5.22.13 [Weekly Reviews]
Conan, Cyborg 009, Danger Club, Deathmatch, Dream Thief, East of West, Harbinger, Jupiter's Legacy, Legend of Luther Strode, Mara, The Massive, Mind MGMT, Saga, Sex, Suicide Risk, Star Wars, Ten Grand, Think Tank, Wasteland, X-Men
Titan #1 (Family Style/Press Gang): There’s a plethora of great comics at the Study Group Comics site, but you guys know my personal preference for print, so I was very excited to check out this first tangible installment from Francois Vigneault. It did not disappoint. In the far-flung future of 2192 on Saturn's moon of Titan, MNGR Joao da Silva is dispatched to resolve production inefficiencies exacerbated by labor disputes. The union problems seem to be rooted in racial inequality between the Terrans and Titans, the former’s management and security staff of 568 heavily outnumbered by the latter’s genetically engineered workforce of 50,000. Complicating negotiations are some hot-headed Terran officers and equally ill-tempered Titans on the other side of the equation, MNGR da Silva maybe acting too bold for his own good, and a very subdued and odd sexual tension between him and his Titan liaison handler Phoebe Mackintosh. Vigneault constructs the world of Titan and the basic story premise in the tradition of the best kinds of sci-fi. While exploring a logical progression of fascinating speech patterns and technological advances (things like iPhones and iPads simply become the “i” and just the “i,” where your entire body and its functions are internally networked via voice commands), we find that the specific details may be different, but the tensions are essentially the same. There will always be differing worldviews between management and entry level line workers, there will always be power struggles, there will always be economic tension, racial tension, and sexual tension. There’s no false utopia presented in Vigneault’s future world, merely an aspirational sci-fi narrative that allows us to reflect back on our own social issues through the lens of this re-contextualization process. Vigneault’s lines dance between a sort of Herge influenced European classicism, complete with ligne-claire coifs of hair, and the full-bodied beady sweat style of many modern alt cartoonists, running the erratic lineage from Robert Crumb to Charles Burns to Noah Van Sciver. Vigneault is generous with his world-building backgrounds, and offers a warm tri-color glow of black, white, and an orange hue that gives the impression of what life must be like on a distant moon orbiting a gas giant planet. Compiling the first two installments of a planned six, complete with an unexpected intimate cliffhanger, it also gives me the impression that I can’t wait to see what’s next in this series. Grade A.
The Massive #12 (Dark Horse): I’ll caveat this whole deal by saying in seafaring parlance that it’ll be difficult to review this book without venturing into some spoilery territorial waters, but I’ll give it a try out of respect for the series and where it’s likely to go. It’s the end of this three issue run featuring some diverse guest artists and we’re offered a heartbreaking denouement to this arc, which has led The Kapital on a targeted 6,000 mile search up the Pacific Coast all the way into the Arctic Circle Zone. I immediately liked how Lars is already leaning forward a bit, exerting influence, and stepping in to make leadership decisions in response to the confidential conversations about the future of Ninth Wave that he had with Mary in the last issue. The Massive is in limbo, neither lost nor found, the crew of The Kapital incapable of confirming either status for their sister ship, so Callum Israel stands in solitude up on the bridge, self-imposed exile or social pariah of sorts, like Melville’s Captain Ahab. He’s weary, obsessed, and doggedly repeating futile radio traffic that goes unanswered, on the very precipice of being destroyed by his quest.
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Conan The Barbarian #16 (Dark Horse): Damn. Every issue of this series has been what I’d call “very good,” but this one is simply great. Brian Wood re-teams with Northlanders collaborator Davide Gianfelice and the results are electric. I’m prepared to say this is some of, if not “the,” best art we’ve seen on the series to date. Gianfelice brings an expressive danger to the proceedings, and when paired with Dave Stewart's lavish colors, it’s a can’t miss creative effort. It makes me miss those issues of Northlanders. Seeing Gianfelice come in to work with Wood feels like old friends catching up over a drink after years of being apart. They might not talk every day, but they can pick right up where they left off, and you understand immediately by eavesropping on this artistic conversation why they’ve remained friends for so long despite the distance. While some might view this detour to the pleasure city of Ianthe as superfluous, it’s an important step in Conan and Belit’s love story. It offers a brief respite after the many ordeals they’ve endured, a space where they can simply enjoy each other, trust in each other, and build the type of intimacy and bond that only forms through shared experiences. I’ve already seen a review that pejoratively suggests the sex and drug use is somehow gratuitous or out of character, present merely for the sake of itself. Bah. If anything, I think it reflects everything I just said, a brief moment where the two young lovers can relax and be carefree in an otherwise very dangerous and unpredictable world that could end at any second under the right set of stressors. It reflects where they’re at in life’s journey, their age and bold sense of experimentation, but also their willingness to trust in the other and just let go in the presence of the other. This sets them off on some sort of yellow lotus mind trip, the type of Native American vision quest that forces Conan to confront his own insecurities, regrets, and guilt over those lost in the tumultuous time period shared with Belit. This thoughtful examination of the character adds an emotional depth and complexity to what could play as a rather two dimensional archetype in the hands of lesser writers, those content to simply do their rendition of what's come before. It seems like there are purists out there who for some reason desire a word for word pictographic adaptation of the REH source material. That’s not why you hire Brian Wood. You don’t hire him to maintain the status quo. You hire him to create what's known as a "discontiguous process" in the innovation discussions of Corporate America. That’s how you modernize a property and engage a more sophisticated audience, one who's grown savvy to traditional storytelling approaches. Another reason this issue, and the series itself, works so well is the structure involving three-issue arcs. Not only is it a perpetual showcase for artistic talent, parading in amazing artists, one after the other, shit - it almost feels like showing off at this point, but like The Massive, it makes the single issues and compressed arcs feel dense. Each issue is packed with information, fighting the passé tendency toward decompression. It takes a while to chew through an issue of Conan, and I like that. It makes me feel as if I’m getting my money’s worth, getting a complete story or at least a significant chunk, not just a slice of a single conversation. I don’t find the transitions between arcs or artists jarring. If anything, issues of Conan are like storytelling shots, distilled down into an intense experience that can be enjoyed singularly or in succession. So, if you're in the area, I recommend you slip up to the bar in one of the many brothels in the pleasure quarter of Ianthe and have yourself a taste of Conan The Barbarian. Grade A+.