3.13.2014

3.12.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Manifest Destiny #5 (Image): The Corps of Discovery finally pushes on past La Charrette, making tough unpopular decisions in the name of exploration and the defense of the fledgling United States. I’m continually amazed by the dedication to details from Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, and Owen Gieni. You’ve got things like the leafy flora veins in the “swamp things,” the accuracy of the dress and uniforms, the utilitarian nature of the tri-blade bayonet, or the close-up of the flintlock rifle in action. Grounding the proceedings in these real details makes the historical fiction all the more believable. The introduction of a napalm-like device is an interesting corollary to the might-makes-right “shock and awe” culture of destruction and violence establishing itself in the early frontier. I enjoyed how the personalities of Lewis and Clark shine through, one the scientist explorer, one the tactical military man. Sacagawea’s here too, upending conventional gender roles as one of the earliest “strong female leads” you’re likely to see in comics today. Owen Gieni deserves a special shout on colors, nailing the environment with warm Earth tones as a backdrop and then juxtaposing that with pops of orange and red for violence, the amber glow of fires, and the shimmer of silver gun metal. He’s continually playing with expectations, like creating such a contrast between that golden lighting of the dear in the clearing with… what happens next. It’s brilliant. Manifest Destiny is a good example of how to play up true horror, wherein one of the scariest things imaginable is the unknown, and what your mind will involuntarily create to fill the void. The last page has a ridiculous amount of detail, and it just shows how much the creative team has invested in the building of this world. It’s a clear passion project, the results of which have a tremendous impact. Grade A+.

Death Sentence #6 (Titan Comics): Monty Nero and Mike Dowling deliver the climactic showdown between Monty, Verity, and Weasel. I’ve gotta’ say that was probably the hottest sex scene I’ve ever seen in comics. I really can’t think of another that supersedes it. Death Sentence really has it all, from gratuitous sex to meaningful sex, action-oriented brutal violence, to insightful social commentary. There’s a harsh realism embedded in the narrative about what a global response to superpowers might actually look like, which all boils up to an unexpected conclusion. Nero’s script hones in on the inherent fallibility of people, and why the whole supes thing is a mostly ludicrous trope as depicted by Marvel and DC. It puts the work in a deconstructionist space and follows things to their inevitable conclusion, which makes for a very gripping drama. The unapologetic and unflinching nature of the writing is matched in tone by Mike Dowling’s versatile art, able to pull off the gritty details or the intense emotions, working on the small scale or with very grand displays of immense power, like the battle at sea. There’s a real sense of consequence to Death Sentence, something desperately missing in this genre. Now, I was always under the impression this was a finite six-issue mini-series, but the final pages suggest there will be more. If we’re going to see a series of mini-series in Dark Horse’s Hellboy model, then that’s fantastic. There’s plenty of room left to explore in this universe. Grade A.

East of West #10 (Image): I guess one of my only gripes with East of West is that it doesn’t read optimally in single issues. I enjoy it, but Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta are telling an epic long-form, sweeping, apocalyptic story that’s basically been artificially truncated into singles. I’m essentially saying that it reads much better collected, and when I sit down to read a stack of floppies straight through, that’s the superior experience. It’s then that you grasp the full thrust of the story threads, the character motivations, the characters themselves (it’s a pretty big cast), and the nuance of the plot lines and how they clang off one another all becomes more clear. That said, this issue maybe works a little more straightforward than many of the singles, in that it’s focused pretty tightly on a couple vignettes, with father-son dynamics, Death’s “deal,” and his subsequent search. I liked the Sea of Bones as a spiritual and physical no man’s land, and it’s always a treat to see wolf and his female companion doing their animorph bit. I’m starting to pay more attention to the color-coding, like the de-saturated colors in the flashbacks, and how that shapes the mood. This is the most incredible sniper shot you may ever see in comics. Grade A. 

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