Monday, June 01, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: May 2020


Batman: The Caped Cruasder Vol. 4 (DC Comics) This 300+-page trade paperback collects ten issues of Batman from 1990-1991, as well as that latter year's annual, an Armageddon 2001 tie-in (and among one of the earliest comics I ever bought, certainly one of the first featuring Batman). All are written by Alan Grant, while Norm Breyfogle pencils all save the annual, which is by Jim Fern. Steve Mitchell inks most of the issues, a rare exception being #460, in which superstar-to be Tim Sale inked Breyfogle (I read this issue repeatedly in the past, but I don't think I ever noticed Sale's name in the credits; it was great fun to pore over it now and pick out the choices Sale made that were different than those of Mitchell, and to try to parse the differences between the two inkers' lines and those between Sale and Breyfogle).

This collection marks a pretty pivotal moment in Batman history regarding the official addition to the cast of Tim Drake as the third Robin. The first story is the three-part "Identity Crisis," which ends with that splash page of Tim in the brand-new Robin costume, pumping his fist and announcing, "Gentleman-- Meet the new ROBIN." The final regular issue within is "Debut," a done-in-one chronicling Tim's first night on the job with Batman (That's Batman #465, from which the cover of this collection, one of the best Tim Drake images and one of the better all-around Batman images, is taken).

Oddly, Tim is MIA from the issues in between, although those too expand the cast. Sarah Essen, the police officer that Jim Gordon had an affair with in "Year One," returns to Gotham City and the Gotham City Police Department, now a sergeant, and, in short order, Gordon's fiancee (a two-part Catwoman arc also makes a few references to "Year One"). Batman takes in Harold, the mute, hunchback electronics genius from a previous volume, who begins working with him out of the Batcave. And after an unlikely adventure on the West Coast, Batman adopts a large mastiff with a bat-shaped pattern in its fur, who is originally named simply "Dog" by his blind shaman owner, but who Batman will eventually name "Ace." (It occurs to me now that I don't actually know what became of this Ace. Jeph Loeb rather clumsily wrote Harold out of the comics during his "Hush" arc, but I don't recall this Ace ever dying or being sent away.)

Each issue is another great example of the particular talents of Grant and Breyfogle, and what they achieved as a team with Mitchell. Because of the Tim Drake business, this particular batch of comics dwells a little more on Batman/Bruce Wayne as a character than some other selections of their comics, but throughout there are distinct, complete stories of Batman fighting crime like a freelance policeman; busting muggers and drug dealers on his way to other, more dramatic crimes, but many of these seem relatively small compared to the sorts of things you'd find Batman getting up to during, say, Scott Snyder or Tom King's more recent runs on the title.Not everything is an epic in which the entire city is threatened, and Batman must face a diabolical super-villain. Sometimes he's just got a single murder to solve, you know?

Though curt and gruff, Batman doesn't ever come off as a misanthrope or a lunatic, stopping to shake hands or spare a calming word with a crime victim after saving them, taking a knee to talk directly to children in a few instances.

Breyfogle's Batman is, as always, a liminal figure, with the artist drawing him as a lithe but muscular man whose cowl and cape trail off into abstraction, so he regularly, dramatically appears simultaneously as a physical human being and a spooky symbol in the very same panel.

Together, Grant and Breyfogle regularly create impressive action scenes, with the heroes often taking on whole groups of foes, striking multiple opponents at once (I'm used to seeing Batman do this in Breyfogle's comics; here we see Catwoman and Robin do so at different points, too). There are also multiple instances of Batman's batarang returning to his hand after he throws it at someone, like a boomerang; we don't see that too often anymore. Generally he just throws things at people these days, and more often than not those projectiles are pointy, bat-shaped shuriken.

So here we have "Identity Crisis" (which I think I actually have in two, maybe three other trade collections at this point); a done-in-one wherein Batman takes in Harold; another in which Gordon suffers a heart attack; a two-parter in which Essen, Vicki Vale and Catwoman stumble into a team-up of sorts while Batman and Joe Potato work a "white slavery" case (did the term "human trafficking" not exist yet?); the three-part "Spirit of The Beast", in which a Gotham murder lures Batman into an investigation involving Native American mysticism (and a hell of a dramatic fight scene at its climax, in which the combatants fight on the physical plane while mythic avatars of them fight alongside them as shadows); and, finally, "Debut."

Following the Breyfogle-drawn comics is the annual, which featured an evocative Scott Hampton cover of Batman's wrists in chains as he stands ankle-deep in mist. The premise of all the Armageddon 2001 annuals was that Waverider, a time-traveling superhero from the far-off future of, um, 19 years ago, has returned to the past of 1991, trying to figure out which of the era's superheroes would go bad, eventually becoming the masked despot known only as Monarch (Spoiler alert: It's not Captain Atom!). To do this, Waverider must take a suspect's hand, at which point he—and the reader—would experience a possible future. (I forget the exact in-story rationale, but Waverider would have to test certain suspects like Superman and Batman repeatedly. The real-world rationale was, obviously, because they each starred in multiple titles).

In this future, penciled by Jim Fern and inked by Steve Leialoha, Bruce Wayne has gone gray at the temples, but is still fighting crime as Batman—right up until The Penguin dies during an encounter, and Batman surrenders himself to the justice system. He's found guilty of murdering his old foe (and several others), and is scheduled to be killed via electric chair. An adult Tim Drake, who gave up his Robin role to run for the Senate, an adult Anarky, and Catwoman all try to either rescue Batman or figure out if he was framed and, if so, by who, and how. Killer Croc and The Joker also play rather substantial roles in the story, with a couple of other villains only appearing in cameos.

Among the "future" stuff that's interesting to look back on from our present are a robot Alfred, ankle-mounted jets that allow Batman and Robin the ability to fly to the top of tall buildings and mutant humanoid baboons developed by the U.S. military. Grant correctly predicts an "oil war" in the future, although it occurred a few years earlier than the Iraq War, and the death toll for it is mentioned as being 12 million, which is a good ten times higher than the number of soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq. The electric chair was also out of vogue by the twenty-first century; Batman would have more likely gotten lethal injection...although he was more likely still to die of old age on death row. If he wasn't framed, of course, and, you may be shocked to hear this, but he was framed.

(Rereading this for what is probably the twentieth time, I became newly curious about the rest of the Armageddon 2001 annuals. Looking at Wikipedia, it would appear there's about a dozen of them, bookended by Armageddon 2001 #1 and #2. That's...not actually so many of them, and if DC collected them into a to a pair of trade paperbacks, I would definitely buy those trade paperbacks. I believe I only read the Batman, Detective, Superman (guest-starring Batman!) and the book-ends at the time they were published, and I then read the Justice League and Justice League Europe ones years later, when I was reading those books via back issue bins. Hell, I kinda wish DC would collect all their old annual events, as I'd love to read them all as complete events, as I generally only picked and chose the ones I liked best, having been unable to afford reading them all as a teenager...and not really being all that interested at the time as to what The Flash or Green Arrow or whoever was up to during them.)

I'm not sure if there will be a fifth volume of the series or not, but if so, it will be an odd one. The next eleven issues of the series are mostly by the Grant/Breyfogle team, but they are interrupted by a three-parter by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle involving King Snake and Lynx coming to Gotham City (a semi-sequel to their Robin miniseries). They also include parts one and three of the four-part "Idiot Root" crossover with Detective Comics (Tec writer Peter Milligan scripts one of these Batman issues) and part one of the multi-book "Destroyer" story arc (that's the one where modern Gotham City's architecture was destroyed, to provide an in-book reason for why the city would start to more closely resemble Anton Furst's designs for the Batman movie). Name recurring villains in these issues will include Killer Croc, Scarface and The Ventriloquist and Maxie Zeus (in a "War of the Gods" crossover). If 1992's annual is included, then that means we'll get a bonkers-looking Batman vs. Joker Eclipso: The Darkness Within tie-in co-written by Grant and John Wagner, featuring art by the great Vince Vince Giarrano under a cover by Sam Keith (Michael Fiffe wrote about Giarrano's work for The Comics Journal here, and included some imagery from that particular annual, if you wanna take a look).

In other words, I sincerely hope there's a fifth volume.

Box City Wallops Color Special I'm afraid I know relatively little regarding the background of this wild Jim Lawson superhero comic. I just saw someone tweet that Lawson had a new Kickstarter campaign, I clicked the link, forked over some digital cash and, not long afterwards, I received three new Lawson comics in the mail, on what turned out to be the greatest day of mail in my least so far (That was the same day I received my $1,200 stimulus check, plus $10 from the Nielsen TV ratings people for taking a survey and a package of review copies for upcoming releases).

As you hopefully know, Lawson is an incredibly prolific comics artists, best-known for drawing Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And he drew them a lot, including #19-21, #28, #48-#49 and #51-#63 of the original series, the entirety of the second and fourth volumes, most of the first volume of Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a healthy share of the second volume of Tales Of...), some of Archie Comics' Adventures comics and even the syndicated newspaper comic strip.

I used to really dislike his art as a teenager, at least compared to that of Eastman and Laird, but the longer I was exposed to it, the more and more I liked it, and now I regard hims as the definitive TMNT artist (after Eastman and Laird, of course). While his artwork has gotten gradually weirder and weirder as it gets stripped further and further down, I've only found it more appealing. In addition to mutant ninja turtles, Lawson's particularly good at drawing vehicles, robots and, of course, dinosaurs (His Paleo comics are a must-read to any fan of dinosaur comics).

As far as I can tell, he seems to be doing a majority of his comics work through Kickstarter now; certainly the last time I read a new comic of his was also one I bought through Kickstarter (Dragonfly), and now there are these. Based on the title of this collection, and the "Collecting Issues 1-7" on the back cover, I'm going to guess that this is a trade paperback collection of what was originally a black-and-white comic, here colored by a Dmitry Bobrovnik.

The basic premise seems to be a different take on the idea that each superhero has his or her own city that they protect. In the near future world of The Box City Wallops, when aliens are an accepted fact of life on earth and giant monsters occasionally crash through portals to wreak havoc, each city employs its own team of superheros for protection. The relationship between city and teams is a formal one, with the heroes being akin to city employees, and their actions are governed by rules and contracts. It struck me as something akin to the way professional sports franchises work, only rather than competing against one another, the teams fight off monsters, stop runaway buses and other sorts of superheroic tasks.

Our heroes are based in Box City, and their team name is, you guessed it, The Wallops. All three are aliens, and all three are siblings, but none of them look anything alike. There's Wayne, a big, super-strong cyclops ("I hit stuff," he explains his powers to a fellow hero late in the book); there's Nola, a perfectly human-looking young woman who fights with a special power sword; and there's Zaso, who looks a lot like a tiny gray alien, only with a perfectly-human looking butt. Zaso is the brains of the operation, a super-genius that seems super-excited about science and every single aspect of superhero-ing, and he has an enthusiasm that his more cynical older siblings can barely keep up with.

When we first meet them, they are battling a three-story tall kaiju in the streets of Box City, a scene that introduces the characters, something of the premise, and a conflict that will come and go throughout the entire volume.

Mos Eiko, an "exposure enhanced" (i.e. not an alien) caped strongman type from the Killocrats, the home super-team of neighboring Miracle City, seems to have heard that the Wallops are interested in moving to his city and replacing his team, and so he sets out to engage in some elaborate forms of sabotage to damage their public image.

That conflict reaches its climax in the last couple of issues, when aliens invade The 2020 Northeast Superhero Update in Miracle City, where various heroes form various teams are filling out paperwork and suchlike. The invaders take Eiko to their ship, and the Wallops go to his rescue (Wayne doing so rather reluctantly). Here we meet all sorts of superheroes, some of which are pretty lame (Beatloaf, Blockhead, Battlefly, the flame-powered Hotgirl and "Grenade Raccoon," who appears to just be an excuse for Lawson to draw Rocket Raccoon), although some of the unnamed characters have neat designs, and a few show promise (Jersey Devil, for example, or the cloud-powered Cumulass, The Cloud Girl).

After the Wallops fight their way through the alien ship to rescue Mos Eiko, who doesn't want to be rescued (a "xenosexual," he's there enjoying "extraordinary carnal adventures" with the aliens' queen), they then visit Miracle City and investigate a huge tunnel dug by the giant space-worm that the alien ship was built around, a monster that escaped after the Wallops caused the ship to crash.

Aside from their looks, powers and basic personalities, there's a lot that is left mysterious about the three title characters, but Lawson's book seems more interested in quirky supehero adventure and oof-beat takes on genre staples than any kind of deep character study. His art is so idiosyncratic that it's hard to think of another comic that's much of anything like this. The genre subversion, complete with silly characters with silly names, reminded me a bit of Adam Warren's Empowered, although the only thing I've really read that was much of anything like this was the 1993-1994 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Flaming Carrot crossover written by Bob Burden and drawn (mostly) by Lawson, as that too was filled with weird, often sub-standard super-people drawn in Lawson's strange style.

Of course, that was over 15 years ago, and Lawson's art has only gotten more stripped down since. Take Nola, for example. Not only does she have an hourglass figure, but her figure seems formed by the hourglass symbol on, say, Black Widow or Hourman's costumes. It's one upside down triangle, balanced atop the tip of the other one. He breasts are perfect spheres, immune to the effects of gravity or movement, and she has the same wide-set legss that all of the characters do, giving them the look of living marionettes.

Lawson can draw in greater detail, of course, but he rarely does in this book (There's a stand-out scene showing a close-up of Nola's face in which the details are rendered in far greater detail than when we see her in medium and long shot). It moves fast, and it seems to have been drawn fast too. Not necessarily rushed, but certainly with a momentum. Writing, drawing and lettering in the same style of his signature, this is a relatively rare example of a superhero comic that is all the work of a single individual, from concept to production, with only colorist Bobrovnik offering anything approaching a diluting factor.

In other words, this is pretty much just pure Jim Lawson. I liked it an awful lot.

The Box City Wallops: The Happiness Creature This 44-page one-shot appears to follow the events of the Color Special trade paper back collection (above) quite directly; Wayne even has a bandage on his hand where Nola cut off his fingers when under the influence of mind-altering substances secreted by a giant space worm. The title heroes are on their way to deal with the latest giant monster to step through a worm hole into their city, and they find the creature on the cover, just hanging out atop a suspension bridge.

Seeing that it's rather docile for an inter-dimensional kaiju, Wayne climbs up alone to talk to it and, while it can't talk, it takes just two pages for Wayne to hug it (complete with a rain bow "H U G" sound effect). The creature radiates a happiness effect of some sort, and soon the other Wallops and the police officers on the ground start to experience it.

"Well - At a time when bad news seems to dominate every aspect of our lives... What we are witnessing here is actually very welcome," BCPD Captain Lupo says. "I'm glad he's not beating up the creature. I think this visitor might be a friend."

Indeed, the happiness effect starts to sweep over Box City and neighboring Miracle City, and Lawson demonstrates its effects in a three-page sequence showing how Jack, who appears to work for Box City's alien mayor, starts his day.

There are tangible, immediate (too immediate, really) benefits to society, all of which are laid out during a city meeting, but everyone suddenly being happy is also bad for business, as no one's buying new cars, a casino is forced to close when people stop gambling, and lawyers, drug companies, insurance companies...the entire economy is at risk of implosion, the one man in the meeting who doesn't seem to be enjoying the happiness wave explains (It's interesting reading this in the middle of the pandemic, where the understandable fear of the virus is ravaging the economy and individuals eschew their normal patterns; the effects sound similar, although in the comic it is a complete lack of fear and dissatisfaction threatening economic ruin).

One person particularly unhappy with all of this happiness? President Pigchild. Nola makes an odd passing reference to the character in the trade paperback, but that is the only mention. I was therefore a little surprised to turn the page of this comic and see...this guy:
Without anger and unhappiness to drive his followers, his rally in Miracle City was sparsely attended, and "the public's perception of this administration" is shifting for the worse, an aide tells "Pigchild."

"What's to blame? I need something to blame!" he demands, at which point the aide shows him a picture of the creature:
The Pigchild administration's campaign against the creature is continued by a press secretary that looks to be Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but, in the streets, their words seem to be having little effect. When Wayne and Zaso come upon a protest and a counter-protest for and against the rights of aliens like the creature, it's strangely mild-mannered, and the two sides, while disagreeing on the matter that brought them into the streets, realize how much they have in common.

Interestingly, in this sort of story, there generally would be a sinister side to the creature, but while Lawson brings up the unnatural nature of the happiness and the effects on the world it could have, whether or not it is a good thing or a bad thing in just something various characters begin to grapple with as the story reaches its conclusion.

In the end, it doesn't really  matter, as someone else decides the fate of the creature for the whole world, when one of Pigchild's followers runs into the airport hangar where the creature is being kept, kills the police officers guarding it and shoots it repeatedly in the head.

I...wish this weren't the most realistic part of the comic, but when Nola stops the killer and demands answers, he reveals that he sees himself as a soldier of Pigchild's, striking out at the president's enemies for him, and that aliens like the creature, like Nola and The Wallops, don't belong in America:
This is the human's world. 
While you're here you serve us until we don't need you anymore. 
And then and only then, you can go crawling back to whatever dirty little planet it is you came from.
This was a very thoughtful, even compelling done-in-one story that I wish wasn't quite as relevant as it is, but what are you going to do...? Other than vote our version of Pigchild out of office in November, of course.

Turtles2030 #1 This is the third and final comic I received when I backed Jim Lawson's most recent Kickstarter project, The Box City Wallops. It's a fan comic produced by the artist who has drawn more panels of art featuring Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters than anyone else.

There's obviously a unique tension to it, as Lawson is about as professional a TMNT artist as anyone who has ever lived, but he takes pains to stress this is just a fan comic and, indeed, the production values of it are akin to the sort of self-published mini-comic that you would find at a small press comics show. The cover is a simple bright, almost neon green cover folded and stapled around the interiors, the inside front and back covers blank, the back cover containing a big disclaimer on how "This is only a fan comic," and that the characters are the sole property of Viacom, Inc and so on.

As for those insides, they are 24 pages of a TMNT story set sometime in the future—I think ten years from now seems like a pretty good guess—a subject that seems to be of particular fascination for many of the men who have worked on TMNT comics over the years.

As someone who has been reading Lawson's Turtle comics for as long as he's been drawing them, and pretty much ever since I first started reading comics, it was certainly fun to see how his designs for the characters, and his art in general, have evolved over the decades...or, perhaps I should say, how it has mutated.

The backgrounds of familiar settings, like the New York City sewer system, have lost their veneer of realism, and become more and more artsy-looking, with piles of bricks scattered about, pipes in odd angles running in different directions, and open pipes dripping water side by side. The Turtles' sewers have grown into something akin to an urban fantasy setting.
The Turtles all seem to have lost their noses, having far flatter faces than he used to draw them with (the cover image is a rare one in which there's still a suggestion of a nose), and their limbs have grown thinner, their muscles all pointier. Lawson's art has gotten to a point where one can almost see each pen stroke that was made to get the lines on the pages, and it's clear that he puts those lines down more quickly and efficiently than ever before, regardless of whether an ankle or wrist looks far too thin to realistically hold the weight of a body (and really, why worry about that? The first panel has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fighting giant mutant insects). The more peculiar anatomy that Lawson has developed is more apparent in the male, human characters, all of whom have fairly boxy torsos and short, bowed, heavily muscled legs that fall straight down from their hips.

Regarding the specifics of the Turtles designs, they've changed from how they looked when Lawson was last drawing them regularly (during the fourth volume of the comic), as well looking different from one another. Leonardo and Raphael look closest to their earlier incarnations, although Leo has a new harness for his swords, and his wrist wrappings climb all the way up his forearms. Raphael has a mask that covers the top of his head, not just his eyes, wears a scarf, has his hands wrapped and wears dark wrapping over his forearms.

Donatello seems to have given up his pupils and bo staff for a robot battle suit, and simply wears biker shorts and a pair of goggles. Michaelangelo similarly has no vestiges of his ninja apparel, but wears a full-body suit he refers to as an "alien jet suit." None of the four have tails.

There are a lot of very thick, heavy blacks on the pages, and somewhat random hatching on every surface, giving the comic the suggestion of tactile grit, or at least a roughness. The letters, as in Box City Wallops, move like waves across the panels in gently tilting balloons, looking somewhat sing-songy in their placement on the page.

As for the story, there is at least one extremely interesting idea that I'm a little surprised no one has ever explored before, or, at least, not anywhere I've seen so far (I'm still working my way through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, which seems like the most likely place to explore it).

In this future, Leonardo has returned to the Turtles' original lair, and taken up painting (like his namesake!). As the comic opens, he's fighting a trio of Megaroaches before a pair of kids in masks. The kids lead him through the sewers to meet someone, someone who turns out to be Raph.

As they catch up, Raph shows him around the large makeshift city he's created for all of the kids like the two in the masks, a place where he can keep them safe, fed and protected. He's called on Leo, however, because he has a problem: The kids seem to be mutating. Not into cool animals designs, but their faces, heads and fingers are beginning to take on different shapes. Raphael has two theories. "The first is that the mutagen that changed us is still down here," he explains. "Still down here and for the past fifty years has been seeping and invading every rock and water source." The other is that perhaps it's coming from Raphael himself, and perhaps his mutation is somehow contagious through prolonged exposure.

They decide they need to talk to Donatello, at which point the action moves above ground for a while, and we see what the other two brothers are up to. In their battle suit and alien jet suit the two confront some sort of criminals setting up some kind of mysterious device.

One escapes Michelangelo, because he lets her go, and he's reticent to tell the NYPD policeman who pulls up who it was and why he let her go. The policeman, believe it or not, is Casey Jones (weird, because in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the amalgamated New Gotham City's Casey Jones was a policeman, which seems like an extremely un-Casey Jones-like profession), and the girl was Shadow, Casey's daughter (and the Turtles' niece, who played a sizable role in TMNT vol. 4, and was, I think, one of the most interesting characters that hasn't had much of a chance to shine since, give her presence requires Casey, April and the Turtles being at least in their thirties, rather than teenagers).

Then Luis, the little boy who Raph had summon Leo, hits Mikey on the back of the head with a sling shot-thrown rock, luring him to the sewers and into an unexpected family reunion.
The only thing I don't like about this comic? That it has a "#1" on the cover, and ends with "End Part One," meaning there's more story to go. Don't get me wrong, I want to read more of this comic, and to see what happens next, but  I'm not very savvy with Kickstarter, and Lawson's not very online, so I hope I don't end up missing part two.


BatmanDetective Comics Vol. 3: Greetings From Gotham (DC Comics) The third collection of writer Peter J. Tomasi's run on Detective contains three short stories spread across six issues, with occasional teases of an upcoming Mister Freeze-centric story arc that ties into the Justice League/"Year of The Villain" business in which Luthor approaches various villains.

They're all pretty great.

The first of these is a two-issue Spectre/Batman team-up, drawn by Kyle Hotz, who is an all-around ideal Batman artist, and is right up there with Nick Derington in terms of an artist I would love to see have a substantial run on a Batman title at the moment.

As most of you know, my two favorite Batman artists of all time are Kelley Jones and Norm Breyfogle, and there are panels in this story that remind me of the work of both of those men (I also see a glimpse of John McCrea and Simon Bisley here and there). Like Jones, Hotz draws huge capes that seem to move on their own (and in The Spectre's case, it does). He also uses unusual or unexpected angles, draws fantastic gargoyles, rooftops and brick work, and his Batman has long, horn-like ears (but not Jones long) and claw-like fingertips. There's also a lot of blacks inked into every panel, for particular deep shadow work. But as much as the work reminded me of Jones, Hotz's art isn't anywhere near as exaggerated as Jones', and lacks that gothic cartoon vibe. I'd say it looked an awful lot like Kelly Jones finishing Norm Breyfogle roughs, but that wouldn't quite be fair; what it looks like more than anything else is Kyle Hotz drawing Batman. And it is a beautiful thing, striking all of the aesthetic chords I like best.

Tomasi, for his part, certainly gives Hotz a lot of cool shit to draw. While there are some pretty incredible sequences, like the one in which The Spectre enters Bruce Wayne's eyes in the form of a green cloud and has Bruce relive John Corrigan's origin as The Spectre as if he himself were Corrigan, I think the best images are probably a giant Spectre stomping through the streets of Gotham to find Batman on a rooftop and point an accusing giant finger at him, or the Spectre appearing in the Batcave as a giant, white-skinned tyrannosaurus rex wearing a green cloak, surrounded by a flock of the monstrous-looking bats Hotz fills the Batcave with.

This story has Gotham City Police Detective John Corrigan and his partner investigating a mysterious nearby murder when they are attacked by a group of cultists in green cloaks and hoods. After they kill Corrigan's partner, The Spectre comes out to avenge him, and they make-off with Corrigan's body while The Spectre is splattering a couple of the cultists (As with Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Blackest Night discussed below, Hotz's highly-exaggerated style goes a long way towards softening the violence and gore in such a way that a more realistic artist might not have been able to achieve). The Spectre needs Batman to help him find Corrigan before it's too late, but given Batman's opposition to lethal force, he's somewhat resistant to working with a vengeful murder spirit.

As Batman/Spectre stories go, it's a fine one that seems to keep all three of the characters well within their established parameters, including the fact that these are superheroes who would not get a long at all. I confess to near complete ignorance of how The Spectre "works" in current continuity, having not seen him since Batman Eternal. I suppose it's worth noting that he's back to his original design, rather than the New 52 one he had in that story. I wasn't fond of his new speech balloons, which seemed overly colorful to me; I preferred the signature speech balloons he had in the Ostrander/Mandrake series, but then, I consider that the definitive Spectre.

That's followed by a pretty great done-in-one featuring The Joker, which seems somewhat premised as a "farewell" conflict with Batman tied-to Luthor and The Legion of Doom's plans in Justice League, at least based on a few references The Joker makes in his dialogue, but it's hardly important to the plot. It's easy to imagine this being a story for a future greatest Joker stories ever told or a Batman Vs. The Joker type of collection.

Basically, Joker takes an entire amusement park hostage, presumably by sabotaging the admission pendants well ahead of time, and he is basically forcing Batman to go to the fair with him for the length of an issue. The sight of them on the roller coaster together, referred to on the cover of the collection, is pretty great, as is their going through the tunnel of love. This one's drawn by Doug Mahnke.

The rest of the collection is a three-part story in which Deadshot is Batman's adversary, and it was actually kind of fun to see the character playing the role of badguy-in-a-Batman-comic after his years in Suicide Squad and Secret Six and even playing vigilante for a while. Deadshot is hired to kidnap a bunch of billionaires that Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox host on Wayne's plane to save carbon emissions on the way to a green summit. They end up crash-landing on a tiny lost island where Bruce Wayne teams up with a couple of nonagenarian BFFs who have been stranded there since World War II, when their respective home countries of the USA and Japan were at war. This one was drawn by Christian Duce.

All in all, this was a nice, refreshing batch of shorter, evergreen Batman stories, particularly after Tomasi's previous big arc in volume 2, and the multi-year storyline that Tom King has been writing in Batman (which went on so long and repetitively I had to tap out of it midway through volume 11).

Event Leviathan (DC) There are two major problems with this comic.

The first it shares with another recent ballyhooed event series, Heroes In Crisis, and that is the problem of continuity within the DC Universe shared setting. The bulk of the publisher's work seems to be ignoring the fact that continuity was rebooted in 2011 and 2012 in the wake of Flashpoint, giving most characters new origins, rendering many other characters non-existent and smooshing all of DC Comics history down into a single, mostly-secret five year time-line. While there were repeated hints that another change is in the offing, it's yet to ever officially been changed back, so writers mostly operate as if there was no reboot, the only real difference between pre- and post-Flashpoint DC being the collapsing of the multiple generations of heroes down to a single "now," with the Golden Age characters having never existed and not really being around, except in the occasional art error (I think Scott Snyder and company's Justice League was the only time we've seen the JSA in-continuity since 2011, for example, and that story won't be resolved at least until Dark Nights: Death Metal is released).

Now, strict adherence to continuity is only ever really a problem when the creators try to couch their stories in that continuity, which is something that this Brian Michael Bendis-written comic absolutely does. It is full of markers that seemingly tie it to DC history, markers that shouldn't be there.

For example, the villain of the piece is a masked puppet master who guys by the name "Leviathan," the same name of the terrorist organization he wrenched control of from Talia al Ghul (that group was a creation of Grant Morrison's; the Leviathan storyline actually began before the reboot and carried on afterwards).

Throughout the series, Leviathan tries to recruit heroes to his cause, citing teams they've belonged to in t he past. With Batgirl Barbara Gordon, for example, he mentions her time as Oracle, her time with the Suicide Squad, and even Seven Soldiers of Victory (that last one's from the one-shot Silver Age: Showcase, tied to the 2000 Silver Age event). With Plastic Man, he mentions a few teams that seem like mistakes (The Freedom Fighters, Secret Six), as well as The All-Star Squadron, which was a team created pre-Crisis, though the book continued after the crisis. That would acknowledge the existence of the Golden Age of heroes well as the fact that Plastic Man was around back then (DC's been pretty vague regarding Plas' age ever since he was returned to the fore of the DCU again during Morrison and company's JLA).

Those are a few minor examples, and less irritating than the fact that not only is The Question alive and well, but Vic Sage is one Question, while an off-model Renee Montoya is apparently the other Question; despite the fact that she became The Question at the conclusion of a story in which Vic Sage died. In fact, the resolution of the story revolves around elements of DC Comics trivia last thoroughly explored in a 1988 event series, although elements of it have surfaced here and there since.

The second problem is that Alex Maleev produces the art in the series, and it's pretty terrible.

Now, I realize I am now both old and old-fashioned enough that my complaints about digitally-produced art likely sounds like get-off-my-lawn, pull-up-your-pants ranting, but back in my day, comics art was produced by artists putting pencil to paper, and I still like that kind of art best, dammit. Although I also like the work of artists who put stylus to screen and draw art that now looks indistinguishable from pencil and ink on paper. That's fine. What I hate is art that looks like soul-less photo-collages, the artist's swipes being literally laid into panels and then covered over with coloring effects to make them look like superhero characters.
It's not just that it's aesthetically abhorrent to me, but, more often than not, it doesn't move right; the comics don't read like comics, but like weirdly-illustrated prose forced into panels. It's more infuriating still when it looks lazy, and this comic looks extremely lazy.

Because there are so many scenes of conversations, and because Maleev stages all of these as tight close-ups of characters' faces in dark or empty rooms, that means he re-uses the same goddam images repeatedly, often on the same page, so it's abundantly clear what he's doing, although he must feel some small degree of shame over it, because he will often tweak the cropping of the panel just enough to try (and fail) and hide the repeating images.

Other than that, this was okay, I suppose, but it was among the weakest work I've seen from Bendis at DC so far (I didn't care for Naomi, either, although Bendis only co-wrote it). The collection includes not only the six-issue Event Leviathan series, but also the Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1, which actually kicks off the collection. It's almost too bad that the Superman special is included, as the three overlapping stories in it feature vastly better art than what follows, and while much of the action in these stories are also just two people talking to one another, the artists at least stage the talking in such a way that the scenes are much more dramatic and visually interesting than the various FaceTime calls between characters that Maleev draws later in the book.
The special checks in with the Superman family of characters in a series of comics, each by a different creative team. Bendis and artist Yanick Paquette handle a story in which Leviathan approaches a new Superman villain for some tips on tackling the hero, which results in Talia's Leviathan kidnapping Clark Kent and draping a Krytponite vest over him to get Superman when Superman comes to rescue him.

Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins follow that up with the story from Lois' perspective, as she anxiously awaits news of how Clark's kidnapping is going, and eventually breaks down and calls the Justice League when he hasn't freed himself (she also smokes under stress here; bad Lois! You're the one member of the family who definitely shouldn't ever smoke, due to your weak and human lungs!).

Then Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber show us what Jimmy Olsen was up to in Gorilla City at the time, a fun and funny story that serves as an introduction to their Jimmy Olsen limited series, just as the previous chapter previewed the Lois Lane comic.

And then Marc Andreyko, Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira turn our attention to Supergirl, who finds the house her DEO agent "parents" were living in leveled as part of Leviathan's plan to destroy all of the DCU's super-spy agencies.

Finally, we circle back to Bendis and Paquette, and Lois, Jimmy, (a?) Firestorm and Dex-Starr showing up to rescue Clark from Talia's Leviathan,and a scene in which the masked figure who goes by "Leviathan" pitches her out of their escape ship.

That bright, well-drawn and exciting prelude out of the way, the rest of the collection is filled with the Event Leviathan miniseries, which seems to be already in progress. A lot of events seem to happen off-panel, and/or in stories that the characters tell one another at different points, rather than just happening on the page. Read in a trade like this, rather than serially as published, it's not entirely clear that if I were reading other DC Comics if these events would be depicted in them or not. Bendis has written a lot of Marvel's event series over the years, and many of them have felt pretty incomplete in isolation, but then, he could get away with piecemeal story sections in comics, as he was usually writing two to four monthly series tying-in to the event series he was also writing. So I don't know; perhaps the Superman books complete the story...?

The premise of the event series is that the new iteration of Leviathan and its mysterious leader have taken down various spy agencies (and, oddly, one religious cult with its own army) in a single, super-organized blitzkrieg attack: The DEO, ARGUS, SPYRAL, Task Force X/The Suicide Squad and Kobra are all obliterated, their staffs either disintegrated or teleported away, and a few key figures left alive, casting suspicion on them.

Batman and Lois meet in the ruins of an ARGUS facility, where Steve Trevor is the only survivor. The pair agree that these attacks were step one, tearing down the old world order, and step two, ushering in a new one, will begin the next day, so they convene a team of detectives to solve the case before the night is out.

They're joined by Green Arrow Oliver Queen (who actually shows up on his own, so maybe wasn't recruited), The Question Vic Sage (Resurrected? Never dead?), Robin Damian Wayne, Manhunter Kate Spencer (her first appearances since the reboot...?) and Plastic Man.

Plas was a private investigator for a bit, and used to work for the FBI, but I was surprised to see him there instead of Elongated Man, but it turns out there's another, second group of detectives also assembled by Lois to work the case separately: Elongated Man, Detective Harvey Bullock, Zatanna (?), John Constantine (??), Deathstroke (???) and another, female question who could be Montoya with a new 'do, I don't know.
Barbara Gordon appears briefly, but as for other DC detective types, Dick Grayson and Tim Drake are MIA (the latter maybe still out-of-universe in the pages of Young Justice), and I was honestly surprised not to see either Martian Manhunter or Detective Chimp, especially since Zatanna and Constantine are apparently there for their magical expertise, although .

Although the series seems premised on the mystery of Leviathan's identity, and a great deal of the interpersonal conflicts are meant to stem from the various players not trusting one another, or suspecting one of their fellows on the detective committee might secretly be Leviathan, it's not really a mystery. When Leviathan finally unmasks, the identity is indeed a pre-existing DC character, but not one who has appeared in any capacity at all in the story before then, and one who, in fact, hasn't been seen in over ten years (a brief, Easter egg-like cameo in Forever Evil aside). This character's pre-New 52 continuity is also intact. It's a pretty anti-climactic reveal, but apparently this event is more of a stage-setting one than anything else, with elements of the miniseries set to be explored in various other, future comics.

There are relatively few action scenes, the biggest of which involves Red Hood Jason Todd somehow fighting off the entirety of Batman's team of detectives, Batman included, but it's just as well, given that Maleev's style is so static. I can't recall every reading another comic with either Plastic Man or Elongated Man (let alone both of them) where they barely stretch. There's maybe a panel or two featuring each in which their arms or legs get slightly longer than normal. For the most part, like everyone else, they do a lot of standing still and talking. (Plas also has on his newer white and black costume from The Terrifics on instead of his customary red, so he doesn't pop from the murky, dark color scheme any better than any of the other characters do). During the one big action sequence, when Plas goes after Jason Todd, he just flings himself off a rooftop, keeping his normal human shape and proportions, rather than, you know, using his powers in a visually interesting way.

Visually, Event Leviathan is no more interesting than a prose story or a script might have been. Actually, it's probably less; if you just read Bendis' script for the book, you could at least imagine the characters much better than Maleev portrays them.

Tales From The DC Dark Multiverse (DC) If, upon first hearing of DC's series of Dark Multiverse one-shots, your initial reaction was to snicker, well, I think you can be forgiven. The DC Multiverse is already plenty dark, sometimes even shockingly, irresponsibly, distressingly dark, and the remit for these comics was to take particular big events from 1985-2009, and then What If..? them so that they are darker still. And, if you didn't read the originals or have forgotten, please allow me to remind you that 2005's Infinite Crisis featured Superboy-Prime decapitating people as he murdered his way through every Titan ever, and that 2009's Blackest Night was about the reanimated corpses of dead superheroes returning to life in order to rip open the chests of their friends and loved ones and eat their hearts. (I guess we're lucky there isn't an Identity Crisis one-shot included?)

So yes, snicker, eye-roll or sigh away. I get it.

I still read it, though.

This huge 428-page collection includes not only the five new one-shots, but also the five issues of the comics that inspired them, which is cool, but really doesn't do the new material any favors. I mean, whatever virtues the art of Javier Fernandez or Tom Raney, this collection pretty explicitly forces one to compare their work to Jim Aparo inked by Dick Giordano and George Perez inked by Mike DeCarlo and Giordano.

The particular events chosen are somewhat curious, in that they don't have all that much in common, in terms of their focus, their scope or the era they are from: 1985's "The Judas Contract", 1993's "Death of Superman" and "Knightfall" and the aforementioned Infinite Crisis and Blackest Night (In terms of the reprints, those first three story arcs have their final chapters or climaxes reprinted, while the latter two have their first issues published). More curious still is the order in which the events appear, which isn't chronological, something that will be most apparent to anyone rereading the reprints, as, for example, in Blackest Night #1, Damage talks about how all of the Freedom Fighters except him were killed, something that happens in Infinite Crisis #1, which is reprinted next.

The new stories all have a framing sequence involving the character Tempus Fuginaut, whom Google informs me originated in the quickly-canceled Sideways series. He looks like one of Marvel's cosmic giant characters, and he has the ability to travel between the Multiverse and the Dark Multiverse, the differences between which Scott Snyder elaborated in Dark Nights: Metal. Not unlike The Watcher in Marvel's What If...? comics, he is a point-of-view character and narrator for these deviations. In the first issue, Batman: Knightfall by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Javier Fernandez, he tells us that "A crisis is coming...perhaps the greatest yet," and he's looking at these Dark Multiverse worlds for new heroes, "forged in the fires of our fears."

And indeed, each one-shot introduces a new hero, or "hero, of one kind or another.

In each one-shot, Temups Fuginaut restates who he is and his role, and then re-tells the way the original story went briefly-—"Knightfall", "KnightQuest" and "KnightsEnd" are collapsed into five panels in the first of these one-shots—and then we see a world in which things went differently. In the Knightfall one-shot, Bruce Wayne failed to reclaim his mantle from Jean-Paul Valley, who shoves a gauntlet through his back, and then promises Batman to "show" him that he was right to choose Valley as his successor.

It then flashes forward 30 years, to a sort of "KnightsEnd" redux. Valley is now "Saint Batman," having merged the vague religious motifs of Azrael and the Order of St. Dumas with Batman's modus operandi. He keeps Bruce Wayne alive as just a head and a torso connected to an elaborate life-support contraption atop Wayne Tower, visiting him once a year to give him the chance to say Valley was right after all, at which point he will allow him to die, but Wayne, obviously, refuses. He gets a chance for revenge when Lady Shiva and the son of Bane free him and gift him with "nano-bats" that give him a full corporeal form and new powers, but he's been driven mad by his years or torture, and, at comic's end, he's the last one standing (If I had to guess, he and at least some of these other characters will play a role in Death Metal, which is why these comics might be conceived as "important.")

I'll be honest, this book was a real slog to get through. I had to take a break after that dreary first chapter. Then I made it through three more, and had to take another couple of days before reading the last one. It's really just a lot of depressing misery, full of superhero deaths, usually with little in the way of actual redeeming qualities. Like, there is only one issue of these I'd really recommend, because at least it ha sfun art and some surprises in it. But let's take the rest in order...

Next is The Death of Superman by writer Jeff Loveness, pencil artists Brad Walker and inkers Drew Hennessy and Norm Rapmund. After about four pages in which Walker and company re-present the the deathblow and Lois Lane cradling the "dead" Superman's body, she tells off all the heroes who arrive too late to help, and grows even more bitter through the funeral and merchandising of his death. After a few pages of grieving, she goes to the Fortress of Solitude with Superman's tattered cape, and there meets The Eradicator, convincing him to use her body to house his dissipating energy.

The result is a Super-Lois, now wearing a black body-stocking, with the bleeding S-shield on her chest, and the tattered cape on her back. She's also surrounded by an energy aura that looks like a compromise between Kirby dots and blood splatter, and her eyes have permanent running mascara. Within pages, she's playing Queen Superman and murdering Luthor, Joker and Batman. And that's the rest of the book, really. Cyborg Superman, Superboy and Steel appear. The cyborg kills the two newcomers, then Lois kills him. Then when Superman returns, with his long hair and black costume, he's afraid and disappointed in her, and he dies again, this time from Cyborg Superman's last act.

So yeah, that's just some 40 pages of death and killing and Lois Lane being petty, bitter and evil. I think one of the problems Loveness, as well as all of the others, face is that the original versions of these stories played out across hundreds of pages and six months or longer, whereas here everything must be condensed into the space of like two standard-sized issues of a comic, so it's hard to give the story space to breathe, and the stories start to quite quickly feel like a catalog of atrocities.

Ironically, my favorite issue ended up being writer Tim Seeley, penciller Kyle Hotz and inkers Dexter Vines, Walden Wong and Danny Miki's Blackest Night. That crossover series was already so dark right up until the very end, which was actually rather happy, restoring a bunch of characters to life, and thus doing the opposite of your average superhero event series. So that's where Seeley starts, the end, and this is basically a sort of alternate sequel to Blackest Night.

Instead of sharing the power of the life-powered White Lantern ring,  as he did at the climax of the original series, here Sinestro keeps it to himself, sees all the surviving heroes overwhelmed and killed and, in his guilt, kills himself...or at least tries.

A few weeks later, Lobo arrives on Earth and starts slaughtering Black Lantern Teen Titans to rescue the still-living Dove, who he's been hired to retrieve and take to Takron-Galtos. The unlikely pair receive help from an unlikely ally, as Sinestro appears, wearing the white ring on his right hand and a Black Lantern ring on his left. He's bisected right down the middle, with half of him a living White Lantern, the other half an undead Black Lantern.

The guy who hired Lobo to fetch Dove turns out to be Mister Miracle, who has a crazy plan involving piercing the Source Wall to release "the cosmic energy of creation", and then using Dove's powers as an avatar of peace and order to direct the naturally chaotic life force. Complicating matters is the fact that the Black Lanterns want to stop them, and they show up with new recruits like Granny Goodness, The Female Furies and Darkseid himself. There are a couple of twists, and some decisions by the characters that are difficult to reconcile with the versions of them I know, but after reading of berserker rage Lois Lane, they seemed easier to swallow in-context.

There are also a couple of neat surprises, all centered on Lobo's unkilliability (he heals too fast for the Black Lantern rings to take him) and, when Darkseid splatters him with his eyebeams, it only results in an army of Lobo clones. Hell, even the resolution involves Lobo in a way that "ruins" this universe, but it does so in a way that's both clever and darkly humorous, feeling more like the twist ending of an old-school horror or sci-fic comic, rather than the march through misery that the rest of these are.

I think the fact that this one turned out to be a pretty fun comic has to do with the fact that Seeley essentially uses Lobo as his main character, and, for most of his existence, Lobo has been a cartoonishly violent character, so seeing him kill his way through superhero zombies—stomping on heads so hard eye balls shoot out, gutting one in flight so her rotting insides fall on another below like a bucket of water—have the feel of a grand guignol cartoon, a typical silly Lobo comic that goes into full splatterstick mode.

Well, there's that, and the fact that Hotz's highly-exaggerated style lends itself to Lobo and the ultra-violence in a way that makes the comic gory without necessarily being gross. I think it also probably helps that Dawn and Mister Miracle are about the only characters one could describe as human in this comic. Everyone else is either a zombie, an alien, or a half-zombie alien, and that remove helps the violence feel all the more fantastic as opposed to being too present.

Additionally, although there are some good artists whose work I've enjoyed elsewhere contributing to these, Hotz's is the only book that struck me as particularly well-drawn. There's lots of cool imagery in it, from Beat Boy's taking the form of dead animals to the neat half-white, half-black Lantern design for Sinestro, to Darkseid's gouged-out eye-holes leaking streams of floating blood into space after Lobo plucked his eyeballs out, to Hotz's golden, smokey version of The Source Wall, in which all of the creatures imprisoned in it seem to be Lovecraftian monster gods.

Next up is Infinite Crisis by James Tynion IV, Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan and hoo boy, did they get a tough one. Unlike Seeley, Tynion didn't necessarily find a good place of departure that allowed him to ignore many of the events of his line-wide crossover event, but instead tries to smoosh the whole goddam thing into less than 40-pages, once you make allowances for the Tempus Fuginaut appearance and a three-page recap of Infinite Crisis, which was itself a sequel to an even bigger, previous crisis.

Tynion starts with Blue Beetle's confrontation with Max Lord, only this time Beetle pretends to join him long enough to hit him on the head, grab his gun, shoot his brains out, and then assume control of Checkmate and Brother Eye. From there it's a race through story points, as Beetle solves all the problems of the Infinite Crisis lead-ins Villains United, The Rann/Thanagar War, The OMAC Project and Day of Vengeance using Checkmate and The OMACs. He even manages to recruit Superboy-Prime, who murders Alexander Luthor after Luthor kills Earth-2 Superman and Lois.

Where this goes darker is when Brother Eye tells Beetle that the Justice League is the greatest remaining threat, so he becomes, and I'm not making this up, a "One-Beetle Army Corps," OMAC-izes the Trinity, then interrupts Superboy-Prime's killing spree in order to kill and/or OMAC-ize everyone.

So essentially the story ends with Beetle being able to stop most of Max Lord's and Alexander Luthor's plans, but ultimately he and Brother Eye just takes over the world themselves, and to look dumb doing it. While reading it, I was wondering how much sense it might make to someone coming into it cold or hell, even after reading the issue of Infinite Crisis reprinted in the back, and I assume it would just read like gobbledygook, with some killing thrown in.

The final story is The Judas Contract, by writers Kyle Higgins and Mat Groom and artist Tom Raney. I didn't care for this one at all. On the night Wally West and Dick Grayson are announcing their retirement from the Titans, Dick decides to say on as their plain clothes leader, even if he gives up his Robin identity. A conversation about not wanting to be in anyone's shadow somehow puts the idea in Terra's head that she should kill Deathstroke, melt off Wintergreen's hand and force him to fill her up with 'Stroke's super-soldier serum, at which point she puts on a cape, changes her name to Gaia and goes on a killing spree, using her souped-up powers to kill off all the Titans one by one, destroying all of Metropolis and even killing Superman.

It's the second of the five stories in which a woman goes crazy and kills everyone until the story runs out of pages.

Rereading the reprints, the things that struck me the most this time around were that Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning drew the absolute fuck out of that first issue of Infinite Crisis, and that I really rather liked the opening of Geoff Johns' Blackest Night; he was so good at that kind of continuity-intense, DC Universe stuff, and that issue offered a pretty thorough catalog of every hero who ever died, before he started bringing them back as zombie lanterns...although, ultimately most of them would be returned to life at the climax. It made me regret that the New 52 reboot happened at all more than I have in a while, as that really stripped Johns of his greatest strength as a DC writer.

All in all, this is interesting package of comics—and a rather depressing and disappointing read.


Estranged: The Changeling King (Harper) I rather regret sleeping on cartoonist Ethan M. Aldridge's 2018 original graphic novel Estranged and this, its fall 2019 sequel. On its surface, Aldridge's extrapolation of a fantasy adventure series based on the concept of a changeling looks like a really well-drawn, really well-designed comic with a spirit and feel that seems to feel a little like a 1980s film for kids (think Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Never-Ending Story, a bit of Legend, etc.) and a little like a 1990s era Neil Gaiman comic. Just below the surface, Aldridge takes some unusually risks in both books, seemingly breaking the "rules" of such narratives in interesting ways. I would welcome a third book.

Jughead's Time Police (Archie Comics) I read a lot of Archie Comics over my unexpected six-week break from my day job, and this miniseries by writer Sina Grace and artist Derek Charm was by far the best of them, its only real rival being the shockingly good Archie Vs. Predator II (I think Jughead's Time Police beats that book out too, though, thanks in large part to Charm's art work). Given how good the publisher's post-reboot, non-werewolf Jughead comics have all been, it's really a shame there isn't a Jughead ongoing. I didn't think Grace would be able to pull off an arc as well as Chip Zdarsky and Ryan North did during their runs on the Jughead title, but he did.

In preparing to write about it, I spent a nice afternoon on a neighbor's balcony reading the digest-sized collection of the original Jughead's Time Police stories from the late 1980s, early 1990s with a cup of tea, and that was a really pleasant reading experience, too, although the sense of humor was obviously not as sophisticated (And, oddly, Archie seemed to try to make the collected comics seem to be of more recent vintage by changing references to the "20th century" to the "21st century," but they just changed the 0 to a 1, so there are repeated references to the "21th century" throughout the book.

Prince Freya Vol. 1 (Viz Media) With many manga series, it can be difficult to gauge just where they are going and how good they will be based on the first volume alone, but this one in which a peasant girl is forced to impersonate her small kingdom's dead prince who she just-so-happens to resemble identically certainly has a lot of promise.

Sabrina The Teenage Witch (Archie) Kelly Thompson, Veronica Fish and Tim Fish present another new start for George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo's perennially popular Archie Comics character. It's pretty great, and manages to find a sweet spot between the more adult-leaning horror stuff of the most recent show and some of the recent Archie Comics and the more traditional, kid-friendly version of the character. A perfect comic for pre-teens and teens...and, apparently, grown-ups like me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Best Godzilla Movies Never Made...?

As I mentioned earlier this month, I spent some time this spring reading through some of writer John LeMay's books, including Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island and The Big Book of Japanese Monster Movies: The Lost Films (Mutated Edition), both of which are bursting with recaps and explanations of intriguing ideas, pitches, concepts and scripts for extremely promising-sounding films that have the benefit of never having actually been fully produced and released, meaning they can never actually disappoint us in the ways that, say, Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla or Dino De Laurentiis' 1976 King Kong could. Both books are basically pure food for the imagination of monster movie fans.

The Big Book of Japanese Monster Movies is incredibly complete, its 450+ pages seemingly covering every "lost" kaiju film whose potential existence left some trace of evidence in the world, and it is, in fact, more complete than even my interest in the subject (For whatever reason, Ultraman, for example, does nothing for me). The category of "lost" films I was most interested in were those starring Godzilla, and there were could-have-been films featuring exciting opponents (Gamera, the American Godzilla, the devil, The Mysterians, TV's Batman, various versions of King Kong) and exciting directors, like Clive Baker and Tim Burton (Seriously! Imagine either of them having made a mid-90s Godzilla instead of Emmerich!).

There are dozens of "lost" Godzilla movies covered in the pages of LeMay's book, but these are the four I found most exciting...

1.) Bride of Godzilla? If it had actually been made, this 1955 script by Hideo Unagami would have been the third Godzila film, following the 1954 original and 1955's sequel Gojira no gyakushū/Godzilla Raids Again...and it would have been the weirdest, wildest one yet. Heck, maybe ever. It breaks sharply from the more or less realistic nature first two films (which were basically the real world + giant monsters, in term of tone and premise), in large part to explain where Godzilla and Anguirus came from and, in even larger part, to stave off their threat.

In it, we learn that the two monsters from the first two films come from a hollow earth lost world, discovered by miners, and that this strange underworld includes mountains, deserts, lakes and giant monsters Godzilla, Anguirus (they would have each been one example of their species, as there would have been multiples of each), plus a giant archaeopteryx, a giant chameleon, a giant bat, giant fleas and, oddly enough, mer-people. The mer-people, one of the script's doctors believes and mentions in a lecture, were a stage in human evolution. This underworld would also have its own orange-colored sky...which would change colors every 23 seconds, its light being given off by a massive wall of uranium.

As for the title character, it is the invention of a Dr. Zenji Shida, a roboticist who has created a sentient robot duplicate of a woman he once loved, as well as a giant robot version of her, the latter as part of the Godzilla Countermeasures Center's plans for dealing with future Godzilla attacks.

Naturally, the monsters escape their cavern, at least the four biggest ones do: the chameleon, the archaeopteryx and one each of the two name monsters we met in the previous films. The military and Bride battle them all, until only Godzilla and the Bride are left standing. The pair then journey together to the entrance of the cavern, where they embrace and the bride detonates, seemingly killing this Godzilla and sealing up the monster-sized entrance.

The budget necessary to turn such a script into a film likely doomed it more than its crazier ideas, but it's worth noting how much it would have changed what became the Showa Godzilla series had it been established so earlier on that Godzilla was a species, rather than an individual (or two...or so), and that Japan had giant-robot, monster-fighting technology so early in the game. As LeMay noted, many ideas from this script would end up in other, future films, most immediately 1956's Rodan.

Whenever a new comics publisher gets the license for producing Godzilla comics again, I would love to see a creative team take a crack at making this into a graphic novel...actually, that goes for all the films on this list (Plus Batman Meets Godzilla, obviously).

2.) Ryu Mitsuse's Godzilla Chapter 30 of LeMay's book is entitled "Stranger than Shin Godzilla: The Godzilla Revival Meeting of 1978." Out of this early discussion of how to restart a Godzilla series after the final movie of the Showa Era—remember, Terror of Mechagodzilla was just released in 1975—Toho approached three Japanese science-fiction authors to make pitches, and while all three of those discussed here sound cool as hell (Yoshio Aramaki's bore the title Godzilla: God's Angry Messenger), and all, coincidentally or not, involved alien origins for Godzilla, Ryu Mitsuse's is the one I most would have liked to see, as among its surreal imagery would have been dinosaurs, the Loch Ness Monster and other such "real" monsters from around the world.

As LeMay explains it, the initial scene is set during the age of dinosaurs. A massive ship lands on Earth, causing untold destruction and interrupting scenes of dinosaur-on-dinosaur violence, when the various carnivores stop hunting and attacking the various herbivores, and they all move in unison toward the ship:
It's not clear in this translation whether the aliens create Godzilla from the dinosaurs, or whether they have brought Godzilla to earth as some sort of doomsday beast. Godzilla roars, and soon the dinosaurs begin committing mass suicide, jumping off cliffs and drowning in the ocean, which fast runs red with blood.
LeMay compares the next portion of the script to IDW's Godzilla: Rage Across Time miniseries, as in a series of episodic scenes Godzilla causes the inhabitants of an ancient village to all commit suicide, knocks down the Tower of Babel and sinks Atlantis.

The final time jump takes us to the present, where some human characters are investigating the mystery of Lake Kussharo's cryptid monster, Kussie. It is actually Godzilla who rises from the lake,  his eyes emitting a strange light, and he roars, causing all who hear his cry—human and animal alike—to walk in a trance into the lake and commit suicide. All around the world, other lake monsters with the same weird powers arise, and "soon, oceans across the world are filled with corpses."

The ending, involving scientists turning Godzilla's suicide urge powers against him, seems rather anti-climatic, but LeMay offers this intriguing description of the project's potential, saying of its episodic nature that it was "as if Stanley Kubrick had written a Godzilla film." That...sure sounds like a movie I would like to see.

3.) A Space Godzilla LeMay says its unclear how seriously Toho ever took this notorious proposal by House director Nobuhiko Obayashi's story, but they approved of it enough to apparently let Starlog publish an illustrated version of it in 1979, along with  proposed credits, including music by Japanese rock band Godeigo and a "Model Animation" credit suggested it would have had stop-motion monsters. Starlog's story, by the way, was none other than Katsuhiro Otomo! (You can see a couple of images  and read much more about it here, which is where I stole the image at the top of this post from.)

This one may actually be more insane than the Bride proposal above, although since Obayashi seems to have been going for insane, that sort of tempers the craziness, I think.

In brief, Godzilla's body washes up on the shore, and the defense forces begin an autopsy, which includes loading Godzilla's brain onto a truck to haul away. When the little girl protagonist who first discovered the body is hounded by reporters, she hides inside the dead Godzilla and discovers a gestating baby Godzilla in the womb! A psychic is employed to communicate with the still-living brain of the dead (dead-ish...?) Godzilla, which explains her real name isn't Godzilla, but Rozan, and she's from a planet called "Godzilla". The humans then rebuild her body into a sort of sentient rocket, load the baby Godzilla back into it and shoot her off towards her home planet, where she hopes to give birth to her child.

The space journey sounds as mythological as it is trippy, as Rozan casts off various body parts to escape various dangers, eventually landing her child Ririn on Planet Godzilla, which has been overrun by monstrous aliens called The Sumerians, lead by General Gamoni. "From here," LeMay writes, "the story stops being any sort of kaiu eiga and turns into a 1960s Italian sword-and-sandal movie, except with Godzillas instead of people."

Among the surreal imagery are Sumerian allies that look like sphinxes and travel in a pyramid-shaped ship, and a final battle between Gamoni, Ririn and his father, carried out atop floating debris in the planet's atmosphere.

4.) Godzilla Vs. Ghost Godzilla Chapter 55 is devoted to one proposal for the seventh (and final) Heisei era Godzilla film, the one that ultimately became 1995's Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah. Because the idea was to kill off Godzilla and lie low for a few years to make room for Tri-Star's American Godzilla (the film that eventually became Emmerich's), the plan was to kill their Godzilla off...while laying the groundwork for his return. Series producer Shogo Tomiyama wanted to use the original, 1954 Godzilla as the villain, which makes some amount of sense; what foe is better-suited to killing Godzilla than Godzilla himself?  There were a couple of different proposals to do so, but the coolest one was that suggested in this title: To pit the Heisei Godzilla against the ghost of the original.

I honestly kind of love this idea.

The Oxygen Destroyer that disintegrated the OG Godzilla's body didn't destroy his life energy, which, over the course of 40 years slowly re-coalesced. That Godzilla then begins haunting Japan in a variety of foreboding ways, including citizens of Tokyo hearing and feeling massive foot falls, but never being able to see what is making them, buildings collapsing in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and so on.

Ghost Godzilla would have a variety of supernatural powers, including intangibility, teleportation, levitation, creating duplicates, control of light, temperature and weather and, in order to give the live Godzilla something to fight, the ability to possess living kaiju—here, Godzilla Junior/Little Godzilla, who was introduced in 1993's Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II, and whose form the ghost would grow and warp upon entering it. Ghost Godzilla would also have intriguing weaknesses, like being afraid of daylight, and the fact that it could only move within spaces where he had walked in 1954.

Apparently Tomiyama's pitch was passed on to others to work on, and I don't actually care for all of the details revealed in the more detailed versions that followed, including a father/son human sub-plot and the ghost Godzilla being confined to an island and then Little Godzilla being sent there to fight him as some kind of dumb publicity stunt, but the idea of the the original Godzilla returning as an evil, vengeful spirit whose wrath must be exhausted before it can finally go to its eternal rest...? That all sounds pretty amazing.

Apparently, the reason this was decided against was that the Heisei Godzilla had just fought Mechagodzilla and Space Godzilla in his previous two films, and it seemed like the wrong time to have Godzilla fight another evil version of himself. That's too bad, but hopefully it's an idea that Toho can revive in the future, perhaps for Godzilla's 70th or 75th anniversary...?

Anyway, check out LeMay's The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films; I won't tell you again. (Two times seems more than sufficient, right...?)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Marvel's August previews reviewed

As with DC's latest round of solicitations, these are likely going to be pretty wonky, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the comics industry like a wrecking ball this spring, shuttering stores, scrambling distribution and shuffling schedules. Many of the books now being solicited for August release were likely already solicited but, to be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure how many of these I already saw when they were solicited in March for a June release (or in February for May release), and how many I'm seeing for the first time. All those Empyre tie-ins and X-books, both of which are very much not my area of interest, tend to blend together after awhile.

So this will likely be a rather abbreviated installment of the feature, but here's what jumped out at me reading and/or re-reading these solicits...

Written by ED BRISSON
Penciled by JONAS SCHARF
A new story from the world of OLD MAN LOGAN! In a future where America’s super heroes fell at the Red Skull’s hands over 50 years ago, a new force rises in the Wastelands! Dani Cage wields mighty Mjolnir for the cause of peace, but the Avengers may assemble once more when Doctor Doom’s brutal regime forces Dwight — the owner of the surviving Ant-Man technology — together with Dani and Hulk Jr. in a last-ditch effort to survive! Can they succeed where Logan left off? And what does Captain America’s return herald for the team? The Wastelands are filled with terrors: Baron Blood and his legion of vampires! The Green Goblin! The Enchantress and the Absorbing Man! But none are worse than Doom, and these neophyte Avengers are about to learn that the hard way! Collecting AVENGERS OF THE WASTELANDS #1-5.
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92004-3

In retrospect, should this series, which was set in the world of Old Man Logan and Old Man Hawkeye, have been entitled Old People Avengers...?

Interesting that in this particular alternate future, Dani Cage is Thor, whereas in a previous alternate future she grew up to be Captain America. I guess whatever the case is, the child of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones is going to grow up to be one legacy hero or another, and it's probably not going to be Power Woman or Jewell...

I don't know if I have mentioned this seven, ten or thirteen times before or not, but I really like the cut of this Kyle Hotz character's jib. This is his cover for Empyre: X-Men #4, which I have less interest in than either Empyre or X-Men, although I love the rendering on that cover!

Cover by RAHZZAH
Mighty Marvel heroes reach the bitter end! Steve Rogers fights for survival in a postapocalyptic wasteland populated by hordes of Red Skulls! Captain Marvel returns after 50 years in space — but what has become of the world she once called home? Deadpool seems unkillable — but death will find a way! Doctor Strange makes his final journey — through a cyberpunk sprawl where magic is forgotten! Miles Morales leads civilization’s last stand in the one place strong enough to survive: Brooklyn! And Venom travels the length of space and time as the last defender of life in the universe! Experience the end as your favorite heroes take their final bow! Collecting CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE END, CAPTAIN MARVEL: THE END, DEADPOOL: THE END, DOCTOR STRANGE: THE END, MILES MORALES: THE END and VENOM: THE END.
200 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92499-7

My favorite heroes? These aren't my favorite heroes, Mr. or Ms. Solicitation Copy Writer! Who told you this half-dozen of characters were my favorite? I mean, some of 'em are okay, I guess, depending on who is writing or drawing them, but they are hardly my favorite. Now, a book collecting final stories starring Namor, The Son of Satan, Man-Thing, Squirrel Girl, Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat and the original, android Human Torch...? That would be a book in which I could see m y favorite heroes take their final bow!


Anyway, look at that line-up of creators! That's quite a group of talented folks; I'm particularly interested in seeing a full-length story drawn by Damion Scott, and seeing anything written by Adam Warren outside of his (excellent) Empowered, which has dominated his output for so long now.

Have any of you read any or many of these...? Is this a collection that can be borrowed from the library, read once and forgotten, or is it so great that I'm going to want my own copy on my home bookshelves, so I can revisit it over and over...?

Mark Waid (W) • Neal Adams (A/C)
The first full-length Fantastic Four story ever illustrated by classic creator Neal Adams!
An unstoppable meteor of unknown origin has just erupted from hyperspace--and unless the Fantastic Four can find a way to stop it from hitting Manhattan, millions will die!
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

Is Ben okay? Is he...melting...? He doesn't look quite right.

I find the particular phrasing of "the first full-length Fantastic Four story" by Adams interesting; I guess he's drawn a shorter story before? I wonder, did he draw Ben with the face of a gorilla then, too?

Also interesting? Adams is just drawing this book, rather than drawing it and writing it, as he has with so many of his more recent DC miniseries over the last few years, suggesting that fans of Adams' particular brand of batshit storytelling will be in for something quite different. After all, here he's paired with Mark Waid, one of the most consummate FF writers one can imagine in this century.

IRON MAN 2020 #6 (OF 6)
5th Color Fluorescent Ink Cover by PETE WOODS
Variant Cover by TakAshi Okazaki APR200968
Connecting Variant Cover by SIMONE BIANCHI APR200969
Variant Cover by RON LIM APR200970
Heads Variant Cover by SUPERLOG APR200971
Throw out the rest of your stupid, worthless flesh-bag calendars. 2020 is over, man! The moment Arno Stark has been preparing for is here: the end of all human and artificial life as we know it! All this time you thought he was just some egomaniacal jerk; well, who’s laughing now? one really. We’re all about to die.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

For some reason I find the fact that I can't even guess what a "5th Color Fluorescent Ink" variant over or a "Heads" variant cover by Japanese artist Superlog might look like enormously appealing. Perhaps because, in the case of the former, it reminds me of DC's 1995 Underworld Unleashed event series, with it's garishly prominent use of neon green throughout...? And that reminds me of my youth? I don't know. Anyway, 5th color! What could it be? Neon green?

Cover by KRIS ANKA
Runaways no more! As the mysterious Doc Justice offers to shape our heroes into a super-group to protect Los Angeles, say hello to the J-Team! But who is the inspirational Doc Justice, anyway? How did he convince the least capes-and-tights-oriented kids in the Marvel Universe to suit up? And will everybody be on board with this major shift in the status quo? Don’t bet on it! As Doc Justice and his new recruits start cleaning up L.A. better than anyone expected, they’ll soon start to set their sights even higher! But where does that leave Gert? Back at the Doc’s mansion, of course. She’s not just going to sit there — with access to the J-Team’s files and resources, Gert is going to do her part! But where will this new role take her? Collecting RUNAWAYS (2017) #25-31.
152 PGS./Rated T+ … $19.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92028-9

This is a very good sub-title for a trade paperback collection of a Big Two, shared universe title.

Written by ALAN DAVIS
Penciled by PAUL RENAUD
An all-new epic teaming Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with Marvel’s premier non-team! A strange and impossible lost memory from World War II draws Namor the Sub-Mariner to his onetime compatriot Captain America — but the two heroes and their respective allies soon find themselves pulled into a labyrinth of madness, pain and destruction courtesy of the Infernal Ichor of Ish’lzog! Avenger must battle Defender as the alchemist Diablo casts cards from the deck of fate, pitting hero against hero for his own nefarious purposes! As chaos spreads, the two groups find themselves confronted by the most unlikely characters in Marvel history! Would you believe...the Unbelievables?! And as the cosmic chaos reaches its peak, the Avengers and Defenders are literally merged — becoming composite costumed champions! But can any of them put an end to the reality-altering madness? Collecting TAROT #1-4.
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91525-4

As I've no doubt mentioned before, I have a fascination with Marvel's Defenders, one that I can't entirely explain or even articulate. It may simply be that Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen's millennial Defenders revival was so good (and one of my first Marvel series), it may be that my favorite part of the Marvel Universe is Namor bickering with other superheroes and that's built into the premise of the series, it may be some sort of love of underdogs, and that Marvel had such a sort of quixotic B-team whose rasion d'etre seemed to be "Like the Avengers, but much less popular and consisting almost entirely of characters that either don't want to be there are also among the sadder also-rans we could round-up."

At any rate, I've been looking forward to this one since it was announced, as it seems very, very weird...hell, even the title is weird, putting what one might think would be the sub-title before the participating teams in the story.

That said, I haven't read any of it, or even flipped-through an issue in the wild. Have any of you? Is it good? Is it great? Should I get my hopes up?

X–MEN #11
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oh, the trees are killing the children? I'll let James Tynion IV know.