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 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 52, Outcast 13, Darth Vader 13, Kaptara 5, Jupiter’s Circle Vol. 2 1, Black Hood 7 and Black Magick 2.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 52
Spencer: Intangibility is one of my favorite superpowers, but it’s also one of the hardest ones to write. How do you defeat someone who is literally untouchable? I don’t know if I’ve ever really found a narrative with a truly satisfying answer — many stories cheat or play fast-and-loose with the limits of the power, while others will inexplicitly ignore the power whenever they want to hurt an intangible character (I’m looking at you, Heroes). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 52 hasn’t gotten that bad, but I am having some issues with how the creative team handles the defeat of the intangible Street Phantoms.
To be completely honest, I’m really not even 100% sure what’s happening here — is Alopex just taking them by surprise, or is there something specific her attack does to disable the Phantoms’ tech that I just can’t follow? If it’s the former, why does surprising the Phantoms negate their intangibility? Considering that their powers are tech based and that we see other Phantoms phasing through long series of attacks and even attacking while phasing, I don’t think that these guys can only phase for a few seconds at a time or are turning their phasing off and on between every attack or anything like that — it doesn’t make sense to me that this attack damages the Phantoms at all, and that’s frustrating for a series whose fights are usually so clear and logical.
One could easily try to blame this scene’s problems on artist Ken Garing, but I don’t want to do that — his clarity in other fight scenes throughout the issue makes me think that the problem lies with the writing team’s handling of intangibility. In fact, Garing especially does stunning work with the opening fight between Leo and Alopex, breaking even individual moves down into multiples panels to create a slow-motion, frame-by-frame effect; it’s unique, gorgeous, and quite impressive.
Outside of intangibility issues, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz’s writing is as effective as ever. There’s a strong balance to this issue, which focuses on an extended assassination attempt on Splinter but also finds room to check in on a variety of other characters and plots. The ability to balance incident and table-setting is an excellent ability for a mid-arc issue to have, and for the most part, it makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 52 another strong installment in one of the most solid titles around. I just worry that setting up an entire army of intangible enemies might lead to more problems as the arc continues and the Street Phantoms become more prominent. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t.
Patrick: Robert Kirkman has made his name presenting fictional situations and then confronting the ugly realities that spin directly therefrom. That’s exactly what The Walking Dead is: an exploration of the horrible things people will do (or would do) when confronted with an unimaginable threat. I’ve never really been sure how I feel about that – on the one hand, it seems like the only way to tell a story, right? Like you’ve got to treat the subject matter with emotional honesty, even if that means borrowing imagery from real-world tragedy to sell your make-believe drama. But on the other hand, it feels exploitative, even a touch dismissive, of the horrible things we’re responding to. Case in point: Outcast 13. The issue stays pretty fixed on a single exorcism – Kyle and the good Reverend drive a demon out of Kyle sister Megan. Naturally, it gets ugly as fuck fast. It’s hard to ignore the imagery’s similarity to sexual and domestic violence – in fact some of the choices that Kirkman and Azaceta make seem to intentionally highlight the similarities. For one, Megan’s spends the whole encounter in her underpants and a t-shirt, emphasizing her vulnerability. Also, one of the solutions is to submerge her in the tub, which makes the sexual violence imagery all the more startling.
As usual, it’s not as though Kirkman is offering any perspective on the imagery he’s co-opting, merely presenting it n a novel context and forcing the reader to confront their own feelings about it. Come to think of it, that’s sort of what The Exorcist does too – the filmmakers don’t appear to have any perspective on a little girl violently masturbating with a crucifix, but that doesn’t stop them from putting the image up on the screen. Is that irresponsible? Or just exciting storytelling? I’d like to hear other people’s emotional reactions to this issue, because it certainly unnerved me.
Darth Vader 13
Andy: “I am your father.” Written in text, it doesn’t feel so regal. Besides getting immediate cultural relevance for being a jaw dropping reveal, “I am your father,” takes the coming of age story and implicates it with a living example of failure. Someone who completed their journey, learned all the Jedi Order had to offer, matured into an adult and still managed to lose everything important to him. His growth, albeit tremendous, is neutered by a sense that he never got what he truly wanted. Vader is shown to be this terrifying wraith, full of power yet devoid of satisfaction like a malicious combination of Willy Loman and Scarface. Vader embodies the opportunity for Luke to fail despite his victories and accomplishments. “I am your father,” ties all of their failures and successes into each other and in opposition to each other, driving the drama of the series as a whole.
The Darth Vader series has deftly turned this dynamic on it’s head, showing how Luke represents the opportunity for Vader to succeed after all, despite his shortcomings and failings as an adult. This opportunity certainly drives Vader to elude the emperor while he seeks out his only known child in the most secretive and resentful way possible. Vader feels betrayed by the old wisdom of the Emperor
In Darth Vader 13, we see great parallels between the Luke and Vader story arcs indicative of their iconoclastic positions. While Luke ignores the conflict around him as he seeks out deeper wisdom in an abandoned Jedi Temple, Vader massacres a platoon of rebels in a misguided attempt to get closer to his family. As Vader strikes a particularly devastating blow against the rebels, Luke looks on in the distance and questions the futility of his search. These pages are mirrored in composition despite being placed in different parts of the book, drawing an invisible tether for the reader to draw the chronology together and invite the reader.
This device of mirroring their journeys continues in the subplots as well, with Leia and Han debating how to rescue Luke and defeat Vader weighed against Aphra and Triple Zero debating how to capture Luke and appease Vader. This inversion of both plots provides depth to the Vader Down arch that supports and expands the relationship at the core of Star Wars itself.
Michael: There comes a point in every bit of escapist fantasy where the hero has to decide if they want to return home or stay and help their newfound friends. While not as imminently dire (yet), Kaptara 5 presents protagonist Keith with that particular dilemma. Fellow “shipwrecked” teammate Laurette has found a way to return to Earth, and it’s only a matter of time before she uses this means of transport. Based on what we know about Keith’s mundane Earth like and his growing interest in the goings-on of Kaptara, it seems unlikely that he will be joining Laurette. The bulk of Kaptara 5 has to do with our Endom elite clearing the name of Dartor for the murder the Hive prince and hundreds of their people. Dartor is eventually cleared of charges after a healthy dose of action, autopsy and subterfuge. I love that he colluding bartender blames his part on coming from “a long line of anti-monarchists;” every character needs a reason for doing something, no matter how absurd.
I hate to be a broken record, but Inspirational Quote Orb steals the show once again. While other characters in Kaptara will react with violence, the Orb stays true to its name and mostly responds with words. When the bartender is caught by She-La and Laurette, the Orb confronts him with “Know when you are beat;” a message that is threatening but nonetheless threatening. Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod cap of the first major story arc of Kaptara by showing the villainous Villektra amounting her massive army. McLeod throws in all sorts of different crazy aliens in this double-page spread: hobos, snake men, Rastafarians and even an angry Kool-Aid Man. There also seems to be an evil answer to the Inspirational Quote Orb – maybe the pessimistic quote orb? McLeod looks like he’s having a crap-ton of fun fleshing out the weird and wonderful ideas that Zdarsky throws out there.
Jupiter’s Circle Vol. 2 1
Drew: We often talk about superheroes in terms of “powers,” but it’s often more instructive to examine their use of “power” — that is, how they’re able to impose their will on the world around them. Mark Millar has made a career out of framing and re-framing that point, but usually in terms of how superheroes relate to societies as a whole. Jupiter’s Circle has often followed in that same vein, but this week’s issue takes it down to the interpersonal level, examining how power affects relationships, and how men and women react to power imbalances differently.
The issue opens on Sheldon and Jane, falling into traditional gender roles — and their just-as-traditional exaggeration in superhero comics: he’s powerful, she’s helpless, and they’re both okay with that. It’s so common that it wouldn’t be remarkable if Millar didn’t spend the rest of the issue contrasting it with Grace’s struggle to even find anyone willing to be with such a powerful woman. Curiously, she’s never explicit about exactly how much power she has, but an episode with a random sailor makes it clear that she can’t hide it.
The last we see of Grace, she’s sitting contentedly on a beach, next to a stack of books. I’d like to think that that could be happy ending — who says she needs a man to be happy? — but finding someone was really the only thing she wanted throughout the issue. At best, she’s coming to accept something she didn’t want, which I suppose is a kind of resolution, but leaves me not knowing how she feels about her situation. I suspect Millar will revisit this thread down the line, but for now, this illustrates an interesting problem for powerful women in the ’60s without offering any easy solution.
Black Hood 7
Drew: Every superhero has a reason they fight crime, some driving motivation that makes them willing to risk life and limb to fight bad guys. Some have been pathologized more than others, but none have really tapped in to addiction as a possible explanation the way that Black Hood has. Greg tries his hardest to justify his return to the hood, but even he acknowledges it as part-and-parcel with his other addictions.
This issue makes for a drawn-out “this looks like a job for the Black Hood,” but dwelling on that statement really forces us to confront Greg’s logic. Sure, he’s struggling to get people to talk to him as well-known killer cop Greg Hettinger, but it’s not like the Black Hood is a more trustworthy figure. Indeed, whatever advantages the hood offers are negated by Greg’s clear need for backup at the issue’s end.
They say that every war story is an anti-war story, and I can’t help but think that this series is laying out a similar case for vigilantism. A story where the homeless are the only victims makes an intriguing argument in favor of vigilantism, but Greg’s decision-making is too impaired to accept at face value. Is he a force for good in this world, or is he simply acting out his self-destruction behind a mask? That’s a tension that we rarely see illustrated in comics, and makes me eager to see whatever comes next for Greg.
Black Magick 2
Mark: With any new Netflix or Amazon show that’s released there’s a lot of talk about them being written as one long narrative, foregoing the traditional television model of hooks and cliffhangers at the end of each episode in an effort to get you tuning in the following week. Comic book are usually structured the same way, with promises of a climactic showdown or major revelations if you pick up the next issue, but Black Magick 2 is basically an episode of a (pretty good) Netflix show. There’s nothing but pages of characters talking to each other, so it’s a minor miracle that it works so well in comic book form.
The impressive thing is the issue never feels stagnant. Given an incredible amount of dialogue to convey by writer Greg Rucka, artist Nicola Scott does a great job of making the flow of panels read as cinematic without feeling like they’re just storyboards for a yet-to-be-filmed television show. That the art is presented (mostly) sans color helps make it stand out. The reader is accepting of a slow burn, dialogue-heavy comic because from the moment you open it up it feels like different from every other comic. It’s addition by subtraction.
All of this helps make up for the fact that, while not exactly boring, this is an issue that will undoubtably work better in the omnibus than it does on its own. So while Black Magick 2 is structured like an episode of a Netflix show, it’s a bit frustrating without the option to binge-read and move onto Black Magick 3.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?