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 East of West 29, Jem and the Holograms 18, Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2 3, Lazarus 24, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 1 — and come back for our discussions of Han Solo 3 on Tuesday and Saga 37 on Wednesday! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
East of West 29
Patrick: If there’s a heart and soul of East of West (and that’s a pretty big if), it’s gotta be Babylon. He’s the only character that seems to get any joy out this apocalypse-wrecked hellscape. And even if his sense of adventure comes from a robot constantly projecting more inviting imagery onto a brutal world, there’s still something almost aspirational to the way he views the end of time. The series itself moves so casually from long bouts of moody exposition to explosive festivals of main-character-blood, that I get nervous any time I see the kid on the page. Is this 20 pages of chillin’ with the only lovable character in the series or the last time we get to spend with him?
Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta deliver on one of the better character death fake-outs I’ve ever seen. The issue is constructed in such a way as to always have the reader checking in with Babylon, the running dialogue between he and his balloon providing a perfectly engaging narration to this little encounter in the wilderness. Plus — I’m still not totally sure why this works — but Babylon is powerfully cute during this fight. He talks to his boar friend, even correcting himself when he accidentally calls him “Mr. Tusk” instead of “Dr. Tusk.” With enough artificial adorable adventuring, Babylon has somehow managed to make his adventure legitimately adorable. So naturally, my heart jumps into my throat for a moment like this:
Dragotta deploys four full-page splashes in this issue, and each one is an arrestingly powerful image. This one really got to me because it suggests that Babylon is no invincible. All it took to get him at gunpoint was a threat he and Balloon couldn’t analyze. I love this micro-scene that plays out between Psalm 137 and Balloon. It’s sad, it’s scary, it’s the world of East of West boiled down into a one-off character’s origin story. And it goes on for a full five pages before being resolved. Balloon earns Babylon’s safety in that moment, which is what makes the page immediately thereafter so horrifying. Over the course of a few panes, Billy grabs Babylon, throws him to the ground, and points a gun at his head. Dragotta has enough room left on the page to commit a third of the fucker to a hearstopping BLAM.
Even Dragotta’s use of sound effects here is odd. Outside of a small “tok” and “crunch” earlier in this issue, Dragotta tends not to score his action so heavily. But this sounds are so alarming, so immediate, and tied to such potentially devastating actions, that they simply have to invade the page.
Jem and the Holograms 18
Ryan M: In Jem and the Holograms 18, Kelly Thompson first offers a physical stakes (bear attack) and then philosophical stakes (ethical implications of using Syngergy). Ultimately, the story is about something more emotional and, to this series, much more important. Shana is leaving and the sisters will be separated. The weight of that decision and it’s immediate, painful impact on the Holograms makes the scenes that come before seem like fluff. Even the Misfits storyline becomes almost moot. Who cares if the Misfits are upstaged by the Stingers, if the Holograms are incomplete and sad?
What I appreciated about Thompson’s portrayal of Shana’s choice is that the choice itself is complex. Storytellers, especially in work for young people, tend to present their characters with simple options; a “good” choice and a “bad” choice. Or they present vague opportunities coming up against concrete relationships. That’s why so many fictional teen girls get the chance to “go to Paris” (ex. Kelly Kapowski, Joey Potter, LC). Shana’s choice here is not about adventure versus the familiar. She has tried to juggle competing interests and now she has to choose. Like every adult decision, there is an opportunity cost. Thompson doesn’t shy away from that reality, making Shana’s choice about priorities and the consequences of dreams. In the layout of the panels above as Shana explains her decision, Jen Bartel keeps Shana central to each panel. Her head is bowed and she doesn’t make eye contact with her sisters, but she is steady, echoing her resolution. The story ends with the sisters in a heartbroken embrace with their future uncertain. That same uncertainty leaves me excited to see what follows.
Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2 3
Drew: I had a friend in high school who was absolutely bored by The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In his mind, the story was one of simple escalation: the fellowship encounters an even bigger obstacle than last time, and manages to fight harder/run faster to push through it. It’s a common structure throughout fiction, but becomes particularly tiresome in fantasy scenarios, where the obstacle is presented as magically unmoveable, only to be undone by some magically unstoppable force. That is: it’s hard to get invested in the difficulty of a situation when our only experience with it is seeing it overcome. It’s a common problem in comics, where the impossible is done month after month, necessitating the invention of ever more “impossible” tasks for the hero to complete with the assurance that this time was even harder than the last one. It’s this kinds of trope that Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy was designed to lampshade, and this month’s issue does not disappoint.
Obviously, the way to make those obstacles meaningful is to tie them to a human scale — it’s not about the physically impossible, but the emotionally difficult. In that way, the real feat of this issue is forcing a reluctant George back into action, leveraging his relationship with Hutch (and Jason) against his bitter disillusionment. Sure, his delayed reaction is just as trope-y as anything — George says as much when he eventually arrives at the super-villain hideout — but I’ll be damned if it isn’t effective. Even more effective, though, is George’s boneheaded solution to a problem he can’t fight his way out of: fight harder.
It’s stupid, sure, but it’s also an essential part of superhero storytelling. A brilliant plan might have had its charms, but so will seeing these heroes cut loose and hit people really hard. More than anything, though, how they solve this particular problem isn’t the point. George’s “plan” works as well as anything to put the pieces in place for the ultimate showdown with Walter and Brandon, which is all that really matters. This accomplishes that and promises some super-powered punch-em-ups on the way — what’s not to like?
Spencer: Truth, deception, and family have always been central themes in Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus, and as issue 24 deals with the fallout from Forever openly defying her family, those concepts move even further to the forefront. There’s so much to unpack about how Forever’s family (especially Malcolm and Johanna) responds to her actions, but I’m particularly drawn to two back-to-back scenes, the first dealing with Johanna and Young Forever, and the next Malcolm and our Forever.
There’s a lot of interesting comparisons and contrasts here, from the fact that both Forevers have identical rooms to the fact that both groups are playing games, but that our Forever’s progressed from Scrabble to Chess; Young Forever scores a victory over Johanna (she’s literally vindicated), while our Forever’s inability to make a move against her father in the game mirrors her similar predicament in reality. There’s also the fact that Johanna’s scene with Young Forever takes place two weeks before the events of the rest of the issue; what’s the significance behind that?!
Most important, though, is how Malcolm and Johanna deal with their respective Forevers. At first their interactions seem to mirror their opinions of how to handle Forever’s rebellion — Johanna, who wants to tell Forever the truth, shares a genuine moment with Young Forever, while Malcolm, who wants to pump Forever full of more medicine, quickly shuts down her arguments — but I don’t think things are that simple. For starters, despite his detached, clinical handling of Forever, I think Malcolm’s actually being honest with her.
I mean, of course, Malcolm’s trying to manipulate Forever here, but he’s also been known to call Forever his favorite child (or, I believe, “my only child who isn’t a disappointment”) even when it would do him no good to lie about it. I genuinely believe that Forever is the daughter Malcolm wanted, if only because he made her that way.
If Malcolm’s being honest here, despite appearances, perhaps that means Johanna is being less-than-honest, again, despite appearances? After all, she’s a sociopath who uses feigned affection and loyalty to get what she wants. What really makes me question Johanna this month, though, is the fact that, when she disobeys her father in order to tell Forever “the truth,” she doesn’t take Forever to meet her young “replacement.” Instead, she takes her to a strange room full of vats. Is that room really the truth? Or is it just another way for Johanna to manipulate Forever in order to get her way?
The cold and manipulative aspects of the Carlyle family are especially apparent when compared to the other families Rucka and Lark highlight this month. Sonja inflicts violence in her mother’s name because she genuinely loves her, and the moment shared by Michael and Casey is one of the most joyful and affectionate ever to be recorded in the pages of Lazarus. Of course, that probably means they’re in the most danger now.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 1
Patrick: In Spencer’s interview with artist Damian Couceiro this summer, Couceiro talked a lot of using low angles and actively framing his characters to give Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 3 a clear sense of space. That issue took place entirely in and around the TCRI building, so it’s interesting that writer Paul Allor’s first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe, also drawn by Couceiro, would take place at the exact same location, just like a decade and a half later. Couceiro’s gift for expressing space hasn’t faded at all in the last three months (it would be weird if it had!) and the result is a fun, easy to follow smash-em-up between the Turtles and… well a bunch of different factions, it turns out.
As implied by that ellipses, the plot wasn’t quite as easy to follow as the action. While Couceiro is working with one pretty static location (made up of the kinds of rooms and hallways that everyone is familiar with), Allor crafts a story that’s seemingly equal parts actual TMNT history and secret TMNT history. There is mystery surrounding both the Earth Defense Force and our new ninja scorpion friend. Allor is careful to pepper in details so we’re not totally in the dark — the scorpion has a sense of humor and works for Null Industries, the EDF is maybe restructuring but believes themselves to be a vital part of humanity’s dominance in the world. It’s a lot to juggle with the brotherly dynamic of the titular turtles AND the history behind April and Baxter’s relationship.
What I love about this issue — and it is largely what I love about IDW’s TMNT comics — is that the reader is always encouraged to understand the story through action. Allor’s storytelling is at its strongest when he gets out of his own way and lets the bodies in the space tell the story for him:
I may not have the vocabulary yet to talk about that scorpion lady, but I sure do understand the way she moves the and threat she poses to the turtles. That’s the issue in miniature.
Oh and speaking of miniature, there’s a teeny-tiny story at the back of this issue about Leonardo tracking a Foot ninja through the city and then fighting a bunch of ninjas. Kevin Eastman, who is also co-credited with the story, provided the layouts while Bill Sienkiewicz is the credited artist. This is a nearly perfect artistic synergy – Eastman is a master at staging one vs. one-hundred action sequences (go back and read any of the original TMNT comics for examples of this), but his mix of dark lines and heavy details often makes the genius of that staging irrelevant. Doesn’t matter how amazingly you’re using the page if the reader can’t make out detail. Sienkiewicz and colorist Tomi Varga (who deserves at least as much credit as Sienkiewicz) lend BUCKETS of clarity to Eastman’s action. It’s all really simple stuff — painterly, single-color backgrounds; playing off the natural contrast of the ninja’s dark colors and Leo’s blues and greens — but it goes a long in elevating a straightforward action piece.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?