Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 5/4/16

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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 Star Wars: Poe Dameron 2, Black Hood 10, Empress 2, Woods 22, Sons of the Devil 7 and Wolf 7.

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Star Wars: Poe Dameron 2

Star Wars Poe Dameron 2Taylor: In a lot of ways heroes are boring. Though they come in all different shapes and sizes, with different powers and different ways of thinking, they ultimately always do the right thing. Essentially, heroes will always be defined by what they do, which is to stop evil. The agents of this evil, on the other hand, not only come in various forms, but the motives that drive them and the question of their level of amorality always keeps them interesting. In short, villains are great not only because they come in a wider variety, but because they essentially define a hero’s job.

In Poe Dameron 2 we’re introduced to Agent Terex, a flamboyant special forces soldier sent to take out Poe and capture the plans that detail the whereabouts of one Luke Skywalker. Terex is wonderful in that what sets him apart is that he is loquacious. He has thoughts and opinions about just everything in the universe and he’s not afraid to let them be known. In addition to the many wonderful lines he receives thanks to Charles Soule, Phil Noto has designed the character wonderfully. Both of these are in rare form in the below panels.

A Good Evil

The way Terex interacts with his stormtroopers, asking them questions they have no choice in but affirming, and the way he’s fake (or genuinely) polite to everyone he meets is just magnetic. He also has a flamboyance and showmanship that is 1/3 daring and 2/3 ego. He is a force of charisma. His character design matches this trait to a T. The pencil mustache, the mini-mohawk, the motorcycle jacket inspired clothing, all just drip personality.

This burst of individuality is a welcome addition to this series, which up until now lacked much in the way of teeth. It’s inspiring to see the Empire/New Order finally get a new character with some face, both figuratively and literally. Stormtroopers and masked men are fun and all, but at some point they all begin to feel the same. Terex on the other hand seems wonderfully original and he steals the scenes in this second issue. I look forward to seeing Terex bring out the best in Poe and I can only imagine what his back story, hinted at in the issue, really is. Whatever the case, after just this one issue I want an Agent Terex stand alone comic. He’s just that much fun.

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Black Hood 10

Black Hood 10Ryan M.: The Black Hood is a gritty engaging series that has provocative things to say about the cost of justice as well as the dual addictions to vigilantism and drugs. The Black Hood 10 is not an issue I would share with someone to get them into the series. First, it’s the fourth entry in an ongoing arc and, second, the issue leaves more heavily on the tropes of the genre than the story doe at its most inventive. Also, some parts of the issue were genuinely confusing.

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This above is a climatic scene, one in which Devon is perhaps fatally shot in the gut. The art is unclear. Because there is no panel establishing where the characters are in relation to one another, it’s very hard to understand the dynamics of this shootout. The visuals are further confused by the larger- than-life shadows that loom over the characters. From the way the characters are facing in the two panels above, one can intuit their relative locations, but the need to figure things out lessens the impact of seeing Devon shot. According to the rules of tropes and cop movies, Devon was set for an untimely death early in the issue when we saw him at home with his wife. Later, when Greg tells Devon his secret, that was strike number two. It feels inevitable that Devon would get caught in the crossfire. By opting for the expected trope, the issue feels rote, even with a bunch of explosions.

slim-banner4Empress 2

Empress 2Ryan D.: Empress returns after receiving a fairly lackluster review for its debut issue from Shelby and me, which I am sure kept Mark Millar up many nights tossing and turning. The second issue continues the journey of Queen Emporia and her children’s escape from Emporia’s husband, the despotic King Morax. Looking for ways to continue putting space between themselves and Earth, Capt. Dane Havelak guides the refugees through complications on “The Stopover Planet: Antares”, featuring a big, Michael Bay style heist scene.

The job of the creators in this issue is to expand the universe they are creating in an interesting way which can thematically advance the plot. We can see them trying this, partially successfully, in a scene like this:

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I
 enjoy the idea here that there is a spa which swaps bodies, hinting at future technology existing in this created world and solidifying the importance of money and privilege. What I could have done without was the sweeping generalization which somewhat smacked of Antisemitism.

I wish I had more to say about this title, except that it has all of the parts of a sweeping space sci-fi opera without actually forming into one. The art is still crisp and holds up, but their exploration of different worlds is coming off as cookie-cutter instead of making this title “The Saga Killer.” I still see very few reasons to pick up this title unless you need to oggle Immonen’s sharp lines and flair for dynamic movement.

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Woods 22

Woods 22Spencer: Poor Sanami has always been the odd-woman out; of the original six leads, she’s received the least attention, and at times has even been outshined by supporting characters like Maria or Sander. James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas’ The Woods 22 doesn’t fully fix that problem, but the spotlight it shines on Sanami and Karen does manage to better illuminate both characters and their relationship, and that’s a fantastic step in the right direction.

For a while, it seems like the most important moment in The Woods 22 is going to come in the flashback, where a drunken Karen kisses Sanami because “isn’t that what you want?” A crush on Sanami’s behalf would seemingly explain the almost fanatical support she provides Karen, but Sanami denies it — she has her own explanation:

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Sanami’s devotion — so strong that it’s often turned her into a supporting character in the lives of Karen or Maria — isn’t motivated by Sanami being in love with Karen, it’s because she just loves her, because she cares about her so deeply that she’ll do anything to help her, even if her help isn’t all that helpful in the long run. While Tynion doesn’t dig deeper into why Sanami is so invested in her friends within this issue, looking to past issues makes me think that Sanami latches onto her friends so tightly because she feels so removed from her own family, who she’s embarrassed by and sometimes actively hostile towards. I’d love to see this explored more in future issues, but for the moment, I’m just grateful to get this much Sanami at all.

Of course, as befitting Sanami’s role as Karen’s biggest cheerleader, this exploration of Sanami also leads to a major turning point for Karen. Sanami’s always helped Karen through her many crisises, but that support isn’t always the most helpful — as Ben points out, Sanami can’t turn Karen into the person she wants her to be. Karen has to do that herself, and that’s what she finally does by the end of this issue. She overcomes her panic and stops herself from running away, instead devising a plan to rescue Calder and Sander, and does it because she knows how much her friends love her and support her and need her. It’s great to see these two young women’s relationship grow like this, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

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Sons of the Devil 7

Sons of the Devil 7Drew: In just seven issues, Sons of the Devil has built a staggeringly dense world, complete with a complex history, and several cat-and-mouse scenarios playing out in the present. What’s more, we spend a little time with virtually all of the lead players in this issue, and they all have distinct personalities and relationships with one another. Those relationships become key as the issue plays out, as Henry’s allegiances are called into question. We know what he’s doing, we just don’t know why. Is he actually doing David’s bidding, or just what lines up with his own motives? And what of that murder at the end of the issue? Is he trying to protect Travis, or intimidate him? And again, for whose benefit? Those are subtle questions to be asking of a supporting player, but writer Brian Buccellato has such a command over these characters, they all come across beautifully.

Speaking of beauty, the art team of Toni Infante and Mado Peña capture the darkness and ambiguity of this world beautifully. I’m particularly impressed with Peña’s uncanny ability to set the location with the subtlest of color tweaks — a skill that this issue relies on particularly strongly this month, as flashback scenes range over time and location. Somehow, Peña manages to both distinguish those scenes from one another and make them feel similar in a way that distinguishes them from the present day action. Unfortunately, that’s a whole-issue perspective that’s difficult to excerpt, so I’ll just highlight the transition between the flashback and the present day:

Doing Time

The generally warm palette is used throughout the preceding flashback, so Peña opts for some truly sickly greens to light the abutting present day scene. It’s a choice that feels obvious — indeed, I can read the seen transition from across the room — but only because it works so well.

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Wolf 7

Wolf 7Patrick: “War is hell.” Seems like it goes without saying saying, right? There’s all too often ignored dimension to that statement: there’s a culture and an industry that thrives in that hell. If war is hell, then the military is the goddamn devil. Wolf 7 introduces us to a new character – a buddy of Antoine’s from his deployment to Iraq – at the lowest point in his life. Well, actually, it might not be fair to the character to call his untreated depressions / alcoholism / PTSD a “point in his life.” Rather, it’s a smear of lost opportunities to play with his kids, to do the lanudry, to go in to work, and even to kill himself and be done with it.

Throughout, he keeps remembering something that his father said to him “Life punches you. Life beats you down.” I’m adding the punctuation there – the voiceover in these sections is slung together without any guiding periods or commas, as though these are all thoughts piling up in the character’s head without any kind of filter or control. And that “Life beats you down” shit is that kind of macho bullshit that permeates masculine culture — our depressed friend credits his father, but he easily could have heard it in the army or even fucking movies (Rocky, anyone?). That’s a fantasy – a collective lie that all men buy into at one point in their lives and have to apply to the rest of their experiences in life, even those for which “life punches you” is totally inappropriate. That’s why Antoine and his buddies are so quick to write off his visceral experiences as “a dream rape.” They don’t really have to vocabulary to consider themselves victims. That’s typified by the commanding officer that wakes Antoine up after a night of particularly bad visits from the woman in his dreams. He yells, conflating sex with violence, and homosexuality with weakness, and while it seems like a particularly ugly scene, writer Ales Kot is quick to suggest that this isn’t an anomaly – this is part of their morning routine.

But there’s also the hard-to-deny even-uglier side of this – how this destructive hyper-masculine behavior hurts women. Antoine’s dream woman only gives a glimpse of her history, but it includes her being burned alive (before she had any superpowers). That story is only a grace note here, as if to imply that its an inevitable result of a culture of unending violence.

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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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One comment on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 5/4/16

  1. Sheriff of Babylon: A big part of what makes Tom King so great is how well he finds drama in the ordinary. As much as I love the vibrant Image comics at the moment, I also acknowledge that they work largely by having the most high concept ideas possible. Even something like Saga, which does an amazing job of finding drama in the ordinary, loves the high concept insane ideas (not a criticism). But part of what makes Sheriff of Babylon work is that it isn’t extraordinary. There is a real life quality to it that lots of comics lack.

    And also the fact that King has proven extraordinarily adept with working with artists and visuals. I don’t think King has written a book yet that didn’t perfectly use both the artist and the nature of visual storytelling. Pages 2 and 3 of Sheriff of Babylon are just another example of King’s work using very subtle ways of doing amazing visual storytelling. This issue is a big one, in how it wishes to explore the true effect of America on Iraq. And what makes it work so well is that it doesn’t hold back. Both Christopher and Saffiya are made very clearly to be connected to America. The tragic events of this issue are, in part, the main characters fault. They are America, just as the soldiers from the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ agency. Even better, just after tragedy strikes, and we see just how America is harming Iraq, King cuts to Americans bragging about how they are heroes, for stopping Saddam. How their arrival has ended an age of brutality. Finish off with a monologue evocatively describing the events of the issue, and you have one of King’s best issues to date.

    He truly has proven himself to be one of the best writers around at the moment.

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