Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 12/17/14

round upLook, 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 Spencer discuss Catwoman 37, Batman Eternal 37, Justice League 37, Batman/Superman 17, Bob’s Burgers 5, All-New Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 22, Spider-Woman 2, Scarlet Spiders 2, Black Widow 13, Elektra 9, Captain Marvel 10, Fables 147, and Wytches 3.
slim-banner4Drew: What kind of a person is Selina Kyle? It’s a question DC failed to answer for the first three years of the New 52, but one that writer Genevive Valentine seems particularly interested in. Stripping away the catsuit and the kleptomania, Valentine has allowed us to focus on Selina, all while putting her in increasingly uncomfortable positions. Catwoman 37 finds her confronted by her mole problem, as her cousin, Nick, is very publicly outed by Black Mask as a police informant. Black Mask is banking on Selina’s sense of mercy to spare Nick, in turn costing her the trust of the families, but Selina doesn’t blink, ordering Nick’s death before making another power play at the GCPD.
Kyle kisses
A ruthless loner who uses her sexuality as a distraction from her criminal activities? This is the Catwoman I want to be reading. Valentine also makes a show of Selina’s bruised body, turning what might otherwise be sexy moments into discordant reminders of violence, linking the two in ways that assert a great deal about the way this character has been treated in the past.

And by “past,” I mean “this week,” since Batman Eternal 37 finds Selina very much ensconced in her old ways. The catsuit, the kleptomania, the scenes where she’s randomly just in her underwear — it’s all here. There’s some semblance of political machinations — she “gives” Batman his rogues gallery as a sign of goodwill — but it totally lacks the intelligence and subtlety of what she’s doing in Catwoman. Then again, maybe sophisticated political intrigue doesn’t really belong in a series that features a haunted Batwing suit, because that’s also happening in this issue.

Justice League 37 similarly seems neutered by its own outlandishness, as its timely and incisive commentary on biological warfare and our ill-preparedness for catastrophic outbreaks is passed over for a generic comic book monster. Writer Geoff Johns doesn’t even hint at why the amazo virus might cause a research pathologist to suddenly become a homicidal maniac, but never mind that: now he can punch the Justice League! Emergency preparedness protocols may be a bit dry for a comic book on their own, but honestly, the most exciting thing about this premise to me was that the Justice League couldn’t fight their way out of it. Was that an unreasonable expectation, Spencer?

Spencer: Maybe just a little bit — the Justice League are always going to fight their way through problems — but I can understand where you’re coming from, Drew. My biggest problem with this issue is just that it’s slow — too much space is spent restating information from last issue, and it seems like every other page is a two-page spread, which look absolutely breathtaking thanks to Jason Fabok, but leave little room for the story to advance. I mean, what really happens here? The League meets Patient Zero, Luthor is attacked again, and Batman is infected? That could be covered in five or six pages easily. This is decompressed writing at its worst.

Unlike Justice LeagueBatman/Superman 17 is jam-packed with incident and information. Superman’s search for the psychopath indiscriminately targeting his friends and fans takes him and Batman on a tour of the DC Universe, from a harrowing encounter with Hector Hammond to an all-out brawl with the new Lobo (who is still lame). All the while writer Greg Pak examines the value of life and how it can vary from person to person — Luthor’s economic take on the loss of life is a stark contrast to Superman’s more personal investment, and both pale in comparison to the unknown assailant, who has no regard for life or morality at all. Pak also gives us a classic Batman moment (“What training to you have?” “I’m Batman.”), making this, all-in-all, a rather memorable issue.

Bob’s Burgers 5 closes out its first volume (whatever that means) in a less than memorable fashion, though. The characters are still well-written and the jokes still funny — there’s an absolute classic of a sign gag in the first story, and a Louise line that I spent a good fifteen minutes imagining Kristen Schaal reading and laughing my head off at — but the stories are thinner than ever. Tina’s and Gene’s both hit on familiar notes for these characters (zombies, horses, butts, farts) and Louise’s is just bizarre (and unresolved!). I honestly just think that this book’s current format has reached its limit, and when Bob’s Burgers returns, I hope it finds a new way to tell stories that’s more flexible (and incorporates Bob and Linda more! C’mon people!).

Between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the last year has seen a meteoric rise in prominence for the villainous Hydra. Rick Remender takes advantage of this in All-New Captain America 2, using recent events (such as the Global Terrigenesis) to expand the organization’s influence, relevance, and threat level, putting them in a situation where they seem to have already won the war for humanity’s future before the series’ second issue is even over. This issue works a lot better for me than last month’s, which was mostly a slugfest — issue two ramps up the plot and character development while throwing in several smart twists for good measure. That said, I still find some of Remender’s dialogue clunky, strangely formatted, and slightly ostentatious, but it’s a small complaint in the grand scheme of things.

Drew: I definitely know what you mean about strangely formatted dialogue — Sam interrupts his thoughts with more subclauses than even I do — but there’s enough working in this issue for me to overlook it. A big part of that is Immonen’s art, which paints a rich, detailed portrait of Bagalia, but Remender also manages to cram in a ton of intrigue on the periphery of the central fight. It’s an exciting premise that gives this series some of the structure that we all felt was lacking in the previous issue.

Guardians of the Galaxy 22 has structure in spades, but mostly so it can put the venom symbiote on as many characters as possible. That makes the cliffhanger of yet another Guardian in the venom suit a bit anti-climactic, but fortunately, there’s a subplot that’s significantly more interesting. Scrambling to find an electable leader in the wake of J’son’s departure, the Spartax Empire has settled on Peter Quill, although they’ve yet to inform him. We’ll have to tune in next time for the actual fallout, but with a premise that intriguing, and the promise of more gorgeous Valerio Schiti art, there’s more than enough to justify coming back.

We weren’t particularly impressed with last month’s installment, but Spider-Woman 2 is decidedly more assured of its identity. The scenario is still firmly rooted in the events of “Spider-Verse”, but writer Dennis Hopeless finds a very strong voice for Jessica, giving her a penchant for puns that’s always guaranteed to make me smile. Indeed, Hopeless lampshades this series’ identity issues, pitting Jess against an evil doppelgänger working for the Inheritors. This is a big step in the right direction for me, giving everyone a little more agency and a lot more personality. Were you as happy with this issue as I was?

Spencer: Oh yeah, Drew. Issue one felt like a book about Silk, not Jessica, but while Silk still has a presence, issue two firmly revolves around Spider-Woman’s actions and personality, and fortunately, she’s absolutely charming under Hopeless’s pen. This may actually be the most personality I’ve ever seen from Jess, who always comes across as stern and straight-laced in her other appearances (such as in Hickman’s Avengers titles) — and don’t get me wrong, she’s stern and straight-laced here too, but with a sure sense of humor hidden beneath it all.
crackersThis is the first panel of the issue, and by the end, I was already in love with Spider-Woman. That line about animal crackers really hit me funny, but it’s just the kind of dialogue needed to humanize this character.

This week’s other “Spider-Verse” tie-in is Scarlet Spiders 2, which likewise roots its story in the personality of its cast, specifically Kaine. Unlike Spider-Woman, Kaine has no sense of humor, giving the issue a much grimmer tone, and knowing Kaine’s feelings about being a clone (and a supposedly “failed” clone at that) make the horrors of Jennix’s various experiments feel all the more real. Jennix gets some more development as well, with his desire to be more civilized setting him apart from the rest of his family. It’s weird reading this book back-to-back with Spider-Woman though, because while Scarlet Spiders 2 is a perfectly enjoyable piece of the “Spider-Verse” story, it lacks the certain lively spark that elevates Spider-Woman 2. As much attention as Kaine gets, I think he’s just a less faceted character than Jess — or maybe Mike Costa’s intense focus on Kaine’s angst just makes him appear that way. I dunno. This issue isn’t humorless by any means, but it’s so grounded in the grim reality of the Inheritors that it’s lacking the sense of fun that most of the other “Spider-Verse” issues so revel in.

Grimness feels like a much more natural fit for Black Widow 13, which finds Natasha setting out for vengeance after the attempted hit on her assistant Isaac. Writer Nathan Edmondson sets the issue during the outset of fall, using the changing of seasons as a metaphor for the way the threats Natasha faces are changing and growing more dangerous. It’s an effective metaphor, if a bit on-the-nose, but the best thing about it is how it allows Phil Noto to draw page after page of stunning autumn backgrounds, at one point devoting an entire page to nothing but a breathtaking fall landscape (because when you’re Phil Noto, who’s gonna stop you?). I’m quite enjoying watching Natasha grow more desperate and brutal, but without a doubt the true star of this issue is Noto.

The same could be said of Elektra 9, where Mike Del Mundo’s evocative, larger-than-life artwork takes center stage. Writer W. Haden Blackman is no slouch either, filling the issue with some thrilling concepts and plot points (dragon heart magic, a ninja who is also the son of death, etc.), but it’s Mundo’s art that breathes life into these ideas, granting them the epic scope they deserve while also grounding them in enough realism that they never seen farfetched. The highlight is a spread that finds Elektra trapped in her own mind, forced to confront the final dissolution of her relationship with Daredevil; Mundo switches up his style to resemble graffiti and turns the panels into buildings, spraying Elektra and Matt all over the side in a sequence that’s simultaneously trippy and awe-inspiring. Those two pages alone are worth the $3.99 cover price.

Despite being a special tribute issue, Captain Marvel 10 actually features very little of its titular star. That’s probably the point, as it allows Kelly Sue DeConnick to show us instead how the legacy of Captain Marvel inspires her supporting cast to greatness, celebrating Carol’s legacy in-universe the same way the issue itself celebrates her legacy in our universe. DeConnick also strikes up some compelling parallels to soldiers who are away from their families during the holidays, showing the toll it takes on Carol to be so far from her friends and family but also how committed she is to doing her duty anyway. In the end Carol gets a 24 hour pass back to Earth — if the reunions are even half as funny and touching as this issue, they’ll be well-worth coming back to check out.

Drew: Absolutely. The smaller, more personal stories were always my favorite of the previous volume, and this issue is a great reminder of why. Kit, Jessica, Wendy, and Rhodey all get moments to shine, with DeConnick reminding us all of what a solid handle she has on all of their voices. It’s a great issue, but much of its effectiveness comes from the fact that I also kind of miss Carol’s friends. There’s clearly more story to be told in Carol’s New York, and I’m hoping this jaunt home serves as much as a setup for those future stories as it is an end unto itself.

Fables 147 is very much in the opposite mode, cashing in on all of the seeds its ever planted, from its most recent developments to the very fables that inspired the series. Writer Bill Willingham finds even more intriguing parallels, my favorite being the one between Snow White’s poisoned apple and Eve’s forbidden one. Ultimately, this issue revolves around Rose Red’s own decision about the tree of knowledge — the cricket offers her the option to remain blissfully ignorant of her origin, but she ultimately opts for the truth. Reaching back to the original fable, of sorts, is a beautiful way to draw this series to a close, and a perfect setup as Willingham winds towards his grand finale.

While that series continues to impress, my opinion of Wytches continues to cool. Issue 3 finds Charlie questioning his own sanity, as Sail’s mysterious disappearance isn’t quite garnering the response from the police he was hoping for. Focusing on parental anxiety gives the horror here a bit more direction than the more scattershot approach we’ve seen in previous issues, but I’m finding the art increasingly difficult to follow. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth provides some process images in the issue’s backmatter, illustrating the multimedia approach he uses to generate the splatters and splotches on each page, but there’s no real indication of why every page is covered in those splotches in the first place. The result is part and parcel of the series — emphasizing mood over message to the detriment of clarity.
slim-banner4The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

6 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 12/17/14

  1. I totally agree that the Guardians cliffhanger is a bit anti-climatic in theory, but it really worked for me anyway — DRAX of all people in the Venom Suit is a far cry from Groot or Rocket.

    Altogether though, I think this may be the issue of the current Guardians volume that I’ve enjoyed the most. It actually gave Drax and Gamora lines and things to do! It was fun and the characters felt balanced and I dunno, it’s slight but it worked for me.

  2. Have any of you been picking up DC’s Darwyn Cooke alternate covers this month? My LCS has been giving me them all in my pull and they’re gorgeous — I think my favorite is his Justice League cover (although Batman and Robin is great too), and I actually think that cover is my favorite thing about the issue.

    Although “Haz-Bat Suit” is pretty fantastic as well.

  3. So since I mentioned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., have any of you been watching this season?

    You might want to. Besides being a huge step up in quality from season one (which already jumped up in quality during its tail half once Winter Soldier came along and the show was allowed to tie-into the big “Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. twist), Marvel is using this season of the show to introduce the Inhumans!

    It’s been speculation since the beginning of the season, but the winter finale straight up featured several characters undergoing Terrigenesis, cocoons and all.

    I hope Lockjaw shows up soon.

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