Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I reread one issue each month of long-completed series.
100 Bullets #17: It says a lot about this story arc that in only three issues, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso were able to introduce Curtis and Loop to the reader, then to each other, then build their relationship to the point where I really cared about them, and then kill Curtis off in a brutal and heart-wrenching fashion with Loop there to see it. That's a lot to do in a short time, but it doesn't feel like so much the way Azzarello and Risso do it. They cut through the crap and get to the good stuff on every page. For example, we don't see the beating Curtis gets here; not one punch punch is thrown in-panel. It cuts straight from him being cornered to him lying in a bloody, ugly mess on the floor, because there's no need to show the violence once you've made it clear that it's inevitable. Every scene is smartly paced and structured in that way, each of them starting with the first essential line and ending with the last one, with no real filler thrown in. It all matters, starting with every word (and a whole bunch of unspoken words expressed through Risso's brilliant body language and facial expression) exchanged between Curtis and Graves in the first scene. Though their exact history isn't spelled out in detail, the gist of their existing dynamic is covered quickly so that they can get right to complicating it further by talking about and involving Loop. It's a strong opening, and it propels the rest of the issue steadily forward, a slow-burn of constant tension ending in a literal and emotional explosion. I don't really know what else to say about this issue, because there aren't necessarily a lot of specific standout moments. The whole thing stands out as a remarkably tight, moody, effective piece of comicbook fiction, a deliberate and intelligent progression of what was already a great arc. Loop has gone from not knowing his dad to being best friends with him to losing him in violence and fire. That's an awful lot for an already angry, confused, somewhat immature character to go through, and I have no doubt that his reaction next month will be intense and intriguing. 100 Bullets has just gotten deadly serious and immensely tragic, so I'm excited to see just how destructively it all ends.
Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #5: The oversized nature of these issues has never been more obvious than when reading this one. At one point I thought I was nearing the end, just based on narrative flow, but it turned out I still had 14 pages to go. The main reason for this is that, even as he progresses the story, Bob Harras just can't stop himself from explaining and re-explaining and over-explaining every single thing that happens or has happened. The number of times that the bad guys talked about how close Fury was to being in their hands was straight up ridiculous. I understand that it was the last step in their villainous plan, but even keeping that in mind, they talked about it way too often. It's already been said so many times in the previous four issues, that one or maybe two reminders could've easily been enough here. Instead it gets brought up every few pages from start to finish. Ick. The rapid aging and constant regeneration of the members of Project Delta, and their internal torment over that whole deal, was another long-established theme that got over-explored in this issue. There was just a lot of that all over, old ideas or plot points being rehashed in the dialogue without adding any new information. In between, things did steadily roll forward, but at a snail's pace because room had to be made for all the old hat. That being said, I'm still enjoying this narrative, despite the repetitiveness of the script and its poor pace. Things were sort of kicked up a notch this issue when Fury finally, fully uncovered who he was fighting and what they wanted. He's being brought face-to-face with the big bad now, which I suppose was pretty much a necessary place to leave him at the end of the penultimate chapter. Now the head villain's real plans can be revealed, and Fury can figure out some ballsy way to thwart them. I'm excited to get to that, so it that sense, at least, this issue did its job. It left me wanting more in the end, even though along the way I could've done with a little less. There were, luckily, a whole bunch of really nice visual moments from Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder to carry me through. The cream of the crop was Fury and his crew climbing snow-covered cliffs while wearing enormous, flowy capes. It reminded me of something out of a D&D session, which I'm always for. The Deltites beings tractor-beamed into the orbs also looked great, especially the last time it happened, where one half of the page was people resisting, while the other was a group fully committed to the Delta cause, serenely allowing themselves to be transported. That was a cool contrast. And I dug colorist Bernie Jaye's decision to do the Val-Kate scenes with all-red lighting. It added a surreality and somberness to their already rather dreary conversation. Because it had a decent amount of boring, pointless dialogue, this issue definitely didn't astound me, but I'm deep enough into the story of the series now that I'm invested and eager to get to the end, so I appreciated the good bits and got over the bad ones pretty quickly.
X-Force (vol. 1) #17: After skipping another three chapters, I got to dive into part 8 of "X-Cutioner's Song," which starts with a full-page splash of Stryfe and Apocalypse facing each other down "Inside the temple of Bani Maza, behind the walls of yesterday..." according to the caption box, whatever that even means. It is a badass opening image, though I have no idea how we got there or what the exact significance of the moment really is. Two huge, scary-looking, heavily-armored supervillains squaring off against one another in a chaotic close-quarters setting is cool enough to do it for me even without context. And the brawl these two engage in for the next few pages, which is less of a proper fight than it is Stryfe beating on a fleeing Apocalypse, looks fantastic. Greg Capullo is in his element drawing these two powerhouses, one pounding on the other. They are just the kind of bulky, menacing figures that make his work shine. Sadly, once Apocalypse gets away, things cool off and slow down considerably, and the rest of this issue is more of a status update on all the heroes of this story than it is an actual step forward in the larger narrative. There's a good cliffhanger ending, and it ties into the awesome beginning quite nicely, but in between there's an awful lot of recap talk and info-dumping and standing around. On the one hand, because I'm only reading the X-Force issues of this crossover, getting to see where everyone is and what they're up to was kind of nice. On the other, because I didn't read the chapter that preceded this one and won't be reading the on that follows it, either, getting this kind of breath-catching beat was sort of a bummer. I'd much rather be buried in confusing action like I was last month that have everything clearly explained but nothing interesting going on. I don't blame Fabian Nicieza for this, of course, because he had to write the part of the story he was given. And it's not necessarily his job to give people like me, who refuse to read the rest of the crossover, something exciting or action-packed in every issue of X-Force. It's actually a very good script, able to move between locations and characters efficiently so that all the exposition bases are covered and there's still room for Stryke to whomp on Apocalypse up front and for a wounded, beaten Apocalypse to arrive at the X-Mansion in the end. So all-in-all a very well-done issue, but sort of a snoozer as far as story goes, due to where this specific chapter lies in the structure of the overarching event story.