5.01.2014

4.30.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Hacktivist #4 (Archaia): This is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the surprise hits of 2014. The front of the issue focuses mostly on Ed and Sirine in Tunisia, still reeling from the death of Beya, and having a great discussion about a freedom uprising being so much more than just a complex trust algorithm. Placing Ed “on the streets” is a great way to shake up his worldview and develop an awareness of this fact. Amid drone strikes and Tiananmen Square style showdowns in the street, the two eventually create something of an “open source rebellion” that spreads. To borrow a phrase, the revolution may not be televised, but it will certainly spread virally over the wireless network. Witness the true power of technology as an information accessibility equalizer in the modern age. Nate has a role to play too, understanding from his government handlers the lengths that the CIA is willing to go to in violating personal freedoms all in the name of National Security. Deron Bennett also has some nice moves in the lettering of certain Arabic and Russian bits. With recent developments around the world, glossed over bits like US Aid’s so-called “Cuban Twitter” losing out to air time in favor of pap like Kim and Kanye, Hacktivist is one of the most socially relevant works out there at the moment. I’m sad to see the series go at just four issues, though the way it ended certainly leaves it open for further adventures in the future. I’m also happy to see that Archaia will have a swanky hardcover collection out in July (ideally in time for SDCC), with an introduction by Twitter’s own Jack Dorsey, thus exposing the work to throngs of new fans. I’ll certainly be upgrading to the hardcover for my bookshelves, and encourage the SDCC horde to do the same. Grade A.

Umbral #6 (Image): Rascal, Dalone, and Shayim (my current favorite Umbral character) are still on the run, essentially picking up right where last issue left off, and it all ends rather abruptly. There’s a nice bit of prose in this issue from Antony Johnston about your willingness to do the unexpected under heightened circumstances, and it gets driven home by that first pistol shot from Munty. It’s a thing of beauty, and when I see stuff like this I always think about craft and how the sausage gets made. Was it in Johnston’s script or was it merely the way Chris Mitten chose to interpret it(?), illustrating the shot within a large SFX that just won’t be contained by a traditional panel border, and then having Jordan Boyd punctuate it with that burst of red that stops us in our in tracks. Jordan Boyd is really the unsung color hero with all the coded happenings in Umbral. I also enjoyed the tension between the magic and science paradigms in the give and take between Dalone and Munty, kind of mirroring the racial tension that was previously going on between Munty and Shayim, because it’s stuff like this that fleshes out a world by being organic world-building. It’s not some character expositing a history of racial tension, but occurs naturally through one or more character’s actions. That’s the way to do it. By the end, Rascal echoes that willingness to do the unexpected, the instinct to leap before looking, to think outside the box with bold decisions, and that’s what all good roguish protagonists are made of. It was also a delight to see more of the MagicSpeak SymboLettering™ coming through. Well, the end of the first arc comes to a close (brief pause as the trade comes out next month, and then issue #7 hits in July!) as Rascal and company apparently head out of Strakhelm to deal with the Oculus, and I’m already excited to see more of this new world. Grade A.

Southern Bastards #1 (Image): I honestly chuckled involuntarily at that first image of the dog taking a crap, a real tone-setter for what we might expect from Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. I loved Jason Aaron’s Scalped, and there’s some similarity structurally with that series. Earl Tubb is not unlike Dash Bad Horse, going back to a place he knows too well, and I’m a sucker for these “Returning Home” stories, especially where protagonists are somehow haunted by the past. Aaron is the type of writer whose word choices can make you hear the character’s voice in your head, and Latour helps him compose a story that conveys a real sense of place, a sense of mood. I’ve never been a huge fan of Latour’s art, but it feels like it’s matured and become more sophisticated here. There are a couple instances up front that look a little hurried or simplistic (a truck in the background is little more than a box sitting atop four wheels), but his blocky angular lines remind me of Goran Parlov, with the heightened detail and latent energy waiting to pop off that give a whiff of someone like Rafael Grampa. The newspaper headlines that Aaron scripts to exposit what readers need to know about Earl’s dad as a lawman who was maybe a man of principle, or maybe just an asshole, or maybe just a little of both, are kind of a weak tool. They’re totally overused, and I think Aaron is a great enough writer that he could have worked more of those cues into the diner scene conversation and had it come off more seamless. I might have a couple quibbles with art or script, but overall I think this is the best Jason Aaron joint since Scalped, which is indeed high praise. It’s full of colorful characters, a protagonist that trouble seems to find, all in a place where trouble abounds. Aaron and Latour create a portrait of the complex cacophony of emotions we can feel for a place once called home, even though they might be contradictory at times. Grade A-.

Tales of Honor #2 (Image): I wasn’t familiar with the novels that inspired the Honor Harrington Universe, but have really been enjoying learning about the planetary system, how the military procedural bits work, and all of the intricate backstory involving Honor. I don’t have a whole lot to say. It’s a fun book that has the appropriately glossy sheen of sci-fi spectacle. Grade A-.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two #4 (DC): The guys are ramping up this part of the series for a showdown between the Green Lantern Corps and Superman, with Hal Jordan stuck somewhere in the middle. More important than any of the internal story mechanics is what a project like this represents to DC Comics. Injustice stands completely outside the continuity of the dreck New 52 and the results are highly-charged action with serious consequences. The integrity of the writing jumps up because of that, the excitement inherent in it all jumps us, and it’s just better. At the rate DC has been killing off characters, bringing them back, rebooting franchises, starting and stopping series with relaunched #1 issue desperation, and hacking out dopey crossover events ad nauseum, there’s no reason that the Injustice “formula” couldn’t be applied to the DC Universe as a whole. Some writer comes along and tells a great story where The Joker or Lois Lane or whoever dies? Ok. The next writer can come along and just restart and bring them back to tell their own version. Fuck Continuity. Grade B+.

Star Wars: Rebel Heist #1 (Dark Horse): I probably wanted to like this book more than I did. Matt Kindt is a good writer, but this just lacks any pizzazz beyond the interesting high concept of telling a story from the POV of a rebel recruit teaming up with Han Solo. The everyman description of Han Solo is spot-on, but you can see the Falcon joke coming a mile off, there’s confusion over whether Corellia is a planet or a city, and I don’t think you can get enough audience connection with what will obviously be a throwaway story. It just feels like filler. Marco Castiello’s art is helped along in the aesthetic consistency department with nice color from Gabe Eltaeb, and even lettering from Michael Heisler (the team from the “regular” Brian Wood Star Wars), but the art itself is littered with awkward proportions and weird posturing. Grade B-.

Vertigo Quarterly: CMYK #1 (DC/Vertigo): I think this anthology project actually works best as a showcase for the strong art talent DC has in the stables. The art was fantastic across the board, with standouts from Tony Akins, Ken Garing, Al Davison, Ana Koehler, and of course Fabio Moon. The art, in and of itself, would probably rate a Grade A- collectively. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the writing was totally lackluster. I’m not sure if it was the difficulty in finding an emotional connection in just a few quick pages or what the deal was, but with the exception of Shaun Simon’s killer opener, the pieces were all totally forgettable the second you were done reading them. The writing as a whole was probably somewhere in the Grade C- range, so when you factor in the average and the steep $7.99 price point, this feels like a Grade C+.

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