Why yes, this is the post for Friday night at 11:59 PM.

*52 Dept: This was probably the best issue so far. It certainly had everything I want from 52. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect -- for that, the creative team would have had to figure out what the hell to do with Bulleteer besides have her stand around and set up an Ambush Bug one-liner -- but I’m fine with 99%. It even does a few things that 52 usually doesn’t, like telling a decent done-in-one story along with the usual ongoing plot prodding, and featuring unexpectedly detail-heavy art (by special guests Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning). Hell, it even gets around to explaining what some of the B+ List DCU characters are up to, complete with the Martian Manhunter going undercover into what doubles as both a tie-in to team writer Greg Rucka’s Checkmate series and a little wink toward Marvel’s Civil War, or Green Arrow taking on politics with campaign manager Elliot S! Maggin. And speaking of knocking on the fourth wall - have I mentioned Ambush Bug?

I’m sure one of the more fun aspects of writing a year-long weekly series set to span an entire shared superhero universe is that everyone on the creative team gets a chance to roll out some of their signature characters or pet favorites for added attention; Keith Giffen isn’t a writer on the series, but it’s still nice to see one of his more famous creations popping up as part of Firestorm’s ill-fated attempt to revive the JLA with whomever happens to be on hand or willing to help (so it’s not that the concept doesn’t fit Bulleteer’s presence like a glove, it’s just that the character herself has nothing to do after we all nod at how nicely she fits in). It’s a cute plot that doesn’t wear out its welcome, connects smoothly with the Lex Luthor and Booster plots as Lex floods the streets (market?) with shitty superhero concepts and Skeets opens up a time portal to overrun the present with angry pirates (I will presume the robots are simply Pirates of the Future), and even serves to somewhat redeem the shitty Super-Chief introduction from last week with an excellent punchline.

Also: best Ralph “What a Twist” Dibny cameo yet.

Desolation Jones #7

The plot of this first issue of the new, delayed storyline is largely flashback and setup, and doesn’t really warrant much discussion in its current state. Suffice to say, protagonist Michael Jones knew some nasty people back in the day, so we get to savor lurid pages of torture before leaping over to the present day and discovering that one of the best/worst of Jones’ colleagues has apparently become the victim of a mutilation murder, though Jones suspects otherwise, given the man’s skills, and decides to investigate if only to convince himself that he’s right. Jones also strolls around withered and naked, vomits a bit, curls up into a fetal position in guilt over the events of last issue, plugs Phillip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth (likely setting up this storyline’s exploration of another author’s themes - last time was Chandler, remember), and refuses a cigarette in what’s probably an in-joke about Warren Ellis protagonists (remember, it’s only pot for our Mr. Jones).

But there’s no way you’re going to read this after reading the last six issues and not want to think about the art. Danijel Zezelj replaces J.H. Williams III on lines, while José Villarrubia sticks around on colors, and there are several telling connections and differences between the two approaches. The Williams/Villarrubia team took an emphatic-yet-segmented approach to their visuals, with line textures and shading varying among assorted sequences as a means of better conveying narrative tone; Williams has a famously amorphous drawing style, capable of gracefully shifting from look to look while making it all seem like a coherent whole, and that aptitude was used to often marvelous effect under Villarrubia’s washing hues. And then there were the violent bits, in which the pair would essentially bring the reader into Jones’ head (even if he’s present on the page), and block off points of the main character’s attention with thin boxes and flashes of red or white. All Jones really knows how to do well is hurt people, after all, and the art worked hard toward portraying exactly how it might seem to have your mind so devoted to such a pursuit.

Zezelj is different, and thus Villarrubia is different with him. Zezelj takes far less mannered a sequence-by-sequence approach, opting instead to approach flashback and present alike with the same methodical, inky, soot-dusted look. I particularly enjoy how it’s rarely possible to glimpse anyone’s eyes, or even any more than the outline of their faces; that’s very fitting for the environment of this book. Villarrubia’s coloring is now much more prone to gently washing pages with color, to match Zezelj’s steady representation effect (at least compared to Williams). Often the colors and the inks and the outlines combine to make the characters look carved from polished rocks, again a fitting effect; Villarrubia makes the post-Desolation Test Jones shine from the inside, rendering him into a veritable diamond as backed by Zezelj’s spiky outlines of the man’s flesh and hair - I’ve said it before, but truly he’s the hardest man in the room, pathetic as he can seem. Villarrubia also partially drops the red & white effect in this issue, perhaps because Ellis is now writing sequences of violence that involved other talented individuals of Jones’ caliber; there’s red but also glowing blue, and maybe it’s pertinent that the only bold, forceful colors in the book are those that mark the presence of pain. All else is extremely subdued. And even with Jones’ red-washed headaches, there’s no boxes or breakdowns of anything; the whole world just goes red, in the way that Zezelj now keeps past and future and everywhere on the same visual plane.

It’s quite lovely, though it should be noted Zezelj is a much-acclaimed writer/artist in the European market, largely known to US fans only through collaborations with separate writers, and one gets the strong feeling that he perhaps works best as a solo creator; go to his site, and take a stroll through the Graphic Novels section (composed largely of solo works), then the Comic Books section (composed entirely of collaborations), and the difference in quality is quite obvious. I know, I know, separate markets, separate expectations - but still, I think the samples speak for themselves (Bart Beaty also has stuff to say on the topic). We have the book that we have though, and I’d say that what’s glimpsed in here is maybe the best of Zezelj’s collaborative excursions into the pamphlet format. We’ll see what develops in future issues, when the story activates itself more fully.