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 Darth Vader Annual 1, Lumberjanes 21, Klaus 2, Autumnlands Tooth and Claw 8, The Goddamned 2, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl 5, Tokyo Ghost 4 and The Wicked + The Divine 17.
Darth Vader Annual 1
Drew: Few things go as planned in the Star Wars universe. Sometimes, this works out well — Leia never planned on being rescued from the Death Star, for example — but it often means friends are captured, imprisoned, or killed. Even the Emperor isn’t immune to these failing problems — much of Return of the Jedi plays out as he foresees, sure, but he never mentioned anything about being killed and having his second Death Star destroyed. Vader has a slightly better track record, mostly cemented by the string of plans that lead him through Empire Strikes Back — his capturing of Han to bait Luke out of hiding runs exactly as he hoped, as does his lightsaber battle and ultimate reveal to Luke. It’s that kind of power-play decision making on display in Darth Vader Annual 1, which brings Vader to the negotiating table with ulterior motives.
In this case, Vader has been dispatched to discipline a king for failing to meet his ore quotas. Only, his plan isn’t really about disciplining the king, but scaring the living shit out of his successor. Vader accomplishes this in spite of the king’s numerous attempts to kill him, thanks to Triple-Zero and Beetee-One sneaking into the throne room while Vader allows the king’s daughter to distract him. Those distractions require some impressive survival skills from Vader, but can we expect anything less from someone who wears a hyperbaric chamber on his chest? The real surprise is his use of droids to do the dirty work, killing the king while he forms a rapport with the princess. By the times those threads have reconnected, Vader has made his point, punctuated by a hunk of rock that was once part of Alderaan — don’t fuck with this guy.
It’s a fun little one-off that demonstrates just how much of a handle writer Kieron Gillen has on Vader’s voice, and doubles as a showcase for some fantastic Leinil Yu art. It’s a great introduction to Vader’s role in his series, but isn’t bogged down by the continuity of his relationship to Luke or the Emperor (though familiarity with both of those themes certainly enriches the issue). The main draw, though, is Vader being an unstoppable badass, which he inarguably is here.
Taylor: It’s been awhile since I’ve last read Lumberjanes so I was a bit curious to see what state the series is in. After reading issue 21 I’m happy to report that for the most part things are still humming along for this delightful title and many of the hallmarks that make it good are still present. I give all due credit to writer Carolyn Nowak for crafting a series that stands the test of time because its world is as deep are its primary characters.
In this issue the girls meet Seafearin’ Karen, a salty sailing instructor who is tough as nails. Karen is a fun addition to this title as her hard-ass demeanor plays off wonderfully against the general peppiness of the Lumberjanes. This interaction also highlights why this series is so good. At first it seems like Karen could be an antagonist to our heroines because she stands between them and a prized merit badge. However, the girls soon befriend and look for ways to solve her missing boat problem.
I love that the Lumberjanes are selfconcious enough to know this is obviously an adventure right up their alley. A series can never sustain itself if the formula it first used is never changed. Here Nowak acknowledges that of course the Janes are going to help Karen and that of course it will lead into a bigger than expected adventure. It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek but it that fits the tone of this series so well. After checking in on this issue its become clear to me I need to go back and read some back issues because this simply is a series I don’t want to miss because of moments like this.
Ryan D.:Klaus has people pretty excited, and I can’t blame them. Grant Morrison and Dan Mora make an impressive team, and the original images of the rugged, Norse-looking wild-man who may some day be Papa Noel hinted at an alternate take on the folk legend. Klaus 2 picks up after a surprisingly mystical end to a fairly grounded first issue, and takes our protagonist into the dark, hostile streets of Grimsvig to illegally spread toys across the town to all the subjugated families.
The art is quite pretty and handles the mix of guerrilla warfare joy-spreading and daytime repercussions well. I love how superstitious the guards and inhabitants of the town come across; this really gives the sense of humans living scared in a world lit only by fire. My one complaint is with how two-dimensional the antagonists are in this book. Knowing Morrison, they will have some sort of moment of realization as the series reaches its apex, but for now the tyrant-bully Magnus and his rotten child Jonas come across as cartoon villains. Lady Magnus remains the most intriguing of the characters, and I look forward to seeing how her apparent relationship with the titular hero may develop over time.
If you are looking for a story revolving around the historical St. Nicholas of Myra, upon whom Santa Claus is often based, than you may be disappointed; however, this PG romp exploring what could be the past of the fictional character based loosely upon different cultural interpretations of a folklore is good fun and well done. And after all, ’tis the season!
Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw 8
Spencer: Misunderstandings are at the heart of Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey’s Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw 8 — or, perhaps more accurately, characters who refuse to, or are otherwise unable to understand others drive this issue’s conflicts. Take Leonid and Dusty’s confrontation with some angry goat people, who are looking to drive any intruders they assume to be wizards out of their lands — their hatred for wizards is so great that they don’t really even care whether Leonid and Dusty actually are wizards or not. Dusty’s reaction, despite being far more open and peaceful, also stems from a failure to understand the men he’s talking to — he’s following his father’s very practical advice, but also letting it blind him to the very obvious aggression of the men he faces. Leonid’s about the only character keeping a clear head and approaching each interaction with the proper amount of investigation and insight, but even he finds himself stymied when he stumbles across a strange woman in the wilderness.
As much as Leonid wants to find out everything he can about this woman, he can’t get a word in edgewise; she’s far too confident in her own knowledge to even acknowledge Leonid’s actual needs, only the ones she perceives. This character’s appearance seems to be pointing towards a few of my theories from last month, at least in broad strokes, but I think we’ll have to put these ideas on the backburner — the cliffhanger leaves Leonid and Rusty in the hands of more tribes-folk with more magical related conundrums, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the last few issues, I do look forward to returning to the kind of conflicts that launched Autumnlands in the first place.
The Goddamned 2
Ryan M.: The Goddamned posits a world where all good has been destroyed and all that left is degradation and pain. God has already chosen Noah’s family to be the sole survivors of the impending flood and I can’t blame Him. The unending cruelty of the world and Cain’s sincere desire to die in order to escape it makes for a very dark read. There is a narrative expectation that something will jar Cain from his ineffectual suicide attempts. Though Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera could’ve squeezed a few more issues out of an indestructible man fighting dinosaurs, I was hoping that the story was to be something beyond that. But what can disrupt Cain’s singular journey? In the last issue, a child asks for his protection and Cain refuses. In Goddamned 2, he gets another request for help, this time from a mother in search of her stolen son. Again, Cain refuses. At this point, I was ready to accept Cain and give up my hopes that he could use his curse of unending life to bring something good back into the wasteland. I should have remembered my Joseph Campbell and known that Cain was simply refusing the call. Cain’s change of heart is central to the issue and happens across a horrific splash page.
Aaron sets us up earlier in the issue by showing Noah’s dogs disemboweling a man. So when the men fighting Cain reference their “dogs” we think we know what to expect. I shared Cain’s horror at seeing instead a pack of feral children. Guera’s art somehow is able to communicate both the ferocity of the pack as well as their human features, making them all the more upsetting. For the first time, we see a vulnerability in Cain’s expression as he begs for mercy. The final image of the issue is fantastic. Cain, covered in the blood of children and sitting astride a prehistoric animal with a septum piercing, announcing his mission. The world of The Goddamned is both epic and immediate and I am looking forward to seeing how Aaron is able to give me something to care about in this wasteland of depravity.
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl 5
Shane: After ten years, we’re almost at the finish line: next month will be the threatened final issue ever of Phonogram, and in appropriate form, we’ve taken a bit of a detour in the past couple months to revisit old characters and wrap up old stories before returning to the trials and tribulations of Emily Aster. In fact, we’ve been paying so much attention to Emily, we’ve missed even more: as noted by Kohl in this issue, “the most important things in the story–the things which really matter–aren’t in this story.” The members of the coven have moved on with their lives, abandoning their varied levels of dedication for arguably more practical pursuits. The fact that Kohl is one of the few so focused on the main Phonogram narrative really raises some intriguing thoughts, especially when we remember that he’s essentially a proxy for Kieron Gillen. It’s been no real secret that Gillen’s key collaborator Jamie McKelvie didn’t exactly make a living while working on the series, something that hurts an artist far more than a writer, and now that they’ve both achieved such great success in other endeavors, why return? Like Kohl, was Gillen unable to let go? Did he need that closure, even as other opportunities became present?
It’s a bit of a tangent from the issue itself, however, which (combined with last month’s issue) offers the swan songs of most of Phonogram’s main cast. Kid-with-Knife starts a new adventure to fill a void, Kohl finally lets go of his past glory, and Seth Bingo has somehow transformed into a true voice of wisdom. Who would’ve seen that coming? As we move onto the final issue, I’m genuinely unsure of who will be around to help save Emily Aster…but then again, she wouldn’t be Emily Aster if she needed anyone to.
Tokyo Ghost 4
Shelby: At first, I thought Tokyo Ghost was just a hardcore tech dystopia, a story about what happens when the worst corners of the Internet become the reality for the vast majority of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I had no problems with that; if you know anything about me, it’s my love of a good, bleak dystopia, especially one drawn in Sean Murphy’s gritty and beautiful style. In issue 4, though, Rick Remender continues to make the story far more personal, far more human, and a whole heck of a lot sadder. With kooky Mash actually turning out to be one of the survivors of the gang Led Dent first beat the shit out of upon becoming a constable (the gang who orginally beat him up, filmed it, and humiliated him enough to join the constables in the first place), they ambush Deb and Teddy to exact revenge for Teddy ambushing them back in the day, which was of course revenge for the first time they originally ambushed him. It’s a perfect ouroboros of violence, revenge, and death. By the time the fight wears down, and Mash actually ends up killing Kazumi, everyone figures Teddy did it. Considering this insult to injury (literally: he’s riddled with arrows at this point), Teddy makes his way back to his ship, and for the first time in weeks hits his secret stash of tech.
If that doesn’t break your heart, you might want to go to a doctor because I think maybe you left your heart on a bus or something. Teddy plugging back in forwards the plot, gets him back to wanting to kill this “warlord” and bring down the EMP so the shitty world can ruin this beautiful place, but I can’t get over what a personal tragedy it is for him and Debbie. They finally had what they really wanted. They were going to get married, have a family, be real people. Remender’s telling us that, no matter how hard you work, no matter how good your intentions, sometimes you just can’t escape your past. It doesn’t matter if you’ve changed or grown, doesn’t matter if you’ve learned your lesson. That’s a hard lesson to learn for anyone, let alone a recovering addict. Even though Kazumi is still alive, and there’s a chance she can tell everyone Teddy is innocent, my heart breaks for Debbie and Teddy, because I’m afraid it’s already too late for the both of them.
The Wicked + The Divine 17
Spencer: For a string of largely stand-alone, character-spotlight issues, it’s amazing how much plot Kieron Gillen has managed to pack into this arc of The Wicked + The Divine. That also makes it startling when the plot essentially slams to a halt in issue 17 (outside that killer cliffhanger, which I’ll let y’all experience for yourselves), yet that loss of forward momentum feels completely appropriate considering this issue’s spotlight on Sakhmet.
Befitting a cat goddess, Sakhmet lives entirely in the moment, paying as little attention to the past or future as possible. It’s not as much fun as it sounds, a sentiment best expressed by guest artist Brandon Graham’s muted pallet and straightforward staging — Graham even manages to make an orgy look dull, and for this story, that’s a plus. What’s most damning about Sakhmet’s hedonism, though, is that it’s largely self-enforced. Living “in the present” isn’t Sakhmet’s animal nature asserting itself — at least, it’s mostly not — it’s Sakhmet trying to stop herself from feeling anything. Maybe that frees her from the pain of her past, but it also dulls the pleasures of the present. For Sakhmet, even freedom is a cage.
Considering that the Pantheon are metaphors for the famous, I’m actually a bit surprised it took this long to discover that one of the Gods lives in a constant state of self-medication — that’s celebrities’ bread and butter right there.
Ultimately this is a surprisingly low-key finale for this arc, but I suppose it’s nice to reach the end of a WicDiv storyline and not be a blubbering mess. This is the calm before the storm, guys; enjoy it while you can.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?