Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 9/14/16

roundup28Look, 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 Animosity 2, Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 4, House of Penance 6, and Faith 3. Also, we’ll be discussing The Fix 5 and Doom Patrol 1 on Tuesday and Hadrian’s Wall 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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Animosity 2

animosity-2Patrick: Most post-apocalyptic fiction aims for some kind of extended metaphor. Zombies are metaphors for consumerism or aliens are metaphors for colonialism. Or whatever. I’m being dismissive here, but that’s one of the things I really like latching on to in those kinds of stories — “survival” as a narrative drive isn’t as meaningful to me. Animosity 2, which jumps forward in time in fits and starts throughout, refutes the very notion that metaphor is a necessary part of its story, flirting with any number of possible candidates for “meaning,” before rejecting them all in favor of a story about a little girl and her dog.

Sandor makes a point early in the issue that they’re not locked in a zombie apocalypse when Oscar suggests heading to the woods and living out their days Walking Dead-style. You can’t hunt game in this new world, because, y’know, the animals are sentient and that’d be murder. But there’s another point that Sandor doesn’t make — the wildness is not a safe-haven from the threat, the way it would be in a zombie movie. Sandor’s objection rests in the philosophical crux of this issue — animals have good fucking cause to resent the way human beings treat them. A month-long time-jump quickly shows the other side of this whole thing (in what’s probably my favorite panel by the amazing Rafael de Latorre in the issue):

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There are a lot of great little jokes in here, but Marguerite Bennett paints a pretty glum view of animal sentience. Turns out, it’s not just a curse for the humans, it means cats and rats are depressed, cows have to find a way to earn a living, and ducks have to consult a goddamn map for migratory purposes.

If there is a lesson dancing around the periphery of this issue, it’s that peace between parties that don’t trust each other is extremely difficult. The showdown between the human senator and the pair of squirrels riding a moose with assault rifles strapped to its antlers is about as tense a negotiation as you could imagine, and whatever menial progress they hash out is instantly undone by a rogue suicide bomber. That’s all it takes: one mistake. It’s the same thing that ultimately turns Oscar and Sandor against each other. The issue ends with Jesse and Sandor alone in a decimated city one year later, the end of the world all but confirmed. It’s a fascinating insistence on the central relationship between those two, even as diplomacy fails and the world falls to ruin.

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Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy 4

lumberjanes-gotham-academy-4Taylor: Some crossovers just weren’t meant to be, and that’s nowhere more apparent than in the fourth installment of Lumberjans/Gotham Academy. While there are a myriad of reasons for this title failing to take off, a big part of it is due to the character writing. In their respective series, the characters in this crossover are strong, unique, and interesting. In this issue, as in others in the crossover, all of the characters blend into one another. They are not so much individuals as they are simply members of of the ‘Janes or the Academy.

For instance, when the teens find themselves once again having to bend to Louise’s whims (this time in a pool) they begin to formulate another escape plan. This time the plan revolves around one thing.

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It’s not exactly the type of plan that I would expect to come from April (pictured here) or any other member of the ‘Janes of Gothamites. It just seems so…well, bland. In reality, the solution to their problem should be anything but ordinary given the talents and personalities on each team. All of ‘Janes have their own unique abilities and interests and the same can be said for the teens from Gotham Academy. So why settle for a party? Further, the plan is so simple that basically any character could have come up with it and been the one to lead the charge. It all just feels so uninspired and un-enthused. In many ways it feels like writer Chynna Clugston Florres is simply going through the motions of writing a series without adding urgency or angst to the story. That’s a hard pill to swallow coming from a writer who’s known for writing books about teens, but four issues in with a cast that all seems like basically the same character, what else could it be?

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House of Penance 6

house-of-penance-6Ryan D: I find myself easily stimulated intellectually by most art which I consume; heck, one could even argue that the point of Retcon Punch as a website is to help prove that comics, as an artistic medium, deserve the same critical, intelligent discourse and analysis lovingly applied to novels and symphonies. It is, however, much more rare for a work of art — let alone a serialized one — to engage me on a deeper, visceral level. House of Penance consistently immersed me in both the intellectual and guttural sense, and the concluding issue of this series proves no exception.

The story left off with the workers going mad with blood lust and the ground opening in what Sarah Winchester described at “The Reckoning.” This issue takes off sprinting with the Winchester Mystery House under siege by seismic forces, turning “the damn house…into a jigsaw puzzle,” threatening the lives of all in the area and the life work of Sarah. This turmoil and destruction offer artist Ian Bertram, who has consistently refined his wonderfully rough, chunky, and grotesque lineation throughout this run, a very chaotic palette to draw, with all of the structural mayhem tied together with the omnipresent tendrils of the blood curse which haunt the house and the two leads, Sarah and Warren Peck.

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Interestingly enough, as this issue winds down, the creators make the strong choice to transition the bloody coils as the aesthetic leitmotif for these characters, using leaves, which were visually foreshadowed by the releasing of the songbirds and their falling feathers in the last issue, in their stead.

Also brought to the front of the reader’s attention is the deeper understanding of the series’ themes. Beginning the issue with a quote from Blakes oft-anthologized poem, “The Tyger,” which asks the question “What could create something so beautiful and terrifying?,” Sarah also finds hints from The Creator in the fallout of her house’s ruin, in spite of Peck’s characteristic skepticism. The journeys of these two have been a pleasure to watch unfold.

The ultimate issue of this amazing run develops the characters and their relationships, asks larger questions about humanity and violence, and offers at least one “gasp out loud” moment, all the while never truly divulging whether the curse and its manifestations were truly something supernatural or all merely symptoms of madness, grief, and guilt. House of Penance retires, but does so as a single, self-contained arc which never allowed me as a reader to stop asking questions or ameliorate the deep uneasiness and disquiet this discordant and beautiful story caused both narratively and visually. If you were curious before, then the verdict is now official: House of Penance is a certified must-read. At least by me.

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Faith 3

faith-3Spencer: There’s a big difference between writing a mini-series and writing an ongoing one — because an ongoing series is meant to generate potentially infinite stories while a mini-series tells a stand-alone tale, the scope of ongoings broadens tremendously. I’ve been impressed with how Jody Houser, Pere Perez, Andrew Dalhouse, and Marguerite Sauvage have adjusted their approach to Faith since launching her new ongoing — instead of telling one focused tale, Houser can create subplots and seed future plots, vary the length of her stories, and even switch her tone and themes drastically between stories.

That’s exactly what Houser and the rest of the creative team do in Faith 3 — both their mini-series debut and the first two issues of the ongoing have focused on the challenges of being a superhero and establishing a secret identity, but Faith 3 leaves all that baggage behind to tell an entertaining, lighthearted story about Faith and Archer spending the day at ComicCon. The creative team strikes a smart, fun tone here, expertly balancing industry in-jokes, character-building moments, and a few odes to the true power of ComicCons.

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This tale also gives the creative team a chance to explore Faith’s more confident side. While previous stories have focused on her insecurities and her relative inexperience as a hero, Faith is an expert at ComicCon, and it’s heartening to see her taking charge with such aplomb. Interestingly enough, this may also be developing into a weakness for Faith as well; while her advice isn’t necessarily wrong, I still cringed when Faith snatched Archer’s itinerary away from him and tossed it out, asserting that her way of enjoying ComicCon is the right way. That couldn’t be more contrary to the inclusive message Faith preaches throughout the rest of the issue, and I’m curious to see if this will be addressed more as the arc continues, or if it’ll get lost in the shuffle of the “duplicating thief” storyline.

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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 9/14/16

  1. Alongside my other rereads, I decided to do a reread of Order of the Stick, since I’ve been discussing it often. For those unaware, Order of the Stick is a long running webcomic by Rick Burlew (and if you think my arguments with Drew are big, you should see the epic debate I had with Rich Burlew on Avatar the Last Airbender). It is a fantasy story set in a universe which uses game mechanics for laws of physics. It tells the story of the adventures of the Order of the Stick, a band of adventures (Roy Greenhilt, sarcastic leader and fighter, and only sane man; Haley Starshine, Greedy but Heroic Rogue and second in command, Elan, the stupid bard with a knowledge of narrative convention; Vaarsuvius, the ambiguously gendered elven wizard, Durkon Thundershield, the reliable dwarven cleric of Thor and Belkar Bitterleaf, Chaotic Evil halfling Ranger), as they fight the evil lich Xykon. Like many long running webcomics, it begun as a gag-a-day comic, before morphing into something more story based.

    Dungeon Crawling Fools: The first arc of Order of the Stick suffers from being exactly what you expect when you say ‘long running webcomic’s first arc’. The story is as old as time. Person starts fun webcomic with easyj okes, and as they learn how to actually write, they also get the interest into turning the story into something more. Which means that the first arc is generally poor. In fact, the first few pages are just random jokes about DND rules, with Xykon generally being ignored.

    It honestly only really changes with the introduction of the Linear Guild. The Linear Guild are a cliche concept. They are literal evil opposites. But from their appearance, a story actually emerges. A generic one, but a sign of growth. And it has the first actual decent character beat, where Nale, Elan’s evil twin, reveals that he is not an ‘underpowered’ bard, but a Fighter/Rogue/Sorcerer multiclass – which is an overly complicated way of being a bard. Informs Nale’s character, and acts as critique at players (though Zz’dtri as a parody of players who make Drizzt clones is less amusing). There are a couple of other moments like that, where Burlew is able to use a DND joke to inform character (the joy of roleplaying is the relationship between the character you play and the stats on the page. So a DND joke based around ability scores can also inform a character, because a joke about a Ranger with a too low Wisdom is also a character beat about Belkar’s lack of wisdom).

    By the end of the first arc, Order of the Stick is a perfectly competent self aware fantasy story. But that ignores the fact that self aware fantasy stories are generally insufferable. THe actual climactic fight against Xykon is actually pretty good, but more because of ROy having to deal with his family’s heirloom weapon being destroyed, or his reaction to Xykon not even remembering the name of the victim that led to Roy being saddled with a Blood Oath of Vengeance. Not because of jokes about Elan jumping away from the explosion at the right time.

    But in its coda, you get the signs of everything changing. A greater world is being built, with a more complex plot. The big problem with this arc can be summed up by the name. All this book is is Dungeon Crawling Fools, and that is the least interesting fantasy story you can tell. Now, Order of the Stick promises to be more than just adventurers walking through a dungeon. Now, they will be joining the world, and the stories will have to be more meaningful. Order of the Stick will have to be more than just ‘fight through monsters until you get to the Lich at the end’. And this is where the comic turns into the greatness it is about to come.

    From the very first page of the next arc, Order of the Stick makes a meaningful change. It starts to change from a generic self aware fantasy with Dungeons and Dragons to something special. But I’ll discuss that when I discuss the next arc.

    If anyone is interested in reading it (I highly recommend doign so), you can find it at: http://www.giantitp.com/Comics.html

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