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 Barrier 1, Citizen Jack 2, Miracle Man 5, Plutona 3, Star Wars 13, Unfollow 2, and Woods 18.
Patrick: Marcos Martin and Brian K. Vaughan’s latest pay-what-you-want, digital-only series defies the conventions laid out by Panel Syndicates two previous series, Private Eye and Universe. Both of those series wear their science fiction (or at least speculative fiction) influence on their sleeves, but Barrier keeps all of its weirdo card close to the vest until all but the final pages. In fact, it’s a series so remarkably grounded in reality that it doesn’t even bother to translate the panels that are entirely in Spanish. It’s so confident in this regard, presenting a vision of life on the Texas / Mexico border that’s unimpeachable in its realism. Vaughan uses his signature combination of sophistication and tossed-off-wit to breathe life into some weirdly dynamic characters. Obviously, I end up feeling more connected to the English speakers because I understand everything they’re saying, but their actions end up painting even more compelling pictures of these people. Liddy’s bartender friend closes the evening with a line of coke at the bar, the shitty minuteman border-patrol douche makes an ultra-forward pass at Liddy but backs off fast. Everyone is just slightly more developed than they have any right to be.
But for my money, the issue’s real strength is in the equal weight placed on Oscar and Liddy’s stories. There’s a run of pages that shows time passing in Liddy’s world on the left and time passing in Oscar’s world on the right, with a large panel depicting the night sky between them. That panel shrinks with each successive page, until they’re brought right into each other’s world. It’s remarkable to me that that’s arguably when the series actually starts, and the two of them are lifted into the air by some alien tractor beam. I was so invested with both of their journeys, I almost don’t know how to deal with the fact that they’re being abducted too! Drew was that a curveball for you too?
Drew: Absolutely, even if Vaughan has Balthazar suggest that “aliens” were behind the mutilated horse that opens the issue. Liddy’s quick dismissal (or rather, clever redirection) of Balthazar’s fears ground this issue in reality, assuring us that this isn’t that kind of story. All of the details Patrick mention ground the issue further, painting a vivid world where illegal immigration is a growing concern. Honestly, I was too impressed with the nuance to Liddy’s situation (she’s not a xenophobic monster, just scared of the Coyotes she thinks are trying to intimidate her) and the storytelling in Oscar’s half (the smash cut from being mugged at gunpoint to forcing the now black-eyed mugger to ferry him across a river is brilliant) to even suspect that this issue was about anything other than what it seemed.
But I suspect this is another way for Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin to address immigration in the US. Liddy and Oscar may have opposing views when it comes to the U.S. border, but they’re undoubtedly in the same position now. How will their values play out when they’re both strangers in a strange land? Of course, that’s jumping to conclusions — something this issue aptly demonstrates I shouldn’t do. I have no idea where this is going, and that’s thrilling.
Citizen Jack 2
Michael: Everything that works so well in Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson’s Citizen Jack is what is so wrong with the current state of the American political machine – and that’s the point. If we live in a world where political parties stick to their positions so fervently that progress can’t be achieved, then why have a position at all? Citizen Jack 2 gives Jack Northworthy such a position of non-position. Jack preaches everyman platitudes of “taking our country back” but lacks what faux news organization FCN calls “electability ™.” Electability has less to do with political prowess and more to do with chutzpah and salesmanship. Jack’s demon pal Marlinspike knows that electability is based on sensationalism – the entertainment gossip-fueled political conversation. Amid numerous sex scandalgates Marlinspike decides to up Jack’s electability by making him a shooting survivor hero.
It’s almost painful how accurate the political diversionary tactics of Citizen Jack are. Marlinspike doesn’t give Jack a particular cause to rally the American public around, but instead plays on their emotions by turning Jack into a semi-martyr. In the world of Citizen Jack the one voice of reason comes in the form of a anthropomorphic dolphin news anchor named Cricket. The most nonsensical character in the book (barring demonic Marlinspike) is the one that makes the most sense because of course he is. Cricket pleads for sanity and sensibility in politics but his cries are met with disdain. Sounds a lot like real life, no? Citizen Jack is only satire when it comes to its Faustian bargain between Marlinspike and Jack. The emphasis on a political campaign crafting a compelling narrative where style is more important than substance is all too real.
Miracle Man 5
Drew: Survivor’s guilt is an interesting phenomenon — coming to the brink of tragedy is just enough to make us realize how much we take our lives (or health) for granted. Then again, surviving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. These are the poles laid out in Miracleman 5, which collects three stories: “Spy Story,” “Screaming’ and the fifth instalment of “Retrieval.”
“Spy Story” follows a double agent working for two unknown agencies as she signs and countersigns her way into a rendezvous with one of her handlers. As the issue wears on, it becomes clear that apparently everyone she encounters is a spy, all going through the same motions she is, creating a kind of city-wide intelligence ouroboros. It’s only after she realizes this that she learns her nondescript city is a kind of Truman Show/Matrix construct made to house former spies, whose deceit and distrust made them incompatible with Utopia. It’s a weird little vision of what it would be like to live in a world where your whole profession (and way of looking at the world) is suddenly rendered irrelevant.
“Screaming” offers an interesting contrast, detailing the story of a kid who narrowly missed the destruction of London because he was forced to spend his holidays with his aunt out in the country. He’s not sure if that was by random chance, or because Miracleman once promised to save him, if he could, but either way, he’s haunted by the near-miss. Here again, the social commentary is thinly veiled, as Jason openly wonders about survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What’s it like to survive in a world where everyone you know was obliterated in a way you never thought was possible?
These questions about survival put an interesting spin on “Retrieval” — I’m still not entirely sure if they’re retrieving memories or reviving life, but either way, this issue seems to question whether either is necessarily good.
Spencer: Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox’s Plutona is certainly a book rich with atmosphere. There’s a surprising amount of copy-free panels in issue 3 that give the title’s grave proceedings space to breathe, and that space is rather essential to Plutona. While the plot only advances incrementally, we learn plenty more about the characters and their relationships, and the moments of silence only serve to emphasize much of that information, be it the vast, open spaces that represent the dullness of these kids’ hometown, their conflicted emotions about the loss of Plutona’s body, or just the sheer distance that can exist between friends and family even as they stand in the same room. While this issue left me a bit frustrated at how slowly the plot seems to be progressing (or, more accurately, at how much plot’s still left to resolve), it’s still a joy to lose myself in the sparse, bittersweet world of Plutona.
Star Wars 13
Taylor: I think it goes without saying, but Han Solo is a cool dude. Most people like Luke, but when they think of the hero they want to emulate, it’s Han. He’s just so cool, confident, and capable. While these are certainly all attributes of Han’s character, I think a lot of people tend to forget that in a lot of ways Han is kind of a bumbling oaf. Remember when he stepped on a twig and nearly gave away the entire rebel assault on Endor? Or what about the time he chased some stormtroopers around the Death Star only to be confronted with an entire platoon around a corner? Oh, and who could forget how it took him all of the Empire Strikes Back to fix the hyperdrive on the Falcon? These misadventures endear us to Han. It’s hard to love a guy a who never messes up. But one who fails just as stupidly as we do sometimes we hold near and dear to our hearts.
Writer Jason Aaron knows this about Han and includes this in Star Wars 13, much to its benefit. In the issue Han and Chewie battle Dr. Aphra and Vader’s dark droids. It’s a fun with issue with action galore but what makes me enjoy this issue immensely is the humor. While this is peppered throughout the issue, by far my favorite funny moment is when Han and Aphra make the same dumb mistake, and then exploit it at the same time. That is, they both end up making a stand below a nest of wasp worms.
Hilariously, they exploit each other’s vulnerability at the same time. This is the same kind of dumb mistake that Han makes in the original trilogy and ultimately what makes him human. More than that, this humor helps the issue out a lot. Issues that focus solely on action can often be a little one-dimensional and the humor helps to even out the scales. Also, this humor helps to balance out the overly verbose and evil Triple-Zero who talks of nothing but blood letting the entire issue.
If this alone isn’t enough to make me enjoy the issue, I simply love the art of Mike Deodato. It’s incredibly detailed and brings the action of the issue to life in an amazing way. This paired with the above mentioned narrative strengths makes this an excellent issue in the Star Wars universe.
Mark: Two issues in and the mysteries of Unfollow have yet reveal themselves. Rather the questions continue to pile on with no end in sight. The “lucky” winners of Mr. Ferrell’s millions are being picked up by Ferrell’s private security force one by one, including newcomer Akira. Japan’s best-selling author, Akira’s second novel was published in 1999 and is about “a disparate group of international strangers invited to a strange test that would, ultimately, lead to the destruction of civilization.” This prescient novel is one of handful of unexplained (or unexplainable) events in the world of Unfollow; David Austin’s jaguar, that only he can see, makes another appearance this issue, crossing the street in a busy downtown.
That these endless teases are tolerable at all is a testament to their presentation. Writer Rob Williams and artist Michael Dowling don’t treat these mysteries as cliffhangers. It’s just the reality of the world as the character’s experience it. That confidence makes me feel like I’m in good hands, and willing to give them a lot of rope as the story unfolds.
Patrick: James Tynion IV uses the most recent issue of Woods to explore issues of vulnerability, judgment and trust, and the sticky relationship between them. It starts with a flashback to those Young Bruce Wayne-esque moments immediately after Calder and Casey’s parents died. The scene largely plays out the same way too – with the cool, empathetic cop explaining to the boys that they’re going to have to be strong, but also leaning on one little detail: “you’ll always have each other.” Tynion and artist Michael Dialynas make it clear right away that this might not even be the case – Casey is a dick to his brother, even in this moment.
I mean, their parents just died – that’s about the most heartless thing you could say at a time like this. But Tynion carries that character trait forward into the present, as it’s so insanely clear to both Calder and the audience the Casey is up to some seriously nefarious shit. It’s maybe generous to say that the line makes total sense, however – there’s a gulf between fraternal disinterest brought about by trauma and casually committing genocide. Y’know what I mean? There’s a moment earlier in the issue where Casey makes a joke about two of Calder’s friends “lezzing out” which makes the point about his character on a much more believable level. Calder — as a member of this series’ main cast — it totally cool with whatever sexual or gender orientation a person has, even when he doesn’t totally understand it. Casey, on the other hand, rushes to weird judgments and jokes. But I guess I’m bothered by the assertion that all cruelty is equal.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?