4.10.2014

4.09.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Manifest Destiny #6 (Image): Chris Dingess has a way with words. Whether it’s Lewis & Clark being just flat out exasperated, repeatedly, about the “absurd” nature of flora infected animals, the way one redacted word changes the nature of a government report to soften the language and whitewash the official record, or the brilliantly short, crisp, and declarative Hemingway style line: “Lewis. Greek Fire. Now.” it’s clear that Dingess loves the language and can make it do what he wants, to great effect. This issue is basically an extended action sequence perfectly rendered by Matthew Roberts, as the Corps of Discovery flees their immediate area, from one calamity to the next – enduring everything from bears to skunks to sinkholes, while suffering heavy casualties. From the organic mind-altering pharmacological qualities of the flora they encounter, to the friendship extant between Lewis & Clark, to the arrival of Sacagawea, it’s also clear that this is one of the best colored comics today at the hands of Owen Gieni. Despite their heavy losses, the Corps trudges forward essentially reliant on their burgeoning American Spirit, a sense of the hopeful amid the horrific. The creative team also indicates that the narrative plan is to move the Corps of Discovery all the way to the Pacific Ocean and traverse back across the Louisiana Purchase for what should be an extended run. I couldn’t be happier about all that story left on the horizon. This is good comics, and if you’re not checking it out, you’re missing one of the best books of the year. Grade A+.

Star Wars #16 (Dark Horse): One of the things I’ve always loved about Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or any fully realized sci-fi really, was a sense of dedication to the military/procedural tactical bits. With all the talk of the Z-95 Headhunters (which were durable, if somewhat clunky precursors to the Incom T-65 X-Wings) and shots of the CR-90 Corvettes and A-Wings in the distance, this issue delivers enough of that to satisfy the tech junkies. What I loved most about the way Brian Wood, Stephane Crety, and Gabe Eltaeb constructed this issue was all the foreshadowing that occurs both visually and thematically to ESB and what occurs on Hoth, which is one of my favorite cinematic experiences, like, ever. It all culminates with a last page reveal that is pretty damn familiar and smartly builds a sense of dread in the reader. The issue is really focused on the on-ground realities of the deal the Rebel Alliance struck with Arrochar. Grunts on the front lines have to carry out an arrangement made at a high political level, and that creates some tension that Luke finds himself in the middle of. In the Arrochar Mountain Ranger sequence, there’s a small goof where one of Luke’s speech balloons is attributed to a Ranger, but otherwise this was an extremely solid issue that shows success is about more than equipment and brave pilots, yet without adequate tech being used as a tool, victory can also be hampered. There’s a precarious balance to warfare, and the creative team captures the feeling of the rebels being perpetually on the run against great odds, politically, personally, and militarily. Grade A.

Astro City #11 (DC/Vertigo): This incarnation of Astro City has seen Kurk Busiek and Brent Anderson largely focusing on what would otherwise be bit players and thrusting them into the spotlight. This time out, it’s the Executive Administrative Assistant to the world’s most powerful sorcerer. She’s juggling everything from PR appearances, to research for complex spell-casting, to attempted incursions from other dimensions, in addition to eking out time for her own personal interests. Busiek has a way of taking these everyman POV characters and imbuing them with such rich details and alternate perceptions of grand events, that these peripheral throwaway elements (which is what they would be in any other book by a lesser writer) become the main focus of the story. It’s actually an ingenious method of amping up the world building, in a way that focusing on main players and their grand deeds just doesn’t seem to allow. These are the unsung heroes, the glue that holds everything together behind the scenes. Brent Anderson has been an interesting choice of collaborator for Busiek all of these years they’ve been creating Astro City stories. While Anderson is certainly an accomplished artist who can handle panel to panel storytelling with great clarity, his style isn’t the flashiest or most popular. It reminds me of a great musical score, the kind of thing that is always present in the background, but if it’s doing its job successfully and influencing your mood, you hardly notice it at all, it never steps in front of the writing, allowing you to absorb the events fully. Grade A.

Shutter #1 (Image): I’ve sort of always had a problem with “funny” comics. I guess I like gravitas in my art. Shutter isn’t a “funny” book per se, but it’s certainly very light-hearted. It almost feels like a  light-hearted version of Planetary at times, in the way Kate Kristopher and her ancestors are all about exploring the world’s great unknown. Joe Keatinge does a superb job with some instant characterization by having Kate say “The Moon’s BORing!” the very first time we meet her. Shutter has what can basically be considered an all-star creative team, in the experience of Joe Keatinge, the balance of grounded realism, fantastical flourishes, and rich syrupy ink in the art of Leila Del Duca, lighting and effervescent colors by Owen Gieni, and rock star letterer/writer Ed Brisson (and don’t forget the inimitable Tim Leong on design!). While it seems much too predictable that Kate will be pulled toward her destiny and "the family business” kicking and screaming, and it avoids some of the more interesting world-building bits in favor of a recalcitrant protagonist, I’m curious to see where it will go, and was entertained by the glorious reveal of an alt future NYC infected by the multiverse. In Kate, I think we have at least the potential for a truly modern protagonist with the ability to remember her past, yet transcend it, with plenty of imaginative adventuring in the process. It's not quite there yet, but we'll see. Grade A-.

East of West #11 (Image): East of West is a book that I’ve always been impressed by visually, a book that I enjoy reading because of the imaginative world-building and its awesome origins in a prolonged Civil War met by a mysterious Armistice, which led to the creation of (basically) North, South, Texas, Native American, African American, and Maoist Nations all cobbled together in lieu of the United States. I mean, I love shit like that. But, something about it has always bothered me. I could never quite put my finger on it. Nick Dragotta’s art has a stark beauty to it, it’s sort of clinically precise and clean, just killing it on facial expressions and a sense of “lean-ness” that permeates the page, foregrounds, backgrounds, everything. It was clear that this issue was designed as a breather, or as a jumping on point, as it (somewhat expositionally) recaps the history of the Great Nations, reminds us of the exile of Death because of his child with a Daughter of Mao, his return, the remaining Horsemen racing to the Apocalypse, and the role of The Chosen in occasionally allying with them. We sort of know what’s going on, but sometimes I would wonder why? There are great characters in Xiolian and Archibald and Bel Solomon and Rangers and numbered Princes from The Kingdom and so on and so forth. It’s not often that I feel the need to deliberately look to other reviews to help clarify my own position, but I did that with East of West #11 and found this great review over at Front Towards Gamer. Most of you probably won’t click through to that link, so what I took away from it was twofold. One, great world-building (which East of West surely possesses) without clear character motivations is a huge storytelling problem. That’s what was bugging me about East of West! I loved the world-build. I could piece together what was happening, both chronologically in the macro timeline, and on the micro scale from issue to issue, but I never really understood why it was happening. Why are any of these characters doing what they’re doing? Two, East of West is trying to blend multiple genres together, everything from politics to sci-fi to Western. It does that by alternately focusing on characters like Death, The Horsemen, and some of the Great Nations Leaders. But, when you focus on one, the others suffer, and the whole thing begins to unravel because the book can’t decide from a genre standpoint which it wants to be about in any given issue. In other words, it’s like three workable ideas mashed together making for a sometimes muddled composition. Grade B+.

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