While it's become increasingly common for good comics writers to turn out multiple good books in the same month, Brian Azzarello has slowly become the writer that seems to be testing himself higher than the rest. Not due to a lack of quality in the work of Bendis, Fraction and Brubaker (his closest competitors in the Ironman of funny-book writing,) but due to the breadth and complexity of the comics he pens. Take yesterday for example: sitting on the various parts of the shelf are Loveless and Deathblow, two comics that, if lacking an indication of who controls the language, would have nothing in common beyond their vivid art and sour outlook on humanity. Yet not only does Mr. Azzarello turn a new issue of hyper-noir 100 Bullets every month, but they share store space with the bloody, ghost-filled Civil War Era Loveless and his latest work, the latest installment in one of Wildstorms too-numerous big mean special forces killer characters. While Deathblow was always a little better than its sister books, the truth is that Deathblow was never really that original.
Somehow, in only two issues, Azzarello has changed that. While still maintaining the same level of testosterone laden violence and art that made the original so fun, this new series has a near-toxic level of mystery and intrigue, a goof-ball blister romp through all kinds of weird tongue-in-cheek humor and, even when it's describing a simple trip to the corner deli for fruit, a disturbing undercurrent of violence. When Michael Cray rides an elevator up to see the family he's been away from since it's conception, he asks "Isn't there a war on? Why aren't i fighting it?" The answer, like all of Azzarello's work, is neither definite nor honest, and when Cray finds himself beset upon by children he barely knows he created, one realizes that (whether it makes him a bad father or not) this man shouldn't be here. When he turns to admit he, quite honestly, doesn't remember this family at all, his military chaperone forces out a smile and says,"Then this must be quite exciting for you!"
As the book progresses through the still-mysterious characters haunting the backstage of Cray's life, and as we watch Cray attempt to negotiate the possibility that he may not be completely sane, Deathblow leaves the realm of an interesting re-treading of one of the less hideous comics of the early 90's excess and becomes something more: a quality piece of writing married to distinctive art, with a story that's neither too grossly similar, nor too high-pants fancy, than the majority of the books on the shelf...just like everything else that Azzarello has been a part of. If Azzarello has been given as much free reign on Deathblow as he clearly has on Bullets and Loveless, than the next year could be an exciting one.
-Tucker Stone, 2006
(As anyone who cares already knows, Chris Ware released the latest installment of the Acme Novelty Library this week. However, due to a totally arbitrary set of rules, neither Chris Ware or Paul Pope are eligible for COW honors. Rest assured that Acme Novelty Library remains far, far better than anything you, your friends, your parents or your parents friends like, and would win any standing competition with Arrested Development, The Wire, the films of Stanley Kubrick and/or any type of cocaine.)