Reboot time! Taking a page from the Big Two playbook, I’m shaking up the format of Weekly Pull. In order to facilitate a focal shift in my reading (basically, I will be reading more back-issues now, in addition to the new comics I follow), I want to spend a bit less time “reviewing” new issues. So for now at least, the new Weekly Pull will feature one or two full-sized reviews and then a brief highlight section for the rest. I haven’t gotten any feedback from folks so I still don’t know whether this will actually affect anyone. Solution: if you have a preference in how I handle this segment, let me know! Otherwise, consider the new format permanent. Until it’s retconned, of course.
Weekly Spotlight: Aphrodite IX #2
Matt Hawkins & Stjepan Sejic
“…it’s a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi/Fantasy with more fiction and less science.”
Before you read my thoughts on this issue, I suggest picking up the free first issue that came before it. Don’t let the FCBD on the cover fool you: last month’s Aphrodite IX #1 was indeed the beginning of a new ongoing, and a true #1 issue at that. What’s more, the series is a rarity for a Top Cow book, set in a time period so far removed from even the other Aphrodite-touched titles (including the newly rebooted Cyberforce and the first Aphrodite IX miniseries) that it is easily read and enjoyed without knowing a thing about the Top Cow mythos. In many ways Aphrodite is a great POV character for new readers, perhaps the best, because like a page out of Memento she has to deal with having her memories reset whenever she does anything important, so she knows about as much about herself as you will. But that’s enough of that — go read the first issue. We’re here to discuss #2.
It’s pretty clear that Aphrodite will prove to be the deus ex machina that shifts the momentum of the longstanding conflict between the cyborgs and those they call “gene freaks.” A powerful potential ally to Marcus and the people who found and rescued her from containment, she is unwittingly also their greatest threat, with Robert Burch wasting no time harnessing Chronos’ technology to turn her against them. Here’s the catch: he’s only got twenty minutes in the driver’s seat before the link needs to recharge; and if she’s caught in the act, they lose the advantage of her eyes and ears behind enemy lines.
This issue does a good job of mixing up the older Aphrodite IX mythos while immediately deepening it. Rather than losing her entire memory, Aphrodite simply loses the twenty minutes of her “missions.” She remembers every moment since being awoken by Marcus, for example, except twenty minutes last night. The same twenty minutes, it will turn out, during which Marcus’ father was killed and disposed of without a trace. It’s also neat to have the big green dot on Aphrodite’s face explained: Burch notes that it’s a counter to the ability of Aphrodite models to modify their appearances at will (which we saw briefly last issue), as well as the key to the hijacking process they’ve been looking to exploit. Meanwhile Aphrodite is blissfully unaware, and all too happy to assist Marcus on a mission to retrieve his downed animal/vehicle/comrade who was left behind when she was rescued.
This series is wasting no time, with pacing more akin to a mini than an ongoing. Two seemingly important political figures are already dead and another has been captured. We’ve witnessed two covert attacks and learned a lot about this version of Aphrodite IX. Hawkins’ writing is crisp and cerebral, rendering a believable world that just so happens to involve dragon-riding genetic mutates fighting inhuman cyborgs. Meanwhile Sejic’s art speaks for itself as usual: vivid, detailed, slick, and immediately identifiable as his. For a book like Aphrodite IX, this is a bit of a dream team, and they’re telling a story which feels pretty different from the Aphrodite tales before, and that seems to be a good thing thus far. In a world where no one is truly human, Aphrodite isn’t as much of an outsider as she used to be. Seeing her wrestle with who she is in a story poised to question the nature of humanity itself has me excited to see where Hawkins and Sejic are going.
As usual, I am reading Aphrodite IX digitally, and it’s worth noting that there are some bonus features which aren’t necessarily available to print readers. This time around, the story is proceeded by a two-page “Science Class,” in which Hawkins talks about some of the real-world research he’s done to aid him in crafting the world of Aphrodite. Part backstory, part works cited (with links to various articles on actual genetics and biology articles), it’s a nifty addendum to a story which feels like it’s trying to sound feasible. Also included are textless previews of Aphrodite IX #3, which point towards increased tension between Marcus, his betrothed, and the new girl with the green hair who is coming between them. By no means are these panels a reason to skip the print version if you’re still on the fence, but having access to Sejic’s art is always nice, and these pages are no different.
Superman Unchained #1: I know about as much about Clark Kent as anyone might who has only seen a movie or two and dined at a restaurant called The Daily Planet; namely, not much. Drawn more to detective than action in any medium, I suppose I’m one of those “batfans” who hasn’t given Big Blue a chance before. Snyder & Lee was a team-up that made me not only decide to read, but actually go out to my not-so-local LCS and pick up a physical copy (side note: I will probably never pay $4.99 for a digital issue. That’s ludicrous). I’m the opposite of a Superman fan, so take my opinion as you will, but I really enjoyed this beginning. It introduced most of the major players you’d expect and gave me a really clear sense of Clark’s world, as well as a cool (if possibly cliché?) conflict for the first arc. In any case, I’m ready to see where Snyder & Lee go. This one’s definitely worth checking out.
Suicide Squad #21: This is one of those cases where the solicit preview pages made up the bulk of the highlights of the issue; while overall enjoyable and packing a couple small surprises, this felt like a step down from how fun the previous issue was. We only get hints of what actually happened as the book jumps back and forth between the “takeover” of Belle Reve and a couple weeks later, but suffice to say Suicide Squad seemingly has some new rules and a new deal. I stand by my prior assertion that issue #20 was a good jumping-on point. That of course assumes you want to jump on, and I’m reserving judgment for another issue before deciding whether to stay on board.
Avengers Assemble #16: The second part of DeConnick’s The Enemy Within mini-event isn’t as strong as the first was, feeling predominately like treading water between bigger moments in the intro and in Carol’s eponymous book. We finally have a face and a name to go with our stalkerish tormenter, and a sense of the scale of the threat of which Carol is unwittingly the center. I found the humor dealing with Brand’s side of the story less than stellar, but the banter between the Avengers — particularly their reactions to Hawkeye having an idea — was good for a laugh or two. The art isn’t my brand of tea either, but it’s not bad. If you’re following The Enemy Within you’ll want to pick this up, but if not, it’s hard to justify the book on its own strength.
Batgirl #21: I felt a bit deflated after this issue, coming off the high that was issue #20. I love the new Ventriloquist and the dialogue between Shauna and Ferdie is downright cringe-worthy in its creepiness (seriously, the innuendo becomes a bit much). After an (in my opinion rather pointless) exchange with Dick, Babs finds her way to Ms. Belzer’s house of horrors, which ends up being even more frightening than last issue’s “show.” Despite this being the end of a two-part arc, we still have no idea how this villainous pair works or which one is truly pulling the strings; hopefully the upcoming Villains Month spotlight will elucidate. On an art note, I found this issue a bit lacking comparatively, though there are some stand-out moments. Overall it’s worth grabbing to see how the rest of this brief encounter between Babs and Shauna plays out, but doesn’t do much to instill hope that the book is going somewhere important in the months to come.
Injustice #22: After two brilliant and genuinely surprising issues, this one feels a little slow. It’s good to see someone in Superman’s circle questioning if they’ve gone too far, even if the question (obviously) doesn’t get a chance to sink in. Meanwhile a side plot on Apokolips featuring Darkseid, a war party, and a captive escalates very quickly, though considering my ignorance of that side of DC canon I admit I have no concept of just how big a deal it actually will be. Once more, the final page certainly delivers the cliffhanger we’ve come to expect of Taylor. I maintain that this is the one DC series that everyone should be following (just because it’s its own canon and is so cheap), but this wasn’t a model issue for proving it and it certainly isn’t a good place to jump on.