East Of West Vol. 5: All These Secrets
Jonathan Hickman, writer; Nick Dragotta, artist; Frank Martin, colorist
Image Comics, 2016
There has been plenty of scheming and power plays in the series up to now, but this collection really takes things to a new level. The Prophet Orion has summoned all of the world leaders to the Temple of Armistice for a conclave. While the leaders decide whether to accept the invitation, various other schemes are in motion. Secret assassination attempts are made, and one player winds up a possible triple agent. Crown Prince John Freeman of the Kingdom of New Orleans is scheming, too. But his goal far exceeds merely taking over the Kingdom: he actually believes that there will be a world worth ruling after the Apocalypse. Plenty of action in this installment, and even bigger events to come.
Trees, Vol. 2
Warren Ellis, writer; Jason Howard, artist
Image Comics, 2016
The second collection opens with the sole survivor of the disaster that befell the research team in the first volume. The British government has kept the existence of the mysterious black flowers a secret, in order to avoid a panic anytime any black flower is sighted. Do they signal an imminent Tree explosion? It’s Dr. Joanne Creasy’s job to find out. The other main scene is New York City, where the mayor-elect has a devious plan for revenge against the police who murdered residents trying to escape the flood waters when the Tree landed in Manhattan. There’s a marked contrast between the urban setting there–and the response of the population–and the bucolic setting in Orkney. At the very end the story returns to the Chinese artist who was one of the main characters in the first volume, as she is shown once again seeking sanctuary. Still a fascinating series, with a unique take on a future dystopia.
The Last Days of American Crime
Rick Remender, writer; Greg Tocchini, artist
Image Comics, 2015
Before their current collaboration on the series Low, Remender and Tocchini co-created this three-issue noir miniseries (full of lowlife characters, sex, and drugs), which was originally published in 2010 by Radical Publishing. The title is literal: following the death of millions in terrorist attacks across the nation, the U.S. government is readying the American Peace Initiative (API), a broadcast signal that interrupts the brain’s synapses, making it impossible for anyone to perform an illegal act. So protagonist Graham Bricke has two weeks to pull off the perfect crime. The government is converting from cash to a credit system. Bricke works as a security guard at one of the banks charged with the transfer, and a properly timed hack could grant nearly unlimited wealth. It’s an interesting setup, but it actually only affects the action directly at the very end, as the heist must be timed to coincide with the API broadcast. In the meantime there’s a rich cast of characters, each with their own agenda, so there are plenty of complications, deceptions, and double-crosses. This is really a classic heist story, but its political undertones are even more relevant now than when it was first published. On the other hand, Tocchini’s art barely looks like the artist responsible for the rich visuals in Low. His work here frequently looks almost unfinished, with characters that sometimes don’t seem fully on-model. It is very early in his career, so I blame inexperience as much as the different subject matter.
Constantine Vol. 4: The Apocalypse Road
Ray Fawkes, writer; Jeremy Haun, artist; Richard Horie & Tany Horie, colorists
DC Comics, 2015
Finally catching up with the final collection of the New 52 version of John Constantine, and I’m glad I did. It’s a crossover with Earth 2: World’s End, which I haven’t read, but the situation is explained parenthetically. Darkseid is destroying the Earth 2 universe, and the “wonders” have failed to stop him. Constantine is just trying to make it home, but to do that he must meet his Earth 2 counterpart…and only one of them can make the trip. He also finds his parents alive, along with Chas, old friend Gaz (dead in our world from Constantine misadventure), and an ex-lover named Maureen who I don’t remember from past stories. The group makes its escape, but not without losses–the usual situation in a Constantine adventure. Constantine has attracted Darkseid’s attention, so his final big con is to convince the god that he has followed Constantine to a universe that is already dead. It’s a fitting end to this series. The story line employs far more actual magic than was ever used in Hellblazer, but the character of Constantine feels right. It’s nice to see the final arc drawn by a single artist, too. Jeremy Haun had not worked on the series before the finale, but his style is a great fit.