This week for you, I’ve chosen three great comics. We’ve got a comic that I featured the debut issue of, that’s even better in the second. We’ve got the excellent payoff from an arc that’s seemed like it was meandering and then pulled it together. And we’ve got the debut of a new character that breathes life into a book that was right on the edge between good and great.
Rat Queens #2
I am falling hard for this book. It’s set in a Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque world (it could easily be the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk, for those of you who know your Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque worlds.) The Rat Queens are a foursome of unlikeable, but actually secretly loveable, mercenaries. We discovered in issue #1 that someone has set them up, along with many of the other mercenary companies.
They manage to survive their ambush (thank the fantasy gods for magical healing. Ouch!) It’s a fun, if bloody, combat scene. This is important; if you’re going to set your story around a group of hired killers, you have to be able to execute a violent combat scene.
They meet up with the few other survivors of the other mercenary companies, and figure out there’s a plot. So immediately, they all get stinking drunk. Which is a terrible idea, but so completely within the characters of all involved. And there’s an attempt at a confrontation with the city guards which really does end with “Go home, Rat Queens, you’re drunk.”
And then at the end, the plot thickens, because illusion spells are damned annoying. So it’s not as clear that it’s the Mayor behind everything as it was in our shared drunken revelry. (Okay, I didn’t get drunk while reading that scene, but if you want to, go for it! It’s your comic reading experience.)
This book drips personality. And blood, and foul language. But mostly personality. If you want a fantasy story for adults with some strong female leads, you just have to try Rat Queens.
Iron Man #17
And thus concludes The Secret Origin of Tony Stark. This issue is based around a revelation, that subverts the entire story up to this point (and puts some new twists on the Iron Man legacy.) I’m going to spoil the hell out of that twists, so if you don’t want that, give up now. Short version: Keiron Gillen is too good of a writer to not trust that he’s going somewhere interesting.
Up until this point, we’ve learned that Howard and Maria Stark were visited by an alien robot, who performed significant genetic modifications on their son. He was created to have a revolutionary mind, transform society and technology, and leave an indelible mark on humanity. And also pilot a giant genocidal world-smashing mech, you know, like you do.
The challenge of this is that Tony Stark sees himself as a self-made man. (Never mind being a white boy born into incredible privilege. But though I’d argue he is very far from a self-made man, he doesn’t see it that way.) Instead of being a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, he’s just a weapon following his programming. This seems really disappointing. The character doesn’t like it, the reader doesn’t like it.
Until this issue, where we learn more. That the programmed son has a planned obsolescence. That Howard Stark tried to fix that, with mixed success. And I’m wondering, is Tony dying? Didn’t we do this plot in Iron Man 3 just last year? And then we have the rug pulled out from under us.
The Starks successfully tricked everyone – the alien robot of this arc, Tony, us the readers. Tony was adopted. He’s the decoy. Everything he did, he did on his own. The fact he looks exactly like his father is a total coincidence. And he has a real genius brother hidden away in a hospital ward, needing some serious medical attention but lucid and really happy that Tony dispatched the weird alien robot.
I’m not sure where they’re going at all anymore, but it was a lot more interesting than I expected, and I can’t wait to see what’s up their sleeves next.
Fearless Defenders #10
The one thing this title has always had going for it: really creative and interesting covers. They’re pretty much all great, and this one is no exception. We see four of our Defenders posing for a 90s style hip-hop poster, with Valkyrie, Misty Knight, Dani Moonstar, and… who is that out front?
It turns out, meet Ren Kimura. In the midst of Yet Another Crossover Event, it’s the perfect time to spotlight someone entirely new. I haven’t been reading the main Infinity books, but Thanos (the scary looking guy we see in the last three seconds of The Avengers in the pre-Schwarma teaser) has sent his minions to cause chaos and mayhem (yes, both of those) in New York before he shows up to do cosmic bad guy stuff. Part of this causes random people to get randomly mutated. It’s what bad guys do, you know, to keep ratings up.
Ren is a young asian woman, raised by a “Tiger Mom” style of parenting. The only thing she really liked about it was her dance class, and she’s severely disappointed them by becoming a dancer. And also, she’s gay, which they don’t know about yet. After being mutated, she gets these weird ribbon things coming out of her fingers (see the cover, right there! Unless I have blind readers, in which case, sorry, you have to live with weird ribbon things.) Turns out they’re also really tough metal and razor sharp.
The supervillains show up and posture, and she realizes that with her powers, there’s a lot in common between combat and interpretive dance (sure, why not?) and kicks some butt. And then the interesting thing happens – she meets Annabelle Riggs, the lesbian woman that Valkyrie is sharing space with (long story). And they have a sweet moment.
This is great, because gay characters almost /never/ get on-screen romance in comics. Batwoman has, and it’s remarkable. Beyond that? Gay characters are usually either asexual, quickly partnered off, or have off-screen romance that’s sometimes talked about. But you almost never see the gay meet-cutes. Romantic plotlines for straight characters are super common, including some in this very book. I’m super excited to see where they go with this. Straight readers used to have a really difficult time actually seeing gay characters as sexual, emotional, human beings, but that’s changing fast, and it’d be awfully nice to get not just more representation of alternate sexualities, but the same on-screen options that straight folk have, or gay folk have in real life.