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, Patrick, Spencer and Drew discuss Darth Vader 2, Spider-Man 2099 9, The Amazing Spider-Man 15, Deadpool 42, Secret Avengers 13, S.H.I.E.L.D. 3, All New X-Men 38, Effigy 2, The Wicked and the Divine 8, Orphan Black 1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutanimals 1, Batman Eternal 47, Secret Origins 10, and The Flash 39.
“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.”
-“El Condor Pasa,” Simon & Garfunkel
Patrick: Part of being a good soldier is accepting the responsibilities that are thrust upon you without questioning. I was hanging out with our own Shelby Peterson this weekend, and she was talking about the ship that her father served on in the Navy. Evidently, they did all kinds of drills as through they had nuclear weapons on board their aircraft carrier, but none of the sailors ever actually knew whether or not they were armed with nukes or not. That information simply belonged to men at higher pay grades, and it was basically their jobs not to ask questions. In Darth Vader 2, general Tagge makes the assertion over and over again that Vader is nothing more than a tool or a weapon, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’m still really digging this characterization of Anakin. Just as the first issue cast him as the small-town side-kick to the emperor, this issue reveals what Vader’s capable of when he thinks he’s being commanded by people that don’t deserve dominion over him. The plot is more every day Fighting-the-Rebellion-Stuff, and Vader takes umbrage when Tagge sends a an auditor with him to track his time and methods and make sure he’s a good little soldier. Last issue, Vader was only able to impotently lash out as some poor sandpeople, but now he’s starting to game the system — fabricating data to make it look like his auditor was the rebel mole all along and then killing him. It all stems from the same insecurity explored in the first issue, but it’s clear that Vader’s getting more dangerous, even for his colleagues.
While Darth Vader gets more in control of his situation, Spider-Man 2099 9 finds Miguel O’Hara with even less control than usual. In the wake of Spider-Verse (more on that in a sec), Miguel finds himself back in 2099… or, some version of 2099. When we last saw him, his coordinates were set for Earth 616, 2099 — a rare homecoming for the time-and-world-displaced Spider-Man — but the world of this issue is alien in just about every way. New York (and presumably, the rest of the world) has been destroyed due to the activity of Alchemex and an extra-murderous Maestro rules the land. Despite Miguel’s repeated questions about what’s going on, writer Peter David remains cagey throughout — are we witnessing a new version of the future because Eva Bell of the X-Men has been monkeying with the timeline so much (specifically considering her adventures in 2099)? Or maybe 616 has already been replaced with another Earth during an incursion by 2099? It’s an intriguing set of questions, but ultimately, kind of a weird place to encounter them. I had grown so fond of the adventures of Spider-Man 2099 and Lady-Spider that all this multiversal stuff sorta feels besides the point.
If you thought we were done with Spider-Verse just because the previous issue of ASM said “The End,” Amazing Spider-Man 15 would like a word with you. There’s all kinds of business about where various Spiders return to and what fates are in store for them in this (these) brave new world(s). Most of it ends up feeling like Spider-Verse overstaying its welcome (Otto being a bastard? Again?), but there are a few charming details throughout. I really like seeing Captain Britain Corps Spider-Man being unable to return to his universe because it was claimed in an incursion — that’s a nice way to subtly doom all these characters by reminding us that TIME RUNS OUT in April. Unfortunately, there’s still the weird bummer of copious editors notes directing me to where I should spend my money next month in order to follow these characters around. Well, if nothing else, Dan Slott ends the whole thing by returning Peter to 616 New York and having him stop a mugging, because at the end of the day, that’s what we really want from him, right?
Spencer: Well, it’s certainly what he does best, and after an adventure spanning dozens of universes and a metric ton of Totem-based mumbo jumbo, it’s refreshing to just see Peter Parker being Peter Parker again.
Anyway Patrick, I actually loved this issue. Perhaps the Otto stuff went on a bit long, but it’s clearly setting up another plot for the character in the future, one I’m eager to see. The plotting is really where this issue shines, as Slott finds room to say goodbye to every significant character in the storyline, wrap up old plot points, and seed new ones, all without ever losing sight of pacing or characterization. I’m most impressed by how Slott ties into Spider-Verse Team-Up 3 on two separate occasions, retroactively giving a lot of meaning to a story I thought seemed kinda pointless at the time. Slott’s proven himself to be a master plotter; in the future, when I think back about everything I loved about Spider-Verse (and there’s a lot — it’s easily my favorite crossover event since Blackest Night), its tight, intricate plot may very well be the first thing that pops into my head.
Well, it’ll be either that or Spider-Punk.
Deadpool 42 finds its star taking a vacation, attempting to escape his responsibilities (including a very pissed wife; after a promising debut, poor Shiklah is still given little to do besides be frustrated by her husband) by taking on Roxxon in a practically suicidal head-on attack. Wade’s shirking of his duties gives writers Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan an opportunity to go all out with humor, churning out the most anarchic, gag-filled issue they’ve produced in ages (aside from inventory issues), but no matter how hard he tries, Wade can’t seem to escape the darkness that’s slowly crept into his life over the past 42 issues.
With Deadpool dying in three more issues (you all knew about that, right?), this issue may have been Posehn and Duggan’s last chance to go all-out with the jokes before the plot takes over. If so, I certainly think they closed out this aspect of their run on a memorable note.
Of course, if there’s one book on the stands even more tonally discordant than Deadpool, it’s Secret Avengers. Issue 13 contrasts Snapper’s eerie supernatural ritual to rid the world of bullies against some of the series’ most blatant references, gags and jokes; in fact, Deadpool himself even makes a cameo in a scene so dense with meta-commentary that it threatens to implode upon itself like a neutron star.
I laughed at almost every single page, and the tenser, plottier scenes work just as well, but I don’t know if Kot has ever really integrated his two styles together into a cohesive whole. As much as I like this book, I’m often left disoriented when I finish an issue, and I’m not sure if I’m disoriented in a good way or a bad way.
Drew: I know exactly what you mean, but I’m going to go with “good way.” It might be easy to read that Deadpool passage as a kind of apology for itself, with Kot distancing himself from the pop culture references, while failing to come up with anything better, but I think it works precisely because it’s Deadpool. Wade tends to make a lot of pop culture references AND break the fourth wall, so while this doesn’t quite do either in the same way, it certainly feels thematically tied to the character. To your point about disorientation, though: I love the constituent parts of this series enough to excuse some confusion as to how exactly they fit together.
Speaking of fitting together awkwardly but somehow still working, S.H.I.E.L.D. 3 finds Spider-Man chipping in to aid in infiltrating Doctor Strage’s sanctum sanctorum. Everyone is open about magic being well outside Spidey’s wheelhouse, but Coulson’s plan to just use his spider-sense as a kind of danger divining rod is ingenious. Of course, the real draw this go-around is just getting to see Waid’s take on Spider-Man, which, in true Wade style, feels like he’s ripped straight out of a silver age story. He’s much snarkier than he tends to be under modern spider-pens, but never feels like anything other than Spider-Man.
That kind of character focus is really the only thing pulling me through Brian Michael Bendis’s “Black Vortex” crossover, though All-New X-Men 38 tests my patience with even that. Rocket’s creative alien swearing and Captain Marvel’s chip on her shoulder about bringing in the Avengers are definitely solid character moments, but with so many characters in the cast, it’s hard to give them all their due. Of course, it doesn’t help that a sizable chunk of the cast aren’t themselves, transformed by the Black Vortex into characters we can barely recognize with motives I’m still not totally sure I understand. Actually, that focus on the Black Vortex might be my biggest gripe: it’s fine enough as a MacGuffin, but changing the characters into totally different characters feels like both a cheat AND a loss. For me, the fun of any crossover is seeing the characters bounce off one another, which is kind of moot when the characters aren’t themselves. Did that bother you at all, Spencer?
Spencer: Not really, if only because there’s so many characters involved in this story already that losing three is barely a blip, especially when they’re interacting in such fun, interesting ways. Moreover, the characters who have been transformed by the Black Vortex still retain some of their old characteristics, and I actually find it rather fascinating to see what parts of their personalities still shine through and what parts have been changed and enhanced.
I’m especially touched to see Angel still devoted to Jean, and am intrigued by speculation of how she’d react to the Black Vortex, which is quite obviously foreshadowing. Ultimately the story of “The Black Vortex” may be thin, but at heart, it’s clearly just an excuse to throw all these characters together and see what happens — and maybe create a few new designs and sell a few toys in the meantime — and I can appreciate the fun in that (even if, so far, it hasn’t reached the excitement levels of “Spider-Verse,” a story with similar ambitions).
And seriously, Andrea Sorrentino on art is always a major plus. Hot damn.
Despite the grim murder mystery at its center, Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone’s Effigy 2 is a surprisingly light and fun comic, drawing much of its charm from the relationship between Chondra and Grant. Seeley uses that relationship to explore the different way media shapes people’s lives — Chondra was practically raised by TV while Grant’s family never even owned one — but that dynamic also just lets the two characters bounce off each other. Chondra is enthusiastic about everything, while Grant just sits back and takes everything in with a smug grin (which Zarcone absolutely nails) and a sarcastic quip, and it makes them fantastic foils for each other.
Then there’s Edie, the “mysterious prostitute” we were introduced to in issue 1. If Chondra is someone who had her entire perception of the world molded by TV, then Edie is someone who had her life saved by TV, but kind of lost herself inside of the fandom that provided her salvation. That aspect of Edie’s personality is probably what saves her as a character, especially since she’s otherwise characterized as being completely out of touch with reality, a stereotypical insane “fangirl.” I’m a bit concerned about other stereotypes she may fall into as well — even Seeley seems a bit nervous, as he devotes an entire page to Chondra explaining away her reaction to seeing Edie again (Edie went by “Eddie” last they met). It’s great that Edie is trans, and that aspect of her character obviously has a large influence on how she’s interacted with media, but making her a prostitute just feels icky and cliche, and I’m afraid that, between that and her “fangirling,” she’s going to become a joke. Here’s hoping otherwise.
The Wicked and the Divine 8 finds Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie at their most experimental (it brought back fond memories of Young Avengers), but the true star of this issue is Matthew Wilson, whose colors expertly manipulate mood, plot and characterization in dazzling fashion.
The blue/red transition between Gentle Annie and vicious Babd is basic storytelling, but effective storytelling, and Wilson’s work only gets more impressive from there. Plot-wise this is a bit of a slower, looser issue, putting the arc’s examination of fandom on hold and simply giving the characters a chance to breathe — and, in the process, providing some juicy clues and setting up some intriguing mysteries to solve. I couldn’t love this change of pace more; the issue is such an immersive experience that I felt like I was attending Dionysus’ party myself.
Drew: Immersive is right — those neon colors are so enveloping, I had a visceral reaction when they fall away halfway through the issue, and then again as Laura leaves the party. You’re totally right about this giving the characters space to breathe — this is one of very few times we’ve had so many cast members in the same room, and their interactions are priceless. It’s amazing how much storytelling McKelvie can fit in even when half of each page is given over to these block numbers.
Decidedly less efficient is IDW’s new Orphan Black 1, which is ostensibly designed to expand the universe of the popular television show, but reads more like a novelization of the first episode. It’s not clear whether this is intended for fans of the show or total newcomers but it oddly doesn’t serve either, simultaneously watering down and condensing its source material until it’s straight-up hard to follow. Character relationships are glossed over, but also have odd flashbacks shoehorned in, providing crumbs of information that wouldn’t be necessary for anyone who has seen these characters interact in a less abridged form. Ultimately, what’s lost in that translation is this issue’s greatest weakness: Szymon Kudranski draws the ever-loving snot out of this issue (seriously, it’s some of his best work), but it can’t really compete with living, breathing actors. At least, not when they’re covering exactly the same ground. The result isn’t so much an expansion of the universe as a miniaturized reflection of it.
On the subject of expanded universes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutanimals 1 continues IDW’s knack for fleshing out the more esoteric corners of the turtles’ world in tight little miniseries. I have to confess to not being super familiar with these deeper cuts — this issue introduces both Null and the Mutagen Man — but Paul Allor keeps the stakes grounded enough for everything to work without necessarily recognizing all of the references. Plus, there’s a LOT of Pigeon Pete, which is always okay in my book. Do you have more of an attachment to any of these characters, Patrick and/or do you find that it doesn’t matter?
Patrick: Hear, hear! More Pigeon Pete!
That’s a great point that I hadn’t really considered, Drew: outside of Slash and Mondo Gecko, I don’t really have a preteen affection for any of these characters. Old Hob is probably the clearest example of the IDW team inventing a character as immediately classic and exciting as the titular turtles. Perhaps it’s telling that he’s the leader of the new ‘Mutanimals,’ as the quality of character demanded by the IDW TMNT machine is much more exacting that that demanded by the action figure machine I grew up with. Allor and Andy Kuhn squeeze every ounce of humor out of Pete and every ounce of sympathy out of Mutagen Man.
Batman Eternal 47 almost starts to feel like a companion piece to Batman this week. Both issues include a city absolutely in chaos and the members of the Bat-family taking down the loonies together and the Batcave being compromised. I guess that’s not a bad thing as both issues prove massively entertaining in their own right. No small part of this issue’s success is the artwork of Juan Ferreyra, who draws the hell out of this issue. Ferreyra comes out strong with a title page that uses adjacent city buildings to frame the panels on the page, and then follows it up with a diagram-esque battle that takes place over several panels on a static drawing of a space. It’s really some innovative and cool stuff, and I’m sorta surprised I don’t know Ferreyra’s name already. Plus, he handles the enormous cast of this issue incredibly well, nailing the attitudes of Batwing, Red Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, Alfred, Julia and Hush through expressive faces and postures.
Let’s not mince words about Secret Origins 10 — we’re picking it up for the Batgirl story. Beautifully, Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart all but refuse to deliver on a promise as trite as “the New 52 Origin of Batgirl.” Not that the material shies away from that information, but, y’know: we saw it back in Batgirl 0. (Some of the text is lifted directly from that issue.)
The creative team does take a second to regurgitate that information, but recontextualizes it with an exploration of Babs’ paralyzing wound during Killing Joke, and the whole thing has threads of the modern Batgirl woven through it. Naturally, there’s sort of a problem reconciling all of these experiences in one person, but that’s where the magic of this story kicks in: we’re not taking a trip through Barbara’s memories, we’re taking a trip through the consciousness of the computer program that shares all of her memories. Whenever it encounters some wonky logic or conflicting timelines, we get a narration box that reads “ERROR.” This is sort of a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too moment for the creative team, as they get to play around with all the ideas that inform Babs’ history while mostly telling the story of a confused A.I. Spencer, that’s so cool, I couldn’t be bothered to read the stories not associated with Batgirl. Did you?
Spencer: I did, and I think what I find most interesting is the way these three stories try to justify their retellings of the various characters’ origins. Dan Jurgens’ Firestorm origin is exactly the kind of story we here at Retcon Punch have come to fear from Secret Origins, one that lays out every single detail of the character’s history in explicit, excruciating detail. The only interesting idea here is the framing device, which is that Firestorm’s friend is recording this information so that future generations will always remember exactly who this hero is; it speaks well to the kind of power comic books have to create legacies, but it’s a concept that comes too late to save an otherwise bland, boring story.
Christy Marx’s Poison Ivy origin, meanwhile, is notable for the way it allows Ivy to define herself through actions taken in the present rather than through her past. The story itself is a rather standard Poison Ivy tale, but Marx uses it to show exactly who Ivy is and why and how she does what she does. It’s a shame that either Marx or her editor felt the need to explain any of her past at all, but it’s clear from the way Marx crams all that exposition into a quick, easily ignored page or two that she resents having to do it.
Really, that may be the most interesting part of Secret Origins to me: seeing which creators try to elevate the format, and which are content to endlessly retell the same origins in the same ways we’ve all heard a million times before. I am so grateful for the former.
Robert Venditti and Van Jensen have never been the type to let their books fall into a status quo, constantly pushing their characters further and further into uncharted territory; sometimes that can be exhausting, but in The Flash 39 it works like gangbusters. Old Evil Flash may have fought Overload before, but losing the trust of the two women he cares about most is a much newer — and much more disorientating — sensation; our Flash, meanwhile, has his own problems. I must admit I never saw the twist coming, but I can’t wait to see how he could possibly escape this trap without his powers and when faced with enemies who understand his abilities better than even he does. Overall this issue is full of action and big moments that blow the story wide open, and it’s exciting from beginning to end.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?