THE AMAZINGLY UNCANNY SFSW COMICS COLUMN VOL. 7
Welcome back everyone to another installment of the SfSW Amazingly Uncanny Comics Column – jam-packed with rousing and awe inspiring tales of comicbookery! This week we rejoin MS MARVEL is here journey of super-powered self discovery, WONDER WOMAN careens towards a final confrontation with the First Born and HARLEY QUINN destroys the middle American dream for fun and profit!
So once again hang onto your butts True Believers, because here we go!
A quick warning, there will be SPOILERS for the books, so you if you fear spoilers like my Magetech character Xander fears running into a band of Goblin Pirates during their next adventure (and I fear our GM Kristin McFarland might be reading this and put said Goblin Pirates into said adventure), then finish up your books and come on back when you’re ready.
Then onward and upwards!
HARLEY QUINN #4 (DC)
W/ Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
A/ Stephane Roux
This book is an odd bird.
For the most part each issue is just a silly mindless romp with Harley killing people and wrecking stuff for whatever nonsensical reason the writers have decided she’s going to wreck and kill stuff that particular week. There’s almost no plot to speak of whatsoever. Sure there’s an overarching story about a bunch of assassins trying to kill Harley, the folks who live in her building have their own stories, and her pal Pamela Isely pops up every now and again, but there’s really no one thread that holds it all together. This book is dumb and it’s loud, but for some reason I can’t look away.
It might be because I love the character so much – I’ve been a huge fan of Harley’s since she first debut in Batman the Animated Series when I was a kid, so maybe I’m reading this with rose and jet colored glasses. Or maybe it’s just because it’s a fun book. Not every comic needs to be deep and plotting – just look at one of my other favorites – RAT QUEENS – goofy as hell, but an insanely fun read.
Anyways, the issue begins with Harley getting ready for her new job as a therapist at a nursing home. Apparently now her skin is actually chalky white like The Joker’s so she has to powder up her face and body with flesh colored makeup and toss on a blonde wig. I think a perfect the reverse, but whatever – just another unnecessary New 52 retcon. The basic plot here is one of the elderly women complains about how her family never come to visit her, so Harley takes it upon herself to avenge this lady’s hurt feelings the only way she knows how.
Make her family’s life a living hell.
To that end, Harley storms their home, bursting up the wife’s sex toy Tupperware party (are Tupperware parties still a thing?), wrecks the husband’s model train setup Godzilla style and demolishes Junior’s Xbox. She drags them all off to a peir and labasats them for not visiting their loving grandmother. But wait! Apparntly they do visit Grams, but she’s got alzheimers and doesn’t remember! Ooooooops. Welp, insane and unrepentant Harley just leaves them tied up on the beach wating for the tide to come in.
There’s also a few other little scenes spliced within. First, Harley has a Greedo style showdown with one of her would-be assassins at a Star Wars themed diner (instead of shooting first, she stabs the guy in the heart with a fork first.) and then she helps out her roller derby team by plowing down their competition with her car. And the issue wraps with an old man who used to be a cybernetic superspy (Sy Borgman, lol) recruiting her to go after some Russian mobsters.
Like I said, this book is pretty dumb, but for whatever reason I still like it.
Stephane Roux is on art this month. He split duties with regular (if you can call doing 2.5 issues regular) artist Chad Hardin on the last issue too. I actually like Roux’s style a lot, it’s very expressive and cartoony, fitting well with Harley’s manic action scenes. It’s a little spotty in some places, though. Some panels look sketchier and more unfinished than others, perhaps they were up against a deadline. Some of Harley facials are a little wonky in scenes too, especially when she’s wrecking the Rubenstein’s house. I do love the first page where panels are laid out as puzzle as she transforms herself from Harley Quinn to Doctor Quinnzel. And this is going to sound weird, but I really like the way Roux draws Harley’s teeth, I dunno what it is, but they just look cool.
Onto the next book, then…
MS MARVEL #2 (MARVEL)
W/ G. Willow Wilson
A/ Adrian Alphona
Back in our very first column, I gushed pretty enthusiastically about the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. She was even our inaugural SuperWoman of the Week. Well she’s back in the second installment of this series, and I’m happy to say this issue continues the same level of stellar quality as the first.
This issue starts off right where the last one ended – Kamala, after confessing to a vision of the current Captain Marvel (a review of her first issue can be found here /shameless plug) that she wanted to be a hero like her, finds herself in Captain Marvel’s body. Big blonde hair, skimpy spandex outfit, thigh high boots, the shebang. Kamala understandably freaks out at this revelation and as she’s about to puke, her body morphs back to it’s old form. There’s only a momentary respite as she running home, her body shifts and shapes from her normal self to Captain Marvel and strange, stringy combinations of both.
In her panic she stumbled upon Zoe and Josh, the couple who tricked her into drinking a screwdriver in the first issue and who were the impetuous for her storming off and getting caught in the mist that gave her these powers. She attempts to hide from them and inadvertently shrinks herself down. It’s really interesting in these few scenes who Kamala’s powers manifest as a result of her insecurities and fears of getting found out. Not exactly the typical beginnings for a superhero. Anyway, they’re both drunk and Zoe ends up falling off a pier while trying to thwart Josh’s advances.
It’s at this point where Kamala has her ‘With Great Power’ moment.
She wills herself to retake her Captain Marvel form and goes save Zoe. She scoops her up (and whole bunch of junk that’s at the bottom of the river. Ew.) using her powers to make her hand gigantic. A bunch of other kids from the party show up and thank her while taking her picture for later use on social media. One even asks (not to sound lame) what is up with her hugeish arm.
Kamala begins to discover that being a spandex clad superhero might not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Her boots pinch, the leotard is giving her an ‘Epic Wedgie’ and she gets hit on my some homeless guy as she trudges her way back home. And when she finally does return home she’s busted by her parents who know she snuck out for the party. Her mom reads her the riot act, but her father gives her much more subdued and stinging denouncement of how disappointed he is with her. All of this leads up to a culmination where Kamala decides that she needs to do something good with her newfound abilities. It’s an awesome visual on the last panel as her hand swells up again as she says this could be the beginning of something bigger.
I am smitten by this book. There’s really no other way to say it. I said in the last column that Kamala had the potential to be the Peter Parker for a new generation, and this issue only solidifies that. While she doesn’t have the tragedy (so far) that drove much of Peter’s transformation into Spiderman, she is an outcast like he was, trying to find her place in the world. Like him, she finds a purpose in her powers, something that can give direction and focus to a life adrift. I really love the focus on Kamala’s family and the importance of them in her life, even when they’re not in the immediate action. When she’s trying to decide whether to save Zoe or not, it’s a passage from the Quran – whoever saves one person saves all of mankind – that her father always read to her serves as the deciding factor. You can really feel Kamala’s disappointment when her Abu scolds her for sneaking out. She comments how her power make her feel inhuman, but these connections to the people around her make her feel more human than a lot of characters in the Big Two cape books. She’s tangible, she’s real, she feels like a person.
Alphona’s art is probably the best on the shelves for my money. I could not imagine this book being draw by anyone else and I hope it never is. The design choices made here are so bold and unlike anything else in mainstream cape comics. Alphona’s figures are already long and lively, but his style perfectly captures the transmogrifying of Kamala’s body from Captain Marvel to herself and everything in between. The thin, stringy limbs he gives Kamalavel as she staggers down an alleyway is the prefect representation of a body in flux. It’s not just the shapes of his characters that makes Alphona’s art so dynamic, but it’s their faces as well. In mainstream comics, you will often find a lot of generic looking characters. Let’s be honest – a character like Brue Wayne does not have distinctive appearance – many artists have drawn him over the last 70 years, but for the most part he’s just been White Dude With Black Hair In A Suit. Not so here. From Kamala down to even the minor characters like Jock Josh, each character’s design has it’s own distinct personality. Kamala doesn’t look like anyone else in any other mainstream superhero book and that’s part of why she’s so appealing. Size changing heroes have been done to death, but her look, her heritage and her personality are what make her so compelling. Like I said before, I’m huge fan of Legacy Heroes, but Kamala is one of the most refreshing in that she really doesn’t have any connection to the hero she’s taking her namesake from, unlike the Robins and the Superboys of the world. She is her own person in style and character and that’s what I love about her.
WONDER WOMAN #29 (DC)
W/ Brian Azzarello
A/ Cliff Chiang
We’re rapidly approaching the finale of Azzarello and Chaing’s run on WONDER WOMAN and after a bit of a filler issue last time the narrative is really picking up steam in this one. At the close of the last issue Apollo detonated himself in a bid to destroy the First Born and keep him from taking the Throne of Olympus. Well we find out that didn’t quite work as planned. First Born still lives, though all burnt and flayed and looking very Warren Meers post Buffy Season 6. He’s also transformed the Tower of Olympus into some kind of crazy fleshy edifice he is able to control with his powers. Yikes.
Wonder Woman and Co arrive on the scene and are summarily dispatched by First Born, first taking down Moon and even his own emissary Casandra with these life-draining tendrils. Even stares down the dreaded Sadominotaur! Diana doesn’t fare much better, herself tangled in First Born’s soul suckers before Hera shows up to save they day.
They all manage to escape with a bit of magic, but First Born has taken the Throne of Olympus and left our heroes reeling. All is not lost though, as Hera has assembled an army of Amazons for Diana to lead. Though this time it won’t be just as Wonder Woman, but as the God of War – a mantle she refused to take earlier in the series. Awesome scene at the end her as Diana stands tall even in defeat as her army – hundreds of armed and able Amazons – awaits her command below.
The issue did a great job of escalating the threat of First Born even more than had already been established. This the second time he’s defeated Diana and her crew and this time was even more handily than the last. He also been nuked but Sun God and emerged just a little crispier, so there is a real question of how Diana going to defeat him in the end. The other side of this coin is that when she does beat him, if its not done in an anticlimactic way or through some kind of Deus Ex Machina, all of this build up will be for naught. Although seeing how this series has been all about gods waring against gods, there’s pretty much no way for it to end without some kind of literal work of the gods. The outlier here is Orion and what his role will be in the final battle. I have no doubt he’s going to show up and devilver some Kirby Kosmic Kapow on First Born, but we shall see.
Chaing’s art is stellar as usual – simple but strong lines create the characters and the world around them. His sketchy, almost feral style works really well here, especially with the barbarism of the First Born being on display throughout the whole issue. He looks truly grim and menacing with charred and shredded skin – wonderfully rendered in gruesome detail by Chaing. The last page where Diana stands before her army of Amazons is particularly breathtaking as well, with the lightling blazing behind her is a very DARK KNIGHT RETURNS moment.
No big news this week and we’re about 2500 words deep into this thing already, so let’s just skip ahead to the SuperWoman of the Week.
Since Kamala Khan was the recipeient of our inaugural SuperWoman of the Week, this time around I’m going to give it to her writer, G. Willow Wilson. Wilson is weaving some real magic here with this book. I already waxed poetic about how great the Kamala character is above, but let’s give some dap to Ms. Wilson for the strength of her storytelling too.
Let’s be honest here – this book is not written for me. I’m 30 Something White Dude. I’m the aging comic book fan that this book is trying to reach beyond to attract a new generation of reader. This book is trying to reach out to women and PoC, a segment of the market that has been woefully represented and outreached for many many years. But that said, I’m here and I’m going to be here for the long haul, because to the strength of Ms. Wilson’s character and world building (and Alphona’s art, of course).
Like ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN before it, MS MARVEL is a genre redefining comic that reaches to all segments of the fandom in a way that very few book do.
Brian O’Conor is lifelong comics reader and a fantasy author. If you like what you’ve read here, there’s more semi-coherent rambling on his blog or you can follow him on Twitter for some of his bite-sized brain pickings!