Thursday, April 28, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 27

Batgirl #51 (DC Comics) Last issue certainly read like the last issue of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr's run on Batgirl, if not the end of the book itself. That issue capped off a creatively healthy run in which Barbara Gordon reinvented herself as Batgirl and her place in Gotham City, gradually making more and more friends and allies and, in the last issue, founding a company with her civilian friends and what seemed to be a superhero team with many of her female, crime-fighting peers.

So in this issue, the penultimate one before DC cancels and relaunches the title with a new creative team and new direction, Fletcher and a handful of guest artists essentially start unravelling that status quo that was so gradually built to, apparently prepping the character and book for the Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque team. Spoiler, Bluebird and Operator fight crime in Gotham ("Are these two young women the new Batman and Robin of Burnside?" a reporter asks, covering their exploits, "This reporter likes to think so"*), Black Canary and Vixen fight crime overseas, Alysia and Frankie continue to run Gordon CLean Energy and Luke continue to wait in the (bat) wings, while Barbara seems overwhelmed and gradually withdrawing from everything.

By the end of the issue, she's taking a break from the company (remember, founded just last issue), taking a break from Luke and planning on leaving town for a while. But first, she has to deal with the menace of terrorist organization Gladius, practically the only villains from the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr run that weren't involved in the last issue (They're from Batgirl Annual #3, the issue in which Batgirl teamed up with, like, everyone, chapter by chapter).

So this is certainly tied in with the run it ends, but it can't help but feel very sudden. I'm glad Fletcher and DC are giving him a few issues to reset things a bit, rather than having Larson come in and have the option of ignoring or radically undoing what came before, but there's still a degree of narrative whiplash involved here. And that's despite Fletcher's efforts to cushion it.

Also, Olive and Maps of Gotham Academy appear, as it looks like the big showdown with Gladius in the next issue will be on the grounds of the school. It's kind of interesting how Fletcher has carved out this little corner of the DCU for himself and his collaborators, really, as we'll see in this week's Black Canary as well.

The artwork in this issue is by the solicited Eleonora Carlini, plus Minkyu Jung and Roger Robinson. It's all pretty great, and actually transitions about as seamlessly as possible (thanks in large part to a single colorist, Serge LaPointe), with the changes in team only really becoming evident on re-read or flip-through, rather than during an initial reading.

Still one more issue to go, and I already miss the book...

Black Canary #11 (DC) Meanwhile, Fletcher's less successful book is also reaching its conclusion, as he and guest artist Sandy Jarrell (inked on the last few pages by Wayne Faucher) pit Black Canary (the superhero) against an immortal demon disguised as a performance artist who has Black Canary (the band) in his thrall.

The above sentence details the essential problem with this book; as the first story arc deal with Black Canary fighting aliens, this one has her fighting a demon, and that doesn't fit too comfortably in a book starring a street-level, martial artist/vigilante, despite Fletcher and his collaborators' efforts to reinvent the character (as with Batman or Green Arrow, the sorts of conflicts Canary faces as part of a Justice League story don't work as well in her own, Justice League-less book).

The other problem, of course, is that their reinvention is laid atop the New 52 reinvention of the character, and those changes are unfamiliar enough to me that whenever they rear their head I just have to accept them as new information, despite the fact that her new origins are meant to be understood by the reader.

As with the aliens from the first arc, however, this demon at least has a musical and sonic connection, and Fletcher has tied martial arts into the mix with this arc, so it all feels a lot more cohesive.

Jarrell's art is great, even though it's not what we were promised at the outset–that is, Annie Wu–and Lee Loughridge continues to define the look of the book through color, which has kinda sorta taken the place of sound in the narrative, as you can't really "hear" a comic book (despite Doug Moench's best efforts), even one in which sound is as important as it is here.

Once again, Batgirl makes an appearance, this time out-of-costume and long-distance, essentially co-Oracling alongside Operator. Vixen reappears as well, offering yet another reminder how awesome a Birds of Prey book spinning out of Batgirl and Black Canary could have been.

Circuit Breaker #2 (Image Comics) Kyle Baker's allusion-filled artwork in this book is simply a joy to read, and re-read. In fact, you could probably read issues of this series sans dialogue and, while the narrative obviously wouldn't be entirely clear, you would at least see some astounding cartooning and crystal clear cartooning, while also getting to pick apart the references in the art. There's one sequence where our Astro Boy-inspired heroine engages a Doraemon-like** character in which the fleeing crowd has characters resembling Baker's on-the-fly cover versions of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters, Yoshito Usui's Crayon Shin-chan and, if I'm not mistaken, maybe even Shigeru Mizuki's Nezumi Otoko.

The plot is easy to describe, as the Japan of the future's robots rise up to face robot-racism and the sophisticated, robot-fighting robot Chiren (the "circuit breaker" of the title–get it?), tries to defend humanity and maybe somehow broker peace between the two factions, but as for its meaning...? Well, it's pretty complicated and nebulous, and analysis is better-suited to a review of a trade than single issues, lest I keep repeating myself.

Suffice it to say that writer Kevin McCarthy has crafted an enjoyable action comic narrative out of big ideas and media criticism, and Baker's cartooning is not-to-be missed.

Anyone who has–or has had–any level of engagement with manga and anime and/or anyone who loves looking at drawings should be reading Circuit Breaker.

Saga #36 (Image) This is apparently the last issue before the book goes on another regularly scheduled hiatus, and it goes out with quite a cliff-hanger. One of the most appealing things about this book–well, maybe I should say one of "the many" rather than one of "the most"–is how it continues to surprise. One would think that, after reading 35-issues of this book, in which anything can happen, including the sorts of things that one would never expect in a Big Two franchise book or even a creator-owned Image book, where certain kinds of surprises become inevitable (see: The Walking Dead; spoiler: they all die), it would be impossible for Brian K. Vaughan to surprise readers.

That is most assuredly not the case. There was a sudden act of violence in the middle of this that genuinely shocked me. Not because of how violent it was–sudden violence happens pretty frequently in this book, which has killed off several awesome characters–but because of who committed it. And then there's the last page, which kind of brings the book full circle while simultaneously prepping to launch it in a new direction.

This issue also features the genuinely terrifying Saga Costume Contest results (the dog dressed as Ghus is the only participant I wouldn't be terrified to see in my apartment, or on the street, or anywhere that wasn't a comics convention, really) and what I hope is a promise of the return of Lying Cat. The ghost/hallucination of The Brand tells her brother the fat The Will, "Go ask the one chick who calls you on your bullshit."

Huh. Is that what happens when one is without a Lying Cat...? They become addicted to drugs, gain a 150 pounds, get all murder-y and hallucinate constantly...? Is that the problem with our world, that we don't all have Lying Cats keeping us honest with ourselves all the time...?

*I know DC already announced a new Birds of Prey book by a new creative team with no links to the pages of Batgirl and that Spoiler will be appearing regularly in Detective Comics. I still think I'd prefer a Bluebird and Spoiler book like the one the Gotham reporter seemed to suggest than seeing Spoiler in 'Tec, which will, at best, be poorly drawn. Certainly when compared to Batgirl.

**Doraemon is mentioned by name, too. Chiren's friend Michiko calls the Doraemon-inspired character Kuchi-Kun "such a bite of Doraemon," and part of "the norotrious bosozoku club Super-Deformed" wears a giant Doraemon head.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Playing Robin

My nephew recently graduated from Teen Titans Go! to The Batman and Young Justice, and has therefore learned the secret origin of one of his favorite characters. My sister sent me the above message to report on what they were doing the other night.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Other Dicks.

That's the image that artist Mikel Janin's created for the cover of Grayson #4, which offers a pretty decent view of the costume that Dick Grayson wore throughout the title, which will soon be coming to an end. I wasn't terribly fond of the costume, particularly the weird, almost random-looking arrangements of straps and the fact that Grayson wore a big blue "G" sigil (Of course, the bar for quality costuming was set pretty low in the post-Flashpoint Bat-family; as much as I disliked the above ensemble, it was still 700 times better than one Dick's fellow former Robin Jason Todd wore, and at least 1,000 times better than poor Tim Drake's Red Robin get-up).

Because the super-spy agency he worked for, Sypral, employed some kinda high-tech perception warping thingamajigs they called "hypnos," it didn't really matter that Dick didn't wear a mask, as no one would be able to "make" him even when looking directly at him, and his clothing was pretty much irrelevant in terms of an in-story rationale.

I recently picked up the first collection of Grayson (having previously read the individual issues it contained), and was surprised by the back-matter, which included co-writer Tim Seeley's five-paragraph pitch for the series and several designs, which show what Dik Grayson might have worn instead of the costume above.

The first image, labeled as an early character design by Seeley, was paired with this pitch:
It's actually not too far removed from his final look, and is an all-around much simpler and straightforward design (which is an attribute when it comes to superhero costume design, if you ask me).

Like the one he ended up wearing, it more closely reflects his original Nightwing color scheme rather than the green, red and yellow of his Robin days or the black and red and of his post-Flashpoing Nightwing costume. And, unlike the final costume, it has a Spyral logo on the chest, which makes more sense than a big blue G, given that he's an agent of Sypral and all.

The pitch is somewhat noteworthy in that it refers to Spyral's head as Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman, rather than Helena Bertinelli, who was the "Matron" of Spyral in the version of Grayson that eventually saw print. I'm not entirely sure why DC would have preferred a new character whose name was the secret identity of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint Huntress instead of Kane, who appeared as an agent of Spyral during Grant Morrison's run on Batman Incorporated.

Bertinelli is also drawn in an alternate costume, a black and purple version of the costumes the girls at St. Hadrian's Finishing School wore in Batman Inc which were themselves derived from Kathy Kane's Batwoman costume. She ended up just wearing a very tight T shirt with the white cross on black design of The Huntress' costume and a pair of functional pants, like Grayson is wearing in the image at the top of the post.

Here's Seeley's apparent next pass at a costume for Grayson:
I actually like this one a whole lot, despite how busy it is.

He still retains a Spyral logo instead of a big, blue G, and it radiates a hypnotic spiral costume that covers his entire torso; it's a "hynpotic suggestion shirt," according to the notes. It's a very striking design, and one that would stand out in pretty much any crowd of superheroes.

I really like the fact that the pattern suggests that of the old Steranko Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD covers (SHIELD being a pretty obvious inspiration for Spyral, and Steranko's iteration of SHIELD being the most influential one). This version of Dick keeps a mask, which seems like it would be a good idea to have whether you're concerned about a "secret identity" or not. Even as a super-spy, such a mask could and would have some functionality, like particular lenses or communications capabilities. Plus, it looks cooler (I would have preferred a domino mask to such a big one, actually). The pants and boots look more para-military than what he ultimately ends up with, or the pair of super-tight jeans Seeley gave him in the first design.

Next up is series artist Janin's sketch:
At this point, Dick is pretty close to where he would end up; he's even got the dumb straps that don't seem to do anything. The chief differences between this design and the final one is the color scheme and the mask, and it's easy to see why they switched to blue and ditched the mask, as this basically looks like the post-Flashpoint Nightwing wearing short sleeves and a pair of business casual pants over his tights; if the idea was to leave the Nightwing identity behind, this is a pretty poor choice for the outfit Dick would rock in Grayson...even if it does look more like what a superhero-turned-super-spy might wear.

This series was a real surprise, as the set-up doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or stand up to a few minutes worth of scrutiny, but what Seeley and co-writer Tom King managed to do with that extremely forced and unnatural-feeling premise turned out to be incredibly solid.  Once you got over the conceptual hump and managed to suspend your disbelief long enough to make it through the first issue or so, Grayson was one of the better-written and often better-looking (although Janin's particularly style isn't one I'm personally drawn to) DC books of the last few years.

Grayson Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral contains another surprise: Dick Grayson almost had a totally awesome costume with a hypnotic suggestion shirt.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Marvel's July previews reviewed

Michael Cho is the actual best.
Well, there doesn't seem to be much of interest in this month's Marvel solicitations, at least, not unless you find Civil War II particularly interesting, because that seems to be eating, like, the entire line. The thing that really caught my attention this time around was what appears to be a new format to collect comics featuring certain breakout characters like Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, X-23/The All-New Wolverine and Squirrel Girl in fairly gigantic collections that include several trades worth of comics, as well as short stories and one-shots and team-ups from here and there. Of course, I already have all those featuring the characters I like--Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl--but those are pretty cool volumes for those that want them, and should be pretty perfect for library shelves.

Alright, let's see what Marvel is offering us this July, shall we...?


Christopher Priest takes the Black Panther in a whole different direction! With T’Challa gone, who will inherit the mantle? Could it be…the guy with the trench coat and guns? Kevin “Kasper” Cole is out for revenge against the people who hurt his family, and his quest will bring him into conflict with corrupt cops and a brutal hunter. It’s the all-new Black Panther vs. the White Wolf as a crime novel in comic form begins — but nothing in a Priest tale is ever black and white. This gritty, street-level Panther saga will conclude with revelations about the fate of T’Challa — and set up Cole to join a whole new Crew! But can Cole, War Machine, Junta and Josiah X handle Big Trouble in Little Mogadishu? Collecting BLACK PANTHER (1998) #50-56 and #59-62, and THE CREW #1-7.
416 PGS./Rated T+ …$34.99

Wow, there's going to be four volumes of this? I'm already one volume behind, as I understand the second one has been released. I'm a little surprised to see The Crew included, as I didn't really think it was considered part of Prist's Black Panther run, but I'm glad to see it's in here. That means I can get the single issues out of my comics midden once I get this trade. I remember liking that series okay, and being disappointed when it was canceled, but also had little idea who several of the characters were, so perhaps reading them after the Black Panther comics it apparently followed will clear all that up for me.

This is the one everyone will be talking about! One of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe will fall! Who it is and how and why will divide fans for years to come. Will the heroes of the Marvel Universe survive the unthinkable happening? The fallout to this issue is enormous!
40 PGS./RATED T+ ...$4.99

Alright, death! Awesome! For a while there I wasn't sure if this was going to be impotant or not, but if one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe is going to fall, then it must be!

Based on that cover, it looks like Iron Man, as he appears to be ripped in half, but maybe that's just empty armor.

It's weird that they've done so many of these temporary deaths as part of Marvel event series at this point that, when I was trying to puzzle out who it might be, I found myself trying to figure out who hasn't died and come back to life lately.

I think Bruce Banner, presumably the Hulk on the cover above, is the most likely suspect, given that they did refer to him as one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe (which would seem to excuse the likes of, I don't know, Nova, Captain Marvel, the new Thor, Captain Falcmerica, etc.) He's also not starring/buttressing his own title at the moment (Amadeus Cho is currently the main Hulk in the pages of The Totally Awesome Hulk), and the Banner version of Hulk hasn't really had much to do in the Marvel Universe in...years, really.

In other words, he's the biggest character that is also the most expendable at the moment, but I don't know; the premise of the series is so goofy I'm having a hard time even getting my head around it, let alone trying to understand how it might play out.

I think The Wasp is a potential possibility too, if only because word on the street is that there's going to be a new Wasp soon and she too has been MIA for a long time, only sort of appearing around the fringes of recent Avengers titles (In the pages of Uncanny Avengers, for a while).

We'll see.

• Vader vs. Morit on the shell of the Executor!
• Fine: Cylo's secret revealed!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Yes, I will need more than that. Because I have no idea who Morit is. Or what the Executor is. Or who Cylo is, actually.

Huh. I've read the first two trades of this series; are all those these things I should know from having done so? maybe I'm just having trouble retaining information from the new Star Wars Expanded Universe...

• Howard is back in NEW YORK CITY! And on his strangest case yet: A missing person! His client? The missing person! WHAAA—?
• Join us as Howard encounters aliens, Brooklyn and network television with a SPECIAL GUEST STAR so SHOCKING that I am STILL SHOCKED that we're ALLOWED TO DO THIS.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Hmmm...Is it The Shocker...?

I like this cover. That is all.

The most controversial and best-reviewed comic book on the stands today is back! From the Eisner Award-winning team of Bendis and Maleev (DAREDEVIL, SPIDER-WOMAN, MOON KNIGHT) comes the next chapter in Scarlet's one-woman American Revolution. Scarlet has declared war on a city strangled from within by corruption! Her call to arms has been heard all over the world -- but now Scarlet makes her boldest move yet, taking City Hall hostage while the entire country watches. How will the public react to her list of demands? Can a modern revolution gain traction? And what will the government do to shut her down? The answers will surprise you, as Scarlet finds herself forced to make a dangerous and desperate move: letting them capture her! The creator-owned hit is back -- and bolder than ever! Collecting SCARLET #6-10.
176 PGS./Mature ...$24.99

Not to be a jerk or anything, but I don't believe for a second that this is "the most controversial" and/or "best reviewed comic book on the stands today." In fact, I don't remember hearing anyone say anything about it anywhere since it first launched, and those comments were more like, "Wait, what is this? Why does this thing even exist?"

Think you know everything about Peter Parker? Think again! Expect action, adventure and hilarity in equal measure as we head back to high school to explore Pete’s early days! Modern talent combines with the classic Marvel flavor to present the web-slinger’s wonder years in truly amazing, spectacular, sensational style. It’s a return to the hassles of overdue homework, not knowing how to talk to girls and a never-ending merry-go-round of madness courtesy of the best rogues’ gallery in comics! We’re talking Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Vulture and…Doctor Doom! But could our young hero ever be ready for an arch-nemesis like the Green Goblin? With these and more faces from Peter’s past — both familiar and surprising — you’ll remember what made Spider-Man the world’s greatest hero in the first place! Collecting SPIDEY #1-6.
136 PGS./Rated T …$17.99

I think Nick Bradshaw is just the best, I like the idea of this book, but I haven't read a single issue of it, choosing to instead wait for the trade. Which I guess will be out in July. So, have any of you read any issues of it yet? What's the verdict? Is this one to definitely have on one's book shelves, or more of a borrow-from-the-library kind of thing...?

The Dark Lord of the Sith's unstoppable march continues! The natives of Shu-Torun are revolting, and there's no way the Empire will stand for that. When Darth Vader is tasked with leading a military assault against the planet, could it be that his rise to glory has begun? But who will follow Vader into war? Would you? Then again, it's better to fight alongside Vader than against him. That's a lesson that the ore barons are about to learn. Collecting DARTH VADER #16-19 and ANNUAL #1.
120 PGS./Rated T ...$16.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

The thing I like least about this book is Larroca's art. I mean, it's okay, and it is honestly better on this book than on other books he's worked on before, but it's just not a style I really appreciate it. I do like Yu though, so I'm pretty curious about this volume, not only to see someone other than Larroca drawing it, but to see someone so different from Larroca drawing it.

Three of the most beloved characters in the entire Star Wars saga in their own solo adventures! After Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, Leia Organa is a princess without a world! But she still feels a duty to her people. Can she save the remaining Alderaanians from the might of the Galactic Empire? Before master of charm Lando Calrissian joined the Rebellion, or even ran Cloud City, he and faithful ally Lobot got by with the odd swindle and plenty of swagger. But this time, has Lando bitten off more than he can chew? Speaking of things getting Chewy, everybody’s favorite Wookiee warrior also faces some alone time after the battle of Yavin. Stranded on an Imperial-occupied planet, far away from Han Solo, will he make a new best friend? Collecting PRINCESS LEIA #1-5, LANDO #1-5 and CHEWBACCA #1-5.
344 PGS./Rated T …$50.00
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Huh, that's interesting. All three of these series have previously been collected in trade format, so it's odd to see them re-collected into a massive hardcover. But not that odd, obviously, as it's Star Wars, and that is a particular iron that is still particularly hot,

Of these three series, Chewbacca is the only one I've read, but I really rather liked that one.

• Mole Man has fallen in love with Squirrel Girl, and he's holding the world hostage until she goes on a date with him!
• MOLE MEN, am I right??
• Watch as Squirrel Girl gains the help of an unlikely ally! Thrill as two people kiss! BUT WHICH TWO??
• You'll have to buy the issue to find out, so all I'll say right now is this:
• "Ship" is short for "relationship," in case you thought I was talking about, like, Galactus' "Star Sphere" or Mr. Fantastic's "Fantasticship" or whatever.
• Anyway, enjoy!!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

This solicit reminded me of the story of Thumbelina.

• Presidential candidate Loki Laufeyson is finding it hard to roll with the punches of the campaign trail. As if proving his eligibility isn't hard enough, the media has started the HORRIBLE rumor that his Super P.A.C. is actually a cult under Loki's control!
• Plus, the Marvel heroes finally figured out how to successfully fight Loki in his new role: attack ads. God bless (Captain) America, eh?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

You know, if Loki really wanted to cause maximum mischief, he really should have just sat this election season out. I think we Midgardians are providing all mischief all by ourselves this time around, and Loki couldn't possibly hope to increase it even an iota.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 20th

Legends of Tomorrow #2 (DC Comics) I started a post discussing the first issue of this series, and the book on a sort of conceptual level, but only got a few paragraphs in before I became distracted with other matters and, well, apparently an entire month has passed and the second issue is here. I...really need to do something about my time management skills in the very near future here.

In short, this is a very weird comic book. It's an 80-page, $7.99 comic offering four different 20-page features between a single set of covers. In other words, it's basically four different comic book series, one of which was relaunched as part of 2011's New 52 initiative, the other three of which couldn't reasonably be expected to last 12 issues in the current market were they launched as their own series, sold in bulk, with the appropriate discount (Think of it as four $2 comics, and dropping $7.99 doesn't sound bad at all).

The title is so random that they might as well have called it DC Comics Presents or Showcase or Justice League or Comics or Whatever. Yes, the title is the same as that of a TV show featuring DC characters, but of the four features in here, only one–Firestorm–features a character from that show. Which is maybe the weirdest thing about the book. If you look at the line-up of characters in Legends of Tomorrow (the TV show), which runs in this very issue, it's not hard to find three other characters that could star in the non-Firestorm features here: The Atom Ray Palmer, Hawkman and Rip Hunter. The others on the show are Flash villains Captain Cold and Heatwave, Hawkgirl (who I am pretty sure only exists on Earth-2 in the current DC cosmological status quo) and a version of Black Canary (and Black Canary currently has her own title). Sure, none of those characters are exactly all-stars, and monthlies featuring any of them aren't exactly guaranteed to sell well–especially if paired with the level of talent involved with Legends of Tomorrow (the comic book)*, but then, there's a Sugar and Spike feature in here.

First up is Firestorm by writer (and character co-creator) Gerry Conway and the art team of Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter. It's mostly what you would expect from a Firestorm comic, including conflicts about separating, getting stuck and blowing up. I felt pretty uncomfortable during a passage where Conway writes teenager dialogue, including the word "cray-cray" and a reference to Ronnie and Jason asking their mutal female friend to Netflix and chill. I was slightly surprised to see old Captain Atom characters Waid Eiling and Major Force, the latter of whom has such a drastic redesign I thought for a moment he was a Black Lantern version of Major Force.

Next up is Metamorpho, written and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, with inks by Matt Banning. I actually kind of feel bad for Lopresti, because he's essentially re-introducing the character into current continuity, which means a do-over of Metamorpho's origin. Which, inevitably, means begging comparisons to writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon and, and it's not easy to measure up to either of them, let alone both simultaneously.

His take feels more modern, which is to say more boring (Find and snap up a Showcase Presents: Metamorpho if you can find it; those comics are decades old but still look and read fun and fresh). His Metamorpho character design looks slightly more realistic, which, again, is another way of saying more boring. Java and Simon Stagg are much more dangerous and evil, rather than having the sort of frenemy vibe they had with Rex originally (and I don't care for the way Lopresti draws Stagg, with a fatter face and double chin), and Sapphire is now a brilliant scientist who coaches Rex on the Periodic Table, rather than simply his girlfriend and Simon's daughter (she's sill the latter, not yet the former). It's easy to understand why Lopresti (or anyone) might want to revise Sapphire to give her more to do and to be a more active presence in the feature rather than simply the thing that binds the male characters together, but, well, this is both drastic and obvious. The quartet had more of a dysfunctional family vibe at the point of their creation, here that's not the case.

Oddly, Justice League villain Kanjar Ro is present too, which seems like something of a violation at this point in an origin story (I should note that this seems in keeping with DC's usage of characters from across the character catalog in their TV shows; I'm generally perplexed by who shows up in Supergirl, the show I watch, and all the characters from all over the DCU that have shown up in The Flash and Arrow).

That's followed by the weirdest, and probably best, of the four features, writer Keith Giffen and artist Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike. Why are the old DC characters whose entire schtick was that they were babies now a grown-up pair of private eyes specializing in working cases for the superhero set? I have no idea, and, 40 pages in, Giffen sure hasn't offered any suggestions.

Whatever the name of the feature and the names of the characters though–and, thus far at least, they could be any two characters, really–it works. Last issue the two retrieved some of Batman's weird Silver Age costumes from Killer Moth, who was eating them (No, this Batman never had a Silver Age, and yes, this Killer Moth doesn't dress like a moth at all). This time, they go to the island Superman built that is shaped like himself (another Silver Age holdover) in order to find a secret cache of Kryptonite that Superman hid there. Along the way, they meet a bunch of killer toys that are also after the Kryptonite–but they are not the Toyman's toys, which was a surprise (they seem to belong to a different character).

Evely's art makes this–it's by far the best-looking feature in this anthology–and while Giffen's bickering between the protagonists is so harsh and aggressive that it reads a lot like most of his other recent DC work, he's so far demonstrated a knack for finding bits of "forgotten" DC history for his characters to try and rebury on behalf of their employers (Actually, I'm not entirely sure how and if they get paid; like, I know Batman could afford to pay a couple of PI's, but I'm not sure about Superman, just as I'm not sure what he's doing for money now. Last I knew he was a blogger turned professional wrestler).

Finally, there's another installment of Len Wein and Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott's Metal Men, working from the version that was introduced by Geoff Johns in his Justice League and "Forever Evil" books and then appeared in the pages of Cyborg. I didn't love those specific designs, and Cinar's art doesn't make particularly awesome use of the characters and their abilities visually, but the Metal Men are rather hard characters to get "wrong" (Like Metamorpho, their original adventures hold up pretty well; look for their Showcase too!). Wein has introduced an Internet villain named Anonymous Nameless, who is after the Metal Men, and here there are appearances by two more robot characters–Well, one is technically a cyborg, with a human brain in a robot body, and the other is an android. I think. This is the first time the latter has appeared on Earth-0 in the post-Flashpoint status quo, at least to my knowledge, and his new design may be that rarest of things: A New 52 design that is an improvement over the previous one. Maybe. I'd need to see more of it, I guess.

Were these features all being sold separately, I probably would have dropped them all save the theoretictal Sugar & Spike book by now (actually, I never would have even picked up theoretical issues of Firestorm, Metamorpho and Metal Men in the first place), so perhaps there is some wisdom to this format, as weird as elements of it may be.

Lumberjanes #25 (Boom Studios) Wow, hard to believe that Lumberjanes has lasted this long...and that I've kept buying it!

On a macro level, the book's ability to survive through some pretty dramatic creative team changes is particularly impressive, and probably speaks to the strength of the characters, the concept and the specifics of the milieu that went into the book's original creation. I have noticed that the book has become pretty stagnant, however, with all of the weirdness surround the 'Janes and their camp becoming an accepted norm by all parties–characters, creators, readers–rather than clues to part of a big, mega-storyline (It's as if, to use a TV example, this were a version of The X-Files that was all standalone, weird cases, with no "mythology" episodes).

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and it may help the book survive another 25, 50 or 100 issues, but it's certainly a zag where I was expecting a zig.

This oversized ($4.99?! Fuck) issue features a cover by original artist Brooke Allen, a 22-page story which certainly reads like a perfectly acceptable standalone story (but is actually to be continued) by the regular creative team, and then a 10-page back-up by writer Chynna Clugston Flores and artists Laura Lewis and Mad Rupert.

That back-up is of special note because Clugston is writing the upcoming Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover series (a six-page preview of which is included herein), and might give readers some clues as to what they might expect from that crossover. I...was not overly impressed, which disappointed me greatly, as I was such a fan of Blue Monday and Scooter Girl. It's not bad, mind you, but Clugston does a lot of narration in the form of April's journal and, well, it's a mode that differs greatly from all previous Lumberjanes stories (and not in a good way), and is also something a lot of comics artists-turned-writers do: Rely too heavily on words.

The artwork on this storyline is great, however; very simple, with lots of small panels on every page (it "reads" as long as the opening story, despite being half its length) and artwork that departs with the more familiar style sharply without contradicting it.

(Oh, by the way, we didn't get a badge for reading this month's issue, which is bullshit.)

Teen Titans Go! #15 (DC) I actually just bought this to give to my nephew, who loves the show, but you're damn right I read it first. The format hasn't changed any since the last time I read an issue of it, nor has the general quality. The first one has a pretty good gag in the Scaredy Pants, special pants designed by Raven and Cyborg that make whoever wears them terrified of any and everything around them. The second one guest-stars the Teen Titans East, and pits them against "our" Titans in a friendly game of baseball, which Cyborg (rightly) thinks is the worst sport in the least until a baseball smashes into the computer part of his skull. The first is by writers HEather Nuhfer and Paul Morrissey and artist Marcelo Di Chiara, the second is by writer Merrill Hagan and artist Jeremy Lawson. Dan Hipp, sadly, provides only the cover, which is excellent as always.

But let's talk about this instead:
Crazy Quilt, filtered through Tim Gunn, to become a teacher at whatever school the girls of DC SuperHero Girls go to?! Whaaaaaaaaat?

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #12 (IDW) It's hard to believe that Tom Scioli and John Barber's excellent series, maybe the single best ongoing comic on the market today**, is actually ending. This is the penultimate issue.

The great thing–well, one of the great things–about the title is that Scioli generally manages to put at least one awesome thing on every single page, and while that's true in this issue too, here he pulls off something even cooler, as the awesome things continually escalate throughout the entire issue, so that every turn of the page not only brings you something awesome, but something more awesome than on the previous page.

So here's the returned Cobra Commander in his awesome costume, surrounded by loyalists, with the forces of Cobra La and the substitute Cobra Commander just Easter Eggs in a typically baroque panel, here are almost all the masked characters unmasking, here's a drawing of...every single member of the Jotobot alliance?...marching on Megatron, here's... Crystal Ball? The last G.I. Joe figure I personally bought as a child!

And man, Snake Eyes and Scarlet's reunion, or the pages where Wheeljack, Blaster and Metroplex take on Trypticon...? I don't even have words. And there's also a fucking Say Anything allusion...

Seriously, this issue boggled my mind and tied my tongue; I can barely process, let alone talk about, all the great stuff in it.

A note on the unmaskings: In their regular story commentary, the creators discuss the problems of unmaskings that are actually pay-offs, with Scioli saying he doesn't subscribe to the belief that the mask is always more interesting than whatever you can actually show to have been beneath it all along. I disagree.

His Cobra Commander unmasking struck me as just as lame as the unmasking of the character in G.I. Joe: The Movie, which even as a little kid I realized couldn't possibly match the suggestion of the unimaginable a never-removed mask offers. That said, I applaud Scioli for going for it here, and understand that unmaskings play a role in the original Marvel G.I. Joe comic book, which has been a major source of inspiration for this series, at least as prominent–if not more so–than the toy lines or cartoons.

His Snake Eyes unmasking, on the other hand, was a lot more successful, especially since it was accompanied by dialogue. It, unlike the Cobra Commander one, offered a true surprise.

I am both looking forward to and dreading the next issue. Looking forward to it because I always look forward to the next issue of Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, and because I can't imagine how they're actually going to wrap up this gigantic conflict (Earth has already been destroyed, and Megatron is currently destroying the sun), and dreading it because not only will it be the last original issue of the series (which, sadly, means no more shocking surprises, but of course I can always re-read the issues they've published), but I don't think I'll ever be able to see a G.I. Joe or Transformers comic the same way again. After reading this, it's going to be hard to go back to the non-Scioli iterations, you know...?

*That is, highly competent, but not exactly name, superstar types who move books by their involvement alone. The creators involved in this comic are mostly those from DC's reliable stable of creators, who, were they not doing this, would be doing something else similar for the publisher.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DC's July previews reviewed

Clay Mann's cover for Action Comics, depicting Doomsday, Superman and a Clark Kent

DC has released the solicitations for the comics they plan to publish in July of this year, and just what the heck is happening to their universe's increasingly fluid and flexible history and status quo during their "Rebirth" initiative still isn't clear. You'll find some clues scattered throughout, of course, but it seems like, for the most part, if there is any sort of rebooting, retconning or rejiggering, it should be fairly mild. There's a lot of carry over from The New 52, a term they're apparently trying not to use any more (although it's much less cumbersome than post-Flashpoint, if you ask me), and some titles look barely affected.

That's not the case for DC's flagship character, however. After Convergence we learned that the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane ended up in the post-Flashpoint, New 52's Earth-0, after having spent a year together in Brainiac and Telos' domed city (and having a kid together, who will apparently be going by the name Superboy now).

It doesn't look like they will be smooshing the two Supermen together into a single Superman, and while I'm not exactly sure how there can even be two of them if Earth-0 was made out of the raw material of the pre-Flashpoint DCU (with two other alternate universes blended into it), then New 52 Superman should just be an altered version of pre-Flashpoint Superman, right...?

Anyway, I assumed that "Rebirth" would somehow blend the two characters together. Having read the first two chapters of Peter Tomasi's "The Final Days of Superman," in which New 52 Superman discovers he's dying (yeah, just like in All-Star Superman), it seems possible that New 52 Superman will die, and old Superman will replace him.

This is...problematic, for a couple of reasons. First, it would make Superman at least 11 years older than his peers like Batman and Wonder Woman. And then it would mean he would have all the memories of the old DCU, while the current DC characters would never really consider him their Superman. And then there's the fact that he didn't come to this continuity alone, but brought Lois Lane with him, meaning there are also two Lois Lanes in the DCU at the moment.

I'm still hoping for some kind of rejiggering of the two that reconciles them, but I don't know; the clues currently all point to the current version of Superman dying and being replaced by the previous one. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

And, after waiting for three months, here are some of the things we'll be seeing...

"WHO IS ORACLE" Chapter One: Batgirl and Black Canary are together again, working a case that strikes right at the heart of their partnership! Someone's uncovered the greatest secret Barbara Gordon ever kept: her time as Oracle, the most powerful hacker on the planet. And not only do they know her secret, they're using her name to sell dangerous information to criminals! Now one of those deals has brought some major heat to Gotham City...Helena Bertinelli is out of Spyral, wearing the hood of the Huntress, and making mafia blood run in the streets! Everything you thought was hidden will be revealed if the Oracle has their way...
On sale JULY 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Well, this solicitation copy answers one of my questions about this new series, namely who on Earth The Huntress was. Her New 52 continuity is ridiculously convoluted (She was introduced as Helena Bertinelli, but later revealed to be Helena Wayne, the Robin of Earth-2 who adopted the late Bertinelli's name and the guise of The Huntress to hide her true identity, and then they introduced another Helena Bertinelli in the pages of Grayson...did I get that right?). It looks like they're simply turning Grayson's Bertinellin into The Huntress II and, I would imagine, ignoring the existence of Huntress I as hard as they can.

I suppose that could work, although I'm still in mourning for the Birds of Prey line-up that never was–

Now what's all this about Barbara Gordon having been Oracle? Because she totally wasn't Oracle in DC's post-Flashpoint, New 52 continuity. Is this another suggestion that there's an element of continuity rejiggering, or at least some strategic retconning, going on as part of "Rebirth"...? Or when the solicitation copy writer refers to Babs' "time as Oracle" as "the greatest secret Barbara Gordon ever kept," does that mean she was Oracle, but no one ever knew, not even the readers...?

Hmm... It's hard to imagine how that would work, given that Flashpoint knocked just about every Oracle story I can think of out of continuity so completely it's hard to even imagine Babs having Oracle-ed in the current continuitiverse, but I guess we'll see...

England swings and so does the Dynamic Duo in this historic pairing of two of the hippest shows from 1960s television. DC Comics and BOOM! Studios join forces to bring these iconic characters together for the first time!
As Bruce Wayne shows the beautiful head of a UK electronics company the sights of Gotham, they are interrupted by the felonious feline Catwoman! Unwilling to leave Miss Michaela Gough unprotected, Bruce resigns himself to the fact that Batman cannot save the day. But some new players have arrived in town -- though even as the lovely, catsuit-clad Mrs. Peel and her comrade John Steed take control of the situation, nefarious plots continue apace!
On sale JULY 6 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST

Steed and Peel...? Oh, from the old Avengers TV show! Huh. I wonder why they didn't just call his comic Batman Meets The Avengers...? I have to imagine that would move a lot more comics. I can't see any reason why–OH. Yeah. Nevermind.

Art and cover by STEVE PUGH
Fred and Wilma variant cover by IVAN REIS
Barney and Betty variant by WALTER SIMONSON
Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm variant cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
Cave Pets variant cover by DAN HIPP
Coloring book cover by STEVE PUGH
Welcome to Bedrock, where Paleolithic humans head to dinner for a taste of artisanal mammoth after shopping at Neandertall & Big Men's Clothing, where Wilma shows her modern art, and where, if you take a plane, you could literally end up sitting ON the tail section. Join Fred and Barney as Mister Slate sends them on a mission to show some Neanderthals a night on the town in hopes of luring them into this new system called "working for a living." In Slate's Quarry, of course. Is Fred's ship about to come in? Find out when the gang finishes out the evening at the employee hot tub party, where they learn how the one percent lives here in Bedrock, home to the world's first civilization and the modern stone-age family -- The Flintstones. Don't miss this extra-sized debut issue!
On sale JULY 6 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Of the various Hanna-Barbera "reboot" comics that DC will be rolling out, this one looks like it might the be the weirdest, if only because The Flintstones are so synonymous with one particular design, the live action movies being the only real deviations.

This is somewhat ironic, because simply reading the solicitation copy above makes this sound like it will be the most straightforward of the series, as least in that there is no grand high-concept, as with Scooby Apocalypse or Wacky Raceland (Even Future Quest has the "crisis" motif of a grand cross-over between many of the heroic franchises), and even tonally it sounds like the main source of humor will be dumb (read: awesome) prehistoric and geological puns.

I honestly can't imagine Steve Pugh drawing a Flintstones comic, and that's even with an example of his Flintstones art staring me right in the face. I don't normally list all the variants, but I wanted to in this case because, as weird as Steve Pugh's Flintstones might sound, can you imagine Ivan Reis'...? Or Walter Simonson's...?

Art and cover by ETHAN VAN SCIVER
Superstar artist Ethan Van Sciver returns to the world of Green Lantern! In the absence of the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro and his fear-inducing Yellow Lantern Corps patrol the universe as its sole protectors -- but deep in space, a green light still burns. Harnessing the remainder of his will, Hal Jordan must become a one-man GL Corps to defeat his greatest foe and restore freedom to the cosmos.
On sale JULY 13 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Isn't Ethan Van Sciver currently in the world of Green Lantern? I thought he was drawing the current GL Corps mini-series? At least, he drew the last issue of it that I personally read.

Both the solicit for this copy and that for the first issue of Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps accentuates the fact that Hal is the last GL in the universe, but I'm pretty sure everything's going to work out okay for the Corps. I mean, not only do we know that Green Lantern Simon Baz and the current Power Ring will both be Green Lanterns post-"Rebirth," but the title of this book is Hal Jordan AND The Green Lantern Corps, rather than Hal Jordan, OMGLC....

Art and Cover by MORITAT
John Constantine's lost weekend in New York City was fun, but London's where his heart is -- only a pissed-off demon and a curse on his soul stand in his way. Even Constantine's questionable ethics are pushed to the limit when he puts eight million souls on the line to get what he wants...
On sale JULY 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

If ever there was a character that needed some downtime...

Written by BRYAN HITCH
Variant cover by JOE MADUREIRA
Spinning out of the events of DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1, a new day dawns for Earth's greatest heroes as they welcome three new members to the team, including...Superman? Who is this strange visitor from a dead world -- and can he be trusted? Batman and Wonder Woman aren't so sure.
On sale JULY 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Here's another indication that the Superman sticking around post-"Rebirth" is going to be the one from Superman: Lois & Clark, rather than the one from the current DC Universe/Earth-0.

I'm a little surprised to see Hitch taking over DC's flagship as its writer, as he's had relatively little writing experience and his current book, JLA, which he has been both writing and drawing, hasn't been very good.

The writing's fine, really. I man, there's nothing drastically wrong with it, and DC certainly publishes more poorly-scripted comics, but it's not actually any good either. It's really the exact definition of mediocre, and having been devoted so long to telling a single, not-terribly-compelling story, it's also been pretty dull...and disconnected from the goings-on of the DC Universe in general (I was kind of surprised in the issues that I read that Hitch didn't seem to be familiar even with the only four-year-old Justice League continuity, for example).

As you can see below, Hitch may be writing and drawing the Rebirth special, but he'll only be writing the upcoming ongoing, because a monthly is far beyond his abilities to meet the deadlines of, let alone a more-than-monthly book.

Do note who is providing the variant cover–another artist notorious for his inability to hit deadlines.

Written by BRYAN HITCH
The oceans rise. The earth quakes. And an ancient power rises to reclaim not just the world, but the universe itself -- and not even the combined might of the Justice League can stop it. An all-new era begins with this epic by comic book legend Bryan Hitch (JLA, The Ultimates) and master storyteller Tony S. Daniel (BATMAN: R.I.P., DEATHSTROKE).
On sale JULY 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

That's right, "master storyteller Tony S. Daniel." I assume the solicitation copy-writer is just being extremely generous/disingenuous by referring to Daniel as such, but here's a scary thought: What if the solicitation copy-writer actually believes Tony S. Daniel is a master storyteller.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Could there possibly be someone in the employ of DC Comics, even just a solicitation copy-writer, who has read so few comics that they think Daniel qualifies as a mast of the medium? I mean, even if you only read DC Comics, and you just started, like, three years ago, you can still find dozens and dozens of examples of artists who are better at visual storytelling than Daniel.

Art and cover by VICTOR BOGDANOVIC
"MADE IN CHINA" Chapter One: An impulsive act of heroism thrusts an arrogant young man into the limelight of Shanghai as China begins to form its own Justice League of powerful heroes. Rising from the ashes of The Final Days of Superman, award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and on-the-rise art star Victor Bogdanovic introduce readers to Kong Kenan -- the New Super-Man! When the world needed a new hero, China made him!
On sale JULY 13 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I was honestly sort of disappointed--and even a little confused--by DC's usage of a creator of Yang's caliber on their main Superman book, as despite how much input he might have had in the overall story, since he took the reigns of the title it's been stuck in franchise-wide crossover mode.

Here, finally, Yang gets to do his own thing, and DC gets to publish (hopefully!) easy-to-follow, discrete, Yang-written comics.

I really rather like the new Superman's costume, too, at least the color scheme. It is probably a coincidence, but amusing nonetheless, that the costume so closely resembles that of Mark Millar and Leinil Frances Yu's Superman/Captain Marvel analogue Superior from the pages of their Superior.

When a shocking encounter with Batman solidifies the Red Hood's status as a villain, Jason Todd goes deep undercover to take down Gotham City's criminal underworld from the inside. Along the way, Jason meets two unlikely allies: a disgraced Amazon warrior named Artemis and a half-baked Superman clone called Bizarro -- and the DCU's "Dark Trinity" is born!
On sale JULY 27 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

Like John Constantine (and Teen Titans, and Deathstroke, and Suicide Squad), this is a book that keeps getting tinkered with to no avail, and which could probably benefit from some time off (Unlike those other books, they haven't tried changing writers yet, though).

The idea of a "Dark Trinity" is interesting, but I don't think these three characters go together in such a capacity. If Red Hood is the "Dark Batman"–and really, he's more of a "Dark" Robin or, more precisely still, a "Dark" Nightwing–then his Wonder Woman equivalent should be New 52 Donna Troy, maybe, and...actually, there isn't a dark lieutenant Superman equivalent, at least not in this continuity, is there? I don't know what became of New 52 Supergirl or New 52 Superboy, the latter of whom I'm not sure I ever actually read a comic featuring, so I'm not sure where they are or how "dark" they were.

You can pick any of the three characters and see how they don't really fit together though. Bizarro, for example, is a reverse Superman, not an evil opposite or dark version of Superman...particularly if they're using the one from last year's Bizarro miniseries rather than the Frankenstein's monster-like version from Forever Evil. Batman and Wonder Woman don't have equivalents, unless you count Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness' Batzarro from the pages of Superman/Batman and Bizarra from the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner/Eric Powell Action Comics story arc "Escape From Bizarro World." The closest character in Batman's section of the DC stable might be Man-Bat, which is who Scott Kolins paired with Bizarro to form a monster version of the World's Finest in his two-part Blackest Night tie-in arc from Superman/Batman.

As for Artemis, I think this would be her New 52 debut, but I stopped paying attention to the Finchs Wonder Woman after a few issues, so it's possible she's appeared there. Originally a darker, take-no-prisoners version of Wonder Woman who temporarily usurped the Amazing Amazon's book in the '90s, her equivalents would be Azrael-turned-Batman-turned-Azrael Again Jean-Paul Valley (recently introduced in Batman & Robin Eternal and The Eradicator.

Of course, that's just me dissecting the concept of this particular trio as a "Dark Trinity." Lobdell's pairing of the three isn't wrong or anything, it just doesn't feel too terribly natural. Of course, neither does having a resurrected Jason Todd adopt the name Red Hood and starring in a continuous series of canceled and relaunched ongoing monthlies all written by Scott Lobdell.

This line-up at least sounds more interesting than that of the original Red Hood, Arsenal, Starfire line-up–but then, every cast is greatly improved by the presence of Bizarro in it.

Robin recovers from the tragic death of his predecessor and faces untold threats -- all without the Dark Knight by his side. Collects ROBIN #1-6 and ROBIN ANNUAL #1-2.
On sale AUGUST 3 • 304 pg, FC, $24.99 US

I recently read the second volume of this series–despite having previously read all of those issues when they were originally published–and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm looking forward to future volumes, as I dropped the monthly Robin series around #4 or #5, only picking it up occasionally after that.

The first six issues of Robin feature 15-year-old Tim Drake getting a special early driver's license (since his dad needs driven around, being partially paralyzed and all) and a Robinmobile called "The Red Bird," a concept I hated at the time (One thing I really liked about some of the comics in Robin Vol. 2 was how Tim had to bum rides off Alfred to even get into the city without Batman; Alfred was like a parent dropping their kid off at some afterschool activity and then picking him up later). I also hated Tim's relationship with Ariana, come to think of it; maybe the combination of those factors is what caused me to drop the book, despite having read and enjoyed the three Robin mini-series that preceded the ongoing...?

Anyway, in addition to the new ride, these stories feature a lot of returning characters from Dixon's previous Robin stories in the minis and in Detective: Cluemaster, The Electrocutioner, Spoiler and The Huntress. I was really surprised to see that the first two Robin annuals, the first of which preceded the existence of the monthly, are included in here. Here are the covers, for an indication of why I was surprised:

As you can see, they are tie-ins to the Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Bloodlines summer annual tie-in events. It's been a while since I've re-read either, obviously, but, if I recall correctly, the first should hold-up okay, as it's relatively stand alone (It's penciled by Tom Lyle, the artist of most of Robin's appearances up until that point, but written by Anarky creator Alan Grant, rather than Dixon, who Lyle usually worked with. And, as you can see, it had an awesome Sam Kieth cover).

The latter is by Dixon and Kieron Dwyer, and introduced Razorsharp*, a kinda cool characther with a decent power, although the fact that she was a computer hacker, and part of a computer hacking gang that wore matching uniforms and called themselves the–and I am not making this up–The Psyba-Rats kind of dates the story in an incredibly peculiar way. Like, I'm fairly certain that the comic didn't present an accurate portrayal of computer hacking culture in the '90s when it was published, I can only imagine how bizarre it will read today. (Hey, is it weird that Razorsharp and Oracle never crossed paths? That seems weird to me.)

If I recall that story, it does not stand alone all that well, as relatively few of the Bloodlines annuals did. In each story, one of the half-dozen Parasite aliens comes to the city the comic is set on, kills and sucks the spinal fluid out of a bunch of people, one of them gets super-powers, and then the new hero and the book's protagonist team-up and drive the Parasite away. That happened like 56 times in 1993, until the miniseries that concluded the storyline.

This one's written by Dixon and penciled by Kieron Dwyer, and the cover is by Jim Balent. You might not recognize his work, given that Razorsharp's breasts are relatively small for a Balent character, and rather covered up.

Written by DAN JURGENS
The Man of Steel has died! Falling at the hands of the monster Doomsday, the Justice League's most powerful member is now gone, and along with killing him, the creature grievously injures Leaguers Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and more! How will the Justice League re-collect in this moment of crisis? Who will be the newest members? And how will they deal in a world without Superman? Learn all the answers in these tales from JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #69-77!
On sale AUGUST 31 • 240 pg, FC, $19.99 US

I was just speculating about this when writing about the first volume the other day. This will collect the second half of Dan Jurgens' Justice League America run, and while Superman and Justice League America sounds better than Dan Jurgens' Justice League America, it doesn't seem as accurate for the second volume as it might have for the first. After all, Superman is dead by the second of the eight issues collected in this volume.

Art and cover by JILL THOMPSON
WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON is Jill Thompson's original graphic novel reimagining of the early years of the Amazon Princess Diana, who would grow up to become Wonder Woman. This fully painted graphic novel is unlike any Wonder Woman tale you have ever read, told as only Eisner Award- winning writer/artist Thompson could. When young Diana has the fawning attention of a nation, she grows spoiled. But a series of tragic events take their toll, and Diana must learn to grow up, take responsibility, and seize her destiny.

Steeped in the mythology of this iconic character's original conception, WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON is designed to appeal to a wide range of readers. It's a fresh, stand-alone interpretation of the most famous and iconic female superhero of all time and the fulfillment of a dream project by one of contemporary comics' most acclaimed creators.
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 128 pg, FC, $22.99 US

As I mentioned the other day, I've been reading DC's recently released Wonder Woman: War of The Gods**, which collects the portions of the massive storyline that ran through the Wonder Woman monthly and the War of The Gods miniseries. The Wonder Woman issues were drawn by Jill Thompson, and I always thought it was too bad that Thompson drew Wonder Woman so relatively early in her career, rather than a few decades later, during the post-Scary Godmother, post-Magic Trixie height of her powers.

And what do you know? She is drawing–and writing, and painting–an original Wonder Woman graphic novel! This was a really huge surprise for me, as when I ran across it in the solicits was literally the first I heard of it, and "Jill Thompson is working on an original graphic novel starring Wonder Woman" certainly sounds like the sort of thing people should have been talking about for a while now. I mean, I'm pretty sure DC and Grant Morrison mentioned his Wonder Woman: Earth One book sometime around 1987 or so.

I love Jill Thompson's work, and I love Wonder Woman, so I'm pretty excited about this, and can't imagine it won't be worthwhile, whatever direction Thompson chooses to go with it ("The mythology of this iconic character's original conception" sure sounds a lot like what Morrison and Yanick Paquette just did in Wonder Woman: Earth One, though; I wonder if that's merely bad phrasing though, and the solicit is actually trying to convey that the book will be steeped in the mythology that was a part of the character's original conception, which is a kanga of a different color. We'll see, I guess.)

The other language I couldn't help but underlining in red while reading? "Reimagining", "unlike any WOnder Woman tale", "a fresh, stand-alone interpretation"...those are all positives, of course, and it will be great to finally have a great Wonder Woman graphic novel you could put in any interested reader's hands (Earth One is pretty YA and up, rather than all-ages), but this sure sounds like it will be an "Imaginary Story"/Elseworlds-like book, than anything that might become part of Wonder Woman canon, and thus effect future Wonder Woman stories.

I've been reading a lot of great Wonder Woman comics lately–Renae De Liz's The Legend of Wonder Woman, Marguerite Bennett and company's DC Comics Bombshells, the aforementioned Earth One–but they all seem to be out-of-continuity Wonder Woman comics. Why can't DC do a great Wonder Woman comic that "counts"...? I'm really hoping that Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and company can manage it...

*Her real name? Rae Sharp. She literally just added a "zur" sound between her first and last names to come up with her codename. Or hell, maybe her middle name was "Zora;" I wouldn't put it past Dixon.

**I'm only a few issues in, but so far it is not very good...perhaps because so much space is devoted to setting up the tie-ins, the pay-offs of which happened in all the other books that aren't included in the collection. For example, the second issue in the collection is Wonder Woman #58, and it includes a little numeral "2" beneath the "War of The Gods" banner on top of the cover, indicating that it is the second part of the storyline, which spread across everything DC was publishing at the time. The next issue in the collection is War of The Gods #2, and it has a little number "11" on it. Nine entire chapters passed between issues in this collection. Granted, many of those weren't exactly necessary, as has always been the case with these things, but that is a lot of comics to just skip over, you know? I personally would have preferred something big, huge and maybe multi-volume that collected every single chapter–that would better replicate what I currently have in my longboxes, allowing me to rid myself of many of those old comics and get the entire storyline, but perhaps that's just me. Great art, though! Sometimes I wonder why DC ever let anyone other than George Perez draw one of their crisis comics...

Monday, April 18, 2016

The one passage in Luke Skywalker Can't Read that I did not care for at all

Becky Cloonan makes history in 2012's Batman #12, by being the first woman to draw an issue of Batman. The character was around 73 years at that point. 
I've been reading author Ryan Britt's Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geek Truths (Plume; 2015), a fun, funny collection of essays addressing modern geekdom's greatest touchstones–Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of The Rings, Doctor Who, etc–from various, sometimes rather quirky angles. Like how he learned the birds and the bees from Barbarella and dinosaurs, how discovering the modern Doctor Who helped him overcome depression and whether or not anyone in the Star Wars universe is functionally literate or not (The title answers that question, actually).

I've been greatly enjoying the book, and I assume it must be a pretty good, for the simple reason that many of his subjects are ones I know very little about (Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter) or have zero first-hand experience with (Star Trek, Doctor Who), and I've still found the pieces all engaging and interesting.

The penultimate essay involves superheroes, something I do know quite a bit about and have quite a bit of first-hand experience with, however. It's entitled "Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes: Rise of the Relevant Superheroes," and it is a discussion of the current boom in comic book superhero films and various complaints about them, from fans and critics.

It's a fine essay, but I was actively irritated by this passage:
The idea that the movie isn't as good as the source material because it contradicts the author's vision is another criticism of comic book movies. We might claim Batman was "created" by Bob Kane, but most people will tell you he was co-created by Bill Finger. So, are we seeing a vision of Batman that is true to Kane's or Finger's original conception of him when we go see the latest Batman movie? Absolutely not. From Alan Moore to Frank Miller to Jeph Loeb to Gail Simone to Marguerite Bennet to artists like Neal Adams, Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Lee Bermejo, Becky Cloonan, and countless more, the image and words of Batman aren't the purview of any one sacred person. And this is true for every single other superhero, too.
The point he makes there is correct (even if there are examples that can be found to make the last sentence incorrect; I would have suggested he changed it to "for almost every other superhero"), but it's the specificity of the character and the creators that bugged me.

Because if you've seen "the latest Batman movie"–which, at the time of his writing, was The Dark Knight Rises and not Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice–and are familiar with Batman comics, than you know that list of creators is complete bullshit.

But before we pick it apart, I should note that this is just a portion of a single paragraph in an essay, and not even the focus of the essay. So maybe I should also quote what follows, so as to at least contextualize the passage.

Britt goes on:
Comics have always had several different narrative voices behind the scenes, which means that by the time the stories get translated into big, watchable movies, all of those narrative voices are condensed down into a single composite story. Because there's probably a lot of good stuff left over, who wouldn't want to make another movie?
Now let's look at that list of Batman creators, shall we?

First, the writers. Frank Miller's Batman output is far from the greatest in terms of volume (The Dark Knight Returns, "Batman: Year One," Spawn/Batman, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder), but he remains probably the single most influential Batman writer (and that just for "Year One" and The Dark Knight Returns). Fair enough. Jeph Loeb has also written a lot of very popular Batman comics (Three Legends of The Dark Knight Halloween specials, Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, "Hush").

Alan Moore's a little tricky, as he really only wrote a single Batman comic of any note, although, because he's Alan Moore, it is a perennial-seller and a touchstone for a lot of readers: Batman: The Killing Joke (That it set the stage for the transformation from Batgirl Barbara Gordon into Oracle, and that it was one of the ultimate Joker stories, certainly helped keep it relevant for a long time, too).

The other two on the list, Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennet are both spectacularly poor choices, and I'm baffled as to why they were included at all. I know Simone has written the character Batman in the pages of her long run on Birds of Prey and in at least one Justice League comic, and it's certainly possible he popped up in the pages of her relatively short run on the current volume of Batgirl, but I honestly don't remember her ever writing a Batman story for any of the many Batman titles, or doing a miniseries or original graphic novel. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Bennett is a relative newcomer to comics, and while she has written Batman–co-writing 2013's Batman Annual #2 with Scott Snyder–he's not someone I would even think of including as an influential Batman writer. she's there instead of Denny O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Grant Morrison and Snyder, for example. And remember that Dark Knight Rises was a 2012 film; she didn't write any Batman until well after the release of the last Batman movie.

It's possible–all right, probable–that Britt includes the pair because they are both female writers (Something that seems like a pretty good possibility, seeing as he includes the only woman to ever draw Batman when listing artists, even though she drew just a handful of pages, which were likewise published after the last Batman film).

I think that's too bad. Firstly because it gives a mistaken impression to his readers that the Batman comics aren't as inexplicably dominated by male writers and artists as they actually are. And, secondly, there are better choices, or at least a better choice: Devin K. Grayson, who wrote parts of "No Man's Land" before eventually earning her own Batman title, the 2000-launched Batman: Gotham Knights , which she wrote for 32 issues. She also had substantial runs on Batman-adjacent titles Nightwing and Catwoman.

If the idea were to mention writers who influenced the The Dark Knight Rises, and/or the entire Christopher Nolan cycle of films, then that list looks even more questionable. If that were the point of the list, then you'd keep Miller, of course, as not only did his late-80s Batman comics influence just about everything to follow (and, along with Moore's writing, the entire direction of the superhero comics industry), but director Christopher Nolan and company drew plenty of inspiration from Miller's "Year One." Hell, maybe Loeb is an okay fit, too, as he did so much work within Miller's "Year One" milieu in his Long Halloween and Dark Victory comics.

But what about Chuck Dixon, who co-created Bane and wrote swathes of the "No Man's Land" arc that dominated the second half of Rises? Or Dixon's peers on the "No Man's Land" era of Bat-books, like Greg Rucka and the aforementioned Grayson? What about Denny O'Neil, who created Batman Begins heavy Ra's al Ghul and Rises player Talia? Or Len Wein, creator of Lucius Fox?

As for the artists he mentions, Neal Adams is largely credited with making Batman darker and more reaslitic, in addition to creating the first villain in the Nolan cycle–Ra's al Ghul. Alex Ross is kind of an outlier in that he's only really ever drawn a single Batman comic of any length, his 1999 collaboration with writer Paul Dini, Batman: War On Crime, but through his work on Kingdom Come and his paintings of Batman on covers, posters and merchandise, it's certainly easy to see how many could consdier him an influential Batman artist/

No questioning the inclusion of Sale, either, who drew all of the above-mentioned, Loeb-written comics save "Hush," and whose design for Two-Face in Long Halloween was taken almost directly for usage in 2008's The Dark Knight.

Jim Lee seems an odd choice, despite the continued popularity of "Hush" and the fact that the New 52 era of DC Comics was so beholden to his style.

Bermejo just boggles my mind, as his main Batman credits are Batman/Deathblow, the not-very-good 2008 original graphic novel The Joker and the almost-as-bad Batman-ized version of A Christmas Carol, 2012's Batman: Noel; the former featured a character that resembled The Dark Knight's Joker visually, but Bermejo was inspired by the film, not the other way around.

Cloonan has the dubious distinction of being the only woman to ever draw Batman, a fact that sounds shocking at first, and becomes depressing when one starts trying to find a single example to prove it wrong and comes up blank. Listing her there is like listing Dan DeCarlo or Steve Mannion; yeah, they technically drew a few pages of Batman comics, but so what?

Better inclusions would have been David Mazzucchelli (Miller's collaborator on "Year One"), Jerry Robinson (long-time Batman artist and creator of Dark Knight villain The Joker, as well as Alfred) and pretty much anyone who drew Batman for a reasonable length of time: Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino, Marshall Rogers, Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Greg Capullo and so on.

Aside from the names on those two lists, however, the rest of Britt's book is just fine.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume One

Giant kangaroo mounts referred to as "kangas." The Purple Healing Ray. The robot plane. The Holliday Girls, and their zaftig leader with the "Woo woo!" catch-phrase. The exclamation "Suffering Sappho!" Bondage as symbol of love. Female superiority over men, and the submission of the latter to the former as the ideal societal construct.

These are among the components–some minor details, others pervasive elements–of William Moulton Marston's Wonder Woman that have sent just about every single person to try their hand at telling a Wonder Woman story in any media since creator Marston's death running and screaming from Wonder Woman's actual origin, the original half-decade or so of her adventures and the author's intent. And these are among the elements that writer Grant Morrison, along with artist Yanick Paquette, embraces in his telling of the Wonder Woman story, in the particular, peculiar format of DC Comics' Earth One line of sequentially published, original graphic novels.

The most remarkable aspect of Morrison's version of Wonder Woman is that the writer, unlike everyone else who has come before, doesn't attempt to reinvent this particular wheel, and he doesn't attempt to fix what was never broken. In essence, Morrison simply reshapes Marston and collaborator H.G. Peter's comics into a style and form more familiar and palpable to modern readers, the result being a fairly perfect packaging of Marston and Peter's Wonder Woman into a sort of ultimate re-mix. It's rather similar to what Morrison already did with Batman during a relatively long 2006-2013 run across a series of Batman titles, and with Superman in his 2005-launched All-Star Superman, although here he actually does less work than he did with either of the other two personalities of DC's so-called "trinity" of characters. With the World's Finest, he cherry-picked from their entire histories; here he sticks to Marston and Peter, with only a few minor tweaks and modifications consistent with the update in time period.

The book is structured in an unusually literary and complete fashion, not only for a comic book series, but when compared to the rest of the Earth One line (so far consisting of three volumes featuring Superman, two featuring Batman and one featuring the Teen Titans). After a 13-page sequence detailing the origins of Hippolyta and the Amazons' break with Man's World–in which she lost her girdle to Hercules*, stole it back, killed the hero and prayed to Aphrodite that they may "retire forever from Man's World"–the remainder of the book is set 3,000 years later in present.

Wonder Woman, dressed in a version of her familiar costume, exits a beautifully-designed "invisible" robot plane on Paradise Island and is bound in chains by Amazons and dragged before her mother for trial. The remainder of the book is told through the trial, with chronological flashbacks telling the origin of Wonder Woman, as she and other players in the drama are called forth to bear witness (the lasso of truth compelling them all to be perfectly honest).

That is not a format we see in superhero comic books, and is almost impossible to imagine in a superhero TV show or movie; I think that's notable because so much of the rest of the Earth One line seems to be written with at least one eye on multi-media adaptation. Writer Geoff Johns' Batman graphic novels read like comics adaptations of a few scripts from a Batman TV show that doesn't actually exist, for example. Morrison, who, unlike Johns has had little experience in writing for TV and/or film, just writes this like a graphic novel. And it's relatively late release all but guarantees that it will have little to no impact on future Wonder Woman movies, which have already cast their stars, something I'll return to in a bit.

In broad strokes, the story will be very familiar. Diana is the somewhat rebellious and adventurous only daughter of Queen Hippolyta, apparently a gift from the goddesses because, like all of the women in the all-female utopia of Paradise Island, Hippolyta can't exactly have a child the old-fashioned way.

One day she discovers United States pilot Steve Trevor, who has somehow crash-landed on the island, and she heals and cares for him, keeping him safe from her sisters (As in Renae de Liz's Legend of Wonder Woman, she does so in secret, keeping him in hiding). She wins a tournament, allowing her to take Steve back to his own world. She suffers an immediate and drastic form of culture shock, but makes fast friends with "Elizabeth" Candy and her sorority sisters from Holliday college (I find it amusing that, of all the stuff from Wonder Woman's Golden Age one might be leery to include, Morrison apparently drew the line at a character named Etta Candy; giant kangaroos? That's cool. But a joke name like Etta Candy? No way).

There is the expected tension between the isolationist Hippolyta and the Amazons and the expansive U.S. military, and between the way a society is supposed to work, "Man's" way or Marston's way.

Marston's Wonder Woman, despite what people have been reading into her since at least 1972, when Gloria Steinem stuck her on the cover of Ms., is not a feminist character, nor was hers originally a feminist story. If we consider "feminism" the ideal default it should be, and keep in mind that it is the belief that women and men are equal and should be treated as such**, then remember Marson wasn't really arguing that in his comics. He was, through Wonder Woman, arguing that women were better than men, at least in many of the most important ways (and please note that there was nothing misandric about Marston's point of view; he didn't think men inferior, he just didn't think they were as awesome as women, particularly his idealized Amazon women, were).

These are subtleties that are generally ignored, and they are ignored because they are pretty out-of-date, pretty particular to Marston and pretty much universally rejected in favor of the idea that men and women are equal, and neither should be master over the other. I don't want to get too deep into this particular rabbit hole, but Marston's brand of feminism, if we want to call it that, involved the loving submission of man to the loving dominance of a loving woman, which could conceivably be seen as a chilvalrous, noble act on the part of the man, who is very active in the act of surrender. Not to inject Christianity into things and further muddle it, but surrendering peacefully is actually a hell of a lot harder than fighting, something Morrison's Superman once alluded to in a throw-away JLA story in which he lectured some pro-active superheroes that not killing is infinitely harder than killing. At any rate, there are some confusing interpersonal politics involved here.

That was, essentially, the Amazon way, and perhaps it was a way that worked on Paradise Island, and could work in a Man's World that all came around to Marston's way of thinking. Wonder Woman herself was a lot more traditional in her views of relationships, being the only Amazon to fall in love with a man and then to pursue him for years, even decades in a weird love triangle reflective of the Clark/Superman/Lois one. Here she is also pro-Steve, and pro-engagement with Man's World. She wants to change it for the better, just as she wants to change aspects of her own, "Woman's World." She's a compromise character, a bridge between the two cultures--and the two modes of relationship between male and female.
The last page of the book, in which Wonder Woman begins her engagement in earnest. The words that precede those on the page above are "Hola! 'Man's World'!" That is her "final" costume, by the way, and her robot plane, Steve Trevor and "Beth" Candy in the background.
Wonder Woman is, at least here, a feminist character, a figure of equality, even if the culture Marston created for her (and so many aspects of his own psychological work and his own comic book work were of a feminism-plus line of thinking).

The other thing that Morrison and Paquette do that Marston and Peter did not, and could not, is make all the kinky undertones of the Golden Age Wonder Woman explicit. You need not read many of those stories to see exactly what it was that gave Frederic Wertham fits, or to refer to Wonder Woman as a veritable recruiting poster for lesbians. I think the tying up can be excused, and be read innocently–at least context-free and in the original texts themselves, until one learns more about Marston himself, anyway–but there's some really weird stuff in there. Like Amazon Christmas, "Diana's Day," a festival in which some of the girls dress up like deer, others dress up as hunters, and they "hunt" for the girls, tie them up, and then skin and eat them.
If you see something vaguely kinky in the above scene, you're not the first adult to do so.
Here that game occurs, at least in the corner of a splash page, but so too does all kind of libidinous behavior, with Amazons dancing topless (their backs turned to the reader, of course) and doing body shots off one another. If Marston and Peter implied kinky, pagan bacchanals and lesbian relationships, Morrison refers to them as such, and Paquette draws them.
Diana's Day = Amazon spring break.
Wonder Woman explicitly refers to Mala, a minor character in the original Wonder Woman stories, as "my lover," a step beyond all the slightly more equivocal reference between the women as "my love" and so on. Etta Beth Candy even uses the L-word when discussing Paradise Island (not the other L-word):

I'm...not sure if this is an improvement or not. There's certainly something to be said for the subtlety of the early 1940s Wonder Woman comics, which may have been borne out of conservatism and bias against homosexuals in general, but may also had a lot to do with the fact that they were comics for little kids. This isn't intended for little kids, and yet it's not a mature readers book, either (The book, unlike DC's serially-published comics, doesn't have any form of rating, but it the Earth One is generally considered to be meant for the YA and book-store reading audience; certainly the adult themes but lack of swearing, nudity and violence would seem to bear that out). Morrison's script is hardly crass or anything (Hercules calls Hippolyta a "bitch," but then, Hercules is a real dick), but I think there's something to be said for having to be slightly sly with such matters.

That, though, seems to be the biggest discernable difference from the original source material, the fact that Morrison can just come out and say words like "lover" and "lesbian" instead of implying them. Well, that and the art, which I've neglected to mention at this point, but is perhaps what makes this such a radical book since, as I've mentioned, Morrison's most radical act is in updating the original Wonder Woman comics rather than reimagining them.

Paquette, like Morrison, apparently paid very close attention to the work of Wonder Woman's creators, and it is evident in his work. One of the many things modern creators always seem to get wrong about Wonder Woman and her milieu is that they insist on grounding it in some sort of mythical, or at least ancient, style, as if the Amazons haven't changed or progressed in any way since they first came to their island, as if their society, culture and science remained perfectly stagnant. But what culture would? Certainly not one as progressive, forward-thinking and presumably more advanced than our own.
Paquette's version of an Amazonian firearm.
The original Paradise Island was as much Buck Rogers as it was sword-and-sandals, and that's evident here. Not only does Paquette draw Wonder Woman's doctor friend in an outfit similar to that of the one she wore in the original Wonder Woman comic, but these Amazons have firearms to play bullets-and-bracelets with a gun that looks so strange that it is apparently one they developed parallel to the firearms developed in Man's World), they have flying hover-bikes shaped vaguely like the shells their chief goddess was said to be born from, and then there's Hippolyta's TV-like magic mirror and the aforementioned robot plane/invisible jet, which is similarly redesigned to look like the sort of airship that might have been developed by a culture completely unfamiliar with Wilbur and Orville Wright.

I really can't overstate what an incredible job Paquete does in taking the craziest ideas present in some of the original comics–rideable kangaroo steeds, for example–and integrating them with a kind of sci-fi fantasy Ancient Greek + 3,000-years aesthetic. I have seen a lot of different versions of Paradise Island over the decades, and this is probably the best-looking one, with almost every single Amazon having her own look, costume and style. His Hippolyta, who here has black hair like her daughter, is probably the all-around coolest-looking Hippolyta I've ever seen, and I like the way that he and Morrison sneak in familiar characters in relatively minor, almost background roles, like Troia (wearing a new version of her old Wonder Girl costume) and Artemis.
Note Troia in the lower right-hand corner; she's in the background of the cover too, and part of a war party sent to Man's World to retrieve Diana.
Of the major divergences from the original story, there are two, the significance of which may strike different readers at different levels of importance.

The first is that Steve Trevor is no longer the blond-haired white guy of the 1940s, but is a black man–Idris Elba, from the looks of Paquette's drawings of him.
Idris Elba, right? Is it just me?
During my first reading, I thought nothing of it. Morrison, Paquette and company decided to "blind cast" a character, who doesn't have anything essential to his character that mandates he be a white guy...certainly not if the story is taking place in 2016 instead of 1941. It seemed like an easy and well-intentioned way to put a person of color into a story that is otherwise just a bunch of white folks; the only other black character with a speaking part is the Robert Kanigher and Don Heck-created Nubia, who is portrayed well in this but is, well, she's still named "Nubia."***

There is, in fact, one thing about a black–or, specifically, an African-American–Steve Trevor that does impact the overall Wonder Woman mega-story, although it took a second reading for the idea to really sink in.

During the trial, Steve is one of the witnesses called forth to testify, and he tells Hippolyta and the assembled Amazons that his "ancestors were enslaved and persecuted by men with too much power."

It's a simple line of dialogue in a panel or two, but it's suggestive in ways that complicate the themes beyond what I'm equipped to address here, and, I imagine, what Morrison intended. First, and less problematically, it occurred to me that with Steve now a black American man rather than a white American man, he shares something in common with women, as he himself points out. He is part of a group that was also hideously mistreated by white men. So Steve Trevor is no longer a representative and a member of those that have and would oppress the Amazons/women in the past, but now he is someone who has likewise been oppressed. Does that matter? Were Steve and Diana paired as representatives of the two world views, and their partnership and kinda sorta romance meant to serve as symbolic bridge between Man's World and Amazonia? Was Golden Age Steve Trevor the embodiment of Man's World, and Diana's ability to win him over emblematic of he eventual success of her mission?

But wait, it gets thornier. Remember that Earth One Steve explicitly mentions the fact that his ancestors were enslaved. How, exactly, does American slavery fit into this idea of bondage and submission? If the book, and Marston's philosophy in general, are pro-bondage and pro-submission, what becomes when we factor in such a repugnant, real-life example of the disastrous negatives of such relationship? (I won't go so far as to say that Marston or Peter were racist, but you need not read many pages of their Wonder Woman comics to see that their comics were racist, regardless of the intent of the creators. Non-white characters are all confined to wince-inducing racial stereotype in the Wonder Woman comics, not simply the Japanese that the characters were at war with, but everyone who wasn't a white American or Amazonian.)

Is Morrison attempting to compare and contrast "bad" enslavement (that which is forced upon the slave out of hatred or a complete lack of empathy) with "good" enslavement (that which is offered and accepted out of love)...? Is it the difference between man-to-man slave/master relationships and man-to-woman and woman-to-woman slave/master relationships? Is the difference simply between the slavery of Man's World and the slavery of the Amazons?

I don't know, and, like I said, I don't think Morrison even intended to go there–if so, I think a little more space would have been spared–but he took us there, even if only in a passing bit of dialogue.

The second big change, which is more significant to the Wonder Woman story, even if it raises fewer questions about its application to our world, is the exact origins of Wonder Woman–that is, how exactly she came to be. The traditional story, that of Marston, is that she was a sort of doll made of clay by Hippolyta, who was distraught that she could not have a daughter of her own, and that the goddesses brought that clay doll to life and imbued it with their blessings. The child then grew up to be Diana.

In rebooting the character's origins for The New 52, writer Brian Azzarello nixed that, and made Wonder Woman the product of a union between a man and woman. Sort of. In his origin, Hippolyta had her baby the old-fashioned way, and the seed was provided by the god Zeus, a well-known knocker-upper of women in myth. That made Diana a demi-god and part of the Olympic family, who dominated Azzarello's run on the title. It also greatly annoyed a lot of Wonder Woman fans for perhaps obvious reasons, but in the sins Azzarello committed against the honor of the Amazons, that was actually pretty minor compared to his explanation of where Amazons babies come from.

At the climax of the trial, Diana gets to question her mother, and asks her of what substance she is made. Hippolyta confesses the story about being a clay figurine brought to life by the goddesses was a lie, a fairy tale told to help keep Diana innocent. In fact, she was the child of Hippolyta and Hercules. She wasn't conceived either in rape or consensual passion though. Morrison has Hippolyta explain:
I took the egg from my womb. And the seed form the loins of the man-god Hercules. Blended in my alembics, seasoned with my fury.
You were my revenge on Hercules, Diana. That his line would yield no sons, only daughters bred to conquer and subdue Man's World. Of my anger you were born.
Your native Amazon vigor combined with the blood of Hercules makes you unbeatable. Yet also proud, rebellious, restless. His blood calls you to Man's World, and to battle.
What are we to make of this? You got me. In a sense, this feels less true-to-myth than her being fathered by noted philadering father of the gods Zeus, even if Hippolyta and Hercules were certainly better positioned within the history of Wonder Woman comics to have made a baby together. The "how" is a little confusing–I would have appreciated Hippolyta saying something about "and through Amazonian science and forbidden magic, I blended them in my alembics."

In essence, it sounds as if Diana was a test-tube baby of sorts (just like Morrison's Robin, Damian Wayne, whose mother Talia al Ghul stole seed from the unwitting Batman to create him****), although how exactly that would work with a Bronze Age man's seed and the sci-fi science of later Amazonia, I don't know.

It does make Wonder Woman fully human, rather than "less than human," as she refers to what she thought of herself due to her clay origins, although I'm not sure that's really that important (Superman's not human, and that's never really been a problem for the character). It also strips her of her unique status among the Amazons; no longer is she the only one born not of the union of man and woman, but she's as human as the rest of them. Ironically, Hippolyta speaks to that particular mingling of blood as what makes Wonder Woman unique, which seems to suggest that this Hercules really was a demi-god, and not just a man, as Hippolyta seems to imply throughout.

It works, but only so long as you don't pick at it, and is a rare example of Morrison trying to "fix" something that wasn't broken. That is the trap that all Wonder Woman creators seem to fall into. It may grasp at Morrison, but for the most part he and Paquette sail on it.

Together they've created the very best standalone graphic novel to feature Wonder Woman, and the one of the best Wonder Woman comics since Marston and Peter's first Wonder Woman comics.

*That's right, "Hercules," not Herakles; like Marston, Morrison doesn't seem to feel a need to prove how smart he is by distinguishing the Roman and Greek spellings. Just last week I was re-reading George Perez and company's "War of The Gods" storyline from 1991-1992, and it actually hinged on a conflict between the Greek and Roman versions of the same pantheon. Marston, meanwhile, had Wonder Woman created by Greek goddesses and battle the Roman war god Mars few issues later.

**Which means, in truth, no one should have be labeled or declare themselves "feminist;" it's everyone else who should be labeled "sexist," as you're either one or the other. It still boggles my mind that there are people, men and women, who resist or refuse to be called "feminist." Personally, I've long assumed–or maybe it's more like hoped–that this was because the people who claim not to be feminist are doing so out of pure ignorance and don't really know or understand what that word means.

***Of course, the decision of "casting" Steve as a black man rather than a white man here doesn't seem like the sort of thing that will have much impact in the pop culture in general, at least, not in the same way that Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch making the Ultimate Nick Fury black lead to Sam Jackson playing the character in all the Marvel movies...and the creation of a new black character with the name appearing in the "real" Marvel comics. In fact, this isn't even like having the New 52 Wally West be black, which I hear lead to his being black on The Flash TV show. Wonder Woman's movie is already in production, and its Steve Trevor is going to be played by white guy Chris Pine. Would that have been different had DC published this book just a few years earlier? I don't know, but possibly.

****Also like Robin Damian Wayne, Morrison's Earth One Wonder Woman wears regular old off-the-rack boots with laces.