Thursday, January 30, 2014

Monthly Dose: January 2014

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

100 Bullets #15: The audience meets Curtis, the audience meets Loop, and then Curtis and Loop meet each other. It's an all-introduction issue, but one that is tightly written by Brian Azzarello so that it holds your interest and does precisely what it needs to do. Curtis and Loop are characters I'm eager to spend more time with, even if they and their relationship are a little cliché. Because they're also very human, as opposed to being two-dimensional stereotypes. Yes, I've seen characters like them before, but not exactly the same in outlook or style or personality. Curtis is a quieter, more thoughtful, more caring version of the grizzled old criminal archetype. And Loop lacks the apathy of the typical street youth character, replacing it with a calm but focused curiosity. That's what drives him to seek out Curtis after Agent Graves tells him that Curtis is his father, so I suppose you could call Loop's curiosity his most important trait, because it sets him apart and it pushes the narrative forward. There's also the implied danger of pairing someone so nosy with someone who clearly has a lot of secrets, and that tension works well, hanging over Loop and Curtis' already-fraught first meeting. Also adding to that scene is Patricia Mulvihill's excellent blue-black-and-white coloring. It adds a softness to a hard moment, and makes it feel a little surreal, even though it might be the most REAL shit either man has had to face. Eduardo Risso also nails that encounter, particularly when it comes to Loop's nervous uncertainty about how to approach the whole thing. It's a pretty great issue for Risso all over, actually. I love how the first thing we see of Curtis is just one, huge, solid, powerful hand slamming against a bar. Very striking image. And Agent Graves was at his most shadowy and brooding, which is always good to see. There wasn't anything in this issue that grabbed me by the throat, I guess, but I liked everything and wanted more. It's real good, clean, simple comicbook storytelling from cover to cover.

Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #3: Man, there was a lot of interesting new shit in this issue, by which I mostly mean new important characters. Like John Allen, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ESP squad, who's a morally upstanding dude I found myself immediately rooting for simply because of his earnestness. Also, I'm into the whole idea of the ESP squad, and in particular the fact that the agents in it are being pushed to their limits and ultimately killed from overuse. It's tragic, but also an interesting way to bring Allen into the fold, first as a Nick Fury hater and then as an ally. Fury gets several new friends in this issue, actually, and I liked all of them. Sleeper agent Alexander Pierce brought some much-needed humor to the book. He's not a clown or a constant source of comic relief, but his relative inexperience and his absolute faith in Fury make them an amusing pair. Pierce tries his hardest to impress, Fury is thoroughly unimpressed, repeat. Bob Harras makes this relationship quite enjoyable, because as upset as Fury gets with Pierce's performance, there's always a certain respect and gratitude, too, since Pierce is the only person fighting on Fury's side. Until the end of the issue, that is, when they team up with Allen and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s liaison from the C.I.A., Al Mackenzie, who realizes something is rotten in the state of S.H.I.E.L.D. and decides to do something about it. So at the start of the issue, Fury was still totally alone, and at the end he's got a three-man team working with him, so things are looking up. We also learn a lot more about what the bad guys are up to, though their endgame is still a complete mystery. But we do discover that something is happening where the villains age rapidly and, apparently, die, only to be somehow remade in their younger forms by the S.H.I.E.L.D. council. I say "remade" rather than "reborn" because there's clearly an artificial life thing going on, as evidenced by a lot of stuff, most notably Eric Koenig firing some kind of white-hot energy beams out of his eyes while his face melts off. It's a safe bet that he's not the real human Koenig anymore, and it's also a fantastic-looking scene and a great way to close out the issue. Paul Neary is on point throughout, but that moment is definitely a highlight, probably of the entire series up to this point. It's gross and surprising and a little bit sad, just as it ought to be. All-in-all, this issue was the shot in the arm that the book desperately needed here at the halfway point after its rather slow, slogging start. Suddenly the cast is bigger and more varied, the plot has been richly thickened, and the stakes have been amplified, because it's not just about clearing Fury's name, it's about protecting maybe the whole world from being turned into freaky ass robots. I guess it was always ostensibly about that, but it feels like it is now, which it never did before. I'm reinvested and ready to roll into the second half of the series.

X-Force (vol. 1) #15: So here I was, all excited to get into Greg Capullo's first issue of X-Force. It's been a long, long time since I read this, or any of his issues, and he's got such a good reputation on this title and such a high profile now that I was anxious to see how the old stuff held up. And at first, I was quite pleased. Capullo is the ideal replacement for Rob Liefeld, because their styles are fairly similar, but Capullo's is a more controlled and better-looking version. He still draws enormous, bulky characters in insane action poses, but nobody looks like they are too big for their skin. There are no teeth bulging out of everyone's faces, either, and most importantly, ever panel is clear and the issue as a whole is well-paced. None of that was ever true when Liefeld was running the show, so Capullo is more than welcome. EXCEPT. All of sudden, ten pages in, there's Domino in the most ridiculously, laughably, offensively, pointlessly tattered clothes imaginable. She may as well have just been in lingerie or, for that sake, straight up nude. Complete nudity would've actually made more sense, because she'd just been freed from months of torture. So that was distracting and infuriating, but I wanted so badly to move past it because, hey, it was just one panel and it was the 90's and I can forgive that, right? But then Boom-Boom's breasts poke past her vest for no reason, and Feral's nipples are visible through her costume somehow, and both Boom-Boom and Domino get perfect holes in their shirts in just the right place so you can see some boob flesh but nothing too scandalous, and Domino is put into every ass- or chest-highlighting position Capullo can come up with. Sometimes, some way, it's both. There's probably stuff I'm not remembering, but I choose not to go back through every page of the issue to find more examples. Anyway, Capullo got flat-out sexist with it, so that turned me off. I'm hoping this won't last? Capullo is coming in and drawing the ends of storylines the Liefeld began, so some of the look of the characters may not be entirely in his hands. I'm not sure how that applies to any of the things I specifically mentioned above, though, so perhaps I'm just trying too hard to find an excuse. Whatever...Capullo is better stylistically than anyone else this title has had as penciler, so I'm not going to let my enthusiasm fade because of how he drew most of the women mot of the time for one issue. Feral had plenty of not-at-all-sexual moments, Siryn was never anything but fully covered and totally badass, and Domino was just freed from months of torture, so I'll give the dude the benefit of the doubt for now. It did spoil parts of this issue for me, though, so that's a shame. On the story side of things, Fabian Nicieza continued to jettison everything Liefeld established with great speed. Crule is thrown out a plane, Gideon closes the book on Cannonball's relationship with the other Externals, Tolliver is blown up, and Cable peaces out. It's amazing to watch, and I especially love how, in response to all these rapid-fire changes, Nicieza has X-Force openly admit, more than once, that they have no clue what to do next. I guess the decision is getting made for them, though, because the final panel of this issue explicitly states that I have to read Uncanny X-Men #294, X-Factor #84, and X-Men #14 before the next issue of this series. But guess what? I ain't gonna, so join me here next month to see how lost I am jumping into part 4 of "X-Cutioner's Song"!

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