A nice mix-up of Rip Van Winkle, Prison Pit and Conan (easier version: a French sci-fi comic), with guest appearances by the horrorshow that the dog becomes in The Thing, Prophet #21 does exactly what it had to do to meet up with the pre-show hype: it works. Delivering tone and building its world, skipping the corny character signifiers and logos that stand in for personalities and motives in the rest of the Image universe was the best move Graham could have made, forcing the reader to move closer to Simon Roy, an artist finished with his Otomo/Gipi phase and setting up shop in the "how would Jesse Marsh draw manga" school of obsesion. It's fun, and it's weird. If that's not your thing, there's plenty of the alternative available.
Now that Wonder Woman has successfully made it over the "hope it doesn't get cancelled" hump, isn't it time we address the fact that Hermes is wearing the ugliest sunglasses ever made, sunglasses that are second only to a backwards baseball cap in making a man look like a total toolbag? Even if we ignore his Woodstock '99 era rain poncho--and we really shouldn't ignore that thing, because that's as much a sign of the unfunny side of perversion as it would be if he was driving a white panel van with no windows--we're still five issues into a relationship where the most happening broad in the land has yet to tell her own brother that, oh, you know, he's wearing the same fucking sunglasses that Jerry Sandusky wore everytime he wanted to hide his tired eyes from the harsh light of a world where the rest of us don't fuck children in showers.
If any title is going to survive Marvel's bizarre creative tailspin, the smart money has to be on Daredevil, a book that's almost quaint with its slow-burn long tale plotting, most of which circles around the possession of a high end flash drive, packed to the gills with evil secrets. Even a tie-in with the Amazing Spider-Man (a series that is taking a short break from one piece of shit story arc so that it can rest its weary, shit-filled bones before it delivers what looks to be another piece of shit story arc) didn't slow it down that much, which comes as a surprise when you consider how little anyone, fictional or otherwise, wants to be around Peter Parker for a length of time more extensive than it would take to stab him in his stupid, stupid whining eyes.
About half this volume of Usagi is taken up with stories where the samurai rabbit deals with the supernatural, while the other half--a multi part story called "Circles"--concerns itself with the warrior's past, albeit with a supernatural villian thrown in. There's also a quick, predictable one-shot involving a couple of conmen, but don't let the implication of shittiness that the word "predictable" brings with it take hold: there's enough great comic-stuff going on in the story to make up for the fact that you can chart every strand of plot the thing has after reading the first five--maybe four--pages. Sakai's ability to draw a character's motives into their facial features is one of his weirdest and most fascinating talents. It's easy to spot the bad guys in most funny animal comics, and that's why Usagi Yojimbo is a cut above the rest--the complexity on display here in the face of the depressed, one-more-scam swordsmen goes beyond the simple "he's a fox, and foxes are tricky".
"The Duel" is excellent preparation for "Circles", which is all about motives and revelations. Usagi decides to return to his former home, only to walk into another one of those hard-working townspeople versus rapacious bandits settings so popular in samurai fiction. He discovers an old friend and old enemy, both still alive, checks in on his estranged lover (who packs a revelation of her own), the friend-turned-rival that married her, and then there's a nice, long battle that lasts multiple pages without ever seeming the slightest bit self-indulgent. It's a lovely story, and what it lacks in humor (Usagi just isn't funny without Gen or that detective character around) it makes up for in earnest sincerity.
If someone were to make a graph of the types of Lone Wolf & Cub stories, they'd first break them down into two major categories--the one-off ones where he earns money by killing people, and the ones where the ongoing narrative is pushed towards conclusion. Eventually, the entire book focuses entirely on that second category, all of which build to the most satisfying conclusion to any genre comic book ever published. That's not intended to be hyperbole: it's a statement of fact, albeit one that's only seen meager research. The greats of American genre comics--Eisner and Kirby--never got a chance (some quarters might word that "never took a chance", but not this one, and fuck those people) to play around with conclusions and finality anymore than Shultz, King and Herriman (a few of the greats of the newspaper strip) did. Leaving the question of whether genre requires an ending aside for a moment (a moment that could last an eternity, for how little I care to probe it), "The Inn of the Last Chrysanthemum" rests firmly in that first category described above: this one's all about the money.
One of Koike's most consistent methods of story construction is to focus the reader's attention entirely on the point of view of some new, as of yet unknown to us character. We follow that character through their (often depressing) life, they experience a few flashbacks that explain their current situation, at some point the Wolf and Cub arrive in their orbit, and then the story leads up to an (often violent) conclusion. In many cases, the story takes on an intense sense of danger and heightening panic after the appearance of the Wolf, because while this structure of story often appears in the overall saga, there's never any promise that the story will conclude happily for all we might hope it will. Sometimes the best the Wolf can do is mete out revenge for abuses suffered, other times he can only acknowledge them in word, and on a few occasions (not few enough to where the sting is ever lessened), he can only provide a quick, honorable passing for those whose long-term victimization leaves them unable to find any way forward in the mortal realm. "Chrysanthemum" is on the bleak end of the scale--the only bottom left for its guest protagonist, the "forlorn maiden, forced into a life of shame" is found in a blood drenched garden, and the only satisfaction found is in the bodies that the Wolf piles alongside her own. There's no pretense that it will be enough, but in keeping with Koike's plan, it's made clear: what matters is that debts get paid. What happens next is never our concern.
Even if you don't read the opening letter, where Porcellino admits that most of what you're about to read stems from a time period when, busted up by heartbreak and economic collapse, he "didn't do so good", you'd have to be one cold ass son of a bitch--or a non-Porcellino fan out scraping scabs--not to pick up on the general dourness of the whole enterprise. The crippling impact of a Faith Hill song? An out of nowhere "I don't want to be alive anymore" response to a Porcellino-standard observation of natural beauty and the change of seasons? It's not that these sorts of emote-heavy moments are a strange appearance in the guy's work--this is King-Creamballs-Cat we're talking about, feelings are what these little bastards always traffic in, occasionally to an embarrassing degree usually reserved for Thomas Kinkade--it's that they're being delivered in such a raw, unkempt fashion. There's no lesson at the end of this issue, no explanation given, just the implication that survival is the game, the only thing that Porcellino was going for. Each of these documents--even the moment of nostalgia that sees the guy flashing back to the irritating dopiness of youth--concludes on the same note: he made it when everything was coming at him knives out. Not every struggle has a t-shirt phrase to go along with it.
There's some serious self-indulgence going on here--landscape two page spreads for no purpose beyond the ability to say "hey, look, big", coupled with the demanding notion that you're reading about a secret society of owl-obsessed maze-building super-killers, and yeah, sorry, "owls" IS tougher to swallow than "bats", anybody who tells you different doesn't like super-hero shit in the first place--but that aside, this is actually a good little Batman comic. It doesn't deserve the over-the-top praise that it's gotten, but at the same time, it's totally understandable why that praise has been so hyperbolic: this has been the shittiest group of Batman titles in a long time. Having a decent issue show up, an issue that sees a plot humming forward with solid illustration to boot--that's going to get some knees buckling, especially amongst those who have been plugging their quarters into the super-hero slot machine since this New 52 thing started. But don't get too worked up: you've never met anyone who is going to read this thing twice, and you never will.
Time traveling away from Marvel's bone dry continuity and hanging out amongst King Arthur, violence, Merlin, and lots and lots of titties--if you're using the word breasts to describe what Kev Walker's drawing, you really don't fucking get it and probably never will--Thunderbolts #169 (god bless them for keeping the inane numbering of this series) is one of those totally enjoyable comics that probably shouldn't get mentioned on a blog, because that's a sure fire way to see the thing get cancelled the next time Marvel wants to do one of their periodical "how can we fuck up the thing that people like and want to buy" (see the Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Force for examples, look under the paragraph heading "Really Shitty Art"). But hey, why not tempt fate?
-Tucker Stone, 2012