Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 7/20/16

roundup20Look, 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 21, Darth Vader 23, Lazarus 23, and Snotgirl 1.

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Star Wars 21

Star Wars 21Patrick: Wait wait wait wait wait. The Storm Troopers are the good guys in Star Wars 21?! The world of Star Wars usually offers very little sympathy for the The Empire. I mean, they’re basically space Nazis, blowing up planets and draining suns and taking orders from shadowy dark wizards. Hell, even the term “stormtrooper” finds its origins in World War II. So when Jason Aaron casts no-name Imperials as the heroes, he is actively subverting 40 years of good-vs.-evil narratives. It’s a bold a move, one that artist Jorge Molina gleefully supports through the issue’s frequently surprising presentation, but it’s hard to say whether or not this still feels like Star Wars.

Aaron keeps us locked inside the biographying voice-over of Sergeant Kreel, the newest member of the elite Scar Troopers. Kreel’s backstory paints the Empire as a civilizing force in the universe, one which rescued him from a life of gladiatorial servitude. I like this story so much because it fits perfectly with everything we know about the Star Wars universe. It’s a scary, enormous, violent universe, and most of the planets we see outside of Naboo or Coruscant appear to be trapped in the Bronze Age, with all attendant cruelty and human rights violations. Remember: slavery is alive and well on Tatooine.

Still, making the Empire anything but the Biggest Evil Ever is a big damn ask. Aaron and Molina cleverly iterate on this idea of subverted expectations throughout the issue, giving Kreel more WTF moments as the action reaches a climax. When they approach from the sewers, Kreel is snatched by one of those garbage compactor squids, but rather than being choked out, or having to be rescued, Kreel unceremoneously eviscerates the thing with his own two hands. The most surprising image in Molina’s arsenal comes a few pages later:

Kreel has a lightsaber

One of the other Troopers in the squad says “Holy– is that a…” You’re not the only one shocked by that, pal.

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Darth Vader 23

Darth Vader 23Taylor: One of my favorite lines from Star Wars comes when Obi-Wan is telling Luke the true fate of his father. Of his former padawan he says that, “he’s more machine now than man,” referencing the cybernetics that keep Anakin alive. Who knew that such a simple line would be the genesis of one of the best Star Wars comics in recent memory? But here we are and as the series winds down to it’s end, it’s pleasing to see Darth Vader stick with it’s central theme, of Vader’s humanity, to the very end.

With Cylo in control of the Executor, Vader is hell bent on revenge and ending his feud with his rival once and for all. Along the way Vader runs into Morit and easily dispatches him despite his gratuitous use of rocket boots. It comes as no surprise that Vader is able to defeat this Jedi impostor, but it’s how he does it that’s interesting. Slices Morit’s rocket boots, Vader corners him on the edge of of some scaffolding. From there, it’s all too easy for Vader to simply use the force to fling Morit into space. What the battle shows is that Vader, despite his mechanical prosthetic, is powerful mostly because of his the Force.

Later, when Vader confronts Cylo, Cylo uses a control switch to deactivate Vader’s cybernetics, apparently paralyzing Vader.

He's more machine now than man.

Ignoring the puzzling fact that Cylo is only now using this switch, it’s interesting to consider what Salvador Larroca is doing here. He just showed us Vader using the Force to win a battle, and now we’re confronted with the idea that he might lose a battle because his machinery betrays him. Something tells me how this battle will play out in the next issue (hint: the Force) but this further confuses whether Vader is more machine than man. If we take the Force to be his human side, that certainly is where his power lies. But if it’s in his cybernetics, as Cylo suggests then it would seem his more machine. Regardless of how the next issue plays out, I’m again so happy to see the idea of Vader’s humanity examined with such a deft hand. At this point, whether he’s more machine or man is almost besides the point because he’s become something Episodes I-III couldn’t make him: human.

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Lazarus 23

Lazarus 23Drew: Nobody does fight scenes as well as the Lazarus team. A year and a half ago, I squandered a prime opportunity to talk about the power of their documentarian, almost schematic approach to battle (instead focusing on how the lack of text forced us to appreciate that power) — an error I won’t repeat here. This scene does bear a number of similarities with that show-stopper from issue 15 — it features two lazari, it takes place on/near a grand staircase, is largely dialogue-free, and is held before a gallery of onlookers. That last detail takes on added significance here, as we learn of Johanna’s pledge to “take care of” Sonja Bittner to keep the knowledge of Forever’s clone under wraps.

Nine Snipers Sniping

Suddenly, the drama of the battle shifts from the sword-fight to the sniper who can’t seem to set his sights on either of the combatants alone. Lark uses that scope shot a few more times throughout the sequence, goosing the tension each time it comes up. Fortunately for Sonja, she ends the fight before the trigger can be pulled, effectively banishing the pretense of friendly fire (at least for now).

And holy shit is that a badass moment for Sonja. Unlike her fight with Forever, Sonja pulls no punches here, taking down Rausling’s (significantly larger) Lazarus with clinical efficiency. That ruthlessness may not be enough to protect her from the machinations of the Carlyles, but paired with Forever’s suspicions, Sonja may just stand a chance.

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Snotgirl 1

Snotgirl 1 Spencer: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s protagonists have always been awash in neuroses (Scott Pilgrim constantly altered or repressed unpleasant memories, Raleigh attributed her depression to her soul being stolen by a cat, etc. etc.), but Snotgirl star Lottie Person may just take the cake. The issues in this girl run deep, but they all seem to revolve around how she views herself (and how she wants to be viewed).

Lottie is a fashion blogger who wants the world to see her as glamorous and famous (while she never admits it, she wants to be seen as perfect), but suffers from a shameful secret: she has severe allergies.

Lottie

Somewhat understandably, Lottie wants to hide this side of her life, but in doing so, creates an entirely superficial existence for herself. Lottie judges everyone she meets only by their appearance, not their character, showing exactly what she values about herself in the process. She can’t be honest or genuine, and therefore, doesn’t seem to be able to have a genuine relationship with anyone (she’s surrounded by fake friends).

Even Lottie’s romantic relationships suffer because of her hang-ups and insecurities, but I’m also thinking there may be more to that aspect of her life. Could Lottie perhaps be a lesbian, or at least some level of bisexual? While she pines over an ex-boyfriend, he’s also the only boy she’s ever kissed, she’s instantly attracted to Caroline when she meets her, and she essentially whines “ew, boys,” when she goes to a bar. If Lottie is queer, I wonder if her obsession with image and how people perceive her has stopped her from realizing/admitting it?

Ultimately, Lottie can be frustrating and hard to like, but it’s still easy to sympathize with her. That balance is a trademark of O’Malley’s characters, and while there’s a few more recognizable traces of his style in Snotgirl 1 (caption boxes introducing characters, the interest in style and teenage slang, even the hints of more supernatural elements; something’s up with “Dr. Rick” and his pills), this book is in many ways a departure from O’Malley’s more well-known works. The biggest factor in that is Leslie Hung’s art, but, fortunately, her stylish and moody work seems to be a perfect fit for the story O’Malley wants to tell.

Honestly, I have enough loyalty to O’Malley that I’d stick around a few issues even if I didn’t like Snotgirl 1, but fortunately, that’s a moot point; the cliffhanger alone is enough to get me back next month. The moment’s a game-changer, and I’m legitimately eager to see the repercussions.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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One comment on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 7/20/16

  1. Been picking up a lot of stuff on sale, and Edison Rex returned!

    Edison Rex: This book has a great premise (what if Lex Luthor killed Superman, but then tried to take his place). But what really makes it work is how it actually builds a proper universe around it. Many superhero riffs like this ripoff the DC Universe, but Edison Rex actually manages to make it more than just ‘yet another pastiche universe’ (which never feel right). Part of it is great choices like having their Batman character be inspired by Terry McGuiness instead of Bruce Wayne. But the real masterful choice is Gladiator Gladstone, a Doc Savage reference.

    Gladiator Gladstone is this book’s secret weapon, considering how much both Superman and Lex Luthor takes from the Man of Bronze. Edison Rex takes this to build a great mythology, and create a new take on one of the most classic hero/villain rivalries in comics. The foundation that exploring this has given Edison Rex has made it powerful, especially this issue where Edison Rex has to come face to face with his old mentor and make the first legitimate steps towards actual atonement.

    No book does Silver Age fun better than Edison Rex. Edison Rex contains everything that makes the Silver Age, the Silver Age, but combines it with simple yet strong relationships and motivations that creates a cast that you follow and understand. An underrated gem

    Also, can anyone think of a comic book that creates a pastiche of the Marvel Universe? Because I can think of so many riffs on DC, but can’t think of any on Marvel

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    East of West: I swear, each volume of East of West ends with some big moment that seems to suggest the end has truly begun, only for the next volume to realise that things are a lot more complicated. I really think, having read Volume 5, this book is suffering from Fantasy Drift, the exact thing that has made series like Wheel of Time so hard to read.

    The world is just so big, and so much is happening, that I am looking forward to this book hitting the endgame. Hickman has accomplished a masterpiece in worldbuilding, creating a complex world where each faction interacts in fascinating ways. It just needs to contract soon, as far too much is happening.

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    Low: Rick Remender is the most interesting character in a Rick Remender book. His books are always dark, but not in the way we discuss we talking about meaningless edginess. Remender is a true darkness, born out of hopelessness and despair. Books like Deadly Class are all about building coherent psychologies of people who are ultimately petty, destructive idiots. It is why Low is so interesting. Because Low is about the power of hope and optimism.

    In retrospect, Remender is the perfect writer for this book. Because he truly challenges everyone. His world is so hopeless that people haven given up on hope out of fear of despair, a world where things are so broken that people are forced to destroy beauty survive, and Remender wants to say that hope and optimism can change everything. And the fact that it does… is the because support of his thesis that I can think of.

    He never makes it easy, and challenges the character’s assumptions of their own philosphies and force them to rework those very philosophies into something workable. Meanwhile, they face evil around them while having internal divisions that could break them. Everything is set up to make clear just how hopeless things are, which makes it all the more powerful when they succeed.

    I honestly don’t think Remender could write Tokyo Ghost without writing Low. Low has introduced hope to Remender’s toolbox, to create the fantastic Low. And it is this same tool that makes Tokyo Ghost so fucking amazing.

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    Tokyo Ghost: Ghostbusters is just the latest example of the most toxic elements of geek culture, and these elements keep cropping up again and again. Whether it is GamerGate, Batman v Superman fans, Star Wars fans, Captain America, every aspect of geek culture has had their controversies. And every time they happen, I see the same sentiment discussed.

    Quite simply, someone always says that while there is nothing wrong with loving geek culture (the people saying this are geeks, of course), there needs to be more to you than that. It can be anything. An interest in politics, or cooking, or gardening, or sport. Maybe charity work, or learning a trade. But that you need something else.

    And every time I read that comment, I always fear I am not well rounded enough. I try to keep my tastes as diverse as possible, never restricting myself to just geeky stuff. I have a strong interest in politics and social justice, with above average knowledge in both. I have recently developed a love of cooking. And yet, that fear is there. And Tokyo Ghost is the perfect expression of everything I am afraid about.

    The world is Tokyo Ghost, in many ways, is not realistic. And yet, in every important way, it is. People losing themselves to indulgence, to ‘their shows’ and refusing to truly interact with the real world. Tokyo Ghost may be unrealistic, but it is truthful. I can see people lost to the siren song of easy indulgence. Can see people like Teddy.

    It is easy to discuss Teddy’s transformation into Led Dent as just being about masculine insecurity. Masculine Insecurity is of course important (no story about overindulgence could avoid discussing that), but I feel there is more to it. Debbie says that she saved Teddy the moment before he turned into another screenslave, or whatever the word is. But I actually think she was too late.

    Moments after saying she ‘saved’ him, she describes how ‘she was a hot girl who wanted to spend all her time with him. He never had a chance’. Think about the story here. Hot girl wants to run away and fall in love with you, as you enjoy something special and exclusive. How is that different to any of Teddy’s shows, that push that same level of indulgence? Everything you want, the perfect life.

    Except, of course, it isn’t. The first time something breaks that illusion, Teddy runs off to become Led Dent. Teddy was comfortable in that situation only when it gave him exactly what he had when he was plugged in. And the same thing happens again. Teddy gets to be the hero again, as he fights through addiction. It isn’t easy, but he feels like a champion, and Debbie is there to make sure that it is never too hard. THe perfect girlfriend, fulfilling Teddy’s fantasy of being the hero. And the moment it breaks, Teddy returns to led Dent. The Teddy that Debbie loves never existed.

    There is so much more to say about this book. Sean Murphy proves why he is one of my favourite artists, Debbie is a powerful central character and the creative team wonderfully balances the beauty and horror of the world. But ultimately, it comes down to this.

    Tokyo Ghost is a book so good, you want to stop reading.

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    Hack/Slash: Slasher movies have always been built on relationships. What makes the slasher work is that the slasher is both an unholy killer and an actual character, and there is a reason that slasher sequels don’t work. Who does the slasher kill when they have killed everyone important to them? Who can they kill that has the same power as the first set of victims, who actually have something to do with the slasher in the first place. So it isn’t surprising Hack/Slash has such an emphasis on relationships.

    It isn’t just Cassie dealing with her relationship with Georgia, and having to deal with her issues with intimacy and questioning her sexuality, though these things are still a major part of what makes Hack/Slash work so much better than it has any right to. It is also Cassie having to deal with her absent father intersecting her world, and the chance to track him down. Or Lisa and Chris, the survivors of previous Hack/Slash stories who have met up and started a relationship, and now navigate the smaller challenges of ordinary love even as they do their best to help Cassie.

    Hack/Slash as cleverly found the DNA that makes slashers work, and remixed it to the concept. And this focus on that DNA, on actually exploring relationships and sexuality, makes Hack/Slash what it is. It honestly isn’t surprising what Seeley ended up doing after this. A story like Revival makes a lot of sense fromm the guy responsible for Hack/Slash

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