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Velvet #5 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (writer), Steve Epting (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors) and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

SPOILER ALERT

This issue acts as a capstone to the first arc of the series.  I’ve loved every issue of the series so far, so I wish I could say that this was a triumphant exclamation point to the first arc, but there’s something that just isn’t quite right about the issue.

The disconnect I felt with this issue actually made me slightly concerned for the future of the series.

The problem is the guys!  I love Velvet and I feel like I know her, but the dudes in this series are seriously blurring together.  I can’t keep track of which guys are main characters and which are background noise.  For example, when Velvet is forced to kill her fellow agent/lover in this issue, I couldn’t remember whether this was a character we’ve seen before or not.  Part of the problem is that none of these guys have been developed much and that’s probably intentional.  It sounds like Velvet’s past is a blur of lovers who she had to hang out with for the job – some she was fond of, sometimes it was just work.  Nevertheless, this issue asked me to feel an emotional impact from Velvet killing this guy and I just couldn’t because I didn’t know who he was.

And that is why I’m a little concerned.  Suddenly the story seems interested in making me feel things that it hasn’t earned.  The only character I’d be bummed about dying right now is Velvet herself.  The others are just background noise.  And all these guys look the same.  How am I supposed to get wrapped up in how Dude A (a fellow agent/lover who Velvet really liked) was betrayed by Dude B (random agency guy) and how Dude C (possibly a long-time friend) is dead and how Dude D (another possible long-time friend) is helping in the present day?  It’s too many easily forgettable dudes. Yet these guys seem important to the story.  I was happy when the story was simpler and it was just “Velvet was betrayed and must run!”  That was cool.  The nuance and complexity is escaping me right now.
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American Vampire: Second Cycle #3 – Review

By: Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors) and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: More about the Gray Trade becomes clear and a familiar anti-hero returns.

Review (with SPOILERS): I really like the way the story is unfolding in the second cycle of American Vampire.  Here in only the third issue, we have The Gray Trader basically identified as “the devil”.  And he’s not some metaphysical construct either.  TGT is a corporeal being that lives in the bowels of the Earth and he takes the essence of your dead loved ones down there with him.  A single bite from TGT is enough to infect a being and turn them into his minion.  Then on the side of “good”, we have the American Vampires.  We’ve already seen them pitted against the old-fashioned “Carpathian” vampires in the first cycle of this story.  Now we’re learning that TGT basically created the Carpathians, and since the Carpathians created the AVs by mistake, the AVs are essentially TGT’s wayward grandchildren.

So, while the first cycle of this story was about the AV’s being an allegory for American history in the 20th century (new land, new vampires, growing into their place on the world stage).  The second cycle might be about something deeper with TGT being the inspiration for the Devil of various religions and the AVs being tasked with fighting The Devil.  There are still a lot of general ambiguities around the story.  For example, we don’t know if there is something special about the AVs – some American quality – that helps them resist the evil of TGT and want to fight him.  Why are the AVs basically the same people they were in life, whereas all of the other vampires descending from TGT have an essence of evil about them?  There is still a LOT for Scott Snyder to unpack in this story.
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MPH #1 – Review

By: Mark Millar (writer/creator), Duncan Fegredo (art/creator), Peter Doherty (colors/letters)

The Story: An honorable criminal gets into a drug that causes him to move with superhuman speed.

Review (with SPOILERS): I really find Mark Millar to be an interesting writer.  More than almost any other writer I can think of, he has a very clear goal with his stories.  Things like Wanted/Kick Ass/Nemesis are him doing market research on the limits of good taste.  Don’t listen to the guys who say he’s just trying to get “cheap shocks”.  People who say that are dumb.  In those stories, he’s figuring out where the boundary between edgy and tasteful is so that he can write stories like The Secret Service where there are still some edgy things, but the volume is dialed down to 9/10.  And, it allows him to also write stories that are safe as hell like Superior/Starlight where he isn’t going anywhere near controversy.  Of course, all of the properties are intended to be developed into movies at some point and while reading comics that are “failed screenplays” is annoying, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with developing a story with multiple mediums in mind.  Money is money…

MPH is very much in the vein of Superior or Starlight.  This is Millar turned down to about 6/10 on the shock dial.  And that’s because he has a decent premise for a PG13 movie.  In this first issue, we meet a small-time criminal.  His buddies are a little unsavory, but he’s just trying to save a little money so that he can go “legit” and get into real estate.  He’s kinda like Stringer Bell from The Wire: the criminal activity is a means to an end.  And this guy isn’t doing anything horrid.  Just some minor drug running.  No murders, tortures, etc… And he doesn’t use the drugs.  He’s even got a cute girlfriend.  But, everything goes to hell in a handbasket when he is set-up by his drug-runner boss and sent to prison.  There he gets depressed and uses a drug called MPH to escape from prison, basically the drug turns him into The Flash and he walks right out of the place while the guards are basically standing still.
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The Unwritten: Apocalypse #5 – Review

By: Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (art), Al Davison (art), Chris Chuckry (colors) and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Paul Bruckner struggles to regain his humanity.

The Review (with SPOILERS): I initially found this to be a challenging issue of The Unwritten because I didn’t understand WHY we would devote an issues to a supporting character (Pauly Bruckner) when we are so close to the finish line of the series.  I mean, Pauly is cute and all that, but the meat of the story is with Tom and Wilson.

Right?

But, as with most things in The Unwritten, if you pull on a thread, it starts to make a little more sense.  Or in this case, start writing a review of the comic five times until you talk your way into understanding what is going on.

All along we’ve kinda held this notion that Wilson Taylor could either cast characters into stories (Pauly Bruckner banished to a child’s story) OR literary characters could be made real (Lizzie Hexam being pulled into our world).  Or, at least that is how I thought of it.  But that’s not at all what happened.  Pauly Bruckner wasn’t sucked away into a strange dimension or anything like that.  Wilson basically brainwashed him into thinking he was a rabbit in a children’s book.  Pauly thinks he is a rabbit because Wilson told him he is a rabbit, ergo he is a rabbit.  It’s basically the same thing that Wilson did later with his son, Tommy.  Wilson told Tom that he was a wizard and Tom came to believe that he was a wizard, ergo he is a wizard.  It’s just an issue of mind-over-matter.
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The Walking Dead #127 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (grays) and Rus Wooton (letters)

A jump forward in time is a good idea for this series.  Much of what happened between the end of the last issue and the first page of this issue was stuff we didn’t really need to see.  I mean, there was a lot of reestablishment of agriculture, getting new haircuts and picking out sunglasses to wear over your eye.  That’s not terribly compelling storytelling, and we readers didn’t need to be dragged through that stuff.  It’s over and done with.  Now we can just get on with the storytelling about murder, zombies, and whatever else Kirkman has planned for us.

Unfortunately, what they’ve jumped forward to isn’t very compelling.  I mean, if you and I were actually survivors of the zombie apocalypse, you would TOTALLY want to live in Rick’s little town.  But, we’ve already seen these attempts to “be happy” and recreated civilization before.  They tried it in the prison and the Governor messed it up.  They did it before in Alexandria/Hilltop and it was ruined by zombies and Negan.  Even though Rick & Gang seem to have better stuff this time (better farms, better administration, etc.) and even though it seems like he is more the leader than he’s been before, from a storytelling standpoint, this is really the same-old, same-old…  This is just the appearance of giving Rick’s group something nice only for it to be ruined again.  We’ve seen this dynamic before, and I just wish that out of all the possibilities in this world, Kirkman would show something different.
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WCBR’s Top Picks

Best From The Past Week: Alex + Ada #6 – It was a very light week for me and there were no standout issues.  But, it’s really hard to deny the quality of the Alex + Ada story.  There just aren’t many comics out there willing to indulge really deep questions about humanity and how things like outward appearances affect our perception of things like sexuality and slavery.  When a robot is an attractive but demure-appearing female (like Ada), we feel sympathy for her.  When the robot looks like a flying toaster, we could give a damn about it.  Interesting.  I wonder if women perceive this comic the same way I do?

Most Anticipated This week:

1. The United States of Murder, Inc. #1 – This looks pretty cool.  It’s a new crime series from Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming and while I have trouble believing that it’ll ship with regularity (ahem, Powers) or that the creators won’t get distracted (ahem, Takio)…..I’m still pretty excited for a series from two creators I love in a genre I enjoy.

2). Starlight #3 – This has been a great new series from Mark Millar.  If you dismiss Millar as being just the guy who does transgressive comics like Wanted and Kick Ass, you’re missing out.  Hint: A writer can be two things!

3). Royals: Masters at War #4 – I’ve quite enjoyed this alt-WWII series.  This is much more a “What if WWII had superheroes?” than in Uber which appears below.  The writing is crisp, the alternate concept of royal families is interesting and the art is pretty solid.

4). Uber #13 – Uber is a great story….better than Royals: MaW.  If you’re interested in war comics, this is one you shouldn’t be missing.  The recent arc has seen one of the German battleship-class ubers fired into London and wrecking havoc.  Ripped the head off of Churchill last issue….

5. The Walking Dead #127 – I was quite displeased with the anticlimax of All Out War and I think some of the problem is that TWD just isn’t an event comic series.  It’s really just a run-on story that happens to be marketed as having “events” because of the commercial realities of a successful TV show.  I probably expected too much in terms of conclusion.  Still…..I want to see Robert Kirkman demonstrate that he can tell a story more sophisticated than a man (Rick), his son (Carl) and their constant friends (Andrea/Michonne) trying to build a city in the zombie wasteland.  There are so many things to explore that I’m unsure why we should be stuck in a small area for 3-4 years.

-Dean Stell

Alex + Ada #6 – Review

By: Sarah Vaughn (story/script) and Jonathan Luna (story/art/letters)

The Story: As Alex and Ada start to settle into their lives, they come to grips with the fact that they are not normal.

Review (with SPOILERS): Even though this issue of Alex + Ada is (again) very high quality, it still hasn’t turned the corner into the bigger story that I am anticipating.  However, even in an issue where we’re still waiting for the shoe to drop, there are still some cunning and clever elements to this story.

The big thing that struck me was how quickly Ada is blasting through her learning phase.  She’s trying to experience and DO everything.  That’s going to lead to two things.  First, Ada will probably outgrow this phase where she is dependent on Alex pretty fast.  She needs him right now, but what about next week when she knows everything?  Is their relationship based on something “real”?  Or is it just based on the fact that Ada wants to learn about stuff and Alex is willing to indulge her?  Is she staying with him just because she needs him or does she really want to stay?  Right now, she needs to stay with Alex, but can you have a truly great relationship where one party is dependent upon the other?
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