Monday, January 23, 2006

A Cliff By Which to Hang

Lately, I've been writing about stuff I found in Operation: Reorganize and Purge that had been tucked away in my long boxes for years, and I haven't talked much about the new stuff I've gotten in the last three or four weeks. I can't remember a week of comics that has so made me look forward to next month's offerings due to the proper usage of cliffhanger endings that actually grabbed my attention. In recent months, this is what's passed for "make sure to pick up the next issue" fodder:"Whoa! Morlun?!?! Holy shit, dude, this is gonna be epic!" What a big, steaming pile of "who the hell cares?" that is.

The fact is, more often than not comic creators rely on the completist in us to buy the next issue. God knows I should have dropped Daredevil about a year ago. I'd planned to drop it during the midget demon story arc, but the only reason I've continued to pick it up is the promise of Bendis and Maleev leaving. Knowing I was going to pick up Brubaker's run, I couldn't bring myself to have that seven to eight issue gap in my collection.

Granted, not every issue can end in a cliffhanger or the cliffhanger loses all meaning, just as the Silver Age comic covers that promised Superman killing Lois Lane or destroying Metropolis or revealing his secret identity on a monthly basis ceased to have any impact. Sometimes we need something as simple as "Next Issue: Ultimate Silver Sable!"--well, maybe we don't need that exactly, but you get the point--but when a good cliffhanger comes along, nothing makes you look forward to the rapid passing of the next 27 days more.

*** Spoiler Warning: I'm discussing the final panel of each book. ***

Things have slowed way down in this title, not meaning nothings happened, but rather that I just realized recently that the last six issues or so took place over the course of a week or so. Since the characters reached the prison, the carving out of a community, capable of sustaining them long term, has been the main priority.

That's led to an internal focus rather than an external one. Since the zombie threat has been largely held at bay by the prison fences, the stories have centered instead on cheating boyfriends and power struggles and the concept of law. I'm all for character development, but the book is called The Walking Dead so having it be largely zombie-free kind of defeats the purpose. Granted, I know the case has been made that the survivors of the plague or whatever it is are the ones who are the "walking dead," but people reading this book want the constant threat of a zombie chowing down on Glen and Maggie while they're gettin' it on as much as they do the debates over whether capital punishment should play a role in their new society.

One issue that hasn't been addressed in nearly a year is that of what caused all the people we've seen get zombified and whether this is a problem localized to the Southeastern United States or if it's a worldwide phenomenon. After twenty-five issues, we may be nearing an answer.A helicopter uses a lot of gas, so there's no way someone's been flying one regularly for the last six months, syphoning gas from abandonned cars whenever he gets low. A helicopter has to be a part of something bigger. Whatever it is will likely force them to make a decision between the new society they're building and the prison they've finally made completely safe or what the helicopter offers. That seems to be the format of this book, once we think we're safe things change.

As much as I like this book, I'm wishing Robert Kirkman would declare a finite end to it. I enjoy, for example, Y: The Last Man much more knowing the story is planned for sixty issues. Even if things slow to a glacial pace, I know each issue is steadily working toward the conclusion of the story versus something like Spider-Man where there is no overall ├╝ber-plot to resolve, but rather a series of small stories that occur to the same character. When Spidey takes eight issues to fight Doc Ock where it could have easily been done in four, it makes me think Marvel just wanted twice as much money from me rather than that the writer had something specific in mind to set the tone for the entire series.

This issue treads some dangerous ground in addressing the Iraqi War circa February of 2003. It would be easy for Brian K. Vaughn to grant Mitch Hundred three years of hindsight, predicting there would be no weapons of mass distruction found or doubting the administration's promises that U.S. soldiers would be welcomed as liberators, but he avoids that, opting instead to have Mitch remain completely neutral.

The story centers around Mayor Hundred's decision to allow anti-war protesters to march on the United Nations while the majority of his constituents support the war. Hundred is seen as a peacenik in the press, though he tries to make it clear his job is to worry about New York, not national issues.

Journal, his Advisor on Youth Affairs, wants to take part in the march, but Mitch insists his staff remain neutral. In response, Journal resigns her post and marches, a decision she may not live to regret after a mysterious gas is released at the protest.If the gas hasn't killed her, she's going to be trampled. I can honestly say that if Journal lives through this, I'll be disappointed.

What kind of gas was that? Who released it? Terrorists? Pro-war hawks? How will Mitch react? What will be the public backlash?

Again, I have to acknowledge this series is much better than I predicted. Issue three is a quick read. The Punisher has the drop on Bullseye and Nico's gang so Bullseye figures out there's only one way out: killing a bunch of innocent bystanders.

From there, it's nothing but Punisher chasing Bullseye, who hijacks a bus and crashes it into a bar that serves as a mob hangout. The Punisher shows up and gets a little too involved mowing down goombas to search for Bullseye.

When the cops show up in full riot gear, Punisher is cornered and finds what he figures is the only way out. Crawling through the basement window, however, he leaves himself vulnerable and pays the price. Fortunately, Bullseye is too busy eluding the police himself to take advantage of Frank's temporary inconvenience, but someone else gets the drop on him instead.Okay, we can be pretty sure she's not going to pop him in the head in cold blood, but how's he going to get out of this one? Punisher won't kill a cop and he's not in any position to make a quick getaway.

While they may not qualify as "cliffhangers" exactly, the other two books I picked up also had strong endings that had me looking forward to next month (or, in one case, "next whenever the hell Ellis and Cassaday get around to putting out another issue").

Conan's finally feeling some heat for all his success. His daring robberies have the city's guards on high alert, making life miserable for the rest of the thieves. He slept with the city magistrate's wife, and his bragging about it is angering his girlfriend. By the end of the issue, everyone hates Conan and they're ready to join forces if that's what it takes to catch him.

I'm much more interested in the Conan tales of swordplay, stealth, drinking, whoring, and fighting than I am those of sorcery. This is building up to be a good, old-fashioned knuckleduster where Conan will either have to kill a lot of people or get the hell out of town. Maybe both.

For twenty-three issues, we've been handed pieces, usually just two or three a year if we're lucky. Finally, Snow is helping us put them together.

Drums, Snow, and Jakita go to the basement to discuss the purpose of Planetary. Elijah begins referencing everything we've seen thus far and giving it all a frame of reference. For the first time in a long time, I was actually more interested in the story than the art.

In the end, the remaining two members of the Four blow up the building our three plucky adventurers are in, killing hundreds of people and reducing everything to dust. The basement, however, is sufficiently strong enough to withstand the attack. When they emerge, it's clear we've entered endgame.

The only downside is that Snow references so many former issues and I can't remember most of them. I recall there was an issue that took place in Japan, but I couldn't tell you what it was about if you promised me $100 for every detail I recounted. Oddly enough, I actually do remember reading it while on the Stairmaster at my ex-girlfriend's apartment, which would mean it was 1998 or '99. I've promised to sit down and read all 27 issues when the title comes to an end, but until then I'm not going to attempt it.


Blogger kelvingreen said...

I'm surprised you didn't go for the Silver Samurai. I mean, Morlun is new and a bit of a naff character, but he made for a good Spidey story (the first time around) where there really was a sense of tension. Silver Samurai, not so much.

9:17 PM  
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