Sunday, December 26, 2010

Battlefields: The Night Witches #2

By Garth Ennis (writer) and Russ Braun (artist)

Chapter 2 (of 3)

The Night Witches, the Russian female bomber pilots, are the heroes. The Germans are not. The Russians, both female and male, are portrayed as honorable. The Germans, with one exception, are not. It is very likely that before the end of chapter three the one honorable German will cross that line.

The more interesting story is the grimmer one: the story of the one honorable German soldier, Graf. Even though he is not one of the titular characters his journey involves more inner conflict and moments of character development. He is in the thick of the war in a way that Anna and the other Night Witches are not. He sees it and lives it much more vividly than they ever will until or unless they get shot down in enemy territory.

Cover: Battlefields: The Night Witches #2

Preview: Garth Ennis' Battlefields: The Night Witches #2

Friday, December 24, 2010

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

X-Men #129-137
By Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (penciler), Terry Austin (inker)

I didn't expect to be moved by the death of Jean Grey as much as I was. I've read this story before but it felt different this time, I don't recall shedding tears the previous time I read it. Not all of the visual storytelling was spot-on great but the significance and importance of the sacrifice that Jean makes come through loud and clear.

The final chapter is tragic on two levels. First it is the story of the young woman who wields god-like power and comes to realize that the power comes with a price. When she uses the power it transforms her into a being with extreme appetites that has no compassion for life and thinks nothing of killing billions to sate her hunger. Jean decides that sacrificing her own life is nothin compared to the safety of the universe. Her decision is heroic but it is also tragic because she did not choose to become the Phoenix.

Second it is the story of a young man, Scott Summers aka Cyclops, who has only recently been reunited with the woman he loves, Jean Grey. For a long time their story was one of unrequited love. Even after they finally opened their hearts fully to one another, being superheroes, their time together was constantly interrupted. Still reeling from Mastermind's attempt to cut Scott out of the picture and make Jean his lover, the two X-Men had yet to find the time to catch their breaths before Jean was faced with a horrific decision. While all of her teammates loved her and miss her it is Scott who is hit hardest by her decision to end her own life. It is tragic because he loses the love of his life, because she withheld her choice until the last moment, and because she killed herself in his presence.

Previously when I read this story I felt as though I was missing something, primarily because of the editor's notes which made references back to older issues that I had not read. Over the past couple years I have read all the prior issues of the X-Men (94-128, Giant Size #1) leading up to this storyline (129-137) and some even earlier issues (1-31) issues of the series. I had read some but not all of those issues before. It isn't essential to have read those issues prior to reading the Dark Phoenix Saga but it helps. Chris Claremont tends to foreshadow and return to characters and situations previously seen. Reading all the prior issues helped to enrich the experience of rereading this story. Even the first issues of the series made a difference as they depict the budding of Scott and Jean's relationship.

Finally, when I first started collected comics seriously in the early 1980s, roughly 30 years ago, this story was the story that everyone I knew was talking about. When I started buying back issues of the X-Men this story was bit beyond my budget. In the early 1980s Marvel had yet to start printing collected editions of hot stories like this one. It would be several years before I read it in its entirety and, really, not until now that I felt like I got the full picture.

For more in depth analysis and discussion of the Dark Phoenix Saga I recommend:

The Legion of Dudes: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Comic Geek Speak: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Human Target #14,15,16

The Second Coming
By Peter Milligan and Cliff Chiang

Part One: In the Name of the Father

Due to the complex way in which the story unfolds it helps to read this issue more than once. It unfolds at a choppy pace and is fairly character heavy.

Part Two: The Temptation of Christopher Chance

As much as I am enjoying some of the twists in this tale of the Human Target they are also tough to accept at times. It is tough to believe that none of the people he is dealing with can see through his disguise, including the father of the man (Paul James) he is pretending to be. Are there no faults in his disguise? The mask he's wearing can't be that good, can it? Even if he looks just like Paul James how is it possible that he also sounds just like him? In some ways it would be even easier to accept all this if he was a superhero.

Part Three: Pieces of Lead

This 3-parter is a bit of a hot mess. The pieces are all there but in the end they don't fit together. The characters don't seem real. It just all seems very trite, as if Milligan hasn't put enough time or effort into the story.

Cover Images: Human Target #14, 15, 16

Human Target was published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Battlefields: The Night Witches #1

By Garth Ennis (writer) and Russ Braun (artist)

Chapter 1 (of 3)

Make no mistake this is war, bloody war. This book doesn't pull any punches. Round one ends with what in another series might be a knockout. From all accounts the fighting between the Russians and Germans in World War 2 was some of the most deadly and dehumanizing. This book makes no attempt to disguise that fact. It puts faces and names to soldiers on both sides of the conflict as they kill and either get killed or survive only to see their compatriots killed before their eyes.

The Night Witches: the 599th Night Bomber Regiment was an all-female unit. They flew outdated biplanes which could only carry two bombs at a time. Their nickname was given to them by the Germans. This story is based on a real unit of the same name.

For more information on the real Night Witches wikipedia is as good a place as any to begin searching.

For more information on the fighting between Russia and Germany during World War II listen to the 4-part series produced by Hardcore History:

Ghosts of the Ostfront
Part 1 - An introduction to the subject and discussion of the causes and opening moves of Operation Barbarossa.
Part 2 - Looks at the attempt to take Moscow and the many compelling stories surrounding the momentous 1941 German offensive.
Part 3 - Looks at the situation in the U.S.S.R. during 1942 and early 1943, including the dreadful Battle of Stalingrad.
Part 4 - The horror story that is the Eastern Front descends into unimaginable darkness as vengeance is called down on Germany.

Cover: Battlefields: The Night Witches #1

Preview: Garth Ennis' Battlefields: The Night Witches #1

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Human Target #13

Crossing the Border
Part Two: Hey, Jude
By Peter Milligan and Javier Pulido

What's most moving about the way in which the second (and final) part of Crossing the Border opens is not what I thought it would be. I didn't imagine that Mary's devotion to her cause (helping poor Mexicans enter the United States illegally) would make my throat feel tight. That's probably because she kept her thoughts to herself for the most part in the previous issue. It wasn't clear then how much she was willing to give of herself.

The unfortunate thing about arcs like this one is how short they are. The creative team takes short cuts in order to tell the story. Quite often things aren't fully explained and, in the case of this story, are left unresolved. It really needed another issue or so of pictures and text to make the ending work better and seem less choppy. That's another way of saying I think this story falls short of being great. Worth my time and I love the way the words and pictured meshed, but just too short to convey the full emotional intensity of what is implied.

Cover Image: Human Target #13

Human Target was published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

House of Mystery v2: #10

Love Stories for Dead People: Chapter Five: La Belle et le Bête Noir by Matthew Sturges (writer), Luca Rossi (pencils), José Marzán Jr. (inks), and Lee Loughridge (colors) - There were a few interesting developments in this chapter but it did not feel like a concluding chapter. An episode ended, namely the exploration of the lower levels of the House, but this was a rather unsatifying end to Love Stories for Dead People. The only character it does seem to provide closure for is Miranda, who was also introduced in this volume. The larger story goes on and possibly it is unreasonable to expect this chapter to provide closure.

The upside to the way this volume ends is that the story still goes on. A little more was revealed about the lives of Harry, Ann, Cress, and Fig before they arrived at the House of Mystery, but only just enough to invite more questions. What's going to happen to Fig's father? Did Cress do more than wipe Simon's memory of their night together?

Fig's Adventure in Stuffytown by Bethany and Peter Keele (writers) and Kyle Baker (artist) - The most appealing part of this story is what it hints at, not what it delivers. Kyle Baker's art is not as appealing here as it has been in other books he has drawn. He is probably very capable of drawing great horror tales, but this isn't one. It doesn't grab the reader or contain deeper levels of meaning that can only be found by revisiting and re-examining the pages of this story.

House of Mystery is published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Human Target #12

Crossing the Border
Part One: Suffer the Children
By Peter Milligan and Javier Pulido

Past lives seems to be a recurring theme in the Human Target. Episodes often open with flashbacks to 10 or more years before the present. This episode opens with a flashback, which introduces one of the two threads in this arc. How it relates to the other thread is not difficult to figure out and is made clear at the end of the issue.

Even though this story was published over six years ago in 2004 the topic of people crossing the border separating the US from Mexico is still very relevant in 2010. It's an issue which has not gone away.

The most poignant image in the story occurs halfway though the issue just after the second coyote hands young Maria Centeno over to the third coyote, who is supposed to get her to her mother. The coyotes do nothing to discourage her or make her doubt that she will soon be reunited with her mother. The fate of the first coyote, on the other hand, makes it fairly clear that her guides have other things in mind for her.

The last image of Maria could be of any young girl or boy. All that is visible is her hand pressed up against the window of the third coyote's truck. The fingers are spread. Although it is probably meant to be a wave goodbye to the second coyote, it (coupled with the reassurance by the third coyote that she will soon see her mother) made me sad.

Cover Image: Human Target #12

Human Target was published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What I Bought - Nov 27, 2010

I was hoping to find cheaply priced ($1 or less) issues of various series from DC Comics from the mid-to-late 1970s at the Shoff Comic Show (Crowne Plaza, Tysons Corner, VA). I came home with several the last time I attended a Shoff Show, over the summer.

This time around there were some dealers there with dollar bins and I spent some time digging through them without finding anything from the era that I was hoping to find. What comics I was able to find from that era cost $3 or more. Being stingy and not desperately in need of reading material I didn't buy any of those comic books. Instead I came home with a trade.

I wouldn't have bought anything if I hadn't won a $10 door prize. I spent a considerable amount of time mulling over what to spend it on. I didn't want to buy a trade. I've got plenty of them sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read but in the end that's what I bought, specifically The Spirit: Femmes Fatales by Will Eisner. It seemed like my best bet appropriate purchase given what I had to choose from.