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C.O.W.L. #4 – Review

By: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel (writers), Rod Reis & Stéphanie Perger (art)

The Story: Blaze tries to keep the peace as a strike leaves Chicago’s superhero union feeling a little less united.

The Review: It feels like Alec Siegel and Kyle Higgins are reading my mind. After an amazing spotlight on Radia, they’ve immediately turned to the other contender for most interesting character and given us an issue heavily featuring Blaze.

To many the common denominator between these two might be their lack of privilege, but I think it’s better to look at them as unknowns. Radia’s key role in the destruction of the Chicago Six and the dramatically illustrated, but as of yet completely unsubstantiated, rumor that she and Geoffrey Warner are having an affair made her low profile in issue #2 stick out quite noticeably. On the other hand, Blaze is the deputy chief of C.O.W.L. but was one of the only characters we didn’t get to know in the first three issues. Add to that the fact that we had no idea how these characters responded to the times, with the zenith of the Civil Rights Movement swiftly approaching, and it’s no wonder that there was something of an air of mystery about them.

Thankfully this issue largely rectifies this situation. We learn a lot about who Blaze is: his background, his family, what weighs on him. More than ever the dossier at the back of the issue is essential and fascinating. Especially with the context contained in his bio, Blaze’s home life is particularly interesting. Here we’re introduced to two more instantly likeable characters in the form of Blaze’s nephew, Henry, and his sister-in-law, Anita. The resulting family dynamic is strange, personal, but still familiar. Blaze’s life seems good. He has people who love him and many who depend upon him. Still, Higgins and Siegel do a fine job of planting seeds of discord without making Blaze look bitter or suggestible.

Honestly, one of the strongest attributes of C.O.W.L. is that sense of discovery. With the series settled into a nice rhythm, the writers have given us enough to feel comfortable, but we’re still actively learning more about this alternate Chicago. Perhaps that’s why one completely reasonable twist grates so, as John Pierce’s investigation seemingly hits a wall. Of course, not all mysteries end in conspiracy, but it was such a fun one that it seems a shame to let it go. Then again, it’s possible that Geoffrey Warner, the head of C.O.W.L., is lying.
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The Wicked + The Divine #3 – Review

By: Kieron Gillen (story), Jamie McKelvie (art), Matthew Wilson (colors)

The Story: Baphomet and the Morrigan prove that sex and rage go hand-in-hand with religion.

The Review: Religion as reality TV seems to be the throughline of this series, and I’ll be very interested to see the point Gillen’s trying to make with that. The simplistic theory is religion is mere entertainment for the masses, vacuous and prone to unnecessary conflict. The squabbles among the different gods are motivated by competition for attention, to obtain the largest number of fans/believers, all of which seems pointless when the gods are doomed to disappear in a couple years anyway.

It’s easy to sign onto this theory as you watch the Morrigan and Baphomet confront each other in the Underground. After a romp in the sack a few days earlier (thus providing him with an alibi for Luci’s frame-up), they now bring their darkest powers to bear against each other simply because Baphomet tried to usurp the Morrigan’s chosen venue. Their blowout is pure overgrown drama, the toxic, juvenile stuff of Jersey Shore‘s worst nightmares.
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The Fade Out #1 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)

The Story: You can’t wish on a fallen star.

The Review: I’d like to start off this review of Brubaker’s latest work by saying a few words about his last one. In the end, I’m not sure it was the most entertaining or impressive or even memorable series ever (already the why and how of Jo’s life is slipping my mind), but Fatale sure was different. It’s rare to come across a work so minimally derivative and also so well-written. Brubaker may not have gotten his point clearly across, but his storytelling was unparalleled.

With his elaborate, urgent prose style, Brubaker often comes across as a novelist whose medium happens to be half-visual. His choice of subject for The Fade Out is certainly untypical for a comic book, being firmly set in the real world, in a real historical period, with no fantastical, sci-fi twists or spins. There’s no invitation to suspend your disbelief; Brubaker challenges himself and Phillips to tell a purely human drama convincingly without the caveat of overt fictionalization.
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The Walking Dead #130 – Review

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

This was a pretty interesting issue.  The Walking Dead delights in being a “slow burn” and that can be frustrating while readers are waiting for the story to coalesce (like a kid waiting for the Jello to harden), but once it does turn the corner and develop a sense of direction, TWD is able to instill more of a sense of anticipation that just about any other comic that I read.

This issue seems like it might be turning the corner to doing something real.  I say that mostly because of the sheer number of players in motion right now.  You’ve got the newcomers getting settled, we’ve seen them find Negan and resist his charisma, Rick is out visiting Maggie at Hilltop, Carl is having employment challenges, and maybe the zombies are changing.

Probably my favorite part of this issue dealt with Negan.  I liked how quickly he saw that his “HELP ME!!!” charade wasn’t working on the newcomers and we even saw him revert back to vintage Negan.  I really do wonder what Kirkman is going to do with Negan in the long term.  He’s too interesting to kill, and Kirkman probably could have killed him at the end of All Out War, but he’s such a fun character that Kirkman kept him around.  It was probably like when you were a kid and your parents told you that you were too old for some of your toys and they were right, but you kept one stuffed animal anyway because it was awesome.  I’m looking forward to what becomes of Negan.  I also enjoyed that the possibility of the newcomers naively letting him go didn’t come to pass.  That could have been a good story, but it would have been a little too fast.  I mean, surely anyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse this long isn’t a dummy. Continue reading

Fatale #24 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)

The Story: Doomed by a beautiful woman’s kiss…

The Review: I’m kind of surprised to see the end come so soon, but I suppose allowances can’t be made just because I caught on to the series late. [Speaking of late, these reviews are late because I've been traveling—post-Bar relief, you know. More on that later.] Anyway, I have a feeling Brubaker realized that he was quickly reaching that limit when trying to plumb anything more from Fatale would just bum us out.

As you can probably expect, things don’t end very well for anybody in this series. In fact, they don’t end well at all. The more accurate evaluation of the situation is that things don’t end as badly as they could have for a couple people. [Spoiler alert!] While Nick and Jo do manage to survive the tribulations of the issue, there are scars. For Jo, all the years of her unnaturally long life finally catch up to her; Nick is left catatonic in an asylum, with Jo his sole visitor (and not for much longer, by her estimation). For all that, Jo reflects that “she’s the lucky one, not Nick. Because she got to escape.”
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C.O.W.L. #3 – Review

By: Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel (writers), Rod Reis (art)

The Story: Never cross a picket line or an underappreciated woman.

The Review: Radia is a very different member of C.O.W.L. From the first scene of the series, it’s been clear that Kathryn’s power set is distinct from her partners’. In a world of photon guns and energy blasts, Radia’s telekinesis is a powerful and nuanced ability. Ever since she ended the Chicago Six, she’s been the character to watch, in my eyes.

Oh, and she’s the tactical division’s only woman. In fact, she’s the only woman we’ve seen within the league.

If there’s been a weakness in C.O.W.L. so far, it’s probably been that the world feels a little too big for this format. There are so many characters and the pace is, if not decompressed, measured. Engrossing as the series has been, there’s been a gnawing anticipation for the moment when we get the chance to really meet these characters. That’s what makes this issue’s spotlight on Radia so satisfying.

Higgins and Siegel’s dialogue has a natural pop to it, the kind that usually marks good TV. Each line knows just how long it can hold your attention and conveys crucial information without ever feeling like exposition. Admittedly, some readers will probably roll their eyes at the obliviousness of some characters’ ignorance, but I expect if you actually ask a woman’s opinion, they’ll feel that it’s far more true to life than you expect. And, of course, this is the early 60s, so magnify that a couple times.
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Saga #21 – Review

By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Fiona Staples (art)

The Story: Usually, the revelation of your newborn son involves less homicide.

The Review: As I said last issue, the core of Saga is maintaining a typical domestic drama within a highly fantasized universe. For the most part, Vaughan succeeds in this endeavor; some of the series’ best, most poignant moments have been sympathizing with Alanna and Marko in managing their in-laws, debating the upbringing of their child, worrying over the staling of their lifestyle. Many’s the time when you overlook the galactic war around them altogether.

But always, in the background of things, the war quietly exerts pressure on the story when it’s not drawing them in outright. Almost every single character in Saga wants to live an ordinary life, and it’s always the war that gets in their way. If not for the Landfall-Wreath conflict, Alanna, Marko, and Klara could live openly and take any opportunity that comes their way, instead of settling for less. Prince Robot could have his idyllic family vacation by the sea, instead of it existing merely as a hopeless dream.
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