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Friday, March 29, 2013

Comics Thoughts for the week of 3/27/13

And here we are, one of my tiniest pull weeks in forever. I've been slowly cutting my list away, as my new ethos is "I only want to read comics that I consider to be 'great', not just merely good". So quite a few titles hit the chopping block with me already. I'm down to about 20-21 books a month now. We'll see where it goes from there, but titles like Demon Knights, Animal Man, Threshold, and Saga, amongst others, all went the way of the Do-Do for me. So, with a smaller pull, there's a chance I may alter the plans for the Spotlight issue pick depending on the week in order to avoid repetitiveness.

Also, for those unaware, I recently came into the possession of a couple of awesome Marvel Omnibuses for Grant Morrison's New X-Men and Peter Milligan/Mike Allred's X-Statix. What's funny is, I've never read much X-men ever. Thusly, one area I plan to dig into is a sort of "Journeying into the X-Men", I've got a few places to start that I plan on touching into: the aforementioned Morrison and X-Statix stuff, Claremont, Whedon, Bendis, possibly Gillen, Remender. As we move forward that'll begin to take shape better, and they'll not be in release order either. It'll just be kinda whatever I feel like, it makes it more fun that way, and don't you love me being confused? So be on the look-out for that.

Anyway, onward to a couple of the six (!!!) titles I nabbed this week, as always, spoilers are a go!:

Fatale #13
w- Ed Brubaker, a- Sean Phillips

East of West #1
w- Jonathan Hickman, a- Nick Dragotta

So, it goes without fail, I'm not terribly into westerns. Sure, I loved The Good, The Bad and The Ugly like any young man should. I think the Assassination of Jesse James was the third best film of 2007 (behind another amazing "western" in No Country for Old Men), and maybe I can make room for Forgiven and the Dark Knight Returns-esque sequel to the Eastwood/Leone classic. But otherwise, I just can't get into it. Dusty old towns, a sherriff that's either a bumbling idiot or an honor-bound boy scout, some scoundrel comes to town, somebody has to clean it all up...the tropes are just so well-worn and endless. Red Dead Redemption and Django Unchained both tried to turn the genre on its ear a little bit, either by introducing some nice discussion on objectivism (the former) in the context of westward expansion or simply turning the environment southward and telling the same kind of tale with modern sensibilities and that beautiful Tarantino-verse spin (but doing the modern take without embarrassing itself, see 3:10 to Yuma for how this can go badly). I dropped All-Star Western, not fully because of this, but its generally theme wasn't working for me. It's funny then, that this month, both Brubaker and Hickman play with some of the genre staples, but through the frame of their titles' individual universe (like Tarantino).

East of West is a bit of a difficult title to really lay out because it's based around alternate history, and the first bulk of the book gives the all to necessary background behind what makes this version of America tick. Basically it goes like this: Around the time of the Civil War, the Native American tribes decided to form the Endless Indian Nation and wage war on the Union Soldiers at the same time the U.S. was battling the Confederates. After twenty additional years of fighting, a comet struck the country and being a nation of religious fervor, this "sign of god's displeasure" was the spot in which the country was divided into seven different nations, each representing a different interest (CSA, USA, PRA, etc). At the same time, the four horsemen of the apocalypse roam the earth, with three recently being reborn as children and in search of their fourth member. That fourth member, as we learn is the "Roland Deschain" (or maybe Beatrix Kiddo) type of this comic, going about seeking revenge on those who have somehow wronged him. We don't learn what he's on about, but we do learn that he's the embodiment of death. Which is appropriate, as he's doing quite a bit of killing throughout.

Fatale this month is the continuation of Brubaker's work within the short story/done in one format, as he had been doing with the previous two issues. Whereas the previous two issues dealt with a medieval timeframe and an earlier 20th century tale, this focused on a Western-version of Josephine named Black Bonnie who after years of different occupations, legal and illegal, and a few different deaths, is taken on a quest with a Native American named Milkfed and an elderly professor. This trio takes takes Bonnie to a temple within a lighthouse, presumably on the far West Coast, where the professor is seeking out some of the cult within's secret texts. It's a great tale, done in one tale done in a pseudo-EC comics style, much like the previous two issues did the same. I've very much enjoyed this title, particularly as Brubaker has been finding his stride from the second arc, and Fatale never disappoints. One of the highlights of Fatale is the incredible voice that Brubaker instills in his female protagonist (or her proxies as in these tales), and it's equally impressive that he's able to do it in the Western format, where females are usually not much more than damsels in distress (save perhaps for something like True Grit). He, of course, has a history of this kind of work with character of the fairer sex; as his collaboration with Greg Rucka on Gotham Central proves.

Both titles also have a twist that fits in well with the overall themes established by the writers. Hickman's major twist, that his un-named lead character is the missing Fourth Horseman, fits in well with the overwhelming sense of dread that he often imparts in everything he writes (The Manhattan Projects, Pax Romana, SHIELD, New Avengers, even some elements of Fantastic Four). It is as dystopian as dystopian gets, and even has a mechanical eye-patch guy! Fatale also twists towards the end, more through a subversion of the expectations of its readers, much like the effect of creating a female western protagonist. It was one of those endings where I literally said out loud "well, that was quite clever", and perhaps obvious when taken in retrospect.

The art for both is gorgeous. Sean Phillips has long been one of my favorite artists in comics, right there with Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, and Keith Giffen. His ability to create smoky "noir-y" environments is challenged here given the theme, and the beautiful vistas he creates show just how diversified an artist he is. His pencils, and the coloring really puts a guy like Moritat (who is on All Star Western) to shame a bit. I wouldn't want to read a Western Comic regularly, but if Sean Phillips was doing it, I'd consider it. Nick Dragotta also brings his same Kirby-influenced designs to East of West, and just as I loved his late, and ended far too soon, run on Hickman's FF, I was glad to hear he would be re-collaborating with Hickman here. I think Hickman is better when he has someone else filtering his vision, as his own art lacks a little humanity and feels very clinical, but since Transhuman and Fantastic Four, he's really shot off into a better realm of storytelling. It's pretty safe to say, he's my writer of choice right now.

This has been a weird week of alt-history and strange turn of the century "weird westerns", as I've been playing Bioshock: Infinite, which isn't a western, but more a post-Reconstruction tale, yet it still has a similar feel to these two above comics and asks some fairly big questions regarding extremism. It's also an incredibly fun game that I highly, highly recommend to those gamers out there. But, I'll leave that discussion to Mike. Anyway, I digress, synergy is a funny thing and this week was full of it.

Fatale: A
East of West: A-

One sentence reviews:

Young Avengers #3 - A much more involving issue than last month's, it's still moving at a snail's pace for me, but the art continues to work wonders and make the purchase worthwhile. B

FF#5 - Not as wholly interesting as last month's issue but Medusa's plans are starting to at least take shape, Scott Lang may be becoming my favorite Marvel character that isn't named Matt Murdock. B+

Justice League Dark #18 - Beautiful art, ho-hum story; it felt a bit rushed towards the end as well, like they just wanted to tidy up everything and set up the post-ARGUS status quo. C+

Batman Inc #9 - A solid issue, the disjointed timeline was confusing at first, but I got the grasp of it; also the return of Bat-cow warrants plaudits! B
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