Best Comics of January Part 2: The Joker Tops Caligula
Once a month the amazing staff at 8th Dimension Comics selects a pile of the best new releases for us to peruse and judge.
At the expense of sounding like a killjoy, a lot of the "shocking" things we know about the Ceasers is about as real as what we know about Barack Obama from the National Inquirer. I'm not saying there isn't a grain of truth in some of it, but holy hell do they build a fucked up looking pearl around it. Caligula reimagines the infamous ruler as a demonic entity, and basically uses its pages to see just how far in the sex and depraved monster pit they can go. It's boxed by a pretty good detective story, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still just pulp, and clichéd pulp at that.
Rating: 4 of 10
If you were to ask me if Before Watchmen was better than Watchmen I would say no. I wouldn't even say it was equal. It is, very, very good, though, and I feel that having that impossible legacy has made the various books the best they can be. They both keep faith with the source material and realize the futility of trying to match it. The result is both faithful and daring. Darwyn Cooke does wonders with the unseen parts of Hooded Justice and Hollis Mason's story, and the lays out the horrible joke of the world that made the Comedian the man he was with exquisite timing. Be glad these characters have gotten a chance to shine once more.
Rating: 8 of 10
It's been a while since I checked in on Conan as a pirate. He's still sailing the world with his queen doing murder and just all around having a good time. Though he does spend pages doing impressive murder, the bulk of the story is his lamentation for his deathly ill lover... and a fear that no man, not even Conan, is capable of facing. If anyone out there in Hollywood is listening, this is a really great adventure tale that would make a fine movie. Until then, you could do a lot worse than getting into Conan at this point.
Rating: 7 of 10
It's little more than a set-up issue for some oncoming catastrophe on Earth, but Black Panther stumbles across a threat that requires him to do what fear fears the most, summon the Illuminati. The most powerful men in the Marvel Universe once sought to bring it to order in secret, an invitation which Black Panther rejected as unwise and which ultimately ended in nothing but disaster. That something is coming that is so huge as to require Tony Stark, Black Bolt, Namor, Dr. Strange, and Reed Richards, to combine their various schemes to combat is bad, bad news. Coming so soon after the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover and the death of the Phoenix Force it feels a bit like overkill, but keeping the narrative grounded in Black Panther helps maintain a more personal key.
Rating: 6 of 10
The return of The Joker and his deranged, even for him, quest to cut off Batman from his allies in order to help him better ascend to the level of God-King of Gotham is reaching its final conclusion. The master of insanity proves himself the greatest comic villain of all time once again by outwitting The Dark Knight, and even humiliating his own accomplices like Two-Face and the Penguin in the process. Though The Joker appreciates the part they have to play in his masterpiece, he makes it very clear that they are not, and will never be his equal.
What Caligula was trying to do Scott Snyder pulls off so effortlessly that you simply accept one of the most gruesome and evil things ever done in the history of comics as straightforward and inevitable. It's like Snyder saw The Human Centipede and thought, "Fucking amateur." Yet his style is so tested and sure that the drama unfolds not as spectacle, but as an artistic madness that is The Joker's intention all along. I can't wait to see how it all ends.
Rating: 9 of 10.
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