Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Best of January

In this post I'm reprinting reviews of items for which I gave a rating of 4 or better in the month of January:

Human Target, book 2: Living in America
by Peter Milligan & Cliff Chiang
In this second collection of the regular Vertigo series, Milligan continues to explore the concepts of identity and American nationality in ways both interesting and thought-provoking. The opening chapter is a story of Christopher Chance taking on the identity of a priest who has been targeted by an assassin, and while you won't be surprised by where the plot goes, it does offer an intriguing look at the nature of faith and forgiveness. The longest story in the collection is the three-part "Which Way the Wind Blows," which finds Chance entangled in a web of violence and deceit involving ex-60's radicals, modern-day anarchists, and the Feds, and introduces what may be a long-term antagonist for Chance. The book closes with another one-shot, in which Chance takes on the identity of an escaped convict who wants the chance to live free for just five days so he can live life to the fullest. Throughout the book Milligan's writing skills are at the top of their form, and the art by Chiang looks great and moves the stories forward with seeming effortlessness (though as we can see by Chiang's bonus materials, it does require a good deal of effort!) Anyone looking for intelligent action comics should give Human Target a look.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Detective Comics #802
by David Lapham, Ramon Bachs & Nathan Massengill
Last issue saw Lapham placing his stamp on the series, giving us an overview of his vision of Gotham as a methaphorically disease infested "City of Crime" and of Batman as the immune agent. While that issue set the foundation and brushed over many stories, this second issue focuses down on one, starting with a harrowing building fire that leads to the discovery of an illegal baby ring. This is Batman as noir, with a detective fighting against a corrupt system that allows the city's sickness to fester, and slowly realizing that the problem may be even deeper than it first appeared. It's not all unrelenting darkness though, as Lapham brings in Robin, who, though named Tim Drake, seems to be more in character with a young Dick Grayson. This final scene, with Batman meeting the mother of a victim he had come to know personally, shows us a Batman who can be dark and brooding yet still human, unlike the asshole Batman that seems to be in vogue in the other Bat-titles. If you like your Batman grim and gritty, Lapham shows the proper way to do it.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Superman: Secret Identity
by Kurt Busiek & Stuart Immonen
Chance are you've already read several glowing reviews of this story, so I'll just say that those reviews are right: this is one of the best Superman stories in many years. Inspired by a nearly two-decades old story from DC Comics Presents about the Superboy of Earth-Prime, Busiek spins the tale of a real-world Clark Kent. Young Kent is teased about his name, but is surprised when he unexpectedly develops the super powers of his namesake. But instead of going public, Clark keeps his powers a secret, even as his life follows a vaguely parallel path as that of the fictional Clark Kent. Each chapter in the story shows us Clark at a different point in his life, and we follow his attempt to live a normal life while trying to help others in secret. Art-wise, Immonen turns in one of the best outings of his career, and the realism he brings to a story about a guy with super-powers fits the story perfectly. All told, it's an uplifting story that celebrates the triumph of living a good fulfilling life.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

We3 #3
by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
It is possible at this point to heap more suprelatives on Morrison & Quitely's masterpiece? Probably not. But over the course of 96 pages, they have managed to redefine comic book action, proving that you can be exciting and thought-provoking and innovative all at the same time. Heck, just look at the way Quitely uses foreground shadows to blead into the panel borders, for instance. I predict that this comic is one that will be analyzed and dissected for years to come. I only gave the first two installments of this mini a 4 out of 5, but that was because it was an incomplete at the time. Taken together, these three issues add up to more than the sum of their parts. So a 4.5 for the tale, and I reserve to right to raise that higher at some point.
Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Extra: I didn't post a Best of December since there was only one comic that met the criteria. So, here it is, just a month late:

Detective Comics #801
by David Lapham, Ramon Bachs & Nathan Massengill
Now this is a Batman comic! David Lapham's opening chapter of "City of Crime" just oozes with mood and atmosphere, and makes the city of Gotham a character just as important as Batman. This is a dense story, full of smaller stories which come in and out quickly--sometimes for just a panel--one of which seems insignificant at the time but comes to the fore near the end. Lapham's Batman is a part of the city, moving along the alleys and rooftops like a lone agent out to eradicate the city's sickness, even while knowing that it's an impossible task. Working over Lapham's layouts, Bachs & Massengill give us art that matches the story perfectly, and their cityscapes in particular are stunning--one really gets the sense that the story is happening in a real space. If this level of quality can be maintained throughout the next 11 issues, "City of Crime" will go down as one of the definitive Batman stories.
Rating: 4 (of 5)


Ron Freeman said...

It's sad about Human Target getting cancelled. I think it has kept getting better as it has gone along. You might have to read the rest of the series in single issue format.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I seem to be the only person on the internet that wasn't all that impressed by WE3!!! I mean, it was easy on the eyes but the story just didn't grab me. It seemed like a Jerry Bruckheimer/PIXAR production, heavy on the Bruckheimer. I dunno...