Crossed + One Hundred 12 (November 2015)

crossedonehundred12Six issues into the Simon Spurrier run, Future Taylor is undergoing unexpected adaptions to life that echo what Alan Moore put her through at the conclusion of his initial arc. The difference is that small surprises of this busy installment aren’t as shattering as the gradually revealed unknown unknown of Bosol’s prophecy, they’re the logical tipping points of every development since then. The most gripping turns are within Future herself. Her exhaustion is forcing some radical choices and it’s some of her most significant character development in the entire series. All her decisions feel like the natural results of who we’ve know her to be, combining with where the story has taken her. It’s incredibly satisfying and occasionally startling.

There’s a combat scene towards the end which echoes, perhaps unintentionally, a very similar sequence at the climax of Garth Ennis’ original Crossed wherein the protagonists are, at least momentarily, relieved of all their pain through the simple satisfaction of killing their hated enemies. The war may go on forever, but if battles can still be decisively won then the struggle has not been in vain. Spurrier and Rafael Ortiz convey all that in a few panels where Ennis and Jacen Burrows took a page of internal narration, which isn’t to say that they did it better, rather that they’ve successfully harkened back to a very Ennis-esque emotional peak within the context of Alan Moore’s spinoff from his original concept.

Ortiz is maybe the best artist for Crossed + One Hundred since Gabriel Andrade, for all the opposite reasons. Andrade illustrated the post-apocalypse with technical skill that made you believe in the world’s details, Ortiz goes for the rickety chaos of life post-sacking-of-Chooga. You feel the desperation and turbulence in everyone’s faces. He can also stage elaborate action scenes. Both are heavily required at this point in the story and he absolutely delivers. It’s thrilling how Spurrier and Moore constructed all the drama that’s transpired to build up into these simultaneous interpersonal and external conflicts. I would never recommend jumping into this series from anywhere except the very start, but you could do worse than here.

If I recall correctly, this is the first issue not to identify, via Future, the wishful fiction novel from whose title each issue is borrowed. “Behold The Man” is – according to our own pre-surprise Wi-Fi Encyclopedia, Wikipedia – a 1966 novella by Michael Moorcock, in which a time traveller with a messiah complex meets Jesus of Nazareth and it turns out he’s not the messiah, just a very naughty boy. So the time traveller takes his place, effectively becoming the legend. Beyond the classic sci-fi trope of a predestination paradox, it’s a very Alan Moorish kind of story, speaking to the idea that the meaning of life is storytelling. I don’t skull the connection to the events of this particular Crossed + One Hundred chapter but it’s worth noting that Moorcock was an avowed anarchist and the tactical limits of pacifist religion have very much become a focus in this comic. The loss of blind faith and forging of a more pragmatic one may have something to do with it. Or it may all hinge on the last-page cliffhanger revelation of a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; series outline, Alan Moore; artist, Rafa Ortiz; colorist, Digikore Studios; lettering, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

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Code Pru 1 (December 2015)

Code Pru is that traditional college tale of the four girls rooming together and one of them invokes an Elder God to bring about the end of the world. Because another girl, the tech girl, is mean to the magic cult leader girl. Standard stuff.

It’s accessible–writer Garth Ennis never goes too far, he never gets mean in his humor–and it’s likable. Ennis is conveying a mood of affable misanthropy. No one’s perfect, so let’s laugh at everyone. It’s a nice, showy approach. All of the roommates–except the mean girl leader–get some solid characterization, especially tech girl, who’s ostensibly the lead (she’s Pru). But the other two as well. Ennis is showing off. He’s strutting.

Of course, it wouldn’t work with the wrong art so Ennis has something to strut about given Raulo Caceres’s gorgeously creepy, but never gross, black and white artwork. Caceres has some problems with detail from time to time, but he knows how to make them immaterial against the style. His style is key.

Because Code Pru has to be scary but not unpleasantly scary. Even the Elder God–see, I wasn’t kidding, it’s this Lovecraftian thing because, obviously, Avatar–even the Elder God is kind of okay looking. Pleasant looking.

It’s funny, it’s creepy, it’s awesome. Awesome work from Ennis and Caceres.

CREDITS

What’s Past is Prologue; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 15 (December 2015)

War Stories #15

I didn’t want to read this issue of War Stories. Not specifically. I mean, I didn’t really care about finishing up this stupid American flier arc where Ennis doesn’t want to tell the story of the action hero. It’s a weird version of a Technicolor fifties war movie, only without a love interest and the narrator doesn’t have a good story for himself. I just didn’t want to read an issue of War Stories where Ennis writes terrible narration.

And he does terrible narration for this issue. The doctor waxes poetic, like a trailer to The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan even. Ennis’s narration sounds trite. The entire arc’s been a hurried mess, but it’s like there are whole missing pieces. The story of the actual flier, the subject of the arc, gets incomprehensibly muddled. Maybe because Aira’s faces are so bad. He draws people so ugly, you don’t even want to look at them (seriously, it’s like something out of Providence), so you rush through the talking heads. It’s fine, because it’s all historical exposition. Ennis could have thrown in some actual charts and had it be more dramatically authentic.

War Stories can be the low budget passion project of the otherwise successful brand (Garth Ennis). But not if Ennis, the writer, can’t muster the enthusiasm to care about it. He should have just alternated arcs with another writer (or writers). It would’ve been better for the brand and it would’ve been better for the book.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part Three: Sun-Setter; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Providence 6 (October 2015)

Providence #6

Moore is such a show-off. He really does manage to include the reader in the appreciation of his deft moves. It’s that eighties vibe. Look what we’re going to do, me by writing, you by reading. Moore makes Providence feel like he’s just coming up with it after every scene change. It’s stream of consciousness only it can’t be.

The main part of the story has some really creepy art from Burrows–after an awesome open with Robert in a presumably dangerous situation–as Robert reads. A lot of the comic is about someone reading. And the read material doesn’t factor in. It’s all about the visual pacing. Moore talks about the read material at length in the back matter, which works beautifully.

There’s a big awful, amazing scene in the last few pages. Robert finds out what’s going on. Some of it. Only it’s not the stuff the reader already knew about, the stuff Robert is too oblivious to notice. It’s big Providence stuff, showing Moore definitely has something in mind for the entire series.

It’s so good. Moore finds a way to make horror incredibly accessible, not too gory, and infinitely disturbing. With Burrows’s able assistance, of course.

CREDITS

Out of Time; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 14 (October 2015)

War Stories #14

This issue is a combination of fighter action and talking heads. And Ennis doesn’t have much to say with either of them. He’s doing a history lesson about the U.S. bombing runs on Japan. Nothing else. His characters don’t matter; he doesn’t even try to keep them straight. All they say is exposition. They don’t need to be distinct.

Aira’s art is better, as far as detail, on the fighter battles. Not in terms of composition. In terms of composition, he’s doing all right with the talking heads. Just not on the detail. But the last third of the issue is an air battle full of intrigue and disaster and Aira can’t break any of it out.

Maybe the most frustrating thing about War Stories–when it isn’t good–is how much Ennis throws at Aira without any acknowledgement of the artist’s strengths and weaknesses. War Stories is into its second year. Aira’s been on the book for a long time. Ennis is completely checked out with the final air battle, which is incredibly important visually (and should’ve been the whole comic with flashback inserts), just so he can get to his history lesson in the closing narration.

War Stories, with a real editor, could be consistently spectacular. Instead, it’s just frequently exasperating.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part Two: Black Friday; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 11 (October 2015)

crossed100-11reg-600x928‘Slims, churchface surprises, a refugee crisis with possible in-filled-traitors. Crossed +100 is the most satirically relevant dystopic sci-fi of modern times that no-one is reading because it’s a comic book. A lot more will read Frank Miller’s oncoming Dark Knight III: The Master Race (myself included) which will doubtlessly contain a lot of heavy handed, big-fisted references to the state of world affairs. Alan Moore’s funhouse mirror to our clash of civilizations leads the reader to reconsider recent events – chiefly the proliferation of barbarism and resulting struggle to defend ourselves without losing human decency – through the disarmingly pulpy prism of the Crossed franchise. The clever conceit of Garth Ennis’ original story was to make the zombie apocalypse subgenre more human and therefore scarier. This spinoff’s logical next step of evolving the Crossed as an organized force of religious terrorism is so uncannily relatable and disturbing as to not only render the old George Romero films kind of quaint by comparison (which Ennis’ original run did a pretty good job of anyways) but to also dissipate any suspense within the flagship series Crossed: Badlands. No wonder Kieron Gillen’s recent arc Homo Tortor was set set in the ancient past, essentially Crossed Minus Seventy-Five Thousand.

Actually talking about issue 11 now; life amongst the survivalers has hit the tipping point where Future’s warnings can’t be ignored any longer. There’s been a back and forth between installments in seeing her go out to learn more about the Salt-Crossed’s moves, then fruitlessly reporting back her findings to Murfreesboro. This is the chapter when the situation finds its way back with her, and it’s not the attackers but the wounded who are banging at the doors. Rafa Ortiz’s sketchy, thin-lined art is wholly suited to depicting the poor and tired huddled masses, while consternation grows amongst the settled. What’s slightly off is that sometimes his character’s faces will appear rushed or haphazardly constructed in some panels, and then become amazingly, painstakingly detailed on the very next page. Halfway through the comic Si Spurrier writes a terrific dialogue between Future and Mustaqba, wherein Ortiz gives Fewch kind of a goofy “angry” face at the start. By the scene’s climax she has one of the most startlingly withered looks of desperation in the entire series so far. Despite that occasional unevenness, Ortiz turns in great work throughout on a challenging variety of scenes: refugee crowds, flashbacks to battle, another heated argument between Future and Ima’am Fajr. There’s also a mysterious and imposing new character who may or may not be another Robbie Greer / Jokemercy.

If we’re still allowed to read comic books a hundred years from now we might be studying Crossed + One Hundred, not necessarily for storytelling technique but as a record of how contemporary fears are more honestly dramatized under the mainstream radar by less genteel entertainments – horror movies, sure, but now also horror comics.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Rafa Ortiz; colorist, Digikore Studios; lettering, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 10 (September 2015)

crossed one hundred 10It took me two readings of this issue to realize why it feels like the shortest in the series thus far: terse dialogue between two peoples, the Crossed and the non, is made twice as terse by the rules of Alan Moore’s debilitated future English. Nearly half the pages are an excruciatingly tense standoff between Future and the camp she and her exploratory party stumbled upon, and new info gleaned about the Salt-Crossed is kept in line with Moore & Spurrier’s highly disciplined rationing of revelations across the second arc. Spurrier’s ear for dialogue might actually be better amongst the Salt-Crossed and their sickly lower-tier classes than Future and her fellow survivalers. The introduction of uncrossed humans indoctrinated as servants to the empire of Bosol is a harrowing, barely fictionalized snapshot of how slave mentality continues to function when the slave masters are away.

The only downside to this excellent scene is that it takes so little time to read, there’s barely any story left in the remaining pages. I actually went back and counted them, thinking I’d been short-changed from the usual 22. A heavy firefight action bit in the middle section also sped up the pacing. Since it’s all in greater service of the plot rather than gratuitous pandering, however, you can’t really complain.

Of equal weight to new developments in Future’s adventures, Crossed +One Hundred now has a third artist in the fold: Rafa Ortiz, who’s apparently done prior work elsewhere in the CCU (Crossed Comics Universe.) The changeover from Fernando Heinz is a mixed bag. Though his skills aren’t equal to Gabriel Andrade’s, his character acting still strives towards a comparable level of realism rather than manga-inspired rendering. The grit is back. But man-oh-man, there are two panels that are just BLATANTLY re-used near the beginning of that confrontation sequence, abruptly jerking you right out of the moment. They actually almost mirror each other across the two-page spread, it’s kind of impossible to ignore. Not sure if that’s Avatar’s fault or his – both this and the previous issue are dated for September, what was the big rush?

Hopefully we don’t see that kind of sloppiness again. Especially since Ortiz proves himself otherwise capable throughout his debut installment, both at staging action and depicting complicated outdoor crowd scenes, as he does on the final page. Those two aspects will doubtless become more critical as the saga continues simmering to a boil.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Rafa Ortiz; colorist, Digikore Studios; lettering, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 13 (September 2015)

War Stories #13

Garth Ennis is on it for War Stories this arc. It’s Ennis doing American soldiers in World War II; if there’s a war movie genre standard, it’s the World War II setting, from the American perspective. At least as far as English language World War II movies go.

But I don’t think Ennis has ever done one of these stories. At least not one about American fliers–it’s almost like Ennis is doing populist. He’s doing accessible. There might even be a reference to Pearl Harbor assuming the reader is familiar with it due to the movie. Strange coming from Ennis, strange on War Stories.

It’s really good. Ennis does accessible really well. Ennis trying to invite new readers instead of put them off? He doesn’t do it often, frankly. So seeing him be so welcoming is strange. But excellent. Ennis might not have the enthusiasm for the subject–that searching exploration he sometimes does with War Stories–but he does have enthusiasm for his skills and his narrative authority. He likes being able to tell a good war story. As he should.

As for the art. Tomas Aira gets away with a bit because the setting–fliers doing attack runs from Iwo Jima to Tokyo–is so striking. He doesn’t do well with the faces, which just shows the skillfulness of Ennis’s dialogue, because the talking heads scenes in the issue are phenomenal.

It’s so good. Even though War Stories has its missteps, Ennis needs to have this outlet as a creator. The comic book medium needs him to have this outlet.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part One: Yardbirds; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 9 (September 2015)

Crossed One Hundred 9Like Alan Moore, Spurrier respects the value of a single issue. There’s a substantial amount of plot development in this one, with reading time expanded by the process of deciphering future-speak, at which Spurrier is gradually getting better and more clever. Fernando Heinz’s art still occasionally does the characters a disservice with distractingly cartoonish facial expressions during tough, emotional scenes, but his panel compositions are rock solid, as are his crowd scenes and backgrounds. There’s a flashy two-page splash reveal near the beginning, which is really nice to pause on and explore. Spurrier is also working in conjunction with Heinz in more creative ways; using flashbacks, panel breaks within static angles, internal thought balloon counterpoints and other cool tricks.

What Spurrier and Moore achieve with Crossed+One Hundred number 9 is that like the previous issue’s unsettling new angle on the strategies of the Salt-Crossed, this one raises unpleasant questions about the limitations of religious leadership in the post-apocalypse. Moore’s introduction of the ‘Slims as the last surviving faith after The Surprise in his original arc was one of the more brilliant details, and now this second arc is addressing the implications. The casual homosexuality and female leadership have already been touched upon as plusses for a formerly repressive religion made pluralistic by necessity, but now Future is hitting the glass ceiling when she needs Murfreesboro’s help the most: her hair’s in a scarf, not a full hijab. They’re only going to listen to and respect someone so much who isn’t a member of the faith, ditto Cautious. There’s an arrogant trust in God’s benevolence that everything will work out, keeping them from heeding their warnings. Meanwhile, that other faith-based organization of the post-Surprise world – who have no qualms about reproducing images of their prophet – are employing Dark Ages tactics of proselytization, Taqiyya and Jizya with expert efficacy.

The thought-provoking satirical details of this theocratic in-fighting are unfortunately at a slight cost to the logic of the story: Future finally has evidence, VIDEO evidence of the Salt-Crossed working their unholy plans, and she still can’t rally everyone together yet? It was already a stretch to accept that Murfreesboro wouldn’t listen to her about what REALLY happened to Chooga, and write it off as some freak incident of unpreparedness against a breakout from within, or attack from outside, by run-of-the-mill churchface illbillies. Chooga wasn’t just some two-bit settle, you’d think they’d afford Future and Cautious some credit as the only surviving witnesses. But they’re women – and infidel women at that – so perhaps that’s the point.

It’s totally forgivable for the overall quality of the package, including a disturbing new revelation about the Salt-Crossed’s social castes, which leads into a great cliffhanger.

Crossed + 100 continues to impress.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Fernando Heinz; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

Providence 5 (September 2015)

Providence #5

This issue of Providence has the creepiest experience for protagonist Robert Black yet–and he still isn’t getting his precarious situations. Moore brings in some other Lovecraftian elements I recognize–a toxic meteor and a peculiar fellow working in a university’s medical department–and I imagine the big twist for Robert Black, dream sequence or not, is out of a Lovecraft story.

At five issues, however, Moore and Burrows have successfully reached a point where the homage is tertiary. Black’s story, how Moore is positioning the comic as both a comic and a literary work–I think the back matter this issue takes longer to read than the front matter–those elements are what makes Providence such significant work. The Lovecraft stuff is the questionably necessary MacGuffin.

Providence is a mystery, but one where the protagonist is blissfully unaware (even after this issue) of the dangerous situations his ignorance lands him in. It gives Moore the chance to be funny while still preparing the reader to be terrified.

The contrast between the scenes as realized by Burrows and how Moore presents them in the protagonist’s diary is, as always, wonderful and disquieting. The scariest part this issue comes in the prose back matter. I’m not sure if Moore and Burrows are lulling me or not, but the idea of first person fear over third person is an engaging one.

CREDITS

In the Walls; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 8 (August 2015)

crossedonehundred8The good news of Crossed + One Hundred number eight is that the story does has someplace to go. Alan Moore’s “Series Outline” credit has been proven creditable, and the new arc is shaping up in a logical way to the groundwork laid out in volume one. Simon Spurrier’s future-English dialogue is still not as diabolically punny as Moore, but he’s playing around with some new details. This issue spends time with a new character’s dialect that’s a mishmash of Bostonian and Jersey twang. There’s also a monologue from one of the Salt-Crossed, probably the longest speech we’ve heard from any of them, and it reads how you’d hope it would: brutal, scary. After their near-absence in issue seven, Moore seems to have figured out how to continue revealing their insanity gradually, to maintain the creep factor.

That monologue reveals an important new plot point, which is also the turning point where Crossed + One Hundred justifies its ongoing existence. The Salt-Crossed’s organizational skills open up a whole new slew of dramatic possibilities, based on what is actually a fairly unique sci-fi/horror hybrid idea: if a burgeoning civilization were centered around the celebration of sadism, how could such a civilization function? The question slightly nudges the franchise out of the realm of pure horror and into a more philosophical kind of terror that’s not exactly a zombie tale any longer. It’s more akin to 1984, The Man in the High Castle or The Handmaid’s Tale, where the horror comes from contemplating the ruthlessness of an insane society. Future Taylor isn’t nearly as fucked as Winston Smith or even Evey from Moore’s V For Vendetta, but she’s got her work cut out for her in trying to stem the rising tides of Salt water.

Spurrier’s scripting, besides the adequate continuation of the future-speak, is not as good as Moore’s in terms of panel and page pacing, but come on. Whose is? The highlight once again is his bookending of Future’s latest sci-fi book review around her situation at hand.

The only missing component from the equation is, once again, Fernando Heinz’s art. The technical skills are mostly there – despite one distracting perspective problem on the opening splash page which makes a character appear armless, he actually nails a lot of tricky angles from high aerial perspectives as Future travels around by hot air balloon.  But his particular manga-influenced style is just too unserious. Future still looks weirdly younger than she did in the first arc, despite it taking place a year after the taking of Chooga and characters occasionally just look cute. One of the Crossed, leering maniacally, vaguely resembles a heavy from Dragonball Z. Even Future’s expressions of fear are a little too aesthetically appealing. It doesn’t ruin the whole package, but undermines the moments of grave seriousness.

Despite the aesthetic setback, Crossed + One Hundred is still compelling reading.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Fernando Heinz; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 12 (August 2015)

War Stories #12

When I said this story should have been two issues instead of three, I was wrong. Our Wild Geese Go should’ve been a one shot. I don’t even have the energy to talk about Aira’s artwork, which is simultaneously too fine and too rough for the story. It’s talking heads again, with a couple of the lads in Dutch with the Nazis.

They get away though. It’s not much of a spoiler because their captivity isn’t particularly dramatic. Nothing in the issue’s dramatic. Ennis is just trying to get to the conclusion, which is about the Irish soldiers coming into their own in a way. In a way he could have done much better in one issue without a mildly ludicrous subplot.

All War Stories has got is Ennis. The book isn’t a collaboration between him and Aira. It’s Ennis. Would it be better as a collaboration? Maybe. He might have been able to get away with this story arc if he’d had an artist who could emote through the art, who could sway the reader. It’s not Aira.

The issue–and this story arc–just shows how desperately editors are needed in indie books.

CREDITS

Our Wild Geese Go, Part Three: One by One We’re All Becoming Shades; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Providence 4 (August 2015)

Providence #4

Unsurprisingly, Providence continues to impress, but–and maybe surprisingly–this issue doesn’t up the ante much as far as terrifying the reader. There are Lovecraftian elements around and there’s almost realization from the narrator in this issue’s back matter (which has Moore’s most obvious attempt at telling the reader to pay attention; he does it well and necessarily), but it’s not exactly scary.

Moore’s suspects–the players in the story–aren’t particularly dangerous as of yet. Maybe because they say they aren’t dangerous to the narrator, who’s just a visitor in their stories, not a participant or person of consequence, or maybe because they show concern. Moore’s doing a lot with the idea of town and country with Providence–which is somewhat strange, given the history and look at how people are treated differently is for New Englanders, not the British. It’s just his dedication to the project.

Reading the lengthy back matter, one has to wonder how much of it will eventually matter and how much of it is just Moore doing his job. He’s making Providence a filling read for its audience. He’s respectful of the reader’s time, respectful of the reader’s attention.

It’s an awesome, mellow comic. The one horror Moore does imply is so outrageous, one can’t truly fathom it so why try. Plus, Moore tells the reader not to try fathoming it. Subtly, but forcefully.

CREDITS

White Apes; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Providence 3 (July 2015)

Providence #3

It’s so good. It’s so painfully good. Not just in how Moore gets to all the somewhat familiar Lovecraft moments. Again, the disclaimer–I haven’t read Lovecraft, just read or seen Lovecraft-inspired stuff–so when I recognize something, it’s because it looks like In the Mouth of Madness all of a sudden.

But Burrows goes away from the traditional 1920s cities to a rural town, which raises these questions about how things are going to develop. Moore’s script, Burrows’s visuals, they engage the reader to ask more theoretical questions. If Moore’s actually doing some kind of “prequel” to Neonomicon (which is fast getting to be the dividing point in Moore’s post-ABC career, from Top Shelf eccentric to redefining horror comics), how much does it connect? Is it an actual connection or just Moore enthusiastically showing off tonal connections for the equally enthused Moore reader?

Of course, Moore never makes it feel like a fan club newsletter. His connection with fandom, just as it was back in the Swamp Thing days, puts craft and work above all else. Story, both in writing and in art, is king.

So, as a comic, Providence is great.

Except it’s not just a comic because Moore’s got more of the protagonist’s diary (in prose). The comic’s third person, the diary is first person. The differences, which Moore still somewhat uses to shock but not much… well, those differences change Providence again. Moore’s not satisfied with making “horror comics” a real genre, he needs to break it into an entirely different genre.

And never makes it seem like showing off.

CREDITS

A Lurking Fear; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 7 (July 2015)

crossed100-7Simon Spurrier isn’t the first writer to have to fill Alan Moore’s shoes on a title, but I can’t recall another writer having to do it quite so immediately, with such an urgency to validate himself. Swamp Thing had a history before Moore, Before Watchmen was done years after the original, and Tom Strong was way more than six issues in before anyone else had to take over. Spurrier’s no slouch; his Wish You Were Here series for the Crossed franchise was about on par with any of Garth Ennis’ arcs. Moore also gave his blessing in interviews, and claimed to have bequeathed extensive notes for the furtherance of the series – which apparently must be true because while Spurrier has the “story” credit, Moore is credited for “Series Outline,” whatever that entails. Still, hardly an enviable position.

Issue seven isn’t an oh-eight level surprise, just mediocre. Gabriel Andrade has been replaced with Fernando Heinz, whose manga influenced style makes Future Taylor look like she’s fifteen. She gets action lines during an emotional outburst in one panel, there’s gratuitous ass shots, a child in a crowd scene looks like he fell out of a Tokyopop book and another ‘Slim looks like Spike Spiegel. It’s all professionally rendered, but tonally inconsistent with Andrade’s designs – it feels less serious, more cartoonish. The coloring helps. Digikore Studios continues their fine work, keeping the bleakly naturalistic palette entirely consistent with what’s come before.

Spurrier’s writing is the big relief. Moore’s amazing post-apocalypse diction created for + One Hundred has more or less been maintained, with all the impish wordplay and a few funny new malapropisms. And but it’s hard to skull if you’ve audied the vernacular so closely now, you’re just used to it, or if Spurrier’s writing it a little easier to read for the first-timers. That’s a fuck possible, since the issue’s biggest problem is that nothing happens. He’s writing for the trade, for volume 2. Future does a big recap of the last issue, and Murfreesboro does a defense drill against a potential churchface attack. Some of them show up at the very end, basically just to realize that Keller lied; Future’s still alive. It actually pales in comparison to an early bit of casual, highly blasphemous worldbuilding about ‘Slim life in Murfreesboro. After so much masterful suspense built up around the revelation of the Bo Salt Crossed tribe, all I want now is to see more of them, but this issue is still just teasing.

Carrying on Moore’s literary studies theme, Spurrier bookends the issue with Future’s take on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, certainly a sci-fi book more comparable to her own situation than any of the wishful fictions Moore referenced in the initial arc. She acknowledges one of the genre details which Ennis has publicly cited as inspiration for Crossed, that all zombies and vampires can only be so scary if they have well-known exploitable weaknesses. She also acknowledges the similarity of the novel’s twist ending to Moore’s own twist conclusion from the previous issue. It’s thoughtful but almost too deconstructive of itself.

Despite being merely competent + One Issue after Moore, the Fewch of Crossed + One Hundred may still be worth an opsy.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Fernando Heinz; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 11 (July 2015)

War Stories #11

I wish Ennis had two parters and three parters in War Stories, because this arc–Our Wild Geese Go–doesn’t need three issues. Most of this issue has the big reveal talking to the closest thing to the arc’s protagonist (if only because he has an antagonist). Talking heads in the forest. Aira doesn’t do well with it. It seems like he’s trying to keep up with all the faces, but by the time the cliffhanger arrives… he’s lost track.

Of course, Ennis has kind of lost track too, which is why this arc would’ve been better at two issues. Ennis has a gimmick–that reveal–and once he shows his hands with it, everything in the comic becomes rather obvious, including the cliffhanger.

The gimmick itself, which I’m trying not to spoil, is a fine enough punchline for a certain type of story. Sadly, Ennis isn’t telling that story.

CREDITS

Our Wild Geese Go, Part Two: Falling Faintly Through the Universe; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 6 (June 2015)

Crossed + One Hundred #6

Reading the last issue of this arc (as I guess it’s continuing somehow), I couldn’t stop thinking about the finale of Garth Ennis’s original Crossed run. How he mixed humanity with desperation without exactly going for sympathy.

Moore does something similar with this issue. It’s not the unimaginable horror show the quiets in the series promised, however. It’s a Crossed horror show to be sure, but it’s not unimaginable. Moore and Andrade concentrate on the story, they concentrate on the explorers as they’ve been doing. These characters don’t see it as a horror show; it’s life. The trick is how Moore and Andrade work the reader’s perspective without desensitizing.

+ One Hundred has always been a strange concept–Alan Moore doing a special series of an Avatar franchise. The finale is just as thoughtful, just as unexpected as the rest of the comic’s been. Great writers write great, regardless of material.

CREDITS

Writer, Alan Moore; artist, Gabriel Andrade; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

Providence 2 (June 2015)

Providence #2

It’s so good.

Providence is so good. This issue is creepy–from the cover alone–but also somewhat touching as protagonist Robert meets a fetching police detective while looking into a mythic Arabic text. It’s a talking heads book, beautifully composed with lush backgrounds and lots of visual information.

Providence is, even at the end of this issue, just drawing the reader in deeper. Moore again has very important back matter (though the protagonist’s diary is far more affecting, if not important, than “reprints” of scholarly material on the Arabic text).

Burrows’s art isn’t particularly precise. He’s rushed–some of his faces have a lot more personality than others (unless it’s going to be part of the narrative)–but he captures the mood perfectly.

The talking heads nature does mean there’s not a lot of development, not even after the back matter. The treading water doesn’t matter; it’s all good.

CREDITS

The Hook; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 10 (June 2015)

War Stories #10

Ennis is off to a great start with the latest War Stories arc. It’s about a squad of Irish volunteers in World War II (I wasn’t actually sure if it was WWI or WWII; the Irish’s uniforms are quaint compared to the British and German ones).

The squad is, save one exception, all Southern. The politics of Ireland and Irish independence figure in, but alongside the war story. Ennis works out a beautiful balance to it, bubbling the resentments under the surface, only letting them pop at the best moments.

Most of the issue is talking heads. Yes, talking heads in a war zone, but it’s just this squad talking back and forth. Thanks to the uniforms, there are a couple soldiers Aria draws basically the same, but he’s definitely working on the expressions and the facial features.

The quiet finish reveals Ennis’s not insignificant ambitions for the story arc.

CREDITS

Our Wild Geese Go, Part One: The Dark Central Plain; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 5 (May 2015)

Crossed Plus One Hundred #5

After so many calm issues, Moore gets around to showing a little of + One Hundred’s plan and it’s a doozy. But the way he shows it is so fantastic.

Moore has lulled the reader into expecting the calm while still imagining some sensible, if horrific, explanation. He gradually reveals the truth here, as Future reads some diaries she finds and everything starts to make sense. While Moore didn’t give the reader enough information to guess it, his style for the book also lulled the reader into not thinking about guessing.

Instead, he spent the entire time making the reader care about the characters. And now, through a masterfully executed reveal, they’re all in trouble. Only Future’s just as calm as always. Why? Because she grew up in + One Hundred and it’s the reader who’s anxious. That aspect, the calm of the damned, is one of Moore’s great moves here.

CREDITS

Tyger, Tyger; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Gabriel Andrade; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 9 (May 2015)

War Stories #9

It’s a shame about Aira. He gets worse. Not just since last issue, but throughout this issue, he gets worse. By the end of the comic, I had to force myself to stop looking at characters’ faces because I knew Aira wouldn’t distinguish them well enough. I just paid attention to the dialogue.

Which had a typo.

Yet, it’s still an amazing comic book. Ennis hits another home run with the writing, with the depth and complication of it, with the sadness and horror. As far as the writing goes, this issue might be the best of the Avatar War Stories comics. It’s probably better than a lot of Battlefields. Ennis surprises to the end.

Reading Ennis in either a good, long ongoing or a genre he sticks to and develops in is a narrative of its own. You see how he learns and refines his craft.

Intricately wonderful writing.

CREDITS

The Last German Winter, Part Three: The Earth Will Shake As We Leave the Scene; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Providence 1 (May 2015)

Providence #1

I’m not sure what to make of Providence. The first issue doesn’t have much going on except flashbacks and talking heads scenes–writer Alan Moore is establishing his protagonist (and then writes a bunch of necessary back matter to get a better idea) while he’s got artist Jacen Burrows establishing the setting. It’s 1919. It’s Manhattan. Something is afoot.

Providence’s protagonist is a rookie–or, at least, newish–newspaper reporter. He’s also gay. The way Moore handles that revelation is interesting. He foreshadowed some kind of secret (though hinted at another one) but the scenes are beautifully written. All of the flashbacks do fantastic character work, but the romantic ones have a depth to them. They’re controlled, sure (it’s Moore), but they’re also extravagant.

The majority of the comic deals with some arcane texts; they cause people to commit suicide. Or so the protagonist is investigating.

Providence definitely intrigues.

CREDITS

The Yellow Sign; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 8 (April 2015)

War Stories #8

This issue of War Stories, with Ennis exploring the dynamics of the German tankies and their civilian charges while hiding from Russians invading Germany, it’s essential war comics reading. Ennis’s characterizations, how he paces the issue, how he relieves and creates tension–it’s all top-notch writing. The dialogue’s great, so’s Ennis’s plotting of the scenes and their action.

But the art is atrocious.

When the comic starts, it seems like it might be better if Aira’s art were in black and white. The coloring doesn’t work with it so why not black and white? Because it’s soon clear even if some of Aira’s art did look better without the coloring, it’d still be terrible because he can’t visually set up action sequences, not with such an indistinct cast.

Some great lettering in this issue too. The way the protagonist’s narration looks is perfect.

The writing overcomes the art problems.

CREDITS

The Last German Winter, Part Two: Pitch & Sulphur; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 4 (March 2015)

Crossed +100 #4

In this issue, Moore drops Future and company in a Muslim settlement (the only religious community in the world… AFAWK). Future’s got a thing going with the archivist there, giving Moore and Andrade a chance to mix talking head Crossed history in with a sex scene. There’s some stuff with the Crossed in the issue–the tape, finding out the Crossed can breed (for me anyway)–but it’s Future’s romantic interlude is the action standout.

And Moore ends on that same gentle note. Given Future’s narration of the comic is in her journal and Moore loves playing with how storytelling works, it’s unlikely the comic will ever end an issue on a different note. Or, if he does… well, it means the comic’s changed.

Of course, Moore’s not threatening Future either.

It’s a strange, thoughtful comic. This issue has lots of dialogue, but also lots of character moments.

Awesome again.

CREDITS

Writer, Alan Moore; artist, Gabriel Andrade; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 7 (March 2015)

War Stories #7

Garth Ennis is back to form on War Stories; his artist, Tomas Aira, is probably worse than the last time I saw him working on the book (could’ve been last issue… he’s not memorable).

But what is memorable is Ennis’s setup for this story. German civilians leaving Russian–in January 1945–the Russians kind of not making it easy for them to leave. It’s a refuge story from the perspective of a German girl. Ennis is trying again with War Stories; he’s trying really hard.

The story has action and a fair bit of drama. There’s no humor, except when the narrator too is aware of the irony of the jokes. Ennis does a great job establishing his cast members when not even giving them distinct enough names. The action goes okay but the drama’s all beautifully paced dialogue exchanges from Ennis.

Nice to see him caring about it again.

CREDITS

The Last German Winter, Part One: Babes in the Woods; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 6 (February 2015)

War Stories #6

I’ve got a suggestion for Ennis and Avatar on their War Stories. One issue stories, a decent artist a issue. No more guys like Aira, who can’t even hold together the perspective on the vehicles this issue. It’s just way too much.

And Ennis doesn’t have a story. He’s got a weak lecture from the sensitive, intellectual tankie about how Israel can’t compare everything to the Holocaust and they can’t be at war forever. The sergeant isn’t part of it because he’s one of Israel’s golems! That throwaway line is a lot more effective than the lengthy monologue about endless war.

Ennis stayed somewhat apolitical, just telling a history, until this point. Worse, he then tries to turn the golem sergeant into a different symbol at the end.

It’s very problematic work. Ennis has too much space, not a good enough artist and no editor crossing out lame, preachy monologues.

CREDITS

Children of Israel, Part Three: Saul Hath Slain His Thousands; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 3 (February 2015)

Crossed + One Hundred #3

For this issue of Crossed, Moore goes nice and calm. He brings his explorers back to their home and lets all the things they’ve learned settle in. What’s so disconcerting–but not bad–about One Hundred is the way Moore’s vernacular makes sense by the end of the issue but not necessarily at the beginning. It’ll probably be perfect in a trade.

Moore even makes a joke (using Cormac McCarthy’s The Road).

Most of the issue is the protagonist, Future, hanging out with her mom, her cat (Flash Gordon) and catching up. Through that catch-up, Moore’s able to reveal the future society a bit. Then there’s the building toward whatever the big reveal is going to be.

It’s a calm, fantastic, quietly terrifying issue; the people’s lives seem so mundane, it conditions the reader not to get too excited by the horrific nature of it all. Moore’s kicking butt.

CREDITS

Writer, Alan Moore; artist, Gabriel Andrade; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 5 (January 2015)

War Stories #5

I wonder how this issue would be with a decent artist. Not even a good artist, just a decent one. One who clearly doesn’t have the time he needs to get the issue complete. Because Aira’s art is occasionally almost okay. He could be doing a better job. When it’s really bad, it’s because he’s rushing.

Regardless, it still really hurts the comic. Ennis is trying a different thing with this seventies-set story. He’s trying a different style of storytelling, he’s trying a different character relationship; he’s also going all out on the battle stuff. Aira can’t just not those elements competently, he doesn’t bring anything to the art.

There are also some Ennis problems with this issue. This War Stories arc features soldiers who spout lots of exposition, meaning they have to be very well informed. There’s no groundwork for that situation.

Ennis does keep his style fresh.

CREDITS

Children of Israel, Part Two: In Fire They Will Come; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Crossed + One Hundred 2 (December 2014)

Crossed + One Hundred #2

Moore takes the comic to Graceland–sans Elvis cameo–because even though Moore has a lot of pop culture references in Crossed, they’re never cheap. They’re never too obvious, they’re never forced. A few of them had me wondering where Alan Moore would have heard about them, given I don’t picture him on Facebook reading memes.

The comic continues to be fantastic. The language he’s using for the future apocalypse is still fantastic. He even paces out the comic to have a good finish. Even though he’s doing a limited series, the issue itself satisfies with its conclusion. Once again, shocking to see Moore putting so much thought and effort into work-for-hire. He even gets in some really nice character moments.

As for Andrade’s art… it works out. It’s not the best it could be, but he gets how to break out the story for it to succeed.

CREDITS

Writer, Alan Moore; artist, Gabriel Andrade; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 4 (December 2014)

War Stories #4

Garth Ennis goes somewhat modern with the latest War Storiese arc, jumping to the late sixties and the story of an Israeli tank commander. He’s got a flashback to WWII, with the same tank commander getting a tour of a Panzer from a German tankie.

There’s a lot of narration, all third person and really close, going over this guy’s life. And a long dialogue exchange where Ennis has to go over the history of Israel, the guy’s career and then the current circumstances. Wait, maybe it takes place in the early seventies. I could check, but won’t.

The art, from Tomas Aira, is all right. It’s not great. The characters’ faces lack enough personality and the detail Aira puts into tanks doesn’t go into the people. Of course, Ennis emphasizes the people over the tanks so it doesn’t exactly match.

It’s ambitious, but too soon to really tell.

CREDITS

Children of Israel, Part One: A Stone Off My Heart; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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