Thursday, February 28, 2013

Monthly Dose: February 2013

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

100 Bullets #4: Following a remarkable opening arc is not easy, and unfortunately this doesn't quite live up to the task. Lee is a far less sympathetic hero than Dizzy was before him, and less interesting. Yes, he is an innocent man whose life was ruined, but his response to that disaster was to become a self-hating, self-pitying schmuck. I can't get behind that, and it makes the story drag when I'm not invested in the protagonist's struggle. Still, the idea that some random, rich, much younger stranger would frame Lee for child pornography is intriguing enough that I want to hear the whole story. So I am eager for the final confrontation between Lee and Megan, it's just not for the reasons I feel like it's supposed to be. I don't care if he shoots her or not, or really what happens to either of them at all. I just want the details as to why she ruined him. Eduardo Risso's art is still on fire, even if Brian Azzarello's script is somewhat less so. Lee's anger and sadness are evident on every page, though the best example is when his son rejects him and we see a very literal visual representation of how small and alone it makes Lee feel. And of course the dark, careful lighting in the scene with Lee's favorite stripper was pitch perfect. The strongest scene, or the most powerful, I guess, would have to be when Lee fantasizes about blowing out the back of Megan's head as soon as she walks into the bar. Even as it's happening, we know it can't be real, but Risso makes it so sudden and brutal that it still carries some hefty weight. It's an emotional peak for the issue, though, and after Lee abandons the idea, things settle into a duller rhythm again straight through to the end. I'm excited for part two of this tale, but also relieved it'll be the conclusion, because very much more of this character as the leading man and I might lose interest.

The Intimates #4: I'm really into what Joe Casey does with the structure of this issue. After a few introductory pages, we get a scene implying that there may be something sinister about Devonshire Foods, the company that supplies the Seminary with all of its cafeteria meals. It's a fun new thread, and a very clever place to stick a big bad guy for a this book. In real life, the cafeteria and its food are sworn enemies of high schoolers all over the country, so at a school for superhero teens, it's an obvious and hilarious choice of villain. But then as soon as this threat is introduced (and even then only cryptically), the issue drops it in favor of focusing on The Seminary's first student dance. Which, again, is a brilliant and very funny choice on Casey's part. School dances are a key aspect of the typical adolescent experience, given more importance than they deserve by the kids who go to them. By mapping that onto The Seminary and its students, we get an amplified version of such an event. Pranks, secret hook-ups, and even regular dancing all warp slightly but significantly when superpowers are involved. And Giuseppe Camuncoli continues to give an artistic boost to Casey's ideas, capturing the awkward discomfort of teens at a school dance exactly at first, and then doing an excellent job of transitioning that into the kids enjoying themselves. His strongest single panel has got to be when Venus De Mighty gets electrocuted by her fruit punch, but that might be mostly because she was asking for a good jolt with her self-importance and lies. Anyway, the events of the dance are a lot of fun, for characters and readers alike, and though a few bits of drama go down, all in all it's a success. It may sound dry and a bit too normal to be the plot of a comicbook, but Casey and Camuncoli make it work by keeping things lively, utilizing their entire cast, and doing such a damn accurate job of putting teeanged dances on display. Also, having the narrative be a bit more focused and cohesive made the interruptions of the info scrolls much easier to handle, so I found myself enjoying those again. Which is especially nice because this is the issue that straight up asks, "Who is curious enough to read these info scrolls?" I am, and I do so every time I revisit the series.

X-Force (vol. 1) #4: So this is the sideways issue, where all of the pages are designed to be read vertically instead of horizontally, adding nothing save for the frustration of having to hold the comicbook differently than normal. Rob Liefeld doesn't do anything cool with it, or use the opportunity to draw things he couldn't have drawn in traditional comicbook format. It is a gimmick for its own sake, which I despise. Don't put me through the hassle of reading something uncomfortably if there's no point to it. Technically, this is also part 2 of a crossover story, but since it's just the conclusion of a fight started in X-Force last month, I didn't feel like I had missed much by skipping the issue of Spider-Man that takes place in between. Which is a nicer way of saying that there is practically no story here. It is the boring, slow end to a boring, slow conflict, and Fabian Nicieza's script makes very little effort to spruce things up. But I blame the overall sloppiness of this particular issue far more on Liefeld than Nicieza. Characters appear out of nowhere (happens with Domino, Siryn, and Cannonball at various points), the action is too large for the space it's given, and a confusing thread involving Deadpool is wedged in at the end. Oh, and the whole fucking thing is needlessly sideways. So that's on Liefeld, through and through, and I feel like any weakness on Nicieza's part can be overlooked in light of the inconsistent, ridiculously-laid-out artwork he had to work with. It's memories of reading this book in the past are much more positive than the feeling I am left with after four issues of this month-by-month reread. Perhaps it's just a matter of the title working some kinks out early on, or maybe it's that I was more into this stuff when I was younger and now I can't recapture that enthusiasm. Or maybe next month things will get back on track. Who knows? I'm not expecting much right now, but I'm still hopeful that whatever made me an X-Force fan in the first place can rekindle that fire soon.

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