Short Cuts 24: Descender, Vol. 3 – Singularities; The Sheriff of Babylon, Vol. 2 – Pow. Pow. Pow.; Monstress Vol. 2 – The Blood; Lobster Johnson, Vol. 4 – Get the Lobster

Descender, Vol. 3: Singularities
Jeff Lemire, writer; Dustin Nguyen, artist
Image Comics, 2016

This collection picks up at the fight between the two android Tims, the cliffhanger that concluded the previous volume. It never does get to the resolution, which is frustrating. But it does fill in background history on all of the major characters (and even minor characters like Bandit, the dog-bot), which should enrich the narrative going forward. When the storytelling is this good, a brief pause in the action works out, but here’s hoping that Vol. 4 will advance the main story.

The Sheriff of Babylon, Vol. 2: Pow. Pow. Pow.
Tom King, writer; Mitch Gerads, art and colors
Vertigo Comics, 2017

King’s tale of occupied Iraq winds its way to its conclusion. The danger is palpable most of the time. The collection opens with former Saddam loyalist Nassir captured by American operatives. They demand information about the infamous terrorist Abu Rahim, he is completely uncooperative, and it looks like they may kill him any day. Power player Sofia meets with a CIA agent who convinces her to arrange a meet with Abu Rahim. He assures her that Rahim was responsible for the bombing of her car earlier in the series, and he frees Nassir as a show of good faith. As the double-cross meet proceeds, it becomes clear that nothing is what it seems. The CIA doesn’t know what it’s doing–and Abu Rahim is not the terrorist mastermind everyone thought. The dark revenge taken by Chris, Sofia and Nassir at the end really is an ending but not a conclusion. Nothing is proven, and it’s not even a satisfying act of revenge. A bleak, hopeless final act in a story full of shadows, and very little light.

Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood
Marjorie Liu, writer; Sana Takeda, artist
Image Comics, 2017

Monstress continues to be an epic fantasy with a unique tone, both in the unusual world setting and the visual storytelling. It can be beautiful and horrifying, sometimes at the same time: violence has rarely looked so attractive. The fanciful people and animals are remarkable inventions, and of course many of the inhabitants are animal-like, if not completely animal in appearance. Protagonist Maika Halfwolf is still trying to learn about her dead mother, and much of the action in this arc involves a sea voyage to the Isle of Bones, a dreaded place that her mother was lucky to return from. Her departure is hastened by the two great kingdoms that are hot on her trail. It’s a grand adventure–even if she does not learn much from it–and the story reveals a lot about her companions and her past history in the process. It can be difficult to keep track of the politics. There is a map of the world in the volume, but a summary of the main players would have also been helpful.

Lobster Johnson, Vol. 4: Get the Lobster
Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, story; Tonci Zonjic, art; Dave Stewart, colors
Dark Horse Books, 2014

Lobster Johnson just keeps getting crazier. This one opens with a pair of colorful wrestlers–one a huge Russian nicknamed “The Russian Bear,” the other a dwarf in a luchador-style devil mask called “The Devil Dwarf”–in a match that quickly goes off the rails. The pair go berserk and start killing the referee and spectators. Turns out they’ve got radios in their heads, complete with remote control units (as Zonjic points out in the sketch section, it’s the sort of crazy thing that can only work in comics). And it’s all a Nazi plot! After discovering other radio-controlled people, including the police chief that has made a point of hunting down the Lobster, Johnson has an epic fight with the Nazi scientist on an airborne zeppelin. There’s also a series of newspaper stories exploring the Lobster’s past, which may have actually turned up something that will affect future stories.

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