t want to give the creative team short shrift for all of the hard work involved. Rucka reveals in the satisfying back-matter that the duo has been noodling this story for about a decade, and the time invested, the thought given to every detail, really shows. That back-matter is a fun behind-the-scenes tour through the origins of the series, an assist from Warren Ellis, frightening stats about the pooling effect of global wealth, and the true, ground-out, hard-earned, collaborative work ethic between Rucka and Lark. Yeah, there’s a little mishap with oxycontin vs. oxytocin in the dialogue, but the story of Forever Carlyle, the enforcer, the protector, the avatar, the titular Lazarus of Family Carlyle, maybe not quite having the moral flexibility needed for her mission in life and recounting some recent physical and emotional trauma is so full of instantly realized potential. One of the reasons I think Lazarus works on such a primal level is that it plays on our intuitive fears surrounding what we already know. We already know that wealth is power. We already know wealth can buy you freedom, influence, access, justice, and control. We know that the middle class is rapidly being eliminated. We know that you are basically either a “have” or a “have not” and anything in between feels like a fleeting liminal state. Rucka and Lark take this future to a logical extreme, where paramilitary crime families run armed farm camps and use personal biotechnology that’s advanced through classic sci-fi means. You do that to survive in this world. You do that or you die. It’s clear to me that Lazarus is one of the best debuts of the year. It’s one of the best books of the year. It might even be a contender for THE best book of the year. It’s going to be an impossible challenge to down-select to my 13 finalists for “best of” later this year. I have double that number penciled in as contenders and the year is only half over! Bravo once again to Image Comics for being a home, a force, an advocate of Creator-Owned Comics and unleashing this type of raw and unbridled imagination. It’s books like this that are the future of the industry. Grade A+.

Mind MGMT #12 (Dark Horse): [Note: It’s a hectic week for me with work, friends and family visiting from out of town for summer festivities, SDCC looming and general comics “stuff” happening in the background, so this week’s reviews might be a little shorter than usual, with posts at odd times and intervals, I guess?] This intense issue is the culmination of so many threads that’ve come before. Matt Kindt weaves us through Meru’s revelations in her personal history, the history of the agency’s verbal field guides, and a somewhat Gaiman-esque library at the end of the world that has the objective recorded history of human events. In addition to Kindt’s trademark washes of color, there’s so much visual style in little flourishes, like the way a trench coat hangs or the way cigarette smoke pierces a panel border. This book just gets better and better as time goes on, working out clarity and intent, in what is probably the most aesthetically distinct book on the stands. Kindt is crafting a modern classic that manages a delicate and sophisticated balance between fiction and reality. Grade A.

Jupiter’s Legacy #2 (Image): Man, how about that Pete Doherty on colors?! I feel like there’s a real renaissance happening with colorists in the last couple years. This issue opens with Brandon committing an “SUI,” that’s Superpowers Under the Influence, leading right into an ugly public family squabble between him and his overbearing father Utopian. Meanwhile, Chloe is recovering from another drug OD, and she’s pregnant too! There’s a lot to like, from the SoCal setting, to the concussive force of her shout, to the secret rendezvous with the father. Chloe and Hutch have become the Romeo and Juliet of the story, star-crossed lovers, one the daughter of the most famous supe, the other the son of the most infamous villain. The turmoil continues with Utopian/Sheldon and his brother Walter continually at odds about whether to intervene in the global financial crisis with post-capitalist ideology, in this world unemployment is close to 50% in some states. As they argue over wealth creation and the basic economic infrastructure, it’s clear that the brothers are (too obvious) stand-ins for progressives and conservatives, but it’s so entertaining we don’t mind. Jupiter’s Legacy has quickly grown to be a mature look at celebrity culture, generational dissonance, and the emotional turmoil that happens to all families (drugs, pregnancy, competitive brothers, overbearing parents, and reckless children), even super-powered families. I’m still not sure what the line “is leading something that appeals in any way?” is supposed to mean. I’ve read it a few times and it’s some kind of wrong word choice or omitted word phenomenon, but with cool Uncle Walt manipulating the emotions of Brandon toward either a silent coup d’etat or an all out Superhero Civil War, it’s clear that all hell’s gonna’ break loose and I want to be on board for the post-modern ride. Grade A.

Think Tank #8 (Image): David Loren is taken into custody after General Clarkson caps Colonel Harrison last issue, but instead of a military tribunal under the UCMJ, he gets a closed congressional hearing, making it look like a cover up is in the works, because, y’know, it is. Loren takes a mature turn and decides to pay his respects to someone who was not quite a friend. Matt Hawkins maybe leans a little toward the expositional up front at the hearing and later during the counseling session, but with the best black and white art around from Rahsan Ekedal, and making you consider your own culpability in any organized system – a thing any great art should do beyond creating simple entertainment, you hardly notice the wordiness. There’s some hard truths along the way (“there’s a level of serenity in detachment”) as things bounce with military grade technology, man-made viruses, back door politics, black ops, and disinformation from Russia to Taiwan, setting up the next arc. I’m a strong advocate for back-matter in singles, and Think Tank is among the best. From meta gems like “word of mouth is the only real advertising that works anymore,” to giving credit for artist contributions to the story, to China training for a large scale conflict with the US and political ambiguity with regard to Taiwan, Hawkins’ dense but swift notes play like a tutorial filled with factoids and a perspective on things informed well-beyond the traditional walls of comic book writing. It’s like, if you put Brian Wood, Joshua Dysart, and Matt Hawkins in a room together, they’d probably corner the market on the most well-informed, politically progressive, and socially relevant writing happening in the industry today. That alone is worth the investment in this series. My only slight concern is how long Hawkins can sustain the book; there’s already a writing cycle established of Loren getting into trouble with the higher-ups, then always finding a reason they need him to bring him back into the fold under a weird pretense. It’s a little repetitive, but entertaining enough that maybe we don’t mind that structural mechanism. Grade A.

Prophet #36 (Image): The fact that I like looking at this book, but dread trying to craft a story summary for a review is essentially emblematic of the artistic dissonance I experience with the title. It’s visually stunning and engaging at some intuitive level because of the design sense, the colors, and the interesting characters. Yes, it’s imaginative and creative, but no amount of descriptors can escape the fact that the narrative became unwieldy and felt lost issues ago. It reminds me of my frustration with the X-Files long ago, about the middle of the run of the show, where it became clear they were making it up as they went along, there was no master plan, and the short term entertainment it offered was outweighed by the untidy long term resolution of motivations and plot. If I took the time to understand the arc structure better, it would be a candidate to jump off of and read in trade. Would it be at issue 38 if they’re all 6 issues each? Yeah, if I can figure that out, I could escape the inertia of buying out of habit, the tease of every issue feeling like something’s about to happen to allow it all to click into place, but that moment of satori never comes. As I said before, it’s become a successive series of disparate set pieces and creaturoids filled with slick wordplay, but there’s no fundamental story there. “Earth Empire’s Great Domus calls New-Father to the War-Womb, regrown at the whim of the Three Armed World-Raper.” If I just give you that sentence in a vacuum, WTF does it mean? It’s just words. Fancy fun words, sure, but still just a big ol’ word collage devoid of any inherent ability to grok, one that’s now bordering on self-indulgent. Hey, look, there’s a Malachi Ward back-up story and a Youngblood holo-crystal-flashback-bomb cameo thingamaroo. Grade B.

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