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 Star Wars Doctor Aphra 2, Black Hood Season 2 2, Jem and the Misfits 1, Slam 2, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 5. Also, we’ll be discussing The Fix 7 Tuesday and Archie 15 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Star Wars Doctor Aphra 2
Patrick: Rogue One may not balance the moral scales between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, but it does insist on coloring all moralities with shades of gray rather than simple dark and light. Of course, it’s fucking war, so no one can really come out of it looking saintly. Star Wars Doctor Aphra finds the titular Doctor and her father interpreting historical events through totally opposite moral filters, and the readers are sort of left to decide how we want to view the conflict of the Ordu and the Jedi. Interestingly, we’re not really given enough information to weigh one interpretation over the other: writer Kieron Gillen and artist Kevin Walker give exactly three pages to each version of the story, and both are dripping with subjective signifiers. The good guys where white and wield blue lightsabers, the bad guys were black and wield red lightsabers. My favorite point of deviation is much more telling though:
In Aphra’s version (the second one), the Jedi aren’t just fighting for an ideological imperative (i.e., stomping out heresy), but a biological imperative (i.e., saving the lives of children. It’s a slight tweak to the dialogue, an inversion of design, and a massive overhaul of the morality.
Gillen sets this up fairly obviously. Hell, he essentially lets Aphra name the game they’re playing, but it’s neat how easy it is to apply this same philosophy to the other flashbacks we get in this issue. We start with Aphra and her father blaming each other for the destruction of their home. Is there an absolute morality to that tale? Some ambiguity? Or maybe straight up conflicting versions of the events that are also true? It might be that Gillen is making a case for Aphra as something slightly different than an anti-hero: shades of gray aren’t enough. She’s down to be totally evil — enabling her torture-obsessed protocol droid — and totally good — teaming up with her father — in the same breath.
Black Hood Season 2 2
Drew: It’s funny that The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are remembered for their grit, given that both ultimately relied on big sci-fi twists in their climaxes. Those huge final setpieces keep those stories rather firmly in the superhero genre they were deconstructing — they may present a profoundly different aesthetic from their contemporaries, but the narrative arc was largely the same: the heroes save their city (or the world) from destruction. From this perspective, Black Hood presents something truly outside of the superhero paradigm, drawing heavily from crime, detective, and masked-man genres. This means Black Hood’s threats will never boil over to citywide cataclysm, but that leaves many subtler avenues open to writer Duane Swierczynski.
As always, Greg Hettinger is once again on the cusp of embracing his masked alter ego. This time, however, he isn’t drawn out by personal vendetta — or, at least not his own personal vendetta. Having received only a cryptic threat in Santa Monica and a follow-up message sent via local news coverage of a horrific crime, Greg is only starting to piece together what’s going on, but I’ll be damned if I’m not hooked already. Swierczynski has a knack for building the alluring traces at the edges of a criminal enterprize, hinting at a scope far beyond that of his protagonists. It’s exactly the kind of thing that another writer might spin into a huge international conspiracy, but on this series, Swierczynski knows to play it out at street level.
Artist Greg Scott conveys all of that grit in an inky style that feels very much at home with Michael Gaydos’ work on the previous volume. Under Scott’s pen, Greg is exactly the kind of hardboiled hero to sell a log line about him literally being haunted by his past. That’s more than enough for me to want to see who it is doing the haunting.
Jem and the Misfits 1
Ryan M.: I’m usually not a fan of origin stories as a way to kick off a series. I’m much less invested in the facts of how things got started than the dynamics they have now. But if a writer waits until I think I know the characters and then gives me a taste of what they were before, I’m hooked. In Jem and the Misfits 1, Kelly Thompson is able to tell a story that is true to the antagonists of Jem and the Holograms but offers insight into their past, present and future. Thanks to the strong chracterization that carries over from the main series, all of this is handled effectively.
Pizzazz is a difficult character to like. She is selfish, mean, vindictive, and a diva by the worst connotations. Thompson and artist Jenn St. Onge don’t shy away from the less endearing aspects of Pizazz’s personality. Instead, they show that her attitude is what brought brought this family together and is keeping things going as their band is threatened. There is a bit of redemption for Pizazz in that. None of the Misfits were appreciated or able to rock until they came together. The scenes of Pizazz slowly gathering her girls had a bit of the “getting the gang together” montage feel to it, but the environments were such a nice departure from the instant success of the Holograms that any sense of cliche is averted. The Misfits came up in rock clubs, surrounded by men who didn’t support them. They earned their success with long hours and by keeping closed ranks. They weren’t an instant success aided by a magic computer their dad built them, they are women who built themselves.
How could anyone reject the invitation in the first panel above? Thompson and St-Onge capture a sense of vitality and nerve to these women and Pizazz in particular that demonstrates why they were able to make it to the top. Of course, we know that they are now on a downward slope and may not recover. A reality show is a perfect next step for Pizazz, who built a family when her own dropped her. Now, she will build again, this time working on a reality show, a career even more suited to her brand of drama.
Spencer: Hobbies can become life-consuming if you let them. I should know; I spend way too much time working on this site each week. I love talking about comics (especially with all of you), so I don’t mind it one bit, but it does mean prioritizing, it does mean sometimes foregoing other hobbies, and it does sometimes distract me from things that are more important (sleep, cleaning, etc.). Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish’s Slam 2 finds Jen and Maisie facing a similar problem as they’re further consumed by the world of roller derby.
I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I do think that “consumed” is a fair word to use here: our leads don’t even use their real names anymore, referring to each other exclusively by their derby monikers of Knock-Out and Ithinka Can. Jen’s real name is only uttered once in the issue, in an e-mail from her professor denying her an extension on her paper. I like to think of that moment as reality crashing down on her roller derby utopia. The truth is that roller derby hasn’t fully solved the problems that lead these two women to the sport in the first place: Jen, who was too overwhelmed by work to make friends, is now too overwhelmed by the derby to even do her schoolwork, and is still struggling to connect with her teammates, and Maisie, who joined the sport to help build her confidence, constantly finds herself questioning her skills and her place on the team.
Jen and Maisie are clearly still in their honeymoon phase with roller derby, and are going to have to find a way to better balance its role in their life and to address their personal issues. Amazingly enough, the best example of that may come from Jen’s volatile teammate, Velvet Coffin.
VC’s an aggressive jerk both on the rink and in the locker room, but you can’t deny that she’s got her life in order, and seems to have pets and a job she can find fulfillment in as well. Of our two leads, Maisie actually seems to be doing a better job of following VC’s example: she’s the one who’s able to pull Jen out of her funk and set-up a much needed hang-out session, and her confidence at the end of the issue springs, not from her match, but from an A+ date. Slam continues to make roller derby look like an absolute blast, but I like that Ribon and Fish address its downsides as well.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 5
Patrick: Paul Allor and Damien Couciero’s first arc on TMNT Universe played up the growing unease between humans and mutants by introducing new players on both sides of that conflict and slapping our Turtles into the middle of it. The Turtles find themselves in the crossfire of these kinds of disputes all the time — Neutrinos vs. Utroms, Purple Dragons vs. Foot, Renet and the Time Masters vs. Bebop and Rocksteady — so while it’s not the most active roll for our heroes to play, it’s not uncommon to see it. Writer Chris Mowry and artist Michael Dialynas eschew the Turtles entirely to tell a story of mutant motivations in the chilling, thematically taught TMNT Universe 5.
The issue focuses on two outcasts: Leatherhead and Old Hob. Both of whom independently observe the toll urban existence has on the animals unfortunate to be trapped in the gravity of shitty humans. Hob bonds with some stray cats while Leatherhead can’t believe Hun’s guys are fighting dogs. Both of those impulses come from the not-at-all-crazy idea that animals deserve not to be mistreated by the human beings that have absolute control over them. I gotta say: I wasn’t expecting to see Hob and Leatherhead team-up, but their pairing is totally natural under Mowry’s pen – their natures observed rather than invented. It’s a shame these two don’t get on the same page by the end when it’s clear they’re so similar. They both demonstrate uncanny skills for strategy, with Hob packing a damn arsenal-in-dufflebag for his meeting with Hun and Leatherhead’s increasingly complete map of the mutant power structure in NYC.
It’s a lot of psychological details and Mowry juggles them all. Dialynas, as if not to be outdone, packs panels with incidental details, like posters and graffiti, on every page.
This is also just part of how Dialynas draws — check out the line-y dashes and hashes that give the world its texture. It’s not about caricatures enacting a simple drama, but nuanced characters navigating a nuanced world, the total collected from the full sum of all the parts.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?