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 Jem and the Holograms 21, Outcast 23, Snotgirl 4, Star Wars 25, and Star Wars: Han Solo 5. We discussed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 64 on Monday and A.D.: After Death Volume 1 on Tuesday, so check those out! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Jem and the Holograms 21
Ryan M: I grew up watching soap operas. One of my favorite things about them is that each episode would cover several different storylines. If you were bored by the teen romance plot, all you had to do was wait five minutes and you could get an update on a jewel heist or something. Jem and the Holograms #21 operates in much the same way. There are three bands in the mix and each one has at least one character in their own storyline.
It benefits the issue overall to have so much happening, because it puts so much less weight on each piece. Take Shana’s story, for example. She is in Milan, living the intern life. If we had spent an entire issue or even ten pages exploring her frustration with busy work and her realization that she and her fellow intern should do some off-hours creative work, there would be room to disengage. Instead, we get the meat of the conflict and move on to another location, where another storm is brewing.
Kelly Thompson leans into the process of short scattered scenes, with the pink labels establishing location ranging from straight-forward (“elsewhere in Los Angeles”) to the below.
The plots are varied, with Pizazz and her cartoonish revenge plot, Jerrica’s psychological issues and Raya’s sit down with her father. Meredith McClaren’s art makes it all feel like it’s the same world. There are subtle differences between the cobblestone streets of Milan and the Stinger’s penthouse that set the scenes apart, but Mc Claren’s consistency of style makes moving from scene to scene feel easy.
Drew: Have you ever noticed how you can anticipate a jump-scare in a movie? I’m not sure exactly what it is — maybe it has something to do with the soundtrack leaving space before the surprise, maybe it’s completely contextual — but I’ve found that most films broadcast those moments well in advance. However, I’ve also found that many films use those cues against me, leading me to anticipate a scare that never comes, amping up the tension to a fever pitch. It’s a clever use of generic and stylistic tricks to evoke a visceral suspense, which is exactly how I would describe Outcast 23.
Over the course of the series, writer Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta have mined a great deal of tension from the shadowy atmosphere of their series. As this arc has brought more and more of the story of the “demons” into the light, that tension has shifted from wondering what the possessed will do to wondering who is possessed in the first place. This issue pushes through that tension, finally giving Kyle enough information to act upon, dramatically shifting the power from the demons to those battling them.
Of course, that shift only happens because of how hard Kyle et al. learn the lesson that anyone can be possessed. Just look at how much weight Azaceta gives to the moment of Giles realizing that his wife is a demon:
It’s rare that this series indulges in double-page spreads, but that it was used for such a spare closeup is especially striking. The obvious explanation for this allocation of real-estate is that this moment is particularly important. Indeed, this seems to be the moment that Giles joins Kyle and Reverend Anderson permanently — he doesn’t leave their company after this scene.
But that only makes the developments of the issue more exciting. As Kyle’s team grows in number, he gains power over the demons, standing up to Scott and even capturing Sidney. That last development particularly flips the paradigm as we know it, though it may well lead to a kind of reverse of the kidnapping Kyle just escaped from. Whatever happens, this is a very exciting time to be an Outcast reader.
Spencer: Amazingly enough, I walked away from Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung’s Snotgirl 4 actually feeling a little bit proud of Lottie. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still vapid and self-centered, but she’s also showing some uncharacteristic awareness that would have seemed completely impossible for her even just an issue ago.
Throughout this series Lottie’s always judged those around her by their appearance, or how they affect her own well-being or reputation. This is the first sign of Lottie genuinely caring about another person, and realizing that somebody might not be a great person because of their actions and opinions. It’s a small moment and the simplest, most basic bit of human empathy, but it’s still a huge step for Lottie.
Actually, Snotgirl 4 finds Lottie at her most sympathetic throughout. I’ve always thought Lottie was kind of mean to her fake friends, but this issue shows that they aren’t exactly good for her either; she dreads going to Meg’s party and seems actively surprised that Meg considers her a friend at all. Why does Lottie continue to hang around them? Do they have something on her? Does she just think she can’t do better? Then there are the situations where Lottie is unequivocally a victim: Dr. Rick hitting on her and Detective Cho essentially stalking her.
I can’t help but feel a bit like Lottie is being taken advantage of in this situation as well, albeit in a different way. I’d always taken Esther as sane and level-headed; she’s got to know that she’s just enabling Lottie and feeding her egomania here, right? Lottie brings quite a few of her problems on herself, but Snotgirl reminds us all of how celebrities, and especially female celebrities, are used like a commodity. It’s entirely possible that Lottie lost all chance of being well-adjusted the moment she chose to pursue fame as a career.
Star Wars 25
Michael: Bad news: my dream comic of hunting down Luke and co told from Scar Squad’s POV remains a dream. Good news: Star Wars 25 is still a pretty entertaining comic book. This is the final chapter of the Star Destroyer heist arc, but since C-3PO’s dumbass got kidnapped this won’t be the last we see of them.
If Jason Aaron has an underlying message in Star Wars 25, it’s that sometimes you have to know when it’s time to give up. Han and Leia realize that they have to abandon their Star Destroyer once the mission goes fubar, Luke has to leave R2-D2 (and 3PO) to save himself, and Sergeant Kreel realizes that he has to sacrifice an arm if he wants to survive the mission. Star Wars is the only franchise that is both family-friendly and owns the market on dismemberment. I’ll admit that I was a little miffed at Luke for leaving our boy R2 high and dry, but he did make it to an escape pod. Also, I did enjoy R2 being able to hotwire an entire Star Destroyer.
The moment in Star Wars 25 that took me out of the story was when Han and Leia jump into space with nothing equipped but some oxygen masks. I know, I’m being picky in a world of lightsabers and god-powered astromech droids, but come on! It’s space! Also, R2-D2 got some extra time to shine in a wacky back-up story by Chris Eliopoulos that served as a sweet sendoff for the late Kenny Baker.
Star Wars: Han Solo 5
“You create walls. You manufacture rules. You live a small life, while lying to yourself that you’re as open and free as the stars.”
Patrick: Han Solo is cool, right? He can blast a Rhodian bounty hunter in a public tavern and then stroll out of there with nothing more than a crummy tip and a sarcastic apology to protect him. That’s aggressively antisocial behavior, bordering on sociopathic, but it’s also a weirdly admirable quality. Han survives because he reads the room and takes whatever steps necessary to get out alive – anything else that happens is incidental. It had never crossed my mind that this would make Han Solo an incredibly lonely man. Star Wars: Han Solo 5 picks up on Han’s loneliness, and uses it as a way to connect Han to other, similarly lonely people. He’s still cool, but that coolness is masking some seriously vulnerability.
So while there’s a lot of high-flying action in this issue (including interdimensional space jellyfish devouring an Imperial fleet and the conclusion of the race itself, to say nothing of Han identifying and taking out the traitor), the real meat is in the relationship between Han and Loo Re Ano. In fact, the twist that gets Han and company out of danger is something of a narrative cheat – Han had no idea that his kindness would save him, it just sort of did. In the saga of Han + Loo, however, Solo is making the ultimate sacrifice for a fellow lonely star-sailor who’s only looking for her place in the universe. Loo finds her people and takes her place in that community, triggering a longing for the same in our hero. The Rebel Alliance is that place for Han Solo.
Marjorie Liu’s insight into this character is astounding. It’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from these Star Wars mini-series: deep, grounded in emotional realities set by the films, and just plain fun. Actually, maybe we have the artist team of Mark Brooks and Sonia Oback to thank for the last of the adjectives I used there. Brooks’ art is heavy with details, but Oback’s colors err on the side of light and colorful, turning every outer space explosion into a fireworks show. Brooks and Oback also get to employ incredibly cinematic staging for some of the more deliberately paced moments of the issue, like when Han accuses the mole, or (even better) when the Empire picks up the Dragon Voiders’ trail.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?