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, Drew and Patrick discuss Nova 9, Rocketeer/The Spirit: Pulp Friction 2, Indestructible Hulk 14, Justice League Dark 24, Red Lanterns 24, Talon 10, Velvet 1, and Unwritten 54.
Drew: With neither an Infinity nor Avengers title out this week, things were pretty light on the Infinity front. Thunderbolts 17 revealed that its current arc may be more linked to the events of Infinity than we initially suspected, but Nova 9 find Sam very much still on the periphery of the event. He squares off against the honor-obsessed Kaldera — apparently the only soldier Thanos’ army can spare for the task — but like Mal Reynolds and Atherton Wing, Indiana Jones and that sword wielding guy from that scene in Raiders, or even Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, Sam is able to be just unscrupulous enough to cheat and win. The issue unceremoniously puts Kaldera on ice (but plants the seed for her to return down the line, possibly with a tag line suggesting the personal nature of that eventuality), effectively eliminating the threat Thanos’ invasion posed to Carefree, AZ. But it also ingratiates Speedball and Justice to Sam, making their team-up seem a little more likely. This series still has some of it’s annoying tics, but it’s largely minimized them without losing any of its charms.
Speaking of charming series, this week finally saw the release of Mark Waid’s Rocketeer/The Spirit: Pulp Friction 2, with Loston Wallace on pencils. The issue introduces a shadowy figure behind the big bad, and gives us just enough to suggest that it might be Cliff’s trusty sidekick, Peevy. The issue also finds Waid crossing his love quadrangle, this time finding a more mutual connection between Ellen and Cliff. This issue effectively reminded me of what I liked so much about the first one, but with such a long delay between the two, it’s hard for it to build much momentum. The issue also suffers a bit from Paul Smith’s absence — Wallace acquits himself well enough on pencils, but it’s tough to follow the top-billed act. What do you think, Patrick, did the long wait or artistic change cool your opinion on this issue at all?
Patrick: It’s always a bummer when you have to wait two months between issues, but it’s an even bigger bummer when it’s between the first and second issues. Still, I like the way the themes of freedom of the media carried over to the second issue — in the intervening months, I’d forgotten that there was kind of a heady historical concept at the heart of this team-up. There’s a lot of talk about the power of the Television as some kind of miraculous super-invention, but there’s very little of the knowing nudges that usually goes along with that sort of hindsight-enabled foreshadowing. It’s just sorta honest and exciting. I do have one quibble with a boner joke…
Speaking of a total lack of self control (and also Mark Waid, but I like my boner-transition better), shit is just getting out of control of Indestructible Hulk. It’s all poor Banner-bot can to do keep up with Hulk as he slips through time and transforms to reflect various versions of the Hulk. I’m pretty new to following Hulk comics, but I wasn’t aware of the fact that people love to make that fucking character play dress-up and express some ultra-angry variant on historical archetypes. Waid is kind enough to introduce me to both the Gangster persona — Mr. Fix-It — and Gladiator (who needs no explanation). By the end of the issue, Waid doubles down on both the funky absurdity of time-travel AND the concept of multiple versions of Hulk, by bringing the Banner-Bot/Hulk pairing to the site of Bruce Banner’s original transformation. It’s a handy bit of insane circumstance, but the result is an extra-Bannery Banner, and something I can only describe as Double-Hulk. Drew, I felt like this issue may have pushed beyond the veil of weird for me, but then that last page reveal of a Hulked-Out-Hulk had me second-guessing my limits.
Drew: Double-Hulk is one of the most absurd concepts I can think of. He’s what happens when Hulk gets mad? A kind of “You won’t like him when he’s angry”? Do they need some kind of Hulk-puppy bomb to cool him down to regular Hulk before deploying the regular puppy bomb to cool him down to Banner? It’s deliciously ridiculous — like if Batman put a second cowl on over the first, becoming Batman-man or something.
Speaking of masks-on-masks, Justice League Dark 24 pulls a bizarre triple-feint as Constantine recovers from the conclusion of the Trinity War. The House of Mystery pulled John to safety at the last minute, but is now taking him on a journey of human suffering. Or is it? It turns out, Constantine just has some bad mojo left over from handling Pandora’s box, but he’s able to get rid of that negativity with the help of the manifestation of his memories of Zatana. Or is it? Actually, it’s the Nightmare Nurse, a character who seems to have some history with Constantine. This issue is largely about Constantine’s history in the New 52, finding him unusually open about his relationship with Zatana. J.M. DeMatteis writes a much more emotionally naked Constantine than Jeff Lemire or Ray Fawkes, and I’m not sure it fits the character. Patrick, were you as jarred by Constantine’s “I’ve let myself love you for too long,” as I was?
Patrick: I would add that it’s also weird to see Constantine surprised by the actions of the House of Mystery. I know that thing has plenty of tricks up its sleeves (or whatever the house-equivelant thereof is), but it’s plain out of character for Constantine to be so off-guard. Generally, I like DeMatteis just fine, but I think this series has quickly gone from a must-buy to an idle curiosity.
Red Lanterns 24, on the other hand, proves itself to be one of the more vital components of the Lights Out crossover event. Last we saw our Green Lanterns they were shit-out-of-luck, and about to turn to the lowest of the low, the ragiest space zombies of the DC Universe: the Red Lanterns. The Reds are having their own internal debate — as they are wont to do — because Guy Gardner just outed himself as a spy for Hal Jordan. It’s a bold move for the character to make, and backed by even bolder motivation: he wants to be honest with the Reds. Charles Soule is playing Guy’s desire to be the leader of the Red Lanterns with total sincerity, and it’s hard not to believe that Guy’s found a home that accepts all of his flaws rather than one that is willing to work around them. Artist Alessandro Vitti takes no specific pleasure in sexualizing Bleez, which I recognize as faint praise, but the poor girl has such a shitty history of being drawn by assholes, and it’s refreshing to see her panels staged like she’s a human being, and not just a set of tits and a ridiculous ass.
The whole thing is still in service of setting up one final brawl between the Lanterns and Relic, but at least Soule has the decency to trick me into thinking I care about these characters. And if that’s not enough, he makes sure to check in on Atrocitus and Dex Starr, as if he just wants to make sure I’m having a good time. I am, buddy: I am.
Talon 12 also spends much of its time marching its heroes and villains towards a thrilling final showdown. And while the issue itself is pretty cool, and actually lets the good guys build some momentum for the first time ever, I got hung up on some of the dumber points of continuity. Before Forever Evil even started, we saw one of the Secret Society dudes contact Bane, within the pages of this series. Then those events are carried forward through both the Bane villain book and Arkham War, but Bane’s invasion — as it’s presented in issue 12 — bears no resemblance to the what we’ve already seen. For one thing: Batman is there. Like, just there being cool. It might make sense that Calvin is ignoring all of Bane’s nonsense because Felix Harmon is on the loose, and that motherfucker is crazy, but no one seems concerned that the moon is out of orbit or that the Arkham inmates are ruling the city. It’s a dumb complaint, I know: continuity is a fickle thing. I like to think that Calvin’s confession to Batman of “I’m a crappy superhero” is a nod to that failure to fit into what’s going on in-Universe at the moment.
Drew: There was a lot of talk this week comparing the premiers of Velvet and Pretty Deadly; in addition to being published on the same date by the same publisher, both feature killer creative teams and badass leading women. However, much more specific parallels can be found between Velvet and Lazarus; both are written by Gotham Central alums, both feature their leading ladies going up against the organizations that created them — heck, both even open with detached voiceover accompanying silent violence. Velvet is far from a clone, however, and it’s premise is absolutely killer: what if Ms. Moneypenny went rogue? Enter Velvet Templeton, the secretary for the head of a top-top-secret spy organization. Ed Brubaker lulls us into Velvet’s day-to-day administrative work, but things kick into high gear when she’s framed for the murder of another agent. Brubaker only hints at what VIolet might be capable of, but it’s clear that it would be a mistake to underestimate her. It’s a thrilling first issue — one that sets the stage without giving away the whole show — making this series one to watch.
Patrick: And on the opposite end of that beginning/end spectrum comes The Unwritten 54, which closes off the Unwritten / Fables pseudo-cross-over. Both series essentially spring from the same idea — what if every story you’ve ever been told represents a reality? As this arc draws to a close, the question folds back upon itself in the most upsetting way: what if every time a story ended, a world ended? Our sorta-hero Tom is able to borrow a deus-ex-machina from another story and apply it to this one. (As a side note, it’s incredibly cool that the characters in this story are able to show agency in selecting a deus-ex-machina, rendering the cheapness of the device irrelevant.) But as Tom beats back his enemy’s armies, his friends (with several Fables among them) lie dead in the streets. The story ends, but we stick around for an extra page or so, to read writer Mike Carey’s words against a white page:
Who is it that stands around, in the wake of Armageddon, and says, “well, that lacked nuance?” Me, apparently. […] I heard another story once. Even more implausible than this one. I was in it, and you were too. Every last one of you. If it’s not finished yet — if the page is still folded over where I left of reading — then I have to find my way back there. I’ve got work to do.
It’s a beautiful tip of the hat, and a knowing grin that we will see Tommy Taylor again next time – new story, new world, new experience.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?