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 Archie 14, Hadrian’s Wall 3, Kill or be Killed 4, Reborn 2, and The World Hates Jimmy 1. We discussed Moonshine 2 on Thursday, and will be discussing Slam 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Being a teenager is all about change, about trying on different personas until one sticks. Those ideas are at the heart of both of Mark Waid and Lori Matsumoto’s stories in Archie 14. Veronica’s tale in Switzerland finds her giving Cheryl Blossom a taste of her own medicine/a taste of the ol’ Lodge-one-two, but no longer getting satisfaction out of it. Veronica’s still an expert at being ruthless — and she’s smarter about gaining and maintaining her Queen Bee power and status than Cheryl ever was — but she’s just not that person anymore. As Veronica says herself, being in Riverdale “gave her a soul,” and that makes her fate, trapped in Switzerland with a school full of heartless, spoiled young women, more tragic than ever.
Archie and Jughead’s story tackles similar themes, but from a more comedic angle. The tale opens with Archie trying to essentially transform Jughead into himself — get him to join the football team, buy a cell phone, give a crap about anything besides burgers, etc. One would think Archie would know better by now, but that kind of oblivious thinking — the idea that everyone should love what I love! — is another teenage hallmark (I’m also guessing it might be Archie trying to gain some control in his life after Veronica’s leaving). Regardless, Archie’s attempt to escape his grief ends with him eventually trying to be just like Jughead (food coma included). As always, Jughead’s the unexpected voice of reason — this is what he’s always wanted, but he also knows that, deep down, this isn’t what Archie wants or what’s best for him, so he’ll do what he has to to save Archie, even if it means…gasp…becoming him.
Waid, Matsumoto, and artist Joe Eisma play those reveals for all the laughs they can, taking joy in dressing Archie and Jughead up as each other, but also just in sight gags in general. I got a good laugh out of Archie’s pile of food (there’s several whole chickens in there), but especially loved the moments where they got a little surreal.
The creative team doesn’t restrict themselves to the literal when it comes to telling their story, and that’s a nice counterbalance to the more traditional (but still compelling!) teenage tropes their stories deal in.
Hadrian’s Wall 3
Patrick: Did y’all ever watch The Killing? It was kind of an exercise in how little the central murder mystery could propel a story while still being at the heart of a television show — like Twin Peaks, but without any of the surreal stuff. I know mileage varies on that show, but I gobbled up the first season, which seemed to be keenly aware that it was generating its drama from the stressful situation the characters were in, rather than any hope that the case was going to be “solved.” Hadrian’s Wall is similarly aware that the case is less of an engine for plot and more of a source of constant trials for Simon and everyone else aboard the titular ship.
Artist Rod Reis excels at these kinds of stress-induced mind games, as demonstrated in a bravura dream sequence. Reis is very careful, very square with the majority of his layouts, but Simon’s dream bends the space between the seconds by letting his painterly instincts dictate entire pages.
I love the strict geometry implied by the chess board floor, which Reis faithfully renders from a steady perspective. Of course, the chess imagery is loaded on it’s own — and can imply anything from cold calculating strategy to Alice in Wonderland-esque whimsy — but it’s juxtaposed by all of these non-geomtric shapes. Check out that bottom left corner, which implies story through color rather than shape. Or how about the bottom right corner, which does use strict geometry (a square) but gives so little context as to make its meaning impenetrable.
In a way, Reis’ dream sequence sets the stage for writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Seigel’s narrative in the rest of the issue. Simon is collecting clues, sure, but it’s not clear which threads he’s picking up are going to deadend and which are going to lead to anything fruitful. All he’s really accomplishing is either a) irritating or b) ingratiating himself to the crew. He has almost completely opposite interactions with two crew members: he pissed Franklin off by grilling him on the difference between leaving the lab at midnight at leaving the lab at twenty-three-hundred. But his (maybe not so-)chance encounter with Selina in the gym makes her open up. That’s where Hadrian’s Wall distinguishes itself — its central murder is an excuse for characters to act unpredictably, forge alliances, betray friends and share secrets in a way they normally wouldn’t.
Kill or be Killed 4
The Devil made me do it.
Drew: This phrase has so thoroughly entered our lexicon, I had no idea it was first popularized by comedian Flip Wilson on his variety show in the 1970s. Obviously, the sentiment goes back much further — Eve offers a similar excuse for eating the apple — but the phrase’s popular use has always belied the absurdity of blaming the devil for your actions. That is, Wilson could use it as a punchline because, obviously, the devil didn’t make him do anything; he’s just a convenient — if unlikely — scapegoat. Kill or be Killed 4 continues to take “the Devil made me do it” much more seriously, though it also introduces a few more details to challenge the validity of that excuse.
Dylan had some evidence at the start that convinced him his encounters with the Devil were real (the mark on his arm, the fact that he did get very sick only to miraculously recover after killing), but it was far from concrete. Indeed, even a passing familiarity with Fight Club should make both Dylan and the reader deeply suspicious of such assumptions of reality — especially when there seems to be so much evidence that the Devil might be a hallucination. The primary evidence is that, come on, the Devil isn’t real, right? But issue 4 also reveals that the Devil that haunts Dylan seems to be plucked from his father’s old illustrations, as though it may have entered Dylan’s subconscious years ago without him realizing it.
That reveal serves as the issue’s cliffhanger, but I’d argue that the more damning evidence is how obviously Dylan’s secret life of killing reflects his guilt over his secret love affair with Kira. Dylan struggles with what he calls “double lives,” either ignoring that he’s keeping his tryst with Kira secret, or eliding it with his murders. That’s an important point of distinction, as his language is ambiguous enough that it could refer to either or both. As his frustrations with their relationship get messier and more self-destructive, so does his other secret life, leading to a decidedly underbaked plan to free women he’s assumed are sex slaves. That one of the women attacks him after he kills their “captor” suggests that the situation was more complicated than he thought. Perhaps it will be enough to slake whatever malevolent force is driving him, but we’ll have to wait until the next issue to find out.
Michael: Reborn is a unique comic book series in the sense that its premise isn’t laid out in the first issue. But when you’re Mark Millar, you’ve built up enough goodwill to take this kind of slow burn narrative freedom. Following an emotional pilot, Reborn 2 provides us with the framework of its “afterlife.” Though there’s more to learn, the basics are: “the better you were in life, the stronger you are in Adystria. Which is why our heroine Bonnie — sweetheart in life — is now the destined savior of Adystria.
There’s a lot to like about Reborn 2, all of which is made explicit by artist Greg Capullo. Along with fellow Batman inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO Plasencia, the art team is a formidable powerhouse. The colors pop and the scale is epic, with treehouse kingdoms, warrior pooches and giant goddesses of broken faith. I hadn’t realized how much I missed Capullo’s work on Batman until I read Reborn 2. Capullo shows wonderful range with his grandiose landscapes and designs, tender emotions and blood-gushing violence. Needless to say this is a suitable follow-up to Batman: great story with a great artist.
Millar shows an uncharacteristic, Huck-like sense of optimism in Reborn. His script deals with the peaks and pitfalls of “heaven” and what you do once you’ve gotten what you think you’ve wanted. Bonnie has reunited with her father but both of them have yet to find their respective spouses. Reborn 2 probably has my favorite villainous motivation in recent memory: Bonnie’s childhood cat “General Frost” holds a grudge because his “testicles were removed when he was nine months old.” Valid, argument.
The World Hates Jimmy 1
If you look at the old cartoons by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, you’ll see that there are a lot of things single drawings just can’t do. Animators can get away with incredible distortion and exaggeration — for example, to show surprise, a character might turn into a giant eyeball for a fraction of a second — and the character can do this because the animator can control the length of time you see something. The bizarre exaggeration barely has time to register, and the viewer doesn’t ponder the incredible license he’s witnessed.
Drew: I read these words years ago and took them as gospel — who could more right about everything than the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, after all? It also makes a certain kind of sense; animation and comics are different mediums with different strengths, so the ability to exaggerate could surely be one of those differences. But then I read The World Hates Jimmy 1, a comic that so perfectly captures the speed and style of a Tex Avery cartoon that it completely obliterates the distinctions I had for those mediums. Sure, characters change costumes, colors, proportions, and level of detail from panel to panel, but it feels no different than when Bugs Bunny inexplicably appears wearing a labcoat or whatever. That is, this issue manages to reproduce the anarchic fun of animation in a way I genuinely didn’t realize was possible for a comic.
I realize Tex Avery might be a deeper cut for modern audiences, but he was a director whose influences can still very much be felt today. Animaniacs caught some of the madcap antics, but for style, I tend to think of shows like Ren and Stimpy or SpongeBob SquarePants. One feature from those latter series that resonates here is the use of grotesquely painted “close-up” shots:
These effects are used sparingly — as they would be in a Tex Avery cartoon — but their presence makes the aesthetic unmistakable.
But, like a classic Warner Bros cartoon, the real appeal here are the gags. This issue does not disappoint, written so thoroughly from inside the genre that “homage” almost feels too subtle. Virtually every panel has something to laugh at — even if it’s just Jimmy’s dopey expression — but my favorite sequence has to be when Jimmy is looking for a way out of his new wife’s prison:
Jimmy ignoring the open door would be enough, but writer/penciller D.C. Johnson gooses the gag, adding detail after detail in the room pointing to the door. Johnson then doubles down on Jimmy’s obliviousness, leading him not just to dig his way out of a room with an open door, but to do so with a tool other than the shovel right in front of him. It’s silly nonsense, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t crack me up.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?