Once again, just in time for this week’s comics, it’s last week’s comics!
- Booster Gold #28, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
- Secret Six #17, by Gail Simone, John Ostrander & Jim Calafiore (DC)
- The Unwritten #9, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
- The Marvels Project #5 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
- Absolution #6 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
- Age of Reptiles: The Journey #2 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
- Rex Mundi: Gate of God vol 6 TPB, by Arvid Nelson, Juan Ferreyra, Guy Davis & Brian Churilla (Dark Horse)
Christos Gage’s Absolution wraps up this week, and it’s one of the better series I’ve read from Avatar. Avatar’s comics often seem geared towards fairly extreme violence (is this better or worse than the companies geared towards cheesecake and sex?), and mostly they’re not my cup of tea, but Absolution is “only” about as violent as a noir detective story. In a world where superheroes are part of law enforcement agencies, John Dusk is a lower-powered Green Lantern-like character who, after fighting one too many psychopaths and realizing they’re often getting off with light sentences, decides to start executing the worst of the criminals he encounters.
Gage doesn’t spend a lot of time working through Dusk’s mindset after making this decision, mainly because Dusk embraces it fully and actually feels better once he started offing the bad guys than he did before, so there’s not much internal conflict. The conflict is mainly external, as one criminal mastermind realizes what Dusk is doing and blackmails him into taking out some of the mastermind’s rivals. And of course Dusk can’t hide his actions from his policewoman girlfriend or his superhero comrades forever, and eventually they figure out what he’s doing, after his actions lead to a tragedy for one of his friends. The series closes this issue with the nationwide debate regarding whether he’s been doing right or doing wrong by playing executioner, the main argument for the ‘doing right’ side being that he scrupulously stuck to only killing the worst of the worst.
While not the most nuanced story, Absolution is pretty effective at presenting its issues in the form of the fairly likable Dusk, and contrasting him with some of the scum he faces off with. That it doesn’t come to any concrete conclusions is a point in its favor, as that’s howshort stories (which, frankly, is what a 6-issue comic series is) often work. This isn’t a series for fans of traditional superheroes, but it’s another interesting component of considering how superheroes might operate in the real world, so it’s worth checking out if that’s your cup of tea.
The final collection of Rex Mundi came out this week. It’s one of Greg Burgas’ favorites (so naturally made his best of 2009 list), but I never quite warmed to it, although it had many intriguing ingredients.
It takes place in an alternate history Europe where the Protestant Reformation failed, and where magic has been (quietly) a part of history. Set in France in 1933, Doctor Julien Sauniere finds that one of his friends has been murdered, and this sets him on a path to find the Holy Grail. Opposing him is the Duke of Lorraine, a powerful member of the aristocracy who is working to create a new Frankish empire under his dominion. The two men also have a woman between them, whom they each love: An old colleague of Sauniere’s who’s gone on to become Lorraine’s physician. Sauniere is also pursued by a member of the Catholic Church’s inquisition, but helped by a mysterious robed figure. So the story is a little bit murder mystery, but a big part conspiracy story, set against the backdrop of a burgeoning war, one which at first resembles World War I, but as Lorraine’s plans come to greater fruition comes more to resemble World War II, with France playing the role of Nazi Germany.
It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is about Rex Mundi that didn’t quite work for me. The story isn’t really character-driven, since the characters are all pretty thin. Lorraine is an outright villain, although his conquest is in many ways the most interesting piece of the story. However, it’s really just a backdrop, providing evidence for Lorraine being the villain, and indeed the war continues after the story’s end. I found it difficult to relate to the motivations of the lead character, Sauniere. Sure, he was initially motivated to find the killer of his friend, but I never quite bought that he’d keep getting in deeper and deeper rather than just return to his life (eventually of course he gets in so deep that the life he had no longer exists, but it takes a long time to get to that point). That he’s the hero opposing the villain Lorraine is almost incident, it’s not why Sauniere is involved. Sauniere has a few dimensions to him at the beginning (a doctor who treats Jews in violation of the law, and who seems to be an alcoholic), but his journey strips his distinguishing characteristics from him and he becomes a fairly generic hero figure.
Ultimately the story is plot-driven, partly by Sauniere’s quest and partly by the need to oppose Lorraine (the latter only really comes to the fore in the last third of the story). While writer Nelson had clearly planned the story arc from the beginning, it still felt like it contained too many digressions and diversions, manipulating the characters rather than building the story in a natural way. There are some memorable scenes, but the story as a whole is not very memorable.
The final volume feels more cohesive than the earlier ones, as it all builds to the final conflict between the good guys and the bad guys. Unfortunately although he climax is handled pretty well, there’s not nearly enough of a denouement: Sauniere’s story ends rather abruptly and disappointingly, and the last page provides an unsatisfying end to the story, leaving me with the feeling that there’s another 10 pages or so which somehow got chopped off by accident.
I’ll have to read the whole thing again to see if it holds up better, since there’s a lot of time for nuances to get lost between reading individual volumes. But Rex Mundi never wowed me enough to consider it one of the best comics of the decade. I appreciated it for being something different in the comics market, but that’s not enough to make it a great book. I’d put it about on a par with James A. Owen’s Starchild, but behind, say, Teri Wood’s Wandering Star or Mark Oakley’s Thieves & Kings (even though it looks like T&K might never be completed).