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God of Comics – IDW Publishing’s TMNT

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

October 9, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. TMNT. Turtles that are mutants, teenagers, and ninjas. Or heroes, if you live in the United Kingdom. Do they have something against ninja there? Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Whatever. We know who the Turtles are. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. There’s four of them, despite what ill-advised live action television shows might tell you. They have a certain degree of dignity, despite what ill-advised Michael Bay movies might tell you.

How the hell did this ever become a thing?

Because, they are a thing. The Turtles hit back in the eighties and never stopped, returning to ever greater heights of popularity every decade from inception til present. People do not get tired of buying their toys or seeing their movies or reading their comics or playing their games.

Yes, there’s a hiatus here or there, but the Turtles always come back. They eat pizza, fight crime, and each have their thing – leadership, technology, violence, coolness – from one iteration to the next. Why did this happen? Why do we all know who the Turtles are, but maybe not remember things like Hamster Vice or the Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos?

Yes, this is a real thing.

Yes, this is a really real thing that happened and might still be happening.

 

Hamster Vice was a parody of Miami Vice, sure, but the TMNT started as a parody, too. We’ve all seen Daredevil, right? The kickass Netflix series drew heavily from a series of stories that were created by Frank Miller, back before Frank lost his damn mind. Frank was doing some groundbreaking stuff, introducing the ninja master, Stick, and a group of enemy ninja called the Hand. Hell, Matt Murdock even pushed an old man out of the way of a truck and got covered in chemicals, much like…

This won’t be shocking for many of you. The Hand became the Foot. Ninja master Stick became ninja master Splinter, which led to another ninja master named Shredder. This stuff really just writes itself – the whole thing started as a parody, an ultra grim street comic starring the most unlikely heroes possible, but dealing with everything from time travel to street crime to aliens to racism to whatever else Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird felt like doing.

Presumably, the sheer weirdness attracted the attention of some cartoon executives, who got the rights to the characters and developed and incredibly silly cartoon with one of the best openings of anything, ever.

This secondary iteration upped the weirdness factor. Trapped alien brains became Krang, an exiled interdimensional warlord who was allied with Shredder for reasons. The TMNT became a little sillier, episodes paying homage to sources as diverse as This Island Earth to Aliens. It popularized the concept, and an entire generation of kids grew up on the adventures of the Turtles, as these cartoons perfectly balanced silliness and seriousness. We got individual episodes and a long running mythology that evolved over time.

It did so well that it even gave us three live-action movies of diminishing quality and a live-action musical performance of no specific quality that I loved as a kid. The Turtles of the movies, though, were a different breed than the original comics or the cartoon, but no one cared. Fans of the Turtles embraced all three as being different but equal, all of them adding to the mythos and establishing a ric tapestry that would allow other people to retell and add to the overall story.

Which is where Archie Comics comes in. Yes, Archie is currently doing reboots of their mainstays, but way back when they ran a line called Archie Adventure Series, which featured Bayou Billy, the Explorers of the Unknown, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These comics started as an analogue to the cartoon, but quickly went in their own direction, featuring more aliens and mutants and taking the story in radically different directions – and, once again, these stories existed as parallel but equal parts to the movies, original comics, and cartoon.

There was a general sense of excitement when a new cartoon series was announced in the early aughts, and again just a few years ago. The opening for both was not as strong as the original, but that opening is tough to beat. The episodes  in the early aught series were a little but more in tune with the original comics series, but that changed as the series went on and it found its own voice. The more recent cartoon had its own voice right from the get go, and has already found a cult following. In both, new characters were introduced, and older characters were given a greater sense of urgency and dignity. It worked out well for everyone, and was, again, recognized as an equal but different part of the mythology.

And the early aughts version takes it one step further when playing with the idea of parallel but equal, as the original cartoon crossed over with that one in a special event movie called Turtles Forever, which featured the original TMNT in all their grim glory, and had cameos from Eastman and Laird themselves.

Also a thing that happened. For real. You can get it on DVD.

Also a thing that happened. For real. You can get it on DVD.

See, here’s the thing: the Turtles they created have become a cultural icon than transcends one generation to the next, building upon previous iterations while still keeping the integrity of each iteration intact. It’s a completely unique narrative flow, an on-going organic evolution that draws upon itself to go in new directions.

And nowhere is this more evident than in IDW Publishing’s comics.

What IDW has done is take everything from every iteration of the TMNT, thrown it all into a blender and hit puree, then distilled the very best parts and found new ways to tie everything together. It’s incredible, the build that’s happened here and the way it all fits together, and how much of an emotional punch it ends up holding – and it all starts with the four turtles themselves.

Leonardo has always been the leader of the group, the reliable and dependable one. He’s serious minded and takes his duty as caretaker seriously. You see him struggle to look after his brothers in these comics, branching into things he’s not comfortable with simply to build a tie with the others. They sort of mock him for it, and so do we; we all believe the lie that villains are more interesting than heroes, like the decision to do wrong is somehow more interesting than the decision to do right. So, when Leonardo is kidnapped and has his agency taken away, his seriousness and discipline becoming negatives, it hurts his brothers and it hurts us. The pain of someone you rely on and take for granted becoming an absence rather than a presence is a shocking one, and it’s played to the nth degree here. Even once he’s rescued the pain remains, and his family and he both have to try and rebuild trust on both sides. Thing of it is, no one takes Leo for granted anymore. They know exactly how lost they are without him.

Donatello is the brains. This sometimes makes him a mad scientist and sometimes makes him a little geeky, and here he is more than a bit of both. In all iterations this is sometimes played for laughs – he’s the one that makes the tech the others use, the one that spends more time with machines than training. That holds true here, but he’s just as likely to be playing a MMORPG as tinkering with a weapon. He’s an introvert, shy some of the time and assertive when he has to be, a scientist who looks at the big picture in a way that his brethren can’t. Even more than Splinter, he’s the one that sees where the real dangers are, and sometimes that means that he has to walk alone, or drag the rest of his family to save the world from threats they might otherwise miss. His intelligence is catered to here, and his selflessness and need to do right nearly costs him everything.

Raphael – cool but rude, right? The one everyone likes, the bitter and sarcastic one, the angry one. He’s violent and only just in control of himself most of the time. His story is always about finding peace with his terrible sense of anger and capacity for violence. Raph is and always has been a study of toxic masculinity and the warrior’s credo. He loses control and thinks he’s going to do right, but ends up making things worse: he turns allies into enemies, hurts those he should be protecting, and, at worst, costs the turtles their leader. Raphael is a struggle, a child tearing himself apart as he tries to figure out who he is and who he wants to be. He’s not rude or cool so much as broken, by circumstance as much as design, and his efforts to do right sometimes cost him more than he can bear. He’s tragic, his moments of awesome tied to him overcoming his anger to be the person he longs to be, but he has yet to find a way to keep that sense of peace. There’s a good chance he never will.

Which brings us to Michelangelo. Little Mikey, the runt of the litter. The party dude, the fun one, the youngest who is and always has been played for laughs. Here, he’s given the role of the jester, and it’s a thing that both the character and we, as readers, often misunderstand. The thing about jesters is that they try to make us laugh, and for that reason they’re often allowed to speak their minds and say things the rest of us can’t or won’t. Jesters offer us a true vision of ourselves, and at their best they become the conscience of a society, and Mikey is very much the conscience of his family. He’s the one that demands that they stay good and not turn to the hate their enemies would force upon them, the one who’s willing to reach out to every broken soul and see into the heart of things. He’s young and naive, but everyone that knows him tries to live up to the way he sees them.

Pictured: four of the most iconic characters in the modern world.

Pictured: four of the most iconic characters in the modern world.

That’s the main four. The complexity of who they are and how they interact with one another would be more than enough for any other narrative, but they provide the building blocks for everything and everyone else happening around them.

Casey Jones and April O’Neil are the two most popular human characters from the turtles, following them from one iteration to the next.

Casey is a street kid vigilante, April a reporter or store owner or scientist. Both of them are expanded upon here: Casey has a rough relationship with his father, who was the head of a street gang and starts as a beaten down drunk. Casey’s urge to do right comes from not wanting to be his father, but his violence is a direct result of his father’s treatment of him. His meeting the turtles gives him hope and an actual set of ethics to live up to, and opens his eyes to a world that is longer than tomorrow. He’s a lost soul who finds hope and purpose, and tries to make good based on the family that chooses him. It’s a powerful story tied to every chapter of this tale, one of a man coming to define himself and what he means in the world.

April is a scientist, daughter of scientist parents. She’s working towards the betterment of everyone but she’s young and has to deal with the difficulties of being young and an attractive woman in a male-dominated field. She deals with both, and comes to terms with the weirdness of her life while also pointing out things that the others miss – her real strength comes from her open mind and her willingness to accept what is rather than what she’d like to be. By that token, however, she often wrestles with a flexible set of ethics that allows her to take dangerous action for what she thinks is the best. Her arrogance is dangerous, and she makes the same mistake a lot of smart people make, that people would come to the same conclusions she has if they had the information she has. It makes her compelling.

Some how, some way, these two manage to get in to every TMNT iteration.

Some how, some way, these two manage to get in to every TMNT iteration.

If April represents what youth can do in a positive way, Karai is the opposite. She’s just as capable and driven, and is responsible, full stop, for the resurrection of the Foot Clan in the modern era. She’s the descendant of the Shredder, and it’s her will and ambition that allows for the resurrection of the Foot in general and Oroko Saki in particular. She’s the very definition of someone who should have been wary of getting what she wanted, and once she gets it has second thoughts. Her lessons have been harsh, but her ambition and capability are second to no one else. She’s a fantastic foil, more interesting here than she has been in any other iteration of this series past.

Baxter Stockman is another character who has been in every iteration of TMNT. Notably, he was a white down-on-his-luck scientist who became a mutant fly in the original cartoon, but he is something much more compelling everywhere else: a wealthy African-American industrialist, a sort of Tony Stark gone evil. He’s never been as fascinating or as terrifying as he is in this comic, a chess master who plays high-stakes games with everyone from trans-dimensional warlords to ninja masters to literal gods. His losses are setbacks that he twists to his own advantage, often gaining access to new resources or knowledge even in defeat. He’s a representative of greed and pride, the very worst of the 1%, a Randian Objectivist ideal or Nietzschean Ultraman, and an often over-looker power who uses everyone around him as a tool and discards them as needed. These comics even worked the mutant fly into their narrative, and made it work.

Intelligence and foreplanning makes Baxter Stockman into Keyser Soze by way of Tony Stark.

Intelligence and foreplanning makes Baxter Stockman into Keyser Soze by way of Tony Stark.

These comics make everything work. Hun, initially introduced as a gang lord and heavy in the late nineties cartoon? He’s Casey’s father here, mutated by the Foot and put back to work, trying to do right by his son in all the wrong ways. His need for redemption drives him further and further towards self-destruction. Bebop and Rocksteady? Music loving punks who fail at everything except violence, but when it comes to busting heads with brute power there’s no one better. Their quest for acceptance and respect is stymied by their general cluelessness, a couple of idiots who remain frightening because of what they’re capable of.

Some characters are expanded far beyond their initial scope. The Rat King was a deranged homeless man in the original comics, then a mostly neutral oddity in the cartoon. Here, he’s tied to a new character named Kitsune. Kitsune appears first, working with the Foot Clan, a mysterious and magical presence who is explained by the appearance of the Rat King – who, here, is a literal god. He and Kitsune raise the stakes of the conflict, adding a spiritual quality to the war we’re all familiar with, and delving into divine philosophy and questions of destiny and free will.

Yes, this is a comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, it is fun as hell to read, but that doesn’t keep them from exploring some pretty heavy and heft concepts, and you’d be wise to pay attention to what they’re doing here, and any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story is only as good as the core conflict, which is that between Hamato Yoshi and Oroko Saki. Splinter and Shredder, iconic characters who have transcended the medium they were born in.

TMNT 003

Pictured: a force of nature pretending to be a man.

Splinter is a rat who happens to be a ninja master. He’s a quiet philosopher, a gentle soul who happens to be one of the most terrifying warriors to ever walk the world. Shredder is a force of nature, a man driven by unshakable pride and ambition, and he has never been more capable than he has been in these comics.

These two characters enjoy a relationship more complex than any previous iteration gave them, a battle waged over lifetimes. They’re adoptive brothers whose war is more about idealism and understanding and coming to terms with what they’ve both done and why than any physical conflict. Both possess a sense of gravitas and dignity, both of them unafraid to mix it up when they must. When either of them gets involved in a conflict it lends that one fight a scope it would not have otherwise, and when both of them get involved in a single event it changes the flow of the narrative entirely.

For four years, IDW Publishing has crafted one of the most interesting and involved rivalries in comics, a war of philosophy and expectation waged from one incarnation to the next, both of them unable to escape the other. And here, finally, we get a resolution that is so much more than mere violence. It is a war where ideals clash and both come to a realization they did not have before, where they can be angry about what has happened between them but can still see who they were and what they could have been, how their lives could have been richer if they could have spoken to one another instead of killing one another. Maybe in their next incarnation, we can see the two of them together, as the brothers this iteration shows they could be.

Pictured: a ninja master who is sick of your shit.

Pictured: a ninja master who is sick of your shit.

And that is why this works – a narrative that started as a parody but became (arguably) more popular than the source material. There is a sense of not good and evil here, but of complex and nuanced people driven to be the best they can be, and the complex lives they catch in their war of philosophies. It’s a exploratory essay on ambition, forgiveness, betrayal, and redemption that features a talking rat and four turtles who are also ninjas and mutants and teenagers. It is about youth inheriting and seeking to resolve the sins of their parents, and sometimes managing to do so.

It’s about people struggling to overcome and define themselves, and it has someone and something for everyone. That’s why this tale lasts, the persistent core that links every iteration (save that thing by Michael Bay) together, and it is a concept that IDW Publishing has taken, distilled, and perfected. We haven’t even touched on classic characters like Krang or the Fugitoid, or new characters like Alopex and Old Hob, but they more than hold their own here. It’s fantastic, expansive – an incredibly well built narrative that continually manages to exceed every possible expectation.

If you’re not reading these comics, you should. They’re brilliant, and IDW Publishing has the trades available for purchase here. You should buy them: if you’ve ever liked any version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you’ll love these comics, feeling right at home as the writing and art draw you in and keep you there.

We can’t recommend this series enough, and whatever iteration comes next is going to be hard-pressed to out-do this one for sheer quality. This comics is more than mere nostalgia – it is a benchmark of excellence, and one we can all measure ourselves against.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 050-046

… and one we’ll be happy to embrace with you.

 

 

Previously on God of Comics:

Coffin Hill

Hacktivist

Hawkeye

Imperium / Harbinger

Loki, Agent of Asgard

Ms. Marvel

Nextwave – Agents of H.A.T.E.

Punisher

Rat Queens 

Red Sonja

UFOlogy

Velvet 

X-O Manowar

 

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700

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-10-07

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

October 8, 2015

1602: Witch Hunter Angela #4

1602 Witch Hunter Angela #4Before Reading: So, Marvel is still doing their idiot crossover event thing that no one cares about and their best writers are doing their best to work around while still telling the stories they want to tell. This team is one of their best, and they’ve actually managed to progress the plot of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin while setting up Angela: Queen of Hel, which will be the ongoing once the idiot crossover wraps up. This is excellent, writing and art both, and set in the underused medieval setting Neil Gaiman made for Marvel a while back. Ignore the event crossover and this is awesome.

After Reading: Love is one of those things we talk about quite a lot, both in person and on this site. We’ve got a whole novella being published called Love is War, and love can be as destructive as it is nurturing. Here, we get to see Angela wield love like a weapon, keeping herself safe and killing her enemy, only to replace her so that she can resurrect the one person she’s ever loved. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and should tie in wonderfully with whatever comes next. Pretty much the best thing to come out of Secret Wars.

 

Batman and Robin Eternal #1

Batman and Robin Eternal #1

Before Reading: Batman Eternal was sort of a mixed bag, decent most of the time but fucking excellent when it was working. The ending was meh, with the sub-climax being all sorts of awesome, but it featured some writing greats and… wait. Tynion, Seeley, Valentine, Brisson, Lanzig, and Kelley are on this book? Holy fuck. This is going to be incredible. The story surrounds an old human trafficking case that Batman and Robin dealt with early in their careers coming back to haunt the Gotham where Selina is queen of the criminal underworld, Dick Grayson is a secret agent, and Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman. Batman Eternal mostly lived up to the hype, and this should be incredible.

After Reading: Okay, alright, we thought this was going to be good, we just had no idea how good it was going to be. DC will have a Top 5 Comics spot locked for however long this comic runs if they can keep this up – aside from some weird shots of Jason Todd, this comic is spot-on beautiful, and reintroduces Cassandra Cain (!) in impressive fashion, while also giving Harper and Dick a chance to shine, and building up an impressive and hidden new enemy on top of it. This looks like it’s going to be just as good as Batman Eternal was at its best, without the dragging sections. Fantastic.

 

Doctor Strange #1

Doctor Strange #1Before Reading: Stephan Strange has been a mixed bag when it comes to series based on him. Like Superman, he’s a difficult character to write for: what are his powers exactly? What are his limits? Why don’t more people realize that isn’t what his stories are about? Dr. Strange is closer to Doctor Who than anything else, and if there’s one writer not named Christopher Bird (seriously, Marvel, hire him) that is likely to get that, it’s going to be Jason Aaron. Aaron is responsible for some of the best myth-work we’ve seen out of comics in a long while, and artist Chris Bachalo has given us some of the most gorgeous issues of X-Men Marvel has ever published. I’m excited to see what they come up with.

After Reading: Another comic written by Jason Aaron, another comic that exceeds expectations. Even the art plays with the concept perfectly, illustrating the differences between magic and reality with an incredible eye for detail. There’s incredible setting here, going into what Stephan Strange is all about, what his power costs, and introducing a potent new foe that should make an interesting foil for Stephan and his friends. This is an incredible start to a series that promises to be outstanding, so get in on this now.

 

Imperium #9

Imperium #9Before Reading: This? This right here? This is some of the most intelligent and well thought out storytelling in the medium. Harada is moving towards creating a world where everyone is happy, and those that profit from misery are trying to stop him. Among those that profit from misery are an alien species called the Vine, more notably a complex piece of X-O Manowar, but those that have been living on Earth have their own agenda and Harada is a threat to it. The old shadow war that dominated our world burst into the light, and things are going to go wrong. It’s going to be beautiful. Jumping on point, for those of you that aren’t reading this. Trust us on this – read this series.

After Reading: Where do I even begin to sing this comic’s praises? The art is the least of it, and the art is fantastic. The writing, though, the writing is one of those things that mirrors what’s going on in the world perfectly, with the cost of scarcity economics playing along with corrupt media to try and demonize a man that is doing terrible things for the right reasons, and usually only doing those things to terrible people. There’s a lot of philosophy here, a lot of very heady stuff wrapped up in a fun superhero package. This isn’t surprising – we’ve talked about how awesome this series is in the past, and this continues the level of quality we’ve come to expect (but not take for granted!) from these comics.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50Before Reading: Oroko Saki has been a force of nature since his introduction in this series. He’s been unstoppable, claiming one victory after another, from one lifetime to the next. Here, finally, we see the culmination of four years’ worth of incredible storytelling as Shredder faces off against the TMNT and Splinter, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. This has been one of the most patiently crafted rivalries in modern comics, and the payoff should be spectacular.

After Reading: Ye Gods. We knew there was going to be a fight between Splinter and Shredder. There has to be. The title of this comic is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, yes, but the main conflict is based around the philosophical and emotional differences between Hamato Yoshi and Oroko Saki. Never, in any iteration of the TMNT, have those differences been so well illustrated or had such an impact on the story. The result is a satisfying conclusion that sets up the next story beautifully, and has some incredibly powerful moments throughout. We’ve got a more in-depth analysis of this series going live this afternoon, but we urge you to find and read this comic.

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477

God of Comics 2015-10-07

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 6, 2015

1602 Witch Hunter Angela #41602: Witch Hunter Angela #4

So, Marvel is still doing their idiot crossover event thing that no one cares about and their best writers are doing their best to work around while still telling the stories they want to tell. This team is one of their best, and they’ve actually managed to progress the plot of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin while setting up Angela: Queen of Hel, which will be the ongoing once the idiot crossover wraps up. This is excellent, writing and art both, and set in the underused medieval setting Neil Gaiman made for Marvel a while back. Ignore the event crossover and this is awesome.

 

Batman and Robin Eternal #1Batman and Robin Eternal #1

Batman Eternal was sort of a mixed bag, decent most of the time but fucking excellent when it was working. The ending was meh, with the sub-climax being all sorts of awesome, but it featured some writing greats and… wait. Tynion, Seeley, Valentine, Brisson, Lanzig, and Kelley are on this book? Holy fuck. This is going to be incredible. The story surrounds an old human trafficking case that Batman and Robin dealt with early in their careers coming back to haunt the Gotham where Selina is queen of the criminal underworld, Dick Grayson is a secret agent, and Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman. Batman Eternal mostly lived up to the hype, and this should be incredible.

 

Bloodshot Reborn #7Bloodshot: Reborn #7

You remember Terminator, right? The first one? Classic movie. Ray Garrison is Kyle Reese, a man who doesn’t know as much about the world as he thinks he does, fighting to save a woman from a threat only he truly understands, while the authorities hunt him down for crimes he is connected to but is not responsible for… sort of. See, Ray was Bloodshot and must become Bloodshot again, reclaiming the powers that he gave up and have driven their new users insane. This needs a Soska Sister movie adaptation yesterday.

 

Cluster #8Cluster #8

The themes of political corruption, family regret, guilt, imperialism, and enslaved prisoners all come to a head in the climax of this epic series. A rich kid’s daughter maybe sorta kinda accidentally killed her sister and was sentenced to military service in a war that the authorities are lying about – there’s resources they want, and the indigenous population is in the way of that, so reasons were manufactured for public support. Can the truth be revealed? Will it matter? Read this comic and find out…!

 

Darth Vader #10Darth Vader #10

You are watching  Aaron and Dale  talk about these comics, right? You really should, and you really should read these comics: they go a long way towards giving Vader back his dignity and menace, even retroactively making the prequel trilogy better. This follows that time Vader lost a whole Death Star, and his quest to regain a position of authority within the Empire while seeking the pilot that cost him the Death Star in the first place. Intrigue, subterfuge, and murder; Vader is good at all of these, striking like a hurricane. Tremendous.

 

Doctor Strange #1Doctor Strange #1

Stephan Strange has been a mixed bag when it comes to series based on him. Like Superman, he’s a difficult character to write for: what are his powers exactly? What are his limits? Why don’t more people realize that isn’t what his stories are about? Dr. Strange is closer to Doctor Who than anything else, and if there’s one writer not named Christopher Bird that is likely to get that, it’s going to be Jason Aaron. Aaron is responsible for some of the best myth-work we’ve seen out of comics in a long while, and artist Chris Bachalo has given us some of the most gorgeous issues of X-Men Marvel has ever published. I’m excited to see what they come up with.

 

Imperium #9Imperium #9

This? This right here? This is some of the most intelligent and well thought out storytelling in the medium. Harada is moving towards creating a world where everyone is happy, and those that profit from misery are trying to stop him. Among those that profit from misery are an alien species called the Vine, more notably a complex piece of X-O Manowar, but those that have been living on Earth have their own agenda and Harada is a threat to it. The old shadow war that dominated our world burst into the light, and things are going to go wrong. It’s going to be beautiful. Jumping on point, for those of you that aren’t reading this. Trust us on this – read this series.

 

John Flood #3John Flood #3

As those of us that don’t sleep can tell you, insomnia sometimes gives you superpowers at a price. Intuition and fuzzy logic seems simple at a certain point, but everything else becomes ridiculous. John Flood takes that experience and translates it into comics perfection, and then has a perfect intuitive who can’t figure out the waking world tracking down a serial killer who is also aware of him. This is psychological chess starring two madmen and those that one of them care about.

 

Jughead #1Jughead #1

Did Archie Comics strike gold with their reboot of Archie? Yes. Yes, they did. Archie, Afterlife with Archie, and Archie vs. Predator have all been surprising highlights among the medium, with surprisingly excellent writing and art and everything that makes a comic good. This series focuses on Jughead, who is easily one of the most interesting characters in comics as a whole, and has only been made moreso by the reboot. There’s few comics coming out this week that I’m looking forward to more, and given this week? That’s saying something.

 

Nailbiter #16Nailbiter #16

We mentioned serial killers up before, but this series? This series takes serial killing to an entirely different place, with a town that seems to breed them somehow, a false mythology to trick the unwary and something very real and very threatening lurking in the shadows of that town. And this is a Halloween issue, so the sense of dread this comic typically plays with should be ramped up to terrifying level. Trick or finger-licking good treats, kids. This is going to be good times.

 

Public Relations #2Public Relations #2

Honestly, this is a bit weird. A prince on the outs with a magical kingdom returns there from the real world because his girlfriend wants him to go to his dad’s birthday. Magic happens in the worst possible way. Someone somewhere is calling this series It’s Always Sunny in Westeros, which is a television show that I now need to watch. Can someone out there make it happen, maybe with the Sims or Lego or something? Meanwhile, this is absurdly fun.

 

Rowan's Ruin #1Rowan’s Ruin #1

Things go wrong for a girl named Katie when she does a house-swap to get a cheap vacation in England. It seems like a good plan, and England itself is charming – but when she moves in there’s some horrible nightmares that crop up, and a history to the house she’s staying in that make the house itself the sort of threat that most people cannot deal with. I love a good haunted house story and this sounds really neat. Another one I can’t wait to read in what’s looking like a very busy week in comics.

 

Star Wars #10Star Wars #10

Oh, Luke. You are the worst. Luke’s gone off on his own, hoping to learn more about the force now that Obi-Wan is dead. His first time out and his lightsaber got stolen, then he got captured while trying to get it back, and now he’s being forced into gladiatorial combat because of course he is. Thankfully, everyone else is on their way to save him, or they would be if Han’s wife hadn’t just turned Han and Leia over to the Empire. Oops? Things were already real, but now they’ve turned lethal.

 

Star Wars Lando #5Star Wars: Lando #5

Speaking of all things Star Wars and lethal, Lando has been talking his way out of trouble since issue one, only to get himself back into trouble, than out of it, then back in but even deeper. Currently, he’s sitting in a stolen ship that is also Palpatine’s private art gallery and collection of Sith artifacts, and the Emperor is a little miffed that this is happening. You might say that things have gotten weird, but this is where this story ends. Things gotta wrap up, and you know a smooth operator like Lando is going to end up with more than what he started with.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50

Oroko Saki has been a force of nature since his introduction in this series. He’s been unstoppable, claiming one victory after another, from one lifetime to the next. Here, finally, we see the culmination of four years’ worth of incredible storytelling as Shredder faces off against the TMNT and Splinter, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. This has been one of the most patiently crafted rivalries in modern comics, and the payoff should be spectacular.

 

Toil & Trouble #2Toil & Trouble #2

A certain Scottish Play being told from the perspective of three witches who set everything in motion, and the one of them that decided to bungle things up after returning from exile. This is why plans don’t work – everyone needs to be on the same page, or even the strongest groups can fall apart. They might yet be able to fix things, but this story is a tragedy, and these comics are about the journey more than the destination. This is all sorts of fun, and well worth the grab.

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God of Comics 2015-09-30

God Of Comics

September 29, 2015

Archie #3Archie #3

Good way to start the week – Archie Comics does their level best to modernize their lead and the mythology surrounding him, and chose Mark Waid to do it. This was the best possible choice, as these comics have been incredible so far, establishing Archie, most of his gang, and Riverdale in the modern era. Last issue saw the introduction of Veronica Lodge, and I imagine this issue will have her making an impact. Should be fantastic.

 

 

Batman Annual #4Batman Annual #4

Okay, so DC did a couple of amazing Batman stories last year, and at the end of both of them Bruce Wayne was no longer Batman. His memory of being the Dark Knight is gone, and he’s been working with orphans and concentrating on being Bruce Wayne without the trauma that drove his previous life. He seems happy, which is strange and kind of nice, but the question is can Bruce ever really escape the myth he once was? And even if he could, would we let him? This is a fascinating character study.

 

Bloodshot Reborn #5Bloodshot: Reborn #5

Valiant did a pretty great crossover last year called the Valiant. Part of that book was Bloodshot, a golem who created his own soul, losing his powers. Those powers came from nanotechnology, though, and those nanobots had to go somewhere. Since their loss, Bloodshot has been haunted by visions while his nanobots have been turning ordinary people into homicidal maniacs. This comic is a strange combination of thriller and action, and it works perfectly.

 

Book of Death - The Fall of Harbinger #1Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger #1

Bloodshot was built by the military industrial complex to stop one man: Toyo Harada, a psychic that is powerful enough to think himself a god. Harada has his own personal bogeyman, a kid who is just as powerful as he is but not so responsible, a kid who some thought was going to destroy the world. This comic shows the outcome of that prophecy, two beings uniquely gifted, and both blind to their own faults and the other’s virtues. This should be phenomenal.

 

Captain Canuck #5Captain Canuck #5

Did everyone see the Brian Milne cosplay of this character? Click the link and you will. It’s all kinds of great. That said, this comic is one of the more important bits of commentary to happen in the modern Canadian landscape, what with the dictator that is destroying Canada from within and the subversive nature of comics themselves. There’s a gold mine of story to draw upon there, and the creative team on this book is more than good enough to do it justice.

 

Grayson Annual #2Grayson Annual #2

Dick Grayson was given a secret mission by Bruce back when Bruce was still Batman, but now that Bruce isn’t Batman he’s forgotten what that mission was. Dick’s had to come to terms with that, and has been blackmailed by the intelligence agency he was pretending to work for into continuing to work for. He needs someone to talk to and Bruce isn’t available, so he’s going to talk with Uncle Clark instead. You know, Superman, who is also going through some stuff. Maybe, like heroes and friends, they can help one another? Fingers crossed.

 

Jem and The Holograms Outrageous Annual #1Jem and The Holograms Outrageous Annual #1

The Holograms settle down to have a quiet night in where they can forget about their coming fame and the rivalry that’s going to define them. Instead, they’re going to be all about popcorn and in-demand movies, and we get an in-depth look at the fears that help make these characters who they are! This title has been an incredible surprise, and one of the best new comics out this year. We can’t get enough, and if you’re curious and want in this’d be a good lace to hop on.

 

 

The Mantle #5The Mantle #5

So, this wraps up today. This comic had a strong start and just sort of stumbled from there, going nowhere and then going somewhere, and now we’re going into a finale that’ll either redeem this book or not. There’s something cool built into this, I think, some raw little detail that I keep thinking that I’m missing and hopefully will be revealed here. Regardless, someone is going to die in this comic, and something needs to happen to make me care.

 

Prince Valiant #4Prince Valiant #4

I never really got Prince Valiant, but Marvel’s insistence on Secret Wars has given me time and money to burn and this sounds interesting and related. There’s a peril that is threatening the multiverse, some sort of evil that threatens all that was, is, or could be. Every possible living soul is put in peril by whatever this thing is. And the only person going to challenge it is Prince Valiant, who is riding out on horseback and armed with a sword. Sounds like a fair fight, and much more interesting than Marvel copying DC to fix the mistakes of their editorial staff and a single writer.

 

The Sandman Overture #6The Sandman: Overture #6

Everything comes to an end, even beginnings. This is a rare prequel that adds to the story that it is based on, a telling of how Dream was weakened enough to become trapped by some human magicians at the beginning of Sandman. It’s a hell of a thing, too, with the souls of stars going mad, and driving madness into the hearts of everything their light touches. Also, JH Williams III is on art duties, and there’s very few that come close to the dream imagery that man is capable of crafting. There’s nothing else like it, and that alone makes it worth reading.

 

Sons of the Devil #5Sons of the Devil #5

An orphan with rage problems and maybe also supernatural origins he knows nothing about is finding out some of his bloodties, and how a cult has been infecting the world unnoticed for a single generation. He’s managed to escape his blood until now, but his blood has come looking for him and there’s a price for things he knows nothing about, and questions he’s only just beginning to learn how to ask. This is complex and layered, a character study of nature and nurture set against a crumbling humanity.

 

Steam Wars - First Empire #1Steam Wars: First Empire #1

It’s steampunk Star Wars. What else do you want? Characters will zig where the might have sagged as an iconic story is taken in new directions, old characters and plots are re-imagined, and something cool emerges. This has a lot of possibility and potential, and we’re hoping that this title can live up to the promise.

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God of Comics – Gail Simone’s Red Sonja

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

September 24, 2015

Red Sonja

Artwork of the original She-Devil with a Sword. Bad to the power of ass.

Red Sonja is a weird character.

That’s not to say that the character itself is weird. It’s simple enough – she’s the distaff version of Conan the Barbarian, and even shares a world with him (and Cthulhu, because Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft were pen pals and fans of one another). She started as a renaissance-era warrior before Marvel Comics re-imagined her as a Conan-era fighter, combining her with Dark Agnes, another Robert E. Howard creation, and moving her into the dawn of human civilization.

So, that’s easy enough. So maybe I’m wrong – it’s not the character, but rather the interface that character has with our world that’s weird.

And I don’t mean comics. Comics are a form of medium we use to tell stories, and they have strengths and weaknesses just like any other form of media. There are limitations to books, movies, television shows, video games, comics – any and every means we’ve invented to tell stories.

What’s interesting about Red Sonja is her persistence. Like Conan, she has no definitive narrative, no single tale we can point to and say “that there is the story of Red Sonja.” Contrast that with other iconic characters: Batman’s parents were shot in an alley so he fights the crime and the Joker is usually involved, Mario rescues Princess Peach Toadstool from Bowser and an army of turtles, Jack Bauer is a government agent who was trained to fight terrorists and does so no matter what the cost, Rick Blaine plays politics and tries to stay neutral while running a night club in Nazi controlled Casablanca, the three Musketeers battle the enemies of France and protect the monarchy from the machinations of the Church.

Now, tell me, what does Red Sonja do? Who does she fight? What’s the iconic tale of her character, the journey? Who does she fight? What is her purpose, her drive? What is she after? Like Conan, she is a passive wanderer through her own world, but an active power in her own life. She doesn’t seem to want anything except her own freedom and to be able to live with herself, whatever that entails and whatever that costs.

She’s died, been resurrected, had a descendant claim her name; been chosen by a goddess, lost the favor of that goddess, watched that goddess die; been a queen, a peasant, a pirate; been a concubine, a prisoner, a resistance leader, a gladiator. She’s been chaste, sexually active, reckless, careful. There’s few things she keeps from one incarnation to the next save her red hair, independence, and capacity for violence.

And yet… and yet

There’s something that rings true about the She-Devil with a Sword, something about a red haired warrior woman cutting a swath through pre-history to define herself that just feels right. The sword, the bikini armor, the independent attitude and sense of power. There’s a swirling potential for myth-building here: a resonant character concept and rich setting that lends itself to almost any sort of story.

Enter Gail Simone, and what is it, exactly, that Gail Simone does best? What has that name come to mean when applied as a verb?

Gail Simone Definition2One of the larger mistakes DC Comics made – during a period when they were making a lot of mistakes – was firing Gail Simone. Other companies had to have been calling her immediately, and we got an incredible run on Tomb Raider out of it, one of the better Wolverine stories in recent memory, and a strong contender for the definitive Red Sonja epic.

In these eighteen issues you get a definitive story, beginning to end, that captures perfectly who this person is, what she accomplishes, and what she fights – and it leaves a loose enough time line that anyone could insert a story into this narrative and contribute to the greater whole, or continue it, or re-tell the beginning. This is fertile myth-building that sets a strong core personality and setting while establishing a thematic conceptual foe that Red Sonja spends her entire life battling, and it is her continued victory that defines her as a character.

What is this concept that she strives her whole life against? We’re going to go through each of the three issues arc to answer exactly that.

The first arc deals with Sonya past and present. We join her as she’s been enslaved and forced to fight by a vast and corrupt empire, perfecting her killing skills in the pits until only her and one other warrior remain – a woman named Dark Annisia. They’re forced to fight for years, forging a bond and a trust that allows them to survive where no one else can.

Red Sonja 04

Dark Annisia. Like Dark Agnes. See? Gail knows how and when to draw from history.

Eventually, the two of them are rescued by a kingdom that is at war with this empire. The old emperor escapes, vanishing into the wastes, but the king finds Sonya and Annisia and has them cared for. As they recover, both of them declare each other sisters. Once they are hale they depart freely to make their own lives.

There’s a sense that these two are equals in every respect, forming a bond born of mutual respect and trauma. They survived a horror together, and they are as blood to one another. We get the sense of time passing, of Sonya and Annisia both becoming legends of their era, and when the kingdom that rescues her asks Sonya to return and rescue them from an invading horde of demons she comes gladly.

What she does not know until she gets there, though, is that this army is being led by Dark Annisia. The two of them fight and Dark Annisia wins, revealing that her army isn’t there to conquer, but to quarantine; their old saviors have been exposed to a plague, a terrible disease that Sonya herself has caught, and that it was made her weak.

Dark Annisia’ monsters tend to the sick and dying as she wishes her sister off, allowing Sonya to go make peace with her gods and meet death on her own terms. It’s here that we see where Sonya came from: how bandits overcame and slaughtered her family in front of her, how she managed to escape and take revenge from the woods, how she raised herself and how the gladiatorial pits perfected the skills her childhood had forced upon her.

It should be heartbreaking, but Gail chooses to make Sonya’s story one of hope – of a child who is battered but never broken, a young girl who rises from tragedy to take control of her own life. And as she lies, dying, she is rescued by a band of would-be warriors from the plague ridden kingdom who reveal a terrible truth to her: that she is not sick at all. She has been poisoned.

Red Sonja 03

Sonja is not a very good patient at this point in her life.

They give her the cure and nurse her back to health. As she recovers she teaches them to fight, and even takes down a group of bandits, proving that even a weakened Sonya is a danger to be respected. Initially, she suspects that Annisia may be responsible for her poisoning, but she dismisses this out of hand – Annisia would not do this to her, and there did seem something wrong with Annisia when they met.

In truth, it was the prince of the kingdom she was supposed to save. He has poisoned his people in a misguided attempt to impress his father, but neither plan or poison are his. He and Dark Annisia both were pawns meant to weaken a kingdom and two warriors that the old empire feared; both are made nothing more than a means of destroying an enemy that an emperor knew he could not defeat on the field of combat.

Sonya is, of course, able to free Annisia, kill the emperor, and help the people of the kingdom find the cure and leadership that they need. The prince isn’t evil, but he is open to suggestion and lacks the confidence necessary to take responsibility for his own life and the life of others. Annisia isn’t evil, but haunted and cursed and finds redemption through her sister.

The emperor is killed, and the world is made a better place.

In just six issues we’re given a host of complex relationships and histories, more than enough reason to get invested in this character and her world. Sonya is deceptively deep; she comes across as very simple and her ethos truly is, but the means by which she inflicts her ethos on the world around her makes her complex.

Six issues of complex political machinations and varying degrees of evil, the morality of the ancient world contrasted with our own, and a heroic figure who rejects expectation to redefine the best of what her world can be. It’s a fantastic start that firmly roots this character and her world, a quick read that can be delved into, studied, and discussed.

It’s a hell of a hook, and moves us headlong into the Second Arc.

Red Sonja 07

Sonya, meet carrot. Carrot, Sonya.

Time has passed. The legend of Red Sonja has grown, and she has parted from Dark Annisia and gone down into an Egyptian analogue at the request of their Pharaoh. Seems the dude is dying and he wants to throw the best party ever, so he’s going to make Sonja an offer – go and get him the best of everything and make herself rich and free every one of his slaves, or turn him down and watch all of those slaves die when he does. Her choice.

Sonya chooses to take the job and heads out to collect the best cook, beast master, astrology, courtesan, dancer and swordsman that her world has to offer, and ends up having to deal with the circumstances that each of these people finds themselves in. Each offers their own challenges for the She-Devil with a Sword, forcing her to take stock of her own circumstances as much as theirs.

The cook is a relatively straight-forward rescue mission: he’s been captured by cannibals, and they’re forcing him to cook people for them. She sneaks in to their camp to rescue him, only to find out that he’s quite happy where he is – his captors are cannibals, yes, but they’re cannibals with a palette. Problem is, there’s other monsters out there with an even greater palette, and they have no care for his culinary skills or his new friends as anything other than meat. When they come for dinner, he wisely leaves with the She-Devil.

Sonya is used to rescuing others, but she isn’t used to the idea of strength not coming from a sword. The quiet confidence that the cook has mystifies her, and his unwillingness to sleep with her is something she has difficulty accepting. She’s not used to having her worldviews challenged or shaped by others.

This really comes to account when she meets the best swordsman in the world. She sees in him a reflection of herself, the casual arrogance with which they both meet the world. When she asks him to go with her he challenges her, and will go nowhere with her unless she can defeat him. So, naturally, the two of them fight and he beats her easily. He even makes a bit of a fool of her until she realizes two things: she’s psyching herself out and that she’s dueling with him by his rules. When she fights him on her own terms, she trounces him easily.

We all learn a valuable lesson: if you allow someone else to set the conditions of your victory and your fight, you will lose. You need to frame your own life and your own skill, you need to be able to define where you stand. The swordsman accepts her victory and goes with her, though he, too, will not sleep with her.

She faces an entirely new problem with the beast master, a sour misogynist who mistreats his animals and dislikes Sonya for their shared history, a person who fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. He won’t go with her and his animals make him impossible to drag by force, and this puts her at a severe definition when dealing with him. Things get so bad that he manages to imprison her, and it’s here that she learns that his apprentice is the true source of his power, so she frees herself, kills him, and takes the apprentice with her.

Red Sonja 09

To be fair, dude is kind of a shit.

The lesson is clear: you can’t deal with evil, not really. You can’t change people that don’t want to be changed, and putting yourself on the line for people that only want to do you harm will get you hurt. There are alternatives, thankfully, and putting yourself at risk for those that want or need your help is sometimes necessary, because evil is real and never goes away on its own.

Look at what happens with the astrologer, for example. He’s been captured by a church, who plan to kill him because they don’t like what he has to say. They’ve crafted a giant church to intimidate people with superstitious awe, and for a time that works on Red Sonya – a woman who has faced demons and dragons, survived slave pits, and overcome death itself.

Churches were actually constructed to engender that sense of awe in people. It’s why they were always so large and expansive – not just to allow in worshipers, but to keep people on their knees. Religion is a powerful political tool for those who want to make themselves powerful and inflict their version of truth on people, and Sonya nearly falls prey to it until she remembers that she is Red Sonya, the She-Devil with a Sword, and she frees the astrologer before the church can burn him to death for apostasy.

If the cook, beastmaster, swordsman, and astrologer make Sonya question the world around her, though it is the Courtesan that makes her question herself. Gail Simone has always supported the idea of people building one another rather than getting caught in rivalries that ultimately destroy all concerned. With the Courtesan, Sonya discovers that there are different kinds of battlefields and different battles to be fought.

She also discovers that the Courtesan came from a village that neighbored her own – the two of them might even be related. There’s a simple joy that both of them get from recognizing the strength of the other, and both of them are made better by recognizing and respecting what the other has to offer. There’s a lovely parallel between the two of them that respects sex, even as a commodity.

There’s even a subplot in this arc dealing with sex, and how no one wants to sleep with Sonya. Although she’s has been presented as a sex object by some writers, Sonya herself is belligerent to the point of excess; she is a good person, but not really a nice one, and the people she’s saving tend to be a lot more interested in hygiene than she is. It’s a cute distraction that pays off with the Courtesan and the climax.

red sonja 05

She went and caught them all like Ash catches Pokemon.

And speaking of the climax… Red Sonya returns to not-Egypt and delivers her charges. The Pharaoh, naturally, has no interest in granting his slaves freedom – he needs them to serve him in the afterlife. He tries to have Sonya killed, which goes about as well as you’d expect. What we learn from him is how greed can dehumanize, and being very wealthy can make one view those not so lucky as less-than.

It’s a powerful statement with many real-world analogies, ranging from the recent HIV-medication price hike to the lies surrounding Planned Parenthood, how those that have taken and inherited all the wealth often do not understand the pain they inflict on those who do not. This story is one of hope, bargains made in bad faith but held to task anyway, of greed and corruption forced to make good, on consequences paid, and how it is necessary to hold anyone you make a bargain with to their word.

This arc also gives us a wider view of Red Sonya’s world, the peoples that live in it and the places that it contains. We see enough of this place to guess the scope of it; how vast her world, and how much of an impact she’d had on it merely by the way that people respond to her. It opens up a host of story possibilities and characters that Gail Simone is kind enough to hint at, leaving a host of material for other writers to work with, or for herself to return to.

Which brings us to the third and final arc of the Gail Simone run.

The first arc dealt with Sonya’s personal identity and how it was crafted, while the second defined the world that Sonya lives in and her place in it. The third is a little trickier.

It starts with her killing a wizard, which is standard fantasy fare. She’s cursed in the process, though, losing the ability to forgive anyone for anything. That sounds like a small enough thing until you really think about it: we forgive other people and ourselves for doing idiotic things all the time, and we measure our responses to things done to us via proportional responses that are, in turn, tied to the concept of forgiveness.

This curse removes all sense of scale from her. She’s unable to forgive even the smallest slight, and unable to respond with anything except murder. All sense of scale is lost along her her ability to forgive. She is wise enough to see the end consequence of this curse – she will become exactly the sort of monster that she typically fights, and she is unable to forgive herself for the potential beast she could become. Driven by the same stubborn need to fight evil that has seen her through every fight so far, she burns her palms so that she can never take up a sword again.

Red Sonja 06

Red Sonja does not half ass anything, even when it comes to self immolation.

Sonya has given her life to the blade, and defines herself by her skill. She has no tribe, no blood family – all she is comes from her skill with a sword, and yet she is willing to sacrifice everything she is to keep from becoming something that she’d despise. Her life and her agency are her own, and she is entirely unwilling to bow down to anyone’s attempts to control or define her, no matter the cost.

A few different parties seek her out during this time. One is the elder brother of the wizard who cursed her; one is an alchemist with a gift for fire making; another are the villagers who she rescued from the wizard; and the last is the final remaining bandit from the band that slew her village; and the last is Dark Annisia, here to care for her sister in her time of need. Through the presence of all three, Sonya is able to break the curse, heal her hands, and reclaim her life, and in the process learns that forgiving others allows her to free herself, that people change and lives move on.

It would be a powerful note to leave on, for a character who lives and dies by her sword and skill to understand that there are few absolutes, that people can change and that forgiveness has a power in and of itself. It’s not an ending, though, and it doesn’t tie the world together, or give the story the sense of closure it deserves. And so…

We catch up with Sonya again, this time in the aftermath of an orgy. A handful of priestesses approach her and offer her a job – they need protection. It is their holy task to protect a library, one of the greatest of its kind in that old world, and there is a local monarch that would like to burn it to the ground. This monarch is a matriarch, and she finds these priestesses and their order abhorrent.

Her reasons are something that we might recognize from our own world; she thinks that educated women are dangerous and forget their place, and she needs to make sure they cannot rise. She sees other independent women as rivals, and knowledge as something to be feared.

Those who wish to stabilize their power often attempt to destroy education, recognizing that knowledge leads to more knowledge and that new ideas could challenge the ones that allow them to hold power in the first place. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is entropic – when one stops learning one degrades the knowledge they already hold, becoming more and more lost and unable to deal with reality.

Further, this matriarch’s misogyny is rooted in the idea that all women must compete, that all women are rivals and that true friendship is impossible among the distaff gender. She needs this order to be destroyed because these believes these women threaten her power and her beliefs, their very existence a danger to her.

Sonya, who is illiterate, doesn’t see the value of books. Her recommendation is to leave the library behind, and for the priestesses to save themselves. They refuse to do this, but she’s taken the job and finds herself defending books and scrolls from the fiery end the matriarch has demanded. She uses something she learned from a book to win a battle she thought she couldn’t, turning a child’s fable into solid practice that sees three opponents dead.

She's even learned to be a better patient.

She’s even learned to be a better patient.

And during her recovery, she learns to read and write. She learns the value of literacy and ideas, and becomes more – Red Sonja matures. We’re shown how injury and age affects her but how she remains dangerous nonetheless, and we’re given an ending that still lends itself to further stories but closes off this part of Sonya’s life.

Gail Simone has defined Sonya’s nemesis not as an empire, but as entropy – the idea of things winding down and being locked away. Red Sonja becomes an agent of change in her world, a hero that allows other people to grow and other people to hope. She’s more than a blood-drenched killer, but a person that fights so that others can make whatever choices they want and become whatever they need.

It’s a powerful tale, the sort of thing that can and should be studied. There’s multiple parallels to the real world, with a strong connection to many ethical and moral issues. With every step Sonya lives her life and asks only that others do the same, and she will fight to the death to keep the agency of herself and others from falling victim to those that would persecute and denigrate others in the name of their self-righteousness. It’s kind of amazing.

Yes, the artwork is beautiful. It’s Walter Geovani – what do you expect? The man is a phenomenal talent, and giving him the proper tale only makes his artwork stronger. This is the perfect blend of artist and writer, and it’s an absolute masterpiece of storytelling, from beginning to end.

Given everything that we were given from this run, we can only thank Gail Simone for what she’s done, and hope that one day she returns to this world and character.

But that is another tale...

But that is another tale…

 

 

Previously on God of Comics:

Coffin Hill

Hacktivist

Hawkeye

Imperium / Harbinger

Loki, Agent of Asgard

Ms. Marvel

Nextwave – Agents of H.A.T.E.

Punisher

Rat Queens

UFOlogy

Velvet 

X-O Manowar

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God of Comics 2015-09-23

God Of Comics

September 22, 2015

IXth Generation #5IXth Generation #5

A lot of superhero comics are all too eager to show off the futures that their worlds promise. Imperium gave us a vision of a Utopia, where as titles like Justice League 3001 or the 2099 titles from Marvel show, largely, a dystopia. This veers on that side of things, but grants a bunch of bio-engineered gods access to the Top Cow Artifacts – weapons like the Witchblade or the Angelus – and sets them all against a god-level Darkness. The stakes are every living thing, and the weapon is cleverness. An awesome concept carried to near perfection.

 

Amelia Cole and the Impossible FateAmelia Cole and the Impossible Fate

I keep hearing things about this title; a sort of cross between magic and technology, co-existing as best they can, with a tech genius lead named Amelia Cole slowly learning about the rest of her world. There’s powers in place that aren’t fond of her, though, and they’ve banished her to the magic world where none of her tech works. Seems that’s what happens when you challenge the authorities. It’s an interesting concept that plays with reality, identity, free will, and destiny.

 

Arcadia #5Arcadia #5

Speaking of comics that play with free will, reality, and identity… imagine a world where most of humanity was dying of a plague, so they were frozen and their minds uploaded into a piece of software, where they were supposed to look for a cure while those that had an immunity to the disease kept them alive. Somewhere along the way, because people are people, a scarcity-based paradigm infected the programmed world. Things went wrong, which makes this a good read.

 

Batgirl #44Batgirl #44

The son of the guy that used to run Wayne Enterprises before Batman Eternal destroyed the Wayne fortune has come to college and has a start-up going, and Babs would like to get involved with it. Why wouldn’t she? She’s brilliant, and this is the sort of thing that could make for very interesting writing. This is the book that pretty much set the tone for the whole of the DCYou, and is one of the most fun comics that DC is publishing right now. This very manga-esque in presentation and narrative, and would make an awesome anime.

 

Book of Death #3Book of Death #3

Last issue gave us the reveal of Master Darque as the big bad. He’s pretty much a God of Death, an otherworldly force that cannot be understood and only barely contained. He’s evil beyond comprehension, and he’s corrupted the one force that kept him in check, and anyone else from knowing he existed – now, he’s going about corrupting the Geomancer, who is the human interface for the life-force of the planet. This is an insanely cool story. Check it out.

 

Exit Generation #1Exit Generation #1

This is one of the best concepts for a comic, ever – most of humanity leaves earth to go find a better home in the cosmos. Those left behind find what’s left to be a paradise, and enter a sort of boring utopian thing that lasts right up until a horde of carnivorous aliens arrive to devour them all. Thankfully, our lead has always wanted to be an 80’s action movie hero, and this is his chance~! This is exactly the sort of lunacy I got into comics for.

 

 

Hacktivist #3Hacktivist #3

Oh, gods, read this comic. Go out, get the prior trade, and for the love of yourself and your fellow man, read this comic. This is all about the power of internet to affect the real world on both a direct and ideological level, and what happens when that power finds itself in the hands of people that aren’t so careful with it as they think they are, and how those who crafted that power in the first place have to take responsibility for those who think they’re following in their footsteps. It’s brilliant and gorgeous and shockingly poignant, a story that lives up to and then exceeds every promise it makes. It’s probably the best thing you’ll read this week, if not this month.

 

Harley Quinn & Power Girl #4Harley Quinn & Power Girl #4

The sheer weirdness of this book – Harley conned a partially amnesiac Power Girl into thinking they were a team. They fell through an inter-dimensional portal, returned, fell through another one, and are currently fighting to save an alien seventies disco love god from another group of aliens and the brainwashing that has made him a killing machine. Oh, and he was also in a thing with an alternate-reality Power Girl, because of course he was. DC Comics exists for this.

 

He-Man - The Eternity War #10He-Man: The Eternity War #10

DC Comics’ He-Man comics are better than they have any business being, even if they jump stories before reaching a climax. That’s annoying. We get to see and explore the aftermath, and infer what happened through those stories. In this case, Prince Adam is weak and sickly, and his uncle, Skeletor, has claimed the power of Grayskull for himself. The question has oft been asked, why was Adam worthy and his uncle not? We may be looking at a definitive answer.

 

Justice League 3001 #4Justice League 3001 #4

Classic DC heroes are partially and badly cloned a thousand years after they die and hook up with some immortal or time displaced heroes of the modern era, and, oh, what adventures they have…! Between the legions of hell, a supervillain group called the Five, and a galactic government that sometimes gives violent species to Starro for colonization, this is the weirdest future outside of Transmetropolitan. Now, a time-displaced villian confronts the bad partial clone of the Flash, who is currently also one of the people responsible for this whole mess in the first place~! This comic is insane and cool, both and at the same time.

 

Kanan - The Last Padawan #6Kanan: The Last Padawan #6

This comic is a tragedy, doing everything for Caleb Dune that the prequel movies failed to do for Anakin. Caleb was forced to abandon his identity as a Jedi Padawan and became a criminal, eventually finding something like a family and almost a way to live with himself. Then, he took on a Padawan, and that’s brought everything that he could have been back to the surface – but now he’s returning to the planet that robbed him of his identity. I’m sure everything will be fine there. Nothing will haunt him at all. Nope.

 

Public Relations #1Public Relations #1

Got this recommended to me during one of the Nerdouver podcasts / vlogs. It’s about politics and family in the modern world, only there’s one place that may secretly have magic, like, real magic. And this one guy’s been invited there, because it’s his father’s 50th birthday, and also his father may be the absolute ruler of that place, and why wouldn’t you want to go to that sort of gala? I want to go to that gala. I’m just about out of coffee and I bet their coffee is spectacular.

 

Red Sonja #18Red Sonja #18

This title is going to be getting the God of Comics treatment this week, because Gail Simone. No, seriously, there has not been a single writer that has done so much with this character in all her history, and we will be getting into that at length come Thursday. For now, just know that this is an artistic and emotional masterpiece, told with the deft skill of characterization that has become a Gail Simone hallmark. An epic in the purest sense of the word, and one that deserves to be read.

 

Spire #3Spire #3

Lettering is an artform, and no comic makes better use of their lettering than this one. They convey so much with the way speech is constructed and portrayed in this series, which also benefits from an unspeakably cool concept. A human with spider-like abilities is playing detective on one of the last bastions of civilization, where the Baroness to be doesn’t like those that are not, strictly speaking, human. Spider detective is investigating a string of viscious bloody murders and also sleeping with the Baroness’ daughter, both of which can only end in tears. Ambitious stuff, this is.

 

Thief of Thieves #31Thief of Thieves #31

The problem with leaving a life you’ve devoted everything to is that there’s nothing else for you. You can try to abandon what you were, but that definition will haunt you, especially if you’ve got nothing to fill the void. Redmond is good at being a thief and terrible at being anything else – so his retirement is not the sort of thing that’s going to last, not now that his apprentice went and got herself caught while trading on his name. Hilarity will not ensue as one of the best crime comics going continues.

 

Think Tank #1Think Tank #1

Huh. This sounds like a mash-up of Hacktivist and Injection, and that could be cool. Someone is attacking the technological infrastructure of the United States, and the government is woefully under-prepared for such an assault. They assemble a think tank to stop it, and their idea is to create an army of robotic armor that people can wear, because of course it is. So, Hacktivist and Injection by way of Iron Man? Could be cool. Worth checking out, at any rate.

 

Weirdworld #4Weirdworld #4

The best part about Secret Wars is how little money I’m spending on Marvel comics during this period of time. There’s been some decent standouts – good writers making the best of a shitty editorial mandate forced by a shitty writer’s mistakes – and this is one of the best of the lot. It’s so good, in fact, that Marvel’s decided to make this an ongoing once the idiot event thing is at an end. Basically, a barbarian hero king tries to navigate a world where everything can and does happen. A swamp of Man-Things? Sure. Gun-toting ogres? Why not? Lava men? We can work those in. Everything is insane. Everything is weird. And it’s brilliant.

 

Wolf #3Wolf #3

Peace Talks isn’t due out til next year. You’re killing us, Jim. And Hexed just wrapped up, and that was beautiful and all but we need some new bit of high quality urban fantasy. Wolf is stepping up to fill the gap, being about a badass werewolf with a bit of a rep who does what he can to keep the peace between various supernatural and human interests. He may also be protecting the Antichrist, but I suppose we can wait to find out. Well, some people might. I can’t. This is excellent – broody, moody, funny, and violent.

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2088

God of Comics – Rat Queens

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

September 19, 2015

A quick note: this essays aim to be an in-depth analysis of why a given comic series rocks. This means there will be spoilers. Lots of spoilers. I’m pretty up-to-date on my comic readings, and if I’m writing about a comic it’s because that comic came out this past week and I couldn’t not talk about it anymore. Double negatives aside, that means I’m going to use every tool at my disposal to figure out why a given comic works or doesn’t. Savvy? We good? Great. Also, this particular article is probably not safe for work. You hear me? NSFW. Because of one image, but don’t take the chance. Alright? Alright. Let’s get this going.

I was torn this week – Death Vigil, Prez, or Rat Queens was going to get the sort of analysis we do here this week. There was a facebook poll and people wanted Rat Queens, so Rat Queens it is. Secret Six was in contention, too, before I realized how much I wanted to talk about Gail Simone in connection with Red Sonja, but we’ll get to that.

Right now, there’s Rat Queens to discuss.

There’s some controversy over this title, having to do with the original artist. We’re not here to discuss that. There’s plenty of other places that have, and if you don’t know why the original artist left, well, you’re better off. When it comes to Rat Queens there’s only one thing you really need to know: these comics fuckin’ rock.

Back before World of Warcraft there was Dungeons and Dragons. Creatives the world over would get together with their friends and create characters, and then go on adventures, battle monsters, and grab loot with those characters. It was a good way to get together with a group of friends and share stories with one another, to bond over a game that actively encouraged imagination.

As silly as it is to think about now, there was a scare way back when about Dungeons and Dragons. Tom Hanks even starred in a made-for-tv-movie about the dangers of Dungeons and Dragons, but, thankfully, there was an expose about what your average play session was really like, and there’s plenty of those going around now.

And this is because these games are a good idea; that initial game spawned dozens of others – Rifts, the World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, Pathfinder, the Iron Kingdoms, In Nomine, Don’t Rest Your Head, the Triune Legacy all come immediately to mind. Hell, Dungeons and Dragons itself has had multiple editions, most recently the fifth.

All had their own mechanics and their own fluff and that can differ heavily from one game to the next, but one thing stays true: the creativity of the players.

You get people that run or play their games in ways that no one can ever truly expect or prepare for. Half the fun is heading off on different tangents, when things change due to some random bit of chance. Stories can go off in radically different directions, for good and ill. Gamers take on a language of their own as the events of the game change and twist, in-jokes develop and camaraderie is born.

There are as many comics that have tried to capture the feel of these games as there are games themselves: Skullkickers, Demon Knights, He-Man… even licensed ones based on games, like Dragonlance, Exalted, or and even Dungeons and Dragons itself.

And yet, none of them have ever quite gotten the chaotic feel of what it’s like to actually play one of these games.

None of them until Rat Queens.

Rat Queens 002

I’ve run parties with similar battle cries.

On the surface, Rat Queens is about a company of adventurers who go by that name. They operate out of a small town that has a few other rival adventuring companies, and they all cause as much trouble as they solve. They get co-opted as trouble makers by the town they live in and go on adventures because they have to, and if that were the full of it Rat Queens would be an okay comic that wouldn’t be getting this write up.

No, what sets Rat Queens apart is those characters: the adventures are secondary, playing to the narratives of each individual member of the Queens and how it effects them as a whole.

The leader of the group is mostly an elf named Hannah, and it’s that mostly that haunts her. She’s a mage and a necromancer, so she’s already going to get a bad rap because most people hear necromancer and think bad things. Seriously, necromancy gets a bad rap, but there can be good necromancers and Hannah is one of them.

She comes across as reactionary and tough, yes, but it’s all rooted in trauma. See, the other half of that mostly is demon – in Dungeons and Dragons there’s a race of half-demons called Tieflings, and Hannah is descended from them. They’re not any more evil than anyone else, really, but distrust runs rampant against them, and the guard of a town murdered Hannah’s mother in front of her for consorting with demons.

From behind, mind you, as she was comforting her daughter, after being driven out of a store where she’d been trying to buy things. I think we’ve mentioned before that comics are one of the most visceral forms of social and political commentary…?

What we know about Hannah from there is that she grew up alone, somehow got into mage school, graduated, and started an all-female mercenary company. We also know that she has a connection with the leader of the town guard in her new home, a complicated one that was built on love and ended because of this:

Rat Queens 001

It’s the horns. The horns are what’s shocked him.

Yeah, it’s hard to trust anyone completely when those closest to you have been either killed or rejected you because of what you are. Hannah is tough because that’s how she copes. There are moments where we see the extent of her sadness, how utterly broken she is, and her strength in fighting and holding her own is admirable. Heroic, even.

A conflict rooted in racism, trauma, and abuse would be enough for most comics, but Rat Queens starts there and builds.

The next character in our four person party is Dee, a cleric. Typically, in Dungeons and Dragons, your clerics are priests and healers who call upon the powers of whatever god they worship to keep the party going. Dee is kind of not that. Yes, she calls upon the power of a god, but it’s a god she doesn’t really believe in. Dee, the cleric, is an atheist. At the very most, an agnostic.

Rat Queens 006

We do conga lines at my synagogue.

See, she grew up in a death cult that worships a squid headed god, and was raised to be the high priestess of the next generation. At some point she started questioning her faith and left. She recognizes that the god she worshiped is evil and that a lot of the things she took for granted don’t actually work within a larger context, so she’s stuck trying to define her morality without the faith that she feels she’s outgrown.

Funny thing is, we see her family from time to time, and they’re living and supportive even if they are confused by their estranged daughter and sibling. Her brother even comes to town to check on her and make sure she’s doing okay, and doesn’t press her to come home and leaves when she asks him to.

It’s hard for her, because she’s dealing with a family she dearly loves but cannot reconcile with, and they can’t understand why but feel the need to respect her decision. There’s a sadness to both her and her family, their faith keeping them apart. She’s decided to have faith in herself and that’s power enough to funnel her healing and any other magic she needs to call upon.

This, again, would be a strong enough story all by itself for another comic, but Rat Queens is still just getting started.

Another character with family related issues is Violet, a dwarf fighter who’s shaved her beard. She’s bitter, angry, and suicidally violent – throwing herself into danger and frequently needing Dee to hear her during and after the fights that she gets into. She’s calmly self-destructive, and we learn that comes from her family.

Rat Queens 005

Not that she’s tolerant of their attempts to reclaim her.

She’s part of a rather wealthy clan that luxuriates in the quality of the things they produce, but have forgotten what those things are actually for. She was trapped by tradition and expectation, and those expectations were slowly killing her. She actively avoids and rejects her family in order to maintain her freedom, but her family is important to her and their distance is just as deadly as their presence was.

Violet is, effectively, a cutter – she gets her enemies to cut her and them murders them, spitting in death’s eye while seeking to punish herself through death and pain. She never vocalizes this, and when her family forces their way into her life she sends them packing, on her own terms, pointing out their flaws while keeping a brave face.

In this, she shares theme with Braga, a half-orc from one of the other mercenary companies in town, a mighty warrior who we’ve recently found out is transgender. The characters who are aware of the change keep it quiet, but Braga was once the champion of a whole tribe of orcs who would kill her because of who she is.

Fighting gender norms and family expectations to stand apart and self-define? The anger and frustration that comes with needing to be something so far out of one’s kin’s understanding that they not only abandon, but actively hate you? The courage and strength it takes to hold true to yourself, knowing that there might never be any sort of reconciliation while secretly hoping for same?

All of that, again, would be a strong enough story to explore in and of itself. When it’s woven with the other characters, though, it turns Rat Queens into something exceptional.

There’s still more, though. The last of the Rat Queens is Betty. She’s called a smidgen here, but in any other world she’d be a halfling or a hobbit. Tiny and childlike, Betty is full of an alcohol and drug-fueled innocence. She’s carefree because she refuses to engage in any sort of drama, but that sort of lifestyle is not something that is easy for others to accept.

Rat Queens 007

Especially for those that are trying to keep their lives calm.

Her friends in the Rat Queens accept her for who she is, mostly, but there’s other people that she loves that cannot accept her because she doesn’t consider immediate or long term consequence. Is it possible to maintain relationships without respecting the boundaries that come with close ties? That’s an interesting hook.

It makes Betty a fascinating character to watch, because she accepts everything, even those that don’t accept her. She’s aware of their non-acceptance, but doesn’t hold that against them. She moves, she is, and she is the light of the others, the person that keeps them all moving no matter what else is happening.

There’s a power in seeing to the heart of a tie without being caught in the drama of it, and Betty fully embraces that power.

Quick recap: this is a comic that deals with racism, abuse, faith, expectation, and responsibility starring a group of women that are carving out a place for themselves in their world, all with a great degree of success. It’s trans-friendly, gay-friendly, with a whole whack of underlying themes that could spark any degree of conversation. There’s even some nice stuff with corporate greed and political corruption serving a doomsday cult, how media can pervert truth, and there being consequences for actions.

Again, that’s all neat, but what truly ties it altogether is personhood and crass humor. These characters feel like people, and as any group of Dungeons and Dragons players can tell you, crass humor and modern references are things that happen. So there’s all this character and statement stuff going on, and it’s mingled with jokes and viewpoints that parallel modern conflicts. We can look at what’s going on here and find references to our own experiences, and draw strength by knowing that we’re not alone.

That’s why this comic works – it’s an echo of our games and our lives, it’s fun and twisted and complicated, it’s crass and ridiculous and utterly perfect.

Rat Queens 004

This kinda speaks for itself…

And that is why, Kurtis J. Wiebe, we thank you for this story. The quality and strength of it make it worth waiting for, and make every moment reading it something to enjoy and cherish. Readers will laugh and be touched, often on the same page, and they’ll be entertained all the while.

One can ask no more from a story than this.

 

Previous God of Comics analysis includes:

Hawkeye

Imperium / Harbinger

Loki, Agent of Asgard

Ms. Marvel

Nextwave – Agents of H.A.T.E.

UFOlogy

Velvet 

X-O Manowar

 

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1175

God of Comics 2015-09-16

God Of Comics

September 14, 2015

All-New Hawkeye #5All-New Hawkeye #5

This is one of those comics that lives or dies on the relationships of the main characters – which, in this case, is Clint with his brother, Barney, and Clint with his best friend, Kate Bishop. All of them have born the name Hawkeye at one point or another, and this is a follow-up comic to a title that  we already talked at length about, but while that experimented with means of telling a story, this one experiments with a narrative structure based on two different periods of time that are shown con-currently. It’s an interesting device that should pay off here.

 

The Beauty #2The Beauty #2

One of the common problems we have, as a species, is a poor understanding of risk-to-reward ratios. We’ll be talking about that bit more tomorrow, but here it’s writ large – if you could contract a disease that would kill you at some point, but would make you physically beautiful, would you purposely contract it? A good deal of the people in this comic have gotten themselves willingly infected, and the result isn’t pretty. Also, the disease appears to be manufactured, which… wow. That’s quite the concept.

 

Black Canary #4Black Canary #4

A very punk book, featuring a superhero on the outs who just wants to sing her way across America. Sadly for her, she’s been drawn into an alien invasion espionage plot maybe, which also involves an emotionally complex relationship with her ex-husband. There’s also the small matter of a psychotic former lead singer, who is hunting the band and looking for a special brand of petty revenge. It’s insane and frenetic and fan, a very catch-as-catch-can style of storytelling.

 

Bloodshot Reborn #6Bloodshot: Reborn #6

The best pure action comic on the shelves recently added a bit of horror to the mix. It’s been a good addition, leading to a “beware what you wish for” mingled with a reverse vampirism story. An unstoppable Golem that was designed to kill God gained a soul, broke free, and became a real human being through the advent of a very different god. Thing is, however, is that power doesn’t just vanish, and now he’s got to clean up his mess before the government stops him.

 

Constantine the Hellblazer #4Constantine – the Hellblazer #4

We’ve gotten to see exactly how much John muddles his way through things, mostly with charm and a little skill. We’ve seen what skill looks like, too, and we have some idea that John is punching way out of his weight class. Is charm and trickery enough to keep him in the big leagues, or is he being set up by not being so clever as he thinks? It’s hard to tell. I wish the show was still on the air. This is a hell of a fun comic that oozes the perfect sort of atmosphere.

 

D4VE2 #1D4VE2 #1

Never read D4VE. I liked the name because it’s a reference to a character in Snow Crash – D4VID – and Snow Crash is one of my favorite books. It’s something I meant to pick up but never did, but then Jackson Lanzig (who writes one of the most important comics of the modern era) recommended it on Twitter, and we chatted a bit and now I’m excited to see what this is all about. We’ll have to wait and see what develops.

 

 

Death Head #3Death Head #3

Has anyone else noticed this title? Dark Horse is doing something really cool with this, crafting a neat little Slasher-by-way-of-Lovecraftian tale that plays to the strengths of both genres. A small town out in the middle of nowhere is being plagued by a series of mysterious suicides that we know are murders, but no one else does. Except maybe the locals, who keep a secret that they don’t quite understand. Someone comes in to investigate things, which should end well. This drips dread, and you should be reading this.

 

Death Vigil #8Death Vigil #8

Speaking of Lovecraft… this comic features a timeless battle between Reapers and Nercomancers, where the Necromancers are trying to overthrow death to gain eternal life on behalf of unspeakable monstrosities. The most adorable Grim Reaper ever tries to save humanity from itself, as we get a superheroic mediation on grief, sacrifice, and identity all written and drawn by the incomparable Stjepan Sejic. This is going to be the prettiest comic on the shelves this week.

 

Fiction #4Fiction #4

Yeah, the thing about magical books that suck you into dream worlds is that they often have their own logic, and are a means for entities that have never been human to play with humans. Think you’re clever? Think you can out-plan beings native to a narrative plane? Good luck with that. Things build to a head here, as three adults have to confront the friend they abandoned as a child in a strange reality that exists within books – or they’ll lose everything forever.

 

Fight Club 2 #5Fight Club 2 #5

So… will this be more of the same? More place setting, or slogging? The first two issues of this were incredible, but this slowed after that – I get what they’re trying to do, show that Tyler has been active in Sebastian’s life far longer than anyone was aware and he’s still up to no good, but the means of doing has been slow and clumsy. The space monkeys have been interesting, at least, and this issue we’re promised to see how Tyler’s accepted women into Project Mayhem. Marla’s also going to do a thing, so go her?

 

Harley Quinn #20Harley Quinn #20

Look: this comic is insane. That’s the point, the appeal. Harley is DC’s answer to Deadpool, just as meta- and intelligent, only much more cuddly. No, Harley doesn’t break the fourth wall, but she doesn’t need to; the pure lunacy of the title allows her to comment on the state of the industry, past and present, without it. This also plays with her being a playful genius, her slightly skewed perceptions a super power in and of themselves. On of DC’s best and funniest.

 

Invader Zim #3Invader Zim #3

Speaking of the funny side of insanity, there’s this – Jhonen Vasquez returning to a cartoon world that paved the way for the likes of Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Rick & Morty. Invader Zim is the story of a brilliant yet barely competent alien invader, and his barely competent and yet brilliant human nemesis, Dib. This issue is a perfect example, as Zim tries to employ the Star Donkey to kick all life off the earth. What even is. Okay. Yes. My money please take it.

 

Ivar, Timewalker #9Ivar, Timewalker #9

Replace the Doctor with an immortal who sometimes hangs out with his younger yet also immortal siblings, the drunken Armstrong and the Eternal Warrior, and then give him a maybe girl friend who also invented time travel but is also Ivar’s arch-nemesis at different points in time, because time travel is a thing. Now, having destroyed time, she gets to teach Ivar the lessons he taught her, only she might be better at it. It’s much less head-ache inducing than I’m making it sound. You just have to read it.

 

Jem and The Holograms #7Jem and The Holograms #7

The last issue ended with the Holograms throwing a concert across the street from a Misfits concert, and maybe stealing the show out from under them. You know, of course, that this means war… we’ve already had attempted murder, a pie fight, and holographic chicanery, but now the Misfits find themselves under new management and Jerrica gets to try and deal with the other side of being famous. Day-glo madness redux that somehow stays true to the original, and improves on it in every way.

 

Prez #4Prez #4

Imagine a world where the United States had a law that allowed corporations to legally bribe politicians on both parties. Do you think they would cater to people? The politicians, I mean? Or would they cater to the interests of those that were bribing them? Imagine also that those same corporations were tied to media companies that could frame the political discourse any way they wanted… and, oh, wait, that’s what the United Stated have right now. This comic stars a teenage girl who accidentally gets voted into office, which would probably be the best any of us could hope for. One of the most important and subversive comics being published today.

 

Rat Queens #12Rat Queens #12

We got flashes of Hannah’s old life in a previous story arc, and that’s led our heroes to her old stomping grounds – a magic school where the authorities have stomped out independent thought, which is a problem when your students are going to be playing with the forces of reality. This is a comics version of one of the best and funniest D&D campaigns ever, or so it feels, and it touches on a host of social issues in a funny and irreverent way that does the medium proud. Pick this up. You won’t be disappointed.

 

The Secret Six #6The Secret Six #6

Imagine being held prisoner for a year, then escaping with a bunch of people you’ve heard of but don’t really know. People are chasing you, and then another group of people are chasing you, and maybe there’s some kind of connection – something that would make sense of what’s been done to you – if you could only find a couple of minutes to figure it out. There are no minutes. There is only absurdity and a uncertainty as to what’s coming next. Fun dialogue and writing combined with good art and a truly strange narrative. Check it out.

 

Secret Wars Journal #5Secret Wars Journal #5

Okay. Okay. Sit down. Deep breath. The Soska Sisters – who we’ve spoken of – are writing one half of this comic, focusing on Night Nurse having to deal with a demonic disease. There is, quite literally, no other comic I am more intrigued by this week, and I’m hoping this leads to more comic writering from the Soskas. If you don’t know them, click on the links above and pick up this comic. Educate yourselves. They’re the unspoken heirs of Cronenberg, Craven, and Carpenter.

 

Star Wars #9Star Wars #9

Have you been watching the Kessel Rundown? We’ve been sending Aaron to talk with Dale Wentland about how good these comics are, and why you should be reading them. These is the story of what happened to Han, Leia, and Luke between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, how Luke tried to be Vader and failed and got his lightsabre stolen, and how Han’s ex-wife tried to sell Leia to the Empire. You know like you do. This is great stuff.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Casey & April #4Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey & April #4

One of the more interesting choices that IDW Publishing made with their iteration of the TMNT was to give Oroko Saki – the Shredder – an adviser named Kitsune. Said adviser appears to be some sort of fae creature, or something with a good deal of magic to her. It’s taken a while, but we’ve learned she’s part of a group called the Pantheon, god-like beings that use humanity as a playing field. The Rat King is one, and April and Casey have gone off to meet him. Hilarity ensues, and by hilarity we mean one of the most terrifying and heartfelt comics you’re going to come across.

 

UFOlogy #5UFOlogy #5

A very strange comic that we’ve talked about before. We really covered everything we needed to say there, and would recommend that you read that for why this comic is awesome, then go out and read it. It’s really quite cool – and, while you’re at it, check out the Woods. Also really good comics from the same people.

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1638

God of Comics – Ms. Marvel

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

September 10, 2015

An interesting thing that happens when we remember the stories that influenced us as we figure ourselves out: we tend to remember the style of them instead of the substance. Style is simpler – it’s the razzle-dazzle, the special effects, the stuff that sticks with you, but it’s the substance that gives the style meaning, and the reason the style sticks with you is the substance that made the style matter.

This is an argument we’ve made before, but bear with us. We’re going somewhere with this, and we tend to focus more on substance than style. Simply how we work.

Many comic writers grew up in the silver or bronze age of comics, and they talk about the hey-day of the silver age. They look at the stories of that time as somehow being better, purer, than the tales we get today. We’re going to use Spider-Man as the example in the case of this article because no one has suffered more from this than that character.

See, back in the mid-aughts, the Marvel editorial board decided that Spider-Man was no longer relatable and decided they wanted to go back to Silver Age Spidey. What they meant by this was single Spidey, so they had him sell his marriage to Satan. To make it easier for people to relate to him. They moved him back in his social relationships so that we could go back and live through all the things that character had already moved past.

It was not the smartest move in the world.

ms marvel 012

Why is this so hard to understand?

Trick of it was, the editorial board mistook style for substance. Spider-Man living his aunt, being single, being unlucky – these are elements of his style, but not the core of the character’s substance. Spidey is easy to relate to because he’s an outlier who chooses to do good. He was someone we could aspire to be, the friend we all want to have and the person we all want to be. There was a sense of pure creative joy that was relevant to the time and still fed into the idea that anything could happen in his stories, and that those stories were going somewhere.

Moving him back meant losing all of that. Especially the bit where he sold his marriage to Satan; I’m not sure what that says about the Marvel editorial board of that time and what they thought people could relate to. He got all the style of things the character had moved past, and we were left with a depressed misanthrope that was not fun to read.

There’s been a few other Spider-comics that have come out since. Spider-Gwen, Silk, Spider-Woman. They’re all fun, yes, but the best Spider-Man comic being published today is Ms. Marvel.

What do I mean by this? Ms. Marvel isn’t a Spider-Man character, she has no spider powers, has no connection to Peter Parker! There’s no style connection at… wait. Wait a minute.

Peter Parker was a high school outcast who lived at home with a family that loved him but didn’t understand him. He got super powers by accident and, after some thinking, decided to be a hero to make up for his sense of guilt. He bungled some of his early attempts, but his willingness to press on earned him the respect of his peers, but he never lost the sense of wide-eyed wonder when looking at his own life.

ms marvel 005

And her life is awesome.

Kamala Khan is a high school outcast who lives at home with a family that loves her but doesn’t understand her. She got super powers by chance and, after some thinking, decided to be a hero because she couldn’t imagine being anything else. She bungled some of her early attempts, but her willingness to press on earned her the respect of her peers, but she never lost the sense of wide-eyed wonder when looking at her own life.

Huh.

Okay, that’s the style of the thing. What about the substance?

Kamala is an outlier at home, at school, and in society. At home she’s a geek, one of those milliennials the older generations live in such fascinated dread of. She spends as much of her life online as off, has friends she’s never met. She’s intelligent and passionate about her interests, some of which are not socially popular. She’s awkward and figuring herself out. She’s a kid like any other, someone who is uncertain of her place in the world but us eager to figure out what it might be.

She’s also a societal outlier – not just because she’s a milliennial, but because she’s a Muslim. Islam has become a cultural bogeyman in America for reasons of propaganda, but she’s a young woman of quiet faith and doesn’t let that get her down. Her family is proud of their heritage and healthy in how they interact with one another, even if Kamala is still figuring that out.

Her interactions with her family and her faith are a large part of what makes this comic so endearing, and so relatable. We all grow up thinking our families are a little strange, and part of becoming an adult is making sense of our family and our faith and figuring out what it all means. Kamala is open-minded, willing to listen but not willing to back down when she knows she’s right – which isn’t to say she’s convinced she’s always right.

ms marvel 009

Religion presented as a positive? Religion being positive? That’s… refreshing.

Kamala is willing to listen to other people, accept their viewpoints and whatever information they have, and then make her own decisions, and all of her decisions are based upon being the greatest possible good.

She listens to her villains. She tries to understand who they are, where they’re coming from, and she considers their point of view. She acts only when she’s certain that they’re in the wrong, and she tries to help them whenever possible. That’s very Silver Age, the idea that we can make the world a better place without any hint of irony or cynicism.

Kamala is someone downtrodden who, when given power, chooses to help her community and the world. This used to be a common theme in superhero books, but there’s now an underlying thought that those with powers would lord it over ordinary people. Ms. Marvel is a direct challenge to that way of thinking, a callback to the rampant and unabashed idealism of that fabled age.

And speaking of the Silver Age comparisons don’t stop there. One of the hallmarks of that era was the quick introduction of villains, new foes that represented a host of different ideas. From J. Jonah Jameson’s unreasoning hatred of a new hero representing the establishment keeping the man down to the Green Goblin’s exceptional greed and ambition to Doctor Octopus’ anger over how he’d been treated, all of Spider-Man’s foes reflected either the real world or the character himself or, in the best cases, both.

Ms. Marvel has a similar capacity of creative villains, from a Thomas Edison clone who literally wants to denigrate milliennials before using them as a free source of power for the old to Kamran, a bitter youth who lords power over people the moment he has it and is a dark reflection of Kamala herself, much as Doc Ock is with the wall-crawler.

The parallel runs deeper, though, as Kamran comes across as the type of person most of our heroes have become, the self-involved arrogant jerk who thinks his power gives him the right to do anything he wants. He is utterly mystified that Kamala would choose to help other people: he has the style of a hero but none of the substance, his selfishness driving him to hurt everyone around him while leaving him at the mercy of those more powerful than him.

And they think even less of him than Kamala does.

The largest proof I can point to when it comes to this story’s excellence is the latest arc, where Ms. Marvel is trying to help people deal with the oncoming end of the Marvel Universe. The mistakes made by other writers have led the Marvel editorial board to hit the cosmic rest button, which has worked out poorly every single time it has been tried. I’m not sure why people still think it’s a good idea, but…

Kamala has been out on the streets, helping keep her community safe. She gets to meet her hero – Captain Marvel, the superbeing she aspires to be – and protects her society, her school, her family. She makes the best choices she can and is confident in her ability to make a difference, and it’s that confidence that allows her to grow and mean as much as she does.

And then she tells her mom, who has been endlessly hard on her, that she is Ms. Marvel, and this happens:

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Eighteen issues to get to this moment. Eighteen issues where Kamala Khan has fought and grown and thought, eighteen issues where she’s done the best she can to make the world a better place. Eighteen issues of hiding who she is, believing her family would never approve. Eighteen issues to get to this one perfect moment of familial acceptance and pride.

If this was it – if this truly was the end of the Marvel universe and not some stupid marketing trick – this character could not have asked for a better ending.

And this is the heart of things. Ms. Marvel works because there is a constant state of progression and movement, stumbling though it might be. Even that sense of stumbling works with the over all sense of things, as Kamala learns to claim her agency and her life. She never loses sight of herself and never loses hope. The world she’s inherited is not the one she would have asked for, but given the chance to make it better she rises to occasion.

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Best. Team-up. Ever.

This is everything that Spider-Man was and should have grown past, because his stories should be of a different sort now. This is what people mean when they talk about the greatness of the Silver Age, creativity and progression. Ms. Marvel is all substance, with style happening to serve that substance and make the whole of stronger.

G. Willow Wilson’s pacing and dialogue and throwaway lines all serve the characters and their stories, and makes this engaging and youthful. Adrian Alphona’s art capture both the sense of wonder and the clumsy meandering that comes with moving into one’s self. Ian Herring’s colors are vibrant, bright, a perfect frame from which to see the direction of these tales.

Ms. Marvel is the best Marvel comic being published today, on par with the mythic trinity (Thor, Loki, and Angela). It’s a rallying cry of how awesome the medium can be and how much a character can mean, a throwback to a bygone era with respect to the complexities of modern days.

Give it time.

We will all look back on Ms. Marvel with the same respect and affection we give Spider-Man now.

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1052

God of Comics 2015-09-09

God Of Comics, Reviews, Uncategorized

September 8, 2015

1602 - Witch Hunter Angela #31602: Witch Hunter Angela #3

Marvel Comics

There’ve been some good things coming out of this wretched crossover. Thors is near the top of the list, even if we haven’t been covering it. Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde (see last week) and Spider-Man – Renew Your Vows (see below) are also great. And this? This was one of the best comics Marvel had going before Secret Wars, and continues to be one of Marvel’s best in spite of this insipid event. Beautiful art, incredible writing, this is pretty much must read.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man - Renew Your Vows #5The Amazing Spider-Man – Renew Your Vows #5

Marvel Comics

Few comics annoy me as much as this one. Seeing this iteration of the Parker family – Peter, Mary-Jane, and their daughter – makes me salivate for the comics we missed so that Spider-Man could sell his marriage to Satan. The fact that we’re only getting this because of the crossover annoys me more. This is Dan Slott shining bright and fast, giving us the Spider-Man we could have and should have been getting for years. More of this, please. This is awesome.

 

Catwoman #44Catwoman #44

DC Comics

DC Comics continues with a Game-of-Thrones style crime story that just happens to have Catwoman in it, and now Spoiler, too. Selina has been sharing the Catwoman name with a woman named Eiko, a criminal rival and sometimes lover, the two of them called upon to make emotionally devastating decisions to move forward the agendas of their respective families.Since Batman Eternal, this title has taken on a unique air of menace, and it’s worth getting into.

 

Darth Vader #9Darth Vader #9

Marvel Comics

Hey, did you know we’re doing a podcast/vlog about these comics? We are. This comic has gone along way towards restoring the gravitas and dignity that Vader lost during the prequel trilogy, which is what you get when you let Kieron Gillen write anything. Vader has been going through watchers as he moves between Episodes IV and V, seeking the command and respect of the Emperor that he lost when he lost the Death Star. He’s also discovered he has a son. Things have been interesting until now, but they’re about to explode.

 

Deadly Class #16Deadly Class #16

Image Comics

How good has this series been? It’s a bleak mess, a hot emotional essay on the violence of moving from youth to adulthood told in a visceral style that is unlike anything else on the market. A school acts as a front for training assassins, where the faculty is perfectly willing to quietly deal with students as the students deal with one another. Lives spiral out of control as those with little experience and too much skill try to become adults and end up corpses.

 

Diesel #1Diesel #1

Boom Studios

We all like to imagine that we can do great things, but sometimes we feel inadequate; like there’s nothing that we do that is especially special, that when destiny chose people to be great that we were skipped over. And that’s who this comic is for – those of us that feel that sense of personal stagnation and need something to shock us out of it. Destiny and life are what we make of it, and sometimes that includes a flying skyship and a crashing flying engine. Read this.

 

Gotham Academy #10Gotham Academy #10

DC Comics

The kids at gotham Academy move onto a study of the Bard, delving into the bloody politics of the Scottish Play. Or MacBeth. It’s one of the two. Gotham Academy being what it is, though, it would appear that something is haunted and that we have a new and suspicious student, and if you think our gang of young explorers isn’t going to be drawn to that like moths to a flame then you clearly haven’t read this comic. Fix that immediately. This is one of DC Comics’ best.

 

Harley Quinn - Road Trip Special #1Harley Quinn – Road Trip Special #1

DC Comics

Back before the nu52, Catwoman moved in with Harley and Ivy and they became good friends mostly. It was revealed towards the end that Bruce asked Selina to keep tabs on two people that had a good chance of rehabilitation, and I like to think that worked out rather well. Here, we get the three of them reunited for a cross-country road trip, and given this writing team we’re expecting great things. This might be the most fun you’ll have reading comics this week.

 

Injection #5Injection #5

Image Comics

It’s Warren Ellis with Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. That right there is enough reason to buy this comic. Not willing to rest there, however, this comic deals with the concept of reality and perception, has a mad air of mystery and character that is unlike anything else you’ll ever read, and embraces an epic scope that few writings manage to brush against, never mind explore. This is an example of how good the medium as a whole can be, an intelligent story that deserves study.

 

Lantern City #5Lantern City #5

Boom Studios

There’s often more to any political struggle than is apparent on the surface, because with people are mostly people. Exposing yourself to them allows you to see them as people, and being gifted by those born luckier than you can draw you into their circle – at least some of the time. This comic is a complex study of idealism and real-politick set against a stage that feels like Midgar in Final Fantasy VII – that game without those characters – and it’s bloody gorgeous.

 

The Legacy of Luther Strode #3The Legacy of Luther Strode #3

Image Comics

Remember those old ads in the backs of comics that promised to make you a tough guy? Imagine if you sent for one and it worked, and made you mighty. Imagine that screwed up your life beyond repair. And imagine being on a hunt for the originator of those techniques, a man bound because his merest step is an invitation to murder. That’s this comic, a quiet essay on the history and application of killing from rage or expediency, in heartbreaking gory glory.

 

Mirror's Edge - Exordium #1Mirror’s Edge – Exordium #1

Dark Horse Comics

Are comics based on video games making a comeback? Because I’d murder someone to write a Metroid comic. Mirror’s Edge was a video game that featured a parkour running messenger helping to fight against a corrupt totalitarian government in the future, as opposed to the totalitarian governments we have today. It’s going to be interesting to see if they can carry that same sense of motion onto the printed page while building that mythology. Given the quality of the Tomb Raider comics, we have faith.

 

Ms. Marvel #18Ms. Marvel #18

Marvel Comics

Some comics have used the threat of the big dumb crossover event to tell compelling stories using their characters – Silk, Loki, and Magneto all come to mind as the best of the lot – and yet, that list remains incomplete without this title. Kamala has been working with her idol, Captain Marvel, to help keep things calm in the wake of apocalypse, all the while making a mockery of the “hard choice” idiocy that some people pass off as good stories. It’s been beautiful and fun and creative, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from one of the most creative, well-written, and wondrously drawn comics on the shelves.

 

Ninjak #7Ninjak #7

Valiant Comics

Oh, Matt Kindt, why is everything you do so great? A British superspy with a thing for ninja has infiltrated an illegal arms dealer ring, only to discover a deeper conspiracy that ties into his first days as a spy, and we get to see what Matt has been building to since the first issue of this comic. The answer is something chilling and brilliant, a revelation that will make you want the next issue right the hell now, as Ninjak takes its place among Valiant’s best.

 

Pixu - The Mark of EvilPixu: The Mark of Evil

Dark Horse Comics

I’ve got a soft spot for urban horror, and horror in general. We’ve sung the praises of the horror genre in the past and how scary stories reflect the values of the cultures that create them, and talked about some of the best horror movies of the modern era. Dark Horse wanting to get into the fun is a welcome addition, and this sounds interesting enough: strangers living in an apartment complex are drawn slowly towards an otherworldly evil. Looks like it might be fun, a tale about how much we don’t know about the places we live and the people around us. I’m in.

 

Starfire #4Starfire #4

DC Comics

A lot of people give Teen Titans Go a lot of flack, but things change. Teen Titans is still there; we can still watch it, and Teen Titans Go is harmless enough. I bring up both shows because this comic feels like the Kori from the old Teen Titans cartoon, all grown up and making her way in the world. She’s moved to Florida, started making friends, and gets to battle a sea monster because Aquaman is the one superhero who cares for seventy percent of the planet. Just sayin,’ dude is busy. It’s okay, this comic is full of the joy that’s underlying a lot of DC’s comics lately.

 

Tet #1Tet #1

IDW Publishing

Okay, this sounds interesting: a Vietnam veteran starts investigating the murder of an old comrade and ends up enmeshed in a hard-boiled world of crime and heartbreak and ill-fated romance. The concept is sound and feels like it might lead to something great, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’m usually willing to give new things the benefit of the doubt, though, and I’m getting Criminal-style vibes from this. Nerdcouver will let you know if it’s any good.

 

Unity #22Unity #22

Valiant Comics

We’ve talked before about how Valiant, at their best, approaches old stories from a mature perspective that lends those stories a sense of wonder. Unity brings the most powerful heroes that Valiant has to offer to battle concepts as much as villains, which lends itself to some brilliant storytelling. Here, we have a counterpart to the Eternal Warrior, an immortal woman warrior who loves violence for it’s own sake, and has already proven a match for Unity. They’ll need something new to take her down – or possibly something old.

 

The Wicked + The Divine #14The Wicked + The Divine #14

Image Comics

This is the third Kieron Gillen comic this week and has just as much chance of the others as getting a Top Five spot. When he’s working on a comic you know it’s going to be good – the question becomes how good, and how deep will today’s myth go? This comic is all about mythology and the purpose of Gods, mortals who become deities for two years and then die once every ninety years. This issue focuses on Woden, a god who’s mostly kept to the shadows. Kieron’s going to have reasons for that, and those reasons are about to be revealed. Prepare for the awesome.

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