Monday, October 17, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/12

Darth Vader #25
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado and Max Fiumara & Dave Stewart 

Darth Vader has been a consistent high point of Marvel's new Star Wars line. It's been a slow burn of a series, where all twenty-four issues and an annual have built towards this final issue. Dr. Cylo, the mad scientist who has been Vader's adversary throughout the series, first attempting to replace Vader in Emperor Palpatine's eyes and then to take over the Empire itself, faces his final battle with Vader this issue, and its a testament to artist Salvador Larroca. Vader is a force of nature, silent and terrifying. I went through and counted, and Vader has no more than fifteen word balloons throughout not just the battle, but the entire issue, many of which are one or two words. And Vader's face is covered the entire time, so an artist can't even fall back on facial expressions. So Larroca uses body language to show the readers what is going through Vader's mind, much of which is, well, pretty much murder. Beyond the battle with Cylo, we get a scene between Vader and the Emperor which is one of my favorite scenes between the two in a long time. It shows the twisted relationship between the Sith, how manipulation and betrayal are so central to everything they represent, and makes the reader feel for Vader in a way, as the one mentor figure he has left applauds him for betrayal. The final scenes of the main story show Vader dealing with his underling Dr. Aphra, and shows that while Palpatine has embraced the ideal of betrayal as strength and rewards it, Vader most assuredly has not, and we see Vader deal, quite harshly, with his other Imperial nemesis, this one a political foe, Grand General Tagge, and while I don't want to give too much away there, well, if you've seen the original Star Wars trilogy, you know what happens when you screw up in front of Vader, something Admiral Ozzel, who stood there and watched maybe should have learned from before the events of The Empire Strikes Back. But the final two pages take Vader in a different direction, as we get a silent view into his mind, and see him considering a much less violent confrontation with his son, Luke. This issue shows all manner of aspects of Vader: warrior enforcer, apprentice, leader, and father, and through that shows just what an incredibly nuanced character he is, no matter what words he speaks. The two epilogues to the issue are interesting in their own right. One is a brief scene that sets up Dr. Aphra's upcoming series, and helps establish her new trajectory and her supporting cast (the Wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan and the evil droids Triple Zero and Beetee-One ). The other is a silent piece, set on Tatooine, as we see the results of what Vader has done to the Tusken Raiders, the Sand People. It's a chilling little story, and is hard to write about without laying it out point by point, but needs to be seen. I'm going to miss the Darth Vader ongoing series, it's powerful narrative and dark turns, but I'm looking forward to see where Gillen takes the Doctor Aphra series.

The Fix #6
Story: Nick Spencer
Art: Steve Lieber & Ryan Hill

In most cases, I have a hard time with stories where there are no redeeming characters, Even stories starring anti-heroes or downright villains show a nuanced portrayal of those characters, like Darth Vader in the previous review or Walter White in Breaking Bad. However, The Fix, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, is the exception to this rule, as there is not a single character in this book who has a redeeming characteristic. When the principal character who is the least morally reprehensible is the crooked internal affairs cop (with the exception of Pretzels the dog. Pretzels is the best), you know you're in for a ride. This issue gives us a new one of lead character Roy's crooked side businesses, trafficking in stolen celebrity personal items. And frankly, this is far from the worst thing we've seen Roy do, but it's the fact that he's actively employing meth addicts to do it that makes it even more reprehensible. The story of how Roy met Matty, the chief meth addict, is one of the darkly comedic things that makes The Fix work so well. I mean, I honestly laughed out loud so hard I doubled over and got a very strange look from my wife, and when I tried to explain why it was funny, the look just got stranger. In theory, bum fight shouldn't be funny, and in real life practice they aren't, but in the twisted world that Spencer and Lieber have created, the whole sequence is utterly hilarious. And as we understand exactly what Roy has been up to, and exactly where this has gone, and exactly what Roy has planned for Matty's friends who he assumed are responsible for the death of the starlet he had them rob and he assumed killed, well the hole he dug just keeps getting bigger. And the big reveal of what this has all been about, what the killers were looking for, well, I don't know if it would work in any other comic, but it sure as heck works here. If all of that wasn't enough, we get two scenes away from Roy, and if you were hoping for characters you could empathize with and see as light in a corrupt world, you are in the wrong place. We get a scene that further develops the mayor of L.A., who has a... unique habit during press conferences, and one with Donovan, the movie producer, and his really interesting fantasy life. The thing that keeps me coming back to this book, aside from the twisty plot, the comedy, and the excellent Steve Lieber art, is the fact that these characters have to get their comeuppance sooner or later, and I just can't wait to see how big a hole they can dig before they fall into it. And after this issue, I can't wait to see them all get what's coming to them more than ever, in the best possible way.

Hard Case Crime: Peepland #1
Story: Christa Faust & Gary Phillips
Art: Andrea Camerini & Marco Lesko

The Hard Case Crime label is an impressive publishing initiative that has presented both reissues of classic noirs and new stories in the best noir and crime fiction styles, and I became familiar with their novels by the publication of two original works by Stephen King, The Colorado Kid and Joyland. And when I heard they were going to partner with Titan Comics to produce new crime comics, I was excited, and I'm pleased to say that Peepland, one of their inaugural offerings, is an excellent crime comic. I chose to try this series for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the writers. I'm familiar with Christa Faust only by reputation, but Gary Phillips has written some amazing crime comics over his career, most notably to me the Vertigo mini-series Angeltown and from Boom Studios The Rinse. The setting also appeals to me. The comic is set in New York City in the mid-80s, back before the city was sanitized. I was a kid back then, so it's not like I spent any time wandering those red light districts, but I know people who did, people who tell stories of Time Square before Disney rolled in, and so I get a sense of the city I love from bygone days. And this comic is set deep in those red light districts. Starring Roxy, a peepshow performer, the comic starts with a man running for his life from two thugs before hiding a video cassette (remember those?) in Roxy's booth. Pretty soon, the police are involved as the man, the producer of a Girls Gone Wild-esque series of pornographic videos, is dead and more than one group is looking for the tape. Roxy is a sympathetic protagonist, and presented in a real way: she's not the sex worker who's just doing it to pay her way through law school or some similar trope, but is someone who does what she does and has a life outside it, an uncle slowly dying of AIDS when AIDS was a short-term death sentence, an ex-boyfriend, and curiosity about that tape that is going to get her in trouble before the series is out, I have no doubt, especially when we see what's on the tape. Aside from our lead, we get plenty of other characters, all fitting into a classic crime/noir mold: other dancers and performers at Peepland, thugs and toughs, hardnose cops; this might be set in the 80s, and the events might only work in that particular era, but it's got a gritty feel right out of the best 40s noirs. In case the title didn't make it clear, by the way, this is a comic for mature audiences, with nudity and lots of bad language, but it's also for mature audiences because it's smart and complex, with characters and a mystery that will appeal to readers who are looking for something to really dig their teeth into.

And Dan Grote's back with a very special issue of Deadpool...

Deadpool #20
Story by Gerry Duggan
Art by Matteo Lolli and Guru-eFX

In which Deadpool stops someone from committing suicide through violence.

Let that sink in for a second.

We’ve all seen superheroes talk ordinary folks off the ledge, literally and figuratively. Superman arguably did it best in All-Star Superman.

Deadpool is not Superman. Hell, he’s barely a superhero. He’s a guy who often wants to be good but doesn’t know how because he’s lived a life of violence and insanity. Which is why he gloms onto other superheroes – Spider-Man, Captain America, etc. – and demands to become their new best friend whether they like it or not.

On this night, a young woman named Danielle is staring down at the street from the roof of the Schafer Theatre, formerly the home of the Avengers’ Unity Team, the Mercs for Money, and Deadpool. Wade leads with “Don’t jump!” and follows with “Parker Industries is just a few blocks down.”

Now, things have been pretty crappy – well, crappier, I guess – for Wade lately. His wife has been cheating on him, his team has abandoned him, his base was destroyed. Frankly, if this were the Joe Kelly era, he’d be in the depths of a sadomasochistic pity party and probably push her off the building himself.

Instead, Wade takes her to see Hamilton and lets her go on a ridealong while he beats up deadbeats as part of his pro bono work. Along the way, Danielle learns useful things like the best way to get bad guys to come to the door (Yell “Sexy maids!”) and when to kick or blow down said door and begin delivering beatings. Danielle even picks up a bat at one point and joins in the fun.

“Violence solves everything if you’re good at it,” Wade insists.

Their magical smashy-smashy tour ends at the emergency room, where Wade drops her off for pre-arranged help.

“I’m smart enough to know I’m dumb enough that I can’t help you,” he says. “But they can.”

This isn’t Wade doing the right thing to impress Spider-Man or Agent Preston or Cable or any of his usual over-the-shoulder angels. Nobody’s watching. This is Wade doing genuine good the best way he knows how, while remaining completely in character and recognizing his own flaws. This is Gerry Duggan once again teaching a master class on how to develop a chaotic-neutral quasihero.

After Danielle walks into the ER, Wade finally finds the perfect thing to say: “You gotta remember: No matter how bad things get … that life is fluid. There’s always the chance that something great is waiting around the next corner. (Steps in dog poop) You just have to find a way to keep rounding corners.”

In other words, “You’re much stronger than you think you are.”

Deadpool’s been teasing a showdown with Madcap for months now, but recent issues have had next to nothing to do with that. This issue is no exception, but it’s also probably one of the best standalone ‘Pool issues ever.

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