Friday, July 31, 2015

Monthly Dose: July 2015

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

100 Bullets #33: Something struck me when Megan Dietrich showed up in this issue that has been running underneath this arc from the beginning: we know Milo was in an accident, but ever since this story kicked off, there's been a feeling that the accident isn't over. The crash was just the beginning, and he's been feeding off of the momentum of it even as it propels him toward whatever worse fate awaits him than a fucked-up face. I'm not saying Megan's arrival is the other shoe dropping, at least not yet or not fully, but we already know how connected and powerful she is, and we know Milo has no idea, which means he's about to get in over his head if he isn't drowning unknowingly already. Seeing Lono is the first issue was, I suppose, the first hint of dark days ahead, and Milo's determined brand of self-destructive behavior in the name of revealing hidden truths is always going to cause problems, but it was someone as high-up and precise as Megan who finally brought into focus just how screwed Milo is or will certainly be soon. It's exciting and sad, because Milo is one of the most stylized and stand-out characters, in his dialogue and appearance both, to have graced the pages of this title up to now. But he can't possibly survive going up against Megan without knowing how much wool is in front of his eyes, and he's not a careful or good enough detective to remove all of that wool before it's too late, if he ever does. The rest of what happens in this issue is largely exposition as Milo goes over the facts again, plus a small bit of him dodging a nosy but friendly and seemingly stand-up cop, but that all ends up as background chatter to the growing dread of what's in store for Milo at the end of this storyline.

Automatic Kafka #9: The final issue of this series goes full-on meta, and also unfortunately drops many threads that are never to be picked up again. Basically, based on what's here, the comic got cancelled, and so since they knew they weren't going be able to finish the way they wanted, Joe Casey and Ash Wood decided instead to insert themselves into the book so they could talk the titular hero through the end of his reality. It's an entertaining conversation, and I particularly enjoy the bit where Casey and Wood make it clear that they're doing this mostly to prevent other creators from getting their hands on Kafka in the future and misusing or mishandling him. They wanted some real finality, so they unmake him completely, send him into the oblivion of cancelled comicbook characters. It's a good way to bring closure to the title even without wrapping up the narrative, and this is a good story in which to do something like that. Sure, there were some throughlines established, like the baby bombs that the Warning was making or the Constitution of the United States becoming a porn star (which they make reference to in this final issue but don't exactly resolve). But mostly, Automatic Kafka tried to tell new, short, complete stories in every issue, so there's no sense of a master plan being undone by the cancellation. It's definitely a shame this book didn't get to last any longer, because there was some truly ambitious, hilarious stuff that came out of it, but at least Casey and Wood got to say goodbye, and no amount of truncation can undo the material they did get to produce. I revisit this book every so often and, while it's definitely flawed, it's also a very worthwhile read, especially if, like me, you find superheroes equal parts fantastic and ridiculous. Automatic Kafka celebrates both of those aspects, and Wood's controlled chaos art style complements both of them perfectly.

The Maximortal #3: This issue contains three short stories, related to one another through Wesley/True-Man but not directly connected. First, and somewhat confusingly, we see an elderly, mostly retired Sherlock Holmes take the case of the little boy who murdered an entire old west town, and it kills him. He summons with his violin both the "angel" from earlier issues who seems to have created Wesley, and El Guapo, the mystery man who somehow seems to be fighting against the angel, and who is the biggest connection between the stories in this issue. Those two beings indriectly cause Holmes to fall into his beehives, and the bees he so loved attack and kill him. It's a nicely written, haunting, beautifully disturbing bit of comics, but I'm not sure what Sherlock Holmes has to do with anything. Next we see the origin of True-Man as a comicbook character, which is quite similar to Superman's own history in the real world, and feels like the first part of a larger commentary on comic creators' rights in general. The two earnest creators of True-Man sign a contract without reading it, which is never good, and the assumption is that, in the future, they're going to get as screwed out of ownership of their creation as Siegel and Shuster and so many others like them have over the years. The person they sell the idea to, however, is Sidney Wallace, who we met last time as the wannabe stuntman who got his testicles crushed during an encounter with the real Wesley. So Wallace having dealt with a real, warped version of Superman makes him an interesting person to buy the rights to a fictional Superman knock-off, and is bound to provide some strong storytelling possibilities down the line. In the context of a series examining all the angles of Superman, this middle story is the most obviously relevant, as it switches from following a twisted take on Superman to following a twisted-but-less-so take on Superman's creators and publishers. Finally, we see Wesley get discovered in a secret bunker where the military is holding him, uncovered as part of a semi-fictionalized version of the Manhattan Project. This feels like a tale only half-told so far, with Wesley's discovery and the discovery of his heat vision are the end of this issue, but clearly only the beginning of his significance for a group of scientists trying to build the ultimate weapon. Wesley is the ultimate weapon, so this is clearly setting up for things to come. These stories are ordered chronologically, but also logically, with the strangest and most distant first, the most thematically connected coming second, and the most narratively connected and biggest cliffhanger closing things off. A well-done example structural play, and I'd say the best overall issue of the first three in the series.

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