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 12, East of West 32, Kill or Be Killed 7, and Sex Criminals 17. Also, we discussed Archie 18 on Monday, and we’ll be discussing American Gods: Shadows 1 on Tuesday, and Injection 11 on Wednesday so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Star Wars: Poe Dameron 12
Michael: I’ve noticed a lot of vitriol for C-3PO amongst Star Wars fans these days. Maybe it’s an attempt at a postmodern act of rebellion against a parental figure of the original trilogy, maybe it’s because they’re tired of 3PO harshing everyone’s buzz. Charles Soule has been making a case for the old stick in the mud by making him a “spymaster” in the pages of Star Wars: Poe Dameron.
Star Wars: Poe Dameron 12, or: “Let find something for the droids to do.” Agent Terex and his goons have Poe, C-3PO BB-8, and N1-ZX cornered in a cave after Poe’s X-Wing crash landed. In the opening pages Poe rescues C-3PO from enemy fire by hoisting him over his shoulders, inadvertently implying some level of superhuman strength.
While Poe and N1-ZX argue over N1’s lack of earning his keep, C-3PO and BB-8 decide to defend their allies from Terex and his Rancs. Phil Noto takes advantage of a fun trick BB-8 used in The Force Awakens and has the little ball droid swinging around the cave like he’s Spider-Man.
C-3PO on the other hand realizes that the best way to help his friends evade Terex is by using his most valued function: communication.
In the end, Terex removes 3PO’s memory unit to take back to Snoke, which leads me to wonder why Poe didn’t do the same with N1-ZX — who refuses to be of any help. This wasn’t exactly a game changer in the series but it certainly put 3PO in the hero spotlight.
East of West 32
Patrick: Goddamn: reading East of West has turned into a soul-grinding terror. The hellscape of amoral political machinations feeling less and less fictional and Hickman’s examinations of the necessity of evil in power feeling less cute than ever before. It’s still a stunning, effective work of post-apocalyptic political horror, I’m just personally having a harder time letting its veil of fantasy protect me. When Archibald pithily spits out “Justice is what the strong do to the weak” it is hard not to choke on that truth.
It’s hard to say what Hickman is getting out of rubbing our noses in it. But there is an image that his co-storyteller and artist Nick Dragotta makes sure to rub our noses in just as thoroughly: the cigar.
Archibald always pulls one of these bad boys out when he starts to deal with one of his political or physical rivals. It’s not rule, but most of the time we see this thing, Dragotta is careful to obscure the end of it, either by hiding it in Archibald’s jacket, or more often by terminating it off-panel. It’s a symbol of his power, and it usually extends as far as the reader’s imagination allows to it extend. This is nothing so trite as the Freudian assertion that the cigar is a penis — Hickman gets in front of that one early with an exchange about the difference between the “carrot” and the “stick.” Archibald operates by making one look like the other: make your subjects believe their punishment is a reward. It’s the same attitude he brings to diplomacy, as demonstrated by his meeting with New Orleans.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s above abject, outright cruelty either. That’s part of what makes this corner of East of West so hard to get through. Archibald tears through The Ranger and his robot-dog, using a weapon armed with the eye of answers to cut him down without so much as breaking a sweat. That leaves Bel Salomon to Archibald’s mercy… which… yikes, man. Ugly shit ahead.
Kill or Be Killed 7
Drew: While I doubt I could ever pick a favorite Calvin and Hobbes strip, the punchline above has always struck me as particularly illustrative of Calvin’s imagination. Where other six-year-olds might be happy to have a toy train crash into a miniature building, Calvin takes that appetite for destruction to excessive heights, piling on a falling airplane, a rupturing fault line, and a gas leak, somehow heightening the tension while making poor Farmer Brown’s fate all the more inevitable. That Calvin is overdoing it is the joke, but goosing a heroes peril by pitting him against multiple, independent forces is inarguably effective (though usually by making escape at least a little more possible than Calvin allows for here). With Kill or Be Killed 7, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips add a twist to that formula, as the new force threatening Dylan isn’t a malevolent demon/hallucination, the police trying to stop him, or even the Russian mob seeking retribution, but his dear friend and former lover, Kira.
One of Brubaker’s greatest strengths as a writer is his devotion to motivating erratic or irrational behavior in his characters. To arrive at the particular plot twist that concludes this issue, he needed to get Kira in Dylan’s closet, which in turn required that she enter Dylan’s apartment when nobody’s there, which a lesser writer might write off as general concern for Dylan. In Brubaker’s hands, Kira is as motivated by her own heavy emotional shit as Dylan, meaning we follow her on her emotionally destructive journey as closely as we’ve followed Dylan on his. Switching narrators is a profound change of pace for this series, which has been heretofore so closely narrated by Dylan (who, incidentally, doesn’t ever actually appear in this issue), but it’s a damn effective one.
Ultimately, it’s all in service of this twist: the antipsychotic meds Dylan thinks he’s getting from his dealer are actually valium, which would probably only work to make him cool with his delusions. It’s an important reveal about Dylan’s mental state, but it also introduces Kira as yet another party gunning for Dylan (albeit, this time with his best interests in mind). Of course, given the way Kira came across this information, you can be sure Dylan’s not going to take that news well, so Kira’s best intentions may not make all that much difference, anyway.
Sex Criminals 17
Ryan D: Patrick and Drew really got me thinking in their dynamite write-up on Sex Criminals 16. The main point which stayed with me regards how Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky balance the relationship of Jon and Suzie with the mythology and plot of the title — especially after such a long hiatus between issues. While number sixteen caught us up on where the two lead protagonists stand, number seventeen welcomes long-time readers back to part of the formula which made SexCrims stand out in the first place. In the tradition of issues which highlighted emerging or established characters such as Jazmine St. Cocaine/Dr. Ana Kincaid or Robert Rainbow, here we see the spotlight shone on the primary antagonist: Myrtle Spurge a.k.a. Kegelface. While the creative team focused recently more on the true character of Jon and Suzie being shown through their actions as they sexily made a list of relationship goals, now the mad scientists behind this series bring us roaring back into the world building and mythology we know and love.
Fraction and Zdarsky continue to compliment the hell out of each other. For example, Zdarsky gives readers a wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day routine of Spurge while Fraction’s gives the counter-point text showcasing that character’s internal life:
This is Spurge in a nutshell; her life seems as banal as anyone’s, but her inflated self-importance based around her sexual vigilantism drives her through the mundanity of being a receptionist, mother of two, and wife of a man who farts in his sleep.
Part of her story includes the introduction of Todd Stubaker, a “sexual criminal” who she is casing. While we only hear Todd’s story through Myrtle’s lens, her well-read but decidedly amateur psychological evaluation of the man speaks volumes of her own characterization while introducing a new character to both the audience and Jon. Remembering that “true character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure” (McKee), we learn something important about Jon, though he is featured only in the last three pages: Jon still follows Spurge, despite having promised Suzie that he would not.
Considering that this issue most likely serves as part two of a six-part arc, Fraction and Zdarsky successfully continue their balancing act of relationships vs. character vs. mythology vs. plot. Add on top some lovely fan service in the form of a brilliant, I-can’t-believe-they-haven’t-done-this-yet, blatant Brubaker/Phillis-esque send-up of a splash page, and Sex Crims seems like it does and will continue to deserve high status on the pull-list.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
I’ll accept that Chewie is stronger than a normal human, but he may not have needed that extra strength to lift 3PO in Empire. Just saying.
I know there’s an actual answer to “how much does C-3PO weigh?” (and it’s 75 kilograms, or like 165 lbs), but shouldn’t he be like… very heavy? He’s a 6 foot tall robot, built by a child and with obvious mobility problems.
Eh. This is a world where even the smallest spaceships seem to have some kind of artificial gravity mechanism, and that same slave child built a hovering race car out of parts from what I’m guessing is the same garbage heap. I’ll buy that the Star Wars universe has some ultralight alloys or whatever.
Kill or be Killed: I’ve said from the beginning that Kill or Be Killed is a soap opera. Ultimately, it comes down to the character dynamics, and the fun pulpy aspects are all metaphors for the exact things that Dylan does when he isn’t being a vigilante. Which is why it is so great that we get a Kira focused issue. Dylan is seen only in photographs showing better times, the perfect way to show the much greater world around Dylan.
Because that’s the thing. If this is a story about characters and how they interact, then there is more than just Dylan. In some ways, this utterly stripped down to the essentials of ‘look at a character’s complex relationships and how they cause problems’ is the most pure expression of Kill or be Kiled. None of the pulp that serves as metaphor, just a startling reminder that this book is just as much, if not primarily, the ways we mess up our lives and find our selves hiding in an ex’s closet while he’s with his new girlfriend.
And we get more time with Kira, Brubaker continuing to do everything he can to give Kira a more complex life outside Dylan and avoid the unfortunate cliche Kira seemed to initially present. And a very strong way of continuing the main plot of the book even while avoiding the fact that a majority of the plot elements do not fit with this issue’s ‘stripped to the essence’ approach. And a strong photograph motif that, combined with the always strong visual storytelling by Sean Philips, makes this a powerfully told, unique issue. Possibly my favourite issue of this to date
Star Wars: Been reading more of the Star Wars books, after loving Lando so much. THe Last FLight of the Harbinger Arc, as well as the Han Solo and Chewbacca miniseries. After Princess Leia begun the miniseries with such an atrocious start, I was worried about how successful they would be. But they are impressively done.
The secret is thriving in the restrictions set by the movies. They have accepted that many of the main story beats have already been written, and have therefore gone in the complete opposite approach. Instead, they use the fantastic cast of characters to just tell great adventure stories. Star Wars belongs to the pulp tradition, so you just tell pulp stories. It is fantastic how elegant and self contained these stories are. THey are based on a strong premise, a rapid series of complications and an enjoyment of seeing great pulp characters fight their way through these challenges. Naturally, Star Wars is perfect for telling strong pulp narratives.
The best so far is Chewbacca, which gets things just perfect. Little girl and big beast is already a fantastic pulp narrative (look how Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur have captured imaginations, despite the flawed book itself). As in a simple story of evil businessman/slaver, with the Empire raising the stakes, providing both a ticking clock and a third act Heavy. The real genius is the fact that it is a CHewbecca book. This story is usually about the little girl, and while she is the lead, the fact that this is a Chewbecca book means that Chewie gets a focus that this sort of story never provides. Chewie gets to have. He is not just the big, scary protector, but he’s the lone wanderer. He’s Mad Max and Devil Dinosaur wrapped up in one, and that’s just fantastic. The fact that we get this sort of story, that focuses on Chewie’s feeling about slavery etc is fantastic, as is the fact that we end with Chewie returning the bandolier of a dead wookiee to the wookiee’s family.
The Han Solo one is great, but feels like it needs a little more space. Again, a great premise. A dangerous race as cover for an even more dangerous mission. The fun competitors. The way each pit stop is used to escalate stakes by adding a new complication with each agent. The fact that this is a mystery story that takes place in the the middle of a series of dangerous, imaginative challenges. Possibly the strongest premise, it just doesn’t have enough space to properly fit everything in, making the answers obvious. It is too easy to work out who is the traitor, and who is the red herring. And the mystery of the Master List doesn’t get enough time, which hurts the payoff of the mystery of the Faleen woman. But it is still a truly fantastic ride, with every element singing so well.
Last Flight of the Harbinger is unfortunately hurt by the choice to have that first issue focus just on the Stormtroopers, where instead they should have combined the Stormtroopers and the theft of the Harbinger into one. The strength of this story is that we get the whole band together. Han and Chewbacca are great, but there is something perfect about getting to see Han, Luke, Leia, Sana, C-3PO and R2-D2 together. We get their dynamics, even as we get another strong pulp story, about them trying to complete their plan even as they are under attack by elite commandos.
Ultimately, the problem is that it takes so long to set up, that we don’t get enough time enjoying seeing our characters fight the commandos (obligatory Darth Vader is also disappointing. No need for Vader here). But again, strong pulp narrative shines through. We have a great set up to have a bunch of characters we love face and fantastic threat to fight against, while attempting to achieve are difficult goal.
These books so easily create such perfect pulp narratives. Some could use more time, but they are exceptionally well crafted scenarios. And the simple fact is, well written, great characters in fantastic scenarios is so compelling, that the fact that there is some pacing issues isn’t a grievous flaw. Just, ‘this great story could be better’. And considering how fantastic Chewbacca or Rebel Jail were, sometimes they just get it perfect.
In seeing the limits placed on them by the movies, the Star Wars line has found the chance to take inspiration from pulp in a completely different way to the movies, and tapped that same nerve that makes movies like Green Room so perfect. Strip adventure stories to their most basic elements, polish those to a gleaming shine and create elaborate scenarios that create exciting adventures for characters we care about. I love it
Also, could we get a Sana Starros miniseries soon? That would be a great addition to the Star Wars line
Also, Patrick, ‘post-apocalyptic political horror’ is the perfect description of East of West