Sunday, December 30, 2012

Monthly Dose: December 2012

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

100 Bullets #2: Despite her general air of self-confidence, Dizzy is in quite an unstable place right now, and 100 Bullets #2 is all about destabilizing things even further. Her old friends are no longer leading the lives they used to, because they all have children with absentee fathers now. Dizzy's own family is dead, and though her mother insists that she move on, there's no obvious place for her to go. And because of what Graves gave her in issue #1, there are seeds of doubt growing in her mind about the circumstances of the loss of her family. She's lost, hurt, and unsure of what to do next, and there really isn't anyone for her to turn to. The closest thing she has to an ally or confidant is her brother Emilio, but more than anything else, what this issue does is raise questions as to how trustworthy he actually is. He and several minor characters talk an awful lot about what a big shot he is on the streets these days, how much fear and respect he's earned. Yet we never see him do anything to support his badass reputation, and at the end of the issue, when Dizzy asks him why he doesn't retaliate after several older members of his crew are gunned down, his answer is not only unsatisfying but downright suspicious. He might claim to have his sister's back, but it's obvious that he isn't telling her the whole truth, either. What he's holding onto, and why, is still anyone's guess at this point, but Emilio slid much closer to the villainous side of things this issue than he did in the first. That shift in his character is the most significant aspect of the story here, with Dizzy finally deciding to take her gun out coming in close second. We don't know what she has planned, but where the first issue ended with her nervously, even fearfully peeking at the weapon in its briefcase, the final panel here shows her smugly and confidently taking it out. All told, this chapter is a tad slower-moving than the preceding one, but no less interesting or important. Not as many big events go down, but the one that does is a brutal mass murder, so it ends up feeling just as heavy. But the real point is that Dizzy moves from being unsure of her next step to finally taking matters (and her gun) into her own hands. It's a great position to leave her in at the end of the issue, because it absolutely amps me up to see whatever plan she has play out.

The Intimates #2: I rather enjoyed the off-balance pacing of this. At first, it feels a little aimless. We see the superhero students at an assembly watching (or ignoring) guest speaker Desmond, a former professional sidekick, as he urges them to find their own way in the world and not immediately do what their parents and teachers want. It's a pretty on-the-nose speech, stating out loud and in very plain language some of the themes present in the rest of this issue, as well as what was established in the debut. But once it ends (which only takes three pages), we get a disjointed series of scenes between several members of the cast we met last time. Destra and Empty Vee talk boys in the bathroom. Duke and Punchy play a game of basketball, during which Punchy cooks up a plan to try and break into a supposedly secret area of the school later that night. Duke nervously tells the school nurse about his constipation and is given hyperlaxatives, told sternly to take only one, and promptly swallows a handful of them. These scenes, sometimes intercut with one another, take up a decent stretch of pages, and while all of them expand the characters and/or the school, and they're all a lot of fun and very sharply written, they don't seem to have anything to do with one another and, initially, don't appear to even be making an attempt at telling a traditional narrative. They come across as vignettes, and when you factor in the info scrolls, shooting out random and similarly unrelated details on every page, there is a strong atmosphere of disconnectedness. But it rather quickly morphs into something else, a strange, unexpected, kind of genius comment on teenagerhood. Duke's hyperlaxative overdose catches up with him and he has an explosive, draining bathroom experience. This rolls into Punchy attempting to wake Duke up so they can carry out Punchy's scheme of breaking into the Seminary's secret teleportation room. But between Duke's exhaustion and Punchy's general distractedness, the plan never goes off, and rather than have a daring superpowered adventure together, the two boys talk video games and pass out. That is teenaged superheroism in a nutshell, and it applies to real-world teenagers as well. Often the biggest, boldest plans end up only as amusing conversations, but are never seen through, because the realities of dealing with your body, school, and your stressful social life always get in the way. It's a curve ball, and a ballsy kind of move, to have the conclusion of the issue be two of the protagonists falling asleep, but it works because it is so perfectly in line with the spirit of The Intimates so far. This isn't a series about superheroes who happen to be young, it's children who happen to be superheroes, and the non-adventure that takes place here underlines that. I also think it's a great move to get rid of the info scrolls for this Punchy-Duke sleepover scene. It makes it seem like, at the start, we're about to see some real action go down. It sets a mood of seriousness, and the panels get a little more dramatic as well. But then, wah wah, nothing happens. It's hilarious and true-to-life, and it highlights exactly what this title is all about.

X-Force (vol. 1) #2: In a lot of ways, this issue had the exact opposite effect as the first. Where the debut was a fast-paced and packed tightly with content, X-Force #2 dragged and had very little meat on its bones. It opens on a fight between two new (to this title) characters, Weapon X and Deadpool, and even though it's a good-looking sequence overall, it is ultimately meaningless. The point of the scene is just to have Bridge show up and ask Weapon X to help him against X-Force, and then even that falls flat when Weapon X turns the offer down without even really considering it. I'm assuming that's not the last we've seen of him, but within the pages of this issue it's all he does, and so the entire opening scene comes across as wasted time. Unfortunately, the rest of the issue feels much the same, taken up by an X-Force training exercise that goes wrong because Feral can't control herself (who'da guessed?) and severely injures Cannonball. I guess the purpose of this scene is to show the reader that this is a new team, not yet comfortable or even familiar with each other, and that even Cable, the supposed leader, doesn't quite have a handle on them all yet. This is certainly worth establishing early on, but it definitely could've been done more quickly, leaving room for this issue to still have an actual plot. The real weakness, though, isn't in the emptiness of the events, but the flaccidity of their conclusions. Weapon X says no, leaves. Cannonball gets hurt, lives. Cable is upset at Feral, does nothing. All rather anticlimactic. The very, very end of the issue, where Juggernaut shows up in an awesome two-page vertical splash, is probably the strongest part. Definitely the best-looking, though Liefeld's art is as reliable as ever all the way through. And Juggernaut is certainly a draw for me, so even though his appearance is in the Gideon/Sunspot story (which, thus far, is still not connected to X-Force directly) I am excited to see what he has in store next month. So a successful cliffhanger, tacked onto the end of a dud of an issue. Or...not a dud. That's the wrong word, because it still has all the energy of the previous issue, just not as much heft. It's marshmallow fluff, with Juggernaut acting as a dollop of peanut butter added at the end.

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