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 Pretty Deadly 5, Private Eye 6, Red Sonja 8, Red Sonja and Cub Magneto 2, Black Widow 5, and Swamp Thing 30.
Drew: We like thinking about comics on this site — it’s literally the only reason it exists — which often predisposes us to patience. We’re willing to put the time in to unpack a dense work of art or give creators the benefit of the doubt that this will all pay off because we know how rewarding those experiences can be. That patience means we may be willing to wait a little longer for answers — heck, it may mean we actually like waiting for answers — but there’s a point of diminishing returns on ambiguity. Indeed, the bliss of ignorance can obscure the conflict necessary to drive a narrative. Or, put another way: is it possible to appreciate a solution if we never understood the problem?
That’s an unfortunate question to be asking on the brink of an ultimate showdown, but confusion continues to carry the day in Pretty Deadly 5. Never mind that the whos and whats and whys of this story have never been distinct enough for me to keep straight (I accept that that may be a personal limitation), the showdown here fails to be engaging because it’s never clear who or what is at stake. “The soul of the world” is thrown around as some kind of secret MacGuffin, but is abstract beyond reason, and the issue never seems interested in repercussions beyond the small ensemble of the series. That kind of parlor drama would be fine if there were any personal stakes, but those fail to materialize as well. We may understand Sissy’s ascension to the mantle of death as some kind of ultimate sacrifice, but since she has no discernable personality (and because everyone she knows is apparently already dead, anyway), it takes on all of the seriousness we expect of a four-year-old.
The Bones Bunny framing device becomes both too on-the-nose and too oblique, as we see one snake hoping to take advantage after another two finish fighting. It’s an obvious enough parable, only we don’t have enough context to guess who any of the snakes might be. Is it Death and Ginny that are fighting, and Sissy is the third snake? Or maybe Beauty is the third snake, since she ultimately kills Death? There aren’t clean parallels to any action here, making no option better than any other, effectively rendering that symbolism as white noise in an already noisy issue.
On the opposite end of the exposition spectrum, Private Eye 6 goes beyond simply making itself clear to us, drawing almost all of the characters closer to the answers they’re looking for. P.I. and Raveena’s interrogation of the guy from the tubes goes well, pointing them in the direction of Nebular — the squid-mask guy who has been helping DeGuerre with his missile. Er, rocket. It’s meant to deliver a satellite, not a bomb. Anyway, Nebular needs a computer to guide the dang thing to orbit, so DeGuerre agrees to drive him to his house…where P.I. and Raveena are already lying in wait. A good bit of real estate is given over to DeGuerre’s hit men’s mostly botched attempt to kidnap Melanie (who it looks like is going to pull through just fine), effectively drawing Strunk closer to answers, too, but it’s hard to think of much else with Raveena getting her game face on. I mean, come on, you can almost hear her racking that shotgun!
Patrick: For real: I know it’s always been a more personal story for her, but Raveena actively takes the spotlight from P.I. in this issue. She’s the one kicking in doors and brandishing shotguns, and she’s the one with real skin in the game. Like, we have this abstract concept of the internet returning, but that’s almost too big to make personal. (What’s more, while our characters are scared of the internet, we — the readers — love the internet.) It’s hard to frame that endgame in way that matters to our characters specifically, and while Vaughan has laid some good groundwork with P.I.’s burned out grandfather, the return of the internet is still a largely impersonal threat. Bonus points for continually using the term “TeeVee.”
Gail Simone and Walter Geovani’s Red Sonja 8 strikes a classic balance of Sonja as half id, half noble warrior as she continues her quest to recruit the seven finest artists. Sonja’s pretty good at collecting people, but the problem is that she has to cart her collection along with her everywhere she goes, and Sonja is not much of a social creature. She’s got nothing positive to say about Gribaldi (the cook from the previous issue), and even when she decides that she does need him for something — sex — she’s totally graceless when she asks for it. That’s such a fascinating scene, and one that would mostly play as horrific if their gender roles were reversed. Ultimately, it shows how good Sonja herself is at keeping her conflicting impulses in balance. This idea sorta comes back at the end of the issue when Sonja shows mercy towards the young Beast Lord, and rescues her instead of killing her. Unfortunately, the end of the issue is way too bogged down in reversals and twists to let that moment ring out with any emotional honesty, but the first half of the issue is a charming look at Sonja.
Also, boy was I surprised to see a second Red Sonja issue in my pull this week: Jim Zub and Jonathan Lau’s Red Sonja and Cub. I complained about these extra Sonja titles a few weeks ago — but pointedly didn’t learn my lesson. This is actually a much more exciting issue than Berzerker, from a few months back, due in no small part to Lau’s haunting, atmospheric artwork. I have my quibbles with the way both Zub and Lau depict Sonja as overly gentle and feminine, but there’s no denying the power of the images of Sonja and Kazuko crossing the country.
One thing that struck me about both of these Red Sonja stories is how well they tell complete stories. There’s something about Sonja’s nomadic existence that lends itself incredibly well to episodic adventuring. Sure, issue 8 was the second issue in a very clearly defined story arc, but the beginning would make an easy entry point, and the end feels conclusive. And then, just like that, Sonja’s on to the next one!
Moving on to the next one: Black Widow 5! While we’re still on the same case as last issue, the threads that Natasha is pulling on start to reveal a plot much greater than one silly Hammer of God. In fact, Molot Boga gets chewed up by an airplane engine halfway through the issue. Thematically, this story stays close to the idea that quality of information is the true mark of a good spy. It’s not about sneaking around, or being good with guns, or seducing creepos (though, those are all very useful), it’s about having the best, most timely information. I really like seeing Natasha fail a little bit because her intel is slightly too old, or just not specific enough to be useful.
Drew: And it’s so easy to be frustrated along with her. The Hammer of God blowing up a whole airliner to kill one man totally fits his M.O. from last time — but wait, there’s only one passenger? Who kills himself before offering any information? Good thing Natasha’s mysterious friend Tori Raven is able to drop in with exactly the information she needs, apparently just for the fun of it. It seems too good to be true, and sure enough, it turns out to be a setup. It seems a little cheap to use Tori to betray our trust, since we just met her, and trusted her because we assumed Natasha does, but then again, it would be a little cheap if she also just had all of the answers. Fortunately, Nathan Edmondson splits the difference, making Tori at once too convenient and too inconvenient, mostly leaving me intrigued (ha).
Magneto 2 finds our titular hero gleaning lessons from a particular episode in the Warsaw ghetto, where one of his friends gave up information on another in a futile attempt to save his own life. The lesson throughout the issue is “trust no one,” or even “humanity is the worst,” as we learn that the robo-man from last time was picked up from a tent community, and that the community leaders had allowed abductions of their own people in order to stay alive. The story seems to set up Magneto as an arbiter of good and evil largely outside of these betrayals, but by the issue’s end, he’s the one holding the gun and asking for information. That is, the role of the Nazis from his flashback. It’s a dark reveal, played perfectly by writer Cullen Bunn and artiest Gabriel Hernandez, who manage to stave off that ironic twist until the very last panel.
Not to be outdone, Charles Soule has a few surprises of his own in Swamp Thing 30, which finds Alec under the gun to locate his body. Vandal Savage points him (and Capucine, used to great effect) towards the old temple of the Sureen in Bangalore, India. Only, the Sureen are all but extinct — and clearly had nothing to do with the group that stole his body. Soule hits the breaks in Bangalore, allowing Alec to slow down and get to know the last Sureen’s “colleague,” who may be some kind of similarly displaced avatar of fungus. Or something? Any better guesses on that ending, Patrick?
Patrick: Yeah, why the hell wouldn’t there be an avatar of fungus? It’s a completely different Kingdom than both plants and animals… though, you could argue that the Rot would be just as adept at representing fungi, and it raises the questions of where the Avatar of Bacteria is. Vandal does make a point of calling the Sureen “elemental worshipers” and not just servants of the green, so Miki could reasonably be anything.
Jesus Saiz does some absolutely beautiful work in this issue. That sexy sparring sequence between Capucine and Vandal Savage is expertly coreographed. I usually find the idea of characters getting sexual fulfillment through acts of violence to be… well, dumb if not outright upsetting. But Saiz uses just the right amount of subtly fantastic acrobatics to make the whole thing feel appropriately sensual. Oh, and then there are Lady Weed’s tatts – basically perfect, right Shelby?