Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: Animal Man Vol. 3: Rotworld: The Red Kingdom

I thought Animal Man was supposed to be one of the good New 52 books, one of the best comics DC is currently publishing? It's probably the comic I see cited most often in the comments that occasionally attach themselves to pieces I write at Robot 6, or under articles on various blogs about some dumb editorial decision DC has made; you know, things like, "Ugh, DC is the worst, Animal Man is the only book I'm still reading" or "That it, I'm dropping everything but Animal Man" or "Wow, I guess I can drop Batwoman too now, so Animal Man is my last DC comic."

And it's written by Jeff Lemire, a very talented cartoonist and pretty decent super comics-script writer that everyone seems to like, in this volume occasionally collaborating with Scott Snyder, who seems to be the universally accepted Best Writer At DC.

And yet this comic is sort of awful. Granted, I started the series with volume 3 instead of volume 1 (my only previous encounter with New 52 Animal Man being this summer's annual), but what I found wanting about it had absolutely nothing to do with not being able to follow the plot or recognize and understand the characters and their conflicts (all of which were pretty similar to how I remember them from 1990s Vertigo stories); Lemire and Snyder do a fine job of making this volume stand on its own and serve as an easy enough entry point.

Rather, I just found the whole endeavor repetitive (of older, better comics I read as a teenager), and bloodless and cold. It was plain old generic superhero comics, without any interesting or fresh ideas boiling under the surface; the art was occasionally very creepy and weird, and kept my eyes from drifting up from the page to the carpet or wall paper, but it was inconsistent (seven artists were involved in the volume), and rarely inspired enough to make up for the overall deficiencies of the comic.
Steve Pugh's "Rot Queen Maxine" is scary as fuck. Good job, Steve Pugh!
This volume contains eight issues of Animal Man and two of Swamp Thing; despite the 200-page contents, a sizable chunk of the narrative seems to be missing, as the two DC-to-Vertigo-and-back heroes are separated when arriving in Rotworld and go on separate quests that converge; we see the start and climax of both, but Swamp Thing is otherwise MIA, returning with a bunch of characters that weren't introduced and with a deus ex machina not mentioned int his volume until it appears (Given the title, I suspect there's a volume of Swamp Thing out there with the sub-title "Rotworld: The Green Kingdom," but if issues of this aren't reprinted there as well, I have a hard time imagining how complete that story must read).

Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, is on the run with his family: Wife Ellen, be-mulleted teenage son Cliff, power-sprouting young daughter Maxine, and his mother-in-law. Both she and Ellen are pretty unhappy with Buddy about all the dangerous craziness he brings into their lives, an unhappiness that ultimately culminates with Ellen leaving him. I read issues written by Jamie Delano featuring these very conflicts and events, some of which were drawn by artists Steve Pugh, who drew the lion's share of this volume, increasing the sense of deja vu (The greatest change is that Animal Man's costume is quite different, and he looks like a minor X-Men character. While these issues were being published, there are Animal Man collections written by one of the most popular writers to work with DC in the last twenty years for sale on bookstore shelves, and short cartoons featuring Animal Man on Cartoon Network; he looks completely different. Synergy!).

What they are running from are agents of The Rot, which is the equivalent of The Red, the mystical lifeforce web that binds all animals that Animal Man draws his powers from, and The Green (Replace "animals" with "plants" and "Animal Man" with "Swamp Thing").  Cliff has been injured and seems to be near death, and while the adults argue about how best to help him, ultimately Buddy convinces them they have to stop the problem at its root, by visiting the swamp with a talking cat and allying themselves with Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane, both of whom have slightly different haircuts, but seem to be otherwise immediately recognizable as their mid-nineties Vertigo selves.

The two character with books bearing their names dive into a fetid pool that is a portal into The Rot, and something something, Arcane is the Avatar of The Rot, they end up in a post-apocalyptic, possible, so-sure-to-be-immediately-reversed-this-might-as-well-be-an-Elseworlds-world future in which The Rot has conquered the world, save for a handful of heroes in need of Animal Man and Swamp Thing's leadership to win the day.

In this respect, it reads a lot like (what I've read of) Age of Ultron or sections of Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's "Rock of Ages" storyline; there are no consequences, and thus no import, to anything that happens (In fact, a reset button is pushed by cosmic forces near the end, sending the characters back in time to prevent Rotworld from ever coming to pass.

But what it reminded me most of was Jeph Loeb's "Hush" story arc in Batman: A series of cameos, strung together like beads. Many of these are indeed cool, several are completely out-of-left-field (Would Medphyll be in many readers' list of The Top Ten Green Lanterns Most Likely To Appear In a crossover...?*). That is at least one virtue to the parade of Geoff Johns-like guest-star reveals; many of them are relatively minor characters, fan-favorites (as in, like, one fan likes them a whole lot) that probably don't appear as often as they should.

They get a chance to shine, and some cool stuff happens, like Frankenstein joining The Green Lantern Corps.
Black Orchid can morph her hands into big scary monster claws, just like her namesake flower
So Buddy teams up with New 52 Black Orchid, who wears purple cabbage leaves, can change shape and generally looks infinitely worse than the original DCU version or the later version reinvented by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (And why would you want her to resemble the version of her appearing in that graphic novel by Neil Gaiman? It's not like millions of people like to read books that guy writes or anything); Beast Boy, who is now red and doesn't look anything like the version in Teen Titans, Young Justice or the new Teen Titans Go cartoons that are on television;  Steel, who is now a robot with his consciousness uploaded; and John Constantine, who apparently must appear in every single comic featuring more than two superheroes in it.

Together they pick up some more allies, like Frankenstein and his Patchwork Horde, an army of sewn together cavalry on sewn-together horses that the Rot can't rot and the aforementioned Medphyll, and fight some villains, like Blackbriar Thorn and Gorilla Grodd and his gorilla army (which Mallah and The Brain are in).
Pugh's cover to Animal Man #13, I think, featuring an awesome Rotworld Hawkman
At Arcane's castle, they meet Swamp Thing's team—a Batgirl who looks like a female Man-Bat, Mister Freeze, a giant Batman robot with the power to fix everything—and get in a big fight with the various forces of The Rot, most of which are corrupted, badly deformed versions of DC superheroes and villains behaving a bit like zombies, only much more fucked-up looking.

A lot of them die horribly, but who cares? It reboots at the end, as is clear from the pages.

In order to win the day, they have to get the Batman robot-thing up into the clouds, where it will make it green Fix Stuff juice, that will fix stuff. Because this is an Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover, it falls on them to get it up into the sky, by having Swamp Thing grow wings made of plants (?) and fly it, while Animal Man fights Arcane atop it.
Artist Andrew Belanger takes over for the climax, because that's when you wanna see a different artist come in. I'm no botanist, so I don't know how much metal a pair of leaf wings can carry
This is sort of weird, since Green Lantern Frankenstein, who has a magic ring that specializes in allowing its bearer to fly and in lifting heavy objects, usually in green spheres or giant green hands, keep the hordes at bay. This would be a little like a Justice League story where Superman is like, "Batman, I'll keep these thugs off your back while you  fly that nuclear missile up into space where it won't hurt anyone when it goes off in thirty seconds!"

And then, back in the past, Cliff dies, which is actually more funny and sigh-inducing than tragic, given the fact that Grant Morrison, the writer who salvaged Animal Man from DC trivia obscurity and made him a character capable of supporting his own book (and serving as a pillar for DC's adult reader Vertigo imprint), a writer whose work apparently so inspired both Lemire and Snyder that they are here near-constantly echoing and quoting aspects of characters Morrison wrote, whether from Morrison's runs or from those that preceded or followed Morrison, did a whole story arc decrying cheap shock tactics like killing off Buddy Baker's family as pretty shitty things for writers to do.

I liked seeing so many characters I like—particularly Steel, whose presence isn't what I would have hoped in a rebooted DCU—and much of the artwork is fine, but it all felt quite soulless, like a plot for a comic book with a first-draft of a script that got illustrated, before the writers could work in any real drama, or any fresh, big, new ideas that can justify the otherwise generic Heroes Go To a Shitty Possible Future Then Avert It storyline.

If those Internet comment leavers are right, and this is the best DC Comic, than the publisher is in much greater creative trouble than I could have imagined.

Luckily, Internet comment-leavers are never, ever right about anything.**

*On the other hand, he has appeared in Swamp Thing before, so, again, we have that repetitive, recycling element.

**Um, except for all you guys who leave comments on EDILW, of course. You guys are the best. You've discerning taste in writing-about-comics, you smell divine and, is that a new shirt? Or did you lose weight? Something looks different about you.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

DC's Villains Month post-mortem

I read 48 of the 52 Villians Month specials. I did it for money. (Left to my own devices and my own finances, I probably would have only bought the Two-Face and Bizarro issues...and maybe the Scarecrow one, depending on whether or not I flipped-through it and so who the artist was and what his art looked like in it.) I reviewed them in four, weekly installments for Robot 6, which you can read here, here, here and here.

The four I missed were The Creeper, Deadshot, Deathstroke and Joker's Daughter. (For the purposes of this post, I'm referring to them by character/star, not actual title, as the actual titles are those of the hero characters or teams that usually—but not always—interact with the villains on the covers, and all have decimal points in them and I don't want to deal with that shit right now.)

Of those, the only one I've seen on a comics shelf was the Deadshot one, a week or two after release, and I did flip-through it, even if I didn't read it. It didn't appear to have anything to do with Forever Evil, and looked rather dull. He jumps out of an airplane and shoots a guy with a special bullet and thinks about his life, is what I got from the flip-through. He still looks way too much like Lord Zedd from Power Rangers).

The third week was the hardest week to read; that week, I read all 13, and I think that may have exceeded the limit of the number of violent, mostly shoddily-made comic books about evil and depravity that I can read and write about in a single evening. My eyes, head, fingers, stomach and soul all kind of hurt before I closed my laptop for the night.

Here are some thoughts on the whole month's line in general.

1.) I think all of the covers would have been improved if the heroes themselves were not included in the backgrounds. They were likely included to both provide an additional background element for the weird 3D-like process and to symbolically riff on the idea of the villains "taking over" the heroes' books. If you looked at any of them, you'll notice that they each featured the hero of the book bound or otherwise defeated-looking in the background.

In many cases, images of the hero bound were repeated from book to book, regardless of the artist drawing the foreground. It tended to look incredibly cheap and lazy, particularly in the case of the Batman books, where there were about three or so different images of Batman spread across some 12-16 books.

It was worst on the Justice League books, as they just showed a whole team of characters laying around on the ground, asleep. In some of these, there weren't actually any backgrounds, so the prone heroes just sort of floated around with their eyes closed, some propped up against something, or an implied something which was actually just nothing. I think just about every single image would have been improved without the heroes in the background but, again, I understand why they were there in the first place. (The Batman/Superman issue featuring Doomsday  looked particularly weird, as a defeated, prone Superman was in the background, but there was no sign of Batman at all).

2.) The decimal points and the rigging of the sales charts, in which they published four issues of the most popular titles in a franchise and no issues of the secondary or tertiary titles (that is, four issues of Green Lantern, and no issues of Green Lantern Corps or Green Lantern: New Guardians or Red Lanterns), can't possibly help sell any comics in October, December, February or March. Say you liked the issue with The Cyborg Superman in it, or The Ventriloquist, and wanted to see more of those characters by those writers; you might naturally look for future issues of Action Comics and Batman: The Dark Knight, as those were the titles devoted to telling stories featuring those characters, but it looks like they will actually be continuing in Supergirl and Batgirl. So good luck unlocking the Da Vinci code to follow these characters and creators!

3.) There were more bad books than good ones. I devised a 1-10 rating system, but didn't award anything any number higher than a nine, and I think the average worked out to about a 4.

I think the best books were The Riddler, Parasite*, Killer Croc, Ocean Master, Ra's al Ghul, The Rogues and Bizarro. Those are the ones I gave eights and nines, but since nothing got a ten, I guess you should count the nines as tens and eights as nines.

There are some obvious trends in those seven issues: Three of them are Batman comics, two are Superman comics. Most have at least a little to do with Forever Evil, at least as a source of inspiration. But the main similarity they all have is simply this: They all featured good writing and good-to-great artwork. This isn't—or it really shouldn't be—any great secret or anything, but I guess it still bears repeating in many circles. The best way to make the best comics is to get good writers and good artists and good writer/artists, and assign them the work.

4.) In terms of importance in relation to the unified catalyst of the month's promotion (which does feel more like something someone in marketing came up with to tie into the big crossover story, rather than something Geoff Johns thought would serve the big crossover story), The Secret Society one was probably the only really essential read, in that it was so heavily connected to the events of Forever Evil, focusing on Earth-3's Alfred Pennyworth and Thomas Wayne, aka Owlman, and offering clues and suggestions regarding several plot elements.

The Lex Luthor issue is probably the next most essential, given the role he played in Forever Evil #1 (as the protagonist and therefore default "hero" of the book), and the comic is a day-in-the-life story of Luthor leading up to the events of that particular book.

The Rogues and Scarecrow and Bane issues were about as connected to the events of Forever Evil as any of the books mentioned between now and #5 on my list of observations, but are perhaps of greater note because they lead directly into spin-off/tie-in series (Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion and Forever Evil: Arkham War), and will therefore potentially play greater roles in the remainder of the Forever Evil series.

Black Adam, Black Manta, Killer Frost, Harley Quinn and Deadshot all more-or-less declare extreme dissatisfaction with Syndicate rule in some of the books, and are therefore likely to play a bigger role later in the series, if it does indeed turn out to be an Earth-52 vs. Earth-3 villain war, or a team-up of Earth-52 heroes and villains to repel the invaders and their allies.

The books having at least a little to do with the events of Forever Evil, either in a red-sky, this-is-what-so-and-so-was-up-to-at-the-time or a more direct expansion of cameo roles in Forever Evil sort of way, are these: Bane,  Black Adam, Black Hand, Black Manta, Cheetah, Clayface,  Court of Owls, Grodd,  Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Killer Frost, Mr. Freeze, Ocean Master, Man-Bat, Metallo, Parasite, Poison Ivy, Ra's al Ghul, Two-Face, and The League of Assassins, Scarecrow and Ventriloquist.

The books having nothing at all to do with the events of Forever Evil were these: Arcane, Bizarro, Brainiac, Count Vertigo, Cyborg Superman, Darkseid, Desaad, Dial E, Doomsday, Eclipso, First Born H'El, Joker, Lobo, Mongul, Penguin, Relic, Reverse Flash, Shadow Thief, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, Trigon and Zod. That's a lot.

5.) What's striking to me about how high that number of books having nothing at all to do with Forever Evil is the fact that Forever Evil involves a group of brand-new (to the New 52) villains that we the readers don't know anything about; villains from another world who likely have long and exciting backstories that would certainly have proven a lot more interesting than almost any of the stories of the characters mentioned in the previous story arc, some of which do tie in to their home titles (Reverse Flash read like an issue of Flash, for example, and told a piece of a storyline already in-progress), but others of which are just standalone filler issues not really connected to anything at all.

Why weren't any of those 23 issues devoted to The Crime Syndicate (as a whole), Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, Power Ring, Deathstorm, Atomica, The Outsider, Sea King and Talon? Wouldn't their origins be a hell of a lot more interesting than a day-in-the-life of the Penguin or Count Vertigo, or retellings of origins for The First Born and Sinestro and Brainiac? I would have appreciated a Dr. Psycho origin, given his relatively prominent role in "Trinity War," or some other Society members like Giganta, Signalman and Vandal Savage. I found the Seven Deadly Sins that plague Pandora to be unlikable and poorly-designed, but they sure seem more relevant to the current state of the DCU and the stories going on in it. What's up with them? 

6.) The names of a few creators appeared a lot during these issues.

Geoff Johns had the most writing credits at four, although all four of those were co-writing credits (Black Manta and Ocean Master with Tony Bedard; Secret Society and Black Adam with Sterling Gates).

Greg Pak, Charles Soule, Matt Kindt and Peter J. Tomasi were the most prolific writers involved, all four writing three issues solo, making it a four-way tie for most productive writer in September. Brian Buccellato was involved with the writing of all three Flash issues, but a few of those were as co-writer.

Of the artists involved, Jeremy Haun and Szymon Kudranski were the only two who managed more than one issue apiece, the former drawing The Riddler  and Ra's al Ghul issues, the latter The Scarecrow and Secret Society issues.

7.) What if instead of spotlighting sometimes random Earth-New 52 villains, they instead offered Earth-3 versions of the New 52? You know, their regular offerings, only starring the evil opposites of the stars from Earth 3? I don't know that those comics  would have been any better, and the selling of them might have been a bit more tricky, but I bet they would have been interesting.

I looked at everything DC offered in August, and tried to think of Earth 3 opposites that could have starred in 'em

1.) All-Star Western could probably keep the same title, actually; I would be curious to see what an alignment-flipped version of Jonah Hex's Old West from Earth 3 might have looked like though. Or wait, would the Old West be in the East of the America on Earth 3...?

2.) Action Comics Ultra-Action Comics (Although I think Action Tragedies has a neat ring to it, too)

3.) Animal Man Beast Thing

4.) Aquaman Sea King

5.) Batgirl Owlgirl

6.) Batman Owlman

7.) Batman and Robin  Owlman and Talon

8) Batman: The Dark Knight Owlman: The Black Knight

9.) Batman/Superman Owlman/Ultraman

10.) Batwing Owlwing

11.) Batwoman Owlwoman 

12.) Birds of Prey Raptors

13.) Catwoman The Cat or maybe Super-Cat (I like Super-Cat)

14.) Constantine All-New Hellblazer

15.) Detective Comics  Owlman's Detective Comics or maybe Detective Tragedies

16.) Justice League of America's Vibe Crime Syndicate of Amerika's Bad Vibes

17.) The Flash Johnny Quick

18.) Earth 2 Earth 3

19.) Green Arrow Black Arrow

20.) Green Lantern Power Ring

21.) Green Lantern Corps Power Ring Corps

22.) Green Lantern: New Guardians Volthoom Vs. The Guardians

23.) Green Team: Teen Trillionaires Bean Team: Aged Hobos

24.) Justice League Crime Syndicate

25.) Justice League Dark "Crime Syndicate Dark"

26.) Justice League of America Crime Syndicate of America

27.) Katana Ummm...I don't know what the evil opposite of a katana is, or a more evil version of a katana...Scythe? AK-47? Swiss Army Knife? Brass Knuckles?

28.) Larfleeze Orange Lantern or Orange Power Ring (Wow, this is getting hard now)

29.) The Movement... Umm...No guess. I haven't read this at all. What's the opposite of a movement? Anarchy? Anarky, maybe? 

30.) Nightwing Talon

31.) Red Hood and The Outlaws Black Hat and...uh...His Inlaws...?

32.) Red Lanterns Red Power Rings...?

33.) Suicide Squad Homicide Horde 

34.) Stormwatch The Authority

35.) Superboy Ultraboy (Either a unique character, or The Adventures of Ultraman When He Was a Boy)

36.) Supergirl Ultragirl 

37.) Superman Ultraman 

38.) Superman Unchained Ultraman Unchained

39.) Swamp Thing Meadow...Man...?

40.) Talon Nightwing (In a pitched battle against The Court of Bats!)

41.) Teen Titans Mean Titans

42.) Trinity of Sin: Pandora Sinity or Sin: Pandemonium

43.) Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger Sinity of Sin: Phantom Acquaintance

44.) Worlds' Finest Worlds' Foulest (featuring Ultra Girl and Tigress)

45.) Wonder Woman Superwoman

...Hey, they only published 45 New 52 titles in August...?  Or did I just miss seven?

You'll note that would make for an awful lot of Owlman comics, just as Earth-52 has a bunch of Batman comics. Luckily, there would be a lot opponents of Owlman, like The Jester, Man-Owl, Crusader Croc, Crow Man and so on.

8.) This is what September's line-up would have looked like if they were publishing 52 villain spot-lights aimed solely at me, personally:

Action Comics #23.1: Bizarro
Action Comics #23.2: Mr. Mxyzptlk
Action Comics #23.3: Titano
Action Comics #23.4: Terra-Man
Aquaman #23.1: Iceberg Head
Aquaman #23.2: The Human Flying Fish
Batman #23.1: Bat-Mite
Batman #23.2: Calendar Man
Batman #23.3: Catman
Batman #23.4: Killer Moth
Batman and Robin #23.1: Anarky
Batman and Robin #23.2: The Human Flea
Batman and Robin #23.3: The General
Batman and Robin #23.4: Cluemaster and The Spoiler
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: King Tut
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Captain Stingaree
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.3: The Scarecrow
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.4: Kiteman
Batman/Superman #3.1: Composite Superman
Detective Comics #23.1: Zebra Man
Detective Comics #23.2: The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City
Detective Comics #23.3: The Rainbow Creature
Detective Comics #23.4: The Mad Hatter
Earth 2 #15.1: Ragdoll
Earth 2 #15.2: Sportsmaster
Flash #23.1: The Turtle
Flash #23.2: Rainbow Raider
Flash #23.3: The Top 
Green Arrow: #23.1: Mr. Mephisto ***
Green Lantern #23.1: Invisible Destroyer
Green Lantern #23.2: Goldface
Green Lantern #23.3: The Shark
Green Lantern #24.3: Major Disaster
Justice League #23.1: Starro
Justice League #23.2: Dr. Sivana
Justice League #23.3: Mr. Mind
Justice League #24.4: Animal Vegetable Mineral Man
Justice League Dark #23.1: Monster Society of Evil
Justice League Dark #23.2: Blackbriar Thorn
Justice League of America #7.1: Lion Mane
Justice League of America #7.2: Gentleman Ghost
Justice League of America #7.3: The Man-Hawks
Justice League of America #7.4: Solaris, The Tyrant Sun
Superman #23.1: King Krypton
Superman #23.2: Ultra-Humanite
Superman #23.3: Destructo
Superman #24.4 : Krull
Swamp Thing #23.1: Cranius
Teen Titans #23.1: The Mad Mod
Teen Titans #23.2: The Brotherhood of Evil
Wonder Woman #23.1: Egg-Fu
Wonder Woman #23.2: The Blue Snowman

Of course, even then, these would all have to be made by writers I liked and and artists I liked, or writers and artists that I had never heard of, but would like the work of once I read it. I would go on to suggest creative teams for the above, but that seems way too much like fantasy football to me, but wait, half of this blog post was like fantasy football already, wasn't it? Only without the possibility of winning any money...?

*Abhay Khosla chose the issue of Superman featuring Parasite as his sample representing the Villains Month endeavor. He found it wanting, but I think he did a good job of distilling what's off about The New 52 in general, although he does acknowledge that maybe it won't be such a big deal when we get some distance from it, as he compares his feelings about it now to his perception of the feelings of the people who were unhappy about the Post-Crisis DCU. But listen:
So ultimately the thing that makes a DC Comic feel most like a real DC comic now (besides being dull) is that feeling of “everything would be better if my time machine could take us back in time” which is the most DC thing there is left, now, for me.  So, so DC, that.  I know it’s been said before by other people, but:  they didn’t just create a new universe; they created a new old-universe-that-it-was-a-mistake-to-throw-away.  You know?  I kinda find the poetry of it all interesting, if not the reading the DC comics part.
I think that's a better"that's it in a nutshell" than what I've been trying to articulate as they only partially re-booted their universe, jumped ahead five years in time and they won't tell anyone (creators included) what they actually changed and what they didn't, except in dribs and drabs (and sometimes those drabs contradict the dribs). 

**Go ahead, look him up.

***Says Wikipedia, "Hobo posing as demonic mastermind to extort fellow hobos into committing crimes." Move over, Count Vertigo!

Friday, September 27, 2013


Here's a particularly awesome page from Pippi Fixes Everything, in which the title character gives what for to a gang of bullies who were picking on a little boy until she interrupted them, at which point they started making fun on her hair and shoes. And then the above happens. I reviewed the book for Good Comics For Kids earlier this week. I liked it a whole lot, and, as I noted on Twitter the other day, I think it would be of great interest to the More Female Heroines And Creators In Comics, Please crowd on the Internet, given that Pippi is kinda sorta a female superheroine (she has super-strength, dresses outlandishly, fights crime and rescues those in need), and this comic is written by a woman (who created the character), drawn by a woman and even translated by a woman.

Also at GC4K this week, I reviewed The Aerosmurf, the latest volume of Papercutz's reprint program of Peyo's classic comics. It's kinda like the previous 15 volumes of the series, so if you liked those (I did), you'll like this, and if you didn't, you won't.

The most exciting piece I did for GC4K this week, however, is the one that appeared today: An interview with Charise Mericle Harper, the cartoonist responsible for Fashion Kitty and a few of the picture books I've reviewed here before (like The Power of Cute, for example). It's occasioned by the release of Fairy Tale Comics (you may recall I discussed that effort with its editor Chris Duffy already), to which Harper contributed the adaptation of "The Small-Tooth Dog."

And, finally, this week at Robot 6 I once again reviewed (almost) every issue of DC's Villains Month offerings released (now that I do the math, I read and reviewed 48 of the 52 books that DC released).

Here, let's look at a scene from one of them, so as to complain about it (Not the artwork though; that's a damn fine looking comic thanks to Francis Portela and Tomeu Morey). Check this out:
The above images are from the surprisingly good Killer Croc issue. I have no idea who that is under the Robin mask, beyond knowing that it's definitely not Damian.

That's one of the thing that bugs me about the New 52 reboot and the fact that it's costume redesigns affected not only the present, but also the past. That Robin, confronting Croc "three years ago" (Year two of Batman's somehow now only five-year career), is probably most likely Dick Grayson, but he's dressed more like Tim Drake (and, if you condense all of Batman history down into just a few years, it should still be Jason Todd as Robin around the time that Croc shows up, right?).

Well, two things, I guess. First, it doesn't make any goddam sense if you think about it for longer than ten seconds (Was Dick in his twenties when he was Robin? Or is he only like 17 now? Did he ever go to college? If not, why did Batman ever take Jason on as a replacement Dick; was Dick really sick of being Robin after only, what, like 16 months or something?).

Second, as demonstrated here, it is so unimportant who is in the Robin costume that it doesn't even matter if you understand who the character is; he's just a costume, not a character (Note how coy the artwork is in giving clues as to the character's secret identity.

Another very nicely-drawn issue this week was the Bane one, by Graham Nolan. This will also cause a continuity headache if you allow it—"Knightfall" still happened, just totally different than it did in the comic books entitled Knightfall that you can read if you want to—but what struck me most about this visual recap of Bane's origin?
No Osoito.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Two quick links to thing that are kinda sorta about DC superheroines.

Kelly Thompson, like Tom Bondurant and probably at least a dozen other smart writers-about-comics, discussed the announcement that J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman (whose names together make for the classiest sounding creative team; don't they sound more like Victorian barristers than guys making Batman comics?) were finally leaving DC's Batwoman title over creative differences with the publisher's now-notoriously hands-on editorial staff (I still think Wheeler's ComicsAlliance piece is the strongest all-around, and Khosla's is the "best," meaning "the one that made me laugh out loud).

Thompson notes the sort of abusive relationship dynamic that exists between the Big Two publishers and their most loyal base of fans—the well-known phenomenon in which readers angrily and bitterly complain about the publishers constantly, sometimes for years or decades, but continue to buy and read their wares—but in so doing she also brings up a point that I haven't heard articulated too terribly eloquently before, and certainly haven't thought much about in a long time:
There’s one reason and one reason only that Dan Didio and Co. can have an absolute disregard for creators – and it’s because they have learned time and again that we won’t actually stop reading. No matter how much of a fit we throw, we don’t actually stop buying, or at least not in significant enough numbers to make it matter.
And it’s hard to blame readers, because why should a character like Batwoman be punished because of something that has nothing to do with her. In fact, Batwoman is the perfect example because it’s taken so long for readers to get an openly gay hero headlining her own book. So do we risk losing that, something SO important in order to protest creator treatment? It’s a tough call.
I have my favorite characters and concepts and creators just like any comics fan, and, to a certain extent, those do tend to govern some of my purchasing decisions, but as each year passes and more and more material from more and more sources becomes newly available, quality becomes the determining factor of what I buy and read more than any other.

That said, I understand the impulse of wanting to vote with your dollars for things you think are important (and/or to not vote with your dollars for things you find repellent and don't want to support; I don't think I've personally done this so much with comics, but I certainly have when it comes to how I spend my money in other areas of my life).

Is a "mainstream," Big Two-published superhero comic book starring a woman, or an all-female team*, or a lesbian or a gay character, or a black character, or a Latino character so important to some readers that they will continue to buy and read comics like Wonder Woman or Birds of Prey or Batwoman or Batwing or Vibe, whether the comics are any good or not or whether they enjoy them or not or whether they think the publisher is treating the characters, the consumers and the creators shabbily?

Perhaps to some people it is, although it's hard for me to wrap my head around someone who digs Batwoman as is being more loyal to the character than the guys who have been telling the character's story for years now. I can't imagine the book is going to get cancelled if even one-third of its readers leave with Williams and Blackman though (And I expect a lot to leave; it's basically a beautifully, weirdly, intricately illustrated mediocre comic book as is, and it's next artist can't do beautiful, weird or intricate on any level approaching comparable).  It's a Batman comic, and likely to become more of a Batman comic. It's as close to uncancelable as a comic book can get.

For anyone looking for a new—or simply another—superhero comic book with a lesbian protagonist, however, might  I suggest Ross Campbell's (creator-owned) Shadoweyes?

Yes, I think I might: Give Ross Campbell's Shadoweyes a shot. It's like Wet Moon meets the original Stan Lee-scripted (or Bendis-written UltimateSpider-Man, filtered through an Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brand of 1980s, black-and-white aesthetic. The cast is predominantly black, the title character is a girl who is as of volume two dating a girl, and there's also a gay male character and a transgender character. Plus a crime-fighting super-monster.

There are two volumes in existence so far, Shadoweyes and Shadoweyes In Love. The writing and characters and characterization are, in my opinion, far superior to what I've seen in Batwoman, pre- or post-New 52, although as I noted before, the main selling point of Batwoman is its weirdness and its artwork, and Campbell and Williams are both so good and so different, I have no idea how to even compare the work of one to the other in order to come up with an assessment of which is better.

I will say that Shadoweyes is damn good though, and worth looking into...particularly if the main thing you're reading Batwoman for is because it's a comic book starring a lesbian character.


I found a link to this blog, The Smith Kids Art Blog, on Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter today. The subject of that particular linked-to post is "The all girl Green Lantern Corps by Kassidy Smith," an 11-year-old who can design DC superhero costumes at least as well as Jim Lee can.

She draws an original version of a member of each of the variously colored Lantern teams, but the one I was most intrigued with was the Green Lantern character, a fraction of the image of which I put above (Follow the link to see the Green Lantern's kicky boots, and the other Lanterns).

That is brilliant.

If you're not super-familiar with the Green Lantern comics (so, I'm not talking to you here Sally), their rings have some sort of operating system that is both elaborate and vaguely defined. The rings give them their powers—the ability to convert willpower into energy and matter—and make their force fields and allow them to fly. They also have some sort of self-preservation mode to protect the wearer from harm, can create oxygen for them, translate alien languages, serve as communication devices and, depending on the writer or the particular era of Green Lantern comics, serve as a sort of super-Siri, answering questions the bearers may have regarding alien culture or where they are in space and suchlike.

I love the little projection the Green Lantern Smith drew has coming out of her ring. It looks like a comic book dialogue bubble, but it bears a face. I don't know the "story" of Smith's image or anything, but when I first saw that, I immediately imagined it as an avatar or "face" for that Lantern's ring operating system (not unlike a super-advanced version of that goddam paperclip with bug eyes that used to always butt in and ask if I was writing a letter or not).

I imagine that Lantern asking where she was in space, and that green balloon with a cartoon face appearing to answer her questions, and deliver analysis or advice as she needs or demands it, serving as a sort of character with a range of expressions not too far removed from those of, say, Squiggle. Green Lantern ring as Green Lantern sidekick.

Such should be well within the abilities of a talented and imaginative ring-slinger and the powers of the average Lantern ring; maybe we'll get something like that if DC ever gets around to creating a female earthling Green Lantern from Sector 2814. Right now they've got five dudes, so I'm assuming the next one will have to be a lady. Here's hoping they consult with the Smith girl when it comes time to design her...

*I read two issues of the Brian Wood-written X-Men comic that Marvel marketed with a mysterious "XX" ad, and found them to be incredibly average X-Men comics. In both cases, I found myself actively annoyed that they weren't better, given some of the reviews and positive buzz I had heard about them. I've only read one issue of the New 52 Birds of Prey, and that was horrible. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sometimes evil is dumb, too.

One of my favorite lines in 1987's Spaceballs comes when Bill Pullman and Rick Moranis are having their climactic schwartz ring fight, and Moranis' Dark Helmet feints a handshake, only to steal his opponent's ring. He intones gravely: "So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb."

I was only 10 at the time, but it struck a chord with me. Most of the popular entertainment I was familiar with at that time dealt in rather broad terms with a good vs. evil narratives—G.I. Joe, Transformers and He-Man cartoons, Star Wars, C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, The Hobbit—and if the good guys weren't necessarily dumber than the bad guys, they were generally a lot less cool. In fact, in many of those narratives, the chief good guys were generally the least interesting characters (Think Duke or Flint, Optimus Prime and He-Man/Prince Adam vs., like, everyone else on their teams and all of their opponents on the opposite teams).

I don't think Dark Helmet's proclamation was on the money, however, as he failed to triumph in his own movie, and good always won out in just about everything I watched or read up until that point in my life. Also, sometimes evil is even dumber than good.

Take Gargamel snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in this scene from the sixteenth volume of Papercutz's Smurfs collection, The Aerosmurf, for example:
I remember watching the cartoon as a child, but I don't have very many specific memories of my thoughts or feelings about it at the time, beyond remembering it was a Saturday morning cartoon I'd watch between ones I liked better.

But reading these stories as an adult, I've developed quite a bit of sympathy for Gargamel. Maybe it was simply because he's a human being, or that he's essentially a lonely, bald, poor, middle-aged cat lady of a man whose wicked acts are so transparently born of relatable frustration with his lot in the world, or that he's outnumbered something like 100-to-one in most of his conflicts, or simply how savagely the Smurfs occasionally beat him, but whatever—sometimes I kind of feel for the guy.

Like, in that above example, where Jokey Smurf is able to escape his grasp by offering him a present. How eager must Gargamel be for a gift, a gesture of kindness from another sentient being, that he convinced himself the Smurf in his clutches was actually going to present him with a present?

But then, there's another scene in this volume where he's in a dogfight with the Flying Smurf and has the upper-hand, only to fall for it again:

And, when he gets to the heart of Smurf village and is on a rampage, he's foiled once more by the offer of a gift in mid-battle:
Three times! In the same volume! (Which contains six stories, so, in 50% of these stories, Gargamel is defeated by the offer of a gift that turns out to be a lie).

It's kinda hard to feel sorry for the guy after all that. As a wise man once said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on...shame on you. [Long, uncomfortable pause] Fool me--you can't get fooled again."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review: Annihilators

This trade paperback collects a 2011 miniseries by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the writing team that took the reigns from Keith Giffen to build-up, tend and generally cultivate Marvel's various space characters and concepts to the point that not only was that little corner of the Marvel Universe suddenly and surprisingly fresh and interesting again, but successful enough that Marvel Studios' first new, post-Avengers team movie was and is going to be a Guardians of The Galaxy movie, of all things.

This was the first of two Annihilators miniseries, which came after the conclusion and cancellation of Abnett and Lanning's 25-issue, 2008-2010 volume of Guaridans of The Galaxy (a super-team spun out of the 2007 Giffen-written Annihilation: Conquest—Starlord miniseries) but before Brian Michael Bendis assumed stewardship of the Hollywood-bound characters in Avengers Assemble and then his own volume of a Guardians of The Galaxy ongoing.

Interestingly, each issue of this initial Annhilators series was actually split into two sections, leading off with the title story featuring a new super-team of "Alpha-Plus" cosmic heroes, penciled by Tan Eng Huat and inked by Victor Olazaba, and a back-up story featuring Rocket Raccoon and Groot, the fan-favorite funny characters from Guardians. Aside from sharing writing teams and picking up after the events of past stories in which the Guardians team was disbanded following the "deaths" of several key players who have long since gotten better, the stories don't really have anythign to do with one another, and don't really seem to belong at all in the same trade.

In fact, their being married into the same trade like this seems to do a disservice to them both. By title and appearance, this looks like a collection of Annihilators, not of a Groot and Rocket Raccoon story (There is a little green diagonal strip across the lower corner of the book, reading "Plus Rocket Raccoon and Groot!", for whatever that's worth), and you'd only find them in here if you'd already picked up and started flipping through or reading a book that looks on its cover to be a pretty generic superhero book starring some pretty obscure Marvel characters (Silver Surfer is probably the best-known of that bunch, right?). I didn't know they were in here until I neared the end of what I assumed was the first of a handful of Annihilators story arcs only to be confronted with an awesome Mike Mignola image of the pair.
So this is basically a flip-book that doesn't actually flip, and features only one cover. I'm not sure what a better solution might have been, beyond publishing these as two, much slimmer trade collections of their own  (The Annihilators story, at least, could have been held to include in the second Annihilators trade...although maybe Rocket and Groot are in there, too? I don't know).

The Annihilators story is the weaker of the two, and I say that not simply because I am a fan of raccoons wielding firearms or weird Kirby monsters. Rather, there is not a whole lot of variation of characters in terms of power-levels, powers or even personalities, and the premise of their team's formation doesn't seem like one capable of maintaining it's own narrative momentum for long; rather, they seem like they would be the guest-stars in other people's comics. It reads very much like the first arc of a monthly series that would be canceled before it could have two or three more arcs.

Our narrator and main protagonist is Earthman Wendel Vaughan, who goes by the name Quantum, wears "the awesomely powerful quantum bands," dresses vaguely like a Marvel Captain Marvel of some sort, and whom I have never heard of nor do I know anything about. He's the character with the most personality and the strongest character arc, going from feeling gun-shy in the presence of his supremely powerful compatriots and over-humbled by his role as "Protector of the Universe."

As for his team, they consist of The Silver Surfer, Beta-Ray Bill, Gladiator and Ronan The Accuser. Into their circle comes Ikon, a female Spaceknight from the place that Rom Spaceknight came from, apparently having similar powers, weaponry and armor (she basically looks like a "sexy" Rom; that is, Rom with a wasp-waist, bib boobs and wide-hips—Yes, a sexy lady version of Rom is as weird-looking as it sounds).
The team is station in Knowhere, the former base of the Guardians, and hanging out with Cosmo, the telepathic talking Russian space dog in a cute little dog space suit (and whose breed seems to vary form panel to panel, under Huat's loose and expressive line-work). They are called "The Annihilators," because, it is explained that they are so powerful they comprise an existential threat to any enemies of the universe—try to hurt it, and you won't just get slapped on the wrist or beaten up or killed, you'll be annihilated (That's the in-story explanation, anyway; personally, I think it has more to do with the fact that all the previous space opera stuff featuring these characters that Giffen, Abnett and Lanning were spearheading were called Annihilation: Something-or-other).

After fighting her way onto the team Ikon, and an escaped villain with incredible powers allowing him to surgically cut space, draw the team into a big, crazy interplanetary conflict involving Spaceknights, Dire Wraiths and even some Skrulls. Planets and suns are moved around, fights are had. I thought it was pretty good escapism, as I know very little about any of these characters and care even less about them, but I remained more than engaged enough to real all the way through and even find myself curious about what happens next.

As I mentioned, the team seems to have a very limited shelf-life, as it read a little bit like a Justice League where everyone is Superman, and it was hard to suspend one's disbelief to regard the things being treated as threats as threats (In one scene, for example, the characters seem worried they'll be defeated by Immortus' "Army of the Ages," which meant they were fighting World War II vets, Native American warriors armed with bow and arrows, Roman Centurions, vikings and cavemen. Yeah, Huat threw in some menacing-looking robots and a Frost Giant, but, for the most part, it looked like a horde the U.S. Army could probably handle, and not something that should worry anyone capable of moving a planet.

It doesn't help that little of them have very little to do, aside from fight hordes of monsters and such, and use cosmic powers in vague, comic book science-y ways. I'm having trouble remembering if Gladiator, for example, even had any lines (He did, but nothing more substantial then things like "Quasar! Contain the giant while I pull the Surfer out of this mob! We must stand together!" and "Look out-- --NGHH!" and so on). 

Huat has tuned down the idiosyncratic weirdness that once brought him to this reader's attention in the first place (two, maybe three Doom Patrol reboots ago), that, or perhaps Olazaba's inks and June Chung's colors knocked it into more Marvel-ous shape. At any rate, while the forms, figures and motion are all more-or-less played perfectly straight now, there's still an accent of edginess, a touch of anxious energy to the proceedings.

And then we get to the really good part, "Rocket Raccoon and Groot: Root and Branch, Tooth and Claw," drawn by Timothy Green II, who drew the aforementioned Starlord miniseries.

I can't imagine the page counts vary all that much between the two stories, but the "back-up" feature reads much longer and more substantial, perhaps due to the simple fact that there is more dialogue and plotting going, on, and one doesn't need to use double-page spreads for the sorts of fighting and action (of which there is a significant amount) that goes on in this story versus the half-dozen cosmic superheroes versus hordes battles that went on in the Annihilators story.

After the Guardians were disbanded, Rocket got a job working in the mail room at space corporation Timely Inc (get it?), a job he earned in part due to the "workplace morale scheme," as his boss explains. "You helped meet our quote of cute sentient animals. You make the Timely Inc. office environment a more cheerful place so as to uplift the people who do actual work.

When someone sends a gun-wielding a killer clown puppet made of sentient wood after him, however, Raccoon leaves his job with a stolen, hand-held computer/package scanning device (which provides a great deal of exposition and becomes Rocket's side kick), trying to figure out who might try to kill him in such a manner. He seeks out experts in sentient wood, and finds his buddy Groot on Planet-X.

From there, they return to Half-World, Rocket's homeworld, although his memories of the place have been severely tampered with, for his own good and the good of all of Half-World. From what I've read of the recently released Rocket Raccoon: Tales From Half-World (repackaging the 1985 Bill Mantlo/Mike Mignola Rocket miniseries), there seems to be a rather significant retcon involved, although the general characters and their role in the universe—caring for the insane housed on their asylum planet—hasn't changed.

Reunited with old allies and temporarily resuming his old duty as warden and security chief for an asylum world, Rocket and Groot must save the day, in the process reminding themselves that the galaxy still needs guarding it, whether they're doing it while wearing matching uniforms and hanging out with Starlord or not.

Abnett and Lanning seem much more comfortable in this story, somewhat surprisingly, and they achieve a nice balance of action, superhero thrills and comedy, with that comedy coming organically form the characters and extrapolations of what the world surrounding such characters must be like.
Green's art remains pretty incredible. It's highly-detailed, but his sense of design veers far from what one might term realistic, with his Rocket veering pretty far from on-model raccoon to super-cute funny animal. He's particularly good at action scenes, during which Rocket jumps and spins around like a cartwheeling, furry shuriken, and he's excellent at drawing bullet-holes exploding into walls and heads (The heads of wooden clown puppets, not living, breathing, bleeding creatures).
I'm not sure who Bendis has drawing Guardians for him month-in and month-out now (I know it started with Steve McNiven and that Kevin Maguire has at least one issue coming up), but I'd love to see Green get to spend more time with these characters. As the artist of that Starlord miniseries, he deserves as much of the credit as Giffen, Abentt and Lanning into turning Guardians of The Galaxy into a thing, you know? 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Comic shop comics: September 11-19

Batman '66 #3 (DC Comics) Joe Quinones Draws Batman Month continues! Just a few days ago I wrote a bit about Batman: Black and White #1, which contained a short story in the Batman: The Animated Series universe by Quinones and Maris Wicks, and the latest issue of the Jeff Parker-written Batman '66 opens with a story drawn by Quinones (and colored by Wicks) set in the Batman TV show universe.

This story also features Harley Quinn, but not quite so prominently. When a new villain calling himself The Red Hood begins wreaking havoc, demanding that The Joker be released to him in Gotham Cemetery, Batman and Robin venture into The Arkham Institute for the Criminally Insane, where they met by "Dr. Quinn, the new psychiatric specialist for the deep-security ward," a blond woman in a red dress with diamond-shaped earrings and a subtle diamond pattern on her red dress. It's an Easter Egg of a cameo, but I believe that marks the debut in of the character in the Batman '66-iverse, at least outside the realm of fan-fiction.

This is also the first Joker story in the book's run so far, and Quinones—like Mike Allred on the cover—goes full Romero, with mustache visible through the white make-up and all.

One particularly neat aspect of this series is how fresh and new the 47-year-old show's take on Batman seems, at least to someone like me, who hasn't seen any episodes of it since grade-school. For example, there's a scene where the Dynamic Duo walks down the hall at Arkham, and sees various villains in glass-walled cells, and I only recognized half of them (and one of those was Egghead).

I found the plotting on this one rather clever, with just a touch of comic book science to get it over, but, frankly, it was seeing Quinones cut loose with these very particular versions of the characters that was best part of this story (And having read this, the aforementioned Batman: Black and White story and a Chad Hardin-drawn story all this week, I kinda wish DC tapped Quinones for the Harley Quinn monthly over Hardin, although, to be fair, Hardin drew one of the best-looking comics DC released as part of this week's round of Villains Month issues).

The second story is drawn by Sandy Jarrell in a very rough, very loose style (the roughest and loosest of any of the stories from this series so far, anyway) and features Batman and Robin escaping from an inescapable death trap concoted by Egghead.

The main pleasure of this story, at least for me, was hearing the late, great Vincent Price's voice in my head, pronouncing all of the many egg puns.

 Classic Popeye #14 (IDW) The lead story in this latest issue of IDW's reprinting of the old Bud Sagendorf Popeye comics (I believe with this one they finish up the year 1950) feels more like a Popeye cartoon than any of the previous ones, in that it throws Popeye and Olive into a weird new milieu that is good enough for a single story of gags, although it is missing Bluto abducting Olive.

Somewhere out west, Popeye has bought a railroad (?), and Olive is his first and only customer. He faces many complications, including a cringe-inducing Native American stereotype ("Ugh!" is right, man) and train robbers (I did like the bits where Popeye, who eventually has to pull the car himself when the engine breaks down, refers to himself repeatedly as a train to the train robbers, as in "The train has already comed!!" and so on).

The rest of the stories share an Old West-like setting: Popeye buy a five-dollar race horse that won't wake up and appears to be dead save for the fact that it's snoring, Popeye and Olive try to scare Swee'pea from playing around an old abandoned mine by dressing up a ghosts and, finally, Wimpy and a cow participate in a gold rush that ends badly for one of them (Remarkably, it's not the cow, who Wimpy does not eat before story's end).

Daredevil #31 (Marvel Entertainment) In this issue, Mark Waid includes an allusion to the George Zimmerman trial, and it's about as uncomfortable as any time one of the Big Two try to allude to something in the real world by fictionalizing it, resulting in a half-assed,  timid-seeming use of an often powerful event.

I wish they wouldn't do this. Go all the way with it, or don't even bother, I say (This problem's not unique to super-comics; I've noticed it in Law & Order repeats as well).

The particular's of this case are these, in Matt Murdock's words, provided by Waid:
The Bainwood case has had the whole nation riveted--and sharply divided--for months.

The defendant is an enetitled society harpy with a long and recorded history of bigotry.

She stands accused of following and shooting a "suspicious-looking" Black teenager in her building-- --who, as it turned out, was an honor-student tutor visiting a neighbor's kid.

Her team has been exemplary. They've guilt their strategy around self-defense, exploiting the fact that there were no witnesses but there were clear signs of a struggle.
I'm somewhat sympathetic to Waid in this case as he needed to fictionalize the Zimmerman trial to use it in his comic, as it's set in New York City, not Florida, and he did need a case revolving around inflamed racial tensions and the legal system, as this is part of an ongoing plot about a Ku Klux Klan-meets-Hydra Marvel Universe hate group Sons of the Serpent infiltrating New York City's legal system.

But it still doesn't feel right, and reads uncomfortably and weird.

That aside, this is, as always, exemplary super-comics making. I was a little bummed the interiors didn't match up to the cover at all; while The Jester (never heard of him) was name-dropped within the pages a few times, he doesn't appear on-panel, and certainly not as elaborately as he does on Samnee's neat-o cover.

Oh yeah, this issue also contains some of my favorite panels in forever. Reed Richards may have The Thing to lift his huge, scientific gizmos for him, who does Hank "Ant-Man" Pym have to do the heavy-lifting around his lab?
Oh, you know, just some giant ants.

I do hope Samnee's next assignment for Marvel is an Ant-Man ongoing series.


SpongeBob Comics #24 (United Plankton Pictures) A ten-page Graham Annable story, a silent four-page Corey Barba story, a two-page Aaron Renier-drawn story, one page of James Kochalka comic strips and a one-page science strip by Maris Wicks about sand dollars.* That's a bunch of contributions by a bunch of great cartoonists, and I didn't even mention the ten-page story written by Scott Roberts and drawn by Vince Deporter that is closest in style and tone to the cartoon show this comic anthology is based on.

The first 2/3 of Kochalka's strip (above) is maybe the funniest thing I can remember reading from Kochalka in this series. The punchline is completely superfluous; I love the way he plays with time in those first four panels.

*When I interviewed Wicks about Primates, I learned her day-job was in an educational capacity at an aquarium, and ever since I've really wanted her to do someday do some sort of semi-autobiographical-ish comic about that, as a cartoonist/aquarium docent or whatever sounds like a pretty fascinating subject for a comic. If you ask me. Which you didn't. But I'm volunteering. It's what I do here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Okay I realize content has been pretty light around here lately, but I have had lots of good stuff in other places this week. First up, I had the opportunity to interview Gene Luen Yang for Good Comics For Kids about Boxers & Saints, which is maybe the best comic I've read so far this year. As an interview, I didn't get to talk about it too appraisingly, but let me take this opportunity here to note that it is a really quite astonishing book and one I'd highly recommend. It's a really difficult book/s to describe, but Boxers is a big, epic, action adventure story with bright colors, violence, melodrama and emotional and spiritual turmoil. And it's pretty funny, too. Saints isn't quite as colorful or action-packed, but I Four-Girl is maybe the Sensational Character Find of 2013, and for a book dealing with often bleak topics, I found myself laughing a lot while reading it. So go read my super-long Q-and-A with Yang if you like; but definitely read the book we discuss.

I also spoke to Fairy Tale Comics editor (and contributor) Chris Duffy about that must-read anthology, which pairs fairy tales with some of your favorite cartoonists for adaptation into comics, almost always with rather extraordinary results (I still can't decide which is my favorite; Luke Pearson's "The Boy Who Drew Cats" or Graham Annable's "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"). (Oh, and I reviewed a pair of board books about Superman and Batman too, although I confess that I mostly wrote that piece just to get some free superhero books to give to my nephew on his first birthday, as he's just about finished digesting his first book).

Finally, I reviewed all 13 of DC's Villains Month books this week at Robot 6, for part three of the four-part "Crisis on Earth-3D!" series. (I neglected to mention that the rabbit that Anton Arcane is tearing in half above actually gets better; Arcane is in his own personal hell, which is a nice meadow with a bunny rabbit whose corpse will never rot, as I guess rotting corpses are Arcane's heaven, and thus their absence his hell. Forget it, Jake; it's Comics).

Oh hey, and speaking DC, I should probably throw in a link to Andrew Wheeler's thoughtful opinion piece about the state of the publisher, given that we were just talking about just that so recently (and that I guess I ended up unknowingly contributing an illustration of sorts to the piece, but man, there's no beating that Alex Ross painting of Superman where he just looks bushed, above. I remember the source, but not the exact scene, so I can't recall what's really going on there. Superman is maybe supposed to be brooding about how he's not doing enough, or worrying he's doing too much. But to me it looks like he just got home from a long day of work and just had to sit down for a minute).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Man was never meant to read so many superhero comics in a single day.

Despite reading comic books and writing about comic books almost every second of the day that I wasn't at work at my day job, I've got nothing to post here at EDILW tonight. Unless you count a post saying that I don't have a post, which I guess technically is a post. But! I should have almost 9,000 (Nine-thousand!) words about a whole bunch of comics, including some of the best I've read so far this year and some of the worst I've read in a while, appearing in a couple of different places tomorrow. So, um, if you came here looking for hundreds of words about comics, just be patient; soon I will give you more hundreds of words about comics than you could possibly withstand!

Also, I went to the comic shop today, bought a couple of comics and read those too, but my eyes, fingers and soul hurt too much to talk about them here tonight, so maybe expect an installment of "Comic Shop Comics" on Friday  night...?

Above is an image from Brian Ralph's Reggie-13, of a mad scientist piloting a giant ape he built controls directly into the brain of. I think that is a legitimately cool idea, and if Ralph was the first person to use it in a comic or cartoon, than I'm surprised. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Batman: Black and White #1

Now here's an extremely welcome DC Comics project driven by 1990s nostalgia. While so much of the publisher's time, energy and expense seems to be devoted to capturing the 1990s financial successes of other publishers (hiring Marvel's editor from that time, gimmick covers, Rob Liefeld, etc), this Mark Chiarello-edited project seeks to capture the creative success of particular DC project from the 1990s (It's a strange irony that the output DC Comics in the second decade of the 21t century looks more like what one might expect when they think of comics in the nineties then that of the publisher during the actual nineties).

The idea of the original 1996, miniseries (which spawned a sort of continuation as a back-up feature in the generally excellent Batman: Gotham Knights* series) seemed to be not only to present the publisher's most popular—and most easily adaptable into color-less comics—character in the color scheme of the sub-title, but also to corral as many of the greatest artists possible to do Batman stories, artists who might not even have the time or inclination to do an arc or single issue of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, but could probably find the time for an eight-page short story, or, in some cases, just a cover or pin-up.

And so readers got to read Batman comics from the likes of Brian Bolland,  Howard Chaykin, Neil Gaiman and Simon Bisley, Teddy Kristiansen,  Joe Kubert, Ted McKeever, Kevin Nowlan, Katsuhiro Otomo (!),Bill Sienkiewicz, Walter Simonson, Jan Strnad and Richard Corben, Bruce Timm and Matt Wagner, plus more-or-less regular Batman creators like Chuck Dixon, Denny O'Neil, Brian Stelfreeze and Klaus Janson.

Pin-ups came from the likes of Mike Allred, Moebius (!) and P. Craig Russell, and covers from Jim Lee,  Frank Miller (!), Barry Windsor Smith (!!) and Alex Toth (!!!).

Not all of the stories were great, and, in fact, some were rather thunderous disappointments, particularly given the expectations of the creators involved. The short gag comic Gaiman offered was a particular let-down to young, teenage Caleb, I remember; particularly given how good the only other Batman work of his I had read at the time was.
(Fun fact: Gaiman's Riddler story, probably the best "last" Riddler story ever, was penciled by Bernie Mireault, inked by Matt Wagner  and colored by Joe Matt!)

So yeah, that seems like a good thing to try again 17 years later, especially with Chiarello (of Wednesday Comics) editing. (As with Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World, the similar Let's Get The World's Greatest Cartoonist To Do Whatever They Want For a Few Pages anthologies, Batman: Black and White is one of those series I wish DC would do if not as an ongoing monthly, then at least as a quarterly or annual).

This first issue bears a cover by Mark Silvestri, who actually had a pin-up in the original volume of the series. Here's one great thing about the format: It really flatters the work of pencilers, particularly ones who either aren't fast enough, interested enough or (and I beg Mr. Silvestri's pardon here) good enough to do great, compelling sequential art. Silvestri's a dynamite image-maker, but not so hot at drawing comics. And hey, with no coloring—especially the effects heavy coloring that predominates today—you can really see and appreciate his linework.

(According to the table of contents, there are two variant covers. One is by Phil Noto, the other is a "DC Collectibles Variant Cover" which I'm curious about, as it sounds like it's a photo of one of those expensive statuettes DC sells...?)

There are five stories in this pricey ($5?! And you didn't even have to pay for color?) but ad-free, 40-page book (There's actually more pages, including ones devoted to creator bios, but only 40 story pages). Let's do 'em one at a time.

"Don't Know Where, Don't Know When"
Written by Chipp Kidd, drawn by Michael Cho

Kidd, who recently wrote the rather excellent original graphic novel Batman: Death By Design, teams with Michael Cho, who has a highly animated, slightly blocky style that will likely evoke the work of Darwyn Cooke in the eyes of many readers, working from what looks like Dick Sprang versions of the character.

There's not a whole lot to Kidd's story, which is more of a collection of events than a statement of any kind, but it does give Cho the opportunity to draw Batman, Robin, The Joker and Superman, and that's more than enough for me.

"Batman Zombie"
By Neal Adams

I'm not really sure why there hasn't been a zombie extrapolation of Batman yet, with DC's Blackest Night being their closest attempt to get on the zombie bandwagon (Although I've heard writer Geoff Johns and others refer to Black Lanterns, zombie-looking superheroes and villains wearing black rings, as something quite distinct from zombies, they're basically just zombies with rings and spandex).

Adams' story is on the preachy and obvious side, but Neal Adams deserves the right to be as preachy and obvious as he wants. The premise is basically that while Batman is good for somethings—fighting Batman's villains for examples—there are many real-world problems like homelessness and the three-strikes laws which he is powerless to stop, which render him, more-or-less, nothing more than "a lifeless burden."

Goddam can Adams draw though, and his zombie Batman is a sight to see (In addition to Batman in his virile, vital form and Zombie Batman, Adams also takes the opportunity to draw The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, The Mad Hatter and The Scarecrow.

Adams eschews inks entirely, so his drawings are just straight pencil on paper. It's awesome-looking if, again, there's not a whole lot to it.

"Justice Is Served"
Written by Maris Wicks, drawn by Joe Quinones

I suspect this story will end up being a lot of folks' favorite in this particular installment, as it is basically just an original episode of Batman: The Animated Series condensed into eight pages**.  Harley Quinn (and her pet hyenas) and Poison Ivy appear in their Animated Series Designs and with their Animated Series personalities and relationship in place, while Batman plays something of a supporting role. The conflict involves a fast food additive that turns anyone who eats at Gotham Burger into a big, green blob of their former selves, sprouting little leaves (The Joker makes a brief cameo, purely for actual comic relief).

Wicks' interpretation of the cartoon is so right that I imagine whether or not one likes the story will depend on whether or not one liked the cartoon. This really could have appeared in an issue of Batman Adventures, save for Quinones' art being quite a bit more detailed (The designs are the Timm-derived ones, but they are much fuller, richer and more finished than what one normally sees from the "Animated" style).

I don't think this story was necessarily screaming to be in black-and-white though, and Quinones seems to have "colored" it in black and whites, given the many shades of gray and lighting effects worked into it (Like Batman's glowing white eyes, for example).

She's not credited with it, but clearly Wicks drew at least one panel of the story:
I've no idea what the upcoming Harley Quinn comic written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner will be like, but reading this makes me think Quinones would have been a pretty good choice for artist; maybe the editor will keep him in mind for fill-ins.

Written by John Arcudi, drawn by Sean Murphy

Actually, the table of contents puts it as written by Arcudi and "illustrated by" Murphy, but I've been using "drawn by," as "illustrated" has some different connotations. The story itself bears the credits "John Arcudi, Script" and "Sean Murphy, Art and Concept," which is quite a bit different than either.

This story actually also features a Paul Dini-created bat-villainess, the much-less-popular Roxy Rocket. The concept Murpy's come up with is a pretty neat one, providing him the opportunity to draw an extremely dynamic car chase involving Rocket's souped-up rocket car and a fairly massive and intimidating race car version of the Batmobile, that looks equal parts Nolan's Dark Knight and Animated Series, while continuing to cut back to Bruce Wayne's after-action repairs on his car, as he recounts the adventure to Alfred.

It's a gag comic, with a punchline ending, but it's a clever one, demonstrating what an obsessive crazy-person Batman can seem (or, I guess, how "driven" he is). And goodness gracious can Murphy draw. The black and white format offers a pretty incredible look at just how incredible Murphy is, with just his black ink lines on the white paper.

"Head Games"
Written by Howard Mackie, drawn by Chris Samnee

The little biography of Samnee notes that it has been the Daredevil artist's lifelong dream to draw a Batman comic, and this is his first time doing so. That struck me as strange, only because it seems like Samnee's career must be getting awfully close to the "write his own ticket" stage, if it's not there already (I have the feeling their may be some bad blood between DC and Waid for some reason—maybe just because everyone who has stopped writing for them in the last few years usually notes the existence of bad blood—but imagine the current Daredevil team on a Batman miniseries, huh?).

This is a sort of murder-mystery that the reader can't really be expected to solve, but the Bat-villain's appearance comes as sort of a surprise, half-way through. It's a very, very dark take on the character, one that sort of breaks the character, I think, but it's forgivable given the one-off, out-of-continuity nature of the project and hey, given the weird revision this character's gotten in The New 52, it was nice to see some form of this version again.

As one might expect, Samnee's Batman is excellent, his portrayal of the character alternating from a mysterious silhouette with white, triangle eyes to something big and imposing or lithe and athletic, depending on the scene (In the first four panels, I saw a panel that looked Mignola-esque, another that looked Breyfogle-esque, and a touch that could have come from either an old Neal Adams or an old Norm Breyfogle comic).

Interestingly, Harvey Bullock appears in the story, and his depiction is taken almost directly from The Animated Series (although he's exchanged his TV toothpick for his comic book cigar). I don't know how true it holds for Bat-fans in general, but, based on this issue alone, great cartoonists sure seem to love The Animated Series iteration of these characters.

*Not a comic book about a Gotham City sports team

**I was wondering the other day about how odd it seemed that the only cartoon DC continues in comic book form is the shortest-lived, least-influential one, Batman Beyond. But, while wondering, I came to the conclusion that it probably has something to do with how far away that cartoon is from the regular Batman comics. As different in design and aesthetic all 14 or so Batman books are from Batman: The Animated Series, they at least still feature Bruce Wayne as Batman and are set in the present, for example. 

Look for the Batman: Black and White (But Mostly White) Variant cover!