Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/13/16

roundup6Look, 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 Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 10, Citizen Jack 5, Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 5, Limbo 6, Star Wars Special: C-3P0 1, and Xena: Warrior Princess 1.

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Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 10

Autumnlands 10Spencer: Language and speech patterns are important tools in any writer’s arsenal — sometimes what’s important isn’t what a character says, but how they say it. Kurt Busiek is certainly a writer who uses these tools to their maximum potential, and the contrast between the cast’s various speech patterns — and what that says about them — is a subtle, but prominent part of The Autumnlands 10.

Learoyd and Dusty are joined by Dirty Aelbert of the Hardhill Clan as the issue’s featured players. Aelbert’s speech pattern is archaic and heavily accented, which immediately says a lot about a culture of his otherwise unseen goat-people, primarily that they’re isolated from the rest of the Autumnlands. Dusty is a stark contrast to Aelbert; he’s still cultured, polite, and well-spoken, showing that he comes from high society. Learoyd, though, speaks unlike any other character in The Autumnlands; more than his strange references, it’s Learoyd’s constant cursing that betrays him as an element entirely foreign to this world.

I found myself focusing a lot on these kind of subtle techniques and characterization throughout The Autumnlands 10, if only because it doesn’t otherwise offer much in the way of a complete narrative. This is an issue that serves primarily as set-up, and to Busiek’s credit, the questions he poses are intriguing: is magic dying, being revived, or changing altogether? Is Dusty growing as a Wizard, or simply tapping into the mountain’s fluctuating power? I’m invested in discovering the answers, but asking all those questions leaves this issue feeling a bit incomplete in the meantime.

Fortunately, this series not only has Busiek’s subtle characterization, but the art of Benjamin Dewey and Jordie Bellaire supporting it. Dewey’s figures and backgrounds have a pleasant, organic feel to them, which even extends to the irregular panel borders; Bellaire supports that aesthetic with a generally “Earthy” color palette, which makes for a fantastic contrast to the unearthly power of magic, portrayed in neon shades of yellow, red, and blue.

magic

This creative team has the skills to keep even their less-successful issues compelling, and that says a lot about the talent behind The Autumnlands.

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Citizen Jack 5

Citizen Jack 5Patrick: For as much as we might want to blame Donald Trump for being all “Donald Trump,” placing responsibility solely in his lap is short-sighted. After all, the racist, sexist, government-hating, anti-(perceived)-establishment white supremacist ethos was already out there in America, Trump simply tapped into a deep ugly vein in the populace. Citizen Jack 5 sees writer Sam Humphries and artist Tommy Patterson slowly working this way to that same ugly conclusion about their fictional presidential candidate, Jack Northworthy. It’s amazing how unsettling it is to discover that the evil demon in the background of this series has nothing to do with the with this story’s most startling development: Jack is popular because he’s evil, stupid and reactionary.

And Humphries really explores as many different angles on this idea as he can. It’s like Jack is the opposite of a Frankenstein monster – instead of being cobbled together from multiple sources, he is a single, terrifyingly unified entity buoyed by multiple Dr. Frankensteins (Drs. Frankenstein?). Pluralization questions notwithstanding, Humphries and Patterson trace some compelling backroom deals that lead to Jack getting the right sounding board — and perhaps more importantly, the right branding — for his obviously stupid message. Jack’s campaign manager basically makes it her personal mission to get Jack elected as a point of professional pride. She even says “I’ll get you across the finish line. Winning is my job.” Which is, of course, true. For politicians and campaign managers, winning elections is is their job (or at least part of it) – there’s no room for scruples or considering consequences when you’ve got a job to do. And no one is immune to it: even Cricket, the political pundit dolphin Jack beat up at the debate, takes the opportunity to further Northworthy’s campaign in the same of doing his job.

I’m also in love with the amazing details packed into this issue by Patterson. There’s a fun montage in here where we’re getting back and forth statements from Northworthy and his opponent, Charlotte Pickens, about Jack’s outrageous “War on Children” stance, and Patterson stages each of their comments during some kind of unrelated activity. Pickens is engaged in activities that you might expect someone running for office would engage in. Jack? I dunno – drunk college kid?

on the campaign trail

 

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Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 5

Jupiters Circle vol 2 5Drew: There are certain ways where a prequel is limited by the stories that follow it — we know that certain characters must survive, for example — but there are other ways where the prequel can use what we know to goose tension. Better Call Saul has managed this remarkably well simply by introducing characters who are never seen in Breaking Bad — does Chuck die? Is he estranged from Jimmy? Did Jimmy continue to care for Chuck even after he became Saul (up to and including Saul’s appearances in Breaking Bad)? We don’t know the answers to these questions, which keeps us guessing, even if we can roughly see the path Jimmy himself is traveling down. Mark Millar has managed something similar in Jupiter’s Circle, introducing threads that haven’t manifested in Jupiter’s Legacy (yet), planting seeds for a narrative that is still unfolding.

Actually, the fact that Jupiter’s Legacy is not complete changes the classification of this series a bit — it’s not so much a prequel as a mid-narrative flashback, giving us information that will come to bear on the story in yet-unforeseen ways. In any case, the past two issues have complicated George’s descent into supervillainy, almost giving him redemption before yanking it away — apparently for good this time. Of course, what’s truly heartbreaking about this turn of events is that Walter confirms that George’s accusations were true, all along. We can no longer dismiss George’s theory as a paranoid delusion, even if Sheldon still kind of can. We know that whatever seeds of doubt he has aren’t enough to save him (or George), reducing Walters turn here to some dramatically ironic foreshadowing.

BUT: we don’t yet know the fate of dear old George. He was often referred to in the past tense in Jupiter’s Legacy, but that doesn’t mean he’s dead. Indeed, Walter’s interest in psychologically torturing George could mean that he’d do everything he can to keep him alive — something that may prove disastrous for him, should Chloe and Hutch figure out a way to bust him out of the SuperMax. But that’s all conjecture. We’ll have to wait until next month to see what becomes of Skyfox.

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Limbo 6

Limbo 6Spencer: At its most basic level, Dan Watters and Caspar Wungaard’s Limbo is about a bet between two gods over the fate of a mortal. As with most bets — especially ones involving a capricious pantheon — proving their point is far more important than the safety of anybody actually involved in the bet. In that sense, Lord Saturday’s summation of Clay (and, by proxy, all of humanity) is remarkably hypocritical.

changing

Saturday is essentially condemning humanity for being unable to consider the complexity of other human beings. He’s not entirely wrong about Clay’s actions in this issue, but he’s failing to see that he’s done the same exact thing to Clay and Sandy. It’s no doubt because Saturday views himself as being on a different “level” as Clay and Sandy, and thus above the same kind of morality, but I’d say Limbo 6 itself argues against his viewpoint. No two people operate on the same level, but that doesn’t mean that anyone is “above” or “below” anyone else because of any aspect of their personality, life, or station. No matter who we are, how we treat others matters and has consequences; even Sandy is capable of manipulating Lord Saturday to some extent, something he can’t even consider because he doesn’t give Sandy (and the rest of humanity) a second thought.

So what’s the ultimate message here? Watters and Wungaard leave quite a bit about this story — including the very nature of their world — ambiguous even after the series’ conclusion, but I think that may be exactly the point. We can never know everything about the nature of reality or even about another person, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to learn, that we shouldn’t keep living our lives searching for meaning and trying to change for the better even when it seems like an absolutely Sisyphusian task. Who knows? The more effort we put into it, the more levels we discover, and the greater the chances are that we’ll see something truly extraordinary.

 

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Star Wars Special: C-3PO 1

Star Wars Special C-3POPatrick: Ah the unessential mystery explained! I’ll admit to being a huge sucker for this kind of story. Remember that episode of LOST called “Stranger in a Strange Land”? The commercials promised that it would answer long-standing LOST fan questions, but the quote-mystery-unquote mystery at hand was the origin of Jack’s tattoos. It’s sort of insane to even think that any viewer was dying to get that information, and the resultant episode is just as clumsy and artificially grandiose as you might expect. The Force Awakens cheekily asks the question “what’s up with C-3PO’s red arm, almost daring the audience to ask the same inessential question. Enter James Robinson and Tony Harris to actually present an answer that is immediately more meaningful than the question.

The successes of this issue are due in no small part to Harris’ heavily graphical art style, which is part woodblock print, part hieroglyphic, leaning one the same presentational inkiness as TMNT’s Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Harris elevates this even further through some aggressively designed layouts, which doesn’t so much add to the story’s clarity, but does serve highlight the legendary quality Robinson is evoking in Threepio’s journey. There’s almost a classicism to the symmetry in his layouts.

Omri and Threepio

Threepio doesn’t make for the most natural action hero, and I think that’s reflected in Harris’ art here. But what it lacks in fluidity, it more than makes up for in formal elegance – just like the titular droid. The script is also haunting, exploring one of the scarier threads at the heart of C-3PO and R2-D2’s stories – their memories are frequently wiped, so they have entire lives that they don’t get to remember. Robinson ties Threepio’s lost limb to these blanked memories, rightly categorizing the act as the cost of war.

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Xena: Warrior Princess 1

Xena 1Shelby: I’m a big fan of Xena; I have a Xena costume I’ve worn on a couple occasions, and I don’t doubt I’ll wear it again in future ones. I was pretty stoked to get to talk about this book, and likewise fairly disappointed by it.

According to the recap, Xena and Gabrielle were asleep for 25 years, thanks to Ares. They woke up, fought the Pantheon, and won, leaving most of the gods dead. The Romans are dicks, as usual, but with the mysterious Harpies burning villages, the Romans are beginning to look like a pretty good deal to a lot of folks tired of their shit getting messed with. Writer Genevieve Valentine gives us a decent opening story, with Xena and Gabrielle rescuing some beggar waifs; the trip to bring the kids home provides a perfect opportunity to travel around and get a quick sense of the politics and workings of this world. My problem is that it’s too quick; as much as I love Xena, I haven’t watched all of the show, and I mostly watched it when it aired years ago. I feel like this is an ongoing title that I picked up in the middle instead of a first issue; I had a really hard time following what was going on. There’s a flashback in the middle, where Xena contemplates her last meeting with the rogue Harpies; I honestly totally missed the fact that it was a flashback. Xena was in gypsy garb, and I had no idea it was her at all.

xenas

You can see my confusion; those two characters look very little alike. I found artist Ariel Medel’s style rather unimpressive overall; it’s got an old-school comic art look to it, with lots of heavy lines and shadows. I called it old-school, but to me it feels more old-fashioned than anything else. Here’s the thing, though: I’m probably going to keep reading this series. Sure, there are some awkward turns-of-phrase that make the dialogue a little confusing, but there’s also the possibility of Romans burning cities disguised as Harpies to drum up support for themselves when they come in to “save the day.” Plus the cold open was a maybe spirit version of Gabrielle discovering a maybe spirit, definitely dead version of Xena that I am super intrigued about.

dead xena

And, I mean, come on, it’s a Xena comic. I love Xena, I can’t not read this book.

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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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6 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/13/16

  1. I’d love to say more about Autumnlands, but I think you nailed it. it’s consistently good comics. This is material that Busiek is nailing.

    I tried Jackpot this week from Aftershock. They’ve been putting out quite a few titles lately. It was only ok. The characters seemed like types, not characters, it all seemed a bit silly, and I just didn’t find much to latch on to. I’m sensitive to poker scenes and this one didn’t really hold up, and seeing as that was the big thing with this comic…

    Badger #3: I love Badger. I don’t even know exactly what his powers are, but I don’t care. Next issue: Badger vs. Putin: Trashout at the Kremlin is a story I’m going to read.

  2. We’re actually doing a full-length on Jackpot that should post tomorrow, Kaif, so we’ll dive more into our thoughts on it there! (I think we’re giving most of the Aftershock books a chance, actually)

  3. C-3PO: James Robinson writing the story about how he got his red arm! Has a comic ever been targetted so specifically against my tastes. Quite simply, the only story about the red arm I want to read about is the story about how C-3PO loses his golden arm again between Star Wars the Force Awakens and Episode 8, because one of the worst choices in the Force Awakens was the choice to have C-3PO get his original arm back in the final scene, completely losing what makes the red arm such an amazing choice.

    A big part of Star Wars’ success has been the idea that it is set in a universe that is truly massive, with a billion, billion stories. The bounty hunters on Ord Mantell, the Kessel Run, the single rebel commando who disguises himself as a Stormtrooper in the Battle of Endor. But this strength is why we don’t need to learn about why C-3PO lost his arm. Supplementory stories about comics shouldn’t fill in the blanks and make the universe small (in fact, one of Star Wars’ biggest weaknesses is how as it went on, things have got smaller and smaller and everyone knows everyone and everyone is a secret Skywalker). They should be revealing even more new stuff. Don’t tell me about what happened on Ord Mantell, tell me about Han Solo’s wife. Tell me about Vader’s struggles with Cylo-V. And leave C-3PO’s red arm as a story on the side, never explained but a hint that there is always more to the universe than what we can read, just like C-3PO’s silver leg did back in 1977.

    I’ll probably end up reading this eventually, as I’m buying Star Wars in trades, and one of them will have this alongside it. But I can’t say I’m not disappointed this wasn’t left as an eternal mystery. Just got to hope that James Robinson’s terrible dialogue doesn’t make this story even more distasteful

    Xena: I had been seriously considering reading Xena, but if it truly expects an understanding of the continuity, there is no point in me reading it. I have never watched Xena, and don’t care for reading comics like Transformers/GI Joe/Xena (Star Wars is the rare exception, because of the nature of how Disney are doing Star Wars at the moment), but Valentine has proven herself to be one of the best writers around at the moment, and I wanted to read what she did next after her masterpiece on Catwoman. But if it expects a reader with some priming on the Xena mythos, it is wrong for me. Shame

    • I am outspoken in my distaste for James Robinson – can’t stand the guy’s writing. But I have given literally every other Marvel Star Wars comic (since Disney bought it, anyway) a shot, so I pulled for us to cover this one. I think I made the right choice, if only because Robinson’s awkward, stilted dialogue is more or less natural coming out of Threepio’s mouth. If there’s one thing about the writing that did consistently bug me, it was that all the droid names were spelled out all the time. I was always under the impression that if you were shorting their names for nickname purposes (a la “Artoo” and “Threepio”) but used the letters and numbers for their full names (R2-D2 and C-3PO). I mean, the title of the issue isn’t “Star Wars Special: Seethreepio 1”

      And I think the goofiness of the red arm mystery sorta made this work for me. Like, when it turns out to be something kind of sensitive and meaningful, that played against my expectations. Plus, that art. I really like the way this book looks. I mention Eastman and Laird, possibly because Drew and I are reading the original TMNT run right now for funsies, but it really does have that same sort of quality to it.

      • Really? That’s how they do the names? Why would Robinson do that? And how did an editor let him do that? Was the editor asleep? Baffling.

        I think part of the big problem with giving the arm a backstory is everyone is telling that story. We have so many prequels, which give all these explanations to things that should be meaningless. I mean, I love Zero Year, but that felt the need to give an origin to Gordon’s Jacket! The fact that these scenes are often sensitive and meaningful doesn’t change the fact that they all provide explanations to things that don’t need to be explained. Honestly, it is almost reductive to the point of treating characters as nothing more than icons. And in universes that are supposed to be large and expansive, it only serves to make things seem small. And when you have something like C-3PO’s red arm, or silver leg, whose entire purpose is to suggest a universe full of untold stories, why give it a story? Nothing would have stopped them from telling a story with its own goofy premise, to suckerpunch us into something meaningful instead.

        I’ll read it eventually, and we’ll see what I think then. At the very least, C-3PO sounds like a better choice for Robinson dialogue than anyone else

        • Sorry, I guess I meant to emphasize the goofiness of the question being posed primarily and the meaningfulness of the answer as a distant second. They actually make a point to joke about it in TFA – Threepio says to Han “I’m sure you’re wondering what happened to my arm” and Han blows right past to him Leia, which is what he (and we) care about much much more in that scene.

          I agree that we don’t need everything filled in for us (in fact, we probably specifically need some details eternally un-illuminated), but I think TFA identified the red arm as something of a joke. This issue doesn’t blow my mind or anything like that, but rather manages to answer a silly question (+) with a meaningful answer (+), and that’s enough for me.

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