Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 9/7/16

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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 Barrier 2, Jughead 9, The Woods 25, Kill or Be Killed 2, and Star Wars: Poe Dameron 6. Also, come back on Tuesday for our discussion of Alters 1 and on Wednesday for our discussions of Glitterbomb 1 and Paper Girls 9! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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Barrier 2

barrier-2Patrick: Language barriers may seem insurmountable. We spend so much of our lives embroiled in the specific minutiae of what exactly our words literally denote, and then there’s a whole world of unintentional (or intentional) connotation on top of that. It’s a delicate dance, and communication can feel all but impossible when you’re fundamentally using different words, idioms, and structures. Barrier 2, the long-gestating second issue of Marcos Martin and Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent, digital only Panel Syndicate series (available here at any price), sets out to both explore that frustration of the language barrier, and obliterate it. The awesome, articulate truth of the matter is that what we see and what we do are always going to be more powerful than what we hear and what we say.

Martin and Vaughan have kind of a perfect set-up for this sort of thing – two characters that don’t speak each other’s language forced to work together. Oscar can’t speak English and Liddy can’t speak Spanish. Martin starts with an easy shorthand for communication – when they meet, Liddy is naked. This communicates vulnerability wordlessly, just as Oscar’s simple offer of his jacket immediately communicates kindness and empathy. Vaughan picks up those cues and writes a conversation between this pair wherein they cue off common references. Oscar asks if they’ve died and gone to Hell, which Liddy can identify because “Inferno” is one of those culturally ubiquitous Latin words that never fell out of use. Then Liddy returns the gesture by expressing the concept of UFOs by saying “Star Wars.” They’re using global commonalities between their languages and cultures to communicate. But there’s also a moment where they express their very specific common culture that’s even more resonant – Oscar pulls a gun holster off a dead body and identifies the markings on them as belonging to a member of the Las Garzas gang. That doesn’t mean anything to me — unlike those “Inferno” and “Star Wars” references — but Liddy and Oscar are bound by a more common vocabulary than they’d care to admit.

And of course, Martin makes his most eloquent points about communicating without the use of words wordlessly. There are a lot of excellent pages in this issue that use the shapes inherent in both the space the characters are occupying and the layout to suggest movement and emotion. My favorite example is this one.

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Look how the shapes of the plant body (and then that little green crest on its head) force the eye around the page in a circular motion, only to be disrupted by the thing firing goo at Oscar. It’s some stupendous storytelling, and basically every page is this good.

(Also, I know I’m supposed to keep these Round Up pieces quick, but holy shit: how awesome is that opening sequence in the radar room? Those radar technicians speak in so many acronyms and throw around so much military jargon that they’re basically speaking a foreign language. Barrier, indeed.)

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Jughead 9

jughead-9Ryan M.: Crushes are hard, guys. Jughead is usually the coolest of his friends. While they’re stressing out over who is going to share a malt and straw, he’s down the counter eating a plate of burgers on his own. Jughead moves through life with confidence and ease, un-affected by the dramas that consume his friends. That is, until Burger Lady came into his life. In Jughead 9, writer Ryan North sets a new tone for his first issue. He plunges Jughead into distinctly emotional territory and opts out of the full-on fantasy sequences that characterized the previous run of the series. It allows the story to find new, grounded ways to connect with the audience. Though Jughead suggests Archie write a dating guide, North provides one of his own through Jughead’s talk with Betty. I live for Betty’s side-eye in that second panel.

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Jughead is established as asexual. The issue explores what a crush is like for someone who is ace but maybe not aromantic. It’s clear that all of his friends want to help with his crush, but none of them can really relate to his perspective. Of course, he is crushing on a Burger Lady, a lady that he chooses to believe must love burgers deeply and will wear the costume throughout their fantasy life together. This is obviously very silly, but it defines the difference between a crush and a relationship. Crushes are internal things, a one-sided flight of fancy in which you can fill in the blanks to your liking. Now that Sabrina has taken off the burger, Jughead will have to make friends with a real person. A real teenage witch person. I am so excited. I want to say I have a crush on this series, but, I think it might actually be the beginning of something real.

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The Woods 25

woods-25Spencer: James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas kick off the third (and, apparently, final) year of The Woods with this month’s issue 25, and that timeline doesn’t just apply to us, but to the characters within the story as well. The Woods 25 skips ahead (at least) several months from Calder’s tragic death in issue 24, and uses this opportunity to reacquaint readers, not only with the main cast, but with their families back on Earth as well, who are still grieving their lost children after all this time.

The creative team also uses this new beginning to shake things up art-wise, with series artist and co-creator Michael Dialynas taking over colors from Josan Gonzalez. Dialynas’ colors are more etherial than Gonzalez’s bold palette, a change that seems to parallel the cast’s growing maturity and the increasingly murky moral choices they’re now faced with. Dialynas’ updated character designs serve a similar purpose, especially in the case of Ben.

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Ben’s a far cry from the kid we met back in issue 1; he’s grown into himself, not just physically, but mentally too, displaying an unprecedented level of confidence. The fact that this growth comes with a New London-er boyfriend and a seat in their council is significant. After spending the first half of the issue with those the Bay Point kids left behind on Earth, Tynion and Dialynas spend the second half emphasizing what’s since become important to them on their moon: Ben’s boyfriend, Karen’s soldier friends, Sander (who “officially” joins the main cast this issue), even Calder’s memorial.

These kids have made a life for themselves on their moon, and that adds a whole new dimension to the issue’s cliffhanger. When Isaac — reappearing after nearly a year of honing the power he and Adrian sacrificed so much for — asks his friends if they’re ready to go home, it’s no longer a question of whether Isaac should wield such power, but a question of whether the Bay Point kids want to go home, if they’d even be able to reacclimatize to life on Earth, and what they’d be willing to leave behind if they do. That’s a question I can’t wait to see answered.

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Kill or Be Killed 2

kill-or-be-killed-2Mark: The cycle of abuse and violence continues to compound in Kill or Be Killed 2. This is a bleak issue with a dark soul, and as much as I find myself drawn in by the beautiful packaging, I’m hoping that by the end there’s something to be gained from the relentless nihilism. But maybe Ed Brubaker would laugh to read that. Maybe it shows I’m missing the point.

During his killing spree at the beginning of issue 1, Dylan explains, “There is no justice.” And so far that’s true. As his first sacrifice to the Demon, Dylan shoots and kills Mark, the older brother and sexual abuser of his childhood friend Teddy. But Mark’s execution is not justice. It’s likely that Mark has no idea why he’s being shot, and to him he’s merely the unlucky target of a mugging gone wrong. But even if Dylan did manage to squeak out a combination of words that brought recognition to Mark before he died, his death in no way brings atonement for his crime. Teddy is still dead. Teddy will always be dead.

The shit in this world rolls down hill, children are poisoned by the sins of their elders, and no one ever, ever really gets what’s coming to them. This is the promise of Kill or Be Killed‘s first two issues.

I left out part of what Dylan says in the first issue. His full thought is: “There is no justice. Bad people get away with everything.” And for now this remains true. Dylan is not delivering justice — there is no justice — but he is a bad guy. Yet how long can he keep getting away with it? This isn’t The Tale of the Hunchback.

slim-banner4Star Wars: Poe Dameron 6

poe-dameron-2Taylor: As we’ve discussed previously on Retcon Punch, Poe Dameron has an extra challenge when telling its story. Unlike most comics, we know that Poe is alive and well by the time The Force Awakens takes place. This means that Poe is virtually invincible in his comic and it’s not a matter of if he wins the day, but how.

The style in which he wins in issue 6 is different from previous issues, and that also happens to be the issue’s greatest strength. While Poe is involved in a riot on the prison planet Megalox Beta, it is BB-8 who ends up saving the day. He does this with the help of a couple other astromech droids who shut off the artificial gravity on the planet, which neutralizes all of the conflicts, suppressing them under 10 times the weight of normal gravity. It’s no secret that BB-8 is beloved by the world and it’s a lot of fun seeing him be the hero of the day in this issue. Not only does he get to show off his smarts but also some new, cool gadgets he has in that big ol’ ball of his. And while one could argue he’s just a cog in Poe’s master plan, it’s clear nothing would have gotten done without the little droid’s help.

This is nowhere more clear than in the scene where BB-8 takes down a prison droid ten times his size. Despite being out-muscled and without the use of conventional weapons (something his opponent has) BB-8 is able to get past his obstacle and achieve his goal.

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The resourcefulness of BB-8’s is wonderfully rendered by artist Phil Noto, who interjects fun and emotion into a scene full of mechano-men. There’s something about each panel that is wonderfully clear in creating a scene that, as a whole, is super easy to understand, despite the fact that neither droid talks or gives away his moves ahead of time. From this, we are given a wonderfully fun (but short) scene that interjects some life into a comic that too often feels like it’s just going through the motions.

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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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6 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 9/7/16

  1. Kill or Be Killed: It is fantastic how unromantic Brubaker makes the first murder. From a character stand point, there had to be some degree of ‘justice’, in that the first murder would be someone who we can say with confidence deserved a nasty fate. That’s how vigilantism works, especially this early. Dylan wasn’t going to kill someone who he couldn’t confidently say deserved it (we can talk about how Ted is still dead, but justice often works like that. Even if Mark was dealt with legally, Ted would still be dead). From a narrative level, we have a just act. Mark did something wrong, and received punishment. But Brubaker manages to show how vigilantism can provide a just end while not condoning it.

    Because regardless of the fact that Mark deserved punishment, ultimately Dylan is very clearly depicted as not being a hero. His utter inability to remember it properly makes a mockery of his justice. He may have provided a just end, but Brubaker wants to prove that the justice arrived in the most pathetic way possible. Compared to the glorification of vigilantism of Death Wish, that Devin Faraci discussed last month, Brubaker makes the ‘justice’ of Dylan something worthy of mockery. No wonder Faraci’s essay this month was on Oldboy.

    Also, has anyone done a discussion of Brubaker/Phillips work through the lens of nihilism. I have never read Criminal, but Fatale, the Fade Out and now Kill or Be Killed all have that nihilism. I mean, Fatale is a cosmic horror story and the Fade Out literally ends with ‘You can’t beat Hollywood’. It is a consistent theme in their work.

    Oh, and Brubaker should have watched the first episode of Mr Robot Season 2 before he recommended it. I liked the first season, mostly (it has all the elements of a great show, though its big problem is that you are never sure whether or not it believes its own bullshit. As great as the atmosphere was, the greatest source of tension was whether or not the show was going to prove to be smart or stupid. Quite simply, Mr Robot was much better when it was called Fight Club, because Fight Club actually was self aware and understood how bullshit it was). But the second season completely shits the bed instantly. Not only does it finally reveal its cards and prove that it is on Team Stupid, but it fails in a hundred different ways. Characters become two dimensional strawmen and the show refuses to commit to its presence in any way, being unable to, in any way, show a Global Depression. Everything about it was so, so stupid I stopped immediately. And this is why you watch shows before you recommend them

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    Sheriff of Babylon: I have been ill or busy all week, and haven’t managed to devote enough brainspace to this issue. As this story reaches its endgame, things are getting very, very clever. Tom King is doing some really strong stuff here, and I just haven’t had the chance to read it in such a way to give a real insight. It is still a masterpiece of tension, and it is still a fantastic portrayal of how every element of the Iraq occupation connects to everything else to create the chaos – a chaos where all sides are responsible. But this issue deserves more than just the generic sentiments

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    Star Wars: Picked up Vader Down and Rebel Jail arcs, and they are fantastic. Aaron is just a consistently great writer. Not going to be able to discuss this with as much detail as I wish, being ill, but Vader Down is a fantastic example of how character focused action can work. A giant crossover whose primary appeal was getting the classic characters in a fist fight with Gillen’s fun new characters is full of fantastic touches of building characters. It is amazing how both Aaron and Gillen have managed to find the arcs of their cast and create this constant sense of development of the character, understanding the journeys the characters took between movies and so effortlessly dramatising it. And do it with stories as action packed as this.

    Leia is a great example of this, both because of Vader Down and Rebel Jail. Leia had a miniseries which gave her time in the spotlight, but her real stand out moments in the Star Wars comics have actually been under Aaron’s pen. Now, part of this is that the the Princess Leia book just isn’t good. Even for a Waid book, it felt lacking (is it me, or is Waid going through a real bad patch at the moment. Archie, Avengers, Black Widow and Princess Leia have all been full of grievous errors that I wouldn’t expect from, say, the Waid who wrote Daredevil, even as I really don’t like his Daredevil run. Form Betty’s only friend caring only caring about Betty out of a desire for Archie’s approval, to Avenger’s being a garbled mishmash of other people’s ideas being repeated as a substitute for actual narrative, to Black Widow’s basic cause and effect being broken, to Leia’s general… nothingness, it feels like Waid’s work now has much more serious issues than, say, the massive issues Daredevil had with committing to its own premise. Among the rest of you who like Waid’s work, have you felt he has gone downhill recently?)

    But Aaron, while juggling everyone else’s arcs and doing a book that is non stop action, so effortlessly gives Leia deep, strong arcs. Vader Down and Rebel Jail all come back to Alderaan, and how Leia is dealing with it. It is more subtle than the miniseires, but so much stronger as Leia is constantly dealing with the emotions and having to make her own decisions about her future. She is constantly asking and reassessing who she wants to be now that she has lost everything. Conflicts keep challenging her to make choices, and it is honestly amazing. Every encounter is an actual step closer to the Leia of Empire, done with subtlety and complexity. While remaining a fantastically fun pulp storytelling that Aaron has made this book. Incredible.

    Also, I love how Sana and Aphra were ex-lovers. Considering the rumours of Sana being in a movie, I love the idea that they are setting up an actual gay movie character. I am loving the new, progressive Star Wars

  2. I went to Rose City Comic Con this week and picked up a couple of things:

    1) I got a signed issue of the preview to Charles Soule’s Curse Words. He spoke very highly of Ret-Con Punch and expressed disbelief that you guys aren’t the biggest comic review site on the internet (really, that’s true).

    2) I got an original sketch from Jonathan Hickman. To my amazement, he told me that he started as an artist and only started writing so he’d have stories to draw. He still doesn’t think of himself really as a writer. I assured him the rest of us did.

    3) I did get to meet Stan Lee and get my Amazing Spider-Man 50 signed by him. That was very exciting.

    4) I picked up the whole run of Galaxy Gator and will review it as soon as I have time to sit down and read it.

    What a day!

    • Wow! That’s all super cool stuff. That ASM 50 with Lee’s sig is fucking awesome.

      Also, I’d like to see some of Hickman’s drawings. I feel like there is a type of artist that works with him, but I bet his own style looks nothing like them.

      • I think a lot of the graphics he does, like the Avengers Machine diagram, were from Hickman. I believe a lot of his work has used his art, but only off to the side. But if he’s actually drawing a project soon, that would be interesting

    • I met Soule at Baltimore ComicCon a few weeks ago (which I wrote a piece about here on Retcon Punch last week) and he said almost the same exact thing to me about the site, so I believe it. Still incredibly flattered, though! How did it come up, if you don’t mind me asking? I mentioned the site to Soule because I work here, obviously, but if you just brought it up because you’re a fan of the site, that’s super flattering too haha. Thanks!

      And what did you think of Curse Words? I thought it was really fun! More dark/black humor than I’m used to from Soule, but it really works.

      And congrats on those hauls — they’re impressive and sound super fun! I’m jealous!

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