Eric Powell's commitment to produce another year of monthly stories on "the Goon" has quickly returned to the devices the writer/artist used the last time he produced an extended monthly epic. Namely, this issue offers 17 pages of the main plot, while the back-up helps raise the page count to the traditional number.
Powell tries to offer a complete story as well as the one that sets up the larger conflict. The common ground the two plots share is the supernatural, particularly witches' magic, which works very well with the title's usual modus operandi. The issue opens and ends with the relatively serious story of a boxer going up against the Goon's pick for the fight.
The story's too brief to register as anything but a diversion meant to provide the issue with a story of its own, with the eponymous boxer simply not having enough space to develop into a more nuanced character. Powell finds much more inspiration in the events directly involving the Goon, as the protagonist is continually confronted with bizarre harbingers of his upcoming doom.
Seeing a skeleton loaded with dynamite serves to both amuse the audience and provide some measure of physical threat in an otherwise static issue. The series creator doesn't waste any space, making each of the altercations last no more than a page or two, and still manages to provide some color besides the bizarre fights. For example, the page contrasting Franky and the Goon's clothing choices has two solid gags on it, that momentarily slow down the pacing, and help give context to the brawls.
Despite the focus on the plot, such as it is, Powell remains a cartoonist and heart, and understands that the little details have enliven the relentless pacing. Seeing the one panel depiction of the toilet at Norton's bar is in many ways the highlight of the issue. Still, this doesn't prevent the writer/artist from granting the issue a more traditional ending, with the box match fight wrapping up and the Goon and Nameless priest exchanging a crucial and poignant dialogue.
Despite the last page being packed with panels so as to have the story wrap up as soon as possible, the focus on the character's faces manages to save the sequence. Powell's artwork is typically layered and well-realized, and just looking at the beautiful ink washes makes the reader appreciate the time-consuming process. Despite still retaining the zany edge to his drawings, the writer/artist has improved his craft to such a high level that both the stylized cartoons absorb the cozy, melancholy atmosphere they're set against.
At this point, the book occupies a niche all its own, and the creator's insistence on working on his own terms in regards the scheduling and the presentations certainly makes up for one of the nicest looking books on the stands. The back-up section, realized with the artistic talent of Marc Buckingham presents a portion of a fight scene, that can be read on its own, but it hardly presents anything more than a snippet of a larger story. The "Fables" artist continues to prove a surprisingly strong match for the material, which remains somewhat hindered by the lack of coloring. The characters are continually on model, and the gray tones help make the action clearer, but there is still no indication how long the story is supposed to run.
The penultimate chapter of"Everything burns" starts slowly, covering several of the locations and major player, before choosing to concentrate on Loki's point of view. The co-writers try to give Thor's predicament a modicum of tragedy, but the focus is once again clearly on his half-brother.
Starting off with a scene spotlighting the role of Loki's demon dog Thori, the creators proceed to endear themselves to the reader. The follow-up sequence is ridiculously over the top but highly amusing, with Fraction and Gillen stopping just short of derailing into absurdity.
The co-writers use Desir, the "Journey into Mystery" to sober Loki, and get him back to solving the predicament he started in the first place. The follow-up scene directly picks up on the plot point in the title's "Fear Itself" tie-in arc, once again clearing up that the current mini-event is meant largely as the conclusion to Kieron Gillen's short run on the title.
Taken on these merits, "Everything burns" acts as a very successful final act in the run that started off strongly, before hitting a rough patch with the artistic changes and tangential stories. It's hard to consider that anyone but the title's biggest fans would have imagined that it would close on such a strong note, in essence providing a capstone for a whole era of "Thor" comics.
Fraction's run is largely represented by Volstagg's turn as the replacement king of Asgardia, which also builds up on his role in "Journey into Mystery". Carmine di Giandomenico's art remains heavily involved with the use of computer coloring and angular crosshatching, doing everything to overpower the reader. The effect remains muddled and distracting, sacrificing everything for the immediate effect.
The unclear layouts, excessive details, characters that fail to emote, all belie an artist not really interested in traditional storytelling possibilities of the medium, who is miscast drawing the character-focused epic. Giandomenico succeeds in some measure in instilling a broader range of expressions when it comes to Loki, but otherwise the artist is preoccupied with instilling the mood and the look that make "Everything Burns" much more chaotic than the script calls for.
The latest installment in the relaunched and renumbered "Prophet" series was originally supposed to be published as #25. Following up on the first Faryl Dalrymple illustrated episode, Image even published the cover to what was the direct follow-up, but instead went on with a different story on the inside. It's only now, months after the initial publication, that Image presents the second Dalrymple issue, under the cover that has no immediate bearing on the story contents.
Reading the story, the reader is immediately aware for the reasons behind the delays. Dalrymple is called to illustrate the story which excels in detailed depictions of interstellar warfare and repeated scenes of an alien society that seems inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. The artist's style is loose and expressionistic, but fairly graphical, and he's called up to depict numerous of the (presumably Brandom Graham designed) aliens. Despite all of the minute details, Dalrymple's layouts are at all times clear and in service to the story, revealing an artist that has spent considerable time thinking about way the readers experiences the page when they first encounter it.
The crowd scenes are simply packed with detail to be discovered on the rereading, but they carry over the most pertinent information even for the reader who reads the captions and gives the double pages spreads the briefest of the glimpses, before turning over the page. The artist's Prophet clone is much more heroically proportioned than in his debut in #24, and with a physical frame and long hair that directly betrays "Conan" as an influence on the Graham-written approach.
The story assumes that the reader has a basic familiarity with the series, but otherwise reads like a separate adventure, in keeping with each issue's stand alone quality. On the surface, it seems like a divergent adventure of a clone, that winds up in a repressive society and connects with the local rebel movement to fight back, but Graham uses the cliche to have it work on several different levels.
Satirically, Graham presents a war-oriented economy that numbs the slaves and noncombatants into a constant state of providing for a senseless war raging for 300 years. In the process, the Prophet clone is forced to confront his own loyalty to the Earth Empire, which suffers in the direct comparison, giving the series' first glimpse at the potential corruption behind the protagonist's masters.
In Graham's original plan, this issue was meant to precede the stories that have subsequently been published. When he first resurfaces, the reader had no reason to immediately sympathize with the Old Man Prophet's mission against the Earth Empire. Had this issue been published in spite of the story that was published in #25, the reader would have already seen the a more ambiguous portrayal of the Earth Mothers, whose manipulations are equated here with a society that brainwashes its members into servitude.
Beyond the justification of the original Prophet's mission, the story transcends the familiar set up by the way of the title's now standard odd character designs and the generous world building that goes far beyond the needs of the narrative needs to provide a unique atmosphere that makes each issue of the series a pleasant experience, no matter its relationship to the wider plot.
As of now, the series has wondered in and out different stories, and will remain fairly credible even if all of the plot threads never cohere into a traditional whole. Seeing the organic technology and the lived-in inventiveness of Graham's take on the Rob Liefield property is always an interesting experience that draws deep from a well of science fiction entirely out of touch with the pervading modern genre depictions.
Andy Risaino's back-up presents a much more subdued science fiction vision. The artist's simple style depicts the opening as an ironic approach to thoughtless space opera pulp, before pulling back and revealing the tragedy of a space mission gone horribly awry. The melancholic protagonist's story is still told in a minimalistic style, but with much more nuance. The somber colors work to prepare the reader for the final twist, which reveals the protagonist's predicament through Risaino's clear layouts. Despite its brevity, the writer/artist covers all of the necessary ground and establishes an atmosphere conductive to the philosophical query which finishes the story. The ending completes the story by answering the readers' questions and boiling down the predicament to a philosophical choice.
It's commendable that Image has decided to complement Graham's work by adding these vignettes after their highly acclaimed relaunch. It's highly doubtful that this kind of experimental work would have gained this level of market penetration if it was in a anthology or as a webcomic.
Despite Rucka and Chechetto's careful work and attention to detail, this final issue of their "Punisher" relaunch, coupled with last issue's cliffhanger, do account for a rather quick wrap up. A sorrowful mood permeates the whole issue, as the tragedy that claimed a cast member's life last time stretches to endanger Frank's understudy.
Rachel Cole-Alves has been the reader identification figure from the start, and in this issue the creators finish her story, without even attempting a broader character arc for the title character. The whole affair with the Exchange seems to represent merely a phase in the Punisher's life, where he tried to train another in a stern but accepting way.
Frank deals with the fallout in his own way, accepting full responsibility, and acting upon it. His hand remains present until the end, but the police action taken against the pair ultimately resolves very quickly. Rucka wisely uses the two remaining supporting characters to play key roles in the final scenes, but it doesn't change the familiar feeling of a run being wrapped up before its natural end point.
Thankfully, Rucka eschews the familiar route of the police falling for the villain's ruse, and gives the officers a modicum of intelligence and respectability. The ending is tense and emotive, but once again slightly undercut on the artistic side. It's hard to determine whether the fault lies with Marco Chechetto or colorist Matt Hollingsworth, but the intense rendering of hail and rain that provides the cover for the title character in the final sequence quickly becomes distracting.
The clarity problems were somewhat present in the final pages of the last issue too, but this time it's clear that Rucka was writing for a technically more accomplished artist. Chechetto's figure-work remains appealing and dynamic, but the continual reliance on repeated panels and erratic panel flow have proven time and time again a hindrance to his work on the title. Chechetto is by no means a bad artist, but his tendency to concentrate on the pleasing visuals betrays an artist who has yet to develop the skills Rucka continually calls upon.
The writer's scripts are very precise and detailed, making them much more suited for an artist that cares much more about the sense of place and finds it natural to focus on the research as well as presenting characters whose conversations are as nuanced as the action he places them in. His association with the character is set to end with the upcoming "Punisher War Zone" mini-series, illustrated by Carmine di Giandomenico. The "Journey into Mystery" artist comes as a replacement for Marco Chechetto who withdraws due to a personal issue.
Rucka has since expressed his disapproval for the company's treatment of talent, stating that he will concentrate on creator owned projects for the time being. One of the reasons given is the Punisher's inclusion in the upcoming "Thunderbolts" title, adding to the bittersweet feeling of this final issue. Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto have given Marvel their professional best on the character that the audience is so accustomed to that it remained largely unaware of this particular iteration.
This issue of the "Winter Soldier" is perhaps the weakest in quite a while, in that it overly concerns with the plot mechanics, while not rewarding the reader with particularly impressive craftsmanship. After Michael Lark's short and stellar run on the title, the comic is for the duration back to where it was before.
Butch Guice is still trying his best at inventive layouts, without a firm handle on the experiment - basically, reinventing as the artist in front of the reader's eyes. Ed Brubaker is going through the motions of a complicated plot that doesn't inspire the reader to keep up with the details, and there's very little of personality besides the now familiar spy/superhero genre hybrid.
Both of the book's nominal protagonists are largely kept at the sidelines, even though it keeps a strong focus on Bucky. The gruff protagonist is neither very effective nor very interesting this time around, nor does it feel that his actions have any wider consequences beyond the cat and mouse game with Leo. Hawkeye doubles as a solid co-lead, but he mostly serves as the sound board to animate the weary Winter Soldier. Leo continues to formidably play the role of the dangerous psychopath, but with every passing issue his plan grow to be more and more convoluted.
Still, the character serves as a credible mirror version of Bucky, forcing him to continually confront his past and the methods shared on both of the Soviet sleeper agents. Despite having the issue start with an action sequence, the near continual voice-over and the relentlessly overdone artwork work to tire the reader, so that the action that takes over the latter third of the book feels ponderous. The creators try to give Bucky an interesting moment at the beginning of the attack, but it feels as wrongheaded as the character's casual slaughter of AIM agents that follow it.
After setting the central conflict between Leo and Bucky so well, the book seems to have entered the territory where the creators have simply misjudged the length of the story, and forced a dragged out, uninspired issue on the part of the audience. By this point, should Brubaker had decided to stay with the book beyond this story, he would have had to tinker with the series, and come up with new ground to cover. Seeing that his tenure ends before the end of the year, at least he'll be leaving a tonally coherent run behind him, that will hopefully wrap up the book's central conflict.