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, Spencer, and Ryan discuss Doctor Fate 1, Martian Manhunter 1, Robin: Son of Batman 1, Secret Six 3, Prez 1, Archie vs. Predator 3, Mad Max Fury Road Furiosa 1, The Kitchen 8, and Secret Identities 5.
Patrick: DC Comics continues to roll out it’s new universe this week, and that means a lot of new series that look like new series, a lot of new series that look like old series, and a lot of old series that… still look old. It’s a mixed bag that reveals that there may not be any single underlying philosophy to DC’s new approach to publishing.
Doctor Fate 1
Patrick: I always used to wish that Scooby Doo was a better TV show. There’s something so elemental and compelling about the make up of that group, and the fact that they drive around in a van, getting high and solving mysteries should make it the BEST SHOW EVAR. But, you know, it’s just not a very well-constructed show, so no matter how interesting the core concept is, a weak execution is always going to leave the show wanting. This is largely how I feel about Dr. Fate written by Paul Levitz and drawn by the fantastic Sonny Liew. The broad strokes of this origin story, and the series’ embrace of digital forms of communication, are both great. Liew’s cartoonier designs give the series a much more flexible relationship with reality, which goes a long way toward ingratiating the more supernatural elements to the reader. You wanna make me believe the kitty cat is talking? Draw him like this:
It’s just a shame that Levitz’ dialogue fights this casual believability at every turn. Khalid will not stop reiterating that he thinks he must be hallucinating, and it gets tiresome far too early in the issue. What’s more is that Kahlid’s Refusal Of The Call To Adventure is wholly unmotivated. Look how he’s the first person on a crowded train platform to jump down on to the tracks in order to save a little girl. There’s hero in him already, why can’t he just get his own disbelief that what’s happening to him is happening to him?
Drew: Interesting. I actually found his refusal to accept that cats and statues are talking wholly believable. Kahlid’s a stand up guy, for sure, and is clearly willing to risk his life to save another (and perhaps he plans to attend medical school in the interest of saving others), but none of that breaks the rules of his reality. That’s not to say his reluctance isn’t a little frustrating, but I think it’s supposed to be. We have the benefit of knowing that this is a superhero origin, which puts us closer in perspective to Bastet, who sees Kalhid’s ascension as inevitable.
Ultimately, that reluctance is a moot point; by the end of the issue, Kahlid is already flying around Manhattan (though he clearly hasn’t gotten the hang of things yet), and his father is in danger. Kahlid’s need for the powers of Dr. Fate may soon outweigh his discomfort with the idea. That should cement his abilities more permanently, and help him see the value of being Dr. Fate. Whether that means he’ll be ready for the coming war with Anubis is another matter entirely, but for now, I’m just excited to see him in that helmet.
Martian Manhunter 1
Michael: Martian Manhunter has had a hard time of it post Flashpoint – probably because it’s very likely impossible to make him equally impressive and sympathetic under The New 52’s banner of hardcore-ness. With Martian Manhunter 1 Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows take the opportunity provided by DC’s new direction to make J’onn J’onzz a respectful and congenial character once again with. Williams frames the first issue with the mysterious character of Mr. Biscuits, who may be good or bad or may just be able to tell if you are good or bad; it’s up in the air. The rest of the story is focused on the long-planned invasion of aliens who strike numerous points on Earth at the same time. Though they call themselves or their plan “Epiphany” it is pretty clear to me that these aliens are the “white Martians.” We see various scenes of alien infiltration from newscasters to “possessed children” that remind me of books like Animal Man and Swamp Thing. Throughout all of this, J’onn tries to be a hero but either fails or frightens people. We learn that J’onn was created as a weapon of mass destruction sent to Earth to befriend humanity as a first wave of the invasion.
Williams and Barrows play on the theme of terror a lot in this issue: either very clearly mapped as an analogue for terrorism or simply relying on old horror movie tropes like possession and disguised monsters. All of this enhances the narrative itself which is very actively trying to do some damage control with Martian Manhunter’s image. By making J’onn a sleeper agent/WMD, Williams is addressing Martian Manhunter’s New 52 depiction by having the hero trying to fight against it. J’onn doesn’t want to be a weapon, he wants to help. This is represented terrifyingly/heartbreakingly by Barrows when J’onn reaches out to help a boy after a plane crash.
In terms of writing I’m all about character rehab, so Williams and Barrows have piqued my interest so far.
Robin: Son of Batman 1
Spencer: Were any of you worried when you first saw that Batman and Robin scribe Peter Tomasi was stepping down, allowing penciller Patrick Gleason to take over writing duties on the new volume? I admit that I was, but I needn’t have been — the transition is absolutely seamless, and in fact, Gleason seems quite determined to reference past issues and follow up on dangling plot threads left by Tomasi as much as possible. Don’t think that these are just mere Easter Eggs, though — acknowledging and confronting Damian’s past is clearly Gleason’s goal with Robin: Son of Batman, and he makes a sound argument that it’s an essential step for Damian as well.
So much of Damian’s progress from assassin to superhero is owed to Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne, but now that he’s solidly established as Robin, Damian needs to step out of their shadow and embrace his own path to heroism. He isn’t his father, who (waaay back in Batman and Robin 1) could just light a boat on fire to let go of his past — Damian needs to confront his sins head-on, and unfortunately for him, many of his past mistakes are more than ready to fight back. It’s a compelling hook to this new chapter of Damian’s life, and fortunately, Gleason backs it up by perfectly capturing Damian’s voice and continuing to provide his (now trademark) aggressively adorable artistic interpretation of Robin. I couldn’t be more happy with the results.
Before I hand this off, Michael, I have a question I want to ask you: Does the dream sequence imply that when Damian died, he was sent to Hell?! Cause that’s a bit harsh…
Michael: As Spencer said, Gleason is very much carrying on the torch that Pete Tomasi handed him so going off of some previous nightmares Damian has had post-resurrection, it’s very likely that our boy wonder spent some time in the fiery pit.
I agree that this was a very strong first issue for Gleason as writer/artist. This is my favorite kind of new direction: it boldly blazes its own trail to welcome new readers while building on the foundation of prior stories for those of us who have been following for some time now. It makes all the sense in the world that Gleason would pit Damian against the daughter of Morgan Ducard, the man he murdered in Tomasi and Gleason’s first major New 52 arc. I am very intrigued to see how the confrontation/relationship between Damian and Ducard’s daughter plays out; both are children bred to kill who find themselves without a father. The only questions I had are with the new status quo for Damian: where’s Alfred? How exactly did Damian inherit a man slave on al Ghul island; not to mention Goliath (notice how I DID NOT call him a manbat)? I’m glad we got to get a glimpse of whatever Talia’s been up to – the end of this issue suggests that we might see her and Damian cross paths sooner than I had anticipated.
Secret Six 3
Patrick: The inherent problem with having a series lead by villains is that the storytellers are going to have to work extra hard to inspire the empathy of the reader. After all, I may not be able to understand having Spider powers, but I can certainly understand being an awkward, jokey nerdo. But if both the costumed identity and the secret identity are rooted in comically evil characteristics, what can I latch on to? Writer Gail Simone attempts to remedy this in issue three of Secret Six by putting our titular heroes in a nightmareish suburban hellscape, populated by horrible, muscly monster-men. Of course, they’re never identified as such: they’re just some dudes cat-calling Porcelein and Ventriloquist or a cop that beats his dogs. No doubt those are both despicable behaviors, but it’s remarkable how aggressive Simone writes the fucking suburbs. I suppose there has to be something that makes the Sixers a little less strange by comparison, but Simone also doesn’t back down from making them… well, just weird. First weird example: they all fucked on the couch during the party the night previous. Every single one. Not with each other (we’re lead to believe), but with, I don’t know, party-goers? I have no idea what to do with that information – it’s not particularly sex-positive, as there are multiple jokes about having to get a plastic cover to protect the couch; but it’s also not specific in it’s criticism of the Six. Are they immoral? Inconsiderate? Evil? Non-specifically weird? Bingo. That’s it.
And the whole thing is made immeasurably weirder by Dale Eaglesham’s art, which depicts every single male character (including the dog) as BUSTING WITH MUSCLE.
I’m certain these suburbanites aren’t supposed to look like the incredible Hulk.
Spencer: The abundance of muscles is a bit weird, but Eaglesham still manages to include a surprising variety of body types amongst all these muscle-bound men — the dog-beater is quite pudgy around the middle, for example, and one of the cat-callers is significantly rounder than the other. I just think we’re supposed to think of these guys as big muscle-headed lugs — the cat-callers were literally lifting weights in the middle of their driveway — and I can understand that choice.
Honestly, after two issues of art that was muddy and frustrating (at best), I’m just grateful to have Eaglesham here at all — Ken Lashley, at least with the style he used for Secret Six 1 and 2, just could not have drawn this issue. Eaglesham puts these characters through a wide array of emotions and some awfully fun panel layouts, and it’s just a joy to see this book finally looking so clear and lively.
To pick a bone with you real quick, Patrick: outside of the Ventriloquist, I wouldn’t call these guys “villains.” I suppose “anti-heroes” would work, but really, they’re just very screwed up people with powers. It’s their varying levels of dysfunction that bond these characters together, and Secret Six 3 benefits quite a bit from Simone’s decision to stop beating the “mystery” angle to death and just let the characters breathe, bounce off each other, and start forming relationships. I’ll admit that some of the jokes don’t quite land (the “weird sex on the couch” stuff just feels like Simone’s attempt to get one of her Twitter gags into the book, and I don’t really buy Strix having any sort of sex yet), but overall I still had a lot of fun with this issue. Secret Six still isn’t a perfect title, but it’s improved immensely since the last installment; here’s hoping that’s a pattern that holds up in the future.
Drew: What’s the difference between a trope and a universal truth? We can accept “star-crossed lovers” as a timeless premise, but “buddy cop story where one of them is an alien” comes off as totally hackneyed. I’m not sure I can really articulate what the difference is, but “teen president” falls decidedly into the latter camp. That means Prez 1 had to justify its existence right out of the gate, but unfortunately, its heavy-handed political commentary only makes it feel more half-baked.
I tend to think political satire is best done subtly, where the humor stems from the reality of the situation, but writer Mark Russell takes the opposite position, cranking up every aspect of his fictional world to eleven. His opinion of everything, from politics to media to surveillance is aggressively cynical, but also far too exaggerated to have any teeth. It’s not clear if we’re meant to be bemused or horrified at the prospect of dressing the homeless in advertisements, but since nobody would ever actually suggest such a thing, those emotions don’t matter.
More importantly, the specific political disfunctions undercut the premise of the story — the unlikeliness of a teenager being elected president — and rob it of valuable page time. By the issue’s end, the series still hasn’t reached the inevitable justification of its title, leaving me wondering why Russell spent so much time winking and nudging about corporations being people when the gist of “politics are batshit” might have been more interestingly expressed by making it look as much like reality as possible. Or maybe I’m just being hard on a first issue (it’s been known to happen).
Archie vs. Predator 3
Spencer: Riverdale seems like the ideal town, but what’s it really like to live in a town where Archie, of all people, is the one person whom everything revolves around? Alex de Campi and Fernando Ruiz decide to answer this question by focusing Archie vs. Predator 3 on poor Dilton, the teen genius and self-made millionaire whose remarkable accomplishments are consistently overlooked because all that matters in Riverdale are Archie-centric “dating and dancing” concerns. It’s lead to Dilton becoming slightly unhinged, but also leads to a surprisingly touching moment where he finally gets to play the hero — and more importantly, while Dilton feels the need to don the appearance of Archie to do so, Betty genuinely praises Dilton for his accomplishments. It’s all he’s ever really wanted.
It’s far more poignant than I expected from Archie vs. Predator, which in its first two issues veered wildly between the graphic nature of Predator and the self-centered humor of Archie, and it’s very much a trend that continues throughout the issue as the residents of Riverdale finally start to feel the weight of the fallen and show some real grief, and, dare I even say it, perhaps even some sympathy? With only three members of the Riverdale gang left standing I’m not sure whether any of them will survive, but perhaps any who do will walk away from the experience far less self-centered than they were before? That would be a victory far grander than even defeating the Predator himself.
Mad Max Fury Road Furiosa 1
Drew: One of my favorite rules of writing is to start your stories — and your scenes within them — as late as possible. That is, don’t waste time showing actions that don’t directly relate to the story. Mad Max: Fury Road does a fantastic job of this, taking just enough time to establish the “normal” of Immortan Joe’s citadel before throwing a big ol’ wrench in the gears. Indeed, the casual lack of obvious exposition — and massive list of things that are only implied or straight-up never explained — is one of the movie’s biggest charms. That might make fans apprehensive about picking up more detailed explorations of the world and characters of that movie, but as Mad Max: Fury Road: Furiosa demonstrates, those explorations only open up more intriguing questions.
In this case, the story of who Furiosa is and how she came to be remains shrouded in mystery. There are strong intimations that she may have been another of Joe’s wives before she lost her arm, but unlike last month’s issue, this doesn’t delve into her origin at all. Instead, this issue details how such a loyal and trusted warrior came to rebel against her warlord. It’s remarkably effective when capturing Furiosa’s dark brooding, but unfortunately, half of the issue is devoted to dialogue from the wives, which is often overdone to the point of parody. It might be a necessary trade-off — Furiosa’s silence is only effective in contrast to their constant chatter — but it leaves this issue as only a qualified success.
The Kitchen 8
Ryan: Loose ends: who needs ‘em? The deaths have been adding up over the past few issues, and the ladies of Hell’s Kitchen are paying the price for their newfound connections and security. Now that their husbands have been deposed and the mafiosos turned allies, Raven establishes herself as quite the queenpin; however, Angie and Tommy do not necessarily trust the new dynamics in the crew.
I’ve enjoyed this series thus far, and this last issue really brings home Raven’s journey. The characters feel organic and I genuinely care about the relationships between the main characters. This issue also keeps its recurring nods to the current events of the late 1970s with a sweet cameo from CBGB.
Ultimately, this finale kind of felt like the end of a Scorsese flick, replete with a flash-backs and comeuppance.
I love how Ming Doyle makes everything look dirty. As long as you do not mind a conclusion which tries to teach you a lesson, Kitchen 8 wraps things up quite nicely.
Secret Identities 5
Spencer: Secret Identities is a title full of characters keeping secrets, projecting one persona to the public while keeping their true selves hidden, so it’s no surprise that creators Jay Faerber, Brian Joines, and Ilias Kyriazis would eventually take the story to Hollywood. The contrast between how the Hollywood writers depict Luminary’s origin in their film and the horrid truth of the encounter is striking — movie Luminary is gifted by a wise, benevolent alien while the real Luminary watches her guards slaughtered and receives her powers by surviving a brutal attack — but I’m curious as to whether these changes are the result of Hollywood just trying to give her origin mass appeal, or of Luminary keeping the truth a secret. Either way, it’s a bit too much for Luminary to handle, but I haven’t quite gotten a handle on her coping mechanism, which is essentially to take a night off work and pick up a guy at the bar. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly a far cry from the dark secrets the rest of her team are hiding, but I also don’t think we’ve seen the full extent of Luminary’s secrets yet either (what’s up with the “virus” the alien cleansed her of?).
While Luminary’s secrets may still be emerging, though, Gaijin’s are about to be revealed to the rest of the team thanks to Recluse. With so many characters each hiding so many secrets in various stages of being uncovered, there’s always someplace interesting for Secret Identities’ plot to turn, and that keeps it an engaging, fast-paced read no matter what character it focuses on.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?