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 Bitch Planet 10, Hadrian’s Wall 6, Kill Or Be Killed 8, Lumberjanes 37, and X-O Manowar 2. Also, we’re discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe 9 on Tuesday and Black Monday Murders 5 and Old Guard 3 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Bitch Planet 10
Spencer: I recently read a story about a Trump supporter who admits that they’d be dead without the ACA, and knows they’d be in big trouble if Trump’s plan to repeal it goes through, but says that, if they had to vote all over again tomorrow, they’d still vote for Trump. That kind of attitude boggles my mind, but it’s a very real one, and one we see reflected in the character of Whitney in Bitch Planet 10.
Whitney has been endlessly loyal to Bitch Planet‘s especially toxic patriarchal institutions, but she gets nothing out of it. The Fathers, at best, see Whitney as a pawn — she may be a loyal servant, but she’s still a woman, and the fathers have no real respect for any woman, loyal or not, “compliant” or not. Working for them may have bought her a few extra years of comfort, but in the end, her situation is no better than any of the other women she was helping to subjugate. She put her complete trust in a system that was not only out to screw her over from the start, but that was explicitly transparent about it. I’ll admit, it’s hard to feel sorry for her.
An interesting point this issue seems to be making is that the Fathers’ hatred for women goes hand-in-hand with a desire to empower men. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick implies that this whole dystopia came into being after former leader of the free world, Eleanor Doane, made some sort of mistake. The actual scale, severity, or even validity of this “mistake” is ultimately irrelevant; it gave men an excuse to claim that the entire female gender were unfit to lead, an excuse to reclaim power for themselves, a strategy that’s no different than a movie studio claiming that the failure of one movie with a female lead means that nobody wants to watch movies starring women, or that’s no different from the sick wave of racism that sprung up after Obama’s presidency. I suppose that whether this was motivated more by misogyny or opportunism is also irrelevant; the result is the same either way, and it’s bad for everyone.
That’s a point DeConnick, artist Valentine De Landro, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick eloquently make on the very first page of this issue, where we see the Fathers’ actions quite literally create a wave of misery that slowly overtakes the entire page, overtakes an entire family of different people of different genders, ages, and social standings.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all saying that the humiliation Ed faces — or that anything any man faces — is even close to the indignities that any woman in the world of Bitch Planet faces. It is clear, though, that even a system built to favor men explicitly benefits a very few specific men over all others, and that the Fathers will gleefully screw over other men just as easily as they do women if it means they can glean just an ounce more of favor or power. Just like Whitney, just like that Trump supporter I mentioned, men like Edward will gladly support a system that isn’t all that good for them if it means that they can still feel superior to other marginalized groups (be they women, racial minorities, immigrants, or the poor).
In the face of such hatred and apathy, Bitch Planet 10 suggests that the only way to make change is through drastic, violent measures. I don’t have the space to even begin to unpack that here, but if nothing else, history certainly seems to support that viewpoint.
Hadrian’s Wall 6
Patrick: You know that feeling — that break-up feeling. It’s the feeling that the world is crumbling around you and no one has your interests at heart. Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis’s Hadrian’s Wall 6 takes that idea of a tiny personal apocalypse and heaps extra dimensions of literal suffering on their broken-up-with protagonist. Simon isn’t just dumped, he’s kicked out of the house he paid for, he’s shot within an inch of his life (by his boss!), and develops a life-long addiction to pain killers. But this is all in flashback, and the Simon of the “present day” story is actively choosing forgiveness, hoping against hope this — this — will be the key getting over his emotional baggage. But this forgiveness is, it itself, a form of desperation, and the weight of the narrative radically intensifies to match.
I know it’s jumping ahead to the last lines, but I think it’s important to understand the Thetan plan before we loop back around to Simon. Annabell got a look at the brief on the rebel road to independence, and the next stop on the bus is “blow up Earth.” That’s the personal catastrophe made impersonal — it’ll no long just feel like the world is falling down, it actually will be. Reis and inker Eduardo Ferigato give us a quick set of panels to check in with the crew members upon hearing this news, and the backgrounds behind them all appear a dark, foreboding scarlet.
That’s pretty easy: color presenting emotion in a traditional way. Red quickly calls to mind blood, violence, passion. But Reis has already coded this technique earlier in the issue.
Simon’s red sky is blotchier, which is something that we’ll see throughout the issue. Every time he’s haunted by hallucinations of Edward’s astro-ghost, this red fog of uncontrollable, inarticulate rage starts to creep in from the panel borders. Each time, that creep threatens to trigger another emotional outburst from Simon, but he remains supernaturally even-keeled in his judgement of Annabelle. He’s almost offering himself as a martyr, repeatedly stuffing down his own emotions for the sake of some ill-defined sense of justice, trying to assert any identity that isn’t Annabelle’s ex. He tells the leader of the rebels “I was a cop for a long time. A good one. It’s not easy for me to just… gloss over a murder.” I know he thinks he’s getting redemption, but he’s just tapping into a different addiction, and his gallantry is simply another sad strike a the looming darkness. That final-page-twist of the Earth genuinely being in danger puts his own suffering into perspective for the audience. Sure, he had the worst break-up ever – will that even matter if the Thetans blow up Earth?
Kill Or Be Killed 8
Drew: If the second volume of Kill or be Killed has been about enumerating the factions on Dylan’s trail — the NYPD, the Russian Mob, Kira — issue 8 is all about how those factions have come to bear on Dylan’s life. The issue opens with New York under heightened security, with police checkpoints and random searches making Dylan’s next kill harder to plan. With only a few days to go, he’s getting down to the wire, but he’s increasingly distracted by the other forces in his life.
Some of the distraction is intentional — he’s done his darnedest throwing himself back into it with Daisy — but his best efforts are steamrolled when he starts thinking about Kira. Indeed, this issue intersects beautifully with issue 7 when Dylan thinks he catches a whiff of Kira’s perfume in his room one night, and later discovers that his pills are missing. It’s an elegant way to help us align the timelines of these two issues, but as with everything Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do, it has a second, more profound effect, driving Dylan to reach out to his dealer who is being held by the Russians.
I don’t love detailing so many plot points in these write-ups, but they all fit together like clockwork here, incrementally ratcheting up the tension. By all rights, the climax of this issue should be when Dylan is almost caught attempting to make his next kill, but Brubaker and Phillips manage to find another gear with that Mob reveal.
Everything about this page works. I really love the way Phillips shows Dylan’s confidence by letting him put his hoodie back on (he had taken it off on the previous page to avoid being recognized by the police he was running from), but the best element has to be the full bleed on that final panel. It’s a classic kind of formal element, emphasizing that last panel, but it takes on special meaning with that twist, introducing a broader context behind the phone conversation that Dylan isn’t yet aware of. It’s masterful stuff that reveals that this creative team is just as confident with suspense at the micro level, too.
Taylor: Going to summer camp as a kid is always a special thing. Not only is it a chance to explore new places and learn new things, but it’s a suspension of your real life back home. Gone are the typical friendships and homework. They are replaced with new friends whose friendship burns hot and bright for a time and instead of homework there’s campfires and ghost stories. Leading such a different life for a time makes it weird when your parents come to visit for parents’ day. They represent life back home, a far cry from the life a kid leads at camp.
Such is the case in Lumberjanes 37 when the ‘Janes have to confront their parents and conceal what exactly has been happening at camp over the summer. Predictably, this leads to some close calls and awkward moments, but overall things seem to be going well. The only person who isn’t having a good time is Molly, whose parents didn’t make the trek out to camp to see her. Molly’s isolation on Parent’s Day is perfectly captured by artist Ayme Sotuyo.
Molly is shoved to the corner of the page to make way for all the happy reunions between the other ‘Janes and their parents. The panel depicting Molly is noticeably smaller that these other panels and is wedged into the corner almost as an afterthought. This panel layout so effectively conveys the feeling of being a third (or fifth) wheel. When you’re the odd woman out, it’s easy to feel out-of-place and pushed to the side and that feelings is portrayed literally — and perfectly — here.
X-O Manowar 2
Michael: X-O Manowar 2 is an epic story of war, determination and…marriage? Aric convenes with Shanhara the night before the Azure’s infiltration attack on The Cadmium Empire. Shanhara once again insists that Aric needs the sentient armor and that it was no mistake that Aric formed it into a ring. Shanhara tells Aric that because of this they are married — their destinies intertwined forever. This concept blew me away, not for just this series but also another popular ring-wielding group of superheroes.
Another thing I like about Matt Kindt’s script is his casual exposition. While there is an infographic introductory page, Venditti also gives us a brief one page roll call. Here, we get a feel for the cast of characters that are going to follow Aric into battle.
Aric is a hell of a warrior but more importantly he is hell of a lucky bastard. The wise old warhorse Ironside gives Aric the heads up to Aric that Captain Branix has it in for Aric and likely intends to set him up as cannon fodder.
The brutal violence of Tomas Giorello’s impaling and beheading is contrasted by Diego Rodriguez’s smooth, muted colors. It’s a unique painterly aesthetic that makes X-O Manowar stand out. In several instances, Giorello draws Aric and enemy soldiers popping out of their panels and encroaching upon the surrounding panels — heightening the tension and emotion.
Aric accomplishes the mission he was brought on to do but of course he doesn’t achieve the freedom he was promised. This is only issue 2 — did you think he’d get out that easy?
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
Bitch Planet: An issue of Bitch Planet that explores both the ways that a woman’should complicity with patriarchy doesn’t protect her in the long run AND a look at how patriarchy exploits men, such that the only people who truly benefit in a patriarchy or the rulers at top? That issue sounds like my jam, and I can’t wait to catch up with it
Kill or Be Killed: This issue is such fantastic plotting that it deserves praise. Yeah, describing plots is boring, but showing how meticulous plotted an issue is is the exact sort of thing I go to Retcon Punch for (and Drew, I also really, really love how this issue intersects with the last issue)
And yet, I didn’t like the issue. Largely because of the sheer level of police presence. I just don’t feel that it is a legitimate escalation (or at least, a legitimate escalation when you are talking about a white guy). Brubaker even references the racial component of stop and frisk, yet ignores the fact that racial dynamics won’t let such a situation happen. White Males as a group would never be targeted because of their similarity to a killer. It almost leads to unfortunate implications, suggesting that there was a reason instead of racism that explained why Stop and Frisk targeted minority populations. In a week where a white guy placed a homemade bomb on the London Tube without being called a terrorist, it feels wrong. Kill or Be Killed runs off the way that it cleverly shows realistic consequences to the actions. That despite the possibly supernatural premise, the story was rooted in the very real way the world worked. So seeing it ignored for the sort of police action that feels out of a completely different story was a massive problem to me.