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Stopping to Smell the Roses: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

East of West 31
by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

east-of-west-31

So East of West has become one of those books whose quality I sometimes take for granted. It’s been around a while, and I always enjoy it. I’m always happy when I get a new issue in my hands. But when I read it, I’m often complacent about it.

“Ho-hum, another thoroughly enjoyable funnybook. This is good, this is good, blah blah blah.”

That’s how I was reading this issue. It continues the story of the Union’s increasing dissolution, expanding that plotline by introducing a cell of rebel fighters…

dragotta-east-of-west-31-rebels

…getting to the heart of a conflict we’ve previously seen primarily from the top-down.

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It’s a clever storytelling choice, one that puts a human face on the common people’s resistance to the machinations of the Machiavellian bastards who comprise the main cast. I followed that development as a matter of course, never really slowing down to appreciate it. I mean, of course Hickman made a good writing decision. I would expect no less. Move on, move on, next page, next page.

And I continued to plow through pages as Hickman and Dragotta developed their rebels, establishing each of the four brand new characters we’ve never seen before with ruthless efficiency. Each has a distinct voice and a distinct look. A distinct personality that makes it easy to tell them apart as they go about their business on the raid of an arms shipment vital to bolstering the Union’s faltering government. We get to know each of them just enough to care, just enough to want to know more. But I didn’t really stop to take notice, or to admire the masterful way the creative team was establishing them.

In this book, they might be throw-away characters, ephemeral enough to serve their purpose and move on. Or they might be important new cast members who’ll have a major impact on events going forward. I’m still not sure which they’re meant to be, even now. And that is great. It means that East of West doesn’t wear its formulas on its sleeve. It deals in uncertainty and surprise, two things I greatly admire in my genre fiction. But did I appreciate that as I was reading? Not one whit.

If nothing else, these new characters serve as an idealistic counterpoint to the cast of jaded fucks who’ve carried the series to this point.

dragotta-east-of-west-31-misery

(Case in Point…)

Now, they’re almost certainly tools of one of those jaded fucks, their anger being whipped into a frenzy and their idealism being taken advantage of toward the purposes of someone playing a longer, and far more cynical, game. In fact, if I looked back over the last few issues, I’d probably know who was doing it. The Union has many enemies, and more than one of them is running a long con. At least one character at the heart of the Union is working for at least two different masters, if not three. So it’s a complicated web of deceit we have here, and these idealistic young rebels are pawns in it. Their sacrifices (and, as you can see above, the rebels are in even worse shape than the Union itself) are of the final kind. So it’s idealism without hope. Or at least, idealism with only the blackest sort of hope at its heart. The hope that, if they have to die, they’ll at least take their enemies with them.

And that, at last, is what made me pause. Not the complicated web of deceit. That, I’ve come to expect. But the sacrifice… The sacrifice made me sit up and take notice. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. But, maybe because I was so complacent… or maybe because I was so unwittingly caught up in the effortless spell Hickman and Dragotta were weaving… I didn’t see it coming. And it’s big. Really, really big. With the promise of more on the other side.

And that, yes, woke my ass up. Made me stop. Smell the roses. And appreciate what a really fine comic this is.

Grade 4 Star

The Wicked + The Divine 26
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

mckelvie-wicked-divine-26

If East of West is this sturdy edifice of quality storytelling that I don’t always appreciate as much as I should, Wicked + Divine is the opposite: a stentorian blast of pop comics that I appreciate maybe a little more than I should.

Not that WicDiv isn’t good. It very much is. It has subtleties and depths that I haven’t always given it credit for. The character writing is often superb. But it’s also a bit shallow at times. Maybe more shallow than I think. And because my opinion of it has fluctuated so much, I tend to pay attention when I’m reading. I want it to be as good as I suspect it might be, so I’m always looking for stuff that proves it. I don’t always find it, mind you. But I never take it for granted.

Take this issue, for instance. It’s really just some fighting…

mckelvie-wicked-divine-26-fight

…and then some talking about the fighting…

mckelvie-wicked-divine-26-talk

…and then some defining character moments that aren’t entirely surprising.

mckelvie-wicked-divine-26-sakhmet

But I was engaged with every panel, looking for hints and clues and surprises. And I got one or two. One page that’s too spoilery to share made me hate Sakhmet even more than I already did (and that’s pretty impressive). It also made me dislike Laura (our main character), piling on top of the stuff from last issue that also made me dislike her. But then I realized why she’d done what she did, and that left me conflicted. It left her conflicted, too, though, I think, so…

I don’t know what to think.

And that, much like my uncertainty over the role of the young Union rebels, is glorious.

Grade 4 Star

Jessica Jones 5
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

mack-jessica-jones-5

Brian Bendis is another writer I have a habit of reading too quickly. His stuff, especially these days, tends to be light and breezy, and I just blow through it. But this issue… This issue, Bendis did one of those Bendis things, and–

No. Not writing a lot of fractured conversational dialogue.

I mean, he did. Of course he did. He’s Bendis. But that’s not what I’m talking about. He–

No, not that, either. He doesn’t ALWAYS joke about D-Man, after all, and–

gaydos-jessica-jones-5-d-man

Oh. Oh, yeah. He actually DID make a D-Man joke. I mean, that’s leading somewhere, and we’ll get back to it in a minute. But that’s not what I’m talking about, either. It’s–

No! He didn’t lose focus five issues in, and let his whole story go to crap. That wouldn’t be very surprising at all at this point in his career, so I wouldn’t make it the hook for this whole review. What he did was–

No! Gahd! He didn’t conveniently ignore some fine point of continuity in order to tell his story, either! He did the opposite, in fact. But that’s not precisely what I’m talking about, either.

This is a Bendis thing you have to go back a ways for. Back before Avengers and all the other corporate spandex books that made so many old-school fanboys hate him. Back when he was writing knock-out funnybooks month-in, month-out. Back to the early days of Powers and, yes, Alias (the book that this one is the sequel to). What was it? This:

gaydos-jessica-jones-5-conspiracy

The Conversation/Interrogation/Revelation That Flips the Whole Story on Its Head. It’s a standard (alright, cliché) of the mystery/detective genre, of course, but Bendis, at one time, was a real master of it. He wrote gripping scenes that turned the story in directions you weren’t expecting. Directions that, when he was really on, turned the story into something other than what you thought it was.

This one’s not quite THAT good. I mean, the crazy conspiracy theory doesn’t come entirely out of left field here. We already knew that Jessica was working for a woman whose husband was convinced that he was from an alternate reality. Which, you know, would probably be a common belief among paranoid schizophrenics in a super hero universe. And that guy Jessica’s talking to above? That’s the husband. Who’s just killed his wife and drunk her still-warm blood. So he’s definitely crazy.

But also? That event he’s referencing? It’s not actually a crazy conspiracy theory. It’s Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and Secret Wars. It really did happen, and (to the best of my knowledge) it’s been very unclear how many people remember it in the new universe that got cobbled together in the aftermath. But knowledge of that, I think, really could drive the common man crazy. And, hey! Jessica’s pretty common! So when he really gets into his argument…

gaydos-jessica-jones-5-multiverse

…it makes her reflect on her own life. Which makes her reaction entirely understandable.

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And that carries her (getting back to that D-Man scene) somewhere I definitely wasn’t expecting.

gaydos-jessica-jones-5-betrayal

Now, I’m not 100% sure whether Jessica’s really so pissed off that she’s willing to sell out her best friend. I mean, it’s possible. This series certainly opened up with Our Heroine in a situation that made me wonder if they were using the Secret Wars reset button on her. And she does have a history of nihilistic self-destruction that might just make that “nothing matters” philosophy appealing to her. But it’s more likely, I suspect, that she thinks this anti-super-hero group that’s trying to recruit her pushed that poor schlub over the edge as a way to get to Jessica herself. She could easily be blaming herself for her client’s death because she took the case when she was working undercover on another case that she knew would be dangerous to anyone connected to her. So now she’s moving forward as quickly as possible, dangling out the big prize to wrap it all up and put these bastards down.

But I’m not sure.

And that uncertainty makes me like this book a whole lot more than I did a month ago.

Grade 4 Star

Doom Patrol 4
by Gerard Way and Nick Derington

doom-patrol-4-montage

I almost didn’t buy this comic. I’ve been on the fence about this series since issue one, and was on the verge of giving up. There had been some individual cool concepts, but they weren’t quite adding up. The whole was equal to less than the sum of its parts, and I found that I didn’t really care whether I read another issue of it or not. But then I saw that awesome black and white montage cover, and decided to give it one more try.

I think I’m glad I did. Because, while this book still isn’t setting my world on fire, at least now I feel like I have some grasp on what Gerard Way is trying to do. It’s always been obvious that he was shooting for high weirdness in the style of the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol, but Way’s high weirdness just wasn’t… I dunno… weird enough? It was certainly strange, but not in a way that I found very interesting. It wasn’t alien enough by half, and nothing in it especially freaked me out, which I felt like it was supposed to be doing.

But I had no “what the fuck?” moments with it. Nothing happened that made my eyes go wide and my jaw drop. I was never made uncomfortable, or stunned by how messed up anything was. It wasn’t wickedly clever. Or wicked at all, really. It was just kind of… whitebread strange. Reassuringly odd. And that’s not something I’m all that interested in.

Nothing changed on that front this issue. I mean, there was a cool moment with a tape player made of meat…

derington-doom-patrol-4-meat-tape

…and that’s kind of squidgy-awesome. But for the most part, the books’ still just sort of amicably weird. The difference is that now I finally understand the plot, so all that friendly strangeness just becomes not-entirely-unpleasant background noise to a story that I have a grasp on.

And it’s not a bad story. Danny the Street made a person, and that person’s gotten a little damaged along the way. But not in the usual angsty “WHY?!?!!” manner of most super hero funnybooks. No, she’s damaged more in the way real people are damaged. They’ve got problems, but they cope, and they don’t turn into incredible assholes because of it. There’s something refreshing about that. Something… hopeful. And I like it.

I don’t know if I like it enough to keep paying four bucks a pop for this book. But I do like it. And that’s more than I could say before.

Grade 3 Star

Hillbilly 5
by Eric Powell

powell-hillbilly-5

I ain’t got nothin’ particularly clever to say about this book. But it came out a couple of weeks ago, and I’d feel bad if I didn’t say nothin’. It ain’t the best issue of Hillbilly. But it’s still a damn sight better than the most of that spandex crossover comic bullshit you’re probably readin’. So pick it up! Git you some culture! Ya damn fool!

Grade 4 Star

Ether 3
by Matt Kindt and David Rubin

rubin-ether-3

This one’s been out a couple of weeks, too, and I’d feel even worse if I didn’t mention it. This book’s got just the right mix of charm and attitude, in both story and art, to make it one of my favorite things on the shelf right now. It’s stylish and fun, a sharply-designed fairy tale mystery with magic and steam, appropriate for children but complex enough to keep an adult’s attention, too. The best kind of all-ages funnybook.

Grade 4 Star

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About Mark Brett (395 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

2 Comments on Stopping to Smell the Roses: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

  1. Someone at work recently told me about East of West and I want to give it a try!

    Like

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