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 16, Slam 3, and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra 3. We discussed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 6 and Curse Words 1 on Thursday and Kill or Be Killed 5 on Friday, and will be discussing Descender 18 on Wednesday, so check those out too! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: The last few issues of Archie have found the cast split, with Mark Waid, Lori Matsumoto, and Joe Eisma following both the adventures of the Riverdale kids and Veronica and Cheryl Blossom in Switzerland. Despite that, the creative team managed to keep their issues feeling cohesive because both stories revolved around a singular theme: the hole that Veronica’s departure left in all these kids’ lives. As Archie 16 moves away from that idea, though, it starts to feel fractured.
The most substantial parts of this issue take place in the sub-plot, which brings Cheryl to Riverdale and follows her as she prepares a scheme against Veronica, thus furthering the plot Waid and Matsumoto have been building over the past few issues. In contrast, the A-Plot, a one-off story featuring Dilton, feels awfully insubstantial. Don’t get me wrong; I like one-off plots, and I generally love stories featuring minor supporting characters. There’s a lot of potential in the story of Dilton’s app-gone-awry, and the way Reggie uses it to cyberbully is awfully timely. If nothing else, this is probably the only Archie comic to ever feature the phrase “Do-able.”
Yet, the execution is wonky. If the app is so widespread that every student walking down the hallway is using it, that the school newspaper is already lashing out against it, and that teachers already know it’s being used to slander them, why is the school doing nothing about it? Why would Pop think that Jughead, of all people, left him the bad rating? This story’s biggest problem, though, lies with its ending: Moose scares Reggie straight, Dilton deletes the app and apologizes, and everything goes back to normal. There’s no consequences (for Dilton or Reggie), no effect on the ongoing story (besides reminding us that Dilton exists and that he has a crush on Betty, which could be accomplished in a single panel) and no real exploration of the issue at hand; it’s a hokey ending that feels lifted straight from an old-school Archie story. Those stories have their place, but modern Archie can — and should — do better.
Drew: I’ve moved around quite a bit recently — five cities in the past seven years — so the notion of entering a new social circle is very familiar to me. But I think everyone has had that experience at one point or another. If not moving to a new city, maybe it’s transitioning from elementary school to junior high or to a new job, or even summer camp. Point is: we’ve all been in situations where we had to make new friends. But those tend to be highly volatile times in our lives, so many of the relationships formed in those periods might not survive as things settle into normalcy — I can’t tell you how many connections I made in my first week of college fell by the wayside as I found my place there. Of course, that volatility can make it difficult to separate the friendships that won’t last from the ones that are simply experiencing growing pains as they adjust to that new normal. This is where Jen and Maisie find themselves in Slam 3, and its unclear which of these scenarios best describes what they’re going through.
It’s a testament to the strength of the first two issues that the dissolution of their relationship feels like such a loss. This issue drives that point home further, as Maisie enjoys the support of her teammates and new boyfriend, while Jen is increasingly isolated. Maisie is thriving, but Jen is yearning for her days as fresh meat, and channels those desires into helping out with fresh meat practice. It’s a healthy choice for her — she’s not getting the connection she needs from her teammates or from Maisie — and leads to at least one new friendship. Unfortunately, that new friend ends up being a wedge between Maisie and Jen in a fight that writer Pamela Ribon and artist Veronica Fish manage to somehow fit on one page.
It doesn’t seem possible that a single page could take us from the start of an argument to the end of a friendship with a mid-page scene transition and still not feel rushed, but Ribon and Fish pull it off beautifully. It’s exactly this kind of efficiency that has made these characters and their world feel so lived-in so quickly — this creative team can do more in a page than many can do in a whole issue. It’s a heartbreaking issue, but one that demonstrates just how quickly this series has established some deep emotional stakes.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra 3
Patrick: The difference between generations can often make if feel like we live in worlds that are entirely alien to our parents. And while it’s been unsettling to confront those differences in the last couple months (the holidays, amirite?), it’s comforting to know that this is a universal constant. It’ll be true in the future, and it was true a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Doctor and Papa Aphra have located the Massassi temple, but it is unfortunately crawling with Imperial troops. Neither Doctor Aphra nor the audience really need to have this spelled out for us – we’re on Yavin 4 (the title announcing this location is the first copy in the issue itself), and we all know that’s the moon from which the Rebels staged their attack of the Death Star. Writer Kieron Gillen smartly peppers in references to Rogue One, reinforcing the notion that the audience is intimately familiar with the construction, use and destruction of the Death Star. And we totally are. Shit, fans measure time in the Star Wars universe based on whether an event happened before or after the Battle of Yavin – making that moment akin to the birth of Christ.
The more I reflect on what Star War is, the more I have to loop back around to the idea that — for better or worse — the Death Star is a defining characteristic of the series. It’s one that I hope future filmmakers are able to move away from, but for the time being, a full half of the films have revolved around a Death Star (or Starkiller Base, which is basically the same thing).
But Old Man Aphra doesn’t acknowledge the Death Star as real. That’s right – the thing that seems so fundamental to our understanding of these narratives: he “thought that was just a story.” This little bombshell comes on the second page, and it paint’s Aphra’s father as an dangerously eccentric man, so clued into his own niche interests as to miss the planet-killing space station. He even manages to misattribute the destruction of the Kyber Temple on Jedha to some kind of naturally occurring phenomenon, which — again — we just saw was perpetrated by the Death Star in Rogue One. It’s enough to write him off as hopelessly out of touch with the universe, which makes it so easy to accept Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra (full name!) doing the exact same thing. The twist, as twists often do, comes at the end when his years of head-in-the-sand research actually pays off. We’ll have to wait until the next issues to see how much it actually pays off, but it’s interesting to consider that his perspective may be valuable, even as it ignores the greatest horror in the galaxy.
But if that’s all too heavy, there’s also some fantastic action in the form of Black Krrsantan distracting the Imperial forces. Maybe it’s a little silly to imagine Krrsantan as capable of taking on “full combat engagement,” but hey, if it adds much-needed action to an otherwise talky issue, I’m all for it.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?