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 21, Darth Vader 23, Lazarus 23, and Snotgirl 1.
Star Wars 21
Patrick: 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:
One of the other Troopers in the squad says “Holy– is that a…” You’re not the only one shocked by that, pal.
Darth Vader 23
Taylor: 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.
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.
Drew: 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.
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.
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.
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.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?