Thursday, September 12, 2019

Is it just me, or does it seem like the DC Universe has gotten kind of...small?

Ever since the closing pages of Dark Nights: Metal, writer Scott Snyder and his frequent co-writer James Tynion IV have been telling a very big story in the pages of the miniseries No Justice and the ongoing Justice League, which is already on issue #31 or so, thanks to the twice-monthly publishing schedule.

The storyand it has essentially been just one storyhas encompassed all of existence, stretching as far back as before the beginning of time, and involving an entire multiverse of multiverses. Part of Jack Kirby's Source Wall broke, unmooring the local multiverse, and releasing Perpetua, a mother of the god-like Monitor, Anti-Monitor and World Forger (the last of whom is a new addition to DC's cosmology).

We're told that in the creation before this creation, Perpetua has made another reality, but her sons rebelled against her and made this existence instead. Now Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom have taken up fighting for Perpetua and the forces of the abstract concept of doom, warring against the Justice League who, of course, are fighting for the abstract concept of justice. During the course of their battles, the DC Universe seems to be in a slow-boiling process of being remade once again, presumably ultimately undoing the last grand remaking, 2011's Flashpoint, which gave us the current New 52 version of the shared DC Universe setting (which, of course, encompasses not just a single universe, but a multiverse...or multiverses).

The Justice League itself isn't too terribly big at the moment. The core team consists of 9-13 characters, depending on whether or not you want to count Jarro and very recent additions like The World Forger, The Monitor and Shane (that's Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl's son from a now non-existent future). There are also two ancillary teams, the ones that star in Justice League Odyssey and Justice League Dark; the former never appear in the pages of Justice League, the latter fill up crowd scenes and appear in the backgrounds in the Hall of Justice.

As the now years-long storyline reaches what appears to be a climax in the current "Justice/Doom War" story arc, much has been made of the Justice League recruiting "everyone," an entire army consisting of every available hero. Meanwhile, Luthor has been doing the same with the villains, part of the "Year of The Villain" storyline/branding event in which a newly reborn Luthor approaches various villains with transformative gifts that make them more powerful than ever.

The above page is the sixth page from Justice League #30, by Snyder, Tynion and artist Jorge Jimenez. After Starman has briefed the assembled heroes on what is going to happen in the upcoming Legion/League warthe League is all killed, but not as brutally as one might expect from a modern DC comicthe core League gives the assembled heroes a kinda sorta pep talk about their plan to stave off their seemingly fated defeat.

Here's the thing though. For an image of all of DC's superheroes assembled as a sort of Justice army, the page seemed kind of...small to me.

Part of that might be because Snyder and Tynion have already revealed this particular beat to readers a few times. They Tynion-written portion of DC's Year of The Villain Special #1 featured a two-page spread in which Francs Manapul draws pretty  much the exact same group of heroes, and Justice League #26 featured a sequence in which Hawkgirl and Mera walked around the Hall, checking in on these recruits as they prepped for the war.

But there just don't seem to be very many superheroes here. There are some members of Justice League Dark (Zatanna, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing and his beard), some Teen Titans (Robin, Red Arrow, Kid Flash), some non-teen Titans (Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner, Raven, Beast Boy, Steel, Miss Martian), The Terriffics (Mister Terrific, Plastic Man, Metamorpho and Phantom Girl), a random handful of various heroes appearing in comics throughout the current DC line (Batgirl, Supergirl, Captain Marvel "Shazam," Hawkman, Black Lightning, Jericho) and another, smaller handful of book-less characters (Firestorm, Animal Man, Ted Kord, Simon Baz, Guy Gardner) and that's it. All together, that's only between 25-30 supeheroes one can identify in the image, plus a bunch of indistinguishable blobs in the background and, remember, another nine or ten heroes off-panel on a sort of stage giving a presentation.

As someone who can just barely hold a pencil, I certainly am in no position to blame Jiminez for not filling the page with more heroes, and getting everyone in the latest edition of those encyclopedias of characters DC publishes into that panel, but I was really struck by how small it made the DC Universe of the moment seem.

I mean, I'm pretty sure you could get 30 superheroes if you took all the active members of the teams during the early '90s, when there were three Leagues with their own titles (America, Europe/International and Task Force). Or had they used the "everyone who was ever a Leaguer" rubric of the reserves evidenced in Mark Millar's JLA #27 from 1997. Hell, I bet if Batman called up all of his sidekicks, allies and affiliated teamsThe Outsiders, Birds of Prey and Batman, Inc/The Club of Heroeshe alone could have filled that room to bursting.

Now, I know there are a lot more DC heroes out there, and that they're probably not available to appear in this story for their own story reasons. Noticeably absent, for example, is supposedly active Justice Leaguer Cyborg, and his entire Odyssey team (presumably because they are off in space doing space stuff; they haven't appeared in the series since the earliest issues). That's probably why Hal Jordan and Adam Strange and a few others aren't there, as well. Tim Drake and the Young Justice team are all MIA, probably because they're still out-of-universe doing whatever they're doing in the pages of Young Justice. I haven't read Heroes In Crisis yet, but I assume if Ted Kord is elbowing Guy Gardner instead of Booster Gold, that means he's dead-ish, or at least lost in time? Same with The Flash Wally West...?

But where are The Metal Men? Or the rest of The Shazam Family? What of all those Dark Matter/New Age of Heroes heroes...did none of them stick around after ignominious cancellation of their titles? Is it notable that Arsenal isn't there, or that Nightwing or Batwoman or Huntress aren't? Does Red Tornado exist anymore, and/or is he currently alive? Elongated Man? Fire and Ice? Hawk and Dove? Blue Devil? The other Steel, John Henry Irons? Vibe? Frankenstein? O.M.A.C.? Any Doctor Fates around anymore? No more Power Girls? Are we totally done with Wildstorm characters existing in the DCU, even Midnighter and Apollo? What about new characters introduced in the wake of Flashpoint, like Skitter and Bunker and Talon and those guys with weird names in Stormwatch...?

The longer I lingered on this image, the more I realized that the DCU got awfully small after Flashpoint. Not only did it wipe out the JSA and their fellow Golden Agers, and the various future heroes (although both the JSA and Legion of Super-Heroes are on their way back, of course; the former appearing on the last page of this very issue), but the reboot lead to the de-creation of huge swathes of heroes and other characters, many of whom would of course be recreated, but even many of those exist in weird liminal states, where they seem to have been re-rebooted or re-recreated since their initial New 52 reintroductions (like Black Lightning, for example) and others I know have appeared in some form, but lost track of.

And then, of course, there are heroes I know DC has reintroduced in new forms since The New 52 effort and the other branding exercises that followed it, but those characters apparently failed to catch on...and failed so badly they apparently can't even fill in crowd scenes like this (I'm thinking here of the new Ragman, or The Ray, or The Human Bomb or National Comics' Rose and Thorn, Eternity, Madame X and Looker;  I'm sure there are more).

Honestly, I'd have trouble filling a room with DC superheroes that I know have both been re-introduced since Flashpoint and haven't been killed or otherwise jettisoned from usage in an event story like this. Of course, this could very likely be just me, as I am not following the Wednesday by Wednesday exploits of DC's stables of heroes as closely as I used to, and therefore I've lost track of pretty much all of the heroes not appearing in Justice League or the Batman titles.

So maybe the DC Universe hasn't gotten small, it just feels small to me. I don't know; I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of others on the matter.

A few pages later in the very same issue, we see an echo of this page, when Luthor gestures towards his newly recruited Legion of Doom, consisting of about 25 villains, only about 15 of whom I can name...although these are mostly redesigned, presumably because of the gifts they accepted from Luthor.

The Legion has been awfully small since the start of the series, originally consisting of just six villains, the archenemies of each of the "Big Seven" Leaguers, minus Martian Manhunter. They've since lost two and gained one, so the League has always outnumbered the Legion (The original Legion, the one from Challenge of The Super-Friends, boasted 13 members; the most appropriate number for a group of villains).

They too seems like a rather small number of bad guys, especially when contrasted with the all-the-bad-guys-teamed-up premise of Forever Evil, but that image didn't make me reflect upon the possible contraction of the DC Universe in quite the same way, as for almost every successful superhero, there are always going to be dozens of bad guys. I mean, you could fill up a splash page with Green Lantern, Aquaman or Wonder Woman villains, let alone Batman, The Flash and Superman, who boast incredibly large rogues galleries.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Little help here

So I just read Brendan Deneen and Cale Atkinson's First Day of Groot (Marvel; 2019), and while the rhyming text didn't do much for me (I'm obviously not the target audience for this picture book), the artwork is a delight. Atkinson draws the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man and Captain America to Spider-Man and Captain Marvel, and his Avengers are the best. The pages are full of fun little Easter Eggs referencing Marvel lore, too, from the Aunt May-brand pancake mix the legendary Star-Lord is whipping up in the Guardians' galley to the copy of Hulk's Mystery Tales that Rocket is reading (featuring The Hulk dressed like Sherlock Holmes on the cover). And hey, scan each image extra carefully, as there's a tiny little Ant-Man or Wasp hiding in each of them...except for the ones where they are full-size, like at The Avengers picnic.

Anyway, near the climax, after the heroes have used teamwork to deliver a humiliating defeat to Thanos, there's this spectacular two-page spread, which is accompanied by the words:
Now that the day
is almost done...
Oh, wait! Galactic villains on the run!
It's too big to fit on the bed of my scanner, hence the photo. I've scanned the two halves of the image and will place them below, because I am afraid I am unable to name many of what appear to be Marvel's most awesome villains.

Here are the images:


Okay, so we all know the three big guys in the background are Orrgo, The Supreme Intelligence and Xemnu, The Hulk (AKA Xemnu, The Titan), here sporting an amazing mustache (the result of his eyebrows and mustache being colored differently than his fur, I think). Oh, and then there's Thanos, obviously, who seems to have recovered the Infinity Gauntlet that the Avengers stripped him of a few pages ago.

As for the rest, let's go left to right, and you can tell me who the heck the ones I can't identify are. Ready...?

1.) Hellcow

2.) Ruby Tuesday

3.) (Big Green Robot) The Living Brain

4.) (Fancy-Looking Guy With Sweet Mustache) Turner D. Century

5.) (Square-Jawed, Long-Haired Guy With Vest Over His Bare Chest) The Kangaroo

6.) The Walrus

7.) (Umm...) Cyrus Black

8.) The Orb

9.) (One Of The Green Guys Shown Hanging Out With Nebula Earlier In The Book) According to artist Cale Atkinson, this guy is an original creation.

10.) (HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT GUY) Taserface

11.) (Guy With A Guitar) The Hypno-Hustler

12.) (Phone-Themed Bad Guy) Phone Ranger

13.) Ronan The Accuser

Thank you for your help in this matter.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Marvel's November previews reviewed

It's a month of the year, which means Marvel Entertainment has some publishing events going on. November's event seems to be tied to their old 2099 line, the return of which at least seems somewhat timely in the year 2019, as now it is exactly 80 years in the future. Originally launched in 1992 and featuring Stan Lee's Ravage 2099 and a couple of futuristic versions of Marvel characters Spider-Man, Punisher and Doctor Doom, the line has included more and more characters over the years.

This event seems to be spinning out of Nick Spencer and company's Amazing Spider-Man (I'm reading it in trade, so am always a good six issues or so behind, but Spider-Man 2099 has appeared in at least a few panels of the last volume I've read), which explains Spencer's byline on 2099 Alpha #1, Patrick Gleason's cover of which is above. According to a checklist--yes, it's a big enough event that there's a checklist--the event looks to be about a dozen issues long, including three issues of ASM and 2099 Alpha #1 and 2099 Omega #1 (because that makes more sense than simply using 2099 #1 and #2). Then there are seven tie-ins, each of which is just a character's name with a "2099" attached, including the likes of Fantastic Four 2099 and Venom 2099 and so on.

Additionally, the theme for this month's variants is 2099, so there will be plenty of covers featuring Marvel characters in futuristic looking garb and settings, whether or not the comics beneath those covers actually tie-in to the event.

The "Absolute Carnage" event is still going on, apparently, as well. The fifth issue of the Absolute Carnage miniseries will ship in November, and new tie-ins are still being released: Absolute Carnage: Weapon Plus #1 and Absolute Carnage: Captain Marvel #1. At least one new ongoing series will be spinning out of the event, Scream: The Curse of Carnage.

So what else is going on at Marvel this month...? Let's see...


AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR TPB (NEW PRINTING)
Written by STEVE ENGLEHART
Penciled by BOB BROWN, SAL BUSCEMA
Cover by SAL BUSCEMA
ON SALE DECEMBER 2019
They are the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and greatest Defenders. They have thwarted the attacks of aliens, monsters and even gods. But now, they face their greatest foe: each other! Loki, the Avengers’ first and greatest enemy, has teamed with Dormammu, Master of the Dark Arts, to rebuild the shattered Evil Eye -- enabling the Dark Dimension to expand until it finally is able to swallow the Earth and rid the evil pair of their enemies ... forever! But trust between enemies is rare. And soon, each has recruited his former foes as allies. As the Avengers attempt to devise a way to stop the Defenders from succeeding in Dormammu’s quest, the Defenders accuse the Avengers of acting under the control of Loki. What follows is a battle between two of comics’ most popular super-hero teams! Witness the super-powered match-ups of: Hawkeye vs. Iron Man, Namor vs. Captain America, Hulk vs. Thor, Silver Surfer vs. Vision and Scarlet Witch! COLLECTING Avengers (1963) #115-118, Defenders (1972) #8-11.
136 PGS./Rated T …$19.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92317-4


I've long wished this story would serve for the inspiration of an Avengers movie, even if only extremely vaguely, like the way Captain America: Civil War basically just kept the Cap's faction of heroes fights Iron Man's faction of heroes over a superhero regulation disagreement. I would have been totally okay with The Hulk, Doctor Strange and whatever Defenders Marvel Studios could have whipped up to replace Namor and The Silver Surfer, which they didn't have the rights to put int their movies.

Now though in addition to The Hulk and Strange, we also have Valkyrie and, thanks to Netflix, Hellcat...as well as a team of heroes known collectively as "The Defenders." Imagine the movie Avengers versus Hulk, Strange, Valkyrie and Netflix's Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Oh, and, um Iron Fist too, I guess. That would be the best! And a way to save Charlie Cox's Daredevil and Krysten Ritter's Jessica Jones, because those actors as those characters are so goddam perfect. I can hardly think of a better Marvel Cinematic Universe project...

Okay, well, an Agents of Atlas vs. Champions (Scarlett Johnasn's Black Widow! Nic Cage's Ghost Rider! That guy from X-Men's Iceman! That other guy from the X-Men movies' Angel! Someone playing Hercules, maybe The Rock, I don't know!) would be pretty cool, too...


CONAN 2099 #1
GERRY DUGGAN (W) • ROGÊ ANTÔNIO (A)
Cover by GEOFF SHAW
...
EONS FROM HOME, THE BARBARIAN BATTLES THE CIVILIZATION OF 2099!
In the far flung future of 2099, will barbarism finally triumph over an endangered civilization? When CONAN THE BARBARIAN entered the Marvel Universe with the SAVAGE AVENGERS, he stayed to conquer and claim his kingship in modern times. Now cursed by a mystic to live beyond his years, when Conan’s new kingdom is threatened, he swings his blade once more! But as the calamity in 2099 bears down on his secluded realm, will the future shock unseat the barbarian king? An unforgettable chapter unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the saga of Conan!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Parental Advisory …$4.99


I have no prior firsthand experience with any of Marvel's "2099" comics, but I kinda like the idea of pushing one of the oldest characters (currently) in their universe in that far-flung futuristic setting. Have they ever used any other characters from the past in the 2099 milieu? Has there been a Two-Gun Kid 2099 or a Phantom Eagle 2099...?


DEADPOOL #1
KELLY THOMPSON (W) • CHRIS BACHALO (A/C)
...
Deadpool’s newest mercenary job has him going after the King of Monsters, who has claimed a new kingdom for his monstrous subjects…on Staten Island! But you know what they say, when you come at the king, you better not miss! The Merc with a Mouth finds himself neck deep in political intrigue, monster law, and a monster hunter out for blood! It’s like The Crown but with even more swords and monsters! Can Deadpool’s smooth charisma and deft diplomacy allow him to keep his head, or will he be royally screwed?
40 PGS./Parental Advisory …$4.99


Well this was a surprise. Mostly because I don't, and wouldn't, associate either of those creators with that character--although I suppose that's what makes them both potentially good choices.

Thompson's Marvel work has almost all had a degree of humor to it, and I guess she actually has written Deadpool before, in her Gambit/Rogue series, and she spent a lot of time on the other 'Pool, Gwenpool, in the pages of her West Coast Avengers. So perhaps she's not that unusual a choice after all.

I last saw Bachalo on Amazing Spider-Man, which I would assume was a better gig than Deadpool, but eh, what do I know. His art is always interesting.

I don't want to say I'm looking forward to a Deadpool comic or anything, because it is still a Deadpool comic, but this is a Deadpool comic I will read.


Nick Bradshaw draws the best monsters.


FANTASTIC FOUR: NEGATIVE ZONE #1
MIKE CAREY & RYAN NORTH (W) • STEFANO CASELLI & STEVE UY (A)
Cover by KIM JACINTO
Variant Cover by MICO SUAYAN
One of Reed Richards’ greatest discoveries is the extradimensional Negative Zone that exists parallel to our own universe. But now, an experiment that Reed began many years ago has come back to roost—and the Fantastic Four will once more have to venture into this hostile expanse in order to put things right!

Plus! Ryan North and Steve Uy bring you the first adventure of those bizarre new heroes in the Baxter Building, the Fantastix!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$4.99


Ha, when my eyes first fell on this solicitation copy, I thought it was bizarre that Mike Carey and Ryan North were co-writing a Fantastic Four comic, as I could hardly imagine a more unlikely writing team. But then I kept reading, and obviously North is writing the back-up.


I like this cover.


PUNISHER SOVIET #1 (OF 6)
GARTH ENNIS (W) • JACEN BURROWS (A)
Cover by PAOLO RIVERA
...
Garth Ennis (Co-Creator of The Boys & Preacher) is back at Marvel and writing the Punisher again, this time with art phenom Jacen Burrows (MOON KNIGHT, 303, Crossed) at his side.
A dozen Russian mobsters lie dead at the Punisher’s feet and he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.
If you know Frank Castle, you know this doesn’t necessarily set his mind at ease.
Who is in New York City decimating the Russian mob and can it be long before they come into conflict with Frank?
32 PGS./Rated MAX…$3.99


Garth Ennis! Back! Writing Punisher!


SPIDER-MAN #3 (OF 5)
J.J. ABRAMS & HENRY ABRAMS (W) • SARA PICHELLI (A)
Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL
...
J.J. Abrams’ (Star Wars, Star Trek, Alias) comic debut continues, co-written by his son Henry with art by superstar Sara Pichelli (SPIDER-MAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY).
The most anticipated comic of 2019 takes a turn you won’t believe.
If you think you know what’s going to happen to Peter and Mary Jane next, you’re wrong.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Okay, I get that you're excited that you got J.J. Abrams to kinda sorta write a comic book series for you, but that doesn't make it the "most anticipated" comic of 2019.


SPIDER-MAN/VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #1 (OF 4)
MARIKO TAMAKI (W) • GURIHIRU (A/C)
...
8-part CONNECTING VARIANT COVER E BY ARTHUR ADAMS
...
You’ve seen ‘em duke it out in the Marvel Universe for years, but prepare to see Spidey and Venom as you never have before: as begrudging… buddies?

It’s fun of the freaky variety this time around, as an unexpected mind-swap sets Spidey and Venom in each other’s bodies! But WHO swapped them, and why?!

From Mariko Tamaki and Gurihiru comes an all-new take on your favorite arch-Frienemies in the MU – and now they’ve gotta work together to set things right!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Two characters switching bodies is never a bad premise for a story, particularly when we're talking comic book characters. This should be pretty great, or, even if it somehow ends up being the most poorly-written comic book of all time--and with Tamaki involved, I don't see how that could happen--it will still end up being great-looking, because the Gurihiru team is handling the art.

Now, how is their an "8-part connecting variant cover" on a four-issue miniseries...?

Oh, and note to Marvel: That's not how you spell frenemies.


STAR WARS #74
GREG PAK (W) • PHIL NOTO (A/C)
...
WOOKIEE VS. SITH!
Our three stories converge as the rebels’ plan to destroy the Empire’s fleet come to a head! But can LUKE really trust the grifter WARBA CALIP?
Can HAN, LEIA, and DAR CHAMPION survive a head-on battle with a STAR DESTROYER?
And what happens when CHEWBACCA takes on LORD VADER himself in hand-to-hand combat?
And the Rebellion’s search for a new home...a base safe from the reach of the Empire...begins.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Chewbacca vs. Darth Vader? Now this is a comic book I am anticipating, Spider-Man #3 Solicitation Copy.


STAR WARS #75
GREG PAK (W) • PHIL NOTO (A/C)
...
FINAL ISSUE! IT’S A TRAP!
The epic REBELS AND ROGUES storyline reaches its explosive end! Can THREEPIO save the rock people of K43?
Is WARBA the master or the student? Which Champion falls?
And how much of LUKE’S desperate plan has DARTH VADER foreseen from the beginning?
The search for a new rebel base continues!
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.


"Final Issue"...? Huh. I didn't think Marvel would cancel their main Star Wars series so soon after reacquiring the license. Oh well, I guess there will never, ever be another Star Wars comic from Marvel ever.


THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #50
RYAN NORTH (W) • DEREK CHARM (a)
Cover by ERICA HENDERSON
...
FINAL ISSUE!
This is it! After 58 issues (comics numbering is, dare we say: nuts), an OGN and a whole bunch of both eating nuts AND kicking butts, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl reaches its 50th and final issue!
When we say “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s final issue” though, we mean the *comic book*, not the character. Doreen Green will be fine! She’s fine!
...OR IS SHE? Because in our previous issue it really seemed like things WEREN’T fine and since it’s our last issue maybe we’re feeling that since anything COULD happen then anything SHOULD happen!
There’s only one way to find out, and you’re looking at a solicit text for it!
Friendship, explosions, and friendships forged during explosions: it all comes down to this!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


This is the very worst news, as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the very best super-comic.



X-MEN #2
JONATHAN HICKMAN (W) • LEINIL FRANCIS YU (A/C)
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
2099 VARIANT COVER BY Ron Lim
When an island full of unspeakable horrors appears on the horizon, the X-Men have their work cut out for themselves keeping Krakoa safe!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I'm a little confused as to what's going on with the X-Men. They are currently in the midst of a big, ambitious relaunch of the line that has everyone talking about, and many people even caring about, the X-Men for the first time in forever. That's good, and definitely not the sort of thing you as a publisher would want to fuck up right out of the gate by doing anything dumb like, I don't know, over-extending the line before Hickman's take can even get established.

And yet by November of this year, in addition to the Hickman-written X-Men title, which will only be on its second issue after the stage-setting House of X/Powers of X miniseries, there will also be a new New Mutants, a new X-Force and a book called Fallen Angels (featuring a trio of X-people), each of which will be shipping twice in November, plus the continuation of Excalibur and The Marauders, both of just will have just launched the previous month. That's...nine individual issues of X-Men comics, which will run you about $40, in just one month alone.


YONDU #1 & #2 (OF 5)
LONNIE NADLER &a ZAC THOMPSON (W) • JOHN MCCREA (A)
CoverS by Cully Hamner
...
ISSUE #1 - Yondu, lone Ravager and all-around scoundrel is about to hit the biggest pay day of his life when he stumbles upon a dangerous new weapon! But when this artifact turns out to be deadlier than he bargained for, will the reward outweigh the risk as Yondu finds himself targeted by a mysterious mercenary? Plus, when an unexpected visitor from the future turns up to stop Yondu, it begs the question: exactly how bad did he screw up?! Find out in this all-new miniseries from ZAC THOMPSON and LONNIE NADLER (AGE OF X-MAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ANNUAL) and JOHN MCCREA (Dead Eyes)!
ISSUE #2 - The mayhem continues as Yondu attempts to find a buyer for the Herald’s urn!
But with a chaos-crazed mercenary and deadly hunter from the future on his tail, Yondu doesn’t have time to plan out his next move.
Blinded by dollar signs, will Yondu be able to safely offload the urn, or will his greed turn profit into peril?
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)


Hmm. I have no interest in the Yondu character, although I do really like John McCrea's art. Hey, with Ennis doing a Punisher miniseries and McCrea doing a Yondu miniseries, that means both halves of the Hitman creative team will have new series launching from Marvel in November! It's just too bad they're not both working on the same book...

Friday, August 30, 2019

DC's November previews reviewed

BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT PRESENTS VON FREEZE #1
written by SEAN MURPHY
art by KLAUS JANSON
cover by SEAN MURPHY
...
The world of Batman: White Knight expands with this standalone tale! On the night of Bruce Wayne’s traumatic birth, Victor Fries must intervene to save the lives of Martha Wayne and the future Batman. As the evening unfolds, Victor distracts Thomas with the incredible tale of his own father figures—one a Nazi, the other a Jew—and their complex connection to Wayne Laboratories. As the Third Reich roars into power, the deep friendship and working relationship between the Baron von Fries and his research partner, Jacob Smithstein, is in crisis. Ordered by Himmler to speed development of their cryotechnology in service of world domination, Smithstein is forced to go into hiding and compromise his moral code in order to save his wife and infant daughter, Nora, from persecution and certain death. When the S.S. ramps up surveillance over the project, young Victor begins to question his father’s true allegiance. Both families are driven toward an impossible choice and a sinister standoff, and Victor makes a pact with Smithstein that will ripple through generations.
ONE-SHOT | ON SALE 11.20.19
CARD STOCK COVERS
$5.99 US | 56 PAGES


People seem to really like Sean Murphy's Batman: White Knight comics, so expanding the "universe" of the series seems like a pretty smart move by DC. And Klaus Janson is a great comics artist, so I have no doubt this will end up being some pretty good Elseworlds Batman.

I never actually got around to reviewing Murphy's original White Knight series, which sat on my To Review pile for months and months before I finally gave up on ever doing so. My difficulty came in trying to put into words the thing I didn't quite like about it, or didn't quite feel comfortable with. It was a feeling I couldn't quite articulate, but I guess I can at least try briefly (and likely fail) here. After all, this particular special highlights one of the odd departures from "regular" Batman comics and lore that can be seen randomly throughout White Knight: Mister Freeze is here several generations older than Batman/Bruce Wayne, a World War II-era scientist who later came to Gotham and entered into a strange working relationship with Dr. Thomas Wayne that involved a giant freeze ray and plans to defend Gotham City.

White Knight doesn't have the expected point of departure of other superhero Imaginary Stories, What Ifs and Elseworlds; it's not a Batman story with a dramatic shift of venue or genre, nor a amalgam of Batman with another comics or literary figure, nor an exploration of how different Batman and his world might be if something different had happened at some point in his career. Because of that, it seems to lack a premise, a reason to exist at all...despite the fact that it was sold on a premise, that being an inversion of the Batman/Joker dynamic, where Batman is the villain and the Joker is the hero (sort of).

But it's more than just that, as Murphy made so many changes that don't necessarily have a theme or pattern. There's the stuff with Freeze. There's the incredibly different way in which Robin Jason Todd's career ended at the hands of The Joker, and that he was apparently the last Robin (so no Tim Drake or Damian Wayne, although Duke Thomas appears as a character in a different role). Oh, and this Joker had a well-known secret identity, Jack Napier. And he maybe never really ever actually killed anyone after all. And Harley Quinn came into his life earlier, sometime before Todd became the second and last Robin. And there are actually two Harleys (the original one that resembled the one from Batman: The Animated Series, and a later, replacement one who resembled the one from the Batman: Arkham video games and the Suicide Squad movie).

Unlike most of the previous alternate Batman stories, then, what Murphy did was offer a sort of idiosyncratic "remix" of the Batman story, reinventing it to suit his vision, picking and choosing elements from past iterations to honor, ignore or reshape. It is akin to what one sees in virtually any superhero movie ever made, and plenty of comics (Marvel's entire, millennial Ultimate line, for example, or even Tom Scioli's Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, to choose one of my favorite comics). That's why I'm not sure why it bothered me here and not in so many other places. I suspect it is because Murphy did have a premise of sorts to his original series, the bit with Joker going sane and becoming a heroic figure in opposition to Batman, who has slowly been going over the edge, although it feels quite watered down because of how much rejiggering Murphy did to the source material before he hit the starting point of his series and, without spoiling it too much, how the Joker Is Good Now, Batman Is Bad Now throughline is sabotaged (Maybe those characters are so powerful at this point, it's nigh impossible to force them into opposite roles for too long...?)

Anyway, I don't think that aspect of the book made it a bad book or anything, nor did it necessarily ruin it. I just felt somewhat uncomfortable with it, and despite several pretty clever ideas, I never really saw what so many other people seemed to see in it. It was a pretty good Batman comic with incredible art, but it was hardly a great Batman comic.

Anyway, there's now a sequel centering around the Azrael character and, I guess, a one-shot starring Freeze with art by Klaus Janson.

(By the way, "White Knight" would have been a better codename for Duke Thomas than "The Signal," although it would necessitate changing the color of his costume.)


BLACKHAWK: BLOOD & IRON HC
written by HOWARD CHAYKIN, MARTIN PASKO, and MIKE GRELL
art by HOWARD CHAYKIN, GRANT MIEHM, RICK BURCHETT, and others
cover by HOWARD CHAYKIN
Collected in book form for the first time! Polish pilot Janos Prohaska—better known as Blackhawk—is on American soil and in trouble. Accused of Communist leanings, he stumbles across a plot to overthrow the U.S. government and bomb New York City concocted by former Nazis out for revenge. Collects Blackhawk: Blood & Iron #1-3, plus stories from Action Comics Weekly #601-608, #615-622, and #628-635 and Secret Origins #45.
ON SALE 12.11.19
$49.99 US | 384 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-779500779
DC BLACK LABEL


I've read a handful of those Action Comics Weekly stories, and they were well-made and a lot of fun. And there is a lot of talent involved in this, including Chaykin before he got so...Chaykin-y. I find this quite tempting, although the $49.99 price tag will probably keep me from adding it to my own personal library.


CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS GIANT #1
Includes 24 pages of new stories plus classic reprints!
ON SALE 12.18.19
$4.99 US | FC | 96 PAGES | DC

DC WAR GIANT #1
Includes 32 pages of new stories plus classic reprints!
ON SALE 12.11.19
$4.99 US | FC | 96 PAGES | DC


As with last month, there's another round of bargain-priced, mostly-reprint giants with new material. These are the two I am most curious about, and will likely order for myself, despite the lack of detail. The Crisis one is interesting because, on the one hand, COIE is just a single limited series, so a reprint of 60-some pages of it seems strange, but then, there's all those contemporary COIE tie-ins that reprints could be pulled from, and God knows how many revisits of the events of series from later anthologies and suchlike, and that's only if DC is confining the book to the original Crisis, and not any of the semi-official sequels like Infinite Crisis and the like.

Also, I'm curious about the new stories set in or around the mid-1980s crossover event.

It's far easier to imagine the contents of the War book; at least, I am assuming it will collect DC's older war comics, with the war in question being WWII and maybe some WWI (so they can get some Enemy Ace in there. I read a couple hundred pages worth of those comics via the Showcase Presents collections, and they were all a blast. Chances are the contents of this book will duplicate that, but hey, it's only $5, so it's worth the risk of rereading a few great comics I've already read. And these will be in color, which I assume won't do the line art any favors, but we'll see.

And, again, I'm curious about the new stories: Who made them, whether classic DC war characters are being used and/or which wars they will be set in.


So I guess that's what Nora Fries looks like when she's not in a cryogenic coma...? Huh. I never imagined the chainsaw, to be honest.


DIANA, PRINCESS OF THE AMAZONS TP
written by SHANNON HALE and DEAN HALE
art and cover by VICTORIA YING
Eleven-year-old Diana leads an idyllic life on the island of Themyscira. Cut off from the rest of the world, she’s beginning to feel a little alone. Though she has a loving mother and many “aunties,” she is an only child. In fact, she’s the only child on the entire island!
After an escapade goes wrong, Diana gets in trouble for not living up to the Amazonian standard. She just can’t seem to measure up no matter what she does. Every other person on the island is an adult proficient in their trade and mighty in body, while she is gangly, sometimes clumsy, and not particularly good at anything. She’s not Wonder Woman...yet, anyway. What Diana needs is a friend; someone her own age whom she can talk to. But when she decides to take matters into her own hands, she encounters the unexpected!
From New York Times bestselling authors Shannon Hale (Princess Academy) and Dean Hale and artist Victoria Ying comes a heartfelt story about making mistakes, learning the hard way, and growing up to become a hero.
ON SALE 01.01.20
$9.99 US | 5.5” x 8”
144PAGES|FC


So this is a Wonder Girl graphic novel then, huh? Hopefully it's quite successful, and it will encourage DC to do one set 6-9 years earlier, when she was still Wonder Tot.

I imagine this one should be good, as the Hales aren't just well-known prose writers, but also have some quite solid comics-scripting work to their names.


FAMOUS FIRST EDITION: NEW FUN #1 HC
stories and art by VARIOUS
cover by LYMAN ANDERSON
In celebration of its 85th anniversary, DC Comics reprints for the very first time its first-ever published comic book, New Fun #1, the comic that transformed the fledgling industry by being the first ongoing title made up of new stories instead of reprints of newspaper comic strips. First published in 1935, this landmark comic book carried a diverse set of original content features cowboys, spies, detectives, funny animals, space explorers, soldiers of fortune and more, including features that were written by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the founder of the company that would become DC Comics. This tabloid-size, black-and-white comic is reprinted as a commemorative hardcover and will include essays by comics historian Roy Thomas and Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, grand-daughter of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, and more. Collects New Fun #1.
ON SALE 01.22.20
$19.99 US | 48 PAGES
B&W | 10.5” X 15.125”
ISBN: 978-1-779501196


Curiosity makes me want this, but $20 for 48 pages makes me second-guess myself. Hopefully DC will send me a review copy. This is an interesting comic to reprint in 2019, though, as New Fun #1 is a comic book anyone who has ever read any history of comics has read about, but relatively few if any of us have actually read the comic itself.


FAR SECTOR #1
written by N.K. JEMISIN
art and cover by JAMAL CAMPBELL
...
N.K. Jemisin, the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Broken Earth and Inheritance science fiction trilogies, makes her comic book debut with bestselling Naomi artist Jamal Campbell as they thrust you into a stunning sci-fi murder mystery on the other side of the universe! For the past six months, newly chosen Green Lantern Sojourner “Jo” Mullein has been protecting the City Enduring, a massive metropolis of 20 billion people. The city has maintained peace for over 500 years by stripping its citizens of their ability to feel. As a result, violent crime is virtually unheard of, and murder is nonexistent. But that’s all about to change in this new maxiseries that gives a DC Young Animal spin to the legacy of the Green Lanterns!
ON SALE 11.13.19
$3.99 US |1 OF 12 |32 PAGES
FC | DC BLACK LABEL


Well this is intriguing; a Green Lantern comic that doesn't even bill itself as such in the title. It also seems to be a pretty straightforward science fiction take on the franchise, leaning hard into that aspect. Most intriguing of all, of course, is that it's a brand-new GL from a creator brand-new to comics. Comics always benefits from new blood--that of creators and characters alikeand the Green Lantern concept more than most. Think how boring the history of Green Lantern would be without John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz...

The DC geek in me wonders if Sojourner Mullein is an Earthling or not, given how many Earth GLs there are, and whether or not this series is standalone or will be set in the DC Universe shared-setting or not. It's apparently both a "Black Label" book and a "Young Animal" book, and I'm still not entirely sure if those labels mean "not in the DC Universe" or not. So far, my sense is that they simply mean "Maybe in the DCU"...



That's Guillem March's variant cover for The Flash #83, and it's great. Has anyone ever drawn a Flash-punching-the-reader-repeatedly cover before? It seems like a kind of obvious idea once you see it, but I don't recall ever seeing a similar cover image.


GREEN LANTERN #85 FACSIMILE EDITION
written by DENNIS O’NEIL and JOHN BROOME
art by NEAL ADAMS, DICK GIORDANO, GIL KANE, and JOE GIELLA
cover by NEAL ADAMS
In this award-winning tale from 1971, Green Arrow discovers that his former sidekick, Roy Harper, is hooked on heroin! Plus, Sinestro tries to exert mental control over Hal Jordan in a story originally published in Green Lantern #11!
ON SALE 11.20.19
$3.99 US | 48 PAGES


I love this cover so much. It remains one of my favorite covers of all time. I've read the story repeatedly, but I think I might still order this, just to have a book with that cover on it.

This cover, by the way, inspired one of The Red Bee's pitches for a comic book series starring The Red Bee.
If you haven't been reading EDILW for (yikes!) 12 years now, you can click here for The Red Bee's guest-post, featuring terrible art and even worse lettering.


GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #1
written by GRANT MORRISON
art by XERMANICO
cover by LIAM SHARP
variant cover by DARICK ROBERTSON
What has Hal Jordan done? Following the catastrophic events of The Green Lantern #12, no Green Lanterns can be found patrolling their space sectors...and not a single power ring lights the darkness. Across the universe, once-familiar faces now wear a different uniform and enforce a new type of galactic law. The Green Lantern Corps is dead—long live the Blackstars! Who are they? What are they? Answers will be revealed as the unstoppable Blackstars set their sights on the demons of Ysmault, Mongul...and a tiny, backwater planet called Earth. A dangerous new chapter of the Green Lantern mythology starts now!
ON SALE 11.06.19
$3.99 US |1 OF 3 |32 PAGES
FC|DC


Hal Jordan leading a new version of the Blackstars is something I ever would have expected to read, particularly in a comic scripted by Grant Morrison, who used to seem to have some pretty strong opinions about the superiority of DC's sturdy Silver Age iterations of characters rather than whatever the hell his contemporaries were doing to the original Justice Leaguers and their legacies in their books. Of course, that's what makes it so interesting.

I've only read the first issue of The Green Lantern so far, as I've been waiting for the trade--not the hardcover, but the actual trade paperback--so I'm way behind on the goings-on of Hal Jordan and what Morrison and Liam Sharp have been doing to him.

This makes me curious as to what Guy, Kyle and Simon are up to, though; I know John is in the Justice League and Jessica in the space team of Leaguers starring in Justice League Odyssey; I assume they will be unaffected.


GREEN LANTERN: LEGACY TP
written by MINH LÊ
art and cover by ANDIE TONG
Twelve-year-old Tai Pham lives in the apartment above his grandmother’s store, where his bedroom is crammed with sketchpads and comic books. But not even his most imaginative drawings could compare to the colorful adventure he’s about to embark on.
When Tai inherits his grandmother’s jade ring, he soon finds out it’s more than it appears. Suddenly he’s being inducted into a group of space cops known as the Green Lanterns. Meanwhile, his neighborhood is being overrun by some racist bullies, and every time he puts pen to paper, he’s forced to realize that he might not be creative enough or strong enough to uphold the legacy of his ba.
Now Tai must decide what kind of hero he wants to be: Will he learn to soar above his insecurities, or will the past keep him grounded?
From award-winning author Minh Lê (Drawn Together) and artist Andie Tong comes the tale of a brand-new hero, the latest in the Green Lantern lineage!
ON SALE 01.15.20
$9.99 US | 5.5” x 8”
144PAGES|FC
DC GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR KIDS


Oh hey, another new Green Lantern! Again, this one stars in a book marked "DC Graphic Novels For Kids" (and was presumably going to be a DC Zoom book before the publisher nixed that particular imprint's branding), so I'm not sure if this new pre-teen GL "counts" or not. If so, the Teen Lantern in Young Justice might want to watch her back...


HARLEY QUINN AND THE BIRDS OF PREY TP
written by PAUL DINI, DEVIN GRAYSON, GREG RUCKA, and others
art by DON KRAMER, GREG LAND, MICHAEL LARK, and others
cover by JOELLE JONES
Relive key stories of the Birds of Prey—Black Canary, Huntress, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain, not to mention Harley Quinn—along with the deadly Black Mask! This new title collects Detective Comics #831, Nightwing/Huntress #2, Gotham Central #6, Batman #567, Catwoman #16 (2002 series) and a story from Showcase ’96 #3.
ON SALE 12.11.19
$12.99 US | 144 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9483-0


This is a trade paperback collecting a random assortment of old Batman comics featuring the random assemblage of characters appearing in the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, which is obviously going to be very, very different than any previous Birds of Prey comic (Like, of all the characters mentioned in the solicitation, only two of them were ever actually on a Birds of Prey team).

So what do we have here? Showcase '96 #3 featured a Birds of Prey story by Jordan Gorfinkel, penciler artist Jennifer Graves (whose work I loved, and yet was far too rare back then) and inker Stan Woch, in which Lois Lane joins Black Canary in her BOP field work; Nightwing/Huntress #2 is part of a four-part miniseries by Devin Grayson, Greg Land (back when he used to draw comics) and Bill Sienkiewicz in which the two vigilantes team-up and hookup, something of an event at the time given Huntress' outsider status among the rest of the Bats; Batman #567 is a 1999 (that's during "No Man's Land") comic by Kelly Puckett, Damion Scott and John Floyd starring new Batgirl Cassandra Cain; Gotham Central #6 is the 2003 first chapter of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's "Half A Life" story line in which Renee Montoya comes out; Catwoman #16 is an Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart issue from the same year, relevant because it features Selena and The Black Mask; and, finally, 'Tec #831 is a 2007 Harley Quinn issue by Paul Dini, Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher (with a nice black-and-white Simone Bianchi cover) which features the lame-o Ventriloquist II.

Those aren't the stories I would have chosen to introduce those particular characters, and one of the odd aspects of them is that almost all of them are simply chapters of bigger, longer storiesalthough given that all of them have been collected somewhere or other, I guess one could see this as a sort of starting-point trade, pointing readers to other trade collections. I can't recommend the Batgirl trades featuring the work of Puckett strongly enough; and "Half A Life," like the rest of Gotham Central, is pretty much must-read. That 2002-launched Catwoman series was by far the best Catwoman ongoing series, too, of the...four or so she's had to date.

I'm not entirely sure, but I think there might be actual Birds of Prey issues featuring most of these characters, although I'm not certain about Harley Quinn and Black Mask (statistically, though, it seems like issues of BOP featuring those fairly common Batman villains must exist.


HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE MULTIVERSE #1
written by TIM SEELEY
art by DAN FRAGA and RICHARD FRIEND
cover by INHYUK LEE
variant cover by DAN FRAGA
The scourge of Anti-Eternia is unleashed on the Multiverse! Blazing a trail across the dimensions, he’s devastating each version of Eternia and stealing its power. Now it’s up to a ragtag team of surviving He-Men to recruit the one man in existence who might save them: Prince Keldor, the man who would be Skeletor! This all-new miniseries features the most iconic eras and beloved takes on the Masters of the Universe!
ON SALE 11.20.19
$3.99 US |1 OF 6 |32 PAGES


This solicit, like few others, has caused me to reevaluate my life, and wonder where the five-year-old playing with Masters of The Universe toys who wanted to grow up to be a writer isn't writing a comic series like this, but is instead merely a semi-professional comic book critic, full-time library clerk, extremely part-time comics blogger and so forth...?

This is an excellent title for a comic book series, and an excellent premise, even if it is (quite obviously) quite derivative. If it's a DC comic, that sort of derivation's not so bad (I similarly wish someone would do a Scooby-Doo comic along these lines some day). There are two ways to go with this, and Seeley seems to be going the Infinite Eternia's path (the other, weirder one might be to concentrate on the DC Multiverse, and we'd see the He-Men of Earth-3, Earth-X, etc).

I heartily hope the various He-Men include one from the 1983 Filmation cartoon that is hampered by limited and repetitive movement, who is only ever drawn in, like, five different poses, and regularly spouts morals as if talking directly to children watching his adventures at home. And the He-Man from the very first "minicomics" (that were actually mini illustrated storybooks) by Don Glut and Alfredo Alcala, which offer a different and somewhat strange He-Man mythology than the one that would quickly develop and be the focus of the cartoon series and the toyline thereafter (He-Man not having a secret identity, his harness giving him super-strength, Castle Grayskull being a place hero and villain alike could enter, The Sorceress looking like a green-skinned Teela in her full snake armor, etc). These are collected in Dark Horse's excellent He-Man and The Masters of The Universe Mini-Comic Collection, if you've never encountered them (and, um, didn't get them with your Beast-Man, He-Man, Skeletor and Zodiac action figures one Christmas and happened to save them for the next 35+ years).

Given how all of the He-Man comics pretty much since those that came packaged with the toys have ranged from not-that-great to godawful to damn near unreadable, I don't exactly have high hopes for this, although I love the premise enough that I won't be able to ignore it. Seeley's a pretty good comics writer, and I've liked the vast majority of the stuff of his I've readand loved some of itso hopefully this turns out to be as awesome as a He-Man comic should be. (And then maybe Seeley can go back and re-write a Justice League vs. Masters of the Universe comic, because the one DC published was sooooo terrible!)


THE INFECTED: KING SHAZAM! #1
written by SINA GRACE
art by JOE BENNETT
cover by DAVID MARQUEZ
Billy Batson is a good kid. He helps his friends, loves his family, and tries to do the right thing. But Billy is about to have a run-in with the most dangerous serial killer in existence, and the Batman Who Laughs wants Billy to be bad. Spinning out of the events of Batman/Superman and “Year of the Villain,” it’s the tale of a hero whose soul has been turned black, and who has something to prove to the old guard. Buckle in for Shazam’s journey to punch a bunch of so-called “gods” in the face and show the establishment exactly what the future looks like...
ONE-SHOT
ON SALE 11.06.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES FC|DC


Okay, so Dark Knights: Metal begat The Batman Who Laughs (who previously appeared in one of those already-forgotten Dark Matter/New Age of DC Heroes series and some issues of Justice League) which then begat Batman/Superman #1. I just read the Batman Who Laughs collection, which was surprisingly strong (review soon-ish, I hope) and then I read Batman/Superman #1 and that was...well, it wasn't for me.

It was on page two where it began to lose me, during a two-panel sequence in which we are told for the millionth time about Batman's parents dying in an alley (complete with bloody pearls!) and Superman's world blowing up.
And by the top of the third page, it lost me completely:
Not only is this kind of gross and horrifying, but do you know how many times I have seen images of the Justice League killed at this point? How often I've seen Wonder Woman strangled by her own lasso, and Plastic Man and/or Martian Manhunter stretched out like chewing gum...? So it is both gruesome and derivative to the point of boring. No thank you, DC. (By the way, this is just rated "T for Teen," which translates to "Appropriate for readers age 12 and older. May contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes." The next one up is "T+...appropriate for readers age 15 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes." That's the rating assigned to Justice League, despite the fact that I've yet to read an issue of that in which, like, a random rib cage is just lying around the middle of the floor at JLA HQ.)

(On the plus side,, David Marquez's art is pretty great throughout, and while I was fully expecting to see the "Infected" Captain Marvel Shazam in this series, I was still surprised with how he showed up, given what writer Joshua Williamson did to Billy Batson to render him unrecognizable).

Anyway, this follows up on the plot from Batman Who Laughs, in which the title villain and his henchman attempt to infect all of Gotham City with a serum that will turn everyone into BLM-like maniacs, I think. Apparently, he got to Captain Marvel Shazam and The Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes (the latter has a one-shot solicited for November as well, The Infected: The Scarab; he is wearing a loincloth in his redesign too. I guess loincloths are...evil...?). I didn't realize until I saw this solicit though that they were using the name "King Shazam"; that was one of the names that Freddie Freeman suggested for his superhero codename in the original Geoff Johns/Gary Frank "Shazam" comic that inspired the movie. So I guess Freddie's not using that. Have the Shazam family gotten individual superhero codenames yet?


JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER #1
written by SI SPURRIER
art by AARON CAMPBELL
cover by JOHN PAUL LEON
...
John Constantine is back in London, back to his old tricks—and just in time, as things have become very dark indeed in his old stomping grounds. A small-time gang lord has found himself dealing with a big-time outbreak of supernatural weirdness...and without any allies to call on and nothing left to call his own, John doesn’t have much choice about taking a paycheck from one of London’s worst, or accepting the help of one of the gang lord’s would-be foot soldiers. But what should be an open-and-shut exorcism turns out to be nothing but...and the author of this madness may just be getting started on their terrible masterpiece!
The original Constantine is back in this series from Si Spurrier (The Dreaming) and Aaron Campbell (Infidel), with nothing to his name but decades of bad memories and an unearned second chance. How, exactly, will he squander it? There’s only one way to find out...
ON SALE 11.27.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | DC BLACK LABEL


Just out of curiosity, how many times has DC re-launched a John Constanine title since the original Hellblazer was cancelled in 2013 or so. I want to say this is the fourth #1 since then, and it's a good sign of the diminishing returns of reboots and renumberings. Constantine's first series, Hellblazer, lasted for 25 years, after all.


JUSTICE LEAGUE #36
written by SCOTT SNYDER and JAMES TYNION IV
art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
...
How powerful is too powerful? Lex Luthor has assembled everything he needs to complete his plan of turning the world toward doom, including reviving the ancient goddess Perpetua and restoring her powers. But can he keep Perpetua from dragging the DC Universe into the abyss alongside the rest of the Multiverse? This is a question that hero and villain alike must ask, as the epic battle between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom across space and time comes crashing together. Everything that happens here sets the stage for the senses-shattering finale of the Justice/Doom War—and the fate of all existence hangs in the balance!
ON SALE 11.20.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES


I can't tell you how eager I am for Snyder and company to finish up this years-long Justice/Doom War story line and finally get around to telling a second Justice League story. That said, this has been going on so longsince the start of the series, or actually longer if you count No Justice and Metalthat I'm beginning to wonder if there even is a second story, or if Snyder's run will consist completely of what is essentially the longest "Crisis" in DC comics history. How's that for decompression!


LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1
written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
art and cover by RYAN SOOK
...
Inspired by the acts of and lessons learned from the greatest heroes of all time, the Legion of Super-Heroes have gathered together to stop a galaxy from repeating its past mistakes. The greatest lineup of heroes in comic book history returns with new, fresh, and reader-friendly stories!

Eisner Award-winning writer Brian Michael Bendis reteams with master artist Ryan Sook (Action Comics) for one of the most ambitious mainstream comic books ever created! Why have the Legion of Super-Heroes broken the cardinal rule of the United Planets and inducted Jon Kent, a.k.a. Superboy, into the Legion? What are they hiding? And what does it have to do with Aquaman’s long-lost trident?
ON SALE 11.06.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
CARD STOCK VARIANT COVER $4.99


I don't think I realized that the Superboy who was appearing in the upcoming LOSH was going to be Superman and Lois' son Jonathan, and not some past version of the "real" Superman. I...don't love that idea at all, although I guess it will remain to be seen if this means he's going to live in the future, and will no longer be part of the present, where I found him to be a pretty welcome addition to the DCU (especially as a foil to Robin Damian Wayne). (Hmmm...crazy idea, but would shunting duplicate characters from the present to co-star in a LOSH title be a better fate for characters like Tim Drake or Duke Thomas or Cassandra Cain, where they could be the Robin or Batgirl of the 21st Century? Might that be less depressing then having cool characters with lame costumes and lame codenames hanging around crowding up the books they appear in?)

I'm ridiculously far behind Bendis' Superman run, though. I blame DC for going to hardcover with those collections before trade paperback.

I also don't much care for Jon's new costume, but I suppose it might be something I'll get used to upon actually reading some comics in which it appears.


TALES FROM THE DARK MULTIVERSE: BLACKEST NIGHT #1
written by TIM SEELEY
art by KYLE HOTZ and DEXTER VINES
cover by LEE WEEKS
What could be blacker than the Blackest Night? From the pages of Dark Nights: Metal comes a Dark Multiverse retelling of the Green Lantern event that changed the DC Universe forever...only this time, the Black Lanterns win! Now, 23 days after the apocalypse, witness the rise of Sinestro as the Limbo Lantern! Trapped between life and death as a White and Black Lantern, Sinestro seeks to save the universe—or end his miserable life—once and for all! Joined by Dove, Lobo, and Mister Miracle, the last living beings in the universe will put everything on the line to give their world one final chance.
ONE-SHOT
PRESTIGE FORMAT
ON SALE 11.13.19
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES
FC|DC


Well, the solicitation copy beat me to it. I was going to say how could you possibly do a "dark" version of a comic as dark as Blackest Night. The fact that Kyle Hotz is drawing this seems worth noting; that guy is a great artist, and excels at drawing scary shit.


TALES FROM THE DARK MULTIVERSE: INFINITE CRISIS #1
written by JAMES TYNION IV
art by AARON LOPRESTI and MATT RYAN
cover by LEE WEEKS
DC’s mega-event “Infinite Crisis” saw the destruction of the Trinity, the rise of Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime, and the rebirth of the Multiverse...but it all started with Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, who saw it all coming and died with secrets that could’ve saved the world. But...things happened differently in the Dark Multiverse! Not only does Blue Beetle survive— he thrives! And after killing Maxwell Lord himself, Ted sets off a chain of events that irreversibly alters the lives of the Justice League and his best friend, Booster Gold. In trying to prevent a crisis, Blue Beetle becomes the Crisis...and the Dark Multiverse will never be the same.
ONE-SHOT
PRESTIGE FORMAT
ON SALE 11.27.19
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES
FC|DC


Again, how do you get darker than Infinite Crisis...? Is Superboy-Prime going to punch the heads off of all the Teen Titans...?

Now please join me in saying a prayer that DC doesn't solicit a Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Identity Crisis next month...


YOUNG JUSTICE #10
written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
art by JOHN TIMMS and NICK DERINGTON
art and cover by JOHN TIMMS
...
Welcome, Naomi! Wonder Comics’ brightest shining star comes to Young Justice! She’s ready to join this team of young heroes who have seen it all—and you’ll want to be here to watch the sparks fly for the very first time. All this, plus the true story of Jinny Hex.
ON SALE 11.06.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES


Well, I'm curious as hell about what Best Robin Tim Drake's new superhero name is going to be. With most all possible bird-related names already used (too bad Harper Row took Bluebird, just to retire; I think a blue and black version of Tim's Robin costume might look pretty sharp), I obviously can't imagine what they are going to go with. I wonder if they might do something vague, and go in the Nightwing direction.

Redwing would be a possibility; the name was previously used by the red-winged lady in Team Titans, but I'm pretty sure she doesn't exist any more (And Nightwing was a name previously used by a Kryptonian-version of Batman in Kandor, so there's precedent of reusing an older, obsolete superhero's name for a former Robin looking to rebrand himself)."Redbird" would be a pretty good possibility too, I think...if Tim hadn't already used that name for his Robin-mobile.

Of course, his costume on that cover looks more maroon than red to me, so I guess we'll see. I hate it, but after his New 52 Red Robin costume, there's really nowhere to go but up...

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: July 2019



BOUGHT:


Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Vol. 1: Secrets and Rumors (Marvel Entertainment) So there were three things that interested me in this trade paperback collection of a new, secondary Spider-Man ongoing monthly comic book. First, it was written by Tom Taylor, a very solid writer whose work is often pretty great (All-New Wolverine, for example) and often surprises by being far better than one might assume it should be (Injustice, for example).

Second, it was drawn by Juan Cabal, an all-around great artist, although I wasn't quite sure how his particular facility with character work and facial expressions would translate to a book starring a character whose full-face mask allows for less expression than your average emoji.

Third, it apparently introduced a new Spider-Man sidekick named Spider-Bite, who was apparently a sidekick in the tradition of The Black Terror's sidekick Tim or the Silver Age Flash's Kid Flash in his original costume; that is, basically just a smaller, kid-sized version of the hero.

Well, that third one turned out to be a bit of a cheat. In the sixth and final issue of this collection, Spider-Man and Spider-Bite take on Stilt-Man and The Sinister Sixty for a glowing gold maguffin, a box containing the one thing New York City can't do without. As the story progresses, it becomes pretty clear that this story isn't as "real" as the one preceding it. It turns out that Spider-Bit is Nathan, a boy who is in a hospital and struggling with cancer. Spidey has spent the day visiting him and playing with him. It's a really solid, evergreen Spider-Man story that effectively tugs at the heart strings, while also being kind of funny in the appropriate places (I liked the bit where Spider-Man regards one of his own action figures and remarks, "I wish I had this many points of articulation.")

The story that precedes it is a highly-imaginative, rather clever one, although I'm not entirely sure it's a Spider-Man story, or even a Marvel story, involving as it does a secret Golden Age hero no one has ever heard of and "Under York," a secret New York City that's built into an ocean of lava a few miles beneath the genuine article (that sounds pretty DC, right, and, in particular, rather Grant Morrison...? It's definitely not Spider-Man, or Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man). The story is obviously quite well-written, and Taylor nails the character of Spider-Man, but the story just seemed somewhat off...although, that can also be read as refreshing, I guess, given that it does break the expected mold of Spider-Man stories so dramatically.

Taylor does quite literally involve Spider-Man's neighborhood in the story, though, as the book opens with him saving some new arrivals to the neighborhood, and the conflict with Under York begins when a nosy, needy older woman in his building has him check in on a shy, shut-in who also lives in their building. Spidey's roommate Fred "Boomerang" Myers appears, as does Human Torch Johnny Storm, who is called on to babysit at one point.

There's also a sub-plot involving Aunt May introduced, which I found more irritating than dramatic. Taylor and Cabal (and the other artists) do a good job of making it seem dramatic, but it's the sort of thing Peter Parker has been worrying about a good decade or so before I was even born, so it's hard to invest much in it. Ironically, then, this single volume features both a plot that is so un-Spider-Man-like as to see wrong for the character, and another that is so typical of the character as to be tiresome. It's definitely an interesting read, then.

I really like Andrew Robinson's covers, but it's kind of too bad they differ so much from the art of Cabal, given the gulf between their respective styles. Cabal, it turns out, is a pretty great Spidey artist. Sure, there's only so much you can do with his face, but its blankness is a neat visual in and of itself, especially as it forces Cabal to do so much with the character's posture and body language, and provides such a contrast between the star character and all of those he interacts with throughout the book.


Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage (Marvel) If I'm being 100% honest, the reason that this is in the "bought" rather than "borrowed" category is because the online reaction to Marvel hiring a black lady to write a comic book included so many hateful, ignorant takesmost of them disguised as concern that a professional poet couldn't write a comic book as well as a professional comic book writerthat I wanted the book to succeed in order to spite all of those spiteful of Ewing, Riri Williams and/or Ewing on a Riri Williams book. So while I wanted to read this when the trade became available, I bought it to essentially vote with my dollars.

Andsurprise!Ewing is perfectly capable of writing a modern Marvel super-comic. Ironheart, or at least the first six issues of it, didn't knock my socks off in the way that, say, the first issues of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat or Unstoppable Wasp did (to grab a copula Marvel titles of the last few years to also star young female characters), but Ewing betrays no sign of being "new" to comics, or to not getting how they work...something that a lot of writers from other fields do when they start writing comics (And hell, in terms of simple page-by-page mechanics, I would even say Ewing writes comics better than Riri's co-creator Brian Michael Bendis, whose scripts often work against the art).

Speaking of Bendis, I'm sure I've complained about how difficult to follow his run on the Iron Man character was, given that it changed titles a couple of times, one arc was randomly in a miniseries, and the numbering changed seemingly at random; in fact, I only read a trade or two of it before I got lost and gave up (According to the inside front and back covers of this collection, Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Vols. 1 and 2 are what one would want/need to read before this). So while I've read Riri in comics before, I am not up-to-date on her story. That said, I didn't feel the least bit lost while reading this. It's a perfectly good starting point with the character and her story, as it should be.

I've mentioned before while looking at various covers that I did not quite like Ironheart's costume, which seemed to me to have one color too many, but now having lived with it for a handful of issues, I think I've come around on it, or at least gotten used to it. I really like the heart symbols, and appreciate that it's a "female" Iron Man costume only in that it is smaller and slimmer, rather than having breasts carved into it, as some previous female Iron Man costumes have (most recently, The Hunt For Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda had Jessica Jones and Laura Kinney suit up in Iron Man-like suits of armor that Stark outfitted them with, and both suits were drawn with iron breasts and, in Laura's case, even long hair, for some reason).

Minor Spider-Man villain Clash, minor New Warriors villain Midnight's Fire (given a pretty solid redesign, and written to be incredibly formidable) and Spider-Man Miles Morales appear to give some connective tissue to the greater Marvel Universe (Oh, and Ms. Marvel appears on a screen for a few panels, in her capacity as the leader of The Champions), but Ewing and company steer clear of Iron Man himself and his supporting cast and villains, helping distinguish Ironheart from Iron Man.

I'm not sure I'll keep reading after this volumeI certainly won't buy the next onebut I am happy to report that this is perfectly okay, and for one of Ewing's earliest comics works, she's already in far better shape than other writers from other fields who decide to try their hand at comics (I thought Ta-Nehesi Coates' Black Panther was pretty rough reading, for the most recent example of a new-to-comics writer on a Marvel book I can think of).

I'll have a formal review of this elsewhere, so if this sounds like a random collection of thoughtsor, like more of a random collection of thoughts than usualthat's totally why.



Jughead's Time Police #2 (Archie Comics) The second issue of the Sina Grace/Derek Charm miniseries is set entirely in the 29th Century, where January McAndrews introduces Jughead to the future he so greatly influenced, detailing some of the many great accomplishments he has not yet achieved in his present (don't worry; she has a device to erase parts of his memory so as to avoid further corrupting the time stream that she has recruited him to help fix). It ends with a fantastic cliffhanger ending, revealing a very unexpected villain who is apparently manipulating events behind the scenes for some nefarious purpose.



Justice League #27 (DC Comics) The James Tynion IV/Javier Fernandez creative team, now joined by Bruno Redondo, continue their leg of Justice League's mega-story, the bulk of this issue devoted to skinny J'onn J'onnz being held captive by Professor Ivo (and his muscle, Amazo), who straps J'onn down to a table to vivisect him.

 As a person who has spent way too much time thinking way too much about J'onn J'onnz's powers, I don't think elements of this issue worked for me. For example, Amazo takes J'onn down by blasting him with Superman's heat visionwhich Ivo warns J'onn he is about to hit him witheven though J'onn is weakened by fire, not heat (And if J'onn just went intangible, as he spends much of this series forgetting to do, the beams would pass harmlessly through him. Technically the heat could ignite parts of the lab, producing fire which would weaken J'onn, but that's not what happens here; Tynion and company seem to indicate that Superman shoots actual fire from his eyeballs, rather than just heat).

Meanwhile, Superman's team and Forger go looking for The Monitor and Anti-Monitorthose three are "the children of Perpetua," which the cover of this issue asks the identity of, even though that was revealed many issues ago) and Starman tries to counsel Future Hawkgirl and Future Martian Manhunter's hybrid child Shayne through his understandable identity crisis.

It's all fine, I guess. The book mostly just stresses me out, though, as it's been so many issues of the state of the Multiverse in flux, and I really would just like DC to figure its shared setting out, and start telling new stories in it, rather than this sort of ongoing, constant state of Crisis.

I liked that Luthor and Brainiac's little drones all look like the Legion of Doom's headquarters crossed with one of those things from Batteries Not Included.



Justice League #28 (DC) J'onn finally finds the not-actually-dead Lex Luthor and the two chat for a while before something unexpected happens. As this mostly revolves around a weird plot element introduced many issues ago, in which Martians and Earthlings were apparently meant to be a single, amalgamated super-species but were separated by the cosmic mother goddess Perpetua to weaken them each that I didn't really get or like, the main event of this issue wasn't anything I was particularly interested in or fond of, even though it is obviously quite temporary.

For this issue, the Tynion/Fernandez team is joined by pencil artist Daniel Sampere and inker Juan Albarran, with Fernandez seemingly drawing the J'onn and Luthor portions, while Sampere and Albarran draw those sections dealing with the other Leaguers (Superman, Forger, The Monitor and most of the rest of the League are on Qward, seeking out The Anti-Monitor, while Starman is having Shayne and Jarro help him...do something with his mind and The Multiverse).

While I'm not crazy about the newer depiction of J'onn as skinny and with a weird-looking head, I like that Fernandez's slightly-scratchy lines evoke the look of Tom Mandrake's art on Martian Manhunter. His style is so different from that of "regular" artists Jorge Jimenez and Jim Cheung, but I think he's rather rapidly becoming my favorite of the current Justice League artists.

Sampere's Qward section leaves more to be desired, although some of the weaknesses might be a matter of scripting. For example, there's a panel where The Flash makes a joke about the little hats the Qwardian Thunderers wear, but Sampere only draws the Qwardians in extreme longshot, as corpses on the ground, so we don't actually see what Flash is talking about.


True Believers: Spider-Man⁠—Morbius #1 (Marvel) This $1 reprint issue of 1971's Amazing Spider-Man #101 is the apparent first appearance of Morbius, The Living Vampire, and the Roy Thomas/Gil Kane comic is some prime Spider-Man, with Peter Parker starting the issue with six arms, and spending the first six pages or so sitting around his apartment, talking out loud to himself about how having six arms will impact various aspects of his life.

As if on cue, first Gwen Stacy calls to ask him out, and Peter is a real dick to her about it, and then Robbie Robinson and J. Jonah Jameson call him with a photography assignment he must also decline (Read in 2019, when tightly-held secret identities are no longer such a prominent aspect of super-comics, there's something quaint about Peter keeping his secret ID from his girlfriend; how much easier conflicts like these would be to manage if he could only be honest with Gwen!).

Ultimately, Spidey leaves town to hang out at Doctor Curt Connors' fortuitously empty, but fully-furnished with a fancy science lab, house in The Hamptons, where he can work on a cure to his too many arms. It's there that he meets Morbius, who arrives as a stowaway in a boat, where he has been surreptitously feeding off the crew when in his vampire form (So, kinda like Dracula, but not so industrious; after all, Dracula managed to eat everyone on his boat).

Despite being something of a middle chapter—the book opens with Spider-Man freaking out about sprouting four extra arms, and ends with a cliffhanger as he finds himself trapped between Morbius and The Lizard⁠—it's easy enough to follow, and it's episode-of-a-long-running soap opera nature is actually something of a plus, as it reads even more wild without exact context.

It's also got Gil Kane art, so it's not like one could go wrong with spending a $1 on this thing, you know?


BORROWED:

Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 3: Lifetime Achievement (Marvel Entertainment) This trade paperback collection includes two distinct stories by two distinct artists, spread across five issues. The first story consists of three issues drawn by pencil artist Ryan Ottley and inker Cliff Rathburn, and gives us writer Nick Spencer's take on the recent-ish developments in the Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson relationship, namely Spidey's revelation of his secret identity to Jonah in the pages of Chip Zdarsky and company's Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man (Which reminds me: I never finished reading that series). The second is a two-issue prelude to a story arc that's been building for a bit; that's penciled and colored by Chris Bachalo, and inked by a five (five!) different artists.

In the Ottley-drawn story Jonah is about to get some bad news from his producer regarding the viability of his talk radio show, which is loudly pro-Spider-Man and anti-Mayor Fisk, when his producer is interrupted by some unexpected good news: Jameson is to be awarded a lifetime achievement award at the city's Century Club by Mayor Wilson Fisk himself. There's just one condition. Fisk insists that Spider-Man be there to introduced Jameson, and Spidey is naturally leery about the whole thing.

It becomes a moot point when Jameson and Spidey are both captured by The Enforcers (I do love those guys) and taken to a weird, Arcade-built This Is Your Life-like death trap that uses holograms, robots, the real live Scorpion and other expensive gimmicks to review Jameson's biography before killing the pair off. They survive, of course, and the villain who hired Arcade is revealed as...well, it turns out to be someone related to a classic Spider-Man villain, who takes on that name and a dramatic new form, someone who hates Jameson and Spidey pretty much equally at this point.

The character was obscure enough that I had to Google themso, more a player in the comics, and absent from all seven feature films and any of the cartoon episodes I've seento double-check that this form was indeed a new one. It's a pretty clever way to recap Jameson's history and his history with Spider-Man, with Arcade and his employer essentially attacking the pair with a malevolent info dump. (This continuity kills!)

The Bachalo-drawn issues flow naturally out of the Ottley-drawn ones. At the end of Ottley's last issue here, Spencer's favorite mercenaries Taskmaster and The Black Ant capture The Scorpion and toss him in a cell with the various other animal-themed villains they've been collecting, and in the Bachalo issues Arcade gets his next customer. Meanwhile, Spider-Man is involved with two meals. Peter Parker and MJ visit Doctor Curt "The Lizard" Connors and his family for Chinese takeout in the sewer, and then Spider-Man must rescue Aunt May when the restaurant she is dining in becomes the setting of a battle between The Rhino and Taskmaster and Black Ant.

Bachalo is, obviously, an all-around pretty great super-comics artist, but I was particularly impressed with the new life he breathed into some classic Spider-Man villains here. I shared that enthusiasm previously on Twitter, but I really liked how his Lizard looked like, you know, an actual lizard. Usually the character is drawn as a lizard man, with an emphasis on the man part, looking more like a snake-man or a human-sized T-Rex with more useful arms in a lab coat, but Bachalo gives his Lizard the general shape, proportions and even expressions of a lizard. I don't know if it would work as well in a fight scene as the more traditional design of the character, but all he's doing in these issues is talking to Peter, MJ and his family and walking around his house, so it was neat to see the character drawn as a blown-up version of the type of animal you'd find squatting on a rock in a pet store.

His Rhino and his Kraven get much less panel-time, but they're both pretty great designs, too. Rather looking like a football player stuffed inside a rhino hide, Bachalo's Rhino seems to be encased in something more akin to concrete, as his suit is cracked and flakes off. And for his Kraven, well, I basically just loved the fact that the lion face on Kraven's vest seemed to have expressions in various panels.

Immortal Hulk Vol. 3: Hulk In Hell (Marvel) The latest installment of Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's shockingly effective take on the Hulk comic as a superhero horror epic takes a hard right turn into the mythological, with a weak and hurt Hulk (note his kind gross appearance on Alex Ross' cover there) and Jacqueline McGee walking into Hell, which seems to have risen to meet them in New Mexico. Ewing's narration, meanwhile, talks about duality in a Zoroastrianism framework, Jewish mysticism and the devil; that might seem be a bit artier than necessary for a Hulk comic, even one as ambitious as this one, but it works here, particularly with the pairs use of repeating images that at first seem extremely far removed from the story the characters are currently experiencing.

Hulk's sojourn into hell is three issues long, and ties into deeper Hulk history/continuity, but not in any sort of alienating way. I certainly didn't experience any stories about Bruce Banner's abusive father when they originally played out are were referenced in previous comics, and I found this easy enough to follow--well, "easy" probably isn't the right word to use when reading about a man abusing his wife and child (the one part that did confuse me came during the two issues following the Bennett-drawn issues set in hell; apparently General Ross has died...or at "died," but the last I saw him he was alive in well in the pages of Avengers, so I think I missed something somewhere).

Those issues seem to resolve aspects of the devil/"One Below All" storyline, and Bruce/Hulk's relationship with his father, leading to something of an epiphany about Hulk and Bruce's relationship with one another. Along the way, Ewing manages to find ever greater importance in what was almost certainly simple, deadline-driven goofing by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, giving the overall Hulk story ever grander, ever operatic weight.

Those last two issues, after the climactic confrontations in hell, seem to move back toward more standard superhero territory. We check in on Betty Ross, Doc Samson and, eventually, Rick Jones...or at least, find out that there's some news regarding the supposedly dead Jones. Even these sequences suggest that Ewing is drawing connections between the somewhat random events of corporate serial superhero narratives, and trying to justify them on a meta level while also finding something new and compelling in them, suggesting here that the reason so many of Hulk's fellow heroes and supporting cast members keep dying and coming back to life isn't just because that's what happens in superhero comics, but because the gamma radiation bond they all share makes them all somewhat immortal too.

It's been 15 issues now, and I still can't get over how good this comic is, and how much I'm enjoying it (I'm pretty sure that 15 issues is, by the way, the longest I've read any Hulk series consecutively).


Star Wars: Age of RepublicVillains (Marvel) This trade paperback collects a series of four one-shots, each of which featured a particular bad guy from the prequel trilogy of Star Wars movies, Episodes I through III. Somewhat surprisingly for a project like this, all four are by the same creative team. Writer Jody Houser and artist Luke Ross do the honors, with color art by Java Taraglia (There's also a ten-page short story featuring Asajj Ventress that follows the four full stories, which is apparently part of a Star Wars: Age of Republic Special, and that is drawn by Carlis Gomez with colors by Dono Sanchez-Almara).

The particular villains featured are those seen on the cover: Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Count Dooku and General Greivous. Palpatine/Darth Sidious, the villain of the whole Star Wars saga and the only character to appear in all three of the "Age of Republic" movies, doesn't get an issue, but he does make appearances. Perhaps he didn't get a special of his own because he's considered more of an "Age of Rebellion--that is, original trilogy--villain, or perhaps because his villainy isn't bound to either particular era, but extends through both.

Overall, it's a pretty decent package. The stories seem to fluctuate somewhat in quality--although I suppose my interest in some characters over others might be a factor--but they are all pretty thorough introductions to the characters and what their particular deals are, as well as their places in the overall Star Wars story...which, of course, extends far beyond the three movies and deep into the spin-offs like The Clone Wars cartoons (All of these guys had relatively little screen-time in the films proper, after all).

Each of the four primary stories begins with what looks like a pin-up of the character in action--although I suppose these are taken from the covers of their books--with a little paragraph of prose beneath the image explaining who they are. And then, at the end of each story, there is a prose article about the character, explaining behind-the-scenes details about how they came to be and where their stories continued in the so-called expanded universe. With little in the way of continuity, they all seem like good evergreen, portrait-style stories.

Ross' art isn't too terribly stylized or dynamic, and doesn't infuse the proceedings with much of the artist's own personality, but it is quite well-suited to this sort of based-on-a-movie project, being realistic enough that the characters, costumes, ships and aliens all look like they do in the films, without any of the uncomfortable image "sampling" that can sometimes mar comics like these...including Marvel Star Wars comics of the very recent past.

My least favorite of the four is probably also the first, Darth Maul. Narrated by the title character, it's split between his efforts to establish a foothold in the galaxy's criminal underworld while hunting and killing the closest thing to a Jedi he can, and his master Palpatine/Sidious taking him to a sort of vision quest training session on the planet Malachor. There's not a whole lot to it, and it basically tells us that Maul is a really good fighter who hates the Jedi and serves Palpatine...so, nothing that no one who hadn't already seen Episode I didn't already know.

I think the panel of this that interested me most was one set during Maul's vision, where we see many Jedi with many different kinds of light sabers surrounding him. Note all of the Kylo Ren-style ones, with the little extra laser blades coming out of the sides of the hilt. It's a pretty good example of the retroactive continuity of the expanded universe, where things that are "new" in one movie are then added into the backstory, even minor, visual things like the types of light sabers there are (I was even a bit surprised to see all the purple sabers there, as I thought Mace Windu was the only one who had one).
That's followed by Jango Fett, which is as much a Boba Fett story, from back when Boba was the little moppet we saw in Episode II. Even more simple and straightforward in plot than the previous story, it is basically the story of the Fetts working with a crew of three other bounty hunters on a pretty basic kidnapping. Houser includes a two-page scene in which a hooded and robed Count Dooku hires Jango to be the base of the Republic's clone army, helping establish the story's point as an exploration of Fett's legacy in the galaxy, being the genetic father to millions of clone troopers, and raising one son himself.

The prose article following this story was kind of neat, as it revealed to me something I didn't know--Jango is not a Mandalorian, he just wears Mandalorian armor. Also, there's mention of the character's original design, which was going to be all white...before they eventually settled on the shiny silver. That's probably for the best, considering all the characters with white armor there are in the Star Wars films, but it sounds sort of striking; there's an image of an all-white Jango in the cover gallery in the back, on a "concept design variant" by Doug Chiang.

Next is Count Dooku, in which the Christopher Lee-played Jedi-gone-bad travels to a planet in order to do some behind-the-scenes stuff to continue to manipulate the galaxy into a war, and there he meets a Jedi knight. The Jedi is my favorite kind of Star Wars alien species, and one I don't think I've encountered in any Star Wars comics before, so I'm not sure what they're calling them, but he's basically just a talking, bipedal tiger. He's there to fight a criminal gang that Dooku is there to take over, and so they ally with one another...until Dooku betrays him. This story is probably the strongest showcase of Ross' skills in the book, as Dooku's character is defined by posture and personality as much as anything else, and Ross' strength with likenesses that can move, live and breathe are perfect for a story starring him.

The final issue/story is General Grievous, who is, if anything, even more simple than Darth Maul. While the film version of the character didn't make too much of an impression--certainly not as much as his first appearance in Gendy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars Cartoon Network "micro series" (still the very best Star Wars-related film-making, and I'll still fight anyone who says different)--he's still a pretty cool character design. A skeletal robot that moves like a bug, he switches back and forth between two great, villainous modes, either clutching a cloak tightly around his seemingly hunch-backed frame while stalking around on crooked legs like a diabolical figure, or transforming into a six-limbed engine of destruction.

As for what's beneath the design, if there's a great General Grievous story that demonstrates that he can be as compelling a character as he looks, I've yet to encounter it. This certainly isn't it, but Houser does demonstrate his single-minded interests in hunting and killing Jedi, fueled by a rage that makes Maul seem mellow. That's basically all this story is: Grievous kills a coupla Jedi, and then storms a trap-laden Jedi temple. There the Jedi seem intent on trying to teach him some spiritual truths about himself, which only enrages him further. There's a glimpse of a Grievous in his old, organic life, when he wasn't just a pair of eyes and wheezy lungs in a pile of pointy robot parts, but it's brief, accompanying a suggestion that his efforts to make himself stronger have had the opposite effect. His prose article does suggest some Clone Wars episodes to watch for insight into the character; I've never been able to watch any of that show though, as I find the animation style off-putting. Maybe some day.

Finally, there's the Ventress story, alternately entitled "Weapon" or "Sisters", depending on whether one is looking at the table of contents or the cover image preceding it. Necessarily short, it's little more than a scene. The Jedi-turned-Sith-turned-bounty hunter who seems to gravitate toward heroism in large part because of the fact that the people who tell her stories just like her so much (having watched the original, 2D Clone Wars and listened to the audiobook version of Christie Golden's 2015 Dark Disciple novel, I missed the middle of her story, that which was apparently dramatized in the later, 3D-style Clone Wars series). In this story, she gets distracted while beginning to hunt her next bounty, sees herself in some scrappy cat-girl alien street urchins, and defends them from a big muscle-y guy in the most Star Wars way she can: Chopping off his arm with a light saber.



REVIEWED:


Marvel Action: Spider Man: A New Beginning (IDW Publishing) When Disney bought Marvel in 2009, not only did the company gain access to all that lucrative movie business, they also got their hands on one of the biggest comic book publishers in the North American market. Which is why it seemed odd that Disney didn’t have Marvel publishing comics featuring their classic mouse and duck characters, but instead continued licensing those comics to IDW Publishing.

And it seemed a little silly when IDW also started publishing Star Wars Adventures, an all-ages Star Wars comic, despite the fact that Marvel was already publishing a rather sizable line of Star Wars comics.

And when IDW started publishing its new Marvel Action line, all-ages comics featuring Marvel’s own characters, well, then it just seemed ridiculous; a tacit admission that Marvel Entertainment had spent so much time catering to their adult audience that they no longer had any idea how to make comics for kids anymore. They used to at least try; in addition to the handful of quite excellent comics geared toward tweens and teens that adults can enjoy too (Think Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Unstoppable Wasp, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, etc), within the last decade or so they regularly-ish attempted all-ages comics that were quite suitable for middle-school readers.

Here's the thing, though. As ridiculous as it may seem that Marvel has begun licensing its own characters to another publisher (while, ironically, they devoted a lot of energy to publishing comics starring Star Wars characters and Robert E. Howard's Conan), the Marvel Action comics I've read so far have been really quite good. I've already discussed Marvel Action: The Avengers: The New Danger and Marvel Action: Spider-Man: A New Beginning in the previous installment of this column...and gushed quite a bit on Twitter about various elements of Delilah S. Dawson and Fico Ossio's Spider-Man reinvention (and all the great variant covers accompanying it). But here's a professional review of their Team Spider-Man approach to the Spider-Man characters, if you want to read one of those.

It features a really elegant solution to making a Spider-Man comic about more than one of the spiders, and read to me like a blending of the Into The Spider-Verse movie with Bendis and Bagley and company's original Ultimate Spider-Man.


Spider-Man Swings Through Europe (Marvel) This is a picture book rather than a comic book, but it stars Spider-Man and is published by Marvel, so it's close enough for our purposes. I read it both before and after seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home in theaters, and, having done so, I realized it spoiled nothing about the film while also being incredibly, if subtly, accurate in its adaptation of certain aspects of the film (the main focus, as the title suggests, is the cities that Peter/Spider-Man and his classmates visit on their field trip). It's totally worth taking a look at just to see artist Andrew Kolb's version of Sam Jackson's Nick Fury.  Here's a full review of it, if you're interested in learning a bit more, but I think the cover tells you pretty much all you need to know.


Sea Sirens: A Trot and Cap'n Bill Adventure (Penguin) I've read The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a couple of times in my life, but I recently made an effort to finally catch up on L. Frank Baum's Oz series...via audiobook, as I always need something to listen to while driving any sizable distance. My efforts were stymied after I finished the fourth book, Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, though, as the library systems available to me didn't have any books past that available on audio.

I did not, therefore, get to the ninth book, 1915's The Scarecrow of Oz, in which Trot and Cap'n Bill appear--nor was I aware that Baum had written two books starring these characters, the first of which was The Sea Fairies. Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee's new original graphic novel is an adaptation...but also an extrapolation. And something of a remix. To continue the pop music metaphor, it also feels a bit like they had taken "samples" from the novel. Passages feel very Baum-like, others feel completely fresh, modern and original. I liked it an awful lot, even if I never got quite lost in it. I guess, to be more specific, I admired it as much as I liked it, if that makes sense. Here's my review, if you'd like to read it.




Teen Titans: Raven (DC Comics) I was pretty surprised by the announcement that DC was dissolving their two new imprints devoted to publishing original graphic novels for middle school readers and YA audiences, an announcement that came, coincidentally, between the time I had finished writing my Good Comics For Kids review of Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo's Teen Titans: Raven and the time when it was published to the site. I was surprised because from my point-of-view, as a reader and a semi-professional comics critic, the imprints seemed to be both publishing pretty good comics as well as getting warm receptions, hitting their target audiences.

The thing that struck me while reading this one was how its general goal was somewhat akin to that of DC's confused "Earth One" line from a few years back--that is, producing series of graphic novels featuring new versions of the characters specifically for the YA book market--but doing it much, much better. For example, the Teen Titans: Earth One project was written by a comics person, drawn by a well-known comics artist and had the stumbling block of "Earth One" associated with it (Like, if you got that, then the books weren't for you...although maybe that's changing now that the "Arrowverse" TV shows have made numbered earths in a Multiverse a mass media thing).

Here we have a popular and successful YA writer, paired with an excellent artist whose name isn't already associated with Big Two super-comics, introducing the Titans one at a time in dedicated, standalone-ish original graphic novels. I guess one can't really judge this against Teen Titans: Earth One just yet, not until Garcia and Picolo have completed all their Teen Titans books, but at this early stage, I thought this was the far better of the two project, and the most likely to appeal to the intended audience.

I don't know for certain if there is or isn't a benefit to these Teen Titans books, and the Mera and Catwoman one that were previously published, being part of a dedicated "DC Ink" line rather than just being published as DC Comics, which seems to be the plan going forward, but, to a long-time reader like me, I think there is a benefit to a dedicated imprint. Certainly when I started reading comics as a teen, I knew that if a comic was a Vertigo comic, it meant something different than if it was just a DC comic. (And I can recall a time early on when I bought anything that came out on Marvel's Ultimate line simply because I associated it with the publisher's higher-quality comics, although that certainly didn't last too long).  But, again, I'm just looking at it as a reader and a critic, not as someone in charge of selling units of things to people, or promoting various brands. Maybe DC Comics benefits from having all the good stuff labeled "DC Comics," rather than divided among imprints...? But then, they're still doing those "pop-up" imprints, so... I don't know. I don't know what's going on with DC's branding these days.

I do know that I thought this was pretty good. I've no prior experience with Garcia or Picolo, and was actually a little leery of the former because she's a prose writer rather than a comics writer, and I don't have any particular affection for/interest in the character, but I still enjoyed this.