Saturday, November 30, 2013

Monthly Dose: November 2013

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

100 Bullets #13: The difference between this issue and the last one is minimal. Dizzy and Branch hang out in Paris while he tells her a bunch of stuff that's either cryptic or downright inscrutable. Then she absolutely dominates in a fight that he makes happen, and the story ends. All of that also happened last time. It's not exactly the same of the previous chapter, but it's mighty close, moving things forward by inches rather than feet. Brian Azzarello makes the dialogue between Branch and Dizzy quite natural and human, because they've both already been introduced as full characters. Here, they just get to be casual together, and Azzarrello writes that well. Eduardo Risso always draws it quite skillfully, nailing each character's personal mix of mistrust, curiosity, and relaxation. And he makes Paris look like a rather cozy place, laid back in its pace and inviting in its atmosphere. That works well for this issue, where most of the action is just two characters socializing. Plus it makes the surprise street fight that Branch sets up to test Dizzy's skills even scarier and less expected. At the end of a lovely, easy-going day in a beautiful city, Dizzy is suddenly confronted with violence, coming out of shadows she didn't even know were there. Of course she more than handles herself in the situation, but it rattles her at first, simply because it's so far removed from everything else she experiences in the issue. That fight also confirms for Branch that Dizzy has martial arts training in many disciplines, in spite of her insisting that's not true. This is an interesting nugget to tease us with now, the idea that Dizzy is getting some kind of secret/hidden/subliminal education on top of the work she and Shepherd are doing that she's aware of. It adds mystery to the already uber-shadowy figure of Shepherd, and adding mystery is sort of the whole point of this arc. Branch provides Dizzy with a few sparse answers, but so far every one of them has only raised more questions about what's going on in this book, who Graves and Shepherd are, etc. Building the reader's curiosity is as valid a thing to do as any, and certainly it's done effectively here, so mission accomplished. I wanted to see a bit more actual plot advancement than is present in this issue because I always do, but I still enjoyed it, since everything that was here looked and sounded great.

Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #1: I like Nick Fury a lot, because he manages to be badass and brilliant enough to run with all the superheroes without ever feeling wedged in or out of place. He doesn't always have a perfect plan, but he doesn't always need one, since he can assess and deal with any contingency. This series is about testing that aspect of the character, pushing it to its limits. When Fury discovers that his own team, people above and below him at S.H.I.E.L.D., are in some way doing something dishonest/illicit/evil, it's his biggest challenge ever, because the resources and allies he's used to relying on are suddenly made unavailable to him all at once. This issue, as the debut, is all about setting up this new status quo for Fury, and because it's a prestige format book, it gets to take its sweet time doing it. For the most part, Bob Harras writes a script that's exciting and fast enough to support the extended page count. It opens right in the middle a life-or-death mission inside the wrecked Helicarrier, and in that scene and every one that follows, some tiny piece of the puzzle is provided. We learn of several breaches in S.H.I.E.L.D. security, see or hear about a few instances of characters not acting like themselves, and get access to secret meetings of the S.H.I.E.L.D. board that indicate they are not what they seem to be at all. This all happens bit by bit, until Fury himself sees enough of it that he's forced to admit S.H.I.E.L.D. have become the enemy. This makes him a man on the run from the organization of super spies he used to be in charge of, meaning the people searching for him were also trained by him. He knows most of their tricks and they most of his, so now it's a matter of who has the most secrets, who's got the best cards left up their sleeves. That's a simple but fun spy-vs.-spy scenario, perfect for Fury because it plays to his strengths while at the same time being a new experience for him. Paul Neary is the penciler, with Kim DeMulder on inks and Bernie Jaye doing the colors. The artists all have a fittingly down-to-earth style, lifelike but not necessarily realistic. The sci-fi technology all looks natural and everyone seems pretty comfortable with it. The interiors of all the buildings have a futuristic (for the 80's) aesthetic that makes all the rest of the equipment feel like it belongs. And everyone's uniforms go along with that look, too. So there's a well-built and internally logical fictional world built up around the characters, meaning the people themselves can look fairly normal without the book really resembling our own world. Having the cast look more human helps remind us that, despite being a Marvel product, this is not a superhero comic. And Neary and DeMulder do pretty strong acting with the characters, Fury especially, made even more effective, I think, because nobody's features are exaggerated. This isn't the most gripping first issue I've ever read, but for forty-six pages of story it has a lot of energy, and it closes with even more drama and momentum than it has along the way. Definitely makes me eager for issue #2.

X-Force (vol. 1) #13: The most notable aspect of this issue is that it marks the first time Rob Liefeld's name has been missing from the credits. He hasn't been the artist for a few issues now, but he's always at least gotten a "plot" credit if nothing else. Here, he's absent entirely, and I'm fairly certain he never comes back. From now on, story-wise, it's Fabian Nicieza's show, so the question becomes, is he any better a writer when not saddled with Liefeld's art? The answer so far is, "Yes, but not by much." While Liefeld may not have directly had a hand in producing this issue, its content is still very much informed by/wrapped up in the plotlines he established. Weapon: PRIME attacks X-Force, as they've been promising and preparing to do for months, so it's not as if this is a daring new direction for the title or anything. It's a logical continuation of what the book's already been doing, but slightly tighter and more entertaining than usual. The fight is better paced and clearer than is typical, which of course has as much to do with Mark Pacella's art as Nicieza's writing. While Pacella is pretty clearly influenced by Liefeld's visual style, his characters are more in proportion and consistent. They're still musclebound and toothy, but they don't change shape as dramatically from one panel to the next. And Pacella does several nice splash pages that make the action feel more blockbuster-y and intense. It is a bit weird that Shatterstar and Warpath are topless for the whole fight, which I assume is just an excuse for Pacella to draw more muscles (something he clearly likes to do), but it doesn't ruin or detract from anything. It's just odd. Anyway, the battle makes up the bulk of the issue, with a brief scene in the middle checking in on Gideon while he runs torturous tests of some kind on Sunspot. As unusually good-looking and easy to follow as the combat is, it ends with a disappointing suddenness. Basically, X-Force just wins by winning. They outfight the members of Weapon: PRIME one by one without ever even really being on the ropes. So there's a lack of drama, since I guess Nicieza and Pacella thought a widespread action sequence would be enough excitement. That's a bummer for sure, but honestly, I'd rather have this fight be finished quickly then needlessly drawn out just so the heroes can find a more creative way to come out on top. Sometimes the good guys are just going to be better than their foes. This is one of those cases, and I can live with that. This issue has a painfully simple script with strong-but-not-astounding artwork, all of which is better than what's been seen in the past, but none of it makes for a particularly amazing comicbook. Still, even a slight step up is always nice to see, so hopefully this marks the beginning of a steady rise in the series' quality.

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