Hello. How are you? I’m fine, cheers. First off this week, I’d like to thank the brilliant and talented Mark Allen for stepping in and manfully writing this column for the last couple of instalments whilst I’ve been swanning around northern Europe (if you’re ever looking for comics in Berlin, by the way, check out Grober Unfug Comics). Mark and I are planning to collaborate more on this column and hopefully he’ll be adding his contributions once I’ve sent this Word doc over to him via the power of electronic mail. This flagrant use of cutting edge technology leads me nicely onto my first title…
24th April 2013 – Spoilers!
The Manhattan Projects #11, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra, Image Comics
If you have a level of dedication worthy only of the most discerning of psychopathic stalkers to my writing on the internet, you may be aware that I’m a big fan of Robert Oppenheimer, insomuch as anyone can be a fan of a historical figure (I’m not a devotee of nuclear weapons, please note, moreover I find Oppenheimer an endlessly fascinating character). As such, I have found it very easy to become a big fan of The Manhattan Projects, which I’ve previously picked up in trade paperbacks (thanks to @AmanFida). Having just finished Volume 2, I’ve decided to start following the series monthly, starting with #11, the appropriately titled ‘Building’, which promises much for this next arc.
The series takes place in an alternate history where the greatest scientists of the twentieth century have come together under the pretence of creating the atomic bomb; in reality, they’re exploring more ambitious and distinctly unusual projects. Unfortunately, a number of the scientists are not what they seem – Einstein is a considerably less genial version of himself from another universe, Oppenheimer has been literally eaten and replaced by his insane twin brother and Harry Daghlian is an irradiated skeleton, deadly to anyone he comes into contact with. This is very much the tip of the iceberg. Throw in Nazi and Russian collaborators, talking dogs and freemason presidents and you’ve a wickedly creative and compelling universe in which there are few good guys and science is untethered by morality. This theme, coupled with the ‘what if everything… went wrong?’ question of the book’s cover is what keeps me reading frantically.
This issue sees the aforementioned Daghlian’s background and his relationship with Enrico Fermi explored whilst Oppenheimer sets out the Projects’ ambitious goals for the century to come now the group has achieved effective independence from its government. It’s heady, inventive stuff and Hickman’s writing is great. Pitarra’s art is fun, gruesome and wonderfully evocative. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, twentieth century history or simply just great design, then I really can’t recommend this hugely satisfying series enough.
Mark’s Take: Couldn’t agree more. Hickman and Pitarra step it up a notch every single issue, which is a damn hard thing to accomplish. Oh, and Jonathan Hickman’s sense of design and presentation is unparalleled (except by maybe Brian Wood), especially in the title pages of Manhattan Projects or East of West which make each book feel like its own event. Sublime.
Five Weapons Book Three: Joon the Loon and Darryl the Arrow, Jimmie Robinson, Image Comics, Shadowline
I introduced this series a couple of weeks ago and have since read and enjoyed its second issue too. This third book sees our plucky hero ‘Tyler’ overcome Rick the Stick from issue two’s cliff-hanger and we’re properly introduced to the titular characters too. Joon is a wacky member of the exotic weapons club, utilised by school’s facility to work out how to best Tyler and Darryl is another arrogant leader of a school club with his eye on Tyler’s object of affection, Jade.
Whilst I enjoyed the first two books in this limited series, Robinson’s writing in this latest edition has noticeably dropped in quality. The dialogue has become a little less naturalistic, the latest characters to be introduced don’t feel as ‘complete’ as in previous issues and the plotline of this particular book is a little muddled. This is a real shame, as Five Weapons has previously been a fun palate-cleanser, a welcome mood-lifter from the usual introspective, gloomy predisposition of so many comics. That’s not to say it’s become rubbish all of a sudden, but a noticeable drop in quality is hard to overlook. Still, I have high hopes for the concluding two issues and will definitely be picking them up – I just hope this is a mid-season lull rather than a definite decline.
East of West #2, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Image Comics
More Hickman in this hotly tipped new series, set in another alternative history America. Last ish saw us introduced to Death, who killed the US President. This issue sees the other horsemen of the apocalypse systematically killing off the next in lines for presidency until they reach a candidate that they approve of. Meanwhile Death meets with a mysterious fella from his past that looks like Colonel Sanders.
It’s difficult to judge exactly how good East of West really is – so much is left obscured and opaque as of yet. Issue two felt less of a challenge to understand; I had to read the first twice before I really clicked with what was happening, but just the one read through sufficed for now with this one. I have no problem with a complex narrative and if that means I have to spend more time with a book than others, then in many ways that’s all to the good. Still, I feel like we’re still very much in the set up stages with this series, so whilst I’m certainly curious about where it’s going and will continue reading, I’m reluctant to give it a whole-hearted recommendation. I was bitten by X-Men recently, which was full of potential but failed to go anywhere. I don’t get the impression this is what East of West will do, but I’ve resolved to make a judgement call after six issues or so as to whether to continue with it or not. It’s got the potential to be brilliant however, so for now I’m glad to be along for the ride.
Mark’s Take: I’m pretty much on the same page as Jack – it’s hard to determine the future quality of East of West when the central mysteries and characters are still being set up. Those familiar with Hickman’s previous work on Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors will know he’s a fan of drawn-out narratives and clandestine, Illuminati-type groups in a constant struggle for power (see: Manhattan Projects) and this seems no different bar the fact that he’s no longer constrained by editorial mandates or previously established characters, which is pretty exciting.
Issues #1 & 2 both took a couple of read-throughs and many page-comparisons to get through, but that’s far from a criticism – one of the things that makes comics unique is the ability to flick back and forth between scenes in order to really delve into the nuance and subtle details of panels. It’s interesting to think that if this were a pilot for a TV show it’d never get commissioned; not only would its colossal towers and robot-bug-horses be far too expensive for the small screen, but execs would likely deem it too dense with plot for a passive audience.
Sequential art is the perfect home for it, then, a point driven home by Nick Dragotta’s highly detailed, vibrant art (ably assisted by Frank Martin’s striking colours) that really makes us believe in the world he and Hickman have created and makes some of the murkier plottage (yes, I made a word up, so what?) easier to swallow.
Morning Glories #26, Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma, Image Comics
Ah, Morning Glories. Without a doubt, this has to be amongst my very favourite on-going titles. As such, it’s brilliant to read this issue, the launch of the title’s ‘second season’. It feels appropriate that the book is titled as such, as Morning Glories does share the zippy, well-polished and addictive qualities of the best of modern episodic television, most notably Lost, to which MG frequently refers.
This issue – priced at just $1, bargain fans – sees the long awaited return of lead character Casey to the narrative and explores the wacky crap she’s been getting up to during her absence. It’s as intricate and leftfield as we’ve come to expect from the series (if you can really expect the leftfield) but the focus on a single character makes for a big improvement over last month’s effluence hitting the fan melange.
Eisma’s art is as gorgeous as ever and an extended dialogue-free montage really allows you to appreciate just how good it is. Granted, we’re going to need more answers than questions soon, but for now, Morning Glories really feels very special and it’s exciting to be part of it.
Mark’s Take: I haven’t read Morning Glories, but I did see Nick Spencer participate in a couple of panels at last year’s Thought Bubble in Leeds, and he seems like a pretty cool guy. That and Jack’s consistent enthusiasm for the series has convinced me to give the first volume a try, which is a testament to what I think of Jack’s taste.
Jupiter’s Legacy #1, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Image Comics (Mark)
I’m going to be up front with you: I think Mark Millar’s kind of a hack. I loved his earlier superhero work – especially the sublime Ultimates, which really modernised the mainstream and popularised ‘widescreen comics’ – but ever since then it’s felt like he’s been parodying his own work. Kick-Ass was an interesting concept and a great first couple of issues marred by a totally conventional ending and dumb violence, Old Man Logan felt like well-drawn but ultimately masturbatory fan-fiction and his run on Fantastic Four was the dullest, most predictable ‘blockbuster’ comic I’ve ever read, and Bryan Hitch’s phoned-in art told me that he probably felt the same way too.
…Sorry about that. I just felt like I needed to get it off my chest.
So why the hell did I buy a Millar comic? Because Frank Quitely drew it, that’s why. I’ve never not enjoyed a book that had Quitely art in it and figured he might be able to lift the writer’s work above the usual piss-poor dialogue and unimaginative storytelling. I mean, this is the guy who brought us We3, New X-Men and All-Star Superman. It didn’t hurt that Grant Morrison wrote those comics, but Quitely constantly elevates things to a new level.
What of Jupiter’s Legacy, then? Did he bring his A-game to Millar’s tale of the damaged, self-absorbed children of world-famous superheroes who forever live in the shadow of their parents? Well, Quitely’s fine, crinkly linework is always a pleasure to behold, even when all he’s illustrating is a bunch of people standing around yakking. It’s just that that’s pretty much all that happens in this first issue, even in the book’s sole action sequence. The book’s premise is hand-fed to us by the characters so that we’re certain never to miss the point of a scene, but it still doesn’t feel like we’re getting much of a story. To Millar’s credit the comic begins by posing a somewhat intriguing mystery but any goodwill is sapped by the awkward final pages and his irritating desire for cheap splash pages that are given far more gravity than they deserve. There is one moment of invention from Quitely, a sketchy interpretation of psychic imprisonment, that made for much more of a compelling read, but there weren’t nearly enough of these moments.
So will I buy the next issue? Probably, but I’m masochistic like that. I’m hoping the central dramatic questions will become a little more defined (not to mention interesting), the dialogue less clunky and Frank Quitely given much, much more to do.