Monday, October 20, 2014

DC's January previews reviewed

This coming January DC will once again have a theme to their many, many variant covers, and it will be focused not by artist, as will be the case with Darwyn Cooke's December variants, but by subject matter: The Flash.

Next year is apparently the Scarlet Speedster's 75th anniversary, so DC is celebrating by having The Flash appear on variant covers throughout the month. Interestingly, the bulk of those covers seem to consist of The Flash running "on-screen" of a classic DC cover of some sort, essentially photo-bombing—or should that be cover-bombing?—famous DC covers.

In almost every single case, the version of The Flash that is depicted is the New 52 version of the Barry Allen Flash, with the zig-zagging seams of his costume emanating from his face and torso, making his costume look a bit like some sort of dark red citrus fruit that an be peeled in sections. By contrast, the characters he interacts with tend to be dressed in their original, mostly Silver Age costumes.

Take, for example, Michael Allred's awesome image of the original Teen Titans above (following Cooke's Teen Titans variant from December, which depicts that iteration of Titans as a rock band, that's two months in a row the original characters in their original costumes, appear on variant covers. Maybe that's the team that should star in the next Teen Titans reboot). Or Tony Harris' recreation of the famous Justice League vs. Starro image from 1960's Brave and the Bold #28, which features the other four characters in their Silver Age costumes, while The Flash is in his New 52 costume (also, they're fighting the giant alien starfish in the middle of a city, instead of at sea, for some reason).

The Bat-books seem to have had the most fun with the idea:
Jock

Aaron Lopresti, forgetting Babs' purse (and WTF is up with the the thumbs-up?)

Dave Bullock, who should really draw more comics.

Tony S. Daniel

Thinking of what Grant Morrison has his characters discussing in The Multiversity, regarding every comic book being a window to a different world, this really works for The Flash in a way it might not for other, non-Deadpool characters, as one of The Flash's Silver Age gimmicks is, of course, his ability to vibrate his molecules at different speeds in order to travel to different dimensions/realities.

Of course, it probably should be the Silver Age Barry Allen on the cover rather than the New 52 Barry Allen, but whatever. There are some nice images generated. (Although, now that I think about it, celebrating The Flash's 75th anniversary is a lot different than celebrating Superman's, Batman's, Wonder Woman's or Captain Marvel's, as "The Flash" isn't one character like the others, but those 75 years consist of years of Jay Garrick as The Flash, then Allen, then Wally West, then Barry Allen again...and some years where two or all three of them were The Flash;"The Flash" is a codename, color scheme and power set more than a character.)

Anyway, to see a bunch of other DC Comics covers—those featuring The Flash and those not featuring The Flash—you can check out the publisher's solicitations for their January-shipping books here. To see a bunch of words I wrote about those covers and solicitations, don't go anywhere.


AQUAMAN AND THE OTHERS #9
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by LAN MEDINA and ALLEN MARTINEZ
Cover by IVAN REIS
On sale JANUARY 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Can the Others survive the combined onslaught of Cheshire, The KGBeast and The NKVDemon? Or will the sins of one member’s past finally destroy the team?


Did you bet a friend that a second Aquaman book, co-starring the lackluster super-characters Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis introduced in their second story arc on the main Aquaman book, wouldn't make it past eight issues? If so, then you my friend just lost a bet.


BATMAN AND ROBIN #38
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
THE FLASH 75 Variant cover by DAVE BULLOCK
...
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
The team of Batman and Robin are together again! But what is the new dynamic for this crimefighting duo now that Damian has super powers of his own?


So who were you guessing would be the next Robin? Carrie Kelly? Tim Drake? Harper Row? Duke Thomas? Stephanie Brown? Julia Pennyworth? A resurrected Damian? Chris Kent? Well, it is apparently one of them! (That link, and the next paragraph, contain spoilers, I guess...if the reveal isn't a red herring, of course).

And the one it turns out to be is...the most obvious one, at least given how much time Batman and Robin writer Peter J. Tomasi invested in devoting just about every issue of the book since Damian's death to Batman trying to get Damian back in one form or another. I've always assumed that Grant Morrison planned out his story with Damian dying at the conclusion, so that DC could essentially reset the Batman franchise back to where it was before Morrison took over the Batman title (that is, with Tim Drake resuming the role of Robin), but Morrison ended up staying a lot longer than he originally intended...and Damian ended up proving a lot more popular than one might expect Batman's long-lost, 10-year-old son would be. Hell, he even survived the New 52 reboot, which included a timeline so compressed that even with some super-science bullshit about a sped-up aging process still doesn't leave a lot of room for Damian to exist in.


This is the Ivan Reis-drawn cover to Batman Eternal #42, featuring the debut (not counting the flash-forward, actual debut) of Harper Row in her terrible, terrible, godawful, stupid-looking Bluebird costume.

For some reason, she fights crime using a big-ass, almost Cable-sized gun, despite Batman being completely 100% anti-gun.

Anyway, I just put that there to note that January should be the best-drawn month of Batman Eternal yet, as it will feature two issues by Joe Quinones, one by David Lafuente and another by Juan Jose Ryp. They are all talented artists...but I don't think any of them are talented enough to make the Bluebird costume look good. Perhaps it was designed to draw some of the criticism away from Red Robin's terrible, terrible, godawful stupid-looking costume...?


DEATHSTROKE #4
Written by TONY S. DANIEL
Art by TONY S. DANIEL and SANDU FLOREA
Cover by TONY S. DANIEL
...
On sale JANUARY 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
...
Slade’s journey into his past takes an unexpected turn, leading him to Gotham City – and Harley Quinn!


Based on how surprisingly hight sales on Harley Quinn have been, maybe DC should have tried launching this book, the second stab at a Deathstroke monthly since late 2011, as Deathstroke/Harley Quinn. If Superman and Wonder Woman can share a book, why can't these two...?

Daniels's figure work on Harley and her extra accessories are cool, but I find it highly amusing that, not content with the weird angle of the rooftop to hid their feet and lower legs, Harley and Deastroke apparently also brought a smoke machine with them.


THE FLASH #38
Written by ROBERT VENDITTI and VAN JENSEN
Art and cover by BRETT BOOTH and NORM RAPMUND
THE FLASH 75 Variant cover by HOWARD PORTER
On sale JANUARY 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
The all-new, all-murderous Flash is posing as Barry Allen while the real Scarlet Speedster is trapped in the Speed Force!


Fun idea for the Howard Porter's Flash variant, although I'm not sure why New 52 Flash seems to be attempting to catch the girder instead of move the poor guy about to get squashed by it. Your power is super-speed, not super-strength, Flash!

Also, it's nice to see Jay Garrick, the version of The Flash who actually debuted 75 years or so ago, on at least one of these Flash variants, instead of Barry (who debuted in 1956, less than 60 years ago).


GRAYSON #6
Written by TIM SEELEY and TOM KING
Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN
...
On sale JANUARY 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
It’s the battle you never thought you’d see, as Grayson goes toe to toe with the Midnighter!


Well given that I saw Grayson go toe to toe with the Midnighter in Grayson #1, I'm actually not the least bit surprised that they will be battling again in the book's sixth issue.


This is the regular cover to Justice Leaguer Dark #38, but Guillem March, who should stop drawing covers and start drawing more Batman Eternal interiors. When I first saw the cover from far away (i.e. before clicking on it to embiggen it), I thought the character at the center was some weird amalgamated version of Black Canary and Huntress, but I see that it's actually Zatanna's new costume, which mixes her original magician's assistant look with that of her later, lamer superhero costume.

Check out the line work on that...whatever it is that they're all swirling about in.


This is the Flash variant to that same issue, by Kelley Jones. I find it interesting not only because I love Kelley Jones (but I do love Kelley Jones...or his art, at least. Never met the guy), but because while Jones is one of the first artists I would consider were I picking an artist to draw Swamp Thing, he's also one of the last guys I would consider were I picking an artist to draw The Flash. So nice to see him do a Flash/Swampy team-up on the cover, then.


THE MULTIVERSITY GUIDEBOOK #1
Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art by NICOLA SCOTT, GARY FRANK, KLAUS JANSON, CAMERON STEWART, DAN JURGENS, CHRIS SPROUSE, BEN OLIVER and others
Cover by RIAN HUGHES
...
On sale JANUARY 21 • 80 pg, FC, $7.99 US • RATED T
...
The guidebook to the greatest adventure in DC’s history is here! With a detailed concordance featuring each of the 52 worlds in the Multiverse, a complete history of DC Comics’ universe-shattering “Crisis” events, a map of all known existence, AND an action-packed dual adventure starring Kamandi of Earth-51 alongside the post-apocalyptic Atomic Knight Batman of Earth-17 and chibi Batman of Earth-42, this 80-page mountain of MULTIVERSITY madness cannot be missed!

The MULTIVERSITY GUIDEBOOK contains everything you ever wanted to know about DC’s parallel worlds and their super-heroic inhabitants. Meet the Agents of W.O.N.D.E.R. The Light Brigade, the Super-Americans and the Love Syndicate! Meet the Accelerated Man, Aquaflash, BiOmac and more! Overflowing with today’s top artists and completely written by Grant Morrison himself, readers of the DC Universe can’t afford to pass up this oversized, sixth chapter of MULTIVERSITY!


This seems like the sort of book I don't see much any more, certainly not from DC, and, if Marvel still publishes them, I haven't noticed one since around Civil War or so. DC used to publish a line of over-sized comics they called Secret Files and Origins, generally about once a year for each franchise, and each big event got one too (DC One Million, Joker's Last Laugh, Our Worlds At War, etc). Those were usually a mixture of pin-ups with text about characters and a few short comics-format stories of various length.

The above solicitation makes it sound like it will have at least one comics story (the Batman team-up), and I suppose if there's anyone that can make "a complete history of DC Comics' universe-shattering 'Crisis' events" make a lick of sense post-New 52, Morrison would be the one.

The $8 price tag sounds insanely high to me—at that point, you're no more than $2.99 away from a 200-page collection of manga—but it's not really all that much more than the regular issues of Multiversity. The fact that this is all written by Morrison is certainly a bonus, and that's a damn impressive line-up of artists.


ORION BY WALTER SIMONSON OMNIBUS EDITION HC
Written by WALTER SIMONSON and others
Art by WALTER SIMONSON, FRANK MILLER, JIM LEE and others
Cover by WALTER SIMONSON
On sale MARCH 25 • 688 pg, FC, $75.00 US
Legendary writer/artist Walter Simonson takes on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World! These tales star the heroes and villains of the Fourth World as Darkseid seeks the Anti-Life Equation and Orion battles to stop him! Collects ORION #1-25 and stories from JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD #9-11 and 13!


These are some pretty damn good comics here, and some of the best New Gods comics not by creator Jack Kirby you'll find. I'm pretty sure you can assemble your own collection of these for less than $30 if you don't mind hunting back-issue bins (that's how I assembled my run of Orion), but then, I guess you're paying the $75 to not have to look in back-issue bins, huh?


Well, now I know what a Bryan Hitch drawing of Swamp Thing would look like, thanks to the solicitation for Secret Origins #9.


SECRET SIX #2
Written by GAIL SIMONE
Art by KEN LASHLEY
Cover by DALE EAGLESHAM
...
On sale JANUARY 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
...
What is Catman’s strange secret – and how will it affect this new team? Find out in the second sensational issue of SECRET SIX!


Huh. That's strange. I simultaneously like and dislike this new Catman costume. It's a cool-looking costume for a cat-based villain, but it's a terrible costume for Catman, whose previous costumes—all of 'em, save maybe the out-of-continuity Legends of the Dark Knight one—are better. It certainly hints at a radically revised origin, as there's no hint of Batman inspiration to it, and no cape, which may mean he no longer has that magical cloth that his old cape was fashioned from.

That's a pretty striking cover image though; it's going to be one of those that, like March's Justice League Dark cover, you hate to see them put a logo, issue number and credits on.


SHAZAM!: A CELEBRATION OF 75 YEARS HC
Written by OTTO BINDER, DENNIS O’NEIL, GEOFF JOHNS and others
Art by C.C. BECK, KURT SCHAFFENBERGER, GARY FRANK and others
Cover ALEX ROSS
On sale MARCH 4 • 400 pg, FC, $39.99 US
DC Comics celebrates the World’s Mightiest Mortal in this new collection starring Captain Marvel and his extended crimefighting family: Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, Tawky Tawny and more, plus villains Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind, Black Adam and others!


Really looking forward to this...although I don't know how much they really need include after the Binder and Beck stuff...


SUPERMAN #38
Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and wraparound cover by JOHN ROMITA, JR. and KLAUS JANSON
...
On sale JANUARY 28 • 40 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
...
An extra-sized special issue of the world’s greatest hero brings in the New Year with a new costume, new powers and new friends and enemies! The epic team of Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson conclude their first arc with twist after twist that will send Superman onto a new path and force Clark Kent to making a shocking decision! Plus: John Romita Jr. draws Batman!


"New costume"...? Could this be the long-awaited return of Superman's red shorts? Is he ditching the nanotech armor in order to start dressing like Superman again? It looks like we'll have to wait until January to find out, but even if this is just the New 52 version of the Electric Superman saga, it should still be worth checking out, if only just to see John Romita Jr. draw more DC stuff, like the fellow mentioned in the last sentence (And, honestly, the book has been pretty good ever since the new team took over).



You get two choices for the cover of Superman/Wonder Woman #15. One features The Flash impishly tying Superman and Wonder Woman up in her magical lasso of truth (note that this is a rare example of all of the characters in a Flash variant being in their New 52 costumes). The other features Superman impaled to a wall behind a sword-wielding Wonder Woman, with both character's feet hidden by rubble.

Unfortunately, while you may get to pick which cover you want, the contents of the issue will be the same underneath each, and presumably fall closer to that of the second cover than that of the Reis-drawn one.


TEEN TITANS #6
Written by WILL PFEIFER
Art by SCOTT HEPBURN
Cover by KALMAN ANDRASOFSZKY
THE FLASH 75 Variant cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale JANUARY 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
The fight for the soul of the Teen Titans continues as S.T.A.R. Labs and the team find themselves bonding over a new common enemy, just as the Titans bring in a new member: Power Girl.


Does anyone else think it's weird that we're only about three years into the deck-clearing, continuity de-confusing New 52 reboot, and we've already got two Power Girls, one of whom has already changed costumes at least twice (not counting her Supergirl costume, as she was Supergirl from a parallel Earth...or parallel Krypton, I guess)...?



So here's a pretty perfect illustration of how far Wonder Woman has fallen over the decades. In the Terry and Rachel Dodson Flash variant, we see New 52 Flash cover-bombing the classic cover of Wonder Woman #155 (not sure why he looks so damn serious in the close-up image, though). That's gotta be one of the all-time great weirdest Wonder Woman covers, of the sort it hardly matters what the story attached to it actually entails (Also? I kind of love the ballerina slipper-style foot-wear).

As for the regular cover, it is drawn by interior artist David Finch, and features Wonder Woman as the pupil-less Greek goddess of war (that's her war goddess get-up; she inherited the job after War died), splattered with bloody sword cock at the reader.

I like that Finch has seen fit to splatter her cleavage with blood too, as nothing says Everything Wrong With Comics to me quite as eloquently as the blood-splattered breasts of a superheroine.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

You know who would like Wonder Woman's new origin story? Wertham.

Diana has two mommies?!
I've been working my way through Tim Hanley's Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine (Chicago Review Press; 2014), and I'm currently on a chapter dealing with the way Wonder Woman was portrayed in the Silver Age, after her creator William Moulton Marston had passed away and Robert Kanigher took over writing her adventures.

In this section of the book, Hanley spends some time discussing Fredric Wertham's crusade against comics, the detrimental effects it had on the comic book industry (and, perhaps more importantly, the comic book medium) and how DC's post-congressional hearings superhero comics line conformed to the Comics Code Authority.

Wonder Woman, like Superman and Batman and Robin, were among the few superheroes specifically singled out by Wertham in his influential-at-the-time (and now much-ridiculed) Seduction of the Innocent, in which Wertham referred to Wonder Woman as the "lesbian counterpart" to Batman's barely-coded homosexual ideal. While Wertham's objection to the character as a sort of insidious recruiting poster for lesbianism—Wertham, like too many people of his day, thought homosexuality was in and of itself an unnatural and unhealthy thing—it turns out another thing he objected to was her origin story.

Her original origin story was told in 1941's All Star Comics #8, and repeated and refined elsewhere, as in the H.G. Peter-drawn panel from Wonder Woman #1 at the top of this post. It was this version, the only one the then still-young character had, that Wertham objected to. It went like this: Centuries ago, after their encounter with all-male hero Hercules during his famous twelve labors, Queen Hippolyte and her Amazons were led by the goddess Aphrodite to a hidden island, where they would be free of the violent, fallen world of men...and free to build their own advanced society and science. There, Athena taught Hippolyte the art of sculpting, and she made a little girl out of clay. Her patron goddess Aphrodite brought the little statue to life, and she was named after another Greek goddess Diana. The magically born girl would of course grow up to be the princess of the Amazons and, ultimately, Wonder Woman.

Writes Hanley:
Furthermore, Wertham decried the fact that "Wonder Woman is not the natural daughter of a natural mother, nor was she born like Athena from the head of Zeus." In 1954, the Golden Age Wonder Woman origin story still stood, and she was made of clay and brought to life by the gods. Her lack of a "natural" mother or father placed her further outside the maternal, familial norms than her fellow female heroes and made her the archetype of Wertham's narrow-minded deduction.
Wertham would therefor probably prefer the current origin story. While it has been revised before, including by Kanigher himself (although, somewhat amusingly, Hanley points out that Kanighter has no memory of altering Marston's original origin story, despite doing so rather drastically), the current version concocted by Brian Azzarello as part of 2011's "New 52" reboot gives Wonder Woman a much more "natural" origin.

In Azzarello's version, which is apparently going to be the one used in Wonder Woman's feature film debut, Wonder Woman was conceived of a sexual union between her mother Hipplyte and her father Zeus, king of the Olympian gods.
You just don't see the point of conception in too many superhero origin stories, do you?
The whole molded-from-clay thing was, in this new version, a pretty story her mother sold her to keep the truth about her demi-god status and familial relationship with the petty, bickering, often-at-war-with-one-another Olympians from her.

I suppose it would be petty and reactionary to blanketly state, "If Wertham would have liked it, then it's probably a bad idea" as some sort of rule for comic book-making, even when it came to Wonder Woman, the character he seemed to have the most trouble with for the least substantiated reasoning. But I'd be quite okay with comic book-makers having a poster on their office walls saying something like, "If Wertham would have liked it, let's give it a little more thought, just to be safe, shall we?"

Granted, much of Azzarello's soon-to-conclude run on the book has hinged on Wonder Woman being an Olympian, but his change in origin never sat well with me (the other bits of Wonder Woman's back-story he changed, like those concerning the Amazons kidnapping, mating with and then murdering sailors and then selling their male offspring for weapons sat worse still). That is, for the most part, because of how radical a change it was from Marston's conception of the character, which, unlike so many other superheroes, seems to get more and more diluted and generic the more writers work on her over the decades, rather than more and more complex and compelling. (For example, it's hard to find a Batman story that isn't at least as interesting as his first, Golden Age adventures, whereas it's damn near impossible to find a Wonder Woman comic as compelling as those Marston and Peter first crafted).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Comic shop comics: October 15

Batman Eternal #28 (DC Comics) The slug on the Clay Mann-drawn cover reads "TURNING POINT!" and it features an image of Batgirl Barbara Gordon turning away from the reader, her cape flapping in the wind so we can get a good view of her butt and also her terrible, terrible New 52 costume, with all it's joints and armor and ribbing. I wonder when her new, not terrible costume will show up in Batman Eternal, or if it will at all. It seems like some of the newer Batman series that will launch in the future—Arkham Manor, Gotham After Midnight—will spin rather directly out of the events of Batman Eternal and may, in fact, be set after Eternal concludes. Perhaps that's the case with the new Batgirl and the upcoming new direction for Catwoman, too.

I don't know if "Turning Point" is the best description of the events of this issue, scripted by Tim Seeley from Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV's story (no consulting writers are credited within, but some of their names to appear on the cover), but the issue does contain several criss-crossing plot lines and some big decisions from at least a few of the players in the ongoing super-crime melodrama, decisions that could potentially change their places in the story.

The book opens in a Gotham neighborhood I used to spend the most time in, a neighborhood so rough that no one messed with it during the city's post-apocalpytic "No Man's Land" hellscape phase (the warning sign festooned with the skulls of vampires probably had something to do with that, though) and a neighborhood that I think is making it's New 52 debut here (But feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). That would, of course, be The Cauldron, home of Noonan's Sleazy Bar, where Tommy Monaghan and his fellow hitmen used to hang out in Hitman, still probably DC Comics' all-time best comic book series (Or, at the very least, Caleb's all-time favorite DC comic book series).
It's only in four panels—two exterior shots, two interior—and only appears as what Starfire refers to as Jason "The Red Hood" Todd's "favorite Gotham bar," where the red-helmet rocking anti-hero engages in a bar fight with a couple of unarmed, generic white guys. No sign of any of the Hitman cast, which is for the best. I appreciate the shout-out to Hitman, but honestly hope everyone not named Garth Ennis and John McCrea steer far, far away from those characters and storylines.

From there, The Red Helmet Hood goes to say his goodbyes to Batgirl, the implication being that they formed some form of romantic relationship, or at least mutual attraction, during their shared adventures of late, but it seems to have been only implied. That, or I missed an issue.

He finds her still forcing Commissioner Jason Bard into a series of nonconsensual bungee jumps, and tells her that's not the way she operates, it's the way he operates, so he tries to kill Bard. Batgirl saves him, but not before maybe eliciting from Bard an Oh shit I'm about to die! sense of regret for his heretofore evil actions.

In the other plotline, Batman let's The Flamingo go in order to track him, and he leads him to an invite-only criminal underworld event where some guy named Bone I've never heard of is planning to beat a captive Catwoman to death in front of an audience. At least that was his plan, until first Killer Croc and then Batman intervene.

Catwoman too seems to be heading toward her turning point, as she ultimately decides to do what we've known she was going to do since before the book started—take over as the kingpin queenpin of crime in Gohtam City, under the belief that better her than someone worse.

Artwork this month comes courtesy of Meghan Hetrick. Her figures and rendering are all fairly strong, but there were several panels I didn't think executed very well, like this one where Batman is getting ready to trail The Flamingo, from what looks like only about ten feet away...
(Wow, Batman must be stealthy, if he can remain undetected from so close while talking out loud on the phone).

Or this panel, where I have no idea what Batman is holding or doing with his hands, exactly:
A tire iron, maybe?

I don't think the execution of this sequence worked quite right, either:
I know Batman didn't kill Flamingo, but just because I know Batman doesn't kill. That's a lot of blood to come out of a dude's head that you just wanted to knock out, isn't it? (Didn't Batman ever learn any nerve pinches or karate chops or anything?) I'm assuming the "Nuhh" is there to assure readers Batman did not just totally murder a guy.

No sign of Tim, Harper and the nanotech plot, or the haunted Arkham plot, the latter of which was sort of surprising, given that Arkham Manor, in which the Arkham inmates are moved into Wayne Manor, launches next week.


Earth 2: World's End #2 (DC) I thought this issue came with a rather huge drop in quality from that of the first issue. I think much of that had to do with the shorter page count, meaning the ever-changing art teams didn't hang around long enough to make their abrupt changes less obvious, and much of it had to do with the fact that the plotline didn't move very far from The Motley Superheroes of Earth 2 Continue to Fight for the Survival of Their Ruined Planet Against the Forces of Apokolips.

That's what happened in, let's see, every issue ever of Earth 2, so this book has thus far simply just more of the same, more often. Only much more poorly drawn than usual.

I do really like the logo though.

Oh, and Earth 2's Superman II Val-Zod's costume.

I wrote a bit about the nature of this series at Robot 6 this week, and I think I'm likely going to end up maybe reading the book in library-borrowed trade, should it get more interesting as time goes on.

*********************

By the way, I'm not sure what the fuck is going on with this stoner-humor ad for an upcoming special issue of Harley Quinn, and why it's appearing in T for Teen-rated books:
I've heard that one of the scents in the Scratch 'n Sniff Rub 'n Smell special will be that of marijuana, but man, that is one weird way to market the book. Particularly since it already outsells pretty much everything else DC publishes; does it need ads in the lower-selling books...?

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The New 52: Futures End #24 (DC) Hey, check out the background of the cover. Look closely, and you'll see the/a Legion of Superheroes, Wonder Woman in her invisible jet and characters like Hawkman, The Flash, Kid Flash, Captain Marvel, Wonder Girl Donna Troy and Cyborg in old-school, pre-reboot costumes. I think cover artist Ryan Sook is using the red to represent The Bleed, the area between universes that the Stormwatch Carrier ship travels throuhg. The foreground shows what looks like it's shaping up to the be the new version of Stormwatch—Frankenstein, Hawkman, Black Adam, Amethyst, The Atom—versus the big-ass Brainiac monster.

Rather randomly, Mister Miracle and Fury, both Earth 2 refugees that were until recently interred on Cadmus Island and presumably under the control of Brother Eye, are given five pages. This is mainly random because they have only just barely-appeared in the series at all up until this point, and it is the 24th issue of the series (25th, counting the #0 issue).

Attention is also spent on Maddy's developing relationship with Ron Raymond, and Tim Drake's stalking of the former, Jason Rusch's work with a crazy doctor on teleportation device and John Constantine and company, who are confronted with the Parasite-looking robot, which shirtless, bearded Superman arrives in time to punch—but not in time to save one of Constantine's running crew from getting his chest somehow exploded from behind.

Stupid Superman; if only he was as fast as a speeding bullet or something, he might have been there in time to save the poor guy.

Jesus Merino draws this issue, and Dan Green inks it. It looks better than average.


Lumberjanes #7 (Boom Studios) Finally, a non-DC comic! An explain-much-of-the-weirdness issue (I think this was meant to be the penultimate issue, before Lumberjanes was upgraded from limited series to ongoing), the book finds the girls joining forces with Jen and Diana to steal, or maybe just borrow, an artifact from Rosie and taking it to a special tower full of challenges and traps that they had already defeated without knowing what they were doing.

Diana explains what they are really doing, and why they've been beset by strange, three-eyed creatures and mind-controlled boys in the earlier issues. It makes sense, given all the clues we've been given so far, but the Classical, Mediterranean mythology seems rather wildly out-of-place in the North American wilderness setting of Lumberjanes. I guess we'll see how much of the info dump proves to be true—at least one of the characters has her suspicions—and how it plays out.

Artist Brooke Allen does her normal excellent job of drawing everything, especially during a passage where Greek mythology is discussed (and the background gives way to Classical, vase-style art) and in a battle scene against giant lightning bugs, which can shock the girls the same way lightning can (and whose antenna are shaped like zig-zagging cartoon lightning bolts).

Check 'em out:
Those are some mighty fine lightning bugs.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meanwhile...


The perfect disguise! There an awful lot of funny moments in Simon Hanselmann's Megahex, which collects and contextualizes the cartoonist's strips into one big, awesome, epic story, but that's the moment that I first remember laughing out loud while reading. I have a short review of the book in this week's issue of Las Vegas Weekly, if you would like to go read that review. I'd definitely read the book though, were I you...and it's your cup of tea, which it may not be, as there's an awful lot of content that I think can best be described as—oh, what's the term...?—fucked up. That's the term!

Over at Robot 6, I wrote a bit about the opening issues of DC's new weekly series, Earth 2: World's End, which, like Futures End, stars a bunch off-brand, alternate versions of the "real" DC superheroes.

(While there, check out Tom Bondurant's piece about Firestorm and Cyborg, which serves as a sort of introduction—or re-introduction, depending on your familiarity—in light of the two character's maybe appearing in live-action TV and film in the near-ish future. I was surprisingly not the least-bit-interested in Warner Bros DC supehero movie announcement earlier in the week, perhaps because it seems like I've been hearing about all of these movies more-or-less forever now. The only one that really surprised me was that they were planning a Cyborg movie, since he's a pretty boring character for a superhero: He's half-man, half-robot and, um, that's his whole deal. I can't think of a single Cyborg-specific villain. If you were going to give a Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titan-era character a solo movie, you should at least go for Beat Boy/Changeling—at least his powers are interesting looking, you know? Maybe the Justice League movie will make him into a more interesting character, but, at the moment, Cyborg is maybe the last DC superhero I would want to see star in a solo feature film).

Finally, I have a pair of reviews at School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog. The first one is of a neat little line of board books in which DC's super-people teach the littlest of kids about shapes and shit such. The second Snoopy's Thanksgiving, another of Fantagraphics' little, seasonal gift book collections of Peanuts strips.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy New Comics Day!

Did you guys get the latest issues of Throttle, Jab and Gouge...? What did you think of the new story arc they just started in Murder Comics? Did it seem a little derivative of the earlier issues of Murder Komix to you at all...?

...

Okay, I don't have a post for tonight, so please just admire this great single panel from an early Schulz Peanuts Sunday strip. It and about two years worth of great comic strips can be found in Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts 1950-1952, now available in paperback.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #3-#4

The “Worms of Madness” story arc running through these two 2004 issues of Tales of The TMNT, the first multi-issue arc in the series, is at this point probably more interesting for who made it then the events that occur within it, although the events are a pretty big deal within TMNT continuity. The "worms" of the title are those that the Foot Clan mystics fed the remains of Oroku Saki, The Shredder, in order to “resurrect” him as an intelligent worm colony that thought it was The Shredder (That was, remember, The Shredder that attacked the Turtles and family in 1987's TMNT #10, and who they fought in the “Return To New York” story arc in 1989's #19-#21).

While "Worms" was scripted by Tales editor Steve Murphy, he co-plotted it with Rick Remender, who also penciled the story (with John Beatty providing thick, generous inks to those pencils). In 2014, chances are that a lot of comics readers know Rememnder only as a comics writer, given his various high-profile works for Marvel, including The Punisher, Uncanny X-Force, Captain America, Uncanny Avengers and the publisher's next big crossover/event series, Axis.

But here he is co-plotting a really rather minor story for a relatively little book in 2004, and providing the artwork for it.
Talbot
The “Let me tell you a story” fronstpieces for the two issues are drawn by Eric Talbot and Scott Cohn, and feature a stitched-up Raphael with monster-fighting gear and a trying-to-outswim-a-shark Michelangelo, respectively. The story is set at the very end of “Return To New York,” with Rememnder and Beatty re-drawing the panel where Leonardo beheads “The Shredder” and the Turtles then burn his corpse on a raft pushed out into the river.

Meanwhile, an unseen Foot mystic narrates:
Pretty good narration, particularly the last two boxes.

I personally try not to think about the way the Turtles must smell—"the stench of human waste that clings to them like rancid yolk"—but yeah, spending the first decade and a half of their lives in the sewers of New York, they’ve gotta have a pretty terrible smell soaked into their bandanas and weapons and skins. Is there a secret ninja technique that allows a ninja to make his scent invisible as they sneak around? Because no matter how perfect they might be fading away, into the night, surely you would be able to smell them coming and going, right?

At the edge of the river, this mystic casts a spell to return the worms to life…sort of. Saki’s severed head is dragged through the black water by the dozen or so worms that emerge from his dead, open mouth. Until a shark eats it. And, at some point, the shark must have had some octopus. Because, another spell and another week later, The Shredder returns again...sort of.
The hybrid, amalgamated abomination makes short work of the Turtles—like, three pages short—before capturing Splinter and taking off.

Which is probably as good a time as any to ask: What the hell are the Turtles and Splinter even doing in the sewers of New York a week after their final battle with The Shredder and The Foot?

Splinter didn’t accompany them during their “Return To New York,” but stayed behind with Casey and April at the farmhouse. And, when we next saw the Turtles, it was...okay, well it was a few issues of Mark Martin's crazy stories, seemingly set before the events of #10 or "Return," but after that, in Rick Veitch's "The River" and so on, they’ve returned to the countryside. According to Murphy and Remender’s story, they followed their battle with “Shredder” and the Foot by returning to their old sewer lair to watch The Simpsons, and then hung around for a week, at some point being joined by Splinter...?
In the second installment, it’s revealed that the Shredder-monster did more than just beat-up the Turtles, it also somehow inverted their personalities, so that Raphael is a coward, Leonardo a completely irresponsible goof ball and Donatello is dumb. Michelangelo alone is unaffected, but it was unclear if that was simply because his irresponsible behavior was reversed too, and, while the others were worse off, he was simply made more responsible (In the earliest scene of this issue, Leonardo is razzing him with the same words he was taunting Leo in the previous chapter).

Mikey manages to find a spell in one of Splinter’s mystical books, summons a four-armed monkey god thing, and this being restores their personalities, teleporting the quartet to where the Foot mystic and the Shredder monster are, the rooftop of a factory on the edge of the river under a huge full moon—good place for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle battle.
This time, the battle goes in their favor, although it’s hard to discern a story reason, beyond the fact that this is the second issue of a two-part story. The monster gets bludgeoned and stabbed and eventually achieves self-awareness, realizing it is not The Shredder, but still lashing out at the mystic, the pair of them falling into the water and presumably dying.

Death seems to take for The Shredder worms this time around, while the mystic is transformed into a half-human, half-shark creature, “A new form of hate.”

Not the best story, and the wonky continuity doesn’t help—particularly because this is a story premised on being built atop existing TMNT continuity—but it was a real pleasure seeing Remender and Beatty’s art applied to characters so often drawn by so many different artists (Like Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are characters I enjoy seeing drawn over and over by different artists, just to see the choices they make, and how truly flexible and fluid the initial designs have proven over the decades).

Both of these issues feature back-up stories as well. The back-up in #3 is by German writer Peter Liehr and German artist Peter Schaaff. Entitled simply “Green,” it’s a five-page, nothing-much of a story, in which narration boxes semi-meditate on the meaning of the title word as it applies to the goings-on, which are a fairly generic urban vigilante story staple: Attractive young woman running through an alley at night gets mugged by gang and is then saved by the hero.
Here that hero is Donatello, although it could be any of the Turtles. Or any one in green, I guess. It’s mostly of interest for Schaaf’s striking artwork, which defines places and characters in the simplest of terms (“New York," for example, is defined by the black outline of three tall buildings and sagull in flight) and the peculiar cartoonishness of the character designs.

The six-page back-up in #4 is produced by a more conventional TMNT team and is set firmly in continuity, but isn’t quite as interesting. Entitled “The Grape” and set in post-Utrom NYC, it’s written by Murphy, penciled by Jim Lawson and inked and lettered by Eric Talbot. In it, a police squad raids a crack den full of Utroms, although instead of crack they are all addicted to “menta-wave" alien helmets that expand their consciousnesses in a variety of ways, a side-effect of which leaves them so locked-up in their own minds that they can forget about their bodies, and die in their menta-wave dens.
Members of the New York Police Department fighting crime involving aliens like the Utroms is a pretty interesting premise—Law and Order: TMNT—but Murphy over-narrates, and has one of the officers over-explain on a page that beats out many of Bendis’ for too much verbiage. There’s an interesting twist at the end, as there always should be in such short stories, but I preferred the more simple, more elegantly communicated work of the German creators in the previous issue (The events of this Utrom-focused back-up will come into play in future back-ups, however).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #2

For Tales of The TMNT's second issue, writer/editor Steve Murphy is joined by the then-regular TMNT pencil artist Jim Lawson (whose speed and efficiency must be really rather astounding) and inker Eric Talbot. Michael Dooney provides the drawing for the frontspiece, a lovely image of Leonardo meditating by a stream in the country, surrounded by curious animals, and Peter Laird letters the book.
This issue, entitled rather eye-rollingly as "Seeds of Destruction" (a bad joke that will become apparent as you read), was originally conceived, Murphy writes in his introduction, as a pitch for a by-then-canceled comic book (from Dreamwave) based on the then-ongoing, 2003-launched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, where he hoped it would be called "In The Realm of the Super-senses" and be a "full-color manga style" comic.

I'm pretty curious as to what that might have looked like, given how well it fit within the black-and-white Mirage aesthetic. Lawson's artwork here looks slightly more exaggerated and refined than it did in the TMNT title, with more stark image-making and fewer details cluttering up the planes of imagery, while Talbot's inks are very heavy, making for a truly black and white book. That is, it's all black on white, no gray, or suggested shades or tones.

The story begins with Donatello and Raphael returning to the sewer lair from a junkyard scavenging trip to find Michelangelo and Leonardo staring at Master Splinter, who is in a trance, levitating a foot above his pillow.

The story then flashes back a bit, and explains what's up. Splinter was attacked by an evil presence in the lair, one capable of throwing stones and shuriken at him. He retreats to some old books to study and prepare himself for warfare on the astral plane, where he engages his attacker—a mystic warrior member of the Foot Clan—and the adversaries engage in an Eastern mystic version of a sorcerer's duel where their astral forms transform in a series of attacks and counter-attacks.
Master Splinter obviously proves to be the master over his opponent, but Murphy stresses that it is but a single battle in an ongoing campaign, as the mystic attacker is an initiate facing his final ordeal. A trio of other Foot mystics, who will reappear later in the series, take his life as recompense for his failure, and ominously state that they too will attack Splinter some day.

From Dooney's frontspiece to the very last panel, the art in this particular issue is all super-strong. Lawson does some really neat work with the panels on the first page, using bolts of lightning as panel borders as the "camera" gradually zooms in on the mystic challenger, seated atop the roof of a building during a storm.

This struck me as a strange, though:
I don't know why, maybe because the Turtles are always nude save for belts and bandanas, but I was kinda shocked to see Michelangelo wearing pajamas. I guess I just assumed he slept in the nude, the same way he does, um, everything else.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: Avengers World Vol. 1: A.I.M.pire

Marvel’s Avengers line is now so big and full of so many books—five as of the last round of solicitations—that I’m not sure where each book falls in the hierarchy of official Avengers title. Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and his New Avengers seem to be the A-books at this very moment, with one featuring the real, official Avengers, the other the behind-the-scenes, not-really-Avengers The Illuminati, although the books share at least one character (Iron Man), and have kinda sorta intersected (in Infinity).

So I think that would make Avengers World , which was co-written by Hickman and featuring his cast from the pages of Avengers, the B-title…but just the B-title to the A-title of Avengers, as there seem to be other B-titles, like Uncanny Avengers (Although Uncanny Avengers seems to be the book that’s generating the next big Marvel crossover/event series Axis, which will replace it on the schedule this fall, so maybe Uncanny Avengers is the new A-title…? Hickman should make a chart of the importance of various Avengers titles, given that he’s so in to making charts).

Anyway, this ongoing monthly series takes its name from the first story arc of Hickman's Avengers—and the sub-title of the first Avengers collection—for maximum confusification. This collection, A.I.M.pire (Or, Advanced Idea Mechanics-pire, which loses some of its kick when de-acronymized) opens with a weird short story from the incredibly ridiculously-entitled promotional book, All-New Marvel Now Point One #1. In that, which is written by Nick Spencer, Hickman's co-writer for the rest of the issues appearing in this collection, Captain America Steve Rogers, who ran SHIELD after Norman Osborn’s HAMMER was disbanded, has a meeting with Maria Hill, who is maybe back to being the head of SHIELD again, although I could have sworn one of the two Nick Furys was doing that now (I could use a chart of this too, actually).

They decide that they should maybe work together more, which is kind of a weird conversation, given how many Avengers work regularly with SHIELD and/or have run the organization in the past few years, and, no sooner do they shake on it, then threats start pouring in from all over the world, just as they did in the first few issues of Hickman’s Avengers title.

There’s something incredibly, awesomely insane doing on in Madripoor! Wolverine, Black Widow, Falcon, Shang-Chi—check it out! There’s an abandoned city and weird mystical box thing in Italy, leading to a city of the dead! Get on that, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, Nightmask and Starbrand! A.I.M.’s island fortress is hyper-evolving, growing in size and architectural and biodiversity sophistication at an impossible rate! You’re up, Smasher, Sunspot and Cannonball!

It eventually starts to coalesce, at least a bit, as some of the threats seem somewhat related, but the book nevertheless carries Hickman’s Morrison’s JLA-style of hyperbolic, apocalyptic world threatening—Madripoor, for example, is revealed to be a city built atop the head of a gigantic dragon, which has just been awoken and is now ready to run amok—and the idea of The Avengers as an army of superheroes under Captain America’s command, splitting up to stamp out fires (forest fires, really) all over the world whenever and wherever they flare up.

Because Hickman’s Avengers book was and is so plot-heavy, and its cast so large, he hasn’t had a whole lot of time to explore the characters, who often appear as remote plot elements or background filler more than characters. For the most part, that isn’t a bad thing in the context of the book. Many of those characters have their own books and appear in so many others—Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wolverine, Hawkeye, Black Widow—that Hickman doesn’t really need to waste the space on them in the book.

But here there’s a bit more room, and so Spencer and Hickman give us not only more of the sorts of scenes found in Avengers, but longer, character-focused scenes, like Shang-Chi narrating his life-and-death battle with Gorgon, or Smasher remembering more of her childhood during her confrontation with the A.I.M. leadership, or Starbrand re-living the nightmarish aspects of his own origin.

In a very palpable way, this book reads like more of the same of Avengers, which is either a good thing—if you like what you’re reading in Avengers—or a bad thing, if you don’t. Where it differs is that the plot seems slightly less urgent, and there’s a little more room for the characters to breathe, and the dialogue, likely owing to Spencer, is a bit snappier and a bit funnier.

The art was unremarkable, but unremarkable in a good way. Rags Moreales, one of my favorite super-comics artists, draws the prologue from that goofy one-shot, while Stefano Caselli—whose past Avengers experience includes chunks of Avengers Assemble and Avengers: The Initiative draws the five issue of Avengers World proper.

I liked it well enough, but neither artist did anything particularly remarkable with what amounted to work-for-hire jobs. As with a lot of the publisher’s team books of late, particularly since they started accelerating the schedules of their monthlies, this book seemed more like a writer’s book than an artist’s book, or book where the two contributing components develop style, personality and tone in equal measures.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #1

About 14 issues and 28 months into Mirage Publishing's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 4 (discussed at some length earlier this week), the publisher launched a sister title, Tales of the TMNT.

Peter Laird, who would serve as the book's editorial consultant, provided a short introductory essay on the inside front cover of the first issue. He explained how he was faced with three paths to take when relaunching TMNT—picking up where they left off with Vol. 2, starting over from scratch, or the path he ultimately took, picking up the characters' story while factoring in the time that had passed between the end of Vol. 2 in 1995 and the launch of Vol. 4 in 2001, which he worked out to be about 15 years of story-time.

His plan, he wrote, was to address all those missing years in the flashback sequences of TMNT, but never seemed to be getting around to it, and thus decided to revive Tales, Jim Lawson and Ryan Murphy's short-lived, seven-issue, 1987-1989 series. The new version would focus on filling in the stories from those missing years, or be set further back in time, but they would all take place somewhere along the line of the "official" TMNT timeline. As Laird hadn't worked out every event that might have happened between the end of Vol. 2 and the start of Vol. 4, he said he gave the reigns to Steve Murphy, and said he would work with the creators in determining what felt right for his TMNT continuity and what didn't.

For this very first issue, Murphy and a great deal of the usual Mirage gang contributed. Michael Dooney provided the painted cover of the Turtles in the sewer, Eric Talbot lettered the story and gets a production and design credit. Meanwhile, Jim Lawson drew the frontspiece, a splash page with narration ending with the words "Let me tell you a story..." that kicked off every issue of the old Tales. Oh, and Lawson also provided the lay-outs for the 28-page story.

The heavy-lifting on this issue was done by Murphy, who wrote the story, and artist Dario Brizuela, a familiar name to readers of DC's kids books. He's an incredibly talented artist with an uncanny ability to mimic the styles of others—which he's made great use of on Scooby-Doo Team-Up—and it was both a surprise and a pleasure to find his name and his work here. In fact, this may be the first time I've seen Brizuela drawing in his own style, rather than cleverly aping the character designs of others.

The story is set back before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were even teenagers, as they are only 12-years-old at the time (Although they are not wearing the bigger masks and wielding the weapons the did in 1986's TMNT #9, in which Michelangelo was using a manriki-gusari and Raphael tonfa, the story whose title page referred to them as "Eastman and Laird's Pre-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.")

At that point, they are still living in their New York City sewer lair with Master Splinter, and, at story's opening, Donatello is reading aloud to the rest of his family from a book about the original explorers of the chunk of the new world that eventually became their New York City.

When a very old-looking map falls from the old book, the boys ask if they can go exploring to find the hidden spring it refers to. With some cajoling, they finally prevail upon Splinter—this is, apparently, their first trip without him.
They explore the underworld of the city—which is, in and of itself, interesting enough—eventually discovering fossilized dinosaur foot prints, a lost temple and, most dangerously of all, a society of half-worm humanoids (they look like giant worms from the waist down, and fish-like humans from the waist up).

Fighting naturally ensues, although Donatello ends it with a brief experiment and what he hopes will be a solution to the worm people's problems.

Brizuela's artwork is, as I said, a treat. He gets a great variety of things to draw, as the story opens with the art illustrating the passages that Donatello is reading aloud.
His Turtles don't show their young age at all; they look to be about the same age as they are always drawn. Brizuela's Turtles are short and squat, with smooth, round faces with no real hint of a nose. They look a lot like smoother, cleaner, more cartoony versions of A.C. Farley's, really.

There's no toning used, and little in the way of shading, so his line work really pops, and it's pretty great line work.

As much as I liked his art, this is the scene that really impressed the hell out of me:
That is, of course, a worm guy looking up at one of the Turtles through the water, and Brizuela affects the wavy look of peering through water simply by the way he draws the wiggly lines.

That is, in short, fantastic.

It makes for the start of a very promising series that would prove to be one of the longest-lived TMNT comics, lasting 70 issues (TMNT Vol. 1 lasted 62 issues, Archie Comics' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures lasted 72 issues).