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The Massive #2 (Dark Horse): The more of The Massive I see, the more it becomes clear that it’s an immaculate piece of world-building, both scripting and visually. Hong Kong is a hundred feet under water, there’s the threat of pirates, radar blips from missing ships, and everyone untrusting of everyone else they encounter, and absolutely everyone untrusting of their immediate future on planet Earth. Kristian Donaldson makes the flashbacks fuzzy like memories can be, while Brian Wood adds a sense of personal consequence to all of the big plot hooks. I also appreciate the fact that the crew of The Kapital is now not only searching for their sister ship, The Massive, lost at sea, but also explicitly the cause of The Crash that radically altered the planet. “Backmatter” is a term that, I think, Warren Ellis coined back when he and Matt Fraction were experimenting with Image Comics’ $1.99 “slimline” format on Fell and the original incarnation of Casanova, but truthfully it’s something Brian Wood has always done, whether it was soundtracks in Local or more traditional bonus material in Demo. Here, it’s as if it’s the ultimate version of “backmatter,” incorporating the type of journal entries Antony Johnston uses in Wasteland, b-character profiles, faux pictures, classified documents, Ninth Wave campaign patches, maps, timelines, etc. There’s enough content in the bonus section to fuel an entire issue, hell, probably an entire arc, of any lesser comic. Yeah, it’s generous and creative, but it’s also signposting Wood’s own personal commitment to the single issue, and incentivizing support of that format. Grade A.
Conan The Barbarian #6 (Dark Horse): I think each issue of this Conan run has really honed in on a different theme with every issue. This time out, the idea of faith in other people, trust, seems to be front and center as Conan and Belit trade places, he’s now rescuing her. On top of that, N’Yaga is a very Yoda-esque figure, Harren is turning in some brutal and unexpected violence, Kirby-esque facial contortions, and we get a Conan who is still young, still learning, and capable of getting in over his head. At the end of the day, it shows us that during stressful situations, people’s true colors come out, for better or worse. I enjoyed the way that during a manic horseback ride through Messantia, Conan has time to get introspective and consider his actions. Ultimately, Conan and Belit literally sail off into the sunset, as a sort of Hyborian Bonnie & Clyde. Grade A.
Ultimate Comics: X-Men #14 (Marvel): You’ve gotta’ appreciate the iconic nature of that Dave Johnson cover, with Kitty poised as an arm-banded mutant resistance fighter (though I’m sure the US Government would go ahead and label her an insurgent “terrorist”). My only real criticism is that nothing much happens except setting the stage, it’s a travel story that is largely a “getting there” issue, but that’s more the fault of outgoing writer Nick Spencer, and Wood trying to redirect the plot toward something more meaningful and clear. More than anything, I just love the way that Kitty Pryde (my favorite mutant) recognizes the leadership vacuum, creates a mutant resistance mostly out of sheer will and determination, and is willing to just throw herself right into the middle of not just a US Civil War that sees states seceding from the Union (DMZ, anyone?), but basically a race war in the dystopian tradition of some of the most lauded X-Men stories of all time. The themes are all relevant, and if you find yourself in a weird slice of fandom as someone who loved Marvel’s Mutants as a kid, but grew up to appreciate the socially relevant work in Wood books like Channel Zero or DMZ, well, then it's time to come back, you should be eating this up. Grade A-.
The Defenders #8 (Marvel): I picked this up for a coworker, but I admit I was interested to see what Jamie McKelvie would bring to the title. He’s a great artist and I tried the first issue of this with little success. No doubt the art is fantastic and the best part of the book. McKelvie’s clean and crisp style seems to walk the fine line between providing a sense of fun, yet still having enough gravitas to pull off the serious or dangerous moments. I feel like we’re really starting to see writers who came up in the wake of Warren Ellis’ influence (Fraction, Wood, etc.) internalize some of his “Good Afternoon, My Little Vectors of Contagion” schtick. I’ve been comparing Wood’s X-Men run to Planetary, and I’ll be damned if this doesn’t have a twinge of that as well (with a little LOEG motif thrown in for good measure). It’s an eclectic team traveling the world to eliminate secret threats. On the one hand, it’s great to see a stylish artist match up to Fraction’s big ideas. On the other hand, when the lines are as expositional as “I am filling you with a poison now” and I really have no idea who’s doing what and why, it’s not quite strong enough to warrant my full attention – even if I was still buying company owned properties. Grade B+.
Saucer Country #5 (DC/Vertigo): It’s really like that TV show you can’t decide to keep watching or not. It’s ok, it’s interesting, but it just doesn’t blow you away or click with you. For five issues now, I’ve been enjoying Ryan Kelly’s great art (still not as amazing as his best-of-his-career-to-date bravura performance on the Eisner Award Nominated The New York Five with Brian Wood, but great nonetheless) and essentially waiting for the story to do something. The elevator pitch is great; it’s X-Files meets The West Wing! But unfortunately, I’m seeing less of the political intrigue of the latter, and more of the plot and internal mythology indecisiveness of the former. In short, maybe there’s aliens and maybe there’s not, maybe it’s a government conspiracy and maybe it’s not, maybe some people know and maybe they don't, maybe someone's lying and maybe they're not, maybe we'll find out some day and maybe we'll be strung along and kept in limbo for years with no frickin' resolution. There's lots of characters try to decipher a confluence of memory, myth, belief, reality, metaphor, and fact. The problem is that it just feels like it’s aimlessly meandering now, interesting, but hasn’t set any objectives and therefore can’t meet them. At the end of the first arc, we’re no further along than we were in issue one. I feel like it’s spinning its wheels. I’m out for now, but this is the type of book I could visit again in trade. Grade B.