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 Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 14, Cannibal 4, Faith 7 and Jem and the Holograms 22. We’ll be discussing The Wicked + The Divine 25 on Tuesday and Saga 41 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 14
Patrick: The flexible rules of a yet-undefined fantasy world can make a reader feel either humbled or deified. Either you’re in on the tricks of the universe, and feel like you wield the knowledge of the gods, or you’re a peasant blessed with only the knowledge the the divine author wants you to have. Writer Kurt Busiek walks a fascinating line in Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw 14, showing an unprecedented amount of mythological behind-the-scenery while anchoring the story’s perspective in the least informed, and most easily fooled, denizens of Autumnlands.
Which, of course, means we get to spend more time hanging out with Dusty, and I’m never going to say no to that! After this opening fight sequence, Learoyd is disabled, and all of the real decisions fall to Galateans and Dusty and Dirty Aelbert, who might be little more than hosts in a Westworldian artificial construct. Mind you, I’m jumping to conclusions (and comparisons) here, without any REAL information about what this world is. Like Dusty, all I really have to go on are legends — stories — to understand their surroundings. I’ve never quite been able to pin down why each issue has a brief illustrated story that depicts a slightly off-kilter version of the events portrayed in the issue, but I think I’m starting to get it: the only way to understand Autumnlands is by taking in as many stories about it as possible. Dusty’s people have been trying to piece together a functional understanding of the way magic works in their world from whatever scraps made it up to their floating cities. Feniz obviously has a more thorough understand of the world, and as a result has access to more powerful magic.
All of these ideas of differing levels of knowledge are perfectly synthesized in the opening fight sequence, which finds Learoyd and Feniz testing each others limits, and is narrated by the person least qualified for such commentary: Dusty.
Artist Benjamin Dewey strips Learoyd down to the language of classic sculpture for this fight, blasting him down to nude. It’s a fight that’s compelling, even in silhouette as Dewey dutifully demonstrates. These are the legends from which Dusty and Bertie and all the other inhabitants of the Autumnlands will have to divine the truth about their world. It’s only natural we don’t get any extra clues either.
Drew: In our discussion of Cannibal 3, I expressed how excited I was at the idea that anyone could be a cannibal in this series. That issue was structured like a miniature murder mystery, teasing us with an attack at the beginning, only to reveal the attacker at the end, and every piece of it worked. This issue flips that premise a bit, taking the thought that anyone could be a cannibal to the logical conclusion that everyone might be a cannibal. Er, that might be overstating it — we still have plenty of reason to believe the majority of our cast aren’t hungering for human flesh — but it certainly illustrates the difference between this series and a traditional murder mystery: there’s no limit to how many killers are out there.
Of course, some of the killers might not be cannibals. This issue rolls back the clock a bit to show some of the events that led to Danny’s arrival in Willow, and they don’t look great for him. He heads off to confront his ex-wife about poisoning their son against him, which leads to a fight. Here’s how that sequence ends:
When we learn that this might be the last time anyone saw Sue alive, we can’t help but jump to conclusions about how this scene ended. Danny explains to Grady that she was alive when he left, and artist Matias Bergara even gives us glimpses of that story as Danny tells it, but can we trust those images? While there was no hint of an unreliable narrator in the initial flashback, I can’t help but be aware of Danny’s potential motives to lie as he relays what happened next.
But Danny’s far from the only killer we need to worry about in this issue. The final scene of this issue reveals that our worst fears about Jolene’s fate were wrong, but whatever relief that brings is quickly weaponized against us, as she turns out to be a cannibal. It’s a hell of a twist — perhaps even better than the one last month that had me so excited — and draws the cannibals one step closer to our main cast. I’m not sure how writer Brian Buccellato can keep pulling out twists this large indefinitely, but I’m excited to see him try.
Spencer: This probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but media is my coping mechanism of choice. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or down I immerse myself in my favorite books, movies, and music, and they drown out all my problems. That’s certainly the relationship Faith Herbert has with stories as well, but in Faith 7 we learn that they might not be strong enough to solve all of her problems all the time.
Throughout this issue Jody Houser, Joe Eisma, and Marguerite Sauvage plague Faith with ghastly visions of all those throughout her life she’s failed to save. It’s not clear whether these visions are the work of a villain or of Faith’s own mind, but either way, what’s immediately clear is that Faith’s typical coping mechanisms no longer work — video games and Harry Potter can no longer drown out the din of the real world, no matter how hard she tries. Fear has never hit Faith this hard before, because she’s always had her stories to give her the strength and focus to push through — without them, she’s essentially paralyzed, isolating herself in bed instead of facing the world.
Thankfully, the issue itself not only presents Faith with the proper road to victory — facing her fears — but even gives her clues as to how to do so. Stories can do more than just comfort; they can push us, challenge our viewpoints, and help us overcome fears and prejudices. There’s nothing wrong with using media as a coping mechanism, but it’s capable of so much more. If Faith is going to win this fight, she’ll have to face her fears head-on, and to do that, she may have to reevaluate her relationship with her favorite stories altogether.
Jem and the Holograms 22
Ryan M: One of my favorite parts of daytime soaps is how long characters fret about every decision. They stare off into the middle distance and milk every drop of angst from the latest scandal. In real life, nobody has time for that, especially when there is an actual crisis happening, but I love to get vicarious drama from stories. For some reason in Jem and the Holograms 22, Kelly Thompson and Meredith McClaren don’t want to give me that sweet, sweet angst.
There are so many places that the story seems to be headed for conflict and then swerve to miss the potential for melodrama (of the best kind). We have Rio showing up for a date with Jerrica as she is headed out as Jem to the Masquerade Ball where she is likely to hang out/make out with her other boyfriend. This is juicy stuff. Add on top of it that Aja is really starting to think her sister is losing her mind, and there is some great room for drama. Instead, Rio is quickly dispatched with a lie. It lets both Jerrica and the story itself off the hook. There is a lightness to the way the series has always dealt with the troubles that come into the lives of these girls and their self-avowed arch enemies ,the Misfits. The Misfits play well into that pattern here, they are undercover as waitstaff at the Ball, looking for an opportunity for sabotage and, ultimately, revenge. It’s fun to see them dressed to be invisible servers, talking about their plan far too loudly and not actually serving food to guests. It’s unlikely their plan will go off well, but that’s why it’s fun to watch them try to win. The underlying moral message of the Misfits vs Holograms is that jealously-fueled vindictiveness will lost out to joy and kindness. But, that doesn’t mean that the good guys should be unchallenged. Take Shana’s fashion show. It’s an unmitigated success. Her designs are adored and McClaren’s art makes the connection between a fashion show and a Holograms concert.
The dazed and enraptured audience, the blue smoke of energy coming off the stage, along with the powerful expressions on the models all make it so clear why Francesco Zangari approaches Shana after the show to set up a meeting. Again, there are several moments here where conflict could bloom, but at every turn things are okay. Until we see Shana’s face in the last panel. She is going to have to deal with the reality of success as a designer and what that means for her ever returning to her sisters. I’d love to see her struggle with that, but, again, we cut away. Even the final betrayal of Fox feels rushed and we aren’t given much time to deal with it. In a speech crammed into one panel, Fox gets her villain confession, but she hasn’t really been around long enough for this to have the impact that it could. Thompson has written our heroes into a tough spot, I really hope that next month, things aren’t solved by Kimber’s drummer girlfriend just happening by and Rio forgiving Jerrica, none the wiser. Maybe, I’m just too hungry for that angst.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?