March 31, 2010

The readings

Before we get to today's two most important and review-worthy tomes, lemme get a few quickies out of the way...

House of Mystery: Space Between - I've enjoyed reading through the first two collections of the newish Vertigo relaunch of the House of Mystery series.  Each provided a nicely balanced pairing of long-tale storytelling and smaller, self-contained tales, some of which tied into the overarching long tale in ways that weren't initially obvious.

I particularly enjoy this kind of storytelling in which the author has a grand direction in mind and plants keys to the eventual destination all along the way.  Within that framework, the author - or, in this case, authors as the series has been a bit of an anthology - takes a number of interesting and smaller-arc detours along the way.  The finest examples of this has been Sandman in which Gaiman seemed to have marked very clearly where he was heading but wasn't afraid to tell a spectacular and only semi-related story without rushing to get to the ending.

The House of Mystery framework has been a great setting for this kind of storytelling as people move into and out of the titular House paying for their ale and eats by passing the time with a well-told story.  Through the first three volumes, we have come to learn more each issue about The House and its current residents, a handful of whom appear unable to leave and equally unable to explain how they came to be in The House.

And it works...until the very last page of this volume, in which The Big Reveal is made - without any leadup to The Big Reveal.  See, we've seen a masked character making various entreaties toward taking the house.  In the final page here, the mask is taken off and the identity of the masked figure's identity is revealed.  It's no one that we've seen yet in the series - though this person does have a history with the older edition of the series.

The Reveal didn't work for me in the least, however, effectively undermining all of the good work that has come before in the series.  Instead of doing something interesting and unique, the series turns very quickly to a cheap, sensational Reveal, the kind seemingly designed to sell comics instead of telling stories.

I might try the next volume of this series, but it'll be on a short leash for me at this point where I had been willing to give it a whole lot of rope before that final page.

The Great Fables Crossover (Fables: Vol 13) - I'm on the hook for Fables.  Anything series-related that gets put out, I'll read.  (At some point, I need to get to Peter and Max, but that's for another time.)

Admittedly, however, I'm more on the hook for the main series than I am for the spin off of Jack of Fables, but even Jack tends to be fun most of the time.  When I pick up a Jack collection, I expect an entertaining lark that doesn't have any real literary heft to it, something that can drip into one ear and pour right out of the other without making any significant impact along the way.

From Fables, on the other hand, I expect something with a more solid amount of merit, something that resembles literary commentary on Israel's struggle of being a displaced homeland, carved out of another nation and existing only through armed and often suspicious defense.  Fables is weightier than its spin-off cousin.  It's darker.

The Great Fables Crossover is a chance for the characters from the two series to switch places and tones as Jack heads to Fables and gets a darker story in which he allows the deluded denizens of the Farm to believe that he is the reincarnation of Boy Blue, a despicable action by every measure.  At the same time, Snow and Bigby head to Jack where they wrap up the Literal/Paige Sisters storyline that began back in the first Jack volume when Jack got taken to the Golden Boughs Retirement Village.

It's a light-hearted bit of fun that will hopefully allow Jack to head in a different direction as the current storyline had pretty well run its course for my tastes.  And now the Fables gang can get back to being the best currently running comic series.

Y: The Last Man - first five collected volumes - I'm a sucker for the series that people praise as 'the best ever'.  I've read all of Sandman.  I'm working my way through Starman (currently waiting for the 'bary to get the fourth collection).  I'm all down with Fables.  And now I'm working my way through Y: The Last Man.

I particularly enjoy reading the series in the large collected bursts, a preference of mine that comes out clearly again with the way I'm enjoying watching The Wire in a year or two rather than spread out over the five years of its original run.  Gimme the whole story at once, and - no matter how long the story - I'll probably make it through.  I've been spoiled and can't imagine really having the patience to read anything in the blips and blobs, drips and drabs of one issue a month, one episode a week.

So I'm finally getting around to reading Y now that the series is over and done and my library has all of the volumes.  (Only they don't.  They are missing volume 7, so I'll be hunting that down in the next week or two once 6 shows up on hold for me.)

It's certainly a well-written series, but I'm going to hold any significant judgment about it until I wrap up the last of the volumes because I desperately want to see where it's going.

So far, though, I'm hooked.

Planetary: Volume 4 - I'd grabbed the three series collections - plus the collection of one-shots - that had been published of Planetary a few years back and immediately gone searching for the fourth collection.  As many comic fans will know, however, there was a three-year delay between issues 26 and 27, so that meant that the final collection was delayed a few years.  But now it's out, and now I own the hardcover version.

It's always interesting to see something come to a close when you've been waiting so long for its conclusion, especially when there's been enough of a delay for your expectations to build to often unreachable heights.  The risk of expectations unreached are often far more likely to come true than are those that are exceeded, and I feel that the close of Planetary falls into the unreached - if likely unreachable - category of expectations.

The beginnings of this volume feel very familiar (especially since I reread the first three volumes in the past month in anticipation of this closing volume) as Elijah Snow and his Planetary organization continue on their quest to break The Four, Ellis's analogue to the Fantastic Four.  These early issues are among the finest in the Planetary series - particularly "Mystery in Space".  Once Snow takes care of two of The Four, however, the series took a turn that I feel changed the tone drastically, and it came in the issue "Consultation".

In this issue, Snow holds the titular consultaton with a woman who refers to herself as a scientist of the microscale - femtoscale - atoscale - universe, that she has chosen to draft further and further downward to find the underpinnings of our universe.  In the course of her discussions, we find Snow drifting down to an understanding of this scale with the help of Melanctha's drugs in his tea.  Here Snow finds his true purpose and the series takes on a tone of rescue that hadn't necessarily been present before in the series.

We have seen anger from Snow (at The Four, primarily), determination (his meetings with Doc Brass), curiosity (the creation of the entire Planetary organization), but we haven't seen this open caring, rescuing side of Elijah before - except in glimpses into the backgrounds of his three (including Ambrose Chase) most important Planetary team members.  This change in tone doesn't derail Snow from his determination to destroy The Four.  He still steps very drastically to Dowling and Suskind for a final confrontation, but the caring, protecting tone leads to a final issue that I didn't see coming in the least

Before mentioning the final issue in any detail, let me speak to the last confrontation with Dowling and Suskind.  It felt drastically anticlimactic to me.  While I understand that each of The Four were taken out with surprising planning and quick execution within the scope of the storyline, the killing of Dowling and Suskind seemed to take a single panel, happening almost off page as Snow revealed his final secret and took the opposite force's king and queen off of the board with surprising - and disappointing - ease and quickness.

The final issue, then, worked better as an epilogue than did the penultimate issue as a conclusion.  We see Jakita frustrated in trying to find her role in a world without the requisite targets to hit, a reference back to her low threshold for boredom that was a thread of her character throughout the series.  We see Drummer rising to prominence as he tries to understand and decode Dowling's files for the decades of information hidden from the world.  And we see Elijah coming up with a way to exact his greatest rescue yet - with the help of Drums and an idea about time travel in Dowling's files.

In the end, the final issue was worth the wait, showing Elijah Snow to be more than the world's greatest detective, an archeologist of the weird world around us, and becoming the greatest of the century babies.

I owe a huge debt to the Planetary Comic Appreciation Page in helping me frame my thoughts about this final volume.  I'm thinking that I may buy the Absolute Planetary volumes and read them with the PCAP's annotations at my side.

Ok, we're too long already...I'll come back tomorrow with the best book I've read in a long while.

You'll just have to wait to find out what book that is...

How's that for a teaser?

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