100 Bullets #21: What I like most about this issue is that Jack's past as a deadbeat, coked-out security guard looks appealing when compared to his present state as a homeless heroin junkie. By starting in the present and then moving backward, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso manage to make his former life seem like the good old days. As a character, Jack's a nice study in contrasts. He's enormous but insignificant, and has a sort of soft, naive simpleness about him, but also an aura of danger and rage. He's like a sleeping lion, except when he's like a pouncing lion. Jack's story is not especially interesting, which is too bad since he's such a strong lead. His problems are all too familiar, and his apathy toward them doesn't help. He's a fun, strange guy to watch, but the things he does and the people who populate his world don't do much to get my attention. The most captivating detail was that we never saw Graves on-panel, just heard Jack reference an old man who gave him a gun and bullets, then saw the attaché in flashback, but only after Jack had taken it and Graves had presumably departed. It's smart of Azzarello not to waste time having Graves actually explain himself again. The constant reintroductions begin to wear over time. Besides, at this point, with the larger story starting to poke through and a full twenty issues in, it seems reasonable to expect the audience to know who the "old man" is, and if they don't, well...that's just one more thing that makes Jack's nameless junkie friend such a good point-of-view character. He wants to know what happened to Jack, what he did with his gun and how he ended up where he is now, just as much as we do. The mysterious old man is what Jack uses to draw his friend in to the story initially, and it does the same for the reader, whether they know who Graves is or not. So there's some stuff that really clicks, and Jack is a great addition to the ever-expanding world of this series, but the narrative in which he stars is, thus far, nothing special.
Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn #3: Somehow, M.D. Bright is back on pencils, even though Keith Giffen still gets credit for the breakdowns and Romeo Tanghal is still on inks. The creative team continues to grow, but instead of making Emerald Dawn choppy like you might expect, it gets stronger with every issue and maintains a steady narrative momentum. What puts this issue above the first two is that Hal Jordan finally became fully likable and even a tad heroic. After Legion—the giant metal space robot who hunts Green Lanterns—destroys the hospital where Hal's friend Andy was staying and also destroys all of Ferris Air, Hal realizes how in over his head he is, and seeks some help/knowledge, at the source of his power. This leads him to find his power battery, which in turn helps him discover that his ring can talk to and educate him. He sees, via a transmission from his ring's memory banks, Abin Sur's death at Legion's hands, right before Legion shows up to try and kill Hal. There's a chase throughout Abin's crashed ship, because the Green Lantern powers don't work against the color yellow, so Hal can't fight Legion directly. Eventually, his ring leads him to the engines when he wishes half-jokingly for a nuclear option, and when Legion catches up, Hal sets off the nuke, the issue closing on a full-page splash of a mushroom cloud. Colorist Anthony Tollin does an especially nice job on that last page, the cloud done in soft pink hues that aren't nearly as predominant in the rest of the issue. It adds to the suddenness of Hal's decision and the shock of how effective it is. It's also a wonderful halfway mark for the series, the hero and villain trapped together in an enormous explosion after the villain has already caused massive destruction, motivating the hero to more fully step into his role. The conflict between them escalated quite a bit in this issue, but there was still room for Hal to grow as a character and superhero. It's possible Emerald Dawn has fully found its footing now, and certainly this chapter was an excellent action-packed comicbook adventure.
X-Force (vol. 1) #21: Greg Capullo continues to do a great job drawing a whole bunch of characters in panels of various sizes, each of them doing all sorts of jumping and running and fighting and other physical activities. He's in his sweet spot in this issue, with the hulking War Machine and Nick Fury fighting almost the entire X-Force team on a space station. Wide open spaces, cool backgrounds, things to blow up, lots of large-bodied combatants—it's Capullo's bread and butter, so his quality work comes as no surprise. To be fair, there's a sprinkling of scenes with no action, as Fabian Nicieza continues to build on and add new subplots, and Capullo does a good job with those, too. He and Nicieza both seem very comfortable in this issue, jumping from the main story of X-Force vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. to the various side stories intelligently, and getting the B- and C-plot portions knocked out quickly so the A-plot is never out of sight for long. Just like Emerald Dawn #3 above, X-Force #21 involves its stars getting better at their heroism, and then concludes in a devastating explosion. Cannonball and Sunspot learn how to make the most of Professor, the computer system Cable built to run Graymalkin (the space station on which the story takes place). Cannonball and Sunspot have Professor send the weapons and other important cargo from Graymalkin back to their base of operations on Earth, planning for their future rather than rashly reacting to their present like they usually do (and do at the beginning of this issue, even as Cannonball verbally acknowledges that, "X-Force only seems to know ONE WAY ta do things!") It's nice to see Cannonball being a good, thoughtful, strategic leader, rather than being leader just because he has the most forceful personality and Cable liked him best. Too bad for him, though, his growth may come too late, because Graymalkin can't handle all the destructive violence and ejecting of cargo for long, and Professor spazzes out and sounds an urgent alert before the whole place suddenly blows up. It's not quite as thrilling a blow-up as the one in Emerald Dawn, but it's a solid cliffhanger at the end of a tight, well-done, all-systems-go issue.