9.11.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Locke & Key: Alpha #1 (IDW): Hey, I’m all for celebrating the planned ending of a critically acclaimed sales boon in your line, but seriously, 25 variant covers seems a little ridiculous and self-congratulatory. That aside, Gabriel Rodriguez is responsible for some of the most amazing art in the last decade and I think him toiling away on a single title which might fly under the radar of the collective Marvel/DC horde means that he’s really underrated. Dude should be able to write his own ticket after this. There are many sequences in this 48 page behemoth ($7.99 is a little steep, but I don’t think these fans are going to care in light of the perceived valued proposition) that require very minimal dialogue, if any, because the strength of his art is such that it can carry the drama. His panel to panel storytelling ability really does rival some of the masters. Well, this is Dodge’s final assault, a nightmarish proposition for terribly cute Kinsey and guy-friend Jamal that earns its horror street cred with blood splotches against black backgrounds just to punctuate the nastiness, all in plenty of dark shadows. I particularly like how Rodriguez’s eyes are so emotive, the whites really pop against the bold line weights of all his figures. Rufus is also inbound, Tyler is making more keys, and there are extremely cinematic cuts scene to scene riffing on the theory that “humanity has too much doubt and too little courage.” Dodge’s speech about family as the elemental unit of power (his delusions of grandeur aside) is a nice treatise on what the series has meant thematically from Joe Hill. Nearly every single long-running plot thread converges here, there are fun tributes, Michael Kaluta extras, and it all runs up to cliffhanger casualties as we await the final issue. It’s emotionally satisfying in a way that doesn’t sacrifice visceral gut-punch for saccharine denouement. Grade A.
Astro City #4 (DC/Vertigo): Kurt Busiek has proven that he’s not only a modern master, but why Astro City remains sort of a seminal work that has legs decades after it first debuted. In every issue of the new series so far, he’s sidled up to the superhero genre and come at it from a different, non-direct angle. He’s got a knack for taking the periphery side stories that would be throw-away world-building bits in the hands of lesser writers and found ways to make those stories the primary concern of each issue. This time around, he focuses on blue collar workers who just happen to have random powers. There’s a choice in life and it’s not limited to the otherwise binary choices between being a superhero or a villain. They can be actors, consultants, artisans, designers, or DJ’s, all finding ways to use their powers by finding something offbeat to dedicate their life to that they’re somewhat passionate about. Brent Anderson’s art has a way of grounding it all in a believable aesthetic that leans toward realism, while still having enough “capes and tights” in his style to pull off that end of the proposition. I was never that into Astro City in its heyday because it always seemed a little too “Boy Scout” to me, but there’s a social anthropology edge to the way the world it creates affects the “real” people that I now find quite interesting. Grade A.

X-Men #5 (Marvel): I haven’t read the first two parts of this, since this is the only Marvel book I actually support currently, but this is billed as Part 3 of the "Battle of The Atom" crossover. It’s basically caught up neck deep in the middle of one of the latest Marvel events, which doesn’t leave all that much room for the plot threads that Brian Wood was introducing in his first few issues. It looks stunning. David Lopez almost seems to be channeling a John Cassaday vibe in spots with his austere clean aesthetic, with some Jerome Opena/Dean White moments ground into the close-ups for good measure. I’ll go on record as saying that David Lopez is responsible for my favorite rendition of Psylocke, like, ever. She just looks so perfect in terms of capturing her history and character. I was glad to see Wood satisfy whatever editorial necessities he was given, but also find the time to work in touches of his team dynamic and further his characterization of people like Jubilee. Rachel, in particular, also shines through, with the recent difficulties she’s finding in Storm’s leadership all having some bearing on what she does here, and how she reacts to the time-jumping exploits of the characters in this crossover. Her small coalition seems to grow, as she ropes in Kitty Pryde for a defiant little mission, utilizing Chinese takeout, self-confessed impulsive “irrationality,” and one extremely badass car. So, there are some crisp moments to be found and I wouldn’t use the word “derail” by any means, but overall it’s got the requisite feel of manufactured drama required of any event book weighing it down, and the cliffhanger-y ending perhaps relies a little too much on the reader’s knowledge of the distinctions and personalities of the crop of other current X-books. Grade B+.
Brain Boy #1 (Dark Horse): This is a perfectly fun action-adventure series from Fred Van Lente, featuring an on-loan Secret Service agent with telekinetic powers. I’d imagine someone who can scan and read minds is pretty handy to have on the presidential detail, and he quickly gets embroiled in a scandal with a visiting dignitary. The re-imaged plot is sort of as kooky and over-the-top as the original concept, and the art from R.B. Silva is really crisp with its hard-edged lines and wide-eyed faces. I’ve never really been one for humor comics or books that are this light-hearted, I guess, because I’m totally a serious bore. It’s good, but just chalk it up to personal preference, I won’t be sticking with it. It is, however, the type of book that I could see me picking up for 50% in trade at a con, which has quickly become my backhanded compliment way of saying it’s good, but not good enough to support in singles. Grade B+.

Kings Watch #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): Man, I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The premise of mashing up The Phantom, Mandrake, and Flash Gordon sounds like pulpy fun from Jeff Parker, and the art by Marc Laming is pretty solid (especially the cover!), but the way the scenes were cut together was very choppy and didn’t flow well at all. By the end, the throughline of the story just never seemed to coalesce, all you can really glean from what’s presented is that uhh, stuff is happening around the world, and I guess they’re sending some random blokes into space to check it out(?) There’s really no effort to show or suggest who these three are, why these three are around to begin with, why these three would need to get together (let alone consider it), or even if they are going to get together, and basically what the whole point of the damn book is in the first place, as contrived as it all is to begin with. I guess it could have used a little more exposition, which is a weird thing to say. Grade B.
Eternal Warrior #1 (Valiant): There are very few things in the world of comic books that catch my eye like the dark disturbing photorealism of a Clayton Crain cover. Oh, how I wish he’d actually do interiors again. He brought me back into X-Force when it started getting good again, which eventually led to the Remender/Opena/White era, which should probably go down as the pinnacle of the dreadful ethical examination of that covert mutant hit squad, but I digress... I’ve never really warmed to Greg Pak’s writing, and this script was a little too steeped in “Nergal Lord of Darkness bestow your eternal blah blah blah” made up religiosity. I always get a little annoyed when writers get too bogged down in their own fictional mythologies, which this issue was really front-loaded with for no discernible reason. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty dramatic entry into the new Valiant Universe for The Eternal Warrior. Trevor Hairsine delivers a well-choreographed extended battle sequence, but don’t ask me why we’re supposed to care about what’s happening or who is fighting who or why they’re doing it. I think they’re just meant to be fighting because war, eternal wars for an eternal warrior and all. Pak introduces all kinds of family squabbling to propel the narrative and I liked the bits about the mental toll of being an immortal. It’s interesting, the tension that gets created when one person gives up the life and one person embraces it. I’m not sure why you would be surprised your sister is alive if you’re both immortal though. There’s some beautiful colors. There’s a bunch of LOTR Oliphants and Wringwraiths. It’s a mixed bag for me, perfectly ok, but nothing stellar. Middling efforts are sometimes the hardest books to review. There’s nothing egregious to really wail on, and nothing innovative to really advocate. I won’t be supporting the singles, but here’s another book that I’ll pick up in trade for 50% off at con, or when I have a bunch of Amazon credit that I need to burn. Grade B.


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