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DC cuts short an incredibly promising Justice League United run

Also reviewed: Mooncakes, Dare To Disappoint, and Gawain’s Girlfriend And The Green Knight

The first round of cancellations following the start of the DC You publishing initiative began last month with the end of Green Lantern: Lost Army and the presciently titled Doomed, but the most disappointing cancellation hit last week with the conclusion of Justice League United (DC), a series that has experienced remarkable growth since getting a new creative team in July. Writer Jeff Parker’s three-year run on Marvel’s Thunderbolts stands as one of the best superhero team comics of the past 10 years, and he quickly made Justice League United the strongest Justice League title at DC by giving the book a new concept that took advantage of the full scope of the DC Universe.

This eight-page sneak preview released before the start of Parker’s run with artists Travel Foreman and Paul Pelletier spotlights that considerable expansion, and over the course of the next five issues, Parker would assemble some fascinating teams to stop the threat of the Breakers, spatial anomalies that distort and pervert physics in localized areas. Equinox, Poison Ivy, Swamp Thing, Mera, and Etrigan teamed up to fight a living island in the middle of Lake Erie in the first story, and the second paid tribute to DC’s rich history of war comics by pitting the team of Stargirl, Batgirl, Vandal Savage, Steel, and Robotman against Sergeant Rock and Easy Company, Enemy Ace, Frankenstein, and the Agents Of S.H.A.D.E. Parker has a lot of fun with these different team dynamics, and the shorter, self-contained narratives have kept the book moving at a brisk pace.

Parker didn’t give much explanation for the book’s new concept or why Adam Strange was suddenly an ethereal being trapped inside the Zeta Beam, jumping straight into the ongoing mission so he could start mixing and matching DC characters. These plot details are finally revealed in Justice League United #16, reuniting Parker and Foreman for one last adventure that takes Equinox, Stargirl, Animal Man, and Alanna Strange into the House Of Secrets, a classic DC locale overseen by the biblical Abel. Parker has a lot of ground to cover as he details the beginning of his story while wrapping up his run, and while the resolution is a bit rushed, it’s still an effective conclusion that roots the past six issues in one key relationship.

Foreman provides slick, intensely detailed artwork on this title, but he’s brought a more cartoonish quality to his facial expressions that fits the lighter tone of Parker’s narrative. There are still some issues with anatomy (his female characters appear inhumanly thin at times), but on the whole be provides animated, dynamic art that is especially good at conveying a lot of information on the page without looking too busy. Colorist Hi-Fi makes the linework pop with a vivid palette, and he matches the detail in Foreman’s art with his textured rendering. This creative team is just hitting its stride, which makes the loss of Justice League United all the more unfortunate. [Oliver Sava]

In the hands of Polly Guo, the story of “Sir Gawain And The Green Knight” is transformed into an allegory for unhealthy relationships. In her Gawain’s Girlfriend And The Green Knight (self-published/webcomic), Guo frames the narrative so that its subject is Gawain’s girlfriend—fragile and insecure, she supports Gawain from afar and encourages him on his quests. She has been taught to privilege his experiences and prioritize him over herself, so she pushes him toward his quest for the Holy Grail, a quest that takes him far from her. Gawain’s girlfriend is never named, and Guo positions her as an everywoman. She mirrors the audience, not as an individual subject, but as a reflection of the audience’s own experiences. Her namelessness also serves to illustrate the real-life way that women are often exclusively defined by their relationship to men; this notion underscores the entirety of the fable-like story.

After a time, Gawain is seduced by a sorceress, and he is kept from returning home, bound to the witch’s bed. The analogue is obvious enough: Gawain stands in for the cheating boyfriend that a partner cannot let go of; the sorceress is the other woman, and the responsibility is shifted to her and off the boyfriend. Gawain’s monogamous failings are not really his fault; in the girlfriend’s mind, he is the victim. Sure that Gawain is still hers, the girlfriend goes on an adventure of her own, and she risks everything to reclaim that nonreciprocal lover. Guo, pacing the story slowly—big, consistently sized panels with simple, clean, and spacious compositions—wrestles with some deeply personal issues. She employs heavy chiaroscuro, and whatever she draws with has the same texture as crayon. As a result, Gawain’s Girlfriend And The Green Knight has an immediacy to its aesthetic, refined so as to recreate the raw crudity of adolescence. Her compositions are images in search of complements, and that better half is always out of reach; they don’t feel incomplete so much as they feel like larges parts of them have been obscured from view. Guo draws lines that feel like they’re seconds away from breaking apart, and she makes the thematics of the work apparent in every line in this intensely visceral way.

Guo’s problematizing of outside-looking-in understandings of one-sided relationships reaches a nadir in the story’s climax. As the girlfriend sinks to the bottom of the sea, an infinite blackness threatens to consume and subsume her and the comic becomes a literal clash of lightness and darkness. These opposingly abject opacities pitch and yaw, and the light dims as the figurative light within our heroine dims. She discards her support system, and the abyss digs its claws more deeply into her flesh. She is saved by an intervening altruist who reminds her of her inherent value, and, for once, she is the one being sacrificed for. The significance of the act is as obtuse as anything else in the comic, but the subject is worth interrogating. Guo, with a palpable tenderness, beautifully renders the means of that interrogation. [Shea Hennum]

Since its founding in 1922, the Republic Of Turkey has maintained a delicate balance between two contrasting worlds. With one foot in Europe and another in Asia, the Republic sits at the junction of not just two continents but two ways of life: European secularism and Islamic religious conservatism. Ozge Samanci grew up divided as well, split between the pressures placed upon her to succeed in the highly competitive Turkish public school system, and her natural inclinations to do... well, just about anything else. Dare To Disappoint (Farrar, Straus And Giroux), as the name implies, is the story of Samanci’s struggle against the conflicting expectations placed on her from multiple angles, and the triumph of her gradual realization that success under anyone else’s terms could never quite satisfy.

Although Samanci’s family is fully secular, her country is defined by the sharp contrasts between adherence to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s systematic reforms and the persistent backdrop of conservative Islam. In primary school loyalty to the Turkish Republic and Atatürk himself assumed the place of a state religion. Following the military coup that succeeded the civil war of the 1970s, economic reforms exacerbated social inequality across Turkish society. Samanci’s parents were civil servants and her family suffered while those around her quickly prospered. The only way to ensure a decent life was to win entrance to a prestigious college, access to which could only be gained after years of rigorous testing at underfunded and underequipped public schools. The children of civil servants had no choice but to submit to an academic grind that devoured their childhoods. If Samanci and her sister failed to achieve the goal of earning an engineering degree from a top school, the only possibilities were poverty or marriage. “In this country,” their father says, “if you are a woman and you don’t have a job, you are a zero, nothing, nothing.”

Samanci’s Turkey is a land of extremes. She likens the country’s attitude toward religion to a radio with two settings: off and loud, nothing in between. Growing up a nonobservant Muslim, she finds herself at odds with many of her peers in boarding school—populated primarily by strictly conservative boys and liberal girls. By virtue of having no engagement whatsoever with the highly religious faculty, she is singled out for punishment and eventually returns home to public school. Against all odds she is accepted to the prestigious Bosphorus University—in mathematics, not her favorite subject, but the department with the lowest entry exam scores.

All through college Samanci struggles, unhappy and not particularly talented with numbers. Eventually she graduates, two years late, and realizes that what she really wanted all along was to be an artist. Unfortunately, while the book ends here, it doesn’t really have an ending. The story of how Samanci became an artist is yet to be told. She’s good at it, though. She has an elastic style that allows her to alternate comfortably between caricature and collage with ease. Every page has been expertly designed, creating a thoroughly satisfying aesthetic experience, albeit one that ends too soon. Eventually she earned a Ph.D. in digital media and currently teaches communications at Northwestern. Presumably we have to wait for the sequel to find out how she got from there to here. [Tim O’Neil]

For all that comics have become more and more inclusive as the industry moves past the capes and cowls set, one of the groups that is lacking in representation more than almost any other are people with disabilities. Sure, there are characters like Bucky Barnes and Misty Knight who are missing appendages, but with prosthetics that are actually more powerful than human limbs, their ability to represent people with disabilities is fraught, at best. More than that, creating a comic about a person with disabilities that focuses on their disability strays dangerously toward a children’s book instead of a compelling piece of storytelling that happens to include a person with a disability; there is sometimes a fine line between after-school-special PSA and a diverse and inclusive story.

Mooncakes (webcomic) is proving handily just how easy it can be to fall on the right side of that line, with a little bit of forethought and effort. Written by Suzanne Walker, a newcomer to comics creation, it’s the story of a young witch and her loved ones, with just enough air of mystery and details to explore to keep even a brief introduction interesting. The main character Nova lives in a magic shop run by her grandmothers, who are just as eccentric and lovely as you’d hope. Artist Wendy Xu has a sweet, colorful style that captures a world rich in unfamiliar activities but mundane at the same time, paying the same amount of attention to something as simple as making tea as she does looking for a magical book. She’s clearly pushing herself to try ambitious perspectives and topics, as the monster in one of the more recent pages proves, and its awesome to see a creator exploring their skills and continuing to improve.

The comic has just over 20 pages up right now, about the same length as a printed issue, and the characters and their world have already solidified nicely. It’s a little bit of Harry Potter with a healthy dose of Nancy Drew, reminiscent of Raina Telgemeier’s work with the added bite of almost-adulthood and the requisite swearing that comes along with it. Mooncakes is billed as a supernatural romance, but it’s already grown past that genre, even with the parenthetical “queer” and “Chinese-American” labels that Xu ads to the subtitle. Nova is both of those things, and a person with a disability as well, but she’s much more than that. She’s a fully fleshed character with an interesting community around her and a friend to rescue. Though the word “amateur” has come to have a bad reputation in most industries, Mooncakes is the some of the best of what amateur comic making can be: Because they are not reliant on the comic for their livelihood, Walker and Xu can focus on telling an interesting, compelling story, a story that you frankly won’t be able to find anywhere else. Mooncakes is amateur in the very best sense of the word, a project driven by passion and desire more than anything else, and the work is all the stronger for it. [Caitlin Rosberg]