In the same way that different kinds of music offer different strengths--a beat, a care for harmony, an emotional ideal, a suitability for drunken scream-along--different kinds of literature speak to different strands of storytelling. Poetry rides on language, journalism relies on compellingly credible narrative, theater is big on character. And superhero comic books, to my mind, are for story lovers. Also for art lovers, but in terms of getting from point A to point B, the magic of comic books is in moving a reader through a great story with brilliant efficiency. When I say "efficiency," I mean it in the best sense--the best comic writers can develop a character magnificently through carefully chosen words and actions that don't wander around through internal monologues or lengthy descriptions. Not that those can't be fabulous in novels, but I read comics because I want to know what's going to happen in this crazy universe, dammit, and throw in some clever dialog that makes me laugh when you get a chance.
But every once in a great while, as I'm trucking along with a planet-saving or moving call-to-arms or second-tier goof-balling, a series of panels will come out of nowhere and stop time. That happened this week with World War Hulk Aftersmash: Warbound #4, a title I'd almost given up because it's confusing as hell and frankly irrelevant to much of what's going on elsewhere. These random-ass aliens, having come to Earth with the Hulk to beat down a few self-important superheroes and failed, are now running away from the government and have all these weird powers and don't really belong anywhere. They find themselves in the middle of some big gamma-ray chaos with Hulk's superest super-villain, and for some indecipherable reason, one of them (Heroim) begs another one (Korg) to kill him because apparently Heroim's power is causing all the problems. Whatever whatever confusing, and then this (click to enlarge):
I'll confess, this sequence brought me to near tears--because it was unexpected, because it revealed so much about a character's private thoughts that had not been at all evident before, because it tells us without any awkward bullshit that there is an entire race of men who, through a ritual of deep friendship, reproduce homosexually. Events in World War Hulk had shown Korg to be earnest and devoted, with an intense sense of responsibility, but this was heart-rending and, in my view, extremely elegant work by Greg Pak and artist Leonard Kirk.
What happens after this is a cliffhanger involving some sudden giant robots that didn't do much for me action/suspense-wise. But I'll read the last issue, not because I give a crap about the robots or the gamma dome of death, but because now, finally, I really care whether the aliens get home safely, away from earthlings and their talent for ignorant judgment.