Saturday, June 25, 2016

Miscellaneous Batmannery

This was one of the variant covers for June 16's Batman #1, by artist Tim Sale. While Sale has never had a regular run as an interior artist on any Batman ongoing series, he has done so many limited series and one-shots featuring the character that, at this point, he's got a gigantic body of Batman work built up. It's a body of work that I imagine eclipses that of many artists who have had regular runs on various Batman ongoing series, in terms of the volume of pages.

I was a little surprised to see him contributing a variant to the new, "Rebirth" era Batman at all, and more surprised still by its content. Sale doesn't draw the current, "Rebirth" Batman, but his own, "Year One" era Batman from his many collaborations with writer Jeph Loeb (Long Halloween, Dark Victory, the Legends of The Dark Knight Halloween specials, etc). Even Neal Adams, an even more classic Batman artist, decided to draw the Rebirth-ed Batman on his variant.
The villains sharing the cover with Sale's Batman are similarly the particular versions from Sale's "Year One" Batman adventures, none of whom look much at all like the New 52 versions and a few of which don't look much at all like the versions other artists draw from any period  (Poison Ivy and The Penguin in particular). Of note is the inclusion of Clayface, who hasn't previously appeared in any of Sale's Batman comics (at least, not this version; I'm pretty sure that Clayface III was in his Showcase story with writer Alan Grant), and whose design Sale seems to have based on that from Batman: The Animated Series (which, in fact, is also the basis for The New 52 version).

The presence of the blond lady baffled me for a while, but I'm like 80% sure she's supposed to be Gotham City District Attorney Janice Porter from Dark Victory, which is a really, really weird choice, considering the villains from the series Sale didn't include, like The Joker, The Riddler, Calendar Man, Carmine Falcone or any of the mob guys. Or a major Batman villain he hasn't drawn before, like, I don't know, Man-Bat or Ra's al Ghul or Harley Quinn or Bane or Killer Croc.

Anyway, it's an interesting piece I enjoyed staring at and picking apart. And much better than the regular cover by the regular artist:
Boo David Finch!

Did any of you read The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade? That was the recent prestige format one-shot in which Batman teams up with Sean Connery to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis can. No, it's the latest of DC release that makes me wonder what on Earth Brian Azzarello is doing with his life (If I had to guess, it would be working on Maus fan-fiction, just to complete the trifecta).

This is his prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, which he is currently writing the second sequel too, as drawn by John Romita Jr. and Peter Steigerwald and featuring vague, nebulous contributions from Frank Miller (He shares a "story by" credit with Azzarello, although "Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller" is the first credit; no one is credited with the script). It is a 57-page answer to a question nobody needed an answer to, which is "What exactly happened to the Robin that the old, mustachioed Batman was narrating about at the opening of Dark Knight Returns like 30 years ago?" The answer, of course, was "The Joker killed him," but then, everyone already knew all that.

This is essentially a retelling then; "A Death In The Family" without all the globe-trotting, international intrigue, adventure, super-scary death scene or heroic sacrifice. It's just an older Batman with graying temples and Robin Jason Todd fighting crime in Gotham City together, until The Joker kills Todd. Sort of. Todd is on the escaped Joker's trail when some guys who apparently work with or for The Joker beat him with pipes until red coloring effects fill the bottom of the panels, and The Joker says "Oh, the fun we're going to have little boy... The fun."


If it's a worthwhile read at all, it's mostly because it's still kind of fresh and new and exciting to see JRJR draw DC characters, and here he gets to draw classic (or, if you prefer, the real) version of Batman and Robin, rather than the New 52 versions JRJR's been stuck with since leaving Marvel to play with DC's iconic super-characters for a few years.

It served as a pretty good reminder that there was nothing really wrong with the original Robin costume that Jason Todd wore; it's not like it couldn't look cool when drawn really well, and JRJR draws it really well and puts it and the guy wearing it in some very dramatic scenes, that red, yellow and green popping in contrast to the blues, blacks, grays and browns of Batman and everything else around Robin.

I know that a lot of people–myself included–have wondered about how much of this new suite of Dark Knight Returns material is really Miller and how much of it is Azzarello, and to what degree Azzarello is simply trying to do a pastiche of Miller. It was with some amusement that I noticed a line that either demonstrates Miller's involvement or that Azzarello was really asking himself "What Would Frank Miller Write?" during this process.

The above panel is from a scene in which Bruce Wayne visits former Catwoman Selina Kyle, whom his narration tells us he visits whenever he's feeling unsure of himself.

Check out the last two panels at the end of the scene, though:
Superheroes having sex in their costumes for kicks! You don't get a whole lot more Frank Miller than that.

The above panels are the last few in a downright shocking scene in Detective Comics #935, the second issue of the relaunched series, which is numbered #935 instead of #2 because...reasons.

What was so shocking about that scene? It's 13 panels spread across two pages. Red Robin Tim Drake is in Spoiler Stephanie Brown's apartment, taking off his costume in front of her like it's NBD. They're talking about Tim's college plans, when Batgirl Black Bat Orphan Cassandra Cain enters the window holding a plastic bag and wearing an expression of surprise.

"Hey you think I could have the place to myself tonight?" Spoiler says. "I need to give my boyfriend a lot of crap for not being honest with people."

That's right, Tim and Stepahnie are dating. They are going steady. They are actually in a relationship.

When did this happen? Off-panel, apparently.

Stephanie Brown was only rather recently introduced into the current, post-Flashpoint continuity during the year-long weekly series Batman Eternal, and she did not meet Red Robin until one of the epilogues of the very last issue. Stephanie walks into her roommate Harper Row's bedroom to see Harper talking with Red Robin. Harper introduces them, and they shake hands...and stare silently at one another for an entire panel before Harper coughs to wake them back up from their apparent reverie, and Red Robin makes a lame, awkward excuse about needing to leave. "Um...Okay. I should go,: he says, rubbing the back of his head "Probably some kind of um...mischief going on."

And as far as I can remember, that's pretty much, like, the extent of their relationship up until this point. Stephanie is in the earliest issues of the sequel series, Batman & Robin Eternal, and shares a scene with Tim. In Batman & Robin Eteranl #2, Red Robin climbs in the window of the apartment Stephanie shares with Harper and Cullen Row and finds Dick Grayson and Stephanie, in her Spoiler costume, standing over a badly injured Harper.

How did he know to show up? He says he bugged the house with cameras and censors, which infuriates Spoiler. "I'm just monitoring for trouble," he says. "I mean, have you met yourselves?" They spend a little more time together with other Batman allies at the Rows' apartment and then in the Batcave, before Stephanie and Cullen get stashed in a safe house while everyone goes off to have an adventure that lasts most of the series (Steph and Cullen both reappear at the end).

And that's about it in terms of Tim Drake/Stephanie Brown interactions.

It therefore feels like a bit of a cheat that writer James Tynion, who is writing Detective and co-wrote the two Eternal limited series, just jumped ahead and we missed all of their flirting, Red Robin's revelation of his secret identity, whether or not it was awkward for Harper and all the humor and drama one would expect in a relationship. I mean, I feel cheated. I liked the idea of Bluebird and Spoiler as roommates, and of a possible love triangle between them and Red Robin. I liked the gradual way Tim and Stephanie's relationship played out in the pre-Flashpoint DCU (under writer Chuck Dixon, who co-created Stephanie and wrote both characters almost exclusively during the various incarnations of their relationship to one another).

I wanted to see Tim and Steph date dammit, not just move from meet-cute to one panel of bickering to suddenly being an item and banging in Steph's new apartment (She no longer lives with the Rows, as she says Batman set both her and Cassandra up with their own places, although Cassandra apparently chooses to instead crash at Harper's or Stephanie's).

I can only assume that Tim and Stephanie are going to break up pretty soon, as otherwise there doesn't seem to be much point of suddenly introducing them as a couple, and that Tynion will focus on that drama rather than the drama of their coming together.

Anyway, note their costumes touching each other on the floor of Stephanie's apartment in that last panel. Symbolism!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Marvel's September previews reviewed

Will one of Marvel's Spider-Men kill one of Marvel's Captains America because they disagree so strongly about whether or not to fight crime based on the predictions of a prophetic mutant Inhuman? Probably not!

Remember when Marvel cancelled their entire line of superhero universe books during the course of the Secret War event series, replacing them all with limited series spinning out of the "Battleworld" premise of that series? Reading Marvel's solicitations for September, it feels like they are pretty much doing the exact same thing with Civil War II, in an unofficial way. They didn't cancel all their ongoings, but they all do seem to be interrupted to focus almost exclusively on tying in to the events of Civil War II, the premise of which doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.

I guess I'll read it in trade next year and know for sure, but it doesn't seem to have the sort of grabby hook that previous Marvel event series, even the bad ones, had. "The Marvel heroes have different opinions regarding The Minority Report" doesn't do anything for me the way that, say, "The Hulk wants to beat everyone up" or "Big, strong guys get evil Thor hammers" or "Doctor Doom has created all of reality in his own image" or "The good guys are now bad and the bag guys are now good" did.

So if all the Civil War II tie-ins sound kind of the same and also kind of lame, what does that leave us with? Not much!

Volume #1 in the Black Panther Epic Collections
Cover by GIL KANE
In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created an unprecedented string of classic comic-book heroes. But quite possibly the most iconic of them all was the high-tech king of Wakanda, the Black Panther! When the Panther began his own solo series, Don McGregor strove to meet Lee and Kirby's high standard with "Panther's Rage" -- an epic adventure so huge it ranged across the savannah, into the deepest jungles and up snow-topped mountains. Over its course, McGregor would explore and expand the life and culture of the Wakandans and their African kingdom in compelling detail. Then, he sent the Black Panther into very different but still dangerous territory -- the American South -- seeking justice for a murder connected to the Klan and the Soul Strangler! Collecting FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #52-53 and JUNGLE ACTION (1972) #6-24.
400 PGS./Rated T ...$34.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90190-5

This is that one classic Black Panther story arc that everyone points to as, like, the best Black Panther story arc that wasn't written by Christopher Priest ever, right?

I like the old Essential format better than these Epic Collections, but that is because I am cheap.

Captain Marvel and the Avengers face the enemy within! When vicious echoes from the past of Earth's Mightiest Heroes crop up all over Manhattan, Carol Danvers refuses to be grounded by her recent, mysterious loss of power. But who is the sinister figure behind the madness, and what does it have to do with Carol's calamitous condition? And most disturbing of all, is this villain even real? Matters get worse as the events of INFINITY unfold. Carol goes cosmic -- Binary cosmic -- in an epic that rocks worlds, not least hers! But when she comes back to Earth with a bump, will her biggest fan be the key to rebuilding her life? Plus: Captain Marvel and Spider-Man share a big problem! Collecting CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #13-17, AVENGERS: THE ENEMY WITHIN #1, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) #16-19 and AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #9-10.
280 PGS./Rated T+ ...$29.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90128-8

"Earth's Mightiest," huh Carol? It's not bad enough that you stole poor Billy Batson's superheroic alter ego's name, now you've gotta have The World's Mightiest Mortal's nickname too? Have you no shame, Carol?

Say, does anyone read Carnage? Is at anywhere near as good a comic as its covers might lead one to believe? Because the covers are almost always awesome.

• The con comes to close!
• Will Deadpool and Gambit get away with the money?
• And...why on Earth is Wade now...DEADFIST?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

I don't know, Wade. Given your skin condition, I don't think the cut of Iron Fist's original costume looks quite right on you. Maybe you should try a red and black version of his current, less revealing costume...?

I haven't mentioned it in probably about a month now, but I really like Arthur Adams. This is his cover for Guardians of the Galaxy #12, which will apparently be about Marvel superheroes fighting one another over a pretty cut-and-dry non-issue, like just about every other comic book Marvel is publishing in September. Do note that Adams is only drawing the cover, but from what I've seen so far, interior artist Valerio Schiti has been doing a pretty fine job.

• Join Chip (Zdarsky) and Joe (Quinones) as they say goodbye to Howard in a Very Special Issue that is still priced as a Regular Issue!
• Can Howard outwit fate? Can any of us? Or is the concept of predestination just shorthand for the near-infinite factors in play that are guided, at their core, by free will?
• Guest-starring Spider-Man, probably.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

WHAT?! "Say goodbye"...? Is this really the last issue of Zdarsky and Quinones' Howard The Duck? That's a rhetorical question, because I see that Zdarsky says that it is indeed ending on his Tumblr blog, and that it's ending because they've reached their pre-planned ending for the series, and not because of sales or anything.

This is terrible. I just read the second volume of the series, which is labeled "Volume 1"because Marvel, and it was just as excellent as the first volume, the one labeled "Volume 0." This series has been part of a three-way tie for my favorite Marvel comic with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, but I guess come September there will only be two comics left in the running for  Caleb's Favorite Marvel Comic At The Moment. 

I've thus far found the title to do what I would have otherwise considered pretty impossible, which is to make me enjoy a Howard The Duck comic so far removed from Steve Gerber's work. It has been very (very, very) different, and extremely focused on Howard as a foot in the door to jokes about the Marvel Universe and their immense character catalog as a whole, but it's met those goals quite effectively. Also, it has the best Spider-Man cameos.

I've also liked the way that this and the other two Marvel books I've just mentioned have been interacting with one another pretty regularly since they've launched; the last Howard and Squirrel Girl trades both contained their inter-book crossover, and the first Patsy trade had the title character getting a job at Howard's friend's tattoo shop. 

I do hope both creators get swell gigs elsewhere, either together or separately. Hey, maybe this will free up Zdarksy's schedule to work on another Archie Comics series comparable to his excellent Jughead comic...? Maybe he and Quinones can take over a rebooted and realunched Betty and Veronica or a new That Jerk, Reggie Mantle title...

• Boy problems. Who's got 'em? Patsy Walker, that's who.
• Let's get lost in the final issue of our second arc (what?!) as Patsy makes the most of the fight against her (mostly) evil exes.
• Hellcat didn't just come here to dance -- she came to save her friends and save the day!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

See? There's Howard right there, on the cover of Patsy Walker #10! I continue to not like Brittney L. Williams' particular version of Son of Satan, despite loving everything about her art in general.

I really love how cute her Squirrel Girl is. I really don't think we can get enough Squirrel Girl guest appearances in this title, since that means more Squirrel Girl as drawn by Williams.

NICK KOCHER (W) • Michael Walsh (A)
• We don't mean to be carpet-braggers, but you'll have to (Ulysses S.) grant that these are the best issues of the entire event!
• When Rocket, Groot, and Gwenpool all go after the same bounty in Georgia, the results are antebellum-believable!
• Get-tysburg as many copies as you can!
32 PGS. (each)/Rated T ...$3.99 (each)

Let's take a moment to applaud the mostly terribly forced Civil War puns in this solicitation copy.

Head far into the future of long ago! A new evil has arisen, shattering a resurgent Empire and seeking to put an end to the Jedi once and for all. The Sith Lord Darth Krayt sits on the throne. Only one hope remains -- the last remaining heir to the Skywalker legacy. Cade may be strong in the Force -- but years after a tragedy, he is a bounty hunter, working with Jariah Syn and Deliah Blue. When he reluctantly finds himself at the center of galactic turmoil, Cade may be forced to embrace his heritage. But will the path on which he embarks be one of redemption, or damnation? Collecting STAR WARS: LEGACY (2006) #0-19.
464 PGS./Rated T+ ...$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90012-0
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Despite the obvious pains that were taken to make Luke Skywalker's descendent Cade appear as bad-ass and anti-Luke as possible–Tattoos! Space drugs! Piracy!–I actually ended up really rather enjoying this series. The two big reasons are, of course, John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, both of whom are great talents who have done particularly great work on the Star Wars franchise.

I also kind of liked just how far removed this series was from the two eras of Galactic history from the two trilogies, and how it therefore boasted a lot of familiar elements of the franchise, but in radically remixed ways.

So yeah, while I will admit that no one who makes fun of Cade and how hard this book occasionally tried, I would still recommend it.

Um, if you like Star Wars comics. If you don't, this probably isn't the one that's going to win you over.

• It's the Winter Soldier versus Spider-Man and only one of them is going to walk away.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Really? Only one of these characters is going to walk away from the fight? If the implication is that one of them is going to die, well, that's not very suspenseful, is it? The Winter Soldier is totally going to bite it. Sure, he may have home book advantage, and he may have already died like three times already, but the other guy is Spider-Man. Well, a Spider-Man. But still! A Spider-Man is still a bigger deal than a Winter Solider.

Of course, maybe the solicitation copy is just being coy. Only one of them is going to walk away...because the other one will swing away on a web!

Huh. I thought the only metal Wolverine was interested in was adamantium.

Also, I wonder what Toadies album Jubilee is looking at on the cover of X-Men '92, given that their first full-length album (and their big break through) didn't see release until 1994. And a quick Google search does indeed reveal that the cover doesn't look like that, anyway, even if Kang The Conqueror dropped his copy of Rubberneck in a Tower Records while time-traveling through the era.

I suppose things like the particular year of an album's release or its cover art could be different in the Marvel Universe, though...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: June 22nd

Archie #9 (Archie Comics) Mark Waid and Veronica Fish's latest issue of Archie continues the trend of the earlier issues, in which each one stands alone as a complete story, while continuing to advance a broader narrative. In that respect, the series has been somewhat TV-like, with each issue similar to an episode. In this one, Archie and Veronica decide that given her father's hatred of him, maybe they should hang out at his house rather than hers. This proves to be something of a challenge for Veronica though, as she's not used to such a non-mansion household. Mild hilarity ensues.

As does some romantic tension between Archie and Betty...although the former is of course oblivious to it, as he's fairly oblivious to everything.

Mark Waid's introduction to the reprint back-up is of interest, as the writer admits in it that Archie's everymankid nature can make hims particularly challenging to write...something I imagine has only gotten harder and harder as the decades past and Archie's generally bland portrayal calcified. As Waid notes in talking up the attributes of classic Archie artist Harry Lucey (Waid's favorite), however, it's in the artwork that characterization can often be added back into the character.

I found that all rather fascinating, as the rotating artists of the new, rebooted Archie has made Waid the prime creative force behind the character, and he seems to have done a pretty fine job so far of giving the character a distinct enough personality.

She Wolf #1 (Image Comics) At just 20-pages for $3.99, this price point was pretty far outside my personal comfort zone–not crazy about the paperstock, either, or the way the back cover takes my fingerprints–but, as you can see, it was an extremely light week, and this looked pretty fantastic.

It is, as you can probably guess from the title and cover, a werewolf comic, and it is by Rich Tommaso. The setting is apparently the 1980s, based on the fashion and a few minor cultural touchstones. Our heroine Gabby Catella, whose boyfriend was apparently a werewolf, until he is gunned down by policemen in front of her. And now she might be a werewolf...or might not be.

There are some challenging jump cuts in this narrative that make it difficult to tell exactly what is happening when (for example, on page three, Gabby is nude and looking out her bedroom window, where she's a werewolf running around, while in the first panel of page four we see her reacting to what she sees out the window, and she's fully dressed). There is at least one extended dream sequence, as well as some jumps it time.

That made for a slightly disorienting read.

I really love Tomasso's artwork here, though. There's a slight suggestion–an accent, really–in the visual language that reminds me of Richard Sala, but that may be simply because of the somewhat abstracted, flat style and the fact that Tomasso is drawing pretty young girls and a monster.

I really like the way he draws these werewolves, as they seem to have some human-like features and some wolf-like features, but also look completely distinct from either. There's something long, sleek and unnatural about them; in some panels they appear like gigantic, semi-erect minks rather than the more traditional hairy-person-with-a-wolf-head we usually see in post-Howling comics and movies.

Wonder Woman #1 (DC Comics) This is the first issue of the new Wonder Woman series, and it is by writer Greg Rucka and the first of the two artists he will be working with. This issue is part of the storyline set in the present, and featuring the lovely, detailed, fairly realistic artwork of Liam Sharp, whose style reminded me quite a bit of Rags Morales, a favorite artist of mine. Rucka and Sharp collaborated on the last six pages or so of Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, but this story doesn't directly pick up on that sequence at all.

I'll refrain from going into much detail here, as I'll be writing about this later in the week as part of the "Afterbirth" series of posts I've been doing (maybe I should have worked on that name a little harder). For now, I'll be brief. The art is great, the story is boring and very little happens (i.e. it's a Greg Rucka Wonder Woman comic), the characterization of Wonder Woman is stronger than it's been in five years, Etta Candy's post-Crisis and New 52 looks have apparently been amalgamated, Steve Trevor grew a beard and stopped wearing black spandex and The Cheetah got a new 'do.

Overall, it's fine, but not sensational, or even terribly satisfying. Like Rucka's last run on the character, I assume it will read far better in trade than in single issues, as it seems to be written once again for the former rather than the latter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

DC's September previews reviewed

Hopefully you're not sick of DC's "Rebirth" initiative already, because three months from now they will still be launching new titles under that particular banner, as the latest round of solicitations make clear. I know that they announced this gradual, months long roll-out at the outset, but I was still a little surprised to see things like Supergirl #1 and Teen Titans #1 showing up in here, as those titles, creative teams and covers were announced so long ago now that it feels like they should be coming out, say, this week, rather than this fall.

Other than the tail end of DC's months-long "Rebirth"-ing process, perhaps the most notable releases in the solicits were an inter-book Batman crossover that is the latest cover version of a Golden Age story from Batman #1, last seen in Matt Wagner's excellent 2006, "Year One" era miniseries Batman and The Monster Men (here they appear more monstrous than ever), as well as the very first release from Gerard Way's apparent Vertigo replacement publishing-line-within-a-publishing-line, Young Animal.

Let's take a look, shall we?

Written by DAN JURGENS
“WHO IS CLARK KENT?” part 1! Look—down there on the ground! It’s a guy, he’s kinda’s—Clark Kent?! As Metropolis recovers from the devastating attack of Doomsday, the mysterious figure claiming to be Clark Kent takes the spotlight to clear his name and prove once and for all that Clark Kent is not Superman!
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Written by DAN JURGENS
“WHO IS CLARK KENT?” part 2! Superman comes face to face with Clark Kent, and he wants answers! But first the Man of Steel must protect his former alter ego. Clark Kent tells all in this shocking issue! And don’t miss the return of a ghost from Smallville past…
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Wait, Dan Jurgens will just be getting around to starting to explain what's up with that Clark Kent who appeared in the first issue of the now bi-weekly Action Comics in September? Oh man; I understand wanting to take your time with a suspenseful mystery, but that's like 120 pages into Jurgens run, and that is certainly a more compelling interesting storyline than Superman vs. Doomsday, Round One Million.

I suppose that will finally answer the question of how DC plans to re-secretize Superman's secret identity after he was outted. Part of me thinks that the guys who did the outting, the ones who let that particular genie out of the bottle, should also be the ones to solve it, and put that particular genie back in its bottle. But another part of me likes the fact that Geoff Johns and Gene Luen Yang (or, perhaps more likely, Eddie Berganza and Dan DiDio) just left the problem there for whoever came along next to try and solve, like a challenge.

“WHO IS ORACLE?” part 3! Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress must team up with the GCPD to protect a mafia capo from an attack by his one-time friends! He’s the only man with a lead on the nefarious new Oracle…but dead men tell no tales! Of course, it’s hard to make a team-up work when the team’s ready to tear itself apart on its first mission!
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I wonder if Batgirls friends make fun of her for bringing her dad with her on team-ups, or if they think its cute?

Speaking of whom, Jim, I know it doesn't really work with cover artist Yanick Paquette's cover design here, but you should really be hanging out  your own window, rather than standing in the driver's lap in order to fire out of his window.

Written by DAN JURGENS
Art and cover by RYAN SOOK
Six months have passed since the events of BATMAN BEYOND #16. While areas of destruction remain in the outside world, Gotham City has made great strides toward reclaiming its bright future. But new threats arise and old adversaries may be coming back. And the question still remains: whatever happened to Bruce Wayne?
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I've lost track of how many #1 issues of series based on the Batman Beyond cartoon there have been in the last five years at this point, but I'm pretty confident that whether it is four or seven, this one is one too many.

Written by JOHN SEMPER JR.
Victor Stone was once a star athlete and brilliant student with a bright future. But after a tragic accident destroyed over half of his body, Victor was kept alive by merging flesh with advanced technology. Today he is the Justice League co-founder called Cyborg. But is the young hero a man…or a machine that merely believes it’s a man?
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Oh, neat. The focus of this new Cyborg solo series will be on his existential angst over whether he is a man or a machine. That's a fresh, new take on the part-man, part-machine character that I don't think anyone has ever thought to explore before.

Written by JOHN SEMPER JR.
Art and cover by WILL CONRAD
“THE IMITATION OF LIFE” part one! Cyborg is thrown into conflict with every robotic threat to the DC Universe as a brand new era begins for Victor Stone, courtesy of writer John Semper Jr. (Spider-Man: The Animated Series) and artist Will Conrad (Angel & Faith)!
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Okay, I take back my sarcasm regarding the Rebirth-branded one-shot's completely generic-sounding solicit. "Conflict with every robotic threat to the DC Universe" is actually an interesting-sounding premise, although given the fact that the DC Universe is only like five years old now (our time), I don't actually know how many robotic threats they've experienced.

Written by GERARD WAY
Art and cover by NICK DERINGTON
Variant cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
Variant cover by SANFORD GREENE
Variant cover by JAIME HERNANDEZ
Variant cover by BRIAN CHIPPENDALE
Variant cover by BABS TARR
Retailers: This issue will ship with six covers. Please see the order form for details.
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS
The atoms are buzzing. The daydreams crowd sentient streets, and the creative team has been warned, “Turn back now or suffer the mighty consequence of sheer, psycho-maniacal mayhem.” Generation-arsonists unite—this is DOOM PATROL, and the God of the Super Heroes is bleeding on the floor.
A blenderized reimagining of the ultimate series of the strange, DOOM PATROL combines elements from classic runs, new directions, and things that could not be. Our entry point is Casey Brinke, a young EMT on the graveyard shift to abstract enlightenment, with a past so odd that she’s not entirely sure what is real and what is not. Along with her partner, Sam Reynolds, the pair blaze a path through the city and its denizens, finding the only quiet that exists at 3am is the chaos of the brain. When the pair answer a hit-and-run call, they find themselves face to face with a familiar figure: Cliff Steele, AKA Robotman.
“It gets weirder from here,” writer Gerard Way had to say about the book, with artist Nick Derington gripping tightly on the wheel of the ambulance. The pair’s only communication? Shouting out of the open windows while at high velocity. Who needs a new roommate? Who names a cat “Lotion”? And when do we get to see all those muscles?
Find your answers inside the pages of this comic book, as we set the stage for new beginnings, as well as the re-introduction of some classic DOOM PATROL characters, including Niles Caulder, Negative Man, Flex Mentallo, and Crazy Jane.
The debut title of DC’s Young Animal line kicks off with a removable sticker on its cover: Pull back the gyro to reveal its secrets, but be warned—there is no turning back.

So can you tell Gerard Way has been hanging out with Grant Morrison?

That epic-length solicitation sounds more like a one-page pitch for the series than anything else, but seeing Way attempt a Morrison pastiche with a Doom Patrol revival should be interesting. I thought his Umbrella Academy miniseries read an awful lot like a cool, 21st-century version of the X-Men, so I'd certainly like to see what he does with X-Men's more aggressively weird doppleganger team of freaks who fight under the direction of a wheelchair-bound professor to protect a world that doesn't much care for them.

I kept the variant cover artists in there because I thought it worth noting the variety of them; there's a mix of oddballs, talented artist you'd expect to see on DCU books and Vertigo alums.

Written by TIM SEELEY
Art and cover by JAVIER FERNANDEZ
“BETTER THAN BATMAN” part 4! At last, Nightwing and Raptor enact their endgame to shut down the Parliament of Owls permanently! But the Parliament has one last card up its sleeves: The Moloch, a giant owl monster whose mission is simple: eviscerate Nightwing and Raptor.
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

The Moloch is scary.

That is all.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
Can it be? The entire universe threatened by the spectral spirit of Canis Major, the dog star? To get to the bottom of the space-spanning mystery, canine crimebuster Scooby will have to team up with some of DC’s greatest dog heroes, including old friends Krypto and Ace the Bat-Hound, plus G’Nort, Wonder Dog, and the Space Canine Patrol Agency!
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

Hard to believe it took Sholly Fisch 18 issues to get around to teaming Scooby-Doo up with DC's various superdogs, but, in his defense, he has already had Scooby meet Ace the Bat-Hound and Krypto.

I read the solicitation before I looked at the cover image, so when I saw "Wonder Dog," I thought briefly that it would be Rex, The Wonder Dog, DC Comics' greatest hero and the dog I personally consider the third part of the DC Comics canine Trinity, rather than Marvin and Wendy's canine pal from Super Friends.

And speaking of Rex, The Wonder Dog, where is my The Rex, The Wonder Dog Chronicles collection, DC?

Art and cover by JONBOY MEYERS
Variant cover by EVAN “DOC” SHANER
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
The Teen Titans are farther apart than ever before…until Damian Wayne recruits Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and the new Kid Flash to join him in a fight against his own grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul! But true leadership is more than just calling the shots—is Robin really up to the task? Or will the Teen Titans dismiss this diminutive dictator?
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Swap out the new Kid Flash with Blue Beetle, and this is the exact Teen Titans line-up from the recent direct-to-DVD movie Justice League vs. Teen Titans. I didn't much care for that movie, and the only thing that really sticks with me as particularly worthwhile at this point is Starfire's magical girl transformation sequence.

I'm somewhat curious as to how this particular team will even come together, give the fact that few of these character have any history with one another at all–New 52 Beast Boy and Raven were on the previous Teen Titans team at the same time, and that's it as far as I know–and Starfire is no longer a teen, nor does she know any of these people.

Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
“BETTER TOGETHER” part 1! Together again for the first time! Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. The core of the World's Greatest Heroes…but with a new Man of Steel, the bonds these three share will be tested and redefined by super-star writer/artist Francis Manapul. In this premiere issue, see the trio travel from Metropolis to Gotham City and beyond to learn what forces launched their heroic careers. But how will this journey of discovery lead them to a new threat?
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Yes. Yes, I am going to go ahead and say with some certainty that this journey of discover will, in fact, lead them to a new threat.

I've got to say, I was a lot more interested in this title before it became clear that the "Rebirth" Superman would be an entirely different Superman than the New 52 one , and is therefore apparently just now meeting and getting to know Batman and Wonder Woman.

Written by KEN PONTAC
Art and cover by LEONARDO MANCO
Our heroes head to the radioactive remains of Las Vegas for a little R&R between races, hoping for a jackpot of ammunition to add to their dwindling supplies. Instead, they arouse the ire of the ganglord Neon Caesar, who’s got an ax to grind with Red. Meanwhile, Muttley and his vehicles are lost in the labyrinthine sewers beneath the streets when the gangs of Vegas unite to eradicate the Racers. Our heroes must go it alone against the combined might of the Caesars, the Pharaohs, the Clowns, and the terrifying Combovers, who have great weapons. Terrific weapons. Really, they have the best weapons.
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, 4 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+

The Combovers, huh? Who have great weapons. Terrific weapons. Gee, I wonder what divisive political figure they might be referring to here?

Of course given the news I've read and heard in the last few days, I wonder if that particular divisive political figure will still be a nominee for president of the United States of America on September 21, given the fact that he apparently raised less money last month than the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter did in 2014.

Perhaps during the July convention, the Republican Party will decide not to nominate the presumptive nominee after all, but instead nominate the Veronica Mars movie. The Veronica Mars movie may lack the experience of the presumptive Democratic nominee, and thus not be the best candidate running for president this year, but I'm certain it would be a better president than the current Republican standard bearer.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week three

Titans: Rebirth #1 by Dan Abnett, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse

The sole "Rebirth" one-shot this week should be of particular interest to fans and/or readers wondering what, exactly, the fuck is going on with the structure of the DC Universe after the events of DC Universe: Rebirth, starring as it does pre-Flashpoint Wally West, newly arrived in the post-Flashpoint DCU and centering on a new version of an old team that forgot they were ever a team because of...Fuck, I don't know.

DC was apparently banking on the fact that sticking the new (read "old") Wally West on the cover would be all it would take to generate that interest (read "sales"), because the book doesn't haven't anything else going for it. It's by far the worst of the Rebirth one-shots so far and it is, to use the proper critical term, garbage.

Abnett's brief story amounts to this. Wally West, now decked out in the new red-and-silver (and cool-looking!) version of his Kid Flash costume, breaks into Nightwing Dick Grayson's apartment. Dick attacks him and, when they touch, Dick remembers who Wally is. Then "The Titans"--Donna Troy, Garth, Arsenal Roy Harper and a green character that is apparently the post-Flashpoint version of Lilith (although she looks more like Ragman)--all appear in Dick's apartment simultaneously and attack Wally.

Every time one of them touches him, they get a jolt of his silver lightning and then flashback to a memory of their time as the Teen Titans.

The end.

It is not particularly well-drawn. I'm not sure why Brett Booth keeps getting relatively high-profile gigs, but a quick flip-through of this should demonstrate why he should not. I suppose it's possible he's enormously popular with a certain sub-section of DC Comics fans--though sales on the books he has worked on does not seem to indicate that he brings tens of thousands of fans with him to these projects--but he has a lot of trouble drawing things like hands and feet. It's not just his style, which obviously different readers will have different opinions regarding, but it's his the mechanics of his art. He's just not a really good superhero comic artist, which is why it's a little weird that he keeps getting hired to draw superhero comics for one of the two biggest publishers in that particular market. (Again, I do love that Wally West costume though. I think Booth designed that? It's a good design!)

There is an inherent problem with this series as it fits into DC's currently fucked-up continuity, but it's so complicated that I don't really know how to get into it. The events of DC Universe: Rebirth indicated that during the creation of The New 52, someone (Doctor Manhattan) stole ten years from DC continuity while it was being rejiggered by The Flash, Reverse-Flash and Pandora. Only Wally, and the people he's told, know anything at all about this though.

The implication here is that these group of characters--who reunited during the fairly awful Convergence spin-off Titans Hunt, of which I only read the first two issues, and could stand no more--are "remembering" their pasts that they had somehow forgotten.

Whether someone or some force made their pasts so that they never happened or simply made them forget are two very different things, though, and it's unclear here which it is. The flashback scenes show the various characters in "new" or New 52 costumes--Dick Grayson is wearing the Tim Drake-inspired New 52 Robin costume, not the pre-Flashpoint one, for example, while Roy and Garth similarly have new old costumes. Meanwhile, Wally and Donna are dressed in versions of their pre-Flashpoint Teen Titans costumes during the flashbacks.

But then, we've seen the birth/creation of Donna Troy, and it happened long after Dick and Roy were introduced. She emerged from a witch's cauldron on Paradise Island as a grown woman, some sort of evil magical golem created to kill Wonder Woman. She's like, maybe a few months old in DC time. Maybe Abnett, who also wrote Titans Hunt already explained that, but it doesn't make any goddam sense in the context of this, which really should stand on its own, as it has that "#1" on the cover and, like the rest of DC's "Rebirth" initiative, it is meant to be a jumping-on point, selling future series and/or franchises (This leads directly into Titans #1, featuring this grouping of characters, as opposed to Teen Titans, which will feature the current Teen Titans).

At any rate, as far as I can tell, there were at least three changes that the characters are struggling with: 1) Their rebooted past (in Flashpoint), 2) The loss of ten years of continuity (as revealed in DC Universe: Rebirth) and 3) the loss of their memories of each other and their time as a team together. It seems as if these things should all be related, but apparently they're not.

Further confounding things is the fact that Wally finds a scrapbook in Dick's apartment, featuring a photo of the Teen Titans line-up from their time as Teen Titans. If that happened in a different universe, than that photo is some sort of weird artifact from a past universe that somehow survived this one's cosmic reorderings (not unlike Batman's letter from his Flashpoint dad, which we've recently seen under glass at the Batcave). And if it happened in this universe, it means that Dick Grayson kept a scrapbook in which he posed for a photo with some teenage superheroes he had no memory of ever being on a team with, or even knowing existed, as is the case with Wally.

I honestly can't make heads or tails of this title, and the fact that the art is so poor, I don't even want to try. I suspect DC would have been in much, much better shape if they let Geoff Johns handle any of the books that are going to directly focus on his reboot stories and how they make sense. Sure, elements of DC Universe: Rebirth were dumb, but they made sense. Maybe Johns would have been able to apply them to titles like this and still make sense in a way that Abnett can't, simply because he's not the guy who wrote all of the cosmic continuity shenanigans that painted these particular characters and this particular shared setting into the corner they and it are currently stuck in.

Batman #1 by Tom King, David Finch, Matt Banning and Jordie Bellaire

The cover kinda sorta spoils the ending–in which Batman meets two super-strong, flying superheroes who call themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl–but then, the PR blitz that has accompanied DC's "Rebirth" initiative likely already did that before anyone who was terribly excited about this book had picked it up anyway.

The entire issue spans only a few minutes, as Batman races to try and save a jetliner full of people from crashing into downtown Gotham after it's tail is blown off by a shoulder-mounted missile launcher stolen by a terrorist (with Kobra, rather than any real-world organization). In so doing, we see the new Batmobile--which looks like that of The Animated Series, save for a Batman head mounted on the front--and his two Oracles, Alfred Pennyworth and Duke Thomas.

By the climax, Batman is able to save everyone on the plane and in its original path--thanks to math and the mini-jet engines he apparently carries in his car--but at the cost of his own life. It's a pretty nice, touching moment between he and Alfred, really and, as they say, it would have been "a good death"...if not for the intervention of the caped strongman, who saves Batman's life.

I have some questions about the direction--I'm particularly curious about Duke's role and his eventual codename*--and about changes that were probably already answered in an issue I missed somewhere (How James Gordon was reinstated as police commissioner--and why he started smoking again--and the whereabouts of Julia Pennyworth). Overall though, it's a very effective, action-oriented script that goes along way towards detailing aspects of the current status quo and introducing a big, unusual conflict.

There is one rather questionable aspect, in which a mystery antagonist is introduced; he apparently killed the Kobra agent and took the shot himself...or did he kill the agent after he took the shot...? Either way, it's a mysterious figure seen in an extreme long-shot, apparently dressed in a long-ish coat, who talks to himself, telling Batman to "watch the clock."

Given the events of DC Universe: Rebirth and the promise of more Watchmen nonsense to come in it's last pages, I wonder if that is meant to be Ozymandius...? Hopefully not! (Tom Spurgeon posted a link--and additional commentary--to something Ed Brubaker wrote about DC's recent use of Watchmen, and why it is so disappointing. I go a lot farther than Brubaker--I do blame everyone who worked on Before Watchmen, and think their doing so was incredibly scummy, but then, I'm lucky enough that I'll never be forced to have to choose between making money and doing something I find morally or ethically reprehensible...and, for all I know, Lee Bermejo had a relative who needed an expensive operation and Brian Azzarello has dozens of kids he needs to feed).

The artwork is by David Finch, and the best thing that can be said about it is that, given the fact that it is David Finch, it could have been much, much worse. And it will likely will, based on his past performance and his relationship to deadlines.

It boggles my mind that this is who DC thinks should be drawing their number one book, but then, they boggle my mind pretty frequently.

Green Arrow #1 by Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt

Huh. Well, they didn't exactly attempt to draw any will they/won't they tension out of the Green Arrow/Black Canary relationship, did they? While this is from page eight of the first issue of the new Green Arrow series, I suppose it's worth remembering that counting Green Arrow: Rebirth #1, Green Arrow #1 is actually the second book of the new Green Arrow series by. So they drew it out for 27 pages pages, rather than just seven.

I still like Schmidt's art quite a bit, and I particularly liked the way that his version of GA's goatee actually looks a bit like an arrow in terms of its shape. Percy's script is fine, but it's already started to bore me with its straightforward employment of generic superhero comic tropes--but then, maybe someone who has been reading DC Comics for 25 years no isn't the intended audience?--and inclusion of the elements of the New 52 Green Arrow that are new and unfamiliar and therefore unappealing to me personally (Ollie has a little half-sister who is also a skilled archer, he works with a male Oracle type named Harry, et cetera).

As I said of the Rebirth special, Green Arrow seems more readable than it has in years. I'm afraid I'm just not interested, though.

Green Lanterns #1 by Sam Humphries, Robson Rocha, Jay Leisten and Blond

Writer Sam Humphries and artist do a pretty fine job of presenting Green Lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz as space cops, in the way they talk and they way they hold their rings like guns and so forth, but the portrayal seems a little off for these two particular Green Lanterns, as Jessica has never trained with anyone in the Corps, and while Baz has, Humprhies seems to be playing him up as a rookie too, as if he got his ring a few weeks rather than years ago (It's difficult to tell how time moves in comic book universe's, but based on Damian Wayne's birthday cake in DC Universe: Rebirth, it's been three years since Green Lantern #1.

Both characters have pretty crappy attitudes, dictated by the bickering partners premise, and neither are all that much fun to hang around with (Which I find surprising, as I genuinely liked Baz during Geoff John's run on the previous volume of the title). I find Cruz's agoraphobia pretty compelling for personal reasons, but I kinda wish she looked and acted a little bit more like someone who has suffered debilitating anxiety that kept her inside her own apartment for years, rather than just another superhero character.

Overall, it's fairly mediocre super-comics, but then, mediocre is better than bad. It's certainly head-and-shoulders above the Green Lantern where it left off prior to "Rebirth."

Superman #1 by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz

So that's a picture of the smoldering corpse of Goldie, the pet cat of Superman and Lois Lane's son Jonathan White. How did it get into that state? Well, an apparently enormously large and powerful hawk swooped down and carried the cat off. When young Jonathan tried to stop angrily stop the bird, he let loose a powerful burst of heat vision that incinerated both the bird and the cat, the latter's corpse falling right at Jonathan's feet, the bell on its collar tinkling as it its the ground.

Pardon me if I misread it, but I was fairly certain that the Geoff Johns-written DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot that kicked off this line-wide relaunch all but promised a return to a lighter, brighter, less grim and cynical DC Universe than that of The New 52. And yet, here's a drawing of a cat's corpse, accidentally murdered by a little kid.

It's not the only dark scene in the book. While it is played as some kind of grotesque joke (note the bell, landing like a punchline), the climax of the issue features Jonathan and his dad Superman arguing about whether having secret identities makes them a bunch of liars or not and being sent to his room.

Later, Batman and Wonder Woman show up to converse about him with his dad, and there's a creepy scene where all three look up at him as one. The cliffhanger ending is a splash page of Superman, bathed in shadow, telling his son he needs to come with him immediately. Now, Tomasi and Gleason both do a decent job of showing how the world of adults--especially serious adults who are acting in a child's best interests, whether the child sees that or not--can be scary. They put the reader in Jonathan's shoes. But jeez, it's a pretty unusual take to a story that amounts to "What if Superman was your dad?" (Based on what promotional materials DC has released regarding this title, Superman probably isn't taking his son out to be murdered by Batman and Wonder Woman or anything like that; he's taking him out to begin training this new Superboy in the use of his emerging super-powers).

As with DC Universe: Rebirth, Superman: Rebirth and Action Comics #957, what exactly is going on with the Superman franchise is still up in the air. Tomasi reminds us that it's probably not as cut-and-dry as Old Man Superman carrying on the legacy of the late New 52 Superman on the first page, when the former visits the latter's grave and something weird happens, and he remembers being told by a "Mr. Oz" that they aren't what they seem.

This issue rather reiterates the White family's status quo: Lois White writes books under an assumed name, Superman is a farmer (although he has now shaved off his disguise of a beard and stopped wearing the all-black costume in favor of a new one with the red and blue colors) and they are raising their half-Kryptonian son on an isolated farm in Hamilton County, in whatever state Metropolis is in. Jonathan seems to be the focus of this issue, at least, as not only is he slightly traumatized by accidentally killing his own cat, but he's also seen doing it by a neighbor girl.

The storytelling, despite the choices Tomasi and Gleason are making, are pretty superb, and there's a really fantastic double-page splash that uses its space to draw attention to an extremely basic action in many Superman narratives, but here making it seem new, fresh and completely monumental.

So far, Superman looks great, and if you're patient to wait out the explanations of what the shifting status quo will eventually settle into and don't mind DC's apparent inability to not tell dark superhero stories anymore, then it's definitely a worthwhile comic.

*A commenter on the first installment of "Afterbirth" guessed Golden Bat, which isn't bad...but I'd rather see it applied to a Japanese character, myself.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: June 15th

Circuit-Breaker #3 (Image Comics) The latest issue of Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker's ultra-dense dissertation on Japanese pop culture in the form of a pastiche adventure comic has so much going on that my brain can barely catalog all the references.

The first eight pages–just eight pages!–features a flashback to the war between the U.S. and Japan 50 years ago, and that war was fought primarily between the American superheroes (whose catchphrases their leader Commodore 64 steals without remorse) and the robot heroes of Japan, the climax a battle between the Gigantor analogue (I think) and the Americans' Godzilla-like kaiju, which a character calls out as such: "This is psychological warfare! They think they can walk all over us with their goofy 'Godzill?'").

After those eight pages, the storyline resumes, the pace of the craziness doesn't let-up at all.

The action climax involves a transforming truck robot that is only something of an allusion to the Transformers and the revelation of our heroine's real nature to her enemies in the robot terrorist cell.

Two random thoughts: 1) I need to set this issue aside for the next time my Japanese friend visits, so she can translate the sound effects and names that appear in some panels and 2) When Marvel next tries to relaunch the Fantastic Four, they should give Kyle Baker a crack at them–he does a great Thing, from what little we see of Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew in this issue.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story (DC Comics) I actually haven't read a page of this yet. In fact, I haven't even torn the cellophane off. So I'm just listing it here because I bought it at the shop today. This is Paul Dini's graphic novel-format memoir about surviving and recovering from a brutal physical attack in the 1990s, when he was working on Batman: The Animated Series. It's drawn by Eduardo Risso, one of the greatest Batman artists around these days who hasn't really gotten to draw Batman as much as one might hope he would. I'm both really excited to read this, and a little anxious, given the subject matter.

Jughead #7 (Archie Comics) I feel weird saying this, as I thought Erica Henderson's artwork on the first six-issues of the Chip Zdarsky-written Jughead was perfect, but I think I might prefer the work of Derek Charm. Granted, Henderson's version of Jughead's nose was better, as she managed to retain it's unrealistic cartooniness while fusing it to her own personal, not-at-all-indebted-to-the-old-Archie Comics-house style style, but Charm's character designs are a nice fusion of "new" art with the flat, gag comic look of Archie Comics.

Not that one needs to rate Charm and Henderson against one another or anything. I just point this out because I was a little worried about the change in artists, and it turned out that I liked this new guy who isn't Erica Henderson a whole lot.

Chip Zdarsky's plot for this new arc isn't as crazy as that of the previous arc (at least, not yet), but it includes lots of jokes, some of which are wonderfully surreal (like the Mantle family reunion). What I found most surprising, however, is the way in which there's some actual character conflict and drama in this issue, as Jughead loses his temper with Archie, who perpetually values girls over him.

It's a weird thing to realize, but guys, Archie Comics are really, really great right now, and I look forward to reading them in a 100% non-ironic way. In fact, this was the first comic I read this week (I don't know about you, but I generally stack up all my new comics in the order of which I am most excited to read them, with any trades going at the bottom. This week it was Jughead, Circuit-Breaker, Swamp Thing, Lumberjanes and SpongeBob).

Lumberjanes #27 (Boom Studios) Well, what do we have here? It's another Lumberjanes story arc that seems to be going on way too long for what relatively little story there is. It hasn't dragged yet or anything, but just knowing that this is the third issue in what will be a four-to-six-issue arc has given me something of a sinking feeling.

Jen, Roanoke Cabin, Scouting Lad Barney and, um, that other 'jane from a different cabin and their magical, super-powered kittens are all reunited with Rosie and The Grand Lodge ladies...and they are now all stuck in the next of the giant, horned monster bird that turns out to be a Roc (rather than a Thunderbird, as I assumed; I guess that makes sense, since despite the North American setting the majority of the monsters the 'janes face are from classical myth).

Their our two opinions on how best to deal with the giant monster bird, one of which is to kill it, and the other of which is to escape without killing it. Barney finds the key through the power of bird-watching, and the new girl comes up with a plan, the realization of which makes for an actually rather dramatic cliffhanger, as she figures it out but doesn't spill, leaving a reader (or at least this reader) to puzzle over it in their (or my) head, but not getting any satisfaction. Next issue, I guess.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat Vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline (Marvel Entertainment) I haven't read all of this first trade paperback collection of Kate Leth and Brittney Williams' new Hellcat comic yet–that's what I'm going to do as soon as I hit the "publish" button after finishing this post–but I've read the first two issues as they were serially published, and they were excellent. While I've read many more issues of the other two series, based on what I know so far, I would hold this up next to Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones' Howard The Duck and Ryan North and Erica Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl as one of Marvel's very best comic books, a perfect example of how genuinely fun and funny the Marvel Universe and its characters can be when they are allowed to be.

SpongeBob Comics Annual-Size Swimtacular #4 (United Plankton Pictures) For the fourth SpongeBob summer annual, the comic is once again devoted to superheroes, which means a whole lot of pages featuring Aquaman parody Mermaid Man. This particular installment includes some work from some honest-go-goodness, what-are-these-guys-doing-here? superhero comics creators, including Jerry Ordway (who drew the cover), Jon Bogdanove (who drew the table of contents) and Neal Adams, who pencils and inks a Derek Drymon written and laid out story that parodies the Adams illustrated, "relevant" Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories of the late 1960s. In this version, Green Arrow stand-in The Green Harpoon convinces Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy to quit saving the city from supervillains and instead devote themselves to "the boring problems of the common citizen!"

Seeing Adams' version of Mermaid Man, who has the too-big muscles, neck and chin of a superhero parody, sharing the panel with what look like pretty straight versions of typical Adams characters run through a SpongeBob filter, is pretty great fun.

The other stand-outs in this over-sized, 48-page comic are the Drymon-written, Robb Bihun-drawn "SongeBob BabysitterPants," drawn in a rather realistically rendered, ink-heavy style, and Scott Roberts "Speed O 'Lightning," an entire, 10-page story written to the tune of the Underdog theme song. You should probably read that one out loud for the full effect.

Swamp Thing #6 (DC) The final issue of Len Wein and Kelley Jones' Swamp Thing miniseries ends with a bit of a whimper, as T.S. Eliot predicted (and Wein points out himself in his narration). That's mostly because this is the last issue though, and there's really only one way the conflict can end. Matt Cable has cured Alec Holland from the curse of being Swamp Thing, and he's done so by becoming Swamp Thing in Holland's stead...and then promptly using his newfound, god-like powers to threaten to conquer the world. SHIELD ARGUS has nukes pointed at Houma, Louisiana, where the conflict is set, and it can therefore end in one of three ways. First, Cable can take over the world. Second, ARGUS can wipe Holland, Cable and a portion of Louisiana off the map. Or, third, Holland can take the Swamp Thing powers back from Cable and everything can go back to where it was at the start of the series.

Guess which of those three options Wein goes with?

Of some surprise, if only because it is such a contrast to what we've seen before, a few classic Swamp Thing characters make appearances, and there are guest-stars galore. Not only do Steve Trevor Agent of ARGUS, The Phantom Stranger, The Spectre and Zatanna all reappear, but so too does Etrigan, The Demon.

It's great fun to see Jones' versions of all of these characters. I particularly liked his Zatanna, which is just so...different than the way everyone else draws her, and some of the expressions his Spectre makes. I wasn't very enamored of his Demon (I didn't care for his Etrigan when it appeared in his run on Batman either), but it's still interesting to see Jones' bizarre style applied to different characters just to see how he interprets them. Like, I'd be excited if Santa Claus showed up in a Kelley Jones comic, just to see how Jones would draw that jolly old elf (Hey, that's not a bad idea! Mr. Wein! Can your next miniseries with Kelley Jones involve Santa Claus? Maybe he can team up with Batman to fight Calendar Man and The Krampus or something...)

I suppose one could read something into the last panels in which Swamp Thing is overly emphatic about the fact that he knows exactly who he is, that he is Alec Holland and definitely not a sentient plant with Holland's memories, as some kind of meta-response to what Alan Moore did with Wein's character during the classic run which is the main reason anyone knows/cares about Swamp Thing at all (especially given DC's apparent decision to base their latest relaunch on calling out Watchmen as some kind of wound on the DC Universe), but I've become somewhat inured to DC comics writing criticism or conversation with Moore's work for the publisher a generation the point where I can sometimes spot it, but rarely care enough to think about it.

As with the previous issues, I cam for the Kelley Jones art, and everything else about the comic was just some sort of Kelley Jones delivery system.

Okay, that's it for tonight. I'll probably write at greater length about Dark Knight and Patsy Walker later, and do come back this weekend for reviews of this week's DC "Rebirth" books, of which there were many.

Monday, June 13, 2016

I recently reread Secret War for the first time.

Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell'Otto's five-issue, 2004-2005 Secret War miniseries was, in retrospect, probably a pretty important, or at least important-ish, comic for Marvel.

The series featured some of Bendis' first writing of many of Marvel's top-tier characters after having spent some years writing Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil and Alias, including non-Ultimate Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America, all of whom would form the nucleus of his new Avengers team (along with Luke Cage, who also co-stars in this series). Immediately preceding the 2005 launch of New Avengers and House of M, the book could be seen as a sort of warm-up for Bendis' assumption of Marvel's Avengers franchise, which he would rather quickly transform into the publisher's top franchise, making it more important (and better-selling) than the X-Men, and his role as Marvel's chief writer-of-line-wide crossover events (In addition to House of M, he also wrote Secret Invasion, Siege, Age of Ultron and contributed to Avengers Vs. X-Men. His Civil War II just launched).

Secret War introduced the character Daisy Johnson/Quake, who would remain a minor character, but a minor one who has reappeared in various places in the years since, including TV series Agents of SHIELD (in an odd, roundabout way, from what I understand), and it half-introduced more prominent new character Maria Hill, who appears in the last issue as the new commander of SHIELD succeeding an AWOL Nick Fury...but she is never actually named.

What I remember most about the series, however, is how angry it made me while reading it.

The sources of my anger were three-fold. First and foremost, it was as written-for-the-trade ("decompressed," we used to call it) as all of Bendis' scripts generally were, and it suffered incredible delays between issues, particularly between the penultimate issue and the final issue: It took 22 months for Marvel to publish those five issues.
Secondly, and worst of all, when the final issue did see release, much of it consisted of two characters in conversation–Daisy Johnson and unnamed Maria Hill–and Dell'Otto kept recycling the same handful of images of Daisy, fan-cast as Angelina Jolie with her Hackers haircut (see below), over and over again in one of the most transparent acts of making as little new art as possible I've seen before or after. I counted 28 individual panels featuring Daisy seated at a table being interviewed by Hill in that issue, but only four-to-six different paintings of her, occasionally framed differently to try and disguise the fact they were just being re-used over and over (He also recycled imagery from the earlier issues, with new Bendis narration atop them, meant to serve as flashbacks to events that were only about a few issues past).
Thirdly, it was over-priced at $3.50, and the 22-ish page stories were followed by a bunch of lame filler in the form of transcripts of interviews between characters presented as SHIELD files...outtakes of Bendis' script, for the most part. (Ah, those were the days, when $3.50 seemed like far too much to pay for a Marvel comic book!)

By the time the final issue did come out, I could barely remember what happened in the others. Nick Fury recruited a rag-tag band of superheroes, many of the comic book-selling variety, to help him invade and do something illegal in Latveria, and then we wiped their minds so they forgot about this "secret" war.

Some co-workers–both of whom were regularly watching Agents of SHIELD at the time–were reading the series for the first time some months ago because of the Daisy Johnson connection, and they were discussing it. I realized then that I had never actually read the story in one sitting, just 20 pages at a time over the course of almost two years–you know, the way Marvel published it–and the book had hit the ten-year anniversary of its completion last year. So it seemed like a good time to revisit it, and see how it aged.

The storyline is itself incredibly disjointed, jumping around in time, stopping where things get interesting, re-starting via flashback at the climax of the secret/forgotten war, and then skipping over the next bit. Basically, the story mechanics of getting from A to B to C to D are jumbled up; we get those points in the story, albeit out of order, but explanations of how we get from one to the other are missing. To be generous, I think this is simply a matter of Bendis placing a lot of faith in the reader–too much faith, probably, given the interminable months-long wait between chapters–and his attempt to create a reading experience evocative of what the heroes themselves went through. They don't actually remember what happened, only bits and pieces, and they are eventually just told what happened. They themselves are missing large parts of the story, and therefore so is the reader.

On the other hand, it could just be poorly structured and written. When one looks at Bendis' entire body of Marvel work, the latter actually seems more likely. He's great at writing scenes, but no so hot at writing stories.

And this story? There's a pretty clever idea in it. At some point, SHIELD starts running the numbers and realizes that the economics of low-level super-villainy in the Marvel Universe just doesn't make any goddam sense. Millions of dollars are spent on high-tech gadgetry like goblin gliders and super-exoskeletons and special chemical weapons, but the villains wearing those costumes and wielding those weapons are primarily using them to pull-off bank heists that generally net them no more than tens of thousands of dollars at a time (This discrepancy has been pointed out repeatedly before; I want to say primarily regarding The Flash villains, most of whom use fantastical weaponry for bank robberries and jewel heists. Were Captain Cold to simply sell his freeze ray technology to an arms manufacturer, he could legally make millions or billions, and not have to constantly worry that someone is going to punch him out at super-speed).

Following the money, SHIELD finds that these low-level, tech-powered "theme villains" (as they call them) are being funded by a foreign government, Latveria, making that fictional Marvel Universe country a state-funded sponsor of terrorism...just three years after 9/11.

Fury takes this info to the president (George W. Bush, whose face is in shadow), and Fury is told by the president and his team that they'll handle it without SHIELD, thanks. Fearing they won't, Fury goes through a fun but long putting-together-a-team process (Cage, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America, Daredevil, Black Widow and a mysterious 18-year-old girl that looks like Angelina Jolie from Hackers). Together, they travel to Latveria, kick a bunch of villains' asses, execute the Prime Minister (not Doom, who is oddly absent) and destroy her castle in an earthquake to "send a message."

Then Fury somehow erases everyone's minds. But one year later the villains come gunning for them all with a terrorist plot to destroy all of New York City in an act of massive blowback. Timely intervention from the Fantastic Four–maybe the bad guys should have attacked D.C.? Or any U.S. city that is not home to 99% of all superheroes?–stops the explosion from leveling the city, but Fury is forced into exposition, and everyone gets mad at him. Wolverine flies into a berserker rage and tries to kill Fury, but Fury turns out to be a Life Model Decoy, so it's all cool.

The storyline is something of a precursor to Mark Millar's dunder-headed politics in Civil War, as Bendis' Fury tries to articulate a post-9/11 view of superheroics that raises more questions than answers. Fury regards heroes as soldiers, which is what they would soon become thanks to the super-draft that the heroes all fight over in Civil War, but they're not willing ones...exactly.

Fury could probably have pulled it off without tricking and brainwashing the likes of Captain America, Spider-Man and Daredevil. Black Widow seems cool with it, Daisy (who kills the Prime Minister and destroys the castle all by herself anyway) isn't brainwashed, Wolverine says he would have done it if just asked, and there have gotta be enough Wolverine-like characters among the anti-heroes and mercenaries of the Marvel Universe to do it. Of course, that wouldn't sell as many comics. Fury's justification for using the heroes is...murky at best. He explains that the Latverian PM was using American criminals, trying to "punish us by funding our criminals--use our criminal system against I had to use our heroes against her."

He wanted the action to be "loud" and "total." The language these people–terrorists? Latverians?–understand was superheroes killing people and destroying castles, and he wanted to send a message that wouldn't just stop the Latverian plot, but stop some other state from executing something like it at some later date.

But given the "secret" nature of the secret war, it's not like the example is widely seen. In fact, Fury covered it up in the media, so no one is actually aware it occurred, not even the brain-washed heroes who participated, just maybe a few survivors of the attack in Latveria. Who exactly is it supposed to scare/send a message to? Doctor Doom? Has Doctor Doom ever been scared that if he doesn't straighten up and fly right the Avengers might come after him? (Further confusing the matter is that the heroes all wear special "stealth suits" during the attack, so, for example, Spider-Man and Captain America don't even look all that much like Spider-Man and Captain America. Of course, I wasn't even aware they were wearing stealth suits until the back of the book, however, when they show Dell'Otto's designs for their mostly-black suits; the parts of the story in which these suits appear are all colored black and white...which, in Dell'Otto's painting, means gray and gray. I wonder if there was a change made to this aspect of the story during publication, when an editor noticed it didn't make any goddam sense, and perhaps the black-and-white coloring was a way of covering up the contradiction of wanting to send a message using sueprheroes, but then disguising the superheroes).

Things get extremely murky after Fury's visit to Bush and his cabinet, when he is furious to find that they now know about a terrorist plot to attack the American homeland and are going to do nothing. I'm honestly not sure what this scene is supposed to refer to.

I imagine Fury was referring to 9/1l, but then, that doesn't quite make sense, because Al Qaeda was a non-state actor, and it's not like we ever followed rules of diplomacy with them before their attack on September 11, because they were a non-state actor.

And it's weird to hear Fury making that speech about the Bush administration, since they did just attack and overthrow a government during the invasion of Iraq, a year before this series launched, without any real evidence that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror. Essentially, Bendis has cooked up a fantasy version of what the Bush administration wished they had after the 9/11 attack–proof that the leader of a hostile nation we weren't terribly fond of was funding a coordinated terror attack on the U.S.–but in the Marvel Universe the Bush administration decided to not attack that country.

I know it's "just" superhero comics, but why drag in all of this real-world geo-politics if you're not going to deal with them realistically or logically, or just play the "it's just comics" card...?

Fury's nonsensical plan doesn't actually work, anyway, as it just causes the Latverian prime minister–who survived having an earthquake in her heart and a castle knocked on top of her–to gather all her tech-enhanced villains for a big chain reaction bomb meant to destroy New York City. Her plan kinda sorta almost works, or at least seems to maybe work at the climax of the fourth issue, but it's difficult to tell just what on Earth is going on. Invisible Woman Sue Storm is in the middle of trying to use her invisible force field powers to break the chain and/or contain the blast, and Dell'Otto just draws it like this, so, um, who knows what's happening.
Is that an explosion? An explosion caught in a forcefield?

Whatever happened, New York City was not destroyed, and who knows how many of the villains even died. (Best guess? The bomb went off, but the damage it caused was reduced severely by the Fantastic Four's various unintelligible actions.)

Dell'Otto's character designs are awfully sharp, and I really liked his Luke Cage, who has a full head of hair, rather than shaving it bald or wearing that dumb beanie David Finch always drew on him in New Avengers. I also really liked Dell'Otto's Wolverine, whose sideburns extend into devilish goatee.

His storytelling leaves a lot to be desired, and that may have something to do with the pressures of the deadline, which obviously completely broke him by issue five. The action scenes are all dark and contain many similar-looking villains, so it can be difficult to tell the players apart, and his Fury is as gymnastic and agile as his Spider-Man or Daredevil.

And then there's this weird scene, where I think The Thing tries to break the ground, and then just holds the pose for a few panels...? Rather than beating repeatedly on the ground...?
Seriously, I've got no idea what's supposed to be going on there. In context, Thing is trying to destroy the pier to stop the chain reaction bomb some how but I just read it again, and I can't figure the imagery out. It looks like he's just holding the pose and waiting for the pier to crumble beneath him for some reason.

I kinda liked the new Goblin design,
and Spider-Man's patter with the Goblin (in general, Bendis is a pretty good Spidey-patter writer).

I did not like seeing SHIELD Agents getting physical with the captured villain Shrike. The torture of enemy combatants is a black, black stain on America, and while they don't torture him to the extent that real-world enemy combatants have been tortured, they do kinda beat the shit out of a helpless man they've already denied due process, and it's just a little too evocative to the collective sins of Global War On Terror-era America, and not exactly something I'm comfortable seeing in my superhero comic books.

Especially since one of those guys is post-Godzilla, pre-Agents of Atlas Jonnhy Woo, one of my favorite SHIELD Agents!

I re-read this not in the form of the single issues, which are buried somewhere in my comics midden, but in the form of a trade collection, and damn, was I surprised to find that the story ended about two-thirds of the way through the book, which contains an incredible amount of filler, in the form of SHIELD files on many Marvel characters who don't appear in the book (almost 60 pages worth of them, taken from some a one-shot entitled Secret War: From The Files of Nick Fury, and then another 30 pages of process stuff).

It certainly reads better in trade, and it's certainly interesting to read a decade later, after we've seen where Brian Michael Bendis went with these characters (and his career) during that decade at Marvel, but it's still not any better than mediocre. One of Bendis' many interesting, ambitious failures (albeit with plenty of fun moments, my favorite of which is probably Ben Grimm's battle cry, above), featuring some of the most obviously phoned in art I've ever seen in.