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 Captain Kid 2, Star Trek Waypoint 1, Outcast 21, Snotgirl 3, and Surgeon X 1. Also, we discussed Josie and the Pussycats 1 on Monday and will be discussing Descender 15 on Tuesday and Star Wars 23 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Captain Kid 2
Drew: There was a time when superhero comics were mostly read by kids, and as such were catered to the fantasies of children. There’s no better example of this than Billy Batson, a regular kid who, with the utterance of a magic word, could transform into what was basically Superman (indeed, Captain Marvel so resembled Superman, publisher Fawcett Comics lost a copyright suit levelled by DC). It’s difficult to parse whether the superpowers or the adulthood are the most alluring part of the fantasy, but it’s safe to say that they’re tied up with one another — being a superpowered kid could be fun, but you might still have someone telling you when to go to bed. Of course, the demographics of comics readers has changed significantly over the 76 years since Captain Marvel’s debut, skewing ever older, making room for a different kind of fantasy. Captain Kid is the manifestation of that fantasy — a near inversion of Captain Marvel — where the escapism isn’t in the autonomy of adulthood, but the vitality of youth.
Or, at least, that’s the pitch for the character. It turns out the themes of the series are going to be much more complicated. First, there’s the villain, who represents a nightmare of political cronyism, where insider information isn’t just helping private companies win contract bids or scoop up land before development deals are announced, but is actively scheming to create business by destroying infrastructure. It’s a mustache-twirling spin on the kinds of corruption we see in government today, but it feels frighteningly plausible.
And then there’s the hints at Captain Kid’s origin, which it turns out has something to do with Hela, who we learn is a bit of a confused time-traveler. Her confusion becomes more understandable as we learn that she has at least a few of herself — from a few different eras of her life — constantly telling her what to do. The dicta “obey your older self” is repeated in this issue, suggesting a kind of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach to the issue of age; sure, younger people might have more spring in their step, but it’s the elders who we should be respecting. Or perhaps the mantra is meant as a guide of sorts for the creative team, who are clearly looking back for inspiration.
That kind of retro aesthetic is very much in the DNA of this creative team. Writers Tom Peyer and Mark Waid have built careers on their takes on gold and silver-age sensibilities, respectively, and the same can be said artist Wilfredo Torres, whose clean lines and dynamic compositions recall some of the seminal superhero comics. As with any of this creative team’s respective projects, this series promises to put a significant twist on its inspirations, but those twists are built on a solid understanding of the fundamentals of superhero comics. Younger creators may be able to do it flashier, but this issue seems to argue that they couldn’t do it right.
Star Trek Waypoint 1
Taylor: One of the things I’ve always liked best about Star Trek is that you never what you’re going to get each week. Unlike modern TV shows, Star Trek episodes are singular in nature. What happens one week doesn’t necessarily factor into what happens the next — it is not one long narrative but several small ones stitched together.
Star Trek Waypoint keeps this idea of stand alone episodes and revives it in two short stories presented in this first issue. In one story, Geordi La Forge, now the captain of the Enterprise, stumbles upon a federation ship from the future. His bridge crew is made up of several holographic Datas, the projection of the ship’s computer which is constructed from Data’s positronic brain. Together, they save the day. In the second story Uhura gets stranded alone on a strange alien planet thanks to a transporter mishap and finds a strange, alien friend.
Both of these stories have a tone and feel that remind me of TNG and TOS respectively, and this works to their advantage. Indeed, while reading this issue I couldn’t help but smile because they just felt like old episodes of the series I know and love. They are both fun, a little weird, and most importantly, in the spirit of exploratory science fiction that makes these TV series worth watching.
The only knock against this issue is that each story seems unresolved by the time it finishes. I’m not sure if these stories are going to be continued in the next issue or not but it seems like they are lacking a definite ending. In some ways that is kind of enticing and makes these stories interesting because it lets you fill in your own ending. But at some point that could become a little old. On the flip side, I’m not sure I want a drawn out narrative about either of the stories presented here. That being said, I think fans of Star Trek will enjoy this issue if for no other other reason than it’s like watching a rerun from one of your favorite TV shows, warts and all.
Patrick: For a series that deals so much with literal demonic possession, it’s amazing how much Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta’s Outcast dances around the existence of God. After all, if infernal intervention is a constant source of conflict, why shouldn’t divine intervention be a solution? Issue 21 finds Reverend Anderson tied to a chair, and about to be tortured to death, with nothing but his faith to save him. He escapes, of course, but it’s a series of tiny victories that ultimately reveal a much bigger threat.
And actually, I want to focus on the size and scope these things. In the world of Outcast, evil is big. It’s not just a wicked force we see violently asserting itself over and over again, but it’s so wide-spread that “half the town” serves that darker power. Sidney has them all collected in one deepwoods commune. But the powers for good are so much smaller — and much more poorly organized. We can count the issue’s heroes on one hand, and we really only need that second finger if we’re feeling generous about Kyle’s role in this one. Whatever goodness, light, or divinity asserts itself in this issue has to do so solely through Reverend Anderson. One guy.
Appropriately, Azaceta likes to hint at these tiny godly moments with itty-bitty insert panels. We get a full seven (seven!) insert panels showing the incremental damage to the chair Anderson is tied to over the course of two pages. The forces of good are slow, small and intensely local.
Spencer: Lottie Person, the eponymous star of Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung’s Snotgirl, may just be the most self-centered protagonist I’ve ever seen. Notice I don’t call her selfish — being selfish implies that one is purposely putting themselves ahead of others, and Lottie simply isn’t self-aware enough to do that. To Lottie, other people only exist as an extension of herself, either there to adore her, annoy her, judge her, support her, or be her enemy.
I’d call it narcissism, if not for the fact that Lottie appears to simply be wildly emotionally stunted. Her fear of showing her real self (snotty or otherwise) has led her to prioritizing her appearance and persona above all else; it’s impossible to think of others when you’re obsessed with how you appear and how others view you. Lottie’s pathologically incapable of being genuine.
(It also explains why Lottie is this angry at Charlene for “copying her life” — it’s all she has.)
To be fair, Lottie’s real feelings here are completely paranoid and bonkers, but the fact that she still can’t admit them to Sunny, someone who she admits “knows [her] better than anyone,” is telling. Instead, she makes up a ridiculously petty excuse, but one which reinforces the glamourous celebrity persona she’s trying to create for herself. Lottie may be completely self-centered, but I feel more sorry for her than annoyed — she’s one messed-up girl.
Complicating matters is the fact that there may be some truth to Lottie’s delusions of grandeur. Charlene plays innocent, but has dirt on Lottie and seems to be taking pleasure in holding it over her. Hung even obscures Charlene’s eyes behind her glasses, hiding Charlene’s real emotions, in every panel except the ones where she’s taunting Lottie — that’s when her mask drops and we see the “real” Charlene. Then there’s the cop who appears to be obsessed with Lottie; between these two and the somehow-alive “Cool Girl,” there’s some strange happenings going on in the background of Snotgirl. As callous and obliviously-destructive as Lottie can be, this still manages to paint her as a bit of a victim: a victim of a society that values appearance above all (especially for women), and a victim of a society that goes on to villainize the very women they’ve sexualized in the first place.
Lottie’s still astonishingly self-centered though.
Surgeon X 1
Drew: Comics editors never get their due; a fact that’s especially true of Karen Berger. I understand why this is the case — it’s not always clear what influence an editor had over a given issue, and there’s a lot more marketing cachet wrapped up in the appeal of writers and artists — but the more I learn about comics history, the more I think editors were the ones steering the ship. Berger has a special place in the direction of comics over the last 30 years, not only recruiting writers like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, but giving them an incubator to experiment and develop. Moreover, Vertigo is responsible for some of the best comics over the last 25 years, such that it’s difficult to imagine the modern comics landscape without its influence. Suffice it to say: any project with Berger’s name on it is going to get my attention.
Of course, it may also set my expectations unreasonably high. Surgeon X 1 has a lot of exposition to get through — so much so that I couldn’t have anticipated its cliffhanger ending for being so overwhelmed by the rest of the information this issue delivers. In the year 2036, London’s mayoral race seems to be down to one issue: the rationing of antibiotics. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has reduced the effectivity of antibiotics, and driven the world to fear overusing them, such that infections are once again the leading cause of death. These are decidedly abstract ideas, so are delivered mostly via text. It’s a credit to writer Sara Kenney that she comes up with so many ways for characters to explain their world to the audience; in addition to the voiceover narration, we see a couple political speeches and a college lecture addressing this very subject. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough information for me to feel particularly informed on the subject — when the protagonist decides to fight the rationing of antibiotics, I don’t know if she’s being heroic or needlessly reckless.
Oddly, in spite of its centrality, this doesn’t seem to be the question that the series is most interested in. Those mayoral candidates seem to be important figures until they’re both killed in a sequence so unceremonious (and unremarked upon) that they apparently never mattered to anyone. It may have been designed to shock us out of assuming anyone was safe, but it mostly makes the issue feel as if there are no stakes whatsoever. Rosa seems to care about Dominic, but his death has so little consequence, I have to wonder why he was even included. That feeling was exacerbated when the hook for issue 2 is revealed to be the mysterious circumstances surrounding Rose’s mother’s death. It has the effect of making all of that antibiotic exposition feel unnecessary — it’s not that I doubt it will come up later, just that it got in the way of establishing what the emotional stakes were for this issue. If Rose’s mother mattered, perhaps we should have zeroed in on her, rather than a mayoral race nobody seems to have any investment in.
I have a number of problems with this issue, but Berger’s name on the cover is a strong enough vote of confidence to get me to come back for issue 2. I hope it finds its footing before that goodwill runs out.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?