10.23.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Wasteland #49 (Oni Press): It's a little difficult to discuss the happenings in this issue without just giving away what happens. But, "The Abomination" arrives in Newbegin and really starts to wreak havoc, going directly after Marcus, while nobody can do a thing to stop him. The assassination plot is basically out of the closet, and there's a fun twist toward the end. While it's a little bittersweet to see the end of the series on the horizon with #60, I'm excited for all of it. I'm excited to see the talented Justin Greenwood turn in his final issues, I'm excited that Oni has continued to publish the big Apocalyptic Edition Hardcovers, I'm excited to hear that Sam Keith(!) will be providing the last interlude issue, and I'm excited that series co-creator/original artist/cover artist Chris Mitten will be returning to bring home the final arc. Despite hitting #50 next time out, a milestone for absolutely any indie book, I still feel like this series has largely flown under the radar. Too bad more readers never twigged onto it. Wasteland should go down as one of the industry's great modern epics. Grade A.

Sex Criminals #2 (Image): There were some glitchy part of this issue for me making it feel like the book hasn't exactly found its footing yet, particularly in explaining how the time-stopping sex powers work post-orgasm for the male, how the overlap works between the couple's powerset, etc. I had to read it twice to really get the post-refractory bit, and even after I "got it," I didn't think it was articulated very clearly. I think the second issue moved away from the frank discussion of youth and female sexual discovery that the first issue confronted to strongly, in favor of, like, rampant sex jokes in the background. Those were good, that's fine, but it seemed like this issue went for more laughs than gravitas and was imbalanced. Both issues have also favored the "Sex" in the title, and not so much the "Criminals," except for fleeting glimpses, and now I'm curious to see how that part is going to pan out. I'll still stick with it a few issues, because Fraction's work, well, not all of it - I should say his creator owned work, has banked some credibility with me. The real delight is Chip Zdarsky's art. It's lighthearted enough aesthetically to capture the fun sexy elements, especially the colorful wonder of orgasmic time-stoppage, yet it's also just grounded in reality enough to sell the proceedings without coming off as too silly. Grade A-.

Harbinger #17 (Valiant): Not a whole lot to say about this issue. I often gripe that the art isn't quite strong enough to keep up with the gravitas of the script, and the frequently rotating artists don't help much. Clayon Henry is one of the better of the Harbinger Irregulars tasked with art chores, but still not as strong as a Clayton Crain. It's definitely fascinating to see what actually happened at the end of the Battle of Las Vegas during the Harbinger Wars, which explains away the last couple of issues. That said, the tone of the weird fantasy world, and now the Looney Tunes style cartoon projections aren't exactly my favorite thing going on. I'm also finding it hard to keep track of just what Peter Stanchek and the Renegades are trying to accomplish vis-a-vis what Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation is trying to accomplish vis-a-vis what project Project Rising Spirit, H.A.R.D. Corps, and Bloodshot are trying to accomplish... just lots of players who are all just, uhh, after psiots(?). For the first time, I found I was asking myself if I'd be ok reading this book in trade, which is kind of a red flag that it's not as strong as it used to be, or maybe this arc is just damage control cleaning up the Harbinger Wars fallout before writer Joshua Dysart, who is very strong, can get back to telling "his" story. Grade B+.

Velvet #1 (Image): I’m honestly quite torn on the new noir spy thriller from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. I’ve recently been catching up on the neo-classic Gotham Central and there’s no doubt that Brubaker can pull off procedural stuff convincingly (though you can also credit cowriter Greg Rucka with much of that), but I’m so very tired of all the noir elements in comics, particularly when they’re applied to the crime/spy genre. This whole aesthetic of storytelling feels tired and played out for me personally. I mean, how many times can you see a character walk down the rainy streets of the urban jungle with ominous voiceover? If you’re going to go on record saying that your stated goal is to upend a bunch of spy fiction tropes, well, that does pique my interest. Brubaker and Epting pull a couple of early moves that I really liked. They position the “secretary” as the lead character, the promiscuous and brilliant manipulator whose slept with most of the agency’s best agents. She is, in fact, taking on and subverting many of the James Bond tropes right out of the gate, to the point that the Roger Moore look-a-like is actually murdered in the opening pages, completely defying conventional expectations. I guess it’s unavoidable to set it in the post-WWII Cold War era from the 50’s to the 70’s, but if you really want to upend tropes, you might consider ditching the stock visuals of the Walther P38, the Jaguar XKE, or the de rigueur Aston Martin. I’m also ready for most comics in general to ditch the convention of time-jumping cuts that shift the narrative forward and back in time like they grew up on Quentin Tarantino movies. Just tell me a good story without the crutch of slicing and dicing, please. Sometimes that just feels like empty flourish that doesn’t really add anything substantive. Brubaker’s script reads pretty well, but I did think it was overly-narrated with several pages of caption boxes. Maybe this was necessary to achieve the noir tone, or to maintain the slightly unreliable nature of the narrator that sets up the end twist/cliffhanger as Velvet Templeton stumbles onto a larger plot during the course of unofficially investigating the murder of Jefferson Keller, but it started to grate on me. For example, we’re told about the angry goodbye between two characters, and we’re even shown it via flashback, but we don’t actually get to hear any of the dialogue or conversation, which pushes the audience out and keeps them at a distance. Epting does a really good impersonation of Michael Lark, or Michael Gaydos, or Stefano Gaudiano, or Kano, or pick your rainy asphalt crime noir artist of choice, but I can’t help feeling that the aesthetic was flat and unimaginative in spots, and could have just as easily been art from DC’s Power Company or any other generic superhero outing with as little a change as some brighter coloring. I think this book will really work for some people, and I’ll probably be in the minority in thinking there’s really nothing new to be found here, just a remix of recycled elements. I may give it another issue or two, but I’m certainly not sold at this point. Grade B.


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