Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Monthly Dose: July 2013

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

100 Bullets #9: Cole Burns may be my favorite character in all of 100 Bullets, so whenever I revisit the series I look forward to this storyline introducing him. Sadly, this first issue in the arc is sort of a dud. Brian Azzarello's script plods along, working its way through all the necessary narrative beats without doing much to liven them up. We get a glimpse of Cole's day-to-day life, and then Agent Graves arrives on the scene pretty immediately to hand Cole the usual attaché case of untraceable bullets and evidence. This time, it's proof that Cole's current criminal boss, Goldy, was responsible for the nursing home fire that killed Cole's grandmother. That's a fairly strong motive, but not an all-together original story, especially when Goldy says he burned the place down because he owned it, and wanted to clear the property so he could build condos. That's just not a very exciting story, and neither is Cole's current business of selling stolen cigarettes. I'm not saying that arson is dull or shouldn't be taken seriously, but in terms of crime fiction, ill-gained condos and illicit tobacco is low-level stuff. And Cole, though he seems a decent and intelligent dude, doesn't make for a particularly compelling protagonist as of yet. He's a bit too passive, and even though he's on literally every page, we don't gain much insight into how his mind works. Of course, then at the very end, when he hears the word "Croatoa," something goes off in Cole's brain that we don't yet understand, but looks fascinating. It is certainly the strongest panel from Eduardo Risso in this entire issue. Not that his art isn't good throughout, but it's definitely less stunning than it has been in the past. Like the script, the visuals seem satisfied to be straightforward, and Risso skips the kind of background details that usually make his work so rich. Most of the pages have just what they need to have in order to understand the story, and while that is more than many artists provide, it's far less than I've come to expect from this book by now. In general, this issue seems fluffier than usual, but it's just the first part of a new storyline, and it ends on a strong enough cliffhanger (three guns in Cole's face) that I'm still eager to see the next chapter, even if this one didn't grab me.

The Intimates #9: So issue #8 was Giuseppe Camuncoli's last, and this issue is drawn instead by Scott Iwahashi. He's not a bad artist, but he's a much worse choice for this particular book. Iwahashi's style is more exaggerated than Camuncoli's, and it translates to the characters feeling like broader, sketchier versions of themselves. Because they're teenagers, removing some of their visual subtlety and complexity makes them far more obnoxious, Punchy in particular. I do think Joe Casey is partly to blame, because it felt like Punchy's dialogue was watered down to a degree as well, but the artwork really made him seem like a clown. So many panels had Punchy with his mouth agape, whether he was dumbfounded or yelling at Destra or whatever, and it made him look sort of stupid. Not that he's ever been a genius, but he used to have a sort of wry wisdom behind his immature swagger that is entirely absent here. But it's not as if Iwahashi did a terrible job, there just wasn't that same delicious blend of the big and small, the teenaged and the superhero, as Camuncoli always brought to the page. Honestly, though, the story of this issue was lacking, too. Destra and Punchy try to find out what, exactly, is wrong with the Devonshire food products served to them by the Seminary, so they go to Arthur, a friend of Destra's father who is obsessed with self-modification, to the point that he's as much machine as man now. He tries a bit of the food, and his stomach produces a printout of its chemical makeup, but the math is too complicated to be understood by anyone there. Meaning that, essentially, the entire mission is a bust, and Punchy and Destra decide their next move is to go straight to Devonshire for answers. So this becomes a filler issue, biding its time with a pointless adventure that gets no results and makes no real progress. Meanwhile, we check in on Vee and Duke for a few pages each, and they continue to do the same things we saw them do last issue with their summer breaks. Vee's story advances slightly when she sets her sights on a bigger rockstar than her current opening-act boyfriend, but that's only a marginal step forward. Oh, and there's a brief scene of Sykes being studied by scientists, which looks cool but provides very little information. The best part of this issue, narratively, is the story of Kefong's summer break in Las Vegas as told through the info scrolls. He accidentally has sex with a ghost, for crying out loud. It's funny and weird and perfect for the character. And I think it was a good call to tell it in the info scrolls, because it probably would have felt out-of-place if it actually happened in-panel. It's too bad that was my favorite part, though, because I would've preferred to enjoy the contents of the main story more than I did.

X-Force (vol. 1) #9: A fairly anti-climactic resolution to the threat introduced a few issues back. X-Force defeat the members of the Brotherhood and Morlocks who invaded their headquarters, and they do it with straight-up fighting, which has grown dull by now. We've seen these characters in combat with each other already, so to have the final beat of this arc just be more of the same isn't all that thrilling. There are no new layers added, nobody pulls out any new moves or anything. The only difference here is that the heroes win, and win too easily for my taste. Other than Cannonball being dead, none of the good guys are ever even at risk. There's no sense of stakes because X-Force always have the upper hand. The villains get in a few good hits, but they lose each battle and, therefore, the war. There's also a lack of logic in terms of how the events play out. Domino and Boom Boom handily defeat Thornn early in the issue, but then at the end she shows back up and rips up Cable's face. Ok, yeah, it allows Rob Liefeld to draw a pretty cool two-page splash revealing that half of Cable's face is robotic, but...how did Thornn get away, and what the hell were Domino and Boom Boom doing instead of, say, securing her? Similarly, we see Cable fighting Sauron, and then check in on other characters for a few pages, and when Sauron is seen again he is instead battling Feral. Where did she come from? That particular gap is easier to fill in, and I don't necessarily need to see everything that every character does, but it's still a little jarring as presented in this issue. The biggest dramatic flop, though, is Cannonball's return to life. Fabian Nicieza has Cable give a long speech to Cannonball's corpse about how, since he is supposed to be a High-Lord, his death shouldn't be permanent. Apparently High-Lords always die and then come back, or, as Cable puts it, "your life doesn't begin until it ends!" Fair enough, and not a bad concept, but to have Cable so plainly explain it at the top of the issue makes Sam coming back to life at the end fall flat. It's not a surprise, because it is exactly what Cable said should happen. It may shock the rest of X-Force, but for the reader, it could not be a more expected turn of events. This issue wasn't horrible, just lackluster, a dry and uninspired warp-up to what was clearly supposed to be a major conflict.

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