Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 9/16/15

round up

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, we discuss Agent Carter S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary 1, Star Wars 9, Lando 4, Miracleman 2, Southern Cross 5, Tokyo Ghost 1, and Secret Identities 7.

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Agent Carter S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary 1

Agent Carter SHIELD 50th Anniversary 1Ryan M.: What is the narrative benefit of a twist? A great twist can recast all that came before and reveal deeper truths about the characters or world of the story. Sometimes a sharp turn can create a kind of meta narrative where the reader must reckon with her own assumptions and reevaluate how she processes dramatic information. The turn in the final act of Agent Carter S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary 1 does not work in either of the suggested ways. Even if Kathryn Immonen didn’t intend for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s test of Peggy Carter to be a revelation, it reduces a veteran and all-around kick-ass broad, into the unknowing pawn of two men. Not that I think that her gender plays into it for S.H.I.E.L.D.; they lie to everybody. Peggy and Dumdum don’t even get a moment of reckoning. He does gift her a large red hat, but that doesn’t prove to be as affecting as a real confrontation between comrades who’ve chosen different paths.

 However, before we find out about the secret machinations, the issue is pretty fun. We open with Peggy and Dumdum shooting machine guns off the side of the Helicarrier. Colorist Rachel Rosenberg creates a beautiful arctic sunset of purple and pinks that provides a background for Rich Ellis’ terrified birds narrowly escaping the spray of bullets. Once Sif is introduced, we get to see two warriors bond over their mutual respect and interest. Like your average Asgardian, Sif doesn’t quite understand Earth customs, but Peggy tolerates her with a detached amusement. Once they are in danger, Peggy’s battle instincts rise up and she takes the lead in getting them to safety. This sequence is the strongest of the issue and really feels like what one hopes for in a story about Agent Carter. Ellis creates a sense of the chaos of the moment as well as Peggy’s smooth efficiency.
peggy badass
At the end of the issue, it had me wishing for a more traditional Sif and Peggy team up or even a silly story of the two of them at a bar, dealing with dudes who can’t handle them and and probably stumbling into some low level intrigue. They do have a Thelma & Louise vibe here, right?
thelma vibe

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Star Wars 9

Star Wars 9Michael: The two films following the original Star Wars make the interesting choice to split up the band of heroes that their predecessor assembled. Following suit, Jason Aaron’s Star Wars once again explores different group dynamics by sending our heroes in different directions. In Star Wars 9 we have Han, Leia and Han’s alleged wife Sana on the run from Imperials, Luke and R2 in the company of Nar Shaddaa thugs and by the end of the issue C-3P0 and Chewie are teaming up to come to Luke’s rescue. Something equally curious and obvious that I noticed in all of these “group split-ups” is that Luke always finds himself alone. While R2 is clearly an invaluable ally, he typically serves in a droid ex machina role. Currently Luke isn’t getting any formal Jedi training other than real world experience. From now through Return of the Jedi I think that Luke’s most important lesson comes from Han: “Don’t get cocky, kid!” Luke has to walk a fine line between determination and overconfidence. At the start of the issue the only reason that Luke makes that impossible jump onto the thief’s getaway vehicle is because he’s trusting in the force and himself. He still has a lot to learn in that department of course. Before he’s knocked out by Grakkus the Hutt he’s back to his brash, whiny ways. By the time he wakes up however, he’s in full Jedi martyr mode. Luke’s ego got himself into this mess, but it’s not going to get him out of it. Grakkus the Hutt’s obsession with Jedi lore (perhaps coincidentally) mirrors that of the Ugnaught Sith/Jedi expert accompanying Lando in…Lando.

grakkus

Stuart Immonen continues to be my artist of choice for this series as he seldom stumbles in recreating these iconic faces the way John Cassaday did, in my opinion. Immonen highlights the chapter-like structure of Star Wars 9 by ending each scene with a powerful visual. Though we’ve never met him before, the introduction of Grakkus could have served as the end of an issue instead of a bridge in the issue.  I’m still not entirely sold on Sana legitimately being Han’s wife, but she definitely has picked up on some quirks and attitudes of our resident smuggler. Most of Sana’s dialogue directed at Leia could easily be given to Han instead and very little would change. Besides giving Sana a little update on his current alliances, Han pretty much takes a backseat to his female companions. Sana is so confident that her plan is all coming together and she’s going to get Han back but then Han completely pulls the rug out from under her. Turns out that Han isn’t the man that he used to be; or that Sana thought he was, at least. Leia’s also questioning who Han is, effectively making Han the odd man out of the group. Running away from his past love and not being able to run to his future love leaves Han Solo in present state of love limbo.

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Lando 4

Lando 4Spencer: Lando is a gambler; for all his elaborate planning, there’s still an element of luck to even his best plans. In Lando 4, Charles Soule and Alex Maleev throw a bit of luck — both good and bad — Lando’s way, to rather surprising effect. The bad luck? The Sith nature of Palpatine’s priceless cargo may have corrupted the twins, turning them into a lethal threat even to each other. Soule manages to give these characters, who were up until this point basically ciphers, just enough characterization to make their heel-turn hit home emotionally, but the most potent aspect of their corruption is the physical threat they pose, illustrated magnificently by Maleev.

Twin-on-twin violence

I love the way only the lightsaber and Pavol’s severed arm break through the gutter, emphasizing the brutal nature of Aleksin’s betrayal and literally throwing it in the reader’s face. Fortunately, this dark turn is accompanied by a bit of good luck as well.  Remember the Bounty Hunter who’s been sent to take back Palpatine’s ship?

lucky

Yup, turns out she and Lando are old buddies. This is some tremendously good luck on Lando’s part; it should be suspicious, but it never is, because Soule has presented us with a Lando for whom drastic shifts in luck are an everyday occurrence, and a Lando who’s networked, schmoozed, and sucked up so much that it was only a matter of time until one of those connections saved his neck.

Maybe that’s the lesson we should really be taking away from Lando. Luck’s nice and all, but Lando seems to earn his luck, both good and bad. We discussed briefly in issue one how Lando neglected to find out whose ship he was stealing and what the cargo was, and that decision has come back to haunt him in the form of Aleskin’s betrayal. Meanwhile, Chanath’s appearance comes right after Lando decides to risk his neck to protect Korin instead of saving his own skin, and in that sense, it could almost be viewed as a reward for his uncharacteristic bravery. Lucky or not, Lando’s a character who’s better served by relying on his charm and heart rather than violence and deception, and that’s a refreshing take on the Star Wars universe no matter how you slice it.

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Miracleman 2

Miracleman 2Patrick: One of the most refreshing things about Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s Miraleman is that the series takes its allegories seriously. Instead of dancing around the idea that Superman is a Christ figure or that Doctor Manhattan has God-like powers, the heroes of Miracleman are engaged in their own myth-making, as though the characters themselves are interested in shaping the world to their own values. This latest volume of the series is an anthology of stories about the regular people in the world of Miracleman, and the various lessons they learn from their confusing, contradictory — but often enlightened — superhero-gods. As such, these vignettes are more like parables from a religious text than anything else, and I almost feel like the proper forum for discussing them is with a Rabbi or in Confirmation classes or something.

But this is the format we have, so let’s get into it. The first story, “Skin Deep,”addresses something that I don’t know that I’ve encountered in my religious experience: sex, love and the poison of perfection. The story goes that John Gallaway, a windmill keeper, meets Miraclewoman on a stormy night and immediately falls in love with her. The text is none-too-subtle about this, but John falls for her as hard as he does because she is “perfect.” Buckingham delivers perfection in a way that only he can:

Miraclewoman and John

God, those cheesy little sparkles are great. His art in this section (and on this page in particular) is so much like his work on Fables – there’s no room for messiness, only vibrant, radiant perfection. Which of course, is part of the problem. John spends the rest of his life trying to find a woman that measures up to the perfection of her body, but naturally, never finds it. This seems like such an obvious story, but I think it’s extra meaningful because the “perfect” thing is a human being — and specifically a woman. If there’s one impossible thing that we believe in our culture, it’s that the perfect person is out there for everyone. We use that language: “perfect.” But that’s a fairy tale, and the unlearned lesson keeps coming back to bite us in the ass.

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Southern Cross 5

Southern Cross 5Drew: Remember how controversial the LOST finale was? A certain segment of fans felt like important questions were left unanswered, but I maintain that that misses two key points of that show: 1) it was always more about questions than it was about answers (and by the end, everyone should have understood that “answers” only brought with them more questions) and 2) that “island magic” was always an acceptable answer. Neither of those points is going to satisfy someone who somehow thought everything could be explained in terms of real-life science (or magnetic pseudo-science), but like, why were they watching LOST in the first place?

LOST may not be the most logical reference point for Southern Cross — indeed, as the miniseries approaches its conclusion, its debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey only becomes more apparent — but I found myself feeling the same way about the answers its starting to deliver. “Ghosts trapped in alien artifacts” won’t be satisfying to anyone who wants their haunted ship stories grounded in reality, but I maintain that “grounded in reality” and “haunted ship stories” are mutually exclusive. There’s still a villain to defeat and a few emotional questions to tie up, but issue 5 lays most of the series cards on the table: Flask was smuggling alien artifacts off of Titan, and those artifacts somehow make people disappear for three days before their zombified bodies return. We might get a more poetic explanation of what happened to Flask, Erin, and Amber, but “magic rock” is definitely going to be part of the explanation.

And here’s where the LOST parallels shine through: it’s not really about the magic rocks. We could say the same thing about the monoliths in 2001, but it sure seems like Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger are working towards something much more character-driven than an abstract rumination on the ascension of man. Exactly how emotionally satisfying that ending is may be the one question left hanging over this series, but this issue packs in enough exposition (and action) to make plenty of room for character beats next month.

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Tokyo Ghost 1

Tokyo Ghost 1Patrick: There’s really no way to talk about Tokyo Ghost without acknowledging that both your reading this piece and my writing it are contributing to the soul-sucking societal problems addressed in this issue. The series takes place in a sort of pseudo-apocalyptic Los Angeles in the year 2089 – there’s still infrastructure and electricity and all of that, but Hollywood has been submerged in water all the way up to the tops of the San Gabriel mountains. What remains of LA has become a map for a live-action video game where players run around attempting to murder each other. Everyone has a heads-up display that shows them stats on other players, keeps track of points, etc. But the series doesn’t appear to be a criticism of violence in video games (I mean, it’s not 1997), but rather the constant need for escapism and the culture that surrounds that need. Debbie Decay and her partner, Led Dent, spend most of the issue in pursuit of one particular asshole-player that clearly embodies everything that shitty about gaming culture – including a vocabulary so steeped in pwning and being pwned. He’s crass, entitled, and hilariously wears and NES Power Glove on his arm. He’s perfectly characterized in this panel:

JESUS OF MURDER

There’s a lot of spectacle and chaos in this issue based around its premise, but the heartbreaking part of this world’s mythology comes at the end, when Debbie tries to revive her partner out of his media-stream-induced stupor with sex. But Led is too far gone — too addicted to technology that provides convenient escapism — to engage her on any meaningful level. She demands “say your name” and he can only reply “my shows are on.” Guys, that one hit pretty close to home for me. I can’t count the number of times I’ve forgone human contact to read a comic or play a video game or watch a show. This series is able to get at this issue without being preachy or judgmental about it by leaning into the idea that we are are addicts, and addition is beyond our control.

I’ve been tip-toeing around using the creators’ names, because I’m a little bit of a coward. Rick Remender and Sean Murphy insert their own names into the scrolling feed of social media comments. Naturally, the internet only has hateful, incorrectly spelled things to say (“Remender sucks at riting comix”). That’s a little heavy-handed, but the themes of this issue are important enough to express that bluntly. Especially because I know that I want to criticize this issue for being a little lumpy in the beginning and Murphy’s art for sacrificing clarity for style. The issue itself makes me into one of the players in its world, which of course I’ve always been. It is powerful stuff.

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Secret Identities 7

Secret Identities 7Spencer: I’ve been reading monthly comics for nearly ten years now, and while I’m still a youngin’ in comic book terms, that’s been more than enough time for me to see some legitimately great runs and titles cut down in their prime, unable to finish their stories before the plug is pulled. Sometimes, the best you can hope for is a chance to say goodbye, and that’s exactly what Brian Joines, Jay Faerber, and Ilias Kyriazis get to do in Secret Identities 7, the final issue of their abbreviated series. Considering the circumstances, this is probably the best possible ending we could have hoped for.

With as many characters and secrets as this series has been juggling, it’s understandable that a few don’t get their due (besides the farewell montage at the end), but Joines and Faerber are able to dig into and resolve all the most prominent threads, using the V’ran invasion as a natural way to springboard those plots to resolution. And I mean it when I say “natural” — both Luminary’s connection to the V’ran and the conflict between Recluse and Crosswind have been built up enough in previous issues to make their resolutions feel right, even if they’re coming a bit earlier than expected.

There were two points about this final issue that I particularly enjoyed. The first is Kyriazis’ art; from intricately detailed rubble and carnage to creative layouts that dig into Recluse’s past to a surprisingly brutal final brawl between Crosswind and Recluse, each page is better than the last. The second is the way Recluse uses Crosswind’s final secret to mold the Front Line into a more thoughtful, moral team. A major theme of Secret Identities has been the way secrets can ruin lives and destroy relationships, so it seems only fitting to end the series on a secret that can instead be used for good. It’s a powerful ending to a series that deserved more time to reach it.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

2 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 9/16/15

  1. Does Tokyo Ghost need to be on my pull list? I like Remender, but I missed it last week and could go out and find it. Is it really worth it? I can’t really tell.

  2. I finally read Secret Identities. I was critical of issue 1 of being jumbled and confusing, but three years later, reading the whole thing in one sitting, I liked it quite a bit.

    I liked that the story assumed you would figure things out about the team. It didn’t need an origin story for the members of Front Line, it just started them out saving the day. I didn’t like that the opening panel was a bit too jumbled (for me, at least) to actually figure out who was who and what was what.

    It read well as a trade. I do think monthly comics need a little more time with characters to get to know them before the team feels complete as 28 days or longer between readings leads to missed story beats. But this was a solid story and I’d recommend it.

    Three years later.

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