Patreon Preview Week : “Reckless” By Ed Brubaker And Sean Phillips

I did this last year, so I’m doing it again : in an effort to gin up interest in my Patreon site, I’m posting a selection of reviews that ran on there originally with the brazen goal being to get you, dear reader, to part with a buck (or more, if you wish) per month so that yours truly can find some level of intellectual justification for the sheer amount of time I put into cranking out so much comics criticism. Really, anything helps and is much appreciated. Next up : proof that I don’t ignore the comics mainstream entirely, as I take a look at the first volume in the new graphic novel series from the fan-favorite creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips —

Here’s the deal : the crime comics “dream team” of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been at it for so damn long now — over two decades, in fact — that they’re bound miss on occasion. The problem for me as a reader and as a critic, though, is that they had a pretty long string of misses going before finally hitting again with their most recent run of Criminal (in particular the two-issue yarn collected as Bad Weekend, which featured a clear Gil Kane stand-in up to even more underhanded shit than the real Gil Kane was sometimes known to be) and, especially, the pulp-western-New Deal thriller PULP, which for my money may be the high-water mark of their collaboration to date.  So, after a long dry spell, 2018-2019 saw the pair, in my humble estimation, back on a real roll.

You know what they say, though — nothing lasts forever.  And while eschewing the single-issue rat race in favor of going directly to self-contained-but-interconnected graphic novels with the adventures of their newest character, Ethan Reckless (hey, don’t laugh — the serial-novel heroes he’s loosely based on such as Remo “The Destroyer” Williams and, even more absurdly, Mark “The Penetrator” Hardin, are exponentially more ludicrous) makes pretty good sense in the post-COVID comics marketplace,  unfortunately too much on offer in his debut story, Reckless, simply doesn’t. That’s my queue to tell you that small but crucial “spoilers” follow —

The nuts and bolts of Ethan’s “character Bible” are interesting enough : former ’70s Weather Underground-style radical injured in a bomb blast that gives him amnesia, dulls his pain receptors, and fucks up his overall emotional processing and affect goes even further underground as an off-the-books private dick is a cool enough conceptual framework for these seasoned hands to craft some fun noir-ish stories around, and the early-’80s LA setting is pretty much pitch-perfect for the kinds of things they’re obviously itching to do. The added wrinkle that Ethan was, in actuality, an FBI CONITELPRO cop secretly out to bust his friends works, too — not because it makes him more likeable, but because it makes him decidedly less so : I mean, good pulp protagonists are almost always morally conflicted, right? The problem arises not from the fact that he’s an asshole, but from the fact that he’s a self-pitying one.

I don’t hold it against Brubaker for starting this new series out with the most obvious story choice of all — old flame from Ethan’s radical days comes back, is in trouble, needs protection from a bad dude, etc. — and again, I’m intrigued that lack of normal emotive ability on the part of our erstwhile “hero” is one of his defining traits. What I do hold against our scribe, though, is a running internal monologue on Ethan’s part throughout that is tinged with remorse not so much for the people he fucked over, but for himself. Rainy, his ex, isn’t even a “character” as much as she is a symbol of all that Ethan had and subsequently lost, and inserting himself into her dilemma, while ostensibly a way to make things right, actually isn’t even that for him in any appreciable way, rather it’s a self-administered test to see if he can still feel anything at all — other than, of course, regret that he can’t feel anything. It’s all pretty frustrating because, again, the sort of character they want this guy to be — and that, in fairness, he may still develop into down the road — seems like he might be a pretty memorable one. But he comes off here as the kind of dude you’ll be happy to forget as surely as he forgets parts of himself.
There are some issues with the pacing of the story, as well — Brubaker delivers his biggest shock twist before even the halfway point, then lays off the gas with any others until serving up a rather customary-for-this-sort-of-thing volley of them at the end, but seems to forget that they each successive one should, ideally, be more impactful that the one that preceded it — but all of that pales in comparison with the folly of trying to make a tough-guy action hero out of the most woe-is-me guy in comics since Ditko’s Peter Parker. And he was supposed to be that way. Ethan Reckless, by contrast, is supposed to be flat, unresponsive, uncaring — but instead comes off as self-absorbed to the point that even his more altruistic moves are open to the “what’s in it for him?” question.  Consequently, when he earns a bit of an emotional respite, maybe even some sense of inner peace, in the book’s final pages, it feels entirely unearned.
I definitely give Phillips credit for pulling his weight, though, and ditto for his son/colorist, Jacob. Projects like The Fade Out and Kill Or Be Killed featured art that leaned far too heavily on photo referencing for my tastes, but here, while Phillips has obviously done his requisite period-setting research, he’s doing mainly free-hand drawing again, and injecting everyone with a fair degree of visual personality that I wish the script lived up to, and the overly-saturated color palette drapes everything in a highly appropriate thick, almost oppressive, California haze. Reckless looks great, then — and I’m sure the series pitch read great — but at $25 per volume, Brubaker’s gonna have to come to grips with how to really write this character pretty quickly before it becomes difficult for readers to justify such a large expenditure three or four times in the next year, as their publishing plan calls for. I guess I remain cautiously optimistic — but damn, how about that? I can’t for the life of me remember why.

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Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/26/2020 – 02/01/2020

It’s a total fucking grab-bag this week with a first issue, a last issue, and a couple of regular old middle-ish number issues from a pair of favorite ongoings. And so, having said that —

I’m a sucker for Man-Thing, particularly Steve Gerber’s take on the character, and while the new anti-hero called Man-Slaughter (not that he/it is ever referred to as such in the story) who features in Marvel’s Weapon Plus : World War IV #1 isn’t exactly the same (man-) thing, he’s pretty close — and this eco-horror yarn by Benjamin Percy and Georges Jeanty comes as near to re-capturing that old Gerber mystique as anything I’ve read. I don’t know jack shit about what the “Weapon IV” program is, nor what the “Weapon Plus” referred to in this comic’s title even means, but I know a good comic when I read one — and for “Wednesday Warrior” stuff, this is a damn good comic. A much-racking journalist gets kidnapped by the government and stuck with an injection of Ted Sallis’ corrupted version of the “super-soldier” serum, emerging as a Man-Thing redux who can still think and reason and all that stuff that Sallis himself no longer can. And the latest “rescue” mission Uncle Sam sends him on is gonna pit him against his own “mad scientist” brother? That’s some solid Bronze Age-style pathos right there, and the whole thing’s a vaguely topical morality play that addresses relevant contemporary issues, but does so in a manner that heightens— rather than detracts from — the melodrama. And Jeanty’s art is just superb, leaps and bounds beyond the work he did for WildStorm/Vertigo’s The American Way. It’s creepy, crawly, and yeah,  vaguely reminiscent of both Mike Ploog and Richard Corben, so you know that means it’s great. My one beef with this book — which I assume to be a one-shot — is that the page count was padded (as was the price tag) with the addition of a really lame back-up strip starring something called “Project : Brute Force,” which tries to tell a truncated, capes-and-tights version of We3 in the space of six or eight pages. Tell you what, though — this was still well worth dropping five bucks on, and was my out-of-left-field surprise pick for comic of the week.

Following pretty close on its heels, however, was another Marvel book, The Immortal Hulk #30, which was a welcome action-centric issue from “A-list” creative team Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, and Ruy Jose, who are still sticking with the engrossing corporate-greed-and-intrigue storyline they’ve got going, but are now also giving The Hulk (who’s once again in his “classic” brainless green incarnation) another batch of foes who are pretty nearly his equal in the size and strength department. Bennett’s character designs are off-the-charts amazing  in this installment, and all in all the only “knock” it has going against it is that the cover by Alex Ross “spoils” the last-page cliffhanger. Other than that? Another terrific issue of one of he best series in all of comics.

Moving on over to Image, specifically Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint, we’re treated to the start of a new story arc in Redneck #25, and it’s a doozy — Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren have cooked up a wordless issue this time around, and it’s a perfect choice for this Biblical tale focusing on the world’s first vampire and the origins of the secret human-vampire war that’s been raging away below the radar for centuries. Estherren, who is progressing by leaps and bounds as this series goes along,  is called upon to do pretty much all the heavy lifting here, and he more than delivers the goods. The double-page spread at the center of the book, in fact, rises to “ya gotta see it to believe it” level. If you’re passing on this title you’re making a mistake, but if you want to see what you’ve been missing out on, this is the perfect time to do so.

Sticking with Image, we come to the end of the “Cruel Summer” story arc, its protagonist Teeg Lawless, and the series itself with Criminal #12. I’m surprised to see Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips mothball this title once again — although this has (barely) been its longest sustained run, and they’re already promising more at some point down the road. Unfortunately, Brubaker kinda pulls a conclusion out of his ass with this one — and given that we’ve known Teeg’s ultimate fate for years at this point, how and why he arrives at it were really the only questions that lingered, and a weak and random plot twist at the start of the issue and a predictably tragic ending are probably both less than this fan-favorite character deserves, but they’re what he got. Phillips’ art is nice, and it’s great to see him really back in the swing of things after turning in what looked like largely disinterested work (barring the kick-ass demonic stuff) in Kill Or Be Killed, so after this many years of following these guys from one project to another I’m not likely to jump ship now — but it seems to me that they might be pulling the plug on this title at just the right time, even if I had no idea they were planning on doing so. Hell, I could have sworn that Brubaker said they were cranking away at this for at least a couple of years in an earlier letters column. Anyway, they’ve got another OGN coming in May, then their next monthly is launching in the summer, so we’ll see what all that’s about.

All told, then, not too shabby of a week at the LCS, and the timing couldn’t have been better because I feel like the comics mainstream hasn’t been offering much of interest for the past few weeks or so. Consider my batteries fully recharged, then — and you can help charge them further, should you so desire, by signing up for my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/20/2019 – 10/26/2019

My reading selection of books released this past Wednesday offers no real thematic connection to stitch together — no preponderance of first issues, no mix of firsts and lasts, nothing like that — so we’re just gonna get totally random with this week’s “capsule review” selections, and the verdicts for each are, likewise, all over the map —

Forcing a “milestone” label onto a book that’s been around for, like, less than two years seems a bit of a reach, but Marvel is no doubt eager to capitalize on the runaway critical and commercial success of The Immortal Hulk, and so #25 has indeed been marketed as some sort of “landmark” issue, and saddled with the extra pages and $5.99 price tag that comes part and parcel with such a purported “occasion.” Fortunately, cash-grabs don’t come much better than this stand-alone “cosmic” story that bears distinct echoes to Alan Moore’s legendary “Swamp Thing in space” arc and features absolutely gorgeous art from German Garcia to accompany Al Ewing’s magnificent, evocative script. Series regulars Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose are back for the last few pages that deliver a kick-ass cliffhanger, and the future for this series looks every bit as bright as the present. If they want another six bucks out of me come #50, guess what? I’m not gonna complain in the least.

Also carrying a steeper-than-usual price tag ($4.99, to be precise) and also from Marvel is Marauders#1, the first of the “X-Books” since the relaunch not to be written by Jonathan Hickman, although stylistically it certainly feels of a piece with his efforts, and the text pages design carries right over from them. The raison d’etre behind this team’s formation feels a bit forced, though, I have to say, and premises in search of a story to support them never actually work out particularly well. In addition, the characters writer Gerry Duggan has found foisted upon him are strictly “C-listers” (at best) all the way, as we’ve got Kitty Pryde leading this makeshift “pirate mutant protectors” outfit with Iceman, Pyro, Storm, and Bishop  in tow, and Emma Frost hanging in the background as financier of the hastily-conceived enterprise. Matteo Lolli’s art is okay, but only that, and overall one gets the distinct impression that this is a book with a 12-issue lifespan if it’s lucky. I won’t be hanging around to find out how accurate that prediction is or not, however.

Then again, who knows? Maybe I should. After all, you never know when a title might pull everything together and make your sticking things out worth the while. Case in point : Tommy Gun Wizards #3 from Dark Horse finally sees Christian Ward breathe some real life and drama into his “occult take on The Untouchables” premise, just in time for the big finale next time around, and the art by Sami Kivela, which in all fairness to this mini-series grabbed me right away and kept me around to this point, just gets stronger and more confident with each issue. The Ward-illustrated backup strip is over and done with after this one, the events within it now cleverly tying into the main story, and I gotta say that if the ending’s as good as this installment was, then these guys will have achieved something pretty remarkable, namely : delivering a memorable story entirely on the back end, the first half having basically been a confused — and confusing — mess.

Lastly but in no way leastly, the “Cruel Summer” storyline currently running in Ed Brubkaer and Sean Phillips’ Image Comics-published Criminal reaches another creative high-water mark in issue #9, as our narrative bottle-spin stops on teenage sorta-hood Leo Patterson, who finds himself being led down a dangerous path by his best friend Ricky, son of longtime on-and-off series protagonist Teeg Lawless. I was cooling on Brubaker/Phillips in a pretty big way after their last couple of projects, but going back to the well and expanding its scope and reach has proven to be a genius move for the duo, as they’re back to producing grade-A work month after month with this new “floppy” iteration of their venerable neo-noir “franchise.” Long may it continue.

And that was the week that was, the only order of business left on the docket being my customary reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. If you have even so much as a passing interest in my work you’re sure to get your money’s worth by joining up, so give it a try by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/14/2019 – 07/20/2019

What better place to start this week than with the end of an era?

Or three of ’em, to be precise, as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest #6 marks not only the final installment of the long-running, if sporadic, series (or should that be “series of series”?), but also the much-publicized last comic ever written by Alan Moore and the less-well-publicized last comic ever drawn by Kevin O’Neill. Both (extraordinary, let’s be honest) gentlemen are off to greener pastures than this beleaguered medium has to offer, and they finish their epic in fun, smart, surprisingly understated style, having a go at just about everything on their way out the door, most notably themselves. This concluding arc, co-published by Top Shelf and Knockabout, has divided some — funny how these things always do — but for my part it was everything I’d been hoping it would be and then some, with obscure pop culture references flying at readers a mile a minute but never distracting from the crisp action, sharp storyline, and packed-to-the-gills-with-greatness artwork. It’s a bittersweet things to see these guys go — assuming either retirement actually sticks — but they’ve certainly more than earned a curtain call should they ever wish to take one, and they even manage to get a welcome dig in at the right-wing incel horde known as “comicsgate” on their way out the door via the letters page. More celebration than eulogy, this was the perfect way to wrap up a story over two decades in the making, as well as the careers of a pair of genuinely visionary and transformational talents. Yeah, I cried (wanna make something of it?) — but I laughed a lot, too. Effing sublime stuff, in addition to being an instant piece of comic book history.

And speaking of comic book history, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillps’ latest Image graphic novel, Bad Weekend, is positively steeped in it, relating as it does the story (originally serialized in their monthly Criminal series) of a composite character (with a good 75% of said “composite” apparently being based more or less directly on Gil Kane) who used to be a big shot artist in the funnybook game, but is now reduced to petty crime in order to make ends meet and settle old scores. The last couple Brubaker/Phillips projects came up short in my estimation, but this book — expanded to include something like eight new pages not included in the “floppies” — is proof positive that they’re still pretty well untouchable as a mainstream creative team when firing on all cylinders, and that those cylinders are far from burned out. Maybe not the one of the “best” book of the year as some are claiming, but I’ll happily go out on a limb and declare it to be one of the most enjoyable. Work for hire makes desperate fools of all who toil under its remorseless regime.

Also from Image comes Little Bird #5, the concluding act in Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram’s five-part tale of resistance to a theocratic dystopia, and it’s a pretty solid send-off, loaded with cinematic battle scenes, smartly-executed characterization, and of course breathtaking, Moebius-esque artwork. I dunno, I guess it’s fair to say that some things come up a bit flat story-wise and not everything gets wrapped up with a bow, but these two are apparently working on a second series set in the same fictional world, and I’m ready to get in line for that already. Bertram is one of the most exciting artists in the mainstream right now, and as long as Van Poelgeest serves up scripts that give his collaborator plenty to sink his teeth into, that’s really all that matters. Decent enough to read, absolutely glorious to look at.

Lastly, DC serves up a thoroughly modern “throwback” comic with Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1. Fraction seems to be making a play for the title of Grant Morrison’s heir apparent with this one, brimming over as it is with a kind of deliberately nostalgic “high weirdness” that feels awfully calculated but nevertheless makes for fun storytelling, while Lieber, for his part, brings a lot more personality to the part than most “Big Two” comics artists these days could ever conceive of, much less get past editorial. This comic didn’t blow me away or anything, but I had a good time with it, there are surprises aplenty, and it’s determined to give readers value for their four bucks, which is a lot more than you can say for most things coming from the house Siegel and Shuster built — and had stolen from them.

And that was, as Walter Cronkite used to say, the week that was. Which means our only remaining order of business here is to remind you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon page, where I serve up three original and exclusive pieces of writing (bet you thought I was going to say “shit,” didn’t you?) on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics weekly in exchange for as little as a buck a month from you good readers. Any support I get helps ensure a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please take a moment to check it out and consider joining at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/10/2019 – 02/16/2019, The Image Of Crime

Every “cool point” I’ve ever earned with the small press scene is about to fly right out the door/go down the grain/get flushed away/pick your cliche when I admit, right here and now, that I fucking love Ed Brubaker and Sean Phllips’ Criminal. Always have, always will. Not in some lame ironic way. Not as a so-called “guilty pleasure.” I just plain dig the hell out of this comic. I’ve found the duo’s other projects to be a mix of the pretty good (Kill Or Be Killed), the pretty average (Fatale), and the pretty damn lousy (The Fade Out), but Criminal remains the straight dope for fans of comics noir. When I heard they were resurrecting it, and blowing off the lame “story arc” format that afflicts pretty much every other title on LCS shelves in favor of short-form stories, one-shots, and the like — in other words, doing whatever they wanted — I was doubly excited. For this week’s Round-Up column, we’ll be looking at the first two issues of the title’s new iteration, as well as the first two of another Image crime (I guess?) book. Jeff Rougvie and Moritat’s Gunning For Hits.

Don’t let the fact that returning character Teeg Lawless is the protagonist in Criminal #1 put you off if you’ve never sampled the book before; this double-sized (but still priced at “only” $3.99) debut is exceptionally “new reader friendly” and, honestly, fairly straightforward — Teeg’s kid has ripped off the wrong guy and now the old man’s gotta set things straight by any means necessary. That means scraping together a big score out of thin air, but fortunately the death of an old “friend” leads to the opportunity for, perhaps, an unexpected windfall. Brubaker’s script is lean, mean, and loaded with every genre trope you could hope for minus the femme fatale, and if Phillips’ grim n’ gritty art has ever looked better, I’d be hard-pressed to say when that was. The addition of his son Jacob on colors proves to be an exemplary choice as he really knows how to lay the hues on top of pop’s work, and all in all this is the most thoroughly satisfying Brubaker/Phillips jam in effing years.

Or was, at any rate, because if anything Criminal #2 is even better. Going back to another earlier well, Brubaker does a complete 180 here, leaving the story from the first issue hanging and jumping right into what is apparently a two-part tale about a down-on-his-luck legendary comics artist (let’s just call him what he is — a Gil Kane stand-in) who enlists the services of one of his former proteges who’s now a petty thief in order to get his pound of flesh after a lifetime of bad choices led to him hustling off valuable original art for pennies on the dollar. An earlier “arc” of this series played in this same sandbox, cleverly mixing actual comics history and personages with “names-changed-to-protect-the-innocent” stories that have been circulating for decades, along with a healthy does of complete bullshit. Puzzling out which is which is a big part of the fun, but even absent that admitted (but highly effective) gimmickry, this is just a solid small-time crime yarn with, once again, killer art that shows you every ring on the bar napkin, every liver spot on the old guy’s hands. Not as hefty in terms of page count as the previous ish, but you still get plenty of comics and backmatter for your four bucks here.

Switching gears just a bit, but still in the same general vicinity genre-wise — at least I think — we come to Gunning For Hits #1, which only boasts a standard page-count, but packs more into those pages than, seriously, anything else out there. Billed as a “music thriller,” scribe Jeff Rougvie knows this landscape well, and how much of record-label A&R man protagonist Martin Mills’ exploits are either directly cribbed and/or extrapolated from his own time in the industry is an interesting thing to ponder as you make your way through these densely-scripted pages. Martin’s flying high in this 1990s-set story, riding a hot streak, but just how far will he go to sign a promising new act — and if he does get their ink on his contract, is it really them he’s after, or are they a convenient stepping stone to scoring the profitable back catalogue of a legendary glam-rock recluse? Throw in a few telling hints about Martin’s shady past (as if his present is entirely on the up-and-up), and some solid art from Moritat that shifts styles effortlessly between contemporary-looking stuff and old-school Sunday newspaper strip-style cartooning, and the end result is probably the strongest debut of the year, with one major caveat : there’s a lame and mind-numbingly retrograde caricature in here that I took to at the very least play into, if not actively reinforce, the most tired anti-Semitic tropes around. From where I’m sitting, at any rate, it looks as offensive as it reads, and I could scarcely believe it made it was into a comic book in 2019. Hell, I don’t think it would have slipped past editorial 30, even 40 years ago — and yet there it is. I grew up reading Crumb, so this kinda shit slides off my back more easily than it probably should, but if you were to choose to walk away from this comic in disgust, I can’t say that I’d blame you. That being said —

It’d be a damn shame if you did, though, because that would mean you’d miss out on Gunning For Hits #2 ,which is even stronger than its predecessor. If you think Martin’s a dick — and who are we kidding, he kinda is — wait until you meet his best friend, the kind of loathsome-but-weirdly-likable lowlife flush with cash that was a fixture of the entertainment industry (as in, every entertainment industry) in the 1980s and ’90s. Martin’s plans are coming more fully into view here, even if his past is muddier than ever, but you get the sense that everything’s gonna collide with spectacularly devastating results for everyone but our man himself, who’s probably already calculated the one and only angle to emerge from his largely self-created mess smelling like a goddamn rose. Thick with intrigue, sleaze, and music-biz cliches — plus some seriously slick art — this is Rougvie, Moritat, and colorist Casey Silver hitting a mean stride admirably early in their run. Greatness isn’t just “around the corner,” it’s already here. Lots of backmatter to give you extra value for money, too.

And that’s a wrap. Next week’s Round-Up will likely see us back in our familiar small-press stomping grounds, but until then I’m obligated to remind you that this, and every, review on this page is “sponsored by” my recently-launched Patreon page, which offers thrice-weekly exclusive rants from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Your support there enables me to continue providing free content here and at my trashfilmguru movie site, so please consider joining up today at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/24/2018 – 06/30/2018, Happy Endings?

Four series I’ve been following from their inception  — in the case of two that means for a couple/few years now, for the other two just a handful of months — wrapped up this past week. But did they wrap up succesfully? That is the question —

Okay, it’s probably a cheat to include The Beef #5 in this column given it hit shelves the Wednesday before last, but my shop didn’t get their copies until this week, so it counts as a “new comic” as far as I’m concerned — and it’s an awesome one, at that. Things don’t go so well for our guy Chuck — in fact, hopefully it’s not giving too much away to call him “Ground Chuck” at this point — but that doesn’t mean his alter ego doesn’t live on. This issue was grotesque and unnerving even by this series’ standards, but it was also funny as shit, and at the end of the day co-writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline can pat themselves on their backs for serving up raw the most entertaining, absurdist, and disturbing polemic in favor of vegetarianism ever produced in any medium, while Shaky Kane — well, shit, he’s Shaky Kane. Words simply cannot do the man justice. The backmatter also does a great job of highlighting the contributions of designer John Roshell, who seriously busted his ass producing this books’ strikingly original covers. If you’ve been passing on this in singles, fear not, Image will be cranking it out in trade in fairly short order, I’m sure, and you have absolutely no excuse not to grab a copy. Gandhi takes a shotgun blast through the head — and it’s played for laughs. You need this comic in order to survive.

Sticking with Image, we come to Kill Or Be Killed #20, the grand finale of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ latest crime/noir thing (albeit with a supernatural twist and plenty of Amazing Spider-Man references — check that cover!), except it’s really not so “grand” at all. Brubaker seems to have gone from The Fade-Out to “The Fake-Out,” tossing two major, but decidedly uninspired, head-fakes our way before settling on a bog-standard Hollywood genre ending that you’ve seen done both before and better more times than you can count. Phillips’ art remains competent if a bit stuck in a certain stylistic rut, but seriously — this is two underwhelming long-form series in a row from this celebrated team, and how long I feel the need  to keep following them remains a very open question. They’re moving onto a graphic novella next (a preview of which is included at the back of this issue), then kicking off another monthly, and I think I’m gonna wait and hear what folks have to say about both before slapping down my hard-earned cash for either.

Also on the long-form front, Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook put their fan-favorite Dark Horse horror title Harrow County to bed with issue #32, and while it’s a fairly cut-and-dried “epic final battle” sort of thing, it’s got a lot of heart behind it, and Emmy’s story feels like it’s ending exactly as it should. Bunn steps back and lets and Crook’s gorgeous watercolor art carry the bulk of the storytelling load, as it should, and the extra page count for this issue (which, fair warning, is priced at $4.99, while everything else on our “radar screen” this week carries a now-pretty-standard $3.99 price tag — although this one also boasts a higher-quality cardstock cover, as well) affords him the opportunity to finish with a flourish of stunning double-page spreads. I’m really gonna miss picking this comic up every month, and I do hope these two find themselves collaborating on  another project in the not-too-distant future. They didn’t set out to re-invent the wheel or anything here, just tell an involving folk/rural horror story that did its characters, concepts, and setting justice. And that they certainly did. Take a bow, gents — you’ve earned it.

Lat but not least, over at Vertigo, Simon Spurrier and Rachael Stott send off their wildly inventive sci-fi family drama, Motherlands, with issue #6, and it’s pretty much a textbook example of how to go out with a bang. The previous installment left us with one hell of a cliffhanger, and Spurrier not only makes sure we get some sweet “payoff” out of it by exploring all of its attendant implications (I’m trying really hard to avoid “spoilers” here, if you couldn’t tell), he also sees to it that every single sub-plot he’d been toying with along the way gets tied together in cohesive fashion, while Stott — who appeared to stumble a bit, deadline-wise, in the early going and only drew four and half of the series’ issues — illustrates the heavily- 2000AD-influenced proceedings with a clean, crisp line that looks extremely polished but still conveys plenty of excitement and, when necessary, raw pain and angst. This comic seems to have gone largely overlooked on stands — let’s be honest, most Vertigo things are these days — but you know what? It’s been an absolute blast, combining rip-roaring adventure, human emotion, and smart, “high-concept” genre storytelling in about as thoroughly satisfying a fashion as possible, so anyone who missed out on it monthly? You should seriously check it out in trade.

And with that, we conclude our look at conclusions. Next week they tell me Batman and Catwoman are getting married — but hopefully some comics that actually matter will be coming out, as well, and we’ll be looking at them here seven short days from now. Hope to see you then!