Hey, what’s that under this pile of old rags? Why, it’s a stack of funnybook reviews!
East of West 7, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
So it’s taken me til now to realize that the current East of West arc is a series of character studies fleshing out the secondary cast. What can I say? I’m a little dense sometimes. Hickman’s playing it smart, though, advancing the main plot a little bit at a time while also using these characters’ stories to flesh out the world around them. He’s defining his apocalypse piecemeal, without resorting to tedious exposition, and it’s working out nicely.
This issue’s all about Ezra, the Keeper of the Message, whose life shows us one way the Horsemen have lead the world to its end. Spared from death by an earlier incarnation of Conquest and raised as her son, Ezra was suckled on blood and lovingly driven to become an agent of the end times, the true believer who presides over the council of powerful men and women who are helping bring about the Message (the prophesy everyone seems bound by). Conquest obviously loves Ezra, even as she (in our eyes) twists him into something horrible.
It’s apocalypse as religion, as virtue, as a positive value. The more Ezra becomes an instrument of the Message, no matter how tormented that might make him, the prouder she is of him. This stands in sharp contrast to Death, who’s decided to buck the Message and circumvent the apocalypse in the name of love. Love for his wife, and now love for the son he thought was dead. No wonder the other Horsemen betrayed him: Death bringing about life just seems like a conflict of interest.
And, oh yeah: if, like me, you’ve been confused as to why one of the Four Horsemen was “Conquest” rather than…
Nature Boy Ric Flair– I mean… Pestilence. Yes. Pestilence. If you were confused by that like I was… Read your Wikipedias. Though it’s really a scholarly interpretation (three of the Four not being named), the original Biblical configuration of the Four Horsemen in Revelations has them as Conquest, War, Famine and Death. Pestilence doesn’t come into Revelations at all, except with a mention that the Horsemen will kill by “sword, famine and plague.” I haven’t been able to find an explanation for the origins of Pestilence as one of the Four, but that seems the more popular combo in pop culture, and was in fact the only one I remembered before I finally decided to look it up.
There’s also some interesting stuff in there about the Famine of Revelations being caused less by natural forces and more by manipulation of the food supply. But we’ll get to that when and if Famine gets her East of West spotlight. For now, all that’s left is to rate this issue…
Fatale 18, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
The current arc has seen an amnesiac Josephine living a life of hedonistic freedom with a struggling rock band, to disastrous effect. It’s been a story designed to reveal the real depth of Jo’s unguarded power, I think. We’ve seen her incite the devotion of all the male band members, as you’d expect. And it was pretty chilling last issue when one of them drowned himself in the toilet after trying to rape her, just because she told him to.
But, as much as all that demonstrates new depth and range to her terrible attraction, I think I’m most amazed by a more subtle use of the power: she inspires the band’s songwriter to cure her amnesia. We saw her seduce him an issue or two back, for reasons she herself didn’t seem entirely clear about, and we’ve seen how she’s inspired him to start writing again. But the song he produces is an expression of pure creation so powerful that it conjures up memories unbidden in everyone that hears it.
The song sweeps her up, makes her want to be purely herself, and that opens the floodgates. She dances in the band’s new video, fairly shimmering with the power, and incites the room into a violent orgy with her at the center. It’s a transcendent sequence, the climax of her freedom coming as the memories flood back in and she realizes what she’s done. All because of a song she inspired. Without asking for it. Or even knowing that’s what she wanted.
Somehow, that’s even more terrifying.
Trillium 4, by Jeff Lemire
I was mightily confused when I got to the end of this issue. Events race along at an intense pace, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong, and then… The End.
What the hell?! I thought we still had at least two more issues here! Either I missed something, I thought, or this series has been an exercise in futility. There’s no sense of closure, nothing makes much sense, and characters who previously had at least some small degree of nuance suddenly become cardboard cut-out action movie assholes. The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got. It felt like somebody had pulled the plug on the book, and Lemire had tried… and failed… miserably… to wrap it up in one issue. Even the artwork looks rushed!
I was ready to sit down here and rip this book a new one. Comparisons to Lemire’s execrable work on Frankenstein and Green Arrow were welling up, and I was just about to let fly with the vitriol. And then…
I went on-line looking for a picture, and also found the covers for Trillium 5, 6, and 7.
So… evidently, there’s more.
There had better be.
The first three issues were too damn good for it to end with this mess.
Which makes it difficult to grade this one fairly. On the one hand, I worked myself into a lather over, apparently, nothing. There will be more, in spite of that “The End” tag. But on the other hand… The art really does look rushed, and there’s no big mind-blowing imagery to save it this time. A couple of characters do slip into cliché, too. And that’s disappointing. Unless that’s a ruse, and it’s all in service to something better down the line. We shall see. But for now it gets a…
Uber 7, by Kieron Gillen and Caanan White
This book, on the other hand, I think I’m done with. I’ve been enjoying it, understand. And it is good. But as it’s gone along, I’ve started to think that it’s not four dollars good. For that price point, I expect a story that excites and amazes, and artwork that dazzles the eye. Uber, instead, merely entertains. The story is well-researched but a bit flat. The art’s never more than pretty good. It’s a solid B / B- sort of book. I like it. But not at this price point.