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 The Goddamned 4, Rough Riders 3, and The Woods 23.
The Goddamned 4
Patrick: The world of The Goddamned… is it a massive understatement to call it “challenging?” It’s non-sop ugliness and suffering — like Game of Thrones, but y’know, trade out the castles for animal hide tents supported with human bones. It’s a grim fucking environment, but writer Jason Aaron and artist r.m. Guéra know they can’t build a narrative on desperation alone. After all — that would become kind of boring.
And that’s exactly the situation we find Cain in through most of this issue. Captured by Noah, Cain is beaten, slung up on a cross, beaten some more, and is verbally berated by everyone from King to commoner. Cain’s only reaction is that he would rather die than continue to suffer. That sounds like kind of a typical response — no one like suffering, after all — but I’m not convinced there’s too much of a difference between the life Cain leads in chains versus the life he led on his own. Since killing able and introducing the world to murder, he hasn’t found a reason to live and love. I’m not saying that Cain’s heart grows three sizes in this issue – that’d be too easy for The Goddamned. Instead, Aaron and Guéra let the worthwhile things ooze out between the wounds, often presenting them as merely slightly-less-ugly versions of what Cain is going through. We get a straight up flashback to the first issue:
This wasn’t a particularly sunny interaction in the first place – Cain had an opportunity to show love and mercy and did neither. At the time I praised the moment for subverting my expectations and not giving this horrible warrior-vagabond a plucky kid sidekick. But it is clear that that’s what I wanted, and Aaron acknowledges that here. Armed with a half-expressed what-if scenario, Cain goes after Lodo and her son, because they’re the closest thing he can image to something worth living, killing and dying for. It’s still ugly shit, but meaningful ugly shit is better than pointless ugly shit, amirite?
Rough Riders 3
Drew: When does a narrative define itself? Is it with the first chapter or the last? Is it in the tone or the characters? There’s no universal answer, but to avoid pouring time into narratives I’m ultimately not interested in, I’ve come up with some loose guidelines. For genre stories — and especially comics — I’ve come to accept some level of genericness early in the story, as writers will often rely on broad character types or familiar situations to get stories in motion. So long as those elements are fleshed out as the series develops, adding detail and nuance along the way, I’m comfortable with some reliance on shorthands early on. That is, my general expectation is that comics will start somewhat generic, but each successive issue should distinguish the series a little more. Unfortunately, Rough Riders seems headed in the opposite direction.
I was happy to spend the first two issues watching Roosevelt assemble his team with the understanding that we were focusing on characters up front. It meant delaying their actual mission, but offered more nuanced introduction to these characters and their relationships, which I assumed would pay off as the action started in earnest. Instead, issue 3 reads more like a first issue, steamrolling all of those character introductions into on-the-nose summaries.
Particularly egregious is Edison’s intro, which obliterates the mysterious subtext of his “inventions” by openly questioning whether he invented them. Not only does this rob the series of whatever subtlety it had in those first issues, it doesn’t make any sense within the narrative — when Roosevelt recruited Edison, he made it clear that he knew the “truth” about Edison, so whether he was a genius or a con man should already be settled in his mind. It’s clear that we’re supposed to be questioning that, but this reads less like a mystery and more like a snickering child asking if you want to smell the boutonniere he’s wearing for some totally non-prank-related reason. I mean, if writer Adam Glass is going to be this obvious about this mystery, he might as well just come out and tell us the answer now — the answer has to be more interesting than the question.
None of the rest of the issue gives me any more confidence in the rest of the cast, which leaves this series with little to hang its hat on. Underserving the characters in any team up counts as a failure in my book, but doubly so when those characters are larger-than-life historical figures. As it is, these real-world people feel more like one-dimensional types, squandering whatever characterizations it might have mined from their actual lives.
Spencer: The Woods 23 is not only the penultimate issue of this storyline, but of The Woods’ entire second year, a status writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas turn to their advantage, using this installment to fill in the gaps in the timeline of this second year as well as to further explore some of the themes established over the past few issues.
One of those themes is the idea that, no matter how great their intentions, these kids’ attempts to help each other might not always be the best course of action. Last month Tynion explored how Sanami’s constant, unfaltering support of Karen was only enabling her indecision, and this month we see Sander’s earnest advice to Calder backfire spectacularly as well. Don’t get me wrong, Sander told Calder exactly what he needed to hear at the time to talk him off of his (both literal and metaphorical) cliff, but in the present, those same words only push Calder down a reckless, borderline-suicidal path. Beyond that, there’s also the fact that Sander returning Calder to his brother for safekeeping is what kicked-off his Gazer Root addiction to begin with!
Sander, like everyone else, had no idea the full extent of Casey’s treachery, but it’s yet another example of these kids’ inexperience and lack of knowledge coming back to bite them, even when they have the best of intentions.
I also dig the way this issue further explores the unique love triangle currently entangling Karen, Calder, and Sander. Tynion and Dialynas, thankfully, still avoid characterizing these kids solely by their romances or turning the triangle into the title’s primary focus, yet they do use the concept to further develop all three characters and further flesh out their ties to each other. We discover that the whole reason both these men like Karen so much to begin with is because she’s the only one who truly sees either of them for what they are, which makes it ironic that she’s so unable to find her own place in the world. Meanwhile, Calder and Sander are only drawn together by their ties to Karen, instead of pushed apart — instead of engaging in some sort of macho competition, they fully support each other (sometimes to ridiculous, reckless extents) because they know it’s what Karen would want.
Next month’s issue teases a possible character death, as well as possible all-out war, yet after these last few issues, I’m far more invested in how these events will affect our heroes than in the actual action itself. Either way, there’s no way I’d miss the conclusion to Year Two — considering the way Year One wrapped up, there’s no doubt that it will be an absolutely explosive finale.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?