Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monthly Dose: December 2014

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

100 Bullets #26: Mr. Branch tells a woman he's sleeping with, possibly a prostitute, some very vague things about the Trust and the Minutemen that have pretty much all already been hinted at if not fully revealed before. There are two reasons for all of this recapping: 1. It's a useful if unneeded way to get the audience all brought up to speed on this fairly complicated story before whatever comes next, and 2. There are a bunch of splash pages done by various guest artists to go along with different parts of Branch's narration. It's kind of a cool gimmick, but it does make the issue feel crazy light, since not much goes on and little-to-no progress gets made. Some of the splashes are cool, particularly Mark Chiarello's drawing of Cole Burns and J.G. Jones' take on Dizzy's Parisian street fight from an earlier issue. The best guest artist contribution was actually the first one, Paul Pope's awesomely depressing Benito Medici, a cigarette barely hanging from his mouth as he stares at himself with hate and disgust in the mirrored wall of a crowded nightclub. It's a perfect encapsulation of that character and, really, of the spirit of this whole book. On the other hand, Frank Miller's portrait of Agent Graves' floating head was a complete waste of space, and even Eduardo Risso's pages of Branch and the unnamed woman have less going on than usual. It's a sex scene played straight, and Risso does it well for what it is, but there's just nothing important or unexpected happening, even at the end when she robs him and exposes to the reader that she can in fact speak English, not just French like she's been pretending. So there were some strong images, but a few weaker ones, too, and nothing significant took place in terms of plot. All told, a boring but visually varied and therefore occasionally rewarding read.

Automatic Kafka #2: Lots of exposition this issue, but delivered through an amusing interrogation between the National Park Service's Agent Stahl and the Warning, smug genius and super-rich guy. Turns out the Warning was the corporate sponsor and founder of Automatic Kafka's old superhero team, the $tranger$, and now that the NPS is looking for Kafka (we don't know why) they come to the Warning for help. In the course of asking for that help, Stahl and the Warning rehash the past, not only of the $trangers$ but much of the Warning's backstory from before they were formed, the events in his life that led up to him creating his own superhero team. He's an awesome character, cocky in a way he can always back up, and effortlessly funny, almost incidentally so, because he sees the big joke(s) in life that everyone else fails to get or refuses to even acknowledge. We spend more time with the Warning than the title character this issue, but when we do catch up with Kafka, things go nuts, and Ashley Wood's art gets to really blast off. Kafka, still loving the hell out of his new nanotecheroin, makes his supplier come with him to a closed/abandoned amusement park. He then connects the park to his own internal computer systems, and turns everything on remotely while he comes up on his high, experiencing the sights, sounds, and other wonders of the park on many levels, both real and imagined. Eventually he comes down hard, the park collapsing around him, just in time for some huge, terrifying-looking, heavily armored people to show up and take him in. We ultimately learn that these are NPS troops of some kind, as Kafka wakes up in the agency's custody, bringing the issue to a close. Well, actually, first he (and the reader) meets Agent Travers, who is one of his captors but also a self-proclaimed fan of his from his $tranger$ days, an interesting combo to say the least. Her introduction is also the issue's conclusion, a creepy and effective cliffhanger. Joe Casey jumped in with both feet for the debut of Automatic Kafka, so here in issue #2, he provides more background info more clearly, but still leaves room for Kafka to get into some crazy, drug-fueled trouble. It's a strong second beat all over.

X-Force (vol. 1) #26: After the super-sized clusterfuck of excitement and confusion last month, X-Force takes a deep breath and collects itself. Most of this issue is Cable walking around X-Force's home base and thinking about each member of the team one by one, mostly focusing on their emotional damage. Cable is starting to feel guilty and foolish for having assembled such a messed up group of kids, and wondering if maybe he's not equipped to lead and/or teach them the way they need. His fears seem legitimate, based on what we see here. There's a lot of unrequited love, Siryn's heavy drinking, Shatterstar's lack of emotion, and plenty of arguments and insults big and small among the ranks. The dysfunction and unrest are widespread, which helps make this issue compelling despite the relative lack of action. There is some token violence at the end when Reignfire frees the members of the former Mutant Liberation Front from prison so they can form a new Mutant Liberation Front. The art this time is by Mat Broome instead of usual artist Greg Capullo. Broome is a good replacement, his characters just as large and looming as Capullo's, though somewhat more angular in their features. He did make several hilarious clothing choices, most notably a shirtless Rictor in tattered jean shorts. It was extra 90's. I liked this issue, even if it dragged a little, because it was a lot clearer and more carefully put together than the last few, and more thoughtful, too. These little pauses in the action are good for a book that goes so hard at the action so often, letting the cast and readers reset before things get crazy again or, hopefully, crazier than ever before.

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