Sunday, June 30, 2013

Monthly Dose: June 2013

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

100 Bullets #8: This is the issue that really kicks off what will become the larger overarching narrative of this book, and as such it's a little difficult to analyze on its own. Not inherently, but simply because I have already read the entire series several times, so I have an understanding of Graves and Lono's conversation that's fuller than it would be if I was reading this cold. But I do think Brian Azzarello does a pretty good job of walking the line between the mysterious and the obvious in their dialogue anyway, so even taken on its own, this is a strong issue with a mighty sharp hook. Right away it demands attention with drug dealer Topper's strange, phonetically accurate dialogue contrasting heavily with Graves'. And that opening scene has some of the best art of the issue, too, particularly the panel where Topper's chair's floral pattern is done as empty space. I don't know how else to describe it: the fabric of the chair is deep black, but the pattern, rather than simply being drawn in white on top, is displayed by removing the black from the chair in the right places and shapes. It's small, but it catches the eye immediately and asks the reader to look at all of the panels this closely. And the whole scene is so shadowy, and the conversation between Topper and Graves is so cryptic, you're forced to pay focused attention anyway. Then, for just a moment, we get a break from that, as Graves sends a group of cops in to take Topper out, and Eduardo Risso draws a brutal two-page spread of the ensuing shootout. It's silent, but no less gripping for it, nor does it lose anything just because all of the characters involved are new and nameless (save Topper, who's just new). Risso knocks it out of the park, and it's a welcome burst of action between two tense conversations. Graves' subsequent meeting with Lono, as I said, is mostly set-up, introducing Lono and phrases like "The Trust" and "The Minutemen" and "Atlantic City" that will matter more down the line. The characters' dynamic is natural and fascinating, both of them constantly trying to prove to the other how much braver and smarter they are than one another. In the end, Graves wins on both counts, only to be instantly outdone by the up-to-now-unseen (this issue) Mr. Shepherd. Azzarello pulls off the final couple of twists quite skillfully, enticing the reader to come back for more. This whole issue, really, is an invitation to keep reading, a promise that there is a grand plan, that more is happening behind the curtain than we've been allowed to see so far. It ties in Dizzy and Lee from the first two stories, brings some new and fascinating faces into the fold, and references history and organizations it's hard to not be curious about. A definite step up from the last few issues and, in some ways, the true first issue of what will ultimately become this series' epic saga.

The Intimates #8: Every time I reread The Intimates, I eagerly look forward to this issue. I don't know if it's necessarily my favorite, but it's sure in the running, and it definitely features my favorite character, Flora. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the truncated lifespan of this series is that Flora only ever gets one issue, never able to realize her full potential. She could have been a great recurring character, as a romance for Punchy, a new student at the Seminary, or even as a villain down the line, since she's so angry and unstable. As is, her sex scene with Punchy is tasteful and weird and funny and honest, one of the highlights of the series' ongoing mash-up of superhero and teenage drama. And the whole idea of a summer break issue is perfect. Joe Casey manages to check in on pretty much everyone, and by using Destra as the cliffhanger he avoids needing to give her too much space. Vee and Duke get similarly efficient scenes, a few pages each, but in both cases it's just enough to fill us in and tie into Punchy's story, too, at least thematically. Vee is in the midst of celebrating her own sexual rebellion, just as Punchy embarks on his. And while Duke is living a real-life, action hero nightmare, Punchy hides in his basement reading comicbooks and engaging in unrealistic action her fantasies. The two of them probably think they want each other's lives. Only Duke is right about that. I can't really say much more about Giuseppe Camuncoli's art than I have when discussing the previous issues. The dude is perfect for this series, nailing the broadest comedy, most brutal pain, biggest action, and subtlest emotion in equal turn. The best panel is probably the close-up of Punchy's face when he's talking Flora out of further torturing the redneck boys. It's such an impeccable blend of admiration, love, amusement, and concern. And Flora's flowers are gorgeous in their simplicity. Plus I love the info scroll confirming that they are brand new species of plants. Best info scroll yet, I'd say. You could see it in the art, but it's a comicbook, right, so who knows? Maybe Camuncoli just doesn't use references when he draws flowers. But Casey follows up with a quick acknowledgement that, yes, these are intentionally unique flowers. Collaboration! Anyway, Jim Lee does the spy comics stuff well, too, more understated than his art tends to be (by a slim margin), not stealing focus but still being fun and bombastic. You can see why Punchy reads this stuff. So the art continues to be on point, with Camuncoli's immediate comfort in this world only growing all the more comfortable all the time. Casey's best moment, for me, is when the redneck guys, Jeb and Dew, reveal that they were going into the woods to make out. It feels inevitable when it happens, and maybe it is, maybe it's even predictable. But Casey still times it right, words it naturally enough and in such a straightforward manner that it still gets the laugh, even if you suspected it. Even when I know its coming. It makes them a little vulnerable, a bit sweeter and significantly more intimate with each other than they were before. I like the characters anyway, they are only slightly exaggerated versions of tons of guys I went to high school with in central Pennsylvania. So making them endearing at the end can always make me smile, and usually even laugh.

X-Force (vol. 1) #8: Mike Mignola draws all but the first and last pages of the issue, and though he doesn't blow me away here, the art is much crisper and clearer than anything Liefeld's done for this title so far. And the effect seems to be that Fabian Nicieza's writing improves as well. The jokes actually land, a complete story is told, we gain real insight into Cable and his relationship to the's a level of narrative progress this series has regularly failed to reach up to now. Even though, yes, the events of this issue are all flashback, the details that they fill in actually contribute to the present-tense of the ongoing story and deepen the significance of Cannonball's death at the end of last issue. It turns out that Cannonball is the whole reason Cable formed X-Force in the first place, believing that the boy will someday grow up to become a "High-Lord." We don't yet know what the hell that means, but it apparently has to do with possessing immense power and, possibly, immortality, or at any rate extreme longevity. That's all information from the very end of the issue, though. The bulk of the story here is Cable's old team, the Wild Pack, infiltrating a Hydra base under the employ of A.I.M. to retrieve a specific piece of technology. It's heavy on action, which Mignola does well, capturing the scale and power of the fight in a few pages. And the look of the team is great; Mignola plays up Grizzly's massive size, Cable's hard edge, Domino's cockiness, etc. making every member of the Wild Pack stand out while still coming together as a cohesive and well-oiled unit. The best part of the issue, though, is the humor. Nicieza has taken some cracks at jokes in his dialogue before, but for whatever reason they never got much of a reaction out of me. This issue, it all works, and I even laughed out loud  when Cable said, "What century aren't I from?" Maybe it's the clarity of Mignola's art that allows the humor to succeed here, maybe Nicieza was just particularly on point, maybe it's a combination of the two. Whatever the case, this is the most genuinely funny installment of X-Force yet, and one of the best-looking as well, so even though it's a breather, taking a detour from the main narrative to delve into Cabe's history, it may be the best issue so far.

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