Saturday, January 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: January 2015

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

100 Bullets #27: This issue presents what is, essentially, a piece of historical fiction, wherein JFK's assassination might have been carried out by Joe DiMaggio as retribution for Marilyn Monroe's clandestine murder. None of those names I just mentioned ever get said aloud, but they're not exactly kept secret, either. There's a record-breaking baseball player whose celebrity wife also has a relationship with the President, and is then murdered for it, so Graves gives the player the attaché with the hundred untraceable bullets, and on "November twenty-second. Nineteen Sixty-Three," the player takes a shot at the President in Dallas. You don't really need to hear anyone's name to know who this story is about, or who it's inspired by anyway. We're even told that there were other shooters, and no one knows whose bullet actually did the job, so this version of events fits with both the official story of what happened and many of the more popular conspiracy theories. None of which matters all that much, anyway. The real point of this narrative in the context of the larger series is to establish just how long Graves has been doing the thing where he gives people the attaché, and how much influence he has or at least used to have back in the day. Though the narrative of the baseball player is the focus, the takeaway has to do entirely with Graves, which speaks to how well Brian Azzarello writes the issue. He gives us background on one of the most important characters (and perhaps the most inscrutable) without needing to remove any of Graves' mystery or natural intimidation. If anything, he's more intriguing and scary than ever. The strongest aspect of this issue, though, has nothing to do with Graves or the baseball player, at least not directly, and may not even be something Azzarello wrote. It's the entirely silent background story about the two nurses (or maybe she's a nurse and he's an orderly/resident?) who sneak off for some romance and it angers a patient so much that she dies. Eduardo Risso weaves it in quite easily without it stealing the spotlight or taking up too much space, and he makes it light and funny somehow despite the darkness of the resolution. The old woman always makes me laugh with her classic, almost cartoonish curmudgeonliness. I'm not totally sold on the JFK/Monroe/DiMaggio thing, if only because JFK conspiracy talk feels trite, but I like the expansion of Graves and I love the B-plot, so I enjoyed more of this than I didn't.

Automatic Kafka #3: To escape the clutches of the shadowy National Parks Service, Automatic Kafka decides to become a celebrity (at the Waring's suggestion). It's a clever move, one that makes sense considering both Kafka's history and goals. He was always partially just meant to be a star, a member of a manufactured superhero team that had merchandise and marketing from day zero, so cashing in on his name now is a pretty easy thing to do. And with the whole world paying attention to him once again, it becomes considerably harder for the NPS to make good on their threat to make his life miserable, since the NPS would rather the public not know what kinds of secret, evil government shit they're really up to. It does take the issue kind of a long time to get there, but in between the scenes of Kafka talking to the NPS and then the Warning, we see him as the host of a gameshow called The Milling Dollar Detail, where the contestants are literally killed at the end if they can't guess one random, secret detail they have no good way of knowing. It's a bleak but not unbelievable vision of the evolution of popular entertainment, in the same way Kafka is a severe yet logical reimagining of both classic android and classic superhero characters. Between a fresh appearance from the Warning, the two pages with four panels each of Kafka in ads for various parody products, and all of the scenes of Detail, this was the funniest issue by far, though a dark comedy to be sure. It was also the least story advancement in an issue yet, but the progress that did get made was very interesting and unexpected, and it resulted in a lot of solid material. I was also really impressed with the visual changes that accompanied the Detail stuff; Ashley Wood does those pages in a wash of blue, a much softer and more inviting color than we've seen used so dominantly in this series before. Along with that, only the middle third of those pages have actual panels of them, and the top and bottom tiers are filled with the overlapping logos of a bunch of imagined, mostly satirical companies, all presumably sponsors of Detail. It was a great way to fit a bunch of jokes in a small space, and along with the coloring, it helped those parts of the narrative pop on every level. Predicting the direction of this comic is a futile exercise, and that's what I like most about it. This issue was a perfect demonstration of the kinds of sudden turns Automatic Kafka likes to take, and of how effective they can be.

X-Force (vol. 1) #27: This was a pretty classic X-story, dressed up in the hyper-90s aesthetic and attitude this book has always had. There's a human who hates mutants, so the bad mutants want to kill him, and the good mutants want to stop the bad mutants because that's what good mutants do and who needs more reason than that? And that's fine; I like a good action comic just fine, and this is definitely that, but it doesn't particularly stand out because there's nothing special going on. It's 100% the one-sentence synopsis I provided above, nothing deeper or more complex to it, or at least not that we're shown within this issue. Are twists coming, are there narrative wrinkles yet to be discovered? Probably, but this opening beat is all surface, characters stating their feelings aloud and X-Force fighting the MLF primarily because no other heroes are available, as opposed to some more compelling connection between the two teams. They've faced off before, but that was when Stryfe was running the MLF so Cable was personally invested. Now, it's a more generic mutant-related problem, and it's only through spying on the Commission for Super Human Activities that X-Force even know about it and decide to get involved. Before that happens, we see the MLF kidnap their target, Henry Peter Gyrich, and learn that not every member of that team gets along or agrees on what level or mercilessness is appropriate in the field. I imagine this dissension amongst the villains' ranks will come into play later, but for now it's merely something we discover exists. Afterwards, X-Force splits into three teams and invades the MLF's base, and they win some fights and lose others, which was to be expected. That's where things resolve this month, with some of X-Force doing well and other doing horribly in the midst of this somewhat misguided rescue mission. All fine, but none of it grabs me or makes me especially excited for next time.

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