My continued fascination with things other than comics just keeps putting me further and further behind on reviews. So let’s play a bit of catch-up, shall we? FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!
Black Monday Murders 7
by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker
Every issue of this book seems to feature at least one scene of pants-filling terror. Not of the kind that haunts me afterward, mind you. But in the reading, there’s always some terrible something going on, a scene or an act that’s somehow imbued with dreadful weight. This time around, that scene takes up most of the issue, as Detective Dumas and Professor Gaddis enter the Fed and seek an audience with Mammon himself. An audience that’s pretty scary on first sight.
It’s not the visuals that make this scene so damn terrifying, though. Tomm Coker’s designs for Mammon and his court are cool, but I’ve seen enough Guillermo del Toro movies that they don’t have the shock of the new. They’re not so strange, in other words, that they’re truly terrifying in-and-of themselves.
So what does generate the terror? The fact that it’s happening at all.
I mean… We kind of knew it was going to happen. They talked about it last issue. But the ENORMITY of it just didn’t sink in. They’ve entered an entirely supernatural space, and are speaking with a GOD. THE god, in point of fact, the one the entire series revolves around. All the book’s various mysteries, all its secret codes and hidden languages and pacts of power, come down to the guy with the skull for a head, and here we are talking to him, just seven issues in to what I assume is going to be a pretty long run. That’s huge. And that’s what pushes it over the line from “scary” to “holy shit.”
The information they get from him helps, too. Because they learn nothing less than the supernatural history of the world here. Not every detail and nuance, of course; Hickman’s smart enough to leave at least some of the grand mystery intact. But we learn the origins of the Schools. We learn something of the nature of the White Watchers. We learn that there were once gods other than Mammon, but that he is now all that remains. And we learn that we… mankind… are his creatures, and that as we love ourselves, we love him.
Or at least, that’s the truth the way Mammon sees it. I do wonder how much of that truth changes with perspective.
But that’s a topic for a later time. For now, Hickman and Coker have pulled off a marvelous bit of world-building here, an info-dump of an issue that kept me fascinated even as it scared the crap out of me. That’s an impressive feat, one that continues to make Black Monday Murders one of the best reads on the stands today.
Head Lopper 7
by Andrew Maclean and Jordie Bellaire
We’re three issues into the “Crimson Tower” storyline here, and while I haven’t enjoyed it quite as much as the first arc, I do appreciate that Maclean is interested in telling different kinds of stories. I also think he’d run one hell of a D&D game, because this is the kind of dungeon-busting adventure that would have become legendary in my adolescence. It’s got everything: traps, puzzles, head games, temptation, death, weird monsters, and a final level that’s shaping up to be a one-two punch of swordplay and sorcery.
And that, right there, is this book’s main appeal: it tells fun stories in a cool way. Andrew Maclean is able to breathe new life into old formulas not by breaking them, but through sheer force of creativity. He surprises and delights, presenting us with threats and situations that feel familiar, but that aren’t quite like any version of them you’ve seen before. And if you know more or less how it’s going to end… that’s okay. Because the ride is so very good.
by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren
This issue ends the first arc of Donny Cates’ Texas vampire epic, and it does so with a bang.
I knew this wasn’t going to end well, but I must admit that I was kind of surprised to see Cates blow his initial set-up into quite so many pieces. Grampa (evil old bastard that he is) goes out in a blaze of glory and the Bowman family is forced to flee their home and go into hiding.
In spite of that, though, this issue still felt a bit… slight. Not much actually happens in it, and there’s not a whole lot going on with the characters, either. It was just… an ending. I enjoyed it, and I’ll be back next issue, but it just felt like there maybe should have been more.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye 11 & 12
by Jon Rivera, Gerard Way, and Michael Avon Oeming
You know, this is NOT the best comic on the market. It’s disjointed, and its reach often exceeds its grasp. It’s trying to tell a dimension-hopping generational saga with a multitude of characters and a complex plot with lots of moving parts. And as that, it doesn’t entirely succeed. A re-read might convince me otherwise, but right now I’m not sure the last four or five issues have really made a lot of sense. I mean, I understand them. But they seem to be missing some connective tissue. I’ve had this constant feeling that I missed something. A page here and there. Maybe an entire issue. But I don’t think I did. I just think certain plot points never got established the way they should have been. Everything’s there. But some of it gets discussed matter-of-factly, like it’s something the audience is supposed to know, even though we’ve never heard it before.
It’s annoying. Normally, it’s the kind of sloppy writing that would make me stop reading. But then I get a page like this…
…and suddenly I don’t care anymore. I’m not going to try to explain what those things are. I’m not even sure I could. But any comic that’s going to give me something that crazy, on such a regular basis, is a comic I have to read. I won’t go so far as to say that it’s glorious failure, because I think maybe ninety percent of it works. But the ten percent that doesn’t gives it a slightly queasy feel. It’s a fever dream. A drug trip. “Making sense” is not high on its list of priorities. And I’m okay with that.
Lazarus: X+66 #3 (of 6)
by Greg Rucka and Justin Greenwood
So this book’s title requires a bit of explanation. It’s a mini-series, set in the world of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus, in which our calendar has been renumbered from X, the date of the corporate takeover of the world. So “X+66” means it’s been 66 years since society was reordered into the modern-day feudalism of the series’ dystopian future.
(That this event is being given as much weight as the birth of Christ is something that was lost on me until this mini-series started. I mean, I understood the dating method. I just hadn’t considered the importance of it until this series made me stop and think.)
At any rate. The X+66 series exists primarily to give Lark a bit of a break in-between story arcs of the main book. Lazarus is a lot of work for him, a mixture of research and world-building that’s taken its toll over the past few years. So while he recharges his batteries, Rucka and a team of guest artists are telling stories about various supporting characters and locations, fleshing out the world beyond the violence and intrigue of the main storyline.
For many series, this would just be filler. Flimsy, unimportant stories without weight or impact. But, Rucka being Rucka, X+66 is anything but. It’s moving important subplots forward while giving us insights into the characters and institutions that form the backdrop of the book. The first two issues showed us the inner workings of the Daggers (House Carlyle’s elite commando unit, under direct command of Forever Carlyle, the Lazarus of the title), and of the Morray Family (a house allied to Carlyle, but whose allegiances are slipping as the world falls into war). And now, in issue three…
Well, hell. Here’s the recap page to tell you exactly what issue three’s about:
It’s also about a growing resistance movement among the Carlyle Serf population, a simmering back-burner plotline that I’m sure will rise to prominence somewhere down the line. But more importantly, it’s about rank and privilege, and how people react to those things once they have them. It’s about “red state” self-reliance and “blue state” community. It’s about working for things as opposed to being born to them. And it’s about how all those things intermingle, the pressures they cause, and the breaking points they drive people to. We don’t see that breaking point in this issue, but we see the shape the fissures are taking along the way. And that is fascinating.