Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On DC Universe: Rebirth #1

So here we are again. DC Universe: Rebirth is a 65-page comic book scripted by Geoff Johns, drawn by a handful of the more talented artists to have collaborated with Johns in the past and priced to sell at just $2.99–a dollar cheaper than any 20-page comic that rival Marvel Entertainment has on the stands today. It's mostly narrated by a point-of-view character that guides readers through a tour of upcoming storylines that will play out throughout the publisher's imminent slate of new books.

If that sounds familiar, than congratulations and/or my condolences, as that likely means you read 2005's Countdown To Infinite Crisis #1. That particular over-sized, Johns-scripted, multiple artist-drawn, bargain-priced comic book similarly enlisted a point-of-view character to lay out the DCU's status quo and tease big changes in DC's superhero line is now eleven years old, and both its age and the story it was countdown-ing to are emblematic of the inherent problems with this comic. Or, that is, the inherent problems with Rebirth other than the big, obvious one, which I'd like to set aside for a a bit if I may (You know the big, obvious thing that's wrong with this book already though, right? It was leaked online over the weekend and Johns gave an interview to USA Today about it; I think Abhay Khosla best characterized that big, obvious problem when he recently referred to it as "objectively fucking stupid" in this must-read essay on Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and DC Comics under his leadership).

In emulating the format of Countdown, Rebirth reveals just how backward-looking it is, although it looks back far further than 11 years, as it is, according to Johns in the above-mentioned interview, essentially written in response to a 30-year-old comic book (I suppose that too is reminiscent of Countdown to Infinite Crisis, as 2006's Infinite Crisis was itself a direct sequel to the then 30-year-old Crisis On Infinite Earths).

So 2006's Infinite Crisis offered something of a soft reboot to DC's continuity/history, altering the specific continuities of several characters while reshaping the nature of the DC Multiverse more dramatically than any comic since Crisis On Infinite Earths (although the pay-off wouldn't come until the conclusion of 52 in 2007, wherein those changes were solidified).

There was furthering tinkering to the timeline, the Multiverse and various characters in stories like Countdown To Final Crisis(2007-2008) an Final Crisis (2008-2009), and Blackest Night (2009-2010) and Brightest Day (2010-2011) and then, in 2011, Johns was tapped to do the unthinkable in the conclusion of his Flashpoint event series: Completely reboot DC Comics continuity in a way no one dared since Crisis On Infinite Earths, which lead to The New 52. Every comic would be relaunched with new #1s, even Action Comics and Detective Comics, every character would get a new costume design, the Vertigo characters were re-integrated into this new DC Universe (although Johns had just finished re-introducing them at the conclusion of Brightest Day) and the WildStorm characters would be as well.

The brand-new continuity would be a secret one, as after the Johns-written first story arc of Justice League, we would jump ahead to a "Year Five" of the New 52-iverse, and no one really seemed to know what might have happened during those five years...except for the fact that The Joker definitely shot and sexually assaulted Batgirl Barbara Gordon. Dramatically, DC's four generations of superheroes were reduced to one, so that there was no Golden Age, no former sidekicks and no real legacy characters (aside from the Robins).

The in-story explanation for this particular change of events was never made explicit. At the end of Flashpoint, in which The Flash Barry Allen and a Reverse Flash messed with the timestream and inadvertently created a dystopia where Batman had a mustache, Superman was skinny and Aquaman and Wonder Woman were genocidal maniacs, there was a cryptic scene where a mysterious woman in a hood (later revealed to be Pandora) smooshed two other universes (the Vertigo Universe and the WildStorm Universe) into the DC Universe that The Flash was trying to fix, in order to make the universe stronger to stave off some future...something.

That was about five years ago, and despite Pandora playing a part in a couple of big event story arcs spearheaded or written by Johns ("Trinity War" and Forever Evil), despite Pandora getting her own (quickly cancelled) series and then joining a couple of other mysterious characters of cosmic significance in a second series (that was even more quickly cancelled), just what the hell was going on was never explained.

Is this, the events of Rebirth, that long overdue explanation? Not really. This is a new, retroactive explanation, and one that seems to have been made up at the last minute along the same lines as the decision to use Flashpoint as an excuse to reboot the DCU line was. But we'll get to that in a moment. Where are we now, after five years of a near constant continuity fiddling, followed by five years of The New 52? Well, in terms of quality comics that connected with DC fans and/or new readers, The New 52 started out bad and got worse. The only book that has seen any real lasting improvement has been the Scott Snyder-written, Greg Capullo-drawn Batman, which, like the Johns-written Green Lantern book, has mostly avoided the changes wrought by Flashpoint and The New 52; acknowledging them when necessary, but not dwelling on them. Nothing else DC has tried during the last five years has really stuck, with most of the books that weren't cancelled burning through creative teams at an incredible rate, and characters being re-designed and re-oriented almost constantly, as if it were the early 1990s again (Bruce Wayne even stopped being Batman for a while, and was replaced by a guy wearing a suit of armor).

Had The New 52 run its course? Apparently, and Rebirth here is the fix. And that fix is, of course, another reboot of sorts. If DC had metaphorically dug itself into a metaphorical hole with its reboots, then its metaphorical strategy to get out of that metaphorical hole is to metaphorically dig some more.

I would like to say that DC Universe: Rebirth undoes the changes of The New 52, but it is much more complicated than that. Rather, it changes an awful lot of the things back to the way they were before, so that the continuity stream-lining, more simplified version of the universe that DC tried selling for five years is more complicated than it was before. Put another way, we're mostly back to where we were in the summer of 2011, although there are two rounds of complicated, continuity re-jiggerings that get us back there.

Let's talk specifics of the book though, shall we?

There are four chapters and the objectively fucking stupid epilogue, drawn by Gary Frank (who worked with Johns on Superman, Batman: Earth One and the "Shazam" feature in Justice League), Ethan Van Sciver (Green Lantern: Rebirth, Flash: Rebirth), Ivan Reis (Blackest Night, Brightest Day, Aquaman) and Phil Jimenez (Infinite Crisis). Our narrator is the former Kid Flash and the former Flash III Wally West, wearing his yellow and red Kid Flash costume, and apparently ten years younger than he was the last time we saw him. After a first page that is broken into a nine-panel grid featuring his narration over a watch and the gears within, we learn that Wally's currently "lost outside of reality" and unable to break back in, having lost his grounding lighting rod (his wife Linda Park). West, being part of the third generation of heroes, the sidekicks of the second-generation characters introduced in the Silver Age, was one of the many that was excised from the DC Universe for The New 52. Although, like most fan-favorite characters, he was eventually reintroduced into The New 52, only as a black teenager. This is the original (and white) Wally West though.

Due to the events in "The Darkseid War" (a pretty terrible story that's been running through Johns' Justice League forever now, and just concluded today), Wally is able to at least try and enter The New 52-iverse, and warn the heroes that reality has been altered by someone who stole ten years from the universe in order to soften it up for attack.

This gives us an excuse to "check in" on everyone, as Wally appears in a bolt of lighting, pleas with someone to remember him and then gets sucked back into The Speed Force when they fail to recognize him.

He appears to Batman, who is faced with the mystery of The Joker's true identity, as revealed in this week's Justice League–there are actually three different Jokers*. He appears to a 90-something old man, who is actually Johnny Thunder, who does remember The Justice Society of America and was at one time in possession of a magical genie. He peeks in on a woman with a Legion flight ring who says she's from the future and knows Superman. And on Ivy Town University professor/supehero Ray "The Atom" Palmer and his teaching assistant Ryan Choi. And on Blue Beetle Jaimie Reyes and Ted Kord, who has just built The Bug and wants to form a crime-fighting duo with Jaime. And on Robin Damian Wayne, who has just turned 13, and celebrated by blowing out the candles on a cake in a dark room, all alone (Batman, Alfred, Dick Grayson? All a bunch of jerks, apparently). And on former Power Ring Jessica Cruz, who is now a Green Lantern (Justice League #50 again). And on Jackson Hyde, the new Aqualad that Johns created in Brightest Day (a character who is now gay, apparently).
To signal the end of The New 52, the character who symbolized it is exploded to death. Subtle!
Meanwhile, Pandora is killed in a blue explosion of energy. Who killed her? We'll find out in the epilogue, I bet! Unless you read Johns' interview, or saw the leaks online already.

Wally keeps floating around the DC Universe, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. There's Grail and Baby Darkseid, talking about Wonder Woman's long lost secret twin brother (Justice League #50), there are a bunch of characters milling around where Superman died in Superman #52 (If you missed it, don't worry; it was pretty dumb). Green Arrow and Black Canary make eyes at one another there, and the other Superman gets a visit from a mysterious stranger calling himself Mr. Oz who tells him "You and your family are not what you believe you are... And neither was the fallen Superman." And Aquaman proposes to Mera.

And then the story starts to resume a story shape, after a rather weird, almost clip-show like format (Status quos for several other characters, including John Constantine and Swamp Thing and new character Gotham are teased). Wally meets New 52 Linda, who doesn't remember him, sees the other Wally West, who, it turns out, is his original Wally's distant cousin and, finally, he meets The Flash Barry Allen, who only remembers him at the last minute...and is able to pull him back into reality.
"It was Alan Moore."
The pair have a portentous discussion about the threat that's coming, about the fact that someone deliberately stole years from them in order to weaken them for a future attack. Who is it? The last page sees Batman holding aloft The Comedian's blood-stained smiley face pin from Watchmen, while Wally's dialogue box reads "...we're being watched."
!
Yes. That happened. That actually fucking happened.

The epilogue is a five-page sequence, in which the lay-out moves from a splash page to a four-panel page to a Watchmen-esque nine-panel page and then to a four-panel page and another splash. The "camera" moves from Earth to Mars, where we see a broken watch being lifted into the air by an unseen force, taken apart, cleaned and put back together. Narration boxes capture dialogue between Ozymandius and Dr. Manhattan.

The last page, showing a yellow clock face with a blood splatter on it over a black field, includes a big huge yellow, black and white blurb "The Clock Is Ticking Across The DC Universe!"

So apparently it was Dr. Manhattan that stole years from the DCU and made, inadvertently or on purpose, The New 52. And the DCU is going to gradually "remember," perhaps even recover, parts of its old continuity. A confrontation with the characters from Watchmen seems to be all but promised, but there's no indication of where it might occur. Johns is apparently leaving DC Comics for a while to focus on un-fucking-up Warner Bros movies based on DC Comics, and the near future for all of the titles seem pretty set at the moment (Justice League, which would have been the obvious best guess for the story to continue, is being taken over by novice writer Bryan Hitch).
I swiped this image from Comics Alliance, as my scanner wasn't big enough to accommodate it. For help identifying the above characters, you should visit the CA post I stole it from.
That's followed by a two-page spread showing the state of the DC Universe's heroes, including Wally West in a new (and pretty nice) costume. There are a lot of new costumes on this page, and they are mostly great improvements. Raven, Supergirl, The Demon and Red Robin all have returned to their original costumes or ones closer to their originals. Donna Troy has a new look that actually doesn't look so bad. Rick Flag is there, as is Ted Kord riding in the Bug, the new Huntress, Superwoman Lois Lane and the new Superboy and the new, Chinese Super-Man that Gene Luen Yang will be writing. I was surprised to see the entire Marvel Shazam Family too, as I wasn't sure how DC would proceed with those characters if the word "Marvel" is off limits (What do you call Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel if Captain Marvel is now named Shazam? Shazam Jr. and Mary Shazam...? And what about the other three "lieutenant Marvels" from Johns and Frank's Shazam strip...?) Conspicuous in his absence is Kyle Rayner.

That splash is followed by eleven pages of house ads for upcoming series.

If you've been reading DC Comics during The New 52 period, than you'll notice that the laundry list of changes that occur in Rebirth synch up with the exact things that DiDio, Co-Publisher Jim Lee, Chief Creative Officer (and second most popular DC writer) Johns all apparently decided needed changing in order to fix the DCU and come up with something better, The New 52.

They un-married Superman and Lois and Aquaman and Mera, for example, and now we have a married Superman and Lois and an engaged Aquaman and Mera. They removed the JSA and the original Teen Titans from continuity, and now they are returning them to continuity. Aqualad II, Ted Kord and Ryan Choi were all jettisoned...and are back now. All of the terrible, Lee-designed costumes are being exchanged for new, less terrible ones that lack all the seams, armor plating and high collars.

There's this bizarre argument that DiDio has been making for years now that goes something like this: 1.) There's something wrong with DC Comics, these comics that I and my staff and all our freelance talent have been making aren't as good as they should be, so 2.) We need a drastic change in order to improve things and point them in the right direction and 3.) The best people to make those changes are me and my staff and the same group of freelance talent who were making the comics that I didn't think were as good as they could be. And this as happened over and over and over, from Countdown To Infinite Crisis/Infinite Crisis/52 to "One Year Later" to
"Brave New World" to Countdown to Final Crisis/Final Crisis to Brightest Day to The New 52 to "DCYou" to "Rebirth."

Geoff Johns keeps being called in to fix things in a crisis comic of some sort, be it at the franchise level (Green Latnern: Rebirth, Flash: Rebirth, Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, the ensemble cast of Brightest Day) or on a line-wide scope, and he does it..and then DC asks him to change everything for them all over again.

Looking at the state of the DCU as "Rebirth" presents it, it is, as I say, a lot more complicated than simply un-doing the New 52 and restoring the pre-Flashpoint DCU, but taking stock of all these changes, what is really different? Did DC really just want to make Barbara Gordon Batgirl again and give Superman a new pair of boots? Because they could probably have done that without Flashpoint and five years of The New 52, you know?

As for the Watchmen business, I don't even know what to say about it at this point. It's just gross and weird. I mean, doing Before Watchmen was bad–and I fear I used up all my rage about DC Comics having sexual intercourse with that particular dead horse upon the announcement of Before Watchmen– and now they are going even further, rather bizarrely taking characters out of Watchmen to use as action figures in a goofy fight comic, where maybe we'll get to see Batman beat up Rorshach or something? What's the point of that?

If you ask Geoff Johns, it's...well, his answer will be bullshit. There's a point in Johns' Rebirth script where he has Wally West talks about the fallen DC Universe as represented by The New 52, the one Johns created, and he says this:
A darkness from somewhere has infected us. It has for a long time now, I think. Even before the Flashpoint.
Yeah, no shit. I can't even really wrap my head around Johns' meta-textual argument with Watchmen without my head threatening to explode. I don't know if "infect" is quite the right word, as DC, during much of Johns' writing career with the company and during the time Johns was creative director, has been strip-mining Watchmen, and the works of Alan Moore.

When it comes to making DC a darker, more cynical, less hopeful place, Johns is perhaps the guiltiest party, as one of the two jokes about Johns' stories involve someone getting their arm chopped off and someone being impaled through the chest from behind. And for a guy using his surrogate characters in this comic to cluck about the point-of-view that a young Alan Moore might have shown in a 30-year-old comic book, Johns has always rather readily exploited the works of Moore. I don't think I have enough fingers to count the number of comics Johns has extrapolated from Moore's body of work, from the JSA quoting Watchmen, to the Black Mercy from Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything" showing up early in his Green Lantern run to his plundering of Moore's few Green Lantern comics (how much fucking mileage did Johns and his followers get out of fucking Mogo?) to his usage of Moore's co-creation Constantine and a version of Swamp Thing that leaned so heavily upon Moore's run on the character...

As for Rebirth, Johns accomplishes his main goals here, I think, and he's on much surer footing now that he's allowed to reference DC continuity once again. His great strength has always been his ability to use complicated continuity and synthesize something exciting out of it, which might go along way towards explaining why none of his New 52 work has been all that good, and certainly not nearly as good as any of his pre-Flashpoint writing for the publisher. He even gets a big "Oh shit!" moment at the end, of the sort that gets everyone talking...even if, in the case of someone like me, that talking mostly consists of wondering aloud what on Earth is wrong with Johns as, like, a human being.

The art is as strong as you're likely to find among DC's stable of house-style artists–these guys are head and shoulders above a Jason Fabok or David Finch or Ed Benes or whoever, even if they're not the best artists DC has drawing comics for them (There isn't a single image in these 65 pages that features as much style, excitement or life as, say, Babs Tarr's cover for this week's issue of Batgirl, despite how good at drawing watch cogs these guys are).

On a purely craft level, Rebirth features pretty strong work for comics of this sort. As for the context, the the point that Johns seems to be trying to articulate in order to make this something more than a much-needed clean up of the last mess that he and his fellow executives have made? It hurts my soul almost as much as it boggles my mind. Can a publisher really premise its entire line of comics for the forseeable future on a rebuke of the 30-year-old Watchmen? And how convincing is it for DC, DiDio, Johns and company to try to argue with Watchmen? The simple fact that they are even engaged in a one-sided argument against the book and its creators makes Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons the winners here, doesn't it?


But whatever. The New 52 is all Alan Moore's fault. At least it's all over now, and DC seems poised to publish some comics in the near future that are much less terrible than many of the comics they've been publishing. Hooray...?



*I'm interested to see how this plays out, and I'm glad that this turned out to be the big reveal about The Joker's origin that Batman learned from Metron's omniscient Mobius Chair in "Darkseid War," as I was afraid it would simply be revealing the true name of The Joker, who would apparently be someone Batman knew. While I'm withholding judgement on this Joker business, I should say that I really like Grant Morrison's conception of the character as one who reinvents himself constantly. Scott Snyder wrote two big Joker story arcs in his New 52 Batman run (three, if you count the pre-Joker Red Hood that appeared in "Zero Year"), and the Jokers in both "Death of the Family" and "Endgame" were as different from one another as they were from any previous Joker. Additionally, Snyder added an element to each of his Joker appearances wherein the character's schemes involved some kind of "joke" to them. For example, whether or not he knew Batman's secret identity (and the identities of all of his allies) or whether or not he was an immortal, urban legend-like supernatural figure who had been haunting Gotham for generations.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

These are some graphic novels that I read recently:

Astonishing Ant-Man Vol. 1: Everybody Loves Team-Ups (Marvel Entertainment)

This is the second collection of Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas Ant-Man series, which Marvel has helpfully given a new title and then went ahead and printed a "1" on the spine. Consider this Exhibit K that Marvel is much more interested in whatever little short-term advantage there is to re-naming and re-numbering titles as often as possible, presumably in order to retain their direct market advantage over traditional rivals DC Comics, as opposed to making it easy to get copies of their comics and trades into the hands of casual readers.

This one is a little more galling than other books, too, because much of this particular 145-page collection consists of specials published under the pre-Secret Wars title Ant-Man, rather than the post-Secret Wars title of Astonishing Ant-Man. There's Ant-Man Annual #1, Ant-Man Last Days: #1 and then the first four issues of the relaunched, retitled Astonishing Ant-Man. Despite that numeral 1 on the spines, this picks up right where Ant-Man Vol. 1: Second Chance Man left off.

In the annual, current Ant-Man Scott Lang teams up with original Ant-Man Hank Pym (going by Giant-Man at that point, I think) to take on Egghead in a flashback of sorts, while in the present Lang learns of Pym's ambiguous fate from Rage of Ultron (I think?), where Pym is apparently presumed dead...ish. The Wasp appears, and a new Giant-Man gets introduced.

The Last Days special, like all of those Marvel comics branded with that title, focuses on how the title character spends the eve of the (temporary) apocalypse of Secret Wars; for Lang, that means making a surprising discovery about the financial backer of Ant-Man Security Solutions and the many senior citizens of her very special retirement home.

And when the title becomes Astonishing, about half-way through this collection, several familiar guest-stars and villains start appearing. Current Captain America Sam Wilson (formerly The Falcon) recruits Ant-Man's help in a fun little team-up that allows the two to riff on the difficulties of legacy (with Wilson having much bigger boots to fill that Lang), the new Beetle from Spencer's sadly canceled Superior Foes of Spider-Man shows up to hook up with Lang (repeatedly, and to her own embarrassment) and Ant-Man Security Solutions gets hired to provide security for Lang's ex-girlfriend (and ex-Fantastic Four teammate) Darla Deering, aka "Miss Thing").

Aside from all the inter-personal conflict, some of which is of the yell-at-the-character-for-making-such-obviously-poor-decisions variety, Spencer finds an over-arching conflict in the form of "Hench," a sort of Uber for supervillains, which allows crimeboss types to hire villains like Whirlwind to attack superheroes for them.

It's a fittingly fun threat for Ant-Man, and for Spencer and Rosanas' Ant-Man/Astonishing Ant-Man, which makes use of the deep catalog of Marvel characters for straight-faced, often deadpan comedy. While Spencer's gags, all effectively told and sold by Rosanas and their other artistic collaborators, achieve a pleasant base-line of an entertaining read, they occasionally spike even higher. Like, for example, when one villain pays off another with a briefcase full of cash and notes, "And you can keep the briefcase! Nobody ever mentions that."

Or, as in maybe my favorite panel, when new legacy villain The Magician throws weaponized playing cards at Ant-Man and Darla, and our hero exclaims, "Gah! HE's a Gambit knockoff!"

"It's a playing card!" The Magician replies, "He didn't invent those things, you know!"

Astonishing Ant-Man Vol. 1 is just as solid a superhero comic book as Ant-Man Vol. 1 was; good luck finding and following the story!

Cage of Eden Vol. 20 (Kodansha Comics)

The latest volume of Cage of Eden, Yoshinobu Yamada's fan-service filled drama about a plane full of Japanese high school students who crash-land on a mysterious island populated by long-extinct prehistoric beasts, is dominated by the kids' investigation of the mystery behind the island. Having something of a respite from life-and-death battles against the local wild-life and any more sinister, adult crash survivors, and having found a fourth large, man-made structure on the island, our hero Akira Sengoku and a team of nine others investigate what appears to have been some sort of headquarters or living quarters for the people who made the island and grew re-created the animals.

That means scores of pages of the cast walking around ruined hallways, finding clues and theorizing out loud about what they all might mean. Another character seemingly loses their life in particularly dramatic fashion, and the clues the group uncovers are pointing in a rather unexpected direction. I don't know if it's really going in the direction the new clues all seem to indicate, particularly during the frustratingly melodramatic conclusion (complete with a cliffhanger in which Sengoku freaks out at the site of a photo that the reader can't see), or if this is simply an example of Yamada manipulating readers into thinking he's heading in that direction but, well, I got a sinking feeling that maybe some amount of time-travel was involved after all, and it's not of the sort that a reader might have expected in the earlier volumes.

This 200-page chunk of Yamada's epic is sadly devoid of beasts, save for a sketch of a Paraceratherium, "The largest terrestrial mammal in history...", which will almost certainly be arriving in the near future, but it seems like it may be drawing near a conclusion or, at the very last, an explanation. If so, that should provide something of a relief, as these sorts of super long-form mysteries always run the danger of going on too long, and then not being able to deliver a satisfying resolution given the amount of time invested in seeking that resolution.

If I understand the Wikipedia entry correctly, then I believe this may be the penultimate volume, which, if that is the case, may prove to be a blessing–provided Yamada can resolve the mystery and wrap up so many sub-plots in just another 200 pages or so...

Captain America & The Falcon by Christoper Priest: The Complete Collection (Marvel)

I'd like to believe that the existence of this 330-page collection of the entire 14-issue, 2004-2005 Captain America & The Falcon series owes its existence to a sudden resurgence of interest in the excellent (and awfully underrated) writer Christopher Preist, or perhaps in response to high sales and high praise of the Black Panther by Christopher Priest collections. I'd like to believe that, but I suspect it might have more to do with the recent release of the third Captain America movie, which rather prominently features The Falcon character.

As for the series' relatively short life, I would attribute it in large part to the timing of its release. It launched during a time of transition for Captain America, The Avengers and Marvel. Captain America & The Falcon launched as the 32-issue Marvel Knights Captain America was coming to an end, and was shipping its last issues as the influential Ed Brubaker-written run was starting up. Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis was changing the direction of the Avengers franchise with his "Avengers Disassembled" story arc and the first issues of his New Avengers (In fact, the second of this title's four story arcs is called "Avengers Disassembled" and is a kinda sorta tie-in to the events of the Avengers book).

The fairly terrible, occasionally unintelligible artwork surely didn't help at all, either.

Admirably, Priest's 14 issues are devoted to telling one big story, with few deviations–the "Disassembled" business makes little sense in the context of this book, and the ending feels off, as if Priest didn't get much warning that the book was cancelled, and had to wrap everything up in too few pages. The subject matter and tone of the scripting seems very much in line with that of Brubaker's and even the Marvel Knights books, the focus pretty squarely on a symbolic superhero trying to navigate post-9/11 realpolitik while engaged in espionage missions and trying mightily not to ever compromise his own rigid moral code. Reading it today, it felt very much a product of the era of the Bush Administration.

The first story arc, entitled "Two Americas," features a pretty complicated plot set in Miami and Cuba, involving The Falcon, a Daily Bugle investigative reporter of his acquaintance, a bio-weapon, a drug cartel, SHIELD (still run by Nick Fury back then), Naval intelligence, Captain America and another, second Captain America created by a Navy admiral who would become the main antagonist for the book.

Bart Sears, sometimes inked by Rob Hunter and sometimes inking himself, draws this story arc, and as much as I liked Sears art back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it felt extremely wrong for this story. His Captains America (or is the plural "Captain Americas"...?) and Falcon are all mountains of muscles, his few women are Barbie dolls, and everyone else seems like an after thought.

Sears has a weird visual art tick in this arc in which just about every single page features a huge figure, or maybe just part of a figure, that is not part of the grid of panels, but stands off to the side or over it. You sometimes see this in manga, when a character is being introduced for the first time especially, but here it's on like every single page, and it makes the already occasionally messy art harder still to read.

He and colorist Mike Atiyeh cheat with the reveal of the second Cap, as for much of the first issue we're meant to believe that the Cap in action is "our" Cap, while it's not revealed until later there's a second one in the mix. But Sears draws them identically, and Atiyeh colors them the same, right up until the point where we learn there are two, after which the other Cap, who is repeatedly referred to as "The Anti-Cap", sees a random coloring change, wherein the blue of his costume is suddenly black.

Back in the United States, life gets pretty hard for our heroes. They've captured Anti-Cap, but don't want to return him to the Navy, as that would be a death sentence for the character, who was created to fight terrorists in the same way that the original was created to fight Nazis (he first decides to enlist after the Oklahoma City bombing, and becomes active after 9/11). So Cap is holding a prisoner illegally, SHIELD and the Navy want the prisoner back and, since you can't very well arrest Captain America for anything, they go after The Falcon because, well, for the obvious reasons.

Most of the rest of the book is devoted to the two characters trying to navigate this terrain, which only gets more complicated once the nature of that bio-weapon is revealed. Falcon gets a new costume, courtesy of an off-panel Black Panther–Black Panther supporting character Omoro makes frequent appearances–and a gradual personality re-write, as he becomes more and more hardcore, apparently reverting to his old "Snap" persona for...reasons.

During the "Disassembled" arc that reason seems to be The Scarlet Witch inadvertently fucking with everyone around her–Cap has weird nightmares with residual, real-world effects, and even hallucinates a romantic entaglement with Wanda–but what was really going on in Avengers/House of M isn't explained here; had I not read those comics a decade ago, I would have had no idea what was going on here, and all that sits rather uncomfortably amid the ongoing plot.

Aside from which, Sam never really seems to recover, and, as I mentioned earlier, his story arc seems to go unresolved in this book, as he eventually teams up with Anti-Cap to help fight off the villains behind all of their troubles, and then switch allegiances from Cap to Anti-Cap before ditching his costume during the equivocal ending.

As a graphic novel, it's not entirely satisfying, but Priest's plotting is top-notch, his characterization is great and he really seems to have found hooks for his two lead characters that made them feel quite relevant for that particular time-period (I also enjoyed his two pages or so of Luke Cage; Scarlet Witch, The Hulk, Yellowjacket/Hank Pym, Iron Man and J. Jonah Jameson all appear at various points as well, plus a classic but surprise Marvel villain).

The artwork improves after Sears' issues, but it changes frequently, with the last two, Dan Jurgens-penciled issues probably being the best looking. Joe Bennet, Andrea Di Vito and Greg Tocchini also all contribute pencils, and there are at least as many inkers. That's a whole lot of artists for just 14 issues.

Motorcycle Samurai Vol. 1: A Fiery Demise (Top Shelf Productions)

I didn't really care for this. The work of cartoonist Chris Sheridan, Motorcycle Samurai is basically a Western that replaces horses with motorcycles, six-guns with swords and...well, that's about it, really. The milieu contains a pastiche of elements more strongly associated with other genres. There's a professional wrestling match, a jet pack, a laser gun and a hot air balloon. But "a Western with a few alterations" pretty much covers Sheridan's world-building.

The probably title character is The White Bolt, a sword-wielding, motorcycle-riding bounty hunter who is returning a mute Happy Parker to the small town of Trouble. She wears a motorcycle helmet mask decorated with a white skull that covers her entire head, and only tips it up high enough to get a bottle to her lips.

Once in Trouble, she meets a cast of colorful characters who all circle one another warily for the bulk of the book, before ultimately forming two sides that go to battle with one another in a city-shattering showdown. While there's a degree of closure to the conflict, it feels as if the book beings and ends in medias res.

Every single one of Sheridan's many characters speak in an irritatingly affected, portentous manner that I tired of pretty quickly. It's an across-the-board habit of the cast, which lead me to wonder if Sheridan was perhaps parodying certain filmic melodramas, but even if that is the case, it's an explanation for the punishing verbosity, not an excuse for it. There's an awful lot of action here, but it's eclipsed by all the talking.

I did like Sheridan's artwork quite a bit. His character designs all feature long limbs and necks, and their joints seem to have a certain amount of rubber in them, allowing them to move in particularly fluid and dramatic fashion. His male character's have big, distinct faces with a ton of character, many of them resembling a Cartoon Network adaptation of a Jeff Lemire character. The White Bolt is, appropriately, the most intersting design, her helmet apparently absorbing her head, and giving her a misshapen, almost jaunty quadrilateral head. Permanently cocked, all of her expressions comes from her big eyes, visible through the big eye-holes of her helmet mask, and her body language.

There's a lot to like about Sheridan's comic, particularly if you look close at particular aspects, but over all I personally found it pretty dull and derivative. Less than the sum of its parts, really, which I found terribly disappointing given how good it looked and the amount of praise heaped on it from other quarters.

The Oven (AdHouse Books)

Sophie Goldstein's relationship drama set in a fucked-up, dystopian future not too different from ours follows a young, idealistic couple who escape that world of the future–suggested in a handful of panels showing their commuter rocket ship leaving a bubble-enclosed city and dropping them off in a harsh and dusty, sun-lit world where they're picked up by a surly driver in a hover pick-up truck.

As is gradually revealed economically in classic, show-don't-tell fashion, they have decided to move into a sort of iconoclastic, live-off-the-land commune so that they can have a child; such things were tightly regulated in the city, and they weren't eligible to breed with one another.

In the future hippie commune, in which families live in trailers and make-shift homes built around bits of space ships and landing pods, they discover just how hard such a life is, with Eric having to help farm and Syd learning semi-lost domestic arts like sewing, cooking, preserving and child-rearing. The new lifestyle isn't what either one of them expected, and it quickly shoves a wedge in their relationship.

The book is labeled "science fiction/life," but despite a few trappings and references to technological advances and cultural shifts, it's not science fiction so much as just fiction; with just a few alterations, this same story could be told with Syd and Eric escaping the big city to try living an off-the-grid life of subsistence farming.

Goldstein tells her tale in deceptively simple artwork, the highly cartoony figures rendered down to fairly simply but devastatingly effective emotion-conveying designs. The limited black, white and orange palette gives the proceedings a distinct look that helps to divorce them further from the here and now. It's a very slight, very quick read, but that's in large part because there's nothing wasted: There's no page, no panel, no line of a drawing and no line of dialogue that doesn't absolutely have to be there to tell the story.

Read The Oven, and pay attention to Goldstein.

X-Men '92 Vol. 0: Warzones! (Marvel)

Co-writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims take on 1990s comics using the most popular characters of the era as their vehicle: The Jim Lee-generated X-Men who starred in the shoddily-animated, all-around-poorly-made 1992-1997 animated TV show.* For a generation of fans at least, these are probably still the X-Men. They were certainly my first and most thorough introduction and indoctrination into the characters (the very first time I met the X-Men was on that one episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, although was just for like 20-minutes or so).

Bowers and Sims walk a very fine line between parodying and celebrating these iterations of the characters and their particular context, and if they occasionally wobble, they never put a foot down on either side of that line. The story arc, which ran through the four-issue X-Men '92 mini-series, is played pretty much straight. This could be a comic from the early 1990s, for the most part, albeit more competently-drawn and more self-aware than any X-comics of that era ever seemed to manage.

The TV team line-up–Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Beast, Gambit, Rogue, Storm and Jubilee–investigate a somewhat sketchy-seeming Clear Mountain Project, where Director Cassandra Nova is rehabilitating evil mutants to make them productive members of society.

Nova is, naturally, up to no good, as the X-Men discover too late–after they've been strapped into chairs that send them into Nova's "Mind Field," where she attacks them psychically, sorting them in order to form her own "New X-Men," complete with white, formal outfits with Frank Quitely-like Xs on their jackets.

If Quitely and Grant Morrison's millennial Cassandra Nova from the pages of their New X-Men seems like an odd choice of villain for a comic based on a cartoon from a decade previous, it's worth noting that Bowers and Sims '92-ize her, so that rather than Professor X's twin, she is no an Apocalypse-created clone of Xavier, fused with The Shadow King. And the contrast between the '90s team and the Morrison-lead break with them in the early '00s is quite intentional.

"The world that's coming deserves a better class of mutant," Nova tells the captured X-Men at the conclusion of the first issue. "One that isn't burdened by all those pouches filled with aggression and inner turmoil."

Their ultimate victory over Nova would seem to serve as a refutation of the millennial New X-Men, if one is inclined to read the story that way, but that doesn't really seem to be Bowers and Sims' intent; if they play with meta-context, it seems to be just that: Playing, rather than making some sort of bold statement about how X-Men comics should be. The real conflict that they seem to be looking at is the tension between the more "adult" X-Men of the comic books and the sanitized, kid-friendly versions that appeared in the cartoon for children. It's no coincidence that Nova works for the Bureau of Super-Powers, which shares the same acronym as Broadcasting Standards and Practices. Nova and her set-up are, in part, in-story representations of Fox Kids' efforts to de-claw Wolverine, de-sex Rogue and Gambit and generally keep the X-Men's adventures PG rather than PG-13.

Most of the gags come courtesy of artist Scott Koblish, and they are visual in nature, as when Wolverine does some shopping at the mall and visits a store called Rugged, which only sells the jackets, flannel shirts and pants that were his "street clothes" on the cartoon, or in the simple background image of one of Baron Kelly's robot dogs sitting like a human, or the outrageously gigantic guns that Cable and Bishop tote around.

There are a few jokes regarding points where the comic is deemed inappropriate for children, and red lettering, notes and arrows or simple rejection stamps marked "BSP" appear over dialogue or implied gore. These fall a bit flat, given the change in media, though, and the particular (and unfortunate) context of the miniseries.

That is, this is a Secret Wars tie-in.

Set in the domain of Westchester, ruled by Baron Kelly, its references to the rules of Secret Wars' "Battleworld" setting are few and far between...but just enough to prove potentially alienating to someone on board for a comic based on the X-Men cartoon, but not necessarily interested in Secret Wars.

That is, I assume, something that will be rectified in future collections, which this was clearly created with a mind towards; at the end of this issue, the team's line-up is undergoing a minor shake-up (as Xavier and the X-Men adopt an aspect of Morrison's New X-Men run; namely, turning Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters into an actual school for young mutants, rather than simply a front for a mutant paramilitary organization), and we see villains waiting in the wings for future issues.

Sure, it's not perfect, but Bowers and Sims have ideas at play here, and that's more than can be said for a lot of the Secret Wars tie-ins. The faithful re-creations of elements of the cartoon show coupled with a critique of many of its elements make this the X-Men comic book I wished existed in 1992.

Better late than never.



*That theme song kicked ass, though. The Hollywood composers who have worked on the seven live-action released so far–I'm writing this before the eighth, X-Men: Apocalypse, sees release–have yet to come up with something so distinct, let alone catchy.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Marvel's August previews reviewed

This summer, there is no Marvel Comics–there is only Civil War II! That's the cover of the fifth issue of the series, while I believe every single thing Marvel has planned for release this August is a tie-in.

Okay, I exaggerate, but only by a little. To count the actual tie-ins, you can click here. To hang out with me for a little longer, well, just stay where you are.


ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS ANNUAL #1
G. WILLOW WILSON, MARK WAID, FAITH ERIN HICKS & MORE (W)
MAHMUD ASRAR, VERONICA FISH, FAITH ERIN HICKS & MORE (A)
...
• You've dreamed of it, you've asked for it, you've longed for it -- and now, you're going to GET it! No Avenger is safe from -- the fan fiction of Kamala Khan! Featuring a bevy of special guest creators!
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99


Hey, I did want this, but I didn't know Marvel knew I wanted it, or were prepared to give it to me! I'm a little surprised that it's showing up in an Avengers book, particularly Too Many Words Avengers book, instead of in a Ms. Marvel annual or special, but I'll take it wherever I can get it. Those are five very talented comics creators listed above; I look forward to finding out who the "& More" are...

CAPTAIN AMERICA: SAM WILSON #12
NICK SPENCER (W) • DANIEL ACU√ĎA (A/C)
BLACK PANTHER VARIANT COVER BY TULA LOTAY
CIVIL WAR II TIE-IN!
• Who are The Americops?
• #givebacktheshield is trending.
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99


Who are The Americops? Well, based on that image, I'm going to guess that they are an elite squad of cosplayers doing some sort of hybrid Cobra Commander/police officer thing.

...

Say, The Cobra Command-cops sounds cooler than The Americops, now that I stop and think about it...

DEADPOOL #17
GERRY DUGGAN (W) • MIKE HAWTHORNE (A)
Cover by RAFAEL ALBUQUERQUE
...
CIVIL WAR II TIE-IN!
• Remember when Deadpool's inner monologues were at war?
• Now, one of those voices is out and about...revealed as MADCAP!
• And he's got a mad-on for REVENGE!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99


One of the first Marvel comics I ever read–this would have been back when I was a teenager and didn't have money to buy comics indiscriminately–was an issue of Ghost Rider featuring Madcap. I liked the character, his powers, his costume and, especially, his hat.
He looks...different here, but I think that's simply the difference between Aburquerque's portrayal of him for a comedy book and 1993 Bret Blevins' portrayal of the character for a "serious" superhero book, rather than any sort of dramatic redesign.

There aren't enough hats in the superhero genre in general, if you ask me.

THE FALLEN #1
CLASSIFIED
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99


THE ACCUSED #1
CLASSIFIED
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99


These are always fun! These comics, presumably tied to Civil War II in some manner, are so classified, that Marvel can't even tell anyone who is making them! I bet it's super-fun to be a comic shop owner, look at that "CLASSIFIED", and then try to order the right number of non-returnable stock for your store...!

Hmm...I wonder if shop owners could try filing Freedom of Information Act requests with Marvel Entertainment and see how far that gets them...?

I like it any time Arthur Adams draws something. Like this cover for a Guardians of The Galaxy comic with a suspiciously low issue number, for example.

MARVEL TSUM TSUM #1 (of 4)
Jacob Chabot (W) • DAVID BALDEON (A)
COVER BY CHRIS SAMNEE
VARIANT Cover by GURIHIRU
PHOTO VARIANT AVAILABLE
MARVEL TSUM TSUM 1 CLASSIFIED CONNECTING VARIANT A AVAILABLE
JAPANESE GAME VARIANT ALSO AVAILABLE
In case you've been living under a rock, Tsum Tsums are HUGE! Well, not LITERALLY (they're actually pretty tiny) but these seemingly cute and cuddly creatures are sweeping the globe! So what happens when these pint-sized piles of fur find their way into the Marvel Universe? After a crate of them falls to Earth en route to THE COLLECTOR, one small group of Brooklyn teenagers will find out! Featuring all of your favorite Marvel heroes and villains, this is sure to be TSUM-thing you won't want to miss!
32 PGS./All Ages ...$3.99


Apparently, I've been living under a rock, as I had never heard of Tsum Tsums until it was announced Marvel would be doing some dumb variant cover thing with them. I guess they're doing more than just some dumb variant cover thing though, they're also doing an entire four-issue miniseries, that talented adults have to try and take seriously enough to get it made.

Props to writer Jacob Chabot for involving The Collector, which seems like the natural way to go if you're forced into a Marvel Universe comic featuring real world collectibles of any kinds.

I left the variants in the solicit just because I'm intrigued by "MARVEL TSUM TSUM 1 CLASSIFIED CONNECTING VARIANT A AVAILABLE." What could it be? Is that tied into Civil War II as well, and it will reveal which Tsum Tsum is accused of murdering which other Tsum Tsum? I guess we'll have to wait until August to find out!


PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT! #9
KATE LETH (W) • BRITTNEY L. WILLIAMS (A/C)
• Out of time, money and options, Hedy Wolfe calls up the two people Patsy most hoped to leave behind -- her (literally) Evil Ex-Boyfriends.
• How will Hellcat and friends contend with this dynamic dude-o?
• See what I did there?! Come on, you loved it!!!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99


I'm pretty sure I mentioned that it was my intention to wait for the trade on this book, but my friend loved it so much she literally forced me to read the first two issues (granted, she had to force me to read the second one a lot less hard, given how great the first one was). Based on the admittedly small sampling I've read while awaiting the trade collection, I think it's fantastic, and probably one of the better Marvel comics of the moment.

That said, while I'm really looking forward to seeing The Son of Satan, one of my favorite Marvel characters based pretty much entirely on his 1970s appearances, I do not care for his design as it appears on the cover. I think Nick Dragotta's nice suit version of S.O.S. from Vengeance (which, remember, was pretty much the best thing ever) is probably the best design the character's had.

SPIDER-WOMAN #10
DENNIS HOPELESS (W)
JAVIER RODRIGUEZ (A/C)
CIVIL WAR II TIE-IN!
• Jessica Drew is a hard-boiled private eye who's got a newborn baby, so she's trying to steer clear of this whole "CIVIL WAR" thing.
• But when a startling new case lands in her lap, keeping herself out of the conflict becomes impossible...
• ...and so does taking Carol's side of things.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99


Trying to steer clear of this whole "Civil War" thing...? I know exactly what you're going through Jessica.

THE ULTIMATES #10
AL EWING (W) • KENNETH ROCAFORT (A/C)
CIVIL WAR II TIE-IN!
• The one thing that could tear the Ultimates apart forever is inside that briefcase...
• ...and someone just opened it.
• Meanwhile, Thanos is ready to strike. And he has an ally...
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99


What?! Tear the Ultimates apart...forever?! That...might be a bit more dramatic were they together longer than, um, ten months in August.

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL BEATS UP THE MARVEL UNIVERSE OGN-HC
Written by RYAN NORTH
Penciled by ERICA HENDERSON
Cover by ERICA HENDERSON
Proof that we're living in the best of all possible worlds: Marvel is publishing a Squirrel Girl graphic novel! It's a standalone adventure that's great for both old fans and new readers! It's a story so huge it demanded an original graphic novel! It's a story so nuts it incorporates both senses of that word (insanity and squirrel food)! And it's the best! Squirrel Girl kicks butts, eats nuts, talks to squirrels and also punches really well. She has defeated Thanos, Galactus and Doctor Doom (twice!). But now she'll encounter her most dangerous, most powerful, most unbeatable enemy yet: herself! Specifically, an evil duplicate made possible through mad science (both computer and regular) as well as some bad decisions. In other words, Squirrel Girl beats up the Marvel Universe! YES!
120 PGS./Rated T ...$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90303-9
Trim size: standard


I am really excited about this, although $25 is an awfully high price point for just 120 pages of comics. Maybe I'll wait for the paperback...? If Patsy Walker isn't Marvel's best comic at the moment, then Squirrel Girl is. Like I said, I haven't read enough of Patsy Walker to know for sure, and it's hard to make that kind of judgement because Squirrel Girl started so much earlier that there's so much more of it, you know?

Michael Del Mundo, ladies and gentlemen. I don't always want to read the comics he draws covers for–although word on the Street is that this one, The Vision, is great–but I always want to see what that guy draws. Del Mundo, that is, not The Vision.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: May 18th

Jughead #6 (Archie Comics) This is it! The conclusion of Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's six-issue Jughead epic, which is every bit as good as Mark Waid and company's reinvention of Riverdale in the pages of Archie, except it is even more better, in that it is funnier.

Jughead and his allies (well, friends) have their final showdown against suspicious new principal Stanger, and all is re-set back to the status quo by the final page, but not before many jokes are told.

Perhaps the best of them is that Dilton demonstrates his "greatest ability," and no, it isn't anything the least bit science-y, as you might expect (Zdarsky offers an editorial box underscoring his own gag, noting that "This is now canon x infinity." The power of a writer!).

Henderson's rendering of a slow clap in six-panels is pretty awesome too, though.

If you haven't been reading Jughead monthly–and you really should have been–don't miss the trade collection of these six issues. It's every bit as fun and funny as, say, Howard The Duck (which Zdarsky writes) or The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (which Henderson draws).

The Legend of Wonder Woman #6 (DC Comics) "Why is Wonder Woman so difficult to figure out?!" a frustrated Etta Candy shouts aloud, speaking for pretty much everyone who has tried to make a Wonder Woman comic since her creator William Moulton Marston passed away.

Etta, who has assigner herself the task of coming up with a costume for her friend Diana, who has just done her first superheroics in Man's World and has been dubbed Wonder Woman, eventually figures it out in a moment of inspiration. Writer/artist Renae De Liz has obviously figured it out as well. If she has had any difficulty figuring out Wonder Woman, it certainly isn't evident in the comic that has resulted.

Diana and Etta are now on the frontlines in France, and when Diana gets a lead on The Duke of Deception, she puts her mother's gifts on, tapping in to their attendant powers to confront The Duke and his undead Nazi soldiers.

The previous issue included mentions of characters from the wider DC Universe–Perry White, John and Martha Kent, Plastic Man–and here we get another, stronger one that puts Wonder Woman squarely in a shared universe of superheroes, even if it's simply a single line of dialogue that does so.

When Diana flies back from her battle to find a concerned Etta waiting for her, Etta convinces her that she's "a superhero...like those people in that Justice Society of America I keep hearing about!"

While I won't go so far as to say De Liz's Wonder Woman origin story has been perfect, it's probably just about tied with Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette's Earth One original graphic novel for the best post-Marston Wonder Woman comic. I have no idea if De Liz wants to do more Wonder Woman comics for DC in the future, and if she does, if she will want to just continue telling tales of Golden Age Wonder Woman like this, but if she decided to follow up The Legend of Wonder Woman with Wonder Woman and The Justice Society of America, well, you wouldn't hear me complaining about it.

Legends of Tomorrow #3 (DC) Gerry Conway and Eduardo Pansica's Firestorm feature and Aaron Lopresti's Metamorpho feature essentially just keep on keeping on, with no real new or terribly interesting developments. Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike is this weird anthology book's best feature, visually as well as in terms of story, and this month's installment is no exception.

Of course, it likely benefits from the fact that Giffen has reinvented the baby stars of the old gag comics as private investigators whose clientele consists entirely of members of the Justice League, so after working for Batman and Superman in the first two installments, it is now Wonder Woman's turn. She wants them to investigate the monster she almost married in the Silver Age, who has suddenly resurfaced and is set to potentially embarrass her. It's probably the weakest of the three Sugar & Spike strips to date, as it revolves almost entirely around the fact that Sugar is a terrible person, and her punching bag Spike gets more abuse than usual (including apparently getting kicked in the genitals by his evil partner), and spends a little too much of the story ogling Wonder Woman.

Finally, there's Len Wein, Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott's Metal Men feature, which includes mechanical guest-stars Robotman and Red Tornado. Once the Metal Men defeat Tornado, we get to see his new, New 52 costume, and it might actually be an improvement over his past costumes. He's more of a black tornado than a red one, with a black cape and a black pair of pants, with a red head, torso and boots, and some yellow highlights. I kinda dig it, and it's not often that one finds a New 52 redesign that actually improves upon a pre-Flashpoint design.

For a good example, check out the cover, where the great Kevin Nowlan draws all these classic DC characters in their current incarnations, and the result is mainly to make one wish he was drawing them in their "real" forms.

Lumberjanes #26 (Boom Studios) Scouting Lad Barney and Lumberjane Hes join our protagonists from Roanoke Cabin as they set off to rescue the Lumberjane leadership from the clutches of a gigantic bird. Some of those kittens with the magical super-powers that filled the last issue come in particularly handy in this issue. It ends with a rather typical genre comic cliffhanger, but reading between the lines of some of the dialogue, I think the book is headed towards a particularly huge status quo change in the very near future, which will have little to nothing to do with the monster bird.

Lumberjanes: Makin' The Ghost of It 2016 Special #1 (Boom) First of all, fuck this comic. Boom Studios charged $7.99 for the one-shot special, which I gladly paid, assuming it was at least a double-sized issue. There are only a couple of $3.99 comics I buy regularly, and Lumberjanes is one of them, so if this special was double-sized, and was being sold for the price of two copies of Lumberjanes, well, it's not ideal pricing, but it makes a certain amount of sense. But when the book ended way too fast, I went back and counted pages and guess what? It is not double-sized! It is only 40 pages long! So it is only 18-pages longer than your average, 22-page issue of Lumberjanes, and they still charged $4 extra dollars for it! That's just...evil.

Breaking out the calculator, the Lumberjanes monthly costs an already-too-damn-much 18 cents-per-page, while the Special costs a wallet-wrecking 20 cents-per-page. I sure hope this book is bought primarily by grown-ups to read themselves or to give to little kids, and not by little kids spending their own allowance or anything...

There are two stories in this issue, one a somewhat over-sized, 32-page story written by Jen Wang, who provides one of the book's two covers (the one above) and drawn by Christine Norrie. It's a well-written and rather beautifully-drawn, but ultimately trivial story that could have fairly easily slotted into the regular monthly, rather than earning a special. It's published size is, obviously, too big for one issue and too short for two issues, but it could rather easily have been trimmed or lengthened accordingly. It opens with a full-page splash, and the individual pages are lighter on panels than the average Lumberjanes story; many pages have just 2-4 panels on them, and the story sequence at the heart of Wang's tale could easily be made longer, as it seems unfortunately truncated (it also rather awkwardly and obviously avoids using the words "murder" or "cannibalism," despite being about a cannibalistic murderer).

It's well written and wonderfully drawn, but there's nothing to it really, not even a really good gag.

The eight-page back-up, written by Kelly Thompson and drawn by Savanna Ganucheau has that, at least. Ripley totally saves Jen's life by answering the riddle of a sphinx and earning a wish, in a fun, fleet story that Ripley herself tells to the rest of the Roanoke cabin. Despite the lack of space, Thompson seems to capture the zaniness of the characters and concepts better than Wang.

The letters in this back-up, by a "Mad Rupert," are pretty cool. I generally dislike when comics characters get distinct styles of dialogue balloons, but I've never seen dialogue balloons like those given to the sphinx in this story.

All in all, it's a pretty okay extra serving of Lumberjanes, and it is interesting to see what different creators choose to do with the characters and concepts, but man, it's hard to say it's worth that crazy-high price tag...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

DC's September previews reviewed

I can tell without checking that this year's Suicide Squad movie is opening in August, based on the number of times "Suicide Squad" shows up in DC's August solicitations.

There's the first two issues of the relaunched ongoing series, Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 and Suicide Squad #1. There's a new Suicide Squad's Most Wanted anthology miniseries, featuring two different characters than the previous one, Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Boomerang (Did Digger Harkness lose his rank? In both the title and the solicitation copy, he's called "Boomerang" instead of "Captain Boomerang"). There's Suicide Squad: War Crimes Special #1, a one-shot written by John Ostrander (whose basic vision of the team is the one propelling the film), the cover of which is above. And there's Suicide Squad: Katana, a trade paperback collecting the Katana half of the previous Suicide Squad's Most Wanted anthology series. (There's also a ton of Harley Quinn material, as there so often is, but the $10, 160-page Harley Quinn's Greatest Hits, which includes a few issues worth of Suicide Squad material.)

They are also, of course, publishing many comics that have nothing to do with the Squad or Harley Quinn, and you can find their complete solicitations here. And to look over my shoulder as I read them--or is it more like having me look over your shoulder while you read them?--you can stay right where you are.


AQUAMAN: A CELEBRATION OF 75 YEARS HC
Written by JACK MILLER, STEVE SKEATES, GEOFF JOHNS and others
Art by PAUL NORRIS, NICK CARDY, JIM APARO, RAMONA FRADON, IVAN REIS and others
Cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
Celebrate more than seven decades of the ruler of the seas, king of Atlantis, and Justice League team member: Aquaman! Since his debut in 1941, Aquaman has defeated villains and saved the world on land and in the ocean, and this anthology collects his brightest and darkest moments in the definitive look at his history as a DC Comics Super Hero. Whether it’s Orin or Arthur Curry, Aquaman is a beloved and timeless hero, and we’re pleased to present this collection in honor of his 75th Anniversary.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 400 pg, FC, $39.99 US


These 75th anniversary collections are always interesting, not simply because of the stories they contain, but because of what the stories within say about how the publisher perceives the character. Given DC's rather defensive attitude about Aquaman in general, and their recent attempts to over-compensate by making the character more powerful and more violent and more "dark," I'm particularly interested to see the contents of this particular book.

Looking at the artist, it seems like the first four listed comprise those one would expect to see in any collection of the greatest Aquaman comics, although I'm genuinely surprised not to see Peter David's name listed under writers. I'm assuming there's a David story in there somewhere–there would have to be, right?

I'm slightly baffled by the cover, which is from a cover of the first story arc of the Geoff Johns-written, Jim Lee-drawn New 52 Justice League. Not only is that particular version of Aquaman not a particularly, popular, enduring or even familiar one–that's his look from that one single storyline–but Green Lantern Hal Jordan is lying at his feet, which sure sends a weird signal. They couldn't find a single Aquaman cover that was just Aquaman? I find that a little hard to believe.

To be honest, I'm kind of surprised that these A Celebration... collections haven't all just recycled Alex Ross covers or posters for their covers, as presenting iconic images of the most recognizable and resonant versions of DC superheroes is kind of his whole deal.


ALL-STAR BATMAN #1
Written by SCOTT SNYDER
Art and cover by JOHN ROMITA JR., DANNY MIKI and DECLAN SHALVEY
Cover by JOHN ROMITA JR. and DANNY MIKI
...
“My Own Worst Enemy” part one! Superstar writer Scott Snyder explodes into an all-new Batman series alongside legendary artist John Romita Jr., reimagining some of the Dark Knight’s greatest villains. First up: Two-Face! Batman must take Two-Face to a destination out of Gotham City, but the duplicitous villain has a two of spades up his sleeve. Every assassin, bounty hunter and ordinary citizen with something to hide is on their tails with one goal: kill Batman! Handcuffed together on the road to hell, this is Batman and Two-Face as you’ve never seen them before!
On sale AUGUST 10 • 40 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


Given the fact that Two-Face has been all but MIA in the New 52–correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he was only featured in a single story arc in Batman and Robin, and had a cameo or three elsewhere–Batman writer Scott Snyder focusing his attention on the classic, Top Five Batman villain makes an awful lot of sense. (Two-Face's relative absence from the DCU over the last five years or so has actually been kind of curious, given what an increasingly prominent role the character has played since "Batman: Year One.")

I wish I knew what "Rebirth" meant for DC continuity, however, as I thought I had read that Two-Face was killed off. Of course, the previous books DC published with the words "All-Star" in the title–All-Star Superman, All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder and I suppose All-Star Section Eight–have all been set outside the "real" DC Universe (Well, the Superman and Batman books definitely were; the Section Eight book had a more ambiguous relationship with the DCU, and I guess the best way to put it was that it was set in the New 52 DCU but shouldn't be considered canonical).


BATGIRL #2
Written by HOPE LARSON
Art and cover by RAFAEL ALBUQUERQUE
...
“Beyond Burnside” part two. Batgirl is off to Singapore! Following the mysterious advice of the ancient superhero known as Fruit Bat, Babs dives into the dangerous world of MMA fighting. But her first opponent may be more than just an adversary in the ring. Could she be connected to Babs’ new travel-companion-slash-maybe-crush?
On sale AUGUST 24 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Well, I like the name "Fruit Bat" for a Bat-Family character, and I remain curious about what a Hope Larson-scripted superhero comic book might be like, but other than that I don't see anything here that really excites me, either in the solicitation copy or in Albuquerque's relatively bland cover. That's a pretty big difference from how I would feel when seeing Babs Tarr's covers for the previous volume of Batgirl in these monthly solicits.


THE DC UNIVERSE BY NEIL GAIMAN DELUXE EDITION HC
Written by NEIL GAIMAN
Art by ANDY KUBERT, SIMON BISLEY, MARK BUCKINGHAM, KEVIN NOWLAN, MATT WAGNER, MICHAEL ALLRED and others
Cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s tales of DC’s greatest superheroes are collected in a single volume. Gaiman, co-creator of THE SANDMAN and author of American Gods, teams with superstar artist Andy Kubert to tell the story that truly defines the years of Batman’s life in the epic “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” Also included are stories starring Batman, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Metamorpho and others from the pages of SECRET ORIGINS #36, SECRET ORIGINS SPECIAL #1, WEDNESDAY COMICS #1-12, BATMAN #686, DETECTIVE COMICS #853 and GREEN LANTERN/SUPERMAN: LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME #1.
On sale OCTOBER 12 • 224 pg, FC, 7.0625” x 10.875” $29.99 US


I think I have all of these in single issue format save for the story from Secret Origins #36* (it's a Poison Ivy origin with Mark Buckingham, if you're curious), but I would highly recommend this to anyone who is missing many of those.

I think it's pretty safe to say that none of the above represents Gaiman's best work, regardless of how strong that Secret Origins Special comic is or how brilliant-ish as that Legend of the Green Flame story is. For the most part, these are simply decent, more-clever-than-most superhero comics, most significant not for their writing, but for their art.

The Green Flame comic, originally conceived and written as a kind of coda to Action Comics' weekly, anthology phase, was completed by a who's who of artists, for example. Some of them are among those credited above, but also contributing were John Totleben, Eric Shanower, Eddie Campbell and Jim Aparo...Oh, and Frank Miller drew its cover. That story is a who's who of artists in a collection that looks to similarly be a who's who of artists, some of whom do the real heavy lifting in some of those stories (The Metamorpho comic from Wednesday Comics, for example, is more Mike Allred's show than it is Gaiman's).


I still hate all those costumes, but now I feel kinda guilty saying that I hate Tim Drake's new Red Robin costume, given that it's so many hundreds of times better than his previous Red Robin costume, which he is apparently still wearing in the pages of August's issue of Teen Titans.


DOCTOR FATE #15
Written by PAUL LEVITZ
Art by SONNY LIEW
Cover by INAKI MIRANDA
Trapped in the realm of the Efreet, young Khalid Nassour must fight to regain his soul or be lost for all eternity in another dimension, and the only person who can aid him is the previous Doctor Fate, Kent Nelson. But has Nelson returned to help Nassour learn how to wield his powers, or to wrest them from him and keep them for himself. As we learn the startling answer to that question, Nassour’s life hangs in the balance.
On sale AUGUST 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

EARTH 2: SOCIETY #15
Written by DAN ABNETT
Art by FEDERICO DALLOCHIO
Cover by JORGE JIMENEZ
A new menace rises to threaten the fragile order the Wonders struggle to maintain. Emboldened by Green Lantern’s loss of power, the Ultrahumanite emerges from the shadows with an army of super-powered slaves. His goal is nothing less than reforming Earth-2 in his vision, utilizing the Amazonian technology that Fury had hoped to use to rebuild a better world.
On sale AUGUST 10 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED


I am honestly shocked that both of these comics are still going to be published as of August, given that so many of those launched--or, in the case of Earth 2, re-launched aound the time of DC's "DCYou" initiative have been canceled...and/or re-launched. Neither of these seems to sell particularly well, neither are particularly well-written, and, in the case of the latter, its very existence just seems to dilute the DC Universe brand in general.

Earth 2 also has an annual shipping in August that promises "an epic turning point in the history of Earth-2’s Batman." Fun fact: The current Batman of Earth 2 is the third Batman of that planet (well, planets, since the first Earth 2 was destroyed and settled a second Earth 2) since the title first launched in 2012. So it's not like this particular Batman has much in the way of a history, nor would any change of it seem too terribly epic, as these Batmen serve shorter terms than Presidents do...


THE FLASH BY MARK WAID BOOK ONE TP
Written by MARK WAID
Art by GREG LAROCQUE, JOSE MARZAN, JR., MICHAEL COLLINS, TRAVIS CHAREST, MIKE PAROBECK and others
Montage cover
In 1990, Mark Waid’s legendary writing career began when he scripted his first issue of THE FLASH. Waid would continue to work on Wally West for nearly a decade, building a world that would keep the character running for years. In this first volume of a new series, Young Wally West is quickly in danger—not only from The Flash’s enemies, but from powers that he doesn’t know how to control! Collects THE FLASH #62-68, THE FLASH ANNUAL #4-5 and THE FLASH SPECIAL #1.
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 368 pg, FC, $29.99 US


So here's a comic book I've been meaning to try and read for almost ever now (I've only really read the later years of Waid's run, plus a random back issue-bin find here and there). This seems like the perfect opportunity to finally do so.


HARLEY’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK #5
Written by AMANDA CONNER and JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art and cover by NEAL ADAMS
...
(Mumble-mumble) years ago, the alien race known as the Scrubb forced Superman into a boxing match for the ages, against Earth’s greatest heavyweight champion, (mumble-mumble)! Now, (mumble-mumble) years later, the Scrubb have returned…but with said champion unavailable, the Scrubb have chosen the next-best thing: Harley Quinn! This can’t end well for anyone involved. Featuring unbelievable art by the legendary Neal Adams, it’s a tribute to one of the greatest Superman stories of the 1970s, in Harley Quinn’s own particular, ah, idiom!
On sale AUGUST 24 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T+


Well, that sounds like a pretty much perfect use of a guest artist, having him draw an elaborate homage to one of his own previous stories.

What's with the "(Mumble-muble)" business, though? I sincerely hope those aren't supposed to be Muhammad Ali-Parkinson's jokes, because jokes about people with Parkinson's or other such diseases generally aren't very funny. (UPDATE: Actually, read the comments to see how wrong I was!)


JUSTICE LEAGUE #2
Written by BRYAN HITCH
Art by TONY S. DANIEL and SANDU FLOREA • Covers by TONY S. DANIEL and MARK MORALES
...
“The Extinction Machine” part two! Massive earthquakes shake cities to the ground as the ancient intelligence known as the Awakened takes control of the people of Earth, forcing them to turn against anyone with superpowers—including the Justice League! Unable to fight a war on two fronts, Batman asks for help from the one man he trusts less than anyone.
On sale AUGUST 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

JUSTICE LEAGUE #3
Written by BRYAN HITCH
Art by TONY S. DANIEL and SANDU FLOREA • Covers by TONY S. DANIEL and MARK MORALES
...
“The Extinction Machine” part three! The hive-mind entities known as the Awakened take their vendetta against the Justice League to the next level by changing ordinary people into grotesque monsters bent on hunting down super-humans all over the world. Meanwhile, Superman journeys to the center of the earth to stop the catastrophic quakes that are taking lives all over the world.
On sale AUGUST 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


As weird as it might seem that DC has handed one of their top books to artist Bryan Hitch to write but not draw, it seems weirder still that DC re-launched the book with Hitch writing it before his previous Justice League book even ended. Counting the Rebirth Special, the above are the third and fourth issues of Hitch's tenure as the new writer of Justice League. Meanwhile, his run on Justice League of America finally concludes in August with the publication of JLoA #12 and JLoA Annual #1, neither of which feature artwork by Hitch which, if you'll remember, was kind of the whole selling point of the title--a new Justice League comic written and illustrated by superstar artist Bryan Hitch.

I can't imagine what goes on behind the scenes at DC--and a lot of times, I don't think I want to--but it sounds like the publisher rather unexpectedly found themselves without a Justice League writer, and simply moved Hitch from one League title to the other, where he can continue to tell whatever stories he might have had planned for the franchises B-title.


NEW SUPER-MAN #2
Written by GENE LUEN YANG
Art by VIKTOR BOGDANOVIC and RICHARD FRIEND
Cover by VIKTOR BOGDANOVIC
...
“Made in China” part two! The New Super-Man must face off against the Justice League of China? When Kenan Kong was imbued with the powers of Superman, he didn’t waste any time using them! Now it’s up to the New Bat-Man and New Wonder-Woman of his home country to bring our hero back down to earth—just in time to stop the attack of the deadly Sunbeam!
On sale AUGUST 10 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Feh. I'm looking forward to this book quite a bit, and while a Superman of China is cool, I feel weird about there also being a Batman and Wonder Woman of China. Get you own heroes, China! I think The Great Ten still exist post-Flashpoint and, if not, I'm sure Yang can make up his own fairly inspired Chinese superheroes.



SIXPACK AND DOGWELDER: HARD-TRAVELING HEROZ #1
Written by GARTH ENNIS
Art by RUSS BRAUN
Cover by STEVE DILLON
Variant cover by NEAL ADAMS
...
In the tradition of the original Hard-Traveling Heroes, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, Sixpack and Dogwelder are ready to bring their allegedly socially aware brand of justice to the lands beyond Gotham City!
After the events of ALL-STAR SECTION EIGHT, Sixpack is fighting to keep what’s left of his team together. Dogwelder has gone in search of his past, while newlyweds Bueno Excellente and Guts are dealing with some fidelity issues. Could Section Eight be done for good?
But everything changes when a mysterious trenchcoat-wearing chain smoker offers our favorite dog enthusiast some clues about his true nature. Is Dogwelder everything he seems? Or is he meant for something greater?
On sale AUGUST 24 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+


Well this is unexpected, particularly since All-Star Section Eight didn't exactly set the sales charts on fire or anything. I'm a little disappointed that Sixpack co-creator John McCrea won't be involved--and I'm really disappointed by that price tag--but at this point I'm more surprised by the book's very existence.

Neal Adams' bizarre homage to one of his own most classic covers is...something, and I'm glad that Steve Dillon gets to draw Dogwelder, as I understand it was he that originally suggested the character.

It's probably worth pointing out that, aside from the various Harley Quinn books (which I never find the least bit amusing), this is the only comic book DC is publishing this month that appears to be a genuine attempt at a comical comic book. That stands in sharp contrast to the massive superhero line of their rivals Marvel, who publish plenty of superhero books that double as comedies.


SUPERGIRL: REBIRTH #1
Written by STEVE ORLANDO
Art by EMANUELA LUPACCHINO and RAY McCARTHY
Cover by EMANUELA LUPACCHINO
...
Supergirl turns to the shadowy organization known as the D.E.O. (Department of Extranormal Operations) to restore her lost powers once and for all! But as a fateful experiment sends Kara Zor-El rocketing toward the sun, disaster strikes at home in the form of the lost Kryptonian werewolf Lar-On! All the epic action of the brand new Supergirl series starts here!
On sale AUGUST 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


As glad as I am that the Supergirl TV show wasn't actually cancelled (along with Agent Carter and the Netflix Marvel shows, that's the only other superhero TV show I watch), I did think it would be kind of funny if the network decided to cancel Supergirl right before DC finally--finally!--solicited a new Supergirl comic book. As you can see from the solicitation, the comic will reflect the TV show in at least one respect.

It's probably also worth noting that DC has a bunch of Supergirl collections solicited for August as well.


SUICIDE SQUAD: REBIRTH #1
Written by ROB WILLIAMS
Art and cover by PHILIP TAN and JONATHAN GLAPION
...
Soldier. War hero. Traitor. Captain Rick Flag was one of America’s greatest military commanders before he was banished to a secret military prison. But after years of isolation, Flag’s life changes forever when a woman called Amanda Waller offers him redemption in exchange for taking on the single most dangerous job in the entire DC Universe: keeping the Suicide Squad alive!
On sale AUGUST 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+


It kind of amazes me that it took the publisher this long to re-introduce a key character from the Ostrander-written, 1980s iteration of Suicide Squad to the series, which is being relaunched here for the third time since September 2011. It depresses me that adding Flag back into the mix was more likely a response to the film than to anything else.


SUPERWOMAN #1
Written by PHIL JIMENEZ
Art by PHIL JIMENEZ and MATT SANTORELLI
Cover by PHIL JIMENEZ
Variant cover by TERRY DODSON and RACHEL DODSON
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
“Who Is Superwoman?” part one! Lois Lane takes flight! Now powered up with the abilities of Superman, Lois pledges to carry on the super-legacy as Superwoman! There’s only one problem: Lois’ new powers are killing her, and neither she nor her friend and confidant Lana Lang know what to do about it. Will Lois even survive long enough to learn the deadly secret of Ultra Woman?
On sale AUGUST 10 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


In the grand DC Comics tradition of giving readers exactly what they want, but in a way they don't want it, we finally get that Lois Lane ongoing series we've been asking for forever...and it will feature Lois Lane as a distaff version of Superman instead of, you know, Lois Lane.

On the bright side, it's being written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, who was responsible for what I think is probably the strongest post-Crisis run on the Wonder Woman title, which happened to include a pretty great issue teaming Wonder Woman with Lois. So while I kind of hate this premise, especially since a newspaper version of Gotham Central starring Lois seems infinitely preferable (and truer to the character), if anyone can do right by it, Jimenez can.



*I know all of those particular secret origins are like two-to-four reboots out-of-date now, but I still kinda wish DC would go ahead and collect that entire series. I'd read it. It's one of the many comics I've tried finding in back-issue bins over the years and, like Suicide Squad and All-Star Squadron, I never got as far as I'd like...and would greatly prefer something bound and not smelling of moldy paper, if possible.