9.25.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #5 (Image):  If you’re a fan of Stephen Colbert style send-ups that subvert Middle American conservative values, then Todd The Ugliest Kid is the book you should be reading. Writer Ken Kristensen pulls no punches, with unstoppable humor that's knee deep in cultural satire with deadpan delivery. The humor ranges from Tickle Parties to Wet Dreams, Urinal Angels to hymen-slamming step-incest, Reservoir Dogs pulls, to demolishing Comic-Con, and some jabs that get all up in Marvel Comics’ grill. The meta-industry line “Close… I write for Marvel Comics.” had me nearly spitting out my drink at the little deli I was sitting at when I read the issue. I always thought humor in comics was extremely difficult to pull off, something I never really warmed to, but Ken Kristensen is my new comedic guru, honing subversive insight that brings to mind the modernization of Steve Gerber’s Howard The Duck under the MAX line in 2001, with MK Perker dealing all kinds of dark visual contortion to tonally fuel the ideas. Yeah, it’s been over a decade since we’ve had something even close to the wicked power of Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth and its ability to induce literal laugh-out-loud moments. PS - I'll post some details next week on the upcoming Ken Kristensen signing at my retail sponsor, Yesteryear Comics. They've got an Exclusive Variant Cover for #5, and with #6 already shipping next week, this is the perfect time to get onboard the Todd Tickle Party Train. Grade A+.
Jupiter’s Legacy #3 (Image): Lateness aside, Jupiter’s Legacy nearly lives up to the incredible Millarworld hype machine. It upends staid genre conventions with ballsy action willing to make the drastic moves that company owned properties simply cannot. Brandon and Uncle Walter (mostly the latter) continue to engineer their superhero coup d’etat under the guide of sweeping social change to better mankind, and it all starts to rapidly unfold in this issue. Boy, does it, that's a frickin' understatement. While this largely family conflict plays out, every hero in the world gets pulled into the divide. Chloe and her mom are targeted, while Utopian gets suckered into a false flag feint. That’s the propositon, anyway, half going according to startling plan, while the other half derails and creates two distinct tracks for the book to follow moving forward. I’ve  been a fan of Frank Quitely since forever, and this is probably the best work of his career to date. This book is fucking crazy good, thematically resonant and visually stunning. If you're the kind of reader who, like me, was kinda' sick of the over-the-top Millar ticks, then this is probably the one for you. There are deeper ideas afoot and the visuals alone guarantee a no-shame purchase. Grade A+.

East of West #6 (Image): Hickman and Dragotta continue their alternate future universe where a strange event near the Civil War fractures the country into somewhat secular nations vying for power while attempting to parse a somewhat nebulous prophecy. This time out, we don’t really see Death or the Four Horsemen, but via a raucous meeting of the ruling council at Armistice, we spend some time with one of its members. Dragotta adds some Judge Dredd style future visuals so that Hickman can reappropriate a modernized futuristic reinterpretation of The Lone Ranger mythos and deliver the rise of the Texas Rangers in this reality. It’s phenomenal work as usual, with each successive issue of East of West getting better and better, methodically fleshing out corners of the burgeoning world-build. Dragotta inking his own work is really something special, using heavily shadowed grimacing faces to really sell the action. Frank Martin’s colors also lend a washed out nostalgia to the flashbacks, while adding crisp detail to some of the forced perspectives. East of West remains one of the most imaginative creative calamities to shake up the competition in 2013. Witness the raw power of Creator Owned Comics. Grade A.
Sex Criminals #1 (Image): Ultimately, the search for companionship is such a sweet journey that Sex Criminals is probably the most romantic comic you’ll read this year. If you were a fan of Tarantino’s True Romance, the way it was ultimately a love story masquerading as a great crime film, then Sex Criminals does a similar shimmy, a story of Bonnie & Clyde lovers on the run (we think) that’s masquerading as some sort of sexualized supes affair, though the latter genre conventions are thankfully barely present. With Chip Zdarsky’s indie line, Matt Fraction's leisurely script initially plays more like the type of relatively quotidian autobiography you might find being published at Drawn & Quarterly. That’s not meant to be pejorative, I'm in love with the way the line between indie and mainstream is being so blurred of late, it’s a refreshing approach that favors relationship dynamics, matter-of-fact coming-of-age concerns, and burgeoning sexuality over bland superheroic origin stories. Zdarsky’s art is smart, with intelligent camera placement that brings to life Fraction’s confluence of humor, tragedy, and drama. I love how the book takes its time, giving the story room to breathe and expand, time to pause for meta-commentary about senseless real world workplace violence incidents, the sly ability to evoke time and place with a mere Sarah McLachlan drop (hello 90's!), a fourth wall-breaking protagonist that speaks directly to the reader in full Bueller-ian glory, or the introspection about sex being an escape that risks leaving you alone, which will all surely position Sex Criminals as one of 2013’s “it” books. Grade A.

The Wake #4 (DC/Vertigo): Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy are an incredibly strong creative team, churning out a series that feels like a summer action movie blockbuster, but with a brain. Snyder goes the extra mile with researched historical vignettes, which are maybe too easily shoehorned into the narrative just when they’re needed to advance the plot, but no less interesting. Murphy is someone whose career I’ve followed with great interest, his stylized art is the kind of aesthetic I’m easily drawn to. Here, he really pushes on the medium from a technical standpoint, reversing camera angles so that characters are looking at video screens out at the audience, using the perfect detail of a mounted CCTV camera to transition into the next panel, just all manner of visual cues that are both stylish and substantive, form and function in lockstep tandem. At times, Snyder can maybe use a little too much pop culture sensation (“carbonite”), but there’s no doubt in my mind the cinematic brutality of this series is primed for a film adaptation if anyone at Warner Brothers is really paying attention. Grade A.
Wasteland #48 (Oni Press): It really takes some effort to make me nervous, but man I could feel my heart clenching a little at a couple points in this issue. The Festival of The Founder gets underway in Newbegin and you have the “abomination” outside coming for a reckoning, absolutely laying waste to the city’s defenses, a botched assassination attempt simultaneously underway that basically had me screaming out loud like “OH!” when that dagger was finally unsheathed, and then muttering “JESUS CHRIST!” when those “oh shit” moments are abruptly halted. There’s a lot of flourish visually (even in the lettering for that matter, in the way that one set of parenthetical info is used, you’ll know it when you see it) from Justin Greenwood. I loved the brazen visual panache of a man standing down the pub with two daggers in the air wildly yelling “It’s up to us to save the city!” Antony Johnston is playing a game of audience emotional manipulation, leaving some things dangling intentionally until next issue, but quickly answering others. For example, the “Does Dexus Suspect Jakob?” question is introduced and then just as swiftly answered, cranking up the heat for a showdown that’s literally been years in the making. It keeps bubbling up to me that there’s only about a dozen issues left. At 60 total, Wasteland will be the second longest series that I’ve actually reviewed every single issue of. DMZ takes the lead at 72, for what that’s worth. Interesting statistics are something I’m always aware of. Grade A.

Sex #7 (Image): I still really enjoy the way Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski are playing sublimation and transference exercises with superpowers and sex, superheroes and politicians, power and money, fame and status, mystery and exposition. While it’s refreshing to see a series take its time, not be in a hurry (I think I previously made some type of painful foreplay analogy), and allow the story time to breathe and unfurl naturally, that languid pace can sometimes be frustrating, because Casey is playing a long con, and we really just don’t know where this is going or what it’s really about at seven issues in. Maybe that’s what I like about it. At this point in my comic book reading career, it’s nice to still be surprised and see something slightly different in a post-supes examination. As they zero in on the Saturnalia, well, the guys might as well have used “Fidelio” as the house password, but I think Casey is smart enough to know his audience would spot the similarity, so maybe he’ll play with audience expectations yet again. I like it for its quirkiness, despite some narrative delayed gratification, so I’m planning on sticking it out. Grade A-.
Saga #14 (Image): I enjoy reading Saga, and I enjoyed reading this issue, but it always feels like “all middle” to me and this issue never really advanced the plot much. The Will and Gwen and The Kid are still doing stuff, Marko and Alana and The Writer and Hazel and whatserface-in-law are still doing stuff. Yeah. There are notes I like, such as the parent/kid relationships that seem to be getting examined in different ways subtextually, the personal toll that war continues to take on all sides of the conflict, and the meta commentary around insidious “blurbs” was pretty funny. But, until all of these plot threads finally converge, and you have, say, Alana, Marko, The Will, Gwen, and Prince Robot IV in a room together, I don’t feel like there’s much there there beyond an amiable fun read with Fiona Staples’ nice and emotive art. I guess, “it’s the journey” and all, but the journey feels like it’s been going about a dozen issues, a sort of high calorie, low nutrient affair, with only a couple that contained any real zip. Not to be all contrarian just for the sake of being so, but Saga is a really good book, it's not the be-all, end-all that some are making it out to be. There are at least half a dozen better books being published right now. Grade A-.

Rat Queens #1 (Image): I’m in that rare minority who doesn’t really get what the big deal is with Kurtis J. Wiebe’s other book, Peter Panzerfaust, and this is likewise pretty borderline for me. On the positive side, it has some charm and there’s a willfully playful quality about it that’s probably generally lacking in the market today. As accessible as that may be, I found a lot of the dialogue to be unrealistically staged and just trying too hard to have that Whedon-esque cadence and speech pattern that comes so effortlessly to ol’ Joss. The art, too, was a mixed bag from Roc Upchurch. At times, it is crisp and beautiful, at other times there’s a fuzzy grainy quality to the foreground figures, with backgrounds that seem phoned in and lacking detail with an overly CG quality to them. Add all of that up and you basically have a very inconsistent book. This is the kind of book I usually look for just as generic reading material when I’m scouring the 50% trade bins at SDCC. It’s not the kind of book I can wholeheartedly support in singles, not when there’s so much other great material coming out, especially from Image Comics. Not horrible, just not stellar. Grade B+.


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