Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I reread one issue each month of long-completed series.
100 Bullets #18: "Hang Up on the Hang Low" concludes, with Loop just barely surviving the avenging of Curtis' death. That's pretty much is the bulk of the issue, with a tiny splash of Agent Graves at the beginning and end to round things out. Loop's plan goes off swimmingly at first, as he mows down a bunch of minions and quickly finds himself face-to-face with Mr. Rego, the crime boss responsible for killing his father. But Rego has one last bodyguard, Tommi, the young woman perpetually playing pool in his house, whom Loop assumes is only there to look good, which costs him dearly. Tommi kicks the crap out of Loop while Rego scolds and blames him, until Loop is lucky enough to get the drop on Tommi in just the right way to live through the experience. He then shoots Rego, his arm held steady by Holly, the woman whose bar was burned down as part of Curtis' murder. It's a hollow victory, which Loop admits to Graves after the fact, but it's hard to imagine things ending any other way. Once Curtis got killed, either Loop or Rego also had to die, and Rego was the preferable pick. Eduardo Risso really makes the fight with Loop and Tommi count, if it can even be called a fight. It's a pure ass-kicking right up until the very end, and every blow is recorded in detail for the audience's flinching pleasure. It's important to understand all the pain Loop goes through in the name of revenge, because it helps us feel the same dissatisfaction with it as he does in the end. Brian Azzarello has Rego emotionally assault Loop with the same skill and ferocity as Tommi and at the same time, putting Loop through one hell of a ringer before he makes it to his goal. That seems to have been the point of this entire arc, to introduce Loop, make us immediately warm to him, and then make him go through as much shit as possible in the shortest time. It's an effective strategy, and, not to be all spoilery about this 13-year-old comicbook, but it's not quite over yet.
Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #6: This series concludes, and it's a rather predictable landing. I suppose I didn't expect the Creator to suddenly become self-deprecating when he "touched" Fury's mind and saw how much better human feelings are than robot feelings. That was a surprise, but it's the only one in here. He was always going to betray his people; he'd hinted heavily at that a few issues back. And Quartermain was pretty clearly on a route to self-destruction and/or turning on his makers, so when he blew the power core it was not a shock. The core also had to come back, and I'm not sure how easy it was to anticipate that it would be the death of all the bad guys, but we pretty much new none of the Deltites were going to survive. The whole story was about them trying to live forever, which marks you for death by default. Bob Harras goes through the numbers here, padding out pages with a whole lot of the Creator explaining his history and his goals, much of which was easy to suss out and none of which was particularly interesting. I did like it when all the captives rose up and broke free, because at least it was exciting, but even that felt like it had to happen. A final confrontation between the two sides is pretty basic stuff. It's not that Harras did a bad job with the story, it's more a matter of the story being stretched too thin in these six oversized issues, so that the final chapter is just a slow and steady arrival at a destination that's been visible for a while. Fury wins, Delta is destroyed, but S.H.I.E.L.D. has to be shut down because the whole thing has been a lie for so long. The writing has been on the wall since halfway through the book. There were also a lot of small distractions in the wording, like consecutive sentences that used the same words or phrases, and too many actual lettering mistakes that made things hard to understand on a first read. I was hoping for something a little more lively and/or inventive, but this was still a cool idea and a series worth reading. I think it's better to do all at once than month-by-month though, because this final month felt like a bit of a waste. I have no idea what to pick for next month...
X-Force (vol. 1) #18: "X-Cutioner's Song" concludes, and even though I've only read 3 non-sequential chapters of the 12 total during this monthly reading of X-Force, I found it enjoyable and satisfying. Greg Capullo is made for this stuff, because he has a way of making immensely bulky characters move naturally. He understands how to position them so that they look, if not realistic, at least believable. Of course this applies to the knock-down drag-out portions of the Cable vs. Stryfe fight that is the centerpiece of the issue, but I'm really thinking more of Apocalypse slowly bleeding out and dragging himself across the floor on his belly like a wounded animal. While no less massive or imposing or wicked than ever, Apocalypse also looks pathetic. I don't know if I feel bad for him, necessarily, but I definitely feel his pain. He's not just a cartoon villain being wiped off the board, but a living thing suffering in its final moments. It works, and adds a lot to the somewhat clichéd scene of Archangel choosing not to kill Apocalypse in a testament to his persevering humanity. Fabian Niceiza's script is full of familiar moments like this: the heroic sacrifice, the "We've been one step behind for too long" scene, the self-destruct countdown. But this is a crossover event, so I don't know how much of those were Nicieza's call, and either way he handles them well. Not too wordy, but using the words that are there to lean into the melodrama at just the right angle. It hums along, and it's focused and clear enough that the reader has neither time nor need to ask questions about what led up to this. Again, though, I think most of the credit for that pacing really belong to Capullo's art, which is expressive and explosive in equal turn, so you're always caught up in the drama, action, or both. Capullo continues to flourish in this book, and Nicieza seems the right partner for him, so with a crossover contribution now officially under their belt, things are looking bright.