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Saga Braves a Villian’s Scars

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War is hell, there’s no arguing it. As a child, the world around me sold the idea that war, or by proxy, being a soldier, was the coolest thing ever. Whether by action figures, or epic poems narrating the warrior’s honours, the glamour fades eventually. That is, if you’re fortunate to afford looking at it from the outside. For all the romanticising of war one may draw with glee and even entertainment, reality paints a much different picture. For every fleeting fantasy about killing ‘bad guys from a bad country’, there is a rude awakening, often via Apocalypse Now.

War is also nowhere near as simple as good versus bad, or more realistically put, us versus them. Though Prince Robot IV has provided with amusement through his deeds and persona, there is much more to him. He is a war veteran, and those experiences seep into his deeds and judgments.

Issue #12 “Which way to the author?”

The art of flashback never grows old, except when it does, but we’re not there yet. In matter of few pages, we see in frightful detail the reason to the Prince’s initial reluctance to pursue the fugitives. Everybody bleeds at the impact of a bullet, no matter if they literally bleed blue. During an experience fighting alongside the Landfallian army, PRIV fell gravely wounded. A rodent-headed field medic is quick to treat him back on his feet. The conversation throughout alludes to the grand scheme of the war. All kinds of species and planets have become involved whether by sympathies or occupation, much to the Prince’s surprise.

Soon enough, a spell in gaseous form spreads on the battlefield: magical biological warfare. In gruesome fashion we get a taste of the by-proxy implications of the war. Aiding one side may give you the colours and appropriate uniform, but not necessarily the full gear. Having a different bodily constitution to the Landfallian forces, the medic didn’t receive a gas mask like the rest of the soldiers. She only gets to fear for a moment before blowing apart, showering the Prince with her blood. This flashback is only a dream in PRIV’s head, whose screen-face transparently reveals what goes on in his mind. It’s quite clear that he suffers from some manner of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and this is only one instant from the war.

He doesn’t get to dream or restlessly sleep further as he receives a transmission from Landfall Secret Intelligence. Agent Gale. a known asshole by the readership, gives him a proper chewing out on his modus operandi. He believes that the Prince’s hunch on the fugitives heading towards Quietus to be waste of time. The agent is quite in the shamelessly cozy position to do the chewing out as he’s attending a fancy political event at the Robot Kingdom. It turns out Landfall’s president is concerned about the war effort supplied by the Robot folk and the possible implications of the fugitives’ deed for the upcoming elections. The Agent lets out a subtle threat concerning the Prince’s wife (clearly pregnant) attending the event in order to give him a gentle push.

In thinly veiled terms, bureaucracy and war politics are a cruel, uncaring behemoth, callous devourer of the masses.

PRIV, probably incensed by Gale’s words, climbs out of the ship landed on a peaceful shore in Quietus. He encounters a seal-y guy leading his land-sea-lion mount and laconically asks for directions. The seal-y guy proves a bit of a lovable simpleton as he innocently reveals that the man the Prince is looking for enjoys lady folk and alcohol. The author of Alana’s favourite novel, D. Oswald Heist kind of lives the dream. He inhabits a cozy lighthouse by the misty shore, wasting away in front of his typewriter and drinking generous amounts of the Saga equivalent of whiskey. Of course, he has a big bushy beard, an old man jumper and a permanently bored look on his one eye. This is my favourite caricature of a novelist ever.

In very polite manner, the Prince asks the author if he’d received a visit from a Landfallian woman and a Wreathborn man. The question does appear to shake the author a bit. PRIV reasons that they’d come to visit him, inspired by his novel A Nighttime Smoke, which we’ve talked about on previous recaps. Amusingly, Heist is more interested (and offended) that PRIV had come because of that particular “piece of shit”. Clearly, he’s a novelist who’s had to write rubbish to gain a pay check, and I can sympathise. The Prince assumes this as false modesty to conceal a most subversive political message in his novel: radical pacifism. Nonetheless, Heist assures him it’s simply not the case. As a nod to the world of English majors, he acknowledges that interpretation is the finishing touch of literary creation.

I’m not saying it is a deliberate nod, or even slightly intended. Just saying, it’s kinda true. It’s basically the essence of what we do as readers. We complete the making of the book/painting/sculpture/film/etc by imprinting significance and signification through artistic appreciation. It is through such way that Prince Robot IV has come to this quiet lil’ planet. He inferred a meaning, same as Alana and Marko. Therefore, he’s completed Heist’s book beyond his role as writer. Now, as usual, I digress… but I shan’t apologise. Okay, back to the unfolding events.

In spite of dodging the Prince’s judgment on his intent, the author is still no stranger to the war. His son was part of the Coalition Forces for Landfall, as seen on a framed picture on a wall. Nonetheless, as the countless boys of the Somme, he too passed away. PRIV offers his sympathies, and parenthood becomes a point of affinity between both men as the Prince will become a father soon. Congratulations are in order, and all seems well until Heist tells the Prince his son had actually killed himself after the war. One of the unspoken laws of creative narrative is that if things are going too well, they shouldn’t for much longer. Let’s take the opening flashback into consideration, as well as the setting for The Stalk’s death at his hand. It can’t hurt to remember the images that pop on his screen either.

For every moment that he manages to keep his temper and arm-cannon in check, there must be a lapse of impulsiveness. It’s not just quite about mood swings, it’s about very real triggers. PRIV is nonetheless, a dick, so the result to this sum of circumstances won’t be pretty. He takes offence at Heist’s allusion to PTSD, and goes as far as insulting the man’s son. Quite clearly, this is no way to behave at your host’s place. Still, the Prince has all liberty to cause a ruckus, being royalty, military and all. Things escalate with snide remarks up until Heist pulls a gun on the Prince, as you do. In response, PRIV fires his arm cannon on the author’s kneecap, and all semblance of civility is gone. Yeah, things were going a tad too smooth.

Things take a turn for even worse as the Prince appears to contemplate killing the writer. It’s more than plausible given his character. However, at the end, the tension defuses with a calm decision to ‘lodge’ at Heist’s humble abode. It’s the most sensible way to go about his plan. PRIV is so convinced of the validity of his interpretation that he’s sure the fugitives will come by. He got the timing wrong though. They’d been staying there for a week already. He’s quite right about it, he just got the timing wrong. They’ve been staying there for a week, and now they know their safety is compromised.

At the end of this issue, I am left with one conclusion. The baddies tasked with hunting down Alana, Marko and Hazel are merely the very fingertips of the true antagonist: The war institution. The big shots call the… shots, and then after it’s all matter of whether you are the bullet or the target. Although both The Will and Prince Robot IV are tasked with a similar missions, they’re ultimately pressured into it by motives beyond their own. Although the former is still on the chase, he’s proven to be more than just his mission. Will it be likewise for Prince Robot IV?


Saga Issue #12 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

All images courtesy of Image Comics

 

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Unrighteous Retribution Unfolds in Saga

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If there was ever any doubt about Saga‘s creators’ ambition to create a deep narrative, it was dispelled like twenty issues ago. Hell, maybe you even knew it at first read. Wherever you look, there is something to see in this comic, something to laugh or cry over. Aside from promising features and solid story and character development, another feature that can ensure a title’s relevance is longevity. And there’s no better way to guarantee longevity than by introducing a new (efficient) baddie, which this issue is all about.

Things seem relatively calm in the throes of Alana’s painful but necessary abortion. Nobody is hot on Hazel’s trail. Thus, the conflict must come from somewhere else; otherwise, it would come off as a vulgar contrivance. For this reason, somebody else suffers the debuting antagonist’s hatred: Billy, aka The Will. Last time we saw him, a villainous presence incapacitated him right after killing Sweet Boy. Today, we see the fruition of that deed. Little happens, but there is much to say, nevertheless.

Issue #47
“Does everyone you meet end up dead?”

It makes sense that this new villain, Ianthe, takes up the cover for the issue, seeing as how all of it takes place in her living room. In terms of demeanour and style, she certainly conveys the magnificent asshole feel. But as we’ll soon know, her acts and character will imbue her with impunity, a key ingredient in the making of a despicable baddie. Interestingly, during his slightly physical, mostly emotional torture, we get to know a lot about The Will. More accurately, the key moments in his past that have led him to become this haunted, not-quite-heroic-not-quite-villainous figure.

With the use of a magical device plugged to Billy’s head, Ianthe brings out his memories, going as far as his childhood. Sophie and he were children in a broken home, where their father abused them. Things took a turn (for better and worse) when their uncle Steve came to pick them up. Things looked ripe for returning to their mum, who was successfully recovering from her alcohol addiction. But daddy dearest would have none of it. In fact, he was about to punish Sophie for writing a letter about the things he did. This triggered an active and definite response from Steve.

By the by, Uncle Steve is a Freelancer. He went by The Letter. And he axed the kids’ dad right in front of them. Although Billy’s expression is completely neutral, one can distinguish the sowing of a seed in the child. This was most likely the moment when Billy and Sophie chose their path – so nobody else would for them. Ianthe begins her villainous discourse after this sequence. She discusses her motivations and delight in reviving her captive’s ghosts, you know the drill. She is exacting revenge on the former Freelancer because he killed her fiance. Heartbreaking.

His name was Hektor, and he was a security consultant in Sextillion. Sounds harmless enough, and forgettable enough. Of course, this rings no bells for The Will, or for us. We get a visual cue when Ianthe removes her mask, but I literally had to go back to Saga‘s early issues to know who the hell this guy was. I don’t think that was an oversight on Brian’s part—rather a way to underline just how forgettable he was. And that’s because he was one of the goons trying to stop The Will from getting Sophie out of Sextillion. So, fuck this guy, and fuck the validity behind Ianthe’s vengeance.

Not that she believes The Will. Then again, she probably wouldn’t care.

The second memory Ianthe replays is the moment when The Will decided to get a sidekick. He still had hair back then and was in the middle of a mission with The Stalk. The usual banter and bicker goes on as they slaughter all the X-Files-style grey guys around them. The teasing chemistry between them is palpable, even at their current platonic bond. Well, I say platonic, but they’re basically agreeing to get together and fuck right after they’re done with the job. And the rest is history. The Stalk marks the second person in The Will’s life who is of utmost importance. Dead like his sister, though, she continued to haunt him via hallucinations.

So far, Ianthe hasn’t been pulling up any noteworthy vulnerabilities to exact her revenge. That is, until the third memory, featuring Gwendolyn on the green planet of wacky meats. Naturally, Ianthe pinpoints her as his weak point, an asset to inflict proportionate pain to The Will by killing her. Sinister. However, something is discussed in this memory that also captures Ianthe’s attention. Gwendolyn talks about Marko, Alana… and their offspring, Hazel. Being a diplomat (basically an untouchable criminal), Ianthe realizes she can use this information to her advantage. And if state villains have taught us anything, she’ll be willing to do horrendous things to gain this asset.

With The Will as her prisoner, Ianthe takes off and joins the pursuit, bringing heat to a path going cool. Alas, let’s not forget, she also brings a promise of carnage upon The Will’s beloved. And there’s no guarantee she’ll stop there. Lying Cat and Sophie may be in peril as well. As Ianthe’s potential for cruelty was early proven when telling Bill she made a rug out of Sweet Boy, we readers are left to shudder at this new villain’s approach. Because of all things that can make an already dangerous villain more of a menace, purpose ranks high.

Stay tuned, lovelies. A vengeful scourge is about to unite our heroes’ and The Will’s path. Expect a catastrophe for the whole family to enjoy.


Saga Issue #47 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Batwoman Isn’t Built For One-Shots Or Fill-Ins

Griffin

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[Danny Elfman Theme DOES NOT Play]

Wow. Just…wow. Okay, I was already keenly aware that any solo outing for Kate needed a very strong writer to actually work. Someone who did the homework, and understood that you can’t just throw her at things and expect it all to make sense later. That’s all a given, considering how atypical a character Kate Kane became. She’s not idealized. She’s not an icon, or an immovable concept.

All of that I knew. After Batwoman #11, written by Kate Perkins* and illustrated by a criminally underused Scott Godlewski (Copperhead was great until he stopped doing the art) however, I learned something new. I learned that Kate is just not a character built for one-and-dones or fill-ins. Because that was the single worst Batwoman story I’ve read since that time she got raped by a vampire for like eight issues.

Pictured: someone who can write Kate. Not pictured: that time she got raped by a vampire for eight issues

Which, okay, not a super high bar, but it’s still worse than that abysmal hyper-goyish Batwoman “Hanukkah” story from last year’s DC Holiday Special…which was also written by Kate Perkins. She just wanted pie or something. It was bad.

Anyway, the problems Batwoman #11 has are emblematic of how this kind of story just doesn’t work for Kate. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s even a meta-textual reasoning behind all of it, too! Because of course there is; it’s Kate.

Kate’s continuity has always progressed forward since 2006, having never actually been reset or rebooted. She’s in a weird position that leaves her extremely well-characterized, but also makes it nigh impossible to write her “passably”. That is, mediocre. She’s sort of all-or-nothing just due to her own context.

This is also why cameos for her are either pitch perfect or laughably bad. For example: Kate’s brief appearances in Mother Panic and Red Hood and the Outlaws were excellent (though the latter had a weird art problem where it didn’t match the tone of the script, but that’s minimal), while her extended existence in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey was…abysmal.

More to the point, the fact that Kate has never actually stopped developing (EVEN ANDREYKO KNEW THIS AND HE IS THE WORST) means that any narrative where she’s the focal point in which it’s just “filling dead air” isn’t going to work. And no matter how you look at it, that’s exactly what Batwoman #11 was.

It was a series of beats that were hit by a writer who seems to have a very odd “blueprint” of what a Batwoman story needs to have to be a Batwoman story. Despite the fact that that’s not how any kind of story works, unless it’s supposed to be formulaic by design. Perkins seems to be under the impression that a Batwoman story is the following things:

  1. Reference Family
  2. Fuck up
  3. Relate to Larger Arc, somehow
  4. Kate blames herself and mopes

In all fairness, this is technically correct from a certain point of view. If I were to explain how to write a Batwoman story, I’d probably tell you make sure her family is somehow involved. Aside from that…you kind of need to understand who Kate is if you’re going to have her mope or blame herself.

You have literally never done this.

Uh. No. That’s the opposite of what Kate does. She doesn’t get distracted like that while working, because that’s the only time things “make sense” for her. Also, that’s not how you soldier. I don’t have an issue with her getting clocked on the head by Pyg (his Grant Morrison Weird Factor justifies quite a bit) but I do have a problem with inverted characterization. Also, hey, uh, you can’t just like drop a huge revelation like Beth used to wear glasses but Kate didn’t on us???

They’re twins. Identical twins. That’s not how this works. We have NEVER seen either of them with glasses before, and also it took me several tries to realize that the one in the pirate costume wasn’t Beth because literally every other flashback we’ve ever seen with those two had Beth be the happy one trying to cheer a mopey Kate up.

That’s sort of an important tonal through-line that Perkins wanted to subvert without realizing how confusing and inconsistent it would be? Or…got them mixed up? Or just didn’t care? I have no idea. Look, this whole issue is just one big hot mess. Julia Pennyworth, an SAS operative who unlike Kate actually is a professional soldier getting captured by Pyg and…being helpless for the entire story after being absent from this book since issue #4 is just really stupid and bad.

Kate’s inner monologue is overwritten to the point where any nuance that may have been there is drilled into the dirt. Her tattoos are, once again, missing, despite those actually being super important, and everything Kate says sounds like someone trying to do a really half-effort impression of how a good writer writes Kate.

What even is this

She still talks “weird’, but the wrong kind of weird. “Creepazoid” is very much the wrong decade, to put it lightly. And then it just sort of ends, with nothing happening or changing (since it couldn’t because it was a fill-in and that’s still the largest issue) and we’re back exactly where we were so we can slip into another flashback issue next month. Which would have been perfect right after #10, but alas that was not to be. As for why that is, why any of this exists at all, well, it’s pretty simple.

Because, uh, yeah, Perkins is gone now. Bennett is back next month, hopefully forever, but…see, here’s the thing: Bennett is about as busy as a writer in her industry can get without literally dying. Not quite Brian Michael Bendis, but y’know he was just in the hospital for like a month so…probably better that she’s not doing that.

As of this moment, she is/was concurrently writing:

  • Batwoman
  • DC Bombshells
  • Animosity
  • Animosity: The Rise
  • Animosity: Evolution
  • Sheena: Queen of the Jungle
  • InSexts
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • At least three other things we don’t know about/I couldn’t find/I forgot about

Can you guess which one on that list can actually have a fill-in writer? It’s Batwoman and only Batwoman. Ironically, the one thing that absolutely should never have a fill-in was the only one that truly could due to how schedules work with the Big Two.

God, this is just gonna be bad in trade, huh? Ugh. I’d shoot the fail counter up by 52 or something but this isn’t Kate Kane’s fault; she doesn’t choose her writer. If she did, she sure as hell wouldn’t choose Perkins, that much I know for sure.


[*Editor’s Note: The name of the writer for this issue has been corrected from Kelly Perkins to Kate Perkins throughout.]

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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A “Beer Swilling, Lady-Wooing” Valkyrie Is Coming To Marvel Comics

Dan

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From Rocket Raccoon to Yellowjacket to the Collector, Marvel has made a habit of rescuing characters from the depths of nerd trivia night and sending them straight into the mainstream. Their most recent success in this pattern has been Valkyrie, a character best known for anchoring one of the Avengers’ C-squads and being one of the few bisexual heroes in comics. Despite a misstep or two regarding that last point, Valkyrie’s portrayal in Thor: Ragnarok by the phenomenal Tessa Thompson was considered by many the best part of an already fantastic movie. Marvel seems to have agreed, with Entertainment Weekly announcing that the company announcing that Thompson’s rendition of the Maiden of Valhalla will migrate from screen to page as a part of their comics universe.

Fans of the blonde haired, spear chucking,  pointy boob-armored heroine that’s been around since 1970 need not worry. Perhaps as a response to their controversial decisions with a Female Thor and a Black Captain America, Marvel has not “recast” Annabelle Riggs as the host of Brunnhilde. Instead, the new Valkyrie will exist alongside her more venerable counterpart as a member of the Exiles, a dimension-hopping team of misfits that has paid host to heroes like Spider-Gwen, Deadpool, and longtime member Morph.

The new version of this team, created in 2001 by Judd Winnick, will be written by poet and SFF author Saladin Ahmed (Black Bolt) with an art team that includes Javier Rodriguez (Batgirl: Year One, Daredevil) and Alvaro Lopez (Royals). Valkyrie will be joined by Kamala Khan(a dark, older version of the shapeshifting teen hero), Iron Lad (a time-shifted version of Kang the Conqueror), Wolvie (an X-Baby version of Wolverine), and Blink (a veteran of the Exiles with teleporting abilities). The team will be lead by a version of Nick Fury.

Writer Ahmed has been bullish in his enthusiasm for the new Valkyrie, describing her as a “tankard-draining, maiden-wooing, giant-slaying thunderbolt of a woman.” Thanks to a quote like this, and the backlash the film faced for downplaying Valkyrie’s bisexuality, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that this Valkyrie will be a WLW. Now if they could just get that on screen…

The new series of The Exiles will be released on April 11 as a part of the Marvel Legacy relaunch.

Please support your local comic shop.


Image Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

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