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 Shipwreck 1, TMNT Universe 2, Autumnlands 13, Cannibal 1, and Paper Girls 10. Also, we discussed Black 1 on Thursday and Shade the Changing Girl 1 on Monday, and will be discussing Moonshine 1 on Tuesday and Green Valley 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan D: To steal a phrase from a former instructor of mine, I consider Warren Ellis to be a friend who I’ve never met. Sure, I may never speak with him, ever, interpersonally, in any capacity, but the amount of his work which I’ve consumed makes me feel like I know him pretty well. So imagine my surprise upon reading Shipwreck 1. This title made me very confused, and maybe a little upset. My brain, trained to recognize plot and characters quickly, had a very hard time wrapping my brain around the presentation of this first issue.
The plot itself is not too preposterous to follow: former scientist survives (?) some sort of experimental voyage’s sabotage and now wanders, using the power of reading birds to find the person who destroyed the expedition, and thus the lead’s life. Sure, not too bad there; however, there is a lot that still floats in the miasma of this universe right now- a new world which does not let me know what the rules are right off the bat. I found this to be unsettling. Especially with the introduction of a certain black widow/mantis chef archetype:
I do not really know what this encounter did for the comic except for establishing that this weird world is very weird, and that murder may be the norm. It also, I suppose, showed us that our protagonist can think quickly on his feet and is horrified by committing violence. That being said, I still do not really know what’s going on, and thus, what to expect.
This is, I would argue, a good thing. The unexpected is exciting. However, the amount of exposition which Ellis chose to place in this number one made for a very odd cadence to the comic. Also, we are dealing with a different world or dimension than the Earth upon which you and I (hypothetically) stand, and Phil Hestor’s character design did not necessarily help me understand who is not human and who is just ugly. Do not get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Hester’s work from The Darkness and some of his pencils on Hellboy, but his angular style which is amazing for highlighting physical character traits also makes it difficult for me to tell what the “normal” is in this world- if there is such a thing.
All in all, I’m not really complaining about this title’s first issue; it just confused the heck out of me. There’s some really great narrative potential here regarding the use of technology vs. the more arcane elements seen here, and this new universe could take readers to some very novel, grotesque places. I will definitely be picking up the next issue, if only for the fact that this does not read like any Ellis title I have seen before- or any other title, really- and I am very curious as to what and how this creative team clarifies the world in this comic. If they do at all.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Universe 2
Patrick: For a series with the word “Universe” in the title, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 2 stays meticulously focused on a single space – The Stockgen building. The Turtles, a mysterious Scorpion mutant, April and Baxter Stockman make for some unlikely allies against the shadowy agency laying siege to the building. I’m a sucker for a good siege story, and the role that the space itself plays is aways fascinating. Think about how real Nakatomi Plaza reals by the end of Die Hard. We can understand the distances John McClane has to traverse, and we go back to that event space / lobby frequently enough that we could all probably draw a diagram of where that fountain is. The Stockgen building has no such character, leaving a key component of this siege story lacking.
What’s so odd is that it’s clear that artist Damian Couceiro has some interesting visual ideas that he crafts on to various areas of the building. Take, for instance, that curly staircase by the front entrance. It was striking enough that I recognized it from the first issue, and I love seeing it return for a smoke-bomb ninja brawl in this issue.
But this same space will be re-presented confusingly later on in the issue. Both Michelangelo and Meched-Out Baxter will come at this room from (presumably) different angles – Mikey entering from the street after following the Scorpion down the side of the building and Stockman from… some other place. It’s almost impossible to get oriented in this space, and the non-descript stairwells and hallways of the rest of the building aren’t doing us any favors. There are like two or three pages where I can’t tell if we’re flashing back and forth between the lobby and the outside or if they’re both essentially the same space.
I know it sounds like I’m harping on something so specific and insignificant. The thing is, the emotional crux at the end of the issue is so dependent on our understanding Raph’s anger with the Scorpion, but without having a more solid grounding, their entire conflict doesn’t feel real. We’re talking about fundamental survival issues, and the fundamentals aren’t quite hitting.
Spencer: Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey have been sowing commentary about class divides into The Autumnlands since the very beginning. The greatest threat of the first arc — the attack by the Buffalo Tribes — was sparked by the prejudice of the people of the floating city, who looked down on and dehumanized the members of the Buffalo Tribe. Since then we’ve also seen the plight of the Galitaan, who were created for the sole-purpose of serving their masters, making them slaves. Issue 13 digs a bit deeper into these issues by bringing together characters of several different classes — including what may or may not be a “god.”
The strange woman Learoyd spoke to in issue 8 makes her return, confirming that, even if she isn’t technically a deity, she’s certainly one of the beings that Dusty and his brethren worship as gods. The woman and her kind created the Galitaan, and despite their sentience, she gives absolutely no thought to them as anything but her property. Likewise, she doesn’t see the point of healing Bertie, saying that he’s “just one goat.” She considers them all beneath her, and can’t even seem to fathom that they have needs or lives of their own worth considering. It’s not that different from the way the Elders of Dusty’s city thought of the members of clans like Seven-Scars’ or Bertie’s as simple, lesser beings who aren’t smart enough to know that their lives could be better.
Where the Elders of the floating city oppressed the Buffalo Tribe through a sort of economic bullying, though, this otherworldly woman does so through smartly designed illusions of grandeur, appealing to the specific myths and legends of Dusty and Bertie’s peoples in order to gain their obedience; the Elders put others down while the woman builds her own image up. Either way, the result is the same — both groups promote themselves as being intrinsically better than others, and the further you go down that class ladder, the more each class suffers from it.
As a being with no class or place in this world, Learoyd is able to approach each new being he meets with an unbiased perspective; on a more metaphorical level, that’s what allows him to see through the otherworldly woman’s illusions. Learoyd’s even-footed kindness has allowed him to make allies everywhere he goes, and it’s given Dusty and the Galitaans new perspectives on their neighbors throughout the Autumnlands. Could his influence perhaps have the same effect on the woman, or is she too old, too powerful, too set in her ways? Only time will tell.
Mark: In an interview with the creative team included in the back of Cannibal 1, co-writers Jennifer Young and Brian Buccellato discuss the thrust of Cannibal as an “anti-apocalypse story.” Rather than the breakdown of society, they, along with artist Matías Bergara, want to focus on humanity’s resilience in the face of apocalypse. It’s an interesting reversal of the usual zombie genre trope (even our usual expectation of a cannibal is flipped on its head), but with Cannibal 1 it’s too early to tell whether this subversion of reader expectations will bear fruit.
Some of these subversive choices made for a pleasant surprise. There’s a moment in the issue where a stripper is seemingly abducted and about to be raped that uses the expectations readers have built up thanks to hundreds of similar scenes in the past against us. And even though the resolution wasn’t shocking, it was welcome. On the other hand, there’s a reason tales of survival in an apocalyptic future are so common—there’s an inherent dramatic drive and conflict in the face of impending death. Cannibal 1 has nothing that grabs the reader so directly.
I’m curious where Young, Buccellato, and Bergara are taking Cannibal, even if the cliffhanger that ends the issue doesn’t necessarily leave me wanting more. While reading I found myself wondering why we weren’t following the story of the cannibal encountered in the first few pages. Someone who has to eat another human to survive, but is horrified to do so? And we’re not following that? I’m willing to believe there’s a reason the creative team chose this story instead, but Cannibal 1 is a soft sell that leaves me unconvinced.
Paper Girls 10
Ryan M.: By the end of Paper Girls 10, Vaughan and Chiang have taken our eponymous girls out of our present and into the unknown. As Erin’s time in 2016 ends, so does the dynamic of a girl interacting with the woman she became. It’s an emotionally satisfying conclusion to this chapter of the story. We get to see Erin trust her adult self and, in turn, adult Erin is able offer advice. These two moments are paying off the groundwork set up earlier in the arc, without feeling inevitable. The relationship between Erins is inherently odd and fantastical yet Vaughan and Chiang were able to ground their relationship into something honest and recognizable.
Chiang’s art is able to convey emotional moments without relying on overwrought expressions. When Erin sees her sister all grown up, the story can be understood purely through Missy’s face.
There is a lot to Paper Girls. We have time travel and flying dinosaurs and a weird leader who is collecting girls and putting them into suspended animation in jars. The mysteries are fun and offer something unexpected in every issue. But, more than the fun of those surprises, the story offers moments of real connection between the characters. In addition to Missy and her (younger) older sister, we see Mac and Tiff exchange “I love you’s” and the girls reunite with KJ. I may want to know who carved in to KJ’s field hockey stick or the meaning of the symbol on the mountain, but I love Paper Girls because of the humanity of the characters.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?