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.

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