Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 1/27/16

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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 Cry Havoc 1, Faith 1, Jem and the Holograms 11, Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 3, Outcast 15, Ringside 3, and Spire 6.

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Cry Havoc 1

Cry Havoc 1Drew: What do you look for in the first issue of a comic? Is it the characters that hook you? The premise? The tone? I hesitate to say that there’s one formula that equals success for me, but I will say that a self-contained narrative — one with a coherent beginning, middle, and end — goes a long way to winning me over. Unfortunately, in a world where serialized complexity is the name of the game, very few individual issues — even first issues — manage to stand on their own in this way. Cry Havoc 1 represents a prime example of this, introducing its story at three separate points, but failing to deliver anything meaningful in any of them.

In the first (chronologically), we’re introduced to Lou Canton, a struggling British musician, who is attacked by some Werewolf-like monster. In the second, we see Lou trading her Wereworlf skills in hopes of getting rid of them, joining a supernatural team in Afghanistan to track down another Werewolf. In the last, we see that Lou has been captured by that other Werewolf. Any of these could be a logical place to start the story, but starting with all of them undermines the validity of any of them. It manages to start both too early and too late, giving us information that can easily be gleaned from the other threads. What’s the point in seeing how Lou became a Werewolf if we already know she is one? What’s the point of showing us the repercussions if we already know how desperate she is to be cured? What’s the point of showing us her mission if we know she’s ultimately captured? I don’t mean to suggest the information in these stories won’t eventually become important, just that it isn’t important here, boring us with redundant information precisely when it should be winning us over.

What’s frustrating is that I really do think any one of these threads could have made for a compelling starting point. In fact, I’m inclined to think that the first one — the story of a new Werewolf whose girlfriend is a zookeeper — might be the hookiest, but skipping the story ahead before I’m invested in it ultimately robs it of whatever impact it might have. This isn’t the first issue of one story, it’s the first third of the first issue of three. Unfortunately, those parts don’t quite ad up to a meaningful whole, leaving me uninterested (or, as the case may be, already pretty sure) where each of those stories might go next.

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Faith 1

Faith 1Spencer: I don’t know what’s more notable about Valiant Comics’ new series Faith: that its hero is an overweight woman, or that absolutely no attention is called to that fact within the narrative itself. There’s definitely something progressive about Faith’s headlining role, especially within the world of superhero comics (where practically every character might as well be a GQ/Victoria’s Secret model), but I feel like it’s even more progressive to let that fact speak for itself. Faith isn’t designed to be a talking point or the star of some sort of “very special episode” — she’s allowed to just be Faith, and fortunately, Faith is pretty extraordinary.

In Faith, Jody Houser and Francis Portela have crafted a character reminiscent of Marvel’s recent breakout star Kamala Kahn — Faith was a superhero fan before becoming one herself, and most readers can probably see some of themselves reflected in her interactions with fandom or even in her grand fantasy sequences (lushly illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage).

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Moreover, Faith is idealistic without coming across as naïve, intelligent and savvy without coming across as smarmy or arrogant, and even though she’s yet to learn the full extent of her powers, she’s still competent and reliable in the field. Typing all that out almost makes Faith feel like “too perfect” of a character, but I never got that impression while reading the issue itself. Much of that can probably be chalked up to the sheer amount of personality Houser imbues Faith with — she feels very much like a real person, especially since we get to check in on pretty much every facet of Faith’s life over the course of this oversized first issue. The actual story doesn’t start up until the issue’s end (and is accompanied by a somewhat cliché cliffhanger), but by that point Faith’s charms had already won me over. Faith’s a character (and a title) I definitely wanna keep up with.

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Jem and the Holograms  11

Jem and the Holograms 11Ryan M.: The first ten issues of Jem and the Holograms introduced over a dozen characters, including two girl bands, a magic computer, a few love interests, several hangers on and a nefarious manager with a hacker on his payroll. Now that the world is established and populated, it’s time for everything to be challenged.  Over the past several issues, writer Kelly Thompson has dropped hints that something is wrong with Synergy and now we see the result. Jem has gone Dark.

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Under the Synergy’s dark influence, Jerrica has goth-punk hair, hangover sunglasses, and a swimsuit that looks like it wants to eat her. Sophie Campbell’s art imbues her with so much coolness in that first panel that everyone else around the pool is immediately a dweeb. They all stare at her walking by. Even the music in the air, shown with a jagged pink cloud, is angled to frame Dark Jerrica’s strut. It’s an exciting turn for the series and I am looking forward to seeing how the “Darkness” affects each of the sisters as well as how the Dark Holograms deal with the Misfits, especially since they are currently struggling without Pizzazz.

The reveal of Dark Jem and her infection of the rest of the Holograms doesn’t happen until the last few pages. For most of the issue, Thompson explores the familiar themes of  family, commitment and fun that have characterized the series. Even the second most scandalous revelation of the issue, Aja finding out that her beau is Stormer’s brother, is treated with a deadpan joke. With Pizzazz sidelined with injury, future issues may position the Misfits as the “good” ones. Thompson and Campbell have me devoted to these characters and I can’t wait to see what happens next, especially if there is more black lipstick involved.

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Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 3

Jupiter's Circle Volume 2 3Drew: One of the big criticisms of Joseph Campbell’s reduction of all heroes journey into one monomyth is that it steamrolls the differences in stories, particularly the cultural specificity that makes one myth different from another. I’ve always thought that was kind of missing the point — those specifics are what makes the story unique, but it’s worth noting that the mechanics of most heroes journeys are basically the same. I don’t think it’s reductive to point out those similarities because I don’t think plotting is ultimately the most important thing about a story; like I said, it’s the smaller specifics that differentiate one story from another. Which is to say, while Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 3 bears some striking similarities to Superman II, those similarities in no way diminish my enjoyment of this issue.

Reducing the story down to its plot — where superpowered goons defeat our de-powered heroes — definitely recalls Superman II‘s central conflict, but doing so loses so much of the texture of this issue. Some of that lies in the gleeful embrace of the camp inherent in the premise, but a bigger portion lies in the political discussions that happen in the margins of the plot. Specifically, the Utopian’s conversation with Ayn Rand, and the psychological repercussions it has. See, Rand sees the Utopian as John Galt made manifest; a self-made god amongst men, concerned only for himself. That characterisation eats away at the Utopian, forcing him to wonder if he really is as heartless and self-involved as she’s assuming.

Fortunately, the gang of thieves he busts up immediately after that conversation happen to just be desperate to feed and shelter their children, so the Utopian considers cutting them a deal — the first hint of his cultural restructuring that played so prominently in the first arc of Jupiter’s Legacy. Unfortunately, they’re cut off by Doctor Hobbs and his power-stealing ray, giving the Utopian an even more explicit test on who he thinks should share his literal powers. Having already met the Utopian in the present day, we can guess how this will shake out, even if the issue leaves us in a cliffhanger — it looks like Rand might be right about the Utopian, after all.

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Outcast 15

Outcast 15Drew: Fiction can take characters to strange places. I suppose that’s often the point of fiction — fantastical, unlikely, or otherwise extraordinary circumstances fall upon otherwise relatable people — but sometimes the strangeness of the situation can overwhelm the relatability, forcing the characters into decisions we have no real frame of reference for. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily — indeed, I’d say a great deal of fiction, from classical tragedy to modern fantasy trades in these kinds of situations that have no real-world analogue — but it’s a world apart from fiction where we can more easily empathize with the characters. I bring this up not to dismiss Outcast 15 for being too far-fetched — the entire premise of the series is beyond the pale of fantastical — but that this issue crosses the threshold between specific situations we can relate to and fantasy situations we can only imagine.

That line is crossed as Kyle comes to the realization that whatever it is that draws demons to possess those around him is also in his daughter. While we might have been able to empathize with his sense of duty or skepticism before, we have no frame of reference for a magical gift/curse being shared with our estranged daughter. To me, that shifts the story rather squarely from a procedural with fantastical elements into a fantasy with procedural elements — whatever mysteries there are to solve in this series are now tied up in the mechanics of however these magical powers come to be. Maybe that’s a silly distinction to make, but I found myself fixated on the difference as I read the issue.

Paul Azateca’s art is as moody and distinctive as ever, and this issue finds him splattering the corners of panels with ink, adding grit and a creeping sense of decay to the story. Moreover, his acting is spot-on, keying in on key gestures and expressions in those ubiquitous inset panels. The plotting is a tad less revelatory — aside from the reveal of Amber’s “gift,” the issue mostly just reminds us of plot points from last month: Reverend Anderson is still in prison, and Megan is still under suspicion for hurting Mark. I think that pacing works for building the sense of dread this series lives in, but I can’t deny that it’s slower than it absolutely has to be. Patrick, are you finding that pace appropriate, or does it feel a little too slow to you?

Patrick: I’d agree with “it feels slow to me too,” but the series has always kind of been slow. I’m certain this thing reads better in trade. But I am still greatly enjoying the month-to-month experience, which allows Kirkman and Azaceta to explore individual threads of the thematic tapestry they’re weaving. I noted the sexual violence imagery in the previous issue, and we’ve discussed the how well this series taps into the idea of losing control of your own actions to a power that seems outside of the self. Drew, where you identify one of the series’ more fantastical elements, I’m seeing another side to the possession-as-addiction metaphor. Children of substance abusers are statistically more like to abuse substances themselves, whether because their minds and bodies are more prone to addiction, or because they’ve grown up watching that same behavior modeled. The horror that Kyle experiences when he realizes his daughter is at risk for demonic possession because of him must be the same horror an alcoholic father must feel.

If the series were moving at a more determined clip than it is, I think that idea might have gotten buried. Or, maybe there are too many panels of Kyle raking leaves: what do I know?

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Ringside 3

Ringside 3Ryan D: If you find yourself drawn to Ringside, there is a good chance that you are a pro-wrestling fan. I certainly am, and so are the creators, who cite their devotion to independent wrestling, Japanese wrestling, the Big Two, and the Attitude Era which initially sparked their interest. That being said, three issues in and this comic uses “sports entertainment” as more of a back-drop or framework wherein the stories of the workers can be told. Think of it like 100 Bullets but under the umbrella of territorial pro-wrestling.

Our main protagonist is Danny “The Minotaur” Knossus, a washed-up old-timer who had his heyday in the ring, who goes up against a crime magnate who has, apparently, kidnapped his lover. While the film The Wrestler already properly chronicled the life of a wrestling star when their fame and fortunes have faded, Ringside uses Danny’s past as a wrassler to highlight the difference between the “pretend” violence in the fictional world (kayfabe) world of pro-wrestling with real-world corruption and danger. This issue finds Danny conscripting the help of Terrence, the muscle and a fixer of sorts for a bail bonds shop, to tackle the odds stacked against him to save his ex. This story line is fine thus far. Joe Keatinge shows us the justification, the slow-burn of Danny taking his lumps like a true noir detective, and the slow piecing together of the puzzle. Do I necessarily like Danny? Not really. However, as the issues start to roll by, I am beginning to care about what happens to him.

Some of the side plots let pro-wrestling take more of a center stage. We have Davis and Reynolds, the former being a veteran who is a visual homage to Michael P.S. Hayes of Freebirds fame, and the latter being a greenhorn neophyte in the business trying desperately to rise in the card and “get over” with the crowd and the office, alike.

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This is the story line which lets the real smart mark wrestling fans get their jollies, especially those who take interest on the behind-the-scenes view at the wrestling product as a whole. The meeting of the creative team, whose job it is to write the story lines and thus essentially determining how much of a profile any given wrestler can have, was interesting and hit all of the right notes, but its relevance to the plot is yet to be seen. It is also interesting to note that several of the stories being told in this comic revolve around gay pro-wrestlers, whose voices, historically, have not been heard despite the comings-out of a legend like Pat Patterson, the tragic death of Chris Kanyon, and the fairly publicised announcement of WWE talent Darren Young.

The story telling here is solid, though the art can be a bit…finicky? Nick Barber and Simon Gough focus greatly on characters’ outlines and shapes, which makes sense due to the importance of physical stature to pro-wrestlers. And while these silhouettes are all distinctive and defining, the details in characters can sometimes appear washed out or blocky, counterpointed with moments of clarity and distinctiveness. The art team, who do not have a huge body of published work behind them, has been vocal in the letters column about their style being currently undefined and fluid, and while this may be a strength to make Ringside unique, there are moments when I wish they would commit one way or another.

Wrestling fans will probably keep reading this title for those small “a-ha!” moments which come from recognizing a staple in the industry or a take on a well-worn character type from the business, but I feel like I need to see how this first arc stands after the final bell to truly recommend it to everyone.

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Spire 6

Spire 6Spencer: I feel like I’ve been talking a lot about some of the issues with “middle installments” of stories recently, but that’s only because it’s still something I run into quite often. Even though we’re 3/4ths of the way through Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokley’s The Spire, issue 6 is still decidedly a “middle issue.” That doesn’t mean it’s a bad issue — it displays many of the qualities that have made The Spire such a compelling read so far, from Stokley’s “disgusting cute” take on the Skews to social commentary on race and xenophobia that’s probably far closer to reality than most of us would like to admit — it’s just that the contents of issue 6 never stand alone as a satisfying self-contained read.

Spurrier and Stokley devote most of this issue to digging deeper into the mysteries surrounding Juletta, but in doing so they only raise further questions. In that sense I suppose this issue is a rousing success, as it brings events and answers into place for the finale while also getting readers hyped to see how this all turns out. I’m certain that this issue will feel much more satisfying in the trade, where we can ride this heightened pace straight into the climax, but as a single issue with a month long wait until the next installment, it’s a little bit frustrating. But hey, if the worst thing I have to say about an issue is “it made me want answers right this second,” then I suppose it’s doing its job.

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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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