Friday, October 25, 2013

1987 and all that 016: costumed crime mongering

by Matt Derman

...reading comics from the year i was born!

Vigilante #37-48 (DC)
by Paul Kupperberg, Tod Smith, Dave Cockrum, Steve Erwin, Rick Magyar, Greg Brooks, Rick Burchett, Jack Torrance, Tatjana Wood, Liz Berube, Bob Le Rose

There’s something fundamentally crazy about the whole superhero thing. Putting on a weird disguise and using a fake name to inflict violence against criminals is not the behavior of someone who’s totally sane. I’m not at all the first person to acknowledge this, and in fact it’s become something of a common trope in superhero stories. But in 'Vigilante', or at least in the issues from 1987, the title character’s madness isn't just something that’s occasionally recognized or discussed. It is the key component of the series, the concept on which the rest of the narrative is founded. The book is about what happens to a lunatic when the people around him enable his lunacy, endorse it, even, for their own gain. And when he embraces it as well, committing himself to his mania with no desire for any return to normalcy. It’s not a pretty picture, because mental instability never is, but it’s an honest, enticing, thorough look at the fluctuating patterns of the protagonist’s craziness.

The titular 'Vigilante' is judge Adrian Chase, and I guess if you want to get technical about it the word “superhero” does not really apply, since he’s neither super nor all that heroic. He has a mask and an alias, but no extra-human powers, just a couple of guns and a wild determination in combat. Though he chooses criminals and terrorists as his primary targets, he pays no real mind to collateral damage, because what truly drives him isn't a sense of justice but a love of violence. He’s so furious at the world over the death of his family, the only real pleasure he has left is the joy of killing. It makes him feel powerful, in control, and alive. Then the most shadowy, morally backward part of the government grabs ahold of Chase and transforms him into a living weapon for the USA. The fictional agency that recruits Vigilante isn't actually ever named, I don’t think, but all of their missions are unsanctioned killing sprees. When they assign something to him, there’s an understanding on all sides that he’ll run in guns blazing with little to no preparation, and that seems to be exactly what his bosses want. It’s certainly what he wants, so everybody’s happy, save for the dozens of people Vigilante shoots to death.

That’s the frame upon which the stories in these issues are built: mad gunman hired by the government to be an agent of destruction against their foes. Everyone is upfront about the fact that Chase is bonkers, including Chase himself, and they all evidently agree that rather than trying to help him find some peace or sanity, the best thing to do is point him in the direction of the bad guys and let him go nuts. He gets lucky and manages to do some good once in a while, shutting down a major drug operation and thwarting an enemy spy from stealing sensitive information. These positive achievements are tempered, however, by all the hate and chaos he spreads around in the name of his unfocused cause. Shoot first and never even have questions— that’s the Vigilante approach. On the rare cases he does have some questions, he brutalizes the person he’s asking, torturing them sometimes even after they have told him what he wants to hear. He loves his new job as self- and government-appointed executioner, and his enthusiasm makes him dangerous and (in his world) famous. Or infamous, depending on who you ask. He kills a police officer at one point early on, and when he finally gets arrested for it some time later, his handlers break him out right away, so he never truly has to answer for the crime. A gang of angry barflies with makeshift masks and improvised weapons takes to the streets to emulate Vigilante, their new icon of hate. Vigilante kills a houseful of child pornographers and self-satisfactorily declares the problem solved, when in fact he’s failed to significantly affect anything. But since he got to gun down a bunch of people in a really showy way, he’s satisfied, and moves onto the next randomly selected (or invented) threat. The problems he creates or exacerbates greatly outweigh the few-and-far-between solutions he provides.

I clearly don’t approve of Vigilante’s tactics or their results, but I appreciate that Paul Kupperberg is intentionally writing a flawed, delusional lead character who’s only partially fooling himself into thinking he’s a good guy. The book is not bashful about its protagonist’s broken mental state, lack of self-control, or ugly inner rage. It overtly paints him in many negative roles: aggressive thug, callous loose cannon, self-aware serial killer, self-righteous hypocrite. No one is expected to like him or cheer him on, because he doesn't even care for himself enough to be concerned with whether he lives or dies. He understands the immense risks of the profession he’s chosen; he expects and even sometimes wants it to kill him. As long as he survives, he’ll keep on trucking, but his recklessness in the field is fueled by a death wish. He recognizes his own emotional damage, and the damage he causes in the world, and he’d be perfectly happy to be put out of his misery. Until that day comes, he’s determined to murder as many baddies as he can.

'Vigilante' #37 was the first to be published in 1987, and it has Chase stepping back into the costume for the first time in a long while, after his bailiff and predecessor Dave Winston is killed in action. From the moment he commits to being Vigilante again, Chase’s moral compass and connection to reality steadily worsen. We see him sign up with the aforementioned government agency, leave behind his former life entirely, slay countless crooks with intense zeal, and hide from the law (and the rest of society) in a series of squalid apartments. He immerses himself in his alter ego and his misguided war on crime, and the few “friends” he has all support him in these horrid life choices. All of which culminates closer to the end of the year, in September ‘87’s 'Vigilante' #45, the first appearance of Black Thorn.

Thorn is, for all intents and purposes, the female Vigilante, taking it upon herself to decide who lives and who dies in the criminal underworld. And even though their missions are so obviously aligned, before he meets her Chase sees Thorn as an enemy, another villain to be taken out by his overeager hand. To her credit, Thorn realizes right away that the two of them should be allies rather than opponents, so she convinces Chase to see things her way through rather aggressive sex, kicking in his door one minute and seducing him the next. It’s clear from the beginning that Thorn is at least as messed up as Vigilante, enjoying her kills as much as he does and throwing herself into dangerous situations with even greater abandon. The more we learn about her, the more unhinged she seems, like when she invents on the fly a very detailed and moving back-story about her father sexually abusing her as a child. She tells this huge, complicated lie because Chase pushes her to reveal more about herself, and though she’s not willing to actually let him in, she is determined enough to keep him on her side that she’ll make up a history designed only to play on his little remaining empathy. By the time she arrives in the series, Thorn is the perfect, inevitable love interest for Chase, a more confident but less trustworthy version of himself. Perfect because she’s precisely what he’d be attracted to (i.e. she agrees with his extremist views and methods), and inevitable because the more insanity he puts out into the world, the more he invites into his own life.

Thorn isn’t the only member of Vigilante’s supporting cast to mirror the title character in some way; she’s just the last to join the book and the most extreme example. Others include Peacemaker, sometimes a friend but usually a foe, who also believes he’s killing the right people, but has very different reasons for doing so. Or Harry Stein, a former cop hired to be Vigilante’s handler by the government. Stein isn't necessarily crazy, but he operates with the same absence of planning or strategy as Vigilante does, so that he’s more often cleaning up messes than preventing them. Valentina Vostok is Stein’s superior, herself a former superhero who now, as the head of a shady government organization, uses secrets, misinformation, unstable operatives, and other ethically questionable tactics to defeat her perceived enemies. Like Stein, Vostok seems to have her wits about her, but what she shares with Vigilante is a lack of concern for other people, be they good, bad, or in-between. Her supposedly noble ends justify any means, and even when she screws the pooch, she emphatically defends her actions and refuses to acknowledge her mistakes.

The point is, the people around him only add to Chase’ personal problems. There’s no one in his life who was there before the mask, so nobody has any vested interest in seeing him sort himself out. On the contrary, pretty much everyone is actively working to keep him the way he is now, broken and furious and sliding ever downward into deeper darkness. So he gets more and more blood on his hands, quickly creating a pile of bodies that does nothing to quell his anger. The futility of his efforts is apparent to the reader all along, as each new criminal he kills is replaced by several others, like the scariest and most depressing hydra ever. Yet Vigilante incessantly keeps up the fight, lying to himself that he’s helping the world when all he’s really doing is contributing to its chaos and pain.

I shouldn't technically mention it, (since it doesn't take place until February 1988) but in 'Vigilante' #50, Adrian Chase commits suicide, turning his gun on himself for a change. It’s a terrible way to go, but not one that surprises me considering the character. As I said before, he was never overly worried about dying, only about first killing as many opponents as possible. When that kind of self-destructive attitude is given such ample room to fester and grow, nurtured by anyone and everyone in a position to do something about it, then it’s only a matter of time before the person feeling it is irrevocably ruined. Chase reaches that point of no return fairly quickly, and the rest of these issues show the hideous results of him rushing past it to even lower lows. He’s not the uplifting, hope-inspiring role model many of his costumed comic book contemporaries are, but his story is well worth studying for the opposite reason. It’s a warning against ignoring our limits or indulging our worst impulses. That way lies madness, inescapable and deadly.

Monday, October 14, 2013

diary of a guttersnipe 10/14/2013: okay look, i'm seventeen years old...

by Shawn Starr

The CBLDF presents Liberty Annual 2013 (Image)
by Fabio Moon, Richard Corben, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Jeremy Atkins, Alex Cox, Andy Owens, Mike Moreci, Steve Seeley, Joe Eisma, Joshua Williamson, Dennis Culver, Franco, Art Baltazar, Paul Tobin, Juan Ferreyra, Leah Sottile, Emi Lenox, Tim Seeley, Andy Kuhn, Ron Chan, Dave Stewart, Michelle Madsen, Zac Atkinson

I really wish one day this anthology wouldn’t just be the repository of one or two decent artists (in this case Corben and one of those Ba/Moon brothers), and a series of stories written where the twist is always (fucking always) the power of the written word. That or some irrelevant political sounding tidbit that the author read about once on Huffington Post and Aaron Sorkin had not quite gotten around to yet.

Forever Evil #2 (DC)
by Geoff Johns, David Finch, Richard Friend, Sonia Oback

Geoff Johns has a weird writing tick in his event books. Within the first two issues, he will devote an entire page of the comic to the ritualistic murder of a small woodland critter. I assume he chooses which one will be nixed by putting his copy of "Bambi" into his DVD player, hitting fast forward with his eyes closed, and then arbitrarily pausing the film and then subjecting whatever poor soul is caught on screen to whatever act of violence he saw on "CSI: NY" last week.

Zero #1 (Image)
by Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Adam Gorham, Jordie Bellaire

(a review by way of notes)

*     On Twitter, Kot called this comic his Kendrick Lamar 'Control' verse. This was most likely a joke, but there is an aspect of ‘up your game everyone’ that can be found in the pages of 'Zero'.

*    I read a review where the “critic” talked about the randomness of the sex scene in this issue, in that it didn't need to be in there. I disagree, the sex scene takes the standard first encounter between two characters and adds a depth to their characterization and relationship that couldn't be achieved except with such an intimate moment.

*  I like that 'Zero' is equal opportunity in it’s nudity. Also, at no point in Walsh’s depiction of sex did it feel grimy or disgusting, unlike just about every other comic artist's depictions. His use of simple panel structure and avoiding pinup shots were key to this (His use of negative space throughout the issue was also very nice).

*    In their initial meeting we see Zizek, a fat disheveled older bureaucrat trying to convince Cooke that sending Zero back into the field was a good idea. Zizek begins to insult Cooke for her lack of experience before being reminded by Cooke who the boss is. This scene sets Cooke up as the hard ass boss to Zizek’s experienced but fading company man.

The next time we see these two characters they are having sex. We see Cooke telling Zizek to go faster, but he says can’t, he’s getting a cramp. Cooke begins to berate him, to threaten him, but then, following a panel of her biting her upper lip, and mid eye roll she pleads for him not to stop. His hand grasps hers and they go on. The following page they lay naked and Zizek talks about how time has passed him by.

Zizek’s cramp and Cooke’s plea shed’s additional layers on their previous interaction. As their hands interlock you can see how Zizek is trudging along even though he is past his prime because Cooke needs him. He may be old and washed up but he gets the job done, and how he needs Cooke to give him meaning, to push him past the cramp which would end in him fading away to nothing. The sex scene allows for these subtle pieces of characterization because of the implicit intimacy of the moment. This scene is vital.

*    Cape comics have a tendency in their most melodramatic and unfeeling way, to spend a few pages going over the destruction that their epic battles have wrought. I’m told there's a touching  moment in the Zack Snyder Superman film where (following an aerial battle that destroys much of the city) Superman is confronted with a family about to be killed by Zod. These moments tend to be unfeeling and purely cynical attempts at humanity, in the face of an million dead we are supposed to latch onto these three unnamed individuals. 'Zero', in contrast, uses these moments to discuss the politics of state sponsored terrorism and it’s effects on civilians.

In 'Zero' civilians are a presence throughout the book, whilst the area the two “super-powered” beings are fighting in was supposedly evacuated (which would allow the damage caused by the two hero’s to proceed without needing to worry about collateral damage), they can be seen huddled in their homes as they are being smashed through during the climactic fight scene. These asides take on a more implicit political aspect, due to the fight taking place in Palestine which is one of the most densely populated area’s on the planet, and one which is routinely subject to violence by an occupying force. The two “super-powered” individuals are explicitly creations of the two major organizations attempting to run Palestine (Hamas and the state of Israel). This gives the collateral damage many comics use as filler a real world counterpart with implications one has to think over.

*    I like that Ales Kot continues to come back to the idea of Drones in his work, they have become a staple of his comics. Ever present

*    'Zero' will have a new artist each issue, but will retain the colorist Jordie Bellaire across the series. I have seen this technique become more and more prevalent as colorists become stronger in staking out the visual continuity between issues and art styles. Dean White was the first major example of this (to my knowledge) on 'Uncanny X-Force', coloring many inferior artists within an inch of their lives so that their issues would not stand too far out when placed next to Opena in the subsequent collection (If one looks at the Billy Tan issue White colored in contrast to the one he did not, they are night and day). This technique was also implemented on Daredevil when Rivera and Martin were trading off arcs, and continued as other artists were subbed in; along with the current 'Hawkeye' run. The continuation of this technique continues to show how important coloring is to the overall tone and feel of a series.


MOCCA announced their “Guests of Honor”. That’s probably the most agreeably bookstore orientated guest list i have come across in a while. It also has the intelligence to vary between the more literary authors like Alison Bechdel to the more sci-fi /comic shop orientated Fiona Staples which should bring in a large audience (The ticket price being significantly reduced is also a major plus).

Michel Fiffe originals. Both for sale and to gawk at. Looking at my bank account i’m squarely in the gawking category (UPDATE: these all sold out so you can’t see them anymore. Losers).

Andrew White is also selling originals, if i’m reading this right for $15 he will draw you an original page based on a word or phrase you send him, and then give you another five pages of previously drawn material that he thinks relates to that phrase. An original mini-comic of sorts.

Q: What happened to the dog that swallowed a firefly?
A: It barked with de-light!

Oily Comics subscriptions have opened back up offering a 3-month subscription for $20. In other Oily related news, Oily contributor Melissa Mendes has a "Friday Night Lights" fanzine out, and two interviews on 'The End of the Fucking World' went up over the past few weeks. One by TJC contributor Chris Mautner at Penn Live and another by CBR writer Alex Deuben. I really need to finish transcribing my interview with him, but here's a teaser.....

an interview teaser
(context: the post office lost joey's oily comics)

Joey: Was their any difference between the first printing and the second printing [of 'Habit'].

Charles: Nah. It's just the papers a little thinner, i ran out of the good stock and i had some of this other stock...

Joey: Goddamn post office...

Frank Santoro did a process post on his new book 'Pompeii'. 'Pompeii' is a book where the production is as much an aspect of the story as the artwork and plot. The texture of the paper, the art's reproduction size (100%), the discoloration of the page, they all contribute to the book's overall aesthetic, which i appreciate (and, as a trend, seems to be on the upswing). Jim Rugg and Dash Shaw are both credited for book design, which makes sense when one looks at both of their most recent works and the place production has in them ('New School' as a replica of an high school yearbook, and 'Supermag' as a high-gloss magazine).

John Porcellino posted pictures of some original art of his that he found laying around his house.

Woody Allen on Ingmar Bergman.

Ed Piskor interviewed by Tom Scioli about 'Hip Hop Family Tree'. Also a short documentary type thing about Piskor by the Times.

Kevin Huizenga on 'Palookaville' #21 and Seth’s Stamp comic. I’m only a few pages into the new 'Palookaville', but i do want to comment on how much i like the reproduction of Seth’s stamp comics. Instead of scans of each individual page, they are reproduced via photographs of the journals themselves, this gives them a heartfelt quality that i don’t think they would convey as well if they’d simply been scanned (The Seth story on this episode of CBABIH is also worth listening to, Pacific Rim, man. Pacific fucking Rim!)
a real conversation
 Shawn Starr: What was that Von Trier with Bjork movie that you recommended?
Joey Aulisio: I didn't recommend it, all i said was it would ruin your day.

New Jonny Negron comic. I hear good things about it. But then again i hear good things about everything he does. The shipping does seem a little high though, i live a state over and it costs $5 to ship, and for just $2 more ($7) you can ship it to Germany.

Gary Panter talk at CCAD. Also, The Rozz-Tox Manifesto.

Joe Sacco interview. It’s weird that i did not know there was a new Sacco book until  last month.

A Kanye West interview which people were talking about and i watched.

David Mazzucchelli interviewed by Dan Nadel.

Watched "Masters of Sex". Very good first episode, although the title leaves a bad taste in my mouth after learning the main characters' last name is Masters. Low hanging fruit people.

Friday, October 4, 2013

1987 and all that 015: the good son

by Matt Derman

...reading comics from the year i was born!

Fantastic Four #301 (Marvel)
by Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Glynis Oliver, John Workman

In his role as father, Reed Richards has always ticked me off.  I get that one of the key things about the Fantastic Four is that they are a family in addition to being superheroes, and this creates unavoidable conflict, since being a good superhero isn't always (or often) going to line up with being a contributing family member. That’s fine, and it’s what sets them apart from most other teams, and I wouldn't want them to lose that. The problem is that Reed regularly prioritizes the heroics over his duties as a husband and father, which is backwards and infuriating. If he’s going to try and live both lives, it seems obvious to me which should come first, but Reed’s too detached and logical and intellectual to see that he’s got it wrong. To him, taking care of his wife and/or kids is always going to be less urgent than whatever new super-threat or scientific discovery is on the horizon. I understand his point of view, that the work he does as Mr. Fantastic is on a grander, more important scale, affecting the entire world and therefore taking precedence over his family’s needs. That’s true as far as it goes, but it fails to take into account that there’s always going to be something new for Reed to do as a hero, but his chance to be a good father is limited, because whether he raises them or not, his kids are going to grow up.

Back in 1987, there was only one Richards child, Franklin. I’m not entirely positive how old he was supposed to be at the time—he was introduced almost twenty years prior, (but based on his size and the fact that he pronounces “uncle” as “unca”) I’m going to guess he’s somewhere between two and four in 'Fantastic Four' #301. It’s a raw age, too early for him to really understand the world around him. In Franklin’s mind, people either love or hate each other. There’s no space in between for the more complex emotions humans really have, because Franklin still feels things to a more extreme degree, and assumes everybody else does, too. He hasn't yet learned to think outside of himself. None of this is unusual for someone so young, but Franklin also has newly-discovered superpowers that complicate his life tremendously. When asleep, he’s able to send what he calls his “dream-self” out into the world, an incorporeal version of Franklin that can travel anywhere in an instant and even interact with the waking people there. Where he goes when he’s sleeping is not something he always has strict control over, which not only scares Franklin but his parents too. An understandable reaction, maybe, but no excuse for the way the Richards let their son feel overwhelming stress and shame over his abilities.

At the beginning of the issue, Franklin’s dream-self watches while his parents and The Thing demolish Mad Thinker’s headquarters, and he’s careful to stay hidden so his mom and dad do not notice him. Though he doesn't know why (because no one has tried to properly explain it to him), he’s aware that it upsets his parents when he uses his powers, and like any good-natured child, that last thing he wants to do is make his folks mad. So he tucks himself away in one corner of the room, remaining out of sight for as long as possible, incessantly worrying that he’ll be discovered. When he finally does reveal himself, it’s to save his father from a surprise attack, but as soon as Franklin does this totally brave and noble thing, he feels guilty about it and sends his dream-self away as hurriedly as he can. So concerned with whether or not his parents will be bothered by him using his powers, Franklin can’t even feel the tiniest amount of pride or joy when he actually accomplishes something good. That’s not even close to being a healthy outlook for such a young kid to have, terrified of himself and his family to the point of keeping even his good deeds secret.

The rest of the issue delves more deeply into Franklin’s damaged psyche, and the ways in which his parents have dropped the ball with him so far and continue to do so. He’s already a pretty severely messed up kid, basically living a double life before he’s even school-aged. And his family doesn’t make any noticeable effort to shield Franklin from their superhero activities. He doesn't come along on their adventures or anything (unless his dream-self shows up, of course), but it’s not like he’s unaware that he lives with the Fantastic Four or uninformed about what they do. That alone would probably be enough to skew his worldview, so when added to his confusing powers and the embarrassment he feels about them, the young guy’s got more than his fair share of baggage.

I singled out Reed as a shitty parent before, but Sue Richards isn't exactly on her A-game when this issue starts either. It is “mommy” about whom Franklin is primarily worried, because she’s the one who gets most frightened by his powers. “They must be bad if they upset her!” he thinks, since that’s essentially how kids operate in any situation: if it bothers mom, it has to be wrong. Instead of offering Franklin care and reassurance in the past when his dream-self had been active, Sue has evidently responded with more negative emotions, and the results are clear. Bad as that may be, Reed’s approach is many times worse, strapping a sleeping Franklin to some kind of machine in his lab in order to study the boy’s powers scientifically. So Franklin, already in an emotionally and mentally shaky state, wakes up with wires running to his head, not the most comforting environment by any stretch. Neither Reed nor Sue does anything to remedy that, though she at least acknowledges that Franklin isn't happy about it. His surrogate uncle The Thing is the one who finally points out how horrible the whole affair is, how fundamentally wrong it is for Reed to treat his child like a test subject. Even then, the Richards don’t fully acknowledge the error of their ways. It takes Franklin being kidnapped and contacting his family for help via his dream-self for them to realize how poorly they have been treating him and commit to changing the future.

The whole issue is a study of Franklin’s deep-seated problems, their causes, and (to a lesser extent) possible solutions. As such, it fills me with a lot of anxiety and anger, because Franklin is constantly nervous about something and his parents keep not helping. But I’d rather share in his awful feelings than not connect with the story at all, so it’s still a good comic, even if I didn't feel great while reading it. Tom DeFalco (working off of a plot from Roger Stern) writes Franklin as believably childish, seeing everything in very simple, black-and-white terms. Mean and nice, good and evil, wrong and right—these are straightforward concepts for him. DeFalco also does a good job with the adults, who know the world is more nuanced than Franklin can comprehend, yet have to try and answer his many questions in a way that he can grasp. As comic books often were in the 80s, the script here is at times overwritten, with characters expressing everything they’re thinking and feeling out loud (or at least in thought bubbles). It’s not terribly excessive though, and when it comes to Franklin, that amount of self-expression is welcome and necessary. In order to empathize with his internal struggles, we have to see the full extent of what he’s feeling and why, and getting to do that is worth hearing The Wizard toot his own horn for a few lines too many. What’s most satisfying about the writing, though, is how self-righteously pissed The Thing gets when reprimanding Reed for his crummy parenting. He screams and throws fists, stubbornly unwilling to hear any excuse or explanation Reed might offer in his own defense. It’s a bit intense, yes, but also appropriate considering the circumstances, and it matched my feelings perfectly in the moment.

John Buscema pencils the issue with brother Sal on inks, and they too, do their best work with Franklin and The Thing. When it comes to Franklin, they capture all of his many different blends of fear and shame. Sometimes he’s outright petrified, screaming in terror. In other places, he’s wrestling with his secrets, pretending everything is fine when inside he’s all torn up. And there are brief moments of confusion, restlessness, exhaustion, and pure sadness along the way as well, all of which are equally effective and realistic. Without the emotional range of the central character being so wide and reliable, this story would feel considerably less meaningful. It all hinges on Franklin’s depression being something the reader can relate to right away and all the way through. John and Sal make it so.

As for The Thing, he’s a character that artists usually either get spot on or screw up entirely, and the Buscema's are firmly of the former category. Beyond the detailed line-work in his rocky body, they nail his inner softy, the well-meaning and vulnerable oaf who lives inside the unbreakable shell. He’s the best member of the cast in this issue, the only one considerate enough to put Franklin’s needs first. That inner decency is evident in every panel in which he appears, not because of what he says necessarily, but because of how he looks, his carefully drawn facial cues and body language. The rest of the characters are just as well done, but The Thing stands out because he is at once the least and most human among them.

At the end of 'Fantastic Four' #301, Reed and Sue finally apologize to Franklin for their previous missteps, for making him feel like he had to lie about his powers or be afraid of them. They promise to do better moving forward, and I’d like to believe that’s true, even though other more recent comics I've read tell me otherwise. Still, for this purposes of this single issue, it’s nice to have a sense of resolution. I’m always a fan of a standalone story, so I’m glad Stern and DeFalco chose to wrap things up, however tentatively.

The heart of the issue though, and its biggest strength, is that (up until the conclusion) it focuses on the damage rather than the repairs. This isn't a “Franklin’s life gets better” tale, it’s “See how bad Franklin’s life is right now?!?” And we do see it, in all its ugliness, watching as a boy who’s barely old enough to talk attempts to hide an enormous part of himself from the people he loves most. That’s a strong hook, especially when handled with the intelligence and thoroughness of the creators involved here. Even without his parents’ minuscule first step toward redemption at the end, this would be a solid read, a complete and compelling character piece about a particularly interesting young man.