8.26.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Scalped #31 (DC/Vertigo): It’s amazing how, with a single line, Jason Aaron can capture the spirit of Scalped. “All roads lead back to that day” references the agents murdered in ’75 and showcases his ability as a writer to use one catalyzing event to set things in motion for 30+ issues now and build a universe around it. It’s also great to see even relatively minor characters like Granny pop with life and fleshed out personality quirks. The character studies continue with Shunka depicted as a pretty dope right hand man, capable of handling details and looking out for the boss. He’s so capable in fact, that it makes me wonder if Aaron’s got some crafty surprise in store to spin with this character; he’s so integral to the operation that if he turned out to be a cop or something down the road, it’d be earth-shattering. The Nitz vs. Shunka chess game, with Dash and Red Crow as pawns in the middle, is such a wonderfully screwed up situation that it allows even a lowly meth dealer to have some leverage and a chip to play in the big game. Aaron’s ear for dialogue is still a joy: Red Crow’s “Heard from who?” gets the Nitz retort of “The fucking grapevine,” and I just loved that crisp exchange. It all begins the inevitable slide toward chaos as Dash is seen about to make a play, Carol’s obviously in despair, the Hmongs are descending, and everything’s converging on this arc, feeling like all hell is about to break loose. Jason Aaron is a master at building tension. Scalped continues to be an all around solid package, even the Vertigo Voices page is railroaded by Will Dennis this issue for a behind the scenes chat with Jock on cover design. R.M. Guera’s gritty art is alive with detail; dogs and dumpsters cluttering up the parking lots in a way that infuses a grounded sense of realism into a sensational bit of plotting. Grade A+.

Batman & Robin #3 (DC): What I’ve come to enjoy holistically about this introductory arc from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is the ascension of Dick Grayson and all that entails. Dick is now Batman, Dick is now the father figure, Dick is now the one with the responsibility, it’s now up to Dick to nurture the relationships with Gordon and Alfred, Dick is now the one mentoring a brash youth, with the added weight of raising his father’s son, Dick is the leader being challenged, and Dick is both afraid of becoming Bruce, but also desperately wants to make him proud. All said, if Damian turns out half as good as Dick did, then he’s doing ok in my book. And while Damian is still willful (“It’s Robin & Batman from now on.”), there are glimmers of hope for him where his attitude seems to soften slightly, with lines like “Did - - did you just save my life?” G’Mo delivers a really torrid, demented, disturbed antagonist in Professor Pyg, part Hannibal Lecter, part Kevin Spacey’s John Doe, and a little of The Joker thrown in for good measure, who dances around in his self-imagined spotlight wielding makeshift medical instruments. Yeah, this guy makes your skin crawl. Damian probably sums him up best with “you just redefined wrong.” And F’Quit plays his part, complimenting this with broken, skewed panels that are just as awry as the creative team wants us to perceive Pyg. This issue has typical Morrisonian bits like the “aerosol narcotic,” the “addiction you can catch,” but also takes things a bit deeper. I was particularly drawn to Gordon’s line “I hate it here. They should have let this whole damn place burn to the ground.” For me, this felt like a subtle and nuanced callback to his awful circus experiences in the seminal work The Killing Joke. As we come to a close, it’s actually pretty depressing to think that Philip Tan is up next on art chores, nothing against the guy, but following Quitely is not the most enviable position for any creator to be in. I’m not thrilled about the inclusion of The Red Hood in the upcoming arc, but hey, you gotta’ trust Morrison here. The multiple endings annoy, feeling both a bit random and rushed, but there’s a cool bonding scene between Batman and Gordon, and overall this three issue arc was kind of fun. It was like being in the back seat with your high school girlfriend, in and out, quick and dirty, but you’d do it all over again. Grade A.

I Am Legion #5 (DDP/Humanoids): There’s something about the way that John Cassaday draws eyes, which is simultaneously slightly disturbing and absolutely gorgeous. The whites are vibrant, the color of the iris penetrating, the smudged ink lines on the bottom of the eye provide a world weary sensibility, and the overall shapes carry so much emotion. I enjoy the intrigue and fast pace of the story, but it just goes to show how easy it is to get lost in appreciation for the art and the subtle stylings of one of the modern masters of the craft. Fabien Nury’s penultimate installment centers on a rushed investigation and I appreciated the thematic consistency of the symbol of the Strigoi being found in floating blood, a stylized dagger, the skin of a man, and the very design of the book itself. The church shootout is a strong point and I also appreciate the way that Nury doesn’t insult his readers with superfluous caption boxes and exposition. It’s up to the reader to follow all of the plot threads and characters, either retaining information or re-reading previous issues to play along. That level of density might be slightly jarring at times, but it’s a level of sophistication not often seen. If I have to find one other slight detractor, it’s the sour house ad on the last page bearing the instantly inaccurate “Final Issue - July 2009.” Interesting how #6 could come out in July when I’m just now holding #5 in my hands at the end of August. Grade A-.

Detective Comics #856 (DC): The Latin words “Human Change Animal Valor” adorning the book make for an interesting cover composition, and some interesting theories about Whisper A’Daire and the Religion of Crime are already flying around the interwebs. That cover is sort of emblematic of the entire issue this time around, in that it’s (still) beautiful to behold, but the story intrigue has grown tremendously. JH Williams III brings what he learned with Alan Moore on Promethea, giving us his trademark inventive page layouts, unique sense of design, and delicious manipulation of panel borders. The conversations between Kate and her dad, both strong personalities, continue to be engaging. I thought it was interesting that Rucka’s script makes great effort here to let us know it’s fully entrenched in the DC/Bat-Universe, planting otherwise throwaway dialogue containing “Mister Grayson” and everyone’s favorite “Commissioner” at a GCPD Charity Ball. It’s almost as if Rucka is deliberately saying “Yes, the issue is set in the DCU, the one where the two lesbians share a dance!” I loved the unexpected little Flamebird cameo and the possible promise of more to come with her. It’s a fun little Easter egg hunt, complete with Maggie Sawyer in a “meet-cute” that’s choreographed insanely well in a visual sense. There are little areas of focused attention inside the circles of the musical notes. That Jim Williams. I tell you, this guy might have a future in comics. Endless tricks up his sleeve, that one. He then follows it right up with an interesting way of depicting the mutated alter egos of the “True Believers.” There are suddenly a lot of moving parts to this mystery that intrigues as it slowly unfolds, becoming more and more engaging and not just simply visually entertaining. As for the back-up story, I could still really do without it. It’s all harmless I suppose, but Cully Hamner’s stiff blocky art I’m just not a fan of. I’m not even really reading The Question anymore; I just skim through it reminding myself what a downer it is to have it touching the Batwoman story at all. Gary Frank’s art sure is purdy, but do we really need another Superman origin story? What an unnecessary snoozer. If I grade these separately, The Question would probably net a C- at best, while this particular issue of Batwoman would certainly achieve A+ territory. It’s a shame too, like I said last ish, the back-up is weighing down a near perfect package. Do I average those out to a Grade B? The extra stuff takes up nearly half the book (really, look at where the staple fold is), so even if I weight the two grades, we’d arguably be at a Grade B+. I hope that DC collects these separately as they did with the Tales of the Unexpected series containing a pitiful and unmemorable Spectre story and the wonderful Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality. My, what a dilemma here.


At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't see Flambird in Detective...?

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Ahh, it's the blonde debutante who is introduced as Kate's cousin Bette Kane, aka: Flamebird.


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