Monday, June 30, 2014

Monthly Dose: June 2014

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

100 Bullets #20: After all the slow setup and constant misdirection up to now, 100 Bullets takes a minute to more openly and officially than ever declare that there is a larger narrative behind everything we're seeing. That had become fairly obvious, but it's nice to see this kind of acknowledgement and enhancement of it, even though there are probably more questions at the end of this issue than the beginning about what the hell is going on. Shepherd and a new character named Benito have a cryptic conversation about Agent Graves, beginning with the fact that he was supposed to be dead, moving onto speculation about his agenda, and ending on Shepherd steadfastly sticking to a wait-and-see strategy for now. Benito seems like he'd prefer to be more active about it, but he also is apparently there only as a representative of his father, whoever that may be (this is where the questions start to pile up). The details of Benito's life don't matter so much as the fact that he and Shepherd mention Chicago (where Dizzy's story took place back in the first arc), Cole Burns, Lono, and the Trust, all of which are things the audience has seen before. It's the biggest number of callbacks in the shortest space for this series so far by a long shot, which is what makes this issue such a clear announcement of the series' long-term plans. By which I guess i mean Brian Azzarello's long-term plans, since he is the architect behind this monstrous narrative. Eduardo Risso is the star of this issue, though, because he does such a great job balancing the Shepherd-Benito visuals with the activities in the rest of the park, especially local drug dealer Boppa and his friends as they get involved in a turf war with another group. Azzarello balances the two stories well himself, but Risso's work is more important and impressive in that regard. He brings the whole environment and everyone in it to life, and follows the movements of character major and minor with carefully so there is a cohesion to the timeline. He also does a lot of cutting away from Benito and Shepherd to show us something more exciting than two men sitting on a park bench barely looking at each other, because their dialogue takes up most of the issue, and needs to, but it's easy to follow without having to stare at them the whole time. So Risso uses that to his advantage and fills in their surroundings. It's maybe the fullest this book has ever felt, in the art and, now that things are coming together, the script as well.

Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn #2: The creative team changes as Keith Giffen comes in for plotting and breakdowns, Gerard Jones handles the script, and Romeo Tanghal does the finished inks. It's a pretty seamless transition from the first issue, picking up exactly where the story left off last time, with Hal Jordan face down on the ground after flying through a billboard. After a freaky dream, he wakes up distraught but also excited about his new abilities, hoping they will be able to make up for his past mistakes. He pretty quickly comes to terms with the fact that the ring, while amazing, is not all-powerful, and so, in maybe his first moment of true likability, Hal turns himself in for driving drunk and causing an accident that severely injured his friends. He resolves to serve his time and only then figure out how the ring works, but on his first day in jail, a giant yellow space robot who seems a little unstable and is definitely extremely violent breaks through the wall. We see this villain earlier in the issue, hunting Abin Sur, the dead alien who gave the ring to Hal in the first place. Discovering Abin's corpse pisses off the space robot, and it is determined to kill the new Green Lantern ASAP, hence it breaking into the jail. As far as first supervillains go, I can't imagine very many things that sound more fun than a short-fused psychopathic space bot, so I'm definitely on board with that and eager to see how the fight unfolds next time (if there even is a fight, since Hal seems pretty much already beat when the issue closes). And I was glad to see Hal own up to his screw-ups, not matter how hard it was to do and how tempting it must have been to just fly away from his problems in a glorious green blur. It makes me root for him as a hero more than I was before, and so does the pure, indulgent evil of the bad guy, so all told I'm much more committed to Hal's corner than last month. The good guy is getting better, the stakes are getting higher, and the superpowers are really kicking in now, so it's safe to say I'm feeling pretty stoked for the rest of this series.

X-Force (vol. 1) #20: I've got to say, I found this issue a tad disappointing. On its own, it is a pretty solid, standard piece of '90s Marvel superhero radness. But after last month's declaration of independence from the titular team, it seemed a shame for their next adventure to be all about them fighting for control over Cable's old space fortress, Graymalkin. He's dead (or so they believe) and they've officially struck out on their own, yet they insist on continuing to live in his shadow anyway. At first, we see them building their own home, so things are still headed in the right direction, but what with Bridge, Gideon, Domino, and Grizzly all making comeback appearances, this felt like a weird kind of throwback issue. It was more Liefeldian than anything the Nicieza-Capullo team has produced thus far, I guess is what I'm driving at, and it was some HIGH quality Liefeldian material, much better than the man himself would produce, just still not quite what I was hoping for. Capullo does great crowded action sequences, though, and both he and Nicieza manage to do several very quick, tight scenes of catching up on side characters so that the main story could have lots of room to develop. Sadly, it does not resolve as of yet, ending with X-Force staring down a pissed off Iron Man (James Rhodes variety). It is a banging final panel, though, just a full-page landscape shot of the War Machine suit in full ready-to-kick-ass mode, so I admit, it got me excited for the fight coming next issue, even if it's likely going to be pretty much more of the same thing I saw this time out. That's basically fine by me, because even though it feels like there's some wasted potential for more interesting or original stories, Nicieza and Capullo doing a fun spandex action piece is a more entertaining and better looking than loads of stuff in that genre from any era. So bring it on for now, until it can blossom into something more complicated.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


As is now the norm, I've published one piece each on CSBG and PopMatters in the last two weeks. First there was the "1987 And All That" on Gumby's Summer Fun Special, which was a superbly unexpected good time to read and then again to analyze. More recently, I wrote an Iconographies column about Kings Watch and how funny it manages to be without veering off course.

Something I Failed to Mention
Both of the two comics above had powerful senses of humor, but extremely different styles of it. Gumby was absurd and whacky, funny for its unpredictability as much as anything else, while Kings Watch gets its laughs from more understated character work. It's not always easy to express effective comedy through a comicbook, because things like timing and delivery are always partially based on the reader instead of the creators. So reading two books that were so distinctly hilarious was a refreshing exercise. I don't necessarily have a bigger point or comparison to make than that, but I also don't feel like I forgot to talk about anything I wanted to in the original columns. The main thing jumps out at me when thinking back on reading and writing about these titles is how they both won me over with their humor above all else, even though their approaches were wildly different.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Monthly Dose: May 2014 (SUPER Belated)

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

I actually read these comics back in May like I was supposed to, but have not had the opportunity and/or energy to review them up until now. Luckily, they were all pretty good and memorable.

100 Bullets #19: After telling several disconnected stories with the only apparent throughline being Agent Graves, 100 Bullets begins here to hint more heavily than ever at a larger overarching narrative/plan. Lono catches up with the young couple who stole his money several issues back, who also happen to be Loop's cousin and his girlfriend. So Loop and Lono collide, which leads to Lono figuring out that Loop is Mr. Hughes' son, an apparently significant piece of information, at least as far as Lono is concerned. We know already that Hughes and Graves had some kind of history, so it's not a huge surprise that Lono would know Hughes, too, but seeing his reaction to the name is still a surprising and important moment in the issue. It quite possibly saves Loop's life, which also implies that we may see more of Loop in the future. Why include this epilogue-style chapter in Loop's story where he butts heads with a character we saw a while back unless both Loop and Lono will appear again? And more importantly than that, what if Graves' plan from the very beginning was to bring Loop and Lono together? It was Graves who arranged for Lono to get robbed by Loop's cousin, so it's more than likely that the Loop-Lono meeting was his goal, which broadens the scope of Graves' influence, intelligence, and ambition. Brian Azzarello has done a great job up to this point of telling self-contained tales, but after 18 issues of that, it's very nice to see something bigger begin to develop. Even if it is a slow build, at least it's getting there now. The only thing that bugs me about this issue is the skin-crawling heartlessness Lono displays while sexually abusing Loop's cousin's girlfriend (I can't recall the names of her or Loop's cousin right now and don't have the issue handy, sorry). Obviously the idea is to paint Lono as the downright bastard he is, and it works, but it's still a little hard to read. Eduardo Risso, at least, is incredibly tasteful about what he chooses to show us, and even Azzarello is good enough not to have the actual rape ever happen on-panel. All the same, Lono does and says some deeply despicable shit that turns my stomach whether I have to look directly at it or not. Beyond that discomfort, though, this is a solid issue, and an important brick in the foundation of what will eventually be the massive structure of 100 Bullets as a series.

Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn #1: So what's the right way to credit Christopher Priest when discussing things he wrote back when he was still James Owsley? Like...Owsley is the name on the comic, but Priest is what he goes by now, so I'm not clear on what the protocol is. I guess I'll refer to him as Owsley since that's technically who he was when he wrote this. Agreed? As far as retelling an established origin story goes, Emerald Dawn is exemplary. There is absolutely no assumption on Owsley's part that the reader has any knowledge of Green Lantern/Hal Jordan coming in, so the story is told from the ground up. It begins with Hal watching his father die on a test flight, and ends with him in full Green Lantern gear but not committed to the role yet. In between, we get to see who Hal grew into in light of his dad's death, and truth be told, he's not all that likable a guy. He never does anything horrible or idiotic, but only because he doesn't really do anything of much note. He's sad about being a bad pilot, he's sad about Carol Ferris breaking up with him, and he's still apparently pretty torn up over his father's accident, too. He's mopey, childish, and depressed, which doesn't make him unsympathetic but also doesn't make him particularly endearing. He's no fun, and therefore no fun to follow as a reader, but the comic still keeps from ever being boring. A big part of that is M.D. Bright's artwork, which is so rich and realistic that the issue works quite well as a simple, straightforward human drama piece for the entire first two acts. It isn't until the very end that any superhero stuff goes down, and even that is just Hal being pulled to the crashed alien vessel and given his ring and power battery. There's no fighting, no villains, none of the typical trappings of a superhero story, but that's ok for this opening issue. Its goal is to build the cast first before bothering to throw a wrench in the works, and then when the time comes it's a pretty enormous wrench. Far from making Hal's life instantly better or even making him happier, becoming Green Lantern only worsens his situation. Carol gets pissed at him for disappearing and "stealing" the test plane he was in when he got forcefully transported to the site of the crashed spaceship, and he's saddled with a bunch of power he doesn't understand for reasons that were never explained to him. His powers are not viewed as a gift bestowed but a burden forced upon him, which makes sense considering his generally pessimistic outlook during the earlier parts of the issue. Hal may not have won me over yet, but he hasn't turned me off, either, and Owsley and Bright both do solid, well-structured work that makes Emerald Dawn #1 as a comic far more captivating than its main character. A very solid first beat that makes a lot of smart decisions from cover to cover.

X-Force (vol. 1) #19: Since the end of the Liefeld era, this comic has gotten extremely good at telling meta stories which act as both fictional narratives and real-world pronouncements of the series' intent. This issue is the most obvious and well-executed example of that so far, with the members of X-Force explicitly stating that they don't want to be like the traditional good guy mutants or obad guy mutants, but to carve their own path with their own sense of morality. Basically, it's Fabian Nicieza saying, "No more Liefeld plots, no more crossover bullshit, I am taking the wheel on this comicbook now," which is awesome. Since Greg Capullo came aboard as artist, he and Nicieza have made X-Force a title of progressively higher quality with each issue, even in the shadow of dangling Liefeld-spun threads and the "X-Cutioner's Song" event. Now that they've taken an issue to officially break away from all that and go somewhere brand new, there's a great sense of anything-can-happennes to this book that energizes it as a series and me as a reader. Also, the arguments made by Nicieza (through Cannonball) as to why this team should be allowed to journey off on their own are sound, reasonable, and delivered articulately. I was convinced, which makes it easier to believe it when Professor X also comes around. Yes, X-Force is a squad of relatively young, inexperienced mutants, but they've been through enough as a group now to make their own decisions and make their own way. They're bound to screw up sometimes, but so is everybody. Capullo also gives fresh costumes to everyone (through Boom-Boom), and with the possible exception of Feral, they are all major improvements. Gone are the bulky Liefeld clothes (Warpath even has a line about being able to move better without shoulder pads) and everything is made much more stylish and practical. Feral's costume I point out as the exception mostly just because it is so revealing that I question whether or not she even needs it. She's covered in fur, so clothing seems optional, and if she's going to wear something so barely there, what's the point? But Capullo doesn't overtly sexualize the character in her new duds. If anything, he underplays the sexiness in the one panel where we see the team in their new costumes, with Feral crouched down and off to the side, almost small enough compared to everyone else that you could miss her. So all told, X-Force is looking better than ever before, and all set to embark on a bold new independent direction, so the future's pretty bright for this title right now.

Monday, June 16, 2014


I recently switched from a once-a-week schedule on PopMatters to an every-other-week one, the same as I have always had with the "1987 And All That" columns, meaning from now on each week I will either be publishing on PopMatters or CSBG but not both. So these Elsewhere posts will probably be bi-weekly for the time being, and include one link to each of those sites.

Two weeks back, I wrote on CSBG about The X-Men vs. the Avengers, a four-issue mini that had its final issue written and drawn by creators not involved in the initial three, making for a bizarre and ill-fitting ending to an otherwise enjoyable story. This week, my PopMatters piece was on Afterlife With Archie, specifically looking at some familiar/clich├ęd elements and how they are used quite effectively in the context of that title.

Something I Failed to Mention
In discussing Afterlife With Archie, I pretty much consistently talked about writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla as a team, as opposed to looking at their individual contributions to the book. As is pretty much always the case when Francavilla's involved, though, the art of Afterlife deserves its own examination and praise. What I personally find myself most often impressed with in that series is how few colors Francavilla will use on a given page. Often it is just two, with red/black and orange/black being the most common combinations. Black is always heavily involved, because it's an uber-dark tale and the visuals match. Francavilla has long favored a limited palette, but in this series it feel like he takes it to a new level, almost producing a black-and-white comic yet at the same time using such vibrant, brash, almost invasive hues that it's the furthest thing from black-and-white imaginable. The colors pop, nay, explode on every page, and add a lot of life and detail to the scenes, even though there are never more than, like, four or five different colors at any time, usually fewer. Francavilla's evolution as an artist continues to impress; he was already one of my absolute favorites, and this may be the best of his work that I've ever seen.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Delay of Game

It's been three whole weeks since I posted something on here, so I figured I should just say something, even though the last thing I did publish sort of already said this might happen. Problem is, I haven't really read a whole lot lately, hence the reason I haven't been writing. I'm equally behind in both areas, and I'm using today to catch up on some reading so that, hopefully, the rest of this week can be used to catch up on the writing. We'll see how that goes, because my schedule's not any different, really, but I do get to ride a subway to work now, meaning I can read during my commute, and potentially write, too, so that makes me hopeful. I definitely want to get May's Monthly Dose done ASAP, and I have a couple other things I've been wanting to get to for a while now, so with any luck I'll have a burst or productivity soon. At worst, I want to get back on the once-a-week schedule that is supposed to be the minimum for this blog.

In the meantime, I will say that I've been missing comics quite a bit during this dry spell. I'm eager and ready to dive back into them more fully, because my encounters with them lately have been few and far between. There's a sizable backlog for me to burn through now, and all I really need to muster is the energy to do it as quickly as I can. So, enough apologizing and excusing myself. I'm off to do some reading.