Quixote #1 [Small Press]

Quixote #1 (AndWorld Design): I’d read some of Deron Bennett’s Eisner-Nominated lettering work previously in strong Archaia offerings like Cyborg 009 or Tale of Sand, but what really grabbed my attention was his recent work on Hacktivist, with Alyssa Milano, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Marcus To, and Ian Herring. That said, I was eager to check out his scripting ability on his first self-published writing venture, Quixote #1. Bennett creates a swift-moving plot with cool sounding names, like “The Port City of Berona” and “Castle Morran,” weaving a tale about a lost artifact called the Anima Stone which may grant power to the bearer to unite and rule the Nine Continents. He does use a bit of a standard “Chosen One” narrative trope as a protagonist throughline, but I was engaged by the fabled backstory involving a race of Lemurians who lost their culture right along with the disappearance of their supposedly adversarial “Giants.” Dan Mora’s art has some isolated instances of awkward contorted poses, or issues with limb proportion, but overall it suits the tone of the story quite well. I particularly enjoyed the excellent hieroglyphics sequence that visually tells the story of the long-lost Giants and the ancient Lemurians. Quixote almost feels Disney-esque in nature, with likeable light-hearted characters, nicely designed robot suits, mythic storytelling, and evil afoot, all culminating in a tale of fun high fantasy. Grade B+.


Game of Thrones S4E4 "Oathkeeper" [Thirteen Things]


1)      It’s nice to see an episode start in Essos instead of end there, which was starting to become predictable. It was also smart to show everyone the “slave stories” of Grey Worm and Missandei as a reminder of everything Daenaerys has found herself fighting against on her march. Also? Nathalie Emmanuel. *Swoon*

2)      Grey Worm is up in there like he’s the CIA engineering a coup! The Targaryen Sigil atop the Meereen Harpy is a powerful image that nicely foreshadows, via a cinematic tool called “The Great Wish,” what Daenerys wants to do across the Narrow Sea in Westeros.

3)      Bronn’s scene with Jaime is fun and all, because both of these guys are super witty, but its most important purpose was actually reminding everyone that Trial by Combat is a go-to move for Tyrion, and an acceptable play under Westerosi Law.

4)      Tyrion and Jaime’s scene is one of the best in the episode, a very well written back and forth as the brothers exchange volleys that let everyone know where their heads are at and where their loyalties lie. “Are you really asking if I killed your son?” “Are you really asking if I’d kill my brother?” These guys have an actual relationship that borders on healthy at times. Shocking.

5)      Finally, Littlefinger basically cops to the assassination plot and all but names the Tyrells as co-conspirators. In the process, his interplay with Sansa is incredible, wherein he manages to be as creepy as only he can be, tries to mentor Sansa in the game, implicates her unknowing involvement, and is a little impressed by her read on things all in one fell swoop. It’s also a big clue for the show-only audience that Littlefinger is the catalyst for a great many things in Westeros. I’m guessing we’ll see The Eyrie in next week’s opening credits sequence?

6)      Only Olenna Tyrell can tell you to your face that she killed your husband with a smile, and have it go down like berries and sweet cream. It was also nice of her to fondle Margaery’s necklace just to drive the point home. I guess she’ll hightail it back to Highgarden before the trial gets under way, no point in lingering at the scene of the crime.

7)      Hey, how far is the Dreadfort from The Wall? It seems like Locke got their really fast, but ultimately I like his book-deviating presence. It’s an interesting reversal, the first time Jon went North of The Wall he was placed undercover with Mance Rayder, now the second major time he goes North, he’ll have someone undercover in his own party, and will maybe unwittingly lead Locke right to Bran, for a House Bolton sanctioned two-fer against two surviving heirs of Winterfell.

8)      “Our. Little. Secret.”

9)      It’s always interesting to watch how Game of Thrones will integrate the title of the episode into the proceedings. The overt naming of “Oathkeeper” was perhaps a little on the nose, but the acting from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendolyn Christie was superb. They both carry so much emotion in their eyes, essentially coming as close to sharing a warm embrace as two people can without actually touching. I do think it would have been nice of Brienne to say “Goodbye, Jaime” and actually use his name after he says “Goodbye, Brienne,” since this would have been a nice callback to their bathtub scene.

10)   Brienne and Podrick are my new Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

11)   There’s a case to be made that the best acted scenes in this episode could belong to Jaime, Littlefinger, or Olenna Tyrell, but with Jaime just having way more screen time and lovely exchanges with multiple people, Bronn, Cersei, Tyrion, and Brienne, he steals the show with his effort to make up is own mind about things and figure out his new direction in life, what his legacy will be post-rape, post-maiming, post-disowned by daddy, and maybe even post-Kingsguard.

12)   The Skull of Jeor Mormont might as well be the The Conch from Lord of The Flies.

13)   Oh, that last scene is effing disturbing! It’s more Whedon than Tolkien, meaning it has the understated spine-shivering chill of those floating dudes from “Hush” than the over-the-top imposition of, say, The Witch King of Angmar. It’s our first look at the mysterious power in the North, the ice to the fire of the dragons. I kept wondering if the White Walker was going to burst out with a rendition of “Let It Go.”


4.23.14 [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.

Sheltered #8 (Image): I’ve been wondering if Ed Brisson naming this series “Sheltered” might have been a nod to a guy named Lloyd Kahn, who was an early pioneer of green shelters, involved with the Whole Earth Catalog, and created some guides to counterculture building. That’s neither here nor there as far as the review goes, but hopefully Ed will chime in and allay my curiosity. This is a great issue because the balance of power begins to teeter between Lucas and Victoria. The group is still reeling from the shootout that occurred, with characters like Mitch and Nancy the sort of “swing votes” that either side needs to win over the group. At times, you almost can sense the ideological divide that Brisson laces the narrative with, Victoria as an idealist, Lucas as a fascist, and Mitch as a cold realist. I continue to be impressed by the combination of Johnnie Christmas’ art and Shari Chankhamma’s color, I mean, just look at the noses, it’s all about the noses! The way they glow warm from the cold environment, the lighting on them is just superb. Christmas is able to carry so much emotion in the facial characteristics, just look at wild-eyed Victoria trying to plead her case. I also really enjoyed the nuclear primer in the backmatter by Ryan K. Lindsay, which essentially debunks the realities of post-nuclear detonation. It’s a crime that this book was not nominated for Best New Series in the Eisner Awards this year. #TeamVictoria Grade A.

Lazarus #8 (Image): Michael Lark’s art really has an ability to capture the dark and murky morality that Greg Rucka’s scripts are addressing. From Forever’s childhood indoctrination into the family business, to a bomb plot in LA that leads... elsewhere... there’s a sense of shifting cultural values and social mores. From the Carlyle Family perspective, the bomb plot is a terror plot, and the intended location really resides in the heart of one of the only hopeful places the world has left to offer. The plot thread about “The Lift” converges with everything else we’ve been shown in this new arc, and it finally all makes sense. I really enjoyed the way people’s value can go from waste to serf based on their abilities in this weird organic community that’s been created on the march. It’s no surprise around these parts that I have a thing for post-apocalyptic morality plays, and Lazarus is certainly in the top grouping of that genre, illustrating current social fears by extrapolating them to the extreme. With its commentary on resource scarcity and the rapidly expanding divide between the haves and the have nots, it’s an important book that could easily be studied at the collegiate level. Grade A.

The Bunker #3 (Oni Press): This is a very moody and atmospheric issue that amps up the intensity by showing us the nitty-gritty of the explosion in SF, characterized as “the worst terror attack since 9/11.” It’ll no doubt shape the future of the world, and it plays like the key event with a butterfly effect through time that it’s been set up as. There’s that, along with the traumatic childhood stuff that’s impacted the personalities of the characters today. Joshua Hale Fialkov seems to be a rising star, and when he’s paired with stylish artists like Joe Infurnari, the results are pretty great. Infurnari has a sketchy quality to his art that captures the tenuous grip on reality that the characters must be feeling. There’s a sequence here where Heidi is depicted in a washed out white color that emphasizes the emotional void she must be feeling too. It’s a smart book that has the potential to be one of the great modern mysteries. Grade A.

Letter 44 #6 (Oni Press): The other big new creator owned book from Oni Press is Charles Soule’s Letter 44, and this was an interesting issue that ends this first arc by allowing us to catch our breath and absorb the new status quo. The team in space is dealing with the aftermath of their messy first contact scenario, with lost crew members, decoded plans, and a new birth, which has lots of potential repercussions. Back on Earth, the politics are in full force with a Presidential tete a tete that ends up thwarting more conspiratorial violence. It’s rare that you feel you have no idea where a series will go next, and that’s part of the high I get from Letter 44. I’m really excited to see the next one-shot issue, with art by Joelle Jones. Grade A-.


The Massive #22 [Advance Review]

The Massive #22 (Dark Horse): Danijel Zezelj is probably my personal favorite Brian Wood collaborator (cue apologies to Nathan Fox, Ryan Kelly, Carlos D'Anda, Fiona Staples, et al), when you catalogue his work on “The Shield Maidens” in Northlanders, his depiction of Decade Later in DMZ, and the heart-breaking reveal he did right here in The Massive #12, so I was thrilled to see him tackle this full arc of The Massive, entitled “Sahara,” especially one focusing on enigmatic Mary. Zezelj’s figures are just dredged in ink, which adds a lot of emotional weight to anything he touches, and The Massive deals with some heavy concepts, so it’s a great pairing. Brian Wood builds a story around the looming crisis that is access to clean water. It’s something that Wood’s environmentally-minded interviews have revealed concern for over the years. In the future, something like taking a shower for more than 5 regulated minutes is a luxury we might all be taking for granted, one that our kids could soon be faced with. The Massive #22 touches on those concerns, concerns over the type of world our children will inherit, and Wood is able to weave this into his post-apocalyptic broken-world story. In short, water is the new oil. Mary gets involved in an effort to secure a huge convoy trekking from the Arabian Peninsula thousands of kilometers across North Africa, to whatever’s waiting at the end of the line in Morocco. Her experience as a child soldier even makes her something of an “officer” in this hired-out local security detail and, pet peeve notwithstanding (“clips” vs. “magazines”), it’s a perfect way to demonstrate commerce being upended post-Crash, with temp occupations and migratory patterns all in flux. Zezelj’s use of inset panels is particularly noteworthy because of the way it draws attention to emotional beats, and I love stuff like the big full page shot of the shanty town staging area. It’s the kind of original art I’d want to own from Zezelj, one of the few remaining items on my comic book bucket list. Mary’s journey is full of rich moments, like the cultural rivalry where the guys in the cab of the hauler are so busy trying to put down a woman that they don’t even notice they were probably just threatened by Mary. The mystery of Mary, central to the grand narrative in The Massive, is also furthered with her Great Depression era recollection, but trust me when I say that’s not even the biggest reveal the issue has to offer! I’ll say no more until we can discuss this development in the review for next issue. Grade A+.

Game of Thrones S4E3 “Breaker of Chains” [Thirteen Things]


1)      It’s interesting to see that with so many plot lines running they’re using the “previously in” clips as a primer to remind you of what’s key. What caught my attention in this episode was the brief shot of Stannis Baratheon throwing three leeches onto the fire. “The usurper Robb Stark, the usurper Joffrey Baratheon,” etc. So far, they’ve all died in order. Remember who the third one was? C’mon, people. Keep up.

2)      This ep picked up IMMEDIATELY where the last left off, with Ser Dontos whisking Sansa away into the fog. The image of her shrouded figure on the run was beautiful and atmospheric and the panic that pervaded those opening moments with Tywin barking orders to seal the city was just... YES. The thing is, as good as this episode was, it’s basically a filler ep by comparison, considering that there are still like SEVEN major things that need to occur this season. Anyway, I really only have one other word to say: LITTLEFINGER.

3)      On that note, I loved the way that the Littlefinger reveal scene leads right into the Tyrell scene with Olenna and Margaery. Sometimes when you edit so many scenes together with different people and places you create an unintentional narrative via their sequencing. But, this is an example of intentional narrative meant to look casually unrelated.

4)      Tywin grooming Tommen for leadership. I’m sorry to all of the other fine actors that’ve been assembled, but Charles Dance steals the show this week. Between this and his other big scene, he’s as delightful as Olenna Tyrell (only far more cunning) to watch every time he’s on screen. The audience is basically left hanging on every single word, as he instructs Tommen very directly on the wisdom of kings, the folly of many kings past (including “King Robert,” not “your father”), takes digs at Cersei over Joffrey’s failings, ensures his own vision of the world vis-à-vis his role as Hand of The King, and literally snatches Tommen away right out from under Cersei’s control, right before her eyes. The secret powers always seem to be just behind the rulers of Westeros. I also think it’s worth noting how similar Tommen’s clothing is to his Uncle Dad Jaime.

5)      The Great Sept of Baelor is another example of what Game of Thrones excels at, moments of emotional manipulation which have us conflicted over our relationship with each character. We’ve been conditioned to applaud Jaime’s redemption and basically hate Cersei as Queen Bitch, but those get all inverted. You can only feel sad for Cersei, even in spite of her misdirected anger at Tyrion. Her beloved (if only by her) son is dead, her power is slipping away from her, she is no longer queen, her dad just stole her other son away from her, Jaime refuses her by being very apprehensive about killing Tyrion, and then Jaime rapes her (yes, despite all the online controversy over intentions and interpretations and editing and blocking and “eventual consent,” despite the consensual nature of what was originally depicted in the book, what occurred in the show looked like rape to me). Cersei’s power is slipping away in so many ways, and like most insecure people, she will continue to overcompensate when she’s feeling threatened. Power is the most fickle mistress in Westeros.

6)      Arya is learning to be quite the little social chameleon, which is great foreshadowing. Also? Rabbit Stew. Happy Easter!

7)      It was very thoughtful of the writers to give a nod to ASOIAF fandom by actually calling out “The Red Wedding” by name. Will we see the same for The Purple Wedding?

8)      The fate of the farmer that takes in Arya and The Hound is example #137 of the noble ways dying in Westeros, foreshadowed by talk of Guest Rights that were obliterated at The Red Wedding. Later, Tyrion’s conversation with Pod exudes the same, as the poor squire is so loyal he’d probably die for it, truly a dying sensibility in the land of cold ambition at all costs. I’ve grown a bit tired of Arya and The Hound wandering The Riverlands, so efforts to create scenes like this or to include The Hound giving Arya some tough love are most welcome.

9)      Sam struggling to find every which way to say “I love you” to Gilly without having to say those exact words. He’s pushing her away to protect her, something Tyrion did with Shae, something Tyrion is now doing with Podrick. It’s a thematic constant in the show lately. Tyrion basically breaks Pod’s heart by trying to save his life. He also gets in some good verbal licks about the ominous “they,” or “the man pulling the strings,” proof that the language is laced with additional meaning for people paying very close attention.

10)   Pirates vs. Smugglers.

11)   Tywin recruiting Oberyn for The Small Council is a brilliant example of Papa Lannister playing the long game. He’s a man concerned with his legacy, his family’s legacy, and he’s able to see the strategic big picture and not just roll up his sleeves to win the tactical matches. In his long view of the world, The Martells of Dorne can only be allies against the open-rebellion Greyjoys, Wildlings advancing on The Wall, or the little matter of “the Targaryen girl with three dragons.”

12)   It’s a great irony that Tywin and Oberyn debate the poison assassination plot while standing in Littlefinger’s brothel, a fact that Tywin even mentions in a roundabout way.

13)   The show basically makes itself irresistible with cinematic flourish, this week’s example being Dany picking her champion. It re-establishes her relationships with Grey Worm, Ser Barristan Selmy, and Ser Jorah Mormont. It also offers doses of humor and action as Daario Naharis dispatches the champion of Meereen, even though it’s still just another mechanism to keep us entertained in spite of the repetitive nature of Dany’s march through Essos.


The Fuse #3 [Advance Review]

The Fuse #3 (Image): This issue continues "The Russia Shift" arc, as Dietrich and Ristovych investigate what is ostensibly just a dead cabler. Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood depict the police procedural as a sometimes talky, slow-burn process that feels a lot like putting together an unknown jigsaw puzzle. The sparse leads are the puzzle pieces, one leads to another leads to another, some key and some peripheral, and if you keep chasing them and snap down enough, eventually you start to see an image forming. Their investigation takes them to the heart of the Mayor’s Office, with familial intrigue, past lies, and secrets being revealed. If you pay really close attention to the very first scene, and then square that with the final sequences in the book, it also becomes clear that some people know more secrets than they’re really letting on. I like how Johnston and Greenwood use the plain black and white location headers, which remind me of the edits in something like Law & Order (one of many shows with confessed influences on The Fuse) or Christopher Priest’s old Marvel Knights Black Panther series that used them to great effect, if you’re more comfortable with a comic book reference. If I have any criticism of this issue, and maybe the series as a whole so far, it’s that the very nature of the book makes it a bunch of talking heads until the evidence reaches a crescendo and something actionable pops off, so it’s up to Johnston to keep the journey of the dialogue intriguing, and Greenwood to hold our attention visually. He does this to some extent with excellent mastery of body language, evident in all the reaction shots or cops with folded arms emphasizing closed posture. Those are the subtleties that I enjoy, but I do fear some readers may grow impatient with all of the talk, though perhaps the readers that just want empty action aren't the ones reading a book like The Fuse in the first place(?). Anyway, Shari Chankhamma’s lighting also helps break things up tremendously from scene to scene, where light-sourcing and color palettes differ in the coroner’s office, dingy apartments, or the open streets of Midway City. As all of the leads start to converge, Johnston is also careful to continue world-building along the way. Sometimes there are significant efforts, like a flashback to the race riots and all the clues to the “origins” of Klem and Ralph, while other times they’re small little throwaway bits that suggest characterization. My mind is always drawn to things like another officer named “Chang,” which hints at interplay with other ethnicities, the mention of “spring rolls” having an air of authenticity to it because it's so specific, Yuri’s likely political connections, or the great deadpan line “Holy shit, that a real gun?” which I hope will be used as a recurring bit of humor. Grade A.

The Life After #1 (WonderCon Variant) [Advance Review]

The Life After #1 (Oni Press): It looks like this book comes out in July, so consider this an Advance Advance Review for the new series from Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo (aka: Gabriel Bautista). Fialkov is hot off of the success of The Bunker (#3 comes out this week!), so I was happy to see more creator owned work debuting in Anaheim this past weekend. Let me first just say that I dig how Oni Press has been handling their con exclusives lately. This was reasonably priced at just $5, and like the black and white preview edition of Letter 44 #1 at SDCC last year, it’s a great way to get the creators in front of fans for signed copies, and an opportunity to get the book out there in critics’ hands in order to generate some buzz months prior to the official release date. This one was limited to just 400 copies at WonderCon and I’m glad I picked up a couple to pass on to friends. It’s really good, narratively different from what’s currently available on the stands, addressing our perceptions (and the ultimate point) of our existence. The story tracks Jude, a sort of everyman just trudging through the rut of his life in the style of The Truman Show or The Matrix, without being cognizant of the fact that there’s a great secret to the world he inhabits, until something of an unplanned glitch comes along. In fact, the way institutional voyeurism is depicted in the book, there might even be two big secrets. I don’t want to spoil too much by giving away the terrific figure in the big reveal at the end, but it’s clever and charming, and I couldn’t help but think of that old Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra movie What Dreams May Come. I wasn’t familiar with Gabo’s art prior to sampling this title, but I definitely enjoyed the small figure scale he works at, and the immense level of detail poured into the panels, the style is somewhere in the nexus of folks like James Stokoe and Ross Campbell, with the detail porn of the former and the softer lines of the latter. There are many great comics still on the horizon for the remainder of 2014, but The Life After looks to be one of the most unique and intriguing. Grade A.


4.16.14 [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 #53 (Oni Press): With only seven issues remaining, artist Christopher Mitten joins writer Antony Johnston to bring home the series he helped create. Yeah, it’s the beginning of the end, so naturally we catch up with Abi and Michael (with Thomas now in tow) pretty much where we left them, as they venture to A-Ree-Yass-I. Wasteland has always been a book that defies conventional expectations. There’s a pretty fun example of that when the group encounters some Sand-Eaters. For so long, we’ve been conditioned to fear the Sandies. There’s a great moment when Thomas suggests talking to them, and Michael and Abi exchange sideways glances at the mere suggestion of it. Not only do I love deciphering the Sandie-Speak, but this leads to a series of great visual reveals, capped off by the cliffhanger on the last page that suggests the gang may have finally arrived at a destination that houses some answers. Most of the clues for what probably occurred to create The Big Wet have been laced into the story over the years, but I do get the sense that Johnston may be ready to offer a more prescriptive version now that we’re nearing the end. There are clues to this approach in the text as well. One example is that previously in the run, he hasn’t really bothered to “translate” the Sandie-Speak, he’s just let the audience intuit the meaning by sounding out their prolonged vowels and hard consonants in context. In this issue, he (deliberately I’m suggesting) has Michael and Abi try to figure out what they’re saying so that the audience can follow along and pick up the precise meaning. The fact that I can even pick up on nuance like that is a testament to the fact that Wasteland is a carefully crafted book that rewards repeated reading. It’s never been churned out like factory comics at those other companies, with interchangeable artists operating in house styles, or IP catalogue characters that endured whichever writer was at the helm. Creator-Owned Comics are hot right now, but it’s almost as if Wasteland was doing it before this renaissance took off. They were doing it long before it became cool again. I mean, seriously, 60 issues of a quirky creator-owned book from Oni Press? Most Marvel and DC Comics can barely get into the 20’s before they get rebooted and relaunched again with a new creative team. There’s something to be said for this level of passion and dedication. Wasteland is sadly a dying breed of the comic book species. Grade A.

A Voice In The Dark #6 (Image/Top Cow): Larime Taylor continues his series of collegiate psychological intrigue and tracks everyone’s favorite coed serial killer, Zoey, as she stalks her intended prey. The scope of her hunt expands due to a tastefully handled (as tasteful as you can depict something so awful) attempted rape scene that even comes with a Trigger Warning on the title page, a term which seems to have worked its way into the collective lexicon in the last couple of years. There are a lot of things to like about this issue, in addition to Taylor’s realistic depiction of women. #RealWomen is a hashtag that I wish would take off, highlighting instances of comic book characters and art which challenge our preconceived notions of conventional beauty and sexuality, in the spandex clad world of comics dominated by the old superhero genre. This is true especially in light of the incident that recently occurred with Janelle Asselin receiving threats of violence and rape for simply calling out just such an ill-conceived superhero cover for things like sexualizing a teen girl for having tits bigger than her head. This issue flows extremely well, and I think it’s because we stay on Zoey for the entire issue, tracking her movements as she stalks her targets, essentially hiding in plain sight, and attempting to fight her compulsion. As with real serial killers, she’s hooked on the “high” of the kills, even though she may cognitively know it’s wrong and deviates from socially accepted norms, but needs the kills to get bigger-more-better to get the same high. In the real world, this process of intensifying brinksmanship usually happens until you slip up and get caught. As with many real world serial killers, the kills might not be about the violence per se, or the rape (if there’s a sexual component), but simply about power. Zoey is out of control, she’s trying to navigate a chaotic world, and the kills are her own fractured psyche’s way of making order of the chaos, albeit totally inappropriate. My favorite part of the issue was Zoey’s encounter with a mysterious benefactor (at least that’s what we’re sort of lead to believe), but the hockey mask isn’t the only thing that should cause alarm klaxons to be going off in your head with the introduction of this person. Not only does this person have a literal mask, but Zoey’s costume at the party is more of a figurative “mask” that demonstrates our psychological ability to not be ourselves and act differently when we’re in the guise of someone else. We all have masks, the one we wear for the world to see, and then the darker more hidden side. A Voice In The Dark is one of the surprise hits of the year, a truly hidden gem in the marketplace. I highly recommend it, and this could be the best issue of the series to date. Grade A.

X-Men #13 (Marvel): I really loved the opening scene, the way that this mysterious man is able to quickly perform a threat analysis and then use the information to decimate his opponents. It’s a signal that family ties are going to come calling, which will impact Jubilee, Shogo, and the rest of the largely female X-Squad, which was thrown together in an impromptu fashion. Brian Wood has taken some flak over that, basically since the start of the series. “Why isn’t it called X-Women?” Umm, because that's a a stupid name and the name of their affiliation is X-Men? You don’t see people whinging that Black Widow or The Wasp should be called Women Avengers. WomVengers? C’mon. He does attempt to address the concern in an organic way, via Storm’s self-doubt about leadership. She has a great conversation/pep talk with Psylocke about their raison d’etre, indicating that they should have a formal mandate with “team” status, even within the parameters of the universe and the school. Another difficulty, which I really want to lay at the feet of editorial and not Wood, has been the revolving door of artists the series has endured. He’s honestly no Olivier Coipel or David Lopez, but Clay Mann has a style that works with these characters and I was happy to see him on art duty rather than some of the other artists who’ve worked on the book, and at this point, I’d be happy if he remained for the rest of Wood’s run. His style has some nice hard angles with plenty of granular detail. I enjoy the way he draws Jubilee, Rachel, and especially Monet in this issue, who for a moment looked like one of Brian Wood’s creations, Mara Prince. Yet another obstacle (again, I’ll blame Marvel Editorial) has been interruption of some of Wood’s intended story throughlines by company crossover events. It feels now as if the title is getting back on track, sort of resetting Wood’s original ideas while gearing up for another conflict, and in the process addressing things like Jubilee’s vampirism, the true nature of Shogo, and John Sublime’s relationship with Rachel and the rest of the team. I’m curious to see how these things resolve. Grade B+.


Game of Thrones S4E2 "The Lion & The Rose" [Thirteen Things]


1)      Well, for book readers it was pretty clear from the title of the episode that this was going to feature The Purple Wedding. Rightfully so, approximately half of the episode’s run-time is dedicated to building it to a crescendo. Raise your hand if you have a list of the episode titles and are pairing it with your predictions for what happens in each episode. I can’ t be the only one playing this game against myself, seeing if I can sift the seven or eight key moments and reveals into their small screen receptacle. Since it seems I’m also obsessively analyzing each ep for what the opening credits do and don’t include, I coulda’ done without Meereen in this one and would have liked Moat Cailin instead. The Neck, The Riverlands, most TV viewers don’t remember this stuff, and Roose’s map was perhaps shown too quickly, with too tight a shot to provide enough context.

2)      So, that opening scene. People talk shit about Littlefinger being an Agent of Chaos, but I don’t buy it. While Lord Petyr Baelish may be a brilliant catalyst pulling the strings behind the scenes (which book readers know far better than show-only watchers at this point), the destabilization engineered in the shadows by him and people like Lord Varys is all about creating order, their order. Ramsay Snow just might be the real Joker. He’s the true Agent of Chaos, and we sometimes get the sense that he just wants to watch the world burn.

3)      I enjoyed Tyrion doing his best to comfort brooding Jaime, pouring his wine out was a particularly accommodating gesture as Jamie confides in the only person he can really trust. This was also a great run-up to the Jamie and Bronn scene, the new Arya Stark and Syrio Forel. What an unlikely pair these two are, in a show frequently giving us brilliant pairings. The mercenary sellsword Bronn of House “You Wouldn’t Know Him” and Ser Jamie Lannister of Casterly Rock, The Kingslayer, two men from markedly different worlds who happen to be two of the most deadly men in Westeros. Not to mention Ser Loras Tyrell and Ser Jaime trading words, generally considered the two most skilled knights in the world. Great Pairings.

4)      OF COURSE Ramsay gets along great with Locke.

5)      I found myself very fascinated with House Bolton. It’s interesting that aside from the Starks, they’re really the only other family from the North we get to see up close. It’s weird to think about all of the “Bizarro” versions the show puts forth. Last ep, I talked about Olenna and Margaery being a healthy version of Tywin and Cersei (especially given the power held by Olenna Tyrell, and the Gender-Power dynamic that fuels Cersei’s resentment). In this episode, we see a lavish royal wedding and how it differs from the hidden/rushed weddings of Robb and Talisa or Edmure Tully and Walda-Willa-Wyla-Whatsername Frey. We see Roose Bolton with Ramsay Snow, sort of the dark reflection of Ned Stark and Jon Snow, the Northern Lords and their ostensible bastards. Roose Bolton is extremely smart and capable, a man of cold pragmatism whose intense lingering stare can be just downright scary. It makes you think that if Robb Stark was more willing to use Roose Bolton like the deadly scalpel he his, his campaign might’ve gotten a little further. Once again, Game of Thrones is insistent on punishing people who can’t bend their rigid noble principles to get down-and-dirty when survival demands it, and instead rewards those with, let’s call it, extreme moral flexibility. If you view the world as binary black and white, you’re going to have a very difficult time navigating the myriad shades of gray in Westeros.

6)      For some reason, I just loved the delivery of Locke’s line “Who the fuck’s Jon Snow?” It shows quite effectively that the characters are not omniscient. In Locke’s little corner of this vast world, it doesn’t mean anything to him on the surface and there really is no reason he’d know that, despite everything the audience is obviously privy to.

7)      The show continues to bind us in conflicted emotional states. For example, Jaime is a fan-favorite, and we find ourselves rooting for the redemption of a dude who pushed a little kid out a window because he wanted to keep fucking his sister. Theon Greyjoy was an arrogant shit in his own right, betrayed his “brother” Robb Stark, went against everything his “father” Ned Stark ever tried to teach him, fingered his sister, took Winterfell, executed Rodrik Cassel, and burned two innocent kids to a crisp, but now we find ourselves kinda’ feeling sorry for him and his predicament. Theon knows he fucked up and wasted his life, poor guy did everything anyone ever asked of him, was shipped off as a kid, tried to fit in with the Starks, tried to fit in with the Greyjoys, all to no avail, and maybe none of it was really for personal glory, but just because he was a hurt kid who just wanted to fucking belong somewhere.

8)      Tyrion trying to save Shae’s life by absolutely forcing himself to push her away using any insulting means necessary was just gut-wrenching.

9)      There’s an interesting academic paper waiting to be written about how the transition from The Light of the Seven to The Lord of Light tracks against the polytheism of Greek and Roman tradition giving way to the monotheism of Christianity. While we’re at Dragonstone, I always crack up at poor Davos Seaworth, at times he must feel like the only sane dude in the asylum.

10)   Prince Oberyn holding his own against Tywin Lannister AND Cersei Lannister. They’re two of the most ruthless players of the game, and he doesn’t flinch, proving why his badass rep goes far beyond sexual prowess or combat skill.

11)   Well, I’ll say one thing about His Grace, King Joffrey of the Houses Baratheon  and Lannister, First of His Name, King of the Andals and of The First Men, Lord of The Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm – he really HAS united the kingdoms like nobody else could! I mean, by the time his little War of The Five Kings skit is underway, it’s clear that everyone loathes him. Tyrion’s defiance in silently refusing to kneel, repeatedly, is one of the most powerful things the show has ever done. Tyrion defies his king, his father, and his nephew’s ability to humiliate him. There’s also that choice moment when Sansa hands him the cup, she warms a second toward Tyrion because of what they must jointly endure, the enemy of my enemy is my friend (oh, and my husband). Tyrion’s brazen refusal to accept anything Joffrey can dish as an insult shows how you have to give another person permission to embarrass you. Tyrion denies Joff that one thing the little fucker wants the most, submission, respect that’s demanded and not earned.

12)   Cersei and Jaime are the first ones to Joffrey’s side as he lay dying. Parental Instinct.

13)   Olenna Tyrell chatting up Sansa Stark at the wedding reception is an ingenious little scene. Yes, Olenna, who WOULD kill a poor boy at his own damn wedding? (But, who cares about her words, it's all misdirection, it's all slight of hand!) Her foreshadowing does everything short of give a wink and say, just wait and see, child, you may enjoy this day yet. I mean, let’s set aside the obvious fact that Tyrion isn’t stupid enough to make multiple public threats to The King over the years, and then actually act on them, or that he wouldn’t let himself get caught holding the murder “weapon,” and that everything he did was forced on him impromptu under duress by The King. Let’s think instead about who brokered the alliance(s) with the Tyrells? Who would have prearranged getting Sansa out of there via Ser Dontos? All the clues are right there hiding for you in plain sight. I’m thinking a forensics teams would have a field day with the poison cup. The fingerprints alone are astounding. In evidence collection, we call this “chain of custody.” The cup goes from Tyrion to Joffrey to Sansa back to Tyrion back to Joffrey to Margaery to the table setting in front of Olenna and Mace Tyrell back to Tyrion back to Joffrey. Watch the cup, folks.


Game of Thrones S4E1 “Two Swords” [Thirteen Things]


1)      I love the opening credits, generally speaking. Back when I knew next to nothing about GoT, and hadn’t read the books yet, and only decided to check out the first episode on a whim when it premiered because it was “that thing” that Sean T. Collins kept going on and on about, the credits sequence was basically what instantly hooked me, thinking “huh, this is going to be different.” The way it presented the world by being as physically inverse as it is thematically, the projection of the continents on the inside of a globe wrapped around the sun-sphere, the way that the clockwork mechanisms visually propped the cities up, mirroring the political machinations occurring within them. That said, I was a little disappointed not to see Sunspear in Dorne. It was great seeing the Dreadfort, but why show that and Pyke if nothing’s going to happen in those places and we don’t see any of those players in this episode? With the introduction of Oberyn Martell, I thought Sunspear was a lock. I also would’ve liked to see these places when it was appropriate, or look forward to hopefully seeing them in the future: Craster’s Keep, The Fist of The First Men, Shadow Tower, Highgarden, the Stormlands, and Casterly Rock. But, I realize the credits have limited run-time and just can’t cram everything in, as delightful as the prospect might be, though there are some odd inconsistencies with how places are used.

2)      I had to rewind the reforging of Ice in order to ensure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. How great this was played, with “The Rains of Castamere” subtly intertwined with the regular Game of Thrones theme music.

3)      It seems like the consensus is that everyone’s “favorite” scene was at the inn with The Hound and Arya. I can understand that. By the end, Arya makes her kills and it’s a good example of how the show manipulates us and creates a conflicted emotional state. We’re so programmed to respond to righteous vengeance associated with a protagonist, and those moments for the characters we like are so few in GoT, that we’re half rooting for Arya, but the other half is thinking how tragic it is that this little kid is being socialized into becoming a cold-blooded killer. It was tough for me to reconcile that, and that's what the show excels at.

4)      Laura Hudson made a good point in her write-up of the ep at Wired, about how there just isn’t the prototypical good guy/bad guy divide in GoT. It’s been a foundational philosophical tenet of the universe forever. That binary divide is never suggested because real life isn’t that simple. Yeah, the show might ask us to believe in dragons, but it also never asks us to believe that “the good guys” must always prevail. There’s no such thing. The ostensible "protagonist" is as elusive a concept as the fairy tale notion that they must inevitably "win" in order to complete a storyline. So, characters are not shrouded in that “cloak of the protagonist,” as she put it. I thought that phrasing was brilliant. 

5)      My favorite scene was actually seeing Jon Snow appear before the council of Janos Slynt, Alliser Thorne, and Maester Aemon. There’s a significant change in Jon here necessary for the arc of his character. Leadership is sometimes about thinking outside the box, and breaking rules if the rules are stupid and need to be changed. Essentially, he’s like, yeah, I fucked Ygritte, killed Qhorin Halfhand, and we can sit here and debate all of your little rules that I broke, but meanwhile Mance Rayder is on his way with 100,000 wildlings, giants, Thenns, and who knows what else, to attack THIS motherfucking castle. Your Move, Night's Watch. It reminds me of how Stannis Baratheon has a similar thread: Yeah, I got my ass kicked at Blackwater Bay, I’m the rightful heir of Robert – though nobody seems to care, and we can all get sucked into this dumb war, but a REAL leader would protect the realm from the REAL threat. I’m going to act like The King. Fuck It. I’m going to The Wall. Aemon’s line made me laugh out loud too, was not expecting that deadpan delivery of “I grew up in King’s Landing.”

6)      It seems like we come in on the tail end of a conversation between Jon and Sam. He’s obviously learned of Robb’s fate and all that’s changed since he’s been North of The Wall, yet there’s no overt mention of Sam having encountered Bran. I understand the utility in getting in and out of scenes as early and late as possible, but dude, seems like Sam woulda’ been all Chatty Cathy bursting about Bran, though I’m sure it occurred off screen.

7)      Sophie Turner is an incredible actress. Maybe the most underrated on the show, and I love what she’s doing with Sansa. She’s probably where she’d absolutely least like to be, but whether she knows it or not, Sansa is learning to survive – physically, emotionally, and politically. I’m so taken with Sean T. Collins’ thought that when it’s all said and done, one day in the future we might just see Queen Sansa Stark sitting the Iron Throne, and the last surviving characters could partially comprise her Queensguard and Small Council. I don’t know how that squares with the R+L=J Theory, or the whole Three Heads of The Dragon deal, but it’s a great thought nonetheless.

8)      I didn’t mind the actor switch for Daario Naharis. If nothing else, this guy is way better to look at. The old actor sort of captured the over-the-top sexual lothario buffoonery that might be more true to the book, but I couldn’t stand looking at a dude who seemed like he just stepped off a porn set in San Fernando. At least the new actor, purely physically, looks like someone Daenerys could plausibly fall for. He’s a man and not a pretty boy. It just works better for TV. It’s also worth noting that plenty of actor switches have occurred, from The Mountain, to Tommen, to Beric Dondarrion.

9)      As interesting as they try to make it, and as terrific as seeing Master Kraznys get his due was (I mean, I’ve probably re-watched him say “You speak Valyrian?!” and Missandei shoot him THAT LOOK a dozen times now, I have a huge crush on Nathalie Emmanuel, by the way), and as much as I love seeing anything with Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy, I’m growing a little weary of Dany’s trudge from city to city. I understand it’s important for the development of her character arc, but the march from Qarth to Astapor to Yunkai to Meereen is becoming just as repetitive and monotonous as it is in the books. It’s why I had to sometimes fight the urge to tune out the stuff happening in Essos when reading. It’s interesting to see how they’re continually dealing with that on the show.

10)   I didn’t mind not seeing Theon/Reek in this episode, because he’s entering a period where he’s less interesting than he was. Theon’s fall is full of so much sadness and regret that it makes for great watching, less so the period he’s about to enter. It does make me wonder how much of the Greyjoy stuff going on back at Pyke at beyond will be eliminated in the show for the sake of clarity and time constraints.

11)   I found myself kinda’ missing Jojen Reed. Weird. Dude is just a phenomenal young actor, with such intense screen presence. But, hey, it’s a large cast obviously and you can’t get to everyone in 50 minutes or whatever. It’s also worth pointing out that there is SO MUCH ground this season has to cover in order to wrap up Book 3 and start to track events in Book 4. By my count, there are like seven MAJOR things this season has to get to, and I’m fairly certain it’ll start next episode (I have it mapped out in my head, what a nerd). At that rate, it’s nearly one MAJOR moment per episode. If they do this right, it’ll make The Red Wedding look tame by comparison.

12)   It was great seeing all of the dissention occurring within House Lannister. I mean, nobody is getting along. Tywin is so disappointed with all of his kids for different reasons. Cersei and Jaime are on the outs. Cersei can’t stand Tyrion. I’m looking forward to a conversation between Tyrion and Jaime.

13)   Olenna Tyrell is just a delight every time she’s on screen. Seeing her relationship with Margaery, the intelligence, and care, and charm of it all, it makes me think that this is an interesting juxtaposition, the Lannisters and the Tyrells. Both powerful, wealthy, well thought of families from the West with tons of influence. I wonder if the Tyrells is what rearing children with love and respect looks like, instead of fear and dominance like the Lannisters. Margaery and Olenna are like the flipped version of what people like Tywin and Cersei COULD have been.


4.09.14 [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 #6 (Image): Chris Dingess has a way with words. Whether it’s Lewis & Clark being just flat out exasperated, repeatedly, about the “absurd” nature of flora infected animals, the way one redacted word changes the nature of a government report to soften the language and whitewash the official record, or the brilliantly short, crisp, and declarative Hemingway style line: “Lewis. Greek Fire. Now.” it’s clear that Dingess loves the language and can make it do what he wants, to great effect. This issue is basically an extended action sequence perfectly rendered by Matthew Roberts, as the Corps of Discovery flees their immediate area, from one calamity to the next – enduring everything from bears to skunks to sinkholes, while suffering heavy casualties. From the organic mind-altering pharmacological qualities of the flora they encounter, to the friendship extant between Lewis & Clark, to the arrival of Sacagawea, it’s also clear that this is one of the best colored comics today at the hands of Owen Gieni. Despite their heavy losses, the Corps trudges forward essentially reliant on their burgeoning American Spirit, a sense of the hopeful amid the horrific. The creative team also indicates that the narrative plan is to move the Corps of Discovery all the way to the Pacific Ocean and traverse back across the Louisiana Purchase for what should be an extended run. I couldn’t be happier about all that story left on the horizon. This is good comics, and if you’re not checking it out, you’re missing one of the best books of the year. Grade A+.

Star Wars #16 (Dark Horse): One of the things I’ve always loved about Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or any fully realized sci-fi really, was a sense of dedication to the military/procedural tactical bits. With all the talk of the Z-95 Headhunters (which were durable, if somewhat clunky precursors to the Incom T-65 X-Wings) and shots of the CR-90 Corvettes and A-Wings in the distance, this issue delivers enough of that to satisfy the tech junkies. What I loved most about the way Brian Wood, Stephane Crety, and Gabe Eltaeb constructed this issue was all the foreshadowing that occurs both visually and thematically to ESB and what occurs on Hoth, which is one of my favorite cinematic experiences, like, ever. It all culminates with a last page reveal that is pretty damn familiar and smartly builds a sense of dread in the reader. The issue is really focused on the on-ground realities of the deal the Rebel Alliance struck with Arrochar. Grunts on the front lines have to carry out an arrangement made at a high political level, and that creates some tension that Luke finds himself in the middle of. In the Arrochar Mountain Ranger sequence, there’s a small goof where one of Luke’s speech balloons is attributed to a Ranger, but otherwise this was an extremely solid issue that shows success is about more than equipment and brave pilots, yet without adequate tech being used as a tool, victory can also be hampered. There’s a precarious balance to warfare, and the creative team captures the feeling of the rebels being perpetually on the run against great odds, politically, personally, and militarily. Grade A.

Astro City #11 (DC/Vertigo): This incarnation of Astro City has seen Kurk Busiek and Brent Anderson largely focusing on what would otherwise be bit players and thrusting them into the spotlight. This time out, it’s the Executive Administrative Assistant to the world’s most powerful sorcerer. She’s juggling everything from PR appearances, to research for complex spell-casting, to attempted incursions from other dimensions, in addition to eking out time for her own personal interests. Busiek has a way of taking these everyman POV characters and imbuing them with such rich details and alternate perceptions of grand events, that these peripheral throwaway elements (which is what they would be in any other book by a lesser writer) become the main focus of the story. It’s actually an ingenious method of amping up the world building, in a way that focusing on main players and their grand deeds just doesn’t seem to allow. These are the unsung heroes, the glue that holds everything together behind the scenes. Brent Anderson has been an interesting choice of collaborator for Busiek all of these years they’ve been creating Astro City stories. While Anderson is certainly an accomplished artist who can handle panel to panel storytelling with great clarity, his style isn’t the flashiest or most popular. It reminds me of a great musical score, the kind of thing that is always present in the background, but if it’s doing its job successfully and influencing your mood, you hardly notice it at all, it never steps in front of the writing, allowing you to absorb the events fully. Grade A.

Shutter #1 (Image): I’ve sort of always had a problem with “funny” comics. I guess I like gravitas in my art. Shutter isn’t a “funny” book per se, but it’s certainly very light-hearted. It almost feels like a  light-hearted version of Planetary at times, in the way Kate Kristopher and her ancestors are all about exploring the world’s great unknown. Joe Keatinge does a superb job with some instant characterization by having Kate say “The Moon’s BORing!” the very first time we meet her. Shutter has what can basically be considered an all-star creative team, in the experience of Joe Keatinge, the balance of grounded realism, fantastical flourishes, and rich syrupy ink in the art of Leila Del Duca, lighting and effervescent colors by Owen Gieni, and rock star letterer/writer Ed Brisson (and don’t forget the inimitable Tim Leong on design!). While it seems much too predictable that Kate will be pulled toward her destiny and "the family business” kicking and screaming, and it avoids some of the more interesting world-building bits in favor of a recalcitrant protagonist, I’m curious to see where it will go, and was entertained by the glorious reveal of an alt future NYC infected by the multiverse. In Kate, I think we have at least the potential for a truly modern protagonist with the ability to remember her past, yet transcend it, with plenty of imaginative adventuring in the process. It's not quite there yet, but we'll see. Grade A-.

East of West #11 (Image): East of West is a book that I’ve always been impressed by visually, a book that I enjoy reading because of the imaginative world-building and its awesome origins in a prolonged Civil War met by a mysterious Armistice, which led to the creation of (basically) North, South, Texas, Native American, African American, and Maoist Nations all cobbled together in lieu of the United States. I mean, I love shit like that. But, something about it has always bothered me. I could never quite put my finger on it. Nick Dragotta’s art has a stark beauty to it, it’s sort of clinically precise and clean, just killing it on facial expressions and a sense of “lean-ness” that permeates the page, foregrounds, backgrounds, everything. It was clear that this issue was designed as a breather, or as a jumping on point, as it (somewhat expositionally) recaps the history of the Great Nations, reminds us of the exile of Death because of his child with a Daughter of Mao, his return, the remaining Horsemen racing to the Apocalypse, and the role of The Chosen in occasionally allying with them. We sort of know what’s going on, but sometimes I would wonder why? There are great characters in Xiolian and Archibald and Bel Solomon and Rangers and numbered Princes from The Kingdom and so on and so forth. It’s not often that I feel the need to deliberately look to other reviews to help clarify my own position, but I did that with East of West #11 and found this great review over at Front Towards Gamer. Most of you probably won’t click through to that link, so what I took away from it was twofold. One, great world-building (which East of West surely possesses) without clear character motivations is a huge storytelling problem. That’s what was bugging me about East of West! I loved the world-build. I could piece together what was happening, both chronologically in the macro timeline, and on the micro scale from issue to issue, but I never really understood why it was happening. Why are any of these characters doing what they’re doing? Two, East of West is trying to blend multiple genres together, everything from politics to sci-fi to Western. It does that by alternately focusing on characters like Death, The Horsemen, and some of the Great Nations Leaders. But, when you focus on one, the others suffer, and the whole thing begins to unravel because the book can’t decide from a genre standpoint which it wants to be about in any given issue. In other words, it’s like three workable ideas mashed together making for a sometimes muddled composition. Grade B+.


4.02.14 [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.

Black Science #5 (Image): I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating how color can change everything. You take Matteo Scalera art and put Moreno Dinisio over it (Dead Body Road) and the end result is that it looks like Tradd Moore art, but here (which I prefer stylistically), you take Matteo Scalera art and put Dean White over it and the end result is that it looks like Jerome Opena. Speaking of Opena, if you were a fan of Fear Agent (and you should be) and wanted more rock n’ roll sci-fi, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be reading Black Science. Rick Remender offers very rich sci-fi with clipped alien languages, the feel of truly exotic settings, and a strong central premise about Eververse time-jumping through “The Onion” via The Pillar. When you add in the familial bonds, the “Lies, Lies, Lies” we expose our kids to in this adventurous life – plus the lengths we’re willing to go to in order to protect our children, then it becomes an Indie Fantastic Four x Modernized Lost in Space proposition. With plenty of forced perspective shots and low-slung camera angles, there’s killer energy to Scalera’s action scenes. Remender pens the best issue of the series yet, with high stakes sci-fi that answers some questions by identifying the mysterious "Blue Rider" (my term), and confirms the identity of the saboteur, but leaves us mid-air with a crazy two-page cliffhanger and a macro-narrative that hints at a larger mystery. It’s really heating up, and we’re finally starting to see the big picture of what the series is actually about. Grade A+.

Pretty Deadly #5 (Image): The “previously in” text makes things clear in ways that have occasionally been lacking in the narrative itself. Similarly, on the art front, I’ve had trouble distinguishing characters and parsing the clarity of action sequences at times, but this issues builds to a bluster that’s very satisfying. With a duel in the desert from Kelly Sue DeConnick, and killer art collages from Emma Rios, Ginny “The Reaper” and Sissy “The Ascendant” finally join forces and make their fated journey. There are times when I think DeConnick’s writing leans too far toward poetic license in lieu of narrative clarity, events told in omniscient prophecy speak vs. pointed dialogue that flirts with the show vs. tell rule, all symbolic Butterflies and Bunnies as it were, so it’s definitely fun to read, lovely to look at, but still a touch difficult to parse. That’s the rub, “different” is a double-edged sword, and Pretty Deadly has always displayed this creative predilection. It’s probably 51% brave and 49% foolish to some, but I’ll happily take that gamble. Whereas Black Science executed a relatively simple premise flawlessly this week, Pretty Deadly takes a more complex approach to its plethora of ideas and acquits itself admirably. Aside from the obvious “moments” in an issue full of moments that make great books, I was particularly taken by Mason’s conversation with Sissy about death (the concept, not the entity). It’s always fascinating to see writers infuse work with their personal lives. I remember thinking that Brian Wood writing Northlanders was just a subconscious exercise in him trying to keep his kids safe in a rapidly evolving world, and here I think Kelly Sue DeConnick is a parent crafting an elaborate play in an effort to explain mortality to her own children. There’s so much to like, from colorist Jordie Bellaire literally lighting the fire, to literally showing gallows humor, to action that is literally Death-defying. While those are all literally and figuratively true, it’s a fact that this was a startlingly good denouement to the first volume, one which deserves heaps of praise as one of the best single issues of the year. Grade A+.

The Field #1 (Image): Simon Roy’s slightly hasty lines are alternately anemic and plump, capturing the right manic energy for Ed Brisson’s new creator owned book. Brisson’s dialogue flows so very well, with each successive project he proves that he’s been reading his William Faulkner and killing darlings, his scripts always function effortlessly with so few words, really placing trust in his artistic collaborators and his own ability to capture the right beats in his scripting. The powerful colors from Simon Gough run dark to dangerous, giving the right feel to a story that’s full of blind unpredictability and subtle clues in the text and in the visuals. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what this genre was, beyond the oblique “mystery,” or how ostensibly likable it or any of the protagonists were really going to be, but as something totally unique, for that alone it deserves an issue or two to see how its three threads/groups/settings develop, especially that cleverly inserted flashback, and the hint of a cyclical nature. By the end at the diner scene, it absolutely explodes with raw, brutal, and uncomfortable satirical notes in the tradition of Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse’s The Milkman Murders, or Ken Kristensen and MK Perker’s Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth. I’m definitely on board to see what can be done with the fusion of all this mystery, horror, and satire at the hands of some very skilled creators. Grade A-.

Starlight #2 (Image): I’m still enjoying Mark Millar’s Starlight because of how it deals with our perceptions of fame, and the grand premise of Buck Rogers coming out of retirement for another campaign to save the cosmos is such a subtly simple and earnest proposition. But, because of that it’s deeply enjoyable, it’s fun, it’s got the purity of spirit of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980’s. In an era when many comics are still relatively dark, it’s refreshing to watch this just play out, and enjoy a book for what it is in the most basic terms. Goran Parlov’s art makes the sci-fi sequences feel foreign, yet not so outlandish that it becomes inaccessible. There’s a certain rugged unevenness to Parlov’s lines that captures the strength and the equivocation of Duke McQueen’s predicament, and I enjoyed his new friend who has the makings of a plucky sidekick as Duke gleefully exonerates himself on the way out of town. From John Cassaday to Bill Sienkiewicz, it’s also worth pointing out that the guys deserve major props for their cover artists of choice. Starlight sort of reminds me of something like The Last Starfighter, a piece of pop culture that embraces the camp of its own tropes and just charges confidently forward. Grade A-.

Secret #7 (Image): Jonathan Hickman’s Secret has faltered a bit because of lengthy delays and now an extended narrative thrust spread out over several issues. Yet, there’s still an indirect intrigue to events at the intersection of government, crime, and control, of the aggregation of capital and influence that goes on behind the scenes. Secret may just dance around what it’s truly about, always on the periphery of complete understanding, from “the Steadman problem,” to the nebulous “American side of the equation” vs. “The Russians,” or the ever-present “Kodiak,” without ever really reminding the reader of anything beyond these oblique euphemisms, but it can’t be argued the art is anything short of fantastic. Ryan Bodenheim has always used a clean austerity that’s alternately stoic, intense, or even sexy, but here he seems to add some Gabriel Rodriguez style emotion to everything. Michael Garland’s colors also do the dance in bold fashion, from monochromatic neutrality to pops of iconic red to punch the emotion up. While it might be my fault for not recollecting what any of this has to do with anything else, and quipping that it’ll “read better collected” than in isolated bursts (which really isn’t meant to be a pejorative!), single issues do feel a bit like we’re eavesdropping in on a conversation without much context. Grade A-.