Saturday, January 31, 2009

Your monthly Kelley Jones' Batman update

Well, this week Batman: Gotham After Midnight #9 by Steve Niles and Kelley Jones came out, which means it's time once again for a monthly-ish check-in with how insanely awesome and/or awesomely insane Jones' Batman work is.

This "Nefarious 9th Issue" was full of the things Jones does so well.

The over-the-top, visual-operatic melodrama was in full effect for much of the issue, in which Batman discovers the burned corpse of his new lover, resulting in many panels of his forehead burning with red rage, and a few panels of him smashing his red glowing arm fist into a mirror or through a window to vent his frustration. Even Commissioner Gordon gets some neat dramatic imagery, like a panel featuring his glasses reflecting Batman's silhouette and he raging apartment building fire behind the Batman, or a two panels later, one of Gordon standing before the burning building, his hands thrust into his trench coat pockets, while torn pieces of police tape and wanted posters featuring the villain Midnight swirl in the wind around him, foreshadowing the fact that he's going to be a target of Midnight's.

There are also lots of cool bat-gadgets and Batcave scenes this time around, but this page is probably the best of them:

Yes, that's Bruce Wayne driving a nondescript, rich man's civilian car through the countryside while speaking to an R2-D2/CNN-style holographic projection of Alfred, then entering a tunnel, apparently pushing some kind of crazy button that activates all these hidden mechanical arms (panel four), and then emerging from the other side of the tunnel now dressed like Batman, his car completely transformed into some kind of strange two-wheeled, missile-with-a-cockpit style Batmobile.

I always call attention to how wild Jones' art and designs are, and there's certainly a lot of that in this issue as well (the very first panel, for example, has Batman charging into a burning building, his left thigh all of a sudden longer than his entire torso, and most of his entire right leg), but Jones can really, really draw.

Just check out the detail on this page, which you may want to click on to make bigger:

One could certainly say that the Batmobile looks ridiculous to them, or that they don't like the Batman design, but, wow, just look at the city Jones drew here!

Look at the details...all those little lines, all those little windows, the skylights breaking up the black planes of roofs near the bottom. It's a splash page, but rather than looking at that as an opportunity to rest, to slack off for 1/22nd of the book, Jones draws a page that looks as detailed and difficult as any multi-panel page in the book. H

ow often in super-comics do you come across a page like this where you just kind of want to linger for a while and admire the architecture, a page that lets you imagine what it must be like to actually be in Gotham, which isn't just New York City with the Wayne tower, more gargoyles and a couple of blimps, but a distinct, videogame/playground kind of place with multiple levels of bridges and rooftops for vigilantes to swing from, jump around on and pilot their super-rocket cars over?


Here's one more splash page, this one a lot less detailed, and featuring Jones interpretation of the current Catwoman costume (and not doing so hot with it, honestly):

I like her hands though, and the weird, cat-like posture. Artists usually interpret her feline grace as a series of either athletic or seductive poses and stretches. Here she's just kinda collapsed like a cat, and, you know, despite the rep the jungle varieties have, cats aren't always the most graceful of animals.

That's not why I scanned this page though. Look at how her dialogue was written and/or lettered.

Um, shouldn't that be "Perrrrrfect," to indicate she's purring like a cat, and thus allowing Niles to make the hoary old perfect/purr Catwoman pun, rather than "Peeeeerfect," to indicate that she's...well, I don't know what drawing out the e into a super-long e sound indicates. That Catwoman thinks she and Midnight are perfect peers...? A pun about how he was just peering at Batman through a telescope?

PSA: Attention Ohio comics and/or jazz fans

You may be into this:

NPR's Weekend Edition has a pretty big piece on it today, and their website has a text version of their story, images and more.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wonder Woman tells the worst bed time stories...

"His monstrous steed snatched me up in its jaws, its teeth, each as long and sharp as my sword, squeezed about my middle so hard I was afraid I'd be squeezed in two. Gallons of its saliva, hot like boiling water, splashed against my skin, and I thought I'd drown in the scent of its foul breath. That's when I saw him astride its back...a giant, man-like monster made of stitched together corpses. In his left hand he held a sword, with which he had just lopped the head off of my own steed, drawing an arc of viscous red gore that hit the ground with a wet slap.

"Well, good night kids. Sweet dreams."

(Images from Final Crisis #7 written by Grant Morrison, penciled by Doug Mahnke and inked by every artists in the 10019 zip code)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Seventeen thoughts about Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite

See this?

This is Superman/Batman: The Search For Kryptonite, a pretty terrible collection of six pretty terrible issues of the pretty terrible ongoing series Superman/Batman.

The men responsible are writers Michael Green, a TV writer who wrote the shitty Batman Confidential story arc that was collected into Batman: Lovers & Madmen; Mike Johnson, who’s given equal billing on the cover, but a “with” rather than an “and” in the credits inside; pencil artist Shane Davis, who drew Mystery In Space and has done fill-in work on most of DC’s big titles; and inker Matt Banning.

The pretty terrible-ness of the story isn’t all 100% their fault, however, although they should certainly receive much of the blame. Some of it is also the fault of Jeph Loeb, who created the title as a modern day World’s Finest, and set its bunch-of-crazy-random-shit-happens-for-no-reason-and-without-consequence tone and the dueling narrators unknowingly thinking cute, complimentary or contrary thoughts technique, both of which Green and or with Johnson follow here. And, of course, a great deal of the blame seems to belong to Eddie Berganza, who not only put all these guys together and approved the story, but seemed to adopt the hands-off, whatever the creator wants approach to editing that anyone who writes for DC from outside the comics media seems to get (Except, for some strange reason, Jodi Picoult). Berganza, by the way, doesn’t get credited as the editor within this collection’s credits, so I just wanted to bring his name up here.

Now, there are a lot of problems with the book, many of them little and inconsequential, some of them simple matters of personal taste and aesthetics, but it suffers from a big, overriding problem that seems inexplicably common among DCU super-comics, and that’s the tension between the two potential audiences.

When this particular title launched, it was a more-or-less “important” book to the DCU; this is where the years-long Lex Luthor-as-president-of-the-U.S. reached its ultimate climax (even if I still can’t tell you what exactly happened in it) and this is where the current version of Supergirl was first introduced.

Since then, Superman/Batman has gradually moved towards a sort of quasi-continuity—not quite its own thing, a la the All-Star or Johnny DC lines or (the defunct) Elseworlds imprints, but not exactly bothered with trying to match up with DCU continuity in general either.

Which is where the tension comes in. Green (and or with Johnson) makes some noticeable deviations from DC continuity, contradicting things DC readers thought they knew and what other creators might have been doing in other DCU titles concurrently, which, you know, in and of itself isn’t a bad thing—maybe this is a book for people who aren’t steeped in the monthly goings on of the DC Universe, but for newcomers. Except it’s not; Green adheres pretty close to those goings on (Chris Kent exists, Lana Lang is running Lex Corp, Luthor is on a prison planet in space, etc.).

So the result is another of those half-assed projects that neither appeals to regular DCU readers, who might get turned off by how wrong characters and events are, nor appeals to newcomers, who might naturally be a little curious as to what the hell an Amanda Waller is or wonder about the leggy magicians assistant or the chimpanzee dressed like Sherlock Holmes in a bar.

That is the problem with the book in the broadest sense, but, as I said, there are a lot of little things about it that stuck out and poked me here and there as I tried to make my way through it. Here then, in convenient list format, are 17 thoughts I had about the book, most of them about elements that I thought were bad, but a few of them about things I liked...

1.) I don’t really like Shane Davis. Well, his art anyway; he may be a pretty wonderful person. I suppose this might be due to the fact that when I think of the stories I’ve seen him illustrate, they all tend to be pretty bad ones, (a fill-in chapter of “The Lightning Saga” here, Final Crisis: Rage of The Red Lanterns there, et cetera), but having now spent about 150 pages with his artwork, I think it is in fact his style that I don’t care for.

His character design and figure work seems to be of the descended from Jim Lee variety, and in many places his work resembles that of Ed Benes, particularly in the sexy, sexy mouths everyone has, the inappropriate crinkly eyes, and the faces full of randomly placed little lines. His layouts aren’t necessarily hard to read, but they’re not a joy to read either; his pages just kind of strike me as lifeless.

There is the hint of a weird energy lurking under his artwork though, and I could see his style eventually blossoming into something more unique and fun to read, but, for now, it really looks like the work of a guy who hasn’t quite divorced himself from his influences, all of which seem to be other comic book artists.

2.) I think they should have probably just gone for it and called this thing The Quest For Kryptonite. The story is about Superman one day catching a face full of green Kryptonite shrapnel, and realizing that there’s just way too much of the stuff laying around, he should really get his friend Batman to help him round up all of the Kryptonite on earth so it will never hurt him again. It’s actually a kinda neat idea for a story (although the impact of it is certainly muted by the fact that even though Superman does get rid of all the kryptonite on Earth that he knows about by story’s end, we’ve since seen plenty of stories in which characters have kryptonite since). “Search” doesn’t really capture the spirit of the story the way “quest” does, and the latter is both alliterative and suggestive of the subtitle of on of the Superman movies.

3.) This volume includes an introduction. I love introductions, and think all of these collections-of-comics sorts of graphic novels should have them. What makes these six comic books worth re-publishing bound, with a spine? Make the case in writing, someone! And the more famous and/or respectable the someone, the better.

This introduction is written by Jonathan Nolan, co-writer of The Dark Knight. It’s not a bad introduction really; like, the things Nolan writes are all kinda cool, they just seem inaccurate applied to this specific work.

For example, “Artist Shane Davis could give you a concussion with that pencil of his. I recommend borrowing a car to read the sequence where Superamn gets punted through a corn—elevator you’re going to need the seatbelt.”

No, he couldn’t, and no, you won’t.

4.) Superman wears a new belt for the duration of this arc. The story opens with Superman and Batman talking on a Gotham rooftop, and both of them look slightly off. Superman’s chest symbol doesn’t look like it’s part of the shirt he wears, but is upraised, like the one in the last Superman movie. Batman has the oval around a funny-shaped bat-symbol on his chest, but it’s not a yellow oval, but white. His belt buckle has the Huntress symbol on it.

But it turns out, these aren’t really Superman and Batman! They’re actors, playing them in a World’s Finest movie. But, a few pages later, when we see a full body shot of the real Superman, its apparent that he’s wearing the wrong belt too.

Rather than the plain yellow oval belt buckle Superman usually wears to help hold his panties up, he’s wearing one with a yellow S-shield symbol buckle, not unlike the one Brandon Routh’s Superman wore in Superman Returns.

This drove me nuts. I mean, I guess it’s fine for Superman to wear a different belt every once in a while. Maybe Batman bought him a belt for Christmas and he wants to wear it when teaming up with him to show Batman he appreciates it, but it’s so…odd to see a detail like that changed. It usually requires a multi-part storyline to justify even the smallest aesthetic change in either of these guys’ costumes.

And it went on for six issues. At no point did anyone seem to notice. It boggles my mind.

Superman also parts his hair on the left in this story too, instead of on the right. I actually didn’t notice that until flipping through it again just now. But that’s weird to me too.

5.) I can’t tell which Flash this is in the book. I can’t remember if this story came out while Wally West was missing and super-aged Bart Allen was temporarily The Flash, and Green’s portrayal doesn’t offer any clues. He’s portrayed as something of an amateur and easily distracted, which seems Bart-like, but he picks up a “JLA Emergency brodacast” from Batman and asks for an “authorization code,” and Bart wouldn’t be in the JLA. This Flash also eats junk food the replenish calories the way Wally used to when he first became the Flash. Oh nevermind, it was Wally, Superman calls him Wally at the end of the next scene, after he’s left the book.

6.) Wait, Smallville is DCU continuity now? There’s a scene where Superman is talking to Batman about his desire to rid the world of kryptonite, and over the course of two panels he explains, “There used to be a ton of it where I grew up…in Smallville. Gave me endless grief. Seemed like we had a freak a week for a while there. Enough of it turns people into the worst, most monstrous version of themselves.”

The last half of this is spoken over a panel showing a chunk of green kryptonite, with five heads of characters I don’t recognize floating in front of it. One seems to have fire for hair, another has a goatee made of icicles.

While I’ve never watched Smallville, I understand that kryptonite mutating people was a recurring event on the show, and “freak of the week” was a derisive term fans used to describe these shows. In the DCU, kryptonite’s never been shown to mutate people, the only thing it does is gradually give them radiation poisoning. Presumably, those heads are people from the show.

Odd. Smallville, by the way, is one of the shows Green wrote for.

7.) I do like the various costumes Davis designs for the stars. Superman has to wear a lead-lined containment suit to protect him from the effects of the kryptonite that he and Batman are gathering up to store in a Yucca Mountain-like repository of Batman’s. It’s actually kinda neat looking. Davis also puts Batman in a couple of funny costumes, including, in the second issue, a SCUBA Batman costume with underwater Bat-shaped underwater propulsion set of wings. Davis also designs a space-faring Bat-plane that’s kinda cool.

8.) Firestorm II helping Superman out of a desire to get recommended for Justice League missions is stupid. I don’t have anything to add here; Batman narrates about the motivations of some of the other superheroes helping them, and Firestorm’s is that he’s trying to kiss Superman’s ass to get asked along for Justice League missions or something. (Why does Firestorm retrieve kryptonite to bring back to the Watchtower anyway? Why doesn’t he just transmute it?)

9.) I like the teenage good guy Toyman, who appears in this story a couple of times And I don’t much care for what Geoff Johns did with him, claiming he was just a robot “toy” that the original Toyman made so well that neither Batman nor Superman could figure out he wasn’t a human being. But that’s a different story.

10.) Aquaman II showing up to be a prick and pick a fight is pretty stupid, too. Aquaman II, the one from Sword of Atlantis, shows up with King Shark, Aquagirl and some random Atlanteans to do the Namor/Aquaman I thing about surface dwellers and respecting the water and shit, which is pretty wildly out of character for this new Aquaman, whom only met Superman once (In “Back In Action” and, as far as I recall, had never met Batman before this).

11.) Green invents a new type of kryptonite—silver. The effect on Suprman? It makes him act like he’s high. Seriously.

12.) When Zatanna tells Batman to “Ssik Ym Ttub,” why does he respond, “Is that a spell or a promi--”? I wondered if it was a spell too, but I’m not sure how that could be a promise. A request? A command? An offer? A suggestion? Sure, but a promise? That sounds a little…randy coming from Batman, doesn’t it?

13.) Batman says “crap” at one point, too. That doesn’t sound very Batman-like. I could see him saying “blast” or “blazes,” “damn” or “Hh,” maybe even “@#$%,” but “crap”….?

14.) Last Line is soooo lame. That’s the name of the kryptonite-powered, imported from a ‘90s Image book team of government operatives assembled by Amanda Waller to take out Superman if the need should arise. I…I don’t even want to think about these guys anymore. Just imagine a random comic that only lasted like four issues that you might find in a discount back issue bin, and then imagine that lame-ass team—including a really big guy, a sexy warrior lady, a mysterious masked guy, etc.—all have costumes and weapons that glow neon green.

I suppose Green might be attempting some commentary here, that the classic, immortal DC heroes endure against these newfangled teams, but the comment is pretty garbled—they prevailed against these sorts of superheroes a good 15 years ago. And that’s what Kingdom Come was about already.

15.) The entire fifth issue is pretty lame. After Superman and Batman defeat Last Line, Waller calls out her secret weapon—a human mutated with Doomsday DNA and then outfitted with kryptonite spikes. Basically, he looks like Doomsday, only with Predator dreads, a glowing green danger sign on his forehead, and instead of the bone spikes the real Doomsday had sticking out of him, this one has kryptonite crystal spikes sticking out of him. Despite having lost his armor in the fight, Superman somehow manages to fight this thing off form the better part of an issue without dying. Their fight does destroy every single house in Smallville except the Kent farm though.

16.) Actually, there were two parts of that issue I liked. In an attempt to slow the Kryptonite Doomsday down, Batman empties the Batplane’s ordnance into him, to no effect. “Damn. I really liked this model,” he thinks/narrates, as he prepares to eject and ram the plane into Doomsday, “Highest top speed yet. Good thing I’m rich.”

Okay, that’s not bad. It probably helped that I read this between reading Final Crisis #6 and #7, two comics in which The Magnificent Super-Bat boasted about his superpower of wealth. I find the idea extremely amusing. People always talk about Batman’s determination to sharpen his mind and body to perfection as his superpower, but, when you get right down to it, he wouldn’t have had the luxury to do even that—let alone buy all those wonderful toys—if it weren’t for his riches.

This issue ends with Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent having dinner with Ma and Pa Kent. I always like the idea of other heroes hanging out with the Kents in domestic situations.

17.) Lana Lang is the greatest villain of them all. Okay, so after Batman and Superman take down Waller’s kryptonite squad, they see that the weapons have all been supplied by Lex Corp, and they decide to go have a talk with Lex Corp’s current CEO. That would be Lana Lang, Superman’s one-time girlfriend, one-time best friend, and one of the first, longest and most faithful allies he’s ever had.

Superman’s all like, “Hey Lana, so you’ve been making kryptonite weapons to murder me with here at Lex Corp. Would you mind cutting that shit out for me, buddy?”

And she’s all like, “Sorry dude, but my responsibility is to make money for my company, and what makes money is weapons specifically designed to murder you. You understand though, right?”

So he’s like, “Hey lady, I can take them from you if you wanna be a hardass about it, I am Superman.”

And she’s like, “Actually, we have all these storage facilities strategically placed all over the world and if I push this button they will explode and fill Earth’s atmosphere with microscopic kryptonite particles that will last forever and you will then be exiled to space forever and so will your cousins, your dog and that abused Kryptonian child you recently adopted.”

So, what we have here is Superman’s best friend threatening to kill him, his family, his kid and his dog or, at the very least, exile them from planet Earth.

He doesn’t believe she’ll go through with it, but then she does. Why doesn’t Superman, who can tell when people are lying with his super-senses and can move as fast as The Flash not know she’s planning on pushing the button and not make any attempt to stop her? Probably the same reason he didn’t call any superheroes for help while he was being beaten to death by the Doomsday hybrid last issue, even though this story is full of examples of him calling in other superheroes to help him out.

So Superman tells Lana off and flies away, and they find a way to scrub earth’s atmosphere of the kryptonite particles anyway in the space of like two pages, but man, that’s some pretty cold-hearted shit Lana pulled. Lex has never even pushed that button, and one assumes he’s the one who came up with the plan.

There’s a panel of Lana looking sad, and two bubbles of dialogue in a special, Bizarro-like font telling her, “Why so sad, Lana Love?! You did perfect,” so it’s safe to assume that she had a good reason for being totally evil to her pal Superman, but whatever it is, it’s not explained here.

And those are my seventeen thoughts about The Search For Kryptonite. Now let’s never speak of this book again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Weekly Haul: January 28th

Avengers: The Initiative #21 (Marvel Comics) Marvel dusts off the “Avengers Disassembled” logo for this arc of the The Initiative, in which writer Christos N. Gage carries on without former co-writer Dan Slott, and Humberto Ramos takes over on art chores. Frankly, it’s not a pretty sight. In general, I rather dig Ramos’ art, but it seems tonally inappropriate for the darker, more violent action-oriented story being told here. His women and young heroes are decent looking, but the big muscle-y sorts like Clor and Gauntlet look comically pin-headed, and comedy’s not really what Gage seems to be going for in this story, which is basically a big fight scene leading to a cliffhanger ending consisting of a new group of people showing up to join the fight.

One thing this issue really has going for it, something the title always has going for it, is that the cast is nothing but minor footnote type Marvel characters and new creations. In other words, it’s all cannon fodder, so when the cyborg clone thing that killed Goliath goes on a rampage, there’s some real suspense that literally anyone can get killed (and, if and when they do, probably won’t be back in a few months or years’ time).

Decent enough for what it is, I suppose.

I do have a question though. In Civil War, Clor spoke in Thor font, but he spoke plain, modern, Mark Millar tough guy English rather than Stan Lee Elizabethean English. Here he’s making with the thy’s and have at thee’s. What’s up with that?

Batman: The Brave and The Bold #1 (DC Comics) Thanks to Patrick and Anthony pointing out in the comments section of a recent post that Cartoon Network keeps a couple episodes online, I caught two more episodes of the cartoon this new series is based on, and, oh man! In the first one, Batman and Blue Beetle Ted Kord teamed-up in the past, while Batman and Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes teamed-up in the present, and battled against all these cool, cute beetle-shaped robots. In the second one, Batman’s astral projection teamed-up with Deadman and Golden Age Green Arrow and Speedy to first rescue Batman's dying body, and then defeat The Gentleman Ghost and his army of cute little ghosts and skeletons. Also, fucking Kamandi was in that one.

I’ve liked all of the Batman cartoons they’ve made over the last almost twenty years now (although the first season of The Batman was a little rough), but this thing is just so pure, unfiltered joy. I love the bright colors, I love the big, chunky, Kirby-esque but not too Kirby-esque designs, I love the focus on the Bat-gadgets, I love the Batman out-of-Gotham and away from his own villains and supporting cast premise, I love the focus on characters that haven’t already been done in previous DC cartoons, and I love the Haney-esque Batman who can crack a joke but still be a total bad-ass.

So, here’s the comic form, written by Matt Wayne, who writes for the show, and drawn by Andy Suriano, inked by Dan Davis and featuring a cover by producer James Tucker that fills me with joy, even if it obscures who Batman is teaming up with inside.

Wayne follows the brief team-up adventure at the beginning before the main event format of the show, with a two-page team-up with Aquaman (who seems more Marvel’s Hercules than Namor in his portrayal) before he’s summoned to London to fight a rather jowly Lex Luthor’s Composite Creature alongside Karen Starr, Power Girl.

I’m fairly used to done-in-one all-ages comics, thanks to past Johnny DC books and the Marvel Adventures line, but man, this thing just flew by. Not that it was a too-fast read or anything, just that it was super-fast paced. There’s a panel or two of talking, but the heroes and villains are in almost constant action—I can’t remember the last time an American comic book grabbed my eyeballs and dragged them through a story like this. I was excited to the point of breathless exhilaration bordering anxiety by the time I finished the book.

Seriously, this think is a Saturday morning sugary cereal rush on paper.

Like all of the prior based-on-a-cartoon books DC has put out, this one features art that takes its design cues from the cartoon, and while that kind of thing can grow quite tiresome, depending on how many issues you read of it and how good the artist (DC has published hundreds of comics from dozens of artists doing varying degrees of Bruce Timm imitations with varying degrees of success, for example).

I really liked this, though. As I’ve said, I dig the shows designs—well, I’m not 100-percent sold on the tininess of Batman’s nose just yet—and I like the way Tucker’s cover shows a bit of H.G. Peter in Wonder Woman, a bit of Kirby in OMAC, a lot of in Bat-Mite, and a dab of Aparo in The Outsiders.

The simplicity of the design isn’t always apparent while you’re watching the cartoon, since the characters move and talk and, through the magic of animation, eventually trick your mind and eye into perceiving them as real, but in the static, 2D comic—even one as dynamic and fast-paced as this—it’s harder, if not impossible, to ever fall for that sort of illusion, due in large part to how much more engaged you have to be when reading than watching.

So here the simplicity is quite apparent, and the fact that the characters are collections of a few sharp lines is impressive. This is just the comics art nerd in me, but man, I love being able to look at Batman and Power Girl in action and see the lines Suriano made them out of.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #9 (DC) More Kelley Jones insanity, hung atop a so-so script by Steve Niles that, with the holiday-themed murders of this issue, have begun to feel like warmed over Jeph Loeb Dark Knight scripts. The story’s not the draw here though, and it never has been—I just like the crazy contraptions and settings Jones comes up with, the way Batman’s body morphs wildly from panel to panel, the way his ears push back like a dog’s when he’s feeling certain emotions, and some of his art effects, like, for example, the rays of moonlight emanating from the full moon on the cover of this issue.

Final Crisis #7 (DC) Man, this fucking book. I eagerly anticipated it, I eagerly read it and enjoyed what made sense in it, but I’m kinda dreading reviewing it here. The thought of doing so is just making me… tired.

Sigh. Deep breath. Okay, Caleb, you can do this… Ready? Ready. (Fair warning though, this is going to probably be a lot more rambling than usual).

This is the seventh and final issue of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, a rather strange event comic sunk by its extremely troubled execution, from marketing to conception, from the publication schedule to the flailing attempts to find an artist or ten capable of drawing the damn thing.

Now that it’s completely complete, it seems the actual story began and ended in the two-part Final Crisis: Superman Beyond tie-in series also by Morrison, and that the events in Final Crisis proper were just details of a sort. That is, the tie-in was the main story, and the main story was merely a tie-in. Final Crisis is just what Darkseid was up to while Superman was revealing his true essence to his readers in the most literal, straightforward way he’s ever revealed himself.

So, the world is ending as it is in most of Grant Morrison’s superhero comics. The Captain Marvel of Earth-5 scours the Multiverse to assemble a small army of alternate-earth Supermen. Superman faces Darkseid, who, with the help of two of the three Flashes, is in the process of inadvertently committing suicide. Sometime in the future, or at the same time, or in the past, or somewhere, Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and the heroes and villains have some big crazy plan to rebuild the wish-granting machine we saw in the last issue, which is the story of Final Crisis. Mandrakk, the ultimate evil antagonist from Superman Beyond faces off against Superman and some rather surprising allies—the GLC, fifty Supermen, the angels of the Pax Dei, and some really surprising ones which you would have needed to read an extremely unlikely Countdown tie-in to know what the hell was up with—and they win.

The results? Eh, who knows. The denouement frames the “final crisis” of Final Crisis as the relationship between two of the Monitor characters and the role of the Monitors in the Multiverse, characters who, for the most part, have been absent from the series, given no more character than any of the superheroes that have filled up the series. Morrison’s take on DC’s superheroes has always been somewhat remote, but when it’s someone like Superman or Batman or even Green Arrow and Black Canary, it’s not exactly a bad thing, as readers know those characters from years of reading about them. But the trick doesn’t work with Nix Uotan or Goble Degook or whoever.

One of the great strengths of Morrison’s superhero work has been how much he implies, for all the amazing events depicted, there are always a half-dozen more being talked about in hurried, melodramatic dialogue, which serves to invite the reader into the creative process. It’s up to you and your imagination to fill in the blanks with undefined events that will be more personally satisfying to you because they're yours, even if you’re not sure what they are, than anything Morrison could put on paper.

Here, he’s taken that technique as far as it can go without sacrificing coherence, and kept pushing it.

Large portions of the issue are just random scenes of things happening on random fronts, all more suggested than explained. There’s nothing wrong with a challenging narrative—hell, it’s welcome—but parts of the book read like a movie trailer looks, only the part of the movie trailer where they flash the title and tell you when the movie comes out? There’s nothing like that.

A large part of this problem is that the story is apparently taking place on many different unidentified Earths, I suppose, so time and place are a bit more challenging to make sense out of than most comics...and the amount of time it took to release seven-to-ten important issues didn't help any (I can't remember who the old cave guy that old man Anthro or old man Kamandi or neither....?)

But, um, I still have some questions. What exactly happened with The Atoms’ bridge to another universe? It's clear that their plan went wrong, but did people get there, did they not, were they all lost? Is the female Question riding shotgun with Earth-5 Captain Marvel Renee Montoya in a new costume, or an alternate Earth Question? What the hell is this business about a disease weapon that strips all superheroes of their powers, that only the dead Frankenstein was immune to, since no one actually lost their powers anyway? If Darkseid was hidden in a personal singularity last issue, how did Superman, Lex, the army of supervillains and all those random crowd people get to him? How did Lois Lane know Batman died, if he died alone in the singularity? Are the Hawks dead now? Is Spectre III? Who the hell was on top of Spectre III? Why does hitting a single one of Darkseid’s billions of bodies with a god bullet kill him, when he’s occupying like 99% of all bodies on Earth? How do the two (or three?) narrative threads—the fights against Darkseid and Mandrakk and the building of the dream machine and telling the stories of those battles—match up exactly?

I suppose I’ll read the various online annotations of this issue, and probably check out Grant Morrison's interview on Newsarama, where attempts will be made to answer all these questions, but well, if I have to go online and have the writer and/or third parties tell me about the comic I just read to get it, then, well, it’s just not a very good comic.

There are still some awesome ideas in the book certainly—it is Morrison, after all—but I’m overall rather unimpressed with Final Crisis. How much of significance has changed since it began? How much is even new?

The Multiverse is apparently exactly as it was at the beginning. The New Gods, randomly subtracted from the fabric of the DC Universe, and then half re-introduced as spiritual entities, the evil versions possessing bodies like Catholic demons, and now are apparently re-booted by the end in their more or less original forms. There’s talk of the dawning of the Fifth World, of humanity as superheroes, but Morrison was talking about that very thing a decade ago in JLA, and in that story he even gave every single human being on earth superpowers, to make that possibility a (temporary) reality.

Perhaps read start to finish, the book will reveal greater depth, but, reading it as it was released, all I saw was Morrison telling one more JLA arc, with Monitors and the Mutiverse thrown into the mix this time, and offering one more exploration of the DCU and its characters as elements of semi-self-aware fiction relating to the real world, albeit less effectively than prior attempts.

As far as the art goes, J.G. Jones has disappeared completely by this last issue, as has Carlos Pacheco, which partially explains how this managed to come out just two weeks after Final Crisis #6 (and perhaps suggesting rewrites). Doug Mahnke, who helped out last issue and illustrated Final Crisis: Requiem and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, pencils this entire issue, and his work is inked by six other inkers (and he earns an inking credit himself). Parts of it look great, other pages look…less hot, but, jeez, there are seven different guys inking the thing. It is the strongest issue of the series visually though, and it’s hard to imagine Jones having been able to pull off scenes like a sky full of fifty Supermen, almost every one’s symbol visible (Look, it’s Sunshine Superman! And Apollo is an alternate earth Superman again, not an alternate earth Ray, hooray!). Once again I found myself wishing Mahnke had just drawn the whole series from the start.

Oh well, at least it’s finally over, and Geoff Johns will go about writing the Flash plot (which didn't go anywhere for seven damn issues), and I look forward to reading Morrison’s upcoming Bat-Caveman storyline, if he ends up returning to Batman at some point.

Incredible Hercules #125 (Marvel) Still awesome.

Justice Society of America #23 (DC) So, this whole superhero decadence thing that folks from incoming JSoA writer Bill Willingham to Noah Berlatsky have been talking about on and off over the last few weeks? Here’ s a pretty good example: In this issue, we learn that old Justice League villain Felix Faust (seen recently in Super Friends) has be magically paralyzing old ‘70s TV show star Isis to have sex with her, and when Captain Marvel villain Black Adam (currently appearing in Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam) shows up and helps break the spell, Isis apparently rips Faust’s dick off.


This is, of course, the work of Geoff Johns, who is winding down his super-long run on the series, with co-writer and pencil artist Jerry Ordway replacing Johns’ previous co-writer Alex Ross. Just as Ross was involved to help tell continue a superhero storyline he’s associated with, Ordway seems to be brought on to tackle The Marvel Family, a franchise he seems to have had much more success with than any other DC creator to make an attempt in the last couple decades.

There’s an awful lot of housekeeping going on here, as the various Marvels add another couple of characters to a book that already had a gigantic roster, most of whom get at least one panel here explaining where they’re at and whether or not they’re on the team any more, but regular readers should like it well enough.

And I assume I don’t even need to point out that Ordway, here inked by Bob Wiacek, is a really great artist, do I?

As a fan of the Marvel family characters, I’m glad to see that this arc seems to be about the deJuddification of the franchise, as “Marvel,” the character formerly known as Captain Marvel, gets booted off the Rock of Eternity and returned to Billy Batson and, in the Geoff Johns-y cliffhanger, Mary Marvel shows up, back in the black costume she was wearing during Countdown.

Which kinda sorta hurts my head a little bit. I think Countdown was, overall, a terrible, terrible comic book series that did significant damage to a ton of DC Comics, perhaps none more so than Final Crisis, the seven-issue event series it spent 51 issues counting down to. The Mary Marvel story arc is a pretty great example of Countdown and Final Crisis working in direct opposition.

While I’m only vaguely aware of the goings on of Countdown from the reviews of it I read, Mary’s arc seemed to be about her corruption, by Black Adam’s “evil” powers and her own gradual growing lust for power. In Final Crisis, she’s evil, but she’s evil because she’s been possessed by Desaad; Mary’s not even really Mary, but Desaad-in-Mary’s-body.

It seems like the Countdown creators had a plot point from the yet-to-be-scripted Final Crisis—“Mary Marvel corrupted by Darkseid, becomes evil”—and reverse-engineered a plot line about her turning to the dark side, which saw publication before the specific nature of that corruption was known to them.

So, did Mary become evil, get extra-evil because Desaad possessed her, turn back to normal, and then get evil again, or…?

At any rate, Ordway drawing the JSA and the Marvels, and the promise of the whole dumb Captain Marvel-as-Marvel-who’s-basically-Shazam status quo being revoked! That’s more than enough to make me happy with this issue, even if it involves rapist Felix Faust having his penis torn off and Countdown continuity rot around the edges.

Superman #684 (DC) Of all the “Faces of Evil” stories I’ve read so far, this one seems to come closest to actually focusing on villain on the cover, with writer James Robinson spending the first half of the book on The Parasite, letting the villain narrate about his release from the Phantom Zone, his escape from jail and his encounter with Mon-El. The back half moves a couple of the plots Superman and Action are currently sharing a few steps ahead. Frequent Carlos Pacheco inker Jesus Merino provides pencil and ink art here, and it looks pretty great, even though I’m not all that smitten with the Alex Ross chewed-up-bubble-gum design for the Parasite.

Trinity #35 (DC) If the story of this series is a golf ball, it feels like for the last few issues, it’s been in a sand trap, and Kurt Busiek and company have been whacking at it with their sand wedge, but couldn’t pop it out of the trap completely. By the end of this issue, which consists of Enigma reminiscing about his origin and Alfred’s crew saving the Bird-Herder’s people from The Machinists, they seem to have succeeded, as the “gods” of Egg World arrive and say “We have heard enough.” Me too. The Trinity are the gods of Egg World; got it. I’m ready to move on and, apparently, so are they and, more importantly, so are Busiek, Bagley and their elite cadre of co-creators.

Superman seems to have got a new haircut or changed his shampoo or something on Shane Davis’ cover.

Ultimate Spider-Man #130 (Marvel) For a full 129 issues, Brian Michael Bendis has managed to stick the Ultimate line’s mission statement of providing easily accessible, self-contained comics stories free of the drawbacks that plague non-Ultimate super-comics (and, more impressively, managed to make those stories pretty good). Well, as impressive as that is, it’s all over now!

This issue has a big “Ultimatum” banner across the top, and has Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s current storyline quite literally interrupted by Jeph Loeb’s Ultimate line crossover. There’s a quite Bendis-y scene of some police detectives grilling Aunt May to admit Spider-Man and her nephew are one and the same, and then suddenly things go dark, she steps outside and sees a disaster in a very effective two-page splash, which is followed by a much less effective second two-page splash (one per issue, geniuses!), and then suddenly New York City is flooded (?) and Charles Xavier’s telepathic thought clouds appear over Spidey’s head, recapping the events of some other comic book I’m not reading and telling him he needs to go appear in another book I’m not reading and then there’s another two-page spread, of Spider-Man suddenly facing The Hulk who has all of a sudden appeared.

Immonen and company keep it all looking quite nice, but it reads like a tie-in issue of one of those old DC crossovers—Millennium, Invasion and the like—where the real story is happening in the main miniseries, and an issue of a monthly is given over to explaining what Character A was doing at the time Event X was occurring.

Wolverine: First Class #11 (Marvel) Concluding the two-part storyline in which Wolverine become a werewolf and attempts to join a pack of werewolves, while Kitty Pryde and Jack “Werewolf By Night” Russell attempt to save him. It ends happily, for everyone but Russell, who is still doomed to suffer alone, and whom Kitty promptly forgets about once the other dangerous, hairy man in her life is restored to his normal self.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Please enjoy this rambling 2,438-word post that is eventually about pornographic comic books by Colleen Coover and Brandon Graham

Justice Potter Stewart

I just tripled the size of my porn collection.

Last week it consisted only of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls, the over-a-decade-in-the-making epic that imagined real world inspirations for Peter Pan’s Wendy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s Alice and wove a remarkably complex narrative in which their paths cross and they do it with each other quite a bit, while sharing stories of their past sexual exploits, most of which are reverse-engineered by Moore and Gebbie from incidents in their real-world fictional exploits.

It kinda makes me dizzy just to think about what Moore did with the book, and, when you factor in Gebbie’s lush art and Top Shelf’s incredible production of the three-book, $75 set, “porn” doesn’t quite seem like the right word anymore, but that’s what Moore himself insisted it was—preferring it to “erotica,” which has generally has less negative and more healthy connotations than the word “pornography”—and who am I to argue with Alan Moore? (Especially when the subject in the works of Alan Moore).

Of course, pornography is a notoriously difficult word to define, which is probably why it does have such negative, unhealthy connotations, and why Moore and a few other talented folks attempted to keep the label attached to works of their that obviously have a great deal of merit to them besides the amount of attention focused on fucking.

The definition that most sticks with me is the famous one offered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart—“I know it when I see it”—in large part because of how broad it is, and how scary such broadness can be now that we live in an age where technology has begun to blur the lines between documentary representation (photography, film) and fake images that look real (digitally altered photography and film), which, in turn, motivates those rightly opposed to child pornography to over-define what’s dangerous (Er, not to open that can of worms again; but I will come back to that point sometime in the near future).

But never mind what Stewart says; I’ve always assumed “pornography” to refer to a visual work that was created for the specific, primary intention of causing sexual arousal in its audience, something usually rather easily discerned by the ratio of doing-it to not-doing-it in it (That is, a 90-minute film with two five minute sex scenes—even extremely graphic ones—isn’t pornography, but a 35-minute film with six five-minute sex scenes probably is). But that’s just me restating “I know it when I see it” as “I know it when Isee it. “

Wait, let’s see what Word’s dictionary says: “Films, magazines, writings, photographs, or other materials that are sexually explicit and intended to cause sexual arousal.” Huh. Word’s definition is on the broad side, too…

At any rate, Alan Moore says Lost Girls is pornography, I’ll accept his definition, and thus I own a rather large and expensive work of pornography (An aside: When friends ask me what that big, colorful collection of books on my shelf is and I tell them it’s porn, they never believe me…sometimes even after flipping through it).

Now at the risk of over-sharing, I’ve never been much of a pornography consumer.

Not out of prudishness or moral objections—although Olivier Assayas’ 2002 film Demonlover did convince me to swear all forms of pornography off as morally objectionable for a good six months or so after seeing—as much as the simple fact that I simply didn’t get old enough to actually be a pornography consumer until after the scientists had perfected the world’s best source of porn-delivery: The Internet. Why on earth pay actual money to a convenience store clerk for some extremely expensive magazine with pictures of naked ladies—money that could just as easily be spent on comic books—when you could just type “pictures of naked ladies” into a search bar for free, you know?

Over the past month or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about comics-as-pornography though, relating specifically to a few depressing rulings on the matter from courts in Australia, the United States and England, and some of the asinine conversations I’ve been drawn into online about whether drawings of sex acts are the same as photographs of sex acts, and if drawings of children involved in sex acts should be treated the same as photographs of children involved in sex acts. (Again, not trying to re-open that can of worms at the moment, although if anyone would like to explain why those things are equivalent using something other than a variation of because I said so or because I think it’s gross or because child abuse exists in the world, I’m all ears).

And that’s what lead me to seek out a couple of works of self-proclaimed comics pornography (See, the last 745 words? All an introduction leading up to this point! This is the unfortunate difference between my blogging and my writing for pring; here I will literally go on forever because space is unlimited and I don’t stop to edit myself and no one else is here to edit me. I’m honestly surprised that anyone skims, let alone reads this blog with posts like this. Hell, I wouldn’t read 6,000 word posts with 800-words before we even get to a freaking point of any kind).

Of course, I was somewhat interested in these works already, given that they happen to be the work of some of my favorite comics artists: Colleen Coover and Brandon Graham.

For the sake of chivalry/sexism, I’ll say ladies first and start with Coover’s porn, which self-identifies as pornography right in the title. Well, actually, it self-identifies as “porno.”

Small Favors: Girl Porno Comic Collection Book One (Eros Comix) collects the first four issues of the “surprise hit erotic comic of 2001,” plus some sketches, pin-ups and other cartoons Coover did while developing the series that didn’t quite fit with the direction she ultimately went in.

Considering the fact that Coover has since become so well known for her more all-ages work, like the Oni series Banana Sundays and her back-up strips and other contributions to Marvel Comics (particularly within their Marvel Adventures line), it’s both kind of exciting and extremely weird to be reading Coover-drawn pornography.

Her style has changed since Small Favors, getting slightly more simplified and confident (and less obviously influenced by manga and Los Hernandez Bros), but throughout the book the artwork is clearly the product of the Banana Sundays and Marvel Adventures artist. There may be more lines and details, particularly at the beginning (and any time there’s a close-up drawing of a vagina which, given the subject matter, is fairly often), but by the end of the volume, the girls are quite definitely the Coover girls we’re used to seeing, as are our heroines on the cover (Which is the only image I’m going to be able to share; I use a public library scanner, and I’m pretty sure the public library doesn’t want me scanning drawings of vaginas).

Our story opens with Annie working in her backyard garden one day, then pausing to peek through the ajar gate to spy on her neighbor, who is hanging her laundry out to dry. By the second page, panel eight, Annie is on the ground masturbating, fantasizing about doing it with her neighbor, who is also a lady. All the doing-it in Small Favors is girl on girl, so no icky penises to be dealt with. Hooray!

Mid-session, Annie sinks into the ground, and finds herself paralyzed before a trio of Lilliputian ladies, The Queen of Her Conscience and her two elite guards. The Queen explains that Annie masturbates far too often, and is thus assigning Nibbil to watch over Annie and keep her from masturbating quite so often.

Nibbil, who boasts a giant mane of blonde hair in the shape of a spiky heart, takes to the task with glee, since she too is a “masturbation-crazy little nympho.” Once they’re returned to Annie’s home, away from the Queen’s watchful eye, Nibbil finds a foolproof way to stop Annie from masturbating all the time—she’ll just have sex with her constantly!

While Nibbil’s only a few inches tall, leading to some predictable (as well as some charmingly creative) sex acts, she can also grow to full Annie size, for more vanilla lesbian sex (With vanilla being here defined as not involving being spanked with uncooked spaghetti or taped spread eagle over one of Annie’s breasts).

If the sub-title and the fact that it was released by a publishing imprint devoted to porn comics isn’t proof enough, this is a porn comic, by the Word dictionary definition, my definition and, I imagine, Justice Potter Stewart’s.

As such, it lacks much in the way of a narrative thrust (hurr hurr) and there isn’t a whole lot of suspense to any of the sex, Annie and Nibbil start coupling immediately (and the few other characters who wonder through do likewise). Given that, it’s kind of surprising how warm and even romantic the relationship between the two is, as is the fact that Coover’s even able to give the characters distinct and realistic personalities.

That may not seem like much of an accomplishment—shouldn’t all comics be able to do that?—but since the book consists entirely of sex scenes, naughty gags and occasional naughty gags during sex scenes, it means Coover is quite definitely using the, um, action scenes to define the characters while never shirking on the prime intent of the book.

How titillating any of this is will likely vary from person to person, some of it is kinda weird, and some of it made me squeamish (Perhaps its because I don’t have a vagina, but I found myself flinching repeatedly at the things that would end up in Annie’s). It’s certainly pretty creative though, as seen in the story where Nibbil becomes self-conscious about the readers viewing them through the fourth wall, or the one-page gag strips and ads for the series.

I’d feel kinda weird recommending this to readers in general, but if you like Colleen Coover’s art and are curious about what Collen Coover girly porn would be like, then it’s probably well worth your time and cash.

The other work of comics porn I recently purchased for perusal is Pillow Fight (Amerotica) by Brandon Graham. I’ve been a big fan of Graham’s since I first discovered his work via Alternative Comics’ publication of his anthology Escalator, and I’ve since happily praised it and each of his subsequent releases for whatever venue I happened to be covering comics for at the time.

I was vaguely aware that he had created the pair of characters that starred in an Escalator story and in 2007 Oni one-shot Multiple Warheads in an old porn comic, but had never actually managed to track down any of his porn work. I recently received a NBM catalog, however, and the back half of it was devoted to their Amerotica offerings—including Pillow Fight.

It’s…well, it’s not really all that good.

It’s definitely the work of Graham, and bears all the hallmarks of his work. The female figures all have the shape and texture of balloon animals—you can practically hear that balloon-on-balloon sound when they rub together—as well as the soft, round lips and cool clothing choices of the Graham-designed women in his other works. The black and white layouts are rather manga-like, the lettering is Graham’s distinctive style, the images are all packed with little idiosyncratic product designs (though less and less inspired than in King City or Multiple War heads) and some of the dialogue has the playfulness of his other work, and yet this is pornography, more hardcore than Small Favors (perhaps due in large part to the fact that there are men in this as well as women) and the characters are much less developed, let alone distinct from one another.

That’s definitely a deficiency, and something that made this far less pleasant to read (I found myself squirming a lot more, and even averting my eyes here and there), but I realize that it may not be a deficiency or anything that would detract from the work in the eyes of much of its intended audience. After all, it is porn.

The album format book opens with Jem arriving at her new boarding school, where she was sent after her parents caught her doing…something pretty bad with some people, which will be explained by the book’s end, but is at first just hinted at, with plenty of gross metaphors I don’t feel like typing.

There she meets her new roommate, whose name is “Deforest K-Y, but everyone just calls her by her nickname.” This is one of the several jokes Graham packs into the story, which, along with his design sense, helps keep it from being 100% doing-it.

Jem follows a map provided by Bones—her roommate’s nickname—and finds a peephole leading from one locker room to the next. In the next, she sees Bones having five pages of pretty graphic (penetration shots, liquids, etc) sex with “the whole foose ball team”…which is just two guys.

Back in their room, Bones introduces Jem to the world of Sapphism, and then, later, two other girls—including a rather Brandon Graham-y character with hair shaped like cat ears named Cat Face—arrive for an all-girl orgy, which involves ridiculously large sex toys hidden in ridiculously small places, and a magic box that somehow gives Jem a magic penis (I think).

There’s some mildly amusing pop culture talk among all the graphic sex, like one of the girls who prefers girls talking about cock is her kryptonite, and then starts listing the various effects of various spectra of kryptonite cock (“Wow. She’s so out of it she’s speaking in nerd”), but certainly nothing worth justifying the rest of the book.

This one I don’t think I’d recommend to anyone who wasn’t looking for a porn comic already. In fact, I kinda wish I didn’t read it myself, and now I’m not sure what to do with it. If, like me, you simply think Brandon Graham is a fantastic artist who can do no wrong and, since he draws such sexy girls, you were wondering what a book of his devoted to such sexy girls having sex a lot, then you’re probably better off waiting for his next non-porn work then seeking this out.

Also, despite the title, there isn’t any actual pillow fight in the whole book.

(Note: I will try very, very hard to resist succumbing to Blingee addiction the way I did Obamicon addiction last week, but I can't make any promises; if I fail, blame Kevin Church, whose post inspired me to try and liven up old Justice Stewart's boring black and white photo with a little much-needed bling)

Unfortunate Black Lightning costume choice alert!

On Wednesday the long-awaited (by me) Batman: The Brave and the Bold series debuts, based on the new Batman cartoon of the same name, which I've only seen one episode of, but totally loved.

The cover looks pretty great, and is triply great if it presages all the team-ups that writer Matt Wayne has planned for future issues. But there's at least one DC star not exactly looking his best on it.

See the tiny little head between Wildcat's jawline and the edge of Guy Gardner's bowl cut? The fellow with brown skin and what looks like a hood striped with lightning bolts? That's gotta be Black Lightning, right? He's black, he has a lightning motif going on, and it would be weird if they included Static or Black Vulcan on the show instead of Black Lightning. Plus, he's posed next to fellow Outsiders Katana and Metamorpho.

It's only a head shot, so maybe the rest of his costume looks totally ace from the neck down, but I'm not feeling what I see of it so far. Looks an awful lot like Cloak from Cloak and Daggers hood, only with lightning bolts instead of black stripes. Actually, my first thought was the sort of robe a boxer might wear into a ring, or something from a community theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat where the budget only allowed for two colors in the dream coat.

At any rate, there's one more reason to look forward to the series—to see how they redesign Black Lightning's costume.

UPDATE: The comments section sets me straight on what B.L.'s costume looks like in the show, which he's apparently already appeared on. There's a link to an image of it in the comments as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gone Fishing

Okay, not really. I would never go fishing, due to not wanting to take the life of a fish, and not wanting to be bored out of my mind. At least, the way my grandfather taught me to fish as a young boy was super-boring. I guess the way The Red Bee does it is pretty exciting.

So I wasn't fishing, but I did get super-distracted by a couple of minor projects that somehow ended up occupying me until now, and, since it's 1 a.m. and I haven't even started the post I had planned for today, it doesn't look like I'm going to have one at all for today. Unless a post explaining that I'm not going to post anything counts as a post...?

If you find yourself desperate to read a few hundred words of me talking about comics today though and you don't already make a habit of visiting Blog@Newsarama daily, I have a pair of pieces up there from this weekend that may be of interest. I wrote a longish assessment of Fred Chao's Johnny Hiro series that I've been meaning to write for months now, using the recent Diamond changes as a springboard, and I've also posted a review of Miss Don't Touch Me.

So I guess I'll meet you back here tomorrow night, and we can discuss a couple of works of comic book pornography, or a lame collection of a crappy Superman/Batman story arc, or perhaps a pair of Jeffrey Brown books, depending on which I get done writing first.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hey Kids! Com--Aw, nevermind, that joke's not even funny any more, is it?

So this is probably the goriest image I saw this week's new super-books (at least the ones I read).

I know I often complain about how incredibly gory Marvel and DC books can be these days, but I don't necessarily think this panel from Green Lantern #37 is that bad. At least in context.

Sure, it's hard to imagine every parent who found their kid reading a book like this being pleased about it, but not any harder than it is to imagine a kid reading a book like this in the first place (I could be completely wrong about this, since I know so few actual children, but it seems to be that kids regard John Stewart as Green Lantern, whereas only us old people know/like/care about Hal Jordan...those four or five episodes of The Batman notwithstanding).

This is part of the "Rage of the Red Lanterns" story arc, and the Red Lanterns are men, women and weird aliens who wear special magic rings which take over their bodies, forcing them to vomit up all of their own blood, and then replaces it with new blood that the ring itself creates and pumps. The Red Lanterns projectile vomit this magic hate blood, which burns like napalm.

This issue, about the blood-vomiting Red Lanterns, takes place on their home planet, a world covered in oceans of blood. So a panel of a Red Lantern getting blasted open by an energy beam? Not all that out of place. Complaining about it seems a little like complaining about all the stabbings in a slasher flick (Although I suppose a historic argument could be made that perhaps Green Lantern shouldn't have reached a point where it can even be compared to a slasher flick, but I'm not going to make it).

But I do have a bone to pick with this image, which was drawn by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert and our Julio Ferreira, and colored by Nei Ruffino.

As I stated before, the Red Lanterns' rings completely purge their wielders/hosts of their own blood, and replace it with this viscous, red, napalm-y stuff they puke out (See this issue's charming cover, for an example).

So this poor purple lady getting killed in this image, the only blood she should have in her body would be the red stuff, not whatever color purple space lady blood is. (Is that fuchsia? Hot pink? Puce?)

And yet, in this very gory panel, in which we see a veritable geyser of gore gushing from her wound, her blood is very clearly this pinkish-purplish colored stuff, not the same red stuff that is spewing from her mouth.

Did DC decide to color her blood purplish because the panel looked just way too over the top violent with red blood, as everyone knows alien blood isn't as gross as human blood? Does the yellow light of Sinestro's power ring shining on her blood make it look a lighter, brighter color? Or did Sinestro's ring beam, rather than simply exploding through her like a missile, liquefy her purple body as it passed through and HOLY SHIT WHY AM I EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS STUFF?!

Friday, January 23, 2009

One thing that would have made Final Crisis better?

If instead of slowpoke J.G. Jones, they hired Art Baltazar to draw it.

For evidence, allow me to submit a few scans from this week's Tiny Titans #12:

I rest my case.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things I had scanned and had planned to post in the past, but never did for various reasons

Those of you who hang on my every word (that is, just me) may recall that on Monday night I mentioned that I was going to review a really cool small press book, but, because DC and Marvel's April solicits were being released and they're much easier to write about, I'd push that review off until Thursday night. Well, I'm not going to write that review tonight either.

See, I thought the book—Hellen Jo's Jin & Jam #1—was a 2008 release, since I'd seen it on at least one best of list, but the publisher informed me that it won't actually be released until later this month, so I think I had better wait until closer to the release date to review it.

So what will I post tonight? Well, I was cleaning out my scanned images the other day, and ran across a couple of things that I'd gone to the trouble of taking to the library and scanning for posts, but then ended up never doing anything with them.

Well, I'll do something with them now!

This was going to be a Friday Night Fights post, a four-panel Big Barda vs. Plas battle, but I ended up quitting trying to keep up with FNF, as it was too difficult to make sure I had something each Friday night when I was using a public library scanner and access was never guaranteed:

It's from 1997's JLA #33, Mark Waid's third two-part fill-in for Grant Morrison on JLA, when the latter was winding down his run and the former was apparently gearing up for his. One of the White Martians from "New World Order" that was trapped in a human body and identity thought it was Bruce Wayne and started impersonating him. Batman obviously knew it wasn't the real Bruce Wayne, but couldn't tell the rest of the team how he knew that (this was before the Brad Meltzer everyone-knows-everyone retcon, and the fact that Batman wouldn't reveal his identity to his teammates was a major plot point during Waid's run).

Batman had to separate the Leaguers who did know his secret identity from those who did not, and this is the "not" group. Plas, Barda, Orion, Steel and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner get dressed up and go undercover at a casino to keep tabs on the fake Bruce Wayne.

One has to suspend one's disbelief quite a bit when reading certain superhero comics. With this volume of JLA, for example, once had to just accept the fact that Plastic Man was never sued for sexual harassment or Boom Tube-d to an Apokalytpian fire pit by Barda or her husband.

The art here is by penciller Mark Pajarillo, who was the most frequent fill-in artist for Howard Porter, although I haven't seen his work anywhere in quite a while.

This was going to be part of a post collecting a bunch of Hulk's battle cries, but when I abandonded the idea when it started to look like too much work:

It's from Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen's way too short-lived volume of The Defenders, one of my favorite comics ever. I believe this was from 2001's #7, part of an ongoing story in which Namor had his teammates help him liberate Atlantis from Attuma and a bunch of underwater villains, and Hulk was fighting Orka-with-a-K. Orka draws strength from whales, so he kept calling more whales to the scene to become stronger, which would make Hulk angry, and he'd get stronger, and the process just continued until the end of the story. The rest of the team was sitting around a table enjoying a victory banquet at the end of the story, and Hulk and Orka were still out there on the ocean floor whaling on each other (Ha ha!).

I liked just about every word of dialogue everyone spoke in this series, but I really like Hulk shouting, "Hulk's mother wore sensible shoes!"

A year or two ago, I was reading an old encyclopedia of superheroes, and at some point I realized that for some reason owl costumes almost always look really, really stupid. Even the coolest owl-themed costumes—the JLA: Earth 2 version of DC's Owlman, Ultimate Adventures' Hawk-Owl—were pretty goofy-looking, to say nothing of the Global Guardians' Owlwoman, whose most owl-like feature was that she had a single feather on her costume, or the original Silver Age Earth-3 Owlman, who just looked like less fit Batman wearing a taxidermied bird's head as a toupee.

Unfortunately, I gave up on this post before I even took notes, so I don't remember anything about this owlman—

—although I think he was either from a novel or radio show, not a comic. His name was actually The Owl, same as the next fellow.

This "The Owl" is purple for some damn reason, but I kinda like the look on his face:

I believe Alex Ross was planning to use/is using him in one of those Project: Superpowers comics, unless there's another purple-rocking Owlman.

Finally, here's Owlwoman 1,000,000, from 1999's DC One Million 80-Page Giant, a member of Justice Legion-A. She appeared in the anthologies final story, "Crisis One Million" by Grant Morrison, Dusty Abell and Jim Royal:

I assume Abell designed her appearance, but perhaps it was Morrison. It definitely looks Nite-Owl influenced, doesn't it? Like, maybe she just stole his costume and asked a tailor to alter it for her?

Finally, here's an old Wonder Woman villain apparently named Master Destroyer:

I don't know exactly where this is from, or what his deal is. I assume I scanned him to include in this 2007 post about Wonder Woman villains, and ended up not using him, perhaps because he wasn't as awesome as The Blue Snowman or Red Centipede. Oh, and linking to that post reminds me— Gail Simone, are you out there? Where's Mouse Man at? What's the hold up? He would be perfect for Wonder Woman or Secret Six. Catman vs. Mouse Man! Think about it, won't you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weekly Haul: January 21st

Black Lightning #2 (DC Comics) Two weeks ago, I wrote at (probably far too great) length about some of the problems inherent in the character of 1977 creation Black Lightning in 2009, and the ways in which writer Jen Van Meter was approaching addressing these and smoothing over some of the problematic retcons Geoff Johns and Judd Winick introduced. After the first issue, a few points weren’t quite clear—Did Van Meter give Black Lightning inherent, biological electrical powers instead of man-made one? Will he still wear an afro wig?—but they’re made clear here.

B.L. still gets a belt from his dad’s tailor friend which regulates his lightning powers, allowing him to use it as a weapon (prior to his series, his lighting powers were latent, and that’s still pretty much the case), and his new costume reflects his late-‘70s version, only is less dated looking (His shirt is still open to the navel, but there’s another shirt underneath it, showing less skin; he still wears a wig, but now its one of short dreads instead of a blow out afro).

Van Meter switches narration tactics with this issue, which is cool with serial comics, but might be less than ideal in the eventual trade (nice to see a comics writer writing for the comics, rather than the trade, of course).

Clark Kent comes to principal Jefferson Pierce’s school to interview him (and feel him out to see if he’s the unnamed vigilante), and, by issue’s end, Pierce gets his codename and costume and The 100 get more and more frustrated with him (in both his identities).

Even with another DC character coming into the story this issue, I remain really impressed with how accessible Van Meter’s script is; you could pick up the first two issues of Black Lightning and read a very solid superhero adventure/melodrama comic without having to jump over any of the too-standard shared universe hurdles.

For any I-wish-there-were-more-women-in-superhero-comics fangirls in the audience, I should point out that the Black Lightning credits are kinda like Hole—it would be an all-girl band, were it not for that one guy in a rather central role. Subtract creators Anthony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, and you’ve got male artist Cully Hamner, but otherwise, we’ve got female writer Van Meter, colorist Laura Martin, and editors Rachel Gluckstern and Joan Hilty. Ah dammit, I forgot letterer Sal Cipriano—that blows my Hole analogy. At any rate, as women in (DC and Marvel) comics is an ongoing discussion, and there was recently a deeply stupid discussion kicked off by You Know Who writing something typically silly, it’s still worth pointing out that hey, there sure are a lot of people who aren’t men working on this particular DC Comic.

Cowa! (Viz Media) Lollygagging list-maker Matthew J. Brady posted his “Best Of 2008” list yesterday, and on it was this Akira Toriyama manga about a half-vampire half-werekoala and his best friend, a ghost named Jose, struggling to save the adults of their town from Monster Flu. Since it was a light week for new superhero comics that don’t look too bad, I picked this up too. I haven’t read it yet, as I wanted to crank out these reviews as soon as possible to maintain EDILW’s rep as the place for the most hastily-written, overly-verbose reviews of new super-comics each week, but I’m assuming it’s good because a) It’s Akira Toriyama and b) Matt Brady said it was. And if it’s not, I’m sure he will be happy to refund my $7.99. You should all totally go buy it too. It’s over 200 pages of humor manga from the creator of Dragon Ball, Sand Land and Dr. Slump, and it’s only $7.99. And if you don’t like it, you can always demand Brady give you $7.99 too.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2 (DC) I remember where I was when I first learned the meaning of the word “controversial.” I was out to eat at a restaurant with my family, and the menu included an item called “Controversial Spaghetti,” noting that some people love their sauce and some people hated it. (Come to think of it, that menu didn’t really do a great job of selling their spaghetti). I was pretty young at the time—old enough to be able to read a menu, but apparently too young to have learned “controversial” as a spelling word yet—and as I grew up and encountered more four-syllable words more often, I realized the word didn’t exactly mean something someone either/loves or hates, but that menu’s definition of the word seems to describe DC’s Final Crisis pretty well, doesn’t it?

While I don’t exactly hate the series, I think I’m far closer to hate end of the spectrum than the love end, in large part because of the disappointment factor involved. Grant Morrison used to push the world to edge of apocalypse on a near monthly basis over a decade ago when he was writing JLA (often with some New Gods involved), as I noted last week he wrote one of the most complicated inter-book crossover stories ever in Seven Soldiers a few years back and, hell, he just completed All-Star Superman, probably one of the best superhero comics of all time.

Final Crisis just seems terribly…small in comparison. (I think Tucker Stone’s review of the last issue made the case pretty persuasively that this isn’t all it could be, particularly when he mentioned “it shouldn't have featured a couple hundred of characters, it should have had every possible thing DC had the license for.” Think about the “World War III” story arc from JLA, where the shit was so serious that you had Elongated Man teaming up with Arsenal over here, you had the armies of Atlantis and Heaven on the march, and, ultimately, you had every single person on earth get superheroes to fly into space and kick the Anti-Sun’s ass; in Final Crisis, you have some Justice Leaguers and Justice Society members fighting Stormtroopers while Barry Allen, Renee Montoya and Mr. Tawny get all the panel time. There hasn’t been a single splash page where you saw a shit-ton of superheroes standing around and though, “Damn, this is serious!” In that respect, it reads more like, Genesis, Legends or DC One Million than a continuation of a real Crisis-with-a-capital-“C” like the one that was On Infinite Earths or even the one that was just plain Infinite).

The argument can, has and will continue to be made that Grant Morrison is writing it this way on purpose, but I’m not entirely sure I’m convinced he is. Or, if he is doing so, that maybe he shouldn’t be, because it seems pretty ineffective. As far as the first six issues go, it seems like it’s merely been an illustrated pitch for a miniseries more than an actual miniseries.

Something that really underscores that smallness and lack of scale or import is this particular comic, paragraphs later, I’m finally getting to—Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2. Here’s the Grant Morrison of JLA and All-Star Superman, of 52 and Animal Man. Here are the huge stakes—talk of universes, dimensions, realities, ideas, concepts, stories, gods and God—and increasingly impossible odds being met with even more impossible feats. Here are bright, clean, detailed comic book drawings that look like drawings for a(n excellent) comic book. Here are characters big (Superman, Captain Marvel) and small (everyone else in the book) uniting against annihilating forces so big that the reader will have to give pause to attempt to conceive of. Here is Morrison taking the many randomly generated story threads from dozens of creators spanning decades and synthesizing them into something that seems plausibly unified, even realistic.

In short, here’s a comic that feels like Grant Morrison’s version of a DC Crisis story, not all those other less than impressive Final Crisis stories, many of which Morrison himself wrote.

So, Ultraman, the evil Superman, discovers a new god, the evil monitor Mandrakk, while forces from The Void attack Limbo, a place of lost memory populated only buy un-used and half-forgotten fictional characters, their beachhead in an assault on reality itself. Billy Batson and Ubermensch discuss DC Multiversal cosmology. Captain Adam demonstrates “quantum super-positon as used defensively” to defend reality, reaches a new understanding of reality, and finds that dualities don’t exist, but symmetries do. He then fuses Ultraman and Superman into one to “broadcast his pure essence to a reciever in a higher dimension." That receiver is “a thought-robot,” a gigantic, metallic, god-like Superman in the world of the Monitors, some sort of archetypal, Platonic ideal-scale rendered in 3D, where the primal force represented by Mandrakk, a parasite that feeds on reality, rises to face Superman, who realizes he’s inside a “self-assembling hyper story” that’s trying to destroy him!

All on its own, it’s among some of Morrison’s best Superman work (and oh how I wish that the art team of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy and Tom Nguyen were drawing the rest of Final Crisis, not just drawing what the team called in to draw what the original artist couldn’t draw fast enough couldn’t draw enough), and a hell of a final crisis—as in ultimate crisis—story. (The only weakness was remembering who the hell all these monitor characters are, and what, exactly, they have to do with Final Crisis, where they haven’t really appeared since the first issue.)

But taken as part of the series it allegedly spins out-of? This seems like the good part of something not very good; great wine in too big a quantity being poured into a too small wineskin that will make the wine taste foul anyway. (I know I suck at metaphors shut up I’m not pausing long enough to think of the best way to write this because no one’s paying me to do so so just deal with the occasionally poorly expressed metaphor okay an also run-on sentences like this too sometimes)

One of the (many) things I complained about after reading last week’s Final Crisis #6 was that the whole crossover’s timeline was broken and thus the story-trains were missing their connection. This issue takes place, chronologically, before all five issues of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds and before last week’s Final Crisis #6; it should probably have come out a long time ago or, at least the same day as FC #6.

I know some folks say this stuff doesn’t really matter, that readers can reorder the stories in their heads and that it’s unfair to blame creators like Grant Morrison for something like artists blowing deadlines or editorial failing to make the right books come out at the right time, and while I can certainly see and sympathize with that point of view, I also think the failure to keep a serial comics story from being released in the right order is something that could—and should be criticized.

For example, if this were a film and the film editor mixes up scenes, it might not be the director or star’s fault, but the film would still be unprofessionally sucky, because keeping the scenes in order is a pretty basic part of making a film. Of course, film isn’t serial, so maybe that’s not the strongest comparison, nor would a novel misprinted with the chapters out of order be any better. I suppose you could compare it to a TV show, where the eleventh and twelfth episodes aren’t quite right, so thy show the season finale first…? And maybe one of the stars is tired, so the understudy plays the role?

Shit, that metaphor’s weak too. Whatever. The point is this—Superman beyond was an incredible story, a deft exploration of the themes that Morrison has devoted so much of his career to and simultaneously an ideal superhero comic where the hero triumphs by doing the impossible, and it makes Final Crisis proper seem small, sad and incredibly disappointing in comparison.

And Doug Mahnke rules. Can’t he draw Batman or Justice League again? Please…?

And even having read this, Superman’s appearances in Final Crisis #6 still don’t really make any sense, and just seem like random scenes. What was Lois doing out of the hospital so quick? When did Superman get sent to the future? What was he flying around for like that at the end? Where’d he get Batman’s corpse?

Green Lantern #37 (DC) Aw yeah, it’s a double-branded issue! There’s a “Rage of the Red Lanterns” banner across the top, and a “Faces of Evil” logo along the bottom, and its got the basic “FOE” design of a single villain on a black field, with their name stamped over the dimmed logo.

In this case it’s “Laira” which is stamped over the Green Lantern logo, which seems like an odd choice to me. I’ve been reading GL it realaunched, and I had no idea that purple lady’s name was Laira. I’m sure the more ardent GL fans know who she is and all, but I can’t imagine more casual readers looking at the “FOE” initiative as a good jumping-on point for DC comics will be, like, “Awesome! It’s Whosit, the purple lady with the projectile blood vomit!”

So I’m not really sure why they didn’t just put Sinestro, who’s prominently featured in this issue on the cover, or at least just called Laira “Red Lantern” on the cover.

At any rate, I kind of love this comics cover, because it’s such a great encapsulation of “superhero decadence.” Gore? Check. Boobs? Check. And, get this, the gore is being vomited! It’s like a triple word score, if hilarious decadently superhero covers are like Scrabble.

That might sound pretty negative, but, as I explained at length when I reviewed the previous issue, I really kind of love Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern at the moment. It’s like, so stupid that it cycles halfway around the quality wheel into awesome territory, keeps going back into stupid territory, and then edges back into the borders of awesome. It’s so aswesomely stupid that it’s stupidly awesome.

Does that make sense? In summary, Geoff Johns is magical, because if I read this comic with, like, my left eye closed, it’s just plain retarded, but if I read it with my right eye closed, it’s a fantastic superhero adventure. (Man, I can’t even come up with a decent metaphor for this book it’s so… so… whatever it is!)

So, synopsis time:

Green Lantern Hal Jordan is flying around with the two Blue Lanterns, one of whom is freaking Ganesh, and they make clear that they are totally religious figures, explaining that GLs are the cops of the universe, but BLs are the saints of the universe.

On Planet Gore, Hal finds his former friend and mentor Sinestro crucified on the Red Lantern symbol, and is then ambushed by the blood-puking Red Lantern Corps, who were lying in wait in a pool of blood! And then they are ambushed by the yellow Sinestro Corps! And then the space saints show up, and they part a red sea which is literally a red sea because all the water on this planet is actually blood! And then Hal puts Sinestro in an electric chair made out of his own will power and is about to throw the switch when the big Geoff Johns Oh no he di’n’t!! cliffhanger occurs!

Oh my God, I’m hyperventilating just typing this paragraph! This story arc concludes next issue, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. Besides the fact that it will probably be both awesome and stupid.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #32 (Marvel Comics) The Avengers get paid, but do they pay income taxes on their wages? Some do, but some don’t, as to do so would compromise their secret identities. So when the IRS comes calling, they work out a compromise—If Iron Man, Spidey, The Hulk, Giant Girl and Luke Cage will help them round-up a variety of supervillainous deadbeats and tax refusers, they’ll let it slide. The plot comes from the fevered and funny imagination of Mr. Paul Tobin, who constructs a story that reads remarkably like one of the earlier issues of Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, when the title was basically Anny McBeal for Marvel superheroes, wringing humor out of juxtaposing real-world legal issues with the fantasy world of Marvel Universe. Whirlwind, Man-Bull, Bullseye, Absorbing Man and even Oog are all holding out on Uncle Sam, and its up to our heroes to either talk them into compliance or beat them into submission. There are a lot of great gags in here, but some of the most affecting are the little visual ones made by artists Matteo Lolli, like the site of The Hulk using some kind of Blackberry/iPhone type device.

Mysterius The Unfathomable #1 (WildStorm/DC) The WildStorm brand remains something of a mess these days, as this issue well attests. This is the first issue of a miniseries about a professional magician written by Jeff Parker (Interman, most of the best Marvel comics of the past three years) and illustrated by Tom Fowler (most recently, Green Arrow and Caper). Why’s it at WildStorm, instead of DC Comics or Vertigo? I dunno. I don’t even know what “WildStorm” means, exactly, aside from books-that-aren’t-DC-or-Vertigo. For example, of the 15 books on the back page under “In Stores January,” five are WildStorm Universe titles, five are based on video games, two are based on TV shows (one current, one long since canceled), one is a prequel to an upcoming movie, one is “created by” a movie producer but written and drawn by other people, and one is an alternate history story about World War II.

Not that that has much of anything to do with the work under the cover; just an observation about what will likely be an uphill battle for the book, and everything on the identity-less imprint.

As for the story, it is (perhaps unsurprisingly, given Parker’s recent output), pretty great. It’s narrated by Delfi, a woman currently working as Mysterius’ assistant and screening those who seek to enlist his magical aid. In a flashback that dominates the issue, we learn how she first met Mysterius. As a reporter, she covered a séance he conducted by a rich playboy type seeking to contact his dead mother. Thanks to a professional skeptic, something goes terribly wrong, but Mysterius discovers the young reporter saw what only he himself saw there.

He’s a very colorful character, something between a Zatara and John Constantine type, but neither as heroic as the former or as cool and contrarian as the latter. Sporting a pot belly and big, bulbous read W.C. Fields-ian nose, and sometimes needing to try a couple of times before successfully doing something awe-inspiringly magical, he’s the read deal, but maybe a little more realistic than he himself would like.

Fowler’s art is looser than his recent superhero work, and it will come as no surprise that he drew for Mad magazine, given the occasionally exploded features of his character work.

As a first issue goes, this one’s pretty much perfect. It’s a complete story introducing the characters and premise, plus enough extra leftover plot to lure one into a second issue if they liked this. I did, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

If you weren’t already planning on doing so and your stack of singles seems a little light this week, check this out.

Tiny Titans #12 (DC) If you buy but one superhero comic this week, you will likely have a lot more cash in your wallet than I do in mine. But what one superhero comics is the one you should buy? I don’t know guys, there was honestly a lot of good stuff this week, but this might have been the best (And it’s between 49-cents and $2 cheaper than the other good comics I read this week!)

This is the “Faces of Mischief!” issue of Tiny Titans, spotlighting Sidekick Elementary principal Slade Wilson and substitute teacher Trigon. They play hooky for the day, taking their kids Raven, Ravager and Jericho out to a ball game and other fun activities. Slade leaves lunch lady Darkseid in charge as acting principal:

(Please note that while hairnets are almost always funny, they’re even more so when worn by a completely hairless, humanoid rock creature)

Cute little Parademons appear around him, the skies turn red and he makes his students take finals (“This is such a crisis!” “That’s right! A Finals crisis!”). Baltazar sure has a way with supervillains. In addition to debuting his Darkseid in this issue, we also see Robin caught in a battle over whether he needs a hall pass or not, waged by The Monitor and the Anti-Monitor, and, in the opening gag splash, we get to see Baltazar’s version of The Penguin, which is essentially a canelli bean with a monocle and top hat:

If Baltazar and Franco have the time and inclination, they should really do a villain gag book at some point.

Trinity #34 (DC) After a couple of particularly slow issues, this one seems about evenly split between the excrutiating Cantebury Tales-on-Egg World plot involving Alfred, Lois and their gang, and the superhero war between The Justice Arcana and the Dark Arcana. I like superhero wars. This week’s back half is by Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher. Only one of the eight characters on the cover by Shane Davis appears in this issue (Hint: It’s the stretchiest one).