While it would be an argument worth having, let's go all in on some off-the-cuff hyperbole: this issue of Gangsta Rap Posse features one of the top five best Ben Marra drawings of all time. It's not the one where the Bootsy Collins lookalike gets his knife-throwing chest blown apart, and it's not the one where a Wile E. Coyote-mimicking George Clinton catches a four-way golden shower, all of which are awesome. No, it's the one after the mayor gets mildly chided for his incredibly racist langauage, that panel where he cranes his head back and, open-handed, holds out his palms. It's a perfect piece of concise storytelling, the sort of choice that you see everytime a tale needs to describe a character completely but has zero time within which to do so. More than any line of dialog, that dual movement--the head craning back, mouth closed, while the hands go up in exasperation: it's the equivalent of somebody injecting a syringe of understanding directly into your cerebellum. You know without a shadow of a doubt that this guy is one weak, piece-of-shit motherfucker, and that whatever happens to him is going to be fully deserved and yet will still probably not be enough. And even though you have to read through the rest of the comic to get to the panel where his brain beckons three lazer guided bullets (thwmp,thwmp,thwmp) on an express trip right through his skull seconds after he's finished ejaculating all over himself, it's only the extremity of the violence that come as a surprise. Who are you fooling, guy? You knew where that cat's story was heading the second his chin went up.
This is the one that's about the super-people (they aren't really heroes or villains) who vomit acidic blood and count a cat amongst their members. Their leader, Atrocitus, spent a solid portion of the first issue soliloquizing to the corpse of Krona, who is a member of that race called the Guardians that look exactly like what Smurfs would look like if they decided to make hyper realistic movies about Smurfs. His soliloquy was pretty awesome, the sort of purple prose that seems to have been born out of a cross between Stan Lee, Alan Moore and the break-up diary of a 15-year-old Zola Jesus fan. This issue includes more of that monologue, but this time, it's being used to set up the upcoming plot instead of detailing the status quo, and as a result is far less entertaining to read. In the middle of the monologuing, the comic takes a quick break to remind you of the A-Team nature of the Red Lanterns (if your rage is "worthy", and you can find them, you too can have vengeance wreaked on your behalf--just scream!), and then it goes on back to the talking to a dead body thing. It's weird how all of that is so much better than Swamp Thing, but it totally is.
I've been doing physical therapy for the last couple of weeks to recover from a broken bone, and so unfortunately I can't really get into this comic due to the way it depicts violence. Not that it's upsetting, but that I just can't get past how quickly the fight would be over the second that Wolverine sticks a claw through Cyclops' deltoid muscle. That would just be it, he'd be done forever. He'd be apologizing and crying and screaming (if he didn't pass out, and he'd probably pass out), and not becuase "Cyclops is a pussy", I actually like Cyclops, but man--that is just way too much fucking pain. You get your deltoid perforated, you're in the hospital immediately. It's going to take months and months before you can pick up a golf ball. Still, even if I'd been able to buy into this comic, there still would have been the stumbling block that, five issues in, it's still not clear what the basic problem is. Cyclops wants to slaughter bad guys, so does Wolverine, but they can't agree on which age to set the enlistment minimum? How is that a disageement that requires fisticuffs and bombs to figure out? These guys are supposed to be best friends.
If you wanted to write a recipe for failure, there's no quicker way to go about it then to ditch your most entertaining characters and focus instead on the benchwarmers, who you've jettisoned backwards in time. And yet, while that's a brusque and cruel way to describe the plot that Jeff Parker's taken with his Thunderbolts, it's what he did, and it worked.
If there was a better example of Fear Itself failing to prove the value of those big round-up meetings that Marvel's various writers use to "architect"-uralize the various strands of comic book community, it could definitely be the Thunderbolts portion of the equation. Post Siege, Thunderbolts was the strongest of the various Avengers-related titles that Marvel was putting out. During Fear Itself, a series that prominently featured at least one of the Thunderbolts team and would therefore seem to be one of the book's most deserving of spotlight and attention, the book languished on the vine. And while Marvel seems to have fully embraced the editorial dictation style of comics--despite DC's consistent publication of 20 page pamphlets of proof that said method results in dire, hellish comics--this current Thunderbolts storyline reads like a writer going "well fuck it, can I at least take the guys you don't care about back in time, then?" The result is, so far, the most vibrant and engaging story since those first few issues. Hyde chucking bodies into Man-Thing's coma-rendered silent maw, the gooftastic 50's get-ups, and the first two page spread Kev Walker's had that stands eye-to-eye with his heaven-sent work on ABC Warriors: this comic just jumped back to the front of the line.
If there's one thing that Grant Morrison is good at but never gets credit for, it's that he does decadent shit in super-hero comics in a way that doesn't seem sleazy. (There's one exception I can think of that comes to mind: when the Joker cut his own tongue in half. But considering what keeps happening in every recent issues of Detective Comics, it's highly probable that Tony Daniel threw that in on his own.) Most of the time though, Morrison manages to pull off the very thing he seems to have wanted to criticize Mark Millar for: Grindy, too-old-for-genre FX channel twists. He gets credit for the way he traffics in horror stuff, like Pig in Batman & Robin or the galloping terrors in that Final Crisis spin-off, but not so much for the other things, the things he (and his readers) know would be a little bit embarrassing to explain if somebody actually asked what you were reading on I Bet Strangers Will Ignore The Ketchup Stains And Be Impressed By A Prominent Display Of Watchmen Day. This issue of Action goes down that road apiece, focusing on the story of Lex Luthor's attempts to go all Jack Bauer on a tied-to-chair Superman, and while the resulting experience doesn't manage to go anywhere in terms of plot, it still gets to be a relatively decent single issue experience. It's a bunch of jerk-offs trying to torture Superman: who doesn't want to see that? People who hate having a good time, that's who.
I can't remember which comics reviewer/blogger/oversharing baby it is that made the claim that there's never a right time to include violence against animals in a story, but I sure wish I could, because how fucking wrong would a copy of this issue make them? It's great too, seeing that image of violence-against-pandas juxtaposed with one of this website's own personal shudders, which is a scene where the comics creator pops up in story. Because, honestly, this might be the first time since Jim Aparo drew himself in as an active player in a Batman story that the trick worked. (In that same issue, Bob Haney was depicted with a shotgun and no home phone, a classic example of how you make the fudge realer.) There's just something about this particular run on Casanova--maybe it's Fraction's confrontational attempt to exorcise whatever memories his reader's have of the guy who used to excitedly tell you about why he threw in a Liquid Swords reference, maybe it's that Dustin Harbin's fragile glass lettering makes every line seem more drunk with meaning, maybe it's that the plot seems redacted by memory, black sharpies across the script. Whatever it is, this is an exciting, exciting, comic. It's gnarly, unfriendly and ungainly, but it's still a story. Feeling like an out of the loop party crasher--this is definitely what a five dollar comic should be like.
-Tucker Stone, 2011