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 20, Descender 12, Jughead 7, Lazarus 22, Lumberjanes 27, The Spire 8 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 3.
Star Wars 20
Michael: Truth be told: I probably couldn’t care less about Ben Kenobi’s hermit days on Tatooine as he creeps on young Luke Skywalker. I’ve (mostly) come to the nature of Star Wars as a comic book series, but I still find myself questioning the logic of books like Star Wars 20. The plot of the issue boils down to this: Jabba the Hutt puts a bounty on Obi-Wan, and Black Krrsantan draws Kenobi out by kidnapping Owen Lars. Due to some Jedi magic and the skilled piloting of a young Skywalker, Owen is saved and Krrsantan is defeated. Before Luke realizes that his Uncle Owen is in danger, little boy Luke is on his way to run away from home and leave his boring mudball world behind forever. My problem is that all of this undercuts the significance of Luke’s journey in A New Hope. You’re telling me that ten-year-old Luke was already planning on ditching his “small town” and what, decided to stay at home after a crazy experience with his uncle and a wookie? It’s frustrating to me and adds way too much excitement to the mundane lives of Owen and Beru Lars.
I don’t buy into the premise of Star Wars 20 — and when that is the case it becomes easier and easier to break down the logic of the issue. Thank you for bearing with me as I worked through my frustrations with the story logic — moving on. One of the cool things about Marvel’s Star Wars line is that many of their original characters like Black Krrsantan gain an instant notoriety, making it fun to watch them cross over into other books. The humor of Chewbacca is that only a handful of people in the Star Wars universe can understand him. When you invert that idea it manifests in the form of the frightening Black Krrsantan. His indecipherable “AAARRGHs” and “RRRRRROOOGGGHs” make him an unstoppable force that can’t be reasoned with.
Since Obi-Wan is arguably the star of this issue, Jason Aaron gives him a lot of great material — making Kenobi intelligent, funny and a little overconfident. The relationship of Kenobi and Owen Lars is another bit of continuity that the prequels only made more confusing; but this issue doesn’t help. Are these two friends? If Krrsantan can connect the two of them then Obi-Wan is not doing a good job of protecting Luke from afar. Finally we come to the art of the book by Mike Mayhew, who goes for a more photorealistic style than past Star Wars artists. I’m on the fence about Mayhew’s realism — sometimes it’s a little creepy but I did enjoy the crazed/fearful/excited look on Luke’s face as he saved the day. Which brings me to my final point: this is Obi-Wan’s journal right? How exactly does he know that Luke will be “the boy who would someday save us all”? Is he writing this after he died, as a Force ghost? I have concerns, you guys.
Spencer: This issue broke my heart, y’all. Tim-22 is the definition of a tragic villain, a former-innocent whose “evil” is almost justifiable because it’s inspired by some truly horrific events; it’s only the fact that our pure, precious lil’ Tim-21 is 22’s intended victim that suddenly reveals him as the monster he truly is. Even more chilling than 22’s descent into madness is the fact that he’s a mirror image of 21 — both started off their lives as, essentially, carbon copies of each other, but 21 thrived because of the love he received from Andy and his mother, while 22 suffered at the hand of almost everyone he’d ever met. If he’d had a different family, it could just as easily been our 21 trying to destroy his “brother.”
Also horrific is the correlation Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen draw between how the UGC treats robots and how society in general has treated, well, just about everyone who isn’t a straight white male.
Prior to the Harvester attack, the UGC was essentially ran by robots (and it’s fallen into squalor and disrepair without them), yet, despite all the luxuries the robots provided, many of the UGC citizens treat the robots with anything from mild disgust to open contempt. I can’t help but to think of how the United States treated their slaves, how they treat our migrant workers, even how they treat retail workers — society would crumble without these men and women, yet the average citizen looks down on them, derides them, often outright abuses them. It couldn’t be more cruel and shortsighted.
(The fact that I can legitimately bring up slavery in reference to the UGC’s robots is another discussion entirely, one worth having, but which I don’t have nearly the space to dive into properly here.)
Mr. Crup brings up his fears of a robot uprising, but his own treatment of robots is essentially ensuring that they’ll rise up eventually, and that’s an idea worth keeping in mind. I don’t condone violence in all but the most extreme of situations, but it’s hard not to look at any form of violent protest from oppressed parties and not empathize. I guess what I’m saying here is that my heart aches for Tim-22. Lemire and Nguyen have created a fantastic villain, one I can truly feel for even as I condemn his actions. Everything is absolutely on-point in Descender 12 — the world-building, the characterization, the art — and I couldn’t be happier to have the series back.
Mark: I was never a big Archie reader growing up, so I’m most familiar with the Riverdale gang through other pop culture work referencing and parodying them. Still, I couldn’t help but be charmed by Chip Zdarsky and Derek Charm’s Jughead 7. It manages to capture the feeling of throwback wholesomeness I associate with grocery store Archie digests, but in an appealingly modern fashion.
It’s also rare to find an issue of a comic book where so much happens. Jughead and Archie’s vacation being hijacked by the Mantle family reunion could easily have been an issue unto itself, but here it’s merely a four page diversion. (Speaking of the Mantles, I have no idea who they are, but the tropes are broad enough and clear enough that lacking the details wasn’t confusing.)
There’s not a lot of substance here, but it’s a good time. Zdarsky’s writing is snappy and Charm’s art successfully updates Riverdale with a modern sensibility. Neither feel like they’re overexerting themselves to be “cool” or “relevant.” DC’s embarrassing Hanna-Barbera reboots gaze through the window at Archie Comics with shame and envy.
Drew: Is it too on-the-nose to compare Johanna Carlyle and Cersei Lannister? There are obvious overt parallels — the social status, the Machiavellian drive for power, the incest — but the most intriguing might just be their unlikely paths to becoming sympathetic characters. Both are introduced as scheming political movers, but have slowly and steadily fought against those initial impressions to become, if not heroes, at least not quite villains, either. For Cersei, that path is marked with traumatic events: the death of her son, her imprisonment (and walk of atonement), her slow slide to powerlessness. For Johanna, that path has been less clearly detailed, with as much of her transformation happening off the page as on it, but it’s been effective nonetheless — Lazarus 22 found me empathizing with the one Carlyle I thought for sure I never would.
Obviously, I could be speaking too soon — Johanna is nothing if not a skilled manipulator — but this issue features what might be the first time we see Johanna not performing. I’m thinking, of course, of her silent tears for Forever.
There are plenty of reasons she might be crying — fear, frustration, actual sympathy — but she’s definitely not crying for anyone else’s benefit; there’s nobody around to see her. This is a naked, unguarded moment for Johanna, showing that something about her situation has her feeling overwhelmed.
That moment colors the rest of her scenes throughout the issue. Perhaps her concern for her father extends beyond loyalty and fear of destroying his legacy. More importantly, perhaps her affection for the young Forever is more than pragmatic lying. Perhaps. There’s obviously still a lot of moral ickiness surrounding a secret replacement waiting in the wings, but this scene is enough to make me retroactively read some genuine warmth in Johanna’s scene with the young Forever. For a character introduced as unsympathetically as Johanna, that kind of benefit of the doubt is a straight-up miracle. Now to see if it’s totally misplaced.
Taylor: A common occurrence in comics is having the heroes in a story overmatched in their fight against the evil antagonist. Maybe it’s a simple matter of numbers or strength, or maybe it’s a matter of being unprepared for their encounter. Whatever the reason may be, heroes frequently need to rely on their brains, rather than their brawn, to win the day. Lumberjanes 27 is one of these stories, and while it relies on a well-worn story structure, the narrative feels natural and right at home in this series.
The ‘Janes are currently trapped in the nest of a giant Roc after tracking it down following its abduction of their camp elders. The ‘Janes find their elders holed up in a cave plotting how to escape. Their plans all revolve around somehow killing the Roc, but the ‘Janes have another idea.
The ‘Janes have realized that the massive Roc is actually just trying to court a tiny ladybird by building a nest made of shiny things, one of which just happens to be the van the camp elders were riding in. Realizing that it’s not evil, the ‘Janes are quick to formulate a plan for escape that doesn’t involve killing the Roc. Instead, it uses magic kittens. Go figure.
This “twist” is a fun wrinkle added to the story and it’s perfectly in line with what the Lumberjanes have come to represent. The ‘Janes are a new model of woman. They’re fierce, independent, and decidedly modern in the the way they perceive and interact with the world. Instead of going with the old ways, which end in bloodshed, the ‘Janes choose first to understand a situation before acting. In doing so, they not only offer a peaceful alternative to violence, but show that if you’re willing to take a stand for what you believe in, good things will happen. This is such a great message that gets to the core of what this series is all about, and further reminds me why I consider Lumberjanes so essential.
The Spire 8
Patrick: With its themes of intense body modification and a marginalized (even ostracized) class, and its running engagement with other queer issues, it’s sort of alarming how well The Spire guards that final revelation about Shå’s gender identity. Of course, that’s the point of any good metaphor — have the reader exploring and understanding a concept without whatever baggage they might already associate with the concept and then reveal what you’ve been talking about all along. It also helps that writer Si Spurrier and illustrator Jeff Stokely have crafted such a mythologically rich world to wrap around the story of a trangender character learning to reconcile her former life with her present identity. The Spire 8 boldly delivers some underwhelming answers to the mythological questions, forcing the reader to narrow in on the details that do really matter – and of course those details not about the world or the masked killer, but about our fascinating hero.
While reading through the issue, I felt that a lot of the bigger “surprise” moment were weak. Frankly, I hadn’t remembered who Rikkit was — it’s been like a year since we last saw him. That might be effective mystery, inspiring that kind of “oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought about that” reaction, but that answer ends up being just another clue pointing us towards the greater mystery of Shå’s identity. Same is true of Pug’s death (RIP Pug!) — he rushes into that fight for basically no reason, and dies fighting a foe that Shå was probably going to be able to take out on her own. I think Shå herself sums up my reaction to that turn of events:
I love Stokely’s lack of detail in this panel. To this point, even with the big plot points, we haven’t learned anything about our hero, so her face is shrouded in scribbles. Even that speech balloon gives us no information about what she’s going through. Is that a growl? Is it a whine? Is she confused? Shå has to decide to want to know about her own past, and only then do the real satisfying developments flow.
So while it’s cool to see trans issues sneaking into a narrative that wasn’t expressly about them from the first issue, I was a little bummed out by the conclusion of the issue. Shå is forcibly outed and then has to give up her lady love and ends up living in exile. Not exactly a positive or progressive resolution for her. Like, it seems overly cruel. But maybe that’s the point: such cruelty and bigotry is an inevitable reality for transgendered people.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 3
Take only pictures, leave only footprints
Time Travelers’ Motto (as far as we know)
Drew: Most time travel narratives are concerned with the preservation of the future. Marty McFly is trying to ensure his parents’ marriage. Bill and Ted are trying to ensure a passing grade on their history presentation. Even those bent on breaking the time stream — say, the Terminator — tend to do so in a relatively focused way; the machines still need certain humans to build and deploy Skynet, so they can’t just kill everyone in the year 1984. Bebop and Rocksteady, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about the time-stream, giving the “Destroy Everything” part of this series’ title a gut-churning fourth dimension.
Indeed, by the end of the issue, the 2012 versions of April, Splinter, and countless unnamed (though nonetheless familiar) mutants have been lost in the time stream or outright killed, feeling oddly like Homer’s “Don’t touch anything? I’ll touch whatever I feel like!” round in “Time and Punishment” (from “Treehouse of Horror V”). It’s an unbelievable amount of mayhem that thwarts just about every expectation we have of a time travel story. It makes for a thrilling read, but also perfectly captures Bebop and Rocksteady’s utter inability to anticipate the consequences of their actions. If they were Marty McFly, they’d have caused themselves to disappear countless times by now.
Artist Damian Couciero’s loose linework is the perfect fit for that chaos, goosing the action with clever staging that zips around these fight scenes at a dizzying pace. Couciero dug into those choices in his interview with our very own Spencer Irwin last week, so I’ll simply add that his work brillaintly melds with the opening pages drawn by Ben Bates. They clearly have their own styles (and character designs), but pull together into a remarkably cohesive whole.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?