Hey gang, Mark here. Jack’s on holiday this week so I’ll be covering for him this and next week and then adding my own two cents to his ten dollars. I’ll try not to mess up the furniture arrangement.
Saga #12, Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Image
Saga is always exceptional, and this week is no exception. With this issue they finish up the second story arc and their first year (happy anniversary, guys!) with a look at the series’ most disturbed antagonist, Prince Robot IV, as he arrives on a distant planet to investigate a lead from earlier on. This is largely a two-hander as His Highness probes intergalactic novelist D. Oswald Heist’s literary pacifism and the possibility that everybody’s favourite crossbreeders Alana and Marko might want to pay him a visit.
The book’s mix of heartbreaking flashback, rising tension and dry, writerly self-deprecation from Heist mean the pace never lets up even as not a great deal happens plot-wise, aside from the set-up for the next arc which more or less takes place on the very last page. Saga does an excellent job of carrying the story even when it spends the odd issue or two bringing us up to speed on the supporting cast and never once feeling like it’s treading water. Oh, and it’s pretty much the king of cliffhangers.
Hawkeye #9, Matt Fraction & David Aja, Marvel
It felt only fitting to mention everyone’s favourite Hawkguy after Jack’s comments on #1 last time – and it doesn’t hurt that #9 is just a great comic, albeit probably not the best introduction to the series for new readers. Despite the book’s flexible policy of ‘done-in-one’ stories, #9 picks up some threads (and panels) from a couple of previous issues and employs Matt Fraction and David Aja’s penchant for non-linear structure they’ve displayed previously, though this time with a twist (and guided beautifully by colourist Matt Hollingsworth’s subtle palette changes).
While all that might sound horribly convoluted and painful to read, Fraction and Aja pull off yet again the trick of creating a rich, dramatic and dynamic story with flecks of ’70s thrillers, romance, crime and plenty of humour thrown in for good measure, and all before a gut-punch of a shock ending that, instead of going directly against the regular tone of the book, feels like exactly the progression we’ve been edging toward for a couple of issues. Oh, and there are a pair of goons drawn like Charles Bronson (the actor) and Charles Bronson (the prisoner) who get beaten up by Kate Bishop. Kate Bishop is awesome. ‘Nuff said.
(Though if you want a little more depth and irreverent humour you should check out Fraction’s Hawkeye #9 walkthrough on his Tumblr.)
Uncanny X-Men #4, Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Marvel
I promised myself this wouldn’t be all fawning praise (who wants to read that?), so here goes: Uncanny X-Men #4 was complete and utter meh. Not a damning indictment, but I don’t have the issue to hand and I’m struggling to remember its content.
Oh yeah – Cyclops’ team of ‘revolutionary’ X-Men head to Logan’s school to recruit some newbies and Emma Frost gets psychically schooled by her former proteges the Stepford Cuckoos. That’s about it. There are some hi-larious hi-jinks with some new mutant teens back at the base, but Brian Bendis writes everyone as a teenager so it’s hard to differentiate. I’m having the same trouble with this book as Jack had with All New X-Men: the concept is interesting, but there’s just no forward momentum to the plot and, while I like the bulk of cast of each series, I just don’t recognise them in these pages. Bendis got a chance to define the Avengers for more or less a generation, and I think he did a fine job, but it seems like he thinks he can approach the X-Men the same way and forget swathes of character history just to fit his story and (yeah, I’ll say it) frankly tiresome dialogue. Chris Bachalo’s art is the main reason I’m buying Uncanny, and it’s hyperactively brilliant as usual, but with him leaving for the next few issues, I’m hoping for a pretty convincing reason.
Star Wars #4, Brian Wood & Carlos D’Anda, Dark Horse
Now onto beloved characters done right for a change: Star Wars #4 might be the best issue so far. With Leia’s black ops X-Wing team initiated and Darth Vader relocated to the second Death Star, the post-New Hope story really feels like it’s getting into full swing. Wood treats us to moments both iconic (Vader bringing an uncooperative subordinate to a sharp end, Leia’s squad diving headfirst into a stream of TIE Interceptors) and and relatively fresh (Luke romantically involved with a girl that isn’t a blood relative!), in addition to strengthening Leia’s myriad key roles in the Alliance and really giving the courage and fortitude we all knew was there in the movies but never really got to see a chance to shine here.
Carlos D’Anda’s art gets better each issue, with his familiar characters striking a resemblance without falling into portraiture and newer faces remaining memorable. With D’Anda and the recent news that Wood’s Local collaborator and Saucer Country artist Ryan Kelly will be joining the book for an arc come issue #7, there really is no reason not to be picking up Star Wars if you’re a fan.
Fantastic Four #6, Matt Fraction & Mark Bagley, Marvel
Some last Fraction love to end with, as I think this deserves a special mention. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the WORLD’S GREATEST COMICS MAGAZINE aside from Jonathan Hickman’s recent run, I do appreciate their unique dynamic and am usually willing to give them a shot. Fantastic Four‘s sister book FF really hit the ground running, Matt Fraction’s humour and rose-tinted perspective on ancient continuity that I know little to zero about and Michael Allred’s ever-charming figures never failing to put a smile on my face, whereas the main comic took a few issues to really gear up and let us know what kind of story this is going to be.
And what a story this is. Again, Fraction’s doing one-shot stories, but with a cosmic twist, and in #6 we’re heading back to the Big Bang so Reed can show his kids Frank and Val what the creation of a universe looks like. They find an unexpected prisoner trapped there, however, and chaos (as ever) ensues. While the revealed villain is a little underwhelming, that’s not what the FF is about – it’s about marrying a love of science and a love for humanity’s ideals into shaping a world that’s better for our kids so they can be better people in it. And that’s no clearer in any issue than it is in this one.