02 May 2005

REVIEW: The Losers #23

Most mainstream comic books these days ride a rickety wooden roller coaster throughout their ever-shortening life spans, offering an uneven mix of definitive and forgettable story arcs before inevitably being rebooted by some flavor-of-the-month talent in the kind of short-term thinking that brought down corporations like Enron and Worldcom. Then there are comic books like The Losers, defined by a singular creative vision that, hopefully, is allowed to carry through to its organic conclusion and then able to rest in peace. Typically, though, these types of comics die on the vine, languishing in obscurity as they are ignored by the spandex-loving lemmings who dictate the Big Two's publishing slates, preferring their four-color confections to mimic Hollywood's approach to summer blockbusters: keep it simple, stupid.

Thankfully, there are imprints like Vertigo, and comics like The Losers -- DC's Yang to their Yin of, say, Jeph Loeb's simple-minded Superman/Batman series? -- that reject the lowest common denominator approach to publishing and take a gamble on the other end of the spectrum.

Ironically, The Losers would make a great summer Hollywood blockbuster -- or an AiT/PlanetLar monthly -- equal parts The A-Team, Three Kings and Armageddon. Andy Diggle knows how to write smart action stories and with The Losers, he adds a cynical political edge to the mix that will tickle the conspiracy theorists out there while pissing off the "it's all good" conservatives who prefer their worlds painted only in black and white. Diggle has successfully weaved together a tangled plot of international intrigue and paranoia, supported on the backs of an appealing cast, and this issue begins a new arc, "Anti-Heist," where he does a nice job of recapping the events so far without stalling the engine. He doesn't quite pull off a clean "jump-on point" for new readers, though. It's more like a "go buy the trades and catch up point" as the already thickened plot gets even thicker when a new piece of the puzzle falls into place as the Losers realize Max, the shadowy mastermind they've been tracking down in order to clear their names, isn't who, or what, they thought he was. And what is partly revealed/partly hinted at in this issue, is much worse than they thought.

"Max wants to be able to see this little barbeque from space."

Jock returns on art, bringing his distinctive, cinematic flair that is as much a signature of this comic as is Diggle's crisp plotting and scripting. His layouts are always energetic, even the talking head scenes, as he deftly mixes up his angles and perspective to match the fast pace of the script -- no Bendis-style decompression here -- and despite this being a rare issue where nothing blows up and no one gets shot, he still manages to get across the underlying sense of urgency. The only misstep he makes is on his usually perfect cover, misrepresenting Aisha, the only female character in the book, a mysterious badass who'd sooner slit your throat than pose in a bikini. On the other hand, it could infer a possible not-so-deadly-serious side of the no-nonsense assassin, so maybe it was purposeful? Either way, if it manages to catch the wandering eye of a fanboy or two and gets them to pick up the issue, it's a minor complaint as The Losers deserves a much wider audience than it’s currently getting.

NOTE: Next month's "Trifecta" TPB collects issues #13-19, and the first two TPBs as well as the previous three-issue arc are still relatively easy to track down. Don't wait for the movie; jump on The Losers now!

The Losers #23, (DC/Vertigo, April 2005; $2.99); Written by Andy Diggle, Art by Jock.

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