Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 2/15/17

roundup50

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 Poe Dameron 11, Archie 17, Lumberjanes 35, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 67 and Kill or Be Killed 6. Also, will be discussing Sex Criminals 16 on Monday, check that out too!  As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

slim-banner4

Star Wars Poe Dameron 11

star-wars-poe-dameron-11Michael: Star Wars: Poe Dameron 11 once again proves that the series should be (further) subtitled “Agent Terex.” Terex has been the breakout star of the book ever since “The Gathering Storm” arc began. Perhaps it’s because I’m not as enamored with The Force Awakens as many people are that Terex speaks to me so.

I love the way that Terex openly mocks Captain Phasma and The First Order while simultaneously completing the mission they hired him to do — only on his terms. Phil Noto shows us how much Terex is enjoying this as he towers over the tiny projection of Phasma — he’s in charge now.terexTerex is a character who so desperately clings to the past because his present is not as good. The Rancs of Kaddak are like Terex’s old drinking buddies from college and he’s ready to relive the glory days — but like, not as sad as that. To be clear I like Terex breaking ranks and doing things his way, it’s much more interesting than when he was a stiff First Order stooge.

Charles Soule has kept a steady B-plot of “who is the traitor?” throughout “The Gathering Storm” that finally pays off. I suspected that Oddy might be the man in question when he stowed away on Terex’s ship but didn’t know why.

love

The fact that he’s betraying The Resistance in order to save his wife is endearing. What isn’t is his hammy declaration of this motive: “What I am…is in love!” Great sentiment, not the best execution.

slim-banner4

Archie 17

archie-17Spencer: I miss Fiona Staples. I don’t mean that as an insult to any of the artists who have succeeded her on Archie — it’s just that Staples’ work breathed life into Mark Waid’s take on Riverdale and grounded its more silly, surreal moments in ways that not all artists can pull off. Case in point: Archie 17.

This is actually one of Archie‘s sillier installments through and through, but for most of the issue it works. Letting Cheryl and Jason Blossom loose in a town like Riverdale is extraordinarily fun — they’re such aggressively cartoony villains that their antics just work.

evil-blossoms

Plus, their hatred comes from a place of spoiled elitism that is very intrinsic to these characters, so it doesn’t feel out of place.

What doesn’t work, though, is the moment when Archie and Cheryl finally meet. Waid and artist Joe Eisma set the joke up wonderfully: Cheryl’s been trying to seduce Archie from afar just to spite Veronica, but she hasn’t yet met Archie, so based on Veronica’s description, she thinks he must be the ultimate man, a “Greek God.” Enter Archie, rolling down a hill stuck in a barrel of molasses.

molasses

In theory it’s a great punchline, and Archie’s innate clumsiness is so well-documented that, with the right execution, I could easily forgive the strange non sequiter that is the barrel of molasses. Unfortunately, the execution here is horrible. The sound effects look like bad Word-Art, and the colors are flat and simplistic; this looks like an old Windows wallpaper. Jason’s pose is super-awkward — where’s his arm? — and as loathe as I am to use this word in reference to someone’s art that they no doubt worked hard on, the background is just lazy. An empty hill, a cloudless sky, and an ill-defined “road” that kinda just stops at the bottom of the panel, even when the preceding page showed it continuing on past the store?

the-hill

Where are they, anyway? This doesn’t look like Riverdale as we’ve come to know it, and in fact, there’s no sense of space or place to it at all — even the store looks like Clip-Art that was just inserted into the background, not like it organically belongs there. These couple of pages are just bad. This issue actually solves a lot of my recent problems with Archie‘s story — Veronica and Cheryl’s return to Riverdale should help make the plot feel more balanced and less fractured going forward — but introduces totally new problems with the art that I hope are addressed soon. Archie was one of the most visually stunning books on the stands at its inception, but has since lapsed into a house-style that seems satisfied with mediocrity. It can do better.

slim-banner4

Lumberjanes 35

lumberjanes-35Patrick: Every story I’ve ever seen about roller derby spends a pretty sizable portion of the narrative explaining the rules of roller derby. That’s fine — I need the refresher every time — but I think it’s interesting to note that literally no other sport requires this kind of explanation. Your characters are getting together to play some touch football? Or maybe they’re on a kickball league? Those rule sets are going to be slightly different from NFL or MLB rules we’re used to, but no one stresses out about the particulars of the sports. Lumberjanes 35 follows in this grand tradition of derby stories, but also reveals why the sport requires so much explanation: it is a game of contradictions.

The central contradiction is that derby is both combative and supportive. Mal highlights this with her off-hand explanation about derby names.

derby-names

Violence and goofy wordplay are paired together just like the Blocker’s twin roles of stopping the opposing team’s Jammer and supporting their own. Sharon Watter and Kat Leyh sharply build a similar contradiction into Molly, who is having a hard time staying upright on her skates, but it largely worried about accidentally hurting someone else.

Also, it’s utterly charming that the reason for challenging the Sasquatches doesn’t really figure in to the story we end up reading. Watter, Leyh and illustrator Carolyn Nowak take a couple pages upfront to establish the superficial stakes of the derby — setting a dispute between the Yetis and the Sasquatches — but all of that melts away as the ‘janes find themselves challenged by the game itself. It reminded me of a piece of writing advice Seth Rogen gave on a recent episode of You Made It Weird: what seems most important at the beginning of the story will be the least important by the end and vice versa. It’s kind of the perfect distillation of what makes a story actually feel meaningful, and that technique is employed expertly here.

slim-banner4

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 67

tmnt-67Ryan M: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 67 derives a lot of emotional impact from the contrast of its first moments with its last. The issue opens with Slash reading aloud to his birds. There is a tenderness to the scene, underlined by Steinbeck’s text. It’s a rumination on man’s natural drive to push away from the bonds of structure. Slash relates that idea to his own life only to immediately be captured and turned into a killing machine with no autonomy.

Using literature, especially lifting a direct metaphor from an American classic can be a risk. If done poorly, it’s a cheesy moment that feels like a writer googled “quotes about turtles” in order to add gravitas to a scene. Instead, Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz show us Slash’s sensitive nature, his kindness with his birds and his interest in self improvement, all in one page. It’s an efficient way to set up the pay off of the final scene. Slash’s destruction of the Mutanimals is brutal and without thought. There is no shred of the reader on the rooftop in the red-eyed monster that dismembers his friends.

tmnt

Mateus Santolouco makes sure you can feel the betrayal and the brutality in each attack. I gasped while reading this sequence, so engaged and upset by the fight and worried. The scenes that bookend the issue are so strong that they make the scenes in between feel like filler.

Part of that can be attributed to Agent Bishop and the EPF. While his cold demeanor and daddy issues have the makings of a proper antagonist for our heroes, the scene at the EPF lab felt like so much exposition that didn’t further character or plot. We are early in the arc so perhaps all of it will pay off in future issues, but right now Bishop is not engaging enough on the page to make his backstory feel worthwhile. The scene with the turtles at loose ends and squabbling was more entertaining, at least because I care about these characters. The bickering was also a way to check in with each of them, to see in contrast how they think the time between threats should be spent. Of course, the reader knows that a threat is imminent, but this scene is character in action, at least until the scene in which Leonardo summarizes each of their positions in a heart to heart with Splinter. This is a scene that doesn’t really give us a ton of fresh info, but Splinters amusement at his son’s frustration is worth it. The scenes with Splinter and the turtles may not have had the impact of the Slash scenes, but they work because I care about these characters. If we are going to get a lot more of Bishop, I hope that he becomes less of an expository cliché. Until then, I’ll be counting down the moments until Slash turns on him.

slim-banner4

Kill or Be Killed 6

kill-or-be-killed-6Drew: Someday, I’ll write a piece about Kill or Be Killed that doesn’t bring up narrative modes, but not today. While this series’ self-conscious first person narration has always drawn a bit of attention to itself, it’s mostly played by the rules of what I’m going to call “literary first person narration” — stories where the perspective of the narrative is limited to that of the narrator. I call it “literary” to contrast what we might understand as “cinematic first person narration” — stories that may feature first-person narration in the form of voiceover, but are not explicitly not limited to that character’s perspective. Writer Ed Brubaker skirts the two here, allowing Dylan to describe events he wasn’t present for (but would later learn about) as “creative license” — once again acknowledging that he is crafting this narrative on our behalf.

That may feel like an odd change to make so late in the series, but Brubaker has made it clear from the start that Dylan is narrating the events of this series long after the fact. Moreover, he eases us into that perspective shift here, allowing the focus to drift away from Dylan just when he needs to introduce a key character: Lilly Sharpe, the detective piecing together Dylan’s murder spree. It’s a smart choice that we can understand as suiting Dylan’s needs as the “storyteller” — a fact that manages not only to convey vital information about this new character, but also hint at where Dylan’s story is going and reminding us that Dylan already knows where it’s going. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a simple change in perspective; can you see why I always talk about it?

The result is not only a character whose dogged pursuit of Dylan is clearly motivated, but whose introduction is just as clearly motivated — everything in this series serves a purpose, and it all slots together like clockwork. By the end of the issue, Dylan’s story has collided with Lilly’s — though only by way of a reporter she’d leaked her evidence to.

Vigilante Killer

Of course, the real surprise is the next shift in perspective, revealing that the Russian Mob is also on Dylan’s trail. There’s no way to deliver that cliffhanger without priming us for perspective shifts ahead of time. This series really couldn’t be more tightly written.

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

3 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 2/15/17

  1. Archie: I am honestly shocked that Joe Eisma’s work can be described as lazy, especially with regards to backgrounds. I’ve had my problems with his art (very short skirts for what is supposed to be the Morning Glory Academy’s school uniform), but he has frequently shown an impeccable ability to handle the geography of the scenes. Locations throughout the series are so well drawn, giving each part of the school are distinctive look that is always consistent. To hear someone complain about Eisma’s backgrounds is honestly astonishing to me.

    And I completely get what you mean when you say you miss Fiona Staples’ work. Her art truly elevated the first three issues of Archie and made it a book you couldn’t miss. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to Annie Wu, who had the unfortunate pleasure to work on the issue where the writing went from ‘bad’ to ‘even worse and grossly sexist’, but even then, Fiona Staples was truly sensational

    ____________________________________________________________

    Kill or be Killed: Drew, I believe what you call ‘literary first person’ is actually called ‘First Person Perspective’, though I could be wrong. That is what I was taught, but can’t find a source that backs me up with a simple google search.

    The stuff you are discussing about literary modes is complicated slightly by the fact that the story is being told retrospectively. The perspective (let’s call it First Person Retrospective) hasn’t actually changed, but Dylan is now discussing stuff he wasn’t there for, but learned about after the fact. Much simpler than an actual change in perspective.

    Which isn’t to say it isn’t impressive. In fact, it may be more impressive. Brubaker seemingly rewrites the entire rules of the perspective, without actually rewriting it. He effortlessly manipulates the rules he laid out in the first issue to expand the scope, elegantly expanding the ruleset and creating surprise reveals, without actually changing anything.

    And I have to say, I like how Brubaker is plotting this arc. The major idea is what happens now that Dylan has got attention, but how we so elegantly shift from the police cliffhanger to the new cliffhanger is sensational. The plotting is so well done, despite going for a much more complex cause and effect than we usually get. Think about how much happens between the police spotting him and the Russians reading the newspaper, and think about how elegantly does all that without making it feel like anything is unresolved. Very impressive.

    Also, here’s something else that’s interesting to explore. Brubaker’s use of tense. During the confrontation in the bathroom, the narration is in present tense, giving it a sense of immediacy and feeling in the moment, even though it is retrospective. But just after he laughs (laughter being a release of tension), the tense becomes past tense, which is more contemplative, as Dylan starts being more contemplative. Fantastic touch

    • There’s a ton of really wonky specifics folks have tried to use to map the narrative modes as we understand them in prose onto visual narratives like film and comics, but almost all of them are lacking any real explanatory power (and are also far too technical for a casual piece of criticism like this one). My biggest pet peeve is that, visually, “first person” has come to mean “seeing through the character’s eyes” (a la countless FPS games), though I maintain that that approach has more in common with second person narratives, where the reader is meant to be a character in the story.

      Here, I was trying to explore the differences between prose written from one character’s perspective and visual narratives that might feature narration from on character, but aren’t necessarily locked into their perspective without getting too jargon-y. You’re absolutely right that it’s the retrospective quality that allows Dylan to talk about scenes he wasn’t present for — I meant to hit that a little clearer with the line about how Brubaker transitions from tight on Dylan’s in-the-moment perspective (with retrospective narration) to a more structured, retrospective summary of events Dylan wasn’t privy to at the time. My point wasn’t that the perspective changed, but that it had spent so much time mostly following the rules of first person perspective that cashing in on the retrospective narration to pull away from Dylan visually was a significant change of pace.

      Which is to say: I think we agree, I just wasn’t very clear in the piece.

  2. Hmm, I don’t consider Eisma’s work here to be lazy at all. As you mentioned, there’s a strong surreal & cartoony undercurrent, and I see these pages as a way to make that a surreal & cartoony overcurrent. Waid & Co. don’t want to give us any context or sense…there’s this weird place that’s barely even a place, and oh look, Archie is in a giant jar of molasses. So while I agree that Staples (and Veronica Fish!) are missed, I think this is just a case of the creative team saying “Forget grounding, let’s let the silliness be as silly as possible with nothing to distract from the silly silliness.”

    As to Agent Bishop, I’m not really into his character either, but I’m content with his role for now. I guess between TMNT Universe #1-4 and the long-running storyline about Old Hob wanting a war between humans and mutants, I feel like a space has been prepared that he falls into just fine. But yeah, Slash’s return to the spotlight is the really exciting thing about this issue.

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