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, Drew, Shane, and Michael discuss Kaptara 3, Southern Cross 4, Sons of the Devil 2, Jem and the Holograms 4, Effigy 6, Gotham by Midnight 6, We Are Robin 1, Flash 41, Superman 41, Howard the Duck 4, and The Black Hood 5.
Spencer: The sheer variety you’ll find among comic books today is just staggering. Just in this week’s offerings alone we’ve got sci-fi, horror and supernatural, gritty crime noir, superheroes, and a talking duck, just to name a few. Moreover, we’ve got new stories being launched, beloved stories wrapping up, stories taking off in surprising new directions, and stories sticking to what they’ve always done best. No matter who you are, I think you’ll find a book you’ll love being discussed in today’s Round-Up.
Spencer: Sci-fi has always been a genre rife with political commentary, and Kaptara 3 gives Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod a chance to try their hand at it — albeit with their typical irreverent charm. Keith and his crew are captured by Glomps, literal trolls who are a stand-in for almost every type of vile misogynistic, racist, homophobic user who has ever trolled the internet. The comparisons would be a little heavy-handed if Zdarsky and McLeod weren’t so hilariously vicious, painting the Glomps more as pathetic annoyances that nobody takes seriously — and whom Keith actively pities by the end — than any sort of actual threat.
I have mixed feelings about Keith’s approach here. Hate is something that’s taught from one generation to the next, and real life trolls aren’t as unlikely to reproduce as the Glomps — leaving them be may not be the best way to stomp out their outdated, hurtful viewpoints. That said, it’s absolutely true that this kind of thinking has a limited lifespan; society is moving on and leaving them behind. The best way to combat trolls may simply be to show that society no longer has any place for them — to be valuable members of society, as Keith petitions Melvon to be — instead of expending energy fruitlessly engaging them on their terms. It’s smart, topical, and thoroughly, 100% bizarre: in other words, Zdarsky and McLeod at their best.
Patrick: I think what’s so powerful about Keith’s solution is that it boils down to: ignore them. While that’s not always going to be the most effective approach in real life, that is almost always true on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls, they say. And those things really are disgusting. Evidently their cursing is so bad, no magic on Kaptara would translate it!
I also really enjoy that Keith is about to get the Wizard Melvor to join up with them simply by asking him. Melvor is a grumpy old man, who spends his time hilariously complaining about paying for channels he doesn’t watch, but it’s clear that there’s more to him than that. While infiltrating the glomp camp, Melvor makes himself appear as his own severed head — that’s fucking awesome. It’s amazing what he’s capable of when he’s not stuck in the rut carved out by modern conveniences like cable packages. I’m beginning to think that that is what this series is really going to be about: escaping the modern mundane to embrace adventure.
Southern Cross 4
Patrick: Braith might be uncovering more information about the shady goings-on aboard the Southern Cross — and how her sister’s death might play into said goings-on — but the real star of this issue is the mind-bendingly weird gravity drive malfunction. Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger start playing the 2001 game, and start delivering weird surreal imagery apparently for its own sake. Or, at least, because the gravity drive has a destabilizing effect on reality. That leads to pages that feel like they’d be more at home in Grant Morrison’s Nameless or Ales Kot’s Zero, and just like those series, this issue resists being neatly categorized.
That abstraction — and Braith’s own embrace of it — makes the mini-war she’s about to wage against the smugglers that killed her sister, and have now made an attempt on her life, all the more interesting. Right at the end of the issue, she blows a bunch of credits on some drugs, unconcerned about the expense, saying “where I’m going I won’t need it” as if to imply that she’s already becoming one with the drive (or something). I’m looking forward to getting clued into Braith’s perception of her own reality right now, but that will have to wait until next month.
Sons of the Devil 2
Four people are sitting around a table talking about baseball or whatever you like. Five minutes of it. Very dull. Suddenly, a bomb goes off. Blows the people to smithereens. What does the audience have? Ten seconds of shock. Now take the same scene and tell the audience there is a bomb under that table and will go off in five minutes. The whole emotion of the audience is totally different because you’ve given them that information. In five minutes time that bomb will go off. Now the conversation about baseball becomes very vital. Because they’re saying to you, “Don’t be ridiculous. Stop talking about baseball. There’s a bomb under there.” You’ve got the audience working.
Drew: Alfred Hitchcock reiterated his “bomb under the table” example countless times over his career, usually highlighting the difference between surprise and suspense, but I think it’s important to note that surprise is just as essential to his films as suspense is. That is to say: the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Few single issues can illustrate that better than Sons of the Devil 2, which manages both the slow burn of Travis being stalked by a sadistic killer and the unexpected twist of Travis stumbling upon Klay’s murderer. It’s a tricky tightrope act, keeping us hooked both long- and short-term, but writer Brian Buccellato tackles the issue with such confidence, there’s never any confusion at those hand-offs. Artist Toni Infante continues to impress, as well, employing just about every inking technique I can name, from dry brush to zip-a-tone to spattering. It makes for a gritty, textured world that makes every twist Buccellato can come up with seem totally natural.
Jem and the Holograms 4
Drew: It’s remarkable how relative importance is. In the grand scheme of things, who you date in your early 20s or whether you’re a few minutes late to a gig are pretty harmless, but in the moment, those feel like some of the most important things in our lives. It can be a struggle to dramatize those more modest conflicts without losing perspective, but Jem and the Holograms continues to prove that it’s possible to become invested in any drama so long as the characters themselves are likable. It’s no secret that I don’t always have patience for teen drama, and early-20s drama is only a small step removed from that, but I’ll be damned if Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell don’t have me hooked.
A big piece of that is Campbell’s art, which is so soft and inviting it’s hard for even me to scoff, but Thompson also manages to keep those more modest dramas tight by focusing on the smaller moments. Kimber and Stormer’s will they/won’t they is decidedly low-stakes, but it’s so sweet, I can’t help but root for them. Thompson manages to draw us into those little moments at every turn, so when the issue closes with a literal life-and-death cliffhanger, it feels that much bigger.
Spencer: You’re absolutely right that Thompson and Campbell focus on the smaller moments, Drew. It’s evident from just the pacing alone — the entire issue covers just the time it takes to set up for the two bands’ gigs, and while a lot happens, none of it is exactly monumental. That’s perfectly fine, though, cause all those little moments are not only charming in their own right, but work together to paint a much finer picture of these characters. The closing cliffhanger isn’t just a sudden, shocking inflation of stakes, but a threat against characters we’ve spent so much time with that we can’t help to care and worry about them.
That said, yeah, I’m super thrilled to see a little action — and a little attempted murder — finally entering the picture. My experience with the original Jem is pretty limited, but from what I can tell, attempted murder was always one of the core elements of the show, y’know?
Spencer: Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone’s Effigy 6 is an…odd issue, to say the least. What started out as a murder mystery/examination of fame in its first issue has quickly evolved into something much stranger, a story involving “narrators” taking over people’s bodies and nuns with machine guns fighting against new religions. So far it makes little sense, despite these ideas being in the center of the entire mystery that kickstarted this series to begin with. Fortunately, Seeley and Zarcone’s grasp of character is as strong as ever, and that’s what saves this story for me. Chondra is just as lost I am, despite her attempts to control her life through “narrative therapy.” What Chondra discovers is that control is just an illusion, and that’s beautifully illustrated by Zarcone when we see Chondra’s typical nine-panel “confessional” shatter under the realization.
I may not understand what sort of mumbo-jumbo the Influence Center is peddling, but I can certainly relate to someone who has had her illusions about her life shattered by tragedy, and it’s that kind of storytelling that keeps me invested in the story even as it takes strange turn after strange turn.
Gotham by Midnight 6
Shane: When a title is built as a vehicle for a particular creator, it rarely survives past their departure, and so without superstar horror artist Ben Templesmith, I was very skeptical about Gotham by Midnight’s future. Not anymore. Juan Ferreyra may offer more traditional artwork, but it evokes an equally foreboding atmosphere, with an emphasis on portraying how the ordinary person reacts to the supernatural. And although I felt Ray Fawkes wrote his original scripts towards letting Templesmith’s art shine, he steps up his game in this issue, crafting an intriguing one-and-done story that, while ultimately inconsequential, quickly draws the reader in and sets the stage for much deeper happenings. I felt immediately re-invested in this after-hours police team, particularly Detective Drake, who finds herself struggling with her banshee heritage even as Jim Corrigan — who, in another world, might act as her mentor — can barely contain the awe-inspiring force of the Spectre. None of these characters are functional individuals, and that’s part of what makes Gotham by Midnight one of DC’s top sleeper titles in their new line. Add in the reboot debut of fan-favorite character Kate Spencer, and this is a jumping-on issue I would highly recommend to any fan of Batman titles, police procedurals, horror fare, or just plain good comics.
We Are Robin 1
Michael: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: DC knows that any idea is made infinitely better by adding Batman to the equation. Remember Gail Simone’s The Movement? Lee Bermejo and Jorge Corona’s We Are Robin 1 seems like a more viable “outsider teen vigilante” book than that. The Batman lens makes this book so much easier to delve into; we’ve got some references to “Endgame,” Leslie Thompkins and the young buck Duke Thomas who we’ve gotten to know in the pages of Batman.
After his parents were infected with Joker’s Endgame virus (and set up to be killed a la the Waynes) they have gone missing, leaving the system to shuffle Duke from foster home to foster home. Duke mentions how his mom likes “Clean precise language. Clean everything” — he’s not accustomed to living on the streets, which makes him the perfect protagonist for us (clearly) non-street dwelling comic book fans. All the while we see glimpses of the “We Are Robin” crew (if that’s what we’re calling them) assembling and preparing to induct Duke into their society. They talk about Duke as if he’s the chosen one — but of course there are skeptics among them. Artist Jorge Corona frames all of the “We Are Robin crew” panels very indirectly: we don’t really get a clear(ish) view of them until the final page; until then they are lurking in the shadows. The sewer-dwelling cult is an idea that is so very Batman that we’ve seen it before in comics, TV and film. I am curious who the mysterious benefactor in the epilogue is — my first guess is Alfred, plus it kinda sorta looks like he has a robotic hand. Then again, The Joker cut off Alfie’s RIGHT hand; if this is indeed a robotic hand it seems to be the left one. I mean, it still could be Alfred though.
As much as I love Lee Bermejo’s artwork, it’s probably for the best that he isn’t penciling We Are Robin. His artwork is typically best when based off of realism-based scripts — not to mention the fact that doing double duty writing and drawing would eventually trip him up (I’m curious to see how long Pat Gleason lasts doing that with Damian, Son of Batman.) Corona’s more exaggerated and slightly cartoonish style is better suited to the premise of teens fighting crime. Besides being a Batman book,We Are Robin also has the benefit of using the bones of elements from both Batman and Detective Comics. Most of us will recognize Duke from Snyder’s Batman but some may have missed that the Robin crew is made up of the oddball group of juvenile vigilantes from Detective Comics Endgame 1. Though I wasn’t too fond of that issue, I always appreciate incorporating elements to make them stronger. None of these youths are “true Robins” but I couldn’t help but notice that Duke had something in common with every other Robin: he’s sort of been cursed by working with Batman.
Spencer: I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole “Barry’s father is falsely accused of killing his mother” storyline, partially because it gives a tragic origin to a character who never needed one (there was something inspiring about the fact that Barry’s Silver Age origin had him becoming a hero simply because it was the right thing to do), and partially because, just like all tragic origins, it consumes Barry to the point that it begins to consume the stories around him. After Flash: Rebirth and the first season of the Flash TV series, I’m simply sick of hearing about Barry’s parents, and that doesn’t help set Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, and Brett Booth’s The Flash 41 off on a good foot for me. Even though it’s important to reestablish the Barry’s relationship with his father and with Frye, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Barry have those same conversations multiple times before, and it’s exhausting.
Because I was grumpy to begin with, some of this issue’s flaws stood out to me in ways they haven’t before (Booth’s art is a bit busy in places, and the dialogue is often too “comic-booky” for its own good), but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. I love that Venditti and Jensen are reintroducing more Rogues (such as Double Down), the mystery behind Zoom is intriguing, and there’s a lot of fun to be had watching Barry adjust to his new living situation.
Barry’s been in deep trouble most of this run, so there’s something refreshing about getting to see him get caught up in wacky hijinks — if nothing else, it’s a nice change of pace after the long, long “Future Flash” storyline. Hopefully the pattern holds, and the creative team will find interesting ways to tell a story I’m sick of reading — it would be quite a feat, but I’m quite an optimist.
Shane: It’s a bold new era of Superman, and from the very first page that’s made clear. For those of us reading the broader line, we know that Superman has lost a good deal of his powers–including flight, which explains why he’s hitching a ride on the back of an airplane–but even for someone reading just this issue, a seismic shift is clear…and judging by the smile on Clark’s face, this new direction could be a very exciting one.
Michael: To step outside of the narrative of Superman 41, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see the “true beginning” of the outed Superman that we’ve seen in the pages of books such as Action Comics and Batman Superman. But let’s just assume that DC jumped the gun and spoiled the big plot point of “Truth” to sell books and move on. I liked the simplicity of that first scene where Clark is riding the plane — Romita seems to imply that he’s been lifted of the burden of harboring his super secret. Yang provides us with a House of Cards-ish journalism story that gives us a chance to see the new Clark/Jimmy dynamic before everything goes south when his Clark’s identity is blown.
I gotta say that I am getting a little tired of this “solar flare” power of Superman’s. Despite the fact that it temporarily drains him of his powers, Superman has used this new power an AWFUL lot lately. A lot of instances — including this issue — he uses the solar flare to resolve a conflict that he could have easily handled otherwise. It’s like when you play a video game and needlessly use an excessive super power on a couple of henchmen; just uncalled for. This issue was definitely a step up from Romita’s solo issue (yeesh) and I’ll be interested to see how much plays into Lois inevitably blowing the whistle on Clark.
Howard the Duck 4
Patrick: Somewhere, buried underneath some half-formed jokes, Howard The Duck is a nuanced criticism of comic book nonsense. We’ve already been to space and back in this series, so it should come as no surprise that the targets of Chip Zdarsky’s satire are about as broad as the entire Marvel Universe. Issue four seems hell-bent on making the absurdity of that scope known: not only does Howard follow Doctor Strange in to some kind of hell-dimention for a game of poker, but we get a flashback to the original Secret Wars (and by extension, the original Battleworld). It’s when Zdarksy is reaching for just-slightly-weirder versions of bits and pieces of Marvel lore that his eye for satire comes out swinging the strongest. Instead of the Infinity Gems, we’re dealing with the Abundant Gems, instead of battling Demons, Strange is gambling with them, and (my favorite) one of the Abundant Gems is called “a second dance gem.” I love the idea that specific powers of the gems are arbitrary (compassion! — take that indigo lanterns) because it sheds light on the some quality in the real Infinity Gems. Reality Gem? The fuck is that supposed to mean anyway?
Zdarsky’s humor gets a lot more toothless when the targets are outside of the world of comics, and I find myself groaning at anything not totally self-effacing. There’s a joke about gentrification that drives the price of a one bedroom apartment up to $850,000 a month. Howard mentions that gentrification is “his mortal enemy,” but that’s such a generic perspective that it feels like it’s coming straight out of a hacky joke handbook. And I know, I know: it’s probably not good form to isolate and criticize individual jokes, there were a couple in here that really didn’t land. Since the jokes that are so specifically in the character of Howard the Duck do hit so hard, it’s sort of baffling why there would need to be so many that miss.
The Black Hood 5
Patrick: Last month, Drew and I were marveling at how effectively a ticking clock ratcheted up the tension in Hettinger’s quest to avenge himself and clear his name. Issue 5 takes advantage of that urgency by dropping the reader in on a fresh scene every couple pages and forcing the reader’s brain to frantically fill in the gaps between. As a result, when Greg finally kicks down the Deputy Mayor’s door — and delivers a cheesy “Connection” pun — we have almost no idea how he plans on confronting this guy and/or clearing his own name. I love Greg’s solution: put the Hood on Cuthbert’s face and throw him out the window. That solution reinforces the idea established early on in this series that one of the great powers of the Black Hood is the power to die. And just like the OG Hood’s death in the first issue, Cuthbert’s death solidifies the idea of the Black Hood in Greg’s mind. That’s the only part of the issue that rests a little uneasily with me:
Greg seems a little confused still. Is the mask his sin or his salvation? The most obvious comparison I can make is to Batman — this is almost a yes-father-I-will-become-a-bat moment — but I’m not sure there’s much romanticism tied to Greg’s transformation. Then again, why start romanticizing anything at this juncture?
Drew: For me, what’s jarring about that ending is how abrupt it felt. We had heretofore understood Greg’s use of the mask in relation to drug use and clearing his own name. This issue did a great job of building towards how he resolved the latter issue, but his drug use is resolved in a quick montage about “a thirty day program.” It’s not that I necessarily expect this series to become about the struggle of sobriety, but without spending some quality time with Greg in rehab, it’s hard to understand his resolution to continue fighting as the Black Hood. He can go back to being a cop now, like he kept saying is all he ever wanted, and now has a relatively clear head about his actions, so why would he choose to do anything else?
If I’m being hard on this issue, it’s only because writer Duane Swierczynski had done such a brilliant job establishing Greg’s motives in the previous issues. I bizarre mix of guilt, drug use, and idleness drove Greg to don the mask the first time, and an open vendetta kept him in the mask. The end of the issue lacks any of that specificity, leaving Greg as just another superhero who fights for good for the sake of it. I suspect we’ll get more on this going forward — and I’ll definitely be back to see where things go next — but it’s a little disappointing to see this series lose some of what made it so unique.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?