DMZ #56 (DC/Vertigo): I’m still on a bit of a high from a book I picked up at SDCC, Fluorescent Black by M.F. Wilson, Nathan Fox, and Jeremy Cox, so it was fantastic to get another issue of DMZ by Nathan Fox. And Jeremy Cox. Yep, Fox and Cox. Dynamic Duo. Wilson, the living embodiment of Chinatown, has been a quirky favorite character from the moment he appeared in Brian Wood’s tale. There’s some debate here as to whether Wilson actually is Chinatown in terms of the identity and survival of this entire New York sub-culture, or if he’s simply a caretaker and represents a broader sense of the resiliency of New York. What’s clear is that Wilson is a prime example of a character with a stoic sense of inborn fatalism, understanding that ideas are more powerful than individuals, and he remains a man of principle. Anyone who can torch that chopper and dump the gold is operating at a different level than the average ostensible “crime boss.” Wood’s script is full of the small bits of realism I enjoy, lines like having “a Bradley on every street corner” when this is all over reverberate with a gleeful sense of researched believability. Nathan Fox is such a treat. For all of the terrific artists that have worked on DMZ, I’ll take a stance and say that he is my favorite. His scraggly bold lines provide a dynamic sense of purpose. For the first time, I’ve seen him shift his artistic style dramatically as well, portraying the flashback scenes as washed out memoirs that position Wilson as a constant presence that’s attempted to preserve the sovereignty of Chinatown’s somewhat insulated way of life. Grade A+.
Daytripper #9 (DC/Vertigo): I still like Daytripper immensely. I think it will certainly be one of the year’s best books and I’d put it up against just about anything else coming out right now as an example of a fresh imaginative take that is arguably better than anything else on the stands. If you’re waiting for the “but,” then good on you. I’m concerned that Daytripper is now suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and can’t decide exactly what it wants to be. In the first few pages, it seemed convincing that the Brazilian Brothers were going for sort of a Dickensian “Ghost of Christmas Future” motif, with the woman on the boat returning from a few issues prior. The floating baskets seemed to represent slices of the alternate lives that we’ve seen in each issue. I liked that idea because it gave the book an anchor to spin all of the alternate realities out from, and the audience a foothold. Yet by the end of the book, Bras seems to be in some type of ethereal purgatory style limbo or dream world. Remembering it was a Vertigo book, I half expected Lord Morpheus to show up and indicate that Bras was a character in The Dreaming, standing alongside Merv Pumpkinhead and Hob Gadling, or some other Neil Gaiman creation. Judging from those last few pages, it seems he might not be alive at all, simply “a dreamer” who envisions aspects of a possible corporeal life. I still like how Daytripper emphasizes the journey over the destination in life, since the destination is ultimately the same for every one of us. And the story is still quite interesting, but I hope some definitive paradigm is selected in issue 10 so that I won’t feel as if the saga has suffered from multiple personality disorder. Also, Dave Stewart. Coloring God! But, this idea of a “perma-dream” that Bras can never wake from pushes me out a bit. I kept thinking about a couple of movies I like, What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, and Darren Aronofsky’s impressive The Fountain, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (and obviously the Graphic Novel by Kent Williams that was, well, it's a long story, the original script inspired the book after movie plans were scrapped, the book then inspired the movie as a sort of proof of concept... can you say "Development Hell?"). Anyway, both of these films had a highly malleable sense of reality too, but at the end of the day there was one “primary reality” that anchored each, that all of the other fantastical, time and place shifting possibilities sprang from. This provided a sense of grounding that I hope Daytripper ultimately utilizes, otherwise the audience might feel just as lost as Bras was in this issue. Grade A.
Northlanders #31 (DC/Vertigo): It seems to me that a lot of Brian Wood’s work is marked by generational tension, as a conflict with “the old ways” clashes against an influx of current trends. Ingrid and Erik are stuck right in the middle of such a religious clash which pushes them out of their societies. Some of the uhh… “medicinal properties” of the plants Ingrid finds reminded me of Warren Ellis’ Wolfskin due to their influence during battle. There’s a subtle tinkering with the notion of control here, the Christians seek to control the Norsemen, the goddess seeks control of Erik, Ingrid and Erik seek control of their unfettered destiny, etc. I like how Wood is always careful to place things like magic, science, and religion on a continuum of human understanding. The Norsemen’s very way of life is threatened here and it seems that Erik is the heart, Ulf the brain, and Ingrid more of the soul of this culture. Since it’s a longer arc, it reads like middle, and will certainly be better when collected, so not much to say at the moment, how do you review the second chapter of a book in isolation from the rest of the story? But for now… Grade A.
Invincible Iron Man #29 (Marvel): For years, the media has been popularizing the rise of video game style warfare in the modern age, and Matt Fraction finally shows us a very literal interpretation of that in this issue. He manages to keep many story balls in the air this issue, the Hammers making their move, Rescue rising to an operational level, the drive to build two repulsor-tech cars at Stark Resilient, the odd sexual tension between Maria, Pepper, and Tony, a spoiled romantic moment between Pepper and Tony, Maria Hill still being pissed at Rhodey and Tony’s thoughtless showboating, Tony making a shockingly bold grab at a Hammer, and a totally screwed political link at the Pentagon. It reminded me of an old essay I read by writer Chuck Dixon when he wrote Nightwing for an extended period in the late 90’s and early 00’s. He had a very disciplined approach to storytelling with multiple plot threads. He stuck dogmatically to this process of introducing one new thread every issue, continuing 2-3 ongoing threads, and concluding a thread, so that the overlap continued to pull readers from issue to issue. That’s my long-winded explanation of how I see Fraction doing the same thing here, digging in his heels for a long creative haul. I think artist Salvador Larroca has taken a lot of heat online for his art style and overt use of photo-referencing. I think that, overall, he’s steadily been improving and the last year has shown marked improvement, almost to the point of shedding all the negative attributes he was accused of, but unfortunately I think he really fell down on this issue. It feels very off. There are quite a few examples of wonky proportions, incorrect perspective, and some very stiff, unnatural, and awkward character poses. Everything appears flat dimensionally, with some pretty lifeless inks and colors. I want to reiterate that I don’t feel this has been the norm for Larroca, despite being in the minority on that opinion, but this issue will certainly give his detractors some ammunition for their tired inflated argument. Grade A-.