Missing Comics of March

supergirl40Any comic fan will know about the industry’s disruptions in the age of Coronavirus, but not everyone will know about a specifically British disruption: at the start of the lockdown, the UK’s comic shops didn’t get the issues published in the final week of March.

More than a month later, however, those issues finally reached our shores. With the aid of my lovely LCS I was able to get my hands on the last few issues of my March pull-list (except for Wonder Woman #754, alas, which slipped through the cracks). I’ve now had the opportunity to appreciate these relics of a bygone age, a bit like that scene in Soylent Green where they’re eating salad.

Far Sector #5

In the latest instalment of the N. K. Jemisin-penned Green Lantern spin-off, Jo Mullein continues to investigate a murder in an alien world. But this time around, the details of this crime take second stage to backstory of its protagonist: a flashback gives us glimpses into Jo’s student days, military service and police career, touching upon the topics of workplace discrimination, 9/11, police brutality and more – all in the space of five pages. The flashback concludes with Jo discussing her life with an extraterrestrial Lantern, who takes a somewhat Spockish stance on the follies of humanity: “Are you not black, and alive?” she asks after Jo mentions a controversy over Black Lives Matter. “Should you not matter?”

All of this takes place against an utterly inviting space opera backdrop, thanks to the luscious artwork of Jamal Campbell. The strength of Far Sector is the way it manages to probe real-world issues for thematic depth without losing sight of the fact that it is, at the end of the day, a Green Lantern spin-off, and therefore built upon a certain fantasy and optimism.

Line of the issue: “An assemblage of warriors ostensibly devoted to the security of their society, and yet they fail to detain or exile their out-of-control cowards? Hmph.”

Killing Red Sonja #1

I recently did a deep-dive into Red Sonja’s early appearances in the 1970s, and this makes for a pretty big contrast. Killing Red Sonja tells the story of a boy named Cyril, heir to the empire whose ruler was recently deposed by Sonja; now, the wee lad is determined to exact revenge on the She-Devil with a Sword. It’s a grim premise, but – here’s the twist – bloodshed aside, the comic is framed as a children’s story. Craig Rousseau’s artwork is deliberately soft and innocent, while the fantasy elements – a talking pig and a mother giant accompanied by her two children – are of a whimsical stripe, more Enid Blyton than Robert E. Howard. Meanwhile, Sonja herself doesn’t appear in the issue.

This is the sort of self-consciously unorthodox set-up that could be either ingenious or a complete misfire; it’s too early in the series to say for sure how Killing Red Sonja will turn out, but given author Mark Russell’s sterling work on the main Sonja series, I have faith in him and his co-writer Bryce Ingman to pull it off.

Line of the issue: “Now that I can talk, the other boars, well, they just seem kind of boring.”

Red Sonja and Vampirella meet Betty and Veronica #10

Strictly speaking, there’s not much of Red Sonja or Vampirella here, as those characters appear in just two panels. But Vampi’s present throughout the issue in spirit, with Betty and Veronica visiting her home planet of Drakulon and being menaced by her evil blonde counterpart Draculina. While we’ve had plenty of kerr-azy Archie reinventions lately, this clash between Betty/Veronica and Vampirella isn’t as large as might be expected, as the main result of the meet-up is that Vampirella’s universe returns to its campy roots. Even the most horrific moment of the story – the sight of human livestock being drained of blood by the vampires – is more quirky than macabre: the victims are shown lying on levitating hospital beds, connected to similarly gravity-defying ovoid capsules neatly labelled with blood type. Amy Chu writes, Laura Sanapo draws.

Line of the issue: “He was too busy staring at my breasts and experimenting with my blood.”

Batgirl #45

Witten by Cecil Castelluccci and drawn by Carmine di Giandomenico, this issue stats with Batgirl tying to save a woman from some sort of flesh-eating liquid gold. She follows a trail to the culprit: a vaguely Lady Gaga-esque nanotech pioneer researching g experimental prosthetics for military purposes.

Recent yeas have seen a string of high-concept takes on Batgirl. the New 52 series started with the controversial decision to remove Barbara Gordon’s disability, counterbalanced with the involvement of the beloved Gail Simone. After that came the bubblegum girl-power of the Burnside era, followed by Rebirth and its Asian tour arc. The present incarnation, however, is rather different: this is a solidly traditionalist Gotham comic that could have been published at any time from the 1980s onwards.

Line of the issue: “Stay back. I want to help but you need to keep your distance.”

Supergirl #40

This story, on the other hand, has a clear gimmick: Supergirl’s suffering from an infection that’s left her with the elongated fingernails of Struwwelpeter, the lank hair of a J-horror spook and a maniacal disposition, and it’s down to Wonder Woman to try and knock sense into her. Jody Houser writes and Rachael Stott draws – although, like most climactic-fight-at-end-of-arc issues, this is more an artist’s piece than a writer’s one.

The issue is the culmination of the “I’m the Bad Guy” storyline and a lead in to “Hell Arisen”, although the disruption caused by the pandemic has left it floating adrift, the wider event it ties in with torn asunder.

Line of the issue: “Spreading the infection is how I save you all!”

Punisher Soviet #6

Like Supergirl, this is a storyline conclusion built around a violent confrontation. Unlike Supergirl, well… let’s just say that this is unlike Supergirl.

Considering that the bulk of the issue consists of the Punisher forcing a villain at gunpoint to flay another villain alive, Punisher Soviet #6 manages a fair amount of emotional subtlety. The core of the story is friendship, or rather what passes for friendship in Frank Castle’s world, and his response to the death of his companion Valery is perversely touching. Writer Garth Ennis is on fine form with another exploration of macho brutality, while penciller Jacen Burrows makes a worthy substitute for the late lamented Steve Dillon.

Line of the issue: “The senator has a heart attack fifteen minutes in, but it doesn’t seem to make things any easier.”

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