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Comic Review – The Boys #24, No Hero #2, Aetheric Mechanics, Streets of Glory #6 and Joker

November 3, 2008 Leave a comment

The Boys #24

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Darick Robertson

Colors by Tony Avina

Lettering by Simon Bowland

In a nutshell: a quieter, but quite funny issue that moves the plot forward with its usual mixture of foreshadowing and “taking the piss out of superheroes”.

In this episode, Hughie – watched by the Frenchman and the Female – is already inside the superhero team G-Wiz, using the codename “Bagpipe” (“You heard that kid trynna do an American accent?”, the Legend justifies). There, he finds out, unsurprisingly, that they are no more than superpowered fratboys who like fart jokes and porn. Meanwhile, Mother’s Milk investigates the mysterious death of Silver Kincaid and Butcher has a meeting with The Legend.

While that sounds like a lot, it isn’t really. This is a typical habit of Ennis: a set-up issue, that puts all the pieces in place. But I’m never bothered by this because Ennis always does this job with his excellent sharp dialogue and great characterization. Not to mention this issue is drenched in foreshadowing in every subplot (I was intrigued by Butcher’s avoidance of alcohol by apparently dangerous reasons, and the conversation between Frenchie and The Female). We’re also getting to see Mother’s Milk in action as a detective.

Darick Robertson’s art isn’t as sharp as in the previous issue, but it’s still great. The visual narrative is impeccable as usual, and the last page is hilarious. I like how out of place he makes Hughie look in the middle of G-Wiz, the hugeness of Mother’s Milk silhouette and the Female’s eyes. Tony Avina’s colors are efficient and clever, portraying the G-Wiz’s house in brown tones, as if it’s the dirtiest place on Earth. Simon Bowland’s lettering, though, has some noticeable problems. One of them is how big The Legend’s font is: instead of making it look like he speaks loudly, it seems as if Butcher’s whispering. Also, there’s a badly-positioned balloon during the sequence when G-Wiz is driving to the meeting with the G-Men.

Being honest: good issue. No more than that. Sets the pieces in place, does it funnily and ends. But, being Ennis, it’s still way above most of the comics I read.

No Hero #2

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Juan Jose Ryp

Colors by Digikore Studios

In a nutshell: so far, predictable and unoriginal. Brings nothing new to the table, but Juan Jose Ryp’s art looks good.

In the first issue’s review, I said this: It looks like this book wants to be not about heroes or villains, but the grey area in between them. But the things seen in this first issue make the following ones very predictable. I’ll make some guesses, see if they come true: Carrick Masterson will turn out to be a man capable of anything, who’ll introduce Joshua Carver to the Frontline and then disappoint Carver with his lack of morals. Carver himself will be the naive idealist guy who learns a lesson in how the world really is. The green-haired girl will either be his love interest or Masterson’s right hand.

Well, grow me a beard and call me Nostradamus, things are STILL going that way. Carrick Masterson looks constantly like he’s hiding a big fucking something, the green-haired girl connects to Joshua and Joshua himself tries constantly to impress Masterson and is eager to become a superhero. In fact, he’s such a moron it’s hard to like him. It’s funny how he seems to be surprised when the superhero transformation turns out to be gruesome and painful, considering they put him a padded cell in order for him to go through it.

But Ellis is an experient writer and is probably aware of all this, so could be he’s planning to take all those cliches and invert them to surprise the reader. Regardless, the story’s fun and readable, but I don’t feel connected with any of the characters.

Ellis also abandons any narrative subtlety, throwing in flashbacks and expositional captions whenever he wants. There’s a moment we see Carrick Masterson in an interview, right in the middle of a conversation between Joshua and the green-haired girl (I really don’t remember her name, too lazy to check), and another where Ellis throws in two panels to explain the FX7 pill. Those things yank you right out of the narrative, making it flat and bland.

Juan Jose Ryp’s art, on the upside, shows a great improvement. Normally, I don’t like his overcrowded panels and facial expressions, but here his visual narrative is surprisingly better and his lines are pretty and detailed just enough. Digikore Studios also improves on the coloring, completing Ryp’s art well. Unfortunately, neither of them can make up for the weak, predictable script. A weak predictable script by WARREN ELLIS. What in the name of fuck is going on?

Aetheric Mechanics

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

Inks by Chris Dreier

In a nutshell: Possibly the first book by Warren Ellis that I simply hate. Utter horseshit.

Warren Ellis’s Crecy, also published by Apparat, was a brilliant book; a history lesson taught in an extremely fun way. I’ve read it over and over again and had fun every time. So it’s a surprise that his next book published by Apparat is utter horseshit. I think this is the first time I hate so much a book by Warren Ellis.

The story is absurd. Which isn’t bad as long as its absurdity is explained right. It isn’t. So it’s just absurd in a negative way. It follows the investigation of a case by detective Sax Raker and his doctor assistant Watcham. Yes, it’s EXACTLY what you’re thinking. This happens in a London overrun by flying vehicles and electric cars, in 1907.

So, Sherlock Holmes in a steampunkish London? I can dig that. Only the book lacks any charm or cleverness, relying solely on the power of the character it references and on an ending that fails to surprise in any way (except for its mediocrity, something I never expect from Ellis). There is some humor, one or two good jokes (“God’s fucking balls, Raker, who killed the man?”), but they hardly make up for the flat story. And Ellis’ attempts at showing us how smart Sax Raker is supposed to be are sadly exaggerated. The first time he shows up on this book, he makes a series of guesses on Watcham, observing his movements and clothes to draw conclusions just like Sherlock did. Only he draws all those conclusions before even glancing at Watcham – so, unless everyone in this alternate reality has eyes located on the back of their heads, that’s just trying too hard.

It’s difficult to relate to the characters as well – Raker comes off as an arrogant piece of shit, not the charming, eccentric Holmes created by Conan Doyle. Watcham comes off as a moron for putting up with Raker’s shit. And so on, and so forth, creating an universe you could care less about – which obviously hurts the story. In fact, the flying vehicles and other steampunkish stuff never truly get to play an important role in the narrative, which is frustrating.

Gianluca Pagliarani’s art is mostly okay. Overall, it lacks charm or a certain personality. For comparison, just look at Raulo Caceres’ work on “Crécy”. Pagliarani also occasionally draws a face too long, or a weird facial expression, but the true problem is that his job just isn’t very interesting – but let’s be honest, the script didn’t help with that either.

“Aetheric Mechanics” is a story that fails to interest in any way. The plot is mediocre, the characters are flat and the charm is absent. And I really HATE to say all this, since I’ve been a Warren Ellis fan for a long time.

Streets of Glory #6

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Mike Wolfer

Colors by Andrew Dalhouse

In a nutshell: another great Avatar title by Garth Ennis reaches its end – and being a western, it could only involve bullets.

Joseph R. Dunn was a violent man. He fought in the Civil War. He did unspeakable things in his past. And for all his life, he wondered what he fought for. And his greatest fear, is that he did it for his country, “only to hand it to fools”. And in the final issue of “Streets of Glory”, his greatest fear comes true, and all the glory from days past is turned into pure, simple bloodshed without any honor.

So far, this mini-series has been a damn good western. With a loose plot that proceeds slowly but never dull, it’s about a man trying to pick up the pieces of his life. And Garth Ennis, always a brilliant character writer, stays true to all of them. It’s interesting how Dunn, at first, accepts it is all much bigger than him until he has nothing left to lose. Ennis utterly captures the feel of that time, not only in the story, but also with the excellent dialogue and the characters that also work as homages to the western genre. Morrison is the “irredeemable villain”, a bastard who knows what he is and doesn’t care. Shelley is the romantic interest (and a great one at that). Burley is the villain’s right-hand man. But Ennis is not satisfied in simply taking all those stereotypes and throwing them in the plot – he develops all of them, giving them his own touch as a writer.

Finally, the best moment in this story, for me, is when we see the panel showing Dunn’s gritted teeth, blood trickling from them in the cold wind. A perfect panel that says more than it appears.

Mike Wolfer’s art has hooked me. His style is peculiar, but the overall work looks great, and his visual narrative is impeccable. He helps Ennis in establishing a western mood, and in making the characters come to life – and in the final showdown, Wolfer’s art couldn’t be clearer. Andrew Dalhouse’s colors – despite forgetting to paint Tom’s eyebrows in a certain moment – has the right tones, especially blue, portraying not just the cold, but the sorrow of all those characters as they leave their time into another they’re not sure they agree with, but that they can’t seem to stop.

“Streets of Glory” is a rich homage to westerns and another beautiful work of art by my favorite writer.

Joker

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Lee Bermejo

Inks by Mick Gray and Lee Bermejo

Colors by Patricia Mulvihill

Lettering by Robert Clark

In a nutshell: I simply cannot describe how good this book is in few words. Just read the fucking review.

I am a fan of the Joker, more than I am a fan of Batman. I think he’s one of the best villains in narrative arts, and it’s no wonder I love Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” as much as I do. The way he walks the line between madness and pure evil fascinates me, and after Christopher Nolan’s brilliant “The Dark Knight”, “100 Bullets” scribe Brian Azzarello takes on the villain, diving on his mind and on his eternal fight against Batman.

We see all this through the eyes of Jonny Frost, a lowlife thug who volunteers to go pick up the Joker as he leaves Arkham Asylum after being inexplicably released (he never explains how he did that, and it isn’t even important to begin with, so the mystery remains). Deciding to stick with The Joker as he starts a series of murders and heists to get his holdings and businesses back, Frost starts noticing, far too late, that he got himself stuck inside a snowball that gets bigger and bigger.

Azzarello’s take on Gotham City, Batman and The Joker is fascinating. There’s none of this Judd-Winick-ish morality here: Batman is a vigilante with a dark sense of humor and who does what has to be done – which is why The Joker, in a certain moment, says to the sky “need me for more of your dirty work?” after killing a criminal. Gotham City itself is a brownish cesspit, a truly depressing city where “hope” is the biggest joke of them all. Harvey Dent is an influential man who struggles against his psychosis, the Penguin is a businessman who sets up boxing matches, Killer Croc is a gangbanger… everything is way darker and grittier than in most Batman stories.

And the star of the show is, of course, the Joker, whose ways of intimidating his enemies rival the pencil scene in “The Dark Knight”. Claiming he’s not crazy anymore, “just mad”, he wants his power back – since it was all taken from him while he was away. But unlike the pathetic Joker written by the terrible A. J. Lieberman in that “Hush” knock-off, this Joker is truly threatening in his umpredictability. He hardly plans, he just picks one or two really simple ideas to help him do his deeds. Also, Azzarello NAILS the Joker’s sense of humor. The “feel my muscle” bit is an instant classic.

The Joker is so threatening, in fact, that you even feel sorry for the protagonist Jonny Frost – a pathetic, impressionable moron who doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Having been to prison five times and such a lowlife even bacteria avoid being seen near him, he is the perfect portrayal of a loser. A loser who sees his chance to become a winner by joining the crew of the greatest criminal in the history of Gotham, and to reach that goal, he conveniently ignores his boss’ constantly changing mood and erratic behavior.

But the glory doesn’t lie all in Azzarello’s shoulders – Lee Bermejo is equally important with his phenomenal art, which can be compared to Brian Bolland’s work in “The Killing Joke”. His Joker isn’t the clown with the stretched facial muscles – it’s the messy-haired Joker with cuts on the sides of his mouth and uneasy eyes full of madness. Bermejo nails him so many times, he creates so many panels worthy of being printed and posted on a wall, that his work becomes as important as Azzarello’s. Mick Gray does a good job as well – he inked most of the art. And finally, colorist Patricia Mulvihill nails Gotham City, portraying it with reddish brown tones that suit the whole narrative down to the ground, and her colors on the pages inked by Bermejo are simply astonishing. As I said, phenomenal visual work. Damn good lettering, too.

Finally, we come to the ending, which I won’t reveal. Azzarello answers a long-standing question I had about Batman’s uniform, the design, the flaws… and while there can be many answers for this, Azzarello’s one is pure brilliance. A fitting ending to a masterpiece that can proudly stand alongside “The Killing Joke” as one of the best Batman graphic novels of all-time. I leave you with one of the many lines that deserve mention, and what happens after it is one of the best scenes in this book:

“I forgot to do something…” – Joker

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