Comics of the week reviewed for 06 March (Wired UK)

Having taken over movies, television and
animation, comics have never been cooler. Now, WIRED.co.uk picks
out the best and worst of the week’s titles for your reading
pleasure.

This week, Star Wars’ leading lady gets the
spotlight in Princess Leia #1, a child robot may be
responsible for the destruction of whole worlds in Descender
#1
, and Jessica Drew kicks off her new life in
Spider-Woman #5.

Princess Leia #1,
Marvel
 


Princess Leia
#1
Princess Leia
#1

The figurehead of the Rebel Alliance steps out on
her own to deal with the loss of her homeworld in her first
canonical spotlight.

© Lucasfilm / Disney


Considering Leia is the most visible female character in the
Star Wars universe, she’s never had the greatest deal of
development. Although Carrie Fisher portrayed her with a level of
fierceness, the character’s arc was largely contrast against the
male cast — she was Luke’s sister, Han’s lover, Vader’s target.
Although some of the former Expanded Universe material gave her
more depth and agency, that doesn’t count any more, so we’re back
to square one.

Writer Mark Waid jumps on the opportunity though, picking up
from the victory parade at the end of A New Hope and going
‘behind the scenes’. We see how the rest of the Rebel Alliance sees
her — a frosty ice queen, unmoved by Alderaan’s destruction by the
Death Star. Grieving isn’t something Leia can afford herself
though, despite being torn apart internally. What she can do is
gather her homeworld’s survivors before the Empire hunts them down,
even though that risks her own safety and the future of the
Rebels.

Although the more famous Star Wars characters put in
appearances, including a hilariously stressed Admiral Ackbar (no
lazy ‘trap’ jokes, either), Leia’s main supporting character is a
fellow Alderaanian, an X-Wing pilot named Evaan. Conflicted by her
anger at the planet’s destruction and what she sees as Leia’s
emotionlessness but also her loyalty to the throne, she makes a
good counterpoint to Leia herself, forcing the princess — now
technically Queen, something rarely touched on in Leia’s standing
— to re-evaluate her own values.

Waid balances a lot with this issue, the first of five. Themes
of legacy, of political office, of monarchy, of loss, all while
keeping it completely in tone with Star Wars brand of
space fantasy. Leia’s whole mission is deliberately portrayed as a
bad idea, but flying off on a desperate adventure is her way of
finding closure, more than sitting around mourning could ever do.
It’s unhealthy, but that rather seems the point, and the fallout
will be fantastic drama to read.

Artists Terry and Rachel Dodson deliver some beautiful pages.
Most panels are presented as close-ups and mid-range shots, keeping
the focus on the people and their emotions — a wise choice, given
the circumstances. A space chase and a daring hyperspace escape
prove they have the chops for more action-driven fare later
though.

With the mini-series set to basically be Leia’s planet-hopping
therapy session (along with the first tease of prequel trilogy
material entering the new Marvel canon, with Leia and Evaan heading
to Naboo in the next issue) Waid and the Dodsons are serving up the
first real look at who the Princess really is  in
years. A much-needed exercise in humanising the character, and
defining her for a new generation.

Descender #1, Image
Comics
 


Descender
#1
Descender
#1

Hard sci-fi with planet shaking consequences in
Lemire and Nguyen’s indescribably beautiful new series.

©
171 Studios and Dustin Nguyen


Welcome to Niyrata, cultural hub for the United Galactic
Council. You’re just in time to see it be destroyed.

When unspeakably huge robots appear above the nine core planets,
they wipe out almost all organic life but leave AI constructs
untouched. Coming to be known as Harvesters, these harbingers of
doom trigger a wave of anti-robot hysteria amongst the survivors
scattered across the council’s worlds and colonies. Dr Jin Quon,
the father of modern robotics throughout the UGC and one of the few
to survive Niyrata, has fallen on hard times since.

Ten years after the Harvester’s unexpected appearance — and
their equally sudden disappearance — Tim-21 wakes up in the mining
outpost on the moon of Dirishu-6. A child companion bot, his mother
and all the other humans on the colony have died, supposedly after
striking a gas pocket. Finding himself alone with only his dogbot
Bandit, and unaware of the robo-hatred sweeping the galaxy he
radios for help, attracting only Scrappers eager to brutally
dismantle him. Little do Jin and Tim know they’re connected — Jin
as the creator of the Tim series of automatons, and Tim’s unique
codex discovered to be the same as that detected from the
Harvesters.

Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen’s hard sci-fi opus
continues the streak of outstanding new series launching from Image
in recent years, the publisher seemingly incapable of putting a
foot wrong. Lemire crafts a powerful mystery in an immediately
engaging setting, and then builds on it with flawed characters,
social upheaval and a fresh twist on the questions surrounding
artificial intelligence.

Nguyen’s pages are incredibly beautiful. His brushed, almost
pastel shaded style brings each scene to vivid life — Niyrata
evokes the stark, sterile worlds of Heinlein or Asimov; Tim’s
awakening is a tense, shadow-filled exercise in isolation with a
shocking reveal of the boy’s artificial nature; the designs of the
Scrapppers have a monstrousness that owes more to the imaginative
races of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon strips. With the
issue’s coda teasing the likes of ghost world Phages, robot battle
arenas on technophobic Gnish, and the soundless planet Silenos,
where atmospheric vibration is impossible and the inhabitants
communicate with telepathic sigils, I cannot wait to see how Nguyen
realises them.

A brilliant first issue to a series that seems set to offer a
very different experience to Image’s other sci-fi hits such as
ODY-C, Bitch Planet, and Saga. More
please.

Spider-Woman #5,
Marvel
 


Spider-Woman
#5
Spider-Woman
#5

A new look and new direction the hero, as Jessica
Drew sets up a brand new life following the events of
Spider-Verse.

© Marvel Characters Inc


Now this is more like it. When Spider-Woman’s latest ongoing
series launched last November, it was as part of the
Spider-Verse event. While that may have drawn in readers
buying up every last part of the crossover, it wasn’t particularly
well suited for anyone exclusively interested in Jessica Drew, the
title hero herself.

So, ignore the ‘005’ on the cover — this is really the first
issue in the new run, and one that redefines Spider-Woman’s place
in the Marvel Universe. As the issue opens, she’s quit the Avengers
and handed in her super-spy SHIELD membership card, wanting a
normal life for the first time ever. Instead of spandex-clad
superhero-ing, she’s now operating at street level, trying to help
normal people who need it. While that still leads her into strange
encounters — such as accidentally ruining a police training
exercise for dealing with supervillains — it’s positively mundane
compared to, as writer Dennis Hopeless has Jess put it, “being
caught in the web of an apocalyptic multiversal spider-orgy.” It’s
a pretty good point.

The more grounded approach works well for the character, making
her a little more understandable (her history is
crazy
, involving mad scientists, terrorist cults, and alien
abductions). Hopeless’ also does a great job contrasting
Spider-Woman against Spider-Man, and making her stand apart with a
distinct personality. Where he’s quippy, she’s sarcastic. He’s
upbeat, she’s cranky. He webslings, she makes a point that she
doesn’t “do webs”.

Practically guilted into a new role as a private investigator by
reporter (and long-time Marvel supporting character) Phil Urich,
Jessica’s first case gives a costumed twist to pulp noir
influences, with the families of supervillains going missing and
no-one caring. It’s another nice piece of world building, drawing
the character into areas that Marvel rarely explores.

This issue is also the debut of Spider-Woman’s new costume, a
smart, utilitarian number than converts from street clothes to
motorcycle gear, to something a bit closer to a superhero outfit,
without being as painted-on as her traditional look. Although
designed by Kris Anka, series artist Javier Rodriguez does an
exceptional job bringing it to life. It looks sharp in either
configuration, with cute fourth wall-breaking visual cues showing
how its features, such as retractable gliders and transforming
goggles work. Rodriquez’s art is pretty awesome throughout in fact,
with cinematic panel layouts conveying movement across the page,
and the occasional use of giant words as panels for emphasis. His
colouring stands out too, particularly with moody night scenes and
in the filtered light of Jessica’s run-down office.

It may have taken five issues to really get here, but
Spider-Woman finally feels like it’s firing on all
cylinders. A strong spider-sibling to the likes of Silk
and Spider-Gwen.

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6 March 2015 | 12:54 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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