Saturday, February 04, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: January 2023

 BOUGHT:

Tales From Earth-6: A Celebration of Stan Lee (DC Comics) December marked the 100th year since the late Stan Lee's birth, and DC Comics seems to have wanted to do something to celebrate. Given the writer/editor/icon's long relationship with Marvel, they didn't have much choice as to which characters to feature, resorting to those created during Lee's one big project with the publisher, 1998's Just Imagine..., in which the legendary creator was paired with an all-star artist to re-create some of DC's biggest characters. With titles like Just Imagine Stan Lee with Joe Kubert Creating Batman and Just Imagine Stan Lee with John Buscema Creating Superman, there were a dozen in all, introducing ten new characters (Superman, Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Sandman and Shazam), enough new superheroes to fill the pages of Just Imagine Stan Lee with Jerry Ordway Creating JLA and Just Imagine Stan Lee with John Cassaday Creating Crisis. 

The new $9.99, 80-ish-page giant revisits many of these characters for short, ten-page stories. It obviously has its heart in the right place, but then the Just Imagine... project, the creations of which apparently dwell on Earth-6 in DC's current multiversal cosmology, didn't generate the greatest stories, and was basically a gimmick (Marvel's Stan Lee! Working for the Distinguished Competition!)  and is best remembered for some great art from some of the industry's top talent (including Dave Gibbons, Walter Simonson, Chris Bachalo and others). 

Only two of those artists return for this project. Kevin Maguire, who co-created Lee's Flash, draws the Superman short, while Ordway returns to the JLA. Some art from the original artists does appear, in the Secret Files & Origins-style character profiles that appear at the end of the book. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the resultant tribute comics aren't that great. The one stand out is Mark Waid and Maguire's Superman story, in which the belligerent, resentful Man of Steel sets out to end all war on Earth by making it personal for all those that supply its weaponry or otherwise profit from our conflicts, which he feels takes energy away from our space programs (This Superman, marooned on Earth, longs for our planet to develop space travel capable of taking him back to his un-blown-up home planet). 

I liked the cartoony art in Meghan Fitzmartin, Anthony Marques and Mark Morales' Catwoman story, Ordway does his usual phenomenal job in a character-filled piece featuring the JLA and there's better-than-average art in the Batman and Shazam stories, but the stories themselves are all mostly forgettable, average super-heroics featuring well-designed and conceived Elseworlds versions of DC's stars. In addition to the above-mentioned, there are also stories featuring Lee and company's Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Sandman. 


BORROWED: 


Godzilla Vs. The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (IDW Publishing) The formula for each episode of the original, 1993-1996 Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers included a scene where villain Rita Repulsa would grow her monster to gigantic, kaiju-sized proportions, and the Rangers would need to board their giant robot vehicles to combat it, ultimately combining them into the giant robot Megazord to defeat it. Given this, a crossover with Godzilla is not quite as ridiculous as it might first sound, given the Ranger's careers as giant monster fighters.

In writer Cullen Bunn and artist Freddie E. Williams II's mini-series, Rita and her minions have found a mystical artifact that allows them to gaze into different dimensions. She uses it to find a world without the Power Rangers, assuming it will be an easier world to conquer. She transports her retinue there, but there's a stowaway—Green Ranger Tommy Oliver, who was spying on them. 

They land in the middle of mayhem, as the world they've traveled to is apparently Godzilla's, and he's currently engaged in fighting Megalon, semi-controlled from a hovering flying saucer inhabited by the Xiliens of Planet X. Unversed in which monsters are good monsters and which ones are bad ones on this world, Tommy summons his Dragonzord (despite being in a different dimension, the Rangers still have access to their 'zords) and takes on Godzilla, not lasting long. Just then the rest of the Rangers arrive, sent by Zordon to rescue Tommy. 

Meanwhile, Rita and her followers have pressganged the Xiliens into an alliance, and, while the Power Rangers' giant robot fights Godzilla, convinces them to summon more and more giant monsters, supplemented by their own supply (all of which repeat ones that have appeared on the show). 

Like a movie-length episode of Power Rangers that's stuck in the kaiju-fighting portion of the episode, the comic is pretty much all giant monster battles, with Gigan, various insect-like kaiju and King Ghidorah eventually joining the fray. As is crossover tradition, the Power Rangers and Godzilla first fight one another, before teaming up to take on their common foes. 

Bunn does a fine job of writing what is pretty much as pure a fight comic as exists, and Williams is able to do a decent job of drawing everything thrown at him, and creating a shared world where characters from each franchise both seem to be a natural part of. 


REVIEWED: 


Monkey Prince Vol. 1: Enter the Monkey (DC Comics) After a so-so debut in a short story in 2021's DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration, Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang more thoroughly introduce their new DC superhero The Monkey Prince in this collection. It's pretty excellent super-comics, and the character is a welcome addition to the DC Universe. Outside of Superman Smashes The Klan, with its amazing Gurihiru art work, this is probably Yang's best super-comics writing to date. 


Star Wars: Tales From The Rancor Pit (Dark Horse Comics) This Vader's Castle-like collection of scary Star Wars stories features a victim of Jabba the Hutt's trying to Scheherazade his impending execution by entertaining the space gangster with tales of terror set throughout the eras of the franchise. Not as sustainable a premise as the Vader's Castle comics—you know what Chekov said about a rancor pit, right?—but just as entertaining. Plus it's got a cool cover from EDILW favorite Kelley Jones. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: December 2022


BOUGHT:

Batman/Spawn #1 (DC Comics/Image Comics) I can tell you about every Spawn comic I've ever read. It won't take long.

I was just getting into comics around the time of Image's founding and the hype that accompanied it, and of all the offerings, Todd McFarlane's Spawn is the one that I found most appealing, as I saw some similarities between McFarlane's art and that of my favorite artist, Norm Breyfogle. I liked the character design, with the big billowing cape, the chains and the glowing triangle eyes, I liked the supernaturally-powered Batman vibe of the character, and I liked the vibrant coloring of the art. I read the first five issues before deciding as well-drawn as it was, it wasn't very good. I was 15. 

I came back for issues #8-#11, the run written by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim and Frank Miller, but those were the last Spawn issues I read, not counting the pair of 1994  Batman team-ups, the DC-published War Devil, written by all of the Batman writers at the the time, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon and Alan Grant and drawn by Klaus Janson, and the Image-published Spawn/Batman, written by Miller and drawn by McFarlane himself. 

So it's not as if I don't know the first thing about the character. I just don't know much more than the first thing about him. 

I gather that at some point McFarlane quit drawing Spawn, and an artist named Greg Capullo took that job, an artist who became the big breakout star of DC's 2011 New 52 initiative, when he was paired with writer Scott Snyder on the Batman monthly. 

That seemed to be the selling point of the 2022 Batman/Spawn crossover, the chance to see Capullo draw the two characters he was now most associated with, one of them something of a return for him. This time, McFarlane would be inking Capullo's work, and writing the crossover for himself.

This turned out to be...well, it's not exactly the best division of labor. Considering all the comics writers there are in the world—a solid dozen or so of whom write Batman comics in any given month—having someone who's still something more of a dabbler than a polished professional seemed a mistake.

I will try to explain the plot, as well as I am able. 

Spawn Al Simmons narrates that there is a void souls briefly enter when a person dies that he could unlock to rescue someone, his wife, but that the power to unlock that void lies with "The Black Beast," Batman. Among the pearls that Batman's mom wore on the night she died—yes, the goddam tired old pearls—one was a machine or some kind of magic which allowed for the opening of different dimensions....? Or something....? The Court of Owls wanted it, which is why they had the Waynes killed. 

They (or should I say "They," as Spawn mentions a Court of Priests in his world rather than a Court of Owls)  recruited Spawn, who, it is said,  comes from a different dimension. which may or may not be Batman's future (They killed Superman first in Spawn's world, he says at one point, because they weren't afraid of him?), telling him that Batman has his wife Wanda's soul. 

Spawn goes to beat Batman up, getting to the fight-then-team-up part of the traditional superhero team-up formula. Spawn is winning the fight quite handily thanks to his powers (see the version of the cover with a triumphant Spawn standing over a prone Batman, like the one above), but then he enters a "dead zone" where his cape turns floppy and he lacks his powers, and Batman is able to wipe the alley floor with him (now see the cover where Batman stands triumphant over the prone Spawn). 
Batman figures out that they are being manipulated, so they have a meeting in the Batcave, and then go out to brutalize possible informants and pose for a two-page spread on a rooftop, which McFarlane and Capullo use as the backdrop for a conversation, which seems more Image-y than another page of talking heads, I guess.

Then they talk to the Joker, who here is wearing his own flayed-off face as a mask, as he did for a time in the New 52. When they leave his cell, we see him gathering around him a bunch of little Violator vclowns.

Then the Court of Owls sends a Talon assassin after Batman and Spawn. They seem to be fighting over Batman's ability to open a portal—with a pearl, maybe?—which he can only do because he has a soul. Batman does some planning, which pays off. Spawn tricks onlookers at the Arkham Asylum setting into thinking Batman is willing to kill now. And that's it? I guess? 

I dunno. I really miss the era of blogs now, because I could really use someone to explain what the heck happened in this, easily the worst of the three Batman/Spawn crossovers. It is not, unfortunately, the last, either, as the scene with the Joker and Violator hinted; indeed, the last panels show someone with the Violator's make-up saying "Everything is working exactly as planned. And now the next move is mine." 

It's nothing if not a threat for a sequel. I would hope that the next time around McFarlante gets a co-writer to make sure everything makes a bit more sense than it did this time around—I don't know what was done by the editors on this book to make sure that this was the case, but it sure felt like an old-school, auteur Image book without an editorial infrastructure. Another good idea? Writing the book as if someone reading it didn't know who Spawn was or what his deal was. Of the two participants, he's definitely the less well-known of the two, and McFarlante seems to have missed an opportunity to introduce him to legions of Batman fans who are reading this for the Batman side of the equation (and or Capullo's presence). 

As for the artwork, it's fine. I like Capullo well enough, but he was never one of my favorite Batman artists (Now if Guillem March were drawing this...!), but then, that's the whole point of the endeavor, isn't it? The former Batman and Spawn artist drawing Batman and Spawn at the same time? I might have preferred March or John McCrea or Kyle Hotz or—especially—Kelley Jones, but that's just me, and having anyone but Capullo draw this particular comic would have erased its whole reason for being. 

Maybe that promised next one will involve different artists as well as a different writing team. That would be my hope, anyway; the fun thing about such crossovers is seeing creators handle different characters than they usually do, and I'd love to see some more diverse Batman artists draw the Spawn character. In the mean time, I guess there are something like a million variant covers from all-star artists like Jim Lee and J. Scott Campbell o content myself with (even if there is no Kelley Jones image among them). 


DC's Grifter Got Run Over by a Reindeer
(DC)
The theme for this year's holiday 80-page-giant is Christmas carols, as the the title somewhat alludes to, and the results are mixed, but mostly middling. Maybe it's the fault of the theme. The strongest of the bunch is a Batman and Catwoman story penned by writer Scott Bryan Wilson and drawn by Skylar Partridge, in which Catwoman gets Batman that which he likes best for Christmas, and he pulls out a bit of trivia about the "Twelve Nights of Christmas" song that only The World's Greatest Detective in a story would know. The weakest is the Max Bemis-written, Pablo M. Colllar-drawn story inspired by "Silent Night", in which Bemis has Constantine narrate like he's in a prose story rather than a comic book one.

The rest mostly fall in the middle, with little in any of them worth note (I devoted a tweet to each story in this thread, if you'd like more on this book than I'm giving it here). I liked David Lapham's art in a weird Superman/Wonder Woman story, but this is, overall, one of the weaker 80-page-giant anthologies I've seen from the publisher in quite a while. Grifter, by the way, only gets run over by a reindeer on the cover. The Grifter story is actually inspired by "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," and it's mainly nonsensical, although it features Dustin Nguyen's art and ends with Grifter getting run over by a Gen 13-piloted snowmobile. 


BORROWED:


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 22 (Viz Media) Still on their class trip to New York City, Manbagi decides to increase the drama a thousand-fold by confessing her feelings to Tadano. She doesn't quite get there, but does tell him she likes someone who's a lot like him...and then decides to try again when they're back in Japan, leading to a rathe suspenseful cliffhanger in this volume. Meanwhile, Komi's little brother Shosuke has his class trip, which is also dominated by a Tadano, as much as he would prefer it wasn't. 


Mickey Mouse: The Monster of Sawtooth Mountain
(Fantagraphics)
Another Disney Masters edition focused on the work of the great Paul Murry, collecting nine stories from 1959 to 1961. 


Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead Vol. 8
(Viz)
Zombies running through a natural history museum become entangled in dinosaur fossils, seemingly bringing about the threat of zombie dinosaurs near the climax of the eighth volume of this fun series. This includes so many zombies becoming intertwined with a complete Spinosaurus skeleton that they somehow bring it to un-life, animating it to hunt our heroes. As unlikely a turn of events as that is, it does lead to a scene of dinosaur versus dinosaur conflict, as Akira and the gang fight it using an animatronic Tyrannosaur, souped-up for battle by their robot butler, a holdover from the all-A.I. luxury hotel they stayed at in a previous volume.

That early climax is followed by a story in which Akira tires of the bucket list concept, which is, of course, the very premise of the series. Just as he's questioning the list, he gets trapped all alone in a newsstand by a horde of zombies, with nothing to do but argue with the philosophers who seem to appear to him about the nature of boredom, the human need for entertainment and the very meaning of life. 

It's surprisingly powerful stuff, and another example of why Zom 100 is the perfect comic for our pandemic era. 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Marvel's March previews reviewed

February's Amazing Spider-Man variant showing Disney characters reenacting a Fantastic Four cover  wasn't just a, um, goof, apparently, as this months Amazing Spider-Man #21 puts Goofy at the center for the classic Hulk cover. 





I like the title of Clobberin' Time, a new five-issue miniseries beginning in March, but it seems like some of the covers do a better job with the logo than others, huh? 



When Gurihiru draws something, you don't ask, you just buy. In this case, you buy It's Jeff!, written by Kelly Thompson and starring the adorable little four-legged land-shark. 


Looks like Marvel is finally set to do something with the Predator license, aside from reprint Dark Horse comics. Predator #1 is by Ed Brisson and Netho Diaz.
 


Have I mentioned how much I hate the new Punisher skull logo lately? Or that Disney/Marvel gave up the original so easily without a fight? 

DC's March previews reviewed

The first collected volume of Batgirls is still languishing atop my to-read pile, but I do like this portrait-style cover for Batgirls #16



Here's this month's Brian Bolland portrait of a Batman rogue, courtesy of a variant for Batman—One Bad Day: Ra's al Ghul #1 by Tom Taylor and Ivan Reis. 


I was going to buy DC's DC's Legion of Bloom #1 anyway, because I buy all their 80-page giants, but man, putting Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man on the cover ain't exactly going to discourage me. 


I don't know what's going on with Ram V's Tec run, but the covers have been to die for. This one, atop Detective Comics #1070, is especially awesome.


Big Frank Miller energy on this cover for Lazarus Planet: Revenge of the Gods #2, by the great Guillem March. Sadly, March is just doing covers on the series, not interiors. 


Multiversity: Harley Screws Up the DCU #1 by Frank Tieri and Logan Faeber is of interest mostly because DC felt the need to put the word "Multiversity" in the title, presumably indicating that this takes place...somewhere out in the multiverse, as opposed to the DCU. It's therefore not the DCU she's screwing up, so don't worry about that. I like this cover. 


Electric Superman powers, like in the comics from 1998! Val-Zod from the New 52  Earth-2 series Earth 2, from 2012-2015! Ultraman, from Earth-3! You know, based on the solicit for Adventures of Superman: Jon Kent #1, the book doesn't sound too terribly new-reader friendly for a new #1. 

I mean, I might personally be okay—there's a bit about Jon Kent's backstory from the Bendis years which I missed mentioned in the solicit too—but this sure doesn't sound like it was designed for brand-new readers, or even readers of Jon's recent appearances in Superman: Son of Kal-El. That said, it's written by Tom Taylor, and that guy generally knows what he's doing when it comes to comics-writing, so I'm going to assume pains are being taken to make this a first issue that reads like an actual first issue. Art is by Clayton Henry, whose work I generally like. 


There's a pretty nice Captain Marvel image by Michael Cho—I mean, the costume is trash, but it retains enough of the original design to be recognizable, at least—on the cover of Superman: Lost #1 for some reason (Well, the some reason is there's a new Captain Marvel movie coming out next year that looks...well, it looks like the sequel to the first one, anyway, and a bunch of DC Comics have Shazam: Fury of the Gods variants on them). 

Superman: Lost is a new maxiseries written by the great Christopher Priest with art by his Deathstroke partner Carlo Pagulayan. That should be worth keeping an eye out for. In collected form. Next year. But hey, that's just me now; if  you read the single issues and dig 'em, do let me know. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

A Month of Wednesdays: November 2022

 BOUGHT:

Crypt of Shadows #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I came to Marvel's Halloween-season anthology special just a little too late, reading it in November rather than October. Named for a short-lived, 1973-1975 Marvel horror anthology, this revival is about what one would expect: Short stories featuring Marvel super-characters that are all vaguely horror-themed. 

As you have likely deduced by now, such anthology specials constitute most of new comics diet; in fact, they're about the only comics I buy now that aren't trade collections. I was looking forward to this for that reason alone—it's been a while since I read a new Marvel comic book-comic—but I was also interested because of the presence of Man-Thing, seen on the variant cover I chose, and Adam Warren, a favorite creator who has been so involved in his own Empowered series that I haven't seen him do any work on anyone else's characters in what seems like forever.

Sadly, I was mostly disappointed with this $5.99, 40-page package, spending the majority of the time I was reading it in a state of mild confusion. (You can read a less wordy, more heavily illustrated version of this review of it in this Twitter thread.)

The book is "hosted" by Victor Strange, "brother of the dead doctor...condemned by misapplied magic to undeath in the half-world behind every mirror." He appears in segments written by Al Ewing and drawn by Ramon Bachs, each a one-page splash with an ornate frame around it to suggest we're looking at a fancy mirror in the titular crypt, "a sub-basement of sorts" to the Sanctum Sanctorum. 

Victor explains that his story is common knowledge to the adept and that "you can probably read about it on your phone." Indeed, an asterisk leads to a small box saying to look for Strange Tales Infinity Comic on the Marvel Unlimited App. As an old-fashioned luddite who only reads comics on paper, I of course didn't do that, so, as far as I'm concerned, Victor is just the guy who shows up every eight pages or so of this book to introduce the next story.

The first of these features some ordinary-seeming girl named Brielle, and is the work of writer Danny Lore and artist Karen S. Darboe. Brielle is on her way to a costume party when she happens upon two chatty strangers who are messing with a ghost. She stops them and puts the ghost at ease and then the story ends. It's not until I got to the last page of the book—not the story, but the entire book— that I got a hint as to who Brielle is; she's apparently Blade's daughter, based on the fact that a girl who looks like her appears in a box saying "And Bloodline..." (they never call her "Bloodline" in the story) "Will return...Bloodline: Daughter of Blade."

If this was an introduction to the character, it was a pretty lousy one, as it took an ad in the back of the book to explain who I was reading about. Based on the story itself, she's just a random girl who happened upon some magic and a ghost.

That's followed by "Werwolf By Moon Knight" by Rebecca Roanhorse and Geoff Shaw. It involves a werewolf who's not Jack Russel— I had read that Roanhorse was rebooting the premise, although I'm not sure if this is the new "Werewolf By Night" or just a random werewolf. Anyway, said werewolf and his friend are invited to a party at a fancy house, where the butler is a werewolf. The two werewolves fight until a luminous white Moon Knight, making a dramatic appearance in a window before smashing through it, intervenes to break it up. 

The bad werewolf resumes his human shape when defeated, and Moon Knight ties him to the gate around the manor with a sign reading "Dirt Bag." "I'll let the police take it from here," Moon Knight says to himself, as if the cops are going to find the guy and run his ID to determine he's broken the state laws against lycanthropy or something.

Next up is Morbius, who it's hard to take too seriously these days after the relentless drubbing the character has taken on Twitter for his movie, and a Vicki, who I have never heard of, but is introduced as "The daughter of the Darkhold". This story, by writer Chris Cooper and artist Ibrahim Moustafa, contains an asterisk referring to events from Darkhold: Pages From The Book of Sin #15, which a quick Internet search tells me came out in 1993. This is a story based on events from a 29-year-old comic book, then...? That poor choice aside, the last panel was fairly satisfying.

The most straightforward story in the collection follows, Chris Codon and Fran Galan's "Down Came The Rain," in which Elsa Bloodstone teams up with the Human Torch to de-monster-ize Spider-Man, who has become a Man-Spider during off-panel shenanigans. It's not great shakes, but at least I could make sense of it and it wasn't based on a comic from when I was a teenager. 

Finally there's the Warren-written-and-drawn "Endless Slaughter in the Infinite Swamp", in which Warren basically asks, "What if Laura Kinney met Man-Thing?" She does so, in this story, to recruit the shambling swamp monster for "that week's super-heroically desperate struggle to save the world and/or universe and/or the entirety of the infinite multiverse." 

As to the "What If...?", well Warren posits that Man-Thing's putrid stench would replicate Laura's "trigger scent", plunging her into a berserker rage, which would, in turn, trigger Man-Thing's response to negative emotions and he would attack her. Because they both regenerate from nearly any wound, the two would fight endlessly, And because they are in the Nexus of All Realities, they could fight longer than the Earth itself survived, and thus they would battle eternally.

Warren's overstating Laura's regenerative abilities—she ages, for example, and would die of old age somewhere long before year 1000 of their death-loop—but as for a Warren-illustrated answer to the sort of question that fans so like to ask of one another, what if so-and-so fought so-and-so, it's an interesting enough exercise. Far more interesting than everything that came before it, anyway. 


DC's Saved by the Belle Reeve #1 (DC Comics) In the DCU, there's a prison called Belle Reeve that  the Suicide Squad operates out of. That's the origin of the title of this comic, which is a pretty dumb joke and believe you me, if there's one thing I know it's dumb jokes (Again, I tweeted my way through this book, if  you'd like to see it reviewed in less wordy, more picture-y format). Title aside, the idea is an 80-Page Giant anthology of stories dealing with school in one way or another.

It's hard to pick a favorite—there are a couple of strong entries, including returns of a pair of canceled titles I used to enjoy—so let's just look at them all in order. Ready?

The first story is the return of Gotham Academy, reuniting the team of Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl. Entitled "Sophomore Year", it similarly reunites all the members of Detective Club, with the glaring omission of Olive, who has gone missing from school rather suddenly, and whose missing journal Maps is trying to find. It's odd that a story in an anthology like this would advance the plot of the ended series, but perhaps a revival is in the cards in the future, as it ends with the words "(NOT) THE END".

That's followed by "High School Lows", a Suicide Squad story by writer Tim Seeley and artist Scott Kolins, in which a very film-inspired version of the Squad—Harley, King Shark, Katana and The Weasel, looking exactly as he did in the film rather than the comics—are each given undercover assignments at a prestigious prep school by team leader Peacemaker. Thing go spectacularly badly, but the day is ultimately saved. 

Next up is a Super Sons story set a few years ago, back before Jon was hyper-aged and he and Damian were both classmates at West-Reeve prep school (There was also a Super Sons story set in the past in the Halloween-themed DC's Terrors Through Time 80-page giant; apparently the Super Sons premise is living on, even if not in the present DCU). This one is by former Super Sons writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Max Raynor. It's the first day of eighth grade for the boys, and they befriend Sydney, a non-binary classmate targeted by bullies.

That's followed by Dave Wielgosz-written, Mike Norton-drawn Green Arrow and Speedy story in which the latter is doing so poorly at school that the former grounds him from superheroics. It's a nice, fun story featuring the now little-seen superhero team and, set during the Silver Age of the Justice League and Teen Titans, it has plenty of guest-stars. I thought this and the Super Sons story were among the strongest entries in the collection.

Next is the return of Art Baltazar and Franco's Tiny Titans, wherein the Tiny version of the New Teen Titans visit Belle Reeve prison and meet the super-villains of the last Suicide Squad movie. Baltazar and Franco haven't missed a beat, and, were it not for the specific focus on specific now-famous characters like Peacemaker and Polka-Dot Man, this could easily have appeared in an old issue of the cancelled series. 

Black Lightning makes a welcome return in a short story by Brandon Thomas and Craig Cermak which focuses on high school principal Jefferson Pierce's time serving as President Luthor's secretary of education. The focus of the story is how he was able to serve a president who was, well, evil, and I was relieved Thomas didn't have Pierce answer that he was there because he was afraid someone worse would take the job if he didn't or that he was there to be an adult in the room; the Luthor presidency hits differently now that we've had an actual, unequivocal villain as a president here in the real world. Thomas does take something from the Trump administration, staging a scene in which Luthor does that thing Trump used to do at cabinet meetings, going around the table and having everyone take a turn praising him. Their arrogance is perhaps the only thing Luthor and Trump have in common; while both might be technically evil, Luthor as at least brilliant and a successful businessman and chief executive. Trump's not an ingenious super-villain, but more like the two-bit criminals that Superman used to toss around in the Golden Age. 

Next is an Azrael story by Dan Watters and the excellent Juan Ferreyra which contrasts the two forms of "education" the hero had, a normal-ish school education and "The System" mental programming that made him into his secret organization's avenging angel. Nice art on this one, although it felt weird reading about Azrael in 2022 to me, given how much I associate him with a particular era. 

Finally Andrew Aydin and Nelson Daniel present a story in which Dick Grayson asks Barbara Gordon to prom. This one had some fun bits, but it was also a bit of a mess. I'll allow that maybe Dick and Babs went to high school together—although I'm pretty sure she was quite older than him when originally introduced—but this story has Dick as Nightwing in high school, and that was obviously not the case. (There's also a bit of weirdness with a button that transforms their formal wear into superhero costumes that didn't really make sense to me).

Overall, this was a pretty fun collection, with far more good stories than bad ones. 


The New Golden Age #1 (DC) I suppose I should have known better than to buy a Geoff Johns comic in this, the year of our Lord 2022, but what can I say? I really like Golden Age characters, and Johns' old JSA run was, for the most part, pretty good comics that did pretty well by the tons of quirky characters it featured over the years. 

What I mostly took away from this $4.99, 36-page one-shot was a feeling of vaguely irritated exhaustion. See, they weren't kidding with the "new" in front of the "Golden Age." This isn't simply the original, post-Crisis/pre-New 52 Golden Age restored. It's...I don't rightly know, really. It seems to be, at least in one passage, that the old pre-Crisis Earth-2 continuity is restored, but now taking place in the current DCU, whatever it's official multiversal designation is now. This...raised some questions. Questions haunted my reading of it, really. 

When they talk about Wonder Woman being the JSA for decades, do they mean her mom Hippolyta, or do they mean an immortal Diana now? Does this mean she's been an active superhero longer than all of her peers? When we see Power Girl in 1976, does that mean she's been an active superhero for decades longer than, say, Batman and Superman? And what the ever-loving fuck is Ozymandias' cat Bubastis from the pages of Watchmen doing in this book...? Apparently, one of the two books spinning out of this special—Justice Society of America and Stargirl: The Lost Children—will have something to do with Johns' weird Watchmen fixation of the last few years. 

While the setting is so unsettled, the plot itself isn't too complicated. Throughout history, Doctor Fate, or various Doctor Fates, maybe from different Earths (who can tell?), are having disturbing visions of the future, involving missing children and a man just outside his/their psychic periphery vision. That's  Per Degaton, who is traveling through history and our the Multiverse and killing various Doctor Fates as he attempts to kill various JSAs, like one in the 30th Century; he's also stalking a Helena Wayne from ten years from now, the future child of future Batman and future Catwoman and herself a future Huntress and member of a JSA, probably (Which will add yet another Huntress to three or so that have been introduced since the New 52). 

Meanwhile, Rip Hunter's extended family is doing time stuff, and there's a page of Watchmen nonsense which meant nothing to me, as I skipped Doomsday Clock

There's some nice art in here, mainly from Jerry Ordway during the Golden Age sections, but there are ten artists credited all together. 

The main story is followed by a dozen pages that look like they're from Who's Whos, featuring art by Ordway and Nauck, and consisting of various Golden Age heroes, many of them new or not seen since their long-ago introduction. These are heavy on kid sidekicks, but there are some intriguing inclusions, like Golden Age Aquaman, Mister Miracle and "John Henry Jr.," the hood-wearing, hammer-wielding would-be vigilante glimpsed briefly in Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier

I suppose what's going on will be made more clear in the series that follow, which I may or may not read in trade, but at this point I find DC's navel-gazing regarding its own continuity more irritating than interesting, and wish they would just settle on a setting and go forward, rather than focusing on what's changed and how it's changed all the deamn time. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn Vol. 5—Mystic Sister
(IDW Publishing)
Series writer and sometimes artist Sophie Campbell adds two more elements of the greater TMNT franchise to the long-running IDW narrative: the punk frogs from an episode of the original cartoon series and female ninja turtle Venus from the live-action TV show The Next Mutation

The two are, it turns out, related in a weird way. The frogs are here a group of punks visiting New York City when the mutagen bomb goes off, mutating them all into frogs. Venus was one of their number, but she is in the process of being surgically changed, Frankenstein-style, into something more closely resembling a turtle (Her name is here justified by the fact that, when we meet her, she has no arms, like the work of art she was named after).

That work is being done by a Mutant Town mad scientist, one who was mutated into a mouse but used his surgical skills to attempt to restore himself to something vaguely resembling a human being again, albeit it a scary-looking one. We find out he has been contracted by a mysterious employer to create mutant turtles, hence his work on Venus. The frogs, thinking the turtles had something to do with Venus' disappearance, attack them, leading to a conflict that carries through most of this volume.

There is also a substantial subplot involving Triceratons and Utroms that lost me a little bit, given that I haven't read so much of the series before Campbell took over. That said, it was easy enough to follow, and Campbell does a good job of introducing those characters and their conflicts in a way that even I could follow along with.

As is too often the case, too little of the artwork in this volume comes from Campbell herself, with a Pablo Tunica providing the vast majority of this volume, along with Ken Garing, Toni Gregori and Campbell, each of whom draw an issue apiece.

Kevin Eastman provides covers as always (as well as serving as story consultant), and there's one pretty great cover in which he inks Campbell's drawing of Venus. It's a fantastic image, one that fuses the two styles perfectly and encapsulates the best of the IDW era with the best of the Mirage era. I'd love to see a whole comic told with that particular division of labor someday; logistically, it probably wouldn't have worked, but that would have been the ideal art team for The Last Ronin. Maybe they will work together on a similar project some day. 


BORROWED: 

Dark Ages (Marvel Entertainment) If the best "What If...?" stories are those that can be boiled down to a sentence or so and fit into the "What If...?" formulation, well then, Tom Taylor and Iban Coello's Dark Ages is not one of the best "What If...?" stories. 

I guess you could phrase it as "What If...the Marvel Universe lost all electrical power?", but it takes Taylor quite a bit of doing to get there, including introducing a Morrison-like (Well, Kirby-like, I suppose, especially in design) ancient cosmic weapon and the sudden death of Doctor Strange...all told it takes much of the first issue to knock the power out.

And what's the world like when it's lost power permanently, thanks to the constant exposure of an EMP wave that no can seem to turn off? Well, that's not really the focus of the series, oddly enough. There's a four-year time jump, and the world seems mostly settled into a new status quo, with the superheroes running the free world from the seat of power in Wakanda and X-Men villain Apocalypse ruling all of Europe, with lots of familiar faces as allies, thanks to the influence of his henchman, The Purple Man.

Tony Stark, who lost part of his leg when the lights went out and he was in mid-flight, is kidnapped by Apocalypse's forces, and thus the heroes must launch a rescue mission to save him, an event that takes up most of the book's length. So it's pretty standard heroes vs. villains business, really.

This being an alternate future, however, Taylor is able to kill characters off with impunity, and this he does. He's also able to change things from the regular Marvel Universe, and he does this too by giving Spider-Man and MJ a spider-powered daughter and Black Panther and Storm a daughter of their own. 

If you've read any of the hundreds of pages worth of Injustice comics that Taylor has done for DC, or hiss DCeased for that matter,  this is pretty similar; an alternate version of a familiar universe in which anything can happen, with clever bits of dialogue that lighten up an otherwise bleak premise, and plot beats that appear to be the driver of the story, connective tissue added later to get from Moment A to Moment B. 

Coello's art is pretty great. It's well within the standard superhero spectrum, but he's able to draw powerful, dynamic figures in action as well as quieter character moments and everything looks equally great. There's a small degree of redesigning that seems to have gone into the project, as various characters have new, time-jump related costumes or looks, and/or are updated for the current state of affairs (like a steam-powered Iron Man suit of armor, for example). 


DC Vs. Vampires Vol. 1 (DC Comics) It takes two writers—James Tynion IV and Matthew Rosenberg—to explore what, on its face, seems like the simplest of comic book concepts: Why not have DC's superheroes fight a bunch of vampires? 

The concept is made far more complicated, perhaps needlessly so, by a paranoid mystery element. After the world of vampires, which is apparently quite organized, decide to call off their truce with normal human beings, they launch an all-out, off-panel war against metahumans, figuring once all the super-people are out of the way the world is theirs. The thing is, they have infiltrated the Justice League and the meta-human world at all levels, so no one knows for sure who is actually secretly a vampire...despite Batman's attempts to test all of those he works with (which Tynion and Rosenberg cheat at anyway).

I'm not sure doing so much of the world-building off-panel, and presenting it info-dump style in a letter from Andrew Bennett to Batman, necessarily works for the best (despite the history of vampires and epistolary storytelling!), as we never learn, at least not in this first volume, why exactly heroes renowned for their iron wills would willingly join up with the vampires.

One of these turncoats is Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who I guess we've at least seen be seduced to the dark side during his Parallax phase before. The other is the so-called king of the vampires, another superhero turncoat who apparently took control of the vampire union somehow and initiated the current war. His reveal is a surprise—but, like I said, the writers have to cheat a bit to make it so—and as for his motivations, like Jordan's, they are a complete mystery. 

The action that's actually on the page, as opposed to summarized on it, is actually pretty strong, with Batman and Green Arrow becoming the focus and the two main vampire hunters among the heroes, most of whom are slow to accept that they have been infiltrated. There's a funny bit where GA reveals why he suspects Batman is really a vampire—i.e. everything about Batman, really—and a rather intense battle between the two normal heroes and the rest of the Justice League, who have been convinced by the real vampires that  Green Arrow and Batman are both vampires.

As big dumb superhero comics go, it's certainly big and dumb, but not too terribly satisfying. Reading it reminded me a lot of Injustice, in that it's a DCU-wide Elseworlds, one which the writers feel free to break various toys, since it's set in it's own partitioned off setting that doesn't affect anything else. 

Most of the art comes courtesy of Otto Schmidt, who is great at character work, but doesn't much bother with backgrounds or settings, giving the book a weird feeling like one is watching a stage play with minimalist set work. Simone Di Meo and Daniele Di Nicuolo also contribute a few passages, mainly detailing the also-infiltrated Suicide Squad's attempts to find The Joker, suspected of being the secret king vampire.

One fannish complaint? No way does that particular character take out Cassandra Cain that quickly, vampire-enhanced abilities or no. Even Red Hood lasts longer hand-to-hand against the character than Cass did, which is just silly.  


Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Drawn & Quarterly) Ducks is a long and serious work from a cartoonist known for short, silly works. The art style and the sense of humor are the same, though the subject matter is about as far removed from Kate Beaton's fare as a reader could imagine. Like what we've seen from her before, however, it's brilliant. It's a tough read, but well worthwhile. If I still did best of the year lists, Ducks would almost surely be on it. 


Mickey Mouse: The Pirates of Tabasco Bay
(Fantagraphics)
This Paul Murry-focused edition of Fantagraphics' Disney Masters library collects work from 1955-1957, all of which find Mickey Mouse and pal Goofy embroiled in one spectacular adventure or another, whether they are working as pilots, private detectives, railroad men or just trying to do a little fishing. The title story comes from a plan of Mickey's to stage a pirate raid reenactment to help prop up the economy of  a failing seaside town, a plan hijacked by Pete and turned into a real raid that the victims think is just a gag to play along with. The pair also discover a lost city, bust up an illegal uranium mining operation at an unusual ranch, get involved with a scientist who has invented a sort of super-magnet, save a railroad, bust a ghost and embark on an international stamp hunt that almost turns deadly for them. 

I could read comics like Murry's all day long, and, thankfully, Fantagraphics has made doing so easy with plenty of collections of his and his fellow Disney masters' work.  


Yokai Cats Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Just like it says on the tin. Yokai Cats is a series of short, four-panel strips about various cats that all share the names and characteristics of one yokai or another. For the most part, their owners, or the people they interact with, don't seem too terribly shocked by their abilities and behaviors, but instead take them in stride. The faces of these people are never shown, we just see parts of them in each panel, giving us what is essentially a cat's eye view of the world. The focus is, of course, on the cats. There is, essentially, just one joke here, but it's well-told, and there are seemingly endless variations of it. 


REVIEWED: 

Mayor Good Boy Goes Hollywood (RH Graphic) The second book in Dave Scheidt and Miranda Harmon's trilogy about a dog who is elected mayor of a small town is every bit as good as the first.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Marvel's February previews reviewed

This is a variant cover for Amazing Spider-Man #19, not an issue of the Fantastic Four, for some reason. Like all the Planet of the Apes-related images in this month's variant covers, it appears to be a crossover that exists in variant cover image only. And maybe that's for the best. 

I've gotta say, Donald looks weird wearing shorts with no shirt...I'm so used to him wearing a shirt and no bottoms that the opposite looks downright bizarre to me. 

Speaking of Planet of the Apes variants....











There's a lot of them. At least one seems to suggest a potentially interesting story (the Silver Surfer one), some put characters in iconic moments from the film series (Iron Man), and some just throw some apes into a picture with the stars. As with all of Marvel's non-Conan licensed comics of late, it doesn't look like they will be doing an actual crossover with the Marvel Universe and Planet of the Apes any time soon, they are just variants. That's fine, I guess; I'm not really enough a fan of PotA to find the idea of  Marvel heroes visiting that setting to be all that appealing. I'm much more interested in Predator stalking Spider-Man or Daredevil, though Marvel doesn't seem to be making that happen, either. 

I don't know their strategy with their licensed comics, but it seems to me to be more about depriving publishers like Dark Horse a lucrative license than it is for any grand financial investment on their part.

Interesting to note that the other licensed comics don't feature PotA variants, so there's no image of  an Alien popping out of Dr. Zaius' chest or Darth Vader chopping down apes on horseback. Even Marvel variants have their limits, I suppose. 


Nice, simple idea for a variant cover, executed nicely by Jan Bazaldua for Amazing Spider-Man #20


Should I recognize the people on this cover to Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #9 that aren't Cap, Fury or The Destroyer...? Like that guy who looks like a flying starfish, is that a classic Marvel character I'm just not hip to...?


The Punisher's new logo makes him look like a loser and a dork, but I'm not going to say it to his face.