One of the things that often presented a challenge to our “review a day” format at Comics Daily was the sheer inconsistency of comics shipping – the fact that, although there should really ostensibly be a fairly even spread of comics worth reviewing (whether a book we’re buying anyway, or one we wouldn’t if we weren’t reviewing but considered worth trying to say something about) over the four (or sometimes five) shipping weeks of each month. But that often wouldn’t tend to be the case, and we were frequently left scrabbling over B- or C-list main superhero universe titles that – and no disrespect to the creators involved – aren’t always the easiest thing to find an angle on if you’re not a fan.
Conversely, we’d often find ourselves with a week where there were lots of books we fancied covering, but simply didn’t have the time between us. Often, a lot of my favourite books – from Phonogram to Batman and Robin, Captain Britain to Ultimate Spider-Man – end up coming out in the same week, which makes for a fun visit to Forbidden Planet, but a difficult quandary when working out what to write about. Our “Sunday Pages” capsule review posts would help with this, obviously – and both James and I have also tended to find of late that these shorter reviews are quite enjoyable to put together. With that scheduled series of posts temporarily on hold, however (I, or we, may revisit it at some point – but for the moment one of the things we’re exploring with the new format is not having a specific schedule to stick to beyond “something every day”), there won’t be a regular set of capsules each week, but every so often a week may come along in which I feel the urge to ramble on about a handful of books. This is just such a week, so read on for brief reviews of Powers, Ex Machina, S.W.O.R.D. and more…
Powers (vol. 3) #3
Well, this is interesting. If it’s not going to be the stories that kick this volume of Powers into life – and as yet, sadly, it seems that they’re not quite, despite some good material in the flashbacks – then perhaps it might be art. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, Mike Avon Oeming goes off on one here (Bendis even leaves out the letter column in order to let him loose with 41 pages of art) with some experimental storytelling of a kind not really seen in the series before. It’s not We3, but there’s some strong and inventive use of panel layout (and lack thereof, with multiple incremental moments appearing on the page without division), giving a powerful energy to the chase-and-fight sequence that makes up most of the issue. Movie-style action in comics can be tricky to get right, but there’s no denying that Oeming does so here, and it’s very impressive stuff. I wish I knew what had sparked off the change in style – but I’m not complaining. If he continues to draw the shit out of it like this, then the book might just become unmissable once Deena finally comes back.
The further Daytripper goes on, the less likely it seems we’ll get an explanation for its recurring motif of Bras dying at the end of each issue, always at a crucial moment in his life. “Crucial” in relative terms, of course – the stories are small, looking inwardly at how our everyman character deals with various points of joy and sadness. But it approaches these facets of humanity in such a subtly complex way that it feels so much grander – it’s doing something that comics very rarely push themselves to. And as such, the “gimmick” feels less important – it’s a means to an end, rather than that end itself. Essentially, the series seems to ask how a given life would be reflected – how the assorted pieces, from emotions to relationships to legacy, would balance – were it to end, suddenly, at various given points. It all makes for a beautiful, if at times achingly sad, meditation on mortality and humanity itself, and something that’s growing into a truly exceptional comic.
Batman: The Widening Gyre #5
Kevin Smith hasn’t exactly made himself easy to take seriously as a Batman writer – his and Walt Flanagan’s Cacophony mini was pretty darned poor, and while The Widening Gyre has shown marked improvement, it’s still found itself susceptible to moments that have made various among the internet community point and laugh (notably, almost everything to do with the Silver St. Cloud subplot, and the stuff about Bruce as a “great writer” in particular). Yet there are some strong ideas here – Baphomet seems to be an attempt to do something new with the “new vigilante in town” angle (to wit: the fact that he isn’t just some psychotic weirdo, but simply a terrifyingly competent crimefighter who turns out to be an ordinary bloke underneath), even if it’s hard to see exactly where it’s going with just a single issue yet – and the whistlestop tour of various rogues has worked better than the previous mini’s focus on the Joker. Other elements work less well – I know there’s not a huge amount of difference in concept between the Black Cat and Catwoman, but they are different characters, something Smith would do well to remember; and Flanagan’s art, while undoubtedly improving the more practice he gets, is still maddeningly inconsistent, and the odd good image or page still doesn’t seem to justify his getting a six issue miniseries. An interesting experiment, though (if you take it entirely on its terms and try to divorce from anything approaching “continuity”), and not as horrendous as others online seem to want to make out.
Ex Machina #48
The finale of this series has really crept up on me somewhat – perhaps due to the slow publication rate of recent issues, perhaps due to the disappointment of the previous few arcs – and it does still feel, with just two issues left, as if there are lots of dangling threads (both character and plot-based) that won’t find the time to be fully resolved. But Vaughan is still at least managing to deliver on bringing about the crisis promised right back at the start of the series – when these flashbacks first began – even if the surprise is that it turns out to be a far more personal event that affects Hundred while the chaos brought about by Padilla explodes across New York. I’m still not convinced that using Suzanne as the “host” for the antagonist has quite worked – it makes it feel more like she’s the herald for a bigger threat, rather than the threat itself (as becomes apparent in this issue) – and it also seems that, irritatingly, less explanation for the whole thing is going to be offered than we might have expected or hoped. But it does seem that Vaughan’s laying the pieces for a big payoff, and it’s undeniably going to be a shame when we hit that final issue.
Death’s Head. The grin on Beast’s face as he “zero-g-hops”. “Hello, alien chums”. The arrival of “the people who save the day”. “I’m the King Kong that shoots back”. Death’s Head. The terrifying, clinical creepiness of Unit. Brand apologising. Death’s Head. “That little horse-faced guy up there”. “Let’s just say that right now the Skrull Empire is smaller than some apartments I’ve lived in. When I was a student.” The mop. Blueberry muffins. “This is the best job in the entire universe”. Death’s Head. One last time: this is an utterly lovely little comic, and I’m desperately upset that this world doesn’t have a place for it. Snif.