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, Drew, Spencer, and Patrick discuss Daredevil 17, Jem and the Holograms 5, Universe! 3, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 4, and Material 3.
Drew: What do people think of when you tell them you read comics? Do they assume you’re reading about Spider-Man and his friends? Do they think you mean “serious” graphic novels? Do they ever ask about newspaper strips? The point is, in spite of what genres we may chose to pigeonhole them in, comics are insanely diverse right now. Case in point: this week’s round-up. We’ve got superhero action, for sure, but we also have everything from irreverent comedy to twisted horror. More importantly, this week finds all of these series at different points in their narrative lives, from beginnings to ends to everything rolled up in one. That may mean that not everything on this list will appeal to everyone, but it also makes it likely that everyone will find at least one thing to like in this week’s comics.
Drew: One of the biggest rules of Retcon Punch is to focus on the individual issue at hand. Context is great, but we try not to get too bogged down in history, and just appreciate an issue for what it is. It’s the easiest way to keep any one piece from becoming an essay on the essence of Batman or Alan Moore’s entire bibliography — not that those would inherently be bad, just that a piece about Ant-Man 5 should probably talk more about Ant-Man 5 than anything else. It’s an easy enough rule to follow most of the time, but gets sticky around cliffhanger endings (where we might want to conjecture about future issues), and at the ends of runs (where we might want to reflect on previous issues). Leave it to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee to stack both of those exceptions into one issue, forcing me to look both forward and back when all I want to do is enjoy what has made their run so great.
It all hinges on the final cliffhanger, where Kingpin has promised to kill either Foggy or Kirsten. Were this issue falling in the middle of Waid and Samnee’s run, I would be quick to assume that Matt would pull off some daring rescue that seemed impossible only moments before. That ending is still possible, but because this is the penultimate issue, I can’t help but wonder if we’re looking at something that will tie the whole run together, in which case, really anything could happen:
- Is this run ultimately about daring last-minute saves? It certainly might be — we’ve had plenty by now. Moreover, optimism in the face of adversity has been an idea Waid has developed from the beginning, so a happy ending is as thematically resonant as it is appealing.
- Is this run ultimately about Foggy and Matt’s relationship? In that case, Foggy’s death could be a logical — if unexpected — conclusion. This series has featured as many terrifying surprises as it has 11th-hour rescues, so I wouldn’t rule it out, even if killing off Daredevil’s most important supporting character seems like a long-shot.
- Is the notion of the end more about returning Matt to his platonic ideal — that is, grieving over the loss of yet another significant other? I’ll admit, this doesn’t feel like something Waid would do, but its hard to deny just how Daredevil-y that turn of events would be.
So: all bets are off. I trust this team to sell any of these ideas, and I know that next month’s issue will be thrilling no matter what happens. Spencer, I can find specific support within the issue for all of these endings (sorry, Kirsten, but that triumphant return to the classic Daredevil costume doesn’t bode well for girlfriends), but I’m afraid I’ve already spent my word count on meaningless conjecture. Care to pick up my slack?
Spencer: I’ll try my best Drew, but it really is a hard job, as Daredevil 17 seems purposely designed to make the reader question the validity of Matt’s path throughout Waid and Samnee’s entire run (and the prior). Throughout that time Matt’s struggled with a lot of ghosts (including depression) that have tested his newfound optimism, but the return of Kingpin and Matt’s old costume literally brings his old life barging in, and Kingpin could not be more obvious in how he attempts to dismantle and discredit the new life Matt’s built for himself.
The worst part is that Kingpin raises some excellent points; besides the fact that this run is coming to a close, maybe that’s why this issue feels so legitimately terrifying. There’s a lot this issue does well, and plenty of other aspects (such as the Shroud) we could discuss, but at the moment, nothing seems more pressing than trying to parse out what Waid and Samnee’s final statement about Matt Murdock may be. I suppose that’s one of the dangers of discussing monthly comics, and I get the feeling that I’ll have a lot more to say about this issue once the finale’s released, but for the moment, its purpose is to build tension and raise questions that only the final issue of a run can answer, and it succeeds in that goal with flying colors.
Jem and the Holograms 5
Spencer: One of my least favorite storytelling conventions is the “wacky misunderstanding,” the kind of situation where conflict could easily be avoided if only the characters involved would actually talk to each other (think every episode of Three’s Company). Jem and the Holograms 5 is full of these wacky misunderstandings, yet Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell use them to superb effect, and amazingly enough, I have absolutely no complaints about these hijinks. Much of that success comes from straight-up admitting that, say, Jerrica and Ryo’s fight over Jem could be solved if Jerrica’d just admit that she’s Jem, but Thompson is also smart to build these misunderstandings out of established character traits. Jerrica’s too shy to admit that she’s Jem; likewise, the resentment between the Misfits and the Holograms has grown too great, and preventing that food fight would’ve likely been impossible even if the truth about Clash’s role in Aja’s accident had come out.
Perhaps most importantly, these misunderstandings and fights have stakes. While this issue doesn’t end with someone’s actual life hanging in the balance as the last one did, they do leave both Jem and Ryo’s and Kimber and Stormer’s relationships hanging by a thread, and after all the work Thompson and Campbell have done to invest readers in those relationships (including the heartwarming montage half-way through this issue), those are dire stakes indeed. Moreover, any potential clichéd corniness resulting from the food fight is mitigated by Campbell. The face-off that closes the issue is instantly iconic, but throughout the scene Campbell just nails both the chaotic fun of a food fight and the rage boiling over in the participants.
I guess this just goes to show that great characterization and storytelling can overcome even the most groan-worthy of tropes.
Spencer: One of the most interesting parts of my coming of age in the 90s and early 2000s has been watching technology evolve at such a rapid pace. I can still vividly remember when Caller ID was a luxury, but nowadays we take it for granted; it’s bizarre if we don’t know who’s calling us. That new advancement that blows our mind today quickly and permanently becomes just another part of everyday life by tomorrow. Perhaps the greatest success of Albert Monteys’ sci-fi anthology Universe! (available exclusively at Panel Syndicate) is how Monteys taps into that aspect of human nature, providing his readers with a gorgeously futuristic world full of inhabitants that completely take it for granted.
Issue 3 focuses on one of Earth’s first manned missions to find alien life, but despite the various technological wonders and the eventual discovery of extraterrestrials, the story is mainly concerned with the jaded, ineffectual crew, and Bonaparte in particular, who is far less interested in science or the thrill of discovery or even fame than he is in simply using the benefits of the mission to secure his future. Apparently human nature doesn’t change even 1,50o years in the future; even Bonapart’s rejection of his newly discovered alien race seems to stem from the fact that it’s too much work to get humans to even attempt to understand such a foreign, abstract life-form. As cynical as this comes across as, it’s still honest, and grounds this far-out tale in familiar human flaws and foibles. These kind of flaws are also an excellent source of satire, making Universe! 3 an all-around smart, witty issue with a lot to say not only about the future, but also the world we live in today.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 4
Patrick: We didn’t really have a good reason to love Harvey Kinkle before this issue. Sure — he was a cool kid at school and he seemed to make Sabrina happy and all of that, but Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had not done very much to elicit reader’s sympathy for the guy. He was a type, or even more shallowly, an object of Sabrina’s affections. Before letting the Coven tear the boy to pieces and allowing the town to mourn his disappearance, Aguirre Sacasa stays close on Harvey, linking this specific run-for-his-life to an episode from his past. It’s kind of a nothing anecdote: Harvey learns about some pornography out in the woods, investigates, and then is chased away by some neighborhood toughs. The story is almost heartbreakingly mundane (save Billy Repperton’s switch blade, which seems like some overly quick escalation), and I found myself relating to Harvey in a way I hadn’t been before.
Drew and I have talked about how well this series keeps sexuality (and specifically teenage sexuality) in its vernacular, honoring the trappings of the genre. It’s sort of amazing how well Harvey’s tease/murder is forecast in that little story about the porno in the woods. And Robert Hack’s drawing when non-Sabrina mounts Harvey is a perfectly uneasy mix of sexy and terrifying.
All of this extra characterization goes a long way toward making me believe that Sabrina would want to try to bring her beau back to life when Madame Satan makes the offer at the end of the issue. Drew, there’s so much other stuff going on in this issue, but I kinda got stuck on the erotic bits. (tee hee! “erotic bits!”) Let me pose the questions — are the Spellmans eating Harvey? Are Betty and Veronica Witches too?
Drew: Yep. This is actually their second cameo — their first was way back in issue 1, where they were introduced as “two young witches…trying to summon a succubus…to help them settle a blood-rivalry.” That they were trying to summon a demon of desire is a cute nod to their never-ending love-triangle with Archie, but the important take-away is that their botched summoning is what released Madame Satan in the first place. Maybe it’s just fun to riff on witch-ified versions of these characters, but I can’t help but suspect that their reappearance here hints at their importance going forward. Indeed, they seem somehow instrumental in Madame Satan’s “symphony of teen terror.”
As for eating Harvey, I can’t imagine the Spellman’s were privy to the spoils of that night given their current status in the coven, but even if they were given an equal share, that shit’s got to have run out by the morning, right? Like, maybe there was enough ground Harvey to make that meatloaf the next day, but to still have steaks for breakfast two days later? I doubt it.
Patrick, I was also pleased with the effectiveness of that little backstory we get about Harvey — you can really feel him crashing into all his pent up sexual energy in those final moments. I suspect part of why it felt a little awkward is that it’s also serving as the “before” in a necromancy story we didn’t know we were getting until the end of the issue. It’s important to establish exactly what Harvey’s humanity is before he rises from the dead, which is why this issue puts such an emphasis on his hopes, dreams, and fears. We probably won’t see those ever mentioned again, but that might actually be the point.
Patrick: If Ales Kot’s Material is all about how privilege effects for different characters from disparate socio-economical backgrounds, then issue 3 starts to explore the cost of challenging that privilege. Of course, whether that cost appears to be worth it is totally contingent on the position the character is already in before they start exploring. For our white college Professor character, his empathetic descent into self doubt and self pity yields very few meaningful results. He straps fake dynamite to his head and delivers a nakedly confessional lecture to his students – naturally no one responds. Who wants to hear about the intangible ways that this dude is unfulfilled? No one. And it’s obviously wrong for him to appropriate the imagery of a suicide bomber to make his point. A suicide bomber has literally nothing left to lose, while this guy still demands an absurd amount of power, money and influence. Artist Will Tempest is careful to make this look as absurd as it sounds.
When the perspective shifts over to our other characters, it becomes clearer that the cost of challenging privilege is indeed steep, but worth paying. The young black Protester spends most of the issue locked in conversations with authority figures, being confronted with the crushing idea that whatever progress had been made against racism has run out. Uncle Tyrese isn’t quite so pessimistic, insisting that black leaders from the Civil Rights Movement would have to recognize how much change we’ve experienced in the last 70 years. But the persistent reality of unarmed young black men being killed by police, and the burning of black churches across the South, makes the Protester’s mother confess her fear that “nothing changed.”
Elsewhere, the challenges are a little less explicit. It’s not clear whether the movie star will actually lose her job on her film by taking control over a trivial detail of her own body and challenging the notion that “no one trusts redheads.” I suppose we’ll have to come back to that one next time. I’m equally unsure what to make of our veteran character confessing to his wife and then both of them visiting his dominatrix. All of their emotions are pretty close to the vest, so again, maybe we’ll be able to understand the cost more clearly next time.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?