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, Drew, Michael, and Spencer discuss Justice League 40, Superman 40, All-New Captain America 6, Nova 30, Secret Avengers 15, S.H.I.E.L.D. 5, Silk 3, X-Men 26, Princess Leia 3 and Outcast 8.
Patrick: If you thought you were going to stay up on all the juiciest DC mythology this past week by simply reading Convergence, you’d be dead wrong! And, just theoretically here, if you thought you were going to provide comprehensive coverage of DC’s mythology on, say, your website or something, you’d want to discuss more than just Convergence! We’ve got some bombshells to unpack, but don’t worry: there’s plenty of honest character work and nuanced storytelling happening in other corners of the comic industry this week. Plus, where else are you going to read stories about Krakoa and M.O.D.O.K.?
Justice League 40
Patrick: One of the things that’s been notably absent from Convergence is a New 52 presence. Sure, New 52 Superman featured impotently in the zero issue (and then flew away and… forgot about it?), and the Earth-2ers are the protagonists of the weekly, but there’s still a very intentional walls between “New 52” and “Convergence” (and, for that matter, “Multiversity”). Justice League 40 (which, incidentally may be among the last books to have the New 52 branding emblazoned across its cover) makes a specific effort to disabuse readers of the fact that there ever were any walls up in the first place. From the perspective of Metron (DC’s version of Marvel’s Uatu, the Watcher), we start with some multiversal gobbledygook, before getting a sad little coda to the previous arc in Justice League, the extremely earthbound “Amazo Virus” story. It’s a smart way for writer Geoff Johns to assure the readers that we are, indeed, telling stories that are “happening” in the current continuity. That the rest of the narrative breathlessly rockets through time and space and transcends realities is then also unquestionably part of the narrative that “counts.” Y’know, if that kind of thing matters to you. Hey Michael, does that kind of thing matter to you?
Michael: Convergence has been bad, but now that you remind me of New 52 Supes “forgetting about it,” it just got way worse. Justice League 40 might have been my favorite New 52 issue of Justice League yet, which is telling since the League itself only shows up halfway on one big splash page by Jason Fabok. When The Anti-Monitor talks to Metron of the looming Darkseid War, he completely dismisses Brainiac’s multiversal meddling in Convergence. Johns is top dog at DC now and though I often think his New 52 iterations lack the heart of his earlier work, I also kind of get a kick out of how he just does whatever the hell he wants; editorial edicts be damned. He’s clearly saying that Convergence will have no effect on his plans for Justice League. In fact, judging by future Justice League solicitations he doesn’t seem to be all that affected by anyone’s character plans post-Convergence: Batman is still Bruce Wayne, Supes isn’t rocking his Action Comics T-shirt and Wonder Woman isn’t sporting her super dumb David Finch “sleeve spike gauntlet things.” Johns claims that everything in Justice League has been building to “Darkseid War” so I hope something big happens, but I’m also not holding my breath. I mean, remember when “Trinity War” was going to be the big event instead of being a bloated Forever Evil prelude? After all, Anti-Monitor’s “penance” sounds A LOT like the Trinity of Sin’s penance. I’m calling it now: “Darkseid War” is just the build-up to the next big arc “Stretched Thin,” the battle between Plastic Man and Elongated Man.
Michael: Superman 40 gives John Romita Jr. the double duty of being both artist and writer. How does that go for him? …not great, Bob. Lately across the Super-books DC has been really adamant on reminding us of Superman’s brand new solar flare power and how it makes him temporarily mortal. So if you’ve ever wanted to see the Justice League sucker-punch a weakened Superman or get him drunk then Superman 40 is the book for you…?
It’s probably unintentional, but I did like how this standalone issue makes Romita the sole bridge from former Superman writer Geoff Johns to future Superman writer Gene Luen Lang. Romita’s characterization of Supes is pretty jarring. Actually his characterization of most of the Justice League is very different from what we’re used to; Batman is disturbingly jovial. I’m actually kind of torn when it comes to Romita’s depiction of a Justice League that is actually…having fun. Like many of DC’s characters, the League has suffered from the overly-serious tone of The New 52. So while I think it’s great to have some enjoyable personal interactions between these super friends, Romita’s clumsy writing makes him ill-equipped for the job. I don’t think Romita vibes well with Superman in word or art. He shows a near-mortal Superman who gets hangovers and is late for work (…the work of saving lives unfortunately) which makes him a lot like another hero Romita has spent a lot of time working on. It’s basically a Spider-Man story dressed in a Superman costume.
All-New Captain America 5
Drew: If the first few issues of All-New Captain America was Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen making the case for why Sam Wilson was ready to be Captain America, issue 5 is about why he isn’t. It’s not about any failing on Sam’s part — indeed, he sees the fight to the bitter end, even at great personal cost — but about exactly how the role of Captain America lines up with having a normal life. Steve Rogers could hack it because he didn’t have a normal life (at least, not one that survived him being frozen for a generation), but since that was a quirk of his origin, he never really complained about it. Sam, on the other hand, has living relatives and maybe even designs on being a father some day, which makes the the duty of being Cap all the more bittersweet. Remender smartly digs into this notion as Sam continues to battle Zemo’s sterilization plan, examining the fatherhood that Sam may very literally be sacrificing in the name of protecting the world. It’s smart as ever, and Misty Knight packs a few unexpected twists that make this issue an absolute blast, though the biggest draw for me continue to be Immonen’s dynamic pencils, which makes us feel every blow, physical and otherwise.
Spencer: The brief reunion between Sam Alexander and his father in the pages of Gerry Duggan and David Baldeon’s Nova 30 raises a natural question: now that he’s back, should Sam return the Nova helmet to his father? The Chitauri attack puts this question on the back-burner for the moment, but it fuels Sam’s self-doubt and colors the way the readers view his actions for the rest of the issue. After all, the entire Chitauri attack is Sam’s fault, but he also recognizes that and puts in agonizing effort to neutralize the Chitauri’s meteor strikes. It speaks to the contradiction that’s always been at the heart of Duggan’s Nova, the idea that being Nova is making Sam a better person and a better hero, but that it may still simply be too much power and responsibility for a teenager to handle. This is Sam’s final exam, and there may be no better arena for him to finally prove himself in once and for all than one with his father watching.
Secret Avengers 15
Patrick: All the way back to the first issue, it was clear that Secret Avengers was never going to be about the particulars of the plot, but about the intricacies of its characters. Writer Ales Kot doubles down on this idea in the final issue, all but refusing to show the reader the final climactic moments in the battle against Tlon. In fact, the only bit of that action we see is Vladimir, the sentient bomb, falling on the site. Only, y’know, we don’t see the explosion — instead Kot and artist Michael Walsh let the words of another artist paint the scene, as the bomb sings Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine. The scene is intentionally self-contradictory; Vladimir is a bomb, usually considered to be an instrument of death, but through Apple’s lyrics, insists that he is not only a force for good, but also resiliently so. The idea of love and life conquering hate and death is reiterated in Maria and M.O.D.O.K.’s conversation (which has also been telegraphed since the early issues of this series). Actually, all of these little codas make a point of showing the characters at peace, instead of in a state of on-going conflict. It’s a vote for nonviolence, which only seems weird surrounded by the likes of Deadpool and Black Widow.
Spencer: Yet it’s a message that resonates anyway, Patrick. I feel like there’s quite a few messages to be found in this issue, actually, but I think my favorite is the idea of not fearing the future, but simply riding the wave of life wherever it takes you. It’s a message most beautifully delivered through Maria Hill, who has feared “the void” since a child and has watched that fear consume her as she grew older and everything turned into “the void.” There’s something almost revelatory about watching the workaholic cast of Secret Avengers attain happiness through not working, but that hits home the most for Maria Hill, who has finally found the strength to let go and stop fearing the future.
Normally not knowing would send Maria into a panic, but now she actually seems to have found some peace in the concept, and that’s some a major development for our harried S.H.I.E.L.D. leader indeed.
Before we say goodbye to Secret Avengers, I also just want to mention how much I’ve loved Tradd Moore’s covers and Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson’s interiors over the last 15 issues. This book has looked fantastic both inside and out, and I’ll miss that — there’s no other team that could do M.O.D.O.K. justice the way Kot, Walsh and Wilson have. I think I’ll miss that lil’ terrorist most of all.
Drew: Why do you suppose Spider-Man works so well in team-ups? Is it his gregariousness? His sense of responsibility? His street-level focus? Whatever it is, the fact that Spider-Man could work with just about everyone made him an important piece of connective tissue in the Marvel Universe. Filling a similar role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it makes sense that Marvel would work so hard to give S.H.I.E.L.D. those same Spider-Man-like qualities. That means that any guest-star should work, including whoever Marvel might see fit to promote at the moment. That might be a cynical take on why Scarlet Witch appears in this issue (got to generate that movie synergy), but my point is that those machinations don’t matter — this series works with whoever writer Mark Waid pulls off of the bench. This issue takes the form of a magical mystery tour, as Wanda joins the team to track down a magical weapons manufacturer in hopes of figuring out who is attacking mystics around the world. The twist may be obvious to anyone paying close attention — for all of the guns in this issue, Checkhov’s is actually a bit more mundane — but the real fun is the friction between Wanda and the rest of the team. Oh, and Mike Choi’s clean, almost ligne claire-like linework.
Spencer: Despite the allies she made in “Spider-Verse,” Cindy Moon is still rather isolated. Robbie Thompson and Stacey Lee seem to be aiming to correct that in Silk 3, first by showing what a negative effect her isolation has had on her. While the first two issues established Cindy’s melancholy longing for her lost family and friends, this month we get a first-hand look at how angry it’s made her, which Lee and Thompson establish by intercutting her savage beating of Rage with her similar beat-down of Ezekiel years earlier.
It’s clear that Cindy still has some issues to work out, and she’s not going to do that alone. I get the feeling that Rage/Harris Porter, whom Cindy shows mercy to, may have a hand in her development, but the more immediate help comes courtesy of the Fantastic Four (and lemme tell ya, Lee may just draw the most adorable FF ever). Cindy needs allies besides the “Spiders” who can help integrate her into the superheroic community, and with their strong familial bond, the FF may be just the allies for the job.
Patrick: I like that there aren’t just hints of help coming from the superhero community. We get that one-page scene of Porter’s kid watching the news with his babysitter, and she seems blown away by Silk’s heroics. She even draws a little crayon doodle of Silk! (Complete, of course with sunshine and flowers.) The issue spends so much time reiterating Cindy’s physical characteristics — i.e., she’s fast, she falls a lot, she was in isolation for over a decade — that it’s easy to think that Cindy herself is also too focused on these things. But she also happens to be kind, merciful and perceptive. I love that she second guesses letting Porter go, but does it anyway. She’s trusting her kinder instincts when she believes his “sob story,” even through she recognizes that it’s “cliche and [probably] fake.” Cindy might not see that optimism pay off, but the audience does — Porter does have a kid, a sweet one that already idolizes Silk. It’s a shining call for optimism, so I can’t imagine a better team up for Silk than the Fantastic Four (in all their adorable glory).
Spencer: With X-Men 26, G. Willow Wilson and Rolano Boschi have crafted an issue that manages to hit every single one of my emotional soft spots. The story basically boils down to Rachel discovering the truth behind the living ground monster and Storm destroying it, but the issue’s emotional core is found in the relief these five X-Men feel when they’re reunited and the compassion and empathy Rachel feels towards the creature. There’s a lot of fantastic lessons in play here — the necessity of teamwork, the secret of moving past pain (feel it, acknowledge it, and get on with your life), the way that even the most insignificant being leaves behind a legacy that can comfort those who loved them — and they might all feel like too much if they weren’t grounded by the Krakoa story and the emotions of the X-Men that we’ve spent four issues delving into. Everything that happens feels like a natural extension of their already established personalities and relationships, and the emotional climaxes are poignant without being sappy: that’s a winner in my book.
Drew, were you as touched by this ending as I was? And what are your thoughts on Boschi’s art? I’ve always found it to be a bit loose for my tastes, but I think he manages to come up with some surprisingly effective and eye-catching images this time around.
Drew: His lines are loose, for sure, but his directing is fantastic, so an issue focusing on a giant rock monster (reducing the humans to almost featureless miniatures) is a perfect application of his skills. Indeed, the staging is so compelling, that I didn’t notice how few faces there are during that emotional climax until just now. Part of that is just how strong Rachel’s voice is throughout the issue. I haven’t loved the narration in every issue, but Wilson knocks it out of the park here, tying up the threads of this arc and still finding time to dig into all of those emotional beats Spencer mentioned. Plus, Krakoa being adorable.
That right there is worth the cost of the issue alone.
Princess Leia 3
Patrick: In Episode IV, Tarkin makes an example out of Leia’s homeworld and destroys it. The film is content to leave this as a display of imperial callousness and military might, but that’s only a slice of what’s actually going on there. I’ve been impressed with Mark Waid and Terr Dodson’s series’ ability to plumb the psychological and political depths of the ramifications of Tarkin’s actions, all through the eyes of the last daughter of Alderaan. Each issue has come at it from a different angle, and issue three is the conceit that has lead to the most action so far: suspicion. A surviving Alderaan enclave on planet Sullust doesn’t take kindly to Leia appearing out of the blue (in a converted Imperial ship no less) and claiming to be their savior — especially when the only reason Alderaan was destroyed in the first place was to rattle the Princess. This enclave, lead by Preserver Jora Astane, places the blame for this loss squarely on Leia, and distrust turns to outright aggression when Storm Troopers attack! I love love love that this is one of those stories where Leia gets to muscle and fight and think her way out of trouble — I was beginning to worry that all of her victories would be purely diplomatic. Dodson and Dodson’s art does struggle from time to time to establish a real sense of place; the lava caverns of Sullst end up looking a little samey with the abstracted, single-color backgrounds.
Drew: From issue 1, Outcast has had an enemy, but no plan of attack for our heroes. The more they learn, the more they realize they don’t know, but issue 7 ended with a decisive plan to double-check Reverend Anderson’s previous exorcisms. This issue found them adding one more in the “definitely still possessed” category, and another in the wind (but likely also still possessed), which left Kyle suspicious that the good Reverend has any clue what he’s doing. It’s a great moment that puts all of the cards on the table, forcing the Reverend to reveal his visit from Sidney. Of course, the problem may be much, much bigger than the Reverend ever realized. Robert Kirkman and Paul Azateca also remind us of Meagan’s trip to Charleston — and especially that she hasn’t told Mark about seeing either Allison or Donnie. It’s not totally clear how this secrecy ties into the possessions, but with their missing girl in Charleston, it may for now be about clarifying exactly who Kyle and the Reverend might run into while in town.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?