ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week.
IN SPACE NO ONE WILL BUY YOUR COMIC - S.W.O.R.D. 5
One subject I've always been passionate about is space exploration. Whenever funding for NASA gets cut, I can understand on a short-term, practical level the explanations that those large sums of money could be better spent on more pressing concerns. But it still hurts -- it still feels like a noble, higher goal is being sacrificed because we don't have enough faith in ourselves and what we can accomplish.
Significantly lower the stakes and the dollar amounts involved, and that's not a bad description of how I feel upon reading the fifth issue of Kieron Gillen and Steve Sanders' "S.W.O.R.D.". What started as a promising new series walking the line between the Earth-focused and space-focused sides of the Marvel Universe was sadly changed into a promising new miniseries about halfway through the run, and it now ends with this issue.
The series spanned an eventful day in the life of S.W.O.R.D. director Abigail Brand, who had to deal with the criminal problems of her half-brother, a coup attempt by her co-director, and multiple alien attacks on Earth, all during what was supposed to have been an ordinary work day marked by a visit from her boyfriend, Beast. Gillen wrote an excellent action romantic comedy, a rarity in superhero comics published by one of the big two.
The good news is that issue 5 is a satisfying resolution to the series. Beast and Brand, in cooperation with giant robot bounty hunter Death's Head, stage an assault on S.W.O.R.D. headquarters to recapture it from the invading forces of the Drenx. Watching Brand keep a cool, professional approach to the attack while Beast is trying his best to stay jovial and Death's Head is enjoying his -- as he puts it -- "carefully applied hyperviolence" is a nice mix of approaches to the almost-issue long fight scene. Sanders' artwork is also given a chance to rise to the moment with some impressive splash pages. And while there are hints of some plot elements that might have been expanded upon had this been given a longer run, for the most part all the loose ends are tied up and Brand and Beast get to have their victory and happy ending by the time the issue reaches its final page.
I'd like to think that this isn't an end to what we'll be seeing from these characters, but instead merely a break. Gillen's done too good a job defining a relationship between Brand and Beast for it to not be explored further somewhere else, whether that's in a follow up series or in another title. This series ending hurts, a little. But when I get disappointed by cuts to NASA funding I know that it's only a temporary setback and that curiosity and desire for exploration will lead to more chances in the future. And I have similar faith that as more readers find their way to this book, there will be curiosity about what happens next, and that this will lead to further adventures on the borders between Earth and space. STERN MOTHERLY ATTENTION - Powers 3, Batman and Robin 10
Those are words with a powerful impact; mothers can evoke responses both strongly negative and strongly positive in people, so it's not all that surprising that mother-child relationships feature prominently in two comics released this week. And, this being a medium that tends to be driven by conflict, it is also not surprising that those parental figures take scorn and abuse to levels that I would dearly hope you, kind reader, will never be exposed to. Although if your mother has ever either attempted to kill you or attempted to have you kill someone else, you can at least take solace in the fact that you'll probably make good money selling the story rights.
First up is the third issue of the latest "Powers" story arc. Detectives Christian Walker and Enki Sunrise are investigating the death of Z, a super-hero who fought alongside Walker during World War II. That case has led to them picking up a young woman whose mother was involved with Z. They're in the process of taking her back to headquarters for questioning when the girl's mother shows up and objects. She takes an approach that relies more on her ability to shoot energy beams, fly, and shrug off getting hit by a car than on her conversation skills. It doesn't help that her daughter clearly hates her and continues to antagonize her despite how many holes her mother puts in the car.
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming are both bringing their best work into this one, and Oeming's artwork and page layouts depict the motion, chaos and frenetic energy of the chase expertly. The World War II flashback in this issue is brief but powerful and shockingly violent, and transitions nicely into the appearance of "Billy Mace." He's the latest hero to be introduced in the Powers universe, and his name both bears an unfortunate resemblance to a dead informercial pitchman and adopts the unusual structure of "First Name + Thing Used to Hit People." It's a shame that's not a hero-naming convention used more often, otherwise we could have spent the last few decades reading about the adventures of men like "Steve Discus-Shield," "Remy Playing-Cards" and "Clark Nearest-Unoccupied-Motor-Vehicle."
Next up on the unfortunate side of a bad mother-child relationship is Damian Wayne in "Batman and Robin #10." The latest issue by Grant Morrison, with Andy Clarke now onboard for art duties, kicks off "The Return of Bruce Wayne." Which is actually a bit of a concern for Damian, as he's worried that if Bruce does turn up again his father might not be as agreeable to the idea of his playing the role of the Boy Wonder as Dick Grayson is. Damian's taken a big risk choosing the path of costumed vigilantism, with the hope of one day wearing his dad's cape and cowl. His mother, evil mastermind Talia al Ghul, seems to be of the opinion that he's chosen wrongly and, as awful mothers in fiction tend to do, tries to take control of the situation for him. Although in this case it's more accurate to say that she tries to take care of the situation through him, seizing control of Damian's body in an attempt to remove Grayson as a distraction to her son once and for awful.
Dick and Alfred, meanwhile, spend most of the issue searching for clues about Bruce's whereabouts. Now operating under the theory that he's been sent back in time, they begin to examine every inch of Wayne Manor for clues Bruce Wayne may have left while trapped in the past. It's almost as if they're aware they're in a Grant Morrison comic book and that the tiniest detail will turn out to have an enormous significance two or three issues from now. They're probably going to be correct, and it will be interesting to look back on this issue after the once and future Batman completes his return to the DC Universe to see how many of the words and images slipped innocently into panels were hints of things to come. EWWW / AWWW - Secret Six 19
Often, when writers want to emphasize just how uncomfortable something is meant to be, they will make a point of highlighting how even their cast of characters -- who the readers know are all battle-hardened and unfeeling to the last -- finds it objectionable. This is usually reserved for a killing or other serious moral transgression so severe that it crosses some unmarked but agreed upon line that separates ordinary villains from inhuman monsters. In "Secret Six" #19 Gail Simone manages to give the same treatment to two characters flirting with one another. And it is wonderful fun throughout the issue.
Since teenaged magic user Black Alice joined the team a few issues back, there has been a degree of uncomfortable sexual tension between her and Ragdoll, the team's resident immoral, self-mutilating, touched in the head, murderous bon vivant and spouter of random nonsense. As the team carries out their current mission, which involves taking down a brainwashed cult of teenagers to discover the whereabouts of their client's son, the situation noticeably heats up between the two, particularly after Ragdoll saves Alice's life. It reaches the point where the rest of the team can't really ignore it, despite atively trying to erase any thoughts of such a possibility from their mind as soon as they appear.
Bane's proposed solution to the dilemma involves thinking out loud about how the team dynamic would be altered if Ragdoll "were to die suddenly." And again, keep in mind that this is a team of villains for hire who routinely kill people in the most unpleasant manner and are no strangers to intra-group romance, so seeing them reach a point where thinking about Ragdoll and Black Alice really crosses the line is pretty amusing. When the budding relationship reaches the note-passing stage, even Ragdoll is starting to seem a little ashamed. But only for a moment. The best part is how, although that storyline gets the most attention in the first issue of this new arc, it may simply be a distraction to lighten the mood ahead of a deadly serious dilemma presented to Catman on the book's last page.
Simone continues to find new directions to push the envelope with a series that's always had fun with seeing just what it can get away with. The latest issue sees the book in its top form and sets the new arc off to a promising start. I'm looking forward to the issue #20, even if it looks primed to take a more serious tone. REPEATING MYSELF
"Unwritten" #11 also released this week, further cementing this series' place as one of my favorites currently in print. The artwork by Peter Gross and Jimmy Broxton deserves special mention, as this issue is visually astounding even with the self-imposed limits of a muted color palette. Either go pick this one up or, if you're reading this series in trade collections, start eagerly anticipating the next trade. More than you already should be.