Friday, December 10, 2010

Comics shop comics: Dec. 2-8

Brightest Day #15 (DC Comics) You know what’s strange about David Finch’s cover for this issue, aside from the fact that it’s not very good? (Not trying to be a jerk or anything here, but the subject matter of the book is that the Big Seven Justice Leaguers reunite on Mars 25 years in the future, and the best Finch can come up with is to have five of them drifting by the viewer…?)

Wonder Woman is wearing her J. Michael Straczynski status quo outfit, despite the facts that a) the story is set 25 years in the future, b) the Wonder Woman who wears that suit doesn’t know the Justice League and they don’t know her thanks to whatever continuity shenanigans were employed to get her into that costume and status quo and c) Wonder Woman wears her classic costume throughout the entire interior of the issue.

Also, Finch’s version of a Green Lantern J’onn J’onnz is just kind of…lame.

Interior artist Patrick Gleason and Scott Gray offer a much more inspired version: It’s basically J’onn’s goofy, thankfully short-lived post-Infinite Crisis body stocking costume Green Lanternized (there’ s big, black GL symbol on the back of the blue cape too)

I haven’t thought much of Finch’s cover work on this series, particularly by the relatively high standards of DC’s previous weekly and weekly-ish book, but this one really stood out as particularly week.

The insides though? Pretty great stuff, if you’re a Justice League fan. Save for two issues in the back, during which Firestorm goes to JLA HQ asking for help, this issue is set entirely on Mars, 25 years after the point where D’Kay beat J’onn in mind-wrestling and managed to convince him he resurrected Mars.

In general, the plot isn’t something you haven’t seen a few times already. The first time I saw it was in Alan Moore’s “For The Man Who Has Everything,” which Geoff Johns riffed on previously in his Green Lantern run. Mongul and Black Orchids aren’t involved here, but it’s basically the same thing—J’onn lives out a dream life, until he slowly starts to realize something’s not quite right, and must awake to deal with a deadly menace, forsaking his dream.

The specifics are all quite different, of course.

In this future, J’onn has a GL ring and is Hal’s partner for the sector. Mars is having a big “Thanks for bringing us back to life, J’onn!” ceremony, and they invited the JLA there to help celebrate.

This gives us not only plenty of opportunities for Gleason to draw plenty of superheroes and Martians (Gleason remains this series’ MVP, however this issue is a bit inconsistent here and there, due, no doubt, to the presence of eight different inkers), and a pretty neat scene of the Big Seven all just hanging out and shooting the shit like pals. Man, when was the last time that happened?

Then it, of course, gets gory. Batman’s body is found, shot full of pearls. Wonder Woman is found hung by her own lasso of truth. The Flash’s body is headless, but is still running around, like a super-speed chicken with its head cut off (I know I kvetch about gore in DC super-comics all the time, but I have to confess—that was a pretty inspired death scene. Good job, gang).

There’s not a whole lot of suspense here, given that it was established issues ago that J’onn is under D’Kay’s influence, but this was nevertheless a fun, mostly beautifully-drawn look at an alternate future.

And one that made me rather eager for Brightest Day to lead into a new, Big Seven-lead iteration of the JLA*, maybe with Gleason (Or Doug Mahnke…? Or Nicola Scott…?) drawing.

Oh, and thank goodness this was all a psychic fantasy, because you’re not supposed to feed dogs chocolate, but J'onn is shoving chocolate-cream Chocos in some poor golden retriever's mouth! Jeez J’onn, I thought you were smarter than that!

DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1 (DC) The past week or so in the course of linkblogging over at Blog@ I linked to some well-circulated pieces offering facetious advice on how to break into the field of comics-writing (Here’s Abhay Khosla on how his getting offered the opportunity to contribute to next year’s Superman 80-Page Giant wasn’t actually at all “like infiltrating a volcano headquarters surrounded by a high-security prison, shoved up a nun’s butt,” as you may have heard, and here’s the equally always amusing Tucker Stone, on how to “Jumpstart-that Comics Career!").

Want some less funny, but perhaps more salient advice? Dude, just start making comics.

Yes, you may in fact need a great pitch and some connections to replace JMS on Superman, and you may need an agent to get your 200-page comics memoir published by Random House, but even if you thought self-publishing and/or mini-comics were too hard to make, webcomics are pretty much free, and could not be easier to make (If you have access to a pen, a piece of paper and a scanner, you can make comics and get them in front of people’s eyes—believe me, I know! As to the quality of those comics, well, that’s going to be down to your skill at writing and drawing; I think it’ worth noting that some of the funniest webcomics involve almost no actual drawing, or at least drawing of not-exactly-Walt-Kelly proportions).

Does that actually work though? Can just cold making your own comics eventually lead to writing for one of the Big Two, the dream of pretty much two-thirds of anyone who still reads Big Two super-comics?

Yes, yes it can, and here’s an example: Dara Naraghi.

Dara’s from Columbus, Ohio, and when I first moved there in late 2000, he was already making and self-publishing comics with a group of fellow writers and artists collectively known as Panel. They each did their own thing, but they also collaborated with one another and, at least once a year, they self-published an anthology of their work, generally along some theme or another. I’ve read most of their work at this point, I think, and I reviewed an awful lot of it—here, at Newsarama and at the Columbus-based altweekly I used to work for.

To be 100% totally honest here, not everything Dara wrote was necessarily all that great, particularly closer to 2000. But he kept writing, he kept comics-making and he kept comics-publishing, and working hard, like the rest of Panel, to advocate for themselves, for one another, and for comics in general.

When I moved away from Columbus in early 2010, Dara and Panel were still making and publishing their own comics and, as is so often the case when anyone works hard and works consistently at something over a period of time, he got better and better and better, and now I find his byline in IDW comics and, as of this week, a DC book.

So here’s another way to break into comics: Work your ass off, work as hard as you can, and do it for as long as it takes, and don’t wait for someone to offer you a job making comics. Just start making the damn things.

Which brings us to DC Comics Holiday Special 2010 #1, which features an eight-page Spectre story by Naraghi.

That’s honestly the reason I bought the book.

I’ve been severely disappointed with each of DC’s holiday specials I’ve picked up over the last few years, as the hit-or-miss ratio in them tends to skewed to the point where the hits are pretty rare, and I’m too cheap to want to pay $5 for an anthology if I’m only going to like ten pages of it. None of the characters in here are particular favorites, and none of the creators are the sort that I’d buy just about anything by, so I probably woulda skipped this if it weren’t for Naraghi’s byline.

I don’t know, I guess I put it down to a sort of civic pride? I used to buy everything that Marvel or DC or Devil’s Due or whoever published by Sean McKeever, also of Columbus, for the same reason—until first DC’s Teen Titans and then Marvel’s pricing of Nomad at $3.99 broke me of that habit.

Overall, the package is a weird one. The Christmas and Halloween specials and some of the 80-Page Giants over the last few years tend to have a rushed, half-inventory story, thrown-together-over-the-course-of-a-weekend feel to them, with a hit-or-miss ratio skewed toward the misses. This isn’t the DC Holiday Special I would have most liked to have read—no one fights a Krampus, for one—but I have to admit that the way this one was sold did raise my expectations a bit higher.

Here’s what had to say about it:

From the dawn of time (Anthro) to the far-flung future (Legion of Super-Heroes), sentient life has honored the winter holidays with celebrations and rituals as diverse as the universe itself! Join DC Comics – and a stellar team of writers and artists – to honor the vast and diverse holidays of the DC Universe in 6 tales of holiday cheer!
Given the strange and exotic cultures in the DCU, which spans not only all of time, but all of space, this seemed like a neat opportunity to explore questions far beyond whether or not Black Lightning’s family celebrates Kwanza or what Atlanteans do on December 25th.

And the book does deliver on that exploration of winter holidays theme, but it’s not as weird and varied as I would have hoped, nor are many of the stories all that good. Plus, no Krampus-fighting.

Let’s take all six tales one at a time, so as to prolong this ridiculously long post even further (Hmm, you know one of the reasons I’ve had so much trouble maintaining a post-a-day schedule lately may have something to do with too many of my posts being over 1,000 words…)

First up is This is by writer Joey Cavalieri and artist Carlo Soriano. It’s the dawn of time, and Anthro and his family are starving for lack of food. Anthro’s lame little brother (Like, Tiny Tim lame, not Geo-Force lame) wants to help Anthro and their dad go bear-hunting, but they leave him at home, promising to bring him back a Winter Solstice gift.

They have a little adventure involving Man-Eaters and a secret male hunting ritual, and, in the process, accidentally invent snowmen, sledding and a jacket.

Cavalieri’s script is decent enough, although I found the invention joke a little forced by the second usage. The plot is well-crafted though, the opening splash is a strong, old-fashioned “What is going on here?!” sort of page, and Soriano’s self-colored, anime-cel-looking art is certainly strong.

(This is my fault rather than Cavalieri and Soriano’s, but as soon as Anthro started talking gods, I immediately flashed to Final Crisis, and deep within my heart was born a desire to see time-traveling Batman celebrating Christmas in each of the era’s he fought his way through in The Return of Bruce Wayne. Man, can you imagine a Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne: Christmas Special? Batman celebrating the solstice with Anthro’s tribe, Batman saving the Holy Family from the forces of King Herod during the “Massacre of the Innocents” portion of Matthew’s nativity story, Pilgrim Witch-Hunter Batman at the first Thanksgiving…. Maybe a time-traveling Batman coulda fought Krampus. Grab his tongue in his left fist, pull his head forward and BAM! right-hook to his face. Christmas is saved! Shit, I completely lost my train of thought…)

This is written by Seth J. Albano and drawn by Renato Arlem, and while it’s techinically a Chanukah story of sorts, the central light-based miracle in this is so ridiculous that I could not help but reading it as a comedy.

It is hilarious, but more of an unintentional sort of hilarity.

The plot? A Jewish father and son are attacked at their camp fire by two scoundrels; the father is murdered and the son escapes wounded. Their camp fire mysteriously lights itself each night, which spooks and frustrates the killers long enough for the boy to go into town, heal up, and come back with Jonah Hex, who can then shoot the dudes to death.

I didn’t care for Arlem’s art, and then I felt like a heel for laughing at God re-lighting that campfire long enough for Hex to show up and shoot those dudes in cold blood and then getting to the last panel, in which the writer dedicates the story to two real family members of his (I assume; they all have the same last name).

This was basically a negative aesthetic experience that made me feel like a jerk afterwards.

After that comes perhaps the book’s low point:The GL in question is John Stewart, and writer Tony Bedard and artists Richard and Tanya Horie have him visit an alien planet where the entire population seems to be having a violent—but not too violent—riot. A rookie space alien GL calls in Stewart, because he’s not sure how to proceed with the situation.

It reminds Stewart of a story from when he was in the marines, and witnessed the Shi’a holiday of Ashura, in which men bloody their own scalps with blades and whip their backs. In Stewart’s story, another character tells a story about Jesus reenactors bloodying and crucifying themselves. That’s right, this eight-page story has someone telling a story inside a story someone is telling. That’s…that’s kind of half-assed really, and I would expect better from Bedard.

It turns out that the aliens are just having their own version of Ashura; Space Ashura, I guess…? The structure is awfully amateurish, and while it has a positive message, it’s communicated rather poorly. The artwork is fine, but nothing special, and it’s kind of hard to not read it as inadvertently offensive, given the portrayal of the aliens as six-eyed monsters. Maybe I’m being species-ist, but if they’re being equated with the Muslim characters…well, I don’t think the effect is a good one, even though I’m sure it was unintentional.

Oh, and while it’s true that none of the winter holidays celebrated in this book are Christmas, Stewart does bring up Christianity: That’s something you don’t see too often. The inner religious life of Green Lantern John Stewart is something that I’d personally love to see discussed at length in a superhero comic book—is it weird being a devout Christian and then spending your whole life in space with all these crazy aliens and doing stuff like fighting devils or learning that The Logos of the Gospel of John is a big White Pokemon lantern who lives in a White Power Battery in the center of the earth? You know, stuff like that.

But superhero comics never spend much time on such things, so we just get an off-handed remark from John Stewart while he rings up a cross , preaches about understanding, and flies away.

The next time we see him, it will be in a comic book where he fights a cyborg or something.

Wait no, this is probably the low point of the book:First up, check out the art in this splash page, by Roberto Castro and Scott Koblish:
It just looks like a mess. I guess the reporters are supposed to be in a different setting than the parade behind them, but the balloons, the people in the parade, the children, the reporters…it all looks like it’s happening at once, and the scale and sizes are truly fucked up.

Also, is that the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz dressed as the Joker? What the hell?

The story is pretty tedious, with Superman in full-on preachifying, inspirational character mode. I guess in Metropolis’ version of the Thanksgiving Macy’s parade, someone names the Centennial Park Hero Award, a sort of hero of the year award. The Daily Planet staff discusses who they think will win until Superman flies up, gives a two page speech about heroes—superheroes, sports heroes, George Washington and Martin Luther King, first responders, the troops—and then awards it to one of the everyday heroes who don’t wear capes or have powers.

Again, it’s well intentioned, but ugh.

And that brings us to which is Dara’s story, illustrated by Tom Derenick and Norm Rapmund. I don’t really like Rapmunds often rather gritty lines, but I’ve always liked Derenick’s work, and this is probably the best-looking of the stories in the book (If not this, then the Anthro one…or maybe the overly-cluttered but well-drawn final story).

Since The Spectre, still housed in Crispus Allen, can’t spend time with his family and was, prior to death, a non-believer, eh’s basically roaming around the world invisibly, which brings him to Tehran, Iran at the time of the vernal equinox, and the celebration of Persian New Year, “They call it Norouz,” he narrates, “Literally, ‘New Day.’”

Well I knew nothing about this holiday or its celebration, so let’s hear it for educational comics! And Naraghi manages to work this information in rather organically, much of it in the form of conversation between characters, so it’s not as tedious as, say, Superman’s speech in the previous story (Of course, that may be because hearing about how awesome heroic people in America are is something I’m used to reading or hearing about, while Norouz is literally new to me).

This is a superhero comic, of course, so a fight is necessitated, and here the ghost of Crispus Allen watches an innocent man being brutally beaten by thieves, unable to intervene since The Spectre only cares about killing killers, one of the neat things about the character. Not “neat” as in “Wow, what a cool guy!” so much as neat in a weird, idiosyncratic twist—DC’s Spirit of Vengeance won’t lift a finger if someone’s thrashed within an inch of their life, but if the thrasher goes an extra inch? It’s ironic death time, baby!

Naraghi has a neat twist on this neat element of the character, having the Spectre adjust his policy to fit the situation—we doesn’t kill these non-killers, but he does mete out a non-fatal, ironic punishment—and Crispus is left wondering whether the Spectre was moved to action by mercy for those endangered, or to avenge some non-human life taken (Er, I’m trying not to spoil anything).

This is probably the strongest story in the book, and I’m not just saying that because I know and like Naraghi, but you know, adjust for bias, I guess. The next story is fairly strong as a story too, but it’s a Legion story, so there’s 40 characters involved, which makes it a little less reader-friendly.

Finally, there’s
This one is by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, past Legion writers, and artists Chris Batista and Rich Perrotta. I like Batista’s work a lot, but these pages are just jam-packed, often in unattractive ways. It’s not just the amount of characters, but the dialogue, the little character identifying boxes…there’s just a lot of words and images stuffed into eight pages.

I’m not sure if Abnett and Lanning are responsible for Holiday, which the United Planets created by combining “all of the cultural, ethnic and seasonal festivals of olden times into…one day,” but that’s a pretty awesome concept, and I’d love to read a story about it’s celebration. Hell, if you combined, like, any six commonly celebrated U.S. holidays into one day, that celebration would be pretty funny, I can scarcely imagine what Holiday celebration would entail if the rituals themselves were combined.

Anyway, the story is basically about the importance of taking time out for holidays to recharge, and it’s a neat little twist-ending, punchline sort of story.

I liked this one too. So I don’t know, two out of six…that’s…well, it’s better than one out of six, I guess.

But serious DC, next year—cover-to-cover Krampus fighting, please.

Justice League: Generation Lost #14-#15 (DC) Something I’m interested in, or at least curious about, is seeing how other parts of DC’s line of books have dealt with J. Michael Straczynski’s rather radical—and then quickly abandoned by JMS himself—take on Wonder Woman, which essentially removed her, if only temporarily, from the shared setting of the DC Universe (Update: I’m sorry every English teacher I ever had—that was a terribly structured sentence, and I regret writing it).

In the second of these two issues, we learn that the entire DC Universe except for Max Lord, and the four characters who haven’t had their memories messed with by Lord at the beginning of the series, have all forgotten Wonder Woman. Apparently, Lord’s plan was to take on Wonder Woman for revenge, but now he can’t even find her since she’s off-limits to books other than JMS’ Wonder Woman.

I wonder how much of that particular issue had to be written or re-written to reflect that status quo, and to what extent it might have affected the second half of this 26-issue series, and if writer Judd Winick is at all irritated that he might have had to re-write part of his series, or at least write around a potential part of it, simply to accommodate a writer who lost interest in his own storyline that necessitated no one else playing with Wonder Woman?

Oh, the comics themselves? Eh, they’re fine. The plot seems a bit on the slow side. Issue #14 is devoted entirely to Captain Atom in a possible future in which a version of the Justice League battles against Max Lord’s now-even-more-Sentinel-like OMACs. And #15 is a series of conversations between various characters about what to do next. But Winick still hasn’t done anything unbearable or overly obnoxious, outside of messing with Ice’s origin in a way that boggles my mind (But maybe Ice’s mind, and thus the story she tells in the story, is boggled…?).

Nitpick: How did J’onn J’onnz age so much in the century between #13 and #14? He was already centuries old, and was pretty fit, right? Plus, shape-changer.

Oh, and I didn’t quite understand that green stuff around Future Supergirl’s eye? Was that supposed to be a kryptonite scar or something? The art remains hit-or-miss. I liked that by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan in #14 (hit), and didn’t like that by Joe Bennet, Jack Jadson and Ruy Jose in #15 (miss), but even when it’s not so good, it remains competent. In essence then, this is more of a book that doesn’t do anything wrong than one that does everything right, and that’s good enough for me personally, given my affection for the characters and the biweekly schedule. If this were an ongoing series, I’d probably have checked out by now, but since I know it’s a limited series with an eventual climax and end, I don’t mind sticking around a while yet.

King City #12 (Image Comics) Well this was probably the most depressing book I read this week, not necessarily because of the content—as with the first eleven issues, this is genuine, A1, top-of-the-heaps, bee’s knees and cat’s pajamas comic book-ing—this is apparently the very last issue of Brandon Graham’s King City series. The blow of not having a Graham book to look forward to each and every month was definitely softened by the fact that there’s an ad for Graham’s Multiple Warheads on the back cover (I liked my first exposure to those characters in Escalator than my first exposure to the King City characters, which I believe occurred online).

Even still, it will be a shame to see this book go, as that’s one less serially published comic book I’m reading. And, while circumstances have forced me to buy less and less of ‘em, I really like serially published comic books—especially this big, magzine-sized, ad-free $3 one. (With this book ending, the only ongoing serials I’m currently reading are…let’s see….Tiny Titans, Batman The Brave and the Bold and JLoA, although only for about three more issues. I have Brightest Day and Justice League: Generation Lost on my pull-list too, but those are both really just long-ass miniseries).

Knight and Squire #3 (DC) I can’t help but admire the hell out of writer Paul Cornell (and, to a greater extent, DC Comics for allowing it) for taking the opportunity of a six-issue series featuring the British Batman and Robin and, instead of doing some version of the modern Batman and Robin, turning out a straightforward comedy series.

Each consecutive issue of the series has been progressively sillier, which brings us to Knight and Squire #3, the one where the resurrected Richard III and a clone army of England’s worst kings set about attempting to conquer the U.K. through social media:I’m far enough away from my semesters of English history that I know I missed some gags I might have appreciated if all those names and dates weren’t gradually being replaced in my available trivia space in my brain by major political events in the Marvel Universe and changes to DC continuity brought about by universal reboots, but there was a lot to like about this one, another clever, over-the-top done-in-one.

My favorite bit was how the scientist responsible for returning Richard and the Knight himself both mention that William Shakespeare took some liberties with his portrayal of the wicked king, and the villain immediately starts talking like Shakespeare’s version, up to and including dramatic asides to the audience to reveal his motivations: Knight and Squire is so good that writer Paul Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton deserve knighthood just for making them.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics) I think this is the first new monthly that saw release after I made the decision to stop buying new monthlies as serials and start reading trades. So I do hope that Marvel didn’t decide to cancel it because it was only one issue per month less than they hoped to see because, if so, my bad.

You’ve no doubt heard a lot about this book already, because it’s a book that has had it’s praises sung far and wide on the Internet, and also because it was recently canceled, leading to a whole lot of hand-wringing about how terrible it is that the direct market can’t seem to support a book that was really good or all-ages or not connected to the ongoing Marvel Universe soap opera or whatever.

While I’ve talked about it in that context myself, I’ve been holding off on reading it until the collection dropped, and that didn’t happen until Wednesday (Which makes the fact that it was canceled already, before Marvel could gauge how well it might be able to do in the book market, all the stranger; this would slay in libraries).

I think it’s safe to say pretty much every positive thing you’ve heard about the book is true.

Wait, let me get some negative thoughts out of the way first. I’m not crazy about the presentation. The book is small, somewhere between the size of a Marvel Adventures digest and a regular Marvel trade collection, and the work doesn’t seem to be created for this smaller format. The lettering proves that; it looks small on the page, and while it hardly ruined the experience of reading the book, I was keenly aware that I was reading it in a less than ideal format.

It’s also expensive. The trade cost $15, or $3.75 per issue. The monthly was only $3 an issue. To help justify the cost, Marvel included Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Thor stories from Journey Into Mystery #83-#84, but I’d put an awful lot of money on the fact that more readers would prefer to pay $12 for this collection than to read those old Thor stories that seem strange and out-of-place grafted onto the back of the book.

And I’m not crazy about the format in general—Marvel’s trade collections can often seem rather obnoxious, and this one is no exception. Inside front cover? An ad for an Iron Man trade. Then title page, credits, montage of images, the cover of the first issue (different form the trade cover), the variant cover for the first issue (marked as such), which is actually a splash from the last page of the first issue, and then comic begins. Toward the end, a reprinting of a page from an earlier issue is included, as a “Previously in…”, which is, of course, pointless in a trade collection, since the reader just saw that page earlier in their reading.

Anyway, that’s every thing I can think to say that’s at all negative about this book.

Writer Roger Langridge’s script is a fine one, boiling the Thor-as-fallen-god-who-must-re-learn-how-to-be-good concept as far as possible, giving it a simple hook on which to hang a story or whole series of stories. Jane Foster is our point-of-view character, and Thor stumbles into her life and stays there; there’s romantic tension between the two, but, by volume’s end, it’s simply tension.

Other Marvel characters come and go, and each is similarly boiled-down to core concept and likable attributes with no continuity baggage perfection. TH antagonist for the first two issues is Mr. Hyde, and that story is followed by a Marvel-style team up with Hank “Ant-Man and also Giant-Man” Pym and Janet “The Wasp” Van Dyne (Langridge and artist Chris Samnee do such an incredible job with that pair that I found myself thinking, “Wow, I’d really like to read more comics about these two” as I was reading the story, despite knowing that there aren’t any comics in which these two appear like this) and, in the last issue, The Warriors Three go out drinking with Thor in England and meet Captain Britain, in another fight-than-befriend sort of story.

I’ve never had much interest in Thor as a character, let alone affection for him, but more than anything else, this book sold me on him, and I put it down anxious for the next volume.

As for Samnee’s art, I think the simplest thing I can say about it may unfortunately sound a bit hyperbolic, but it’s the truth—this is the very best superhero comic book art you can find on the comic shelves at the moment. I honestly can’t think of a single super-book that looks this great, or works as well as this one does visually. Samnee’s art is simple but complex, elegant, dynamic, expressive—I found myself getting a little bummed out by the fact that I knew this book was ending, which meant I might not see Samnee’s art regularly any more, and then I realized what a foolish thought that was. Samnee’s definitely going to be drawing super-comics as long as he wants to be, if this work is any indication—and in a perfect world, he should be drawing whatever the hell he asks to draw.

If you’re at all interested in superhero comics, I’d highly recommend you check this book out. Not to try and “save it” from cancellation or anything, but for you. Trust me, you’ll like it.

Tiny Titans/Little Archie #3 (DC) Aw, the third and final issue already? This crossover series went by so fast!

Well, you can probably safely guess what I thought of the quality of the book, as it is the essentially the same as the first two, which were essentially the same as two extra issues of Tiny Titans, only with some Tiny-ified versions of various Archie characters.

This issue features Sabrina The Teenage…well, The Preteen Witch meeting Raven at Pop’s, Archie attempting to hit on Raven (“So, anyway…about this hanging out”), Archie alone in the Batcave (with Duela Dent, bats, bunnies dressed up as bats and penguins), Veronica bringing Robin home to meet Mr. Lodge and Zatara giving everybody awesome new costumes.

I’ll take three more issues of this whenever you get a chance, Mr. Baltazar.

Oh, this book also features a five-issue preview of the upcoming Mike Norton-drawn Young Justice series based on the new animated series, and it certainly looks good. I didn’t watch the first-episode or pilot movie or whatever they showed on Cartoon Network, so I don’t have any sort of expectations about a comic book based on it, but Norton’s work looks pretty great here—it looks like Norton dialed back a degree of cartooniness of his Billy Batson run, but it seems a bit different than his work prior to that series as well.

I like it, and am looking forward to seeing the finished product (bits of some of these pages look oddly pixilated, as if something went a bit wonky in putting it in the book).

What If? Iron Man: Demon In An Armor (Marvel) God I love that title. It’s pretty much a perfect example of modern comic book titling. You’ve got your multiple punctuation marks separating phrases, and the sub-sub-title reads like gibberish. This sounds like something you’d encounter in the subject line of a spam message.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been reading many Marvel Comics lately, partly because the publisher has moved more and more of its line across the $3.99 line, partly because I’ve been trying to transition from singles into trades for most of my super-comic reading (something the Big Two have made easier, but canceling books I was reading or assigning books I like to creators I don’t) and partly because of my massive underemployment for most of the year (Fun fact: Making rent, buying groceries and taking weekly trips to a comic shop is very, very difficult when you don’t have a day-job** to supplement the pittance you make as a professional comics writer-about!).

The downside of that, however, was that I’ve really been missing the Marvel Universe and its characters, which was no doubt part of why I wanted to pick this and another of this year’s What If? specials up.

The other parts?

—That awesome cover playing off of the “Demon in a Bottle” cover

—Pencil art by Graham “My Third Favorite Regular Batman Artist” Nolan

—A back-up story with an interesting enough hook and some creators I generally like justifying the $3.99 price tag.

So how was this? Oh, it’s fine, I suppose—pretty much exactly what you think it will be. Tony Stark and Victor Von Doom are college roommates, and while a comic about the two of them sharing a dorm room Odd Couple style is actually a premise I find more engaging than what follows, writer David Michelinie and Bob Layton go ahead and have Doom invent an old-school B-movie sci-fi mind transference machine that puts Doom’s mind in Stark’s body, and Stark’s amnesiac mind in Doom’s body.

Why? Because now Doom controls the Stark fortune.

How does that change history? Well, now Doom is Iron Man (and Iron Man is green instead of red and gold) and now Stark is Dr. Doom (and Doom is read and gold instead of green).

Oh, and they fight.

I may just be very, very easily pleased, but I like seeing super-costumes messed with, so I really rather enjoyed it, just as I enjoyed pondering why the clean-shaven Doom never shaved off Stark’s goatee when he got into his body, and why the goatte-sporting Stark never grew one on Doom’s face once he got into his body.

Let’s talk about the back-up for a moment now. It’s entitled “What if The Venom Symbiote Possessed Deadpool?”, and sounds like an interesting enough idea for a What If?. In fact, Marvel could probably launch an ongoing series entitled What If Venom Possessed…. and do a different character for each story, and I bet that would be a pretty cool series (The Thing! Dazzler! Squirrel Girl! Mary Jane! J. Jonah Jameson! Lockjaw! Thor!).

It’s also by Rick Remender, whose writing I sometimes I enjoy, and penciled by Shawn Moll, whose work I also often enjoy.

When Marvel’s last round of solicitations was released, I noticed a $3, 32-page book collecting all four of these back-ups as Venom/Deadpool, sporting a neat Skottie Young cover. I thought it was odd that Marvel would solicit that before the serialized version of the story even started being released.

Now I see why: If they waited until after the story started running as a back-up in the December specials, people might notice that it’s actually pretty terrible.

I’m not the biggest Deadpool fan in the world, and I’ve certainly tried to get into him, or at least see what others saw in him. In addition to slogging through a stack of back-issues, I’ve also read an anthology and sampled some of the Team-Up issues which featured the character teaming-up with other characters I like by creators I like.

From what I’ve seen, I think he works best in stories told from other characters’ points-of-view, when the world and characters around him seem serious, but his wackiness sort of sticks out.

This story is told from his point-of-view, and we see the Marvel Universe through his eyes. It’s relentlessly wacky, with a joke or three in every panel.

Unfortunately, they’re all bad jokes.

We open with a Watcher dressed like Boy George in the year 1985 (hence the dated Boy George reference, I guess) on Earth 615.9, where Galactus hires Deadpool to kill The Beyonder. Instead, he’s seduced by the power of The Beyonder’s cosmic jheri curl, and ends up partying with his target. Also, Spider-Man’s black suit bonds with Deadpool, creating Venompool, ho now has his own “wicked sentient Jheri curls.” The second chapter, which is included in What If? Wolverine: Father (reviewed below), The Beyonder and Venompool hang out with wino Tony Stark in an alley for about a decade, before our protagonist decides to go about being a hero in the Marvel Universe of the ‘90s. Jokes are made at the expense of the decades’ excesses, and the Watcher narrating this issue is a hip-hop Watcher, giving us plenty of cringe-inducing gags.

There’s a moment in 1930 Marx Brothers vehicle Animal Crackers during which Groucho Marx steps toward the camera to address the audience directly: “Well, all the jokes can’t be good. You’ve got to expect that once in a while.”

This story’s saving grace is, if it has one, the fact that Remender makes so many jokes that the opposite of what Groucho says is true: All the jokes can’t be bad, so you can expect a funny one once in a while.

The inside baseball type of Marvel Comics jokes tend to work better than some of the wordplay. I liked this panel in which the Venom symbiote is blasted off of Peter Parker, leaving Spider-Man plunging from a flying limo, costume-less and powerless:

What If? Wolverine: Father #1 (Marvel) Hey, do you guys know all about Daken, star of Dark Wolverine, the son of Wolverine? Well, don’t worry if you don’t—there’s a rather extensive recap of the way his birth and origin went in the “real” Marvel Universe, before we plunge into this What If? version of the story.

I guess originally, Wolverine wasn’t present when someone—Bucky “Winter Soldier” Barnes, apparently—killed Wolvie’s pregnant then-partner Itsu. In this version, he is present, and thus decapitates Bucky and uses his claws to deliver his own son from the lifeless body of his Daken’s mom.

Wolvie then tries to raise his son in isolation from the world of violence he came from, so they become rice farmers on a mountain in Mongolia, and Wolvie tells Charles Xavier to buzz off.

Things don’t work out quite how Wolverine would have liked, of course, and Daken still grows up to be evil and to have a Mohawk anyway (He keeps his shirt on for the whole story, so I don’t know about the tattoos).

Rob Williams writes, and while the story is naturally rather hurried and narrowly focused—Wolverine has a looooooooong life story to rewrite in so short of a space, of course—it’s quite well structured. It’s certainly dramatically satisfying as an isolated unit of narrative. Greg Tocchini provides the artwork, and while I’m not always crazy about his style, but he does what he does quite well, and it serves this particular story quite well.

*Would it be weird or awesome if DC just combined the Big Seven with the current JLA line-up—Batman Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Supergirl, Jade, Jesse Quick, Congorilla and Starman—to form a new team? That’s an awful lot of duplication of powers, and echoing costume symbols, huh?

**Don’t worry; I’ve since secured a new day-job, after eight months of not having one. I am now rich enough to waste money on Marvel What If? one-shots again! Huzzah! But if you do worry and want to spare a brother 30 dimes, you can always buy my damn comic book.


snell said...

Not to defend Finch, but the decision to put the "new" Wonder Woman costume of the cover may well have been editorial mandate...

Caleb said...

Oh, I know...sorry if that wasn't clear. I just thought it was weird that they put that version of Wonder Woman on the cover (I actually looked up the originally solicited image because I was curious if Finch used the original and had to change it). And also that it's not very good. Not that the two are connected at all.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"a pretty neat scene of the Big Seven all just hanging out and shooting the shit like pals. Man, when was the last time that happened? "

The original Big 7, outside the AlexRossVerse? Must be around 1968!

Wonder Woman lost her powers and left the JLA to go become Emma Peel. By the time she came back, J'onn had left for Mars. He came back and rejoined the JLA just in time for it to become the JL Detroit, and most of the Big 7 were gone. Barry died not long after. By the time Barry was back, J'onn and Aquaman were dead. By the time J'onn and Aquaman were back, Batman was dead.

SallyP said...

I think that this has been one of my favorite issues of Brightest Day so far...mainly of course, because of Pat Gleason, who is a GOD, but also because I like J'onn J'onnz.

I actually liked the DC Holiday Special, although I agree that the story with Superman and the giant balloons was the weakest.

And yes, Thor: The Mighty Avenger really IS that good. good.

Dara said...

Caleb, thanks for the nice review. I have to say, I've cut my teeth on short stories, but they're still the hardest things to write. Doing so with an established DC character was even harder, because you have to balance a story, the theme of the book, the flavor of the character, and have some superhero action/tropes that the audience expects. I don't envy those other writers.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

That "What-If" with Deadpool is one of the worst comics I ever read, as I stated on my blog in an older post and in one going up today at 11AM. Sorry for the plug, just throwing that out there.