3.30.11 Reviews

Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #1 (Image): I don’t really remember Mike Huddleston’s art being this tight and detailed in previous projects like The Coffin or Deep Sleeper, but it really works well here. There are some forced perspective shots in the action sequences that possess the type of kinetic energy that makes figures or racing cars just leap off the page right into your gray matter. He colors his own work here too and it’s amazing that colors which should come off as garish and loud are actually warm and inviting instead. The book is ostensibly about a past prime superhero now living a lifestyle of sheer decadence. It functions as parody and satire of the same genre. It’s full of embedded references to Golden Age throwbacks like Liberty Belle, to modern subversive treats like The Comedian from Watchmen and Brian Wood’s Channel Zero. There’s the Jay Leno/Dick Cheney duo diatribe which sort of blurs the line between cheap entertainment converging with even cheaper politics, and an even more intricate hybrid of Ronald Reagan/Reed Richards/Elvis that is actually dubbed the "President of Reality." Along the way writer Joe Casey takes jabs at X-Men, Superman, and other properties that he’s actually worked on in past lives. One of the villains might even look a little bit like Alan Moore. The real treat though is him taking a look at what superheroes would actually do in this satirical world. Butcher Baker is for those who are finally ready to move beyond the idyllic fractured nostalgia of Watchmen, for those who deeply appreciated Casey’s run of Automatic Kafka and the examination of what fame does to the psyche. For that crowd, this book is a hit, and it's one of my favorite new things of 2011. Casey includes 6 pages of backmatter, in the style of Matt Fraction’s Casanova or Warren Ellis’ more luminous prose, and explains that this book seems to be a response to current market conditions brought about by the Big Two’s fleeting obsession with poorly written tragedy porn crossover superhero comics. I appreciate that Casey mocks his own flirtation with pretention and just charges ahead full steam in this unabashed way. I’m all for creators creating original creative creations. He dubs it “the endless presentation of the New,” and it’s something the industry could certainly use more of. We’ll see if by 2021, as Casey suggests, the powerful medium of comics can be a predictive profiler of “Low-Fi Futureshit.” For now, it’s an incredibly fun multi-layered ride with an underappreciated creator throttling the machine enthusiastically. Grade A.

Echo #29 (Abstract Studio): I’ll be sad to see Terry Moore’s little 30 issue opus go, because not many comics seeing the light of day in this era can pull off such a taut and well rendered slice of adventure. At the end of the run, you think you’d see Moore repeating himself and coasting to the finish line, but no, he’s still offering up new experiences like Annie’s monologue from her post-human state, engaging us with thought provoking lines like “death is an isolated state,” and setting up more action at full speed. There’s so much discipline apparent in the way Moore chooses to depict this tale; take a look at the extended opening scenes in the snowstorm. Look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of small unique snow flurries that these pages required. Look at the absolutely tiny figure scale he employs for the big dramatic shot. Look at the balance required to infuse humor into the dialogue amid the extreme circumstances. This is the real deal. Overall, it’s an exciting run-up to the big finale which will surely pit all of the players face to face for the fate of the future. Grade A.

Scalped #47 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron pulls off another small floppy miracle in this issue. He takes what could easily be a throwaway story, or worse yet – no story at all, in the hands of a lesser writer, and makes it one of the most realistic and emotionally grueling issues in recent memory. He spotlights Dino Poor Bear and Carol Red Crow’s budding relationship and it becomes a lesson in the miscues that exist when you read into other’s actions. Sometimes we just see what we want to see, not what the facts actually indicate. It’s heartbreaking in a way that actually pulls the emotion out of you, I could feel my stomach physically sink as I saw what poor ol’ Dino was doing. It’s a rare creator than can manipulate the audience’s emotions so carefully and make us freak the fuck out over what might happen next. Grade A.

Caligula #1 (Avatar Press): My dad has pretty deep knowledge of the Roman Empire and is sort of fanatical about our Italian heritage, so from what I can tell between his ranting and my Wikipedia searches, David Lapham is doing an okay job of presenting the broad themes associated with this Emperor. The tyrannical nature, his claims of divinity, sexual perversion, and brutal acts, etc. While all of that is the backdrop, the story actually focuses on a “boy olive farmer” who seeks vengeance after his mother and family are brutally raped and slaughtered. Lapham gets a lot right in my opinion, noting the debauchery that would eventually bring down the Empire, the rapid influx of Christianity brought on by a young Jew from the Eastern Empire, and hits most of the real world atrocities, even if they seem a little sensationalistic at times. The only thing missing so far is Caligula infamously trying to make his horse a Senator, but we’ll see if he gets to that too-good-to-pass-up anecdote. Sometimes the narration feels really belabored and isn’t like the spry dialogue I recall from my old Stray Bullets hardcovers, but it’s admittedly been a while since I’ve read them. My biggest issue is with the art. German Nobile's art is at times painted beautifully, but on several occasions it’s awkwardly posed, full of improbable angles, and the painterly effect comes across muddy and hazy. If only the interior art fulfilled the promise of the cover art by Jacen Burrows. It does end with a wild bold cliffhanger, but I’m not sure if the total package is compelling enough for me to return and investigate how it all plays out. Grade B.


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