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 3, Black Canary 12, 4001 A.D. Bloodshot 1, The Fix 3, House of Penance 3, Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 1, Merry Men 1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 2, Weavers 2, and The Wicked + The Divine 20.
Star Wars: Poe Dameron 3
Michael: I don’t know if we’ll ever get to a point in film where the CGI feels as realistic as the living breathing humans that they share the screen with – everything becomes dated. The older Batman movies get the less realistic they seem; Batman: The Animated Series however still holds up 20+ years later. For example there’s a moment in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens where it seems that Kylo Ren’s master Supreme Leader Snoke is a giant CGI alien. It was later proved to merely be a hologram but that moment took me out of the film because it just didn’t fit in the same world as the human actor Adam Driver. Star Wars: Poe Dameron 3 has a “real” giant alien and it works, because it’s operating on the same level as everything else in the issue – they’re all creations of Phil Noto’s pencil.
Star Wars: Poe Dameron 3 operates in the same manner that many of the climaxes of the Star Wars movies do: with multiple battles going on, on multiple fronts. Up in the skies Black Squadron takes on the Tie-Fighters of the First Order, in the Cave of the Creche Poe and Agent Terex are having a battle of wits and wills while the Creche egg hatches and two giant space gargoyles have a Godzilla-level smackdown.
There’s a lot to like about this issue: Poe continues to be dashingly clever, Terex plays a cheeky political game and Black Squadron gets some characterization and backstory. Charles Soule writes all of these plot points very well – especially the Cold War-styled tete a tete between Poe and Terex. But for my money, I love how Soule and Noto insert the bombastic Godzilla battle into the narrative. I’m honestly not entirely clear why/how that epic battle occurred – was the real “savior” hiding the whole time, waiting for his bad “twin” to hatch? Either way I don’t really care. Again, I’m still impressed how such a drastic difference in sci-fi genre/style can be pulled off because of the medium the story takes place in. Comic books you guys.
Black Canary 12
Mark: I really like the Glee pilot when it aired back in 2009. It was a mix of silly humor balanced with heart that had me rooting for those dumb kids. Of course, the show very quickly went off the rails in a spectacular fashion, but I watched it through it’s first 13 episode arc. There were a lot of narrative dead-ends and questionable storytelling choices between episodes 2 and 12, but with episode 13 (which was written as a potential series finale in case the show didn’t capture an audience) everything that I loved about the pilot snapped back into focus. If you watched only the pilot and the 13th episode it would feel like a natural endpoint for the story.
In a similar fashion Brenden Fletcher’s Black Canary comes to a close in issue #12. While I wasn’t unequivocally in love with Black Canary 1, I felt like there was a lot of potential in the idea of Dinah Lance: Traveling Rock Star. Unfortunately none of the ensuing issues were able to fulfill the promise of the premise. Black Canary’s members were never given much definition, the stories never very interesting, and at the end of the day Black Canary was never very satisfying.
But Black Canary 12, in isolation, is really good. Like Glee, looking at that first issue and the last in isolation you can see the bones of a really good book and you would NEVER guess what ensued in issues #2-11 was part of the same story. It’s a credit to Fletcher that the issue works emotionally in the moment, but at the end of the day it still rings hollow. This wasn’t the conclusion Black Canary earned, but on an alternate world in the multiverse maybe it could be.
Drew: I love the premise of WALL-E — there’s something brutally tragic about the thought of the last robot mindlessly continuing his task on an abandoned Earth. Indeed, I’m so enamored of the sisyphusian hopelessness of that premise that I kind of resent that WALL-E ultimately saves humanity — his story should end with him slowly breaking down, having never accomplished anything. That’s obviously not children’s movie fodder, so I can hardly blame Pixar for going in another direction, but I still think “robot continues mission centuries after it has been forgotten” is a premise that has more thematic material to mine. With 4001 A.D. Bloodshot 1, writer Jeff Lemire takes up a variation on that premise, allowing the nanite cloud with Bloodshot’s memories to pursue, and ultimately complete, his final task.
For much of the issue, the single-minded pursuit of that task is pure WALL-E, though with a LOT more violence. Waking up in the year 4001, the nanite cloud sets out to complete its last mission — to deliver Ray Garrison’s body to his hometown in the former Northwest Territories — and proceeds to cut down anyone that stands in his way. The real intrigue, though, is what happens next; with no standing orders or connection to humanity, this robot has no discrete purpose. That might be even more tragic than WALL-E becoming just another piece of trash.
Of course, that’s not necessarily a story that will ever be told. This was a one-off tie-in to Valiant’s larger 4001 A.D. event, so very well might be the last we see of Bloodshot in this time period (at least for the time being), though there’s a chance the now tetherless Bloodshot could crop up in this event elsewhere. Either way, it’s an intriguing premise, and one that Lemire might just be the right writer to explore — there are obvious connections to his Descender series at Image. Artist Doug Braithwaite is also a brilliant fit, mediating his modern ink wash and raw pencil textures with decidedly ’90s-inspired hatching.
The result is both elegant and alienating — the perfect match for a robot designed for a mission that has been done.
The Fix 3
Patrick: While I’ve always consider the writing on The Fix to be incredibly sharp, Nick Spencer’s satire is occasionally very broad. What institutions exactly is he putting in his crosshairs? Hollywood? The cops? Authority? Those are targets so huge as to render any sweeping judgments meaningless — often still hilarious, but maybe ultimately toothless. The Fix 3 narrows its focus considerably, retracing the now all-too familiar career of Elaina. Elaina is a horrifying pastiche of every major Mickey-Mouse-Club-girl-turned-popstar from the last 30 years – Britney, Lindsay, Miley. The issue leans into its ickier concessions, calling out every stage of the rising star’s career for the thinly veiled pornography that it is. It’s a truly ugly progression, punctuated by Roy’s positively vile meeting with Donovan, the producer, which is just a much of a macho-sexist-asshole-circle-jerk as you could expect. We pivot out of the survey of Elaine’s career to that scene with Donovan’s ultra-smarmy “Oh god yeah, I would so fuck her.” It’s a litany of personal and societal tragedies, followed by one horrible man’s assessment of whether or not he could still get off to the victim.
This satire has teeth.
There’s no way to pivot from that metaphor into discussing Donovan’s under-table-blow-job without making some kind of joke, but I think that’s the point. Donovan is not expressing some kind of unique view of sexuality or objectification, but the upsetting American standard. Spencer addresses this best directly through Roy’s voiceover.
Artist Steve Lieber smartly leaves Roy in every single one of these panels, reminding the reader who’s perspective we’re seeing here. Say what you will about Roy, he’s our closest hope to having a perspective character in this thing, and it’s important that we can identify the goodness in him. Sadly, that’s as far as even his goodness will go – sympathy for the victim, rather than taking action against those that would take advantage of her. Hell, Roy also ends up a) trying to take advantage of her celebrity and b) lets her die because he was too eager to have the chance to take advantage of her. Like I said, man: teeth.
House of Penance 3
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Drew: While I generally balk at the stoner profundity of the characters Alice encounters in Wonderland, I find the above sentiment near universal in its adaptability. In virtually any space, there is some obvious trait that everyone shares. Maybe it’s that they’re fans of the same sport, or want to buy groceries, or just need to travel to somewhere near the next subway stop, but even the most coincidental groupings tend to have some situationally-appropriate trait in common. For The House of Penance, as we learn in issue 3, that trait is having killed another human with a gun, something that connects even the high society Sara Winchester with murdering lowlife Warren Peck (not to mention those “BLAM!” sound effects Michael remarked upon way back in issue 1).
That connection manifests itself in the bloody veins/entrails that haunt both Winchester and Peck. Artist Ian Bertram can grow those hallucinations to sickening crescendos, but the most unsettling moments might be when they creep into the corners of panels without any notice from the characters whose madness and guilt they clearly represent.
By the issue end, those bloody reminders are replaced with cleansing water, perhaps a cathartic representation of Winchester and Peck’s admissions of guilt to one another. Well, “guilt” may not be the exact words, but they certainly explain themselves (and their actions) to one another. It’s a truly strange relationship writer Peter Tomasi has crafted between these characters, but with Bertram’s subjective touches, there’s no doubt that they would feel connected.
Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 1
Taylor: Writing a crossover series is a matter of balance. When two intellectual properties meet, it’s important for both to be equally represented, and represented in the way that is familiar to their fans. If this doesn’t happen, someone’s bound to be disappointed and feeling left out in the cold. The crossover of Lumberjabes and Gotham Academy is perilously close to tipping the scales in favor of the former, if for no other reason than what the heck to a bunch of private school kids do when they’re lost in the woods?
When Professor Macpherson goes missing, Olive, Maps, and the rest of the Gotham Academy crew head out to find her. This leads them to the deep woods, where they meet the Lumberjanes, who are also searching for a missing person: their camp director. The two groups start off at odds, but weird, deer-skull ghosts force them to team up to escape to safety.
Most of the action in this issue takes place in the wilderness, which is fine for the ‘Janes, but for the Gothamites it’s a bit of an issue. As soon as they arrive in the woods on their search, it quickly becomes apparent that they are ill-prepared and in over their heads. Lucky for them, that’s when they meet the ‘Janes.
It makes sense that the ‘Janes would be willing to help their urban counterparts; after all, helping others is basically what they do. However, readers of Gotham Academy, myself included, have become used to seeing Olive and Maps work their own way out of sticky situations. Because of this, I find it a little hard to swallow seeing characters I count as fully capable stumble about like amateurs. Those who only read Lumberjanes probably have no issue with this, as their heroes are presented in their element, but not so for Academy readers. In this way, the issue risks feeling a little unbalanced in that it seems to favor one half of the crossover characters over the other. I can only hope subsequent issues give Olive and company a better chance to flex their mystery solving muscles. An issue set in the city would do, something that would take the ‘Janes out of their element the way the Gothamites are here.
Merry Men 1
Ryan D: Everyone knows the story of Robin Hood, the skilled archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. I do not think I realized how deeply stamped in our collective conscience his mythos is, but his tale has been told a surprising amount of times — partially due to the accessibility of the characters, and also due to the fact that his legend is public domain. Merry Men 1 introduces a new take on the classic, an interesting one, though I found the gimmick to be somewhat obscured by an art style which never sang to me, and an inconsistency in tone of dialogue.
This Robin Hood keeps his entourage close while hiding in the forest, all of the men excommunicated from their Norman communities for being “merry,” the term used in this title as a euphemism for people of non-heterosexuality. This immediately raises the stakes in this comic, turning this band of brothers into a band of lovers who would fight to the death for each other, in the same way some speculate the Spartans of the Battle of Thermopylae were romantically interlinked. As the Sheriff of Nottingham, our unseen antagonist, takes up a campaign across his swath of England, persecuting those of “aberrant” sexuality, Robin Hood must decide whether to take up his bow against the nefarious discrimination.
While this title shows a great deal of narrative potential as it tries to give the group of outlaws a unique dynamic, spending much of the first issue delineating their relationships with each other, I found myself distracted by the art styling of Jackie Lewis, whose human figures sometimes seem unrealistically posed and lack a certain feel of gravity.
I find myself often supporting the artists when it comes to independent video games being figured into the “how important are graphics” conversation, but I am having a difficult time doing so with the somewhat rough art of this comic. I am interested, nonetheless, to see what kind of message Robert Rodi will explore in the upcoming issue, and will give the next a shot to win me over.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 2
Spencer: Time travel is complicated — I think we all know that by now. TMNT: Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 2, in many ways, confirms that fact; Ben Bates and Dustin Weaver’s time travel plot is intricately complex, and while that so far seems to be leading to a rewarding conclusion, we’re still too early in the story to see exactly how every piece in play fits together. Thankfully, Bates and Weaver are very aware of that fact, and provide just enough explanation for Renet and the Turtles’ actions to make sense (and they’re also self-aware enough to occasionally poke fun at just how complicated this all is). Just as importantly, artist Sophie Campbell provides an intuitive visual motif for the concept of alternate timelines, explaining with one splash page what it would otherwise take a thousand words to fully flesh out.
The elaborate plot mechanics at play here — and the focus in Renet’s half of the issue on protecting the time-stream — provides a wonderful contrast to the actions of Bebop and Rocksteady. When this series’ title mentions these two “destroying everything,” it doesn’t just refer to the way they wreck everything around them — it also includes the damage they’re doing to the very concept of time itself! While Renet frets over protecting the time-stream (even when it seemingly leads to her own death), Bebop and Rocksteady carelessly rampage through their own past, with no comprehension of how their actions effect the time-stream, or even their own past selves.
We can see that Bebop and Rocksteady are completely clueless; they have no problem bringing up sensitive subjects because they’re already hashed them out, but their younger selves haven’t. While their own co-dependent natures keep them together anyway, it’s certainly one of many examples of how absolutely careless Bebop and Rocksteady are with their time travel, and of the potential havoc they may wreak. They’re the bulls in time travel’s china shop, and those kind of antics are what makes this title so much fun.
Patrick: I’ve only been reading Simon Spurrier’s work for a couple months now, but one constant that I’ve noticed between both this series and his excellent The Spire series (wrapping up next week!) is that he seems profoundly interested in the appearance of words on the page. The Spire‘s letterer, Steve Wands, used a number of different text sizes and shades of black and grey to convey tone, pitch and volume of Spurrier’s characters, but Weavers’ creative team of letterer Jim Campbell and illustrator Dylan Burnett take that idea several steps further, blurring the lines between dialogue, sound effects and diagetic texts until the pictures and the words become one.
There are several forces driving this narrative, and it’s sort of remarkable how many of those are an artful combination of pictures and words. The first image we see in the issue is a pieces of shrapnel Sid’s out to investigate. It’s a piece of an lunchbox, used as casing for a bomb, and we can recognize this image easily enough when we see it again because it’s married to the text “Rocket Rodney.” The voice in Sid’s head gets a similarly graphic treatment, as it soaks entire panels in giant red letters. Even the expression of Sid’s spider-powers starts to look unsettling like letters.
I don’t really have have a broader statement about what affect this has on the reader, if any. I know I have to slow down to read Spurrier’s work – sometimes just because the lighter text is harder for me to reader. I think there is often a divide between the pictures we see on the page and the words we read, and we’ve made it a point to praise the drawing’s ability to tell the story without words. Maybe we’ve been discounting the power of words to express something visually as well.
The Wicked + The Divine 20
Spencer: Throughout the course of The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen has proven himself to be an astounding mystery writer. I’m not just talking about the mystery of “who framed Luci” — though that resolution did come together at a brisk pace and with just the right amount of clues, all leading up to an explosive resolution — but also the mystery of how Laura came back to life. Issue 20 finally fills in the blanks in Laura’s story, and the resolution couldn’t be any more satisfying, nor any more earned.
Remember in our discussion of issue 11, where I mentioned that Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie initially seemed to be sowing doubt about Inanna’s death because they didn’t use a title page to transition to the scene with Laura, thereby not allowing us to confirm Inanna’s death until the issue’s final page? And remember last month, when I pointed out that Baphomet claims not to have killed Inanna, even when that’s not what we saw play out on the page? Turns out I was onto something with both of these points, even if I couldn’t have possibly figured out the reason why. This month’s flashbacks fill in the gaps of issue 11, showing that Baphomet didn’t kill Inanna, that they rescued Laura together, and that Ananke killed Inanna herself in retaliation. Gillen and McKelvie left me more than enough hints to solve the mystery, yet I was still completely surprised when the resolution was revealed — that’s the sign of a great mystery.
That same skill of thoroughly setting up later pay-offs applies even to this issue. On the second page, Laura is accompanied in her triumphant return by Minerva’s robotic owl. Owly is never mentioned in dialogue, nor seen again in the issue until the last page, yet that one panel is enough to establish Owly’s presence in the reader’s mind, ensuring that the eventual pay-off feels earned, yet also comes as a surprise.
In his author’s notes, Gillen often worries about being either too obvious or too obtuse with his writing, yet in issues like this, Gillen strikes the perfect balance, and it makes for extraordinarily gripping reading.