Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/20/16

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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 Obi-Wan and Anakin 4, Lumberjanes 25, Jem & the Holograms 14, Star Trek: Manifest Destiny 1, East of West 25, Huck 6 and Lazarus Sourcebook 1.

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Obi-Wan and Anakin 4

Obi-Wan and Anakin 4Spencer: We here at Retcon Punch have (almost infamously) had trouble differentiating the Open and the Closed, be it through their appearance or their ideology. While we’ve had it pointed out to us before, it isn’t until Obi-Wan and Anakin 4 that it really came together for me: there are no differences between these two groups, other than the division they purposely created in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. While this isn’t necessarily the best for clarity (forget telling the groups apart visually), it does create a much more engaging narrative and conflict.

In this context, both groups become absolutely monstrous: not only do they fight an eternal war with no real objective other than to pass the buck to their opponents before destroying them, but they purposely suppress information about life before the war — and even go so far as to target Sera, the woman trying to remind everyone of their past, with death — because of their own bruised egos and guilt. Perhaps their worst crime is that their never-ending conflict threatens to consume their children as well; Sera herself admits that the adults are a lost cause, but that there’s still hope for the next generation, and that’s hope the Open and the Closed would have snuffed out at any cost.

always hope in the young

That idea of finding hope in the young is, in many ways, what connects the action in the present-day to the flashback sequences. The Open and the Closed aren’t all that different from Palpatine — both will twist and corrupt the next generation (and both focus on Anakin in particular) in order to achieve their goals, with no concern about how their actions will effect the rest of their planet or the universe, respectively. Actually, while the Jedi are far more benevolent than any of these other two groups, Charles Soule and Marco Checchetto don’t let them off the hook either.

a slave on a world made of dust

While Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and the Jedi (supposedly) had Anakin’s best interests in mind, their recruitment of him was also motivated by their own agenda; as he so heart-breakingly points out in the panels above, Anakin had little choice in the matter and perhaps even less understanding of what his new lifestyle would entail. The Jedi’s own complicity in Anakin’s downfall has always been one of the juicier elements of the prequels, even if it’s largely been consigned to subtext and fan theories, so I’m pleased to see Soule giving the idea a little attention in this series. There’s still a lot of elements up in the air as Obi-Wan and Anakin nears its finale, and I think I’ve finally connected with enough of these ideas to get excited about seeing how they play out.

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Lumberjanes 25

Lumberjanes 25Taylor: What sets apart Lumberjanes from many other series is that basically anything can happen at anytime in an issue. Now certainly there are some who are grumbling right now about how such and such comic (Weird World perhaps?) also does but I’m not sure any series takes it to the level Lumberjanes does. Most series follow some sort of set of rules when it comes to what can happen, no matter how outlandish these events may be. Lumberjanes on the the other delights in the fact that it has no rules and the series is better for it’s lack of definition.

Usually this is something I wouldn’t like. I tend to believe that the fictional worlds are those which make sense on some level, even if the logic is bizarre. In Lumberjanes though, whatever writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh can dream up seems to make it to the page. While this sounds like it would be chaotic, most the time the two writers seem to make it work in a way that is both fun and endearing. Case in point, in issue 25 the Janes have to deal with a bunch of mutant kittens. This is indeed as wonderful as it sounds.

Feline Changes

Of course there is no rule in the Lumberjanes universe that says a kitten can’t have a morningstar for a tale or create bubble shields, but it certainly isn’t something I would have expected. However, everything that happens in Lumberjanes is so joyful that I find it doesn’t matter if these mutant make sense in the context of the universe or not. That I don’t care about these kittens seemingly coming out of nowhere is a testament to how much fun the chaotic events of the Lumberjanes are.

What I appreciate though is that even though the kittens are totally random, they do adhere to some sort of logic. When the Janes are ordered to clean their cabin by their counselor, Jen, she specifically orders them to not get involved anything magical. Of course this means that the Janes are going to get involved in something supernatural. Telling the Janes not to do something is the one way of making sure that they do get involved in it. I love the feeling of inevitability that Jen’s warning loves this issue since as soon as she spoke those lines, it was clear magic would come into play here. In this way there is a certain logic to the madness of Lumberjanes.

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Jem & The Holograms 14

Jem & The Holograms 14Ryan M.: As my favorite vampire slayer once said, “Love makes you do the wacky.” In Jem & the Holograms 14, romantic diversions lead directly to becoming lobotomized by an evil computer. Even in an arc about an evil computer virus with the ability to turn people into either bad-ass meanies or Jem-worshipping pod people, this series is about relationships. When Jerrica suggests that they wait until morning to unplug Synergy, it feels odd, but Kelly Thompson makes this delay function as a way to add weight to the final pages. As soon as they have a chance, each of the Holograms rush to connect with the people they hurt while under Silica’s spell. We see Aja and Shana openly smiling at their respective beaus. Kimber and Stormer exchange “I love you”‘s. For the first time in several issues, we see these woman happy and hopeful. It’s that small oasis of hope, which makes the emergence and ascendance of Silica and the Sickness even more powerful.

down with the sickness

The visual language that Thompson and Sophie Campbell have for Hologram and Misfits performances is the basis for the final horrific pages of the issue. The lyrics ooze across the panels like blots of oil. Each of the panels in the lower half of the page shows the music of the Sickness spreading. My eye cannot help but be drawn to the girl in the center panel, her eyes wide in shock and her screaming mouth bleeding in the the lower gutter. On the next page, Jerrica and her sisters lay in a blank-eyed heap on the ground like discarded dolls. Synergy is just as broken. The hopelessness of the moment is amplified by the hope of the recent past. Thompson and Campbell have done an excellent job weaving science fiction, romance, and relationship-driven storytelling. Silica’s emergence pushes the story hard in the science-fiction/horror direction which should prove exciting as this arc moves toward it’s conclusion.

slim-banner4Star Trek: Manifest Destiny 1

Star Trek Manifest Destiny 1Ryan D.: Confession time: I’ve never been a Star Trek guy. I believed that, as a budding nerd, I needed to draw a line in the sand between that franchise and the jazzier, more easily accessed Star Wars universe. Star Trek: Manifest Destiny seeks to draw in those fans who, like me, found themselves drawn in by the non-Trekkie-friendly films which brought the beloved sci-fi property back into cultural relevance. In it, the crew of the Enterprise — all faithfully drawn by artist Angel Hernandez to mirror the appearances of the actors who most recently portrayed them — run into a rogue Klingon commander who eschews the nobler parts of their species’ bushido-esque code. The issue itself bops along at a reasonable, digestible pace and hits all of the notes one would expect from a movie tie-in trying to be both broad and accessible while paying fan service to the more hard-core audience. The trap with such ambitions which befalls many projects of this kind are apparent here, mostly through the use of some tired clichés and cramming in the ancillary cast to keep everyone happy whether they are essential to the narrative or not. One of my favorite examples:

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I could not help but chuckle at that first line, as both of the most recent films use the idea of a familiar species or race having a renegade extremist element threaten the Federation. Part of me views this as lazy writing, as if having an actual conflict between two united parties would require too much political backstory and manoeuvrings, whereas here we get all the lasers and the quips without being bogged down by the expansive and complicated universe which, I believe, sets Star Trek apart from other sci-fi series.

While this may be the low-fat version of Star Trek, and though it did cause me to roll my eyes a few times, I did enjoy the focus of the narrative falling on the character of Bones instead of the the contagiously charming rapscallion of Chris Pine’s Kirk. Bones, here, comes across as surly and droll, and his scene using technology to deliver an alien baby was the best piece of world-building in the comic. If moments like that are enough of an impetus to send you back into the world of the Star Trek cinematic universe as seen through the lense of a comic book, then give this a read. Otherwise, I recommend playing some FTL instead.

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East of West 25

East of West 25Patrick: There are a lot of moving pieces in East of West. About a year ago, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta put out a guidebook with a lot of background information and some extra historical perspective to help readers make sense of the world. In true Hickmanian fashion, that guidebook did less to illuminate the world and more to reveal that the world was so grand as to never be fully illuminated (which is, of course, exactly why he’s such a good writer). East of West 25 stresses the idea that accepting the mystery, and even embracing it, is more beneficial than understanding the facts.

The issue starts by elevating the act of chasing tangents and visions as Narismha wake from a troubled night sleep with the nagging feeling that there’s someone out there wandering the dead lands. Narismha is the Chief of Chiefs of the Endless Nation, it’s absolutely not within his scope of service to take a hoverbike out to the middle of the desert to investigate a hunch, but he does it anyway, and in so doing, connects with The Wolf (who turns out to be his nephew) and with his own destiny. Mind you, that’s when he pushes back against the whole concept of destiny, but like, come on buddy, you just had a vision that lead you out to a specific spot in the middle of nowhere; something’s going on. I love that we don’t get resolution on this particular story, only The Wolf expressing “I’m fine with you having doubts” as if to assure the readers — and possibly even the creative team — that it’s okay to have huge nagging questions. It’s only through exploration of those questions that we get anywhere worth going.

Or, let’s approach this from the opposite angle. Death arrives at The Hunter’s bar, looking to recruit him, but the Hunter has been hard at work fortifying himself against just such an encounter. Hickman lays out, step by step, everything that The Hunter has had to do to put his establishment back together after they last tussled – dealing with law enforcement, contractors, even hiring a bar full of mercs for protection. But all of the prep is just noise grinding against the inevitable. I’m in love with this page of The Hunter explaining himself, punctated frequently with the one-two panel set of Death taking a drink and slamming the glass down.

death does a shot

That “shot, TOK” repetition becomes clock-like, and that steady insistence ends up trumping The Hunter’s months (years?) of prep work leading up to this moment. And of course Death un-mops the floor with those mercenaries, and successfully recruits The Hunter – he’s a force of nature, one which we can never understand. Instead, we just gotta go with it.

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Huck 6

Huck 6Patrick: One of the things that I love about Huck is artist Raphael Albuquerque’s sense of what action needs to be depicted beat-by-beat and what action is more effective left to the reader’s imagination. Issue six is an action-packed finale, so there’s a ton of running, driving, blasting and fighting on display and Albuquerque’s mastery of space on the page helps to sell every single moment for all it’s worth.

The beginning of the issue is where are heroes are in the most trouble, having just busted out of their indestructible glass cell. Shit is chaotic – robots are being deployed Orlov is escaping, soldiers are rolling up with guns. Albuquerque and writer Mark Millar highlight this chaos by gleefully cross-cutting between scenes, recklessly shifting the focus of a fist fight between panels. During the fight, both robotic characters’ bodies can transcend panel divisions, granting an other-worldly quality to their actions. But check it out – Huck always stays in his panels: he may be a physical force to be reckoned with, but he’s an orderly force. I love this idea of order playing out through Huck’s actions. We don’t get to see Huck ripping the skin off of his robot attackers — that’d be too messy — we just see the aftermath of it. And later, Huck stops Orlov’s car by javelining a lamp post across the city, in some of the smoothest action I’ve read all year.

huck throws pole

It’s a simple sequence, but that lamp post is so beautifully tracked by each one of Albuquerque’s gorgeous drawings and the shapes of the panels so cleanly reflect the shape and trajectory of the post that it’s hard not to marvel at the grace on display here. That’s ultimately what Huck is: simple, elegant, graceful. We see a return to that charming elegance when Huck gets home and we’re treated to single-panel stories with titles like “Baked a cake for Old Mr. Beatty” and “Helped some people stuck in a flood.” Heroism doesn’t have to be complicated – that’s what the villains are for. While Millar and Albuquerque couldn’t resist checking in on their braindead villain in the final moments, the real victory of the piece is Huck putting out a cheery little sign that reads “HAPPY TO HELP!” And we’re happy to have ya, buddy.

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Lazarus Sourcebook 1

Lazarus Sourcebook 1Drew: There are a lot of sci-fi/fantasy fans out there that are keenly interested in the universes in which their stories take place. It’s why the Star Wars extended universe exists, and why anyone would ever bother reading The Silmarillion. But, for the rest of us, the setting is never the most interesting part of a story — or, if it is, perhaps the story should focus on different characters and events within that setting. Good sci-fi/fantasy remembers this, and can appeal to everyone, but there’s enough masturbatory histories and needlessly detailed maps out there to give those genres a bad name. I’m inclined to believe that Lazarus Sourcebook, with its masturbatory histories and needlessly detailed maps is one such culprit, offering details to simulate verisimilitude, but forgetting that good fiction, even those set in a more recognizable modern world, rarely takes the time to offer the birthdates of governors that don’t seem to have any impact on the characters we care about.

But maybe this thing just isn’t for me. What’s frustrating is that the rest of Lazarus so obviously is for me that I can’t help but see this as a misfire. I would never dispute that Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Eric Trautmann and their team have crafted a rich, nuanced setting for their story, but for me, the success of Lazarus has always been in how naturally that world-building integrates into the narrative — it’s always felt like the story was the most important element. That paradigm is flipped in Lazarus Sourcebook, answering questions nobody asked like “what are the state capitols in this new world?” and “what kind of tv shows do its people watch?”

The biggest problem, though, is that it lacks the ambiguity that makes the series so intriguing, plainly stating facts that were much more artfully implied in the series proper. Perhaps those moments were too ambiguous for some, but the clarification feels redundant to the rest of us. Those elements that haven’t already been established feel equally useless — if it can’t or won’t be established within the narrative itself, I’m not sure why we need to know it. If there were Lazarus fans clamoring to know how many companies make up the Daggers (or how many platoons are in each company, or how many squads are in each platoon), this issue will certainly scratch that itch. For the rest of us though, it serves more as a bitterly ironic reminder of how well Lazarus normally deploys its world-building.

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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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2 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/20/16

  1. Anakin handing his lightsaber back to Obi-Wan was a super effective scene. It’s not often that we get a real sense of Anakin Skywalker, victim, but that scene does a good job of selling it.

    It does make me wonder about a possible connection between Anakin and the Star Wars franchise. He’s being taken advantage of by powerful forces that want to bend him to their will regardless of what it does to Anakin. I think the movies actually draw a compelling thread between Anakin and the series itself (awesome and mysterious in the original, disappointing in the prequels and mythic in TFA).

  2. I read the first two volumes of Velvet this week, and am really impressed. It does exactly what Brubaker does, which is to take a standard story and do it with just enough twists to make it distinct, and creates a really good Cold War Spy thriller. Really great fun, and I think that Brubaker has unfortunately almost been a bit forgotten, off in his own corner, because unlike people like Hickman and Remender, his work lacks the same high concept insanity. I love me some East of West, Low or Deadly Class, but it is great that Brubaker is there being ambitious in his own way. Ambitious not by having truly insane ideas, but by finding new spaces in well worn genres.

    Though on Hickman, I read the first volume of Manhattan Projects. Great fun, a nihilistic, insane trip through mad science. I feel I need a reread to get a full idea of what the exact themes are, but I find it interesting how much of it involves the evil versions of historical figures, one way or another. A look at just how scary the world would be if the geniuses that redefined our world were not altruistic. What would happen if instead of the geniuses we got, we had the sort of people who wouldn’t stop at the Bomb?

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