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Wasteland #43 (Oni Press): I was surprised to find that almost half of this issue is completely silent. It worked very well. Not only is it a brave and difficult choice for a writer (especially one like Antony Johnston who clearly has a love for language) to show that much restraint with the script, but you have trust in your artistic collaborator immensely to deliver the goods. Russel Roehling does just that because his line work is so very emotive; he’s able to convey some pretty complex emotions purely visually. So, Michael and Abi are still split up and Michael stumbles upon a curious occupant in an even more curious environment, one which seems anachronistic given the harsh environs of the post “The Big Wet” universe we've encountered so far. It’s a testament to the strength of the world-building that Johnston and original series artist Chris Mitten did, that this relatively normal looking cabin in the woods now seems totally out of place. The juxtaposition plays with audience expectations in much the same way this series always has, defying anticipation, defying prediction, defying categorization, and defying any pre-conceived notion of what comics can do or are supposed to do. If you love unpredictability, you will love Wasteland. It is disturbing (in a good way) to me that Michael and Abi are still split up. I’m worried! Though they can argue at times, they function better together than they do apart, their personalities often complementing the other. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Michael is also being tracked by a mysterious figure. Though this issue is a relatively quiet one, there are some things going on which have the potential to radically alter the character dynamics. This is sort of an aside, but I also just wanted to reiterate that I love the way Johnston playfully but intelligently works with the language, simple things like the name “Graham” (I think) being corrupted over time, due to slang and lack of individuals who have been taught to write, to become “Grayyim.” Last, but not least, the backmatter in the form of Ankya Ofsteen’s “Walking The Dust” journal entries is very compelling. There’s basically an unofficial three-way race going on right now for backmatter champion between Wasteland, Brian Wood’s The Massive, and Matt Hawkins’ Think Tank. I’ve been evangelizing Wasteland since issue #1 and it’s not about to stop now. If you’re not reading this book, you’re missing out on one of the great modern epics. With around only 17 issues left to go, well, I don’t want to start lamenting anything before it’s time, but I’m half excited to see Johnston reach his goal and half sad that all good things must eventually come to an end. Grade A+.
Think Tank #5 (Image): Writer Matt Hawkins addresses the reasons that he does what I’m about to complain about, and I’m sure it will read in an optimal fashion once collected, but opening the book by saying that David was back at DARPA after we last saw him on the run, and that this issue will begin to explain what happened in between the two, well, it maybe robs the story of a little stakes or gravitas because the outcome is already assured. BUT. What we don’t know are David’s intentions and what his ultimate end game is, and that’s probably where the tension will come. By this point, Hawkins has established enough credibility with me that I trust him and I also respect the fact that he’s being pretty transparent about his creative choices in the backmatter. Anyway. The issue focuses largely on the ethics of genetic warfare, while being grounded in the usual slick pop culture references and real world applied sciences. I also really appreciated the fact that the creative team shows characters like Mirra Sway and Colonel Harrison being totally conflicted about some of their actions. It adds a level of depth and multi-dimensionality to what would otherwise be pretty stock supporting characters. Not only is Think Tank blessed with the gorgeous art of Rahsan Ekedal, but as I said up in the Wasteland review, Think Tank is in that three-way race for best backmatter along with Wasteland and The Massive. Hawkins is a voracious researcher and it comes through in the way he addresses the market penetration of indie books, as well as the social construct of race lacking much DNA evidence to back it up. It’s fascinating stuff and a rare peek behind the curtains to see the creative process informing the work and how this particular brand of sausage is actually getting made. Grade A.