Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 1/25/17

roundup47Look, 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 23, Reborn 4, and Saga 42. Today we also discussed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 66, and we’ll be discussing Star Wars 27 on Tuesday and Animosity: The Rise 1 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

slim-banner4

Jem and the Holograms 23

jem-the-holograms-23Ryan M.: Jem and the Holograms is about sisterhood. Jerrica, Aja, Shana and Kimber are not just a band; they’re family. While much of the early arcs concerned romance and the girl’s relationship with fame, it always came back to how those things affected the core relationships among the women. In Jem and the Holograms 23, Shana has a sweet goodbye with her fellow intern before returning to the states. When we met Regine, I anticipated a story of competition with some backstabbing and maybe even a catfight. I should have understood the story that Kelly Thompson was telling was not about to fall into that trap. Instead, Regine and Shana worked together, respected each other and developed a personal bond. The distance between my expectations of their relationship and the way it played out had me examining the rest of the story for Mean Girls.

The Misfits are clearly set up to be the aggressive women who will stop at nothing to keep other women down. However, that’s not really how they operate. Yes, Pizazz is slightly crazed and more-than-slightly paranoid, but within the band, they trust and depend on another. Even their plan to upstage Jem and the Holograms at the event is not directly mean or humiliating. I think they were intending a small explosion with the cake. Perhaps the biggest potential indignity would be if Jem got some frosting on her dress? While the book does not have an overtly feminist message, it presents an intersectional world wherein women are pursuing their dreams and working together with none of the backbiting that we’ve been trained to expect from fictional women.

There is still some excitement in this issue, because Pizazz’ cake explosion scheme becomes a full on fireworks display in the ballroom. Meredith McClaren uses the fire alarm to create a real sense of urgency and disonnance as Jem and Aja work to carry Kimber out of the burning room.

burning-cake

The unending alarm dwarfs the human figures, making the Holograms seem vulnerable. It’s especially effective as they are more exposed than they know. Raya witnesses Jem’s hologram slipping and learns the truth of her identity. I don’t know what to make of her immediately quitting her band to join the Holograms, but given the world Thompson has established, Raya is less likely a threat than a future member of the sisterhood.

slim-banner4

Reborn 4

reborn-4Spencer: Reborn feels like a video game. The mission to find Bonnie’s husband provides a rough framework for a variety of adventures, and Mark Millar and Greg Capullo treat each issue like a new level of the game, each providing a world with its own feel, rules, and boss (I suppose this makes issue 1 the opening cutscene). This could actually be a really compelling format for a series, yet in Reborn it just feels shallow.

I think the problem is that each scenario just doesn’t have enough time to breath. Millar and Capullo have been building up General Frost for three issues now, yet he’s dispatched in an instant, and with no real resolution between he and Bonnie. Bonnie barely seems affected by meeting him at all; she remembers Frost being her cat in the “old world,” then immediately slaughters him and moves on. If he was always such a small obstacle in Bonnie’s path, why bother to establish the connection between them at all? Ruby’s former relationship with Bonnie is equally insubstantial.

The rules don’t really add up for me either. For example, these are the rules we’re given about Black Wish Mountain.

black-wish-mountain

Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I took away from this is that if you kill someone on Black Wish Mountain, you’re allowed one “negative” wish. Bonnie eventually frees herself and her father by using a negative wish to kill all their attackers in one fell swoop, yet not only does Bonnie personally not kill anyone, but no one dies at all before she makes the wish. So why was Bonnie’s wish granted? If she could make a wish without killing anyone, why does Millar establish that you need to kill someone to create a wish? As clever as Bonnie’s plan is, it doesn’t fully make sense.

My biggest problem with Reborn, though, is with its central premise; bringing “good people” back as pure, powerful warriors and “bad people” back as depraved, vicious villains is incredibly simplistic, and leads to shallow characters with little motivation beyond simply being “good” or “evil.” Really, I could forgive all of Reborn‘s plot and structural problems if it had characters or themes worth exploring, but as it is, I’m just not feeling it. Without the emotional punch that made its first issue so compelling, Reborn is just another Empress: a generic, somewhat bland action story bolstered only by its fantastic artist.

slim-banner4

Saga 42

saga-42Patrick: There is a moment that in the Sin City story “That Yellow Bastard” that I’ve always loved. Our hero, Detective Hartigan has been hanged by Ethan Roark’s goons, and Frank Miller takes a beat the size of an entire splash page to let us contemplate the character’s death. It’s only a split second, because we’re mercifully a page-turn away from Hartigan pulling himself together and escaping his death trap, but the blackness that ends one splash page and starts the next sends a clear sign about just how horrifyingly empty the void of death is. With Saga 42, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples best Miller, making both the death and the blackness as powerful as humanly possible.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – this is yet another issue of Saga that reduced me to an uncontrollably sobbing mess in my kitchen. This creative team is clearly adept at playing my heart strings, knowing exactly how to tune them up and strike a devastating chord at the last second. But I find myself reaching the end of this issue and only wanting to hear something — anything — from a mute choir. Vaughan and Staples are so good at showing moments of violence and loss and heartbreak, that it’s genuinely unnerving when they actively withhold it from the reader. There’s a little bit of this sprinkled throughout the issue – such as the weird close-up images we get of the Timesuck ripping Phang apart, or even the sketchy details surrounding the Wings’ false-flag attack on the Robot outpost, or even the circumstances surrounding The Will’s new enemy. The operative word in all these cases is confusion – a lack of information. That proves to be scarier than the losses we can actively see.

I keep thinking about to this weekend. I’ve been feverishly following the news about our President’s Executive Orders and the resistance at the State and civilians levels. I’m driven to read more, and see more, and experience more because the alternative is what’s truly maddening. Seeing, knowing, understanding – these are comforts. Marko and Alana’s loss at the end of this issue is necessarily invisible – there’s literally nothing for us to see as the life in Alana’s womb is quietly snuffed out. Staples leans into this idea: the same basic image four times, powerless to show us the thing that’s hurting our heroes so much.

marko-and-alana

And then there’s the end of the issue. Hazel’s voiceover opines relationships lost before they start, in typically effective Vaughan-speak, and it’s sort of comforting to have the end of a world narrated your favorite poet. But the poem stops mid verse, against a solid black page. Swallowed up by the Timesuck? Or maybe we are inside Alana’s womb now? Where are we and what have we lost? It’s an agonizing eight pages of blackness. I kept swiping on my Kindle, praying for that moment of reversal that I got in “That Yellow Bastard,” any sign that things were going to be okay. But Vaughan and Staples know better, and that sign never comes.

slim-banner4

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

Advertisements

7 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 1/25/17

  1. Drew and I were just chatting about the end of Saga 42, and it really is remarkable how those 8 pages of blackness take away the only power the reader has to get over what just happened on Phang. Like, we are used to being able to make the next thing happen by turning the page, but no matter how many pages you turn, you’re denied resolution. Goddamn it’s powerful.

    • If you’re not reading a physical copy, I’d like to add that the back cover is all black as well.

      This one hurt. How can a comic hurt? I’m grown and it’s a comic. Stupid Vaughan. Now I’m not going to sleep well and I have to get up at 5.

      • Oh, that makes sense. The only way you really know you’re done on the digital copy is that the last page has that Image logo thing on the bottom of it, which I guess lets you know that its the back cover. Brutal shit, man.

      • Also, I usually think there’s no harm in tradewaiting on anything, especially more independent comics that don’t ask you to keep up on a whole shared universe, but I think this issue of Saga makes a pretty strong case for experiencing it as it is released.

        I don’t know how they can possibly hope to replicate the hopeless of the end of this issue when the whole thing is bound and has concept sketches and blurbs from IGN on the back of it. The desperation at the end of this issue is real and un-repeatable in different contexts.

        • Actually, I think this issue might not ever be bound with another issue after it. It’s the end of an arc, so will conclude it’s own trade, but I also think it’s the last issue to be collected in the next mega-volume. The first did have a lot of bonus features (which might be necessary to justify the cost of those hardback volumes), but I wouldn’t put it past Vaughan and Staples to commit to this ending for all future pressings of this story.

        • Honestly, I think it could be improved. The major reason I tradewait independent comics is the power of reading an arc as a whole, especially as I would say that independent comics usually take advantage of arc based storytelling to a much greater extent that superhero comics. I think back to many of the trades of Saga I have read, and the power that comes from those powerful climaxes comes from the fact that I have just read literally every part of the complex storytelling that builds up to that climax. Quite simply, Saga is arc based and hard to discuss without ignoring the fact that issues like 42 act as payoffs for an entire arc worth of storytelling.

          So while I have no idea how things like the backmatter will affect the ending (it could be as simple as Vaughn and Staples simply moving the backmatter to the front), the ending could arguably be more impactful by being read in a way designed to keep the entire arc fresh in your mind. In fact, if you solve the backmatter problem, I don’t even think it is an argument that the ending of this issue would be stronger in a trade. And the backmatter is honestly a pretty simple solution to fix, if you put the effort into it.

          Also, I have to say, this is the problem with following you guys on independent books. I am usually not a spoilerphobe, but sometimes something like this comes along, that I really wish I read fresh. It is stuff like this where paying attention to spoiler warnigns is truly important

  2. You know what I’ve been reading lately? Valerian and Laureline.

    From a historical perspective, this series is truly important. Beginning in 1967, this series actually predates Star Wars, and is a key inspiration for the movies. Things like the Millennium Falcon, being frozen in carbonite and the reveal of Vader’s face all have their roots in this series, and that’s ignoring all of the less specific elements that came from Valerian. And considering how influential Star Wars has been to culture, that makes Valerian and Laureline important.

    But I didn’t expect it to be so good. To have aged so well. A big part of it is the art. It lacks many of the innovations we have today (at least, the really early stuff I am reading does), which is unsurprising. But the art itself is of such high quality, and even now so imaginative with its ideas, that it works. The characters are drawn in a cartoony approach that works really well, but this is combined with some spectacular use of perspectives and details to create spectacular vistas, even without all the modern trickery used to give cosmic sights in a book like Gamora.

    But it isn’t just the great art. The storytelling combines both the classical approaches you expect of older comics, with a surprisingly modern approach to pacing. Lots of exposition, but in exciting ways, and avoiding having dialogue sequences entirely about exposition. In the 60s. Exposition is weaved so naturally into the story that it actually makes the story more exciting. In fact, the only time I have a problem with the dialogue, the dialogue is so weird that I am pretty sure it is a translation problem, and not a problem with the original french text

    The story itself relies a lot of Chandler’s Law (When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand). As imaginative as the ideas are, it is less about exploring those ideas, and more about using those ideas as a backdrop for constant action. And it works. Yeah, the story is structurally messy because the usual transition from one scene to the next can be described as ‘Out of the Frying Pan and into the FIre’ until it is time to end the story. It is about the joy of the constant reversals, especially as the book is smart enough to actually progress the story even when it looks like a series of escapes and captures.

    The real joy is how surprisingly feminist it is. I’m not going to hold it up as a shining example of feminist literature. When you are responsible for inspiring Leia’s slave bikini, you are going to be problematic. But problematic doesn’t mean without redeeming feature, and in fact, problematic is supposed to be used to discuss how otherwise strong works have faults.
    And anyway, I enjoy the philosophy that it is a boring take to say ‘that old thing is sexist’, and much more interesting to say ‘that old thing is surprisingly progressive’. No one is surprised or interested when you say that a twenty year old movie is sexist, but it is interesting when you discuss how His Girl Friday is surprisingly feminist.
    And yeah, Valerian and Laureline falls into a lot of sexist tropes of Laureline getting captured so that Valerian can save her. But the great thing about Laureline is that she is angry about this. Considering how, even today, these tropes aren’t as behind us as we would like, it is fantastic to be able to read Laureline’s running feminist commentary of all the bullshit. If you are going to read 60s scifi pulp, it is much more enjoyable with a pissed off Laureline getting annoyed at all the same stuff. Hell, even outside that stuff, she;is humorously mocking the stereotypes of what a woman should be (apparently, the series was not supposed to have Laureline as a main character. She was only supposed to be a character in a single story, but they created such a unique and different female character, they wanted her to stay. So they accidentally create a feminist character, find that a feminist character is really interesting, and then give the series a great second lead. It is a shame that comixology doesn’t have that story, collected for some reason as Volume 0, for sale).
    Even outside Laureline, it finds ways to surprise you. The third arc does a Battle of the Sexes thing, with two cities ruled by different genders, where the other sex is an underclass. I groaned with frustration, until I realised that they had also inverted the sterotypes. This planet showed the woman to be heroic fighters, while the men were feminine. Nowhere near perfect, but so much better than I expected

    I can’t wait to read more, because I was so impressed by just how good this is. It is an almost timeless piece of space adventure, full of unique ideas and fantastic vistas. I wanted to read them because I was interested in the movie, but am shocked how much I love them. Timeless is a way so few comics are. It is unsurprising they have had such a major, if invisible, influence on our culture. So good.

What you got?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s