Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Killapalooza #1

As fabulously decadent, internationally recognized musicians, the members of The Clap shouldn't want for much. They're a part of the biggest band on the planet – drinking, brawling and screaming their way through life, and generally doing whatever they please whenever they like. Or at least, that's what they want you to think. The band parties hard, that much is a fact, but they're also using that worldwide notoriety as a cover for their more illicit activities away from the bright lights and shrill amps of the tour. Not only is the group in demand as musicians, but they're also a hot commodity as a top notch meta-human kill squad, dealing in political assassination by day and punk rock by night.

As you might expect, Killapalooza writer Adam Beechen constantly strives to top himself in terms of nasty violence and inventive use of censored vocabulary. The action doesn't even settle down when the team steps out of their work clothes and settles back into their "civilian" lives as The Clap. Like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, if every single member of the group is a racecar, they've been running in the red for about fifteen years. They're constantly spoiling for a fight, whether it's with a small terrorist cell, their fans, other bands or each other.

The team's frequent fistfighting and bloodletting leaves little question about their motivations. If these guys can't even slow down long enough to get lights-out drunk together, I can understand why they'd need an outlet for their emotions as violent as the one they've chosen. It doesn't, however, make them all that appealing as lead characters. Spending a few minutes with these guys is like watching an eighteen-wheeler and a locomotive collide headfirst at top speed, then throw it into reverse and get ready to do it again. The trainwreck aspect is fascinating, but I'm not especially involved as anything more than a startled (and smugly entertained) bystander.

Trevor Hairsine's artwork has a gritty, minimal but realistic Hitch-meets-Maleev slant to it. It fits right in with both the grungy, slutty atmosphere of the music scene and the harsh, lethal world of agents and assassins. Occasionally, the artist's characters can come off as too ambiguous (I didn't figure out that two members of the team were women until the middle of the issue) but he can play that off as a clever snipe at the constantly androgynous nature of the music industry, so in this instance I guess I can let it slide.

There's more than a passing similarity to Millar and Hitch's work on The Ultimates in Killapalooza, and the goes beyond the tone and style of Hairsine's artwork. Beechen's pull-no-punches storytelling is also clearly influenced by Millar's hard line approach, and the team even has its own miniature Nick Fury to round them up and point them in the right direction when things get a bit too rowdy. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an homage, but it's damn close. I guess as inspirations go, they could have chosen a lot worse.

I can't shake the feeling that I really shouldn't have liked this as much as I did. It reeks of stream of consciousness writing, full of the kind of puns and barbs that you can't help but snicker at, no matter how terrible. It's ballsy, which accounts for about 95% of its charm, and at least as far as debut issues go, that's good enough for me. Beechen and Hairsine have left enough doorways open to take this series in any number of directions, and if nothing else they've used its premiere to announce that nothing is truly out of bounds. This is not the best book I've ever recommended you buy, and it's certainly not for everyone, but it is worth a closer look just to be sure.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1

I should probably announce right now that there's absolutely no way I'd have ever lifted this book from the shelves of my own volition. I didn't read Final Crisis, and I've never heard of Super Young Team, the adolescent stars of the series that evidently emerged during the course of 52. If DC's customary lack of an introductory paragraph weren't enough, the rainbowy cover and seemingly generic character designs would have only served to drive me further toward intentional ignorance.

But what's that old adage about books and their covers, something about a premature judgment? I'm not sure what connection this series has to Final Crisis (and there's a good chance it's under my radar) but as a lighter look at the fame and fashion of being an internationally recognized superhero, Dance is a shocking success. With codenames like "Most Excellent Superbat" and "Atomic Lantern Boy," there's no question which classic heroes this squad apes, nor how seriously their book takes itself. And while such a flippant tone breeds a natural worry that the series might never play it straight, the amount of personality and originality that bubbles over in this issue is enough to compensate for its eccentricities, at least on the short term. Dance's team of heroes are bonafide rock stars, not just because of the way they're presented by the big league publicists under their employ, but in the way they act, talk, walk and generally carry themselves. In buying into their own hype, they're making it much easier for you and I to do the same.

Although there's little doubting its exuberance, Joe Casey's storytelling does occasionally overexert itself in an attempt to prove it's down with what today's kids are into. The concept of mobile tweets taking the place of thought bubbles is fresh, and seems innocent enough the first few times it comes up. After the fourth or fifth instance, though, the constant interruptions start to become irritating, like a persistent IM buddy who doesn't realize you're trying to get some work done. That's not the only new technique the writer fails to get off the ground. I'll applaud him for trying something different, for applying an extra layer of the team's personality to the mechanics of the book itself, but I wish he'd used his gimmicks a bit more sparingly.

Casey's artistic partner, ChrisCross, brings a bouncy visual approach that's right in line with the young, energetic vibe introduced by its cast. The club scenes look and feel like club scenes, and they're balanced by the flat, clinical aura that's a perfect match for the team's stuffy, corporate-financed headquarters. Cross brings a great sense of timing to the page, accompanied by a nice understanding of the issue's pacing. When the scenery is meant to be moving at a leisurely pace, the team's body language follows suit. The stars aren't constantly flexing, gritting their teeth and coiling to strike, and they certainly aren't afraid to step out and define themselves as individuals, even if the plot doesn't afford them more than a couple dedicated panels in which to do so. Casey brings the team's heart and soul, while Cross establishes its spirit.

There's no doubt in my mind that many of the intricacies of this story were lost on me. After all, I strolled in with little to no knowledge of the characters, their place in DC's ever-expanding multiverse or their general direction as individuals. And while Final Crisis Aftermath – Dance #1 didn't exactly answer all (or even most) of my questions, it also didn't leave me feeling lost and abandoned, alone in the cold in a strange land. It's got its highs and lows – at some times it's a bit too manic for its own good, but at others that's what makes it so endearing. Perhaps most importantly, Dance has promise and with five issues left in the mini-series, there's plenty of time to capitalize on that. Worth a borrow, with the potential for bigger and better things in the future.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In Brief - April 2009

A quick glimpse at what else I've been reading this month...

Deadpool: Suicide Kings #1 - I've never been a frothing Deadpool fanboy, but I had nothing else in mind when the guy at the counter suggested I pick up his last remaining issue and I'm glad I did. This won't make you go into deep thought or anything, but sometimes it's nice to shut off your brain and climb on board a roller coaster. Suicide Kings reminds me of the early days of Spider-Man, when you could just jump in and have some fun without worrying about a big, heavy melodrama falling into your lap. Of course, there weren't quite as many guns, deaths or explosions in those old issues, but some things have to change with the times. The big star of this show was the artwork. Carlo Barberi is a great compliment to the character and the tone of the story - he never takes himself too seriously, and that's liberating. All around a fun little package.

Marvel Knights: Angel #1 - I guess I missed this series when it was first being published. Stumbled across almost the entire run on the shelf this past week, when I didn't have anything new in my pull file and decided to give it a shot. The writing is terribly corny at parts, and it's tough to look past the glaring flaws in continuity but underneath all of that is a strangely appealing story about a kid who doesn't know why his body is turning on him. This is a five-issue mini, and I can already tell how it's going to play out just from the way everything's been set up, but I fully intend to see it through anyway. A big part of the reason is Adam Pollina's artwork. I've been aware of him for ages, appreciating him from a distance, but this is the first time I've seriously inspected one of his books. It's downright gorgeous and refreshingly original. I love the exaggerated bodies and bizarre accents he grants to each character, and he sets a scene like few others. Angel wouldn't be worth a second glance without his aid

Marvel Knights: Angel #3 - Issue #2 was nowhere to be found. Maybe I should have popped for the TPB collection instead. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen in this issue, but instead it caught me by surprise by focusing on Warren's jubilation in response to his wings finally sprouting. I've read the same old "mutant gets new powers, freaks out, gets run out of town by villagers with torches" angle so many times that it was really nice to see the other side of that coin, a kid who's utterly stoked about his mutation. Some of the developments hinted at the end of the issue weren't quite so unusual or even original, but hey, good with the bad.

Marvel Knights: Angel #4 - Adam Pollina's artwork continues to blow me away within this series. In issue #3 he took my breath away with a full-page spread revealing the breadth of Warren's wings for the first time, and here he stunned me with another gorgeous cover and several more masterpieces inside. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa quickly and neatly wrote his way out of the infuriating little corner he'd worked his way into at the end of last month and set the stage for the big finale. Probably the weakest issue of the series, as some of the kids' antics push the limits of believability, but overall it's still worth a look.

Marvel Knights: Angel #5 - Keeps up a frantic pace from front to back, which is all you can really ask of a mini-series concluding issue. Pollina rebounds nicely from a shaky start to deliver on some of the best moments of the series, particularly when he allows a driving rainstorm to take shapes not entirely unlike Van Gogh's "Starry Night." I was hoping for a slightly longer touch on Angel's transition from student to X-Man, but I don't think the story really needed it and this issue already has enough going on as it is. I'm really glad I took a chance on this series, it was a good reminder of what the core X-Men books used to be like, ages ago. Just a cluster of kids going through some unprecedented changes together, trying to help each other find the courage to carry on.

Kingdom Come #3 - This was the spark. Waid and Ross spent three issues building up a house of cards, and I could almost feel their shared excitement as they filled their lungs with enough air to blow it all down. It's great to watch the individual arcs of all this book's supporting characters - Von Bach, Power Girl, the Satanist guy with nipple piercings... they each have a clearly defined progression and if you look in enough corners the whole world is laid out right there for you. This issue had so many enormous moments, it's tough to keep count. Clark and Diana discussing life, the universe and everything in the vacuum of outer space, Bruce's ultimate redemption, Captain Marvel's sudden, jarring arrival... this series deserves all the credit it gets. And as a consistent detractor of Alex Ross's work, that isn't especially easy for me to admit. This is his finest work, and it's more than likely the same story for Mark Waid.

Kingdom Come #4 - One of the best fight scenes ever, and undoubtedly the most shocking conclusion to one. It's been so long since I read this issue, that final climactic moment at the end of the brawl literally left my jaw agape. Again. What's amazing about this issue is that it can do mindless violence while at the same time carry on a fascinating dialog on distant corners of the battlefield. It merges dozens of ongoing plot threads without feeling complicated or losing touch with the essence of its message. At the end of it all, Kingdom Come doesn't tell you who was in the right and who was in the wrong. That judgment is left for the reader to decide. Terrific ending to an all-around epic mini-series. And I never use the word "epic."

New Avengers #52 - I'll be honest: I've never been a fan of Dr. Strange. I know the guy has his share of support, but I've just never been any less than completely turned off by the whole "mystic arts" corner of the Marvel Universe. My eyes glaze over, I have to read speech bubbles three or four times over just to get the jist; it's almost a chore to get through. So, naturally I'm not all that taken by this arc, which focuses almost entirely on Strange's search for a successor. It's a different angle on the subject, with the Doc stepping down as Sorceror Supreme of his own volition, but I simply cannot get into it. On the visual side, Chris Bachalo's guest-spots aren't quite as good here as they were last month, but they still bring the right emotions to the right places. Sadly, Billy Tan also provides artwork, and he remains disgracefully bad. I think Ms. Marvel had six cheekbones in one panel. This is not my cup of tea.

Ex Machina #41 - Well, that was quite the cold open. I've been lukewarm to this series for quite a while, but the opening press conference this month was just what I was waiting for. Finally we've got some direction, both inside and outside the mayor's office, and I'm anxious to see how everything plays out. I can't imagine Mayor Hundred is nearly as naive about January's real intentions as Vaughan is making it seem, although he does have some kind of penchant for writing innocent, gullible male leads so who really knows. Tony Harris has been solid on this series from the start, and shows no signs of relenting now. It's nice when your patience with a slow title finally pays off.

Daredevil #118 - I'm not really sure what to say about that issue. Brubaker had me hooked on his run almost from the word go, but these last two arcs have really let me down. It's tough to root for a guy when he's interested in nothing more than constantly digging himself into a deeper hole, and that's all Matt's been doing for the last few years. Which isn't exactly new... in fact, it seems like that's been a golden ticket to surefire success on this title over the years. But where Miller, Bendis and even Kevin Smith succeeded by dragging Murdock through the wringers, Brubaker is stumbling. I think it's because he's robbed the character of his vigor. Matt just doesn't care any more, so watching him fall further and further into trouble is starting to seem like whipping the handicapped. We've got some serious potential in the machinations behind the scenes here, especially considering the bombshell Foggy drops midway through this month, but it's all being lost on an unrewarding main plotline. The mix-and-match artists of this arc aren't helping. Call this disappointing through and through.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight - Hadn't read this one in ages! Although the MSRP is now nearly than triple the $3.95 I originally paid for it, that's still a bargain. What I found most impressive about it this time around is how much story Augustyn and Mignola fit into such a short amount of space. This is an entire trade's worth of plot development smashed into a novel that's scarcely bigger than two single issues, but it doesn't feel hurried, rushed or any shorter than it needs to be. The concept of a Victorian Batman works even better than you'd expect, although he only appears in-costume for a few short scenes. Though I wasn't entirely taken by the whole Bats vs. Jack the Ripper dynamic, it's refreshing to see a one-shot Bruce Wayne period piece with only a fleeting mention of the Joker, so kudos for that. And Mignola, naturally, is Mignola. This came fairly early in his career, so his work isn't quite as refined as it later became, but I wouldn't trust these characters in this era to any other artist and he delivers. A very solid book, good for a short afternoon's entertainment, that doesn't overstay its welcome.

Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #5 - I was sure I'd missed the conclusion to this mini-series years ago, so when I saw it back on the shelves I snagged a copy on instinct alone. Turns out I did actually have a copy and had just forgotten everything about it. I kept waiting for something to happen, but for once we're treated to a major nonviolent event that actual remains that way. No surprise attacks from the Red Skull, no missiles pointed at the ceremony, just a grieving nation and a set of long-faced superheroes in their civvies. Cassaday's artwork floats from stirring to dull and back again several times. He sets an intense mood at the issue's onset - a slow pan back from Cap's casket, drawn by a single horse through the dreary streets of DC - but then slips up when Tony and the Falcon are delivering their eulogies. I really, really didn't like his rendition of the Thing, either. He gets a few chances to knock our socks off, via a set of flashbacks to crucial moments in Steve's life, with some more successful than others. Cap's final resting place was a nice touch, but otherwise this was just OK.

Dark Avengers #4 - Well, shit, did this concept just click into place? I think it did! Between Doom surprising me by sensibly shooting down Osborn's suggestion they toy with the past, and Bullseye exchanging pleasantries with Venom on the battlefield, this issue was just plain fun. Maybe I missed out on something by skipping Thunderbolts all this time, but the idea of a teamful of genuinely rotten supers just feels right to me at the moment. It certainly makes a nice change of pace from the usual stilted, buddy-buddy tone of mainstream hero books. Of course, they aren't doing anything particularly noteworthy, but the character interactions are enough to compensate for now. Deodato's artwork has its highs and lows - I really didn't care for his take on Moonstone as a walking, talking sex object wearing body paint. The rest of the team looks fine, though. I'm glad I took the plunge and started up on this series; I needed something to replace Mighty Avengers in my pull list.

The Walking Dead #51 - I stocked up on every issue the local shop had on its wall this week. This one was the crown jewel. Kirkman's story in #51 has everything: action, humor, horror and a heartbreaking reveal near its conclusion that had me thinking about it days later. I didn't even need to know the back story between Rick and his family to appreciate the moment, and Adlard's artwork matches the mood perfectly. Smart, succinct, successful storytelling (say that ten times fast) with effortless dialog and top-notch characterization makes this title worthy of all the praise. This is the way to jump into a new series - one of my favorite single issues of the year.

The Walking Dead #52 - Not quite as accessible as the previous issue. A few familiar faces pop up this month, which left me feeling like a bit of an outcast. Kirkman doesn't make them intimidating or anything, but he also makes it clear that they share a long, rich history with the leads that I'm unaware of. Adlard's artwork may be better than last month, though... some of these compositions are jaw-dropping in their simplicity, while still managing to fill the page with an incredible level of detail. More than any of the other issues I've read, (of which there are now a few) this didn't stand on its own and felt like part one of a lengthy story arc. It's still great, but a few steps below perfection.

The Walking Dead #53 - The reunion continues, with a few unexpected party crashers. If I was feeling left out by the joyous reconciliation last month, that feeling was multiplied by three here, as Rick and friends stroll into an entire village of old friends. The plot keeps moving along at a good clip, though, and each "new" face gets enough time to themselves that I was able to easily identify every personality before the end of the issue, which was missing from last month's story. I love that: Kirkman is so careful to make new readers feel welcome, while at the same time rarely holding anything back from his die-hards. There's something new and exciting for everybody.

The Walking Dead #54 - Didn't take long for a few tempers to flare. What's nice is that the narration never chooses sides, doesn't designate a charming good guy or a dark, myserious bad guy. It's just two perspectives on a common problem that don't exactly line up. This cast is almost strong enough to write for themselves, so all Kirkman needs to do is introduce a moral quandry and toss in a herd of zombies to produce some serious drama. I'm not sure about the new additions to the cast just yet, but they're nothing if they aren't colorful and that's a good first step in my book. It's a little bit dialog-heavy in the first half, but I don't know how else the situation could have unfolded.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Viking #1

Like a Scandinavian Robin Hood with a depleted army of merry men, the ragtag group of leading men in Viking makes its living thieving from those who "need less than they have." Of course, their intentions aren't nearly as noble – these warriors are in it for themselves – and sometimes the wealthy aren't always as rotten as they seem to be. But therein lies the book's deepest conundrum: to side with the privileged, who hoard everything they touch, or the daring, who slaughter whatever gets in their way. Decisions, decisions…

Ivan Brandon is credited specifically with the script, which frankly I found downright awful. There's something to be said for grounding a series in a specific era via appropriate verbiage, but there should also be an unspoken rule that if the reader can't follow it, you're doing something wrong. From all indications these Norse creatures are speaking English, but the meat of their message is lost amidst this desire to sound authentic. What's worse, on the few occasions I did get the jist of what was being said, it was never anything particularly important. These guys wax philosophical about the most mundane details and address each other like strangers, even if they're blood relatives.

The lack of a credited writer leads me to believe Brandon is also responsible for the plot, which sadly fares no better. Viking leaps from one scene to the next like the Hulk from curbside to canyon, sometimes even departing mid-sentence. If anything made sense in the first place I'd call it confusing, but that would insinuate a certain level of initial awareness that simply isn't present. The subject matter is like a dream – one minute we're sharing a casual meal with a cabin of shipmates, then scarcely three panels later all but one have literally lost their heads. An old man fishes for eels using the severed, rotting head of a horse as bait. When he finds success, the whole scene is treated nonchalantly, like this kind of thing should be common knowledge. The whole issue is like that: one surreal, excessively macabre scene after the next. It makes a few genuinely interesting observations, but they each seem to involve something taking a spear through its side.

Nic Klein's artwork is the issue's greatest asset, and even it has moments of weakness. Klein amps up the strangeness presented by the story with an odd blend of paint and ink. His efforts shift suddenly and unexpectedly from a more traditional, sharp mixture of strict black linework and computer-aided coloring techniques to the softer, more neurotic direction of his paintings. The switch occurs several times a page, and sometimes more than once within a single panel. That results in compositions that often blend together into one giant, colorful, illegible blob. His style flails about with equal inconsistency, never deciding whether it would like to deal in harsh realism or exaggerated, over-the-top caricature. If he could stick to one or the other, there's plenty of evidence he could be producing some great work, but his indecision is costly.

Viking is one big mess, a collection of clashing styles and incompatible influences both in its writing and its artwork. I can't fault it for lacking originality, nor for taking any risks in a medium that's always looking for something a little bit different. Its intentions were pure, its collaborators more than willing to take a few chances, but such efforts don't always result in great rewards. This issue showcases a number of characters with great promise, but I just couldn't connect with any of them. I found this to be bewildering, frustrating and unrewarding – a fine concept that was lost somewhere before its execution. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2.5

Buck Rogers #0

Now pressing past his 80th birthday, Buck Rogers is still going strong as an important part of pop culture and science fiction history. He's gone from the height of popularity to the laughingstock of an industry and back again, endured parody after parody and outlasted each of his imitators. Now, with a renewed interest from the retro audience, one of comics' oldest original creations is back to launch a brand new ongoing series from Dynamite Entertainment.

Under artist Carlos Rafael's watch, the character has undergone a sharp makeover. His new wardrobe is an interesting mix of modern sci-fi tendencies and kitschy nods to the character's past. Buck's gown has been simplified and streamlined, but the helmet and needlessly tall leather boots he dons are undeniable throwbacks to his earlier days. The set of curvy, brightly glowing blue racing stripes that work their way across his body may modernize his appearance, but they also give the impression that he's more than just an adventurous guy floating through outer space. Did Buck Rogers ever have any super powers? In these threads, he looks primed and ready to be the next bearer of the Nova Force. Rogers still carries a bright yellow ray gun that was hard to swallow in the ‘50s, but it's balanced out a bit by the cold metal sheen of its companion – a generic modern pistol. It sounds like a marriage made in the depths of hell, but in action, strangely, it all works together surprisingly well.

Rafael feels right at home in a book that centers itself on space exploration and alien habitats. His best work is early in the issue, when the story is more concerned with introducing this particular set of alien invaders rather than exterminating them. He brings a nice sense of scale to the page when the pace is leisurely and the intent is to dazzle readers with unfamiliar landscapes and wide-angle shots of the Earth, but as the things pick up he loses his focus. In the action scenes specifically, I often had trouble figuring out which stock action pose Rogers was striking.

Scott Beatty has written the character with a brash, loud-mouthed tough guy image that sometimes feels a bit forced. He's quick with the one-liners, even if they aren't all that amusing or inventive. Buck's bravado and arrogance often rubs me the wrong way, and his "kill everything and run" mentality only reinforces that line of thought. In a way, I guess, that superficial ugliness makes him more human, just in a way that's anything but flattering. I was hoping for more adventuring and less gunslinging, but that's not the MO of Buck's new series.

I don't have a problem with pure action just for the fun of it, which is just about all you'll get in Buck Rogers #0. Without an appealing lead character, though, it loses some of its edge. This isn't bad – Scott Beatty shows us he's got enough imagination to make this thing work and Carlos Rafael's artwork matches that creativity – it's just shallow and didn't particularly move me to investigate the regular series. For the cover price of a quarter, I guess you can't ask for too much. Flip through it, pick it up if you've got some spare change, but you probably won't read it more than once.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

The Walking Dead #60

While on the surface it seems to be a run-of-the-mill zombie book, The Walking Dead has developed into one of Image's longest running, most highly regarded comics. As the weeks of scarce survival have turned into months and years, the title's cast – helmed by a small-town police officer named Rick Grimes – has been through its ups and downs. Pained by the brutal longevity of the situation and the constant menace of a surprise attack, the rag-tag cluster of survivors are beginning to find that despair and hysteria may prove to be bigger threats than the zombies themselves.

I won't lie – this is my first look at the guts of Walking Dead. I've had the first trade on my to-do list for almost a year now, but keep finding reasons to hold off purchasing it. So, to say I found the idea of starting with issue number sixty intimidating may be something of an understatement. Sometimes that feet-first dive is just what it takes to really spark an interest, though, and I'm pleased to report that's precisely the case here.

I found Robert Kirkman's writing astonishingly accessible; it's easy to understand without a lot of back-story (really, the title of the series was enough) and constantly gripping. It's obvious there's more to this situation than meets the eye, but that additional, undefined depth actually adds to the experience, rather than putting me off with a big chunk of weighty overhead. Although this is the final issue of a five-part story arc, I didn't need a lot more direction than "there's a herd of zombies on the horizon." A great deal of the issue is spent on a mad dash for survival, but Kirkman is still able to sneak in a few powerful moments of characterization and genuine drama. It's an excellent blend.

Providing Walking Dead with its artwork since its second story arc, Charlie Adlard is more than just a familiar face at this point. He brings just as much vigor to each character as the writing, adding an untold extra chapter to each survivor's story with every scrape, bandage or bruise. The decision to go black and white full-time means Adlard's readers will be asking more of his compositions, criticizing his decisions in more detail, but the artist blossoms under that added responsibility. Without the crutch of colorization to lean on, he's more daring with his shading and more cinematic in his approach. This actually feels just like a Night of the Living Dead-era screamer, which does more than I can say to put its readers in the right mood for the story that's being told.

The Walking Dead is a rarity: a match of writer and artist that fits together like mind and body. They're a perfect fit, and so is the story they've set out to tell. There's enough depth here to keep familiar readers banging on the door each month, but also an amazing focus on accessibility to ensure curious new readers don't throw it away after the second continuity-soaked page. I'm done waiting, this is going on my pull list right away – I can catch up with the back-issues at my own leisure. Highest recommendation to buy.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 10

DMZ #41

Set on the island of Manhattan in the very near future, DMZ examines how the lives of New Yorkers have changed since their town was designated a demilitarized zone. When a freethinking revolution passes through the hearts and minds of Middle America, the concept takes hold and manifests itself in the form of a full-scale revolt. With the majority of the country's national guard overseas, the Free State movement moves quickly, overtaking the vast majority of the US landmass in the blink of an eye. The battle stalls in NYC, however, and with neither army able to maintain control, it's labeled a no man's land and summarily evacuated. Now, years into the conflict, rookie journalist Matty Roth has begun to make a name for himself through a series of stunning reports from deep within the DMZ.

This month we spend some time with Zee, DMZ's foremost supporting character. A roving field medic with no real affiliation among the various throngs and factions inside the metropolis, Zee was the first local we met in Manhattan way back in DMZ #1. She's a kind of poster girl for the bold, righteous, DIY nature of the more humane communities within the city: tough and intimidating on the outside to protect the warm soul hidden underneath. This isn't the first time the book's focus has shifted her way, nor is it likely to be the last, and she doesn't flinch under the spotlight.

She's Brian Wood's most relatable, down-to-earth character – more so than even his protagonist, Matty Roth. Where the majority of the city's residents have lost their minds in the chaos of anarchy, Zee keeps her head and wits about her at all times and manages to act like a reasonable human being, even under the constant threat of sniper fire. But although she may sound like an inspirational figure, that doesn't make this an uplifting story. Zee might be one of Wood's best characters, but his most deeply developed creation remains the city itself, and it's in no way as rational an individual. While this issue may be about hope in the face of great adversity, that doesn't mean the right people always come out on top.

Temporarily filling in on the visuals this month is Nikki Cook, whose loose, quick brush strokes provide a noticeable change of pace from the rough, gritty work that usually typifies the series. I didn't care much for her efforts at first glance, but as the story bore on they did begin to grow on me. While her imprecise cityscapes and almost flippant approach to the issue's sparse action scenes left a bad taste in my mouth, Cook makes a strong impression with the facial expressions and body language she grants the cast. As a primarily character-centric issue, that kind of focus works for the most part this month, but I can't see her being a long-term fit for this series.

Although the services of regular artist Riccardo Burchielli are a big missing piece, Brian Wood's storytelling is able to pick up the slack. His ability to make readers care, one way or another, for new characters with just the slimmest of introductions is a godsend, especially during the "down periods," so to speak, between major story arcs. Longtime readers will be pleased to note that DMZ is still going strong, and those unfamiliar would do well to catch up as soon as they can. Buy it now, or pick up the first trade if you haven't already. I regretted waiting so long to do so myself.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5