BEST OF WEEK, OBVS: PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 — Ah. There you are, darling. At long last. For the past five years, I’ve hollered about to anyone who’d listen how important the second volume of PHONOGRAM was, not as much in a context-free vacuum but specifically to me at that moment in my life, one year into being a stay-at-home dad and closer to the precipice than I had realized to growing not up but away from the person I had been, drifting toward a different state of being not by choice but circumstance, and it was these singles telling the stories of seven phonomancers on one night that happened to be the day after my daughter’s negative-second birthday that snapped me back into their jaws and whipped me around and shook me and reminded me who I had been and how important it was to never let that go, all while inundating me with all of this perfect pop music that I had never even heard of. Of course I knew some of the Britpop, Blur, Elastica, Oasis, and the like, but I’d never heard of the Manics or Kenickie or The blessed Pipettes or The Long Blondes, and I had lived my whole life without “River Deep Mountain High.” And somehow “Hey Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” was the theme song that encapsulated the aching heartsick fleeting sensation of how all of this could only feel new for a little while before it would stop remaking and reminding me and just become part of what I had always been and not realized quite yet. This series, that volume in particular, THE SINGLES CLUB, has had more of an impact on me than most of the hundreds and hundreds of comics that I have devoured in my time, but I can’t recommend it to just anyone or really anyone at all and expect a similar result. It was a thing of its time, a convergence unique only to me. I’m sure several others (with that unfortunate 4K ceiling, natch) could report similar circumstances, but there you are.
All of which to say, that this volume even exists is a source of great joy to me before even cracking it open. Of course, it has so much to live up to. And I am certainly not the person I was those years ago. Similar in many ways, but my little girl is now beginning first grade. I have three jobs and just got hired for a fourth and know damn well all the who I ams that there are, I just need the time to actualize them to their full potential. And so we come, at last, to the story of Emily Aster, who has been near the front since the beginning but only ever taken center stage for that third issue last time out. And of course, since then, Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson have given us the glorious run of YOUNG AVENGERS before unleashing THE WICKED + THE DIVINE upon the world to fairly resounding acclaim. I couldn’t wait for us all to get back together again and have a look at one another. Once it was time to read the new books, though, I realized that I should have a run through the old batch and reached for Penny’s initial romp through Volume 2 before realizing that I would be doing Kohl and the whole enterprise a disservice if I didn’t run all the way through. Sooooooo, a couple of hours and several Lone Stars and thirteen issues of PHONOGRAM later, I was finally ready to return to London. And a good thing I read back through, I remembered most of the high points of Volume 1 but couldn’t remember The Myth for shit. And who could be ready for young Seth? Not I, certainly. Oh oh, and somehow, through all of my previous love, I had somehow managed never to spin Dexy’s “Plan B,” and so was riveted by that even before it turned out to be the title of this very latest first installment. You see?!? All for me! My favorite part, though, was them dropping the URL address right at the bottom of Page Twelve. I dutifully stopped reading and immediately watched Poly Sterene’s “Ghoulish” on my iPad, completely riveted before I found out the entire posthumous context. And that’s even before Gillen’s wonderful inversion on “Take On Me” by having a girl from this sequential world fall directly into the goddamn A-ha video with McKelvie of course knocking the style out like he’s been practicing it since the day he was born, which I suspect is around the time this video was first released. I was laughing and crying and the entire wretched mess was really the best and worst possible way to begin another Wednesday Night Mass.
DESCENDER #6 — In terms of narrative flow, it’s a somewhat strange call to tuck IN the secret origin of Dr. Quon here at the back end of the arc just because you really typically don’t want to end on backstory, but Lemire/Nguyen have, in just a very few issues, already crafted such a rich and compelling mythology that of course we gulp all that backstory exposition down and ask for seconds before they do indeed drop the hammer in such a way that has to have anyone with a heart, mechanical or otherwise gnashing teeth and shaking fists over this damned two-month hiatus. Lemire has done solid to excellent work-for-hire material since ESSEX COUNTY, but this is the sweet stuff, the mother lode, the SWEET TOOTH, TRILLIUM mainline business right here. I have made no secret of loving it since the first issue, but if you’ve been reading along at home and for some reason ignoring my love (which happens in just all kinds of contexts, I’m sad to report), then for the sake of all you hold dear, pick up this first trade for $9.99 next month.
INJECTION #4 — This is another one that fills in the blanks better than the first two issues, and it’s pretty interesting. Ellis is doling out an intriguing narrative that engages on its own terms, and Shalvey/Bellaire continue to throw down sequential dynamite at every turn. Worth it for the Kilbride montage alone, even if you already saw that panel about the TED talk ten times on the Internet before this issue ever came out (which I was kind of sorry about once I finally read this thing; I would have laughed my ass off at that and kind of fallen in love with what’s-his-name in context if that had been the first time). I’m digging this one just a little bit more than TREES, if anybody’s making us play the Which Is Better? game (and if they are, Thor beats Hulk in the final round every time, you guys, so there).
SECRET WARS #5 — I think everyone’ s so so damn event-jaded (and fair play if they are, it’s been a rough decade), but the elegance and greatness of this event is just not something that’s getting talked about enough. I wish this could have been a years’ worth of double-published FF/AVENGERS stories. I want 36 issues of the father/daughter relationship between Doom & Valeria, arguably the most compelling introduction that Hickman made into the mythos that he barely even had time to scratch the surface of before moving on, but that that shot of her as a teenager donning the Doom armor in a montage in S.H.I.E.L.D. vol. 2 #4 accelerates to eye-popping terminal velocity just in one panel. Doom’s line about her not confusing undying love and eternal patience while just addressing her as “child” was aching perfection, the only way to follow up having him quote Gaiman re: the high cost of living. And then back at the top, you’ve got to love the straight-faced dogmatic nonsense of Strange’s eulogy’s narrative involving Doom and the departed as the only witnesses to creation itself. Hickman gives Owen Reece a voice closer to Klaw in the original version of this with the repeated lines and what not, but I’m thinking that’s more of an intentional homage. This was very much a reset issue after the out-of-control madness of #4, more of a full-stop than I expected, but the concepts are so big, the ideas so massive that it’s terribly compelling just to follow these people around watching them trying to figure out what’s happening. We’re going to need a massive crank-up here in the homestretch to reach this set-up’s exponential potential, but the creators are certainly up to the task that they have set for themselves. If I didn’t love PHONOGRAM so much, this would be my Best of Week. Everybody, quitcher bitchin’.
A-FORCE #3 — It’s still so good! Our heroines are on the ropes as Baroness She-Hulk runs afoul of some Thors and one of their number pays the ultimate price. Even though we’ve barely seen this version of these characters interact, the death scene played with all the appropriate gravitas, in large part due to Molina’s splash-page staging. We’re all just expecting greatness at this point, and Bennet/Wilson/Molina certainly keep delivering.
GOTHAM ACADEMY #8 — This detective club is really coming together. The Kerschl cover says it all. This remains one of DC’s most exciting and flat-out fun books. There are several fun references packed in here, from Olive missing acting in Mr. Trent’s House of Secrets play to Maps quoting Faith’s “Five by Five” to Pomeline dropping a “nerf herder,” but my favorite was Lillards throwing down a Clue reference after tranking Coach Humphreys. And of course Olive’s mom used to be a pyrokinetic supervillain. This series has it all.
ACTION COMICS #43 — Pak/Kuder continue bringing the justice with the ballad of the depowered Superman of the people. They have really done fine work stripping the character all the way past even his wacky Silver Age trappings down to the core of the character, an inspiration to the world, sure, but just to his neighborhood, first and foremost. I love how they’ve zoomed all the way in to that. The “You’re all Superman now.” moment played with as much depth and raw power as it deserved to. Well done, all.
BATMAN #43 — All right, well, that’s a pretty great reason to bring Bruce back already. What an interesting wrinkle in the whole deal. I questioned but never doubted him for an instant, well done, Snyder. Our guy has just been erased and now he’s been purged of everything that makes him Batman. Fascinating. Capullo & Plascencia close in on the end of their fourth year of absolutely putting it down with Miki along for most of the ride. And Bat-Robot-Gordon remains a compelling permutation. You almost don’t even need rogues, even, new or old!
STARFIRE #3 — No letdown here, Conner/Palmiotti/Lupacchino continue to craft an excellent book that redeems the character from all of her mishandling since the reboot. The script zings along, featuring only one character we’ve ever met outside these pages, and the art remains as stunning as the effect that our protagonist seems to have on at least every background character. And now we’ve got Power Girl’s cousin or something in the mix? Terrific fun.
BOMBSHELLS #1 — This series sounded like a slam-dunk as soon as it was announced, and that was before I figured out that A-FORCE co-writer Bennett was scripting. It is indeed terrific. It takes its time. With the exception of the cover, our heroines have yet to meet, as we get to know them in three distinct chapters. It’s interesting to see the level of modification. This is basically just a straight-up Golden Age version of Diana while Batwoman’s taking her name a bit literally while riffing on the old Rosie the Riveteer deal, and Kara is pulling a straight RED SON. It all work, though. The art by Sauvage recalls the lines of Paquette and colors of Lotay, fine company to be in to be sure, particularly in this context. It looks like DC’s got another brand-new hit on their hands, and I couldn’t be happier.
VELVET: THE MAN WHO STOLE THE WORLD #11 — Brubaker/Epting/Breitweiser bring us the first installment of the new arc. This one takes its time, content to simmer along at its own pace. The art continues to stun. It’s been ten years since Brubaker & Epting first got together with that Captain America run that stunned everybody, and the quality and depth of their collaboration has clearly been enriched by the intervening years. Brubaker is clearly having a blast crafting his very own espionage yarn and the art is just like its protagonist, stunning and it doesn’t put up with bullshit of any kind.
EMPIRE: UPRISING #4 — We check in with Minister Valpurgis, who it turns out is conspiring against our villain protagonist, old Golgoth. And our planet’s salvation might arrive in the form of space aliens! I confess that I haven’t gone back to the first volume after all of these years and so was a bit sketchy on the particulars of the guy who just showed back up, but Waid made it all clear enough so that I wasn’t super-confused. More terrific work from Kitson, clean lines throughout. This volume is beginning to pick up the narrative pace, to be certain.
ODY-C #6 — Jesus, there were a lot of damn books this week. We haven’t even made it to the Moore/Morrison showdown. Here though, we’re checking in with Ene’s ship and specifically the great bull of Troiia, “He of the cock that once launched in his honor some ten thousand swiftships,” Fraction folds in a couple of layers of storytelling 1,001-Arabian-Nights-style and gives us a terribly engaging done-in-one that manages to not even check in with our spanning ensemble. Ward’s first all-digital issue is a wonder to behold with a palette that is unlike any upon which I have ever laid eyes. If you’re curious about this series but hesitant to just jump in, this is the one that will let you know what you’re getting into without ruining the first five issues for you in any way.
PROVIDENCE #3 — All right, I don’t know. I am one of those who argues that THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN has gotten successively better along the way. Yes, counting THE BLACK DOSSIER and all of that apeshit lightning-dick CENTURY business before finally leveling off (relatively speaking) and calming down with Ms. Janni Nemo here most recently. I also found some merit in the soul-crushing horror of NEONOMICON. All of this to say, to all those who have scoffed at Mr. Moore’s output of the past decade or so, I have only scoffed in turn. But three issues in, this one’s leaving me cold. I’m having trouble dialing in. The craft is certainly apparent. It’s probably the best work of Jacen Burrows’s career with well-crafted composition and camera motion throughout the issue that would make Dave Gibbons nod along in paternal approval and careful linework leading to understated acting throughout the panels. And the script is certainly fully realized. Moore doesn’t ever do anything half-hearted. I just don’t care about this guy and thus far haven’t been given even the seed of a reason to begin to. I didn’t even bother wading through the backmatter this time around just because it hasn’t really lent much to the overall narrative thus far. The character’s a bit overly simpering for my taste, perhaps? I don’t know. I’m a little disturbed just because I’m always going to find something to respect about Moore’s work, he’s too much of a master craftsman for that not to be the case, but this is the first time that I haven’t really cared for the story he has chosen to tell.
GRANT MORRISON’S 18 DAYS #2 — Morrison infuses the single scene of King Yudish crossing enemy lines to receive a blessing from his enemies with no small amount of character development for members of both factions. This goes a great length toward heightening the suspense and drama that was already in place from the first issue, and of course, the battle has yet to begin. While Yudish is apparently just like the best, most noble warrior ever, Morrison wisely makes the characters Drona and particularly Bheemsha of the magnificent laugh very likeable so that even though Duryodhana is very much cast as the bad guy in this conflict, those who serve with him occupy more ambiguous territory. Kang once again turns in art that is dynamic and exciting wherein simply a small group of men crossing the lines of a battlefield is imbued with majesty and grandeur. Not that much happens in this issue, but it’s carried off with such craft and character precision that it’s all terribly engrossing and I can’t wait for the next issue.