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, Spencer and Patrick discuss Astro City 19, Batman Eternal 41, Justice League United 8, Superman Wonder Woman 15, Spider-Verse 2, Avengers 34.2, S.H.I.E.L.D. 2, Silver Surfer 8, and All New Captain America 3.
Drew: The deeper psychology of superheroes has been de rigueur in comics for the past three decades, but few writers do it as well as Kurt Busiek. Astro City 19 follows the life and times of Quarrel, tracking her sense of duty and loyalty back to her absent father. The daddy issues get freudian as Busiek also track’s Quarrel’s volatile romance with Crackerjack, revealing both the positive and negative sides of their relationship. As the second chapter of a four-part story, we don’t get a conclusion here, but Busiek plants enough seeds to get the psychology good and messy before pulling back out to allow time to heal at least some of the wounds. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
Speaking of where things go, Batman Eternal 41 gets us pretty darn close to the events teased in Batman 28. By the end of the issue, Steph has been captured (presumably on behalf of Selina), and Harper has suited up in the Bluebird outfit, but miraculously, I’m actually more invested in the story than playing catch-up with that flash-forward. Harper only opts to don a mask in the wake of the Mad Hatter’s capture of Tim, Babs, and Jason, which helps to make her presence a vital necessity, rather than just an additional ally to the seemingly full bat cave. That is to say, this issue worked for me. What did you think, Spencer?
Spencer: Yeah, I had a lot of fun with this one too. While Harper’s arc hasn’t been the most prominent part of Batman Eternal, we’ve still been able to see a lot of growth from her; when first introduced Harper was eager to be a part of Batman’s team, but after seeing everything she’ll have to go through to fulfill that goal — and especially after everything Cullen’s gone through — she’s calmed and matured. Still, she’ll take up the mantle of Bluebird anyway because there’s no choice — the day needs to be saved, and she has to be the one to do it. It’s a strong conclusion to the last few years of appearances by Harper, and it’s beautifully rendered by Joe Quinones and Kelsey Shannon. Quinones’ figures are dynamic and powerful but still somewhat playful — they remind me a lot of Bruce Timm’s work, actually — while Shannon’s colors are vibrant and creative, often transitioning between colors to great effect (such as the blueish-green walls in the image below).
All-in-all, this issue represents Batman Eternal at its best, and I’m delighted to see the series feeling vital again.
Jeff Lemire’s Justice League United is at its best when it’s focusing on character in the midst of its epic storylines; issue 8, then, mostly falls flat because it focuses solely on scope to the detriment of everything else. The first half of the issue introduces the rest of the Legion of Superheroes to the conflict, but doesn’t have enough time to clearly characterize any of them; the second half, wherein Byth escapes into the portal and finally forms Infinitus, feels even more hollow. Never mind that we only progress a baby step from last month’s cliffhanger (Byth heading towards the portal); again, we get absolutely zero chance to see any of the characters do anything distinctive other than gasp in shock. Almost nothing happens in this issue, making it a complete dud.
Superman/Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is a title that still seems to be struggling a bit to rediscover its identity under a new creative team. Peter Tomasi has barely addressed the romance between his title characters, and the story’s villain, Magog, has almost no reason to target only Superman and Wonder Woman specifically; this feels like a Justice League story that’s missing half its cast. Wonder Woman’s out-of-character behavior that so strongly bothered me back in issue 13 is explained as being part of her new role as the God of War, but it still feels like an unfortunate turn for a character so strongly rooted in love (especially when her solo title is currently such a mess). Issue 15 also attempts to explore the effects of the League’s collateral damage, but it just barely scratches the surface of an issue that, again, was already addressed earlier in Justice League‘s run. Indeed, Tomasi seems mostly interested in making this title a big gonzo slugfest, and as such, its effectiveness really relies on the art; issue 15 finds Doug Mahnke and Ed Benes switching pages seemingly on random, making the issue feel a little visually disjointed and robbing it of some of the punch it so desperately needs to succeed.
The unpredictability of an anthology title can be both one of its greatest strengths and one of its greatest weaknesses — it can be hard to stick with a book where you never know what you’ll get, but the risk is often rewarded with some truly great stories. After a fantastic first issue where I loved every single story, Spider-Verse 2 feels a little more hit-or-miss; that said, there was one story that spoke to me more than any “Spider-Verse” story thus far:
Jed Mackay and Sheldon Vella’s tale of Hobart Brown is one of the most succinct and well-rounded stories to come out of “Spider-Verse,” telling us everything we need to know about Spider-Punk and his world in a scant eight pages (Although I suppose it’s no surprise that a story about punk is short and to-the-point). Not only do the creators manage to incorporate most of the touchstones of Spider-Man’s universe in an original style, but they infuse every panel with an anarchic energy that makes this story stand out from the rest of the pack. I’ve always had an affinity for punk, and Spider-Punk has by far been my favorite Spider-Man to be introduced in this crossover, so I am beyond pleased that this story not only exists, but was pulled-off this well.
Patrick, were there any stories in Spider-Verse 2 that spoke to you? And what are your thoughts on the Spanish story? Between the language barrier and the cramped art, I really didn’t get much of anything out of it.
Patrick: The Spanish story was actually immediately REPRINTED IN ENGLISH in the digital version, which actually made me like it significantly less than when I first read through it, understanding about 60% of the dialog. I took a bunch of Spanish classes in high school, so decoding it was a fun challenge — not that it mattered that much: the story’s pretty straightforward and easy to follow regardless.
I also really enjoyed the Spider-Punk story, but I got way way too much pleasure out of the single-page “It’s Show Time!” If Spider-Mans are getting pulled into this event from other mediums (and we’ve seen evidence of both movie versions and a bunch of cartoon/anime versions), then surely the Spider-Man from the Marvel vs. Capcom games is subject to the same terror. I almost wish we didn’t see the kid in the final panel to explicitly place this action within an arcade machine, but I still get a dumb — but real — thrill out of hearing Josh Keaton’s voice echo in my head with the characteristic sound-effects of a Spider-Man fight.
Hey, speaking of things that are dumb, but I kind of like anyway, let’s talk about the numbering convention at play in the title of Avengers 34.2. This issue presumably takes place some time after Original Sin, but before the big Avengers time-jump. Evidently, there was more story to tell before Hickman scooted us ahead 8 months — oops! Sam Humphres and Bengal turn in a story fleshing out Star Brand, Nightmask, and the bizarre relationship between these two planetary defense systems. I like their dynamic: Star Brand is like a much-less-thoughtful Dr. Manhattan and Nightmask is sort of like a cross between Superman and Data from Star Trek. Bengal’s art work is at its best when it’s not focusing on human subjects (which all have a young, anime quality to them), and there’s some trippy geometric space imagery that really evokes the whole tone of these characters. It’s also frenetic as hell, bouncing back and forth between small-town diner and OMGSPACE at the drop of a hat. All-in-all, kind of a weird issue, and I can’t quite wrap my head around why it exists — anyone got any theories?
Mark Waid continues his thesis on in-world superhero fandom in S.H.I.E.L.D. 2. This time, the focus pivots away from Agent Coulson and on to Agent Jemma Simmons and Ms. Marvel. It’s a cute story, made all the cuter by Humberto Ramos’ Spider-Man-esque pencils. If the last issue showed the value of the breadth of Coulson’s knowledge of the Marvel Universe, then this issue champions the depth of his knowledge (and, by extension, the depth of Kamala’s knowledge). Coulson doesn’t save the day by sending in the right army of superheroes, but by advising one specific superhero. The result is a lot more empowering, and less cynical than the victory that came with the previous issue. This also has my all-time favorite lettering gag: when Kamala flattens herself out to slide under a door, her speech balloon also flattens itself out.
Adorable. But only 3/10s as adorable as the budding relationship between Norin Radd and Dawn Greenwood in Silver Surfer 8. The opening pages of Dawn and Surfer out in the depths of space are pure Allred gold, and the synthesis of Michael’s pencils and Laura’s colors create a deeply alluring and magical scene between the two leads. I know there’s like 17 pages of comic after this scene, but it very easily could have just been those first three pages and I would have been delighted: sweet, funny, beautiful, even sorta sexy — what more can you reasonably ask for?
Oh, some conflict, I suppose. Drew, were you surprised to see the Surfer confronted with the consequences of his past? Or did it seem like this was maybe an overdue development?
Drew: I think the time was definitely right for it. As Dawn and Norrin have grown closer, his past became harder and harder to bring up, but of course, the longer he waited, the worse the betrayal. It’s a familiar story, but Slott and Allred manage to make it sing — largely by investing us in their budding relationship in those pages you mention. I can’t think of a much more intimate sleeping arrangement than sharing a surfboard, yet Norrin still had his secrets. Throw in some truly inventive alien character designs and a hell of a cliffhanger, and you’ve got a fantastic issue.
All-New Captain America continues to grow on me, largely by turning the racial subtext — which I was getting a little uncomfortable reading into every issue — into the text. Writer Rick Remender pits Sam against Hydra, effectively equating any of his critics with Nazis. Seriously, Sam straight-up says “…like it or not, Nazi, I am Captain America.” It’s certainly not the most subtle rhetorical move, but it’s surprisingly effective. More importantly, this story finds Hydra attempting to besmirch Sam’s good name by giving it a woefully stereotypical “black” narrative. Sam doesn’t believe it for a second, but is offended at the notion that he would — it’s clear all of the focus on race here is Hydra’s doing, and not Sam’s. There aren’t a lot of series out there tackling these issues, and while Remender may not be their most intuitive champion, I’ll be damned if he’s not cranking out some fun issues.