Friday, July 22, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: July 20th

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 (DC Comics) Well this was surprisingly bad, and not just because Batgirl's outgoing creative team got me so excited about the possibility of a Birds of Prey book featuring Batgirl (of Burnside),(Grumpy) Black Canary, Spoiler, Bluebird, Vixen and new Oracle Frankie over the course of their last few arcs. No, the writing was extremely amateurish, which makes a certain amount of sense, since writers Julie and Shawna Benson may be professional TV writers, but this is their first attempt at a comic book script. It's over-narrated and poorly narrated, and the plotting is pretty messy, checking boxes in a way that suggests editors Chris Conroy and Mark Doyle likely had a great deal of input. I definitely got the sense that Benson and Benson had read the previous run on Batgirl and Black Canary and maybe some pre-Flashpoint Birds of Prey, but they seemed fairly unfamiliar with New 52 continuity in general, and it certainly seemed like they both skipped Gail Simone's Batgirl run (for which I would not blame them) and that they may even be unaware that there was a New 52 Birds of Prey series.

This basically does a lot of continuity-screwing-around with, in addition to re-inserting The Killing Joke into Barbara Gordon's origin in no uncertain terms after some pains were taking by the Batgirl creative team to kind of at least make it a bit equivocal (although maybe just the sexual abuse part has been excised? It's worth noting that artist Claire Roe changes Barbara's clothes so there are no buttons for The Joker to unbutton...but then, they also must make some random changes, like putting marshmallows in her hot cocoa, so...), they make it so that Barbara Gordon was Oracle at some point between being shot and getting the use of her legs back and making it so she and Canary were a two-woman Birds of Prey team for a while...all of which is "new" to the current continuity, and pretty damn hard to make work in the short, less-than-five years that must have passed between Justice League #1 and Batgirl #1 (Presumably Batman was around at least a few months before Barbara became Batgirl). There's also some weird business involving turning Helena Bertinelli from Grayson into Huntress II of the New 52 DCU which is...awkward, to say the least.

I'll discuss the book in greater detail later in a few days for the next installment of "Afterbirth," but my first impression is pretty extreme disappointment. Pretty great art, pretty poor but not terrible writing and a premise that is laboriously confusing...although maybe not so much if you haven't read any Batgirl or Birds of Prey comics before...? Although, shouldn't the goal be a book for people who are fans of those characters and people new to them, rather than just the latter, and if it were targeted it at just the latter, then they need not have bothered so much with trying to half-explain who Bertinelli is or name-checking supporting characters from Batgirl or Black Canary.


Betty and Veronica #1 (Archie Comics) This is the third of the comics in Archie's new relaunched and rebooted line, following Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' Archie and Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's Jughead, and it was the most iffy of the three going in, based simply on the creators involved with each (If you want to count Sabrina, I guess this is the fourth, but Sabrina is apparently published on some sort of pagan calendar I don't understand, and was also at one time being sold as part of a new Archie Comics horror line with Afterlife With Archie, a book that has turned into something of an annual).

While Waid, Staples, Zdarsky and Henderson are all reliable talents whose work on monthly comics is easily check-out-able at your local comic book shopw, Betty and Veronica is being both written and drawn by Adam Hughes, whose interior comics work is few and far between (I'm having trouble thinking of anything longer than two pages of his I've seen since JLI) and whose writing is...Wait, I don't think I've ever seen Adam Hughes write a comic before.

What he's best known for are his pin-up style covers of DC-published comics like Wonder Woman and Catwoman, and the amount of cheesecake he often brings to the proceedings made him an interesting, even eyebrow-raising choice for a Betty and Veronica comic. Granted, Archie has been sexualizing these two characters in their pages to various degrees for a good three-quarters of a century or so now, but "sexy teen girls" in 2016 is different than in the 1940s, '60s or '80s...especially since the audience for these comics has shifted from little kids to grown-ups.

I'm happy to say then that I was pleasantly surprised. The cover is the only part that looks exactly like the Adams Hughes we've come to known from his cover work. The interior art, colored by Jose Villarrubia, is gorgeous, if awfully slick and photorealistic at points for my particular tastes, and while it is recognizable the work of Hughes, its shockingly effective cartooning from a guy best known for producing single, static images. Why isn't Hughes doing comic books more often...?

The writing is surprisingly good, too. He likely over-writes large chunks of the book, as there are several pages that have the sorts of long dialogue balloon-chains associated with the work of Brian Michael Bendis, but they are all at least employed appropriately (they're conversations, and the drawings associated with them match them). Hughes also draws attention to them in a weird section, where he does use the girls like pin-ups (something not new to Hughes, of course, but likely new to readers who only know Archie Comics from the last few decades), but I'll get to that in a moment.

As for the plot, in a surprisingly literate and elaborate Starbucks joke, the company has bought out the kids' hang-out, and Pop's is in danger of being closed down permanently. The gang–Archie and Jughead appear throughout the issue, and Moose and Midge through much of the issue–set about making plans to save it, although Veronica seems oddly distant throughout (That said, in current Archie continuity, Veronica is new town, and still just getting to know the rest of the gang).

It's a nice, solid plot that ties into what we know about the characters from the other two books and, perhaps refreshingly, it gives our heroines something to fight about that is not Archie. Hughes' dialogue, which is full of gags, is pretty good too, and I was actually impressed by most of it. The gags don't all land–high schoolers Jughead and Archie making an I Love Lucy reference was dated to me, and I just had my 20-year high school reunion last summer–but Hughes subscribes to what I think of as the Marx Brothers rule of comedy. If all the jokes can't be good, just make a lot of them, as frequently as possible, and the good ones will make up for the bad ones.

The weirdest passage is pages 19 and 20, both of which feature single drawings and a lot of white space, filled with dialogue chains.

On the first, there's a small dog house from which Hot Dog's voice emerges (Hot Dog is the narrator). He tells us that he has eaten the pages, and so Betty and Veronica will instead explain what happened on those pages, "and they've agreed to do so while wearing swimsuits, in case that was the kind of comic you were expecting." And so, on the second, we see Betty and Veronica lying in white space in bathing suits, Betty with a copy of Betty and Veronica open in front of her (and covering her breasts) and explaining what's happening to Veronica, lolling around in a one-piece next to her.

As pin-ups go, it's a fairly chaste image–there's a classic Dan Decarlo one showing Betty in a bikini top on the last page of the book–although I suppose its worth noting that the fact that Hughes draws his high school girls so realistically may prove more troubling to some readers than if they were drawn in the old Archie house style perfected by the likes of DeCarlo.

What's weird about these pages is that while they are funny, I assume that the joke of a dog eating the pages like proverbial homework, or working a pin-up into the body of the comic (and a joke about how wordy it is as well) wasn't for the sake of the joke, but because of deadline pressure. I could be wrong in that assumption, of course, but, well, Hughes doesn't draw comic book stories, and it's possible these 23 pages were too much for him.

I hope that was a one-off hiccup, and doens't presage terrible, Sabrina or Afterlife With like delays in the future, because this was surprisingly good, and man, it's great that there are not one, not two, but three good Archie comics available on a monthly basis now. So far, as more are apparently in the works.

As with Archie and Jughead, there are something like a million covers for this, which always sort of depresses me. I only had two to choose from (Hughes' and Zdarksy's, and I chose the latter), but I'd much rather Archie pay those people to produce back-up strips or work on anthology comics than just draw covers that most readers will never even see, aside from in the postage stamp-sized galleries in the backs of these comics.

Also as with the other recent Archie launches, this is a $3.99 comic, but you do get 23-pages of original story, plus a classic back-up, this one drawn by the aforementioned DeCarlo.

Oh, I suppose I should also note that the back cover calls this "The most highly-anticipated debut in comics history" and...doesn't seem to be joking.


Legends of Tomorrow #5 (DC) We appear to be in the home-stretch here; in fact, Sugar & Spike seems to end, as the last panel includes the word "END" real big. But then, we just saw the solicitation for the Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations collection the other day, and it said that it collected the stories from issues #1-#6 of this series, so I don't really know.

In either case, I sure wouldn't mind if DC continued with this format, but with four new features...although I'd suggest maybe making more than one of them star a character that is actually in the show that this generally mediocre but value-priced series is named after.

So what happens in this issue? Firestorm continues to feature Firestorm Firestorm-ing and Metamorpho is still doing its thing. At this point in those narratives, it was a bit more of a chore to get through them, as the interesting aspect for me–seeing what the creators would do with the characters, particularly in the case of Aaron Lopresti on the latter, as he was reintroducing Metamorpho into the New 52-iverse–has at this point long since worn off.

In Sugar & Spike, we get a flashback to how the title characters went from regular private investigators to PIs specializing in cleaning up metahuman messes and they get a new base of operations that looks like it could set-up their further adventures, should DC decide to let them graduate into their own book, or do another Legends of Tomorrow series and keep this feature. We also get a look inside Sugar's closet, which is full of superhero memorabilia that Flashpoint knocked out of continuity.

And, finally, in Metal Men, the two teams of Metal Men come to blows, while the original team's archfoe Chemo rises for the climactic battle in the next (and final?) issue. While all the male Metal Men are all too happy to fight one another, Platinum and Copper seem to get along from the get-go, so perhaps Copper will be joining the team, adding one more female-shaped robot to the line-up, as she did in Duncan Rouleau's Grant Morrison-inspired Metal Men miniseries of 2007 (which was really rather good).


Lumberjanes #28 (Boom Studios) This ends writers Shannon Watters and Kate Leyh and artist Ayme Sotuyo's current story arc, in which Roanoke Cabin teams up with Zodiac Cabin's Hess and Scouting Lad Barney and a bunch of super-powered kittens to save the 'Janes' leadership from a Roc, which looks and acts more like a Thunderbird to me, but then, its their comic, not mine.

There are two big questions answered here. First, what did Barney and Hess realize at the end of the last issue that will help them get out of this predicament (I had no idea), and what exactly did Barney want to talk to the 'Janes' leaders about (exactly what I suspected).

This issue also features maybe the strongest bit of "continuity" we've seen in the book so far. There are always call-backs to past stories and we've gradually gotten to know more about various characters, but I think this was the most dramatic bit in which a plot point from a previous story played any significant role and the suspenseful ending involves the return of a character from the first story arc, which would make her Lumberjanes' first recurring villain.


Snotgirl #1 (Image Comics) I talked a bit about this comic book in Comics Alliance's "Best Comic Books Ever (This Week)" feature the other day (you guys read that, right?), but the dilemma facing me with this book was that while it is the new Bryan Lee O'Malley comic (an ongoing monthly, no less, and one in which he is working with a very talented artist drawing his scripts), it's also called "Snotgirl" and snot seems to be involved in the plot and I'm not real big into bodily fluids of any kind in my comics. As late as Wednesday afternoon I was assuming I would have to flip through it to see how snotty it is before deciding to pick it up.

Well, I decided to pick it up, as you can see my its presence in my post, so while there's a lot more snot than I would like, it is still an O'Malley-written comic full of quite gorgeous art by newcomer Leslie Hung, who is quite likely to become a lot of people's favorite artists pretty soon.

The protagonist is Lottie Person, who has given herself the nickname "Hotgirl," but, at her lowest, perhaps she is really, well, you know the title. Lottie is a 25-year-old fashion blogger whose socially adrift from her boyfriend (with whom she is on a break) and her fellow blogger friends "The Haters Club" when she meets Caroline (who she dubs "Coolgirl") who is, well, really cool.

Everything seems to be going great, until her allergies strike, and her carefully constructed facade of physical perfection is shattered quite dramatically...or is that melodramatically? Something terrible happens on the last page that will likely color where this is going, but I was a little surprised by how much I liked this issue.

That has a lot to do with Hung's gorgeous art style, which is heavily shojo influenced, as is the lay-out of the book and, I'd argue, the content, to some extent.

It is colored by Mickey Quinn, and I'd almost prefer that it not be coored at all, given that the green of the snot, which is the same almost neon shade of Lottie's hair, makes it seem all the yuckier (And yes, I know the conflict between Lottie's sense of aesthetic perfection and the grossness of rivulets of snot is the whole point, but that still doesn't mean I don't think snot is gross. Maybe I have a lot to learn, I guess, and this comic will teach me to be less judgmental of mucous). There's that, and the fact that Hung's style, as great as it looks in color, suggest black in white simply because of its influence, and I still associate O'Malley comics with black-and-white (I never quite got over the fact that Seconds was in color, you know? Like, there was nothing wrong with it being in color, but the whole time I read it, both times, I kept thinking, "Weird, O'Malley in color").

So now I've got a new dilemma: Should I read Snotgirl as its being published, in serial comic book-format comics, or wait for the trade...? I guess I have about a month to think about that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DC's October previews reviewed

Yes, it's that time of the month again.

ACTION COMICS #965
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by STEPHEN SEGOVIA and ART THIBERT
Covers by CLAY MANN
...
“BACK IN THE PLANET” part one! Superman returns to the public eye—but what of Lois Lane? When a mysterious package arrives for Lois and Clark back on the farm, Lois can stay on the sidelines no more. But where does that leave Superman’s human doppelgänger, Clark Kent?
On sale OCTOBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

ACTION COMICS #966
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by STEPHEN SEGOVIA and ART THIBERT
Covers by CLAY MANN
Variant covers by GARY FRANK
Retailers: These issues will ship with two covers each. Please see the order form for details.
“BACK IN THE PLANET” part two! As the Daily Planet’s star returns to work, so does Lex Luthor. Meanwhile, Superman continues to investigate the devastation in the aftermath of the Doomsday attack.
On sale OCTOBER 26 • Each 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


"Back In"...? Not "Back At"...?

So the solicits for this story arc that is still three months and some six issues away get to the core of my problem with the entire "Rebirth" initiative, the "What the hell are you guys doing, exactly?" problem, which centers on Superman.

Without re-hashing it all again, there are essentially two Supermen and two Lois Lanes, one set of which is a good six or seven or eight years older than the other one, and from a different dimension/universe/continuity.

DC "solved" the Superman problem by killing off the New 52 Superman and having his progenitor replace him as his own legacy or whatever. But they still have the Two Lois problem. I'm not sure which Lois this is, but given that they are making a big deal out of her return to the Planet, I assume that it is Old Lois (She's the one who has been appearing in Action and Superman since the relaunch; the New 52 Lois will apparently be starring in the upcoming Superwoman book).

From little hints dropped here and there, it is apparent that DC has some plan for how they're going to resolve the problems in the Superman franchise, and Jurgens at least seems to be making something of a mystery out of it (note the appearance of a Clark Kent with no powers alongside Superman in Action recently), but I kind of wish they would just tear the bandage off and move on.

Oh! And did you guys see this week's issue of Superman...? Krypto is in it! But he looks like a normal earth dog in a cape, not the big white saber-tooth dire wolf that New 52 Krypto is. Is this Krypto II, or did he emigrate from the pre-Flashpoint DCU too or...what...? I'm really confused about Krypto the Superdog continuity you guys, and I don't think that's a thing people should be confused about...!


ALL STAR BATMAN #3
Written by SCOTT SNYDER
Art by JOHN ROMITA, JR., DANNY MIKI and DECLAN SHALVEY
Cover by JOHN ROMITA, JR. and DANNY MIKI
...
“MY OWN WORST ENEMY” part three! Now on the run from both bounty hunters and cops, Batman and Duke must find a safe place to hide out with Two-Face before they can continue their journey to the cure. Batman might soon realize his worst nightmare: that Two-Face is right…and nowhere is safe.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 40 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


I just read Batman and Robin Vol. 5: The Big Burn this week, collecting an arc from that weird period where Robin was temporarily dead, and so Batman and Robin changed its title to Batman and... to accommodate guest-stars; that arc was from its time as Batman and Two-Face.

The character, who loomed so large in Batman comics in years past, has been almost entirely absent since the launch of the New 52, and "The Big Burn" was his only real showcase story. It offered a brand-new origin for the character, as well as explaining why we haven't seen much of him. Spoiler: He's dead now.

Or, he was. The ending of that story is evidently a lot less permanent than it looked, if he's now co-starring in the first arc of writer Scott Snyder's next Batman book.

That's an all-around aces creative team, and I'm kinda looking forward to this book, especially in seeing what JRJR does with a classic Batman villain like Two-Face and the much less classic KGBeast.

...

Say, I don't think KGBeast has appeared in The New 52 yet, has he...? He's a pretty awesome character in how incredibly dated he is (although I know Chris Sims likes something else about him, which is, admittedly, also awesome), and I imagine he will only appear more and more so as time passes and the Soviet Union and the KGB recede further and further into the past.


AQUAMAN #9
Written by DAN ABNETT
Art by SCOT EATON and WAYNE FAUCHER
Covers by BRAD WALKER and ANDREW HENNESSY
...
“UNSTOPPABLE” part two! In the shocking conclusion to this story, the unstoppable juggernaut carves a new path toward Aquaman’s hometown of Amnesty Bay. So far, Arthur’s attempts to halt the creature have been fruitless, but to save his friends and neighbors, the sea king must do the unthinkable.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Say, can DC use the phrase "unstoppable juggernaut"...?


BATMAN #9
Written by TOM KING
Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN
...
“I Am Suicide” part one! Batman has always been crazy…but this? This is suicide! In order to retrieve Psycho-Pirate and save Gotham Girl, Batman must recruit a team from Amanda Waller to break into the most impenetrable prison in the world and steal from one of the Dark Knight’s greatest foes…Bane. The next great Batman story begins here!
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Well, the cover shows Arkham Asylum, which makes me wonder if that is where Batman is recruiting his team from (Wait, why are you recruiting a team, Batman? You're Batman! Also, your ex is the world's greatest thief; just call her, man!), or if that's the "impenetrable prison" he's breaking in to. I would assume the Suicide Squad will be assembled from Arkham inmates, since obviously that place isn't all that difficult to break into or out of, in which case this sounds a bit like 2001's Justice Leagues: Justice League of Arkham #1, doesn't it?
I don't remember that particular issue of that event series all that well, which means it was neither awesome nor terrible. How about that George Perez cover though, huh?

On the subject of Batman, I just remembered the "Three Jokers" plot-point from Justice League/DC Universe: Rebirth this afternoon. It doesn't look like that's being picked up in Justice League or any of the Batman comics that have been released so far, which is a little on the weird side. I mean, you would think Batman would make that a priority, right...?


CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #1
Written by GERARD WAY and JON RIVERA
Art and cover by MICHAEL AVON OEMING
...
Cave Carson has done it all: survived countless adventures below the Earth’s surface, met the love of his life, and gotten a cybernetic eye...somehow. After he and his wife, Eileen, sent their only daughter Chloe off to college, Cave was ready to become just another mundane member of the surface world. That is, until Eileen got sick. Newly widowed, Cave tries to piece his life back together when a knock on the door of his secret underground lab pulls him back into a past that he and Eileen thought they had left buried deep within the Earth.

Adding to his troubles, Cave must determine if his recent hallucinations and visions are the work of his mind or his mysterious cybernetic eye. (Spoiler: It’s the eye.)
Written by Gerard Way (DOOM PATROL, Umbrella Academy) and Jon Rivera (Heartbreak), and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming (Powers), this is an absurdist action-adventure story unlike any other!
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS


Well it's about goddam time someone did a Cave Carson comic, and that's all I gotta say.


CYBORG #2
Written by JOHN SEMPER, JR.
Art by PAUL PELLETIER and SANDRA HOPE
...
“THE IMITATION OF LIFE” part three! Vic Stone’s quest to save his soul is threatened by an attack from Kilg%re, an artificial alien life form that wishes to purge Cyborg of any remnants of his humanity.
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Here is example #5,000,000 of DC's weird-ass, both-of-worst-world's relationship to their continuity. The second issue of the the re-booted Cyborg comic, set in a new, rebooted, five-year-old continuity/universe will feature as its antagonist a minor 30-year-old character from The Flash, JLI and the latter book's spin-offs.

So here's a minor character used in a way that's supposed to stoke familiarity and therefore be appealing, but stripped of everything familiar but its name and reintroduced.


DC/DARK HORSE: JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL. 1 TP
Written by DAVID MICHELINIE, ALAN GRANT, JAMES ROBINSON and MIKE KENNEDY
Art by ALEX MALEEV, STEVE PUGH, MIKE MIGNOLA, RYAN BENJAMIN and others
Cover by MIKE MIGNOLA
The greatest crossovers featuring Justice League members Superman, Batman, Starman and Batgirl against Predator, Terminators and other characters in DC COMICS/DARK HORSE COMICS: JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL. 1. This new collection includes SUPERMAN VS. PREDATOR #1-3, SUPERMAN VS. THE TERMINATOR: DEATH TO THE FUTURE #1-3, BATMAN/HELLBOY/STARMAN #1-2 and GHOST/BATGIRL #1-4.
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 408 pg, FC, $24.99 US


Or, alternately, DC/Dark Horse: We Weren't Sure What To Call This One. This is a grab-bag of DC/Dark Horse crossovers, with nothing at all in common other than that. I mean, you can call bullshit on the very first sentence: Starman (Here, Starman I and Starman VIII) and Batgirl were never members of the Justice League.

I have only read Batman/Hellboy/Starman, which is okay, and definitely deserves props for being so weird and unusual for a comic of its kind, and Ghost/Batgirl, of which I remember nothing at all. I'm a little surprised to see Superman Vs. Predator collected here, as there are enough comics featuring DC characters fighting Predators that DC could have quite easily done a DC/Dark Horse: Predator collection (Three Batman miniseries, a Superman miniseries and a JLA one-shot...plus the Superman and Batman Vs. Aliens and Predator series that was previously collected in DC/Dark Horse: Aliens Vol. 1.

An all around weird bit of marketing here...

I'm a little bummed that the publisher's Superman/Tarzan crossover isn't included, as I recently came upon the first and third issues while trying to clean up and reorganize my comics midden, and I realized I never read the middle section of that series. Also, I've been thinking about Tarzan more than usual lately having recently seen the new film.


Artist Rafa Sandoval draws a rare instance of male broke-back on his cover for Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps #6. That is, admittedly, not what I first noticed on this cover. No, it was that Sinestro recruited King Kong into the Sinestro Corps. That's one thing I love about the various Lantern teams and the fact that they pull members from anywhere in the entire universe; writers and artists can pick anyone or anything–a house cat, a humanoid bat wearing a gimp mask, Ganesh–and give them a magic wishing ring and team uniform. Here, Sandoval and/or the writer and/or the interior artist decided to go with "a giant gorilla," and why not...?


HARLEY’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK #6
Written by AMANDA CONNER and JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art by SIMON BISLEY
Cover by AMANDA CONNER
...
Lobo’s back! The Main Man and Harley Quinn have a lot in common—motorcycles and mayhem, for starters—so it’s long past time they found each other! This could be the start of a fraggin’ beautiful friendship…or they could destroy the planet. Or both! It can be two things!
On sale OCTOBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T+ • FINAL ISSUE


Six issues? That's it? I'm a little surprised, and even a little disappointed, that this is being cancelled so quickly since it's A) A Harley Quinn book, B) It looks like a very easy Harley Quinn book for Conner and Palmiotti to write and C) It's usage of/reliance on rotating artists makes it the most interesting of DC's (probably too) many Harley Quinn books and helps spread the Harley wealth around while the character is still "hot."

The first few issues weren't terrible, but this is the second solicitation in a row that seemed like a nice pairing of artist with subject matter, as early '90s Lobo artist Simon Bisley arrives to draw Harley's team-up with what by all appearances seems to be the early '90s version of Lobo (rather than one of the two or three rebooted versions that have been around since The New 52 launched five years ago).

I am glad DC finally found a full-length, interior project for Bisley to do, after giving him some cover assignments and at least one short story over the course of the last few years. If Simon Bisley wants to draw your superhero comics for you, I say you move heaven and Earth to let him do so.

Say, did you guys read the Injustice annual where Harley Quinn fought Lobo? That was one of the better stories in Injustice so far, I thought.


HAWKMAN AND ADAM STRANGE: OUT OF TIME #1
Written by MARC ANDREYKO
Art and cover by AARON LOPRESTI
...
Residing on Earth and out of the hero game, Adam Strange finds himself trying to live a “normal” life, until he’s literally pulled back into adventure again when a seemingly normal Zeta beam transmission returns him to the planet Rann, where he hopes to be reunited with his beloved Alanna. But instead he finds the once-great city of Ranagar in ruins, with millions dead, and the once peaceful Alanna is now calling for the blood of Rann’s oldest enemy, Thanagar, home of the Hawkmen. Sensing something is amiss, Strange finds an ally in Hawkman, who also is trying anything possible to avert war. Don’t miss the start of this sensational new six-issue miniseries!
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T


Two unpopular characters, one unpopular title! So what are New 52 Hawkman and New 52 Adam Strange going to be getting up to here...? Let's see, Rann and Thanagar on the brink of war, huh? Great! DC hasn't done a Rann-Thanagar war comic in years...! Like, ten.


HE-MAN/THUNDERCATS #1
Written by ROB DAVID and LLOYD GOLDFINE
Art and covers by FREDDIE E. WILLIAMS II
...
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe team up with the ThunderCats—the epic crossover event you’ve waited thirty years to see! In his ever-living desire to destroy the mighty ThunderCats, Mumm-Ra quests for a weapon that can rival the legendary Sword of Omens: He-Man’s Sword of Power! But his dimension-spanning scheme kick starts a cataclysmic crisis that will embroil heroes and villains—Masters, Mutants and ThunderCats—in a mind-blowing six-part saga!
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T


I was a huge He-Man fan growing up, but never took to The ThunderCats much, as that cartoon was garbage...at least after the opening theme sequence, which was really well animated. Also, I Snarf filled me with rage. That said, He-Man and The Masters of The Universe was also garbage, and worse garbage at that, but I was younger and didn't notice as much when it was originally airing (and anyway, I got into it through the action figures and they were dope, regardless of how shitty the cartoon was)

That, paired with the fact that DC's He-Man comics have been mind-boggling terrible (especially the DC Universe crossover) leads me to believe this will probably be very not very good. The fact that I have no idea who either writer is doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence.

That said, I am curious to see what Williams, who just got done drawing the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, will come up with for these two sets of characters. I just hope that they're starting fresh with the characters, rather than trying to set them in the rather weird continuity of the DC version of He-Man and company, which kinda limits the appeal of their books dealing with those characters.

There are two covers, one featuring the bad guys and one featuring the good guys. I used the bad guy one, because they are generally much more interesting to look at than the good guys.


THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN HC
Written by RENAE DE LIZ
Art and cover by RENAE DE LIZ and RAY DILLON
The new WONDER WOMAN 9-issue miniseries written and pencilled by Renae De Liz is collected here! In the beginning there was only chaos. But Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, saw a better future—and eventually her daughter would be destined to bring that new world to life! Before her ultimate fate unfolds though, Diana of Themyscira must learn the important lessons of an Amazonian childhood!
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 288 pg, FC, $29.99 US


If you read my weekly "Comic Shop Comics" reactions to what I buy and read on any given Wednesday, than you know that I'm pretty fond of this book. If you don't but are at all interested in Wonder Woman, I'd highly recommend this book. It basically re-tells the character's original Golden Age origin story, updating aspects to make it more palatable to a modern audience–both in matters of political correctness as well as sophistication of story-telling–without gutting what makes the various characters so interesting in the first place. Writer/artist Renae De Liz makes some choices I likely wouldn't have, particularly regarding the origins of the Amazons, but everything she does she does well. I've lamented before that this is set in Wonder Woman's original World War II milieu, if only because this is good enough to be the preeminent Wonder Woman origin story, her equivalent to Batman: Year One or any of the better Superman origin stories, but that setting will unfortunately consign it to outside current DC Comics continuity. Which is where, unfortunately, all the best Wonder Woman comics are set...


MIDNIGHTER AND APOLLO #1
Written by STEVE ORLANDO
Art by FERNANDO BLANCO
Cover by ACO
Variant cover by HOWARD PORTER
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
You wanted it? You got it—six more issues of Midnighter madness! Together again after too long apart, Midnighter and Apollo take on subway pirates in Los Angeles and demons in Opal City…but their reunion is about to take a shocking turn and send them both on an epic journey beyond all belief!
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+


Hey, look! It's the very last vestiges of the WildStorm "Universe" being folded into the DC Universe during Flashpoint/The New 52! And it's...a Batman analogue and Superman analogue. Huh.

Seriously, writer Steve Orlando's Midnighter monthly was, for the most part, pretty good, and one of the better of the ongoings to come out of the "DCYou" initiative (My favorite series of that period were the mini-series like Bizarro and, obviously, All Star Section Eight; I discussed the first collection of Midnighter in this post, though). I was a little bummed to see the series was being canceled, but then its numbers were crazy-low. So I am glad to see it's getting a bit of a reprieve, or at least that Orlando's getting another shot at a story, which, one has to assume, would have been an arc in his ongoing if his ongoing was still going on.

As I mentioned recently, I really like the character as a foil to Nightwing, at least as Tim Seeley has used the pair together, so I do hope Midnighter doesn't simply completely disappear the way that all the other WildStorm imports have.


NEW SUPER-MAN #4
Written by GENE LUEN YANG
Art and cover by VIKTOR BOGDANOVIC and RICHARD FRIEND
...
“MADE IN CHINA” part four! It’s the Justice League of China vs. the Chinese Freedom Fighters! As the New Super-Man tests his power against the Flying Dragon General’s team, a shocking new revelation will stop our young hero dead in his tracks. And trust us, you won’t believe what Kenan Kong discovers! All this, plus the Chinese Freedom Fighters’ ultimate weapon arrives, and it’ll be the STAR of the show…
On sale OCTOBER 12 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


I really like DC's Freedom Fighters characters, and while I know these will be the Chinese versions (post-Flashpoint, I don't think we've seen the American versions, just The Ray and Human Bomb in forgotten miniseries written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) that still gets me a little excited. It also explains why in the first issue of the series Kenan Kong faced a villain named Blue Condor, who looked vaguely like one of the more recent, 21st century legacy versions of Black Condor.


SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL #1
Written by CECIL CASTELLUCCI
Art by MARLEY ZARCONE
Cover by BECKY CLOONAN
...
There’s no such thing as a little bit of madness.
Far away on the planet Meta, Loma’s going nowhere fast. She’s dropped out of school, dumped her boyfriend, and is bored out of her mind. She longs to feel things. That’s where her idol, the lunatic poet Rac Shade, and his infamous madness coat come it. Loma steals the garment and makes a break across galaxies to take up residence in a new body: Earth girl Megan Boyer. Surely everything will be better on this passionate primitive planet with a dash of madness on her side and this human girl’s easy life. Only now that she’s here, Loma discovers being a teenaged Earth girl comes with its own challenges and Earth may not be everything she thought it’d be. Megan Boyer was a bully whom everyone was glad was almost dead, and now Loma has to survive High School and navigate the consequences of the life she didn’t live with the ever-growing and uncontrollable madness at her side. Not to mention that there are people back on her homeworld who might just want Shade’s coat back.
Written by Cecil Castellucci (THE PLAIN JANES, Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure), drawn by Marley Zarcone (EFFIGY) and overseen by Gerard Way, SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL starts a whole new chapter in the story of one of comics’ most unique series.
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS


Well, best of luck to prose writer and comics dabbler Cecil Castellucci with this, but based on how the last comic DC tried that took an obscure superhero character that found wider success in the '90s as a mature readers Vertigo character and then gender-flipped them into a young female character turned out, well, I don't expect this to perform all that well.

If you've forgotten, that would be Prez, and that was maybe tied with Omega Men for the biggest and quickest flop of the "DCYou" launches.

Personally, I think if you're going to try and do something with the Shade, The Changing Man character at this point, it would be more interesting and fresher to go back to the original, weirdo superhero conception rather than to continue to pursue the Peter Milligan Vertigo conception, as this seems to do, but what do I know? I just read the damn things.

If this sells only 35 copies, then it will have sold far more issues than any of the comics I've written...


SPACE GHOST TP NEW EDITION
Written by JOE KELLY
Art by ARIEL OLIVETTI
Cover by ALEX ROSS
The six-issue miniseries from 2005 is back in a new edition! For the first time, learn how Space Ghost got his power bands and why he protects the galaxy from evil! Witness the tragic circumstances that led to his donning a cowl and his first battle with arch-nemesis Zorak!
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 144 pg, FC, $16.99 US


It was very interesting to see this show up in here, as I'm pretty sure it has been on a lot of readers' minds as DC's weird Hanna-Barbera-for-grown-ups comics have been rolling out. This prefigured that move by over a decade. I've read at least the first issue of all of the Hanna-Barbereboot comics except Future Quest (as the one comic I was positive I would like, I decided to trade-wait that one), but as far as I can tell, Future Quest hews closest to Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti's take on Space Ghost than the other reboots, which seem to doing randomly weird for random weirdness' sake.

It's been a while since I read this, but I liked it an awful lot, and it seriousness never stopped surprising me, although it was never so serious that it got tedious. I remember thinking that this Space Ghost would have fit into the DC Universe of the time quite easily–like, I could honestly have pictured this Space Ghost joining the JLA–and wondering/hoping that DC would try something similar with the other Hanna-Barbera superhero characters that Alex Ross didn't seem to mind painting.

I guess that's what Future Quest is...they just took a long time to get around to doing it.

Oh, and speaking of the Hanna-Barbereboot,I have reviews of the first issues of Scooby-Apocalypse, Wacky Raceland and The Flintstones in the works, and hope to run them here on EDILW in the next week or two.


SUGAR & SPIKE: METAHUMAN INVESTIGATIONS TP
Written by KEITH GIFFEN
Art and cover by BILQUIS EVELY
The last time we saw Sugar & Spike, they were still in diapers! Now they’re grown up, and they’ve become private investigators who specialize in cleaning up embarrassing problems for the DCU’s greatest heroes. In these tales from LEGENDS OF TOMORROW #1-6, Sugar and Spike take on assignments on behalf of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and more!
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 144 pg, FC, $14.99 US


Okay, I was wondering how or if DC would collect the individual storylines from the the Legends of Tomorrow anthology, and was assuming it would be by breaking them into collections of their own, like this.

Sugar & Spike has been the most head-scratching of the four features–the others being Firestorm, Metamorpho and The Metal Men–as there is literally no reason for it to feature grown-up versions of baby characters Sugar & Spike. It's also been the best of the four though, and maybe the only one that doesn't require one have at leas some small amount of affection for the star of the particular feature. So I'm glad to see that they're collecting this one, as it's the storyline I'd recommend.

It's a little wonky in that it uses The New 52 designs of Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Batman and related characters (even when, as in the case with Killer Moth, the original designs would be funnier and more fitting), but it's otherwise pretty clearly set in the old continuity, one that includes their Silver Age adventures. There might be some weird meta-commentary to made there, since the whole concept is that they are PIs who clean up the embarrassing messes of the World's Greatest Heroes, but it mostly just reads as disconcerting, given the inherent weirdness of doing a comic book series about Sugar & Spike so far removed from those characters that only their names are used.

Giffen's plots are funny, even if he's dialogue usually isn't (Sugar comes off as a savage shrew of a woman, and Spike as emotionally abused), and Bilquis Evely's artwork makes the feature a stand-out in Legends...and compared to much of what DC publishes at the moment.

I'd recommend it.


SUPERMAN #8
Written by PETER J. TOMASI and PATRICK GLEASON
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
...
“RETURN TO DINOSAUR ISLAND” part one! Father and Superson work on a science assignment with bizarre consequences that transports the pair along with Krypto to Dinosaur Island! Now, amid relics of World War II, Superman tries to keep Jon from the jaws of prehistoric predators! Worse, Kal-El can’t find a way to fly off the Island.
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


SUPERMAN #9
Written by PETER J. TOMASI and PATRICK GLEASON
Art by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
Cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
Variant covers by KENNETH ROCAFORT
Retailers: These issues will ship with two covers each. Please see the order form for details.
“RETURN TO DINOSAUR ISLAND” part two! Trapped on a strange island removed from time, Superman and Son encounter a lone survivor from the past. He may hold the key to their escape, but first they must survive the other denizens of the Island.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Any comic set on The War That Time Forgot's Dinosaur Island is A-OK with me. That this one will also be very well drawn and likely fairly well written? All the better.


This is the very talented Liam Sharp's cover to one of October's issues of Wonder Woman. I hate it. Her face looks weirdly Lynda Carter-ish, kinda like when Gary Frank drew a Christopher Reeve-faced Superman in his comics, and if that's Steve, he looks hella weird too. He needs a shave and haircut ASAP. And maybe a long-sleeve shirt to cover up that tattoo.

That is all.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Avengers: Standoff

This massive, 400-page collection is a bunch of bound comic books, and thus meets at least one of the most generic definitions of the term "graphic novel," and, it certainly has the length and scope of an actual novel. It doesn't read much of anything like a novel though, and really, how could it, given its contents? It collects a trio of Standoff one-shots and then the various chapters that ran through all of Marvel's Avengers and SHIELD-related titled, some completely integral to the plot, some obviously awarded sub-plots so that they could participate in the cross-over (and hopefully earn a sales boost) and at least two that are just sort of there.

The results are therefore quite shaggy, with the protagonist of one chapter disappearing for a long period of time, or becoming the antagonist later. An exciting plot point will be raised, and then the reader might have to wait a few dozen or a hundred pages to return to it. Some scenes repeat verbatim in different chapters, scores of pages between them, because they are necessary to more than one of the ongoing comics they appear in, and Marvel had no guarantee that a reader would read both of those single issues. Some plot points are raised, but not resolved, because they are part of the individual titles' ongoing storylines, not the "Standoff" story arc those titles are temporarily tying in to.

That is perhaps the necessary nature of a big storyline like this, as it was published serially in 15 individual publications, not all of which any given Marvel reader would read all of, but all of which a reader of this particular collection is forced to.

Honestly, I'm not sure which method is the best; I like this method, obviously, as it allows a reader to read the whole she-bang for cheaper (the trade is $50) or free (from your local library, the best way to read corporate comic), and not worry about making sure they are self-curating the best possible reading experience, since it's not like Marvel is going to help the reader make that easy by, like, telling everyone that you don't really need to read th Howling Commandos of SHIELD or Illuminati issues if you weren't already following those titles, as they're connected but trivial.

Then there's the matter of tone–many of these writers write funny superhero comics, but they have different senses of humor and tell very different kind of jokes–and ever-shifting art-styles. If all of these writers weren't somewhere between good and great, and if the artists weren't of similar caliber, I would be tempted to call this collection a mess, but it's not. It's just a little too big, a little shaggy and a little weird as a reading experience, but it tells a pretty solid, pretty dramatic, pretty funny superhero crossover story with a compelling premise, and a minimum of narrative dead-ends (That is, things that you have to read some other book to see how they turn out) and pointless tie-ins (If Marvel really wanted to go big, they could have had an issue of all of the characters who appear herein with solo titles of their own have "Standoff" issues).

So there are 15 individual issues/chapters within this book. There are three Avengers Standoff one-shots that could probably have been published as a 3-issue miniseries, were it not for the publisher's fetishization of the digits 0-12. And so these are sub-titled Welcome To Pleasant Hill, Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha and Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega. There are two issues apiece of Agents of SHIELD, All-New, All-Different Avengers, Captain America: Sam Wilson, New Avengers and Uncanny Avengers and the previously mentioned single issues of  Howling Commandos and Illuminati.

There are seven writers involved–Frank J. Barbiere, Gary Duggan, Al Ewing, Marc Guggenheim, Nick Spencer, Mark Waid and Joshua Williamson–although Spencer writes the lion's share (five issues, including the three entitled Avengers Standoff), with everyone else scripting one-to-two issues. There are ten different pencils or penciler/inkers, and more inkers than I have fingers to count.

Here is the perhaps overly-detailed synopsis section of this "review." SHIELD Director Maria Hill's plan to create and weaponize a reality-altering Cosmic Cube was leaked by mysterious computer hacker The Whisperer previously, and she had very publicly said SHIELD was abandoning the project. They did not, but rather than making it into a weapon-weapon, they decided to use it for an experiment in fool-proof super-criminal incarceration.

She essentially founded the small, Norman Rockwell painting of a town named Pleasant Hill, and the Cosmic Cube transformed the incarcerated villains so that their appearances completely changed, they had no memories of their previous lives and they now hadve happy, even idyllic lives in a happy, even idyllic community in Connecticut.

Not everyone agrees this plan is quite ethical, especially the villains getting the cube treatment, and one imagines that should they ever wake up, they would be understandably pretty upset with Hill and SHIELD...and in fairly close proximity to a Cosmic Cube. But what are the chances of that happening? Well, this being a superhero comic book, 100%.

Bucky "The Winter Soldier" Barnes returns from space to put a stop to this, tipping off Old Man Steve about it in the process. Hill takes Steve there to see it for himself and try to convince him she's doing the right thing. The Whisperer reveals his secret identity to Sam Wilson (Surprise! It's that guy!) and tells him of Pleasant Hill, so that's three guys who all wear stars and were at one time or another named Captain America on-site.

The villains regain their identities, and all hell breaks loose, as SHIELD has packed the place with villains, including Baron Zemo, our Big Bad for this story (although there's an even worse guy there too).

To give all the Avengers who are not and have never been Captain America something to do, well, The Unity Squad (from Uncanny Avengers) and The Avengers (from All-New, All-Different Avengers) are summoned there under mysterious circumstances, and end up getting cubed themselves. The SHIELD agents (from Agents of SHIELD) are charged with arresting the now outted Whisperer, who calls to Roberto Da Costa's new A.I.M. (which is Avengers Idea Mechanics, from the pages of New Avengers) to rescue him, putting them in conflict with SHIELD.

And the Howling Commandos show up to save one of their members who stuck there and then basically bug out, and The Hood and Titania show up to save Absorbing Man and also bug out, in the Howling Commandos and Illuminati chapters.

I thought the premise was a strong one, even if it felt familiar. I can't place where exactly it originated, but it reminded me of a handful of second- and third-hand, everything-you-know-is-wrong kind of narratives. It is certainly an interesting new twist as presented in the Marvel Universe here by Spencer, however, and is morally murky enough that it's conceivable to see both how it could be considered a good thing by some people and a bad thing by other people (this seems like a better thing for heroes to fight over than the catalyst of either of Marvel's two miniseries entitled Civil War, for example, and while there is some hero vs. hero fighting here, it is mostly of the misunderstanding variety).

This is basically Spencer's story, a three Captain America team-up involving SHIELD and The Avengers, and he does a couple of pretty impressive things, including a surprisingly effective fake-out in his introduction of Pleasant Hill to readers, his presentation of Hill's acknowledgment of just how sketchy all this is and how she plans to live with herself for doing it and the way he manages to keep the story funny while also life-and-death serious.

For example, near the end of the book, Zemo calls upon Kraven The Hunter to seek out the cube, which has become sentient and taken the form of a little girl, and it was at first strange to see Kraven here given the last two places I saw him (The first Unbeatable Squirrel Girl trade, and then the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl/Howard The Duck crossover "Animal House," at the end of which he has reinvented himself as "A Hunter of Hunters" and is last seen pouncing on a fisherman).

Rest assured, while he is presented as a ruthlessly efficient tracker here, he's also perfectly zany in his exact method of capturing this particular prey.

Taken altogether, I think this was a fun read that achieved at least two noteworthy accomplishments. First, it demonstrated that these sorts of big supehero crossover stories, whether line-wide or more franchise specific like this one, can be fun and positive, and need not revolve around mass death and destruction and the ritual sacrifice of characters to make it seem important–the storyline dramatically changes the status quo for Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, it sets up multiple new books that will spin directly out of this storyline and it introduces a new legacy character back into the Marvel Universe, essentially adding to rather than subtracting from the number of heroes.

Secondly, it will serve as a decent sampler story–and, in time, a time capsule–of just where Marvel's Captain America, Avengers and SHIELD-related comics were circa early 2016 or so.

A couple more-or-less random thoughts:

•Glad to see the character who was The Whisperer back in action. That person is a really great character, although that person is kind of difficult to use on a long-term basis, and it seems like it's been a very, very long time since Marvel has known precisely what to do with that character.

•Quicksilver's new costume is terrible, and I don't understand that speed effects artist Ryan Stegman gives him.

•The Unity Squad seems so random now. I haven't read Uncanny Avengers since the first volume, when Rick Remender was writing it, and it has since been relaunched under writer Duggan. The original concept was a team that was half mutant and half non-mutant, a team consisting of both Avengers and X-Men meant to demonstrate the two factions that were at war in Avengers Vs. X-Men were friends now.

They have since added an Inhuman character too in Synapse, and given how Inhumans are basically being presented as just mutants-with-a-different name, when the Unity Squad first appears, they look like just another X-Men team: Rogue, Cable, Quicksilver, Deadpool and Synapse. Later on they meet up with Doctor Voodoo and...The Human Torch Johnny Storm...? He's not mutant or Inhuman, and not an X-Men or an Avenger. So the line-ups only former Avenger is Doctor Voodoo, who is a relatively new character (Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the superhero formerly known as Brother Voodoo join an Avengers team near the end of Brian Michael Bendis' run on the franchise?) and Quicksilver, who was a mutant.

I can't speak to the quality of the book–although nothing says "X-Men Comic" and "Something Caleb Won't Like At All" to me quite as loudly as the presence of Cable–but it seems to have drifted awfully far from its original premise.

•How bright is Cable's fucking eye, by the way? Stegman draws it like there's a fire burning in the socket, and it's leaping out of it. It doesn't just glow or shine, but it gives off light like a powerful flashlight. How hard must it be to talk to that fucking guy, face to face?

•I like that Orrgo isn't turned into a person, like so many of the others who get imprisoned in Pleasant Hill, but a Pomeranian. Similarly, a shark-themed villain who is never named and never gets any dialogue was turned into an actual shark in the town aquarium.

•Because of their attack on a SHIELD battlecarrier in their rescue of The Whisperer, the U.S. government retaliates against AIM by siccing American Kaiju on them. I've mentioned how awesome this character sounds when the solicits for these issues first became public.

I like kaiju in general, but the pairing of that noun with that particular modifier? Brilliant. High five, writer Al Ewing! We see his origin, in which General Robert L. Maverick (described in a narration box thusly: "Thunderbolt Ross thinks he's kind of heavy-handed") bullies a scientist into shooting Corporate Ziller (GET IT?!) full of a new attempt at the super-soldier serum that contains gamma radiation and even "The Connors formula, for Pete's sake! Lizard serum!"

The result? A Godzilla with a big-ass flag tattoo on his forehead (like Nuke) and a star-spangled underbelly. His roar? "YUUUU! ESSSSS! AAYYY!" (The first word is red, the second white and the third blue).

I don't like his design quite as much as his concept (I think the coloring needs work, personally), but seriously, American Kaiju. I want that thing to have its own book, STAT.

•I didn't think that this was a very good way to return Steve Rogers to his original, more-or-less immortal look. He had previously been stripped of his super-soldier serum, which turned him into a very old man, and so he had returned to being Commander Rogers and working with SHIELD, whereas now he's got the serum back in him and is young and hunky and super-powered again.

It was accomplished via Cosmic Cube, of course, and it's a little awkward, as the transformation is hailed by everyone, Rogers included, as being a good thing, when this entire story is basically all about how using the cube is playing God and is a bad thing.

Friday, July 15, 2016

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

Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth #1 by Robert Venditti, Ethan Van Sciver and Jason Wright

Ethan Van Sciver, who has collaborated with Geoff Johns on Green Lantern: Rebirth, Flash: Rebirth and DC Universe: Rebirth, obviously really like Green Lantern. Given the artist's talent, prestige and past sales, one assumes he could pick whatever titles he wants to work on for DC, and yet he keeps returning to various Green Lantern comics, most recently a minor miniseries about John Stewart, Guy Gardner and other members of the GLC lost in an alternate universe.

And here he is again, teamed with Johns' successor on Green Lantern, writer Robert Venditti.

This particular Rebirth one-shot is more of the bridge variety than the sample of what to expect variety (as is the Nightwing special, below, actually), essentially moving us from where Venditti left Hal Jordan (rather abruptly, it must be said), catching us up on where everyone else in franchise is at the moment and then having a rather pivotal, if slightly silly scene altering Jordan's current status quo.

That status quo? Well, last time we saw him, he was battling a version of his post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint self (the "Emerald Twilight" Parallax from the pages of Convergence who made it into the New 52-iverse much like a Superman, a Lois and their son Jonathan did). He won the fight, but in the process turned himself into a being of pure green energy.

In this special, in an event that is both kind of awesome and kind of stupid at the same time (something it shares with the best of Johns' Green Lantern writing), the big, green, energy version of Hal creates energy constructs of a rock, an anvil and a huge hammer, and then forges his own Green Lantern ring, each blow knocking him back into his flesh and blood form and sending ripples throughout the extended cast: The Corps, White Lantern Kyle Rayner, Agent Orange Larfleeze, Star Sapphire Carol Ferris and so on.

Naturally he's successful, he says his oath and he wills away his trench coat in favor of his traditional GL costume and flies off and towards the pages of Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps #1. Venditti seems to be now doubling down on business from Johns' run, with all of the variously-colored Lanterns and a mysteriously aged Sinestro (who, after goring gray, looks remarkably like a pink Vincent Price) in a Parallax-powered Warworld taking Oa's place in the center of the universe.

The continuity is a little glitchy if one tries to match this up with various other books. For example, I guess there are still two Hal Jordans and two Parallax entities in the universe (The Convergence Jordan will have a Parallax entity semi-possessing him too, right?), and I have no idea how this matches up to what we've been seeing the pages of Justice League in the "Darkseid War" arc, or even Green Lanterns...although I suppose this issue could be set before Green Lanterns: Rebirth...?

That aside, I imagine if you've liked Johns' Green Lantern, particularly from about the "Emotional Spectrum" business on, then Venditti and Van Sciver have successfully set the stage for a new comic that you will more than likely also like, although do be warned that Van Sciver was here for the special and not the ongoing, which will be drawn by Jordi Tarrogano and Rafa Sandoval.


Nightwing: Rebirth #1 by Tim Seeley, Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn

The Grayson iteration of the Dick Grayson character--who became Agent 37 of super-spy organization Spyral after having his secret identity outted to the world and faking his own death--was never built to last, and, personally, I never thought it made a whole lot of sense if you thought about it for too long (like, a minute), but co-writers Tom King and Tim Seeley managed to tell some really surprisingly great stories during the two years or so of that particular status quo, and had a great handle on the character of Dick Grayson.

It's something of a relief then to see that Dick is reclaiming the codename and costume of Nightwing (even if how they put the secret identity genie back in the bottle was fairly cheap), and that Seeley is sticking with the character in the new, upcoming Nightwing book.

For the Rebirth special, Seeley's paired with Yanick Paquette, and the pair devote themselves to tying-up various loose ends left over from Grayson and other Dick-specific storylines (like "Robin War"), as Dick narrates (pointing out, on the first page, where he got the name Nightwing) his way through a hang-out session with Damian Wayne and, later, Batman, all the while saying goodbye to various characters from Grayson. He attempts to say goodbye to his former Spyral boss "Matron" (Helena Bertinelli, who is about to become The Huntress and, in fact, is shown suiting up; she'll be in next week's Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1), he hangs out with Midnighter in order to defeat "Project: Killicorn" (My favorite part is when Dick says that Midnighter refers to them as "arch-frenemies" or "nemesisters," although the Killicorn is, of course, a close second) and runs one-last mission with Tiger, who is the new leader of the new and less-evil Spyral.

Finally, there's some more Court/Parliament of Owls stuff, which looks like it will dominate at least the first story arc of the upcoming Nightwing.

As I said, I wasn't a big fan of the entire Grayson milieu, despite what King and Seeley were occasionally able to pull off with it, but this particular issue does a pretty good job of filing all that stuff away without blowing it up, so that characters and concepts can be returned to if needed in the future. That's wise. I particularly liked Dick's interactions with Midnighter who, remember, was created as a sort of Batman parody, and is always defined in relation to Dick's first and greatest partner.

Like, um, every comic book DC has published in the post-Flaspoint DCU, this would be a hell of a lot better if there weren' a reboot accompanying the introduction of The New 52. For example, prior to that reboot, we knew that there was a legendary Kryptonian hero named Nightwing, we knew that Dick had a long-time relationship with Superman, since he was Batman's junior partner throughout their entire "World's Finest" relationship and Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty even wrote a nice scene in their 2005 "Year One" Nightwing story arc in which Superman suggests the name to Dick.

In the New 52, I can't recall if Superman and Dick Grayson ever even met until after Grayson became Agent 37.

Also, the climax involves Dick looking at his original, retconned Robin costume in its glass case in the Batcave and, I don't know, maybe it's me, but I just can't get used to seeing that costume and thinking "Dick Grayson's Robin" costume, as it looks more like a Tim Drake costume from some videogame adaptation.

When he does finally suit up as Nightwing, it's worth noting that he's wearing a new costume, this one with the blue and black color scheme he wore for most of his career as Nightwing, only with an abstract "bird head" shape to the blue V element, like that of his costume from Batman: The Animated Series. I think the costume from the Dixon/Scott McDaniel run of Nightwing is his best costume, and this is close enough, certainly better than the red and black costume of the first New 52 Nightwing series.

Please note that Nightwing will be drawn by Javier Fernandez, so if you love Paquette's art here, don't expect to see it on a monthly basis.


New Super-Man #1 by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic, Richard Friend and Hi-Fi

DC has moved Gene Luen Yang from Superman to a brand-new book, featuring a brand-new character of his own creation, and rather than a demotion, it seems like this new book will have the potential to make far better use of Yang's writing talents (His time on Superman was bogged down with telling one-third or so of the story about Superman losing his powers and secret identity, which was never really resolved satisfactorily).

This new Superman, er, Super-Man is Kenan Kong, and he is a Chinese teenager. Not a Chinese-American teenager, mind you, but a Chinese teenager. Living in China. This immediately promises an unusual direction for a superhero, especially a Superman, narrative, as a character known for fighting for "Truth, Justice and The American Way" doesn't transplant directly into a non-American country, let alone one that is still Communist and currently America's next most powerful economic and military rival.

Kenan's father lists a different set of ideals when ranting against the corrupt government in one panel: Truth, justice and democracy.

The other interesting choice is to take a more Spider-Man origin route, and make Kenan an arrogant jerk who, one assumes, will learn in future issues that with great power comes great responsibility...or that he will at least stop being such a jerk as Superman's powers more-or-less transform him into a more Superman-like figure (Remember at the climax of All-Star Superman, when Lex Luthor gained Superman-like powers and found himself more-or-less infected with empathy and goodness, as his new super-senses unlocked a new understanding of humanity?).

When we first meet Kenan, long before he's super-powered, he's not only an arrogant jerk--which one could say of the 1994 Superboy, whose personality Kenan's reflects in several aspects--he's also a bully, stealing the lunch from a smaller, chubby classmate who can't fight back.

In a moment of stress, he acts heroically, and is basking in newfound fame until his father deflates him, and we learn about a tragic event in his life, one that is an intersection connecting his father's political views, his lashing out against that particular target and even Superman. By book's end, Kenan has volunteered for an experiment conducted by a mysterious Dr. Omen to grant him super-powers.

Naturally it works, or else there would likely be no second issue, and Kenan becomes the Super-Man of China. And, in a last-panel reveal, when he seems out of control, he's faced with The Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman of China.

Yang's story, from conception to dialogue, is all on point. Superman's been around in every medium imaginable for just about ever, so pretty much any time someone comes up with a new take that can explore little-seen aspects of the character deserves at least a slow clap, and while putting Superman in different countries and cultures has been done in short, imaginary stories before (most commercially successfully by writer Mark Millar with 2003's Red Son), but Yang's story has the advantage of being "real," and, by not using the Superman character himself in a Superman story he has the opportunity to do things he wouldn't otherwise be able to do.

I admit to being pretty disappointed by penciller Viktor Bogdanovic and inker Richard Friend's art in the designs. I really like the design of the new Super-Man costume (which I've mentioned before), and i particularly liked the way that it substituted one of the other primary colors in the original Superman's costume as the primary primary color--although, because I am dumb, it didn't occur to me until I read this issue and saw the little stars like those on the Chinese flag on his shoulder that it likely had as much (or more) to do with red being China's color than it did with making a striking opposite to Superman's own blue-dominated costume.

The Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman are similarly cool designs. The Batman is big and blockly, like the Dark Knight Returns Batman, colored with the blue, gray and yellow that American Batman abandoned so long ago. Wonder Woman on the other hand, is in green, and doesn't look much of anything like any other Wonder Woman, save for the fact that she also has a luminous lariat (pink-ish rather than gold). All three costumes have the stars on the shoulders, and matching borders around their chest sigils.

But Bogdanovic's art has a generic quality to it, so much so that it is not immediately his and, were a reader presented with it in a comic with no credits, it would be impossible to assign it to him rather than any of another dozen or so artists that have worked regularly with DC in the past five years or so. This book, despite the high-profile author, despite the unusual and unusually compelling premise, just looks, stylistically, like any other DC comic.

As I said the other day, that may be a deliberate choice, to make the entire narrative more subversive by making it look more like every other DC comic, but I think it is instead just a poor pairing of art team and writer. Once this is collected into a graphic novel, it will sit very uneasily alongside all the other books Yang has written that fill library shelves, both those he illustrated himself, those he collaborated with other artists on and even the licensed, franchise comics he's done, like Avatar: The Last Airbender.

It's a good comic book, but it really should be a better one.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: July 6-13

DC Comics Bombshells #15 (DC Comics) This particular issue, featuring three distinct storylines, with flashback stories embedded within those stories, is a pretty good example of what a big, strange, wonderful tapestry Marguerite Bennett's ongoing epic answer to the question of "What if a bunch of sexy 'ships had fought World War II?" has gradually become.

Teamed with artists Laura Braga, Mirka Andolfo and Sandy Jarrell, Bennett tells the story of Irish lighthouse keeper Arthur Curry and the princess from Atlantis who washed up on his island, and how she fought to defend it from a creature of Celtic folkore (I think this is Braga's section, but whoever drew it, that is a fine depiction of a "water horse"); Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Zatanna, Constatntine and Raven on various levels of the tunnels beneath Berlin; and of Kate Kane and Renee Montoya's time as romantic warriors who signed up to fight in the Spanish Revolution (featuring a cameo by Ernest Hemingway).

I really dug this version of Raven, which is a rather radical redesign that stays true to the spirit of the original in a way that other redesigns (i.e. The New 52 one) did not, and updating her origin story into a kind of old European folk tale version of the Beauty and The Beast story was a nice tough.

Catwoman appears during the beautifully-illustrated recounting of Kate's time in Spain (drawn by Sandy Jarrell, I think?).

This book isn't always on, but when it is, there's pretty much nothing else like it on the stands.


The Legend of Wonder Woman #8 (DC) This is the penultimate issue of the original series, although word on the street Internet is that it is going to continue past the originally-announced nine-issue run. I'm not sure if that means there will be a tenth issue, or if it will relaunch with a new #1 and turn into a series of mini-series kind of thing, but I'm glad they are continuing it. It's the best comic book prominently featuring Wonder Woman DC is publishing at the moment, and a great argument for Etta Candy's presence in the world of Wonder Woman. Writer/artist Renae De Liz's Etta isn't the exact same as that of creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter, but De Liz managed to update her in a way that serves the character and her role in the narrative extremely well.

There seems to be too much story to wrap-up in just one more issue, especially considering how much Amazonian business is left to attend to from the early issues of the series, so I suspect we will be getting a #10 of this series, and that perhaps De Liz got word of the green-lighting for future issues while working on this comic, and thus started to shift her story-telling plans during its creation.

That's just a guess though, based on how much is yet to be done. Here Diana, Etta and the Holliday Girls board an experimental plane that converts into an "invisible jet" (allowing for the expected jokes, including an old-timey one with alcohol you never see anymore) and take off to help Steve Trevor and the allies take on the Nazis and The Duke of Deception, who is about to raise a The Titan, a humanity-extinction event that Zeus told Diana about last issue, in trying to get her to sign on as his champion (and sign up for his world-cleansing program).

The Titan just awakes in the last panel, so fighting it will wait until the next issue. This issue includes a rousing aerial battle, lots of nice dresses at a nice party with multiple musical numbers, Wonder Woman "turning" a foe through compassion and understanding, the promotion of a just-introduced villain into a more adversarial role and the revelation of her dual identity to pretty much everyone close to her.

But foreget all that. The big event in this story? The introduction of nine-year-old Alfred Pennyworth, a Dickensian street urchin who pops out of a crate in the ladies dressing room and introduces to Etta with a "May'aps I can hel, Miss! The name's Alfred Pennyworth, Miss! World-class juggler, singer, actor, and all 'round entertainer extraordinaire!"

He's only in like eight panels, but they are among the best eight panels.


Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #2 (Boom Studios) I really love the cover of this particular issue, and spent some time just staring at it. I love how beautiful everyone–especially on the 'Janes side of the cover–looks, and the range of expressions on both sides. The little Maps/Ripley face off is particular great, as they're drawn to look almost like mirror images, like Ripley is the Earth-3 version of Maps or something (The story establishes the pair as sort of being cut from the same, or at least similar cloth, "Hey!" Ripley yells at one point, "My fellow tiny friend has a plan!").

Looking to see who drew this awesome cover, I saw it was none other than Natacha Bustos, a name I just learned this weekend upon reading the ridiculously charming Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which Bustos draws for Marvel.

Anyway, hooray for Natacha Bustos!

The interior artists are still Rosemary Valero-O'Connell on pencils and Maddi Gonzalez on inks. I like the art, and it's growing on me, but as with Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a few months back, I wish the artist was someone associated with one or the other franchise, as right now the crossover is happening more in the script (and, of course, the reader's imagination) than visually, on the page. On the other hand, it gives the two groups of characters from two very different books a sort of "neutral" aesthetic, not attached to either of them, which makes a certain amount of sense...although since we're at the Lumberjanes Camp now, perhaps the book should look more like an issue of Lumberjanes....? These are the things I think about it.

The plot takes a turn for the much-weirder here, and weird in a different direction than the sort of weird associated with either of the books crossing over here. And weird in a sort of way that seems like the sort of comic I would have expected from writer Chynna Clugston Flores.

As you'll recall, the director of the 'Janes' camp and a professor from Gotham Academy went missing, and so both groups of kids went off rescue them...which lead to Olive and Jen both getting captured, too. So now our young heroes have to rescue twice as many people as they had originally attended, and much of this issue is divided between the kids retreating back to camp to argue, plan and gear up, while Olive and Jen explore their new and weird prison.

I'm stil having fun with it, and I imagine it is a good introduction to Lumberjanes for Gotham Academy readers, and vice versa.



New Super-Man #1 (DC) Listening to NPR's "Morning Edition" today, I was pleasantly surprised to hear host Renee Montagne interviewing Gene Luen Yang about New Super-Man #1. The angle was that superheroes, who used to be universally white men and boys, are now growing more diverse, and she mentioned years-old examples like the bi-racial Spider-Man and the Muslim Ms. Marvel, plus the new Iron Man, who will be a black teenage girl. From those three Marvel Comics examples, they jumped to DC and Yang.

It highlighted what a "get" for DC Yang is, I think, that NPR cared enough to cover the fact that one of the five new Super-people starring in a new title as part of the "Rebirth" initiative is a Chinese man, and Yang did a nice job defending all diversity within superhero lines as being story driven rather than diversity for diversty's sake (I think the latter is the motivation, but in all of the examples listed above and, in fact, all of the examples I can think of that I've read so far, the emerging legacy characters who aren't straight white guys have all been sold with compelling stories). Yang pointed out that just moving the Superman character and his never-ending fight for Truth, Justice and The American Way to China in and of itself is enough to open up unexplored territory for the concept of the character.

And then I read New Super-Man #1 a few hours later and man was it disappointing. The story and the script are great, and the art by pencil artist Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend isn't bad, but it's not great either, and just looks like any random DC Comic of today, and not even one of the more distinct ones, like so many of those we saw coming out of the "DCYou" initiative.

And then when you compare it to Yang's own art, or the art of any of his collaborators on any of the comics he's written but not drawn (with the exception, perhaps, of some of the non-John Romita Jr. books), it just looks really weak, and not like something that belongs on the shelves with the rest of the Yang's books.

Granted, that is likely intentional, and that DC and Yang wanted to make this look as much like a generic DC Comics comic book of the moment as possible, since the real deviation was going to be in transporting American superhero concepts (China's Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman show up on the last page), but it didn't work for me, and I already find myself wondering how much rope DC will give this book should sales fall to about where I would expect them to fall for a comic featuring a brand-new character relatively far removed from the "important" books of the DCU.

I'll talk about this much more, or at least in greater, more book-specific detail, later in the week when we look at this week's various "Rebirth" debuts, but my initial, general impression was that this was a decent book that should have been much better.


Paper Girls #7 (Image Comics) Cliff Chiang and Brian K. Vaughan turn to the most horrifying-looking creature in the real world and blow it up kaiju-size and plop a pair of them into the Cuyahoga River. Luckily for us, they are, in reality, microscopic, but when I first saw photos of them, I thought about how terrifying they would be were they the size of, say, dogs or bears. Oddly, seeing them as big as Godzilla make them appear less scary, and more like hook-clawed Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons.

This series' weirdness and time travel make it a slightly disconcerting read, and as someone who lives a short drive from all these settings, it feels particularly surreal to me. Like, I've seen that bridge in the background, and I've been to that abandoned mall.

Less a love letter to the Cleveland suburbs of his youth than a complex science fiction novel, Paper Girls is far from the most fun or accessible of Vaughan's recent books, but it is his most fascinating.


Renato Jones The One% #3 (Image) D'oh! I just saw "Kaare Kyle Andrews" real big along the bottom of this cover and thought, "Oh, a new Kaare Andrews comic? I like that guy's art!" and threw it atop my stack. It was the very definitions of an impulse buy. Apparently I could use a little impulse control, however, as it wasn't until I got home and sat down to read it that I noticed the words "Issue Three" real small and in a lighter gray font under the big, bold black logo.

The art did look nice, and on skim-through the words "Frank Miller" and "Midnighter" flashed through my head, but I guess I will wait until I find, buy and read the first two issues before I read this one.

So this "review" is not a review. Just a reminder to thoroughly read the covers of all comics you impulse buy, I guess!


SpongeBob Cmics #58 (United Plankton Pictures) The main story here is an extended riff on castaway stories, but my favorite bit was probably the Maris Wicks' edutainment feature, "Flotsam and Jetsam," which may be the best installment of it to date. That it is about fish beards–well, barbels–likely has a lot to do with it (Why does the Black Drum look so much more unhappy than the Channel Catfish, Yellow Goatfish and Nurse Shark though...?).

The other high-points are probably John Trabbic's incredibly over-acted three-pager which features some really wild cartooning and, just as an unexpected surprise, Vanessa Davis' back cover.


Wonder Woman #2 (DC) Given the ever-changing origins of Wonder Woman, an official "Year One" origin story has probably been long overdue. In fact, when 2006's Infinite Crisis re-set her origin so that it was "about ten years ago, around the time Batman, Superman and the Justice League were getting started" rather than "like, a year or two ago," as George Perez made it in the then-new post-Crisis On Infinite Earths composite DC Universe, DC could have used a nice, definitive Wonder Woman origin story.

It has of course changed at least one more time, during the Brian Azzarello-written New 52 run, although the first issues of Greg Rucka's second run on the character has started out intimating that maybe it hasn't changed after all.

So what is the deal with Wonder Woman's origin? That seems to be the question Rucka and artist Nicola Scott will be answering in "Year One," the storyline that will be playing out in every other issue of the now bi-weekly Wonder Woman (with chapters of a modern day story drawn by Liam Sharp occurring between each installment).

As I've noted before, however, this seems like a pretty terrible time to do a new Wonder Woman origin story, since Renae De Liz is just in the process of wrapping up her version in the first arc of Legend of Wonder Woman, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette just published their version in their Earth One book and Marguerite Bennett and company did their version last year in the pages of DC Comics Bombshells.

Sure, none of those are DCU "canon," but they all tell different versions of the same story, and, more importantly, they are all really good and, based on this single chapter anyway, better than Rucka's version, which doesn't do anything new or different to distinguish itself from those others (It reads a lot like a less elaborate, less distinctively illustrated version of the one from Legend of... actually, only Steve Trevor comes crashing down onto the island in modern day rather than in the 1940s, and he comes with planeful of dudes, all of whom seem to die in the crash).

If anything, the big difference is the amount of time spent on Steve Trevor, as we see snippets of both his life and Diana's life, structured around parallels and coincidences between them, before the fateful crash, which occurs at the climax of this issue.

Young Diana wears a toga on an island of toga-wearing women, she dreams of the outside world in a way that her queen mother and her fellow Amazons do not, she seems to have a strange destiny before her, plane crash, the end.

Scott's art is, of course, great, and probably her best to date. It's nice to see DC giving her such a high-profile book at this point, after having essentially squandered her talent earlier on the doomed Earth 2 book. I'm not quite sure what to make of the use of white space in the book, however, as sometimes it seems to be...wrong, like a mistake rather than a deliberate artistic choice. Like this spread, for example:
This spread, by the way, has a semi-cryptic panel I didn't understand, which I think might have been meant to imply that either Diana had lots of lovers among the island's women, or that many of the island's women had crushes on her. A couple of Amazons are lounging naked by a pool, while Diana's in the background in the water, also naked.

"She merges like Aphrodite. Gods, she's killing me," one of them says. Another responds "I thought she and Kasia...?" To which the original speaker says "...And Meghara and Eurayle. I don't even know..."

What...?

If that is meant to say something about Diana having female lovers, then I prefer Morrison's tactic of her basically saying "Mala is my lover" and Etta referring to Themyscira as a sci-fi island of lesbians. If not, I don't know what they might be talking about.

There's also a bit where a woman talks about how she was murdered before coming to Paradise Island, which calls to mind Perez's weird Amazon creation story  involving the souls of murdered women, but other than that, Rucka doesn't get into the who, where, when, what and why of Paradise Island/Themyscira, and where exactly Wonder Woman came from (i.e. was she born in the traditional fashion or molded from clay, was she Zeus' daughter or not?)

It's strange to say, but if DC had published this exact same comic in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014, it would have seemed like a pretty good, and long overdue story. In 2016 though, DC has already published a handful of better tellings of the same story.