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 Archie 7, Darkness Hope One Shot, Last Sons of America 4, Rough Riders 1, and The Woods 21.
Ryan M.: Growing up, I often day-dreamed about visiting fictional places. Care-a-lot and Wonka’s Chocolate factory were definitely in the mix, but, given a choice, eight-year-old Ryan may have picked Pop’s Chock-lit shoppe. There is still a part of me that wishes I had a hang out with a benevolent and wise proprietor who would offer support, insight and maybe a chocolate shake. Though he’s appeared in previous issues, Mark Waid uses Archie 7 as the time to really establish Pop’s role in this world.
Pop is at once annoyed by and invested in the antics of these kids. He isn’t their friend or parent, but instead acts as confidante for the entire town. Part of what has been so enjoyable about Waid’s work on Archie is that he takes characters that have long been two dimensional or joke-conduits and given them a sense of inner lives. Sure, Pop’s declaration of the sanctity of the “Pop vault” is not grounded in a real-world sense, but he fits perfectly in the Riverdale established during the series’ run. The issue also treats Reggie with an empathy that he certainly doesn’t earn from the other characters. Reggie and Pop may not be the characters that any one picks up Archie to see, but Waid does a great job at making them interesting beyond their functions in Archie’s life. Finger crossed that we get a Grundy/Weatherbee subplot in the not too distant future.
The Darkness: Hope
Patrick: The number of assumptions and foregone conclusions that readers embrace as part of reading superhero comics is sort of staggering. Not only can human beings attain abilities far beyond those of anyone you’d every meet, but the entire universe can be unbound from it’s limitations. Time travel? Sure! Parallel worlds? No reason not to have them! Magic? Clones? Artificial realities? THOSE ARE PROBABLY IN THERE TOO. Charlie Harmon and Daneil Dwyer’s The Darkness: Hope leverages these base assumptions and holds them up against the assumptions we make about life in a 2016 (err… a not-very-different 2036). The result is a patiently unspooling story that’s as much about blowing up it’s superhero premise as it is exploring modern existential dread.
And the issue leans on those existential questions early and often. We meet Hope as she slowly wakes up in the morning, with our perspective locked into hers, staring up at the ceiling fan.
Hope spends a lot of this issue investigating the re-positioning of the stars in the sky with her sorta-but-not-really boyfriend (and reporter), Jake. But Hope, while certainly questioning the new starscape, has much more mundane thoughts that occupy her: it’s hard to wake up in the morning; her friend is an awkward flirt; is Jake interested in her. Just when Hope and Jake start to get science-based answers to their questions, the dialogue literally turns into “arble garble” and “jargon bargon fizzee.” The actual twist of the story — which I won’t ruin here, but it’s a genuinely effective moment in a cool read — relies heavily on the reader’s ability to fill in some gaps for ourselves based on our collective experience reading about comic books. A giant monster in the city streets ends up being an “arble garble” by a different name.
Last Sons of America 4
Drew: I’ve never been a huge action movie fan. It’s maybe not entirely fair — I acknowledge that there are some good action movies out there — I just can’t muster much interest for a genre that distinguishes itself for “action.” Of all of the elements of a film, “action” has always struck me as the most disposable; you could easily swap gun fights from any Bruce Willis movie without meaningfully changing the narrative. Moreover, its incredibly difficult to integrate movie “action” into a world that feels in any way real. Some movies play that incongruity up to brilliant effect — I’m thinking of movies like Hot Fuzz, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Adaptation, specifically — but many sacrifice whatever was interesting about the narrative in favor of explosions. Unfortunately, Last Sons of America falls into these traps as it ties up its narrative perhaps a little too neatly.
Part of the problem is that this ending falls into just about every action movie cliche there is: virtually everybody has a little heroic moment, we get a kind-of-sort-of fake-out death of one of our main characters, and everyone seems to live happily ever after. It’s not a bad ending, per se, it’s just not an interesting one. “Uninteresting” isn’t particularly remarkable in the overstuffed comics market, but it’s disappointing given the fascinating world Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Matthew Dow Smith created in the first issue. Gone are the intriguing geopolitics of this dystopian future, gone are the complicated family dynamics between our protagonists. Instead, we get a fairly boilerplate takedown of a crime boss — that he was involved in child slavery bears no impact on the story whatsoever. It’s genericness falls woefully short of the promise of those first few issues, robbing it of its “hidden gem” status, and landing it squarely in “disposable action comic” territory.
Shelby: I’m a big fan of nonsense, and Rough Riders 1 falls into that category in the best kind of way. A hulked-out Teddy Roosevelt, called upon by titans-of-industry Rockefeller, Chase, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie to assemble an elite strike force to take care of something extremely dangerous and secretive in Cuba, using tech way too advanced for the era and possibly an airship? That, sir, is total nonsense, and I am completely on board.Writer Adam Glass quickly establishes Roosevelt as a badass with a heart of gold; we meet him as he arrives at a burning sweatshop in his dirigible to save the trapped women and children working there. One issue in, and this book looks ready to put the “fun” back in historical fiction. I love the way artist Patrick Olliffe draws Roosevelt as this towering monolith ready to kick capitalism in the teeth. Between Dungeons and Dragons and Dragon Age, I find myself constantly in RPG mode, always ready to assemble my party and venture forth, and that’s exactly what Roosevelt is doing here. He’s the lawful Paladin leader, and his first party member is another heavy Fighter, Jack Johnson. Next on the docket is the Wizard, here played by Harry Houdini, and I hope after that it’s the Rogue Annie Oakley. Roosevelt is well on his way to a balanced party, ready to set out on their dangerous quest.
The Woods 21
Spencer: While reading The Woods 21, I was taken by surprise when a character mentioned that the Bay Point kids have been stranded on the alien moon for over a year now. That in-universe year has brought about massive changes in the status quo, which is something that the creative team of James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas, and Josan Gonzalez illustrate perfectly throughout this month’s issue. For the first time, the flashbacks don’t take the story back to Earth, but to the gap in time between issues 12 and 13; while past issues have used their flashbacks to show how being whisked away from the Earth has changed the Bay Point kids, issue 21 uses its flashbacks to show how drastically the kids have changed just in the last 8 issues alone, mainly due to Casey and the Children of the Sun’s attack.
9 months ago, for example, Maria had fond hopes for the Bay Point settlement. Tynion and Dialynas capture a real feeling of optimism here, and Gonzalez even uses brighter colors than usual (yellow skies instead of the standard purple) to sell the idea that the kids were starting to settle into a good, stable life. Turn the page, though, and that idea is immediately shattered by the horrific sight of Maria’s dead body. Whatever hope Maria had for Bay Point seem to have died with her, as Karen is now willing to turn the remaining Bay Point kids into an army to stop the Children of the Sun, something Karen and her friends actively fought against less than a year ago.
Yeah, in most ways things haven’t changed for the better. The previous issue seemed to indicate that Karen had finally found her place as leader of Bay Point, but this new role has only left Karen feeling more helpless, frustrated, and confused than ever before. Karen seems to be taking her frustrations out on just about everyone she comes across, but especially on the men in her life (Calder and Sander). No matter how much Karen tries to deny it, there’s definitely a bit of a love triangle sparking to life here (the cover makes this crystal clear), but I appreciate that both Tynion and Karen herself assert that romance isn’t going to be the Karen’s driving motivation. Thankfully, that goes for this triangle’s other two points as well.
Calder and Sander may both be interested in Karen (and both men are aware of this fact), but they don’t let this turn them into rivals or enemies — instead, they’re quick to work together as allies. It’s refreshing to find a love triangle that doesn’t dominate the story, and lets all three of its members have development and motivations entirely separate from the triangle. Even 21 issues in I continue to love the unique blend of sci-fi and teenage drama that is The Woods, and I can’t wait to see how these kids continue to change in the future.