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 We Stand on Guard 5, Unfollow 1, Velvet 12, Woods 17 and The Hangman 1.
We Stand On Guard 5
Patrick: The more time I spend in We Stand On Guard‘s world, the more uncomfortable I am with the whole thing. Writer Brian K. Vaughan delivers his signature blend of irreverent and grave-as-fuck, and artist Steve Skroce matches that unsettling energy with aplomb. I’m trying to think back on Vaughan’s other collaborators — all of whom are incredible, of course — and I can’t think of anyone else that nails that tone of common-horror and reluctant comedy like Skroe does.
That’s a level of absurdity I can’t help but engage with. I mean: look at that! Three of those soldiers killed immediately from being sliced in half by a laser, with a forth being scalped and (pardon the pun) disarmed. It’s a grotesquely comedic image, and the reader is allowed to distance themselves from it for a couple reasons – the first and foremost being that this is a fictional war between the US and Canada. Skroce even goes the extra mile and draws the American soldiers like they’re Storm Troopers invading Hoth. For five issues, we’ve been told that this is a fantasy, so we kind of believe that Amber and LePage stand any kind of chance infiltrating the American base in a stolen aircraft. It’s a move right out of Star Wars, but with significantly grimmer results (i.e., a shotgun eradicating a head, or our main character wearing suicide bomb).
That last detail in particular drives this thing away from fantasy and towards a reality that’s more familiar than anyone would like to admit. The Canadian resistance is effectively a terrorist organization, and the only reason we love them rather than fear them is that we’ve had their perspective from page one. It’s so strange, because the bad guys are literally the Americans, and they’re behaving in ways the American military actually behaves. It’s like some awesome allegory, that doesn’t even need metaphor.
Mark: So many elements of Rob Williams and Mike Dowling’s Unfollow 1 feel familiar, but I can’t put my finger on exactly which particular stories I’ve read or seen these ideas in before. And I’m not complaining, either, since even though it may be playing on familiar-feeling tropes, it never feels outright derivative.
The main crux of the issue is a mysterious benefactor gifting 140 people with a share of his $17 billion fortune. We get to learn a little bit about four of these new millionaires, and there doesn’t seem to be one lone thread that ties them all together. There’s a down-on-his-luck kid, a trust fund millionaire who gives her wealth all away just moments before learning she’s been chosen, a suicidal journalist, and a religious militiaman with a gun collection that’s not just for target practice. Why were they among the chosen? And how did Twitter-analog Chirper’s creator decide who to give the money to?
But the most intriguing moment of the issue comes when down-on-his-luck kid Dave is approached by a talking leopard mid-heist.
It’s the only fantastical moment in the issue, and it goes unexplained. There are other people around who could witness it, but no one comments on it and it’s never brought up again. Just what does it all mean?
Unfollow 1 is like good genre television. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, but it’s well done and leaves me wanting to know just a little more. I’m onboard to see where it’s headed.
Drew: Everybody has secrets, but very few of us go to the trouble of planting red herrings to throw folks off of our trail. That level of pre-planning is reserved for folks who are professionals at keeping secrets, like spies or mystery writers. Sure enough, Velvet 20 finds writer Ed Brubaker working just as hard to keep us guessing as Velvet herself.
This series has always made Velvet’s ability to control information almost superhuman — she continues to dictate what ARC-7 knows about her whereabouts, even as her movements are driven by an investigation she can’t predict — but this issue emphasizes the precariousness of that act, as Velvet feeds Max just enough information to keep him believing her. Fortunately for Velvet, she’s a seasoned pro (her plan apparently involved her taking down four ARC-7 agents more-or-less singlehandedly) that everyone keeps underestimating. She’s eventually able to slip Max in order to question someone who may have info on what got X-14 killed, but her interview is cut short when Damian Lake shows up.
The reliability of Damian’s story has been questioned over the last few issues, but the specificity of his appearance here sure makes it seem like he’s on the same trail Velvet is. Or maybe he’s just on her trail. It’s hard to tell — he really might just be crazy. At any rate, it’s a hell of an ending that promises to at least settle the issue of Damian’s sanity. I suspect we’ll get a hell of a lot more than that, but if this issue demonstrates anything, it’s that you can’t always trust the hints someone gives you.
Spencer: The Woods has never been short on extranormal threats — the very environment of the alien moon has nearly killed the Bay Point kids on more than one occasion — but with each passing month, James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas seem to be emphasizing more and more that the most pressing dangers these kids face are actually human in nature.
Take, for example, Isaac’s choice here. Sure, he’s being tempted by some sort of extraterrestrial monster — and this being is a haunting, bone-chilling presence thanks to Dialynas and colorist Josan Gonzalez — but Isaac makes the decision to embrace the monster’s agenda because of expectations he’s put on himself that he failed to live up to, and because of his parents’ lack of faith in him. Isaac may have just become the greatest threat to Bay Point in the long run, and it’s a development deeply rooted in the very human concepts of neglect and regret.
Then, of course, there’s Casey, the Hoarde, and even New London, each threatening the continued existence of Bay Point in one way or another. Tynion clearly presents Casey and the Hoarde as the greater evil, in ways both great and small — perhaps most telling is the fact that the Hoarde wouldn’t accept Sander being trans, while New London does — but that doesn’t mean that New London is any less dangerous — with the pact between Bay Point and the Hoarde all but confirmed, New London seems poised to destroy Bay Point in order to prevent the Hoarde from gaining more power. Outside of our core cast of kids (of which Sander has now firmly become a part of), there’s no figure on this world that’s 100% benevolent or trustworthy. More than any monster, it’s the complicated intricacies of human nature that is the greatest antagonist of The Woods, and it makes for a fascinatingly complex read.
The Hangman 1
Ryan M.: I wasn’t sure about The Hangman until I got to the final page. The issue is dark, rats-eating-a-man-alive-dark, and once we got to laughing mentions of genital mutilation, I was nearly ready to tap out. Then, right as Mikey Ice, the dark-hearted sociopath protagonist, meets his doom, we get a bit of a change-up. The eponymous Hangman removes his mask and ascends, fading into stardust. Throughout the issue, Felix Ruiz’ art has had an ugly reality, but here the bits of light surrounding the former Hangman add a sense of magic.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?