Look, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, Patrick and Drew discuss Justice League of America 8, Green Lantern: New Guardians 24, Batman/Superman 4, A+X 13, Code Monkey Saves the World 1, Letter 44, and Fables 134.
Patrick: Let’s knock some of the big mythological issues out of the way first. Justice League of America 8, now under the pen of Matt Kindt, shows us where the Justice League has been while the world has gone to shit. Their prison — and it does appear to be a physical space, somehow — is able to take advantage of the team’s emotional weaknesses. Sometimes that means giving them exactly what they want (Shazam is struck in a world he can destroy endlessly with no consequences) and sometimes that means frustrating them (Diana’s love interests are being held captive and she’s afraid of being left alone). It’s a little bit like For The Man Who Has Everything, only with fewer fun “what if” scenarios. The issue’s not without its compelling moments, but they are far too brief and scattered, and Martian Manhunter acts as our dispassionate guide throughout. Everything is just so obviously fake and/or unattractive that it’s hard to imagine how this would be an effective mental prison for any of the heroes.
And then there’s the Stargirl problem: she’s sidelined early on. She jokes about it, but like, why the fuck is that character always told not to engage with the danger. She’s a goddamn superhero — she’ll be fine. In the final moments of the issue, she simply magicks her way out of the prison, kinda rendering the rest of the issue pointless. The whole thing is too abstract to be enjoyed literally, and to literal to be enjoyed abstractly.
The same can be said of Green Lantern: New Guardians 24. The momentum of this issue hinges around Kyle Rayner’s ability to master his emotions, and by extension, the emotional entities that inhabited him all at once. But unlike the issues 0, 12-15 of New Guardians, those emotions are only paid the vaguest lip service. Tony Bedard had previously run Kyle through the ringer to test his ability to overcome fear, or to allow himself to love, or to give himself over to rage. But Justin Jordan, the series’ current writer, seems to think it’s enough to print the text: “You master one emotion by mastering all of them. I have balance. And that is how I win.” It’s not solving a problem so much as it is announcing that a problem was solved.
That’s as good a segue as any to a story that ends with the entire casts’ memory being erased. Drew, I think we’ve both found Batman/Superman‘s virtues to be in Greg Pak’s cerebral treatment of his character as fictional icons — did you find the conclusion to this Earth-2 arc to play to those same notes?
Drew: You know, as much as I was hoping Batman/Superman 4 would conclude with some kind of mind-blowing explanation for how Clark and Bruce actually did know each other before Justice League 1, I’m actually quite happy with this conclusion. This arc (and possibly this series) is all about riffing on the relationship between Bruce and Clark, and I think bringing in the Earth-2 versions of these characters did that quite effectively, even if writer Greg Pak had to “cheat” narratively to do so. Of course, the scene where they desperately try to tell each other what to remember was incredibly effective, and there’s a hint that each character remembers something about the encounter. Pak may hit that last concept a little too squarely on the nose, bringing back the bullied kid from issue 1 twice for good measure, but I actually appreciate the perhaps overstated morality of what amounts to a dual character study. Oh, and Jae Lee’s gorgeous art makes it easy to overlook any shortcomings in the writing.
The same can decidedly not be said of the Black Widow + White Queen story in A+X 13, where the ugliness of Howard Chaykin’s story is only outpaced by the ugliness of his art. The story finds Emma asking for Natasha’s help tracking down a sex tape she made, and it only gets ickier from there, as they go on a torture-spree, eventually tracking down the guy who has it (who we know only as “Frank,” but I’m assuming is NOT the Punisher). It’s a stupid, stupid story, made worse by hideous, hideous artwork. Chaykin can only draw faces from three angles, and none of them look right, with gigantic, rubbery mouths drifting around the lower half of his characters’ faces.
The Captain America + Cyclops story fares much better, finding Scott and Steve the only confirmed humans in a hunt for a team of Skrull mutants. It’s a great rivals-become-uneasy-allies setup, deployed with Gerry Duggan’s slightly absurdist sense of humor. This is only the first of six installments of this story — and strains a bit under the exposition it’s tasked with delivering — but it sets up a premise I’m excited to return to.
Patrick: I think “uneasy allies” is being sorta generous. This is the first issue of A+X that makes me wonder if Marvel mightn’t have been better served to keep that “vs.” in the middle. I mean, the issue ends with Cyclops in handcuffs. Obviously something is going to have to change for the two of them to work together peacefully, and I love that Duggan resists the urge to give the Skrull the ability to extort them or something. Like, it’d be so easy to put the Skrull in a position where he’s essentially forcing them to work together, but the reality is that he doesn’t have any power: K’thron is at the mercy of these two. I also love the way K’thron’s exasperation mirrors my own — come on guys, just work together.
This next thing is super exciting to me in concept, but kinda falls into all the traps you might expect from it. Code Monkey Saves the World is a series written by Greg Pak and based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton. Coulton is an internet-icon of fun, catchy, geeky songs, and he has an almost supernatural gift for crafting compelling characters and worlds in his music. The comic, however, jams all of these worlds and characters together into one narrative, and the result is sort of a mess. It can totally be a fun mess — especially when you’re familiar with Coulton’s work and can spot references to his songs: “Code Monkey,” “Skull-Crusher Mountain,” “Chiron Beta Prime,” “Kenisaw Mountain Landis,” “The Future Soon” and “RE: Your Brains” all serve as fodder for this issue, with jokes and characters lifted directly from them. The cover hints at a couple more (I see “Creepy Doll” and “Octopus,” but I’m sure I’m missing some).
Takeshi Miyazawa’s art is adorable — especially when he draws the titular monkey — but I can’t get past the suspicion that I’m only enjoying this series because I get to chuckle that satisfying chuckle of recognition every-other-page. Drew, I know you don’t listen to Coulton, so I’d love to hear what this experience was like for you. Also, a word of advice to everyone: listen to Jonathan Coulton.
Drew: It’s interesting: I, too, had plenty of chuckles of recognition, but it was more from the likes of The Venture Bros. than any familiarity with the source material. I appreciate that the similarities are from similar pop-culture parentage than any more direct influence, but it’s hard to not get that familiar feeling when seeing Skullcrusher Island squatting in suburban California. It’s got zany charm in spades, but I’m not sure there’s anything else to it.
Letter 44, on the other hand seems all about the ideas. The issue finds the 44th president of the United States presented with a surprise on inauguration day: NASA discovered alien activity in our solar system 7 years ago, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were simply a cover for funding a manned mission to make first contact. It’s a heady premise, but Charles Soule attacks it from both sides, introducing the situation from the new President’s perspective while also giving us a glimpse inside that space mission — which is in sight of their destination just as this premiere issue ends. There’s enough exposition to crowd out any serious character development, but the ideas introduced are more than enough to keep me coming back. Soule peppers a number of surprises throughout the issue I’d hate to spoil, so I’ll simply recommend this to anyone who’s ever been intrigued by a conspiracy theory (even if not necessarily won over by it).
A first issue is a pretty low-risk commitment (not to mention a logical jumping-on point) for a series, but where do you start with a title in the triple digits? At the Vertigo panel at NYCC, Executive Editor Shelly Bond suggested that Fables 134 was a great place to start, so we thought we’d pick it up cold. It’s certainly an unusual place to start — picking up with two characters meeting in the afterlife — but it was surprisingly effective. I had just enough information for the emotional moments to work, but still left (at least a part of) me wanting to dig into all 133 back issues. Were you as won over by this issue as I was, Patrick?
Patrick: Oh absolutely. What a remarkable issue to serve as an entry point to Fables: the whole point of the issue is that “life” — whatever that means — goes on through different worlds and different permutations, on and on into infinity. It’s fitting then that the characters we spend time with in this issue are Little Boy Blue and the Big Bad Wolf. I’m certain those characters have rich story arcs in the rest of the series, but even a n00b like me can recognize them from fairy tales. The way Blue refers to Bigsby as “a god” is so appropriate. These characters occupy cultural space larger than even superheroes and they simply never die. It’s a beautiful meditation on the longevity of these fictional characters, and it’s incredibly calming to image that the same holds true for the rest of us.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?