Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 12/23/15

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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 14, Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 2, Nameless 6, Outcast 14, and Saga 32.

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Darth Vader 14

Darth Vader 14Spencer: Man, “Vader Down” has been a fun crossover. The relatively simple plot (Vader crash lands on a Rebel planet) and the clear-cut motivations of both sides (Vader and Aphra want to capture Luke, the Rebels want to kill Vader) are incredibly freeing, giving Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca the ability to mix up their cast in endless new combinations, without ever slowing down and without the story ever feeling confusing. This leads to some top-notch character work in Darth Vader 14; Leia’s willingness to sacrifice herself if it means stopping Vader is the issue’s shining moment, but I was also impressed by Aphra’s resourcefulness, and found myself both laughing at and sympathizing with poor C-3P0.

Undignified

Despite the heavy presence of Vader and his supporting cast, this simpler, more adventurous tone has “Vader Down” feeling more like the best parts of Jason Aaron’s Star Wars than Darth Vader. The cliffhanger arrival of Commander Karbin evens the scales a bit — with him also returns the political backstabbing that’s been the trademark of Gillen’s Vader since its inception. Karbin is working against both sides — he has something to gain from Vader losing and from the Rebels being defeated — essentially making him a third side in this conflict, but one with motivations just as clear and direct as the others. This seems particularly noteworthy when you consider that Darth Vader is a villain protagonist in this series — Karbin provides an antagonist for this arc that would allow Vader to “win” without requiring our heroic Rebel forces to lose. There’s still two issues to go, but it looks like the end of “Vader Down” is shaping up to be just as satisfying its beginning.

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Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 2

Jupiter's Circle Volume 2 2Drew: “The villain doesn’t think he’s a bad guy” is a common refrain for storytellers hoping to create a compelling, relatable antagonist, but it’s rarely backed up with situations that depict the villain as anything other than a bad guy. But what if “bad” really was subjective? What if our understanding of “bad” and “good” was skewed by the perspective of the protagonist, blinding us to the moral greys that make neither side look great? Those are the questions Mark Millar picks up in Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 2, as Skyfox unexpactedly enters the fray of the Watts Riots.

Since falling out with the Union, George has been hobnobbing with the likes of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and contemplating how his mission to “rescue America” might require him to dismantle the systems that have corrupted it. Meanwhile, the Union is struggling to justify their own inaction in the ongoing Watts Riots — the white reporters assume they would be deployed to put down the looters, but Sheldon gives a half-hearted line about leaving the issue to “local law enforcement.” The fact that that inaction and reliance on a racist police force to solve a sensitive racial issue may in and of itself be a racist act is not lost on George. He ultimately decides to intervene, but not, as one white cop assumes, to help the police.

Watts Riots

Actually, that cop kind of represents the classic “the villain doesn’t think he’s a bad guy” treatment — he clearly thinks he’s in the right, even though his actions are objectively horrific. Porting that message over to contemporary examples of civil unrest clarifies why inaction and a reliance on “local law enforcement” puts us in exactly the same situation Watts was in 50 years ago. The period setting of this series often gives us distance from the social issues it depicts, but this time, it might as well be set in the present day. It offers a powerful perspective that more Americans could benefit from.

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Nameless 6

Nameless 6Ryan D.: This title. This title is absurd. If you haven’t read any of this series, but you think you would enjoy a dense, scary, occult thriller…in space?…than please read Nameless. Please be warned: Grant Morrison has always had a bit of a penchant for the grotesque, but this book really ups the ante on the horrific, and it is awesome. The last few issues have throw an already trippy plot into overdrive, with the revelation of an untrustworthy narrator leaving readers scratching their heads and protagonists scratching their eyes:

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Morrison, Burnham, and Fairbairn craft a work which is disconcerting without being alienating. I constantly want to know what will happen next, and this book makes me squeal when my expectations are so subverted. It is also nice reading a title dealing with the occult which does not make me think about how much better it would be were John Constantine the main character. If you have the stomach for it and can leave any religious scruples you have at the door (things are getting pretty blasphemous), then get into Nameless. You may regret it, but in the very best way.

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Outcast 14

Outcast 14Patrick: In the letters page following the first issue of Outcast, Robert Kirkman wrote that demonic possessions – unlike zombies – are scary to him because they are potentially real. Kirkman cites a number of unresolved possession cases as proof of this concept, but the argument never seemed that persuasive to me. Just like when someone tells me they believe in ghosts because they had an experience with one: I believe that they believe that, but that anecdotal evidence doesn’t do anything for my personal belief in ghosts, or demons, or whatever.

Which isn’t to say that the possession in Outcast haven’t been scary up to this point: artist Paul Azaceta’s specific attention to small physical details have helped to hammer home just how frightening it would to do something awful against your will. In issue 14, Kirkman catches up to Azaceta’s ambitions and finds a way to demonstrate that same set of circumstances within a framework any reader can relate to. The whole first half of the issue hinges on weather or not the cops are going to cart the recently-no-longer-possessed Megan. In the previous issue, Megan had thrown her husband out a second story window, and the moral dilemma that Kyle, Reverend Anderson and Officer Brian face is whether or not the law could possibly support her innocence. It wasn’t her will that drove her to attack her husband, but it physically was her performing those actions. It’s an interesting thought experiment, but ultimately resides within the realm of fantasy — with the rest of the demons.

But when they all return to Kyle’s house, they discover a sleeping Holly watched over by that creepy-ass dude we’ve been seeing pop up in the most threatening way over the last several issues. Sidney is such an obvious threat throughout his tiny appearances, that my first thought was that he needed to get out of there as soon as possible. Kirkman uses that audience expectation and channels it through Reverend Anderson, who first escorts Sidney out of the house and then proceeds to beat the shit out of him. The problem, of course, is that this is exactly what Sidney wanted – now he can press charges and remove the Reverend from play. Effectively, Anderson was momentarily possessed by his own demons. And for once, it was a demon I recognized. That’s scary shit.

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Saga 32

Saga 32Ryan M.: One of my favorite things about Saga is the way Fiona Staples imbues creatures that could be utterly ridiculous or treated as simply an oddity with empathy. The central injustice of the story hinges on the hatred between the people of Landfall and Wreath and by now we know that those differences are not worth the destruction of Hazel’s family. But beyond the horned and the winged, there are creatures like the police officers who bust Alana and Marko in Variegate.

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They are wearing uniforms, but their bodies are completely made of flame. In the two panels above, we see three distinct emotions play across the faces of fire. Without any facial features, each figure still has a sense of person-hood.  It would be easy to dismiss them, especially since they are trying to stop our heroes. Instead, when one of them asks in the second panel, what “the fuck are we going to do?” I can empathize with his confusion. I love that when I pick up Saga, I know that each and every character will be given life and reality.

As for the plot of the issue, Brian K. Vaughan does great job of balancing a arc within the issue while moving the series along at a comfortable speed. The romantic in me loved seeing the fractures in Alana and Marko’s relationship start to heal. The prude in me is a tiny bit wigged at Hazel commentary on her parents’ sex life.  Either way, there are few books that offer me such satisfaction with each passing issue.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

 

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