Retcon Punch

Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 3/25/15

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, Patrick, Ryan, Mark, Michael and Drew discuss The Flash 40, Effigy 3, The Wicked and The Divine 9, Suiciders 2, Wytches 5, Deadpool 44, New Avengers 32, Batman Eternal 51, Darth Vader 3, Gotham Academy 6, Secret Avengers 14, and Elektra 11.

Spencer: There’s a lot I admire about the way Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, and Brett Booth bring their story of the two time-displaced Flashes to a close in The Flash 40. Booth rocks the three-way speedster battle with energetic pencils and layouts that manage to perfectly capture the feeling of speed, and the strategy Barry concocts to disable Overload’s abilities is quite clever. My favorite thread, though, is the “redemption” of Old Evil Flash. He finds a way to stop Overload based solely around the kind of compassion that has always been a major part of his character instead of resorting to vengeance, and ultimately takes responsibility for all of his crimes, which may be a more important moment than even his death in terms of redemption. Patty’s inability to forgive his crimes, though, may be even more significant — Venditti and Jensen find a way to condemn the Future Flash’s actions unequivocally without completely vilifying him, finding a kind of moral balance that “redemption” stories often miss. At times the issue feels a bit cramped and rushed, but I blame that on the creative team having to wrap up their story before Convergence begins; considering the space they had available, Venditti, Jensen and Booth have crafted a strong ending to their long-running storyline.

Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone’s Effigy, meanwhile, is still in the middle of its first storyline. Between the several pages of recap near the issue’s beginning and the good chunk of space devoted to more mysterious doings of this weird transcendent space cult (without any real forward movement from last month’s similar scene), issue 3 is clearly stuck in a bit of an awkward transition stage. When Seeley and Zarcone get a chance to focus on their characters, though, fun things happen — issue 3 hints at a possible spark between Chondra and Detective Moore, delves into the unique way dating worked amongst the cast of “Star Cops,” and gives us some brief but powerful glances at the way Edie views the world, and all work to great effect. The scenes revolving around fan culture and specifically the “Star Cops” convention and its attendees suffer a bit from a lack of subtlety, but with all the discussion about online harassment, it’s still a topic worth tackling even if Seeley can get a bit heavy handed at times. Effigy 3 isn’t the series’ most elegant issue, but I still want to see how this story plays out.

Speaking of “seeing how the story plays out,” The Wicked and the Divine 9 makes some serious strides in terms of pushing the long-term plot of this series forward. The Pantheon is completed, the broad strokes of their origin and purpose is revealed, and we begin to learn more about how the various gods’ abilities and power levels compare. I love every bit of it, but what caught my interest the most was the characterization of Ananke as the Pantheon’s parent, a comparison made explicit from the very first scene, when the page-turn transitions from Laura’s parents to Ananke, and a parallel that remains apt throughout the rest of the issue.

As adept as Ananke can be at comforting her charges, she’s just as likely to get into the same petty squabbles with them as most parents would with their children. I wonder, though: Is Ananke as well meaning as she seems? Her growing frustration with her immortality would be motive enough to turn on the Pantheon (something I speculated a while back), and her decision to inform Baphomet of his ability to perform the Prometheus Gambit is highly suspect. What do you think, Patrick? And what’s your take on Cassandra’s lack of inspiration or on Ananke’s assessment of Cassandra’s skills as a critic?

Patrick: Oh man, teasing out Ananke’s motivation is remarkably slippery. (In fact, Cassandra remarks on it a number of times during that interview.) I was a little worried that we were going to get too many answers during this interview, but Kieron Gillen knows how to write non-specific revelatory dialogue, and then call himself out on his bullshit. Gillen also has a knack for pithy, heartfelt truths, and I found myself moved by much of Ananke’s dialogue — particularly as see comforted Baphomet. My two favorites come back-to-back. The first: “You didn’t come here to talk about Lucifer. You came here to have your head stroked too.” That a beautiful, simple comment of how we mourn. The second: “Your defenses are at their weakest when you preform. You reveal yourself. You make yourself vulnerable.” She talking about supernatural stuff, but this is also literally true.

Suiciders 2 introduces a new character to its cast — perhaps to replace that poor immigrant family that was gunned down in the previous issue? Or maybe to replace Sutter, who gets fridged by issue’s end. The characters still feel paper-thin, even this new guy, who is cloaked in so much foreign mystery we never even get his name. We do get something of a nickname — “Straniero” (or sometimes “The Straniero”) — and that doubles as the title of the issue. That’s Italian for “foreigner,” and while I’m not super familiar with its use, it sure does feel like a slur.

So while this series is still feeling plenty tropey, writer and artist Lee Bermejo is able to leverage some pretty neat tricks to elevate those tropes. I initially hated the opening of this issue — where everyone’s speech balloons were spelled out phonetically. I thought Bermejo was trying to convey a dialect or something and was so frustrated at how slowly I had to read the text in order to make sense of any of it. But when we meet our perspective character, this Straniero, and realize that he has a hard time understanding people because they’re speaking English too fast, it’s clear that that’s what we’re experiencing. It’s really a beautiful little trick, exactly as frustrating as it’s supposed to be. Also, Bermejo’s artwork is stunningly on-point, adding some much-need heft to a simple narrative.

Meanwhile, Wytches 5 also has characters deciding to assert their identities, but instead of defining themselves by their ability to flex in the mirror or fuck a chick, Scott Snyder and Jock’s characters negotiate their own identities by what they can be to each other. The issue starts with that horrifying reminder of that moment at the end of the previous issue where Lucy seemingly doesn’t remember that she has a daughter. At first, I was a little taken aback by how quickly Charlie moves on from this idea when Office Petal shows up, but reading through to the end, it becomes much clearer: Lucy simply isn’t herself in this moment.  We keep flashing back to Lucy in the hospital and Charlie and Sailor struggling to connect with each other. I’m always fascinated by whose perspective these flashbacks are supposed to represent — Charlie’s? Sailor’s? The author’s? But I think we’re meant to view their relationship as a specific thing, worthy of its own perspective. Charlie’s only got value in how he relates to his daughter. Ryan, do those flashbacks work for you? And how much pain are you in right now?

Ryan: The flashbacks do work for me, because they help me forget when I need to suspend my disbelief in situations like when Charlie quickly abandons his converted wife to go rescue Sailor. The flashbacks remind me that, despite whatever nefarious arcane forces are in play, Charlie feels like a failed father and struggles against all odds and hope to redeem himself and reconcile with his daughter. Then we move to the action, slow suspense be damned! The last two-thirds of this comic read like the scene in Aliens when Ripley is gearing up, strapping flame throwers to pulse rifles, to confront the Queen and save Newt. The tension is palpable as the reader is shown in full the odious behind-the-scenes workings of the Wytches and Charlie infiltrates their haven. The three titular villains look gruesome, reminiscent of the Macbeth witches, or the three Fates from Greek lore. And am I in pain, Patrick? Well, yes, but not nearly as much as Charlie here.

Makes me want to gag. Jock’s lines and colorist Matt Hollingsworth continue to shine all issue. Do. Not. Sleep on this title.

Speaking of, the Big Sleep is imminent for Wade Wilson in Deadpool 44. Finishing his trilogy of issues out in the desert fighting bad-guy mercenaries led by Omega Red, ‘Pool and Red come to a final loggerhead. This comic highlights an aspect of DP which I feel like is often overlooked due to his puerile sense of humor and zaniness: he is the best damn mercenary in the world — not to mention a veritable bad-ass — and he shows it in this fight with Omega Red, one of the coolest Marvel villains.

The creative team explores the bond these two characters share as survivors of horrible, unethical experimentation, and dangles the carrot of forgiveness between the two. As the cover plainly states, Deadpool dies next issue, and the question left is: what legacy will Deadpool leave behind? or how will Deadpool’s character arc resolve? To borrow some wrestling jargon, will Wade go out as the gray-area’d tweener which has been his calling card, or will be experience a full baby-face turn? I am excited to find out; however, I am a little more skeptical of Shiklah’s development towards the end of the issue. Will we have time to explore her mounting army when we know that this series is one issue away from cancellation? I do not know, but I am, at the very least happy whenever Wade gets laid and seems happy, because anyone who followed him since 1997 knows that contentment has been consistently elusive. Check back for the beefy super-issue #250 next month to see how Deadpool will be remembered…forever!

Lastly, it’s time for a final stand in New Avengers 32. The show-down which has been building with everything on the line. The band of Multiversal Avengers squares off with the all-powerful, celestial Beyonders to end the extinction experiment once and for all. If you are a fan of reading a video game boss battle, than this is the comic for you; however, I found that I had very little stake in this fight. Readers know that everything re-boots in two months, and we barely know the noble warriors assembled to defend the Multiverse. While I care about Odinson and enjoyed his character’s arc through the issue in conjunction with his relationship with Hyperion, I always find myself detached during these huge events as they often lack the human element necessary for deeply connecting to the characters and their fate. Keep in mind: I love Jonathan Hickman; I would mow his lawn in the dead of night if he asked me to. He crafts, as always, a story with many intricate moving parts. I just do not know if this is my cup of tea. Mark, what stands out to you in this issue?

Mark: I’ve been pretty hard on both New Avengers and Avengers as Hickman’s run winds down here, but goddamn if I didn’t love New Avengers 32. Across all of Marvel’s titles I’ve really been digging Odinson as a badass character, so seeing him and Hyperion kamikaze into the Beyonders was a fitting, and awesome, conclusion.

After the big reveal last week Batman Eternal 51 is back in expository mode, setting the table for the final issue. It’s light on action but not unwelcome, since the dust clearing around Cluemaster’s big reveal left a lot of questions to be answered, and Cluemaster’s dressing down of Batman and Bruce Wayne is pretty great. I especially like that Cluemaster isn’t wrong. Batman tries to cut him down by calling him a second-rate Riddler, but Brown isn’t having any of it. He really did bring Batman and Gotham to its knees in a way few villains have before. Things end poorly for Arthur Brown, but Batman screwed the pooch pretty consistently over the past 52 weeks, and I’d be interested to see how that affects the character going forward. But I’m guessing that with Convergence we won’t get the chance.

By the time this Round-Up runs, Batman Eternal will be complete, and I can’t really say whether it’s been a worthwhile journey. I objectively appreciate the storytelling sleight-of-hand perpetrated by Eternal’s writers over the past year, and I admit to falling for it hook, line, and sinker. But at the end of the day is Eternal anything more than just a fun-but-empty diversion designed to sell more comics? Is it fair that I wanted it to be more? I was briefly tempted to go back and re-read the whole series before the final issue drops, but then I started thinking about all of the narrative wheel-spinning and dead-ends required to get here and my enthusiasm deflated. Maybe in a few years.

Speaking of deflated enthusiasm, I know the new Star Wars books have been getting pretty good buzz around here, but I really hated Star Wars 2 and decided the main series wasn’t going to be for me. Still, my friend recommended I give the side titles like Princess Leia and Darth Vader a shot saying they were doing really interesting things. Unfortunately, Darth Vader 3 was another example of the things I find bothersome about these new Star Wars titles.

It’s a thankless task having to come up with a new story for a character like Darth Vader. The arc has to fit within the confines of the new Lucasfilm approved canon, and nothing that happens can be so major as to change the events in that canon. I also get the appeal of a Darth Vader book from a purely commercial standpoint. If I were launching a brand new line of Star Wards comics I’d be an idiot not to include its most iconic character. But, man, does seeing Darth Vader like this ever undermine the guy. Darth Vader is supposed to be imposing and intimidating. It rubs me the wrong way to see Doctor Aphra casually chatting him up, tossing bon mot after bon mot his way. Maybe Kieron Gillen’s idea is to demystify the man behind the mask, but it feels counter to the character. Still, I recognize I might be in the minority here, so I’m interested to hear your take, Michael. And what’d you think of the Indiana Jones spoof of the first few pages?

Michael: Typically I’m the resident cynic when it comes to these things, so unfortunately Darth Vader 3 is not going to get any love from me, either. I suppose with any other character in the leading role this could be a potentially interesting issue, but similar to what Mark was saying, this just doesn’t seem like a Darth Vader story to me. The one-sided conversation that Aphra is having with Vader is somewhat amusing and his lack of participation does seem true to form, but it’s a bit much to facilitate an ongoing partnership. If Gillen is trying to demystify Vader as Mark theorized, then we should remember that learning about the man he was before the mask was pretty damn boring. Salvador Larocca employs the same visual references that the other Star Wars titles have thus far; in an inversion Luke/Vader battle in The Empire Strikes Back. Like Empire, Vader offers his hand to Aphra as she hangs over a vast bottomless pit. But instead of taking her changes down that shaft, she accepts Vader’s help.

I think that the first two issues of Darth Vader did a fine job of proving what The Dark Lord of the Sith would do under pressure, but Darth Vader 3 takes that notion and makes Vader seem a little desperate. We’ve seen Vader get desperate before however, employing the skills of bounty hunters to hunt down the Millennium Falcon in Empire. Giving him evil surrogate versions of R2-D2, C-3P0 and a comically Aspergerish archaeologist on the other hand is a little far-fetched for me. Also, the fact that Aphra says to Vader “You’re what I’ve been looking for all my life” is super weird on so many levels. Well, our “heroes” are headed to Geonosis to get Vader a droid army; hopefully the book rebounds at that point.

Gotham Academy 6 marks the conclusion of the first arc of the Becky Cloonan/Brenden Fletcher/Karl Kerschl misfit adventure. Fear not, Batman showing up at the end of last issue doesn’t mean that he stole the spotlight from Olive — if anyone has done that in Gotham Academy, it would be Killer Croc. We’ve seen Croc the thug and Croc the flesh-hungry animal, but Croc the gentle giant will always be my favorite. As Olive starts another fire and the building is falling down around them, Croc brings her to safety. Croc tells her about her mother’s split personalities and how he believed that she didn’t belong in Arkham, just like him. Olive lies to Batman and says that “The Diary of Mille Jane Cobblepot” was destroyed in the fire. Cleary Bats didn’t believe that, as we see the newly enrolled Damian Wayne steal it from Olive’s room.

The first arc of any “team book” is the assembling of our heroes, and Gotham Academy plays true to form. Cloonan and Fletcher have cooked up a pretty diverse group of kids in Olive, Maps, Pomeline, Colton and Kyle (and maybe boy-bat Tristan). This book has always reminded me of Harry Potter, and giving our heroes their own secret “Pizza Club/Detective Club” gives them their Dumbledore’s Army. Gotham City does not exist in a vacuum; the reverberations of one action are typically felt throughout the city. Gotham Academy started off in its own corner of the city, but it looks like it will be expanding to the larger Gotham narrative. Drew, in the world of endless Batman crossovers, do you fear that Gotham Academy becoming more integrated into the Bat-verse could be a bad thing? I think that Damian Wayne will be an interesting foil for the club, what’s your take?

Drew: I think it could be great — he’s obviously gotten more detective training than the rest of them (even if he doesn’t particularly enjoy detective work), but I wonder if friction between them could lead the Pizza Club to looking into Damian’s extracurricular activities. But for now, I’m happy to just be charmed by the idea of the Pizza Club — a cute nod to that other mismatched group of teens we know as The Breakfast Club. That charm comes double in Karl Kerschl’s art — and especially Msassyk and Serge Lapointe’s color work, which finds them using holds to deepen, soften, and accentuate Kerschl’s line work. Not to be outdone, guest artist Mingue Helen Chen takes those techniques a step further in her sections, banishing outlines almost altogether. The result is a book that looks and feels unlike anything else on the market.

Hey, speaking of totally unique comics, this week’s Secret Avengers 14 finds writer Ales Kot winding ever closer the conclusion of his idiosyncratic run. It opens with M.O.D.O.K. name-dropping the connection to Jorge Luis Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” simultaneously lampshading the fictionality and highlighting the danger of what Snapper is attempting. This idea has been a particularly ubiquitous one in Kot’s work of late, arising in Zero 15 as well as being named explicitly in The Surface 1. It’s a heady concept, but Kot leavens it with the brand of humor we’ve come to expect of this series. That humor has been hit-or-miss for me at times, but I found this issue as funny as it was strange. How did those jokes land for you, Spencer?

Spencer: I actually didn’t notice a ton of jokes in this issue — though what few there were landed perfectly for me — but I adored it nonetheless. With this issue Kot and artist Michael Walsh hit on every aspect that have made their run on Secret Avengers special, be it the humor, the heady concepts, or, perhaps most notably, the action.

What stands out to me the most about this issue, though, is how emotionally affecting it is. For all its weirdness, it turns out that Secret Avengers is actually about the power we all have to inspire, to better ourselves and others. Spider-Woman stops Snapper by empathizing with him, and her friendship with Vladmir has prepared him to make the ultimate sacrifice (and made that a heart-wrenching prospect). Love, no matter how strange a form it takes (we’ve got both Maria and M.O.D.O.K. and the Fury and the inter-dimensional monster on the table here), saves the day on more than one occasion. This issue is literally about the heroes making the world a better place by just imagining the world as a better place, and I can’t think of a more powerful message.

Although it doesn’t get as explicitly inspirational as Secret Avengers 14Elektra 11 too has a thread of hope running through it, though it’s one that only emerges after Elektra reaches her lowest point. Nearly defeated by Bullseye, Elektra can only ruminate on how a life of violence has aged her, worn her down, and left her with no choice but to die an early, violent death. Eventually, though, Elektra finds the strength to get up, fight back, and win, and it comes when she decides that no one will ever again tell her how to live or how to die. It’s a decisive answer to the questions the first issue posed — who is Elektra? She’s not who you tell her to be — she’s whoever she decides to be. Combine that with more of W. Haden Blackman’s inventive supernatural plot elements and Michael Del Mundo’s always phenomenal art and you’ve got a strong final issue for one of the more distinctive titles in Marvel’s roster. I’m sad to see it end, but I loved watching it go.

The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?