BEST OF WEEK: LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #2—This is just the best. On every level. Character, first and foremost. We are not only fully invested in these people but we love them and hope the very best for them, despite the unlikelihood of such a scenario occurring, at least without a serious percentage of casualties. The plot. Hill is a consummate master of storytelling, spinning every written word to maximum incantative effect. I’ve said it before, but I care more about What Happens Next in this one than in any other serial narrative in which I am currently invested. Even though I completely did it with the first two volumes, slowing down to enjoy the third and fourth before finally going monthly, even though it still has not been a full calendar year since I’ve read the first page of this thing, I still already kind of hate the people in years to come who can just roar through this whole damn thing as fast as their attention spans and pocketbooks will allow. Who didn’t wait for it, didn’t earn it! Because Hill does such a fine job of ratcheting up the tension level of every single issue, notch by notch, in a way that is simply not perceptible on the marathon read. I am enjoying savoring these in monthlies to a ridiculous extent. An example, third panel of the second page this time out, Ty says that Bode went down to the water and that’s like the most terrifying thing ever. We don’t know for sure but presume that this is happening concurrent to the final pages last issue and you just want to scream at all of them, “Omega! Threat level omega! Fucking get down there, it’s too late, you’re probably all already too late, they’re coming, THEY’RE COMING GET DOWN THERE!” And but then the next two pages. Man. Here again, it’s the whole marathon vs monthly juxtaposition, for which I this particular case split the difference. I haven’t seen this fella for the majority of calendar year 2012, but all the noble Constant Readers out there haven’t seen him for I guess at least close to a year past that? And I shouldn’t have been but was so surprised at how glad it made me to have him right there on the page after all of these months, how great it was to just see him. I guess I did actually involuntarily holler out “Fucking Bode!” to the empty room but managed not to wake up the girls upstairs. So yeah, like two pages of good times, which means Hill’s got to immediately swivel it all back the other way into just The Horrah. Poor old Rufus is never going to catch a break, you feel like.
It is difficult to express how exhilarating it is to see a well-worn trope in the work of my very favorite author growing up used to such magnificent and powerful effect in this masterpiece written his son, who I presume is just a very few years older than me. But you know young Joe grew up with Tom Cullen and Wolf, got to know Sheemie and good old Duddits just a little while later and it really was just a nearly overwhelming feeling, that first time Rufus showed up in I want to say Volume 3, any King fan worth his salt had to immediately be like yelling at everyone else within earshot, “Oh shit, he’s got a retarded kid, there is . . . yes, we have at the very least an autistic type of fellow here who is so completely sympathetic, we’re heading more over in the realm of like the beatific saints, and it’s pretty likely this poor sweet kid is going to either hang out on the bench and/or eat just a terrific amount of shit for the majority of the story, but dollars will get you donuts and I don’t shiv that before all is said and done, this little bastard is going to be flying up or hurling fire or reading minds or dropping all kinds of life-saving telekinesis all over the entire climaxing mess right before keeling over, eyes rolled up to the top of his head and blood dribbling out of his nose, the last guardian, the sacrificial virgin, the super-powered messiah who gives his life to save the world from unthinkable and seemingly unstoppable evil.”
This issue, at long last, pushes all of that along rather well. And is also a war comic for part of the time.
MULTIPLE WARHEADS #2—This, in all kinds of other ways, is completely overwhelming. Brandon Graham packs so much detail, so many panels (29 across two pages at the highest point of madness), so. Many. Puns. into every page that it is almost exhausting to make it through an entire issue in one sitting. Which is in no way a complaint. Full art across 28 pages plus both inside covers, no ads, is in incredibly wonderful immersive experience. Particularly for the two American dollars plus ninety-nine cents! It just wears you out, man. This comic is a funny thing. There’s not so much conflict as just day-in-the-life-type mundanity, only the world in which it takes place is such an insane naked shot into the great teeming insanity crackling at the heart of Graham’s imagination that just pages and pages of someone waking up and walking down and getting breakfast is probably almost more than your average reader can bear (and see, at this point in the book, after that line, there would be like a close-up shot of someone opening a can that has a bear on the label, followed by a question about that “Cannes bear?” and then someone dropping their drawers in response, “No, CAN bare.” The man is nuclear. He is doing things with the form which no one in the world, past or present, is capable. Jawdropping business all around and we are lucky to have him.
HAPPY #3—This is kind of a fucked-up read the week before Christmas but I guess that’s the point. A bit even more disturbing as well to get Morrison on the cover with the DARICK power drill. Nick’s secret origin is a bit boilerplate by way of YEAR ONE Gordon but a thematic fit with what’s come before. This has been a fun if horrifying romp through ideaspace more traditionally mined by Ennis, and it has been interesting to watch Morrison play with the tropes and tone, scored by the intricate and hyperviolent linework we have come to expect and love from Robertson. Thinking there’s going to be some amount of blood next issue.
SAGA #8—This one continues last issue’s trend of moving along a lot more how I would like it to, though the present-tense tone of some of the jargon continues to just slap me out of the narrative. And I wish I didn’t have to keep talking about it, but it keeps happening. To be fair, sometimes it works, like when the squid thing in the tank on the bottom of Page Three says that guard duty with Alanna is the fucking worst, that was funny. But then Hazel narrating about her parents dreaming of her being an acrobat or a brain surgeon, that suddenly sends everything crashing into Planet Earth at lightspeed. I see that the whole trick is that whole validation-of-science-fiction thing wherein we ground the fantastic in the mundane details of our own personal experience to make it more resonant and universal, Luke Skywalker dreaming of getting off the farm/saving the galaxy, that kind of situation, but Vaughan’s still cutting it a bit slangy for my taste. There’s no rule that says everyone needs to talk like Joss Whedon wrote their dialogue. We don’t need a narrative caption that this is a “meet-cute,” we can fucking see what it is. And speaking of STAR WARS, you know what exactly this reminds me of, when Anakin drops a clone trooper out the back of a transport toward the end of EPISODE II and Obi-Wan says, “Good call, my young Padawan.” This anachronistic tic is, for the most part, hitting me terrible like that. I know I’m in the minority about this because everyone can’t stop falling over themselves about how incredible it is, and Fiona Staples does a magnificent magnificent job and I love her lettering and am fine with the mechanics of the plot so far, it’s just the intricacies of the dialogue between the characters, the way they relate to one another, that is kind of driving me crazy. And it wouldn’t as much if our boy hadn’t turned in 112 on-point issues of Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA and hit both so completely out of the park on such a regular basis. Hopefully, he’ll find a better balance that I can lock onto without alienating the rest of the free world who already loves this thing.
FABLES #124—I have never really been into this back-up feature and figured that them dumping all of the final chapters on us in a single sitting was unlikely to produce a more enjoyable effect. “I’ll take paying the $2.99 cover price just to get this one over with and on back to Snow & Bigby next month, which, not counting them fretting over their kids last arc, don’t feel like we’ve really hung with them in three or four years, now,” I said to myself at the point of purchase (except it was more in internal brainwaves and flashes, without as much phrasing and grammar). And I was right about those last chapters Eleven through Thirteen. Could not have cared less. However. What follows is an eleven-page epilogue montage that goes all SIX FEET UNDER finale and fast-forwards us through the next 742 years of adventures that Bufkin & Lily share while trying to make it back to that beloved lunchbox tree in Oz. And that business is devastating. Somebody call the Eisner judges, Willingham can do no wrong.
THE UNWRITTEN #44—Tommy’s journey through hell with those two kids from the prison where some serious shit went down like three years ago continues. Harpies are terrifying en masse! Nearly four years running, Carey & Gross never fail to pull just enough narrative sleight-of-hand to keep us engaged, even if we have no idea where we’re heading. And one of the best last pages of the week, no question, you just want to go around waving it in people’s faces with no context whatsoever.
WONDER WOMAN #15—Man, this one definitely gives just enough to tickle our four-month-simmering curiosity while leaving us all twisted up wanting more. Chiang/Wilson are nothing less than a force, what gorgeous art. I mean, the cover alone. Really hope Azzarello doesn’t pull his usual cleverly-subverting-expectations shenanigans and actually gives us at least a few pages of Diana and Orion slugging it out next month. Because I need to see this art team go straight Kirby for just a few panels. Maybe this guy in Antarctica is supposed to be Vandal Savage, it’s hitting me as suddenly terribly obvious?
BATWOMAN #15—Mm, a Maggie Sawyer fill-in with 90% of the art supplied by Trevor McCarthy. Bless his heart, he does fine, great even, a style grounded in realism that reminds me of earlier Sean Phillips or even Chiang back up top. But when we’re conditioned to expect the mind-blowing compositional and rendering hijinx of J.H. Williams III and are confronted with anything else, it just doesn’t, can’t, measure up. This is a perfectly entertaining comic book on its own merits, the writing is solid, etc. But in context, it is nothing more than a fill-in issue of J.H. BATWOMAN.
ALL-NEW X-MEN #4—Man, this is just really quality. I wish they weren’t shipping it so much so I could be hanging out with my principles of not paying $4 for twenty-pages-a-pop twice a month, but this title is, unto itself, all-star-as-good-as-it-gets-X-Men-greatness and I’m powerless not to gobble it up with a spoon. I had to go three places to find #3 when it was sold out by the middle of the afternoon Wednesday, and it wasn’t until I had it that I remembered I assured myself that there was No Way I was diving in when the book was announced. Bendis has really dropped in with his A-game from the first beat, dropping all kinds of deft little perfect character moments right and left, which fuel this title’s fire like no other, but then never failing to push the plot forward. Emma’s reaction to the news that Jean is back is so pitch-perfect I can’t handle it, one of dozens of lines within these pages that not only defines but codifies a character. And the art is some of the very best on the rack, Immonen/von Grawbadger/Gracia rendering every page in brilliance on every level, composition, layout, and such lush lush tones.
DAREDEVIL #21—Waid just keeps on rolling, man, what a monster, and manages to both pay off and tie up what’s been going on with the past twelve issues of this book, all while propelling us forward into the bold new era of Superior NOW! Samnee & Rodriguez’s art continues to perfectly complement Waid’s words and display storytelling at the highest level of craft. There’s so much hype about this book for a reason.
HAWKEYE #6—And speaking of hype. Yeah, man. This one right here is indeed The Real Business. Maybe it’s getting Aja back, maybe Fraction’s just getting better and better, but this issue feels like the best one yet, and the bar is already fairly stratospheric. What we have here is a non-linear romp through six days in the life of our own eponymous off-duty Avenger trying to hook up a black-market DVR to his A/V situation at home so that he can finish up the season of DOG COPS, which is apparently the most riveting must-see TV going in the 616 at the moment, but then also finding time to quote Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain” soliloquy along the way, as well as having the guy who sold him the DVR channel Henry Leo Fraction’s viewpoint as to why his alias is really Hawkguy, and then also get Clintnapped by the ever-antagonistic Tracksuit Mafia (Bro), from whom we learn something new about the femme fatale from #3, and but also, yet again, Kate delivers a short but eloquent lecture on how Clint needs to man up, quit being a jerk, and Do the Right Thing. It’s very fashionable to boycott Marvel or even corporate comics altogether, but folks making that call are missing some of the very best books on the rack, week in week out, look no further than only this streak of Marvels batting my own true and personal cleanup for the proof.
FF #2—Fraction is really hitting on all cylinders here, lately. Diving back in to CASANOVA had to be a good thing. But here we are in the fourth part of this double-title situation wherein our team of replacements bid farewell to the eponymous quartet only to discover on Page Four that, big surprise, said eponymous foursome does not in fact return as scheduled. Because how could you have a sister title were that the case? Of course, the media goes bananas while the team hunkers down and then the Mole Man attacks. Which makes all kinds of sense. The Allreds’ art on this is as great as you expect, they’ve had a couple decades’ worth of professional interaction to really lock into perfectly complementing one another’s styles and I guess the old matrimony hasn’t hurt matters. Great great call those last four pages too, though, so far it was a perfectly paced enjoyable enough issue but every beat fell right where you’d expect, there was virtually no surprise, just respect for the commendable execution of the craft, but then the portal opens back up and Johnny comes roaring through from presumably far into the main title’s future, late-2013 at the very earliest I’m hoping, proclaiming that the other three are dead, so now we’ve got them having their adventures over in the other book in relatively linear sequence while back over here three days after they’ve left, there’s the Torch prophesying probably whatever disaster was about to go down on the first page of the first issue. Really fine work, these two titles just could not be going better, loving the ride.
AVENGERS #2—All right, after hitting the Martian landscape running last issue, we dial it way back and drop in some exposition, learn the secret origin of The Garden, who are really just benevolent as hell to hear them tell it, and then do a roundin’-up-the-troops scene that’s basically a straight lift from the X-MEN: FIRST CLASS movie subbing in Steve & Tony for McAvoy & Fassbander, which is maybe more riveting than it sounds with Opeña and White still absolutely blinding you with lines and colors that no American comic book has ever seen. The hell of it is, I can already tell that I’m going to have to have these in hardcover volumes just to drink all of this down without any ads, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to hang out until they’re published, never mind losing the effect of two issues of this one for every single of NEW AVENGERS. So it goes in the Novel Noble NOW!, True Believers! With Fraction blowing it up back over at the Baxter Building and this run still barely idling up out of second gear, I don’t even miss Hickman FF, an insane concept I am having serious trouble wrapping my brain around as the last days of dear old 2012 burn themselves down into the past, always the receding past.