Monday, November 28, 2011

Five Comics Worth Reading - November 2011

There’s a longer post to be written about this, I’m sure, but while I recognize that pound-for-pound Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a stronger TV series than Angel was, I always had a soft spot for the latter, often over the former, probably in large part because I watched both when I was in college, so supernatural aspects aside the “brooding young man with an old soul striking out in the world” motif resonated more with me at the time than “young girl and her friends finding themselves post-high school” for whatever reason (don’t get me wrong, I loved both). Now, once again, while I dig the Buffy Season Nine comic, I think I’m enjoying Angel & Faith that much more, not just because one has a prominent male protagonist though, it’s just well-done and exploring fresh ground. Aside from his Angelus periods, Angel has always been the stoic mentor, from his earliest appearance on Buffy guiding her into the world she’s embracing to leading his team on his own show, only really losing that control when he goes full evil. Conversely, Faith has always been the protégé in need of redemption, whether from Buffy, Giles or Angel himself. Here, Christos Gage is establishing a new dynamic where a reluctantly responsible Faith must look out not only for a band of neophyte slayers, but a penitent Angel, who is not just heaping his usual self guilt on for recent actions, but getting reckless without turning bad in his desperation to make things right. The plot is tight, but it’s getting to see both leads so out of their comfort zones and the characterization gold Gage is skillfully mining that makes this book tick. Rebekah Isaacs is also doing a slick job on art, walking that line between depicting characters with real life counterparts and finding ways to still own them yourselves.

This is probably the most dense comic I pick up, and I mean that as a total compliment. Some books I breeze through, but not Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, which I need to really pore over to appreciate every detail and development. The fact is, Batman has been around going on seven or eight decades now, and I don’t have much interest in most stories directly tackling his mindset or stuff of that nature because they’ve all been done to some extent. What does get me going is what Snyder is doing, and that’s focusing on the mythology of Gotham City or the Wayne legacy, making Batman the explorer rather than the discovery and in the process adding layers to the character as he builds the world around him. Snyder’s enthusiasm for the minutiae of detective work, forensics, or even architecture make the stories pop as it really is an almost interactive adventure you can follow rather than just having to be a passive observer of guys in spandex kicking and punching (though there is that too). He’s doing a nice job integrating the various generations of supporting cast as well as adding his own creations, again making Gotham feel like a living and evolving organism. I was a big mark for Capullo’s X-Force as a kid, so it’s cool to see him back with quite a few years experience and refinement under his belt knocking out dark, beautiful work that also has some nice bounce to it.

I may have to rethink my top five Flash artists, because honestly, few people have ever captured the pure energy of the concept in my mind like Francis Manapul has. Other guys may have conveyed speed better or drawn better figures and fight scenes, but I can’t think of anybody whose work at its essence feels like it is the burst of light, movement and pure joy I think of better than Manapul and Steve Buccalleto’s. The innovation and verve they bring to the visual aspect of The Flash undeniable, but as anybody who has read this blog for a little while knows, the real challenge is getting me to even tolerate Barry Allen; well, I’m still not the guy’s biggest supporter and can argue why he shouldn’t be wearing the red and yellow with the best of them, but I’m slowly coming around to some degree. I believe few characters have benefitted from the DC re-launch quite like Barry, as the removal of his Crisis sacrifice status as well as the Silver Age albatross of moral boredom goes a ways toward giving him a shot at being a likable protagonist. Right now, Manapul and Buccaletto’s art is so strong and their story hooks have enough pop that I’m going to try to like Barry Allen—I can give few higher compliments.

There are few characters in comics more interesting and complex than Magneto. His actions make him an ostensible villain, but it’s hard to argue with his justification. At his best, he invokes conflict in readers where you’re torn between rooting against his evil plots but for his gaining vengeance for past atrocities. At his best he is also more charismatic than brutal as far as “bad guys” go; you perhaps want him to reform—and are disappointed when he ultimately can’t—but there’s also that part of you that enjoys his wicked streak. Skottie Young—best known for his exquisite art but rocking his writing muscles here—captures all of this, every last bit, in this series. He gives you Magneto the philosopher, arguing his case for why any means really are necessary, but also throws enough cold inhumanity behind those words that you question your support almost immediately. He plays with the idea of the character’s reformation, both how possible it is and even if it’s necessarily right or needed. He explores all sides of Magneto, from the ruthless and violent crusader who tears through human lives to the eyebrow-raising rogue who mocks Iron Man’s rubber suit of armor. It’s a fascinating character study from start to finish just in issue one, but there’s also great action, an intriguing mystery and skillful use of continuity and the concept of the shared universe; again, for a guy who has made most of his name drawing beautiful pictures, Skottie Young has incredible skill and finesse as a writer. He also doesn’t need to fret over the visuals for this book, as Clay Mann turns in his finest work to date; as my friend and co-worker Ryan noted, the level of detail he puts just into one of Magneto’s boots blows you away to the point where when you get the full figure it’s just something else.

Whereas once upon a time young Ben Morse could not stand for any other genres to get mixed in with his super hero comics the same way he freaked out if a mushroom found its way into his soup, I’ve matured and reversed my position on both, allowing me to enjoy my wife’s delicious fried mushrooms as well as a great books like Six Guns. This series isn’t just a Western done in modern times or within a world with guys who can fly, it’s a mash-up of a noir story, a crime procedural, a mystery and straight action with the sensibilities of cowboy lore driving it. It reminds me a little bit of 100 Bullets in some regards—high praise—but with its own distinctive flavor to be sure. Andy Diggle is a master of taking tropes like sci fi or Western and knowing not only where to take a sharp turn in a new direction but also where to not fix what ain’t broke; Six Guns delivers fun stuff you’d expect from a story about cowboys, bikers and other thugs trying to out-tough one another, but it’s also smart in where it diverges. There are only the most tangential ties to the Marvel Universe in the form of the female Tarantula being a player and somebody who would seem to be a modern Two-Gun Kid showing up at the end of issue #2, but it’s enough to give a cool edge for a fan. Davide Gianfelice is in the zone on art and this certainly seems like the stuff he was born to draw. He’s seamless when it comes to bad looking dudes, hot ladies, nice bikes and dirty action—everything a book like this needs.