3.26.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Hacktivist #3 (Archaia): When I worked at Cisco for 11 years, my CEO John Chambers used to say that the internet is “the great equalizer,” in that access -> information -> communication -> influence -> control, and I’ve always been fascinated by these logic chains. I sometimes use the "Education = Knowledge = Power = Respect" loop when I conduct training classes. Anyway, you can see that first concussive logic chain present in the textual theory of Hacktivist. If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in places like Turkey, then you know that Hacktivist is one of the most relevant books currently available. There’s a bit of role reversal here from writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, because Nate is now stepping up to provide leadership for the company, out of the shadow of Ed, who many saw as the brains of the operation. Meanwhile, with Ed in the field in Tunisia, it puts him in a much more hands-on tactical role instead of the strategic cloud-pushing he was probably used to. There’s some nice dramatic tension created by placing these guys in unfamiliar roles. As much as I loved the Silicon Valley bits in the preceding issue, the action on the streets of Tunisia was phenomenal here as well, as Ed encounters Sirine and Beya. There’s an undercurrent of an idea here I like, that things like transformative companies (be it Apple, Cisco, or YourLife) or the heart of a movement are not really these big nebulous concepts, they’re just comprised of individual people. The tech is still slick as hell, centered on the notion of complex pattern recognition, or a system of offline decentralized networks that tickles our futurist fancy. Marcus To is killing it on art, quickly improving with each successive issue. There’s a dynamic realism to his art, which is grounded enough to be believable, yet kinetic enough to capture the daring raids of what feels like a cinematic thriller. Deron Bennett deserves a special shout for lettering, particularly the way he composes the novel progression from English to Arabic to French in one key conversation, using some fresh linguistic cues. I’ve been championing this series down at the LCS as one of the best books of the year, and encouraging people not to dismiss it as a Hollywood vanity project just because Alyssa Milano’s name is attached. Hacktivist is the real deal. With only one issue left, I’ll be sad to see it end. But, here’s hoping that Archaia will collect it in a swanky hardcover with their lush production values, and it’ll experience multiple lives, first in the book market, and then for the horde at SDCC this year. Grade A.

The Bunker #2 (Oni Press): Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari continue the deepening mystery of The Bunker. The central premise of discovering notes from your future self is such a pure and engaging idea. Do you trust your future self? Do you blindly follow what the notes indicate? What does this say about free will vs. fate? They’re meat-y thematic notions to chew on, and Infurnari’s sketchy raw art matches the high emotion and uncertainty of a story concerned with The Butterfly Effect. From singular events like a bomb in downtown San Francisco, to genetically manipulated foods and mass extinction, the world-build has the characters agonizing over every decision, and creating a taut drama for the audience. Grade A.

The Wake #7 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy delivers an absolute visual feast in this issue, with converted cruise ships and rigged Sanford & Sons zeppelins. While it’s true that most of the issue is dedicated to an action sequence and feels like merely a slice of the larger whole, there’s a fairly important revelation that toward the end that could shake up the internal mythology something fierce. I still maintain that WB will be crazy for not exercising their built-in option on Vertigo properties and milking The Wake; Scott Snyder has delivered a cool world-build surrounding an alt future America, which has the right level of pop for an adaptation to film. Grade A-.

3.26.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Umbral #5 (Image): Whoa, last week it was Wasteland and The Fuse, and this week it’s Umbral. Anyway, I’ll try not to bury the lead and say that this is the best issue to date. There are many small moments you could probably call out to justify this, because Umbral has so much going on, the humor around the reappearance of Prince Arthir, the gorgeous way that panels sit on top of full bleed art pages, or the killer world-build from writer Antony Johnston, evidenced in the mutual distrust of the Azqari and the Yuilanguan, that’s Shayim the “sand-swine” vs. Munty the “baby-eater.” There’s Chris Mitten’s slick art flourishes, the guys always seem to be experimenting a bit with new ways to convey information (for example, I was blown away by the spellspeak symbolettering a couple issues back), such as the emotive “spikes” coming out of the heads of some characters, almost a manga affectation, to express surprise or recognition. There’s the colors of Jordan Boyd, which just seem to glow like candlelight at all the right times, to illuminate the pages with a sense of light cascading from one source across the page. It’s really well done. But, all of that said, the piece de resistance that this issue showcases is the aesthetic nostalgia of the alt creation myth that fuels the world of Umbral. It’s almost like it’s the “final” world-building issue and, from a structural standpoint, Johnston had to get it into the initial arc for inclusion in the first trade. Bathed in some desaturated colors, we finally meet Tenebros and Luxan, along with Umbrith, and of course, there must be jealousy, envy, and unnatural manipulation in a story that feels like equal parts Greek Tragedy, Norse Mythology, and Shakespearean Machinations. We see (get ready for it all, topical spoiler alert, I guess?) the rise of the Shadow Creatures, The Shadow War, an early sorcerer named Culin (looking like a Ruin Runner when we first meet him, yeah, about 7 of my readers will get that reference), The Peak sublimated into The Pit, the rise of a hero named Strakan, and the reason magic and religion were finally outlawed, one of the most intriguing premises of Umbral for me back when I heard Johnston speak of “the new book” in interviews long before it debuted. Aside from the creative pedigree of Johnston and Mitten, that was the line that got me, magic happenings in a world that had outlawed magic and religion. There was something deliciously G.R.R. Martin about that, the return of a thing long thought relegated to history that signaled paradigm shift. We’re just five issues in, and already the creative team has shown a fantastic willingness to offer something so rich and realized. Individual comics are sometimes treated as throwaway items by even the people who create them, but Johnston, Mitten, Boyd, and Mauer treat them as lost artifacts of some depth, as a tactile objet d’art which can be pored over, line, verse, and panel, inviting the audience to linger for the enveloping experience. Grade A+.

Deadly Class #3 (Image): This was a really strong issue that momentarily moves away from the high concept of the book in favor of some great characterization from Rick Remender. Marcus and his new pal are off on their first task and as they run this gauntlet, it becomes apparent that it’s really just Marcus looking to belong somewhere, looking for a place he fits, which he’s never really had before, and literally trying to find a cool person to hang with. There’s a lot of emotional honesty created in this issue, not so much that it makes the kids seem too precocious, as is often the case in pop culture, but just like smart kids talking honestly. The interpersonal dynamics have these two guys truly seeing other’s motivations, what they have to offer each other, and what the school could offer them, a budding friendship or an interesting partnership at the least. This is all contrasted with Marcus’ need to overanalyze his actions obsessively. I maybe have a quibble or two with things like the dropped gun discharging accidentally, but the quick bout of process stuff makes up for that. Wes Craig is basically one of the best artists out there right now, and I don’t even know where this guy came from! Did I miss him? Was he working on something else prior to this, or is Deadly Class his big coming out party? With Lee Loughridge’s colors over him, it’s all about stylish layouts and askew inset panels, and these small scale silhouettes, they’re pulling all kinds of vintage Frank Miller moves, and there’s even some Caniff and Gould callbacks in the corners of the smiles. There’s an understanding of the history of the craft present in Craig’s art, yet it hums with enough energy to run with all of his modern contemporaries that are currently killing it at Image Comics. Grade A.

Sex #12 (Image): Well, if you ever wanted to see Joe Casey writing Batman back when he was toiling away on work-for-hire projects at Marvel and DC, then here he is subverting nearly everything about that standard fare, totally turning it inside out and upside down. He takes the common genre tropes of superhero, sidekick, and femme fatale, and puts them in some interesting predicaments, essentially just to see what will happen. He’s confessed in the backmatter that it’s a grand experiment, that he’s more concerned with seeing what happens post-event, the “event” here being superhero origin followed by superhero-fights-villain. Most stories end there, Casey picks things up years after that, in the same way that Robert Kirkman postulated all those years ago, “what happens after the zombie movie is over?” As we see from Joe Casey and artist Piotr Kowalski, both Simon (as the Bruce Wayne CEO stand-in) and Annabelle (as the Catwoman femme fatale analogue) are typically inundated with mundane business problems instead of any superheroics, Keenan (the sidekick, the characters who usually flit in and out of the role) is the only one really interested in the life any more, for all the good it does him. In this world, we see sexuality instead of the typical vigilantism as the prime psychological driver for the majority of the characters. It’s fairly brilliant, pervasive, yet still subtle somehow, and you’re got to marvel at Casey’s willingness to stick to the pattern despite the slow burn it creates narratively. Kowalski’s flat glossy finish is interesting, because it sort of belies the complex topsy-turvy universe that Saturn City has become in the wake of its post-trope heyday. Sex may ultimately be a flawed experiment in terms of the typical narrative engagement that most readers anticipate, but it’s deeply engaging thematically. It’s something that Casey always does in his projects, deliberately tinkering with something specific, and it gets more interesting the more time that goes on and you can start to see these thematic patterns emerging. Grade A-.

Real Heroes #1 (Image): Real Heroes isn’t really the type of book I’d normally investigate, but a man is sent a PDF so a man reads the PDF. Bryan Hitch attempts the full monty here, writing, art, and all, and that’s cool, follow your heart, if you’re primarily known as an artist and you want to try your hand at writing, then have at it, I say. Go. Do that thing. Be that thing. It’s just, I don’t know, there was this book called The Authority. You may have heard of it? So, you take a little bit of your deep familiarity with that (which is already sort of a send-up of a thing or two) and then you use that to send up clueless celeb culture, which sort of makes for a thing already sending up a thing, now sending up another thing, and then you try to wring some high concept tongue-in-cheek premise out of that, and the indictment goes too far to be believable and just strains plausibility. It feels like Hitch bounced these ideas off of his buddy Mark Millar a time or two, so it’s derivative and a tortured belabored premise, and a bunch of other mean words, that you can just see coming 10 miles out, then you sort of watch it play out rather unimaginatively, as it careens off the shock porn intro of 9/11, bonks into Nightwing’s costume, pinballs through all the stock swipe-y superhero archetypes at Marvel and DC, and jabs at their Hollywoodization, and by the time you meet a guy named Chris Reynolds, you realize they could have also called him Ryan Evans and gotten the same flat joke, and then the book is over and you wonder what to do with the PDF since if people really wanted to read Mark Millar, they’d just read Mark Millar, so why would you need Mark Millar Lite? The art is perfectly serviceable if you wanted something better than the generic DC house style in a way that latter period 90’s WildStorm comics were, yet it never hits the majesty of someone like Brent Anderson, or the pristine clarity of someone like John Cassaday, just kind of going through the motions as middling art for a middling premise, never really rising above the spandex muddy inks and two-dimensional superhero trappings that spawned it. Umm. Your mileage may vary? Grade C+.


The Massive #21 @ Comics Bulletin

 I reviewed this week's The Massive #21 over at Comics Bulletin.


3.19.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Wasteland #52 (Oni Press): One of my favorite single issues of all time is called “Eternity In An Hour,” and appeared in The Spectre #13, by JM DeMatteis & Ryan Sook. Wasteland #52 is similar in the way it marries Antony Johnston’s free-floating text with the stark lustrous imagery of Christopher Mitten. Wasteland #52 is many things. It’s the final interlude issue, which are cleverly designed one-shots that appear in between story arcs, typically flashbacks into different periods in The Big Wet Universe. This one flashes forward. There are many moments to latch onto as the team visits several characters and locales. My favorites include the information about Sultan Ameer (which calls back to Wasteland #25, another glorious interlude), or Ruby Stone Claw from the terrific Dog Tribes arc. Sharp readers will also pick up clues about things like the relationship between Newbegin and Wosh-Tun. It’s also the final journal entry from Ankya Ofsteen in the Walking The Dust backmatter. It’s alternately moving, satisfying, and heart-breaking. As this clears the deck for Chris Mitten’s return to the title he helped launch, it’s important to note that Johnston was delivering this type of canonical story-driven backmatter years before it came back en vogue. That said, we’re on the final stretch now, with just eight issues left in the run. It’ll be a little sad to see this series go, one which has been a constant presence in my life for the last eight years, but I’m also very much a fan of creators hitting a planned ending and completing the story they’re telling. The best works tend to have a finite beginning, middle, and end. It’s a little bittersweet, but thank Mother Sun and Father Moon that we now have The Fuse and Umbral in the rotation as some sort of goat-fucking consolation. Grade A.

Lazarus #7 (Image): This was another really good issue, which speaks to the consistency that Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have been able to sustain on this series. There are many good world-builders out there, from Antony Johnston to Brian Wood, but Rucka is certainly one of the best. It’s weird, but I get excited by stupid little stuff, like every time I read “The Macao Accords” it gives me a little jolt knowing the back story that’s gone into the creation of the series. The basic premise of the series is essentially about capitalism running its course to its natural conclusion, the rapid elimination of the middle class, the rise of super-rich ruling families based solely on financial status, and the downwardly mobile lower class, which has been reduced to waste. It’s all of our current social anxiety extrapolated into a bleak future. It’s post-9/11 paranoia about off-grid identities living among us, the contention between security and privacy in the wake of terrorism, and the way status equates to currency and leverage. Rucka and Lark do something spectacular in this arc, something that maybe some readers won’t pick up on right away because they're not very in-your-face about it, but it’s the juxtaposition of Forever being socialized into her upper strata, while we also see the plight of the lower class survival tactics trying desperately to be lifted, essentially winning a social lottery. Unless you’re lucky enough to be someone like the sergeant who gets promoted to captain in the Carlyle Security Forces, these two extremes are essentially the only choices you have in this world. I have one petty gripe, which is that I’m not sure the “KRAK KRAK KRAK” works really well as a sound effect for that type of gunfire after I stared at it long enough and tried to hear it in my brain, but that’s relatively small in the grand scheme of things. Lazarus will be one of the best books of the year, and you could support that statement with any number of justifications from crisp writing, to compelling characters, to brutal action, to tonally significant art, but the brilliant world-building is where I’d make my case. Grade A.

A Voice In The Dark #5 (Image): Larime Taylor’s “Dexter Meets College Radio” is so much more than that elevator pitch sound byte I just used. I was impressed by all of the conversations in this issue, whether it was Ash and Zoey or Zoey and Uncle Zeke, because of the way they flow so naturally. The characters always speak like real people, with the natural starts and stops and parlance that genuinely convinces you. Kids sound like kids, cops sound like cops, and school administrators sound like school administrators. Taylor stages one conversation in particular, about criminal profiling, that is so spot-on it could have been lifted from one of my college textbooks on the subject. He manages to drop a reference in regarding The Red Violin, which is one of my favorite movies, and always hits these little details that show how in sync the writing and art are. In this issue, it’s Zoey raising an eyebrow and saying “Is he… you know?” that lets Uncle Zeke know, in context, that Zoey is asking if there’s a sexual component to the crime scenes. It’s a brilliant display of subtlety that shows Taylor understands the tertiary information delivery system that occurs in comics, one that’s unique to the medium. He understands that when you have art delivering x, and dialogue delivering y, the reader will provide some closure and understand z, which is a third layer typically more than the sum of the parts. If you’re not checking out A Voice In The Dark, you’re missing one of the surprise hits of the year. Grade A.

Sex Criminals #5 (Image): If you wanted to force me into some brevity and I attempted to pick a single word that summed up this book, I think I might go with “disarming.” There’s a sense of balance here that keeps you on your (curled) toes, juggling titillating sex, genuine laughs, and heartfelt drama in equal proportion. It’s like, just when you think the sexuality is getting ludicrous, the humor will knock it back down, when the humor gets too far down a rat hole, something of serious consequence will punch it back up, and just when things get too serious for their own good, there’ll be some wacky sexual sight gag in the background reminding you not to take things too seriously. Love is ludicrous when you think about it, after all. How else do you juggle bank heists, sex cops, paused stutters and stammers for the right realistic reactions? It seems to operate like real life does, without a script, open moments coming right along to disarm our preconceived notions and take the hard edge off. I had a CEO who used to say that when times are good, you get more credit than you deserve, and when times are tough, you also take more blame than you really deserve. I feel that way about Matt Fraction’s writing, so all things being equal, I’d prefer more creator-owned projects like this than another dalliance with Marvel’s IP stable. Chip Zdarsky is probably turning in the work of his career here, adding a “realness” to everything, particularly the depictions of women, that sells the more out there elements of the story, from the facial expressions, to the basic set pieces, to the effects in “The Quiet.” I still maintain that Sex Criminals is a romantic comedy masquerading as action porn, whatever that means. Grade A. 

Letter 44 #5 (Oni Press): I enjoyed this issue from Charles Soule and Alberto Alburquerque, but don’t feel I have much to say about it. It sort of played like all middle, essentially following two action sequences that both should have some startling ramifications. One involves a devastating first contact scenario in space, and the other tracks an FBI raid in a very unlikely place, pitting Federal Agents against a Special Ops security detail. It was a good, if fast, issue that clearly shows the best, most unique work that most creators will deliver is always their creator owned material. Grade A-.

American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 (DC/Vertigo): Speaking of that creator owned dynamic, if you follow Scott Snyder on Twitter, it’s nice to see him basically admit as much. While he’s gone on to much (Bat) success in the industry, American Vampire is basically what put him on the map. You can really see more passionate effort being poured into this project, which sees the return of Skinner and Pearl, promising a second “half” that will bring all of the previous plotlines home. I’ve never really given a crap about vampires, while I understand the dynamic that occurs psychologically and why people are drawn to the tropes, most of the pop culture stories just never did much for me. The thing that kept me reading American Vampire in spite of all that was the “American” part of the title. Snyder is really good at weaving historical Americana into the tapestry of the series, and there’s some rich commentary about the American experience that transcends all of the blood-sucking. In that regard, this issue didn’t disappoint, and I’m excited to see what else Snyder has to say, almost in spite of the presence of the vamps. I will say that sometimes the voiceover narration was a little thick at times and did feel a bit repetitive, but maybe in a set-up/re-introductory issue, that’s to be expected. It also seemed as if Rafael Albuquerque was overly reliant on two-page collage-y spreads, but again, I’ll give benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe that was done intentionally as a re-immersion tactic(?). Grade B+.

X-Men #12 (Marvel): There are some great moments here for Rachel, Monet, and Psylocke, who are probably my favorite three women in this title. I love the direct swagger of “Hey, you guys wanted a brawler.” It’s a good hint at the level of self-aware humor that Brian Wood is lacing the title with. There are a few moments where the characters make fun of themselves or their own X-tropes, like with regard to their costumes, or lack thereof. At a high level, this issue is basically an aggressive denouement that brings a degree of closure to the Karima-Arkea storyline, which tracks back to the very first issues of the run. It was probably time for this storyline to end before it just devolved into a bunch of women smacking each other around, so that’s a good thing. The biggest liability from my perspective has been the inconsistency of the artists involved. Kris Anka is the main collaborator here and it’s true that there are moments that shine visually, but there are also moments with proportions being off, inconsistent character modeling and expressions, and just a general harshness to the art that doesn’t seem to flow very well to my eye. Clay Mann is on the backup story (and this was an interesting experiment toward the tail end of this arc, running two concurrent story features) and his style seems much more at home in the X-universe, unrestrained enough to capture the high energy, but grounded enough to sell all of the character moments concerning budding relationships and flirtation. Grade B+.


The Fuse #2 [Advance Review]

The Fuse #2 (Image): Do you guys remember in the Firefly and Serenity ‘verse, how part of Joss Whedon’s foundational world-build was to postulate that the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China eventually moved past some global conflict as long-standing opposed superpowers and formed a centralized government, an alliance which led to the fusion of American and Chinese cultures? It dramatically shaped the world and altered everything from architecture and signage, to clothing style, to the speech patterns, to the mixed-race composition of society, to the lingering grudges that existed in the universe. I’m wondering if writer Antony Johnston’s backstory world-build for The Fuse includes something similar. I find it interesting how there is subtle tension between Russia and Germany, most obviously represented in the two lead characters – less apparent by how certain cities are referred to, as if some alt future timeline spun out of WWII, or another future conflict that locked these two countries in contention as humans went to the orbital. That’s just me thinking out loud.

Johnston, artist Justin Greenwood, colorist Shari Chankhamma, and letterer Ed Brisson continue this “CSI: Galactica” genre blender of police procedural and old-school sci-fi, delivering firmly on the narrative promise that the first issue introduced. Ristovych and Dietrich investigate what looks like a series of connected homicides, one that leads them right to the steps of city hall, and they quickly get swept up into a larger world of politicized campaign mayhem as local elections appear to be looming. It’s a nice move that shows there’s a larger world humming along that extends beyond the immediate beat of our two cops. I’ve lauded Johnston in the past for not insulting reader’s intelligence and expositing information, but I’ll admit that the unexplained acronyms might get a touch thick at times, with your FGUs and your FLF and your MFC and all, but it’s almost like he’s doing it deliberately now, showing that you can avoid handing your audience EVERYTHING and they’ll still be able to follow along and discern meaning. I mean, FLF and MFC are surely opposed political bodies, so do we really need to parse the exact words the acronyms stand for? It’s an interesting writing dynamic to watch unfold. My mind is always drawn to the smallest detail, like the term “Saturday special” being used. Typically you’d see a cheap gun used in a crime referred to as a “Saturday night special” planet-side. Johnston is too skilled a writer to make a casual mistake, so I’m guessing it’s deliberate because there’s no “night” in space(?).

The police work is spot-on in this issue, essentially the two detectives spend the entire issue canvassing the station, doggedly working leads, some which run to dead ends, and some which pan out and blow up, all of which need to be followed as part of a thorough investigative process. Johnston is good at depicting cops who are essentially profiling victims and perps, trying to get into their mindset and figure out the sequence of things in order to explain their actions (because timeline leads to causality leads to motive leads to identity). I enjoy the subtle sci-fi clues, like the characters talking to their personal computers, ala ST:TNG, a kind of future setting shorthand. I also really dug the campaign manager giving crafty feedback to the video feed, it reminded me of those smart Aaron Sorkin scenes in The West Wing when Sam and Josh would be prepping Bartlett for a speech or a debate. Johnston is always good about weaving in social issues, whether it’s class distinctions with white collar politicians, blue collar cops, or no collar cablers, effort to show multiple ethnicities and locales during the course of the investigation, dropping references to the ’97 race riots, or weighing the pros and cons of the surveillance state, always done naturally via dialogue. It’s not just an empty crime caper, there’s a bounty of relevant ideas to chew on, which is fitting for a place that feels like a floating Manhattan.

Justin Greenwood’s artistic ability seems to get better and better with each successive project. He’s become an expert at visual storytelling and drawing the reader’s eye around the page in a lively way, in what could otherwise basically amount to a boring talking heads issue. There’s so much diversity in his shots, the high camera position in the ME’s office, low angle shots of mysterious conversations, hitting silent story beats for emphasis on a reaction, long zero point perspective shots, staging talking characters in the foreground and background so that there’s two layers of “action” occurring in panel, or setting up Chankhamma to deliver things like high contrast fluctuations between white spaces and crisp colors, or the way the shadows fall ominously in Yuri’s office, partially obscuring him (and what he’s saying) in darkness. The best example of this symphony is probably the beautiful point-counterpoint of inset panels as Ristovych and Dietrich deduce the mystery (and build rapport based on skill in the process). It’s a very well balanced page. The Fuse is an ideal stepping stone into Johnston’s larger body of work, come for the high concept hook, but stay for the quality of craft on display. Grade A.


Island of Memory @ Comics Bulletin

I reviewed Island of Memory, published by Floating World Comics, over at Comics Bulletin.


3.12.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Manifest Destiny #5 (Image): The Corps of Discovery finally pushes on past La Charrette, making tough unpopular decisions in the name of exploration and the defense of the fledgling United States. I’m continually amazed by the dedication to details from Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, and Owen Gieni. You’ve got things like the leafy flora veins in the “swamp things,” the accuracy of the dress and uniforms, the utilitarian nature of the tri-blade bayonet, or the close-up of the flintlock rifle in action. Grounding the proceedings in these real details makes the historical fiction all the more believable. The introduction of a napalm-like device is an interesting corollary to the might-makes-right “shock and awe” culture of destruction and violence establishing itself in the early frontier. I enjoyed how the personalities of Lewis and Clark shine through, one the scientist explorer, one the tactical military man. Sacagawea’s here too, upending conventional gender roles as one of the earliest “strong female leads” you’re likely to see in comics today. Owen Gieni deserves a special shout on colors, nailing the environment with warm Earth tones as a backdrop and then juxtaposing that with pops of orange and red for violence, the amber glow of fires, and the shimmer of silver gun metal. He’s continually playing with expectations, like creating such a contrast between that golden lighting of the dear in the clearing with… what happens next. It’s brilliant. Manifest Destiny is a good example of how to play up true horror, wherein one of the scariest things imaginable is the unknown, and what your mind will involuntarily create to fill the void. The last page has a ridiculous amount of detail, and it just shows how much the creative team has invested in the building of this world. It’s a clear passion project, the results of which have a tremendous impact. Grade A+.

Death Sentence #6 (Titan Comics): Monty Nero and Mike Dowling deliver the climactic showdown between Monty, Verity, and Weasel. I’ve gotta’ say that was probably the hottest sex scene I’ve ever seen in comics. I really can’t think of another that supersedes it. Death Sentence really has it all, from gratuitous sex to meaningful sex, action-oriented brutal violence, to insightful social commentary. There’s a harsh realism embedded in the narrative about what a global response to superpowers might actually look like, which all boils up to an unexpected conclusion. Nero’s script hones in on the inherent fallibility of people, and why the whole supes thing is a mostly ludicrous trope as depicted by Marvel and DC. It puts the work in a deconstructionist space and follows things to their inevitable conclusion, which makes for a very gripping drama. The unapologetic and unflinching nature of the writing is matched in tone by Mike Dowling’s versatile art, able to pull off the gritty details or the intense emotions, working on the small scale or with very grand displays of immense power, like the battle at sea. There’s a real sense of consequence to Death Sentence, something desperately missing in this genre. Now, I was always under the impression this was a finite six-issue mini-series, but the final pages suggest there will be more. If we’re going to see a series of mini-series in Dark Horse’s Hellboy model, then that’s fantastic. There’s plenty of room left to explore in this universe. Grade A.

East of West #10 (Image): I guess one of my only gripes with East of West is that it doesn’t read optimally in single issues. I enjoy it, but Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta are telling an epic long-form, sweeping, apocalyptic story that’s basically been artificially truncated into singles. I’m essentially saying that it reads much better collected, and when I sit down to read a stack of floppies straight through, that’s the superior experience. It’s then that you grasp the full thrust of the story threads, the character motivations, the characters themselves (it’s a pretty big cast), and the nuance of the plot lines and how they clang off one another all becomes more clear. That said, this issue maybe works a little more straightforward than many of the singles, in that it’s focused pretty tightly on a couple vignettes, with father-son dynamics, Death’s “deal,” and his subsequent search. I liked the Sea of Bones as a spiritual and physical no man’s land, and it’s always a treat to see wolf and his female companion doing their animorph bit. I’m starting to pay more attention to the color-coding, like the de-saturated colors in the flashbacks, and how that shapes the mood. This is the most incredible sniper shot you may ever see in comics. Grade A. 


Star Wars #15 [Advance Review]

Star Wars #15 (Dark Horse): Hey, remember that time I went back and read, like, every Brian Wood book extant at that point? The big hypothesis I was trying to investigate with that project was confirming that “identity” was a running thematic concern tying all of the books together like some underlying connective tissue. In more modern interviews, Wood has indicated that “change” is the larger narrative idea he’s most fascinated with, positioning his characters on that precarious precipice, particularly as it relates to history. I’m wondering if it’s possible to fuse these two ideas together. Meaning, maybe it isn’t necessarily character identity that’s being molded per se, but that of the world. In most Brian Wood books, the world is primarily changing and settling into a new identity, one that the characters are then forced to subsequently adapt their own personalities to. This theory is certainly true for the longer works, DMZ, Northlanders, The Massive, Conan, and Star Wars is just as exemplary of that dynamic.

The Rebellion against The Empire is seeking to directly change the world, drastically so, it’s the characters basically catalyzing a universal shift as their own agents of change. This upheaval is already in motion, and this series has them on the trajectory of change in that transitional space, forcing the characters’ identities to shift in order to accommodate the evolving paradigm of the world they inhabit. Luke obviously changes (and is still in the process of figuring out where he belongs here, struggling to make logical decisions and not emotional ones) from farm boy to Rebel Leader/Jedi, Leia from Princess to Senator to Rebel Leader, Han from Smuggler to Resistance Fighter w/ a Rank, Lando from Boring Bespin Administrator to General/Battle of Tanaab Braggart, and Wedge Antilles from Ace Pilot to Leader of Rogue Squadron, et al.  

Leia is subjecting herself to the most willful change, “sacrificing” herself and her personal life for a sense of duty by being betrothed to the Prince of Arrochar, in exchange for a strategic alliance and a dug-in Rebel Base (though there's hints at more afoot), even though her crew doesn’t quite grasp the decision, out of confusion, jealousy, or general concern for her well-being. She constantly doubts herself, or feels she has to prove herself, maybe to prove that this thing she's dedicated her life to will succeed, that the rebellion is a viable endeavor, maybe because she’s a young woman in what is still probably a male dominated field, maybe because she’s one of the few survivors of Alderaan and feels guilt, but for whatever reason, she’s willing to gamble it all, gamble away her own identity, on a chance at change for the better across the galaxy. Wood is smart to show both sides hammering out political deals (how real wars are won, just ask Tywin Lannister and his letter-writing campaign) and is sure to always earn his SW street cred. Here, he does it with throwaway lines, like referring to the Incom X-Wing simply as a “T-65,” or the stalwart “Z-95,” which diehard fans might recognize as the “Headhunter.”

I was surprised to find that Carlos D’Anda wasn’t back on art duty for this issue/arc, but it’s always a pleasant surprise to see what additional creators will bring to the Star Wars Universe. Stephane Crety and Julien Hugonnard-Bert are not creators whose art and inking I was familiar with, but they do make nice contributions, capturing the emotional content, serious moments, and sense of adventure the title demands. Their art is a little more stylized, with elongated faces, caricature-influenced figure work, and some very jaunty hair, but overall they’re a good match for the tech (whether it’s the underbelly of a Y-Wing in flight, or an Osprey-like shuttle), the convincing uniforms (Luke’s Bespin/Dagobah ensemble), and the general feel of the universe (the glow of Arrochar with ships in orbit, or the X-Wings looking sharp running canyons). For Arrochar, they sort of blend Game of Thrones style architecture and militarism with the type of grandeur and majesty you might find on Naboo. Without a doubt, the unsung art hero on Star Wars is colorist Gabe Eltaeb. He’s a big reason that despite some rotation in art teams, the look and feel of this run has remained fairly consistent. He set a precedent early on with glossy sheen and shimmering saturated colors that make the artists and audience feel right at home in this interstitial space between episodes. Grade A.


3.05.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Moon Knight #1 (Marvel): Well, it’s not often you see a Marvel or DC book with top billing as #BookOfTheWeek around these creator-owned parts, but Warren Ellis has always been an exceptional creator. I’ll admit that when I first glanced at Moon Knight, I was a little weary of the growing “Hawkeye-ification” of the Marvel Universe, or Marvel 616,  or Marvel NOW! or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days. I’m talking about titles like Hawkeye, Black Widow, She-Hulk, et al, the intentional grounding of characters in street level day-to-day nuance vs. gonzo superheroics, but this ain’t exactly that. Some people used to say that Moon Knight was nothing more than a tired Batman clone, but Ellis essentially subverts and reclaims that pejorative via instant transformation as a modern pulp noir crime book with slight twinges of superhero sensibility. With Declan Shalvey’s refined art and the muted colors of Jordie Bellaire, which render Moon Knight’s costume sans color and make the environs look like a bleak place that only this tortured mind could possibly navigate. It’s a dream team, and the combination allows Ellis to matter-of-factly invest us in the world. With mentions of “the freak beat,” and a reporter casually recounting Moon Knight’s convoluted lineage as abridged as possible, everything just rolls off the tongue so effortlessly. Ellis makes us believe in the unbelievable. If we’re probably never going to get more Fell out of Ellis, then this is a fine substitute. You can almost see the spiritual connections as Ellis creates a Commissioner Gordon archetype out of thin air, quickly admonishing his officers about the difference between illegal vigilantism and a concerned citizen out to help (wink-wink), and quipping “Pay attention to Mr. Knight. He thinks in a very particular way.” With psychological drivers and mental planes, belief systems, and space-time all colliding, this is an example of what Warren Ellis is best at, and basically the best that tired old company-owned characters can get under the right creative pedigree. It’s what Ellis excels at, a clever story that can function as a satisfying done-in-one, but also works as part of a larger tapestry, telling a macro narrative over time. There’s also Underground Homeless BBQ Cat. Grade A+.

Secret #6 (Image Comics): After several issues of what has amounted to talking heads set-up by Jonathan Hickman, there’s a mesmerizing action sequence in this issue. I love the intricate confidence of Ryan Bodenheim’s art. There’s an assuredness to the line weights that really sell the proceedings. I especially enjoyed the accuracy of all the little details, whether it was the look of a Jeep or ‘Vette (cars are notoriously hard to pull off realistically even for the best artists), or the way that “Phut! Phut! Phut! Phut!” is matched visually with exactly 4 shell casings being ejected from a weapon. This could be a controversial statement considering a couple of the other books out this week, but it’s a contender for best art of the week. #Grenade Grade A.

Starlight #1 (Image Comics): Hey, I really enjoyed this as a sort of “Buck Rogers In Retirement” piece of commentary. I’ve never been a huge fan of Mark Millar’s writing, but the way he attacks this by examining what happens post-action is interesting. Basically, Buck, err, Duke gets pulled through a space anomaly and the Air Force Pilot is MIA for a number of years. He saves a distant galaxy and eventually returns to Earth, only to have public perception turn on his extraordinary claims, his beloved wife die of cancer, and kids who are disinterested at best, while he wastes away in retirement. He attempts to assimilate, but it’s hard to be content with trudging down to buy groceries at the market when you used to ride space dragons and bang queens from distant worlds. I’m not sure why someone would set their alarm for 6:59am, but that art glitch aside, Goran Parlov’s visuals are a nice blend of the muted and flat mundane nature of “normal” life, with the fanciful garish sci-fi of a lost era. Grade A-.

Tales of Honor #1 (Image Comics): I’m totally new to the Honor Harrington novels, but I really enjoyed this. I’m sort of a sucker for the procedural and military tactics bits (those were my favorite parts of other good sci-fi like Battlestar Galactica), and the fusion of those to alt future histories (which reminded of the old Christian Gossett work, The Red Star), so this was right up my alley. The art is a nice purposeful blend of cold-feeling CG effects in space, with some photo-realistic qualities thrown in for good measure. It feels like a deeply built world that’s being relayed to the comics page in an engaging fashion by Matt Hawkins. I’ll stick with this for a while. Grade B+.

Jupiter’s Legacy #4 (Image Comics): “The story of how they got their powers” is a nice depiction of the tension between man-made concepts and those which are granted by external forces. There’s some kind of religious correlation in here, ie: if God didn’t exist, man would have to invent him. There are parts of this that smack of The Incredibles (super-family in hiding, the son forced to “lose” in order to conceal his powers, etc.) and even recent Superman forays; I think Millar is trying to subvert some of these tropes, but they’re just a little too on-the-nose for my taste. That feeling was present elsewhere, for example, the idea of stating that Brandon and Uncle Walt have been in power for 9 years is smart in the script (indicating they’re 1 year past 2 legal terms), but when it’s repeated over and over in practice to ensure we get it, I can feel myself start to groan. It’s basically impossible to say anything negative about Frank Quitely’s anemically detailed art, so I’ll lay all the gripes at Millar’s feet. Namely, the delays between issues are absolutely killing any momentum this title had. Grade B+.