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 American Monster 2, Bitch Planet 7, Black Hood 9, Citizen Jack 4, Lumberjanes 23, Shield 2, and Star Wars 16.
American Monster 2
Michael: I like when I get to cover the second or third chapters of a new book. After the mysterious entrance of the scarred man in the first issue, American Monster 2 finally gives us an indication of where things are headed for the series. Brian Azzarello and Juan Doe give us some insight into the characters that have been introduced and how some of their histories overlap. We learn that the scarred man — the supposed “American Monster” is a man named Theodore Montclare. Montclare is being questioned by the town deputy about his exploded truck and a murdered dog. The dog in question belongs to the lowlife who (I believe) has only been referred to as “Mr. Black.” Both Montclare and Black have Neo-Nazi SS lightning bolt tattoos on their back and by the end of the book it’s clear that Montclare is coming for black.
It’s pretty clear that Montclare, Black, and Black’s lackey, Josh, all share a past as soldiers/mercenaries — as seen last issue. American Monster seems to be setting up a tale of revenge (presumably from Montclare’s scarring) and I like how Azzarello didn’t make that so explicit from the first issue. Azzarello wisely paints the characters as three-dimensional human beings: Black is apparently the good one out of his daughter’s parents and dunderheaded Deputy Downs takes care of his elderly mother. None of these characters is perfect — in moral or intelligence — but they have their families who rely on them. So far, Montclare himself is the one character who doesn’t have many redeeming qualities; despite being the protagonist. I enjoyed Doe’s execution of the delightfully simple trap laid by Montclare. He simply lays in the middle of the road, waits for Josh to come and see what’s happening and BAM shot dead. Note to Black: He’s coming for you “Mothafucka.”
Bitch Planet 7
Spencer: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro play with a lot of big ideas in Bitch Planet 7 — from the premeditated murder of unarmed black children for the sake of protecting property (echoing the “Stand Your Ground” laws) to the use of convicts in for-profit labor — but to me, the most interesting ideas come when Whitney is forced to take the blame for Meiko’s death.
There’s so many ridiculous stereotypes and harmful propaganda about women buried in this speech — Whitney is infantilized and condescended to, accused of being jealous of another woman because “women are just catty,” and all her actions and emotions are thought of only in relation to how they reflect the “fathers,” as if every action a woman takes is only important for how it effects men. This is the kind of garbage many men believe, but what I find most interesting is that Whitney doesn’t buy it for a second, and neither does Christine the guard; once they meet, they cut right past this rhetoric to the truth of the matter, that Whitney’s been made a scapegoat.
Now Whitney isn’t a great person; she’s been working for the A.C.O., which is damning enough. But her plot highlights the way that, in a patriarchal society, women are forced to turn against other women in order to survive. She had to fulfill her role in the “fathers'” plan, which in this case meant doing her job and oppressing the N.C.’s, or else face the same fate, even if she doesn’t buy into it, and even that can’t save her; she’s tossed aside the second she’s no longer useful, showing exactly how little any of her “fathers” really care about her. While this is exaggerated a bit in this issue (as many of Bitch Planet‘s threats often are), it’s still a powerful representation of how women in our real life society are encouraged to snipe at each other and positioned to hurt each other, all because society doesn’t want women working together or realizing that they can do anything other than what they’re told. As always, there’s no easy answers, but DeConnick and De Landro continue to tackle difficult subjects as a reminder of just what, exactly, women have to deal with every day. From my limited perspective as a man, all I can say is that it’s sobering stuff.
Black Hood 9
Drew: We might consider police procedurals and crime dramas as two sides of the same coin, covering similar subject matter from opposite perspectives. Curiously, though, when the two genres are combined, the result takes on a much broader scope, becoming a kind of social commentary. Indeed, the notion of including multiple perspectives on a crime calls into question the root causes of crime, as well as who else might be affected by it? That was the approach that made The Wire such a revelation to fans, detailing the lives not just of criminals and cops, but also journalists, politicians, teachers, union workers, lawyers, who are all touched by Baltimore crime in one way or another. Writer Duane Swierczynski has toyed with a similar scope in The Black Hood, hinting at corruption within Philadelphia’s political structures and police department, but issue 9 offers the first real portrait of another Philadelphian, and the result is as compelling as anything The Wire ever touched upon.
That Philadelphian is Jack “Jackie” Mortimer, a hometown kid who grew into a promising journalist before an unfortunate brush with crime ruined his life, leaving him without a career, a wife, or a home. It’s a heartbreaking story that Swierczynski meters out over the course of the issue, jumping between its period setting and the modern-day action as Greg tracks down the homeless kidnappers. A homeless former journalist with a nose for a good story is a fantastic character, adding texture and nuance to the world around Greg, but it turns out Jackie’s help isn’t quite what it seems. It’s not until the end of the issue that we understand that Jackie is still under the thumb of Philly criminals — this time, selling out the Black Hood in exchange for his own freedom.
It’s a heart-wrenching twist, but is undermined a bit by the reveal that the kidnappers were expecting Greg. In the convoluted timeline of the issue, it might have worked better to show this scene immediately before Greg breaks into the warehouse, building some suspense rather than revealing the plan for the ambush after the fact. That’s ultimately a small quibble in an issue that reveals just how deep — and how far astray from the central cast — this series is capable of going. I hope we get to meet more Kensington residents as the series rolls on.
Citizen Jack 4
Patrick: We are living through an interesting period in American politics. Theatricality has always been unsettlingly effective on the campaign trail, but the last decade has seen an unprecedented growth in the level of acceptable behavioral spectacle. Figures like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump generate positive buzz by being racist, sexist, vain and willfully misinformed, and actively projecting those personas to the public. Hell, I write almost exclusively about comic books, and I’m writing about them. I’m not doing it for clicks or likes or dolla-dolla bills, but their political personalities are too large to ignore – almost to the point of being supernatural. Nothing that either one of those two can do would damage their career — Trump famously said he could shoot a man and his poll numbers would go up — so what is it that really threatens them?
In the case of Jack Northworthy, the presidential candidate at the heart of Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson’s Citizen Jack, the only thing he really fears is losing that lunatic edge. This being fiction, his personality disorder is personified as the demon Marlinspike, and up until this point in the series, Humphries has been withholding details about that creature like whoa. In fact, you could probably make the case that Marlinspike doesn’t actually exist, and the demon is representative of all the ugliest parts of America’s culture of fear. But within the reality of Citizen Jack, Marlinspike is a real, literal demon, with a history of possessing people to commit heinous acts of violence. This information comes by way of Donna’s researcher, Hannah, and importantly aligns the reader with someone who’s not Jack for the first time in the whole series. Donna’s asking our question and Hannah is giving us answers as much as she’s giving Donna answers. In the fun of watching Jack’s bonkers campaign, it’s important to remember that his insane actions have consequences on other people — and if he wins, those consequences will effect all other people.
Of course, that’s just a tease. Humphries and Patterson spend most of the issue dialed in to Northworthy’s ego-centric perspective. The issue starts in a flashback to a traumatic hockey injury that took Jack off the ice for good, but introduced him to Marlinspike. Past that opening scene though, Patterson routinely shows us action from Jack’s perspective, even cluing us in to his demon-driven delusions.
And maybe that’s the real point of the series: that politics of this flavor possess and inherent tension between serving the self and serving the people.
Taylor: For better or for worse, whenever I think of the word “lost” I can’t help but think about the TV show LOST. While feelings for the show vacillate between love and hatred, there’s no denying that the show was perfectly titled. Those stuck on the island are literally lost, but all of them are also lost spiritually or ethically in a variety of ways. The term “lost” is just so malleable, it can mean anything currently unaccounted for, something never to be seen again, and a state of not knowing where one is. Considering this, it’s perfect that in issue 23 of Lumberjanes Molly (the one with the raccoon on her head) finds herself in the Land of Lost Things.
Molly, out of all the Lumberjanes, is perhaps the biggest question mark. I don’t know a lot about her from the various adventures the Janes have been on and sometimes it’s easy to overlook her place in their ranks. This isn’t at all surprising however. Writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh have built this into the type of character Molly is. She’s quiet, shy, and probably an introvert. However, Molly stars in this issue and she shines as the main character. When the Bear Woman asks her to stay and be the keeper of the lost world, she’s quick to decline.
The reason for declining? She can’t imagine life without the Janes. She would be lost. Even though Molly herself sometimes feel lost in the crowd that is the Janes, here it can be seen that she actually enjoys part of the group. Perhaps like a true introvert she prefers the safety of her close friends and can’t imagine a life of solitude without them. While this certainly motivates Molly to forsake the Bear Woman’s overture, it’s the only reason. Mal has literally been lost previously and Molly has to scramble to find her. In doing so Molly recognizes her need to belong to her friendship group and realizes that a life of being is perhaps not for her. We haven’t gotten much character development in the last couple issues of Lumberjanes and it’s a welcome sight to see it happening here, especially with a relatively quiet character.
Drew: Have you read Action Comics 1? As the birth of a genre goes, it contains a surprising amount of the details that come to define the superhero: the origin story, the super powers, the alter-ego, etc. Relatively little has changed about the premise of Superman since then, but the narrative techniques are almost unrecognizeable. I’m thinking specifically of the tendency to offer information in triplicate; the image shows Superman punching, the narration informs us that “Superman punches the evildoers,” while Superman himself exclaims “take that you dastardly fiends!” It feels a little clunky to our eyes, which have grown accustomed to images and text working together in comics, rather than independently telling the same story. The Shield 2 doesn’t fall into quite the same traps, but much of its exposition definitely feels redundant, offering some of that same clunkiness.
Take this page, as the Shield is re-introduced in the modern day:
That’s just too much copy, but more offensively, much of it is unnecessary. Writers Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig are too enamored of their multiple scene-setting text boxes (in yellow) to care that they add nothing to the story — and indeed, detract significantly from the reading experience.
Let’s break it down: “Today. Somewhere in Washington D.C.”, simple boilerplate scene-setting; “Somewhere in the bad part of town”, oddly vague but also unimportant to the action that follows; “Somewhere in a safe house that is anything but”, that it’s a safe house is also unimportant, but that it’s not safe is perfectly obvious from the laser sights dotting the Shield’s body; “Somewhere with no route of escape”, again, perfectly obvious from the laser sights and helicopter in the background. Get rid of that copy, and suddenly, the Shield’s voiceover is much more legible. Not that her voiceover isn’t also plagued with redundancies. Casually dropping “C-ration” might work as a hint of her military past and recovering memory, but pointing it out immediately after she says it only emphasizes how forced it feels.
Unfortunately, much of the issue feels just as over-written, which is a shame given how much intrigue Christopher and Wendig are able to whip up — not to mention the quality of art from Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder. This could be a great series, but somebody really needs to take a hatchet to its lettering scripts.
Star Wars 16
Patrick: You guys remember being excited for Phantom Menace? I was sixteen when that movie came out, and I was beyond hyped. Finally, after… 16 years, I guess… I was finally going to see the Jedi Knights in action in their prime. Unfortunately, the story that George Lucas ended up telling had more to do with how clueless and ineffectual the Jedis had become by this point in their run, so the recontextualization ended up being more disappointing that invigorating. Star Wars 16 attempts a similar recontextualization, but to much greater success. We’ve seen Dr. Aphra kicking ass as Vader’s on-the-sly right hand, and while she had a tendency to talk more than Vader would have liked, her personality was — evidently — quite muted. Now, ironically as a prisoner of the Rebellion, Dr. Aphra is free to express herself. I love this characterization of Aphra: she’s fearless, snatching any opportunity to stage her own self-rescue. Even when she finds herself shackled in an awesome sun-facing space-prison, she still spits confident insults at her captors, certain that she’ll be freed.
And perhaps that’s even more energizing because we don’t know how that’s going to happen, though writer Jason Aaron speeds many potential Aphra-freeing scenarios. First, he plants the idea that Vader himself may come to claim her, which would certainly be a sight. We’re also introduced to a band of bounty hunters that could free her and look fucking awesome to boot (kudos to artist Leinil Yu for making this Master-Chief-meets-Diving-Bell design look appropriately DIY and cool).
But the most intriguing detail comes in the form of Aphra’s relationship with Sana Starros, the not-actually-bride of Han Solo. Sana’s been underdeveloped in the past, but she also seems capable of expressing herself more freely in this issue – perhaps because she’s out from under the cloud of being “Han Solo’s not-actually-bride.” I don’t know man, if this story can turn into the complex relationship between Leia, Sana and Aphra with a prison-break back-drop? That’s the kind of re-invigoration that Star Wars needs.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?