Friday, February 28, 2014

Monthly Dose: February 2014

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

100 Bullets #16: Right away, I was grateful for the fact that Loop wasn't hiding his new relationship with his father from his mother. It's an all-too-common device in fiction to have one character keep a stressful secret from another that the audience knows will inevitably be revealed, and I sort of hate that. I kind of have to be able to live with some amount of it if you want to watch any sitcoms ever, but that's a digression, and in the case of this comicbook, I appreciate Brian Azzarello choosing to miss an opportunity to include one of those kinds of secrets and just letting the information be out in the open from the start. And he writes the whole issue well from there, giving Loop and Curtis a comfortable if somewhat simple father-son dynamic, and ending on a pair of excellent reveals, both relating to Agent Graves. First, Loop comes home to discover his cousin visiting unexpectedly with a girlfriend, and they're the same couple Graves manipulated into robbing Lono in an earlier issue. Things are starting to come back around, and the true scope and organization of 100 Bullets is beginning to come into focus. Meanwhile, it turns out Graves and Curtis know one another, and Curtis has already figured out that it was Graves who told Loop that Curtis was his dad. That both deepens the mystery of Graves and makes Curtis into a far scarier and more interesting character. As second chapters go, this hit all the right notes: reminding us what happened last time efficiently, advancing things quickly but naturally, and ending with enticing new information to bring us back. Eduardo Risso also does some great stuff with Curtis and Loop's interactions. Lots of quick looks they shoot each other that say more than any dialogue ever could in the same space. But the best-looking part of the issue by far was the scene with Nino Rego, because he looks like Mr. Magoo but angry and aware. He's a little exaggerated, but not ill-fitting or unbelievable, just comically wrinkled while remaining intimidating and nasty. Risso also picks good angles from which to view Nino, providing a full picture of the man in only a few pages. It's representative of the thorough work he does throughout the issue, very well-structured and efficient. This has got to be a candidate for best single issue of the series so far, with everyone involved bringing their A game, and the strongest double-cliffhanger I've read anywhere in a while.

Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #4: I read this and quite liked it, but it sort of washed over me. Flipping through it again now, I think the reason is this: while a solid Nick Fury comic, it didn't do a whole lot to advance the plot of this series. Fury fails to do what he wants, and so do his opponents, and there isn't a great deal of new information in between. This issue seems to be filling space/killing time, but it does so with style. Bob Harras paces things well, moving between Fury and the bad guys readying themselves for their inevitable confrontation at the beginning of the issue, and then giving that closing fight lots of room to be as sprawling and explosive as it wants to be. And Paul Neary mostly delivers solid pencils, with a few very nice flourishes, like the mirrored panels on the first page and the countdown sequence at the end, leading to a cool-looking if unnecessary final two-page splash of a rocket being launched through the ground. Neary's Madame Hydra was distractingly oversexualized, though. Her costume was absurd, like a bathing suit for nudists, and Neary made damn sure to have her nipples sticking out a few visible inches on pretty much every panel. It was gross and also looked weird in the context of this book, which doesn't really have any other overtly sexual elements. Well, that's not true...the two head villains have a coy and flirtatious sexual relationship, enhanced by the fact that they sometimes change into brand new bodies somehow (the details of the process are the heart of this book's central mystery, and thus not yet explained in full). But because their identities and motives are being kept obscure, we always see them in near-silhouette, so their sexually-charged dialogue and embraces don't have any matching visuals. Everything about those characters is a well-guarded secret, so the romantic side of their lives isn't out in the open. Madame Hydra's buttocks, however, totally are. Because, you know, when the bullets are flying, you definitely want your ass flesh to be exposed. That's a total ninja secret. Ugh. Anyway that ticked me off, as those things tend to do, but otherwise Neary delivered another strong super-spy comic, and Harras did the same. As far as narrative progress, though, not a lot got done here, which is too bad. It makes this feel unimportant, and therefore it leaves less of an impression than I'd like it to. I remember the broad strokes, the details elude me because they were immaterial to the larger story I'm following.

X-Force (vol. 1) #16: For the fourth chapter of a crossover I'm almost certain I've never read (I think we've gotten into the territory of X-Force comics I own but haven't read before anyway by now...though I'm not 100% sure where the cutoff is), this was surprisingly easy to follow and enjoyable. It was, actually, a pretty great ride for any superhero comicbook, crossover or not. And most of the credit for that goes to Greg Capullo. From the two-page splash on pages 2 and 3, I was hooked, and Capullo gave me something awesome to stare at on pretty much every page. The cream of the crop was a huge, over-muscled Cable, covered head-to-toe in guns, ammo, and explosives all so large he looked like he might buckle under them despite his own massive size. It was so extravagantly 90's, even more so than anything else Capullo drew in the issue, I have to assume it's parody or, at the very least, a self-aware visual gag. It made me laugh, that's for sure. Mr. Sinister smirking despite a huge lazer-blasted hole taking up one half of his face was another highlight, as was the reveal at the end of Stryfe as the true villain of whatever the hell is going on. Oh man, and the first look at the amazing lineup of X-Men—Storm, Iceman, Archangel, Beast, Colossus, and Quicksilver—who were on some sort of rescue mission was crazy good. Props to colorist Joe Rosas for that panel, too. It's all blues and whites with a few splashes of red, and it looks badass and cool (in temperature and attitude). Makes me want to see these particular X-Men as the stars of a series, though I doubt if that'd work in the current status quo. Anyway, except for the fact that Rahne didn't look enough like a wolf for my taste, the art was great all over. And considering the sheer number of characters involved, that's saying something. It's like all of X-Force, X-Factor, and the X-Men, plus Sinister, Bishop, Stryfe and his lackeys, some horsemen of Apocalypse, and whoever else I'm not remembering right now. They all look great, and even when half of them are fighting each other, the action is clear and bold and fun. As for the story surrounding that's hard for me to comment on that, because I'm not sure what the situation was. The issue opens with X-Factor and a handful of X-Men already in the middle of a tense standoff with X-Force, and the two sides attack one another immediately, so I never got much explanation as to how they ended up like that. I don't know who the X-Men team I named above are looking for, though I assume it's Cyclops and Jean Grey, since they show up later, kidnapped by Stryfe. But I have no idea how that happened. Or why those six X-Men got picked to be the rescue team. Or why they are trailing the signal of a mutant named Caliban, which is a name that sounds familiar but I can't remember who he is, exactly, so I'll Wikipedia that later. And finally, I can't begin to guess why Bishop is already seconds away from blasting Mr. Sinister in the face when we check in on them. I bet it was some craziness that lead up to that moment, though. It's all great to look at, and it moves so swiftly that it's wonderful superhero action entertainment. Fabian Nicieza's script has some clunky moments, mostly in the opening fight scene when a few characters over-explain how their powers work in the middle of battle (a big pet peeve of mine I've probably mentioned before). The writing mostly pretty direct, getting out enough information for each scene to stand up on its own, but not trying to fill in all the details of what's come before. If, like me, you're reading this cold, then you'll be confused but amused, which is a fair approach for this kind of story and one I like. Either you commit to it and get the whole thing, or you don't, and hopefully the creative team on the book you are reading will deliver something enjoyable in their isolated chapter. That's precisely what happens here, which makes me excited for what this team will do once the "X-Cutioner's Song" dust settles. Next month, though, we skip a few more chapters and go straight to part 8 of the crossover, so we'll see how it looks a little further down the road.

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