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, Spencer, Patrick and Drew discuss Teen Titans Earth One V.1, Elektra 8, Deadpool 37, Loki: Agent of Asgard 8, Spider-Woman 1, New Avengers 26, Universe! 1, Bob’s Burgers 4, Superman/Wonder Woman 13, Batman/Superman 16, Batman Eternal 33, Wonder Woman 36, Justice League 36, and Intersect 1
Spencer: To say that I’m a big Teen Titans fan is a severe understatement. It was the animated series that motivated me to start checking out Teen Titans comics, which, in turn, pulled me into reading monthlies via Geoff Johns’ run on the title and its influence on Infinite Crisis. Sadly, though, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a Titans book I could really sink my teeth into, which is why the announcement of Jeff Lemire and Terry and Rachel Dodson’s Teen Titans Earth One graphic novel got me so excited. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time, and fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint.
Lemire shows a clear understanding of the Titans he features (Cyborg, Beast Boy, Terra, Jericho, Raven and Starfire), giving them all distinct voices and personalities and playing them off each other in just the right ways to not only ramp up tension but also help forge their fledgling friendships. It’s obvious that he holds a great deal of respect for the classic Teen Titans runs that came before his, but fortunately, Lemire doesn’t try to retell those same stories; while there’s enough Easter Eggs to please even the most hardcore Titans fan, Lemire makes the plot of Volume One something entirely his own. The Dodson’s art is in similarly new territory; their style has evolved into something far more cartoony than what we’ve seen from the them in the past, and it perfectly suits the youth of these characters and the energy of the book.
This volume’s greatest strength is also my one disappointment with it (besides Deathstroke’s bizarre new design): it left me wanting more. By the time this volume ends the team has barely assembled, not yet even taking up the costumes we see them wearing on the cover. There’s so much of their story left to tell, and I suspect it’s going to be a long, painful wait until I can get the next volume of this in my hands. Here’s hoping we finally get some other worthwhile Titans stories in the meantime.
Elektra 8 also features something I’ve been waiting a long time for: the return of Mike Del Mundo on art! Hayden Blackman gives Del Mundo some glorious scenes to draw — including an absolutely psychedelic battle, flying magical ninjas, and even a dragon! — and his return reinvigorates this title. That said, I enjoyed the story just as much this month; I greatly appreciate the respect between Elektra and Maria Hill and the fact that both are smart enough to talk to each other and negotiate instead of thinking with their fists. It’s a refreshing change of pace from how their confrontation would have played out in almost any other title, and it’s 100% the right choice: both of these women are professionals and Blackman is wise to present them that way. Elektra’s pursuit of the Hand could lead her almost anywhere to practically any kind of threat, and based on this issue, I’m confident it will be handled smartly and look phenomenal.
The Axis tie-ins are still going full-swing over in Deadpool 37, where Doctor Doom and Scarlet Witch’s attack has flipped Wade’s moral compass, turning him into a pacifist. Yes, Deadpool of all people is a pacifist, and it’s just as funny as it sounds:
This is also a Thanksgiving issue, and there’s some interesting observations to be made about the fact that the wonderful and expansive new family Wade has built over the last 37 issues seems disappointed by this gentler new Deadpool; for all their gripes about Wade’s insane, murderous ways, they actually seem to miss that version of Wade now that it’s gone. This is really just an exaggerated version of the problem Wade’s been facing for months now: he’s taken on so many new roles and responsibilities that, no matter what he does, he’s letting someone he cares about down. The real Deadpool is disgusted by his new pacifistic self, but even he’s got to be a little bummed that his seemingly finding peace has made his friends and family feel so uncomfortable around him.
Patrick: Yeah, I’ll also hold my hand up as someone who’s a little uncomfortable around Zenpool. While I don’t think very highly of this whole Axis concept, at least Duggan and Posehn are attempting to leverage Wade’s radically altered personality as a dimension of the character worth exploring. It may not be revolutionary, but still having access to the Old Wade in the form of reflections and VO boxes grounds what could otherwise be an alienating exercise in different-for-different-sake comic book nonsense. Also, there’s a precedent in this series for that kind of inner monologue — as when Preston’s spirit was trapped inside Deadpool’s body — and I’m hopeful Duggan and Posehn can make some Superior Deadpool references that can lambast these sorts of changes elsewhere in the Marvel Universe.
Speaking of those same kinds of changes, Loki: Agent of
Asgard Axis 8 finds a newly reformed Loki attempting to reorient his team as good guys. To be crass: the issue is a little bit of a snoozer. The three-and-a-half page scene in the middle where Loki and Amora explain their new alignments to their friends brings an already-slow narrative to a wordy, unnecessary halt. But I’m mostly interested in the panel that immediately follows it:
This is the same old Old Loki that’s been haunting this series since the first issue. He remains unchanged, and even laughs off the idea that Loki could ever really change. It’s a nice suggestion that all of this scruple-shuffling is arbitrary and temporary to the point of absurdity. And absurdity is exactly where writer Al Ewing stages most of this issue; how else would you explain Loki’s need to take out a crew made up of four supervillain jugglers? The rest of the issue feels thematically heavier, as Verity dwells on the feeling that Loki has betrayed her friendship, Lorelei and Sigurd rob a bank, and the Odinson brothers are pitted against each other. That’s all played relatively straight-faced (other than Loki superfluously turning into a unicorn to chase his brother), but I’m hoping the next issue will play each of these conflicts with a light sense of humor to remind us all of how dumb this whole thing is in the first place.
I’ve read some weird first issues before, but I don’t recall the last time I read a #1 that was as confused about its own purpose as Spider-Woman 1. The issue spins directly out of Amazing Spider-Man 10, and would hardly make sense to anyone interested in dropping in on the Jessica Drew character without a passing knowledge of (or intimate familiarity with) Spider-Verse. While Jessica is technically in every scene, it feels like writer Dennis Hopeless is more excited to play with the other tools in the Spider kit, finding time to feature, Spider-Man Noir, Black Cat Noir, Silk, Spider-Gwen, the Inheritors, Anya, Spider-Man, and all the same inter-dimensional hopping you’ve come to expect of Spider-Verse. I currently have zero idea what this series will be without all of those event trappings. Even as a part of the event, it does little more than to reinforce the idea that Silk is hysterical child, whose every action endangers everyone else. You can complain about that booty-booty booty-booty-booty cover all you want, there’s much more troubling sexism in the constant (and line-wide) portrayal of Silk as a selfish, clueless ditz.
Drew: I’ll disagree with you a bit on Silk’s characterization — she’s impulsive, sure, but I actually think Peter Parker would have done the exact same thing if he had been in her shoes. Actually, the characterization I enjoyed the least here is Peter’s (the one from Earth-616) — who the heck uses the word “jocular” in conversation? I think Hopeless has a better handle on Jessica’s voice, which comes across as downright world-weary when it comes to this mission. Which kind of begs the question: why is there a mission at all? If their goal is to protect Silk at all costs, wouldn’t their best bet be to hide her away in their safehouse that is Earth-13? I thought they were maybe lost and I just missed it, but when Peter (again, from Earth-616) shows up, it’s really not clear why he doesn’t just bring them all to the one place they actually know the inheritors can’t get them.
Whatever happened to the Golden Avenger? Well, it turns out that the story of where Tony’s been since the start of the time jump isn’t as exciting as we might have thought. Indeed, New Avengers 26 reveals that he’s been sitting in the cube-shaped cell he was keeping Black Swan in prior to her escape. There’s some intrigue as to Swan’s actual philosophical beliefs — apparently, she still fosters some hope of the Incursions ending — but the real story here is Tony’s refusal to admit that he may be even the least bit fallible. Black Widow and Spider-Woman, abandoning Steve’s cause as “too righteous for the times,” sneak into the Wakandan compound where Tony’s being held, but stop short of rescuing him when it becomes clear he’d go right back to doing what he’s always done — Nat and Jess are looking for a way out of this war, not a way to exacerbate it. It’s a story of how conflicting ideologies under pressure can spoil friendships, made all the more salient by the alternative solution Bobby has posited.
If all of that grimness isn’t your style, Panel Syndicate’s new Universe! provides a refreshingly light take on the fate of the universe, putting it in the hands of a peeved employee of a greedy furniture and housewares company. It takes the familiar story of an employee’s passive aggressive reaction to being given an unreasonable task, stretching it to epic proportions, mixing in sly commentaries on corporate greed and the drones ultimately tasked with making that greed a reality. It’s the first work I’ve seen from Albert Monteys, who handles both writing and art here, as well as the first new addition to Panel Syndicate’s publishing line since they launched in 2013, but I’m utterly charmed. For being so incredibly zany, it’s a fairly straightforward story, though Monteys adds just enough chronological wrinkles to keep the momentum going.
Spencer: I think what impresses me the most about Universe! is how inventive and fully realized its setting is; Monteys goes into little detail about the various technology that exists in the future, but the peeks he does give us, even if it’s just background shots, does wonders in fleshing out this world. In this issue Monteys deftly mixes sci-fi concepts with topical commentary, zany humor, and genuine pathos, and it’s a joy to read. There’s even a sweet afterward from Monteys himself that helps to emphasize how this comic can only exist because of Panel Syndicate’s unique distribution model. They’re two for two — count me in for anything Panel Syndicate releases from now on.
Last month we had rather strong opinions — both good and bad — about Bob’s Burgers. Issue four manages to land right in the middle of those two extremes; nothing hits the glorious heights of that Louise story from issue three, but it also avoids most of the sloppiness of that issue (Louise’s story still has some cheap-looking lettering, but it’s nothing as egregious as last time).
While I laughed the most at Tina’s story this month, it’s Gene’s that struck me as the most improved. Previous installments have played the “musical” motif quite loosely, often coming across as typical Bob’s Burgers stories except everyone is talking in rhyme; while the rhyming this month isn’t the strongest, in every other way this story full embraces the spirit of musicals, with layouts and dialogue that absolutely capture the energy of song and dance.
So this is a pretty significant week for everyone’s favorite Amazon, as both of Wonder Woman’s spotlight titles debut new creative teams. Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke have the honor of taking over Superman/Wonder Woman with issue 13, and on paper it seems like a great idea: Mahnke has extensive experience with both characters thanks to all his time working on Justice League and JLA, and Tomasi’s been building a “team-up book” pedigree for over three years now. For some reason, though, it just doesn’t work. Superman’s characterization is pretty decent, but Diana spends 99% of the issue being needlessly angry, either nagging Clark or complaining about humans being too weak. Wonder Woman is supposed to be an embodiment of love, but there’s no love to be found in these pages, just a cold, bitter, angry Amazon. Diana deserves better.
Another team-up book fares better: Batman/Superman 16 puts Superman up against a “Joker,” a villain as deranged and unpredictable as Batman’s arch-foe, but with access to technology even Superman can’t comprehend. I do find it a bit hard to believe Superman’s never faced a villain like this before — he’s fought the actual Joker — but I can look past that nagging doubt because of how well writer Greg Pak explores the strain this kind of threat is putting on Clark’s psyche. There’s one line that particularly struck me: Batman is explaining just what it’s like to be locked in eternal struggle with the Joker, and Clark simply admits “I don’t want to be like you, Bruce.” Batman replies, “Neither do I.” That’s what villains like the Joker do — they change people until they can no longer recognize themselves, until they become something they never wanted to be. I suppose you could make the argument that this is just another attempt to take Superman in a darker, edgier direction, but I think there’s still time for Clark’s inherent goodness to shine through. After all, this title is all about contrast, so Superman certainly doesn’t have to handle things the way Batman does.
Over in Batman Eternal 33 Batman is handling Hush’s attacks on his weapon caches by enlisting Julia Pennyworth to help him take them out. Julia proves herself a worthy ally, but Alfred fears for her; she doesn’t know the city the way Bruce or the Robins do, and sure enough, Gotham decides to knock her down a few pegs by pitting her against Hush. This is another issue that feels a bit slight, with its big action scene focused on Batman’s decidedly one-sided fight against a GCPD SWAT agent Hush had been talking up a few pages before. Either Hush is severely underestimating Batman or he’s purposely trying to screw over Jason Bard, which, considering the tension between Hush and Bard earlier in the issue, could very well be what’s happening here.
Drew: It’s always a challenge to follow a beloved, character-defining run, so while I tried my hardest to go into Wonder Woman 36, with low expectations, it failed to live up to even those. This issue featured all of the problems folks feared — including David Finch’s apparent inability to draw adult women without giving them the heads of 12-year-old girls — plus a whole new array of problems I never even considered. The writing is abysmally bad, replacing Brian Azzarello’s careful studies of modern feminism with a literal old crone that distrusts all men, and featuring a meditation on the duality of water that feels like it was lifted from a high school essay. The issue is filled with so-bad-they’re-good lines, but my favorite has to be “What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!” — a line so unbelievably bad that I’m going to include an image just to remind myself that it was, in fact, printed in a comic.
Of course, this may actually be the Wonder Woman series DC has always wanted, balancing the mythology of Azzarello’s run with her Justice League duties, even finding time for a Swamp Thing cameo (mostly just to use that gem of a line). Unfortunately, that means Diana’s personality gets lost in the shuffle, going totally apeshit when she thinks some kids might have been killed, as though she’s never encountered a bad guy and/or natural disaster before.
Speaking of bad guy/natural disasters, Justice League 36 picks up 24 hours after the release of the Amazo virus, finding Metropolis evacuated and almost all of the Justice League contaminated. Their only hope of saving their friends (and stemming a global pandemic) is to track down patient zero, where the initial mutation to the virus took place. It’s the plot of Outbreak, only patient zero isn’t a monkey, and the virus turns people into terminal superheroes. For me, the only real point of interest here is figuring out who hired the attack on Luthor back in issue 35, but we don’t get anything usable out of that — everybody hates Luthor. Did you find more here to hold on to, Patrick?
Patrick: Not really. I know they’re the heavy hitters, but it’s painfully uninspired to make Batman and Superman to the only two non-Lex Leaguers to be unaffected by the virus. Johns fills their mouthes with obligatory speeches about how noble Batman is for putting himself in danger, and how Superman would so totally do the same. One thing I can’t stop noticing since Drew pointed it out last issue is that Lex Luthor’s dialogue is bloated and artificial — as though Johns didn’t want to put the effort into making the character sound as smart as he’s supposed to be. While explaining the virus, Luthor says “…the virus proved too controversial and untested when I presented it to the White House,” which is an absolutely insane way to express that the administration thought it was too risky. The virus can’t prove itself to be controversial – controversy doesn’t come from objects, it comes from people’s reactions to it. Ditto “untested.” It’s just a sloppy use of language, and I don’t think Lex should be talking that way.
That brings us to the hardest comic I’ve had to discuss this week: Ray Fawkes’ Intersect 1. The issue defies narrative analysis, and truth be told, I’m not totally sure I could relay what I think happens in this issue. There are a lot of themes floating around in Fawkes’ evocative art work – duality, violence, sex – and there are enough hints that we should be reading into this material as closely as possible — such as the VVVVdistorted speech balloons or the chunks of backwards dialogue — but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take away from the experience. About 20 pages in, the whole format of the thing changes, swapping out Fawkes’ watercolor sequential pages for mixed-media presentational art pages that seem like they’re ripped from the liner notes a mid-90s Nine Inch Nails CD. Here too, the focus turns to us — the readers — to “wake up” and participate in the comic in our hands. Fawkes even gives us an email address to use so we can… well, geez, I just don’t know… contribute our own incoherent prose and overtly sexual art?
I’m being a little bit glib here. Intersect is obviously not a story in the strictest sense of the word, and therefore it’s my fault for trying to ply meaning form it using the tools of literary analysis. Fawkes’ previous work — like the hypnotic One Soul — is similarly obtuse, but this series suffers from the expectations of a serialized art form. As long as it rests in the rotation between the latest copy of Justice League and back issues of X-Men, it’s going to be hard to engage this piece on its own terms. For as much as I like going down these kinds of rabbit holes with Fawkes, I’m gonna have to wait to catch this one in trade, so I can take in the whole experience at one time.