8.14.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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East of West #5 (Image): East of West is the kind of book that rewards patient reading. You’re dropped into an expansive world with little exposition, so it requires some interactive detective work and the passage of a few issues to really grasp all the plot threads that finally gel completely in this issue. I’m guessing the first trade will collect the first five issues, because it’s almost as if these initial five were the first “chunk” of story that actually introduces all of the players and sets the plot in motion. Much of the issue centers on Death meeting up with old flame Xiaolian in New Shanghai, but for the most part their conversation and the interspersed scenes with other members of the ruling council explain all we need to know about everyone’s motivations. There’s some “family news” introduced for Death and Xiao that clears up their intentions, an imminent war between the nations explained, and even the cover blurb words get powerfully delivered in context. Dragotta’s art is some of the best being produced in the industry today. Period. The layouts, angles, colors, everything about it is special. His delicate lines are a delicious blend of the lean Frank Quitely and wispy Tim Sale, they can be alternately tender, mysterious, and dangerous. East of West almost plays like a more frightening, more cerebral, more mature version of what Rick Remender and Jerome Opena pulled off in Uncanny X-Force, but within the confines of a creator-owned vision, it’s so much more intense. Jason Sacks conducted an SDCC interview with artist Nick Dragotta that’s currently up over at Comics Bulletin, and in it he describes having the ultimate creative freedom at Image. If these are the results of that hands-off publishing approach, the results from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta speak for themselves. Grade A+.

Saga #13 (Image): The pace feels different in this issue, slower, and I’m guessing that has to do with the publishing delay. It’s almost as if this is a “catch-up” issue, where the creative team felt the need to re-introduce most of the main characters and sort of reset the story for any incoming new readers, or even those of us who have been with it from the start and just needed to catch our breath to remember where the heck we were. Much of the issue revolves around a veteran in a military hospital recounting the tale of Alana and Marko’s escape, right into their star-crossed love affair. They’re basically still on the run with Hazel, while Prince Robot IV is on their trail, and The Will and Gwendolyn are doing the same. Nothing really new, nothing much has changed, aside from the mental push The Stalk gives The Will. Brian K. Vaughan does have a knack for capturing these little realistic everyday moments and somehow delivering them with larger than life clarity, which I enjoy, but the issue really does feel like “all middle” dog-paddling. BKV also makes a couple overt winks at the camera, which I find a little grating. “No one makes a worst first impression than writers” is a forced meta-line that just plays too cutesy and distracting, pushing me out of the story. That aside, the star of the show is still the gorgeous lush art of Fiona Staples. Whether it’s a reanimated skeleton graveyard or the simply amazing colors as Hazel’s narration begins and their ship navigates space, it’s an impressive display of talent. The haters can say what they will about BKV's writing prowess, but if nothing else, there's no denying that Saga has brought Fiona Staples to well-deserved stardom. Grade A-.


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