BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #28 —Well, good Lord. I suppose that we will forgive the creators for making this arc three installments longer than what might have previously seen like the perfect conceit. At this point, these guys are dispensing absolutely catastrophic destruction about every two or three pages. That opening huge shot of just our hero in all his fiery glory across Pages Four and Five is only the first example. Panel Three of Page Eight (entire page just over to the right, there) is a crippling piece of storytelling, the depth of the facial expression we get even from behind the cowl, the choice to frame the shot just so, in order to work in the unscarred half of Harvey’s face. What an incredible beat following that previous line of dialogue. And then I’m a huge fan of Batman’s argument for the third side of the coin. Once again, Tomasi digs in like no other. It’s also a wonderful choice to continue to dial the flashback back even further to Bruce of course introducing Harvey and Gilda in the first place before a horrifying-in-hindsight aside re: the McKillen twins. What a stellar three panels of courtship. It’s all we need. These creators move even faster than Harvey. The blue/red shift during the Harvey/Gordon scene is another masterstroke. I wonder if that was in the script or Kalisz. And that last scene with Harvey. So good it renews the faith of even this somewhat jaded reader that it Will Always Count & Really Matter, it won’t be undone by editorial edict a few years down the line. I certainly hope so. And a very nice touch at the end with the signal functioning as the face of the single-sided coin that Batman and Gordon share. This issue does so so much in twenty pages. Some folks feel it necessary to qualify something like this as “the best in mainstream superhero comics,” the kind of faint praise that says, yes, this is the business but it can’t hold up to more literary four-hundred-pages-of-autobiography-by-a-single-gifted-writer/artist type fare, but for my money, this is nothing less than the best the medium is capable of, immaculately framed sequential narrative depicting character-driven plot that continually stuns, surprises, and thrills. These men have been firing at the top of their game since the beginning of their run and are only reaching loftier heights through their continued association with one another.
ANIMAL MAN #28 — In many ways, we hit the climax of this volume here before what’s sure to be a devastating epilogue/coda next month. Lemire & Albuquerque bring the story of Maxine’s quest into the Red to resurrect her brother to a close, all the major conflicts are resolved and the reduced nuclear family is as healed as they seem likely to be, all under the watchful gaze of some sort of extra-dimensional being who I feel like I should maybe recognize? It’s not one of the dude’s from Morrison’s run, have we seen this design here with Lemire? I haven’t actually busted out the entire run and thumbed through, if anybody knows exactly who this guy is supposed to be, if we’ve even already seen him before, certainly please let me know. Next month is going to be incredible, I have no doubt.
WONDER WOMAN #28 — Well, it appears as though Cassandra is going to wind up being just a bit late to the party. That is . . . quite a last page. Azzarello/Chiang/Wilson serve up yet another installment of one of the most entertaining and far-reaching runs starring our favorite Amazon that it has ever been my pleasure to encounter. Tremendous work, all around.
FABLES #138 — I would like to renew my assertion that Russ Braun is an absolute hoss. A stunning level of draftsmanship. Of course, I was thrilled to read the subtitle of this issue, I love it when Willingham drops time-flash recap montages and with the news that this title will be winding down I guess one year from right now, I’ve been wondering what part Geppetto would play in the endgame. Coming in right in character, it appears. Man, I simultaneously don’t want it to be over and can’t wait to read the words THE END.
RETCON BEST OF FOUR WEEKS AGO: THE UNWRITTEN: APOCALYPSE #1 and #2 — Well, somehow my shop didn’t pull the first issue for me, which, I need to go back and see when it actually came out, because it very well might have been Best of Week. After burning everything down at the end of the first volume with a FABLES crossover (oddly enough, I now cannot find my copies of those singles. Just those five, #50-54, gone like they were never there, to the point that I almost started wondering if I’d made up that the whole thing even happened, a radical notion that you can almost get behind, given the content: I wanted it so badly that I wished those comics into being and when I made it to the last page of #54 and put them away, they simply vanished), Carey & Gross do nothing less than walk us up the evolutionary ladder itself, from the void of space to the primordial ooze, single-celled amoebas to double-helixes. And that’s just the first page. The remainder of the issue is a whirlwind narrative tour de force of our hero basically reconstructing himself with, what else, stories serving as the fuel and/or engine. He opens with Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” then transitions into Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” before heading on over to being one of the young in Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” followed by a turn as The Dormouse at Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter’s tea party, concluding with actually harnessing C.S. Lewis’s Aslan’s resurrection to achieve enough power to catalyze his own rebirth. Mike Carey runs through all of this with a dizzying facility of shifting tone that always honors the source material while remaining internally consistent to the mythos that have been building within these own pages. Peter Gross is just as impressive, turning in a virtuoso performance across a full spectrum of styles, opening the Aesop section with sparse inks and actually leaving in his blue-line pencils in several places before moving on to charcoal for Andersen, adding a few tones for Kipling, doing a fair impression of John Tenniel in the Wonderland section, and then bringing in fully rendered figures for the Narnia scene. I should remark upon Page Fourteen, a splash that features a palindromic verse whose meaning is completely changed from beginning to end through the application of altered punctuation and is really a stunning thing to behold. Okay, I just went back and checked and, yeah, this one would have taken it over HAWKEYE #16. Just ridiculous. It seems like Carey & Gross routinely set out to accomplish narrative feats that should be impossible and then knock it out of the park every time. This first issue is pretty much as good as comics get, the creators pushing the form as hard as they can just to see if it will break. But of course, it never does, shifting instead into beautiful new shapes we’ve never seen before but that are immediately familiar and even beloved nonetheless.
(Oh, and #2 is pretty good, too.)
MORNING GLORIES #38 — Ms. Clarkson, naturally. We’re pretty much looking for her around most bends by now. But this time, we go straight dream-logic for our Akiko-centric due to the fact that she’s in a coma. Which certainly gives Spencer/Eisma less narrative transition hoops to jump through, just on to the next thing again and again. When the word “lost” shows up on the next-to-next-to-last page, did anyone else experience a PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE Secret Word type moment? I am really a fan of that pages-of-horizontal-panels heavy-shit montage that has really become a thing this book, every time we hit that layout, you know you’re in for The Business. And that they’re totally going to be much heavier in years to come through the lense of events that haven’t already unfolded. Because Ian hasn’t made it to The Cylinder yet. I think? This book huuuuurts my brain.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #25 — The first thing I thought when I saw the cover was, “Who the hell is Leandro Fernández?” followed immediately by, “I guess he’s a total fucking badass like everyone else they’ve ever gotten to draw this book. One could always argue that it’s the benefit of Dave Stewart’s colors but I haven’t been feeling this way the entire run, but what I’m trying to say is that this art looks like Mignola in all of the best ways, terrific use of shadow and sparse linework while conveying maximum dynamic action. I really love that Page Six with the double-shot of Bêlit, you certainly don’t need any words to get knocked down by all of that. Wood does once again break period with Conan’s anachronistic single-beat “Hey,” on Page Nine. I don’t feel like the guy has ever ever talked that way and trying to impose an updated vernacular on him is pretty blasphemous. I want to letter up a parody run of these where he’s all like, “Hey, gurl,” and “Bro, you know I’ll cut you, Bro?” And of course we wouldn’t be good to go without another goddamn abuse of “literally” from Thessy. I swear. It’s not enough to wreck the magnificence of the final sequence, though. Conan burning the Tigress down to the bottom of the ocean off an unnamed beach, burying his queen and the vast treasure that they have accumulated is a grand, romantic gesture that underscores the tragedy of the entire doomed affair. It has been a journey in which I have been glad to take part. I do hope that there will be continued publication somewhere of Jim & Ruth Keegan’s excellent THE ADVENTURES OF TWO-GUN BOB: TRUE STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT E. HOWARD. What a man.
ZERO, VOLUME ONE — My good friend Matt Doman has been singing the praises of this book for the last little bit now, and it was such an alarming departure from his perpetual stumping for SAVAGE DRAGON that when I saw this first trade for the low low price of nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, I had to check it out. And I’m glad that I did. Created by Ales Kot of WILD CHILDREN fame, ZERO starts out in near-future espionage mode with a dash of superpowers and science fiction thrown in. To spice things up, every issue has a different artist, more often than not folks I haven’t heard of, though Tradd Moore does show up for the second issue. This revolving artist conceit could easily backfire every month but it’s almost the book’s strongest feature due to the talented crop of folks Kot brings in. The bittersweet part is when you’re almost done with an issue and realize you’re about to say goodbye to a style that you’ve really grown to love. I’m certainly going to seek out that Morgan Jeske from #4, he or she has a serious Paul Pope thing going on. As much as anyone else can, at any rate. Kot makes some interesting decisions pacing this thing out. The first issue isn’t nearly as devastating as VELVET’s, for example, we simply jump right in the middle of a mission with a couple of scene-breaks to check out our eponymous lead’s handlers handling each other. Michael Walsh’s art is terrific, but I’m honestly not sure if the whole deal would have been enough to hook me into picking up #2. Well, I actually probably would have anyway just because of Moore’s involvement, but my point is that there are narrative elements that are introduced after #1 that I find much more compelling, namely Zero’s upbringing/indoctrination and his relationship with fellow agent Mina Thorpe. Which, #3 messed me up pretty good, I have to tell you. I’m still holding out hope that the rest of her will show up alive here in a little while. And I will say that the pacing levels out to perfection by the end of this first volume, that is exactly where you want to end your trade because I will be happy to pay fifteen American dollars for the next five issues now that I’m hooked. This is really compelling excellent brand-new creator-owned material. Image is killing me.
SAVAGE DRAGON #193 — Well, it’s official, as Malcolm Dragon takes over his daddy’s book, opening with an action-packed five-page flashback showing that he had the guts even way back when. But that’s nothing compared to what it’s going to take to make it through college! They need me to write trade dress. Larsen of course has the dynamic Kirby energy thing down pat, but what is sometimes underrated in discussing this book is the terrific natural dialogue uttered by even bit-players, everything feels very organic with total verisimilitude. Which is no mean feat, considering the physical appearance of the lead. And just when the present-day portion of the issue is starting to feel perhaps too grounded in the relative mundanity of real college life, the horror of Tantrum appears to forever scar the reader. If not his character design alone, then the final fate of the chest-baby. Disturbing in all of the best ways. It was very cool of Larsen to drop such a paradigm shift here in this issue that isn’t a round number or anniversary, a statement to remember that every single issue should be as spectacular as possible. Hold nothing in reserve every single issue, every single page.
UNCANNY X-MEN #017 — This could basically be a new volume of THE NEW MUTANTS, and there is nothing in the world wrong with that. Bendis wisely lets the gang of students take center-stage for the entire issue as they are dropped off and forced to fend for themselves in the middle of some future-relic from either Morrison’s run or Remender’s X-FORCE, I forget. This allows for Bendis to flex his considerable ensemble chops and provide a gang of characterization in just twenty pages. And Chris Bachalo. I mean, the guy has arguably never been better, and that’s really saying something. That circling camera-angle thing he does across Pages Two and Three alone is a serious master-class in staging team dynamics. I mean, it’s the classic Bendis trope/complaint of a scene where a group of people is standing around talking but then Bachalo elevates it through expert usage of layout and evoking emotion/acting from his characters through body language. Terrifying. However many years Bendis’s run winds up lasting, it won’t be long enough. This is still nothing short of spectacular. Bring on Marco Rudy!
DAREDEVIL #036 — And so ends this critically acclaimed and all-around-beloved third volume of Daredevil. It’s as straight-ahead and high-quality as we have grown to expect with all the usual suspects knocking it out. I particularly enjoyed the Easter eggs on the cover, the “other Murdock papers,” in particular. I do wish that the Mighty Marvel Hype Machine would have kept the particulars on the next volume under wraps before this one hit because it would have been really nice to read this issue and actually be the least bit surprised when making it to the last page instead of having it plastered all over the Internet two months ago. So, that let the air out of this ending a little bit but I’m certainly interested to see where Waid & co take things from here. And will probably even pay the All-New All-NOW! cover price of $3.99 a pop for the opportunity to find out.