Monday, May 12, 2014

Comic shop comics: May 7 (and some FCBD leftovers)

Batman Eternal #5 (DC Comics) Guy, guys, guys! Teen Titans is canceled! Now's your chance! Hurry, redesign Tim Drake's Red Robin costume before they relaunch Teen Titans! I'm no fan of the Red Robin identity (especially now that there's no Robin that Drake needs to distance himself from by adding an adjective), but it would be a lot easier to live with if, at the very least, he'd ditch the utility harness/bandoliers and the utility arm-bands. He's already got a utility belt on; how many gadgets does that guy need?!

In this issue, Scott Snyder (story) and James Tynion IV (story and script) check-in with many of the supporting characters. Red Robin investigates a different angle of the Professor Pyg attack from issue #1 (and finds nanotechnology, which kinda sorta supports Andy Kubert's wildly inaccurate cover; cool Insecticon-like robot flea, though!). Vicki Vale and Joey Day, who is written and drawn as her black Jimmy Olsen, try to investigate the Penguin/Roman crime war, and end up being rescued by Harper Row...who then needs rescued by Red Robin (Will they make a cute couple? I think they'll make a cute couple. As long as he gets a non-hideous costume at some point in the future).

As for Batman, his only appearance is during a tense conversation with Red Robin, during which they are both jerks to one another. It's pretty unfortunate that Forever Evil #7 has yet to ship, and the "final fate" of Dick Grayson hasn't been revealed yet, as when Batman tells Red Robin they should be working together, Red Robin shuts him down by replying "That worked pretty well for Nightwing, didn't it? Our so-called family sure knows how to stick together." Later he says, "Nothing's the same anymore. Not since Joker. Not since Damian...and now Dick, too..."

We know from solicitations that Dick Grayson won't be killed during the delayed (And re-written? Or just too-slowly drawn?) finale to Forever Evil and that he will later become some sort of gun-toting super-spy, but we don't know if he'll fake his own death, or if Batman and Red Robin will know he's still alive, or if he just quits the Batman family of his own volition or...what.

There's probably enough problems between Red Robin and Batman after the somewhat forced tension of "Death of The Family" to justify the scene, but it's a pretty good example of how poor management of one important title in a shared universe like this can adversely effect another.

The art by Andy Clarke is pretty nice, and I actually really like the focus on the big, often under-utilized supporting cast of the Batman comics line, old and new characters alike. A weekly series like this, overseen by the lead Batman writer, might prove to be a sustainable model...eternally (although, if this series is able to stay at least this good, sell as well as I assume it will and not burn out Snyder and Tynion, and DC therefore decides to do another year-long weekly Batman series, I would expect there to be a break of some months between series).


Now that I think about it, this might be the most I've seen of Tim Drake in a Batman comic book since the reboot. I used to really, really like Tim Drake, as I followed him from "A Lonely Place of Dying" to becoming Robin and then becoming the best Robin and keeping the role until the introduction of Damian Wayne, at which point Drake started to reced more and more from the Batman line and appear more often in his own book and/or the Titans comics. I don't really feel any connection to this new, recreated version of the character in the dopey costume, however, mainly because I don't have the experience of having gotten to know him as I did the with Tim Drake 1.0.

The New 52: Futures End #1 (DC) I suppose it's a good thing they gave the real first issue of this series, the zero issue, away for free on Free Comic Book Day, as it's really rather integral to understanding a big chunk of this issue, which reads more like a #2 than a #1.

The same four writers are credited as writers in this issue, and one of them, Keith Giffen, still has that "art consultant" credit. This time though there's only one artist, Patrick Zircher, who draws every scene, regardless of which character from which canceled New 52 series happens to be starring in it.

I have some questions and concerns about the book, despite not being repulsed or turned-off by it enough to not pick up the next issue (and considering how few DC comics I can say that about at the moment, I suspect this may actually be one of their better $3 books in their New 52 line...?).

Okay so first we open with Batman Beyond who meant to travel all the way back to the present, I think, but mistakenly landed "Five Years From Now...", after the thing he came to stop, Skynet going online and Ultron turning most of the DC heroes and villains into Deathloks, had already begun. His semi-sentient operating system A.L.F.R.E.D. explains to young Master Terry McGinnis that this is because the time travel device he was wearing was calculated for Master Bruce Wayne's mass, not Terry's. So what he seems to be saying is that the heavier something is, the farther backwards in time their machine sends it. This seems somewhat illogical, as the more of something there is, the more energy it should take to push it farther along, whether through time or space. But whatever: The heavier something is, the farther back in time it goes. But wait, Batman Beyond actually traveled through time with a stowaway, one of Brother Eye's cyborg monsters, which means BB's mass was actually much greater than Bruce's would have been if he had lived long enough to make the trip himself, therefore Batman Beyond should have overshot the target date and ended up somewhere further in the past then he meant to, right?

So I got to page two before becoming confused and annoyed...annoyed because there are four writers here, so editors or no editors, there were 1-3 writers who should have raised objections when whoever messed that bit up messed that bit up.

In the next scene, some unseen machine-like intelligence does that thing where information about what it's looking at and reccomendations for action appear in its field of vision, that thing that Terminator did in...let's see...1984! The vision of the near-future concocted in 2014 by four writers shouldn't look so much like the vision of the future concocted for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from 30 years ago, should it? (From what we've been shown so far, the DC Universe of 2019 looks a lot like 2014, only someone's actually wearing Google glasses).

The unrevealed machine thing then appears to totally kill the hell out of all of StormWatch, even destroying The Carrier. The StormWatch line-up of 2019 includes Hawkman, Mermaid and Authority mainstays The Engineer, Jack Hawksmoor, Apollo and Midnighter but aw, who cares, they're dead now, right? (Apollo almost definitely is, as we see the flesh disintegrating from his skeleton as he screams; the others are simply aboard an exploding Carrier, and thus might have Door-ed themselves out off-panel). This was where I started to get concerned. Is the entire series set in the future rather than the present? If so, that means that a) none of this really "matters," and thus won't be likely to appeal to many readers, whether its any good or not (and it is competently constructed, visually if not verbally), b) they can keep on killing superheroes by the handful in every single issue without it ever actually having any impact on the DC Universe and/or DC's publishing line. So the threat that this could be little more than another exercise in superhero death porn feels quite real.

In the next scene Grifter, another WildStorm import who starred in a New 52 title that was rather quickly canceled, murders a family, but it's okay—they were probably aliens pretending to be humans.

And, finally, Jason Rusch is trying to turn into Firestorm in order to answer a distress call from Green Arrow, but by the time he tracks down Ron Raymond—who was having sex with the brown-haired "hot blond" in the storage room of clothing botique Hot Spott that he has on speed dial for just that reason—and transforms, Green Arrow has totally been killed too!

So in the first issue, they killed off seven superheroes (on-panel, many more, like Superman, Wonder Woman and Black Canary were killed off at some point prior to the start of the series). In this second issue, they killed off seven more. Hence my concern.

On the plus side, the dead Green Arrow and dead Hawkman of 2019 have better costumes then the live ones of 2014, and I think Firestorm 2019 may have a better costume than any Firestorm has had in quite some time. I also like that his face is "flame" colored, so the superhero form doesn't have a particular race; it was a little weird when they black kid and the white kid combined to form yet another white superhero.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #4 (DC) The first issue of the new bi-monthly Scooby-Doo team-up series to not feature Batman and Robin, there's a somewhat unsettling, discordant clash of style between Scooby and the gang's look and that of this issue's guest-stars: The Teen Titans, in their more recent, chibi Teen Titans Go! appearance rather than their less exaggerated Teen Titans designs. Artist Dario Brizuela draws both sets of characters on-model and quite well, but the gulf in designs is just so drastic he is unable to massage them to meet somewhere in the middle, as he had done with Batman and some the previous Bat-villains, where he was able to build a convincing world in which somewhat tweaked versions of the Batman: The Animated Series villains seemed to fit in the Hanna-Barbera world of Scooby-Doo (and Batman, for his part, looked like a compromise between the Hanna-Barbera Batman and the TAS version.

The huge-headed homunculi of the Teen Titans seem to belong in the same panels as Scooby and company even less than Bat-Mite, who at least had the excuse of being from a different dimension.

To writer Sholly Fisch's credit, he at least addresses and makes a joke of this:
The plot is this. Titans Tower is apparently haunted, so Robin calls in Scooby Doo and the gang. They solve the mystery almost immediately. In less than nine pages, actually. But then, the Tower is visited by a real demon, Raven's uncle, brother of Trigon The Terrible, Myron The Mildly Irritating!

Can nine teenagers and one talking dog with a speech impediment dispel the annoying demon in the remaining ten pages or so? Yes. The gag-to-page reation is particularly high and, while they don't fit right, Brizuela draws both sets of characters exceptionally well.

Additionally, it reminded me that Starfire can actually be a really fun character, when played as the naive anime-inspired alien princess of Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go rather than the super-powerful sex maniac falling out of her tiny costumes portrayal that DC decided to go with in the New 52 rather than something closer to these cartoon shows many more people watch then will ever read an issue of Red Hood and The Outlaws...

She-Hulk #4 (Marvel) This makes four consecutive issues in which She-Hulk must fight killer robots. That's not a complaint, just an observation. This is also the first issue that is not quite a standalone one, although it could be picked up and enjoyed pretty easily without having read She-Hulk #3, as the events of that issue are organically and efficiently recapped within (and I mean within the story; there is a recap page, but I'm not sure I've ever actually read a Marvel Comics recap page all the way through since they started publishing them, what, 15 years ago now?). Basically, Dr. Doom's son applied for asylum, She-Hulk argued his case, and in the end it didn't matter, because Dr. Doom broke into the courtroom and whisked his son off to Latveria.

In this issue, Shulkie travels to San Francisco to consult with the other superhero/lawyer about what she should do, and ultimately decides to visit Latveria to tell Dr. Doom off (and destroy Doombots).

Once again Charles Soule's script is fleet, fast and funny, and Javier Pulido's art is a pure joy to look at, to read and to just plains oak up. I'm not 100% sure yet, but I think this is my favorite of all the Marvel comics I'm currently buying serially. (Which is only three; Superior Foes is generally a funnier, richer reading experience, but they just jacked the price up, which sours my enjoyment a bit, and they've been doing weird stuff with fill-ins; Hawkeye, meanwhile, seems to have gotten lost in narrative weeds, with two unrelated story arcs running alternately, except when random, third story threads appear).

SpongeBob Freestyle Funnies 2014 (United Plankton Pictures) Another Free Comic Book Day release I'm coming to late, this one does a hell of a job of advertising what SpongeBob Comics has to offer. It is nothing more than an issue of the regular series, but free. The 30 pages include contributions from James Kochalka, Sam Henderson, Andy Rementer, Corey Barba and Maris Wicks (doing a two-page installment of "Flotsam and Jetsam," her educational strip about aquatic life). The two biggest stories are Gregg Schiegel's "8-Armed & Dangerous," a classic Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy story in which the heroes battle Octopus Doctor, and meet Mermaid Girl, and writer Graham Annable and artist Jacob Chabot's "Relocate," in which Squidward calls his realtor in an attempt to finally escape his annoying neighbors SpongeBob and Patrick.

I hope some folks took the opportunity of getting this for free to see what SpongeBob has to offer; it's a really great gag comic by some of the greatest working cartoonists, and easy to enjoy regardless of one's previous affiliation with or affection for the cartoon show it's based on (Myself, I've seen a handful of episodes with my nieces, but was never really a fan. Maybe it had something to do with them telling me I reminded them of Squidward...?).

The Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe Free Comic Book Day #0 (IDW) I visited my shop on Saturday of this week, as I was in the area, having skipped visiting on Wednesday (as I was not in the area, and there weren't enough comics on my shopping list to justify the drive there in my mind). The clerk asked if I was able to come in for Free Comic Book Day, and noted that they had plenty of leftovers, pointing me towards two longboxes full of FCBD offerings. I was extremely excited to find this, particularly after reading the kind words The Comics Journal's Joe McCulloch had for it.

I should probably note that G.I. Joe and Transformers, the 1980s cartoons and toys and, to a much lesser extent, comics and storybooks and films and whatnot, were a major part of the imaginary life of my later childhood, even more so than Star Wars or Scooby-Doo or Indiana Jones or He-Man. I am pre-disposed to eat up G.I. Joe or Transformers comics with a spoon (and both franchises together?! Wow!).

That said, I pretty quickly lost interest in the comics, before Devil's Due and Dreamwave or whoever stopped publishing them. I recall them being pretty good, but not good enough to keep buying and reading when there was so much other good stuff on the racks every week. When IDW took over the licenses, I was pretty much lost. I both love and hate the speed with which IDW exploits their licenses; the hate part comes from the fact that sometimes they pump out so many series in so many different continuities that I get lost and tend to throw my hands up in the air and give up, not knowing what to read when. (Admittedly, part of this is my own problem, as I read them in trade, and so everything is already a few months old by the time I'm ready to pick it up).

I'm pretty sure this is IDW's first stab at a G.I.Joe/Transformers series, and my goodness did they ever choose a unique path to take with it. They've enlisted Tom Scioli, he of American Barbarian (and Godland and Myth of 8-Opus before that), to tell the story, in collaboration with John Barber, whose "afterword" goes to some lengths to assure readers that this is really all Scioli; he did relatively little, he says, and their creative process seems like just that. Creative.

Writes Barber:
Tom built a fantastic outline for an introductory tale, I turned that outline into a script and sent it over to Tom, then he turned it into a completely different script (incorporating what worked from my version, of course!) and devised the strikingly compelling layouts you've just read.
That was for the FCBD issue; for the series itself, Barber says "Tom whipped up a quick billion-page outline for the most epic of all epics."

So, what did they come up with here?

This is mostly a G.I. Joe comic, with two-pages of Starscream pursuing Bumblebee through space and towards Earth at the beginning, and a one-page epilogue in which Starscream presents Megatron with the head (!) of Bumblebee. Starscream and Bumblebee appear briefly in the middle of the story as well (Bumblebee chooses to hide from his pursuer in a Cobra fortress). The bulk of it involves a G.I. Joe raid on that Cobra fortress, back during the days when Duke was a rookie, Snake Eyes had his handsome face and voice (he and Duke were both vying for Scarlett's attention then) and Major Bludd had both of his eyeballs.
Scioli fills the pages with striking lay-outs, including splash pages so full of minute details and action they read like 12-panel grids. The Joes are all instantly identified by little file cards listing their names and a brief description ("SCARLETT, Two Words: Crossbow Grenades," "ROADBLOCK, World's Deadliest Chef," "ROCK 'N' ROLL, Jimmie Paige on a Machine Gun"), as are their Cobra foes ("MAJOR BLUDD, Terrorist Poet"). Additional characterization for many of the main characters are provided during the action, of course.

Obviously, Scioli and Barber are doing their own thing with the characters here, as we actually see the moment Snake-Eyes loses his face and voice (a fairly shocking scene, and an excellent use of a splash page) during the course of a G.I. Joe mission. These are quite obviously early days for the Joes—most of the characters and vehicles are from the first line or wave of toys, just as most of them appeared in the first cartoon miniseries (I'm not bothering to look it up, but I think the only exceptions here are Bazooka, Roadblock and Hawk; The Baroness seems to be wearing her second costume rather than her first, too).

The Transformers characters get less panel-time, and the Decepticons speak and act (and are narrated about) in a grand, semi-mythological manner that recalls the work of Jack Kirby; the epilogue page, for example, looks like it could very easily be an homage to a scene in Darkseid's throne room, if you only swapped a few characters in for the ones pictured here.

Scioli's art is quite reminiscent of the old Marvel comics, although he has a rougher, more primitive-looking, more energetic, more emotional line (and his lay-outs are all a great deal smarter). The whole thing looks like a fan comic created by a very talented fan in the late 1980s. I honestly can't remember the last time I so excited while reading a comic book-comic.

In a way, I sort of wish I didn't pick this up, as now I don't think I'll be able to resist reading the series as IDW releases it serially, which mean I may have to break my No $3.99 Comics rule...


SallyP said...

I am desperately avoiding "Futures End", but I agree with you completely about how awesome She-Hulk is.

Anonymous said...

I contest "narrative weeds". I'm confident Fraction knows exactly where the title's headed and that there's been a clear structure delineating the book's direction all along.

Unless I'm 100% wrong. But I'm pretty sure we're headed for a final "This looks bad..."

JohnF said...

Is there any explanation given anywhere for how the public knows about Dick-Grayson-as-Nightwing but hasn't made ANY OTHER connections?

Bram said...

Black Widow's an awesome-looking book, and I think the story's now moving it up into the Hawkeye/Shulk range. Moon Knight's really inventive, but still might shape up to be a gimmick-of-the month like Global Frequency. Both worth checking out.