Friday, May 23, 2014

Comic shop comics: May 21

Afterlife With Archie #5 (Archie Comics) With the fifth issue of the series, Archie's surprisingly strong (and successful!) storyline about what would happen if a zombie apocalypse hit Riverdale reaches a major turning point, as our heroes must decide whether to stay in the relative but fragile safety of the Lodge home, or try to strike out for somewhere else before they run out of food and/or become zombie food.

As zombie narratives go, it's a pretty standard decision point, but then, that's what is such strange fun about this series: It takes the familiar, usually played for laughs, cartoon characters of the Archie Comics line and puts them in a typical zombie narrative and plays the entire thing completely straight, right down to Francesco Francavilla's representational artwork and stark, dark color palette.

In this issue, Reggie is an a-hole to Kevin Keller, Betty and Veronica's never-ending rivalry for Archie's affections returns to the fore briefly and we get more insight into the emotional lives of Hiram Lodge and his butler (and our narrator) Smithers than in, like, every previous story to feature them combined.

I'm still a little amazed that Archie Comics is even publishing this series...almost as amazed as I am glad that they are.

The back-up is maybe the strongest of the black-and-white horror shorts they've published in an issue of Afterlife With Archie yet. It's a six-pager by writer Donald F. Glut and artist Vicente Alcazar entitled "A Thousand Pound of Clay," and is a modern (well, then-modern) retelling of The Golem story.

If you missed the boat on this series but have been hearing good things about it, you should get a chance to catch up quite soon. This issue ends the first story arc, and it should be collected in a trade paperback scheduled for release in the next few weeks.

Batman Eternal #7 (DC Comics) I found my enthusiasm for this title, and the idea of a weekly Batman series in general, slightly dampened by this particular issue, which features maybe the worst artwork of the series so far (Courtesy of Emanuel Simeoni, colored by "Blond"). The storytelling is a little muddy, with several scenes that should be dynamite action scenes sort of hard to make out (The first three pages, featuring the bit with the Batmobile and detachable Batcycle, for example, or the splash page with the Dollotrons, or the Catwoman/Penguin bits).

Simeoni also lazily recycles the same image of a trained penguin with a camera mounted atop his head on the same page, mere panels apart, emphasizing the recycling in a way that draws attention to the laziness.

I was also rather irritated by Simeoni's Penguin, who is depicted as having Batman Returns-style deformed hands (a thumb, a forefinger, and then the remaining three figures fused into one large digit) under gloves. The Penguin was probably the most fluid Batman character in terms of design the last 20 years, with every artist deciding for his or herself exactly how short or how tall he should be, how pointed and beak-like his nose is, whether he has five fingers or "flipper"-like hands, whether he has normal teeth or jagged, shark-like teeth, whether his hair is long and scraggly or short and styled, how obese he is, even which eye he wears his monocle in.

The "new" New 52 DC Universe is only about two and a half years old now; they really shouldn't have so much trouble deciding whether or not The Penguin's hands are deformed. But on Andy Kubert's (fairly excellent) cover, The Penguin has regular, five-fingered hands (albeit with long nails), while Simeoni's interior Penguin has the flippers. (Flipping through the previous issues, I see Fabok has The Penguin with five fingers...and a huge, inflated second chin.)

Plot would seem to have primacy over art in a weekly comic like this though. In this issue, Batman fights Professor Pyg again, while Falcone goes after the Iceberg Casino, using a couple of agents (who both fall fairly squarely into the "freak" category of criminal that Long Halloween Falcone would have been fighting against rather than with). Catwoman and Batman show up, but not before the Iceberg has been completely destroyed.

And, in what may be the least realistic part of a comic that also includes a trained orca attacking a trained penguin, the new police commissioner sets serial killer and terrorist Pyg free simply because Batman caught him; okay, maybe Pyg's defense lawyer would bring that up in court, and get some of the new charges dropped, but Pyg would still be on the hook for all those kidnappings prior to issue #1, not to mention all the crimes he committed previous to this series, like, for instance, not being in the institute for the criminally insane he was sentenced to.

This was a particularly down issue, but the strength of a weekly series is that new issues follow so fast that so long as there aren't too many down issues in a row, a reader's negative feelings toward the series can be wiped away almost immediately, and certainly before they've had time to calcify into a decision to stop reading.

Batman '66 #11 (DC) First issue artist Jonathan Case reunites with Jeff Parker for an epic, 30-page, full-book story in which Catwoman and The Joker team-up, an evil alliance that will require the combined might of Batman, Robin and Batgirl to stop. Parker has a pretty great premise for the villain team-up, and the launch of their plan, which unfolds in the ten most fun pages of the book. Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, The Gordons and Chief O'Hara join Dr. Harleen Quinn at the Arkham Institute for a talent show of sorts featuring the various inmates, which leads to a neat greatest hits tour of many of the Bat-villains to have previously appeared in the series.
The Joker's set is so fantastic, I considered cutting off my own hand and mailing it Parker so I could high-five him, but then I realized that 1) I'll probably need my hand for other, more important stuff and 2) If Parker opened a package and found a severed hand in it, he probably wouldn't high-five it anyway.

Joker's set is probably the climax of the book, but there are a lot of fun moments in the remaining 20 pages. Also, this seems to be the origin of Harley Quinn '66...or, at least, is hows how Dr. Quinn was driven insane after too much, too close contact with The Joker. She's yet to paint her face white and dress up like a harlequin.

Classic Popeye #22 (IDW) Hey, IDW's published 22 issues of this. And I've bought and read 22 issues of it. Huh.

The New 52: Futures End #3 (DC) At first glance, I thought that tattoo read "FURRY," but, after a second or so of closer examination, I see that it actually reads "FaiRPLAY," so that dude working out while watching Batman Beyond cartoons must be Mister Terrific.

In this issue, drawn by Dan Jurgens ("layouts"), Mark Irwin ("finishes") and, I don't know, maybe Keith Giffen a little ("art consultant"), our four writers check in with several different characters. First, in arctic Canada, Frankenstein totally cuts the paw off a polar bear and then kills it (Jeez DC; you guys and dismemberment! Not even animals are innocent). Right now, in the world of 2014, polar bears are considered a "vulnerable species," which means they are on the cusp of becoming endangered, if conditions don't improve. In the dark future of 2019, during which this issue is presumably set, I would imagine they aren't doing a whole hell of a lot better, and yet here's Frakenstein, wantonly killing one just to save the life of a young boy who wandered too close to the bear's den. Come on Frank, don't tell me you've lived all these years and never learned how to take down a polar bear withou having to stab it to death.
Anyway, a little robot crab thingee crawls out of the bears body, and then Frankenstein kills that. The robot thingee is helpfully labeled S.H.A.D.E., which is the organization that Frankenstein worked for in New 52 series Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. until that got cancelled.

Meanwhile, Firestorm refuses to un-Firestorm himself, which means Jason is stuck as a disembodied floating head that only Ronnie can see or here. I like that Firestorm costume the more I see it.

Meanwhile, Grifter narrates and exposits about his crusade to kill aliens disguised as humans.

Meanwhile, Mr. Terrific works out and talks about Batman Beyond, who tried to break into his HQ, but was repelled by an army of security guys.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane follows a lead that reveals Red Robin isn't really dead, as she herself reported on her blog The Fast Lane, but is working as a bartender/bouncer at The Wounded Duck bar in New York City.

Meanwhile...wait, that's it for this issue.

Saga #19 (Image Comics) So hey, how about that opening page, huh? It was one of maybe four times this issue I laughed aloud. I really liked these panels, because I have no idea what's going on. Is she nursing? How does a baby robot nurse if it doesn't have a mouth, just a monitor for a face?
I also liked the introduction of this character, Fiona Staples' Batgirl:
It's been a while since we've had a new issue of Saga. I'm glad it's back.

Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles 30th Anniversary Special (IDW) Well, this was pretty interesting. It's an $8 prestige format (that is, there is a spine, but there aren't any ads) comic book featuring 32 pages of mostly-original comics, plus text pieces illustrated with bits of rare or interesting pieces of artwork from throughout TMNT history, and plenty of pin-ups.

It functions as a nice primer on the history of TMNT comics, essentially walking readers through the various eras. So, for example, it opens with four pages describing the period of "Early Mirage (1984-1993)" and features the very first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles art, an ad for the book, some promotional art and so forth, before reprinting a four-page Kevin Eastman story from a 2012 edition of Hero Comics. That's followed by a page about "TMNT Adventures (1988-1995)", the Archie Comics book based on the cartoon show based on the original Mirage Comics, which is then followed by an all-new "lost" seven-page story by Archie Turtles comics creators Dean Clarrain and Chris Allan.

There are also stories set in the Image Comics/Volume 3 era (by Gary Carlson and Frank Fosco), the Later Mirage/Volume 4 era (by Jim Lawson) and, finally, the current IDW continuity (by Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow and Dan Duncan). The only thing missing is something from "Volume 2," the short-lived, full-color TMNT series that followed the conclusion of the original black-and-white series...but given that all of these comics are in full-color, and that volume was simply an extension of the continuity of the original series, it probably wasn't so distinct as to need a short story set during it.

All in all then, this functions as a fun little guided tour of Turtles history. It's hardly an essential read, but should serve both devout fans and relative newcomers looking for possible directions in which to head next for more turtles well enough.

I would have liked something bigger and more comprehensive, with fuller writings about each of the distinct eras, and maybe some essays on the "other" versions of the Turtles that appeared in films and video games and role-playing games (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness was my entry point into Eastman and Laird's Turtles comics) during these past 30 years, and a story set in the new, Nickelodeon cartoon continuity—which did spawn an IDW comic adaptation, did it not?—is conspicuously absent, even more conspicuously absent than something from Volume 2.

Finally, I would have liked, no, loved a checklist with some thorough explanation of what IDW is collecting and how, as I really want to read all these old Turtles comics in trade, but I can't quite figure out how IDW is collecting them, and why they're collecting them in such a weird way (Personally, I would have preferred a The Complete Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, collecting everything in the order it was published, from the short stories in Anything Goes and Gobbledygook to the stories in TMNT and Turtle Soup and Tales of the TMNT and so on. Instead, IDW seems to have collected all of the Eastman and Laird material, and then to have gone back and collected all of the non-Eastman and Laird material in colorized trade collections, but not in any particular order, and from multiple titles and anthologies, devoid of any organizing principle I can discern. So I really would appreciate a What's Collected In Which Volume, and What To Read In What Order sorta checklist article. I've been reading the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics in trade, but those don't include all the Micro-Series, which are apparently collected separately, and damn, they do not make reading Turtles comics in trade easy, despite the fact that they seem to be collecting all the new stuff and all the old stuff).

Anyway, filling out the page-count in this special issue are pin-ups from long-time letterer Steve Lavigne (who, next to Todd Klein, was the first letterer whose name I learned, due to how much I appreciated his work), inked by Peter Laird; long-time drawer-of-Ninja-Turtles Michael Dooney; Archie's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures and Mighty Mutanimals artist Ken Mitchroney; and Ben Bates (drawing Rocksteady and Bebop), T-Rex, Ross Campbell (drawing that fox lady from the IDW comics), Mark Torres, David Peterson and Andy Kuhn. Plus a back cover image by Mateus Santolouco and a cover by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

(Actually, there are a total of nine covers in all, this being 2014, but I think the regular one is probably the best; "Cover RI" features pencil art by Eastman and inks by Simon Bisley, so I imagine that one's interesting too, and "Cover RE Awesome Con Exclusive" is by Dario Brizuela, who does a lot of work for DC's kids titles, and has a pretty chameleonic style. Oh, and "Coer RE Heroes Haven Comics" by Ozzy Fernandez and Tony Kordos looks like it feeatures all of the evil action figures fighting all of the good action figures; I wouldn't mind seeing that at a larger size than the postage stamp version on the inside front cover of this book. I sort of wish I knew what the difference between an "RI" cover and the seven "RE" covers are—is that "Retailer Incentive" and "Retailer Exclusive," maybe...?—but, at the same time, I'm kind of glad I don't.)
Wait, so here's the Fernandez/Kordos "Heroes Haven Comics" variant. Those can't be all the toys, as there are so few of 'em. And it looks like the villains from Secret of The Ooze are in there. Is there an organizing principal to the cover? Are these all characters from the cartoon? Or cherry-picked figures from the toy line? Or...what? Help me out Turtles fans. I didn't watch all of the cartoons (not sure what season I stopped at; maybe around the time Mike started fighting with a grappling hook?), nor did I pay too close attention to the toy line. I have no memory of whatever that bird guy is, though.


Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I can kind of see the logic behind the dismemberment thing, although it doesn't apply in this particular case.

You want your readers to be worried about your characters. But threatening to kill them doesn't work, because readers have gotten wise to the whole "comic book death" thing and know you either won't really do it, or bring them back later.

One solution is to threaten to do something nasty, but nonlethal to the characters. Dismemberment happens to be one of the nastier nonlethal things you can do to someone during an action sequence.

Is this a good solution? I don't know.

JohnF said...

Is Red Robin old enough to be working in a bar?