BEST OF WEEK: THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE #6 — It certainly doesn’t seem fair to compare 34 pages of no-ad J.H. Williams III art with perfect lettering from Todd Klein all in service of the grand finale of Neil Gaiman’s prequel—that, incidentally, brings us right back to where the tale of Dream and his Endless brethren all began with as much, if not more, wet-eyed heart-bursting power than the finality of seeing one of the last Jedi Knights completing the circle of a saga by delivering a rescued infant to be raised in secret by moisture farmers on a desert planet in the Outer Rim—it’s really not fair to compare this single issue to anything else that came out this week, but it certainly meets all the basic requirements, so I guess here we are.
It’s very hard to zoom in on what works about this because it’s perfection on every conceivable level. Did you want a little bit more from Death? Well, she won’t be feeding pigeons on a park bench, but she will be presiding over the deaths of billions in a strangely parallel reflection of the wreckage that Hickman has been wreaking all over the Marvel Universe here this last little bit. Is “Brief Lives” your favorite arc and you were afraid that Delirium was going to get skipped over just like their absent brother? Have two of the best pages of her ever written. Piggables, indeed. That business knocked me right down even before she gave away the surprise ending without me even realizing. How about Dream for once not slouching his way through millennia but actually stepping up and saving all of creation in a senses-shattering series of double-splashes that erases your memory as soon as you finish turning the last page due to the vast gaping enormity of what you have just witnessed? Which of course brings the whole thing back around to the perfect ending we were all expecting and the surprising epilogue that had me gasping with new insight into the climax of one of the richest stories in the medium’s history. Much has been made of this mini-series’s delayed publishing schedule, but I always knew that they couldn’t and shouldn’t rush greatness. Was two years too long to wait for this entire story to be published? Absolutely not. It’s true that some singles were more satisfying than others. The first, second, and fifth issues blew me away, while the third and fourth felt a little bit thin in the middle of all those months without a new chapter of this story. But I sat down this Wednesday and roared through them all in one sitting before moving on to the finale, and it was a powerful and moving experience that I certainly recommend to anyone who ever looked up in the middle of one of your dreams hoping to spy to catch a glimpse of Matthew the raven or kept trying the way into Lucien’s Library of Unwritten Books (I think it’s called?) or who was ever ever comforted by the thought of that cold void that waits for us all as long as there might be a beautiful funniest girl there to usher us at long last home with the words, “PEACHY KEEN!”
JUSTICE LEAGUE #44 — Another high-quality issue of the best arc this series has had so far. You’ve got to love Batman finding a way to level-up his dickishness With Jordan via Mobius Chair. What is the deal with that opening Joker/Batman page, though? Johns is setting up some profound retcon, I bet; there’s certainly no payoff of that deal in this issue. I wonder how many readers who bitched and mooooooaned about Busiek’s first arc on this title back ten years ago shuddered as soon as that scene ends with the mention of the planet Qward (we did admittedly spend too long on old Qward back there in that first Busiek arc). Charming times here with Negative-Superman; writing Superman as a power-mad asshole seems like lots of fun. And Flash as Black Racer is a quintessential fanboy amuck! bit of inspired madness. I love the over-the-topness of the Anti-Monitor just blasting him right through old Darkseid. And the Anti-Life Equation! That is a simple kind of embarrassing. I straight-up slapped my forehead when he hollered it out, how did everyone not see that coming like the minute this matchup was announced? I must say, though, I’m not crazy about the outcome. Deaths for shock value are surely the most played-out trope of this medium, and one of this magnitude is something you don’t really want to walk back, but that I also certainly don’t want to see stick. This Darkseid War is a great big dumb beast still lumbering in from the summer to blockbuster us all into submission with its extreme action, and it is tremendous fun.
SUPERMAN #44 — Maybe I’m getting tired of Brother’s depowered skill set? It just isn’t that fascinating to watch him throw down with The Royal Flush Gang, you know? The stuff with Perry rang true, though. That was solid work in this issue. Everything else felt a little bit rote. I’m already about Hordr’d out, I think. Hordr!
GRAYSON ANNUAL #2 — Nice deal, here. Seeley/King turn in another solid script that never fails to frame the characters in the foreground, and Alvaro Martinez’s sequentials are perfectly serviceable. I’ve always dug the jocular almost uncle/nephew relationship that Dick and Clark have, and this issue does fine work mining it, both past and present. With a bit of Luthor ex machina to seal the deal, even. This is not as devastating as other ancillary issues of this title but is still more well-crafted than the majority of mainstream superhero books on the rack.
AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SECOND CYCLE #10 — This issue is a little bit meatier than the most recent batch. The Albuquerque art remains stunning, quality work. However, Snyder hasn’t really put in the character work to make me give a shit about any of these people. You can dismiss that with the claim that maybe that’s indicative of the genre and how much do you care about the characters in, say, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, like character empathy doesn’t always have to be the point. I say you need it in any circumstance, and for all of this time that we’ve spent here with them over and across the years, I just don’t give much of a shit about Skinner or Pearl or any of them. It’s a cool plot, and vampires in space are good fun, but as this series that kickstarted Snyder’s career is winding down, it feels like it could have been so much more.
ARCHIE #3 — At last Ronnie gets an issue. Waid does quality work right away, making her both relatable and the same classic poor-little-rich-girl archetype that she’s embodied all these years. Once again, though, Betty steals the show as Jughead slowly brings her around to his way of thinking. Miss Cooper is two-out-of-three now for snatching this title out of the eponymous character’s hands, though that’s not that hard to do when he’s acting like this much of a toolbag. Obligatory resounding praise to Fiona Staples, as ever.
MORNING GLORIES #48 — Interesting development of the series-wide theme that our heroes aren’t really that great and maybe the antagonists aren’t so bad from a different point of view. Casey kiiiiiiind of comes off like a crazy person in this one, and then is straight up rocking some Lex Luthor type mind control by issue’s end, whether she realizes it or not. It seems like that won’t end well. Ike is still more fun to be around than any of the rest of them. We’re obviously spinning up to something pretty wacky here for the big 5-0, but Spencer’s certainly not telegraphing anything.
SAVAGE DRAGON #207 — I haven’t been picking this one up long enough to be invested enough in these characters to care about them holding up an entire issue between them. I guess we’re supposed to be scandalized at how transgressive it is to have the buxom blonde getting repeatedly pummeled by the weird red little alien, but that’s just regular Friday for some of us folk. You’ve still got to respect Larsen’s craft and one-man-wrecking-crew vibe, but this single felt mostly like a waste of time.
FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS #1 — I’m probably least dazzled by this one of all the 8house offerings thus far. This is 8house? Or just something unaffiliated that Churchland/Graham are putting out? I’m unclear. At any rate, this is still a very good-looking book. Sloane Leong’s colors, in particular, stand out against her linework. Scoring the pages featuring our royal protagonists with yellows and oranges opposite the cooler blues and purples of the antagonist pages is a pleasing counterpoint. And speaking of the antagonist, was anybody else getting a THB vibe from that opening scene when she conjured the monster creature? All told, some pretty art to found here, but there’s not that much of a narrative hook to keep us coming back for these characters, who are thus far fairly stock. Another charming value from Graham & co., though, 32 uninterrupted pages of story plus things getting started on the inside front cover, and an easily recognizable Graham double-page splash at the end to seal the deal.
ALAN MOORE’S PROVIDENCE #5 — A Gaiman/Moore bookend is always a charming evening. The line of dialogue, “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know about this, oh God . . .” that occurs late in this issue sums things up quite nicely. Dude definitely has the right idea toward the end. Just run away up out of there, Bro! This is a winding and disturbing tale, to be sure. Once again, Moore does plenty to breathe life into these characters, but he doesn’t give us any serious reason to become invested in our protagonist other than as just the victim of all these proto-Lovecraftian torments. Jacen Burrows once again draws the hell out of everything. The driver is a terribly creepy figure. But is poor Mr. Black going to commence next issue on the cusp of being embalmed? It certainly seems that way. Never mind The Old Ones, the most horrifying things of all are truly what we do to our own brothers and sisters.