Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Slice of Heaven, Slice Into the Woods 8/16/2013

(Sung to the tune of Kim Carnes's "Bette Davis Eyes")

Hickman's struck comics gold, Nick's art pleases eyes
This book won't leave you cold, East of West is such a prize
Xiaolian now rules. Buy this book? You won't have to think twice
Death's skin's now white as snow, East of West is such a prize

Then there's Saga, to make you gaga
Thor versus Gorr will please ya
But there's more, cuz
Donist knows you'll dig Animal Man, dreams go hush
You got Bruce Wayne as Batman no lies, East of West is such a prize.

Hi there, Donist World denizens. I'm joined today by Donist World marketing director/administrative assistant/party planner/private eye Tulip (my Boston terrier), but we are missing the Donist World CFO, Obie (Tulip's brother and my friends' Boston terrier). This morning we went to my mom's house the corporate office and found that Obie had left a note on his executive throne saying some such nonsense about downgrading his life and that all the pressures of running a Fortune 320,000 company have been getting to him and occupying far too much of his time and energy. Obie explains that he wants to have more time to read comics for pleasure, to pee on more things, and to chase tennis balls until he barfs up his breakfast. He also mentions that I should not give his whereabouts to any shady Wall Streeters who were vacationing up in Healdsburg, CA last week who might come around to ask about "initial payments." The funny thing about Obie "downgrading his life" is that he still expects to have his weekly $5 direct deposited to his account and for his Nature's Feast Duck and Potato kibble to be delivered to his home while he "finds himself." Huh...maybe he's on to something. Anyways, while Tulip and I try to find Obie--I see a fresh Mai Tai sitting on the blanket out back, so it won't be too difficult a venture--have a look at this week's...

Friday Slice of Heaven

***Possible Spoilers Below***

East of West #5
East of West #5 - Written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Nick Dragotta, published by Image Comics. I have to admit that for the first two issues of East of West I didn't exactly know what the heck was going on. There were some colorful children, then some characters, then a white-as-snow cowboy, creepy talking eyeballs that will forever haunt my nightmares, then some more characters, and something about a "message." I had no idea what was happening, but I dug the world the creators were building...a lot. Then with the third issue, the fog of confusion began to dissipate, things began to make sense. Issue four arrived and I was reading in a sort of stunned silence as Death waged his war to reclaim his decade-long imprisoned bride, and I was floored by what was happening. I could not wait for the next installment. This month's offering...more of the same exciting story that will pull you even deeper into the creators' fantastic world.
Death waits for no one, the exception to that statement being his wife, Xiaolian. Not only does he wait for her, what's most frightening is he listens to her, seeking to please her. Through flashback, we learn how Xiaolian, a warmaster by the age of sixteen, first caught Death's eye and how their courtship played out. We learn of the birth of their son, a product of a horseman of the apocalypse and a ruthlessly cunning human. Then things went wrong. Misunderstandings harbored for a decade are clarified and an angry Xiaolian learns that their son, thought murdered by the other three horsemen, yet lives. This is not a good thing, for his captors are raising him to become what the Message foretells as the "Great Beast." With his wife safe--and a tad less angry--Death seeks to make his family whole.
War, Famine, and Conquest do not appear in this issue and that is fine, there's much to tell concerning Death and Xiaolian's reunion after a long decade of misconceptions and misunderstandings. As I implied at the beginning of this review, Hickman initially bombarded the reader with many characters and with only the barebones of the story. In the first issue, we received some exposition as to what happened with this world and how it differs from our own historically, but much after that was confusing; the story was, however, fascinating. Each successive issue filled more gaps, clarified character motivations, while keeping the mystery of what exactly happened in the characters' past relegated to the shadows for later reveals. Hickman avoids upfront, lengthy exposition--except when setting up the world in issue one, which was necessary--and instead you receive carefully planned fragments offering just enough information to make you gasp at your newfound knowledge. Then, just when you are about to round that corner of what, say, War did, the writer cuts away back to the situation at hand. Hickman has proven to be a master of giving the reader enough information to answer some questions, while leaving so much more waiting in the wings. This writing style could be frustrating to readers, but Hickman has so many fascinating conflicts and conversations happening at any given time, that as you are pulled from one engrossing moment you are thrust immediately into another. I hope to construct stories this well someday.
Speaking of hopes...I hope to see Dragotta's art on this book for some time to come. He brings such drama and emotion to each scene, which is especially evidenced on the pages where Xiaolian holds Death's face in her mechanized hands, the same hands that so ruthlessly obliterated her sister last issue. Over three pages we see the couple talk. That's it, they just talk, but Dragotta shows the depths of Death's love for his wife, and his desperation to please; he also shows the horseman's anger over even having these feelings to begin with. With Xiaolian, we see her coldness, her resentment over her perceived abandonment, and we are there to see her crack and shed a tear before she restores her resolve. Those three pages are incredibly powerful and the rest of the book follows suit with Dragotta's fantastic storytelling. He is also adept at touching on the horrific as seen in his splash of the "Great Beast," which reminded me of the creepiest parts or the anime Akira. I will also mention Frank Martin's fantastic coloring and I especially like the barely dropped opacity on the flashback scenes.
East of West has transitioned from a series that I really liked, but failed to comprehend, to one that I now "get" and absolutely love. No offense to the creators, but the series is one that begs to be read in substantial chunks, which you can do in September when the first trade is released at a $9.99 price point. If you are buying issue-to-issue as I am, then I recommend pouring yourself a craft beer, or a glass of wine, and rereading the first five issues back-to-back; I suspect you will see a few things you missed the first time through. I am so on board for this series and I cannot wait for what comes next or for the reveals of what has happened in these characters' mysterious yet fascinating past. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Other Heavenly Items:
Saga #13
Saga #13 - Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, published by Image Comics. Ahhhh...Saga is back after a couple months' break, but did the time off detract from the main story? Did this Donist stop caring? Would the denizens forget? No way. Saga remains one of the best comics to arrive in the past decade and although this issue fills in the gaps between issue 11 and 12, it's still some darn fine readin'. Respect, denizens, respect.
When we left off last issue, we witnessed Prince Robot IV tormenting D. Oswald Heist, author of the romance novel A Night Time Smoke. In this issue we rewind to see Marko, distraught over his father's death, Alana, Hazel and the rest of their gang en route to visit Heist. The forbidden couple hopes the author can help them determine the best course of action for their daughter, for, after all, Heist's words were what brought Alana and Marko together in the first place. The trip isn't so bad, but their arrival does not exactly go as planned. Meanwhile, The Will comes to a couple realizations when the ghost of The Stalk (or is it an illusion) points out a couple of simple facts to him.
Vaughan picks up the story without missing a beat, and although little happens in this issue that the reader could not have deduced on their own, it's still a compelling as heck read. Vaughan has a knack for helping the reader identify with his characters. Both the dialogue and their actions leave the reader no choice but to love them. This issue could have involved half of the major players sitting at a coffee shop talking and I expect I would still be sucked into the moment completely.
Staples's art is gorgeous as ever and she never fails to pay attention to the little details that make you smile (or wince). One panel we see a bat-rat (sorry, I don't know what the hell that thing is called) flying through the hospital and dropping bat-rat doo-doo. Another, we see a drunk Heist, wearing a robe and tighty-whities with a pee stain on the front. Yet another we see a heartbreaking photo of The Will and The Stalk together, happy, but the look on The Will's face as he stares at the photo is anything but. Vaughan gets the reader to love Saga's cast, and Staples seals the deal.
Denizens, I'm overjoyed that this book is back. There's no way I would forget or lose interest in my favorite comic currently seeing publication. In fact, this creator recuperation period only created the distance necessary to make my love of this title stronger. Welcome back, Saga. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Thor God of Thunder #11
Thor God of Thunder #11 - Written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Esad Ribic, published by Marvel Comics. This is it, denizens. Gorr the God Butcher has been murdering gods across this cosmos, and after detonating the "God Bomb" last issue he looks to finish the job. Too bad for Gorr that Thor yet stands. But Thor does not stand alone, he has the prayers of the remaining gods to give him the strength to put an end to the murderous Gorr once and for all.
Holy cow! This was a fantastic storyline that Aaron crafted. Multiple Thors, Thor's daughters, Gorr, God Bombs, All-Black the Necrosword (No, it's not a death metal band. I want to see more of this thing in the future, though), young Thor's quick-tempered attitude problem, there was just so much to enjoy over these past eleven issues. For someone who was previously only reading Marvel's Daredevil and HawkeyeThor God of Thunder drove this Donist to make mine Marvel. Now that Aaron's first arc is done, I can't imagine what he's going to do next (Mangog! Mangog!), but I'm fully onboard for the ride.
Ribic's art is gorgeous on its own, but combined with Ive Svorcina's colors I want to glide in the heavens of their backgrounds. That is until we get to the dark mired fields of combat where a god possessed by an evil artifact faces down a killer. Those landscapes are foreboding. Frightening. Then the final page brings us back to a calm beauty. Oh yeah, the action sequences are amazing, too.
I thought my days spent with Thor were long gone, a thing of the past, but this "God Butcher" storyline lured me in and delivered more than I could have asked for. If you are a lapsed Thor reader, then rest assured that Aaron and Ribic's take is well worth looking into. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Animal Man
Annual #2
Animal Man Annual #2 - Written by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Travel Foreman, published by DC Comics. <pffft> Finally! You might remember that a certain monopoly distributor billed my LCS for this book, but neglected to ship it out; this happens all too often, but whatchagonnado. Thus, two weeks later, I have an Animal Man annual in my hands. Yay! "But wait, Donist, are you cheering for an annual? You rip on most annuals!" Yeah, <kicks a dirt clod> well, ummm...this one's an exception. You see, denizens, it's actually quite good.
Buddy Baker (Animal Man) recently lost his son, Cliff, to a horrific foe and now he's having trouble dealing with the pain. To make matters worse, his acting career has just taken off and put him in the spotlight, meaning the relentless parasitic tabloids see dollar sign's in Buddy's tragedy. Then Buddy remembers his battle with the Spider Queen, a bizarre being who once abducted Cliff to feed on the boy's dreams. It is at this recollection that Buddy has an idea, one that involves tracking down the creepy creature.
I missed Foreman on this book. His art was unlike anything I had ever seen before and was perfect for the horror aspects found in Animal Man. This annual is very much in the horror realm, but it is also very much more than what you think. While Foreman sets the mood and the creepy imagery, Lemire does what he does so very well...punch you right in the ol' heart strings. The final page of this great issue was so very unexpected and so touching that I darn near messed up my makeup as the scary turned to the beautiful.
Now I have yet another kink in my "I hate annuals" stance. I guess I now have to say, "I hate SOME annuals." This one is definitely worth a read for the great story and for Foreman's fantastic art. RECOMMENDED!

Batman #23
Batman #23 - Written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo, published by DC Comics. Bruce Wayne is not having the best of days. His home has blown up around him, then he is ridiculed by a maniac with a red vase on his head just before the Red Hood Gang nearly beats him to death. Hey, we all have to start somewhere, and this is the very event that pushes Bruce just enough to show him what he has to become to deal with the Red Hood. With his father's death at the top of his mind, The Batman is first imagined.
Man, talk about some violent and dark stuff Snyder and Capullo have going on in this "Zero Year" comic. Outside of the glove on the cover, Batman the caped crusader is no where to seen in this issue. The creators are taking their time to let the readers experience Bruce's transformation as well as allowing them to experience his early failed attempts (in pretty brutal fashion) to combat the growing threat of the Red Hood Gang. Snyder allows Gotham's nemesis to jabber on at length and explain all of his inspirations and motivations, but in the end this mad man is an unreliable narrator, which makes him all the more creepy. Snyder also gives us his take on Edward Nygma (the future Riddler for those of you playing the Batman home game), who also goes on at length, but what's interesting is we can take Nygma's words at face value; he may deceive, but he doesn't lie. As much as I am excited to see Bruce put the suit on for the first time, I'm equally--if not more--excited to see the Red Hood fall and Nygma take up his roll as the Riddler.
There are plenty of intense moments, brutal as they may be, in this issue and Capullo brings some of his finest work to the title...but doesn't he always? His highlights are the character moments between Alfred and Bruce. Another beautiful scene is where Bruce finds his calling through a near psychedelic experience involving hologram projectors (no controlled substances here, folks. Nothing to be concerned about) and what Capullo gives us is detailed and immersive. Add to Capullo's line art Danny Miki's fine inks, and the startlingly gorgeous colors by FCO Placentia and you have some of the most beautiful pages to be found in a Big Two comic.
Batman continues to be a book I have to buy, which is saying something, as I never thought I would return to this childhood favorite until the day I read Snyder's phenomenal The Black Mirror run. With the story Snyder and Capullo have brewing, I anticipate continuing to read Batman for some time to come. RECOMMENDED!

Slice Into the Woods


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