comics, comics criticism, dc comics, marvel, no context comics, Star Wars, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 11/16

The big releases this week were probably the final issue of Chris Cantwell’s Iron Man (which I just started this week), a new Immortal X-Men, World’s Finest, and Nightwing. Of course, I am not talking about any of those. Because I’m reading the latter 3 and I plan to do something more cohesive about Iron Man.

For a look at other books outside the big 2 this week, check out The Beat’s round-up of indie books that came out yesterday, featuring my first contribution to the site.

The biggest news in the comics-related world this week was probably the death of Kevin Conroy, the iconic voice of Batman for more than 30 years. I have toyed with eulogizing Mr. Conroy here on the site but ultimately, I find myself with a lack of words to describe his impact on me, his contributions to the world of animation. Here is what I posted on my personal Facebook page and on Twitter:

Heartbreaking to hear the news about Kevin Conroy’s passing. Because he was most connected to a superhero cartoon, the immensity of his talent as an actor is undervalued and underestimated. Conroy’s performance as Batman is immortal not because of Batman as a concept but because he made Batman so profoundly, painfully human. Kevin tapped into the loss and rage and sorrow that propels Batman. He became the indelible voice of Batman because he recontextualized the character into a complex man with emotional range. Conroy’s Batman could be frightening and intense. He could be soft and compassionate. He could be vulnerable and colder than ice. I have no doubt that Batman has become a cultural icon because of his seminal work. To understand the depth of that humanity I invite you to read Kevin Conroy’s short memoir and reflection on finding Batman in DC’s 2022 Pride Special. A painful, uplifting, and honest reflection. RIP, Batman.

If you’ve not read his contribution to the DC Pride special, DC made it free to read in his memory here.

Kevin’s death, from an aggressive and rapid cancer, hits especially hard given the recent loss in my own family under similar circumstances.

Obviously, my love for Batman and the Animated Series (and the DCAU it spawned) is well-documented. Kevin Conroy is to thank for so much of that. You can read my series of Batman essays from earlier this year at this link. And if you are interested in revisiting the DCAU, you can journey along with my watch-through from about ten years ago on my old tumblr (Which may become a replacement for my Twitter if that place keeps sinking).

Well, let’s get to the funny books.

Star Wars: Han Solo & Chewbacca #7

Marvel. Marc Guggenheim, Writer. Paul Fry, Artist. Alex Sinclair, Colors. Joe Caramagna, Letters. Mikey J Basso, Danny Khazen, Mark Paniccia, Editors. 

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this book. But there’s also nothing particularly compelling to sink your teeth into. It does very little to justify its existence and fails to leverage the iconic characters at its center in any meaningful or interesting way. Oh there’s plenty of Easter eggs, we’ve got Ponda Baba and Greedo and Maz Kanata. But none of them do anything that gives us more information about them that fills out this universe. 

It’s the worst type of Star Wars publishing. Playing with the old toys and adding nothing new. 

This is a prison break issue, which can be a fun trope for a sci-fi story. There have been lots of good ones. God knows I loved the scenes in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the prisonbreak is one of my favorite Outlaw Star episodes. But to make it compelling there needs to be some investment in the stakes. What are the characters going through in this jail? How is the Imperial system degrading the people it incarcerates?

We are set firmly in the darkest moment of the Galaxy’s history, a period being explored brilliantly by the television show Andor, but Han Solo and Chewbacca fails to grapple with any themes at all. 

It’s a darn shame because Solo is a rich character whose rogueish, blank-slate past leaves more to explore. I am the one person who unabashedly loves the Solo movie. It was a lot of fun and gave us an interesting view into Han’s descent into his cynical attitude. Characterization is absent completely in this comic book, and there’s not even any fun action or creative pirating. 

I would have loved to see Chewbacca overcome something within the prison, to fend for himself without Han, but he’s as much set dressing as ever. 

It’s just a boring, lifeless story. The art is fine but unremarkable, like the story itself. I don’t know who this issue is for, because die-hards get nothing new and non Star Wars fans don’t even get an interesting story. 

Great Phil Noto cover though. 

GCPD: The Blue Wall #2

DC Comics. John Ridley, Writer. Stefano Raffaele, Art. Brad Anderson, Colors. Ariana Maher, Letters. Arianna Turturro, Ben Abernathy, Editors.

This is a book that wants to ask an important question. Can there be a good cop? Especially in a city as twisted and corrupt as Gotham?

I think it does a good job of handling the question. You feel for the young cadets who are experiencing the horrors and tough choices they have to face in their life-and-death job. Ridley is examining whether someone well-intentioned can fix the machine by being part of the machine. With Renee Montoya, a heroic good guy cop, a queer latina woman, in charge as the new commissioner it would be easy to tell a story about her heroically reforming the police force. By sheer force of her charismatic leadership and heroism, the whole place is cleaned up. 

It doesn’t happen. As the young cops cope with the death, the racism,  the costs of inaction, and the costs of action, they start to doubt that Montoya is the hero they thought she was. She’s one of the GOOD ones, they told themselves. But is she really? She left a young woman out to dry for freezing during an altercation and letting a killer go. Is she any less a part of the machine than the white guys who torment the Puerto Rican rookie?

Meanwhile, we see Montoya struggling with the weight of her new responsibility and the compromises she has to make. She is on the verge of breaking her sobriety and tormented by her memories of Two Face, which threaten to drive her to cross ethical and moral lines. It’s a compelling juxtaposition. 

Ridley is clearly a gifted writer and storyteller. Everything you need to know about these characters and their internal lives is evident on the page without any onerous exposition. It’s natural and dynamic action and reaction. 

The art is solid but leaves me a little cold, the characters are a bit too rubbery and the colors too bright and saturated for the heavy subject matter. It’s hard not to want this to look more like the work by Michael Lark and Lee Loughridge on Gotham Central. It’s probably not fair to this book to want it to be more like something else but it’s difficult not to compare. 

I am intrigued enough to eventually read this in its entirety when all is said and done. I think this has potential to be a thoughtful examination of 21st-century policing in America. Whether it succeeds in the long run, that’s a question to answer at another time. 

Cyberpunk 2077: You Have My Word #4 

Dark Horse. Bartosz Sztybor, Writer. Jesus Hervas, Art. Giulia Brusco, Colors. Frank Cvetkovic, Letters. Judy Khuu, Editor.

Boy, Cyberpunk 2077 sure has a lot of tie-in comic books for a video game that had one of the most controversial critical flops since No Man’s Sky. OK, OK, I know that it’s based on an existing tabletop RPG, don’t write me letters. But this is branded pretty clearly after the video game and licensed by the developers of the game. So this is a video game tie-in.

It’s fine. Whatever. I didn’t find it offensive. But it’s an ugly and miserable little book. Just scenes of violence and bloodshed with no clear message or resonant political commentary (you know, what the Cyberpunk genre is usually about). Oh, sure, there’s some lip service paid to anti-corporate ideas but they are of little importance here. The conflict between the grandfather and his slavish devotion to his old company makes for the core of an interesting human conflict. But it is largely glossed oer, like most of the interesting ideas here. There are big gaps between scenes with little connective tissue that makes for a jarring reading experience, like pages were missing.

To its credit, the darkly ironic note the issue ends on is a pretty great ending beat. But if I didn’t know this was the last issue I would have thought it was setting up another issue. I don’t know if that’s a problem with the storytelling or not, though. 

I wish there was anything here that had even the slightest glimmer of hope. But it’s a deeply nihilist book that writes off society and family as paranoid and untrustworthy. The thesis appears to be that the only person in this world you can trust is yourself and existing within society will end only in harm and death. I suppose that is pretty Cyberpunk but not to my taste.

The art is not horrible but it is ugly, like the story. The characters are disfigured and features are obscured by blocky and scratchy inks. It fits the tone but it isn’t particularly pleasant to look at. The storytelling and movement panel-to-panel works and it was never confusing except for the gaps between scenes that needed a bit more visual continuity. The colors are more interesting, a neon future that gives the world an unearthly and uneasy glow. 

I wasn’t going to comment too much about how it oriented me a reader too much because thai is the last issue so I don’t expect to be spoonfed. HOWEVER. If I’m reading the release schedule of this book correctly–This issue comes out almost a full year after issue 3?! With that kind of gap it truly is incumbent on the creators to do more to ease the reader into what’s going on and not begin cold in the middle of a scene, in the middle of a conversation. That can be an effective way to build tension and interest but for new readers and even people who even bought issue 3 a year ago, we need a little bit more to understand why we should care about this cyborg woman or who she is trying to kill. We do get it as the issue goes on but thef irst five-six pages are conversations about names and places with no orienting of their relationships to the characters. 

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