4.02.2014

4.02.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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Black Science #5 (Image): I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating how color can change everything. You take Matteo Scalera art and put Moreno Dinisio over it (Dead Body Road) and the end result is that it looks like Tradd Moore art, but here (which I prefer stylistically), you take Matteo Scalera art and put Dean White over it and the end result is that it looks like Jerome Opena. Speaking of Opena, if you were a fan of Fear Agent (and you should be) and wanted more rock n’ roll sci-fi, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be reading Black Science. Rick Remender offers very rich sci-fi with clipped alien languages, the feel of truly exotic settings, and a strong central premise about Eververse time-jumping through “The Onion” via The Pillar. When you add in the familial bonds, the “Lies, Lies, Lies” we expose our kids to in this adventurous life – plus the lengths we’re willing to go to in order to protect our children, then it becomes an Indie Fantastic Four x Modernized Lost in Space proposition. With plenty of forced perspective shots and low-slung camera angles, there’s killer energy to Scalera’s action scenes. Remender pens the best issue of the series yet, with high stakes sci-fi that answers some questions by identifying the mysterious "Blue Rider" (my term), and confirms the identity of the saboteur, but leaves us mid-air with a crazy two-page cliffhanger and a macro-narrative that hints at a larger mystery. It’s really heating up, and we’re finally starting to see the big picture of what the series is actually about. Grade A+.

Pretty Deadly #5 (Image): The “previously in” text makes things clear in ways that have occasionally been lacking in the narrative itself. Similarly, on the art front, I’ve had trouble distinguishing characters and parsing the clarity of action sequences at times, but this issues builds to a bluster that’s very satisfying. With a duel in the desert from Kelly Sue DeConnick, and killer art collages from Emma Rios, Ginny “The Reaper” and Sissy “The Ascendant” finally join forces and make their fated journey. There are times when I think DeConnick’s writing leans too far toward poetic license in lieu of narrative clarity, events told in omniscient prophecy speak vs. pointed dialogue that flirts with the show vs. tell rule, all symbolic Butterflies and Bunnies as it were, so it’s definitely fun to read, lovely to look at, but still a touch difficult to parse. That’s the rub, “different” is a double-edged sword, and Pretty Deadly has always displayed this creative predilection. It’s probably 51% brave and 49% foolish to some, but I’ll happily take that gamble. Whereas Black Science executed a relatively simple premise flawlessly this week, Pretty Deadly takes a more complex approach to its plethora of ideas and acquits itself admirably. Aside from the obvious “moments” in an issue full of moments that make great books, I was particularly taken by Mason’s conversation with Sissy about death (the concept, not the entity). It’s always fascinating to see writers infuse work with their personal lives. I remember thinking that Brian Wood writing Northlanders was just a subconscious exercise in him trying to keep his kids safe in a rapidly evolving world, and here I think Kelly Sue DeConnick is a parent crafting an elaborate play in an effort to explain mortality to her own children. There’s so much to like, from colorist Jordie Bellaire literally lighting the fire, to literally showing gallows humor, to action that is literally Death-defying. While those are all literally and figuratively true, it’s a fact that this was a startlingly good denouement to the first volume, one which deserves heaps of praise as one of the best single issues of the year. Grade A+.

The Field #1 (Image): Simon Roy’s slightly hasty lines are alternately anemic and plump, capturing the right manic energy for Ed Brisson’s new creator owned book. Brisson’s dialogue flows so very well, with each successive project he proves that he’s been reading his William Faulkner and killing darlings, his scripts always function effortlessly with so few words, really placing trust in his artistic collaborators and his own ability to capture the right beats in his scripting. The powerful colors from Simon Gough run dark to dangerous, giving the right feel to a story that’s full of blind unpredictability and subtle clues in the text and in the visuals. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what this genre was, beyond the oblique “mystery,” or how ostensibly likable it or any of the protagonists were really going to be, but as something totally unique, for that alone it deserves an issue or two to see how its three threads/groups/settings develop, especially that cleverly inserted flashback, and the hint of a cyclical nature. By the end at the diner scene, it absolutely explodes with raw, brutal, and uncomfortable satirical notes in the tradition of Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse’s The Milkman Murders, or Ken Kristensen and MK Perker’s Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth. I’m definitely on board to see what can be done with the fusion of all this mystery, horror, and satire at the hands of some very skilled creators. Grade A-.

Starlight #2 (Image): I’m still enjoying Mark Millar’s Starlight because of how it deals with our perceptions of fame, and the grand premise of Buck Rogers coming out of retirement for another campaign to save the cosmos is such a subtly simple and earnest proposition. But, because of that it’s deeply enjoyable, it’s fun, it’s got the purity of spirit of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980’s. In an era when many comics are still relatively dark, it’s refreshing to watch this just play out, and enjoy a book for what it is in the most basic terms. Goran Parlov’s art makes the sci-fi sequences feel foreign, yet not so outlandish that it becomes inaccessible. There’s a certain rugged unevenness to Parlov’s lines that captures the strength and the equivocation of Duke McQueen’s predicament, and I enjoyed his new friend who has the makings of a plucky sidekick as Duke gleefully exonerates himself on the way out of town. From John Cassaday to Bill Sienkiewicz, it’s also worth pointing out that the guys deserve major props for their cover artists of choice. Starlight sort of reminds me of something like The Last Starfighter, a piece of pop culture that embraces the camp of its own tropes and just charges confidently forward. Grade A-.

Secret #7 (Image): Jonathan Hickman’s Secret has faltered a bit because of lengthy delays and now an extended narrative thrust spread out over several issues. Yet, there’s still an indirect intrigue to events at the intersection of government, crime, and control, of the aggregation of capital and influence that goes on behind the scenes. Secret may just dance around what it’s truly about, always on the periphery of complete understanding, from “the Steadman problem,” to the nebulous “American side of the equation” vs. “The Russians,” or the ever-present “Kodiak,” without ever really reminding the reader of anything beyond these oblique euphemisms, but it can’t be argued the art is anything short of fantastic. Ryan Bodenheim has always used a clean austerity that’s alternately stoic, intense, or even sexy, but here he seems to add some Gabriel Rodriguez style emotion to everything. Michael Garland’s colors also do the dance in bold fashion, from monochromatic neutrality to pops of iconic red to punch the emotion up. While it might be my fault for not recollecting what any of this has to do with anything else, and quipping that it’ll “read better collected” than in isolated bursts (which really isn’t meant to be a pejorative!), single issues do feel a bit like we’re eavesdropping in on a conversation without much context. Grade A-.

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