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 Britannia 1, Empress 6, and Jem and the Holograms 19. Also, we’ll be discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 62 on Tuesday and The Wicked + the Divine 1831 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: One of the basic techniques in magic (that is, the genre of performing acts, not the card game or type of charlatanism) is to give every action a motivation. In the absence of an apparent reason for the magician to reach into their own pocket, the audience would be suspicious of such an action, so the magician needs to come up with a reason (pulling out a pen for a volunteer to sign a card [or putting it away afterwards] is a classic example). I’m inclined to think of narratives in a similar way. That is, in the absence of an apparent reason for something to be included in the narrative, the audience is forced to conclude that this event will become significant later on. At best, it’s telling, introducing a Chekhov’s gun for no other reason than that a gun must be required later in the narrative; at worst, it’s distracting, like the totally unnecessary camera move in this clip from The Dark Knight Rises, where so much attention is drawn to Gordon’s written speech that it supercedes whatever meager “motive” might have been offered for its introduction.
An example that falls somewhere in between is the opening scene of The Sixth Sense. On the one hand, it introduces the motivation of Bruce Willis’ character (a motivation that turns out to be his “unfinished business” when the films twist is revealed), but it also introduces the notion that Willis could be dead. What’s remarkable about that opening is that, up until the very end of the movie, we might actually understand the film to be about Haley Joel Osment’s character — in which case, that opening scene is superfluous information. The very existence of that opening scene emphasizes the centrality of Willis’ character, revealing that, however much he helps this little boy, the story is really about what helping others does for him. The opening is central to the structure of that film, even though we can’t appreciate how central until the very end.
I suspect something similar is going on in Britannia 1, which opens with a similarly disconnected “origin” for its protagonist, introducing his connections to a mysterious monster, the equally mysterious witchcraft of Rome’s Vestal Virgins, and a son born under strange circumstances. There’s no doubt that these will all play a key role in the series going forward — the monster returns by the end of the issue — but I’ll certainly be on high alert until I understand how that role plays out. However central those elements are in the origin story, they’re obscured in the “six years later” action, which takes on a much more familiar detective-story structure (albeit with an unusual period setting and a supernatural twist). Both aspects are handled with aplomb from writer Peter Milligan, who charmed me particularly with the Romans’ endless deprecating remarks towards Britannia.
But the real stars of this first issue is the art team. Juan José Ryp’s meticulous hatching manages to add depth and definition to his characters without making them feel stiff, and Jordie Bellaire’s dazzling colors add unique definition and atmosphere to every scene. The premise and writing are solid, but this art team is more than enough to bring me back next month.
Ryan D: If you have been following video games lately, you probably heard of No Man’s Sky, a game which promised a lot of things: an almost infinite universe which one could travel, sporting fully procedurally generated planets with unique flora and fauna, capitol ship battles and dogfights, and the ability to explore this universe with other players. Much to the chagrin of many who purchased this game based upon the promises of the developers, No Man’s Sky ended up being more likened to a very pretty interstellar walking simulator. This is the same kind of disappointment I feel when I read Empress.
I have harped upon this before, but the team of Millar and Immonen given free reign in a sci-fi universe of their own machinations could have been something really spectacular. In the penultimate issue of this series, Immonen’s pencils are on point as always, but Millar, who has made a career out of taking tried and true comic or dramatic conventions and giving them an insightful twist (i.e. Wanted or Superman: Red Son), ends up taking us on a walk with several pedestrian characters through several uninspired worlds, each seeming to be an outlet for some form of bias. In this issue, it is bankers who get the stigma attached to them ,
and while I, personally, dislike big banking as much as anyone up to their scalps in student loans, I also don’t really need characters to tell me about their prejudices as a weak for of expository world-building, but I need to be shown through action, decision, and characterization how people work.
In this issue, Emporia and her family finally make it to her sister, as was Emporia ‘s goal since issue one. Almost every issue thus far has finished with a “Tune in next time!” cliffhanger which, in six issues, has yet to significantly impact any of the characters — thanks much in part to the teleporting machine which is used as a haphazard plot device or through the stalwart Marty Stu of the family, Dane — and the lack of actual danger I feel when reading the title, keeping the stakes terribly low for me.
This issue introduces a bit of romance between Dane and Emporia, which seemed an inevitability since the start of this title, and sets up the finale, finally bringing King Morax into the picture. My hopes have always rested on the iron-fisted emperor given time and space to show that for all of his crushing, oppressive ways, he is a loving father who will do anything for his children, and is perhaps the only character left with any narrative potential. I suppose the final issue will give readers a better perspective on what the creative team has been trying to accomplish here, but I, for one, do not have extremely high hopes for the conclusion of Empress, which is fine — summer has wound down and I am all out of popcorn to munch for a story like this.
Jem and the Holograms 19
Ryan M: The start of a new arc brings challenges. Conflict must emerge that feels deep-seated in the ongoing story. If the hand of the writer is made too clear, a reader can feel manipulated and immediately the stakes are cheaper. Ideally, the set-up in the first issue feels both like a fresh look and a continuation of the narrative established in the series. Kelly Thompson does an admirable job balancing the needs of a fresh arc as the Holograms meet The Stingers.
There is a lot going on in the issue, all of it based on the world established in previous stories but exploring new territory. Jerrica discovered Synergy when she needed a mask to help her transcend her stage fright. Now, after several successful singles and an aborted tour, Jem is less a costume and more an identity that Jerrica chooses to embody. Growing up is about trying on personas, but Thompson posts some warning signs about the potential consequences of Jerrica indulging herself with playing Jem. Her sisters are concerned, and she is utterly charmed by Riot who doesn’t know that the object of his affection is actually a shy girl with a boyfriend. Themes of identity and the performance of self have been woven throughout the series run, so the introduction of this storyline is perfectly in sync. At the same time, this angle on Jerrica and her time as Jem is fresh territory.
The Misfits plot in the issue also reflects the duality of a new concept in a familiar dynamic. Pizzazz and her anger problems have been a catalyst to many of Jem and the Hologram’s plot points. We met her as the Mean Girl leader of the most popular band in town and now she is struggling to maker her art and to keep her contract. Pizazz’ quick temper and instinct to blame others for her troubles are hallmarks of her character.
This story is saved from being a re-tread by both her band’s lowered stature and the way Meredith McClaren depicts the ever-present flaming skull of rage that Pizzazz keeps at her side. It’s a fun and fantastical touch that amps up the cartoonishness of her wrath and rings true to that feeling that one wrong move will bring out an anger monster. This arc begins seamlessly. It both honors the story that came before and offers the first few steps down a fresh path.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?