January 12, 2014

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Single Minded for 1/8/14: BANDETTE! Or Tobin and Coover Win Comics Big

After a few weeks off, I'm finally back into reading the new comics. Holidays always throw things off, no matter how much fun it is.

Now, let's get down to business, and I think of no better way than to lead off with a brand new issue of Bandette, stealing my heart and those of thousands of comics fans everywhere...

Bandette 6
Written by Paul Tobin
Illustrated by Colleen Coover
Monkeybrain

Bandette's on the trail of Absinthe (and some really cool loot, of course) but he's set a major killer on her trail and after her friends. Danger mixes with whimsy as Bandette returns!

It feels like an eternity since we've had a new Bandette story, but it was well worth the wait. Our lovable larcenist picks up where she left off, discussing her love of pastry while stalking one of Absinthe's top lieutenants. Tobin's dialogue is as good as ever, switching her between seeming innocent and total mastermind all in the space of a few pages. In other hands it might be jarring, but Tobin is able to make it work thanks to the establishing material we got in the first issues.

Now that we're into the main game between Bandette and Absinthe, we get to see the slightly darker edge to her nature but still get hysterical moments (like quickly swiping a Greek vase to explain a cultural reference) that make the reader laugh out loud.

Meanwhile, Coover's art is a national treasure all of its own. She's got note-perfect timing for Tobin's script. Bandette in her pedestrian guise is enthusiastic and energetic, hoping that the pastry chef will understand why she called her Hestia and seeming not to care about the vase or how she got it. But when her friends are in trouble, her whole outlook changes visually. Coover's even able to this panel to panel, as we get a sequence on the final page that's absolutely brilliant. Bandette goes from angry to surprised to back again, as Tobin sneaks in a pun even while showing the heroine grow angry about Absinthe's threats. If Coover doesn't show the visual part of all this, the joke falls flat.

There's a reason this won an Eisner. Even a recap/set-up issue like this one, where Tobin and Coover throw in nearly the entire cast, is my favorite of the week. I'm told we'll be getting Bandette more often this year, which means 2014 is going to really be a great year for comics, Monkeybrain, and this husband and wife team.

Adventure Time The Flip Side 1
Written by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
Illustrated by Wook Jin Clark
Boom! Studios

Finn is flat, but his one-dimensional lust for adventure might have doomed all of Ooo when he takes on a task unlike any he's ever tried before in a first issue that seamlessly fits with the ongoing series.

Man, as if having Bandette wasn't enough, Tobin and Coover also get this released at the same time. I love Ryan North's work on the main series, and it's clear they do, too, as the tone and insanity that North brings to the table, which gives the television show a run for its money, is spot-on here. From the idea that Finn needs quests in order to survive to the series of silly quests he does to get better (like helping the Ice King open a bottle of extra cold sauce) to the fact that a quest board just appears for no good reason, there's a sense of anything goes from start to finish.

That doesn't mean that there's no story. We get a very solid plot underneath this silliness, as Finn's enthusiasm doesn't extend to thinking things through. Why is there only one quest on the back of the board? Why does Princess Bubblegum (the smartest Princess) worry about it? None of that matters to Finn and Jake (and BMO, given a larger role here for reasons I expect we'll get later), and by the time they do stop to think, it's too late, and now we have a plot for the mini-series.

Still, the jokes are the main draw, as Tobin and Coover challenge artist Wook Jin Clark to match them step for step. He doesn't disappoint, with fluid work that defies physics, morphing the characters and playing with perspective at every turn. Clark's style is exactly what you want for Adventure Time, knowing all the laws of art, but breaking them freely. His reaction shots are great, and the characters are always in motion, unless it's for a straight man to process the joke Finn and Jake have foisted on them.

Clark's Jake is a thing of beauty, morphing and shifting with care-free abandon, and leading to the best joke in the whole book, which I won't spoil but involves the dog's ability to be anything he wishes.

If it weren't for Bandette, this would have been my pick of the week. As it is, if you don't get one of these two issues (or better yet, both), then maybe you're reading the wrong blog.

Quantum and Woody 7
Written by James Asmus
Illustrated by Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire
Published by Valiant Entertainment

Quantum finds himself rather awkwardly on the White side of a paramilitary rumble that's set to boil as this series continues its quest to be even more transgressive than Archer and Armstrong--and I think it might have the edge this time.

Every time I think James Asmus has gone as far as he dares, he pushes the bar even further, freely riffing on racial dynamics in this country in a way you just don't see elsewhere. I'm not sure how he gets away with some of this, but my God, it's hysterical, as Woody riffs a mile a minute on everything from Bible-thumping military morons to the idea that he and his adopted brother have to quickly win over a group of people who normally would love nothing better than to lynch Quantum. His handling of their reaction to the fact that their anti-government hero is really black is priceless, showing Asmus' ability to shine truth through all the snark.

Like A&A, that's what makes this one so good. It's not only funny, but like the best wits, hits right at sensitive subjects and isn't afraid to get just serious enough to make us stop and listen, such when we see how Quantum accidentally outed his CO back in the day, costing him everything and forcing him into a hellhole of jerks.

Ming Doyle continues to shine, able to keep the comedy rolling--such as when Woody tries to con his way out of dying by agreeing to be baptised--but does equally well when things gets serious. The emotions she normally uses for silly fun can also be turned into heartfelt moments, giving this book a visual range to match the verbal one. That's important, because a lot of this issue involves standing and talking, which can drag a lesser artist down. But Doyle keeps the book moving by a lot of body language and mugging, just waiting for that moment to draw a Southern asshole popping out of a tank and really break loose.

I used to call Archer and Armstrong the Best Book You Aren't Reading. Now it's this one, and I urge you to correct that mistake ASAP.

Hoax Hunters 13
Written by Mike Moreci and Steve Seeley
Illustrated by Christian DiBari and Mike Spicer
Image Comics

Jack makes a final play to find his father with his final opponents being--his own team? Decisions are made and things just get worse as Hoax Hunters finishes its first "season" and takes a break while Moreci and Seeley work on other projects for a bit.

I'm not a big fan of calling something comics-related a "Season Finale" but in this case, I think the term is accurate. Instead of wrapping things up, as most story arcs do, this one is more of a pause on a cliffhanger as Jack finds himself getting off-world, but not where he intended and the rest of the team is left to decide what to do now that the jig us up and the multiple betrayals are exposed.

Moreci and Seeley leave a lot of pieces on the table that they will need to pick up when this one resumes, and I hope they start again as soon as possible. The longer they wait, the less impact this ending is going to have, and I'd hate to see such an intricately detailed story that's built from a rocky start to one of the best horror comics out there lose steam. They've managed to maneuver their characters--and the reader--into one hell of a tight corner, with looming consequences for acting with reckless abandon when it comes to the very forces they're supposed to keeping in check.

This final issue--for now--is helped a lot by adding DiBari. I wasn't a huge fan of the prior artist (T-Rex Jones), so this was a nice upgrade. DiBari still has an edge to his linework, but there's a control and consistency that makes it feel like he knows why he's breaking the rules of art, not just trying to be different. The panel layouts show a lot of movement despite the flat constructions, and his eyes are piercing, aided by Spicer's coloring. You can see the fear, anger, and pain in the characters, who have been through quite a ringer by this point.

Obviously, this issue isn't the place to start, but if you are just getting a feel for this one now, go back and pick up the back issues. Hoax Hunters is a comic that gets better as it goes along, and you'll want to be ready for when we get to issue 14 or however they decide to label it. Regardless, its' a great book that I highly recommend.

X-Files Season 10 8
Written by Joe Hill
Illustrated by Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire
Executive Produced by Chris Carter
IDW

Mulder's in the middle--as usual--of a dangerous game that might make him wish he'd stayed retired even more than an impending 10K run in an issue that's back up to the quality of the opening arc.

I was a little worried about this series, because the first five issues were pretty good but then six and seven felt like filler. Now we're back into a new storyline that, while requiring some knowledge of the show that I don't have to fully understand, at least feels like a big enough story that it required the use of Scully and Mulder.

Hill does a great job going between past and present here, working the story from both ends and giving the reader just enough to make things a mystery. From my perspective, this one was a bit too obtuse, but I think that's more from not having watched the last season or movies than his plotting. His banter between the two leads continues to be a highlight, even if we got less of Scully than Mulder this time, and his use of the pair is spot on to their personalities, even after all the years together.

Walsh is back on line art duties, and he really impressed me this time out. There's no posing this time at all, and the only face-to-the-reader shots, of which he is still overly fond, are used in context, such as when a character opens a door or Mulder and Scully gape at a marking on a window. Walsh gives us a better sense of interaction in his placement of figures. A couple holds each other, for example, rather than just stopping to stare at the FBI agents in their home.

Meanwhile, the great colorist Jordie Bellaire opens this one by contrasting blood red against the general gray pallet of X-Files in a school shooting scenario that's even more heinous than usual. The coloring really makes the terror pop, as a character who is outside the norm jumps out, thanks to Walsh's panel constructions and Bellaire's work.

If you haven't tried X-files but are a fan of the show, this is as good a place as any to start.

That's the stuff I read and wanted to talk to you about this week. How about you? What did you like this week that maybe I missed?