One man finds himself caught between the forces of the War of the Jokes and Riddles like a kite in a hurricane, being pushed and pulled between Joker, Riddler, and Batman; and his family’s safety hanging in the balance.
There’s been one character that’s popped up randomly but reliably since King started his run on Batman, and he finally gets an issue (at least one issue) all to himself. Ironically, King is using his focus on this character to give us a ground level perspective on the war, what it’s like to be a small time criminal with some notable skills in the middle of one of the most tumultuous times in Gotham’s history. It’s not only the opportunity to give pathos to someone who’s been a joke up until now, but in that pathos, we better understand the toll this war pays on even the D-listers of the city. And, of course, King handles it with the same poetry he’s handled the rest of the series, showing us the seeds of a flower that’s already bloomed.
It’s time for a Kent family vacation, and for the Independence Day (this comic is a wee bit late), they’re going on a tour of American memorials, with Clark and Lois teaching Jon about the history that makes them worth the trip.
I’m a fan of hokey and schmaltzy, but patriotic schmaltz is where I draw the line. After all, there’s history and there’s hierography, and it’s hard for me to tolerate any account of, for example, the founders, without bringing up their hypocrisies of slave ownership and genocide. Plus, there’s the general glorification of war that happens whenever you do this type of thing that sours even sweet scenes like the Kents treating a hopeless vet to dinner and standing up for his right to dine somewhere even if he may “disturb other customers.”
Superman is meant, in part, to represent the best of American ideals, and unfortunately, this comic doesn’t really touch those.
Green Arrow #27
Here, however, is a comic that discusses America in a way I can get behind.
Green Arrow’s search for the Ninth Circle takes him to Washington DC, where he runs into Wonder Woman, and the two foil a plot to increase America’s support of war, and thus military spending.
Green Arrow doesn’t even try for subtlety here, at times reading like a polemic against America’s hawkishness – which is incredible. Oliver waxes on about how the Ninth Circle uses fear to motivate people to their side by convincing the public that the only way to feel safe is to buy more and more weapons to protect them from an increasingly dangerous threat – a threat they engineer, of course. He even lectures about himself and his own ignorance of his privilege when he first began as the Green Arrow.
But what’s so effective is that, despite how over the top things get in this comic, the results are all too familiar. A formally pro-peace senator being scared into supporting increased “defense.” Despite saving the day, Oliver and the comic believe that, regardless of political affiliation, all politicians are motivated by fear and eventually learn to support endless war for the sake of feeling secure. It’s all lies acted on for the sake of profit.
The Wild Storm #6
We’re 25% through this story, which, in Ellis time, means that it’s finally appropriate time for an infodump.
After an expertly scripted and executed fight scene, that reads like John Wick fighting Jaws from 007, between Cray and the two-person kill-squad sent to kill him ends with Cray accepting Christine Trelane’s job offer – Adrianna brings Spica to Jake Marlowe’s base in Brooklyn so she (and we) can get some questions answered about IO, Skywatch, and how this world is run.
The way the comic is put together, the fight in the beginning feels like having your dessert before your dinner; quenching our action-tooth before giving us some nourishing exposition. But I don’t want to give the impression that this is dry exposition. Ellis still writes some of the sharpest dialogue in comics (and TV and film), and Davis-Hunt still finds ways to make two people talking at a table graphically disturbing when certain reveals make it appropriate. Between this and Clean Room, he’s become my favorite comic artist for scenes of the grotesque and Giger-esque.
Secret Empire #6
While lost-Steve continues to be tortured by the Red Skull, and the heroes trapped in the Darkforce dimension do their best to keep Tandy’s light; Hydra unleashes a full-on assault on the resistance base. And inside their crumbling base, the resistance tears themselves apart trying to find their mole.
This issue is all over the place, not giving any of its developments any time to breathe. I’m not sure if this issue is supposed to end on a high-point or low-point, and I doubt that’s intentional. Through the issue is a narration that starts with Steve talking about how all heroes are hypocrites who fight only for their own pride and reputation, then goes to Hawkeye during the attack on the Mount where he seems to admit defeat before being reminded of why heroes really fight. And there’s a dramatic showdown between Steve and Tony that intentionally echoes the first Civil War. Hydra unleashes the Hulk on the resistance in what feels like it’s supposed to be the story’s lowest point, but this is right about the point in the story where Hawkeye’s narration tells us that this is where all the heroes regain their nerve…and then there’s a nuke and we’re supposed to believe everyone died even though we saw them all escape…?
Again, nothing has room to actually land and breathe before the issue hits us over the head with the next dramatic moment. While I’m normally against extending these events at all – and this one is already set to be 10 issues – this issue could’ve easily been split into two that allow for a better dramatic arc to unfold over the course of this one battle.
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2
After a brief misunderstanding with Ironheart, who eventually agrees to help Peter with the hacked Stark phone, Pete heads back to New York to summarize Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business to a confused Johnny Storm, and then go on his date with Rebecca…in full costume.
Like Zdarksy’s other books with Marvel, this one slows down and takes us more towards the ground-level with its characters, putting more focus on their day-to-day rather than whatever big criminal plot they’re gonna have to face. We spend a lot more time with Peter in his apartment chatting with Teresa and Johnny, or out on his date than we do following up on the hacked phone.
And Zdarksy writes the most natural sounding Peter dialogue in any Spider-Man comic today. Where Bendis’ writing can often feel like the characters are reading from a script, and many of Slott’s quips feel (appropriately) forced; Zdarsky’s Peter reads like someone legitimately saying the first funny thing that pops into his head, and is appropriately hit-and-miss. That feeling is also aided by the more normal situations that Peter’s found himself in this issue; as he’s quipping during a date, not while fighting supervillains.
I think, more than not mentioning his current status quo as a billionaire, the reason that this series feels like a return to form is because it’s focusing a lot more on Peter than Spider-Man.
Ms. Marvel #20
In this issue’s opening pages, Ms. Marvel establishes itself as the ideal of “the world outside your window” that all Marvel comics that choose to attempt that should strive towards. Aamir, who was arrested for no reason last issue, pleads his case explaining his innocence, and even explains who the authorities should look for if they want to find terrorists that look like him. It’s an eloquent and grounded explanation of who gets radicalized and why, delivered by a character in a situation that reflects our unfortunate reality. It’s a clear-headed and powerful scene, and more comics should strive for such relevancy.
Then, Ms. Marvel wakes up from being knocked-out last issue, and jumping back into action, finds herself in the middle of a Chuck Worthy rally. Worthy’s speech is reflective of the sort of conservative rhetoric of law and order and nostalgia that unfortunately wins elections; but presents it in a way that doesn’t necessarily hit you over the head with it, like a comic like Green Arrow would.
This arc – and this series overall – successfully puts it’s hero against clear analogues for real world issues, and makes them approachable and resonant. Yeah, you’re getting a story about a stretchy girl that punches bad robots, but Ms. Marvel has also told stories about gentrification, online-harassment, and islamophobia that confront each issue with the same tenacity that Kamala confronts her villains.
Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #2
And where Ms. Marvel tackles real world issues with a degree of allegory, Bitch Planet has always come at it from the angle of parody – ramping up the real world effects of white patriarchy to what are supposed to be ridiculous extremities. Like the last triple feature, this issue takes us off the prison planet and to Earth itself, where life isn’t that much better for women.
The first story, Bits and Pieces, shows us a child’s beauty pageant in Bitch Planet, where tween girls are judged on the beauty of a single body part, and has one heck of a final page. The second, This is Good for You, shows us a propaganda film. And the third and longest story, What’s Love Got to do With it?, tells the story of one woman’s quest to get married before her family is forced to pay an “Old Maid tax,” and explores how dating is done on Bitch Planet.
All of these stories are generally funnier than the main series, each acting as a short parody of a single aspect of what living in an uber-patriarchy would be that rather than telling the sort of wide-ranging story of the main title. This means that each story is also sharper, with single page conclusions finding inventive ways to twist the knife like the best episodes of The Twilight Zone.