First of all, these reviews are now being cross-posted to ComicMix, which means I should possibly introduce myself for the people who just clicked on a link there and found themselves here. So, hi everyone. I’m Phil Sandifer, this is my blog. It’s a geek media blog, running a history of British comics called The Last War in Albion on Fridays, a rotating feature (currently a Game of Thrones blog, switching over to an occultism-tinged take on the Super Nintendo in a few weeks) on Mondays, and occasional other features, currently including weekly reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s also got the archives of TARDIS Eruditorum, a sprawling history of Doctor Who. And, obviously, on Wednesday, new comics reviews.
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Reviews tend not to involve giving a letter or number grade to things, but instead ranking them relative to each other. So these, as with every week, are ordered from the worst to the best, with the caveat that I paid my own money for all of them, whether out of an expectation of quality or out of the bleak pathology that is comics fandom. Except that’s a lie this week, which we’ll get to. But first:
The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #2
The problem – which was present in the first issue, but largely overshadowed by the sheer energy of the thing, is that this book gives every sign of trying to have it both ways. It’s unabashedly aimed at the still-vocal chunk of comics fandom who appreciated that our version (and yes, I just gave away my allegiances) of Spider-Man was married; who thought that was an interesting way to set the comics version of a pop culture icon apart from all the others. But it’s also seeming to set up a critique of the structure, being based on how having a family necessitates reconceptualizing Peter as the sort of person who says, “that’s what daddies do. We do anything to keep our families safe. ANYTHING.” And who then has nightmares about the awful things he’s done already. As I said, in the first issue of this things moved fast enough that you could avoid dwelling on this contradiction. Here… they don’t, resulting in the unsatisfying spectacle of a comic that’s primarily about the tension of whether or not it’s going to be an insult to the readers it’s marketed to.
I got an advance review copy of this, and it was not purchased. I might have picked it up, especially given that this was a light week, but we’ll never truly know.
In any case, it’s pretty good, but unable to escape the gravity of its own futility. Which is to say that, quite aside from any ethical issues about the relationship between Archie Comics, the direct market, and crowdfunding, let’s not forget the fact that the abandoned Kickstarter for these Archie books was never going to meet goal. Which is to say that, culturally, we do not give a shit about Archie right now. He’s an archetypal example of the popular culture icon famous for being famous. Nobody actually likes Archie.
So here we have Mark Waid and Fiona Staples writing a comic that’s trying desperately to change that. It’s a good team. Staples is a great artist, as Saga proves, and she does well here. It’s going to be very depressing when her three issues are done and whoever replaces her suddenly whitewashes Riverdale. Waid writes a competent high school romance. But… at the end of the day, you’re still stuck with a property defined by the fact that it established many of the cliches of its genre many, many decades ago, as opposed to by the fact that anyone has come up with anything interesting to say about it today.
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #14
I admit, I’ve not been thrilled with the arc on this book since ServeYouInc was defeated. The lack of a villain leaves it feeling a bit directionless. Here the plot meanders through some sort of inchoate cosmic crisis, with the emotional heft coming from the idea of the TARDIS getting mad and abandoning the Doctor, deeming him “unworthy.”
Sadly, one does not expect Matt Smith to regenerate into a woman in response to being deemed unworthy. The final page cliffhanger is interesting, but one doubts the licensing will let Titan actually explore its implications in a meaningful way, so the result is a sort of reversion to the mean for Doctor Who comics, as opposed to the sort of thing that has in the past made this an extraordinary run of them.
I actually followed what happened in this issue, which is a pleasant change from my usual “wait, who are all these people that aren’t Marko, Alana, and their daughter again” reaction to this comic. The ends of arcs tend to do that with Saga for me – it gets flabby in the middle sections, but any time the narration kicks up I tend to be pretty happy with it. So basically, a rare case of Vaughn not writing for the trade.
It’s increasingly clear that Injection is one of those periodic Warren Ellis comics that amount to him creating a narrative container for dumping his current cultural and intellectual obsessions into. These are often a bit narratively messy, and this is no exception; Ellis is being willfully leisurely introducing his cast (this is the first point there’s any sort of roll call, such that I now want to dig up #1 and #2 with an eye towards actually knowing who these people are), and most of them are just standard Ellis characters anyway. And, of course, Ellis has now released most of the underlying ideas here as an ebook collection of his recent lectures.
Doesn’t matter. Warren Ellis in a philosophical mood is just one of those things that always works in comics. And this is a prime example.
The methodical slow burn of this continues, with the supernatural finally making its first decisive interjection (and note the way the panel layout shifts as Robert goes underground). This is very much a late career Alan Moore masterpiece, long on allusion and philosophical digression, requiring an hour or so of Googling to fully appreciate, and with a lengthy text piece to boot. Which is good. I mean, this is actually a comic one will plausibly get its cover price ($4.99) worth of value from, which is more than you can say for anything else on the list this week. If nothing else, it’s a comic where Lovecraftian horror is a metaphor for being gay and also for horrifying and impossible caverns beneath the earth full of unfathomable monsters.