Phonogram #2 (Image): I feel as if I could gush unendingly in my adoration for this title. But let's take our musical cue, risk running an analogy into the ground, and go "unplugged" style, stripping the review down to its minimalistic essentials. Authentic. That's the word that continually comes to mind when I ponder Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's modern masterpiece. Behold the cross-hatching technique of those buildings in the rain on page 3. Can you feel the shiver in your bones as you stand there illuminated by the streetlight? Behold the nostalgic, regretful rumination of "It's like seeing a girlfriend you used to go out with, grown up. Except instead of the dirty creature you did unspeakable things with, she's the trophy wife of a used car salesman. But through the snips and saline bags, you can still see a little of the girl staring back." Those words are lived in, man. They're real. Only real vision and experiences breeds shit like that. And of course, an issue of Phonogram isn't complete without an analysis of music's permeation into the Zeitgeist. My favorite approach to this collective consciousness commentary surrounds Kohl's respect for Kid-With-Knife's role in the grand scheme of things: "He does grinding hips with girls in clubs and I do intricate vivisection rituals on pop songs to better understand their totemic powers." If I was using numbers, I could turn the 1-to-10 dial up to 11, Spinal Tap style. What a shame the grading scale I'm using doesn't go higher than Grade A+.
The Escapists #3 (Dark Horse): Brian K. Vaughan is a great writer and any one of his titles could be cited as a brilliant example of engaging, well paced, high drama. The Escapists could very well be his most intriguing work yet. It's all of those things, *plus* a heaping dose of industry insider commentary. We see well played comments on critical feedback, media coverage, Diamond orders, and are treated to some delicious 4th wall breaking moments in the tradition of Ferris Bueller. From a panel to panel storytelling standpoint, Vaughan knows exactly how to hit a story "beat," as evidenced by that silent panel on page 9. Really, amateur writers should study that page and that panel to understand what a story beat is and how you can use the duality of the comic medium (look Ma, words *and* pictures! together!) to convey emotion. As if that wasn't enough, he goes on to depict a brilliant sequence as the creators are inking their pages, that combines "story-within-a-story," the 4th wall conceit, and allows us to hear the creators voices through their creations, as they're being created. It's just brilliant and innovative and strikingly original. Case remains my favorite character, she is simultaneously visually cute and has a cute personality to boot. Look at the way she invokes Spiegelman's Maus to support her statement, but innocently doesn't know that it won the Pulitzer Prize, since she was only "like two years old when it came out." Grade A+.
DMZ #11 (DC/Vertigo): A very savory flashback issue that is emotionally powerful, captures a different softer side of supporting character Zee, and rewards readers by providing details that preceded the first issue. The insightful narration from Zee sets up the current world of the Free States of America and Manhattan Island as the DMZ, along with suggested psychological motivation for why some stayed behind. Riccardo Burchielli seems to be the perfect guy to illustrate this series, but Kristian Donaldson's bold, thick, angular style also seems quite at ease amid the fraying city and crumbling social order, serving as precursor and seamless transition for the war torn cityscape and bleak surroundings that Burchielli so perfectly captures. Grade A+.
Wasteland #3 (Oni Press): As the post-apocalyptic tale slowly unfolds, we're treated to the introduction of yet another band of humans traversing the barren landscape. And what a treat it is, on all levels. Artistically, Mitten's pencils are evolving into a more refined style with some very interesting camera angles and perspective shots. From the wispy column of smoke to their one-page introduction, the caravan is bold and impressive visually. From the mystery of what's truly going on in Newbegin, to the troubling familiarity of "Michael The Lost" and Sultan Ameer, to what's the caravan really carrying, I'm totally hooked. News of Carla Speed McNeil pencilling issue 7 (and assumably other one-shots) is just icing on the cake. My, won't a page of Wasteland original art look handsome next to her framed Queen & Country pages up on my wall! Grade A.
Ex Machina #23 (DC/Wildstorm): Another great plot-thickening issue, Tony Harris' art never looked better. But the piece-de-resistance is the two-page, highly unexpected Morrison-esque cryptic conversation with a dog that looks like it came straight out of Animal Man, The Invisibles, or Doom Patrol. No explanation. Loved it! Todd Wylie calling the Mayor with a hot lead only to have his call interrupted sure feels like a bad omen to me. If I was a bettin' man, I'd say he's meat! Grade A.
Casanova #4 (Image): In typical Casanova fasion, I remain conflicted. There are some nice remixes of pop culture hoo-ha in here, and clever nods to the industry like "how brave, how bold," along with a Last Gasp reference. But then there is the grand feeling of unfocused exposition. Sometimes it's brilliant, like the concept of Sabine Seychelle being a grown up (and twisted) Johnny Quest, where brilliance has led to apathy, apathy transformed into decadence, and decadence became evil. Really, that's just plain brilliant. But sometimes, it's downright self-indulgent and self-congratulatory, like 5 whole pages of notes from Fraction commenting about his thought process and how cool the art of collaborator Gabriel Ba is. Do I actually like this title, or do I just put up with it because the format is a steal for only $1.99? The jury is still deliberating. Grade B.
Agents of Atlas #2 (Marvel): On one hand, I like the way Parker continues to weave this into continuity with references to The Eternals and Wakandan history. On the other hand, it seemed to lose the fun energy, exuberant vitality, and action-oriented vigor that the first issue had. Feels like we're in a holding pattern of "all middle" (to borrow a phrase from the guys over at Comix Experience) until the next issue or trade collection chugs forward. Grade B-.
52: Week Nineteen (DC): A few things jump out at me here as worthy of note. Fun to see Kory wearing the top of Animal Man's suit. At first I thought they hooked up(!) but then quickly remembered her costume was shredded in the Lobo encounter. Cool he offered it to her and just wore his leather jacket (all off panel). With a New Gods reference, the relevant question doesn't seem to be *where* Starfire, Animal Man, and Adam Strange are, but *when* they are? Everyone seems to think Supernova is Mon-El (Superman). Interesting to be thrown off and have Cassie think it's Kon-El (Superboy), which is given some additional credence in the coming issue spot since Supernova appears to be looking at Jason Todd's shrine in the Batcave. The "new" Booster seems to be going to the DC One Million era(?) with an unexpected and underhanded Skeets intervention. Lobo's extended scene still feels misplaced and becomes a pejorative influence. I apologize to the audience that isn't reading this title or isn't up on DCU continuity. There's just no way to explain what's going on in this title in a tidy little sentence or two sound byte (especially since I myself don't even really know what's going on!). Still feels like a grand mess, but there are hints here that it may all connect at the end and make some sort of sense. Beautiful Animal Man origin story with Brian Bolland art. Grade C+.
Civil War Files (Marvel): As troubling as most "files" editions usually are. Written by committee, they're mildly interesting and passionately inconsequential (or "passionately ambivalent!" as my comedic guru Stephen Colbert would say). All in all, it bears little bearing on Civil War and is a mere smoke-and-mirrors act that overwhelms with a disgusting degree of detail and useless factoids. While some entries almost hit the mark (Cable w/ references to Tabitha in Nextwave, Falcon, and a tongue-in-cheek Hercules come to mind), most fall flat and are impossible to endure. Tony (and by extension his "side" in the conflict) is *still* not portrayed as a sympathetic character, but a cold (check out his inhuman reaction to the Human Torch being hospitalized), manipulative (enticing Peter with a "toy" and then tracking him without his consent), waffler (admitting he was against the revealing of indentities when he wrote The Avengers charter). So far, the most compelling argument for pro-Registration I've heard was not in a comic, but directly from Joe Quesada at the San Diego Comic-Con. Essentially, he said that if there were "guys with M-16's standing in the doorway right now in black fatigues, faces covered, weren't affiliated with the goverment, and told you they were there to protect you, oh and by the way, they're teenagers... wouldn't *you* want to know who the hell they were and ensure they'd received proper training from the Federal Government?). Sadly, this argument, a clear and concise, very sane, logical, and understandably convincing course of thought has been desperately missing from any of the related books. And for the 97th time... is it SuperHUMAN Registration Act or SuperHERO Registration Act? I'm tired of seeing it both ways (multiple times in this single book!). Get it straight or come out and say they're synonymous. A very attractive McNiven cover bumps us up to a Grade D.