Trade Post: Harrow County, First Wave & Black Widow

Every few weeks I find myself requesting any number of trades from the local library system. They come in in spurts and I get to them as I can. I can’t think of much in the way of connections between Harrow County Volume 1, First Wave and Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread, but I enjoyed them all, so there’s that, I guess!

harrow county vol 1Harrow County is a witchy horror comic by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook from Dark Horse. This first book — officially titled Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints — compiles the first four issues of the series which follows Emmy, a young woman who comes to realize that her fellow country denizens might want to murder her for being the reincarnation of a witch they killed about 18 years ago.

Packed with characters I want to learn more about, a slowly unfolding mythology and some amazingly creepy art by Crook (whose style reminds me a bit of Jeff Lemire’s, but with a more comic strip shape if that makes sense) I’m definitely hooked and want to find out what else happens to Emmy, her dad and the unusual creatures she’s come into contact with. In a way, it reminds me of a smaller-in-scope Hellboy with a young woman protagonist which adds a new, interesting angle that I’m sold on. Time to see if the second volume is available at the library!

first waveBack in my Wizard days, DC seemed to be snatching up random characters or rebooting old imprints and trying to incorporate them into the DCU with little success. They brought back Milestone and Tangent and also tried to bring the THUNDER Agents into the fold. I actually preferred what they did with First Wave, which mixed classic pulp-inspired characters like Doc Savage, The Spirit and Justice Inc. with non-powered DC folks like Batman and the Blackhawks into a new universe. Things kicked off with the Batman/Doc Savage Special by Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto and then moved into the six issue series called First Wave by Azzarello and Rags Morales.

I wasn’t very familiar with Doc or Spirit the first time I read these issues, but have read a few things since then. I think Azz does a great job of bringing in all these different characters and not only keeping them clear, but also giving them business that works for them. I had a little trouble keeping track of all the balls in the air towards the end, but I still enjoyed the pulp-y quality to the tale which was enhanced by Rags’ art which always excels at capturing facial expressions while also drafting solid action scenes. Reading this made me want to dig up the issues of the Doc Savage and Spirit series’ that launched out of this as well as the Batman/Spirit one-shot by Jeph Loeb, Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone which I remember being a lot of fun.

black widow vol 1 the finely woven threadFinally, let’s wrap things up with Black Widow Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto. THis is the rare comic that I picked up just to check out the artwork. I like Edmondson and have interviewed him a number of times for Marvel.com and also dig Black Widow as a character, but you just don’t get enough Noto-drawn comics! I mostly see his stuff online and on covers, so getting to really dive into a book that plays to his strong suits — beautiful but dangerous women, great action — was a lot of fun and a treat for the eyes. I especially like how he outlines various elements in a spidery red that draws the eye from object to object.

Story-wise this book focuses on Black Widow’s desire to make amends for the bad things she did in her past by taking on various jobs around the world and using that money to support her victims’ families as well as a web of support around the world. The one-and-dones are a nice change of pace, but I admit to having trouble reconciling an international killer who is also a member in good standing with the Avengers. Then again, that’s probably just be getting too much in my own shared universe-loving head!

Wonder Woman Trade Post: Guts & Iron

wonder woman vol 2 gutsWonder Woman Volume 2: Guts (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins
Collects Wonder Woman #7-12

While ordering the first batch of Greg Rucka Wonder Woman comics from the library, I realized I’d read the first volume of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman series, but hadn’t gone on beyond that. So, I looked around, requested the second and third volumes and started reading. But before that, I went back and gave the first volume a re-read because my memory is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

The major information points from the first book involved Diana discovering that she’s not made of clay, but instead Zeus’ daughter, meeting a young woman named Zola who’s carrying another child of Zeus and some of the family drama and politics that come from being a member of the Greek god clan. But all of that was really set up for these two volumes. The great thing about all three of these books is that Azzarello finds fun and interesting ways of giving the heroes what they want and then almost instantly taking it away in a way that shuffles a lot of characters around.

In the case of Guts, Wonder Woman teams up with Lennox, Hermes, Eros and Hephaestus figure out a way to get Zola back from Hades who wants her as his bride. Basically, these are the good members of the gods who feel sorry for this poor girl who happened to fall for the wrong guy. Without giving too much away, Diana ensures Zola’s safety, gets herself out of Hell and essentially saves the day, but things don’t go well for Zola’s baby by the end when it turns out that one of the people in their camp is a traitor.

wonder woman vol 3 iron Wonder Woman Volume 3: Iron (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins, Dan Green, Goran Sudzuka, Amilcar Pinna & Rick Burchett
Collects Wonder Woman #0, 13-18

As you might expect given what I said above, Wonder Woman’s new goal in the third book is getting Zola’s baby back to her. She’s still got most of her crew with her as well as Hera who adds a great deal of comic relief, but also a new comrade in the form of Orion of the New Gods. Along the way we also get to meet more of Diana and Lennox’s half brothers and sisters as they are all modern illegitimate children of Zeus. As with the previous volumes, there’s plenty of trickery going around on all sides, but at the end of the book we get something of a happy ending, but with another looming danger, which is exactly what comics should have.

One of the really interesting things Azzarello does in this book is doing something new and different with the Greek gods. These are characters who have been around forever and been interpreted in a myriad of ways, especially if you read Wonder Woman comics. I’ve seen them as the robe-wearing gods of myth, human-like business people and just about everything in between. Azzarello mixes some of that old mythology with his own new ideas and makes a family that’s often as interesting as the title character herself. Plus, there’s the addition of Diana’s fellow Zeus progeny and the connection to the New Gods that I assume gets fleshed out in later volumes.

As much as I liked these volumes there were a few odd sticking points for me, though I will admit right away that I might have just missed these points in Azzarello’s rapid fire dialog. I didn’t think the fact that Zeus had gone missing was very well conveyed. There was also the matter of Diana removing her gauntlets and being super powerful. Why didn’t she do this earlier when she was in danger? It was a cool move, but it kinda felt like something added in just to be a cool move. I also personally miss the majesty that used to come along with the character that’s basically gone in these pages, but were all over the place in Rucka’s run. Basically, these are two different takes on the character and each writer is doing or did their own thing which is great.

One thing that did surprise me is how completely separate this feels from the rest of the New 52 DCU. There’s next to no mention of any other heroes or villains, which is an interesting choice. Orion and Highfather of the New Gods show up, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t appearing anywhere else at the time. This is good and bad for various reasons. On one hand, this is a great story that should just do its thing. On the other, what’s the point of being part of a shared comic book universe if there’s no sharing? It’s a similar concern I have with Scott Snyder’s Batman, which is the other New 52 book I really love. As with Batman, I’m pretty much onboard for everything Azzarello wants to do with this character and I’ll keep checking in to see what’s going on in that particular book.

Loveless Trade Post: All Three Volumes

After reading all 13 volumes of Brian Azzarello’s Vertigo book 100 Bullets, I decided to snag the second volume of his western series Loveless that I was missing and give the whole thing a read through. The book ran for 24 artists and included artists like Marcelo Frusin, Daniel Zezelj and Werther Dell’Edera. It’s a post-Civil War story about a husband and wife who both survived the war in a southern town called Blackwater, but each earning their scars. Wes Cutter saw all kinds of horrors and realized that many of the distinctions that men place on themselves don’t really matter worth a damn while his wife Ruth did what she had to survive which partially lead to a savage sexual assault at the hands of Union soldiers. Wes returns to Blackwater backed by a mysterious young man (SPOILER, it’s actually Ruth with short hair). The book also focuses on a freed slave turned bounty hunter who also happened to be one of Ruth’s attackers as well as some of the Union soldiers stationed in the south to help with rebuilding.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on in this book and, like 100 Bullets, the book is populated with some really despicable characters, though you wind up feeling for Wes and Ruth as the wronged couple trying to get their lives back on track even though the whole world seems dead set on keeping them off balance. Hell, off balance is an understatement.

But, even in the face of some really terrible stuff, Ruth and Wes are the kind of couple you just can’t help but root for. Even without all the bad things that happened to them, I just liked how dedicated and in love they were with each other. I’m drawn to couples that don’t fit squarely into the basic gender roles and all that where they really get a long and make things work. That reminds me of my relationship with my wife and I like seeing that reflected in fiction.

However, there are a few problems with the series. First off, I wish Marcelo Frusin would have been able to draw the entire book. The other artists do alright, but when reading a series like this that doesn’t last very long and is self contained, I’d much rather see one consistent art style throughout the whole thing. It doens’t help that Zezelj’s linework is incredibly thick and sometimes very difficult to read. I think they might have been trying to achieve the kind of dark shadows that can intensify a scene on TV or in a movie, but it just comes off as okay at best and unintelligible at worst.

My other major problem with this series is the ending. There’s an end of sorts to the Wes and Ruth tale that seems like it will continue on in some fashion and then you get a few more issues set much further ahead in time and deal either with brand new characters or tertiary-at-best ones. At first it seemed like the time jumps would show you what happened to the important characters in the series through these other people, but that’s not the case. And then it just ends. I don’t know if the book was cancelled prematurely or what, but it definitely feels like it. I wonder if he was going for a kind of Coen Brothers ending where the actual action of the finale is off screen and discussed later, but it doesn’t come off like that. Instead it feels like you get a somewhat satisfying ending and then teased with another potential group of story details only to wind up lacking.

So, while the ending fails to a great extent and the art is uneven, I liked this series as a whole and I think it all boils down to my like of Wes and Ruth Cutter as characters. I feel a strong connection to them and was right there with them as much as possible. There’s some lack of focus, but those two as well as all the other characters were rich enough to keep me engaged.

100 Bullets Trade Post

100 Bullets is one of those books I have a history with. I think I heard about the book by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso where a mysterious man handed people a briefcase full of untraceable ammunition and evidence of who wronged them, giving them the chance to right wrongs, first from Wizard. It sounded interesting, so I gave it a look. I think #8 was the first issue I ever picked up and I was hooked. I went back and got the issues I missed and was then in for the long haul. Well, almost the long hall. As I’ve mentioned before, when I went to college in 2001, I would only read comics when I came back home, so there would be months between issues or groups of issues for me and I would forget a lot. So, I put the 100 Bullets issues aside to read them all at once kind of like trades. Eventually I got through college and moved out to New York to work at Wizard and I unfortunately lost track. Even though this was the first long-form creator-owned type comic I ever got into, it was so dense that I didn’t want to read an issue while at lunch and completely forget what happened by the next. So, I fell off. Then the book ended and I started looking for the trades. I got the first seven through a Sequential Swap, but only just got the very last one I’d been waiting on for my birthday earlier this month.

With that, I got to re-reading/finishing a pretty important book to my comic book-reading history. I should note that, back in 1999 when this book started and I began reading, I was reading mostly DC books and only superhero comics. This book really introduced me to the variety of titles under the Vertigo umbrella, Azzarello s a writer whose work I have really enjoyed over the years (his run on Hellblazer got me into that book too) and a world of comics filled with some bad, bad people who do bad, bad things. You wouldn’t see the things in this book in Superman: Man of Steel.

I was honestly nervous to go back and read the entire series. I had read the first seven volumes all together when I got them a few years back and really enjoyed them, but you just never know how something is going to end. I spent a good deal of time collecting and reading the Ex Machina trades and, at the end of the day, the ending of that book didn’t make the practice worthwhile. Thankfully, that’s not how I feel after reading all 13 volumes of this book. I won’t claim to understand everything that happened, but I do like how it ended. It felt true to the story that had been set up in the previous volumes and even had a kind of choose-your-own-adventure, Sopranos type thing that I liked. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it started off as the gimmick about the titular ammunition, but moved into a much more complex story about an organization controlling America and the men formerly tasked with keeping them on the up and up.

I’m not going to get into a volume by volume review here because that would take forever and I didn’t take proper notes, but I don’t want to note a few things. First off, I highly recommend reading all of these books in fairly close succession. There are so many things going on that pop back up at different times throughout the series. I’ll also say that, in talking to some friends about this book in general, it’s been called over-written. I didn’t understand that when I first heard it, but I get it reading through this time. The dialog has a very planned cadence packed with double and triple meanings that can get pun-y and possibly annoying, but I liked it because it reminded me of something like a classic noir or gangster story or movie. If that’s not your thing, you might not dig this book, but I figured I should mention it.

A few more things about the book that jumped out at me on this reading include the fact that this is not a book about nice or even good characters. I have a tendency to try and see the good in people and I kept trying to do that with the characters in this comic without success in many cases. At some point, I just realized it and let my hopes for redemption or whathaveyou go and I was a lot happier just experiencing life through these very different people. Lastly on the story perspective, I really appreciate how dense this story is. Like I said, I got a lot of what happened, especially the parts I had read before a few times, but there’s a lot that I’m still note quite sure about, but in a good way. I get the feeling it’s all there whether actually written on the page or drawn in the book, I just need to dig in and figure it out. That’s re-readability which is a great thing.

On the art side of things, Risso murders every page in this book. This guy is so good, it’s almost shocking. And, the best part, is that some of the most genius bits don’t exactly jump off the page and slap you in the face with their brilliance. Many of them deal with creative angles for various panel shots. I remember one that stuck out where a character is talking to another who’s painting, the painter is actually painting on the surface of the panel we’re looking at. There’s a lot of little things like that that were really fun to look for. Risso also excels at scenes where two stories are being told. Azzarello sets plenty of scenes in outside locales where the two main characters are talking to one another and another story is being told in the background that eventually collides with the main characters. Obviously, some of this stuff is in the script–heck, all of it could be, actually–but the way Risso brings those moments to the page is fantastic.

So, at the end of the day, the whole experience was worth the wait. It was worth being excited about this book over a decade ago, sticking with it and having the pleasure of revisiting it again now. I will proudly display these books on my shelf along with my other favorite series’ like Sandman, Starman and Preacher.