Grounding a Bonkers Concept in Faith Dreamside 2

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The concept of shared superhero universes may have dulled readers to the fact that religious parables and alien invasion stories and time travel puzzle boxes are wildly different kinds of narratives. What is an Avengers comic, but a hyper-active mash-up of as many different genres as there are heroes on the team? But you’ll notice that none of these stories really deal with the gravity that should come with these sky-high concepts crossing paths. Faith Dreamside 2 finds both Faith and Doctor Mirage struggling to reconcile their extremely worldly views of the universe with the new reality plaguing Animalia. Continue reading

Historicizing the Present in Harbinger Wars II 4

by Drew Baumgartner

Harbinger Wars 2 4

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

All those innocent contractors hired to do the job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia — this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

Randal, Clerks

Violence is never a good look. Self-defense may justify it in some cases, but any innocents caught in the crossfire tar even the most noble motives. It turns heroes into villains and obscures the line between good and evil. I’ve had the luxury of thinking of this as a hypothetical question for most of my life, the kind of moral quandry characters might be confronted with in comics, but not exactly an active concern in my day to day life. But in a country facing the rise of white-supremacists, I can’t tell you how many think pieces I’ve read in the past two years debating the morality of punching nazis. More broadly, the questions are about when violence is justifiable, and how much collateral damage we’re willing to accept of said violence. These are exactly the questions everyone is weighing in Harbinger Wars 2 4, though they’re far from the only “ripped from the headlines” commentary in the issue, which paints a startlingly nuanced portrait of our times. Continue reading

Quantum and Woody 7 Traps Our Heroes In Perfection

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

What do your fantasies look like? I’m not trying to ask a dirty question here. When your mind wanders and you start to imagine the ideal form of your life, what does it look like? What form does your imagination take? Are you able to view yourself in your perfect environment, like some sort of omniscient viewer? Are you giving an interview about everything you’ve accomplished? Or are you in your own head, looking out on your perfect life? How you express your fantasy to yourself is as revealing as what you fantasize about. Eliot Rahal and Francis Portela’s Quantum and Woody 7 finds the Henderson brothers trapped in idealized fantasy worlds that embrace tropes of genre and medium in equal measure. Continue reading

Heightening the Conflict in Harbinger Wars II 2

by Drew Baumgartner

Harbinger Wars 2 2

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

What is the collective noun for superheroes? An immodesty of superheroes, perhaps? A bluster, a cluster bomb, a swank? Somebody ought to settle the issue soon, if we’re going to be showered with films like “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker

That quote comes from my least favorite culture review in recent memory. I’ve heard enough variations of “superheroes are dumb” over the years to keep my eyes rolling all the way to Anthony Lane’s door, but what’s particularly frustrating about his review is that it never bothers to support his dismissive attitude. It’s not a critique so much as a list of characters and events in the movie and the smug assumption that we all agree that that list is too long. To be clear, I think there is plenty to critique about that movie, not the least of which that it almost certainly would ring as paradoxically overstuffed and hollow without at least some familiarity with these characters — if we’re not already invested in Tony Stark’s worst fears or Thor’s grief or Doctor Strange’s sense of duty, they’ll read as pretty thin in the movie. Like most summer crossover events, Infinity War is mostly plot machinations, cashing in on the character work developed in its respective solo series. Such is definitely the case with Harbinger Wars II 2, which heightens the drama of the impending battle, but does relatively little to draw me into that drama. Continue reading

The Colors Tell the Story in Quantum and Woody 6

by Drew Baumgartner

Quantum and Woody 6

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Our sense of color is intuitive, but I think that makes it harder for comics colorists to achieve true verisimilitude. Readers may not have a sophisticated understanding of color theory, but they still know when something looks wrong. And “wrong” can be anything from shadows and highlights to textures to atmospheric effects. We might only be able to articulate the most attention-getting aspects of comics coloring, but subtler choices have a profound impact on the believability of the art. Those choices can be simple, as they are in Quantum and Woody 6, but it’s the skill with which colorist Andrew Dalhouse pulls them off that ultimately makes them work. Continue reading

Harbinger Wars 2 1: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers and Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Patrick: Let’s run a hypothetical scenario: you’ve got access to a shared universe, full of superpowered characters, all of whom you’d classify as either heroes or antiheroes. You want to pit them against each other, in a… I don’t want to call it a “Civil War” for litigious Disney-related reasons… we’ll say it’s a “Harbinger War.” How do you establish sides? Pick an ideological divide and let it split up your character base, right? That’s a fun, toothless way to pit all your favorites against each other! With Harbinger Wars 2, writer Matt Kindt is crafting a more direct criticism of structures of power, casting the dutiful soldiers and company-men as stooges. It’s a clash of superheroes with the courage to say “hey, some of these guys are wrong.” Continue reading

Harbinger Wars II Prelude 1: Discussion

By Patrick Ehlers and Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS for both this issue and Avengers Infinity War. If you haven’t read the issue or seen the movie yet, proceed at your own risk! 

Patrick: Every big superhero event story needs to kick off with some kind of world-altering, morality-testing incident. A kind of “what did you just do?” moment that our characters will spend the next however-many-issues sorting out. Hell, the climax of Avengers Infinity War happened like 15 pages into the first issue of Jim Starlin’s The Infinity Gauntlet. Where writer Eric Heisserer distinguishes his story is in giving that catastrophic action to our hero, and making damn sure we understand why. Continue reading

Quantum and Woody 5 is Chaotic-Good

by Drew Baumgartner

Quantum and Woody 5

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Superhero comics are full of Chaotic Good characters — conscientious free spirits that believe in doing good, but by their own standards. From Batman to Wolverine to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Chaotic Good characters fight for their morals, though not necessarily for the law. Neither Quantum nor Woody would fit this category — Quantum is good, but too lawful, while Woody is chaotic, but too morally passive. Together, though, their actions end up taking on a Chaotic Good, picking up Woody’s chaotic nature and Quantum’s desire to do good. Writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artist Kano attempt something similar with Quantum and Woody 5, delivering an issue that is both chaotic and good. Continue reading

Quantum and Woody 4 Aims for the Audience

by Drew Baumgartner

Quantum and Woody 4

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

We live in a world torn between postmodernism and romanticism. We’re just as likely to encounter arguments based on The Death of the Author as we are those based in auteur theory. That we have different critical lenses at our disposal may not seem all that remarkable, but I’d argue that these two aesthetics have completely different opinions on what art is and how we consume it. Does art facilitate some kind of transfer of ideas between the creator and the audience, or is it simply a mirror that audiences use to reflect themselves? As mutually exclusive as those options appear, Quantum and Woody 4 seems to exist in a space between, riffing on classic tropes and even explicit references while still crafting a character all its own. Continue reading

Order in the Slow Chaos of Secret Weapons: Owen’s Story 0

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the issue, proceed at your own risk.

January’s Secret Weapons 0 was all about Nikki’s growth from high school senior to effective super heroine. It’s a straight line of dissolving relationships and withering opportunities, a chain of events where one cause naturally leads to the next effect. That’s moving, effective storytelling. But that’s not always reflective of life, is it? Secret Weapons: Owen’s Story 0 takes a similar concept and muddles it up, making Owen’s saga less like a line and more like a web of trivial connections. Writer Eric Heisserer and artists Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín lean on the oddly symmetric structures present in a series of seemingly unrelated stories, and though they arrive at a slight conclusion, it is all the more meaningful for being fully earned. Continue reading