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 Extremity 3, Faith 11, Outcast 27, Shipwreck 4, and Star Wars: Poe Dameron 14. Also, we discussed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 69 on Friday, and will be discussing Pestilence 1 on Wednesday, so come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Mark: Part of Extremity‘s “shelf appeal” is creator Daniel Warren Johnson’s gorgeous art and his knowing embrace of Heavy Metal-style fantasy violence. In this issue alone, countless bodies are relieved from life within only a couple of panels — each slice accompanied by appropriately vibrant splashes of crimson courtesy of colorist Mike Spicer. Like the Call of Duty and Battlefield video games marketing their headshot orgies with weary “War is Hell” mantras, it’s easy for the message and the medium to be at cross-purposes.
War and revenge hang heavy over Extremity 3, with scars from past battles manifesting themselves in almost everyone. For some, like General Brynajr, the scars are physical. Like Darth Vader, Brynajr is almost more machine than man, but rather than humbling him, his brush with death has left him more ruthless and bloodthirsty. We see him shoot a plains wolf for sport, and then rip the pelt from the still-breathing wolf for no reason other than a lust for killing. For others, like Shiloh and Abba, the scars are psychological. Shiloh and Brynajr share a robot/human hybrid construction, but Shiloh fights against his nature. And Thea, the once promising artist robbed of her greatest tool, sports both physical and mental scars.
What to make, then, of the colorful depictions of hideous carnage found alongside these sobering portrayals of violence-damaged individuals?
As much as the messaging is about the ugliness of war, the glossy exterior remains. It’s a dichotomy I don’t think anyone in any medium knows what to do with.
Spencer: Faith Herbert’s innate desire to help people means that she was probably always destined to be a superhero, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s prepared for the rigors of the job. It’s an idea that Jody Houser and her collaborators have been exploring since launching Faith‘s first mini-series, but that seems to be coming to a head in issue 11. As the second part of the “Faithless” storyline, this month’s installment finds Zephyr’s greatest enemies running her through a “Knightfall-esque” gauntlet, all with the goal of mentally and physically exhausting her. It’s working; she’s been so busy that even cops are telling her to go home and get some rest.
The greatest indicator of Faith’s current mental state, though, are Marguerite Sauvage’s contributions. Normally reserved for cheerful or silly fantasy and flashback sequences, each one of Sauvage’s pages this month instead feature traumatizing moments for Faith, be they the Faithless’ evil plan, the horrific images of Faith that Dark Star plants in the public’s minds, or even Faith’s sleep-deprived nightmares.
Admittedly, Sauvage’s art is too sunny to ever really feel scary, but it nonetheless communicates how heavily Faith’s duties — especially her current hunt for Sidney’s freed Vine cohorts — are weighing on her mind, plaguing her subconscious and keeping her awake and restless even at 4:30AM. Say what you will about Chris Chriswell and his convoluted, likely-doomed supervillain plans, but he knows how to get to Faith — her weakness isn’t anything physical, but it’s how much she cares, how she’s willing to help until she’s run down and exhausted, and how complicated her dual identity can make her life.
Houser, Sauvage, and artist Joe Eisma strike an interesting tone throughout this issue, showing how dire Faith’s situation has become without ever making the issue itself feel too grim. I have conflicted thoughts about this. One the one hand, this story is the culmination of over a year’s worth of build-up and is one of the darker moments of Faith’s life; even with the aforementioned changes in its fantasy format, it could stand to feel a bit less like “business as usual.” On the other hand, though, I appreciate that, even at her lowest, Faith — and her title — continue to display the inspirational, fun qualities that won readers over in the first place. That’s what makes Faith a hero, and that’s why she’ll always come out on top, even under the most challenging of circumstances.
Drew: The notion of progress is built into the medium of comics. With very few exceptions, the simple act of placing images in sequence implies an order of events, creating a sense of progress as we read a comics page. Savvy artists can take advantage of this tendency with the direction of motion, forcing characters from left to right or top to bottom to dramatize their progress, or move them “backwards” to show that they aren’t progressing. Those simple tools can have profound effects on a narrative, but what if we’re uncertain of a character’s progress? What if it’s not clear that they’re moving in the right direction? With Outcast 27, Robert Kirckman, Paul Azaceta, and Elizabeth Breitweiser provide an unsettling ambiguity, even while their characters remain blissfully unaware.
This issue opens after a bit of a time jump, though it’s hard to know based on Reverend Anderson’s condition — he’s still sleeping in the barn, still wearing his blood-covered clothes. His arc here finds him moving in virtually every direction (up, down, left, right, in, and out of the page), but eventually to a kind of tent chapel at a nearby farm. Meanwhile, Kyle has been training with Simon for months, and is finally ready to go out into the field. Azaceta tends to use more traditional left-right dynamics, but there are little hints of that wavering throughout. I’m most intrigued by the sequence where Allison and Giles go for a walk.
The left-right dynamics seem straightforward — the direction of motion only changes for panel 2, where Giles is directly addressing Allison’s uncertainty — but then there’s that odd detail of the barn in the lower right corners of both the first and final panels, even though the shot has reversed. This subtle detail upends our simple notions of “progress,” throwing one of our most fundamental tools into question. Its almost as if the direction of motion reflects the subjective experiences of our characters, but Azaceta is acknowledging a larger objective truth they don’t yet understand.
That ambiguity matters a great deal as Simon takes Kyle out to confront some of the possessed. Simon’s explanation of the underlying mythology of this series is compelling (and stunningly rendered with the help of Breitweiser’s colors), but I’m still wary of him. Those doubts aren’t given much fuel, but when taken with the uncertainty of the direction of motion, I can’t help but wonder if Kyle’s march towards the camera might be better read as a question mark than an exclamation point.
Or, it could be as heroic as it seems. It’s hard to tell with this series, which is a big part of what makes it so alluring.
To embrace a thing by definition, however arbitrary . . . is to reject that thing, to render it insipid and superfluous, to annihilate it.
E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay
Ryan D: When trying to define something tricky in literature — let’s say a prose poem for example — it’s always tempting to find the classifications or genre labels to slap on it. In a prose poem, the example continues, one might split a work into the category of fable, object poem, or poem of illumination. The last example here intrigues me in relationship to Shipwreck 4, as a poem of illumination swims in the lucid waters of the subconscious, chock full of dissociative leaps and dense metaphor. Over the past three issues, Warren Ellis and Phil Hester have crafted a very odd little world and embraced an illuminative style of narrative, featuring symbolist imagery and set pieces which barely seem to connect. While I am still unsure as to whether I enjoy the series, I am certainly intrigued by it. Shipwreck 4, however, starts to clarify a few of the areas of poetic ambiguity in the series, shifting away slightly from its illuminative precedent, though still avoiding the straight-jacket of definition.
Dr. Jonathan Shipwright awakes in the same crummy motel at which we last saw him, but the curious desk clerk — one of the few amiable inter-personal interactions which Shipwright’s had in this alternate earth — is “away for the day”. Before moving back out into the more-hostile outside, Ellis and Hester give us a lovely little page of world-building:
The treats showcased here sport some wonderful names which really made me think about the socio-cultural implications of junk food. Sure, “Blue Cave Meat” seems absurd to me, but as someone who grew up consuming Gushers and Dunkaroos, I can’t really cast the first stone. But it does tell us that this world features disposable income, brands of products, and the ounce (featured on the next page as part of the snack called “Soul Weighs .75 Ounces”, a cheeky reference in itself), really highlighting the feeling that “similar but different” feeling of this earth.
After, Shipwright encounters a young engineer, Nina Zander, working on a rocket who recognizes our main dimension traveler. Zander come off as effusive and earnest, and both the audience and Shipwright feel comfortable perhaps for the first time in four issues. I look forward to more of her character.
The issue concludes with yet another flashback to the voyage which brought Shipwright to this earth, this time fleshing out the last debrief before the launch of the Janus project and our protagonist’s relationship with the apparent Judas of the group, Mr. Isham. Colorist Mark Englert casts this scene with a blue filter, highlighting the powerlessness found in the past, with the whole segment carrying with it the pall of cool inevitability as Isham throws a proverbial spanner in the works.
While Shipwreck 4 might read a bit easier than the first three issues due to the clarity of narrative, there are still plenty of areas wherein silence and symbolism reign supreme. It makes me curious to see whether this creative team will continue to allow this series to dodge easy classification and definition, or will slip into a more traditional role within a genre.
Star Wars: Poe Dameron 14
Patrick: I was working at my day job when I found out that Carrie Fisher had passed away. Only a few days earlier, I was leaving the Alamo Draft House in Denver, after a screening of Rogue One, when my brother announced that she had been hospitalized following a cardiac episode. I think I felt what everyone was feeling — that overwhelming dread of having to let go of someone we loved, even if we only ever knew her as lights flickering on a screen. Star War: Poe Dameron 14 mourns the loss of L’ulo, but it is a thinly veiled funeral for Fisher, celebrating the light that will never go out.
All of which is to say that it’s one of those issues that easily overpowered by the real world. Writer Charles Soule leans in to Yoda’s insights from The Empire Strikes back: “luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” Poe recounts that wisdom at L’ulo’s funeral, but the reader is going to be projecting both the recollection and the loss onto their own mourning of Fisher’s death. Ultimately, the issue is stronger for having an anchor to the real world — Soule was going to have a hell of a time getting me to care about the death of L’ulo. But Carrie Fisher? Yeah, man, I already care.
Essentially, this story arc appears to be about new beginnings as they are spun out of loss and change. Agent Terex has been living this theme all along, reinventing himself as a crime lord in the ruins of the once great Empire. His next chapter, however, is considerably darker, as he has been robotically lobotomized to serve the New Order. Two interesting things to note here: the first being that in the two-and-a-half years that Marvel has been publishing this new line of Star Wars comics, this is the second Soule-penned story to revolve around the droidification of humans (the first being the excellent Lando mini series). But the other thing to note is that Poe is at a similar crossroads. Rather than be forced into more extreme loyalty, Leia offers him the opportunity to choose leadership. It’s a powerful assertion that volunteering is better than conscription — on all levels.
Normal series artist Phil Noto sits out this issue, allowing Angel Unzueta to slowly illustrate an incredibly talky series of scenes. Unzueta is no stranger to space heroics — as he’s made a home among the Green Lanterns — but very few of those muscles are being flexed here. There is no action in this issue, but Unzueta executes on the subtle conversational ballets that Soule has choreographed with insight and grace. Terex appealing to Captain Phasma is a largely one-sided conversation, so Unzueta fills the page with tall, vertical panels drifting between only moderately different angles on Terex.
Poe and Leia’s conversation, on the other hand, splits the focus damn near evenly between the two characters, usually putting both of them in every panel. Poe is scrappy, but he’s not nearly as resourceful as Terex. The New Order’s problem is that they’d rather mute his skills than risk them turning against the organization. The Resistance doesn’t have that same fear — in fact, it seems like they fear the opposite: if Poe doesn’t come to the decision on his own, he may reject it some day.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?