8.29.2013

8.28.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Lazarus #3 (Image): It’s terrific how future-forward Greg Rucka is positioning this story of a resource dwindled world, where the new Corporate Organized Crime Families control the real power, which is not political or geographic per se, but finance and food resource based. I really enjoyed how the “confrontation” between Forever and Joacquim doesn’t resort to predictable fisticuffs, but mutual respect, interest, and flirtation. The sexual tension between these two could be cut with Forever’s sword. In Joacquim, Forever sees someone like her, someone she can identify with, someone who might understand her moral conflict within a resigned sense of duty, and of course, the best love stories are not where love triumphs, but where love ends in tragedy. It’s a bit Shakespearean that Forever only finds a love interest in the place least likely, the Lazarus of rival Family Morray. Everything is clicking in this issue, the cold nature of the family negotiations are a nice contrast to the warmth of the dynamic between Forever and Joacquim, Michael Lark’s ridiculously emotive and bleak art, the backmatter is totally interesting and satisfying (Blackwater -> Xe -> Academi hired by Monsanto to infiltrate groups opposed to Monsanto!), the internal struggle of Family Carlyle, Johanna the brains, Jonah on the outs, and the rousing cliffhanger make this one of the best titles currently on the stands within the space of just three issues. Grade A+.

Wasteland #47 (Oni Press): With delegates from Wosh-Tun arriving in Newbegin, Marcus has at least three different factions coming at him with hostile intentions. Oh, there's going to be a war all right, and the tension comes from now knowing how exactly that's going to play out. It was great to briefly see Tajj, another Ruin Runner who appeared to have been familiar with Michael. Antony Johnston has structured this arc so that he brought us right up to a hellacious cliffhanger that’s going to have HOLY SHIT level repercussions in the next issue. He’s promised that this will be the final Newbegin arc as the series drives toward its planned conclusion at #60, and it looks like it’s going to go out with a bang. Justin Greenwood’s art is always getting stronger, here emphasizing shadows and generous inks that provide texture, punching up the rugged terrain and subject mater, but never losing the emotional aspects in the process. At it’s core, you can say Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic piece of speculative sci-fi, but it also continues to tap these universal themes of politics, family, and betrayal so well. It’s one of the books most on my radar as the last dozen issues are now inbound. Grade A.

Think Tank #9 (Image): Oh, what a treat it is to see Dr. David Loren in the field, where the realities of modern warfare are far different than the sense of detachment he experiences sitting in a safe bunker in front of a monitor screen. Everything about Matt Hawkins’ script feels “on” in this issue, the research translating to the story incredibly well, from the different SEAL teams, to tensions between China and Taiwan, to the prescience in the backmatter regarding a potential conflict in Southeast Asia. The transparency of Hawkins’ research in the backmatter is totally original and unique, not to mention creatively brave and generous. It’s a window into his process, but also encourages further exploration by curious readers. It offers important social commentary about the US essentially mucking about in everyone else’s business around the world. It’s alternately ironic, frightening, and powerful. With Rahsan Ekedal's emotionally “colorful” black and white art, Think Tank has quickly become one of the “can’t miss” books of the year. Grade A.

Sex #6 (Image): Piotr Kowalski turns in a two page landscape of the city in this issue that is just immaculate. Joe Casey is creating something very different in this book. It’s an act of projection, transference, and sublimation of common storytelling tropes within superhero comics. It’s a post-superhero world, which allows him to mine the vacuum left in the wake of typical cape happenings. It’s like, this is what happens after a shared superhero universe has taken it’s toll for a number of years. In it, we see business people substituted for superhero types, Saturn City as a possible substitute for New York City – with boroughs like Moorlyn standing in for Brooklyn, and sex basically the new power set. It’s a precarious balancing act between the inquiry into Saturnalia looking forward for truth, while the sparingly doled out superhero flashbacks look back, shielding the true nature of this world. There’s an interactive thing happening with the audience too, Casey himself is almost teasing us in a delayed gratification style of narrative foreplay. To wit, Keenan is explaining “The Breaks” as one of the city’s largest crews: “They were finally taken down by… well, that don’t matter.” If that’s not a narrative cock-tease, I don’t know what is. There’s just enough here to latch onto, and just enough experimentation happening, that I’m in it for the long haul, despite some anticipatory frustration over how slowly the full picture is being revealed. Grade A.

Thumbprint #3 (IDW): Jason Ciaramella and Vic Malhotra close out this neo-noir thriller in a way that borders more on horror, perhaps revealing its origins as a novella by acclaimed writer Joe Hill. It opens with our protagonist Mal suffering from what looks like PTSD style flashbacks revolving around her festering identity crisis. Well, the surest way to snap a person back to reality is a home invasion by a former associate who has been visiting others and uhh, “doing things to them.” Thumbprint is a crystal clear treatise on how fragile the human psyche can be, how the atrocities of war can affect different people in different ways, with different psychological outcomes manifesting that trauma in diverse ways. Maybe one of the scariest things you can read into this dynamic, by way of Thumbprint, is that sanity exists on a continuum. It’s not really binary, Mal’s on there somewhere, as is her paranoid tormentor Anshaw. To relieve some of the dark tension, the creators insert a two page spread titled “Anshaw’s Guide To Easy Thumb Removal.” They know that there’s always a slightly comedic twinge to real horror. The involuntary laugh is sometimes the only defense mechanism to the horrific. We don’t want to admit these things happen in the real world, so the body dismisses them with that nervous laughter. At the end of the day, it’s no joke that Thumbprint will go down as one of the most memorable mini-series of the year. Grade A.

Secret #3 (Image): Well, I guess this is a bit of a placeholder review, if you can even call it that. It’s been 14 and a half months since the last issue of this was seen(!), so I have zero recollection of any of these story threads. I remember liking this book, but all I could remember was that it was about something something corporate espionage, yet here it seems to take a turn to a more personal story involving one character and the aftermath of their death. Hickman has enough credibility in the bank (at least with his creator owned work) that I’ll re-read the singles and give this a go. Ryan Bodenheim’s art is very clean and detailed, taking bold choices with the coloring, and if nothing else, it’s just a pure joy to look at while I get caught up on the story again. For now, Grade B.

American Vampire Anthology #1 (DC/Vertigo): The biggest problem with this package is that the $7.99 price point is basically cost prohibitive when not all of the pieces feel essential to the larger narrative or connect completely with the audience. They’re all good, in the sense that they are handled in a competent fashion, but I felt most were sub-par in terms of me remembering them a day or two after I read them, and didn’t have much bearing on the central storylines the regular series offers. For my money, only 3 of the 10 really stood out, or about 24 of the 80 pages, if you want to look at it that way. It was also interesting that the ones which did connect were not necessarily the ones which I thought would, if that makes any sense. The “winner” for me was “Lost Colony” by Jason Aaron, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire, which weaves in Aaron’s penchant for Native American history, right alongside Snyder’s ability to weave in American history into his American Vampire tales. “Greed” by Becky Cloonan and Jordie Bellaire was the most aesthetically pleasurable entry and offers a historical link to one of the series’ principal characters. “Essence of Life” by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay was a raw story of female vengeance, touching on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly as the glitz and glamour washes off to reveal something more sinister. Since I admittedly don’t pay much attention to these two creators, this was a very pleasant surprise. It’ll be memorable both aesthetically and thematically long after reading the book. These stories are all easy Grade A’s with Simone’s piece maybe even veering into Grade A+ territory. Unfortunately, Snyder and Albuquerque’s bookend pieces are flat and weak framing devices. I love JP Leon’s art, but the Greg Rucka story didn’t do much for me, which was surprising. Similarly, I expect great things from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, but their story felt fairly rote and lacked any real pop. Being very generous, I could say that all of the stories average out to a Grade B, but when you factor in that insane price tag, I’m going to have to call this a Grade C.

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