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 Hulk 4, Uncanny X-Men Special 1, Shutter 3, Starlight 4, Green Lantern Corps 32, and Justice League United 2.
Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad
Drew: Comic book readers are pretty permissive when it comes to explaining away absurd nonsense. I mean, the starting point of most issues is that there’s a nearly impervious guy from a made up planet flying around Earth, or a guy who turns into the unjolly green giant every time he stubs his toe, which I think requires a pretty high tolerance. Of course, in order to give those absurd heroes a conflict that could last a whole issue, many writers have resorted to even more absurd problems, which in turn require even more absurd solutions, requiring even more absurd problems, devolving into an arms race of comic book nonsense that punishes any investment in it. Or, if you ad a plus nonsense absurdity to a minus nonsense absurdity, you aren’t left with all that much. I’ve never had a great word for this phenomenon, but going forward, I might just call it “Hulk 4.”
I know that sounds harsh, but after bending over backwards to give Hulk permanent brain damage — and emphasizing exactly how permanent it was — this issue cures it with what amounts to magic, allowing characters and technology heretofore unmentioned to serve a whopping deus ex machina. Writer Mark Waid is clearly setting up some kind of long-term fallout from said magic nonsense, but the more salient effect is the feeling that any problem from here on out can be solved with some clever hand-waving and digging into Marvel’s extensive history for whatever magic potion is needed this month. This solution would play better if Extremis had been set up in the story at all, but as it stands, it feels more like a protracted solution to an even more protracted problem.
Hey, speaking of protracted problems, Uncanny X-Men Special 1 finds the team reeling after Scott is captured by bounty hunters in a goofy case of mistaken identity. Writer Sean Ryan manages to make those bounty hunters — the primary source of conflict — some of the funniest lines in the issue. It sounds counter-intuitive, but leaves the kids to feel the reality of the situation as their mentor is violently dragged off. That’s not to say the kids don’t also get some laughs — indeed, the tone here is refreshingly light for this dourest of X-Men teams. Ryan finds another gear for these characters as Benjamin and Irma set to infiltrate S.W.O.R.D., utilizing basically none of their skills.
Patrick, this thing charmed my pants off, reminding me for all the world of the All-New X-Men Special, which also afforded that team’s teens the opportunity to get out on their own and show off their personalities a bit. I know you liked that one — did this work as well for you?
Patrick: Yeah, I thought it was cute too. I like these kind of side stories that occupy a trilogy of special issues. They’re not quite of continuity, but they’re also not quite out of continuity. Drew mentioned the All-New X-Men Special, which kicked off the Arms of the Octopus story (that threaded through Superior Spider-Man Team Up and Indestructible Hulk). This story is called “No End In Sight” and is handily labeled as part 1 of 3. I haven’t seen the solicitations, but I’m guessing the other installments will bear the names Nova and Iron Man. I’ve all but dropped both of those series, so this is a fun little invitation to revisit them. I will RSVP in the affirmative.
There’s an ominously less-inviting party going on in the pages of Shutter 3, as Kate heads back to her father’s house for safety, only to find that her heretofore unknown siblings are already there. I still don’t totally understand the world of Shutter, but I think that’s entirely by design. There are so many nods to works and genres of fiction throughout, but I can’t really put my finger on the common thread. It’s not so simple as Fables, where you can trace everyone back to a some kind of folk tale. The best example is the cold open which explores the life of the down-on-his-luck worm who took the job to bomb Kate’s apartment. It’s a totally unnecessary bit of characterization, but it goes a long way towards realizing a world that resists definition. I mean, monsters and skeleton butlers demons – I get all that – once you throw in a Richard Scarry-esque world, suddenly I’m tossed out of my precious comfort zone.
It’s a wonderful way to keep this magical world from being rote and mundane, which is exceptionally difficult when I’m so used to reading these kinds of metafiction worlds like those of Fables or The Unwritten.
Where Shutter seems to be creating a more interesting world with each issue, I sorta feel like the opposite is happening in Starlight 4. Partially, this steams from Mark Millar’s insistence on explaining every new development in the story. When Duke and his cadre of captives escape to the to the resistance’s headquarters, there are a couple cool things that are introduced: the wormhole between the capital and the Kingdom of the Wood Giants, and the skeletons of the Wood Giants themselves. There’s no opportunity for the mystique of either to set in before we read a well-reasoned account of what it all is. I suppose that’s fitting with the theme of the series — that legendary space heroes are better off admired from a distance — but it left me wanting a bit more ambiguity.
Drew: You know, maybe it’s just because I’m comparing it to the Flash Gordon movie, but I’m totally willing to forgive any and all of this series campy excesses. Like, the emotional beat where Krish bares his motives didn’t quite land for me, but it felt clumsy in a very genre appropriate way. I’m willing to accept that this attitude is permissive to the point of uselessness — this series can basically do no wrong in my mind — but I’ll be damned if I’m not having fun. Indeed, that final page reveal of a spy in the resistance’s midst had me audibly gasping. I can’t wait for more.
Actually, Van Jensen attempts a similar twist in Green Lantern Corps 32, revealing the Corps’ race to stop the Durlans from reaching Daxam has proven utterly futile. It’s kind of a crushing moment — followed quickly by the reveal that the Durlans are one step ahead of the Lanterns’ next move as well: they’ve already made it back to Zezzen to affix their form as Daxamites. It’s a neat reveal, but it makes the Durlans’ motives a bit less clear. If they see themselves as liberators, why go through this whole Invasion of the Body Snatchers replacement scheme? The thought of the Durlans wanting their own planet, or to live peacefully on others’ planets, has all kinds of interesting geopolitical parallels, but turning them into an invading force seems like a missed opportunity.
Patrick: I suppose it’s a missed opportunity, but we’ve pretty well established at this point that the Durlans are just bad-to-the-core villains. Even in their desire to “liberate the universe” from the Green Lanterns, they have absolutely no sense of scope or morality. Jensen almost explicitly lays this out when the big ugly lead Durlan compares their takeover of Daxam with John letting Xanshi blow up all those years ago. First of all, Stewart’s never gonna catch a break for that, is he? But also, John’s totally right when protests that the two are nothing alike. My point is that the Durlans have their eventual defeat coming.
From Daxam to Zezzen, back down to Rann, let’s wrap up by discussing the latest chapter in the opening saga of the Justice League United. Our heroes realize that being transported to Rann doesn’t solve their problem of being attacked by a 50 foot tall, matter-shifting monster, and they continue to slug it out with him. They’re joined first by Supergirl — a non-Red Lanterned Supergirl — and second by some native Rannians. The Rannians slap stasis fields around everyone and explain that they pulled the JLU here to help them secure the Ultra, which is that tentacle-baby we met last time. I like the idea that his super-baby — made from the DNA of creatures all throughout the universe — should Unite the Clans, but ultimately ends up becoming the ultimate threat. It’s a stance against homogeny, which fits in nicely with Lemire’s insistence on inclusion. At least theoretically – I know she’s technically not a human being, but adding Supergirl to the team does just add another blonde to the line-up (we’re up to five!). Our Cree friend is still back on Earth, and her developments are relegated to an easily forgotten prologue. I’m starting to think that’s all just table setting for introducing the character properly after this first arc wraps.