5 out of 5
Mike Baron has written, and writes, a lot. A consequence of that (perhaps) is that it’s quite of varying quality, but I’ll also give it to the guy for trying his hand at a lot of different genres, as well, and the quality varies within those, such that you can’t easily say “Baron writes X stories well” or “…Y stories poorly;” you really can mix and match from his career (across comics and books) to get a sense of his abilities.
And proclivities. While I would also commend the writer for keeping his personal politics and social opinions generally separate from, or mostly backgrounded in, his narratives, the stuff still seeps through, sometimes more obviously than not.
Having sampled quite a bit of Baron’s stuff from the multiple decades in which he’s worked, Nexus still stands as the best version of all of these things. It has a conservative bent to it, but it’s couched within a framework that allows a reader to think around events and create their own takeaways – the politics, as mentioned, lurk, but it wholly makes sense for the characters and their worlds, and actually enhances what might otherwise be a bit too open-ended if scripted from other perspectives. It gives Baron the widest, space-faring platform to indulge in his goofy and random sense of humor, but it doesn’t overtake things as it often would with Badger; Nexus can easily encompass standalone stories – Horatio hunts down a killer – or longer-form ones, and often does both of those at once, several times over, which syncs rather perfectly with the way the writer likes to allow even focused tales to wander down sudden rabbit holes, or poke at wildly unrelated distractions. It can, on occasion feel a bit too broad, but then there are these perfect runs of issues, such as captured here, when all of the above is blended in a perfect ratio.
With Gravity Well poised for collapse, we get tastes of the political squabbles on Mars and Ylum, as well as opportunities for some one-shot clean-up before Nexus and Judah return to the bowl-shaped world for an excellent arc of issues, also conveniently re-bringing in Badger for silly good times, in moderation. And then this all ends up being a perfect setup for some upheaval, with Horatio wanting to be done with the Nexus bit, starting on his “own” path; the collection ends with an issue of Next Nexus proposing what the Merk will do without Mr. Hellpop.
While Steve Rude will always be the de facto artist on the strip, Paul Smith’s swapping in here and there is perfectly satisfactory: an artist close enough to Rude to stay within the strip’s classic look and feel, but also different enough to create a fresh sensibility for that issue. And the backups now focused on Judah are like a perfect, action-bound counterpoint to the very talky (enjoyably talky) contents; Nexus can blast foes and commit bloody murder, but it’s always very much a thinking man’s hero strip, and then we get 6 pages of more straight-forward fightin’ fare to close things out.