Saturday, May 21, 2011

Comic Shop Comics: May 4-11

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #7 (DC Comics) The team-up with Green Lantern Alan Scott is somewhat book-ended by two smile-inducing scenes involving DC super-teams.

The first begins with a toddler Batman declaring “The Time Trapper turned the Justice League into babies!” to set-up a space-wasting (but swell-looking) double-page splash team-up by the Teen Titans. The second references a neat addition to the Batman history from the cartoon this comic is based on—that the hero was trained in part by the Justice Society of America (Here, they specifically trained him on how to battle super-powered foes, since he already had a handle on crushing conventional crime by the time they meet him).

The story in the middle is one I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least one or two times before—retired Gotham superhero Alan Scott doesn’t like what he hears about this new Batman kid busting heads in back alleys, so he suits up and flies in to see his successor for himself, and they both end up learning something in the process.

I wouldn’t expect this version of that set-up to get any deeper than any of the others I’ve read, but I do think there’s a good story in there somewhere about how Alan Scott pretty much killed Batman’s parents by being such a lousy superhero.

Sure, he didn’t pull the trigger, but where was he when they were getting murdered? Enjoying his retirment? (Or in Valhalla? I can’t keep DC continuity straight after all the reboots of the last five years).

Remember what a hole Gotham City was in Batman: Year One? And it never really got too much better. I think city government got less corrupt as the years went on, but the city also began leading the country in the most supervillains and serial killers per capita and was visited by an unlikely string of national disasters and terrorist attacks, including the Arkham Asylum break-out, multiple plague outbreaks, an earthquake, exile from the United States and descent into a post-apocalyptic, feudal society and on and on.

Basically Alan Scott is the worst superhero protector a city has ever had, in that he gave up after awhile, and when he does get around to doing some actual superheroing, he usually commutes to New York City to do it there.

I don’t blame Alan Scott for not being there to save the Waynes with his magic wishing ring that can do anything at all except affect wood—no one can be everywhere all the time, he might not have been on the same plane of existence as them at the time—but Batman’s not always rational about things like Gotham City crime, the proper conduct of superheroes and the death of his parents, you know?

Huh. That was a weird tangent. Sorry.

While I’ve seen this story before, Scholly Fisch does a fine job of tellint it again, and focusing it to appeal to an all-ages, not-necessarily-mired-in-the-minutae-of-these-characters’ audience.

My favorite part of the issue, however, was seeing Rick Burchett and Dan Davis’ art, in particular their version of the cartoon’s version of the costume Batman was wearing in his first appearance.

Parciularly, I liked how they drew his ears, which approach the length of Kelly Jones’, but are broader, less-pointy and less antler-like.

In fact, he looks like rather rabbit-like:

Avengers Academey Giant-Size #1 (Marvel) This was probably the best super-comic of those in this batch, with the similarly priced and sized DCCP volume below offering the only real competition.

It’s by writer Paul Tobin and pencil artist David Baldeon, a great, underappreciated talent, who is here inked by Jordi Tarrangona and colored by Chris Sotomayor. Baldeon’s work, either because of his collaborators or simply because of a leap in his abilities that just happened to fall while he was drawing this, has never looked better.

This is serious superior super-comic drawing.

I’m completely unfamiliar with the characters, having never read an issue of Avengers Academy or The Young Allies, some of whom guest-star, but I imagine this must be pretty damn new-reader friendly, as I had no trouble following it.

A handful of the Avengers Academy kids, who are apparently the post-Siege iteration of the Avengers Initiative program as seen in the since-canceled Avengers: The Initiative comic, are give the day off to roam around New York City (Reptil, Veil, Striker and Finese, if that means anything to you).

They are kidnappd by one of my favorite Marvel villains, the nefarious, insanely bad with money Arcade—the number of robots and death traps he built expressly to take out these characters, which he is only doing as a sort of advertising effort to drum up business, has got to be in the billions. He also captures Spider-Girl, Firestar and Toro, all of the kinda sorta superhero team seen in Young Allies.

Will Arcade, who set his sights intentionally low this time, finally succeed in killing a bunch of superheroes? Or will good triumph over evil?

Well, I imagine you can guess how it turns out. Tobin has come up with some pretty imaginative traps to stick the various heroes in, and some pretty imaginitvie escapes and strategies. The dialogue, whether Arcade’s rants and wordplay or the kids’ conversations with one another, is all top-notch, and, as I mentioned, the art is pretty amazing.

The book also benefits from its size and scale. It’s an 80-page story (and will cost you $7.99, although that’s only the cost of 44 pages of most Marvel comics, so that’s actually a hell of a volume), and it was great fun to be able to sit and enjoy one, big superhero adventure from start to finish, without having to wait months between chapters, or for months to have passed from when it was published before it was collected into a trade.

I realize this book had sort of an unusual path to publication—it was announced in a few other formats before ultimately coming out in this one—but I’d love to see more comics like this one.

Especially if they are this well-made.

Batman: Arkham City #1 (DC) I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much or too lady about the relative quality of this comic book, as it is a series I kinda sorta requested exist, since I was curious about the experiencing the story of the popular Arkham Asylum videogame (and its upcoming Arkham City) and seeing the sometimes quite dramatic redesigng of all the Bat-characters without having to actually play the videogames, as that’s a medium I just can’t get into anymore, due to my advanced age/being confounded by techonology.

This isn’t actually an adaptation of either of the games, but a miniseries serving as a bridge between the two. I can understand why they chose to do that; it better positions the book as something more likely to appeal to people who have played the game than to people who read Batman comics but haven’t played the game; certainly the former is a much larger potential audience than the latter.

It’s written by Paul Dini, who apparently worked on the videogame, and artist Carlos D’Anda, who is credited as “Illustrator” and who also worked on the video game in some capacity. (Word just underlined that sentence in green, because it is a passive sentence. Sorry Word; I’m not writing up to your expectations. I’m letting you down, aren’t I?)

It opens with a sort of a recap of the climax of the game it’s continuing from, which was surprising in its strangeness. Apparently The Joker was turned into some sort of gigantic, steroridal monster using a Venom-like drug called “Titan” instead of “Venom,” and Batman defeated him using his “Bat-spray dynamite.”

Meanwhile, the warden during what the characters are referring to as “the Arkham riots” is now the mayor of Gotham City and being helped by a mysterious, off-panel puppetmaster of some sort (presumably its Hugo Strange), who has also hired two twins to get hopped-up on Titan and the suicide bomb city hall.

The plot is therefore a lot more superhero-y than I would have expected, and while there’s little to it that’s fresh or new, the script has no real major problems either.

D’Anda’s art is similarly fine. I was surprised the degree to which it reminded me of Ed McGuinness’ art; many of the characters have the size and shape of McGuinness designs, only with more and rougher details.

The design is what I was most curious about, and while we do see a fair amoung of the videogame Batman’s more movie-like, armor-as-costume look and a gadget or two, there are only a few villains who appear: The Joker, Two-Face and Harley Quinn. The first two are so bandaged up—I guess from the beating they took in the first video game?—that I didn’t really get a sense of what D’Anda had in mind for them, and Harley is wearing an Arkham-issued jump suit.

Personally I was disappointed (and am now thinking maybe I shouldn’t have preordered the whole series), but I realize that has more to do with my expectations than the execution. As for that execution, it’s serviceable—I see no reason for someone looking for a so-so Batman comic series to avoide it, but, at the same time, I see nothing here to really recommend the book to anyone either.

DC Comics Presents: Son of Superman #1 (DC) I’m not sure what the logic behind DC’s decisions to reprint certain material in the $7.99, 100-page, spine-bearing-like-a-trade, but ad-having-like-a-serial-comic format is, but I imagine the presences of J.H. Williams III’s artwork in this had a lot to do with it, given a previous DCCP volume was seemingly organized around Williams’ art (as is the upcoming Chase volume), and the fact that his star has been on the rise since his stint on Detective Comics with Greg Rucka.

This particular volume isn’t comprised of single, un-collected issues of a comic, however; it’s a straight reprint of a 1999 original Elseworlds graphic novel. It’s written by the Howard Chaykin and David Tischman writing team, penciled by Williams and inked by Mick Gray (as lovely as Williams’ more recent work looks, I really love seeing his fine line and represenatational art in the more organic, less-fussed-over pages of this than in the elaborately, even baroquely desgined pages of the TEC Batwoman stuff.

The story is set in a mildly dystopian future (I say mildly because the economic strife in which the super-rich get richer while the poor suffer is basically the way the world is today, only are fashions aren’t as dumb and we don’t have superheroes).

Superman has been missing for years, Lois Lane is a screenwriter with a teenage son who looks a lot like Clark Kent, Lex Luthor is kind of a jerk, the JLA all have neat costume redesigns but are essentially all sell-outs (and one of them is rather randomly evil because, hey, Elseworlds) and Peter Ross and Lana Lang lead a terrorist group called The Superman that lashes violently out at the Luthor-lead status quo.

It’s a graphic novel that actually reads quite a bit like a graphic novel—well, a novella anyway—it’s Elsweworlds premise allowing it to have an ending that makes it a distinct unit in a way most comics featuring these characters or their like just can’t ever really be. And, of course, it’s about 100-pages of Williams and Gray drawing the Superman characters and the Justice League.

To give you a sense of what their art looks like, here’s a two-page sequence in which Batman sneaks into Wonder Woman’s room to talk to her: Jeez, Williams is good. Look at those faces! And this is a pretty good example of sexy art that is a) very well drawn b) representational of what a real woman looks like in real live and c) drawn rather than lightboxed/Photoshopped/overly-referenced/Greg Land-ed (not sure what the best verb is really, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about).

I think I’m going to post a bit about the JLA’s costume designs in this later, as I really like ‘em. You can kind of see one of Batman’s costumes in the above scene though. After a few years of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen being alive again and eight years since Green Lantern Kyle Rayner left the League line-up (Eight years?!), it was kind of weird to see Wally West and Kyle Rayner on a seven-person, “Big Seven” iteration of the Justice League again.

DC Universe Online Legends #7 (DC) It occurred to me while reading this so-so issue of the generally lousy series that of the seven comic books I purchased during my last trip to the comic shop, six of them included Batman among their casts, and they were six different versions of Batman, from six different continuities/sources (Two Batmen based on videogames featuring him, one based on a cartoon series featuring him, one from aan Elseworlds alternate reality story from the nineties, one an alternate reality version from an altered DC Universe and the other the “real” Batman from the DCU).

Just an observation.

In this issue, there’s a scene with The Joker that made absolutely no sense to me; like, I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be communicated by the scene. And then a bunch of generic superheroes that Future Luthor created (probably in the model of the generic superheroes you can create to play in the game…?) save the dying Future Batman and turn him into a cyborg Superman.

The art’s sub-par, though the relative quality vascilates depending on the artist and the page. One to three more issues to go before my stupid subscription runs out.

Flashpoint #1 (DC) So here’s the first issue of DC’s next big story/event/crossover thing.

You know what frustrates me about these sorts of comics most? I have no idea what to call them. Like, it’s not really “a” story, but will end up being a bunch of stories. It’s not really a comic; well, Flashpoint is, but it’s also like 20 other comics, too, most of theme specially created to be part of Flashpoint, some not. It is an event, but an event what (Story? Crossover?). And it is a crossover, but not of pre-existing comics (save a few), and it’s not just a crossover.

So I always have to refer to things like this and, worse, branding effort-style tie-ins like “Brightest Day” or “Dark Reign,” by using a bunch of slashes. I really feel like after so many of these I should know exatly how to refer to them, but I don’t.

Anyway, this is the first issue of the plain, old Flashpoint comic; the main part of the story, which is unfolding in a five-issue miniseries by a single creative team.

The premis is remarkably, refreshingly straightforward: Barry “The Flash” Allen wakes up and finds himself in a world he doesn’t recognize. He’s no longer The Flash, he has no super-powers, his dead mom’s not dead, his wife’s not his wife, no one knows who Superman is, Batman’s not Bruce Wayne and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war with one another, a war that’s already claimed 132 million civilian lives (?!) in Europe.

What’s going on? That is apparently what Barry’s going to spend the next four issues working on—figuring out what’s going on, and how to fix it.

The beginning is a bit rocky, with a narrator whose identity isn’t revealed until the end of the book, and a herky-jerky introduction to Barry Allen’s status quo and a pretty dumb-looking two-page splash of DC’s most valueable IPs running over a hill together for no reason, but after that things are pretty straightforward.

Writer Geoff Johns does an admirable job creating a very different Elseworld-style world for Barry to wake up in. Rather than just tweaking costumes and such, there are some pretty huge, wholesale changes to characters and concepts, which we get a brief tour of when Cyborg, who is here the Superman of this DCU, calls a meeting of all the superheroes to try and talk Batman into hanging out with them.

There are classic DC characters with slightly different roles or costumes, like Green Lantern Abin Sur, Piper, Citizen Cold (nee Captain Cold), The Sandman, Element Woman and The Enchantress. There’s some new (?) guy called Blackout. There’s someone called The Outsider, whom Tucker Stone says is supposed to be Grant Morrison (Give that Stone and Stone conversation a listen when you’ve got time; it’s great) and then there’s what I thought was a pretty clever new version of Captain Marvel (until Tucker ruined that for me by pointing out to Nina that it’s basically just Captain Planet).

That take? Six individual kids each get one of Shazam’s powers, and when they say the magic word they all six combine to form “Captain Thunder” (Whichever kids got the wisdom of Solomon a and the courage of Achilles got screwed in that deal; those might be pretty great attributes to have, especially the former, but aren’t really all that useful all on their own. Like, so you have the courage of Achilles, but you don’t have anything to back up that courage? Doesn’t that just make you kind of a maniac, like, I don’t know, Scrappy-Doo?).

Oddly, one of the kids, a fat kid (artist Andy Kubert draws fat kids poorly; this may be the first time in his career he had to draw an overweight character, though), is shown walking a tiger on a leash. When they say “Shazam,” the tiger turns into an armored sabertooth tiger. Basically it’s Mr. Tawny as Cringer/ Battle Cat from the He-Man cartoon, and he was the dumbest part of that very dumb cartoon.

Kubert’s art, here inked by Sandra Hope, is quite good, and it was nice to see so much strong art by a single, talented creator in a single issue of a big, hyped story like this. I grew depressed reading it, however, as I don’t think I’ve ever read five consecutive issues of anything by Andy Kubert—certainly not anything that published during five consecutive months.

I hope against hope that he’s been drawing this series since about two years ago, and will actually be able to finish the whole thing by himself.

Justice League: Generation Lost #24 (DC) The resolultion to DC’s second bi-weekly, year-long limited series actually leaves quite a bit unresolved.

No, villain Max Lord does not succeed in his plan to kill Wonder Woman, whose own status in the DCU is pretty murky at this point in the story, although he built a special big OMAC with Amazon powers to do just that. And no, the heroes formerly known as the Justice League don’t succeed in bringing him to justice—they do, however, help save Wonder Woman and get the world to remember that Max Lord existed, undoing the worldwide mindwipe that offered the premise for the series.

On the other hand, this particular grouping of superheroes will apparently be showing up in “the new monthly series: coming soon!”, so perhaps they’ll continue to battle Max Lord and his Checkmate operation there.

I’m going to miss this series now that it’s over. For one thing, with both this and the other bi-weekly, year-long series now over, that’s four less issues of serial comics I’ll be reading each month, although I did like the assurance that there would be a comic with characters I liked in it, written with professional skill and drawn more often than not tolerably well.

I’ll certainly try out the new series that follows this. Hopefully it will look even better, as a monthly schedule will allow for a single artist to draw it (hopefully Aaron Lopresti, who does a fine job on this particular issue...and I sure wouldn't say no to a Dustin Nguyen-drawn JLI comic either, after seeing his covers for this series, like the one above).


Yan Basque said...

According to this interview:

Andy Kubert is currently working on the last issue of Flashpoint. So it looks like they got a good head start on this one.

SallyP said...

It IS a little depressing to not have any currently ongoing weekly or bi-weekly series coming out. I've gotten rather used to at least one comic that came out every single week...and I...I miss them.

JLI: Next Generation frustrated me, in that it wasn't bad, per se, and it did feature some of my absolute favorite characters...but it seemed to meander, it introduced Ice's idiotic new origin for no reason at all, other than to fill up an certainly had NO bearing whatsoever on the final climax of the story...and the bad guy got away!

Flashpoint looks moderately far anyway.

Akilles said...

Maybe you could write a post: My faforite DC-and Marvel-villains.

Wow, Wonder woman is really angry about something in those two pages.

Andy Kubert is a guite trustworthy artist. He can draw a miniseries consistenly, as you`ve probably noticed `cause you`ve read Marvel 1602. But it depends of DC, if he has been given enough time to draw the whole thing.

I wouldn`t mind Nguyen drawing any comic.

Ok, I`ve wrote enough obvious things for the day. Bye!

Caleb said...

Andy Kubert is currently working on the last issue of Flashpoint. So it looks like they got a good head start on this one.

Great news; I so hope that's the case.

It IS a little depressing to not have any currently ongoing weekly or bi-weekly series coming out.

Well, there is DC Universe Online Legends, although it's pretty terrible.

JLI: Next Generation frustrated me, in that it wasn't bad, per se, and it did feature some of my absolute favorite characters...but it seemed to meander...

Yeah, I think it was a case of the number of issues being decided before the story was written, so that a six-, 12- or 18-issue limited series got stretched out a bit into a 24-issue one. Trinity felt a lot like that to me too.

Maybe you could write a post: My faforite DC-and Marvel-villains.

Hmm. I really like Batroc The Leaper and Arcade from Marvel...Batman villain The Scarecrow is one of my all-around favorite comic book villains. I tend to like older, goofier villains and/or ones with great costumes or gimmicks that don't make much sense at all. I like Calendar Man. And Black Manta (sometimes). And Catman, although I don't like the new bad-ass take on Catman as much as the pre-Simone one.