100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low

Hang Up on the Hang LowOrder this bookStory: “Loop” Hughes is a young black man growing up in the inner neighborhoods of Philadelphia, living on the outskirts of gang life and trying not to get drawn in. Agent Graves shows up with his attache case of untraceable bullets, puts Loop on the trail of his father Curtis – a man Loop has never known – and gives him a choice: he can get revenge, or he can, at last, try to build a relationship with the man. Loop chooses the latter, which draws him further into the criminal world; Curtis Hughes is an enforcer for a local loan shark, and soon the son is following his father on his rounds, with results that are both better than Loop could have hoped for and straight from his worst fears.

Review: If you’re expecting the third 100 Bullets collection to shed more light on the Minutemen, the Trust, and the assorted conspiracies hinted at in “Split Second Chance,” you will be disappointed. “Hang Up On The Hang Low” collects a single story arc that initially seems disconnected from the overall plot of the series, and even when Azzarello shows that this is decidedly not the case, there are no answers to be found here – only more questions. Read More

100 Bullets: Split Second Chance

Split Second ChanceOrder this bookStory: Agent Graves continues to offer victims of injustice an opportunity for retribution in the form of a gun and 100 untraceable bullets. He must also deal with the Trust, a group that has played a heavy and apparently corrupt role in American history and has already tried to kill Graves once. His recent actions have alerted the Trust to their failure, and they’re ready to resume the hunt. But Graves is not without allies of his own.

Review: This second collection of 100 Bullets is even stronger than the first. Azzarello could quite easily mine his premise for years, giving us disconnected short story arcs that explore different people’s response to Graves’ gift. But “Split Second Chance” makes clear that this is not merely an anthology title; the titular gift is only one element of an overarching plot that should draw in fans of conspiracy and espionage stories. Graves’ obsession with justice and retribution is a personal quest; his job appears to be as leader of a group of operatives known as the Minutemen. The Minutemen, in turn, are somehow connected to the Trust. Here Graves begins putting his own pieces into play – for exactly what purpose isn’t yet clear. And somewhere in all of this figures Mr. Shepherd, who may be working with or against Graves. Read More

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call

First Shot, Last CallOrder this bookStory: Three stories are connected by the presence of the mysterious Agent Graves. Graves approaches a person to whom some injustice has been committed and gives him or her a briefcase. The briefcase contains a photo of the person who committed the injustice, evidence against that person, information as to their whereabouts, a gun – and one hundred completely untraceable bullets. No law enforcement agency can touch the owner of that gun and those bullets – from that moment on, they are above the law, free to determine how they will use the power and information they have been given.

Review: The premise of this series is unbelievably cool, and Azzarello does not disappoint in exploring it. His plotting is very strong, with layers of intrigue, plotting and betrayal. You don’t find out a lot about Agent Graves, or the organization that he works for, in this book, but there are hints of at least subplots that will connect the tales of the different recipients of the gun. Read More

Clone Wars Vol. 5: The Best Blades

The Best BladesOrder this bookStory: Obi-Wan and Alpha, captured by Asajj Ventress after the Battle of Jabiim, make their escape from Asajj’s homeworld of Rattatak. Anakin, temporarily assigned to Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, insists his master is still alive – and when he has the chance to prove he’s right, Ki-Adi-Mundi joins him in a rescue attempt. Across the galaxy, the Clone Wars persist in a stalemate, putting friendships and alliances to the test. The continued crisis motivates the Senate to place power in Palpatine’s hands, leading some Senators and Jedi to wonder how much the Chancellor can be trusted.

Review: This collection features a number of short stories rather than a single primary arc, and with a number of artists and two different writers, it’s very much an anthology – people looking for a more coherent collection might be disappointed. There are two primary tracks to the story. First comes Obi-Wan’s escape and rescue, which is a nicely written action piece. The relationship built up between Obi-Wan and the ARC Trooper called Alpha is put to good use here, and there are some nice background details on Asajj. Read More

Clone Wars Vol. 4: Light and Dark

Light and DarkOrder this bookStory: When Jedi Master Quinlan Vos’s cover as an underworld operative is blown, he and Master Tholme decide on a dangerous plan: Quinlan will appear to betray the Rebellion and join Count Dooku while sending information back to the Republic. Even his former padawan, Aayla Secura, believes Quinlan has gone to the Dark Side, and her conflicted feelings may prove deadly when she must battle Aurra Sing to save the lives of Tholme and another Jedi. For Quinlan Vos, the challenge is even greater: he must walk far enough into darkness to convince Dooku of his sincerity without letting it consume him.

Review: The story of Quinlan Vos has been building since before the Clone Wars began; the tale of his memory loss and subsequent struggle to regain his identity was central to many post-Episode I Star Wars comics. The galactic war provides Ostrander with the perfect setting for Quinlan’s ultimate crisis of conscience. In the context of such a great evil, it’s easy to justify getting one’s hands a little dirty for the sake of the greater good; if Quinlan can save millions of lives and end a destructive war at the cost of some of his own purity, isn’t that a worthwhile price to pay? But exactly how much can he let his darker impulses reign before he can’t bring them under control again? Ostrander does a very good job of walking the knife edge here, making each of Quinlan’s actions on its own appear justifiable, but building up a larger context where it soon feels that he’s doomed. He’s equally good at portraying Dooku, gradually drawing Quinlan further down the dark path. Read More

Clone Wars Vol. 3: Last Stand on Jabiim

Last Stand on JabiimOrder this bookStory: Dissatisfaction with the Republic leads Alto Stratus, a military commander on the planet Jabiim, to overthrow his world’s government. General Kenobi’s troops arrive to assist the small band of loyalist resisting Stratus’ coup. Minor skirmishes extend Kenobi’s forces, as massive rainstorms across the planet make it impossible for reinforcements to land. When Stratus’s soldiers attack the Republic’s main planetary base, Obi-Wan is presumed dead. Anakin and a group of masterless padawans try to hold off the advancing Separatist forces until the Republic can evacuate the loyalists. But then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine orders Anakin on a mission of his own, isolating the young Jedi even more.

Review: The Battle for Jabiim is an incredibly bleak story, one of those “War Is Hell” tales that seem designed mostly to highlight the apparent purposelessness of so many soldiers’ deaths. The reasons behind the civil war and Stratus’ coup are not made wholly clear, but Stratus’s rhetoric reinforces the notion of a Republic unresponsive to the needs of its member worlds. One would almost want the Republic to lose, except that we know that the Separatists aren’t any better – indeed, they’re two sides of the coin that eventually becomes the Empire. So given that we know this is all going to end badly, a bleak War Is Hell story is probably appropriate. Read More

Clone Wars Vol. 2: Victories and Sacrifices

Victories and SacrificesOrder this bookStory: Obi-Wan leads a mission to assist Ohma-D’un, a Gungan colony moon orbiting Naboo. Upon their arrival, they discover the entire Gungan population dead, poisoned by a new Confederacy weapon. When Asajj Ventress and Durge turn that weapon on the Jedi, Obi-Wan and his fellow Jedi must fight their own bodies as well as their opponents, to prevent a horrific attack against Naboo and find an antidote for the deadly gas. Meanwhile, poor intelligence leads the Republic forces into a trap attacking the world of Brentaal IV. Shaak Ti must lead a small band of escaped prisoners, including old enemies and old allies, in a last ditch effort to turn the tide.

Review: The individual pieces in this compilation continue the generally strong record of Dark Horse’s Clone Wars comics. With two writers, three pencillers and at least two unconnected storylines, I’m not sure that the whole is equal to its parts, but that’s a risk that collected volumes always run. Blackman’s story of the swamp gas plague on Ohma-D’un is a good one – using Naboo sets up some obvious psychological conflicts for Anakin, and the use of biological weapons is somehow a little more viscerally horrific than, say, blowing up planets from afar. And there’s even something for the slightly more sadistic fan, who are sure to enjoy a two-page spread filled with lots and lots of dead Gungans. The third chapter of the story is a bit of a jarring shift from the first two – there’s a different artist, a sudden jump forward in time, and an awkward use of flashback – but it’s still a solid story. Read More

Clone Wars Vol. 1: The Defense of Kamino

The Defense of Kamino and Other StoriesOrder this bookStory: A Jedi spy in the Outer Rim learns that the Separatists are planning a major offensive against the clone facility on Kamino. General Kenobi leads the defense, as the Kaminoans add the elite ARC Troopers to the Republic’s forces. Meanwhile, Master Windu meets with a group of dissident Jedi in an effort to heal the growing schism in the Order, but Asajj Ventress hopes to turn the dissidents completely away from the Republic.

Review: Taken completely on its own merits, this collection of stories set shortly after the Battle of Geonosis is a worthwhile continuation of the Clone Wars. The writing combines solid action on multiple fronts with character moments that probably exceed anything in the prequels thus far. Jedi disagree over the wisdom of serving a Republic that everyone acknowledges is corrupt; Obi-Wan tries to figure out how to reach out to his troubled padawan. Scenes like this definitely fulfill the licensed material’s mandate to flesh out the stories we see on the screen. At the same time, the most interesting element of the prequels for me thus far has been the Sith’s skill at playing one force against another for the Sith’s ultimate benefit, and Ostrander and Allie continue that theme in their stories. Read More

Powers: Roleplay

Powers: RoleplayOrder this bookStory: A group of college students impersonate Powers in a live action role playing game, breaking the laws that prohibit non-Powers from wearing costumes. When several of them are murdered, Walker and Pilgrim get the case. The trail leads to a long inactive former associate of suspected criminal Johnny Stompinato. The detectives’ efforts to enlist Stompinato’s cooperation go seriously awry, threatening the investigation and Pilgrim’s career.

Review: The second Powers collection is an interesting follow-up to Who Killed Retro Girl? The aftereffects of that story still clearly linger over the entire city, and the roleplaying imitators open up an interesting perspective on how regular humans make sense of a world with superhuman beings floating around. One of my favorite exchanges in the series actually covers that topic and takes place in this story, as Walker and Pilgrim banter about the nature of time and subjective sensory perception. But Bendis makes it a lot more entertaining than that last sentence might suggest. Read More

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?Order this bookStory: Homicide detective Christian Walker specializes in cases involving the superpowered individuals that operate in the city. His new partner, Deena Pilgrim, is eager to work with Walker – and just as eager to learn what secrets he may be hiding. As the two get to know each other, they must solve the murder of one of the city’s most popular heroes amidst growing media scrutiny and take care of a child Walker rescued from a hostage situation.

Review: This is a book that clicks on all cylinders, with excellent dialogue, evocative art and crisp plotting. The story opens with homicide Detective Christian Walker being called into a hostage negotiation – the guy holding the hostage has powers, and he asked for Walker specifically. The pacing and dialogue in this opening scene are excellent. The build-up of tension is great, Walker really shines as a tough cop who can nonetheless empathize with a guy who’s so at the end of his rope that he’s ready to do something desperate and foolish, and the little asides between the cops have a world-weary wit about them. Read More