Thursday, October 17, 2013

Comic book shop: October 9-16

Afterlife With Archie #1 (Archie Comics) Archie comics exploring, parodying or otherwise exploiting various pop culture trends or other genres is nothing new, in fact it's kind of been their business model for a while now. Usually when they look beyond Riverdale for plot points or gag material, they do so with tongue firmly in cheek. Not this time; if there's a parodic element to Afterlife, the publisher is delivering it with one hell of a straight face.

That is due in large part to the presence of artist Francesco Francavilla, who is working far, far outside the usual Archie Comics spectrum of style, redesigning the characters by integrating them into his own personal style. This doesn't look like an Archie comic, it looks like a Francavilla comic, and though the characters are recognizable, it is more through their signifiers than particular physical traits (Jughead, for example, no longer has the elongated, finger-like nose and pointed chin, but he does wear his little crown hat, so you know it's Jughead. Also, everyone calls him "Jughead").

The proceedings are remarkably good-looking too...I honestly can't remember the last time I picked up an Archie comic and thought to myself, "Hey, this is fantastic artwork!" (As much as I dig Dan Parent and Norm Breyfogle and some of the others who work on Archie Comics these days, they still look like Archie Comics; this looks like a Dark Horse comic).

In addition to the style and storytelling, Francavilla ratchets up the spooky, horror aspects through Halloween coloring (Most of the book is colored in various shades black and orange, with some whites and purplish blues here and there) and the staging which keeps characters faces mostly in shadow or otherwise somewhat obscured.

As for the story, it is by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and the full-page opening in which the words "This is How the End of the World Begins..." seem to be scrawled on a black wall in orange-ish blood is a pretty good indication of just how dark and...not teen gag comic-y this comic book is.

The plot? Jughead Jones appears on the steps of Sabrina the Teenage Witch's house, cradling the body of his beloved dog Hot Dog, who was hit by a car, and begging for help. Eventually she relents in her opposition to using necromancy, and they return Hot Dog to life, or something like it ("Sometimes dead is better," one of her aunts quotes Pet Semetary to the kids).

Well, Hot Dog comes back, but he's been...changed, and, after biting Jughead, Jughead is changed as well, and he bites a character I think is supposed to be Mr. Weatherbee (It's hard to tell with their noses so...realistic) and then stalks toward the Halloween dance. And you know what Jughead's appetite is like!

So it's a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale, essentially. In some of the copious back-matter, Aguirre-Sacasa mentions that the book is "an ongoing comic book," which sounds...difficult to pull off, to say the least as I can't imagine they'll go all Walking Dead with it. Perhaps there will be other Archie/horror mash-ups with other artists drawing them in the future...? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now, this was an incredible, remarkably, surprisingly good horror comic that just so happens to feature the Riverdale gang, and if you like Archie comics, zombie comics and/or Francavilla, you're going to want to read this, either now or in eventual trade.

Apparently, there was one of those weird variant schemes where the publisher publishes covers particular to a particular comics shop if they order enough comics. My shop apparently did so, which explains why a week after release I had no trouble finding a copy; I think I counted somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 left on the shelf. Unfortunately, they were all this cover, and while it's a nice cover and all, I would have preferred the Andrew Pepoy variant, featuring, as it does, Betty in sheer negligee.

Batman '66 #4 (DC Comics) While a relatively minor Batman villain, The Mad Hatter is particularly long-lived on, debuting way back in 1948. Over the years, there have been a couple different ways of portraying his particular brand of criminal insanity: At times he's obsessed with hats and the stealing of rare and valuable hats like some kind of crazy collector (With Batman's cowl being a favorite target), at other times he's obsessed with Lewis Carroll's Alice books and sometimes he's a little of both (The Carroll-obsession has become the prevailing portrayal, which I approve of, although the guy who is just plain crazy for hats is pretty funny; apparently there are a lot of different ways to play a comic book character named The Mad Hatter).

The one that appears in the first half of the latest issue of Batman '66 is, of course, the one from the television show: The one just plain crazy for hats, one who never even mentions Carroll's creations or wears a "In this size" card in his top hat. In this story, by Jeff Parker, Batman and Robin—as Batman and Robin—take Alfred to London, where they must stop the Hatter from stealing the most valuable of all hats, The Crown Jewels. Johnathan Case draws this one, and I think it might have featured my favorite script so far.

Parker has a few great moments, as in one where a bystander to the robbery asks the Hatter what's so great about hats, and gets a two-page speech in response, or the last panel featuring the character being hauled off to jail.

The second story still finds the pair in England, but now drawn by Sandy Jarrell. There they discover that everything they thought they knew about the relationship between The Mad Hatter and The Clock King was wrong!

Sadly, no cameo from Knight and Squire '66.

Classic Popeye #15 (IDW) Hey, it's another issue of the absolute hardest comic I ever try to review—or "review," as the case may be—as each issue feature the same basic cast, the same creator and is of the same level of fairly high quality!

In this issue, a mad scientist tries to turn Popeye into a dog, and accidentally gifts him with the power of animal speech, turning him into a Dr. Doolittle—at least for the length of a single story. Perhaps the powers wore off after the end of the story...

Then there's a story of Popeye's railroad, shorts featuring solo stories of Wimpy and Ham Gravy, and two one-page gag strips. The most notable difference in this particular issues is the fact that the prose story, "Bugtown Capers," is not a Popeye story, and thus I was even less likely to read it than I was all the other prose stories I don't ever actually read (I did skim it, just to see if the words "Swee'pea" or "Pappy" appeared at all, but, as far as I could tell, it had nothing to do with Popeye.

Forever Evil: Arkham War #1 (DC) Following up on the events promised in the Bane and Scarecrow issues from Villains Month, this tells the story set-up in those: Following the apparent deaths of Batman and the Justice Leaguers (and Nightwing and Red Robin in no position to fight armies of villains), the Crime Syndicate has given Gotham to The Scarecrow and The Penguin, the formers serving as their go-between, the latter as the new mayor of post-apocalyptic Gotham (Penguin as mayor! Just like in that old Batman '66 TV show, and Batman Returns, and Batman: Earth One!) The various villains freed from Arkham are all assigned sections of the city to (somehow) rule and defend (although I imagine ten or twenty concerned citizens with firearms or even baseball bats and chains could destroy many of the inmates, most of whom aren't known for their physical prowess or for having super-powers). (Bat-villains with territories! Just like "No Man's Land!" And, I don't know, maybe Arkham City...? Is that the plot of that game...?).

But Bane is invading Gotham City with an army form his home country, all of whom wear symbols that look like the white part of his mask on their uniforms (and which actually rather resemble Ra's al Ghul's demon head logo). They immediately take over Blackgate Prison, and recruit the inmates there into their army (Bane with an army of freed Blackgate Prisoners! Just like in The Dark Knight Rises!)

It is all leading up to a Bane Vs. Pretty Much Everyone Else war, which should occupy the majority of the next five issues, although here he just deals with a non-dancing Professor Pyg, breaking his hands but not killing him, so that he can "spread the message" (and, of course, reappear in future Batman comics down the road).

The plot is jury-rigged from various components, or, to be kind, "allusions" to other Batman comics, and it remains to be seen how it will play out, and/or how interesting it can possibly be, given the fact that Bane is basically Batman on super-steroids with an army of gun-wielding terrorists, so he can personally take pretty much anyone Arkham can throw at him (and I think he has defeated almost all of these guys in the past at one point or another) and it doesn't seem like the Syndicate would let Bane conquer Gotham and take it away from their appointed lieutenants in The Society (see the next review for an example).
A couple of nitpicky, nerdy observations:

—I don't care for the way Scot Eaton, who pencils the issue but is inked by three different artists (and the shifts in style are quite noticeable) draws Bane; he's bulked up to silly proportions, with a build more like that of the Incredible Hulk than a human being of any kind. His hands, for example, are bigger than the heads of most of the other characters, and his own head looks tiny atop his Thanksgiving Day parade balloon of a body.

—Eaton's Penguin is gigantic; about as tall as The Scarecrow, which can't be right. 

—A one-page splash of a riot in Blackgate (see above) reveals some of the villains being kept there: The big, muscular New 52 Tweedles (traditonally Arkham inmates), David Finch's White Rabbit character from the first arc of the second volume of Batman: The Dark Knight, someone who looks like he might be The Reaper (Batman: Year Two can't possibly be continuity anymore, can it...?), The Emperor Penguin character that I think appeared during Jon Layman's TEC run and, most surprisingly, a character that looks like Ragdoll II from Gail Simone's run on Secret Six, who as both a legacy character and a character descended from a Golden Age Villain should probably be on Earth 2 rather than here (But then, Johns is using Stargirl in JLoA, so I don't really get how the New 52 universe was composed, at least when it came to particular ingredients from particular Earths).

—I was curious where Gotham's other heroes have all gone. Batman and Catwoman are "dead" (Or are they?), Red Robin is lost in time and Nightwing has been captured by The Society, but where's Batgirl? Or the The Birds of Prey? Or Huntress and her Earth 2 pal Powergirl...? Seems like there's a lot of work for the girls of Gotham to do at the moment, and, so far, they are conspicuously absent.

It's not great, but it's not terrible, either. It's a mediocre comic, but I read so few super-comics these days that I'll happily read a mediocre comic tied into an exciting event comic I'm reading.

Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion #1 (DC) And hey, speaking of mediocre comics tied into event comics...! An impulse buy spurred on by the relative quality of the Villains Month issue of The Flash featuring The Rogues (I guess that event did get me to buy at least one comic I wouldn't have otherwise) and, to a lesser extent, the Grodd issue and the events of Forever Evil #2, I found myself interested in enough in seeing how the New 52 Flash villains fare in a world ruled by actually evil, villains-with-a-capital-V villains (As writer Brian Buccellato and, before him, Geoff Johns and Mark Waid, write The Rogues, they're basically bank robbers and fairly decent—at least for supervillains—human beings who aren't into murder and mayhem for murder and mayhem's sake.

This issue is pretty much pure fight comic, with Buccellato backtracking a bit to re-cover elements of Forever Evil, and then sending The Rogues home to Central City to see the horror inflicted on it by a Flash-powered Grodd. While checking on Golden Glider in the hospital, a bunch of mostly Firestorm villains appear to inform The Rogues they need to get with the Syndicates program (Black Bison, Plastique, Hyena, Typhoon and Multiplex), and then they all fight.

When the fight is over, The Syndicate's Deathstorm and Power Ring appear to fight The Rogues—I imagine that will be issue #2.

The artwork leaves a lot to be desired. Part of it is by Patrick Zircher and part of it is by Scott Hepburn. Both are fine, but their styles aren't the least bit compatible.

Zircher, who draws the early portions of the book, works in a very realistic, slightly gritty style that seems appropriate to a world lit only by the fire of burning buildings.  (There's no electricity, and a full eclipse).

Hepburn's artwork is much more cartoony, with fun, exaggerated character designs, but it sure clashes with Zircher's work.

Hawkeye #13 (Marvel Entertainment) I was a little lost with this issue, to be honest. I took me a while to figure out that this was actually set before and during parts of  the last Hawkeye comic or comics (It seems like it's been a while since I last read an issue of this series, annual or otherwise) I read. On a tighter schedule or in a trade paperback, that probably wouldn't be a problem but it took me a while to figure out that this was re-showing various scenes from earlier comics from different points of view, mainly that of Hawkeye Clint Barton rather than Hawkeye Kate Bishop or their dog.

That aside, it was pretty excellent. David Aja returns for this issue. I am shocked to see that The Avengers still use pagers. Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym...none of those guys have invented anything more super-sciencey than a pager...?

SpongeBob Comics #25 (United Plankton Pictures) Wow, 25 issues already?

This is a Haloween issue, as the image of SpongeBob dressed as a witch on the cover no doubt clued you in on. All eigh of the stories—nine, if you count Nate Neals six-page strip on the table of contents page—are Halloween themed, dealing with either kid-friendly "horror" or costumes. This issue's contributors include the likes of Andy Rementer, Stephen DeStefano, Marc Rosenthal, James Kochalka and Michael T. Gilbert. As per usual, it's more treat than trick.

1 comment:

Dean said...

The Avengers probably give Hawkeye a cheap-ass pager because they know it'll just get broken or lost.