Sunday, February 02, 2014

Comic shop comics: January 29

Adventures of Superman #9 (DC Comics): Writer Christos Gage and artist Eduardo Francisco (That's not his cover art though; that's Dan Panosian) present an issue-length Bizarro story, which signals its "Flowers for Algernon" inspiration in its title, "Flowers for Bizarro." 

After a typical encounter between Superman and Bizarro, the Man of Steel defeats his foe and brings him to Dr. Hamilton at STAR Labs, and after briefly studying his brain, Hamilton comes up with a "cure" for Bizarro that restructures the way his brain works, essentially making him normal. That is, rather than a backwards Superman, Bizarro becomes another Superman (The bit in which Hamilton explains how Bizarro's brain works is pretty inspired; like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns have so often done, Gage takes an inherited bit of old school comic bookery and works backwards until he comes up with a plausible sounding rationale for it to be so).

If you read "Flowers for Algernon" in junior high (or Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo's "Flowers for Rhino" in  Spider-Man's Tangled Web #5-6), then you know that things start out pretty good, but can't last. Bizarro's still got his looks and his reputation as a menace and villain to deal with, and super-hearing and a normal functioning brain means he can hear every snide remark and feel every negative emotion such remarks elicit.

While a, um, forward thinking Bizarro doesn't fit in on Earth any better than a backwards one did, Superman and Hamilton devise a pretty good solution, one you've problem seen multiple times before in various media, but with a fresh twist.

Francisco's art is pretty great, and his very distinct, human-looking Superman, Bizarro and Hamilton are a refreshing change from the more cookie-cutter character  designs that tend to populate superhero comics (The Toyman also appears in a minor role, with Francisco giving him the creepy Animated Series design, while also using the Geoff Johns—I think it was—characterization in which all the various Toyman appearances over the years are robot "toy" selves created by the real Toyman).

If DC ever releases a Greatest Bizarro Stories Ever Told, this seems like a good candidate for inclusion.

Aquaman #27 (DC): I'm still not loving the title as much as I had hoped I would when writer Jeff Parker took over, I think in large part because it's missing the sense of humor I associate with much of Parker's best work, but I'm not exactly disliking it either. For now I guess I'm just reading, and hoping it gets really good soon, as I'm not sure how many issues of a not bad comic I want to read in serial format at this point in my comics-buying life.

As for the plot, it involves Aquaman singlehandedly taking on and ultimately taking down "The Karaqan," a big crustacean-y, tantacle-y, man-shaped kaiju that's gone on a rampage, temporarily linking minds with it and uncovering bits of ancient Atlantean history that will likely come to play in later issues. Meanwhile, a reporter is investigating Aquaman's surface world hometown, and a group of mysterious scientists are being mysterious. The artwork comes courtesy of two pencillers (Paul Pelletier and Netho Diaz) and two inkers (Sean Parsons and Ruy Jose), and looks a little unfocused and messy because of it. Both art teams seem fine, but it's obvious that there are many hands involved, and the resultant art isn't terribly sharp.

Classic Popeye #18 (IDW): One of two comics among this handful that is more than a few weeks late, due to some missed connections between my local comic shop and Diamond, I think the next issue of this series is actually due on this coming Wednesday.

Anyway, here's 32-pages of classic, Bud Sagendorf gag strips from 1951. This issue's stories seemed weaker than normal, perhaps because there are so many of them and each is relatively short. My favorites of the batch were probably the one where Popeye cat-sits a lion and turns it into a loyal, purring pussycat by virtue of his toughness and the one in which Wimpy encounters a remote-controlled robot duck.

Saga  #18 (Image Comics): In this issue: Everybody dies! Well, it sure seems like it. Last issue both D. Oswald Heist and Prince Robot IV got shot, The Will was bleeding from a fatal neck wound, and Marko's mom got distance-lanced. In this issue, Lying Cat receives traumatic injury to the eye, Alana and baby Hazel get thrown off the top of a lighthouse, and Gwendolyn gets shot in the back of the head.

So who lives and who dies? This issue answers that, and jumps forward in time some months, as is signaled by the last-page reveal. If this were a TV show, this issue would read like a season finale.

Also, we learn a little bit more about the nature of Lying Cats and what past trauma motivates our Lying Cat. I'm pretty worried about her left eye, though. As cool as she'd look with an eye patch, I hope her eye heals better than Fiona Staples drawing of its injuring suggests it will. I want Lying Cat to be in top physical condition for the inevitable fight with that big, red Saint Bernard...

Scooby-Doo Team Up #2 (DC): Translated from the barking! This is the other comic I've been waiting a few weeks on now, and hoo boy was it ever worth the wait. Scooby and the gang are the guests of honor at Batman and Robin's meeting of The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, which includes in its cameo-riffic crowd scenes Dr. Thirteen, Mysto the Magician, Slam Bradley, Jason Bard, Kaye Daye and Roy Rymond, The TV Detective...and, in photograph form only, Detective Chimp and Sam Simeon (The "Ape" from Angel and The Ape). Writer Sholly Fisch is fairly coy with the identities of some of the Analysts, referring to the simply as "Jason" or "Mister Bradley."

While there are a lot of characters in this comic, the team-up occurs between Scooby-Doo, wearing Robin's mask and cape to help him overcome his cowardice, and Ace, The Bat-Hound, who Fisch writes like Batman as a dog. This "Dynamic Scooby-Duo" are the only mystery-solvers left unaffected by The Scarecrow's fear gas, leaving the Scarecrow—who artist Dario Brizuela draws to resemble The Scarecrow's very first design Batman: The Animated Series, the red-shirted, pupil-less masked version—and his Straw Men free to rob at will.

It is just as awesome as it sounds.

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