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 Black Hood 11, Darth Vader 22, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 5, East of West 27, and Plutona 5.
Black Hood 11
Spencer: Superheroes, at their core, are escapist fantasies. “What if there was someone out there with the power to supersede laws and fix the world’s problems themselves? What if I had that power?” Those fantasies can be powerful, cathartic things, and can be used to tell thoughtful, progressive stories, but no matter what, they will always have that element of fantasy and wish fulfillment to them. From the very beginning, Duane Swierczynski’s used The Black Hood to push back against those aspects of the genre, showing the kind of pain and dysfunction it would take to to turn someone to masked vigilantism, and ultimately, how little value someone in that position would actually provide.
As the Black Hood, most of the cases Greg Hettinger’s solved have required intervention from his police allies, or resources provided by his position as a police officer. Sure, being the Black Hood has given Greg a leg up in his crusade at times, but it’s just as often led him to heartbreak, and certainly hasn’t protected the ones he loves. By the beginning of The Black Hood 11, Greg feels like the entire city is working against him, like he’s doing more harm than good, and is more than willing to give up his identity.
Swierczynski (joined by Rick Burchett on art this month) then drives his point home by spending the rest of the issue profiling Greg’s predecessor as the Black Hood, Kip Burland. Burland spends close to a year chasing a mercenary known as the Nobody, but despite his efforts, never manages to bring the man in — instead, as we originally saw way back in Black Hood 1, his “reward” is a quick, pointless death. For both Burland and Hettinger, there’s no satisfaction to their job, and their successes are greatly out-shadowed by pain, darkness, and failure.
Interestingly enough, much like the Black Hood, the Nobody’s only real “power” is his anonymity, but it serves Nobody far better than it served either Hood. I’ll admit, I don’t know if I can fully unpack that bit — maybe Swierczynski is saying that anonymity, that hiding in the shadows and circumventing the law and due process, is something that only benefits criminals and villains, but not those trying to do good in the world? If so, then I can absolutely see where Swierczynski’s coming from, no matter how much I may love superheroes.
Darth Vader 22
Michael: As it builds towards its conclusion Darth Vader is becoming the final stages of a video game – Vader is cutting a swath through Cylo’s creations to finally face off against the man himself. In that respect Darth Vader 22 is the battle between Vader and the tactician Voidgazer. And like a video game boss Voidgazer doesn’t really fight Vader, but sends “henchmen” to do it for her – an enhanced Rancor and her blaster droids. Vader and the majority of Cylo’s creations have differed on Vader’s belief in something greater than himself – namely the force – which is why Vader beats each and every one of them. More specifically Kieron Gillen shows that Vader beats Voidgazer by monologuing, revealing where the Rancor is vulnerable to Vader.
The odds are stacked against Vader already, but Salvador Larroca further makes this point visually. Voidgazer’s soulless eyes/goggles are represented in the rancor and the blaster droids; she has eyes everywhere. Likewise she is more of a cerebral character so she watches Vader through circular windows as her henchmen do the work for her.
The end of Darth Vader 22 would have us believe that Cylo plans to take the star destroyer Executor for himself; but does he really think he can take on the whole Empire? Though his appearance in this issue was brief, Triple Zero once again makes a lasting impact as the dark mirror of C-3P0 – I wonder if we’ll see him pop up in future books after Darth Vader comes to a close.
TMNT: Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 5
Taylor: It probably comes as no surprise to anyone, but despite the name of this mini-series Bebop and Rocksteady do no actually end up destroying everything, even if they came damn close. In this ultimate issues of the series, the turtles finally put and end to Rocksteady and Bebop’s escapade through time by trapping all the multiple versions of the duo all in one dimension. In doing this, the turtles make sure to save one pair to return to their own timeline so everything goes back to normal.
It’s a pretty tidy clean-up for an an event that almost destroyed all of time as we know it. It’s tempting to think that nothing has really changed in all of this and I suppose that’s true when you look at the way things played out for the turtles. But for the titular duo, things did change. You’ll remember that in just the last issue these two had sworn off the other, thinking in their blundering way that they would more successful working alone. That obviously didn’t work out and in a strange way it’s really touching to see the two reunited and when they make their final exit.
I credit this series with taking what objectively are two horrible and monstrous individuals and making me actually care for them. That I’m happy they’re together and happy again defies all logic since these two are of the turtle’s biggest foes and since they, you know, almost destroyed everything. Still, in their stupid way, these guys are charming and I can’t but smile when I watch them drive off into the sunset. That these two have undergone a journey wherein they realize they need each other only makes them all the more likable. Instead of just being monsters, they’re now monsters who are great friends.
East of West 27
Patrick: I am always fascinated by the writers that can carefully and deliberately pace out long stories and punctuate them scenes of utter, status-quo-annihilating chaos. George R. R. Martin is a pretty good example of this, but I’d argue that Jonathan Hickman is just as careful and just as patient. East of West 27 represents one of those moments where the subtle plotting gives way to total carnage, and the first half of the issue is marked by relatively pointless posturing and proselytizing among the cast of the series – nearly all of whom are present in this scene. That makes for a damn chatty couple of pages, but everything that is said seems intentionally hallow: John barks some threats and points his gun at… everyone; Archibald waxes poetic about yielding to no outside force; Ezra screams about being the voice of God. It doesn’t really matter what any of them are saying – it’s not like they’re going to compromise or convince each other of any fundamental truths of the world they live in. Which is why Justice accelerates things by making an attempt on Ezra’s life. It’s a gruesome scene – a page and a half of one character being shot to “death” – and I assumed that was going to be the spectacular action beat of the issue.
But, man, shit gets real immediately afterward.
And by real, I mean messy as hell. Who knows what direction Hickman gave Nick Dragotta – from the looks of it, the storytelling follows the action and not the other way ’round. It’s chaos, like I mentioned above, but it is extremely measured chaos. Even if the reader can’t quite remember who all the players are in this scene, or why they’re important to each other, the individual moments all read as both true and immediate. It’s hard to pick a favorite Awesome Moment from this sequence, but there were two that struck me as especially effective. That final Wolf vs. Ezra-Monster fight has us as a cold, detached vantage point, forcing us to witness Wolf’s defeat as dispassionately as possible. The other moment is a lot more fun.
I love Dragotta’s conflation of time and space here. We get to see every piece of this zipline being deployed and understand it all in these five tight panels.
Spencer: Well that…that was grim.
Emi Lenox, Jeff Lemire, and Jordie Bellaire actively resist giving Plutona‘s conclusion any happy endings or clear resolutions; if anything, they subvert the typical trappings of both coming-of-age stories and superhero tales. Plutona is decidedly — if understandably — unheroic, seemingly choosing to hide her own weaknesses and immediately return to her family instead of helping our protagonists (thereby unintentionally contributing to Teddy’s death). The kids aren’t drawn closer together by their experiences (sure, Mie and Diane prove that they’ll still come through for each other in a life-or-death situation, but that doesn’t do anything to address their heavily unbalanced friendship); in fact, as the issue ends, Lenox and Lemire show that their characters are just as separate as ever, and that, after Teddy’s death and their part in it, there’s a darkness seeping deeper and deeper into their lives — clearly represented by actual, literal darkness.
And Teddy….man, Teddy. This is the kid many readers of Plutona probably related to most at first, the one who found solace in superheroes and absolutely leapt at a chance to join that world, but he also represents everything that’s toxic about comic fandom. When given the chance to share something that means so much to him with others (and thereby draw closer to them), he refuses, feeling that he’s entitled to Plutona’s body because he’s a fan. He chooses to stay isolated and bitter, and is willing to hurt and even kill other people in order to keep them out of his hobby, ultimately leading to his death, and pretty much ruining the lives of four other kids in the process — it’s a chilling takedown of “gatekeeping” within comic culture.
Ultimately, Plutona 5 is a deeply unsettling conclusion to this mini-series, but that nature is exactly what drives home its vital points, and ensures that it will be seared into the memory of every fan who reads it. By those parameters, I’d say it’s without a doubt a successful 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?