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 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.
Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 10
Spencer: 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.
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.
Citizen Jack 5
Patrick: 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?
Jupiter’s Circle Volume 2 5
Drew: 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.
Spencer: 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.
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.
Star Wars Special: C-3PO 1
Patrick: 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.
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.
Xena: Warrior Princess 1
Shelby: 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.
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.
And, I mean, come on, it’s a Xena comic. I love Xena, I can’t not read this book.