So here we are again, leading off with some corporate spandex that I just can’t quite quit…
Heroes in Crisis 3
by Tom King, Lee Weeks, and Clay Mann.
I remain torn on this book, but the sheer quality of the writing keeps bringing me back. And I’m really glad of that, because this issue is quite good. It shows us Sanctuary before the murders, revealing something of how the place worked, and digging deeper into why some of the patients were there.
Lagoon Boy, for instance, seems to be working through a combination of survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress. His mind loops constantly on an energy blast that killed a teammate, and nearly killed him, and we see him reliving that moment, over and over, in Sanctuary’s holographic therapy chambers.
This is a character who could easily be written off as a joke, but King’s taken the time to invest him with depth and pathos, and so his plight becomes genuinely affecting.
Even more affecting (for an old funnybook fan like me, anyway) is what King does with Wally West. Wally’s become a reboot victim, a once-popular character whose entire life was erased in one of DC Comics’ periodic punchings of the reset button. He was recently brought back, literally out of the ether, into a reality that’s been altered so that he didn’t exist except in some kind of half-assed meta-fictional manner. Some of his super hero buddies kind of remember him, but his wife doesn’t. And his kids don’t even exist anymore, except in his own memory.
Okay. Now, that hurts. That mixed expression of pain and joy on Wally’s face is just so… Good lord. I mean, look. I didn’t care all that much when they brought Wally back, and I cared even less about his kids. They barely seemed real to me in the first place. I don’t know that I’ve ever read more than a couple of pages with them, and even now I have no desire to go back and read any more. But, this…
Whoosh. THIS, I care about. This brings home the pain of Wally West’s situation far more truthfully than what I generally expect from a super hero comic. And that’s because King demonstrates his pain, rather than just having him yell about it. And two or three pages is all it took.
At least half the credit here, of course, must go to artist Lee Weeks, who drew all but two pages of this issue, and really brought home the anguish. Weeks has an ability to make his characters act that’s lacking in a lot of funnybook artists, regular series artist Clay Mann included. That’s fine for the recorded therapy session pages, where the various characters are more guarded, and there’s a sort of formal distance in the storytelling technique. But Weeks is a far better choice for when things get real, and it’s his talent as much as King’s that lands this issue such a very high grade.
Action Comics 1005
by Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook
Another fun issue of the kind of Superman comic I’ve wanted to read for ages. Bendis’ deft juggling of plot, character and dialogue continues to entertain, and though I’ve had the big secret of his “hidden mafia” storyline spoiled for me (lousy interwebs!), I’m still really enjoying the ride.
It’s funny, but you know what this reminds me of, as much as anything? The height of the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man run, with its series of mystery villains interspersed with the drama of Peter Parker’s personal and professional life. It’s also one of the few times that we’ve seen Clark Kent written like a reporter, and that’s a refreshing change. It’s hard to write Superman stories in the traditional super hero mode, just because he’s so powerful that physical challenges aren’t very interesting. So this focus on the personal and professional, of he and Lois finding a balance to their relationship, and of Clark going out to get the story, using Superman’s more subtle abilities to do his job better…
…is smart writing.
It’s also the sort of thing that might attract a wider audience used to thinking of Superman as kind of boring because nothing can hurt him. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that Action is being sold as the “quieter” of the two Superman titles, and might get buried in the hype of the louder, but less satisfying, Superman. But I suppose we’ll see.
And, hey! As long as we’re talking Bendis, we might as well move on to his two most recent Jinxworld titles, as well…
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
Four issues in, Pearl is pulling ahead as my favorite part of the Bendis renaissance. This is sort of a quiet issue, a time for fleshing out characters and filling in background, and as such it doesn’t call for as much of the stylistic gymnastics Michael Gaydos has been pulling in previous issues. Still, he keeps the talking heads interesting with his color work, draping a nighttime conversation in gorgeous deep purples (turned an unfortunately light pastel in the digital copies), going with shocking red for the entrance to the lair of the Endo Twins (who appear to be the real heavies here), and covering one of Pearl’s memories in swaths of what look like pale green watercolors.
So damn beautiful.
I mean, the writing’s good, too. It’s the high end of the Bendis Special, with naturalistic dialogue and solid character stuff in service to an interesting story. But it’s the art that really puts it over the top.
by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
I’ve been enjoying the Scarlet relaunch even as I lament the loss of the book it once was. It’s not a bad comic by any stretch of the imagination, you understand. It’s just not as interesting as it used to be. Or, to be honest, as interesting as “The Second American Revolution” really ought to be.
But this issue brought about a twist that I didn’t see coming, and suddenly I’m very interested to see what comes next. I won’t spoil that twist here, but it has the potential to open this book up in ways I was starting think I’d never get to see. There’s a “To Be Concluded” on the last page, but I hope that just refers to this stage in the overall story, and that next issue leads to bigger things down the line. Because the only other option I see for a single-issue wrap-up would be… disappointing. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 40
by David Lapham
I always say essentially the same things about this comic:
It’s wrong in all the right ways.
It’s got a large and fascinating cast around whom David Lapham weaves a complicated crime story with many moving parts.
It’s the best on-going funnybook on the stands today.
You’re a fool if you’re not reading it.
So let’s just assume I’ve said all that, and move on.
This issue draws most (maybe all) of the various Sunshine and Roses plot threads together and starts stitching them up. I’ve been getting a vibe for a while now that Lapham may be bringing this epic chapter of the larger Stray Bullets storyline to a close, and this issue gives me that feeling more than ever. Of course, that feeling may just be coming from the way he’s closing up the series’ most recent time loop, bringing all the various characters and storylines up to the same moment before launching off onto the next leg of craziness. I really don’t know which. And that’s exciting.
I should also make a call-out to a great sequence in which Kretchmeyer snaps, and something horrible happens. It’s pretty harrowing stuff, made moreso because of its implications. I don’t want to spoil it here, but as it turns out, Kretch is both crazier and smarter than I thought. Well… He’s smarter, anyway. I’m not sure the crazy really surprised me that much, to be honest, except for the weird sentimental streak it reveals…
But anyway, yes. It’s another mildly magnificent chapter in (it bears repeating) the best on-going comic on the stands today.
East of West 40
by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
This is another series that I’ve reviewed many times, and often said exactly the same things about:
Big cast, complex plot, beautiful art. Meanders a bit sometimes, but some of that may just be the complexity of it in combination with how long it’s taken to tell the tale. But epic. And fun.
So I won’t say any of that this time. Instead, I’ll focus on two details that made this issue extra-good to me. First… Out of all the stunning pages full of mood and action that Nick Dragotta has drawn in this issue, this one really stood out to me. Not for being bombastic, but for striking composition and subtlety:
Now, colorist Frank Martin is no doubt responsible for at least some of the subtlety, because that’s a marvelously delicate horizon up there, and that’s mostly due to color. But it also stands in striking contrast to the fiery swath being cut across the landscape by the action. It’s just a beautiful page that makes this issue a little better than normal.
The other thing I can attribute to writer Jonathan Hickman. In the closing pages of this book, War and Death (two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) face off in a conversation that pretty well dedicates each of them to the other’s destruction. Their confrontation is written in that laconic “Apocalypse Western” style that is this book’s stock in trade, and it’s fun to read, but that’s not what struck me about it. We don’t often see Death interacting with the other Horsemen, so I don’t think about this a lot, but it reminds me that this book is about an Apocalypse gone sideways.
The Horsemen were out and about in the world a full ten years ago, but Death betrayed and killed the other three for the love of a mortal woman. They’ve been reborn now, of course, with new bodies grown in some kind of super-science laboratory (which begs questions about exactly what the hell is actually going on in this book to begin with), and there’s a prophesy that says this was how it was all supposed to go down in the first place, so the Apocalypse is on again, maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that everything could have gone to Hell a decade ago, except for one thing:
Death chose life.
And that’s rather lovely.
by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren
Vampire wedding! Family bonding! New lives forged together! A happy day! With the promise of more happiness to come, because the bride’s already pregnant! So eventually, we’ll have a little vampire baby running around! All in all, a pleasant and wonderfully sentimental issue that puts the whole cast in a better place!
Dear god, this is gonna turn SO ugly…
Marvel Two-In-One 12
by Chip Zdarsky and Ramon Perez
The final issue of this book wraps up many of its main themes, dealing in large part with how hurt Johnny Storm has been that the rest of the team worked so hard to protect him from Big Emotional Decisions. But they come together as a family in the end, as families often do, with forgiveness and promises to treat each other better in the future. And they’re super heroes, so you know they mean it.
Of course, because they’re also long-running corporate-owned super heroes, these lessons will only stick until the next writer forgets them. In fact, if you read the main Fantastic Four comic running concurrent with this one (which, you know, is not something I’m remotely interested in, but more power to you if you are), it’s kind of like this book doesn’t even exist anyway. So I’m sure it’ll be forgotten super-extra-fast in this case.
Ah, well. This is hardly the first time a comic I liked got ignored after it was done, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But it was fun while it lasted. Though this book was seldom great, it had its moments, and turned out a lot better than I thought it would at the outset. So here’s to ya, Marvel Two-In-One! We hardly knew ye!