10.31.2013

10.30.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Death Sentence #2 (Titan Comics): Well, there are two really weird typos which I don't think you can attribute to UK English vs. US English, stuff like "Al Quaeda" vs. the more common "Al Qaeda" or "Al Qaida," along with a reference to singer "Rhianna" instead of "Rihanna." Those quibbles aside, I deeply enjoyed the issue. Monty Nero and Mike Dowling made a smart choice by focusing on the three primary protagonists and how they all react differently to their positive G+ Virus status, which gives you superpowers for 6 months - and then you die, by the way. There's quite an emotional range in the characters, running from realism to hedonism, channeling id, ego, and superego conversely through the musician, the media persona, and Verity, the young graphic designer. The tone of Death Sentence is also smart in the macro sense in that it can alternately dip into being either ballsy and irreverent, funny in a sarcastic or darkly humorous way, or dramatic with isolated bouts of action and government conspiracy intrigue. It seems like I've been saying this regularly lately, but I'm also very pleased to see another book from another company that's using a form of backmatter, this one process-driven, about the act of writing specifically. As far as I'm concerned, this is THE Titan Comics title, which will put their publishing effort on the map. Death Sentence has quickly proven to be one of the surprise hits of 2013. Grade A.

The Sandman: Overture #1 (DC/Vertigo): If you've ever disagreed with anything I've said at Thirteen Minutes, well, then you can go ahead and blame Neil Gaiman. It's basically all his fault that I'm even reading comics as an adult. I grew up reading them, mostly DC Comics (Batman, Teen Titans, Green Lantern), though some Marvel/Epic stuff slipped in thanks to Jim Starlin's Dreadstar. I started around age 4 or 5 because my mom would snag them off the spinner rack for me on long cross-country road trips, and I just kept right on going. In high school, I gave them up completely for those 4 years, they just couldn't compete for my attention with cars, girls, and soccer. For my undergrad, I attended San Jose Sate University. There was a guy named Jason Crowe (who even now I attend SDCC with!) who lived next door to me in the dorms. He was really into comics. Sometimes I'd lazily sift through his stacks, but nothing really caught my eye. One day he asked me if I wanted to go to the LCS with him (Heroes in Campbell, CA). I found Sandman that day, right around the time Vertigo was launching as an imprint. It was really smart. It was really different. It felt like it was really for me at that age. That's how it started again. Fast forward to about a year and a half ago when I basically stopped reading Marvel and DC Comics cold turkey, in favor of focusing solely on creator owned work. Essentially, the only time I "break" this rule is if, say, Brian Wood is writing X-Men. JH Williams III is one of the few artists I'd also make an exception for. I bought Batwoman for a while just because of his art. Jim Williams and I are also from the same nothing little town in Northern California, he's probably the most famous person to come from our hometown aside from Miss USA Summer Bartholomew (who my dad dated) or MLB Pitcher Doug Fister (who my cousin dated) for what that's worth, and we ran in the same group of friends in the Bay Area, with people like Ryan Sook and Mick Gray, but I'm still reeeaaallly digressing! You can also make the argument that this version of Sandman is sort of creator owned, though I don't know exactly how that exists from an ownership standpoint, the character was a reinterpretation of an existing figure owned by DC Comics after all. ANYWAY. You stick Neil Gaiman on Sandman again, you stick JH3 on art, and there's lots of reasons for me to dip my toe back into DC Comics. With that crazy preamble out of the way, I'll say that this issue was very good, but it didn't blow me away or anything. It's, of course, got that engaging poeticism that Gaiman has with the language, it just lays down for him and does what he wants so effortlessly. He puts all the fan-favorite players back on the board, The Corinthian, Merv Pumpkinhead, Lucien ("Loosh!"), Destiny, Death, and Dream, all so comfortable and familiar, like catching up with an old friend down the pub you haven't seen in years. That said, I don't quite have a sense of where the story is going yet. I'm curious how far back it'll take us, if it'll sync right up to the moment before Lord Morpheus is imprisoned for 70 years, as the series picked up originally in the early 90's. We do see Dream's sort of resigned sense of duty, his adherence to the rules, his desire to make order from chaos and discount the variables of the personalities involved, which usually gets him into trouble. JH3 has turned in some remarkable art over the years, shit, I was buying him when he was a struggling artist working on crappy horror books like Demonic Toys (Eternity Comics, anyone?), through Chase with Dan Curtis Johnson (criminally under-appreciated), and onto Promethea, Seven Soldiers, Desolation Jones, Detective Comics, Batwoman, I've read it all (dude has now worked with Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka, and Neil Gaiman for chrissakes!!!). If ever there was a title that he was born to draw, it might be the world of The Dreaming. He's able to tap the horror and fantasy elements, play around with all the different time periods and planes of existence, while pushing the panel layouts to do things that most artists would never dare. The best example of this in this issue is probably that double gatefold beauty, where we see all the different incarnations of Dream from all over the extant universe, channeling so many different styles, worlds, and multiverses at will. When you dive back into a book like this, expectations are so high, you want to love it, you want to be mired in excellence, but it's just not there yet. I really liked it, but anything short of perfection will sound like a backhanded compliment, hence the overly qualified Grade A.

Sex #8 (Image): I feel like every issue of Sex has basically gotten the same review from me. Joe Casey has created a post-superhero world (which already has me hooked basically because of that genre manipulation) where he trades in superpowers for sex. That act of sublimation is reflected in the way the main character is basically repressing his wants and desires. It's a very slow burn. It's easy to make analogies to foreplay, without any actual consummation having occurred. I mean, we're 8 issues in and the main character just finally worked up the nerve to strip his clothes off(!?). It doesn't have all the Kubrickian complexity, but it's basically the comics equivalent of Eyes Wide Shut, showing types of intimacy that don't actually require fucking. It's a fun world full of mystery and intrigue and fleeting clues and masks and alter egos. There's enough there there to keep me hooked, but just barely. Grade A-.

Saga #15 (Image): Speaking of repetitive sounding reviews, hey, it's the book that I like to be contrarian about. Sorry, but Saga isn't THE BEST COMIC BOOK BEING PUBLISHED LIKE EVAR. It's good, I enjoy it, but it's not perfect. It's somewhere in the intersection of Star Wars, Romeo & Juliet, and 90210. It's sci-fi melodrama, and it's a slow-mover, meaning that some people talked in this issue, and then there was a pseudo-shocker at the end, which is a trick the book has used before, by the way. Fiona Staples' foreground figure work is excellent. The basic humanoid anatomy is excellent, and the characters have an ability to convey emotion very effectively. But, I still think the backgrounds often come off skimpy and have a sterile artifical feel to them that doesn't stand up to the imaginative world-building that BKV is shooting for. Grade B+.

Satellite Sam #4 (Image): There's a certain proprietor of a certain LCS that I frequent and, well, let's just say that Satellite Sam isn't his favorite book. I have defended ol' Sat Sam pretty strongly for the first three issues, which I honestly enjoyed quite a bit. But, wow, this issue felt really off. If this keeps up, I'll be ready to capitulate and admit that Fraction and Chaykin had a misfire here. I thought this issue was really boring! The entire front 3/4 or so was just extremely dry politics at the network and largely dodged any titillating sex appeal or the murder mystery or any of the core TV show players, etc. If you're gonna' create some sorta' Mad Men meets 60's Star Trek thing, then that's the stuff I wanna' see! It was just very off-putting for some reason, and I found Chaykin's art to be a little muddy and imprecise in spots too. If I'm going to get into a 1950's space, dealing with the social issues of the day, from latent homosexuality and subdued S&M stuff, period tropes of misogyny, racism (been a while since I've seen a book throw around "wop" instead of "guinea" for my people), repressed sexuality, and homophobia, I'd rather just watch Master of Sex on Showtime. Grade B-.

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