Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Weekly Haul: September 30th

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #9 (DC Comics) The Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures… creative team of Landry Walker and Eric Jones get a crack at the current cartoon version of Batman, and they take the opportunity to tackle a whole chunk of his rogues gallery as well.

After a three-page, before-the-credits team-up with a Sentinels of Magic of sorts (Dr. Fate, Zatanna, Dr. Occult, Sargon and Mento), and a two-panel credit/title sequence echoing that of the show, they plunge into “The Tale of the Catman!”

Batman gets some unexpected help against the Riddler from a hero in a similar costume with a name that rhymes with his own, and soon Gotham has two crime-busters whose names end with –atman taking on The Penguin, The Joker and Two-Face. But is there a villain under Catman’s heroic façade? And is there a hero under the villain under Catman’s heroic façade?

Landry Walker’s set-up is pretty clever (and, in a few places, a little more mature than some of the previous issues of this kids series), and I greatly enjoyed seeing Jones’ takes on so many of these characters, many of whom aren’t influenced by the TV character designs.

This Catman, for example, was apparently designed before he appeared in the show; I liked the cartoon version’s crazy eyes better, but Jones' version is overall cooler, closer to that Breyfogle Catman design than the Silver Age one with the “CM” on his chest.

I don’t think I care for skinny Penguin at all, but I’d need to see him in action for a few more panels to make up my mind. I’m really quite enamored of the The Batman version, though.

Oh, and there’s a panel of this in which Batman grabs a mind-controlled seal wearing a burglar’s costume by the tail and smashes it against Penguin’s head (Sound effect? “SEAL!”). So it has that going for it.

Green Lantern #46 (DC) If one wanted to be completely uncharitable about it, this issue of the main Green Lantern title is, in the broadest sense, the exact same as most of the issues of Green Lantern from the past year or so, only much better drawn than all the Orange Lantern issues: Hal Jordan flits about while variously-colored Lanterns fight and yell about prophecies and Green Lantern continuity.

But so what? People apparently love this stuff, so what’s another a few issues of it? Green Lantern Hal Jordan and indigo lantern Indigo-1 join an in-progress battle involving the violet, yellow and black Lanterns, Mongul and Sinestro have it out, there’s some crazy-ass shit going on among the love-powered Lanterns (What are those particular characters doing in their central battery? Why do they have a giant, scary monster called The Predator caged up?), the John Stewart sub-plot takes another four panels forward (Is it me, or is it moving much more slowly than the other threads of this thing?), and then a few Black Lanterns important to Hal and Sinestro show up in the typical Geoff Johns ending.

Dough Mahnke and Christian Alamy continue to do incredible work, the degree to which they render big superhero action better than so many of their peers underscored by the fact that they’re drawing the same characters and sorts of scenes we’ve seen a half-dozen or so times in GL since “Sinestro Corps War.”

Weird and/or gross aliens, rotting zombie corpses, beautiful humans in very tight and/or very little clothing, Sinestro being knocked around by Mongul while his face contorts into a variety of defiant sneers—these guys can draw it all. I wish more superhero comics looked more like this one does.

Justice League of America 80-Page Giant #1 (DC) I love 80-Page Giants, at least in theory. I love the idea of a comic book starring your favorite characters that, like an annual used to be, is an over-sized, extra-helping of their adventures. I love the instant gratification of the possibility of a whole story arc read in one sitting, and not an “old” one, as you get in a trade, but a brand-new, fresh one. And I love the idea of something that, in today’s market, could quite easily be sold with a spine as an original graphic novel coming out in stapled, comic-book format.

So 80-Page Giants? I am quite willing to give you a chance. This particular one is something of a cross between JLA 80-Page Giants #1 and #2, which were anthologies featuring team-ups between Leaguers, and JLA 80-Page Giant #3, a self-contained, novel-length adventure.

In the framing sequence, Snapper Carr and The Cheetah (who are apparently dating now?), witness the pre-Final Crisis Justice League battling Epoch the Time Lord, who sends them hurtling through time. In six, self-contained stories by different creative teams, pairs of Leaguers find themselves encountering DC heroes from different time periods for the length of a complete—if short—story, and then disappearing at the end of each, until reappearing in the second half of the framing sequence. (Similar to Justice League Europe Annual #2, actually, which was a pretty awesome comic).

Most of the creators are ones I’ve either never heard of, and/or never read anything by before, and none of them do truly exceptional work (The art of Jan Buran and “Daxiong” stand out from the pack the most, but mostly on account of their style, not because they seem to be leaps ahead of the rest of the artists or anything). It’s worth noting that the bar for Justice League art is set so low though that even if the bulk of this work is merely mediocre, at least none of it is working at direct cross-purposes with the work of any of the writers, the way Ed Benes’ art often did Brad Meltzer's or Dwayne McDuffie’s scripts.

Likewise none of the scripts are going to change your life or anything, but they’re good enough to fit a whole story into about ten pages or so, and this book accomplishes the rare feat of an actual Justice League adventure between two covers—it seems like ever since the Justice League book was relaunched, all of the stories were about who was joining the team and who was leaving it and why, with a few issues devoted to promoting Salvation Run or Tangent or whatever.

It was fun just to see the Justice League doing Justice League things again, you know?

So what have we got? Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Red Arrow in the Old West with Cinnamon; Vixen and Green Lantern John Stewart in Camelot with Shining Knight; Zatanna and Black Canary in 1939 with The Crimson Avenger; Green Arrow and Firestorm teaming up with The Bride from Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke’s Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein against Ra’s al Ghul in 1942; Wonder Woman and Steel (who, hilariously, wasn’t even sent back in time with the others, but just randomly appears here; I like Steel and I’m not complaining he’s here, but maybe he should have appeared at the beginning with the rest of the team if they were going to use him) encounter The Black Pirate while fighting Starro in pirate days; and, finally, Superman and Doctor Light are sent to feudal Japan where they encounter an apparently new, DCU-version of Superfriend Samurai (this version's costume, by the way, is terrible).

Yes, it’s all rather rushed, kind of shoddily produced and, ultimately, of no consequence, but it’s still the best goddam Justice League comic in years, and that’s gotta count for something, right?

Marvel Mystery Handbook: 70th Anniversary Special (Marvel Comics) In a week with this much great stuff getting released, a $5 handbook devoted to the Marvel heroes that appeared in the company’s first year of existence (as Timely, but whatever) probably wasn’t the best thing to spend $5 on, but I can’t help it. Many of those great graphic novels will show up as review copies, or in libraries, or still be there waiting for me to buy them off the rack in the near future.

Not this thing.

I love reading about Golden Age superheroes, in many cases even more than I enjoy actually reading adventures featuring them, and I’d probably need to spend more time and verbiage than I’m willing to at the moment to explain why.

Part of it is definitely nostalgia, as reading a book like this reminds me of being a teenager and being so excited about the worlds of comics and superheroes and wanting to learn as much as I could about them, but the relative paucity of books on the subject leading me to pore through things like Overstreet Price Guides and just contemplating the strange names of characters I had never seen a cartoon featuring before.

This sort of thing fires the imagination in the way even the comics themselves may not. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll read all the Phantom Reporter or and Red Raven comics Marvel cares to publish, but there’s just something about imagining those characters that I enjoy.

This book is nothing but writing about those characters—some from The Twelve, a few from the other 70th Anniversary Special one-shots, some that are completely new to me—and thus I’m really looking forward to tucking into it when I have some free time.

Runaways #14 (Marvel) Well, that was certainly unstatisfying. Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli’s run ends almost as soon as it begins, after just four and a half issues. They sure don’t get much of a chance to wrap things up here, either. Chases uncle extends an offer to the teen team, and they neither accept nor reject it. A dead character or two seemingly return from the dead (see the cover for one of ‘em), another character gets run down by a car and is on his or her deathbed on the last page, with the words “The end…For now…” along the bottom of the last page.

It’s totally unfair. Terry Moore got nine issues, and his run was terrible.

Superman #691 (DC) I skipped the last issue of this series, because it had this repulsive cover by Fernando Dagnino and Raúl Fernandez and tied into all the other Super-titles I’m not reading for the month, so I figured I could do without it. How much can change in one storyline?

Apparently a lot, as Mon-El is thought dead, someone destroyed Metropolis’ sewer system so thoroughly that the combined might of the Justice League and Society can’t fix it and thus the city stands on the brink of collapse, because none of the Flashes or Green Lanterns standing around in the sewer thought of just run/fly over to the next city and start importing bottled water.

This is why the world needs Superman! He would have just flown up to a frozen lake in Canada and brought back a gigantic chunk of ice to melt into water. He is apparently the only superhero on Earth smart enough to figure a way around a water shortage. (Also, can’t Firestorm make water, through his transmutation powers?)

So James Robinson sort of lost me on the first page of this issue, as my suspend-my-disbelief muscles were already strained to the limit by the Everyone On Earth Hates Superman Just Because premise.

I’d given up pretending to take the story seriously by the point where The Guardian reveals Mon-El’s secret identity, which you’ll recall uses the last name Kent, to a bar full of cops. So it didn’t even bother me when Robinson trotted out another Legion character I’m unfamiliar with, revealing her costume in a way that was probably significant to someone who knew exactly who she was and what her deal was (i.e. someone who is not me).

The art for this entire issue is by the Dagnino/Fernandez art team responsible for that terrible cover on Superman #691, and while I suppose you could charitably call it “DC house style” at the moment, it’s a huge drop in quality from the art I’d become accustomed through thus far in Robinson’s run on the book.

Not sure if I should stick with this title or not, as it seems the next one will have the same art team, and the solicitation makes me think we’ll be in store for another Robinson-written torture scene...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little more on MODOK

On Sunday I mentioned a piece I had in the Erie Daily Times about Ryan Dunlavey and his MODOK:Reign Delay one-shot, the print version of the story that had previously run on

As is so often the case with such articles, I asked Dunlavey a whole bunch of questions, and he gave me a whole bunch of answers, and only a relatively few fit into the allotted space. So I thought I'd post the whole Q-and-A here, particularly since I thought Dunlavey had some interesting things to say about topics that are relevant to your interests (since you're reading this on a comics blog).

My questions are in italics, Dunlavey's answers are in the normal font....

On your website, it says you freelance work in animation, graphic design and illustration…are comics your main, pay-the-bills gig, or do you do a little of everything?

I worked a series of full-time graphic design jobs for many years before going full-time freelance in 2003. I do a little of everything—I usually get 4 or 5 big jobs a year and lots of little illustration jobs on top of that. So far this year my big projects have been two flash animation jobs, this MODOK comic and re-designing a huge website. I like jumping around between different stuff, it keeps me from getting burnt out and having a wide range of skills comes in handy in this rough job market. Comics is the one thing I could do full time though.

Can you tell me a little about how MODOK: Reign Delay came about? Did you pitch the idea to Marvel, or did Marvel ask you to do something with the character? Did your Action Philosophers partner Fred Van Lente play any role?

About a year ago Marvel invited Fred and I to pitch for their original online comics line that they had just started. We didn’t know what format the comics were going to be in, but we figured we’d better do something funny, and MODOK was the obvious choice for a humorous lead. I wrote up a pitch that structured it like a sit-com, Fred revised it so it fit into the current continuity, we sent it in and it got greenlit pretty much immediately. Fred was supposed to co-plot it with me while I handled the script and the art, but then when it finally came up on the schedule Fred simply didn’t have time so I just did the whole shebang myself. I even did the coloring and the lettering—I’m greedy like that.

Can you tell me a little about the plot for the story? MODOK returns to his hometown of Erie and lives with his parents, but is there another reason why he’s in Erie, PA? Like, the proximity to Canada?

In the current Marvel Comics, The Green Goblin, Doctor Doom and some other super villains have been slowly taking over the world behind the scenes. In my story MODOK finds out about it and wants in on the action, but since he’s such a creepy, annoying loser the other bad guys don’t want anything to do with him, so they send him on the fool’s errand of conquering Erie where he can’t screw up any of their big plans.

MODOK’s such an egomaniac he actually believes his home town of Erie is an important piece in the world domination puzzle. I could have easily had it set in any other small US city like Ann Arbor or South Bend or whatever, but Erie is just a weird, funny place and from living there I knew it well enough that I thought I could get a lot of jokes out of it, and I didn’t have to do much research either.

Also, Erie’s proximity to Canada does indeed play into the plot. Even though it’s a comedy it’s still a superhero comic and I couldn’t just do 20 pages of jokes about MODOK’s giant head, at some point he was going to need a hero to fight. In the Marvel Universe heroes tend to gather in really large, metropolitain areas, and the closest big city to Erie is Toronto, which gave me the perfect excuse to use one of my favorite Marvel characters as the “villain”. (Canadian super hero “Box”, aka Maddison Jeffries, an obscure member of the X-Men) Plus the whole superhero trying to cross international borders to fight crime provided for some more gags.

Do you visit Erie very often now? Did your own experiences there, either in the past or more currently, impact the story at all? (This may be the only opportunity I have to seriously ask someone how much of themselves they put into a story about MODOK).

I have some aunts and uncles and a few cousins that still live in Erie but my immediate family doesn’t live there anymore so I don’t visit very often, maybe once every year or two. Erie’s a fine place but when I became an adult I decided it just wasn’t where I wanted to live my life. MODOK, by contrast, is thrilled about being back in Erie, where he gets free rent and his mom makes him pancakes on demand.

Marvel Comics are kind of notorious for being set either in New York City, or in made-up exotic places like Wakanda or Wundagore or Latveria or wherever, which is another neat thing about a MODOK-in-Erie story. Was the small world aspect of the Marvel Universe something you wanted to address through the setting at all?

Nope, I just thought it would be hilarious to get MODOK out of the standard sci-fi underground lairs we usually see him in—the classic fish-out-of-water situation never fails to generate the funny stuff.

This will be kind of an obvious, general question, but what’s the difference for you between writing and drawing your own story versus drawing someone else’s script?

Each has its own challenges. When I draw a story that I’m also writing there’s also a lot less words, because I know what storytelling I’m going to be able to get across with the visuals—the challenge comes from making sure I’m making writing choices that serve the story rather than just doing the easiest thing to draw. When I’m drawing someone else’s script there’s no cutting corners—I’ve got to stick with what I’ve got, and often I have to draw things I would never choose to draw on my own—this happens most often when I’m drawing non-fiction comics that I do with Fred.

You play MODOK for laughs in this story, which has been the default mode for the character for a few years now. Obviously, he’s a pretty goofy character in general, but do you have any thoughts on why MODOK has come to be viewed as such a comedic figure recently, where as other, similarly goofy characters still get played straight a lot of the time?

I have to disagree with you, I think there’s more humor in superhero comics these days then there ever has been, across the board, even with the traditionally serious characters. Spider-Man has always been funny. Batman’s various and sundry villains and teammates are always making fun of him one way or another. Deadpool is Bugs Bunny with guns. Bizarro—who do they think they’re fooling? And you have great series like Incredible Hercules and Guardians of the Galaxy and Secret Six that dole out the funny and serious moments equally.

On the flip side, even the so-called goofy characters have their serious moments—MODOK was played as a deadly, calculating, manipulative evil S.O.B. in Fred’s Super-Villain Team-Up mini and more recently in Hulk. I think that’s one of the cool things about super hero characters and comics—the writer can choose to play things straight or satirical or somewhere in between and it still works. I think because MODOK’s design is so distinctively bizarre that it makes his humorous appearances especially memorable.

When you were originally doing the story, was the thought that it would eventually be something that saw print, or was the initial thought that it would just be for online consumption? Did creating a comic for that particular format/venue affect the way you wrote and drew it, as opposed to the way you might have worked on it if it were going to be a print-only book?

No one knew what the format was going to be once the story got the go ahead—ongoing, mini-comic, one-shot, weekly web comic or whatever—so I just wrote it like a standard 22-page comic with a cliffhanger ending, like a regular first issue of a series. Just before I turned the script in Marvel decided they wanted it to be a self-contained four-part story, five pages per part—so I just edited my original 22 pages down to 17 and wrote a new ending. It made the story a lot tighter, and the jokes are pretty much non-stop throughout, so I’m really happy how it worked out. I don’t know when or why Marvel decided to also do a print edition at a later date, but that was just a nice bonus for me.

Are online comics like this the future of comics, even Marvel Comics, or do you see both electronic and paper comics existing simultaneously as they are now?

Digital is just another format, another way for people to get the comics, just as trade paperbacks were introduced as a new format for reading comic books. Comic books themselves were invented as a new way of reading comic strips, and last time I checked those were still around. The greatest thing about digital comics is that it now puts publishing as a viable option for anyone who’s willing to just put in the time to actually write and draw—the cost barriers of traditional print publishing are virtually eliminated.

But still, there sure is a lot of angst about digital comics isn’t there? Anytime I hear someone bitch about how digital comics suck because they personally don’t like to read comics on a computer screen I just roll my eyes. It’s like saying you don’t like reading in bed, you can only read in a chair—I mean, who cares about your personal reading preferences really? Those kinds of reactions to digital comics really stem from the fear that companies might decide to only do digital comics instead of print altogether, so the reader would be forced to either read their new comics in a format they don’t enjoy or not at all.

There might come a time when you’ll only be able to get new issues of lower-selling series as digital only at first but in a paperback collection at a later date, but I think that's still a ways off, and the total elimination of print is still a long, long, long way off, at least not in our lifetimes. Really, it’s just another method of getting the same stuff—comics. One of the things Fred and I have done with our self-published stuff is to offer it in as many formats as possible—single issues, trade paperbacks, PDF, iphone. We don’t see a lot of cross-over with the audiences for each format—but more formats opens us up to more potential readers. I’d really like to see publishers start releasing digital and print editions simultaneously like how you can now get movies as a DVD or a download or on-demand on the same release day. More formats, more delivery methods equals more readers and that can only help comics.

Can you tell me a little about what you have coming up or in the works? There’s a more-than-complete Action Philosophers collection coming up, I understand…is Comic Book Comics still an ongoing project as well?

Comic Book Comics is still going strong—it’s a six-issue series. My scheduling got screwed up and I fell way behind (our last issue came out in February 2009) but we’re back in October with issue #4. Issue #5 is our All-Lawsuit issue—that comes out in March 2010, and #6 is scheduled for June. The Complete Action Philosophers comes out in November 2009—it’s all nine issues of the original series with the stories re-arranged in chronological order so it’s a complete history of philosophy starting with the Pre-Socratics and going the way through to the 21st century with Jaques Derridah. We’re also doing four new stories that will only be in the big collection—I’m in the middle of drawing the Auguste Comte story right now and it’s a beaut. I’ve got a three-page Diarrhea Dog story in the next issue of Royal Flush in October, I’m doing a page for David HopkinsOne Night Stand anthology out in December and I’ve got some more work for Marvel in the pipeline. MODOK has gotten me excited about writing comics again so I’m trying desperately to schedule some time to return to Tommy Atomic, my long-neglected web comic.

Van Lente’s writing for Marvel. You did this story for Marvel. Are Action Philosophers fans going to get to see you guys reunite on a Marvel property any time soon? Any chance of a Plato vs. Hercules story?

I’d love to work on a story with Fred. Ultimately it’ll be up to Marvel, but I would say Spider-Man vs Ayn Rand is pretty much inevitable.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Doctors Doom and Doomer

The cover of 1976’s Super-Villain Team-Up #6 promises the “The Most Unexpected GUEST STAR of all!”

As you can see, the issue's already got The Sub-Mariner, The Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom and newcomer The Shroud in it, who is this unexpected guest star, and what makes him or her the "most unexpected guest star of all?” Is this guest star a hero, or a villain, or something in between?

Let’s find out together, shall we?

It may be a little difficult to set the stage here, as this particular issue—written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel—is only about a quarter of the way into a huge, epic, several hundred page-long story in which Doom tries forging an alliance with Namor, and many, many other superheroes and villains end up getting fought along the way. You can read all about it in Essential Super-Villain Team-Up Vol. 1 which, I remind you, is about 450 pages of Namor and Doctor Doom yelling at each other, with about 50 pages of things like Doctor Doom fighting Red Skull on the moon or Skull teaming up with Hitler accounting for the rest of the book.

Anyway, Doom has poisoned Namor so that the Atlantean can no longer live out of water without regular administrations of an antidote of Doom’s own making. In exchange, Namor has given his word to serve Doom, and the proud prince won’t break his word no matter what.

As this issue opens, Namor is pacing around Doom’s Latverian castle, shouting “Doom!” in ever-larger font sizes. In the previous issue, Namor went to the Fantastic Four for help, but Reed Richards was unable to devise an antidote in time to save him, and so he had to return to Latveria with his new master.

Doom is all like, “Knock if off Namor, I heard you the first ten times! Now be quiet, I have a very important meeting.”

This meeting is with none other than “the most unexpected guest star of all.” Doom calls the guest star his “first official visitor,” while noticing he also has unofficial visitors, in the form of a Fantasticar full of the Fantastic Four, arriving to save Subby.

Doom activates all his automated defenses and Doombots and then proceeds to meet with his visitor.

Deep within the castle, Doom shows a mysterious man wearing a suit and glasses a controlled nuclear blast.
Then he shows his visitor “The Di-Litium Thermal Mine, capable of blockading an entire seaport by itself!” And then his Pluto Probe. And his Orbital Laser Bomb.

But he demurs when his visitor asks about the time machine: “All in good time my friend…you must allow me some secrets in this early stage of our relationship, eh?”

Doom hands his visitor, still only seen in shadow, a goblet, and makes a speech:

You have known, for all those years, what Dr. Doom is capable of-- --But you said nothing, leaving the peoples of the world to cherish their fantasy of a three-way struggle for supremacy, among Russia, China, and America.

His visitor replies:

I, too shall speak frankly, Doctor. Until now, I have not considered your weaponry enough to make you a fourth super-power! Your political base was too small! Under those conditions, I considered revelation of your tactical strength unnecessarily unsettling to the world’s peace of mind!

Who is this Realpolitick-speaking stranger? And why does he shout all of his sentences?

Apparently, with Latveria aligned with Atlantis, the stranger considers Doom to have a large enough political base to be considered a fourth super-power. This is kind of odd since the entire population of Atlantis is currently comatose in a deathless sleeping state at the bottom of the ocean, so Doom only really has one Atlantean to add to his political base, Namor The Sub-Mariner.

The visitor thus raises a toast to Victor Von Doom, while thinking to himself how dangerous his new ally is.
But who is it?

Just when it looks like we’re about to find out, a lackey interrupts to inform Doom that the FF are routing his forces and will soon breach the castle. Doom is thus forced to call upon Namor, who is duty bound to fight the Fantastic Four at Doom’s bidding, even though he himself doesn’t want to.

You see—and Namor actually says this—“Namor’s word is his bond.”


Well Namor holds the FF off for a bit, but he eventually succumbs to the Human Torch’s dehydrating fires, and the heroes manage to breach the castle.

There they find Doom waiting, as well as Doom’s newest ally, who stops them cold with just a few sentences.

—United States Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger!

Now, they don’t actually use his name in this particular issue, although it’s pretty clear who it’s supposed to be. How many of Secretaries of State were there in 1976?

Super-Villain Team-Up #7 makes his identity quite clear, however, as seen on this splash page:
Kissinger’s say-so is enough to drive the FF off, as Reed explains in this terribly scanned panel from SVTU #6: Huh. Maybe Reed wasn’t written so out of character during Civil War after all…

Sunday, September 27, 2009

See also:

—Former Erie, Pennsylvania resident Caleb Mozzocco writes about former Erie, Pennsylvania artist Ryan Dunlavey, who recently had a comic published about former Erie, Pennsylvania resident M.O.D.O.K. You can read the story in today's Erie Daily Times—which had a cameo on the last page of the M.O.D.O.K. comic—by clicking here.

—I have a review of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber's Underground #1 up at Blog@, if you'd like to read it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Here are some drawings of whales:

Perry White never would have published a headline like this in the Silver Age

I suppose the dwindling fortunes of the newspaper industry have forced White to embrace a greater level of coarseness in The Daily Planet, in a desperate attempt to seem younger and edgier, and maybe sell a few more papers.

It works, mind you. I'd totally buy a newspaper with the words "Lame-ass robots" in an all-caps, "War declared!" banner headline like that.

(Panel drawn by Kevin Maguire and written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis for "Enter: Douglas," the Metal Men back-up strip in September 16's Doom Patrol #2. Man, check out that guys hairy knuckles. That Maguire fellow sure can draw)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beware the violent punning of Namor!

Get it? He said we'll see who gets overthrown, while literally throwing someone! Ha ha, good one Namor!

That scene was drawn by Herb Trimpe and Jim Mooney and written by Bill Mantlo, originally for 1976's Super-Villan Team-Up #4. It's one of the fifty or so instances of Namor hurling someone or something within the pages of Essential Super-Villan Team-Up Vol. 1, a 550-page collection consisting almost entirely of scenes of Namor and Dr. Doom yelling at each other.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Looking for content? Perhaps you'll find some here:

—Kevin Cannon, the brilliant cartoonist responsible for the rollicking adventures Far Arden, made a fairly bizarre comic in the shape of a fully functional pine wood derby car, apparently for a pine wood derby art car show at a Minneapolis Gallery. Top Shelf 2.0 has scans of the strip, which you can read here. It's called "A Time to Thrill," and it's about a mad scientist and his plot to kill the woman he once loved. A rabbit, a turtle, a magic car and two robots are involved.

—Some day I will learn that I don't actually have to type out and post every single thought I have about comics while sitting in front of my laptop, but until that day comes, I'll probably keep cranking out posts like this one, a 3,600-word post (?!) about how I liked Wednesday Comics and what I thought of each of the stories within, now that they're complete.

—If you like the Justice League and Plastic Man as much as I do, you might find this six-page preview of James Robinson and Mark Bagley's upcoming JLoA run (featuring Plas!) of interest. It's basically just Despero, now having grown a back-fin as well as a head-fin (kinda like humans do with hair, I guess), beating the stuffing out of whatever Justice Leaguers are hanging around. Things look grim for Gypsy (?) and Plas, who says Prometheus did something to him.

Soooooooo I guess their JLoA run, which starts next month, is set after the end of Robinson's Justice League: Cry For Justice series, in which Prometheus is apparently the main bad guy? (Well, of course it is; all of JLoA has been since, like, last spring, when there was that stupid little box saying that one of the issues was set after Cry For, which hadn't even begun yet). But what's weird is that the fifth issue of Cry For comes out in November, and as was pointed out to me, the sixth issue is missing from the December's solicitations. So that means the seven-part Cry For can't possibly wrap up any earlier than February of next year. Jeez. Maybe they should just publish a prose synopsis of that series in the back of the next issue of JLoA and just forget about even finishing Cry For at this point, huh?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weekly Haul: September 23rd

Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #15 (Bongo Comics) In the same way that the annual Halloween episodes of The Simpsons TV show tend to be the sharpest, funniest and smartest episodes of the season, the annual Treehouse of Horror specials tend to be the most exciting of Bongo’s year of Simpsons comics.

This year is no exception, as Kramers Ergot editor Sammy Harkham guest-edits, and brings along plenty of Kramers contributors, for what promised to be the artsy-fartsiest issue of them all.

The appeal of Harkham, Jordan Crane, Jeffrey Brown, Kevin Huizenga, Ted May and others doing short Simpson’ stories is obvious to the point that it probably need not even be stated. It’s the same sort of exciting weirdness that accompanies projects like DC’s Bizarro Comics anthologies or Marvel’s Strange Tales miniseries—the chance to see talented cartoonists you wouldn’t normally see on corporate-owned characters trying to make them their own, even if only for a few panels or pages.

In that respect, the book is already a winner before one even cracks the Dan Zettwoch-drawn cover, as a object of curiosity and conversation piece, if nothing else.

The insides are about as weird as you’d expect; weirder, actually, as Harkham lets his contributors do some pretty outrageous things, not merely in the degree of violence and gore (which is par for the course with these things, on TV as well as in comics), but in the narrative structures.

Whether you’re primarily a fan of The Simpsons or of these artists, this book is probably going to give you cognitive and aesthetic whiplash.

My favorite stories were C.F.’s completely random and surreal two-pager “The Slipsons” and Ben Jones’ “Boo-tleg,” in which over the course of ten brilliantly bright, eight-panel grid pages, the Qwik-E-Mart’s bootleg, poison candy kills off most of Springfield, and Apu and his co-conspirator replace the characters with shoddily made bootleg versions (the black Bart you may recall from t shirts from back when the show experienced its initial burst of popularity, for example, plus some increasingly insane off-model designs). Not all of Jones’ jokes hit—the first few vegan jokes were funny, but by the time Lisa’s brain wasn’t working right due to a lack of animal flesh, it got tedious and borderline offensive, and the Apu-in-al Qaeda joke seemed in poor taste—but the sight gag provided by the imagery more than makes up for it.

Many passed by without so much as lightly brushing past by funny bone, let alone tickling it, but the visuals kept my eyes quite happy, whether it was because it was simply neat to see weird, emaciated version of the characters as drawn by Huizenga or John Kerschbaun, or because the art like that of Will Sweeney and Jon Vermilyea’s was so distinct and trippy that it hardly mattered what it was doing, so long as it was there.

Detective Comics #857 (DC Comics) You know the score on this book by now, right? Gorgeous, gorgeous art by J.H. Williams III, art that’s way too good for the completely generic story Greg Rucka is telling, featuring those crime-worshipers that Rucka must be contractually obligated to include in every single story he writes for DC from now on no matter what and the least imaginative new Gotham City villain in recent memory.

There is some virtue in how completely generic Rucka’s story is though, since his lead is a lesbian. In a way, this is the ultimate “superhero who just so happens to be gay” kind of story, since it’s such a generic superhero story that almost any character could be starring in it. That in itself is sort of subversive, I suppose.

Nevertheless, I think this will be my last single issue of TEC for now, as the Question back-up is even more generic and tedious than the lead feature, and I think I’d rather just by Batwoman trades in a few months time than pay an extra $1 a month for a back-up I don’t like. While Cully Hamner’s artwork on it is great, it lacks the lush complexity of Williams’ that makes even a run-of-the-mill Bat-person story seem worth one’s time and money.

The Incredible Hercules #135 (Marvel Comics) The focus shifts back to the Amadeus storyline, with Herc only getting a single-panel cameo in his own book. I’m enjoying the Hercules-in-Asgard storyline a lot more than this one, but Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak aren’t exactly doing a bad job or anything here. Amadeus is trapped within a Russian doll set of synthetic realities he must fight his way out of, and one of them includes “Doctor Japanazi, the Man With Two Evil Axis Brains,” and he is awesome. If Marvel ever gives a Super-Villain Team-Up book another hot, I hope Doctor Japanazi, the Man with Two Evil Axis Brains gets to meet Sentry villain Cranio, the Man with the Tri-Level Mind.

Underground #1 (Image Comics) I’ll give this a full review on Blog@Newsarama this weekend (I know, something for you to look forward to. You’re welcome). But as per usual, I’m including it here on the “I hauled it home this week” technicality. It’s by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber, and you can check out a preview of it here. I will note it’s the straightest work of Parker’s I’ve read, but nevertheless engaging, and it certainly made me want to pick up #2. And I must not have read any Lieber comics in a while, because I forgot just how good that guy is.

Wednesday Comics #12 (DC) The Wednesday afternoon I have been dreading—to the extent that one can dread a Wednesday afternoon—is finally here. This is the Wednesday afternoon n which I read my last issue of Wednesday Comics, as the three months are up and the weekly run has come to an end.

I’ll miss you Wednesday Comics! I miss you already!

Among the highlights in this final issue/edition are Batman, which has a very strange ending I keep looking at and trying to read different ways, but basically it looks like Batman totally kisses a dying woman to stop her from announcing his secret identity (how cool would Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns comics be, by the way, if Batman just planted one on a fellow hero every time they tried to call him “Bruce?”); Supergirl, which reaches a critical mass of cuteness I didn’t even think was possible (and I was totally wrong with my guess about why the aliens’ ship was shaped and decorated like it was); The Demon/Catwoman, which regains the sense of flirty fun the initial installment had; and, of course, Hawkman, in which a half-dozen other Justice Leaguers cameo, and Aquaman gets to say, “I’ve got to get home and rule the seven seas!”

Everything else was pretty much the same as the previous 11 weeks, their various attributes and drawbacks still in place.

I should note that Teen Titans is just as terrible as week one, and never improved any (Way to wuss out and surrender there, Slade; and way to punch out a dude after he surrender there, Titans).

Oh, and are those five birds flying off in the last panel of Metal Men supposed to represent the souls of the five Metal Men who were destroyed in the course of this story? Because if so, I’m going to throw up. Actually, maybe I’ll throw up anyway, just in case.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Marvel's December previews reviewed

What's this? Marvel's new corporate master (the un-frozen head of Walt Disney atop one of the animatronic figures from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction) hasn't suspended the publication of paper and staple, floppy funny books in favor of animated cartoons? Marvel's still going to be publishing these things in December, and still charging way too much for many of them? Looks like.

So, what do the first post-acquisition announcement solicitations look like? Like this:

A locked room mystery! A string of brutal murders! A missing girl! One of Peter Parker's closest friends on the brink of ruin! This looks like a job for the Amazing Spider-Sleuth... and all clues point to the sinister SANDMAN! But all of Spidey's classic villains are being reinvented as part of "THE GAUNTLET", and Sandy is no different -- so nothing is what it seems!
32 PGS./Rated A ...$2.99

Hmm. Will the Sandman get a new hairstyle? A new shirt? Or both?!

Written by PAUL TOBIN
Pencils by SALVA ESPIN (issue 1)
Pencils by JACOPO CAMAGNI (issue 2)
She's the most efficient spy in the world and one of the world's deadliest women, but before there was ever a Black Widow, there was the Red Room, a brutal KGB training ground for assassins, undercover agents, and the most ruthless of spies. Now, tasked with removing a rogue weapon's dealer from an impregnable safe house, the Black Widow remembers her escape from the Red Room training facility, an escape only made possible with the aid of the most unlikely of allies, the Asgardian sorceress known as Amora...the Enchantress.
THEN IN ISSUE 2, fitting in with the Avengers is not an easy job, not for a woman with no true powers beyond years of training and a ruthless ambition to succeed at any given task, and after a midair battle separates the Black Widow from the rest of her team, the mission to protect an advanced robot just got harder. Luckily, the Black Widow has her skills on her side, and the Avenger known as the Wasp at her back. Unluckily, the robot's owner is Dr. Doom, and Latveria's despotic ruler will stop at nothing to reclaim his own.
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated A ...$2.99 (EACH)

Hmm. I think this solicit could have been better written. I’ve read it twice now, and I’m not really sure I understand what this series is all about exactly. Team-ups between Black Widow and random female superheroes, maybe…?

Paul Tobin’s involved, so I do want to understand it…

Written by ED BRUBAKER
Pencils & Cover by BUTCH GUICE
Steve Rogers has returned, but Bucky Barnes is the current Captain America, and has come into his own in the role. Will there be two Captain Americas? Will Bucky go back to being the Winter Soldier? What will happen? Decisions, decisions, decisions....
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Who will have the chance to say, "Do you think this A stands for France?" Whose cell phone will have the Cap ap? Who will get to do things wearing a cowl with little white wings? Who will make villains say they've tangled with a hero star-spangled? Who--

Okay, I'll stop.

I kinda like this dude's hat. I wish I had a job where I could get away with wearing a hat like that.

Master artist Ed Hannigan did many of Marvel’s cover layouts of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Over that time, Ed created some of the most innovative cover designs ever. His covers for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man still stand today as some of the finest of all time!
Today, Ed is 58 years old and has multiple sclerosis. Through special arrangement with the Hero Initiative, Marvel is offering Ed Hannigan: Covered, a massive 48-page collection of Ed’s covers, designs he created for other artists, and even rare glimpses at licensing and merchandising art Ed did. Best of all, proceeds benefit Ed Hannigan directly!
This volume also features a new cover by Ed, and new tribute pieces from Mark Millar, Michael Avon Oeming, Jim Valentino, Herb Trimpe, and more!
NOTE: There will be ONLY ONE PRINTING OF THIS BOOK EVER! Get it now so you don’t blow your chance!
48 pages...$5.99

Please consider buying this, and/or making a donation to the Hero Initiative.

Check this out:

Creative Director ORSON SCOTT CARD
Pencils & Cover by PASQUAL FERRY
Ender has graduated from Battle School to Command School where he'll prepare for the approaching Formic invasion...but he refuses to go. Ender's done playing the games, he's done hurting people. So the military brings in the only person who Ender cares about to convince him to go...his sister Valentine. And in the outer reaches of space, Ender meets the man who will be his last teacher...
Mazer Rackham.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

Creative Director ORSON SCOTT CARD
Written by JAKE BLACK
Pencils & Cover by TIMOTHY GREEN II
Zeck Morgan was raised by his minister father to be a pious, God-fearing child, devoted to his church. Unfortunately, when the International Fleet decides Zeck is a candidate for training in Battle School, they tear him from his home and prepare him for war. Zeck refuses to participate in the school’s war-games due to his pacifist religious beliefs. When he sees another student celebrating Christmas--seemingly violating Battle School's rules against religious practice--he raises an uproar that may tear Battle School apart. Can even Ender Wiggin calm this furor? Find out in this double-sized adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Ender Universe novella, War of Gifts.
56 PGS./One-Shot/Parental Advisory ...$4.99

Creative Director ORSON SCOTT CARD
Written by MIKE CAREY
The dramatic adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction classic reaches its penultimate chapter! Battle School seems strangely empty without Ender Wiggin - and Bean has finally been cleared to join him in the labyrinthine warrens of Eros and Command School. But before he can go, there's one last thing he has to do: put his life in the hands of his oldest and most terrifying enemy...
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

I normally avoid mentioning Orson Scott Card comics altogether, as whatever the virtue of his novels, his stance on gay rights and the way he communicates it marks him as a super-asshole. But that seems like an awful lot of Ender/Orson Scott Card comics to be coming out in a single month, doesn't it? I guess they're doing okay for Marvel, then.

Dude's still an asshole though.

Written by JEFF PARKER
Variant Cover by DAVID FINCH
M.O.D.O.K. The Leader. Mad Thinker. Egghead. Red Ghost and the Super-Apes. Doctor Doom. They make up the secret group who have analyzed every victory and every defeat in the Marvel Universe to create the perfect battle plan that results in FALL OF THE HULKS! The origins and shocking truths of some of Marvel's most dangerous villains are revealed as the biggest HULK EVENT yet begins! From fan-favorite creators JEFF PARKER (AGENTS OF ATLAS) and PAUL PELLETIER (WAR OF KINGS) comes this tale of the “Smartest There Is” and their quest to prove it, once and for all.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Parker! Pelletier! Awesome Marvel villains! This sounds gr--$3.99? Godammit, Marvel! This one probably won't even be worth getting in a trade somewhere down the line either, since it's probably going to end up in a book next to some dumb-ass series of Jeph Loeb "written" splash pages. Feh.

Pencils & Cover by STEVE ELLIS
Hot on the heels of their acclaimed series 'High Moon', David Gallaher and Steve Ellis unite to reveal the secrets behind Russia's elite superhuman strike force! Red Guardian, Crimson Dynamo, Ursa Major & Darkstar -- As THE Winter Guard, they have sworn to protect the people of Russia. But, who will protect them when The Presence's schemes threaten to claim one of their own? Featuring an oversized all-new story and reprinting the classic Peter David and Dale Keown tale from INCREDIBLE HULK #393!
56 PGS./One-Shot/New & Reprint/Rated T+ ...$3.99

I really like Ursa Major as a character/name/concept/design/what have you, although I don't know that I've read more than a cameo or two featuring him before. This is $4, but will give us a reprint for the extra buck, so I may give this a shot. I really liked what I saw of Ellis' work in one of those 70th Anniversary Specials too...

Written by PAUL TOBIN
Penciled by IG GUARA
The Avengers assemble with two new team members, one a cocky rookie with cosmic powers, and another the world's most talented secret agent. But will even the combined powers of the Mighty Avengers be a match for the ghost of an old world giant that's been terrorizing Britain? It's a new Avengers versus the Old World, with the life of an entire village at stake!
32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99

That is a very neat cover. It's safe to assume that the "cocky rookie with cosmic powers" must be Nova, but who would "the world's most talented secret agent" be? Black Widow? Or could it be someone having to a connection to Britain, which is here being terrorized, like The Black Knight? Probably Widow.

Pencils & Cover by SKOTTIE YOUNG
The further adventures of Oz continue! ERIC SHANOWER (Age of Bronze) and SKOTTIE YOUNG (X-MEN) further adapt the amazing adventures of Tip, Scarecrow, and Jack Pumpkinhead as they face the frantic and fantastic aspects of the Land of Oz.
32 PGS./All Ages ...$3.99

Still $1-to-$1.49 more expensive than DC, Boom Studio's and Marvel's own kids comics!

The student body at Rikki's school has gone mad, and the combined efforts of NOMAD, FALCON and the YOUNG AVENGERS may not be enough to save them as the SECRET EMPIRE's wicked plan kicks into high gear!
32 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Hey, maybe McKeever could write a Young Avengers ongoing for Marvel? Maybe? And if it turns out to be totally awesome, Marvel could be like, "See, McKeever wrote our teen superhero team and it ruled, while he wrote DC's and it did the opposite of rule. That means DC edtorial is incompetent and we are the best! Mar-vel! Mar-vel! Mar-vel!"

Pencils & Cover by MICHAEL AVON OEMING
POWERS continues its monthly comeback!! Following the shocking revelations about Walker's past in our first issue, we dig deeper into the mysterious death of Z, the leader of the super hero rat pack of yesteryear. All this PLUS the long-awaited return of the Powers Personals! That's right!! Will Kick-Ass get you a girl? No. Will Incognito get you a honey? Pretty unlikely. Will Kabuki get you-- Well, Kabuki will probably get you a threesome but...Powers is back!!
40 PGS./Mature ...$3.95

Just a reminder: Marvel Comics is run by the fourth-grade class from a local all-boys school in New York City.

Penciled by TONY MOORE
Cover by MIKE McKONE
The Punisher is dead, so who, or what, is the giant patchwork monster skulking through the tunnels under New York? And what do those strange armored Japanese hunters tracking him want? Criminals are no longer being killed; they are simply vanishing into thin air. Listen closely, you can hear their pleas far below the streets. Those forgotten by society have a new protector. The Legion of Monsters has found a new leader.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$2.99

Sure, I'll take one of these.

Penciled by MICHAEL LARK
THE SIEGE STARTS HERE!! Remember when you were first introduced to the Cabal, the gathering of the most sinister members of the Marvel Universe, and you said to yourself: Well, that's going to blow up in everyone's face! Well, you were right and it happens right here!! Norman Osborn faces off with Doctor Doom and his mysterious threat to Doom is revealed. All of this is setting the stage for next month's explosive event: SIEGE!
48 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+ ...$3.99

Er, really? How long should it take Dr. Doom to completely wreck Norman Osborn? Like, two panels? A page?

I can't decide if I hate this Spider-Man costume, or love it. Nor can I decide if my affection for Jeff Parker's past work would override my resistance to new stories set in this world. I guess I'll have until the trade come out to decide, as this is another $4 comic.

I’m trade-waiting this Torch series, but that cover looks pretty bad-ass, doesn't it?

Penciled by JEROME OPEÑA
Stare into the abyss too long, sometimes it stares back at you. Sometimes it reaches out and drowns you. Bushman is back and he’s emptied Ravencroft Asylum, flooding the streets with a torrential wave of homicidal maniacs. As Moon Knight desperately races to be the hero he always strived to be, the question is, can he afford not to go a little crazy?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$2.99

When your main character is a pretty blatant Batman knock-off, do you really want to put him in a comic with the same conflict as Batman: Knightfall?

Pencils & Cover by DENNIS CALERO
Variant Cover by DENNIS CALERO
"In the dark and steamy jungles of Madripoor, the flashing claws of Logan, the blazing bullets of Cyclops, and the dashing fists of the Angel met with wave after wave of beserk headhunters, all willing to protect the secrets of the Temple-Tomb of Cyttorak with their lives! The ancient treasure map of mercenary Cain Marko, with its siren-song of the priceless gigantic ruby of the fabled god-king, had lured them only into the icy claws of Death!"
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

That doesn't sound a whole heck of a lot like a noir story, does it?

Monday, September 21, 2009

DC's December previews reviewed

Whatever changes will be taking place at DC now that Paul Levitz is out and Diane Nelson is in, the company hasn't suspended the publication of their comics line and put all of their superheroes in motion comics instead. Not as of December of this year, anyway. Here's what DC's planning on trying to sell you in a little over two months, and here are my thoughts on the matter...

Kelley Jones continues to rule.

Written by James Robinson
Art by Eddy Barrows & Ruy José
Cover by Eddy Barrows
The mystery men of yesterday are back and they seek the hearts of their new counterparts! It's Mr. Terrific vs. Mr. Terrific, Dr. Midnite vs. Dr. Midnite, Sand vs Wesley Dodds! Can the new generation of heroes survive the rise of the Black Lantern JSA? Find out in this all-new miniseries from original JSA co-writer James Robinson and rising star artist Eddy Barrows (BLACKEST NIGHT: SUPERMAN)!

So here's a new Blackest Night tie-in miniseries. You're going to see a lot of these in this month's solicitations, along with a lot issue of regular ongoings tying-in to Blackest Night.

This one seems kind of significant in that it's a JSA book written by James Robinson, the man primarily responsible for the fact that there's been a relatively successful Justice Society ongoing for the last decade or so (Well, he helped launch the book anyway; Geoff Johns did the heaviest lifting for the longest time).

That's a team particularly well-suited for a back-from-the-dead horror story, since everyone on the original team except three people are dead. Perhaps Robinson will pull back from the immediate membership of the current JSA roster and include Black Lanterns of the other many, many, many dead Golden Age DC superheroes. In which case, we might get to see The Black Bee after all! (Robinson did write the Bee in an issue of his Starman run).

Unfortunately, this is being pencilled by Eddy Barrows, whose art is just dreadful. Not sure if I can bring myself to read another comic he's drawn or not...maybe it will depend on how obscure the Black Lanterns being used are. If zombie Red Bee and Airwave are in here with their undead pets, you can count me in.

Written by Dan Jurgens
Art and cover by Dan Jurgens& Norm Rapmund
Black Lantern Ted Kord is out for blood in this BLACKEST NIGHT tie-in issue! Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes joins forces with Booster Gold in an attempt to take down Black Lantern Ted Kord once and for all. But the battle will have consequences for the Blue and the Gold, and Booster and Beetle’s lives will be forever changed!
On sale December 9 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US

Just wanted to point this one out, as it looks like the lead feature/back-up format is being abandoned for this issue (at least?), although it will remain over-sized and $4. The star of the back-up feature, Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes, is mentioned in the solicit as interacting with the star of the lead feature, however, so perhaps this is only temporary, a sort of crossover between the two parts of the book...? Similarly, this month's Teen Titans looks like a single 32-page, $4 story, and back-up star Ravager is featured in it.

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art and cover by Jesus Saiz
No evil shall escape Fate! As a man who makes his own rules, headstrong Green Lantern Hal Jordan isn't a big believer in fate... But he'll have to put his trust in the Doctor if either man expects to overcome this threat! It's another thriller from best-seller J. Michael Straczynski (Thor) and sensational artist Jesus Saiz!

When exactly did Hal Jordan become the headstrong, own-rule-making rebel character he’s been consistently portrayed as over the last five years or so? Was it after Geoff Johns brought him back to life and starting writing him?

Because when I think back to other decades, Hal Jordan always seems to be one of the most reserved, uptight, play-by-the-rules superheroes in the DC Universe, regularly getting called before the board of directors of his superhero franchise to get chewed out over the littlest infractions.

This perception of mine could simply be a matter of Jordan so often playing straight man or foil more hotheaded characters like Oliver Queen, Guy Gardner and John Stewart (in his earliest appearances), but that particular portrayal of the character strikes me as an extremely recent invention.

Written by Steve Ditko, Don Segall, Dennis O’Neil and Michael Fleischer
Art by Steve Ditko and others
Cover by Steve Ditko
Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, struck again in 1968 with the strange hero The Creeper. Now, for the first time, DC collects Ditko’s Creeper epics from SHOWCASE #73, BEWARE THE CREEPER #1-6, 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #7 and short stories from WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #249-255.
Advance-solicited; on sale February 24 • 256 pg, FC, $39.99 US

I'll add this to my To Buy When I'm Rich list, right after all those $40 Kirby trades DC has been putting out.

(Confidential to DC's PR folks: I'll totally review this if you wanna send me a review copy).

Written by Scott Kolins, Sterling Gates, Amy Wolfram, Fred Van Lente, Jay Faerber, Beau Smith, David Tischman, Jay Torres and others
Art by Scott Kolins, Jeff Lemire, Daniel Liester and others
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
It’s that time of year! You can’t miss your favorite characters bringing good cheer to all. Even Deadman and B’wana Beast find ways to celebrate the spirit of the season!
ONE-SHOT • On sale December 9 • 80 pg, FC, $5.99 US

Man, I bet Huntress is freezing...

And hey, what's this? Fred Van Lente isn't exclusive to Marvel?! I wonder if that's by choice, or if Marvel has not made him an extremely lucrative offer yet, because he's one of the best writers they've got on their pay roll at the moment.

I'll probably pass on this as I have the last few holiday specials, but I like the idea of a Christmas-themed 80-page giant anthology (and at least some of the few creators named so far).

Written by Geoff Johns
Art and cover by Ed Benes
Variant cover by Rodolfo Migliari
BLACKEST NIGHT continues! John Stewart comes face to face with his greatest failures, the planet Xanshi and his wife and fellow Green Lantern, Katma Tui. Plus, what does Fatality truly want with John?

"Art and cover by Ed Benes?" Is that some kind of terrible joke? Because that shit's not funny. If true, this would be the first time in 48 issues that I didn't buy the new issue of Green Lantern.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art and cover by Pat Gleason & Rebecca Buchman
Variant cover by Ladrönn
Red rain falls! As the Black Lanterns continue their reign of terror and chaos on Oa, things go from bad to worse when a horrible loss for the Green Lantern Corps results in Guy Gardner becoming so enraged that he becomes a Red Lantern! And hell breaks loose as the Central Power Battery faces an attack from the newly arrived Black Lantern Corphans!

Despite my fondness for the art, I dropped this somewhere around the time they were fighting Mongol on the planet of the "For The Man Who Has Everything" flowers, but I have to admit that cover's pretty nice, and makes me want to think about picking this up again.

Great cover, guys.

Wait, wait, wait. They’re putting all the least popular JSA members, including several brand new ones and at least two who have had their short-lived solo books canceled (Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and Damage) on to a single team in an all-new, second JSA title?

Well, good luck with that. I know Magog and Power Girl currently have their own books (for now), but other than PG, I don’t think anyone on that cover has an identifiably large fan base (and even hers is small-ish). Best case scenario, everyone reading JSoA adds JSA All-Stars to their pull-lists; worst case scenario, anyone on the fence with the new direction for JSoA take this as a good sign to jump off the title, while the new book dilutes the strong JSA brand.

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art and cover by Amanda Conner
A blast from the past! The alien Vartox has come to Earth to claim a wife-and her name is Power Girl! PG may have wanted a boyfriend, but not quite like this! The fan-favorite team of Palmiotti, Gray and Conner craft another winner!

Maybe Power Girl should introduce Vartox to Maxima. And to the concepts of shirts and pants.

Written by Mike Johnson
Art by Angel Unzueta & Wayne Faucher
Cover by Angel Unzueta
Spotlight on Donna Troy! What happens when a young twenty-something woman feels like she grew up too fast and deprived herself of a twenty-something kind of life? As Donna ponders this, the Fearsome Five continue their Titans revenge streak. They picked the wrong time to do it...

A couple people in the never-ending comments section under my Blog@ post about the new JLA line-up wondered if the fact that half the Titans cast was going to be in JLoA if that meant DC’d be canceling Titans. It looks like it will still be in publication as of December, even if the title has drifted towards a modern version of the old Titans Spotlight.

I think it’s unfortunate they didn’t cancel it before this issue was solicited, and that cover image was unleashed upon the world.

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan
Cover by Aaron Lopresti
This is it! The secret behind Wonder Woman's new power and the true meaning of the Olympian are revealed right here!
It's an all-out action issue as Diana faces an old foe with a hideous new face!

Does it have something to do with lightning? I bet it has something to do with lightning.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I don't know if it's art, but I know I don't really like it.

I just read Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Mick Gray and Patricia Mulvihill’s Joker this weekend. You’ll likely recall it’s the November 2008 original graphic novel (of the sort that Marvel’s EIC Joe Quesada recently said doesn’t make sense for his company, but which seems to work well for DC for some reason), the one that shares a general character design and Batman-comics-as-“realistic”-crime-drama mission statement with the previous summer’s film The Dark Knight.

It’s the one with the gross cover, and the cool Crazy Person font logo and credits.

This book was sort of a big deal last fall, or at least DC really treated it as a big deal—despite a deep catalog of solid Joker comics to draw from, they apparently commissioned this as a signature companion to the movie (in aesthetic and worldview only) and gave it a massive PR push, maybe the biggest PR push of any DC book since I’ve been paying attention, based on the number of reviews both in the comics blogosphere and in the mainstream media (It’s quite possible, of course, that the push on DC’s side wasn’t necessarily bigger than some previous books, but instead that more venues were more eager to bite, given the book-like nature of the release and the unique heat signature of The Joker at that period in time, when the movie was huge, the promising young actor who played him had passed away, and Oscar talk was earnest).

I didn’t read it last fall precisely because of the attention it was garnering; there were no shortage of reviews of it, and given the review-whatever-I-feel-like nature of my comics criticism, I didn’t feel pressed to add another. I also made the mistake of reading Jog’s review before the book’s release, and his review was so well written I couldn’t imagine trying to “compete” with it, even if I had the exact opposite reaction he did to every element of the book (Re-reading Jog’s piece now, after having read Joker, I see it that in addition to being well written, his review was also pretty damn incisive—his description of a lot of aspects are pretty much perfect).

So if you’re wondering why I’m bothering to write about Joker almost a year after it’s release, well, now you know.

Jog did seem to enjoy the work a lot more than I did, though.

Azzarello certainly put the short-ish story together with a great deal of precise craft. In length, scope and focus, this is certainly a work that earns the “novel” part of the term “graphic novel” (although maybe “novella” is more fitting? It’s only 128 pages). But because I was reading the book for pleasure instead of specifically to review it, my mind kept wandering away from concerns of the quality and back towards more behind-the-scenes ones. For example, why did this book exist, exactly? Why did DC publish it? Why did they publish it like this, instead of some other way?

Unless for some reason this is the very first post on my blog you’re reading, then you know I’m a regular comics reader, of the sort one might call a fan, or, derisively, part of “the Wednesday crowd.” I go to the shop every week, I buy somewhere between a handful and a small stack of super-comics in their stapled, 22-page format, I pay attention and keep at least casual track of the “universe” aspects of super-comics.

As such a reader, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book at first. Was it supposed to be “in continuity;” was it supposed to “count?” Was this Joker and this Gotham City supposed to be the same one most of the other thousands of Batman comics deal with, or is it an all-new one, Azzarello and Bermejo’s own, highly personalized remix of the familiar elements? Is it supposed to be all-ages, or adult?

It’s published by DC on their DC Comics imprint, instead of their Vertigo imprint; it doesn’t say “For Mature Readers” on it, as DC comics used to once upon a time, back when they published a variety of comics for a variety of different age groups, instead of choosing to focus almost exclusively on teenage boys who might conceivably get in trouble with their parents if there were F-words or nipples in their comics, but who nevertheless want to read about guys who swear and go to strip clubs and also really, really like reading about acts of violence, the more lurid the better.

Having read through it twice now, I understand this is a standalone work. It’s supposed to remind you of the movie (or at least what Azzarello, Bermejo and DC assumed the movie would be like, based on Batman Begins), but it’s a different milieu than the movie. It’s okay if it reminds you of the comics, particularly if it makes you want to read more Batman comics, but it’s not connected; it’s not in-continuity.

For us Wednesday Crowd-ers who’ve been reading DC for at least a decade, it’s an “Elseworlds” comic without the “Elseworlds” stamp. In more inclusive terminology, it’s Azzarello’s and Bermejo’s Joker story if they were allowed to reimagine the Joker how they saw fit; this is their The Dark Knight, only it’s a graphic novel instead of a film.

Looked at like that, it’s not a bad work. It’s engaging, and has new ideas to offer in terms of personalized riffs on characters and concepts that hundreds of different writers and artists have offered their riffs on already. The route it takes to its conclusion seems new, but it goes nowhere—or at least nowhere we haven’t been before.

Joker has nothing to say that The Killing Joke didn’t say about 25 years ago—The Joker and Batman are characters (in a comic book or TV show or cartoon or movie or video game), and they fight, because one’s the villain and one’s the hero, and that’s what characters do. The Joker wins for a while, and then he loses by the climax.

Azzarello chooses different words to say this than Alan Moore (and everyone else since) did, but that’s all he really has to say about the matter. What makes this at all different is the point-of-view, and the amount of time Azzarello puts off bringing Batman into the comic at all. The ending is the ending it has to be, or at least the one Azzarello acknowledges that it has to be, but some equivocal foreshadowing aside, he keeps the proceeding as Batman-free as possible.

I imagine it analogous to a kid trying to stay up as late as possible. His parents keep telling him it’s time for bed, and he knows he’s eventually gotta, but he keeps pleading “Just five more minutes,” and they give him five more minutes.

And that’s about where I start questioning aspects of the work’s very existence. If you can turn these children’s characters into hard-boiled, pulp crime characters, if you can have these action figures drinking, popping pills, and snorting lines of representationally drawn cocaine, if these cartoon characters can butcher and skin human beings, can watch strippers and rape women, why can’t the story deviate into new territory? The acknowledgement that neither the Joker nor the Batman can ever win, that their conflicts are inevitably a never-ending series of repeating sequences is a tired cliché at this point.

And hell, if you can’t tell a new story, for the love of God, can you at least show a naked lady? An upraised middle finger? The word “fuck” spelled f-u-c-k with no cute little black bars or caps lock-ed number keys? Because this comic, like so many today, walks right up to the line of what they can and can’t get away with, farther than they need to if they’re not going to cross it, as if to point out that this is the work of a big, corporation which can’t risk offending anyone.

Wouldn’t it be bad-ass if we did this?, Joker asks. You bet it would, but we might get in trouble, so let’s not, it then answers.

And then skins a dude and lets us know that the woman over there was totally just gang-raped between pages, because that’s A-OK, as long as the penetration—serrated knife through naked man’s flesh or the Joker’s penis through the victimized woman—happens off-panel.

Shit, I sure am going on a long time here. And all I really wanted to do was highlight some weird panels that threw me out of the book and had me scratching my head and experiencing sympathetic existential angst for Joker, because it’s just a bunch of words and pictures on paper and can’t experiences it’s own existential angst.

For example, there’s this picture, of the Joker stalking out of Arkham Asylum, like the scene in a movie where the character gets out of jail after years (a scene we see later in flashback, starring our point-of-view character Johnny Frost):
That is a nice drawing of the buildings in the background, and the whole image has impact (It’s a full-page splash, and Azzarello and Bermejo actually know how to use splash pages, unlike most of their peers making DC comic books rather than DC original graphic novels).

But all I could think of was the fact that the Joker was wearing a lady’s coat. I wouldn’t have even noticed, if Eddie Campbell didn’t notice last year, and write a very funny post about it:

It can happen because the artist is looking in a mirror, but the overwhelming reason in the last twenty years is that comic book artists generally speaking, though there are a few fashion plates to give exception to the rule, are the worst dressed people in the world who mostly get around in t-shirts and draw people in leotards.

On the very next page, I realized that this was going to actually be one of those juvenile comics. Not one for juveniles necessarily, but one of those that has the juvenile tendency to think things like middle fingers are provocative, but will only lift them when their parents and teachers aren’t looking, because they don’t want to get in trouble:
(I included part of the panel above the Joker saluting the city, so you can see the gutter and note how Bermejo drew an image of Joker flicking off Gotham City. And yes, the lightning bolt-as-middle-finger suggestion is pretty awesome, if it's intentional, although it's not something you would see reading the first time, as your eyes would be headed in the opposite direction, and probably stop at, "What the fuck? Why can't they draw a middle finger? Fucking pussies!").

I’m not entirely sure why, but this line of dialogue seemed incredibly wrong to me. It was at this point during the reading experience where it started to become clear to me that this book was, as Jog put it, “continuity neutral,” and that this Joker most definitely wasn’t The Joker:
For the life of me, I just can’t hear the Joker using a double negative like that. If there’s one thing that’s consistent about the Joker in all interpretations across all media, it’s that he is an eloquent, well-spoken sort of villain, the sort who never would have said “no one” instead of “anyone” in that sentence.

Here’s one of Harley Quinn’s big scenes. (I think she’s only ever referred to as “Harley,” though). The Joker and Frost’s first stop after Arkham is this club, where they start drinking and partying. There’s a woman wearing only an open jacket over her breasts standing at the edge of the bar, and, at one point, she gets up on stage:
I suppose she’s supposed to be dancing, but during the four-panel sequence, she takes her jacket off, revealing her breasts to the audience (but not the reader! Because this is an all-ages comic, after all), then puts on her Harley Quinn hat and mask and, off panel, her top. She’s more changing clothes on stage than stripping.

And then she and Joker peel all the skin off that moustache man’s body, from the neck down, so you can see his red muscle (off-panel). They apparently do a very, very good job, as his skin is removed but there’s no blood or incisions in the muscle, and he’s perfectly capable of running back into the room before dying.

That guy in the vest and hat is Killer Croc, by the way. Bermejo draws him more in line with his original conception as a big guy with a tough, scaly skin condition that makes him look vaguely crocodilian, rather than the sort of hulking mutant crocodile monster man he’s become in the comics. Bermejo gives him hoop earrings, and big, baggy pants, sagged to reveal the tops of his boxers.

His role is as muscle in Joker’s criminal operation, and he’s given a sort of hip-hop look. Croc’s men are all black, and dressed in fashions which my mid-nineties MTV viewing tell me are supposed to indicate that they are gangsters. (In a previous Azzarello-written Batman comic, Croc was given a pimp look, complete with huge gold chain and leopard print silk shirt).

Harley is something between a generic movie gangster girlfriend character (stripping, doing it with the main bad guy, doing lots of drugs with the main bad guy, holding him while he cries during a private, vulnerable moment), and a Frank Miller-style Amazon whorerior, although she gets one splendid moment at the end of a meeting between Joker and Two-Face.

Two-Face looks as if he could have come straight from the comics, particularly now that his scarred half doesn’t follow any regular style guide in the DCU comics.

The Penguin looks like the Penguin, fo the most part. He’s short, round, has a pointy nose, wears a monocle, smokes his cigarette from a cigarette holder, but he’s never referred to as “The Penguin,” or “Oswald” or “Cobblepot.” Instead, Joker calls him “Abner,” which I took to be a Joke I didn’t get, although it’s somewhat odd that he continues to call him only that and nothing else.

The most radically reimagined character, however, is The Riddler. Just look at this:
Those are question mark tattoos emanating from his belly button, and although you can’t see it in this image, the back of his coat has a weird, tribal tattoo script-looking image constructed of stylized question marks. It’s all just awful but hey, that’s part of the fun of the book, I suppose….seeing how Bermejo and company reinvent the looks of the characters.

And then there’s their Batman. He too is given a very If This Were Our Movie… design, very reminiscent of the hard, black, rubber and leather looking shells that Michael Keaton and Christain Bale found themselves encased in. Like Bale’s especially, there’s no yellow oval or visible Bat-symbol on the chest, other than perhaps a black bat over a black cape over a black chest plate (or it’s just a crease in Bermejo’s figure).

Batman doesn’t show up until page 110, and only get two lines, for a grand total of four words of dialogue. His existence is acknowledged throughout, with Joker occasionally shouting up at the buildings or mentioning a “he” who’s out there, but this Batman sure seems to take a long time getting around to giving a shit about the many, many violent crimes his archenemies are committing.

This is probably an intentional choice on Azzarello’s part, as he has Joker walk away from murdering a crime boss and then asking the rooftops, “Not enough for you, huh? Need me for more of your dirty work?” It’s as if this Batman only gets involved when crime turns its attention to the civilians, and as long as its criminal on criminal, he’s not terribly rushed to fight it.

That, or this Batman just really, really sucks at his job, as he seems unable to catch up with the Joker until Two-Face finally calls Batman on a homemade Bat-signal and asks for his help.

I think maybe Batman just didn’t think to look for The Joker in an original graphic novel. He was already fighting super-crime in Batman, Detective Comics, Batman Confidential, Superman/Batman, Trinity, Justice League of America, Batman: Gotham After Midnight and Batman: The Brave and The Bold, how was he supposed to know that The Joker and so many of his other rogues were hiding out in an original graphic novel, half-disguised as more straightforward crime fiction characters than their usual, more super-villainous selves?

Finally, here’s a horrible page to close the post out with:
Well, the content's horrible, not the construction of the page itself. That’s The Joker buttoning up his pants after apparently raping Johnny’s ex-wife, whom Two-Face had kidnapped and tried to use as leverage.

If the new management at DC leads to only a single change in DC Comics, I hope it’s some sort of outright ban on rape in their super-comics line, or at least some sort of reduction to, like, one rape/implied rape/line of dialogue expressing a desire to rape every year.