Saturday, 30 April 2016

Diane Darcy's Pull List April 2016

Title: Poison Ivy: The Cycle of Life and Death #4
Story: Cycle of Life and Death
Characters: Poison Ivy (Pamela Isley)
Creators: Amy Chu (writer), Robson Rocha (artist), Ethan Van Sciver (artist)
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: April 2016
Available In: Print | Digital

Thoughts: The last three issues of Poison Ivy focused on the dual nature of Ivy's character: what makes her a good person, and what makes her a villain. For this issue, writer Amy Chu picks up the main storyline, which is the murder mystery surrounding both Ivy and the lab she works in. For this part, Chu brings in Selina Kyle (Catwoman) who is established as a friend of Ivy in this issue.
Whether or not Chu is basing her depiction of Selina's friendship with Ivy on the pre-Flashpoint Gotham City Sirens series or on more recent New 52 narratives, I couldn't really tell you as I have not been reading any of the Batman line of comics in the last two years. It does, however, look like she drew inspiration from the pre-Flashpoint series since Selina and Ivy's characterisation in Chu's story more closely resembles the one in that series.

Like in Gotham City Sirens, there is a mutual respect between Ivy and Selina for their respective crafts and talents, as well as mutual friendship. Ivy not only recruits Selina to help her break into the lab to recover her stolen research on creating human-plant hybrids (that she calls 'sporelings'), but the way Chu depicts the interaction between the two women also shows that they are genuinely good friends and not acquaintances that only call each other when it conveniences them. This for me was the major highlight of this issue considering how rare it is to see women depicted as friends in mainstream comics, especially with how often they get pitted against each other for male amusement.

I also appreciate the fact that Chu writes Selina in a way that stays true to the more classic portrayal of the character. One of the things I found off-putting about the New 52 Catwoman was how far removed she was from the character I knew as the loveable cat burglar. While Selina has always been 'fun and games' in the way she commits her crimes, she was also always (usually) depicted as intelligent, nuanced, and goodhearted as she never robbed people who were disadvantaged, and even went out of her way to help them. In the New 52, I felt that Selina was lacking so much of that original charm to her character that she just didn't feel recognisable to me. She too often read like some 13-year-old boy's idea of a 'badass woman' complete with gendered stereotypes and a lack of nuance. Chu rectifies that situation by bringing the character back to a more recognisable place in terms of characterisation, and by the way she is juxtaposed with Ivy. Both women play off of each other in a way that feels organic for both but doesn't forget who they are individually.

The only thing that didn't work for me in this issue was the revelation of the main bad guy (the one that's been behind the murders) being a very forgettable character that was introduced in issue #2 of this series. I actually had to re-read the last two issues to refresh my memory on who he was or why he was important to the story. While I appreciate that Chu was intending to show that even the most ordinary person such as a manager can be corrupt and rotten to the core (not just the ones who wear colourful costumes and have special motifs to their MOs), it didn't really work to the effect she was going for. That was mainly because the character didn't have a strong enough presence in Ivy's story, nor was he established as an important person to Ivy for the impact of his betrayal and unscrupulous behaviour to be more strongly felt. While Ivy was still justified in her anger since this man's actions still violated her ethos (and subsequently her as a human being), as a reader I didn't feel the impact of his actions quite as strongly.

Despite that major flaw in the revelation of the main villain for this story, I actually enjoyed the overall issue. With only two issues left before the miniseries' conclusion, I'm intrigued to see what will become of the sporelings and how this will affect Ivy's character moving forward.

★★★★☆

Title: Monstress #5
Story: Issue #5
Characters: Maika Halfwolf, Kippa, Master Ren
Creators: Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (artist)
Publisher: Image
Publication Date: April 2016
Available In: Print | Digital

Thoughts: With every new issue of Monstress comes a new twist that adds on to the mysterious fictional universe of both Liu and Takeda's creation. Two major revelations happen in this month's issue that serve as something of a game changer for characters on all sides, I really don't know where to begin. I suppose I should start with the lead character, Maika Halfwolf.

A lot of mystery surrounds Maika. Five issues in, and we still don't know much about her past or how she ended up with a monster inside her body. We still don't know how she lost her left arm, though we do learn in this issue that she still had it when she was first enslaved by the Cumea ten years ago with her friend Tuya. We also know that she stole a very valuable mask from the Cumea, and now everyone--Archanics and humans alike--have their eyes set on her. We still don't know what happened to her mother, Moriko, how she died, or why she's so important to the characters that knew her. We do, however, learn in this issue that the Halfwolf bloodline is important to the Arcanics, including the ancient ones. Why exactly? No one knows, but it is a new mystery writer Marjorie Liu is gradually peeling away at. 

Even more mysterious is the revelation by the monster residing in Maika's body that she's not the only Halfwolf it can reside in, implying there's another Halfwolf out there somewhere. Could that other Halfwolf be her mother, Moriko, who may, perhaps, still be alive? If so, where has she been all this time and why did she part with her daughter? Just as mysterious is the Dusk Court comprised of Ancient Arcanics. Though introduced in the last issue, so much is not known about them or why they are so greatly feared by the monster inside Maika's body. We know about their interest in Maika and the Halfwolf bloodline even less.

The other revelation we had in this issue that completely caught me by surprise was the revelation that one of the Cumea introduced in issue #1, Atena, is in fact an Arcanic herself. This came about when she met with her brother, Resak, and revealed that she is in fact working as a plant for the Arcanics. I found this revelation very interesting because of the risk that she runs working so closely with the Cumea, and the sacrifices she has to make to evade exposure. Though she is good at putting up a front when executing other Arcanics and singing the same propaganda the Cumea routinely sing to the human population, we learn in this issue that it kills her on the inside having to participate in such odious acts of criminality against her own kind. Exactly what Atena and the Arcanics hope to gain by infiltrating the Cumea isn't known either, but we know that Atena has retrieved all of their research on the Arcanics for them.

Through careful world building coupled with the exquisite artwork by Sana Takeda, Marjorie Liu continues to explore the struggles brought on by war and its all-around destructive nature. Beneath all the politics and divisions facilitated by war is ultimately a story about survival, rediscovering one's identity, repairing old relationships as well as creating new ones. Without question, Monstress continues to be my favourite Image book every month, always leaving me with anticipation for the next chapter to see what Liu and Takeda will reveal to us next.

★★★★★

Title: Sex Criminals #15
Story: Issue #15
Characters: Suzie Dickson, Jon Johnson, 
Creators: Matt Fraction (writer), Chip Zdarsky (artist)
Publisher: Image
Publication Date: April 2016
Available In: Print | Digital

Thoughts: This is one of those comics that's always hard to review because of how irregular the release schedule is, and also because of how directionless the story has gotten since the second story arc concluded. Yet, this comic continues to be a guilty pleasure for the Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky humour alone, and that's pretty much the only reason I'm still buying this comic.

One of the things Fraction excels at with every comic that he writes is his ability to create fun, diverse, and loveable characters. Even the villains in this comic are funny in their own way like Myrtle Spurge who is very conflicted lately. On the one hand, she's clearly using Jon's therapist to get information on him for the sex police that she is a part of, but at the same time she's discovering that she really loves having sex with this man. Even though she is happily married and has children, she really enjoys the sexual pleasure the therapist provides, which puts her in a very uncomfortable place.

The therapist himself is also in a very uncomfortable position. On the one hand, he too loves having sex with Myrtle, but is now conflicted about her after learning she's been stealing his files on his sessions with Jon. One of the more hilarious scenes in this month's issue is the role reversal session where the therapist tells his patient (in this case Jon) about his complicated sex life with a married woman. He even lies down on the couch while Jon sits in his chair. Things get especially complicated when he asks Jon if he knows Myrtle Spurge and why she would be interested in his files. Since Myrtle is the woman who caught both him and Suzie robbing a bank together in order to save Suzie's library, he knows that she means trouble. He takes off running, which unwittingly confirms to his therapist that he knows her.

Other interesting moments in this month's issue is the breakup scene between Suzie's former roommate, Rachel, and her gynaecologist, Robert Rainbow. Robert's aversion to sex is kind of interesting, largely because we don't really know what he dislikes about it. He doesn't take issue with the fact that Rachel has had various partners, but feels weird being with a sexually experienced woman as a virgin man. I'm not sure if Fraction is attempting to explore the societal pressures that exist for virgin men to be sexually active, or if his virginity is consequential of the trauma he experienced as a child when he caught his parents participating in BDSM. As I said, his aversion to sex isn't really clear, or why seeing his parents participate in BDSM as a child proved traumatic to him well into his adulthood. I feel like there is a lot more to explore there, and we might since Rachel confirmed to Robert in this issue that she didn't find him boring due to his lack of interest in sex, and loved him for who he was.

The last thing that happened in this issue worth mentioning is the fact that Suzie is now good pals with Jon's new boss, the university professor Rae Anne Toots (former porn star Jazmine St. Cocaine), and no longer wants to rob banks. The last part is kind of interesting considering the couple hadn't been robbing any banks for some time now, and have pretty much moved on with their lives. Jon has a new job with a boss he actually likes and Suzie found a new way to be a librarian. Where the story goes from here is anybody's guess, but it's at least starting to pick up a bit. 

★★★★☆

Title: Black Widow #2
Story: Issue #2
Characters: Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), Maria Hill
Creators: Mark Waid (writer), Chris Samnee (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Publication Date: April 2016
Available In: Print | Digital

Thoughts: The first issue of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Black Widow was a 22-page action sequence ala a James Bond film opening. We didn't know what she stole or why she stole it or why it was important enough for Natasha to make enemies with the organisation that employs here. In Black Widow #2, Waid starts filling in the blanks.

It turns out that in the week leading to the events of issue #1, some of Natasha's old enemies caught up with her and blackmailed her into working for them. They did so by revealing some deep, dark secret from her past that will become public knowledge if she refuses to comply, effectively ruining all that she has done to atone for her past. Waid doesn't specify what that secret is, but it is enough to get Natasha's attention and bend her to her enemy's will.

While we still don't know the specifics of her mission in the first issue, issue #2 at least sets up the precedent that will serve as the baseline for the remainder of the first story arc. There's not a whole lot to discuss just yet as Waid has only established the who, the what, and the where, but there is enough here to get me interested in what comes next and how everything comes together. Waid established in the first two issues that this will be an action-packed adventure very similar to a James Bond narrative and will see Natasha face some challenges that could mean making enemies of SHIELD or making enemies of the entire world. Where Waid ultimately takes Natasha, only time will tell, but I'm willing to bet she'll eventually get on everyone's good graces again. Natasha always does. (Except for her enemies of course).

★★★★☆

Title: Star Wars: Darth Vader #19
Story: The Shu-Torun War, Part IV
Characters: Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker), Queen Trios, BT-1, Triple Zero, Aiolin Astarte, Morit Astarte
Creators: Kieron Gillen (writer), Salvador Larroca (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Publication Date: April 2016
Available In: Print | Digital 

Thoughts: Darth Vader #19 sees the conclusion of the Shu-Torun War, and that's really all there is to say about this story arc. As I said in the previous discussions, I really didn't care for this story arc at all, mainly because there was nothing in it for Vader other than to fulfil his duties to the emperor, which wasn't particularly interesting.

At best, we saw Vader utilise his skills as a war strategist, and how this resulted in him outing Cylo V as a traitor to the emperor, but that's about it. That's really all the stake that he had in this story line since he had no personal attachment to Shu-Torun or any of its people, and he had his own personal mission going on prior to this one mission for the emperor. We also saw Morit kill his sister Aiolin, and Vader only saved her long enough to get information from her, but that's really it. Those are really the only major things that happened in this story arc, and they were developments I didn't particularly care for.

BT-1 and Triple Zero were also present in this issue, and they were funny as usual. However, without Dr. Aphra (their master), their inclusion in this story felt more like a technicality than a natural part of the narrative. Like Aphra, they have no interest or loyalty to the empire and only did what Vader told them to do because that's all that they had going for them. It really doesn't feel the same when Vader orders them around compared to when they are Dr. Aphra's companions since she has a stronger attachment to these two droids than Vader does. To Vader they are disposable, but Aphra sees value in them as an academic who specialises in robots. On the subject of Dr. Aphra, she's been mentioned several times throughout this story arc, but is still in the hands of the Rebels. Since Vader already fulfilled his role to the emperor at the conclusion of this story, it's highly likely we'll be seeing Aphra again at the start of the next story arc, which I hope gets back on track with what writer Kieron Gillen already started three story arcs ago.

★★★☆☆

Title: Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #4
Story: Obi-Wan and Anakin Part 4
Characters: Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi
Creators: Charles Soule (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Publication Date: April 2016
Available In: Print | Digital

Thoughts: After dragging for a good three issues, things start to pick up by issue #4, which makes sense because there's only one issue left after this.

I have to say the overall strength of this miniseries lies in the flashback sequences with Anakin and Palpatine. Not only do we see how Palpatine has been emotionally manipulating Anakin from a very young age to gain his trust, but we also start to see the seeds of Anakin's Darth Vader personality in this issue that are actually consistent with the prequels.

One thing that has always stood out about Anakin's character in the prequel trilogy is that he's a very passionate young man who feels very strongly about the ideals he wants to uphold, sometimes to the point of authoritarianism. This was first evident in Attack of the Clones when he told Padmé that he believes people should be made to do what the government needs them to do, which Padmé commented as being the foundation of a dictatorship. It not only foreshadowed Anakin's future as Darth Vader, but it also established Anakin's inflexible thought process that would later prove to be his undoing during the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

In this issue, we see Palpatine actively feed Anakin's passion by validating all of his thoughts while at the same time presenting himself as a respectable authoritative figure, which is also staple to Anakin's downfall later on in his timeline. In the previous issues, Palpatine encouraged Anakin to use his powers in ways that were consistent with his thoughts in feelings, which one could argue, was really the beginning of his Sith training. Though Anakin was being trained in the ways of the Jedi by Obi-Wan Kenobi during this time, Palpatine was also subtly teaching him the ways of the Sith by instilling Sith values into him very early on while he was still a child.

Anakin's inability to practise non-attachment coupled with Palpatine's encouragement to use his feelings during this very crucial time in his life, his actions during Revenge of the Sith start to make more sense, especially when you see how his confusion was built over a period of time. Whereas the Jedi discouraged emotion, Palpatine taught him to embrace it. When the time came for Anakin to fully embrace his role as a Jedi, he quickly realised how very out of sync his values were with those of the Jedi, and how that ultimately factored into Anakin choosing to side with Palpatine as Darth Vader once the Jedi started appearing untrustworthy from his perspective. It wasn't until after he joined Palpatine as Darth Vader that he started to realise he was duped by the one person he thought really cared about him, but also saw the point of no return.

The weakest point of this miniseries for me is the main storyline, which really doesn't add anything of value to either Obi-Wan or Anakin's characters. At best, it showed how Anakin's good intentions were easily exploited by the very people he and Obi-Wan were trying to help, but then quickly became a plot device by this issue. Obi-Wan also didn't see the need to find Anakin since he has strong confidence in his Jedi abilities to eventually find his master. He rationalised his position by reinforcing the fact that Anakin already knew why they were there and where he needed to be. Obi-Wan also eventually found the person who sent the distress signal only the Jedi could recognise, but at the same time I didn't really care that it happened. The person who sent out the distress signal didn't turn out to be anyone important, which kind of made their role in this story pretty insignificant in my opinion. I doubt I'll even care for this character when the mini concludes next month.

★★★★☆

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