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, Drew, Ryan, Michael and Shane discuss Saga 30, The Fox 4, Injection 3, Starfire 2, Justice League of America 2, Justice League United 11, Batman 42, Catwoman 42, Gotham Academy 8, Constantine: the Hellblazer 2, and Mad Max Fury Road: Max 1.
Patrick: Our Weekly Round-Ups are often articles about comics we really feel like hosting entire conversations about. They’re not necessarily lesser comics, but there’s a little bit of a value judgement associated with it, for sure. This week saw an insane surge in quality, with all of these titles pulling out insightful, action-packed installments. There’s so much to say about all these comics, so let’s just get to it, huh?
Patrick: The problem with having so many well-rounded characters in a series is that their goals are never, ever going to align. That makes the ending of any particular story arc — as these disparate characters start to achieve some of their immediate goals — when the most heartache sets in. Issue 30 closes the book on a fresh batch of six issues, and the fall-out from various goals achieved, and goals not achieved, clouds the series usual thematic clarity. I’d never venture to call this a bad issue — nothing that can keep my heart in my throat for 20 solid minutes could be bad — but it certainly is difficult to discuss in any way that isn’t purely emotional.
I suppose, if there’s a theme underlying the whole thing, it’s that life isn’t fair. Some people who go out on a limb and risk everything are rewarded, while others are blasted in half by a robot prince. That randomness is horrifically emphasized with copious violence and gore, lovingly rendered by Fiona Staples. She comes in close to show the impact of every punch and every sword-gash, even lingering on violence well past the time it occurred.
But out of all that randomness, arising a set of troubling new normals – chief among them is Hazel separated from both her parents. That one feels like the most random and hateful of them all, and the stinger in the final pages beautifully juxtaposes that feeling with the innocently mischievous image of Hazel misbehaving in a classroom. Of course, the classroom (populated entirely with horned children) is being guarded by winged soldiers, so everything about this scenario is profoundly fucked up.
Spencer: Another theme running throughout the issue is the way relationships change people. As Hazel’s narration is quick to point out, Marko and Alana are completely lost without each other; apart they’re quick to fall in old ruts, undo previous epiphanies, and essentially just make a mess of things. It isn’t until they’re finally reunited that they begin to feel like their old selves again. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true — if relationships change people, then so does the sudden loss of a relationship. I shudder to think of how Hazel will be effected by her separation from her parents. I’m not even primarily concerned about her safety; I’m scared about what kind of education she’ll receive in captivity and how far it could skew her morals from her parents’. I somehow doubt that Hazel’s captors are going to be as unbiased as Alana and Marko, and in the screwed-up, prejudiced-filled world of Saga, that may have been the most essential skill they could have passed along to their daughter. Here’s hoping they’ll still get that chance.
The Fox 4
Drew: I never really played video games growing up, but enough of my friends did that I know exactly how terrifying Arkham Asylum‘s Scarecrow battle scene is. The tense “don’t get caught” objective of that scene is similar to a lot of the other beats in that game (even as it mostly turns into a largely 2D platformer), so the real terror comes from knowing that the whole thing is a hallucination — whatever is actually happening to Batman is entirely unknown to us. Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid mine that same terror in The Fox 4, an issue that owes a great deal to Arkham Asylum.
It makes sense: the villain of this issue is clearly modeled after Scarecrow, albeit with decidedly less spooky branding. He’s the Gasser, as he has to keep reminding the Fox, to which the Fox can only quip about having the worst rogues gallery. It’s a clever piece of self-awareness that carries over to the art, where the Gasser lords over an Escher-inspired dreamscape. Indeed, the Gasser’s seeming ineptitude only heightens the horror later on, as Paul confronts his own mortality, and, more importantly, that of his son. That emotional rawness is absolutely necessary to carry us though to the conclusion, which not only puts Shinji in immediate harm, but also finds Paul accepting Shinji’s decision to fight crime in the first place. Those are some huge changes, but this issue more than earns it.
Ryan: Though it cannot compete with last issue’s banger of a secret agent fight in regards to action, Injection 3 offers some critical and interesting exposition to the series. Ellis continues to slow-play the audience on what actually was and how exactly it relates to our wonderful group of ragtags, even as he shows us its repercussions. The bulk of this issue is carried by a conversation between Kilbride and Morel, and is a study on the nature of the mystical in relation to the scientific. I really dug this dialogue, as it seemed to flesh out a decent amount of the fabric of which the universe is cut. Visually, Robert Morel’s little detour down a magical path looks amazing, thanks to some strong choices in lines by Shavley and dynamic colors by Bellaire.
If you thought you were the only person salty over the fact that the only educated, white male in the intentionally international and multiethnic cast receives the spotlight, than don’t fret! The comic itself immediately calls itself out for its focus on the WASPy male, which is very much appreciated and keeping in theme with issues one and two.
Drew, are you still along for the ride, or were you hoping for more political commentary or action to go with the exposition?
Drew: There was definitely a bit more telling than showing in this issue, but I’m so enamored of this world, I’d gladly sit in on every line of dialogue Ellis is willing to write for Morel. That’s not to say this issue was entirely without event — as Ryan pointed out, the art is fantastic, and delivers some fascinating context for Morel that is all but unaddressed in the dialogue — just that, as usual, this series is a lot more invested in tone than plotting. And it’s a unique tone. The relationship between science and magic is going to be an active one, but Ellis is quick to position all of our players on that spectrum (I absolutely love the “I want to believe” poster in Kilbride’s office). Perhaps more importantly, he’s quick to position some of the players outside of that spectrum — Brigid seems just as disturbed by the machinations of the British government as she is by anything mystical. I still can’t really say what this series will be about (though it’s becoming clearer with each issue), but I can guarantee it won’t be like anything I’ve read before.
Spencer: “Fish out of water” jokes sometimes run the risk of making the character who feels out of place the butt of the joke — other times they may turn the new setting into the butt of the joke instead. Either way, there’s a risk of making one of the parties come across as stupid or backwards, so what I like best about Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner’s Starfire 2 is the way it plays with fish out of water jokes without making either side look too bad. Starfire runs across some real weirdos while evacuating Key West, but her confusion just as often pokes fun at the strangeness of human customs and idioms. Likewise, any people who find Kori strange are quickly won over by her abilities and charming personality — in fact, despite the fish out of water jokes, this issue is all about people, be they human or alien, coming together in the face of disaster. That makes “Hurricane Patty” a fitting first enemy for Kori — it’s refreshing to watch her up against a force of nature, focused on rescuing people instead of hitting and blasting as hard as she can. Artist Emanuela Lupacchino even manages to give Kori’s struggle against the hurricane the same kind of kinetic dynamism usually reserved for epic battles.
All-in-all, Starfire 2 is another refreshingly charming street-level take on a character I never realized needed a street-level take.
Justice League of America 2
Michael: Whereas the first issue of new Justice League of America series was mostly setup, JLA 2 plows forward with the arrival of Krypton’s sun god Rao. Most of the world’s population seems to be wooed by Rao’s gospel and peace and love, with Superman leading the way and singing his praises. Batman of course is not so easily impressed – making sure that he could take down Rao if the need ever arises. Around the world we see “miracles” performed by Rao or his prophets, winning their admiration and adoration for the sun god. This is an idea we’ve seen in science-fiction before, notably in V; whether or not Rao and his prophets turn out to be scary lizard people remains to be seen however.
At its core JLA 2 is Bryan Hitch making an argument for and against faith. Like Batman, it seems that Lois Lane is arguing against the need for something as ancient and archaic as the need for gods; citing wars and violence done in their names. I’m always a little wary of people painting the notion of religion with the same generalizing brush that they perceive organized religions to paint them with; the idea of God/Gods is too big to be critiqued from that perspective.
To simplify DC’s two greatest heroes: Superman is the optimist and Batman is the pessimist; I think that Hitch takes that idea too far however. Superman is completely starry-eyed over a god that he himself never personally worshipped or knew all that much about to begin with. While I do believe that Superman would very much WANT to believe in Rao’s positive message, it doesn’t exactly fall in line with the short-tempered, shirt –collar-grabby Superman of JLA 1. Similarly, Batman’s dialogue in this issue led me to produce an eye roll or two.
Do I believe that Batman would be skeptical as all hell when a god came to Earth offering salvation? Absolutely. Do I believe that Batman would childishly equate Rao’s arrival to the “why does God let bad things happen to good people because my parents got shot” argument? Hell no. I do think that Hitch is stirring the pot and asking good questions with this Rao story arc but that tangent Bats was a near critical hit for me. I don’t know why, but Aquaman being a smarmy prick to that prophet felt like a bit much as well.
This issue is nowhere near some of DC’s recent worsts by any means. If nothing else we can all expect some gorgeous pencils and layouts from Mr. Hitch. The issue naturally has its fair share of sunshine/spaceship splash pages and double page spreads. Hitch also has made the grade for my very short list of artists who can successfully pull off the silly New 52 Superman armor. And this is completely off-point, but did anyone else look at Rao’s prophets do the healing routine and get reminded of the Indigo Tribe from Green Lantern? No? Just me?
Justice League United 11
Shane: It’s not that the notion of a supplementary superhero team is unusual — history is riddled with them, and even the New 52 has featured multiple Justice League spin offs, but Justice League United has been the only one to stick. Maybe that’s why an entirely new creative team was scary: rocking the boat this early into something with so much potential could be detrimental. Instead, with a top notch creative team of Jeff Parker (recently transitioning from minor Marvel success to major DC success) and Travel Foreman (a superstar artist since the New 52’s early days), Justice League United threatens to reach uncharted heights, boldly breaking barriers with everything from expansive casts to experimental page structure.
Michael: “I mean, come on, he doesn’t even have a damn Batmobile!” A lot of Batman 42 was about perceptions of what Batman is/should be. On the first page Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo reduced the Dark Knight to action figure form as a way that commented on how Bat-Gordon is so obviously different from what we’d expect from Batman. The scene also evoked the sense of how ridiculous Batman action figures are — I remember it being near impossible to find a “regular” Batman that wasn’t “Ice Batman” or “Space Batman” etc.
Batman 42 continues the theme of doubt from the previous issue that Jim is in the man for the job. Not only is Jim himself questioning whether or not he’s right for the job, but we’ve also got Commissioner Maggie Sawyer implying that he’d be better off quitting. Similar to when Alfred advised Dick on being Batman, Alfred’s daughter Julia basically says as much; she talks about the mutability of the meaning of Batman and how Jim can tailor the Batman to stand for what he does. As he is prone to do, Snyder embodied Gotham as an enemy that challenges and tests Batman; this time very literally with the silicate-transforming Gee Gee Leung. As much as I was excited to see Gordon use his Bat truck in the most destructive way possible, I couldn’t help but be deeply intrigued by the Bruce Wayne reveal at the end. The implications that Bruce is a retired Batman fully supporting the cause of the We Are Robin crew is such a tantalizing idea.
Patrick: I think we might have slightly different reads on what Julia’s point to Jim was. She says that Batman was never concerned with what he meant to Gotham as a symbol, he simply demonstrated his own values and let Gotham adopt him as a symbol. It’s not hard to extend this reading to the great Batman creators – most of which were doing their most character-defining work when they’re wren’t bogged down by the idea of Batman’s legacy. After all, it’s easiest to just get excited about detective stories about a dude in a bat suit. Jim-Bats is precisely that and it seems like Snyder and Capullo are itching to get themselves into full-on adventure mode, even introducing a brand new Rogue into the Gallery – Jim Gordon’s own “Mr. Bloom.” It’s kinda cool to see how Jim necessarily has to approach this mystery differently – he can’t do any of the science-y stuff on his own, so he has to be briefed by Julia or Maggie or… that other tech guy.
Actually, I love the continuing exploration of what it’s like to be a novice Batman. Not only does Jim need help with the super-science, he needs help hucking Batarangs and quitting smoking. In essence, being a lousy Batman makes him a better character, and ultimately add to the Batman mythos. There are almost too many charming details to mention.
Sure, the rock and roll horns on top of the Batman logo on the nicotine patch is cute, but I’m much more enamored with the detail on Jim’s target. Evidently, he’s learning to throw Batarangs at a perp’s neck, heart and balls. His balls!
Patrick: I’m always impressed by how many political balls Genevieve Valentine is able to juggle on Catwoman. Between the various crime families, Detective Alvarez, and her own crooked cops, Selina’s got her hands full running the civilian side of her life-of-crime. Until very recently, she’s been good about keeping her masked proclivities in check, but this issue sees a few too many of those superhero concerns pile up and Selina can’t ignore them any longer. She spends more time in the cat suit in this issue than any I can remember, and that’s largely shaped by the Batman-shaped hole in her life. In that way, she’s a lot like the reader — unable to just quietly deal with the fact that there’s a different man behind the cowl and get down to our regular business. Instead, she’s mixing it up with Spoiler or meeting with Eiko — always under duress, but doing it anyway, you know? She’s like a kid tackling the fun chores on the list before dealing with the subtle, complicated business of fixing organized crime in Gotham. Valentine and artist David Messina totally nail how hard and tedious that task has got to be with this detailed white board diagram.
Nothing sexy about that whiteboard, just some practical advice on how to clean up the GCPD. And Selina does it, but you can tell she’s bored, distracted by the superhero-y stuff that waiting her on the next page.
Gotham Academy 8
Drew: There’s never a shortage of things for teens to worry about. Navigating your own volatile emotions can be challenging enough, let alone a social life full of equally volatile peers. Those tend to be the kinds of problems we think about when we think about high school — who has a crush on so-and-so, who was arbitrarily mean (or surprisingly kind) to an acquaintance, who got in trouble for doing something dumb. All of those things are definitely still going on in Gotham Academy 8, but with the added stress of family deaths, were-bats, and at least one monster we haven’t seen before.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. Brendan Fletcher and Becky Cloonan manage to keep this issue from feeling totally overstuffed, but just barely. They cleverly keep us at a distance from Olive throughout the issue, forcing us to see her grief through Kyle’s eyes. Unfortunately, because Kyle has been so out-of-the-loop when it comes to Olive, it means he’s playing a lot of catch-up, and only gets a few moments to actually talk with her. It makes the death of Olive’s mother feel oddly distant, but that might be necessary to unpack all of the exposition this issue needs to get out of the way. By the end of the issue, Olive is alone outside with some kind of monster roving the campus, and something perhaps more sinister right behind her.
Fletcher and Cloonan leave us enough to guess what those monsters might be — the presence of Kurt Langstrom, and his interest in Coach Humphreys is certainly a big clue — but I’m not sure any of that matters right now. Olive is feeling emotionally vulnerable, and this ending leaves her physically vulnerable, as well.
Spencer: Theory time: Humphreys is a werewolf. We hear an “awooo!” right before Tristan is attacked, he says that they can’t stay outside, “not tonight,” and there’s a prominently displayed full moon hanging over the proceedings. Werewolf, y’all.
Anyway Drew, I very much agree with your assessment that the issue keeps its distance from Olive, but that distance is purposely meant to put us in the shoes of Kyle, who finds himself emotionally further away than ever from the girl he loves. Artist Karl Kerschl and colorists Serge Lapointe & Michele Assarasakorn manage to perfectly convey the distance and isolation these two characters feel through the art.
Even in a crowd, Olive stands apart — a red umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas. All the friends who flock to her aid don’t make her feel any less alone.
Kyle is just as lost in his thoughts, almost disassociated entirely from the rest of his life. Significantly, by the end of the issue Olive and Kyle overcome the distance between them, both figuratively (by Olive confiding in Kyle) and literally (the kiss), but it’s almost immediately undone. I’m worried that, after finding the letter that’s supposedly from her mother, Olive may be more distant, isolated, and distrustful than ever before. That’s scarier than any werewolf.
Constantine the Hellblazer 2
This new type of mystery is one where the scene outranked the plot…The ideal mystery was one you would read if the ending was missing.
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
Ryan: As the New 52 reboot of the original Hellblazer wraps up, it seems as if DC is trying to give readers a more stand-alone, traditional John Constantine, separate from the Justice League Dark and larger universe tie-ins which we have seen since 2011. Only two issues in, with each seeming to be separate scenes sans a larger story, Old John takes a walk about NYC searching for the “thin places” in the world- those through which the hum of arcane energy still pokes- to solve the riddle of what may be killing the (literal) ghosts who haunt him. Thus far, the sole indicator that this tale is set in the DCU manifests in the Black Canary posters seen sporadically in the city. I always felt that Constantine belonged outside of the proper DC Universe, in the same way that one would not put a proper hard-boiled gumshoe from an American noir into the highfalutin summer estate of an Agatha Christie mystery.
But, then again, this John is not the jaded, master occult private eye of yesteryear, whose motives swayed from penitence to self-preservation in the blink of an eye since 1988. This Constantine appears fresh-faced and headstrong, sporting a metrosexual haircut and stylish half-trench coat, a veritable poster-child for the Millennials. Coming to terms with this, artist Riley Rossmo draws the issue in accordance to the series’ tone, in a very stylized manner, achieving the idea of a dark mess without the grit one may expect from reading years of a grizzled and weathered Hellblazer:
I really love this page composition. Rossmo never fears using space in two-page spreads, and colorist Ivan Plascencia compliments the style with some wonderfully cool blues and nearly neon reds.
The beauty of the original Hellblazer ties into the Chandler quote I gave above: the ending of the plot was never important until its untimely end; what mattered were the incredible scenes, featuring the poor and seedy, closely examining the real world through the lense of the magical, and in doing so, showing us what it really means to be human. The recently finished Constantine, on the other hand, read as a very “text book” comic, in the sense that it planned to satisfy through the denouement instead of the individual scenes. Thus far, Constantine: The Hellblazer is an earnest, fun, and new take on the character, but- most importantly- focused on the journey of the character instead of where he ends up.
Mad Max Fury Road: Max 1
Patrick: Comic book adaptations of film properties are so weird. Actually, comic book adaptations of anything is fucking weird – for whatever reason, that’s become the go-to place to release extra material for franchises successful in other mediums: Star Wars, Tomb Raider, Firefly, Mortal Kombat, the list goes on and on. The problem, of course, is that an attractive quality in one medium might not read the same way on the comic book page. Mortal Kombat‘s violence or Star Wars‘ special effect don’t land with anywhere near the same weight in their comic series. Mad Max is one of those properties that seems pointless to adapt – it’s appeal lies largely in the kinetic car-stunt sequences that are only going to play well in moving, live-action images. The gas and the grease and the blood have to feel real for the art to have its effect. Mad Max Fury Road: Max Part One (a title that will never delight in saying in its entirety) manages to utilize one of the series other huge strengths: minimal exposition and a reliance on passive, environmental storytelling. That being said, there are six pages of straight-up Mad Max: Secret Origins in this issue, tracing Max through the fall of civilization and the loss of his family and humanity. The narration keeps a careful distance from both the events and Max’s state of mind, presenting the downfall of mankind with a kind of detached stoicism that demands the reader project their own perspective on the end of the world. Artist Mark Sexton shows that the world pre-collapse looks startlingly like our current world, which make that reader-projection so much easier. By the time we’re into the story itself, it’s hard not to feel invested in Max’s struggle.
And then the story becomes incredibly simple: Max has to participate in a battle royale in Gastown in order to win a sweet sweet engine for his car. He pisses off the wrong people by winning and they take his shit from him. He’s rescued from being killed when a stranger from Gastown comes to his aid. The beauty in this story is its simplicity. We’re mercifully spared any Max narration that might try to force extra meaning onto his acquisition of this new engine. He’s a man fighting for survival, and we don’t need that explained. It’s a marvelous piece of desperate-as-fuck storytelling, which is to say: it’s a totally successful adaptation.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?