First Look: Writer Brian Azzarello Brings a Noir Sensibility to the Western in “Loveless”

By Sean Fahey

 As genres go, the Western is more versatile than most people give it credit.  It’s more about themes than conventions.  Renewal.  Independence.  A frontier where you can reinvent yourself and escape your past.  Makes no difference whether that frontier is the Black Hills of South Dakota or the darkest corners of outer space.  Makes no difference whether your best friend is a Colt or a katana.  Apache.  Reavers.  Again, makes no difference.  Scenery versus substance.  It’s interesting then that writer Brian Azzarello’s new series Loveless has all the trappings of what is generally considered a Western, but at its core the book exudes a very powerful noir sensibility.  It’s more Point Blank than High Noon.  More Bonnie & Clyde than Butch & Sundance.  It looks like a Western.  It smells like a Western.  But at the end of the day…it’s something else.  However you label it though, Loveless is an intriguing read, and an exceptional one at that.

Unlike Azzarello’s plot-heavy 100 Bullets, Loveless is primarily a character piece.  The morality here is extremely complex and flies in the face of tradition Western conventions.  The series’ “protagonists,” Wes and Ruth Cutter, are a husband and wife team of outlaws hell-bent on revenge.  Exactly why we aren’t told (it’s the first issue…and it’s Azzarello), but it’s enough to know for now that both were scared by the Civil War – irretrievably so.  They’re good people that have gone bad, and they like it that way.  They’re not looking to reinvent themselves.  They’re not even necessarily interested in justice.  They’re just looking for some payback. 

Loveless # 1 has Azzarello’s signature all over it.  It’s dark.  It’s violent.  The dialogue is very stylized.  And – most importantly – it’s compelling, both the narrative and the craftsmanship.  Azzarello has taken two characters from the world of crime noir and set them loose in the Reconstruction American West to wreak havoc.  It’s an intelligent mixture of genres – the conventions, themes and motivations.  And though not groundbreaking (after all Deadwood is for all intents and purposes Dashiell Hammet’s “Red Harvest”), this is still a fresh backdrop for a story – still a new way to look at the Western.  The real challenge for this book though will be for Azzarello to keep the characters compelling – more than just murders looking for revenge – and the series promises to do just that through continual flashbacks that contextual the people that Wes and Ruth have become.

It’s no surprise that Azzarello sought out former Hellblazer collaborator Marcelo Frusin to handle the artwork for Loveless.  The two clearly speak each other’s language.  Frusin’s work on this book is masterful.  His dark and heavy linework goes a long way toward establishing the noir atmosphere necessary for this story.  Characters – like their motivations – are always partially obstructed, hidden in shadow.  And the violence is raw.  Frusin skillfully conveys the brutality of the Cutter’s methods.  This book is dark in every sense of the word.  A must read book.

If you want to learn more about Loveless, you can read my interview with Brian Azzarello HERE.

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

Dan Slott’s “She-Hulk” Appeals to a Higher Court

By Russell Paulette

 You can feel it, bubbling just below the surface.  The call for “fun” comics; the need to laugh, to see clever premises, to read even-more-clever solutions.  It’s in the air, an electric tang that’s calling out to the readership, trying to tempt us to its shore.  One of the leaders of this fun brigade, one of the loudest and most soothing-sounding sirens out there?  Dan Slott.

You might remember his name if you were reading cartoon tie-in comics from the early 90s—Slott cut his teeth on titles like Marvel’s Ren & Stimpy and DC’s Looney Toons and the like.  So, in that sense, his humor pedigree is pretty well founded.  On the other hand, some of his breakout books were considerably dark—over at DC, he did the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum: Living Hell book with Ryan Sook; and at Marvel, there was the recent Great Lakes Avengers title that, while funny, was a very black humor. 

Then, there was She-Hulk, and this new number one marks a “season two” attempt at new readership.  After twelve issues on the last go-round, Slott is re-teamed with his regular artist Juan Bobillo for another shot at breathing life into Shulkie.  Does  it work?

And how.  This first issue reintroduces the world of Jennifer Walters, acting lawyer for superhuman law specialists, Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, and sometimes Jolly Green Giantess.  She takes the cases that specialize in the wacky, weird reality of shared super-hero based universes, and this first issue introduces the latest wacky premise—a man on trial for the attempted murder of another man.  The defendant claims that he shot this man in self defense because…well, to say too much would ruin a minor surprise, but let’s just say that the entire defense strategy involves time travel—including jury selection.

That’s right—time travel.  It’s a wonder, at this point, that someone hasn’t been allowed to run with such a nakedly wacky book in such a long time.  This is a comic that openly acknowledges its presence as a comic book and repeatedly uses it as a plot point.  It’s a comic that guest-stars members of the Young Avengers, as well as the Young Avengers comic book itself.  It’s a geeky book, to be sure, but one that revels in its geekiness while still maintaining its accessibility.  It’s one of the main strengths of Slott’s writing, and a large part of the appeal.  The other part of the appeal is just that it is as funny and clever as you’d want a book like this to be.

Bobillo’s artwork is nicely rendered in a fluid style that’s appropriate to the material.  Adept at the courtroom stuff, and the She-Hulk-busting-through-walls stuff, Bobillo seems comfortable in the world of the book.  By keeping the tone light, while maintaining a foot in reality, the style of his artwork breathes an efficiency to the storytelling, and adds a nice layer of humor to Slott’s script.  It’s not perfect artwork, but it’s damn good, and Bobillo’s about nine-tenths of the way towards being an artist to watch out for.

My only major reservation with this book is the Greg Horn cover, which is rendered in his typically plastic-wrap covered, anatomically atrocious manner.  Other than being wrapped in ugliness, this is a sharp book that delivers very well on all promises. 

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

The Infinite Crisis is upon us!

by Graig Kent

 It’s all been leading to this, the epic mini-series years in the making.  If you’ve been reading the industry columns or the fansites or message boards you will know that the entire crew involved in the making of Infinite Crisis (which is pretty much everybody who’s working DC’s mainstream titles at the moment) have been pretty tight lipped about what the actual event is and what its impact will be on the DC Universe.  But they say the clues are there, strewn throughout the DCU titles for the past two or three years.  It would basically need to be your day job (say, an editor for DC Comics) to really keep track of all these clues, however.

There have been four major (and one minor) mini-series that directly lead into the main event: Villains United, Day Of Vengeance, Project: OMAC, The Rann-Thanagar War, and The Return Of Donna Troy.  Each of these series varied widely in quality and readability, and all were inevitably disappointing in that their stories weren’t self-contained and their conclusions were each "To Be Continued in Infinite Crisis".  In a few cases, some of the major plot developments in those mini-series (specifically Villains United and Donna Troy) required a first-hand familiarity with the 1985 maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths to really understand.  What’s more, the first issue of Infinite Crisis relies heavily on all the lead-in minis and the 20-year old comic for it’s set-up and payoff.  In other words, if you havn’t been paying attention, it isn’t going to make much sense.

But that begs the question: If you havn’t been paying attention, then why would you even want to pick the book up?  That’s rhetorical, don’t answer.  The DC hype machine, the internet, the trade mags, even the indie snobs are all paying attention (if, in some cases, only to damn it).  This thing is going to sell big, even to people who havn’t read a superhero title in many years.  With those people in mind, the first issue of the book tries hard to catch people up on what’s been going on, which is both a virtue and a fault.  Even as someone who has read most of the minis leading into it and having read the original Crisis many years ago, I still found the book to be a little too impenetrable, a little too rich in detail and set-up.  Writer Geoff Johns packs in a tense meeting between Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman at the demolished JLA tower, a follow-up sequence to each of the five lead-in minis, some bits about Superboy having lost his confidence, the all-new Freedom Fighters having a very rough time, and a surprise ending which will mean nothing to anyone who started reading comics after 1986.

I’ve read this book three or four times over, and the only thing I can really say about the story at this point is that it’s vague.  There’s no real sense of what direction it’s going in, which is intriguing enough to get me to pick up the next issue, but I’m still a little frustrated with it.  The characters know what’s going on, but even when discussing what’s coming with each other they are intentionally obtuse so as not to let the reader in on their conversation.  The audience is being held at arms length and that, more than anything, is what makes the launch of Infinite Crisis hard to enjoy.  Even the fight sequences seem gratuitous, the purpose they serve in the larger picture escaping me (except to say that bad guys are really bad).

What doesn’t make it hard to enjoy is the artwork by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning, with Jeromy Cox and Guy Major on what must be maddening color detail.  Jimenez has long been a favorite artist of mine.  I’ve watched him progress as an artist over the years, and here he’s done what is quite possibly his finest work.  Like George Perez on the original Crisis before him, Jimenez packs in the detail on every page (can anyone tell me exactly how many OMACs are on the page 8-9 spread? Or how many ships are on the page 10-11 spread? It’s insane), and if Johns’ script doesn’t give you the size and scope of the story, Jimenez artwork will put things into perspective.  Jimenez’s grasp of anatomy, faces, expressions and posture has never been more rock solid, and his technical details and backgrounds are simply awe inspiring.

If the first issue of Infinite Crisis asks anything of the reader, it’s not that they go back and buy the original Crisis or the prequel mini-series, but rather patience.  But for those of us that have been following the build-up to this event, patience is wearing pretty thin.

THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3

"I Gotta Catch Santa Claus" Lets Us Know That It’s Never Too Early To Cash In… Er… Celebrate the Christmas Spirit

By Rob Glenn

 It seems that all hack observational comedians touch on this subject.  It lives somewhere tucked in their repertoire between tired comparisons of racial stereotypes and the proliferation of Starbucks.  "What is the deal with all the Christmas stuff in stores already?  It’s not even Halloween yet!"  Throw in a joke about selling fright masks during Easter.  Pause for laugh.  Then go ahead and start the riff about how one drives on parkways and parks on driveways.  Far be it for me to consider myself any better than that.  So what is the deal with Taylor Comics putting out a Christmas themed comic before the Halloween candy has even got that white film over the chocolate yet?

I Gotta Catch Santa Claus is the first comic in a line of holiday kidnapping books.  This one deals with a group of children who devise plans to capture the secular symbol of Christmas so that they can win a $25,000 scholarship.  As the jolly fat man travels to each of the children’s homes, they use increasingly violent methods including utilization of a makeshift firearm.  As with most children’s entertainment, this book is filled with what adults think children would like.  It’s hard to believe a kid would identify with one of the characters who stops to ponder whether capturing Santa might rob him of his innocence.  One of the girls has a crush on one of the boys who in turn has a crush on a different girl.  Although of course it is only hinted at.  Wouldn’t want this to be a kissing book.  The art is bright and colorful with the outlines done in color rather than the default black.  It’s pleasant to look at.  Pixar it ain’t, however.  This is a corporate book hoping to cash in on the kind of people who buy comics for someone else because "that’s what kids like".  This thing is made for grandmas to put in their offspring’s offspring’s stocking because they heard they like comics and this one has Christmas in it.  Look forward to that matriarch making the same mistake two more times when I Gotta Catch the Easter Bunny and I Gotta Catch the Tooth Fairy are published.  Coming Soon!

Taylor Comics is selling this book for the outlandish price of $3.95!  Scary.  Turns out there’s a little bit of Halloween in here after all.

ONE HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS


 Justice #2 (DC) – The two-month wait was hard, but the latest issue of the mercifully out-of-continuity Justice is here, and while not as huge as the first issue was, this next chapter delivers.  I mean, Alex Ross and Jim Krueger deliver a story in which the Riddler is actually a formidable adversary for the Batman, and their encounter leads them to a Gotham nightclub called "the Batcave" and ends in a graveyard.  That’s just neat, dammit.  This issue carries on the storyline from the previous issue, including Aquaman’s kidnapping and the villains making their play to save the planet after their dreams told them the heroes couldn’t.  Doug Braithwaite provides the layouts for Alex Ross to paint over and this book looks smashing.  Ross tosses in cool details like a Plastic Man credit card billboard and the Adam West inspired Batcave logo, and his characters, no matter how fantastical, are living things.  Even the Red Tornado looks like a real robot with an unreal glossy sheen and dead expression.  The last couple pages will make fans of mad scientist movies giggle with delight.  As I said last time, the only thing I don’t like about Justice is the wait. – Graig

 Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #1-2 – I never imagined I would like this mini-series as much as I do, which is a testament to the creators involved – writers Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons and artist Patrick Gleason.  The premise is pretty straightforward – policemen in outer space.  But Green Lantern: Recharge has in spades what a lot of superhero comics don’t these days.  Heart.  Johns and Gibbons have you genuinely rooting for these characters and their mission – to rebuild the Green Lantern Corp from the ground up.  The scope of the book is impressive, with larger than life missions and an expansive cast of characters.  Familiar faces like Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner are paired up with an enormous cast of new and bizarre alien recruits and trainees.  And the blending of science-fiction, superhero and police drama elements works.  Gleason’s linework is sharp, incredibly detailed and the man knows how to lay out an action-scene.  To call this series a pleasant surprise is an understatement.  It’s flat-out good comics. – Sean

 Books of Magick  Life During Wartime # 15 (DC/Vertigo) – It was a book with an admittedly limited appeal, and one that went out of its way to turn off those that would be naturally attracted to it in the first place.  You have to commend writer Si Spencer, and creative consultant Neil Gaiman, for constructing the latest iteration of Books of Magic in such an obstinate manner.  Spencer’s story—about Tim Hunter’s transition from awkward teenage magician to young, experienced warlock—became realized through a wholly crafted fantasy world as a dark mirror of the Vertigo Universe we’ve known and loved.  A kind of Earth-2 for the Vertigoverse, if you will.  And ultimately, people didn’t seem to care, as this issue marks the final chapter in this telling of Hunter’s life.  The upshot is, with the final storyline, Spencer’s given the chance to give the book a strong sense of closure and, with the help of Vertigo mainstay artists, Dean Ormston and Steve Yeowell, he does so pleasurably.  For those of you wanting a chunk of comics that deal with a magical war and hordes of demon orcs being defeated through mystical artifacts and magical reasoning, you’d do worse than to hunt down these back issues.  An interesting run, but one that was honestly fated to be limited.  – Russell


 JLA #120 (DC) – Boring.  Seriously boring.  Last issue, the Justice League’s moon headquarters exploded, seemingly taking the Martian Manhunter with it.  With the event and fallout of Identity Crisis the League is at odds with itself, its identity and purpose put into question, and its morals and values seriously suspect.  Members of the League past and present meet up at the team’s original cave headquarters to "honor our past".  It’s a "wha’, huh?" story wherein a bunch of tights stand around bickering, teeth gritted, shaking fists and spouting awful cliches.  And then something happens to Manitou Dawn that just confuses the hell out of me because I don’t know who Manitou Dawn is, besides some obviously tokenized Native American superhero (a modern-day Apache Chief?).  Anyway, the whole thing is pretty dull reading, new writer Bob Harras tells one of those "transition" stories which only regular followers of the series will really have any invested interest in.  The art by Tom Derenick and Dan Green is serviceable but nothing special.  For those of us that jumped aboard JLA with the latest Crisis tie-in, this is the perfect time to jump off again.  -Graig

1 and a half out of 5 Vikings

 The Intimates # 12 (DC/Wildstorm) – Speaking of books fated for a short shelf life, Joe Casey’s Intimates also closes its run out with this issue.  Working with Wildstorm-yeomen Ale Garza and Carlos D’Anda, Casey locks the doors and turns out the lights on his unusual hybrid of teenage soap-opera and mild super-heroics.  Always a contrarian, Casey decided to focus on the soap-opera, and kept the book’s tone firmly rooted in the character conflicts and teenage angst.  But it was always off-kilter and, as such, appreciated.  The formal experimentation Casey utilized—particularly in the info-scrolls that ran along the bottom of the page—ranged from grating to exhilarating, sometimes from page-to-page.  Ultimately a failed experiment, this final issue features a similar self-reflexive ending that Casey used for his former failed Wildstorm endeavor, Automatic Kafka, and gives it a weird bittersweet tone.  Though it ultimately didn’t work, you gotta love Casey for letting them hang out in the wind, particularly when, by this point in the run, it’s obvious that he’s turning in the script mostly for himself, and the five of us out there that were still reading all along.  - Russell

3 out of 5 Vikings


 Shaolin Cowboy #4 (Burlyman) – I unequivocally love Shaolin Cowboy.  There, my bias out of the way, I must say, this issue was a little more impermeable than issues previously.  Sure, Geoff Darrow’s exquisitely detailed artwork and vibrant colors are still there, providing a repeatedly readable and lookable book, but four issues in I’m looking for a little more from our silent, violent man of mystery.  I mean, what’s the motivation for the Shaolin Cowboy, and why are these weird creatures perpetually attracted to him.  Even his perpetually braying, verbally diarrhetic donkey doesn’t really provide much insight.  And while the ass’ hyper commentary is usually pretty entertaining, I found a lot of the dialogue in this issue to be incongruous to the situation or the jokes just falling flat.  That’s not to say the joy and fun of the Cowboy has left the desert, far from it, but this particular issue was a little more stilted in reading, less fluid than those that preceded it.  But really, how can I complain too much when the Cowboy and his ass battle a karate zombie while two extra-dimensional beings provide color commentary and a small baby follows them around claiming things as his own.  It’s all violence and wisecrakery, which, even if it doesn’t completely make sense, is still tons of fun. -Graig


Tune in next week to for more comics, and don’t forget to enter the contest!


HAVE A COMIC YOU WANT TO SUBMIT FOR REVIEW? Contact Sean at scfahey@yahoo.com.

To discuss this column and all things Nordic, you may contact Sean at scfahey@yahoo.com , Devon at thedevonsanders@yahoo.com , Dave at dave@chud.com , Russell at inadvertent@mail.com , Rob at poprob@gmail.com and Graig at graig@geekent.com.