This is AICN COMICS! I’m Ambush Bug . We’ve got a ton of cool reviews this week. Enjoy!
Shortest intro ever.
(Click title to go directly to the review)
HUMAN TARGET TPB
NEW THUNDERBOLTS #1
THE GOLDEN PLATES VOL 1
SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY TPB
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON VOL 1
100 BULLETS #55
HUMAN TARGET (TPB)
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Edvin Biukovic
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
(NOTE: This is the first in a series of four reviews that will spotlight Vertigo’s cult hit, THE HUMAN TARGET, following the collections chronologically to see what makes the series tick and whether it’s worth your hard-earned comic bucks)
There’s a striking action sequence early in the pages of this trade:
The Reverend Earl James, a slightly paunchy black minister with graying temples, is in the midst of delivering a rousing sermon condemning the apathy that allows drugs and gangs to control his neighborhood. “There is no God!” he shouts, “Unless you! And you! And you! And every one of us…brings God into our lives!” Strong words, but the gangbangers that rise up from the pews with Uzis in hand don’t give a shit – they just want to blow away this thorn in their side.
And that’s when the Reverend Earl James reaches into his vestments, whips out twin 9mm pistols, and starts double-gunning the ‘bangers like he’s the second coming of Chow Yun Fat! Damn, man, for lovers of oddball action, this is about as good as it gets. And yet for all the Reverend’s leaping and shooting, the numbers are against him…until the congregation rises up like a tide and wrestles the hoods to the ground.
It’s all part of the plan of one Christopher Chance. He’s the white, middle-aged, gray-templed master of disguise who assumes the roles of men targeted for assassination (in this case, the Rev) in order to draw out their killers (the ‘bangers). Like Tom Cruise in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, he’s got the wicked-cool masks that’ll fool anyone, but unlike Cruise, Chance’s forte is getting so into his subjects’ heads that he literally becomes them. It’s a dangerous game that can leave the “real” him feeling devoid of personality after the charade is over, but it also means his reading of people is so acute that he felt safe even when he was being shot at – certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the congregation would rise up based on the speech he wrote while fully in “Reverend mode” and staying with the Reverend’s wife in the days prior to the sermon.
Staying…with his wife?
Yep, Chance actually spends several days as the Reverend before the Sermon, forgetting himself to the point that he starts to put the moves on the missus until she reminds him: “No. Not that. We agreed.” And that’s the first sign that this series, courtesy of writer Peter Milligan (SHADE THE CHANGING MAN, X-STATIX), is going to get unconventional. The concept of THE HUMAN TARGET, certainly gimmicky on the surface, goes back to an action/mystery back-up feature from DC’s ‘70s books. Unless you’re over 40, you’ve probably never even heard of it - and that’s fine. The Vertigo version is very much its own thing, starting only with the same premise before taking the story in a much more psychological direction.
One of the story’s major complications is that the aging Chance has taken on a protÃ©gÃ© who’s even more intense at the role-playing than he is. His protÃ©gÃ© can actually intuit secrets from the lives of those he imitates, secrets they’d never tell him up front. And his post-imitation crashes are far worse than Chance’s. His marriage is falling apart, and fascinatingly, his form of self-destruction is to slip into stereotypical personas after a mission. “I’m paper thin, Chris,” he explains to his mentor after his “fighting Irish” heritage exerts itself and he picks a fight with two Brits. “I’m two-dimensional, but what I lack in depth I make up for in width.” Weird! Snappy!
Ultimately too Byzantine to lay out here, and I wouldn’t spoil the fun twists for the world, but it involves secret indiscretions on the part of the real Reverend, a violent gang leader, a female assassin and the man whose face she permanently scarred, and the significant others of just about everyone. There’s sex, there’s violence, and at times the identity-swapping is so intense that you almost need a scorecard…but not quite.
What propels the story forward is the fact that the identity-swapping is always in service to revealing some facet of these charismatic players. I don’t know if I buy the psychological underpinnings of it all, but I really don’t have to – it feels right for the characters in this particular story and has enough pulp potency that psychological accuracy is a minor concern at best. Milligan’s tone is pop – think USUAL SUSPECTS or OUT OF SIGHT - but his exploration of identity is universal in spite of the trappings. He’s using the glamour of genre to look at what makes us who we are and what qualities we might derive from proximity to others (including the ultimate proximity – replacement).
Along the way, it’s one sharp, memorable scene after another. Great set-ups and pay-offs, and I can’t fail to mention the stunning artwork of the late Edvin Biukovic. His spare mixture of realism and minimalism calls to mind David Mazzuchelli and set the stage for the stylists to come on future HUMAN TARGET projects. He draws a mean cinematic action sequence, too, but I think it’s his consistency that has to be complimented on a project like this. His clean-line characters are all instantly distinct, so vitally important with HUMAN TARGET’s broad cast and many disguises. Biukovic makes it look effortless and Lee Loughridge’s subtle, muted colors are the icing on the cake.
HUMAN TARGET is one of those Vertigo titles that I’ve looked in on periodically, but never quite thrown myself at whole hog, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Esoteric action’s right up my alley, the players exceed the novelty premise, and the art is too cool for the frickin’ room. I can only figure I was maybe confused as to which trade to start with. I know they’re all pretty standalone, but with one reprinting the original mini (reviewed here), another being an original graphic novel outing, and two collecting the current monthly series…a touch confusing for anal comic readers like myself.
But, hell, just try one! This first outing, simply titled “HUMAN TARGET,” is a great starter, and we’ll be looking at the original graphic novel, HUMAN TARGET: FINAL CUT, next week. I’m a bit behind, but man…diggin’ the homework!
NEW THUNDERBOLTS #1
Fabian Nicieza: Writer
Kurt Busiek: Voice of Reason
Tom Grummett: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Having Flashbacks
The more things change…
Eight years ago, Marvel published a company-wide crossover event that left New York in shambles, the Avengers splintered, and many heroes dead. All this was in facilitation of a new number one issue for Avengers (among other titles.) And yet, it was the story of a group of super-villains conning the world that quickly stood out as the best Marvel book of the 90’s. And now, the Disassembled storyline has left New York in shambles, the Avengers splintered, and heroes dead, all this leading up to NEW AVENGERS. But first out the gate is a revamped THUNDERBOLTS book and it’s easily the best pure superhero comic Marvel is currently publishing.
After being released from prison, Mach IV (the former Beetle,) has reformed the T-Bolts as a means of helping other two-bit superpowered thugs find redemption. With him are the now depowered Atlas, and his girlfriend Songbird. Their first new member is the Blizzard, last seen drunkenly bemoaning his status in that other great new series She-Hulk. It’s little touches like this that make this a fun read.
But it’s the appearance of Captain Marvel that’ll probably have people talking. Not just because such a great character is continuing on after the cancellation of his title, but also because his presence brings out a huge fanboy moment from Atlas. I don’t mean that I loved it as a fanboy, but that Atlas SOUNDS like a fanboy. The scene between these two is an excellent commentary on hyperbolic, overblown Internet commentators (like, for example, us,) who are resistant to change. Personally, I’m in agreement with the big guy on the destination of this particular subplot, but it sure as hell looks to be a fun journey there. And that’s what’s important, isn’t it?
Then there’s the element that makes THUNDERBOLTS, past and present, the book that leads Marvel creatively: the twist ending. The final page of this issue is the best surprise I’ve seen in a Marvel book since… well, since the final page of the previous THUNDERBOLTS #1. It leaves you shocked and astonished. It has you questioning the motives and choices of some of the best characters in the book. It has you rereading this issue a dozen times in impatience for the next. I’m more interested in the fallout from this page than anything else coming up from Marvel.
I love redemption stories. I love the idea of villains becoming heroes. And I love, absolutely love that the best concept to come out of the 90’s has returned. This is going to be a blast.
THE GOLDEN PLATES: VOL 1: THE SWORD OF LABAN AND THE TREE OF LIFE
By Mike Allred
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
I should begin by saying that I am not a Mormon, nor do I know much of anything about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I know they have lots of kids, and they build pretty awesome-looking temples, and their missionaries harass me while I'm waiting for the subway. I've had a few good friends who were practicing Mormons, and they were nice people. I'm sure they are still nice people, but they are no longer around to tell me what they think of THE GOLDEN PLATES, Mike Allred's self-published adaptation of the Book of Mormon. So I have nothing to offer in the way of comparison for the source material of THE GOLDEN PLATES; it's all new to me. And I want to be clear that I'm reviewing a comic book, not the material on which it's based.
I picked up this book for a couple reasons. First, because I like Mike Allred's work, and I am curious whenever an artist puts their career on the line because of their convictions. Taking time out from more commercial books such as, most recently, X-STATIX, to do a religious work that is likely to take years to finish, that's either pretty nuts, or pretty gutsy. (For the curious, parts of the book suggest the latter, and some the former). I also picked it up for the fantastic element, hoping to enjoy it for the reasons I enjoy, say, LORD OF THE RINGS, or HIS DARK MATERIALS, or THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Besides the religious message, which I'm not going to touch in this review, the element of the miraculous is appealing to just about everyone. So how does the first volume of THE GOLDEN PLATES hold up for someone who is neither familiar with nor spiritually attracted to the material?
Not well. The trouble is that this story, this volume of it at least, doesn't really cry out for visual interpretation; there's none of the metaphorical splendor and imagination of Greek tales and biblical stories - it's pretty straightforward stuff. THE GOLDEN PLATES follows the family of Nephi as they flee from Judah just before the Israelites are conquered by the Babylonians, although we don't actually see much of the fleeing or any of the conquering. There is one beheading, a magic tree, and an angel, but for some reason none of these are very exciting. The characters are all very religious, but they come across as awfully unemotional and you don't get to know much about any of them. There finally comes a nice visual sequence at the end of the book that culminates in an image of a great dark evil enveloping the world (the "whore of the world"). This was a great page from Allred, and it leads me to think that if he could more freely interpret the material this would be a much more interesting book. Unfortunately, it's more of a museum piece, following the ancestors of the church from A to B to C.
Still, the art is pretty great. I've said often that Allred's artwork just gets better and better, and in many ways he has outdone his work on X-STATIX here. But what I focus on the most in THE GOLDEN PLATES is Laura Allred's wonderful coloring work, which really makes the book. When you look at the collaboration between Laura and Mike Allred you realize how much more there is to the coloring process than meets the eye. Laura's vibrant, vivid colors make a bunch of people standing around in a desert just beautiful to look at.
THE GOLDEN PLATES is an interesting project despite its limitations. I can't see myself following it, but I imagine that Mormons will be thrilled to see their faith getting such careful attention. For the rest of us, it's not much more than a curiosity.
SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY TPB
Kurt Busiek: Writer
Stuart Immonen: Artist
DC Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Kneeling before Zod
Imagine you’re a kid growing up in a small town in Kansas. Imagine that your parents, in a fit of lunacy, decided to name you Clark when their last name is Kent. Imagine growing up in the shadow of a fictional character, always getting Superman memorabilia as gifts, being teased at school. Imagine not wanting anything to do with Krypton, Smallville, or anything related to this other Clark Kent. Imagine all of that.
Now imagine waking up and discovering you can fly.
A simple premise, no? And yet, Kurt Busiek has managed to turn it into one of the single greatest Superman stories I’ve ever read. Although, I suppose calling this a Superman story is a bit disingenuous, since it’s not REALLY about Superman. It’s not an Elseworld, after all. Nor is it an ASTRO CITY style comic, although it does have that sort of feel. No, this is something in between, an examination of Superman via proxy, while placing him in a real world context. That’s the trouble with innovative stories; there are no preexisting labels you can use to describe them.
Part of what makes this book so much fun is all the little beats that Busiek uses that somehow work in a real world context. If you discover you have Superman’s powers, are you going to use them while dressed as a ninja? No! You’re going to dress like fucking Superman! There’s also the moment where Clark meets his Lois, a scene that could easily have derailed the whole story, but manages to work wonderfully, specifically because she isn’t Lois Lane. In fact, other than her first name, she’s nothing like Lois Lane. As for Clark, yes he’s a writer, but he’s a novelist, not a reporter. Both these characters are their own people, more than just Lois and Clark.
There is a subplot, one that I know put some of my fellow reviewers off this series, where the Feds are tracking young mister Kent in an effort to capture and study him. While this bit is initially a familiar device, it does develop into something different. But more than that, it’s only a subplot. The driving force behind this series isn’t some government mouse hunt; it’s the life and hardships of Clark Kent. And as an aspect of his life, these elements work.
But what puts this series over the edge, what makes the story that much better, is Stuart Immonen. The art in this book glows. Every nuance is a beauty to behold. Each panel feels like a splash page. Superman has never looked this good, especially in flight. Every image of a flying Superman is filled with an ethereal joy like I’ve never seen before. This is some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen in a book from DC, and it’s quite possibly Immonen’s finest work ever.
This is the best Superman book that will come out this year. This is the best TPB that will come out this year. This may, in fact, be the best damn story to come out this year. From its simple beginning to its poetic end, this is going to be a comic people will remember for a long time to come.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Feels the need to be avenged: Ambush Bug
I grew up on the AVENGERS. My first AVENGERS comic was drawn by George Perez. The issue number and most of the details are hazy, but it’s a pretty famous issue; a “quiet issue,” taking place I believe right after the “Korvac Saga.” The Avengers had just become government sanctioned and Henry Gyrich picked a new roster for the team which had grown to an enormous size, which even included the Guardians of the Galaxy. Seven members, including Captain America, Iron Man, Wasp, and Yellowjacket were chosen for the new team. The last member chosen was Black Panther, which pissed Hawkeye the hell off because he had been excluded from the list. This “quiet issue” was a nice break; a pause in the momentum for our heroes to sit back, reflect, and plan what was to come next. It was a great issue because it showed how this team came out of a crisis, pulled it all together, and moved on.
In theory, AVENGERS FINALE is the same kind of issue. The Avengers have suffered a major blow after Scarlet Witch’s betrayal. Many lives were lost and the Avengers as we know them cease to be. But looking back, I have to ask, what did the Avengers do exactly in FINALE? Well, they did pretty much the same thing they did during this entire “Chaos” arc; absolutely nothing. Bendis has made a career of stories of inaction. Think about it. Matt Murdoch has had a lot of struggles during Bendis’ DAREDEVIL run, but none of them have been of the physical kind. Any and all conflicts are resolved through lengthy conversations and melodramatic mope-fests. There are too many word balloons in the panels for the characters to move around. This type of “quiet issue” has become the norm for Bendis books. It used to be that you needed a “quiet issue” because the issues prior were so intense, so action packed, so chock-filled with adventure, that a pause was necessary to take a breath for both the team and the reader. Unfortunately, in a Bendis run, there are so many breathers, it’s more like getting an obscene phone call than reading a super hero story.
For some inane reason, Bendis chooses to go the route of inaction instead of pushing the envelope with these amazing characters. For the entire “Chaos” arc, the Avengers stood around with their mouths agape like rank amateurs as teammates died and their team was destroyed. I know Bendis can write action. He does it every month in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, but for some reason he has sworn off any and all forms of movement shy of standing around and yapping in this series and many others. FINALE was even worse because it followed an entire arc of the Avengers standing around and doing nothing with an entire issue of the Avengers standing around and doing nothing. Case in point: In FINALE, Quicksilver shows up, having missed the brouhaha with his sister’s betrayal (more on this idiocy later). Was Quicksilver off fighting the Speed Demon across the globe? Why no, that would be way too exciting for a guy who runs fast, wears tights, and fights evil for a living. Quicksilver was in a cabin reading a frikkin’ book when all of the “action” took place. How many layers of lame is that?
Apart from the sheer ineffectualness Bendis blanketed over the entire Avengers team during this arc, there is a laundry list of things wrong with FINALE and to go into each and every one would make this the longest review ever. One thing I have to address is the sheer audacity Bendis has to rewrite entire sagas of Avengers history and explain it all off on his go-to explanation that Wanda’s “reality altering powers” were the cause of every little inconsistency. She-Hulk hulks out? Scarlet Witch’s fault. Quicksilver showing up in FINALE and acting as if it was his first time hearing about all of this even though he was featured throughout the entire the arc? That darn Wanda! AVENGERS #503 being released a week late on the shelves? Oooooo, that Witch (all of the Avengers shake their fists to the sky)! Screw the fact that it pisses all over years and years of stories by some of the best writers in comics. This is just piss-poor writing. It is one thing to write a story and, as you go along, explain what happened and why. But to have a story filled with holes the size of Bendis’ ego explained away after the fact with one single go-to line (It must’ve been Wanda’s pesky reality shifting powers again.) are tell-tale signs of half-@$$ed thinking while half-@$$ed writing this whole half-@$$ed thing. Now that’s a lot of half-@$$es.
One thing I must admit is that this issue is filled with some of the most talented artists in comics today. Throughout the story, various artists supply splash pages of famous battles throughout Avengers history. It’s a decent montage worthy of adoration if not for the dialog behind it all. Each Avenger goes around citing their best moments. Each memory ranges from ridiculous to tacky. Bendis tries to explain away the fact that most of the Avengers reciting each favorite moment weren’t even present during the action taking place on the page, but it just falls flat in the end; as if a bunch of artists drew their favorite scenes in AVENGERS history and then Bendis tried to plug each Avenger into each splash page half-hazardly. Avengers like the Falcon say they saw the events on TV or in Wonder Man’s case, wasn’t even alive during Scarlet Witch and Vision’s wedding, but for some reason this is their most memorable moment as an Avenger. In the end, it seems like Bendis is just trying to shove a square peg in a round hole by attempting to fit these Avengers into flashback splash pages that they weren’t even a part of.
The most atrocious of offenses is the Jarvis flashback, where he looks back fondly upon the siege of the Avengers Mansion. I’m paraphrasing, but Jarvis’ basically says, “Remember that time when the Masters of Evil attacked the mansion and they beat me to an inch of my life and I almost went blind and died? Remember that? Good times…” Jarvis sips his tea politely, “good times…” Why in holy hell would Jarvis pick this moment to be his best? Jarvis ends this skip down memory lane by saying that this was a “lovely day.” Give me a break.
The final few pages of FINALE were the most effective. The Avengers come up from their dinner in the ruins of the Avengers Mansion to find their front lawn crowded with fans holding a candlelight vigil to show the team that they love them. It is a touching scene drawn by the master of Avengers art, George Perez. The scene is all the more touching because it is the only few pages of the book where the writer shuts the hell up and doesn’t drown the page with word balloons or captions of Bendis-speak. I must admit the scene got me a bit misty, but what follows is what really made me loathe this book from the paper it was printed on to the staples that fastened it all together.
That’s the end of the book.
The Avengers decide to quit and disassemble. As they leave they see hundreds and thousands of people holding a candlelight vigil honoring them and those they have lost. Instead of taking inspiration from these people who look at them as heroes and decide to press on; keeping the team together despite insurmountable odds, “our heroes” still decide to stick to their guns, break up the band, and walk away. “Thanks for coming out, folks. We appreciate the support. We all have to go now, though, because the writer wants to get Wolverine and Spidey and “big guns” like Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, and Sentry on the team. Buh-bye, now.” As if Bendis hadn’t made the team ineffectual enough, he gives one last sucker punch to those who followed the REAL Avengers throughout the years by making them tuck tail and run when the going got tough and the public needed them the most.
FINALE was a final insult in a stream of offenses Bendis has put upon the Avengers, the creators behind those classic stories, and any person who picked up an issue of the series prior to this “Chaos” arc. It’s probably too late to warn people about this arc, but any fan of the Avengers or good comic book writing in general should avoid Bendis’ new over-hyped follow-up, THE NEW AVENGERS like the plague.
ANGELTOWN #1 (of 5)
Writer: Gary Phillips
Artist: Shawn Martinbrough
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
Over the last ten years, the crime genre’s proven to be pretty durable for comics. Notable entries including SIN CITY, JINX, 100 BULLETS, SLEEPER, THE HUMAN TARGET, STRAY BULLETS, and even Brian Bendis’s DAREDEVIL. The Vertigo imprint, in particular, has done right by crime stories, but I’m not so sure its latest outing is gonna end up on the hit list…
ANGELTOWN is a hardboiled mystery set in the ubiquitous crime locale of Los Angeles, its opening sequence clearly meant to parallel the first act of the O.J. Simpson case: cops investigate screams at a mansion in Brentwood, uncover the dead white ex-wife of a famous black sports star, and media chaos ensues. Said sports star is a b-baller in this case rather than a football champ, but even so I was getting bad vibes from the get-go for the heavy-handedness of the parallel. And yet…Hitchcock’s excellent flick ROPE was based heavily on the Leopold and Loeb murder case – savvy execution can absolutely rescue a torn-from-the-headlines potboiler, right?
Alas, ANGELTOWN lacks the panache to turn a familiar story into a memorable one. For most of the ride, it’s very conventional, with our leading man (a detective) on the trail of the ball player even as criminal elements plot to beat him to the punch. His name is Nate Hollis and he’s a typically macho P.I. - tough enough to knock the crap out of a few thugs when they jump him, but human enough to need a few stitches for his efforts. Again, fairly conventional detective stuff; the fact that Nate’s a black P.I. is one of the only unusual elements of the story.
Well, actually, there’s one other thing that stuck out. I don’t want to use a word so loaded as “misogynistic,” especially for an entry in the genre famous for its femme fatales, but…good lord, I haven’t seen this many ditzy babes and faux-empowered female sex objects since the last Top Cow book I read! For instance, there’s a montage of public reactions to the murder with one bubbly young babe enthusing, “Gosh, I’m sorry she’s dead or whatever. But I don’t think he did it like they’re saying. I mean, so what if he liked threesomes and she didn’t. Like me and my friends would totally do him.”
One such incident and we’re just talking bad dialogue, but…
A page or two later and Nate is officially put on the case by a high-profile defense attorney who just happens to be…a gorgeous woman and his former lover. Who knew attorneys flashed so much cleavage?
A page or two after that, we meet someone else on the case…a gorgeous female bounty hunter! No law against that, per se, but I kind of think the addition of her lipstick lesbian girlfriend pushes the character into the realm of fantasy (“Come on, Gina, don’t pout, even though it makes you irresistible”).
And then there’s the ball-player’s side girlfriend from whom Nate cons some info posing as a writer for a MAXIM-type magazine. “You’ll mention me to the art director?” she asks. Later, as Nate’s leaving an apartment, the landlady he talked his way past whispers at him, “You fine stud you.” And then he goes to have rough sex with his gorgeous newspaper publisher girlfriend.
It’d almost be funny or fun or something if the story were propelled forward by the same hyperbolic style of a comic like SIN CITY, but in most respects ANGELTOWN is a by-the-numbers outing, right down to the detective being haunted by an unsolved case (the murder of…his father!). Outside the bimbo treatment for the ladies, it’s not particularly bad, but it’s not particularly good, either.
I did enjoy Shawn Martinbrough’s art, though. He’s a pretty powerful cartoonist, his characters both naturalistic and starkly defined with heavy lines. Reminded me a touch of Howard Chaykin by way of Phil Hester, and I was especially happy with Nate’s design, his short-brimmed hat giving him an iconic air.
That’s about all I have to recommend, though. Unless writer Gary Phillips ends up finding something startlingly original to say about the nature of celebrity crime or he pulls of a helluva twist, ANGELTOWN won’t be joining the list of Crime Comics You Need To Own.
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON VOL. 1
Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir: Writers
Jennifer Quick: Artist
Oni Press: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Transported to Another Realm
One of my favorite types of stories is the old “fish out of water” tale. Okay, not so much out of water as a fresh water fish thrust into the ocean. Stuff like Mark Twain’s CONNECTICUT YANKEE, Disney’s TRON, FARSCAPE, BUCK ROGERS, Adult Swim’s INU YASHA, even the Paul Dini scripted DUNGEONS & DRAGONS cartoon. There’s just so much fun to be had by thrusting a contemporary character into a fantastically unbelievable situation. And with this book, the above list just got a little bit longer.
Young Aselin Finn has a wonderful life, with kind and loving parents who encourage her imagination by read to her every night. Then one day her father is killed while on a business trip, and Aselin’s mother gets rid of all the fantasy in her daughter’s life. And so, Aselin lives a drab, normal life. Until she finds herself in a curio shop, staring at the sequel to the book her parents used to read her. Taking the book home with her, she quickly finds herself sucked into the world of her childhood stories.
No, I mean that literally. She’s physically sucked into the pages of the book.
I wouldn’t dare reveal the twists and turns that follow, but lord, are they fun. Aselin’s interaction with the characters of her childhood stories makes for some great moments, as does her response to how this world has changed in the ten years since she last heard the story of this kingdom. She quickly finds friends in the bandit Cassidy, a tough bandit girl who’s the daughter of a hero from Aselin’s childhood story, and Will Redding, the author of the new book.
With the bulk of the main characters being female and several of the males being dashing men in shining armor, there’s a temptation to classify this as a girly comic, and maybe it is. But it’s also a smart and funny comic. Aslen is more than capable of handling many of the situations she gets caught up in. There are also several FARSCAPE style gags, with Aslen referring to a rather inhospitable town as a “Wretched hive of scum and villany,” then later getting past one challenging moment by referencing the third Indiana Jones movie.
It’s not often that a story manages to feel both epic and free spirited. It’s a narrow path to walk, but this title looks like it may have what it takes to go the distance. Between this book and Scott Pilgrim, Oni’s original digests are quickly becoming some of the best comics on the market. Any of their recent releases are worth picking up, but this is probably the most bewitching place to start.
100 BULLETS #55
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Reviewer: Sleazy G
100 BULLETS is a tricky book. Eduardo Risso’s art is absolutely fantastic, and Brian Azzarello has a great ear for dialogue. When somebody asks me to describe it or tell them what’s going on, though, I always freeze up. There’s so much going on with so many characters that sometimes I feel like I need to pin a chart to the wall and map it all out. That’s not a bad thing, really—a broad tapestry of a story with lots of little connections to be made—it’s just that it’s hard to summarize, and sometimes it’s hard to get all the important little details right.
Basically, there’s a mysterious guy who turns up periodically, offering various people a briefcase with a pistol, 100 bullets and hard evidence of somebody who’s screwed them over hard. They can choose whether to go after the guilty party, walk away, or do whatever else they want. If they get caught by the cops, they’ll immediately be set free with no record of the crime existing, which is pretty handy all things considered. This setup has led to some interesting choices by the screw-ups, dumbasses and schmucks who get the briefcases. It turns out there’s more to the offer, though: it’s actually a recruitment ploy to test out potential employees. The job? Become a soldier in a centuries-old battle between crime families. It turns out that several families decided long ago to work together and recruit soldiers to maintain the peace. This has fallen apart, as all such things do, and the situation has turned rather bloody.
The current story arc sees some of the key players—two tough old bastards named Graves and Shepherd—end up having their paths cross in N’awlins. We also spend a lot of time with Dizzy Cordova, the chica who was the focus of the first story arc in this title and who also appeared in the first story about Wylie Times as well. She thinks she needs to protect Shepherd from Graves and Wylie, but she may be wrong. Or not.
That’s the “B” story, though. The main story for the last few issues has followed Wylie Times. Wylie was a dipshit slacker who had an arc a couple years back. Turns out he’s also a sleeper Minuteman who doesn’t remember his past. He’s got a serious beef with Shepherd, since Graves gave him the idea Shep killed Wylie’s girlfriend. While in Louisiana, Wylie’s had Shepherd tied up to a chair in a hotel room planning on capping him. Wylie and Dizzy are also accidental witnesses to a murder committed by someone Wylie knows, which isn’t making things any easier.
So what made this storyline grab me around the throat? As is often the case with Azzarello’s work in this title, it’s not the main characters. That’s not a dig, mind you—it’s just that the supporting cast in each arc is usually just as interesting as the main players. You also never know when a secondary character is suddenly going to turn out to be the piece the entire story turns on, either, which has already happened twice in this particular arc. The guy who committed the murder Wylie witnessed, for example, was actually a pretty decent guy in the first four issues of this storyline. He was the closest thing to a friend Wylie had, and now he’s got to take Wylie out. He seems genuinely conflicted about it, but knows it has to be done.
There’s another supporting character in this arc, though, that I’ve grown rather fond of. His name’s Martin, but he goes by “Gabe” after the archangel Gabriel because he plays his horn so exquisitely. Gabe’s an ugly, hunchbacked old black guy who gets little respect—except from the hottest girl in the area and Wylie. Gabe seemed like just another backup character for the first few issues in which he appeared. When he told Wylie the name of one of his songs—“Blue Day For Croatoa”—everything changed. Wylie lost it, decked Gabe and put his hand through the wall of the bar. Wylie feels shitty about it later and apologizes to Gabe, but asks Gabe if somebody else suggested the title—which they did.
That’s when I started to piece it all together. Near as I can tell, it turns out this whole arc is about waking Wylie up. “Blue Day For Croatoa” was apparently a trigger to begin to snap Wylie out of whatever brainwashing he was subjected to. His Minuteman personality is slowly resurfacing, just as Graves intended. When Wylie’s got Shepherd tied up in the hotel, he’s in a suit, just like the Minutemen usually are. In all the other scenes, he’s not. I’m pretty sure that’s because it takes Wylie finding out Shepherd is responsible for his girlfriend’s death, along with the murder and violence he encounters in this arc, to shock his system enough to bring him back. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, though. For example, in the past it’s seemed pretty clear that Graves and Shepherd were at odds with each other. It suddenly looks in this issue like there’s more to it than that, as they appear to be working together towards a united goal with Dizzy, though what the goal might be is still obscured.
I can’t wrap up without singling out Dave Johnson’s exemplary work. He turns in fantastic covers month in and month out for this title. I wouldn’t even know how to pick the ones I felt most worthy of praise for their design because so many of them are so perfect, and because he has such a unique style and approach. Whenever I’m in the store and there’s a new issue of 100 BULLETS, I know which one it is because it jumps off the shelf at me. This month, though, deserves special notice. It’s one of the most chilling covers I’ve seen in a long time. The image of Dizzy’s face and torso painted like those masks from Mardi Gras or the Day of the Dead is perfect. I love the way the features of her face are painted more clearly while her outline and her hair are more blurry, giving the illusion of depth. In a long line of classic covers, this one really stands out.
It’s no surprise to anybody that this is a violent book. There are those who find it too intense or gritty. I’m not sure “gritty” covers it. This title is a grim, relentlessly brutal look at the ugliness that waits around every corner of every street in America today. This issue, though, was the first I read that really punched me right in the gut. The last four pages contain the saddest, most horrific thing I’ve seen in a comic in a long time. After getting to really know and care about a character, we see the only thing that matters to them taken away forever. I’ve looked over those pages a few times since, and they still packed a wallop. It’s a situation where just shooting somebody wouldn’t have been so bad, but to have the only thing that gave them purpose snatched away is a cruel, cruel trick—exactly the kind you’d expect from this book.
So is this the book for you? That depends. If you’re somebody who needs your comics to leave you happy, or feeling like you know who the good guys are and that they’ll always be there to do right, this may not be your thing. If you’re like me, though, sometimes you need a book that makes you feel like it’s not just you—there are a lot of people out there getting screwed over by life’s vicious little twists. If you like the kind of stories that make you feel sucker-punched, the kind where the protagonists are out of options so they do the only thing they can, the kind that leave people saying “Forget it—it’s Chinatown,” then this is probably the book for you. Track down the rest of this arc, or wait until it hits in trade paperback since DC is really good about collecting the series. It’s an ugly, dirty old world these characters inhabit, but it’s one I’m happy to visit every month.
CHEAP SHOTS!SHE HULK: SINGLE GREEN FEMALE (TPB) - Not since RUNAWAYS has a new Marvel title so captured the love of our little band o’ reviewers! Seriously, y’all – not a harsh word to be heard. Writer Dan Slott brings the funny, brings the sexy, brings the Marvel continuity, and even brings a little *sniff sniff* heart. Check out glowing reviews here, here, and here, or just save yourself some reading and buy the dang thing. Juan Bobillo’s uber-quirky art rocks too! - Dave
IDENTITY CRISIS #6 - Another issue of IDENTITY CRISIS, another issue of big revelations that will seriously change the DCU as we know it. And I’m not talking about the big reveal at the end of the book. The fact that Batman was mind-wiped, along with some major baddies in the DCU, by the Satellite Era JLA was a major shocker. I had a feeling of utter dread, as if the JLA had turned a corner that they could never take back, when they made their decision. Writer Brad Meltzer captures the horror and emotion of this scene perfectly. Rags Morales art is the best thing out there today; crisp and clean, but with a style that has become all his own. There’s a particularly Peter Lorre-style of creepiness to Rags’ art in this book. Like it or not, this book is setting the stage for the DCU of the future. It is an important series, written by someone who is actually giving his all as far as writing goes. Unlike AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED, this event has a writer artist team who are trying 100% to make this the most entertaining, most shocking, and best super hero book out there. In my opinion, they have been succeeding with flying colors. – Ambush Bug
WALKING DEAD #12 - Yay, the cast is pared down to manageable numbers! Some folks are dead, others left behind as our leads hit the road in their RV, but the important thing is that I can mostly keep track of everyone again. As the issue opens, tensions are rising between our regulars and the head of the farm they’re staying at. And you’ve gotta sympathize with the farmer – he blames the newcomers for opening his barn o’ zombies, getting a few of his kids killed, and sleeping with his daughter. It’s all a little awkward, so after a tense stand-off the gang decides to move on. Kirkman’s writing teeters between naturalism and overwrought melodrama, but his strong ideas and individual scenes are keeping me onboard. The instance of a kid almost pulling the gun he’s been trained to use during the aforementioned stand-off was one of the issue’s highlights, as was the general sense of despair as the group begins to run short on food during their time on the road. And another promising cliffhanger! – Dave
THE SAINTS #3 - Chicago-based creators David Lee and Gilbert Monsanto tell the tale of a team of Chicago-based teen super heroes. THE SAINTS has a nice premise centering on a city in need of super heroes and a team of super powered teenagers in need of a purpose. These characters are fun and exciting. The story is filled with more spandex clad super heroes than most mainstream books. THE SAINTS reminds me of a time before words like self-awareness, deconstructionism, cinematic-pacing, and grim ‘n gritty were requirements for all comics. This book has got a lot of potential. Email Saturn Comics for more info. – Ambush Bug
GOTHAM CENTRAL #25 - I’ve got no love for the “Batman: Wargames” crossover that just wrapped, but I was pretty happy with this issue of GOTHAM CENTRAL reflecting the post-Wargames status quo. The deal is this: not only is Batman on the outs with the Gotham cops, but he’s being actively targeted by them for capture. If I dwell on the connection to the morose events of Wargames, I lose my interest, but Batman’s been on the outs with the law in the past, and if I read the story as simply a realistic look at that from the cops’ point of view…pretty good stuff. Rucka shows the mixed reactions to the Bat-signal being taken down from police headquarters (the mayor wants it to stay up to promote tourism), divisions between cops like Crispus and Montoya over whether Batman was more hindrance than help, and a quiet face-off between Batman and Commissioner Akins that has a touch of the DiNiro/Pacino face-off from HEAT. It’s a strong stand-alone, and if there are folks out there who did enjoy Wargames but don’t regularly read GOTHAM CENTRAL, I hope they’ll look to this issue as a good jumping-on point. -Dave