8.21.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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X-Men #4 (Marvel): This might be a controversial statement I’m about to make, but I think I actually prefer art by David Lopez over art by Olivier Coipel. Don’t get me wrong, I love Coipel’s work. Shoot, I loved it back in the 90’s when I first saw it on the extended “Legion of The Damned” arc over at DC, which breathed life into the Legion of Superheroes titles, something I’d never paid attention to prior. It was like nothing I’d ever seen; it had raw power, wild, and unrestrained. It was great here too for the first three issues, full of kinetic energy that was ready to pop. It gave an edge to Wood’s scripts that was a nice tonal match. But, there’s just something to David Lopez’s clean lines that draws my eye in, almost in a more inviting way. Lopez’s art is sleek, it looks just right for a group of mutants traipsing all around the globe. It’s an adventurous style, for a bunch of adventurers doing a bunch of adventurous shit. I think he’s careful to deliberately alter the looks of his characters as well, the physcial designs are absolutely perfect. Notice the way Storm looks African, Psylocke looks Asian, Rachel looks like she’s from some wild-eyed future. For purely selfish reasons, I sometimes razz Brian Wood about putting more California references into his work. What a payoff this issue was in that respect. Wood moves the plot from the Santa Monica pier, through Westwood, all the way into the Central Valley’s dullard towns, even name-dropping the little nothing place I was born. That stopped me dead in my tracks. Wood’s scripts have always been strong on this title, maintaining a rich balance between exhilarating action and more cerebral dilemmas. That doesn’t change here. Rachel and Storm are locked in a philosophical debate about leadership, with Rachel pass-agg'ing Ororo, the one who takes a more mature and direct approach, there’s time for the gang to pause for humor, some oomph is put behind the historical relationship between Logan and Jubilee, and even some Jubes’ history references, calling all the way back to X-Men #244. Somewhere along the way, it hits you that the way he’s handling these characters isn’t just about that perfect X-Men trifecta I often cite, the action/intelligence/heart dynamic. It’s also evident what well-rounded characters this group of women is under the hands of a skilled writer. These are the most fully realized renditions of these women I think I’ve ever seen. It’s done in such a way that makes you perceive them not just as women, not just as strong women, but as utterly complete people. They're complex, multi-faceted prople, with flaws and vulnerabilities, with rich experiences and amazing abilities. Their characterization has transcended gender, and that’s ultimately how we have to view them in order to bridge the inequality gap in our culture. Grade  A+.

Dream Thief #4 (Dark Horse): When I was really into street racing during the years of my misspent youth, sometimes we’d refer to a ride as a “sleeper.” This was a car that looked fairly normal on the outside, but popping the hood told quite a different story. Dream Thief is similar in some regards. No disrespect intended, but glancing over Dream Thief as you survey the new comics rack down at the LCS might not make it stand out in the crowd whatsoever. Pop the cover, however, and what you find is a book really dissimilar to the majority of the material surrounding it on the stands. It’s many things. This issue’s got card game tips of the trade that reminded me of the detail quality of Rounders, gangsters that danced across the page matter-of-factly illuminating how residual modern organized crime functions today, and a general noir vibe running through this seedy criminal underworld. Even more special than the confidence of Jai Nitz’s script are the innovative page layouts, panel designs, and visual symbols that Greg Smallwood embeds in the story. There’s nothing like this being produced today. The combination of the visual excellence and the stylish writing all look just so airy and light and effortless. I know the creators must put tons of work into this book, and that it’s not truly "effortless," but it’s such a joy to read it makes you think otherwise. I feel about this book the way I felt when I first read The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, it’s that sense that something special is happening, that a new creative team has emerged, one which will have some staying power, one I’m already so excited to see more work from. Grade A.

Conan The Barbarian #19 (Dark Horse): It’s a new storyline with Paul Azaceta on art, and since I’m not one of these annoying REH purists, I’ve really been enjoying the experimental detours that Brian Wood and his collaborators have been taking with the property. I really enjoyed the nature of the last arc, and this one too seems like a conscious effort to do something different. As Conan and Belit enter this podunk little village with a powerful artifact, I kept sensing a creepy horror vibe that almost reminded me of the eerie nature of some old Twilight Zone episodes. Many of my favorite, or most memorable, episodes of that show took place in roadside diners, not entirely different from the inn that Conan and Belit find themselves in. There’s that one where Shatner gets addicted to the fortunes coming out of the little machines, or the one where we learn aliens have come to Earth as people stream in after a nearby accident. Anyway, Conan is fighting a different kind of foe here, and it challenges his mettle. And hey, if you learn anything from this issue, it’s Do. Not. Insult. Belit! When Conan gives you ONE free pass and makes you a counter-offer, shut your mouth and roll with it! Grade A.


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