Tea & Comics: New Frontiers

“Tea & Comics” is a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special which is supposed to be every Friday, in which my girlfriend Dani and I talk about the week’s new comics over a cup of tea. This week, due to paying employment and a local folk festival, it is late. Sorry!

This is part two of this week’s conversation, in which we discuss 1872 #2Rat Queens #11, and Black Canary #3.

D: This week’s issue of Bizarro took place in an old west town, and funnily enough, it’s not the only comic this week that did.

A: 1872 is a Marvel miniseries that, we’re told, is part of the great big Secret Wars crossover which is currently consuming the Marvel Universe, in which Doctor Doom ascends to God-like status, disassembles the Marvel multiverse, and reassembles it as a single world, ridiculously named “Battleworld,” where each province of this world features a different interpretation of Marvel’s heroes. But luckily, none of this really factors into 1872 at all, so don’t be scared of that Secret Wars logo on the front cover.

D: Really, they’re just using all that as an excuse to reimagine Marvel superheroes in different ways, and in 1872, it’s those characters as if they were in the Old West.

A: And this is really Secret Wars at it’s best, I think, because it lets some great creative teams do a miniseries like this one, allowing them to do just about any alternate take on the Marvel Universe without getting hampered by continuity.

D: It’s awesome.

A: It is, and I love it when Marvel does stuff like this: some of my favourite Marvel stories are ones that distill their characters into a new time and setting, like Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602, or Mark Millar’s Marvel 1985, and it creates a very coherent narrative that really nails all the characters, and reinterprets them while keeping what makes them essentially them.

D: And that’s exactly what 1872 does: so, in this, for example, Tony Stark is the inventor of the automatic rifle, and becomes an alcoholic after seeing how his invention is used to slaughter his fellow men.

A: Yeah, the whole Marvel universe is basically just condensed into this one Old West village, called Timely: so, Captain America is now Sheriff Steve Rogers, Wilson Fisk is the mayor –

D: The corrupt, corrupt mayor.

A: Corrupt is what Wilson Fisk generally does.

Except Wilson Fisk. (Art by Nicole Virella from 1872 #2)

Except Wilson Fisk. (Art by Nicole Virella from 1872 #2)

D: The Black Widow is now literally a widow, Natasha, whose husband was Deputy Bucky Barnes. There’s also Ben Ulrich, the reporter, who’s a character you’ll be familiar with if you’ve watched Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, and if you haven’t, go watch it. Binge watch it in a weekend.

A: It makes for a good weekend.

D: We’ve also got Foggy Nelson in this series as the village judge, and Bruce Banner is the town’s doctor.

A: We even get the Vision as an old-timey coin-operated fortunetelling machine. So we get all these characters in roles that make sense, and aren’t far removed from what we’re familiar with.

Coin-operated android. (Art by Nicole Virella, from 1872 #2)

Coin-operated android. (Art by Nicole Virella, from 1872 #2)

D: I think the art also does a great job of making the characters recognizable.

A: The art is actually what drew me to this book initially, because back when it was first solicited, Evan “Doc” Shaner was supposed to be the artist. As I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned somewhere on this blog, he’s one of my favourite artists. But he didn’t end up doing the interior art, just due to scheduling, but his character designs were still used, and the artist who did draw the book, Nicole Virella, actually draws in a very similar style to Doc Shaner.

D: She does an amazing job of evoking old Western movies, too. I think she even draws Steve Rogers a little like a young Clint Eastwood.

“You feeling lucky, punk?” (Art by Nicole Virella, from 1872 #2)

A: This is the second issue of this series, and oh my god, does it ever take an intense turn.

D: The first issue gave us the set up: Governor Roxxon –

A: Marvel readers might recognize the name “Roxxon” as the name of the Marvel Universe’s premiere evil oil company.

D: No stretch there. So, yeah – Governor Roxxon has built a dam, depriving the aboriginal peoples of water, and in the first issue, we meet Redwolf, who is caught by Fisk’s posse trying to blow up the dam, but saved by Sheriff Rogers. Rogers doesn’t deny that Redwolf is doing something illegal, but he’s a firm believer in due process, and thinks Redwolf ought to be tried instead of just lynched. But Fisk doesn’t want a trial, so this pits Steve Rogers against the mayor.

A: That’s where the first issue left us, and in this, we see the consequences of Sheriff Rogers taking a stand. Governor Roxxon has dispatched some folks to, um, assist Fisk in getting the job done, and again, these are some familiar faces: Bullseye, Doctor Octopus, Elektra . . .

D: There’s a lot of references that I’m sure someone more familiar with the Marvel Universe will get, but the characters are compelling enough that you don’t have to catch all the references to enjoy what’s going on.

A: A good story is a good story, and 1872 is a good story.

D: This new setting is really testing these characters, and we see them as more human and more flawed than the ordinary Marvel universe usually shows them, and that makes it really compelling: Bruce Banner, here, is really a coward, and Tony Stark, as mentioned (and as usual), is the town drunk.

A: A lot of these characters are living under Fisk’s thumb, like Banner, and like Ben Urich, who is something of a self-professed coward himself, unwilling to write or publish anything that would stir up any trouble.

D: Usually, when we see these characters, the whole world is threatened, there’s an alien invasion or something – it’s very large scale. 1872 scales that down; the Marvel universe is just a town now, and there problems are a lot smaller scale too, but that makes it a little more realistic. And maybe a little more relevant – the conflict here really stems from issues of land and water rights, and political corruption, and a little old-fashioned racism. It’s very True Grit.

A: Yeah, it seems this week’s comics are all about the throwbacks. John Hughes movies, Westerns . . .

D: Saturday morning cartoons.

A: Speaking of, I know Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on the pull list, and issue #49 is out this week. But I am several issues behind, so we’re not going to talk about that this week. A new story arc will be starting in a couple months with issue #51, so by then, we should be all caught up and ready to talk TMNT.

D: We could talk about the cartoon, because it just started airing again after it’s midseason hiatus, and it’s fantastic as always.

A: While I do love that cartoon, I think “Tea & Cartoons” is a different feature that I definitely don’t have time to write.

D: Now. Onto Rat Queens.

A: Which is also kind of a throwback, because it is definitely an irreverent love letter to the sword-and-sorcery genre and Dungeons & Dragons.

D: And this is issue #11, but it’s the first issue for both of us.

A: It’s the start of a new story arc, and it’s the first one that Tess Fowler has drawn. Up until this point, the art was handled by Roc Upchurch.

D: Tess Fowler’s art is pretty fantastic.

A: I’d heard lots of good things about the series, and was wanting to give it a try, and this seemed like a good place to jump on. And while starting several issues in is probably never ideal, this one’s pretty easy to get into. We’re introduced to our all-lady band of heroes, or maybe more like soldiers-of-fortune.

D: The archetypes are very Tolkien-esque – you have the short one with pointy ears, the magic-user, the tough one with a beard.

A: All the D&D character classes. It reads like someone turned their D&D game into a comic book.

Roll your twenty-sided die to determine the effectiveness of this attack. (Art by Tess Fowler, from Rat Queens #11)

Roll your twenty-sided die to determine the effectiveness of this attack. (Art by Tess Fowler, from Rat Queens #11)

D: But with ladies.

A: Yeah, it’s like an all-girls D&D game. Which is cool. It does remind me a lot of another series published by Image Comics, Skullkickers, by Jim Zub and Edwin Huang, which was also a sword-and-sorcery story, but like this one, had a great deal more humour than all those D&D novels I read when I was thirteen. I think Kurtis Wiebe, who writes Rat Queens, like Jim Zub, is a big fan of the genre, so he’s less setting out to make fun of it, he’s just making it fun.

D: In one of the first scenes, they escape a goblin’s trap by using toxic candy.

A: I thoroughly enjoyed this issue, and I look forward to keeping up with it, but at this point, I honestly don’t think that just giving a sword-and-sorcery comic an all-female cast is enough of a twist on it to seem especially new and interesting. It’s great that we have a very diverse cast of ladies in this, and there’s not enough comics that do, and I love that I’m in a position that I can take that for granted, because, yay, progress!

D: I would love to read back issues, because even though it’s an all-lady cast, somehow this issue still doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, because they’re talking about men the entire time.

A: Huh, that’s true.

D: I like it, though. I think the whole mage university plot line that gets started in this issue has a lot of potential. It reminds me a little of Battlepug, which is always a good thing.

A: That’s probably my favourite sword-and-sorcery comic. And speaking of: Battlepug is written and drawn by Mike Norton, who draws another book on the pull list this week –

D: Which, like TMNT, we’re not going to talk about! This time, it’s my fault.

A: The book is Revival, by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, and it’s great.

D: But I’ve only read the first issue – I found it for a dollar at Paradise Comics, which, as I’m pretty sure we’ve mentioned, is our absolute favourite comic book shop in Toronto. The first issue is amazing, so do what I plan on doing and buy all the trades so you’re all up-to-date before reading the new issue.

A: So instead, we’re just going to go ahead and talk about Black Canary.

D: While we’re on the topic of comics about kick-ass ladies.

A: This is three issues in to the new series by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge, and it’s pretty amazing. All in all, I think DC is doing pretty well with the new titles they’ve launched since retiring the “New 52” label, and I think Black Canary is a great summation of what they’re aiming to do with that pseudo-relaunch, with a greater focus on the diversity of both their characters and their creators. It takes an existing, familiar character, and puts her in a new, modern setting and circumstances that are very accessible to someone just starting to read comics, and making it a lot of fun.

D: I was never real invested in the character of Black Canary – I really only knew her character as she related to Green Arrow. So it’s great to see her in a setting where, not only is Oliver not the love interest, but he’s not even mentioned.

A: I don’t even know that, in this continuity, Green Arrow and Black Canary ever even had a relationship. Now, Dinah was previously married, which is pretty important in this comic, but it was definitely not to Oliver.

D: But she’s largely autonomous and independent in this book, which is great: she’s the frontwoman of a band called Black Canary, who are currently on tour, and has gained a lot of notoriety for most of their gigs ending in violence.

A: Most of the time, it’s because Dinah pick fights, but sometimes, it’s because the fights pick her, or I guess more accurately, their guitarist, a young mute girl named Ditto. But yeah – the band has something of a bad reputation, which is getting them a lot of press, though the rest of the band is growing tired of all their shows ending in brawls, when they want to focus on the music.

D: The art is just fantastic. I wish there were music to accompany it.

Rock and roll. (Art by Annie Wu, from Black Canary #3)

Kick out the jams. (Art by Annie Wu, from Black Canary #3)

A: Ask and ye shall receive! Annie Wu did a feature for Paste Magazine where she put together a playlist of the music that inspired her while drawing Black Canary.

D: People are going to think you’re shilling for Paste Magazine, dear. This is the second time in as many weeks that you’ve plugged them.

A: I would not decline a job writing for Paste Magazine. If, you know, anyone from Paste Magazine happens to be reading this.

D: Annie Wu is great, though. It really doesn’t look like any other superhero book that’s out there – it’s very punk rock.

A: And she’s the star of issue three. Most of it is an action sequence – there’s not a whole lot of dialogue in this one, though what dialogue there is is very important. But most of it is just this amazing action sequence set in, on, and around a moving bus. This is then intercut with scenes of Black Canary performing on stage, and it’s really cool what Annie Wu does with that, because she links the motion of the fighting to Dinah’s stage presence. It’s just this really stunning sequence, and I really, really love it when art just takes over an issue like that, because we’ve read some very dense, wordy comics before, and it’s great to have an issue like this, that’s a little more lean and mean.

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Rock and roll. (Art by Annie Wu, from Black Canary #3)

D: And it is a superhero book – one of the only ones this week that is! But you expect some action in a superhero book, and this one is an example of doing action really well.

A: This is really the sort of book I’d recommend to honestly just about anyone. It’s not quite an all ages book.

D: But teenagers would probably like it. A lot of teenage girls would probably be all about a book like this.

A: This is a book that certainly passes the Bechdel Test.

D: Really, anyone starting into comics, or making the jump from enjoying superhero movies to wanting to read comics, this is a book I’d give them.

A: It’s a great comic, and it feels very fresh and very relevant. It’s a very different story, but there’s a similar sensibility to the new Archie, actually. There’s not nearly as much kung-fu in Archie, of course.

D: Get on that, Mark Waid!

A: I think Black Canary probably has a similar mission statement in what it wants to do with the superhero genre, as what Archie wants to do in it’s own genre. And appropriately, Annie Wu will actually be taking over art duties on Archie after Fiona Staples.

D: You know, it’s actually very Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

A: You’re right, it is! This is a mainstream superhero comic – I mean, it’s being published by DC – but I think it’s so much more informed by other indie influences.

D: We should probably talk about tea a little, just to earn the title. This being the second “Tea & Comics” we’ve done while drinking alcohol and eating pizza.

A: Ha, true! I think Black Canary is probably more of a coffee girl, though. Actually, Silver Snail, a comic shop down in Toronto, they’ve got an espresso bar in the store, which is called Black Canary Espresso.

Pay attention, Aaron. Black Canary is clearly drinking tea. (Art by Annie Wu, from Black Canary #3)

Pay attention, Aaron. Black Canary is clearly drinking tea. (Art by Annie Wu, from Black Canary #3)

D: Love it.

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