Saturday, March 30, 2013

Monthly Dose: March 2013

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

100 Bullets #5: Much stronger than the first half of this two-parter, "Shot, Water Back" centers on protagonist Lee confronting Megan Dietrich for ruining his life many years ago. Their interaction is refreshingly honest and direct. Neither of them has any reason to lie to one another, since Lee is there for vengeance while Megan knows herself to be untouchable. She readily admits that she sent the damning pictures to Lee's computer, claiming it was a prank she and some of her girlfriends perpetrated just for laughs, choosing their targets at random. This does little to comfort Lee or quell his rage, but it is the first of several delicate steps Megan takes to manipulate Lee into surrendering his weapon and, ultimately, his very existence. She offers him money, offers to secure his kids' future, forces him to question Agent Graves' motives in delivering the gun and its untraceable bullets in the first place. And she never lets herself seem scared or even the tiniest bit phased by Lee's threats. Though out loud she claims that he is in control, it's obvious for the entirety of their conversation that, in fact, she is running things. Right up to and including the final, murderous moment. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso really operate as a unified team here. There is a lot of tense silence, close-ups on faces or just eyes that tell as much story as any of the dialogue. And, of course, there is the totally disconnected drug deal gone wrong helicopter gun fight scene that takes place in the building across the street from Megan's office. I've never been clear as to why it was included, but it is fun and very strong work from Risso, who always makes it obvious what we're looking at. There is also the matter of the conclusion, which is in a lot of ways the first time this series has officially announced a larger, overarching narrative. Dizzy's opening arc hinted at things to come, and of course we know Agent Graves is up to something with all the free guns, ammo, and information he's distributing. But it is not until Megan calls some mysterious other party and tells him Graves is back that we know for sure there's something bigger and unseen going on in the background of this title. It begins when we see genuine fear on Megan's face, for the first and only time, when Lee reveals how he found out what she'd done to him. And it ends when she delivers the news of Graves' return and the person she tells it to reacts with sudden violence. A tasty appetizer at the end of an issue that was already a marked improvement over the one it followed.

The Intimates #5: This issue is a favorite of mine, and it hits me just as hard every time I reread it. The slow and steady build-up of Punchy figuring out that Dead Kid Fred is serious about suicide is handled expertly by Joe Casey and Giuseppe Camuncoli both. On the art side, it's primarily just the subtle, silent panels of Punchy looking at Fred from the corners of his eyes or from a distance, always slyly and with a bit of a scowl but also with a clear underlying concern. In his mind, Punchy doesn't want to be the caring, sensitive guy who takes the scared new kid under his wing. But he can't help himself, can't stop his inner decency from making him try, in his own misguided way, to save this strange new student. And of course, eventually, Casey has Punchy verbalize all of this to Duke. "What kinda superheroes are we if we just sit here?!" he asks, unwilling to be just another cynical teen ignoring the cries of his peers. Duke describes Fred's online ramblings as, "Dumb teenage whining," and Punchy responds, "Maybe it is. But that doesn't mean he won't do it." He sees the signs and knows they are to be taken seriously, and is apparently the only person in the entire school to do so. It makes him more of a superhero in my book than anyone else has been in this series so far. And god, that moment when he punches down the door and we see Fred, naked and terrified, standing in a pool of lighter fluid that's dripping off of his sad zombie seriously gets me every damn time. I get flush with anticipation during the pages that lead up to it. It is the rawest, most heartbreaking moment of the series up to this point, and arguably the most teenaged AND the most superheroic. For a book that's generally quite good and all about teen superheroes, that's saying something. I think The Intimates #5 is an example of what this title always wanted to be, an ideal issue that hits all the right notes. It says something about school, about teenagerhood, about what it means to be a superhero and what is wrong with them, and at the same time it deepens our understanding of the main character (let's face it, Punchy is the star of this comicbook). It also introduces a new character, makes him funny and sad and clear and awesome right away, and then brings his personal journey to a close. That's a lot to accomplish in the space of a single issue, and it's not even everything that happens. There's a pointless but very funny sex ed lecture, a scene with Punchy and The Seminary's janitors striking a backroom deal, and of course the info scrolls, which are solid and interesting here if a bit disconnected from one another. Basically, The Intimates #5 does everything the four preceding issues have set out to do, but better and more succinctly. Also, this is the first time that the ending has really clicked for me, rhythmically. I admire that this book doesn't always close on a cliffhanger, breaking the mold of the usual superhero monthly. And it's no cliffhanger here, either, but it is a logical and sound closing line that brings the main narrative of the issue home. Like I said, this issue is a favorite, and probably the one I would be most likely to point to as a summary of the strengths and immense potential of The Intimates as a whole.

X-Force (vol. 1) #5: Rob Liefeld draws some gross-ass, unnaturally wide, extremely toothy grins in this issue. It's distracting, particularly the splash page introducing Toad and The Blob to the book, where they look like some kind of intensely disturbing toothpaste ad. Nobody ever smiles like that, and even though it basically fits with Liefeld's larger-than-life style, it's still weird and disgusting and needless. Beyond the teeth (or should I say TEETH?) the issue is sort of a mess. The pacing of the series seems very strange to me, because this issue felt like a sort of breather, a quick calm-down kind of chapter in between the big action. Which is fine on its own, but it is the second such issue in only five, and neither of the breathers have been used to do much character development or plot advancement or anything at all, really. This month, Bridge gets upset that he has to hunt X-Force, but still agrees to do so, so nothing changes. Cable and his crew butt heads a little over his decisions and secrets, but only for a few fleeting moments before they hurriedly and inexplicably decide to stay on the team, so nothing changes. And in the middle there is a pseudo-sexist scene wherein Feral sluttily throws herself at a confused and extremely unattractive Shatterstar. Oh, right, but first we get a pseudo-racist scene of Warpath running around shirtless and mentally listing a bunch of famous Native Americans and describing himself as the wind and other such insensitive nonsense. It feels like X-Force under Liefeld is just an excuse for the man to draw whatever he wants, to explore the physicality of these characters (many of whom he created) without any regards to story. Then Fabian Nicieza has to come in and try to put words on top of everything in such a way as to propel a story forward, and there's only so much he can do. So this issue treads water, adding Siryn to the team even though we barely know any of the cast yet, and doing so in just as rushed and flat a manner as everything else that goes on. And there are some moments of sloppiness where I can't tell if they are mistakes or just poor writing, like when Cable responds to something Boom Boom says, but addresses his answer to Cannonball. Was this a lettering slip-up? A scripting one? Or is Nicieza just bad at writing three-way conversations? Very hard to tell, and not the only example. What can I say? X-Force is feeling pretty aimless right now, and I'm still not even clear on why I am supposed to be invested in these people or anything they do.

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