Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: March 2015

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

100 Bullets #29: While presumably still focused on Wylie, this issue felt like it was dominated by Mr. Shepherd more than anyone else. It is Shepherd who introduces us (by introducing Dizzy) to Juárez, where much of the action takes place. Shepherd also gives Wylie's name to Mik, a detail that comes into play in a big way at the end, and is most likely some kind of deliberate wrench-in-the-works move from Shepherd. It seems far more likely Shepherd knew that Wylie, pretending to be Hopper, was going to do business with Mik, and thus intended to have Mik spook Wylie by saying his real name aloud. Why Shepherd would want to rattle Wylie like this is impossible to tell, but that's true of almost everything what Shepherd ever does. He's at least as mysterious as Graves, and as manipulative, which is why I assume that the consequences of any action he makes must be exactly what he wanted. The tension in this issue comes from Wylie, and more pages are centered on him than not, but even so, Shepherd's presence is the one you feel more powerfully. He's the only character who knows what's going on and is in control of his fate from start to finish, so he comes out looking stronger and more significant. None of this is a complaint; I love Shepherd and find him considerably more interesting to follow than Wylie or anyone else in this arc. And the trouble Wylie gets into at the end of this issue is scary and exciting and, if not unexpected, at least hard to predict. Who are the gun-wielding figures in the shadows? How is Wylie possibly going to get out of this? Why did poor, simple Dan have to die? We're left with some decent hooks to pull us back for the story's final act, even though Wylie isn't a standout star here, and generally hasn't convinced me I should care about him yet. It speaks to both Brian Azzarello's story-crafting skills and Eduardo Risso's exceptional suspense-building that the conclusion of this issue draws me in so effectively even though I'm not fully invested in Wylie, and his journey is not what gets the spotlight this time around. I'm still all-in on 100 Bullets, despite the current storyline being only so-so, because the overall quality of the series maintains even during its lower points.

Automatic Kafka #5: After a few pages of Kafka being interviewed, the bulk of this issue stars his former teammate from the $tranger$, the Constitution of the United States of America. I love that as a superhero name, but the character himself seems a lazy, easy, nuance-free take on America's fetishistic adoration of violence and machismo. His opening speech where he's trying to rally the troops is more than enough to understand him and what he represents, yet that only takes up two pages, after which we get another nine pages of him and his crew annihilating a drug lab and all the people in it. Of course big, needless action sequences are part and parcel for superhero comics, but in this specific case it felt like one note played for too long, an utterly simple character introduction stretched over way too large a space. Near the end we see the Warning's baby bombs again, so there are hints of a larger, connected story here, but only of the vaguest kind. The real purpose of the babies in this issue is to piss off the Constitution, who prefers his violence and destruction to be hands-on, and dislikes the distance with which the babies' controllers commit their acts of murder and destruction. Which is almost interesting, but by the time that point gets made, I'm so tired of the Constitution (and his dialogue is so clipped and indirect) that it's hard to even muster up the energy to comprehend what he's saying. Ash Wood does chaotic, over-the-top action well, and he nails all the other elements of the Constitution's overall theatricality, too. So the art is as good as always, but it, too, sells the character concept quickly and then goes nowhere new with it, making this a good-looking but visually repetitive comic. Every issue of Automatic Kafka is a new, wild adventure, and this was no different, but somehow shifting the book's attention to a superhero other than the title character produced something blunter and lighter than usual, like a watered-down version of what the series has been prior to this issue.

X-Force (vol. 1) #29: I've seen a lot of this before. Cable walks around, surveying the team, thinking about how bad things have been lately. Old news; very boring. The rest of the issue, on the other hand, has a plot that's new, or new to this title, anyway: Arcade kidnaps Shatterstar and pits him again opponents from his homeworld. It's fine, though not considerably less boring than the other part of the issue. Arcade is lame, a spoiled child of a villain even at his best, and this is far from his best. His insane bright pink sunglasses and head-sized polkadot bow tie look terrible, and he's not even really the main baddie here, just a gun for hire working at the command of a mysterious employer. Who cares? Is the point of this just to spotlight Shatterstar? I'm going to go with yes, especially since Arcade makes Shatterstar put on his original, Liefeld-all-over costume for absolutely no reason at all. But why give that character this kind of focus now? There's way more urgent stuff going on, like Feral quitting and Tempo possibly joining up, but that all gets the most meager lip service in the Cable pages while all the action and meat in this issue is Shatterstar-centric. It seems a wholly random detour, and a frustrating one, and it ends with X-Treme showing up, who is just so overwhelmingly 90's I can hardly look at him. Bottom line is that I did not care for one bit of this issue. Matt Broome's pencils are clear and consistent, but his style is not to my taste at all, too bulky and heavy and cramped. As for the script, Fabian Nicieza writes these scenes well enough, but they weren't the scenes I wanted to have to sit through. Follow the threads already established, don't shunt them aside for new, arbitrary, pointless action pieces that only involve one of the series' stars.

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