4.16.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Wasteland #53 (Oni Press): With only seven issues remaining, artist Christopher Mitten joins writer Antony Johnston to bring home the series he helped create. Yeah, it’s the beginning of the end, so naturally we catch up with Abi and Michael (with Thomas now in tow) pretty much where we left them, as they venture to A-Ree-Yass-I. Wasteland has always been a book that defies conventional expectations. There’s a pretty fun example of that when the group encounters some Sand-Eaters. For so long, we’ve been conditioned to fear the Sandies. There’s a great moment when Thomas suggests talking to them, and Michael and Abi exchange sideways glances at the mere suggestion of it. Not only do I love deciphering the Sandie-Speak, but this leads to a series of great visual reveals, capped off by the cliffhanger on the last page that suggests the gang may have finally arrived at a destination that houses some answers. Most of the clues for what probably occurred to create The Big Wet have been laced into the story over the years, but I do get the sense that Johnston may be ready to offer a more prescriptive version now that we’re nearing the end. There are clues to this approach in the text as well. One example is that previously in the run, he hasn’t really bothered to “translate” the Sandie-Speak, he’s just let the audience intuit the meaning by sounding out their prolonged vowels and hard consonants in context. In this issue, he (deliberately I’m suggesting) has Michael and Abi try to figure out what they’re saying so that the audience can follow along and pick up the precise meaning. The fact that I can even pick up on nuance like that is a testament to the fact that Wasteland is a carefully crafted book that rewards repeated reading. It’s never been churned out like factory comics at those other companies, with interchangeable artists operating in house styles, or IP catalogue characters that endured whichever writer was at the helm. Creator-Owned Comics are hot right now, but it’s almost as if Wasteland was doing it before this renaissance took off. They were doing it long before it became cool again. I mean, seriously, 60 issues of a quirky creator-owned book from Oni Press? Most Marvel and DC Comics can barely get into the 20’s before they get rebooted and relaunched again with a new creative team. There’s something to be said for this level of passion and dedication. Wasteland is sadly a dying breed of the comic book species. Grade A.

A Voice In The Dark #6 (Image/Top Cow): Larime Taylor continues his series of collegiate psychological intrigue and tracks everyone’s favorite coed serial killer, Zoey, as she stalks her intended prey. The scope of her hunt expands due to a tastefully handled (as tasteful as you can depict something so awful) attempted rape scene that even comes with a Trigger Warning on the title page, a term which seems to have worked its way into the collective lexicon in the last couple of years. There are a lot of things to like about this issue, in addition to Taylor’s realistic depiction of women. #RealWomen is a hashtag that I wish would take off, highlighting instances of comic book characters and art which challenge our preconceived notions of conventional beauty and sexuality, in the spandex clad world of comics dominated by the old superhero genre. This is true especially in light of the incident that recently occurred with Janelle Asselin receiving threats of violence and rape for simply calling out just such an ill-conceived superhero cover for things like sexualizing a teen girl for having tits bigger than her head. This issue flows extremely well, and I think it’s because we stay on Zoey for the entire issue, tracking her movements as she stalks her targets, essentially hiding in plain sight, and attempting to fight her compulsion. As with real serial killers, she’s hooked on the “high” of the kills, even though she may cognitively know it’s wrong and deviates from socially accepted norms, but needs the kills to get bigger-more-better to get the same high. In the real world, this process of intensifying brinksmanship usually happens until you slip up and get caught. As with many real world serial killers, the kills might not be about the violence per se, or the rape (if there’s a sexual component), but simply about power. Zoey is out of control, she’s trying to navigate a chaotic world, and the kills are her own fractured psyche’s way of making order of the chaos, albeit totally inappropriate. My favorite part of the issue was Zoey’s encounter with a mysterious benefactor (at least that’s what we’re sort of lead to believe), but the hockey mask isn’t the only thing that should cause alarm klaxons to be going off in your head with the introduction of this person. Not only does this person have a literal mask, but Zoey’s costume at the party is more of a figurative “mask” that demonstrates our psychological ability to not be ourselves and act differently when we’re in the guise of someone else. We all have masks, the one we wear for the world to see, and then the darker more hidden side. A Voice In The Dark is one of the surprise hits of the year, a truly hidden gem in the marketplace. I highly recommend it, and this could be the best issue of the series to date. Grade A.

X-Men #13 (Marvel): I really loved the opening scene, the way that this mysterious man is able to quickly perform a threat analysis and then use the information to decimate his opponents. It’s a signal that family ties are going to come calling, which will impact Jubilee, Shogo, and the rest of the largely female X-Squad, which was thrown together in an impromptu fashion. Brian Wood has taken some flak over that, basically since the start of the series. “Why isn’t it called X-Women?” Umm, because that's a a stupid name and the name of their affiliation is X-Men? You don’t see people whinging that Black Widow or The Wasp should be called Women Avengers. WomVengers? C’mon. He does attempt to address the concern in an organic way, via Storm’s self-doubt about leadership. She has a great conversation/pep talk with Psylocke about their raison d’etre, indicating that they should have a formal mandate with “team” status, even within the parameters of the universe and the school. Another difficulty, which I really want to lay at the feet of editorial and not Wood, has been the revolving door of artists the series has endured. He’s honestly no Olivier Coipel or David Lopez, but Clay Mann has a style that works with these characters and I was happy to see him on art duty rather than some of the other artists who’ve worked on the book, and at this point, I’d be happy if he remained for the rest of Wood’s run. His style has some nice hard angles with plenty of granular detail. I enjoy the way he draws Jubilee, Rachel, and especially Monet in this issue, who for a moment looked like one of Brian Wood’s creations, Mara Prince. Yet another obstacle (again, I’ll blame Marvel Editorial) has been interruption of some of Wood’s intended story throughlines by company crossover events. It feels now as if the title is getting back on track, sort of resetting Wood’s original ideas while gearing up for another conflict, and in the process addressing things like Jubilee’s vampirism, the true nature of Shogo, and John Sublime’s relationship with Rachel and the rest of the team. I’m curious to see how these things resolve. Grade B+.


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