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Category: Comics

Comics Round-up?

Well, looky here. I’m geeky for comics still! It’s new comic book day, so I thought I’d doodle something up about three awesome books I read today.

Prophet #37 (Image Comics)
Writer & Artist: Giannis Milonogiannis
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Prophet continues to be my favorite comic. I love the sparse, almost anti-writing that propels the narrative, but the art is just incredible. The last couple issues have seen Simon Roy and Giannis Milonogiannis split art duties as their two separate stories have started to merge, but here we get Milonogiannis all on his own, without scripting by Brandon Graham. On the story level, this is less successful than Simon Roy’s solo issues. Milonogiannis doesn’t have that poetic weirdness that has marked Prophet thus far. It’s a little stiff and on the nose. We are introduced to a new prophet who is tasked with completing a mission initially attempted in issue #31. It’s useful to re-read that before this issue but not necessary. It’s pretty sparse, with a handful of pages that are completely silent, and the story is fine, but not thrilling. But I’ll be honest, I’m here for the art. Giannis has easily become my preferred artist on Prophet. His scratchy style mixed with his beautiful coloring fits his story (again, he and Roy are really telling two separate sides of the story) so perfectly. He works fast and it shows, but it is also essential to his style. He’s can create epic, contemplative landscapes (or spacescapes), but he’s also the best action artist on the series. Great visual storyteller.

Grade: B

Ballistic #1 (Black Mask Studios)
Writer: Adam Egypt Mortimer; Artist: Darick Robertson
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This came out last week, but I picked it up after reading a couple interesting reviews. So glad I did. I’ve figured out that I’m most drawn to weird, off the wall comics. The only limitation in comics is the imagination of the creators and the talent of the artist. So why not go nuts? Ballistic is basically David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ meets Brazil meets Lethal Weapon, but on drugs. Weird ones. Butch is an air conditioner repairman in a future where technology and biology have mixed. Everything is alive, and it’s all pretty gross. Butch has a sassy, sentient gun, and together they plot a bank robby. Except the gun does drugs and decides he doesn’t want to rob banks. This is so weird, yet so funny and Robertson’s art is incredible. There is so much gruesome, disgusting, vibrant detail here that you could pour over it for hours. I hope this is an ongoing, because I want 100 issues of this.

Grade: A

The Invincible Haggard West: The Death of Haggard West (First Second)
Writer & Artist: Paul Pope
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I’m embarrassed that this is the first Paul Pope comic I’ve read. He’s a pretty legendary figure in the comic world, but his stuff has eluded me. This is a one-shot prequel to his upcoming book Battling Boy. This issue is numbered as The Invincible Haggard West #101 and does indeed show the death of the title character, so it’s interesting to read it and imagine the huge backstory that could have led to this issue. The story is pretty standard, but Pope does a great job of making these characters real within a few panels. Again, I wish I could read the 100 issues that led up to this. Like Prophet, though, the art is the real draw. This is just beautiful. I don’t feel capable of describing it because it is so unlike anything else I read, but it’s obvious why Pope has the reputation he does. What really sticks out is his character work. The faces are so animated and clear, that he gets away with fairly little dialogue or narration. The action is so easy perfectly rendered and I love the sound effects embedded into the art. Based on this, I’m definitely on board for Battling Boy, whatever that turns out to be.

Grade: B+

Woo! WOO!

Even though I’m working less than usual, this summer has been crazy. Going places, doin’ thangs. The biggest news is that MAH WAHFE was offered a job at the VA. She’s worked her butt off for 9 years to get this very job, so it’s awesome that it is actually happening (and it was certainly a roller coaster getting there, especially in the last few weeks). I’m so incredibly proud of her.

Last week, I had one of the best meals of my life. The college I teach at has a pretty renowned culinary arts program, and they have an on-campus bistro that is run by students (with the help and guidance of the culinary arts faculty). A group of us from the Writing Center went on Thursday and it was spectacular. I think Lizz and I counted 9 courses (of varying size of course). Salmon, tuna, black cherry sorbet, creme brulee, bacon-wrapped pork belly, homemade butter and bread. Ah. I’m dozing off just thinking about it. Here’s a link to their website to get a taste: Sage Bistro

In nerd news, my movie viewing has slowed down quite a bit. Lizz and I finished Firefly and Serenity, so that took up some of my time. It was totally worth it though. Fantastic series and the film actually did an incredibly job of wrapping things up. I have watched a couple of other things though.

Film #24: Brooklyn Castle
(Director: Katie Dellamaggiore)
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This is an amazing documentary about the chess team at I.S. 318, a middle school in Brooklyn, New York. They are the best chess team in the nation, even though most of the students live below the poverty line. The film was shot right in the midst of the financial crisis, so much of the film deals with the students coping with the forced budget cuts. The film works because these kids are incredible. You just instantly fall in love with all of them, and their ability to persevere and overcome their economic situation is humbling. I also love the way Dellamaggiore shoots the matches themselves. We don’t see the boards or even know what’s happening in the games; instead, we just watch the kids. At points, she employs slo-motion panning shots of them in deep contemplation, and they suddenly turn into epic heroes. And like any good documentary, Brooklyn Castle tackles issues of class, race, and gender head-on, but through the frame of these incredible kids. If you can’t fall in love with Brooklyn Castle, you aren’t a human. Prepare to cry.

2013 Film #3: Spring Breakers
(Writer & Director: Harmony Korine)

Spring Breakers was one of my two most anticipated films of the year (along with Only God Forgives), and sadly, it failed miserably to live up to my hopes. This movie is just so disingenuous. It indulges a vapid narrative and aesthetic in an attempt to critique hedonistic consumerism, but it’s ironic sheen only serves to cover up for lazy filmmaking. I should have loved this movie. I love the idea of the aesthetics of this movie, but every image just feels forced. It feels like Korine is trying to do Terrence Malick and Spring Break, and every frame is burdened with that trying. My biggest problem, though, is that it is just damn boring. And not in a good way. The characters are forgettable (save for Franco’s Alien, although he is only memorable by force) and the writing is TERRIBLE. The voice-over narrations from the film’s female leads are some of the worst shit ever put on film. But again, and this is the real problem with the movie, Korine is so gutless in his filmmaking, that I imagine most of his supporters deflecting this criticism: “That’s the point of the movie! They are supposed to be inane, vapid materialists.” Blargh.

2013 Film #4: This is the End
(Writers & Directors: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg)
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This, on the other hand, was the perfect summer movie. The gimmick is that all of the actors in this film play themselves: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride form the core group (there are a ton of cameos that I don’t want to spoil. Half the fun of the movie is seeing who shows up). While at Franco’s house warming party, the Biblical apocalypse goes down, and the group try to hold out in his mansion. While the actors play themselves, they obviously are playing heightened, stereotyped versions of themselves. It’s awesome seeing these guys indulge and make fun of these stereotypes and their careers (Franco, for example, has a giant penis statue in his house and they frequently make fun of him giving blowjobs). We even get a sort of Sweded version of Pineapple Express 2 midway through. This film is just an assault of jokes and it will take 10 viewings to catch everything. It’s the 21 Jump Street of 2013. I’m sure critics will claim this is just another bro-mance about guys incapable of growing up, but, you know, so what?

2013 Film #5: Man of Steel
(Writer: David S. Goyer; Director: Zack Snyder)

This is the worst film I’ve seen in ages. Goyer and Snyder team up to ruin Superman for a whole generation! I can’t even begin to list the things wrong here: Zod’s goatee, an F5 tornado in the sunshine (which is, ironically, one of the only times this bleak-ass movie about a dude WHO RUNS ON SUNSHINE actually uses it), Superman destroying both Metropolis and Smallville, *SPOILER* Supes killing people?!?!?!!, and the most boring, endless fight scenes of all time. This movie never ends. I’m still watching it.

Finite Oppenheimers

Ryan Browne fills in for Nick Pitarra on The Manhattan Projects and enters the brain of Joseph Oppenheimer. Holy crap.

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Yes, that’s a faceless horse…

manh proj002I’m back teaching 3 classes, so things are sure to pick up a little bit, which means things might pick down here. Hopefully not.

Sex and Superheroes

 

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(Writer: Joe Casey; Artist: Piotr Kowalski; Colorist: Brad Simpson; Letterer: Rus Wooton)

First, can I just say that I fucking love title pages in comics? Not regular story-art with the production info dropped in a corner, but a specialized double-page spread that’s sole purpose is to give us the chapter title and production credits; it’s as close as comics get to movie credits, and I love when books indulge in them. Hickman’s been doing these in most of his new stuff, Spencer and Rossmo have it in Bedlam, and the first thing you get when you open Sex is a two page, purple-toned skyscape. There’s something about it that just sets the mood for the rest of the issue.

While you can’t avoid the title, Sex (or the fact that it is sold bagged up so as not to pervert the minds of browsing youths), Casey really is playing a game of misdirection. It’s not exactly a subtle misdirection, especially if you’ve read any of his pre-release interviews (or the letter column in this issue). The premise of Sex is simple: what happens when a superhero retires? Dressing up in costume and fighting crime is its own kind of delusional, pornographic fantasy, so how would a retired cape fill that void?

The mis-direction of this issue is that our retired hero, Simon Cooke hasn’t stopped crime-fighting voluntarily; it was at the behest a dying old woman, Quinn. So, he’s retired back to Saturn City and his business. (What kind of superhero isn’t the owner of a fantastically wealthy conglomerate?) Only, he seems incapable of filling his superhero-sized hole with work, and within minutes, is back in the gym. Although he has no intention of picking up the cowl of the Armored Saint again, it isn’t easy to instantaneously become something you never were.

Similarly, when the issue finally does get around to the actual sex, it certainly isn’t sexy. As Simon watches two girls go at it in front of him, he is daydreaming about the dying Quinn and the promise he made her: to hang up the cape and actually live. His daydream is broken when one of the girls yells out, “Hey asshole – you gonna jerk off or what?!” Even sex is no substitute for costumed ultra-violence.

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Of course, Casey introduces a nemesis of sorts and a fellow retired superhero to instigate the plot, but the success of the series will rest in how fully he is able to create intrigue and momentum without Cooke putting on his costume. I think that inherent tension could be really interesting to see play out.

It is admittedly a slow burn here, but it seems purposeful on Casey’s part. If he’s playing against our traditional superhero fantasies, it has to be paced a little differently. It’s like the European version of a superhero comic. That also means that an awful lot rests on the art, and luckily, Piotr Kowalski is a perfect fit. There is a total Moebius vibe from the coloring down to the lettering. Kowalski’s character-work is more realistic, but you can definitely see what the team was going for. It feels like the 1980s, but in the year 2080. The coloring is bold and expressive and even the lettering feels unlike anything in modern comics. While the setting is decidedly futuristic, this feels like an old comic in the best possible way.

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Now, whether Sex can sustain itself and really put the hooks in the reader is yet to be seen. I could definitely see it getting tired or forced, but for now, I’m really intrigued as to where Casey and Kowalski are going.

BREAK!

I’m on a mini break of sorts, at least from Metro, which gives me time to do things I want to do, like watch movies. I’ve been doing that, in theaters even. But I also read the new Prophet. I’m going to post more on this later. Until then,

From the bonus story by Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean

From the bonus story by Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean

Prophet 31

I’m going to post much more frequently this coming quarter. Things should be a little quieter.

Prophet is still the best comic around and Joseph Bergin III’s colors are reaching next level awesomeness. This is just a little panel, but I think it’s my favorite.

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Nerds and Thor

My Composition 1 class’s last assignment was a concept essay. To illustrate the assignment, I mapped out how I would approach the term nerd. I would classify myself as a nerd and I think the ramblings of this blog will validate my claim. It’s a curious term though. Whereas nerds once sat on the sidelines playing D&D, reading sci-fi, and preparing for the next wedgie, the Internet has made nerds cool, and more importantly, it has revealed that there’s a nerd in all of us. Thus, the rise of the hyphen nerd. Grantland is home to sports-nerds (and Bill Simmons is a basketball-nerd), The AV Club to TV-nerds, IGN to video game-nerds, FiveThirtyEight to statistics-nerds, WWTDD to celebrity-nerds, and so on ad infinitum. When major news sources have people scoping Reddit for stories, you know that nerdom has finally won. The question is no longer, “Will you be a nerd?” but “What kind of nerd will you be?”

This isn’t to say that this development is all great. If everyone is a nerd, the term loses much of its value. And similarly, it has given rise to a particularism that pushes people to an annoying, false, self-righteous, ironic extreme.
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But for all its pitfalls, the rise of the nerds has, at least through the Internet, given people an outlet to discuss similar interests without having to annoy their real life associates. No one I know really likes soccer, so I go into depth with people on the web. No one I know likes comics, so I read about them on the Internet and write about them here on my own page. For this, I’m grateful. Without the web, I can safely say I wouldn’t actually be interested in either thing, and they both bring me joy and happiness (and excruciating pain) on a weekly basis.

I guess the real question is, if you aren’t a nerd about something, what are you? I made my class think of their concepts in oppositions, and the only thing I could come up with in contrast to nerd was boring; someone who was apathetic to everything. These people are the worst.

All of this is my long-winded intro to talking about the first issue of Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, and Dean White’s Thor: God of Thunder, part of Marvel’s NOW relaunch.

I have been skeptical about Marvel NOW for a couple reasons. First, getting into a Marvel series is a much bigger investment than reading DC. Whereas Batman comes out once a month, many Marvel titles double-ship (twice a month). For example, I read Daredevil, and since it’s launch in July 2011, it’s had 24 issues, including two necessary cross-overs (where the story is carried over between multiple series). In contrast, there’s been only 16 issues of Batman since September 2011 (including an Annual), and although that included two crossovers, Batman kept a self-contained story for both, meaning it was the only series you needed to read to actually understand what was happening. If you bought the other series like Catwoman or Batgirl, you got additional stories around the same concept, but you could avoid them and still know exactly what was going on. Second, most major Marvel books are $3.99 for 20 pages of story. In fairness, DC did raise the price of Batman from $2.99 to $3.99 with issue 8, but they also bumped up the page count from 20 to 28-30 pages.

Perhaps my biggest issue is that the creative teams that sound so awesome from the get go are going to get overburdened so quickly by the shipping policy. Most of the books have already announced rotating art teams, but for the ones that haven’t, I’m worried about where they are going to go. I’m trusting Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk because of what he’s done on Daredevil. Even though that title has seen 6 artists, they have all managed to maintain a similar tone. Each Daredevil issue looks like Waid’s Daredevil. I assume he’ll manage to make that happen on Hulk too. I can’t say I have similar optimism for Thor, and when Esad Ribic is your starting point, any deviation is going to be a massive disappointment.

All of these elements combine to make me dubious about the one Marvel NOW series I really want to read, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. First, it’s really two series: Avengers and New Avengers. Second, Avengers is going to be bi-weekly, with a $3.99 price tag, and a stable of 4 rotating artists (Jerome Opeña, Adam Kubert, Dustin Weaver, and Mike Deodato). And third, the likelihood that this is going to turn into some massive, money-grubbing event is astronomical. But it’s Jonathan Hickman. Luckily, there are a number of series I do read that are ending, so I think I can justify it. But it’s going to have a really short leash.

Where were we? Oh yes, Thor. Well, quite simply, this is awesome. From page one, it is engaging, surprising, and beautiful. This is really the story of three Thors: the young, brash, cocky Prince Thor, the modern-day Avenger Thor, and the old, nearly-broken King Thor. In all the interviews leading up to this, the three-story structure is what worried me. But Aaron has linked them beautifully.
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As we begin, young Thor has responded to an Irish village’s prayer for someone to protect them from a Frost Giant. After answering their prayers and slaying the beast, Thor has engaged in four days of drunken debauchery with the people. The festivities are interrupted when the head of a Native American God washes on shore.

In the present, Thor again responds to the prayers of a planet, Indigarr, that has gone years without rain. After saving the day and once again engaging in some ale-fueled shenanigans, Thor is shocked to hear that Indigarr is a planet without Gods, an idea unheard of in his intergalactic journeys. Investigating the claim in the planet’s clouds, he finds their Gods, but they’ve all been systematically butchered.

Finally, we see Thor in the future, grey and alone on the throne of Asgard. He is the last surviving God, and he’s determined to enter Valhalla. The final page sees him rushing headfirst into the Butcher’s army.

First issues generally struggle to balance characterization with the introduction of a credible, believable threat. Often, we get thrown right into the action of a minor skirmish so we can see the hero in action, only to follow up with some personal interactions that help us get to know the person underneath the costume. Finally, faint whisperings of a larger, looming threat drive us to the next issue. Aaron plays with all of these tendencies. First, we are introduced to this Thor after battle, in the time when he is most engaging and relatable. The first page of this is just perfect and you instantly love Thor for his personality, not his powers. Second, the looming threat isn’t looming; it’s obvious and enormous. Because he is established with such confidence, the immediate reservation and fear Thor shows when the first God is found dead shows you the stakes in a fascinating way. The badguy isn’t some criminal mastermind or zany villain; he’s a force of nature.

I also love the crazy way that Thor is presented as a God. He answers prayers. He helps those who believe in him. Whereas the Asgardians are generally presented as gods in a metaphorical sense, Thor is a God in the religious sense. It certainly creates an interesting paradigm as the series continues.

Finally, I can’t close without mentioning the art. With Ribic on pencils and Dean White on colors, this couldn’t look any better. Whether he’s drawing alien races, mythical beasts, or average people, Ribic brings each character to life. And White’s colors add a richness and texture that most comics don’t even come close to. This feels more like painting than anything, and it certainly befits a book about a God. Like I said earlier, I’m fearful of who is going to fill in for these guys so I pray Ribic can work fast.

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I couldn’t be more excited to see where this goes. I’m pumped to see how this battle with Gorr goes and even more excited to see how Aaron opens up the world of Asgard.

Punk Rock Jesus #4

I’m at a lull in my seemingly never-ending mound of grading, so I thought I’d take some time to break down the latest issue of Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus, my favorite mini-series of the year.

With this issue, little Chris truly becomes Punk Rock Jesus. Again, and this is the biggest downside of this series, this issue just has to cover too much. Things that I want whole issues to deal with get slammed into single pages, and as a result, we get the first real chinks in the J2 armor.

The first 11 pages are built around the incident that sends Chris off the cliff into the dirty bowels of punk. Here, the pacing and storytelling are amazing. There are some fantastic, brutal, and beautiful panels here, and because he gives himself space, Murphy is able to tell the story in a really enjoyable way.

But what follows is Chris’s rapid-fire, three page transition in to punk rock atheist. We first get a double-page spread of Chris working out and immersing himself in punk. I actually don’t mind this sequence; it is certainly efficient and allows us to figure out Chris’s transformation by investigating the art itself. But then we get a one-page montage that serves as his atheist re-education, and this is clunky as all hell. While the whole series has done a fantastic job of nuancing and even contradicting it’s anti-religious thesis, this feels like a bullet-point breakdown in the Atheism for Dummies handbook. We get quotes like, “It says here that our forefathers believed in the separation of church and state. They were secular thinkers, many of them agnostics” and “Christianity became a political cause in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. Many who voted for George W. Bush only did so because he was a Christian.” It is just so awkward and out-of-place. Who talks like this? For the first time in this series, the characters aren’t truly talking to one another, Sean Murphy is lecturing to us. Frankly, it’s exactly what you would expect when you heard the title Punk Rock Jesus, which is something the book had successfully avoided for three issues.

Luckily, once this transformation is complete, we get back into the goodness with a really nice flashback to Thomas’s past with the IRA. Murphy just does such a fantastic job illustrating Thomas and his badass moves that I can’t help but hope for a spin-off book in the future. The final sequence, with Chris taking over as lead-singer in atheist punk band The Flackjackets, certainly pays off the premise of the series, and again gives Murphy the chance to really indulge himself artistically.

Major hiccup aside, I can’t wait to see how this ends. In particular, I’m curious how the Thomas backstory is going to coincide with the present day Chris one, but I think I’ve got some ideas. It’s gunna get twisty!

Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic

I mentioned earlier, briefly, that I had picked up the first Fantagraphics collection of Love and Rockets. I finally finished it and thought I’d give it a couple words. As far as my comics-reading tendencies go, I don’t generally like slice-of-life, indie comics. It seems like such a waste of the medium to add crude drawings to your boring stories. I think I had associated Love and Rockets with those types of comics based on their very indie reputation.

I was wrong.

First, Love and Rockets is really comprised of two separate stories intermingled with occasional one-offs. But the primary core is Jaime Hernandez’s Hoppers 13 (or Locas) stories center around two, young Latino women named Hopey and Maggie and their assorted friends. The other half is Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories about a fictional town and its busty mayor, Luba. The Fantagraphics trades have separated these two “worlds” out; I’ve picked up the Locas stories exclusively. For its part, Locas isn’t necessarily realism. The world of Hoppers resembles ours, but there are also sci-fi elements that differentiate it (although Jaime has apparently shed these sci-fi tendencies as the years have passed). In Maggie the Mechanic, we’ve got mini-arcs involving Maggie repairing a rocket ship in a dinosaur infested netherworld, the friends getting lost in H.R. Costigan’s (the richest man on the planet who just happens to have horns) 100+ room mansion, and Maggie and Rena Titañon (a world famous female professional wrestler) getting lost in an underground tunnel after a terrorist attack in a billionaire land squabble. But the relationships of the characters are real; they bicker, make up, make love, and change through their experiences. They even age and gain weight. But because this all happens in a not-quite-real world, it never feels lame.

Second, Jaime’s art is amazing. It’s crisp, clean, cartoony, dramatic, and detailed. The girls are beautiful, but in a way that defies comic logic; they look like women, even when Jaime is drawing what are essentially pin-ups. They aren’t irrationally proportioned, overly buxom, or suggestively posed. They look…natural. And since he’s drawing off his punk roots, they’ve got edge too. Even Penny Century, who is supposed to represent that traditional comic female, is always beautifully and realistically presented. I’m particularly fond of the front-on crowd scenes that he often uses to open chapters:

Spot the all the references loaded into this scene!

Finally, I’m in love with these characters, and Maggie in particular. They are so tenderly, carefully realized that it doesn’t feel like you are reading a plot; you are hanging out with people as they live life. “Plotty” things happen, but at its core, this is about friendship and love. When the gang thought Maggie was dead, I felt bad for the characters; I don’t do that normally. I think its because Jaime has such a clear vision of who these women are that their interactions are reassuring and comforting. I like seeing them together and I want them to be happy. How freaking ridiculous is that?

Punk Rock Jesus #3

(Writer & Artist: Sean Murphy)

I had fleeting dreams that this mini would turn into a monthly series, but this issue really pushes us over the edge. While the six-issue running length promised the transition of the cloned Christ into punk rock hooligan, the first two issues kept us pretty firmly planted in his baby years. Here, Murphy turns on the warp speed and, through a series of temporal shifts, moves us to Chris at the age of 14. Gwen, his mother, is a complete wreck who has unsuccessfully attempted to escape the J2 complex in every conceivable way. This issue pushes her to the edge and, ultimately, out into the world.

This is a packed issue, and you can feel the burden of getting the story set up for the final three issues. As a result, this is probably the weakest issue, and probably the biggest negative is that because he is so focused on getting the story moving, Murphy doesn’t take as much time to really give himself fun, expressive set pieces. It feels like there is more character work here than in other issues, but that doesn’t mean he holds back completely. There’s a great one-page montage of Gwen’s escape attempts that is both funny and deeply disturbing. We also get some great Cola (the friendly polar bear) moments. But Murphy saves his best for last, as Gwen is finally on her own in a skyscraper treatment center:

 

We also get a great final page cliffhanger that refocuses just what this series is about. It certainly has moved into a realm I would have never expected. Again, for a book that should be one-dimensional, Murphy keeps playing with expectations to keep us on our toes. I can’t wait to see how he brings it home.

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