2.24.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #35 (DC/Vertigo): If Bruce Springsteen’s folksy heartland rock songs from about 1973 to 1982 (yeah, basically everything prior to the commercial success of the Born In The USA album) could be a comic, then they'd manifest as Scalped. Writer Jason Aaron frequently cites Springsteen as an influence and you can feel it dripping off the pages here. It reverberates with the same poetic swagger that showcases the glimmers of grandeur found in the every day struggles of American life. Steve Wands’ lettering deserves a special nod for visually fueling the dual-running inner monologues. Jason Aaron’s script is illustrated this time out by Croatian phenom Danijel Zezelj, whose work from his own REX, all the way to Warren Ellis’ Desolation Jones is always concerned with visual grit and decay intertwined with complex social implications, so it’s right at home in this story about “Listening to the Earth Turn.” I enjoyed the idea of one’s social outlook being reflected in the distance they live from the imposed town on The Rez. Even though this story is filled with plight, it flirts with being hopeful, and touches on a really sweet old married couple. I won’t spoil it completely, but the passage that ends with “but I ain’t never done nothing as hard as this” nearly broke my heart. It’s interesting to see that The Rez is an accelerated microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the country; the top 1% of the population live in total excess, while nearly everyone else slips toward the poverty line, with the rapid elimination of the middle class, and there’s a nice juxtaposition of these extremes depicted visually with the casino sign on the periphery of the story involving our protagonists. If you’re new to Scalped with this reflective standalone story, then it serves as the perfect introductory sample, riddled with the same tone, themes, aesthetic, and importance that the title usually dishes out. If for some uncouth reason you’re not reading Scalped, well, then you’re missing out on one of the best books the medium has to offer. It’s been a classic in the making since its inception, so you might as well jump on now, so one day you can say you were there. Grade A+.

Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1 (Avatar Press): I’m not sure what it is about the coloring work at Avatar Press, but this is the second example of me liking the original pencils more than their fully colored counterparts. The first time I noticed it was when I really enjoyed Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani’s book Aetheric Mechanics in black and white, but was then disappointed with the visuals they delivered in the full color Ignition City. This time out, I’m reminded of Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres’ prior collaboration Crecy (in black and white), which I enjoyed just fine, but now seeing the same team on Captain Swing (full color), I’m not as engaged visually. I don’t have a hypothesis as to why this is yet; it’s merely an observation that appears to be growing toward a trend. While the solicit would lead you to believe the whole book takes place in Caceres’ “woodcut style,” it’s actually just the cover spots and a few random pages. Overall, the book plays like more of a “secret history” than an alternate history with a steampunk-y vibe that marries Victorian trappings with accelerated anachronistically out-of-place-in-time (Ellis says “uchronic”) technology. It’s easy to see how Swing’s use of electricity and a primitive sort of taser round would be viewed as magical or phantasmic to a period lay eye. I really enjoyed the seedy underbelly of the London Metro Police force and their opposing antagonistic agency The Bow Street Runners, who play the MIB/X-Files role quite well. There’s a bit of incongruity with describing the uniforms as “long coat with stiff high collars to fend off garotte,” but then depicting them visually as short Chinese-style collars. That aside, the action is interspersed with mysterious historical notes and narration in a very well-balanced point-counterpoint fashion. Captain Swing manages to capture the energetic sense of wonder and retro-bleeding edge science that underrated 2006 films like The Prestige or The Illusionist had, and judging from the initial installment, looks to be one of Ellis’ better works. Grade A.


2.24.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #25 (DC/Vertigo): As Brian Wood’s title hits the quarter century mark and enters that elite cadre of Vertigo titles, we’re reminded of his research intense style and flair for dialogue. Northlanders operates ostensibly within its historical trappings, but relies on a modern sensibility to make it more accessible and identifiable with a contemporary audience. We see the sad demise of Thorir as Hilda’s seemingly only ally, the Gunborg/Boris tension intensify, and Gunborg inciting a blitzkrieg style coup d’etat. Leandro Fernandez’s pencils never let up, from the beautiful title page of the icy church steeple where you can feel the chill in Hilda’s bones as she traverses the snow bundled with her daughter, to the battle scenes, particularly those with Boris, which show his impressive acumen with bow and arrow. Northlanders continues to be a surprising title, never about what it obviously looks like it’s going to be about, strong yet subtle writing, and a plethora of artistic talent. Wood’s script is afire with a society collapsing, nearing total disarray. It’s interesting to consider how quickly it’s the internal social issues that can bring a society down, not necessarily an external and easily identifiable threat. Simply look at the actions of Jens and you see how thin the thread is that this civilization is currently hanging by. Grade A.

Batman & Robin #9 (DC): Any issue that opens and deals with the line “How did Batwoman die?” has my attention. It leads right into fantastic interplay between Dick and Cyril about Dick’s time as Robin, “this rough and raucous little demon boy.” I liked Damian’s concern for Alfred, how quickly he deduces what the copy is, and the fact that his actions are confident instead of arrogant, even from a wheelchair. There’s also something about Damian in that sweater that harkens back to a young ward named Richard Grayson. I was immediately reminded of Grant Morrison’s dialogue choices in WE3 when I read likes like "wear r. u, boy wundr?” It all makes me think that this title isn’t intended to function as high drama, there’s no deep meaning, it's not as embedded with industry meta-commentary as G'Mo diehards but-he's-the-"God-Of-All-Comics" would like to believe, it’s just Morrison having fun, playing around with familiar tropes of the Bat Mythos, like a kid in a mud puddle splashing around having the time of his life without a care in the world. And that's fine, we can have fun too. Cameron Stewart nails the odd conglomeration of residual memory shards inhabiting the clone’s mind. The unexpected introduction of Kate’s “…ah… military P.O.C.” was fantastic as he operated with the cold precision of an incident commander already thinking a couple steps ahead. Dick’s arrival toward the end was a little bat ex machina for my taste, but I did enjoy Dick and Kate’s unfolding relationship, as he even manages to flirt (and only we know its in futility) with her in the process. Why he’d suddenly decide to hand this matter over to the Justice League is a speedy resolution that’s not at all organic or logical. I also don’t know how he makes the leap in logic that Tim was right and Bruce is still alive, other than that’s what the larger story calls for. I’ve been quite uncertain about this arc, and even despite some questionable plot hammer-y decisions done for the sake of expediency, I have to admit I had a good time and this kinda’ sold me, at least for now. Grade A-.


Greetings From Cartoonia @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Coming This Week: "Saturday Night I Was Downtown, Working For The FBI"

With each successive artist, my enthusiasm for this title has lessened, but I’ll probably pick up Batman & Robin #9 (DC) in order to complete this arc and then re-evaluate as to whether or not I’ll be continuing on. At this point, I think Frazer Irving might be the only artist who would make me stay, and I forget what happened to him in the line-up. Brian Wood Month continues as Northlanders #25 (DC/Vertigo) hits the quarter century mark and the stands this week. I’m still picking up little pieces of bloody brain and bone after last month’s issue blew my skull off, but hopefully I’ll get it together in time for Scalped #35 (DC/Vertigo), which also comes out. Any week with both Brian Wood and Jason Aaron’s crime opus is a pretty fine week in comics. If that wasn’t cool enough, let’s add Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1 (Avatar Press) to the mix, written by Warren Ellis, with Raulo Caceres on art. Caceres was the artist of Crecy, which I enjoyed, and will be working here in his “woodcut style,” which I don’t think I’ve seen, but am certainly intrigued by. I see an entry for Dodgem Logic Magazine #1, so I’ll be curious to see if Sea Donkey gets that in; last time it was offered, he declined to carry this latest Alan Moore project, so I've not seen it, expect for odds and ends online. I’m also surprised to see Stumptown #1 (Oni Press) offered again the way it is. It makes sense that a second printing is underway (I know it’s totally sold out in these parts), but it’s now listed as a four issue series. I was certain that when it was first advertised, this was billed as one of Oni’s few ongoing titles, so perhaps the delays have necessitated otherwise.


Nurse Nurse #5 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Nurse Nurse #4 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.17.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Daredevil #505 (Marvel): If I had to say, aside from the premise of the X-Men, Daredevil is probably my favorite Marvel character. I haven’t really followed him regularly since the old Frank Miller days, though I did pop in for the Kevin Smith Death-of-Karen-Page era and followed that up through some of the David Mack issues with Echo, but that’s about it. So, I’m coming into this out of creator loyalty, following Antony Johnston basically wherever he goes. With that caveat out of the way, let’s get to it. I instantly liked the gritty art of Marco Checchetto, who is a new name to me. His pencils are complemented perfectly by stalwart Daredevil colorist Matt Hollingsworth, who offers up a murky dark color palette that’s right at home, feeling the way a DD book should feel in my estimation. The opening dialogue that brings the audience up to speed is couched very well as a sensible exchange that, well, I don’t want to invoke the “e” word (exposition), but I will say that a lot of information is being relayed to inform us about the arc. I like the idea that Matt is willing to do whatever it takes, to get his hands dirty, in order to protect the city in the face of corruption in the bureaucracy with guys like Norman Osborn and Kingpin in charge. The snow-swept meeting of the heads of the five fingers of The Hand is a terrific scene that calls to mind so many blood-soaked kung-fu flics. It’s all about honor and respect, ethnocentrism, and bristles with life. You can really feel the melding of Diggle’s subversive crime oriented plotting with the twinge of social elements that Johnston is so good at infusing his works with. This is a dense and intricate plot that’s never boring or unclear. I know it’s a ruse to destroy The Hand, but Matt’s proposal is an interesting notion. The idea of turning the organization into a justice oriented force for real change, perhaps establishing some profitable legitimate business endeavors in the process reminds me of Michael Corleone wanting to make the family holdings legitimate. It was during that quest that he saw true power and wealth beyond the street-level hustles that had been the bread and butter of organized crime for so long. At the end of the day, I’m not understanding this arc’s role in the larger context of the Daredevil mythos (since I haven’t been reading the title), so I might be missing some of the urgency or consequence, but there’s no doubt this is an entertaining read with art that quickly grew on me. Hey, it looks like I might be reading DD for a stretch. Grade B.

Uncanny X-Men #521 (Marvel): Greg Land’s backgrounds are still quite lacking, but his figure work in the foreground has calmed down some so that the characters appear like more normal looking people and not borrowed clippings from Entertainment Weekly. The action choreography is still difficult to slog through; scenes like the Psylocke fight sequence up front require multiple trips through to discern meaning. Taken on its own, Fraction’s script would be clever, but since I read more than just X-Men comics, the whole invasion by secret mutant baddies just really smacks of familiarity. It is essentially how Prometheus takes down the JLA on occasion, with pre-loaded counter-programming to their tactics. Fantomex’s ability to resist that is basically him operating in the recent Shade role, he can defeat the baddy because he himself isn’t a hero. So, yawn. I’ve seen this before. Total unoriginal snoozer. I enjoyed the members of the Science Team showing up down below to help Namor, but I don’t get why they were talking to Abe Sapien. The dialogue with Scott and Emma up on Mount Tamalpais is interesting with their investigation of Magneto’s endgame, but that seems to be an isolated bout. The HX-N1 bit is pretty clever, if a bit of forced topical relevance. John Sublime’s involvement certainly helps explain Fantomex’s presence a little, and his charming dialogue with Scott, self-identifying as part of the X-Men, was smile-inducing. Overall, the issue feels all over the map, still juggling unwieldy plot threads that never seem to coalesce properly, the art is inconsistent at best, and a small scattering of enjoyable moments doesn’t make me want to hang on to this title very much longer. At this point, I’m ready to drop it, only sticking around to see how the Kitty Pryde situation gets resolved. So, let’s talk about that “big reveal” at the end that’s been spoiled all over the interwebs for weeks now. It’s just one page really, but it manages to piss me off nonetheless. I guess I can sort of buy the Master of Magnetism doing his best Yoda impersonation and force-willing the bullet carrying Kitty into a trajectory that’s interceptable (yet, as I've said from day one, why not contact Havok and the remnants of the Starjammers?). However, the deliberate and sudden reference to the bullet as a “starship” really bothers me because it’s a tremendous cheat. Not only is it just plain inconsistent since in every prior reference it was described as a missile, then more properly described as a hollow point bullet, but the insinuation that it’s a ship allows for a convenient dodge that could explain how Kitty’s breathing. If it’s not a bullet (in which, we’d question how she could survive without air to breathe, a heat source to prevent her from freezing to death, not to mention food and water), but is now magically a ship, then we can easily extrapolate from this new position that a ship would have onboard life support, and I’m sorry, but that’s a cheat. The bullet was never designed to possess occupants, yet now we're suddenly calling it a ship! If it’s a ship, well fuck, it might as well have the onboard life support with heating and oxygen, food, water, satellite TV, a navigation system so she could drive, a dry cleaner to press her uniform, hair and makeup artists, an infirmary, and a masseuse. It’s a cheat, through and through. She was written into a corner that I’ve talked about multiple times, provided possible explanations for, and now we get to see how she’ll lazily be worked out of it. Half of me wants to know how, the other half knows I’ll be disappointed because I’ll be able to poke holes in the explanation in about 5 seconds flat. Grade C+.

I also picked up;

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities. (Amulet Books): Jason Shiga is a creator I’ve followed loosely over the years. While I haven’t had the opportunity to read all of his work, I really enjoyed Bookhunter and Fleep from Sparkplug Comics, and also read Double Happiness. When I heard the premise of this book was analogous to the old Choose Your Own Adventure style books that anyone in my generation is familiar with, I was sold. The mathematical implications sounded right up Shiga’s intellectual alley, and he’d be sure to make it highly entertaining in the process. I can't wait to read it.


2.17.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Joe The Barbarian #2 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy’s first page with the floating island map? Well, I just love that visual. At times, it takes a little too much energy to parse Grant Morrison’s attempts at fantasy world-building, something about prophecies, exiles and dominions, etc. I’m not sure if I’m getting it all, or even if there is anything to get beyond a superficial face value reading. But at this point, I’m not sure I care that much because the art is so good that it’s worth purchasing for that treat alone. Murphy’s extremely fine line and dizzying level of detail reminds me old Travis Charest work on Darkstars or Wildcats. It’s enhanced significantly by the lettering of Todd Klein, no stranger to this tone and aesthetic. His font design for the “Sun Lord” character was a particular stand out. Something about this issue sort of felt analogous to Moore’s LOEG or Gaiman’s Sandman, in that it was full of inter-textual references. Instead of spotting the highbrow literary references and many storytelling allusions, it’s a fun game of spot the pop culture characters with Morrison himself (or is that Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard with phaser in hand?) as the scripture-referencing ringleader of the heroes around the “Under-Country.” It srikes me as awesome; the sheer level of under-the-radar audacity of seeing Lobo, The Phantom Stranger, Robin, Snake Eyes, and random Transformers kneeling and bowing before the kid. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that blur the line between the waking world and what’s occurring in the mind’s eye. It’s things like Farel Dalrymple’s Pop Gun War, David Mack’s Kabuki, or even this story with its delusional fabrications, the shifting sizes of the toys, landscapes, and protagonist as the synapses misfire and supposed hallucinations ensue. There’s a little bit of a C.S. Lewis riff, the kid’s err… mouse guard (heh, sorry David Petersen), and the battling of some Tolkien inspired Nazgul creatures. Morrison litters the dialogue with imaginative parlance, like “cloud cutter” and the “Battle of Backbone Bridge” while the kid, right along with a delighted audience, tries to determine if he’s “drunk, crazy, or a prophet.” I became so fully immersed in this world and so engrossed by the fast-paced events that I almost forgot that the first establishing issue contained shots of him in school or interacting with his mom and inhabitants of the real world. That’s the true test of thought-provoking escapist writing, the ability to lose oneself in the convincing illusion. Grade A.

Justice League of America #42 (DC): Right from the start, the “Shade-Speak” is a little over the top with its attempt at sounding ominous and foreboding. Even with the self-referential commentary about it being unbelievable and off-putting, it doesn’t defuse the fact that it is. Shade also looks noticeably younger than he did last issue, and just… different. I’m not sure why that is. I did liked the equivocating inner monologues of most of the characters, full of self-doubt and altering perception, including the real reason Starfire might really be there. There are some additional fun fanboy character porn moments, like the exchange between Batman and Green Lantern: “Weird giving an order to Hal” followed by “Weird taking an order from Dick.” I also enjoyed the Red Tornado bits, but for the most part I’ll quote Dick and say “something’s not right” with this book. I know that Mark Bagley has his fans, but his art is just not to my liking. It’s obvious that he tries to vary his panel designs and offer dynamic characters that pierce the panel borders, shooting for fun action, but it’s all just kind of basic to my eye. I’m kind of bored. Instead of any smooth flow or sense of pace, I find myself looking around for oddities. I find jarring transitions, thanks to James Robinson’s script, and inconsistent art that makes Donna’s breasts enormous as they sit too high, her crazy brow and hairline very distorted during the close-ups, Starfire’s arms looking too short in most panels due to wonky perspective and camera placement, Atom magically appearing here and there, and chuckle at the way Bagley strategically cheats and fills his backgrounds with smoke so that he won’t have to draw the buildings that are supposed to be in the background. I’ll say that I really liked the lettering in the Challengers of the Unknown sequence, but otherwise was not engaged by that story thread whatsoever. There are continuity jabs all over the place, with things like The Power Company, but they feel gratuitous in their attempted scope. It’s been years sine LOTR, so any residual Gandalf reference is just a little painful to endure. The script is trying so desperately hard to connect bits from the forthcoming last issue of Cry for Justice, (see: Blackhawk Island), but it just feels lifeless. The art, the story, all of it just lays there almost knowing it’s inconsequential. And why is it $3.99? For the First Wave preview I’ve already read two other times? Maybe I’m in a bad mood today, but on so many levels, it’s just not that good. This is my last issue. I’m out. Grade D+.

Secret Weirdo @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Coming This Week: "Where Dem Bloggers At, Where Dem Bloggers At, Where They At, Where They At, Where They At?"

It looks like another pretty light week in the world of comics. I’ll definitely be picking up Joe The Barbarian #2 (DC/Vertigo) from Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy. This book is layered and nuanced, full of clues that don’t insult the reader’s intelligence, and is reminding me more and more of Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s Omega: The Unknown in its ability to operate on multiple levels. I’ll probably pick up Justice League of America #42 (DC) just so I can mock it one more time for it’s out of continuity divergence, shifting narration, wonky fist-bumping art, clunky marble-mouthed dialogue, and skimming the surface while sticking to every gathering the team cliché in existence. If it’s anything like the previous issue, I won’t be coming back for a third helping. I’ll also be purchasing Uncanny X-Men #521 (Marvel), at this point just sticking around until I get more information on Kitty Pryde, and them make a decision as to the title’s continued presence on the pull list. I’m pretty sure Daredevil #505 (Marvel) is the first issue co-written by Antony Johnston, so I’ll likely give that a whirl, despite not knowing what I’m getting into, having not peeked in on this book for a few years now. I just felt like noting the existence of Starman Omnibus HC: Volume 4 (DC), so there’s that. I don’t think it’s his best work by any means, but you really have to respect the way Avatar Press empowers the consumer, offering the Ignition City TPB: Volume 1 ($19.99), Ignition City HC: Volume 1 ($27.99), and Ignition City HC (Signed): Volume 1 ($49.99) all on the same day. They’re pretty consistent about this strategy too. Commendable. Lastly, the Almost Silent HC (Fantagraphics) also debuts. This collects four original graphic novels (3 out of print) by Norwegian powerhouse Jason (aka: John Arne Saeteroy). It contains “You Can’t Get There From Here,” “Tell Me Something,” “Meow, Baby,” and “The Living and the Dead.” This omnibus style collection would be really appealing if I didn’t already own all of his work, a 304 page hardcover for a mere $24.99.

I'd Sure Like Some Fucking Pancakes @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.10.10 Reviews (Part 2)

DMZ #50 (DC/Vertigo): This landmark issue is largely a look back, so the retrospective tone and POV of series protagonist Matty Roth is perfectly aligned. Roth is reflecting on his time in the DMZ to date and it’s a real “the good, the bag, and the ugly” tour of honesty through the smaller stories comprising the larger narrative of his unique experience. Assumably, Brian Wood writes all of the pieces, aided by a cadre of industry veterans and rising stars. NGO by Rebekah Isaacs captures a dense and cluttered urban landscape. It’s obvious that Roth is no longer the rookie dropped into a war zone, but is now positioned on the other side of the equation as a local unable to be manipulated by scheming outside forces. It’s a great lesson on his evolving identity. MATTY + ZEE by Jim Lee is a beautiful pin-up which captures the tone of the series well in a single static shot. We see hidden eyes and a dejected but hopeful spirit, particularly around Zee as she looks out over the horizon, while Roth is mired down in the rubble. Zee is essentially the physical manifestation of the DMZ; she is the city incarnate. LITTLE PLASTIC TOY by Fabio Moon is a wordless tragic piece, full of paranoid apprehension that reminds me of some lost glimpse of a war torn Serbian inner city, rendering it all the more jarring when you recall it’s New York City. Working in a museum, I have to say that I really enjoyed LOOTED by Ryan Kelly. It’s all about a solitary man who has amassed priceless pieces of art from Fifth Avenue museums. The notion that small acts of humanity and preservation of the arts are going on while the entire world is so focused on mere existence is a supremely interesting little digression into this world, and a strong bit of world-building by Wood. I’d love to see how this story thread pans out if it’s ever followed up on. SNOOZER, THE GHOSTS by Lee Bermejo nicely sums up the hypocrisy and catch-22 of war. It all sort of begs the questions: What are they fighting for? What’s left for the “winner” when the dust settles? HEART OF NORTH JERSEY by Riccardo Burchielli is easily my favorite piece in the bunch, a black and white turn from Burchielli, who was reportedly itching to show off his uncolored work. It’s about the “Supreme Commander” of the FSA, the functional equivalent to POTUS, “On the East Coast, at least.” After my long tirade about wanting to know what’s been happening out West, particularly in California, lines like this and the mention of LA really begin to scratch the itch I had. There are major revelations in this piece, if you buy into their hyped validity, about the wealth of the FSA, the “buying” of mayors, governors, and FBI agents along the way, as well as the misdirected “card” in the big game that is Chicago. Burchielli’s pencils take on an entirely different quality here, gritty and menacing, with an aesthetic that almost feels like Danijel Zezelj in spots. Brian Wood litters the dialogue with intriguing references to the chilling Pacific Northwest/Canada/Hudson Valley connection and bits of speech like “the Federals,” which has a ring of 1860’s Civil War truism to it. This piece is bristling with energy, an “alternate history of the US,” which is exactly how we feel about DMZ as a series. Could this really be happening? KELLY by Philip Bond makes me miss her presence. She’s sort of a flip side version of Matty Roth. It’s always been interesting to see same world through her lense. WILSON’S KITCHEN by John Paul Leon is an amazing piece of insight into his local fiefdom. The former restaurateur in me revels in the thought of this piece. Along the way, we even get an “On The Ledge” editorial piece from Wood, and it’s just fantastic to see DC get behind this creator and celebrate the voice of one our generation’s best this month. WILSON by Eduardo Risso is surely my favorite of these single pin-up pages. If you don’t just love the way Risso uses shadow or draws women, well, there’s just something wrong with you. He always, obviously at times – subtly other times, juxtaposes sex and violence along with the swagger of personality in such a seamless and compelling manner. DECADE LATER by Dave Gibbons was a welcome inclusion that sort of reminded me of Gibbon’s original graphic novel The Originals, with its blend of mod/punk/future. I always liked the tale of Decade Later, in the way it celebrated the new evolving form of artistic expression in the streets, with the guy who is like the Shepard Fairey of his time. All of the one-page character pieces were fun, functioning like an ultra-hip Vertigo version of the old sourcebook/encyclopedia series Who’s Who? Taken as a whole, there’s a plethora of smaller stories here about a new culture that formed all on its own in the wake of a war. Detractors would claim that there’s no cohesive narrative being told here, but they’d be dead wrong. The whole point is that these disparate elements do tell a story of survival, culture, and a tapestry of individual people who endure conflict with a lifestyle that envisions a future beyond current events. Grade A+.

Daytripper #3 (DC/Vertigo): The third issue of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s little opus about ruminating on life’s possibilities dives right in with an attention-grabbing opening. It moves quickly forward to touch on Bras’ father delivering a speech, which was teased in a previous issue. Aside from the nice internal reference, the big take away from that interaction is the idea that life is based on a series of small defining moments. That heated argument between lovers reminded me of the Mike Nichol’s film Closer, with Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Julia Roberts. It reverberates with a realism and pointed personal barbs that make it simultaneously so believable and yet so uncomfortable, with simple destructive lines like “I don’t want to be mediocre like you.” I enjoyed the situational meaning he derives from the art exhibit and the interaction as his eyes catch a new person on the horizon. “She was the most beautiful creature on earth - - her hair said that in that language only hair can speak.” Now that’s the type of line that makes perfect sense and immediately rings true for anyone whose ever felt that heart piercing pang. It’s lyrical, beautiful, and quietly reveals a simple truth in a way that's so unpretentiously written. As fantastic as the writing and art are, the real star here for my money is Dave Stewart and his amazing color palette. Notice how the woman begins to fade away immediately from Bras' life, you can see the balcony railing through her and her dress. Notice the panel with the black background as she says “a nightmare…” That panel is like a punch in the gut, and it wouldn’t play nearly as effectively without that precise coloring. The structure of the book still leaves me questioning what’s going on, it doesn’t feel like it’s clicking in place very cleanly. Maybe I’m just not getting it or maybe the point is for it to be more obtuse so that readers can imbue it with their own meaning, but it’s left me feeling a little unresolved. Are the many death of Bras we’ve been witness to simply figurative deaths symbolic of the ups and downs at various stages in life? Are they just a smattering of selections from many alternate timelines available for each of us, with divergent paths spinning out of every fork in the road? Will we ever be told? I’m definitely on board for the book and open to a different interpretation or an inconclusive end that mirror’s life’s uncertainty, but I’ll admit I’m left feeling like I want the answers to be a little more tidy than they have been to date in order to have more of an anchor and be able to answer the basic question of what is happening to the main character here? Grade A.


2.10.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Batman & Robin #8 (DC): It’s sort of painful to revel in that Frank Quitely cover, particularly his rendition of Batwoman, and then crack it open to realize once again that he’s not conducting the interior art. But alas… Cam Stewart is really good, better than last issue it seems. I think the dark inks help tremendously. The dark inks help portray the dark deeds that the Bible of Crime prophesies. The issue is really just an extended fight sequence that sets up the final conflict in the next issue; it leaves us with two different types of cliffhangers, which are equally interesting. One we can assume is a showdown between Damian and the (spoiler alert) undead clone copy of Bruce that Darkseid has apparently been conducting genetic experiments on, trying to create an army(?). The other involves an on-the-fly plan that Dick and an injured Kate hatch up, which spins out of a really heart-wrenching scene between the two of them. They’ve not worked terribly closely together in any of the books I’ve read, and I have to say that they’re my favorite two characters in the Bat-Mythos, so I’m open to more like that, please. If that’s all the story really does, Stewart deserves the balance of the credit here with some fantastic moments. I loved the shot done almost in silhouette of the four heroes standing in front of a glowing Lazarus Pit. I really enjoyed the almost subliminal flash of the Darkseid panel, short choppy rough cuts are a gamble, but this one pays off. There’s the taser to the face, the surprised horror on Alfred’s face as he mutters “Master Richard…” or the silent images that speak volumes, like the helicopter landing with Damian on board. The dichotomy between the art and the tone of the script is really interesting to me. Superficially, Cameron Stewart’s art boasts a more lighthearted quality, but the juxtaposition of it against a darker more serious script yields a result which is an ominous and sinister overtone full of suspense, dread, and excited anticipation over what’s coming next. Grade A.

S.W.O.R.D. #4 (Marvel): Let’s chat for a minute about why S.W.O.R.D. failed as a series. I think it’s interesting to do a post-mortem and see what observations can be made. Now, I don’t mean this with any disrespect, but unless you read Phonogram, Kieron Gillen isn’t really a big name writer that a large percentage of the typical Marvel readership would be familiar with. I read and liked Phonogram; I’m not denigrating his skill or the work, just making an observation that he’s not considered a “hot” writer by whatever arbitrary standard the masses follow. Similarly, unless you were a big fan of Matt Fraction’s Five Fists of Science which came out a few years ago, Steven Sanders is not a “hot” artist. I’m not saying he’s not talented, I enjoy his work and own that particular book; I’m saying that the general population isn’t familiar with him and therefore his name isn’t much of a draw for the majority of the potential audience. Abigail Brand, former Director of S.W.O.R.D., is ostensibly the lead character in this series, but if you happened to miss the latter half of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run, then her name would be largely unfamiliar to you as well. Even if you do remember her, it doesn’t help matters that the Astonishing X-Men run ended over a year ago (with gigantic delays before that last issue), so any momentum of interest that had been banked on this really cool new character has been largely lost at this point. The book just didn’t hit the street when interest was optimal and Marvel seems to have missed the window, not striking while the iron was at its hottest, when this would have been a front-of-mind property. Now, I’m an atypical reader. I read Phonogram and was familiar with Kieron Gillen’s work both in and out of comics, I read Five Fists of Science and was waiting for Sanders’ next project, and I was also a big fan of the Astonishing X-Men run and had fond (albeit distant) memories of Abigail Brand. The series was, for the most part, critically praised. Sure, I read the stray critic who may have had minor issues with the art style or a bit of clunky dialogue here and there, but for the most part the book was well received. I would argue that critics and bloggers are atypical as well in their appreciation. For the average comic book reader trudging down to the LCS every week, what they would have seen from their perspective – and that’s the financial one that counts – is a new Marvel book with an attractive first couple of covers thanks to John Cassaday (score one!), but with a writer they’d not heard of (lose one!), an artist they’d not heard of (lose one!), and a lead character they didn’t know anything about (lose one!). If that’s the case, all you have left to entice readers is the casual flip test, in which case a potential buyer would have seen some c-list characters like Death’s Head, Henry Gyrich, or Lockheed (lose one!). The only other recognizable character is Beast, who is a b-lister (sorry Beast, but it’s true) depicted as the controversial sullied-visage-love-it-or-hate-it-cat-goat-hybrid. The first issue had an appealing Kitty Pryde tease, but that quickly went nowhere and wasn’t marketed clearly. I’m sorry to say it, but when you add up all of those elements, that’s just not enough of a draw, in fact it’s not even neutral, it's several factors against the book being successful. In order for a book to thrive, it really needs one leg of that tripod to stand on, a known writer, a known artist, or a lead character with more of a built in audience – preferably any combination, but at least one of those to even stand a chance. This book had none of those things. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying it’s so. That’s the world we live in. It’s the latest lesson in the incessant pull of art vs. commerce that companies have to contend with. The artistic side of the equation might be critically praised, but on the commerce end this just was never a very marketable or commercial project. As Gillen himself has pointed out on his blog or in interviews, he’s really stated this very matter-of-factly and I admire the honesty, the project was never given much of a chance to succeed. It was really over before it even began, with several strikes against the title right out of the gate. I’m not sure it does any good to review a cancelled book at this point, but I will say that I enjoyed the Steranko-Warhol-inspired 1960’s Marvel Pop Art cover. This issue is a mostly clever (see Abigail’s command of languages), lighthearted piece of confectionary entertainment with fun, cartoony art. Occasionally the book falters as it reaches for gravitas, such as Beast’s witty rejoinders that play a little verbose and are painful to endure at times. The art can slip into wonky tics, like the sequence where Beast yells at Abigail about her “heathen space gobbledygook.” The implausibility of kicking missiles in mid-air without detonating them is silly and stretches the suspension of disbelief beyond acceptance. The rapid fire advancement of events and attempts at wrapping up the story are thin, but unavoidable at this point. So... I guess... like it even matters... Grade B.


Prize Comics #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Coming This Week: "I Done It With A Doctor, On A Helicopter"

Diamond’s web-site is all kinds of jacked up this week due to East Coast snow, so don’t hold me to the reliability of what exactly is shipping this week. My short list here is cobbled together from a couple of different sources. Dark Horse is putting out a new edition of Rafael Grampa’s fantastic Mesmo Delivery, which was previously published by AdHouse. I picked this up two years ago at the San Diego Con and enjoyed it immensely. For just $9.99, it’s highly recommended for anyone who missed it the first time around. Grampa is a major talent; after Mesmo Delivery, he contributed to the Eisner Award winning book “5” with Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and Vasilis Lolos, in addition to Hellblazer #250 (DC/Vertigo). He also has Furry Water (Dark Horse) coming later this year, which looks fantastic. Also of note is the Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Ultimate Collection (Marvel). I already have the two Premiere Edition Hardcovers that came out, collecting all 12 issues of this series by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen, so there would have to be some mighty extras included in this edition in order for me to spend $34.99, but the series is fantastic nonetheless. Also from Marvel is the penultimate issue of (recently announced as cancelled with issue #5) S.W.O.R.D. #4. I have some issues with the book, but will probably ride it out just to see how Kieron Gillen and Steven Saunders wrap things up. The unofficial Brian Wood month continues with the landmark DMZ #50 (DC/Vertigo), which includes a plethora of guest contributors, ranging from Dave Gibbons and Jim Lee to Ryan Kelly and Rebekah Issacs (DV8). Also hitting the stands is Daytripper #3 (DC/Vertigo) from Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. The first issue seemed a bit uneven, but began to settle in nicely with the second. Batman & Robin #8 (DC) is also due out, quickly it seems, featuring Grant Morrison and the second of three issues with Cameron Stewart.


The Wang: Erection Year @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Thunder Island @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.


2.03.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #34 (DC/Vertigo): As Chief Red Crow is getting absolutely pummeled, Diesel monologues his way through an interesting POV about taking care of yourself fire and foremost, potential ways out of the tight spot they're in, and the FBI’s questionable agenda and treatment of a state like South Dakota. In typical Scalped fashion, even the dirtiest and most ruthless men can be rendered complex and sympathetic when the focus is on them and their realism comes to light… though… it appears Dash Bad Horse may have another plan. Heh. The single page of text boxes that functions as the crescendo for this scene is simply a masterpiece. It’s an overwhelming sample of writing, full of powerful emotion, exquisite and exhaustive, describing in glorious detail the nature of violence these guys are reduced to. I wanted to include an excerpt of the dialogue, but fuck, I found myself retyping the entire page and I don’t want to spoil it for you. Buy the book. Read it. If I was Jason Aaron, I would immediately purge all copies of whatever I was using as a professional resume and just print out a bunch of copies of this script page on nice paper and use that as my damn resume for all future potential writing gigs. The Gnawing arc comes to a close, with more icing on the luscious cake. We see the fate of Carol take a big step forward, the denouement of the informant who could finger Bad Horse, Dash himself re-establishing his cover, and the Hmongs being lured into a wicked trap. It’s both clever and scary as hell to think that Red Crow probably resolved that situation in the least violent manner possible. Like Sun Tzu, he kept his opponent off balance and allowed them to relax with a false sense of security. He tried to keep it relatively “quiet” instead of letting it spill out into a bloody war on the streets of The Rez. Shunka continues to be my favorite character, the stoic right hand man with a growing sense of tension between him and Dash Bad Horse. Does Shunka throw a suspicious askew glance his way because he’s threatened by Dash as a possible replacement? Or does he still suspect Dash could be FBI? Shunka was alone a long time with the informant, and maybe he knows the truth about Dash as the informant uttered his last words before getting capped. It would be just like Jason Aaron to not let us in on that little secret, having Shunka play it close to the vest, and ultimately dropping a bombshell at the least opportune time. My mind races with possibilities and Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera have crafted one of the rare “must read” titles in recent memory, that keeps you on the edge of your seat, thirsting for the next installment. On top of it all, a DV8 preview. This book is fucking insane! Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #23 (Marvel): Matt Fraction plays some fun semantic games in this issue, with organic lines like “I am Iron Man” and Tony’s perception of self hinging on the word “the.” Tony Stark and Stephen Strange continue their conversation between their astral projection selves, as Tony plays the confused scientist trying to make sense of a chaotic narrative inside his mind, grappling with the dream world he’s fabricated. Occasionally, some of the dialogue choices sound a bit too Matrix-y for my taste. “The Bureaucrat” sounds an awful lot like “The Oracle” or “The Architect” or “The Merovingian” or many of the other things I hated about the Wachowski trilogy, particularly the last two installments. [If you want to see their best work, check out the film Bound with Joe Pantoliano, Christopher Meloni, and Gina Gershon]. In some advance reviews I read of this book, it’s taken some flak for being “talky” and not having any action. I think that opinion is ridiculous. I like that it’s a quieter piece; I like that it’s atypical. Fraction is offering up a lot of introspection here about what makes this character. He’s destroying a man and then literally rebuilding the persona before our very eyes. It’s rousing without involving fisticuffs. Rian Hughes' covers continue to delight, visually representing what’s going on during the inside story. Salvador Larroca’s pencils continue to grow, this time showing signs of a few growing pains. While I applaud his dedication to losing many of the more overt photo-referencing incidents, here his pencils suffer from not looking as polished as they typically do. Some of the bulbous facial tics were distracting. I am still enjoying the interplay between all of the women in Tony’s life. It’s interesting to view them through a certain lense, as counterpoints to the various aspects of Tony. It’s another manner in which Fraction has produced a very layered piece of work. Psychological aspects of Tony’s self struggle with themselves on the mental plane, while the women, as physical extensions of him, clash in their own regard, with Pepper Potts and Maria Hill coming to an uneasy understanding about sexual encounters with Tony. Awwwkward! Grade A.


2.03.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Demo #1 (DC/Vertigo): I think it’s really cool that this issue came out on my birthday. It’s like a little birthday present from Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan just to me. “The Waking Life of Angels” has been billed as a more “supernatural” than “super-powered” take on the manifestation of oddball latent powers. I don’t know why I interpreted that to mean some sort of horror infused motif, but I’m glad the assumption was incorrect and we were treated to a more ethereal reality. Brian Wood will probably call me out for quibbling about something so minute, but let’s chat for a second about the title “Demo.” For me, Demo always dredged up connotations of an underground garage band, as in “here’s our unsigned demo tape.” I’m pretty sure that was the intent of the original series, an unrestrained, pure sound unfettered by the hands of studio executives, or editors as the case was. This book is better than that title might have you assume. It feels here like a more polished experience, like a debut studio album that recaptures and remasters the rough and edgy feel of the original, without all of the annoying background static. But hey, “Debut” is a shitty title for a comic book that would surely stretch the music analogy much too far. Now that that little digression is out of the way, let me say that usually I can’t shut up about Brian Wood’s writing. And while it’s strong, it’s hard not to focus on the pencils of Becky Cloonan here. There are one or two isolated instances where the forced POV shots of Joan’s arms seem a little wonky and out of proportion during the dreamlike sequences, but otherwise Cloonan’s pencils shine throughout. Her pencils feel more refined, less sketchy, and more full-bodied than I recall early issues of the original series being. It’s an impressive display, with her inks also appearing more controlled and exacting. I love her depiction of the lead character, who at times bears a vague resemblance to Dream’s sister Death in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, as depicted in early issues by Kelley Jones, Sam Keith, and Mike Dringenberg, with a little P. Craig Russell thrown in for good measure. The single page shot of the cathedral is immaculate, and I dug the use of several small inset panels to maximize the storytelling real estate the creative team had to play with. It’s interesting to see someone experience the type of disturbing drive that would cause them to just bolt and hop a flight. Though I had correct suspicions as to who the person falling might be by page nine, it was interesting to see it play out nonetheless. There’s a lot to love here, with contemplative back matter, thumbnails, and a teaser trailer for the next issue, all for just $2.99. In a year that has so far not felt terribly exciting, Demo makes me feel like comics are good again. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #20 (Dynamite Entertainment): If you can imagine an issue of Batman in which Batman invites Commissioner Gordon to The Batcave for the very first time, then you’ll have a sense of what a landmark this issue is. Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello don’t stop there, offering another example of nuanced writing and art that has flown under the radar screen for too long. When the object of John’s affections doesn’t reciprocate, we finally understand another dimension of the term “lone.” There’s a bit of an awkward transition when our masked vigilante leaps onto Sheriff Loring and dismounts him from his horse. It seemed to come out of nowhere; was that to prevent attracting attention to his hideout? Otherwise, Cariello’s panels are clean and crisp, with plenty of widescreen room to breathe. It allows the audience to stop and soak in the details, getting meaning from the subtle facial expressions and austere sets. Cavendish’s line “take your hat off and the basket” doesn’t really make any sense. It’s constructed very awkwardly and could be rectified with a comma after “off,” but better yet, should be split into two sentences and partially combined with the next to get “Take off your hat. And the basket – put all your money in.” Other than that, Matthews treatment of Cavendish is spot on, giving him a charming, mocking, sarcastic and hypocritical sense of villainy that suits the character perfectly. The result of his quiet contemplation in the church isn’t funny at all though, and results in a chilling realization about the identity of The Lone Ranger that is underplayed superbly. Some of the other lines come off a little contrived, like a painful estimation of what “Old West Brogue” would sound like, such as the affectation of the Federal Marshal at the printing press. I’m still enjoying John’s quest for self; to quote a Coldplay lyric, he’s continually questioning if he’s “part of the cure,” or “part of the disease.” Lastly, I find it interesting that the arc is entitled “Resolve” since the dual meaning (noun, then verb) is played up in this issue. Initially, the term was used to comment on the strength of the title character, as in “John’s resolve.” The set up in this issue though, stresses the term being used to “resolve the conflict” that’s been brewing since the very first issue. As he says, “it ends here and now.” Grade A-.


Complaints @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Coming This Week: Comics Are Good Again

It feels like ages ago that this series delighted the senses and lit up the world of independent comics, but if it’s anything like volume one, then Demo #1 (DC/Vertigo) will be worth the wait. This is the first of six issues comprising volume two, by the ever popular Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. It’ll be interesting to see how Becky’s (once) rough pencils have grown in the intervening years and to see if she’ll change up her style to suit each “one-shot” style issue. I think it’s great that Brian Wood is now at DC, hopefully meaning that a wider range of fans will be exposed to this series than were the first go around. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera hit us with another issue of their crime opus, with Scalped #34 (DC/Vertigo), a perennial favorite around these parts. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca keep proving they’re one of the most consistent things to happen to the company in quite some time, churning out Invincible Iron Man #23 (Marvel). Lastly, we see Lone Ranger #20 (Dynamite Entertainment) hit the stands after what feels like an enormous delay. I thought I read that Dynamite Entertainment would not be launching new arcs until they were in the can and ready to publish monthly, with delays only happening between arcs. Perhaps that plan will commence with the next arc? In any case, I’m considering foregoing single issues of this series and just hardcover trade-waiting it. It’s typically very good reading, but not essential in the sense that I need my instant fix on a regular basis.


Graphic Novel Of The Month: “Masterson’s Folly” or How Warren Ellis Killed The Superhuman

No Hero TPB (Avatar Press): No Hero immediately picks up from a 1966 Bobby Kennedy speech and propels us into the alternate history, and subsequent future, that stems from that point in time. Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp spin a subversive tale which postulates that space is not the final frontier of man’s evolutionary track, but that super-humanity is the final frontier of exploration. This idea is taken to an extreme, ultimately to its inevitable conclusion. Try to imagine vigilantism with such a direct and unapologetic creed that a “Batman” (yes, notice how the first appearance of The Levellers in The Haight slyly includes what appear to be vague Bat-Symbols on their belt buckles) is seen ruthlessly killing crooked, corrupt, unjust police officers on the street in broad daylight.

It’s interesting that in his first impromptu press conference, team founder and designer of the FX7 drug, Carrick Masterson deliberately and repeatedly uses the term “free” during his statement. It’s the perfect coupling of 1960’s counter-culture, straight from the epicenter of the San Francisco movement, with the prescient tech fascination Ellis infuses most of his works with. Not only is the term used commonly as something given freely, not only does it denote free men pursuing their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and happiness, not only does it conjure up images of the “free love” associated with the time period, but he intimates that the word “free” is being used in the way modern techies would use the term “open source.” His FX7 superhuman enhancile drug, which offers enlightenment through psychedelics, has been given freely to these men. These superhuman heroes are now free for the world to use. In the public eye, Carrick Masterson has fashioned himself as the great selfless benefactor to mankind.

It’s fun to see a logical shift in appearance and the monikers of the team through the decades. We see The Levellers debut in the 1960’s Haight-Ashbury District. We see them premiere as The Front Line in the 1970’s at Bill Graham’s historic Fillmore venue. We see them endure the excess and decay (think Michael J. Fox doing coke in Bright Lights, Big City) of the 1980’s. Finally, in 2011 we see the roster as simply “TFL” because, yes, The Front Line has been predictably reduced to an acronym, with the same type of corporate branding run amok we’ve all come to know and consume. One of the most compelling characters for me is Mandy (aka: The Operator), with her green hair, black leather knee-high boots, and vaguely BDSM black corset top. Ryp depicts her magnificently; I like the way her breasts hang from her body when she’s leaned over, her pouty green lipstick, and wild punk hair begging for attention. She’s truly a child of her purported time, full of tech savvy and hip furtive ennui, desperately craving the attention she denies everyone else. The way she is so matter-of-factly dismissive of Josh is telling. Her saying that their encounter is “like meeting a caveman,” since he’s never flown in a plane before, is all you really need to know about the detachment of her character. In her, Ellis offers a small but authentic bit of insight into the likely youth culture of the future. In all of her violent sexualized media desensitization, she’d just as soon text you about the “warm boy in her bed” as kill you.

Structurally, the book does have one major flaw. There’s a huge exposition dump in the third act that in one fell swoop explains Carrick’s true place in the world, Josh’s true identity, the nature of the killings of The Front Line members, and the mysterious forces that have been tailing the team and seem to know their vulnerabilities. There’s a lot of telling, and not enough showing. Candidly, it’s a flaw I find in a lot of Ellis’ work. The familiar pattern is: set up, set up, set up, INFO DUMP, abrupt end. It’s usually so entertaining along the way that the structural weakness and repetition is not that noticeable, so we don’t mind it so much. For me, I’ve found that in order to enjoy the writing of Warren Ellis, you have to consciously put yourself in a certain mindset before embarking on reading one of his stories. You have to allow yourself to really absorb and enjoy the journey, because if you greedily fly through the pages waiting for the destination to satisfy, you’ll often be disappointed. But, oh that journey! Despite that one macro weakness, the micro moments deliver consistently along the way. There are little touches like (and this really sums up what I love about Warren Ellis in one single line, hell, in one word of dialogue) Masterson’s secret password which grants access into his inner sanctum from which he seeks to control the world: Agartha. Now, any sci-fi writer worth his salt knows that Agartha is another name for the legendary city supposedly located within the Earth’s core. But like Masteron’s belief in his vision, the popular fascination with Agartha was abandoned long ago as not scientifically viable. The symbolism inherent in that one deft word choice is a stellar example of Ellis at his prime, hitting underlying meaning squarely, but also getting some cool style points in the process.

While the writing certainly places No Hero toward the upper end of the quality scale in Ellis’ large body of work, it would be lessened significantly without the stellar pencils of Juan Jose Ryp. I’m surprised that Ryp hasn’t been snatched up into some exclusive deal with a major publisher. I, for one, would certainly buy any title he was on, as he’s one of those artists who’s strong enough to rate an “instant buy” regardless of company, character, or creative collaborator. His style is instantly recognizable as his own intellectual property, but bears the dense excruciating detail of someone like Geoff Darrow, the clean inviting figure work of an artist like George Perez, with the thin quirky effortless lines of a guy like Frank Quitely. Ryp not only tells the story clearly and captures well choreographed kinetic action sequences, but fills the pages with a plethora of Easter eggs hidden in his intricate morass of razor thin lines. Pick a few panels at random for a smattering of examples; there’s the “Ellis Brand” panties on random women lining the streets, flying eyeballs and optic nerves hidden amid massive explosions, faux Superman logos on punk jackets in the crowd, graffiti scrawled on walls with “Black Summer” hidden in the colorful mess, men violently vomiting their bloody guts out – to the point you can playfully make out the actual heart and lungs in the puke pile, down to something relatively simple like the rendering of a man’s chin stubble. An additional treat in this collected edition is the chapter breaks he gives us, which pay selective homage to famous covers by Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, Dave Gibbons, Robert Crumb, George Perez, Jim Steranko, and Todd McFarlane.

As would-be protagonist Joshua Carver is taken down the rabbit hole of induction into The Front Line, by way of The Garden of Eden and The Forbidden Fruit, through La Chambre des Cauchemars, through scenes of napalm-like “disgel” designed to eradicate superhumans at the molecular level, we see a subtle thematic inversion of counter-revolution. What does that mean? It means that the clinically insane masked vigilante in this reality knows more about complex social theory and criminal law than the immoral police officers patrolling your future dystopian streets. Like Watchmen before it, or even more subdued works like B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun’s Battle Hymn or J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank’s Supreme Power, Ellis proves that the superhero paradigm is deeply flawed and ultimately doomed to fail. Superhumans, by their very nature, cannot ultimately be heroes. Their abilities (and often their personalities) necessitate judgmental actions which are not inherently heroic. Acting for the greater good often means crossing moral, ethical, or legal lines that prototypical heroes cannot. Yes, the popular quote used from Shakespeare all the way through to Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show applies: “to do a great right, one must do a little wrong.” The quintessential artistic imagery associated with the ultimate failure of the paradigm here is the infamous “spinal cock sheath”. I mean, really, after that I think I’ve seen all of the superheroes I ever want to see. The concept of the superhuman is dead. It’s now been repeatedly deconstructed, analyzed, poked, prodded, reconfigured, post-modernized, disemboweled, the bloody entrails finger-painted by inner city crack babies onto an urban mural, and simply pushed as far as it can possibly ever go. Because, you see, no matter how much Carrick Masterson tried to forcibly manipulate the natural order of things and rule his world, the world (Mother Nature, alternate reality, higher power, belief system, quantum physics or Inuit Goddess – insert your holistic paradigm of choice here) pushes back and attempts to reset things. If a philosophical stance can be drawn from the failure of the FX7 enhanciles and “Masterson’s Folly” as I like to call it, it’s that man’s capacity for greatness is not in developing our ability to create superhumans, but in our innate ability and inherent need to survive without them. Grade A.

Note: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to make JLA a good book, a top seller, the cornerstone of the DCU as it ought to be by my estimation. For me, the answer is simple: Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. No, they won’t be able to depict Superman violently extracting Lex Luthor’s bloody spine and fashioning himself a Krypto-Cock to wave in the face of Amanda Waller or something. And yeah, Ellis really did play with a pastiche of these archetypes already in the original incarnation of The Authority, but there’s still plenty of room for the cornerstones of the DCU to be put through the wringer. I’d love to see Ellis work his conceptual magic and Ryp depict it in all of his artistic glory. Sometimes you have to thoroughly break something before it can be repaired properly. For me, JLA hasn’t been a destination title since Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s run, which started in 1997. From there, it slowly began its death pangs with Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Brad Meltzer, Dwayne McDuffie, and now James Robinson attempting to helm the listing ship. It’s been flailing around in the throes of death for 13 years now, sometimes the writer to blame, sometimes the lackluster artist, sometimes an interfering DC Editorial, but the point is that it isn’t quite dead yet. No disrespect to those writers, but they’re incapable of breaking the title. It needs to be broken before it can heal. No, they won’t do that. They’ve all tried to immediately mend it and abortively return it to its mythical prime. Instead, Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp could deconstruct it in plain view, breaking it down in order to build it back up, so that an entirely new paradigm could emerge for an entirely different era.