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The Walking Dead #131 – Review

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

The Review (with SPOILERS): There’s just too much material here for an excellent single-issue.  Counting off the top of my head, without reviewing the issue, we have (a) the discussion of the missing scout and whether zombies can talk now, (b) a tease of flirtation between Maggie and some new patrol-guy who we just met in this issue, (c) the reintroduction of an ass-kicking Sophia, (d) a discussion between Rick and Maggie about leadership and happiness, (e) a teaser of what is going on with Michonne, (f) the actual search for the missing scout, (g) Carl’s occupational drama as an apprentice blacksmith, (h) a potential rebellion by the Newcomers, (i) budding romance between Carl and Sophia.  That’s too much for 22 pages.  You can’t do all of those stories justice with a few panels here and there.

To be clear, the story concepts themselves aren’t without merit.  There are just too many of them going on at one time.  It would be nice to think that all will be addressed in their good time, but it would probably be as efficient from a storytelling perspective to wait on a few of them and tell theses stories in the next year.  I mean, I enjoy seeing Maggie possibly able to love again after Glenn was brutally smashed 31 issues ago.  That’s awesome.  I like Maggie.  I like seeing her happy.  I’m just not sure that the overall story has room for THAT as well as everything else.

With that said, there is a bit of inconsistency from issue-to-issue as well.  Last issue, the big reveal was that the zombies might be talking.  “OMG!  The zombies are talking!”  This issue development is reduced to a sidebar that barely warrants discussion.  Last issue we had the kinda touching drama that Carl may have missed out on his blacksmith apprenticeship because he and his Dad were too slow to pounce on the opportunity.  I really liked that story.  It had little kernels of wisdom to “strike when the iron is hot” that every reader can identify with because we’ve ALL missed out in our lives…  Then, in this issue, that drama is just yanked away as Carl is enrolled as Apprentice #2.  I just don’t understand why that story needed to be resolved now in an already crowded issue.  Why not let Carl wallow for a bit, have Sophia start to flirt with him a few panels per issue and let us readers worry (passively) that Carl will dither again and miss out on something else?

Basically, issues like this make me feel like Robert Kirkman needs an editor and life manager, someone to tell him when he is perhaps too stretched between various multi-media projects to focus on his bread-and-butter– someone to tell him, “hey man, these are all nice story concepts, but how about picking just one and doing a great job with it?”  He’s also paying the price for his characters becoming too precious and needing their own storyline.  He needs to kill some characters not just for shock value, but to stream-line his story.
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Wayward #1 – Review

By: Jim Zub (Writer), Steve Cummings (Artist), John Rauch and Jim Zub (Color Artists), Marshall Dillon (Letterer), Zack Davisson (Back Matter)

The Story: Rori Lane gets Spirited Away…

The Review: I wasn’t sure if I was ready to follow a new title, but the cover art was nice and the premise was a familiar but favorite set-up. And I’m really glad I did. This was a great comic, presented with true craft and care.

The story is pretty basic in its broad strokes– a young woman moves to Japan and finds a secret, supernatural reality to its urban mundaneness. So what can the creators do to explore this common trope? Simply by staying so earnestly true to the characters and to the world-building. The main character, Rori, displays appropriate emotions (loss, frustration, confusion, wonder) without resorting to melodrama. She’s coming to Japan for the first time, to help readers who are also new to this world, but she’s not so fish-out-of-water as to be helpless or cliché. This could easily be taken as a slice-of-life or travelogue story, except of course for the strange powers she discovers and the creatures she encounters.

What really shines here is the depiction of Tokyo. Having lived in Tokyo for five years, I have mixed feelings when I see it show up in entertainment. Too often it resorts to grand generalizations if not downright stereotype, and even after living there for five years I find it difficult to understand some otaku’s passion for the romanticized vision they have of it. Instead, the writer and artists here show us a completely realistic depiction, free from cliché and overwrought examples. Rori, for example, alights from the subway in Ikebukuro and is still just as overwhelmed with the experience as she would be if she emerged into Shibuya– the go-to example that *everyone* uses to announce to the reader/viewer “this is Japan.” We see Rori experiencing underground malls, escalator-less stairwells, crowded alleyways, and cramped apartments.

Every panel is lovingly detailed. Corrugated rooftops, set tables in the restaurant, public transport with individuals and background action, even the locks on the doors of the apartment– are all what you will find in Japan. You can even read the vending machines labels and almost every sign in the background.

This simple day-to-day living is presented with great care and highlights the appearance of the supernatural. Its a nice example of “magical realism” with just a suggestion of an unseen reality, whose worlds we want to see explored in coming issues.

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Saga #22 – Review

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

The Story: Drugs, affairs, and murder. Alana and Marko sure live the celebrity life.

The Review: It’s not a pleasant experience to witness a couple’s row, but it has its fascinations. There’s a reason why these things are often referred to as train wrecks; from the outside, the disinterested bystander can clearly see what’s going wrong, though the people involved seem completely oblivious. And while the old adage is right in saying it takes two to tango, you can usually pin the larger share of blame to one person or the other.

Alana and Marko’s spat thus breaks against the mold in that you come away as bewildered and at a loss as to what happened as they, Klara, and Izabel do. When it starts, you’re ready to side with Marko on this: he’s the thankless stay-at-home parent who never gets a break ever while his wife’s flying high at her job. Even Alana’s anger about him muttering Ginny’s name in his sleep doesn’t shift your opinion much; we know Marko’s not actually cheating with the purple-skinned dancer. Marko’s actually in a very good position to be self-righteous—at first.

The problem is instead of engaging Alana on the Ginny thing and sweeping it out of the way, he very obviously changes the subject to whether she’s ever been high in front of Hazel, which is a vaguer point of contention. His avoidance means one thing: there’s a genuine interest in Ginny, even if it isn’t physical (yet). So when he finally lashes at Alana, there’s guilt mixed in with the insecurity of not being the breadwinner (he cuts off Alana’s complaints about working and finishes “—so you can take care of helpless me…”), and the resentment that his wife isn’t at home even when she’s at home.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to forgive Marko easier than Alana, probably. While he’s immediately apologetic for his loss of temper, Alana escalates, ordering him to leave the house, which she significantly refers to as “my house,” just as she refers to Hazel as “my daughter[.]” Having taken ownership of the rest of Marko’s life, he leaves him with nothing except—guess who?—Ginny. That won’t excuse any funny business that will likely happen between the two afterward, but it’ll be Alana who drove him there.

By doing so, they are now at their most vulnerable just when forces threaten to converge on the family once again. Not only does the unstable Dengo reach Alana’s workplace and violently leaves it in disarray, Prince Robot is on his trail thanks to assistance from Gale. The Landfallian agent claims to be doing so out of respect to the late princess, but as King Robot mentions earlier, the contract on Alana and Marko is still outstanding and Gale doesn’t seem like the type who forgets such things. So we’ve got two off-balance killer robots drawing towards our favorite couple; the fact that Upsher recognizes Alana’s Heist quote on the Open Circuit is negligible by comparison.*
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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

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