Line Holds and Unreality in Tony Stark: Iron Man 3

by Drew Baumgartner

Tony Stark Iron Man 3

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Does Stark not get HBO? Everyone knows that if you make a virtual wild west chances are the NPCs will start killing off everybody.

Jacosta, Tony Stark: Iron Man 3

It’s no coincidence that Dan Slott all-but name checks Westworld in Tony Stark: Iron Man 3, as the issue is all about our ability to distinguish humans from robots. Westworld relishes surprising us at every turn — often with the reveal that someone was or wasn’t a robot all along, but sometimes with the very fact that he world we’re seeing is or isn’t what we think it is. This issue leans into the game of “spot the robot” (with its own Westworld-ian twist), but plays things very straight with the division between reality and fantasy, relying on some smart decisions by artist Valerio Schiti and colorists Edgar Delgado and Rachelle Rosenberg. Continue reading

Stylizing Subversion in Hot Lunch Special 1

by Drew Baumgartner

Hot Lunch Special 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

I’m fascinated by stories where a criminal world of evil bubbles up through the veneer of suburban/small town life. David Lynch’s Blue Velvet might be the defining example of that particular genre, but the Coen Brothers’ Fargo is another great one. And actually, the television adaptation/reimagining of Fargo might be my favorite such story to date — the extra space afforded by serialized storytelling allowed the series to mine some truly chilling, truly bizarre moments while still keeping one foot in a recognizable small town world. Indeed, it’s that anchor in reality that makes Fargo more appealing to me than, say, Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which eschews normalcy in favor of anadulterated Lynchian weirdness. Don’t get me wrong — all of that weirdness makes Twin Peaks the masterpiece that it is, but I maintain that Fargo‘s more familiar setting is what makes the occasional brushes with violence all the more unsettling. That’s very much the approach Eliot Rahal and Jorge Fornés have taken in Hot Lunch Special 1, which relishes the innocence of its midwestern setting, even as its criminal underside makes a few key appearances. Continue reading

Sandman Universe 1: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers

Sandman Universe 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Drew: Of the “graphic novel” canon — that is, comics that non-comics readers have (however begrudgingly) deemed worthy of their time and interest — Sandman is far and away the longest. Persepolis and Maus constitute two volumes apiece, and Watchmen just the one, but Sandman spills into ten (or more, depending on how you count decades-later follow-ups like this one). However we diagnose that oddity — either as an unusually long, but no less novelistic “literary comic,” or as a more humble ongoing that was elevated to the pantheon of comics grownups aren’t afraid to read — I think the explanation is the same: the flexibility of Dream and his kingdom. Everybody dreams, affording Dream excuses to interact with every corner of the world, from kittens to serial killers, from William Shakespeare to the demons of Hell. And because of Dream’s role as a storyteller of sorts, the only guarantee in any issue was that it would contain a story (often wrapped up in a love letter to stories and storytelling). That is very much true of Sandman Universe 1, which spins its story off into four supporting series, but not before pausing to simply luxuriate in their worlds. Continue reading

Pain as a Prescription in Catwoman 2

by Spencer Irwin

Catwoman 2

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Catwoman 2 continues the series’ fascination with the qualities that tie Selina Kyle and her nemesis, Raina Creel, together, even when the way they express those shared qualities couldn’t be more different. While last month’s premiere focused on the two women’s contrasting takes on fashion and identity, issue two zeroes in on the idea of pain, specifically on treating pain like a tool, a solution, even a prescription. Continue reading

Ideologies Collide in Superman 2

by Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Michael: Brian Michael Bendis continues to prove that he has an excellent handle on the mindset and disposition of The Man of Steel. Superman is a tireless force for good who refuses to see the glass half empty. This steadfast optimism even applies while he’s trapped in the Phantom Zone in Superman 2. Continue reading

An Opaque Reflection of Anakin in Darth Vader 19

by Spencer Irwin

Darth Vader 19

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

I could easily spend hours listing qualities that make Darth Vader one of media’s most terrifying villains, but one of the most prominent is simply how inscrutable he is. His mask and his voice give away almost nothing about his emotions, his goals, or his thought process, rendering him cold and unknowable — and nothing’s scarier than that. Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli have made excellent use of this attribute in their run on Darth Vader, and issue 19 is no exception. Despite offering up a mirror, an echo of Vader’s former life, in the form of exiled Jedi Eeth Koth, the Sith Lord remains as fascinatingly opaque as ever. Continue reading

Fantastic Four 1 Teases the Reader with Pathos

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Patrick: Dan Slott and Skottie Young close out the first issue of Fantastic Four by giving the creative team shit for not actually reuniting the titular superheroes. It’s a cute little one-pager, playing to Young’s hyper-specific strength for drawing adorably angry characters.

But this epilogue is more than just a cute way to sign off with joke. By ending the issue with an explicit acknowledgement that “they’re not even back yet”, Slott and Young are doubling down on the idea that the absence of the Four itself is a phenomenon worth exploring. Continue reading

Eternity Girl 6: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Mark Mitchell

Eternity Girl 6

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Through our research, we discovered a disturbing statistic: 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide due to lack of societal acceptance. The national average is 4.6%. We were not willing to take that risk. For Ryland’s well-being, we were advised to allow him to transition as soon as possible.

The Whittington Family: Ryland’s Story

Drew: I first encountered this video as part of a training session for my job at a summer camp. It’s style, mostly still photos and text, doesn’t suggest a particularly moving experience, but the focus on Ryland as an individual helps pull the statistics in the excerpt above down to the human level. That is, anyone’s half-baked opinions about gender are rendered irrelevant in light of this kid’s very real risk of suicide if not accepted for who they are. Indeed, it’s a case that skirts the issue of gender almost entirely, finding the rate of attempted suicide in the trans community to be a much more pressing issue. These are issues that affect both Dani and Caroline but how they navigate their own choices (and their reactions to each other’s choices) lends further nuance to those dry statistics. Continue reading

Star Wars 52: Discussion

by Michael DeLaney and Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Michael: In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader has a score to settle with Luke Skywalker — solely for the reason that he is the rebel who blew up the Death Star. But Luke was only able to take that final shot because Han Solo intervened and blasted Vader’s Tie-Fighter out of the way. It is the dogfight of A New Hope. In Star Wars 52 we get the rematch we never knew we wanted: Han vs. Vader. Continue reading

Bruce Wayne Confronts His Assumptions (and Our Own) in Batman 52

by Drew Baumgartner

Batman 52

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!


We’ve written a lot over the years about how the disparate tones of various incarnations of Batman have created a kind of range that the character operates in. Maybe he’s light and campy, maybe he’s dark and serious. Maybe he’s a high-tech wizard, maybe he’s a low-tech sleuth. Maybe he’s a bitter loner, maybe he’s cultivating an ever-growing family of friends and allies. That range applies just as much to the look of Batman, as different character designs emphasize different aspects of his character. Is his costume scary, or silly? Is humanity obscured by his costume, or made more obvious by it? In practice, the platonic image of Batman we keep in our minds might be just as diffuse as his mood — a kind of pastiche of the designs from, say, our favorite comics runs, Batman: The Animated Series, and maybe even a few movies. High in the mix for most modern comics fans, though, must be David Mazzucchelli’s distinctively line-smart Batman: Year One, which distilled Batman down to as few brush strokes and dabs of color as possible, creating a kind of shorthand iconography for the character that perfectly suited the early-days nature of that story. It’s a style that Lee Weeks and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser evoke in Batman 52, though rather than celebrating that iconography, they’re interrogating it. Continue reading