Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Rant-Reviews: Mini-Themes

Mini-Themes Today
I don't always have a theme for my capsule-style reviews, and sure enough today lacks much of an overall theme. However, I have noticed a few mini-themes between some of the comics that I felt was worth spotlighting.

Theme: Humans Are Violent and Terrible
These three comics illustrate that sadly humans can often be violent and terrible creatures. Whether it is through our racism, because we want to be entertained, or a desire for money, human beings can kind of suck, you know?

Black #2
Anything else aside this is a great hook: A comic imagining a world where only a small percentage of people ever happen to gain powers, and all of those people happen to be black. It's a pretty charged concept but to the credit of the creative team--which includes stellar artist Jamal Igle--it so far has been working. It is also addressed how something as shocking as this idea could remain a secret in the world, namely that the Government/s out there have worked their darnedest to make sure the populace doesn't know about such a super-powered minority. Whether this is being done in the guise of, "If people knew they would treat black people unfairly [with the irony being they already are discriminated against]," or if therre are even more evil plans in-the-waiting is yet to be revealed, but I doubt anyone murdering witnesses to super-powered black folk has kind intentions for those with powers.

Another element of the book I like is that while there are clearly bad-guys and good-guys there is plenty of gray situated between these black-and-white matters (pun not intended, but I'll take credit for it anyways). There is a white police officer who helps another investigating the conspiracy because he feels he isn't, "Like the others," meaning other white police officers--although he previously shot some black teens who, "Fit the description," of an APB, so he ain't that innocent either. This is just one example of the ways, "Black," discusses racial politics, but don't think this is just a dull treatise on race-relations--the aforementioned Jamal Igle illustrates scenes of action wonderfully and his skill as always is something marvelous to behold. Between the creative storytelling and superb art I am quite enjoying, "Black," and look forward to future issues.
4 out of 5 stars.

Fish Eye #1
This comic is a little bit of a mixture of, "The Truman Show," and a really violent Tarantino movie, with all the positives and negatives that entails. The plot of this comic is that our protagonist, a small-town cop named Travis, is actually the star of a reality show completely unbeknownst to him. Everyone around him is an actor in this town and his adventures have been broadcast to an attentive audience. The thing is, ratings are slipping so the creator of the show has agreed to kill-off Travis and proceed onto other projects. However, Travis is maybe too good of a hero in this story, putting up an immense fight for the fictional world he holds so dear.

Putting aside the logic-question of how this show could get away with literally murdering someone (there aren't any hints this is some kind of ruined-future where such a thing would fly, it seems to be indicated this is a normal world just like ours), it is a clever concept and seeing the creator of the show distraught about having to kill his, "Baby," e.g. the son he's secretly cared-for through all these years running the show--brings with it some interesting moments too. The atrocious thing is the idea of a star being killed by disinterest of the very fans who once loved him/her isn't that far-fetched in some ways. Right now the book seems to be working at getting its footing with all these ideas, and sometimes it seems unsure if it wants to be more focused on gory-fighting or exploring concepts of entertainment and morality, but it' is still a solid first issue and a series worth checking-out.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Deathstroke #7
I'm just so happy that Christopher Priest has come back to comics (occasional toe-dipping back into a short project here-and-there aside) and is writing such a stellar series in the form of, "Deathstroke." It is saying something that a character I never, ever cared about and who seemed to be defined by, "He kills people and likes money," suddenly is so fascinating to me thanks to a talent like Priest. One thing I love is that Deathstroke's adventures clearly stand on their own but as he is a member of the DC-universe that brings with it the baggage and benefits one would expect. We've seen Batman in previous issues and this one gives us a very perturbed Superman. The amazing thing though is that Priest has been telling his own awesome and epic story while incorporating all these characters in a way that feels natural and makes sense. I mean, the skill on display isn't surprising considering how much experience Priest has in the field of comics, but its always just wonderful to read something so good. As I said, before I read Priest's first issue of this series I couldn't care less about Deathstroke, and now this comic is one of the books I get most excited to read when I see it waiting for me at the comic-shop. That is a testament to Priest's abilities and my statement about why you should be reading this book right now!
5 out of 5 stars.

Theme: Belief Can Be Dangerous
The things we believe and entertain ourselves with can be dangerous. We may joke about Krampus and have all the bible stories about Noah and the flood, but these comics show that mystical creatures and conceptions of wiping the world clean are not a laughing matter. After all, the power of a belief can be immense.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #101
I realize I didn't actually review the 100th issue of, "Tarot," and feel a bit bad as it was of course a fun and great issue, with it being a huge accomplishment for an independent publisher to successfully hit triple-digits with a title. After all, how many publishers fold before even hitting a 10th issue with any of their books? Meanwhile, Broadsword (the publisher of, "Tarot,") has put out an issue of this book without fail every 2 months since its start (and other cool mini-series as well). That is a big achievement, and to the credit of Jim Balent and Holly Golightly they didn't rest on their laurels after hitting #100, they went and released this fun holiday piece that continues covering the, "Krampus," creatures that were introduced some years ago and have continuously caused trouble for Tarot and her sister (the start of this issue) Raven Hex.

The gist of this issue is that Raven tries to stop a number of Krampus (Krampuses?) from kidnapping and punishing naughty children, because even kids who misbehave don't deserve to be murdered, after all. However, in her effort to stop the Krampus-mayhem, Raven actually summons a horrific monster that destroys everything. It is pointed-out by a Krampus they aren't necessarily evil, they just kind of, exist, and it is because people believe in them they do what they do (e.g. kidnapping and punishing kids). The argument is made that Raven herself got revenge on kids who teased her when she was young and that she isn't too far removed from being a bit of a Krampus herself--so maybe there's a little Krampus in all of us? It's an intriguing concept if also a bit of a downer. Then again, if there is a little evil in all of us perhaps hopefully there is a lot of good? Whatever the case, another great issue of, "Tarot," was had!
4 out of 5 stars.

The Goddamned #5
I thought about putting this in the first theme about how humans are violent and terrible, because this comic has a ton of that. In the end however, the main reason all the humans in this story are so disgusting is because of belief. Jason Aaron has discussed before how this comic is his coming to terms with growing-up Southern Baptist before becoming somewhat irreligious. The story in these issues has concerned the biblical Cain fighting with the biblical Noah and it being clear that both men are doomed by an excess or lack of belief. The man cursed to roam this horrible Earth--Cain--believes in basically nothing, and the man who thinks he was told by God to build an ark and gather animals--Noah--violently forces others to assist him in his mission from God. The most depressing thing about this last issue before the next story-arc in 2017 is that right at the end when Cain feels like he may have found something to live for, it is violently taken away by yet another character who believes that eliminating something that made them weak/care was the right action. Belief in nothing or blind faith both bring little but ruin, as with everything in life there needs to be a balance of faith in self, others, and a higher power. Too much of anything just brings destruction, as this comic makes abundantly clear.
5 out of 5 stars.

Seven to Eternity #3
Man, this comic has just been gorgeous thanks to Jerome Opeña, and the idea behind it is clever, but the execution of the story just has left a lot to be desired for me. The concept of how a humanoid (there are all kinds of creatures in this series) developed the ability to give people their wishes in exchange for seeing through their eyes and was able to take over the world this way is smart  (a ruler who nobody realizes rules) but for some reason I just find the rest of the story isn't clicking for me. It is like I see all this potential (and again, it looks beautiful) but I'm not quite feeling it. Still, I love that idea of a man who people pledge allegiance to in exchange for their wish but in a process lose a bit of themselves. That is a good metaphor for how we will often give up much of ourselves in the hopes of achieving a dream or belief. I just wish the rest of the comic lived-up to that great concept and the visual splendor Opeña provides.
2.5 out of 5 stars, mostly thanks to the artwork.

Theme: Comics Experimenting With Form
I wanted to close with some delightfully different books. You see, the art-form of comics can be especially interesting when it experiments a bit. These two comics do some unique things with the comic-form, bringing in aspects of prose, or placing in-story, "Documents," into the book to further establish the world.

The Black Monday Murders #3 and #4
I know the 4th issue just came out (and it was great) but I wanted to talk about the 3rd and 4th issues together, if that's alright. "The Black Monday Murders," gives us these massive issues loaded with comic-pages as well as prose, faux police-records, and all sorts of interesting things; I feel that while the 1st and 2nd issue had to work at introducing the rather large cast, things really get going in the 3rd issue with the 4th being impressive too. Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker just are hitting it out of the park, as the saying goes. The overall idea of the story seems to be that fiance as we know it is a living and otherwordly creature--Cthulhu-esque almost. In order for the rich to remain rich they have to pay this force, and that payment is in blood. A lot of questions remain unanswered about a mysterious ancient language, and just how these strange groups full of arcane rituals and orders began. I'm eager to learn more however, and the clever incorporation of journal-entries, files, and other in-universe materials within the story continues to serve it well.
Issue #3: 5 out of 5 stars thanks to an awesome final scene.
Issue #4: 4 out of 5 stars for being great but a bit slower than the previous issue.

A.D. After Death #1
This is going to be three issues long and this first issue feels more like a mini-novel than a comic considering how it is both huge (it is quite taller and wider than a comic) and has a spine much like a book. From what I've observed, the present-day scenes take place in a world where death itself has been cured/beaten, but in the process of that happening Earth became a ruined planet we fled for what may be another dimension or a space-ship (it's not quite clear). These present-time scenes are also more in a general comic-format. However, when the character tells us about his background, growing-up, and seems to hint at how he's responsible for destroying Earth and curing death at the same time, in those segments everything becomes text-heavy with some pictures to establish the story but less in a comic-form and more like a picture-book with long strings of narration and an occasional image.

This format makes the story flow in an interesting way where the present-day scenes in comic-form breeze by much like the years of everyone's deathless lives and the past-tense moments are slow and methodical, breaking down small moments into long chunks of reading--almost as if simulating how when life was more precious we savored every moment, both the good and the bad. Scott Snyder is a writer who I've found to both create incredible stuff (I'm still waiting for more, "Wytches,") and terrible pieces just as well (his epic run on, "Batman," was itself full of peaks and valleys), and Jeff Lemire is both a stellar writer and magnificent illustrator who's drawings compliment the quiet melancholy of this book perfectly. Parts of, "A.D. After Death," are mysterious and make little sense, but I'm betting before too long a lot more will be clearer and just as fascinating.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Mini-Themes Are Now Mini-Done
I hope my reviews of these latest books made for good reading--and that if you pick-up the books I recommended that they make for good reading in your opinion as well!

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