Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Come to think of it, DC could probably fill a 500-page trade with nothing but Pre-Crisis Superman/Lois Lane wedding comics













I honestly don't see why this isn't a trade yet.


















There are plenty more DC Comics-owned stories about the many characters that comprise their current shared-setting getting married or almost getting married, of course. Those are just (many of) the ones that feature the weddings or near-weddings on the covers. The recent Batman/Catwoman almost-wedding seemed like the perfect opportunity to gather a bunch of DC's wedding comics into a single trade. Or two, really. After all, if you've read more than a handful of the above comics, then you know that some of them are in-continuity stories where characters actually tie the knot and stay more-or-less married for long periods of time, whereas others are Imaginary Stories or set on alternate Earths or are little more than an interesting cover gag. So maybe a pair of wedding collections would be best, one focused on the types of stories where local witch doctor Superman seems to be forcing his pal Jimmy Olsen to marry a gorilla, or where Robin wonders what will happen to him now that Batman marries a female lady woman, and another devoted to "real" weddings, like those of Clark Kent and Lois Lane and Wally West and Linda Park.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

On Batman #50

1.) THE MARKETING

If you've been reading Batman since it was relaunched with a new #1 as part of DC Comics' "Rebirth" initiative in 2016, then you know the comic book's writer Tom King has rekindled Batman and Catwoman's on-again, off-again decades-long romance, starting as early as his second story arc, "I Am Suicide." After reuniting the estranged pair, King had them referring to one another by pet names--"Bat" and "Cat," respectively--and having an ongoing argument over where and how they first met, whether it was on a boat (as in her very first appearance, 1940's Batman #1), or on the street (as in her post-Crisis first appearance, in the pages of the "Batman: Year One" story arc).

In 2017's Batman #24, King had Batman propose to Catwoman. In #32, he had him re-propose, and this time she says yes. So the marriage of the two characters has been on the minds of the characters and readers for quite some time now, about a year and some 500 pages worth of Batman comics.

DC Comics only magnified that promise of a wedding. While King slowly but surely plodded toward it in the pages of his comic, with stories about the pair telling Batman's other on-again, off-again criminal love interest Talia al Ghul the news and going on a double-date with Superman and Lois Lane and Catwoman's shopping for a wedding dress, DC promised a wedding in the pages of DC Universe #0, they published a suite of five one-shot comics under the umbrella title Batman: Prelude to The Wedding (which were advertised to comic shops and readers via a "save the date"-style flier), and, of course, the cover of the fiftieth issue not only featured a Batman kissing Catwoman wearing a wedding dress, but it had the words "The Wedding" emblazoned across the top of the cover, above the logo.

And then there were some odd, out-of-the-box sorts of promotion for the Batman/Catwoman wedding, like DC apparently encouraged comic shops to host wedding-themed celebrations (that would actually be kind of awesome), and Tom King went on an actual late night TV show to talk about it, the way actors show up on such programs to talk about their new movies and suchlike.

If you read the book, which shipped Wednesday July 4th, or if you read The New York Times story from a few days before that (or even just the Internet in the seconds after the NYT piece went up), then you know that there was not a wedding after all.

This made a lot of folks mad, for a variety of reasons. Many of these reasons are very good reasons, like DC going out of their way to promote Batman #50 as a book about the wedding of Batman and Catwoman, and encouraging retailers--who, remember, have to order and pay for these comics well in advance and then sell them to their customers at a later date--to sell the book as the wedding of Batman and Catwoman. Which, again, it was not.

Sure, it does revolve around their impending nuptials, and there are a few scenes involving the characters dressing up and then securing a judge and witnesses, but a wedding ceremony never takes place. Or even starts. It's...pretty shitty, actually. It's as pure a bait-and-switch as one could imagine, made particularly galling because of how much extra effort went into the baiting, and the fact that the publisher tried to enlist their retailers to engage in the baiting, making them complicit in something that could only serve to annoy fans.

Now, I read King's Batman #1-#49, and while I didn't like #50, it wasn't just because I showed up to see a wedding and got a not-a-wedding. I don't know how many readers, if any, saw the news on late night TV or read about it on the Internet or heard their friends talking about it and went to a comics shop specifically to buy the wedding issue, paid $5 and...go something different than what they were promised. But I suppose that would be pretty discouraging.

The thing about reading the book all along is that, while the characters have talked an awful lot about the wedding, it always seemed like something far off. In fact, King's handling of it was suspiciously light on detail. There was never a date set. There was never any talk of how billionaire Bruce Wayne was going to marry former mobster, super-villain and thief Selina Kyle, and how that might affect his reputation or endanger his secret identity. There was precious little discussion of how other characters in their orbit felt about the huge life change. And there was none of the fun stuff one might expect from a comic book superhero wedding, including who was in the bridal party, the bachelor's and bachelorette's party, and so on. Some of that stuff was covered, but not in King's Batman, but rather in the tie-ins written by Tim Seeley, and, amusingly enough, much of what was in that contradicted what was in Batman pretty directly (For example, in Nightwing Vs. Hush, Nightwing says Batman and Catwoman are getting married, rather than Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle which...well, how would that work, exactly...?).

So it would be pretty easy to apportion the blame for the disconnect in the marketing and the actual comic to DC, and excuse King himself, were it not for that interview he gave on TV, I guess. I didn't watch it, though, so I don't know if he was more equivocal in it than, say, the cover of Batman #50 or the existence of the Prelude To The Wedding comics were.

Now that it's over, the one thing I wonder about is why DC bothered with the extra promotion. It is not like Batman needs it. The book is the publisher's reigning grand champion, and that didn't change any when Scott Snyder left as writer and King took over; Batman by King continued to out-sell Snyder's All-Star Batman, proving that it wasn't just Snyder or Snyder-on-Batman, but the comic book Batman itself that sold so dang well. Batman #50 was always going to do gangbusters, by virtue of being another issue of Batman, in addition to being an anniversary issue...and having a huge array of guest-artists drawing splash pages throught out it...and resolving the long-running marriage plot line.

Perhaps all the PR work did boost sales a couple thousand units, but is that really worth it if it will cost you a couple thousand units in the extremely near future, as all the folks who showed up for the wedding don't pick up the next issue and some of the folks who read the first fifty issues feel burned and drop it, and perhaps some of the more vocally hurt (or just irritated) retailers decide not to invest as heavily in future issues of Batman....?


1a) THE TIE-INS

Despite my kvetching about these, I ended up buying and reading all of them...and reviewing almost all of them on the site, I think. What was weird about the books, all of which were written by Tim Seeley and formed a loose, continuing narrative that was really more of a prelude to Batman #48 and #49 than the wedding (or the "wedding"), is that all of the little, interesting bits about the possibility of Batman and Catwoman marrying here handled in these, not the pages of Batman.

From Batman: Prelude To The Wedding: Robin Vs. Ra's al Ghul #1 by Tim Seeley, Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, et al
In the first, Selina Kyle takes Damian to the tailor to get his wedding outfit**, Damian once again battles his grandfather Ra's al Ghul (whose whole deal for the longest time was that he wanted Batman to marry his daughter Talia), Selina goes to her bachelorette party, and then Damian and Selina have a serious discussion about whether or not she plans to have kids with Bruce Wayne.
From Batman: Prelude To The Wedding: Nightwing Vs. Hush #1 by Tim Seeley, Travis Moore, Tamra Bonvillain, et al.
In the second, Nightwing and Superman take Batman out for his very, very boring bachelor's party, but it gets interrupted by a villain attack, and Bruce Wayne rather reluctantly tells Dick Grayson that he's going to have Superman be his best man. This is also the issue where Nightwing explains that Batman and Catwoman are getting married, not Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (at which point I kinda wondered why they were getting married at all; can't they just keep living together? What's the point of their marriage if its a secret one between their secret identities, that aren't even real people? Surely that's not legally binding...)

In the fourth, we see Selina Kyle's bachelorette party.

Throughout the five of them, the fact that Batman and Catwoman are marrying is treated as common knowledge about Batman's allies (Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and Red Hood) and villains (Ra's,Hush, The Riddler, Anarky, Harley Quinn and The Joker). And it is suggested that a wedding has been planned, with a particular date set that all of Batman's family seems to know about and think they might be attending. In the pages of Batman, though, that's clearly not true at all, as we'll get to.

I ended up liking these an awful lot--even if Batgirl Vs. The Riddler is a bit icky, and I loathe The Red Hood--and I imagine they will all be collected in Batman: Prelude To The Wedding, but they are so at odds with Batman that it's pretty unclear whether or not Seeley had any idea what King was up to.


2.) THE FORMAT

There are 38-pages in this special $4.99 issue, but only 20 pages of them are really comics. These are all drawn by Mikel Janin. The remaining 18 pages are...well, here's the thing about this book. Often times in anniversary issues, a publisher will have a bunch of big-name artists contribute pin-ups, which generally run as a gallery at the back of the book. This is a way of demonstrating that the issues is special, that the publisher considers it a big enough deal that they got Todd McFarlane to draw The Sandman or whatever.

Here though, the pin-ups are incorporated into the story itself. There is sparing text over those pin-ups, so at first glance of flip-through,, they seem to act like splash pages, but when you read them, you see the images generally have nothing at all to do with the content. They are just drawings of Batman and Catwoman together, the participating artists apparently just drawing whatever the hell they want, so long as it includes those two characters.

It's extremely awkward, and frustrating.

Oh, and those words? They are the text of Bat's letter to Cat and Cat's letter to Bat, mirroring the climax of "I Am Suicide," where an entire issue is devoted to excerpts from letters running in narration boxes over 20 or so pages of Mikel Janin drawing an unrelated action scene. The letters are...also frustrating. You could lose every single one of those pages, pictures and words, and lose nothing at all from the story. The two characters write to one another in parallel ways to demonstrate to the reader how much they think alike, and they talk about one another's eyes and how they first met and what they think of one another.

The pin-up/splash pages are from everyone who has drawn part of Finch's run (David Finch, Joelle Jnes, Lee Weeks, Clay Mann, Mitch Gerards) and artists who had previously drawn the character in previous volumes of the series (Becky Cloonan, Jason Fabok, Neal Adams, Tony S. Daniel, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, Greg Capullo) and artists who have drawn Batman elsewhere, and/or are just people that it is nice to see drawing Batman and Catwoman (Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Frank Miller, Lee Bermejo, Amanda Conner, Rafael Albuquerque, Ty Templeton).

Splitting the difference between the guest-drawn pin-up pages and the story pages drawn by Janin is a spread of two, multi-panel pages drawn by guest-artists: A four-panel page drawn by Tim Sale, immediately followed by a three-panel page drawn by Paul Pope (and both colored by Jose Villarrubia).

I would have liked to see Kelley Jones (I'd always like to see Kelley Jones!), Guillem March, Riley Rossmo and Sean Murphy, but they didn't ask me. (They never ask me!)

Most of the artists--eleven of them--draw some version of the Darwyn Cooke-designed Catwoman costume, with only minor variations here and there, which is what Catwoman has been wearing since 2002. It was one of the few costumes to survive the New 52 redesign process unscathed. Garcia-Lopez and Kubert both draw the one with the purple dress and green cape. Fabok opts for the Jim Balent-designed purple costume with thigh-high boots. And then there are a couple more idiosyncratic ones. Miller draws what looks a lot like her "Batman: Year One" costume, but it is colored purple instead of gray; Sale and Pope follow suit, although their version has a tail. Jones draws the desert costume Catwoman wore in the first Jones-drawn arc of Batman, Templeton's costume is a unique one, combining elements of her two Batman: The Animated Series costumes with a new mask, and, finally, Weeks costume looks like it could be some version of her "Year One" costume or perhaps her new costume, but the coloring is so spare it's difficult to tell.

Batman, meanwhile, is drawn in a variety of costumes, and these generally match the ones he would have been wearing when Catwoman was wearing the one she's pictured in. This would, of course, be weird, given that fact that a lot of those costumes supposedly never existed in the current, post-Flashpoint continuity, but King's Batman has been operating as if Flashpoint changed nothing but the color of Jim Gordon's hair, so it's not like this is the first time the book seems to contradict the extremely malleable and fluid history of the DC Universe.

The pictures are, of course, nice, although the paragraphs of text filling them kind of make them difficult to enjoy. Because they are almost always completely disconnected from one another, the pages don't flow the way they might normally when one reads a comic, and has to read words and pictures subconsciously simultaneously; rather here one has to look at--not read, just look at--a picture, while reading a story unrelated to it.
So, for example, the text on this page is Batman describing the events of 1940's Batman #1 to Catwoman, but rather than drawing a pin-up reflecting that story or that era to align with the text on the page, artist Jason Fabok's image depicts the two characters as they would have been dressed in the early 1990s (In current continuity, that's Catwoman's Year One costume and Batman never wore that costume, by the way). 
It got to the point that while I was reading it I began to question to what degree this comic book was really a comic book, and if the pin-ups with words part of it counted as comics as not. Ultimately I realized that if one thinks of the splashes as implied panels, then it's still technically comics, it just doesn't work like comics should.

This is a long, roundabout way of saying that this is an extremely bizarre, hard-to-read and ultimately bad comic book, which is weird given how many talented people are involved in it.

(And this is a common complaint of mine about King's writing. He's a good writer who writes bad comics, generally by focusing too much on formal tricks that rarely serve the story.)


3.) THE STORY

Batman and Catwoman are fighting Kite-Man--something they apparently do about once a month now*--and they decide, spur of the moment, to just do it tonight. Batman says he can get a judge, and they will each need two witnesses; he suggest they each bring one. It's to be at dawn, atop the very building--Finger Tower, a caption reveals, making it the first of many, many place names in captions that refer to Batman creators--that they just beat up Kite-Man on.

Their letters to one another begin on the next page, and these are interspersed throughout the rest of the book, with every page or two worth of comics story interrupted by two pages of the letters over art.

Batman goes to Porky's (remember Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1? That place) and approaches Judge Wolfman. Later, Batman tells Alfred "Judge Wolfman will preside. To avoid risking the Wayne identity, the marriage has to be secret from the public. By Dawn, Wolfman'll be too drunk to remember what he said or signed." (Again, I wonder what the point of the marriage is, exactly, in-story.)

Catwoman springs Holly Robinson from Arkham Asylum so she can be her witness, and she sneaks her into Wayne Manor, where Holly helps her put on the wedding dress she had previously stolen. Holly Robinson's continuity is...complicated, and I've completely lost track of it after the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot. She was present when Selina Kyle first met Batman in "Batman: Year One," and has appeared off and on in the following decades; she was even briefly Catwoman for a while when Selina took time off from Catwoman-ing to have a baby. She's played a role in King's Batman run previously, particularly in "I Am Suicide" and "The Rules of Engagement."

While the two talk in "The Englehart Bedroom," Holly mentions in passing that Batman's never been happy before and, further, "He always seemed to need his misery, y'know...Like it was how he did what he did." To this, Catwoman replies, "What?"
Mikel Janin
In "The Conway Bedroom," Bruce asks Alfred to be his witness (Superman, Dick, Hush, Joker, you're all out of the running).

On the ride to the rooftop, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle tell Alfred and HOlly about the letters they are writing one another. At one point, Bruce asks Alfred, "Can I be...happy?" And Alfred, responds, "Don't you have to be?"

Selina sits alone atop a rooftop in Kane Plaza, crying and thinking about the letter she left on Batman's computer. She tosses her veil aside and jumps off the rooftop. Meanwhile, on the roof of Finger Tower, Alfred, Judge Wolfman and Bruce Wayne all stand around, waiting. Bruce is thinking about his letter, which he left on the bed for Catwoman. Bruce takes off his tight, and then jumps off the roof top in his tuxedo.

Back in Arkham Asylum, Holly walks to a lower level, kneels before Bane, sho sits atop a pile of skulls, and reports back to him, telling him how Selina is, and that she doesn't know how Batman is.

"Do not...worry," Bane says. "I know. He is...what I have made him. The bat is...broken."
Janin.
To Bane's right we see The Psycho Pirate ("I Am Suicide"), The Joker*** ("The War of Jokes and Riddles," "The Best Man"), and The Riddler ("The War of Jokes and Riddles"). TO Bane's left we see Gotham Girl ("I Am Gotham," "Night of The Monster Men"), Scarface and The Ventriloquist ("I Am Suicide"), The Flashpoint Batman, Dr. Thomas Wayne ("The Button") and Dr. Hugo Strange ("The Night of The Monster Men). Oh, and Skeets ("The Gift") is on the floor, but it's unclear if he's just bet set there, or if Janin drew him on the floor rather than flying because he ran out of room while drawing the panel; I would assume he's deactivated and not there of his own free will, but who can say).

In other words, the primary villains and/or some characters who may feel used by and or aggrieved against Batman from throughout the previous 49 issues are all standing around like the court to king Bane.

The end.


4.) THE DECISION

And so, Batman Bruce Wayne and Catwoman Selina Kyle did not, in fact, get married. Instead, Selina decided to write him a Dear Bat letter apparently breaking up with him and then ghosting The World's Greatest Detective.

That DC Comics would decide not to make such a big, life change in the status quo of their most prominent character and reliable cash chow might seem obvious to a lot of readers, but then, they also decided to kill off Robin Jason Todd, break Batman's spine and confine him to a wheelchair, resurrect the long-dead Jason Todd, introduce Batman's biological son and even kill Batman off. Repeatedly.

As far as changes to Batman's status quo go, marrying Catwoman would have been kind of small potatoes, and extremely easily reversed at any point, with a lot less effort and/or cosmic shenanigans than any of the above, some of which were reversed and some of which weren't.

What is most disappointing about Catwoman's decision to not marry Batman--and to apparently not just not marry him, but to leave him altogether--is that King has her arriving at it for the extremely dubious and most all-around laziest, generic reasoning possible.

After Holly plants the idea in Selina's head that Batman needs to feel bad constantly in order to effectively be Batman, her letter changes directions.

I'm going to quote it at some length now:

You are still a child, Bruce. A hurt child... But what you do with that hurt-- I saw teh hero it mad eyou. And then...as if to prove what I saw... Booster. A world in horror because you're content. Joker. Knowing if you were settled you couldn't stop him. You are an engine that turns pain into hope. If we're happy...If I help that lonely boy, with the lonely eyes. I kill that engine. I kill Batman. I kill the person who saves everyone. And how can I do that?

I have honestly lost count of how often this story has played out throughout Batman history--or even superhero history in general, in comics and film.

It was, in part, why supeheroes were, for the first twenty years or so of their existence, always, always single, keeping their secret identities from their love interests, who they might date, but could never marry. Even throughout the Silver Age and into the late eighties and early nineties, married superheroes like Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman or The Elongated Man and Sue Dibny, were exceptions to the rule.

This has almost always been the case with Batman, who has never really had a significant other the way Superman has--er, unless you want to count his first Robin Dick Grayson, which a lot of people do--but a string of one-time love interests over the years. Sometimes, something terrible happens to them shortly after they learn his secret identity, which takes care of the problem of having a new character know his secret while also reaffirming his status as a bachelor and providing an additional source of pain to make him a better Batman by fridging a love interest (In fact, it happens so often, chances are you might have forgotten some of those love interests, like the lady who was introduced in specifically to be killed off within that very arc!).

In the 1940s and 1950s, Batman's bachelorhood was sold as a virtue of his dedication to crime-fighting; the only woman for him was Lady Justice and all that. Sometimes some version of that story still appears, with Batman finding himself having to choose between being happy with a lady as Bruce Wayne or continuing to devote himself to his war on crime with the laser focus of a celibate monk. But in the 1980s, when the idea of Batman as a broken crazy-person began to take, the idea was that the core tragedy of his origin story is what drove him to be Batman, and the pain of that single childhood trauma kept him an effective crime-fighter.

It's basically bullshit.

So let me say that firstly, the thing that annoyed me about this decision was that it is the same basic read on the dilemma of Batman and romance I have seen over and over and over again, as recently as Scott Snyder's run on Batman--that is, the one that immediately preceded King's--when the temporarily amnesiac Bruce Wayne rekindled his relationship with Julie Madison, grew a beard, and left the problem of fighting crime while dressed as a bat to new Batman James Gordon.

Secondly, there's the view that one always has to choose between one's vocation and one's happiness, that Batman has to be in a state of constant hurt in order to fight crime. I know this is an argument that Batman creators have had over the years, and I can see both sides of it--whether Batman is basically a broken, crazy-person whose transformed his own problems into making him the world's greatest non-super superhero or whether he's actually the sanest person in the world and that's what makes him so good at being a superhero.

Personally, I think I currently lean towards the Batman is obviously super-sane, and even if his reaction to a childhood trauma was a childish one--that is, to become a superhero or, in-story to become his own version of Zorro--he's still a pretty damn healthy and well-adjusted person capable of smiling, laughing, having friends and kissing ladies. That seems to have been the most prominent mode of Batman's mental state since Grant Morrison's run on the character; certainly it was Snyder's (so much so that "Death of The Family" was about trying to cut Batman off from his huge support system, and that only worked briefly).

Call me crazy, but, as a grown-up, I like to think that one can be married and be pretty good at a very demanding job. If just about every single one of the presidents of the United States have been able to do that job and be married at the same time without sucking so bad that they destroyed the country--so far! The current one still has two more years to fuck up badly enough to destroy America--then I'm pretty sure Batman can continue to dress up as a Bat and punch out the criminally insane on a regular basis.

Thirdly, if any character can handle being a superhero protecting a particular city from crime and super-villains and being married, it's Batman. In the DC Universe at the moment, Superman and Aquaman are the only currently-married superheroes, but there have been married couples in the DCU for decades. Most of the in-story arguments against married superheroes are inherently chauvinist and/or dumb--the spouse will be in danger, the hero won't be able to do their hero-job and be a successful spouse simultaneously--are pretty easily demonstrated to be silly by the success of most of those other marriages.

But Batman is a literal billionaire.

He has an army of fellow crime-fighters he works closely with. I'm behind on Detective Comics, so I may not be 100% up-to-date on who Batman is currently on the outs with or who is temporarily operating out of town or in semi-retirement, but Batman's got Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, The Signal, Batwing, Azrael, Orphan, Spoiler, Bluebird, The Huntress and Black Canary and maybe a few others. Oh, and Catwoman. And the out-of-town members of Batman, Inc/The Club of Heroes. Plus he's in The Justice League.

Batman could probably just suit up to fight The Joker exclusively and Gotham City would still have the most costumed crime-fighters-to-population ratio in the whole dang DC Universe.

If anyone could pull off being married and being a superhero, it's Batman.

Oh, and then there's the fact that this isn't a normal, "civilian" wife we're talking about, as if he had married Julie Madison or Silver St. Cloud or Vicki Vale or Vesper Midnight or Shondra Kinsolving or whoever. This is Catwoman, a highly-trained fellow vigilante who Batman has regularly been fighting crime side-by-side with on a regular basis for months. And, off-and-on, for years. In that respect, Catwoman is his perfect partner, because Batman would never have to choose between her and being Batman, as she is already thoroughly ingrained in all parts of his life.

That was what struck me as so unusual about Catwoman's decision. They have apparently been living together and she has essentially replaced the role traditionally played by Robin in the pages of Batman. King's entire run from "I Am Suicide" on has been an argument for the effective-ness of a Batman/Catwoman relationship, whether they simply continue sharing a bed at Wayne Manor or officially tie the knot or not.

And I suppose that's the worst thing about Catwoman deciding not to marry Batman. There's been nothing within the pages of King's Batman to indicate that Batman's effectiveness as Batman is dependent on him being a broken, hurt little boy, and that his being in a relationship with Catwoman might at all blunt that effectiveness. Or to suggest that Catwoman might think that; literally all we as readers or she as a character have to base that on is a panel's worth of dialogue provided by Holly Robinson.

In fact, Batman #1-49 suggest the exact opposite; that Batman is better off fighting crime with Catwoman.

Look at the story arcs in that run and, specifically the ones Selina mentions in her letter: "[T]he desert, the boy. Superman, Wonder Woman, Ivy" and then she mentions the events of both "The Gift" and "The Best Man."

So Batman's plan to take down Bane and Psycho-Pirate in "I Am Suicide." During "I Am Bane," in which Bane specifically targeted and took down Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin, Catwoman rescued Bane's prisoners and took down his lieutenants. She helped him fight a variety of low-level villains, including Dr. X, Kite-Man, Zebra Man and so on. In "Rules of Engagement," she fought hordes of assassins with Batman and beat Talia in a sword fight. In "Superfriends," Catwoman saved Batman and Wonder Woman years, perhaps decades, of fighting in a weird, alternate dimension. In "Everyone Loves Ivy," she and Batman were the only two people on Earthy not under Ivy's mind-control, and they worked together to defeat her and save the world. In "The Best Man," she saved Batman's life and defeated The Joker...by herself.

If King's run has demonstrated anything about the possibility of a Batman/Catwoman partnership, it's that she makes an excellent crime-fighting partner for Batman.

I'm not sure why Catwoman found The Joker's argument that a married Batman wouldn't be able to stop him compelling, since in that story a Batman-who-is-living-with-his-girlfriend failed to stop him and said girlfriend was needed to stop him (Additionally, The Joker is a literal madman, so I'm not sure how much stock one should put in his word, Selina).

As for that other example, "Booster," that is a weird one. The suggestion of "The Gift" is that if Batman's parents hadn't died, Gotham City would be hell on Earth, and The Joker would have taken over and/or killed every single superhero on Earth. King doesn't really follow the dominoes falling to get to that point which...well, okay, whatever. But the idea is that if Bruce Wayne were happy--i.e. his parents weren't dead--he wouldn't become Batman, and therefore Catwoman would be a barely-human, feral serial killer. How does that track? I don't know, but it's weird Catwoman herself would accept that as inevitable, that she lacks such agency in her own life's story that the only thing separating her from being who she is verses an animalistic serial killer is the fact that The Waynes got gunned down in Crime Alley twenty-some years ago.


5.) THE POTENTIAL

As that last panel showed, King has apparently been working toward this whole story about how Bane decided to break Batman's heart instead of his spine story for a while now, and it is apparently an ongoing story, as there will surely be follow-ups. I've heard King describe this as the middle of a 100-issue story.

That may be, but I think it's pretty safe to say that the 100-issue story will not, in fact, end with Catwoman and Batman getting married, because if that was the plan, well, DC probably shouldn't have marketed this as the wedding issue, huh?

Their marriage would have made for a pretty radical shift in Batman's status quo, sure (although, not that radical, given that they appear to have been living and working so closely together for the past few months of DCU time). But it also would have been different than the present...which is another way of saying interesting.

All those past changes in Batman's status quo, the killing off of Robin Jason Todd, the breaking of Batman's spine, the introduction of his long-lost son Damian, the killing off of Batman himself...? Those all lead to a lot of interesting and, in some cases, great stories. Personally, I would have been opposed to pretty much all of them. I wasn't reading comics back then, but if you asked me if DC should have had The Joker kill off Jason Todd, I would have said hell no...but then we would have missed out on Robin Tim Drake, a character I loved and who was central to a lot of great comics.

I didn't like the idea of The World's Greatest Detective having conceived a son ten years ago and never having known the first thing about it when Morrison first introduced Damian, but I've grown to love that character (even though his presence supplanted Tim as Batman's Robin, and DC has struggled to find a good place for Tim ever since).

Similarly, I wouldn't have thought marrying Batman and Catwoman was a very good idea, but King's run has convinced me that it would work out just fine, and a married Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle would have opened all sorts of new territory for future Batman comics that couldn't have previously been written. And in five years time, they could always get a divorce or annulment or one of them could get temporarily killed off or whatever; marriages are a lot easier to undo than things like broken spines or babies, status quo changes the pair had experienced individually before.

In other words, King set his characters up with a set of two options to go in, a choice between "I do" and "I can't," and he had one of them choose the less interesting of the two, while failing to make the choice convincing.

So, what happens next? Well, instead of a comic book story about Batman and Catwoman's honeymoon, Batman #51 will feature Batman fighting villain Mr. Freeze yet again, while Catwoman will get her own series again, after a two-year hiatus following the cancellation of her 2011 series.

It's Batman vs. Mister Freeze, a match-up we haven't seen since at least March of last year!
In other words, it looks like we're back to business as usual, with on caveat:The price of  Batman is going up from $2.99 to $3.99 starting with Batman #51. Seems like a good time to go ahead and drop the series then, huh...?



*One of the many things about "The War of Jokes and Riddles" that felt off to me was that Batman kept fighting and defeating his villains, but none of them ever got arrested or otherwise taken out of the conflict. It was as if he was just beating them into unconsciousness, waking them up with smelling salts, and telling them he hopes they learned their lesson and swinging away. Kite-Man has appeared in just about every arc King has written so far. I can only assume Batman either never bothers to let the police know which rooftop Kite-Man is laying unconscious atop after their encounters, or Arkham Asylum has yet to fortify itself against kite-based escapes.


**Oh man, how pissed is Damian going to be that he went to the trouble of going to a tailor to get a special wedding thawb made for his father's wedding--a tailor who, it turned out, was actually an agent of his grandfather Ra's al Ghul's who then pricked him with a special psychoactive drug making him believe he was engaged in deadly combat with the evil son of Batman and Catwoman, who had traveled back in time to battle him--only to find out that his dad didn't even bother to invite him to the ceremony?


***So apparently The Joker is not only not-dead, as Batman #49 seemed to imply, but he is totally and completely fine after Catwoman tore open his throat with her claws and he lie bleeding to death for hours, ultimately lapsing into unconsciousness before the injured Catwoman and Batman. And I guess he then escaped them, and broke into Arkham? What a weird fucking story "The Best Man" was...made all the weirder by the complete and total lack of follow-up to a story in which Batman's fiancee Catwoman attempts to tear out The Joker's throat...


Saturday, July 14, 2018

These Marvel reprint anthologies seem a lot less controversial.

I have a write-up of Marvel Comics Digest #7, featuring The Avengers and Ant-Man and The Wasp, up at Good Comics For Kids today. The featured characters, the stars of the latest Marvel movie, made it more timely than some of the previous issues, and it seemed well past time to check the Marvel/Archie Comics alliance out. Admittedly, much of my interest was driven by the fact that repackaged Big Two super-comics content for sale outside of the direct market has been such a subject of conversation in certain corners of the Internet of late.

Why was there such upset over DC's Walmart exclusive anthologies, whereas Archie has been publishing these digests for over a year now...? If the same folks gnashing their teeth over the DC/Walmart books noticed these, they sure don't seem to talking about them as much...

Well, they are obviously pretty different books. The DC Walmart books are larger, akin to the size of regular comic books, whereas the Marvel ones are the same size as the other Archie digests; you can tell they are aimed specifically at kids because it likely helps to have tiny hands and small, healthy eyes to read the tiny, tiny, Ant-Man sized lettering of the digests (particularly in those super-wordy, Silver Age Stan Lee-scripted stories). The DC comics seems to be serializing their stories issue-to-issue, whereas the Marvel digests are just grab-bags of content unified under a particular character (and the stories chosen really did feel rather grab-bag-ish; they are not the stories one would choose if one wanted to, say, appeal to new, young readers with little or know previous comics exposure to the characters, nor are they the stories one would choose to try to point readers to the current Marvel line, or particular trade paperback collections).

And, of course, the Marvel digests don't have any brand-new content (although much of the brand-new content in the DC books seems pretty lackluster so far), nor are they being sold exclusively to a particular retailer. That is, comic shops can order the Marvel Comics Digests too, if they want, whereas only Walmart is carrying the DC/Walmart books.

So it's not at all an apples-to-apples kind of comparisons. Maybe not even apples and oranges. More of an apples and pineapples kind of thing, maybe...?

I got the copy I reviewed at a Barnes and Noble last weekend. I was pacing around the magazines, waiting for my coffee from the cafe, and noticed they had moved and massively reduced the number of comics they sell. See those above? That was it, and they are now racked on a shelf closest to the floor, amid kids magazines (The last time I looked, which was admittedly a year or so ago, they were in another section, at eye level, and there were many more of them, including DC super-comics). Now it's just a pair of Simpsons comics, SpongeBob Comics (which is distributed by Bongo), Archie and The Archies, and then the Archie digests.

I would think retailers would regard Barnes and Noble as a far greater threat than Walmart. I have never, ever bought any thing at a Walmart that I could have bought from a comic shop before, but I have given my local Barnes and Noble money for stuff I could theoretically have ordered from my local comic shop.

Me, I am lucky enough to live just a short, five-minute walk away from the closest comic shop, but I am also lucky enough to live an even shorter, one-minute walk away from the nearest Barnes and Noble. I generally try to buy comics from specialty shops when I can and, obviously, shops are really the only way to buy serially-published comic books easily, but one can buy trade paperback collections from either a comics shop or a Barnes and Noble, and the latter is a far better source for manga (as was Borders). I mean, all of the comics shops I have shopped at have stocked manga, and all of them would generally order me whatever manga I asked for when I knew ahead of time to ask for it, but with the big box book stores, more often than not, it was all just there already, you know? Just about every time I have impulse bought a volume of a new manga series, it has been from the aisles of a big-box retail store.

Finally, Barnes and Noble has an Amazon-esque website with free shipping for members, which means if one wants to a trade that they don't have in stock, one can get it pretty quickly, without having to deal with the vagaries of Dimaond.

So, were I a retailer, I would consider Barnes and Noble a real rival, especially since one can return to the same place they picked up that digest full of Antman and Wasp comics, head to the back of the store, and then buy all the Ant-Man or Avengers trade collections they want, or go online and order them from bn.com, without ever even considering setting foot in a comic book store. Walmart? They've just got a coupla dumb DC anthologies racked next to the Pokemon cards.

But then, I am not a retailer. My only participation in the comics market is as a consumer, which is a much, much easier job than that of the retailers.

Anyway, Marvel Comics Digest seems like a pretty okay gateway comic, and I'm glad it exists, even though it's definitely not for me, and my huge, clumsy man-hands and failing adult eyes.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

A Month of Wednesdays: June 2018

Trying something a little new with the way I blog about the comics I read, in order to better reflect the way I'm currently consuming comics (that is, not necessarily on an every-Wednesday-afternoon-basis). This is likely going to be a pain-in-the-ass to read, and I remember learning at the start of my blog that successful blogs post daily instead of, you know, a couple times a month, but it's not like I make any money off EDILW anyway, so I don't suppose it matters overmuch if this endeavor is "successful" or not. Anyway, let me know how much more you hate this than you did the "Comic Shop Comics" or "Weekly Haul" features in the comments...

BOUGHT:


Batman #48 (DC Comics) Batman and The Joker fight in a church. That's the whole comic, after an over-written, poorly-staged "cinematic" first page. Of course, the real story presumably begins next issue, with part two of "The Best Man." The issue, which is drawn by Mikel Janin, ends with Batman on the ropes and Catwoman rushing in to save him, recounting Batman's warnings to her to not do so as he fears The Joker will kill her.

Batman #49 (DC) This issue is labeled the conclusion of the two-part story "The Best Man" that began with #48, although there's a somewhat equivocal ending, and the Batman/Catwoman wedding that The Joker would like to be the best man in won't actually happen until next issue, #50. The story, and this half of it in particular, is one of the better examples to date of how writer Tom King can demonstrate that he is an exceptionally talented super-comic writer and a particuarly poor one, sometimes simultaneously.

In this issue, Catwoman and The Joker spend the majority of the page-count trapped together and engaged in conversation. That conversation is mostly quite well-written. They reminisce about the old days, gossip about their peers among Batman's rogues gallery, compare and contrast one another, discuss the way they view the Batman and so on. Little of this is particularly revealing, of course, and if you've read enough Batman comics, chances are you will have read various forms of The Joker's beliefs about himself and Batman.

One rather big thing happens, when Catwoman apparently attempts to kill The Joker--she slashes his throat with her claws somewhere around page five or so--and after a dozen or so pages of them talking, he seems to finally bleed out and die. I say seems to, because it's not entirely clear whether he actually died or not, but the two of them seem to think he will if he goes through with a certain course of action that he engages in here (And also because it's not like DC is actually going to kill off The Joker; in fact, he's currently appearing in Justice League right this moment. I know there are supposedly three Jokers in the DCU, but since DC announced that Geoff Johns will be writing a miniseries sub-titled Three Jokers, I think it's safe to say that none of them will be killed off before that).

If much of the conversational aspects of the comic work fairly well--even if, structurally, it's a bit obvious, and a callback to the irritating prologue to the arc that appeared in DC Nation #0--the structure doesn't from the perspective of basic common sense (this was a problem with King's worst bit of Bat-writing to date, the nonsensically plotted "War of Jokes and Riddles").

The plot for the story is this: The Joker wants to talk to Batman about the wedding, so he attacks an in-progress wedding in a big, fancy Gotham City church and kills every person there. Batman dutifully arrives too late to save the day, and the two archenemies fight one another yet again. Then The Joker activates a bomb he had set beforehand, blowing up a large portion of the church and burying an unconscious Batman in rubble. Catwoman then arrives to rescue Batman, and she and The Joker fight. After he fires 14 shots from his revolver that holds six bullets--I'm no gun guy, but we literally see him reloading it with six bullets at one point near the climax, after those 14 shots--their fight ends in a draw. Catwoman slashes his throat open and he shoots her in the side. They collapse right next to one another, but neither can finish the other one off, as Catwoman has to hold her would to keep herself from bleeding out, and The Joker can't risk letting go of his bleeding throat long enough to reload his finally empty gun, which I guess has -8 bullets at this point, or he'll bleed out.

So they talk. For hours.

As with the DC Nation story, each page or so opens with a caption saying "Later...", which King presumably uses so that the conversation doesn't have to have an organic flow or structure to it; he can just jump from scene to scene of it, giving the reader what are either meant to be the highlights, or to indicate that the two characters fall silent for periods of time and then speak up occasionally.

However much time actually passes, the "Later..." captions makes it seem like a lot of time. So there's a wedding, or maybe wedding rehearsal, at a big, fancy church in Gotham City. A notorious criminal/terrorist/supervillain storms the church, murders, I don't know, maybe a dozen people. Vigilante/superhero Batman jumps through a stained glass window to attempt to capture the The Joker. More shots are fired, more people are killed. Then a bomb goes off. Then another series of gun shots goes off as The Joker is confronted by another vigilante.

Are there no police at all in Gotham City? Are there no citizens? None of the screaming wedding people being gunned down got off a cellphone call to 9/11? (Holy shit, Public Enemy was right!) No one heard gunshots and explosions and more gunshots? Hell, no one drove by the church and thought, "Huh, I don't remember that wall being caved-in and smoking..." Batman has about 15 sidekicks and a Justice League, but the always-plans-ahead superhero doesn't have anything in his suit or belt to call for help if he's under a pile of rubble for over an hour? Alfred didn't call to remind him of a meeting or ask what he wants for breakfast/dinner at any point during the night...?

If the wedding Joker attacked to set this story rolling were a destination wedding at a bed and breakfast upstate, or even an abandoned church near "Monstertown" or some under-populated part of the city, fine, but jeez, it's distractingly weird how the story seems to want a sense of "no one is coming to help" given its very public setting and its "That's the sort of thing that might attract attention" events.

Batman, by the way, spends 19 of the 20 pages knocked out. We see his unconscious body in the second panel, and then don't see or hear from him the rest of the issue...not until the last page, when his dialogue bubbles come from off-panel as he wakes up after, like, a night.

It's the best-made bad comic I've read in a while.

By the way, I really think Mikel Janin draws a swell Joker.

Batman: Prelude To The Wedding: Harley Quinn Vs. The Joker #1 (DC) Although this is labeled with a "#1" and sold as a one-shot, it is the fifth and final of the Batman: Prelude To The Wedding comics pitting one of Batman's allies against one of his foes, with a through-line of sorts regarding The Joker circling the wedding, getting ready to strike. In the first four installments, that mainly meant the villain mentioning that The Joker somehow tipped them off to the fact that Batman and Catwoman were going to get married, and setting up the appearance of the next villain. This one ends not long before "The Best Man" story arc in Batman begins, with The Joker headed toward the church which will be the setting for that story.

Given the relatively little connective tissue to one another or the events in Batman, each of these one-shots has worked as more-or-less standalone stories, although what pleasure they provide will likely depend much on how fond one is of the characters involved.

This one features Harley Quinn versus her former boyfriend and boss The Joker, and as writer Tim Seeley frames it as an exploration of their relationship to one another, it is essentially a story I've seen told at least twice before in the mainstream DC continuity since The New 52 continuity began (And, in fact, I just read a version of it in the penultimate issue of Bombshells, which was a little weird in that The Joker was introduced into that narrative for the first time specifically for the purposes of Harley expressing his lack of power over her).

That said, this may be the best version of that too-often-told story. Seeley skips over some of the hows in order for the story to begin in a rather spectacularly weird way, and with The Joker back on his heels. Harley Quinn has captured him and subjected him to an old-fashioned death trap. He escapes. And she immediately catches him, plopping him into another old-fashioned, elaborate death trap, while she taunts him wearing different red-and-black costumes.

The set-up goes to an old argument among the pair, and while they talk about their relationship to one another, there's an awful lot of showing, and artist Sami Basri, here colored by Jessica Kholinne, makes sure that everything shown looks gorgeous.


Batman: Prelude To The Wedding: Nightwing Vs. Hush #1 (DC) This particular pairing seemed an odd one, given how relatively minor a villain Hush is among Batman's rogues gallery--especially on the other end of Flashpoint, in which the "Hush" storyline may or may not have happened at all (If it did, it's one of those annoying situations where it would have have to been completely, cosmically rewritten in order to comport with the rejiggered and rebooted continuity). Having now read it--And how could anyone not? It contains Batman's bachelor party!--it makes sense why Prelude To The Wedding writer Tim Seeley chose to set these two characters against one another.

Essentially, it's a fight between who should be Batman Bruce Wayne's best man...by determining who his best friend really is: Childhood friend Tommy Elliott or one-time ward Dick Grayson.

Actually...I'm not really sure if Dick was ever Bruce's ward in the current continuity or not. Batman continuity was left largely un-fucked-with by Flashpoint outside of Barbara Gordon, but when you look too closely at any of his sidekicks and the tenuous timeline, it sort of falls apart. He was only teamed with Dick for something like 10 months or so, even though Dick aged something like three years in that time...? I don't know.

Anyway, it's sort of weird in that I think we tend to think of their relationship as closer to that of father and son, where here they are presented closer to best friends, and while I wouldn't argue that Dick isn't one of the people who knows Bruce best and who Bruce is most comfortable with, the traditional imbalance in their power and age, and the fact that one was the legal guardian of the other for so long, makes that feel somewhat forced.

Not that it matters since, spoiler alert, Superman is going to be Batman's best man after all. That's one of the wedding details that comes out of this miniseries--presented as a series of one-shots--that isn't coming out of Tom King's Batman, where the wedding storyline has been unfolding. As Nightwing recaps in the limo, "Batman and Catwoman are getting married. But Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle arent. Not publicly, anyway."

As for the bachelor party, it is surprisingly small. No Alfred. No Jim Gordon. No Tim or Jason. No Justice League bros. Just Batman, Nightwing and Superman, all in costume, being driven to Bat Burger in a limo by a Superman robot. (Or, as Nightwing puts it, "a driver who's guaranteed to keep his mouth shut.") After a fast food meal, they are going to go fishing together in a pocket dimension, when Hush attacks and the fighting that dominates the issue takes place.

Fast food and fishing. What a boring bachelor party. I feel like these three partied harder on the covers to World's Finest in the 1940s.*

Dodo (Boom Studios) Boom published this original graphic novel of Felipe Nunes's on their kid-friend Kaboom imprint, and while there's nothing potentially objectionable in its content, it's a rather mature work, dealing with somewhat difficult topics of the adult world, and how they impact a young girl. Nunes doesn't engage in a whole lot of hand-holding, either; the storytelling is actually pretty sophisticated...or, in other words, mature.

Laila is a rather little girl living an isolated life with her over-busy, over-burdened mother, and kept home from school--and thus away from other kids her age--while her mother wrestles with financial issues and resolving some outstanding problems with Laila's seemingly estranged father.

One day, while looking out the window and into the park, Laila spots a large, bipedal bird picking through a garbage pin. And they make eye-contact. And the bird rushes right over to her house to confront her. The bird is the titular dodo, but it's a little off-model--although how does Laila know what a long-extinct bird who shows up in her modern South American city, living like a hobo in the park, is supposed to look like...? (Personally, I was somewhat struck by how different it looked in the interior art than it did on the cover; its legs move and bend in some ways I found somehow unsettling within the story).

While Laila cautiously attempts to befriend the bird while hiding it from her mother and babysitter, Dodo does not progress as expected. Rather than a touching comedy about friendship, the dodo represents Laila's repressed feelings, and when it eventually explodes, wrecking the house, it uncovers a life-altering secret that transforms Laila's world. It's something of a psychological drama, then.

Nunes' art is great, although highly stylized in a way that doesn't always appeal to me. His lead character has a world-weariness built into her expressions--as do all the other human characters in the short book--and there's a probably not coincidental bird-like aspect to her face. The dodo is extremely expressive and boasts a rather large amount of range given its inherent limitations.

It's an odd book, but one well worth engaging with.


Justice League #1 (DC) I gushed about this a bit on Twitter the Wednesday it came out, but I was very pleased with this first issue of the new Scott Snyder-written Justice League. It managed to remind me quite a bit of Grant Morrison's late-nineties run on JLA, the one that really made me a fan of the League in the first place, but without being derivative of that run.

Rather, Snyder seems to have nailed Morrison's vision of the League as a sort of council of peers who are devoted to stemming off the apocalypse...which seems to confront them on such a regular basis that it's almost routine for them...but not so routine that the confrontations become boring. The events are big and insane--the League destroys Earth's moon in this issue, as a single move to help save the day--and they gamble with stakes that are high almost beyond conception. Like, you know, all existence.

In this issue at least Snyder also invents a big, huge threat that requires a large swathe of DC superheroes to deal with it, a conflict that might be a six-issue arc in another Justice League book, but here is something that occurs off in the margins, something to give everyone something to do while building towards the real story. Here, that's immortal caveman Vandal Savage and his sleeper cells of differently-evolved Neanderthals--Neo-anderthals--launching coordinated attacks while Earth's crust is magnetically removed. To combat this, the new League--everyone on the cover, minus John Stewart, who hasn't formally joined the team yet--not only divide into separate teams, but they recruit a bunch of other heroes to help out, some of whom Cheung draws into the background, other of whom are just name-dropped.

Also Morrison-esque? Martian Manhunter is the leader of the League, and they're communicating through his telepathy again, rather than relying on something more technological.

Also striking about the issue was the way in which Snyder has fan-ish elements to his take on the Justice League--Super Friends' Hall of Justice headquarters and The Legion of Doom, Cartoon Network's Justice League cartoon's line-up--but even if they are familiar, they are used for a reason, and he and his artistic collaborators seem to here make them their own. The Hall of Justice is a pretty good example of this, as there are new and unusual elements to it, although the basic concept is familiar enough that it would--without those elements--be downright tiresome.

Weirdest of all, at least for me, is the inclusion of so much pre-Flashpoint, old DCU stuff. The second panels is set "85,000" years in the future, and features the android Hourman and Superman and Wonder Woman One Million (Hourman's costume is his Hourman one, not his DC One Million one, but still!). That first page also includes a Monitor, Kamandi and Dr. Canus and Alex Ross and Mark Waid's Quintessence (albeit with Hera in for her late husband, who has been dead-ish since The New 52 relaunch)

Oh, and on page two, part of a two-page spread introducing the new Hall of Justice, there's a weird panel where there are mannequins wearing the costumes of "everyone" who has ever been on the Justice League, and these include Black Lightning, Black Canary, Green Lantern John Stewart, Gypsy, Firestorm Ronnie Raymond (his original costume, not his New 52 one), Vibe (his original costume, not the one that New 52 Vibe wore while he was on the short-lived, government-sponsored League that was featured in the first of the post-Flashpoint Justice League of America titles) and Ted Kord's Blue Beetle costume. Not only were none of these people ever on the Justice League in current continuity, some of these characters don't exist, nor do their costumes.

After reading the first few pages of this comic, following Snyder's recent League work, I can't help but conclude that the only people who want to pretend that the whole post-Flashpoint, New 52 continuity was nothing more than an over-long Just Imagine...Jim Lee Creating The Ultimate DC Universe! Elseworlds event more than I do are the creators working for DC. And, perhaps, the DC characters themselves, who increasingly ignore recent reboots and continuity rejiggerings in favor of the old stuff.

Anyway, I like everything about this comic book, and am super-excited about the Justice League in a way I haven't been for years and years.


Justice League #2 (DC) So apparently the first issue wasn't just a fluke or anything; Scott Snyder's Justice League seems to genuinely be a return to the big, exciting days of the Grant Morrison-launched JLA, at least through Mark Waid and Joe Kelly's run on the title, after which point DC's Justice League comics got a little lost, and went in different, less interesting-to-me directions. The plot regarding the thing-from-the-other-side-of-The-Source-Wall and J'onn J'onnz's and Lex Luthor's differing, opposing interpretations of some prehistoric secret continues, and gets pretty fairly fleshed out here.

The big change between issues #1 and #2 is, of course, that of the artists. Jim Cheung penciled the first issue of the series, and here the artist he is alternating issues with makes his first appearance. That would be Jorge Jimenez. I like his art quite a bit. It's definitely quite dynamic, and much more so than that of Cheung. The two have such divergent styles though that I question putting them on the same, biweekly book...especially if the plan is to trade alternate issues back and forth like this (the ideal way to have two artists share duties on a more-often-than-monthly book is to have something like a story arc and a half worth of scripts done before they can even start drawing, so that they alternate arcs rather than issues. In a perfect world, the artists would still be within the same universe stylistically, but even if they weren't, if they alternated arcs, it would spare readers  aesthetic whiplash. Cheung and Jimenez, while both really good artists, aren't very compatible).

Most notably, Jimenez has some pretty different takes on a few of the characters. His J'onn has an elongated look about him; he's much taller and skinnier than Superman, whose build he usually shares, and he's much more emaciated than he looked last issue (or, if you end up reading this in trade, like four pages ago). His Grodd is much bigger, but with a funnier, cartoonier head, and his Cheetah similarly looks more cute than horrifying in the face.

I like the deepness of Snyder's cuts, and here he introduces a Flash villain I personally like to think of as the character's evil opposite, although Flash creators generally use Captain Cold or a Reverse Flash as his archenemy (actually, Grodd is here as the Flash archenemy on the Legion of Doom...which still needs to add Martian Manhunter, Cyborg and Hawkgirl villains to its line-up). As with the first issue, that deepness seems to suggest that Snyder and company are just going to go ahead and ignore the Flashpoint continuity reboot--here, for example, Batman and Green Lantern John Stewart's conversation sure makes it sound like Cosmic Odyssey is canonical again, Flashpoint/The New 52 be damned.

Nitpicks? I've got some!

--John Stewart punches a captive in the face to shut him up. This is just a personal thing, perhaps, but I don't like seeing superheroes practicing violence against the helpless. It's all contextual, of course; like, seeing Batman punch an already tied-up Joker will obviously feel different than Superman smacking a similarly restrained Toyman. We all know that The Joker is basically Satan himself at this point, and that Batman constantly has to struggle not to lose his shit and murder him. This villain is just some rando alien perp, though, and John Stewart is a space cop and former marine. It's not cool for superheroes to abuse their captives in general, but policeman (their space equivalent or otherwise) and soldiers doing so? That feels so much grosser these days than it might have in the past. Or when I was too young to read/care about the news.

--Saying "Justice League Dark" out loud, as Batman does in this issue, sounds pretty dumb, doesn't it? I've never liked that name much, but man, this really drove home how much better "Justice League Black" might sound...

--I really think the second-to-last word in this issue's script should be "@#$%-ing" instead of "@#$%." That, or "@#$%^&*," as it irritates the @#$% out of me when the number of symbols in a grawlix don't match the number of letters in the word they are standing in for.

--Jim Lee drew the variant cover of this issue, featuring J'onn J'onnz. His Martian Manhunter is...well, it's not very good, is it? I mean, it's a nice drawing, I guess, but not a very good drawing of Martian Manhunter. Of course, as a shape-changer, I guess he's a good character to draw badly. Does he look way off-model? Okay, sure, but that's because he was shape-shifting at the time.


The Man of Steel #2 (DC) With both Doc Shaner and Steve Rude each drawing about half of this issue, it has pretty much perfect art for a Superman comic. It's honestly hard to think of artists better suited to the exploits of the Man of Steel than Shaner and Rude, and, visually, this issue is a perfect treat. If there's anything to complain about the art, it is that they only get about half an issue a piece, instead of an entire issue. (Jason Fabok, who drew a few pages of the first issue, returns for two more pages, also focused on the what-happened-to-Lois-and-Jon flashback scene; here taking one more step forward, showing us what they were looking at that so frightened them, although there's no real telling based on what we see here. It appears to be mechanical, vaguely insect-like, and emitting lightning, speed lines and Kirby dots, if that helps narrow it down.)

Shaner's section touches on the ongoing Rogol Zaar-hates-Krypton plotline and the mystery of Lois within the offices of The Daily Planet, while writer Brian Michael Bendis sends Superman to Coast City to fight Toyman and briefly hang out with Green Lantern Hal Jordan (Ha! When was the last time Hal was actually in Coast City? I haven't been keeping too close watch since Geoff Johns left, but it seems to me that Hal left Coast City somewhere around 2006 and has barely been back from space long enough to sleep overnight there since. I believe he stopped by long enough to fight Convergence's Parallax for an issue or two when he was wearing a trench coat and had long hair...). I really like Shaner's depiction of Toyman, who is here the original design, but tweaked to seem appropriately modern (and like something of a geek who has managed to weaponize his fandom).

Rude's portion also includes some scenes at The Planet, but much of it is focused on space, where we see Superman flying about--there's a really rather elegant depiction of his flying through space at super-speed, using just a nice, thick, ribbon of red to show his flight path--and a bar where Rogol learns that there's still a Kryptonian left alive in the universe. Cameo by Ambush Bug!


The Man of Steel #3 (DC) We reach the half-way point of Brian Michael Bendis' status quo-resetting miniseries, and we finally catch-up to where we were in his Jim Lee-drawn prologue in the pages of Action Comics #1,000: Superman and Supergirl confronting world-beater Rogol Zaar. In fact, the last two pages of this issue are devoted to a splash image of the two laying eyes on the villain for the first time, which is really quite a waste of space given the fact that we saw them fighting him months ago. I mean, yeah, it's a big moment for them, but for us? Not so much. And we're the ones reading the comic; they're just in it.

Also, the excrutiatingly gradual reveal of the Lois-and-Jon's-whereabouts takes exactly one more baby step forward: There's someone inside the metal bug thing!

I don't really want to spoil the events of the book, but I am curious about the bottle city of Kandor's status quo. Obviously, DC's continuity is, at this point, particularly messy, and Superman's messier than most of the other characters; if I understand correctly, this is the Superman (and Lois) from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, with a year or so added to their lifespans via the events of Convergence, fused with The New 52 Superman (and Lois), but existing in the post-Flashpoint DCU, right? So I guess the bottle city of Kandor is still in a bottle in the post-Flashpoint DCU...? It's been a while, a few continuity rejiggerings ago and I didn't read every issue of every Superman book back then, but didn't the Kandorians all get enlarged in the big "New Krypton" storyline...?

This issue is drawn by Ryan Sook.


Man of Steel #4 (DC) Kevin Maguire joins Bendis for this issue, and I found the transition between Sook and Maguire particularly--and maybe a little surprisingly--smooth. It's the Maguireishness of Sook's art that surprised me, more than the Sookishness of Maguire's, as I'm so much more familiar with Maguire interiors than I am Sook interiors; I guess I mainly think of Sook as a cover artist rather than an interior artist. Anyway, these two are a particularly good match, stylistically.

So this issue is the one wherein we actually catch up to the events of the Action Comics #1,000 story; in fact, I think it happens about halfway through the issue, right after the longer-than-usual Lois-and-Jon segment. It will be interesting to see how this is collected...if they insert the Lee-drawn story in the middle of this fourth chapter, or if they just include it at the front of the trade, like some sort of in medias res opening scene that the series proper gradually catches up with (As for that Lois-and-Jon scene, we now see who is in the metal bug ship thing, and it is...not so dramatic a reveal that it can sustain three-plus issues of teasing, really. It also made me regret having not read a recent-ish Action Comics story arc, as this seemed like a really big deal to me, even though I know that particular character has appeared recently-ish, and thus isn't actually all that big a deal to the characters themselves).

Green Lantern Hal Jordan reappears in this issue, so we get to see Maguire's current take on current Hal too.

It's weird that Hal introduces himself to a couple of ladies as "the Green Lantern of this sector," right? That seems like the sort of thing a Green Lantern not-native to the planet would say, given that his fellow Earthlings probably know him as "Green Lantern," and not "the Green Lantern of this sector, because obviously there are other sectors of space and there is a Green Lantern or two in each of them."

...

Wait, is Hal the Green Lantern of this sector...? I thought Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz were the Green Lanterns of this sector, but man, I am so out of touch with the Green Lantern corner of the DCU these days...


Man of Steel #5 (DC) If you were waiting/dreading when someone on the Justice League would start talking like someone on the New Avengers--that is, when a rather random supporting character in the DC Universe started talking in the stock "funny guy" voice that so many of Bendis' characters seem to share--then this is the issue for you!

After Superman's battle on the moon with Rogol Zaar, the League takes the defeated hero to their new headquarters to recuperate. There's an exterior shot of the Hall of Justice, and three dialogue balloons emanating from it. "Maybe his power source is limited," the first says. The second replies, "Maybe he's full of caca poo poo."

I lingered over the panel for a while, because I couldn't imagine any of the Leaguers saying that line, although Cyborg and The Flash seemed the most likely candidates (but remember, this is the Barry Allen Flash, not the Wally West Flash). In the following panel, we see the League gathered around Superman's bed, and Flash's line is "I meant caca poo poo on some level."

So I guess that is police scientist and grown man Barry Allen talking like Spider-Man in Ultimate Spider-Man or New Avengers circa 2006. Got it.

This is the penultimate issue of Bendis' stage-setting run on the Superman books, and it is mostly dominated by a Superman vs. Rogol Zaar fight, some steps forward with the arson subplot and than a breather with the League leading to double-page splash of a cliffhanging ending. The Jason Fabok-drawn Lois-and-Jon plot gets the most attention yet this issue, with an entire four pages devoted to it. As finally revealed here it...doesn't seem like a very big deal at all. Again, I sat out the last appearance of this particular character, but if everything is as it seems, then Jon and Lois merely seem to be gone for a temporary amount of time, which is all well and good, but it doesn't seem like their temporary absence deserved the weird set-up it was given in the previous four issues. I suppose we'll have to see what happens in the last issue to be sure of that, though.

This issue is drawn by Adam Hughes, whose interior work is rather...infrequent. In fact, the last time I saw it was in the incredibly short-lived reboot of Betty and Veronica, which turned out to be a three-issue miniseries, and even that took something like 45 years to ship in its entirety. His 18 pages are well-drawn of course, but I must confess to finding his Wonder Woman somewhat off-putting at first. She stood out because she looked so familiar compared to all the other characters, and it took me a while to realize why that was: I was so used to seeing Hughes' cover images featuring her on Wonder Woman that she looked like a real person to me, whereas the other people all looked like comic book characters, if that makes any sense at all. Once I realized this, I reviewed all the images of her to see if Hughe still drew her boots all floppy and ill-fitting, as he always did on Wonder Woman covers, but with her new costume, she has, like, well-fitting armor around her lower legs.


Saga #53 (Image Comics) I wonder if Brian K. Vaughan knows that "kill your darlings" is just a suggestion, and doesn't mean that writers literally have to kill off all of their most darling characters in the course of their story...?

Well, there are actually many more "darling" characters in Saga's expansive cast than the one who seemingly gets super-murdered on the last page of this issue, but this particular character has long been one of my favorites...


Scooby-Doo Team-Up #39 (DC) Hey, the Justice Society of America! I remember those guys! It seems like it's been forever since they've appeared in any DC Comics. The New 52 reboot did away with them all almost seven years ago now, and we've only seen them in somewhat mangled form in the pages of the various Earth 2-related books. Geoff Johns' DC Universe: Rebirth book suggested that they were still around somehow, just forgotten, but the other shoe of that plot hasn't yet dropped. Maybe after Doomsday Clock concludes we'll get some sort of resolution to the Dr. Manhattan stole 10 years from the DCU and also did something with the JSA and Legion or whatever plot.

In the mean time, we've got the JSA in the pages of SDTU which is, in general, the best place to see DC superheroes in their purest form. This particular issue of the series is fun in that it veers so far from anything approaching the Scooby-Doo format; it's a superhero story in which Scooby and the gang appear, and not any form of mystery.

The gang is in Washington D.C., where a time capsule is about to be opened. It turns out the mysterious chest labeled "DO NOT OPEN" is actually full of insubstantial demons, which set about their appointed task of destroying the Washington Monument. Suddenly, Doctor Fate appears, sending them back to 1942 so they can find out how to defeat the demons. So Mystery Inc. finds themselves amidst a JSA that works with the version of the DCU that has been overlapping with Scooby gang throughout this series: Doctor Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder, Sandman, The Flash Jay Garrick, Green Lantern Alan Scott, The Atom Al Pratt, Wonder Woman Hippolyta and Black Canary's mom Black Canary.

Then-Nazi Vandal Savage shows up with the box full of demons--Pandora's Box, apparently--and opens it, and the JSA splits into smaller teams, each accompanied by a member of Mystery Inc, to foil the demons' plans to disrupt the war effort. These include pretty typical Golden Age plots, like robbing a war bonds rally, stealing materials from a scrap drive and so on, before reuniting in D.C. to tear down the Washington Monument while saboteurs bomb the Capitol Building--with Congress inside!

The JSA save the day, repeatedly, of course, and, in the process, Mystery Inc learns how to put the demons back in the box.

Regular writer Sholly Fisch does his usual fine job with the DC heroes. He juggles a ton of characters here, but each gets a few panels worth of spotlight, and Fisch manages to find gags to mine from them and aspects of their characters to bring to the fore. The JSA characters all seem like themselves, but they also tee up some fun forms of criticism of themselves, their adventures and their world. My favorite bit is probably a brief throughline involving Wonder Woman helping Wildcat getting woke. Daphne is shocked that Wonder Woman acts as the JSA's secretary, to which Wildcat cheerfully responds, "Well... she has the best handwriting..." and Wondy says, equally cheerfully, "Actually, I came to man's world knowing that attitudes here are rather...quaint, Daphne. Part of my mission is to change that."

And she does! Near the climax, Wonder Woman wishes Daphne and Velma the best, telling the characters born of the baby boomer generation that "if you are typical of the young women in the future, I can see that my mission to man's world will succeed." At which point, The Atom asks Wonder Woman to write up the adventure for their casebook, but Wildcat puts a hand on the mighty mite's shoulder, saying he'd like to try writing up the case, as "takin' turns is only fair, right?"

Right you are, Wildcat!

Also, the original, awesome Red Tornado shows up to punch out some lady Nazi saboteurs at one point.

Regular artist Dario Brizuela, as per usual, draws the hell out of everything, keeping the Scooby-Doo characters as religiously on-model as they always are in this book, drawing big, bold, muscular DC heroes that all match one another and don't look out-of-place alongside the mid-twentieth century Hanna-Barbera designs, and creating a world around both groups of heroes that seems to accommodate them all perfectly.

Reviewing the list above, outside of that first issue of Justice League, this was probably the the most fun, and certainly my favorite, new comic I read all month.


BORROWED:


The Defenders Vol. 2: Kingpins of New York (Marvel Entertainment) This is the second and final collection of Brian Michael Bendis' short-lived Defenders revival, this one inspired by the Netflix show of the same name and featuring the line-up from the TV series...and all the other characters that could be feasibly packed in. The first volume, Diamonds Are Forever, featured the characters allying themselves to defend the city from Diamondback--the Luke Cage show villain--who is trying to wrest control of the city's underworld from The Black Cat, who has more-or-less taken over for the gone-straight Wilson Fisk.

It becomes pretty obvious pretty fast that Bendis' long-term planning for the series got interrupted by his move from Marvel to DC, as this volume is far less leisurely and carefully plotted, and gets downright chaotic in the final issues, as Bendis races to a satisfying conclusion.

The Defenders take down Diamondback. But he escapes. Elektra has a long, rather spectacular fight with Iron Fist after exchanging a little dialogue, in which it is revealed that they have never fought one another, a fact they both think is kind of surprising. Me, I was shocked to learn that. Jessica Jones cashes in a favor with Deadpool for the same reason he appeared in Doomwar: In story, because he's a random, crazy element the bad guys won't expect, but in reality just to boost sales a little, and he fights The Punisher and then gets beat-up by The Defenders. We see what Fisk's role in all this actually is. Diamondback hires some low-level super-powered muscle. The Hood appears to make his play to become the new Kingpin.

And then the conclusion: The Hood has re-reorganized organized crime in the Marvel Universe's United States, and is in the middle of explaining how they will all be Kingpins, he will just be the Kingpin of Kingpins, when The Defenders show up with a new and expanded line-up, consisting of, like, all the street-level heroes, or everyone Bendis likes, or everyone that artist David Marquez felt like drawing in a two-page splash, or some combination. If that was the line-up of the future issues of Defenders, it would be quite a series! (Blade! The Gargoyle! Howard The Duck! Night Nurse! Some of the more popular living X-Men! Etc!**)

Marquez draws all of these issues, save for some flashback scenes by Michael Avon Oeming. That sequence, in which we see the moment where Wilson Fisk went from being a lower-level lieutenant in a crime organization to being the boss of it, is really well-executed, as Marquez and Oeming trade time frames, but not pages. So, for example, there's a two-page spread in which there are two panels of Marquez's full-color art showing Diamondback telling the story to his new hires, followed by a black-and-white panel of Oeming's, followed by a panel of Marquez's, then five panels of Oemings, than one of Marquez's, and so on.

Also visually appealing is a three-page court scene drawn in the style of court room sketches.

This iteration of the Defenders was, ultimately, as easy to end as it was to start, given that the four-person line-up consists of a married couple, the husband's best friend and just one other hero who lives down the street from them all. This is the sort of team that could conceivably accidentally form any time any of these four get in a fight. So ending it is no bigger a deal than, say, Daredevil going home for the night. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing more of this particular team, particularly since Netflix is--I hear--not interested in a season two of their Defenders, and, as with Jessica Jones, it would be nice to see a new, non-Bendis voice behind his co-creation of Jessica Jones.

(Actually, what I would like the most would be a new Defenders series in which the original big four team of The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer and Namor align with these four, so that Daredevil, Jessica Jones and company take the place of Nighthawk, Valkyrie and company, as that's something that can never happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, on film or Netfilx. Oh well, maybe next iteration...)


Dark Nights: Metal: Dark Knights Rising (DC Comics) DC's Dark Nights: Metal event was perhaps a little difficult to follow as it was being published, given how much of it was published via one-shots with very similar sounding names and the varying degrees of relevance of the tie-in issues. I'm not sure if the collections will prove less confusing or not. This one contains the seven one-shots featuring the origins of the seven "nightmare" Batmen from the Dark Multiverse, plus the one-shot Dark Knights Rising: The Wild Hunt #1, a special that functioned a bit as the unofficial Dark Nights: Metal #5.5.

Of these, I only read the two issues bookend-ing the collection's content, Batman: The Red Death #1 and The Wild Hunt. I was only about halfway through The Red Death when I decided I should trade-wait these, and I almost ordered this collection when I decided that since I wasn't 100% I'd actually enjoy it all, I could/should just borrow it from the library.

I ended up enjoying it more than I didn't enjoy it, but the seven stories that make up the bulk of the book are necessarily rather repetitive, and, because the creative teams shift with each, the style and quality tend to vary far more than the stories themselves (I'll discuss this in greater detail and at greater length in a dedicated post in the near-ish future). Each of the Dark Knights who are doing the rising here are Batmen (and one Batwoman) hailing from alternate earths in the Dark Multiverse, "mistake" worlds--phrasing that recalls the original Elseworlds tagline, which referred to worlds that, in some cases, shouldn't exist--that are all doomed to fall apart into apocalypse.

There's one of these Dark Knights for each of the seven members of the Justice League, giving us Batmans that are hybridized with The Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and Green Lantern (the latter of which has already been done in 1994 Elseworlds special Batman: In Darkest Knight). For the trinity, the alternate Bruce Waynes are hybridized with villains of theirs, so there's a Batman who infected himself with a Doomsday virus to kill his Superman, a Batman who took Ares' helmet and became his world's god of war and, most popularly, a Batman who a dying Joker transformed into The Batman Who Laughs (That's him on the cover, and, unlike the other Dark Knights, he's been showing up post-Metal, in The Immortal Men and, according to solicits, in future issues of Justice League).

So in each of the first seven chapters of this collection, we meet a somehow fucked-up Bruce Wayne--or Bryce Wayne, in the case of The Drowned--who takes some extreme path that "our" Bruce Wayne would never take, transforming him into some sort of hybrid character. At the end of each issue, his or her world starts to fall apart, and they are visited by The Batman Who Laughs. He promises them their greatest wish if they'll only serve his master Barbatos. The comics are therefore pretty formulaic, but then, that's kind of the point; each of them is a riff on a riff, after all.

The final issue features this League of Evil Ex-Batmen in The Authority's Carrier, hunting The Flash, Cyborg and Raven as they try to reach the House of Heroes in the Ultima Thule. This was an unexpected one-shot when it was first announced, featuring as it does co-writers Joshua Williamson and Grant Morrison (whose work pretty directly inspired so much of Metal) joining Scott Snyder, with then future Justice League pencil artist Jorge Jimenez and past Justice League pencil artists Howard Porter and Doug Mahnke.

I can see arguments for and against including it in this particular collection. In favor, it does feature the seven nightmare Batmen all aligned together, and it does give the collection a title, but there's quite a jump between those seven origin one-shots and the story of that particular issue, which, as I say, is more-or-less a chapter of Metal, expanding on a scene that is briefly, almost dismissively covered in the series itself.

On the other hand, it seems important enough to the Metal story to belong in that collection, as opposed to here (Or perhaps in the Resistance collection, which seems to be where all the other tie-ins ended up). Of course, if someone is reading this, chances are they will read the other Metal collections, so it's not like anyone's going to be too terribly lost.


Jessica Jones Vol. 3: Return of The Purple Man (Marvel) This trade paperback collection features the last six issues of character creators Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos' second series starring the character. At 18 issues, it lasted ten fewer issues than their 2001-2004 Alias, but with Bendis very publicly jumping ship from Marvel to DC Comics, I think it's safe to say there were extenuating circumstances behind the relatively short-ish run. That Bendis has been writing comics for as long as he has, and has been writing this particular character pretty consistently for much of the past 17 years, and that Gaydos has likewise worked in comics that whole time and drawn so many Jessica Jones comics, you would think I would be used to layouts like this one from issue #17, but well, I'm not:
Guys, that is so many words. And the "action" accompanying it. Jessica Jones' facial expressions change slightly, she gestures now and then, but the Purple Man is frozen in place.

I used to think Bendis' extreme wordiness was born from his often barely-concealed interest in writing for other media, particularly mass media like TV and film (the former of which Jessica Jones has of course broken into, which is why this volume of the book is named Jessica Jones, like the show, and not Alias, like the comic).

But when you stop and look at that layout, it certainly doesn't suggest that Bendis would rather be writing a mystery novel or a film. Because no modern prose novel would just have all those long-speeches; not without descriptive passages and the writer delving into the characters heads to break up the pages and pages of dialogue. And no film or TV show would be staged like that. I mean, it's possible a director might do something similar, tediously cutting back and forth between two unmoving characters as they talk directly into the camera for minutes and minutes, but it would be a deliberate, stylistic choice made specifically to highlight the scene, to tip off to the viewer that this is something very unusual and important.

It's not something a TV show would do, like, every episode, or a film do every twenty minutes or so, but, well, here's a lay-out from issue #18:
This one is even worse, because the character who is the focus of the panels, the lady who is not Jessica Jones, doesn't even move. She's frozen in place, just a repeating image which saves Gaydos from having to draw more art, but has the effect of suggesting Jessica is speaking to a mannequin.

I honestly tried to think if there was a medium in which this particular kind of scripting, that of the above scenes, and that sort of hands-off mis en scene actually would be used, and I give up. I mean, even in a stage play where there are just two characters talking, they would get up and move around, they would gesture, the director would have them doing something, unless they were doing some kind of Waiting For Godot While Paralyzed production.

There's nothing inherently wrong with all the talking and, here, the dialogue. Bendis has his quirks in his dialogue, but that first example above is a pretty intense scene, a sort of climax to Jessica's entire story arc from the first issues of Alias. The fireworks in Return of The Purple Man are in the dialogue, so devoting the bulk of several issues to Jessica and The Purple Man talking to one another isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's no reason for Gaydos to stage it like this. Provided, of course, that this is done old-school Marvel method. Maybe Bendis' scripts particularly call for this sort of lay-out, in which case, wow, Bendis is pretty terrible at certain aspects of writing comics.

It's...pretty clearly not a style choice, as he does similar stuff in all of his comics. It's just that those in this title are often worse than when it happens in most of his other titles.

I do wonder if it's Gaydos, though, given that so much of Jessica Jones is built around drawing as little as possible. It's obviously not just those two scenes in which next-to-nothing visual happens. This trade opens with three consecutive two-page spreads, each a collage of headshots that get farther and father away as the "camera" pulls out. I would not be surprised to learn that these headshots were culled from his previous art, as they include so many Marvel characters in very particular poses, and they repeat frequently. Above that, Jones' narration is laid on narration boxes. I'm sure that scene's presentation was a stylistic choice, but when paired with the talking scenes above, or the splash pages where Jessica and another figure just sit next to each other and the blank-ish space above them is filled with ping-ponging pearl-string dialogue, or the fact that everything that is not a human figure seems to be a manipulated photo (and most of those figures also look like manipulated photos)...well, this is a very weird reading experience. It reads like a comic book from a guy who doesn't want to write comics teamed with a guy who doesn't want to draw.

With all of that said, this is a pretty strong last Jessica Jones story. (Or at least last for now. Somewhat to my surprise, Marvel didn't announce a new series, despite the fact that the TV show is still a going concern, and has proven that the character works without Bendis writing her; I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I think a Chelsea Cain or Kelly Thompson Jessica Jones would work just fine.)

Five of these last six issues revolve around a rematch with The Purple Man, her archenemy who dominated the original Alias and was prominently featured in the first season of Jessica Jones (the TV show). Given how central he has been to Jessica's story his very presence is a pretty big deal, and Bendis has done a pretty compelling job of turning a somewhat minor Daredevil villain--it's easy to forget, but he was actually created by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando way back in 1964--into a genuinely scary and threatening character. He does so mostly by the small, cruel acts that the Purple Man uses his powers to engage in, although the fact that the Jessica Jones character and her title was sort of built in such a way to reflect how powerful and scary the villain is certainly helps a lot (And that might be why having he show up here makes him seem like a much bigger deal than when he shows up in, say, Daredevil or Heroes For Hire).

And while Jessica is now much more integrated into the superhero community than she was when she originally encountered him, that means both that she has a lot of people watching her back, but also a lot of people who can be turned against her, like Carol Danvers and Luke Cage. Oh, and now of course she has a daughter, who she wants to keep away from The Purple Man.

So The Purple Man returns, and Jessica and her friends and family all scramble, enacting various contingency plans to protect toddler Danielle Cage, contain the damage the villain can do and, eventually, trap him and take him out (By hiring Kraven pull the trigger, apparently; I guess it's more superheroic if Captain Marvel has a villain sniper rifle The Purple Man while she stands at his shoulder, rather than her throwing an anvil at him when he's not looking or shooting him with one of her energy beams?). Nothing seems to work as it should, and so Jessica has no choice but to hear him out, and what he wants is...unexpected.

A sort of Last Temptation of Jessica Jones, she essentially gets offered the use of his powers for whatever she wants. Bendis does an unusual dance with the villain, showing him trying to do the right thing while continually lapsing into fits of barely restrained evil actions. Oddly, The Purple Man ends up being the hero of the story...or, at least, the hero in addition to being the villain. With an assist from Jessica, of course.

That's followed by a done-in-one, which Bendis writes in a prose piece at the end of the trade was the last issue he had long planned as his last Jessica Jones issue, a story where she takes and solves a very Jessica Jones case in a very Jessica Jones way. It's pretty good, despite how awful the artwork is. Because, in addition to the time-saving not-drawing of lay-outs, Gaydos' use of photographs in his work makes so much of what we see look wrong and unnatural. I've noted this previously, but everything appears to be made out of the same substance, and liquids in particular look off.

That last issue has Jessica calling around the Marvel Universe as she tracks down a lead on The Armadillo, so we get to see Gaydos' versions of a whole bunch of Marvel characters--both Spider-Men, Old Man Logan, The Thing, Ironheart--and none of them are really flattered by his style. It shouldn't be possible for something like an image of Luke Cage taking a cell phone call from inside the jaws of a dinosaur that Spider-Woman and a Wolverine are fighting to look static and dull, but, well, Gaydos pulls it off.


Phoenix Resurrection (Marvel) If I'm remembering my X-history correctly, and there's no reason to believe that I am, then Jean Grey has been dead since 2004 or so, when she was killed off near the end of Grant Morrison's millennial run on the title (the original version of Jean Grey, anyway; another version was introduced more recently at the beginning of Bendis' tenure on the X-books). That's damn near fifteen years, which is an awfully substantial amount of time for a superhero character to be dead. Her return to life--or, more precisely, her return to regular usage in the Marvel Universe--should therefore be a pretty big deal, but the way the franchise is currently structured, that's all but impossible to affect in the books themselves.

In the early chapters of this book, which collects the five-issue miniseries from earlier this year, there are scenes of the assembled X-teams dealing with strange phenomenon that are presented as mysterious, culminating in appearances of a giant flaming bird shape in the sky at the sites of some of the high strangeness. One supposes that this might be played as suspenseful or portentous if it were occurring in, say, Uncanny X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men were still the main X-Men title. That, of course, is impossible, as the line if currently fragmented into X-Men Gold, X-Men Blue, Astonishing X-Men and a few ancillary titles, and there isn't really a "main" X-Men book; each has its own cast and its own writers doing their own things. So Marvel relegated the return of Jean Grey to a miniseries that couldn't be more obvious in its intention; Phoenix Resurrection was even subtitled The Return of Jean Grey, in case there was any doubt about what the exact nature of the series might be.

Now, a special event miniseries might seem like a way to telegraph this as an important event--too big a story for any of the many extant X-Men titles to contain!--but then you compare it to the return of Wolverine, who hasn't been dead nearly so long (the Death of Wolverine miniseries shipped in 2014), and the most recent round of Marvel solicitations includes a collection of the multiple Hunt For Wolverine miniseries and specials heralding his return, and that added up to some 400-pages of content. Surely they overdid it with Wolverine, but the effect as to make the return of Jean Grey, which should be the bigger deal, seem like it is not.

Unfortunately, the story, written by Matthew Rosenberg, doesn't do much to sell it as a big deal wither. This just reads like an over-long prequel of sorts to X-Men Red, the new X-Men ongoing starring another new X-Men team, this one lead by the now not-dead adult Jean. In fact, it might have been better if this story took place in the pages of the first few issues of X-Men Red, where some suspense, or at least tension, could have been fostered.

So something weird happens, the X-Men investigate, and then all the X-people Leinil Francis Yu can draw in a crow scene gather at an auditorium at X-Men HQ, where Kitty Pryde and her new haircut exposition at them and break them into teams, like Duke addressing the G.I. Joe team back in the day (I understand, thematically, how Kitty being the X-Men leader makes a certain sort of sense thematically, with the one-time new recruit and POV character now taking the Professor Xavier/Cyclops role, but it feels a little off when one-time goddess and actual queen Storm is, like, standing three feet away). They investigate some weird, psychic phenomena that seems to have something to do with Jean and/or The Phoenix and, at the end of the first issue, they are all left looking at the sky, where a flaming bird has appeared.

Also seeing that flaming bird is a young, red-headed young waitress named Jean, who lives sin a somewhat idyllic young town where everyone seems to have the name of a dead X-Man ("How are you today, Mr. Cassidy?" "Hi, Jamie...it seems like you're in ten places at once," etc). While the X-Men run around, trying to figure out what's what, if the Phoenix is back and if they're in trouble, this Jean has strange dreams about another life. By its predictable ending, the X-Men figure out that the Phoenix has brought Jean back to life and then built the town she's living in as some sort of egg, in which it is acclimating her to once again bond with them.

They enter, do some fighting, have some conversation, and Jean comes to terms wit the fact that she's alive again and dismisses the Phoenix, hopefully--but probably not!--once and for all. Okay, so Jean Grey is back to life, and the comic accomplished its goal. Mission accomplished.

There's not much in terms of interpersonal drama, as the character's this Jean are closest too are also all dead or dead-ish, in some cases replaced with younger or older versions of themselves, and all of the psychics have been cleared from the board, mostly off-panel (Only Cable gets some panel-time, only to be similarly cleared).

The art is never consistent for more than 20 pages at most, as pencil artists Yu, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Bennett and Ramon Rosanas each take an issue apiece for the first four, and then Yu and Bennett split the final, fifth issue. Additionally, there are four or five inkers, so Rachelle Rosenberg's colors are really the only consistent factor in the visuals.

I kinda like the Phoenix costume Jean is wearing at the end of the book, which is a red-on-black version of the yellow-on-red one she's wearing on the cover, although I think she'll be wearing a different one in X-Men Red. With Cyclops, Wolverine and Charles Xavier all currently dead, having Jean return now could/should be interesting--although two of those three seem to already be on their way back--but her return was anything but.


The Punisher: War Machine Vol. 1 (Marvel) Okay, writer Matthew Rosenberg has really got something here. The basic premise is incredibly simple, so much so that this is one of those storylines that seems so obvious once stated that it's somewhat remarkable no one has done it yet. What if The Punisher, the gun-toting one man war on crime in the Marvel Universe, upgraded to a more state-of-the-art type of weapon that is available in his shared-setting universe? What if The Punisher had a suit of Iron Man-like super-armor, specifically the War Machine armor, which is gray-on-gray, better suiting Frank Castle's personal aesthetic far better than the red and gold of Tony Stark's armor, and is bristling with guns and missiles...? It's not like James "Rhodey" Rhoades is using it, as he is currently dead due to the goofy events of Civil War II.

And that's it--The Punisher as War Machine. That's the book.

Rosenberg has to tell a story still, of course, and this volume, which collects Punisher #218-#223 (so this must have been from the short-lived "Legacy" initiative at Marvel, wherein the books all had really high issue numbers that seemed random to anyone who wasn't a Marvel editor or super-fan) does tell a quite cohesive single story with a beginning, middle and end...and a tease for a future storyline. It reads like a graphic novel, but not so much "written for the trade," as we used to say (usually bitterly, and referring to Brian Michael Bendis more often than not), but written as an arc.

The Punisher is doing his thing--that is, mercilessly, brutally murdering criminals in NY--when he's contacted by Nick Fury, who wants to recruit him to go overseas and murder the military dictator who has just taken control of a small, fictional Eastern European country bordering the small, fictional Eastern European country of Latveria. Why does Fury want this? Because there are some former SHIELD agents piloting Iron Man-like armor and serving as mercenary muscle for the dictator. Why does Frank Castle want this? Well, that seems like a bit more of a stretch, and the real answer is, of course, that the story demands it, but Rosenberg has Fury showing him pictures of dead children to get his blood up. ("Kids, Frank. You still care about kids, right?").

So Fury tells Frank where he can steal the War Machine armor from, Frank does so, and then he's off to Narnia or wherever to play Iron Man/Punisher amalgam: Killing soldiers, liberating prison camps, assassinating generals and, by the climax, holding a nuclear warhead over his head and threatening to detonate it to make sure he kills his foe.

It is all appropriately over-the-top, and it probably helps if one doesn't know, think or care too much about Frank Castle's personal history, character or continuity. I am, for example, far more familiar with Garth Ennis' take on the character, wherein he's a basically emotionless, unkillable killing machine, like a Jason or Freddy Krueger that targets criminal ethnic stereotypes, than any of the earlier takes, which attempt to portray him as a human being (like the Netflix show did).

Granted, it's still kind of hard to imagine Frank Castle wearing that armor and operating it--despite the pleasures that come from his interactions with its onboard AI. And that is, in large part, because Rosenberg demonstrates in the first issue/chapter how effective Castle is with guns and explosives. Does he really need a suit of armor to kill his way through a country? Considering his decades of success at killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of criminals, overthrowing the military of a small country seems well within Castle's abilities, no super-armor required (In fact, he's done so before).

Still, it is a big, crazy, simple, even somewhat stupid idea for a comic book series, and it is what got me to pick this up at all (Looking at the "Follow the Adventures of..." reading guide/ad on the inside front cover, I see I have only read one of the six previous Punisher collections from two different runs on the character).

The art is provided by Guiu Vilanova, and it is nice to see that Vilanova managed to draw all six issues, without the need for a fill-in artist. That is, unfortunately, a rarity in mainstream super-comics these days. The style leans very, very hard into realistic, with an awful lot of obvious photo reference, which isn't generally to my taste, but kind of works here, if only in contrasting with the cartoonish elements of the violent action scenes (The Punisher in his armor, swinging the turret of a tank around like a baseball bat, for example, or The Punisher, sans armor, tossing a mortar to someone in armor with a simple, "Catch," and so on). Vilanova draws his Punisher to resemble actor Jon Bernthal so much that it's distracting, and makes me wonder if Bernthal is either getting money for the use of his likeness, or has an in to sue for royalties on it.

Don't get me wrong, I think Bernthal makes a hell of a live-action Punisher--the best of the four actors to play the character so far--but it's weird seeing his mug in this comic.

The book ends with Castle's adventures in Pottsylvania concluded and successful but, much to the chagrin of Fury, the War Machine armor still in his possession. I assume the next arc will involve Fury and/or other super-types trying to wrestle it away from Castle, as he uses it to kill whatever criminal elements are still left in New York City.


REVIEWED:

This year's DC/Hanna-Barbera crossover specials (DC Comics)

Mickey Mouse: The Delta Dimension/Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge's Money Rocket (Fantagraphics Books)

Silver Spoon Vol. 1 (Yen Press)

Underwhere (IDW Publishing) While not that great a graphic novel, I should point out to EDILW readers that this is written and "storyboarded" by Kevin Eastman, co-written by Paul Jenkins and the art comes courtesy of Mark Martin. Martin, fans of the original, Mirage-era TMNT will know, created those old Gnatrat Batman parodies of the 1980s, as well as being responsible for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #22-23, Green-Grey Spongesuit Sushi Turtles and one story per issue of the 1991-1992, full-color version of Turtle Soup. Underwhere is obviously not Turtle-related, but it's very Mirage-esque, and a great demonstration of just what a great illustrator Martin is.



*Well, actually...


**One of the assembled heroes is Ronin. Who's in the Ronin costume these days, anyway? The Kate Bishop Hawkeye is shown here, but not the Clint Barton version. Did he wear the suit to this issue just to bid Bendis farewell?