Doomsday Clock #4 by Writer Geoff Johns and Artist Gary Frank
Taking readers back to the immediate fallout of the great “alien invasion” of the original Watchmen series, Doomsday Clock #4 explores the background and origin of the current Rorschach running around Gotham City. While this issue does little to push the central narrative forward, it is densely packed with details that flesh out the world of the Watchmen, the impetus for Veidt and Rorschach’s mission, and the possible identity of Dr. Manhattan.
Without divulging any juicy details regarding the plot, this issue focuses entirely on the new Rorschach’s origin story, following his transformation from a psychically-shattered survivor of the New York alien “attack” created by Veidt to the indefatigable survive donning the mantel of Rorschach.
Johns ingeniously weaves his story into the Watchmen mythos with a clever explanation for the presence of a new Rorschach and presents Veidt as a potentially redeemable character, muddying the moral lines initially drawn by the conclusion of the original Watchmen series.
These complexities, compelling enough on their own, are amplified by the stellar work by Frank, who continuously presents the themes of the issue through the artwork itself. The issue’s focus on the concept of one’s perception of the world (the phrase, “I see what I want to see” is vital to the narrative) is masterfully reinforced through Frank’s inclusion of Rorschach-test shapes throughout the issue as framing devices and designs.
Lastly, as an undeniable hook to for forthcoming issues, Johns and Frank drop the slightest hint of the potential identity of Dr. Manhattan. The nod was a surprise to me, and certainly left with me with more questions than answers–something any good tease must do.
This is another engaging issue in the series, and one that really demonstrates how invested the creative team and DC are in this series. Although I would refrain from equating Doomsday Clock series with Watchmen–in terms of conceptual complexity–I wholeheartedly believe that Johns is building a worthwhile addition to the Watchmen lore.
Abbott #3 by Writer Saladin Ahmed and Artist Sami Kivelä
Issue #3 of Abbott brings the titular character face to face with the masked man that seems to be creating all the evil magic in the city and begins to unravel the mystery behind the creation of all the mysterious creatures haunting the Motor City. In doing this, Abbott #3 continues to develop a compelling narrative and the critical meta-commentary of the series.
Picking up immediately from the end of the previous issue, issue #3 kicks off with Abbott battling another seemingly demonic creature and in the process shedding more light–pun intended–on the origin of these creatures. The trauma of this experience results in Abbott being reassigned to a perceived fluff piece, only to be led closer to the evil she has been tracking.
As a piece of the over-arcing narrative, Abbott #3 is a fairly straightforward continuation of the story. It further reveals the causes of the mysterious deaths occurring in the city and forthrightly introduces the central villain. However, what this book is saying, and the way that it says it to the reader is truly impressive and desperately needed.
At the core of this book is a conversation about the perceived worth of black people in America, and the way that this worth is imposed upon black bodies. From the opening lines of each issue, which have been clippings from Elena Abbott’s stories about Detroit, to the very acts of violence that fuel the mystery of series, Abbott is both subtly and candidly addressing the ways in which black people in America are oppressed and violated both institutionally and personally.
This pointed commentary–steeped in the oppression and disparity found in 1970s Detroit–makes Abbott a must-read book. Much like other great literary commentaries of the past, Abbott uses a veneer of the uncanny to deliver a powerful message about contemporary problems in America.
Saga #50 by Writer Brian K. Vaughan and Artist Fiona Staples
This milestone issue begins in similar fashion to issue #1, with a splash! Marko’s head between Alana’s legs in the midst of sex is a nicely bent parallel to the opening of the first issue where Marko is there to help her deliver their daughter, Hazel. Looking at these two issues side-by-side gives one a deep appreciation for how far we’ve come with this family. That Alana and Marko are still together and in love and enjoying sex together is a testament to the enduring quality of their little unit despite the hardships they’ve faced, and represents a hope that they will continue through those to come.
One of the things I admire about this book is the way it does not shy away from sex specifically and bodies and anatomy in general. The Staples’ images are often far from titilating and serve to underscore the fragility of living bodies against the dangers of war and violence they are subjected to.
These themes of fragility, vulnerability, and the body affected by war are central to this issue, in which Prince Robot is telling the real story behind the Phang massacre to the journalists Doff and Upsher in exchange for a spell that will alter his body forever, making him unrecognizable to his pursuers. Vaughan writes a bitter indictment of the way we consume facts as news in our everyday lives as Doff and Upsher have to “sexy up” Robot’s tale of two opposing militaries conspiring to destroy theater of war, killing countless people on both sides. According to the journalists, the sensational story of a child, born to two parents of different, and warring, species would be far more interesting to the public.
Fifty issues in and this comic has yet to disappoint. The art and storytelling are so compelling one wants for this saga to never end. It will though, it has to. Vaughan and Staples will make it as satisfying and as heartbreaking to read as it is to look at.
Peter Parker: the Spectacular Spider-Man #302 by Writer Chip Zdarsky and Artist Joe Quinones
Spider-Man and a couple of his amazing spider-friends have gone to the past to find the Tinkerer’s secret and save their future. What could possibly go wrong? Here in the second installment of Zdarsky and Quinones’ time travel arc, it hasn’t taken long for all the good intentions of our heroes to blow up fantastically in their faces. But let’s be honest, we all knew it was going to happen.
The previous issue saw Peter Parker and friends introducing themselves to a young Peter Parker just at the start of his Spider-career. They enlisted his help in finding the Tinkerer and the secret to stoping the Vedoni from wrecking their future. With time to kill, the team splits up and tries to do right by the timeline they’re in by fixing some of the mistakes of their own past. Peter helps his younger self put away a bunch of the villains in his rogues gallery, while Jameson, still shook by the revelation that Peter is Spider-Man tries to convince his younger self to let Spider-Man be, eventually outing Peter as Spider-Man.
This all goes exactly as one familiar with life of Spider-Man, or comic book drama in general, would expect. What’s great about Zdarsky’s plotting here is the fact that he doesn’t waste time with a long set up. One issue, the gang is doing good and righting old wrongs, and in the next it all falls apart. Not only do their efforts to make a better future for this timeline at least crumble, but it is entirely their fault. For the second half of this issue the escaped Green Goblin is on a mission of revenge. The Spideys may have destroyed the reputation of Norman Osborn, but that only backed him into a corner, which he lashes out from in an escalating series of attacks that puts him in direct confrontation with the younger Spider-Man alone.
Issue after issue Zdarsky demonstrates his ability to write directly into our expectations, where Peter can never catch a break, and to do it in fresh and unexpected ways. Zdarsky seems to understand exactly why so many of us readers come to a Spider-Man comic. Sure the powers are cool and the quips are funny, but we ultimately come to see Spider-Man fail in new and, dare I say, Spectacular ways. It is in moments of failure when Peter Parker shine through beneath the webbed mask. In those moments we see a truly human character, reflective of our experience and as acting as a version of our imagined best selves.