Short Cuts 48: Briggs Land Volume 2 – Lone Wolves; Lazarus: Vol. 6 – Fracture I; Die Vol. 2 – Split the Party; Blackbird Vol. 1 – The Great Beast

Briggs Land Volume 2: Lone Wolves
Brian Wood, script; Mack Chater, art; Lee Loughridge, colors; and others
Dark Horse Books, 2018

Grace Briggs is now in charge of Briggs Land, but the situation is still far from settled. With everyone on edge, it may be understandable when a chance encounter with two hikers who have mistakenly entered Briggs Land leads to a hostage situation. It looks like one overreaction after another to me, so I had trouble buying that plot line. But it results in an escalation in Federal surveillance, culminating in a helicopter being fired upon–and the killing of the citizen who fired the shot. Flashbacks finally show how Jim Briggs wound up in prison. He makes a move to reassert control over Briggs Land from there, only to find himself outmaneuvered by Grace, which finally firmly establishes her control. There is also a lovely single issue in which a Briggs wife comes to terms with leaving her old life while on a road trip with a young woman considering an abortion.

Lazarus Vol. 6: Fracture I
Greg Rucka, writing; Michael Lark, art; Santi Arcas, colors
Image Comics, 2020

It’s been a long wait for Lazarus to resume, but it picks right up from Volume 5, and begins two years after the previous collection Lazarus: X + 66.  The first issue shows the Carlyle family in full force, taking some territory back from a traitor from a lesser family who has sold them out to the Vassalovkas. Lazarus Forever Carlyle reminds Johanna Carlyle of her promise to let her meet her successor. Forever meets with two Lazari (apparently expecting a double-cross) and kills them both. Malcolm (the patriarch of the Carlyle family) does not appear to be declining–although he has not resumed family leadership–but there is dire news at the end. And Eve (the next Forever) has been doubting her training and her role. But Johanna uses her time off the grid to arrange a meeting, setting up a second plot line that seems likely to have substantial impact on the story going forward.

Die Vol. 2: Split the Party
Kieron Gillen, writer; Stephanie Hans, artist; Clayton Cowles, letterer
Image Comics, 2020

The second installment finds the group still stuck in the DIE world. As the title says, they have split up: this is never recommended in game play, so it’s not a good sign. But their biggest problem is more fundamental. No one can escape DIE until everyone living agrees to go home, and the group is far from being in agreement about that.

The story reveals more and more about how this world works, as well as previously unknown character backgrounds. Before now there have been many references to classic fantasy literature, including an entire issue focused on Tolkien. The geek quotient goes way up here with references to the childhood shared fantasy world of the Brontë children (which Gillen admits to only discovering himself during his research for this series). It’s not an incidental thing, either. The place names in the imaginary world turn up in DIE, and Brontës appear as characters.

I was provisionally on board with the series after the first volume. But despite the strong characterization and beautiful art, I think the story has moved past my ability to relate to it. Gillen has been developing a DIE role playing game to accompany the series, which shows real commitment, but is of no interest to me (as a non-gamer). The collection also includes variant covers, as well as the essays Gillen wrote for the individual issues.

Blackbird Vol. 1: The Great Beast
Sam Humphries, writer; Jen Bartel, artist; Paul Reinwand, layout artist; Triona Farrell, colorist; Jodi Wynne, letterer; Dylan Todd, designer; Jim Gibbons, editor
Image Comics, 2019

You can see that this is a Young Adult story right off the bat. Protagonist Nina Rodriguez is thirteen years old in the opening scene: she’s cute, and complicated (her family calls her the “crazy baby”). Maybe not so crazy, because she feels something coming, and it turns out to be a powerful earthquake. The event concludes with a huge magical monster appearance (which turns out to be the demon of the collection’s title), along with a bunch of magical beings who cause everyone to forget (except for Nina, who fakes it). She loses her cat and her mother dies, and the next thing we know it is ten years later. She is living with her sister and is still obsessed with magic. After her sister is kidnapped by the monster, she learns about magic cabals and the paragons who belong to them and wield magic using gems. Also, her mother and cat (who talks to her now) are both still alive…and all of them are paragons, along with her sister. Turns out that Nina and her family have a long, convoluted history with the cabals. Her family was trying to protect Nina from it, but she keeps pushing until she finds her way into it. Bartel’s art captures all of the angst the story requires, and the magical reality that Nina sees is vividly portrayed, with a major assist from Triona Farrell’s colors. The story has definite Harry Potter vibes (with the non-magical people called “normies” or “civilians”), although it is set in Los Angeles. The arc ends with Nina embracing her destiny and joining a cabal; so there’s plenty of story ideas to explore. But for a much younger reader than me.

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