Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/19/17

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 13, Black 5, Curse Words 4, Descender 21, and Injection 12. Also, we’re discussing World Reader 1 and Archie 19 on Tuesday and Sex Criminals 18 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.


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Star Wars Poe Dameron 13

Michael: In the original Star Wars film, Vader has a target lock on Luke’s X-Wing, Han Solo fires on Vader’s X-Wing, allowing Luke to make the killing blow to The Death Star. In Star Wars: Poe Dameron 13 Charles Soule channels this classic deus ex machina more times than I’m comfortable with.

Poe is by Terex and his goons and his companion N1-ZX — a battle droid — is programmed not to engage in combat. Lucky for Poe his Black Squadron pal Snap Wexley keeps the memory file of his childhood killer teddy bear “Mr. Bones” on hand, which he sends to Poe. Poe alters N1-ZX’s software and the battle droid takes down every enemy save for Terex.

I have no problem with Snap saving the day like Han did, but this “Mr. Bones” solution is entirely too convenient. Also there are at least three other occasions where the pilots of Black Squadron are in the enemy’s trigger sights but are deus ex machina-ed at the last moment, by allies, hacking and even The First Order themselves.

Most disappointing of all is the (presumed) end of Agent Terex’s story. In this arc in particular Soule made Terex into a complicated soldier without a nation, but the way that he is defeated and handed over to The First Order seems like a disservice to such an interesting antagonist.

The thing that stands out about this issue is Phil Noto’s artwork. He stages the Black Squadron X-Wings flying into action from outside the panels in the gutters, as if they’re an omnipresent force.

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Black 5

Patrick: Kwanza Osajyefo’s script for Black 5 has a ton of heavy lifting to do. On the second page, Juncture lays out the entire premise of the series to Detective Waters, filling an agonizing amount of the page with allegorically dense, and emotionally exhausting, exposition. Illustrator Jamal Igle doesn’t offer Osajyefo any dynamic outs on that either — it’s a simple panel with the characters pushed off to the side to make way for a tower of interconnected speech balloons. That wall of language is representative of both real American history and the superpowered twist that Black imposes upon it, so, y’know it’s a lot to get through. But it’s in Waters’ brief, incomplete reaction to those paragraphs that the power of this premise comes into full view.

“Holy shit, indeed.” Osajyefo knows he’s dealing with a bunch of moments that require his readers to catch their breath. When we catch up with Kareem in this superprison, his new cellmate takes special pains to point out every extraordinary security measure — from the power-dampening collars to the armed drones patrolling the lunch room. It’s less about the reader observing how shitty things are, and more about the the characters observing it. For his part, Kareem can’t even believe it — he says “Man, that’s got to be illegal,” only to have his cellmate spit back with a resigned “That’s how it be, l’il man.”

But both that resignation and that syntax are an affectation that Kareem’s cellmate — we learn his name is O in the final panel — puts on to gain access to the prison’s lab. The second O appears in Kareem’s solitary confinement cell, he drops the “dat”s and “dis”s, and shows his mastery of the language by identifying Mann’s use of “cheeky monkey” as a British phrase, instead of garden variety racist language. Maybe we’re just seeing Kareem’s perspective on the guy, as O seemingly transforms from someone who has the knowledge of experience to someone who has it all figured out. It totally works too: by the end of the issue, I only want to see Kareem join the rest of One to rescue all the prisoners. There’s a prophecy (of sorts) earlier in the issue that would suggest that X and O’s actions will cause “a worldwide catastrophe,” but Kareem, and by extension the reader, are already seduced by the promise of justice.

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Curse Words 4

Ryan M: In the penultimate issue of the first arc, Wizord’s journey is starting to become clearer. Like Disney’s Pinocchio, Wizord is on his way to becoming a “real boy” perhaps even with empathy and kindness. Margaret plays the Jiminy Cricket role, but even she doesn’t advise Wizord to sacrifice his newly won magic to save LA from a Tsunami. Yes, some of Wizord’s motivation stems from a desire to prove himself, but he also exhibits a heroic impulse. Ryan Browne certainly renders it as a valiant moment.

I am feeling nervous about making declarations regarding the story because it’s clear that Charles Soule is quite aware of the conventions even as he plays with and subverts them. When Wizord is confronted by the authorities in his apartment, each of the characters has a name, but they are archetype of the genre. They don’t have to be more that what we expect from a Mayor, tough FBI agent and a frustrated investigator who sees through the suspect’s bs. Wizord and his impact on the world is weird enough, so Soule doesn’t try to build characters that compete with that weirdness. Just being around Wizord is going to bring out the colors of their character that are engaging. Also, the Interpol guy is named Zacque Jacques, so it’s not like there is a dearth of playfulness.

Margaret posits that the source of magic on Earth is belief and it’s a provocative idea. The first example we witness is the Magic– err Gothic Castle. While all of the demonstrations are merely illusions with no real magic attached, the awe and excitement of the crowd renews Wizord’s beard. Also, he gets some power back, but I was mainly concerned about him dropping the cheesy fake one. The magician and tsunami sequences work together to pose an interesting question. Does a lack of authenticity (ie magic isn’t real, Wizord’s murky motives) take away from worthiness of a result? I’d argue that the people on that beach would say no. That said, they are also on the site of a pending confrontation between Wizord and Ruby Stitch, so maybe we wait until after the next issue to get their take.

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Descender 21

Spencer: The final page of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender 21 teases their next arc, “Rise of the Robots,” as a 5-part event. In a series with no shared universe to crossover with, I’m assuming “event” simply means that the scope and action of that story will be far beyond its normal parameters. This issue — the finale of the “Orbital Mechanics” arc — then, is meant to start preparing us for that change in storytelling, both by putting pieces in place for the confrontation and by leaving us with perhaps Descender‘s most extreme, significant cliffhangers ever.

The first comes courtesy of Tim-22, who jettisons Telsa from their ship at the bottom of a deep ocean. While Nguyen and Lemire cut back to her seeming death at the very end of the issue, one of the most impressive moments of the issue comes when Tim-22 initially jettisons her.

First of all, I was shocked that this actually happened — it feels like the stakes for this book just skyrocketed, even if Telsa survives. Secondly, Nguyen just puts in fantastic work here. Really, his colors are phenomenal throughout this entire issue, from the various blues of Mata to the almost psychedelic swirls of purple of shiftspace, but I particularly love his form here. The borders of Telsa’s panels are irregular, like the water she’s trapped in, while the imprisoned Quon is still trapped within a small, rigid panel. The extreme close-up on Quon sells his horror, and the touch of Nguyen’s paints being so frantic here that he even misses spots in Quon’s hair again gives this shot a jolt of horrific, panicked energy.

The other cliffhanger is a bit softer, but no less significant: Tim-21 and Andy are finally poised to reunite. War, schwar — in the world of Descender, what could be a bigger event than that? Lemire and Nguyen devote a good chunk of this issue to teasing that Andy may, despite himself, still have feelings for Tim, which is something readers have likely been assuming since his identity was first revealed. If this section feels a bit retrogressive, then, it’s made up for by the sheer enormity of the reunion of these two, as well as by the tense standoffs throughout the rest of the issue. Descender 21 is a bit of an unusual arc finale, but it’s no less gripping and immersive than this series ever is at its best.

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Injection 12

Drew: Maintaining the subjectivity of characters is remarkably difficult, both for creators and the audience. It’s convenient for both parties to pigeonhole characters to reductive bullet-points, slowly turning them into one-dimensional caricatures. This is particularly evident in stories told over several years, which is why so many sitcoms tend to devolve into what amounts to self-parody by their later seasons. It’s easy for me to diagnose that trajectory as “lazy,” but specific remedies are a bit more elusive. With Injection 12, Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire present one viable solution: keeping their characters surprising.

That sounds elementary, but we’re talking about some fundamental surprises. Prior to this issue, I had already started to pigeonhole Brigid Roth as a “hacker” — a label she roundly dismisses about halfway through the issue:

Hacker

She talks about seeing magic as code hypothetically — there’s a lot of ifs and hedging this in what Rob said — but as the issue presses on, it’s clear that she really can see this stuff.

For me, the moment that really drives this home is when Brigid (along with her newly appointed driver, Emma) is confronted by two dudes that she quickly recognizes from the moor.

Fraggles

It’s not made explicit until later, but that third panel shows Brigid’s memory of seeing these goons before. All the cues that this is a memory are there — the non-sequitur nature of the panel, Bellaire’s colors from the earlier scene, the absence of panel borders — but they’re all subtle enough to miss. Interestingly, Shalvey avoids the rounded paneling we tend to associate with Brigid’s perspective. I suspect that is to avoid any confusion about where this memory is coming from — this isn’t Sheela-na-gig recalling footage from earlier; this is Brigid herself using her ability to “see.”

The thought that our tech-y character has magical abilities (or is at least sensitive to magic around her) completely throws off my read of her, keeping her fresh and unpredictable. There’s so much more to Brigid than whatever hacker tropes we might otherwise presume.

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

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2 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/19/17

  1. Before I start talking about Injection, I just want to say that it is very unfair to call Han coming to Luke’s rescue a Deus Ex Machina. It is only a deus ex machina when a NEW element is introduced into the narrative to solve the problem. Han is an existing element, and him coming to Luke’s rescue is the perfect payoff of his arc.

    For something to be a deus ex machina, it must solve the problem, must have no set up, resolve a situation that is otherwise hopeless and external to the characters and their choices. Han’s rescue has set up, and is not external to the characters themselves.

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    Injection: I said last month that there was something more to Brigid, that she’s twisted our expectation from the tropes we expected to peg her in, and I was right

    Though I think the stuff about her not being a hacker and her stuff around magic is a bit more complex than ‘she’s not a hacker, but has a magical connection’. Ellis certainly wants us to challenge our perceptions of her and the archetypes she belongs in. But I don’t think the answer is as simple as ‘she’s actually something else’.

    In fact, I think a lot of the discussion around magic isn’t suggesting she some sort of magic user like Robin. I think it links back to her work in creating the Injection, where she was able to transcribe Robin’s spell into code. Brigid’s approach to magic is to treat it as any other coding language, a set of vocabulary and syntax than can be combined into outputs. The code just happens to be ‘cast the spell at the sun’s zenith’ instead of ‘print “Hello World”‘

    Which I think is key to what Ellis is doing here. He isn’t doing something as simple and obvious as ‘Brigid isn’t X, she’s Y’. He’s actually taking her archetype as a hacker, and going much deeper. He developing the archetype to move away from ‘typing on a computer fast to break firewalls’ and instead, he is showing a systems engineer. He’s challenging our simplistic definition of her archetype, and updating it to something modern. Instead of being perpetually trapped in the 90s.

    These days, an expert in computers doesn’t crack firewalls. They are experts in the development of powerful, complex systems. No wonder she has a surprisingly handle on how magic works. Because that’s the surprise Ellis has given us with respect to Brigid. Something modern and new. Not something 25 years old

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