Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Monthly Dose: December 2013 (Belated)

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

100 Bullets #14: This is an especially tough issue to take on its own when I know what's coming down the road. Because it's something like 95% Branch being extra cryptic when talking to Dizzy about The Trust, but I know who they are, because I've read this all before. Branch identifies them here and gives a vague sense of their reach and power, but provides no solid answers, instead always evading the incessant questions Dizzy throws at him. That's been their dynamic all along, I guess, but there was some action and some silence to break things up before. In this issue, it's literally all talk, and the only change is that they go from being in a park to Branch's place to outside again at a monument. These setting switches don't mean much, and seem to happen only so that Eduardo Risso can find new ways to show Dizzy and Branch conversing, something they've done for the better part of two issues prior to this one. To his Credit, Risso keeps things interesting and emotive. Branch and Dizzy have a nice physical contrast, and he moves his face a lot more than she does, too, so they play well together. That can only ever go so far, though, especially when they're not really doing anything. Yet even with all the excessive wordiness, Brian Azzarello doesn't tell us much. We get a bit of background on how Branch knows what he knows about The Trust, and...what else? Cole meets Dizzy? That, admittedly, is a great moment and an important one, but neither its greatness nor its importance can be fully understood until later in the series. Same goes for the dialogue between Cole and Branch. It's interesting and it lets the reader know that Graves defied The Trust. But we don't know why, how, or what that means, yet, and Azzarello isn't letting us in on the secret at all. This is just a tease, and I've had better, even in earlier issues of this very book. There's not enough here to latch onto, and while I can appreciate how well-structured and well-planned this series is in hindsight, seeing some of what Azzarello already includes this early on, as its own individual chapter, this was too full of words and too void of information. Particularly for the conclusion of an arc.

Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #2: The thing that stood out to me most in this issue was how often the same words or phrases got repeated right next to each other. The earliest and most irksome example was, "The Headquarters of the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division." Just lose the first three words, or call it, I don't know, "The heart of..." or "Command central for..." That is a confusing enough name for S.H.I.E.L.D. without adding an extra headquarters to the mix. There were a handful of other instances I don't remember word-for-word, like two characters using the same phrase one right after the other, or the evil shadowy council that runs S.H.I.E.L.D. repeating themselves over and over about how without stopping Nick Fury all of their careful scheming might well be for naught. That was a very repetitive part of the story, as were a lot of the scenes with Fury's allies. The Countess is made into this lovesick, confused, helpless wreck, very uninteresting and unappealing as a character. All of Fury's friends are frustratingly inactive, not so much because it makes sense, but because the story needs to fill a lot of pages and there isn't that much going on. In between Fury's various underground fights and adventures, there have to be other scenes, so there's a lot of Dum Dum and Gabe being passively upset about what's happening, and the bad guys talking about their new recruit and what a perfect specimen he is. Spoiler alert: it's revealed to be the recently-deceased Clay Quartermain, confirming once and for all that things are not what they seem. That information is actually significant, but it may be the only truly relevant event here. The rest is incremental character development of Fury's allies, plus Fury himself running from S.H.I.E.L.D. and barely surviving, which happens like three times in this issue alone. So Bob Harras' script spins its wheels more than anything, which is a drag, especially in an oversized comicbook. Luckily, Paul Neary's art and, more than that, Bernie's Jaye's colors make the action look great. And they do the S.H.I.E.L.D. board of directors in an effective, simple, neon-green noir aesthetic, which I like a lot. Jaye colors the gunshots and explosions in soft bright purples, and it gives the bigger fight scenes a strange beauty and urgency that works quite well. As for Neary, he's not the most precise artist, but he choreographs his fights well, fitting a lot of action into a small space. Maybe too small, actually, since it leaves so much room for the needless blah blah. As a final point: It was painful having to read actual scenes of two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents going to visit the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers and the Fantastic Four (all three of which had great lineups at this time) just to tell them not to help Fury. That didn't need to happen at all, really, and it certainly could've been done off-panel. Hell, the last half of the FF conversation, a.k.a. the important part, did happen off-panel.

X-Force (vol. 1) #14: Man...what a difference having an artist I genuinely like makes. Terry Shoemaker brings such a fun-loving energy to this book, it makes Fabian Nicieza's writing funnier and the whole cast more likable. As Nicieza begins to burn away all of Liefeld's leftover plot point as quickly as he can, Shoemaker shows up for an issue to jumpstart the book visually, too. This wasn't a stellar issue, necessarily, but it was so much better than any of its predecessors. Shoemaker's characters are bulky and sturdy, but they move fluidly and with determination. They seem like they are enjoying themselves for the first time, not smiling but going after their opponents and their freedom with such gusto that it swept me up. Rictor joins the team, which is great. Cable seems to be leaving the team, or rather, they're leaving him, which is also welcome. He's still in the title for now, but this is where everybody else officially breaks off from him, and it's fantastic to see. They all get to have a voice, play a real role in what happens, and be more than just the back-up squad for the beefcake star of this comic. You can feel the very nature of the book shifting with each new page of this issue. It's not an overt reboot, but it is a sharp turn taken at a high speed. And easily the best part of the ride up to now.

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