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 Astro City 28, Cognetic 1, Darth Vader 11, Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire 4, The Fade Out 10, Godzilla in Hell 4, and Wolf 4.
Astro City 28
Spencer: There’s nothing better than nostalgia for some beloved part of our childhood, but nostalgia can also blind us to the dark aspects of the past — or even to the realities of the present. Kurt Busiek and Gary Chaloner’s Astro City 28 examines nostalgia from both angles. The story focuses on Honor Guard’s Australian Ant-Man analogue, Wolfspider, and how he reacts when the stars of his favorite childhood cartoon, Queenslaw, suddenly “come to life.” Since he was raised in isolation as he learned to control his powers, Queenslaw were basically Spider’s only friends growing up, and he can’t help himself from buying into the idea of Queenslaw and approaching them. It’s a dupe, of course — the team’s just a bunch of thieves imitating the characters from the show, but they were able to keep the charade going for so long because the people of Australia wanted so badly to believe that Queenslaw were real.
It’s that kind of power that can make nostalgia so dangerous, that can blind people to the true nature of their obsession. But Busiek also shows the power nostalgia has to inspire positive change. Wolfspider only became a superhero because of the inspiration Queenslaw provided him; it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t a very good show, or that some people used its iconography for evil, it only matters that it was important to Wolfspider, and that it made him the man he is today. You can respect, and even love, your past without becoming obsessed and lost in it; what a powerful lesson.
Spencer: Cognetic is the second piece of James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” that began with 2014’s Memetic, so it’s no surprise to see the two books exploring similar themes. Like Memetic, the so-far unnamed antagonist of Cognetic believes that humans are only a small part of something much grander than themselves, and that they can only find happiness by submitting to those forces. While I doubt Tynion feels the same (though that’s largely a moot point), he does plant plenty of evidence to support the antagonist’s viewpoint throughout the issue; from the old politician who longs for the days when the Cold War provided a conflict with clear-cut rules to Annie’s boss, who prefers to let her do the thinking and just does as she says, there’s more than a few examples here of people preferring to be tiny cogs in a much larger machine. It’s unsettling to look at behaviors we’ve probably all indulged in from that angle, and that’s no doubt what Tynion and Donovan are aiming for.
The human protagonists here do feel a bit less defined than the stars of Memetic so far, but that’s only because the mysterious, otherworldly forces of Annie and her counterpart take center stage, focusing the conflict of Cognetic more on their clashing ideologies than any one character’s personal experience. There’s also less focus on the actual end of the world thus far, probably because it’s a foregone conclusion this time around; there’s 0% chance of the world being saved, so what’s important is whether any of the characters can find any sort of acceptance or vindication in the end of the world. It’s a compelling hook, bolstered by Tynion’s engrossing plotting and pacing and art from Donovan that’s both clever (the video being played on the side of the building as a man plummets to his death) and gruesome (the return of the human towers) in equal measure. I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for the end of the world.
Darth Vader 11
Michael: Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca continue to impress me with each chapter of Darth Vader. I never imagined a vulnerable Darth Vader, or the personal desire to see one for that matter. I love how this series puts Vader between a rock and a hard place at every turn, with Inspector Thanoth always one step behind. In the scope of this series, Vader is like the competent branch manager whose numbers aren’t satisfying the corporate office – also he’s stealing from the company. Once again, this is the Darth Vader story I never knew I wanted. Equipped with the spoils of their Imperial heist Doctor Aphra is gathering intel for Vader on the whereabouts of a certain Rebel who destroyed the Death Star. Unfortunately for her Thanoth is headed to the very same location with Vader in tow, ready to scoop up The Ante for the information he has. Due to the perfect storm of coincidence, the trigger-happy astromech Triple Zero inadvertently starts a firefight between the locals and the Stormtroopers on the scene. Once The Ante singles out Aphra as the one to question, Vader uses the force in the most awesomely self-serving way I have seen. Vader stages a couple different examples of “bad luck” or “enemy traps” by employing the force, making me think that he could probably “out Han Solo” Han Solo at being a con man.
Speaking of cons, Aphra uses the perfect point of leverage on Vader to ensure her survival. When Vader and the troops catch up to Aphra, Vader is completely ready to tie up loose ends by killing her. As she struggles to catch her potentially last breath however, she lets Vader know that she will give him the information about Luke – after she’s made her escape. Playing poker with an evil dude with an unmoving mechanical face is pretty damn ballsy. As ever, my favorite visuals in this book are the “reaction shots” that Salvador Larroca gives Vader. Like I said, this is a face that never changes, but with Gillen’s scripting we know exactly what is going through Vader’s head when Thanoth confronts him. We ascribe meaning to the blank slate that is Darth Vader’s motionless mask. How fucking cool is that?
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire 4
Andy: As our Journey to the Force Awakens continues, we accompany Sharra Bey on another Cameo of the week with the sole heir to the Jedi Order, Luke Skywalker. It’s a classic “retrieve the treasure” story, with trees from the Jedi Temple at it’s center.
These exchanges have become commonplace in a series where Sharra is passed around from commanding officer to commanding officer, with Greg Rucka’s portrayal of Luke almost commanding us to consider this important. Without any significant character change or development from Sharra, these cameos become less and less exciting. She is given no real perspective on the events around her beyond “I want to return to my family, I guess.” This passivity permeates the series itself, as all characters feel stuck in cryogenic freeze, afraid to say anything too important.
Disappointingly enough, this issue again fails to lay down any substantive character beats for anyone involved, with Sharra very passively acquiescing to take a break from fighting for the rebellion to spend time with her family. This development has been teased since the first issue as the only real reason to relate to Sharra. Besides that she hoped the war would end after the Battle at Endor, we have no idea what planet she is from, how she met her husband, or anything else about her. With the fan service/hype machine/ lore building nature of this series, Sharra’s perspective on the proceeding is shortchanged into a mere observer instead of an active participant with her own desires. From our perspective, Sharra’s story continues to play second fiddle in emotional importance to any of the major players of the films.
Maybe the best way to take this series is how it has presented itself, as a revolving door of cameo characters and bombastic spread of action set pieces. Maybe the important element isn’t the central character, Sharra, but the unseen hand of the Emperor extending even beyond the grave to cover his tracks. I would contest that as a stand alone comic, it is hard to get invested in these adventures without the support of the world’s largest franchise series.
The Fade Out 10
Drew: Truth is always a powerful force in a murder mystery. That’s just as true for the audience as it is for the characters, which is why most mystery stories end when the mystery is solved — the truth has been revealed, and things can go back to normal. But what if the “normal” of the setting involves suppressing the truth as a matter of course? What if the mystery itself is complicated by the aversion everyone seems to have to the truth? This has always been the case with The Fade Out, but as issue 10 focuses in on exactly how Dottie sees her job, we realize just how elusive the truth is in this world.
We’d long understood Brodsky’s job of putting out fires and covering up the mistakes of the movers in the studio, but Dottie’s role seemed less sinister. We’d seen her crafting narratives to feed to the public, but that was in the name of making movie stars look glamorous, not to let anyone get away with murder. But of, of course, she’s part of the same machine Brodsky is, even if she’s being blackmailed to do so. In her world, everyone has something to hide, and there’s nothing to be gained from dragging those truths out into the light.
Whether it’s that her job is left her cynical, or that the feds have defeated her doesn’t matter — she doesn’t believe in “good guys.” Of course, Charlie and Gil might not be “good guys” — both of their motivations are called into question in this issue — which makes me wonder if this series is really about truth or about the kinds of “good guy” stories Dottie and the rest of the studio machine craft. That’s an interesting windmill for a genre story to tilt at, but it makes me all the more excited to see how this series wraps up.
Godzilla in Hell 4
Patrick: Maybe it’s not fair for me to say I ever had a handle on what was going on in any given issue of Godzilla in Hell, but the fourth issue raises the most question marks for me of any issue to date. We pick up, pretty explicitly, from where we left off last time, which is the first time this series has committed to a discernible continuity between issues. That means Godzilla is standing over the wrecked bodies of Space Godzilla and Gamora, relishing in his victory. But, for whatever reason (or perhaps, no reason whatsoever), Gozilla’s rivals get back up and start the fight anew. The odds seem immeasurably stacked against our hero kaiju, as both of the bad monsters target him at the same time. That’s when shit… starts to get goofy. Gamora smashes a giant Gamora-sized whole in a building and then casually walks through it. The building doesn’t collapse or anything like that – it just stands there with a perfect hole chunked out of it. Which, in and of itself isn’t so much logic-defying as it is possibly a stylistic tick, i.e., just something that happens in Godzilla. But on the next page Gamora drops Godzilla on a radio tower, which thoroughly impales him.
Don’t worry, he’s fine. The panels that follow show Godzilla’s eyes opening and him snapping the top of the tower off. There is no such thing as death in Hell. Godzilla can’t tie (even when his head is ripped off) and neither can his opponents. It’s pretty fucking cool when all three monsters realize that there’s only one thing there they can really fight, and it’s a weird, enormous wall, that just sort of blends in with the rest of the background. In fact, that wall, is the background, and Godzilla, Gamora and Space Godzilla are actually teaming up against the comic itself. When they do succeed, all the color vanishes and Godzilla is alone on a white page, having destroyed the rest of the comic. GUYS. THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?
Drew: I’ve watched 2001: A Space Odyssey countless times — it’s one of my all-time favorites — but I couldn’t tell you what’s happening at the end of the movie. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the ending, just that I don’t think I could actually translate the experience for someone who hasn’t seen it. I recently saw an explanation of those final moments drawn from Arthur C. Clarke’s novelization of the film, and I absolutely hated it — the poetry of the images was completely lost in the attempt to turn them into some kind of meaningful plot. We don’t need to know any more than the film shows us, even if some moments are left frustratingly unclear. Which I suppose is my way of saying that, while I didn’t understand all of the “plot” of Wolf 4, that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.
All of the machinations come to a head in this issue, but I’m honestly not sure what any of them are. Wolfe seems to get the drop on Gibson, but Azimuth’s talk about Wolfe having “no idea what [he] walked into” (and a context-free cold open involving characters we haven’t met yet) sure makes it seem like there might be more going on here than Wolfe realizes. Of course, beyond the machinations, there’s the simple physics of what happened — we straight up don’t know enough about the Santa Ana winds or Anita’s transformation to know how much of this Wolfe actually intended.
But I don’t think that matters. Ultimately, this story isn’t about plans or the magic of how monsters work — at least, not literal monsters. Instead, this story has more invested in standing up to the old guard to right wrongs, whether those wrongs are personal or ideological. It’s no coincidence that the villains of this story are also racists and transphobes, nor is it a coincidence that they’re also incredibly old. Wolfe’s crusade against them might be wishful thinking by way of a revenge fantasy, but it’s no less compelling. More importantly, with that kind of symbolic meaning in place, we don’t need to sweat the details of exactly what happened here. We know what it means, which I think is more important.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?