Friday, August 31, 2012

Wednesday Comics vs. New 52: Superman

Powerful, strange visitor from another planet Superman comes face-to-face with his own alien nature, and begins to doubt himself and his place in the world, until he reconnects with the people in his life and realizes that those relationships are what help make him the hero he is, in a story by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo.

A powerful, strange visitor from another planet wearing a Superman-brand t-shirt and red towel cape shows up in Metropolis and all but turns the city on its head, by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales and Rick Bryant...and a heavily-armored Superman defends Metropolis from elemental threats with a connection to his home planet, by George Perez and Jesus Merino.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

That's an Ivan Reis penciled image of Aquaman's trident impaling one of Black Manta's henchmen—From behind! It takes a real superhero to literally stab a dude in the back, in a sneak attack!—in this week's Aquaman #12, one of the three comics Geoff Johns wrote that DC released this week, which I covered at Robot 6, if you'd like to go read it. I'll probably cover two of those books at greater length in the next few days in my next installment of "Comic Shop Comics," but in the mean time, please visit that link for all of your Caleb-bitching-about-the-same-old-shit needs. (Or wait, am I the only one with that particular need...?)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wendesday Comics vs. New 52: Batman

In his guise as Batman and as Bruce Wayne, Gotham City's Dark Knight unravels a murder plot in which he gets closer than usual to the killer, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.

Batman and his crime-fighting partners unravel an ancient conspiracy and discover the mysterious Court of Owls, by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion (Also, a bunch of other stuff happened in Batman's other three books and the seven other books in the Batman line of books).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meanwhile, at ComicsAlliance...

Chances are you've already heard the news that Superman and Wonder Woman were totally going to hook up in Justice League #12, which DC Comics is pushing as a really rather big deal, and managing to get some mainstream press out of their pushing.

You may have wondered, "Say, what does Caleb think about this?"

The answer: "Eh, who cares?"

While I am a man who has strong opinions about Superman and Wonder Woman, I have a really hard time getting myself interested enough to care much about the goings-on of the New 52-iverse versions of the characters, as they still just feel like Ultimate Superman and Ultimate Wonder Woman to me more than the, um, real Superman and Wonder Woman (I know I know I know they're not real shut up shut up).

But it still seemed like a good opportunity/excuse to delve into the two characters' fictional biographies, so at ComicsAlliance I have a pair of related articles: The Many Loves of Superman and The Many Loves of Wonder Woman, detailing the two superheroes' romantic histories.

Even if you don't read the full stories, do take the time to watch the Batman/Steve Trevor/Wonder Woman team-up from Batman: The Brave and The Bold, which manages to work the Golden Age version of Wonder Woman and one of her earliest foes and the 1970s conception of Steve Trevor (complete with Wonder Woman theme song!) into the world of The Brave and the Bold.
I fucking love that show.

My editors also embedded a few clips from the Justice League Unlimited episode where Wonder Woman gets turned into a pig and Batman has to sing to undo the spell, which was one of the highlights of that series.

Monday, August 27, 2012


This week's links post appears on a Monday night, rather than a Sunday night. And I didn't do one at all last week, because there weren't very many links saved up that week. So let's see what we've got, and how old and out-of-date some of 'em are!


Here's a Ross Campbell drawing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battling a horde of quadrapedal mouser robots. It is awesome. They've got their variously colored masks on, and clearly visible eyeballs with pupils in them underneath their masks (something I usually don't like), but note how cool those masks look, and the way Campbell's perfectly defines their various personalities through their expressions. Every night after I brush my teeth but before I get in bed, I kneel in front of my bed and pray to God that IDW gives Ross Campbell his own TMNT monthly comic to do whatever the hell he wants with.


I hate this headline like Lex Luthor hates Superman. The article itself is fine though, but it doesn't seem to support the headline. So maybe the headline was just a joke, and just not sharp enough to be really funny...? I don't know.

Should the headline prevent you from reading the article beneath it, here's the Brian Hibbs column that the article links to, and here's Tom Spurgeon linking to and commenting on the same.

I found Hibbs' discussion of the DC backlist interesting, as it was one of the first things I began wondering about when they announced their plans to reboot their universe/continuity to such an extreme. That is, say you're a young person watching cartoons and you see the Blue Beetle in Batman: The Brave and The Bold and/or Young Justice and want to read a Blue Beetle comic book. There are now two tradepaperbacks featuring the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle out there now, both called Blue Beetle Vol. 1—one set in the pre-New 52 DCU, one set after, but both telling very different versions of how Jaime Reyes got the scarab and became the Blue Beetle.

Likewise, I just finished reading the first volume Batman, Inc, and found myself pretty confused about whether the book even "counts" anymore, given how many of the characters don't exist in the same configuration any more, and it seems like it would be difficult to explore too much of DC's impressive backlist when the publisher is making such a big deal about how that stuff is the old, failed universe, whereas the stuff that is just now coming out in trade is the DCU done right, you know?

Another point Hibbs made that jumped out at me was how the (fairly arbitrary) number 52 can and will serve as a drag on DC as a line, since they've committed to publishing at least that many comic books month in and month out, whether there's an audience for that many or not. It would be nice to see the publisher look to that large number as an excuse to go a little crazy and try out different genres and tones—like, if you know you have to cancel a book or six every eight months and replace them immediately anyway, why not use that opportunity to experiment?—but I suppose the fact that those 52 comics all have to be set in the same superhero universe will hinder that.

On the other hand, Earth 2 is part of the New 52, and its set in a parallel universe to the rest of the New 52iverse, so perhaps DC can carve out some wiggle room in their line for something a little different. Not that I'll hold my breath or anything.


I quite reading Brian Michael Bendis scripted comic books on a regular basis a long time ago, but I was interested to see Paul O'Brien note the prolific writer attempting "a curious little storytelling device" that doesn't really work quite right in his review of the Bendis-written Avengers #28-29.

I say interested because it seems to confirm a theory of my own about Bendis's Marvel work that I developed a long, long time ago (like, the first few issues of his Mighty Avengers, which were in about, oh, 2007 or so, I guess).

Basically, Bendis seems to obviously bored by his work that he is constantly experimenting with little variations of technique that don't always serve a particular story well or play to the strengths of the artists he's working with, but rather just read like a smart guy screwing around, trying to alleviate some of the tedium of his day job.

I began wondering about this five years ago. That's 567,000 Brian Michael Bendis-written scripts ago.


This is gonna bum a lot of people out, particularly those of us who blog about comics and comics news (and, often, comics "news"). Stephenson's blog was kind of special in that he was able to generate coverage and stories through his posts on it, simply by being who he was and saying the things he said in the way he said them.


This is a very well-written review of one of the Before Watchmen comics, one of the particular comics that seemed like it had the best chance of being a decent comic book, based on the fact that it was written by Brian Azzarello rather than Len Wein or J. Michael Straczynski or Darwyn Cooke or whoever.

It seems to be in line with almost all of the reviews I've read of the various Before Watchmen projects, in which a common complaint emerges: They're just generally well-crafted comics that aren't only not living up to the reputation of the original, but apparently not trying very hard to justify their existence either, reinforcing the idea that it's empty money-mongering (on the parts of the publishers as well as the creators).

Maybe the next round of Watchmen comics—now that they've broken the taboo and moved a lot (well, a lot relative to comics in 2012) of paper, it's going to be very, very easy to do another round (UPDATE: Hey, they just announced a new series! Link below)—will be the one where we'll get Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on a JLA crossover, "Crisis on Earth-Watchmen!" and Rob Lifeld Rob Liefelding about on Alan Moore and David Gibbons creations (UPDATED AGAIN: Probably not!) about or other real, serious attempts to do more personal, more brash, more punk rock versions of Watchmen.

We'll see. So far, though, it all just sounds very, very dull, and if you're going to do something so massively controversial, it seems a shame that it's not more exciting.


I liked the three comics of this suite that I read back in the day. Like a few other, similar events DC did in the past—the villain-focused "New Year's Evil" being one that leaps immediately to mind—this is something I always wished the publisher would do again, and on a regular basis.

It's a good way to get characters in the spotlight who can't carry their own titles (and renew their trademarks, while you're at it) and it can be used as an extra issue of a popular comic (as the JLA and Starman specials were), and can be made to seem important to readers so that they want to read them, by using them as lead-ins or prologues to storylines in upcoming titles or big story arcs. I belive The Secret was more or less the launch of the Young Justice title, for example.

So, if DC did seven of these books, like, today, they could do another Lois Lane, pull felmale characters from team books to reveal something important (Like, Ice from Justice League International, Harley Quinn or Amanda Waller from Suicide Squad, Katana or someone from Birds of Prey, the new Hawgirl from Earth 2, etc), or they could take a female character from the most popular comics, and it would serve as an extra issue to sell to that sizable fan-base, so you could have a Green Lantern: Star Sapphire, Justice League: Element Girl, Batman, Incorporated: The Black Bat (pretty please) or (more likely) : Talia al Ghul, et cetera.


Hey, did you hear about this series Gail Simone apparently pitched repeatedly? It's funny. At the end of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers suite of interlocking miniseries, when The Shinking Knight was about to be enrolled in a girl's school or whatever, I kind of hoped a book like the one Simone was pitching would exist. Not with those particular characters, of course. As the though occurred to me while I was reading Seven Soldiers, I was thinking specifically of "Sir Justin" trying to get used to modern life/being a girl, with a few teenage, female superheroine handlers at her private, all-girls school. I believe the characters I was thinking of at the time were Shining Knight, the teenage apprentice from the Seven Soldiers Zatana series (Mindy, I think her name was...?), Steel's niece Nat and the semi-retired Arrowette from Young Justice.

But hell, DC has an awful lot of female, teenage super-characters sitting on the bench at the moment, so it wouldn't be too hard finding enough of them to fill a whole student body, let alone the cast of a single comic book set in a school.

I can't decide if this makes that cover of the Green Lantern in a ski mask pointing a gun at the reader more hilarious or less hilarious, or has no effect on the hilarity of the image.

I'm going with no effect—That DC is publishing a cover featuring a Green Lantern of color with ski mask and gun is always going to be funny, whatever the precise ethnicity of the Green Lantern in question.

I don't have an exact link to accompany this tidbit, but I suppose you could just start reading Rob Liefeld's Twitter feed—which is still using that funny picture of Hawkman wearing what appears to be a golden football helmet with wings, despite his upcoming departure with DC—until you hit the funny, shocking, weird and sad stuff.

As you've likely heard, Liefeld will be leaving DC shortly, where he is writing or co-writing three books, as well as providing shitty covers for all three—and has been talking all sorts of smack about at least one of his editors, and, more recently, Tom Brevoort and Scott Snyder.

It's a strange thing to watch.

Myself, I find it fascinating that he got editorial interference over his writing (almost as fascinating as the fact that DC hired Rob Liefeld to write three books for them), but not his art. Like, every single month when the publisher released its solicitations and I'd see a new handful of Liefeld cover images, I think, "I can't believe no editor ever says no to the stuff that guy turns in."

When you look past Liefeld's tweets though, surely there have been enough examples of writers leaving DC's "New 52" complaining of editorial interference and last-minute changes that a pattern can be determined. Very little of what Liefeld complains about, after all, hasn't also been complained about by other departing writers.


Gross. Here's Newsarama's Vaneta Rogers asking the same half-dozen questions that get asked in every single interview with a comics writer on a Newsarama-like site of Before Watchmen's J. Michael Straczynski, who has just added another Before Watchmen comic to his plate.

She does add a bonus softball, regarding the controversy of the Before Watchmen project, which JMS has quite loudly courted, mostly by being an asshole about it in public:

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about the Moloch series or the Before Watchmen series overall?

Straczynski: When the furor hit the interwebs we all said that, in the end, the books would stand or fall based on the quality of the work.

The hype, the PR, the he-said/ the end it’s meaningless and irrelevant. What matters is what ends up on the shelf. If it works, it sells, and it continues living. If it doesn’t, it’s fishwrap. What the books have shown through the sales and the overall reception is that these are really good stories, by some of the best writers and artists in the business (and me, bringing up the rear), and I think they will stand the test of time.

In the end, what else is there?

Like I said—gross. That was the first thing I read on the Internet yesterday morning, too. Not the best way to start one's day.

Geoff Johns' second Justice League book, which will be called Justice League of America, has an appealing oddball grab-bag line-up of characters. That makes it the sort of team comic I would have been all about in the old DCU, but given that they've rebooted all of these characters and I literally know nothing about any of them anymore, I'm not terribly interested in reading about them at all, let alone seeing how they interact with one another.

In essence, the reboot has made them all completely new characters with familiar names, so there's little about this that is any more appealing than any random superhero team book would be.

I'm quite surprised to see Stargirl on the team, as she shouldn't really even be able to exist in the New 52. She's the step-daughter of Golden Age superhero Stripesy, who took the name and legacy of Golden Age superhero The Star-Spangled Kid, before later adopting the name Stargirl in honor of the Starman legacy, even using Starman Jack Knight's energy weapon. In the New 52, of course, The Kid, Stripesy and Starman never existed. So I suppose it will be interesting to see how they work a legacy character like her into the new, legacy-less universe. (And how weird is it that her costume hasn't changed at all?)

I'm also surprised to see that in the New 52 Martian Manhunter wears a loin cloth over those new pants he got when he came back to life in Blackest Night/Brightest Day.

This comic is apparently going to be drawn by David Finch, which kills my curiosity. It doesn't seem like Finch is capable of keeping a monthly schedule, so putting him on this doesn't seem like the greatest idea, as then we'll have two Johns-written Justice League books with popular artists who need tons of fill-in artists attached.

I suppose it also signals that Finch finally gave up on "his" Batman book, Batman: The Dark Knight, which was conceived of and sold as Finch writing and drawing the Batman stories he wanted to tell, but soon he was getting co-writers and fill-in artists. I wonder if they'll cancel Dark Knight now, or if it will just keep going because it's a Batman book, and it doesn't matter overmuch who doing those (see also the Grant Morrison-launched Batman and Robin, which continued after Morrison moved on to a different book, and didn't need it anymore).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wednesday Comics Vs. "The New 52"

In 2009, DC Comics launched Wednesday Comics, an ambitious project that relied on the publishers deep stable of character and top talent comprised of industry veterans, superstar creators and up-and-comers to temporarily revive the classic Sunday adventure comic strip.

Published large newsprint and available each Wednesday, the project was essentially a funny pages of DC Comics characters. Not all of the strips worked all that well. Some worked better than others, some worked better some weeks than others, but it was undoubtedly a success—a project designed to grab attention and to hold it, and, it's worth noting, providing easily accessible versions of the various characters in standalone stories that should have proven just as entertaining to folks who had never read a DC comic book as they would have to old hands.

I began thinking about Wednesday Comics again a few months into DC's 2011 "New 52" reboot/rebranding, as so many of the stated goals of it seemed to coincide with what DC had done a few years earlier with Wednesday Comics. In short, I was curious to see how many of the characters characters/features from Wednesday Comics were also chosen as stars in The New 52, and how many of the creators from the earlier project were involved in relaunching the DC Universe.

Wednesday Comics had 15 regular features, starring 16 different characters/teams of characters: Batman, Kamandi, Superman, Deadman, Green Lantern, Metamorpho, Teen Titans, Strange Adventures starring Adam Strange, Supergirl, Metal Men, Wonder Woman, Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, The Flash, Hawkman and The Demon and Catwoman, who shared a feature.

Of those, ten characters received their own titles in the initial 52 books of the New 52 (and, in the case of Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern characters, multiple titles apiece), so it’s easier to name those who didn’t: Kamandi, Adam Strange, Metamorpho, The Metal Men and Deadman didn't get their own books (although Deadman has appeared in Justice League Dark, and the initial DC Presents story arc). (If you’re wondering about Sgt. Rock, his grandson starred in the short-lied Men of War series, which was canceled after eight issues, and The Demon lends his name to the title of the ensemble book Demon Knights, in which he appears).

Very few of the 27 writers and artists involved had New 52 projects.

Batman writer Brian Azzarello was and remains the writer of Wonder Woman.

Kamandi artist Ryan Sook has provided cover art for DC Comics Presents. Supergirl writer Jimmy Palmiotti has been co-writing All-Star Western, co-wrote The Ray and will be co-writing the upcoming Phantom Lady minis-series, which Supergirl artist Amanda Conner is providing cover art for.

Metal Men writer Dan DiDio wrote the short-lived OMAC series (which, like Men of War, was one of the first titles canceled with its eighth issue), an arc of DC Comics Presents and will soon be writing an upcoming Phantom Stranger series.

And that’s it.

Some of these creators would have been rather unlikely ones to continue their vision, or similarly reinvent other characters, on a regular, monthly DC comic book—Metamorpho writer Neil Gaiman, for example—and others have continued to work for DC in other capacities (Azzarello, Conner and the late, great Joe Kubert all worked on various aspect of that stupid Watchmen thing, Allred and Eduardo Risso on Vertigo projects), but there are some very talented, familiar superhero creators in this mix—Kurt Busiek, John Arcudi, Karl Kerschel—and some exciting new comers—like Ben Caldwell or Sean Galloway—whose presence in the New 52 would have been welcome.

I wonder if it's also worth noting how little effort went in to redesigning the more iconic characters. Paul Pope, another artist whose stature is such it's hard to imagine him on a monthly, in-continuity DC Comic, redesigned the hell out of Adam Strange, of course, but mostly by bringing the pretty generic sci-fi/fantasy elements up-to-date from their post-WWII trappings. Lee Bermejo gave Superman an S-sheild belt-buckle like the one Brandon Routh wore in the last Superman movie. And that's...that's about it, really. Caldwell redesigned the villains and supporting cast members of Wonder Woman, but his Wonder Woman looked and dressed almost exactly like the DCU one.

The New 52, meanwhile, rather radically redesigned everyone's costumes, including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Flash, about a half dozen of the best superhero costumes in esistence.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So what did you think of that new Batman movie...?

Batman on a horse!

Artist Chris Burnham draws Batman on a horse in the pages of 2011's Batman, Incorporated #7.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quick question: Just how rebooted is the newly rebooted Batman, Incorporated...?

I recently read Batman, Incorporated: The Deluxe Edition, a hardcover collection of the eight issues of the Batman, Incorporated monthly series and a special that was basically two or three issues in one, written by Grant Morrison and featuring art by a generally quite talented battalion of artists. I was waiting for the cheaper trade paperback collection to finally read this series, but my local comic shop was having a 20% off sale on graphic novels, and I wasn't strong enough to resist.

In general, I enjoyed the series quite a bit, and I'll write more about it in greater detail at some point in the near future, but one thing kept nagging me while I was reading it.

Morrison continued his "Every Batman story happened" approach to Batman continuity, with a surprising amount of plot details pulled from Batman comics from the 1950s, and characters pulled from Bat-comics from the 1940s, '60s and 90s, and even early 2000s. While there are a lot of little references and allusions to "get," it's hardly necessary that you need to do so (In fact, this "Deluxe Edition" is apparently made deluxe simply by having Morrison point out all the cameos and character origins in a back-matter feature). But it is very rooted in Batman continuity, particularly that of Morrison's own creation, but he uses the entire Bat-family as it stood at the time of the series creation in the story.

It was gnawing in the back of my mind as I was reading, and sort of exploded at the climactic, cliffhanger ending, that the New 52boot has undone a lot of the characters Batman teams up with in this book.

For example, in this book, Barbara Gordon is Oracle (and a digital Batgirl fighting cyber-crime in the Internet via avatar), Stephanie Brown is Batgirl, Cassandra Cain is The Black Bat, Dick Grayson was Robin and is now (also) Batman and Tim Drake was Robin and is now Red Robin. A particular version of The Outsiders superhero team appears.

I haven't read any New 52 Bat-books yet, but I understand Gordon was apparently never Oracle, we're not sure if Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain ever even existed or not, so they certainly weren't Batgirl. Whheter or not Tim Drake was ever Robin seems to be something still under discussion, and depends on who you ask at DC. I know Grayson has gone back to being Nightwing...was he ever Batman? Did they explain why he went back to being Nightwing instead of Batman in the pages of his own series?

There's so much continuity referenced in this book, and a lot of it probably doesn't matter overmuch—like, whether Batman had an Ace, The Bat-Hound in the New 52iverse, or not—but it really doesn't look like it would work in a five-year timeline, and, if nothing else, few members of the supporting cast seem like they could still "work" if this were read from the perspective of The New 52, and even the villain and the villain's motivation becomes...suspect, given the reboot.

Anyway, I know the New 52 iteration just started—issue #3 is in shops this week—so maybe a lot of this isn't even clear yet, but if any of you have been reading Batman Inc and/or the other Batman titles since the reboot, I'm curious to know just how rebooted the new volume of the series is.


In the Chris Burnham-drawn image above, Batman Dick Grayson is apparently working up a thirst in the pages of last winter's Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes, and is asking his sidekick for a drink.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some sequels to some picture books I really liked:

Chopsticks (Hyperion Books; 2012)

In the upper right-hand corner of this cover, there's a tiny little image of Spoon, the star of the very good picture book Spoon, waving to readers and saying, "not exactly a sequel to Spoon. More like a change in place setting."

Writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal and artist Scott Magoon return to the same world of anthropomorphic kitchen utensils, focusing on Chopsticks, the two characters who were among the many Spoon was jealous of in his book, because it seemed to him that they (and Fork and Knife) always got to do all kinds of cool and fun things that he couldn't (Spoon, Fork, Knife and other characters from the original, including the rough-looking tea bag, all appear).

"Perhaps you've met Chopsticks?" the first page asks, and we see the identical chopsticks, holding hands and waving to the reader, the only difference between them being a slight one in the way Magoon draws their minimalist eyebrow lines to give them slightly different smiles.

Krouse devotes the next six pages or so describing their long relationship and inseparability, and all of the things they've done together, with Magoon offering darling illustrations of the friends lifting sushi together, bathing in the sink together.

One day, while trying to master a fancey new culinary trick, which appeared to be a a form of chopstick kung fu used in eating asparagus tips, one of them suffers a terrible injury, a dramatic red "SNAP!" cracking his bottom tip almost clean off.

He's whisked away—by an actual whisk, one of the more subtle of Rosenthal and Magoon's visual puns—and taken to the medicine cabinet, a hospital full of anthropomorphic cotton balls, Q-tips, bandages and other items (note the Saline solution, crying). There the doctor, a bottle of glue, informs the other chopstick that the injury just needs to set.
The non-broken chopstick refuses to leave the side of the broken chopstick, until he's forced to do so by the injured one:
"What could I possibly do without you? Nothing! That's what!"

"You'd be surprised. Go, my friend. And then come back and tell me about it."
You won't be surprised to learn that after initially being unsure of himself, the chopstick goes on to find all sorts of fun things he can do without his partner and best friend (a list that includes only one thing I've ever done with a single chopstick, which is use it in lieu of a toothpick to see if a cakey baked good is done baking or not).

"Unexpectedly," we're told, being apart had made each of them even stronger."

So, it's a kitchen fable about co-dependency basically...? Sort of. While the message is a bit more complex and maybe mature than Spoon's everyone is different, and those differences are what can give value to life message, with a bit of look to your own life for meaning and happiness, it's still simple enough: An exhortation (or, depending on your age, perhaps a reminder) to be yourself and live your own life, even if it's in conjunction with another or others. Time apart, or time to yourself, is a sign of a strong relationship, not a weak one.

That, and maybe something about not trying to flying kick stalks of asparagus, as you can really mess up your leg doing that.

Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans (Carolrhoda books; 2011)

Chris Monroe's Monkey With a Tool Belt, the 2007 picture book with maybe the best title ever, spawned its first sequel in 2009, with Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem. But with her latest book, the adventures of one Chico Bon Bon (the monkey who has to tool belt) have become an epic trilogy.

The pleasures of this one are the same as those in the previous one, first and foremost among them being that it is a book about a monkey with a tool belt. Just think about that, meditate on it. That is a hell of a thing right there. The chief pleasure remains Monroe's excellent art work, however, which gets sharper and more refined with each additional installment. Her character designs get stronger, more fully-realized and more animated with each book, but her artwork retains its rough, simple almost hurried-looking style.

Chico is trying to fix a sprinkler for some of his fellow anthropomorphic animals, when "the mail kitty" rides up:
Ha ha, "Hello, Kitty!" Funny.

Clark, the elephant character from the previous book, has summoned Chico by postcard to his uncle's sea side resort, where things are breaking and Chico's know-how is needed. After a journey by bicycle rickshaw, during which he fixes many problems he finds along the way, he arrives at the resort, and Monroe presents it in a lovely, two-page spread that's part map, part illustration, and it's all full of wonderful, funny little details.
Clark introduces Chico to his uncle, who turns out to be an alligator! How could an alligator be the uncle of an elephant? It's a mystery, but not one the characters concerns themselves with. Rather, they try to solve the mystery of the very strange occurrences that keep leading to things getting broken around the resort. Chico fixes them, picking up clues as he goes, until he performs a difficult operation to open a stuck door...
...and finds the root cause of all the troubles, which I am now going to spoil:
"Chico had not expected this," the narration dryly states.

Once Chico explains to the large, green dancing duck that its violent, clumsy dancing has resulted in a bunch of damage, it promises to be careful next time, and rides away. Problem solved.

Look at this duck:
I love it.

The Monster Returns (Henry Holt; 2012)

This is the sequel to Peter McCarty's Jeremy Draws a Monster, a book I was enormously enamored with (as I was with McCarty's Henry In Love).

As you may or may not recall, in the original we met Jeremy, a blank-faced little boy who liked to stay alone up in his room drawing while all the other kids played outside. One day, he draws a monster, and the monster proves to be pretty poor company, and eventually Jeremy has to draw the monster a one-way bus ticket to get rid of him.

As the title betrays, the monster comes back, although, as the cover illustration shows, the two former roommates seem to be on decent terms now. Maybe some time apart did them both some good (not unlike the chopsticks in Chopsticks, perhaps!).

McCarty opens with Jeremy once again drawing alone in his room, while kids play ball in the street below. A paper airplane arrives in Jeremy's window, with the instructions, "Draw a Compass and a Telescope. Look out your window North by Northwest."

Guess what he sees, in a rather neat reveal that comes with a turn of the page?
That's right, the monster, still wearing that magnificent going-out hat Jeremy drew for him in the last book. The phone rings, and the monster tells Jeremy "I'm bored...And I'm coming back!"

If one hadn't read the first book, I suppose there could be some menace in this threat, as the monster is a monster. Likewise, the conflict could be seen as non-existent, as a reader who didn't read of the monster's previous time with Jeremy wouldn't know how demanding and impolite the monster is.

At any rate, Jeremy comes up with a cool plan, in which he invites the kids up to his room to each draw their own monster—treating readers to a half-dozen more McCarty monster designs, each composed of tiny little lines of one color, as the original, and each reflecting the appearance of their creator in someway (Unlike the original, each of these seems to be influenced by a particular animal, rather than being a more general monster; that is, one looks feline, another is a bird, there's a rabbit monster and a goldfish monster, and so on).
The monster returns to a room full of monsters, and the ending is fairly touching, of the sort that may warm a young parents heart, or break the heart of a lonely old emotionally unstable man.

I liked it a lot.

Revenge of the Dinotrux (Little, Brown; 2012)

I had previously declared Chris Gall a super-genius for his 2009 Diontrux, which super-ingeniously combined the two very most favorite things of most little boys—trucks and dinosaurs—into an irresistible class of creatures. He would take a particular dinosaur species and a particular truck or truck-like piece of construction equipment, and come up with an amalgam entity, devoting two pages to describing a little something about it's life.

So for example, bulldozer + triceratops = Dozeratops, and dump truck + diplodocus = Dumploducus, and, of course, truck + Tyrannosaurus Rex = Tyrannosaurus Trux.

In the original, Gall explained that "millions of years ago prehistoric trucks roamed the earth" and that "they weren't helpful like the are today." After that introduction, he gave readers a tour of his imagine prehistory (in which cavemen and dinotruck lived side by side...?!), before eventually explaining that Dinotrux evolved into the trucks of today. Like a good monster movie though, he had a stinger ending, in which a rusty T. Trux is seen in a dark museum, it's headlight/eyes suddenly turning on.

Revenge of the Dinotrux fulfills the promise of that page. In this book, the rusty carcasses of the Dinotrux are on display in museums, which treat them a little like zoos, since they are still technically alive. It's not a lot of fun for the Dinotrux, and after one especially rough day at the museum (Kindergarten Day), T. Trux loses his shit, charges himself up, and leads his fellow Dinotrux through a hole he breaks in the wall.

"The Dinotrux want revenge!" the narration screams.

What follows is a series of one and two page illustrated scenes depicted the Dinotrux—the same species from the original, with a few intriguing new ones, like The Velocitractors—interacting with the modern day world, and causing all sorts of chaos. It's kind of like a G-rated version of the Topps "Dinosaurs Attack!" card series, only with robot rather than reptile dinos.

When the humans have had enough, they force the Dinotrux to attend school to learn how modern trucks are supposed to behave, but they rebel from that as well, and ultimately use their construction skills to build a solution to the problem that sent them screaming out of the museum in the first place.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Comic shop comics: August 15

Daredevil #17 (Marvel Entertainment) I'm strongly considering renaming this recurring feature "Daredevil and Maybe a Few Other Comics", because the ostensibly monthly Daredevil comic book seems to come out at least as often as I write this ostensibly weekly column.

For this particular issue, writer Mark Waid is joined by artist Michael Allred and his colorist/wife Laura Allred and it is, unsurprisingly, one perfect-looking comic book. Allred draws like he was bred, born and trained to be the ultimate artist of Silver Age Marvel superheroes, and while I imagine it's much more creatively fulfilling for him to be doing things like adapting the Book of Mormon or drawing Madman and/or Atomics comics, it's always a treat to seem him tackle one of Big Two's IPs.

This is a done-in-one in which Matt Murdock reflects upon his relationship with friend and now former law partner Foggy Nelson, thinking about some of the fights they had in the past, and this one time he totally fought The Stilt-Man.

There's some great melodrama in here involving Matt and Foggy and the great gift the latter gives the former, and a rather remarkable image of Daredevil posing, leg up on the edge of a rooftop, looking heroic in a big, bold panel that doesn't look all that Allred-esque. The centerpiece, though, is a chase sequence-turned-fight sequence in which DD tries to catch up to and take down Stilt-Man, who is taking fantastically long strides to power-walk away from the scene of the crime.

In a perfect world, every issue of Daredevil—and every other superhero comic—would look this good, and feature the work of an artist who can just draw the hell out of any and everything the writer puts in the script.

Green Lantern #12 (DC Comics) Green Lantern has long been DC's most suspenseful book. Every month, pencil artist Doug Mahnke is joined by somewhere between two and seven different inkers, most of whom weren't solicited and quite clearly there because the art was running very late, and there was no time for an artist or three to ink the pencils before it had to go to press. DC was seemingly always just turning this book in at the last minute, leaving one to wonder, will they ever completely blow a deadline, will they ever get so far behind that no amount of inkers can help Mahnke get this book across the finish line?

Well, this is the month!

Instead of the solicited art team of Mahnke and Mark Irwin, this month's issue shipped featuring artwork by Renato Guedes and Jim Calafiore. The former handles ten, maybe 12 pages (a few are so rough it's hard to tell who drew 'em), while the latter, an artist apparently prized for his speed and unfortunate to be one of those who had their careers dented by work on Countdown, draws the remaining eight-to-ten pages.

While Guedes does a fine job on his pages, and his style is close enough to Mahnke's that it's at least in keeping with the general look of the book, Calafiore's doesn't look a thing like GUedes' or Mahnke's, and looks like the emergency fill-in work it so obviously is.

DC of course offered to fully refund the cost of this issue to anyone who pre-ordered it expecting Mahnke and Irwin, because if there's one thing DC gives, it's a shit about its readers.

Daredevil is always a pretty great comic that (almost) always features great art. This isn't an exception.

Saga #6 (Image Comics) This is still good.

Saucer Country #6 (DC) Guest artist Jimmy Broxton joins Paul Cornell for a more-or-less standalone issue of the series entitled "A Field Guide To Flying Saucers," which is more-or-less just that. Presented as the governor's newly recruited UFO expert's slide presentation on the history of UFO/space alien contact as a cultural phenomenon, it's a nice, quick overview of the subject with Cornell's finger on the fast-forward button.

It's also an opportunity to see Broxton draw the angels of Ezekiel, Kenneth Arnold and the ships he saw in 1947, Mulder and Scully, George Adamski, the Hopkinsville Goblins and so on.

Wonder Woman #12 (DC) In this conclusion to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's year-long story about Wonder Woman getting caught up in a power struggle between various Olympians, she and Hermes have a rematch against Apollo and Diana.

In a scene straight out of Dragon Ball Z, she strips off her apparently very, very, very heavy wristbands, which "CHUNK" so hard on the ground of Mount Olympus that they crack it and sink into the holes they make. She coyly references the fact that they inhibit her true powers (kind of like how Goku and Piccolo would fight wearing heavily-weighted clothing), and then her eyes, the star in her tiara and ribbing in her top start glowing with energy and she beats the shit out of the goddess Diana (Colorist Matthew Wilson does a particularly fine job; because the coloring effects are so sparsely used, when something glows in the pages of Wonder Woman, that glow stands out). I'm no expert, but I'm not sure the twelfth part of a twelve-part story is the best time to mention for the first time that your protagonist has some strange, never-before-alluded to god-wrecking power.
Then they call a truce, so the conflict isn't resolved so much as stopped, somethign similar to something that happened in Marvel's Incredible Hercules series happens, Hermes temporarily gifts Wonder Woman with the power of flight (which she had before the New 52-boot, and which Azzarello never referenced whether or not she had over the course of the last 11-and-a-half issues until she's given it here) and there's a truly weird epilogue in which Wonder Woman seems to include the last page of a new New Gods series.
If Wonder Woman going to continue to be more of a book dealing with Ancient Greek mythology than anything Wonder Woman or superheroine specific, I suppose it makes sense to follow up a year-long arc dealing with the Greek "old" gods with something to do with Jack Kirby's "new" gods, and it could prove pretty fascinating to see the pantheons interact. It's just awfully out-of-left-field, like a few other key elements of this particular issue.

Great art, as always.

Oh, and the cover? It has nothing to do with the insides of the book, save that both characters appear, so don't buy this if you're expecting smooching!


...Wait, did Wonder Woman really call her bracelets/wristbands "cuffs" in that panel up there...?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: Dark X-Men

I'm not quite sure I understand how exactly this particular comic book mini-series would have worked, or if it worked as it was originally published in 2010, as part of the big, Marvel Universe shared mega-narrative of the time.

This was the post-Secret Invasion, pre-Siege era in which the president of the United States had decided that former supervillain and mentally-ill convicted murderer Norman Osborn should replace Tony "Iron Man" Stark as the Marvel United States of America's official Boss of All The Superheroes, apparently based on the fact that Osborn managed to shoot the queen of an invading alien army in the head before Iron Man could shoot her in the head. That's how presidential appointments work, in Marvel's United States. There, Donald Rumsfeld was made Bush's Secretary of Defense based solely on the fact that he was the first candidate for the job to score a head-shot during a supervillain attack on Bush/Cheney campaign headquarters during the 2000 campaign.

Anyway, the state of the X-Men at this point in Marvel recent history was a little weird–they were magically whittled down to just 200 mutants, and most of them moved onto a little island off the coast of San Francisco that they declared the sovereign nation of Utopia, which is just asking for trouble (I woulda went with "San FranXo").

Osborn, being a villain, hired a bunch of villains to dress up as The Avengers in a book called Dark Avengers, using them as his own personal version of the Marvel Universe's premier super-team. This is Dark X-Men, and the premise is therefore quite similar—Osborn-approved bad mutants masquerading as good mutants—but since the X-Men play such a different role in Marvel society, there doesn't really seem to be any reason for Osborn to need/want a team of his own.

That is, if the Avengers are the police of the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are more like vigilantes. If the Avengers are the armed forces, the X-Men are freedom fighters or a terrorist cell.

So I had a hard time wrapping my head around this book's very existence, and thus really appreciate what a decent job writer Paul Cornell did of making a self-contained, super-people drama out of it, one more focused on a collection of bad, broken people trying to meet their own goals. Also, he kinda sorta makes it all about Osborn, rather than The X-Men (Dark, Uncanny, Astonishing, Legacy-having or otherwise), so that it seems to be a thread of the the whole "Dark Reign" tapestry of post-Secret Invasion, pre-Siege Marvel stories.

His X-Men, seen on the cover as depicted by former Astonishing X-Men artist Simone Bianchi, are Mimic (who actually looks like original X-Man Angel), Dark Beast (who is apparently just like regular Beast, but evil), Mystique (who shape-shifts to resemble Jean Grey when in public) and Omega (who I think is maybe from an "Alpha Flight" story, and was maybe introduced in that one Brian Michael Bendis issue of an Avengers comic which spent some eight pages, mostly splash pages, visually describing a town in Alaska blowing up or something).

Cornell, working with his Captain Britain and MI:13 partner Leonard Kirk (and Jay Leisten, who inked 3/5ths of the book) introduces the characters in each issue with a little box listing their name and a song title to describe them, which is either clever/cute or annoying, depending on if you get the references, and/or care to think about the ways in which Nathan Grey, the shirtless mutant messiah who used to star in a book called X-Man is like a particular Rolling Stones song).

Cornell portrays Mimic and Omega as basically decent but screwed-up people trying to do the right thing more often than the wrong thing, but aren't quite in control of their enormous powers and lacking something upstairs or in their hearts. The Dark Beast is an unrepentant psychopath, although there's a kinda clever gimmick to the way Cornell rights him, as post-human sentient who regards human beings the way too many human beings regard animals (the blatancy of his name and appearance form nice, bombastic underlines and exclamation points).

In the course of their duties as Osborn's own personal mutant-focused super-team, they stumble upon Grey, whose backstory I don't know/get at all, but apparently he's some kind of pure energy, nigh-omnipotent future mutant with the potential to do a lot of good for the world, including the bad-to-worse members of the "Dark X-Men," and he attempts to do it by hijacking Norman Osborn's brain, which leads to a weird little adventure inside Osborn's mind involving the title characters, Grey, Osborn and The Green Goblin.

It's a down ending of course, because it's part of a mega-narrative with the word "Dark" right there in the branding, and because the happy ending has to be saved for the Brian Michael Bendis conceived and executed Siege storyline that undoes this status quo, but it's a decent character study of Osborn and, to a lesser extent, the minor characters given a spotlight in the title.

The real stars though are Cornell, whose writing is sharp, clever and imaginative, and Kirk, whose art is smooth, clear and clean, building settings and characters that feel organically linked and occasionally calling to mind the superhero art of Stuart Immonen.

I don't really like X-Men comics, and I don't really know much of anything about any of the characters running around the pages of this book, but I kinda liked this anyway, which I assume is thanks to the great care and craft that went into making it, and Cornell and Kirk's ability to take apathy-inducing source material and make something interesting out of it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review: World War Hulk: X-Men

Despite the title, the three-issue World War Hulk: X-Men miniseries only accounts for the first 66 pages of this 240-page trade paperback. Also included are two issues apiece of Avengers: The Initiative, Ghost Rider and Iron Man, with one issue of The Irredeemable Ant-Man. Each of these tied into the "World War Hulk" event/story, and are supposedly not alluded to at all in the title of the collection for the same reason they put Wolverine on the cover instead of the rest of the X-Men. It's what they think will sell the most volumes.

If you've never read it, World War Hulk was a 2007 five-issue crossover miniseries that pitted a righteously angry Hulk versus Civil War heavies Iron Man and Reed Richards, plus Blackbolt, Dr. Strange and the rest of the Marvel Universe, who wanted to keep the Hulk and his army of space-alien invaders from wrecking the world in their pursuit of the Iron Man. While it was plotted by group-think, with the Brian Michael Bendis-invented "Illuminati" getting the ball rolling a few years ahead of time, it was written by Greg Pak and drawn by John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson.

Unlike the similarly-sized Marvel crossovers that preceded (and followed) it, World War Hulk was pretty straightforward: Everyone fights the Hulk, although it was given a little more dramatic complexity by the fact that the guys he wanted to punish totally deserved it. After Civil War, who didn't want to see Iron Man and Reed Richards get their faces punched in? Also unlike the other Marvel event series, this one featured characters who acted like themselves, and thus much of it rang true.

This collection if basically just a big handful of the many tie-in series, seemingly chosen at random, and the stories themselves are fairly repetitive. In each one, the title characters fight the Hulk without defeating him; each ends either in a draw or the Hulk victorious, as the real story was of course occurring in World War Hulk itself, not some random issue of the tertiary Avengers book or an Ant-Man comic, and any and all major, dramatic beats would necessarily have to occur there.

I read three of these issues before, and talked about them before, so I won't talk abou them again here (Irredeemable Ant-Man in this column, if you wanna read what I had to say about it when it first came out, and the two Avengers: The Initiative, I don't feel like looking 'em up. There on the blog somewhere in some 2007-era editions of "Weekly Haul").

The sub-titular story is by writer Christos Gage and artist Andrew Divito, both of whom are pretty great at these sorts of superhero comics.

Gage has to engage into some labored set-ups to even involve the X-Men. Because Charles Xavier sometimes hung out with "The Illuminati" group that decided to shoot The Hulk into outerspace, the thing he's so damn mad about that he's returned for vengeance, The Hulk wants to track down Chuck and ask him how he would have voted on the issue of shooting Hulk into space, and punish him for it if he says he would have said yes.

Charlie could have always just said, "Oh no way Hulk, I totally would have voted to not shoot you into space," at which point the Hulk would go away, but, well, that wouldn't fill 66-pages with fighting.

And so after invading Manhattan and issuing an ultimatum to the world that they deliver Iron Man, Richards and Dr. Strange, The Hulk goes on a side trip to X-Men HQ in Westchester. He fights The Beast and the "New X-Men" characters for one issue—these are the new, teenaged heroes who go to school at the Xavier Institute—in order to get at Chuck (Who does offer to surrender, but the kids won't let him). Then, in issue two, the real X-Men swoop in to fight the Hulk—these are the guys who were then starring in Astonishing X-Men; you know, Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost. The Hulk beats them all up, too.

Finally, the other X-Teams all come in to try and help out, so we get one more issue of The Hulk fighting the cast of X-Factor, The Juggernaut, Nightcrawler, Native American Stereotype Man and that space-cat lady someone at The Beat really likes for some reason. The Hulk wins, but is ultimately shamed into just going back to the Manhattan to continue with the plot of World War Hulk after he's shown a graveyard full of dead mutant kids.

As fight comics go, it's about as pure as you can get. Highlights, for me, included The Hulk throwing one character's limbs into Connecticut, punting another character to New Jersey, and removing some special Vibranium knives from his arms simply by flexing really hard and making them pop out.
The artwork looks particularly gorgeous when read in 2012, as Marvel's coloring hadn't gotten as computer effect-dominated at that point as it has today.

Daniel Way, Javier Salteres and Scott Hanna's Ghost Rider story is a fairly standard one about a human host wrestling for control with the parasitic spirit of vengeance housed in his body (well, standard for superhero comics, anyway). The Ghost Rider wants to continue chasing a demon or whatever from the previous issues of Ghost Rider (not collected here), while Johnny Blaze wants to use the Ghost Rider's powers to stop The Hulk.

They fight in a big, splashy brawl of the sort only The Hulk and a flaming skeleton demon thing on a flaming motorcycle can. Ghostie uses the Brooklyn Bridge as a ramp to fly into town and drops a building on The Hulk; The Hulk retaliates by throwing a subway car at him and then jumping off the top of the Empire State Building and landing on him. Eventually, the Ghost Rider takes control of Blaze, and rides away from the crossover and back to his own title.

The artwork is again quite nice, although the computer flame effects are a bit much, distracting from the otherwise very drawn, very comic book-y look of the illustrations. Salteres' Hulk looks especially human scaled and even handsome compared to the more gigantic, monstrous Hulk we see in the other stories, which is also a little on the distracting side. With five different artists—more if you count cover artists like Ed McGuinness—no two Hulks look a like in this book.

Finally, Gage and artist Butch Guice provide the Iron Man issues, which span a time period that begins before the other stories that precede it in this collection and ends after them. Since Iron Man is, at this point, Boss Of All The Superheroes and Hulk's target, this story should be the most important in this collection—it's certainly the most relevant one to the events of World War Hulk, so it's rather surprising to find it at the end of the collection, a collection which doesn't even mention Iron Man, but whose sub-title and cover makes it appear that this is simply a collection of a single miniseries.

At this point in the Marvel Universe, Iron Man was something of a high-tech, superhero-flavored espionage series, and this story is mainly concerned with how SHIELD responds to their director Tony Stark flying off to fight Hulk, and what they do when Stark is taken down and captured. It's serious in tone, much more so than the light-hearted, almost-silly X-Men mini also written by Gage, and Guice's realistic art is perfectly appropriate for that focus.

And that's that. As a collection, it's a real quilt of characters, art styles and storytelling, and the presentation's a bit of a head-scratcher, but it's not a bad batch of old-school fight comics, and none of the art is bad, nor any of the stories poorly-written.

It's been about five years since I first read that Ant-Man issue and was perplexed by all the Old Spice product placement (Old Spice billboards fall in the fighting, a shrunken Ant-Man finds bottles of Old Spice body wash in The Hulk's stomach for some reason), and it's still super-weird to me.