Saturday, December 10, 2005

Comics Review: December 10

Y: The Last Man #40

If one were to break down "Y: The Last Man" in terms of overall structure, two distinct types of stories would emerge within the greater framework of the series. The main plots and subplots are dealt with in multi-part arcs (such as the recent "Paper Dolls" or "Girl On Girl"). But every now and then Vaughan takes some time out and delivers standalone issues that, more often than not, turn the focus away from protagonist Yorick and his companions to explore some other aspect of the unmanned world, or a character left behind. These issues usually demonstrate one of Vaughan's greatest strengths as a writer: his ability to really flesh out an ensemble cast, to the extent that you never feel cheated when an issue breaks away from Yorick to tell us his sister's life story, or what happened to Beth in the Outback.

This month's issue is dedicated to two women in Yorick's life: Hero, still on the road and recuperating from a bout of Amazon-related insanity; and "Beth 2", the first woman he slept with after the plague (way back in "Tongues of Fire"). I have to admit that, for all that I'm familiar with Vaughan's fondness for twists and turns, I didn't really expect this Beth (not to be confused with Yorick's lost love) to turn up again, or to have any significant role to play. But as is so often the case in "Y", people turn up when you least expect them. And typical of Vaughan, you're not three pages into the story when a massive plot twist emerges. It's a twist few will see coming, but one that makes perfect sense in hindsight - the best kind. :)

So anyway, Hero and Beth are confronted with a new adversary, one that I have some mixed feelings about. On the one hand, Sister Lucia Ober represents a major question Vaughan hasn't dealt with until now: what happens to organized religion when all the men die? However, it comes off as a bit wishy-washy: Ober and her minions seem genuinely threatening, then suddenly they're not. Their goal makes no sense, and Hero helpfully points this out, but the idea seems to be that because they're religious they've had their brains replaced with cottage cheese. It doesn't quite work.

Still, it's a nice story, with major implications for the rest of the series. And rather than the traditional cliffhanger, we get a nice two-page conclusion with Yorick where we're reminded he isn't quite as dense as most people think he is.

Only twenty issues left. Savor it while you can. :)


Hard Time Season Two #1

Another series I'll be reviewing by issue, since it doesn't subscribe to any visible arc format.

This was an old favorite of mine during its first run, when it was part of the "DC Focus" imprint - you may recall said imprint crashed dismally. Of the four series that comprised DC Focus, "Hard Time" was the most successful - and, not coincidentally, the most well-written. Still, cancellation arrived at issue 12 (to its credit, it outlasted all of its kin). At the time, there were hushed rumors the book would be back, adopting a seasonal approach, but until it turned up in the solicits I never really believed it.

"Hard Time" concerns a 15-year-old, Ethan Harrow, who participates in a high school vengeance prank that goes completely out of control and ends with five people dead, including his best friend. Because of political maneuverings that are never fully explained, Ethan is given an uncharacteristically harsh punishment, sentenced to fifty years in prison. While he's slowly adapting to life in "The Big House", he's also developing a bizarre power that's part astral projection, part telekinesis, all dangerous.

Steve Gerber is in top form here: Ethan's a very endearing character because he reacts to situations the way you'd expect a 15-year-old geek to react. The setting is completely detached from the superhero genre, which is good because it means there's no ready-made context for what Ethan is undergoing. Is it evolution? Magic? Alien DNA?

The supporting cast is also a varied bunch: maniacs, rapists, killers, crossdressers, psychics, and a genuinely nice person or two (at least, so they seem). It's very much in the vein of "Oz", but Gerber recognizes where that series went wrong - too relentlessly bleak and depressing - and he works in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere that doesn't compromise the harsh setting in the least.

This issue is the obligatory "For Those of You Just Joining Us" exposition dump, but Gerber contextualizes it very well, and even manages a little something extra for his earlier readers: when Ethan relates his story to his new defenders, he actually goes a lot further back than anything we saw in the previous season. New and old readers alike see, for the first time, the sequence of events leading up to that fateful opening scene in Hard Time (Season One) #1.

An excellent, gratifying read. Highly recommended.


Coming soon: Dianapalooza! One woman's journey through the best, the worst and the piddling average Hollywood has to offer (yeah, I can take a wild guess at that ratio...)! How bad could "Doom" be, really? Does "Corpse Bride" signify a triumphant return for Tim Burton, or is it just another "Michael Jackson Meets Hershey World" pastiche? Is "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" worth the day off? All this and more, at Dianapalooza! :)