Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/6

The Fade Out #12
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

People throw around the term "noir" to describe gritty crime stories a lot, and while all noirs are gritty crime stories, not all gritty crime stories are noirs. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips get that, and their stories are noirs: nobody gets a happy ending, nobody gets to ride off into the sunset, and their heroes have feet of the softest clay. And the final issue of their Golden Age of Hollywood mystery, The Fade Out, leaves us with a protagonist who is no one's definition of a hero. After everything Charlie Parrish has seen, the deaths of people he cares about, the perversions, the horror of the Red Scare... Charlie does nothing other than continue on. As readers we get answers to the questions that have been asked in the series, who and hows on the mystery, but there's no justice to be found for any of the victims. And in many cases that would be frustrating; if you're used to superhero comics, or many more traditional mysteries, the bad guy gets it in the end. But here, Charlie goes to the movie premiere of the film he was working on back in issue one, whose first star was murdered, whose real screen writer, Charlie's friend Gil who he was fronting for, is also dead, and its as if it were any other day to everyone else there. We see where everyone winds up, with Maya, the poor girl who stepped into the dead Valeria Sommers's role, engaged to Tyler Graves in one of the Hollywood marriages of convenience that were such a part of the studio system. And Phil Brodsky, the studio fixer, just watches, knowing the truth and knowing there's nothing anyone else can do about it. It's a haunting ending to a series that scratches off the veneer of Hollywood and shows nothing pleasant beneath it. Brodsky's final lines to Charlie sums up what we learn about Hollywood and the world at large, "But that is how it works, Charlie. Girls die for nothin' and old men cry about it... And the business just keeps on going... Christmas still comes every goddam year, right on schedule..." Don't come looking to The Fade Out for a bedtime story about how things were better back in the day. No, this is a story about people who are lost, about corruption, about the dark. And that's what noir is; the dark, especially the dark in human hearts. Charlie hasn't learned any lessons. He started the series coming out of a drunken black out, and he ends it drinking himself towards another. The Fade Out is a perfect twelve issue series that will read perfectly in one long sitting as a great noir, so if you haven't read it, now's the time to dig in. Just don't expect to walk away as unchanged as 1940's Hollywood.

Hero Cats of Stellar City #9
Story: Kyle Puttkammer
Art: Marcus Williams, Ryan Sellers, & Omaka Schultz

When it comes to charm and originality, few all ages comics right now can touch Hero Cats of Stellar City. And the end of the current arc, The Crow King Saga, has all of the in spades. Trapped in a dream created by an extra-dimensional being called the Crow King, the Hero Cats are all in human form, with only the guidance of Bandit, the brother of Hero cat Cassiopeia, who was trapped in the Crow King's realm in his own form. What this, and the previous issue, have allowed the creators to do is use all the work they've done to build these characters over the first two arcs, and still have completely new designs and a completely new setting. It's a medieval setting, with Cassie as an intrepid explorer, Ace, the Hero Cats leader, as captain of the Queen's fleet, Rocco, the world's strongest cat, as a barbarian champion, and Belle, the beautiful telepathic cat, as the queen. But these new forms allow for character work, as Rocket, who is afraid of humans, has this bleed through into this world, where he is an inventor who is a bit eccentric and nervous because he is not comfortable in this form. The story is a classic resolution to a fantasy quest story, with the Hero Cats and their allies storming the Crow King's castle, and it's there that artist Marcus Williams really takes the ball and runs with it. There are a couple of truly impressive double page spreads, one of the Hero Cats fighting the Crow Kings armored Crow soldiers, and another of Midnight, the final Hero Cat, in conflict with the Crow King himself. But it's all the detailed design work that went into building the Crow King's world that really impressed me, all the locales and the characters. The end of the issue teases a new group of Hero Cats, led by Bandit, who are still in the Crow King's land, and I'm hoping, with this arc wrapped and the tie-in mini-series for Midnight wrapping as well, we might get to go back and see this new band of heroes in their own adventure.

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

Wow, if you come from Buckaroo, you can't get a break. Even when you're trying to escape the stigma of being from the town that spawns serial killers, the stigma finds you. And with the revelation that the Devil Killer stalking Atlanta is killing people who have escaped Buckaroo, well, there's something else for these poor folks to fear. The issue, in the middle of an arc, does a lot to push the story forward. We see Agent Burke continuing to unravel, continue to have the visions of murder that were caused/triggered/something by her time in Buckaroo. Finch continues to distrust Edward Charles Warren, the Buckaroo Butcher known as the Nailbiter, because, well, he is a serial killer. Sheriff Crane has a conversation with Reverend Fairgold where it looks like they put most of their cards on the table. And we find the Devil Killer's next victim and his identity. Or do we? This is Nailbiter after all, and what is on the surface is rarely what is really happening. But mixed in with all the plot are some really great character moments for Warren. There's a fantasy sequence as he tells Finch about what happened after the last time they were together, about his death and his journey through Hell to reclaim his life, which is splendidly drawn by Mike Henderson and is a different window into Warren's psyche; for all his violent tendencies, Warren has always been rooted in reality, so something interesting is going on here. And the revelation that Warren, during his walkabout after leaving Buckaroo, when he was killing, was also helping people who left Buckaroo because he was in pain and wanted to help others so they wouldn't hurt like he did continues to show that Warren, while a monster in many many respects, has a strange conscience of his own, or if not a conscience at least a sense of empathy lacking in most serial murderers. That's one of the key strengths of Nailbiter for me; I know its lead is a nightmare in many ways, but I can't keep myself from liking him.

Totally Awesome Hulk #2
Story: Greg Pak
Art: Frank Cho & Sonia Oback

My shop got shorted the first issue of Totally Awesome Hulk, so by the time I tracked one down it felt a little late to review it. Fortunately, the second issue is just as much fun as the first and as worth a review. One of the things that comics do better than pretty much any medium is allow for a fusion of two creators. When a writer knows his artist's strength, he can write a story that plays to those strengths. And Greg Pak, a writer who I've written about many times before and knows what he's doing, knows what Frank Cho draws well: dinosaurs and buxom women. So the new Hulk, boy genius Amadeus Cho, runs up against Lady Hellbender, the Monster Queen of Seknarf Nine, a warrior queen riding a T-Rex like dinosaur monster. And before the issue's over, we get some other Kirby-type monsters, along with the king of all Kirby monsters, which all just seem made for Cho to draw. But the issue isn't wall-to-wall combat. There's clever banter between Amadeus and his sister, Maddy, who serves as his mission control and travels along with him in a flying food truck and stays close with a flying droid. We also get to see Amadeus interact with a couple other heroes, classic Hulk character She-Hulk and newcomer to the main Marvel Universe, Spider-Man Miles Morales. And Pak continues to play out the two mysteries at the core of the book: what happened to Bruce Banner and what exactly is going on with Amadeus. As confident as Amadeus is in how he can control the Hulk inside, there are clearly moments where the Hulk is the one in charge. Greg Pak introduced Amadeus ten years ago, and if you've been following his development through World War HulkIncredible Hercules, and Incredible Hulks, you know Amadeus is a pretty dumb smart guy, lacking a lot of forethought, so I'm wondering if his decision to become a Hulk isn't biting off more than he can chew. We'll see next issue, when he fights a big monster who may or may not be wearing little purple pants of his own (that's a hint if you've ever read Nextwave, folks, and if you haven't, well what are you waiting for?).

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