Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monthly Dose: October 2013

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

100 Bullets #12: This issue is a tough one for me to summarize, as far as my feelings about it. I like a lot of what's there, but it also feels like there's too much padding in between all the good and important bits. Dizzy comes back, and that's awesome, because she's an incredible character whose initial arc was too short. But her entrance is drawn out, despite it being spoiled by Dave Johnson's great cover, and not really being nearly as dramatic as it's played. There are some other slow moments, long silences that get the job done in their first panels and then keep going anyway. And there's a lot of French dialogue, which is ok because the gist of what's being said always comes through clearly in Eduardo Risso's art, but I don't speak French so I lose the words. I do think it's cool of Brian Azzarello to use actual French instead of English bookended by < >, but it takes up a big enough percentage of this issue's dialogue to be kind of obnoxious for someone who can't understand it. And none of the French dialogue is connected to the good parts of the story anyway. The real purpose of this issue is to introduce Mr. Branch, the first character to ask out loud who the hell Agent Graves is and how he can do what he does. That's been the looming question, and it was high time the book addressed it directly. When Branch says it, there's a shift in the narrative wind. It's a clear beat of, "Now we're getting somewhere!" So I quite like that, in concept and execution both, but I'm less fond of the fluff the surrounds it. To end on a high note: Dizzy is about to walk out on Branch before he tells her that he didn't kill anyone with his attaché full of untraceable bullets, which stops her in her tracks. Earlier in the issue, we see her upset over the memory of her own killings. All of that is nice, subtle development of this book's best character, from Risso and Azzarello both. Risso makes her shame clear, and the fear that lies beneath it. Azzarello uses her conflicted feelings about everything to put a smart ending on a mediocre issue. He also makes Branch smart enough to pick up on her turmoil and use it to keep her from leaving, so he's a likable new character that I'm glad we get to see more of immediately.

The Intimates #12: It's over! After starting this Monthly Dose thing last November, I've finally reached the end of a series, as The Intimates #12 is the last issue ever. And it knows it, and it talks about it openly. There's some honest and amusing discussion of it in Joe Casey's info scrolls, of course. He talks briefly about how the idea was born, how he wanted a mini-series but they gave him an ongoing anyway, and the struggles a book like this naturally faces in a market most interested in long-established superhero characters doing big action stuff. The Intimates is a bunch of brand new superheroes-in-training participating in typical teenage shenanigans, and therefore wasn't an easy sell, understandably enough. So Casey touches on all of that with his usual snark, but he also has Punchy discover that his favorite spy comicbook is being canceled and react with passionate vehemence throughout the issue. That's a much funnier, more fitting, more visceral, and more relatable way to discuss the cancellation of The Intimates itself. Because where the info scrolls provide an insider's take on things, Punchy's rage and disappointment are the reader's own, assuming said reader is a fan of this comicbook. He's losing something he loves, and so are we the audience, but it's a bit easier to have him go through it with us. The rest of this issue is, sadly, a mess. The art is split between Alé Garza and Carlos D'anda, who seem to trade off on random pages, and whose styles are just shy of working together. They're both pretty loose with their lines, but their designs for the characters aren't quite the same. Destra's glasses change shape, as do Punchy's hair and Kefong's face. It's frustrating to watch, but I could see the argument that the book is losing its firmness as it races toward its ultimate end. In other words, the artistic inconsistencies add to the intentional urgency of the story, and that's fine, but not as good as if the artists had found a way to do the same thing with a more cohesive look. And the story is jumpy, or maybe twitchy. A character from a different Wildstorm book that Casey used to write shows up all of a sudden and becomes a major player here in the final chapter. And the whole Devonshire food mystery is left only half-solved, as the kids decide that rather than keep trying to deal with it, they'll just teleport themselves out of the school and...I don't know what. The ending is as open-ended as it gets, and on purpose, which is actually an aspect of the issue that works for me. Because the series was cut short, Casey decided to do something dramatic and final with his cast so The Intimates could stay forever its own thing, untouched by outside hands. So the characters activate the teleportation device, and either get away or incinerate themselves, but in either case we don't get any confirmation. We just see them disappear, and then the final page is straight out of one of Punchy's now-also-canceled Boss Tempo comics. That's a cool way to wrap things up, so as a farewell to the title I've always immensely enjoyed The Intimates #12, but taken as a single issue, it is admittedly sloppy.

X-Force (vol.1) #12: Mark Pacella is back on art, stilling doing a bit of a Liefeld mime, but this issue, everyone's even bigger than usual. Their proportions are the same as always, but Pacella uses an abnormal number of one-to-three-panel pages here so that he can draw everybody even larger. It makes the pacing very weird. For example, Grizzly is introduced in two full-page splashes, one that shows the rest of the Weapon Prime team talking to him in a weirdly-laid-out group shot, and then the official reveal of his identity is just an enormous image of his face, packed so tightly within the frame of the page that you can hardly see any of his hair. Grizzly's whole thing is that he's a HUGE muscular dude, so if you want to devote an entire page to him, you damn well ought to show his body, at least from the waist up. The preceding page even mentions how big he is, only to be disappointingly followed his face alone. This is not the only instance of these large panels being mismanged by Pacella. Leapfrogging from one "big" moment to another makes them all feel less effective, and makes the whole issue seem like a lot of bluster that leads nowhere. Because once again, all we really see here are forces amassing against Cable but not yet attacking him. Meanwhile, Cable and his team chatter amongst themselves about how to deal with Domino's recent betrayal before he makes an executive decision about leaving their current HQ without consulting or even warning anybody. Two things about this: 1. When did everyone find out Domino was a traitor? I think we skipped a beat between the audience learning it and the cast doing the same. 2. Cable does this kind of sudden, bossy, aggressive decision-making a lot, and almost never wants to hear anyone complain about or question it. Which, like...doesn't that make him a shitty leader? I'm not on his side, and all the people who hate him are jerks, too, so basically I'm left rooting for the rest of X-Force to break out from Cable's control. That'd be kind of a cool idea if it was the intention, but Cable seems to be presented in this book as an awesome badass meant to inspire awe with his gruff confidence. Instead he's a stubborn, thick, annoying, overbearing punk who doesn't seem at all the right guy to be telling a bunch of impressionable young superhumans how to live.

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