Man, I’m lovin’ 2006 already…

Rung in the New Year typing up the last column (Final Approach) and have been dragging that momentum through early January, and as you can imagine, good vibes always make for better creative sparks than bad ones. Some of it is that natural beginning of the year thing, the noticeable buzz and blinding optimism from the possibility of essentially starting over, leaving the miscues and frustrations of the last year behind. Some of it is my recent productivity, final edits on another God Complex script, adding a few pages to The Takeover, finishing up Miranda Mercury’s first adventure. Handful of pages are in for that too, and look even more incredible than I imagined, which is always a welcome surprise, and a bit tempting to a dude with an internet column, that’s been wanting to drop off Damon Cross pages for months now. Patience continues to be a virtue, I’m told, but some weeks, I just want to post all this stuff up, and show off a little. And if I have my way, this will be an ever-escalating problem in the coming months.

Which is another part of it really, looking onto the horizon at what’s coming next. The near future brings the end of Seven Soldiers and Crisis, the start of One Year Later, and the push toward Civil War. More All-Star Superman, and things of that nature. And that’s just on the comic front, mind you. Cast things wider, and you’ve got Superman Returns, which I was skeptical would ever start filming, let alone finish, and X3, the movie that looks at least fifty times better than I was expecting. Hell, I’m even pumped about the third Mission Impossible, helmed by Alias spymaster J. J. Abrams. Lost is back, The Shield is back, 24 starts in a few days, and all is incredibly well.

Ultimately, what this means, is that I’m devoting yet another piece to comics I’ve been feelin’ lately. Promise something appropriately volatile in the next few weeks, to balance out all of this touchy feely Ambidextrous, but until then, let’s start with more talk of Seven Soldiers, because, well…because it’s just that dope. Like you didn’t know…

Seven Soldiers of Victory v1 (Grant Morrison/J.H. Williams/Simone Bianchi/Cameron Stewart/Ryan Sook/Frazer Irving/Mick Gray)

Okay, so while I’m reading this excellent series of modular stories, been wondering just what format it would eventually be collected in. Figured the minis wouldn’t see individual trades, because there are simply too many of them, and packaging it that way would seriously minimize the level of connectivity, which is one of the event’s main selling points. Yeah, it was billed as something you could pick and choose which characters to follow, but it was obvious from the beginning, that the real fun would come from viewing the much larger tapestry, as everything stitches itself together over thirty issues. Given that, it wasn’t a huge surprise when the first grouping of stories were all crashed together in their original order of release, which seems to be almost the only viable option. It is somewhat demanding presented like this, as Morrison’s storytelling techniques often vary wildly from series to series, but I suppose you could make that accusation of the entire concept.

Just the notion that “everything is connected” has always struck me as incredibly interesting, and probably explains my attachment to Lost, which uses that idea as one of the show’s main tenets. That story I wrote for Spidey Unlimited was based on the prospect of “invisible string holding things together,” so something about me is clearly designed to respond favorably to an approach like this, and with a good bit of informed insight, I was fairly anxious to dive right back into the first several chapters of Soldiers.

Few weeks ago, in their regular (and routinely excellent) Basement Tapes column, over at CBR, Joe Casey and Matt Fraction both noted “Weird Adventures,” Seven Soldiers 0, as one of the best single issues of the past year, and I think it pretty difficult to dispute that, especially given what we now know. When released back in February, this was already an incredibly well executed story, but now, given its proper context, it gets just a little bit better. The introduction of Slaughter Swamp is even more ominous than before, given the events witnessed in The Guardian and Zatanna. The moment Greg Saunders mentions that his seventh soldier got cold feet at the last minute, we know he’s referring to The Bulleteer, and turns out Gimmix was in Zatanna’s therapy group for depressed superheroes. Oh, shit, and we know where Boy Blue’s horn comes from, even though he won’t say. There are a number of cool flourishes like this to be found just in the first story, and the “coincidences” compound from there, Morrison having put everything right in front of us from the very beginning, without highlighting its full relevance.

Everything I loved about the stories on my first reads months ago hits even harder now, and even the stuff I didn’t like quite as much (basically, Klarion) is strengthened and made more relevant than it originally appeared. Whatever angle you look at this from, it’s just a really great story, told in an incredibly ambitious fashion, that until it’s over, I refuse to stop talking about. And there’s a fair chance I might continue gushing about it even after that. I’ve said it before, and will likely say it again in the future, but once completed, Seven Soldiers will be another impressive credit on the resume of Grant Morrison, and will become the narrative litmus test for how to orchestrate a horribly brilliant “crossover,” that takes common clichés, and turns them into something undeniably new.

And now, we have the first of four trades available, for all you unfortunates that actually waited this long to get onboard…

Daughters Of The Dragon #1 (Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray/Khari Evans)

I’ll be straight…I’ve been waiting on this one a little bit. Since that relatively brief glimpse at the San Diego con, when Marvel announced this in one of their slideshow presentations. Now, while I can’t claim to be even a moderate fan of Misty Knight or Colleen Wing, there was a certain…predisposition that was instantly addressed, even with the initial teaser image. What I’m referring to ladies and gentlemen, is the simple undeniable fact that any comic featuring a fine black female with a crazy ass fro, and a bionic arm, has ultimately secured my full and unwavering endorsement. Fortunately, for the rest of you, Daughters Of The Dragon happens to be a very good comic, featuring a fine black female, with a crazy ass fro, and a bionic arm. So, now we can all be happy…

The creative chemistry writing duo Palmiotti and Gray have brought to such varied projects like 21 Down, The Resistance, and Hawkman is on full display here, the principal characters introduced in a perfectly staged action sequence pitting them against The Rhino. As usual, the massive villain is good for staging some amazing visuals, and in just a few pages, we’re completely onboard with the series’ status quo, two sexy and incredibly likable bail enforcers takin’ on some of the more pathetic villains in the Marvel U. Some have mentioned the name Tarantino while describing this series, and it’s easy to see where that comparison could arise, because the characterizations are so wildly distinctive on both sides of the frame. There’s something terribly ridiculous about a villain named 8-Ball, who takes his moniker so literally, that watching him in action alongside the equally ridiculous Freezer Burn and Humbug, almost HAS to be funny.

Misty and Colleen fill their roles in almost buddy movie fashion, finding the so-called “villains” as bizarre as we do, and playing off each other with a casual wit and accessibility that suggests these two have been friends for quite a while. It’s always difficult trying to convey an implied history between characters that it’s possible we’ve only just met, but Palmiotti and Gray make it look pretty simple here, and again, it only helps connect us even more to Misty and Colleen.

Know I have a habit of really understating the artistic contributions when I’m talking about books, but the work of newcomer Khari Evans reminds me so much of my man Keron Grant, that it demands mention. Not that the styles are a perfect match, though there are a few similarities, most notably in the level of fluidity they’re able to infuse into their figure work. What I really mean is that from the very first time I laid eyes on Grant’s work, I knew he had the potential to become one of the biggest artists in comics, and Khari’s stuff hits me the exact same way. There is a definite sex appeal to Misty and Colleen, and ignoring the gratuity of a couple ass shots, and a few perky nipples, most of it is done with body language and facial expressions. He’s equally capable when the action ramps, and I can’t wait to see how he handles the brawl set into motion by this issue’s nice cliffhanger. But Khari Evans is a name I expect to hear quite a bit over the next couple years, and I’m predicting that’ll be a very good thing.

So, in review, DOD looks incredibly good, it reads incredibly well, mixing equal parts action, humor, and blatant sex appeal. And man, if even that isn’t enough for you…there’s a fine ass black female with a crazy fro, and a bionic arm in it. Think I might’ve forgotten to mention that…

Desolation Jones #5 (Warren Ellis/J.H. Williams)

Meaning to talk about this one for awhile now, but somethin’ always happens on the week Jones hits, whether it’s a skip week, or just a piece whose subject matter really prevents these quick reviews from being stamped on the end of it. But finally, with this fifth issue, I’m able to convey my love for yet another Ellis created character, and express publicly that I will no longer allow myself to be the least bit surprised by that. Warren Ellis is one of the primary reasons there even is an Ambidextrous, and was a writer I was definitely emulating in my earliest levels of development, but the law of averages suggests that at some point, there will be an Ellis protagonist that I don’t immediately connect with. Some would argue it’s because all of his leads tend to share a similar voice and/or attitude, but I happen to disagree with that pretty strongly, as it really undercuts one of the consistent strengths of Ellis’ work.

I’m always impressed by his ability to create a compelling setting that effectively dictates the actions of his characters, making them true products of their individual environments. If the assertion that “all his characters sound the same” was even remotely valid, there’d be little difficulty in shifting things around, putting Spider in the world Miranda Zero occupies, or vice versa, without compromising the character’s service to their own series. Ellis’ initial premises tend to be so strong, that it really serves to create its own unique protagonist, to either rebel against it, or ultimately join it. If you want to say that the characters often choosing a “fight” response makes them too similar, that’s up to you, but again, I love the work he’s put into establishing Michael Jones and his strange, little fucked-up world.

We finally get to see a portion of the “Desolation Test” that Jones was exposed to, and Ellis and phenomenal artist J.H. Williams combine to render an opening sequence that’s somewhat of a fever dream, the camera through the drugged eyes of Jones, as he’s experimented on, his body sold to science while still alive. Even though we aren’t shown the entire test, what is revealed is pretty disturbing, and justifies nearly everything we’ve learned about Jones to this point, except maybe his willingness to take an assignment involving the recovery of Hitler’s home made porno films. In typical caper fashion though, there’s a bit more going on than that, and this issue sees Jones going over the entire sordid affair to a friend, who’s trying to reach him before he passes out. He also manages to kill someone quite violently again, which seems to be almost a regular feature. Seriously though, if you survived what it looked like Jones did…you’d probably throw somebody under a speeding car too.

But another really cool character, to go on Ellis’ ever-growing list, that’s forced into a bad situation by a world that just refuses to make any sense. Easily, one of the best books to launch last year…

That’s all for this week, people. Hope everybody is enjoying the New Year as much as I am, and I’ll be back in another two weeks…though with All-Star Superman 2 coming out tomorrow, alongside the 4th issue of Crisis and a new Planetary installment, might be compelled to drop in next week, for a quick, yet strangely comprehensive review.

We’ll see.


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