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, Patrick and Spencer discuss Astro City 20, Guardians of the Galaxy 24, X-Men 24, All-New Ghost Rider 11, Spider-Woman 4, Justice League United 9, and Batman Eternal 45.
…it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.
Rocky Balboa, Rocky Balboa
Drew: A hero’s journey necessarily requires adversity, which in turn requires perseverance of the hero. Indeed, perseverance is the key quality of virtually every hero — especially superheroes. They may get knocked down in the first round, but there wouldn’t be a series to read if they didn’t keep getting back up. But what about when they’re no longer certain they’d survive getting knocked down? How does a hero reconcile their ingrown drive to keep fighting with the hard truths about getting older? That’s exactly the idea at the heart of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 20, as Quarrel and Crackerjack confront how their age is affecting their performance.
Quarrel is realizing that she may need to cool it (perhaps a bit more self-aware of her limits because of her previous relationship with MPH), but that’s not really an option in Crackerjack’s mind, driving him to seek help from the villainous Black Lab. It turns out, he may have lost a step or two, after all, and the end of the issue finds him held captive. However Crackerjack’s story ends next issue, Busiek has already delivered an interesting essay on characters overstaying their welcome.
Of course, all Crackerjack really needed was the mysterious Black Vortex at the center of Guardians of the Galaxy 24, an object capable of “evolving” heroes into some kind of super-superheroes. The execution is about as silly as it sounds, and while there’s fun to be had with the premise, I’m not sure it will sustain the 13 issues of this not-so-mini crossover. Already, writer Brian Michael Bendis is relying on his characters simply not explaining their points when disagreeing, leading to increasingly dramatic conclusions that feel totally avoidable, including the entire 18-character team-up being suped-up by the time the issue ends. Everything about this crossover feels excessive, which could be exciting if it wasn’t already starting to drag.
Far from excess, X-Men 24 strips the conflict down to our away team struggling to orient themselves underground — which it turns out is filled with Kree science experiments. Writer G. Willow Wilson shifts narrators for this issue, largely sticking in Psylocke’s head. Of course, Psylocke doesn’t seem to have as much baggage as Storm did in issue 23, but Storm’s voice isn’t totally absent from this issue, as she trades her voiceover for just talking to herself. It’s a bit of a cheat, but a necessary one for a scene that only features one character. Altogether, this issue didn’t leave me quite as enthused as the last one, but I’m willing to stick around long enough to get inside each of these characters’ heads. How is your patience faring here, Patrick?
Patrick: The cave setting is definitely a drag, and it doesn’t do a lot to lighten the artwork in the issue. I’d be more specific about who’s artwork I’m talking about here, but there are two pencilers, four inkers and a colorist all credited on this issue, so like… who am I even criticizing here? I also find that I’m not super compelling to read this issue from Psylocke’s perspective, possibly because I’m not that well versed in what her voice actually is. Wilson could be absolutely nailing it for all I know, but the end result is that I’m just not charmed by the issue. It’s a shame because it makes multiple references to the fact that all they’re doing is punching monsters, but not even that level of self-awareness could salvage this thing for me.
It’s been a couple months since I checked in on All-New Ghost Rider, and it was a real bummer to discover that neither Tradd Moore nor Damion Scott were drawing it any more. Issue 11 — part one of a two-part series-finale — is a rare creature from Marvel: a book written and drawn by the same person – regular series author Felipe Smith. Smith’s visual style seems to be borrowing a lot from both Moore and Scott, alternately affecting a designer-y, graphic edge, and an almost anime cuteness. If that sounds like a precarious rope to walk, that’s because it is. When the trick works, it’s like gangbusters, perfectly ping-ponging between scenes of fraternal love and mass-slaughtering of gang members. The whole issue starts to fall apart toward the end, which treads on some kind of gross territory as the Ghost Ridin’ spirit of Eli reveals himself to be Robbie’s shifty Uncle Eli, and then claims responsibility for Gabe’s condition. I sorta hate that Gabe’s disability would have to be the result of some mistreatment of his mother during her pregnancy — the subtle messaging being that she’s somehow responsible for her son’s condition. I find that narrative repulsive and remarkably un-sensitive. But maybe that’s the point – Eli does call Gabe “retarded” at one point, and it goes a long way toward characterizing Uncle Eli as a rat bastard. I got kinda worked up reading this thing, which is probably a good sign that I’ll be checking out the next issue.
I can’t say I was as grabbed by Spider-Woman 4. The series is generally pretty strong, and last issue’s promise of Spider-Women vs. Loomworld Pirates had me just about salivating for more, but writer Dennis Hopeless trades a lot of fun for retreading themes already well-explored in Spider-Verse. At the heart of those redundant themes is the idea that there are countless possible versions of Jessica Drew out there, and that realization makes our Spider-Woman to live a little more purposefully. That means quitting the Avengers. I guess that’s a big deal, but like, that’s oddly focused on what she’s not going to be rather than what she is going to be. Hopeless seems to realize this, couching her announcement in a pointless fight with a monster back at Avengers HQ. I dunno Spencer, how’d you feel about this one?
Spencer: I actually had a lot of fun with it, Patrick. There’s this quippy, irreverent tone to Hopeless’ dialogue (be it between Jess and Carol or Silk, Gwen and Anya) that’s exactly what I’m looking for in my comics, but I’m just as fond of Jess’s big announcement, which I think I read a bit differently than you, Patrick.
Jess’s decision to quit the Avengers essentially boils down to “I’m sick of these constant ‘end-of-the-world’ events,” and it’s hard not to read that as Hopeless saying “I’m sick of tying into crossovers,” especially when Spider-Woman‘s been in tie-in mode since its very first issue. Hopeless had to wait four issues to be able to tell the Jessica Drew story he likely wanted to tell from the start, and I got a big kick out of the way this issue channels that frustration. Actually, my only real complaint with this one is the way Greg Land depicts Spider-Gwen’s hood.
Seriously, how does that work?
While Jessica Drew’s story is just beginning, Justice League United 9 brings us to the climax of the massive Infinitus Saga (and when I say massive I mean massive; the role call alone highlights 38 heroes!). I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this issue, which is almost the polar opposite of the dry, uneventful issue 8; this is a dense, exciting issue full of action that expertly highlights almost all of its expansive cast. Sure, there’s no real “message” (and, in fact, the seeming condemnation of Brainiac 5’s pragmatic methods never really lands, as the way J’onn deals with Ultra is just as ruthless), but I can’t really complain when the action is this much fun. Justice League United 9 doesn’t reinvent the title, but what it does is take every strength the book already possesses and ramps them up to 11; it’s easily my favorite issue of the whole title.
My least favorite arc of Batman Eternal, meanwhile, gets wrapped up in a strange little bow with issue 45. As many of us probably guessed, the supernatural happenings at Arkham are simply another tiny piece of the mysterious mastermind’s grand plan; the “hows” and “whys” are less important than the clue that turns Batman onto his next lead. I’ve been wrong many times before when it comes to declaring a newly-revealed villain as the “final boss,” so I’ll refrain from that this time around; what I will do, though, is point out that the title Batman Eternal takes on a whole new meaning with Ra’s al Ghul in play.
Still, the most interesting part of this issue to me is actually the confrontation between Spoiler and Bluebird.
This exchange says a lot about where Stephanie is as a character right now. “The Spoiler” as a persona is custom-made to screw over Stephanie’s father, Cluemaster, but that purpose severely limits Steph’s viewpoint. Harper too has a criminal father, but she’s been dealing with that fact for much longer than Steph, and seems to have long ago come to the realization that it’s more important (and productive!) to focus on helping people than punishing her father. We can now clearly see the path Spoiler must take, and I’m betting any attempts for her to transition from spiteful daughter to selfless hero will be loads of fun to watch.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?