Friday, August 30, 2013

Monthly Dose: August 2013

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

100 Bullets #10: Eduardo Risso demolishes the opening page. It's just three panels, starting very close on Cole Burn's face and then pulling out to reveal the rest of him, but there's a ton of detailed and evocative work within them. At the end of last issue, Cole was surrounded by men sticking guns in his face. When the story picks up here, all those men are dead by his hand, and he's not entirely sure how he was able to kill them. The intensity of his expression, a mix of fear and rage and relief, is heavy in all three panels. Even though it's not yet clear what is going on, Cole's distraught state of mind is immediately obvious. From that excellent opening, Risso and Brian Azzarello do a great job of slowly but steadily changing Cole's personality as his memories of the man he used to be return. He becomes more comfortable and calm, replacing his shock with amusement and, eventually, smugness. The entire issue is about the fake Cole slipping away while the real Cole resurfaces, so it's not especially full of action or thrills. But moments like the silent two-page flashback or Cole blowing up his ice cream truck are excitement enough, and the dialogue between Cole, Shepherd, and Graves is superbly fascinating. Azzarello is able to explain an awful lot of what's going on without revealing his entire plan yet, which has not always been the case in this book. Often, things feel too vague, but here they are just specific enough to be informative without spoiling anything important. My favorite character is introduced in full, the important concept of the Minutemen having their buried memories brought back by a special code word is established, and both Risso and Azzarello operate at their best. This is a fabulous issue, quiet in tone but meaty on every page and full of significant set-up for the series' future.

The Intimates #10: I'm torn by this issue. On the one hand, the story reaches a narrative peak and a few of the young superheroes we've been following all this time finally get to prove their mettle, which is great. On the other hand, the scene where that happens is drawn so poorly as to make it partially inscrutable. Third hand: best info scrolls in the entire series. They're a bit too self-referential here and there, and maybe somewhat obvious in their content, but I adore them anyway. Since this is the last issue of the summer vacation period of the series, Joe Casey uses the info scrolls to reflect on how summer vacations used to feel as a kid, and how that changes over time and has no real equivalent as an adult. He gets it just right, making me powerfully nostalgic. And he has a respect and admiration for childhood attitudes, pairing perfectly with the growing-up-too-fast action they accompany in the main story. Scott Iwahashi returns as the penciler of the A-plot, about Punchy and Destra breaking into a Devonshire Foods facility to figure out what is wrong with the food they're served at school. There they run into Sparky, now apparently working for the man, seeing as he attacks them so recklessly it gets him killed. It also destroys the building he was supposed to protect, but I'm not sure exactly how that happens. The fight scene between Sparky, Punchy, and Destra is something I have studied several time, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out what the hell happens. They definitely fight. Sparky gets knocked into something, I think, presumably some piece of machinery, but it's extremely unclear. Then he overloads and, I think, blows up. Or maybe whatever he was knocked into blows up because of his powers? There's an explosion. To be fair, the parts I am talking about only account for three pages of material, and everything else Iwahashi does is serviceable's rough. Blurry and sparse and just weird to look at. Luckily, Carlos D'anda is also on hand to draw one scene of Empty Vee and two of Duke. His work is more sure of itself, and he does a good job of making the Vee pages look different than the Duke pages. Vee is having fun, Duke is miserable, and that difference is reflected in all the details that surround them. Also, the Duke scenes have no info scroll, a rarity for this title, but done well here. Duke's scenes are the most emotionally fraught, grown-up material, so they get to stand on their own. It's a mixed bag of an issue, with some of the best and worst material this title has to offer.

X-Force (vol. 1) #10: In the aftermath of the big, bad fight that took up the last few issues, Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza take time this month to actually develop some plot. Cable gives Cannonball the full explanation as to how he could come back from death—he's a High-Lord, also known as an External, a special kind of immortal mutant that Cable knows all about. Elsewhere, we meet the other Externals, one of whom is apparently Gideon, and they lay out their plans to recruit Cannonball for their little immortal gang. And in the most action-packed sections of the issue, Weapon X goes toe-to-toe with Stryfe who, as we learned not long ago and Weapon X is seeing for the first time here, is actually Cable. Exactly how it's possible that Cable could be his own nemesis is left mysterious for now, with Stryfe offering only the most obnoxiously cryptic clues. There are a lot of moving pieces, but Nicieza does a good job of keeping all the new information clear, at times even bordering on being overly expository. Liefeld, too, balances things well, giving the appropriate number of pages to each of the story threads. Cannonball gets to discuss his understandably conflicted feelings about his newly discovered immortality at length, the Externals have more than enough room to bicker and scheme, and Weapon X has time to fight off all of Stryfe's lackeys before the two men battle one another directly. There are a few weird moments, like a full-page splash of Cable looking uncomfortably muscular while he makes a not-very-exciting speech about how nobody should mess with his team. And man...X-Force is a pretty callous group when it comes to their dead enemies (Sauron and Phantazia died last issue, I guess, though I don't remember that being obvious at the time). Despite these bumps in the road, this is a smoother issue than usual, able to get a lot done and seed several things for the book's future. I find myself eager for next month's issue for the first time in a decent while, not edge-of-my-seat anxious or anything, but at least looking forward to it.

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