Monday, September 21, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/16

The Fade Out #9
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

The final act of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's The Fade Out explores the relationship between two of the series main characters: series protagonist and blocked screenwriter Charlie Parish and his best friend, blacklisted screenwriter Gil Mason. Charlie and Gil's fractured friendship has been one of the emotional centers of the title, but this issue sees things come to a head, as Charlie recalls the major beats of their lives together as they get into a fist fight. In the span of a normal comic, we see the history of these two men in Hollywood, from Gil's arrival as a novelist-turned-screenwriter, to his partnership with Charlie, who's a wide eyed new kid, to Gil's mounting jealousy as Charlie seems to be gaining more success and prestige. And we see exactly why these two guys are working for Victory Street Pictures, and how deep the commitment that ties these men, and the jealousy that drives them apart, goes. It's made even more complicated by the relationship between Gil and his wife, Melba, and the relationship that exists between Melba and Charlie. It's a web of love and resentment. I love how Brubaker finds a way to mix character development with plot in this issue. Brubaker wrote in the letter column of this issue that The Fade Out is really a serialized novel, and that because it's one big story, that's why some issues are far more focused on character than plot (also, because character is what interests him as a writer moreso than plot). But in the scenes that take place in the present, the plot is pushed forward towards the inevitable collision, as Charlie confronts Gil about Gil's blackmailing of the studio, and Gill shows Charlie the evidence he's collected and what his plans really are. I don't think exactly what the studio heads are up to is particularly surprising if you've been reading all along and you aren't blind or naive, but it makes it no less repulsive, and you want Charlie and Gil to get the justice for the victims, not just the Valeria Sommers, whose death set off this whole chain of events, but all the victims that this issue implies. Still, this is a noir, so happy endings aren't usually in the cards for anyone, and with three issues left, there's plenty of room for sad endings all around. I was initially saddened by learning that The Fade Out was going to be only twelve issues, but I feel like Brubaker knows the story he wants to tell, and so if it's a twelve issue story, let it be twelve issues. But once it's over, I hope Brubkaer and Phillips have another project lined up.

Ivar, Timewalker #9
Story: Fred Van Lente
Art (Main Story): Pere Perez & Andrew Dalhouse
Art (Archer & Armstrong #1 pages): Clayton Henry, Matt Milla, & Dave Lanphear

It's funny to write about two issue nines that marks the beginning of a third and final act of a series that I love in a row, but here I go. Ivar, Timewalker #9 opens with a scene familiar to anyone who has been following the adventures of the brothers Anni-Padda in the new Valiant Universe: It's the opening scene from the first issue of Archer & Armstrong, the origin of the brothers, Aram (Armstrong), Gilad (Eternal Warrior), and Ivar. But this time, there's a twist: Neela Sethi, Ivar's companion in the series, pops up and spirits him away. We follow Neela and Ivar as they travel through the time arcs that allow them to travel through time, only now not only are they hopping time, they're hopping through alternate timelines, thanks to the Null, the nihilists who exploded a superweapon that is destroying all of time (and are led by an alternate future evil Neela). There is a lot to love in this issue. Firstly, it's a great inversion of the first issue of the series, where it was Ivar dragging Neela through time and had hidden feelings for her. Here, it is Neela who is the experienced timewalker, with Ivar the blustering jerk he was in ancient times. And boy, is he a blustering jerk. A brilliant one, no doubt, but when he patronizingly tells Neela she can't come on the adventure because she's a woman, or when he offers to make him one of his wives, well, you kind of want to smack him almost as much as Neela does. And Neela has developed into one of the best characters at Valiant, this mix of determination, regret, and hope that you just can't help but root for. Van Lente also does a good job of making all the timey-wimey science stuff read clearly; time travel and paradoxes are often just giant headaches, but here? It works. But aside from all the character beats and kooky science, the highlight of the issue is the timeline gags. There are three distinct alternate worlds that Neela and Ivar experience, and each is distinct. The least hilarious is one where Native Americans seem to have overrun the white man, and everything is inverted; there's a sports team called the Whiteys, which is a nice jab at some of the controversies in the sports world about the Washington Redskins. But the other two worlds? Oh good lord I nearly fell over in laughter and joy. One has clown vikings. Yes, you read that right. The other, well, I usually do my best to not spoil last page reveals. I really do. But I have to this time. In a world where Neela and Ivar encounter bipedal, human size animal men, the world is ruled by dinosaurs. Talking, intelligent dinosaurs. Talking, intelligent, T-Rexes that ride Triceratops and where Roman looking armor. If that's not the coolest thing I've ever written on this blog, I don't know what is.

Secret Identities #7
Story: Brian Joines & Jay Faerber
Art: Ilias Kyriazis & Ron Riley

Friday's piece about series ending too soon was mostly in response to other recently announced cancellations, but it could have just as easily been about Secret Identities. The series debuted, introducing a brand new team of super heroes, all of whom had secrets they were keeping from the others and the world. It was a great concept, and a series I really enjoyed, but low sales meant that an ongoing was cut down to seven issues, and writers Brian Joines and Jay Faerber do their best to wrap up the plot in this oversized final issue, and they're pretty successful with it. The Front Line, our team of heroes, are divided, dealing with two threats: while most of the team is fighting a V'Ren, a giant alien weapon/ship/monster, the Recluse, the team's Batman analogue, is fighting Crosswind, the traitor who has been working the team since issue one, trying to learn their secrets. The first two thirds of the issue deals with these two fights. In those battles, we learn aspects of the Recluse's backstory, explaining exactly what the hunger and curse he's been keeping a secret is, and we learn more about the origin of the power of team leader Luminary, and how it ties to the V'Ren. These are satisfying answers to questions, and Ilias Kyriazis draws two very impressive fight scenes of different scales, nicely balancing the city wide destruction of one with the more personally brutal of the other. The latter third of the book ties up loose threads, explaining why the Front Line's police contact used Crosswind to infiltrate the team, and giving a small spotlight to each character, showing where they went after the events of the series proper. This answers some of the book's other mysteries, while also tying up some of the character beats that time didn't allow to be resolved. But the final page does something very clever, keeping the theme of secrets that has been central to the book a major part of the conclusion; it would have been easy to end the series on an info dump, but pulling thing around full circle, to secrets within secrets, and the things we do to keep them, was a great tonal moment for the title. While it would be nice to see some more with these characters, all the creators have other projects they're working on, but there will be a complete series trade coming out shortly, and it will be well worth your time to check it out.

And Dan Grote looks at the debut issue of the newest Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Marvel mini-series...

Captain America: White #1
Story: Jeph Loeb
Art: Tim Sale

Seven years ago, Marvel released Captain America: White #0, a tale about Cap and Bucky’s earliest days as partners in 1941. It was supposed to be the start of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s next “color” series for Marvel, following Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey and Spider-Man: Blue. Each of those books explored how one of Marvel’s founding fathers dealt with loss: Daredevil with Karen Page, Hulk with Betty Ross and Spider-Man with Gwen Stacy.

Cap’s diverted from the pattern in that it dealt not with the loss of a romantic love interest (slash fiction ain’t canon, kids) but of a young sidekick. Certainly when Cap came out of the ice in the 1960s Avengers comics, he spent most of his nonfighting time grieving over Bucky, whose character was retconned as having died in a rocket explosion planned by Baron Zemo.

And that’s where, seven years later, Cap: White #1 picks up. Or at least the framing device for the five-issue (six if you include #0) story. The book opens with Cap coming to in a retelling of 1964’s Avengers #4, with the original members of the team – Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and the Wasp – standing over him. He then meets up with an old war contact, none other than Original Recipe Nick Fury, which leads to the meat of the issue, an extended flashback to the first time Cap and Bucky ever met Fury and Dum Dum Dugan.

Marvel’s been telling Untold Tales of Captain America from World War II since, well, World War II, practically. But even a cynic would have to admit watching these four characters interact with each other for the first time is entertaining. Fury argues with Dum Dum, Cap argues with Bucky, then they pair up and argue with each other, all with German forces shooting at them. Fury and Dum Dum even steal Cap’s motorcycle. Later, Cap mixes it up with the rest of the Howling Commandoes at a GI-friendly bar in Casablanca, leading to one heck of a brawl.

In the end, they all find themselves on assignment together, leading to the issue’s cliffhanger.

As a backup, helpfully, the book includes issue #0, for those who never read it and others who may not remember. Zero rehashes the moment when Bucky first discovered Steve Rogers was Captain America, and then largely is a montage of Cap training Bucky to fight Nazis.

Both issues explore the relationship between Cap and Bucky, and the idea that while the Super Soldier Serum made Rogers into a dashing leading man who looks like one of Hitler’s master race, on the inside he’s still the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who got labeled 4F, unfit for military service. Maybe that’s why he’s more comfortable palling around with an orphaned Army brat than the women who take an interest in him overseas. It’s clear Loeb’s given some real thought to the actual dynamics of Cap and Bucky’s relationship, building on the canonical fact that Cap cared deeply for Bucky and felt responsible for him, and mourned him for decades before Ed Brubaker brought the character back as the Winter Soldier. It’s because of all this groundwork that Bucky has become more than the first dead Robin.

It’s also really nice to see Sale drawing again. Sale’s style falls somewhere on the spectrum between Jack Kirby and Bruce Timm, with more heavy shadows, which made him the perfect person to draw something like Batman: The Long Halloween, and is equally as comforting to see here. It also gives me the warm fuzzies for some lesser-appreciated Loeb/Sale ’90s jams, such as the Wolverine and Gambit: Victims miniseries or the standalone Cable #23, in which Nathan and Domino have to hunt down a feral Grizzly.

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