Friday, November 28, 2014

Comic Shop Comics: November 26

Batman Eternal #34 (DC Comics) It's the final showdown between Batman and Hush, which means...Hush isn't the master villain behind all of the problems in Gotham after all...? That appears to be the point of Batman finding the invitation in Hush's coat at the climax of the issue, and, if that is the case, then, hoo boy, who is the villain behind all the villains?

They've already introduced Deacon Blackfire, Carmine Falcone and Hush into The New 52 via this series, and all of them have now apparently all proved to be mini-bosses rather than the final boss. The Penguin, way past overdue for a major overhaul, has already been introduced and dismissed from the series, as has Bane, who played an extremely small role.

I suppose it could be The Riddler, who has previously intimated that he knew who the real enemy was, but it would be weird for writer Scott Snyder, co-plotting this with James Tynion, to use him again in such a manner so soon after "Zero Year." Ditto The Joker, after "Death of The Family" and the in-progress "Endgame." Ra's al Ghul always seemed the most likely, given the second half of the title and the fact that the first page revealed the villain knew Batman's secret identity, but Ra's, like Two-Face, seems to be a character writer Peter Tomasi claimed "dibs" on for Batman and Robin.

I suppose it could be Batman's brother, or the guy who thinks he's Batman's brother, from the first year of the New 52 Batman. We should find out soon, as Batman Eternal begins to near its spring 2015 end date.

This issue, penciled by Alvaro Martinez, inked by Raul Fernandez and scripted by Kyle Higgins, pits Hush against first Julia Pennyworth and then Batman himself. Meanwhile, the federal government seizes Wayne Enterprises and all its assets, since Hush was blowing up Wayne-sponsored secret weapons caches around the city in apparent terrorist attacks. This issue, then, finally gets us almost up to speed with events that occurred prior to first issue of new series Arkham Manor...which shipped its second issue this Wednesday.

In a weird-ish synchronicity, both this issue and this week's Deathstroke #2 feature villains sitting atop Game of Thrones homage thrones cobbled together from the weapons in the personal arsenals of the title characters:

Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea, Tomeu Morey

Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson

Weird, right?


Batman '66 (DC) This was one of the stronger issues of Jeff Parker's Batman '66 in a while, I thought, as King Tut appears yet again as the Dynamic Duo's diabolical d—
...

...

...disputant!

Despite the concerted efforts of Dr. McElroy's new professorial peers at Harvard to keep him from getting conked on the head and reverting to his King Tut personality, the inevitable happens on page 2, and so King Tut returns to Gotham in a supercharged chariot dubbed "The Sarcarphagus" to blanket the city with the Osiris Virus, which turns everyone who breathes it into zombies.
There's also a throwaway gag involving Bookworm, a robot dinosaur wearing a top hat and cape and a literary pun, which adds up to this being an all-around rather wild story. Parker's collaborator here is arist Scott Kowalchuk, who gets to design some pretty cool-stuff, and whose regular characters have a nice, rough-hewn look about them.

Still waiting on an issue with interior art by cover artist Mike Allred, preferably one starring Batgirl...


Gotham By Midnight (DC) Following Arkham Manor, this is the second new ongoing series to spin out of the events of the still in-progress Batman Eternal series (third, if you count Catwoman, which received a completely new creative team and such a drastic change in direction following the character's role in Batman Eternal that it might as well be an entirely new series, despite not rolling the dial all the way back to #1 on the cover).

Like Arkham Manor, it's launching before Batman Eternal has quite caught up to the point where the series begins—Jim Corrigan disappeared after transforming into The Spectre and destroying Arkham Asylum during a supernatural battle with the ghost of Deacon Blackfire, and hasn't been seen since—but, also like Akrham Manor, it doesn't really matter overmuch. Everything you need to know about the comic is in the comic itself.

Oh, and one more similarity: Like Arkham Manor (and Gotham Academy, and the new directions for Catwoman and Batgirl), this title has a very distinctive look. Here that's down to artist Ben Templesmith, who apparently handles every aspect of the art, right down to the coloring. While I can think of other artists whose work Templesmith's style slightly suggests—Sam Kieth for one—no one currently working for DC draws anything like Templesmith, which goes a long way toward making the book look so different and, therefore, special.

Whether it's the fact that Templesmith is hand-drawing the dialogue balloons, or if that is all letterer Dezi Sienty, it's well worth pointing out that the letters in this book also look different from those in all 40-some other comics in DC's "New 52" line.

The premise of the book, written by Ray Fawkes, is actually generic enough to be tired, even exhausted—law enforcement agents that deal specifically with the supernatural—but that premise at least feels fresh because of the setting of Gotham City and the presence of Jim Corrigan. It's essentially a new direction for a Spectre strip, The Spectre by way of Gotham Central.

Our point-of-view character is hard-ass skeptic and Internal Affairs officer, Sergeant Rook. He comes to investigate Precinct 13 (get it?) one night, with the intention of shutting the whole weird affair down. It's run by Jim Corrigan, who has apparently become a Gotham City policeman* sometime between Arkham exploding in Batman Eternal and now (presumably that's what the panel of Batman, Corrigan and Commissioner James Gordon on the first page is meant to intimate happening?), and is staffed by just two other police officers and two consultants, a mad scientist type and a nun.

Naturally Rook's investigation allows us to meet the characters and get to know, or at least get a sense of, each of them, and it is just as naturally interrupted by a case (Batman shows up for a few panels, hands Corrigan a bunch of files which the ghost cop spreads out like tarot cards, and then he plucks the one that happens to be supernatural).

Unfortunately, while Fawkes and Templesmith do a fine job of introducing the basic premise and sketching out the characters, we don't really get to follow a case from start to finish. There just aren't enough pages, so that when he hit the cliffhanger on the 20th page, it feels like we're just hitting the first commercial break in the pilot episode of an hour-long TV drama. In other words, we don't really have enough to go on in terms of deciding whether this is something to continue watching or not.

Despite the TV-ready aspects of the comic, it doesn't read much like a pitch for a TV show—one that looks a hell of a lot more entertaining and less convoluted and off-putting than Gotham, by the way—thanks mostly to Templesmith's very unusual art. The way it's written, it could perhaps be reverse-engineered into a TV script with no problem. But it's drawn like it was meant to be a comic book.

I don't entirely know The Spectre's whole deal in the rebooted universe of The New 52—from what little I've seen of him in Batman Eternal, Corrigan doesn't seem to have any real control of when or how to access The Spectre's power—but in this case, losing all knowledge of the character in the reboot actually serves to make him more mysterious.


Madman In Your Face 3D Special (Image Comics) I sorta wish I would have read the back cover of this oversized, ad-free, 80-page, $9.99 3D book before I made the purchase; if so, I would have realized that it featured “classic Madman stories rendered in 3D…as well as a new short story.”

Not that I remembered any of those stories, although I had a real sense of déjà vu while reading “Swiped From Dimension X!”, in which “Mr. Excitement” tries to bring Madman back from the brain-dead, by urging him to shake off various fictions, the practical result of which means we get to see Mike Allred impersonate just about every comics creator, cartoonist, illustrator or animator he admires or likes from throughout history, a 25-page story consisting of some 19 pages of Allred affecting the styles of other artists, sometimes as many as 22 per page.

There’s also “Become Like They Are,” a Madman and The Atomics story consisting of 14 consecutive double-page spreads, the dialogue and multiple images suggesting side-scrolling implied panels; “Sinkhole Skyuoobuz!,” a five-pager in which Madman confronts an author seemingly making a killing off his likeness; and a one-page Little Nemo-inspired strip, which reads in an incredibly easy-to-follow spiral.

The rest of the book consists of 20 pin-ups by a wide variety of artists, including such EDILW favorites as Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera, Maris Wicks and Ian Bertram. Most of these feature Madman and The Atomics, although the Bob Burden one features Madman and (who else?) The Flaming Carrot.

My favorite of these was probably Nick Dragotta’s, as it makes great use of the 3D to have Madman hitting the reader in the face with his trusty yo-yo, although Maris Wicks' is pretty great too, in the way she creates a three-dimensional Mad Man logo as a sort of gravity-less platform, with the excite-ning bolt forming the sides, and Madman, The Atomics and other supporting characters dancing all around it.

Oh, and Aaron Conley’s is pretty rad; open mouths look pretty awesome in this thing.

As for the 3D, it is among the best—if not the best—3D effects I’ve ever seen in a comic book. I think Alan Moore and company made the best use of 3D in that one, big, particularly crazy League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, but what this lacks in literary value, it makes up for in incredible effects. The colors are rather necessarily washed out, so everything has a sickly green-gray lilac look. Color is such a big factor in what makes Allred’s books so great that it’s greatly missed here, but probably worth sacrificing on this one occasion just to see what Madman comics look like in your face.


New 52: Futures End #30 (DC) This is it! The battle for Cadmus Island, as Green Arrow (Earth-New 52 Oliver Queen), Red Arrow (Earth-2 Oliver Queen), Big Barda and The (lame-ass New 52) Outsiders storm the beaches and take on Brother Eye's OMACs and mind-controlled Earth-2 superheroes.

There's a brutal death in this issue (page 9), and it was a genuinely shocking one, given the character's prominence throughout the series so far (that said, with god-like Fifty Sue a player in the series, I'm not so sure anyone who dies in this book is really dead unless she wants them to be). That, and it's just so sudden, even causal.

Unfortunately, what is presented as a sort of final fight against Brother Eye that culminates in the destruction of his main host body and the entirety of Cadmus Island is immediately undercut by the rather cheap, slasher flick-style ending, proving that little if anything was actually resolved-resolved by the big battle, a conflict that has been teased for months and months now.

Like last issue though, this one was devoted entirely to a single scene involving characters from several sub-plots, and thus had a greater sense of urgency, import and momentum that too many issues of the series have lacked.

My favorite part of the issue, however, is Lois Lane bragging about how she's going to write the story of the events of the day and what's been going on there to Green Arrow, despite the fact that she didn't actually see or learn anything at all while there; she basically just parachuted in, fought one OMAC, talked to her Earth-2 counterpart about nothing in particular, missed the battle and then talks tough to Green Arrow rather than, like, asking anyone any questions.

Tom Raney is the artist on this particular issue. He does a decent enough job.


The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17 (Marvel Entertainment) Well, if you weren't reading Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's Superior Foes—and based on the sales that apparently made this the final issue of the series, it would seem quite a few people were not—I hope you at least consider picking up the eventual collections (just as I hope Marvel doesn't include those weird fill-in issues by people who weren't Spencer and Lieber out of those collections).

A comedic crime comic featuring The Sinister Six—here consisting of 4-5 of Spider-Man's lesser foes, not the bottom of the barrel, but definitely the lower middle of the barrel—it had the look and feel of a 21st century crime comic, but the iconoclastic take that Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis brought to their Justice League comics in the 1980s.

It was fun, it was funny and it was exceedingly well put-together. While it's a bummer that the book won't show up in shops next month, it's great that it goes out on a high note (this was one of the better issues of the series, and I was surprised a few times while reading and I laughed out loud a few times), and it seems to go out as if it was always meant to go out like this. Nick Spencer resolves the hell out of the series, so that weird rando fill-in anthology issues aside, the entire comic reads like one big single story, where every sub-plot is resolve and every running gag remembered, with call-backs aplenty.

The character whose name is in the title finally makes an appearance (of sorts), the new don of New York is finally established, The Punisher eats something other than a cronut, The Owl eats maybe the only thing more disgusting than a hotdog, Dr. Doom appears long enough to deliver two fantastic lines, a nice visual joke is made at the expense of The Mets and we learn the final fates of just about every single character involved.

I don't know how much of this book will be honored elsewhere in Marvel's line, shared universe or not (The new don, for example), but this was a hell of a great monthly comic book, and will make a hell of a graphic novel when collected.


Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #4 (IDW) Here is a brief synopsis of the events of this issue, the fifth in Tom Scioli and John Barber’s series (which kicked off with a #0 issue) violently smashing the two venerable 1980s toy franchises into one another.

Duke, undercover as a Cobra soldier (not sure why they didn’t use Chuckles for that, instead of sending him to invade Cybertron), is discovered and taken by Decepticon Frenzy and Cobra trainer Big Boa, but he manages to fight his way free, just in time to confront G.I. Joe defector Snake Eyes; the two fight before the space gateway to Megatron’s throne room on Cybertron, tumbling through it.

In the bowels of G.I. Joe base T.H.E. P.I.T., Cobra defector Dr. Venom does some crazy-ass occult ritual on the remains of the Transformers he’s been tasked with figuring out.

Meanwhile, between Earth and Cybertron, all of the Joe pets are wearing special weapons systems, and being lead by Shipwreck’s parrot Polly** and flying in a Joe ship shaped like Snoopy’s head called U.S. 7 (Like We3, get it? There are seven animal Joes, and the abbreviation for “United States” is spelled the same as a synonym for “we”). Their ship is at the head of a sky full of missiles aimed at Cybertron.
They are boarded and attacked by the new Oktober Guard, who are original (re-)creations of Scioli and Barber, now scary, horror-themed, monster-soldiers rather than generic Soviet Stereotypes. These are all intercepted and swallowed by giant Transfomer Fortress Maximus.
On Cybertron, a Joe strike force is painting targets for all those missiles, when they are captured by Hotrod, an Autobot now working a menial job for the Decepticons. He’s attacked by Blaster, whom he defeats and rescues, just before the missiles hit.

Back in the Joes’ terraformed “Green Zone,” Bazooka emerges from an exploding port-a-potty, toilet seat around his neck, and discovers all the Joes and Transformers we thought died last issue are all actually alive.

Then Metroplex arrives, disgorging the team of captured Joes along with the Autobots and their self-appointed king, Grimlock.

Grimlock declares a truce, they have a dance party, Bazooka eats a leaf of the terra-forming bomb, which self-evolving, constantly transforming Transformer planet Cybertron has begun hybridizing with, and trips balls, being given a drug induced vision and the mysterious command “PRIME US.”
See? I am not making any of this up.
Grimlock explains the history of the Transformers war and Prime’s war in it during a section marked “Grimlocrypha,” and the still-fighting Snake Eyes and Duke are plucked out of the void by a half transformed Optimus Prime, seemingly fused into a weird new shape with this many accessories.

That’s one issue of this book, which is so packed with cameos, allusions, in-jokes and obscure references it reads like a Quentin Tarantino adaptation of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. Where are the annotations of this comic…?

Oh, that’s right; Scioli and Barber provide them themselves, in the four pages of story commentary that follow the 20 pages of awesome comics that is Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #4.

These, as usual, prove every bit as fun as the comics themselves. There is a lot of fun language used in the comics, from the Joes repeatedly using the word “Gobot” as some sort of slur against the Transformers (I wonder if the Gobots cartoon show and toy line existed in this universe, or if they just coincidentally settled on it as an insult for giant transforming robots?) or the use of "Stereanko" as a verb, but so too is there fun language in the story notes, such as a reference to Dr. Venom using the “Decepticonecronomicon.”



*I used to think that would be a good idea for a Martian Manhunter series; to have J'onn J'onnz's civilian identity get a job as a Gotham City police detective, where he'd catch all the strange and unusual X-File cases, due to his uncanny abilities to solve the strangest of cases. It would certainly be an easier way to sell a Martian Manhunter solo series anyway, as sticking just about any DC character in Gotham City wouldn't do anything to hurt sales.

**In both the original Hasbro toyline and the original cartoon series, Shipwreck's parrot was named "Polly." Here he's referred to as "SEASICK aka POLLY." A few minutes of Internet research tells me that a contest was held to name Shipwreck's parrot in the pages of a Marvel UK comic book entitled Action Force, and "Seasick" won. Scioli explains in the story commentary that "Polly is Shipwreck's affectionate nickname for Seasick. Or maybe it's the other way around."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Every Day Is Like Wednesday is closed for Thanksgiving. We'll reopen tomorrow night.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I think Yusaku Hanakuma's Tokyo Zombie is the greatest comic of all time ever (at the moment, anyway)

About two weeks ago I was working on a review of weird zombie manga Magical Girl Apocalypse, Seven Seas' translation and publication of Kentaro Sato's Mahō Shōjo of the End. It was a fairly typical zombie apocalypse type of story, starting out in a Japanese high school (like Highschool of the Dead, with which it shared a few other things in common), with its one big twist being the source of the zombie outbreak: "Magical Girl" stereotype characters, whose victims return to life as fast zombies...wearing frilly dresses.

At the time, it seemed to be about as weird a zombie manga as I could have imagined. While I was working on the article, I spent some time Googling Kentaro Sato and Mahō Shōjo of the End, and ran across a couple of lists of recommended zombie manga which included something with the rather prosaic, even generic title of Tokyo Zombie. It seemed to come up enough that I saw if it was something I would be able to order from the library, and it was.

It turned out to be much, much weirder than Magical Girl Apocalypse which, after all, basically only had that one twist making it so weird, and, in fact, one of the weirder Japanese comics I've laid eyes on in a while. In style and sense of humor, it seemed to have an awful lot in common with weird-ass humor comics of the West, and, well, as strange as zombies wearing frilly dresses killing people all over Japan might seem, Magical Girl Apocalypse doesn't have any scenes like, say, this:
Now, if you haven't read Tokyo Zombie (yet, and you totally should, if it sounds like your sort of thing by the time you finish this post), you'll know that there's context to the panel. It's not just an incredibly weird scene of a one-armed guy with a pitchfork riding a wave of angry pigs.

The guy is a slave kept by the rich in the post-apocalyptic society that arose from the ashes of the zombiepocalypse; he loves his pigs, which the brutish guards abuse for fun. When he tries to stand up to them, they chop off his arm. As the book reaches its climax and the slaves revolt, he begs his pigs forgiveness, sticks each of them in the butt with his pitchfork to enrage them, and then rides the tsunami of angry pigs into the guards with a "Huh?" and a "!?" before he stabs one in t he face with his pitchfork, back flips over the fallen guard and gets machine-gunned to death. His pigs fight on though, eating the rich.

The thing is that even in context, the panel still stands out as a really fucking weird panel, which is one of the great things about Tokyo Zombie. So many of the gags are just as funny if you're flipping through and seeing them out-of-context (or, say, seeing them posted on a blog), or if you read the story panel-by-panel and page-by-page. It's just that kind of comic, where crazy shit happens constantly, and while there's an often strong element of the non sequitur about the jokes, they are just part of the presentation. The book does tell a story, a funny, sweet, dramatic story, a sweeping epic narrative of honor in the ruins of civilization.

According to the fine print, Tokyo Zombie was originally entitled Tokyo Zonbi and was serialized in Ax Magazine in Japan in 1998-1999, which seems like an even longer time ago when I remember where I was in 1988-1999 (still in college), and just where pop culture was at the moment, vis a vis its zombie obsession (28 Days Later was still three or four years away).

The afterword by Yusaku Hanakuma explains that he was originally planning on a 16-page story in which his usual character Afro and Hage fought some zombies (Afro is distinguishable by his afro, Hage, which is Japanese for "bald," as I learned after befriending a Japanese girl, is, of course, bald). I grew in the telling, and so, he wrote:
I made sure to give the fans what they wanted (or at least I tried). I crammed in zombies, rucks, pro wrestling, martial arts, factories, Mt. Fuji, pigs, intense battles, wealthy people, slaves, porno, gym teachers, a little dog, Calpis*, tonkatsu**, a prince, a professor, and so on, to try an created a comic that was a sort of fin de siècle celebration of manliness.
The result was a nine-chapter, 155-page half-serious comic presented in deadpan fashion, rendered in a rough, somewhat amateur-ish looking style more suggesting of the modern American mini-comic than what we modern Americans tend to think of as "manga style." The artwork flows beautifully, but is almost universally stage in middle-distance or long-shot images, the rare close-ups reserved for acts of gory, NSFW violence (a man's penis is bitten off by a zombie on page 11, with the sound effect CHOMP) or reaction shots from the previously mentioned little dog and/or pigs.

Chapter 1***, "Dark Fuji," introduces us to our star/s and the source of this particular zombie apocalypse. These are, of course, the Afro and Hage characters (the former referred to by the latter as "Fujio"), two laborers who are practicing martial arts on their break from...whatever their factory/wareshouse job is. A note on the martial arts: It's not the sort of spectacular kung fu one might be used to seeing in comics or films, but rather some form of grappling-like martial art. Whenever we see the pair training, they are on their backs or knees on the ground, putting one another in some form of hold, or trying to escape from a hold.

"Fujimoto from main office," a man in a suit, shows up and belittles his underlings: "Heh, you guys spend your breaks rolling around on the floor? You two sure are close, huh?"

This sequence features my favorite panel ever, due to its utter randomness:
Man, "What the fuck! Think you're hot shit because you're bald?" beats out "#$%@! Werewolves! I don't get it!", another recent favorite for completely random dialogue.

When Afro/Fujio clocks him on the back of the head with a two-by-four, killing him, the pair take his body up to Dark Fuji for burial. This is a mountain made of trash, where people would dig holes to hide trash and bodies, "And sometimes the ones that got buried weren't even dead yet."

As our protagonists leave, corpses start to emerge from the ground, one of whom is a naked lady who bites the penis off a gym teacher, who was there burying the body of a student he accidentally killed. She's one of a crowd of zombies to climb out of the ground atop Dark Fuji, and then wander down into Tokyo.

Here's how the television pundits try to explain the situation...
...but those panels are followed immediately with other responding, "You don't say," and "What kind of ridiculous mumbo jumbo is this?"

Whatever's going on, there are zombies all over. Hage and Afro continue to train until zombies break into their barricaded makeshift dojo. They make a break for it in a truck, but when Hage stops to save a little dog, he gets bitten, and throws himself into he sea before he can turn into a zombie and attack his friend, instructing him to keep training and to take care of the dog.

From there, the story jumps five years into the future, with the narrator returning to tell us about the shape of the new, post-apocalyptic world, which resembles that from George Romero's 2005 Land of the Dead quite a bit.

The surviving humans have built a big city protected by a wall and a brutal, armed militia, both of which serve to keep the zombies out and the slave labor taken from the ranks of the not-rich in. And what do the idle rich do all day? Well, as the narration puts it:
For them (the wealthy), life without TV, radio, Jacuzzis, or cultural arts centers was incredibly stressful. From that stress, a new pastime was born...ZOMBIE FIGHT!
And Zombie Fight is almost exactly what it sounds like: Humans fighting zombies, in a walled-off arena from which the rich can look down on them. The fight is run almost exactly like professional wrestling, with the human zombie fighters taking on the flamboyant personalities, showmanship and moves of today's pro-wrestlers, and, the fight organizer building drama by putting zombies in luchadore masks and other such nonsense.

It's here that Afro (and his little dog) rejoins the narrative.
Having apparently completed his training—he now wears a gi with a black belt—he is one of the better if least popular zombie fighters, as he always wins his matches, but he does so in as boringly efficient a manner as possible.

Everything comes to a head when the crowd calls for his head, the fight promoter tries various ways to get him killed in the ring and the revolution rages outside...the various conflicts overlapping into a human vs. human war, with zombies, pigs and the little dog joining the fray:
As shit gets real, the dog starts jumping from the arena floor, and pulling rich, old, bloodthirsty ladies into the pit, where they are then attacked by zombies (Meanwhile, pigs attack the rich, old, bloodthirsty ladies up in the seats).

It's madness and mayhem, with the forces of powerful martial artists and animals eventually triumphing over both the corrupted living and the corrupt dead. In other words, it ends quite happily, for everyone who doesn't die horribly, anyway. But hey, most of those who died horribly either deserved it, or gave their lives doing something noble, like saving a little dog or killing those who would chop off his arm and "pig surf" on his pigs (i.e. stand on a pig's back, adopt a surfing pose and say: "Check it out. Pig surfing!")
If you like zombies, professional wrestling and/or martial arts and things that are funny, and don't mind gore and occasional crude sexual humor in service of a joke, then Tokyo Zombie is a, no the book for you. I haven't read every zombie manga ever created, but I'm tempted to call it the best zombie manga ever. Just as I haven't read every comic book ever, and find myself tempted to call it the best comic ever.



*Calpis is a terrible-sounding Japanese beverage, which you can read about on Wikipedia if you want. I should note that it sounds terrible to me personally; I don't mean to sound judgmental of you and your love of Calpis if you dig it.

**That's a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet, which a pair of guards plan to turn one of the pig keeper's pigs into.

***Interestingly, while the book is called "Tokyo Zombie," each chapter page features a full-page illustration with the title of the chapter, the words "Tokyo Zombie" at the top (in both English and...Japanese. I can't tell if it's kanji or hiragana any more, because my knowledge of Japanese culture is atrophying the longer I spend away from my Japanese friend. But I assume its kanji), but, along the bottom, these pages always have the words "Tokyo of The Dead," which is hand-lettered in an approximation of Dawn of the Dead font.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Superman gets a lavish gift from his BFF and his GF slaughters their foes in Superman/Wonder Woman #13

Celebrity gossip followers and/or typewriter enthusiasts may have heard TMZ's report earlier this monththat Angelina Jolie put down $11,000 toward a $250,000 purchase of Ernest Hemingway's last typewriter from a typewriter collector. It was meant to be a wedding gift for long-time boyfriend Brad Pitt, but, for some reason, Jolie eventually decided not to buy the machine.

Perhaps she was outbid by someone with even more money than Jolie...?
Well, given the lead time involved with the production of comic books, what a strange synchronicity that just two weeks after TMZ reported on Jolie's pursuit of a Hemingway typewriter for the love of her life, Batman buys Superman one in a comic book published just two weeks later.

So, what does this mean? Does Batman love Superman as much as Jolie love Pitt? Are Batman and Superman married? Is Angelina Jolie the Batman of Earth-Prime? Is Batman the Angelina Jolie of the DC Universe? Is Superman the Bradd Pitt of the DC Universe? So many questions!

This panel occurs in Superman/Wonder Woman #13, the first issue of the series by the new creative team of writer Peter Tomasi, pencil artist Dough Mahnke and inkers Jaime Mendoza (with Don Ho inking two pages; Mahnke's run on Green Lantern was one that required anywhere from two-to-four inkers per issue, for some reason). Of the three Wonder Woman books released this week, it wasn't the best (that would have been Sensation Comics), but it wasn't the worst either (that would have been Wonder Woman).

I'm a big fan of Mahnke's work, which I've enjoyed off and on since his Major Bummer comic in the late '90s; today he's one of the better DC Comics artists working on their regular DCU titles on a regular basis. He's an interesting, maybe even ideal, choice for this particular title, having had plenty of experience drawing the pair during a long if under-appreciated (and ultimately troubled) run on JLA, and in later DC Universe titles like bits of Final Crisis, Green Lantern and Justice League of America.

I also enjoy the work of Tomasi more often than not; when his comics are bad, they tend to be really bad, but to still have a strong, baseline structure to them, and to work as plots and scripts, no matter how off the characterizations might seem, or how pointless or distasteful those stories can be. I think he writes far more good stories than bad ones though, and while I'm pretty far behind in his Batman and Robin series at this point (I read it in trade), it's easily the second best Batman book; given the fact that the New 52 line consists of something like 31 Batman comics, hat's a pretty good showing (Um, I may be exaggerating slightly on that bit; someone check my math, huh?).

This particular comic falls pretty squarely into the mediocre category, I'm afraid. But hell, that's still better than bad! (And it's a great improvement over the original Superman/Wonder Woman team, which featured not-very-good-at-all art by Tony Daniel and a crack squad of fill-in artists (I reviewed the Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1 collection here, if you're interested).
Let's start with the cover, which reveals at a glance that the comic is already better than the David Finch-drawn Wonder Woman. The cover is still a fairly generic "posed" shot that could likely adorn any issue of a comic featuring both Wonder Woman and Superman, the closest thing we get to a storytelling element being that big red skull behind them, but, well, the skull is a pretty generic symbol of the ever-present threat of death in our heroes' dangerous lives.

Unlike Finch, Mahnke goes with a very big, very strong, very powerful version of Wonder Woman. She stands straight and tall, with immaculate, confident posture and a toned, athletic build. She's unfortunately wearing her dumb, over-accessorized black, red, white and silver New 52 costume (A choker, a garter and an armlet are a little much, and I think three "WW" symbols is overkill), but I don't suppose there's much that can be done about that without editorial approval. She's also carrying a sword and a spear*, two deadly, stabby weapons that should seem super-superfluous to someone with super strength and the ability to make a fist (The similarly powered Superman, hovering just behind her, isn't carrying a blade or packing heat, you'll notice).

Do look at Wonder Woman's expression, in addition to her poster, on this cover versus on Wonder Woman's cover. She's confident, relaxed, maybe eve a little bored.

(One complaint about the Mahnke-drawn, Tomeu MOrey-colored cover? I wish there were deeper, darker blacks; part of Superman's face is in shadow, but it's a brownish-red shadow. It gives the image a sketch-like quality, but I always prefer more stark imagery, myself).

The story within begins with a flashback to the day Superman and Wonder Woman first met—the day chronicled in the first story arc of Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee; you know, the battle against the Parademons in which the Justice League united to casually murder enemies by the dozens.
The very first page is a splash page, in which Wonder Woman and Superman are swarmed by Parademons. "BACK TO HADES!" Wonder Woman screams, while slitting one's throat, bisecting another's head and chopping another's arm off at the elbow all with one might swing.

I know we've talked about the Justice Leaguers' surprising willingness to slaughter their foes in that Justice League arc repeatedly, and the two explanations generally offered was that killing Parademons doesn't count because they are aliens and/or not human (weak, especially considering they're being fought off by alien Superman and galactic policeman on an almost all-alien beat Green Lantern) or that the Parademons are made up of some sort of Deathlok-esque combination of robot parts and dead bodies, meaning that they're not really alive.

That's pretty weak too, considering that it's no-prize thinking (there's nothing in the comic, or in this revisiting of that comic, to indicate that)...not to mention the fact that what the actual comic book does reveal is that The Parademons weren't killing anyone, they were trying to capture people alive (the League was therefore responding to non-lethal attacks with lethal force) and that they are all former victims who were being turned into Parademons against their will. Rather than seeking a way to save them, Wonder Woman was just straight up chopping them to pieces (while the other Leaguers, including Superman and Aquaman, were killing them left and right in the page of Justice League).
The following four pages continue the flashback to the battle, in which Wonder Woman continues dismembering**, beheading and stabbing Parademons to death.

In this issue, we don't see Superman actually killing anyone, and he and Wonder Woman actually argue tactics, with Superman asking him to help here build a buffer of rubble to keep the invaders from getting at the humans, while she prefers to kill them, getting in a nice Amazon burn at one point.

"Who did you train under?" Wonder Woman asks while Superman sets a boulder atop a Parademon and she withdraws the sword she shoved to into one's chest all the way to the hilt.

"My father," Superman responds.
Ha ha, your dead father was a shitty fighter, Superman! (Note the background in this panel; it's easy to miss, what with Wonder Woman punching a foe's head and shattering it like an egg, but the various reactions of the three people between Wonder Woman and the Parademon are pretty fun; Mahnke provides plenty to look at in these panels.)

The pair did not get a long at all, seems to be the point, and then we flash forward to "Today," where they most certainly do.

Wonder Woman is wearing a hideous dress and impatiently awaiting Superman to finish writing on his gift from secret husband Batman so they can go on a date. For reasons unclear to me, Superman is wearing his Superman costume (I thought it was some sort of nantochech thingee that appeared and disappeared as needed now?) with a red shirt over it.

In a neat reversal of her earlier burn on Superman's dead father, Wonder Woman admires the way he uses super-speed and club soda to get a stain out of his shirt, and Superman says, "Credit my mother."
That's cute.

...

Wait, did Superman match his shirt to her dress? Where are they flying off to, prom...?

There's a cute scene about Superman giving up every taxi that stops for them in Manhattan in a freak rain storm, when an earthquake KKRRRRUMMBBBBBles, and they realize something supervaillainy's going on.

"Date night over," Wondy declares.

The cause of the problems are a pair of familiar supervillains, each outfitted with jet boots, and working for a mysterious employer. These are Major Disaster, who Mahnke drew exenstively during his JLA run (at the time, the villain was inspired by Superman to reform and start using his powers for good, even becoming a member of the Justice League for a while until the League's story just sort of petered off as Infinite Crisis and its accompanying continuity punches and soft reboots temporarily abolished the League, and its recent history was forgotten by the next semi-permanent-ish writer, Brad Meltzer).

The pair of villains put up a hell of a fight before suddenly cutting and running, at which point they're intercepted by a new character with the terrible costume and more terrible still name of Wonderstar.

This action scene, like the one at the beginning, is pretty wonderfully illustrated. Mahnke's great at figure work, action and expression and, in great contrast to the Daniel (and others) run earlier in the title's short history, there are pages packed with enough panels that the fight seems like a real super-powered fight, rather than a handful of poses. That is, the villains and heroes each get to use their powers in a couple of different ways to attack and counter one another. It's not exactly an action masterpiece or anything, but it is action, and that's actually something compared to so many of the fights these two usually engage in.

I'm not sure this issue was engaging enough to encourage me to read the next one, or to add the book to my pull-list, but it seems to be an improvement over the previous issues of the series I've read, and it's head and shoulders above the new Wonder Woman run.

If you only read one Wonder Woman comic, you're still better off sticking with Sensation, but if you read two, or want to read one set within current New 52 continuity, than this is your best choice at the moment.


*Double phallic symbols!

**I've been reading a lot of Star Wars comics lately; it would be interesting to see whether those feature more arms being chopped off than DC Comics' superhero line of comics. There are a lot of arms being chopped off in Star Wars comics, but for some reason it never seems as jarring as it does in a DC comic. Maybe it's because it's usually bloodless, with the lightsabers cauterizing the wounds, making them bloodless, or maybe it's because I've grown up thinking that sometimes a Sith Lord or Jedi Knight has to chop someone's appendage off and/or kill the hell out of them, whereas seeing Superman and Wonder Woman kill enemies still seems a newer, more novel phenomenon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

We need to talk about the new issue of Wonder Woman

...or...

"I Read Wonder Woman #36 So You Don't Have To"

As a comics critic, I never quite know what to do with terrible comic books when I come across them. I never go out of my way to read a comic book that I suspect will be terrible without any mitigating circumstances, and, when I do read one, I then wonder if it's better to just not mention it anywhere at all, under the ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away school of thought, or if I should go out of my way to discuss the book and its negative qualities, so as to not let the only reviews of the book to get written be positive ones.

In the case of Wonder Woman #36, I obviously decided to review it rather than ignore it, not simply because it was terrible, but because the character is so damn...well, important. I think it's well worth noting that this was one of three comics with the name "Wonder Woman" in the title. In addition to this issue, the first by the new creative team of Meredith Finch, David Finch and Richard Friend, Wednesday also saw the release of the excellent Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #4 (discussed here) and the first issue of Superman/Wonder Woman by it's new creative team of Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza (more on that book in another day or two).

I quite literally set down one prose book about the character and picked up another one, that latter getting what seems to me like an unprecedented amount of mainstream media attention for a book about a comics creator and his creation (Do correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any books on other creators and characters ending up on, say, The Colbert Report, for example).

With a long-awaited movie finally—finally!—in the works, we're only going to be hearing more and more about Wonder Woman in the next few years, so it seems well worth while to see how publisher DC Comics is handling their stewardship of the character.

Relaunched with a new #1 and a new direction in September of 2011, Wonder Woman has thus far had only one creative team, a rather rare feat for a DC comic from that period. Writer Brian Azzarello, artist Cliff Chiang and several different fill-in artists recreated Wonder Woman in several dramatic and controversial ways during that time, pulling focus away from the character and her past to something that, for better or worse, was at least new, a sort of urban fantasy that re-cast Wonder Woman as an adult female Percy Jackson.

Azzarello also pulled off the pretty neat trick of rebooting the character without really rebooting her—most of the changes involved were merely Diana learning things about her origins and the Amazons she didn't know before—so that it wasn't impossible, or even too terribly difficult, to line the run up with the ones that preceded it (continuity-wise, if not tonally). And, remarkably, he managed to keep Wonder Woman completely divorced from the rest of the DC Universe, to the extent that DC had to create a new team-up title—Superman/Wonder Woman—in which to address her relationship with the rest of the DC Universe, particularly her new boyfriend Superman.

Who did DC tap to follow the long three-year, 740-page run of Azzarello, Chiang and company...?

Writer Meredith Finch and artist David Finch. You'll be forgiven for not recognizing the first name; she has little to no prior comics writing experience (Scripting one of the three stories in 2014's Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Tales From Oz from another writer's story is the only credit I could find), and her main qualification for the title seems to be that she is married to artist David Finch, who remains inexplicably popular with DC editors, despite being wholly unreliable at hitting deadlines or producing semi-legible artwork.

Neither seems a particularly good fit for a top-tier DC comic book featuring one of their biggest stars, but DC seems to be counting on whatever fanbase Mr. Finch still retains after his poor showing during Forever Evil, the first few issues of Justice League of America and his abandoned vanity Batman book The Dark Knight will off-set whatever readers were following Azzarello and Chiang as they left the book (If I had to guess, I would assume the Finch team is only going to be around for an arc or so anyway; that seems to be about as long as David Finch can devote to a book, so this may just be a temporary "stunt" creative team while DC firms up the next, "real" creative team who might be able to commit to a run at least as long as Azzarello and Chiang's).

So, how did Finch, Finch and Friend do...?

Like you had to ask.


THE COVER

Personally, I don't mind Wonder Woman being portrayed as particularly youthful, small or even dainty. I think the large, powerful, statuesque warrior woman portrayal is valid, and it's certainly been the default version since at least Crisis On Infinite Earths, but I don't think she has to be portrayed with that particular body type or presence.

Her strength doesn't come from her body, after all, but the gods, and I generally think of William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter's Wonder Woman as the "real" Wonder Woman. Peter's Wonder Woman was fit, but she was 1940s fit; she wasn't musclebound or even particularly imposing.

Her girlishness was part of her charm, as was her male opponents constantly being surprised when she performed some incredible feat of speed or strength before their astonished eyes.

Finch's Wonder Woman definitely looks young, particularly here on this cover, which he seems to have spent much more time on than any panel of the comic within, as it's maybe his best drawing of the character, and she's not particularly tall or muscular.

Of course, she's posed in a sort of zig-zagging pattern, so her stature's a little hard to judge, isn't it? Finch give her a young face and slim body, with disproportionately large breasts, and poses her awkwardly crouched, butt thrust back, back arched to thrust her breasts forward. Maybe he was trying to crouch behind that big-ass shield to protect herself from all those arrows being shot at her?

The posing reminded me of this...
...although I think Emmy Rossum looks like she might have a better fighting stance on that Cosmo cover.

Anyway, it's a pretty basic, even generic image of the character, of the sort that DC might slap on any random issue of Sensation. It works well enough for a first issue of a new run in that it's divorced from any particular story elements, but it's also yet one more image of Wonder Woman as violent warrior goddess.

Apparently engaged in battle with humans—or humanoids—with a level of technology that involves arrows, Wonder Woman just got done fighting them off with a sword, which is still stained and dripping with their blood.

I'm afraid I never really understood why Wonder Woman needs to carry axes, swords or spears. She is super-strong, right? Almost as strong as Superman? Superman doesn't need to carry a knife to fight crime or defend himself; why does Wonder Woman need weapons on all the time?


PAGES 1-3

The first few pages of the story feature the title character meditating—via dark red narration boxes with a "WW" symbol in the first one, to assure us it is indeed Wonder Woman narrating—on the nature of water. "It nourishes and sustains life," reads the first one, "But it can also bring devastation and death."

The art in the first panel depicts a close up image of grass, while rain falls upon it. The following panels correspond to the narration pretty closely. "It is the answer to a prayer," appears in a panel of two vaguely Asian-looking farmers holding out their hands to feel the rain falling into them, while the words "Or our worst nightmare" appears on a panel depicting five little children running through a slum while the muddy wave of a flood bears down on them.

Some relevant visual information is communicated during this sequence. For example, there are three panels in a row of what appears to be be a statue of Wonder Woman in the rain (this is actually her mother Hippolyta, who was turned to stone earlier in this volume of Wonder Woman, but you would only know that if you've been reading Wonder Woman a while. Finch draws her identicallyt o WOnder Woman herself, and she even wears a tiara with a star in the middle).

On the third page, there are a series of images of a damn-breaking, a well-dressed man standing atop it as it does. On a cliff overlooking the broken damn, there's a mysterious figure, of whom nothing can really be determined; in two of the panels he's in silhouette, and in the other he's mostly in silhouette. Unlike the image of Hippolyta, this is likely intentional, and meant to be a mystery that will be explored in future issues.


PAGE 4

Here's the first appearance of Wonder Woman in the new run by the new creative team: A shower scene!
With a bar of soap, Wonder Woman is washing away the copious amounts of blood that apparently coat her entire body—it's safe to assume that it's other people's blood. Perhaps it belongs to whoever she was cutting and stabbing just before the cover shoot...?

While a reader might think, "A shower scene? Featuring Wonder Woman? In Wonder Woman? Ugh," said reader need not ugh. There is absolutely nothing the least bit sexy, exploitive or even mildly titillating about the scene. Because, remember, this is drawn by David Finch. I had to stare at the second panel for quite a while to determine exaclty what I was looking at; I eventually realized that it's supposed to be Wonder Woman washing her right elbow with her left hand, while cupping her right breast with her right hand.

Yeah, Finch is the kind of artist where it's difficult to tell what body parts are supposed to be what body parts.


PAGE 5

Wonder Woman steps out of the shower in her London apartment. I know it's London, because there's a caption that says "London" in the first panel. The first three pages, with the poor people and the Asian farmers and the dam or dams breaking? No idea where that was; they didn't get captions.

Wonder Woman walks up to a framed 2D image of two little girls in Wonder Woman tiaras. I think it's meant to be a child's drawing, but I can't rule out that it's a photograph. Finch isn't exactly the best of artists, you know? Maybe that's how he draws little kids.
Cyborg skypes Wonder Woman and tells her "We have a situation," to which she responds, "On my way." Great dialogue.


PAGES 6-7

"Paradise Island," a caption informs us. There are a bunch of Amazons posing in a room, arguing about developments at the climax of the previous run, which I am not privy to, as I have been reading it in trade. But This much is clear: The Amazons have been freed from their curse (all save Hippolyta, who is still stone), and apparently Wonder Woman has invited the Amazon men back to the island...?

A retcon from the Azzarello era was that rather than being immortals, the Amazons reproduced by capturing ships, mating with the sailors, killing the sailors spider-style, keeping any girl children born from the encounters and selling any male children to the god Hephaestus/Vulcan/Smith in exchange for arms.

Three ladies present having speaking parts, two are opposed to any men being welcomed into Amazon society. One of them, a withered crone who looks like she should be flying around outside a Scottish castle, foretelling an imminent death, is apparently Hippolyta's sister.


PAGES 8-9

This is just a two-page spread of most of the current roster of The Justice League—Flash gets a line noting that Luthor is absent—standing behind Cyborg, who is sitting in a chair in front of a computer.

Everyone looks terrible.


PAGE 10

Batman and Cyborg fill the team in on why they called the meeting: Apparently thriving villages have disappeared over night, leaving no signs of human or animal life behind. The team is going to split up to find "something...anything" that Cyborg's scanners couldn't find.


PAGES 11-16

On page 11, we see David Finch's fairly off-model Swamp Thing in the boughs of a tree in Thailand, talking to himself.

Wonder Woman says "Monster--" from off-panel right, and then she comes flying foot first at him from off-panel left (I knew Superman used to use super-ventriloquism, but I didn't realize Wonder Woman had wonder-ventriloquism!), screaming "What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!"
Wonder Woman continues screaming at Swamp Thing, accusing him of destroying the villages and punching him to pieces, while he retaliates by throwing her against a tree trunk and turning his arm into a swamp gunk hose.

The fight only ends when Swamp Thing summons a bunch of vines to entrap her, and protesting that he's innocent: "I felt a massive disturbance in the green and came to investigate."

Aquaman shows up and asks the obvious question.


PAGES 17-18

Aquaman and Wonder Woman are flying in a visible jet plane of some sort, and Aquaman tells her that maybe ambushing other super-people and tearing them to pieces might not be that great of an idea, Wonder Woman replies curtly, "Now we know he didn't do it. Let's move on."

That entire fight scene would have been a bit like Wonder Woman going to investigate a murder scene, and beating the fuck out of the policeman who might be there, just in case they were the killers.

And if Wonder Woman didn't think she could trust Swamp Thing to tell her the truth if she just, you know, asked him if he killed a couple villages full of people, she does happen to have a magical rope that can compel him to tell the truth if she just lassos his ass; why didn't she ambush with a lariat around the torso, rather than trying to kick his head off and then punching big chunks out of him?

Eventually, she opens up to Aquaman a little, in an info-dump that summarizes her status quo in as prosaic and uninteresting a manner as possible:
In addition to plain old bad comics storytelling, the panel reveals a conflict that's a bit of an uncomfortable one for Wonder Woman to be having—she's so busy with work and family and her relationships that she's feeling overwhelmed by it all.


PAGE 19

Wonder Woman alights on Paradise Island and meets Dessa, the Amazon with a speaking part earlier in the book who wasn't all bent out of shape about the Amazon men returning to the island.

They chat briefly about the brewing conflict, and Wonder Woman asks for a few minutes to spend with her mother before they continue any discussion, at which point we get the cliffhanger splash page.


PAGE 20

In the foreground there's a lumpy, viscous brown pile, atop which rests Hippolyta's face; her body apparently melted out from under neath it.

"She's dead," says Dessa in the background, while a shocked Wonder Woman looks down at what used to be her mother.

The end.

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

It's the cute little skull belt-buckle I think that makes Teen Titans: Earth One's Slade Wilson the best Slade Wilson (Well, that, and I like how different he is from the other ultra-bad-ass versions of the character. He's like a super-assassin gone to seed here, and a poor schmuck in over his head trying to be a good dad. That's obviously a pretty different take). You can read my review of the book here, if you're so inclined.

As with the previous books in the line, it doesn't make sense on, like, an existential level--for example, I'm not sure why this wasn't The New 52 Titans relaunch, save for the fact that Cyborg and Starfire were already assigned roles in Justice League and Red Hood and The Outlaws, I guess--but, unlike those books, it's actually quite good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Comic shop comics: November 19

Batman Etenral #33 (DC Comics) Jason Fabok draws and Kyle Higgins scripts while Julie Pennyworth and Batman run around Gotham City, manually turning on the sprinkler systems in the 17 remaining Bat-Bunkers before Hush can explode them all. The sprinkler systems rain down hydrocholric acid, not water, you see, so doing so removes the threat posed by the bunkers, which Batman has crammed full of plastic explosives and grenades for some reason, even though he seems to do 99% of his fighting via bat-shaped projectiles.

I was a little unclear as to why Batman reluctantly accepts Julia's help—and doesn't even give her a domino mask!—and why he doesn't call in any one else to help. Even if Red Hood left town and Batwing is all banged-up, Red Robin and Batgirl should still be hanging around somewhere, right?

Not a terribly eventful issue, really, but then, this being a weekly series, it doesn't really have to be all that eventful every issue.


Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #6 (DC) Well, I'm glad that's finally over. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad comic by any stretch of the imagination, and artist Ty Templeton's work was always a pleasure to see, but six issues—that's 120 pages—is a little excessive for a story simply trying to hit the beats of an hour-long television show. This read a lot like a four-issue arc stretched into six-issues...and something the regular Batman '66 title could have handled in a single issue.


Lumberjanes #8 (Boom Studios) I kind of want to call bullshit on The Lumberjanes using a fastball special at the climax of this, the concluding chapter of the now ongoing series' first story arc, but I think the fact that Ripley screams "I'm a fastbaaaaaaaall!" while being thrown sufficiently differentiates it from Colossus and Wolverine's version.

I laughed out loud four times this issue, which is a pretty good number of times to laugh out loud during a single comic book these days.


The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 (DC) There's nothing too terribly surprising about writer Grant Morrison going out of his way to tweak fellow comics writer Alan Moore. By his own admission in his kinda sorta biography Super Gods, Morrison made a habit out of attacking Moore early in his own career, although he never really explained why he did so, beyond the cultivation of some sort of "bad boy" image. And it has apparently never been very difficult to get Morrison to say something negative about Moore in an interview, based on all the negative quotes one can find in Morrison interviews.

Therefore it shouldn't be too surprising to see Morrison devoting an entire chapter of his The Multiversity project—a solid 40-pages—to what amounts to a conversation with Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' seminal 1986-1987 work Watchmen. Morrison had the good sense to decline—or good luck to avoid—doing one of DC's risible, reprehensible Before Watchmen comics, but then, if he already had Pax Americana in the works, he didn't really need to—this is as much a pastiche of Watchmen as it is an engagement with it.

And yet, it is still surprising, to a degree, that when approaching the source material for some of the surface details of Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen, Morrison didn't do something new and original (something the fiercely, volcanically creative writer has never shown any problem doing), or even slightly remix and represent that source material in a way that honors its original form (something else Morrison is fond of doing in his superhero work). Rather, he looks to Moore and Gibbons' take, and extrapolates from that, as if he simply couldn't resist the temptation of taking on Watchmen rather than re-creating the setting and characters that inspired Watchmen into something all his own.

It will certainly make reviews of Pax Americana more interesting to read, it may even garner some more attention than past or future issues of Multiversity did (but I don't know; we may have already spent all our outrage on the subject during DC's announcement and roll out of the now practically forgotten Before Watchmen comics), but it also seems unfortunate in several ways. First, it threatens to warp Multiversity, with this chapter's critic-baiting premise drawing all the focus that should be distributed a little more evenly upon the series as a whole, and, second, it's a pretty huge wasted opportunity, since Morrison isn't re-creating "Earth-4" and The Charlton Comics heroes, but using analogues of Moore and Gibbons' analogues.

In essence, Morrison and his frequent (and best) artistic collaborator Frank Quitely are just deconstructing a deconstructed comic book, using the original characters that the super-people of Watchmen were analogues of as analogues of those analogues. The symbol repeated most often throughout the comic is the sideways "8" of infinity, but it might as well be an ouroboros.

So DC Comics acquired most of the superhero characters originally published by Charlton Comics in 1983, an acquisition no doubt helped along by the fact that former Charlton editor Dick Giordano was at that time a managing editor at DC. The characters—including Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom and so on—debuted in Crisis On Infinite Earths, and, like other groups of heroes acquired from other publishers in the past (Those from Fawcett and Quality, for example), the Charlton heroes were assigned their own parallel Earth, Earth-4.

Alan Moore originally planned to use the Charlton heroes in Watchmen, been when DC nixed that idea, he and Gibbons instead created their own heroes, all of whom had only the most superficial of resemblances to the characters that inspired them (Costuming and powers/skills, for the most part). As for the heroes of Earth-4, they were all folded into the DC Universe proper when The Multiverse was smooshed into a single shared universe at the conclusion of Crisis.

This issue of Multiversity, the series exploring the new, restored Multiverse, is the one focused on Earth-4, and Morrison's Earth-4 bears an incredible, uncomfortable resemblance to that of Watchmen. It's not just the surface details, from the title's allusion to ancient Rome, the close-up image of an innocuous symbol being marred into unrecognizability on the cover, the repeated visual references of drops of blood in the corners of symbols or the alternate real-world history (look, it's President Bush!).

No, Morrison even goes with the same characterizations. So Captain Atom, like Dr. Manhattan, is blue and has an atomic symbol in the middle of his forehead (Dr. Manhattan imagery applied to Captain Atom, despite the fact that the latter is the supposed source of the former), and also a remote, disinterested and dangerous super-god (who talks about reality here in the same way Morrison's 5D creatures talked about it in his "Crisis Times Five" JLA arc almost 20 years ago).

The Question dresses more like Rorshach than The Question, takes Rorshach's vocal ticks and plays the role of the unstable, overly-violent outsider among the heroes, even putting a villain in a pretty shitty set of circumstances in much the same way Rorshach did a villain in Watchmen (though the stakes here aren't as terrifyingly dramatic).

Nightshade is, like Silk Spectre, the second-generation legacy version of the original, a fairly disturbed woman (albeit for different reasons). And Blue Beetle, like Nite-Owl, has problems getting it up.

The comic is, also like Watchmen, relentlessly formal, although it varies a great deal in panel layouts. It is, as you might expect from any Quitely comic, let alone one as interested in the formal ways in which comics work, gorgeous, with characters walking, fighting, flying and falling through panels, which are sometimes read right to left and up to down, as per usual, or in reverse, or all the way across a two-page spread in a series of extra-long tiers, or moving back and forth as if the page lay-out was long, winding staircase (on a page depicting an actual stair case), and, in a few cases, even seemingly atomizing into countless tiny images that offer a semi-cubist POV, only without the cubist style that defined actual cubism (Which is, of course, unnecessary, when you can freeze multiple points of view in different, distinct, individual 2D squares).

The Watchmen allusions really get in the way of a comic book story that is, otherwise, fascinating in the way it reads (although that too, I suspect, is a response to Watchmen; like the graphic novel its obsessed with, Pax Americana is all about how its read, but it reads much more wildly and with greater variance.
My favorite part was the confrontation between Blue Beetle Ted Kord and The Question (although Quitely's action scenes, as when The Question and Nightshade fight, or when The Peacemaker storms the White House to rescue Prsident Bush from terrorists, are both pretty spectacular). And that's mostly because of how awesome Quitely's redesign of Blue Beetle's bug ship, given a rounder shape and bigger eyes to make it more owl-like, I'm guessing, is:

It is so...so...so cute, I love it.

I finished this issue and immediately wanted to spend more time on Quitely's Earth-4, if only to see him drawing these characters, and that ship, in action.


New 52: Futures End #29 (DC) That thing you've been expecting to happen for months now involving Firestorm? It finally happens in this issue, as Tim Drake, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch all try to save Madison Payne from an experimental teleportation tube in evil Dr. Yamazake's lab. The cover spoils which two characters make-up this new iteration of Firestorm; you can tell whose body it is at a glance, but the faces in the yellow streaks of light reveal the other half of Firestorm.

This issue, drawn by Patrick Zircher, was a rather rare one in that it was entirely devoted to a single sequence, without any digressions to check in on any of the other sub-plots.

Sensation Comics #4 (DC) Last month retailer, industry advocate and Savage Critic Brian Hibbs noted how horribly the cover of Sensation Comics matched its relatively delightful interiors, the former and the latter apparently aimed at two entirely different audiences, each of which would be repulsed by one or the other.

To paraphrase a great American philosopher, Oops, they did it again.

This time the fairly generic Wonder Woman pose image on the cover isn't as violent as last month's Reis image, which showed a close-up of a roaring Wonder Woman charging through a cloud of blood while throttling a orc-like opponent with her golden noose of strangulation. Instead, the uncredited image shows Wonder Woman flying above rose-colored clouds, being lit dramatically by the rising (or is it setting?) sun. The problem? It's not that the cut of her underoos is so high that they seem to be disappearing into her, or that the shape of her nipple is clearly visible through her painted-on costume.

No, it's the fact that you can see both her entire ass and both of her breasts at the same time, making this pose a clear-cut, unequivocal case of a "broke-back" pose. If there's one comic book character that should never be posed that way, it's probably Wonder Woman, and the fact that she's posed that way on the paper, hard-copy edition of the digital-first series Sensation Comics only compounds the wrongness. Sensation Comics is a comic for the Internet, right? Surely its makers should know better than to avoid problems routinely pointed out by the Internet!

(If I had to guess, I'd guess this was an Adam Hughes image, based on the lighting, the figure work and the baggy boots, the latter of which is a sort of Hughes trademark, but try as I might, I can't find the familiar "AH!" signature anywhere on the cover.)

Compounding it further? This issue has the remaining 14-pages of the 20-page Gilbert Hernandez story "No Chains Can Hold Her!", which began in Sensation #3. So that's two issues in a row where they went with something dumb and not a Gilbert Hernandez drawing when they had Giblert Hernandez comics on the inside to sell. Ideally, this issue would have been a $2.99/20-page issue, consisting solely of Hernandez's story in its entirety, and with a Hernandez drawn image on the cover.

I'm pretty sure a Gilbert Hernandez comic book-comic would sell a lot of issues. And gain a lot of attention. To and from people beyond those that normally read DC Comics.

So this issue kicks off with pages 7-20 of Hernandez's Silver Age Wonder Woman vs. Silver Age Supergirl story, with the force of their collisions in the battle being such that they open a portal to a different dimension through which comes Mary Marvel. And now there's three super-ladies slugging it out for the amusement of Kanjar Ro and Sayyar.

It's pretty fucking awesome.
If there's anything better than that page, I don't know what it could possibly be. (Maybe if they were throwing Hal Jordan at each other...?)

Dr. Sivana, Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. also make a one-panel cameo.

Too bad colorist John Rauch miscolors Supergirl's hair on the last page she appears in...unless the implication is that Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel hit her so hard they knocked the blond right off her hair...?

That's followed by a ten-pager written by Rob Williams and drawn by Tom "Hey, where's he been?" Lyle, an artist I've always had enormous affection for on account of him being one of the first dozen or so comics artists whose work I encountered (On the first Robin miniseries).

This story has the inevitable title of "Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman" (No one has used that particular riff before?), which sees Wonder Woman teaming up with The Atom and Hawkman and Hawkgirl to taken on shape-changing Thanagarian criminal Byth, taking the monstrous form he did upon his original Silver Age appearance—only bigger.

We join the battle en medias res, with Wonder Woman grown to Godzilla proportions by some sort of growth field The Atom concocted. The action is set in Gateway City, which would seem to suggest that its set in the Byrne era, but everyone's costumes seem to place the story somewhere between the late Silver Age and so-called Bronze Age. Definitely Satellite Era, in terms of JLA history.

Lyle's art, which he inks himself, is a real treat, although I have to say he seems to draw the other characters even better than he does Wonder Woman—not that there's anything wrong with his Wonder Woman, of course.
I liked Williams' portrayal of the character, too. She fights, and wins the fight, but shows mercy on her enemy, solving the problem at the root of Byth's attack and, one imagines, changing him into a better person through her actions. That sounds a lot more like the Wonder Woman I know than the one that appeared in this week's other two Wonder Woman comics, Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman.

The final story in the issue teams Wonder Woman and Etta Candy—appearing in a modified, taller version of her Golden Age design—with Deadman, as they attempt to wrest a stolen purple healing ray away from Batman villain Ra's al Ghul (Sensation #4 really reads an awful lot like a Wonder Woman team-up title). Writer Neil Kleid and artist Dean Haspiel pack a hell of a lot of story into a ten-page story, including tons of surface action, the rather fun comedy of Deadman trying to convince Wonder Woman he's real despite the fact that she can't see him, and can only hear him when he's possessing soemone else, and Wonder Woman learning a lesson about respecting the beliefs of others, even if those beliefs are not her own. Like, for example, she doesn't believe in ghosts, which no doubt makes Deadman's attempts to convince her of his presence all the more difficult.

The script is a fine one, but the greatest pleasure here is seeing Haspiel get his pencil and pen on so many characters. In addition to the those mentioned, there's also a neat little sequence in which we get to see what Haspiel's Hawks, Spectre and Ragman all look like.
If you guessed "awesome," you guessed right.

Marvel's February previews reviewed

What's Marvel got planned for February of next year? Star Wars variant covers, mostly. And a few comics. Not as many comics as Star Wars variant covers, of course, but then, there aren't as many stars in the sky as there are Star Wars variant covers in this round of Marvel solicitations. You can, of course, read the full solicitations here, and get my usual sterling analysis below...

ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA #4
RICK REMENDER (W) • STUART IMMONEN (A/C)
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
• Hydra initiates the next step in their scheme, millions of innocent souls hang in the balance.
• Cap is broken and nearly dead from the gauntlet of the new Hydra, so how can he take down the combined might of Cobra and the Armadillo in time to stop the great leveling?
• A mysterious woman from the past returns!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Is it weird that a supervillain named The Armadillo is so damn huge, when armadillos aren't really all that large? I mean, The Armadillo looks to be about twice the size of The Rhino and four times as large as Man-Elephant....


AVENGERS #41
JONATHAN HICKMAN (W) • STEFANO CASELLI (A)
Cover by BRYAN HITCH
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
IN 3 MONTHS…TIME RUNS OUT!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


That can't possibly be the right cover, can it...?


DAREDEVIL #13
MARK WAID (W) • CHRIS SAMNEE (A/C)
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
THE END BEGINS HERE!
• Mark Waid and Chis Samnee begin the climactic final chapter of their beloved, Eisner Award Winning run with the return of one of Matt Murdock’s oldest and (now) scariest enemies.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I can't help but think how much bigger a deal this solicitation copy's screaming of "THE END BEGINS HERE!" if this were issue #50—that is, if Marvel hadn't relaunched the book after the first 36 issues for no reason—than it it does when there's a #13 attached.

As for the "oldest and (now) scariest" enemy, I'm going to guess it's The Owl, on account of the fact that there's an owl on the cover.


DARTH VADER #1 & 2
KIERON GILLEN (w) • SALVADOR LARROCA (A)
CoverS by ADI GRANOV
ISSUE #1 - Teaser Variant by JOHN CASSADAY
CONNECTING VARIANT COVER B BY J. SCOTT CAMPBELL
VARIANT COVER BY ALEX ROSS
SKETCH VARIANT COVER BY ALEX ROSS
VARIANT COVER BY MICHAEL GOLDEN
VARIANT COVER BY MIKE DEL MUNDO
YOUNG VARIANT BY SKOTTIE YOUNG
ACTION FIGURE VARIANT BY JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
MOVIE VARIANT COVER ALSO AVAILABLE
BLANK VARIANT COVER ALSO AVAILABLE
ISSUE #2 - VARIANT COVER BY WHILCE PORTACIO
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
The original Dark Lord of the Sith stars in his first ongoing series!
Ever since Darth Vader made his first on-screen appearance, he became the one of the most popular villains to ever haunt an audience’s dreams! Now, follow Vader straight from the ending of A NEW HOPE (and the pages of the new STAR WARS comic book) into his own series, showing the Empire’s war with the Rebel Alliance from the other side! Writer Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man) and artist Salvador Larroca (Invincible Iron Man, X-Men: No More Humans) bring us a peek behind the mask of evil!
ISSUE #1 - 48 PGS./Rated T …$4.99
ISSUE #2 - 32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


I was just about to call bullshit on the first sentence of the solicitation copy, when I realized it qualifies the statement with "ongoing;" okay, yes, that's true. While there have been a bunch of Darth Vader comics from Dark Horse, they have been in the format of a series of miniseries, rather than an ongoing.

I will call bullshit on the number of variant covers though. Jeez, just look at those things!



Oh come on Ed McGuinness; I thought you were a better artist than that! What's with the full broke-back posing of Magik, featuring both her entire butt and both boobs...? That's the cover of the first issue Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex, which has almost as many characters in it as it has words in its title, based on that cover.


GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #1 & 2
BRIAN BENDIS (W) • ISSUE #1 - ART ADAMS (A/C)
...
• Launching directly out of Guardians of the Galaxy comes the new ongoing series bringing the Guardians to the Marvel Universe’s grandest stage for an opening arc of out-of-this-world adventures with some of the biggest hitters Marvel has to offer.
• Kicking off with a cosmic threat so massive, it’ll take more than just the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop it! Assembled side by side with the mighty Avengers, prepare for two titanic teams to unite like you’ve never seen before!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
ISSUE #2 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and THE AVENGERS!
• Follow part two of this story as the Guardians of the Galaxy slam their way into the world of the Avengers – and only working together as a team will help them save the galaxy!
• Tension runs high when survival is at stake, and when the likes of Gamora, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Rocket are forced to problem solve together, it can mean only one thing is guaranteed – destruction!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


So what have we got now? Guardians of The Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon, Legendary Star-Lord, Guardians 3000 and now Guardians Team-Up. Marvel continues to search for the exact number of straws it will take to break this particular camel's back.

MS. MARVEL #12
G. WILLOW WILSON (W) • Takeshi Miyazawa (A)
Cover by KRIS ANKA
• Love is in Jersey City as Valentine’s Day arrives!
• Kamala Khan may not be allowed to go to the dance, but Ms. Marvel is!
• Well sort of – by crashing it attempting to capture Asgard’s most annoying trickster!
• Yup, it’s a special Valentine’s Day issue featuring Marvel’s favorite charlatan, Loki!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99


Hmm...I'm feeling pretty torn here. On the one hand, after having just read the first trade paperback collection of the series, I don't really have any desire to see anyone other than Adrian Alphona drawing Ms. Marvel. On the other hand, I'm always happy to see Takeshi Miyazawa draw anything.


STAR WARS #2
JASON AARON (W) • JOHN CASSADAY (A/C)
SKETCH VARIANT COVER BY JOHN CASSADAY
ACTION FIGURE VARIANT BY JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
VARIANT COVER BY Berkeley Breathed, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING CREATOR OF BLOOM COUNTY
VARIANT COVER BY LEINIL YU
VARIANT COVER BY HOWARD CHAYKIN
THE GREATEST SPACE ADVENTURE OF ALL TIME CONTINUES!
• The Rebel assault on Cymoon 1 continues!
• Luke Skywalker – cornered by Darth Vader!
• Han, Leia, and the others – trapped!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd.


So. Many. Variants. But the most interesting one of them all? "VARIANT COVER BY Berkeley Breathed, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING CREATOR OF BLOOM COUNTY." What's that all about, I wonder, and why is he listed like that in the solicitation copy credits...?


OPERATION: S.I.N. #2 (of 5)
Kathryn Immonen (w)
Rich Ellis (A)
Cover by Michael Komarck
• When a UFO fires on Moscow because Howard can’t keep his finger off the button, Peggy and the team go underground but which one of them is already undercover?
• Woodrow McCord fights a bear!
• Peggy punches Howard in the face!
• The firecracker team of Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis turn up the heat and tear up the joint in the continuing adventures of AGENT CARTER!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


If you replaced the surname "McCord" with "Wilson," I'd be totally down.

THOR ANNUAL #1
JASON AARON, CM PUNK, NOELLE STEVENSON (w)
ROB GUILLORY, MARGUERITE SAUVAGE (A)
Cover by RAFAEL ALBUQUERQUE
VARIANT Cover by ROB GUILLORY
VARIANT COVER BY MARGUERITE SAUVAGE
• Three stories featuring three Thors!
• Wrestling superstar CM Punk and Rob Guillory (Chew) on Young Thor’s idea for how to prove himself worthy of Mjolnir: a drinking competition!
• Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes) and Marguerite Sauvage tell a tale of the new Thor!
• And Jason Aaron on the Girls of Thunder’s quest to find the perfect birthday present for their grandfather, King Thor! How about a new Garden of Eden?
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99


Oh come on now Mr. Punk, a drinking contest? The deck is totally stacked. How could Thor not beat Mjolnir in a drinking contest? Mjolnir doesn't even have a mouth!

(By the way, there's another way to get into writing comics. Step one: Become a successful and popular professional wrestler.)


In no particular order, here are three of my favorite covers...


...by Tradd Moore, Mike Allred and Kaare Andrews. The Ghost Rider and Black Widow covers are pretty alright this month, too.


THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #2
RYAN NORTH (W) • ERICA HENDERSON (A/C)
Variant cover by JOE QUINONES
• Starting college is hard enough, but now Squirrel Girl has to deal with Galactus too?
• The fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance, and only Squirrel Girl can save it!
• Also, her squirrel friend Tippy Toe. She can help too.
• Iron Man might show up too! Kinda, at least!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Tippy Toe is a female?! I always assumed Tippy Toe was male.

I like Squirrel Girl's earrings.


WOLVERINES #5
CHARLES SOULE & RAY FAWKES (w)
JONATHAN MARKS (A)
Cover by NICK BRADSHAW
• The team from Paradise and the Wolverines team up for the Assault on Mr. Sinister and his snowy fortress but what surprises lay in store when they figure out the front door is actually the easiest way in?
• Sinister has more than plans for Logan’s body in his lair...but how are the Amazing X-Men involved in his plans for destruction and perfection?
• Special appearance by Fing Fang Boom!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99


I have no idea who "The Wolverines" are—I'm guessing X-23 is one of 'em though, based on that cover image—but the name "Fing Fang Boom" excites me. I do hope that's not a typo...