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 and Drew discuss Batman Annual 3, Batman Eternal 38, Grayson Annual 1, Catwoman Annual 2, Uncanny X-Men 29, Secret Avengers 11, New Avengers 28, Nova 25, Loki: Agent of Asgard 9, and Deadpool 39.
Spencer: While we’ve seen relatively few Joker stories in the New 52, each one has been a giant affair. James Tynion IV and Roge Antionio’s Batman Annual 3 is the antidote to the massive Joker “event” stories, showing that even when pursuing a single target, Joker can be just as out-and-out terrifying as when he’s threatening to murder the entire city. The story revolves around reporter Thomas Blackcrow, whose attempts to deconstruct the Joker’s psyche for a story leads to the horrifying outcome of the Joker deciding that Tommy is his new best friend; from there Tommy descends into madness as the Joker proceeds to make the next five years a living hell. It’s a story full of black humor and legitimate horror beats, and it even ties cleverly into Batman‘s current “Endgame” storyline, but again, I think what I like the most about this issue is that it’s a small, self-contained story that’s still just as powerful as some of Joker’s more infamous capers. It’s a shame we already have our year-end lists compiled here at Retcon Punch, cause I definitely would have nominated this issue.
My thoughts on Batman Eternal 38 are decidedly more mixed. Andrea Mutti’s art is a bit lumpy, and under his pen Batman’s villains don’t look intimidating in the least; Tim Seeley’s habit of having them all break into constant philosophical speeches doesn’t help in that area either. That said, watching a broke Batman getting back to his street-level roots to take down these thugs is loads of fun (as are the constant insults directed towards Joker’s Daughter). The final reveal may feel a bit silly at first, but previous issues of Batman Eternal have laid enough foundation between these two characters that, in context, it works, no matter how ridiculous Croc may look.
We talk a lot about the power of stories here at Retcon Punch, but we often think of that power as an ability to inspire — in Grayson Annual 1, Tom King and Tim Seeley show us how stories can be used to deceive. Dick’s undercover as an Irish bomb-maker named Rock, spinning a story about abducting and selling off Helena in order to get close to a crime boss whose stolen Green Lantern skin (ew) makes him impervious to Hypnos. The thing is, we don’t know Dick’s undercover until late in the issue, and half the fun of the story is deciphering Rock’s stories and clues to discover who he really is and what he’s up to. Grayson always focuses on exploring Dick’s personality more than anything, and this issue plays up Dick’s hamminess; being undercover is probably the most social he’s been able to be since joining Spyral, and he’s clearly relishing this chance to be loud and funny and tease his opponents with clues and references he knows they won’t understand. Like I said, though, the main thrust of this issue is the power of stories: as “Rock,” he tells a story of a giant who wins a battle through a clever ruse, and that’s exactly what Dick’s plan is. In the end he and Helena fulfill their mission having only thrown one punch — as clandestine and morally ambiguous as Spyral may be, that’s still something many other superheroes could aspire to.
Drew: Plus, Dick’s over-the-top hints at who he is were kind of fun. I don’t think it’s bragging to say that I “made” Dick by page five (if the former-Robin title character hasn’t appeared by page five, but another character is calling himself “Rockin’ Robin”, it’s hard not to draw some conclusions), which made all of his allusions to being Batman and loving redheads fun little winks at the camera.
I kind of wish Catwoman Annual 1 was willing to have so much fun, but instead, it doubles down on the crime family politics that has distinguished the series. It’s not bad, per se, but the extra pages make the machinations a bit more trying. This issue may ultimately stand up as the origin story of the new Catwoman, but until it is so enshrined, I’m mostly going to remember it as the retelling of the last few issues of Catwoman, only from a slightly less interesting perspective.
Uncanny X-Men 29 finds everyone still grappling with the existence of Matthew, the extra-super-powered mutant Professor X mentioned in his will. Magneto and Cyclops seem to be on the same page of directly appealing to Matthew, but their political differences cause them to suspect each other of hidden motives. Eva, on the other hand, has a much more practical (and much more comic-booky) solution: go back in time to prevent this whole thing from happening. It’s not yet clear whether she’s just preventing Xavier’s actions regarding Matthew, or if she’s hoping to prevent his death altogether, which leaves this issue on one hell of a cliffhanger.
Ales Kot has never been shy about making his Secret Avengers a quirky home for strange adventures, but issue 11 might be the weirdest yet, as he digs deeper into some unlikely emotional bonds. M.O.D.O.K. is still lovelorn over Maria Hill, but Kot plays it totally straight, digging into the unlikely moral parallels between these two characters. Kot also finds emotional beats to mine from Coulson’s relationship to Fury, Snapper’s delusions of grandeur, even Vladimir, the sentient bomb. Ultimately, those emotional beats remind us just how out there this series can get, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t also effective. Were you as moved by this issue as I was, Spencer?
Spencer: Oh definitely, Drew. This issue is grounded in emotion in a way Secret Avengers‘s rarely been before, and for all of Kot’s fine work setting it all up, much of the success is owed to artists Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson — whether it be the manic energy apparent on M.O.D.O.K.’s face or the somber reconciliation of Hawkeye and Coulson, these two always know exactly how to capture the mood of a scene.
I think my favorite aspect of this issue is how its two big victories — Coulson’s surrender and the Fury rescuing Nick Fury — are both achieved through talking instead of violence. Clint shows compassion towards Coulson — and Vladimir likewise towards the Fury — and that’s not a usual “spy” tactic, but it’s one that absolutely pays off. M.O.D.O.K. mentions a Great Calling, and if we apply it to the cast of Secret Avengers, maybe it’s simply a calling to be better than they once were? Snapper apparently has it out for bullies, but as portrayed in this issue, Hawkeye, Vladimir, Coulson, and even M.O.D.O.K. are far from bullies.
Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato’s New Avengers 28 is decidedly less silly than Secret Avengers, but even Hickman can’t resist tossing in a few jokes; at one point he essentially insults his own writing style, and it’s a hoot:
The rest of the issue continues the battle between Steve Rogers’ S.H.I.E.L.D. team and the Illuminati, but for all of Reed’s lessons on strategy, the entire battle essentially boils down to each side continually introducing waves of new allies into the conflict until one finally gets a leg up on the other. As much as this all stimulates the nerdiest centers of my brain, the actual fighting doesn’t have a lot of substance to it, which is why I’m most interested in how this conflict will be resolved, not the path it takes to get there.
Nova 25 is, to quote the clerk at my LCS, “a heartwarming story about a kid with too many concussions.” The oversized special issue finds Nova at his lowest after defeating an Evil Hulk, but nearly dying and damaging his helmet as a result. Enter Steve Rogers, who makes Sam a provisional member of the Avengers as a reward for his bravery, treating him to the best day of his life. It’s a sweet way to explore just how much Sam has grown over the last 25 issues, and it’s exactly as heartwarming as my LCS clerk advertised. Still, my favorite part of Nova has always been how frank writer Gerry Duggan is about the danger his young hero faces, and sure enough, that’s actually the secret byline of the whole issue — turns out Steve’s motive for drafting Nova was to provide a support system to help keep Sam alive. Life is fragile, especially when you’re young and reckless, and the fact that an all-ages title so readily addresses that without becoming preachy warms my heart.
Loki: Agent of Asgard has been bogged down by AXIS crossovers for the past few issues, but with issue 9 writer Al Ewing finds a way to use these tie-ins to advance his own story. Loki has always been a character of dubious morality, and the morality-shifting spell does little to alleviate that; it may have temporarily made Loki “good,” but as Odin points out, change is not the same as growth, and for as much as Loki has changed, he’s still ruled by the same desires as always (specifically, a need to show-up Thor and prove himself worthy). The fact that Loki managed to achieve those goals only to immediately lose them — showing that it was never Loki, but actually the spell who was worthy of wielding Mjolnir — is especially heartbreaking. With his last chance at redemption gone, it should be fascinating to see what Loki does next.
From the very beginning of our Deadpool coverage we’ve debated what kind of person Deadpool really is: is he simply a clown, or do his jokes mask a tragic soul? Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s run on Deadpool has found the character sliding up and down that scale of clownishness, but the last year or so has leaned more and more towards the “tragic soul” side of the equation. Deadpool 39 cements that with Wade’s realization that he’s never been happy. It’s a surprisingly striking moment, if only because it comes after a full issue of Wade cleaning up messes and helping the people who mean the most to him. With so much resting on Wade’s shoulders, it’s only a matter of time until something gives — and considering how likable and fleshed out Wade’s ever-expanding supporting cast is, it’s bound to be a tragedy.
That said, there are some bright clouds on the horizon: next issue is an inventory issue!
I literally cannot wait.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?