SPOILERS for like all the stories in this issue
So, rather than save my Christmas money*, I did what any sensible person would do – I bought comics! Sure, I can’t pay rent for February, but I got some quality reading done in the meantime, so all is good, at least in my head. Without further embarrassing personal detail, onwards!
Northlanders: Sven the Returned
While the adherence to modern slang and language might be off-putting, it soon becomes subsumed in the tale of a stubborn Viking who just wants people to quit fucking with him. Entertaining and violent, with just a touch of the dramatic, the first trade nevertheless fails to surpass the standard Viking revenge tale. Still, the hint of promise shown within make me hopeful for future offerings.
Scalped: Indian Country
The hype from Jason Aaron’s reservation-life Native American noir is heavy, and this opening trade fails to deliver. Standard art combines with a story that barely serves as more than an introduction to make a disappointing first volume. There’s promise to be found in the filth the book revels in, but it takes some digging to find.
Scapled: Casino Boogie
Scalped: Casino Boogie
The second trade, however, delivers in all the ways the first one didn’t. Introducing new twists to the story, the book does it in a creative and entertaining way, each issue taking place over the span of the same day, but from a different point of view. Here we finally get in deep with the various players on the reservation, and here we finally have a reason to care. Count me among the converted.
Phonogram: Rue Britannia
I have trouble explaining how much I enjoyed this from relative newcomer Kieron Gillen. Ultra-masculine Brit hipster David Kohl is forced to search for a dead goddess of Brit Pop music and find out just what it going on in the ether that’s causing him to change in drastic (to him and no one else) ways. Even given my relative unfamiliarity with the bands and trends being mentioned, I nonetheless could relate to the sheer power music has in the lives of these people. An intriguing story and a fascinating setting just a little to the left of our own work together with simple (but clean and gifted) art to provide a book well-worth your money. A story about reinforcing why you love what you love, about coming to terms with it and its influence on your past.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wolves at the Gate
The Whedonisms of the book are beginning to grate, and while it is still an undeniably enjoyable book, some of the particular thematic and writing tics of the book are wearing. Nonetheless, the book continues to excel at humorous, heartwarming, heartbreaking relationships, and fans of the TV show will continue to enjoy the rapid-fire wit and excellent dialogue.
Andy Diggle, writer of The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One, seemed like an odd choice of writer to take over the Hellblazer writing chores after award-winning horror novelist Denise Mina, and Joyride is his first collection, a series of stories meant to bring John back from the brink where he’s been hovering through the last couple writers. The story is entertaining and suitably dark, a good set of arcs to set up what Diggle seems to hope to accomplish. Expressive, dark art from Manco and strong ties to the recent Hellblazer run of Mike Carey combine to make a standard, but competent story.
Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead
The fourth trade in the Rucka/Brubaker masterpiece bringing a refreshing bit of realism to the gritty uber-epic Batman mythos, The Quick and the Dead might be the weakest trade in the series thus far… but given the strength of the characterization and dialogue, it still serves the series well, and shows time and again how Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya got where they are today.
Matt Fraction’s tiny little piece of insane pop action is well-introduced in this first volume. While stylistic art takes a little adaptation to those of a more traditional bent, it nonetheless complements Fraction’s hyperkinetic action hero well. Fun fluff, well worth the shot for fans looking for a little something more from their action espionage comic books.
Yet another obscure entry from Grant Morrison, the Filth almost delights in being obtuse. Filled with crazy, creative ideas, it boils down to a cranky old man who just wants to be alone with his cat in its dying days. Weston had his work cut out for him, but he steps up to the task admirably and delivers on many of the absolutely horrifying concepts Morrison bandies about with creepy ease. Absolutely not for everyone – not even for most people – the Filth nonetheless may offer some readers a glimpse into the darker side of Morrison’s work, that they might better understand where he’s coming from in the lighter works.
Young Liars: Daydream Believers
The first disgusting trade of Young Liars is finally available, and well worth a gander. Like Mike Carey’s so-so Faker, Liars focuses on disgust, betrayal and selfishness, but the refreshing blitz of Sadie, teamed with the self-loathing love of young Danny, make for far more compelling interactions. The attitudes of the book may be a turn-off for many, and some bizarre stylistic choices in terms of background and dialogue can be confusing, but it is nonetheless worth a gander.
Fables: War & Pieces
Willingham’s epic seems to move in waves. Alternating between stories with a great deal of creativity, heart and action all laced together with a healthy dollop of bastardized mythology and a series of stagnant set-up arcs with a lot of introduction and even more nothing-really. So, it should be no surprise that after that strength of The Good Prince and Sons of Empire, War and Pieces reads as a perfunctory conclusion to the first major conflict in the Fables-verse. An important book plot-wise with (as always) impressive art, War and Pieces is nonetheless another dry spot in the ongoing story. Not bad, just not up to the standard the book set for itself.
DMZ: On the Ground
Brian Wood’s breakout hit about a the only on-location journalist at ground-zero of America’s second Civil War appears to be almost entirely a setting-building exercise that also happens to casually examine the horrors of war with which we are all pretty familiar. Still, the excellent art provides a certain touch, and Wood’s story excels where many such stories fail in its compelling cast of supporting characters and slice-of-life stories, like the sniper romance. Wood doesn’t let us revel in a single aspect of war atrocity on home soil, instead taking us through a series of small arcs to see the effect of the civil war and troop involvement in New York City itself. Thanks to its easy familiarity with a cool cast, DMZ proves itself a consistently entertaining read with just a touch of the frighteningly familiar.
*okay, admission time – it was actually just gift cards, so it wasn’t actually a waste, and some of these were bought before or after Christmas that I just never got around to reviewing. I may begin to review some of my older trades as my pull list (and available cash) dwindles.
On top of the hundred or so comics I read every month, I also go through quite a few trade paperbacks. Recently, I started picking up Ex Machina in trade. I’ve finished the first five trades so I guess it’s about time I talked about them.
Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred, the first superhero of his world. One day, a group of terrorists decide to ram a couple of planes into the World Trade Center towers. In our world, we know exactly what happened next. In Mitchell’s world, events play out quite a bit differently. You see, Mitchell was able to save one of the Twin Towers. Soon after, Mitchell gives up playing hero and runs for mayor. Not surprisingly, he wins.
The book primarily concerns itself with Mitchell’s term in office, with the occasional flashback to pre-911 times to give up back story and villainous origins. One can assume that means this book is extremely politically motivated. It’s actually much like reading an episode of the West Wing, I would guess (since I never watched that show).
Framed in such a way that isn’t immediately as accessible to mainstream readers like Y: The Last Man was, Ex Machina is an educational if not always entertaining read. Sometimes, it feels too much like homework or watching some dude’s hastily produced Youtube diaries. No jokes, Vaughan comes off like a politically snarky know-it-all and it can get on your nerves. Maybe this plays better if you collect this book as a monthly, but reading 5-6 issues in a row can be tedious. If you can stand being preached to regarding the hot button issues of the day, then this may be the book for you. As for me, I like the main character to stick with it for now. It passes the ultimate test: I would vote for Mayor Hundred.
Oh, and the art by Tony Harris is pretty sweet too.
Switching gears slightly but still staying within the realm of social commentary, I’ve also been catching up on Brian Wood’s DMZ. This seems like the prototypical book that no one is reading, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s so fucking good. It’s got the mainstream appeal of a Y mixed with the politics of an Ex Machina. It’s controversial, honest (maybe I’m biased) and on top of all that… it’s a fun read! Brian Wood, is really, really good. And so is his partner, Riccardo Burchielli. His figures look great and the grim and gritty backgrounds truly propel you into this world. Oh crap, I haven’t even said what the book is about yet…
With overseas wars bogging down the Army and Nation Guard, the U.S. government mistakenly neglects the very real threat of the anti-establishment militias scattered across the United States. Like a sleeping giant, Middle America rises up and violently pushes its way to the shining seas, sparking a second American civil war, coming to a standstill at the line in the sand – Manhattan. Or, as the world now knows it, the DMZ.
Matty Roth, a naïve aspiring photojournalist, lands a dream gig following a veteran war correspondent into the heart of the DMZ. Things soon go terribly wrong, and Matty finds himself lost and alone in a world he’s only seen on television. There, he is faced with a choice: try to find a way off the island, or make his career with an assignment most journalists would kill for. But can he survive in this savage war zone long enough to report the truth?
The first trade is all about getting you, the reader, and Matty, our protagonist, acclimated to this brave new world. He builds friendships as he gets to know the players on each side of this civil war. In the second trade, shit gets flipped on its head as we learn not everything or everyone is what it seems. Expectations are reversed and Matty sees that it’s not about which side is right; it’s about the people stuck in the middle. His people. One of the great things about DMZ is Wood’s ability to stay impartial. One side is never portrayed as more evil than the other, or vice versa, and I think that’s where the power of this story truly lies. Shit, the entire story is summed up in the title. A demilitarized zone… that’s all it’s really about.