I haven’t been doing much back-issue reading this week, which means this Back Issue Review isn’t as sprawling as its been in past weeks.
I did manage to knock out four volumes worth of youthful titles. None of the were major standouts, but they all presented nuanced looks at the meaning of friendship and identity.
- Lumberjanes (2014) #25-28(AKA Vol. 7 – A Bird’s-Eye View), Boom! Entertainment, Inc
- Titans (2016) Rebirth & #1-6 (AKA Vol. 1 – The Return of Wally West), DC Comics
- Titans (2016) #7-10 & Annual 1 (AKA Vol. 2 – Made In Manhattan), DC Comics
- Titans (2016) #12-18 (AKA Vol. 3 – A Judas Among Us), DC Comics
- The Unstoppable Wasp #1-4 (AKA Vol. 1 – Unstoppable), Marvel Comics
Lumberjanes (2014) #25-28: Vol. 7 – A Bird’s-Eye View (Amazon)
This arc of widens the scope of what it means to be a Lumberjane, introducing us to another cabin of campers and an elderly council of advisors, and focusing on our erstwhile scouting lad, Barney.
It’s Barney’s stuttering journey to acceptance that’s at the heart of this arc. While the Roanoke cabin sees him as an honorary member, to everyone else in the camp he’s just “that boy who visits sometimes.” Some of the angst between him and Hes from the Zodiac cabin feels repetitive of his butting heads with Jo two arcs ago.
I think that’s the point. For someone who doesn’t feel at place around other boys, Barneys whole life is a struggle for fitting in. The book never puts to fine a point on if he’s gay or coming out as trans or just not into scouting stuff, which makes him easy to identify with. I was Barney. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to be with the other boys. I just didn’t.
While Barney tries to figure out how to become a Lumberjanes, the Roanokes find themselves having to save the day again as Rosie gets flown off with the council by a giant Roc. That sets us back to the “random things happen randomly” equation of the earliest issues of Lumberjanes, and having Jen, Barney, and Hes along for the adventure (plus Rosie and the trio of older ladies) makes for a lot of characters to manage at once. Maybe too many. There was a reason this book had been really focusing on only one or two girls at a time ever since the opening eight issue mini-series, which could be hard to follow.
After some puzzle-solving by the campers we get a big finale with some seriously disjointed action. That’s not really the rewarding bit, though. We get one majorly heartwarming moment to close the book and one massive shock that promises that sparks will be flying soon between the cabins.
This isn’t the place to drop in on Lumberjanes. If you’re going to pick up a book to sample, it should still be Volumes 1 and 2 or Volume 4.
Titans (2016) Rebirth & #1-6: Vol. 1 – The Return of Wally West (Amazon)
My initial reaction to Titans entry into Rebirth was that it was a nostalgia-fest. As a reader completely unfamiliar with all of these former Teen Titans characters save for Nightwing, I didn’t really see a reason to read them unless they were going to be center stage for revealing the secrets of Rebirth.
This initial story arc hints at those secrets, but it’s mostly an extended fight with Abra Kadabra, who isn’t really a magician but a crazed egomaniac from the future whose technology seems like magic.
That’s a pretty goofy villain to begin with, and Dan Abnett doesn’t do much to define his powers here. They seem infinite, as he makes a perfect copy of the Titans team to fight under his command. The team’s fights against him are fun but frustrating to read, as it’s hard to understand the stakes. What’s to stop him from merely blinking his eyes and winning?
Compounding this is that it feels like these B-grade heroes really ought to take Wally’s case straight to the Justice League, since his missing time might affect the entire world. But, nah, let’s just fight some D-list villains!
The one set of stakes that feels real is Wally West and his missing time. He finds Linda Park, who he remembers as his wife, but here she’s a report who has never heard of him before. We’ve seen so many of these time-crossed lover plots resolve with adorable reunion that it’s almost a relief to see Wally botch this one repeatedly.
Luckily, artist Brett Booth with inker Norm Rapmund is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for this arc. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Booth’s artwork look better. He’s always drawn tall, lanky figures that would look right at him as models for Spider-Man. Here they look more attractive than ever. Some of that is down to Andrew Dalhouse’s color work.
Dalhouse pushes bold, saturated colors, but also gives them a little bit of a glow. This is different than the typically garish reflections many colorists use to try to make their work scream “high gloss!” and “metallic.” Dalhouse draws actual lighting, and it’s fascinating.
The highlight of this run is issue #5, which takes place entirely within 6.5 seconds. Wally West saves his friends in an improbably zig zag trip across the country while being taunted by Abra Kadabra the entire time. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about this story or its execution, but it’s the sort of special effects thrill ride comics can deliver that is hard to duplicate in other mediums. The entire creative team is in lock step with Wally in this issue. It proves just how great this comic could be.
Titans (2016) #7-10 & Annual 1: Vol. 2 – Made in Manhattan (Amazon)
With a facile first arc full of reunions out of the way, Dan Abnett digs in to start splintering this team – and it’s very satisfying.
Based on a one-world hint at the conclusion of the last arc, the Titans have centered their search for the meaning of Wally’s lost time in Manhattan. That puts them in close proximity with former members Herald and Bumblebee, but also in a collision course with Meta Solutions and Psimon, who are making a big show of a heroic turn that isn’t all that it appears.
This starts with two issues of downtime that this title really needed to better define its relationships. Issue #7 features art from Lee Weeks, and though it’s a big shift from Brett Booth his work looks incredible. Weeks has a style all his own, but for me this harkens to classic Steve Epting. This story is just as terrific, pitting Wally in a race against Superman only for him to realize Superman is another lost-time refugee from the other world!
I’m suddenly incredibly invested in these Titans – they are fallible, but they are more proactive and empathetic than the actual League at this point! Omen suddenly makes sense as a character who is more than a knockoff of Jean Grey, and Nightwing and Flash reclaim some of their old camaraderie. As the team infiltrates Meta’s organization, it feels like they are making proactive, mature decisions – something this title really needed to distinguish it from a Teen Titans run.
That’s driven home by a terrific locked-room mystery in Annual 1 that helps to define who the Titans are and how they are different from the League. Each of the four “sidekick” Titans are trapped with their League mentors, except none of them have a particularly normal relationship. Batman and Nightwing can’t decide who is in charge, Aquaman treats Tempest like a child, Wonder Woman won’t speak to Donna, and Flash and Flash are always moving to fast to notice just how much drama their friends are embroiled in.
While I was perplexed by the massive reveal the end of the Annual (Is it new to Rebirth? Something we knew before?) it still made for a tense issue with tremendously strong artwork from Minkyu Jung with colorist Adriano Honorato Lucas.
On this whole, this felt like old WildStorm comics – and not just because of Brett Booth, who draws some of the most exaggeratedly attractive lithe male bodies in comics. The entire run was so glossy and brisk, full of awesome powerful show-downs and oneupsmanship. Add to that continued excellence in colors from Andrew Dalhouse, and Titans is quickly becoming one of my sleeper favorites of the Rebirth lineup.
Titans (2016) #12-18: Vol. 3 – A Judas Among Us (Amazon)
The third arc of Titans starts incredibly strong, hits a series peak in the middle, but slightly sputters at the end when it can’t serve up a conclusion big enough to match it’s breathless build-up.
The Titan’s big strength is their friendship, but it turns out to also be their weakness – as with friends you need to make sure feelings don’t get hurt, and that leads to secrets. This arc capitalizes not only on the seeds of distrust sewn in the last trade, but also discontent bred in “The Judas Contract,” a brief crossover from issue #11 to Deathstroke and Teen Titans.
The result is that this team – largely defined through their friendships – are suddenly all at odds and keeping secrets. Nightwing is the worst secret-keeper, naturally falling into the autocratic ruling style of his adopted father. Yet, he’s not the only one holding back here. Arsenal isn’t confessing his true feelings and Omen has built an identity based on several layers of obfuscating her powers and her real intentions.
While some keep secrets, others just want to come to terms with what they’re missing. This represents itself differently for Flash Bumblebee, Herald, and Donna Troy, but each of them feels apart from their friends – and the separation could turn out to be the team’s undoing.
All that tension explodes in a terrifying psychic showdown between Omen and Psimon and then a full-scale fight with HIVE that’s really just a front for interpersonal developments on the team as it continues to shatter. It yields a truly surprising double-twist that cast everything in a new light and send the book hurtling towards its huge (but somewhat unsatisfying) conclusion.
This book has vaulted from fun and okay to one of DC’s most enjoyable titles. It’s nice to see the single-shipping books using their schedule as leverage for long-simmering plots rather than just churning out quick arcs, which their double-shipping brethren can do much better.
The Unstoppable Wasp #1-4: Volume 1 – Unstoppable
Of all of Marvel’s new generation of heroes, a redux of Wasp seemed the most unnecessary. Janet Van Dyne Pym is already a powerful, outspoken leader and world-famous fashionista who is usually criminally underused. Why not just give her her own book for the first time in Marvel history?
The answer is Jeremy Whitley, author of the feminist and fun YA comic Princeless, who is on a mission to write an awesome comic all about kids, friendship, and science using an entirely female cast (plus Jarvis).
This new Wasp is Hank Pym’s previously unknown daughter, who was captured by The Red Room but spared her Black Widow training because she turned out have the same brain as her genius father. Nadia Pym is new to America and a total fish out of water, and her coping mechanism is to be overwhelmingly friendly and painfully optimistic.
That puts Wasp somewhere between Silk and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (not to mention the originator of this YA burst, Ms. Marvel) ,and it’s a rocky road to it finding it’s own distinct voice. Whitley is best when he’s using Nadia to explain the hard science behind superheroing and nerd out with Mockingbird over her oft-forgotten research. Yet, when Nadia (and Whitley) get mired in the punch-em-up qualities of his plot, this series trends a lot more violent than any of its comparables.
The all-ages girl-STEM-power execution of it is like little else in comics right now. At its best, Unstoppable Wasp is manic and sugar-coated and packed with girl power, but as soon as it turns its attention to typical superheroism it recedes into the middle of the pack.