Monday, October 31, 2011

Spaceman #1

With a ten-year collaboration on the critically acclaimed 100 Bullets already under their belts, along with the preceding Jonny Double and a brief flirtation with mainstream waters in Batman, it's becoming pretty clear that Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso have a good thing going. Their latest effort, the nine-issue limited series Spaceman, signifies a triumphant return to the seedier type of creator-owned property that put the duo on the map. It's not 100 Bullets all over again - the two have little in common beyond dark overtones and each creator's unmistakable panache - but it's every bit as effective in its own way.

Azzarello's writing in this premiere already has a lot of meat. His vision of a pollution-smeared, technologically advanced future is as much a viable prediction as it is a fully functional backdrop for the tale he's got in store. While the poverty-ridden lower class (in which our protagonist counts himself a member) may enjoy the kind of astonishing personal technology that would make Apple blush, they do so in squalor and despair, beneath a muted gray skyline. While the local drug dealers now accept wireless debit cards, the dollar in the accounts they're pilfering effectively halves in value several times a week. Like many timeless sci-fi classics, Azzarello's climate marries modern concerns with a distant future that's just different enough from our own to remain a fantasy.

The primary storyline is just getting rolling by the time the back cover rolls into sight - par for the course where half-sized, budget-priced premiere issues are concerned - but already it's clear that there's plenty going on. There's something not quite human about the spaceman himself, who's never given a proper name, although he shows all the signs of just such a condition. He routinely gives in to vice, scarcely making enough time to earn the bucks for tomorrow's fix, and often fades off into memories (or are they daydreams) of an outer space lifestyle left far behind. This puzzle's pieces are twisting and turning with no obvious rhyme or reason at the moment, but if I look closely enough I can tell there's a gorgeous tapestry waiting to come together.

As usual, Eduardo Risso's artwork proves the perfect compliment to his partner's visions, no matter how elaborate. His clever use of perspective and carefully limited linework gives the landscape every bit of justice it deserves, while keeping the page cleanly navigable. His character designs, boiled down to the essence of each individual, are only further steps in that same direction. Our cast is easily identifiable by just the second page, and it's astonishing how much character Risso can imbue with only a few sharp strokes. His gritty, unwashed style makes no effort to conceal the world's warts, blemishes and shortcomings, which makes it a terrific match for the tone and nature of this kind of story.

Eventually these two may overstep their bounds, perhaps when they tire of dark skies, angry grimaces and gun barrels, but that's neither here nor now. Spaceman is another smash hit for the duo, brilliantly fleshed out but still quick, easy and entertaining to read. It's got instant, pulpy substance, what looks to be a twisting, turning central mystery and a dark, cloudy distant past that's screaming for further investigation. At full price this would've been worth a strong recommendation, but for a dollar it's criminal to leave it on the shelves. Buy it without a second thought - what have you got to lose?

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9.5

Wolverine and the X-Men #1

It's opening day for the rejuvenated Xavier school for mutants, and this time it's not just the underclassmen that are adjusting to a new environment. Following the events of Schism, Wolverine's found himself headmaster of the east coast squad, and he's appointed a faculty full of familiar faces. In further evidence of the cyclical nature of all things human, (or homo superior, as it were) many of your favorite X-Men alumni have returned to their old stomping grounds in an effort to help train and teach the next generation of mutant wonders.

Jason Aaron's plot is like a glimpse back to the heyday of the X-Men family, when life as a mutant wasn't all pomp and circumstance and the crew was certainly not above leaning back on a day off and having themselves a little fun. The character-driven central storyline hinges on a crucial visit from the Department of Education, who seem to have made up their minds about the facility before they've even stepped through the front door, and their decision to give the school a green or red light with the state commission. With the readers riding shotgun, Logan and Kitty - clearly uncomfortable in their new roles as grinnin' mouthpieces - do everything in their power to make the best of an inherently difficult situation and fail repeatedly in increasingly spectacular fashion.

It's a new trial for Logan, who's long been a lightning rod of controversy among hardcore fans for being so oversaturated and resistant to change. We've seen Wolverine as the warrior, the rebel, the bleeding heart and the father figure, but never as the calm, collected institutional leader. It's a role that's going to take a lot of getting used to, both for him and for us, but one Aaron seems to have a clear, intelligent plan for. With Shadowcat at his side for counsel and a staff of close friends providing further guidance, Logan will have every opportunity to make this work, but something tells me some old habits die too hard for everything to go too smoothly. In fact, those inevitable blow-ups are what I'm looking forward to the most. When was the last time Professor X threatened to disembowel a misbehaving student?

Returning to the Xavier landscape yet again, respected journeyman Chris Bachalo delivers a special blend of character, informality and familiarity to the both student and teacher. Bachalo's had his ups and downs over the years, with tight deadlines occasionally leading to some sloppy efforts, but when he's motivated his work is among the industry's very best. Concerned readers can quit worrying, because he's brought his A-Game this month and the subject matter lends itself perfectly to his strengths. Featuring a wild variety of body types to play with, a few staggering two-page spreads and an excess of playful, body language-infused dialog, Bachalo's personality fits this setting like a glove.

It's been quite a while since I've been so impressed with a debut issue featuring a prominent X on its cover. Amidst so many years of crossover events, landscape-changing mega revelations, in-fighting and relationship drama, it's a real breath of fresh air to see these characters finally letting their guards down a bit and just being themselves. Jason Aaron's storyline is simple, deliberate and enjoyable, a basic premise that succeeds wholly because the cast is so diverse and colorful. Pair that with a lively, enthusiastic tone and a solid, appropriate turn from Chris Bachalo and you've got my attention. Where we go from here is anyone's guess. Buy it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9