Such a miserable experience, reading this comic. It's the narrative equivalent of watching the first episode of that Justice League cartoon in three minute bursts over the course of five months--there's just no way to enjoy that, it's fucking absurd. When you're a kid and you want to hold a boner longer, they tell you to do that exercise where you drape a wet washrag on your shaft and flex it up and down, but they never go so far as to say that you're going to enjoy doing that, or that it's as fun as jerking off, or that you better watch out because you might prefer washrag flexing to putting the thing inside a lady. DC doesn't seem to have ever understood the difference. It's not a surprise that they don't--take a look at the Beat or the Journal's current comment sections, you'll get a plaster cast of what's wrong with comics on both sides--but that doesn't change how tepid and unsatisfying this whole exercise of the Johns/Lee combine has become. Anyway. The Internet says you shouldn't hope people get fired, but honestly, if you just went down the list and got rid of every single person who believes that this comic is worth the four dollars they're asking for it, there's no possible way you wouldn't see an increase in the intelligence average the next time everybody at the staff table pools their "resources" and pours them, like warm oatmeal, into Eddie Berganza's beckoning gullet.
Nasty stuff, pretty poorly illustrated for the most part. You can make sense of the art pretty easily, but there's nothing that jumps out as good, the best it ever hopes for is just serviceable. Written relatively well, with some nice Ennis impersonation stuff evenly mixed with what seems to be Ewing's own voice (the "panda" dialog is an excellent line). It's disappointing that one of the most well-regarded of the "new" British writers has to make his entrance into the American market via Dynamite, which is about as good at being a comics publisher as Natalee Holloway is at swimming, but that's just the way of the world in 2012. At least he's got 2000AD--which is currently on a pretty hot streak--to fall back on.
"Message of the Geese" is a minor tale, a brief glimpse of the Wolf in battle. It's one of the "features shitting" stories interspersed in the entire saga, a claim to fame that actually isn't all that rare. But beyond the sight of a somewhat constipated Cub forcing out some magic, what sticks in memory most in this brief tale is the momentary compliment paid by the Wolf following his slaughter of a few Yagyu assassins. Upon realizing that one of the Yagyu had sacrificed himself by rushing the Wolf, throwing down his life in hopes that his body might serve as a better launch pad for his partner's attack, the Wolf stops to acknowledge how much like himself the two men were--total dedictation, at less than a moment's notice, to pin all hope, mortal and otherwise, on the missioin, relying on the honor that can only be earned through years of service. It's an excellent moment, one that speaks to one of the saga's greatest strengths: its willingness to embrace the villain.
"Tale of the Winter Crane" is a sneakier story, one whose ending seems always hazily around the corner, only to stop dead with the Wolf (essentially) delivering a "do you know who the fuck I am" speech to a couple of people who don't get it and never will. It's reminscient of that great line at the end of "Mother Russia", when Frank Castle teaches a Delta boy the meaning of the phrase "whatever it takes", made better by the fact that it's delivered with impeccable class by a man who just killed five people with a sword. It's a brief stopover, but a pleasant one.
Somewhat reminscient of that Black Jack story where he's brought in to treat a crazy computer, this final installment in Smith's cover version of Matsumoto Leiji's Queen Emeraldas concludes the story the same way it began, with our protagonist musing on a life lived in motion. There's something fascinating about the way the comic depicts space travel as being so empty and "boundless" that it seems as much a philosophical exercise in not going crazy as it is an exercise in just going, anywhere. At the end, this little excursion seems like something that belongs most to its creator (not Matsumoto, but Smith) than it does the audience, and while that isn't a criticism--if anything, this sort of openness to allow an audience inside an obsession should be met with praise--it does underline how exciting it will be to get back to SF proper, a story where the viewing hole is more distinctly made clear.
In the same way that it's hard not to overpraise Snyder and Capullo's Batman for being the fastest cripple in the polio race, it's hard to ignore that all these current installments of the Flash certainly are a pleasure to look at. There's a delightful strain of homoeroticism running through the current storyline, which is all about contemporary male relationships and great haircuts (without Geoff Johns around to champion conservatism, Manapul has been free to jettison Barry Allen's godawful Right Stuff flattop for a brighter, more pomaded, future). It never feels amatuerish, but one's still left with the nagging feeling that, just maybe, it would if it didn't look so consistently great. For now though, let's just be optimistic and raise a glass to future team-ups with cardigans and soulful brown eyes. That's my kind of rogue's gallery: the kind where the rogues are just some dudes who fuck some other dudes with easily replicatable fashion choices.
-Tucker Stone, 2012