Bad comics used to be fun. The first Civil War, 10 years in hindsight, had charm—a well-made piece of hokum that falls apart the moment one looks away. It was a fun book to flip through and pick out weird or awful or (occasionally) interesting sequences. It doesn’t hold up, not proportionate to the weight Marvel places on the fun potential of heroes splintering into violent schisms because of ideological differences. It poses a question answered by a majority of superhero stories published since roughly 1987: Who is cooler than who?
No one is cooler than anyone, Marvel. Not now. No one’s going to be cool again for a very long time.
Back in 2016, Marvel Studios released a very successful Captain America movie based on the Civil War storyline. Since the first Civil War resulted in a large pile of cash, Marvel Comics decided to see what else could be drawn from the well. My friends, the well was empty. The original does not lend itself to natural sequels. Iron Man and Captain America can’t have the same argument twice, unless you’re ’shipping them. Who else is on hand to provide a credible ideological foil? Maybe someone also slated for a big push in the near future? Why, excellent. Let’s put Captain Marvel into this Mad-Lib of a plot constructed out of whichever Marvel properties are slated to be featured in upcoming feature films. The Guardians Of The Galaxy are in this comic. Don’t ask why.
Marvel is in sad shape. These characters have no more weight on the page anymore. It’s possible to be distracted by individual successes like Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl or The Ultimates. But put all these heroes on one page—including many of the company’s flagship characters, stuck in the throes of uninspired costume redesigns—and there’s no friction. These characters inhabit a trivial world. Brian Michael Bendis’ diaphanous plot falls apart the moment one looks at it. The conflicts are so ill-defined that the Beast needs to spend two pages at the end explaining the series’ themes. There are so many endings. There’s the Beast haranguing Carol about the book’s plot, a deus ex machina so random it almost achieves the audacious, a pin-up spread advertising future Marvel Comics, and a final final ending that would have read quite differently had a different candidate won in November. None of it hangs together.
Civil War II #8 (Marvel) looks pretty, thanks to David Marquez. Oddly, everything is magenta. Nothing fits together right. It points in the direction of future stories that people don’t want to read, starring characters who don’t look or act like anyone wants. A few strong new concepts are hopelessly adrift in a sea of 55- and 75-year-olds acting out the motions of their attenuated senescence. One suspects the problem, however, is not the age of the characters, but the tenure of the creators. Although some of the action figures are moved around the board, the overall effect is boredom. There is nothing interesting about this story, except that in execution it bears a striking resemblance not to the rebooted Secret Wars but to another famous sequel pushed through by creators too seasoned and too powerful to see their errors—Secret Wars II. [Tegan O’Neil]
The best way to read Juan Giménez’s comics is reproduced at a massive size. The bigger the better. Smaller reproductions fail to do his work justice, diminishing details until they take on an impressionistic quality—thick lines of ink and dots of color appearing as masterfully detailed textures. The Fourth Power (Humanoids) is no different, and seen from a distance, the Argentine author’s work on this sci-fi actioner appears naturalistic. Everything appears to be precisely detailed—compelling simulacra from some imagined reality. Seen up close, however, Giménez’s watercolors blend and bleed into one another: the fine texturing of metal as it explodes in a brightly lit maelstrom of intergalactic fire; the fat, thick, incomplete globules of yellow that appear as precise details from afar.
Like many other European series, The Fourth Power was originally published over a number of years, with the first album appearing in French in 1989 and the most recent in 2008. As such, each chapter operates as a more-or-less self-contained narrative, though this new Humanoids edition functions well as an unintentional short story cycle. The first chapter, “Supramental,” feels the most isolated, as it features a clear beginning, middle, and end without seeming to consider a continuation. Here readers meet Exether Mega, a pilot and experimental guinea pig, who, along with three other women, has had her mental capacity expanded. Mega herself represents the titular “fourth power,” and in later installments, the four powers have joined as one and occupy a new body.
Each subsequent chapter sees this unified character, now going by the name Gal, gallivanting on a picaresque journey across the universe and through danger. Villains and problems—all of them meaningfully interchangeable—arise and are thwarted in short order. The actual narrative is bone dry. Equal parts hollow and overly complicated, the earlier chapters read like visually exciting variants of common “sex, violence, and science fiction” Heavy Metal stories, and the later plots feeling deeply indebted to Giménez’s collaborations with filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (though they fail to reach the lurid and vulgar heights of Jodorowsky’s more successful work).
The way Giménez converges the feminine and the masculine is worth noting, though. His women appear muscular and angular, and their features resemble those of the series’ rugged men. Later, we see the reverse: young men sporting identical haircuts as the women, with features softened and rounded. The Fourth Power’s gender politics are further complicated by the naming of the protagonist, “Gal,” an anodyne and non-specific substitute for a proper noun. Given universal power, is Gal then a universal embodiment of women? And how does this complicate our reading of these militarized women, these feminized men? Regardless of how it does, there is more at work here operating under the surface then even, one suspects, Giménez himself is aware. But while there may be some interpretive work worth pursuing, The Fourth Power fails to dramatically satisfy. Giménez’s capacity as a designer, as a draftsman, and as a cartoonist, however, helps to elevate the book; it transcends its schlocky trappings with incredible craftsmanship to make something well worth pouring over. [Shea Hennum]
One of the strengths of the lineup at DC right now is that it isn’t trying to make every book exist within the same continuity. Given that some characters can appear in five titles at the same time, with five completely different creative teams, it’s a losing battle to try to convince readers that they’re all the same exact person and they have a Santa-like ability to be everywhere at once.
With the success of the TV show and the digital first The Adventures Of Supergirl comic, it’s no surprise that Kara Danvers would get another run at the spotlight. Supergirl: Being Super #1 (DC) is a departure from the canon of both the show and the tie-in comic, with Kara living a life that’s much closer to Clark Kent’s. At 16, she’s starting her junior year of high school and competing in track events for her school’s team in rural farm country. Gone is the genius adoptive mother and the missing adoptive father, and Alex Danvers isn’t even a twinkle in anybody’s eye.
That said, Being Super is the best kind of origin story. It doesn’t feel trite or overworked, and for all that her new backstory has plenty of similarities with Clark’s, she doesn’t feel like a clone of him. Her family dynamic is different, her friends are different, and most importantly, her attitude is different. It’s no shock that Mariko Tamaki of This One Summer fame knows how to write convincing, sympathetic teen girls, but it’s a pleasant surprise to see Kara portrayed that way. Still caught in the drama and hormones of high school, not yet equipped with all of her powers or the sunny optimism that the latest version of Supergirl has been defined by, Kara is unmoored and unsettled. Unlike the Kara on TV, she doesn’t know why she was sent to Earth, never met her famous cousin, and doesn’t remember Krypton at all. She’s not sure who she is or where she belongs, and those are the kind of questions every teenager has to cope with. Her struggle is just dialed up to a much higher degree.
Joëlle Jones’ art is a perfect fit for the book, with character-filled panels and affectionately cluttered backdrops that give both Kara and her hometown the heft of reality. Kara’s friends and parents are caricatures without being overblown stereotypes, each of them drawn distinctly enough to avoid even the slightest glimmer of same-face syndrome. Inks by Sandu Florea and colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick punch Jones’ art from good to great, and it’s fascinating to compare the cover (by Jones and Fitzpatrick) to the interior pages, proving just how much an inker can influence the style of a book. There are several pages where Jones drew her panels at unexpected angles, or angles that are more common for muscle-bound male characters, and these choices give the book a distinct look.
This first issue is certainly more expensive than most of DC’s Rebirth books at $5.99, but it’s also more than twice as long, clocking in at 51 pages with no ads. While it is certainly introspective, Kara’s emerging powers, her friends’ concerns, and growing mysteries culminate quickly in an action sequence that sets up the second issue to dive in feet first. [Caitlin Rosberg]
No matter the quality of the stories within, DC Comics and IDW are doing something admirable with Love Is Love (IDW/DC Comics), a comics anthology raising money for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last summer. Conceived by Marc Andreyko and edited by IDW’s Sarah Gaydos and DC’s Jamie S. Rich, Love Is Love features an assortment of one- to two-page stories and art pieces by an assortment of established comic creators, up-and-coming talent, and celebrities from outside comics. The talent pool is very wide, and the quality is all over the place; there are some powerful tearjerkers and inspirational messages for the future, but there are also some uncomfortable, tone-deaf pieces that venture into some embarrassing territory.
Patty Jenkins, director of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, writes the introduction, and her experience exploring the life of Aileen Wuornos for her film Monster results in an introduction that is more about Wuornos and how she connects to the killer in the Pulse shooting. It’s an awkward way to begin an anthology honoring the victims, and while Jenkins is ultimately talking about empathy, that introduction should have gone to someone who would write about the victims, what Pulse meant to them, and what they meant to other people in their lives.
Two of the most effective pieces are portraits of Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen and Amanda Alvear by Billy Tucci and David Mack, respectively, with Tucci and colorist Hi-Fi bringing a playful energy to Leinonen’s image while Mack takes a quieter, more delicate approach to his watercolor headshot of Alvear. Love Is Love contains some very emotional art pieces, but these careful portraits are highlights because of how they evoke the vitality of the two victims before their tragic ends.
It’s difficult to tell a complete, satisfying story in a one-page comic, which most of these contributions are, but those constraints inspire creative ingenuity in the best strips. Tee Franklin and Carla Speed McNeil use text messaging to create a panicked sense of urgency as a woman tries to reach friends she saw just before she got on a plane out of Orlando; Scott Lope and Stephen Sadowski’s tale of a dog who loses his owner in the shooting will have dog lovers sobbing; Steve Orlando and Iain Laurie use a scrapbook to tell a rich, poignant family history in six panels; and Justin Hall explores the history of violence against LGBTQ communities as he recounts the event of the Pride parade a week after the Pulse shooting. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour introduce a gay couple to the world of Southern Bastards in their page, and hopefully this relationship finds a way into the main plot of that book.
The stories featuring DC superhero characters have the most variation in quality. Dan Didio and Carlos D’Anda deliver a thoughtful exploration of DC Comics’ missteps and successes with LGBTQ characters, and Gail Simone brings in queer characters she’s worked on (and created) to offer comfort in her story with frequent collaborator Jim Calafiore. Matt Bomer’s Batman and Nightwing strip with Cully Hamner draws a connection between the shared experiences of superheroes and the queer community, and couples like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy and Midnighter and Apollo are featured in multiple strong installments.
On the other hand, Marc Guggenheim and Brent Peeples’ two-pager with Batman investigating Pulse when it’s still filled with dead bodies is in very poor taste, with exploitative visuals and an extremely groan-worthy final line. Taran Killam is primarily known for his comedy work, and he contributes a laughably bad Deathstroke story that has the supervillain assassin dumping his arsenal of guns after hearing news of the Pulse shooting. It’s reminiscent of J. Michael Straczynski having Marvel supervillains mourning the 9/11 attacks in Amazing Spider-Man when they themselves have been responsible for similarly horrific deeds, and despite Killam’s good intentions, his concept is both ludicrous and lazy.
The digital edition of Love Is Love features extra content not available in print at no extra cost, so readers who want to see all of the contributions will want to seek that out on Comixology. (If readers are in an especially giving mood, they can buy both editions.) In the end, the good outweighs the bad in Love Is Love, and it’s a moving display of compassion and hope from the comics community. There’s a lot of hate in this world, and while this book directly engages with that hatred, it is most powerful when it celebrates the love that rises against the forces that wish to destroy it. [Oliver Sava]