Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pull List: Men of Wrath #3 Review

I think I'm one of the last people on Earth - at least, among American comic book readers - that didn't know how awesome a creator Jason Aaron is. When I found out that he would be spear-heading the new Thor, I decided to do my research. And by research, I mean read more comics. It's a hard life, I know. His run prior to the Thor change-up was pretty solid, and I even found myself really loving Southern Bastards, which I'll definitely get back to in a minute. A few days ago, a Scalped trade came into the store, and I leafed through it with the full intention of reading it completely on one of my lunch breaks. What seems fairly certain to me is that, no matter how far Jason Aaron may go from his Southern roots, they'll always come back into his work. You write what you know, right?

(And as pretty much always, no spoilers below the cut!)

Men of Wrath #3
Via Comic Vine
Normally, I'm not much for crime comics; I like my fantasies and superheroes and spaceships, but there's this aura about Men of Wrath that keeps me coming back, starting at the first issue. Perhaps it comes from being a born and bred Southerner - I just get the culture being represented in the comic. Funnily enough, my own family is from murderous stock; James Brantley, also known as Kentucky James, fled the state of Georgia after he stabbed a guy to death and eventually started the now huge* Brantley clan in western Kentucky. As far as I know, none of my family members are felons or anything, but my grandmother has told me stories about her father being involved in "acts of justice," usually using his status as a member of the Freemasons. My own father watches Justified, a television series that has similar themes to Men of Wrath and Southern Bastards, and remarks how a lot of that show reminds him of people he knew growing up, including his own aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was brought up in rather urbane conditions, considering the rural nature of my father's childhood, so I don't necessarily have that much surface connection to Men of Wrath, but dammit, if I don't feel it in my blood.

Men of Wrath only has two more issues, and I am on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what is going to happen. I mean, Ira has already proven that he's as craven as they come - although oddly spiritual, in a Jules Winnfield sort of way - so it's just as likely that he'll kill Ruben, his son, or Lizzie, Ruben's wife, or shit, even himself. Based on the final panel of this issue, any - or all, for that matter - could just as easily be the finale of this miniseries. It's not like I expect this to have a happy ending**. A cycle of violence is ridiculously hard to end, especially when it's so ingrained in your genetics and culture, and as a story-telling device, it's addicting to the reader. Humans seem to be oddly transfixed with the idea of self-destruction (or simple destruction, as evidenced by the inexplicable success of Michael Bay's Transformers movies). That's not really a condemnation so much as it's an observation. I mean, look at Breaking Bad, one of the most critically-acclaimed and watched series of the last decade. We see Walter White start out as a mild-mannered science teacher/part-time car washer and then transform into this nefarious meth dealer, all the while spiraling into this crazed, malevolent force that ultimately (spoiler alert) died at the end: excellent story-telling, harsh and uncomfortable truths about humanity as a whole.

Aaron's pacing of this issue reminds me of crime thrillers from the 90s, like Heat and Seven. There's a scene near the end that immediately evoked memories of watching Heat, and I'm pretty sure that, if you've both read Men of Wrath and seen Heat, you know which scene I'm talking about. I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the art by Ron Garney in this issue, which is pretty much spot-on. The harsh lines and gritty, earthy colors perfectly fit the feel of the book. Some of my favorite (and least favorite, actually) are the scenes of brutal violence near the end where father and son are fighting. The raw emotion in them is just so ... raw. There's not really another word I can use to describe it. And that cover? Good God. I stared at it for at least five minutes before starting to read the story. Violence and Christianity is a sad pairing, one that has shaped our world - and that of the Rath family - in ways that seem irreparable. It also has deeply impacted the South, enough so that it's kept it in a state of arrested development. And this is coming from a woman who's lived here nearly her entire life***.

The only shortcoming of this series isn't really a shortcoming, I suppose. It's more of a minor quibble or a "huh!" sort of moment. Men of Wrath just happens to remind me a great deal of Southern Bastards, as if it's part of the same universe. It makes sense, since Aaron is penning them both, and I wouldn't be surprised if all of this was taking place in Craw County or that the family had started there. I just find it odd that two series dealing with the same concepts by the same writer are being published at the same time by different publishers. I don't know if that's how Aaron planned it or it just, you know, happened, but I feel like Men of Wrath might be stepping on Southern Bastard's toes. I'm actually kind of wondering why I mentioned this, except that I said I'd talk about Southern Bastards up at the beginning of this post. And if I say I'm going to do something, by God, I'm going to do it.

Anyway, I am glad that I decided to pick this series up and will probably buy the trade whenever it comes out, if only to ensure that the HusFriend reads it. After he slightly bent one of my Captain Marvel issues, he put an embargo on himself, and trades are a little tougher to rough up. Plus, if I can support Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, I will, because I would love to see more from both of them. If you haven't at least given the first issue a read-through, you are greatly missing out, but Issue 3 is, as of today, the best of the three so far. I'm really looking forward to next month's installment!

* Seriously. It's huge. My grandmother had eight brothers and sisters, the majority of whom had at least six or seven children of their own. And then their kids continued the tradition and OMG, going to a family reunion is like visiting a small town that's been shoved into one community center.
** This really seems like something Three would truly enjoy, as he did refer to the ending of Falling Down to be "happy" since the main character, played by Michael Douglas, did not kill his family before he gets shot by police.
*** I spent a few years as a kid in Arizona and Illinois, but for the other years, I've been in Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and soon-to-be South Carolina.
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