Sunday, March 6, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 3/2

Jonah Hex #65 (DC, $2.99, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet) - Hex finds himself in the middle of a blizzard, and takes refuge with a stranger who is trying to make a life of his own as a cattleman out in the wilderness.  As Hex is healing from his injuries, the two must face the elements, a pack of deadly wolves, and a dangerous group of gunmen.  In the end, we learn why Hex was in the area in the first place, and that he is not incapable of mercy and forgiveness.

Once again, the story is solid and well-told, and I'm appreciative that Gray and Palmiotti are telling the majority of their stories here in single issues, something that unfortunately runs contrary to the rest of the industry these days.  Bernet's art has a rough quality to it, and won't appeal to superhero fans who like their artwork superslick and photo-realistic, but it's growing on me over time.  It doesn't hurt that his art is somewhat reminiscent of Joe Kubert.  Once again, this series is highly recommended.

First Wave #6 (of 6) (DC, $3.99, Brian Azzarello, Rags Morales) - The conclusion of the mini-series of DC's pulp imprint.  It ends decently enough, with some nice action pieces, but nothing truly spectacular.  This mini was supposed to spin off into some pulpified versions of some of DC's characters that had appeared here, such as Rima the Jungle Girl and the Blackhawks.  Unfortunately, due to long delays and low sales, that isn't going to be the case.

Which is a shame, because I would have like to have seen those books.  Sadly, pulp is something of a hard sell in the comics these days - for mainstream superhero fans the characters usually aren't superhero-y enough, and for indy fans they're a little too superhero-y. Throw in the previously mentioned delays, and the #3.99 cover price, and it's no real surprise that the entire line is apparently up for cancellation.

As for the comic itself, this issue is better than the previous ones.  Azzarello's story, which had dragged and meandered a bit previously, wraps up everything nicely.  Morales' art is the main selling point here; this isn't his strongest work, but his pencils and layouts are clear and engaging.  For those who like pulp-related stuff, if this gets collected in trade format, it's worth picking if you had bypassed the series in its monthly format, warts and all.

Joe The Barbarian #8 (of 8) (DC/Vertigo, $3.99, Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy) - Given that the final issue of this story had been delayed quite a bit, I went back to re-read the previous issues to refresh myself on what was happening.  That was probably just as well, as this is a series that reads better in one setting than it does in serialized format.

In this oversized (40 pages) issue, we get proper conclusions for the two storylines that have been running through the story, concerning both Joe's fantasy world and the normal, mundane world.  The question of whether the fantasy world is or isn't real is left somewhat vague, but I think that people harping on the lack of clear answers in that regard are missing the point.  Joe has been dealing with the specter of death throughout the story, and the lessons he has learned in the fantasy world, hallucination or not, have meaning in the 'real' world as well.

Morrison's writing isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but most people already know that going in.  The real standout here is Sean Murphy's art.  Murphy takes a story where things are admittedly not completely clear on the surface, and illustrates it beautifully.  Both Joe's mundane and fantasy worlds are clearly defined, and done so in a way that interlinks the two, while at the same time giving each of them their own unique feel.  If you haven't been reading this already, this is definitely one to pick up when it comes out in trade format.

Powers #7 (Marvel/Icon, $3.99, Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming) - This is apparently the week for long-delayed issues to show up - in addition to First Wave and Joe The Barbarian, we get a new issue of Powers after I don't know how many months.  This is being advertised as the beginning of a new story-arc, but it really picks up on something that was brought up in the previous issue; the death of a god.

The crux of the story, of course, is just how Walker and Sunshine have to go about the business of investigating and interrogating a pantheon of self-styled 'gods'.  Which is, of course, even more difficult than dealing with the usual superheroes and supervillains that they have to deal with.  Are these beings really deities, or are they merely super-powered types with an even larger-than-normal ego?

Thrown into this mix is the return of Deena Pilgrim, who is now working for the feds, and gets to snark at her replacement Enki Sunshine.  If you can't see how that could be fun, clearly you're not familiar with Deena.  Her appearance is really the high point of the issue.

This issue is mostly talking-heads stuff, but as per usual Oeming makes it work.  The only real weak spot here is the various interrogations/questionings; normally, Bendis handles this sort of thing fairly well, but here it drags a bit at times.  Still, it's a good story, with an appropriately bloody cliffhanger, and promises to be an engaging storyline, dealing with the topic at hand as only Powers can.  I only hope we don't have to wait another half a year to get the next issue (seriously, Bendis, dial back on that Avengers stuff and concentrate on what you're really good at).

Oh, I suppose I should mention that this is another oversized issue (again, 40 pages).  Besides the longer than normal installment of the main story, the the extended text pages are cut back to a single page, in lieu of an 8-page preview of Takio, an upcoming all-ages graphic novel dealing with two squabbling sisters who gain superpowers and decide to become superheroes.

Doorways #4 (of 4) (IDW, $3.99, George R.R. Martin, Stefano Martino) - The conclusion of the mini-series, adapting the original proposed TV pilot from the early 90's.  As one might expect from a story based on a TV pilot, while there is a degree of resolution to the immediate story, not everything is wrapped up neatly, and it is left open enough to allow for future storylines to be told.  From a comic book standpoint this works relatively well; if the sales here are good enough, there's no reason why we might not see future mini-series with these characters.

Martins' plot and characters continue to entertain, and Martino's art does everything it's supposed to.  If you haven't been picking this up, and if you like alternate-reality stories, then by all means pick this up when it comes out in collected trade format.  Hopefully, the sales on this will encourage IDW to publish more tales of Thomas and Cat in the future.

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