Thursday, December 08, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: December 7th

DC Comics Bombshells #20 (DC Comics) At long last, Marguerite Sauvage returns to Bombshells! She draws the first third of this issue, which is set at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, wherein Mari "Vixen" McCabe takes the place of Jesse Owens in this alternate history superhero comic set on Earth-L (The L is for Lesbians, of course).

Writer Marguerite Bennett introduces two new Bombshells into her saga, Hawkgirl and the aforementioned Vixen and they are, naturally, an item (they don't hook up on-panel or say as much, but it's hinted at about as hard as it can be). I imagine Bennett chose to pair these two because they were romantic rivals for Green Lantern John Stewart on the Justice League cartoon. They seem like the sort of characters fans of that show would ship, and Bombshells has evolved into a comic book which is basically just a vehicle for shipping.

Bombshells Vixen is here queen of Zambesi, and Bennett writes her as something of a cross between Wonder Woman and Black Panther, in terms of her poise, position and the nature of her home country, which I suppose makes a certain amount of sense. The issue opens with the Sauvage-drawn story set in '36, during which Queen Mari wins a gold medal, fights a robot eagle, robs Hitler and steals his dog (I love Sauvage's art, but I wasn't crazy about the depiction of Vixen's powers in use; I don't really like when the artist or animator visualizes the animal like that. That said, I'm not sure what the best way to reveal which animal's "powers" she's calling on at any particular point might be).

Mirka Andolfo and Laura Braga draw the remaining sections of the book. These consist of Bombshells Catwoman, Batwoman and Renee Montoya journeying to Zambesi, where Montoya tells Vixen her origin story in a flashback, and the women encounter several weird, cool-looking robotic animals. The Cheetah shows up at one point to exchange rifle fire with Montoya, and in the last panels she is bitten by and begins to bond with one of the robotic animals--guess which species of African animal it is.

I never liked the fact that Greg Rucka killed off the original Question in order to make Renee Montoya The Question II (which took two great characters and turned them into one so-so character), but I do like how Bennett put some effort into retroactively making her Bombshells-version of Montoya into "The Question" (sans costume, so far) by focusing on her asking a particular question over and over again.

I may make fun of this comic a lot, but that's only because I love it. What's not to love about a comic that's basically Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron comic, except all the characters are scantily-clad female superheroes, and they're all in love with each other...?

Josie and The Pussycats #3 (Archie Comics) Damn, writers Marguerite Bennett (her again!) and Cameron Deordio sure found their footing fast--we're only three issues in, and the writing team seems supremely confident in their very particular take on the characters in this, a heavily metatextual comic that winks, nods and nudges the franchise's past comics, cartoons and even live-action movie while telling a joke-heavy, high comedy girl band adventure story in which the characters talk about themselves as if they are characters in a comic book. Which they are.

As complicated a note as that might seem to strike, this is not a one-note comic. Here we realize that our heroine Josie may actually be kind of a bad person, or to at least treat people badly, but not on purpose, just in the way that someone who isn't as aware of the way their actions may impact those aroudn them can accidentally hurt people. The hero of this comic may actually be its villain, and its villain? Well, she can be heroic. At least a little. (Bennett and Deordio similarly play with our conception of Josie' perennial love interest Alan M., who is here not only more Alex-like that Alan-like, but also operating in a particularly shady gray area that make him, like Josie and even Alexandra, maybe not so easy to label a good guy or a bad guy.)

The story? The Pussycats are playing a beach party in Cancun, Alexandra uses her vast fortune to show up on an actual hoverboard that actually hovers, firing a t-shirt cannon and luring people to her party boat, where a DJ playing and suspicious exotic animals are hanging out. Meanwile, Alan makes his move on Josie, Josie confronts Alexandra, we hear two differing versions of the origin of Josie and Alexandra's enmity and Valerie uncovers an exotic animal smuggling ring that can only be stopped via a jet ski chase and another application of comic book science, this time Josie channeling the "physical manifestation of our unresolved anger!" through a hoverboard, which is so hot it turns the sand on the beach into glass because, as the sound effect says, comic book science.

Guys, if I were doing a top ten comics of 2016, Josie and The Pussycats would be on it.

I know I just spent a couple of paragraphs talking about the writers and the plot, and am now just going to throw in a few words about artist Audrey Mok here at the bottom, and I know this is a stereotype about comic book criticism, but what are you going to do? Mok is a great artist, every panel on every page of this issue (and the two before) look great, and she's epecially adept at drawing fashion and making the highly cartoony Josie characters look realistic while also integrating a great deal of absurdity into their realistically depicted world.

This is still a very writerly comic, and while it's possible to imagine Josie and The Pussycats with this script and different art, it's difficult to imagine it with this artist and differing scripts; I mean, I could imagine such a comic existing, but it wouldn't be the weird-ass, surprisingly sharp and funny comic that it is.

As is common with the all-new Archie comics, the 20-page lead story is followed by a reprint of a classic story. This issue's is a five-pager in which Josie, Valerie and Melody invite a jalopy-driving Archie to go hang out at the beach with them, and their frolicking is interrupted by Alan M. and his malfunctioning motorcycle. This one is drawn by Dan DeCarlo and scripted by Frank Doyle, and man, it's weird how damn curvy DeCarlo's 1971 Josie and friends are compared to Mok's 2016 versions. While DeCarlo's figures are certainly more 2D and cartoony, they show a lot more skin and are generally more overtly sexualized than the versions that we saw in bathing suits over the course of the last 20 pages.

Anyway: Archie's all-new Josie and The Pussycats. Not only is it good, it's suprisingly, shockingly good, and there honsetly aren't any other comics quite like it on the shelves today.

Motor Crush #1 (Image Comics) Three things I like to see in my comics: Babs Tarr art, Brenden Fletcher's writing and Cameron Stewart's art and/or writing. Three things I hate to see in my comics: Sci-fi drugs, invented futuristic slang and panels that attempt to replicate the screens of smart phones or tablets. So I'm a little torn on the first issue of Motor Crush, which is the Batgirl creative team of Tarr, Fletcher and Stewart reuniting to tell a story set in the near-ish future that's about a professional motorcycle racer who participates in illegal street races to get her hands on sci-fi drug "Crush." The dialogue involves futuristic slang, and there are panels that attempt to replicate the screens of smart phones or tablets.

This is a comic I really, really wanted to like--and, in fact, I did like the art, many of the character designs and the action scenes that take place on motorcycles--but was ultimately disappointed by. There's just a whole lot of stuff I've seen a whole bunch of places before here, and the very best parts weren't so strong as to make up for the tired sci-fi and action comics and movies cliches.

I'm afraid this just isn't for me.

Don't let that discourage you from at least trying the first issue, though. This team kicked so much ass on Batgirl, I think they deserve at least a $4 gamble. In fact, I'd be willing to try at least the first issue of any comic with either Tarr or Stewart attached, let alone both of 'em.

Nightwing #10 (DC) There's a neat, one-page scene in this issue in which Dick Grayson tries to go an entire night without being Nightwing, but simply living as a normal person. He tries reading a book, he tries reading a comic book, he talks on the phone with a friend and he tries watching some TV (Lost World of The Warlord; Machiste, Shakira and Mariah are all name-dropped). While watching TV, he's shown snacking on a bag of "Chez Doodles," while a bag of marshmallows, a bag of Chippies-brand chips and a package of cookies litter the living room. There's also a can of some type beverage or another--soda? Beer?.

So how does Dick eat like that and still maintain that amazing physique? I mean, have you seen his body? Sure you have, if you're read this comic, or even just looked at the cover. Look at that butt! Is that the butt of a man who eats a lot of Chez Doodles and Chippies, and drinks anything out of a can?! Or is that fact that Dick is probably only supposed to be in his very early twenties now, and does so much rooftop-running and grappling hook-swinging mean he can eat whatever he wants and still rock skin-tight spandex?

Anyway, that's just one page of writer Tim Seeley and artist Marcus To's Nightwing #10, and that page is actually pretty funny, thanks to Seeley's application of time stamps in the first and last panels of the page. While this is the tenth issue of the series, it reads an awful lot like a Nightwing #1, as Dick has moved to a new city in an attempt to start a new life for himself, one free of Bruce Wayne, Batman and the Bat-Family, but not too far away.

He is "back" in Bludhaven, the setting for the original Nightwing series, although this is this version of Nightwing's first visit there (Superman, apparent survivor of the pre-reboot DCU suggested Dick check the city out in the previous issue).

If Gotham City is a comic book version of New York City, Seeley seems to be suggesting Bludhaven as a comic book version of Atlantic City, albeit a more crime-riddled locale. I really liked the way he tackled the somewhat silly name of the city, by focusing on a marketing campaign to bring visitors there, which includes such slogans as "A Scary Name for a Great Place to Visit!" and "Get Your Blud Up!"

Dick is apparently keeping Robin, Batgirl and Batman--all of whom appear on the first page--at arm's length, and has moved to Gotham's sister city, where he's gotten a "job" as a volunteer for at-risk youth. After a failed attempt at spending a single night being a couch potato, he suits up and hits the rooftops, encountering a Gorilla City emigre he had previously fought in Gotham City, the less-than-friendly Bludhaven PD and another minor villain from Gotham City in a place he did not expect to find a villain.

Like I said, it reads like a very solid first issue--if you like the character but weren't enamored with the first "Rebirth" arcs, maybe give this issue a shot. Seeley has a nice feel for the character's inherent likability, and To's artwork is pretty great. This was by far the best-looking issue of the series to date, I thought.

Quick question! Damian implies that Bludhaven is to Gotham's south. I was under the impression that, in the pre-Flashpoint DCU, Bludhaven was to the north of Gotham. Was my impression wrong all this time? Just wondering.

Providence #11 (Avatar Press) This was the last one, right? I hope this was the last one. It certainly read like the last issue of the series, but since this is the eleventh issue instead of the twelfth issue, it seems like there should maybe be one more. As is, writer Alan Moore seems to have tied everything up with this issue, which is for the most part a series of epilogues that offer resolutions to many of the storylines of the previous ten issues, and then connecting them to the present. There is an apocalyptic-feeling cliffhanger, but then, it seems like a good place to end the comic. I guess I'll wait and see if any more issues ever show up in my pull...

In retrospect, I do wish I would have trade-waited it. If you haven't read it, though, and have any interest in either Alan Moore or H.P. Lovecraft, I'd highly recommend this weird, challenging series written by the former about the work of the latter, and how that work relates or could relate to the real world. It's really scary stuff, in the way in which Lovecraft's weird fictions were scary, and also in the way that more traditional horror genre writings and works are.

Reggie and Me #1 (Archie) The "and me" of the title refers to Vader, the dachshund that Reggie adopts from a shelter here and the comic's narrator (If you're keeping track of these things, this makes two Archie Comics series narrated by dogs, following Adam Hughes' Betty and Veronica, which Hot Dog narrates). It's a fairly inspired narrative choice on the part of writer Tom DeFalco; sure, Reggie has a very distinct voice, and while it would be interesting to see the ongoing adventures of Riverdale's population of cool teens from his particular jerk perspective, a loyal dog allows us to get inside Reggie's head without getting too far into it. Vader is privy to Reggie's inner life and knows what he's up to even when no other cool teens around, but he still has an outsider's perspective, able to intuit things about Reggie's motivations that Reggie himself may be blind to.

The 20-page story, by DeFalco and artist Sandy Jarrell, opens at a party Reggie is throwing, which is interrupted by a bigger, presumably better party at Veronica's, which sucks everyone out of attendance at his. Reggie pushes away the two people who remained--Midge and Moose--and then goes about getting revenge upon everyone who left, via prank.

Archie, learning too late that his girlfriend and his former friend had both scheduled big parties for the same night, sets out to apologize, which only makes Reggie angrier with him.

It's a pretty nice character study of the character, really, one that covers the ground of who he is, how he is and why he's that way, while establishing all of the important relationships in his life. It's not as overtly comedic in tone as Jughead, and is probably closest to Archie in terms of the humor-to-melodrama ratio.

I'm intensely curious about where DeFalco plans to go with this series, because Reggie's defining characteristic is that he's a jerk--or, as Vader himself puts it"The closest thing Riverdale has to a super-villain"--and villain books are notoriously hard to pull off.

I enjoyed it okay, and will read the next one, but man, I can't believe we needed nine variant covers for a Reggie Mantle comic

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: November 30th

Batman Annual #1 (DC Comics) I touched on this book in Comics Alliance's weekly preview column, but more detail wouldn't hurt, huh? As I noted there, this is something of a Christmas special, although David Finch's generic drawing of Batman posing doesn't do anything to allude to that fact other than include some snow. It's also an anthology, featuring five stories from some of the current Batman line's creators and some special guests.

The lead story was my favorite, despite the art. It's by regular Batman writer Tom King and original Batman artist David Finch, and tells the New 52/"Rebirth" origin of Ace, The Bathound. At just eight pages, it's basically just a cute story highlighting Alfred and Bruce's relationship. It also features a mention of Kite-Man, which means King has managed to work Kite-Man into three consecutive Batman stories in a row, which must be some kind of record (He was in the epilogue of "I Am Gotham," appeared in the Arkham scene of "I Am Suicide" and gets name-dropped here).

Finch's art is Finch's art, and beyond my own dislike of the style, it also just kinda generally falls down on the job of conveying visual information. Like, when Ace is first found, I suspect the art is meant to depict some kind of pit, as there's an indication in the dialogue that Ace (and three other dogs) couldn't climb out of it to run away and find food. But Finch draws a crater rather than a pit, one that is so shallow that the dogs could have easily left any time they wanted. I'm continually confounded by how far some artists get in their careers (drawing Batman regularly is a really big deal for a superhero artist, right?) without ever mastering the most basic of basics.

I wonder if we'll be seeing more of this Ace, and how he'll get along with Titus and the rest of Damian's menagerie?

That's followed by a short story by All-Star Batman writer Scott Snyder, working with occasional partner Ray Fawkes, and All-Star back-up artist Declan Shalvey. It highlights a technological achievement of Batman's, but it mostly dedicated to Batman receiving a rather welcome false alarm on a winter night.

Next up is a pairing by the biggest names involved, writer Paul Dini and artist Neal Adams, on "The Not So Silent Night of the Harlequin." It's a riff on the 1969 story "The Silent Night of the Batman" from Batman #219, which Adams penciled (Mike Friedrich wrote that one). Harley makes a reference to that story when Batman tells her he doesn't sing.

This is a weird one, in large part because of the weird disconnect between the Harley Quinn of Harley Quinn (this is that Harey) and the way she appears and has appeared in the the various Batman and Suicide Squad books over the last five years. It's also weird, of course, because its Adams, and while his is still one of the definitive portrayals of the character, he draws him here as he might have in the 1970s (this costume not only has brief on the outside, but the black bits are blue instead of gray, while Harley is in her initial New 52 look, despite living in Coney Island with her collection of weird friends) and gives him visible pupils in a few panels, which always freaks me out. Finally, the idea is that the spirit of Harley Quinn has galvanized various people in Gotham City to do good which, um, doesn't really jibe with the character at all...particularly as she's been portrayed in the Bat-books.

Two more to go!

Next? Writer Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo, both of whom worked on the "Night of The Monster Men" crossover event I hope to review in full here shortly, collaborate on a story that ends with a box reading "End? The Stag Is Coming In 2017..." Presumably, this is a prequel story to something next year then. It involves a Gotham philanthropist who stages a winter wonderland thing for the children of Gotham, and gets attacked by Minister Blizzard. Minister Blizzard! The penultimate page has Duke handing a brooding Bruce Wayne a chocolate coin that Batwoman had Alfred make for them (she's Jewish, remember), and Batman does some obscure villain name-dropping: "I can punch Minister Blizzard or Lord Death-Man or Facade every time."

How obscure is Facade? I believe he's only had a single appearance, in 2006's Detective Comics #821, by artist J.H. Williams III and...Paul Dini. Huh. I wonder if Orlando knew Dini would be contributing to this annual...?

The final story is by writer Scott Bryan Wilson (doesn't ring a bell) and (the excellent) artist Bilquis Evely (Bombshells, Sugar & Spike). They do a fine job of packing a lot of story into a short space; it's only six-pages long, but thanks to some nine-panel pages it reads as long as anything else in this book, and as long as some entire issues of other comics, frankly.

Wilson introduces a new villain at an Arkham Asylum Christmas party (while re-introducing The Ventriloquist's Scarface back-up, Socko), and while Evely's design of the character is fine, I don't really like her super-power. She can kill someone through DNA, um, somehow, meaning that if she touches you she can kill you, or if she's touched a hair you've left somewhere or a nail-clipping or whatever, she can use that to kill you...? Somehow? It's a pretty random power, and few of Batman's villains (let alone the good ones) even have powers. Oh, and her name is "Haunter."

She is apparently friends with The Scarecrow, which is cool in that we get gingerbread-scented fear gas and a Scarecrow appearance here, but unfortunately it's the same generic Scarecrow design we've gotten consistently since the New 52 reboot: Just the bag over the head.

So like a lot of anthologies, this is a bit of a mixed bag, but there's enough good stuff in here that I imagine most any Batman fan will find some stuff to like (and, honestly, even the bad stuff is interesting).

Godzilla: Rage Across Time (IDW) This is the trade paperback collection of the five-issue miniseries which seems to be a companion series to Godzilla In Hell, at least in the sense that it is structured pretty much identically. That is, there's a premise stated in the title (a little more vaguely here, but it's basically Godzilla and his friends and foes in different time periods), and different creative teams tackle it each issue.

There's a very loose overarching structure here, more so than in Godzilla In Hell, involving a pair of crypto-archeologists who visit various sites around the world and posit that Godzilla must have been somehow involved in eruption of Pompeii or a 13th century Japanese battle or whatever. It's...fine, but few of the issues are terribly exciting all on their own, and those with the most compelling plots don't have the room to develop them.

For example, the second issue/chapter finds Godzilla in ancient Greece. Writers Chris Mowry and Kahlil Schweitzer spend a good deal of time on Mount Olympus, during which the Olympian gods bicker amongst themselves over the proper level of involvement with Earth, and argument that become moot when Godzilla attacks Olympus. Yes, that's right: Godzilla vs. Olympus. That's the kind of thing that could (should) get it's own miniseries, really, but here all we get is Godzilla taking out Poseidon in a few panels, kicking at the foot of Mount Olympus, battling a kaiju-sized hydra (did you know Godzilla's radioactive fire does not affect hydra neck-stumps in the same way that regular fire does? Me neither!) and then Zeus fights him with lightning powers for a little bit. For all intents and purposes, Godzilla might as well have been fighting Electro here. Reading it only made me want to read a whole graphic novel in which Godzilla fights the many monsters of Greek myth, some sort of mash-up of Toho kaiju and Classical mythology where various kaiju stand in for the Titans, or do battle with monsters like Cetus, Cyclopes and Typhon and/or various Greek heroes (I felt the same way about Godzilla in Hell too, though; there are certain Hells that an entire epic Godzilla narrative could have been built in, and it seemed a shame we only got hints at such potential stories).

The strongest of the stories is the one that appeared in the first issue, and was set in feudal Japan. Written by Jeremy Robinson and featuring art by Matt Frank, I thought it was the sole story that was just the right size, in terms of telling a compelling and complete story and doing pretty much all one might want such a story to do. Frank adopts the art to an era-appropriate style, and his Godzilla is pretty amazing. Robinson has invaders leading two evil kaiju to attack Japan, and a warring ninja and samurai must put aside their differences in order to find a mystical object and recruit a legendary Japanese monster to fight on their behalf. Unfortunately for them, Godzilla kills their monster immediately; fortunately, he also takes on the invaders' monsters (Gigan and Megalon, who are among the last two monsters who might seem appropriate for their setting...although their presence is rather neatly explained).

Following the Olympian story is one set in medieval England by writer Ryan Ferrier and artist Hugo Petrus. This one is actually Godzilla-free. It involves the slaying of a dragon amidst a plague, but the "dragon" isn't the title character, or even one of the more dragon-y Toho characters. Instead, it's Megaguirus (who I had to look up, as I haven't seen any films featuring him yet). The humans are able to defeat him by calling on the aid of Mothra, who for whatever reason is living in her final form in a temple in Europe, attended to by the fairies who are still dressed for the South Pacific. The leader of the crusaders refers to Mothra as an angel, which is kinda funny. I mean, she has wings, but that's about where the similarity stops.

Next, co-writers Ulises Farina and Erick Freitas and artist Pablo Tunica take us to "Classical Rome," but, more specifically, Hannibal trying to cross the Alps to get at Rome. How does he accomplish this? By irritating Godzilla into basically busting a passage through the mountains for them. The art is nice, and there's nothing wrong with the story, but at this point in the book it appears as if the creators are sticking Godzilla into history at random. I mean this story is just fine, but so too would be Godzilla sinking the Titanic or the Spanish Armada, fighting Paul Bunyan or digging the Panama Canal, you know?

Finally we get a weird chapter by Jay Fotos and JefF Zornow, who share a co-writing credit, while Fotos is credited with the script and Zornow with art. This is the quickest read of them all, owing to the fact that there's only a few pages with dialogue on it, but it's the wildest of the stories. What, precisely killed off the dinosaurs? A meteor? Well, there are indeed a lot of meteors falling, but all the kaiju fighting seems to take out more dinosaurs, and what few are left after the pages and pages of what appears to be much of Toho's character catalog brawling are wiped out by some flying saucers. They drop off a couple cave-people and say they'll be back later.

The archaeologists theorize that there were probably multiple Godzillas throughout history, but they really only offer a little connective tissue to the chapters. All in all, it's a fine if frustrating anthology, one that could conceivably go on for pretty much ever, with Godzilla and friend inserted into any dramatic historical event.

Jughead #11 (Archie Comics) This is the thrill conclusion of Ryan North and Derek Charm's Jughead/Sabrina story arc, which is heart-breaking, in that it means Ryan North and Derek Charm's Jughead/Sabrina story is now over, and it was the best. Seriously these last few issues of Jughead have probably been my very most favorite of any of the new Archie comics I've read, and some of my most favorite comics of the year, really.

Everything I said about the previous two issues applies here, pretty much. Sabrina and Salem save Jughead, Reggie and Hotdog from a gigantic monster while simultaneously hiding the existence of magic and witches from them. Then Sabrina and Jughead make amends and helps her solve her problems which, unfortunately, leads to her leaving the book...and Riverdale. Does this mean we will never get to see Charm's adorable depiction of Salem again? God, I hope not!

This issue also contained more usages of the phrase "cool teens" than anything I have ever read before, and it is better for it.

Saga #40 (Image Comics) Drugs are the worst, kids. Never, ever do them. That's the message I've gotten from Saga so far.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Batman's Dark Secret

It is not at all difficult to find books for young children starring Batman at your local library. Picture books, junior readers, starter readers, illustrated chapter books, guide books, collections of bedtime-perfect five-minute stories--you could take the youngest of Batman fans into many libraries and walk out with a pretty decent-sized stack of books of all kinds.

Often times these books are tied to a particular version of the character from a particular media adaptation. There are plenty of Lego Batman works (and likely to be a lot more soon), or books from any of the many cartoons, or the Super Friends toy line, or, most disconcertingly, from the Christopher Nolan 2008 Dark Knight film, featuring a slightly abstracted "kid-friendly" version of the late Heath Ledger's Joker.

Standalone books presenting their own, individualized version of the character and not tied into any other adaptation or line of books, tend to be the exceptions--and the more exceptional. The one that always leaps to my mind first is Ralph Cosentino's book Batman: The Story of The Dark Knight. Here's another: Batman's Dark Secret by artist Jon J. Muth (whose name gets pride of place on the cover) and writer Kelley Puckett, who gets top billing on the title page, but whose name is on neither the cover nor the spine.

Both men's names will be familiar to comics readers. Muth worked with Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and J.M. DeMatteis for DC's Vertigo imprint during its heyday (and wrote and illustrated a 1998 Swamp Thing graphic novel of his own), and did some older, weirder work for Marvel. He's become a prolific children's book author, writing and painting his own books as well as illustrating books by other authors.

Puckett is a pretty prolific comics writer, who wrote the original Batman Adventures comic in the early 1990s (the one based on Batman: The Animated Series), as well as co-creating Green Arrow II Connor Hawke and Batgirl III Casandra Cain, both particular favorite characters of mine. Puckett went on to write much of Cain's career as Batgirl in her own book; those issues are currently being re-collected into trade paperbacks I would highly recommend.

The Batman on the cover is a very "Year One" looking one; the image could be a new painted cover for a collection of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One. It's definitely a moodier image than one might expect from a Batman picture book, but that's in keeping with the content. The first page features a slightly less moody, but no less realistic image of a dynamic Batman in action, swinging from a rope before a purple, blue and white watercolor sky lit by a big bright moon.

"Nothing scares Batman," is the book's first line (which the pedant in mean answered with "Oh yeah? Not even The Scarecrow's fear gas? Not even the thought of one of his Robin's getting killed in battle and not coming back to life?".)

Then Puckett's prose on the page continues:
Nothing at all, not even the dark. But it's not because he's big and strong.

It's because he knows a secret. A secret he learned long ago, when he was just a little boy named Bruce Wayne...
And a turn of the page takes us to a movie theater, where a woman in pearls and a well-dressed man and young boy are in line to buy tickets. The words "Of Zorro" are visible on the marquee.

The secret is not that Batman lost his parents after seeing a The Mark of Zorro when he was a little boy, because I'm pretty sure at this point that no longer qualifies as a secret. I think everyone knows that. I was a little surprised to read a picture book prominently featuring the death of Bruce Wayne's parents though; that sequence takes up about six pages.
Muth and Puckett handle it quite tastefully and with a great deal of reserve. Bruce leaves the theater full of dreams of the unnamed Zorro ("The hero had a cape and a mask and a sword," Puckett writes. "He fought evil, and he won. Bruce wanted to be just like him."..I should pause and note here that when I read this section, it occurred to me that it seems somewhat unusual that in the dozens and dozens of revisitations to Batman's origin story and early years, no creator tried to insinuate a closer bit of Zorro hero-worship into Batman's adventures; that is, at no point did he wear a more Zorro-like costume or try to fight crime with a sword).

Bruce sees a very, very dark alley and runs through it. In the dark, he hears voices, a bang, a flash and the smell of smoke--twice--and then he comes out of the alley alone. "His parents were gone!" As in deader than door nails. No pearls floating in pools of blood can be seen, though; they die in the dark alley where the reader can't see, and they remain there.

Because of this, young Bruce becomes understandably afraid of the dark--perhaps pathologically so, although all kids are afraid of the dark. We follow him back to his house, where Alfred keeps it well-lit at all times, and we learn that Bruce likes to go for long, sad walks on the grounds. One afternoon, he falls asleep on one such walk, and awakening as the sun goes down, he runs home in a panic.
And he falls into a deep, dark hole, full of bats:
Then the darkness came alive. It screeched, it clawed, it swarmed around him. He ran and tripped and fell to the ground.

Slowly, slowly, his eyes adjusted. The darkness became...bats.

Tiny, little bats. Bruce wasn't afraid of bats.
He then encounters the whatever-it-is; the gigantic monster bat that lives in the caves around the grounds of Wayne Manor. Not only does Muth draw this bat as big as young Bruce, but it has huge, angry-looking red eyes with white pupils and a black mouth that's just a ring of needle-sharp fangs. I thought about giving this book to my four-year-old nephew, a Batman enthusiast who regularly plays "The Death of The Flying Graysons" on his swing-set in the backyard (the Robin origin episode of The Batman being his favorite), but who is nevertheless scared of things, as four-year-olds so often are (skeletons, witches, raccoons, skunks, werewolves...although he did ask him mother, his sisters and I to take him out werewolf-hunting once). I think this image might be too much for him. (Or, at the very least, he would want his mom to remove the book from his bedroom at night time.)

Bruce instinctively felt for a stick, stood up, thrust it in the direction of the monster like a Zorro-sword and shouted "NO!" The monster backed away, which is not something I thought bats could do mid-flight, and Bruce realized that, "It was scared...of him."

And that was the turning point in Bruce's life, when he realized that he felt brave, and that he knew he would grow up and, when he did, that "He would fight evil and win."

And that brings us to the very last page, in which Muth provides only his third image of Batman for the book. Here Batman, in his black and gray costume, with yellow utility belt--his costume from "Year One," from Batman: The Animated Series, from the "No Man's Land" era and the years that followed--standing with his arms crossed over his chest on the corner of a Gotham City rooftop. Behind him is a hazy, murky-looking skyline, and he's framed by a big bright moon and a swarm of bats.

The final words of the book run along the bottom: "And he would never be afraid again."

It's obviously a pretty beautiful-looking book, and a nice, fairly child-friendly condensation of a story about a little boy whose parents are shot to death, mourns them and then encounters a horrifying monster. But re-reading it for the third time, I found myself wondering what the "secret" was.

That darkness is really just bats? (Because it's not). That the monster bat that lives under Wayne Manor is afraid of Bruce Wayne, and/or little boys with sticks?

I suppose it's meant to be a less literal lesson, involving the fact that if you can decide whether or not to be afraid of something, or how you react to that fear, or suchlike, lessons I've seen repeatedly in stories growing up, even though as I struggled with anxiety as an adult I realized that's not quite true, or at least not as simple as, say, that one episode of Duck Tales made it seem.

At any rate, I think another, more literal line explaining the secret might have been more effective, especially given the title of the book and the way it opened. As is, it's evocative, but it would be nice to have something as simply stated as all the other words in the book that a young person could apply to conquering their own fears, since fear of losing one's parents and fear of the dark are universal, but encountering bats of various sizes and reality underground are not.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: November 23rd

Citrus Vol. 2 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Okay, so I might have suddenly totally gotten into yuri manga so what it's none of your business don't judge me!

Deathstroke #7 (DC Comics) Okay, the testing-out period of DC's "Rebirth" period is officially at an end...even if they've yet to launch Super Sons and added some Justice League-related books which they will be launching with some Rebirth-branded one-shots. And that means I am not in the process of picking and choosing which books to add to my pull-list to buy each Wednesday that they show up on that shop. This is one of them. (Expect Superman and Detective Comics to start showing up in here in the near future too, probably, in addition to All-Star Batman and Wonder Woman, both of which I had added sight-unseen. Other books may vary from issue to issue, like Nightwing and Suicide Squad and Batman, depending on the artwork and/or the storyline).

So, Deathstroke: Never a big fan of the character, haven't kept up with any changes he's experienced during the last few reboots and/or rebrandings and, honestly, I've found his backstory and large cast of friends and family a little on the unwieldy side. I've nevertheless been enjoying Christopher Priest, er, Priest's new series featuring the character, which embraces all of that stuff in a way that is intriguing rather than alienating (That, I think, is the big difference between including and excising complicated continuity, it can work or not work based on the skill of the writer, not its mere existence or absence).

Priest has amped-up the book's realism, while keeping it quite clearly embedded in the DC Universe (The Clock King shows up immediately, Batman and Robin have appeared and Superman appearances bookend this issue, leading to a conflict in the next). What super-stuff there is generally gets explained in convincing scientific (or comic book-scientific) dialogue.

The narrative is complicated, which each scene getting a little title, like it was a chapter in a book. Thus far, it's been the portrait of an extremely dysfunctional family of meta-humans and super-killers, all with their own agendas and all relating to the title character in uniquely broken ways. I honestly can't tell where it's all going--beyond the fight with Superman next issue, of course--but Priest's plate-spinning is quite impressive to watch. The art varies issues to issue, but for the most part has been on point. Here it's by the pencil and inker team of Carlo Pagulayan and Jason Paz, working from breakdowns by Larry Hama.

I'm curious what long-time fans of the character might think of the book, as I don't know if my general ambivalence towards him but enjoyment of his new series means that those who really like the series must love it, or if it's because I don't know/care all that much about Deathstroke and company that I am primed to like this particular take.

Lumberjanes #32 (Boom Studios) This appears to be the conclusion to the Diane Vs. Monsters With Petrifying Gazes storyline, as the Greek goddess-turned-teenage campers, the Lumberjanes of Roanoke cabin and their new friend Ligo the gorgon flee the bird monsters, work their way through the challenges and traps of a buried temple and ultimately confront Zeus himself, who here rather hilariously appears as a cartoon swan wearing a tie--because he of course turned into a swan in order to seduce Leda (gross; did she have a swan fetish or something) and because dads wear ties (obviously).

Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh's story would seem to reach its naturally conclusion here, just after a scene in which their script allows artist Carey Pietsch to pretty much go nuts and draw a whole mess of awesome monsters from Greek mythology, but there's a little "Too Be Continued" box in the bottom of the last panel for some damn reason, so I guess this story arc, like most in this series, is going to go on a little longer than it would seem to need to.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #20 (DC) Between my childhood experiences of watching Space Ghost cartoons and the present lie what must be dozens of episodes of Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast to Coast, many episodes of which I've seen more times than I'd care to admit. It can therefore be pretty hard to divorce my reading of the character from those experiences to, you know, take him seriously (a cognitive friction that pretty much powered Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti's completely straight 2005 miniseries featuring the character; I'm trade-waiting Future Quest, so I haven't encountered him there yet).

The Space Ghost who shows up here is the one from the original cartoons, and he does so with his original running crew of Jan, Jayce and Blip, and the two foes who spent so much time on the set of his talk show with him, Zorak and Moltar (I suppose it's a good thing that Brak didn't show up). Writer Sholly Fisch, who generally does everything he can to wring every possible joke out of each guest-star, naturally mentions the Coast To Coast experience, however.

"Once, to keep Space Ghost busy, they hypnotized him into thinking he was a talk show host!" Jayce tells Mystery, Inc at the end of the adventures. "Fortunately, he snapped out out of it after eight seasons."

Space Ghost simply crosses his arms and scowls, "I don't want to talk about it."

This crossover blew my mind a little, as it posited that Space Ghost exists in the present rather than the far-flung future, wherein I always assumed in my little kid brain his adventures were set. Zorak and Moltar have joined forces and crippled Space Ghost's ship just outside of Earth's orbit. To make sure that he can't get help from Earthlings, they send a message from their secret base on the moon to warn of an alien invader, and Shaggy and Scooby are certainly primed to fear Space Ghost upon his arrival, given that his last name is "Ghost" and he has all kinds of ghostly powers.

Once they get everything straightened out, they repair The Phantom Cruiser, outfit with Mystery Machine for space travel and journey to the moon to take down Zorak and Moltar.

Man, Space Ghost has such a rad design.

This was far from my favorite of the team-up so far, but I was really excited about it, especially if it means we'll get more Hanna-Barbera superheroes showing up in future team-ups. I've been eagerly awaiting a Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt team-up since this series was first announced.

She Wolf Vol. 1 (Image Comics) I love this book. I had previously read the first issue, missed the second, and decided to trade-wait it. And now the wait is over, and Image has released it in one of those very convenient, very low price-point trades where one feels almost foolish not buying it: Four issues, and a black-and-white, 24-page, weird standalone Dracula comic, for just $9.99.

She Wolf is the story of a teenage girl in the 1980s, back when devil worship and the occult (or at least alarmism about them) were, like, a real thing that real, supposedly serious grown-ups really worried about. After her boyfriend, who has turned into a werewolf and wounded her in the process is killed by police, Gabby starts having all kinds of crazy, nightmare experiences, some of which may or may not be real; she (and the reader) can have a hard time figuring it out at first.

Then she meets Nikki, a vampire, who helps her deal with being a werewolf (after she turns at the mall), and she learns the history of werewolves and summons a demon.

It's awesome.

Cartoonist Rich Tommaso's artwork transforms the the book from otherwise straightforward genre business. I hate to use the word "alternative," but I suppose that is the best and most effective descriptor of how his art will look to anyone picking this book expecting more standard comic book fare. His characters are flat, angular and expressive-to-the-point-of-epressionistic in their design and movements, rather representational. His werewolves are amazing in their design, impossibly long, lithe creatures with heads, necks and torsos of equal length; they are almost serpent-like in shape. Which I guess would make them look more like giant minks or otters or weasels or the like, rather than the traditional wolf (although their faces can be very wolf-like, particularly in Gabby's visions). Their arms and legs remain very human-like though, although these too are impossibly long.

They are also gigantic.

They are real monsters then, and no matter how many times you may have seen werewolves in movies or read about them in comics, you haven't seen ones like these (if you have, let me know where though, because I want to see those movies and read those comics).

I was just trying to think of way to describe the artwork in this series, and having some trouble. I wanted to say that it looks like a cross between Kelley Jones and Adrian Tomine, but I also feel like there's a bit of Richard Sala-ciousness in there too?

I don't know. I liked this a lot. If you like horror or monster comics at all, or werewolves in particular, buy it. It's only $9.99.

The back-up is called "King Blood," and it's about how Vlad Tempes became Dracula, met a demon and fell in love and married her and then they got a divorce. In hell. The art is pretty amazing as well, but much more cartoony, and when Dracula turns into a wolf here, it's a more traditional vision of a werewolf, like that from The Howling, but fuzzier and a little cartoonier. There are a few panels of a skeleton riding on a skeletal horse that are pretty awesome.

Finally, there are a couple of pin-ups from artists you likely know and some you likely don't, including Brandon Graham (who has done his own rather striking werewolf comic book before), Tom Neely and several others.

Snotgirl #4 (Image) The mystery deepens, as Coolgirl shows up alive and well and has no memory of anything terrible having happened in the bathroom at the end of the first issue, and police detective John Cho appears acting extremely inappropriately...but with a clue confirming that something bad did indeed happen in the bathroom after all. What is going on? I don't know, but I love Leslie Hung's artwork, and the endearingly shallow and self-absorbed main character she and writer Bryan Lee O'Malley have created.

I also love that Lottie appears to be dressed as "naught Plastic Man" on the cover. Well, sorta.

Super Powers #1 (DC) While I question the wisdom of using the exact same title and logo for an all-ages, kid-friendly series by the Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures team of Art Baltazar and Franco and Tom Scioli's back-up strip running in the mature readers Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye simultaneously, this was about as fun as expected...although not quite as funny as expected (sweet Alfred appearance notwithstanding). I wrote a bunch of words about it already for School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog, so maybe go read more about it there, if you are so inclined.

Superfuckers Forever #4 (IDW Publishing) This issue took about two minutes to read, and the back-up added another 25 seconds or so. As excited as I am about the existence of a Superfuckers monthly comic, coming out regularly in the size and shape of a regular superhero comics, it's really hard to explain to my wallet why I need to take four dollars out of it each month for such a slight read. I may have to switch to trade on this book, although given the free-form nature of the storytelling and how little happens in each issue, it's kind of hard to know exactly where to jump off, you know?

Maybe Superfuckers For Two More Issues instead of Forever...?

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It (Marvel Entertainment) Hey, it's the latest collection of my favorite Marvel comic book, which is also probably the best Marvel comic of the moment, but of that I'm not 100% certain because they are actually publishing a couple of very good comics at the moment.

This one contains issues #7-#11 of the second volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, but thank goodness the spine-numbering didn't get rebooted along with the issue numbering, or this would be a much harder comic book to pick up and follow, like, say, Daredevil, maybe, or anything with an "X" in the title. Oh, or Iron Man! I think there are what, like four different Iron Man books with #1's on them, all written by Brian Michael Bendis?

I kinda wish Ryan North would write Iron Man, because I do so enjoy his frequent appearances via social media account on the recap pages of each issue of USG. In fact, my main concerns regarding the outcome of Civil War II is that Tony might "die," and thus be unable to continue interacting with Doreen Green via social media (Howard The Duck is pretty amusing on social media too; he is the Marvel character closest to me in terms of being good at social media, I think).

Anyway, this collection! First, there's a done-in-one issue that I would say was in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" format, but I'm pretty sure that the Choose Your Own Adventure people have copyrighted "Choose Your Own Adventure", so it's certainly not that. You do get to make decisions though, and work your way through an adventure in which Squirrel Girl and Koi Boy team up to fight maybe the greatest Marvel villain of all (Swarm, obviously), one in which there are several different outcomes, a few in which Squirrel Girl wins and a few in which America is presided over by a single bee and/or Doreen dies from studying so hard she forgets to eat.

I was afraid this issue would be really annoying, but then, North did recently release Romeo and/or Juliet, which I borrowed from the library, brought home, set on my floor for two weeks, and then returned without reading (Too many words, North! And no Erica Henderson drawings of Squirrel Girl!). So he knows his way around these extremely complicated story formats. It felt like it took a good half hour to get through this one issue, which is a really good value for a comic book.

Next up? A three-issue arc in which Doreen Green attempts to date! It starts with a New Avengers team-up (That's the team she's on, right? New Avengers? At least, on the title of the book? I think they call themselves something different inside, like A.I.M.). I actually laughed out loud during this one (when Tippy-Toes writes a profile for Doreen), so great job there guys. Also, Brad is the best.

This arc mostly centers around The Mole Man, who is so smitten with SG that neither her ability to reason nor her punching is able to defeat him, and the ending involves the single grossest panel I've ever read in a Marvel comic. (Oh wait, I just remembered that panel in one of the dumb Ultimate books where The Blob ate the Wasp, so never mind.)

Finally, there's another done-in-one issue which is Erica Henderson-less. She is filled-in for by Jacob Chabot and Tom Fowler, and while I was surprised to see her miss an issue, I suppose it's well worth remembering she also drew an entire original graphic novel and a Jughead story arc this year so, yeah, she deserves an issue off. I think her workload might have destroyed many a lesser artist.

Actually, I think she draws a single panel of this issue, so the deployment of a fill-in artist is actually incorporated into the story. Aside from the very last panel, in which we see Doreen sleeping, the rest of the issue takes place in her dreams, so of course she looks a little different than usual, right? This is a Nightmare vs. Squirrel Girl dream, which also involves her fighting Classic Doctor Octopus, Classic Count Nefaria and Nightmare-possessed by Venom.

North completely lost me during one two-page segment of this book, which was honestly super boring to me as someone who has zero interest in computer science and/or math. It involves Doreen teaching Count Nefaria how to count in binary on one's hands.

But! That scene was worth slogging through because it allows her to flash devil horns with her hands on a splash page where lightning flashes from the sky and an army of squirrels all "chht" loud enough that the sonics of their squirrel noises peel the Venom symbiote off of Nightmare.

So: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the one comic I would want a subscription to if I were stuck on a desert island but for some reason could still have a subscription to a comic book.

Wonder Woman #11 (DC) Wait a minute, I though it was previously established, back during the time when Greg Rucka was last writing her monthly adventures, that Wonder Woman was a vegetarian? What's she doing with that cooked bird on her plate in this issue's feast scene?

And I like how the Amazons served Steve a hamburger and french fries. Were they doing that because he's a super-picky eater, and that's all he'll eat? Or were they trying to be nice, and serve him food from his home country's cuisine? Or were they just trolling him, and serving him a hamburger and french fries to subtly be jerks to him?

I find all three interpretations equally amusing.

In this issue, a Liam Sharp-drawn "modern" issue, Wonder Woman gets back to general confusion over and distaste for her current continuity. Join the club, sister! Also, more Veronica Cale and Sasha Bordeaux, for boringness' sake.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Marvel's February previews reviewed

Marvel has released the solicitations for the comics they plan to publish in February of next year. See?

Do you guys want to talk about them? Okay, let's!

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but it can hardly be over-stated: Mike Allred is the best. That appears to be his cover for Avengers #4.1, which I'm assuming is a weirdly-numbered series set in the Avengers past that Mark Waid is writing between issues of Avengers...?

At any rate, Mike Allred is drawing a cover for it, and it is a great cover.


• In the wake of Maria Hill’s court-martial, who will become the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D.? The answer will electrify you!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

"Electrify," huh? Is that a clue? Um, Electro? No, Lincoln Campbell! Is it Lincoln Campbell?  I'm going to guess Lincoln Campbell.

Man, I hate the Champions logo so much.

Penciled by ROB LIEFELD
Deadpool—more popular than ever before—in his first Original Graphic Novel! Deapool’s been shooting, stabbing and otherwise annoying people for a long time now. He’s made a lot of enemies. One he can’t quite place is the brutal Thumper, who keeps showing up out of the blue to pound him into jelly. What is Deadpool’s past connection to this beefy face-masher? And what’s up with Cable, Domino, and the others on the cover? Are they going to show up in the book? (Hint: They are!) Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld on pencils and inks teams with writers Chris Sims and Chad Bower (X-MEN ’92) to tell the tale of his greatest creation (just roll with me here) getting his heinie handed to him! Check it out—before Deadpool checks YOU out!
112 PGS./Parental Advisory …$24.99

Wow. Chris Sims. And Rob Liefeld. Together on the same comic. not something I ever expected to see.

Penciled by TODD NAUCK
When Forbush Man is murdered, could it be the beginning of a killing spree that’s no laughing matter? Deadpool sure thinks so! Things are about to get serious for Marvel’s funniest characters as the Merc with a Mouth sets about saving hilarious heroes including Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Ant-Man, Howard the Duck and…Punisher?! If that plot ain’t nuts enough, brace yourself for Squirrelpool! As the bodies start to pile up, Wade and Howard investigate why their pals keep losing their heads — literally! Maybe Doctor Strange, Master of the Mirthful Arts, can work his magic and help put an end to this killing joke before Deadpool becomes the punchline! It’s a Marvel Universe murder mystery that’ll have you in tears — of laughter, or sorrow, or possibly both! Collecting DEADPOOL: TOO SOON? #1-4 and material from GWENPOOL HOLIDAY SPECIAL: MERRY MIX-UP.
144 PGS./Parental Advisory …$17.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90298-8

So, are any of you guys reading this one? I'm not a big Deadpool guy, but I do like, like, all those other characters.

Mm-hm, mm-hm. Yes. Yes, I do believe this Dr. Strange/Punisher crossover looks pretty good so far.

ISSUE #11 – COVER by Elsa Charretier
ISSUE #12 – Cover by Gisele Lagace
• First up – Gwen gets hired to save a small town from a VAMPIRE!
• But all is not what it seems. What else is new?
• Then, Gwen’s gaming skills are put to the test…
• …when she’s captured by ARCADE!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)

I know villain series don't generally work for long, but I think I would be all in for an Arcade ongoing, in which every story arc he took on a different Marvel superhero.

That's Jay Fogsitt's variant cover for Jessica Jones #5...and a good argument for a cute Jessica Jones book, rather than one in Gaydos' style (See also: GURIHIRU's story from Secret Love and Brittney Williams and Natasha Allegri's Jessica Jones from She-Hulk).

• The heroes of the Marvel Universe repel wave after wave of Leviathon monsters as more and more fall to Earth…CAPTAIN MARVEL rallies her ALPHA FLIGHT against these hordes from space while CAPTAIN AMERICA and the AVENGERS hold the line around the world.
• Amidst this chaos’ a puzzle is appearing and ELSA BLOODSTONE is just the person to pick up the pieces and find the answer to what might save Earth from this apocalypse…
• …or might hasten us to a devastating end!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

• As monsters continue their assault against Earth and its heroes, the being responsible for the attack is made perfectly clear…and a new ally emerges from the rubble that surprises everyone…
• But what does all of this have to do with a little boy from New York City…and how does he tie into the INHUMANS’ ancient history?
• The winter’s biggest event continues in the blockbuster fashion that only the HOUSE OF IDEAS can provide!!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Ew, Greg Land art? Oh man, I was really looking forward to this series. Hopefully that's the only issue that Land is drawing, because nothing ruins a comic book series a quickly or as badly as Greg Land art.

Also, I guess Captain Marvel and The Inhumans are heavily involved? So I have to temporarily care about those things just to read a story about Marvel superheroes fighting Kirby Monsters...?

Greg Smallwood's cover for Moon Knight, ladies and gentlemen.

Woah. Can James Stokoe do all the covers next month?

Cover by David Nakayama
• You know what raccoons are good for? Hunting!
• You know who’s good at hunting? Kraven the Hunter!
• You know who thinks those last two points are false? Rocket!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Well, Kraven already captured Rocket for the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl/Howard The Duck crossover, "Animal House," so I would assume that Kraven could take him here. On the other hand, Rocket has home book advantage, so maybe this will be a pretty close fight, after all.


Hey, I thought that Kraven gave up hunting, and started hunting hunters instead...?

Slapstick’s local mall is overrun by little cartoon minotaurs! The TAURS! They’re adorably deadly! Adeadlable! PLUS: Why are there so many cartoons becoming real, anyways?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Minotaurs? Those are clearly centaurs and not minotaurs. WTF, Slapstick?

I love Imperial Walkers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

DC's February previews reviewed

DC Comics has released their solicitations for the books they plan to publish in February of next year. Have you seen them already? If so, you're probably wondering, "Does Caleb have thoughts and/or feelings about any of these books?" And the answer is yes, yes I do. And I am willing to share those thoughts and feelings with you, below.

Written by HOPE LARSON
Art and cover by CHRIS WILDGOOSE
“Son of Penguin” part two! It’s hard enough to juggle a new boyfriend when you’re not secretly investigating him for super-villainy! But is Batgirl dating Ethan Cobblepot to get to bottom of his new tech business…or could she actually like him? Plus, Magpie strikes!
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

So I have a confession to make: I did not like the first story arc of the Hope Larson-written Batgirl comics, like, at all. The artwork, provided by Rafael Albuquerque, was pretty solid, but as Barbara was outside of Gotham and removed from her supporting cast, it was difficult to get a sense of what he might bring to the book, long-term.

Now, that said, it's quite possible that some of dislike of that arc was me, not them–the previous Batgirl by the previous creative team was one of my favorite DC Comics, and this was a huge departure. I understood the wisdom of the departure to a degree–by temporarily relocating Barbara with a tour of Asia, it gave the Larson/Albuqureque team some space to avoid any kind of direct comparison to the preceding team, but it just wasn't very engaging.

This actually sounds a lot more interesting, although it looks like Albuquerque is taking a few issues off.

The main thing I wanted to point out here though? It's the return of Magpie! And it looks like they are using the redesign that (extremely) minor Bat-villain had in the short-lived Beware The Batman animated series. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed that series, a large part of which, I think, was due to the fact that the producers purposely tried to restrict themselves to only using Batman villains that never (or just barely) appeared in previous Batman cartoons.

They used Magpie as essentially a Catwoman-like foil to Batman, and she had a pretty great re-design, I thought. That said, i think I've only seen three Magpie designs ever (that from her original comics appearance, the one in Beware and the one in the recent DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths graphic novel).

Anyway: Hooray for Magpie!

Art by MARCIO TAKARA and others
“League of Shadows” prologue! Celebrate 950 issues of the original Batman series with this extra-sized extravaganza! Cassandra Cain has stayed out of the spotlight on Batman’s team as she slowly comes to terms with the civilized world she was kept away from all her life…but the time for her to step up is fast approaching! Will she ever learn how to fit in among the masses, or will she always be more weapon than woman? Plus: a primer on the history of the League of Assassins, and an adventure with the team’s newest recruit: Azrael, the Avenging Angel!
On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 48 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Hmm, you know what help Cassandra become more woman than weapon, and fit in better? If she stopped calling herself "Orphan" and took the name "The Black Bat," and also traded in her current, dumb-ass costume for either her old Batgirl costume or her old Black Bat costume, or something in-between (I bet the Black Bat costume sans cape would look pretty cool, too, for example).

I've been mostly digging Tynion's 'TEC, which features some of my favorite characters, even though they've all been mangled by their New 52 reboots. My main issue with the series–other than Tim and Cassandra's terrible costumes and the latter's terrible codename–is that the art, event at its best, hasn't been very good.

There are so many good comic books vying for ones dollars these days, it's really hard to commit to reading an ongoing just for the writing or characters.

Written by DAN ABNETT
The Wonders battle the Sandmen army to free the new Earth 2 from a dystopian fate, but the new world Director has unleashed his terrifying secret weapon. Can Batman, Huntress and John, the weakest of the wonders, shut down the Director’s stronghold? It’s a dangerous, last-minute gamble…and the price may be too great to bear.
On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US RATED T • FINAL ISSUE

I honestly can't believe this book has lasted this long. I've been assuming it was a few issues away from cancellation ever since the original creative team left, and that was like two Batman, a different planet and a relaunch ago.

Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
Batman, Black Canary, Killer Frost, the Ray, Vixen, the Atom, and…Lobo?! Spinning directly out of the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD, join the sensational team of writer Steve Orlando and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado and discover how Batman assembled the roughest, toughest Justice League of all time!
One-shot • On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Good creative team, interesting superhero team. Looking at the former, JLoA now seems to be the A book in the Justice League family of books, but looking at the latter, Bryan Hitch and company's Justice League seems to remain the A book.

The "roughest, toughest Justice League of all time" is a pretty bold claim. Lobo and Killer Frost? Sure. And Batman and Black Canary are certainly rough and tough in their weight class, but not ranked against Justice Leaguers.

Anyway, I'm curious about this new book, and wish DC would figure out a plan for the Justice League and stick with it, because the franchise has felt pretty confused and in flux since...I can't remember when. Infinite Crisis, maybe...?

Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
Meet the Extremists—self-proclaimed saviors from another Earth, they thirst for peace, prosperity and total submission to the will of their leader, Lord Havok! How can the newly assembled JLA stop this group of misguided maniacs before the Extremists unleash their own unique—not to mention dangerous!—brand of law and order on our chaotic world?
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

The Extremists? Okay, in that case you can downgrade me from "curious" to "kinda curious."

Art and cover by SCOTT JERALDS
Quick Draw McGraw may be the high-falutin’est, fastest-shootin’est lawman on the lone prairie, but he needs help from Scooby and the gang when faced with that rustlin’ wraith, the Fastest Ghost in the West! Of course, if the ghost is too much for even this team-up to handle, they can ask for help from El Kabong.
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

I am totally going to read this, but this particular pairing doesn't quite work for me. Scooby and maybe even Shaggy can interact with anthropomorphic animals without it blowing my mind (see Laff-A-Lympics), but when Fred, Velma and Daphne get involved, it just feels...wrong (see Scooby-Doo Team-Up #11, the one with Secret Squirrel).

Also, man, look at that cover. It's got Shaggy and Scooby riding on horses...while hanging out with another horse, who can walk and talk, leading to that whole Pluto/Goofy sort of uncomfortableness.

“BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE” part one! Spinning directly out of the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD! Hidden somewhere deep within, the world is a burning flame. Its light is blinding. Its heat is deadly. It’s a fire fueled by hatred, by rage and by vengeance. Used, abused and left for dead, the greatest foe the Suicide Squad has ever faced returns, more powerful than ever, to burn down the world Amanda Waller has given everything to protect.
On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

“BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE” part two! Determined to unmake all the world’s institutions of governance and control, [REDACTED] orchestrates a series of prison breakouts across the DC Universe, forcing Harley Quinn, Deadshot and the rest of the Suicide Squad into their most dangerous mission yet: keeping their former super-villain comrades in jail.
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

Hey, Riley Rossmo! That guy's great! I think I like his art much more than I do previous Suicide Squad artist Jim Lee's art and, unlike Lee, I'm assuming he'll be drawing 20-pages of story per issue? At least, there's no mention of any other artists involved in these issues, so maybe their done doing what they've been doing in the weirdly-formatted early issues, in which a little more than half of each one told a chapter in a serial narrative, and the back half of the book was devoted to an origin story by a different artist.

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by JORGE JIMENEZ
“When I grow up” part one! The sons of Batman and Superman have graduated to their own monthly comic—but if they want to survive, they’re going to have to share it! Writer Peter J. Tomasi (BATMAN & ROBIN, SUPERMAN) teams with rising-star artist Jorge Jimenez (EARTH 2) to bring you the adventures of the World’s Smallest. This debut issue looks at the lives of Robin and Superboy and their destiny to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, while we meet a new villain whose ascension parallels the boys’ own understanding of their powers—except that he believes it’s his right to rule over every being on the planet!
On sale FEBRUARY 15 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I really enjoyed the introduction of the Super Sons to one another in the pages of Tomasi, Patrick Gelason, Doug Mahnke and company's Superman, which may be the all-around best of the Rebirth titles so far (despite a rocky first arc), so I'm really looking forward to this book.

Damian works best with another character to play off, and Jon was a pretty perfect foil in their first pairing. I'm glad Tomasi is writing too, as he's written Damian longer than just about anyone else at this point, and has probably written Jon as much or more than anyone else too (Jurgens uses Jon in Action Comics, but he gets much less panel-time there).

Superboy, Kid Flash, Robin, Wonder Girl, Cyborg and many more join together to fight iconic super-villains like Deathstroke and Ravager! With inner demons rising, can the team save one of their own—or will they succumb to darkness? This new title collects TEEN TITANS #1/2 and #1-12 plus TEEN TITANS/OUTSIDERS SECRET FILES 2003 #1.
On sale MARCH 8 • 368 pg, FC, $29.99 US

Don't read this; it will just make you depressed about the state of the Teen Titans franchise at DC (although the first few issues of the post-"Rebirth" book have been pretty A-OK), and wonder again about the wisdom of sacrificing all these characters and their continuity in the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot.

This looks like it's going to be one of those issues that's worth buying for the Dan Hipp cover alone; specifically, the various cute DC couples in the background. Even the tattooed Jared Leto Joker looks cute!

Well, the tower looks nice, at least.

Art and cover by JON DAVIS-HUNT
A troubled woman, barred by her employer from continuing her research, walks miserably through New York City. It takes her a moment to notice that everybody else is looking up. A man has been thrown from the upper floor of the Halo skyscraper.

And that woman—Angela Spica, sick from the transhuman implants she’s buried in her own body—is the only person who can save him.

What she doesn’t know is that the act of saving that one man will tip over a vast and secret house of cards that encloses the entire world, if not the inner solar system. This is how the Wild Storm begins, and it may destroy covert power structures, secret space programs and even all of human history.

New York Times best-selling writer Warren Ellis (TRANSMETROPOLITAN, RED, THE AUTHORITY) returns to DC to curate Jim Lee’s WildStorm world, with this debut issue resetting the WildStorm universe with new iterations of Grifter, Voodoo, the Engineer, Jenny Sparks and others.

“I couldn’t be more excited to see these characters that are so near and dear to me reintroduced under the guiding hand of Warren Ellis. WildStorm represents an incredibly fun and exciting period in my career, and I can’t wait to see what Warren and Jon have in store for fans in February.”—Jim Lee, DC Comics Co-Publisher
On sale FEBRUARY 15 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T+

Huh. You know when might have been a good time to reboot the WildStorm Universe? Oh, somewhere around fall of 2011, when DC just kind of haphazardly fused a rebooted version of various WildStorm characters into their rebooted DCU, and then watched as the clumsy additions were slowly bled out of The New 52-iverse, to the point where miniseries Midnighter and Apollo is the last vestiges of the WildStorm Universe left in the current DCU.

Sounds like this is another reboot, but just of the WildStorm Universe as its own entity, an entity which, despite its much younger age, I'm pretty sure has had even more reboots than the DC Universe at this point.

In these never-before-collected stories from the 1990s, Wonder Woman takes over as leader of the Justice League of America, whether Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle like it or not. Acting at the behest of the United Nations, the team must respond to a human rights crisis in a remote African nation, only to find the populace under the thumbs of the super-powered Extremists. The team then must jet to Norway, where the young superhero called Ice struggles to keep the nation out of the hands of her older brother. Collects JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #78-85, JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA ANNUAL #7 and GUY GARDNER #15.
On sale MARCH 15 • 264 pg, FC, $24.99 US

Ha, I was just wondering about this era of the Justice League after finishing Superman and The Justice League of America Vol. 2 (which contained very little Superman in it).

I'm all for DC collecting any and all pre-Morrison Justice League comics into trade that haven't yet been collected. My preferred format for these books would be Showcase Presents, but the publisher seems to have quite making those...which breaks my heart, given that they started but didn't finish collecting some series in that format (All-Star Squadron/Young All-Stars).

Finally, February will bring another crop of "Rebirth" collections.

Looking at what will be coming out, I would recommend Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional and Suicide Squad Vol. 1: The Black Vault Part One.

I would not recommend Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside, Cyborg Vol. 1: The Imitation of Life, Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Die Laughing (Um, maybe they shoulda kept the old numbering for the Harley trades, given that nothing, not even the creative team, changed during the "Rebirth" re-branding?), The Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth (great art, though!) or Titans Vol. 1: The Return of Wally West.

But hey, that's just me.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman

I have recently been reorganizing my massive comics midden, a long overdue task forced upon me by a break-in, during which the would-be burglars dumped all of my long-boxes out in the middle of the room and rifled through the resulting pile, apparently convinced I had hidden $100 bills between random bagged-and-boarded comics (I don't think they stole any comics; I recently discovered that I seem to be missing my entire run of JSA and Justice Society of America, but I'm not sure if the box containing them was stolen in a previous break-in at a previous apartment, where I also lost all of my Robin, Batgirl and Nightwing comics, or if it was just lost in a move).

It's precisely because I have ever-so-gradually been going through every comic book I've ever bought that I know I never finished Jai Nitz, Phil Hester and Ande Parks' 2008 miniseries El Diablo. In fact, I seem to have given up on it after the second issue (Unless I did buy and read all six issues, and the thieves decided to just steal the last four issues of the series).

I became newly curious about that series and that creation upon seeing this year's Suicide Squad film, which prominently featured a version of the Nitz/Hester/Parks iteration of El Diablo in the cast, presumably because the post-Flashpoint "New 52" revival of Suicide Squad did so. I was able to track down a copy of the 2009 collection of the series, El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman, through the library, although it doesn't look like it is currently in print. That is unfortunate (as I imagine others might suddenly be interested in the character thanks to the movie as well), but also understandable (The New 52 version, and the one in the film, vary quite considerably from the one Nitz and company presented in their series).

Rereading the early chapters, I was reminded fairly instantly of two elements of the book I didn't care for.

Nitz picked up on the retconned version of the original El Diablo, a cowboy character created by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow, which had reimagined him as being a literally diabolical, supernatural character. In this series, that El Diablo, Lazarus Lane, appears as Rip Van Winkle-looking coma patient kept alive by his curse. At one point he shares his hospital room with the paralyzed prisoner Chato Santana, passing on his curse and making Chato the new El Diablo, "Hell's hitman." What does that entail? Well, he would transform into the guy you see on the cover, with super-strength, a degree of invulnerability and the ability to walk again. He gets a flaming whip and an enchanted pistol from cowboy times that fired brimstone bullets only capable of striking sinners (they would dissolve in the air if fired at the innocent). He also had access to the magic ghost horse that Lane used to ride.

Not a bad suite of supernatural powers, although the face resembling a skull and the flaming whip were pretty reminiscent of the actual skull face and the flaming chains of Marvel's Ghost Rider, as was the mission passed down from a cowboy era spirit of vengeance and El Diablo's specific remit: He was to kill evil men with his supernatural powers, consigning their souls to hell.

The Ghost Rider-iness was particularly strongly felt in 2008, as the Ghost Rider film was released in the previous year.
The other aspect was that grated with me at the time was that El Diablo III here was basically created to do the very same job that The Spectre and Ragman held. How many spirits of vengeance did the DCU need running around killing bad guys? Weren't theyse guys eventually going to get their capes all tangled up at some point? (Looking back, the last Spectre ongoing, the one starring the then-dead Hal Jordan, was cancelled in 2003; by this point, Crispus Allen was the host of the Specre, but, like Ragman, he didn't have his own series.)

Anyway, that was eight years ago. How does it read now?

Remarkably well. I was particularly impressed by the Hester and Parks art, which, were it published by today's DC Comics, would look particularly weird and unusual, as the publisher's range of art styles has gone through a couple rounds of contractions towards a house style and expansion away from that house style, but the contractions have always been more dramatic than the expansions.

In addition to being completely solid on the fundamentals of storytelling–sadly, no longer even a given for books from the two major direct market publishers–Hester and Parks offered thick, chunky figures on a relatively flat plane, in a highly individual style that couldn't really be mistaken for anyone else's. At least I have never seen a piece of Hester's art and thought it was anyone else's, nor have I ever seen anyone else's art and wondered if it might be Hester's (Nor have I ever heard anyone else mistake his work for anyone else's, or anyone else's work for his).

The design of the title character is, in passing, familiar to that of the version in The New 52 and the Suicide Squad film, mainly from the neck up, but not so much in context. Chato is a bald, built, Mexican man living in L.A., and when becoming El Diablo his skin turns ghost white and the markings of a skull appear, while he's clothed in garb that's vaguely cowboy-like (poncho, gloves, boots). The current conception of Chato is a more wiry figure, heavily tattooed (In the film, he's like ten times more heavily tattooed than the rather heavily tattooed Joker and Harley), and he has pyro-kinetic powers, given to him by a vague-ish source.

Chato is a fairly smart and fairly ruthless gangster with a heart if not gold, then at least at least of some valuable metal–he's not a 100% total bastard, but he is a real bastard. This being the DCU, his criminal empire involves more than just the usual, real-life criminal activities and, at the book's opening, he's in the midst of purchasing some high-tech laser guns from the HIVE. When the deal goes bad and the police try to bust it up, Chato's betrayed by his lieutenant and ends up getting shot and paralyzed.

He refuses to give up any information at all to the law, no matter what they do to him or offer him–including an experimental procedure to fix his legs–but his old gang comes for him anyway, and he's only saved by taking on El Diablo's curse.

Once empowered, he goes through a bit of training with Lane in which he learns more about his powers and their limitations, while going after various targets of vengeance assigned to him, and the one he wants, the guy who betrayed him.

Meanwhile, he gets mixed up in a DCU superhero-like plot involving an alliance of several villain agencies that mainly serve as Easter Eggs for long-time fans, gets his first villain in a sword-handed guy named Vorpal and discovers the origins of the curse, which goes back to prehistoric mythology and leads to a climax for the fate of the world (Spoiler: El Diablo saves the world).
Of particular interest is his encounter with "Brave New World"-Era Freedom Fighters, a battle which climaxes in Mexican-American drug dealer Chato Santana literally duking it out with the Spirit of America, arguing over who has more blood on their hands and who better represents the American dream. It's the kind of scene that could only occur in a superhero comic, as no matter how fraught with symbolism or commentary the scene might be, it's also perfectly natural, because Uncle Sam rubs shoulders with the other characters of the DCU. (I was actually pretty surprised by the presence of Invunche, those particularly disturbing monsters from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, if only because such direct references to events from Swamp Thing would have been a little unusual then; Hester and Parks' versions manage to be creepy without being as completely terrifying as the more detailed version drawn by Rick Veitch).

While I had no interest in the character in 2008, and apparently not many other comics readers did either, based on El Diablo's vertual disappearance until 2011's Suicide Squad, now I can't help but wish this was the version that was still running around. As derivative as many elements of the character are, he's visually much more compelling (and easier to draw; New 52 El Diablo suffers from wandering, ever-changing tattoos) and has a much more interesting back story and status quo than "former gangsters who shoots fire out of his hands."

Also, I really like scary horses in my comic books.

I wonder if this version could have worked in the Suicide Squad, movie or comic book, though, given what we're told of the curse. Like, I'm not sure how Amanda Waller would keep this guy from killing his teammates and everyone else in Belle Reve, like, immediately.

I know Nitz has been given the opportunity to revisit his creation in DC's post-movie Suicide Squad's Most Wanted series. I read a few chapters of the El Diablo story, and I'm afraid they didn't do much of anything for me, mostly because of how poor the art was. I'm interested in re-reading them now though, having just completed this series.