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 Outcast 16, Black Magick 5, Ringside 4, Jem & the Holograms 12 and Faith 2.
Patrick: My first job interview after I moved to Chicago was at a small financial firm. I didn’t know anything about what their business and I totally tanked the interview. It would have been a terrible fit, so it’s not like this was the end of the world for me, but there is something remarkable about that experience of failing so spectacularly in the moment. And, hey, I’m a charming, articulate guy who learns fast and has great references – why should an interview ever go poorly for me? It’s like it was happening in slow motion, and all the mundane details about the space, the furniture, the gentleman interviewing me were burned into my memory forever. Outcast 16 captures this feeling of intense failure as Kyle attempts a solo impromptu exorcism.
And just like dumb 20-something me, Kyle doesn’t recognize how dire his situation is before it’s too late. Artist Paul Azaceta, on the other hand, broadcasts Kyle’s confusion from before the scene even starts. Back at the police station, everything is oppressively dark — which in and of itself, isn’t unusual for the series — but the shadows all have a tangible quality. Notice that colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser doesn’t just employ darker colors to pull this off; the darkness is literally made of up hundreds of tiny spots of blackness.
Go ahead and click on that image to check it out in real size to get a sense of what I’m talking about. That same kind of overwhelming detail comes in when Kyle enters his neighbor’s house. Check out the bonkers-level of detail in this panel.
The wallpaper, the curtains, the upholstry on the couch, the framed pictures on the wall – there are so many little pieces of overwhelming information creeping in that are slowly telegraphing Kyle’s lack of control. It doesn’t make it any less heartrending when the possessed kicks the shit out of him, but man, it’s hard not to say we saw it coming – in the best possible way, of course.
Black Magick 5
Drew: A fear of the unknown is natural, which makes learning — the act of turning the unknown into the known — an important part of facing the world. Or not. Paradoxically, learning also reveals how much we don’t know, opening us to a world of fears we couldn’t even conceive of in our naïveté. Lest this turn into a defence of ignorance, I should point out that most of what we discover we’re very lucky to live in a society that is relatively safe. That is, once the average person has learned the basics of survival (don’t touch that boiling pot on the stove, don’t eat that milk that smells bad, etc), it’s unlikely that their ignorance will pose any kind of mortal threat. But, of course, Rowan Black isn’t an average person, and, as Black Magick 5 reveals, she might have good reason to fear the unknown.
That reveal centers around Rowan’s rescue of Alex, and the hint of just how numerous and powerful their enemies are, but I’m actually more interested in the implications of the earlier scenes. Stepan, the Hammer’s agent sent to Portsmouth, manages to ingratiate himself at the local occult bookstore, offering us a procedural that relies on totally alien procedures — a perfect embodiment of this series’ M.O. Meanwhile, Rowan’s visit to Morgan’s might just establish a magical Chekhov’s gun of sorts. Check out Rowan’s language here:
Rowan insisting that she won’t “permit” anything to happen to Morgan certainly catches my attention, but it’s that panel of Rowan vowing to Anna that makes it clear there’s more going on here — artist Nicola Scott pulls wide, dropping out the background and facial details, offering this moment an iconic impact. I don’t know what, if any, magical rules there are about promising things to pregnant women (though, given editor Jeanine Schaefer’s comments in the letters section of this issue, I don’t doubt that the creative team absolutely does), but I’m certain this won’t be the last time we think about this moment. It’s another way this creative team manages to play with our own knowledge and lack thereof, keeping this series thrilling even in its quieter moments. There may be monsters and ghouls on the horizon, but it’s moments like these that have me on the edge of my seat.
Ryan D.: I’m happy for the crew behind Ringside; this seems like a big months for them. Not only did they finally choose a name for their letters page (“From Parts Unknown…”), but they also seemed to find their groove in storytelling and, for a few great pages, art. The comic reads a lot more coherently then it did at first, perhaps because of the team tightening up their vision, or as a payoff of their more scattered first issues. The main plot marches forward with Danny Knossus on the prowl for his ex with the help of the fixer Terrence, but by then end, the role of hunter and hunted may well be reversed. We also see some much-needed fleshing-out of Teddy, the ex’s relationship foundations with Danny. Until now, their relationship has been relegated to argumentative flashbacks, so it was nice to understand a bit more about for what Danny is fighting. Lastly, I loved the scene in the other plot thread between the grizzled wrestling vet on the backside of his career and his apprentice greenhorn, though I am still curious about how these two narratives will intertwine.
The main success of here is with the villain. He comes across as a bully and punk who vacillates from threatening to inviting, reminding me a bit of Vaas from Far Cry 3. Nick Barber and Simon Gough imbue this baddie with a very sleek anger:
In a comic which revels in blocky figures and silhouettes, I thought that this character design looked refined, and pulled the rest of the scene up with it. Add on top of that an unexpected “curtains down” moment at the end to set up last issue of first arc, and a cheeky little wrestling in-joke (“Crockett” is the name of the town to which Danny travels) leaves us with the best outing of Ringside yet. Is it at the point wherein I would recommend it to a reader who is not looking for a comic featuring the world of professional wrestling? Maybe not, but I look to issue 5 to send us home.
Jem & the Holograms 12
Ryan M.: Jem and the Holograms 12 is the second chapter of the Dark Jem arc, but really, this issue belongs to Blaze. Blaze was created for the comic and was introduced as a Misfits super-fan and the more thoughtful counterpart to Clash. In this issue, writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell place Blaze at the center of the story and it pays off her and for the future. Blaze’s emotional arc is the strongest element in the issue. Her hesitation to join the Misfits without telling them is human and echoes Jerrica’s insecurities and stage fright from the first arc of the series. No, Blaze doesn’t owe her new bandmates a “confession” but that doesn’t make her fear of rejection any less real. It was expected, but the Misfits acceptance of Blaze was sweet in its simplicity. They are all unfazed and ready to move on to what matters to them: Blaze’s punctuality. Seeing Blaze openly struggle with her insecurities made her happiness at joining the Misfits all the more contagious. Now that I know about her fears, I’m that much more invested in all of her future adventures. In the same way, seeing Pizzazz falling into a depression in the wake of her accident has me rooting for her in way that was unimaginable in the first arc of the series. She was introduced as a diva who treated her friends like staff and her staff like dirt. Now that she is without them, I am invested in her getting it all back. Thompson and Campbell allow us to see the vulnerabilities of these characters and, oh man, that works for me. That said, the Dark Jem crew shows no sign of vulnerability and I’m still super engaged in their scenes. Maybe it’s because of art like this.
We get our first Dark Jem song page, and it shows the differences between Dark Jem, the Holograms and even the Misfits. Dark Jem’s black claw-like hand reaches out to the reader in the center of the page, and her eyes glow yellow in the bottom left. The whole sequence has a witchy feeling, with the audience being ut under the Dark spell. Since the Misfits sat out the performance, I cannot wait to see how they react to an arena full of Dark Jem zombies. It’s going to be so much fun!
Spencer: Faith 2 is an issue all about the differences between fantasy and reality. Faith’s entire plan for becoming a solo superhero is based on the comics and superhero shows she grew up on as a child, but she’s finding that reality is far different from her fantasies. I suppose that’s a common theme for superhero stories, but there’s two things that make Faith‘s handling of it shine.
The first is that writer Jody Hauser and artist Francis Portela never look down on Faith for her fantasies (still lushly illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage). In this kind of narrative it would be all too easy to make her look stupid for daring to dream so big, but Faith is never portrayed as being at fault when reality fails to match up to her fantasies. Moreover, she retains her dignity and self-respect even when she fantasizes about the one who got away:
If Faith dreams big, it’s because she knows she deserves it. Hauser, Portela, and Sauvage have respect for their protagonist, and that applies to her interests as well — even if Faith’s love of comics and pop culture gave her somewhat unrealistic expectations for her chosen profession, she continues to admire them, and is horrified to think that her enemies may be using the very shows she loves as a lure for their victims. They’re never treated as something Faith needs to leave behind if she’s going to be tough enough to face the real world — that just wouldn’t be true to Faith’s character.
The second detail that makes this “fantasy vs. reality” theme work is that Faith never loses her optimism, even in the face of a grim, harsh world. Sure, Faith is learning that being a superhero requires more hard work, time, and sacrifice than she ever imagined, but she’s not letting this rob her of her loving, caring nature, nor of her morality. That’s the kind of character I can get behind: it’s easy to see why Faith has struck a chord with so many readers.