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 Archie 20, Curse Words 5, Eleanor and the Egret 2, Star Wars: Poe Dameron 15, Wicked + The Divine 455 AD 1, and World Reader 2. Also, we will be discussing Star Wars 31 on Tuesday and Jughead 15 and American Monster 6 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan M.: The end of Archie 20 is like something out of a classic teen soap. One of these kids went over the guardrail and we have to wait until next issue to know which. Mark Waid builds to this moment, a drag race for pink slips, in a way that feels natural even as it asks us to believe that there may be an underground street racing scene in Riverdale.
The race itself is pretty thrilling for a book that usually explores relationships and the different ways that Archie can drop things. That’s not a slight — I loved the first half of the book with Archie the Goofball Mechanic — but the energy here has quite a different tone. Waid sets up the danger with mention of the oil slick and once Betty is speeding to the race site, the stage is set.
Pete Woods executes the crash over the course of two pages. We don’t need more than this series of shots to let us know that this race is going to end tragically. Seeing the kinds of sound effects that usually accompany one of Archie’s klutz moments overlaid on a foot slamming the brakes or car sliding out of control, gives the issue both a sense of danger and keep that danger in the world of Archie.
The Blossom family sequence also plays like a soap opera, but since Waid has not established a real emotional life for the Blossom twins, it’s difficult to find those pages to be anything other than a distraction from the more compelling narrative. Sure, finding out that your biological father may be in prison has dramatic potential, but without more shading to Cheryl and Jason, it’s a dry scene. Waid does give us a bit of Mommy villain, with Mrs. Blossom’s declaration that the kids will believe whatever lies they are feed. It’s not enough to give us a handle on these characters. The twins also seem like superfluous antagonists, given how much of a jerk Reggie is in this issue. The choice not to tell Archie about the oil slick fits in with the villain persona, but also ups the stakes to a place from which Reggie may not recover.
I cannot freaking wait!
Curse Words 5
Patrick: The first issue of Curse Words concludes with one of the dopest twists I’ve ever read at the beginning of a comic book series — Wizord shrinks an entire baseball stadium full of players and fans to hide the savageness of his wizard-duel. So much of that first issue is Wizord falling in love with New York, and him deciding not to destroy it, and that act of magical violence all but undoes Wizord’s progress. His greatest crime is always assuming he has the right idea. That carries through to issue five, where we can finally see the blowback from decisions that he must have been sure about when he made them. The issue closes with the revelation that the micro-verse he’s sent the stadium to has turned into some kind of magic-fueled Hieronymus Bosch nightmare.
Artist Ryan Browne does a great job of aping the Bosch aesthetic while keeping it decidedly his own. This is a direct callback to a drawing from the exact same perspective at the end of issue two. In case it’s been four months since you read that issue:
That transformation is obviously horrible — hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people are enslaved by monsters — but the earlier revelation speaks more deeply to the moral rot of Wizord’s soul. I’m referring to Margaret, Wizord’s usually-Koala sidekick on Earth: she’s the daughter of Ruby and Wizord.
We’ve always understood that there was a history between Ruby and Wizord, but nothing ever suggested that there was something about the relationship worth saving. At least, not “worth it” by Wizord’s standards. But Margaret is a counter example of that: both the character and the series love her. Writer Charles Soule has #TeamMargaret chime in to sing her praises on the comic’s in-narrative twitter. I always read that as a savvy way to check in on the state of the world without resorting to an anachronistic newscast, but the medium of Twitter helps determine the tone and subject of the message as well. Those tweet-based updates have the luxury of focusing one something so singular and weird as expressing affection for Margaret. Obviously, Soule can select which tweets he features on the page, but this allows him to curate an affection for Margaret. The world loves her, the book loves her, the reader loves her. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wizord and Ruby love her. That’s the truly troubling thing: our hero isn’t just abandoning his life as an evil wizard to kick it on Earth, he’s abandoning his family.
Eleanor and the Egret 2
Drew: This is a series that truly defies categorization. It’s a crime procedural set in a world of cartoon logic. Its art nouveau inspired settings and character designs evoke turn of the century Paris, but those elements exist right alongside modern outfits and automobiles (and decidedly non-French landscapes). All of which is to say it has a truly singular aesthetic, totally unlike any story I’ve ever encountered. It’s equal parts alluring and strange, stringing what seems like a straightforward crime story through an absurdist set of rules, where an Egret can grow as large as it needs to to accommodate all of the paintings it’s consuming. Of course, the fact that this series isn’t tied to the rules of genre (or physics, for that matter), means that this world can surprise us at any moment.
We might forget that at the start of the issue, as John Layman and Sam Kieth seem to settle into the familiar tone and humor of the first issue, staging yet another art heist for Eleanor and Ellis, all while Bellanger begins to suspect Eleanor for the crime. It charts out a cat-and-mouse dynamic, complicated by Bellanger’s apparent crush on Eleanor, but that dynamic is quickly upended as we discover some kind of personal conflict between Eleanor and Anastasia Rüe, the painter whose art she keeps stealing. More importantly, we learn that she has her own plans to track down and kill Eleanor with the help of Mr. Ives:
Part of what makes that reveal so effective is just how unexpected this design is. Kieth has established this kind of cartoony-nouveau style in his other designs, but this is more like something out of a nightmare (indeed, it would feel right at home in a Henry Selick film). It still fits the absurdist aesthetic, but we couldn’t have anticipated a design like this.
All of which is to say: there’s no way to pigeonhole this series. Just when I think I have a handle on the narrative arc and design aesthetic, Layman and Kieth take a sharp left turn, broadening their world while making it clear that basically anything can happen. That’s a thrilling precedent to set, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Star Wars: Poe Dameron 15
Taylor: Writers who create the Star Wars comics for Marvel are always working at a disadvantage. You would think that writing about a universe with such a deep history and established characters would be easy — basically just show up and have them all go on an adventure. However, the fact these characters, mythologies and histories are so well established also means writers have little freedom when writing stories for them. After all, you can suddenly have kill Chewbacca or reveal Han Solo’s name is a pseudonym without expecting backlash. The challenge of writing for a Star Wars comic is apparent in Poe Dameron 15, most notably in the way Charles Soule writes his characters.
The Resistance is hard up for supplies, most pressingly for fuel. General Organa sends Poe to meet a smuggler selling some fuel to the Resistance but it’s too late: the freighter has already been captured and booby trapped by the First Order. There seems to be little that Poe or Black Squadron can do to extricate themselves from this situation. The fuel tanker has been armed to explode should it ever decelerate. However, Poe and his friends refuse to abandon the tanker, seemingly because they don’t want to bungle their first mission without the recently deceased L’ulo.
Noble as that sentiment may be, it simply doesn’t seem like something Poe Dameron would do. It’s not that Poe is callous or uncaring, but he has always struck me as a character who is pragmatic to the point of assholery, much like the character who inspired his creation, Han Solo. That Poe would care so much about L’ulo that he would risk his life to save a spaceship worth virtually nothing (the First Order already stole the fuel) just doesn’t make any sense on a rational level or for the character of Poe.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Soule had previously painted Poe as a caring, maudlin pilot. However, since the first issue of the series Soule has pretty clearly written Poe’s character the same way he appears in The Force Awakens. That is, since issue one Poe has been a daring, cocksure, and suave pilot. His decision here to impress the recently deceased L’ulo just doesn’t read on brand for him. That would be OK if Soule had been writing Poe’s character in this way since the beginning of the series, but he’s not. I can’t help but feel that Soule is struggling a bit to imbue Poe with some sort of ongoing character development. Since he can’t dramatically change anything about Poe’s character or backstory, it appears Soule has to get quite creative in finding ways to motivate and develop his main character. The problem is, this leads to a main character who doesn’t really know who he is or where he’s going.
The Wicked + The Divine 455 AD 1
That said, despite the setting and premise, history ultimately only plays a minor role in Kieron Gillen and Andrew Araujo’s story. The chapter title that accompanies the bulk of this issue, “Imperial Phase,” draws a direct parallel between 455’s Lucifer and the state of the modern-day Pantheon (presently in the middle of the two-part “Imperial Phase” storyline themselves), who are in the early throes of the madness that eventually came to consume and destroy Lucifer. This story’s greatest revelation is that the two-year limitation on the Pantheon is less of a physical restriction and more of a mental one; their sanity simply can’t last more than two years of godhood.
Gillen continues to paint a layered, complicated portrait of Ananke as well. There’s hints throughout this story that, even in 455, she was secretly killing gods (in fact, Minerva seems to have been her third sacrifice in this recurrence as well), but more than ever her work is portrayed as being necessary, at least in keeping the Pantheon in their places as figures who guide and inspire mankind rather than leading, subjugating, and overthrowing them. The fact that we’ve seen physical manifestations of the Great Darkness always throws off my theories, but after this issue, I’d guess that the Great Darkness is the Pantheon themselves, given into their darkest impulses, rather than any strange outside force.
Lucifer is motivated by a desire to gain just one more day of life, and a desire to prove himself worthy after being looked down upon and hated for his role as both an artist and as a Catamite. While some of the details of his situation are specific to the time, for the most part it shows that people’s motivations stay the same no matter how much times change, and that prejudice is just as dangerous and harmful in any time period. It also continues to ground each incarnation of the Pantheon in their specific time and circumstances; the Lucifer of 455 has a far different background and concerns than the Lucifer of 2014. Yet, both are “a difficult one,” to quote Ananke — the troublemaker of the Pantheon. That will probably never change.
World Reader 2
Ryan D.: Ambition used to be such a dirty word. After all, it’s the trait used to justify the murder of Caesar by Brutus, and the reason why God struck down the Tower of Babel. Jeff Loveness and artist Juan Doe return with the second issue of World Reader to explore the ramifications of ambition and continue to weave a story about stories.
Issue 1 taught us the rules — the universe is empty of life save for Earth, and Sarah, a member of a military exploratory forensics team, travels from planet to planet communicating with the souls of the dearly departed aliens. The first issue made it apparent that there is a looming threat to the spirits of the dead, and that most Sarah’s crewmates do not believe in her paranormal abilities. Picking up there, the audience gets a bit more characterization from the humans in the story and the squad dynamics solidified as the team debriefs from their last data-collecting drop.
I enjoy the little touches in this predominately expository scene. For example, Doe’s page layouts, for the most part, are very exploratory and non-linear, often leaving space outside of panels and overlapping visual beats on the page. Here, however, when the rigid and methodical Captain Fields gives his authoritarian final word, the layouts snap into a very traditional panel structure to accompany the Captain’s linear sentiments. Within the first two scenes — both on the ship — Doe also establishes the main color palette of the issue. Most of the events in the ship of the non-action variety receive a light blue wash, with more critical moments of tension play in red.
This binary color treatment works well to establish the norm so that when a new alien landscape is encountered, the planet stands out and its peculiarities pop.
This planet seems both hostile and strange, with its orange and green, and its spire-esque structures jutting from the surface working to visually and thematically recall the Tower of Babel. Here, we meet another alien with an allegorical story who finally gives a name to the specter who attacked Sarah in the first issue: The Faded Man. The “spirit plane” pieces are rewarding, and I’m enjoying that as a narrative device.
This issue sets Sarah off on a very ambitious path, herself, which I would imagine might put her at odds with her former crew. After I finish an issue of World Reader, I never know whether I really enjoyed it or not, then find upon re-reading that there is plenty to appreciate and enjoy in the issue. I think I may have conditioned myself with grittier sci-fi titles like Descender or Hadrian’s Wall, or even the “harder” sci-fi novels like that of Iain Banks of Dan Simmons, to expect a dolorous yet rewarding slog from my sci-fi, whereas World Reader zips along lightly, secure in its vision and tone, free to move about and play. It’s nice to read a title in this genre which is more curious in its direction than ambitious.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?