Friday, November 30, 2012

Monthly Dose: November 2012

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I reread one issue each month of long-completed series.

100 Bullets #1: There's a very interesting and well-put-together structure at play here. We get only the briefest introduction to Dizzy as a character before she meets Graves and he offers her proof of who killed her family and 100 untraceable bullets with which to do something about it. It is only after this intriguing set-up that the issue truly dives into Dizzy herself, though Graves does give the reader a rundown of her history during their conversation. Still, I really dig the approach of first sucking us in with a mystery, and then winning us over completely with this excellent portrait of a thoughtful, brave, intelligent woman who's been dealt such a shitty hand that she's trying to play a different game entirely. Dizzy is an amazing character, very human but somehow also slightly above it all. She is the only real voice of reason, surrounded by low-level criminals and corrupt cops with narrow, selfish viewpoints and motives. Brian Azzarello writes everyone with equal care, though, and there is a lot of life in his dialogue. It's not just comfortable and natural, it's precise. Everybody has their own unique way of speaking, even characters who're similar to one another, like Emilio and his friends or the pair of jackass police officers. As unlikable as some of them are, there's still a powerful humanity in their words and, by extension, their actions. All of this is bolstered tremendously by Eduardo Risso's art, which has had praise dumped on it innumerable times, for this series and others. But it's more than deserved, because Risso is a spectacular talent, particularly when it comes to his cast's acting. When Dizzy asks Graves if he's "Five-Oh," his only response is a single, tightly-framed smirk, yet somehow Risso makes that one look speak volumes. Graves is the furthest thing from a cop, but still clearly a figure of power and authority, which is all succinctly expressed in that one panel. There are plenty of other examples contained in this issue, but let's just say that both Azzarello and Risso really bring it here, from cover to cover. A strong and enjoyable lead character, her shadowy benefactor, a complex supporting cast, and a rich world for them all to live in. What more could you really want?

The Intimates #1: This isn't just a strong debut, it's 22 pages of constant introduction. Even the last panel introduces a new character. Not only do we get a detailed explanation of The Seminary (a high school for superheroes) from Miss Klanbaid, we get to see a map of the classrooms & bedrooms, small bits of numerous actual classes in-session, and background info on all the teachers we meet. Plus we get a very full, multi-faceted introduction to Punchy (the most main of the main characters so far) along with at least some info on each of his classmates, from their family histories to explanations of their powers to more subtle and personal details. Of course, plenty of this comes not from the actual story being told but the info scroll bar at the bottom of each page, but that suits me just fine. It adds to the sense that this issue wants to be nothing more than a loud, complex, powerful introduction to this world and the people living in it. I suspect that if I read this when it originally came out, I'd be wary of the info scrolls showing up in future issues, but in this initial chapter it does a lot of helpful fleshing things out and filling things in. It's an interesting tactic Joe Casey takes with the story of this issue, where there is no large central conflict, just a series of tiny conflicts that pop up and are either quickly resolved or never important enough to necessitate a resolution. Which is, of course, exactly what being a teenager is like, and that's the point. This is much more a teen book that a superhero book, in tone and focus and rhythm and feel. Giuseppe Camuncoli's art would absolutely fit in a more traditional superhero book, but it's a bit exaggerated at the same time, a bit wilder and larger-than-life. It's a superhero "house" style filtered through the lens of teenage experience and perspective. It couples perfectly with Casey's narrative approach, and gives the whole book a very consistent, fully-realized voice. Even without a single central problem or narrative hook, The Intimates #1 makes you want to see more, to learn more. It screams "INTRODUCTION!" from the first page to the last, but it's never overly expository or dry. On the contrary, it's all humor, honesty and heart from top to bottom. 

X-Force (vol. 1) #1: Well, this certainly made me anxious to read issue #2 next month. With almost 40 pages of story, Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld are able to cram in an awful lot of action and information. We get the juicy opening fight scene, which may be more filler than meat but is still a heckuva lot of fun and gives several characters a chance to show us their individual styles and attitudes. And once it's resolved we still have plenty of room to get a bit of background on leader Cable, get snippets of personality from most of the rest of the sizable team, and meet some of the supporting cast as well. Gideon and Sunspot's connection to the rest of the book is unclear as of yet, but the set-up of superpowered businessmen is enough to hold my interest for the few pages they take up. It's probably the weakest part of the issue, because we don't really know the stakes yet, but it's not terrible. And then there's the morally middle-of-the-line Bridge, who right now aims to be an obstacle for the titular team yet never comes across at all as a villainous character. That's a lot of people to become familiar with, but Nicieza gives everyone a pretty distinct voice, and Liefeld makes them all visually unique while still drawing everything in the classic Liefeld style. It's a very full comicbook, in terms of both art and story. Lots of fast-paced scenes with quippy dialogue, small panels overlapping larger ones, and muscular characters in bulky outfits taking up large sections of the page. It's not mind-blowing, but it's non-stop, has tons of bombastic action, and is just an all-around super fun read. I mean, it's the first fucking X-Force book, ya know? It comes out the gate at top speed and never lets up.

P.S. A quick disclaimer: I am not necessarily committing myself to reading all 129 issues of the first volume of X-Force. As of this writing, I own only the first 24, and though I may well expand my collection in the next two years (i.e. how long it'll take me to read what I have at the one-issue-per-month rate) I'm not devoted to getting ALL of it as of yet. There were various creative teams, lineups, story arcs, etc. over the course of this series' history, including, at the very end, the total retooling of the title by Milligan and Allred, so if I reach a solid, satisfying stopping point down the line I'll probably call it. But we'll see. Maybe in ten years I'll still be including X-Force in Monthly Dose and totally regretting this longer-than-planned disclaimer.

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