Tea & Comics: The Worstest Friends Ever

“Tea & Comics” is a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special every Friday (and frequently spills over into Saturday), in which my girlfriend Dani and I talk about the week’s new comics over a cup of tea.

This is part one of this week’s conversation, in which we discuss Invader Zim #2, Archie #2, and Bizarro #3. Part two will be posted tomorrow, and will be all about 1872 #2Rat Queens #11, and Black Canary #3.

A: We’ve got a lot of comics to talk about this week, but what’s great about this week’s books, is that we have very few superhero books. Really, I’d only describe Black Canary as a superhero book, and maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBizarro is more comedy, and even 1872, even though it’s a Marvel book, is pretty committed to its Western setting.

D: Yeah, this week is a lot of fun.

A: On that note, let’s talk about Invader Zim, because “a lot of fun” is a pretty apt description.

D: I almost feel like I need to be sitting down with a bowl of sugary cereal and enjoying it like a Saturday morning cartoon.

A: Of course, Invader Zim was a cartoon, and the comic is written by the cartoon’s creator, Jhonen Vasquez, with Eric Trueheart. The art, which is pencilled by Aaron Alexovich with inks by Megan Lawton, is exactly like the cartoon’s animation. So, yeah, it is very much a Saturday-morning-cartoon-comic. Which is pretty great, because there’s not enough comics like that.

D: It’s big, it’s loud, it’s fun. And I’d definitely recommend tracking down the cartoon, too.

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Art by Aaron Alexovich, from Invader Zim #2

A: Not that you need to, to enjoy the comic. It stands on it’s own very well.

D: It’s a simple idea: you’ve got two elementary school kids, one of whom is an alien, which no one seems to notice, except for the other kid, and the two of them are archenemies. It’s a fun dynamic.

A: It is fun, because Zim isn’t very good at being an alien invader – that’s actually why he’s on Earth, because his own species just wanted to send him away somewhere he wouldn’t get in their way. Even though Dib and Zim are enemies, both are kind of ridiculed in their own way, and nobody takes either of them seriously.

D: They need each other. Like Batman and the Joker, except not really. Because this is one of those Lemony Snicket-style works of children’s fiction where all adults are absent, oblivious or just terrible, so if Zim and Dib didn’t have each other to antagonize, they wouldn’t really have anyone.

Curse you, then, I guess. (Art by Aaron Alexovich, from Invader Zim #2)

Curse you, then, I guess. (Art by Aaron Alexovich, from Invader Zim #2)

A: I love Lemony Snicket, and I love where that same sort of sensibility enters into this comic. This really is a great comic for kids, or all-ages, really.

D: We’ve got a lot of comics this week that will play well for younger readers. Like Archie.

A: Yeah – this new Archie series is more YA than Invader Zim, but it’s very much in the same spirit as the old Archie, which was a lot of people’s first comic. I’ve had so many conversations with people who don’t really read comics, who tell me, “Oh, but I read Archie when I was a kid.” And you could do a lot worse than this all-new Archie as your first comic. This new series is done by a couple people with some pretty serious comic clout.

D: Oh my god, yeah.

A: So, the writer is Mark Waid,who wrote a great many superhero comics, like Superman: Birthright and a tremendous run on Daredevil.

D: And Fiona Staples, who draws Saga, and is amazing.

A: And she continues to be amazing here, though the setting and tone in Archie couldn’t be more different than Saga. It’s impressive, because it’s still identifiably her style.

D: The diversity of her characters, the expressiveness of the faces – it’s not cartoony, but not hyper-realistic, it’s loose, but not too sketchy.

A: Not many artists could do a series like Archie – it’s not an action story, or science fiction like Saga. We don’t get spectacular visuals of unusual or eye-catching characters or worlds. It’s very ordinary people in a very ordinary setting, and Fiona Staples still needs to make it interesting to look at teenagers crushing on each other and getting up to teenage hijinks. And she does make it interesting.

D: And she makes the characters very recognizable. Her style is a whole lot more realistic than that old Archie comics, but these characters are still very identifiable as those very distinct, immediately recognizable classic characters.

A: All the while, she’s updating them, too. And actually, so is Mark Waid.

D: Absolutely. Even just in the diversity of the characters, this isn’t our parent’s Riverdale. We’ve got kids of other races – not just one token black boy who of course is dating the one token black girl, we have a Middle Eastern character, and almost a multiracial couple, if Betty didn’t kibosh it.

A: Even Kevin Keller, who, in the old Archie comics, it was a big deal when he came out as gay, in this, it’s almost just taken for granted that he’s gay. It’s not a plot point, no one makes a fuss about it. Now, this is probably the only time Archie will ever be compared to Hannibal, but bear with me: Hannibal, of course, is based on books which were written back in the seventies, and were set in the seventies, but when Bryan Fuller was adapting it into a modern setting for the TV show, he felt it would no longer be realistic for all the characters to simply be white men as they were in the original books; yeah, in the seventies, sure, all these psychiatrists and FBI analysts would probably have been white men, but now, just realistically, some would be people of colour, some would be women, so he just switched a few things around, without fundamentally changing the characters or their roles in the story. I think that’s such a smart way to update it, without making a big deal of it.

D: And I think Mark Waid and Fiona Staples have done a great job of that.

A: To such an extent that I haven’t even been aware of any debate or discussion on the internet about it. Not that I’ve gone looking for it, mind you.

D: It just reads very much like a good Archie comic, with a modern twist.

D: I am really curious to see how they handle the Archie, Betty and Veronica love triangle going forward. Because in past comics, all three have been friends since childhood, but here, Veronica Lodge is just moving to town now, while their all teenagers, and Archie and Betty have pretty well been lifelong friends. So there won’t be an established friendship between the two girls here, like there has before.

A: I feel like this Archie is much more narratively driven; we’re being told a story here, rather than being given a status quo designed to be maintained for the better part of a century. And I really like how these characters are being set up – there’s some great moments in this issue, like when Betty secretly fixes Archie’s car, even though they’ve broken up. It’s really sweet.

Betty is great, but Fiona Staples is better. (Art by Fiona Staples, from Archie #2)

Betty is great, but Fiona Staples is better. (Art by Fiona Staples, from Archie #2)

D: Yeah! Betty’s actually really great in this issue. I love when she’s trying to make herself up for her birthday party. Fiona Staples really sells that moment, and her exasperation. There’s a lot about traditional gender roles as it relates to Betty in this issue, about how she feels pressured to make herself up and be pretty, but how that doesn’t reflect her interests at all.

A: And I think that’s something a more modern Archie story is uniquely able to do; old Archie was pretty old-fashioned, and both Betty and Veronica were pretty firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles, despite their superficial differences.

D: They were never really able to delve into that like they I hope they will here. And we do start seeing that, in terms of expectations that other characters have for Betty; another great scene is when Betty just wants to play video games with Trevor, but he thinks, since she’s a girl and they’re alone in her room, that of course they’re going to, um, get busy. And she straight up kicks him out.

Girls just wanna have fun. By which I mean, play video games. (Art by Fiona Staples, from Archie #2).

Girls just wanna have fun. By which I mean, play video games. (Art by Fiona Staples, from Archie #2).

A: Yeah, it’s a great take on the Betty character. Another character who gets a different interpretation this time around is Jughead, and I really like how Mark Waid is writing him. Of course, Jughead will also be getting his own series in October, which I’m pretty excited about, because it’s being written none other than by Chip Zdarsky, of Sex Criminals fame, and Erica Henderson, who draws The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

D: Awesome and awesomer. Man, Archie Comics are really stepping up their game.

A: Yeah, they are. I am really strongly reminded of John Hughes’s movies, particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I mean, Archie even narrates the story by talking right to the camera.

Bueller? Bueller? (Art by Fiona Staples, from Archie #2)

Bueller? Bueller? (Art by Fiona Staples, from Archie #2)

D: And that’s not the only comic this week that has a John Hughes feel to it.

A: Yeah, and this one is honestly my favourite. The writer, Heath Corson, describes it as Planes, Trains & Automobiles, with Jimmy Olsen as Steve Martin and Bizarro as John Candy. Bizarro is just so good. So good. I love it – it’s funny, the art by Gustavo Duarte is brilliant and very animated. This is cartooning done really, really well.

D: And it also features one of your favourite Superman characters, Jimmy Olsen.

A: Jimmy’s always great, and he always brings a lot of heart, and humour, and enthusiasm.

D: I will admit, Bizarro’s way of talking kind of tripped me up at first. He says pretty much the opposite of what he means, and it’s a little confusing at first.

A: Ha, yeah, that’s kind of Bizarro’s thing.

D: So this issue takes Bizarro and Jimmy to an old west ghost town.

A: Bizarro, Jimmy and Colin the Chupacabra.

D: Yes, Bizarro has a pet chupacabra named Colin. He’s pretty great.

A: That is how much fun this book is. Bizarro is such a great character, and this is the best he’s been since Superman: The Animated Series. He’s so well-intentioned – he really wants to be Superman, he wants to be a superhero, but he’s just really, really bad at it, because he’s a little bit backwards.

D: But he’s so sweet and almost, I guess, idealistic? Though he’s not very good at being a superhero, he highlights a lot of the qualities that make superheroes special. Like how he’d do just about anything for Jimmy.

A: Well, they are the worstest friends ever.

The worstest friends ever. (Art by Gustavo Duarte, from Bizarro #2)

The worstest friends ever. (Art by Gustavo Duarte, from Bizarro #2)

D: See? Confusing.

A: This book is really pairing two sweet and very good-hearted characters from Superman.

D: We might have a little bias, because we are very much Superman fans in this household.

A: And, as mentioned, I am very specifically a Jimmy Olsen fan as well. I’m sure it won’t be long before I go on at length on this blog about how Man of Steel’s biggest mistake was leaving the character of Jimmy out of it entirely.

D: I’m sure you will. I’ve heard that rant many times. It’s a good rant.

A: And Bizarro is a really damn good comic. This is the sort of comic that I would give to just about anybody, of just about any age, even if they didn’t think they liked comics. This book is just so much fun, and it’s adorable.

D: It gives me warm fuzzies. I want to watch John Hughes movies now.

A: And Bizarro is a really damn good comic. This is the sort of comic that I would give to just about anybody, of just about any age, even if they didn’t think they liked comics. This book is just so much fun, and it’s adorable.

D: It gives me warm fuzzies. Damn. I just want to watch John Hughes movies now.

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