It’s difficult for superheroes to tackle serious social issues. For someone like Superman, much of what humans struggle with is little more than an abstract. But Luke Cage has experienced injustice all too often. In the masterful Power Man and Iron Fist #8 (Marvel) the creative team of David F. Walker and Sanford Greene use what the comics give them, namely the past of Luke Cage, to deliver a fast-paced superhero book that weaves in themes of racial profiling and the failures of the justice system, by underscoring just how little Luke is trusted, no matter how hard he works.
The arc, taking place during Marvel’s Civil War II event, has a pretty straightforward plot. Somebody has reengineered the city of New York’s facial recognition software so that it matches the wrong faces to the wrong criminal databases. Innocent people, largely black men, have been put in jail, and while trying to stop an incident, Danny Rand beats the hell out of a bunch of police officers, and joins them in jail. Really, though, it’s about Luke Cage and what he struggles with.
Part of why it works so well is that Luke is a reluctant rebel. The book opens with Luke chewing out Danny for rotting in prison when he can put up bond and be out in an hour, telling him to “Stop making a white liberal point only other white liberals understand.” The truth, though, as we move through the book, is that Luke understands all too well what it means to be a black man in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Walker masterfully ties it to Civil War II‘s central plot, when Carol Danvers and a bunch of superheroes “foresee” Luke breaking Danny out, and, instead of trusting the hard-working family man who’s spent his life defending innocents that maybe something is hinky here, show up to kick his ass.
Greene buttresses Walker’s points subtly. Greene’s exaggerated, loose style is still present, but he does a lot of subtle tweaks, from making panels feel more claustrophobic to dialing back expressions just enough, to communicate how serious this all is, even when Luke is arguing with a 12-year-old and his IT guy gets turned into a frog. This book still has its sense of humor and brisk pace, but it also invites readers to linger on the deeper themes for a long time. Fiction, at its best, puts the reader in someone else’s shoes and helps them better understand the world from somebody else’s perspective. That’s not generally what you expect from a buddy-cop action comic, but thanks to Walker and Greene, that’s exactly what we have.
Britannia #1, Valiant
Valiant, usually a superheroes publisher, takes an unusual turn into historical horror with this book. Antonius Axia, a centurion who saves a Vestal Virgin from an unnamed horror, gets subject to special spells and, over six years, becomes a detective of sorts. Peter Milligan and Juan Jose Ryp have a lot of fun with the Roman setting, but the book is most interesting as a step away from the modern superheroics and comedy Valiant is known for, and steps towards the fantasy comics with which it occasionally experiments. Britannia is unusual to say the least, but that simply makes it all the more compelling.
Vision #11, Marvel
Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta bring their mix of suburban noir and family drama to a climax in this issue. King subtly weaves the Vision’s origin throughout the story as he squares off against the Avengers, contrasting his first fight with them decades ago, to the reader, and its impersonality to the deeply human and painful reason he’s going up against his friends now. This story has been among the most affecting of all the Marvel books, exploring what, exactly, makes the Vision so different from other heroes, and finds the all-too-human core at the center of a seemingly “emotionless” robot.
Kingsway West #2, Dark Horse
Kingsway, the Chinese cowboy in a land full of magic, reveals more than he might care to admit in this second issue. Greg Pak and Mirko Colak’s mashup of high fantasy and Old West meshes a bit better in this second issue, not least because it gets more into Kingsway’s checkered past and doesn’t ask us to accept he did the wrong thing for the right reasons. Kingsway has things to atone for, even if he does usually do the right thing now, and it makes for a surprisingly fun read, even when it gets dark. There’s nothing quite like Kingsway West on the stands, which makes it all the more of a joy to see it there.
Raven #1, DC Comics
On some level, we’ve been here before: Raven, the powerful Teen Titan left adrift without her teammates, has gone to high school in the past. But Marv Wolfman and Alisson Borges make this story feel fresh not least because of the deadpan take Raven has on the whole thing. Lurking underneath that serious half-demon mage is a teenage smartass, which makes Raven a bit more endearing without compromising the difficulty she has reaching out. It’s undeniably a slight book, but it’s nice to have Raven back for a few issues, and the finale promises to expand how we see her as a character.
Rumble #14, Image: John Arcudi and James Harren’s hilarious, ridiculous mix of urban fantasy and ancient mythology builds to a climax that’s somehow grand and farcical at the same time. Really, how else would you describe ancient mythological creatures starting a rumble with an immortal corpse by hitting it with a school bus?
Joyride #5, BOOM! Studios: This ebullient series about teens who hijack a spaceship and go exploring lingers on love in this issue, a breezy companion to more serious comics on the stands.
Seven to Eternity #1, Image: Rick Remender and Jerome Opena’s high-fantasy story is a little too obsessed with lore and doesn’t spend quite enough time explaining what’s happening, but it’s gorgeous, and the world-building has a lot of promise.
Trinity #1, DC Comics: Francis Manapul hands in some gorgeous art on a book that trades action for character as Batman and Wonder Woman try to get to know a Superman who’s utterly alien to them. It’s surprisingly heart-warming in places, especially as Manapul is willing to dig deep into DC’s past to find some of the lowlights of Batman’s career.
Aliens: Life and Death #1, Dark Horse: Dan Abnett and Moritat build off of the Prometheus story to ask the rather chilling question of whether Aliens might be scarier if they stopped being chunning and started getting smart.
This Week’s Best Collections
Doctor Strange Omnibus Vol.1, Marvel (Hardcover, $75): Spidey sells the pajamas and keeps the lights on at Marvel, but it was Doctor Strange where Steve Ditko and Stan Lee did some of their edgiest, most experimental work in comics. Even decades later, these comics hold up as bizarre works of pop art.
Rick and Morty Vol. 3, Oni Press (Softcover, $15): The hilarious grotesque cartoon translates surprisingly well to the page, and fans in particular should pick this up.
Velvet Vol. 3: The Man Who Stole the World, Image (Softcover, $15): Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting bring new life to the glamorous ’70s spy thriller with the final volume, for now, of the adventures of Velvet Templeton.