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 18, Faith 3, and Jem and the Holograms 13.
Darth Vader 18
Patrick: One of the more fascinating parts of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larrocca’s Darth Vader series is the team’s devotion to exploring the character without defaulting to exploring Anakin Skywalker. There’s a subtle difference between the two, and conventional wisdom would dictate that Anakin’s formative years as a slave, as a padawan, as a Jedi knight would be more informative about who the man-behind-the-mask actually is. But Gillen and Larrocca are able to craft a narrative around who Darth Vader is now; he is a powerful man who inspires fear-based loyalty. But issue 18 introduces a new set of qualities Vader inspires in others: strength and rebellion. Perhaps even more interesting is the line Vader refuses to cross.
On what he assumes will be his final assault on the Sho-Torun rebels, Cylo sabotages Vader’s War Drill, leaving it stranded in a sea of enemy combatants. Vader and his envoy (including to the semi-Jedi twins) seem out-manned and out-gunned until Beetee and Triple-Zero activate a long dormant rack of battle droids, turning the tide ever so slightly in their favor. And it’s right here where Triple Zero taps into a rich vein (pardon the pun) for Vader’s emotion journey – the maniacal droid suggests infusing the battle droids with human blood in order to allow them to access the force. It sounds like a horrific plan, but Vader cuts him off at a particularly triggering phrase.
That’s an obvious echo of Obi-Wan’s description of Darth Vader in A New Hope: “he’s more machine now than man.” Now, why does Vader reject this idea out of hand? The text isn’t explicit, so we’re left to draw our own conclusions. Does Vader fear machines the ability to use the force? Would it feel like a betrayal of his own Jedi heritage to empower a battle droid — the enemies of the Jedi — with force powers? Maybe he just hates the idea of there being more man-machine creatures out there?
As the issue comes to a close, we get to see some other reactions to Darth Vader. Aiolinn and Morit end up turning on him, which isn’t a surprise necessarily — because their allegiance to Cylo has been pretty well established at this point — but that still grinds against the common notion that Vader successfully bullies everyone in to obeying him. More interesting are the actions of Princess Trio, who finds strength in Darth Vader’s example. She even takes a move out of Vader’s playbook and kills the adviser that tries to deny her her power. On the list of qualities I never would have ascribed to Vader before this series, “empowering” is right on the top.
Spencer: On the surface, one of the most relatable aspects of Faith’s character is that she’s a massive fan of pop culture, just like most of Faith‘s audience. But as someone who’s grown increasingly weary/wary of fandom (or at least its more toxic elements) in recent months, I appreciate that Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage don’t just throw around pop culture references and expect that to appease readers — there’s pop culture references aplenty in Faith 3, but they’re used to reinforce Faith’s perspective on life, and at times, even presented as obstacles to Faith’s duties as a superhero.
The most obvious example, of course, comes when enemy agents show up at Faith’s job, and she tries to figure out how to defeat them without giving away her secret identity. For a moment I thought we’d see some antics straight out of a Silver Age Superman or Spider-Man adventure, but to her credit, Faith immediately realizes the situation is too deadly to play around like that, and she eagerly blows her identity, saving her co-workers in the process. Previous issues have established that Faith’s taking on the “Summer” identity is very much influenced by the stories she’s consumed, but she doesn’t allow any misguided attempts at honoring those stories to stop her from prioritizing human life.
Indeed, the pressure of trying to save actual lives is something no story could have prepared Faith for.
Stories have given Faith a values system and the inspiration to go out and protect others (a valuable ability that stories have in real life as well), but real people trump fictional ones every time, and the fact that this is putting pressure on Faith shows that her priorities are in the right place. In fact, while each issue of Faith thus far has featured Sauvage-illustrated fantasy sequences that allow readers to peek into Faith’s head, now that threats against her have heated up she’s even having trouble finding refuge in those fantasies.
I certainly wouldn’t say that the creative team is condemning fantasies or other “distractions” — even Archer reminds Faith that she needs balance in her life, and the fantasy sequences will continue to be an element in Faith’s newly-announced ongoing series — but what this scene is showing is that human life is simply more important to Faith than any of her hobbies. Faith isn’t going to stop being a Buffy fan or a comics fan, but those hobbies are always going to take a back-seat to issues that actually affect other people. In a time when online harassment — where rape or death threats over something as simple as a comic character or a video game — are increasingly common, this is a wonderful attitude to preach.
Actually, in a post-Batman v. Superman-world, it’s refreshing to see a hero with a clear “no-kill” policy who puts the lives of bystanders and enemies alike ahead of everything else at all. With Faith’s current enemies consisting of fanatics who’ve prioritized their cause above any and all life (even the lives of their own “kind”), the allusions to current issues with online culture and harassment seem more apt than ever, and I can’t wait to see how the creative team brings these ideas to a conclusion next month. I know Faith won’t let me down.
Jem and the Holograms 13
Ryan M.: The first arc of Jem and the Holograms fed right into my nostalgia centers. My memories of the cartoon were all about hair the color of the rainbow, cool outfits, juggling a rock career with boy drama, and reinforcing the power of female friendship. There was also the allure of the Misfits, “bad” girls who have no shame in declaring that their songs are better. With the Dark Jem arc, Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell have added a new dimension to this candy-colored world: horror.
Dark Jem’s breakdown into Jerrica is legitimately upsetting. In the first panel above, Jerrica’s physicality communicate how upset she is, but the empty speech bubble effectively communicates that she is beyond rationality. In the bottom panels above, Campbell shows Jerrica’s face literally breaking apart, her psyche splintering into several pieces. It’s disturbing and a bit scary to see three layers of Jerrica’s right eye, each more scared than the last. In order to break through Dark Jem’s control, Jerrica has to shatter herself and that’s only the first step.
The issue is full of great imagery that works both within the world of classic Jem (Pizza Earrings!) and the more disturbing. Using Blaze’s vocals as a backdrop for Jerrica’s plan to capture her bandmates is an excellent way to use the established visual language of the series to provide context and contrast the “Dark” Holograms with the performances that used to define them. Also, Roxy has freaking pizza earrings, so it’s a slam dunk.
Until Dark Jem, most of the conflict came from the character’s psychological issues: Jerrica’s stage fright, Kimber’s impulsivity, Pizzazz’ selfish attitude, etc. Now, we have an external threat, personified by a dark computer virus. Techno-terror may not be what I expected from a Jem story, but Thompson and Campbell’s execution make me believe that Jem could carry any genre.