Monday, March 31, 2014

DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe #6: Let's never speak of any of this ever again.

Don't get excited. That is not the cover for the sixth and final issue of DC's thunderously disappointing DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe crossover series, nor is it a cover for an upcoming issue of DC's ongoing He-Man and The Masters of The Universe series. Rather, it is simply a pin-up that artist Stewart McKenny drew, and which I noticed on his Facebook feed the same day I happened to buy the previous issue of the DCUvMOTU series.

I post it here simply for contrast. If you're familiar with the characters (i.e. you grew up in the 1980s), then you'll notice that they are a) slightly tweaked versions of the characters as they appeared in the, let's face it, pretty terrible animated series, based on toy line (McKenny's Skeletor is much thinner, almost skeletal, and Evil-Lyn's neckline plunges deeper than I remember from the cartoon, but otherwise, they look like an artist filtering the original designs through his own style) b) the core line-up of the villains, Skeletor's "Evil Warriors" (well, the core line-up, plus Stinkor).

Of those eight villains on the image, only Skeletor and Evil-Lyn actually appear in DCvMOTU, and then in severely redesigned, you-might-not-recongize-'em-form. It seems inconceivable to me that you would do a miniseries based on the premise of a clash between these two worlds and not even include the obvious encounters that occurred to toy makers years ago*...
...but hell, what do I know.

I guess what I found so incredibly disappointing about the series is that I tend to view these sorts of crossover stories as once-in-a-lifetime sorts of exercises (Think JLA/Avengers or Marvel Vs. DC), and therefore I expect them to be both very good and to get in everything a fan might want to see happen. It's hard, but not impossible. Marvel Vs. DC isn't a great example, but JLA/Avengers is...I'm pretty sure writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez worked in every member of every team ever, all of their villains, all of their supporting characters, chunks of their history and every available location.

This is nowhere near as ambitious, perhaps because Giffen plotted it to simply be another chapter of the ongoing DC He-Man and The Masters of the Universe comic book DC is publishing, which has set about redesigning the characters costumes just as severely as the New 52 initiative redesigned DC's superheroes, and rather radically altered the status quo.

Seen that way, I guess it makes sense this is really just another terrible story arc of a terrible ongoing comic book series, and wasn't approached as anything special or historic or something-somebody-somewhere-might-conceivably-give-a-damn-about. And, unlike those DC/Marvel crossovers mentioned above, I guess there's no reason DC can't publish another, better DCU/MOTU crossover at some point in the future.

I'm fairly certain that they can't publish a worse one those, as comics don't get much worse than this.

The third cover artist to contribute to this six-issue series is Mikel Janin, regular artist for Justice League Dark, who is not exactly doing his best work ever here. That big, toothy pile of color effects in the background is "Dark Orko," the villain of the piece, while various members of the Justice League and the Masters of the Universe line-up rather asymmetrically on either side of the cover, Battle Cat doing the best job of hiding himself in shame from the readers' eyes (He's mostly obscured behind the UPC symbol and creator credits).

Wonder Woman's head, neck and raised fist, and at least half of The Flash, are still visible behind the tagline, reading "FINAL BATTLE! DARK ORKO VS. EVERYONE!"

While there is a sort of George Perez, Anti-Monitor vs. the DC Universe homage panel near the climax, "Everyone" here is a lot less ambitious than one might expect, given that two entire universes full of characters are mentioned right there in the title. In truth, the "Everyone" refers to the eight characters from the Masters of The Universe universe and maybe two dozen DC characters max, only a relative handful of whom actually do much of anything, or even get lines of dialogue.

For the final issue, the creative team re-falls apart a bit. Keith Giffen is responsible for the plot (Boooo!), whereas the script can be blamed on Tony Bedard (Boooo!). The art is mostly by Pop Mhan, who badly draws 14 pages, while an Eduardo Francisco draws six pages. There are two colorists, but they don't split their page assignations to correspond with that of the artists.

If you've forgotten where we left off, or succeeded in blocking it from your memory because it just hurt too much to think about, let me remind you of what has come before. Orko discovered the magic evil skull of Hordak's dad, and it turned him into "Dark Orko," a big, evil, monster version of himself; he conquered his home dimension of Trolla, turned all the other Orkos there into scary monsters, and then sent Skeletor to the DC Universe. There, the redesigned New 52 Skeletor teamed up with Black Alice, who was apparently just there to give Skeletor someone to talk to, and placed 12 magic siphons all around the world; these draw magic from the DCU and will channel it to the Orko, destroy Earth-New 52 in the process (So I guess that means we should root for Orko and Skeletor...?).

To keep the heroes off his back, Skeletor possessed the Justice League and pit them against He-Man and other arrivals in this dimension from Eternia, the first battle seemingly ended with He-Man stabbing Superman through the torso and making the Man of Steel disappear (In actuality, he was simply teleported to Trolla).

As of last issue, all the heroes were finally all on the same page, and they decided to team up with Skeletor to stop Orko. In retaliation, Orko possessed all of the super-people in the DCU and sent them to the House of Secrets to fight Skeletor and whoever was un-possessed. Why not just possess everyone via this global mind control spell? Because...



...Okay, I can't think of a good reason.

Anyway, let's read the last issue of the most disappointing comic book story of my life!

PAGES 1-4: According to Skeletor, "Orko sent your world's mightiest beings to destroy us!" These consist of Blue Beetle, Firestorm, Orion, Cheetah, Black Manta and a bunch of Batman villains—including The Joker (again), although I'm pretty sure that's an(other) art mistake.

This motley crew, visually identified as mind-controlled by the red lightning rising out of their eye-sockets, are meant to take out The Eternians, Batman and the Justice League Dark line-up. In order to cut off Orko's power supply (an save the world), Skeletor sends various teams of the un-mind-controlled to attack the siphons.

PAGES 5-8: Prince Adam, which we all know is He-Man before he says "Shazam!" and gets all big and muscular, has tried sneaking into Trolla in order to rescue Superman. After he exchanges some words with Orko, Adam shouts his catch prhase, turns into He-Man and cuts the magical shackles imprisoning Superman.

Orko sics "a billion" Trollans on them.

PAGE 9: We see four of the teams who have gone to destroy four of the siphons, each of which is apparently guarded by a mind-controlled DCU character. In Greece, John Constantine and Evil-Lyn are faced with Wonder Woman. In Egypt, Man-at-Arms and Madame Xanadu are faced with Black Adam. In Cambodia, Stratos and Deadman-in-Battle Cat are walking around (Not sure why Deadman is in Battle Cat; this version of Deadman doesn't need to possess anyone in order to speak to the living the way he did before the reboot). And, finally, in France, Roboto and Frankenstein fight Cyborg.

PAGE 10-11: Skeletor is fighting the mind-controlled Deathstroke, Batgirl, Scarecrow, Clayface, Bane and Killer Croc, but by "fighting" I simply mean he is posing and talking, while they are posing in his direction.
The rest of the page is devoted to Batman giving Black Alice a pep talk: "You have the ability to tap into the powers of those you've been in contact with," he says incorrectly (She has the ability to tap into the power of any magic-user, whether she's met them or not). At Batman's urging, she uses her power to borrow some of Orko's magic.

Now, the neat thing about Black Alice is that when she does this, she generally gets a one-time costume redesign, appearing in a generally scanty, goth version of a costume worn by a DCU magic user.

So one might expect her to appear, for at least a panel, in a naughty goth Orko get-up. This does not happen.
Instead, she just appears as a pair of eyes in the sky, breaking the mind-control spell, thus sparing Man-At-Arms from having his arms ripped off by Black Adam and Constantine and -Lyn from being similarly dismembered by Wondy.

PAGEs 12-14:

Superman tells He-Man he's "not much good against magic," so He-Man lends him his Sword of Power. They don't have to fight long though, as Orko opens a portal in Earth in order to collect the power he's had siphoned—but Skeletor jumps through it shouting "It's Mine!!"

While they wrestle, Superman and He-Man fly through the portal back to Earth, and Skeletor and Orko stumble after.

PAGES 15-16:
Dogpile on Orko!

This is the page that reminded me of that pretty famous COIE cover by Perez.
Although now that I look at them both at once, the Perez image is a little more detailed and dynamic, huh...?

PAGES 17-19:

Using his X-Ray vision, Superman sees the evil Hordak's Dad skull inside Orko, and hurls He-Man's Sword of Power at it, impaling it and instructing He-Man to "Get ready to light him up!"

He-Man intuits that this means to shout "By the Power of Grayskull!" This causes lightning to SHA-KOOM the sword-impaled skull, which...shatters the skull and doesn't something bad to Orko. Skeletor jumps on Orko's back, still shouting about the Power and that he must have it.

Constantine then snaps his fingers, and SWHFF the two villains disappear.

"Where are they, Constantine?" Batman asks, to which the mage responds "Gone, Batman. Forever, if I got it right."

Man-At-Arms isn't so sure; he cooly regards the closing vortex and says, "Let's hope so...But if there's one thing I've learned about Skeletor, it's that he always comes back."

PAGES 20-21: And then, Man-at-Arms and company suddenly react completely differently, raising their arms into the air and cheering at the defeat. He-Man and his mom hug (Oh yeah, He-Man's mom was in this, if you forgot. She's a lady from the DCU, and is somehow cursed so that she can never return to Eternia).

The best part is Teela and Man-at-Arms pondering their next move. "What do we do now? " Teela asks. "I mean, we did come here hoping to recruit Skeletor in our war against The Horde."

"We'll just have to find a different way to liberate Eternia," Man-at-Arms responds. The Justice League and a handful of superheroes from the DCU, who just accepted He-Man and company's aid in saving their world from Skeletor and Orko, not only don't volunetter, but Madame Xanadu and Constantine immediately open up a portal to Eternia and say "Godspeed to you all" and "Don't forget to write."
Nice heroing, a-holes.

At the bottom of the final page, there's a tag saying "Don't miss the origin of She-Ra starting in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #13!" but, if you somehow made it through all six of these awful issues, I can't imagine you would be at all interested in following the Eternians on to their next adventure. Or the heroes of the DC Universe on to any of their further adventures. Rather than serving as some sort of incentive to sell the He-Man comics to DC readers or DC comics to He-Man fans, this miniseries was basically a strong argument for never reading any comics featuring any of these characters again.

But don't judge all of the DC line of comics by this miniseries! While it's true many of them are not very good, and most of them are mediocre, few if any that I've read have been as poorly made as DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe, which we need never speak of again, and can, in fact, now being consciously trying to forget.

Or should we instead keep it in the back of our mind at all times? Well, I don't know that we should, but certain comic book publishers, editors and creators should think of it as a good example of how not to do a cross franchise story. After all, those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and therefore I assume that those that forget DC Universe Vs. Masters of the Universe are doomed to repeat it, and nobody wants that...

*In addition to an Aquaman Vs. Mer-Man two-pack set, Mattel also produced a Superman Vs. He-Man, a Lex Luthor vs. Skeletor, She-Ra Vs. Supergirl, Green Lantern vs. Zodac, Bizarro Vs. Faker and Hawkman Vs. Stratos...that last match-up is the only one to actually occur in the comic book series, aside from the He-Man and Superman fight. Is it even worth pointing out that the toy lines have the characters in their classic looks, rather than the New 52 redesings of the DC characters and the updated looks of the MOTU characters? For the most part, it looks like the designs from the Super Friends or Super Powers show doing battle with the designs from the original He-Man cartoon...with the Bizarro and Supergirl hailing from Superman: The Animated Series.

(One) of my favorite parts of Wolverine and The X-Men #29...?

There's an establishing shot of the Jean Grey School of 25 years in the future, and, among the crowd of the New Mutants new mutants is one that is apparently just a bipedal giraffe. I'm not sure if he might have any super-powers of any kind, or if just being a giraffe man is his mutation.

Nor can I imagine what his codename might be...although given that the Class of 2014 includes a guy covered in eyes named Eye Boy and a girl who can turn into a humanoid shark named Shark Girl, I have to assume he would be named "Giraffe Boy," even if that's not all that X-Manly sounding of a name.

At any rate, teenage anthropomorphic giraffe in a school uniform? That's cool.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On the designs of the Black Riders in Dark Horse's Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders

Dark Horse's second miniseries featuring Robert E. Howard's late 17th century Puritan vanquisher of evil, Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders was published in 2010. Like its predecessor, The Castle of the Devil, it was the work of writer Scott Allie and artist Mario Guevara, and based on an unfinished fragment of Howard's...with an adaptation of short story "Rattle of Bones" nestled somewhat uncomfortably within the extrapolated title story.

It's a pretty strong piece of pulp fiction turned elegantly illustrated pulp comics. Still wandering the Black Forest after his adventure in the previous series, Kane comes across a strange scene. A band of gypsies was in the process of being robbed by a pair of highwaymen, when the entire group was attacked by bizarre and hideous monsters. Kane intervenes, killing most of the creatures, and then he and one survivor hole up in a lonely inn called "The Cleft Skull," where "Rattle of Bones" is adapted...and then the monsters return in greater numbers to besiege the inn.

As with the previous volume, Mike Mignola provides a great cover, one so solid in design and execution that I wished the interior art was in the same style, and Guy Davis provides the monster designs, as the generous portion of backmatter makes clear.

And man, these are some really great monster designs. So great, in fact, that it almost seems a waste that Davis septn so much time and creative energy so thoroughly designing them, right down to forms of locomotion and the way the creatures might store their weapons on their bodies, that it seems a shame that they exist only in this miniseries, and even then, Guevara has somewhat redesigned them (Also as with the previous volume, there's a short comics story in here as well; "All the Damned Souls at Sea," which is drawn by Guy Davis and originally appeared in a pair of MySpace Dark Horse Presents issues. In it, Kane fights a scary-looking witch, and then a curse-created monster built out of boat pieces).

It's my understanding that the "Death's Black Riders" fragment is just that, a fragment, with only a few lines actually completed by Howard. Those lines involved Kane meeting, in the words of whoever handles the Sa olomon Kane Wikipedia page, "a shadowy ghost rider on the road."

In designing the riders, Allie said he wanted a monster that could be mistaken for Solomon Kane on the road at first sight, and, indeed, here is Guevara's first image of a rider from the story:
Davis said that, additionally, they didn't want the riders to resemble centaurs...which Mignola's monster on the cover rather does...aside from the gaping mouth where the human abdomen would be on a centaur. So, what Davis did, was to first sketch a silhouette of Kane on Horseback, and then reverse-engineer a monster that could make that shape from there, taking care to not simply make it into a centaur.

What he came up with is pretty fantastic:
This seems to be a rather early design, but it's probably my favorite. I like who the entire front of the creature is one big, weird head shape. It looks a bit like the shadow of a centaur, but is rather some kind of scary quadraped with an large head, more vertical and rectangular than orb-like.

That design couldn't hold a sword, however, so Davis then gives his rider arms, and it looks almost completely alien now:
Not only does it have six limbs rather than four, but it's arms are all "wrong" by our standards, with multiple elbow-like joints. I also like how it retains the big, giant face. Davis basically further refines this design, even coming up with a neat solution as to how the creatures might walk around when they don't need their arms to fight with:
Guevara then took the designs and ran with them, coming up with several different variations, some of which do resemble monstrous, desiccated centaurs:
As they finally appear in the story, they have a pair of mouths, a detail that I didn't really like, as it seemed like a more generic, lazy monster; that is, assigning exaggerated human features or additional body parts, whereas the one-mouthed creatures had a bizarre, alien sense of anatomy; that is, they didn't look like men with mouths in their stomachs; the "other" mouth near the eyes make them seem a little too human.

Guevara draws each of the creatures a little different though. Here are some images of them:

They have individualized modes of dress, and some have quite different faces, and a few even seem to have different numbers of limbs.

Finally, how artist Darrick Robertson, who drew the individual covers for each of the issues in the series, rendered the riders:
It would be very easy to imagine this story being completed with very different antagonists, more standard-issue monsters like Tolkein's Nazgul, or spectral or skeletal men on spectral or skeletal horses or something centaur-like, but the lengths that Davis and Guevara went in order to make unique monsters really elevated the proceedings into something worthy of fascination...atop the expected pleasures of the pulpy, tough guy-fighting-horrible monsters story.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Wolverine and The X-Men Vol. 6

The sixth collection of the Jason Aaron-written, Jean Grey School-based X-Men comic differs from the previous ones in a few important ways.

First, it is all a single story arc running through its five issues; the fifth of those serves as a sort of epilogue and primes the pump for the next big storyline, but its climax is tied to the adventure that fils the first four issues.

Second, it actually has a single artist, from start to finish: Ramon Perez.

The premise is pretty straightforward, an X-Men-ized version of a common school experience: The field trip. For the super-powered mutant students of the Jean Grey School and their instructor Wolverine, however, the "field" in question is the dinosaur-filled Savage Land. Wolvie takes the kids—Quentin Quire, Idie, Genesis, Glob, Eye Boy, Shark Girl, the newly-christened Sprite and the still-monstrous Broo—in a Blackbird and drops them off with the following challenge: Survive together as a group without him long enough to find the waiting plane or, um, don't. It's a pass/fail class, obviously.

The challenge is made infinitely more difficult by the arrival of Dog Logan, Wolverine's big brother from Origin, who Jason Aaron picked up and explored as a potential rival, foil and villain for Wolverine in the present in the pages of Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine, aided by the "time diamonds" from that series, and egged on by a time-traveling version of himself to go after Wolverine.

He does so, but he's not just planning on beating up his now-famous little brother. Rather, he wants to prove himself a better teacher than Wolverine, so once he incapacitates the guy with his name on the book, Dog then hands out guns to the school kids, and leads them as they fight not only the dinosaurs of The Savage Land, but also the cowboys, cavemen and killer robots from the future that Dog himself brought with him.

It's a typically tightly-plotted story from Aaron, in which he shows the students pretty much disintegrating when left to their own devices, and then each coming into their own and almost instinctively forming a team when faced with the common threat of Dog. The narrative consistently flashes back to something Wolverine said privately to each of the students on the plane-ride to the Savage Land, something that turns out to be rather key to their triumph (Even in the case of Eye Boy, who responds to Wolvie's claim that he told each one of them all they needed to know, "Um, all you taught me was how to play five card stud").

Aaron also devotes some time to Dog as a character, showing his origin story from different angles—and, as in Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine, the passages set in Dog's past are rendered in such a way as to suggest the imagery of Origin, rather than the more straightforward super-comics look of the rest of the book.

Perez has a pretty challenging gig here, drawing not only a fairly large cast of colorful characters with fantastic powers in a prehistoric jungle setting, but also all the other crazy characters that crash the party. And then there's that last issue.

After the trip to the Savage Land ends, with the Jean Grey School losing a student to the emerging bad guys school, the final issue finds the entire school assembled for a time capsule ceremony, and then flashes forward 25 years, to the point where a gray haired, bearded Wolverine finds and opens it. I'm pretty sure Perez actually draws every single member of the entire school on the bottom half of a two-page splash, he then designs a whole new student body for the future version of the school, as well as drawing at least a few members of the "present" cast in new, future forms (Most notably former Eye Boy, Eye Man).

In this issue, Aaron has the two narratives inform one another, and, notably updates past conflicts for the future and teases the outcomes of various sub-plots (There's a student who has both Ice Man and Kitty Pryde's powers, Shark Girl is the leader of an X-Force Squad, Eye Man detects "what appears to be a dirigible of human remains...I'm guessing Frankenstein, Inc. is back in business").

As with the previous five volumes, this one is a lot of fun. And, thanks to Perez, it's a a great-looking volume, from start to finish.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

Okay, so there were two new comic book-comic books I read this week that I didn't review here last night: All-New Ghost Rider #1 and Silver Surfer #1. I did not review them here, because I was going to review them at Robot 6, and now I have.

Also at Robot 6 today, Tom Bondurant discusses Pandora and the more-confusing-than-ever cosmology of the DC Multiverse in the era of the New 52, while comparing and contrasting Forever Evil with the 2002 original graphic novel JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, which have a few things in common.

Pandora's fusing of the three universes—the DCU, the WildStorm Universe and the so-called Vertigo universe—annoyed me right from the start, as it didn't really make sense on a meta-level, not with what Pandora told The Flash (the argument could be made that the Vertigo imprint fractured the way the DC Universe was "meant" to be, but the WildStorm universe was never split from it), not with DC publishing history (There is no Vertigo Universe; the first crop of Vertigo characters were all from ongoing DC super-comics, and ever since, characters relatively regularly appeared on both sides of the imprint's border) and certainly not with what was going on, like, a month or two prior to Flashpoint (While the Doom Patrol and Animal Man were appearing regularly in the DCU for years since their Vertigo series ended, Swamp Thing and John Constantine had both been back for months as well).

Anyway, Bondurant's piece reminded me that, at the time of Flashpoint, there were 52 parallel dimensions in the DCU of which was the DCU ("New Earth") and one of which was the WildStorm Universe. If we go ahead and give DC the fact that there was a Vertigo Universe, then that would mean that Pandora fused three of the 52 universes, so now the multiverse would only have 50 universes, right?

But wait! The New 52 rejiggering didn't merely add to the DCU, it also subtracted—all of the Golden Age heroes, as well as a sizable chunk of the third generation of DC superheroes (Donna Troy, Aqualad, Flash II Wally West, Jade and Obsidian, etc) were banished from the new, fused DCU, many of them landing on a new Earth 2.

And that Earth 2 is a completely different Earth 2 than all the other, previous Earth 2s, just as the current Earth 3 is a brand-new version of Earth 3. So, I guess Pandora didn't just fuse three timelines, but she fused three timelines, subtracted large swathes of heroes and history from it, and rebooted at least two more timelines, creating or re-creating Earths 2 and 3...?

Jesus God this stuff is complicated. You would think that, by this point, DC would have learned that reboots only ever make things more complicated—it's just quicksand, and the more you struggle the faster you sink into it. (I suppose a pure reboot, one that did not involve the in-story justification of Flashpoint and Pandora could have avoided all of that, but I don't think anyone really wanted and "Ultimate" DC Universe...)

Virtue and Vice was a pretty great comic though; the DCU is a hell of a lot poorer without those characters in it today. And I liked the idea of an annual JSA/JLA Thanksgiving dinner, even if all we ever got out of it was that one great graphic novel and one great done-in-one issue of JSA in 2001.

Also also at Robot 6, there's a link to this very funny webcomic entitled "The Adventures of Business Cat." I liked it a lot.

Also also also at Robot 6, there's an image of Arthur Adams' cover for the upcoming Godzilla graphic novel tied to the upcoming Godzilla film. Is that the clearest look at the new Godzilla design so far...? I would assume so, as it wouldn't do to have an off-model Godzilla on the cover of the book. I like it; it looks an awful lot like the Godzilla Adams drew on his cover to IDW's ongoing Godzilla comic, but with smaller teeth and less separation between the head and neck. It's a pretty big departure from the previous Godzilla designs, but not as radical as the one in the last American Godzilla movie, which ought to make a lot of folks happy. Anyway, based on that one single image, it works for me.

I sure wish I knew what was up with the Godzilla comics license at the moment, though. I saw an IDW Godzilla comic—in which the title monster was battling the Frankensteins/Gargantuas!—on the new rack today. But the movie tie-in is being published by Legendary, and distributed through DC Comics...?

I hope IDW gets to hang on to the license; they've done some pretty great stuff with it (And their choices of artists have been much more inspired than those working on the Legendary graphic novel). And I'm actually really, really scared of a DC Comics Godzilla, for fear it would lead to a crossover with the DCU, and based on DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe, I have no desire to see the DCU do any sort of crossing-over with other franchises I like.

Unless I get to write it, I suppose. Speaking of which, I have a great idea for a DCU/Toho crossover! Superman, Godzilla? If you two are reading this, give me a call. The three of us should really sit down for a meeting.

Comic shop comics: March 27

Mike Allred
Okay, so obviously the portmanteau word "cambot" being used to refer to a robot that is also a camera isn't the most brilliant or inspired word ever created by man or woman, but is it cool for Dan Slott to take the name of the quietest but most vital of the four robots who serve as the crew of the Satellite of Love and pluralize it? When I read that panel in the really rather good Silver Surfer #1 (Not reviewed here! But to-be-reviewed elsewhere tomorrow!), I admit to thinking, "Hey, you can't do that!"

Or I don't know, maybe he can. Maybe Jack Kirby invented the word "cambot" in 1966, and Joel Hodgson and company coincidentally chose it as the name of their robot cameraman 25 years later. Jack Kirby invented a lot of stuff that people forgot he created.


Superman's pre-New 52 costume: Proof that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Adventures of Superman #11 (DC Comics) Writer Jim Krueger's issue-length story gets off to one hell of a rocky start, with some pretentious, purple prose that might be okay in a Superman short story, but doesn't fit too comfortably into a comic book story, in part because of it's length (the second panel is so full of narration boxes that the image is almost completely covered) and because it is immediately contradicted by the imagery (the narration tells us of a planet devoid of light, and then we see a well-lit bar full of artificial well as a guy with a glowing green ring sitting next to a lantern). It's also a little on the stupid side ("Even ancient mariners feared to use these vacancies to chart their courses as they cast their visions toward the heavens for guidance," Krueger writes; is that why sailors navigated by stars rather than dark? Because of superstition? And not because it is easier to use something rather than nothing to, anything?).

After that opening, though, it's a pretty fine little story, mashing up Green Lantern mythology with Superman mythology. The continuity is a little wonky, maybe, as it appears to reference certain events from past Green Lantern and Superman stories, and Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna's artwork takes some cues from post-Rebirth GL stories, while other story elements feature pre-Kyle Rayner facts, like the yellow weakness. That's fine; this title exists in a sort of a continuity-free zone, and it's individual stories need really only be consistent within themselves. I still couldn't help trying to slot this into a DC continuity I knew, though; the publisher has basically trained me to do so at this point.

Krueger plays with a couple of ideas, like whether or not a Green Lantern's ring would allow him to commit suicide, how one might "quit" being a Green Lantern without formerly tending a resignation to The Guardians and, if the Superman story and the Green Lantern Corps exist in the same universe, why didn't the Green Lantern assigned to the space sector including Krypton save the planet from destruction?

Essentially the story asks and answers these questions rather elegantly (rocky opening aside), and while drawing a decent portrait of Superman as the super good man he's often portrayed as (at least in this book, if not so much in The New 52-iverse anymore). Speaking of drawing, Neil Edwards does a fine job on the pencil art, and inker Scott Hanna and color artist Jason Wright compliment that work quite nicely.

Demi-god, technically.
Aquaman #29 (DC Comics) So, this was kind of weird. On the cover, we see Aquaman facing off against a giant with a hood on his head, carrying or lifting a gigantic, spherical boulder, which recalls both the minor, Kirby-created DC hero Atlas (who James Robinson reintroduced into his pre-New 52 Superman comics as part of his effort to get everyone from the cover of a 1st Issue Special into an espionage effort built around Jimmy Olsen) and, of course, the traditional, Classical image of the mythological figure.

I also thought that maybe the giant, hooded character bearing a large sphere of stone might be Atlas because this is the solicitation for this issue said:
Written by JEFF PARKER
On sale MARCH 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
It’s all-out action as Aquaman feels the wrath It’s all-out action as Aquaman feels the wrath of Atlas as he makes his first appearance in The New 52! And the environmental havoc seen in the pages of SWAMP THING may put Arthur on a collision course with a certain Avatar of the Green!
But inside the book that DC published and released this week, the character isn't referred to as Atlas at all. Instead, he's introduced thusly:
"[T]he Earth-born son of Zeus Himself. The Lion of Olympus who came only to help. MIGHTY HERCULES."
Pretty weird, huh?

The solicitation for next month's #30 mentions the New 52 debut of Hercules, and while the cover image accompanying it features someone throwing Aquaman into the sea, the figure is so far away it's hard to tell if it's the same one that appears in this comic or not—but he looks smaller and slimmer.

I suppose it's possible that it was merely a typo in the original solicitation for Aquaman #29, but, from the way the Hercules/Atlas character is drawn and the context—in ancient times, he drove a group of forgotten monsters of pre-history calling themselves the Giant-Born into a gate to hell, which the King of Atlantis sealed behind him—making him a Titan of Myth rather than an Olympian demi-god would seem to fit better.

But whether this represents last minute story-fiddling of the sort so many creators at DC have been complaining of off and on over the last three years or so, or if it was a typo, it seems to be one of those dumb unforced errors the publisher makes an awful lot of. (If this is the New 52's Hercules, I guess that raises some questions about Wonder Woman's altered history, as he played a part in the story of the Amazons in the George Perez reboot, and appeared repeatedly in various capacities in Wonder Woman comics since).

The issue is a pretty good one; not as funny as the previous one, but otherwise quite strong, featuring a single art team throughout (Well, page 20 is inked by a different inker than the first 19 pages, but that's pretty close!).

In the first panel, Aquaman shouts "Outrageous!", the catch-phrase of the bearded Aquaman of the sadly ended cartoon series Batman: The Brave and The Bold. For the purposes of that series, the producers basically remade Aquaman in the image of Marvel's Hercules, so having a reminder of that in the same issue that introduces "The Lion of Olympus...Mighty Hercules" to Aquaman? It filled me with fantasies of a Brave and The Bold Aquaman/Mighty Hercules crossover that will never come to pass.

DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe #6 (DC) In keeping with the first five issues, this comic was...well, I don't want to say a piece of shit, as that's crass and kind of mean. "Garbage" or "trash" is less crass, but still kind of mean. "Terrible"...? Yeah, this was terrible. So points for consistency, I guess. The most disappointing inter-franchise crossover I've ever read started out terrible, and remained terrible for six straight issues.

I will nevertheless discuss it in way too great detail in the very future, because unlike the folks who made this comic, DC superheroes, the Masters of The Universe characters and comic books are things I actually care about (Ha ha! That's a mean, stupid thing to say! Obviously this Keith Giffen guy cares about comics; it's his goddam job, after all. I'm being a real dick here, huh? I guess I should clarify that, based on the quality of this series, it doesn't seem like it's creators care about any of those things).

Let's move on.

Empowered Special #6 (Dark Horse Comics) Brandon Graham is one of my favorite comics artists, one of those guys of whom I might hyperbolically declare, "Man, I wish he drew all the comics I read!"

So this is sort of a wish come true, as it is Brandon Graham drawing one of those comics I read that he doesn't normally draw, Adam Warren's Empowered. This is, of course, one of those full-color, done-in-one comic book format stories that Warren writes (and draws book ends for) while a guest artist draws them. They tend to come out between volumes of the all-Warren original graphic novel series.

They are, like the main Empowered series, always awesome, but this issue was particularly awesome.

Given Graham's skill at drawing sexy women as well as cool, crowded science fiction-y settings, he is naturally a perfect fit for drawing the scantily-clad stars of Adam Warren's ever-expanding superhero universe. In this issue, Empowered and Ninjette are called to a special superhero hospital (Like Kurt Busiek and company's Astro City and Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top Ten, one of the pleasures of Warren's Empowered has been the way he superhero-izes even the more normal, pedestrian aspects of his world) to Fantastic Voyage into a the sentient, organic babyship of a sentient, organic mothership in order to surgically remove a parasitic infection; if they fail, the mothership will destroy a large portion of earth in revenge.

The hospital is staffed by nurses in super-sexy nurses' outfits that make even the skimpiest naughty nurse Halloween costumes look modest (male and female nurses; another of Empowered's many virtues is its ability to be sexy without being sexist), and full of weird, superhero shit—I particularly enjoyed the waiting room, and the Crisis On Infinite Earths gag.
Context, if needed.
Graham does a great job on the protagonists, accentuating the differing body types of the two characters—something Emp herself obsesses over—and it's great fun to see Warren's designs filtered through another artist who I like just as much. Graham also letters the story himself, just as Warren letters his pages and Empowered, so it was nice to see the Empowered characters "sound" like King City characters (One thing I don't like about Warren's Empowered? The way he underlines words for emphasis. Graham doesn't do that, but instead uses italics and bolding. The only other thing I don't really like about Empowered is the way Warren handles swearing, putting black bars over swear words, but there's no swearing at all in this issue).

I also liked the way Emp's powersuit is dull, solid blue all the time, until she uses her powers, and then it gets sparkly and star field-y. That might always happen, I don't know; if so, it's not as obvious in black and white as it is in color.

I actually kind of feel bad that I'm only reviewing this comic here instead of somewhere that will earn more eyeballs. It was a ton of fun, and I'd highly recommend it.

I would love to see more of Graham's version of Empowered, Graham being one of those artists I kinda wish drew all the comics I read, but then, Warren is another of the artists I kinda wish drew all the comics I read (I do Warren should contribute a cover or pin-up to the next Multiple Warheads comic).

Hawkeye #18 (Marvel Entertainment) And back to L.A. for another chapter of the Kate Bishop narrative, drawn by Annie Wu. This comic has become a really fucking weird one, in terms of the way it's constructed. Have Marvel or DC ever published a comic like this, where two characters with the same superhero identity take turns starring in alternating issues of the title, by alternating artists, in two separate and distinct storylines that aren't really connected, but occasionally acknowledge the existence of one another?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

That's weird.

I guess the people who make that Agents of SHIELD TV show have never actually seen the character Deathlok before? I know he's no Spider-Man, but even if they've never, like, read any of the many comics in which the character has appeared before, they can still, like, Google "Deathlok," can't they?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hey, these sales on Marvel comics seem kind of extremely super-low, don't they?

Marvel Entertainment's comics line seems to be in a pretty great place right now—creatively. I think their marketing, their pricing, their numbering and their shipping schedules are all kinds of bonkers at the moment, of course, but they seem to have pursued an interesting, post-Daredevil, post-Hawkeye strategy with their B-list (and lower) characters and concepts over the past few years.

The guiding principle seems to be to find good writers and good artists, and give them books on which they are encouraged to employ their own take and make their own mark. If it only lasts a year, it only lasts a year—they'll still produce a year's worth of great comics, and be able to fill a couple of trade paperbacks (I wonder how much of this is simply trying to "Hawkeyze" their books that aren't Avengers, X-Men or Spider-Man books, and how much of that is because Marvel now makes it's real money through film and television, and the comics line is being approached more as a low-stakes laboratory for different, hopefully salable to other media takes on the character catalog.)

As the publisher recently embarked upon it's All-New Marvel Now initiative, following its previous, seemingly in-response-to-The-New-52 "Marvel NOW!" initiative, we've seen what sure looks like an increased willingness to try making headliners of perennial not-headliners (Silver Surfer, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Punisher*) and female characters (Black Widow, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Elektra), and, yes, some of those characters do indeed belong in both groups.

I haven't caught up with the last two crossover event series yet (Age of Ultron and Infinity), and pretty far behind on a few of the big Marvel franchises (I haven't read an Avengers book since around the time of Siege, I think, and "Spider Island" was the last Spider-Man storyline I read), but I'm even enjoying the flagship X-Men books at the moment, and those mix two things I am not terribly found of—Brian Michael Bendis-scripted super-team comics and the fucking X-Men.

So while I have a hard time figuring out what to read and in what order a lot of the time, and while I trade-wait the majority of their comics because I can't fucking afford (and am not willing) to pay $3.99 once or twice a month for $3 worth of comics, and while I roll my eyes so much at their numbering and shipping schemes while reading Marvel's solicitations every month that I get dizzy, as a reader reacting purely to content? Marvel seems to be in a pretty good place at the moment.

So how are they selling?

Hell, I don't know. The Big Two closely guard real sales data more carefully than their heroes used to guard their secret identities. But based on what we outsiders get access to, they don't seem to be setting the world on fire at the moment...certainly not according to the sales analysis provided at The Beat by Jason Enright.

Their top-selling book for the month of February was apparently Wolverine #1, which moved just shy of 90,000 units...and when its second issue shipped, during same month it was already down to 47,000-ish. That can't be healthy to have a second issue drop of almost 50%, and to have it come, like, two weeks rather than four weeks after the first issue, can it? Marvel may be getting more sales of widgets by making more widgets and shipping 'em faster, but they still have to pay the widget-makers for both widgets (as well as all the other related costs of making them), and they're accelerating the inherent sales entropy by accelerating their publishing schedule.

I was actually surprised to see Wolverine at the top of Marvel's heap for the month, as the character out-sold all their usual sales juggernaut franchises, and once-reliable sales draw Brian Michael Bendis. I think Wolverine #1 was a particularly interesting book to watch too simply because it was probably the most unnecessary of the "All-New Marvel Now" relaunches; not only does this relaunch follow the last one by about one year, it was completely random—there was no change in writer, no real change in direction and, in fact, seemed to be following the plot from the past "volume" of the series. Along with Daredevil—which changed only the setting and the price of the book between the last issue of the previous volume and the first issue of the All-New Marvel Now relaunch—Wolverine seemed like the relaunch most designed to try the market's collective patience.

So it's probably worth noting that not only was it Marvel's number one book of February (which either shows the strategy to be a success, or shows the weakness of the rest of the line in the current market), but it apparently sold a hell of a lot worse than the last Wolverine #1, which the chart shows at close to 118,000. It would appear there are diminishing returns to the constant relaunches, and since that seems to be Marvel's bit, pervasive sales strategy at the moment, well, yikes.

Everything else sold like hell. Superior Spider-Man was the only other comic over 80K, which is obviously pretty good, but the third book on the chart is Fantastic fucking Four, which also relaunched, but with the not-so-hot number of 66,000-ish (For the record, in addition to a new creative team and new costumes and new direction, Fantastic Four also had a new price point of $3.99...which is the only reason I didn't buy and read it).

What we'd normally think of as the "big" books—Avengers, New Avengers, All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, etc—all seem to be grouped around 50K.

As for the new, All-New launches, the much-discussed Ms. Marvel only generated a little over 50K itself...making it one of Marvel's better-sellers for the month, but also starting at such a low point that the inevitable deterioration of sales means it's not going to be around 50K very long. If it suffers a second-issue sales drop akin to, say, that of Wolverine, then it could be in cancellation territory within the first few months (Or not; as talented as that creative team is, I imagine they're also cheaper than, say, Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen). Given all the hype regarding this book, I really, really expected it to sell much, much better than it did; was it a matter of the hype not translating into sales (of paper copies, anyway), or was the delay between the hype and the actual release of the actual comic simply too great? Potential readers might have heard Stephen Colbert joking about it a couple of months ago, but forgotten all about it by February, you k now?

Then there's X-Force #1 (47,000-ish), New Warriors #1 (46,000-ish; and really, shouldn't that be The All-New New Warriors...?) and, finally, Loki #1 and She-Hulk #1 (42,000-ish).

Some of those debuts seem like they have to be huge disappointments (unless they're selling like mad digitally), like Ms. Marvel and X-Force, while other seem to be pretty respectable numbers for idiosyncratic books, like Loki and She-Hulk.

Anyway, it doesn't look like February was a great month for Marvel, which only alarms me personally in that I think their current overall strategy has been producing better comics than their overall strategy of a few years ago, and I'd hate to see the market reject it so soundly that they quit making comics like Superior Foes of Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel and hiring pencil artists like Mike Allred.


Oh, hey, as I was writing this, The Beat posted their analysis of DC's sales for the same month, by David Carter.

The major takeaways?

1.) Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Batman make for the greatest combination in comics, based on the $4 Batman #28's sales of 114,000 or so** (And it didn't have much of anything to do with The New 52 debut of The Spoiler, as that 114,000 figure, higher than everything DC and Marvel published in February, was Batman's lowest sales figure in months). (Jesus.)

2.) That particular issue wasn't that great, as it was essentially a standalone, out-of-context preview to a status quo that hasn't been achieved yet, but, in general, Batman is a pretty good comic of DC's better and, I should note, in comparison to Marvel's line, creatively, DC is getting their asses kicked, so it's sorta weird to compare and contrast some of these numbers; sales and quality don't really have anything to do with one another—WHO KNEW?!?! (Also, most DC comics are cheaper than most Marvel comics; is that a factor).

Still, it's really rather weird to see things like the second and third issue of Harley Quinn, a well-drawn comic book that is nevertheless really rather terrible, outselling the second issue of a new Wolverine series (I can't speak to its quality; I read the first volume of Paul Cornell's Wolverine run, and thought that was pretty good comics, but haven't read on past it yet).

3.) DC shouldn't have hired David Finch to draw Forever Evil in addition to being a terrible, terrible artist, he has apparently also fallen behind schedule, which is why FE was a bit late—January's issue shipped the first week of February, if I recall correctly—and Carter mentions that if FE is late, it's going to delay some of the major tie-in books, like Justice League, which is usually DC's best-selling not-Batman book. Strange how that guy who is always late on everything turned out to be late on this book too—WHO COULD HAVE FORESEEN THIS SHOCKING TURN OF EVENTS?!—and even the fact that Johns has been writing somewhere in the neighborhood of five or six splashes into each issue hasn't helped keep the book on schedule.

*All of whom have had their days in the past, periods where they were hot characters anchoring a monthly and, in a few cases, multiple titles, but none of whom have had much luck in getting something going and keeping it going in the last, oh, ten years or so

**Yeah, yeah, Dustine Nguyen penciled Batman #28, not Capullo, I know. I just meant in general.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The completely prose-free collection of Sam Henderson's wordless strip, Scene But Not Heard

"Funny" is a hard thing to define, let alone quantify. Generally, an individual either finds something funny or they don't, and any discussion regarding ranking or rating different kinds of funny can get vague and meaningless pretty quickly. So I can't honestly say with any sort of certainty, nor can I produce an elegant argument to back it up, that Sam Henderson is one of—if not the—funniest cartoonists whose work I've ever encountered.

I can say that I've never read any work of his and not enjoyed doing so. And that I've never regretted any time spent with a Henderson book or cartoon. And that even his worst work is still funny, in an anti-joke way that can be just as funny as a pure joke joke. And that, along with Johnny Ryan, he's one of the only artists whose books I used to be able to leave out at the house I shared with friends in Columbus, and every single person who lived under that roof and every single one of their guests would pick it up, spend at least a few minutes with it and find themselves in hysterics (Tony Millionaire was a third cartoonist with a similar effect, however only his Maakies; visitors might flip through a Sock Monkey or Billy Hazelnuts, but not feel compelled to sit down and read it the way they would a Magic Whistle or an Angry Youth Comix).

This book, a co-publication of Top Shelf and Alternative Comics, collects Henderson's strip from Nickelodeon Magazine, a publication I have never read or seen in the wild, but which has a pretty great reputations for having given work and exposure to some really great cartoonists. It was a kid-friendly publication, obviously, so there aren't any dick jokes in here, nor any butt jokes that I remember, which might seem weird, as kids love butts and jokes about butts, but this is Henderson not only at his most family-friendly, but also at his classiest.

The premise for the strip, for any of you reading this who have also never read Nickelodeon Magazine, is that there's this guy, a typical Henderson guy, and this animal—I thought it was a cat or dog until page 96, in which the two are apparently running against one another in an election, and the podiums they stand behind read "Man in '04" and "Bear in '04." So it's a bear, I guess. (Sadly for America and the world, it was a man who won in 2004, and not some random bear.)

And this man and this bear, they do stuff. Funny stuff. But they never speak. And, um, that's it. That's really all there is to it. Sometimes they're roommates. Sometimes they seem to be little kids, and siblings at that. Sometimes one is a doctor and the other is a patient, or one a motorist and the other works at a gas station, and so on. It's a very open, very old school, Vaudeville-inspired, Golden Age of Animation sort of style of comedy. Silent film comedy on paper.

It helps that everything Henderson draws is pretty funny simply by virtue of the fact that Henderson drew it; he has one of those very naive, very primitive "Hell, I could draw that!" styles that is actually really, really hard to imitate (I've tried it a couple times, making illustrations for blog posts here in the past). It's extremely loose and often pretty vague; the bear is a very detailed character for Henderson, in that he has, like, distinctive features, rather than just being a funny pair of eyes and mouth on a human-shaped outline guy.

Most of the gags revolve around the rule-less physics of comic strips and cartoons, and, read all at once, this book seems like a grand symphonic performance of the unique possibilities for jokes in the comics medium.

There weren't any words, and yet it was still somehow one of the best things I've read in like forever.

The collection features some fun extras, most notably an introduction—something I think all collections should have—by cartoonist Noah Van Sciver (AKA, the funny Van Sciver). But rather than simply writing an introduction with a bunch of words forming sentences forming paragraphs, Van Sciver, a cartoonist introducing a collection of comics by another cartoonist, gives his introduction in the form of a comic strip.

It's a two-page, 18-panel comic called "Sam Henderson Changed My Life" which seems to include a whole bunch of lies, including what has to be the world's most unflattering portrait of Henderson.

Van Sciver proudly calls himself "part of the Henderson Generation" of cartoonists, and shares a"some of the great things about being like" he and Sam:
At the end of the book, there's a two-page interview with Henderson, in which each of the questions asked of Henderson is answered by a quick, doodly, wordless drawing:
That is pretty much a perfect interview with a comics professional (And dogs wearing hats? That is always funny isn't it? But I still wouldn't know how to rank it against other things that are always funny, things like Noah Van Sciver comics about comics creators, or Sam Henderson comics, you know?)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Simon Gane's first Godzilla comic, All Flee!

I was so impressed by artist Simon Gane's work on the IDW ongoing Godzilla series with writer Duane Swierczynski, which has since wrapped up and been collected into three volumes, I started Internetting around to see if Gane had ever done any other comics featuring giant monsters, and was surprised and delighted to find All Flee!, a monster-themed gag comic that Gane drew and Gavin Burrows wrote. The one issue was published by Top Shelf about a decade ago, is still available through the publisher (Unless I bought the last one; Top Shelf was the only place I could find selling copies online, but my search wasn't too terribly extensive; maybe ask your local retailer first...?).

It takes its title from something two Godzilla-like professors at a finishing school for monsters chuckle about; apparently that's what people in Tokyo say before you trample on them.
There are three strips in the book, the first two of which are on the subject of giant monsters. The first is entitled "A Finishing School For Monsters," and stars an older, Godzilla-like monster with white sideburns, a little white beard and a cane, decrying the sad state of his students ("You can KEEP your digitally remastered remakes and...and you Pokemon cards and...and backwards hats...") before quitting and having a pretty miserable day.

His students consists of those pictured above, a pair of gorillas with robots parts on 'em, a giant spider and so on; his walk home to Monster Island takes him through New York, where "Kenny" (looks like King Kong to me) is dangling from the Empire State Building, fighting biplane, and a horned cyclops like that from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is selling packs of humans out from a vendor's pushcart.

Though Gane's art is obviously much more cartoony, both in his monsters and in his humans, its still recognizably his, certain features simply exaggerated to a bigger size and higher level of blockiness. He still excels at drawing cute girls, and packing the panels with detail, so that he offers particularly interesting backgrounds and cityscapes.

In the second story, "All Flee!", the same crotchety monster teacher meets a new faculty member—a female monster teaching Contemporary Trampling—but when he sees how fetching she looks in her smart suit, he's head over tail in love with her. They visit Europe together, destroying things, but their affair ends when she takes a job in Hollywood as a "a MAYHEM ADVISOR...for the latest REMAKE."

The third story is completely monster-free. "Cruisin' With The Dorks" is set in a pub, and features a dorky character telling three other characters about the band he was in, and the dork-power movement it inspired. It's a very British strip, and there's really only one joke repeated in various ways throughout, but it's funny enough—perhaps not as universal as jokes about Godzilla and company though. There's a nice, pointed panel making fun of modern comic books, and it's a treat to see Gane's big, chunky cartoonier style applied purely to human characters and human scaled settings after the previous stories of a giant monster society built atop a tiny human one.

Rounding out the book are a couple of ads and a couple of fake ads; the latter features a monster getting sand kicked in his face by a human beach bully before going in for some Charles Atlas-style confidence building ("Couldn't you just trample those humans?") and a Hostess inspired one for Human Fruit Pies, in which the mayor distracts a giant monster from eating humans by giving him giant fruit pies...filled with humans.

The above link includes a preview featuring six pages from the first story, if you'd like to see some more of Gane's art from the book, including some of his other monsters.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Wolverine and The X-Men Vol. 5

The fifth collection of the Jason Aaron-written, many artist-illustrated X-Men series set at the Jean Grey school highlights one of the aspects of the book that have helped make it such a welcome and engaging X-Men comic: Superhero school sitcom premise aside, it is really more of a straightforward superhero book than a Marvel mutant book; the characters occasionally deal with threats and conflicts that aren't completely reliant on their being mutants or X-Men.

That is, they don't continuously cycle through Magneto, Apocalypse and Mister Sinister as villains, or spend all their time fighting for survival against mutant hate groups and anti-mutant religious and political leaders. Sometimes they fight Swarm (at least for a page), often they deal with space aliens, and once in a while they encounter something like Frankenstein's Murder Circus, the conflict that dominates this collection, which includes #19-#24. (That's only six issues, but they're drawn by three different pencil artists, five inkers and three colorists; I guess that's the result of the accelerated shipping, and why this series is technically called "Wolverine and The X-Men By Jason Aaron" in collected form).

Now, Frankenstein and his Murder Circus are in the book because of links to other, recurring X-Men villains: The Monster is hunting down and killing all of his makers' descendants, the last of whom is a member of the current incarnation of The Hellfire Club (the evil kids that have been the main antagonists of this series so far), and the witch whose magic is powering the circus has a connection to another evil X-Men character who will apparently play a big role in the X-Men title that Aaron will spin-out of this one (and was featured in the last X-Men movie; his design in this volume reflecting that design). But it's a threat that could have just as easily faced the Fantastic Four or The Avengers; with a little tinkering to shed some copyrighted characters and trademarked names, it could have stood as its own, as an original invention of Aaron's, designed and illustrated by Bradshaw.

That three-issue arc finds the students awaking one day to a completely teacher-less school. The faculty—Beast, Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Warbird, Rachel Grey, Doop, Toad and brand-new headmistress Storm are all performing in the circus, with little or no memory of who they really are, each with an act at least somewhat related to their names and powers. As for the title character? That would be Revolto The Clown, who is brutally beaten by zombie clowns, only to have his healing factor keep him from dying at the end of each show.

It's up to the students, including the new recruits Shark Girl and Eye Boy, to awaken their teachers, save the townsfolk and combat the sinister circus.
Now that's an image worthy of a two-page splash.
I suppose that, theoretically, someone somewhere could really quibble with Aaron's treatment of Frankenstein, who looks, talks and acts quite different in this particular story than in at least the last dozen times I've seen him in Marvel Comics, although this is the same monster (There's a panel of him in his furry vest, and a line of dialogue where The Legion of Monsters is mentioned). In terms of the Wolverine and The X-Men, it hardly matters; and I don't know that the character has had any sort of internal logic that really needs govern his appearances, as he's basically just a perpetual guest-star anyway.

Bradshaw's version sure is a snappy dresser, anyway.
Bradshaw draws the entire Murder Circus art, and it's all-around great, even impeccable stuff. He's perfectly suited to superheroics, horror, action and humor, and this story calls on him to do them all—often on the same page.

While the story makes up the bulk of this volume, it's book-ended by others. The trade opens with a nice post-Avengers vs. X-Men issue, in which we check in with various players and get a sense of the new status quo. There are new students like the aforementioned Eye Boy and another who will become Sprite in the next volume; Beast is desperately trying to save the life of Broo, who was seemingly shot dead at the end of the last volume; Wolverine and Rachel are hunting for his killers; his killers are setting up shop near the school; and Kitty Pryde is interviewing potential new teachers from throughout the Marvel Universe.

That last bit is basically just an issue-long running gag, and Kitty's a little too curt to be taken seriously, shouting "Next!" like a casting agent, but it does give us the opportunity to see how Bradshaw draws a whole mess of different Marvel characters, and hear a joke or four about each.

These include, among others, Blade, Sasquatch, Puck, Dr. Nemesis, Longshot, Spider-Man, Gorilla Man, Deadpool (repeatedly) and so on (Bradshaw's Ghost Rider skull and his Sasquatch are both particularly accomplished). The job goes to Storm, though, seen here with Kitty rubbing her breasts in her crotch.
That's followed by a one-issue story drawn by Steve Sanders (wait, that can't be right, can it?), in which we meet new mutant Shark Girl, who Angel manages to recruit to the Jean Grey Academy before Mystique and the Silver Samurai can recruit her for the new villain school for mutants that the bad guys are apparently setting up.

Then, after the Murder Circus storyline, there's another done-in one, this one drawn by David Lopez and Alvaro Lopez, which is another sort of catch-up story, set after the events of All-New X-Men (Time-lost teen Jean Grey shows up for a scene with Quentin Quire, for example, and Beast's new ape-ish look is seen in this title for the first time; it's a shame, given how good Bradshaw drew a lion-like Beast). It's mostly soap opera stuff, with various pairings of characters going on dates, discuss their relationships and kissing in one way or another.

As always, Aaron's writing is super-strong, and while the art in this issue may be the weakest in this particular collection, it's not like it's bad or anything. This is the second consecutive trade to close with a shocking cliffhanger involving Broo, too.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Marvel's June previews reviewed

This month's look at Marvel Entertainment's solicitations offered me another of those "Whew, thank God I'm not a retailer!" moments, as all I have to do is try to figure out how to find and read the damn things, rather than make decisions involving money and a whole bunch of customers based on vague, cryptic information and some incredibly poor titling and marketing.

So here are Marvel's solicitations for what they intend to publish in June of this year. And below are some thoughts on them.

So check out all the information they give retailers and potential readers on some books that I'm assuming must be tie-in to their Original Sin event series:

32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

Marc Laming (A)
Cover by GREG LAND
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

NOVA #18
TEASER variant also available
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

I'm not sure what it is that everyone has, but I'm assuming it is not opinion, or that thing everyone has in addition to an opinion that is part of that saying about opinions and the fact that everyone has got one...

Note how little actual info there is there: Title, creative team, ridiculously high price, mention of a "bonus" digital edition so some readers won't feel like the publisher is over-reaming them and...that's it. How do retailers figure this stuff out? For Fantastic Four, do you order on some formula that is like JAMES ROBINSON FANS + LEONARD KIRK FANS + PEOPLE WHO READ FANTASTIC FOUR EVERY MONTH - ANY OVERLAP BETWEEN THOSE FACTORS, and, like, add six for the tag line or something...?

ORIGINAL SINS #1-2 (of 5)
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)
Bonus Digital Edition Included

Cover by JG JONES
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

SIN #3.2
Cover by JG JONES
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

SIN #3.3
Cover by JG JONES
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

Cover by JG JONES
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Bonus Digital Edition Included

Ah, I remember pointing and laughing at Marvel for publishing three Fear Itself epilogues, and giving them each a decimal pointed number: Fear Itself #7.1, etc. And I can remember pointing and laughing at Marvel for publishing a big, crossover series entitled Avengers Vs. X-Men and, simultaneous to that, a tie-in series entitled Avengers Vs. X-Men: Versus.

But this! This is like a trifecta of WTF, a triwhatthefuckta. So, in addition to the big, twice-montly, eight-part miniseries Original Sin, Marvel is also publishing a tie-in series called Original Sins, plural? And between issues of the series, they're publishing a whole miniseries worth of material, designated by number decimal point as being part of the main series, but a less important part of that series...?

As someone who will eventually read this in trade, I hope it's collected in a way that makes some small amount of sense.

Hey, any of you guys Marx Brothers fans? Have you seen A Day at the Races? Particularly the Tutsi Fruitsi scene, where Chico cons Groucho into buying more and more books to make sense of his original investment? For some reason, I don't know why, I suddenly remembered that scene while reading these solicitations...

• The streets of East LA flare up with drug-fueled gang violence form DR. ZABO’s power-enhancing narcotic.
• Will ROBBIE REYES submit to the sprit inside him and go too far in protecting the neighborhood?
• What is MR. HYDE’s diabolical plan to expand his underground empire?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oof. The old super-drug plot, huh? I felt like I had read some 750 superhero comics involving narcotics that grant or are based on the abilities of super-people years ago, so, um, well, this doesn't sound the least bit interesting.

But hey, look at that cover! It sure looks interesting! All I've seen of Tradd Moore at Marvel so far are his covers, but I'm really looking forward to seeing if his interior art is as clear, crisp, fluid and action-packed.

• The Owl is back! But he’s not working alone! Watch as the Daredevil team permanently redefines one of DD’s oldest enemies deadlier than ever! Plus--whatever happened to Foggy Nelson?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

That's a damn fine cover Samnee put together for this issue of Daredevil. From afar, it actually looked like a Mike Mignola one in it's basic design and in the owl image...on closer inspection, it looks like a Samnee drawing inside a Mignola cover.

Now what's this about The Owl being "back"...? He's been in Superior Foes of Spider-Man for months now!

• Starlord on the run from a mysterious new adversary— alone without the aid of the Guardians!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Is that Starlord on the cover! If so, Booo! I am not down with giving him a new coat in order to make him look more like the movie version of himself!

I see Nick Bradshaw is the next excellent artist Bendis is working with on this title. That' funny; I've been reading Wolverine and The X-Men in trade, and I was just wondering where Bradshaw was headed now that Jason Aaron's run on the book is over and it's been rebooted. I think Bradshaw is a pretty incredible talent, and I hope he finds and keeps a book he can almost kinda sorta make his own, the way he almost kinda sorta did with Wolverine and..., although with Marvel's current shipping practices, it's pretty much impossible for any one artist to define a title anymore.

For example...

Cover by DAVID AJA
The Finale, Part 1:
• David. Clint. Barney. The Building. The Tracksuit Draculas. The Clown.
• Ever seen “Rio Bravo?” Check it out, it’s pretty good.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

It's another issue of Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye, sans Aja. I like Wu's art just fine, but I'm kinda confused by this book of late. I thought it was settling into a groove of Wu on Lady Hawkguy in L.A. one issue, Aja on Hawkguy Prime in NYC the next issue...?

Also, I don't like the sound of that story title or the description of the book. Makes it sound like Hawkeye is winding up, and heading for a reboot, if not cancellation.

Also also, while that's a nice-looking cover, I'm kinda sick of the style of the covers and the color scheme Aja has been employing on them. Too many of them look too much like too many other Hawkeye covers. I've actually missed a couple of issues because I can't tell them apart on the rack (and my shop forgot to put to put them in my pull file, as they sometimes do).

ISSUE #19 –
• It’s the battle you didn’t know you wanted to see—until now! As the New Avengers take on the combined power of the Great Society—and only a single parallel Earth can survive!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
ISSUE #20 –
• How far is Doctor Strange willing to go to protect the Earth from the Great Society? Too far…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

The New Avengers Vs. The Great Society, huh? That's a fight I never expected to see.

Cover by KEVIN P. WADA
• She-Hulk& Hellcat must uncover the secrets of the Blue File – a conspiracy that touches the entire Marvel Universe!
• This new mystery brings us She-Hulk’s most terrifying role ever: DEFENDANT!
• Charles Soule (THUNDERBOLTS) and Ron Wemberly (MIGHTY AVENGERS) continue the smash hit of All-New Marvel Now!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

Well, whatever's going on with this conspiracy that touches the entire Marvel Universe, Spawn is definitely involved.

Wait, Ron Wemberly? That is a different name that Javier Pulido! Where's Javier Pulido? I am reading this comic because I like the Javier Pulido!

• In order to return alien abductee Dawn Greenwood home, the Surfer must travel to the one place in the galaxy he dreads the most... Planet Earth!
• And what should be a quick drop off turns into turns into one very... strange adventure.
• Featuring: DOCTOR STRANGE, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and some surprise guest stars. Including those movie stars on the cover!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Let's see, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, The Incredible Hulk...I sure hope one of those surprise guest stars is Namor, The Sub-Mariner.

Cover by KRIS ANKA
• A year of duplicity and double crossing leads to this – who will live, who will die, who will get the head of Silvermane?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Yikes. I like the sound of this solicitation even less than I do the one for Hawkeye, as it sounds kinda final. Also note that regular artists Steve Lieber is both writing and drawing, rather than simply credited with "A." And then there's that price change. Don't leave us, Superior Foes of Spider-Man...!

Or, if you must, can you just re-boot yourself into a $2.99 All-New Sinister Five, with the same creative team? I'd probably be okay with that.

This new crime epic saga from the creators of POWERS continues! Welcome to a world where the influence of organized crime has risen to a place where parts of the United States are actually fully controlled by the five families. At the end of last issue, the biggest secret in history of the five families was revealed! The newest made man, Valentine, now must figure out how he and his associate, Jagger Rose, are supposed to continue on knowing what they now know. Every issue delivers powerful visuals by Eisner Award winner Michael Avon Oeming and a story by the writer of some of your favorite Marvel comics including ALL-NEW X-MEN!
32 PGS./Mature …$3.99

I just wanted to note this one because I think it's cool and kinda cute how Bendis keeps doing this creator-owned stuff with Marvel, where it doesn't get noticed the same way it would if he published it...pretty much anywhere else.

Also, I have completely lost track of all the similar projects Bendis has done in the last few years. Whatever happened to that weird Scarlet book that I think people might have reviewed the first issue of? Was that completed, or did the creators abandon it? What about that kids comic Bendis was doing with Oeming...Takio, I think it was...? Or his movie pitch comic with Mark Bagley (Brilliant?)....?

Oh hey, I just notice the "VARIANT Cover by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS" up there when I was going to delete the variant cover info...that's cool. I can't remember the last time I've seen a Bendis drawing...