4.11.12 Reviews (DC Edition)

Northlanders #50 (DC/Vertigo): LAST ISSUE. First off, congratulations to Brian Wood and company for delivering another long-form epic to the medium, which is a rare accomplishment these days. He’s joined by artist Danijel Zezelj and colorist Dave McCaig, who are an insanely powerful art duo. This is the conclusion of the multi-generational Icelandic legacy of the Hauksson clan. The main source of tension is the generational divide between Oskar and his father Godar, and then, to some extent, the gender inequality between Oskar and Freya. In short, Oskar’s ego pushes him to a place of entitlement, where he attempts to demand respect rather than earn it. He’s also a warrior, and as the old saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail. It’s all set against the larger context of a civil war and the dominion of European powers, including the church. If nothing else, Oskar reaches a point where he’s self-aware despite all of his other flaws, realizing he’s just a warrior – not a leader, and ultimately removes himself from the faulty equation in the desperate hope he can salvage some shred of dignity. That’s the plot, I guess, but I really enjoyed the larger theme Wood plays with more than anything. It’s captured in this dichotomous piece of dialogue: “Is it the death of a culture? Or the birth pangs of a new nation?” I enjoy that so much, the sense of inborn fatalism, and the tension between the conceptual idea of a society, and the actual people who inhabit it in reality. Like the best of Brian Wood’s work, there’s something analogous to our own culture and society to be taken away from what we’re seeing on the page. Northlanders was a brave experiment on so many levels (quieter than DMZ, not as popular as Conan, rotating artists, protagonists, and settings, non-linear arcs, etc.), and I doubt we’ll really ever see anything like it again. Grade A.

Saucer Country #2 (DC/Vertigo): This issue doesn’t waste a second, picking right up where the last issue left off, suggesting it’ll read even better once collected. New Mexico Governor turned Presidential Candidate Arcadia Alvarado reveals her abduction story to her inner circle. The best thing about this writing is how realistic it plays. Chloe’s disbelief comes across intense, but realistic, while Arcadia’s more measured response, as a political candidate, shows you why she just might be perfectly suited for office. Paul Cornell makes it clever and smart in the way an Aaron Sorkin script is, and it looks terrific under the hands of Ryan Kelly. When you put this writer and artist together, you get two honest-to-goodness craftsmen, who are not preoccupied with just laying down cool shots or scenes, but a good story. It’s just a good story, a new story, an interesting story, first and foremost, and that’s why it succeeds. I appreciate how it doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from uncomfortable subject matter, just attacking it methodically in an honest and direct fashion. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, with a cast of broken people who just might come together to try and do some good, simultaneously touching on both the fear and fascination with the unknowable in our collective consciousness. There’s heaps of potential here, and the best part? I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Saucer Country is one of the freshest new tales to come out of DC/Vertigo in a long time. Grade A.

Batwoman #8 (DC): One of the worst things to see in life is squandered potential. Q: How do you take the best superhero book on the stands that you’re currently publishing and totally ruin it? A: You fail to manage your house and create volatility resulting in sub-par artistic contributions. Let’s face it, it’s unfortunate for any artist, hero or hack, that has to come in after JH3, because guess what? You’re not going to be as good! You’ll be forever chasing that comparison. It’s a shame the art has degenerated to such mediocre quality, because JH3 is actually pulling his weight on the scripting end. He captures the creepy factor of the world he and Greg Rucka already built, the characters operate with distinct voices, the interplay between all of the strong eclectic female characters is gold, the investigative angles are believable, down to clever details like the activation codes being acronyms for B.A.T. and D.E.O. But, you just can’t escape the sinking feeling that only half of the cylinders are firing here. Amy Reeder started ok in her run, almost a passable attempt to mimic the JH style and infuse some of her own, but at this point you can almost sense her frustration on the page. It comes off rushed, scattered, awkward, and just slightly off, with paltry attempts to emulate the intricate page layouts of Jim Williams. Trevor McCarthy is apparently up for the next arc, and he really isn’t that great either, more of the DC Generic House Style. At this point, I’d be willing to accept this as a bi-monthly book, give me 6 issues per year written and drawn by JH3, and I could live with that. And then? JUST. LEAVE. IT. ALONE. Don’t fuck up the recipe. Shit, you could even have W. Haden Blackman take over writing completely and allow JH to focus on the art on either a monthly or bi-monthly schedule. The book wasn’t broken, so why does DC keep trying to incessantly “fix” it? Grade B.


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