Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Slice of Heaven, Slice Into the Woods 9/12/2014

(Sung to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock”)

Need good books you say
Well, all I gotta say to you is Lazarus is way cool, Bro
Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, bro

How ’bout more you say
Well, East of West and Annihilator will melt your brain, again Bro
Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, bro

So, Batman, Hawkeye also hit you with the flava
There’s only one thing I can say to you

Good comics rock
Good comics rock

Huh…I met Dee Snider once a couple decades ago at some sort of music convention thing back when I worked at a music store…nice guy. Anyhow…welcome to Donist World where I am not joined as ever by CFO Obie (my friends’ Boston terrier), but I am joined by marketing director / administrative assistant / party planner / not-gonna-take-it specialist Tulip (my dog, Obie’s sister). Tulip and I are alone at the Donist World corporate office (my mom’s basement) today, because Obie got busted by my friends, because he keeps chewing up the baby’s toys instead of his own. Now, most normal businesses can't boast having a high-level executive who at one moment punishes some P&L statements, and the next finds himself getting punished for demolishing some expensive baby toys, but here at Donist World we look to refresh what we perceive as stale business models. So, as Obie sits at home, I have to say that it is rather pleasant being able to get work done without having to worry about my CFO trying to get into the petty cash drawer so he can hit up the taco truck. Even Tulip is more productive as she works away on a new secret project. <sigh of relaxed satisfaction> While we bask in the tranquility, have a look at this week’s Friday Slice of Heaven. Come to think of it…I could go for some tacos…

Friday Slice of Heaven

***Possible Spoilers Below***

Lazarus #11
Lazarus #11 - Written Greg Rucka, illustrated by Michael Lark with Tyler Boss, colored by Santi Arcas, lettered by Jodi Wynne, designed by Eric Trautmann, edited by David Brothers, published by Image Comics. Now, denizens, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s reading things out of order. In the past, I have sat on comics for months and months waiting for that one missed issue to arrive so I can read it and move on. Last month my copy of Lazarus #10 never showed up, and I still have not seen hide nor hair of it since its release. Next thing I know, I have the latest Lazarus issue in hand and although issue ten is supposed to be a stand-alone tale, I’m sure some matters relevant to the ongoing story transpired. But here I was at home, holding it, gazing at the cover, seeing Forever staring across a field of battle at what can only be another Lazarus. I broke, denizens. I couldn’t wait for issue ten to carry me through the sacred reading order that can never — nay, must never — be broken. Was it worth it? Did some important stuff transpire in said missed issue? Do I regret reading a book out of order? Would I do such a thing again? The answers are: yes; yes; a little, but dagnabbit I could not stop myself; possibly, for a comic this good. There is one positive…maybe Lazarus cured me of my little disorder.

Jonah Carlyle has managed to get himself captured by his family’s life-long enemy, the Family Hock. The feud is so bitter and so longstanding that Hock and Carlyle cannot meet in any manner. Thus, Hock contacts their ally the Family Bittner to serve as intermediary, who in turn sends their Lazarus, Sonja Bittner, to relay Hock’s message concerning Jonah. When a Lazarus arrives on your doorstep, you best listen.

I have to start with Lark’s art. The first three pages of this issue demonstrates Lark’s mastery of storytelling and drama just as evidenced by the sheer menace contained in Sonja Bittner’s body language. Holy cow. If I saw this woman approaching — whose character design is absolutely phenomenal, btw — I would cross to the other side of the street; if I knew who it was…I would probably be so scared I’d make the pee pee waters on the spot. Even with Sonja just walking toward the Carlyle security team, you see the taut, coiled-snake-waiting-to-strike posture that sure enough lashes out to annihilate a guard for a minor, yet understandable, offense. We cut to a new scene with Forever, that is perfectly acted, before returning to Sonja and many more guards. It is now nighttime in the story, the cutdown soldier lies dead in the blood-drenched snow as Sonja stands unmoving with the other guard facing the lethal end of her sword. There are now lights, reinforcements have arrived, and Lark gives the reader the sense that Sonja and the guard have been standing here like this for hours upon hours. Then Forever arrives to receive Sonja’s message. It is one of the most tense situations I have ever read in a comic book, and — spoiling things here — a fight never even breaks out between the Lazaruses (Lazarai?), which is a great decision for a book focused on intelligent drama as opposed to senseless action. I will say that the art in this issue left me wanting to do some jumping jacks or push-ups or anything to release the tension from this issue. I guess this is all the long way of saying that Lark has outdone himself yet again.

All props to the art aside, Rucka’s story is equally as amazing as it sets up each stressful moment mentioned above, beginning with Sonja delivering her emotionless demand three times, with each instance cranking up the tension, while giving a glimpse into this new character. Elsewhere, we see Forever begin to question whether or not she was actually born into the family (from last issue), and that the ultra-cool Marisol (also last issue…I really need to see what happened with her) is still alive and a confidant for Forever. Again through Lark’s art we see in Marisol’s eyes that she knows more than she is letting on, but Rucka’s dialogue lets us know Marisol cares for Forever, despite possibly being an informant. We also have Rucka’s brand of unease: the political kind that operates in the shadows. With both visual and written stress escalating your heart rate from the beginning of the issue to the end, don’t plan on going to sleep or relaxing anytime soon.

So Lazarus…If you aren’t reading it, buy it. You can buy this issue and the first two trades and be completely caught up (eleven issues for roughly $24). Yes, this book is frightening in its look at where the world might be heading. Yes, every issue stresses me out of my gourd. Yes, you will be thinking about Lazarus for a while after putting it down. To be honest, I would not have it any other way. A fantastic comic book. VERY HGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Annihilator #1
Annihilator #1 - Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frazer Irving, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, designed by John J. Hill, edited by Greg Tumbarello (associate) and Bob Schreck, published by Legendary Comics. I like pleasant surprises. Here I walk into my LCS and the owner calls across the counter “Hey, Donist, there’s one copy left of Annihilator. You might want to check it out.” So I did. A couple things: I knew a new non-Big Two Morrison book was on the horizon; I like a lot of Morrison’s work; I am especially interested in seeing more creator-owned stuff from him (Happy is great and worth checking out); Frazer Irving is a beast of an artist whose pages bewilder me in regard to how he makes them look so dang gorgeous. Let’s face it, denizens, I’m lucky I got this issue.

Ray Spass (pronounced “space”) is a once popular Hollywood screenwriter on the verge of slipping into obscurity, and all the drugs and hookers in LA can’t help him. After Ray receives a horrifying health diagnosis, his life seems over until his own sci-fi creation, Max Nomax, pays him a visit.

Whoa, now! This issue is 32 pages of Morrison and Irving awesomeness. Morrison’s depiction of Ray Spass gives us a glimpse into this damaged man’s world as his life spirals downwards. Spass is a manic, desperate, egomaniac clutching at anything that will give him that edge, that spark, that one thing to return him to the lofty stars he lost after his first two blockbuster hits. Morrison develops the character well as Spass attempts to be crazy and weird (half-shaved head, creepy murder house, drugs, sex, emotional outbursts) to the point of making Spass almost completely unlikeable. However, as much as you dislike Spass, you can’t help but be fascinated and enveloped in the character’s situation. The fictional-fictional character of the series, Max Nomax, is intriguing, mysterious, and someone I want to know more about, whether he is in the groovy fictional-fictional world, or the plain ol’ regular fictional world. The story alone makes this book a must read.

Irving…if you’ve read my reviews of the must-own Xombi mini, or issues nine through ten of The Shade maxi, then you know what I think of this guy. His storytelling and acting are top notch, but it is the final renders and his color palette which consistently blow my mind. His command on when and where to apply complementary, analogous, monochromatic, or tertiary colors to enhance the mood of a scene is extraordinary — the pages of the party with the blue room contrasted with the lit, yellow room are awesome — and so very pretty; his pages are mesmerizing. The art alone makes this book a must read.

Yes, I really liked this first issue and I look to be here for the long haul. A fascinating story and gorgeous art give you everything you could want in a book that makes you think and will leave your mind spinning…and spinning…and spinning…until the next issue arrives. I loved this. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

East of West #15
East of West #15 - Written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Nick Dragotta, colored by Frank Martin, lettered by Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics. Speaking of stressful comics… I have commented before that East of West ain’t your freshman-level comic book. Hickman and Dragotta have a ton of characters and stories playing out at all points and time. Often, you are chucked right in the middle of a story with characters you have never met before and the creators trickle out the information deliberately through flashbacks, mannerisms, and dialogue. You might not understand what is happening on a given page at that moment, but you can rest assured that insight and understanding will come with patience and your undivided attention.

Xiaolian unleashes her “Dragons” and her “Widowmakers” upon the world as the Nation brings war to the Republic. Meanwhile, the son of Xiaolian and Death, “the Beast,” prepares to meet three-fourths of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse who mean to see him dead.

It has been a while since we have seen the Beast — who has now acquired the name of Babylon — and after reading this issue, I hope to see much more of him; with the direction of this story, I can safely expect to be equally happy with future issues. I also love his floating companion / instructor, Balloon, whose advice and counsel takes an interesting turn by the end of the issue. Babylon’s design reminds me of a bleached out version of something straight out of Akira, and I mean that as the highest complement. The character stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the cast of the series while at the same time fitting perfectly into the sci-fi portion os this sci-fi / horror / political /fantasy / Western / post-apocalyptic epic. It was also kind of cool to see the usually snotty Horsemen get their behinds handed to them.

In less capable hands, a genre mashup like East of West would never work. It actually shouldn’t work. But between Hickman’s meticulous plotting and dialogue and Dragotta’s stunning storytelling and character designs the creators not only make the impossible possible, they make the book a heck of a compelling read. You can readily pick up the first two trades, with the third arriving in October that should contain this issue. East of West is a complicated, yet vastly rewarding title you do not want to miss. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Hawkeye #20
Hawkeye #20 - Written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Annie Wu, colored by Matt Hollingsworth, lettered by Chris Eliopoulous, published by Marvel Comics. So this is it, denizens. The end of Hawkeye is nigh as we head into the final three issues of Fraction, Aja, and Wu’s vision of this fantastic series.

Kate Bishop and Pizza Dog’s time in Los Angeles comes to an end, as Madame Masque ups the malevolent pressure, and Kate learns a few shocking truths.

I’m not completely sure what all of the delays on this title have been about, but I will say that the LA storyline has been going on for a very long time compared to the number of issues we have seen. That said, although I prefer the Clint portions of this series, the Kate-centric issues have been highly enjoyable, especially with Wu’s beautiful art. I especially like the first page mugshots of a beat-all-to-heck Kate that consists of only two panels, two captions, and the use of extensive white space to pull you into the story. The non-chronological progression threw on occasion, but once I worked out each scenes timeline, I was good to go. I love how the story ends not in the best of places for Kate, but her loss in this issue provides some timely righteous anger that gives her the motivation to look into certain personal matters (nope, I ain’t spoilin’ here) going forward.

Hawkeye has been my favorite Marvel title for a while now, and this is in spite of the numerous delays between issues, and the jumping about between characters and locations. I will be sad to see this book go — its current incarnation at any rate — but more than that, I’m anxious to see how things end up with Clint, Buddy, and the Clown and what roles Kate and Pizza Dog play in this two-issue finale that will hopefully not take a year to complete. If you wish to catch up on this mold-breaking-but-fun series, you can pick up the first two trades now, and a third trade collecting the Kate Bishop stories will be along in short order. RECOMMENDED!

Futures End #1
Batman: Futures End #1 - Written by Ray Fawkes, story by Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder, art by ACO, colored by FCO Plascencia, lettered by Dezi Sienty and Carlos M. Mangual, published by DC Comics. Here we go again. As I touched upon last week with the really cool Swamp Thing: Futures End #1, We get another gimmicky 3D cover, but for some reason us lucky consumers are spared the $1.00 price increase, as the cover price remains the same as the regularly scheduled Batman programming. We are not, however, spared the five-year look ahead as to what is in store for ol’ Bats for this “event,” but that is okay, as the story is pretty entertaining.

For only a five year jump, Batman is looking and feeling rundown. Not only does he look like a sixty-year-old man, his heart is not doing well, his reflexes are down, and the exoskeleton supporting his shattered spine only has a limited charge. But crime does not rest, nor does it age, wither, or die. Knowing this, Batman heads out to confront an exceedingly high-profile villain.

Yeah, I have no idea what happened to our hero, but I was able to pick up on where the characters were at emotionally, and that they needed something exceptionally rare to fix Batman back to his normal self. The story is entertaining, exciting even, and stand in artist ACO does a commendable job taking us through the action. There were a couple panels I found a tad confusing, but they weren’t enough to remove me from the story. This is a fun issue, and the implications of the final page are interesting in that they show Batman venturing into realms of thinking I never thought he would consider. That said, my complaint with the Swamp Thing: Futures End story carries over to this title as well: I would rather see the events play out chronologically and then actually be surprised as the surprises happen. Still, this is a solid issue of Batman, and I am excited to see what happens next…five years from now. RECOMMENDED!

Slice Into the Woods

I Really Wish I Had My Copies of Lazarus #10 and God Hates Astronauts #1 - Bummed. Just bummed. Oh well, I’ll find them soon enough.


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