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Hot Ink — Blackest Night #7, Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1, We Will Bury You #1

ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week.

SAVING MY REMAINING AC-DC PUNS FOR THE LAST ISSUE – Blackest Night 7

“Blackest Night”‘s main title book is back after taking the month of January off, possibly in the hopes that we’d forget how it claimed that every single character resurrection that’s ever occurred in the DC Universe was all part of Nekron’s masterful years-long plan. Still no further elaboration on that statement here, in case you’re wondering.

I will admit that one development here did surprise me. Something that anyone reading the book from the start could probably have guessed was coming finally happened, but to a different character than what most of us would have figured. Whether that surprise is still true when the series wraps up in issue 8 remains to be seen, although there may be an outside chance of it and I’d actually be a little impressed if that’s the way Johns decides to go. Overall, however, this is another issue of multicolored people firing matching lasers and either yelling “It’s working!” or “It’s not working!” as befits the result, with whatever justification was provided on that particular page as rationalization.

This is the first issue of the book to be released since the announcement that Geoff Johns will be the new Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment. And the success of “Blackest Night,” at least in sales, may well have been the crowning achievement that got him the job. And I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that. If it means things don’t change, then that’s fine. I don’t think they will, that much. Johns and the rest of the new team seem to be a vote of confidence that DC is headed in the right direction, so I’d be a little surprised if it led to a drastic overhaul.

But Johns’ approach to writing, which I’ll admit is something he’s good at, isn’t necessarily what I want from a comic book. I don’t take the joy in nods to continuity that he does. I don’t get the same thrill out of perfect heroes who deserve to be worshiped fighting monsters who we know are evil because all we’ve been told about them is they want to destroy everything. If every book DC published followed Johns’ core philosophy of superhero stories, they wouldn’t be bad books, but neither would they be great books and I’d be looking elsewhere for my entertainment.My biggest gripe about issue 7 is Johns’ continued questionable handling of the Orange Lantern Corps. The greed-motivated faction of the emotional spectrum doubled its membership at the end of last issue, adding Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor to the ranks of what had previously been the only one-man corps. Greed has always been one of the most interesting subtle motivators used in fiction, just look at how it rears its head in works ranging from “Lord of the Rings” to “Wall Street” to “A Christmas Carol” to any heist film ever made.

Johns elects to employ greed in a full blown stereotypical way most similar to that seen in cartoon cereal mascots. Admittedly you could defend him by saying that this is for a character where greed is “his thing”, but nobody forced him to go as far with it as he did. Look at the Green Lanterns: Their defining trait is willpower, but it doesn’t supersede the rest of their personality in the way that it does with many of the other Lantern Corps members. Johns could have had others display their emotion as the primary influence on their personality rather than rendering them as one-dimensional characters whose “emotion” is their only trait. But instead he took the route that’s simple for a reader to quickly understand, with the side effect that the members of the Corps representing Greed, as well as those deriving their powers from Rage and Hope, come off predictable and dull as a result.

Luthor’s time as an Orange Lantern is especially unimpressive. After getting the ring Lex proceeds to have a toddler’s temper tantrum about wanting everything he sees which culminates in him being caught in Wonder Woman’s lasso and then loudly admitting that all he really wants is to be Superman. First, on the one hand this is so obvious a statement that even Johns feels it’s necessary to have Wonder Woman tell Luthor exactly that in the very same panel.

And second, having him say it undermines one of the more interesting possible interpretations of Lex’s character. Writers have encouraged the idea that Lex’s problem with Superman is that the human race would be better off without him, because he provides an easy solution instead of making people work and push themselves to achieve the same outcome on their own. The thought that Lex would fight Superman because he at least partially believes that there should be no Superman is an interesting one. Having him state that he wants to be Superman outright removes any ambiguity about what goes on underneath his composed exterior. But, you know, temporarily reducing one of the more complex villains of the DC Universe to having the impulse control of a two-year-old is interesting too, I guess.

I haven’t even gone into just how idiotic the Guardians of the Universe are here. I mean, we’re talking poor strategy on a level generally saved for smug evil wizards. Or the fact that Johns reframes core Green Lantern continuity in the span of about a page and I’m still not sure exactly why that happened. But then again, I continue to be not the target audience for this book. To borrow a line from one of DC’s competitors, Geoff Johns is the best there is at what he does, although what he does I don’t personally find all that entertaining.

THIS SHOULD ALSO BE THE NAME OF A BAND AND/OR AN ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE – Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island 1

Piracy in general has had a rough time keeping its credibility as the criminal enterprise for the sort of hard-as-nails, not-to-be-messed-with bastard that has historically constituted its crews. Sea piracy has undergone a real-life renaissance of late, thanks to the rest of the world continuing to adhere to the slogan “What Happens in Africa, Stays in Africa, and We Don’t Particularly Care About It Unless it’s the World Cup.” Although that’s barely a net gain when you factor in the effect of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Land piracy has never been all that well respected, what with the lack of any ships and the lingering effects of Disney’s anthropomorphic adaptation of “Robin Hood.”

But sky piracy has suffered most of all. Pop culture depictions of air pirates skew toward the anime variety, featuring adorable androgynous teenagers having wacky hi-jinks in balloon and helicopter-powered ships gently floating against a backdrop of blue skies and fluffy clouds.

That’s all about to change. Parents, hide your children, and history professors, hide your textbooks on 19th century England, because Warren Ellis is here with the first issue of “Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island”. And I’m happy to say the book’s a great introduction to the setting. If you are a steampunk fan, “Captain Swing” will make the neon monocle drop from your eye as you open your mouth in astonishment to exclaim “Well, I say!” a fraction of a second before the train whistle attached to your stovepipe hat goes off to signal your approval.

The story’s set in 1830s London, at a time when the city’s two police forces were made up of incompetent, corrupt drunks in one and competent, corrupt thugs in the other. And representatives of each serve as the perspective characters as the reader is first introduced to the mysterious Cap
tain Swing, a top-hatted rogue, somewhat inspired by Spring Heeled Jack, whose hands, feet and spectacles all crackle with electricity. And so does his getaway vessel, a flying rowboat. Each of the policemen has his own reason for pursuing Swing. One’s out to see the criminal brought to justice and will go above and beyond the customary low expectations of his office to make that happen. The other’s simply out to have Swing killed, and his superior makes it clear to him that failure will not be looked on kindly. Unfortunately for both men, Swing would appear to have them vastly outclassed.

Ellis’ dialogue in “Captain Swing” does an excellent job of drawing readers into the world and the lives of its characters. Some readers may take issue with the use of text only pages to give background on the world, but for me they worked as a way of giving backstory on the setting without forcing it through the mouths of the characters engaged in the action sequences. Also, this being a Warren Ellis book, there is a fair amount of cursing including the occasional historical curse-word I’d never heard before.

I’m not sure if he did research on the sorts of profanity thrown around in the era he’s depicting, but I sincerely hope that some of the expressions on display here were actually used in London during the 1830s. Even if they weren’t, I may retroactively shove them into my own view of history anyway. And Raulo Caceres’ artwork is beautiful. His work on Swing and all his contraptions is what first stands out here. Although it must also be said that his late night chase scenes through the confined streets of London are stunning and he excels at portraying a fierce intensity in the expressions of his characters. This is the first issue of a four part miniseries, and my hopes for the rest of the series are now set high after a first issue that was not quite what I was expecting while somehow still being exactly what I wanted.

BACK WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, ZOMBIES TOOK THEIR TIME. AND WE DIDN’T MIND – We Will Bury You 1

To say that zombies have been done to death at this point would mean employing a pun that could justifiably be punished by removal of one’s brain. But that doesn’t make it any less true or any more likely to stop new zombie books from coming out. This week sees the release of the first issue of “We Will Bury You,” a book that attempts to make zombies new by making them old. Set in 1927, “We Will Bury You” tells the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage with a horrible husband and working a miserable job in a rundown night club. She seeks escape in an affair with another woman. Oh, and then at the end zombies show up.

“We Will Bury You” is written by Brea Grant, more widely known for her acting roles, and her brother Zane Austin Grant, with artwork by Kyle Strahm. Their enthusiasm for the work is evident, as there’s clearly a lot of effort put into setting an atmosphere that feels authentic to the time period. Unfortunately, as first issues go, it simply isn’t all that good. The dialogue shifts between characters monologuing on their unfortunate plights and single sentences added in a less than graceful manner for the purpose of moving the plot along. And on top of that the zombie outbreak isn’t much of a factor in the story of issue 1, only hinted at in dialogue with the characters finally catching on to what’s going on in the last pages.

So the first issue is basically a period piece about relationship problems and the difficulties faced by immigrants and the poor in the 1920s that’s going to turn into a zombie story for the rest of its run. It’s an odd choice to wait on the zombies so long in the first issue of what is only a four-part miniseries, as it leaves me still wondering where exactly the book is going with what’s implied to be the central part of the plot. I can’t be sure that this won’t turn around and become the historical zombie apocalypse tale that piqued my curiosity to begin with. But it’s given me no reason to be confident in it yet.

One last point of contention here. Kyle Strahm’s art fits the horror style well. Perhaps a little too well. Every man shown in the comic looks like a monster, even before they become zombies. In fact, the only difference between a male human being and male zombie is that the zombie has pale skin and a few bloody scabs. The women, on the other hand, are all objects of doll-like beauty. To the point where when one cross-dresses to sneak into the club where Mirah works, it’s obvious she’s not a man because her skin is smooth instead of covered with jowls, wrinkles, pock-marks and stubble.

There’s a whole “all men are scum” undertone to the book that comes off as very mildly insulting, if only because it’s never really addressed outright. It could be addressed in later issues and provide an interesting new twist on the zombie outbreak story, using it as a metaphor for how the two female main characters, Mirah and Fanya, feel as though they live in a world where men are slowly crushing the life out of them en masse. But like the zombie outbreak itself, there’s not much evidence of that thought here. I can’t help but feel that coming out of the premiere issue of a book I should have a better sense of what it’s aiming for, and with “We Will Bury You” there isn’t enough here.

One, last, final point that the history nerd in me insists on nitpicking about. The title of the book seems to be derived from a famous line uttered by Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev. In 1956. Thirty-nine years after this book is set.

OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:

This week marks the official release of the first issue of writer Ben McCool and artist Ben Templesmith’s new series “Choker”, which I previously reviewed when early copies became available in some comic shops two weeks ago. It’s an excellent start to the series and I highly recommend it. The latest issue of another Image series, “Cowboy Ninja Viking #4″, also comes out this week. And while not as much fun as issue 3 due to the fact that the introduction of several new triplet characters leads to some confusing group dialogue scenes, I’m still growing more and more fond of this series. Go give it a look if you haven’t yet.

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