7.16.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Umbral #7 (Image): Chris Mitten’s opening shot instantly brought to mind the work of Guillermo Del Toro, and that ominous organic vibe continues through the dark depths, the vistas of light, and the crimsons of blood magic rituals. I think it’s Eisner Nomination time for Thomas Mauer. I’ve been astounded by the magic symbolettering in previous issues, and here it’s the subtlety of the letters fading out, and then back in as Rascal is transported to the Umbral. Shayim continues to be a favorite character, the tension vs. the Yuilangans, although now there’s doubt being cast her way as a secret plot shifts external attention from Dalone to Rascal, the suggestion of a traitor in their midst, though it could be an early red herring. It’s a great writing move, letting the audience in on information that some of the cast isn’t yet aware of. I also really enjoy the gender politics embodied by her and Rascal, the way Rascal feels she needs to bite her tongue out of character in order to protect her party. It’s probably no surprise that I need to comment on Antony Johnston’s writing, specifically some of his word choices. “Shit on your mother’s arse!” is a particularly choice goat-fucking phrase (hello, Wasteland readers!) that shows how an invented colloquialism effectively convinces us of a different time, place, and culture. There’s also a playful nature to the script, taking words we think we know, but then subverting them toward a different meaning, like what a “whispering” truly is. That’s a simple flick of writing, but is fairly brilliant. There’s another map in this issue, to orient us as Rascal journeys through different parts of Fendin to assumedly destroy the Oculus, and it made me draw the obvious comparisons to seminal high fantasy inspiration like Tolkien or Martin, and then consider structure. The first arc of Umbral was something of a “gathering” story, it’s the dinner party at Bilbo’s house, it’s Gandalf coming to The Shire for Frodo, it’s Robert Baratheon travelling to Winterfell to kick the plot into motion. I’m not accusing Johnston of swiping by any means, I’m merely fascinated by the universality of the structure, I wonder if in his plot outline it’s broken down like this, arc 1 is the gathering, arc 2 is the journey, arc 3 (or 4 or 5 or whatever) is casting the Oculus into Mount Doom or whatever the Umbral equivalent is. Anyway. The first Rascal cosplay wins a piece of original art! That’s huge! Get on it! #KeepYourTitsOn Grade A.

Manifest Destiny #8 (Image): Manifest Destiny seems to be getting stronger and stronger with each successive issue. There’s a killer cover team-up on this issue, which hints at the frenetic nature of the Corps of Discovery’s escape from the river creature they last encountered, as well as the increased attention to Sacagawea’s characterization. It’s great that she’s a bad-ass, but it’s not played in an overstated way that feels like audience pandering or gender tokenism, she’s smart, she has home turf advantage, and her lines are typically delivered in such a straightforward fashion that it almost plays like deadpan humor: “Two times. Two times I have saved you.” The work of Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, and Owen Gieni is one of those rare examples of composed parts working in perfect harmony to create something greater than themselves. It's what happens when all of the cylinders are firing in perfect sync. It’s the ring of accuracy to the historical fiction writing, the way the impressive art and some of the best coloring happening in the industry right now creates stark contrast between the metals and bold colors of the soldiers in relief against the greens and browns of the natural world, the hook of the high concept hook, the invention of the zipline(!), and how one big fucking mosquito create one of the best series of 2014. Grade A.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 (Image): It’s quickly becoming obvious that The Wicked + The Divine is poised to be something special. It'll no doubt be one of those books that has crossover appeal and the mainstream media outlets will be ranking in their best of the year lists. You get the sense that this is really the story that Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie were waiting to tell for years, even back when they first conjured Phonogram out of thin air in a way that seemed to innovative, at a time when not a lot of flash was really coming out of the "old" Image Comics. Phonogram was merely prologue to The Wicked + The Divine, a test-run for the story of cyclically reemerging gods, their witness, and a type of pop mythology that also examines social commentary vis-à-vis the homogeneity of the spiritual and the corporeal. McKelvie also seems to be stretching his already glorious abilities, infusing the clean austerity of his lines with more static and chatter in scenes like the delightful descent to the underground, and the very nature of The Morrigan. There’s also one of the best renditions of Lucifer this side of him abdicating the throne, tossing Morpheus the key to the gates of hell, and just... leaving in Sandman (which will forever be one of my Lucifer Portrayal Gold Standards). #IntangibleCunnilingus Grade A.


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