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, and Drew discuss Godzilla in Hell 1, Dead Drop 3, Silver Surfer 13, and Astro City 25.
“It can do two things! Why shouldn’t it?”
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama
Patrick: In the season four episode of Futurama, “Leela’s Homeworld,” the script originally called for two separate sci-fi machines – one to instigate a problem and the other to solve a problem. According to the DVD commentary track, the writers eventually just made the same machine capable of performing two tasks, and put their rationale in the mouth of the grumpiest character in the cast. And they’re totally right: for storytelling purposes, who cares if the magical machines are the same or different. But stories themselves are often strongest when sticking to a single focus. We find ourselves this week with a short round up, one where every issue is single-minded, and as a result, all are wonderfully clear and successful.
Godzilla in Hell 1
Patrick: Co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre Matt Besser used to insist on the theatre’s live shows having outrageous, attention-getting names. I’ve heard possibly apocryphal tales of sketch shows called “Dick Cheny is a Cunt” or “George Bush’s Butthole” (a little of Besser politics bleeding through to this philosophy, I guess) but you don’t really need to look further than the flagship improv show to have this theory confirmed: “ASSSSCAT.” It’s not particularly offensive, though it does throw a swear right up on the marque, but it does demand to be unpacked before you can move on. That’s exactly how I felt about Godzilla In Hell, a series with a name — and a concept — just too fucking weird to ignore. And the issue delivers exactly what the title promises, with nothing in the way of explanation. The first page starts with Godzilla already in mid-fall to Hell and that efficiency reinforces the idea that context is of zero importance here. How did Godzilla die? Is Godzilla even dead? What the fuck is going on? Our narrative-trained brains are already looking for meaning when Godzilla stumbles upon Dante’s immortal words: “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE.” This is virtually the only text in the issue, and it starts to tie this narrative to Paradise Lost, but only for a fraction of a second before Godzilla unleashes his radioactive breath and demolishes it. Writer and artist James Stokoe appears to be telling us to let go of any literary or spiritual significance we are culturally programmed to associate with Hell. “Remember Dante?” he seems to say. “Don’t.”
The remainder of the issue is Godzilla encountering — and wrecking up — a whole bunch of weird shit. In the ruins of Dante’s poetry, the word “Lust” appears in the dust (but you could easily miss those letters if you’re not looking for them). The three terrors that Godzilla faces could be construed as riffing on the idea of birth, sex and sexuality as he confronts a nuclear power plant (birth), a cloud of naked people (sex) and finally himself as a giant, toothy, betentacled vagina (sexuality… or… something…).
Stokoe brings this kind of horrifying detail to every panel, and it really is spectacular in every sense of the word. I don’t know that I’ll have too much to say about this series month-to-month, but I did love this first issue. I wonder if we’re going to see Godzilla move through all seven deadly sins? Where ever the next four issues take us, I’m totally game.
Spencer: This really is one of those concepts just too bizarre to pass up, and Stokoe backs it up with an attention to detail that’s astounding; there’s a bit where he draws thousands of dead bodies combining and transforming into a single, massive monster, and for much of the sequence you can still see the individual bodies that make up the monster. It’s absolutely dazzling.
Still, I think what I enjoyed the most about this issue is its sheer confidence. Stokoe doesn’t bat an eye at dropping the reader into this story with no context whatsoever, but more importantly, Godzilla shares Stokoe’s unflinching attitude. Seriously, Godzilla does not give a shit about anything — even when confronted with the horrors of Hell itself, Godzilla just beats and blasts its way through every obstacle thrown in its path. The action’s exhilarating at a primal level, and I absolutely adore it.
Dead Drop 3
Drew: When I picked up Dead Drop 1 a few months ago, I couldn’t pretend to know much about the Valiant universe — I was mostly drawn by the Ales Kot byline — but each installment has drawn me further and further into the world these characters inhabit. Each issue has focused on a different hero, delving into their abilities and personalities, but the real charm of this series lies in how openly it expresses what’s fun about these characters. Case in point, this issue focuses on Beta-Max, a cyborg aspiring to secret agent status, but one that nobody can help but remark is basically “an eighties joke.”
That self-awareness might be off-putting if it wasn’t so dang charming. Beta-Max is so earnest, I can’t help but love when he spontaneously summarizes his entire origin story in a needless exposition dump, or inevitably faxes in his S.O.S. But, I suppose mileage will vary on that. For me, this series has managed to endear each of these characters to me enough to want to look in on their other adventures, which I suppose is all you can really ask of a four issue mini. What did you think, Patrick?
Patrick: Well, Drew, I’m typing this with my mind, so please excuse any typos. I’m definitely interested in looking into these characters’ other appearances, but I’m also preemptively lowering my expectations. For as much as the first ten-or-so pages rely on Beta-Max’ charms, the latter half of the issue is pure wonky Kot storytelling. The story of a perfectly sincere, loving, welcoming alien race, turned to revenge by an invading force is so broadly allegorical as to border on parody, while still meaning exactly what it’s saying. And that’s to say nothing of Adam Gorham’s work in this mini-series, which is amazingly versatile. Gorham is able to play Beta-Max for comedy, that alien-invasion sequence as a hybrid of history and philosophy, and the site they take Beta-Max too for pure, tense atmosphere:
So as much I am charmed by this issue, I believe I’m not as charmed by XO-Manowar, Archer and Beta-Max as much as I am by Kot and Gorham.
Silver Surfer 13
Drew: For all of the apocalypses we’ve seen leading up to Secret Wars, none have captured the sense of loss quite as well as Silver Surfer 13. The issue opens with Dawn and Surfer resolving to revisit all of the places they’ve seen on their adventures, but mostly serves as an excuse for Dan Slott and Michael Allred to remind us of why we like this series so dang much in the first place. Lines like “it only sounds french to your translator, Dawn. It’s actually Space-French,” illustrate just how much silly fun there is to be had in this world they’ve created, which gives the destruction of that universe some actual weight.
Of course, this issue ends with a mechanism in place to restore (or at least re-create) the universe as we know it. More importantly, Slott teases us with Dawn and Norrin’s future, suggesting that it works out in the end before suggesting that it’s maybe more complicated than that. It’s a fun little twist on that Bill and Ted’s-style moment, somehow creating even more tension than the death of everything that was or ever will be. That is to say, this issue manages to directly address the death of the universe, but somehow without losing its heart or sense of humor. Norrin and Dawn have been through everything — what’s the end of the universe going to do?
Astro City 25
Spencer: If there’s one thing we here at Retcon Punch have taken a clear, concrete stand on, it’s disliking the kind of comics that are more plot/backstory recaps than actual stories. Interestingly enough, though, I’ve never been bothered by Kurt Busiek’s use of this particular style. As I read Astro City 25 I couldn’t help but notice the sheer amount of text recapping Hummingbird’s entire life, but instead of finding it frustrating, I was thoroughly engrossed. Busiek’s exposition in Astro City is never just a dutiful recounting of widely known backstories, but an essential piece of the story he’s telling in any given issue.
This time around Busiek tells the story of a young hero named Hummingbird. Busiek fills his readers in on all the significant moments in Hummingbird’s life, but those moments are vital to establishing her easygoing, charmed childhood. That makes it more tragic when the curse of her powers sets in, but also makes it believable when Hummingbird passes on a chance to give up the curse (because it would mean giving up her powers as well). Hummingbird’s story is an effective fable about how life is full of both the good and the bad, and how you can’t really reject one without rejecting the other. Hummingbird’s focused on all the great things life has to offer and all that she can offer others, not on her hardships, and that’s an example we could all do well to emulate.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?