12.18.2013

12.18.13 [Weekly Reviews]

Conan The Barbarian #23 (Dark Horse): The colors on the opening page are a ridiculously good bit of foreboding from Dave Stewart. The words remastered by Brian Wood suggest, not quite otherworldly visitation, but the de-evolution of a gene pool not quite diverse enough. Conan is enveloped in something much larger than himself, in fate, lost in a jungle, the bloodlust of battle and the fog of lotus, and evidence of his comrades from The Tigress fleeing in a panic (oh, it just occurred to me, The Tigress should be the name of a Ninth Wave ship in The Massive, crazy crossover!). I don’t know about you all, but I’m accustomed to seeing Riccardo Burchielli drawing New York City, so this raw, unhinged, power in his art was such a rewarding surprise. There’s something wild and different about it, and if Dark Horse was thinkin’ straight, they’d be putting him on a Tarzan reboot ASAP. Conan’s encounter with N’Gora was so sad, here’s a man who he truly respects, a man he considers kin, and Conan’s only recourse is to be resigned to do what he must. This issue is one of the best of the run, if not the best, in some ways the punctuation that the entire run has been building toward for the last two years. It’s full of emotion, guilt, and brutality. It is somber, dark, and energetic, everything I like in my genre fiction. There are a couple full page shots at the end that will stop you dead in your tracks. One period of Conan’s life ends abruptly right here on the page. If there were any vestigial traces of a young man in Conan, that youth is now violently ripped from his soul. When Conan started fleeing out of the woods, when he starts to come upon The Tigress, even though I knew how it must end, even though I’ve known all along, even though I read the old Marvel Comics and knew exactly what to expect, I just wasn’t prepared for this. I just kept muttering with dread "oh no… no… no… no… no… no… no… no… no… no…" Grade A+.

The Massive #18 (Dark Horse): Mag makes a startling (for him) discovery in Cal’s quarters that leads to the line “a log of my best friend’s slow death of cancer.” Ugh, there’s so much going on in that line, the confession of enduring friendship, the inherent shock and sorrow, and the slow war(s) that Ninth Wave just keeps continuing to wage and lose. There’s also the interesting bit about why Lars would be in on it ahead of Mag, especially when Mag is the one who steps up to diplomatically extricate the gang from their current situation. Well, Cal’s ashore, there’s more Mary Mystery, and the "Longship" arc comes to a close. Nitpick, but the gun drawn doesn’t really look at all like the Glock 17 scripted, but that’s ok, Cal is mostly pissed because Bors has him figured out, from origin, to motivation, to current existential crisis, another open-ended ending from Wood, about the conflict of two guys threatening to pull down two entirely different groups. Grade A.

Buzzkill #4 (Dark Horse): There’s not many books that could open with an Othello quote and have it play relevant instead of just an empty grab at sophistication, but here you go. The team infuses this book with the malformed guilt of a child, and how that can shape actions as an adult, hitting the startling family connection which was recently revealed. I loved all the stylized lines, forced perspectives, and how the art can “pop” through the panels while imparting so much depth. It’s like Neal Adams doing manga speed lines or some damn thing. While the showdown brings about an end of sorts, I hope I’m not the only one thinking that this title could be managed like the great Luther Strode, an open-ended mechanism to tell more tales with, as we’ve witnessed the hard-earned birth of a hero. This was one of the underrated gems of 2013. Grade A.

Locke & Key: Alpha #2 (IDW): I like when comics hit a planned ending and don’t meander. It sounds simplistic to say, but good stories have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. At the end of Joe Hill’s opus, it’s an emotionally satisfying read, and regardless of what you think about his writing or this genre, please give it up for Gabriel Rodriguez. Dude is one of the absolute finest artists working in the industry today. His style is so polished and so emotive, full of rich thick lines, able to impart the right weight to the substantial action or emotional heft. He could do anything and I’d check it out. I thought the immolating vampire “burn-away” was a little Buffy-esque, but otherwise this is full of memorable moments, whether it’s death being like “drowning in emotions you never wanted to feel,” or “your body is a lock, death is the key.” It’s a bittersweet ending that I was ready to compare to the grand denouement of Six Feet Under, but then it went and leaned a little too far toward the sweet side with a deus ex machina save at the last minute. Grade A-.

X-Men #8 (Marvel): I’ve given Terry Dodson a lot of crap about the cheesecake quotient in his art, but that Monet cover is slick as hell, and it’s not just because I love the character. The clever visuals continue with Psylocke’s “psychic bubbles” as she unsheathes her sword to aid Rachel on watch. That opening sequence is just so smart and taut, and Brian Wood continues the mostly female cast with villains including Lady Deathstrike and Typhoid Mary, while connecting it all back to John Sublime, Arkea, Sabra, and all kinds of drops that nod to the bits I’ve enjoyed at various points during his various runs. There are moral implications to the would-be body-mod power enhancements, and not just the raw threat it poses to the X-Men. Unfortunately, the shift from Dodson to Kitson is a fairly jarring art transition, and the front of the book is aesthetically much stronger than the end. Grade B+.

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