Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursdays with (Wade?) Jack: The Final (?) Chapter Of Joe Kelly's Deadpool Revisited

Today’s reading: Deadpool #30-33, July-October 1999
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Pete Woods (#30-32), Walden Wong (#31) and David Brewer (#31-33)

And now, the retcon you’ve all been waiting for ...

T-Ray is Wade Wilson. Deadpool is some guy named Jack. But not Jack Hammer. That’s Weasel, whom we haven’t seen since issue #14. None of this may be true, but also all of it may be.

Confused? Good. Let’s begin.

Issue #30 takes us back to that old den of mercenaries and plot setups, the Hellhouse, where Wade’s current boss, Alestaire Grunch, has come seeking aid from his former partner, Patch, the merc den mother of diminutive frame and demonstrative mustache. Alestaire is wracked with guilt after setting up Deadpool to take the Atlanta job arranged by T-Ray in issue #28, the one that reunited him with his dead wife, Mercedes.

Things have changed at the Hellhouse since T-Ray declared himself boss at the end of the “Drowning Man” story in issues #12 and 13. Most of the mercs have sided with the mystical albino, while the last two loyal to Deadpool – C.F. and Fenway – have gotten a lot meaner-looking to compensate.

Meanwhile, Deadpool has finally opened up to Mercedes – and the readers – about the night she died: Once upon a time in Maine, Wade and Mercedes Wilson were in love. They had a nice, cozy, secluded little place, where they spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline records and reading. One day, the two went down to the river for water when they came upon a frozen, hulking behemoth with a bandage on his nose. They took the man in and nursed him back to health, until one day, in the middle of a blizzard, the man killed Mercedes and left Wade for dead.

One big thing to note in Deadpool’s flashback: Wade Wilson has long, brown hair and a full beard. In nearly all previous drawings of pre-cancer Wade to date, he is depicted as having short, wavy blond hair and a little bit of scruff. It’s actually one of his go-to image inducer disguises.

Post-flashback, Wade is summoned to the Hellhouse, which works out as his next stop was tracking down Alestaire anyway. But to quote my favorite Star Wars character, it’s a trap. The T-Ray-aligned mercs are ready for Wade, and so he must stab, shoot and kick his way through a gauntlet of Street Fighter knockoffs, with the help of Patch, C.F. and Fenway.

The four of them manage to subdue the rest of the mercs, but the issue ends with Alestaire seized upon by a horde of possessed cats in a fit of karmic retribution, and Monty strung up in the Hellhouse by Deadpool’s old teleportation belt, having appeared there in a burst of green flame.

His friend in desperate need of medical attention, issue #31 opens with Deadpool taking Monty to the only place that might know how to treat him: Landau Luckman & Lake.

Except their old pal Zoe Culloden isn’t the same determined cheerleader she was in the run-up to “Dead Reckoning.” She’s an overboss now, and despite ordering Monty decommissioned for “experiencing unauthorized emotions” (aka kissing her), she’s decided Monty is LL&L property again and reclaims him. As for Deadpool, she incapacitates him and throws him in a cell, along with Mercedes and pilot Ilaney Bruckner, who were along for the ride.

Fortunately, Wade always keeps explosives wrapped in latex in his stomach for just such an occasion. A little boomsy-boom later, the three are taking up arms – even Mercedes, who by now is starting to grow accustomed to her husband’s hyperviolent lifestyle – against a squad of LL&L stormtroopers.

Meanwhile, Zoe, who has been tending to the unconscious Monty, begins to feel pangs of guilt. Finally, his brain starts to register activity again, and she sees what he’s dreaming about – him and Zoe on a date, Monty walking and rocking a pretty sweet purple deep V-neck sweater. This gives Zoe the push to take out her own men and aid Deadpool and company in their escape, and also quit LL&L.

Zoe and Monty teleport off into the sunset, but before they go, Monty offers one final prediction:

“Through that doorway sits your last opportunity at a normal life with the woman you love. If you take it, go somewhere T-Ray can’t find you. I promise you, you’ll live happily ever after.”

Wade, Mercedes and Ilaney step through the LL&L portal and wind up in Maine, at the house the Wilsons once shared, where T-Ray lies in wait. Seriously, Monty was never that good of a precog.

By issue #32, T-Ray is using more magic than he has ever been shown using before. He’s interfering in teleportation matrices, changing his appearance, casting illusions and trapping Wade, Mercedes and Ilaney in their own nightmares.

Being an ancillary character, T-Ray gives Ilaney an out, telling her she can go back home and let the main cast settle its business. But the former Alpine hermit has become a thrill junkie who feels indebted to Wade for pulling her back into the world:

“Before I meet Deadpool, my life is nothing. Loneliness. Thinking of suicide. Just guilt and pain. But that maniac thought enough of me to save my life. My worthless, pathetic life. I will never forget that debt. So you can take your cowardly offer, Herr T-Ray, and SHOVE IT!”

T-Ray responds to Ilaney’s bravado by calling her a piggie (seriously with the fat-shaming, you guys!) and having her eaten alive by little green bat-demons that transport her into an illusion in which she is forced to relive over and over the plane crash that drove her into hermitage. Among the passengers inserted into the illusion are Mercedes’ parents … whom Deadpool does not recognize.

Also unrecognizable to DP, the Hawaii beach where Wade and Mercedes spent their honeymoon. And the spot at their Calgary college where the Wilsons first met. And the fact that today is their anniversary.

Issue #32 closes with another visit to the scene where Wade and Mercedes rescue their frozen future killer. Except things are different this time. Their guest has a mustache instead of a nose bandage and is wearing familiar red-and-black pants.

Next issue, T-Ray tells Mercedes what we’re all meant to believe at this point: “I am Wade Wilson. Your husband. Happy anniversary, angel.” Honey, if that’s true, you married a real creep.

Amid more flashbacks, T-Ray tells the story of a mercenary named Jack who had long, brown hair, a mustache and wore a maskless version of Deadpool’s suit. He had failed a mission in Canada and ran across the border seeking to disappear. There, he was rescued by the Wilsons. He planned to kill Wade – drawn by artist David Brewer looking more like the pre-cancer Wade we’ve seen before – and steal his identity. Instead, Jack killed Mercedes. He thought he had killed Wade, too, but Wade was rescued by the people seeking to kill Jack. They trained him to become a mercenary as well, and he studied further in Japan to learn sorcery.

Jack, in the meantime, had snapped and believed he truly was Wade Wilson (If this is true, this is only the first time he’d lose his grip on sanity, the second being after the Weapon X cancer treatments that turned him into Deadpool, as shown in the Deadpool/Death ’98 annual).

To twist the knife further, T-Ray gives Mercedes a portion of his magic, turning her into a leather-lady version of the Goblin Queen from Inferno. He then shows Wade everyone he’s ever killed, from Ajax to the Executive Elite from his very first miniseries. (The “here’s everyone you’ve ever killed” schtick will resurface in the Deadpool vs. Thanos mini.)

At this point, T-Ray believes he has won and truly crushed Deadpool’s spirit. That’s when DP starts to laugh. He gives a long speech, but here’s the good bits:

“You ever see that old cartoon with the squirrel who’s trying to eat a coconut? Chuck Jones, I think. This squirrel finds a coconut and thinks that he’s hit the giant acorn motherlode, only he can’t crack the nut. It’s too hard. So he gets a jackhammer, he throws it downstairs, runs it over with a truck, nothing. Finally, he pushes this monster up a gazillion stairs all the way to the top of the Empire State Building and heaves it. Crack. Slowly, the shell peels back. And you know what’s inside? Another coconut shell. That squirrel is in cartoon hell. That squirrel is me. … But just like that squirrel, in another month or so, the cartoon reruns, and I try again.”

He talks about how he doesn’t regret trying to do the right thing, in spite of all the terrible things he’s done. He apologizes to Mercedes for everything. Then, he confronts his other victims:

“As for the rest of you – ahem – I wouldn’t apologize to you if you threatened to consign me to spend all eternity smothered in chocolate sauce and trapped in a Roseanne Barr/Star Jones sandwich! I’m glad you’re dead! If I could, I’d kill you again! Then I’d go back in time, impregnate each of your mothers to make sure you were born, and I’d kill you again! So if you want me to turn into some sort of bleeding heart and weep out an apology, you’re gonna have to rip it out of me!”

Now that’s the Deadpool I know and love.

DP gets in a few last licks on T-Ray, but Mercedes uses magic to teleport herself and T-Ray away and free Ilaney from her nightmare, effectively ending the battle. Deadpool, meanwhile, is left to fight his victims, which sends him, for the first time in a while, to the place between life and Death, where he can meet up with an old flame … for at least the next 30 days.

So there you have it, 33 issues of comedy, violence, self-loathing and guys named Jack. The “Who is the real Wade Wilson?” mystery is revisited by subsequent writers. Both Deadpool and T-Ray are proved to be unreliable narrators, and the rotating cast of artists and inkers over the past few issues has kept things so inconsistent as to render either view plausible.

From here, Christopher Priest takes over writing duties and does things like make Deadpool realize he’s a character in a comic book and induct him into a new Frightful Four alongside his old nonbuddy Taskmaster. The series will run through issue #69, to be resurrected as a Gail Simone-Udon Studios body-swapping book called Agent X. This is followed by the Fabian Nicieza-penned team-up book Cable & Deadpool, then a solo series by Daniel Way, and finally the modern creative team of Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, et al.

As for Kelly, he would go on to write Action Comics and JLA for DC and the soon-to-be-a-movie I Kill Giants series for Image, and co-found Man of Action Studios, responsible for cartoons such as Ben 10 and Ultimate Spider-Man. He and artist Ed McGuinness also recently returned to our favorite mercenary in the new series Spider-Man/Deadpool. So he’s doing alright.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this deep dive down memory lane, and hopefully we all enjoy the Deadpool movie, which bows tomorrow. I won’t say this is the last Thursdays with Wade post – if this series proves anything, I’ll always have something to say about the man in the red-and-black pajamas – but it’s the last for a while. So until next time, may your katana always find its mark, and may your chimichangas be thoroughly microwaved.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/3

Nailbiter #19
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson & Adam Guzowski

So, for every answer we get in Nailbiter, two more questions get asked. "Devil Went Down to Georgia" wraps up with the answer to who is the Devil Killer, and we finally pay off Agent Barker's continued homicidal fantasies. The payoff on the identity of the Devil Killer is perfect, and made so much sense when I saw it I don't know how I hadn't put two and two together on it before; I want to reread the arc and see if there were clues laid out that I completely missed the first time. But that answer opens up a bigger question involving The Master (who I've called The Doctor in the past) and The Butcher, the serial killers who seemingly protect or control Buckaroo's secrets. Whatever they're doing, we now know that while it is tied to  Buckaroo, it is not exclusively linked to that locale, which adds a whole new level of creepy, knowing they can turn people wherever they want, or so it seems. So many questions! But beyond the plot, there's the usual excellent character work this book does. Alice finally wakes up from her coma, with Sheriff Crane waiting by her bedside, and the fact that Alice is about to learn about the truth of who her parents are can only mean big things for her next arc. Finch continues to be the rock the book rests on, the most stable (which is saying something since he has crazy rage issues himself)of the lot, but his interview with Edward Charles Warren, the Nailbiter himself, opens up with a question that I never thought to ask: How many of Warren's forty-six victims did he really kill? I've always chalked Warren's odd behavior to him being a serial killer with a code of ethics, but now I'm wondering how much of a serial killer he is. And we get to finally see more of Agent Carroll, who is now back in FBI care, since he had his legs and arms cut off in Buckaroo, presumably by The Butcher. And without spoiling anything, if you thought things couldn't get any worse for him, it can. I want to take a minute and really call out Mike Henderson's art on this issue and this title in general. This book is a synthesis of story and art like all comics, but Williamson and Henderson work together perfectly, Henderson has a sense of pacing that works really well in the horror scenes, like the confrontation between Barker and Carroll at the end of the issue, and he draws precise, intimate fight scenes; they're not your big superhero slugfests, but down-and-dirty, up close and personal fights. And his faces! This issue, there were some really great expressions, specifically a panel of Barker as she gets hit with the news there is no cure for what happens in Buckaroo, Finch as her begins to interview Warren, and pretty much all of Warren during that interview. The raw emotion or sly satisfaction are played out in a way that few other artists can capture. Nailbiter is taking a two month break between issues, one for the new trade and one for a hardcover of the first two arcs. I'm planning a full recommended reading for the book in between now and then to really spread the word, so if you like horror or suspense, really give it a shot. You won't be disappointed.

Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #5
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt

I'm about to speak a blasphemy. As much as I love Princeless, and I love Princeless, I think I'm starting to love the spinoff, Raven: The Pirate Princess, even more. It has everything Princeless has, all the amazing female characters, social commentary, smart plots, only there's even more of it. This issue takes place on Raven's pirate ship as the all female crew of pirates she took on last issue are just getting their sea legs. Before this issue, the women were pretty much just first mate Katie's role-playing friends, but this issue we get to tour the ship with Ximena, Raven's former best friend and current navigator of the ship, and get a brief moment with most of the crew. There are women who are physically fit and looking for challenges that way, there are some who are playing games, some who are just working around the ship. One is deaf, one is lounging around, one is wearing something akin to traditional hijab, and there's a brief discussion about the choice to wear that, and how others might view it as oppression but in many cases, the women who wear them are doing so by their choice, which was something that got Ximena to think, and me too. This really impressed me, since it would be so easy to have a ship full of red shirts, since it's an entire crew, and just focus on Raven, Ximena, Katie, Sunshine, and Jayla, the five characters we met in the first arc. Giving these characters in the crew fuller personality means the reader has more buy in, and I know I don't want to see any of them die or be hurt; I don't think I felt that about any random crewman on the Enterprise. A lot of Raven's part of this issue sees her getting her feet under her as a captain. There's a lot about Raven that I like. Despite being captain, she's willing to make much of what the ship does a democracy, as long as her crew remembers who's in charge during battle; democracy during fights gets people killed. She wants to be the best captain she can be. And when she has to deal with Jayla, resident scientist and doctor of sorts, who is being something of a complete brat, when she stops to think, she gives Jayla a shot, and assures her that people will listen. Jayla is the youngest of the crew, and a lot of her bratiness comes from wanting to be taken seriously. This is the first issue of the series with the whole cast, and we're already getting relationships building, be it Sunshine befriending Jayla after Jayla put together a seasickness cure, or the continually frayed relationship between Raven and Ximena. I'm also impressed by the fact that Rosy Higgins has created a crew of I think sixteen characters all with diverse ethnicity and body type who are also facially distinct. Each issue of Raven: The Pirate Princess builds off the last and gives us more and more characters to love, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when the crew does their first pirating. That has to be coming, after all, because they're pirates, but for now, this issue is a wonderful calm before the storm.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Recommended Reading for 2/5: Super Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice

The concept of younger versions of adult characters meeting and having adventures isn't anything new. I remember Muppet Babies when I was a kid, and to this day, once of my favorite movies of all time is Barry Levinson's vastly underrated Young Sherlock Holmes. I've written about Skottie Young's charming Little Marvels, Art and Franco's Tiny Titans and Itty Bitty Hellboy,and Yale Stewart's JL8. A couple of weeks back, a new entry into this genre was released, from creators familiar to The Matt Signal, I hope: creators of Li'l Gotham, Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen released Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice through Scholastic Books.

Study Hall of Justice isn't just Li'l Gotham in a new form; there are two very distinct differences. Firstly, the characters in Li'l Gotham were the regular adult versions of the characters, just drawn in Dustin Nguyen's most cartoony style. More importantly, the format is completely different. While there are comic pages, this book falls into the same journal mixed with comics style similar to the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid, My Dumb Diaries, and Jeffrey Brown's Jedi Academy books. Told from Bruce Wayne's perspective, the book is the story of Bruce at his new school, Ducard Academy , which is filled with familiar faces, both heroic and villainous (although mostly villainous).

If the cover didn't completely give it away, while Bruce Wayne might be our narrator and lead, his friends are also recognizable stars of the DC trinity, Clark Kent and Diana Prince. Each of out leads are recognizable as who they will become, but are clearly still finding out who they are. Bruce is the detective, investigating and curious, and takes himself a bit too seriously. Clark is as earnest as you'd expect from a young Superman, but doesn't entirely have the mastery of his powers or of not occasionally mentioning he might be an alien. Diana is still finding the balance between the Amazon teachings of peace and war, and has a bit of a temper. Much of the book is the three of them, all kids who are different and don't have many friends, learning not only about the mysteries of Ducard Academy, but also about friendship.

The other students in the school are not quite as concerned with friendship and doing right as our three leads. One of the joys as a longtime fan of DC Comics in reading this book is seeing all the characters Nguyen crams into his illustrations. Some villains have prominent rolls, like Lex Luthor (class president), Circe, Poison Ivy, and Mister Freeze (the staff of the school paper), Bane (the school bully), Talia, Catwoman, and a gang of clowns led by Joker and Harley. But pretty much every student is a recognizable villain, and it's fun to play the game of, "I know that character!" The teaching staff, by the way, is of as dubious character as many of the students, including history teacher Vandal Savage, Mr. Jervis Tetch teaching English (just one book, Alice in Wonderland), a Brainiac robot as the librarian, and teaching Boy's Gym is Coach Zod.

The plot that drives the book and makes it more than just a cute bunch of in jokes for nerds like me and lessons about getting along is the mystery of what exactly is going on at Ducard Academy. Bruce is immediately suspicious when he sees ninjas hiding around the school, and the fact that bullying, cheating, and generally bad behavior seems encouraged, as well as the fact that the teachers aren't really teaching much, has his detective senses on high alert. Once he meets and becomes friends with Clark and Diana, they begin trying to find out the secret of the school, as well as its mysterious, never seen principal. If you've seen Batman Begins the school's name is a pretty good hint as to who is behind this whole school for villains.

The investigations leads the "Criminal Investigations Unit," as Bruce calls them (and don't call the Junior Detectives! That's for kids), to try to join sports teams, run for student office, write for the school paper, all to no avail. There's a lot of comedy in these attempts, and in the interactions between our leads. Bruce's too serious attitude alienates his friends at time, and  the ever optimistic Clark doesn't understand Bruce's brooding or Diana's anger. These are really well defined versions of the characters, even if they're different from the ones I read about each month, and I like how Fridolfs and Nguyen handle them. They're relatable to kids in a way that the grown up versions aren't, but the book never talks down to the younger readers who are the target audience.

As is the custom with this format, the book also has "artifact" pages, almost like scrapbook items, as part of it. Report cards, student evaluations, and pages from the school paper give readers a better idea of what's going on around school. Aside from the text of Bruce's journal and the comic pages, we also see "screen grabs" from various on-line chats between Bruce, Diana, and Clark. These pages can also be packed with Easter Eggs. The report Bruce gets from an outside, grownup detective about some of the clues at the school comes from Vic Sage, P.I., and a page that shows Bruce's locker has photos of Sherlock Holmes, Zorro, and the Grey Ghost, as well as a copy of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs, and a can of shark repellent.

The art throughout is top notch, something I'd expect from an artist like Dustin Nguyen. His character designs are stellar, not drawing little adults but kids, aging the characters down but making them still recognizable. The highlight of the art are a few two-page spreads that really let Nguyen show off. The Halloween spread shows many of the kids in costumes that they will wear again as grown-ups, the Valentines Day spread is full of Easter Eggs as we see Valentines from various girls to Bruce, all of which have hints of what their identities will be as adults villains and heroes. and the Christmas spread shows the home lives of our three leads.

I've always enjoyed all ages comics and YA books, and like championing them to as wide an audience as I can. Super Hero Society is a perfect book to share with the kids in your life, or to read on your own: it's charming, well structured, well illustrated, and a blast to read. Every fan of DC Comics should give it a shot, and if you aren't? Read it anyway. You might become one.

Super Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice is available at comic shops and book stores now.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 20

Today’s reading: Deadpool #26-29, March-June 1999
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Pete Woods (#26, 28 & 29) and Walter McDaniel (#27)

You just saved the world, and your book’s been spared from cancellation. Now what?

This is the question Joe Kelly is left to wrestle with as he continues writing a series that was supposed to end with issue #25.

Fortunately, there’s one big mystery left over from the previous 25 issues: Why does T-Ray hate Deadpool so much?

The answer to that question is one big retcon that has since been unretconned, reretconned and contraretconned, in what can only be described as the Continuity Curse of the Kelly Run.

But first, a cast reshuffle, a Howard the Duck villain, and a pointless fight with Wolverine!

Deadpool has pulled up stakes from San Francisco and moved into the Bolivian fortress he raided in issue #1. And he’s got a new roommate. Blind Al is, inexplicably, out, and Montgomery, the former Landau Luckman & Lake precog, is in. You may recall from the end of issue #25 that Monty kissed his true love and co-worker, Zoe Culloden, who upon promotion to overboss had him decommissioned and thrown out of the company because she couldn’t handle having a skinless, wheelchair-bound boyfriend.

Wade also has a new pilot: Ilaney Bruckner, whom you may remember from the Ajax story. Turns out she didn’t die after all!

(Writer’s aside: This seems like something I should’ve known and pointed out in writing about Ilaney earlier, right? Yes. If I’m being completely honest, the eight issues that make up Kelly’s Deadpool denouement kind of faded from my memory, save for the big T-Ray reveal at the end and the fight with Wolverine.)

Sadly, much like before, Ilaney is the butt of a number of fat jokes that I still maintain were wholly unnecessary.

Despite having saved the world, Wade is still a miserable sack of stuffing. Part of him believes all he did was curse the human race to remain unhappy as a result of getting to keep its free will. He’s no longer on the LL&L payroll, and so he’s gone back to mercenary work, though this time for a Moroccan gentleman named Alestaire Grunch who tortures cats and used to be the business (and life?) partner of Patch, the diminutive old curmudgeon who runs Hellhouse.

Wade’s also going a bit nuts … OK, nutser. He’s begun hallucinating a beautiful, raven-haired woman who hangs out with bunnies and pours liquor into milk jugs. And so he’s started seeing a shrink. Or rather, he’s started seeing Howard the Duck villain Doctor Bong. His prescription, or Deadpool’s interpretation of it, at least: Go fight Wolverine.

Logan just so happens to be in San Francisco’s Chinatown district, visiting a generic old friend. And he’s brought fellow X-Man Kitty Pryde along with him. Kelly does a great job of mocking Wolverine’s narration boxes from the time period, that mix of violent 1970s antihero appropriating Eastern zen wisdom:

“Smell is the sense that most closely links us to memory. A breath of half stale air in a district like Chinatown unlocks a glut of images. Old friends, lovers, dead goat on a beach, my tricycle, Ginger, the spice and the castaway, chopsticks jutting out of a guy’s eyeballs like cockroach antennae. Sometimes, I wish that when I smelled an egg roll, it just smelled like an egg roll.”

Deadpool disguises himself as an old-lady street merchant but drops the ruse once Wolverine’s sniffer susses him out. He then proceeds to provoke Logan, who doesn’t appear to be in a fighting mood until Wade hits Kitty with an uppercut straight outta Street Fighter. As Wade and Wolvie exchange blows, Wade comes to the realization that he knows the woman in his hallucinations.

“She’s just the broad who stole my heart a long time ago, then got dead,” he tells Doctor Bong. Issue #27 closes with the actual woman of Deadpool’s hallucinations running from some unseen terror in Atlanta. She drops a locket, inside which is a picture of her with a man, and the inscription reads, “Love always, Wade.”

Issue #28 opens with some creepy looking narration boxes we haven’t seen in a while, familiar green flames and a fella in a cloak plotting to make Wade Wilson’s life miserable from afar. We’ll get back to him.

In the meantime, Alestaire’s got a new assignment for Deadpool, in Atlanta of all places, a job that came on magic paper that turns into green flames (SEE?!). The target, the raven-haired woman from Wade’s hallucinations. But he’s not the only merc on the job.

Enter Bullseye. How long has it been since these two crazy kids hung out?

Issue sixteen. Greece,” Wade replies, a mere hint of the fourth-wall breaking that will become far more pervasive under the next writer, Christopher Priest.

Deadpool sees this familiar woman as the key to his sanity and tries to talk his old friend out of making the hit. Bullseye responds by stabbing Deadpool in the side and bounds off to do his anything-can-be-a-deadly-projectile schtick. They have a pretty sweet fight that ends with Bullseye taking a boomerang-shaped spoiler to the chest. Despite the mask – and the face covered in scars beneath it – the woman, Mercedes, believes Deadpool to be Wade Wilson, her long lost husband. And Deadpool believes Mercedes should be dead.

But wait, when was Wade ever married? Was this before or after Weapon X? How come this wasn’t mentioned in the Flashback Month issue? And what does T-Ray have to do with any of this?

Patience, my friends. We’re getting there.

Issue #29 opens with Deadpool forcing Latverian scientists to run DNA tests to prove Mercedes isn’t a clone, by threatening their prized collection of Star Trek memorabilia.

Monty, meanwhile, wants to know who this woman is who’s sleeping in Wade’s bed and why he’s never heard of her, despite spending years researching his life in preparation for him to become the Mithras.

Deadpool doesn’t get very far in explaining when a horde of zombies comes crashing into his Bolivian pad, led by none other than Black Talon.

For those who did not read this past fall’s Deadpool vs. Thanos miniseries. Black Talon is a voodoo priest who wears a rooster costume and practices necromancy. He comes seeking Mercedes because as a resurrected dead woman she is a near-perfect construct and he wants to learn her secrets.

This fight scene is played nearly entirely for laughs, including Deadpool’s own. Assisting in the hilarity is Monty, who, given his physical appearance, attempts to blend in with the zombies, grunting things like “Brains is good food” and “Eep op ork ahh ahh.”

Eventually, though, the old ultraviolence kicks in, and Mercedes screams for Wade to stop mercilessly wailing on Black Talon, who by now has lost control of his zombie horde, which has turned to dust. Wade responds in sadly characteristic Wade fashion:

“Maybe you didn’t notice, but this chicken McNugget impaled me with a ten-inch steak knife! Healing factor or not, I’d say I’m entitled to a little payback! So get off my hump before I forget my life has gone ape snot since you breezed back into it and wish I’d never saved you in the first place!”

Mercedes runs off, and Deadpool lets slip to Monty this key bit of backstory to close out the issue:

“Years ago, in the snow, “Crazy” (the Patsy Cline song, later featured in the Deadpool video game) playing in the house behind us, my wife was murdered, and all I could do was watch.”

The story of Mercedes’ death, and how Deadpool and T-Ray play into it, will be revealed across the final four issues of the Kelly run, which we’ll cover in next week’s final Thursdays with Wade before the Deadpool movie premiere. See ya then!

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/27 Part 2

And we're back with more reviews from last week's comics. Today we have books from Image and IDW...

Atomic Robo & The Ring of Fire #5
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener, Anthony Clark, & Jeff Powell

So, after spending much of his most recent mini-series as not much more than a head, Atomic Robo has a body again and is on a mission, so of course that means only one thing: Fight with a cybernetic Nazi astronaut while trying to save the world. The conclusion of Atomic Robo & The Ring of Fire is the most action oriented issue of this series, as Robo tries to power up a Nazi space weapon to destroy the Biomega Island, a mass of biomatter that if it reaches land will grow to devour and cover all life on Earth, and Majestic-12s Titan mechs fight to destroy the island themselves. The clock is ticking, not just because the Biomega is nearing landfall, but if Robo can't stop the Island himself, Majestic's only answer is nukes, and, well, we all know that's probably not good for Earth. The Titan battle with the Biomega, which began last issue, continues to be impressive work from artist Scott Wegener, not just because he does a great job of keeping what is a massive fight coherent for readers to follow, but because his monster designs are excellent. Robo's plot is equally as exciting and considerably more amusing, as Robo makes his way through the Nazi Longinus satellite while in contact with his team of Action Scientists. The interaction between Robo and his team is one of my favorite aspects of the series, with great banter; Robo's particularly dry sense of humor and delivery as he's fighting a cyber-Nazi and crashing to Earth in a satellite makes the situation, which is still dire, seem like it will all work out in the end (and it does, of course. The comic is named after him, after all). The end of the issue begins to establish a new status quo, for both Robo and the world at large. The last three Robo mini-series ("Savage Sword of Doctor Dinosaur," "Knights of the Golden Circle," and "Ring of Fire") have left Robo is a strange new world, and it seems like he's interested in changing his own life, but there are new threats hinted at and old ones that might not be as gone as he thinks; the last page of the series is a classic last minute horror movie moment. We'll have to wait a while to find out what's next for Robo, as the next series, Atomic Robo & the Temple of Od, moves us back to an earlier adventure in Robo's life, but be it the past or the present, there are few comics as exciting as Atomic Robo.

Cry Havoc #1
Story: Simon Spurrier
Art: Ryan Kelly, Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge, & Matt Wilson

When I choose a new series from Image to readm it's usually based on the writer. But the ads for Cry Havoc declared, "It's not about a lesbian werewolf going to war. Except it kind of is." And if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know how I feel about werewolves, so I thought Id give it a shot, despite having little to no experience with Simon Spurrier. And it's a very solid debut issue. The issue takes place in three distinct time periods: The first is "The End," the farthest down the timeline, with our lead, Louise Canton, in a cage and partially transformed; "The Beginning" is the farthest back, showing Lou shortly before she was attacked by a werewolf and moves through shortly after the attack;  and "The Middle" shows her arrival in Afghanistan with the military. All are drawn by Ryan Kelly but colored by three different artists that give each section a different feel. That style is one of the things that makes this comic such an engaging read. Not only is the alternating timeline keeping you off kilter and as lost as Lou clearly feels, but those different colorists really bring out different aspects of Kelly's art. It's also easy to keep track of the time periods as the panel borders are a different color for each time zones: red for the end, blue for the beginning, and yellow for the middle. There's a lot going on in this issue, with three plots that are all really one plot all running at once, and Lou is a likable lead, even though I don't feel like we get a whole feel for her as a character yet. Each Lou is different, and part of the series journey to me will be seeing how she moves from one phase to the next. There's not a lot of monster action, but the glimpses we get of Kelly's werewolf design is phenomenal, a large monstrous beast. I also like the way he represents Lou's senses kicking into the heightened werewolf ones, these blue lines that radiate out from her, be they representing sound or scent. There are a lot of questions posed in this first issue, questions about the werewolf that turned Lou, about whether the military will really cure her, what the motive of Lynn Odell, the woman Lou was  brought into a war zone to hunt, are, and I'll definitely be back to see where all these questions lead.

Ghostbusters International #1
Story: Erik Burnham
Art: Dan Schoening & Luis Antonio Delgado

The team of Burnham and Schoening return with the continued adventures of the original Ghostbusters. After the past couple of adventures the team has had, meeting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other dimensional versions of themselves, the team is back to fighting ghosts and not gods (so far anyway). A big shaggy werewolf looking ghost is attacking the UN, and what seems like a run of the mill capture job turns into something more as an unrelated haunting pops up at the same time and Egon is injured. The boys are still able to pull it out and stop the ghost, and the additional fees to the UN are paid be mystery industrialist Erland Vinter, who asks to meet with the Ghostbusters to discuss a business proposition. The tile of the series sort of gives away what Vinter's plan is, but we won't learn more about that until next issue. Aside from the initial capture, the issue is filled with little character moments.The Burnham/Scoening Ghostbusters comics have done a really solid job of developing the characters around the Ghostbusters, so a scene with Janine and Jenny Moran, a comics original character who is currently the team's liaison with the city, is as interesting as when Ray, Winston, and Peter go out for a drink to share information about Vinter. And Egon, recuperating from an acid spitting ghost attack, is clearly into something, but it's something he doesn't share with Kylie Griffin, a character from the late-90s Extreme Ghostbusters cartoon who has been a regular in the series for some time now, and who I really like. I'm hoping for more interaction between her and Egon in the future. There's also a two page "Haunted America" short at the back of the issue in the form of a report from FBI agent, ally, and sometime Ghostbuster Melanie Ortiz, about a haunting in Florida; these shorts that have been a regular part of IDW's Ghostbusters comics are a nice bonus, and always mean a little more bang for your buck. There are a lot of seeds for upcoming plots in this issue, lots of little moments. Since Burnham started writing Ghostbusters he's played an almost Claremontian long game, dropping little hints and moments that don't pay off for some time. I'm curious as ever to see where these new threads take us.

Southern Bastards #13
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

OK, this might not be much of a shocking confession, but I'm going to say it up front: I don't care about football. Sports in general don't do much for me, and fiction about sports can be interesting if it's dealing with the personalities, but actually reading/watching the game? Meh. So when I saw this week's Southern Bastards was going to take place during the homecoming game, I got a bit worried. This is one of my favorite comics out there right now, and football is an integral part of it, but I wasn't sure if I could take twenty-four pages of football. I shouldn't have been surprised that Jason Aaron and Jason Latour kept the issue engaging, mixing the football game, which I admit did keep me interested as I didn't know which way it was going to turn out, with Coach Boss before and after the game. This avoided a problem I often find in sports fiction. You know the team of scrappy underdogs you're rooting for is going to pull off a miracle and win in the end. In Jason Aaron's usually dark universe, victory is never quite as assured. The game does not go Craw County's way, as nothing seems to be for Coach Boss, the antagonist of the series who we've frankly spent more time with than the protagonists at this point. It feels like Boss is surrounded by troubles on all sides. The mayor and his wife are coming down on him hard, his longtime friend Coach Big has killed himself, and his team is doing a piss poor job. It's fascinating that you can empathize with a character who was introduced as such a stock, southern-fried villain, but I actually feel for Boss. I don't like him, and he's deserving of this crapstorm he's in, but I can't help feel a pang of sadness for him. But Boss is a guy who goes down swinging, and his post-game confrontation with the gigantic running back from arch rival team Wetumpka County Warriors shows that Boss still has plenty of fight in him. It's a very solid showing from Southern Bastards, and while I might not care about football, I care about what happens to these characters, and the series works like a good game of football, where every hard fought inch gets you closer to a touchdown and the end of the game. And this endgame is going to be bloodier than any ever in a football stadium, I have no doubt.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/27 Part 1

Lats week was such a big week of comics, and I liked so many, that I decided to divide up the reviews into two days! Today, there will be reviews of books from DC & Dark Horse, and come back tomorrow for books from Image and IDW...

Black Canary #7
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Annie Wu & Lee Loguhridge

Black Canary is one of the best books to come out of DC's most recent wave of titles (the other one will be popping up in a review a bit farther down the page), and the final issue of this first arc is a great example of everything this book does right. The origins of the mysterious Ditto are revealed, and it's a crazy sci-fi concept that still feels perfectly right in a comic that is mostly grounded in some of the more real aspects of a superhero universe. The thing that keeps the book grounded are the relationships between the characters. Despite Ditto having a seriously wacky and awesome sci-fi origin, the fact that everyone cares about her so much that it keeps them all grounded. And when Dinah tells the others to leave, that she's the one who will stand to defend Ditto against what is coming, no one else goes because, to quote Lord Byron (the band member, not the poet), "We're more than a band now, Dinah. We're a team, for better or worse." That journey, to be more than just a group of people driving around in a van, has been the core of this arc. And it's Ditto that allows everyone to come to a peace not just with each other but with their enemy, Bo Maeve, who also cares about Ditto. The origins of the band, why they're together and who brought them together, makes perfect sense in retrospect, as well. It's nice when the mysteries at the foundation of a book come together so nicely, and the answer about how Maeve got her powers and why it seemed like the same people helping the band were also working with their enemies. I also have to stress how impressed I am that Brenden Fletcher found a way to make me really like Kurt Lance, a character whose appearances in Team 7 and Birds of Prey made me think of him as a convenient plot device more than a character. The relationship between him and Dinah makes sense after this issue; you see that he's more than just some spy guy, but a decent man who really cares about people and is clever. There is a good potion of the issue that is a battle of the band against a creature called The Quietus, a thing that eats sound, and so much of the issue is silent, and Annie Wu, whose work has been astounding so far, steps up with her best work on the book. The Quietus itself is a great design, a roiling maelstrom on feet, and the sequence where first the band fights the monster with music and when Dinah and the mysterious white ninja attack the thing more physically are great. You can follow the action perfectly without any guidance of text, and it's exciting to watch. Not like any other book on the stands right now, or any other version of the character, Black Canary is a great book that had an ending to its inaugural arc as exciting as everything that lead up to it.

Grayson #16
Story: Tom King & Tim Seeley
Art: Mikel Janin & Jeremy Cox

After a detour into the "Robin War" crossover, Grayson returns to its standard form, a wall to wall international espionage action with plenty of joyful cheesecake shots of its lead. I'm sure we'll get some answers in the future about Dick's role with the Parliament of Owls, but as much as I'm curious where that goes, I'm glad Grayson returned to tie up the threads about Dick's war with Spyral, his previous employer. The majority of the issue is Dick and The Tiger, also known as the former Agent One of Spyral, both of whom have gone rogue and know something is rotten in Spyral progressively taking down one Spyral agent after another and bantering. The bantering is mostly from Dick, granted, as the Tiger really doesn't banter, but is more talkative than Batman, who usually is the recipient of Dick's friendly banter, and his grumping back at Dick is almost as funny as Dick's jokes. There is some really phenomenal art in this issue, including a Dick and Tiger walking out of the water shot right out of James Bond movies, and the montage accompanied by Dick singing his personal theme song set to the tune of "Goldfinger" also intentionally evoke Bond, and that theme song will be caught in your head. For days. DAYS. The few scenes that aren't Dick and Tiger's excellent adventure are dedicated to Matron, Helena Bertinelli, the current head of Spyral, growing more and more frustrated by Dick and Tiger's exploits. There is also a meeting of the Syndicate, the best spies in the world, who we have seen hints of, but now who stand revealed, and who will go after Dick and Tiger soon, and they're a group of pretty big names who I'm excited to see in action. To stand against them, Dick makes a seeming deal with the devil, but I won't say who that devil is; you'll have to read the issue to find out. Grayson is getting more exciting with each issue, and I'm curious to see what happens when Dick finally faces down Spyral. Because after all, he's Grayson. Dick Grayson.

Hellboy Winter Special
Story: Various
Art Various

While nobody writes and draws Hellboy and his world like Mike Mignola, but one of the best things about the whole universe is the different visions we get from other artists and writers, and so these occasional Hellboy anthologies allow for some new visions. The Hellboy Winter Special features four stories (well, three and one two-page gag strip) that bring some new creators into Hellboy's world and lets them tell stories of the Hellboy universe's past.

Broken Vessels (Story by Mike Mignola & Scott Allie; Art by Tim Sale and Dave Stewart): One of the stories set farthest back in the history of the Hellboy Universe, the story finds the original wielder of a magical blade that has been featured in B.P.R.D. back in the ice age running a foul of a sorcerer talking about the mystical Vril energy and then fighting ghosts. It's the first time Tim Sale has drawn the Hellboy universe, and the story is well suited to his dark and moody style

Wandering Souls (Story by Mike Mignola & Chris Roberson; Art by Michael Walsh & Dave Stewart): The longest of the stories in the anthology, this story takes place right in the middle of the current Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953 series of one-shot and minis. Hellboy and Agent Susan Xiang are on a mission in Wyoming to investigate a haunting. They follow the local sheriff, who is quickly possessed by the ghosts, and while Hellboy fights him, Xiang communicates with the spirits to learn about why they're haunting, and we see that this isn't a simple case of angry spirits who need to be smashed. Chris Roberson will soon be taking over as regular co-writer of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., and if this is any indication, he'll it in just fine, and Michael Walsh is one of my favorite artists in comics right now, and I;m glad to see him working on Hellboy.

Mood Swings (Story: Chelsea Cain; Art: Michael Avon Oeming & Dave Stewart): Novelist Chelsea Cain steps up to tell a story about Christmas with Hellboy, Prof. Bruttenholm, and a teenage Liz Sherman. And the only thing scarier than a teenager is a teenager who can burn you alive with a thought. And when her Christmas present from the professor doesn't go over well, Liz runs into the woods, where a sweet gift of a ring of festive snowmen from Hellboy turns horrible when they're possessed. Michael Avon Oeming draws some really creepy monster snowmen until, well, just think about a pyrokinetic fighting snowmen. Guess who wins, and it makes me want to see more stories of teen Liz.

Kung Pao Lobster (Story & Art: Dean Rankine): A two page gag strip where Lobster Johnson orders Chinese food, and, well weird stuff happens. It's a funny little story, and that's pretty much what you can stay about it.

None of these stories require any previous knowledge of Hellboy and his world, so if you're a new fan, a lapsed one, or one of the faithful, this is a great one-shot to check out.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #14
Story: Sholly Fisch
Art: Dario Brizuela & Franco Riesco

When telling Scooby-Doo stories, the trick to keeping them fresh is not changing the formula, but finding ways to play with that formula for fun effect. Sholly Fisch's Scooby-Doo Team-Up always finds a way to take the Mystery Inc. gang, have them meet superheroes, and make it feel fresh while not violating any of the tropes of either world. When the gang gets invited on a cruise ship because of monster problems, it turns out the monsters are, shock of shocks, guys in suits, and with the help of Aquaman, they easily catch the undersea robbers. But pretty soon, it turns out this was all part of a plot by Aquaman's arch-enemies, Black Manta and Ocean Master, to distract Aquaman so they can conquer Atlantis. There's an homage to a classic Aquaman story, with Black Manta having kidnapped Aquaman's baby son, Arthur Jr., but being this is an all ages comic, the ending is much happier than in the DC Universe. There are cameos by much of Aquaman's classic supporting cast, including Aqualad, Tula, Topo the Octopus, Tusky the Walrus, and royal adviser Vulko, who is drawn way more ripped than I have ever seen him; animation treats Vulko pretty well. There are the usual gags with Scooby being a coward and Shaggy having the munchies, but the best classic Scooby-Doo gag that gets twisted here is Freddy continually trying to unmask villains underwater, and Velma and Aquaman having to remind him that if he does, these people will, well, drown. Oh, Freddy...

We Are Robin #8
Story: Lee Bermejo
Art: Jorge Corona, Rob Haynes, & Trish Mulvihill

The other highlight of the new DC titles, We Are Robin, also comes out of "Robin War" with a clean playing field and a new menace on the horizon. The focal points of this issue are two characters, our normal series lead, Duke Thomas, and Johnny Bender, a young man leaving juvie who after a failed surgery to solve facial paralysis is left with a permanent grin. And it should surprise no one that a Gotham kid with behavior problems and a fixed grin is going to idolize not Batman but his opposite number. We do see the other principle Robins being watched over by Alfred (I especially like Andre working out his anger in Midnighter cosplay (I'm trying to think what Midnighter's junior partner would be. The Nooner? Kid 10 p.m.?), so it's still an ensemble, but we're mostly following Duke and Bender. Duke is still on the quest to find his parents, and SPOILERS, he does find them. This kind of caught me off guard, since the end of the last issue of Batman teased Duke finding his parents, but this is his home book at this point, I suppose. It's a bittersweet reunion, as they are still effected by the Joker's toxin and don't remember Duke. Joe Corona draws the scene with true pathos, as you can see Duke's joy turn to pain and you watch his heart break. Meanwhile, Bender's reunion with his parents is no better. They're clearly pretty terrible people, superficial and unpleasant, and it's easy to see why their son looks for someone else to look up to, and unfortunately it has to be Joker. His decision to kill his parents is not surprising, as his narration has been disquieting since page one, and the pages and story are structured to really set Duke and him as opposite numbers in their own right. Between Batman and especially here in We Are Robin, the character work on Duke Thomas has made him and engaging and worthy member of the Batman family, and so giving him an archenemy seems like the next logical step. This clearly feels like it's the beginning of the Jokers, a gang that has its roots in Batman Beyond (yes, they're Jokerz there, but that's such a '90s future thing), and since so many of the aspects of that show have been entering the DCU since Convergence, it makes perfect sense and seems appropriate in this title. This is the beginning of the second arc for We Are Robin, and a great place to jump on.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Recommended Reading for 1/29: The Other Side

Jason Aaron's writing seems to be haunted by the Vietnam War. Wade Rouleau, father of Dashiell Bad Horse, the lead of Aaron's opus Scalped, is a Vietnam vet, as is Earl Tubbs, the lead of the first arc of Aaron's current breathtaking Southern noir, Southern Bastards. Aaron also had a healthy run on mainstream comics most famous Vietnam vet, Frank Castle, in his Punisher MAX series. But early in his career, Aaron wrote a series set firmly during the Vietnam War, The Other Side, and it stands as one of his best works to this day.

Billy Everette is a young man drafted into the Marines to serve in Vietnam. Vo Binh Dai is a North Vietnamese villager who gladly joins his countries army to aid in the liberation of South Vietnam and the unification of his country. They are two men from different worlds, with very different motivations, but they are both bound for the same place, the muddy no man's land of Khe Sahn. The story of the mini-series follows them both from their training to their arrivals in country, to their first sights of bloodshed, and to the final moments of their time at war.

It's very easy for a writer telling a war story to tack on a very pat statement about how everyone on both sides of a war are really the same under it all and that we should remember that before killing each other. And I'm not saying Aaron doesn't explore our common humanity, but he does it with story and not grand speeches. While both of our leads are sympathetic characters, are both human, and are really the same, just young men thrust into a conflict bigger than them, Aaron never relies on cliches and stereotypes to tell his story. They might be broken by the war, and they'll never be the same, the one who lives anyway, but there's no speech about the folly of war. The book is too grounded in the way people are for that.

Billy Everette does everything that he can to not go to war, and when he gets to basic, he's awful at it. He can't shoot, he pisses off his drill instructor, and he... sees things. He is followed by a dead soldier without a jaw. And he hears his rifle talking to him, telling him to kill others or himself. And as he goes to war, this gets worse. He sees more and more of the dead who have come before him.

Vo Binh Dai marches south to war because it is what his family and his gods would want him to do. He carries the watch his father took from a French soldier at Dien Bien Phu. He marches, confident that he is doing what is right and that if he dies, he will die for a good cause. And as things get worse, as his brethren die on the march, he begins to have visions. Visions of tigers, of dragons, of gods.

The question of whether the visions of either of our leads are real or something their own minds have conjured is left to the reader. The book is gritty, realistic, and it's easy to immediately write all of it off as a mind broken by the horrors of the world around them. And that's a perfectly valid. But there are moments, moments where the line between fantasy and reality is a little thinner. Aaron plays with this kind of heightened reality in his grittier work in other places; the half-mad Catcher in Scalped also has visions, ones that prove oddly incisive and prescient. And so maybe there's something here to this, something we can't touch or understand.

I admit to an initial Western bias, as I don't believe in the gods that Dai worships, thinking that he is seeing things while Everette's ghosts, something more in my mental wheelhouse, those could be real, or at least more than simply a coping mechanism. And the realization that I was casting a cultural judgement because of my own beliefs made me rethink every reaction to Dai's statements, statements that are outside my normal cultural understanding, and to empathize more fully with his character.

The faiths of the two characters are so different, with Dai confident in his pretty much to the end while Everette questions the existence and beneficence of his god. A letter from Everette's mother that talks of the local preacher, her prayer group praying for him, and that he is doing God's work, is used as narration, and when we see Everette reading it, he is in a room filled with the horribly wounded spectres that follow him. And the reaction of the other soldiers when he asks about God are telling as well. The old saying about there being no atheists in foxholes goes right out the window, with a line that stuck in my head, "God don't live in I Corps, man...just us grunts do."

But for all their differences, there are commonalities. It's amazing to see how both the North Vietnamese and the Americans accept the non-humanity of their opponents, thinking them cannibals or worse. There are soldiers on both sides who don't want to be there, who seek some way to escape the war. And on both sides, the conditions are horrible, lonely, full of trenches, disease, and the constant fear of death, be it from a Viet Cong sniper or an American air strike.

The sheer raw visuals of the book bring the horrors of war into sharp relief. Cameron Stewart is an amazing artist, whose work shows a style that can adapt to the grittiness of Gotham City when he worked with Ed Brubaker on Catwoman, to the surreal with Grant Morrison on Seaguy, to the nostalgic and warm in Multiversity: Thunderworld. His work on The Other Side is some of the best I've seen of his, grounded it reality at most times, showing battlefields littered with bodies, rats everywhere (and lord that made me shiver, because I hate rats), and people with looks in their eyes of rage, hurt, and loss. The dead who follow Everette are horrifying things, missing parts, burned, and reminding us at all times of the cost of war. But there are strange moments of beauty as well. The tigers that Dai sees are drawn to look truly majestic, as are the gods in his visions. The scene that stands out as the perfect blend of horror and beauty is a butterfly flying through the battlefield, its lovely wings juxtaposed against all the horror around it.

I read The Other Side in trade, and I want to quickly mention the backmatter and associated essays, because there's some really interesting stuff in here. I'm old enough to remember when most trades had some sort of interesting features to stand them apart from just buying the floppies, versus the opposite now, and this book has some great features. Cameron Stewart's photo journal of the trip he took to Vietnam to get the proper reference for the work features both pictures and words that get you inside both his trip and his thoughts. Aaron's piece is absolutely fascinating, a remembrance of his cousin, Vietnam vet and writer Gustav Hasford, best known for writing The Short-Timers, the novel that became the film Full Metal Jacket. Aaron's story of his relationship with Gus is great, and it makes it more clear why this book is so powerful and important.

War comics aren't usually my speed. The Golden and Silver age ones often present a simplified version of war, while the modern ones can be so gritty and real that it's painful to read them. And The Other Side is painful. It's a story that has no winners, only losers, only those scarred and killed by war. And that's what makes it important to read. Sometimes you need to be reminded of how ugly war is, how imminent death is for those who aren't sitting and reading comics. And be reminded, as Captain Dale Dye USMC (ret.) mentions in his introduction, that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. And The Other Side presents a past that no one wants to repeat, in a way that will hold you riveted from page one.

Doing my research, I was surprised to see The Other Side is currently out of print. However, a book from two such well known creators won't stay out of print too long, and it should be easily located at most better comic shops.