2.19.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Conan The Barbarian #25 (Dark Horse): I sort of like lists because my brain has been conditioned via my career to make order of chaos. I used to tell people that my three favorite Brian Wood books were DMZ, DV8, and Local, a statement alone which shows his crazy range. I’ve since disqualified DMZ from that list because I’ve been “working” on it in some form or another since about 2011. I’ve worked on this thing I loved for so long, and so thoroughly that I can just no longer see it objectively as a fan. The list of favorites then became The Massive, Local, and DV8, pretty much in that order. Conan sits at number four now. I enjoyed so many parts of it here and there, never being a slave to the source material like some REH purists seemed to be, never understanding the weird affront that was countered with cries of “emo, barista, fag” Conan, never shaken – but impassioned – by the rotating artists, but my affection for this 25-issue run was basically then solidified with The Song of Belit. It’s a love story wrapped inside a high-adventuring Conan story. Leandro Fernandez first caught my eye in a Queen & Country arc years ago, and was someone I followed. His art is so deceptive. At times, you can’t even really detect the line work under the inks and colors. It’s almost like he takes solid blobs of ink that just form images on their own, or seem to suggest familiar shapes in mercurial perception. It’s a good match for the elusive, flowing nature of Conan’s understanding of life, one which he transitions toward in the wake of Belit’s death. This epilogue issue is something of a reflective coda. Conan fights some guys (and one very clever gal) in a tavern and returns Belit to the sea, sure, but Conan is really fighting himself. He’s fighting the sorrow he feels as he shuffles off the last coil of youth. He’s fighting the rising sensation that Belit was his true queen, a good queen, and it’ll never get that good again, pure existential angst. He’s punishing himself in these ways, not because he simply misses Belit or because his life will now be empty per se. It’s not just that. He’s fighting because of the realization that her return to the sea is cyclical. Life gives, and life takes away, he's not invincible in the ways we all think we are when we're younger. Perhaps he thought he had a few years left before he reached the point where life stopped giving, and started taking things away. He’s upset because he realizes he’s just a cog in the great clockwork system of life, and he’s not in control. There’s a randomness that’s unnerving. As he notes, Belit was born of kings, and he is but a low-born warrior, yet he survives while she must perish. There’s no sense to any of it, and he's in inner turmoil about this harsh reality. This was a hell of a run. Thanks, Brian. Grade A+.
A Voice In The Dark #4 (Image): It’s interesting, sometimes you hear about pitches that are really great, and then the execution fails to deliver on the premise, or just seems lackluster by comparison. What Larime Taylor has done with this book is almost the exact opposite of that familiar phenomenon. The hook itself isn’t all that strong or original (stay with me, this will turn complimentary!), I mean, it’s basically “Dexter at University.” But, the execution takes archetypes and upends the stereotypes associated with them, then adds a level of authenticity and smarts that’s seldom seen. For example, yeah, the protagonist is essentially a killer hiding in plain sight, but it’s a “she,” and she is a person of color. That’s not your typical lead. Taylor then steeps it in convincing youth-speak, which is very tricky to pull off, and manages to layer intelligent criminal psychology on top of all that. The death penalty debate packed a lot of ideas into an otherwise boring conversation, giving me flashbacks to all those criminal law classes I had in college. In this issue, we get a fun tour of college life, and things quickly go from genial big sister types looking out for our lead, to a descent into racially charged electric language that could serve as a trigger event for her. It’s smart and enjoyable, and proves that there’s room left to maneuver and innovate in a well-tread genre. It’s sort of an aside, but it saddens me to hear about the ailing sales figures for this book. It’s twice as good and 10 times as relevant as most of the pap that Marvel and DC are regurgitating. Grade A.

X-Men #11 (Marvel): Hrmm, not a lot new to say here. I’m really enjoying the eclectic band of characters that’ve been assembled and continue to evolve in this title. They all have distinct personalities and the way they ricochet off each other and react to various situations they’re confronted with really works in terms of building reader engagement. It’s essentially Lady Deathstrike, Typhoid Mary, Amora, and Arkea assembling a crazy-strong team (now including the Black Queen and Madelyne Pryor!) to take on the X-Men, with characters like Sabra, Karima, John Sublime, and Gabriel Shepherd all caught up in the mix. The structure of the book has also taken an interesting path by splitting two of the sets and teams with two different artists handling each. This leads into my gripe. The art on the series is just so inconsistent, with many artists coming and going in the run, and now even art on single issues feels all over the place. For me, Kris Anka isn’t a style I enjoy. It just looks like a more uneven rendition of Terry Dodson, who isn’t someone I like in the first place. I have trouble differentiating characters, and their looks always seem to be in flux from panel to panel. I do like Clay Mann’s style on the back chunk of the book. I’d be happy with him as regular series artist. I’d have been happy with David Lopez, or Olivier Coipel. At this point, I’d just prefer one artist I could get accustomed to. It’s become a distraction, and it pains me to say that, since I’m otherwise enjoying what the narrative has to offer. Grade B.


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