Sunday, May 24, 2015

Marvel's August previews reviewed

By my count, Marvel plans to publish 79 comic book-format books this August, if you include the issues of books that will double-ship that month, like Guardains Team-Up and Star Wars: Lando. Of those 79 comics, 62 of them will be Secret Wars tie-in, including Secret Wars #6 and the various titles dealing with the events of Secret Wars, whether or not their solicitation ends with the words "SECRET WARS SERIES" or not (like Ms. Marvel and Magneto, for example).

That seems like an awful lot of comics, although, to be fair, the tie-ins seem set up in such a way that few if any of them are at all necessary to the plot of Secret Wars, and are instead more an exercise in in the creators from Marvel's surprisingly deep bench (plus some outsiders) taking a fairly unique opportunity to play with the characters and concepts of the Marvel Universe in ways they wouldn't normally be able to.

Most of the books look like they will be somewhere between mildly interesting and totally awesome, although I should also note that they are all $3.99 (or more) a pop–only Ms. Marvel and the two books based on Marvel cartoons are still at the once-standard $2.99 price point. Looking at these then fills me with anxiety then, as I'm really rather interested in reading a lot of them, but I'm not sure how I'll be able to do so.

Certainly many of the Secret Wars tie-in series will be long and distinct enough that they will almost certainly be collected on their own, like Thors, Weirdworld or Where Monsters Dwell. Those I can buy in trade or find easily at a library.

But what about something like, say, this month's Howard The Human, a one-shot? I'm assuming it will end up being collected with similar humorous one-shots, like this month's Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra, which I am not interested in reading. I suppose I could just borrow that eventual trade from the library and read the parts I want, but hoo boy, is that going to be hard to find, as by that point there should be dozens of books with the words "Secret Wars" somewhere in their title and, if past Marvel events are any indication, several books will have almost identical titles, and every library tends to catalog titles their own way.

I'm considering quitting my day job at a local library and applying for a job at a local comic shop, just so I can read all of these damn things for free while I'm "working" just to keep up.

I was also curious to see which books were not tying in to Secret Wars in any way, shape or form. Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers...most of Marvel's biggest and most reliable franchises are being sucked into Secret Wars completely, while the books shipping in August that have nothing to do with it include those on the fringes, like All-New Hawkeye, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and some Guardians of The Galaxy-related books.

Finally, if you've read through all of Marvel's August solicitations–which you can do here, you'll notice that, like DC Comics, they too will have a theme for their variant covers for the month (aside from "a lot," of course, which is their regular, ongoing theme for every month). Many of those solicitations include the words "MANGA ARTIST VARIANT COVER BY TBA."

Assuming TBA is an acronym for To Be Announced and not the name of a particular manga studio, then it would appear that Marvel plans to have manga artists draw a bunch of covers for their books that are shipping in three months, they just haven't lined-up which artists yet.

At least, I'm assuming from the phrasing that they will be hiring actual manga artists, rather than having American artists draw in manga style, otherwise I'm assuming it would say "MANGA VARIANT COVER BY TBA."

Anyway, because Secret Wars continues to so dominate Marvel's output, there's not a whole lot to say about this crop of books, other than "Huh, that looks weird," but let's take a look anyway, shall we...?


A-FORCE PRESENTS VOL. 1 TPB
Written by NATHAN EDMONDSON, KELLY SUE DECONNICK, G. WILLOW WILSON, CHARLES SOULE, JASON AARON & RYAN NORTH
Penciled by PHIL NOTO, DAVID LOPEZ, ADRIAN ALPHONA, JAVIER PULIDO, RUSSELL DAUTERMAN & ERICA HENDERSON
Cover by RUSSELL DAUTERMAN, DAVID LOPEZ & SARA PICHELLI
Marvel’s most amazing heroes step into the spotlight in this all-action book packed with adventure, danger, drama…and fun! Black Widow seeks redemption for her past — in ways the Avengers wouldn’t approve! Carol Danvers takes on the legacy of Captain Marvel and lives her dream of traveling to the stars! Teenager Kamala Khan fights crime as Ms. Marvel — but is she ready for this dangerous new life? She-Hulk isn’t just a green powerhouse — her skills as an attorney will knock her opponents’ socks off! A mysterious woman wields the enchanted hammer Mjolnir, and claims the powers of the mighty Thor! And Squirrel Girl faces her greatest challenge yet: college! Whatever your tastes, there’s something here for everyone! Collecting BLACK WIDOW (2014) #1, CAPTAIN MARVEL (2014) #1, MS. MARVEL (2014) #1, SHE-HULK (2014) #1, THOR (2014) #1 and UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #1.
136 PGS./Rated T+ …$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9898-7


Well this looks kinda dumb. While I like those issues that are included that I've read a whole lot–Ms. Marvel #1 and She-Hulk #1–and the idea of a sort of sampler of comics starring Marvel heroines sounds solid in theory, I don't really see how this will fly.

Based on the page-count, price-point and the fact that it has an ISBN, I'm assuming this will be a trade paperback format book with a spine, something you'd find on the shelves of a book store or a library (and with the trades at a comic shop), rather than on a comic rack somewhere (They still have those here and there, right? I know I've seen comics racked with magazines at Barnes and Noble, at least).

But say you invest $15 in it, and you like a couple of the books, like perhaps you liked Ms. Marvel #1 and She-Hulk #1 as much as I did, enough to decide you want to follow those series. Well, then you'd by the first volume of those trades, and you'd be re-buying chapters you've already bought and owned (Unless you're just using your library to get trades, in which case never mind). If you're going to gamble $15 in the hopes of finding a series you'll like, why not just start with Ms. Marvel Vol. 1...? If you like somewhere between one and all of these issues, it's going to be something of a waste to buy this trade. And if you don't like any of them, well, that's also a waste. (A money-losing $3, comic book-format collection of three of those titles might have been a better bet).

There's an excellent chance that I have no idea what I'm talking about, of course. Maybe this will prove to be the American equivalent of those phonebook-sized manga anthology periodicals they put out in Japan, and everyone will buy the hell out of it.

I also kind of hate the name, and I'm not sure why they picked it. "A-Force" is, of course, the name of the all-lady Avengers team in one of the Secret Wars tie-ins. You've probably heard of it. It was in The New York Times and everything. It's a dumb name, even in the context of its own book, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the contents of this book, save for the fact that some of the characters appearing in this also appear in A-Force. Why you'd want to drag Secret Wars continuity baggage into a trade seemingly aimed at brand-new readers, however, I don't know. Perhaps Marvel thought the "A-Force" name would boost the marketability, given the media coverage of Secret Wars during the time the volume would be released. Even still, it has a built-in expiration date, as A-Force, like everything else tied to Secret Wars, is a temporary state of affairs.

That said, I'm afraid I can't think of a better name. It beats Girl Comics, I suppose.


Oh my, look at all the Cat-Beasts on Ian Bertram's cover for E Is For Extinction! Wait, I mean, Oh my stars and garters, look at all the Cat-Beasts on Ian Bertram's cover for E Is For Extinction! I just want to pet the hell out of everyone on that cover. Except for the one dude not covered in blue fur, of course. But maybe I'd tousle his hair.


HOWARD THE HUMAN #1
SKOTTIE YOUNG (w) • JIM MAHFOOD (a)
Cover by JIM MAHFOOD
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• Spend a day with Howard, a private investigator and the only human living in city full of animals. But not, like, criminals and lowlifes. We’re talking elephants, apes, ducks and kitty cats. Catching a case, grinding a few gears, dodging some bullets and almost getting killed by an anthropomorchic monstrosity. It’s just another Monday for Howard the Human brought to you by Skottie Young (ROCKET RACCOON) and Jim Mahfood (MIAMI VICE REMIX).
32 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$3.99


Well, this is a funny title, although it seems like the kind of gag in which the title is the entire joke (kind of like the way headlines at The Onion are generally sufficient, and one need not read the article itself). That said, it's Young and Mahfood, so if there is more to the gag, it's a pretty sure bet those two can find it. If nothing else, you've got at least 20-pages of Mahfood drawing animals.


KANAN - THE LAST PADAWAN #5
GREG WEISMAN (W) • PEPE LARRAZ (A)
Cover by MARK BROOKS
• Caleb has been captured by Clone Troopers Grey & Styles!
• Can he turn his back on his Jedi training completely?
• The final chapter of the secret origin of Star Wars Rebels’ Kanan Jarrus!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Oh, I have not.


I like this Ms. Marvel cover by the ever reliable Kris Anka. That is all.


SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVE #1
MICHEL FIFFE, FELIPE SMITH, MARGUERITE BENNETT, JEREMY WHITLEY, KATIE COOK & MORE! (w)
MICHEL FIFFE, FELIPE SMITH, KRIS ANKA, GURIHIRU, KATIE COOK & MORE! (a)
Cover by DAVID NAKAYAMA
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, CAN THEIR LOVE SURVIVE?
• ROBBIE REYES/KAMALA KHAN!
• TYPHOID MARY/KAREN PAGE/MATT MURDOCK!
• AND MANY MORE SECRET LOVE AFFAIRS...
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Parental Guidance …$4.99
*SECRET WARS SERIES


Well, I count about a half-dozen creators I really like, and two of my favorite newer Marvel characters on the cover, so this looks good. Now I wonder where it will end up being collected...


THORS #3
JASON AARON (w) • CHRIS SPROUSE & GORAN SUDZUKA (A)
Cover BY CHRIS SPROUSE
VARIANT COVER BY DALE KEOWN
MANGA ARTIST VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• After a series of brutal and mysterious murders, the Thors have finally brought in a suspect for questioning -- Loki!
• But how does one get the truth from the Prince of Lies?
• The Ultimate Thor is about to find out…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
*SECRET WARS SERIES


The problem with a police force composed entirely out of Thors is that they'll always be bringing Loki in for questioning, wont' they?


WEIRDWORLD #4
JASON AARON (w) • MIKE DEL MUNDO (a/C)
MANGA ARTIST VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• The weirdness continues as Arkon finds himself trapped in the swamp of the Man-Things. Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgan le Fay marches with her army of Lava Men and gun-toting ogres toward Arkon’s home of Polemachus.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
*SECRET WARS SERIES

The only thing better than seeing the word "Man-Thing" pop up in Marvel solicitations may be seeing the word "Man-Things" pop up in Marvel solicitations.


Over the years, I have seen many images of white men cooking in stew pots. And I have seen many images of dinosaurs hungrily eyeing human beings. But I don't think I've ever seen both things in the same image before. So way to go Frank Cho. This is, by the way, the cover for August's issue of Where Monsters Dwell, the Garth Ennis/Russell Braun series in which The Phantom Eagle fights dinosaurs.


Check out Pepe Larraz's cover for X-Men '92 #3, a series I hope against hope will continuing publishing until it reaches 100 issues, just because I will enjoy typing X-Men '92 #92 someday. Now I'm not generally a fan of Deadpool and his antics, but is that Deadpool inventing the selife decades early with a nunchuck-mounted Polaroid camera...? Okay, bravo Deadpool.

Friday, May 22, 2015

DC's August Previews Reviewed

The variant theme for this month–every month has a variant theme now, apparently–is another round of "Bombshells" variants. As you're likely aware, those are the covers in which various DC heroines were presented as WWII-era pin-up girls in various contexts (mostly having to do with advertising of some sort, like Mera advertising Atlantean tourism, or Wonder Woman-as-Rosie The Riveter on an inspirational, war effort-like poster). It's also the name of a line of those goofy little statues; I'm not sure which came first, the statues or the variants, but the latter certainly seemed rather popular (and often very cool; the A League of Their Own-style Batwoman may just be my favorite Batwoman costume ever).

So this month we get another bunch of Bombshell covers, this time including male heroes as well. I recall some complaining that there were no male Bombshell covers on the Internet the last time, and while I kind of rolled my eyes at the time–I suppose it was sexist, but then, they were evoking a sexist art form from a sexist time period–but DC apparently heard and responded to that criticism.

One could still quibble that most of the men aren't as unclothed as the women–and something tells me some of those who complained about the lack of male Bombshells last time will do so–but we do get a shirtless Aquaman, so hey, there's that (Kind of disappointed that we don't get a similarly exposed Nightwing, as Dick Grayson is the universally-acknowledted Sexiest Man Alive...In The DC Universe. Maybe if they do a month of People magazine-inspired covers).

More interesting still, DC is launching a Bombshells comic book series, which will apparently feature some sort of super-team consisting of various Bombshell designed characters. That's kind of exciting; I enjoyed the similar Ame-Comi Girls series...at least for a few issues. I liked seeing those designs in a comic book, a medium I enjoy, rather than in a collectible statue, a medium I don't understand the appeal of. That particular series lost me after a half-dozen issues, as the story sort of meandered into medioctricty (the inconsistent, ever-changing art didn't help), but it was fun from a curiosity-sating point-of-view for a while. I assume this will be at least as good.

Other than that, DC seems to just be just keeping-on with their new, post-New 52,
"DC You" (they're not really calling it that, are they?) status quo. For the complete solicitations for the comics DC plans to publish in August, you can click here; otherwise, stick around here for my talking about 'em...

Okay, so here's Action Comics, where we see our first male "Bombshell," in the form of Superman, being held aloft by his sometimes cousin, Power Girl. As you can see, he's not showing as much flesh as some of the other female bombshells. On the other hand, OH MY GOD LOOK AT HIS MUSTACHE IT'S SO COOL!!!!

Superman's gone through like three or four different redesigns since September of 2011, but I think it's safe to say that this, this is the best of them all. Throw a short cape on Bombshell Superman, and let's have that guy start appearing on all the Superman books, huh?

(Say, did you guys read DC's FCBD offering? In it, we learned that Lois Lane revealed Superman's dual identity to the world, and, in order to disguise himself, he stopped wearing glasses and started wearing a hoodie with the hood up. Not exactly a master of disguise. But hey, what if he grew that fantastic mustache? Surely no one would recognize him then! It just makes so much sense for Superman to have an old-timey handlebar mustache in current continuity!)



AQUAMAN #43
Written by CULLEN BUNN
Art and cover by TREVOR McCARTHY
Bombshells Variant cover by ANT LUCIA
On sale AUGUST 26 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
Since his exile from Atlantis, Aquaman has been exhibiting strange new powers. Now learn the secret of these powers as the former king comes face-to-face with Poseidon! And as the Atlantis of old wages war on Earth, the forces behind Arthur and Mera’s estrangement are revealed! All is not what it seems...


Well, I don't like the looks of what appears to be a strange new direction for Aquaman, although, to be fair, I haven't seen much of it, just a few covers and the eight-page preview in the back of Convergence: Suicide Squad #2. It strikes me as pretty early for such a radical overhaul, and Cullen Bunn is the third writer on the series so far. Aquaman has had a relatively low turnover for a New 52 book, but that's simply because the bar being set low. Three writers in a little over three years is too many (By contrast, DC's best and best-selling New 52 book, Batman, has had exactly one writer; I haven't been too fond of Justice League, but it too sells really well and has had but one writer since the relaunch).

The one thing I do like about this new direction is that it seems to introduce a version of Garth/Tempest, in a blue costume and general design somewhat akin to that of the one he sports on Teen Titans/Teen Titans Go!. I like his old magical scar/tattoo better than this one though...

Oh yeah, and how about that Ant Lucia variant cover? There's some Bombshell beefcake to go with the cheesecake!


BATGIRL #43
Written by CAMERON STEWART and BRENDEN FLETCHER
Art by BABS TARR
Cover by DAVID LAFUENTE
On sale AUGUST 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Tech genius Luke Fox has brought his startup to Burnside, and he seems to be hiring all of Barbara’s friends…but not her! Unfortunately, someone else is setting up shop in Burnside as well…the mysterious Velvet Tiger!


Velvet Tiger?! If you were to ask me to name a Batgirl villain–not a Batman villain that Batgirl sometimes fights, or an Oracle villain–Velvet Tiger would be both the first and last name I would be able to think of. So I'm pretty excited to see her appearing in Batgirl, especially since I anticipate it being a pretty cool design, based on, um, everything Stewart and Tarr have designed and drawn for this book so far.


BATMAN #43
Written by SCOTT SNYDER
Art by GREG CAPULLO and DANNY MIKI
Cover by GREG CAPULLO
Bombshells Variant cover by ANT LUCIA
On sale AUGUST 12 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
In the start of a new epic, a new villain stalks Gotham City. Will Batman be able to uncover the mystery of Mr. Bloom?


Now that's a Batman villain! He's got a striking, intriguing look which, when paired with his name, makes it so I can't wait to find out exactly what his whole deal is.


BATMAN ‘66 #26
Written by JEFF PARKER
Art by LUKAS KETNER
Cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale AUGUST 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
Can it be? Is Louie the Lilac really pushing up daisies? Batman’s investigation of the criminal’s apparent demise leads him to the abandoned Isley Nursery. But it’s a floral trap that awaits the Dynamic Duo as they encounter a new villainess, the one and only Poison Ivy!


In a month devoted to special variant covers featuring sexy drawings, regular old Batman '66 cover artist Mike Allred delivers the month's sexiest drawing. I'm pretty sure I've said this a few times before–probably 25 times before, based on the issue number–but DC reeeaaaalllly needs to get Allred to draw an entire issue of Batman '66 some day. Preferably one starring Batgirl.


BATMAN YEAR 100 DELUXE EDITION HC
Written by PAUL POPE
Art and cover by PAUL POPE
On sale OCTOBER 14 • 240 pg, FC, 7.0625” x 10.875”, $29.99 US
Visionary writer/artist Paul Pope presents a futuristic mystery of epic proportions! In Gotham City, 2039, a federal agent is murdered, and a contingent of Washington’s top agents is hot on the trail of the Batman, long thought gone, but now the suspect in the murder. This new collection of the 4-issue miniseries includes never before published sketch material!

If you like comics, Batman and/or Paul Pople–and I have good reason to believe you like at least one of those things–than you're going to want to read this. If, for some reason you haven't, it looks like DC is offering a nice, big, "deluxe" version for you to purchase late this summer (although you can find trades of it in your library right this second). Years after reading it for the first time, I'm not super-clear on all of the individual aspects of the plot, which seemed very post-9/11 (to the point that I'm curious about how it might have aged), but what I remember most clearly are 1.) The contents of Batman's utility belt laid-out and explained, which I found interesting and exciting (as it handicapped Pope from the easy cheat of having Batman pull-out whatever the hell the writer wanted at any given point), 2.) Batman eating (something one hardly ever sees), 3.) Batman's fake vampire teeth, which took the whole theatrical, dressing-like-a-bat-to-scare-criminals thing to a logical, hilarious extreme and 4.) How goddam awesome that folded-up Bat-cycle in a tarp looked; it was like a giant, mechanical bat hanging upside down (I'm pretty sure a much weaker version of that showed up in a Batman comic within the last few months).

Anyway, this is awesome.


CONSTANTINE: THE HELLBLAZER #3
Written by MING DOYLE and JAMES TYNION IV
Art by VANESA DEL REY
Cover by RILEY ROSSMO
...
On sale AUGUST 12 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
...
Someone is murdering ghosts, a supernatural crime so impossible to solve that John Constantine is forced to return to London and seek help from the one person he hates more than any other; a magician above reproach, a darling of London high society, and a friend to superheroes everywhere. She is Georgiana Snow…the HECKBLAZER!

I really like the first nine words of this solicitation, especially the first four.


DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #1
Written by MARGUERITE BENNETT
Art by MARGUERITE SAUVAGE
Cover by ANT LUCIA
On sale AUGUST 12 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST
...
The ultra-popular statues from DC Collectibles come to life in their own ongoing comic book series! Learn the story behind this alternate reality where the Second World War is fought by superpowered women on the front lines and behind the scenes! It all begins with the stories of Batwoman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl.


So here's the aforementioned Bombshells comic. Based on the cover, and the similar Ame-Comi Girls series, I assume this will be some kind of super-team book, but reading the solicitation closely, perhaps it will be more of an anthology series.

Whichever, I'll be interested in checking it out. I am particularly amused by the thought that DC chose this particular creative team based solely on the fact that they both have the same first name.


This variant cover for Deathstroke is a good example of one that elicits an increasingly common reaction from me: Why couldn't the interior of the book reflect the infinitely more interesting variant cover than the story of the regular cover?


Despite having died and had her consciousness somehow downloaded into a Red Tornado android, Lois Lane is apparently returning to her old job as a reporter on the new Earth-2, which I'm assuming is going to be Telos, terraformed into something more Earth-like after the events of Convergences (If that is the case, I wonder if it will stay in the universe of Earth-0, where Telos is headed, return to whatever universe Telos was housed in, or if it will return to the universe Earth-2 is from?).

I was all set to make a comment about how ridiculously tight her business attire is, but then I remembered she has been completely naked, without so much as a cape to cover her shoulders and back, since she came online.


THE FLASH #43
Written by ROBERT VENDITTI and VAN JENSEN
Art and cover by BRETT BOOTH and NORM RAPMUND
Bombshells Variant cover by ANT LUCIA
On sale AUGUST 26 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
...
Barry Allen is a man divided, forced to either help his father remain on the run from the law, or bring him to justice. As Barry grapples with that impossible choice, The Flash becomes a target of the Folded Man, a mysterious deadly new villain to Central City who’s hell-bent on tearing The Flash apart—literally!

Created by writer Mark Waid in 1999, back when the star of The Flash was a mysterious character in a black costume and Waid was stoking speculation as to who was under the mask as a strong-selling point, The Folded Man comes from a particularly unusual vintage to be reintroduced post-Flashpoint. He's so young a character, and so associated with a particular creator, that this is one of those instances where I actually feel kind of funny about other creators using him.

Like, they're only 43 issues into this new volume of The Flash; did they really run out of all the other villain to use, and all the new villains of their own they want to create? (Did they use The Turtle yet? They should use The Turtle.)


Hey, that's not Green Arrow on the Bombshell variant for Green Arrow #43, it's Black Canary! And now she has her own book, so shouldn't be be on a variant cover for Black Canary...?

Regardless, this is a particularly nice offering by Ant Lucia (Did you know I have a sister named Lucia? Which makes her my nieces' Aunt Lucia?).

Because of the text, though, whenever I look at it, all I can think of is this extremely weird bit from the extremely weird Batman: The Brave and The Bold cartoon.


Okay, that's pretty cool. Bravo, Ant Lucia.


I like how all three of these superheroines (only one of whom is actually on the Justice League) are wearing versions of uniforms from different branches of the military.

You know, it's really too bad that Mera's become such a horrible character, as she would actually fit in okay with the Justice League, with her and Aquaman kinda sorta replacing the old Satellite Era Hawkman and Hawkgirl as the team's married couple. (Or wait, was Hawkgirl just an ally, because of some clause in the JLA charter about no duplication of powers? Which was bullshit, considering the overlap in Superman and Martian Manhunters' power-sets. Maybe I'm just thinking of Hawkman and Hawkgirl from the Alex Ross fantasy version of the Satellite Era League...(

SECTION 8 #3
Written by GARTH ENNIS
Art by JOHN McCREA
Cover by AMANDA CONNER
On sale AUGUST 12 • 32 pg, FC, 3 of 6, $2.99 US • RATED T+
All of Sixpack’s problems are solved when J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter, volunteers for the team—ready to blaze into battle with the heroes of Section Eight. But as news spreads across the DC Universe, can our hero’s good luck really last? Can Bueno Excellente defeat an unexpected rival for the hand of his lady love? What is J’onn J’onzz thinking? And what’s that smell?

And speaking of J'onn J'onnz...! You know, I don't even think Section Eight is the worst superhero team J'onn's ever been on. I mean, he was on the Justice League Task Force during the '90s...

(Kidding! I loved and still love JLTF! Even if there were some of the worst DC Universe costumes prior to The New 52 on that team, and the L-Ron-in-Despero never really made much sense to me).

I wonder if I'll ever get used to the new shape of Martian Manhunter's head...


No lie: I love Zoot Suit Sinestro. Imagine how much cooler the Sinestro Corps would be if they all wore matching yellow zoot suits.


SUICIDE SQUAD VOL. 1: TRIAL BY FIRE TP
Written by JOHN OSTRANDER
Art by LUKE McDONNELL, KARL KESEL and BOB LEWIS
Cover by JERRY BINGHAM
On sale SEPTEMBER 2 • 232 pg, FC, $19.99 US
In these stories from SUICIDE SQUAD #1-8 and SECRET ORIGINS #14, the team must take down the evil Jihad before it can attack the U.S. Then, the Squad is sent into Russia to extract a famous dissident—but can they get out alive?

Good news? DC is finally printing a collection of the fan-favorite, critically-acclaimed Suicide Squad series by John Ostrander and company. Bad news? It's another printing of the one volume they've already printed. Hopefully this just means they're getting ready to start collecting the whole damn thing, as I have to assume there's going to be more interest in Suicide Squad comics in the next year or so than there has been in a long, long time, and well, it wouldn't hurt to have the good stuff available as well.

I had a friend tell me a friend of hers was interested in reading some Suicide Squad comics based solely on the announcement of the film, and wanted some recommendations for good Suicide Squad comics, since she'd heard the New 52 stuff was all pretty terrible (It is!). Trial By Fire was about all I could come up with.


And now it's time for my monthly making fun of the Teen Titans' costumes! So, just for the sake of comparing and contrasting, here are the variant cover and the regular cover for August's issue of Teen Titan, the former of which features Raven in a radically designed version of her costume...which still looks much closer in visuals and spirit to her original costume, and the costume she's worn in the two cartoons in which she's played a prominent role.

Can you even find raven on the "regular" cover? Do you think you'd be able to if you didn't know that her costume looked like she was wearing a suit of icicles already, and you only knew her from watching Teen Titans and Teen Titans go?


And hey, speaking of Teen Titans Go!, here's TTG's Dan Hipp's cover for the comic book-based on the cartoon-based on the comic books!

This too is a good example of the weakness of the New 52 costume designs. Hipp manages to draw them all pretty well, and to make them "fit" in his style and the world of this version of the Teen Titans, but man, compare those ultra-busy, line-filled costumes to the smoother, less-fussy costumes of the Titans in the foreground.

Also, where's your mustaches Diana? Don't use that old "But I'm a woman!" excuse. Starfire and Raven aren't letting a little thing like "being female" stopping them from sporting awesome mustaches.

...

Hey, this is the second time I've talked at some length about mustaches in this post. Maybe that will be the theme for the next round of variants: Mustaches.

No, better to wait for No-Shave November, when they can do mustaches and beards...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: May 20

Archie Vs. Predator #2 (Dark Horse Comics) Dustin Nguyen also drew one of the covers for this issue, but I went with the Dan Parent one, as it's in Archie "style" and features such a more intriguing story in its single image. I'm really enjoying the series so far, but I think it's worth noting that the stories suggested by some of the covers and pin-ups, those involving a Predator basically just joining the regular cast for regular Riverdale goings-on, have been even more interesting than the story itself.

For example, here we have the Predator apaprently hiding out behind the counter of the Chocklit Shoppe amid a pool of blood. There's a pin-up by Tim Seeley in the back, featuring a very realistically drawn Predator trying to stab an oblivous Veronica, wearing a skimpy bikini and filing her nails on a beach, while Betty (in an equally simpy bikini, one strap falling down) attempting to garrote the alien hunter with a jump rope.

Or check out the "next issue" image:
Wouldn't it be just as awesome if this were the story of a Predator attempting to take Veronica's place in the struggle against Betty for the romantic attention of Archie Andrews?

Maybe Dark Horse and Archie could just make this series an ongoing...?

After the gang met the Predator during spring break in Los Perdidos, it followed them back to Riverdale, and it begins to aggressively hunt them...apparently in an attempt to take down the most dangerous of them all, Veronica Lodge.

Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz and Rich Koslowski present us with the sort of imagery we're not used to seeing in modern Archie comics, or Archie comics of any era, really, like gratuitous cheesecake...
...and, um, Sabrina Spellman having her over-sized spine torn out of her lifeless corpse.
(Wait, did pencil artist Koslowski draw her spine too big, or her head too small...?)

I really liked the way that the characters tend to barely process all of this horror. For example, when they learn that the Blossoms were horribly killed, Jughead remains more interested in a chocolate cake Pop presents them with. And even when Pop's head explodes and the gang are covered in his blood, Jughead is torn between the brutal murder and the delicious chocolate cake.

And when they learn what's really going down, Kevin's dad passes out machine guns to the kids so they can hunt the PRedator together instead of, you know, leaving it to the army or town grown-ups or whoever.

The Preadator–a teenager of the species, we learn–makes short work of a large chunk of the cast, not only taking out Pop, Sabrina and Salem, but he also kills three characters in a single panel. Man, I can't believe Reggie Mantle went out like that; I had him pegged to be the second, maybe third-to-last man standing.

As with the first issue, there's a one-page Dark Horse/Archie back-up, this time featuring Little Archie (and Little Sabrina) and The Mask, drawn by Art Baltazar. It's not very good, and jumps around awkwardly, but it's only six panels.


Convergence #7 (DC Comics) Huh. It's the penultimate issue already. After a slow start in which it seemed as if nothing at all happened (starting with a #0 issue in which, in fact, nothing happened), the main, backbone Convergence miniseries suddenly exploded with characters and activity.

In the last issue, the "real" DC Universe (that is, The New 52-iverse/Earth-0) finally got involved, with various characters watching as Battleworld Telos began appearing in their universe. Also, the heroes of many of the stranded cities all teamed-up to fight Deimos, who enlisted the villians of the stranded worlds to fight back.

This issue, written by Jeff King and Scott Lobdell and drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Mark Morales, continues with those two main plotlines: The DC Universe reacting to the emergence of Telos, while the citizens of Telos all fight.

That fight fills up about 18 pages of the book, and is a pretty enjoyable crowd-of-heroes stories, full of characters that you might not have expected to be rubbing shoulders or trading blows with one another doing so (Ivan Reis' cover gives a pretty good taste of the range of characters from diverse eras of continuity and Elseworld stories that participate). Lopresti's no George Perez or Phil Jimenez, but he does pretty well drawing splash pages of up to 30 characters.

There remain choices that seem wrong in terms of which characters join which side of the battle, which is essentially the characters who are so good they refuse to fight or kill on Demios' say-so vs. the characters who are willing to kill others in order to rule the planet Telos. King seems to have decided that everyone from Kingdom Come is a bad guy and on the same side, for example, which is a little strange, given that Kingdom Come is all about various warring factions of superheroes fighting over their differing ideologies. And yet Jade, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel all fight on the same side. (And speaking of Captain Marvel, I'm not sure how he's even participating; if the characters of Kingdom Come were plucked from a point prior to the climactic battle, than Captain Marvel would be mind-controlled; if they were plucked from a point after the battle, he'd be dead).

It hardly matters, I suppose, as the outcome involves all of the characters from both sides realizing they should really be dog-piling on Deimos, even Telos himself. And then, oddly enough, Parallax just vaporizes Deimos all on his own, which makes one wonder why he didn't do that in the first place. With Deimos seemingly dead, the vague power he acquired via...whatever he did to the time-travellers gets released, and shoots like reality-warping lightning out into the DCU proper, showing Superman, Supergirl and Martian Manhunter various versions of themselves, (hopefully permanently) destroying the big rock Fake Watcher and breaking all of reality apart. Wait, I meant and breaking all of reality apart!!!

It sure sounds like the start of another round of reality-rebooting changes within the DCU, more akin to those of Infinite Crisis/52 than those of Crisis On Infinite Earths or Flashpoint, but that's probably not likely to be the case. I guess we'll have to wait seven more days to find out.

Which is one thing I really love about a weekly schedule when it comes to big event series like this–we only have to wait seven days to find out.


Convergence: Swamp Thing #2 (DC) The perfect creative team for a Swamp Thing/Vampire Batman team-up comic, Swamp Thing co-creator Len Wein and Vampire Batman co-creator Kelley Jones, finish up their two-part Convergence tie-in. The first issue was mostly just a Swamp Thing story, premised around what would happen to Swamp Thing and Abigal were they to be trapped in a city for a year, with Swampy lacking his connection to The Green and unable to leave a small patch of land.

At the climax, vampires showed up.

In this issue, after a fleet five-panel recap of Swamp Thing's origin and the events of the first issue, Vampire Batman (i.e. The Batman from the Doug Moench/Kelley Jones trilogy of Elseworlds comics that kicked off with Batman and Dracula: Red Rain, arrives to challenge Swamp Thing, his opponent in the tournament of cities.

Like the conclusions of all the Convergence tie-ins after week five, there's an element of the anti-climax to that element of the series, as we already know that the city vs. city deathmatches have all been called on account of Deimos usurping Telos' power. But that's okay, as this is more of a Brave and The Bold-style, two-hero Elseworlds team-up comic anyway. Batman agrees to forfeit, since he's not all that crazy about his undead life anyway (in fact, Vampire Batman willingly goes to his death at the end of Crimson Mist anyway, so this Vampire Batman must have been plucked from a time before the end of that story). In return, he asks Swamp Thing to help him free his Gotham of vampires.
This page is even better if you imagine Vampire Batman reading the creator credits attached to each character name.
I know Swamp Thing has encountered vampires repeatedly in the past, first in a story written by Wein himself, and later during a chapter of Alan Moore's "American Gothic" storyline, but I don't recall Swampy using his formidable plant powers to be such a vampire-busting force before. Wein has him grow long oaken spikes where his fingers used to be, and breathe garlic from his mouth. Later, he's got wooden pointy parts coming out of him all over the place, and even makes a sort of garlic napalm.
Jones draws the hell out of all this insanity, of course; his Swamp Thing is gloriously weird and gross and scary and cartoonish, all at once.

I highly doubt I would have enjoyed this as much were anyone but Jones drawing it, but I guess I need not worry about it, as Jones did draw it. I'm curious if I would have liked it as much were I not so familiar with the Red Rain books, though; Wein is from the same era of writers as Doug Moench, and can over-write his super-comics in the same way, so he too is a pretty perfect partner for Jones on the slightly-silly, over-the-top dark horror hero stuff. This read quite well as a sort of alternate ending to the Red Rain trilogy, or a sort of epilogue, but I'm not sure how well it stands on its own. Certainly its considerable virtues would remain in tact, but I think it gains a lot of its fun from its context, which is what makes the Convergence books that work and play fair with their source material so fun (and what damns the ones that don't so abysmally disappointing).


Donald Duck #1/#368 (IDW) What a dirty trick! This 42-page first issue begins with a 24-page story by Romano Scarpa, that ends with a cliffhanger and a box saying "See you in thirty!" and "To be concluded!" No fair! There's still 18-more pages in the book! They totally could have published the whole thing. What about those of us who thought we might just try the first issue, to see how we liked it, what with non-Barks, non-Rosa duck comics being kind of a tricky proposition, and some of us don't like paying more than $2.99 for a single issues, so those more Scrooge-like among us would want to test the book for value before committing? We now have to buy the second one too, or else live forever not knowing why the kidnappers made such a bizarre ransom demand!

That story features Donald getting one of those random, temporary jobs that was so often the catalyst for his comics; here it's as a kinda sorta reporter for his Uncle Gideon McDuck's crusading, anti-crime newspaper (one of several elements that seems out-dated, making me wonder when this comic was originally created).

As for the rest of the issue, there's a one-page gag strip drawn by Andrea Maccarini in such a highly loose and expressive style that it seemed at odds with the rest of the comic, a 10-pager in which Donald tries to win Duckburg's Funniest Home Videos (another rather dated element) that's drawn by Mau Heymans (whose longer-necked, longer-billed Donald was probably my favorite design of any of the four artists who drew Donalds in this issue), and finally a six-pager featuring Donald's heroin addict cousin (Okay, it's actually Fethry Duck, and he's just a bit eccentric and annoying, but the way artist Al Hubbard draws him here, he looks particularly strung-out).


Lumberjanes #14 (Boom Studios) This struck me as the best issue in a while, probably since the first story arc wrapped up. That may be due to the return of original artist Brooke Allen (and her absence during the last few issues making them seem a bit like fill-ins), or a higher-than-usual ratio of awesome things to pages, like the return of the Scouting Lads, the introduction of a cool new character with a house where every room is full of a scary, overwhelming surprise and Rosie and The Bear Woman teaming-up:

The gang from Roanoke cabin and Jen try to survive a night in the wilderness, but a sudden summer blizzard and a pack of large, antlered wolf monsters separate the campers from their counselor, with the latter finding herself in even greater danger from her rescuer.

This issue also has maybe the only thing better than dinosaurs in it: A giant ground sloth. A stuffed one, mind you, but before it was shot and mounted, it was totally a giant ground sloth.


Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #10 (DC) Now that's a Wonder Woman cover! Great job, Francesco Francavilla, and great job editor Kristy Quinn and/or whoever decided to hire an artist who draws exceptional covers to draw a cover for this comic, which has a tendency to feature covers that range from terrible (#3, #4, #5) to not-so-hot (#1, #2,#6, #7).

This issue has two stories, a 19-pager followed by a 9-pager (unless I miscounted, and they are actually 20-pages and 10-pages, which would seem to be more right). The first is written by Sara Ryan and drawn by Christian Duce. Ryan's script is surprisingly well fleshed-out, introducing several characters with a decent amount of dimension and realiziation for such a short, one-off story. There are some fun, funny moments too, including Wonder Woman using the word "mansplaining" (the result of her lasso of truth encircling a particular character) and referring to a song as her jam).

The story follows Wonder Woman, oddly referred to as "Ms. Prince" at least once, who is called on to serve as extra security by a woman who provides security and tutoring to a teenage pop star. The message is a bit messily conveyed, I'm afraid, as the villain is a man who wants to prevent the pop star from going in a different direction. He wants her to stay a girl, "feminine, and sweet, and wholesome," and to "stand against what this sick culture want to make them into..."

He's specifically attacking the star and her fans because she wants to move from music into movies, and she plans on making a boxing movie about a tough, bad-ass boxer. The villain's opposition to her playing such a role, which he sees as hurting men as well, seems at odds with some of the other language he uses ("inappropriate," the above bit about a sick culture) and, when we see his "origin," he's upset about the fact that another pop star has become a tabloid target for being "arrested again," being photographed while drunk and swearing at a photographer. The narration says he prefers the earlier stage of her career, in which she's wearing pig-tails and is singing on what appears to be a amalgam of Sesame Street and Yo Gabba Gabba!

That pop star's name? "Normandy Shields," which seems awfully close to "Brittany Spears," whose career began with The Mickey Mouse Club before she grew up and began exploiting her sexuality in her videos and, later, became unfortuante tabloid fodder.

Of course, seeing little girl pop stars exploiting their entree into womanhood for fame and fortune, and the attendant problems with alcohol and/or other substances and/or bad behavior that sometimes accompanies it, is an entirely different thing than a little girl pop star wanting to make a serious film where she plays a bad-ass. I suppose the bad guy is a bad guy, and crazy enough to threaten a woman and try to kill her fans in order to keep her public persona the one he wants her to have, so we maybe aren't meant to think too closely about these things. But it's difficult to tell if he's conflating the two, because he's a crazy villain, or if the writer is.

They're big, tough issues though, and maybe 20 pages or less isn't the best way to tackle them, especially when there's so much else going on. Let's put this under interesting failure then, shall we?

As for the back-up, it's written and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, and it too is an interesting failure...although it fails more than the opening story. Entitled "Casualties of War," its about the last dragon of a certain island attacking Wonder Woman's city (Washington D.C.? Gateway? Boston? London? It never says; a problem of these continuity-free stories, I suppose) in order to avenge the deaths of its kind, who were all killed by Wonder WOman's mom in the past. (To be fair to Hippolyta, she was attacking the pirates who shared an island home with the dragons; the dragons fought the Amazons simply because they were invading, and the Amazons fought the dragons because the dragons were fighting them.)

Wonder Woman tries to talk to the dragon for a while, but eventually is just like, "Fuck it," and kills it, and is then very sad about having to have killed the dragon, even though she didn't really have to. She doesn't use her lasso on the dragon at all, and is apparently not strong or smart enough to figure out a way to trap or defeat the dragon without throwing a metal pole into its heart.

There's a weird part where the dragon says it was told to attack Wonder Woman's city by "the dragon god," which Lopresti draws like a humanoid dragon in a robe, and Wonder Woman counters with, "You've been deceived! There is no dragon god--"

Okay, first off, Wonder Woman seems awfully sure about the fact that there is no such god as a dragon god. Just because you're pretty tight with the Greek pantheon doesn't mean there's no dragon god; what, you know all the gods now, Wonder Woman?

And secondly, even if Wonder Woman knows there's no dragon god–not simply doesn't believe there's no drgon god, but knows it, surely that doesn't mean the dragon can't believe in the dragon god. Like, I'm pretty sure if she were fighting a human being with certain religious beliefs who said their god or a supernatural figure particular to their religion, she wouldn't just yell at them that their god doesn't exist.

As to the deception, it turns out Wonder Woman was right! There's a helmeted figure posing as the dragon god, who is never named. I think it's meant to be Ares, even though Lopresti draws him differently than the Perez desgin that dominated Wonder Woman comics, although it could be The Duke of Deception, given that this is more his M.O....although, again, he doesn't really match up with Lopresti's depiction (and he's awfully obscure compared to Ares...but he did just appear in Scooby-Doo Team-Up, so who knows).

I understand what Lopresti was going for, but this is another of those Wonder Woman-as-reluctant warrior where she just seems like a failure; you wouldn't see Batman or Superman goaded into killing an opponent because they couldn't think of another way to deal with them without stabbing them to death.


Uncle Scrooge #2/#406 (IDW) This actually came out last Wednesday, but I neglected to purchase it, perhaps because I didn't expect it; it's seems like I had just read the first issue. This issue, I thought, was actually stronger than the first, but perhaps that simply a prejudice of certain types of duck stories over others: That first issue lead off with a Scrooge vs. Beagle Boys story, whereas this one features a big adventure story.

The lead story is by writer Jan Kruse and artist Bas Heymans, and is somewhat shaggy in nature, but in a pleasing way involving unexpected twists and turns, rather than straight up random events. Scrooge and his nephews all go fishing, encounter a haunted ship, are taken to an cursed island with cursed pirates, and engage in a quest to break the cures, during which they meet various bizarre obstacles and strangely rendered characters familiar from legends, like a fantastically designed Loch Ness monster.

That's followed by a one-page gag strip drawn by Andrea Freccero (whose style is similar to Andrea Maccarini's, who drew the gag stirp I didn't like in Donald Duck) and a Glomgold vs. Scrooge story in the rivals race to recover a meteor with strange, otherworldly effects.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lord Ballister Blackheart is no fun to watch horror movies with.


Nimona is no fun to play Monopoly World Domination with.

But you know what is fun? Reading Noelle Stevenson's Nimona which, much to my surprise, turned out to be one of the better comics I've read so far this year.
I have a full review of Nimona at Comics Alliance, if you'd like to go read it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Who's Who in the DC Convergence #6

Darwyn Cooke
AMBUSH BUG
Created by Keith Giffen
Alter Ego: Irwin Schwab
Occupation: News correspondent for Channel 52
Known relatives: Cheeks (Ward? Adopted son? Sidekick? I guess it doens't much matter, as he's just an inanimate stuffed animal)
Base of Operations: Metropolis; mobile
First appearance: DC COMICS PRESENTS #52 (1982)

HISTORY
Ambush Bug's origins are shrouded in mystery, mostly because he seems to be insane, and therefore has a very poor grip on reality. That, and the fact that almost every single story he has ever appeared in has been comedic in nature–and even when he cameos in a serious story, it's usually a comedic cameo–so his origins are shrouded in bad jokes and comic book parody as well.

What we know for sure is that he began as a villain in a green bug-suit with very large antennae, within which were housed special devices that allowed him to teleport. At some point, he internalized that teleporting power. Also, after a few encounters with heroes like Superman, he decided to give up villainy and take up superheroics instead.

While he's served extremely brief stints with various Justice League groups–like Plastic Man's Justice League of Anarchy during the few days or weeks in which the concept of the Justice League was wiped from the minds of everyone on earth, and a short-lived Justice League that existed between Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime's attack on reality and Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman's reformation of the Justice League under the original name of the Justice League of America.

Of course, those stories–like his Ambush Bug: Year None miniseries and his recent gig as a shill for DC Comics in the advertorial Channel 52 segments–came long after Zero Hour, the point in time from which Ambush Bug was plucked to appear in Covergence. But as with all things related to the Bug, the application of the normal narrative rules of comic books need to be relaxed a bit.

POWERS & ABILITIES
Ambush Bug has the ability to teleport himself and objects or people he's touching at the time he teleports. The exact limitations of his powers are ill-defined, as he seems to be able to teleport not only anywhere on Earth, but anywhere throughout the DC Multiverse as well.

This may explain why he frequently possesses knowledge that only a resident of Earth-Prime/Earth-33 should have access to...that, or writers like Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming simply have the character break the fourth wall for comedic effect. Both are equally likely.

For further reading: SHOWCASE PRESENTS: AMBUSH BUG (2009)


Alex Ross
KINGDOM COME BATMAN
Extrapolated by Alex Ross and Mark Waid from the character "created" "by" Bob Kane
Alter Ego: Bruce Wayne
Occupation: Full-time volunteer crime-fighter
Marital status: Metaphorically married to Lady Justice
Known relatives: Ibn al Xu'ffasch (son)
Base of Operations: Gotham City
First appearance: KINGDOM COME #1 (1996)

HISTORY
When Batman's secret identity was revealed to the world, he was attacke in Wayne Manor by two of his greatest and deadliest surviving foes, Two-Face and Bane. They defeated and crippled Bruce Wayne, but they couldn't kill The Batman.

Wayne abandoned any pretense of a normal life and dedicated himself to being Batman 24/7. He constructed a suit of super-battle armor that not only allowed him to move and fight like he did before his injuries, it also endowed him with flight, limited super-strength and an arsenal of weapons bigger and more powerful than any he could fit in a utility belt. Think of it as a wearable Batplane.

The Dark Knight further invented a bat-battlaion of advanced robotic crime-fighters called Bat-Knights that patrolled Gotham City in his stead, making it one of the safest–if suddenly scariest in a different way–cities in America.

When Superman and Wonder Woman decided to re-form the Justice League as a way to combat the rise in younger, deadlier, poorly-trained "heroes" who were wreaking havoc in the world–sometimes on purpose, sometimes not–Batman refused to join his estranged allies, instead pursuing his own, long-game approach to preserving law and order and combatting Lex Luthor's cabal of villains (Batman's former crime-fighting partner and ward, Robin/Dick Grayson, did join the new Justice League, creating a new costume and taking the new name "Red Robin")

When the brewing war between factions of superheroes reached a fever-pitch, and the United Nations planned to drop a nuclear bomb on them all, Batman suited-up with the many allies he was able to rally–Green Arrow Oliver Queen, former Black Canary Dinah Lance, current Black Canary Olivia Queen, Blue Beetle Ted Kord, Steel, and others–and joined the fray.

Batman took on Wonder Woman, and, by the time the dust settled, many of the super-people were dead. He reconciled with Superman and Wonder Woman, and together they agreed to be more present in the world.

POWERS & ABILITIES
He's Batman.

For further reading: KINGDOM COME (1997)


Paris Cullins
BLUE BEETLE II
Created by Steve Ditko
Alter Ego: Theodore "Ted" Kord
Occupation: Inventor, engineer and sometimes CEO of Kord Enterprises...or Kord Industries...or Kord Omniversal Research & Development, Inc, whatever the writer feels like calling the company, really
Marital Status: Single...so very single
Known relatives: Thomas Kord (father), Jarvis Kord (evil uncle)
Group Affiliations: The Justice League (Justice League America and Justice League International)
Base of Operations: Chicago, New York City
First appearance: CAPTAIN ATOM #83 (1966)

HISTORY
As an exceptionally brilliant young man, Ted Kord was probably always destined for some kind of greatness, but he was bitten by the superhero bug (Ah-ha-ha-ha! Get it? Bug?) during an adventure with his archeology teacher Dan Garrett, the original Blue Beetle. Garrett had a mystical scarab artifact that gave him super-strength and other super-powers. When Garrett suffered a lethal injury, he gave the scarab to Kord, asking him to carry on the legacy of the Blue Beetle.

Kord couldn't get the magic item to work for him, but he didn't let that stop him from fulfilling Garrett's dying wish. Kord started training, made a cool Steve Ditko-designed costume and then built a non-lethal weapon and an animal-shaped vehicle to put even the Batmobile and Batplane to shame.

As the Blue Beetle, Kord began his crime-fighting career in his hometown of Chicago, and was soon recruited by the extra-dimensional being known as The Monitor to help repel the attacks of the Anti-Monitor and his army of Shadow Demons.

In the wake of Apokolyptian agent Glorious Godfrey's attempts to discredit the world's superheroes, Kord joined the brand-new Justice League, lead by League veterans Batman, Martian Manhunter and Black Canary, and including such other newcomers to the League as Mister Miracle, Dr. Fate, Captain Marvel and Green Lantern Guy Gardner. This new League was rather quickly re-organized under the United Nations into a new team with a new, international mandate and a series of embassies in cities all over the world.

Kord served on this Jusitce League International for years, staying with the American branch with its embassy based in New York City. In fact, Kord ultimately became one of the longest-serving members in League history, remaining in the line-up through several different reorganizations. During his years with the League, Kord became particularly close with Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Martian Manhunter and even the abrasive Guy Gardner, despite the fact that the pair had little in common and didn't even seem to like one another all that much.

POWERS & ABILITIES
Ted Kord is a gifted hand-to-hand combatant, athlete and a fairly-skilled acrobat, all of which he'd have to be to become a superhero with no super-powers. His greatest abilities come not from his body, but his brain, however.

A genius-level inventor and engineer, Kord built his own highly-advanced personal aircraft shaped like–what else?–a blue beetle, which he affectionately dubbed The Bug. While less gadget-dependent than the similarly power-less, animal-themed hero Batman, Kord also has a special hand-held gun sometimes referred to as his Beetle Gun or BB Gun, capagle of firing blasts of blinding light and super-compressed air, which he can use to knock opponents off-balamce.

For further reading: SHOWCASE PRESENTS: BLUE BEETLE (2015), JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL VOLS. 1-6 (2009-2011)


Dan Jurgens
THE CYBORG SUPERMAN
Created by Dan Jurgens, based on the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Alter Ego: Henry "Hank" Henshaw
Marital Status: Widower
Base of Operations: Mobile
Not to be confused with: Cyborg, Superman
First appearance: As Hank Henshaw, ADVENTURES OF SUPEMAN #466 (1990); as Cyborg Superman ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #500 (1993)

HISTORY
Hank Henshaw and his wife Terri were among the four American astronauts aboard the space shuttle Excalibur performing a LexCorp-sponsored radiation expeiment. A sudden solar flare affected the experiment quite disastrously, however. Two of the crewmembers had their physical bodies destroyed, but their minds were more-or-less intact, and they created new bodies to house their minds out of radiation, in one case, and bits of wreckage and rubble (in the other). The Henshaws seemed fine, at least until arriving on Earth, at which poin Hank's body began to decay rapidly, and Terri's started being sucked into a different dimension.

The only thing worse than an experiment gone dangerously awry, apparently, is a science a science experiment gone dangerously awry in a comic book.

The two mutated crewmembers kill themselves, while Terri kills herself at the sight of her husband's transformation: While his physical body died, his mind survived, and he was able to build a new body of computers and machinery. Distraught over all the suicide going around, Henshaw downloaded his consciousness into Superman's birthing matrix (between Crisis and Zero Hour, Superman had a birthing matrix; don't ask) and, using it as a sort of vehicle, launched himself into space to continue to astronaut around.

While he didn't kill himself, Henshaw did go fairly insane as well, eventually throwing in with Superman villain Mongul and coming up with a pretty good plan for discrediting Superman, who he had come to blame for the loss of his body, his wife, and crewmates.

Upon learning of Superman's "death," Henshaw built himself a new body out of robotics and flesh and blood built out of Superman's own DNA. He returned to Earth claiming to be the one true Superman, somehow rebuilt and brought back to life after having given his life in the fight against Doomsday.

He made a pretty good case for being Superman, exiling Doomsday into space, saving the president of the United States and doing various super-deeds, seemingly passing a battery of tests administered by the real Superman's science buddy Professor Emil Hamilton and even passing a few close encounters with Lois Lane, who wasn't ready to count him out as not Superman immediately.

In fact, of the four Supermen to appear in the wake of the Man of Steel's death–the teenaged clone who would eventually be called Superboy, the dark visored Superman who would eventually be revealed to be the Eradicator, and the armored Man of Steel who would eventually shorten his name to Steel–The Cyborg seemed the most likely candidate.

He eventually showed his true colors, however, when he destroyed Coast City and transformed it into Engine City. He and his ally Mongul were about to do the same to Metropolis, but the combined forces of Superboy, Steel, The Eradicator, Supergirl, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and the real Superman–who turned out to not be dead, after all, simply completely exhausted of all solar energy, which plunged him into a months-long death-like state–were able to thwart the dastardly duo.

POWERS & ABILITIES
As a being of pure consciousness with no real body, Henshaw is essentially immortal and indestructible. He is able to inhabit, mold and control any form of machinery, generally building a "body" for himself out of it, while still able to control other machines.

In his Cyborg Superman body, his flesh components were based on Superman's kryptonian genetic code, and his metal parts were made from Kryptonian alloys. This made his body nearly indestructible, and gave him the full complement of Superman's many powers: Super-strength, super-speed, flight, heat vision and so on.

For further reading: While the Cyborg Superman eventually became a recurring villain for both Superman and The Green Lantern Corps, the version appearing in Convergence is from around the time of Zero Hour, and thus his only really relevant appearnces would be those in THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN (1993) or SUPERMAN: THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN OMNIBUS (2013)


Ross
KINGDOM COME SUPERMAN
Extrapolated by Alex Ross and Mark Waid from the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Alter Egos: Kal-El, Clark Kent
Occupation: Pretend farmer
Marital status: Widower
Known relatives who aren't dead: None
Group Affiliation: The Justice League
Base of Operations: The Arctic Circle, New Oa
First appearance: KINGDOM COME #1 (1996)

HISTORY
The Joker attacked the offices of The Daily Planet, killing most of the Clark Kent's friends and colleagues with the initial gas attack, but taking a more hands-on approach on the resourceful Lois Lane, who managed to get a gast mask on and attack the super-villain.

The greif-stricken Superman captured The Joker and delivered him to the police, but on the day of the mass-murderer's trial, he was attacked and executed by the newer superhero, Magog. He represented the newer, more violent, no-holds-barred breed of superhero who had begun to emerge.

When the public embraced Magog's brand of heroics, the disullionsed Superman withdrew to The Fortress of Solitude, abandoning his life as both Clark Kent and Superman for years (despite occasional visits and goadings by his long-time friend and colleague Wonder Woman).

Superman finally rejoined the world when Magog and a band of similar heroes accidentally destroyed and irradiated a large part of Kansas (Superman's adoptive home state) while trying to capture The Parasite. During the fight, the villain killed Captain Atom, unleashing his nuclear energies.

Superman reformed the Justice League with veteran heroes from four generations, from Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott to Superman's allies to the former Teen Titans to new recruits from the nost promising of the current generation of young heroes. They intend to set an example for the new heroes while simultaneously policing them...and imprisoning the very worst of them.

This lead to conflict not only with the new breed of heroes, but also Superman and Wonder Woman's old ally Batman and his co-horts, and a Lex Luthor-lead cabal of villains, who have a mind-controlled Captain Marvel as their ultimate ace in the hole.

When a four-way battle between the various factions reached a fever pitch, the United Nations decided to just nuke all of the heroes. Several of them were able to minimize the attack, at the cost of many of their lives.

Superman managed to reconcile with his old friend Batman, who promises to help he and Wonder Woman raise and train their child, and raise the next generation of superheroes right.

POWERS & ABILITIES
The Kingdom Come Superman has the same super-catalog of super-powers as his DCU/Earth-0 counterpart, but because he is a decade older and has thus soaked up ten more years worth of solar power, he's a bit more powerful.

For further reading: KINGDOM COME (Like many characters from Kingdom Come, Superman appeared in the rather uneven suite of comics collected under the umbrella title of The Kingdom, which revealed the birth of his son by Wonder Woman. He also showed up in a fun cameo in the Alex Ross-drawn section of Evan Dorkin's World's Funnest one-shot. The best post-Kingdom Come use of the character was in Geoff Johns and Alex Ross's run on JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA, if you simply must read more about him, but for the purposes of Convergence, KINGDOM COME itself should be more than sufficient)


KINGDOM COME WONDER WOMAN
Extrapolated by Alex Ross and Mark Waid from the character created by William Moulton Marston
Alter Ego: Diana
Marital status: Single, but chasing the widowed Superman pretty hard
Known relatives: Hippolyta (mother)
Base of Operations: New Oa
First apperance: KINGDOM COME #1 (1996)

HISTORY
After decades of failing to bring peace to "Man's World," Princess Diana was eventually stripped of her royal title, exiled from Themyscira/Paradise Island and her role as its official ambassador of Amazon values to the outside world.

She became increasingly alienated in her role as a superheroine as well, as colleagues Superman and Batman retreated in various ways from the world (the former due to his deep mourning over personal losses and the world's rejection of his values, the latter due to severe injuries). Meanwhile, a new, fourth generation of heroes and villains began to emerge, both sides more violent and less concerned for things like collateral damage than the super-humans of past generations.

When Magog, the best-known of most widely-embraced of the new generation of heroes, lead his Justice Battalion team against The Parasite, Captain Atom is killed, unleashing a devastating nuclear disaster. That is enough incentive for Wonder Woman's lastest plea with Superman to come out of retirement and reform The Justice League with her to finally convince the Man of Steel.

Together the pair recruit a large and powerful team consisting of heroes from several generations, including old allies and the most promising of the newer heroes. Their increasingly aggressive actions at policing the super-humans of the world–generally proposed and championed by Wonder Woman–rub certain factions the wrong way, including Batman and his large network of like-minded allies, and Lex Luthor and his cabal of villains.

When the League starts imprisoning recalcitrant superhumans, the various factions all go to war, with Wonder Woman leading the League's forces while wearing a new, slightly goofy-looking golden eagle shaped armor. She battles Batman while Superman deals with a mind-controlled Captain Marvel, and things ened pretty badly for everyone, when the U.N. launches a nuclear strike.

Wonder Woman survives the battle and its explosive end, eventually consumating her love for Superman and conceiving a child with him. She and Superman also reconcile with Batman.

POWERS & ABILITIES
This Wonder Woman has all of the powers and abilities of her younger DCU/Earth-0 counterpart: Super-strength, super-speed, flight, a high degree of invulnerabiltiy, proficiency in the martial arts of Themyscira and its bronze age weaponry. She also possesses the same arsenal of weapons as her counterparts, including the unbrekable bracelets, the golden lasso of truth and a tiara balanced to be used as a projectile weapon. She prefers to use a sword, spear and shield to these various weapons, however.

For further reading: KINGDOM COME (1996) and...yeah, that's probably all you need to read.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: Avengers: Rage of Ultron

Avengers: Rage of Ultron is, by my count, the fourth in Marvel’s new-ish series of original graphic novels, and the third that I’ve read.

Its timing and its title are both reflective of the publisher’s desire to have a book on the stands ready and waiting for anyone curious about the characters and interested in spending money on comics featuring them after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. That likely also explains the Avengers line-up drawn on the cover; while all of those characters along the bottom do appear in the book, only The Vision plays a major role. The others? Confined to a 23-page an opening scene set “Years Ago,” while the rest of the book is set “Today.”

It’s not a bad idea, really. Marvel doesn’t have anything that resembles the movie Avengers too closely in print, and the Age of Ultron series that the film took its sub-title from has more in common with the Terminator franchise than the Avengers films. And this book, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Jerome Opena, Pepe Larraz and Mark Morales, is certainly competently made. As a regular reader, if not exactly a fan of or expert on, any of these characters or creators, I found the book engaging and enjoyable.

I wonder how new-reader friendly it actually is, though. Of the two Marvel OGNs I’ve previously read, Avengers: Endless Wartime and X-Men: No More Humans, this hews a lot closer to the latter than the former, in terms of how confident Remender is that readers will be up-to-date on the week-to-week goings-on of the Marvel Universe.

I, for example, knew enough that I could easily make heads and tails of many of the changes that took place between “Years Ago” and “Today” in the Avengers: Former Falcon Sam Wilson is now Captain America, Thor is now a woman, Sabretooth is an Avenger and Hank Pym is back to using the name “Giant-Man” while dressed in a costume that makes him look like a big red ant.

But I still had no idea who the hell “The Descendents” were, although they appear to be robots of some sort that look extremely human, right down to the fact that the one codenamed “Fater” looked old and had wrinkly flesh. They all had odd names that made them sound like millennial superheroes: The Urn, The Swine, The Origins and The Ideal.

Oh, and Starfox is in this too…so, if you are picking this up on a whim after seeing Age of Ultron, maybe you want to read it near a computer with  its browser aimed at Wikipedia…?

There’s a nice introduction by Kurt Busiek, who remains one of the better writers to ever tackle The Avengers in my estimation, and it goes a long way towards explaining what makes Ultron such a great villain for the team, and an all-around appealing character (Me? I think it’s the jack o’lantern face, which was part of the reason I think the film’s design was a bit of a letdown). Perhaps inadvertently, Busiek also explains the tangled web of relationships involving Ultron and the various Avengers, most particularly his father Hank Pym and his son, The Vision. These relationships are quite important to the proceedings, although Remender doesn't devote much attention to making sure the reader knows much about them.

The story opens with an old-school line-up of Avengers fighting a more-or-less classic-looking Ultron, who is attacking New York City while trying to take control of America’s nuclear weapons to do his world destroying thing (I gotta admit, I really liked the homemade meteor idea from the movie; has any supervillain tried to create that precise extinction event in such a mannter before…?).

A geography-addled Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Beast, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Wasp and Hank Pym (then going by Yellowjacket) are The Avengers, and in a battle the length of a regular issue of a comic book, they manage to defeat Ultron….mostly thanks to Pym.

Then we pick up in modern times, and we find out where Ultron—or at least that version of Ultron—landed after Pym and company shot him into outerspace.

The current Avengers line-up? The Captain America Forrmerly Known As The Falcon, Thor (the lady version), The Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Spider-Man, Sabretooth, The Vision in his latest ugly redesign and, of course, Pym.

Tensions are already high among The Avengers, as Pym and The Vision have been arguing about whether or not robots and various forms of artificial intelligence are really alive or not, and thus whether shutting them down is killing them or not. Pym does most of the narration in the book (although it opens with Ultron narrating before the narrators switch, oddly enough; I found myself reading Ultron’s narration in James Spader’s voice…that’s gonna stick with me for a while, I think).

There’s a lot of agonizing in Pym’s narration, and his interactions with The Vision, Ultron and his ex-wife The Wasp. It’s extremely melodramatic, to the point that it’s almost tedious.

As for the specific conflict driving the narrative, Ultron landed on Titan, home of Thanos (a no-show) and Starfox, which must be some kinda robot moon or something…? Or else it has the means for Ultron to turn into into a Cybertron-looking world, with his giant face on it. He moves it the many lightyears into Earth’s orbit pretty quickly, and then begins to assimilate people, as robotic lifeforms tend to do in TV, film and comic books, I guess.

Pym has the means for shutting Ultron down, the same robot-turner-off thing he used earlier and that The Avengers were not too happy about his using, as it “kills” robots, and so the team has to take on Ultron while trying to decide whether to simply “kill” Ultron with the device, or if they can figure out a way to stop him without resorting to kinda sorta lethal-ish force.

Remender, who has been writing the Avengers franchise’s C-Title for a while (Uncanny Avengers, a recent plotline from which recently took over much of Marvel’s publishing line for the event series Axis), does a fine job of using Jonathan Hickman-like stakes in the conflict.

The longer The Avengers wait to push the robot-killing button, the more time Ultron has to turn their teammates and innocent civilians into automatons, so that the potential death toll in the lose/lose scenario just gets worse and worse. Push it immediately, and dozens die. Wait a few minutes, hundreds die. Wait too long, millions die. Then billions.

Ultron gradually picks the Avengers line-up off, one-by-one, until it’s just Captain Falcmerica, Pym and The Vision debating on whether to kill him or try something riskier, with a weird, unexpected assist coming from Starfox, the love-powered Titan (A character, I almost said, who I don’t expect to ever see in a Marvel Studios movie…but then, a few years ago I would have said the same thing about The Vision and every single character in The Guardians of The Galaxy, so what do I know?)

In addition to being remarkably tied to the current status quo of the Marvel Universe, with no real effort put into introducing the characters and concepts to new readers, the book is seemingly quite relevant to the comics line…or at least as much as any coic book can be at this point, with a cosmic re-set button of some sort expected to arrive at the climax of Marvel’s current event series Secret Wars.

Ultron kinda sorta dies in a temporary way, and it takes the sacrifice of an Avenger to do it—the last page makes it perfectly clear that neither are dead, but the scene has the sort of finality that suggests Remender is officially putting two particular toys from the Avengers playset away for the foreseeable future.

The artwork is quite a bit rougher than in the other OGNs of the line. Opena has done a lot of work with Remender before, on the Uncanny X-Force title, and they work well together. Opena’s artwork tends to be dynamic and his characters expressive in an occasionally exaggerated way that fits the histrionics so many of the characters go through in this story.

That said, much of the action is confusing where it should be clear, as there’s only rarely a strong sense of where the various players are in relation to one another in the big battle scenes (Particularly in the “Then” team’s battle with Ultron). Several sequences I needed to re-read repeatedly until I could figure out what was happening, and it was usually the dialogue that explained it, not the imagery.

If you only read modern superhero comics, this probably isn’t even something you’ll notice, but man, if you jump back and forth from high-quality action manga to these sorts of decent-but-not-greate superhero comics, it’s glaring.

Opena and his collaborators are pretty weird with tears, too, and there were at least two scenes where the same image is used repeatedly in consecutive panels, manipulated to suggest a camera slowly zooming in on the subject. The effect is lost, however, because the bigger the art gets, the less distinct it looks, and the more its composite lines become visible, drawing attention to the fact that the art is being recycled.

Again, it’s not a sin, but it knocks a reader out of the moment, calling attention to the technique and making said reader question Opena’s motivations (If you’re already committed to drawing 112 pages, are those extra four panels really going to break your hand?).

It’s not perfect then, and maybe further away from perfect that it is close to it, but if one walks out of the theater wanting to read a comic book in which the Avengers fight Ultron, there aren’t exactly a lot of easy-to-find books that fit that particular bill. A reader could certainly do worse.

**********************

….Like Age of Ultron and Age of Ultron Companion or The Mighty Avengers Vol 1: The Ultron Imperative, for example. Marvel seems to have put out  some Ultron-specific collections to get ready for the movie,  like Avemgers: Ultron Unbound and while there are good comics in some of Marvel's recent collections with the word "Ultron" in the title, they're not exactly the ideal comics to hand a would-be comics reader who knows nothing about the medium, but liked what they saw on the silver screen, you know?