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The Saga-scious duo shines bright in Saga

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Oh yes, that’s a pun alright. Fear not, it’s not even the best I can do (best meaning worse, of course). However, I can think of no better title to describe the events on this week’s issue. The narrative in Saga is usually distributed neatly amongst several characters in different settings and conflicts. That’s not the case this time. In a similar way as previous issue, the story is more focused on one place, one set of characters and one tone. While we had a thought-provoking journey of self-discovery and self-assertion through Hazel last time, this issue takes a different approach. It’s all action, from beginning to end, with a distinct and succinct blockbuster-ish flavour.

It’s a most fitting choice, considering the Alana and Marko’s agon: rescuing their daughter. Every action to this end must have had plenty of thought and planning beforehand. Thus, the time has come to simply act decisively. The mechanic is considerably simple for Saga, but not any less engaging for it.

Issue #31
“No, they’re fetishistic narcissists.”

Let’s start with a question. Has Saga ever let us down when it comes to opening splash pages to leave a lasting impression? This is rhetorical; the answer is no, it never has and it probably never will. This issue is no exception as Alana and Marko staging a robbery contains the proper amount of obscene language and the proper amount of bonkers teamwork. This roguish, guileful measure has one purpose: getting their ride back from the spaceship impound, which is probably every bit as annoying as it is in some funny little rock called Earth. And same as how it would fail on Earth, their little scheme fails to convince the guard by the fact accountants, like Alana pretends to be, never work late. The Devil’s in the details, isn’t it?

Nonetheless, Marko opts to knock the guard out with the last of his dad’s sleeping powder stuff. This is virtually a confirmation that he’s back on his usual pacifist approach. This may be for the best, seeing as how Alana and Marko are more effective and stable when working together. Hazel’s nigh-omniscient confirms the extent of their mutual purpose as she acknowledges that her parents had nothing in mind but retrieving their daughter since their reunion. Although they’re back together, they won’t indulge in anything until they had Hazel back. So now, more than ever, Alana and Marko are a force to be reckoned with. And it’s just as well, as they’re infiltrating Variegate—the financial hub to the Coalition’s prison system.

The most effective way to unearth a couple of names (Hazel and Klara) from the system is really just getting your hands dirty and take them yourself. This probably also applies in real life, but I’ll keep my furious views on bureaucracy to myself.

Things go amazingly until they come upon the second obstacle on their path, an unbreachable door. This halt in tempo yields some room for a little talk between the two of them. It’s apparent that Marko’s renewed approach derives from guilt at his role in their schism several issues ago. Of course, throwing a bag of groceries at your spouse in an outburst isn’t that great an offence. Though Alana sees this as what it was, Marko will go to every measure to ensure nothing of the sort happens again. While commendable, we’ll have to hope this won’t be hindering, or annoying. Marko turns his wife’s gun into a skeleton key and now they’re free to continue their talk on Hazel’s education while searching. That’s practical thinking right there.

Soon enough, Alana finds the desired information. Hazel, Klara and a third female (Lexis) were taken to a detainment centre… on Landfall. On its own, this spells trouble for Hazel’s parents, but they have a more immediate concern as their infiltration comes to a third obstacle. Flamingthrower constables—quite a neat design from Fiona Staples, as usual. An arrest for breaking and entering, and destruction of property (the constables’ doing) sounds like a long term hurdle, but Alana has a treacherous card up her sleeve. With her acting skills, their rocketship’s approach, and the constables’ dipshittery, she successfully manages to masquerade as a suicide bomber. So, away the three flaming stooges go.

However, she wasn’t lying when selling their rocketship as an inbound missile. Thus, their getaway is also something of an obstacle in itself. Risky move; they’ll have to actually intercept the vehicle as it passes the building. We’ve seen this countless times in blockbusters and there’s a reason it gets a rise out of the audience every time. It just doesn’t look possible. However, Alana’s look at her husband dispels all doubts on the matter. And here is yet again another reason why Fiona Staples is Fiona Staples. She absolutely nails expressions. She can do things with a dozen lines, Rob Liefeld cannot hope to do with a hundred. Alana’s face looks daring, loving, inviting and confident all at once. It’s the face you want to see when about to do the riskiest thing ever.

So, they made it. They’re safe and on their way to retrieve Hazel, Klara and Izabel. From the heat of the moment, they break their unspoken vow of no-intimacy as they kiss for the first time since reuniting. It’s cliché as hell, but it works.

After the logical followup to that kiss, Hazel narrates that her parents were secretly convinced their daughter was dead until they found the scroll saying otherwise. This, in turn, imbues their lovemaking with a tint of despair. This action-packed operation was actually their last resort to prove their fear false. Now, after their long due frothy reunion, it’s time to face another inconvenient truth. They won’t be able to successfully undertake this mission without help from a third party. Someone they’re reluctant to work with.

Prince Robot IV. Well, he doesn’t consider himself Prince anything more, rather something of a Knight Errant. Ghüs brings him the news of their approach. And he couldn’t have less enthusiasm about the fact. However, before he and his Squire son can put some distance between a second reluctant alliance and then, his son catches sight of a “shooting star” while hunting geese, as you do. It seems fate has caught up with the Knight Errant and his Squire lad before they could even try to run away. Just like a frisky cat biting his puss sibling’s nape (Pardon the vulgar analogy, but at the time of writing, my cats are being assholes to each other). However, among other things, Saga has taught us to be on our toes, constantly.

There is always the chance that a visitor may not be who we expect.


Saga Issue #31 Credits

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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Barbarella, Still Stunning After 55 Years, Gets New Comic

Dan

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After three decades without a comic, kitschy sex icon Barbarella is returning to the printed page thanks to Dynamite Entertainment.

Barbarella exploded onto comic pages for the first time in a 1962 issue of  V Magazine, and since then has been stiffening hearts and minds of readers the world over. Created by Jean-Claude Forest, the comic follows the (often controversial) titular heroine as she travels the galaxy engaging in adventures as exciting as they were erotic. It was labeled as the very first pornographic comic.

Created to represent the author’s ideal of a sexually liberated woman, the comic became a fixture of the sexual revolution. But the world was not yet satisfied, and Barbarella came to the big screen in 1968 with Barbarella.

The film starred Jane Fonda as Barbarella, the camera firmly affixed to her every movement and gyration. Accompanied by the sexy angel Pygar, Barbarella must defeat the evil Dr. Durand-Durand and his sinister Orgasmatron. It famously featured the first female orgasm in US theaters. Despite derision from contemporary reviewers as “schlock,” and condemnation from the Catholic Church, the film did well and even became the second most popular film in the UK for that year.

Since then the legend of Barbarella has only been a grower, as the camp and fun of the movie has made it a fixture of midnight movie showings. Its influence has been felt up and down the globe, from the designs in The Fifth Element to the name of Duran Duran.

Io9 reports that the series will be written by Mark Carey (X-Men, Lucifer, The Girl with All the Gifts) with art by Kenan Yarar (Hilal). It will be Barbarella’s solo title since 1982, and her first appearance in an American comic. Its release will celebrate 55 years of Barbarella.


Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life Excels At World Building

Matthew

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Yes, friends, it’s time to revisit the Scott Pilgrim comic books for the work of art they are. First published in 2004 and being both written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the six-part series is about the eponymous title character, Scott Pilgrim, and what happened to him when he sort of started juggling two relationships at once. In this article, we will discuss the first volume “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”.

Recap

Scott, 23, is the bass player for the underachieving band Sex Bob-Omb which also stars Stephen Stills singing and Kim Pine on the drums. We meet Scott as he is talking about his new high school girlfriend, Knives Chau, to his friends and then to his roommate, Wallace Wells. When his sister finds out, she calls Scott and asks him why he decided to start dating someone much younger and he tells her “it’s just nice, it’s just simple”.

Being the broke young adult he is, Scott’s options for hanging out with Knives usually involve the band practice (which Knives absolutely hearts) and low budget places like Goodwill and CD stores — this was 2004, so bear with it. Their conversation flows nicely because Scott seems genuinely interested in Knives’s day-to-day high school intrigues like who-likes-who and whatever happened at the yearbook meetings. However, at one of these hangouts, Scott sees a pink-haired roller-skating woman that catches his eye because he had seen her before in his own imagination/dreams.

After some obsessing, Scott finally has the chance to introduce himself to the girl of whom not a lot is known about, with the exception of her name, Ramona Flowers, and that she left New York after a breakup with some guy named Gideon. Scott tries to make conversation, but his sheer awkwardness gets the best of him and he ends up leaving her alone.

However, Scott was still stuck on Ramona so, armed with the information that she worked doing deliveries for Amazon, he placed an order just so she would go to her house, which she eventually does, and actually agrees to go out with Scott on a date after some persuasion. We also see that, after Ramona’s introduction, Scott became distinctively uninterested in Knives’s stories which culminates in him running away after Knives make a move to kiss him.

Stephen Stills is able to set up a gig for Sex Bob-Omb against Crash and The Boys. At their date, Scott and Ramona have a nice time getting to know each other and Ramona finally explains that she uses these subspace highways to get to one place to another faster and it is because of those that Scott was having visions of her. They end up at her place, but they don’t engage in sex right away which is not only okay but preferred to Scott.

It’s showtime and everybody is there which includes Stacey and Jimmy (new boyfriend), Wallace, Ramona, and even Knives who totally got a makeover to become more “rad”. Naturally, Scott ends up freaking out about both of his girlfriends at the same place and tries to run away from the discourse. It’s worth pointing out that, at this point, pretty much everyone has told Scott to break up with Knives, but he simply can’t bring himself to do it.

Their presentations finally start and the Crash and The Boys’ last song is powerful enough to knock everybody in the audience out for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, a little after Wallace ends up kissing Jimmy and a not too far into Sex Bob-Omb’s song, the unexpected happens: a man flies from the sky, breaking the roof, and announcing himself as Matthew Patel, the first of Ramona’s Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends.

Clueless at first, Scott picks up the thread and engages in the fight: apparently, Scott is known as the best fighter in the province and is able to turn this around. Matthew even brings out sexy demon women to help with his fighting/musical choreography, but Scott is able to flip it and reverse it to his benefit. In the end, Matthew Patel is gone leaving behind $2.10 in coins.

During the subway ride back home, Ramona and Scott finally define the relationship as she tells him that, in order for them to be a free couple, Scott will have to defeat Ramona’s League of Evil Exes. Pilgrim acquiesces to the proposal, but, upon asking whether Gideon is one of them, Ramona’s head starts glowing weirdly.

So… what was that?

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that not only the Scott Pilgrim series is one of the few comics I’ve read, but also it’s downright my favorite. The work Bryan Lee O’Malley put into each of the 180-paged issues is astonishing and, as much as I love a visual gag, I have to hand it to the self-aware and genuinely funny script: it’s tight and, from the very beginning, it serves the mission to set us up for a complex and detailed ride.

Now, if you’ve read the comics, you know what I am talking about: the drawing is purposefully inspired in Japanese manga while still having a style of its own. If I had to pick up one word to describe it, it perhaps would be “irreverent”, because the lines and coloring help the story develop even with its larger-than-life and ludicrous storytelling.

The best part about the volume is how well the world building was done. The Scott Pilgrim reality is quite obviously very whimsical and it’s only semi-grounded in reality (or maybe it is fully grounded in reality? I honestly wouldn’t know because I’ve never been to Toronto so I can’t testify to Toronto’s whimsicality). This is a story that includes a wormhole-like subspace highway that is absolutely ubiquitous to Ramona, but not for Canadians, apparently. Not only that, but Crash and The Boys physically knocked people out with music and Matthew Patel brought in demons and ended up turning to coins. It’s quite clear that Scott Pilgrim’s world is one inspired by the possible plausibilities of video games and cartoons.

As for the characters, from very early on, we see how Bryan Lee O’Malley, a half Korean man, wanted to integrate his own culture on the story as he has talked about on his Tumblr account, giving a very straight answer about the lack of POC in his story:

So anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, what I knew in the first 20 years of my life was white people and a little bit of asian people and so that’s what I put in Scott Pilgrim. I had an unexamined non-attitude towards race and I didn’t think about it until years later.

In the first volume, we do meet Knives and her friend Tamara, who appear throughout the series. Sadly, Matthew Patel bit the dust right after his introduction.

A nice point I always love when I read this comic is Wallace’s relationship with Scott and everybody else. Reading Wallace as a “gay best friend” is quite easy and he does fall victim of hypersexualization during some time, but I still love the tiny moments that include LGBT+ characters in the story and, spoiler alert, there are quite a few still to come.

It’s also nice to point out how quick everyone got concerned when Scott, 23, said he was dating a high schooler. While Scott says it is “easier” for him and Knives seems to genuinely like Scott, their relationship appears sketchy to the reader on most occasions, especially after Ramona is introduced. Knives own arc of self-discovery, independence, and love is amazing and definitely worth the price of admission on its own.

As far as Scott and Ramona, the duo still has a lot of ground to walk. One moment that usually gets praise is the non-intercourse that happens after the first date. I don’t particularly think that Ramona was aware of Scott’s anxieties regarding being intimate with someone for the first time after getting his heart broken a year before, but it was a nice touch that he ended up getting what he needed: an intimate moment, sure, but one that didn’t have to appease to pressuring dating rules. This moment also probably doubles as when the couple really started connecting, putting down the basis for the relationship to become believable.

Well, that’s about it for Vol. 1. Join me in a couple of weeks to talk about Vol. 2 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World!


Images Courtesy of Oni Press

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Wonder Woman’s enemies practically defeat themselves in “Heart of the Amazon”

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The “Heart of the Amazon” arc has had its ups and downs for Wonder Woman.  It started very strong with a meaningful and emotional first issue, but then petered out when its attempt to build on top of that with action couldn’t quite bring it together.  It finally seemed to get a handle on itself in issue #29, where they managed to have both an action/adventure setting while still retaining the friendship and family connections.

Unfortunately, despite having a very satisfying main body, issue #29 of Wonder Woman closed with a “twist” that was severely wanting: Hamilton Revere, the man behind Dr. Crawford’s attempt to grant herself superpowers using Diana’s blood and also behind the bounty hunters sent after her, works for the US Government.  That twist — if you even want to call it that — didn’t make sense, and it lacked any sort of emotional punch.

So now we are on to Issue #30, part 5 of “Heart of the Amazon”.  This is the last issue of this story-arc, and let’s see if they manage to pull out a victory.

Recap

At the Evil Lair

Wonder Woman speaks to Hamilton Revere and the various soldiers under his employ, and Revere reaffirms his statement from the last issue.  He is an operative of the US government, and what’s been going on is a sanctioned mission to gain superpowered soldiers.  The surrounding guards aren’t mercenaries or villains-for-hire, but soldiers who have been personally inspired and saved by Wonder Woman who volunteered to gain powers themselves in the hopes that they can help the world.

What was a lie was the claim that the research would be immediately applicable to diseases and medicinal cures, which is why Diana had walked into this “trap” willingly.  Though he says that it might lead to medical breakthroughs eventually, Revere admits that the goal of their research was purely about the combat side of superpowers.  His previous talk about how their research would help the world referred to his belief that all other nations would surrender to their authority and they would have “peace” once the US had an army of super soldiers.

Obviously, Diana wants no part in this plan, so there’s the obligatory fight scene.  It turns out that the soldiers present have already been given superpowers, so they can fight Wonder Woman on even terms, although some of them still use their plain olds guns as well.

Eventually their numbers overwhelm her, and Wonder Woman is strapped down for Evil Medical Experiments.

Generally speaking, it undercuts the argument that you just want to help people if you’re attacking somebody as you say it

At the Picket

At the beginning of the issue, Etta Candy and Steve Trevor were sullenly sitting at the Picket after being ordered to reman there as Diana goes off into who-knows-what danger.  They idly swat at some of the ants crawling on the table (Again?  Seriously, what is up with the ants in this arc?), and then Sasha Bordeaux asks to see them in her office.  She explains that General Thomas (Aha! His name is General Thomas.  It only took five issues to get this) has been ordered to keep them there, lending credence to Revere’s “we are the government” bit.  In a parallel to her conversation with Etta in the preceding issue, Sasha says that she has picked her side and helps them sneak out so that they can go help Diana.

I do have to wonder how many people accidentally placed their hand right there while innocently using the restroom

Etta and Steve race to the Evil Lair, scope out the defenses (Steve even recognizes one of the soldiers on guard), and then launch an attack/distraction.

Wonder Woman manages to break out of her restraints, and with Etta and Steve’s assistance (Plus the help of one of the soldiers who regrets her involvement) they defeat and disable all of the super soldiers.  Just as with Dr. Crawford at the beginning of the arc, Wonder Woman removes all of their superpowers through the use of the Lasso of Truth, since it can separate the lie of their powers from their true beings.

Aftermath

When Revere is being carted away by the cops, he again claims that he works with the military and the police say that they checked with the Pentagon and they claim they never heard of him.  I’m assuming this is the military disavowing his actions rather than a reveal that it was a lie all along, because if he knew nobody at the Pentagon would back him then why would he still play the role when it will just make things worse for him?  Before the cops put him into a car he is intercepted by two EMTs who say they need to check him over, only to be revealed as two of his soldiers who abscond with him so that he can give them powers again.

Diana, meanwhile, is recuperating at Etta Candy’s apartment with Steve and Destiny, Etta’s niece that Diana had bonded with at the beginning of the arc.  They talk, laugh, and love, and that brings us to a close.

I’m not gonna lie: I really want to try some of Steve’s cookies

Review

Let’s get this out of the way: The Villain in this issue just torpedoes any attempt at drama or complexity that the story tries to offer up.  From any perspective the Evil Plan makes no sense, and is actually self-defeating.

The Evil Plan

The first problem is the premise that this is an official government operation and not a rogue operation aiming for Revere’s personal wealth or advancement.  I’m not saying that I have a problem with a story concept of the government running unethical medical experiments to try and bring about superpowers (That kind of thing happens in real life, Project MKULTRA being the one that first springs to mind), but I do have a problem with them deliberately  shooting themselves in the foot like this by.  Diana is already willfully working with them, so why are they trying to force her compliance at gunpoint?  Why not just say “We think studying your blood can give us cures for diseases, will you agree to a regular blood draw once a month for research and application?”  They obviously considered that point and they believed it would work, since that is the lie they use to lure her in, so why not just do it?

Then there’s the fact that the soldiers they’ve recruited are deliberately all personal fans of Wonder Woman.  One of them talks about how Diana inspired her to believe that a woman could accomplish great things despite being opposed by the patriarchy, and another says her life was personally saved during combat in Iraq.  Since Revere lied to them about Diana being a willing test subject, indicating that he knew that they wouldn’t go along with attacking their hero, why didn’t he get soldiers drawn at random?  Or even people with a grudge against Wonder Woman?  There’s got to be plenty of soldiers who are envious of her powers, or resent the fact that she hasn’t gone into all of the combat zones and single-handedly taken out all of the enemy combatants.  Why surround himself with people that he specifically knew would have moral oppositions to his plan?

BTW: She isn’t the one decides to help Wonder Woman. Interesting fact, that.

This all means that Wonder Woman is going to fight against him instead of politely acquiescing, and she is going to have help from his own side once they realize that she is there under duress (Only one of the soldiers actually does change sides, but still).

A lot of this could have been avoided with the simple reveal that Revere had gone rogue and was operating outside of his orders.  That would cover why he has to steal Diana’s blood, because he’s going to use it for his own ends and not the government’s.  It would also explain why his underlings are all Diana fanboys, since he had to work within a structure that honestly thought it was helping Diana.  “Rogue government agency” isn’t exactly a new or unique plot, in fact it’s been done a half-a-dozen times with Wonder Woman herself, but at least it would make internal sense.  As it is, I spent the entire issue shaking my head.

The Rest of the Comic

Okay, leaving aside the villain’s plan, the rest of the comic is…well, it’s “okay”.  Not groundbreaking, but not horrible.

They finally named the as-yet-unnamed General that has been hanging around the Picket.  It’s nice to finally attach a name to the face, especially with the way he had been introduced at the start of the arc as a Reasonable and Benevolent leader before being ordered to obstruct Steve and Etta here.

Even though she wasn’t involved in the fight itself, they managed to include Sasha Bordeaux in the narrative by having her help Etta and Steve sneak out.  By having her state that she picked her side, a direct quote of what Etta had said to her in the previous issue, it manages to include why she is helping them without bogging the action down in a page of dialogue.

Etta explains why she chose to renew her friendship with Diana in Issue #29

It’s brief, but there was also a very quick panel of might-have-been flirtation between Etta and Amelia Medina, the one soldier who turned against Revere and assisted them.  It’s a lightning fast exchange, just a single panel of Etta telling Amelia that she can call her by her first name instead of “Commander Candy”, but I’m going to grab onto that and hold tight.  Ever since they introduced ‘Marc’ in the first issue of the arc, combined with the complete lack of any mention of Barbara Ann Minerva, I’ve been dreading the day when this new creative team might try to introduce a boyfriend for Etta.  The inclusion of her flirting, no matter how small, is a little reassurance that the new creative team hasn’t forgotten that she is a lesbian, even if they haven’t shown what happened to her girlfriend.

The one thing I don’t get is the continued inclusion of ants at the Picket.  This has been an ongoing event since the first issue of the arc, with references to the building being fumigated and renting temporary office space.  I keep expecting it to become a critical plot-point (Are they alien ants?  Mind-control ants?  Spy ants?  Demon ants?), but they keep just being ants.

If those are superintelligent ants, I’m guessing they’ll hold a grudge

What’s the story here?


Wonder Woman #30 and all images courtesy of DC Comics

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