Peter Milligan/Giuseppe Camuncoli/Stefano Landini/Simon Bisley (Vertigo, 2012)
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Phantom Pains
This Hellblazer collection snuck up on me. It’s been out a few months, but I’ve found that the lack of volume numbering on these tends to make them easy to overlook. Anyway, the story starts right after the big wedding in issue #275. As the title implies, the main focus is on Constantine’s missing thumb, but his niece Gemma is also actively working on the revenge that was implied at the end of the previous volume. We find out what made Gemma turn on her uncle (which I think I should have caught, in retrospect, but I have to respect Milligan’s choice to not make it explicit). Milligan and his collaborators are accomplishing a remarkable thing in their Hellblazer run: they’ve actually allowed Constantine to change, without losing anything that defines the character. He has let Epiphany past his defenses for real. They love each other, and he’s facing up to what that means. As an added bonus, she is showing herself to be an equal partner: for once it’s Constantine that needs saving, and she is up to the task. Some of the best Hellblazer stories ever, and I’m looking forward to more.
Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra (Image, 2011)
The Red Wing
This thin paperback collects one of Hickman’s creator-owned works from Image. It’s an intriguing concept, as always. The Red Wing is a fighter squadron that wages war across time. The enemy is unknown, as is the reason for the war. It was only a four-issue series, so Hickman drops the reader into the action and things move quickly from there. The plot hinges on the endless loop of battling through time, as each generation tries to go back and fix the past to change the future. At first I thought that four issues was too short, but in the end that seems about right. The story ends inconclusively (“There is no end”). We’ve been shown a few snapshots of a potentially endless cycle, and it’s enough. Artist Pitarra is a real find, and seems to be a great match for Hickman. As much as I enjoyed The Nightly News and Pax Romana (which had Hickman’s own illustrations) I always thought they were much weaker visually than they were conceptually. Hickman’s greatest strength is his writing, so it’s good to see him paired up with a strong artist.
Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli (Vertigo, 2012)
DMZ Vol. 12: The Five Nations of New York
The final DMZ collection begins slowly, depicting the start of the armistice that Matty Roth helped broker in the previous collection. Matty tours the city, checking in with the various groups who had held things together during the war. There is every indication that the five boroughs will resist becoming unified again to form a single city: hence the phrase “the Five Nations of New York” (a term so perfectly descriptive that Matty wishes he’d thought of it). Early in the arc he receives a visit from some “goons in a towncar” (as Zee describes them). He asks for two weeks, and we soon get answers on both of these questions. When Matty returned to the DMZ after the nuclear accident that closed the “Hearts and Minds” arc (which coincided with his own personal fall from grace after mistakenly ordering the killing of a group of civilians), he had explicitly rejected an offer for amnesty. I would describe “Hearts and Minds” as the climax of the series, the culmination of all of the political and military action up to that point. He made another deal to broker peace for the DMZ at the end of the previous collection.
Both of those decisions come down on Matty with a vengeance at his trial by military tribunal for “crimes against humanity” in the issue that concludes the series (the very last issue is explicitly labelled “Epilogue”). I don’t want to spoil the details of Matty’s fate, in case anyone reading this has not read the finale yet. I would argue that Matty had earned redemption after returning to the DMZ. He had taken responsibility for his bad decisions, and done everything he could to make things right. But he makes it clear that he has not forgiven himself, and Brian Wood takes that feeling to one possible logical conclusion. I had hoped for a less bittersweet ending–certainly not a happy one, but happier than the one we got–but this ending does feel right. After 72 issues I still cared about Matty, which is one sign of success in any ongoing series, even one with an expected ending. It’s good when stories have endings, but I will miss this series. I should mention the extensive Live From The DMZ blog which contains many interviews with Wood and the other creators. And if anyone wants to discuss the details of the ending, I’d love to do that in the Comments (with appropriate Spoiler warnings, of course).
Jason Aaron & R. M. Guéra (Vertigo, 2012)
Scalped Vol. 9: Knuckle Up
The penultimate collection opens with a bit of a victory lap issue: “The Art of Scalping” is a one-shot that ties the current Prairie Rose reservation into early Indian conflicts and the original creation of the reservation. There are several guest artists, both on framing pages and a series of pin-ups. It’s cool to see Vertigo stalwarts Jill Thompson,Dean Haspiel, and Steve Dillon have a go at Aaron’s characters, as well as Western comics specialists Tim Truman and Jordi Bernet, and wild card Brendan McCarthy (who must be about the last artist I’d expect to see in Scalped). The title arc opens with Red Crow shutting down all of his crack houses, with his staff and the tribal council in open revolt. Bad Horse and Falls Down leave the hospital to track down Catcher: Dash makes his FBI affiliation public by going to see Agent Nitz. There is a strong feeling of conclusion to all of Dash’s actions in this arc. He is clearly looking for a personal resolution to all of the unfinished business that brought him back to the reservation in the first place, as well as everything that has happened since. He means to finish it, regardless of the consequences. The same can be said of Red Crow’s right-hand man Shunka. After being fired and told to leave town, he ties up his own loose ends instead, ending with a violent confrontation with Dash. Red Crow interrupts, and receives his own shocking surprise as the arc ends. Aaron could have ended the series right there, but I’m dying to see the ending he actually came up with in the final collection.