Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 12/14/16

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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 Black 3, Captain Kid 3, Green Valley 3, Reborn 3, Star Wars: Poe Dameron 9, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 65. We’ll be discussing Moonshine 3 on Tuesday and Hadrian’s Wall 4 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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Black 3

black-3Patrick: Having very clearly established its perspective and voice — both of which are totally unique among superhero-esque comics — Black 3 moves on to the tricky business of building a world its central characters. In this issue, we get to meet some other members of our superhero team, all of whom have awesome codenames like Swole and Mindgrapes. Similarly, we get to know a little bit more about the bad guys, who are also hilariously part of the Mann Corporation. It’s the kind of world building that I’d expect from something like X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with a similar delightful disregard for subtlety.

In our discussion of the first issue, I mentioned how important it was to get that kind of clean superhero origin story framed by the specific horrors of being a young black man in 2016. I’m trying to wrap my brain around whether or not that same principle applies here: is it just as important to see this series — which to this point has been thematically rich and clear — delve deep into teams and conspiracies and all of that sci-fi nonsense that strong-arms most superhero comics? I’ve read enough comic books to recognize the moment the series rapidly expands its scope in order to ensure there are stories to tell for months and months to come. There are always a handful of “wait, who’s that guy?” and “where are they right now” questions, but those are necessary engines of plot. I’d argue that I’m not picking up Black for the plot, and pretending that I am might be cheapening potency of the series’ message.

You can even see it happen within this issue. The first couple pages are all about Kareem and Cole discussing the very real-world stakes of their lives before all of this madness started. And all of that rings true; it’s sad reflective and meaningful. Smith 3 even employs some innovative paneling (and even kind of a crossfade) when recounting Cole’s story.

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That’s the good shit, right there. The transition to the raid on the Mann Corporation doesn’t really stand a chance when the issue starts this strong.

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Captain Kid 3

captain-kid-3Drew: Here’s a question: when did Peter Parker become Spider-Man? Was it when he was first bitten by the radioactive spider? Was it when he first fashioned a costume and called himself Spider-Man? Or was it when he truly heeded Uncle Ben’s lesson about how “with great power must also come great responsibility”? I’m inclined to believe that Spider-Man wasn’t Spider-Man before that last moment, that the character we know and love was born when he adopted a mission commensurate with his powers. But what if the time between acquiring those powers and acquiring that mission stretched for decades? What if Uncle Ben had lived, and Spider-Man was just a silly character Peter played on TV? In a way, that’s the origin of Captain Kid, as we learn in issue 3.

We learn that Helea tried to create Captain Kid when Chris was 15, firing a “psychotattoo” back through time, but that she missed. Or did she? Chris didn’t become Captain Kid until after his mother died. Helea takes this to mean she miscalculated, but I’m inclined to read this as my “Peter Parker wasn’t Spider-Man until Ben died” point made literal. That is, Chris couldn’t be a superhero until he’d experienced the requisite parental figure death. It’s a self-aware little twist, made all the more charming by Wilfredo Torres’s art, adding some decidedly unexpected beats to the standard superhero origin.

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Writers Mark Waid and Tom Peyer lean into that darker twist, having Captain Kid’s powers manifest as Chris is taking a drunken late-night trip to the bathroom. Which brings me to the other key theme running through this issue: addiction. Chris speaks explicitly about how Captain Kid was an addiction, but the language of addiction and recovery permeate an issue that opens with Chris lying face down in a puddle of vomit, with Helea warning him about “toxic energy”. Indeed, the theme is so pervasive, I’m actually not sure if Captain Kid is meant to be a manifestation of addiction, recovery, or is essentially tangential to Chris’s addiction issues. Even after we’ve learned his origin, we don’t know whether we should be rooting for this guy, or if we’re watching him ruin his life. That’s a heartbreaking line to walk, but this issue absolutely nails it.

 

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Green Valley 3

green-valley-3Spencer: The first issue of Green Valley threw a pretty big twist our way, but issue 3 truly cements this as a title where anything can happen. Max Landis and Giuseppe Camuncoli achieve this by showing that even the very foundation of their story can shift in an instant. The Knights of Kelodia’s loss in issue one may have thrown a wrench in the narrative many readers were expecting, but it didn’t change the nature of the story; it was still very much a medieval tale of Knights and honor and all that jazz. On the other hand, the reveal of Cyril, the “magician” plaguing Green Valley, does exactly that.

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Landis’ greatest strength as a writer is his dialogue, and we get a clue as to Cyril’s identity on the previous page, where his threat against Percival’s sister sounds far more coarse and modern than any other character. It’s this page, though, that makes everything clear: Cyril’s essentially Abra Kadabra, a man from the future who’s come to terrorize the past by passing off advanced technology as magic. This opens up unfathomable realms of possibilities to Green Valley — time travel, futuristic technology, suddenly nothing‘s off-limits to this book.

In light of that, it’s amazing that Landis and Camuncoli don’t lose track of the story they’ve been telling up to this point. They still manage to squeeze in characterization — Bart’s persistent guilt, Indrid’s childlike enthusiasm, the idea that Gulliver may be more bark than bite — and to hone in on the themes of restoration and redemption that surround the Knights’ new quest. My favorite detail of this issue is the idea that, in Cyril’s original timeline, the Knights of Kelodia died of poverty. By coming to the past, Cyril is giving them a chance for redemption, and quite likely creating the very tool of his defeat in the process.

But despite all that, what this issue is going to be remembered for is introducing that twist, and boy, what a twist. Aside from Paper Girls, I can’t think of another book on my pull filled with such infinite possibilities. I’ve liked Green Valley from the start, but I suddenly just got a lot more excited about this title. What a great feeling.

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Reborn 3

reborn-3Michael: Reborn 3 maintains the epic narrative of the first two issues but loses its real-world emotional resonance a bit on the way. Issue 2 set up the idea of Adystria as a wish fulfillment heaven that benefitted good people and further corrupted bad people. Mark Millar doesn’t seem as interested in following that idea further in the third chapter of Reborn however. The narrative of Reborn 3 is more focused on the pits and cesspools of Adystria however, as we become more familiar with the villainous end of after-life crowd.lion

There’s only a few pages of relative calm before Bonnie and her father are launched into a fast-paced action movie conflict. We get an idea of the Adystria underworld and the gangsters that reside within, but overall the star of this book is the artwork. There’s something about Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia’s blood: it’s so bright, full and – for lack of a better word – juicy; it’s a detail of violence that really draws you in.

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In a fantasy title like this it’s probably safe to assume that Capullo has a lot of freedom to draw to the limits of his imagination. In Reborn 3 we have custom-fitted flying elephants, lion-headed dragons and floating industrial hellscapes. The art alone is worth the price of admission but I hope to see Millar expand upon the promise of the premise. Spectacle and fantasy isn’t enough to constitute a story anymore – there needs to be a certain amount of emotional weight.

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Star Wars: Poe Dameron 9

poe-dameron-9Mark: When Star Wars: Poe Dameron 9 works it’s because it’s telling its own story instead of trying to directly connect to The Force Awakens.

Probably the laziest moment in Rogue One (a movie I generally liked a lot) is when **SPOILERS** our heroes are searching a bazar on the desert planet Jedha and Cornelius Evazan, the pig nosed humanoid who confronts Luke in the cantina on Tatooine, bumps into Jyn and yells something like, “We don’t like your kind here!”. I’ve seen this moment included in online lists of “nods” to the original film, like it was some sort of secret Easter egg only mega fans could notice, but it’s nothing so discreet. Instead, it’s a completely unnecessary moment that brings the story of Rogue One to a halt for a beat of HEY REMEMBER THIS GUY FROM STAR WARS WELL HERE HE IS NOW ISN’T THAT FUNNY? And if you don’t remember that dude as being from a previous movie, then it’s an interruption that doesn’t make much sense at all.

There’s a similar moment in Star Wars: Poe Dameron 9 where forcing a reference to The Force Awakens takes precedence over just telling the story at hand. On the planet  Kaddak, Poe, C-3PO, and Oddy are at a bar looking for a missing droid operative. I’m 100% on board for this. But also in the bar are the Guavian Death Gang and members of Kanjiklub, who fans of The Force Awakens will recognize as the gangs that confront Han Solo and Chewbacca shortly after they’ve tracked down the Millenium Falcon. I’m fine with this in theory, but in practice it’s not treated like the background cameo it should be. Consider this page from the issue:img_0044What’s happening here is that earlier Kanjiklub overheard C-3PO discussing Han Solo at the bar and are agreeing with the Guavian Death Gang to track him down (events we would see play out in The Force Awakens). The problem is that this moment has absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. Writer Charles Soule and artist Phil Noto have devoted an entire half-page to an extended HEY REMEMBER THESE GUYS moment, and in the process end up muddling their own story. So much focus is paid to these irrelevant characters that when Threepio declares the missing droid is being held by the Rancs you’d be forgiven for thinking that one of the groups at the top of the page are the Rancs.

I stopped reading the main Star Wars comic book regularly after a couple of early issues, but later in its run, once it got over the need to prove it was Important Canon and just became an excuse to go on more adventures with characters we love, it became a lot of fun. I love Poe Dameron! I will absolutely read a book featuring the continuing adventures of Dameron and his motley crew. I do not need to be constantly reminded that Everything Is Connected to remain engaged. The Star Wars universe is enormous, with the opportunity for millions of stories to be told. Why waste time retreading old ground?

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 65

tmnt-65Ryan M:  This weekend, I was lamenting the stress of the holidays with my best friend and we both offered as evidence of our over-extension that we hadn’t watched White Christmas until after the 15th of the month. Holiday movies and specials are a key element to my experience of the season. I don’t get to see my family until Christmas Eve most years, so I gear up to the real thing by getting some vicarious joy throughout December. I may have to add Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 65 to my yearly rotation because this issue left me smiling so hard that I worried for a moment that the muscles in my face would seize up. I made little giggle-squeals of joy in the concluding pages as I realized that there was no looming darkness to ruin what what otherwise a pretty sweet Christmas for the Turtles and their associates. Even the estranged Splinter gets to play Santa to his sons. It’s great to give the reader and these characters a chance to enjoy themselves for a moment before we return to the ongoing story and its ensuing angst.

After a very brief fake-out, Writers Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman let us know that the Turtles’ mission is to throw “the most awesomeest Christmas party ever.” As soon as Leo nixes the Mutanimals from the guest list, you know what’s coming, but that doesn’t make it any less charming when Slash arrives with a bouquet of candy.
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Artist Mateus Santolouco uses every opportunity to render the most adorable and sweet images of these characters. Even Woody’s pursuit of Angel despite her natural hostility comes off as endearingly goofy rather than obnoxious.  There are few narrative surprises here but the story rolls out in the most amiable way. Each of the Turtles succeed in their mission and ultimately the cliche of Donnie’s accidental power outage is undercut by Raph calling it out. This story is a break and it functions in the way that the best Holiday specials do: by reaffirming our affection for the characters and their affection for one another while living in a bubble where danger is kept at a fuzzy distance. In January, we can get back to the harsher fallout of Splinter’s choices, but for now we have the image of every one else crammed into the living room eating pizza and listening to Christmas Karaoke.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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One comment on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 12/14/16

  1. I really liked Rogue One (though I will be interested to see how it ages, considering how quickly Captain America: Civil War lost its lustre). But yeah, the worst parts were the callbacks. Though my take for the worst was actually Mon Mothma and Bail Organa’s scene to namedrop literally everyone they could. It is a shame that Rogue One did so much of that, because the best parts of the movie involved everything brand new. THe fantastic cinematography giving a new perspective on Star Wars. The tone that approached Star Wars like an actual war, with all that that implied. A cast that broke from our understanding of what the Star Wars archetypes were.

    Also, since apparently Poe Dameron can get a prequel comic, who would you like to see from Rogue One get their own prequel? I really, really want Cassian Andor to get one. He has a backstory full of events that could be chronicled, and I love his moral ambiguity

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