BIG week for me on the Dynamite front. Also, a rather violent one... Which is not always my cup of tea, but you can't always help what's in the pull box (or uploaded to your digital comics service). And we also have an issue of Saga, which is actually the first since our indie spotlight episode! Not much for people under 17 this time around, unfortunately. As always, disagree with my picks? Prove me wrong.
Story by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples
Despite all the wonderful press the first issue received, I was not completely sold on this series based solely on those first issues. In fact, it took up until issue 4 for me to finally get into the series and really buy into the world Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples had created. The world was fun, but never really hooked me. It felt like a bunch of crazy ideas that didn't add up to much.
Yes. Two alien "star-crossed" lovers are running away from evil bounty hunters. They need to get off the planet and save their newborn child. TV headed aliens speak in random images on their faces. It's all good stuff, don't get me wrong. It still wasn't as "human" as some of the Brian K Vaughan work I've come to know and love, and have missed since his departure from comics in order to write for Lost.
He's a master of twist endings spawned from pleasantly simple hooks that kept you coming back for more, but this series is a SAGA. A giant intergalactic implausible superstory that is beautifully rendered by Fiana staples. There is little for me to anchor myself to aside from the character's speech patterns which is decidedly modern. But now, it seems like Brian K Vaughan knows where he's going and isn't just setting up chess pieces. I get the feeling this first book will read MUCH better in trade, but his writing style is such that it's amazingly memorable from month to month and never feel lost after a thirty day gap. Fiona Staples art on this really does make this book one of the best books on the shelves right now. It's hard to deny that there is nothing as elegant, refined and as clean out there. It could be her digital process, but it really doesn't matter. Each issue feels like an art object, and the decision to print this book on whatever nicer grade paper they are using is definitely worth it. Im sure the colors SING on this book in the digital format, and I'm sure Chris will discuss it when we feature the first volume on the podcast in due time.
This issue brings the first arc to a close. I laughed out loud twice, and finally got the cliffhanger I'd been waiting for. Thank you Brian K. Vaughan. It's great to have you back.
Mise En Scene Michael Avon Oeming
If Frank Miller were any more insane, this is the book he would write. A man and a woman are having a romantic carriage ride through the park when a vigilante named the Jackel attacks them. The man turns out to be a crooked judge and the Jackel wants to have him pay for his crimes against the city and its innocent populous. The man agrees that he is guilty and says he SHOULD be punished for the crimes he has committed for they weigh heavily on his soul, but the Jackel should leave his innocent wife alone. The Jackel scoffs and says that denial is a crime just as horrible and that she must now witness the brutal murder of her husband.
Once the Jackel is done with his grizzly brand of justice (which at its most polite involves severing the man's head from his body), a "superhero" named Faust shows up to save the day!
Faust does admit that he is sorry for being late. The two battle for a few pages and discuss the difference between the Jackel's brand of justice and Faust's desire to uphold the status quo. Jackel insists that there is little difference between the two of them and they share a Dark Knight "are you going to kill me?" moment. Faust is brought to the breaking point and is in a horrible state at the end of the issue. He may act like Robin when he's acrobatically fighting with the Jackal, but he's emotionally angst-ridden like Batman when he takes his mask off. This duality is rather intriguing and I can't wait to see it explored further in future issues.
Michael Avon Oeming has a great concept for a series with Faust... wait... This series is called The Victories... In the last few pages, news reporters (courtesy of Frank Miller's Geek Chorus) explain that The Victories are this world's somewhat lawless superhero team and that maybe Faust is the most normal of the bunch. As this five issue series unfolds we will surely get to see the rest of this team and the off-kilter world they inhabit.
Oeming's art on this series is excellent. His flat style always seems like cave paintings to me, and while it's not always fitting for a superhero book, his action is fantastic! I can't wait to meet the rest of The Victories and see what other Superhero tropes Oeming decides to lampoon.
Story by Jim Zubkavich, and illustrated by Andrew Huerta
Brief history lesson: There's a role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons which involves people sitting around a table rolling dice and eating pizza while talking about movies and what they saw on tv since they last got together. Over the course of four hours of this, dragons are slain, treasure is recovered, towns are saved and friendships are forged on the battlefield. A few years back, some of the people that make this game said "we have a better idea for how people should roll dice while eating pizza" and created a seperate game using a lot of the old ideas. They called it Pathfinder. This is the comic.
Also, over at Image there's a book called Skullkickers which is kind of like the best parts of the Dungeons and Dragons movie mixed with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. But better than that. It's received a good deal of acclaim amongst Fantasy comic enthusiasts and has even crossed over with the Princeless universe. Naturally, when Dynamite needed to create a fantasy comic featuring the continuing adventures of the Pathfinder Archetype characters, they called Skullkickers' creator Jim Zubkavich to bring these characters to life.
With all of that noteriety walking in to it, does this book live up to the hype? For me, not really. There's a lot of great stuff going on here. You're dropped into the action as the main characters are attacked by a horde of plague infected goblins, they go to an inn and get into further fights, and then they leave town with a newly formed party to find the source of the goblin infestation. Classic D&D campain stuff. But my issues weren't with the plot, but the manga UBERarmor in the concept designs. It's really never been my cup of tea. I understand that protection is key when facing off against large creatures that can spit hot fire, but maneuverability has always seemed more important to me. And Andrew Huerta's art only serves to make me want sleeker armor. His art is frenetic, and if it were more densely laidout it could certainly go toe to toe with certain Fantasy manga. Record of Lodoss War and Berserk come to mind but not NEARLY as twisted as Berserk! The sparceness beyond the figures makes me feel like Im looking at action figures on a playset instead of really being pulled into the world. Also the dialog is a little weak. There were several points where I felt like Jim Zubkavich was trying to be clever and twist a cliche on its ear, but really just added an extra line of dialog that wound up making character exchanges feel clumsy.
The big issue with Fantasy stories is how generic they can feel. The mighty barbarian, the wizened wizard, the kindly cleric, all stock characters that never quite get past their archetype and this book (despite giving you the feeling that you have been journeying with this charaters for years), never quite makes you care for any of them. Maybe that will change, but considering the blank slate Jim Zubkavich had to work with, he did not do much to break expectations in this first issue.
Jennifer Blood #15 (im)Mature Readers
Story by Al Ewing, illustrated by Kewber Baal
More shock and crazy violence from Al Ewing this week. I gotta say, this title is growing on me. It's definitely a (im)Mature Readers book, so kids ask your parents for permission before you plunk down your shekels. Al Ewing makes no apologies for that. When Jennifer Blood takes revenge against the woman that has been sleeping with her husband, it is grizzly, naked and epic. I was repulsed and taken aback but also thought WHY THE HELL NOT!? She hates this person and she's a sadistic soccer mom. She's going to reach inside herself and come up with the most demeaning death she can think of! Does this panel of naked torture death elevate the medium to a place of fine art? No. But that's not why anyone is reading this book in the first place. Watching a suburban mom go "Reservoir Dogs" on people is a gimick for sure, and it drives everything in this series, but Al Ewing does a great job of dragging the reader through the narrative by the nosehairs. The previous issues I've read focused on the unlikeable (definitely intentional) supporting cast and just made Jennifer out to be the irritating stereotype of the nagging housewife. This issue she finally cuts loose and shows what happens when you mess with her suburban paradise. It's a bit like Breaking Bad on mescaline as every little problem in life is cranked up to eleven, and if your looking for a homicidal romp with a strong female lead, than look no further.
Vampirella Vs. Dracula #6
Story by Joe Harris, illustrated by Ivan Rodriguez
"DYNAMITE SHOULD BE RAKED OVER THE COALS FOR CASHING IN ON THIS ALAN MOORE CONCEPT! THIS IS AN OBVIOUS CASH GRAB THAT SULLIES THE OEUVRE OF ONE OF COMICS' GREATEST CREATORS!"
-Said no one on the internet... ever.