Friday, April 03, 2020

Caleb's one-man book club: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures Vol. 1

I tend to get the majority of the comics I read from one of two places, which I designate in my current "A Month of Wednesdays" review column: Either my local comics shop, if it's a comic that I am purchasing, or my local public library, if it's one that I'm borrowing. Due to circumstances beyond my control (or anyone else's control, unfortunately), I am unable to go to either my local comic shop or my local public library for the forseeable future

Now I am certainly not hurting for comics. My to-read piles are huge, and go back, unfortunately, years. So I will have more than enough reading material for weeks, if not months (although I hope we won't all be stuck inside that long!). But, being curious about the electronic services my library offers, I checked some of them out and discovered that one of them, Hoopla, offers comics. A lot of comics.

One of the first search terms I entered was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and I immediately got results, including plenty of Teenage Mutant Ninja Adventures. So this seemed like a good time to catch-up on that one particular TMNT series that I had read so incredibly little of. And, of course, blog about it, because if I have 40 hours of extra free time per week now, why not update EDILW more often, like in the good old days of daily-ish updates...? (Although I don't think I still have daily-ish readers anymore).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was a monthly comic book series published by Archie Comics from 1988-1995, and featured Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's creations in a kid-friendly, full-color, newsstand-available, monthly comic book series. It was not a spin-off of Eastman and Laird's comic, which was still being published in 1988...albeit entering a strange (but thrilling!) phase of its existence. The pair's Mirage Studios published four issues of the ongoing series that year, #13-#17, and none of those books were collaborations between the two, who apparently had their falling out sometime around then, from what I've gathered from their annotations in IDW's Ultimate Collections of that volume of TMNT. Eastman and Eric Talbot produced #14 together (That's "The Unmentionables" issue, where in Casey Jones plays private eye) and Laird and Jim Lawson produced #15 together (That's the one with the Justice Force superheroes coming out of retirement), and Michael Dooney, Mark Martin and Talbot produced issues #13, #16 and #17, respectively).

Rather, Adventures was based on the cartoon series, which had begun airing in 1987, and so it was therefore a comic book adaptation of a cartoon adaptation of a comic book series.

At the start of the series, it was adapting episodes of the show directly into comics format, but it would very quickly veer off into a quite strange direction all of its own. Now, I was a pre-teen then; I was too old to play with the TMNT toys, although my little brother was in that particular age range, so there were definitely some around the house. I did watch the cartoon series with him after school, and, when I discovered Eastman and Laird's comics, I grew fascinated with those, buying all of them I could find, continuously hunting for them, and playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness role-playing games with a friend of mine at the time. (At the time, the Mirage version of the Turtles seemed like a semi-secret, "real" version of the phenomenon for grown-ups, which was a great deal of their appeal to me, I think.)
My reading of Archie's TMNT comics was sporadic, to say the least. I did buy the adaptation of the 1990 film (written by Laird, pencilled by Lawson, and inked by Eastman, Laird and Talbot), and I recall buying TMNT Adventures #8 for my little brother for Christmas, and, surveying the covers on comics.org just now, I know I bought and read a handful of others (#11, #28 and #30-#32 all look familiar). But I never attempted to read the whole series...something I will now attempt to rectify!

Honestly, I likely would have attempted it sooner, but IDW's collections were pretty pricey. This is the kind of comic that I would much rather read in something like DC's now defunct Showcase Presents or Marvel's now-defunct Essential fomrat: Big, fat, phone-book sized black-and-white reprints on cheap paper. (That or, perhaps, issues fished out of 25- or 50-cent bins, I suppose).

Now, prior to the regular series, Archie published a three-issue miniseries adapting the first "season" of the show. I didn't start there, but I want to share the covers, because these are by Eastman, Laird and Steve Lavigne, who lettered the Mirage comics (and colored these covers).




These are interesting not only because we have Eastman and Laird collaborating on them during a time they were supoosedly working less and less together, but also because we get to see them drawing the cartoon's version of April and the Turtles, with letters on their belts and all. Also, it demonstrates how involved Mirage was with managing their creations; though adapted from the cartoon, Dooney handled the script and art, and Lavigne lettered it. Mirage was, at this point at least, adapting the cartoons based on their comics back into comics.

When TMNT Adventures graduated to a monthly, the covers remained the work of Eastman, Laird and Lavigne, at least for the first couple of issues. See if you can spot when, exactly, the they stopped doing the covers:




The difference is subtle, but I think you'll be able to spot it.

I am going to be taking my journey through TMNT Adventures courtesy of IDW Publishing's collections on Hoopla. (If you have Hoopla through your local library, please feel free to read along, or see what comics more to your liking they offer). IDW's first volume collects issues #1-#4, and the cover looks like this:
I would have guessed that was a new cover by Jim Lawson trying to hew more closely to the cartoon's designs than usual, but I would have been wrong. It's actually the work of Lavigne, according to the credits, with Joana Lafuente coloring. It's the only "new" part of the trade.

And I should note that these comics within this collection? They are not very good. I'm sure the folks who made them had their talents, but remember this is basically 120-pages of comics adapted from a cartoon show which, even at 11-years-old, I did not think was very good at all (Catchy theme song, though!).

Those particular episodes are "The Return of The Shredder" and "The Incredibly Shrinking Turtles", both from 1988, the television cartoon's second season (although the first "season" was only five episodes long, and as thus really just a miniseries.). A Dave Garcia is credited with art and letters, and the next credit says "adapted from scripts by Christy Marx and David Wise." Hey, it's our old friend Christy Marx, creator of Jem and The Holograms and comics-writer!

I don't want to get too bogged down in comparing and contrasting these Turtles from the "real" ones of the Mirage comics, as that could take forever. In general, if anyone actually needs the reminder of the cartoon's premise, the four Turtles live in a New York City sewer lair with their sensei Master Splinter, a mutant rat-man who used to be the human being Hamato Yoshi. The Turtles all love pizza with bizarre toppings that might turn Scooby-Doo and Shaggy's stomachs, and they all have the exact same personality and sense of humor, despite the cartoon theme song's attempts to differentiate them ("leads," "does machines," "cool but rude," "a party dude"). That's probably why they are color-coded and wear their initials on their belts.

They are basically superheroes, tooling around town in a customized and heavily-weaponed van or a blimp, although they are kinda sorta in hiding from the world at large too, due to the fact that they are mutants. It depends on the scene. They had recently defeated their archenemy Shredder, who had allied himself with the alien Krang, who resembles a brain with a face and tentacles, and lives in the stomach of a robot body. Both they and their dim-witted henchman Bebop and Rocsteady were sent back to Krang's home world in  Dimension X at the end of season one.

The Turtles' only other ally at this point is April O'Neil, who is a reporter for Channel Six News, and never changes out of a yellow jumpsuit with white boots, presumably because the toy designers first saw an image of her wearing a jumpsuit in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, when she was supposed to be a tech assistant/engineer type.

In the first issue, two of the Turtles are grocery shopping wearing their Benjamin Grimm disguises of trench coats and wide-brimmed hats, when two cartoon punks with baseball bats attempt to rob the store. They easily defeat them, even when one of the punks pulls a knife, and they get their groceries on the house in thanks...but then they proceed to steal a shopping cart.

Meanwhile, Krang sends Shredder back to Earth through a portal, but refuses to give him any robots soldiers or equipment to help him capture the Turtles. This seems a little like Pharaoh demanding the Israelites make bricks without straw. Bebop and Rocksteady are eager to get back to Earth as well, but Krang denies them because, he explains, "I enjoy seeing both animals and people suffer, and you my friends, are both!" This might be the best joke in the book.

At Channel Six, we meet several of April's colleague, all of whom I completely forgot even existed at all (Like I said, I remember watching the cartoon, but I don't remember what I watched very well; it didn't sear itself into my memory the way that, say, He-Man or Transformers or G.I. Joe did). April's boss wants her to do an expose on how the Turtles are threats or menaces, presumably to impress this anti-turtle prostitute he started dating:
Er, not to judge a woman by her clothes or anything.

This scene did make me mildly curious about seeing the cartoon, though, just to see if she was wearing that exact same outfit, or if the artist took some liberties in her first appearance.

Shredder arrives in Central Park via a inter-dimensional portal, which leads to my favorite scene:
Some muggers find a guy in a cape and a metal helmet and mask, covered in blades, and they try to mug him. With knives. The Shredder has twice the blades they do on his hands alone. This being a kids comic, though, he just back-flips into a tree and chops a branch down on them, and they then give him all their money and run away. No one is gutted like a fish.

Shredder then initiates his dumb plan. He takes over a karate dojo, briefly trains the students, has them dress up in poor man's TMNT costumes, and then has them commit robberies under the name of The Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang. They pass out business cards and everything. This is only further proof that the Turtles are threats and menaces to April's boss, and even the fact that April has apparently unzipped her jumpsuit doesn't seem to distract him from his new girlfriend Tiffany's anti-turtle crusade. She's still not showing as much cleavage than April though, so no contest, I guess.

Look, I'm not trying to read to much into it. I'm just looking at the pictures. In her second appearance in the book, Tiffany is now wearing even less clothes, as this outfit lacks the fishnet stockings that the first one had.
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The second issue begins with The Shredder busting Baxter Stockman out of the "Sunnydale Home For The Extremely Overwrought." Stockman, in the original comics, was the Turtles' second villain. He built the Mouser robot rat-catchers that destroyed the Turtles' sewer home and seemingly killed Splinter in the story where they met April, who was working as Stockman's assistant at the time.

This Baxter is white, rather than black, though. He appeared in the first season of the show in the same basic role, having created Mouser robot rat-catchers that the Turtles fought. I believe most of his appearances on the show will occur after he is mutated into a fly, though, like the mad scientists in The Fly movies, which I guess is why I was surprised to see a white guy show up in the role here.

Shredder asks Baxter to build him "the ultimate rat-catcher," but Stockman basically just steals a bulldozer-mounted drill from a nearby construction site and gives it a mouth. With that, the pair of villains capture Splinter, while the Turtles are busy beating up the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang in an extremely slapstick-y action scene.

Meanwhile, April's boss and Tiffany  were definitely having sex in his office after work hours:
Hey, kids! Comics!

And then, finally, comes the climax. The Shredder is going to kill Splinter with a battering ram in the shape of...a giant fist...? Not eve a foot? I thought Shredder was in The Foot Clan, not The Hand...?
Then Baxter and his tricked-out, souped-up bulldozer crashes through a wall and the Turtles beat the ever-living fuck out of it with their super-strength and unbreakable weapons.
Splinter is saved, The Shredder tucks Stockman under his arm and escapes to fight another day, the Turtles have their name cleared in the press by April, her boss gets dumped by the scantily-clad "girlfriend" when she overheard he ordered takeout mock turtle soup for lunch and now no one's getting any in this comic...
...at least I hope not!

Thus ends the first story arc, and begins the second, "The Incredibly Shrinking Turtles!" This one is also an adaptation, but the credits don't say of whose scripts. Rather, it lists Ken and Beth Mitchroney under "adaptation by," while Ken Mitchroney gets a pencils credit and Garcia an inking credit.

This story opens with the four Turtles training and sparring in the park, when their day is interrupted by an alien spacecraft crashing into a lake (This is actually a pretty Mirage way to handle a TMNT story, as most of them begin with the guys training and then something crazier than even them intrudes on their lives, often aliens from time or space or a monster of some kind). They save the alien, who gasps that they must find the three pieces of the "The Eye of Sarnath", three pieces of his ship which, when assembled, will give their bearer great power, before the fragments can fall into the wrong hands. He gives them a pyramid-shaped crystal that can track the pieces, and then promptly disintegrates.

Unfortunately for the Turtles, Shredder was lurking in the bushes the whole time, follows them to the first fragment and then, in something of a surprise, he kicks all four of their asses in a matter of panels and claims the fragment for himself. Jeez, he should have thought of just fighting the Turtles issues ago!

As he's waving the crystal fragment before them triumphantly, he accidentally unleashes its power, shrinking the Turtles. You know, incredibly. The tiny Turtles have a harrowing trip back to their lair, where Splinter calls April for help...presumably because he can't drive.
While Shredder and Stockman do supervillain stuff with the crystal, shrinking down the Empire State Building and other New York City buildings and collecting them, Splinter uses his psychic link to his students to locate them, as "your average sewer trickle" (gross) washes them out of their lair and into the sewer, where they eventually end up fished out of the East River by Stockman.

Krang, who was completely disinterested in Shredder's plot to shrink New York real estate down to toy size, is now interested when Shredder shows him that he has the four Turtles trapped in a jar, and pulls out a crow bar.
Oh God, what's he going to do to them with a crow bar? Pry off their shells from their still-living bodies...?!

No, nothing as grotesque as that. He's just going to smash the jar, with them in it, apparently. But just then, April and Splinter crash the Turtlemobile (I believe it is officially called "The Party Wagon," but I can't bring myself to use that term in a sentence, I'm sorry) into the abandoned cheese factory warehouse, and Splinter and Shredder get a rematch! (As you probably know, in the cartoon continuity, in his pre-mutated, human life, Splinter was rivals with The Shredder.)

It's a pretty dramatic fight, and Splinter is about to have his head mangled in some heavy machinery when April waves the crystal in the direction of the Turtles, restoring them to their full height. After a brief skirmish, Shredder and Stockman again retreat, with the crystal in their possession. So this encounter is more of a draw.

Now, this being the fourth and final issue of the series adapting episodes of the script, I have no idea if the next issues will follow-up on the dying alien, the shrinking crystal, and the other two parts of the Eye of Sarnath. Heck, I don't even know if or how New York City gets the Empire State Building back.

I guess we'll find out in volume 2, which contains the next four issues, and sees the arrival of long-time TMNT Adventures writers Ryan Brown and Dean Clairran, the latter a pseudonym used by Steven Murphy. Both had long history with Mirage, Brown being quite heavily involved with the secondary Mirage TMNT title, Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Murphy writing Puma Blues with artist Michael Zulli.  Plus Jim Lawson arrives for an issue. Oh, and issue #5 should be  where things start to get weird, as new mutant characters original to this comic series start to arrive, and the Turtles even get new costumes. In essences, despite what the numbers on the covers of the individual issues might say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures really begins with issue #5, or TMNT Adventures Vol. 2.

Monday, March 30, 2020

A Month of Wednesday: February 2020



BOUGHT:

Daphne Byrne #2 (DC Comics) I suppose I should have trade-waited this pricey new horror miniseries from DC's "Joe Hill Presents Hill House Comics" pop-up imprint, which I just now noticed is also a "DC Black Label" book, despite the fact that Batman's dick isn't even in it. In fact, there are no dicks in it at all (Nor any nudity; it's rated "Ages 17+", but I imagine that's just because Kelley Jones draws some seriously scary shit, the kind of stuff that would have fucked up, say, an eight-year-old Caleb, had an eight-year-old Caleb decided to read this comic, which he wouldn't have, because the cover looks kinda spooky and boring...to an eight-year-old).

The story is beginning to take a bit more shape now, as it appears the weird ghost boy that's been stalking our heroine has some sort of relationship with her that gives her the "power" to transmute flesh and matter into extremely scary forms...or, perhaps, just temporarily cast illusions suggesting that she can. (It's funny that no matter how much they try, superhero comic book publishers can only ever get so far away from the idea of superpowers and super-comics genre tropes, huh?).

I am assuming the story will make more sense in one sitting than in six chunks, but, in the meantime, the comic still offers the particular pleasure of a collection of inspired, scary Jones imagery. Not only does he draw the fuck out of a Victorian horror mansion and an endlessly over-piled library, but there's the sinister figures creeping down the stairs just a few paces behind Daphne on the title page, an urban street scene that is transformed into a horror show as passersby, children, a horse and a bird are stripped of various sections of skin and flesh, skulls and spinal columns surrounded in black starfield auras floating like comets, a rough sea of blood with grinning, sketchily-drawn skulls below the bubbles on the surface, a skull-faced wisp of smoke crawling like an octopus up the stairs...this is a great showcase for Jones' endlessly macabre imagination, and I would love to see a script of it sometime, if only to see how specific Marks is in the imagery, or if she just writes something like "Insert whatever spooky shit you want wherever you want to" throughout, because so much of the scary imagery seems to be incidental to the dialogue, plot or foreground action, simply suggesting that dark, occult forces swirl around Daphne often unnoticed at all times.


DC's Crimes of Passion #1 (DC) This year's Valentine's Day special has a rather loose theme of romance and crime—"10 Tales of Lovers and Lawbrakers!" reads the tagline on the cover—but given the fact that DC's super-comics always feature crimes, it can be easy to forget there even is a theme to this collection while reading. It's a pretty good comic of its type though, all in all.

So Batman's on the cover, of course, but who do we have starring in these ten eight-pagers...?

Batman! Writer Steve Orlando writes Dr. Tito Daka, the villain of the 1943 film serial Batman into the comics, here making him not a Japanese spy and saboteur but instead a "disgraced hypnotist" with a somewhat goofy plan to extort the children of elderly people, people that he uses to attack Batman at one point. Also in Daka's thrall is Linda Page, one of Batman's old Golden Age love interests (who also appeared in the serial). The meat of the story is Linda and Bruce's relationship, and how Batman comes between them; in the comics, she had a more Lois Lane-like problem, in which she thought Bruce was a coward, since he would always run away when things seemed dangerous, ironically unaware that he was only doing that so he could put on his costume and rush back in to deal with the problem, dressed as a bat. Here, she doesn't like that Batman appears to use his considerable wealth to war on crime, rather than fight crime at its source, compassionately.

It's a pretty good script, and feels nicely classic without necessarily being marked as belonging to any one particular time period. The artwork, by Greg Smallwood, is also quite lovely. It's not my favorite looking story in here (That would be the next one), but it's a really gorgeous comic, with a nice, stately feel to it.

Wildcat! I was pretty excited about this one, in large part because I really love the idea of Wildcat, a heavyweight boxing champion who fights crime after-hours by dressing up as...a house cat. I mean, maybe he's supposed to be a wildcat, given his name, but even that's not all that bad-ass a member of the feline fraternity, and even then, his costume doesn't look much like a wildcat. Instead, he looks like a big, brawny dude who has decided to dress up as a black house cat in order to punch out crooks.

With the JSA temporarily unavailable for going on almost a decade now, we haven't seen a whole lot of Wildcat either, so it's nice to get a little 8-page reminder that he exists and that he's awesome.

Riley Rossmo draws this one, with Jordie Bellaire coloring, and it's split pretty evenly between a boxing match and a fight with gangsters following it. Rossmo's a great artist with a lot of personality to his work and an immediately identifiable style, and I liked his Wilcat a lot. There's something somewhat Paul Pope-ish about it in this big splash panel...
...and he does a nice job of telegraphing emotion through the bigger-than-necessary, opaque white eyes.

Stephanie Phillips scripts this story, and there are two levels of romantic content. The plot sees Ted Grant unexpectedly winning a fight against a younger, faster, better boxer when he pretty much accidentally knocks him out suddenly. It turns out that's because Ted's opponent threw the fight for some gangsters, who have kidnapped the his girlfriend. So Ted Grant puts on his cat costume and beats them all up, with some help from the other boxer. There's a neat little punchline ending to it, too.

Beyond that relationship, though, Ted narrates about the last fight he lost, and how it happened when he got distracted by a pretty girl calling his name, and ever since, he's had no time for love.

I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but neither Rossmo nor Phillips really reveal any details that date this as belonging to a particular time period, although all the hats on the men's heads makes me suspect its set in the 1940s, but it doesn't have to be. It's got that sort of Batman: The Animated Series ambiguity about it. Not unlike the Batman story that precedes it, actually.

The Pied Piper! I haven't kept up with The Flash at all since The New 52boot, so I'm no longer clear on all of the players and their stories, but this James Tynion IV-written, Gleb Melnikov story doesn't seem to be overly-dependent on knowing all that much. Just that The Pied Piper was one of The Flash's rogues who could control people with his piping, and then reformed...or did he...? In this story, The Pied Piper Hartley Rathaway is summoned to the mansion of wealthy superhero "rejectamenta" collector Roman Richards.

Richards, who was a victim of one of the Piper's earliest attacks, has ever since longed to be similarly controlled by him again, and has invited him here to give him back his original pipe and pay any price for the experience. The Piper rejects him, and it's not entirely clear if Richards just wants to be controlled by the pipe again or if he has a genuine romantic or sexual interest in the Piper (Piper's dialogue seems to indicate the latter).

For such a short story, it's dialogue heavy enough that it reads much longer, and I think this was one of the stronger Tynion stories I've read. It certainly helps that Menikov is such a great artist, and there's something vaguely Greg Capullo-esque about his work.

Green Arrow and Black Canary! The inclusion of the DC Universe' premier superhero couple in this is almost too on-the-nose for a Valentine's Day special, but I suppose we need more than one portrait of a successful, happy relationship to go with all the heartbreak in here, right? (Piper and his boyfriend being the first.)

In this story by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson, pencil artist Paul Fry and inker Mark Farmer, the pair are enjoying a moment together when an explosion summons them to a school in the middle of the night, and there they find a troubled young man with a flamethrower, bombs and the moniker "The Crimson Bomber." They don't save the empty school building, but they do save him.

Plastic Man! My favorite! Writer Sina Grace and artist Mike Norton, an artist quite well-suited to the character, have Plas visiting a nightclub he used to frequent as Eel O'Brian, and meeting with a former flame who want his help escaping the life she's living under the thumb of the club's gangster owner. Naturally, he helps her, and Grace and Norton manage to pack quite a few transformations and demonstrations of Plas' powers into so few pages. What Grace does best, however, is to link Plastic Man's highly visible powers of being able to, essentially, change into things, with his character arc, having changed from a criminal himself into a hero.

Batwoman! Writer Jordan Clark, pencil artist Kieran McKeown and inker Dexter Vines have Batwoman track Nocturna to Metropolis, which means Kate inevitably ends up running into her former flame and almost-wife Maggie Sawyer. They somewhat awkwardly work the case together, and, in the process, Maggie learns a revelation about the end of their relationship, and they decide to be friends. I was never too terribly invested in the Batwoman title or character, and have been less so since J.H. Williams III left the series after some disagreements with DC Comics about the direction, so I wonder if this story helps bring some closure to a long hanging plot-line that irritated a whole bunch of fans back then, or is just some salt in the wounds...? At any rate, I liked the art.

Slam Bradley! Well, there's someone we haven't seen in a while. The original star of Detective Comics shares this story with Batman, who warns him that a notorious thief that Slam has been chasing on-and-off his entire adult life needs to be stopped immediately. Slam asks Bats to let him handle it, for personal reasons. Matt Groom writes, Anthony Spay pencils and Jason Paz inks this Silver Foxes entry into the proceedings.

Nightwing and Batgirl! The relationship between these two has become...pretty confused and garbled in my opinion, thanks in large part to the New 52boot. While many (most?) of the official changes made in the immediate wake of Flashpoint have been relaxed, un-written or entirely reversed since, Barbara Gordon's story has been particularly confused, as more than any other character with their own title, her story was changed the most, and then changed back the least. Now, for example, she sometimes feels like she's as much as a decade younger than Dick Grayson, rather than his elder or a peer. The messiness of their ill-defined relationship to one another is the romantic content of this particular story, which is written by a Jay Baruchel, who I have to assume is that Jay Baruchel (I see only a handful of credits for Baruchel on comics.org, and they all seem to be of similarly short stories in Big Two anthologies).

Well, there's that, and the fact that it reads like the work of someone coming into comics form a different medium. It's way too wordy, with the art on the second page overly obscured by a dozen (a dozen!) royal blue narration boxes representing Dick Grayson's thoughts, and, a few pages later, Barbara and her dad talking multiple paragraphs to one another in a pair of panels over dinner.

The artwork, by Andie Tong and colorist Steve Oliff, is slick, but this felt a little too much like a one-issue story crammed into too small a space. Additionally, I can't help but wonder if it was commissioned and created particularly for this project or not, given that Babs is in her previous, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr-designed costume, rather than her current one.

Catwoman! Oh man, am I sick of Catwoman's love life!* Luckily, while she's the DC character starring in this story by writer Liz Erickson and artist Abel, the romantic component actually comes in the form of a bickering married couple, both of whom hire Catwoman to steal things to antagonize one another. That they are in organized crime means that they are both bad people, allowing Catwoman to be the good guy in the story while also being a criminal.

The Question! The Vic Sage version of The Question seems to be making a comeback after his death in 2007 and his passing of his faceless mask and name on to Renee Montoya. This story, written by Ram V and drawn and colored by John Paul Leon, has him trying to solve an extremely strange case involving an assassin and a high-profile target who are in love with one another, sort of, but have an odd and unexpected connection.

I love the visual of The Question, even if the character himself hasn't ever really grabbed me for any length of time. Here he's basically just a generic, placeholder crime-solving character with a particular voice, though, and I think it works just fine.

And that is the end of that. Hey, they did a whole Valentine's special with no Harley Quinn and no Joker! Imagine! Well, those characters' silhouettes appear on the back, but other than that. These $9.99 specials are such a gamble, but I like that this one managed to include some not-often-seen characters like Wildcat, Plastic Man, The Question and Slam Bradley, and I think it did a pretty good job of mixing some of DC's more popular writers with up-and-comers.


Harley Quinn #69 (DC) This was a total impulse buy, purchased simply because I kind of wanted to see what writer Mark Russell and artist Sami Basri did with the McDonaldland characters in the context of a comedic superhero comic. Ronald McDonald, Grimace, The Hamburglar, Captain Crook** and Mayor McCheese all appear in barely altered forms under the fig leaf-like names of Clown McCrown, Grumpus, The Hambezzler, Captain Playhab and Councilman Cheeseburger.

This tightly-plotted done-in-one opens with The Hambezzler, the white collar equivalent to a burglar, I guess, being released from prison after serving a 30-year-sentence for embezzling 40 million from the McGobble's pension fund...a crime he maintains he did not commit. He's handed a card for Harley Quinn, "amateur landlord" by the warden, who tells him, "she seems to specialize in failures and weirdos."

Trouble soon follows when his former compatriots come seeking vengeance, and Harley defends her new tenant/accountant from the aging fast food icons, and then joins them all in getting to the bottom of the 30-year-old crime, ultimately helping them point their quest for vengeance in the right direction. Although not particularly a fan of the Harley Quinn character, I really rather liked Russell's script. She's in it, but is almost incidental; it's not too difficult to imagine another character in her place, or the story re-written to exclude that role entirely (although Russell does give her stuff to do, and, where possible, connects his gag-driven story to her own, particularly when it comes to her interaction with a somewhat famous clown, who himself was disfigured by a dunk in a chemical vat...although in Ronald, er, Clown's case, it was a vat of "Country Dew" soft drink).

I liked Sami Basri's art quite a bit, and I suppose I was sort of surprised by that, given my affection for the work of cover artist Guillem March, who draws a cool-looking, honestly-rather-terrifying Mayor McCheese-like character about to devour Harley on the cover, the sandwich-headed monster looking Joker-like with his glassy green eyes, white gloves and purple suit. Basri's art is quite different in style, simpler and softer, but quite effective, and the lines don't really dwell on some of the grotesqueries of the characters, or on Harley Quinn as a lust object. I'm still not crazy about the lettering style, in which certain words are exploded into a colorful, over-sized font to demonstrate volume, but that's just me.


How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) This weight-lifting manga straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction. While it has somewhat rounded characters with their own motivations, goals and conflicts in it, and while there is a story of sorts to it, as those characters set about meeting their goals and interact with one another, it's also something of a how-to book, not quite as straightforward an instructional book along the lines of No Starch Press' The Manga Guide To... series, but in the same neighborhood.

Snack-loving 17-year-old Hibiki realizes she's gaining weight when a classmate bluntly asks if she's gotten fatter—right after her after school takoyaki, too!—and she realizes with some horror that she has indeed gained quite a bit in the last year (You can't tell from the art, of course; artist Maam shows us a lot of Hibiki's body, pretty much everything but her nipples and genitals, and she just looks like your standard voluptuous manga heroine).
To remedy this, she checks out the neighborhood's new "Silverman Gym." To her surprise she finds out that the class president Akemi also works out there, despite the fact that she appears perfect in every aspect of her life, including possessing a "figure that would put a model to shame!!!"

In one of the earliest and most interesting reversals, it turns out that Akemi has something of a muscle fetish—every time she works out, each rep is accompanied by a panting exertion noise with a little heart in it—and her goal is to get ripped and become the most macho of the macho.

Guiding the unlikely duo on their journey into physical fitness is the cute physical trainer Machio, who, Hibiki learns belatedly, may have a boyishly handsome face, but it is attached to a body so cut it looks like that of a professional body-builder, something he regularly reveals by flexing and shredding his clothing in the process.
(In Hibiki's words, it looks like his face is photo-shopped to that body).

In each chapter, the girls and the reader learn a new exercise, which is generally demonstrated by one of them acting as a model—wearing particularly revealing clothing, more so than what they wear in-story—and then that is followed by a pin-up of them showing off the part of the body that was just worked out, as well as, usually, their boobs.

Along the way, in addition to the various gags about Akemi's unlikely lust for muscle, Hibiki's love of food and Machio's weirdness, we learn not just the particular exercises, how they work and what they do, but also things like why strength-training can cause someone to gain rather than lose weight, the importance of stretching, and how the types of food and ways you eat them rather than the overall amount of that food impacts the way your body grows and changes. As the first volume progresses, we also meet two more characters who eventually join the gym: Hibiki's best friend Ayaka, whose family runs a boxing school, and their teacher Ms. Tachibana, who is secretly a cosplay idol, and doesn't want her students to find out (And isn't too thrilled about working out with any of them, either.)

I am obviously no expert in physical fitness, and it has been a long, long time since I hung out in a gym and lifted weights seriously-ish (like, since high school), and now I pretty much just do rather light stuff in my own apartment like yoga, planks, push-ups and some embarrassingly light dumbbells (my goal simply being to to stay fit enough that I don't impact my health negatively, and I can feel comfortable taking off my shirt in public, should the need ever arise), but this all looks and sounds pretty legit to me, from what I can remember of working out more seriously decades ago.

I half-thought it might make for a neat review to do some sort of How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? workout regime as part of a review, but I'm not the person to do it, and that sort of "stunt" comics criticism is kinda pointless on an amateur blog like this. I don't know; if there are any physical fitness experts in the reading audience who have also read this, feel free to chime in with how accurate the information within might be (I have to assume at least fairly accurate, or it wouldn't have made it past multiple volumes in Japan and been imported to the states if it was, like, full of lies and following its advice would kill you, you know?).

I don't think it's a series I'll be inclined to continue purchasing and reading thusly, as it develops a formula pretty quickly, and this first volume certainly seems to suggest the gist of the series to follow, but I thought it was a fun-enough read, offering interesting characters, solid humor and the sort of content that neither comics nor manga are particularly associated with. (In terms of the physical fitness stuff, not the fan service, obviously).


Justice League #40 (DC) This is the first issue of the title after the sudden, unresolved and perhaps even temporary end of writer Scott Snyder's run on the title. It remains to be seen if Dark Nights: Death Metal will conclude his time with the Justice League characters, or if it's just going to be an inflection point; in either case, the Justice League title is more or less in limbo until that series concludes.

I wasn't sure how this was going to work, then, if the Justice League was going to continue to have a book of their own, but were otherwise engaged in a major, important story line that wouldn't even kick off for a few months yet. The obvious solution would be a story set sometime in the League's past, which this sort of is...although it must be the very recent past.

There's no reference to the Totality/Legion of Doom/Perpetua drama that Snyder's run was dedicated to. The character's featured in this issue—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern John Stewart and Flash Barry Allen—are all ones who have been on the team since the first issue, and never seemed to temporarily die the way that Aquaman or Martian Manhunter did. On the other hand, more recent plot points from other comics are mentioned, like the death of Alfred (somewhat confusingly, as it is mentioned just one page after Batman is show talking to Alfred via computer monitor; I guess Batman had an AI Alfred made and programmed it with the sort of deflating quips Alfred was prone to?) as well as Superman revealing his secret identity to the world (again).

So it's deliberately fuzzy then, but it's clearly not something that has been sitting in a drawer for a while.

I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it, given that fact that it seemed so...fill-in-y. I think that's mostly because the only current DCU Justice League story I've read in forever has been Justice League, which has been devoted to telling just that one never-ending story arc, so it was refreshing to see the Justice League doing something, anything else, if only for the change of pace.

Also, I really like the way artist Doug Mahnke draws these characters, so it was fun to see him get another crack at them so long after his JLA run. Here he is inked by Richard Friend (and just Richard Friend, as opposed to several different inkers) and colored by David Baron.

Writer Robert Venditti's story arc, "Invasion of The Supermen", opens with a super-strong body crash-landing in a corn field; said body awakens with a start and manages to fight off the League for a few pages until John calms the situation down and we learn that this is Sodom Yat, who used to be the Daxamite character in the Green Lantern Corps, but is now retired and serving as a senator on Daxam. He's come to Earth to warn them that The Eradicator is leading a new breed of Daxamite soldiers to invade Earth, soldiers who have had their weakness to lead bred out of them, so they have all of Superman's powers and none of his weaknesses.

It's somewhat unfortunate that the cover of this issue is by Bryan Hitch, as his 10-issue, 2015 series Justice League of America featured a similar invasion of Superman-like foes.

Arthur Adams' variant cover, on the other hand, does not suggest Hitch's previous run, but it's also a kind of generic posed shot...and isn't quite accurate, as J'onn, Hawkgirl and Hawkgirl's abs aren't even in this issue.

Seeking a weakness that can be exploited, Batman goes to London to recruit a magic-user—conveniently for the sake of this story, the entire Justice League Dark, the team of magic-users and specialists who work out of the Hall of Justice's basement, are busy with other matters—while the others prepare and  talk about emerging character conflicts, like Batman being salty that John took charge in one scene, or Wonder Woman being concerned that Flash hesitated at one point, and Superman feeling doubts about his place in the world and his responsibility for all this.

It's nicely-drawn, nicely-plotted, sort of generic super-comics...and that is, as I said, actually kind of refreshing at this particular point.

That said, I'm taking the end of the previous run as an excuse to drop the title from my pull, and will follow it in trade from now on.


Marvel's Voices #1 (Marvel Entertainment) Reading Marvel's Voices' podcast host Angelique Roche's introduction to this 29-page comic, I see that I fall into the category of someone who picked this up "for the incredible list of artists and the amazingly dope cover." (The line-up includes several of my favorite artists, including Kyle Baker, Sanford Greene, Brittney L. Williams and Damion Scott, the last of whom did the amazingly dope variant cover I purchased, the one with both Spider-Men on it).

I am not much of a podcast person, and the small handful of ones I listen to tend to be news and politics related, so my never having heard of Marvel's Voices before this comic was solicited should in no way reflect any kind of assessment of the podcast's value. Like I said, I'm just here for the creators. But, as Roche's fairly lengthy prose intro explains, the podcast is focused on celebrating Marvel comics characters and creators of color, and it had spun out of an earlier podcast called Women of Marvel, which I had also never heard of. The goal is a noble one, but because this is also a Marvel Entertainment joint, there's something somewhat...well, corporate about it, I guess. It sounds like Roche and company are all very passionate about the comics, the creators and the characters, but it also has an uncomfortable advertorial vibe about it to me.

But that's all essentially besides the point, as this isn't a podcast review blog. So let's focus on Marvel's Voices #1. It's a somewhat odd book in how thin it is, and the fact that the table of contents lists a lot of content that actually isn't included between the covers. The four-page table of contents includes seven essays by the likes of Don McGregor, John Jennings and other names not familiar to me, and although these are ilisted here and given a one-sentence snippet, they are apparently actually online: "Read along with Mavel.com/Voices for the full experience" a note says at the beginning of the table of contents, laid out like a meandering path, with the essays apparently placed amid the comics stories. I confess to ignoring all of these; I wasn't really interested in reading five pages of comic, then going to read an essay on my laptop, and then returning to the comic. No judgment, that's just not the experience I'm looking for in a comic book.

As for the comics stories, they are 14 in number, and they are either one, two or four pages long...the lone exception being the final six-pager by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Green and Matt Herms, in which Wolverine investigates a blocked portal from Madripoor to Krakoa and finds the/a Hulk waiting for him there (Dialogue refers to him as green, but he's wearing a tux and looks gray-ish blue in Herms' coloring; I've been following Immortal Hulk, but lost track of the X-Men a few relaunches ago, so I'm ill-suited to evaluate the relevance).

As for the rest of the contents, there's a one-page Doctor Voodoo story by Evan Narcisse, Jahnoy Lindsay and Emilio Lopze; a four-page Forge vs. Shuri story in which engineering/racing teams from various countries engage in a Speed Racer-esque race around the universe by Vita Ayala, Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo; a neat two-page Black Widow story by Brian Stelfreeze that basically just amounts to a clever action sequence; a one-page Emma Frost piece (story doesn't seem the right word for it) by Anthony Piper; a one-page Luciano Vecchio that assembles all of the Marvel Universe's LGBTQ characters for a pride parade of a panel; a weird four-page story about how the spider that bit Peter Parker and Silk would go on to become a crime-fighting monster spider by James Monroe Iglehart, Ray-Anthony Height and Emilio Lopez; a one-page Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur story by Brandon Montclare, Natacha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain; a one-page gag strip about Nick Fury, Hank Pym an depth perception by Kyle Baker; a one-page story featuring a character I don't recognize by Geofrey Thorne, Khary Randolp and Emilio Lopze (Is this Moasic? I feel like it might be Mosaic); a two-page story of a sad Silver Surfer by Rob Markman, Damion Scott and Dono Sanchez-Almara; a two-page story of Wolverine meeting Thanos' crush by Method Man, Daniel Dominguez, Alitha E. Martinez and Emilio Lopez; a two-page Blue Marvel story by Charlamagne Tha God, Chris Miles and J.J. Kirby in which Blue Marvel meets Charlamagne Tha God and tells him he watches his interview all the time; and a one-page She-Hulk story by Roxane Gay, Brittney L. Williams and Rachelle Rosenberg that felt...wrong for the character, as she publicly plays vigilante to help a victim punish a man she just helped convict (Knocking out a police officer in the process!).

There are little pleasures throughout, but the extremely short space allotted to each story proves to be a real challenge. The fact that some of the short stories succeed so well, like the Montclare/Bustos Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur one, make others of similar length seem all the more disappointing.

Nevertheless, there's no denying that this is the best comic book based on a podcast I have ever read.



Superman Smashes The Klan Part Three (DC) I've been reviewing and writing about the comic books I read for so long now that it is all but impossible for me to consciously turn off my critic's brain while reading one and simply enjoy the experience of reading a comic book, to give myself over to whatever pleasures the writer and artists might be attempting to conjure. In fact, it's so rare for me to get so swept up in a comic that I quit analyzing it in the back of my mind while I'm reading it that it almost never happens. It takes a really extraordinary work to trick my mind into not dividing its attention between being a reader and being a critic. But this final installment of Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru's Superman Smashes The Klan? It was just such a work.

There's a moment near the climax wherein Superman arrives just in time to save the day, announcing his presence by blasting his heat vision into the ground as a warning shot, and then floating high above the ground, having finally started flying for the first time in the story. Now, I've been reading Superman in comics for close to 30 years, and I had seen him in cartoons and movies before even then, so I have seen Superman flying and shooting beams out of his eyes countless times, but, here, because of the way it was framed and because of how the story was told and how engrossing it all was, it felt like I was seeing Superman being super for the very first time. I honestly felt a chill run up my spine on that page and, a page or so later, when Superman starts to feel doubt at the terrified reaction he's getting from the ordinary people seeing him hovering in the air for the first time, and then looks to see Lois Lane staring happily up at him and he confessed his love for her to himself, I started to tear up a bit.

I say this here because it's about the highest praise I can give Yang and Gurihiru—their comic is so good I felt like I was reading Superman for the first time...hell, like I was encountering the character for the first time.

Which isn't to say I read the whole thing with my brain turned half-off, of course. I can tell you in part why that scene was so effective, as they had foreshadowed Superman's powers of flight and heat-vision early on in the series, during a flashback to when he accidentally discovered them in a moment of anger, terrifying himself and the boys around him. And because Roberta Lee, the young woman who is the comic's co-protagonist, had talked to Superman earlier in this issue about how she realized that he could fly (he had carried her repeatedly while leaping, but she noticed he seemed to be able to dramatically slow down on his descent and control his landings in a way that would be impossible if he couldn't defy gravity).

Roberta broaches the topic with Superman at all because she realizes he would be much more effective if he flew rather than ran at super-speed and jumped all the time—there's a scene earlier in this issue where he goes to rescue some tied-up Daily Planet staffers by climbing the building—and, as a child of immigrants, she recognizes that what he is doing is trying to conceal aspects of himself that he thinks would mark him as "other" in the eyes of the people of Metropolis who had come to accept him. It's a pretty powerful moment, the first of many in this issue, and of a piece with Yang's zeroing in on the Superman-as-immigrant aspect of the character, an aspect that has remained one of the most engaging of the multi-faceted character, and never seems to get any less relevant as time goes on.

Also of particular note in this issue is another extended flashback sequence to Superman's pre-Superman days in Smallville. Yang has Clark Kent and Lana Lang attend a travelling circus (It's not named Bailey's, but there is a Flying Graysons cameo), where Superman sees a circus strongman. That was, artist Joe Shuster has said, the inspiration for Superman's superhero costume, and so here that real-world inspiration is transferred in-story. Interestingly, Gurihiru's design for "The strongest strongman to ever walk the earth...The Mighty Samson" includes not only red, yellow and blue primary colors, a cape and underwear outside of his tights, but even the strappy, sandal-like boots that Superman wore in his first appearance. (Also, Clark and Lana first encounter Samson as a surly ticket-taker outside the tent, but then see him performing, and here Clark learns the lesson that a simple change like a wig over a bald head and a change in expression and attitude is all that is needed to fool people into thinking one person is two completely different people).

So yes, this is a really great comic. It begins with the flashback to the circus, which tells the penultimate part of this Superman's origin story, and then picks up on the previous issue's cliffhanger. With some help from Roberta, Superman is able to rescue Clark's Planet colleagues from their Klan captors (after some scenes of Lois Lane sassing the hell out of them), The Grand Scorpion Matt Riggs learns the truth about the Klan ("Wait a minute, is it possible you actually believe all that "One Race, One religion, One Color" rot?...We are a business that deals in the world's oldest commodity: Hate!") and finds their stash of Kryptonite-fueled anti-Superman weapons, all leading to a big showdown at the University House baseball game, which Riggs interrupts, summoning Superman to save the day...and reveal his powers and the fact that he's an alien to crowd gathered there.

As good as this series was—and it's honestly one of the best modern Superman stories I've ever read—I was kind of disappointed by the time I reached the last page...if only because I knew it was the last page, and that I can't look forward to reading another chapter of Yang and Gurihiru's Golden Age Superman next month.

I really would like more of this. Part of me thinks that, given how perfect Superman Smashes The Klan turned out, Yang and Gurihiru should just move on to other things, rather than attempting to match or top their own work with a sequel of any kind, but part of me—the part of me that's a reader—would love to see more. Whether it's a direct sequel of sorts set in the world they've created here, or an expansion to involve other Golden Age characters like Wonder Woman and the JSA (Ooh, or All-Star Squadron!), this is a great creative team, and perhaps the ideal one for telling classic-feeling stories of DC's most iconic heroes for an all-ages audience.

If you missed the series as it was being serially published—in three 72-page, $7.99 prestige format books—don't worry. A $17 trade paperback collection will be available in May.


BORROWED:

Garfield: Homecoming (Boom Studios) I never thought I would be recommending a Garfield comic book series, but, well, here I am: Have you guys seen Garfield: Homecoming yet...? If not, this 2018 miniseries is really something else, and worth checking out if only for the rare and strange pleasure of seeing Jim Davis' iconic comic strip character translated into fairly radically different styles by different artists.

That was, after all, why I ended up bringing it home from the library recently.

I had all but completely ignored Boom Studio's efforts at Garfield comic books—despite the fact that I guess their young target audience meant I should have paid them at least cursory attention given that I do write about kids comics semi-professionally—in large part because I assumed they would have little to offer me, a grown-up. Sure, I was pretty enamored with Garfield as a child, back when the character's half-dozen or so different broad categories of jokes were relatively fresh to me, and I hadn't yet heard my thousandth joke about how Mondays suck and lasagna is awesome, but, like most particularly long-lived newspaper comic strips that are not Peanuts, I had long since lost interest in it.

And then the trade paperback collection for Homecoming passed through my hands, I flipped through it and saw this:





Those are, believe it or not, all drawings of Garfield from this series, courtesy of artists Sara Talmadge, Shelli Parolinne and Braden Lamb, Ben Sears and Genevieve FT, respectively. Yes, this series offered a handful of cartoonists the opportunity to draw a character whose design is so fixed in readers' imagination that he's practically a logo at this point in their very own personal styles, something that was actually thrilling, and appealing to me as a fan of comics art in general in the same way that, say, United Plankton Pictures' SponeBob Comics were for so long (But more so, as Garfield is a far older character than SpongeBob, and one that I had previously spent so much more time with; Hell, I can remember drawing Garfield in ballpoint pen in the corner of my late grandmother's lasagna recipe).

The four-issue series, written by Scott Nickel (although Jim Davis' familiar signature appears on the cover, and he gets top-billing on the title page for "Garfield Create By"), has a pretty good in-comic excuse for the changes in style, too. Each issue/chapter opens with a one-page sequence drawn by Antonio Alfaro in the expected Garfield style, the same one you would see if you happen to find yourself near a newspaper comics page (Or I guess newspaper comic strips are on the Internet now too, huh?). In these sequences, Garfield speaks directly to the reader—telepathically, I guess, as his dialogue appears, as ever, in thought bubbles—and tells the story of how Jon read a book entitled How To Unspoil Your Spoiled Cat that ruined Garfield's life, eventually prompting him to run away from home and enjoy a series of adventures.

A turn of the page reveals the art style of that particular issue/chapter's artist/s, who then draw the remainder of the issue/chapter, detailing a new, temporary home for Garfield until the next issue.

So Talmadge draws Jon and Garfield's book-prompted conflict, and how Garfield runs away and literally joins a circus, following his stomach and a friendly clown, although a conflict with the show's star performing dog proves it's probably not the best fit for him. Her Garfield is remarkably cute, boasting the same basic dimensions of Davis' design, right down to the disturbing human toes, though her Garfield's belly is (appropriately) bigger, her art has a softer look and feel and her Garfield has a wider-range of emotions, communicated in more animation-derived expressions that look foreign in a Garfield story (But then, so too do things, like, say parts of Jon's kitchen being seen from different angles than the standard ones). Her Jon is similarly cute and, sadly, we don't get to see her Odie (she's the only artist in the series who doesn't draw Odie), but the dog she does draw seems far removed from a Davis-style one.

Paroline and Lamb, who draw my favorite of the Garfields (that's theirs on the cover, in the painting behind the "real" Garfield), follow him as he wanders the streets, gets picked up by animal control and rescued by a wealthy young girl...and eventually driven away by her mom's prize, purebred Schnauzers. Their Garfield looks particularly cat-like in many panels, and he has a big, round head with wide eyes—but not Davis-wide—and a face-splitting smile that occasionally suggest the Cheshire Cat.

Guys, I really love that Garfield. He looks nothing like the original article, but he feels exactly like him.

Next, Ben Sears draws Garfield's brief stint staying with Benjamin, the cook at an Italian restaurant. That sure seems like the ideal owner for Garfield, but things go awry when Garfield decides to follow him to work, help himself to the contents of the freezer and gets kidnapped by some inept robbers. Sears' art is particularly interesting, because he seems to follow the same basic design of Davis for the characters, including Jon and Odie, but his rendering is quite different, with a thinner, rougher line that gives the proceeding the look of an old underground comic.

Finally, FT chronicles Garfield's last home away from home, when he is adopted by a crazy cat lady who introduces him to her other dozen cats, some of whom are Internet-famous thanks to her promotion of them on social media. That's how it is that Jon finds Garfield, and comes to his rescue, having learned the error of his ways. Like most of the others, FT has redesigned Garfield quite a bit, coming up with something that doesn't necessarily look anymore like Garfield than it does, say, Heathcliff, but still reads like Garfield.

And as if those four Garfields weren't enough, the cover gallery includes a variant by Stan Sakai, in which a kimono-wearing Garfield is about to tuck into some sushi.

If you only read one Garfield book this year, this is probably the one you're going to want to read.


Green Lantern: Legacy (DC Comics) I personally didn't find anything in this original DC graphic novel for kids particular engaging, having already read about new people becoming Green Lanterns (Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz), an artist who translated his skills into ring-wielding (Kyle) and even little kids who have Green Lantern powers (Batman Beyond's Kai-Ro, the current Young Justice comic's Teen Lantern). Of course, I'm not the target audience for this book, by writer Minh Le and artist Andy Tong. Rather, it's a "DC Comics For Kids" book (it would have been published under the "DC Zoom" imprint, back when they were pursuing the Zoom and Ink imprints), and is thus directed toward younger readers and, perhaps, readers newer to DC Comics and their heroes (It's worth noting that it is more all-ages than "for kids," I think).

That new, artistic child Green Lantern is Tai Pham, a 13-year-old, third-generation Vietnamese-American who lives with his family above his grandmother's store in Coast City. That store is the repeated target of some local jerks, who occasionally throw bricks through its window, as their neighborhood seems to be in transition, with a local young, brash billionaire eyeing it for redevelopment. Tai's grandmother, who he is very close with, wears a jade ring on her finger, a jade ring that he finds floating outside his bedroom door night when she passes away. Obviously, that jade ring isn't really made of jade, or, if it is, it's a special kind of space-jade.

After Tai finds his grandmother's battery and is transported to Oa, he starts to learn about Green Lanterns, his grandmother's time as one of Earth's Lanterns, the dangers of Sinestro and so on. John Stewart, who appears to be Earth's only other Green Lantern (Tai's cat is named Jordan, though!), acts as something of a mentor to Tai, although he spends much of the book off-panel, trying to sort out how and why the ring went to a minor, and if that's cool or not. As Tai struggles with standard superhero origin story issues, a follower of Sinestro's with a ring of his own sets his sites on this newest and particularly green Green Lantern.

Tong's art isn't as stylized as that in many of the other original graphic novesl that DC has been releasing of late, which might prove particularly attractive to some readers; that is, stylistically, there's little space between it and what appears in the serially-published DCU comics. Like, one could easily imagine him drawing a monthly Green Lantern or Superman or Wonder Woman comics for DC, too.

Despite what likely sounds like a lukewarm endorsement, there's nothing wrong with the book, my lack of enthusiasm is very much a "it's-not-you-it's-me" kind of thing. That said, I certainly wouldn't mind finding out what happens next, particularly the idea of a Stewart fulfilling a mentor-like relationship with Tai, and learning more about his grandmother's secret life as a GL (That might not be the sort of story younger readers would be interested in, but I am very much interested in the sort of secret history of a Green Lantern who has operated on Earth since the Vietnam War, and continued her crime-fighting career right up until her death from old age. While I've seen new Green Lanterns, artists-turned-Lanterns and kid Lanterns, I've never seen a senior citizen Green Lantern...unless you count Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott, who, like most of his peers in the JSA, was kept supernaturally young through various magical and time travel hijinks over the years.


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 5 (Viz Media) The bulk of this volume is devoted to the school's cultural festival, for which our protagonists' class eventually decides to host a maid cafe (after much discussion; in fact, an entire chapter is devoted to the decision-making process). And so Komi, Tadano, Najimi and the others spend chapters preparing for the festival, trying on maid costumes (Tadano ends up spending quite a bit of time as a maid himself), helping various and particular customers and, eventually, roaming the rest of the festival.

New characters are introduced, like the helpful, big sisterly Onemine who takes pity on the way everyone piles work on Tadano and offers to help...until she realizes she's making Komi jealous, and the super laid-back, slow-talking Otori, who Komi must run an errand with.

In addition to the drama of the festival and maid cafe, Komi navigates various anxiety-inducing situations, like a terrible storm and black out and the more simple act of asking a friend to go to the restroom with her, like all the other girls seem to do.

At the end of the volume, there's a curious crossover with Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, although it's referred to here as "A Collaborative Manga. It's only four pages, and appears to be by Komi manga-ka Tomohito Oda. I read the first volume of Sleepy Princess long ago, and can now barely remember anything about it other than that it had some cool-looking monster designs. So I'm pretty ill-equipped to evaluate this, but it's just a four-page lark of a story in which Komi awakens in the castle, is freaked out by it, is scared of its monstrous inhabitants, and then gets invited into the bed of Princess Syalis, who cuddles with her and they fall asleep...until Komi's mom wakes her up the next morning. The end.


Star Wars Adventures Vol. 8: Defend The Republic! (IDW Publishing) This slim volume collects five 8-12 page stories from the publisher's all-ages series, the unifying factor here being that they are all set during the "Republic" era of the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III). In that respect, it's a bit like Marvel's recent-ish Star Wars: Age of RepublicHeroes trade which I reviewed some time ago, although the stories are by different creators, which I think made this book a bit more fun, and they are all, as the title implies, more story-focused than portraits of particular characters. It's one of the neat things about this particular series, from what I've read of it: It tends to come at Star Wars as a setting as much as a body of epic stories with endless extensions to be teased out.

Well, there's that and the books tend to attract a lot of fun talent, like Derek Charm, one of my two favorite Star Wars artists of the moment, alongside Elsa Charretier. (I hope you follow them both!).

Charm actually draws two of the stories in this volume, the rather unlikely team-up of Padme Amidala and Jar Jar Binks entitled (get ready for it) "Raiders of The Lost Gundark" and another team-up between Yoda and Anakin.

That first one, written by Delilah S. Dawson, is actually probably my favorite in this batch. Amidala is still doing her queen thing on Naboo, wearing her elaborate Bjork-circa-Homogenic costume, when Jar Jar brings her a "treasure mappen" and they go off to seek a prize for Boss Nass. They do, and there's a neat, unexpected twist ending.

I actually found Jar Jar kind of...fun in this outting, which sounds strange to say.  Perhaps it's that the initial shock and horror of his introduction 20 years ago has worn off somewhat (although the last time I watched Phantom Menace, just before the release of Force Awakens, it was still strange how out-of-place he was in the film, as if everything about the character had been added in post, including his role in the script), but I suspect it has more to do with his being much easier to take in a comic than on-screen, where one can't hear his voice, and his dialogue can be more easily parsed out than when it is being squeaked aloud.

It probably also helps that the character's annoyingness is acknowledged throughout the story, and is, in fact, the key to he and Padme's victory, saving them both from the title monster in an unexpected way (And Charm draws a great screaming Jar Jar; there's something almost SpongeBob SquarePants-esque about his eye-popping, tongue-waving shriek).
The Yoda/Anakin story is written by Cavan Scott, and is a much more sober one. The Separatists' folding-chair droids are on a planet seeking a secret of invisibility for their leader General Flebek (a Clone Wars cartoon villain, I assume? She seems pre-existent), and the pair of Jedi must find a way to protect the planet's inhabitants while also convincing the bad guys that there is no secret of invisibility to be found there.

I liked this splash page, in which we see the rag-tag group of aliens that Yoda's friend Kreeda, last of the Segredo (that's the one that looks like a cat with antennae and bifocals), has been hiding there, slowly being revealed:
I recognize most of the species, but not the ones on the far-right: The chicken/egg thing, the bat baby and the thing that looks like a baby Wookie with the face of a seal. (Depressing thought I had after reading this? Yoda and Anakin decide to keep Kreeda's secret, so that she can continue to use "psychic invisibility" to protect all of those hiding out there from the war. But then Anakin turns to the Dark Side eventually and becomes an amoral killing machine shortly afterwards; does that mean Darth Vader came back and killed all those guys? Even the cute ones?)

Between those two is another Scott-written story, this one drawn by Mauricet, and featuring General Obi-Wan Kenobi and Captain Rex, battling a gigantic droid army. They receive unexpected help from a battle droid, who suffers a short-circuit to its processor and becomes their ally, helping them off the battlefield.

The other two stories are "Tales From Wild Space" ones, the first of which also stars one of the "roger, roger" battle droids. Entitled "The Long March," it's written and drawn by Nick Brokenshire, and features a droid who falls off of his troop carrier, and must then march his way through the dangers of an alien worlds flora and fauna until his unit recovers him. Brokeshire's artwork is stylistically quite different from Mauricets or Charm's, being a great deal more detailed and featuring softer colors that evoked European fantasy comics to me.

Then there is writer George Mann and artist Valentina Pinto's "The Journey," in which padawan Bariss Offee goes on a mission in a trap-filled temple at her master Luminara's request, which felt familiar, if only because I've read a couple of Star Wars comics in the past year or so where characters make their way through trap-filled temples on missions that are basically maguffins.

Anyway, for such a short book, there's a great deal of variety in style, both in the types of stories and the look and feel of the art. Star Wars Adventures doesn't usually seem or feel as "important" as the many Marvel series, but I almost always end up having more fun reading them.



REVIEWED:

The Runaway Princess (RH Graphic) Johan Troïanowski's comic is great and everyone should go read it immediately. Here, you can go read my review of it, but then, after that, don't read anything else until you've read The Runaway Princess, got it...? You won't be sorry.


Shadow of The Batgirl (DC Comics) As a fan of the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl and the extremely solid first half or so of her 2000-2006 series, during which Kelley Puckett, Damion Scott and Robert Campanella were the primary creators, I was excited when this book was first announced, although I also had some trepidation. DC's attempts to keep Cassandra Cain in circulation post-New 52boot have been pretty quixotic, and I was pretty disappointed with her reinvention as "Orphan" in the pages of Batman and Robin Eternal and, later, James Tynion IV's Detective Comics run, and I wasn't familiar with the work of either of these creators.

But Shadow of The Batgirl both met and exceeded my expectations; here's the review of it I wrote for Good Comics For Kids, which I should note took me forever to write, and I went through about three different drafts, only to still be displeased with it (I hate writing reviews of books I really like, at least, professional, formal reviews for places that aren't my own blog, where I can't just gush and use a steady string of superlatives and exclamation points; there's a pressure to do the book justice, and I feel a greater responsibility to persuade readers that a book is really worth their reading, rather than just offering a general assessment).

It took Kuhn and Goux about a half-dozen pages to draw me in, at the point where kid assassin Cassandra Cain decides mid-hit to spare the life of a target, and then run away from the mysterious ring of assassins that her "assassin kingpin" father David Cain raised her in. That's when she curls up to sleep on a street and then later, starts eating garbage out of a dumpster, reminding me of my other favorite teenage girl/unbeatable ninja, Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's Street Angel. Cassandra quickly meets a new mentor original to this comic, and then, fleeing the loud, confusing world of the Gotham City streets she finds the Gotham Public Library, which artist Goux reveals in a glorious two-page spread as a beautiful, cathedral-like palace of books, and, of course, a welcome oasis to a silent character like Cass.

It's while hiding out there that she first lays eyes on Barbara Gordon, who is the midst of a story time about Batgirl. Cass then begins her journey toward a new life. Remarkably, Kuhn imports the basics of Cassandra's origin story and the essential conflicts of her character arc and her mentor/apprentice relationship with Barbara completely in tact, if altered a bit. It's not really an act of surgery, severing the bits of monthly comics continuity, as it is an act of rebirth: This is Cassandra Cain's story, retold. Narratively, it's like a novel or film adaptation of a huge chunk of Puckett, Scott and company's Batgirl run, only it's a comic.

Stripped down of shared-universe trivia, there's no mention of Lady Shiva, there's no No Man's Land (obviously), Barbara is not yet Oracle, and, almost shockingly, there's no mention of Batman. We see a bat-symbol in the sky at one point, and an image of Commissioner Gordon in a flashback, but Kuhn and Goux keep the focus on the female characters admirably, excising details that might seem key to the characters in the DC Universe, but aren't essential. For example, there's no mention of The Joker, or even how it came to be that Barbara Gordon is in a wheelchair. When telling her story, she mentions that there became less and less for her to do as Batgirl and she was drifting away from it (as she was in the comics in the 1980s), and then she had "an accident," and that's it. (The Barbara Gordon Batgirl that Goux draws in flashback and, somewhat charmingly, in Cassandra's scribbly sketches complete with notes that read things like "Gud? Hero Hero" and "Save Save Cach Supor Supor Supor" in the margins, wears the Babs Tarr-designed costume, rather than some version of the one that Carmine Infantino gave her on the cover of Detective Comics #359).
Additionally, it's extremely funny, something the original Cassandra Batgirl comics could sometimes be, but didn't focus their attention on. Because of her fish-out-of-water character, Cassandra Cain is understandably weird and awkward, sometimes due to her training, sometimes due to her skills, sometimes due to her lack of exposure to normal life. And there's just a lot of gags revolving around this sort of thing, like a running gag in which she blurts out information, and then says hello later, or a scene where she reaches out to attack a boorish boy who inadvertently tosses a book in her direction only to restrain herself at the last minute, or when she appears or disappears during lightning flashes in the middle of conversations with Barbara.

She's also, I can't stress this enough, a fucking fashion icon. I love every outfit she wears in this, from the clothes she fishes out of the library lost and found, to the the outfit Jackie dresses her in, to her homemade Batgirl costume, to these weird thrift store Jubilee get-ups she ends up in.

In fact, the only look I don't really like is the official Batgirl costume she makes herself out of Barbara's costume, at the end of the book when she becomes the new Batgirl and Barbara becomes her Oracle and Jackie becomes...someone. It's basically a final version of the one she made herself, but being slicker and more polished, it lacks the charm. It also reminds me a bit too much of the original DC Super Hero Girls Batgirl costume, I guess, with the bat-eared hood.

I'm not sure if there will be more stories set in the world of this book, so far the Young Adult books all seem to be standalones, although some of the kids books are series or promise sequels, but I really, reallly liked this, and I wish this was the Cassandra Cain we got in The New 52, rather than Orphan.


She-Ra and The Princesses of Power: Legend of The Fire Princess (Graphix) The Noelle Stevenson-run Netflix reboot of She-Ra gets its very first graphic novel spin-off, and while it's not too terribly exciting compared to some of the other, wilder comics spin-offs of television cartoons, it's definitely in-keeping with the mood and tone of the show. In fact, this felt an awful lot like an abandoned idea for an episode or two translated into a slim graphic novel instead. My review of it can be read here.



*So I recently made it about 60 pages into Batman Vol. 11: The Fall and The Fallen, and I just had to give up. I couldn't take anymore of Tom King's Batman run. (But hey, I lasted ten whole volumes! That's a lot!). My interest started to flag in the first issue, Batman #70, which consisted of nothing other than Batman fighting his way out of Arkham, taking on one rogue at a time and delivering pithy, bad-ass Arnold Schwarzenegger-style dialogue throughout, while an unnamed character with a beard who I am guessing is supposed to be Maxie Zeus just because of the beard, quotes never-credited poetry. To be specific, it was William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and then something from The Divine Comedy, but none of that is Greek, so I don't know, maybe it wasn't Zeus. Maybe it was just a random Arkham madman. All the while, the art shifted at randomly between that of Jorge Fornes, who is a truly great artist and whom I hope gets to do something at DC that is as high-profile as this but, you know, good, and Mikel Janin, who has been attached to King's run off-and-on since the very beginning.

Then I struggled through two more issues of the two artists trading back and forth during what appeared to be some kind of advanced Bane gaslighting campaign against Batman, full of a sort of dull fight scene between Bane and Batman, and then I got to a point where the
Flashpoint Batman reappeared and, oh God, I just couldn't take it any more. I'm tapping out. I'll come back to see what James Tynion IV does, but I can't take any more of King's Batman.


**I don't know if you remember Captain Crook or not. I did not. He was a pirate character linked to the filet o' fish sandwich, and was retired from advertising in 1985. I don't remember seeing him in any commercials, despite how many I was bombarded with as a child during Saturday morning cartoons, but then, I would have been about eight-years-old when he stopped appearing, so any memories of McDonald's I had would have been fairly foggy (I do remember the plastic boats that the Happy Meals came in, and I guess one of those boats was his, but I don't have specific memories of the details of those things, just that they were cool and my sister, cousin and I liked them). If you would like to learn more about Captain Crook and the McDonaldland characters in general, I would highly recommend their Wikipedia page, which I will re-read every once in a while, because I find it so fascinating. Like, did you know Sid and Marty Kroft sued McDonald's for plagiarizing H.R. Pufnstuf in 1973...and won?! It's true! Wikipedia is the greatest!