This issue continues the series' meta-comics thread, wrestling around with themes of escapism, and once again, it's done in an intelligent, complex, but very comics manner. The pull of this issue is the fleshing-out of the Steve character, who comes off equal parts pathetic and sympathetic. His home life's pretty awful (meaningless sex, fat annoying kids, etc.) and his reasons for escape pretty obvious, but it's the form of escapism that solidifies the character. Even his escapism inactive and non-commital: "The costume chooses you!" And really Steve does what plenty of depressed nerds do--he reads a comics and pretends he's the comic book character. Hine basically wrote the worst fanboy one could imagine (quite different from the type parodied ad-nauseum in the media, mind you) and it just so happens that the worst fanboy is also Hine's best friend. Pushed along by Shaky Kane's pop-art Darrow style, Hine grabs onto all that's great about comics and stuffs it in their book, but aren't afraid to call bullshit on the medium's faults.
Red Mass for Mars #4 by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim
When All-Star Superman finally came to a close, I was instantly disappointed. I was so excited for the final issue, that when I first read through it all I could think about was, “This is it?” After letting it sink-in and reading it a couple more times, I finally began to make sense of it and realized how well-done it actually was. The same thing happened with Red Mass for Mars #4. Of course, Bodenheim’s extraordinary artwork and colors are a highlight, but at first glance there’s not much going on here other than a big battle and even that, has a strange distance to it. It feels more like a flashback of a battle--like in a comic or movie when a character provides exposition of some great, universe-altering war--but, it's just Hickman's quasi-mythic style and the issue's about Mars deciding the fate of mankind.
Each issue has been framed around a different view of Utopia. The last issue dealt with Equality: Through a Mars-founded superhero coalition, they virtually eliminated crime and created a society that was "equal". Then, that society failed. At the beginning of this issue, Mars sees the dark side of himself in the form of an enemy commander. He's at a crossroads, which isn't a place you see super-powerful characters in comics very often. Mars will either run away as he did before or take a stand and fight.
What ultimately moves Mars towards the more noble of those choices is his memories with the other superheroes. He recalls their sacrifices in battles and it ultimately, moves him to sacrifice himself for Earth. This final issue's utopian ideal is Fraternity, an ideal deeply rooted in experience and one that can only be achieved by moving through the three previous stages. Note too that Mars is the catalyst for the book's "Fraternity" theme, that it's his active thoughts and decisions that solidify it, and also note that it's through violence (in comics the experience) that this utopian ideal's achieved. Mars is basically Superman, only he's made more complex and real and flawed (he's like a Greek god in that sense) and so, he contains both the best and worst of humanity within him. He's still a widescreen comic book epic hero but he's much more complex and less glamorous. Hickman though, ends the issue on a wizened but hopeful note, with peace and perhaps utopia there temporarily. Yet Mars' actions hang around in the background, hinting at the inevitable fate of every person (death) and the reality that gut-level, non-utopian things like acts of violence are part of the natural order.
RASL #8 by Jeff Smith
RASL is such a weirdly perfect series. It comes out every couple of months so it’s hard to remember the exact plot points, but when you pick up a new issue, the series' eerie but earnest world is vivid again and all the tiny details come back. What's really great about RASL is that it has this elaborate plot but its rarely the focus on the comic. When the first page of an issue begins with a perfectly penciled and inked beat-up face from Smith and the quote, "It's never too late to fix it. That's what I've always believed," it's just instantly engaging regardless of plot details and continuity concerns. It feels fresh and exciting like a brand new comic. The previous issue of RASL got a little too bogged down with plot points and those way too late references to the Patriot Act just felt off. This issue though, steers away from that and focuses on something small but significant: Rasl's relationship with Maya.
From Bone, it's clear that Jeff Smith is a world-builder--the sort of guy that gently places details into a narrative until the reader's eyes are opened to the whole picture. In the beginning of the series, Rasl's sleeping with Annie, who appears to be a round after his relationship with Maya. But here, we see Annie and Rasl together at the same time that he's with Maya, and it's Annie that gives him the advice to stop seeing her. In a series that flirts with time and time-travel conventions and concerns, it's cool to see Smith employing the actual narrative and hiding or rearranging details and having them mess with the reader's timeline and knowledge of events.
But the center of this isn't some Inception-like narrative trickery, but the emotions and personalities of these characters. Smith begins showing Maya as perhaps a little off her rocker. When she says, "I feel like I’m the conduit between two scientific geniuses – helping you both to greater heights," it's probably one of the strangest, most disorienting moments in the whole series and it has nothing to do with trippy time-travel physics. That line, the expression on Maya's face, and Rasl's wordless reaction feel very real, like you can feel the awkward pauses as if it were happening in front of you. That moment too, fills the scene with tension that builds and builds until Maya leaves. The issue's second half deals with the strange little girl that was introduced earlier in the series. Her overt strangeness actually falls flat though compared to very-real weird stuff between Rasl and Maya, and it ends up really just furthering the plot along.
Also: King City #10,