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 Fix 4, Future Quest 2, The Woods 24, and Paper Girls 7.
The Fix 4
Spencer: Nick Spencer has such a knack for writing charming characters that, if not kept in check, sometimes even his most evil, villainous creations can gain our sympathies. That’s not always a bad thing — complex villains are great! — but it’s clearly not Spencer’s intention in The Fix. Spencer and Steve Lieber’s cast are certainly complex, but they’re also some of the most morally reprehensible characters in all of comics right now. Spencer still lays on the charm, but undercuts it with heaping helpings of evil and brutality; in fact, Spencer seems to relish the seeming contradiction. The more kind and verbose a character in The Fix is, the more evil they are — take Joshua, who brings Mac a healthy lunch at work and chats about his rescue dogs while also terrorizing him, running a crime ring, and threatening to kill a dog, or Joshua’s new partner, who spends 12 full panels horrifically threatening a man’s family without ever dropping his serene smile. His victim, or even characters like Mac or his girlfriend, are assholes, but in the world of The Fix, they’re the closest things we’ve got to heroes.
The exception, as we discussed way back in issue one, is Pretzels the dog. At the time, I attributed Pretzels’ saintly status to his being an animal (or, more pointedly, not human), but Spencer and Lieber even blow that theory up right in my face this month.
Yup, in The Fix, even the animals are assholes. Pretzels is our Earth-3 Lex Luthor, the lone force of virtue in a world of evil; it’s no wonder Mac “fell in love” with him. As a character just looking for love and acceptance, of course he’d latch onto the first creature he’d ever met even capable of such a thing. Now I suppose the question is: is there some small part of Mac that can be redeemed? Is there hope for any character in The Fix, or is this world truly as grim as it appears to be? I’m almost scared to find out.
Future Quest 2
Patrick: I find the very nature of Future Quest fascinating. Writer Jeff Parker is playing with a cast of characters that are somehow immediately identifiable and immediately alien, and I’m sure I can’t be the only reader straining to remember if I recognize all these characters or if they’re just the kinds of characters I should remember. Take the heroic Herculoids, for example, I sorta remember the dino-tank-thing (“Tundro,” though I wouldn’t have remembered that) and that boy-and-his-blob motherfucker rings a bell (“Gloop,” which I suppose makes sense), but who the rest of the team members are, and what any of them are capable of occupies a nebulous space in my memory. That’s about 60% fading memory and 40% ill-defined source material. Hanna Barbera cartoons of the 60s, 70s and 80s were notoriously sugary, with solutions to episode-long problems falling out of nowhere. You didn’t need to know how Space Ghost was shooting stronger rays out of his arm bands, he just, y’know, did.
That kind of storytelling doesn’t fly anymore, and Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner do a great job of divorcing the source material from the notion that everything will unexplainably turn out okay in the end. There’s a process on display here – you can see it in the way Blip’s ability to turn invisible is quietly seeded before Zin’s goons stumble on an invisible and unconscious Jace. Even Race Bannon’s smooth moves are gracefully tracked from one side of the page to the next.
Artist Ron Randall uses the lines of Race’s body to direct the reader’s eye – first in the direction we naturally read (right and down) and then back to the left for the right hook and that insert of Bandit biting the guy. It’s clear, and immanently followable. It’s no coincidence that the creature Space Ghost et. al is battling in the first 10 pages is a formless mess, and their approach to making the whole thing more manageable is to literally split it in half. That’s what Shaner’s done by splitting the narrative between Planet Azmot and Earth. That may prove to be the biggest test this series has to face: making sense of a mess.
The Woods 24
Spencer: The end of The Woods’ first year brought with it the shocking death of a main character, but it also brought expectations about how the second year would end. Knowing that, James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas craft an entirely different — yet just as emotionally painful — kind of death in The Woods 24. Clues both subtle (Calder’s general character arc over the past few issues) and blunt (the cover) make Calder’s death obvious from the get-go, allowing Tynion and Dialynas to skip any attempts at even trying to surprise their readers and instead to focus on giving Calder a fitting, emotionally satisfying exit.
And really, it is fitting that the creative team was so up-front about Calder’s death, because that’s all Calder really ever wanted in his life: to be able to be up-front and honest, to be able to be himself and not an act. Karen’s ability to see through his act was why he liked her so much, but it’s not something Calder found anywhere else; as Calder points out, the only reason he even ended up a part of this adventure in the first place was because even the great Adrian Roth, of all people, bought fully into his persona.
Ultimately, even Calder’s death is defined by this dilemma. He died, not as a sacrifice or for revenge, but simply because his enemies view this entire war as a game, but don’t even consider Calder a player — to them, he was only a distraction to their actual target, Karen. Yet, Karen is again able to see through it all — the “game” garbage, Calder’s bravado — and thus knows exactly what to say to Calder as he lies dying, because she understands who he actually is, not who he claims to be. Because she actually cares about him as a person when so few others actually have.
Thanks to Karen, Calder can finally find some dignity in death, and while that’s certainly not how he’d have wanted to achieve it, in the end, maybe some dignity’s all he really ever wanted.
(In the meantime, Karen’s grief — not to mention that of Casey, who may finally be showing some humanity beneath his monstrous veneer — should provide a powerful start to Year Three. Bring it on.)
Paper Girls 7
Ryan M.: One of the most appealing things about Paper Girls is the way that Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang balance the weird with the grounded. In Paper Girls 7, there are two moments that merit full page illustrations, each with no dialogue. The first is the reveal of an unnamed carnivorous monster that towers over buildings and has a gas mask mouth. It’s both a surprising moment and feels in line with the kind of strangeness that the series often serves up. The Erin-lookalike urges a stranger for a ride, using overly formal language while trying to explain the behavior of the two huge monsters fighting in the harbor behind her. There is a level of insanity to the moment, but Chiang’s art is so well observed and the world feels so real that even when a pink alien sea monster is taking a bloody bite out of a blue one, the Uber driver’s sense of confusion and the reassurances of the time-traveler with Erin’s face maintain primary focus.
The 2016 of the story is strongly rooted in our world and, unlike some of the more superficial observations in the last issue, this time, Vaughan digs deeper into more specific cultural notes. The issue opens with a young girl hanging out alone on the dock wearing a “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” shirt. It’s not commented upon in the dialogue but this girl’s political concerns are somewhat echoed by Tiffany’s relief in finding out that the threats of her time haven’t wiped out society. I love reading a book that acknowledges that kids are clued into the world around them. The main crew of this book are neither naive children in a state of ignorant bliss or world-weary mini adults. They live in a middle space. A space where they are quick to call out what they see as unfair, but without the power or autonomy to actively change the system.
That said, it wasn’t the monster battle or the political commentary that was most riveting to me. It was the second of the splash pages. 2016 Erin’s embrace of her younger self was such a sweet moment between characters who have mostly treated each other with wariness and distrust. Younger Erin is able to lift a burden from her future self by validating her life choices and reminding her about their core values. It’s what anyone would want from their twelve-year-old self that traveled to the future. Hear that, 1995 Ryan?
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?